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Undeserved

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Why does he love me?

I lie in bed with my love—my friend, my partner, my assistant—pressed to me. He had fallen asleep just before dawn. The sun must now be well above the horizon, and I am still awake, alternating between watching him and staring at the walls. We have been sharing a bed for some time now: nine months, one week, and two days, specifically, since I laid him down on the divan in our book closet, kissed him, held his trembling hands, whispered doting, passionate words in his ear, and took him.

He’d moaned and held tight to me. “I love you,” he gasped. He kissed me and said the words again and again. I returned them. Over the days and weeks and months that followed, we repeated them often. Yet, I still can’t say that I fully understand why he chooses to offer them to me.

I don’t know what would make him say that he loved me. I don’t know what drew him to me in that dusty bookshop in the first place. What made him take me in when I had nothing to offer? What made him stay with me for all this time?

It can’t have been anything about me. Yes, I am a genius, likely unparalleled in modern times; I know this. But, I also know that I have few other superlative, or even sufficiently admirable, qualities. I squandered a fortune on a fixation with gambling, destroying my promising career in academia. I dishonored my family. My father and mother died rightly ashamed of and estranged from their only child. I became a friendless, directionless recluse, slowly working through the last of my savings, my undeserved inheritance, looking at my inevitable fate of a lonely death in abject poverty with disinterested resignation.

And then I met him.

I look down at his sleeping face, so youthful, pure, and guileless. Baby fat in his cheeks makes him look younger than his twenty-five years. The thick, dark lashes, strikingly long for a man, form a curtain over his eyes. When open, they are a rich brown, almost black, looking up at me with constant wonder, admiration, unconditional love. Most of the time, all undeserved.

This beautiful young man lies on my bed, lax and supine, just moments ago entwined with mine. He is a work of art, like something for a decadent poet to write to an ode to. So innocent, so precious. Perhaps in other eyes he would not appear so naïve, so provincial. In comparison to most men, he is exceptionally clever, perceptive, and thoughtful. When I look at him, though, and trace the course of his his uncluttered thoughts, my racing brain is momentarily stilled. He deserves better than a degenerate gambler (however long I’ve avoided my vice in practice, I will always be that man at heart—always that weak).

But, still, I love him. Dear God, I love him with all of my twisted heart, mind, and soul. At the same time, the fear gnaws at me that my love is holding him back. He is young, vibrant, bright, full of hope and the promise of a bright future. Yet, he molders away in these dusty chambers with me. How long will this go on?

He lets out a low hum and rolls over in his sleep so his head rests on my shoulder. We are both nude, having made love before he went to sleep.

And then there was my lover’s body. That soft, sweet, smooth, beautiful body I had somehow been granted access to. To my shame, I had fantasized about that body nearly since we’d first met, spending the long, lonely nights imagining what it would feel like pressed against my own.

Soft was the best way to describe his body; comfortable, inviting, welcoming me with every touch. The peace that feel when I am intertwined with him, surrounded by him, inside him, is incomparable. I feel whole, I feel centered. My mind is quiet and all is simply pleasure.

How can he tolerate my body against his? Unlike his soft, lovely form, mine must be uncomfortable, even painful to lie against. I am tall and lanky, all composed of sharp and ugly angles. My bones jut though my sallow skin. My hair is graying prematurely. There are scars on my forearms from when I took to compulsively scratching then in my darkest despairs and panic.

Yet, the first time I took him to bed, introducing him to the pleasures of forbidden flesh, he had writhed, moaned, begged—likely he knew not what for—and thanked me again and again. He ran his fingers over the hideous scars as if they weren’t there. In bringing him to a madly joyful climax, an angelic smile bursting over his beautiful face, I felt prouder of myself than I had of anything, perhaps even my own intellect. I still experience that every time I feel him shudder and tense under my hands. He deserves to be lavished, to feel limitless pleasure.

I have made love to men my entire life, with feelings ranging from dire Catholic guilt to carefree acceptance. No experience, though, had ever been as satisfying in all ways as my nights and days with him; I had never been in love with a man like this before.

The third time we made love, I burst into tears after we finished.

“Auguste, Auguste, what’s wrong?” he had asked in near panic, cradling my head to his chest.

“Nothing. Nothing is wrong,” I had gasped. “I just love you. I love you so much. Thank you. Thank you.” I had said his name in the darkness, his sweet, lovely, little name, the American tones foreign, yet familiar on my tongue

“I love you, too,” he’d whispered. “You make me feel so… Oh, God, I love you.” He’d kissed me, kissed me with his warm mouth like home.

“I love you,” I repeated, the only words that could express the muddle of my feelings--still they were nowhere near enough.

As I watch him sleep, his arm creeps slowly over my chest, and he snuggles into my breast. His pink lips are slightly parted. He draws up his knees, curled up like a child.

I could almost laugh. Look at me: this mad, perverse, depraved genius, wallowing in sin. Politicians and priests could found careers inveighing against my ilk.

I shut my eyes, reveling in my lover’s embrace. Before moving to No. 33 Rue Dunôt, Faubourg St. Germain, I slept barely a few hours a day. In his company, I can sleep almost like a normal human, though still rarely at night.

I think I might have drifted off at least for a moment when the man beside me stretches and lets out a murmur. I watch as his eyelids flicker open, lashes fluttering like butterflies’ wings.

“Hello, darling,” I say, stroking his cheek with the back of my knuckles.

“Hello,” he slurs, reverting to English in his dazed state. “What time…?” He is clearly nowhere near awake enough to finish any thought that complex.

“I don’t know,” I answer. “You’ve been sleeping long enough, I think though.”

“Hm.” He frees his hands to rub at his eyes. When he speaks again, it is in French. “Did you sleep?”

Of course, he immediately thinks of me. My habitual sleeplessness is a particular concern of his. “Not as long as you, but I think I got in a good amount.”

“Good.” He braces himself on his palms and shifts himself a little further up the pillows. I follow suit. He looks down, as if he is just noticing his nudity. “That… before… was incredible. You were amazing. That felt so good.” he pauses. I see the beginnings of a blush gathering on the tips of his ears. “I think I’ll be sore all day.”

I smile, hoping it isn’t too plainly wolfish. “I apologize for the future, but say you’re welcome for the past.” He smiles.

I have let him have the experience of taking me on a few occasions. He says that he prefers to be entered by me. I had no preferences as to these roles before, but I now find a special pleasure in holding him and sliding inside of him, knowing he has entrusted me to take care of him—as I have entrusted him with my own bevy of weaknesses.

“Should I be more gentle next time?”

“You can ask me then.” He kisses my chest.

He smiles at me, and all in a rush, I can’t hold back the thoughts that have been dancing on my tongue. I say his name, let it hang in the air, then the words tumble out, “Why do you love me?”

His brows knit. “Why do I love you?”

I nod. “I don’t understand. I don’t. I’ve studied it. I’ve used ratiocination to its fullest. But, it’s clear that you must know by now that I don’t deserve the way you treat me. The way you love me.”

“Why would you say that? How could I not love you, Auguste? I…” His mouth hangs open, and he shakes his head, searching for words to express his thoughts. I have no foothold to trace the course of his mind and determine his conclusion. “I’ve never felt anything like this before. I never knew what love was until I met you.”

I immediately wished that I hadn’t thrust this self-pitying, utterly pathetic question on him. It was just another example of the childish, stunted range of my emotions.

Before I can apologize and retract the question, he continues, propping himself up further. “Do you love me?”

“Of course,” I answer instantaneously. I gather up his hand in mine and softly kiss his knuckles.

It’s a ridiculous question. How could I not love him? This human ray of sunshine, this angel. There is nothing I can’t not love about him. I feel it in whatever is left of my degraded, decayed soul. How could it be put into words?

Ah…

He voices the thought that has just occurred to me. “What you’re thinking: that’s why I love you.” He kisses me, first softly, gently, then passionately, as if he can’t get close enough to me. Almost unconsciously, I slip an arm around his waist.

“Why wouldn’t I love you?” he whispers against my lips.

The barrage of arguments against his claim are still there, but for once they are muted, almost quiet enough to be unintelligible.

I kiss him quickly. “I want to make love to you,” I whisper. “Then, I want us to go walk by the Seine. I’ll take you to that café you like, and buy you one those fresh pains aux raisins you can’t get enough of.”

He laughs. “All right.” His hands move to my back. I take his prompt to place one of my legs over him, trapping his knees between mine. As I cover his body with my own, I kiss his throat. He leans his head back.

“Yes,” he gasps. “Oh, Auguste…” He switches to English, and I’m not sure whether he’s speaking more to me or to himself. “I want you to make me limp all the way there.”

I grin. I’d forgotten for a moment to take into account that wild hair of his I’d noticed from the first day I spoke to him. My dearest, my love.

I kiss his lips, and he still feels like home—a kind of home that I have felt nowhere else in my life.

If whatever he sees that makes him love me is true, the man I am becoming will be inconceivably different from the man who had lived before I knew my lover. A far, far better man, at that.

As we embrace, all those thoughts recede. I feel his body entwined with mine and I know that somehow, somehow he loves me, and that is all that matters.