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All The Wine

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I like furious youth
the crush, the glitter, and the gladness,
Eugene Onegin; Aleksandr Pushkin

Onegin yawned.

The samovar was hissing upon the table and the smell of rich, spiced tea leaves and dried fruits wafted through the air, catching in the tips of Onegin's nostrils and making his nose twitch.

Near the large, open arch of the doorway a woman Onegin recognized as a Moscow ballerina was teaching a little girl ballet positions. The girl had her shoes off, her auburn curls bouncing and dust collecting on the feet of her stockings as she moved through first, second, third. The ballerina kept her black heels on. Her blonde hair was slicked back against her petite skull, her pinched mouth the only thing moving with her feet as she quietly flowed from one position to the next in sequence.

Onegin took a large sip of champagne and opened his mouth to yawn once more, when he was stopped by a flash of long, coal black curls silhouetted in the doorway of the dining room. He blinked, an effort to clear the alcohol from his eyes, but by the time he was able to refocus the curls had disappeared and Onegin was once more able to finish his yawn.

+++

Onegin had long since grown weary of the puffed up St. Petersburg social circle and had felt a spark upon glancing drunkenly at that black hair which he had not previously felt in months. It had momentarily invigorated him, crushed within him some of the mold that had grown over his internal organs, long since having fallen out of use due to lack of necessity when dealing with the bejeweled birds and seals disguising themselves as Russian men and women of good taste. They squawked and barked in each others' faces simply to see who could be heard the loudest.

How ridiculous, Onegin admonished himself as he prepared to visit his sick uncle in the country. He was not given to harboring mental fixations of this sort, and the way his mind lingered upon a topic so futile as a shot of light reflecting off of a stranger's hair and directly into his eyes was embarrassing at best. Pushing his cold palms down the deep dyed red velvet of his waistcoat, Onegin pushed thoughts of mysterious black curls out of his mind once and for all.

+++

On the night his uncle died, Onegin flew back to St. Petersburg behind a quadrant of black horses, and all he could see for the wind blowing in his eyes and causing them to fill with water was the way the snowflakes were catching in the flying black manes of his horses.

That night, he went to the theatre desperate for the commotion of people. Sitting watch over his slowly deteriorating uncle had been a continuous exercise in trying his patience and on the morning his uncle passed Onegin had thought, as he spread his toast with thick globs of blackberry jam, if the old man did not die soon he would have to take matters into his own hands. His uncle passed shortly after dinner and Onegin had to hide his lack of sorrow behind a glass of mulled wine. He had always thought himself lucky.

It wasn't that Onegin disliked his uncle, nor had he wanted anything his uncle had to give him, but that the endless sitting and watching and waiting and mindless conversing with the braindead country neighbors had caused his jawline to cramp up from all the yawns he had been forced to suppress.

So when the man did travel on to wherever the spirit must find itself after it has departed the body, Onegin called for his carriage, grabbed his hat and his coat, and rushed to St. Petersburg as quickly as his horses would allow him to pelt through the stinging country snow.

Onegin thought, if he did not allow them to slow, perhaps he would make it to the second act of Cleopatra.

+++

Three full months passed before Onegin was granted his suppressed desire for black curls. He was swimming in the river behind his uncle's country estate, now belonging to Onegin and having been transformed into his permanent residence after all the women and overtures of St. Petersburg had ceased to excite him in any way, when he thought he saw a spot of black in the distance. It could have been anything, a bird or perhaps the apron on a servant girl's dress, but the way it caused Onegin's skin to tighten against his muscles and his lungs to collapse against themselves as he bobbed helplessly in the flow of the stream had only happened once before.

When Onegin dragged a breath in through his nose, he would have sworn he could smell the faded silk of the ballet and the fruit of champagne. When he closed his eyes, Onegin was certain it was because of the sun arching over the horizon and reflecting against the river water. When one hand passed over his stomach and tangled in the mess of curls between his legs, the other spinning circles to keep him afloat, Onegin was confident it had nothing to do with a momentary glimpse of the deepest black he had ever seen.

+++

It was impressive, really, the way Onegin had been able to keep his composure when those oft mentioned curls bounced out of a hidden away part of his subconscious and straight into his sitting room.

"Привет! I'm your neighbor, Vladimir Lensky," the young man said, shaking Onegin's hand with a bright smile. "I apologize for not introducing myself before now, but I've come in from Germany and have been rather tired from the journey."

Onegin stared.

"Is this an original Turner? I saw a fair few of these on a trip to London during my last year of school—that is why I was in Germany, you know, for schooling—and they were absolutely parfait."

"I'm Eugene. Eugene Onegin," he said, squeezing it in through a break in Lensky's monologue.

"Did you—oh! Oh, yes, a pleasure," Lensky said, rushing over to shake Onegin's hand once more. With a smile, he put his hands on his slender hips and looked up into Onegin's broader face. "Well, have a look at us."

"What do you mean?" Onegin asked, caught off guard by the earnest pleasantness of the boy standing in front of him, a mirror of youth, the cusp of eighteen.

"Here we are," Lensky began. As he talked, Onegin found himself drawn to the curls framing and falling below his admirable chin. "Two young Menschen, alone in the vast emptiness of the Russian countryside, and you've not even offered me a drink."

+++

It took only one month for Onegin to allow himself to be kissed by Lensky, who probably would have done it on the day they first met had Onegin sat close enough to him.

Onegin had sworn off physical charms, convinced the only one who could please him sufficiently was himself, but Lensky was just so damned charming every moment of the day that he could not help but allow the puppy dog of a man to greet him with kisses. It helped that, after a while, Lensky would occasionally crawl into his lap and Onegin would pull on the string holding his curls out of his face, letting them rush forward and tumble against both of their cheeks as Lensky turned his head to one side, mouth open and warm, his hands kneading the back of Onegin's neck and the golden buttons on their trousers clinking as they shifted their hips together in time with whatever jumpy pastoral music was playing over the excited chatter of the neighbors gathered together, drinking and eating and dancing elsewhere in the house.

+++

Had Onegin known that he was allowed to say no to Lensky, that he could find the reserve within himself to turn down even one offer of dinner with Sir Thingy or a concert in honor of Lady Whomever's daughter, Mademoiselle Whomever, returning from the conservatory in France, he would have jumped up and screamed at the chance to deny Lensky's invitation to Tatiana's name day celebration.

Tatiana and Olga, two sisters who lived on the other side of Onegin's estate, had been nothing but thorns in his side since the moment they met. Their droll, girlish features and dispositions aside, they were frustrating not in the least because Tatiana claimed to be in love with Onegin. She wrote him letters to which he did not respond. The few times Onegin was coerced into dining at their house, his only respite from the conversation on the benefits of crop rotation and which sort of cow is the best cow was to hear the teary-voiced proclamations of adoration from Tatiana, who would only come over from her perch near the windowsill to inform Onegin how dashing he looked and to inquire if this suit was from London as well—of course it was—as she shot Lensky vile looks with tears in her foolishly large girl eyes.

That should have been enough to prevent Onegin from attending the party, but Lensky had informed him, during a bath of all places, it would not be so much of a party as a small gathering of only family and their closest neighbors. And then Lensky had allowed Onegin to wash his hair, long fingers raking rose water through the thick abscesses of curls as Lensky sighed and leaned back into Onegin's smooth chest, and how could he say no?

Lensky was reciting a poem, softly, almost to himself. Onegin concentrated on the feel of his hair in his hands and the soft lilt of Lensky's French, slightly marred by his partial-German background. His gutturals and sibilants were a note too harsh, but Onegin still found the words satisfying as they poured forth from between Lensky's pinking lips in a way he had not been moved to feel since he had left school.

Hindsight would teach Onegin to have classified the feeling as a harbinger of all the worst things emotion brings out in people, but instead, at that moment all Onegin did was bend Lensky's head a notch to the side so that he might kiss his temple and say in genteel Russian, "One of your very best, my friend."

+++

It snowed the Saturday of Tatiana's name day party. The flakes were tiny, though, and the wind blew them around so that the Bordeaux red tendrils of Lensky's blood were visible from Tatiana's windowsill nest for almost a week.

Every morning she woke up and checked to see if the mar was still visible, and every morning that week Tatiana smiled and licked jam off of her lips as she remembered the sickening crack of Onegin's bullet slamming into Lensky's shoulder, the aplomb with which he fell backward into the ground, head lolling, and the vomitous curl in Eugene's mouth as he watched the color drain out of Lensky's body and stain the snow, a glass of expensive wine dropped onto a newly purchased rug as the hostess watched, unable to do anything but stare in horror and clutch her skirts into her sweating palms and wail that things would never again be the same.

+++

Lensky did not die that night, but for all he made Onegin start and feel screaming echoes through his bones, you would not be remiss to think he had seen a ghost.

Onegin had carried Lensky back to his home and refused to let him leave, even after Lensky punched him in the throat, crying as his wound bled all over the smooth wooden floor. The doctor came shortly thereafter and the bullet was removed, his shoulder stitched and bandaged, his prescription administered for whiskey and a great deal of rest.

Lensky asked the doctor if he could keep the bullet and wore it in his breast pocket every day until his actual death, a few years later of pneumonia after falling through ice on what he had not known to be a lake.

"Why do you keep that awful thing?" Onegin asked on Monday evening, bringing in roasted meats, sweetened root vegetables, and a silver bowl of mint jam on a tray with a large glass of whiskey and a bottle of wine for supper. He placed the tray down next to the bed from which Lensky had only twice removed himself to use the toilet since Saturday and began placing out cutlery for two.

Lensky looked at him from beneath his eyelashes, his pupils dark and flashing. He held the bullet in the hand of his good arm, fingering it like jewel.

"To remind me of the true nature of humanity."

+++

Washing was the worst. After Lensky stopped acting the mongoose, he resorted to the petulance his slight years still allowed him to get away with. Crossing his one workable arm across his chest, he would pout and whine until Onegin did exactly the thing he wanted. Onegin found himself guilted into an abnormal amount of poetry recitals or play acting during those first two weeks of recovery, both pastimes which had ceased to bring him any joy some time ago. Onegin approached them as he had once approached his trysts with society women: he did the thing well enough to have it finished and leave a smile of sorts upon the other's face, but when attentions wandered he sighed and relaxed his shoulders and proceeded on his arduous task of being unsatisfied with utterly everything the world had to offer.

And so, when it became time for Lensky to have a bath, Onegin was sure he would be talked into administering it and that it would involve a great deal of oils and soaps and salts and provocations to please watch what he was doing, as nothing he did was ever proper enough anymore for Lensky, who had grown rather displeased with their friendship since being shot.

To his raised eyebrow surprise, Onegin was banned from the washroom.

"You don't deserve the privilege," he said through pursed lips as he struggled to remove his trousers.

"The privilege of what?" Onegin asked, trying hard to keep his incredulous half smile at bay.

"Of seeing me naked, of course," Lensky said. He threw Onegin a look over his shoulder and, realizing his nakedness at that moment at having succeeded in removing his bedclothes, he placed his hand over his dick and steeled his one good shoulder and, chin raised, ordered Onegin to leave.

Onegin shrugged. He put on his hat and a coat and stood in the doorway to his home, stuck with consideration over whether to take a walk until he heard Lensky's plaintive yowls from inside the tub.

Yawning, Onegin removed his clothing and went in to help.

+++

Lensky was a quick study in recovery and was able to move his arm again after three weeks, although Onegin still removed and cleaned his bandage every morning and night, fearing infection and diseases.

One night in particular found Onegin trawling through his house, a quilt wrapped around his shoulders as he carried two jugs of whiskey into Lensky's bedroom.

Lensky was lying on his side, his bandaged shoulder sticking in the air like a flag of surrender. Had the wind not been pitching so fierce a spaz against the windows of his home that it was near impossible to sleep through, Onegin would have assumed Lensky to be sleeping. His side moved up and down slowly, his hair still tied back and flopped in a bundle against the paleness of his neck.

"I've brought whiskey," Onegin said, standing in the doorway. He was a vampire that night, needing to be invited in.

"Come in, then," Lensky said, although he did not move.

Onegin walked around the bed and, glancing out the window as he sat down, noticed a large tree from Tatiana's orchard crack at its base and fall into the river that separated their land. He placed the two whiskeys on the bedside table and stretched his slender limbs out beneath the sheets, his own blanket forgotten on the floor.

Lying on opposite sides, facing each other, Onegin looked at Lensky looking right through him.

"I'm sorry," Onegin whispered.

"Why?" Lensky asked after a moment's hesitation.

"You know why," Onegin said, bristling slightly. "Don't have me repeat it."

"No," Lensky said. His eyes snapped to attention and, boring holes through Onegin's skull, he asked again, "Why did you do it? Why did you shoot me?"

Onegin was silent. For too long, he had no answer. Lensky snorted and made to roll onto his back, presumably to get up. Onegin's hand reached out and held Lensky by the shoulder, which caused him to yelp and jump in pain and surprise, respectively.

"I suppose," Onegin began. He could feel his heart on his tongue and his armpits were beginning to sweat. He had not ever felt this excited at the prospect of interaction with another person in his life. He wondered, with a disturbed shudder, how long he could draw this moment out.

"Well?" Lensky asked, his eyes narrowed in annoyance.

Onegin looked at Lensky, felt the warmth of his skin even through the bandage he truthfully had no need to wear. Reaching back, he grabbed the band holding Lensky's hair against his neck and pulled on it. As he pulled, he took hair with him, forcing Lensky's body closer to his. Onegin licked his lips and leaned in, kissing the moonlight off of Lensky's neck and up to his lips, which opened as though they had only been waiting for him to say the word.

They kissed for only a moment before Lensky leaned back, pushing Eugene in the chest and angling his body away. Scrunching his eyes together, Lensky yawned, his mouth opening and shaking as though he had never attempted such a feat. Onegin watched, his mouth falling open into a silent o-shape as the bullet fell from Lensky's pocket, rolling and twisting itself into a stop just at the tips of Onegin's fingers.

As it happens when watching something yawn, Onegin could not help himself and buried his face into the pillow to cover his open mouth as Lensky's fingers scrabbled to pick the bullet up off of the smooth bedsheets, the wind screaming and throwing itself against the foundations of the estate.