It was fairly late. Of course Eugene had stayed up later but this was not the city and he was about ready to go to bed. He thought of calling on Vladimir sometime earlier when the boy had failed to show up for dinner but had become distracted with one thought or another and when he finally returned to his musings of a visit he figured that it would be indecent to call so late. Though it did worry him that Vladimir did not show as the boy was not prone to break his promises. It would be no good if he was ill. But then he was most likely stuck at the Larins, fawning over Olga who had just returned from a summer-long visit to Moscow. Vladimir had been giddy all the previous week as he waited for his girl to come home. Pathetic, had been Eugene’s reaction though he never voiced it to his friend, fearing a fiery indignation and a scolding “Onegin, why, you do not have a shred of sensitivity in you!”
The nock on his office door made Eugene look up from where his gaze had been fixated on the fire. His man servant came in with a bashful bow. “Sir, if I may say—“
“You already are,” Eugene commented with a lightly amused smile. “Go on.”
His servant, somewhat taken aback, dropped his gaze and continued cautiously. “There is someone here to see you, sir.”
“To see me?” Eugene found his curiosity peeked despite himself. “Truly, who calls at such an hour?”
“Monsieur Lensky, sir.”
So he finally remembered about me, Eugene thought bitterly. “Well tell him he missed dinner if he hadn’t noticed.”
“He is in rather bad shape if I may say so, sir.”
Bad shape? Eugene felt a strange tightness in his chest. “Well let him in, I suppose.”
“I already have, sir.”
“Who asked you to do that?” Eugene inquired in a dangerously low tone, rising slowly from his armchair.
“I simply figured you wouldn’t want him in the rain, sir. Monsieur Lensky is you friend, is he not, sir?”
“You presume much,” Eugene muttered darkly though he knew the man was right. He wouldn’t want Vladimir in the rain; the boy was all too liable to colds. Eugene passed into the front room and stopped at the entrance, leaning against the wall.
Vladimir stood with his back to him, looking out the large window, one hand pressed against the glass. Eugene couldn’t see his face but he was sure that the boy was watching the raindrops sliding down the window and onto the window sill, only to fall to the ground below. Romantic fool. “You missed dinner.”
Vladimir jumped a little at the sound of Eugene’s voice which resonated in the small chamber. Vladimir turned slowly and attempted to fix his gaze with his friend’s. Eugene could help but take in a sharp breath. The boy looked a mess. His usually crispy clothing was slightly wrinkled and his boots were spattered with mud. His dark, shoulder-length curls were wet from the rain and plastered to his forehead and cheeks. His dark eyes, usually so expressive and full were somehow hollow and unfocused. They were swollen and red in the corners like after lots of crying or drinking. He was pale, the usual faint rosyness gone from his cheeks. His lips trembled slightly and his hands clutched the skirts of his coat.
“Jesus,” Eugene breathed. “What happened to you?” He strode forward and put his hands on Vladimir’s shoulders.
“Sh-she’s…engaged.” Vladimir forced out in a trembling whisper. His breath smelled of wine and some whisky. Eugene figured he was fairly drunk.
Vladimir shuddered. “Olga. She’s engaged. Some rich…” He swallowed. “Some rich Moscow gentleman.”
A strange numbness came over Eugene. He wasn’t sure what it was that he was feeling. He was angry at Olga for hurting Vladimir, he was delighted that maybe now he wouldn’t have to share the boy with that provincial wench, and at the same time he felt terrible for taking any sort of joy out of his friend’s pain.
Vladimir looked at Eugene for a long, silent moment. His eyes were wide, innocent, beyond vulnerable. Eugene had never seen him so open. The boy looked like one wrong word might send him into a crumbling breakdown. “She says he’s handsome.” Vladimir swallowed again and bit his lip. “Of course. Moscow gentlemen. Educated, with money, gallant, sophisticated, flashy. She’s made herself a fine match…yes…a fine match.”
“Nonsense. Utter nonsense! Goddamn it, Vladimir! Look at yourself.” Eugene shook the boy slightly. “She cheats on you, trades you in for a wad of cash and you go and get yourself drunk. You’re a mess! Pathetic.” Eugene was aware that somewhere along the way he had started yelling. He wasn’t quite sure as to why he was yelling. Certainly there was no need to kick the boy when he was already down. Yet he was angry, hell was he angry. With Olga for hurting Vladimir, with Vladimir for caring so damn much, and with himself for wanting to simply hold the boy and let him cry. “What the hell do you want from me anyway?” He shoved Vladimir away and turned his back on the boy. He stood like that for several moments, letting his momentary rage drain away. He kept waiting for Vladimir to speak or maybe just leave but there was only the silence and soft spatter of the rain against the roof to confront him. He turned slowly back to Vladimir.
The boy was still standing there, just as before, his eyes on his friend. But now there were tears on his face, salty raindrops rolling down his cheeks. “I’m sorry,” he whispered breathlessly.
Something within Eugene snapped and he felt a wave of guilt and tenderness slam into him and wash over his entire being. He reached out to Vladimir and drew the boy closer with one hand. “You have nothing to be sorry for,” Eugene told him, making sure every word was clear. “Nothing.” He drew the boy into his arms and held him close just as he had wanted to do when he first encountered those heartbroken eyes. “Nothing,” he repeated in a hoarse whisper as Vladimir nuzzled against his shoulder. Eugene pulled back a little, his arms still around Vladimir’s shoulders. “Come, lets get you warm, a-and some tea, alright?’ He nodded empathetically to himself and not waiting for Vladimir’s response led him into the drawing room. He sat the boy on the couch and called for tea, blankets and a renewed fire in the hearth.
Eugene helped the boy out of his coat and top ruffle shirt. Vladimir kicked off his boots and curled up on the couch and snuggled into the blankets that were brought it. A new fire was lit and tea was served on silver platter. Eugene passed one of the cups of tea to Vladimir and settled next to the boy. He reached out, on impulse, and ran a hand through Vladimir’s curls, tenderly pushing them back from the boy’s face. They sat in silence for several minutes with the ticking of the clock and the crackling of the fire as the only sounds in the room. Eugene continued to stroke the boy’s hair, feeling that the comforting gesture was appreciated.
“She never listened to my poems,” Vladimir remarked suddenly.
“Hmm?” Eugene hummed inquisitively.
“She would sit there and look at me while I read my best work to her, all those peaces that I dedicated to her with all my heart. She would sit there and look at me… but her eyes were empty…” Vladimir trailed off, his eyes fixated on the fire. “So empty, like she barely even heard me. Then she would say something like, ‘So beautiful, you truly have talent!’ It was the same thing every single time. I was a fool to believe her. But I wanted to believe her… so… badly.” Vladimir fisted one hand in the blankets and bit his lip.
“I listened to you,” Eugene commented. “I might not have always understood you, or appreciated the literary value of your work but… I always listened to you.”
Vladimir took his eyes off the fire and fixed his, now more focused, gaze on his friend. Eugene smiled softly him. “I know you did,” Vladimir assured him. “You always did.”
Eugene reached out and gently cupped Vladimir’s face in his hands. “You are worth a lot more than any Moscow or Petersburg loaded snob. You’ve got something money can’t buy, Vladimir, and if she can’t see that… she doesn’t deserve you.”
The boy dropped his gaze; his cheeks bloomed with a gentle pink blush.
Eugene leaned forward and touched his forehead to Vladimir’s. “I love you.”
Vladimir looked up at Eugene and a soft smile blossomed on his lips. He tried to speak but no words came our. All those unspoken words shone in his eyes as they filled and grew bright again as Eugene had always remembered them. “Can I stay here tonight?” he asked when he was finally able to speak.
Eugene kissed him gently and drew the boy into a hug. “As long as you want… as long as you want.”