He couldn’t tell which was affecting him more, the drugs, or the fact that this was the closest contact with another human- let alone a particularly debonair suitor- in what felt like months. The euphoric quell that radiated through his bloodstream was both a chrysalis and a prison, that inevitably knotted up his brain when Roland proposed his simple question. What else did he have to show him?
What else was there?
All that composed the entity of Mr. Ainsland lie scattered about on the walls that surrounded them. Nothing but a series of objects. Old, stained graphite scribblings. Certificates of merit that had long-expired. Dead, dried up terrariums. An expensive cornucopia of prescription drugs. Excruciating pain.
He desperately sought to pull his mind away from that dark, ominous corner.
The young man’s head lulled to the side, allowing his lips to lightly graze over Roland’s wrist. It was as if he could feel the threads of fabric buzzing beneath the clean-shaven curve of his cheek. He inhaled deeply, yearning for the sweet fragrance of cologne that clung at the other’s sleeve to seep into his senses.
Teagan’s eyelids slowly dropped shut, and in that lone second he’d forgotten about the countless hours he’d spent chasing spectral angels in their shrouds of smoke, grasping blindly through the ghostly columns for some semblance of a dream, of a memory- something to push blood through the crystalline frost that loneliness wrought upon his soul.
His voice was soft, just barely above a whisper as he parted his lips to speak- eyes still closed, as if he were caught in some strange enchantment.
“Back in New York City there was this…dingy old restaurant on the ground floor of my office building. Pearl of the Orient was what they called it. Upstairs it was your… usual dive joint. Sticky floors, walls ripe with a yellow tinge of nicotine and water damage. But underneath… in the basement was an opium den, where the businessmen would congregate.” As he spoke, his free hand gingerly smoothed over Roland’s side, tracing the seam of his tuxedo jacket.
“And that’s where I got my initial taste. After a couple very… intense sessions I figured I’d grow out of it eventually… but days turn into months so quickly, and I found myself, admittedly, in love with something… for the first time in years. Solitude had become so much less… painful then.” The engineer gave a great sigh that seemed to echo through his bones, and his grip tightened, crisp folds of the other’s garment seeping through his fingers. “But after so long that changes, you know? And suddenly this feeling of being… euphoric, of being numb, it just reinforced how incredibly alone I was.” He opened his eyes again, blue sapphires fixing on the white carnation pinned to Roland’s lapel.
“My apologies, I don’t mean to ramble… it’s just been so long since I’ve felt anything that vaguely resembled happiness.” A weak smile crept over the corner of his lips, and his gaze rose to meet with the entertainer’s once again.
”And even if it lasts only a second, I’m glad to be experiencing it now, and most importantly… with you.”
The dozy entertainer took in ever word, every solitary touch, ever fibre of the other’s being as it befell him.
He might have to add a new guilty pleasure to his ever growing roster.
The older man took in every word from the other’s mouth. A combination of both the smoke and his current infatuation with the engineer creating a deadly, lovely concoction inside him. Not only that, he was eager to get to know Mr. Ainsland better in the bedroom as well. They’d only had one formal meeting together so far and the performer was dying to see what else the young man was capable of. It felt so good to finally find someone he could really connect with. Someone who was just as fucked up as he was and could share in such sorrow…or at least understand what it was like to a certain degree.
"Mm, don’t apologise, dear. Never apologise…" cooed Roland, reaching up and stroking the younger man’s cheek. He nudged Teagan’s head closer, nuzzling him. Letting the fingers of one hand slide through the other’s soft, auburn hair. The only thing the sweet drug didn’t seem to be dampening was his appetite.
"Say…I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what’s on the menu, kiddo?"
"When it comes to pesky salesmen, this plasmid is the bee’s knees!”
Fred Astaire in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939).
Silk slipped through silk, under loops and around knots. Pulling taut, he adjusted his bowtie, staring at his reflection in the small mirror hung on a single nail on the wall. That evening marked his first official “date” with one Madam Rosalind Lutece. And he was well and wholly terrified.
The entertainer still couldn’t wrap his head around the notion. Although she’d made it clear this wasn’t so much a romantic date as it was a friendly one, it was still more than enough for Roland. Choosing his comb, he fixed a few strands of loose, dark hair. Once they were secured in place, Mr. Russell touched his tie for the hundredth time, clearing his throat.
"Alright, then. I think we look pretty dandy. But let’s just hope Madam Lutece thinks so!" Grabbing his jacket and hat from the hook on the back of the door, he hurried outside, eager to be on his way.
All throughout the walk to Lutece Labs in Emporia, Roland rehearsed exactly how he would call upon her and the things he might ask her over dinner.
"-And don’t ask her about past relationships or anything. It’s none of your business. Stick to her job, her work…things that aren’t too invasive." His monologue was interrupted as he passed by a stand selling fresh flowers. The little entertainer had to backtrack a bit, looking over the brightly coloured petals and bouquets. "Oh, aren’t these just swell!" he chuckled to himself, eyeing a particular bunch of carnations. The roses, of course, were the most expensive and he had to budget if he was going to actually take her out for a meal. Roland pulled his wallet from a pocket, digging inside it. "Well, I hope she likes purple, because those are comin’ with me." Even though it was his favourite colour, they were much more lively than the plain white ones. Instinctively adjusting his tie again, he continued over the bridges and interlocking flats of land, towards the upperclass districts of Columbia.
So immersed in his thoughts, both internal and external, he nearly passed by the Labs. A little pink with embarrassment, Mr. Russell stepped up to the front door quickly, hoping no one took notice of his mistake. The performer’s eyes moved from the ornate knocker to the intricate address plate on the building. Finally in the shadow of such a hub of knowledge and success, Roland was beginning to get cold feet. Perhaps that wasn’t such a good idea? Certainly Madam Lutece was busy and he’d be robbing both her and the city of valuable work. His brain told him to take a powder, yet his heart and his hand said otherwise. Reaching out, he knocked on the door, chewing on his bottom lip nervously.