Notes: Again, apologies to those familiar with Oscar Wilde and 19th century English court procedures. I don't think there is any more to the story. If anyone wants a little smutty epilogue, leave a comment :)
Erik marched across the gravel courtyard. A young man, looking from this distance as a man just engaged in joyful exercise, was dismounting at the opposite entrance. He jumped off his steed with a carefree attitude. He handed his gloves and hat to an attendant. His costume was flashy, his riding had been awkward – not a man who had ridden all this life.
'Mr. Buxton,' Erik called.
William almost faltered at the sight of him, then raised an accusing finger.
'You stay away! Go away at once, leave my property.'
'Your father's property. Trust me, you will never acquire any of your own.'
'I am calling the police.'
'Trust me, I will not stay long enough for that.' The horse had been led away, so it was only the two of them in the yard. Perhaps the servants were running to their master, if he was at home. William's hair was damp with sweat, his breath was showing on the air.
'Bit cold for riding,' Erik commented.
'What do you want?'
'Just answer me one simple question and I will gladly never gaze on your pretty face ever again.'
'Then ask and be done with it.'
'What information have you given to your father?'
'Enough.' William sneered, walking past Erik towards the entrance to the manor. His dear father's newly bought manor.
'I wonder what you see when you look in a mirror. Your beauty does a wonderful job at hiding that ugly soul of yours.'
'I have no interest in hurting Charles,' William said as he spun to glare at Erik. 'If anything I did it to annoy you, my glorious creator. Aren't you proud of your accomplishment?' He made a mocking bow, then turn to leave again.
'Then tell me to give you something, in return for calling your father off.'
'Off? It is not my father who is pursuing litigation.' William stopped a second time and gave him a curious look. 'In any case, I was bored with the whole thing after my revelations to Father. I simply do not care what happens to either of you. I suspect I shall live my whole life to the purest hedonistic values, and never think of you again.'
'Charles burnt your portrait, you know.'
William's left eye twitched. It had been a magnificent painting. Worthy even of this shallow brute's admiration.
'I'm sad for it now,' Erik continued. 'I should have liked to look on your perfection while seeing the true thing wither and grow old before your time. Ugly souls burn through beauty much quicker. I can see it now – you, old and decrepit, gazing longingly at your lost perfection. You would make a pact with the Devil himself to get it all back.'
'Your existential musings are riveting, as always, Sir Erik, but I must go. I have a luncheon with Lady Chadwick and her darling group of admirers. I'm sure she will be too fine a Lady to mention that sad, pathetic painter chap who is trying to destroy an honest man's reputation, but if one of her friends does allude to it, you can be certain I will set all her facts straight. We wouldn't want baseless gossip to sway public opinion.'
William left with a smug smile. He had never looked so unattractive.
A most curious case was about to be tried at the Old Baily. Mr. Buxton, a respected salt merchant, accused of libel by a bohemian, sodomising painter. No one knew who this painter was, but he was clearly the sort to resort to this sort of thing to gain publicity. The case, the gossip, and the sheer fact that such a thing rarely ever made it to trial, made the papers soak it all up and spew it out to the public. Suddenly, it was on everyone's lips. It was as if Charles Xavier had ignited society's moral conscience. He was famous at last, the great irony being his paintings wouldn't be worth much until about two decades after his death, when the scandal had turned into a naughty tale.
The trial opened on a bleak April morning, its somber note being at once overpowered by the nattering of reporters in the gallery of the courtroom.
Erik and Charles had not spoken since their argument. A few friends from Erik's favourite club had come by to wish him good luck or to warn him off it. His butler was still in his employ, loyal to the end. As for Charles' own friends: most of them had decided to go abroad. The ladies he had so often entertained and painted for where eagerly awaiting news of the scandal, and several had sent servants to stand in the courtroom gallery to observe and report to them directly.
The room was filled to the brim – Erik in the front row on the upper gallery – and William Buxton himself nowhere to be seen.
Charles was put to the stand, examined by his own lawyer, Mr. Cheeveley, first on the contents of the letters he had written to William Buxton. Most of them were innocent little notes, begging him to come over to finish the painting. Others included a few compliments and slipped into flowery language about muses and inspiration. Nothing remotely damming in any of them.
Mr. Buxton's lawyer, a Mr. Hardwick, cross-examined him next.
'Mr. Xavier, in your letters to William Buxton you repeatedly compliment his beauty.'
'Yes, as an artist I admired him.'
'You painted a life-size portrait of him, did you not?'
'Where is this portrait now?'
'I... I burned it.'
'Why and when was this done?'
'In Saint Tropez, I decided I wasn't happy with it.'
'A very extreme measure to go to, just because you didn't like it, especially considering you brought it with you when you went abroad?'
'I changed my mind about it.'
'I put it to you, Mr. Xavier, that you burnt the painting because it showed your unnatural lust for the subject.'
'Preposterous! I only ever admired him as an artist, as you would Michelangelo's David.'
'I present to the court several sketches that Mr. Xavier did of the purposed painting prior to completing the final work. As you can see, they show an unhealthy obsession with the subject. The...' Mr. Hardwick gave an uncomfortable cough. 'The nude sketches are so far removed from any artistic merit-'
'I would like to ask the court when Mr. Hardwick received his degree in Art to give such a decisive opinion on that,' Mr. Cheeveley objected. The ho-hums and hisses from the crowd drowned out the response from the judge. After boos and shouts of "shame" the judge banged his gavel, finally telling Mr. Cheeveley to sit down.
From there, things only got worse.
The hotel lobby was nearly empty, its gilded glory seeming to mock the state Erik was in. He was rather more fit for a dungeon, or a battlefield, depending on the ups and downs in his optimism. At that moment when he spotted Charles sitting in a corner of the restaurant – the wait staff all shying nervously away from him – he was afraid.
Erik sat down across from him, noting the empty glass of some hard liquor. Charles rested his head on one hand, the elbow of his arm perilously close to the edge of the table. He gazed into space with a vacant expression, not acknowledging Erik's arrival.
'Charles, you must come with me at once. There is a carriage outside, ready to take us to Dover.'
No reaction. Erik glanced through the windows to the busy London street. The world was moving at its usual pace, no sign of the reporter mob that had encircled the Old Bailey. Charles had slipped out unseen, but his location would not go undiscussed for long. The manager was at that very moment whispering with several waiters.
'I am sorry,' Charles said suddenly. 'I know you don't care about your reputation, but your name was dragged into this as well.'
'A minor mention during the cross examination,' Erik dismissed. 'I haven't heard mention of it in the presses. I fear they know how little I care, and so it's no fun to bait me.'
'Still, it was my fault. And during the next trial they might harass more details from me. He was very good at that, Buxton's lawyer. But of course, it won't be him prosecuting for the state.'
Charles' voice was monotone. He picked up the glass with his free hand, looked into it, then put it down again. His red tie was completely undone, the top button of his shirt was missing. He had on his best dark grey suit and light brown frock coat – no one had taken it from him. His hat appeared to be missing.
'There won't be another trial,' Erik said. 'Get yourself up and come. We will be in France by morning, and then I thought Berlin might suit. Most of the boys have already fled there.'
'Poor boys,' Charles said. 'I put them all in danger. It's open season on sodomites!'
'Charles!' Erik grabbed his hand, forcing him to look at him. His eyes were glassy. 'Listen to me. You lost the case, and your precious reputation, but for the love of God do not throw away your life as well!'
'Have they issued the arrest warrant?'
'Yes, and they might be on their way here. I do not know if you will be granted bail, Charles. This might be the only chance we have.'
'No, I will not run.' Charles sat up straight.
'Principles be damned, Charles!'
'No, there are no principles, only truth.'
Erik took a deep breath. 'Very well. If this is your decision, I shall stand by you.'
'You mean that?'
'Yes, of course I do. But please let me take you home before they arrest you. Do not give them more cause for mockery. Let's get your cleaned up and in a new shirt at least. Then you can face them in a dignified manner.'
'Yes, yes, you're right.' Charles rose, wobbling slightly. 'I will not be arrested drunk in a hotel restaurant like some dandy. Let's go home.' Erik took his arm and led him out, ignoring the stares from the staff. Outside the carriage was waiting. Erik nodded to the driver, and helped Charles up.
Charles collapsed against the seating, exhausted. Erik let him slip into a deep sleep before he got the rope out.
Erik was apparently the most skilled kidnapper in all of England. Charles, spiritually and physically exhausted by the country's ludicrous display, had not awoke during their escape from the city. Erik himself carried the unconscious man onto the waiting ship, a trading vessel whose captain didn't mind sodomy as long as he got paid.
France never looked quite so inviting or free in that moment when Calais came into view. Charles grunted a few times and opened his eyes, but Erik shushed him with a few soft words.
When the sun rose, the bumpy road helped wake the sleeping artist. He blinked several times, looking out the window at the dew-covered landscape rolling past. Erik could see the wheels turning in his head – registering the absence of London, the impossible hour of the day, and at last the ropes constricting his moments.
'What- Erik, what have you done?'
'I have saved you. Physically and morally.'
'Your bravery and your principles are untouched. I have kidnapped you in order to spare you the personal guilt at running away.'
'Erik, stop this carriage. Stop, please, turn around at once, and UNTIE ME!'
'No,' Erik said, leaning forward. He grabbed Charles' shoulders and steadied him so their faces were very close. 'Listen to me, Charles. I will keep you shackled for as long as it takes.'
'No, it is you who have lost your mind. You wanted to press libel charges, and I stood by. I accepted the fact that you wished to save your reputation. You lost. All of London knows you are a practicing sodomite, and they will condemn you for it. They will put you in prison, for years. I know you are strong, but hard labour isn't for you. It would destroy you.'
'No, there is nothing "more". There is no reason on this earth you can give me that would convince me to let you stay. Those people back there do not deserve the satisfaction of having their horrid beliefs confirmed. Is that what you want? To let them have a day of glory by shaming and killing an innocent man because he dared to love? You would rather see them eat you alive, gleefully, then to live out your days in comfortable exile with me?' Erik gave a sad smile. 'I know my company can be draining, but surely I'm not as bad as all that?'
'Please.' Erik got down on his knees in the rocking carriage, pressing close, his hands going up to hold Charles' face. 'The world is waiting for us. Full of true friends and new ones. I know your pride hates to take anything from me, but if that is so, then I ask you not to take yourself from me. I can't let them have you. I'm too greedy, Charles. It's a hopeless vice I'll never be cured of.'
'Stop, please, I accept,' Charles said, causing Erik to lean back in surprise. 'You're right, you are, I am being sincere. I was blinded by- by William, again. I thought, no, I hoped, he might withdraw or change his mind. I thought it was about principles. About the purity of art. But it wasn't. It was all silly bourgeois morals, just like you said.'
'So, if I untie you, you will reframe from jumping out of the carriage?'
'If you untie me I will not reframe from kissing you every step of the way to Berlin.'
'I don't know... I can kiss you just fine like this, since I decided not to gag you.'