It was remarkable, Francis thought, how cautious Charles would be. He’d stand there in the dusky dimness, throat exposed to the cobwebs on the ceiling, and his limbs would tense and shake as if he were a fawn ready to bolt, as Francis knelt at his feet and tried to pretend this wasn't half-worship, that he didn't love anyone or anything and especially not this boy. It would never work, though. Charles would come with a half-choked curse, knees shaking, but would walk off as soon as Francis had wiped his mouth – off to find Camilla. He never said anything, in the same way that he would untangle their legs when the clock struck three and creep through the shadows back to his sister. Francis would wake up alone, half-hard and jealous, and try not to listen for the creak of floorboards in the room down the hallway.
Francis had long suspected that Charles would kiss Camilla just to see if she would notice the taste on his tongue – but then, the twins were so close that she must know every secret he had pinned to his heart. Resenting Camilla was easy, but hating her was far more difficult. She would sit out on the lawn in the early mornings, hair almost as bright as the frost which threatened the ivy up the side of the house, and read Klytemnestra to Richard. Richard was urgently in love with her, as most people were. Francis would try to analyse the planes of her face, translated from what was simple handsomeness in Charles – although even that description seemed cheap, to be spoken exclusively by middle-aged women with bad hair jobs and a penchant for terrible, sprawling romance novels – to terrifying perfection in his sister; Henry would try to pretend he wasn’t listening to her, voice low and lovely and harsh.
They all pretended, with the singular determination of those who could throw off their skins for pleasure, that none of this was happening. To hear Charles slapping cards down on the table in rapid-fire play, watching Camilla toasting bananas over the fire and then watching them smoke and curl and blacken, walking with Henry across the lawns of the house to look for mushrooms at the edges of the trees which edged the grass, Francis could almost believe that Bunny’s body was not freezing at the bottom of a cliff, that he had not tracked mud from where he had slipped on the way back right into the carpet-pile – this sort of lazy desperation, this cracking façade, was slippery.
Lazy desperation, he supposed, was what drove Charles back to him when the winds were howling in the grates.
“I thought it was him,” Charles would whisper, like a washed-up vaudeville act, eyes wide with fright and what he would never admit was lust. “I hear him, you know – when I’m at the piano he mutters between the black and the white keys, and when I try to sleep alone he’s there, grinning. All the flesh has gone from his face and he grins in the darkness – “
Francis sighed at that, pulling the door open a fraction more. A shaft of moonlight, slanted by a crack in the curtains, lit up Charles’s face, painting him as pale as the ghosts of his imagination. “He’s dead, Charles,” he said, firmly, as if his words could force Bunny back into Hades. “He’s dead, we saw him fall – he’ll have paid his penny to Charon at the Akherousian mere – “
“Look, stop trying to be Henry, not everything is about Greek – “
Francis looked at him fully, and saw there was blood at the corner of his mouth. “You’ve bitten your tongue again. I’ll get you some water,” he said without moving.
“If you have anything stronger,” Charles began, fidgeting with the cuff of his pyjamas. “I’d really appreciate it,” and the certainness in his voice was a novelty, and so Francis sighed, pulled on his robe (velvet, maroon, arguably hideous) and opened the door. Charles sauntered in, blood still beading where his lips touched.
“Francis,” Charles said, and in the glow from Francis’s lamp – he had been reading a study of Victorian murderesses, and in his mind they had all had Camilla’s perfect smile – Charles’s smile was almost alarming. “I know you’re – “
“I’m what?” said Francis, coldly, and he shut his book a little too loudly to be polite, pages fluttering. “I’m a whore, I’m pathetic and desperate and – “
Charles interrupted him with a swift kiss, pulling at Francis’s hair with a painful desperation. “I know you’re easy for me,” he told him, voice as cold as Francis. “And I know you’re jealous of Camilla – “
Francis laughed against his lips, half snarling. “You’re jealous of anyone who looks at her. You’re jealous of anyone who even acknowledges her existence – you’d fight the sun for shining on her if you could. And I will never understand this childish need to own her – “
Charles hit him then, and smiled, the cut on his own lip cracking until more blood dripped down his chin. He looked like he had done when they had stumbled out of that forest, silent and terrifying and alien, and then he laughed. “This isn’t about Camilla. This is about you, and how you’re obsessing over me like you’re Narcissus and I’m your goddamned reflection – “
Francis shoved at him, but left his hands on Charles’s shoulders, fists clenched tight in his pyjama shirt. “I thought not everything was about Greek, and everything with you is about her. You’re – you’re twisted around each other,” and he looked at the space just above Charles’s head. “I used to think, because you were beautiful and tried so hard to be haughty, that you would be good. As if souls could be painted on your face,” and he paused, breathing heavily, to press a hard kiss to the blood at the corner of Charles’s mouth.
“I used to think you were too scared of bad medicine to come anywhere near me – isn’t that how you described Camilla, once? When I tried to drown you at that Chinese place, you thought I didn’t hear. And then you told the same to Richard, the other day, and you think I don’t listen?” and his fingers were too tight in Francis’s hair now, but Francis let him twist them until he almost wanted to cry out.
“You must be in love with me,” Charles said quietly, watching Francis’s face shift in pain. “Otherwise you’d be driving to the hospital, the rate your pulse’s at,” and Francis blinked at his treacherous heart, as if sheer willforce could slow its onslaught, as if pebbles could stop a tidal wave.
“I’m not in love with anyone,” Francis said slowly.
“I’m not in love with you,” Charles replied, and kissed him, too hard.