Authors: dadomz and i_l0ve_my_az
Pairing: Brian Joubert/Stéphane Lambiel
Summary: Futurefic. Two strangers (who aren't really unfamiliar to one another) meet at a café and improbably fall in love.
Warnings: Neither of us speak French and we've never been to France, so please forgive us for any errors.
Word Count: 18,400
A/N: We called this the Paris Café Futurefic while we were writing it. No, seriously. Heavily inspired by the narrators from 500 Days of Summer, Amélie and Pushing Daisies, which would explain the trippy 'voice-overs' at the start and end. Just want to add that dadomz convinced me to stop my relentless shipping of Joubert and Buttle by showing me YouTube vids of the Euros 2010 gala practise where Joubert was basically *__* and followed Lambiel around like a little puppy while Lambiel flirted with everyone but Joubert. Title taken from Quequ'un M'a Dit by Carla Bruni.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
A few days after, Stéphane is in the middle of telling a story about a horse, his production assistants, a table of flammable juggling implements and the disaster that ensued when a group of children in his audience mistook said horse for a unicorn when Brian comes to the sudden realisation that Stéphane is never still.
Brian, on the other hand, has always been a quiet person – both in words and in action. His mother can attest to this. As a child, Brian could sit still for hours at a time and stare at the subtle change of colours as the wind blew over the blades of grass in their garden. It used to worry his mother, who already worried more than enough about him, until his sisters convinced her that it was just his way.
Stéphane, though. . . Stéphane is constantly in motion. He fills silences with his words, forces his body into movement, fiddling with his sleeves, his scarf, the hem of his shirt. It seems as though his hands always have to be preoccupied with doing something, almost independent from the rest of his body.
Stéphane ends his story with the appearance of the police and the fire brigade. Brian laughs because he cannot help but mentally elaborate on the story with those firemen and policemen insisting on having their photograph taken with Stéphane. It would not be such a stretch from the truth.
Stéphane smiles at him, his hands busy with tearing his croissant to flaky pieces.
Brian unthinkingly reaches out to still his hands.
Stéphane looks at him with combined amusement and askance. Brian quickly removes his hand and clears his throat self-consciously. “Are you free this morning?” he asks, to distract from what had previously occurred.
“Sunday is my day of rest,” Stéphane replies, the very picture of curiosity.
“You have no plans today?”
“No,” said with a shake of the head and a smile.
“Good,” Brian nods, pulling out his wallet and paying for their meal. “I would like to take you someplace.”
“Where?” Stéphane asks but shrugs on his jacket nevertheless.
Brian smiles. “It is my turn to be mysterious now.”
Stéphane pouts but follows him out of the café, both of them calling out their goodbyes to Elsabeth.
“Tell me,” Stéphane commands, imperious as they walk past vendors selling flowers.
Brian turns and smiles placidly. “No.”
Stéphane responds with an almost sceptical look but subsides when Brian remains unmoved.
“Tell me, then,” he says instead, smiling and waving at a few vendors. “Do you really have the time to play games with me today?”
Brian shrugs. “I was not needed today.”
“Surely it must be different to work for such a big, international production?” Stéphane teases.
“Not very different,” Brian replies, touching Stéphane’s elbow to guide him down a corner.
Stéphane laughs. “I refuse to believe that.”
Brian smiles, conceding. “Everything’s bigger, yes, but my duties are still the same. I think there’s more pressure to succeed? That’s hardly new, though.” At this, they exchange looks of understanding and Brian is glad that even though they are different people now, something from the past remains.
“And what of the people?”
“You cannot help it, can you?” Brian laughs at Stéphane’s look of confusion. “I feel as if I’m being interviewed.”
Stéphane suddenly stops and mock gasps. “Are you implying that I am nosy?”
Brian holds up both hands. “I am saying you cannot help it.”
Stéphane slaps him lightly on the arm. “You do not have to answer if you don’t want to,” he chides.
Brian shakes his head, smiles, and prods Stéphane in the right direction. “I’ve been filming with Clémence, for the most part. The scenes where I interact with the other actors are being scheduled next week.”
“Oh!” Stéphane suddenly clasps his hands together. “Cleménce is lovely! Don’t you agree?”
Brian tilts his head in concession. “Lovely, yes. But odd. More odd than lovely, I would say.”
“People say that I am odd,” Stéphane says mildly.
Brian pauses at that then reaches down to brush his fingers lightly over Stéphane’s. “I did not say that it was a detriment to her character.”
Stéphane huffs out a tiny laugh. “All people are odd, I think. It’s what makes us human.”
Brian hums his agreement and they walk in silence for a bit until the spire of the Eiffel Tower rises in the forefront. Stéphane tugs at Brian’s sleeve and forces him to stop. “Is that where you’re taking me?” he asks, tilting his head in the direction of the tower. He raises both brows, the very picture of befuddled amusement. “How . . . quaint of you.” He squints at Brian, playing at reading him. “Or strange,” he amends, smiling.
Brian pretends to be offended for a moment before lightly urging Stéphane to resume their pace with fingers on his elbow. “No, that isn’t our destination.”
Stéphane allows himself to be herded, tilting his head to look at Brian’s profile. “Do we need a blindfold? Surprises usually do. I’ve a scarf in my bag.” Stéphane pulls out a ladybug-patterned scarf (clearly handmade) after a minute of rummaging through his bag.
“I don’t think that will be necessary.”
Stéphane pouts and wraps the scarf around his neck while Brian navigates their way through the Trocadéro gardens. “Then it won’t really be a proper surprise, will it?”
“In my experience, the best surprises don’t need one. But if you insist. . .” Brian moves so that he’s behind Stéphane and reaches to cover his eyes with both hands.
Stéphane laughs, clear and bright, letting himself be led.
“Are we there?” he asks, breathless, when they finally stop.
Brian nods, remembers that Stéphane can’t see him, then says, “Yes.”
He removes his hands and Stéphane blinks rapidly at the sudden brightness before turning back to Brian, grinning. “The Cinéaqua!” He takes Brian by the wrist and tugs him to the ticket kiosk where Brian presents his annual pass and they have a minor argument over who will be paying Stéphane’s ticket (Brian emerges victorious) before entering the cool dimness of the aquarium.
They see a few children off to one corner gathered around a pool with glass sides. Stéphane immediately pulls Brian in that direction, throwing Brian a smile over his shoulder. Brian smiles, small and private, utterly charmed.
Stéphane kneels down in front of the touch pool between a little girl who is maybe four and a young boy who could be ten. They both turn to look when he dips his hand in the water. Brian looks around to see if any of the aquarium’s staff is in the vicinity because the touch pool is solely for children, though he does not doubt for a moment that Stéphane will manage to convince said staff otherwise.
When he has finished assuring himself that Stéphane will continue to remain unchastened, he turns to see that Stéphane has the little girl in his arms and is helping her reach farther into the pool. The boy is leaning against his side, talking about seeing the same fishes in his favourite Japanese cartoon.
“Have you ever had pet fish, Coccinelle?” the girl asks, looking up at him and clutching at his sleeve, unwittingly leaving a damp impression of her hand on the fabric.
“I had a cat,” he answers, bopping the girl on the nose with his finger. “And we all know what happens when a kitty sees fish, don’t we?”
The little girl giggles through her hands and the boy laughs. Behind them, Brian can see their parents exchanging amused glances before moving to relieve Stéphane of their children’s attentions. Stéphane waves goodbye to them and stands, moving to Brian’s side.
“What next?” he asks, just as a group of adolescent girls shriek past, exclaiming over the shark tunnel.
“Sharks?” Brian suggests blandly.
“Sharks,” Stéphane nods seriously before breaking out into a smile.
“I never would have taken you for a fish enthusiast,” Stéphane remarks once they are in the Pacific coral reef exhibit.
Brian observes his profile for a moment, exotic and strange in the shimmering blue darkness of the lights reflecting off the water. “What makes you say that?”
“You don’t have the look of it, is all.”
“And what does a fish enthusiast look like?”
Stéphane looks him over once, quick and amused. “Not like you,” he quips then moves to place his hand on the glass partitioning of the aquarium, staring up at a passing school of surgeonfish.
“I like looking at fish,” Brian shrugs, unable to articulate his emotions and not feeling the need to defend himself.
“Hence the annual pass,” Stéphane responds, squinting at a mishmash of fish wandering close to where his hand is pressed.
Brian pushes his hands into his pockets. “It’s very . . . relaxing. Calming.”
Stéphane gazes, rapt, at a pufferfish that has wandered into his sightline. “They have nothing to worry about. They can just be.” He imitates the fish’s face, puckering his lips, cheeks filling with air and opening and closing his mouth in turn.
Brian grins. “Yes, especially in an aquarium.”
“It’s completely opposite to what humans experience, don’t you think?” Stéphane walks farther down the viewing area and Brian follows. “These fish are on display yet they can live freely without fear for their lives against some unforeseen predator. When we are put on display, we are less ourselves.”
Brian takes his hand and forces him to stop. “I think that only happens when we allow ourselves to live that way.”
Stéphane shrugs, pulls away. “When can we ever be true to ourselves? When we’re alone. People can’t help changing when there are others around to judge them.”
“Stéphane . . .” But he no longer hears Brian. He has crouched down beside a little boy and is pointing to a pair of clownfish while they both exclaim, “Nemo!”
The spring sun seems astonishingly bright after hours spent in the artificial darkness of the aquarium. Brian squints against the sunlight as he and Stéphane make their way through the exit. Their easy rapport had devolved into Stéphane telling amusing, inconsequential anecdotes after that honest conversation in the Pacific coral reef display where Stéphane had almost been tremulously vulnerable.
“And she said to me, ‘Uncle! That is not a ladybug! It is a red turtle!’” Stéphane concludes with a chuckle.
“Nieces,” Brian agrees, commiserating.
“Yes,” Stéphane nods. “I told her it would be the last time I baked for her and she said, ‘Thank goodness!’ I have never been so insulted in my life!” He grins and Brian smiles back. “And how is your niece?”
“She is almost a teenager now,” he says, fond, as he follows Stéphane down the path. He thinks Stéphane might be leading them towards the carousel. “I was anxious, thinking all she would talk about would be boys, but she is more in love with football.”
“Another sportsman in the family?” Stéphane teases.
“She is my niece,” Brian shrugs. “Of course I think she is very good.”
Stéphane laughs. “I think my niece is the smartest, most beautiful child in the world,” he says, throwing his arms wide in emphasis.
“So do I,” Brian nods. “It’s strange, though. Our relationship is different now, which is expected. Still, she becomes less open as she matures; more likely to keep to herself.”
“Ahhh,” Stéphane knocks their shoulders together. “Just like her uncle, it would seem.”
“You think I am moody?”
“I used to,” Stéphane nods, wrapping an arm around Brian’s and pulling him along. “You were very irritable during competitions and in press conferences. You seemed a very unpleasant person back then.”
“Is that why you avoided me back then?” Brian asks, very curious.
“Partly,” Stéphane replies, lifting his chin and eyes filled with amusement. “Now, I realise that you’re a very honest person. Frequently contemplative. You seemed such a brute when we were younger.”
“Because I had no artistry or grace?” Brian remarks, not at all offended. It is nothing he has not heard before and not something he hasn’t agreed with a million times over.
“No,” Stéphane says with a shake of his head, directing Brian to one side of the carousel where a busker sits, strumming his guitar. “Because you treated what we did as purely a sport when it isn’t. Not completely.”
They stand amongst a small crowd of people listening to the guitar player sing a strange English version of Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin. Stéphane hums along at first then starts singing along. Brian half-smiles when he taps a young woman on the arm and asks her to dance, making an exaggerated bow.
They start up a waltz, with Stéphane meeting Brian’s eyes every few steps or so. It is a spectacle, yes, but a very small one. Stéphane and his partner have the crowd’s attention but the busker does not seem to mind – he is smiling too.
Brian claps along with the crowd when the song ends. Stéphane and his partner bow; she is laughing and he goes to hug her, kissing both her cheeks after. She blushes, thanks him, and goes to hold her smiling boyfriend’s hand while Stéphane returns to Brian’s side.
“You’re a very good dancer,” Brian compliments. Stéphane smiles.
“Bonjour, my prince,” the busker calls out.
“Bonjour, Terry,” Stéphane returns, stepping closer to the busker’s open guitar case. “How are you this fine day?”
“Very well, thank you. Even better now that you honour me with your presence.”
“You flatter me.”
“No, you flatter me,” the man winks. “What can I play for you today?”
Stéphane grins, devious. “This is my friend, Brian,” he says, tugging Brian to his side. “He wants you to play Britney Spears.”
Brian pretends to splutter. “I asked no such thing.”
“Shh,” Stéphane mock whispers. “Play along.”
Terry winks knowingly. “Ahhhh,” he says, tapping the side of his nose. “I see now.”
“So will you?” Stéphane asks, eyes wide. “For Brian.”
“Of course,” Terry nods. “For you and your friend, I will.”
Stéphane beams and Terry starts playing Sometimes, which sounds odd but not at all unpleasant to Brian’s ears. Stéphane sings along and tries to prod Brian into dancing with him. Brian demurs and Stéphane pouts at him, though he continues dancing along. When the song finishes, they clap and Stéphane drops ten Euros in the guitar case, telling Terry that he will see him tomorrow.
“You visit him here often?” Brian asks, once they are a few metres away.
“Not as often as I’d like to but, nevertheless, we see each other fairly often.”
Brian frowns. “How?”
“We are neighbours, of course!” Stéphane says, leading them towards a crepe stall.
“Unless you live in a hovel, I don’t see how that’s possible,” Brian replies as diplomatically as he is able.
Stéphane turns, confused, then bursts out laughing. “Oh! No! Terry only does this for fun on the weekends. He is an investment banker during the week.”
“That’s. . .strange.”
“Well, he loves music; surely there are stranger things in the world.” Stéphane tugs his sleeves over his knuckles. “You do like music, don’t you?”
Brian shrugs. “It’s alright.”
“Another reason I did not think we would get along,” Stéphane says quietly.
Brian does not think he should feel so slighted. “Because I am indifferent to music?”
Stéphane looks up, looks him in the eye. “Because you do not feel it. When you performed, it was as if you did not hear your song. That was strange to me.”
Brian holds his gaze for an infinite moment then looks away.
“Well, at least you don’t hate it,” Stéphane says, consolingly. “Else it would ruin my plan!”
Brian looks up, tilts his head in askance.
“Are you free this Friday night?” Stéphane smiles, mischievous.
Brian tries to recall his schedule. “No, not Friday. Thursday, though.”
Stéphane nods. “Better. Less people. All right!” He claps his hands. “Meet me at the café Thursday night at eight.”
Brian is sceptical. “Are you sure you will remember our appointment?”
Stéphane laughs and pulls out his phone. “I will call my Margaux now and have her remind me.”
And there they are at the Le Baiser Salé, listening to an amateur Jazz group doing a cover of Angèle Durand’s C’est si Bon.
This is how Stéphane usually spends his Fridays although today is a Thursday.
It is beautiful and idyllic; random strangers gathered around candle-lit tables, nursing a drink or two, humming and drumming their fingers to the song. Stéphane would usually just sit back and marvel, drown himself in the music and think about all these people – their pasts, their futures, who they are, where they’ve been, their dreams, their ambitions, their families, if they wore boxers and briefs, and he would amuse himself endlessly with the stories he fashions from his imagination.
Tonight, though, he does no such thing. He simply presses his cheek against Brian’s shoulder and closes his eyes. It is a little bit like sensory overload—listening to intoxicating music and drowning in Brian’s scent. It is pleasant, a mixture of coffee and musky cologne. Stéphane is unable to find a suitable term to describe how he smells.
With a contented sigh, he turns his head and rests his chin on Brian’s shoulder. “This is a lovely song.”
It takes a while for Brian to respond but Stéphane takes no offense. Brian is easily distracted and it takes a while for things to register. Or maybe things register quickly and his actions are delayed.
Brian is still holding on to an empty paper cup from the coffee shop, completely immobile and stiff. Stéphane blows hot air onto Brian’s neck in the hope of tickling him, loosening him up, but the act does not faze Brian and he remains completely impassive and still.
“I want to dance,” Stéphane whispers. “But there is no dance floor.”
Brian smiles at him. “It has never stopped you before.”
“That is true,” Stéphane says thoughtfully.
Brian settles back and looks at the band, then at Stéphane, back and forth intermittently. Brian likes to be the spectator, the observer, Stéphane thinks. It is just the way he is. He likes to look and he likes to think.
But Stéphane is not like Brian. He likes being in constant motion. So he stands up and grabs hold of Brian’s elbow, urging him to follow.
And like one of Pavlov’s dogs, Brian follows.
Stéphane wraps his arm around Brian’s waist and leads him through the maze of wooden chairs and the throbbing music, past the hazy lights, the obscure corners, the young professionals downing their glass of liqueur and spirits by the bar until they stumble outside in the middle of the street.
He takes Brian’s hand and laces their fingers together.
“Now,” Stéphane breathes. “Now we dance.”
Brian’s grip is surprisingly strong. His hands are also sweaty. “But I do not know how to dance.”
“Nonsense.” Stéphane puts his hands on top of Brian’s, their hips parallel. He steers Brian’s movements, backwards, and forwards. Slowly at first. “Let your body do what it wants. Just feel the music; don’t think too much.”
And so they proceed, gliding in the middle of the street; faster, and faster, until the world blurs around them in rough Technicolor. Like transients and vagrants, moving and moving and holding on to vestiges of stolen music. And they dance in reckless abandon, like Hollywood clichés and old movies.
They dance as if no one is watching, dance under the light of a lamppost, bodies mere inches away from one another. Brian’s hand is light at the small of Stéphane’s back, fingertips brushing against his spine. They move around in quick succession, swiveling, and touching.
Stéphane laughs gaily, throwing his head back and holding on to Brian’s shoulders.
And they don’t stop. They don’t stop even when rain starts to fall on Stéphane’s cheeks, little by little at first, hanging on to the tips of his lashes.
The rain eventually starts pouring; the sound of spatters hitting iron roofs and cemented pavement overwhelms the music. Even then, Stéphane does not let go; he simply backs Brian up against the lamp post and leans forward slightly for support and for warmth. They are drenched right now, and their clothes are clinging to their bodies.
He looks at Brian, who is looking down at him, smiling, and he is once again at a loss for words (this is no surprise; it is a recurring realization).
He leans closer this time, hands holding onto Brian’s arms for leverage. Standing on his toes, he no longer thinks about anything and just presses his lips against the corner of Brian’s mouth.
Hesitantly at first, until Brian’s hands are cupping his face and positioning him correctly, and they continue. Things become frantic and torrid after, until they mellow and break apart when they’re both short of breath and shivering.
Stéphane is the first to pull away. He looks at Brian shyly and thinks that Brian is still so very handsome. The thought never gets old. He rests his cheek in the crook of Brian’s neck until the rain stops.
They go to Brian’s hotel.
He does not know what he’s doing, is unsure of this course of action, certain only that Stéphane’s eyes are filled with dark promises. Or so he likes to tell himself. It is not so much self-denial as it is a particular kind of blankness where one does not try to think too much as to prevent oneself from daring to hope.
They walk through the lobby, damp shoulders brushing, Brian nodding amicably at the attendants on duty and Stéphane taking in the understated old world elegance that many establishments in Montmartre aspire to in blatant contrast to their relatively new edifices.
By some unspoken agreement, they choose a lift empty of people. When doors slide closed, Stéphane crowds Brian against one wall, enigmatic and pleased at the same time. Brian opens his mouth to speak – what he plans to say, he does not know but it becomes moot when Stéphane presses a finger to his lips to silence him. He takes Brian’s bottom lip between his teeth and sucks, breathing in Brian’s exhales.
The doors ping open and he pulls away, pulls Brian out of the lift, their hands clasped together. Brian allows himself to be led along by both hands, subtly steering Stéphane in the right direction.
Brian stops him when they’re in front of his door and goes to pull out his key from his jacket pocket but Stéphane is impatient and pushes Brian up against the door, pulls his head down and kisses him hard and hungry, open-mouthed and all tongue. It takes Brian by surprise – it does not seem to suit his perception of Stéphane – but it does not take him long to return the kiss, shoving his hands in Stéphane’s back pockets and pulling him closer.
Stéphane makes a pleased noise and insinuates a leg between Brian’s, writhing, and providing them with much needed friction. Brian spurs into action and switches their positions, pushing Stéphane against the door and grabbing his free leg and hitching it up. They part for air. Stéphane wraps his leg firmly around Brian’s waist and arches his neck, moaning, while Brian presses wet, sucking kisses to his neck, pushing his hips up as he pulls Stéphane’s down.
Brian is mouthing at Stéphane’s collarbones when he gasps out, “Brian!” and pulls Brian’s head away with a hand fisted in his hair. He looks gorgeous, his mouth red and used, pupils wide and blown, skin flushed and sweaty. “We should go inside,” he says, running his hand down the side of Brian’s face, bringing his thumb to rest on Brian’s bottom lip, eyes following the movement of his hand, assessing.
Brian lets go and Stéphane slides down the door. Their eyes lock and hold while Brian turns the lock and Stéphane presses the lever open, tugging Brian into the darkness of the room with the hand buried in his hair.
Brian tries to lead them to his bedroom, relying purely on memory; Stéphane does his best to make things more difficult, pushing Brian’s jacket off his shoulders and toeing off his own shoes. He presses Stéphane against a bookshelf, stilling his hands where they’re trying to divest him of his belt.
“Bedroom,” he whispers. Stéphane merely nips his chin and resumes his task. Brian resigns himself to this lack of cooperation, clutches at Stéphane’s hips and firmly walks him backwards in the general direction of the bedroom.
He feels a tug as Stéphane pulls his belt free of his jeans, dropping it to the floor. He pushes his bedroom door open just as Stéphane finishes unbuttoning his jeans and sticks his hand inside, palming Brian through his underwear.
“Fuck,” he curses, unconsciously squeezing Stéphane’s hips hard.
“Oh,” Stéphane breathes, still for the first time in what seems like an eternity. Brian takes this opportunity to pull Stéphane’s sweater over his head and toss it to one side of the room before they’re kissing again, Stéphane’s fingers buried in Brian’s hair. Brian undoes two buttons on Stéphane’s relatively dry shirt until it becomes too complicated a task without the help of his eyes and decides to divest Stéphane of his trousers instead, sliding down Stéphane’s chest and mouthing at one nipple through his shirt.
Stéphane moans, hugs him close and steps out of his trousers and socks with Brian’s help. Brian licks a path back up to his mouth and kisses him deep, fingers hooked into the band of Stéphane’s underwear. Stéphane grabs both his hands and takes a step back. Brian makes a confused noise and tries to follow but Stéphane is adamant.
“Brian,” he says, voice low but firm. “Have you done this before?”
Brian licks his lips, hesitates, then answers. “Not like this.”
“What have you done? Hands?” At this he squeezes Brian’s hands. “Mouth?” He runs a thumb over Brian’s lips.
Brian nods and Stéphane moves closer and brings their foreheads together. “Would you like to be inside me?” he whispers against Brian’s mouth. “I want you to have me.”
“Yes,” Brian breathes, heart pounding wildly in his chest, hands unconsciously tracing the ridges of Stéphane’s hipbones. “Please.”
Stéphane kisses him, soft and sweet, and they tumble into bed.
Brian divests himself of his T-shirt, jeans, pants and socks and, while Stéphane runs his hands over his newly bared skin, he pulls off Stéphane’s underwear and slides his shirt over his head and onto the floor.
“How do I . . .” he trails off and Stéphane chuckles, pulling him down into a kiss.
“Do you have any lotion?” Stéphane asks when they part.
Brian nods and reaches out to fetch the complimentary bottle of hand lotion and a condom from his nightstand. He drops the items on the bed and they resume kissing lazily, rubbing against each other.
“Here,” Stéphane says, taking Brian’s right hand and bringing it to his mouth, sucking at two fingers obscenely. He releases them with a lurid pop. Stéphane spreads his legs wider and drags Brian’s fingers up his thigh to rest them against where he is hottest. “You can use your hand.”
Or he can use something else, he realises, suddenly understanding Stéphane’s fixation with his lips. “Can I use my mouth?” he asks impulsively.
Stéphane’s breath stutters and Brian takes it as assent and goes to follow the path his fingers took with his mouth until he’s opening Stéphane up with his lips and tongue.
Brian wakes in the middle of the night, confused and disoriented. He blinks away the hazy could of sleep and sees Stéphane’s body curled toward his, hand resting under Brian’s cheek. The covers are a tangle at their feet so he goes to pull them over both their shoulders. Stéphane huffs and stirs but does not wake. Brian wraps an arm around his back and presses close, their faces touching.
It’s been too long since he’s shared his bed with a person and it’s strange and blanketing but, surprisingly, not at all constricting.
Brian falls back to sleep, content.
The next time he wakes, his body tells him it is morning. He spares a bleary glance at the clock on his nightstand and sees that it is an hour before the time he is accustomed to rising. He does not understand why or what has caused him to jolt out of sleep at first but things slowly come into focus. First, the warmth of his sheets, the pleasant ache in his limbs, that heady rush of satisfaction over a night well spent.
Then he remembers. Stéphane.
He looks around his bedroom and there is the source of his interrupted sleep. Stéphane is partially dressed in his slacks and button down, and is picking up his sweater from the carpeted floor while whispering in a frantic tone into his phone.
“Yes, I’m sorry, I completely forgot! No, no, I did not lose track of time this time. Yes, I know it’s either the former or the latter; I can’t help it. You know how I am. Please extend my sincerest apologies. Can we take the next flight? I’ll be there in an hour; I’ve to pick my suitcases from my apartment. Oh! You have them? Alright, half an hour then. I’m sure I can persuade the taxi to hurry. I’ll be safe, I promise. Alright. I’ll see you. Again, so sorry.”
“You have to leave, I take it?” Brian says insipidly.
Stéphane looks up from his phone and gives Brian a complicated look. “Did I wake you? I’m sorry.”
Brian waves a dismissive hand.
“I have to go,” Stéphane says needlessly, eyes on the floor, hands fidgeting with his sweater.
Brian studies him for a moment before getting to his feet. “Come here.”
Stéphane shuffles close and Brian tilts his chin up and kisses him, soft and unhurried. Their lips part but their foreheads remain pressed together.
“I promise I’m not running away,” Stéphane breathes across his cheek.
Brian does not know if either of them believes that.
Minutes pass but they remain unaware, counting time by their heartbeats and shared breath. Stéphane breaks away reluctantly. “We need to talk,” he says, breaking the tenuous silence. “When I get back.”
Brian nods and Stéphane smiles tentative and unsure before turning to leave.
He turns and Brian walks to him and hugs him until he feels Stéphane hug back. He lets go when he does not think he can stretch the moment any further.
Stéphane turns and walks away.
Brian thinks he is becoming maudlin in his old age because it feels like goodbye.