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26 July 2007 @ 12:07 pm
Original Fiction: "Riesling" (Part One)  
This was written in fits and bursts between Serious Edits as a palate cleanser of just plain fun/entertainment/more fun. We brainstormed it with and then wrote it for Valisis (lawrencered), who in turn illustrated it. If the idea of two princes doing it on a polar bear rug does not please you, then you should not read this story.



Riesling, rated R/NC-17. Original fiction. ~11,000 words.







Riesling
Written by ladyjaida and danibennett; illustrated by Valisis (lawrencered). Thanks to cerulean_sky for the super-fast beta.


Bastian had promised to visit Amalia, who was a redhead. Instead, he’d visited Dieter, who was not.

It was easy enough to spy on him in his tent—Dieter always said he didn’t mind how easy it was, since he had nothing to hide. All Bastian had to do was slip aside one of the many heavy falls where fabric met fabric to watch him, the esteemed half brother, hiding nothing.

Dieter was writing a speech, but everyone knew that. He was going to memorize it that night and give it the next morning in front of the assembly, and there wasn’t anything or anyone who could alter his course, no matter what the reason.

That was fine for Dieter, Bastian thought. Except Bastian had two bottles of the reddest wine he could find—originally meant for Amalia, but plans often changed in love and war—and he’d had enough of spying.

“Congratulations!” Bastian said. “I’ve brought wine!”

Dieter didn’t exactly hesitate before he looked up. Bastian knew his expression all too well; and besides which, Dieter had explained the method to him once, long ago. What Dieter was doing was testing himself not to look up right away, despite any sudden curiosity.

At last, Dieter lifted his head. He didn’t look as though he wanted to be congratulated, but Bastian knew better. Bastian always knew better, whether Dieter agreed with him or not. Sometimes his esteemed half brother couldn’t recognize what was better until Bastian had shown it to him, but that was only to be expected.

Dieter was very clever. He knew what to write in a speech, and how to lead men well enough that they actually followed on the battlefield, but he wasn't very clever in all the ways Bastian considered absolutely necessary.

For one, he didn't know how to have a proper celebration. This was why he was now eyeing Bastian as though he'd brought two snakes into his tent instead of two bottles of the finest red wine. Amalia was very fond of red wine. For a brief moment, Bastian allowed himself to harbor disappointment. Then, as quickly as it had come, it passed.

"I'm very busy," Dieter said. It wasn’t an outright dismissal, but his half brother was too polite to dismiss him outright, which was all the more Dieter's loss if he really wanted Bastian to leave.

The problem with Dieter was that he had learned politeness before honesty, and now there was no training him out of it.

Bastian held the more expensive bottle up, the neck between his fore- and index-fingers. The wine was the exact color of the jewel at the center of Bastian’s belt.

“Here’s what I thought,” Bastian said, stepping inside the tent and letting the flap fall shut behind him. “The general rule is that you start with the better wine while you can still taste it, and then drink the cheaper one when your tongue’s so drunk it doesn’t matter.”

Dieter frowned. “Brother,” he said.

When they were younger, Bastian had always made a point of correcting him. ‘Half brother,’ he’d say. Sometimes, he’d even laughed at Dieter’s inexperience. If Dieter was older, Bastian liked to ask, then why couldn’t he get that right? Yet, somewhere along the way, Bastian had stopped correcting him. Dieter, on the other hand, hadn’t stopped perpetrating the mistake.

“I want to celebrate,” Bastian said. He put both bottles of wine onto Dieter’s desk, refusing to avoid the papers scattered across it like a tablecloth. Dieter’s handwriting was charmless. He’d make an awful lover. “Also,” Bastian added, “I don’t like that phrase.”

“Which?” Dieter asked, lifting the bottles to rescue the papers underneath. He turned the closest one to him right-side up and frowned. “This one? I was unsure of it.”

Bastian cast a glance around the tent for another chair and, finding none, leaned elegantly against Dieter’s table instead. “Yes, that one. If you’re speaking to the common people, then you have to use common words. Small. Lots of vowels. Otherwise they won’t understand you, or they won’t listen to you. Probably both. Either way, it isn’t a very desirable effect, is it?”

“No.” Dieter’s frown said quite plainly that it wasn’t. He reached out for a pen to correct the phrasing and Bastian stopped him, pale fingers resting against Dieter’s larger, browner wrist.

“Just improvise,” Bastian murmured, coaxing Dieter’s hand away from the pen and towards the bottle.

“Brother,” Dieter said again.

“I know, I know; you’ve no imagination whatsoever and you’ll be up there for hours without anything to say. Perhaps they’ll throw tomatoes!” Bastian’s face lit up with delight, as though such an outcome had only just occurred to him.

“Knowing you,” Dieter said, “you’ll throw the first tomato.”

“At the very least, I’d throw the third,” Bastian promised.

“I don’t have proper wine glasses,” Dieter said.

“Nor do you have another chair for me to sit in,” Bastian added.

“We couldn’t very well drink wine from an inkwell,” Dieter said. He gestured vaguely around the room—the tent—sparse as Bastian’s wasn’t. The only thing Bastian liked in the entire place was the enormous polar bear rug. Sometimes he slept on it. Sometimes Dieter stepped on him by accident in the morning.

“You’re right,” Bastian said. “We couldn’t. Our mouths would get all inky.” His fingers danced down the back of Dieter’s wrist, where the muscles wound like rope over the bone. The hair on his wrists was golden, but nowhere else.

Dieter spent too much time in the sun.

“This is an important speech,” Dieter said. “Everyone will be there.”

Bastian knew it all too well. “I brought glasses,” he replied.

*

Bastian first discovered wine when he was thirteen and Dieter seventeen, one brother just out of his awkward adolescent stage and one just entering it. Bastian had always been smallish for his age, too fair for the outdoors and too weak for proper combat, but it had never mattered while Dieter towered above him, tall and gangly, with overlarge, puppet-sized hands. So long as they were both slightly uncomfortable in their own skin, things were all right. Then, all too abruptly, Dieter’s shoulders broadened and he became entirely at home in his body.

Then, all too abruptly, Bastian began to feel like a puppet himself, his limbs too long and sharp corners everywhere.

He was used to being treated well, if not comfortable—small and adored, spoiled like a cat. Now he had bruises on his knees, and the maids treated him differently, the cooks no longer saving him his favorite snacks, the boys uncertain whether to bully him or ignore him.

It was nearing the end of the week-long celebration of his thirteenth birthday, and nearly all the guests had left the palace, except for the Duchess and her four troublesome children. They were the ones who discovered the wine in the beginning.

“Brother,” Dieter said, upon discovering them sprawled and giggling in the cellar. “What are you doing?”

“Half brother,” Bastian corrected him, irritable for no reason and therefore for every reason. “I should think it’s obvious.”

“Come and join us!” The eldest cousin, Violet, had bright blue eyes and spent more time brushing her hair than any other girl Bastian knew. He elbowed her in the side with fierce rebuke.

“He won’t,” Bastian said, though there was more of a question in his eyes than in his voice.

“That’s right,” Dieter agreed. “I won’t.” He turned his back and folded his arms, but he didn’t leave.

After that, the affair had begun. By the time Bastian was fourteen he knew more about wine than any of the dukes who sat at the long table; he could tell by smell whether a bottle was worth its price and he could predict by color how long it would take to get drunk off a certain vintage. “They don’t make proper wine for noblemen,” he told Dieter one evening after lessons.

Dieter folded his arms again. “Is that so?” he asked.

Slowly, Bastian was growing into himself. To make matters worse, he was doing it more quickly than Dieter had managed before him, as though the entire thing were a race, and Bastian determined to win it. More often than not, he paused in front of mirrors and posed inside of doorways—and, perhaps by sheer force of will alone, he was making himself handsome. The cooks still didn’t spoil him, but they did blush when his name was mentioned. The maids bowed their heads when he passed by in the halls, pressing fluttering hands to their chests, and even Violet tightened her bodice when she knew Bastian would be attending the races. Even Cousin Walther wanted to sit closest to him.

It didn’t happen overnight. It required a great deal of concentration, but the wine helped.

“I have a secret,” Bastian whispered, hot in Dieter’s ear. “I’ve been going to the Volker.”

Dieter shouted for almost an hour. He even broke a chair. Bastian never blinked, and later, when the hot rush of fury left him, Dieter wondered how he hadn’t known. His own brother, consorting with pickpockets, cutthroats and whores, and no one had noticed it.

*

“I suppose I shouldn’t ask how you came by this,” Dieter said, still sitting in his chair at the small desk, which was round and the dark wood was covered with ink splashes—not because Dieter was clumsy, but because he wrote too slowly and too heavily, and the ink seeped through the paper that way.

Bastian hadn’t quite given up calculating how long it will take for Dieter to offer the chair to him. Still, the likelihood seemed less and less as the night wore on.

“You’re correct,” he said. “You shouldn’t. I have no desire to see another chair broken in my presence. Especially with the tent so sparsely furnished as it is.”

“I have to finish my speech,” Dieter said, by way of explanation and apology in one. “And… I don’t make a habit of breaking chairs.”

“Never mind the speech.” Bastian stretched his arms, then curled his fingers in the plush fur of the bearskin rug where he sat. His arm was losing feeling, but he certainly looked comfortable. That was what mattered. “Or the chair, even. I’m quite comfortable here.”

“I didn’t ask,” Dieter pointed out.

Bastian, already indolent and agreeable with the wine, refrained from pointing out that he had.

“And here I thought you were the gentlemanliest of the pair of us!” He waved his right hand, fingers heavily jeweled, to better articulate the point.

Dieter turned around in his chair to look at him properly.

“Finally,” Bastian murmured, with some satisfaction.

“Gentlemanliest is not a word,” Dieter said, with that wrinkle down the middle of his brow that meant he was cross.

“I can’t hear you,” Bastian informed him, “from all the way over there.” He patted the thick, if slightly dusty, fur beside him. “You can do as you like, really,” he went on, rolling over onto his back. “I’ll just stay here, celebrating all on my own—and you can stay there, watching me celebrate—and we’ll have such good fun together, don’t you think?” His boots were too tight. Dieter caught his eyes as he sat up, but that wasn’t entirely an accident. Then, Bastian undid the heavy buckle of his left boot and struggled in vain with the stiff, black leather.

Eventually, Dieter would stand up and help him. Sometimes Dieter took a long time getting around to giving in, whether it was to go riding, which Dieter enjoyed, or to go to the Volker, which Dieter didn’t enjoy. This was even harder than trying to get Dieter to come with him to the Volker. This was trying to get Dieter to drink with him, and on the night before an important speech, no less.

It might be impossible.

Bastian smiled.

Dieter’s chair creaked, and Bastian looked in the opposite direction—best to give Dieter his privacy when he made decisions—as Dieter approached.

“You’re hopeless,” Dieter said, but it was fond. Bastian didn’t take offense. Instead, he stuck his foot into Dieter’s lap.

“I thought you’d never come,” Bastian said. His ankle turned a few infuriating circles before Dieter grabbed his leg at the calf with one hand and the knee with the other.

“Hold still,” Dieter said.

The reason Bastian had already undone the buckles was to make things easier for Dieter, who had big fingers that weren’t any good for buckles, or clasps, or buttons, or, sadly, pens for writing speeches. It was doubtful Dieter would recognize the generous action. That, Bastian thought as he lay back against the dusty fur, was rather the point.

Dieter knocked a piece of gravel out of Bastian’s left boot after he pulled it loose, then set it beside them. “Next,” he said. He sounded patient, or resigned, or possibly even amused. Bastian held up his other foot. This time, Dieter didn’t need to hold his leg steady, but he put a hand on Bastian’s knee nonetheless.

It was simple force of habit. Dieter had been helping Bastian with his boots since Bastian had worn boots in the first place. It irked him to think of it, needing Dieter’s help instead of wanting it. The two were very different things, and for very different purposes, but Dieter’s hands had always been larger than his own.

When Bastian had been younger, he’d assumed that growing up would one day mean growing into a shape exactly like Dieter’s. It was everything he’d ever aspired to before he’d understood that there were all kinds of men, and that they came in all kinds of shapes.

There were nights still when he didn’t altogether believe it—that a man shouldn’t be built like Dieter—but those nights came fewer and further between as he grew older.

“There,” Dieter said. He took his hand off of Bastian’s knee, but it was only to take off his own boots.

“Keep those off the rug,” Bastian said, lifting his head with deliberate care to show off his neck. Back when ‘visiting Dieter’ had still been ‘visiting Amalia’, he’d undone two of the buttons on his jacket. It was his favorite jacket, crafted entirely of stiff silks and scrolling brocades. It was made for parties, or for warmer weather. Bastian didn’t want it anywhere near Dieter’s boots, which were the color of mud, and sometimes covered in mud, and the leather of them was soft and worn and wrinkled as an old fisherwoman’s face.

They were easier to put on and take off, but they didn’t look as nice as Bastian’s did.

Dieter crossed his legs, his shoulders hunched from trying to make himself look smaller in a tent that was fairly large, as tents went. He looked uncomfortable.

“This isn’t as comfortable as it looked,” he confessed.

Bastian sat up on his elbows, smiling as he imagined the hunter must have been smiling before he made this polar bear into Dieter’s rug. “I happen to be comfortable everywhere I go,” he said. “I’m sorry if you don’t feel the same.”

“No one’s comfortable everywhere,” Dieter said, for the sake of argument. He scratched the back of his neck where the hair grew soft and began to curl. He was in need of a shave, and doubtless wouldn’t think of such a thing before leaving to make his speech in the morning.

Sometimes it was a surprise to Bastian how Dieter managed to command respect at all.

“You haven’t had enough wine,” Bastian countered, and handed him the fluted glass, filled nearly to the brim. There was wine meant to be savored, and then there was wine meant to be shared between brothers. They weren’t precisely brothers, Bastian thought, but it would have to do. It was the right vintage. He’d chosen carefully, and it wasn’t the sort he usually preferred but richer, woodier, almost nuttier, rather than sweet and fruity and alive. It was the kind of wine that Dieter would prefer, and the sacrifice was merely common sense. This was wine for Dieter. He ought to like it, or he’d never drink it at all.

The stem of the glass was delicate, spindly as a spider’s leg. Bastian reflected for a moment that he should have brought along glasses without stems at all, to make things easier on Dieter, but again, he’d planned on drinking with Amalia, not his half brother. Improvisation was key.

This way, when Dieter took the wine glass, their fingers touched too much during the exchange.

Bastian reached between them and rested his fingers against the back of Dieter’s neck, where the hair curled. Bastian’s hair had done that, before he decided to grow it longer. “Now, smell that,” he said. He was still improvising.

Grudgingly, Dieter allowed himself to breathe. “Hm,” he said finally.

“Just have a glass,” Bastian said. “‘A man grows strong not when he resists all temptation, but when he learns to balance his resistance with acceptance.’”

“I’m almost sure this isn’t the spirit in which that proverb was meant,” Dieter said, but Bastian was curling his dark hair around a finger, and the words were run through with an uncertain shiver. It was almost like petting the rug, since Dieter was equally dusty, but slightly more aware.

Dieter didn’t know how to hold his liquor.

He brought the glass to his lips as Bastian watched, and sniffed again, this time deeper.

“Where’d you get it?” he asked.

Bastian shrugged, dropping his hand to rest steadily on Dieter’s shoulder, a mark of camaraderie, of companionship. He didn’t want to threaten Dieter, after all. The plan was merely to discomfit him. “I have my sources,” he replied. “I know people, who in turn know people, and if you continue on and on like that for a while, it’s really almost as if I know everyone.”

Dieter swirled the wine in the glass, a clumsy effort. Bastian told himself that he’d have to teach him to do it with a little more charm and a little more grace, at least for the days when all eyes would be fixed on Dieter at banquets, and he wasn’t merely dining with soldiers, who ate like pigs, and smelled even worse.

“I came by it perfectly legally,” Bastian promised. “And I swear, it isn’t poisoned.”

“It’s poison itself,” Dieter muttered. His voice whistled and echoed over the rim of the glass, his lower lip against the circumference. Bastian leaned back on his elbows, watched Dieter’s mouth, and waited.

*

The first time they’d gone to the Volker together, they hadn’t been together. Bastian had gone on ahead, early as he did every night, so that there was time to properly enjoy the wine and to get properly drunk after that. He’d invited Dieter along as he always did, with the delighted air of the secret between them, and knowing that as much as his half brother hated his going, Dieter wouldn’t do anything to stop him.

There was no purer joy than glimpsing the helpless fury on Dieter’s face when Bastian announced he was leaving. And then he went. There was nothing out of the ordinary about that.

Except this time, Dieter followed him.

Bastian was always greeted at the door of the Volker. His name was always announced before he entered. It wasn’t on account of ceremony, the way their father had his and Dieter’s names announced before they entered a party, and there wasn’t any respect in it. Rather, Bastian’s name became a peal of delight, or a hoarse bark of scolding (if he’d been away too long), or an alluring purr leaned up against the doorframe.

That night it was the third option, and Ingrid who ran the bar on odd days of the week offered him a delicate, lacy wave.

Inside, the magistrate’s son, Albrecht, was clutching a fistful of literature and pontificating to all who would listen that life was simply a waking dream.

“Get your dreaming ass off the table, then!”

It was always impossible to tell who’d shouted, though it was most likely Holger, who ran the bar on even days and didn’t have any stomach for philosophy. He threw a suffering look towards the handsome, dark-haired boy who waited tables and hid the fact that she was a woman—a truth Bastian knew intimately.

Someone threw a bottle from the thieves’ corner and it smashed at Albrecht’s feet. Holger stirred with interest at the prospect of a fight.

Amidst the noise and the drinking and the crashing, Bastian slid into one of the worn-smooth booths at the back of the room. It never mattered whom he was sitting with, since at fifteen he’d perfected the sort of smile that made anyone want to be sitting with him.

That night, he decided, he wanted to be sitting with whoever had thrown the bottle.

There were three other people in the booth: woman with her hair parted as evenly as curtains, and a man who sat with his arm through hers, tapping the table nervously with his free hand. The third was a man with a long snake of a scar slithering down from the corner of his left eye to nest at the bend of his jaw. He had a thin moustache and the dark skin of a Gypsy.

“Aha,” said the man. He gestured for his companions to look at Bastian. “See, friends? You pray for an angel, and the good Lord drops one right into your lap.”

Bastian smiled. He always smiled, no matter how rude anyone was. And the ones who thought he was beautiful always bought the wine.

The Gypsy-blooded man bought the wine. Bastian drank it. Then the Gypsy-blooded man bought more wine and they all drank it. Eventually, Bastian lost count, while Albrecht howled about dreams and the man and woman both tangled their feet with Bastian’s under the table.

Dieter arrived for the fifth or sixth round—one always lost count after four—to find Holger and Albrecht shouting at one another, and Bastian kissing the Gypsy-blooded man across a table while the couple sitting with them looked sour at the sudden turn of events. The Volker was a mess, and there was the smell of a fight in the air along with the drink and the sweat.

It was the same as a real battle, Dieter thought with some surprise. He supposed he ought to have brought something more than a knife.

On the sixth or seventh round, Holger threw a bottle at Albrecht’s head. And then, because it was the Volker, all wrath broke loose.

Bastian was still kissing the Gypsy-blooded man when Dieter made it through the howling crowd of powdered whores pulling at hair or pulling out their knives, of bar-hands flipping over tables, of Albrecht’s followers waking up from their collective dreams to realize they didn’t want to get it right in the chest, dreaming or no. A barrel broke. A lady—if she could be called as much—screamed.

Dieter tapped Bastian on the shoulder.

“A moment,” Bastian said, holding up one hand. The other was tangled in the Gypsy-blooded man’s tie. His voice was muffled, understandably so. A bottle flew past Dieter’s ear and exploded on the wall above Bastian’s table, showering flecks of glass and foam down over them like a sudden storm.

Dieter grabbed Bastian by the arm and dragged him to his feet. The Gypsy-blooded man was up in an instant, drawing a thin, mean knife.

“My apologies,” Bastian said, bowing low, “but I doubt you’d want to kill your prince.”

The Gypsy-blooded man looked at Dieter as though it didn’t matter one way or another who he killed.

Dieter broke his jaw. Then, he noticed Bastian’s cheek was bleeding.

“Your cheek,” he said, jerking his thumb near enough to it without having to worry he’d hurt him. “It’s bleeding.”

“A noble injury,” Bastian said. He stumbled against Dieter, clumsy enough, until a chair leg flew past in the space he’d just been, and Dieter realized it was a complicated duck. So he had been paying attention in combat. He’d merely…looked as though he hadn’t been.

“Come on,” Dieter said. “We’re getting out.”

The fight hadn’t come soon enough, as far as Dieter was concerned. He’d still been there long enough to see the way all the women looked at Bastian. All the men, too. Even the ham-fisted man behind the bar, and especially the scarred Gypsy-blooded man. It was a common consensus amongst all the men and women of note: Bastian was a lost cause.

Dieter hauled him by the collar out of the Volker and into the cooler air.

“Never again,” Dieter said, feeling like an overgrown lad scolding his wayward pup. He didn’t even know if it would work, and besides which, his hand hurt.


SECOND HALF