Once upon a time, Peter made it his personal mission to make Christopher smile. No matter how big a fool he made of himself. Eventually he succeeds.
Sitting in a dark theater, Christopher watches Peter, the sly way his lips curve, the gleam in his eye as he gazes at Suetonian’s scowl. He lets his fingers continue their stroking path down the bust’s cheek in a tickling caress.
Not even stone can resist Peter. The scowl eases, rock-hard lips softening into something less disapproving, less ill-humored.
Why wouldn’t it? The bust is only here because Peter wishes it. This is a stage Peter has set, but what is its purpose?
Peter: You’re wondering what I’m up to, aren’t you, Christopher? Why a stage? Why all this?
Christopher: Wouldn’t you?
Peter: Of course. I’m always thinking and wondering about other people. (He cocks his head at the bust, giving Suetonian the sly look of a man who’s just succeeded in leaving his sexual partner extremely satisfied.) I live to entertain, to please. To give you a performance that’ll make you smile, forget yourself.
How vivid the roses are in the wallpaper behind him, almost bursing out of the second dimension. Christopher can smell them, a seductive perfume which reminds him of the Gardens, of Duessa.
And of Damian.
Peter loses the smirk, as if the stray thought of Damian banished it. He locks his dark eyes with Christopher’s.
Peter: I can images in your eyes, visions of you and me. Visions which might make us both happy, if you’d let me.
Christopher: (squirming in discomfort) Peter…
Peter: You don’t know how much I covet your power. The power of Happily Ever After.
Christopher: I’m not sure how real it ever was. Happily Ever After was just a title I acquired in the Shadow Forest.
Peter: Was it? (He licks his lips with seductive slowness) Didn’t you earn it, little shadow?
Christopher. Sometimes someone’s happiness makes someone else sad. I never could make you happy, Peter.
Peter: So certain of my unhappiness at your side, are you?
Christopher: No. I wish I could have made you happy.
Peter: Not half as much as I wished to make you happy.
Christopher: I know. I’m sorry, Peter.
Peter: For what? Whatever do you have to be sorry for?
Christopher: I was rude to you when you came to the Navel. I rejected you so many times. I took offense to everything you did.
Peter: I know. (He smiles a little, a flush coming to his cheeks.) It was adorable. I fear it brought out the pervert in me.
Christopher: You never stopped trying to make me happy. No matter how much you flirted or tried to touch me, all you really wanted was a smile.
Peter: Oh, Christopher. (He chuckles.) I wanted a lot more than that!
He let out another chuckle. Suetonian’s stone lips turn down into a smirk, his sightless gaze fixed upon Christopher, giving the shadow the impression he was laughing right along with Peter.
Like a hot, blistering wave it hit Christopher. Scorn. Scorn for everyone, the entire history of civilization. How could he not mock it? No wonder he’d told a history filled with lies. No one had caught him. Not until centuries later. Why would they? People enjoyed his embellishments too much. It made them careless about checking his facts. What amusing fools.
This hot wave of scorn was coming from the bust of Suetonian, the personality animating the stone. Or what Peter thought animated the stone. Who and what he’d decided Suetonian was. It was withering.
Christopher stood in the middle of it, thinking this is what the flowers must feel like when I get too close, when they wither and turn black.
No. Christopher sat up straight, stopping squirming, and planted his feet in the ground. For it mattered. The truth mattered. Why else would the most of persuasive lies have a measure of truth?
This was the key to Peter. Even when he was lying, mocking other people he was telling the truth. He was convinced it was what other people needed, wrapping them in the reality he thought they needed, but there was something comforting in a reality which stayed solid, a sky filled with changing colors you could just watch, without worrying about whatever was in your imagination flying down and devouring you. You could let your imagination wander, your visions staying locked in your head while you just flirted with them, safe and sound.
Not that Peter was in a place where he could indulge in such things.
The set wall was creeping forward. Red roses poked their way out of the velvet, accompanied by thorns, thrusting their way through.
Look out, Christopher wanted to cry, but the words wouldn’t come out. The look in Peter’s eye silenced him, something hungry and hurt.
Peter: Did I make you happy, Christopher? Really? Or did I just tear open old wounds, my presence constantly reminding you that Damian was no longer there?
Christopher: No. (He hangs his head, not wanting to reflect the past back in his shimmering eyes of all the times he scowled at Peter, letting Peter know he could never replace Damian in so many ways when he didn’t say it out right.) I’m sorry.
Peter: Once again, I’m baffled at this shame. What do you have to be sorry about?
Christopher: No matter how bratty I was, you never stopped trying to get to smile. And you did. Remember?
He looks up, meets Peter’s eyes, hoping his own shine with the moment Peter did get him to smile, standing in a garden which Christopher once saw as just his and Damian’s.
Christopher: You explained purple prose to me. You said it was a guilty pleasure of yours. I realized it was a pleasure of mine, too. Only I never knew I was supposed to feel guilty about it.
Peter: Of all the lines I’d ever used, I never knew that admission would be the key to getting you to smile.
Christopher: That moment was ours. Yours and mine.
Peter: One fleeting moment. (He closes his own eyes, refusing to look at Christopher.) There was others, so many others. Moments when I tried to touch and you shrank away. Maybe you wouldn’t have minded it if it was someone else. You would have welcomed it.
Suetonian’s stone smirk grows. Christopher could almost feel his scorn.
Suetonian: <Happily Ever After indeed.> Christopher hears the words in his head, although he’s not sure if Peter can. <You think you can cheer up this challenge, little shadow? This ultimate shadow I’ve nourished with my lessons of the power of lies?> A hint of pride mingled with the scorn. <He doesn’t want a happy ending. All that bother trying to make other people happy, to make you happy, yet he refuses to recall the time he succeeded. He’d rather be pricked by thorns and make a joke out of it.>
The set wall is right behind Peter, pressing against his back. As if to illustrate Suetonian’s point, they scratch his cheeks, catching in his hair.
Peter grins as if, yes, it was all a joke. Suetonian grins right along with him.
Peter: Funny how the answer is perfectly obvious. If you wish I was someone else, maybe I should become someone else. Someone who makes both you and Paul happy.
Christopher: (standing up) You already do! Don’t try to change, Peter. We like you the way you are!
Peter: Ah, that’s not true. (He nestles back amidst the roses and thorns, even when they tear at his cheeks, sending bloody tears streaking down his face.) I distress Paul so much, he literally tore himself in two. As for you, I’m always putting pressure on you, making you feel like you have to respond to my lust and satisfy it. Better to become someone who can satisfy you.
He leaves his seat, runs toward the stage.
The thorns snake out into tendrils, lashing at Christopher, keeping him away from the stage.
Christopher: (glaring at them) If only I had a sword.
Peter: Why don’t you wish for one? Slash at my thorns, like a fairytale prince. What a princess I’ve turned out to be, making my bed amongst the briars. Go ahead and give us a whack. You’d think I’d be used to your blows by now.
Christopher: Blows? (He stared at Peter, reflecting the young man in the standing bower of briars.) What have I done to you?
Peter: Nothing I didn’t ask for or beg for. You’re quite the slight little thing, but your unhappiness, your loneliness feels like a blow.
Christopher: I’m not unhappy. Nor am I lonely. I have Gabrielle. I thought I had you.
Peter: And I can never have you anymore than you can have Damian. How I hated him.
Christopher: All right, yes, I missed Damian. I was unhappy, even heartbroken when he left, but you got me to smile again. You reminded me of what it was like to smile. You couldn’t have done that, Peter, if you hadn’t been you. Please don’t dismiss yourself or the power you have!
Peter: Oh, I don’t. After all, I’m flexible. Adaptable. (He writhes a bit against the thorns as if he enjoys their pricks.) Capable of changing into someone better. Someone you’ll actually want. Someone everyone will want.
Christopher: There’s no such thing as someone everyone wants?
Peter: (widening his eyes, smiling in a wicked way) If you believe that, Christopher, you’re unworthy of the power of Happily Ever After. I’ll be taking that burden from you, the challenge of making everyone happy.
Christopher: How can you do that? I tried, Peter, but we’ve seen it’s not possible.
Peter: How quickly you forget your own lessons! Anything is possible Beyond the Door. Including becoming a god.
Christopher: You think you can become a god?
Peter: If enough people believe in me, believe that I can make them happy, yes. A godling, at the very least.
Christopher: You’re starting to remind me of Dyvian.
Peter: Thank you for reminding me that he’s one of the first people I have to find and convert. I’ll see you in another form, Christopher.
Peter’s body disappears, becoming a flurry of rose petals. They take flight, along with the set wall which dissolves into flowers, flying and floating.
Christopher remains with the empty stage and no set. Only Suetonian’s bust remains.
Christopher: I wonder that he didn’t take you with him.
Suetonian: <I’ve taught him all there is to know. It’s his turn to surpass me in deception and art.>
Christopher: What you’re saying almost sounds noble, yet it gives me the chills.
Suetonian. <Thank you.>
Christopher: That wasn’t a compliment.
Suetonian: <That wasn’t entirely not a compliment.>
Christopher: (sighing) No, I suppose it wasn’t.