Log Title: Play It Again
Summary: In which the nature of human history repeating itself is considered and ultimately ignored.
IC Date: Sun Mar 24 19:41, 2381
OOC Date: Sun Mar 24 19:41, 2019
Related Logs: Atypical, Drunken Noodles, Tea for Two, A Toe Dipped in Virtual Water, Rocking the Boat, History Repeating, The Duke's New Clothes, Just A Scratch
royalwinter

 

 

"Don't tell me this isn't real."

* OOC Time: Sun Mar 24 17:41:57 2019 *

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* * *

The construct Royal chose for his convalescence is something that can and probably does exist somewhere in Bay City. It's a towering penthouse with curved windows looking out over the winking city lights. The initial construct was a bustling cocktail party full of constructs of the luminaries of history. But the Duke has deleted all the people from the scenario, leaving a cavernous open space that just happens to have wonderful acoustics.

He sits at a baby grand piano, clad in an understated black suit. His fingers trip across the keys, playing a song that is by now, quite ancient - but thanks to digital recordings, perfectly preserved. "Without your love, it's a honkey-tonk parade. Without your love, it's a melody played in a penny arcade." He has a good voice, clear and sharp, if a bit nasal. It fits the old standard, though. "It's a Barnum and Bailey world. Just as phony as it can be. But it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me."

* * *

The construct is one Winter sent to Royal several weeks ago, after his first foray into recreational VR wasn't a total disaster. Either by intent or accident, the activity status was left on so when Royal accesses the space, Winter gets an ONI notification that it's opened and in use. There's a faint smile for that, but they leave him to his own devices for a little while, review the last of their case files and pour themself a generous drink of bourbon. (They have, for their own reasons, started keeping alcohol on site.) Winter is stretched out on the couch, considering the virtual fish tank where a palm-sized sting-ray sifts through sand for tasty detritus. Finishing the last of the bourbon makes them feel languid and floaty, with slightly numb fingertips and toes. Lovely. It also makes it seem like a good idea to message Royal.

Winter > Room for one more?

* * *

Royal > If you like. But you might not like what you hear.

Ominous.

Inside the simulation, Royal continues to sing and play along on the piano. He starts the song over again, "Said it's only a Paper Moon. Sailing over a cardoboard sea. But it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me."

* * *

Ominous. But interesting. Winter sits up, stretches and pads into the office proper to access the program. They settle on one of the reclining chairs, slip the jack into the base of their neck, close their eyes and…

…find themself in an empty penthouse with Royal seated at the piano and singing. They're currently as they appear in the physical, in a soft, gray shirt that tips off the shoulder and a pair of flannel pajama bottoms. Bare feet. They walk over quietly to rest their arms on the piano and listen.

* * *

Royal sings through the song's short few verses, but the longer he has an audience, the more self conscious he seems to get. His piano playing is competent, but nothing extraordinary. Neither his voice nor his playing would net him any kind of career, but that's not always the reason to make music. He finishes off with a flourish of fingers across the ivories.

* * *

Winter's smiling softly by the end of the song and even offers a little applause for the flourish. "You're quite good, you know. All you need is a glass of whiskey and a cigarette, and you'd really fit the part."

* * *

Royal's cheeks pinken a little. "Ah, I smoked for a bit in my younger years. Had a treatment to give it up once I got read the riot act about damaging my lungs." Because even in the future, cigarettes still aren't good for you. He clears his throat. "I don't much like performing. But I have missed…" he runs his fingers across the keys. "It helps me think."

* * *

Winter gives a small nod, watching Royal's fingers give a last little tickle to the ivories. "Am I interrupting? If you just want somewhere quiet to think, I really didn't mean to intrude."

* * *

"No, it's all right," says Royal. He sounds…somewhere between sleepy and mellow. "I was tired of the painkillers and not being able to use my wing. And then I remembered…" he motions around, "…that I could go somewhere to get a break from that. So, thank you. If you hadn't pushed me, I would have just pushed through it."

* * *

"My pleasure. And good on you, making use of VR while your body heals," Winter replies. They consider, shifting their weight a little so they stand on one foot and the toes of the other. "Is that what inspired that particular song? Being in here?"

* * *

"Yes. I took a history of music class in my undergrad. 'Standards through the ages.' It looked at how certain songs were reinvented and covered by dozens of musicians over time, and what the musical structure of the ones that endured have in common." It makes sense, really, that Royal would be drawn to music, given his affinity for patterns. And for the piano, which is tactile patterning turned into music.

He hits the keys and plays a series of notes that will ring a bell as the theme song for a very popular broadcast sitcom. "That, and there are only so many patterns and melodies that are appealing to the human ear." He adds a little bit of a flourish to the same few notes, and suddenly it's 'Anything You Can Do' from 'Annie Get Your Gun.'

* * *

"Patterns within patterns," Winter replies. "We do like to repeat ourselves in so very many ways." They fold their arms, resting their chin on them. "Even when we try to be different. Especially then, perhaps."

* * *

"Mhmm, yes," says Royal. "Quite true indeed." He smiles, but there's something a bit worn down in his eyes. "I'm healing nicely, by the way. Should be out of the sling by the end of the week. Honestly, I could take it out now but they said if I didn't want scarring, to hold still and let the cloned graph assert itself."

* * *

"Good, and you didn't want a scar, so best be cautious and baby the arm for a little longer," Winter agrees. They consider that slightly ground down expression. "How's your family taking it?"

* * *

Royal chuckles roughly. "Well, fortunately for me, my family has some bigger things to worry about. But it won't be long before I feel the heat." He looks at Winter, eyebrows arched. "I did tell you that you didn't have to worry about making me comfortable with how you present in VR, yes? And I did mean that."

* * *

"Hmph," Winter chuckles around a faint smile. They become a pale, lean, shorter man in his late thirties or early forties with a tousle of brown hair, a bit of a five o'clock shadow and vivid blue eyes. The sleep clothes are exchanged for a grey t-shirt and a pair of jeans, with their feet still bare. "Still getting use to it, I guess."

* * *

"There you are," says Royal. He smiles, and there's a pleased dance in his eyes. He's not faking it just for Winter's comfort. He scoots over on the bench for an invitation to sit. "I hope I didn't worry you," he says as he dances his fingers over the keys, plonking out some bit of a showtune from memory.

* * *

Winter takes the offered spot, resting their hands in their lap, since they won't do much good on piano keys. "Here I am," they agree with a small smile. "You hope you didn't worry me? When you got shot with a Sunjet you mean? I wouldn't say learning that was my favorite moment ever."

* * *

"Yes, not mine either," says Royal as he transitions one aimless showtune into something else that sounds like it. It's a ballad now, as opposed to an up-tempo number. The acoustics in the construct really are ideal. "A few inches to the left and well," he smiles in a way that doesn't reach his eyes, "…in here would be the only way I could look like this again."

* * *

"It's a pretty big gamble," Winter agrees, their head turned to watch Royal's face, rather than his fingers, as he plays. "Will you keep taking it?"

* * *

"I don't know that I can stop," says Royal. He plonks out a few more notes, then pulls his hands off the keys. "Being an investigator…I have the opportunity to apply my…gifts," the way he says that word suggests he doesn't quite believe that's what it is, "…in a way that helps people in a tangible way. In a way that…publishing research papers or hosting diplomatic affairs doesn't. It's terrifying, but it feels worth the risk." He meets Winter's gaze, and he looks…quite vulnerable. His guard is well and truly down.

* * *

"I agree," Winter replies gently, their fingers lacing tightly in their lap, pads pressing down on knuckles until they go a little white. "I think you can do a lot of good as a PI. And if you think that good is greater than the possibility of losing your birth sleeve, then I support that decision. But, we both know those aren't the only two options you have."

* * *

"Ah, even if that option becomes…" Royal swallows, "…inevitable, there will still be situations when I may be in danger when I didn't expect to be. Using a secondary sleeve only guards against situations like the one that got me shot."

He goes quiet a moment, then he reaches over for Winter's hand. If he's allowed, he'll take their hand very gently, and unfold the digits to place them on the cool keys. He presses on top of Winter's fingers, so that one note and then the other on the higher end of the scale rings out, the sharp, high notes echoing through the empty room. He gets a little closer. "Have you ever incorporated music into your therapy?"

* * *

"Yes, but that was the situation that got you shot," Winter reminds with a faint smile. Their current face is a little boyish, with something a touch lost and something a touch playful present, no matter what else their expression holds. They let Royal take hold of a hand and settle it on the keys, gaze dropped to watch their shared fingers play a chord. "Not… into my sessions," they say of music. "I don't play a lick. I've had a few clients that do, and sometimes we'll incorporate that into their exercises for home." Maybe they're a titch rambly.

* * *

"It can be quite soothing. Even just to not play anything in particular. To just let your fingers ramble. But," Royal chuckles and smiles a little, "I always end up finding the patterns. Because it's me." He takes his other hand and sandwiches Winter's between the two. He goes quiet, and with no plinking piano, the room is quite quiet too. He looks at their hands and squeezes gently.

* * *

"Because it's you," Winter agrees gently. Fondly. As if his being him, even those parts that make him peculiar, or especially those parts perhaps, are lovely. They huff a soft breath out as their trapped fingers are squeezed. "Don't tell me this isn't real," they murmur softly.

* * *

"Before I met you, I would have argued that it wasn't. But…" Royal trails off. He leans over and rests his forehead against the side of Winter's head. He exhales and squeezes the hand held between his. "I'm a bloody mess."

* * *

"God, aren't we all," Winter murmurs with a soft laugh, eyes closing as his forehead rests against their temple. "But, that's part of the beauty of it, don't you think? All us fumbling, flawed, fallible creatures still somehow tripping our way into moments of genuine connection. Moments of understanding. Where we're still a mess, but not alone."

* * *

"It's hard to be anything else, isn't it?" Royal slides one hand off, then interlaces their fingers. His are long and uncalloused. A musician's hands, even though he wouldn't claim to be a proper musician. "Human beings are also confounding. By all rights, we should hate each other. Or at least be at complete odds." He chuckles softly. His free hand now goes to encircle Winter's waist. He closes his eyes as well.

* * *

"What, just because the way you define your sense of self is exactly at odds with the way I define mine?" Winter asks around a faint smile. They shift a little, turning so knees bump and they rest forehead to forehead. "But, you don't want me to be different than what I am. And I wouldn't want you to be any other way, either. Somehow all those differences… complement."

* * *

"No, no. Of course I wouldn't." Royal exhales. He means that quite emphatically. It's not a platitude. "I'm a student of humanity, of history. All the different forms humanity can take, that's what makes it beautiful." He smiles and lifts a hand to run along Winter's cheek. "I've never met anyone quite like you. So comfortable with inhabiting all parts of the human experience."

* * *

"Well, I…" their head turns a little, pressing their cheek against Royal's palm. "Unlike most, I grew up without a template. I'm sure that helped. Though I'd argue you've done your own share of inhabiting many parts." Oh look. Someone's osmosed the 'lewd innuendo' skill. "I've never met anyone before who so completely knows who he is."

* * *

Royal exhales a breath of laughter. The corners of his eyes wrinkle. "Well," he says wryly, "I know who I think I am. Which isn't precisely the same thing." His thumb runs across Winter's cheek, so different from the sleeve in the real. It doesn't seem to bother him at all, and he's clearly not treating the other like any kind of stranger. Quite the opposite. "Who I think I am is someone absolutely terrible to get involved with for anything other than a quick good time."

* * *

"Eh," Winter murmurs, their smile growing a little bit, "I'm not afraid of you, Dante Taylor."

* * *

"Oh, you're not?" Royal drawls. "Perhaps you should be. Apparently I'm dangerous enough to get shot at. When there was a cop right there, even." He rests his hand along the curve of Winter's neck. For a moment, it might seem like nothing at all is going to happen. But the moment of decision comes swiftly, as he leans forward to close the last bit of distance between them, to kiss softly, but not without a hint of heat.

* * *

"Or clumsy enough," Winter offers as an alternative to 'dangerous'. Perhaps they'd find further quips to offer, but then Royal's chin lifts and lips press to theirs. The kiss is returned softly, gently. Not tentative, exactly, not even cautious, really. But patient and slow. No hurried fumbling. No quick good time.

* * *

Royal matches the pace of the kiss set by Winter, slowing a bit from his natural inclination. It gives him time to enjoy, but also time to think. He pulls back after a moment, to look them in the eye. He looks infinitely more vulnerable than he's looked before. "Did we just completely fuck something up?"

* * *

Winter's eyes blink open, a different color than their physical sleeve, in a different face, but still somehow entirely theirself. Their free hand lifts, palm resting gently against Royal's jaw. "No. I don't think we have."

* * *

"Because I have a marvellous track record of absolutely fucking things up. I'm sure you'd know that if you ever searched my well-documented tabloid twenties." Royal chuckles darkly. Normally he'd make some crack about pictures of his naked ass or drunken revelry, but his heart really isn't in that kind of quip right now.

* * *

Winter sits a little straighter. "Listen," they say gently, "we kissed. And, if you're having second thoughts, we don't ever have to do it again. And if we do, I don't expect you to suddenly become someone else with different wants. I get that whatever this is, it's not going to be 'normal'." The air quotes are audible.

* * *

"I just don't want to hurt you," says Royal quietly. "I've hurt so many people. I try not to, but it keeps happening." He lays his head on Winter's shoulder, pressing a fair bit of his weight down. It's a true lean, like he's trusting the other with the weight of everything. "But I feel like you see me. Not my reputation, my title, or what I try to be. Which is both terrifying and exhilerating."

* * *

Winter lets their hand rest against the back of Dante's neck in a warm press. "I'm not afraid of being hurt," they reply. "There's so much we don't get to pick or control. But, if I do get to choose something, I'll choose this. For however long we get to have it." They turn their head enough to press a kiss to Royal's hair. "I like what I see," they murmur.

* * *

"Maybe I am," says Royal quietly, like the thought just occured to him. "And things are about to get a lot more complicated. My family has been content to more or less leave me alone and to my own devices, happy I wasn't making headlines. But now…"

* * *

"Maybe you are," Winter agrees, fingers rubbing against the nape of his neck. Their tone doesn't suggest any fault in that. "Mmm," they agree softly for the royal family's renewed interest. "Now, I doubt they'll be quite so willing to look the other way. What do you think they'll demand?"

* * *

"More attention paid to my diplomatic duties. They won't tell me to give up being a PI, especially since I'm under the thumb of the Longbows. But that will be heavily implied." Royal exhales. "But I have a play for that. I was supposed to teach in the summer term. If they want me to spend more time on diplomacy, then I'll give up teaching." He closes his eyes, seemingly relaxed by the touch at his neck. "And they will no doubt insist on a secondary sleeve. No avoiding it this time. Not if I want to stay in Bay City."

* * *

There's a shifting of muscles that suggests Winter's giving a small nod. "I know you don't want to hear this, but I think they're right about the secondary sleeve. You said your birth sleeve will still be in danger, and that's true. But you can minimize it, at least. If you do mean to stay."

* * *

"I do," says Royal with no hesitation. "I don't like who I am in London. Who I end up being when the cameras are on me. I like myself better here when people think being a Duke is something foolish and pretentious." He chuckles, and their closeness vibrates Winter's shoulder a little.

* * *

"Comes from growing up in a place where royalty is relegated to fairy tales and foreign countries," Winter supposes, giving Royal's neck a gentle scritch. "So, then, it'll have to be a secondary sleeve."

* * *

Tension seeps into his neck. Royal grunts softly. "Mhmmm." He lifts his head and looks Winter in the eye. "You going to help me with that?" His eyebrows arch. "This very…foreign-to-you resleeving anxiety that I have?"

* * *

"Did you doubt it for even a moment?" Winter returns, brows lifting in a similar expression. "Of course I am."

* * *

"I expect it will be entertaining," says Royal with a soft chuckle. He sits up and sucks in a breath of air, then reaches up to finger through Winter's hair. "I should like very much to stay, but I find myself quite tired despite not being attached to my physical body right now. Perhaps it's all suggestion?" He smiles and slides a hand down the other's jaw. And lest they think the first time was just a fluke, he leans in to press another soft kiss. "See you soon?"

* * *

"Well, you've been up half the night playing piano," Winter points out. They lean in for that last, little kiss before sitting up a bit straighter in preparation for standing. "See you soon," they affirm. "Sweet dreams, Dante."

* * *

Royal smiles, then slowly drags his fingers through Winter's hair. "Good night." And then, his construct fades out just as his hand finishes dragging through.