“Plato was right. We're all of us immortal. We couldn't die if we wanted to.”
Chuck Palahniuk - Diary
Elias sees him for the first time at a party at someone or other’s house, some friend of a friend who’s sharing a large three storey near the university. The house is thronged with drunk students, Elias among them, and he’s working through his third mug of gin and lemonade, when someone catches his eye. A man, standing alone in the crowd. Utterly alone, as if nobody even notices him, and utterly unphased by his solitude. Sipping on a glass of whisky and watching the scene around him.
He is also, Elias notes, far older than the usual student crowd. Probably in his forties. One of the perpetual postdocs, maybe, except he’s wearing an actual dress shirt over jeans, even if it is unbuttoned down past his throat. Elias doesn’t think he’s ever seen a postdoc wearing anything other than a ratty t-shirt or some baggy hemp disaster. Never seen one so well groomed, either, with swept back hair and a salt-and-pepper beard that continues as neat stubble down the line of his throat.
Elias lets his eyes travel down that line, into the open collar of the shirt where a thin gold chain glints. Glances back up and sees that the man is looking at him, his expression faintly amused. He gives a wry smile and raises his glass to Elias. Elias might feel embarrassed to be caught staring, but he’s smoked a couple of spliffs on top of the gin, so he’s feeling friendly enough to tip his drink towards the man with a smirk.
“Who’s that?” he asks, turning towards Sarah Ellington. She’s thoroughly obnoxious, but she knows everyone.
“Him,” Elias says, turning back, but the man is already gone.
The second time Elias sees him is at another party, a week or so later. The music is shit, and the house is full of Law students, great guffawing oiks bragging about the position they have lined up at their father’s firm after uni. Elias is unpleasantly sober, despite his best efforts. Cecilia Craven is making a tragic attempt to flirt with him, which anyone could tell her is a waste of time, but apparently she didn’t get the memo that Elias Bouchard is a raging queer. He finally brushes her off with some excuse about needing a cigarette, and escapes through the kitchen into the garden.
“Stay away from the flower beds!” someone calls as he opens the back door. “The landlady’s a menace about her begonias!”
Elias waves a vague hand in their direction and walks outside. Pats his pockets down for a cigarette and swears softly when he realizes he doesn’t have any.
“Smoke?” says a voice, and Elias startles, looking around. In the light from the kitchen window he sees a figure sitting on the retaining wall of a raised flower bed. The begonias, he presumes. Elias doesn’t know how he missed seeing the man when he came out here.
“Ah, cheers,” he says, regaining his composure. He walks over, and feels an odd jolt of recognition. Far more than is warranted for someone he’s seen once in his life, for a few seconds at most.
“I saw you the other night, didn’t I?”
“You’re very observant,” the man says and then chuckles to himself as if he’s made a joke. Elias bristles instinctively, because in his experience if you don’t understand the joke, it’s usually at your expense. Still, he does want that smoke.
The man pulls out an honest to god cigarette case, and taps out what is definitely not a cigarette but a neatly rolled spliff. Lifts it to his lips and lights it with a heavy silver zippo, the end flaring red as he inhales. Holds his breath so long that Elias’ lungs ache sympathetically, then exhales slowly through his nose, smoke trickling out of his nostrils and wreathing around his face, heavily fragrant. He holds the joint out to Elias.
“Cheers,” Elias says again, taking it, and sits down on the wall alongside the man. He takes a long drag on the spliff, the smoke curling hot and acrid in his throat. It’s excellent quality, he can tell instantly, the hash strong and sweet. Even practised as he is, he can feel his eyes watering slightly. He holds his breath for several long moments, feeling the pleasant burn in his lungs, then slowly releases it. Takes one more hit before handing the spliff back.
“That’s good,” he says appreciatively. The man nods and takes another drag himself, then holds his hand out to Elias.
“Peter,” he says. His hand is cool to the touch when Elias takes it, his grip firm.
“Elias,” Elias tells him. “So are you a student, or - ” He’s starting to think the man might actually be faculty, one of the hipper lecturers who are sometimes to be found at university parties. Peter laughs, a low, warm sound.
“Not quite,” he says, “Just visiting for a while.”
“Right,” Elias says. There is something a little odd about this man, a sense of space and silence. Not reserve, he seems friendly enough, but a kind of detachment, as if he is speaking to Elias from a great distance. Elias should probably find it off-putting, but instead he finds himself intrigued. The noise of the party has dropped away, leaving them in a pocket of calm quiet. As if the two of them were the only people present, and Peter scarcely even that. This could, of course, also be an effect of the rather excellent hash, which is another reason Elias isn’t inclined to walk away.
“So, Peter-just-visiting,” he says, “What brings you to Oxford?”
“I’m looking for something very important,” Peter tells him. “And I got an inkling that I might find it here. I’m not sure where, though, so I’m just trawling. Needles and haystacks, you know?”
He offers the spliff again, and adjusts his collar as Elias is taking a lungful. A glint snags Elias’ eye, and he glances down at Peter’s throat, where the thin gold chain has fallen out of his collar. Dangling at the end of it is a pendant engraved with a stylized eye, similar to the eye of Horus.
“That’s, ah, interesting,” Elias says, his eyes fixed on the pendant. There’s something fascinating about the symbol, its sweeping curves, and he finds it difficult to pull his gaze away from it. When he finally does, he looks up to see Peter watching him with an intent, questioning expression. His eyes, Elias notices, are terribly blue.
“It’s a very old piece,” Peter tells him. “It belongs to a friend of mine.”
Those blue eyes pierce right through as he takes the spliff back from Elias’ loose grip. Elias’ head is swimming, and he doesn’t think it’s just the hash. He feels like he’s standing on a precipice, and there is something distantly terrifying and yet strangely familiar about it. Peter smiles at him suddenly.
“Here,” he says, “Let me.”
He inhales deeply on the joint and then leans his face close to Elias’, cupping his hands up by Elias’ mouth. Elias lifts his own hands to curl around Peter’s, opens his mouth as Peter exhales into the space between them. His heart is racing as he breathes in the aromatic smoke, and for an instant he envisions himself leaning closer, pressing his mouth against Peter’s. But then Peter is leaning back and the moment is past, though Elias feels dizzy and thrilled as if he’d been kissed ragged. Peter looks at him for a long moment. Then he stands up abruptly, and his cold hand cups the back of Elias’ neck.
“I’m afraid I must be going,” he says. “But I’ll be around for a little while yet. I’m sure you’ll see me again.”
He hands the end of the joint to Elias, and walks back inside the house. Elias stays sitting in the quiet darkness for a while, smoking and thinking about the golden eye of the pendant, the blue of Peter’s own eyes.
That night he has strange, restless dreams of seeking, of being sought, all beneath the scrutiny of something vast and terrible. The hash, he thinks the next morning, really was very strong.
Third time's the charm, and removes all possibility of coincidence. Elias is coming out of a lecture, and there is Peter-just-visiting standing in the middle of the quad, smoking a cigarette with his free hand tucked into the pocket of his pea coat. Entirely serene and at ease. Elias feels an odd sense of satisfaction at the sight of him, standing at a distance, waiting. Something familiar and appropriate, though he can’t place it. He excuses himself from the group he’s with (Will Southall is being insufferable about Sartre again) and strolls across the quad at a leisurely pace. Stops a few feet from Peter, whose eyes meet his with cool amusement.
“Did you miss me so much?” Elias asks, teasing. Peter laughs softly.
“Always,” he says, and once again Elias thinks there’s some joke he’s missing. He tips his head charmingly, unwilling to let Peter get the upper hand.
“Got a cigarette?”
Peter offers him the case and Elias snags a cigarette, places it between his lips as Peter takes out his heavy silver lighter. As he flicks it open, Elias notices the whorling pattern engraved across its surface, an abstract image like waves or coiling fog. Peter lights the cigarette, leaning close so Elias can smell his cologne, bitter citrus and salt.
“Can I buy you a drink?” Peter asks, and Elias lets his lips curve into a faintly mocking smile.
“What a gentleman.”
The Philosophy crowd frequent the Lamb & Flag, so Elias takes them to the Eagle and Child. He’d rather not deal with heckling while he’s maybe trying to fuck a handsome older man, thank you. Elias claims a table near the fireplace while Peter gets the drinks in, leaning comfortably against the wall. He doesn’t see the barman so much as make eye contact with Peter, yet two glasses appear in front of him in due course. Peter walks across, and rather than taking the other side of the table, folds himself onto the bench seat alongside Elias, very close.
“Sazerac,” he says, placing down one of the glasses, and Elias cocks an eyebrow at him.
“Have you been making inquiries?” he asks, and Peter laughs heartily.
“Nothing as sinister as that,” he says. “You might say I’m a good judge of taste.”
Peter peels off his coat, and that glint of gold catches Elias’ attention again. His eyes linger on the pendant, tracing its lines. He doesn’t know quite what it is that so draws him. He’s never been one for jewelry, doesn’t even wear a watch, but there is something...fascinating…
“Still with me, Elias?” Peter says, sounding amused. He tucks the chain carefully into the collar of his shirt, and when Elias meets his eyes there is an odd gleam in them. Elias takes a sip of his drink, feeling a little lightheaded.
They work through one drink and then a second, until Elias is feeling pleasantly warmed. Peter is very unusual company. He asks Elias questions about his studies, his ambitions, and listens intently to the answers. Tells Elias about his own work, some sort of shipping venture that keeps him at sea months on end. Talks about those lonely voyages with the fervor of a man in love, his eyes distant. Yet there is something about talking to him that is like talking to an empty room, hollow and unsatisfying. Elias can’t quite wrap his head around it, but it intrigues him.
Halfway through the third drink Peter’s hand slips onto Elias’ thigh, casually, as if it belonged there. Elias considers for a moment and then lets it settle there, tucks himself closer against Peter’s solid bulk. Glances over at the bar, expecting a look of disapproval from the barman. It's not quite illegal to be queer these days, and university culture is broadly permissive, but the locals can still be shocked and Elias takes defiant pleasure in doing so on occasion. The barman, however, is polishing glasses with a vacant expression on his face, as if he isn’t even aware of their presence.
Elias is reminded of the other night in the garden, how the silence had closed in around them, until it had seemed they were the only two people in the world. He decides to test a theory.
“...so I was left there with the jaguar,” Peter is saying as part of some rambling tale, but he breaks off as Elias twists around to face him. He looks a little surprised, and Elias smiles. He always aims to be surprising.
“Well,” Peter begins to say, but doesn’t get any further as Elias leans in to kiss him. Just a soft brush of lips first, then nudging his mouth open so Elias can lick inside. Peter’s mouth is cold, tasting of smoke and expensive scotch. Elias knows that he is a very good kisser and aims to show it, lets his tongue curl hungrily around Peter’s and his teeth tease a little. Smiles internally as Peter’s hands come onto his waist, skating over his ribs. There you are, he thinks, and eases off somewhat, lets the kiss slow down and deepen, slides his hands up around Peter’s neck.
It’s maybe a minute or two before they break apart, and Elias is dizzy from far more than alcohol. The barman, when Elias looks in his direction, is still ignoring them entirely. He turns back, and Peter is looking at him with such hunger that Elias’ face goes hot.
“Would you like to come home with me, Elias?” he asks, low and throaty. Elias’ heart gives a hard thump in his chest, though he’s not sure why. It’s hardly the best pick up line he’s ever heard, and he’s no blushing virgin. But something about Peter affects him, deeply and intensely.
“I thought you weren’t from around here,” he says, aiming for playful but it comes out a little weak and breathless. Peter smiles indulgently.
“Quite right,” he says. “Can’t get anything past you. Well then, would you like to come back to my hotel? It’s very nice.”
“Sounds...nice,” says Elias, and Peter laughs.
It is dark on the streets of Oxford, as if they’ve been lost in each other's company for hours. Elias clings close to Peter’s side, a strange fear crawling through his head that he might otherwise be cast adrift. Peter lights a joint and they share it as they walk, the smoke coiling heavy around them. The streets are silent but for the echo of their footfalls, empty but for pale pools of light from the street lamps. Elias shivers with cold.
There is a liminal feeling about all of this, like all the world is balanced on a knife edge between the mundane and the uncanny. It feels thrillingly dangerous, and Elias knows it would probably be sensible to walk away from this strange encounter before things get any stranger. But he has always had an insatiable need to know, to follow things through to their conclusion. He doesn’t have it in him not to see where this goes.
Feeling bold, he turns and pushes Peter into a shop doorway, curling his hands into the collar of Peter’s thin shirt. Elias has the distinct impression of Peter allowing himself to be manhandled, and he makes a low sound in his throat as his back hits the brickwork. His eyes are half lidded and he smiles lazily at Elias. Lets Elias kiss him, deep and savage and starving.
Peter’s beard is scratching pleasurably against his jaw, and god, this is so familiar. The fit of their mouths together, like they’ve kissed a thousand times before, like each time was the first. The cold of Peter’s lips and tongue. The press of Peter’s body against his, solid and strong, exciting yet somehow well known. Peter’s arms around him like a habit he’s had his whole life. Elias pushes closer, intoxicated, wanting more of this strange feeling. He needs to know.
Elias feels cold stinging sharp across his knuckles and pulls off with a gasp. Sees the thin gold chain tangled around his fingers where they’re curled in Peter’s collar. Peter’s hand comes up to close around his, gently disengaging his grip.
“Not here,” he says, and Elias nods, though he doesn’t know why. His fingertips are tingling numbly.
In Peter’s hotel room, Elias unbuttons Peter’s shirt and runs his fingers along the line of an old scar.
“Got caught doing something I shouldn’t have,” Peter tells him, and Elias smiles in satisfaction. It feels like something he already knew. He pushes Peter’s shirt off his shoulders, lets his hands move over Peter’s cold skin, and it feels like a rediscovery. He looks up at Peter, his heart pounding, his mouth dry.
“I know you,” he says, breathless. “Why do I know you?”
Peter’s blue eyes meet his, and all that wry amusement is gone now, raw desire left in its place.
“Just look at you,” he says solemnly, and raises his hands to cup Elias’ face. Kisses him, slow and careful. It is a devastatingly intimate kiss, and Elias is lost. He knows being kissed like this. Nobody else has ever kissed him like this in his life, but he knows it, knows the shape of Peter’s mouth against his, the rasp of his beard, the cool strength of Peter’s hands on his jaw, holding him steady. He moans into Peter’s mouth, sinking forward against him, his hands coming up to grasp Peter’s shoulders. He feels like he’s falling, drowning, drowned in this sensation, this knowledge. He feels known. He feels right.
He doesn’t know how long it is before they break apart, but they are both breathing heavily. Peter’s pale face is flushed faintly pink, his mouth red and wet. Elias has never wanted someone more in his life.
“We should go to bed,” he says, and Peter laughs.
“I couldn’t agree more.”
Elias strips off his clothes while Peter lights another spliff. Places it between Elias’ lips and presses him down on the bed, drops to his knees with his hands skimming up the inside of Elias’ thighs. Elias lets them fall apart, lies flat on his back taking deep lungfuls of hash as Peter mouths at the skin of his inner thighs, his teeth grazing playfully, his beard scratching against the tender skin. It is teasing and gentle and deeply erotic, and the muscles of Elias’ legs go taut and twitching, little gasps escaping him. His head is swimming with smoke and arousal.
“There’s a theory,” Peter tells him, “That we remember everything from our past lives. That we never learn anything new, just recall things we already know.”
“Anamnesis,” Elias gasps sharply, because he is studying philosophy, thank you. And there are far better things Peter could be doing with his mouth than talking.
“The Greeks had more than a few good ideas,” Peter says, running his tongue along the crease of Elias' groin, so close to his aching cock but still not touching it. Elias won’t beg, but he tangles a hand in Peter’s hair, pulls hard to make his displeasure known.
“God, Peter,” he moans, “Do you always have to be such a tease?”
“Always,” Peter agrees, and then swallows his cock.
Peter sucks him deep and slow, just the way Elias likes it, until he’s right on the edge of orgasm. Then Peter pulls away, strips off the rest of his clothes and kisses Elias again, breathing the hash smoke from between his lips. Peter pushes oil slicked fingers inside himself while Elias watches, enthralled. Peter straddles Elias and works Elias’ cock into his arse, panting softly, as Elias holds Peter’s cock in his hand, hard and heavy, warmer than the rest of him but not by much. Strokes him just a little and Peter groans, though Elias has scarcely touched him.
Elias remembers this, remembers how easy Peter is, how responsive to every touch. He knows he should feel unnerved by that, but instead it feels like home. His mouth waters at the sight of pre-ejaculate already gathering at the head of Peter’s cock, and he rubs his thumb over it, relishing the way Peter shivers.
Peter brings the remnants of the joint to Elias’ lips, and he inhales the last mouthful of fragrant smoke. Feels it curling warm in his lungs and moving heady through his bloodstream, as Peter pinches it out between his fingers and flicks the remains onto the floor. Elias strokes his cock again, more insistent this time, and Peter looks at him with ardor that Elias basks in. Peter kisses him, deep and intent, and pulls back once they’re both breathless, one hand on Elias’ cheek.
“I missed you,” he says, and some terrible swell of emotion roils up inside Elias suddenly, some strange mingling of sorrow and relief and longing.
“I missed you too,” he gasps, and he knows it’s true, though he has no idea how or why. Anamnesis, he thinks, and it’s ridiculous but he is far too high to question it right now, his head reeling and his body floating, every nerve ending tingling with arousal.
“God,” he laughs, “What was in that joint?”
“Nothing you wouldn’t expect,” Peter tells him, and Elias isn’t sure he believes him, but he also doesn’t care right now. He wraps his arms around Peter’s neck, kissing him again, fucking up into his tight arse in steady strokes as Peter’s hips roll against him in perfect counterpoint. Peter is stroking his own cock fervently, licking his lips as his thighs tense and tremble.
Pleasure grows between them in waves, inevitable as the ocean, until Elias is gasping against Peter’s lips, clinging to him desperately. His eyes want to close as he feels orgasm approaching, but something in him will not allow it, keeps his gaze fixed on Peter’s as his arousal peaks and crests over. Elias groans long and low, his climax tearing through him with startling intensity, his hips stuttering and still holding onto Peter like a drowning man to his one salvation.
“Oh god I love you,” he hears himself moan, and Peter’s eyes go wide, shockingly blue, as his cock spills across Elias’ belly with a soft gasp. Peter falls across him and pulls Elias into his arms, kissing his mouth, his cheek, his jaw.
“I'm here,” he murmurs, “I have you,” and Elias curls against him, not understanding any of this, but warm in the knowledge that Peter has him. My Peter, he thinks, stroking his hands up along Peter’s flanks, feeling the rise and fall of his ribs. He still feels lightheaded and unreal, his heart pounding with emotions he isn’t sure are his, but right now all that matters is that he is found, he knows and is known, and Peter is here.
Elias sleeps, and dreams. Of a graveyard in the fog where he is alone and watched by something beyond comprehension. Of a forest full of eyes, books full of terrible knowledge. Of a vast edifice in stone and steel, caged and watchful, writhing with dread. The sky blinks above him.
You know who you are, Peter tells him in his dream. And you know I’ll find you, however many times you die.
You’ll find me, says Elias, who is not Elias, who is someone else entirely. A whole other being on the tip of his tongue. And I’ll know you, always.
Elias wakes, and Peter is gone. Only a scribbled note left on the bedside cabinet, and isn't that so him, Elias thinks without knowing why. Taking ship for Argentina. You don’t know yet, but you will. You always know so much. For now, returning this. P.
The golden eye pendant lies on the cabinet. Elias picks it up, feeling the tingle against his fingers, sharp and biting. It feels like the promise of things to be known, great and glorious and terrible things. It feels right.
He clasps the chain around his neck, and the eye lies cold and heavy against his heart.