by MJJ

It happened in Michaelmas term when Dorian was seventeen and newly arrived in the sixth. Freed from the silly rules that bound the lower forms and with a carefully cultivated reputation for eccentricity to rely on, he'd grown his hair over the summer break. It curled now in golden waves almost past his shoulders.

"Well, Gloria," his housemaster had greeted him on his arrival, "a return to the Quattrocento?"

"An hommage, sir," he'd replied.

"To Botticelli, of course."

"Donatello," he'd demurred. "Botticelli's a little- manly for me yet, don't you think?" The master had a sense of humour and Dorian's hair was allowed to grow thereafter unchecked if not unremarked.

All went swimmingly that term. He was elected to Pop unanimously. He led the lower Sixth in enough subjects to maintain a reputation for brilliance and did badly enough in the rest to avoid the imputation of being a swot. To his infinite disgust, and in spite of his known disdain for 'hearties', he was given a position in the cricket eleven. As a positive side-effect of the last, that exquisite blue-eyed angel in the upper Fifth had begun to hover near him on Games days, lowering his ravishing lashes when Dorian smiled at him. So Dorian had reason to be content, and he was. At least he knew himself happy. Knew himself happy, not felt himself so.

There was a canker in his soul and no amount of worldly success could cut it away. Love itself was unavailing. In the blue eyes of his friend, in his pale yellow hair, Dorian saw forever the shadow of his first love- the boy he'd desired and lost, the sweet youth who'd been torn from him and locked away in cold darkness. To the agony of that parting was added the sickening memory of his own failure. He hadn't been good enough- he hadn't been strong enough- to save that boy from the hairy grasping hands of his owner. The sense of powerlessness he'd felt at fourteen rose up in the depths of midnight and suffocated him. What use was his brilliance - what use was his ability to charm even the masters here? The desire of his heart was forever to be denied him. He would go through life with empty hands, carrying always a small, cold death in his breast like a rose-blighting worm.

And so it was that one night, hot and miserable with his tortured thoughts, he fell at last asleep and knew himself elsewhere.

He was walking naked down a marble colonnade, cool with moonlight and warm from the daylight sun. The air about him was spring-soft, the spring of a gentler country than the northern islands he lived in. A little breeze blew from the dark garden beyond and gently fanned his calves in small puffy gusts, bringing with it the smell of new vegetation and bruised fragrances- thyme, rosemary, laurel. Small rustlings told of little animals among the leaves busy with their spring-time duties. Pale stars showed in the hazy sky and the horizon was creamy with mist, but the moon overhead was cold and clear. It heightened the glowing whiteness of the antique statues in their niches that lined the colonnade, and bleached Dorian's own fair skin to the immortal shade of Parian marble. A serene confidence carried him. He knew himself lovely: of all the beautiful works he passed, himself the most beautiful. And at the end of the colonnade was waiting wonder unspeakable, the very desire of his heart.

Thick red curtains draped the entrance. He raised a graceful muscled arm and drew the velvet aside, seeing the blue veins in his biceps shockingly dark against the unhuman white. Inside lamplight glowed, bringing humanity back to his flesh: pale pinks in arms and legs, warmer roses in chest and belly, and, between his legs, the deep red of desire. Before him was a high couch covered in the same red as his own flesh. Its back was towards him. He bowed his head once, the soft golden curls sliding forward over his bare chest, in greeting and homage to the being that lay concealed there, and walked forward. Doves cooed overhead, white-winged as cherubim, and a rabbit watched him for a moment with a shining black eye before lalloping away among the large amphorae in the corner. He knew from that who was waiting for him in the depths of the chamber but still his heart stopped when she turned her head to look back at him. Foam-born, with the golden ramparts of hair and calm grey eyes that Botticelli had given her- save that she had also the deep brown eyes of a Murillo Virgin and the yellowy-hazel ones of the Madonna of the Rocks, and the smooth brown hair and cool body of an Ingres odalisque along with the reddish splendour and abundant flesh of Titian's Diana. And now she had the archaic half-moon smile of a kore from the Parthenon and next the tight-cornered mouth of Manet's Olympe, and then the full ambiguous lips of the Primavera Flora and thereafter the half-teasing smile of a Boucher nymph. And she was a large pink blush-rose from Rubens, unrestrained and exuberant, but also a Van Eyck Eve with tiny high breasts and a round belly, and she had the proportioned fleshly bounty of Rembrandt's Susannah but also the boneless elongation of an El Greco saint.

She who was all these things and more reached up a hand to him, and Dorian bent over it, watching the fingers go from long and thin to short and plump and back to a wavy Gothic line and then to the fine structure of an Elizabethan portrait...

"Madam," he said. "Your servant," and pressed his lips to the warm flesh.

"Yes indeed." She smiled.

"And your most passionate admirer."

"Oh, I know. So young and so beautiful and so devoted. A rarity, young Gloria. Come here and face me."

He rounded the end of the couch and knelt before her on the thick Persian carpet. His heart was filled with desire.

"Will you be mine?" he asked.

"Completely, if you want me."

"I do want you. More than I can say."

"And what will you give me in exchange?"

"My heart. My life. My talents and skill. My body." He lowered long lashes. "My all."

"Content." Her hand played with one of his curls and a little shiver went through him. "I'll be glad to count you one of my own."

"Shall I give you my word on it?"

"No need of that from one so pretty. I know you'll be true to your promise." Cool fingers stroked his cheek briefly. "Unlike some I could name among your elders."

"Yes," he said in bitterness.

"Don't grieve, sweeting. Everything he took from you will come back. You'll have it all some day."

"Oh, when?" he asked between hope and anguish. "Will it be soon?"

"Soon as men count time, though it will seem long enough to you. Be patient, my dear. I wear other faces and you need to learn them all.

"All. You'll find me a jealous mistress. Do you want me still?"


She held out her arms.

"Take me, Dorian."

"Yes," he said, burying his lips in that soft flesh, "I will take you- again and again and again. I will have and keep you from this day forth. And I can promise," he added, looking up with a smile, "that there'll never be any other woman in my life but you."