Harlequin's Slash Fic

An Ideal Friend

Title: An Ideal Friend
Author: Julien
Universe: An Ideal Husband
Characters featured: Lord Arthur Goring/Sir Robert Chiltern
Category, Word count: Short story; 3706 words
Rating: R
Summary, Notes: This story took its inspiration from the 1999 movie version of Oscar Wilde’s play. As if the divine casting wasn’t inspiration enough, the characters exchange the lines quoted in the epigraph while sweating together at the baths in naught but a towel or two… Now, what was Arthur misremembering, I wondered; what was he prompting Robert to recall? This is the story of the one night the two men spent together, before Robert first met the wonderful Gertrude.
The epigraph at the end of the story is from Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan. Anything particularly clever found between the two is no doubt borrowed from these and other Wildean sources.
First published: 22 April 2004 in Homosapien 7

 

An Ideal Friend

 

‘You took the last good woman I know,’ Arthur said mournfully. ‘Took her right out of my arms, if I remember correctly.’

‘Which of course you don’t,’ Robert retorted.

 

‘Robert, how delightful to see you. How is life in the working world?’

‘Why – why, tonight it is exceptional, Arthur. I have taken a step – secured the kind of patronage – it was only this evening that I knew for certain – Well, I am on the brink of achieving wonderful things!’

‘I always knew it.’ And, as the butler withdrew, Lord Goring called after him, ‘Champagne, Phipps!’

‘But I cannot confide in you,’ Robert Chiltern continued – ‘there is someone else involved – the secret is not only mine – I am sorry, Arthur.’

‘The first time you’ve ever kept anything from me, my dear,’ Goring said complacently. ‘It must be something horribly noble, for you to be so embarrassed …’

Robert laughed, though he had to admit to an ounce of uneasiness about the situation – if only because he actually felt relieved that he was not required to explain. But what would Arthur, the idlest man in England, know about such matters, anyway? Robert had come to realise that the boldest steps occasionally required one to make some small concession, some negligible compromise that would eventually, of course, be more than outweighed by the honourable outcome. ‘You always assume I’m so good, so true …’ It sounded like a complaint, even to his own ears.

Phipps came back in with the champagne, and a moment later Goring raised a glass to his friend. ‘You are the most ethical creature on this earth, Robert.’ And he took a generous mouthful to complete the toast.

A discreet murmur: ‘Will there be anything more, my lord?’

‘No, Phipps. Take the night off, as you planned.’

‘Thank you, my lord.’ And he was gone.

‘Are you so sure?’ Robert asked. ‘Do I seem so timid?’

‘Timid? No, quite the opposite: you are brave. I have not the courage to be a good man, and must content myself with admiring you.’

All of which was said with an urbane smile, though Robert knew that Arthur truly felt the sentiment. Which made an excellent opening for him to raise the reason for his visit.

Robert cleared his throat. ‘Arthur, there are some matters between us about which we have never spoken.’

‘Oh, my dear, you do sound serious. This is not my night for being serious.’

‘I do not ask you to be serious.’ Robert left a pause. Looked directly at Arthur. Ensured he had the man’s full attention. ‘I think I will let you seduce me tonight, Arthur.’

Silence met this announcement, and it wasn’t like Lord Goring to be silent. Ever the one for the apt, witty retort, Goring rarely let a conversation falter. But there he sat, his impenetrable dark eyes looking back at Robert, his demeanour as chill as the champagne.

‘Perhaps it’s not your night for seduction?’

‘Oh, any night will do as well as any other for seduction, Robert.’

‘And now you Robert me in that severe tone of voice. Have I misunderstood? It’s been some while since I guessed at … at all the ways in which you would like us to be intimate. Maybe I was mistaken. I was such a callow youth compared with you.’

‘No, you did not mistake me.’ But the tone was distant. ‘Apparently you have … acquired tastes of which I was unaware.’

‘Not yet – but I hope to do so tonight.’ For Robert had done something wonderfully audacious that very evening, and he wanted to do the same again that night. ‘Will you not help me in this regard?’

‘You assume that I will, because the world says that Lord Arthur Goring is a very wicked young man.’

‘The world is intrigued – and you know it,’ Robert scoffed.

‘Am I intriguing, my dear?’

Though he knew he was being unfair, Robert equivocated. ‘Well … I have known a few people to be tantalised. In a small kind of way. Briefly.’

‘Oh, come,’ Goring scolded: ‘I am irresistibly adorable! Otherwise society would have done what it should have from the start, and turned its collective back.’

‘That is true.’

‘And it is true that I took a great fancy to you the moment I met you.’ Arthur sighed. ‘You do ask me to be serious, Robert – for nothing is serious, except passion.’

‘Passion?’

Arthur merely raised an eyebrow – as if Robert were slow if he didn’t realise that was obviously the topic of their conversation.

Robert took a moment, and then murmured, ‘I’ve never heard you speak of passion before, Arthur.’

‘I’ve never known what to say about it until now.’

‘Always the clever reply.’

‘Why, thank you, my dear,’ Arthur said smoothly.

‘And, so …?’

Arthur sipped at his champagne, considering Robert all the while. Sitting there, apparently relaxed and cool and unmoved. And yet Robert couldn’t help but notice that the toe of his friend’s fine leather shoe was tap–tap–tapping away on the rich carpet. Tapping away in time with Robert’s own heightened heartbeat.

Eventually Lord Goring put aside his champagne flute, and made an unnecessary adjustment to his cuff; then those dark eyes once again met Robert’s gaze. ‘Yes, I think I will let you seduce me tonight, Robert.’

 

The act itself was nothing like he’d expected. Robert lay there afterwards, holding Arthur and being held, the sheets and covers all askew around them, the candlelight glowing. As for Arthur himself – well, he appeared as perfect as a fallen statue, all chiselled beauty and cool alabaster skin. ‘I’ve never seen you so inelegant,’ Robert commented. ‘I could never have imagined such an abandoned sprawl.’

‘It took years of practice to develop.’

‘Ah, so you are naturally cultivated, and must develop wantonness?’

‘Just so.’ Arthur lifted his head, and propped his chin on his arm to gaze at Robert. ‘Though I assure you that, in me, abandon is highly – even perfectly developed. But what did you mean, it was nothing like you’d expected?’

Robert closed his eyes for a moment, then looked elsewhere. ‘I, uh – Did I say that out loud?’

‘Yes, my dear.’

‘Ah …’

Those dark eyes would not be ignored. ‘Well, was it better or worse?’ Arthur asked with a touch of impatience.

‘God save me – better,’ Robert replied with a sudden return of fervour. He leant up to kiss the fellow, his friend, this eternally delightfully incredibly surprising man. Hunger stirred within him once more, and Robert fell back against the pillows before the hunger could demand another surrender. Looking up at the darkly painted ceiling of Arthur’s bedroom – which receded into infinity like the night sky – he muttered, ‘I thought I had won. I thought I had won.’

‘Haven’t you?’

‘I think perhaps that you have,’ Robert confessed.

‘Perhaps we both have …’ Arthur whispered, and moved over him, a glint in his eye betraying the fact that the hunter had spied the hunger and was intent on chasing it down.

At the heart of the act, afraid of letting it all resolve the way it must, Robert tried to restrain himself, contain himself – but those dark eyes glimpsed his soul and Arthur promised ‘We are quite alone’ – and Robert heard a cry like a wounded animal, a loud hoarse broken cry, and knew that it was he himself crying out for he knew not what.

In the aftermath, there was a return to civilisation. Indeed, Robert grasped for it.

Arthur, however, was still fervent. ‘I love you, Robert. I love you for your power and distinction as a man, your chivalry and nobility as a friend, your passion and –’

Robert smiled – then clasped the man’s shoulder, gave it a little shake as if waking him up. ‘I have never before heard you speak of love, Arthur – never before, except to be cynical.’

Those dark eyes became opaque again. ‘Ah … So you would prefer to merely seduce me, and then cast me aside, leaving with the sunrise?’

He couldn’t help but laugh. ‘Really, my friend – I had assumed that is what you would do to me.’

A hint of trouble crossed Arthur’s face. ‘I have never flattered myself that I could even touch your heart, Robert, let alone break it.’

‘It’s not like you not to flatter yourself.’

That earned him a smile. ‘Touché, my dear! It seems you have not wasted my company after all. Even the most wicked repartee can be learned.’

It seemed they were on safer ground again. Robert shifted over his friend, kissing him, moving against him in ways that felt both strange and familiar. It was … quite intoxicating, seducing and being seduced by Arthur. The interplay of power and submission, of friendship and relentless need, of human and animal urges. It was as intoxicating, as heady, as dangerously alluring as … Opium. Absinth. Love. Ambition.

Ambition. That was where Robert’s own energies lay, he knew that well enough. And ambition could only be served by the friendship of Lord Arthur Goring. Indeed, Robert’s ambition had already been served by Arthur. So would it be further served – or could it be harmed – by the love of this man? Could Arthur fit into all Robert’s plans, not just as a friend, but as a lover? Could they share a life together, and leave society none the wiser? Could it be possible …?

Robert looked down at the man in his arms, and with a sense of victory thrust himself home. I thought I had won, he reminded himself, then I feared I was wrong. Arthur was gazing up at him now, those dark eyes betraying the secrets of the man’s very soul. But maybe I have won!

For that night, at least, Robert knew invincibility.

 

Arthur woke with a pounding in his head and in his heart. Robert was there with him. Arthur knew that much – the scent and the heat and the sound of him slumbering was unmistakably his darling Robert Chiltern – and the arm draped heavily, possessively around Arthur’s waist was cause enough to increase his heartbeat. Let alone the words that had been said the previous night, and more importantly the words that had not been said – the deeds done, and the deeds left undone. Arthur grinned, and whispered to himself, ‘My dear chap, I do believe you’re already at least half in love with this man.’

He opened his eyes, and looked for Phipps. No sign of him. Usually his butler anticipated the hour of Arthur’s waking to the very minute, and would be there with whatever restoratives were required. ‘Phipps …?’

‘Phipps!’ came an echo. ‘Oh, where are you?’

How odd! Arthur slowly slid from under Robert’s arm, sat up, swung his legs out of bed, and shook his head.

‘Arthur! I know you’re at home! Come on – wake up! Let me in!’

Gertrude’s voice. Arthur shook his head again, gathered up a robe and shrugged it on while heading for the front door. The pounding in his head stopped the moment that Gertrude realised he was there – that put a smile on Arthur’s face. The pounding in his heart was only heightened by discovering the most beautiful young woman in Britain on his doorstep – that inspired him to sweep her up and waltz her inside. She laughed a protest, both substantial and flighty in his arms, both shocked and delighted at once.

‘Good morning, my dear,’ Arthur murmured, lips against her throat.

She managed to bat him away with the morning paper, still laughing, thank heavens, despite the lack of propriety in his behaviour and despite his lack of dress – it must be perfectly obvious that he wore nothing but the robe. He put on his best chagrined look. She was still grinning, in point of fact – rather excitedly – and Arthur knew that the grin had nothing at all to do with him. Which was rather a pity, given that he was already at least half in love with Gertrude.

‘To what do I owe this inestimable honour?’ he asked, offering her a seat in the morning room.

‘Well!’ Gertrude took a breath, smoothed her dress, perched on the nearest sofa. Still grinning. ‘Good afternoon, Arthur.’

‘Is it, my dear? So why isn’t Phipps back yet? I require coffee!’ He rang the bell, just in case, then came over to sit beside Gertrude. ‘What on earth are you smiling about? Has universal suffrage suddenly been declared while I slept away the morning? How tedious you’ll find it, my dear – all these dreadfully dull politicians trying to interest themselves in you …’

‘No, no –’ She got up again, swept once around the room – looking quite magnificent, of course. ‘Though we may have taken another significant step!’

‘Wonderful,’ Arthur opined, thrusting his hands into his pockets.

‘Oh, I am sorry,’ Gertrude murmured, and obligingly perched herself on another sofa, so that Arthur could sit down again.

‘I think I might cautiously venture into the kitchen,’ Arthur said. ‘I cannot understand this lamentable lack of coffee. My dear, you are obviously bursting to tell me about your significant step – and perhaps Phipps mightn’t throw anything at me if he sees a lady present …?’

Gertrude laughed at him, took him by the hand, and led him down the corridor. It seemed that she was so overflowing with excitement that she didn’t even notice the sonorous sounds of Robert slumbering in Arthur’s bedroom. She was even too excited to comment on the fact that the kitchen was devoid of all signs of human life. Within moments she had supervised Arthur putting water on to heat, while grinding the beans herself and discovering the coffee pot in the first cupboard she opened.

As the coffee brewed, Gertrude perched on one of the kitchen stools at the table, and Arthur sank with some relief to another. ‘Now, tell me all about it, my dear.’

‘We – I mean the Association, of course – we have found our patroness! We have found the perfect patroness in –’

‘My mother.’

‘– Lady Caversham –’ She halted, and looked at him. ‘You knew?’

‘I knew she would agree.’

Gertrude let out a breath. ‘I did not! I was terrified of approaching her!’

‘Terrified of my mother? I don’t believe it.’

How did you first introduce me to her?’ Gertrude asked with more than a touch of severity.

Arthur affected not to recall.

‘I believe you named me Giddy Gerty Grayson of Girton Gollege.’

‘Oh dear,’ Arthur mourned. ‘What a deplorable lack of wit I laboured under that day.’

‘It is a wonder she ever took me seriously after that!’ And, in a mock huff, Gertrude poured the coffee.

A slight movement caught Arthur’s eye, and he looked up to see Robert standing in the doorway. The man had put on his shirt and trousers, though his hair was still dishevelled – he appeared no more than halfway respectable, but wholly delightful. Arthur’s heartbeat increased yet again. Ah, to have his two loves here with him, and one of them looking completely smitten by him … Robert was standing there staring, surrendering, hesitating before crossing this last threshold; it was perfectly plain that he was Arthur’s for the taking.

‘A – er – a third cup?’ Gertrude politely enquired, only a little shaken by this unexpected intruder.

‘Yes, please,’ Robert replied in his soft, rough voice.

Gertrude swirled around in all her rustling silk, went to the cupboard to fetch cup and saucer.

And that’s when Arthur knew.

Robert wasn’t staring at him. Robert wasn’t even staring at the coffee pot.

Arthur reached for his coffee, and closed his eyes. It was like some damnable Greek tragedy. The only two people in the world whom he could ever love. He cracked open one eye just far enough to glimpse his darling Gertrude … Yes. Yes, it was the same for her. Damn it! Damn it all to hell and back.

‘It seems our host has fallen asleep,’ Robert commented. ‘Would you allow me to mend his etiquette with a breach of my own – and introduce myself?’

‘Of course. Any friend of Arthur’s …’ Gertrude laughed – a little nervously. ‘Indeed, I was so caught up in my good news that I have only just realised what a terrible breach I have committed! I assure you that it is not my habit to visit Arthur alone, though he is my oldest and dearest friend. I assumed that at least that Phipps –’

‘I’ll forgive your lack of decorum if you’ll forget mine.’

Arthur groaned, for he could bear no more. He lowered his head to his arms, and said to the tabletop, ‘Gertrude, may I present Robert Chiltern, a college friend of mine, latterly secretary to Lord Radley –’

‘But soon to be more,’ Robert insisted, ‘so much more.’

‘Pardon me, Robert, but your ambition is showing.’

It seemed that Gertrude at least was inclined to approve. ‘And where would the chivalrous knights of old have been without a righteous sense of ambition?’

Robert gasped – he actually gasped. Ah, it was all hopeless. An inconsolable Arthur completed the introduction. ‘Robert, this is Lady Gertrude Grayson, currently studying history at Girton, and busily scheming to form the Women’s Liberal Association. For some reason, she is fighting for universal suffrage; I have no idea why.’

‘Delighted,’ Robert murmured, kissing her hand. ‘Truly delighted.’

Arthur sighed. Scheming had been unfair. He sat up again, held out his cup for more coffee. After pouring, Gertrude turned away to make another pot; as if she were no longer present, Arthur said to Robert, ‘Gertrude has a beautiful nature. She is so simple, so sincere, so pure. Indeed – she reminds me of you, Robert.’

‘Simple?’ He shifted uneasily on his feet, this man destined for a political life. ‘Am I simple, Arthur?’

‘I adore simple pleasures, simple natures,’ Arthur declared. ‘They are the last refuge of the complex.’

‘But perhaps I, too, have complexities …’

Arthur laughed, though he recalled his intention to be fair, and said, ‘I am sure you have your mysteries, Robert; I am sure there are things you believe and do that I cannot guess at. And I am sure the same applies to Gertrude.’

She returned to the table, and sat beside Arthur. Perhaps her heightened colour could be explained by the steam rising from the fresh coffee pot … or perhaps not.

Robert murmured, ‘Fighting for universal suffrage … It is obvious that the noble knights of today include members of the fairer sex amongst their ranks.’

‘It is far too early in the morning for such clumsy gallantries,’ Arthur complained.

‘I could make breakfast,’ Gertrude offered, blushingly changing the subject. ‘Or luncheon, if you prefer. I can see eggs in the basket there, and no doubt there is a loaf of bread to be found.’

‘Breakfast, my dear, would be among the highest of your achievements to date.’ Arthur kissed her hand with gratitude, feeling a sorrow he was sure would never quite die. Then he stood, and beckoned his other friend, his other love. ‘Come, Robert, we should make ourselves presentable for the lady, especially as she is going to all this trouble.’

Robert could barely tear his gaze away, even as Arthur forcefully propelled him back down the corridor to his bedroom. ‘Good grief, Arthur,’ he muttered once they were behind locked doors. ‘She is … exquisite. Why have you never introduced me before?’

‘Why do you think?’

That handsome face – still beautiful despite the dishevelled hair, the dark stubble, the expression full of insight – came close to his. Robert even cupped Arthur’s own face in one palm. ‘I can guess.’

‘Perhaps not.’ Arthur groaned a protest. ‘Do not come so near – or I will claim a kiss.’

‘Will you?’

‘A farewell kiss, on this the last day on which I can call you my lover.’

‘Oh, Arthur …’ If there had been pity in Robert’s voice, Arthur would have turned away, but Robert was all loving empathy. And he leaned in, slowly, and met Arthur’s mouth with his own. But there was something – there was something far less ardent in this kiss than there had been in his kisses of the night before. ‘Arthur, my dearest friend,’ Robert said, taking Arthur into his arms. ‘To think that only a few hours ago I lay awake, even closer to you than I am now, wondering if my love was stronger than my ambition.’

Had it been so near a thing? Arthur wrenched himself away. ‘So, now you can have both,’ he tartly replied, slipping off the robe and beginning to search through his closet. What did the broken–hearted – well, the eternally disappointed – wear to breakfast?

‘Arthur …’

He took a breath. Another breath. He had lost his loves; he must not also lose his friends. ‘You were … You were exquisite,’ he said to Robert, with an urbane smile. ‘An exquisite pleasure that nevertheless leaves one unsatisfied. What more could one ask?’

Robert watched him for a moment, and apparently saw once again the cool, clever, ungraspable Lord Arthur Goring. Saw the mask, despite Arthur’s utter nakedness. And he nodded – ‘Thank you, Arthur’ – and went to the mirror to comb his hair. Thinking once more of Gertrude. Smiling in anticipation of … Gertrude.

On this, the last day on which Lord Arthur Goring held out any hope of love.

 

‘Phipps? Phipps! Where on earth have you been, man? You do realise that death is the only excuse I’ll accept for such extreme tardiness?’

‘Then I regret to inform you that I passed away last night, sir.’

‘Well, I would have missed you exceedingly, had I not passed away as well. But here we find ourselves together in an odd sort of afterlife.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Bring me a whisky, Phipps – for I may never drink champagne again. I am in mourning.’

‘You flatter me, sir.’

‘Not for you, Phipps! I mourn for myself.’ Arthur sighed. ‘Indeed – bring me the whole decanter.’

 

In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst; the last is a real tragedy!

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2 responses to “An Ideal Friend”

  1. avatar Lauren says:

    OH, this is one of my favorite movies ever, and you’ve really done a fabulous job with this bit of backstory. Everyone is SO in character, I can hear their voices clearly. Very well done! *applauds*

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Lauren – Thank you so much! I have to admit to really enjoying writing this – Wilde is such an inspiration, though of course one can never live up to him (just borrow judiciously). I’m really glad that you enjoyed the fic so much, especially as you loved the movie. Thank you again – your comment just made my day. ♥

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