The Kiss of Bitter Roses

A Dorian Gray fanfiction for 'The Battle of the Fandoms - Classic Novels." Based on what might have happened if Basil had survived Dorian's attack in the attic.

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1. The Kiss of Bitter Roses

 

 

 

 

 

    Basil had always thought that art held a kind of magic. A kind of beauty that beckoned to your eyes, seeming to tempt and to lure. A single moment, caught in time, hanging like a frozen spider on a silken web.

    If Dorian was the spider, then he, Basil, was the fly that struggled and resisted, perhaps seeking some kind of redemption from an invisible God, before finally giving over to its inevitable fate.

    All the people who had ever met Dorian Gray, in fact, were but bugs to him. Alan Campbell was a prime example—he had been pulled down Heaven’s ladder by Dorian’s irresistible gravity, landing without grace and without hope of retribution. And such a fall it had been! No scientist who valued any basic morals or social standing would associate with him now. 

    Basil threw back another glass of cheap whisky, feeling it scorch his throat with its sinful fire. He relished the feeling, the release, the turn of another key in another lock that barred him from unconsciousness, from the blackness he escaped to nowadays. Such a fall. Such a bitter fall that he would suffer again without batting an eyelid. If God one day raised his mighty hammer and declared that Basil’s torment would be the fall from dignity to loving Dorian Gray, Basil would not need to be pushed, would not need cajoling. No imp would have to aid him, for he would fall gladly to the wolves again and again, relishing every moment. 

    “Another whisky sir?” The bartender spoke with a thick cockney accent, the kind that can only be spoken among kin. Basil knew his upperclass tones would not be welcome here, so simply nodded and pushed his grimy glass across the counter. How long had he been drinking, now? How long since he’d felt the icy, acidic knife press to the vein on his neck, how long since he’d turned and looked into Dorian’s eyes and seen nothing but murder?

    Too long. Basil watched the amber liquid in his glass glimmer in the dim, gritty light. His reflection distorted until it became Dorian’s, savage and twisted, no longer beautiful but stark and harsh like the Antarctic and just as cold. A thought suddenly flashed through Basil’s head—well, less of a thought and more of a brightening of colour, a fleeting memory. 

    Dorian had slung his arm around Basil’s shoulders, seemingly oblivious to the fact that such actions were frowned upon. Basil gave a half smile, an indulgence. Anything that made Dorian happy, he would agree to. Anything.

    “Basil you lout, you’ve got paint all up your face. How on Earth did you manage that? Here.” Dorian pulled his sleeve over the pad of his thumb and raised it to his mouth, dampening it, before gently scrubbing away the electric streak of blue that climbed like an otherworldly vine over Basil’s face. “All gone. Anyway, I hope this was worth it. A whole two hours seems an awful long time for a sketch, Basil.”
    Basil smiled again, sadder this time, the streak of dampness left on his face burning like the track of a single tear, knowing that Dorian would not notice. Dorian never noticed. “It was worth it, although I do confess that sketching you was not the only reason I invited you out here tonight.” 

    Dorian raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Wasn’t it? How cunning of you, Basil. And there I was, congratulating myself for managing to not be gullible. Do tell me why we’re out here.”
    “Look at the sky.”

    This far out from London, Basil knew, there was so little smog as to be virtually nonexistent. The stars glittered in the thick blanket of night like tiny shards of silver tipped into water. Then, suddenly, a wave of something that looked like music sounded—indescribable. Dorian’s hand clasped Basil’s upper arm as the sky filled with light, wave upon wave of colour dancing and singing in the heavens. Basil saw Dorian’s breath float into the crisp air, and it occurred to him that while the the lights above them were worthy of God, the young man sitting next to him was more beautiful, more vibrant…more. Basil blinked, and the lights spread further, reflecting in the tears that filled his eyes.

    “You want me to top that up?”

    It took Basil a few moments to register the voice of the bartender, and a few more to understand his words. “Uh…no, thanks. I’ll go now.” 

    “That’ll be—”

    Basil left a pile of coins on the counter and staggered out, knowing he had overpaid and really couldn’t afford to, but not caring all that much. Why would he? Everything he’d ever cared about had been torn down like a tapestry torn from the wall, threads unravelling and revealing that they’d been no more than singular strands all along. Basil turned up his collar and stumbled into the wind, relishing its sting on his face. It reminded him that he was alive. Just.

    Dorian had been quiet that day. He’d sat still, shifting when he was told to, speaking only when he was spoken to. Basil wouldn’t ordinarily have noticed, except for Dorian’s eyes. They were listless, too bright, too quick. Basil set down his brush and leaned on his easel. 

    “Everything all right, Dorian? We can end this for today if you like. I have enough preliminary sketches to go on anyway.”

    Dorian lowered his head, fiddling distractedly with a loose thread on his sleeve. “I would appreciate that Basil. I am not feeling at my best today.”

    “Not ill, I hope?”

    “It’s not that kind of feeling. It’s like…it’s like I’ve forgotten something, but I cannot for the life of me remember what I can’t recall.”

    Basil paused in packing away his art supplies. “If this has something to do with Harry…”

    “No, it’s not him either. Oh, I am so frustrated, Basil! Nothing feels right at all. I think…I think I may go home now, Basil. Send my apologies to Lady Radley, won’t you?”

    “Certainly, Dorian.” Basil paused again, weighing his next words carefully. “You don’t think that perhaps you might be…in love?”
    Dorian laughed. “Me? In love? Honestly, Basil. I’m about as likely to fall in love as…well, as Henry really. I can’t imagine him ever truly loving anyone, can you?”

    Basil tucked his case under his arm and stood, sighing silently, although Dorian wouldn’t have noticed even if he’d simply started weeping there and then. “No, I really can’t. Come along, Dorian. I’ll get you home.”

    “You be lookin’ a bit lost there, sweetie. Need an ‘ug?” A lady of the night leered down from a lamppost, yellowed teeth and bruised neck scarring Basil’s eyes. Her face was like a face from nightmares, like a face that haunted him and had leered at him in almost that exact same way only a few hours ago—

    Without realising, Basil had broken into a sprint, racing down London’s dark, miserable streets. Her cackling followed him for what seemed like an age. 

    When, at last, it no longer rang in his ears, Basil came to a stop, hand on his knees, straining for air that couldn’t flood his lungs fast enough. In front of him, the mighty Thames roared, sickly yellow-green water leaving stinking scum on the river bank.

    “Dorian! Excuse me, I wasn’t expecting you so late…where have you been all these weeks?”
    Dorian looked different. His eyes were calmer and darker, as though in that period of time he’d taken the burden of the Earth from Atlas’s shoulders and borne it himself. 

    “Hello, Basil. I’m sorry for the intrusion, but there are some things I have been thinking about. I needed to…see you.”

    Basil placed his paintbrush carefully back on the palette, a frown creasing his brow. “I’m always here, Dorian, you know that. What was it you needed to see me about?”

    Dorian prowled around the edges of Basil’s darkened studio like a panther. He slid in and out of shadow, finally emerging nearer Basil than he felt comfortable with. Basil could see a half-withered rose petal pinched between Dorian’s fingers, colour drained from it by the moonlight. With slow and deliberate motions, he was rubbing it together, and Basil could see its stain leaking out onto his long, slim fingers. Basil felt afraid, for reasons he could not discern.

    “I wanted to see you because you contributed to me, Basil. Without you, I would not be anything like I am today.”

    “What on Earth are you talking about, Dorian? Are you quite well?”

    “Oh yes. I’m very well indeed.” Dorian approached Basil slowly, feet making no sound on the worn floorboards. With a steady hand, he brought the now crushed petal to Basil’s lips, pressing in gently. Basil could taste its bitter-sweet tang on the tip of his tongue. Dorian probably could too, when he eventually let his hand drop and replaced the petal with his own lips.

    Basil thought that maybe the moon had moved a little. It was nowhere near first light, not by any stretch of the imagination, but that cold silver disk seemed brighter and more unfeeling than ever before. Basil’s mouth curled into a bitter smile. How ironic that he would love an unfeeling man and be seen dying by an disinterested moon.

    The water parted beneath him, welcoming him into its embrace with cool arms. Through the ripples, the moon seemed less like a cratered rock, and more like a savage eye, watching with acidic pleasure as water stole the last of Basil Hallward’s breath. 

    

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