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[Brimstone] Happiness at the misfortune of others? An interlude for Special Agent Pendergast and Sergeant D'Agosta during lunch at Ravenscry.
D'Agosta followed Pendergast down to the bank of the stream, idly listening to the muted conversation of Constance and the count that they had left behind with their picnic things. Several large, gnarled elm trees blocked the others from view, but the sound of their voices-if not the individual words-drifted pleasantly on the air of the clear, calm afternoon. Pendergast stood beside a tree that was very close to the water's edge, one of his long, white hands resting delicately upon the dark bark of the trunk. He gazed pensively out over the water, his eyes following its turbulent passage with a steadiness that was almost meditative. D'Agosta cleared his throat gently and squinted up into the sky.
"/See what delights in sylvan scenes appear! / Descending gods have found Elysium here./" Pendergast abruptly recited this bit of poetry with a clipped succinctness that did not seem to fit the rich, fantastical tone of the words. "Or someplace very similar, at least." He released a quiet sigh and turned back to meet D'Agosta's inquiring gaze. "This case is becoming quite the puzzle."
D'Agosta shrugged. "Only if you don't believe in the devil," he replied flippantly.
Pendergast smiled slightly. "I feel a measure of congratulations is in order; you kept your temper quite well when we were questioning our friend, Mr. Bullard."
D'Agosta felt an odd ripple of discomfort at Pendergast's words of praise; he took a couple of steps closer to where Pendergast stood and crouched down, feeling in the damp grass for a rock to toss or a clod of dirt to pull apart. "Yeah, well... turns out everything he said was still true."
"Including your wife?"
"Oh yeah. Especially that." D'Agosta's lips twisted into a bitter scowl.
"It's a shame that you had to come upon this information at the hands of Locke Bullard."
"Had to find out somehow," D'Agosta muttered. "Besides," he added, "I was really just fooling myself. It's been over for... for a long time now."
A long moment of awkward silence stretched between them. D'Agosta threw a pebble out into the brook, and wasn't surprised when it was immediately swept up by the turbulent little whitecaps of the fast-moving water. Pendergast gave a little sigh beside him. "I am terribly, terribly sorry, Vincent," Pendergast's voice was low and gentle. "I had hoped that would not be the case." D'Agosta kept his eyes on the bushes on the far side of the stream, trying to swallow the feelings of humiliation that threatened to rise in him. When Pendergast continued, there was an uncharacteristic degree of hesitancy in his voice. "I confess that I'm not entirely sure how to-"
D'Agosta held up one hand. "You know, just about the last thing I want is to have you pitying me."
"Ah." Pendergast smoothed his hands over his thighs, brushing imaginary lint from the fabric in a quick, nervous gesture that seemed inconsistent with his normally smooth, calm body language. D'Agosta raised his eyebrows. "But I'm afraid you misunderstand me, Vincent. It's not pity that I feel, but something that comes far closer to /schadenfreude/."
"Huh?" D'Agosta's eyes widened in confusion. "Wait, so... you're glad all this happened?"
"No. Oh, no, of course I'm not." For a moment, Pendergast looked mildly taken aback, and D'Agosta found himself feeling more than slightly gratified; he wished Pendergast would just let the subject drop. "I simply feel that, ah... well, that your wife's loss has been my gain." He paused and coughed delicately into one hand. "So to speak."
For a moment, neither man spoke, and the titter of Constance's laughter underscored by the count's smoother, lower tones, could clearly be heard. When D'Agosta spoke, it was with a tone of obviously forced good humor. "You're probably going to want to rephrase that," he said, resting his hands on his knees and averting his eyes from Pendergast's piercing stare, just barely allowing himself a crooked little smile. Then the thought of Jason Prince's blatantly erotic letter to Jeremy Grove suddenly sprang into his mind, and the smile fell from his lips just moments after it had appeared.
He barely heard the soft tread of Pendergast's footsteps in the grass and the slight rustling of the fabric of his suit as the other man crouched beside him at the water's edge. D'Agosta looked out of the corner of his eyes and saw that Pendergast was dipping his fingertips into the brook with a thin, almost meditative, smile on his long, aristocratic face. "My dear Vincent," he said softly, in a voice as smooth and rich as fresh honey, "I hope you don't mind if I bore you with some poetry?"
D'Agosta blinked at the sudden non sequitur. "I didn't know I'd ever had the benefit of choice," he remarked weakly.
Pendergast chose to ignore his comment, instead pulling his hand from the water and beginning to recite:
"Some, who can sneer at friendship's ties,
Have, for my weakness, oft reprov'd me;
Yet still the simple gift I prize,
For I am sure, the giver lov'd me."
Pendergast leaned forward, invading D'Agosta's personal space as he spoke while placing one hand gently but firmly on D'Agosta's thigh in order retain his balance in their awkward mutual crouch. He paused between stanzas, his lips just barely brushing the shell of D'Agosta's ear and his light breath causing the hairs on the back of his neck to rise in sympathy. Pendergast continued after a moment, his fingers kneading the flesh of D'Agosta's thigh in a rhythm that seemed almost unconscious.
"He offer'd it with downcast look,
As fearful that I might refuse it;
I told him, when the gift I took,
My only fear should be, to lose it."
Again, there was a moment's breathless pause following the completion of the stanza-and then, suddenly, D'Agosta felt Pendergast's mouth slide purposefully over his as the grip on his thigh tightened painfully. Abruptly, he lost his own balance-owing as much to surprise as to the tired muscles in his calves finally giving way-and sat down hard in the damp grass; Pendergast followed, but somehow managed to keep himself from sprawling ungainly into D'Agosta's lap. And yet, almost immediately he was pressing another firm, almost frantic, kiss against D'Agosta's lips. "'The Cornelian' by Lord Byron," he said calmly as he pulled away, with a cat-like lick of his thin lips.
"Huh?" D'Agosta was completely flabbergasted. "What?"
"The poem," Pendergast explained with infinite patience as he sat down himself and crossed his legs. "It's from 'The Cornelian', written by Lord Byron."
"Oh," D'Agosta answered weakly; he didn't know what else to say, and Pendergast's enigmatic nature was beginning to wear slightly thin. "That's nice," he added lamely. His mouth still tingled slightly from the force of the other man's kiss, and he rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth uneasily. Pendergast seemed to be looking past him, not angry or upset or put-out, but simply mentally distanced in a way D'Agosta was fairly certain he would never be able to comprehend.
"You're Catholic, aren't you, Vincent?" Pendergast suddenly snapped back to attention, tipping his head curiously to one side.
D'Agosta nodded and then hesitated. "Well, technically I am, yeah. Haven't really practiced in years, though. I would just go at Christmas and Easter, usually, with Lydia and Vinnie..." He trailed off, as bitter memories of his estranged wife threatened to take over.
"And do you believe in the devil?"
"Do I-what?" D'Agosta was caught off-guard by the directness of the question. "Oh, shit, Pendergast, I don't know what I believe anymore."
Pendergast nodded and looked down at his hands. Suddenly, he unfolded his long legs, and began to stand. "I hope that this interlude didn't offend you," he said in a quiet, subdued voice as he brushed off the back of his trousers with a modicum of dignity that D'Agosta knew that he himself could never possess in the same situation. "I also hope that it does not deter you from continuing to work on this case."
D'Agosta felt his stomach flip-flop slightly as he got to his feet and looked up at Pendergast. "You must have a pretty low opinion of me if you think I'd do something like leave now, just because of..."
Pendergast stared placidly at him, neither confirming nor denying any such opinion. D'Agosta swallowed hard.
"Please forgive me, then. I didn't mean to pass such judgment." Pendergast turned to walk back to the spot where their small, eccentric group had been picnicking, but D'Agosta caught his arm on impulse to keep him from going.
"Look-" he began and then stopped, aware of the uncertainty in his own voice. He let go of Pendergast's arm and tried again. "Aloysius," he said, the name's unfamiliar syllables tumbling clumsily off of his tongue. "I just-" And then his explanation was cut off as Pendergast's cool hands slid up the sides of his jaw and tangled in his short hair, cradling his head as he paused momentarily to judge D'Agosta's reaction.
After a moment's thought, Pendergast shook his head, planted a light kiss on D'Agosta's forehead and murmured, "We've come close to Elysium, but I'm afraid we have yet to actually reach it."
D'Agosta opened his mouth to reply, but at that moment Constance's voice intruded thinly through the trees. "Aloysius? Aloysius! Won't you Sergeant D'Agosta come back and join us?" Pendergast immediately dropped his hands and began to walk toward where Constance and the count were still seated, undoubtedly still primarily engaged by their deeply morbid intellectual conversation. He stopped and quirked an eyebrow when he realized that D'Agosta was not following at his heels.
"Go on," D'Agosta said, gesturing weakly. "I'll be there in a sec." Pendergast gave him a brisk nod and then headed purposefully back in the direction from which they had come, the sharp outline of his tailored black suit quickly fading out of sight among the thick copse of trees and the shadows the dense foliage threw. D'Agosta let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and crouched down again, grimacing slightly as his knees protested. He skimmed one hand idly over the grass for a moment, allowing his thoughts to congeal and collect. One finger hit a small rock and he stopped, plucked it from the loose dirt, cupped it in his hand a moment, and then flung it out into the rapidly rushing waters of the brook, which swallowed it easily and began to carry it away on a new journey. "This case," he announced to no one in particular, "just keeps getting weirder and weirder." He nodded to himself and stood, took one final look around, and began to retrace his steps back to the picnic area and his lunchtime companions.
Note: Pendergast's quotation about Elysium is by Alexander Pope.