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Title: The Raven And The Nightingale Book I: Jeweled Nightingale (15-17/26)
Author: bradygirl_12
Pairings/Characters: Bruce/Dick, Alfred Pennyworth, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Ollie/Dinah, Steve/Diana, Queen Hippolyta, Various Historical Figures And OCs
Continuity: DC Comics/Marvel Comics (The Avengers (2012)
Genres: Angst, AU, Drama, Historical, Holiday, Mystery, Romance
Beta: The Sparkling silvertales! :)
Artist: The Amazing ctbn60! :) Link to fanworks: Here
Artist: The Fantastic veinards! :) Link to fanworks: TBA
Rating : NC-17
Warnings: (Ch. 8, Anti-Semitism), (Ch. 8, 13: Racism, racist language (ethnic slurs)), (Ch. 13, 14, 17: Violence) (Ch. 17, 19 & 25: Use of the word Gypsy) (Ch. 20: Allusion to sexual assault) (Ch. 25: Memories of death by burning)
Spoilers: None
Summary: In Edwardian Europe, young American millionaire Bruce Wayne becomes enamored of a beautiful and brilliant ballet dancer, Dick Grayson, who falls for his charming suitor, but Dick’s mysterious past threatens to tear them apart.
LJ Dates Of Completion: October 11--June 23, 2014
A03/LJ Dates Of Posting: October 24, 2014/October 27, 2014
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, DC does, more’s the pity.
LJ Word Count: 45,852
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Written for the 2014 dcu_bang.
All chapters can be found here.

 photo 1Francecopy_zps6f82d3c1.jpg


LJ


Chapters 1-4


Chapters 5-9


Chapters 10-14


Chapters 15-17


Chapters 18-20


Chapters 21-26



A03





Part Three

Springtime In Paris

XV

The City Of Lights

April 1, 1907


My heart soars
High above the City
Of Lights,
Because anything
Is possible
In Paris
In the spring.


Pierre Le Roy
“The City Of Lights”
1888 C.E.



Paris was the best place to be in Europe during springtime. After a long Russian winter, Bruce and Dick were happy to walk freely again without all kinds of outerwear. Just a good tailored suit with hat and kid gloves was all that was necessary, and regular buttoned shoes instead of boots. Alfred was pleased as well.

The Ballet Magnifique had branched out from Swan Lake. They offered that production but also Sleeping Beauty and The Manzeppa, made famous by Adah Menken a generation ago in non-ballet form. Natasha relished the role made famous by the theatrical beauty.

When Bruce arrived at the theater, he saw a bevy of controlled chaos. Stagehands were busy setting up and dancers were practicing exercises in a small room with bars running along the walls and mirrors placed so that they could watch their form. The orchestra was practicing out in the pit by the stage. He was heading toward the practice room when he was hailed by Clint.

“Hi, Mr. Wayne!”

“Hi, Clint.” Bruce looked curiously at the man beside the stagehand.

“This is Haclav Vlasic. He just signed on with us. Knocked about Romania and Austria-Hungary for awhile and then here before we got to town.”

The small man sported a bushy mustache and looked too thin to haul around heavy scenery, but Bruce figured that he was the wiry type.

“Glad to meet you, sir.” His voice sounded like he had smoked too many cigarettes.

“Same here, Haclav. Say, Clint, have you seen Natasha or Dick?”

“Nat’s in the practice room. I don’t know where Dick is. C’mon, Haclav, let’s get the castle scenery up.”

“Right.”

Bruce decided to check Dick’s dressing room first, but the room was empty except for the star’s costumes. Bruce smiled fondly as he touched a gold lame outfit and threw the yellow feather boa jauntily over the clothes rack pipe. Whistling merrily, he left the dressing room.

He found himself enjoying the chaos. Paris was a city of possibilities, according to Alfred, and he was inclined to agree with him. Perhaps Paris was the place to finally declare himself, come what may. He could stay in Europe as long as he wanted, but he missed Gotham. He needed time to tell Dick that he loved him and work on the younger man and get him to reciprocate. He needed time to persuade Dick to come home to Gotham with him. He needed Dick Grayson in his life.

Natasha emerged from the practice room in a pink leotard. Bruce was appreciative of the view.

“Good morning, Natasha. Have you seen Dick?”

“No, but I am sure he is around.” She wiped her face with the end of the towel slung around her neck. “How are you enjoying the Hotel des Jardins?”

“Very much so. The French know how to live.”

“They certainly do.” She smiled. “Paris has some of the best restaurants in Europe. Will you be wining and dining Dick?”

Bruce laughed. “Of course.”

“Your French is quite polished for an American.”

“Thank you, Mademoiselle.”

She smirked. “At least you will be able to read the menus.”

“I was picking up quite a bit of Russian,” Bruce pouted.

“But not enough to avoid certain culinary disasters.”

“Hey, so eel is not my favorite.”

Natasha laughed.

“Pardon me, Miss Romanoff.”

“Oh, hello, Haclav.”

The little man looked nervous. He stuttered, “Mr. Freneau wants to see you.”

“All right.” She whipped her towel in a grand gesture. “Must not keep our director waiting.”

Haclav hurried back to work as Bruce continued to search for Dick. He finally found him after opening the backstage door, reading a book on the small ramp.

“What’s up, Dick?”

“Oh, just taking in some air.”

“Reading, I see.” Bruce looked at the cover. “Poetry. Ellison?”

“Yes. In some ways, as original as Whitman.”

“I agree.” Bruce took the book from his companion and read the open page. “’My body is longing/For your touch/As my heart aches/For your love’.” Bruce looked into Dick’s eyes. “Does your heart ache, Dick?”

Dick looked at him with an expression that Bruce could not quite fathom. He could usually read Dick but was frustrated this time.

The stage door opened. “Whoops, sorry, fellas. Didn’t know anyone was out here,” Clint said.

“Not a problem, Clint. I have to get back, anyway,” said Dick. He took his book back and went inside.

Bruce glared at Clint. “You have such excellent timing, Barton.”

Clint chuckled. “Sorry, Bruce.” During the long Russian winter, Bruce had gotten closer to Clint and asked him to use his first name when no one else was around.

Bruce huffed and went inside to the sound of more chuckling.

& & & & & &


Paris was a center of the arts, the glittering capital of Europe, rivaled only by London, Vienna and Rome. Poets sang its praises and great artists lived on the Left Bank as they wrote, painted and sculpted. Traditional art still reigned supreme, but modern movements were making themselves known. Pablo Picasso was outraging art critics while exciting others.

Dick wanted to experience some of Paris’ bohemian lifestyle. While at lunch with Bruce and Alfred at a sidewalk café the next day, he said, “I’d like to visit the Left Bank and see what’s going on.”

“It could be interesting,” Bruce admitted.

“Will you also be seeing the usual sights?” Alfred inquired.

“Oh, yes,” Dick assured him. “I want to see Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.”

“You must see Versailles, too.”

“Definitely.” Dick sipped his demitasse. “Just breathe that fresh air! Listen to those birds sing! Isn’t this a beautiful day?”

“Beautiful.” Bruce agreed as he gazed at Dick.

“We should plan a whole day of sightseeing tomorrow.”

“Don’t you have rehearsal?”

“No, Pierre hates over-rehearsed dancers. He’ll work us hard the day after tomorrow because we open that night but I’m free as a bird all day tomorrow.”

“As free as a nightingale.”

Dick smirked. “Rest up, buddy, because we’ve got a busy day tomorrow!”

& & & & & &


Bruce had to admit that Notre Dame was nearly overwhelmingly impressive in person. Alfred quietly read from the guidebook as they gazed up at the towering cathedral.

“Construction began in 1163 and was open to the public in 1345. Its height is 96 meters, 315 feet to the Anglo-Americans. The architecture is French Gothic.”

“Reminds me of home,” Bruce said.

“Hmm, home must be interesting,” Dick observed.

“Oh, it is. I’d love to give you a guided tour.”

Dick smiled and patted Bruce’s arm. “A most generous offer.”

They fell silent as they entered the cathedral, the peaceful stillness settling over them like a gentle blanket. The stained-glass windows were stunning and the statues exquisite. People spoke in hushed tones as they commented on the interior.

“Imagine working on this for hundreds of years,” Dick murmured.

“It required dedication for generations, all right,” Bruce agreed.

“Such artistry,” Alfred said.

They spent the morning walking through the magnificent cathedral, exploring every nook and cranny. Bruce appreciated the artistry on an aesthetic level. He was glad that he had come to see it.

It was easy to see why people would have holy experiences here. The sweeping grandeur of the nave and side chapels along with exquisitely-carved statues created an atmosphere that the faithful could indulge in. He liked the stained-glass windows the best. He could imagine monks and nuns down through the centuries tending the votive candles and offering up prayers, and the faithful saying their rosaries and muttering in Latin. It was all quite different from most religions back in America, though Episcopalians had some of the same mystical practices. The flames of the votive candles danced along the wall as churchgoers kneeled in the pews with clasped hands and rosaries.

When they emerged from the cathedral, Alfred said, “I read that there are restaurants on the lower levels of the Eiffel Tower. I suggest you gentlemen dine there for luncheon.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow. “And where will you be?”

“I have a previous engagement, sir. I shall see you this evening.” Alfred put on his bowler hat and went off, looking dapper in his suit and using a decorative cane.

“And what might his ‘engagement’ be?” Dick asked in amusement.

“Could he be found a pub that caters to English expatriates, or he met a Frenchwoman and is meeting her for luncheon.”

“Such a romantic!”

“And maybe he just wanted to give us some time alone as lovers in Paris.” Bruce took Dick’s hand and squeezed it.

Dick’s smile was soft as he gazed at Bruce. “Let’s go see the Eiffel Tower.”

Bruce engaged a carriage and they arrived at the Eiffel Tower, impressed by the structure. As Alfred said, there were restaurants on the first two levels. They decided to take the tour first.

The French guide polled the little group that had assembled and discovered that Americans and Englishmen were the majority. “Would you mind if I practiced my English?”

“Not at all,” said a rotund gentleman in a brown suit with a British accent.

“Thank you.” The elderly guide wore a uniform that closely resembled that of the French military. His gray mustache was neatly trimmed and his brown eyes were warm and engaging. “The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 for the Exposition Universalle. It is 324 meters tall; 1,063 feet to you Brits and Yanks. It surpassed the Washington Monument as the tallest man-made structure in the world.”

The guide led the group up to the first level. “It is 300 feet from the ground to the first level, ladies and gentlemen.” Murmurs of awe greeted this information, and some people warily looked down over the railing. “As you can see, even at this lower level, we can see Paris in all its glory.”

Bruce liked the view. He had no fear of heights. As he saw Dick lean over the railing, it was obvious that heights did not bother him, either. The guide cautioned people to pull back but he said it in a jocular way so that it would not sound like chastisement. Bruce thought it very clever of the man.

A gust of wind nearly blew off a matron’s hat. The enormous feather waved wildly as the woman kept a firm grip on her hat. The guide urged them forward to the staircase.

Many steps later they paused on the second level to catch their breaths. The rotund gentleman brought up the rear, puffing as he reached the top step.

Bruce bent over the railing. “And here I thought I was in shape.”

Dick laughed. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m in tip-top shape and need to catch my breath.”

Bruce smiled. “Yes, it does.”

Dick’s eyes twinkled.

The guide gave them all time to rest. Bruce sniffed the air. “Mmm, something smells good.”

“Smells like roast chicken.” Dick leaned on the railing. “We should eat at that restaurant after the tour.”

“Look at the writings on the walls,” said the woman with the feathered hat that had nearly blown away.

“You can write your impressions and they will be put up on the wall,” said the guide. “And over there are the offices of Le Figaro.”

The group went over to the office and saw the printing press. A small staff was busy writing and printing special editions of the newspaper, Le Figaro la Tour.

There was a charming patisserie next to Le Figaro, and Bruce promised Dick a pastry after lunch.

Once everyone was ready, the guide brought them to the staircase to the third level. “There are 1,710 steps to the top.” He laughed as someone groaned.

“Do we have to climb every step, Mr. Marnier?” complained an elderly man.

Henri Marnier laughed again. “Do not worry, Monsieur. We will take our time. I have no wish to lose anyone.”

“That guy must be fit as a fiddle,” Dick puffed. “Now I know why Alfred took a powder.”

Bruce chuckled. “Alfred’s no dummy.”

Finally everyone was on the third level and the guide spoke. “Now,” said Henri, “we are 276 meters, uh, 906 feet up. The view is outstanding.” The group agreed, marveling at the city laid out below them. “The Tower is lit at night by gaslights and beacons, though there is talk of electric lights in the future.”

The group spent a leisurely hour on the third level. Landmarks were pointed out as people walked around the observation deck.

“Look, Notre Dame,” Dick said as he pointed.

“Yes, and isn’t that the Arc de Triomphe over that way?”

Gradually members of the group began to trickle down to the next level for lunch or left the Tower. Bruce and Dick leaned on the railing together, the wind whipping their hair. A bluebird rode the air currents and flapped its wings as it flew by.

“Imagine flying. What a thrill it must be,” said Dick, eyes shining as he followed the bird’s flight.

“Well, remember, I’m thinking of investing in the Wright Brothers’ project.”

“Wouldn’t that be grand? They’d probably let you go on a flight.”

“Maybe. Right now only one person can go up at a time. And I have no intention of hanging off the wing to hitch a ride.”

Dick laughed. “You’re very athletic. I’m sure that you could pull it off, mon cher.”

Bruce was warmed by the endearment. He looked around and saw that they were alone. He drew Dick into a gentle kiss, which Dick returned as the city of Paris lay gloriously beneath them.


XVI

ENIGMATIC


“True art endures down through the centuries.”


Pierre Gilbert
French Art Critic
1899 C.E.



Springtime in Paris was just as the poets described it. Bruce and Dick were happy as apple blossoms bloomed in the countryside and April turned to May. They visited a local farm and watched cheese being made, and Bruce bought a small wheel to bring back to the city. Alfred was delighted with the quality and served slices of it with French bread at teatime every day.

Dick was working very hard as choreographer and director Pierre Freneau was insistent on perfection now that they were performing in front of live audiences. Paris could make or break their little company as the most famous critics resided here. When an artist wanted to show his work, he held an exhibition here, and when a ballet company wanted to become famous, they toured here.

During this intense period Dick was too busy or too tired for sightseeing. He stayed at the hotel with the rest of the dancers most nights, though he sneaked away to tumble exhaustedly into Bruce’s arms in his suite on occasion.

As for Bruce, he wanted to sightsee with Dick but when his lover was too busy, he decided to take in a few sights and return with Dick when he had the time. Alfred was a most enjoyable companion, and they decided on a trip to the Louvre one morning.

It was a magnificent building that looked the part of a museum, very imposing and cultural, Bruce supposed. He was interested in seeing the fine treasures within, his parents long ago teaching him the beauty of art.

The Venus de Milo was exquisite. The loss of her arms did nothing to detract from her beauty or the skill of the ancient artist.

The next piece he felt very impressed with was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Its grandeur and sweep of the wings made Bruce think of his conversation about flying with Dick up in the Eiffel Tower.

He took his time studying the statue. “Alfred, wasn’t this statue found during an archeological expedition?”

Alfred consulted the museum guidebook. “Yes, it was found in 1863 during an Aegean Sea expedition. The statue has been exhibited here since 1884.”

“That must be exciting, to be part of an archeological dig.”

“It is very particular work.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be getting my hands dirty for work like that.”

“Ha, I’d say you would sit around and watch the workers sweat in the sun while you flashed your cash as backer.”

Bruce turned at the sound of the new voice with a big grin on his face. “Ollie ! Dinah!”

The two Americans laughed and hurried forward for Ollie to vigorously shake hands with Bruce and for Dinah to hug him. The two repeated their greetings with Alfred, and Bruce pounded Ollie’s shoulder.

“When did you two arrive in Paris?” he asked.

“Late yesterday. We arrived at Le Havre and traveled to Paris this morning,” Ollie replied.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you were coming?”

“We didn’t know ourselves until the last minute. Got to rest the Pretty Bird’s vocal cords for awhile.”

“Nothing wrong, I hope?” Bruce asked in concern as he looked at Dinah.

She smiled and gently touched the yellow scarf around her neck. “Just something all sopranos go through occasionally.” Her blue eyes twinkled. “I’m wearing this brunette wig so that I can travel incognito.”

“A fine idea, Miss Dinah,” Alfred approved.

Both newcomers were dressed as typical American rich folks on their Grand Tour, as most people of Bruce and Ollie’s class undertook as a matter of course.

“So, what have you been up to?” Dinah asked.

“Oh, just sightseeing.” Bruce saw the sparkle in Dinah’s eyes. “All right, what have you heard?”

“That you’ve been attending quite a few performances of a particular ballet company.”

Bruce rolled his eyes. “What little bird told you?”

“A lovely lady by the name of Harriet Cooper. She heard it from a cousin of hers who’s on the Grand Tour.”

“Can’t get away with anything in this world.” Bruce shook his head.

“Not likely, old man.” Ollie winked. “Are you enamored of a certain ballerina?”

“Or a certain ballet dancer?” Dinah asked.

Bruce felt no anxiety at the latter question. Dinah and Ollie knew about his tastes, and Ollie had similar proclivities himself. They’d enjoyed a passionate romance at Harvard but Bruce had no desire to settle down and Ollie had met Dinah, falling head-over-heels for her.

“I can introduce you to both.”

“Splendid. Now, shall we move on to the Mona Lisa?” Ollie asked.

The enigmatic painting drew in viewers as a small crowd was gathered behind the velvet rope.

“So much mystery surrounding her,” Dinah said.

“She’s marvelous,” Bruce said.

“I agree.” Alfred painting. “That smile has generated much commentary through the centuries.”

“Certainly different from Cubism,” Ollie smirked.

“What an odd movement,” Dinah commented. “Though Picasso is a star in the art world. He lives here in Paris.”

“We might see him in a café or on the Left Bank.” Bruce was intrigued by the thought. “I’m not a big fan of Cubism, but the movement is interesting.”

“What’s more your taste, Bruce?” Dinah asked.

“Monet. I like the Impressionists.”

“That’s good taste.”

“Impressionism is intriguing. Up close the brushstrokes are colorful and seemingly random, but from a distance they form a shimmering, beautiful picture.”

“Very poetic,” said Dinah with a knowing smile.

“Let’s go find the Impressionists,” Bruce said.

& & & & & &


That evening was a special sparkle as Bruce escorted his friends to the ballet. Alfred came along, too, and everyone wore their finest as they mingled with the Parisian elite. They went up to Bruce’s private box and enjoyed champagne and cherry chocolates.

“You were always first-class,” Dina approved.

“Thanks, I definitely like to keep up with things.”

“You seem to be enjoying life more, Hamlet.”

“Hamlet?”

“Yes, the brooding Prince.” Dinah laughed at Bruce’s eye-roll.

“You’re rather sassy for a Canary.”

She just laughed again, taking another chocolate from the plate.

The orchestra performed the overture as the lights dimmed. The curtain rose, and they were transported to a world of beauty and fantasy as Sleeping Beauty’s tale was danced for them.

Bruce noticed the rapt attention of his friends, especially when Natasha and Dick appeared. When the curtain went down after Act I, Dinah said, “Well, now I know why you’ve been hanging around this company, Bruce, dear.”

“Exquisite,” Ollie added.

“You’ll get a chance to meet the lovely creature backstage.” Bruce casually sipped his champagne but was excited at the thought of his friends meeting Dick.

“I would expect no less.” Dinah waved her hand airily. “Ollie, my dear, would you get me a lemon ice?”

Ollie stood and bowed. “Of course, my Queen.”

She hit him on the arm as he laughed. After he had departed with Alfred, she looked at Bruce as he poured a fresh amount of champagne into her glass, setting the magnum back into the silver ice bucket.

“It’s Mr. Grayson, isn’t it?”

“Is that some sort of Canary intuition?"

“Woman’s intuition.”

“Oh, dear, then I’m in trouble.”

“You’d be correct, darling.” Dinah sipped the cold champagne. “He’s amazingly talented and gorgeous to boot.”

Bruce looked at his old friend, dressed in shimmering midnight-blue, a matching silk wrap draped over the back of her pink velvet chair. Diamonds sparkled at her throat and ears with a bracelet on her right wrist. Ollie had chosen well.

“I knew Ollie was doing the best thing in his life when he married you.”

“You were an excellent best man. Pity we can’t return the favor.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Even if such marriages were permitted, who says I would want to get married?”

Dinah crossed her legs and gently swung one foot back-and-forth. It was a provocative pose for a lady despite the voluminous skirt.

“Just seeing how things go?”

“Pretty much.” Bruce leaned casually against the box railing. His pride would not allow him to tell her that Dick was the one who seemed uncertain about the romance. “It’s better this way.”

“Do what you have to, Bruce.” Dinah cocked her head. “I suppose he’s worth it?”

“He is.”

I must have him. Life just wouldn’t be the same without Dick.

Bruce poured himself another glass of champagne. He was confident of his ability to win Dick over. He would overcome all obstacles, whether through persuasion, money, or whatever means at his disposal.

Ollie returned with a tray of ices. “Lemon for you, my dear, lime for me, and cherry for Bruce.” Alfred was already eating his strawberry ice.

“Thank you, Ollie.” Bruce took the cup, pleased at the coldness sliding down his suddenly dry throat.

& & & & & &


After the curtain call, Bruce led his party backstage. Clint and Haclav were wrangling ropes on the catwalk out over the stage as Bruce walked with sure strides toward Dick’s dressing room. He knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

“I hope you’re decent,” Bruce joked as he poked his head in.

“Never,” Dick said breezily as he glittered in his sequined dressing gown. It was canary-yellow and red satin slippers were on his feet. He still had his make-up on. His smile faltered slightly as he saw Dinah and Ollie over Bruce’s shoulder.

“May I introduce my old friends, Oliver and Dinah Queen?”

“Lovely name,” Dick said as he happily accepted the bouquet of red roses that Dinah held out to him.

“Your performance was even more exquisite,” Ollie said.

“Thank you, Mr. Queen.” Dick bowed.

“Ollie, please.”

“All right, Ollie.”

“And Dinah for me.”

Dick looked at her as he bowed again. He seemed slightly puzzled. Suddenly, recognition dawned in his eyes.

“I’ve seen pictures of you. You’re the Golden Canary!”

“Also known as the Blond Canary.” Dinah laughed. “I’m traveling incognito, dear.”

“I’ve always wanted to hear you sing.”

“Alas, my voice is on enforced rest,” Dinah said as she laid a hand on her silk-clad throat. “But once I’m singing again, I’ll send you an invitation.”

“That would be grand, Dinah.” Dick handed over the roses to Alfred, who went in search of water as he picked up a vase off Dick’s dressing table. “Your Canary Cry is said to be the highest note ever recorded.”

“And sometimes a terrible strain,” Ollie said as he put an arm around his wife’s shoulders.

They left Dick to dress and while waiting outside in the hall, Clint and Haclav walked by. Bruce made introductions and Dinah admired Clint’s muscles as Ollie covertly took a look, too. As the two stagehands went to their next task, Dinah said, “Quite a specimen, that Mr. Barton.”

“That he is,” Bruce agreed.

“I don’t like that Vlasic fellow.”

“Oh?”

“There’s something weaselly about him.” She wrinkled her nose.

Bruce laughed. “Women’s intuition again?”

She smiled enigmatically.

& & & & & &


The late supper at La Maison was a sparkling success. Dick charmed the Queens as they ate oysters, prime filet mignon with Hollandaise sauce, asparagus with country butter, and raspberry popovers.

“And Bruce knocked that Yalie popinjay right on his, um, behind,” said Ollie.

“He thought that he could wrest the boxing title from me,” Bruce sniffed.

“Bruce was a dynamo,” Dinah said, cutting a piece of sirloin.

“What do you mean, was?”

Dick laughed. “Continue, Ollie. I want to hear more war stories.”

“War stories? Old college tales?” Bruce waved his hand dismissively. “Not very exciting.”

“You must have a slew of embarrassing stories to tell if he’s trying to derail you.”

“Ha, you know him well, Dick.” Ollie winked and began another story.

& & & & & &


After supper, they took a carriage to the hotel. Ollie and Dinah were staying at the Hotel des Jardins, too. Dick squeezed Bruce’s hand.

“I have an early rehearsal tomorrow but I’ll meet you at the Louvre around 10:30.”

“Okay, see you then.” Bruce watched as the carriage driver drove away and Dick waved. He waved back.

Ollie went inside to talk with the desk clerk and Dinah smiled at Bruce. “He’s amazing.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Don’t let this one get away.” She went into the hotel with a swish of skirts.

“Don’t worry, I don’t intend to,” Bruce said quietly into the darkness.


XVII

LIKE THE WIND


He runs
Through fields
And across streams.

He runs
Through
Blood-spattered
Dreams.

He runs
And never looks back,
Like the wind
Skipping over
The endless abyss
So black.


Everett Sloan
“Like The Wind”
1871 C.E.



The faces were leering, hateful, and mocking. There were big men and thin men as they screamed their insults. Flames highlighted their faces and screams of terror filled the smoky air. He coughed, his eyes watering.

“Stinkin’ filth!”

His throat was raw as he screamed, red-and-gold wagons being consumed by fire as a gold tassel burst into flame, reduced to a blackened string in seconds. It was hell on earth .


& & & & & &


Dick bolted upright in bed with a cry, his heart pounding and his entire body shaking. He wiped his sweat-sheened face with a shaking hand.

Glad I stayed at my hotel tonight and not with Bruce.

He lay back against the headboard, trying to calm his racing heart. Tears trickled down his face and he slid down, curling up in a fetal position as he pulled up the covers, shivering until he fell asleep.

& & & & & &


Dick joined Bruce and his friends at the Louvre. They revisited the art they had seen for Dick’s sake, and new pieces they had not seen yesterday. He loved the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, admiring the graceful curves and lines of the ancient statuary. Bruce’s eyes were on him but that only made Dick preen more.

The Mona Lisa was the grand piece de resistance. Dick was immediately attracted to her enigmatic smile. He studied the painting and gradually realized that the others had drifted off, giving him extra time.

He appreciated that. He was still a little jittery after last night. He had seen the worry in Bruce’s eyes and the glances between Dinah and Ollie as he had deliberately babbled, trying to ward off depression. Alfred was implacable but Dick could see the concern in his eyes, too. Maybe a few minutes alone would allow him to center himself, as one of his fellow ballet dancers liked to say.

Ten minutes later Dinah approached him. “The boys are in the other wing. Come on, darling.”

“Are you my escort?”

“Oh, yes.”

“An utterly charming one.”

Dinah’s eyes sparkled. “A silver tongue.”

“Says the lady with the golden vocal cords.”

Dinah took his arm. “You’re good for Bruce.”

“Am I? He’s a fine patron of our little company.”

“He’s more than that.” At his hesitant expression she smiled gently. “Ollie and I know about his preferences.”

“Oh.” Dick blushed slightly. “He’s a fine man.”

“That he is.” They began walking to the next gallery. “He’s been an unhappy man.”

“Oh?”

She nodded. “He was traumatized by watching his parents killed right in front of him. I can’t imagine how that changes a child.”

“No.” Dick’s voice was flat.

“He’s had a lot of rage about that night. For awhile he drank and gambled excessively in an effort to drown that pain.” She squeezed his arm. “You bring joy to his life.”

Dick smiled. “I’m glad I can help.”

“More than you know, darling.”

& & & & & &


The view from the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower was breathtaking, Dinah declared. The men agreed with her as they ate a light lunch of sandwiches and fruit. A light breeze blew, for which Dinah was grateful. A hearty gust would have blown off her large, dark-blue hat with the sweeping yellow feather.

“Do you have any plans for the afternoon?” Ollie asked as he set down his teacup into its saucer.

“What about going over to the Left Bank?” asked Dick.

“That’s a splendid idea!” said Ollie.

Dinah saw Bruce and Alfred’s amusement. Dick must have expressed a desire to go to the famous neighborhood before this.

“Great idea, Dick. Let’s go.” Dinah finished her tea.

As the group walked down to the street, she hoped that the excursion would settle Dick down. All of them had noticed something a bit off with the young man. He was a little too cheerful, a bit too animated. Something was bothering him, but it was up to Bruce to find out, not her or Ollie.

Maybe it’s just artistic temperament. I surely understand that, she thought wryly.

They took a carriage to the neighborhood, alighting on the Boulevard St. Germain. They strolled along the streets past cafes and private homes. Artists painted at easels on the sidewalks, poets recited their odes and mimes performed their routines. A mustachioed man played a mandolin and passersby threw coins into an upturned hat at his feet.

“Oh, look, a bookstore,” Dinah pointed.

The sign read Shakespeare & Company Bookshop. A little bell jingled over the door as they entered.

Books were everywhere, jammed into bookcases and leaning dangerously in towering piles. Books were stacked on the floor and on tables. The few chairs held more tomes as an elderly man sat at a counter, hunched over a large book. He wore a green eyeshade and his sleeves were rolled up. Wire-rimmed glasses were perched on the end of his nose.

The shopkeeper paid no attention to them as they browsed the shelves. Dinah smiled to herself as she saw Bruce and Dick disappear around the corner.

“Hey, Pretty Bird.” Ollie said as he put his hand on Dinah’s shoulders. “Oh, if my French is correct, this is a rather bawdy novel.”

Dinah smirked. “Leave it to the French, eh?”

“Who better?” He nuzzled her neck.

“Naughty Yankee.”

“The best kind.” He rubbed her shoulders. “Where’s Bruce and his ballet dancer?”

“Around the corner.” The bookcase shook and books fell from the top of the case to the floor with a thump.

“What rascals,” Ollie chuckled.

Dinah elbowed him in the ribs. “Quit it, Don Juan.”

“Oof! Careful, darling, those self-defense lessons of yours are working very well.”

Dinah laughed as she put the book back. “Maybe we can pick up some French postcards on our way back to the hotel.”

“Oo-la-la.”

She giggled. “You’re awful, Ollie.”

“And you love it.”

She had to admit that he was right, but only to herself. “Don’t get cocky, rich boy.”

“Mmm, I love it when you talk money, baby.”

Dinah laughed. “You’re incorrigible.”

“I hope so.”

Bruce and Dick emerged from around the corner, their clothing slightly askew but with big smiles on their faces.

Bruce knows how to settle down his man.

Bruce bought a book on Impressionism and the shopkeeper roused himself long enough to quote the book’s price and take his money, then returned to his reading. The amused group left the shop and eventually ended up at Café de Flores for tea and pastries.

“I like this place,” aid Dick with a sweep of his arm to indicate the neighborhood.

“It suits you,” Bruce said affectionately.

Dick grinned. Dinah could see why Bruce had fallen so hard for this man. He seemed to sparkle, for crying out loud!

“Of course.” Dick sipped his tea. “You know what? We should come back here tonight. They say the cabaret life is to be seen to be believed.”

“I like that idea.” Ollie finished his raspberry turnover. “A little Paris nightlife would suit us just fine, wouldn’t it, my dear?”

Dinah patted him on the knee. “Absolutely, darling.”

“Such lovebirds,” cooed Bruce, fluttering his lashes.

They all laughed and left the café to return to the hotel.

& & & & & &


The soft clop-clop-clop of the horses’ hooves could be heard clearly in the carriage. Alfred had chosen to retire early so it was just the four of them dressed for a night on the town. While the three Americans were dressed a little more casually than usual, Dick had gone all out. He glittered in his red suit with the yellow vest and green cravat and a ruby stickpin. He wore no hat but did wear a red silk cape with gold lining. He was ready to ‘paint the town red’.

Their first stop was a club called The Cellar, appropriately named as they had to walk down a flight of stairs into a dark, smoky room. Tables were scattered around as a chubby man sat on a stool playing the mandolin. Drinks flowed freely and laughter filled the cramped space, though there was a small area for dancing.

Dinah noticed the brunet man in the corner, his dark eyes taking in everything. His hands were large and nimble as he played with a cigar.

“That’s Picasso,” she whispered as she jabbed Dick in the ribs.

Dick immediately went over to a group of musicians drinking at a nearby table. He talked to them and gave them some money. They pushed their chairs back and drew in the mandolin player as they began a lively tune. Dick stepped into the center of the room and began to dance.

Dinah was impressed. Not only could the young man dance a highly disciplined form like ballet, but he was excellent at improvisation. His movement was mesmerizing, ribbons of light following him as he danced with wild abandon.

She could see that Bruce was completely captivated. She could not blame him for that.

She hoped that she had done the right thing by telling Dick about Bruce’s reaction to his parents’ deaths. Bruce rarely spoke of that night at all, and he probably would not have wanted her to say anything, but she felt that Dick had the right to know how much he affected Bruce’s life.

Everyone’s attention was on Dick, including Picasso. He sipped his wine as his eyes followed every move Dick made. People clapped as Dick spun around-and-around, his cape swirling in a riot of glitter. He kicked out and leaned back, then went into a wild flurry of movement. Shouts of encouragement kept him going until he finally did one final spin and bowed to thunderous applause.

Dick was ready to rejoin his friends when Picasso beckoned him with his finger. Dick went over to his table and the others followed.

“You have fine command of your body,” said the artist. “I would like to paint you.”

“Thank you. I find the notion intriguing.”

“Good, though I warn you, I do not paint like Degas or Toulouse-Latrec.”

“I know your style, Mr. Picasso.”

“Good, then there will be few surprises. I will send you the times when I can paint.”

“I’ll let you know when I can come. My rehearsal schedule isn’t consistent.”

“Rehearsal?”

“Yes, I dance for the Ballet Magnifique.”

“Ah.” Picasso looked at Dick with new respect. “Keep dancing the wild dances, young man. You have a gift.”

For the rest of the evening the quartet went from club to club, dancing and drinking and by the time they went back to the Hotel des Jardins, no one was in any condition to do anything but sleep. Dick tumbled into bed with Bruce, drunkenly accepting the offer of sleeping with his friend as it was too far to his own hotel.

& & & & & &


By the time Dick returned to his hotel the following afternoon nursing a hangover, a note was waiting for him, slipped under his door. He groaned as he bent down for it, cursing his drinking the night before. He opened the note and his blood froze.

& & & & & &


I know your secret, stinking Gypsy. Pay me $5,000 or I’ll expose you. Instructions to follow.



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