Chapter Thirteen

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For several days following that night, Alexos didn’t really leave his room – his body was utterly wracked, his hips and knees so full of new aches and pains that he almost thought he was really ruined by it. Sutton kept coming to help him bathe and looking at him guiltily, which did make him laugh even as he hobbled miserably to and from the other room to bathe and see to his ablutions.            

“Stop fussing over me,” he said on the second morning, resting heavily on the dresser just inside the bathroom, letting it hold him up. “I did tell you, I’ll get used to it.”

“You’re in agony with every step,” replied Harry, and Alexos laughed.

“This isn’t agony,” he said dryly, shifting his weight on his good leg, which today was not a very good leg at all. “If you want to see me in agony, you should see me when I have the flu and al my joints are aching, I’m coughing out my lungs, and my guts are eviscerated with every unsuccessful attempt to hurry to the bathroom.”

“Very evocative imagery,” said Harry. “Very sexually appealing, I’m sure.”

“It’s not my fault polio lacks the sexual appeal of tuberculosis, Harry,” said Alexos. “Take it up with God.”

Harry sniggered, shaking his head, but he only relaxed once Alexos had sunk into the heat of the bath and fully relaxed with it, his head tipping back against it. He didn’t move immediately, just stayed there for a few minutes and let the hot water sink into him, soothing his exhausted joints, his muscles, seep right into his bones. There were only a few bruises on him, but they were light, lighter than he’d thought they’d be, and in future, he wanted Harry to bruise him more, bruise him harder.

He wanted to bruise him back.

Only Brydon had come into the room the past few days other than Harry, and ordinarily only when Alexos was asleep or when he was so buried in his work that he didn’t notice he’d been until he’d done again.

“What have you told them is wrong with me?”

“Oh, well, I made a formal announcement at supper the night after,” said Harry. “Said I’d fucked the young master silly.”

“Men have lost their positions for lesser insolences than that,” said Alexos.

“What, fucking the master silly?”

Alexos chuckled, wincing as he reached for a sponge and it sent a painful throb through his body, rippling down his legs and up his back. It was settled heavy in his body like a penetrating cold, only at least cold had a numbing effect – this just made him very aware of the way that his body was put together, and precisely how poor the construction was.

“Are you going to make a habit of threatening to render me unemployed?”

“Only until I’m used to all this exercise,” said Alexos. “There’s a good deal I had to learn to do once again after I was ill, you know. Walk and play piano – and whenever I’ve gotten into new things over the years, there’s been a process of adjustment. To typing, to long walks, to working on machinery. I have to work up muscle and stamina like any other man, you know – it’s just a slower and more painful process for me.”

“While I take a great deal of pleasure in causing you pain, a good deal of the appeal is in my control over it,” said Harry, and Alexos sighed, running the sponge over his bad knee even though it hurt, and making a face.

“As soon as I have the slightest control over my body, Harry, you can be sure I’ll be ceding it directly to you.”

Harry came over to the bath, and when Alexos saw that his sleeves were rolled up and that he’d put aside his jacket, he handed him the sponge, bracing himself for the touch when Harry brought it down his side. He was just the right balance of tense and gentle, and although it ached, there was no rawness in it, so he only sighed instead of actually crying out in response.

“You knew what I was,” said Alexos, more quietly now, with more vulnerability in his voice than he intended, and Harry gripped him so suddenly by the hair, forcing his head back, that he choked on his moan, staring up at him.                                                                                                 

“I know what you are,” said Harry quietly, his expression severe, his gaze focused, his lips pressed hard together. There was a sort of pained look on his face, his jaw squarely held, and his grip was so tight on the back of Alexos’ neck with his fistful of curls. “Alexos, I promise you, I’m not trying to… disrespect you. I don’t mean to…” He looked down at the bathwater. The hand not gripping the back of Alexos’ hair was still holding the sponge, and water dripped from it into the bath proper. “I’m sorry.”

“I won’t get better,” Alexos told him quietly, leaning his head slightly back into Harry’s hand, the pull at his scalp distracting from all the rest of the pain, and the novelty was wonderful, was a relief he wanted to latch onto and hold onto forever. “I’ll get worse, by and by. I told you that – I have told you that.”

“Yes.”

“But I’m not lying about the exercise, Harry. I will get used to it. Believe it or not, I’ve learned to wank myself off without hurting myself too badly – I’ll learn to be fucked and to fuck without hurting myself either.”

Harry stared at him, and then he relaxed the grip he had on Alexos’ hair, sliding his palm around the back of his head, his fingers scratching over the scalp, making him sigh and close his eyes.

“I’ll learn to, I hope,” Harry murmured, and Alexos laughed.

“No, I’ll keep it secret,” he said. “It amuses me that you should strain my muscles without meaning to.”

Harry smacked him upside the head, and Alexos laughed again, grabbing him by the wrist and pressing a kiss to the inside of his palm. For a second, Harry was completely frozen, his green eyes wide, his lips parting, and then his cheeks darkened and he wrenched his hand back, and tried to hide his smile as he went back to washing over Alexos’ sides.

“That flusters you,” Alexos remarked, not bothering to hide his feelings of pleasure and superiority. Harry pressed his lips harder together as if he could flatten the smile out of them. “Aren’t you used to tenderness?”

“Not delivered so earnestly,” said Harry mildly. “Men don’t often act like they’re in love with me.”

“I’m afraid that when you propose marriage, Mr Sutton, someone acting like they’re in love with you is one of the attendant risks,” said Alexos, and his tone was playful, but he didn’t quite know what Harry meant by it. Was he being too much? Was kissing him on the palm too much, too queer, even for this dynamic between them? “You don’t like it?”

“Being engaged?” asked Harry.

“Being kissed on the palm.”

“Oh,” said Harry lowly, not meeting his gaze. “No, I think I quite like that. I’ve been kissed on the hands before, but never like that.”

“How have you been kissed on the hands?”

“Theatrically,” said Harry. “Performatively. Exaggeratedly.”

“I suppose I should learn to exaggerate better.”

“You’re exaggerated enough,” said Harry. “I like the ways that you’re exaggerated.”

“I’m too much for most people.”

“Not for me,” said Harry.

Alexos’ cheeks burned hot, and his next sigh was shuddered as Harry leaned over on the side of the bath, and maybe it was the way his hand moved over Alexos’ body, scrubbing over his skin and taking care as he worked him over. He’d already mapped so much of Alexos’ body under his hands, learned where the sensitive spots were, where the most pain was, and if Alexos stared at his face he could see him recalculate as he worked, finding the parts of Alexos’ skin where he still felt the strain, and then he’d be gentler, or change his angle, or lighten his touch. Harry’s chest was in front of him, tantalisingly big and strong, and he could smell Harry’s skin, smell his sweat, wanted to reach out and touch him, but he didn’t want to get his clothes wet.

“How many men have you been with?” asked Alexos. “Or— had sex with, I mean.”

“More than you,” said Harry, and Alexos huffed out a low laugh.

“Well, that could mean anything. That could mean anything between two men and a thousand.”

“It’s between two and a thousand,” Harry agreed, and Alexos flicked water onto his face: the laugh that came out of him was rich and dark, plummy as his voice but with a deeper hoarseness to it, because that laugh was from low in his chest, from his very gut, and it made him shiver with anticipation. “Does that really make your cock hard?”

“It’s you that makes my cock hard,” said Alexos. “A dozen? Two dozen?”

“At least,” said Harry.

“And no cripples among them?”

Harry thinned his lips, looking disapprovingly at him before gently tipping Alexos’ head forward, not forcing him but nudging him to move, and Alexos readjusted himself, resting his forehead on the perfect cushion of his belly while spreading his legs a little to keep from putting too much pressure on his hips or his knees. Harry squeezed the sponge over the back of his neck, letting water drip down his back and making Alexos exhale, but then he washed over it, and Alexos went limp and lax, feeling as though he could melt into the other man.

“You must have fucked a few,” said Alexos. “Given a few handjobs in the medical tents.”

“Believe it or not, that’s not in the guidebook of army medical protocol,” said Harry. “There’s an old army mate of mine with one leg, we’ve had sex a few times, and another man I was with once, he was missing an arm and a few chunks out of his side.”

“What’s the difference between them and me?”

“Other than the fact that I like you better?”

“I mean— You never worry about hurting them, do you?”

“I flatter myself, but I can’t do quite the same damage to a man with my cock as I might with artillery fire or a shell blast.”

“It’s less impressive to say, Harry, but you can’t do the same damage as polio, either.”

Harry leaned back, and Alexos sat back on his arse in the bath and looked up at him, at the serious expression on his face. “You will tell me?” he asked quietly. “If I’m hurting you?”

“I told you the other night, didn’t I? Said what position I wanted to be in, said when I was strained?”

“You enjoy it when I hurt you,” said Harry, and his expression was so serious, so grave, that Alexos rather felt like he was being stood up in front of his schoolmaster. There was a sternness in it, and as Alexos stared up at him and tried not to squirm, Harry smirked, because he was evidently quite aware of the effect said sternness was having on Alexos’ libido. “You like it when I take command, take control of you. It excites you, arouses you. And I don’t imagine I have to convince you that I’m just as invigorated by the inverse.”

“I’m quite convinced,” agreed Alexos, his mouth slightly dry.

“With any man at all,” said Harry quietly, “I’d discuss… the importance of being told his limits. Beating someone over the backside is easy enough – tying a man up, on the other hand, or choking him, or teasing him with a knife, I’ve done all that, but not without first discussing… Not without knowing first that he will tell me, in no uncertain terms, when we reach a limit of his. When we reach something that frightens him too much, or hurts him too much – any point that turns arousal and excitement to something else.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I don’t want you to think these are requirements of mine I’ve invented purely because of your legs, or the state of your joints,” said Harry. “It’s a tenet of the practice.”

“Well, it’s only common sense,” said Alexos. “You can’t go around choking men and having them expect them to read your mind and know when you’re about to kill them dead.”

“You have far too low an opinion of other people to actually believe in common sense,” said Harry dryly, and Alexos laughed, leaning back in the water and looking up at him. “But a lot of people don’t know their limits until they reach them, that’s all. I’ve been with men before, and… I knew a man who liked to be called names, and one day I called him the wrong thing, I don’t even remember exactly what – this was ten years ago, and I haven’t seen him in about seven – but it broke something in him, and he just started sobbing his eyes out. Completely forgot about fucking him – I ended up bundling him in a blanket and holding him in my lap until he was halfway alright again, made him drink a cup of cocoa and stroked his back until he fell asleep.”

“You didn’t fuck him again?”

“Oh, I did, of course,” said Harry. “Called him names again, just not that one, or didn’t say whatever I’d said – I think it was about his weight, or how he looked, something along those lines, but it was a step too far. Not a step I made again.”

 

“Just about anything from you could do it for me, I’m beginning to think,” murmured Alexos. “I’m curious as to whether you were as excited by other men’s disabilities as you are by mine.”

“I’m not excited by your—”

“Posh,” said Alexos immediately, interrupting Harry before he could keep talking. “You can take away my cane and virtually pin me in place, no ropes required. You can’t tell me that doesn’t excite you.”

“You’re exaggerating the extent to which you’re handicapped by your condition.”

“Perhaps so,” Alexos agreed. “But you enjoy the extent to which I’m reliant on you.”

“Yes,” said Harry quietly. “I like for people to rely on me – those who are richer or stronger or more powerful than me most of all, as a rule.”

“As a rule,” repeated Alexos. “Does that appendation mean I don’t count?”

“You’re certainly richer than I am,” said Harry. “For all your disability and your lack of friends, I still wouldn’t gamble going up against you in the courts, or even in gossip circles.”

It was astoundingly, brutally honest, and it made Alexos’ lips shift into a small smile, full of relief full of ease.

“Will you be getting dressed today?”

“Mmm,” said Alexos. “I’ll work in the library today.”

“Breakfast with Mr Kidd?”

“No.”

“Alexos.”

“I said one meal,” said Alexos. “I did not say when.”

Harry sighed, looking down at him coolly, but then he got to his feet and picked up a towel.

“You haven’t fucked him before?” asked Alexos.

“Kidd? No.”

“You’ve never wanted to?”

“Not particularly,” said Harry. “I would for your entertainment, if you’d like to see him fucked.”

“I’d rather see him fucked than listen to him talk.”

Harry laughed. “He’s really not so awful,” he said quietly. “When not drugged to the gills.”

“Resounding praise,” said Alexos, and grunted as he pulled himself up from the bath, but Harry didn’t push the matter any further.

* * *

Over the next week, Alexos went primarily between the bedroom and the library, and didn’t come downstairs at all. Harry initially thought this was purely to do with his desire to avoid Larry, but he soon came to suspect that it was actually to do with his avoiding the stairs, because his knees really did seem particularly bad, and took time to relax again.

Harry massaged his legs the first day after he’d finally begun to leave the bedroom again, and Alexos had ended up sobbing by the time he was done, but when Harry offered to stop, Alexos shook his head, asked him to keep going, said it did help.

“Wouldn’t you rather pursue medicine than this?” he’d asked, and Harry had laughed.

“Being a nurse wouldn’t give me as much comfort or luxury as I have here.”

“The work is harder.”

“No,” disagreed Harry. “Not for me.”

“It’s less respected.”

“By whom? By you?”

“What? No, of course I respect you.”

“Name someone who respects me less that might matter to me,” he’d retorted, and Alexos had stared at him, then laughed and rubbed at his own cheeks, shaking his head and putting himself to whatever it was he’d been doing.

Mr Fox Senior, when he came home, was quite pleasant to Mr Kidd, and attending to them both at meals, Harry was relieved to find that Larry wasn’t nearly as manic as he was capable of being, and that he held back the clumsier and more shocking aspects of his personality.

Much of his chaos with Alexos, Harry was certain, was because he already knew that Alexos was involved with Harry and that they were of a similar lilt – his reservations with his father, for being reserved, were by no means unnatural or stunted, and if anything, were smoother for his holding back the full force of his personality.

He still chattered near constantly, of course, but this went down well with Mr Fox, who was more than comfortable listening to other people speak as he settled placidly to listen, and on the occasion that Larry asked him questions, he was nonetheless pleased enough to answer them. He stumbled when he tried to explain his maths to Larry, not adept at concentrating his knowledge for the benefit of a layman, but he did try his best, and Larry was a concentrated listener.

“Alexos despises me,” he said miserably to Harry after he’d been in the house for a week.

“He does no such thing,” replied Harry. “He’s in pain, that’s all – I compared him to a cat before, and the comparison stands now. When a cat is injured, he doesn’t want anybody looking at him or observing him, and just wants to be left alone.”

“Perhaps I should go up to the library,” he said, anxiously pacing the floor, and Harry clucked his tongue, shaking his head.

“Under no circumstances.”

“I could just go up for a book,” Larry suggested almost feverishly, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I wouldn’t even talk to him, I’d just… just go and pick out some books. Let him talk to me.”

“He wouldn’t talk to you,” said Harry. “If he noticed you were there at all, Mr Kidd, he would pretend not to, and you would be so overwhelmed with your desire for his attention that you would say something, whereupon he would, and I can assure you of this, eviscerate you verbally if not physically.”

“He couldn’t eviscerate me physically,” said Larry anxiously. “I’d keep my distance.”

“He moves faster than you might expect,” said Harry, more for the way that it made Larry look abruptly concerned and a little frightened than because he thought Alexos really would lunge for him. Harry was increasingly convinced that Alexos could and would do Larry some moderate injury were he significantly provoked, and while he didn’t think that simply entering his domain without warning would be sufficient, he thought it best to instil some caution now lest Larry continue to underestimate him.

Larry threw himself down in front of his desk, but sitting down didn’t stop his constant frenetic motion: he began to bounce his knee and tap his fingers against the desk surface, his lips twisted. The desk itself was absolutely covered in stacks of pages, each and every one of them printed on one side in Larry’s tight, looping handwriting. His anxiety over his host not liking him did not seem to have impacted his ability to work in any way – if anything, he was working really very feverishly, and writing far more, far quicker, than was ordinarily his habit.

And that was even having returned his cocaine compact to Cherry Flintman.

“Harry,” he said quietly, “are you really sure he will come to like me?”

“I do,” said Harry honestly. “So long as you’re patient with him, and don’t try quite so hard to force it, Mr Kiss.”

“Please call me Larry when we’re alone,” said Larry in a low voice, and Harry glanced at him. Perhaps he might have felt a pang of sympathy, were he not that he’d heard so many of these nervous outbursts over the past few days, and were he not aware that these expressions of anxiety were so integral to Larry Kidd’s nature, particularly when expressed to one servant or other. “Won’t you, Harry? I’d like to fool myself I have one friend in this house.”

“Larry,” said Harry quietly, and looked at the other man very seriously. “He’ll warm to you. He will.”

Larry nodded, though he didn’t seem to have much faith in it. He picked up his pen and commenced to work, seeming to forget Harry was even there after a minute or two, and Harry left him be to work.

Later that evening, Alexos came down to dinner late, but Larry was so excited that he was coming to join him and his father for dinner that he almost shot up out of his seat. Alexos certainly seemed to notice this sudden burst of excitement, but he made no comment on it and avoided making eye contact with Larry, pressing his lips together and focusing on his plate as he took his seat.

“Have you been working much, Alexos?” he asked, and Alexos didn’t look up as he unfolded a napkin over his lap and concentrated primarily on his food. When Harry came forward to pour his wine, Alexos made meaningful (and strikingly violent) eye contact with Harry only, and Harry’s lips twitched, although he didn’t allow himself to smile.

“Yes, Mr Kidd,” he said, putting a great deal of weight on Larry’s surname, which made him falter, although he worked quite desperately to keep the rictus smile on his face. “I typically do.”

Harry didn’t kick him under the table, but used his knee to put pressure on his hip just before he turned away, and Alexos let out an aborted hiss of pain, looking up at him with fierce indignation, but he smoothed the pain away as soon as his father looked at him askance.

“And yourself?” he asked, the words so polite that Harry could almost taste the venom in them.

“Oh, God, yes, absolutely,” said Larry, sounding positively giddy to be asked a question in return. “I’ve been writing pages upon pages – my wrist was cramped last night, and Riggs was good enough to make up a hot water bottle for me to soothe it. I’ve got a bundle of pages tied up, a draft for a new novella, and I’ll be dispatching that by post back home when I go into Brighton on Monday, I think, for it to be typed up.”

“Well,” said Alexos, stiffly, but not entirely unpleasantly. “There’s no need for all that, Mr Kidd. I’m currently typing up a draft myself and have need of my machine, but this is an unusual house, and we’ve always one or two typewriters spare. I can take one out for you to use.”

“Oh,” said Larry, blinking. “Well, that’s very kind of you, Mr Fox, but I don’t type.”

Harry looked with interest at the expression on Alexos’ face, at the conflicting emotions there – indignation, irritation, genuine surprise, bafflement. He really did crave to get Alexos introduced to a few different men, because he really did want to see that expression in a group setting, or just see Alexos shut down more confident men the way he shot down Larry.

“I beg your pardon, Mr Kidd?”

“I don’t type,” Larry said again. “I’ve got a girl to type for me – it’s really very good, actually, because she was a typist and was so upset about having to stop working when she married and had her baby, her husband is my second cousin, and this way she can keep working and keep up her experience, you know, so that when her daughter goes off to school, she can go back into the workforce.”

“How unusual,” remarked Mr Fox Senior, looking amused. “She sounds the sort that George would love.”

“George?” Larry repeated.

“Georgina,” said Alexos. “My mother. Mr Kidd, has it not occurred to you that you might learn to type?”

“Oh, well, no,” said Larry. “It’s so messy, you know, and complicated, all that hectic little machinery, it’s not really my sort of thing at all. I’m more for nature than industry, you see.”

Alexos stared at him for some long moments, and Harry held his breath, waiting for him to say something, to further express his disapproval, but then he turned back to his meal. “I do see,” he said tersely.

He said very little for the rest of the evening, but it had been a conversation, and for all he had experienced such resounding disapproval, Larry looked very relieved to have made any progress at all.

And—

In truth, Harry thought, he really almost had.

Because when Larry asked Alexos over a slice of lemon pound cake, “Do you like dessert very much, A— Mr Fox?” Alexos looked at him in utter bafflement for a moment, and then exhaled.

“Not very much, Mr Kidd,” he said, with a sort of forced placidity. “But yes, I do like them.”

“I don’t understand how they do it,” said Larry.

“… Mr Kidd?”

“Oh, well, it just seems like witchcraft, you know,” said Larry. “Throwing an egg together and flour and— and whatever else, and it comes out like this. You’d never imagine it was possible, looking at the ingredients.”

“Eggs, flour, sugar, butter, vegetable shortening, whipped cream, milk, lemon zest,” said Alexos after a few moments. “There are a variety of processes going on in the baking of a cake like this, Mr Kidd, but foremost would be the function of the leavening agent, in this case, the baking powder. As it’s heated during baking, it releases carbon dioxide, which makes all those tiny little bubbles within the cake, gives the sponge that texture. The eggs contribute to that – when the cake mixture is whipped, which of course puts more air bubbles in, the egg white helps protect those bubbles, which is why a cake sinks if the mixture is not sufficiently beaten. That same protein also contributes to the sponge’s structure, keeps it solid and standing. For this, the cream and milk keep it from drying out – it’s fairly easy to dry out pound cake, if you’ve not sufficient moisture put in.”

Alexos hadn’t looked up from his cake as he spoke, cutting it into smaller pieces, albeit not as meticulously as his father, who had been cutting up his into evenly sized cubes and cutting up a slice of lemon with the same focus, so that it might be split evenly between every cube he made.

Larry was looking at Alexos with something akin to awe writ on his features.

“Oh,” he said. “Wow. I had no idea it was so… That there as quite so much, ah… You’re a chef, Mr Fox.”

“I’m an amateur baker,” said Alexos. “And not a particularly skilled one.”

“You sound very skilled,” said Larry enthusiastically.

“Knowledge of chemistry doesn’t follow onto practical application, Mr Kidd,” said Alexos. “Not by default.”

“Sounds like my love life,” said Larry breezily, and Alexos looked at him seriously, but didn’t laugh – he didn’t insult him either.

“Are you involved with a great many chemists?” asked Mr Fox Senior seriously.

Alexos’ lips twitched into something that was almost a smile, and as Larry blustered to explain his joke, Harry saw that Mr Fox wasn’t looking at him – he was looking at his son, his expression warm and really quite indulgent, until he glanced up at Harry, and smiled himself.  

* * *

When Alexos had woken up this morning, Brydon had come in to help him up and dressed, as it was Harry’s day off, which was something of a relief. Not because Alexos particularly wanted to avoid his company, of course, but simply because the absence of Harry on the same day there was an absence of Larry Kidd meant that Alexos had an opportunity.

His legs twinged a little from having come down the stairs, but it wasn’t anything like the ache he’d been nursing the past few days, and it was really a relief to settle down for breakfast with his father, one of his feet resting on the dog’s belly, without pain – or Larry Kidd, who was a sort of pain in himself – distracting him too badly.

“Do you like that Larry Kidd?” asked his father.

“Not particularly,” said Alexos.

“Ah well,” said his father quietly, smiling to himself. “I like him.”

“Good,” said Alexos, and got himself to his feet.

He put on his coat, although it was a fine enough day and he hoped he wouldn’t need it, and said in an undertone to Brydon, “I’m going out to the shed.”

Brydon looked at him a moment, then nodded his head. “Need help carrying anything, sir?”

“Oh, no,” said Alexos. “If I need anything, I’ll ask Mr Lloyd. Thank you, Brydon.”

Alexos had not been out to the shed, he didn’t think, since Harry had taken over the position as butler, perhaps a while before then – he went through periods of wanting to work out there quite feverishly, and periods where he left it be. It was reliant, of course, on how good he felt about walking, how bad the pain was. When Mr Lloyd saw him coming down the path, he went into the shed before him, and by the time Alexos had limped inside, he had the furnace going, heat radiating out from it.

“I put all them new bits aside,” said Mr Lloyd, gesturing to the metal drawers where he stored typewriter pieces.

“What’s this?” asked Alexos, gesturing to the big wooden worktable that he liked to work at – he had a big metal table that was more solid, but he didn’t much like to work at it until the furnace had been on for a while, because the cold bit into his forearms.

The shed was a stone and wood building, and three walls were covered in floor-to-ceiling shelves that Mr Lloyd had put in for him, with a lot of wood crates keeping the bigger scrap pieces. A few metal drawers and cabinets were arranged against one wall, in which were meticulously arranged smaller pieces – scrapped cogs, screws, nails, springs, and all other manner of small ephemera – and the majority of his tools, the ones that weren’t in the tool box Mr Lloyd brought into the house for him when he asked.

In a few stacked crates were some of Mr Lloyd’s reclaimed and stolen objects, the ones that Alexos normally took to disassembling to sell or reuse himself for scrap, but the clock on his worktable looked far too shiny and well-kept to be one of these items – none of the glass pieces were cracked, and it really looked in very good condition, except for how it didn’t work properly, the minute hand continuously moving back and forth instead of moving through its proper cycle.

“It’s a clock,” said Mr Lloyd.

“Astonishing, the secrets you enable me to be privy to, Tom,” said Alexos dryly, and Mr Lloyd laughed, putting his hands on his hips.

“It’s Mrs Glover’s,” he said. “You know, from the village?”

“No,” said Alexos.

Mr Lloyd scowled at him. “She’s the cobbler’s wife.”

“I’m not acquainted with Mrs or Mr Glover, Mr Lloyd.”

“Well, the wind knocked the clock off the mantel the other day, and she asked if I could have a look at it, and I figured you could. D’I figure wrong?”

“No,” said Alexos quietly. “Thank you. Has it been waiting long?”

“Two weeks,” said Mr Lloyd as he moved toward the door. “Want a cup of tea, lad?”

“Have I ever told you I’d die for you, Mr Lloyd?”

“That don’t mean much,” said Mr Lloyd. “Stiff wind’d kill you.”

Alexos sniggered, shooting the old man a foul hand signal, and Mr Lloyd laughed to himself as he went outside again, going over to the little house he kept nearby, the door shutting behind him. Alexos opened up the back of the clock, setting it aside, and he looked at the cog work stutter in its place before he started to delicately disassemble it.

He hadn’t been working for five minutes before the door opened again – he was far more aware of comings and goings in here than he ever was in the library, what with the heavy draft whenever the door opened or closed – and he said, “Could you put it just here? My hands are busy.”

“Put what where?” asked Larry Kidd, and Alexos whipped around to glare at him.

Get out,” he growled, but Kidd was already all the way inside, and was looking around with wide-eyed fascination.

“What a treasure trove,” said Kidd, and Alexos stood to his feet, clenching his hands into fists. “What is this? A sort of— a workshop? Are you fixing something – can you fix things? Al— Mr Fox! You never said you did things like this! Can you fix cars, too?”

“No, Mr Kidd, seeing as I can’t exactly drive one,” said Alexos darkly. “I was given to understand you were in Brighton.”

“Oh, I came back last night – or, er, this morning. I only just woke up. What are you fixing?”

“Mr Kidd, I like to work in peace and quiet,” said Alexos sharply.

“I’ll be quiet,” Kidd promised, desperately, fervently, putting his hands together in a motion akin to prayer. “Oh, please, Mr Fox, I love nothing more than to watch a craftsman at work, and all this is so interesting – do you make typewriters?”

“I’ve taken apart more typewriters than I’ve repaired,” said Alexos hurriedly, trying to think of what answer would suitably push him to leave. “Look, just—”

“What’s this?” asked Kidd, picking up a mechanical puzzle box Alexos had made last year, and Alexos’ hands twitched at his hands, powerless to do anything to stop him, until the door opened again and Mr Lloyd stood there with a cup of tea in his hand.

“Hullo,” he said, looking askance at Alexos.

“Mr Lloyd,” said Alexos, taking the mug from him with a murmur of thanks, “this is Mr Kidd, he’s our guest, an author. Mr Kidd, this is Tom Lloyd, he’s our gardener and our groundskeeper.”

“Oh, hallo, Mr Lloyd, how do you do?”

Mr Lloyd looked far too entertained by the situation as he asked, “Shall I get Mr Kidd a chair, sir?”

Alexos pressed his lips together, looking at the other man foully, but before he could say a word, Kidd said, “Oh, would you? Mr Lloyd, what a darling man you are.”

“Oh, aye,” said Lloyd ironically, chuckling to himself as he left again. “Darling is right.”

Kidd barely seemed to notice the old man’s humour, focused as he was on pressing and twisting at the sides of the box, and Alexos sighed to himself, dropping resignedly back into his seat.

“What is it?” asked Kidd.

“It’s a box,” said Alexos. “There’s nothing inside it.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s a puzzle.”

Oh,” said Kidd enthusiastically, and pulled himself up to sit on the metal desk, his legs hanging down as he put his focus to it, and Alexos stared at him, his lips parted. He sipped at his tea, watching Kidd as he slid at one of the dials with his thumb, then twisting the other.

It wasn’t a very good design – it had just been an experiment of his, wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as other mechanisms he liked to play about with, wasn’t nearly so smoothly designed.

Kidd was looking at it like it really was treasure – but to his credit, he genuinely was quiet as Alexos turned back to the clock and kept working.

Thank you so much for reading! Please do leave a tip via Patreon or Ko-Fi if you can - if you can't, comment and let me know what you think! You can follow me on Twitter @JohannesTEvans, and you'll find books linked there too!

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28 Feb, 2022 00:07

Just finished up to this point. This has been my obsession for a week or so now. It's excellent, thank you! You have introduced me to romance stories I actually like!