Chapter Twelve

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“Oh, dear,” said Larry Kidd, once Alexos had left the room, and Harry focused on picking up the pieces of the glass that had broken in his hand, resisting the urge to run right after him. He had been prepared for this eventuality, and his Uncle Reg had told him in no short order that it was a likely possibility. “I am sorry, Harry,” Larry went on. “He hates me.”

“For now,” Harry agreed, wrapping the glass in paper. “Do you recall that I asked you not to drink or take any stimulants before you arrived here?”

“I… do,” said Larry.

“Did you, in fact, take my advice?”

“I did not,” admitted Larry, and when Harry put out his hand and gave him a rather stern look, he produced a compact from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it over. “I was quite drunk last night, so all I did was take a bit to spruce me up, you know.”

“You took more than enough to spruce you up,” said Harry, opening the little metal case and examining the white powder inside, hidden in a puzzle compartment that Harry was more adept at opening than he might admit to. “You’ve been conducting yourself like quite the lunatic.”

“Have I?”

“A bit, sir,” said Harry, and closed the compact up. It had a cigarette case on one side and a mirrored compact on the other, the hatch for the cocaine within the latter, and it was far nicer than anything he would expect Larry Kidd to own, even having received it as a gift. “Is this yours?”

“No, no, it’s Cherry Flintman’s,” said Larry, and Harry raised an eyebrow, surprised.

Cherry Flintman – whose actual name, Harry was fully aware, was Gareth Solihull – was wonderful for a party, and was well-versed in all manners of erotic dance, modern music, dirty poetry and, of course, an array of highs and stimulants, but he was typically too hard a partymaster for the likes of Larry, who was frightened of crowds and became ill upon exposure to very loud music, often a sticking point for a man who had such affection for music.

“Is he expecting it back?”

“On Monday,” said Larry. “When I go down into Brighton, you know.”

“Ah, he’s acting in the play, I suppose,” said Harry, beginning to understand, and Larry nodded his head. He looked quite miserable, and Harry touched his shoulder just before the knock came at the door.

Felix entered upon Harry’s invitation, and Harry picked up Alexos’ plate, setting the knife and fork on it before pouring a fresh glass of accompanying wine for Alexos, setting it all on a tray.

“His hand is alright?”

“Yes, sir, I brought the antiseptic up to him, and his hands aren’t trembling too badly today, so he bandaged it himself,” said Felix, although he glanced over to Larry uncertainly, who at least had the good grace to look very chagrined.

“Bring him whatever he needs, Felix.”

“You aren’t going to go up, sir?”

“I believe Mr Fox would prefer he be permitted to eat and then work in peace for a while, Felix,” said Harry quietly, putting the tray in his hands. “Bring him his tray, ask if he would like anything else, and if he says no, just leave him be.”

Once Felix left, he cleared away Alexos’ side of the table as Larry ate – he seemed, at least, to have a significant appetite despite the lingering drunkenness and the current high, his knees shifting under the table and bouncing in their place.

“I am sorry to make him hate me so,” said Larry. “I know you said he’s rather cat-like and needs a light touch, but I’m not tremendously good at that sort of thing.”

“I was aware this might happen, Mr Kidd,” said Harry quietly. “As I told you, Mr Fox is a man of particular tastes who is very keenly attached to his privacy. I did advise you also, if you recall, not to make any mention of inversion unless he broached the topic first.”

“Did I broach it?”

“When you asked him how well he liked my arse? Yes, Larry, you did.”

“Oh, yes,” said Larry, making a slight face. “I suppose I rather did. Will he warm to me?”

“When you’re sober and better controlled, perhaps.”

“I wish you’d say you had no doubt.”

“I have significant doubts, Mr Kidd, but I also have hopes. It’s my intention to introduce Mr Fox to a great many men of like-minded interest, bring him into as varied a series of friendships as I have myself, but he is not social by nature, and our tastes run to different directions. I do genuinely believe that the two of you will get on, once certain obstacles are overcome.”

“Perhaps I should go up and apologise,” said Larry suddenly, getting to his feet, and Harry put his hand on his shoulder, nudging him to sit again.

“By no means, sir,” said Harry quietly. “It would be my suggestion that you not attempt to enter the library whilst Mr Fox lies therein – it is his domain, and he guards the territory fiercely. He’ll react poorly if he finds it encroached upon.”

Larry sighed, leaning back in his seat. “He’ll like me better sober,” he said – promised. “I’ll not say a word next time. I won’t even ask him a question.”

Harry doubted this immensely, but Larry’s eagerness to please and is crushing desperation for other people to like him, even if that person was an ornery, angry gentleman with no friends, was encouraging and really quite useful for Harry’s purposes. It would have been kind to say that he wanted to introduce Larry and Alexos knowing that if Alexos could learn to like Larry, he could learn to like a great many more inoffensive men – while this was a motivator, it was not his primary one.

Larry was desperate for everyone to like him, and avoided conflict almost pathologically, bending over backwards to keep people happy, changing his apparent values from one party to the next – quite annoying, and in Harry’s own opinion an indicator of spinelessness, but a people-pleaser like Larry would mould himself to Alexos’ preferences as much as he could.

“He’s very handsome, isn’t he?” asked Larry, taking a mouthful of his food, swallowing. “I can’t believe nobody knows him.”

Harry had told Larry very little about Alexos when they’d met some weeks ago on Harry’s day off – he had told him that Alexos was lonely, that he ventured out very little on account of his disability, and had confirmed it when Larry had asked if Alexos were of the same bent as them, but said nothing more. He’d intentionally held back too much information, knowing that Larry often gossiped and asked questions about anybody he learned of.

“Nobody?” Harry repeated.

“Well, I suppose he is a bit old,” said Larry. “What is he, forty?”

“Thirty-three.”

“Oh,” said Larry, seeming slightly surprised. “He’s younger than I thought, then. But older than me, certainly, and most of my friends – I don’t actually know many people older than thirty, you know.”

“Aren’t you thirty, yet?”

“Twenty-nine!” said Larry sharply, and Harry hid his smile as he turned away. “The closest to him that I can think of is Donald Howard, have you tried him?”

“I haven’t tried anybody except you, Mr Kidd,” said Harry – this was true, and saying it had the benefit of making Larry look up at him with his lips parted and his eyes slightly wide, his expression almost wondering.

“I— You don’t mean that,” said Larry. “You’ve tried other people.”

“No, sir,” said Harry, and Larry fidgeted in his seat, looking down at his plate. “I thought you the best introduction to a broader social calendar, sir, being as kind, gregarious, and charming as you are. Even Mr Fox is not immune to charm.”

“Nor am I, judging by the way you have me blushing,” muttered Larry, reaching up and awkwardly brushing his own cheek. He looked more anxious than he did pleased, but it was an anxiety to please.

“You are a man who greatly excels at connecting like-minded men with one another, sir, even if you don’t connect with them yourself,” said Harry. “I did consider your expertise in this area, as well.”

“Well, I don’t know that he’d like a lot of my friends,” said Larry. “Except Donald.”

“Howard, sir?”

“He’s a solitary sort of man,” said Larry. “Very romantic, you know – sort of Byronic, in his way of being. Well, he’s a terrible slut, everybody’s had a piece of him, and he’s quite lovely, but it’s all a smokescreen for what lies beneath. He refuses nearly every party invitation, and even when he comes, he’s oh-so-quiet, and not only because he’s got his mouth full. He doesn’t brood, exactly, but he has an aura of loneliness that rather makes one ache to touch him, the same way you want to touch the very still surface of calm water.” There was a sort of quiet, painful yearning in Larry’s voice as he spoke, which didn’t necessarily mean he was aching for some sort of romantic connection with the man – the handful of occasions Harry had met him, he’d known Larry to slip into these reveries about one person or another at least twice.

“I’ve never met him,” said Harry – but then, there was no reason he should.

Harry had first been acquainted with Larry through Gregson Carmichael, who was a glazier, because Larry tended to frequent a wide variety of little bars and cafés and speakeasies depending on wherever had the least crowding, and while he was comfortably well-off now, he had gone to school on a scholarship, and had always known work even though he had never known labour. Many of his friends were rich or aristocrats, but Larry himself was not, and mingled with others.

Larry was not a close friend of Harry’s, but through Larry he’d met Ulysses Valentine, who he liked very well, and of course, Harry had already met Riggs, who was now Larry’s valet.

“Do you know the names of any of his household?”

“His butler’s name is Mead, Victor Mead,” said Larry, thinking. “His father’s valet is a Jones… I think there’s a McNair somewhere in there, maybe he’s a footman. I’m afraid I’ve not often had cause to visit since I was a boy – Donald and I were in the same year at school, you see, and our beds were next to one another’s, what with there being no boys with I- or J-names between us in the dormitory. Howard, then Kidd, you know. I’d like very much to see him be a bit happier, you know – perhaps he and Fox might be well-suited to one another.”

“We shall see,” said Harry – none of the names particularly rang a bell, but perhaps, perhaps…

“Could I have the compact back?” asked Larry.

“Of course, sir,” said Harry, and smiled. “On Monday morning.”

Larry opened his mouth, but then he sighed – he showed no surprise whatsoever, though, and went back to his meal. He really could be very good-natured – he was obedient, given the correct pressure, and for this situation, that was best.

* * *

Alexos ate in silence upstairs, drank his wine, and then went back to work. He had buried himself in it for some time, reading and making copious notes without, he was pleased to note, being interrupted except for when Felix let in the dog, who was asleep at his feet.

His bad leg was aching quite terribly, making him think perhaps he’d strained himself when he suddenly got to his feet, but he didn’t feel any desire to ring for service and take something for it.

He felt oversensitive and indignant and humiliated, and when the door quietly opened some little while after he’d been working, Alexos scowled down at his page.

“I do hope you’re pleased with yourself,” he said coldly, but the man in the doorway was not, as he had expected, Sutton – instead, he found himself faced with Riggs, Kidd’s valet. Riggs was a plain young man, pale, dark-haired, and unremarkable, and now he looked at Alexos quite uncertainly.

“My apologies, sir, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” he said quietly. “I thought that you were still sat down to lunch with Mr Kidd.”

He moved to go, but Alexos stood to his feet, saying, “No, no, Riggs, please.”

He’d already been made to feel unreasonable and really quite awful – and a part of him, a spiteful part perhaps, wanted to be kind to Kidd’s valet in a way he had no intention of being kind to Kidd himself.

“The library is at your disposal, if anything here suits your fancy. What is it you’re looking for?”

“I’ve been reading Hugo of late, sir,” said Riggs. “I just finished Toilers of the Sea.”

“Oh, of course, Hugo is over here,” said Alexos, gesturing for Riggs to follow him past the long desk and between two of the tall shelves, gesturing. “Here, in the original French—”

Riggs looked uncertain, and Alexos pivoted to the other shelf. “Here, in translation. You’ve read Les Misérables?”

“And Notre-Dame,” said Riggs. “And some of his poetry.”

“You like his social commentary?” asked Alexos, and Riggs’ expression froze. It was a terribly loaded question to ask of a servant, even of a valet for a young bachelor, and he didn’t press on it or provoke as he might someone else. “Sorry, Riggs, I’m not asking you to confess yourself a communist. Are you more interested in what Mr Hugo has to say about hunger for power, about class conflict, about being an outcast? Or did you appreciate the break from Mr Hugo’s tendency to lecture in Toilers?”

“I don’t know that he stopped lecturing, sir,” said Riggs, and looked surprised when Alexos laughed, but Alexos was surprised himself.

The Man Who Laughs is my favourite of Hugo’s,” said Alexos, touching his fingers to the spine of the volume. “Gwynplaine is a tragic figure, but is at the same time quite detestable. Nonetheless, the text is as others of his – it’s about the cancerous quality of those most power-hungry people, the venom of polity, and quite particularly the ways in which the aristocracy consume and feed upon the suffering of the lower classes. There’s Ninety-Three, which is about la Terreur, or at least, revolts there against, but he has plays—”

“The Man Who Laughs sounds good, sir,” said Riggs, almost shyly, and Alexos smiled at him, hooking his finger against the binding and tugging it free from the shelf, handing it over. “Is Hugo a favourite author of yours?”

“Not particularly,” said Alexos, shifting his grip on his cane and moving his other hand about, opening and closing it and feeling the stiffness of the healing wound underneath the gauze. “I think he had a great deal of value to say, and I agree most heartily with many of the campaigns to which he gave his life, especially his fierce opposition to capital punishment – he was also rather a repulsive man, self-indulgent, hedonistic, and a hypocrite.”

Riggs was blinking at him, not seeming quite to comprehend, and he stepped after Alexos as he limped back to his seat.

“He was an adulterer and a whoremonger,” said Alexos quietly. “He is quite renowned for his depiction of women’s tragedy, and yet he himself made a tragedy of one woman or another – a mistress of his, Léonie d’Aunet, spent some months imprisoned, in a gaol and then a convent, for the crime of their being caught in bed together, whereas he escaped punishment. Women to him were either tragic children, equally tragic old women, or receptacles for his sexuality, and it is known he spied on his guests through illicit peepholes.”

Bad enough to think about the people in one’s home, or who crossed one’s path, than to actually— But then, Alexos had often been quite disgusted with tales of Hugo’s engagement with servants, taking advantage of the differences in their positions, and he was really no better, was he?

“I had no idea, sir,” said Riggs as Alexos sank into his chair again and felt with his foot for Aristaeus, who rolled over onto his back that Alexos would rub his belly with his foot. He smiled down at the sleepy old hound, who looked up at him with his eyes rheumy and his ears flopping. “I’ve been reading Mr Hugo having been recommended him.”

“By your employer, I suppose?”

“Oh, no, sir,” said Riggs. “Mr Kidd has no particular fondness for Hugo, nor of similarly… protractive authors.”

Alexos found himself laughing again, although it made his leg sore, and he looked over at Riggs, arching his eyebrow. “Long-winded, you mean?” he asked. “He has no care for Hugo, nor Dostoyevsky, nor Dickens?”

“No, sir,” said Riggs. “But Mr Kidd is a passionate reader – he reads quite voraciously, and very fast too, reads a lot of contemporary authors and more classic ones. I’m far slower than he is, but I do enjoy to read.”

“Have you read my mother’s books?”

“Of course, sir, some of them,” said Riggs, nodding. “I’m not passionate about mysteries myself – I asked Mr Kidd to recommend me the ones that had very little gory depiction, you know. I come over rather faint at times, reading some of the crime novels Mr Kidd likes.”

“Well, I’m not particularly au fait with many contemporary novels, but if you want much from the last century or two, I might be able to give you some recommendations here and there,” said Alexos quietly. He was surprised, genuinely, at how calm and easy Riggs was in contrast to his master – and indeed, how polite. “As a rule, I would ask that if you duck your head into the library and see me at work, that you not bother to knock or get my attention – just go and browse the shelves as you like.”

“Yes, sir, of course,” said Riggs. “Thank you very much for your recommendation.”

“It’s nothing,” said Alexos. “Are you going back down to the servant’s hall?”

“Yes, sir, are you in need of anything?”

Only the butler’s attention, Alexos didn’t say. “No, no, Riggs, not at all. Enjoy the book.”

He itched not to write or read, for now – he wanted to go out to the shed, or ask that something be brought into the house for him to take apart, but he didn’t particularly want Mr Kidd to see evidence of his being so eccentric right away, not when he was so… chatty.

In the evening, he took his dinner in the library, and he didn’t see Sutton until it was time for him to retire to bed.

* * *

Harry was waiting for Alexos when he retired to his bedroom. He’d heard him on the stair and had slipped inside, the lamps already dimmed, his bath just run and awaiting him. As soon as Alexos entered, Harry grabbed him by the throat at the same time he pushed the door closed, pinning him against it.

Alexos’ cane clattered against the side table and he grunted quietly in pain, his bandaged hand coming up to grip at Harry’s wrist as the other splayed against the door behind him to keep him steady. His eyes were wide, pink showing in his cheeks, and his breathing was heavier.

“Is this the method by which you plan to apologise for today’s fiasco?” he asked coldly, but when Harry moved deliberately to press a knee between his thighs, careful not to put undue pressure on his bad leg as he nudged against Alexos’ crotch, Alexos’ eyes fluttered shut and his defiance faltered.

“Perhaps it is,” said Harry. “Has a man ever apologised to you with buggery before?”

Alexos’ eyes reopened, his gasp audible, his pulse speeding under Harry’s hand. The beat of it was really quite powerful, a palpable thumb underneath his palm.

Harry turned the key in the lock.

“Who’s to say I’m in the mood to permit buggery?” asked Alexos, and Harry grinned down at him, squeezing his throat tighter.

“Who’s to say I’m in the mood to ask for your permission?” he replied, making his voice rumble as much as he could, although when Alexos took in a reedy breath and blushed further, he couldn’t help but laugh.

“Does that amuse you?” demanded Alexos, seeming indignant and a little embarrassed as Harry drew away from him to pick up his cane and hand it back to him. “Threatening to assault me?”

“It’s not making the threat that amuses me so much as your enthusiastic reaction. I have a bath already run for us.”

“For us?”

“I told Felix that barring particular crisis, he is to leave me be for the evening, that I have certain delicate exercises to go through with the young master in order to alleviate the day’s pain. To spare Mr Kidd’s reputation, I did imply that your pain was your reason for so immediately excusing yourself from luncheon.”

“Imply whatever you like,” said Alexos grimly, sitting down on the bed and sighing in relief when Harry knelt to slip off his shoes and socks for him, helping him off with his trousers as Alexos shrugged off his jacket. “He’ll soon be disabused of any attempt to rehabilitate said reputation.”

“I have no doubt Mr Kidd will extend his own apologies at breakfast tomorrow,” said Harry, and when Alexos gave him a cool look, Harry looked up at him. “You don’t mean you’ll avoid him at breakfast, too?”

“I don’t even take every meal with my father.”

“He was quite out of sorts this afternoon,” said Harry, folding his trousers over a rail before taking up his vest and setting it aside with his jacket. “He was still drunk from the night before, and in an attempt to remove the edge from his drunkenness, he’d taken quite a bit of cocaine. You must have noticed he was unusually manic.”

“For all I knew, that level of mania was his usual,” muttered Alexos, although Harry was gratified indeed to see his stiff features soften slightly as he unbuttoned his shirt. His fingers were moving well today, without stiffness or tremble, and Harry hoped he’d be able to remove the bandage without resetting it once they’d bathed together – the glass had only appeared to cut shallowly, after all, and so long as Alexos had no plans to commence his engineering focus tomorrow, it ought heal well enough unwrapped. “Cocaine?”

“Mr Kidd is not typically one to partake – he drinks often, but other indulgences are not to his taste. I’m given to understand he was at a party the night before with some of the cast members for this production in Brighton, and I expect he was advised the powder, with the assumption being that it would be better for him to be manic than drunk.”

“You realise little of what you’re saying is improving the figure of Lawrence Kidd in my mind’s eye,” said Alexos.

“You say that, Alexos, and yet your voice is softened, and your posture is not quite as stiff.”

“What has that got to do with Kidd?” Alexos was raising his eyebrows as he handed Harry his shirt, and didn’t wait for him as he stood and limped toward the bathroom in just his underwear. “You’ve promised me buggery – isn’t that reason enough to relax?”

“One likes to think so, but one can never assume,” said Harry in his soupiest voice, and laughed when it turned him a very foul hand signal. He helped Alexos into his bath, and as he sank beneath the steaming hot water, his whole body went slack – his bad leg twitched and shifted, pained and uncomfortable, but it did seem to give way to relief as he sank back against the bath’s wall. “Mr Riggs, if it means anything to you, seems to like you very much.”

“Oh, yes,” said Alexos vaguely. “He came into the library thinking I was still downstairs. I was a bit distracted, I’m afraid. I wasn’t drunk, and I forewent the analgesic I was perhaps in need of – I seem to recall being somewhat distracted by the pain, and it’s possible I gave him a speech on the sins of Victor Hugo.”

“He came away quite impressed,” said Harry, hanging up his own jacket and setting his pocket watch inside, smiling to himself as he recalled the quiet praise that Riggs had laid on the back of Mr Fox.

Riggs was quite reserved by nature, wasn’t tremendously social and was one of life’s natural observers, not out of loneliness or even social awkwardness, but instead due to a sort of contented spirit. He was an affable young man, good-natured and content to follow the flow of life around him, and while it wouldn’t be true to say he enthused about Alexos – Harry had only ever heard Riggs enthuse on such joys as an empty train compartment or a good book on a sunny day – he had spoken well of him, and had seemed pleased to make his acquaintance.

“He advised me that he knew little of Hugo except that he was a politician and very erudite, and said he had no idea Hugo so ill-treated the women in his life, and that he had never thought of Hugo as a real man with a real life at all. He may well ask you for a biographical recommendation later this month.”

Alexos didn’t appear to be listening – Harry had taken off his vest, and was in the process of unbuttoning his shirt, bearing more of his chest to Alexos’ sight. Alexos, who had been idly scrubbing at his back with a sponge, was now simply holding it loosely against his chest, and was observing with rapt attention as Harry fully undid his shirt and set it aside, then removed his vest.

“Good God,” Alexos whispered, his tone almost devout in its fervour.

“I take that to mean I meet with your approval?”

“Your ego is quite swollen enough without hearing my treatise on the glory of your body,” whispered Alexos softly, staring at him as Harry slid off now his trousers. “Suffice it to say it’s quite fucking nice, Harry.”

Across three quarters of Harry’s chest, the right-side of his hedgerow tattoos extended across – a hawk was tattooed over the centre of his chest, its wings outstretched, and while underneath the right side of his breast was a salmon upon which the hawk’s eyes were fixed, the left side was as yet bare. His belly was a work in progress: apart from the salmon was depicted a pike curling about his left-hand side and a chunky carp a little over his navel. Jack Limby, the tattooist responsible for this foray into the nation’s waterways, had enthused over the space available on his belly for more, and as Harry recalled, his next intended was a roach.

Limby had done his left leg, which was mostly completed, and it depicted a great many other coastal creatures – an eel, a jellyfish, several other fish and sea creatures, all peeked out from between different sorts of corals and sea grasses up the leg. Limby was a Welshman who had grown up free-diving at his childhood home in Anglesey, and upon seeing the Harry’s sleeves and backpiece, he had jumped at the chance to respond to the woodland creatures and flowers with some of what which might be found beneath the waves. He’d even gone to some effort to match the style of the water and bubbles he etched to that about the mermaid on his other thigh, the only tattoo on the front of his right leg thus far, barring the upper edges of the pocket watch tattooed on his foot.

“Goodness, you’re like a canvas mostly filled in,” said Alexos eagerly, and Harry turned to face away from him as he slid off his underthings: he heard Alexos gasp in delight at Harry’s back, which was something of a wonder. His sleeves had been mostly completed by John Jacob Manford, an Englishman who rippled with muscle, and a very petite German woman named Eckhart, with a few of the smaller details added in by other artists in between, but his backpiece was all by one man. Nikhil Adhikari travelled with a circus, and Harry had done favours for a little over two dozen people in exchange for favours they’d do for Mr Adhikari in exchange for his time – the man was a master of the art, and Harry had bade him do whatever pleased him.

His sleeves already completed, Mr Adhikari had been inspired, and had knitted the hedgerows on each side in a huge scene quite unlike the usual bejewelled and geometric patterns he favoured, or the dancing goddesses and standing warriors: instead, he’d inked in a mighty stag with a forest behind him, putting such incredible detail into its antlers, the shine of its eyes, even the dappled pattern on some of its coat that it really did look as though you could reach out and touch it.

“Nothing on your arse,” said Alexos, but his fingers brushed the back of his thigh – Jack had done a seal peeking out from kelp there, and across his calf a spiny crab surrounded by small fish and anemones; on the other leg were a medley of more traditional bits and pieces that he’d picked up: a treasure chest, a ship’s wheel… “Oh, is this the Argo?” he asked, touching the back of his calf on the other side.

“It was tattooed by a Greek, it might be,” said Harry, smirking to himself as he stepped back into Alexos’ space, feeling his hands on the backs of his legs, stroking with delight over the ink there. “He just said it was done in the ancient style. Is it your favourite?”

“They’re all my favourite,” said Alexos, and Harry chose this moment to turn around.

Alexos first looked up at his face, his smile quite indulgent, and then dropped lower, back to waist-height. His lips parted. His eyes did not widen incredibly, but Harry could see his pupils dilate. He looked at Harry’s cock not merely with arousal or admiration, but with the same sudden, almost scientific, passionate fervour with which he had responded to the first view of Harry’s tattoos – he took Harry’s cock in hand with fascination writ on his features, almost seeming to forget what it was he was holding, although to Harry’s relief he did tilt his head instead of forgetting himself so much that he twisted Harry’s penis in search of a better angle for examination.

“Is this metal?” he asked, delighted and quite intrigued, as though discovering an exciting new invention.

“It is,” said Harry affectionately.

“How remarkable,” said Alexos in much the same tone Harry imagined the first admirers had responded to the advent of the steam train.

It occurred to Harry that this was the first time Alexos had ever held another man’s cock in his hand, by his own admission was likely the closest he’d ever been to another man’s cock, and yet he had no doubt that this fact couldn’t be furthest from his mind. He was distracted, in his wonderful way, and had greater novelties on his mind.

“May I?” asked Harry, his hand hovering over Alexos’, and suppressed his laughter as Alexos politely handed his penis back.

“Please, by all means,” he said, and there was really quite a hot flush on the back of Harry’s neck and rippling on his skin – he was trying not to get overexcited too quickly, not to let himself get too hard, but it was surprisingly evocative to be so admired as a piece of art and an example of great innovation, for Alexos to look at him in a way that was simultaneously so forgetfully asexual and yet still so passionate.

“I’ve a hafada here, this is a piercing of the scrotum,” said Harry, pulling the shaft of his cock against his belly and leaning back, feeling for his bollocks and then pressing against the curved barbell he had a little under the base of his cock. He might not be able to look down and peer at his cock piercings the way some men could, but he knew very well where each of his piercings were without looking directly – and if he had been remotely insecure about the large swell of his belly, which he was not and never particularly had been, he had no doubt it would have been difficult to hold onto that insecurity when Alexos reached out and touched the skin so worshipfully as he did now. “And here I’ve a piercing of the frenulum down here, but if I pull back my foreskin…”

Alexos’ gasp was wonderful. It was mildly aroused, but mostly delighted – “Another!” he said, and touched his thumb to the edge of one of the barbels as it glinted visibly, his foreskin pulled back. “Is this a Prince Albert?”

“No, it’s another frenulum piercing,” said Harry. “I like having one within and one without – I could probably call it a ladder, what with there being three barbels in parallel, but it seems to be it would be a very unsensible ladder to climb indeed.”

“The metal’s so warm,” said Alexos wonderingly, carefully nudging the two piercings at the head of his cock and shifting with delight, making the water splash, at their slight mobility in their places. “Do they feel good?”

“For me,” asked Harry, exhaling in quiet pleasure at the undirected and thoughtless touches of Alexos’ hand on his cock, “or for you?”

Alexos seemed to remember very abruptly what Harry’s cock was for, and his jaw dropped, his eyes widening. “Oh,” he said breathlessly, and his tongue darted out to wet his lips. “Oh, of course.” He looked up at Sutton’s chest, and suddenly saw the rings through his nipples, and then said, “Oh!”

“Alexos, I’m becoming cold,” said Harry, catching his hands before they could grab for his chest, and Alexos laughed, embarrassed, but shifted back in the bath. “I was going to get in behind you.”

“Why? I want to face you.”

“So I can attend your back.”

“Well, I’m attending your tits, you can attend my back later.”

Harry’s cock gave a significant twitch at that, something he might have found embarrassing were Alexos educated enough to notice, but he didn’t: when Harry stepped into the bath, sinking into it, the water level rose up to Alexos’ neck, making him let out a breathless noise.

“How should I sit?”

“I couldn’t give a toss.”

“You say that now, you won’t say it if I crush your bad leg.”

“Oh, right,” said Alexos, realising the way that Harry was awkwardly crumpled to one side of the bed, and he laughed, leaning forward and cupping his hands around the back of Harry’s calf. His fingers were warm and strong as he pulled Harry to relax slightly, carefully setting his foot at the side of Alexos’ thigh. “I can’t bend it like you can bend yours, not bend it and keep it there.”

“I don’t think that should be a problem,” murmured Harry, sliding forward, his legs over Alexos’, feet either side of his hips. It was awkward, but the bath was large enough that there was space enough for it to be possible and for his thighs to remain spread, and Alexos immediately put his hands on Harry’s chest. He cupped his chest as though they were breasts, thumbs pressing and pushing at the rings through each of his nipples, and Harry moaned quietly at the pleasant, rushing pleasure of it, his cock perking up against his stomach.

“Fuck me,” whispered Alexos, pulling at one of Harry’s nipples very delicately by the ring, and Harry groaned.

“I intend to,” he muttered.

“Can I do it harder?”

“As hard as you dare,” said Harry – Alexos responded by tugging hard, and Harry had to clench his teeth to keep from moaning too loudly, his head tipping back and his hand coming to grip at Alexos’ good knee, although he did his best not to do so too hard.

“That’s really very good,” said Alexos, pulling at the other side before realising he could move the piercing in its hole and doing so, making a gentler, tingling tug rush through his chest. “It feels good?”

“Very,” said Harry, and reached to tug on one of Alexos’ nipples, having noted already that they were sensitive, and Alexos shivered, his hips bucking and making the water slosh, although he immediately grunted in pain and shifted his leg slightly against Harry’s body. “Need me to move?”

“By no means,” said Alexos, and reached underneath Harry’s belly, tickling the hair dusted over the skin before he grasped hold of Harry’s cock, and pulled. “God, this is— Fuck. Your cock is really quite big, isn’t it?”

“Did you expect something smaller, given the size of me?”

“It’s all very well talking about proportion,” muttered Alexos, squeezing the shaft of Harry’s cock and tugging up the length of it until his hand met the piercings around his cockhead, and then he shifted his grip slightly, moving and tugging at the flesh around the piercings with his fingertips as his thumb slid over the top of his shaft. It was unspeakably good, making him moan again. “If your cock is as big as the rest of your body, it might well follow my arse is in line with the rest of mine, and too small to take it.”

“Oh, my cock will fit, I’ll make sure of it,” Harry promised him. “It might well be so that you’re so tight around it we can see the barbels of my cock through the flesh of your belly, but nonetheless, it will fit.”

Alexos let out a noise so wheezed it almost sounded pained, and squirmed in his place as he kept pulling and shifting his hand around Harry’s cock. Harry was fully hard now, his bollocks shifting, his cock pulsing gently, but he gripped Alexos’ wrist before he could work him up any further.

“I’ve been intending on savouring getting my cock into you, Alexos,” he said, aware his voice was low. “I have no intention of letting you pop my cork before I have it buried in you.”

“Fuck,” said Alexos, and tipped his body forward.

He was eager as he fell against Harry’s chest, one of his arms wrapping loosely around his neck and the other about his belly: his whole body shocked when Harry carefully moved closer, ensuring he wasn’t putting too much weight on Alexos but closing the gap so that Alexos didn’t have to move too far forward.

“More,” said Alexos against his lips, sliding his palm down to one of Harry’s thighs and gripping the flesh there, pressing his fingers into it hard enough that Harry sighed at the pressure.

“I can’t sit in your lap, I weigh a great deal more than your dog, Alexos.”

“You needn’t put all your weight on me, but you don’t need to balance yourself on your heels quite like that, I’m not going to turn to dust,” said Alexos, and Harry carefully eased himself down somewhat, sitting back on Alexos’ thighs. He was very careful about it, keeping his legs tense, and he watched Alexos’ face carefully for signs of tension, which lingered for a moment, but then relaxed. “Fuck. I wish you could sit on me properly.”

“At some point, when I take your cock in me, perhaps,” said Harry, sliding his hand up Alexos’ back before he hooked his middle finger against Alexos’ arse, and Alexos heaved in a gasp, tipping forward and burying his face against Harry’s neck, hot water sloshing between them. “Do you like my body more than Aristophanes might have?”

“I think I like your body better than any other man could,” Alexos said – or, more accurately, he almost whimpered, because as Harry curled his fingers and managed to press his finger further into Alexos’ arse, the muscle slack and open in the warm water despite the lack of lubrication, he was rubbing his cock eagerly against the underside of Harry’s belly, clumsily letting it slide against Harry’s own. “God, you’re built like a warrior.”

“A warrior?” repeated Harry, and laughed not because it wasn’t true but because it was, no matter that he hadn’t fought in years and preferred being a medic to the man with the rifle in his hands. “Is that what you’ve dreamed of, reading those ancient texts of yours? Being beset by big, fat warriors all rippling muscle and strongman’s weight?”

“The nipple piercings were unexpected,” said Alexos, and his moan was open-mouthed against Harry’s neck as Harry pressed another finger inside him. “That’s— that’s queer—”

“I thought that was what we were up to.”

“Oh, fuck off,” said Alexos, pinching his side and making him laugh. “I meant the feeling of the hot water on the inside of my arse, thank you.”

“You’ve never had an enema?”

“I was a very sickly little boy and I’m a sickly adult, I’ve had more enemas than you’d know what to do with.”

“I expect I could deliver a far more enjoyable enema than your average nurse,” said Harry huskily, and scissored his fingers as best he could, feeling Alexos’ hips stutter and his legs stiffen, sighing when Alexos began to mouth with more intention at his neck.

“I hope you mean with your cock and balls, and not with an enema bag.”

“Even with an actual enema, I’ve no doubt I could make you come from it,” said Harry.

“Let’s not make future medical appointments more difficult for me than they already are by adding inconvenient erections to the mix,” grunted Alexos, and Harry shifted position to capture his mouth again. It wasn’t the best position to finger him by, bending as he was to reach and with Alexos sitting upright. He couldn’t press deeply and couldn’t easily feel for his prostate, but it was still nice to feel Alexos open, feel Alexos press between his hand and thrusting against his belly.

“Is the pain terrible?”

“The pain’s fine,” grunted Alexos. “But for my inexperience, not to mention my disability and the size of this path, I’d be riding you right here.”

Harry laughed at that, and grazed his teeth down Alexos’ neck, making him groan – and then he withdrew his fingers, making Alexos groan for a different reason, the sound quite plaintive.

“Don’t you want to be clean?” asked Harry.

“I want to be fucked,” growled Alexos, and Harry thrilled at the way he said it, the way he pronounced the fricative and so emphasised the -ck, and he thought too of the way Alexos had eagerly pulled and tugged at his nipple piercings, how Alexos kept touching his body – clumsy, unpractised, but eager. Even if he’d never fucked before, he’d certainly thought of it, and he was wanting for it, and he was Harry’s.

Harry’s to deflower, to play with, to fuck open and fuck full.

“I have every intention, Mr Fox, of ruining you this evening.”

“You can’t bring to ruin what is ruined already,” said Alexos, but reluctantly allowed himself to be manipulated in place, Harry scrubbing over his shoulder. “Are you going to choke me again?”

“I didn’t choke you badly, did I?”

“Not in the least – it was really quite exciting. I don’t know that I’m a passionate convert to asphyxiation, but it’s… Your hand on my throat, being pinned in that way, it has a certain appeal.”

Harry smirked. This he had noticed already, of course, Alexos’ delight in his own peril, his own bondage, but it was pleasing indeed to hear it repeated and stated so explicitly, especially with so much tension in Alexos’ voice.

“Am I forgiven yet?” he asked, and Alexos scowled at him.

“Don’t push your luck, Mr Sutton,” he said, and Harry laughed.

* * *

Alexos’ skin was mostly dry, his hair a little damp, as he limped into the bedroom. His leg was just a little bit stiff from the position in the bath – it was a large bath, but it was large because Alexos himself was tall and lanky, not because it was made to accommodate two tall men, and while Sutton had done very well to spread his legs as best he could either side of Alexos’ body, the bath didn’t quite have the breadth sufficient for him to spread out as easily as Alexos himself. Alexos hadn’t been able to subtly bend and shift his leg in the water as he ordinarily would, and there was a lingering numbness from being held in one position, but it was worth it, more than worth it.

His cock ached, he was so hard, wetness gathered at its head, and his head was still whirling, almost rushing, with the wonder of Sutton’s body – all those many tattoos, what seemed to be hundreds of them, and the piercings, that wonderful shining silver through his cock thrice over, and through his nipples too!

It was incredible, pulling on the rings or rubbing over the bars and feeling them move in their places, feeling the weight of them against Sutton’s flesh, warmed by his skin but cooler than his body, and there was a prickling heat under his flesh when he considered the tattoos, the piercings, those needles

He had thought about a piercing, once or twice, not through his nipples or his cock, but thought distantly about piercing his ears. He’d never actually have done it, he didn’t think – it was far too flashy for someone like him, he thought, would draw more attention than he’d really enjoy, but had always appealed, the idea of wearing gold rings through his earlobes.

Through his nipples? Through the head of his cock, or the shaft of it, that before now had never so much as entered his mind, but despite the fear and trepidation the idea naturally came with, there was an agonising heat to it, too.

“Are you very keen to face me when we do this?” asked Harry. “I think it might be easiest to begin with if I take you from behind, but if you’d prefer to face me—”

“Can you fuck me as hard, facing me? As you can from behind?” Alexos asked, and Harry faltered, his lips parting. There was a darkening in his cheeks and his lips and most of all in his eyes, the green in them very dark and surprisingly intense, as he looked at Alexos hungrily.

“I can fuck you hardest from behind,” he said slowly, and Alexos nodded, watching Harry gather pillows from the bed and more from the side of the room, where he’d apparently stacked them ready. Alexos felt quite ridiculous, laying himself on his belly over the stacked up pillows, the most of them under his hips and keeping his arse in the air – his good knee he bent properly, able to bend it without putting too much pressure on it, and his other he let bend slightly, but kept it somewhat straighter. It meant he was leaning more into his left side, his weight on that part of his body, and that would mean he was better braced, once Harry fucked him.

“Fuck,” he said breathlessly as the mattress depressed behind him, Harry a warm and heavy presence on the bed, and Harry’s laugh was quiet and tremendously appealing as he brought his fingers, now slick with paraffin wax, between Alexos’ legs. Harry had fucking teased him, scrubbing at his arse and between his thighs with the sponge, and Alexos was fully aware of the way his cock was dripping even before Harry slid two slick fingers into his arse like it was nothing.

The fullness was wonderful, making the muscle stretch slightly, and he moaned into his forearm, spreading his legs a little further apart as best he could without moving his right leg too much.

Harry pushed a third finger into him, and Alexos heaved in a breathless gasp. “Just— just fuck me, you needn’t tease.”

“I’m not teasing, I’m preparing,” said Harry smoothly, thrusting his fingers into him at a slow, easy rhythm, pushing and putting pressure on the muscle. “You don’t want me to tear you open, do you?”

Alexos’ cock gave an embarrassing twitch underneath him, and Harry laughed a rich, plummy chuckle that Alexos’ stomach do flips. His fingers were sliding deeper in this position than they’d been able to earlier, and Alexos gripped and pulled at the pillows underneath him, his hips stuttering.

The stretch when Harry pushed his fingers was really quite sublime, a heated pressure, and then Harry was leaning over him, slick cock pressed up against Alexos’ hole, and he heaved in a breath and filled his lungs at the pressure. Harry’s cock, huge, fat thing that it was, was quite a bit thicker than his fingers, and hotter to the touch, too, and slicker. Harry pushed forward very slowly, the pressure burning in a spectacular way, not dissimilar to when Harry was shoving his hands into whatever the tightest muscles were that he could find in Alexos’ back, but somehow so much more overwhelming—

And then Harry’s cock popped past the ring of muscle, and Alexos was struck with the incredible sensation not only of Harry’s ridiculous, mushroom-like cockhead in his arse, but also the sensation of the four little tips of the two barbels in him, sandwiched either side of his ring. He was letting out the most humiliating sounds, desperate sobs at the incredible, electric pressure of the little bits of metal pressed tight against the muscle, rolling and shifting against it as Harry adjusted himself, and his cock was spurting pre and leaving a wet spot underneath him on the stacked pillows.

“That was a great many words you just blurted out,” said Harry, sliding his hands over Alexos’ hips. “Were they all very filthy?”

“Filthy or profane,” Alexos said breathlessly, tongue stopping before the next curse could fall out of his mouth. He expected Harry to slowly inch his way forward, but he didn’t: quite abruptly, he slammed his hips forward, burying his cock in Alexos’ body and making him feel as though all of his organs were suddenly rushing out of its way, the piercings dragging at his inner walls in a way that made him feel like his head would explode – the last barbels tugged and rolled against his hole, the piercing just at the very end of where Harry could press his cock inside, and Alexos sobbed at the intensity of the sensation.

He was blurting out nonsense words, couldn’t stop his mouth running as Harry pulled back his cock and then thrust into him again, thrust again and again, his superlatively large bollocks knocking against Alexos’ own, his thighs smacking against Alexos’ arse. He couldn’t string two thoughts together at it, the thunderclap of their bodies together – his legs ached, even as he put more of his weight on his left side to compensate for it, but that pain faded into the background in response to the sheer intensity of this. There was pleasure, yes, of course there was, keen and electric and ready to make him fucking burst, but the intensity wasn’t just from the pleasure: there was satisfaction from the sudden fill of his arse, satisfaction and just pure feeling.

His orgasm hit him like a sudden blow, his cock pulsing underneath him, and Harry didn’t stop for a moment, kept slamming their hips together and yes, yes, it hurt, but the pain was a distant concern that he couldn’t quite grasp hold of through the hot, dazzling thrill of his orgasm, the way it rocked through his body. Harry was hot and heavy on top of him, and when Harry leaned forward, his belly a weight on Alexos’ back, his body framing Alexos’ and shadowing him, Alexos whined.

“You like this?” Harry asked, voice hot and rumbling in his ear, and Alexos sobbed out an indiscriminate noise, unable to string together the words in any language to answer him; he reached back with the hand not fisted in the pillows underneath him and grasped clumsily for Harry’s hand, squeezing his fingers and then bringing his hand up to grip at his shoulder, then—

“Oh, fuck, yeah, yes—”

“On the back of your neck?” asked Harry, and didn’t wait for an answer: he shoved down with the full weight of his hand, shoving Alexos’ face down into the pillows and pinning him there so that he couldn’t raise his head even if he wanted to. The angle like this was sublime, dragging again and again over the most sensitive bits of him, and he was oversensitive from just coming, some of the thrusts making a sort of brilliant pleasure-pain burst through him and make his vision go white, but he was pretty sure he’d kill Harry before he let him stop.

Harry’s breathing was heavy, and Alexos could hear him letting out the most magnificent fucking noises, breathy grunts that came from low in his throat as though he were really having trouble controlling himself, holding himself back, even as every thrust of his hips made Alexos’ whole body thrum.

“Go on,” he managed to say between moans. “All this teasing, and you’re not even going to give it to me? All this effort putting that— that obscene length of prick inside me, and you’re not even going to come? To leave yourself leaking out of me like a— Mngh—

Harry pulled his hair so hard that Alexos whined, grabbing a fistful of it and shoving him down with all his weight on top of his body, hips snapping into him and forcing him to just take it, to just withstand it. He was hot all over, soaked with sweat and slippery with it, and he felt not just Harry’s cock pulse, feeling the strange twitch and thickening and movement of his actual shaft buried in his arse, but also the additional wetness, strangely – and more than that, the way the piercings shifted through that extra wetness, the sensation making him sob.

He felt like a dishrag wrung dry when Harry finally stilled on top of him, most of his weight on Alexos’ back, his breathing heavy. Alexos could feel the pound of Harry’s heart where they were touching, from Harry’s thighs, his belly, his palm.

“Good God,” whispered Alexos as Harry released his hair and Alexos was able to lift his head. “Fuck.”

“Fuck,” Harry agreed, leaning back from him, and Alexos let out a surprised noise at the strange sensation of his arse, fucked-open, now left to gape – he could feel the coolness of the air on his skin, around his opened-up rim, slick with paraffin wax and sweat and Harry’s come.

He reached back, sliding his own fingers inside himself – he flinched at the sudden sensitivity, grunting, but touched at the wetness, fell on his left side and looked blearily at the white, slick mixture sticking to his fingertips.

“Harry,” said Alexos.

“Mm?”

“I think perhaps you should run another bath.”

He said this before he turned further onto his side, looking back at Harry, and his mouth dropped open: Harry was drenched in sweat, his chest heaving slightly with his breaths, and his hair was a furious mess, all about his head.

Alexos’ cock, brave and tireless warrior as it apparently was, twitched manfully despite being twice-spent and aching with it, his balls aching too, not to mention his leg, which was beginning to call out its soreness quite a bit louder than it had a moment ago.

“Jesus,” said Harry, and Alexos looked at where he was gesturing, then pulled a face – it was one thing to have semen dripping out of his arse, which was surprisingly arousing and really quite wonderful: it was another to have a whole mess of it, swiftly drying and turning uncomfortably sticky, under his belly and clinging to his cock. “If I milked you, I could fill a pint bottle.”

“What an alarming suggestion,” said Alexos. “I hope you don’t mind if we forego that one.” He swallowed, pushing himself up to sit, and Harry gently tugged him forward by his arm, letting him sit forward. One of Harry’s hands touched the side of his face, the other coming down to almost dance over Alexos’ bad right thigh. Grunting, Alexos pushed his hand away.

“I hurt you?”

“Polio hurt me,” muttered Alexos. “You’ve made me a bit sore, but it was more than worth it on my end, I can assure you.”

He’d just had sex. Just been buggered, in fact. Just fucked a man – a very handsome man, taller than him, and whipsmart with a biting wit, one who was cupping the side of his cheek as though he were… something. Something desirable, someone worth wanting.

Alexos suddenly felt like bursting into tears.

“Was I, uh,” he started, and hesitated. “Was it alright? I know I’m not as mobile as most of the men you’ve likely fucked but—”

“Are you mad?” demanded Harry, voice hoarse, and Alexos looked at his face, at the wildness in his eyes, the redness in his cheeks, the wetness and bitten marks on his own lips, his hair all over. “Alexos, that was…” He inhaled, then kissed Alexos hard and hungrily, biting into his mouth and leaving Alexos dizzy with it before he said, “It was very good. It was superb. It was— I have no fucking words.”

Alexos’ cheeks were burning – his whole body was burning on the inside, although on the outside he felt suddenly cold as his sweat cooled.

“Another bath,” agreed Harry before Alexos could lend voice to the thought a second time, and Alexos watched his arse admiringly as he strode away to start running more hot water, which Alexos prayed there’d be enough of.

“I have no choice but to forgive you,” said Alexos, shifting forward on the bed and wincing at the sudden, awful pain that wrenched up the whole of his right side, abruptly reminding him he wasn’t exactly meant to be having that sort of vigorous exercise. “Against my better judgement.”

“I’m glad to hear I’ve an escape clause if I ever badly provoke your temper,” said Harry, and Alexos laughed, pushing himself to his feet and gritting his teeth at the pain as he limped into the bathroom, putting all of his weight onto the nearest furniture. “I— Oh, I really did hurt you,” he said regretfully, looking at Alexos as he struggled into the bathroom, dropping down onto the stool beside the bath.

“I believe I’ll need the codeine tonight, Mr Sutton,” said Alexos lowly. “But I should note that avoiding severe injury, I will actually accustom to this. I just don’t know how to hold myself, that’s all.”

“You should have told me I was hurting you,” said Harry, and Alexos laughed.

“You weren’t. It faded into the background – I was a bit distracted, couldn’t focus on it. Wrung out as I now am, I don’t have anything else to focus on. Do you think I’d look very ridiculous if I pierced my ears?”

Harry stared at him, naked and glorious as he was, tattooed all over with the sweat on his body shining and the rings through his nipples glinting, and when he laughed, Alexos saw the movement of his chest and belly and wondered what it would feel like to be sat on Harry’s cock while he laughed like that, what it might be like to straddle him – how the fuck would he hold his leg? He didn’t know, but he wanted to try it.

He wanted to do everything.

“I think you’d look quite dashing,” said Harry.

“I’d look ridiculous,” said Alexos. “My ears are already overlarge – earrings would draw attention to it. And people would think I was a bohemian.”

“No one will ever think you’re a bohemian,” Harry said damningly. “And perhaps they’d distract from the size of your ears.”

“I feel like I should be angry with you for that comment.”

“Be as angry as you like. Pass the bath salts.”

Alexos passed him the bottle, shifting in his position, and he was really quite astounded by the feeling of warmth settled in his chest, a sort of overwhelming wonder, a delight, a real affection. He was aware, distantly, that perhaps he ought feel guilty or embarrassed or something, and instead, he just felt on top of the world.

“I really don’t think I’ll be able to eat breakfast with Mr Kidd tomorrow morning,” said Alexos.

“Alexos,” said Harry. “You’ve still got gone one full meal with him.”

“That may be so,” said Alexos, “but I can tell you now I won’t be able to walk downstairs tomorrow morning.”

Harry opened his mouth, then closed it. A bit of the plummy blush had come back into his cheeks, and Alexos could tell from the way he pressed his lips together that he was trying not to smile.

“Proud of yourself, are you?” he asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Somewhat.”

“I don’t know that it has quite the same impressive edge when I can’t very well walk in the first place.”

“I don’t have to mention that bit when I brag about it in pubs,” said Harry, and Alexos laughed, then reached out. Harry’s arm was warm under his touch, even though his sweat was cooling, and Alexos slid his palm over the flowers there, then tipped his head forward, leaning his forehead into his upper arm.

For a moment the two of them stood there, Alexos leaning into him, Harry stood there, the bath running, and then Harry slid an arm around his shoulder, squeezed him closer.

Alexos closed his eyes, staying leaned into Harry’s body, and he lingered there as the bath ran.

(It was a bit colder than they’d like, in the end, but warm enough to be bearable.

The real cold came later, when Alexos got into bed alone, and wished Harry could get in beside him.)

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