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Second Candle 5771: Londinium, July 1942

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Endymion Dashwood pushed himself up on his elbows and considered the slant of the light across the white sheets of the bed he was lying in, and the warmth of the summer sun on his legs. He knew he ought to leave, but he was so tired. Which was ridiculous, he thought to himself; he’d been put through his paces in some surprising ways in the early hours of the morning, but he’d been sleeping a while. It was probably close to noon.

Still. It was quiet. There were no voices inside his head but his own, for now. And there was no work to be done in the laboratory; he’d reached the part of the experiment when things happened slowly and quietly and it wasn’t a good idea to disturb them too much. The absinthe wouldn’t need bottling for several days either. So he let his head fall back into the soft down pillows, wondering just how ridiculously high the thread count of the linens was, and how in the world a flat in this part of town was both so very Spartan and so luxurious all at once.

The bed was soft, the pillows softer, the linens perfect and the absence of curtains was odd, all things considered, but not unpleasant. The bedroom had stark white walls without any posters or paintings; there was a bed, and a half-open wardrobe in which a suit hung awry, and a stand by the bed. Nothing else, in a room too large for so little.

Endymion got up, although he hadn’t planned on it, and went over to the window, which did have curtains of course, curtains and blackout wards, though of course they were down as the sky was quite bright. He was naked, and he wondered for just a half-second if he ought to put something on before standing in front of the window, but he was quite certain that no-one who thought to look up to the window would remember seeing anything. There was more to the wards than just maintaining a blackout, wasn’t there? Curious. Whoever had brought him here—you couldn’t say anyone lived here, really—did not want people to see or remember what happened here. Which made sense.

Someone else was waking up. He wasn’t sure how he knew. It had been getting worse and worse the past few years. Sometimes when the voices weren’t human, blood would make them shut up, but he used his own; he wouldn’t use anyone else’s for that. That was the way that Maya and Carey had gone and he had no intention of following. This voice was human, though. Human and small and afraid and the smell of stables, incongruous here in the city, the sour sweat of a child through it all and so dark—

Endymion winced. There had to be a way to shut it out but he didn’t know what it was. Mathers kept hinting about it, saying he knew how Endymion felt and could help, but Mathers wanted to touch him. Endymion let people touch him, usually; it wasn’t as though their thoughts went away when they didn’t, but Mathers wanted something indefinably more than just the pleasure of stroking his skin and making him come, so he was afraid of it.

The terror was drawing him in with the same force the rawness of grief had the night before, and the amazing sex that had followed—he found himself walking into the bathroom, pushing the curtains around the tub aside. It didn’t really register that the man he had slept with should not have been curled up in a ball in a cold porcelain tub; all that mattered was waking him up.

His previous night’s partner was undeniably handsome, a man in his middle thirties or so, a face that seemed more familiar by daylight even with the ridiculous overgrowth of beard and mustache. But not when he was looking up at Endymion as though he expected to kill or be killed and was ready for either, a savage light in his dark eyes.

Endymion sat down on the WC, and showed his bare palms. “I’m here to help,” he said in the softest voice he knew. He recognised that terror; he had lived it.

The man in the bathtub crouched at the far end of it, watching Endymion suspiciously, wordlessly. He wasn’t the same person, exactly, as the drunk who had wept into Endymion’s long hair until it was nearly sopping, or the top man who’d turned him over and out and worked him until he was limp as a sponge before letting himself come. They were all the same man, but they also weren’t. Endymion wasn’t sure quite how that worked.

“Fairlight,” the man in the bathtub finally managed, as if words weren’t his usual way of getting his point across.

“That’s what they call me,” Endymion said, with a smug little smile; he’d got through again, he’d got through it, and he liked the name, though he didn’t know why. He squared his shoulders, a little.

“Good God, I was so drunk—” The voice was more natural now, almost glib, as the man recovered himself and stood up, stepping out of the tub with a catlike grace. They were not going to talk about this; they were going to pretend that Endymion hadn’t seen him like that at all, and probably also that he hadn’t cried.

“Everyone says that,” Endymion said languidly, and stood up himself. “It’s all right though; you actually were.”

“Did we—? of course we did, that’s a stupid question—what am I thinking, how old are you?”

Endymion shrugged. “Old enough,” he said softly. “As old as I’ve had to be. Ancient, maybe.”

The other man frowned and took Endymion’s chin in his hand. “Younger than I usually like,” he said, grimacing, “but all right. I’ll believe you.”

Endymion smiled. It was never hard to lie to people who wanted you to lie to them. “I like you,” he admitted. “Or at least I liked what you did to me.” He hadn’t cared for the crying; that part was another lie, but he’d liked it better than what some men said to him in the dark; it had at least been sincere, and it wasn’t as though it could’ve been helped. The sex…he had really liked that. Enough that he wouldn’t be altogether upset if no money was offered.

“That’s my job,” the other man said with a wry little smile. “To screw you and make you like it.”

“Oh,” said Endymion. “You’re in politics.”

The other man burst out laughing and kissed him, lightly. “Yeah. I’m in politics. Are you going to make my life difficult?” It was almost a threat, except for the way he was smiling, fondly.

“No,” said Endymion. “You’re going to make my life easier, though.”

“Oh, yeah,” said the other man, nodding, an appealing mixture of ruefulness and amusement behind his eyes now. How many people was he, anyway? “Much easier.” He sucked on his lower lip. “Don’t even tell me how much you want; I am going to offer you more. You saved my life last night, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Endymion, because that was the bald truth, and it was nice to hear it acknowledged for once. “The man who kept staring at us had been paid to kill you. He thought it would be easy, too, because you’ve been such a wreck.” Endymion swallowed. “And no, I don’t know who you are. I’m not even sure that I want to. At least not the parts like your name and the actual office you hold. Though it’s odd, since you think in Italian and…something else.” He frowned.

“Euskara. My mother was Basque.” He put his hand on Endymion’s shoulder, gently, and managed to touch not just the skin, but whatever it was that Hadrian managed to touch that one time that Endymion wasn’t, not ever again, going to think about. It almost made Endymion cry, and he must have made some noise, or something, because then he was in the other man’s arms again, being held, only this time it was him who was being comforted.

“Who did it, who hurt you? I can fix it, you know.”

Endymion laughed bitterly. “Oh no. You can’t. Not even if I wanted you to. His father outranks you, whoever you are.”

“Are you sure about that?” The voice was soft, muffled through Endymion’s hair. “I owe you one. More than just money.”

“I don’t want you to hurt him anyway,” said Endymion around the lump in his throat that he was not about to let out. “I don’t.”

“You still love him.” There was something disappointed in that.

Endymion nodded, a little. “Maybe,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about this. No more than you want to talk about—” He caught himself before he could mention the stable, or the child, or whoever had been trying to kill them, and finished: “—that dream you were having.”

“Okay.” He held Endymion out at arm’s length.

“What should I call you?” Endymion said. “Or do you just want me to put on my clothes and go home? You must be—you’re late, for something, I know you are.”

“Hopelessly. Galina and Verity will take care of it.” He frowned and glanced down at himself, at both of them, naked in the light.

Endymion tried and failed not to voice his thoughts for him. “But they can’t brush it under the rug forever.” Endymion frowned at himself. He was surely in trouble now.

“Well, they should. I’ve given up enough,” the other man snapped, though not at Endymion. “First my brother and now this. It would be different if she were dead, if I could believe them when they say she’s gone, but I can’t. She’s still there. I can feel her. I can. Sometimes I wish I could fly right out of here—”

“Airspace,” Endymion said in a soft voice. “Monitored. And anyhow no-one can go that fast on a broom.”

I don’t need one. “I know.”

Endymion decided that his partner wasn’t the only one who could pretend he hadn’t heard a thing. “I should leave.”

“No. You can stay here. For a while.” There was something tentative about the last part, the way his voice rose. “Or not. Teresa left, why shouldn’t you?”

Endymion looked up into his eyes. “Because I’m an idiot,” he said. “Because the Philosopher’s Stone is expensive to try to create. Because if I do, you will kill yourself, and then if she’s not dead, she’ll need you, you—” None of the words Endymion wanted to say were gentle or kind, and yet, he wanted to kiss this man.

“I know, I know, trained professionals tell me almost every day,” he said softly, and kissed Endymion’s forehead. “You can call me Nico, everyone does.”