Thaniel set down his teacup. Mori was looking at him in the way that meant he was planning to rearrange his life, and as on the balance these rearrangements had been for the good, he was inclined to listen. "Yes?"
"Your precognition skills appear to be coming along nicely," said Mori, a bit waspishly.
"I suppose it's contagious," said Thaniel. Then both of them looked toward Six and simultaneously shuddered.
"What?" she demanded. "I think it would be lovely to have pre-cog-nition." She sounded out the syllables precisely. It seemed as though she was picking up a bit of Mori's accent, which Thaniel privately thought charming. Though he supposed it really meant she was picking up his own accent. Strange, how difficult it was to notice one's own habits, compared to how readily one saw them in others.
"More trouble than it's worth," said Mori.
"And that sentiment is doubly true for me," added Thaniel. "One of him is bad enough. Anyway, it's not precognition, it's only common sense. I can see the cogs in your mind working from here."
"He doesn't have cogs in his mind. That's for watches, not watchmakers. And may I have another biscuit?"
"It's an idiom," said Mori. "And no, you may not. So." He looked at Thaniel. "Tomorrow morning you should have a late breakfast at the cafe you sometimes go to by the train station, the one on the right side of the road. Mr. D'Oyly Carte and Mr. Sullivan will be coming in around ten. Mr. Sullivan will recognize you as the talented pianist who –"
"I'm not sure I care for where this is going," he said, interrupting Mori's chain of events.
"Yes, you do. You could be a musician instead of a clerk."
"And you could be a samurai instead of a watchmaker."
"I prefer being a watchmaker. But I believe you enjoy tapping on piano keys more than your telegraph key."
Thaniel took another long drink of his tea. It was a subject he did not care to discuss, and it seemed very unlike Mori to press him like this. "I enjoy my work at the Foreign Office, which is a great deal more than tapping on the telegraph. And it's not that I don't like playing the piano, you know that. It's only that..." He hesitated a moment, then steeled himself to say the words out loud. "It's only that I'm constantly reminded of how much less I am than I could have been."
Had he been able to keep his instrument and practice it as he had craved, rather than earning a living for Annabel and himself, his fingers would still possess more than just fragments of his art. Those years had been lost, and could not be retrieved. Mori, who played only for his own pleasure, could not be expected to understand.
"We are all less than we could be. And also more," said Mori.
Six made an unladylike snort which she attempted to cover by turning it into a cough. Thaniel hid his own smile behind his teacup.
Mori looked at them both, then shook his head ruefully. "I was trying for enigmatic, but I suspect I only managed inane."
"Astonishingly so," said Thaniel, happy to leave the subject of piano-playing behind.
"I know you enjoy your work," said Mori. It was much later that night; they were making ready for bed, while Six was already fast asleep on her pallet by the workshop hearth downstairs. He took off his shirt and hung it carefully in the wardrobe. "But Parliament's about to make things more complicated."
"Parliament's always making things more complicated. It's what they do."
"True. But this particular complication has to do with our life together, which is already complicated enough."
"Says the maker of fantastically intricate clockwork," observed Thaniel. He leaned back on his pillow and watched Mori methodically remove the last of his clothes. He suspected that Mori took his time deliberately because he knew that Thaniel liked to watch him undress. Well, he wasn't going to complain about that.
"A different sort of complicated. You haven't been following the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, have you?"
"That's the one about prostitution, isn't it?" Even in the Foreign Office, one couldn't help but be aware of the workings of Parliament. Thaniel recalled that this bill had been introduced and dropped a number of times in the past several years. He supposed it was because patrons of brothels formed a majority of lawmakers.
"Ostensibly, yes. It's going to pass later this year. And that will be a problem for us," said Mori as he got into bed.
"Well," said Thaniel. "I'll see what I can do about getting papers drawn up."
Mori's eyebrows came together briefly as he considered Thaniel's words, then his face relaxed and his mouth quirked into a smile. That sequence of expressions always gave Thaniel a small private thrill, for it meant that he'd just said something unexpected and momentarily baffling, a rare achievement considering Mori's predictive ability.
"You're going to tell me that it's my fault we have her, and I will admit that you're right," said Mori, forestalling Thaniel, who had of course been about to say exactly that. "But Six is not the problem. Not the main problem, anyway, since she's legally my apprentice, so you needn't worry on her account. It's an amendment to the bill which will be proposed shortly, due to an unfortunate encounter between the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette and a fellow who apparently goes by the name of Lucy. It will turn us into criminals."
"I had thought we already were," said Thaniel lightly. He ran his hand down Mori's side. "Which by the way, I don't see what's so 'detestable' about it."
Mori captured his hand and began stroking it, one finger at a time. Thaniel shivered; there was something strangely intimate about it, Mori's long fingers gently exploring his own. He supposed it was because for both of them their hands were really their most important features, the tools of their own trades. Mori's made impossibly intricate clockwork, while he operated the telegraph, and wrote reams of notes for Fanshaw, and occasionally played the piano.
"It would be difficult to convict us under the existing law on circumstantial evidence short of peeking in through the window," said Mori. He sounded very precise, and Thaniel wondered if Mori had been picking up new speech patterns from the Foreign Office through him. "But this amendment sets a very low bar. 'Gross indecency' is what it's meant to prohibit, and that could be anything."
"The eye of the beholder," mused Thaniel.
"Precisely. And if the beholder holds a grudge..."
"But surely what we do in our own house is inviolate."
"Not after this law passes."
"There's still my room across the landing. Who's to say I don't sleep there?"
"I believe his name is Pinder."
Thaniel frowned. "I don't know anyone by that name."
"Not yet. But five years from now he'll be a clerk in the Foreign Office, a specialist in French and German."
"French and German? Why would he involve himself in our affairs?" Then he caught himself. He should be used to Mori's ways by now. "Never mind. How does he involve himself in our affairs?"
"A number of pathways lead to the inevitable. But the elements will eventually coincide." Mori unlaced his hand from Thaniel's and curved his fingers loosely around Thaniel's index finger. "An unhappy man who envies another man his higher rank." He pulled Thaniel's middle finger next to his index finger. "Who has been rejected by the woman to whom he has made advances." Ring finger. "Who has a close friend who is a policeman." The smallest finger was captured, brought in. "And by then Six – who will insist on being called Susan – will be old enough to need her own feminine retreat in this bachelor establishment." Mori's hand wrapped around Thaniel's, forming it into a fist; he did not need to say anything else.
"I see." Gently Thaniel flexed his hand, opening his fingers and releasing it from Mori's grasp. Then he turned it to clasp Mori's again. "I suppose if I no longer have a plum job at the Foreign Office, there's no reason for anyone to envy me."
"Many people envy actors and musicians," said Mori mildly. "But the point is that on the whole, actors and musicians are more accepting of non-standard living arrangements."
"So it's not that you think I'd be happier as a piano player."
"You've said you wouldn't be." He sounded conciliatory, almost apologetic. "Forget I've said anything. It was only an opportunity to shift things onto a different path. It's not an immediate problem. There will be other opportunities."
Other opportunities to gently shunt him out of the career in which he had found unexpected pleasure, thought Thaniel. How many ways were there in which they could avoid the fate that Mori saw? He could always move out, he supposed.
Beside him, Mori flinched.
"Keita," murmured Thaniel, and squeezed his hand. Deliberately he turned his mind from those thoughts. He imagined Six – Susan – as a no-nonsense young woman, fashionably dressed, her hair coiled in neat braids around her head. How tall would she grow after five years of quality food and a comfortable home? How proficient might he be at the piano after five years of practice?
Five years was a long time. Long enough for them all to change their futures.
"Maybe," said Mori.
"Yes," said Thaniel.