Alec behaved not as if nothing had happened, but as if nothing of the kind would ever happen again. If he had been unsafe before, he was unsafe differently now. The stink of blackening kippers fouled the room. The walls, the upholstery--the bed was going to reek of fish.
"Throw those out," said Richard.
At the hearth Alec studied his cooking avidly, with a vivisector's eye. He poked at the kippers using one of Richard's forks. "Whatever for?"
"For the cats."
"It's not their breakfast, it's mine. I'm the one who's famished."
"We'll go out for breakfast, then. I'll buy you a shipload of fish." Richard hardly knew what he was saying. The absurdity of himself buying Alec anything eddied through and then past him, draining to nothing. The rush left him almost steady on his feet.
"I've got perfectly good fish right here. I sold the duchess's silver pincushion for these, she'd flay me if I let them go to waste. Anyway it's raining."
Richard strode toward the fireplace. When he grabbed Alec's wrist to disabuse him of the frying pan, Alec hissed. The pan dropped into the fire with a burst of furious sparks. Richard loosened his hold and stared at Alec's hand. He undid six black-pearl buttons, peeled the velvet back until he saw how far the bandages coiled. The strips of white were bruising pink where his thumb had pressed. Alec breathed shallowly, like a laboring animal. His face looked sallow in the glow of the fire.
"Who did this," said Richard. Alec wheezed between a groan and a laugh.
"I got in a fight. With a picture window. You can't kill the window, Richard, it's already in little bits."
Richard didn't ask whose window it had been. He let go of Alec. Grunting at the heat, he wrested the frying pan from the fire, carried it to his own window, and pitched the contents out. Cold air came winnowing in. It smelled of morning: soft rain, river-dank, lye from the laundry downstairs. Richard set the frypan on the sill, told Alec not to move, and went to fetch clean cloths from Marie.
The rain picked up after they left the house. Runoff poured from the rooftops in all directions, making spigots of the shambling eaves. Puddles the color and consistency of middens had pooled in the streets. As they walked Alec clutched the knees of his old scholar's robe, like a debutante hellbent on preserving her satin, though he was too tall and the robe too short for it to drag. Its hem was as frayed as ever. He had thrown it on, Richard supposed, to hide the velvet underneath.
Richard held the umbrella, careful of Alec's height. He found his strides lengthening, sharpening, as if each step were a boast or a curse. Under his cloak he laid his fingers on the pommel of his sword, not to draw, only to guard himself against an internal simmer, a rising lightness of midriff and limb. Alec rattled on in counterpoint to the gutters.
"I can't think why you wanted to go out in this muck. There's no season more vile than spring. It incites poets to infamy, beasts to procreation, men to idiocy--"
"Students to philosophy," said Richard.
"And weather to miserable excess." Alec turned toward him. "Can we get sausage rolls and then go home?" He sounded peevish, like a foiled child. Expressions sidled over his face like thieves. "Unless this is a calculated expedition. If the whores are after you I'll run them off, I live for the chase, but you'll notice that even whores have the sense to stay indoors on a morning like this, whereas we--"
Richard stopped walking; Alec stopped out of reflex or surprise, or to stay in purview of the umbrella. Richard caught him by the other wrist, the uncut one.
"If you're back, I want everyone to know it." He spoke slowly, as though he or Alec or both of them were drunk.
Alec's shoulders twitched. He tugged against the tether of Richard's grip. "Let them know tomorrow."
"I want to know it," said Richard.
Alec looked at him, then looked away down the waterlogged street. He stopped tugging.
"Give me the umbrella," he muttered. "You hold it too low."
The chaise longue had never been big enough for two. Richard sat on the floor beside it, his stockings toward the fire, his head propped on Alec's thigh. From behind him Alec said, as if to broach the telling of a fairytale:
"When I am duke, will you come and live with me on the Hill?"
Richard sputtered his mouthful of wine. He wiped his chin, regretting the waste: Alec had called it sangiovese in lecherous tones and said it came from the Tremontaine cellars, and before that from beyond the sea. Richard was getting used to the idea of importation. It helped that the wine was good.
"No," he said amiably. There was a tattered sigh.
"I thought you'd say that. I'll have to buy the house from Marie. We'll hire her as laundress, and there will be someone to shine your boots, preferably someone very buck-toothed, and a cook, preferably very fat--"
Richard laughed. It was a fairytale; he would treat it as such. Without warning the thigh that braced him shifted, jouncing his head.
"Richard, do come up on the chair."
"There's no room," he said, thinking san-gi-o-vese. His nape prickled at the touch of bandaged fingertips. He felt the long body behind him leaning in.
"There'll be room," Alec said into his ear. "I'll make it."