Actions

Work Header

Things By Witchlight

Work Text:

This is it, how it goes. A young man – nineteen years old, born with the century, though not to see this year of our Lord 1820 – is convicted of an abominable offence at the October Sessions. Hanged between Christmas and New Year, silent at the drop. A day that happens by chance to be Wednesday. In the countryside, just outside of London, the winter air is metallic with snow, and a lamp burns clean and clear.

Dominic is on his knees, head lifted. Hair smoothed away from his face, by way of surreptitious caress. A word with the clarity of ice.

"No."

A hand stayed by indecision; Silas on the brink of understanding.

Then the smash of the bottle, knocked away in panic, and footsteps resonant as a heartbeat. Silas sits alone in the room, looking at the wine spreading slowly over the floor, and then through the window glass, at the footprints in the frost.

*

They make it up. At least, in a manner of speaking; Silas isn't sure at first if there's something to make up, or if it's just something that happened, like a storm blowing in over water. Dominic says it was a funny turn with a hint of frost in his tone, and Silas accepts it. And then it's not exactly business as usual, but contented-like: they burn the good beeswax candles, no stinking tallow out here at snow-heaped Arrandene, and discuss a book.

"I read it as a boy, of course," Dominic says, and Silas chuckles and leans on his shoulder.

"No 'of course' about it, Tory," he says, taking the beautifully-bound edition of Aristotle's Poetics from Dominic's grasp. "We ain't all men of letters."

"Though all with the capacity for enlightenment," Dominic says, arch but not wholly insincere, and Silas grins and punches him in the arm.

"We'll make a democrat out of you yet," he says, and looks down at the page. He'd thought it might be a facing-page translation, but no such wanton self-indulgence for the owner of this book. The Greek letters lurk in Silas's vision, implacable and fat. He could sound out the words given a month of Sundays. "But there wasn't much democracy in my schooling, if you get my drift."

Dominic nods, understanding. "I could read it out for you," he says, with uncharacteristic hesitation. He wants to make a gift of the text, but he doesn't want to offend Silas with the form of gift. Silas is stupidly touched.

"I'd like that," he says, and Dominic smiles and leans back against the headboard.

"All right," he says, looking over Silas's shoulder. "Aristotle is writing here about the component parts of the dramatic form. If they are not all present, one is unable to achieve the ultimate purpose of tragedy."

"Which is?"

"Purgation," Dominic says. "As though of evil humours. Through the medium of tragedy, one relives and is purged of pity and fear, and left calm and cleansed; one has achieved catharsis."

That's a word Silas knows without the gloss. "Seems to me," he says, carefully, "that that's something you'd be interested in."

"The purgation of evil?" Dominic says, expressionless, and Silas curses himself for an idiot: that's not what he meant. He's seen men driven by religious fervour scour and abrade themselves. But it doesn't sit well with him, that a human creature should think themselves wretched, just for this skin and mortal flesh they walk in, or what they'd like in bed.

"There's no evil in you, Dominic," he says, brusque. "Other than your damn-fool opinions about everything under the sun."

Dominic doesn't respond, but Silas feels the tension leave his body. "Eh, Tory," he murmurs, emboldened to the question. "Why'd you run?"

Dominic looks at him and says nothing. The silence elongates, acquiring a solidity of its own. Silas has had other – lovers, he supposes the word is, though they fell short of this thing that's halfway to have-and-hold. He wouldn't have wanted to pull any of them close, kiss them with nothing but painful tenderness. Not until now, with this man who doesn't want it.

"What's the next bit say, then?" Silas asks, pointing at the book. Dominic reads directly from the Greek for a few moments, and Silas listens to the sparse, crisp syllables. He's contented again, seized with fondness, despite whatever it is between them that still remains unsaid.

*

It's from Harry that Silas gets half the truth of it, with the other half perhaps to follow when he's knocked Dominic's head against the nearest blunt object. Harry's come up to visit with some foolish notion of a Christmas present for Silas – a small, immaculately-carved chess set; a ridiculous fine thing for a bookman to own – and he's running his mouth off as usual, Silas listening with affection rather than attention, when somewhere in an anecdote involving a Christmas goose, an irate coachman and a squashed hat are the words Dominic and Newgate.

"Newgate," Silas says, inanely, his chair clattering.

Harry gives him a mischievous look. "Newgate, Silas. Big old place, rather draughty. You surely haven't been out of London long enough to forget it."

"Dominic," Silas says, again like a fool, so even silly, sweet Harry can't fail to notice something's amiss. "What did you say?"

"I said," Harry says, uncertainly, "when Julius and I were coming back after tea, we ran into Dominic on the way up from the Old Bailey. Silas, what is it?"

"Nothing," Silas makes himself say, "it's nothing" – so Harry relaxes, goes on with the rambling tale of who mislaid whose tricorne and who subsequently stood on it. In the late afternoon Harry ambles out for a hack with Norreys and Silas goes out with Dominic at the dying of the daylight, watching the rooks gather and flock over the fields. They'd make a strange pair if there were anyone else around for miles.

"You were at Newgate for the hanging," Silas says, feeling the words stark as the bare branches, unforgiving against that open sky. He misses close, foggy London, replete with the rattle-hum of humanity. "Last Wednesday gone."

"Yes." Dominic's eyes are on the birds. "Markham, the boy hanged for buggery. Yes, I was there."

"Markham," Silas repeats; he hadn't known the lad's name. "Why, for God's sake?"

Dominic doesn't turn, his feet crunching on the burnt-off stalks. "I fail to see what relevance this has to anything, nor what business is it is of yours."

His voice has the crackle of dew-frost, and all at once Silas loses his temper. "Ain't a damn bit of my business," he says, "not a bit. Go to all the gladiatorial spectacles you want to. But don't come from there to me. And then run from me."

"That wasn't—"

"Wasn't what? What was it?"

Silas hadn't meant to ask the question like that, flung like an accusation. It's the damned countryside that's getting to him. But Dominic is standing still, considering, and Silas is glad of it. He wants to hear the answer.

"It wasn't gladiatorial," Dominic says, at last.

"What?"

Dominic starts walking again, hands in his pockets. "It wasn't a spectacle," he says. "I'm not quite sure what you're imagining, but it wasn't like that."

Silas doesn't have to imagine it. Two men, Charlton and Farnham, went to the gallows back in April on the same account, with a thousand spectators in attendance. Urchins sold honey nuts out of paper bags; linkmen with sticks beat back the surge of people calling for blood.

"There was no one," Dominic says, bleakly, and just like that, Silas has it, the whole thing clear in his mind's eye. The prisoner led to the gallows, the hood over his eyes. His crimes read out: unnatural vices, abominable acts. A winter's day; no baying crowds, not in the maw of this weather, and though what took place in the freezing fog took place just the same as it had in April, no witnesses.

Save for Dominic, who attended because no one else did; because although he did not know it, and had no time left to learn it, the boy on the scaffold had kin.

"Oh," Silas says, helplessly, and -- though they're out in public, for all the barren desolation around, and Dominic is Dominic – he puts an arm around his damn-fool Tory's shoulders, and holds on as long as he dares before letting go. Dominic doesn't pull away from him. They go on walking.

*

It's late that night, as Dominic is preparing to return to London, that Silas says: "You don't have to run."

There's a flutter of movement from beyond a closed door. Foxy David, no doubt, Silas thinks with savage satisfaction, keeping some stray footman from wandering too close to earshot. Cyprian will like Harry's chess set, once Silas finally gets to inviting him to play.

Dominic turns back at Silas with a curious look. "I'm not."

Silas says, "Not this time."

Dominic stops lacing up his boots and leans back against the wall. "Yes, all right, I ran," he says, and it sounds like an admission of weakness, like he believes that's what he's making. Silas is weary of all the ways they try and try and still fail not to hurt one another.

"I'd treat you like glass," he says, harshly. "If you told me it was what you wanted."

For a moment, he wants to. With a decent run-up he's strong enough to lift Dominic bodily. He could do it now, lay him down on the chaise longue with the gentleness one might use, not for something fragile, but irreplaceable and precious.

"No," Dominic says, still with that awful dullness. "No – it wasn't – it was just then, at that moment…"

"You'd been knocked off keel by a hanging." Silas doesn't dare be anything but brusque. "Because you're an arrogant high Tory who thinks the weight of the world is his to carry."

"It is," Dominic tells him, clear-eyed, unrepentant. "I have a duty."

"You ain't the only one worthy of that," Silas says, more gently, and Dominic smiles up at him, in equal parts fond and embarrassed. It's ludicrously affecting. "You can ask for what you want, Tory," Silas goes on, still gently. "What you want, what you don't want. Thought we'd settled that."

"Yes," Dominic says, with what looks like relief. "And the same goes for you."

Silas stares at him, thrown. Dominic is lacing up his boots again, pushing his hair out of his eyes with a casual grace. Silas thinks about all the passing moments of these last days, each impulse to caress, and again: you can ask for what you want.

"Hold still, Dominic," he says softly, and Dominic obliges, still leaning forwards with a sharp tension in his muscles. Silas tips his head back and kisses him very softly, and then lets him go.

Dominic smiles and goes back to his boots. "There wasn't anything I could do for the lad," he says, suddenly crisp. "But perhaps for another, some day."

When he leaves Arrandene shortly afterwards, Silas stands by the window and watches the light track across the fields, steady as most things are, in Dominic's hands.