When you use a library that hasn't had a librarian in over seventy years, and was before that in regular use by a bunch of police officers who, even when they're toffs, don't tend to be the most considerate people, you're bound to stumble across a whole lot of personal notes, weird drawings and… other things. Somehow when I'd started using the library, I'd expected to find all the books in perfect order, imagining haughty-looking gentlemen in dinner jackets who infallibly put on their white cotton gloves before touching those precious rare old books, because romping through the Empire doing whatever you wanted doesn't mean you shouldn't treat your books with care, right? As far as I could tell, that was in part true for some of the books in the magic library, especially the older ones; for the general library not so much.
I didn't think much about the scribbles I found in my Latin books. After all, Nightingale and his peers had learnt Latin in school, and not even the threat of a caning or two could keep 10-year-old boys from writing notes to their neighbour about the rugby game after class or simply drawing dicks in the margins. Early on I'd wondered if Nightingale had given me his own Latin books, but my grammar was from 1921, at which point Nightingale himself wouldn't have needed it anymore. Though I did think it was his copy of a selection of Cicero's speeches, or at least that it had belonged to someone who'd known him – the blank inside cover page was graced by a drawing of a nightingale sitting on a branch. It had been drawn by a teenager, I suspected, someone with a good eye and a steady hand, but no remarkable artistic talent. I almost made the mistake of asking Nightingale about it – I'd never solved the mystery of who had drawn the paintings in the coach house, and finding out if Nightingale used to draw might have been a clue – but there was a shadow of sadness crossing his face when he saw me look at the drawing, so I studiously kept my mouth shut.
A few times I found old letters and notes in books, and whoever had been in charge of the Folly's libraries before the war had apparently not noticed them when putting the books away. Reading them always felt like an invasion of privacy, but then one of the first things you learn as a copper is not to feel too bad about snooping. And I was always grateful for every glimpse into Nightingale's past, into the people he might have known. Mostly it was ordinary everyday stuff, the kind of thing you might easily use as a bookmark and then forget about – letters from concerned mothers asking if their son would come home to the country estate for Christmas, a bill or two from a tailor or a shoemaker, a newspaper clipping about a case, a theatre ticket – but one time I also found a surprisingly racy letter signed by a Mary that included way more uses of the word “cunny” than I ever wanted to read. To my great relief it was addressed to someone called Anthony and not Thomas – as popular as the name had been even back then, I really didn't need to wonder if I had accidentally read a dirty letter from Nightingale's long dead mistress.
Obviously sex hadn't been invented after World War Two, but somehow you don't tend to think of the frowning, serious people in black and white photographs as people who'd get filthy letters from their mistresses. Or as people who'd leave reasonably tasteful, but still very definitely sexual nudes of muscular men (who for some reason always had their shoes and socks on, but maybe sock garters had been a thing for the Edwardian gay man the way thigh-ups were for straight men these days) stuffed into the back of a book about haunted glens in Scotland in the 1820s – although I suppose if you wanted to hide your illegitimate, and actually illegal, porn stash, an unbearably boring book about haunted glens in Scotland in the 1820s might not be the worst place for it. Don't ask me what I was doing with that book.
Again I had the briefest moment of wondering whether it was Nightingale's porn stash, before reminding myself that the Folly had once upon a time housed hundreds of wizards, and anyway at the time I didn't even know yet whether Nightingale's tastes ran more to muscular men in sock garters than lusty mistresses.
A sensible person would have just left it at that. Acknowledged the fact that the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 hadn't stopped people from getting their porn any more than any other attempt in human history at keeping people away from much needed wank material, and that strict Victorian and Edwardian mores hadn't kept people from writing each other filthy letters about everything they wanted to do next time they saw each other. The aesthetics were different, sure, but as Nightingale likes to say, plus ça change …
And maybe I would have left it at that if I hadn't eventually stumbled across literal Edwardian, and Victorian, porn. “Stumbled” being a generous interpretation of what I was doing, which was procrastinating on an exceedingly dull translation of Tacitus – Nightingale insisted on painstaking analyses of all verb structures ever since the one time he'd caught me looking up the English translation of a sentence I couldn't make sense of online – and browsing through the books in the reading room. Most of the time when I used the library itself, I was looking for something specific and getting frustrated by the old card index and idly thinking about how someone should really digitalise the Folly's libraries, so I rarely found an opportunity to just wander about and look at books, the way you idly click from one Wikipedia article to the next for a whole afternoon without actually reading more than the first three paragraphs of any given article.
And after browsing past a section of neatly-bound volumes of monthly publications from the 1920s – about anything from theatre news to gardening to weekly adventure stories set in the furthest, most exotic corners of the Empire – I found a dusty pile of very, very thoroughly read books in the darkest corner of an upper shelf and spent the next hour paging through something called The Romance of Lust. The title should have prepared me, really, but somehow nothing in my general education had warned me that Victorian porn was seriously messed up. I'd imagined the literary equivalent to the nudes of men awkwardly grabbing each other's penises while trying not to look too annoyed at the long exposure times of old cameras. Instead I got a ton of incest and corporal punishment involving characters who were definitely younger than the “just turned eighteen” you get on today's porn sites.
All kinkiness aside, for all that I was aware of how much aesthetic ideals changed over time – just look at the horrors post-war architecture bestowed on the world – all the “cunnies” and “bubbies” involved and the weird fixation on “well-formed limbs and feet” made the whole thing mostly funny, especially when I imagined long-faced men in white tie who said things like “jolly good, old chap” reading these books.
Like I said, a sensible person would have let it go, long before he'd ever started wondering whether his own governor, he of the immaculate suits, old-fashioned manners and perfect self-control, also tended to wank over all those loving descriptions of caning and flogging and so, so much incest. Because a sensible person tried in general not to imagine his governor wanking, especially not a sensible person who was already aware of having, maybe, just the smallest bit of a thing for said governor. Or at least for his suits.
Because I had been trying my damnedest not to think about Nightingale that way, given that, for a plethora of reasons, it was a terrible idea. Him being my governor, him being my teacher of all things magical, him being about eighty years too old for me, him being a posh white bloke who already looked like my sugar daddy every time we went out for dinner at a nicer place, him being a bloke, period, when I'd so far considered myself mildly bi-curious rather than bisexual. By which I mean that I'd watched the occasional bit of gay porn and had met a man or two I wouldn't have minded making out with, but I rarely went as far as thinking about actually having sex with them, let alone doing it. So I was very comfortable admiring Nightingale's incredible sense of style, and occasionally admitting to myself that I wouldn't mind seeing him a bit dishevelled and maybe helping that along by getting my hands underneath those tailored shirts of his. What I was not comfortable with was thinking about what Nightingale would be into.
I had a hard time imagining him getting his jollies reading about 14-year-old siblings “discovering each other's charms”, as my terrible choice of reading put it, but then maybe that was just my 21st century discomfort at the idea of a grown man getting off to 14-year-olds doing anything. Even so, an affair with either a suburban housewife or with a burly rugby player fit more into my image of him than the strict governess and the English vice.
I did eventually get back to Tacitus, suddenly quite glad that Nightingale had decided that having me translate Ovid so I'd constantly wonder if this or that word really meant what I thought it did had only been hilarious once, but I left the newly-discovered porn stash lying about on one of the tables. I had considered hiding it away again, but part of me was honestly curious to see how Nightingale would react.
I got my wish just an hour later. I was plucking apart the last ablative absolute when I heard him walk through the atrium – he'd been out all afternoon doing something or other and I hadn't asked for fear of getting roped into legwork – and then up the stairs, and just a moment later he stuck his head into the reading room. I pretended to be too absorbed in my Latin to notice him, but I watched out of the corner of my eyes as he took the newspaper from the table, then stopped when he saw the little pile of books, and picked one up.
To my disappointment I didn't catch any embarrassment in his expression, just a slightly shocked sense of surprise.
“Good God, Peter, where did you find this?” His eyebrows rose a bit higher as he leafed through the book.
“I was browsing?” I said and gave him a broad grin. “So much for people mostly using the reading room for napping after lunch. Some kind of napping that must have been.”
Nightingale actually laughed, the slightly dirty laugh of someone who remembered something that had been incredibly funny to him, but not so much to someone else, and shook his head. His eyes were still on one of the opened books.
“This is terribly written,” he said after a moment and shook his head. “Unsurprisingly – most of what was worth reading was published in either Latin or French.”
I was really glad I hadn't been drinking anything just then because somehow Nightingale pontificating on the quality of erotica in different languages had not been been anywhere near my list of predicted reactions.
“Although I suppose some of the Uranians were all right, if you liked that sort of thing,” he added after a moment's thought, and then he suddenly looked like he'd said something he shouldn't have. He all but confirmed that impression of mine when he added much too quickly, “How's your Latin coming along?”
My brain was still stuck on the word Uranian, which sounded vaguely familiar from a movie about Oscar Wilde I'd seen once, and “burly rugby player” went up on my list while “suburban housewife” went way down. No reason to look so guilty if he didn't like that sort of thing, right? After some googling later that night, I mentally corrected my assessment again from “burly rugby player” to “beautiful youth of hopefully not too worrying age” and blamed his classical education for that.
The same classical education that spent the next thirty minutes explaining the finer points of Latin grammar to me, and if I was looking at his mouth slightly more often than I usually did, I suppose even terrible turn of the century erotica didn't leave a man entirely unaffected.
* * *
Nightingale was really good at keeping his mouth shut when he ran across things he didn't understand – either because he didn't care to know or because he realised it wasn't the right time to ask – though I supposed that was a necessary skill to develop when you'd all but slept through a few decades. Between that and the fact that he did pay far more attention than he let on, it was surprisingly rare for him to say anything that made me cringe, considering he'd literally been born a hundred years ago and had worked for the Colonial Office, presumably maintaining peace and order in unruly colonies. As curious as I was about his Indiana Jones adventures, I was never quite sure just how much I really wanted to know.
He certainly never even raised an eyebrow at mentions of Stephanopoulos' wife or whenever we had a gay witness, though I never knew if he'd already got used to that before I'd met him, or if he'd simply never minded in the first place. Curiously enough he also didn't raise an eyebrow one afternoon as we were sitting in a painfully pretentious hipster café in Soho that had some of the best coffee in the city, next to a rather hands-on date between a well-dressed white guy in his fifties and a blond teen who looked like he should have at least one modelling contract under his belt, although I wasn't entirely sure if he wouldn't have needed his parents' permission to sign it. They looked happy enough with each other, laughing and holding hands, leaning in for a kiss every now and then, but I still made a bit of a face, and so did the three students sitting at the table next to us. Just because it was in all likelihood legal didn't mean it wasn't kind of weird.
Nightingale caught me staring and suddenly got that confounded look on his face he gets when he's boggling at how weird the world has become. For once he actually seemed curious enough to ask, so he leant in a bit closer while picking up his coffee cup and said quietly, “Am I missing something?”
“Bit of an age difference, don't you think?” I mumbled back and tried not to think too much about how Nightingale was much, much older than that and yet it didn't bother me one bit. I wasn't sure if it was because he looked younger than he was, or because I wasn't eighteen anymore. I certainly hadn't been interested in people my dad's age when I'd been a teenager, but I also had a feeling that I wouldn't have reacted all that differently to Nightingale if I'd met him back then.
“Ah,” Nightingale said and sipped on his coffee. He didn't sound like he shared my concerns. “It's interesting really, how things change.”
“Uranian poetry, huh?” I said because unlike Nightingale I'm not that great at keeping my mouth shut, and I had googled it. “All that classical education coming to its natural conclusion.”
I bit my lip and hoped he wouldn't be offended, because sometimes it was still hard enough to get Nightingale out of his shell and the last thing I needed was for him to think I was seriously mocking him. But he just laughed and kept smiling.
“You joke, but when I was young it really wasn't all that unusual for an older man to take a younger man under his wing – show him the world, introduce him to society, teach him how to dress, where to eat, whom to talk to.” He shrugged. “It was considered a mutually beneficial arrangement, regardless of whether it was entirely platonic.”
He hadn't broken eye contact, I realised suddenly, and while Nightingale hadn't exactly “introduced me to society”, unless you counted the demi-monde, I'd definitely learnt a thing or two from him about style and nice restaurants and good wine. And that was without even counting my magic lessons and the fact that he was tutoring me in those very same classics that were chock-full of “tutoring”. I had forgotten all about the rest of the café and was just staring into his eyes, the small crinkles of mirth around them, and my mouth felt suddenly very dry.
And because, again, I can't keep my mouth shut, I said, “Like a wizard and his apprentice?”
It was almost like pushing too hard too fast in an interview because he looked taken aback for a second and then directed his attention entirely towards his coffee cup.
“In some cases, it was quite similar, yes,” he said carefully. “Sometimes it was a purely professional, intellectual relationship without much of a personal connection. Other masters formed a much closer bond with their apprentices, many stayed life-long friends.”
“Platonic or not,” I mumbled because I was clearly high on something, maybe the fancy hipster coffee was laced with cocaine, or maybe Nightingale casually talking about not entirely platonic relationships and “closer bonds” had gone to my head. I was pretty sure my ears were red.
Nightingale was looking at me again, his head cocked to the side like he couldn't figure out where I was going with this, which was a fair point because I had no idea where I was going with this either.
“Quite,” he said after a few moments. “Of course some people frowned upon it, but it wasn't all that rare. Whereas today … hardly anybody bats an eyelash at two men together, but God forbid one of them's considered too old for the other.”
I glanced back at the neighbouring table, where our resident ephebe was gazing adoringly at his boyfriend, and then back at Nightingale in his light grey suit, at the subtle gleam of his silver cufflinks, the way he sat angled towards me simply because he'd consider it rude not to. I grinned at him.
“We look like even more of a cliché than those two, don't we?” I said. He too glanced at them before his eyes met mine again and he chuckled.
“I think I'd have to put my hand on your knee to produce quite the same effect.” He didn't wink at me, but frankly, he didn't need to. My face was already burning and I tried to hide it by taking a big gulp of coffee. I definitely wasn't thinking about Nightingale's hand on my knee, or about Nightingale leaning in to kiss me between smiles, nor about just what else he'd be able to teach me if I'd ever ask.
* * *
Possibly the most annoying thing about the old Folly, and I had realised that in the earliest months of my apprenticeship, was their ridiculous tendency to use just about any other language but English. That's an exaggeration, admittedly, because a lot of the non-magical books of the last decades before the war especially were in fact written in English, although interspersed with far more loanwords and foreign quotations than anyone who wasn't a pretentious wanker would ever use, but most books on actual magic, rather than on the demi-monde, were written in Latin. There was the occasional bit of Greek, though not so much that I really saw why Nightingale considered it necessary for me to learn that, too, quite a few clearly imported Arabic books, and a huge amount of German going well into the 1930s – Nightingale had mentioned that for most of the 19th and early 20th century, German magic had been far more advanced than English magic, and clearly there had been quite a few Folly wizards who'd entertained rather lively correspondence with their German counterparts. It was depressing to think about, knowing that they'd gone on to kill each other just a few years later.
Of course none of it was translated because back in the day, a gentleman had studied Latin and Greek in school and clearly had the leisure time to learn some extra Arabic or German if he felt like reading anything in those languages. If you weren't a gentleman and therefore had neither a classical education nor an absurd amount of free time on your hands, tough luck, you probably weren't supposed to be reading books anyway. Even translations had often been written with the implicit assumption that the reader was in fact familiar with the original and at most needed a translation to clear up details.
You'd think at least the notes and reports written by Folly wizards would have been in English, which was generally true, but not always. I supposed it made sense – if you'd only ever read about a spell in Latin, you'd probably also write down your thoughts about it in Latin. I hadn't reached the stage yet where I spoke any other language well enough to think in it, and frankly I doubted that I ever would, but I'd seen Nightingale pause for a second a few times when he'd clearly been trying to remember the English word for something he'd read about in another language.
So it happened more than once that, while doing my part of the research in the English-speaking section of the general library, I'd find a note in the margin or on a separate piece of paper in another language – most of the time in Latin, every now and then in German, especially when it came to more scientific texts. Usually I'd just run it through Google Translate, which tended to give me something so mangled it'd make Nightingale twitch, but usually comprehensible enough that I could at least guess whether or not I should bother asking him about it.
We were both combing through a variety of literature about the history of genii loci, specifically what happened when one of them died and was replaced by another, me sitting at one of the library's old-fashioned reading desks, with a small lamp and no power outlet, Nightingale more comfortable in one of the leather armchairs. Once or twice I got distracted watching him read – while he always insisted that he'd never been much for academic study, he had a laser focus that I envied. He didn't tend to ask as many questions as I did about anything, but if you gave him a problem to solve, he sank his teeth into it and didn't let go until he'd figured it out and then probably solved it with some high order magic. As someone who got distracted by anything and everything, watching Nightingale work was both awe-inspiring and frustrating.
I'd discarded yet another book that had a whole lot of interesting descriptions of Old Father Thames' court, but not really any useful information to speak of, and when I opened the next one, which was promisingly entitled Of the Passing of Local Spirits, a small piece of yellowed paper fell out of it. It had only a few lines smeared on it, barely legible cursive in faded ink. I could decipher enough of it to realise it was Latin, but after a minute or two of staring at it I gave up and rose from my chair.
He looked up from his reading, his long fingers carefully holding the stiff pages open – Nightingale did treat books with reasonable care, at least these days.
“Did you find anything?” he asked.
“I'm not sure,” I said and handed him the piece of paper. “Anything to do with what we're looking for?”
His fingers touched mine briefly when he took the note, probably because we both had to be rather careful with it to keep the cheap, brittle paper from breaking. He narrowed his eyes a little to read it, but I knew he was a whole lot better with cursive than I was. His own handwriting, though old-fashioned, was legible enough even if it wasn't overly neat, but he had decades of experience in deciphering a lot of awful handwriting.
After a few seconds the frown eased off his face, then his lips quirked into a smile, and then he actually chuckled.
“No, Peter, I don't believe this is what we are looking for,” he said. At this point he looked like he was trying very hard not to break out in laughter.
“No.” He was grinning from one ear to the other, which made him look a good hundred years younger than he was. He showed me the paper as if it should be obvious. I had another look at it, but the only word I managed to decipher was temo. I vaguely remembered it from some exciting text that had a ridiculously detailed description of a wagon. It meant pole or bar or something like that.
“It's a pun, you see?” Nightingale said and gave me that hopeful look of someone who was desperately trying to think of a way of explaining a joke without ruining it. He raised both eyebrows, and when I still didn't catch on he briefly let his gaze slip down to my crotch and then back up again. I suddenly felt very, very stupid, and at least as embarrassed.
“You mean it's a dick joke?” I asked hesitantly. “A whole page of dick jokes?”
“Quite,” Nightingale said and gave a brief, relieved laugh. “They're rather good, too.”
I wasn't sure if the idea of Nightingale explaining them to me was horrifying or weirdly hot in a way that would have had my cheeks burning with embarrassment, but either way I doubted I'd get through it without a whole lot of dreams I didn't need to have. I was already thinking too much about what Nightingale might be into. I did not need to imagine his lips forming the word “cock”. Or maybe he'd say “prick” – and I absolutely didn't need to know that either.
“I'm starting to get the impression that nobody at the Folly ever did any work, sir,” I said with a grin before he could think of explanations for the puns. The smile that was still clinging to the corner of his mouth was infatuating, it was mirthful and cheeky and just a little bit dirty. I knew in that moment that I wanted to see it again, without any Latin dick jokes involved, that I wanted to be the cause of that smile, that I wanted to kiss it until Nightingale blushed, too.
I was in so much trouble.
“You really oughtn't throw stones when it comes to getting distracted, Peter.” There was only the slightest hint of reprimand in his voice, he still seemed far too cheerful to mind.
“Touché,” I said. I left the note with him and returned to my desk to see if I couldn't find out anything more relevant to what I needed to know than the last person who had used the book had. When I glanced back at Nightingale a few minutes later, he was working again, his eyes quickly scanning the Latin text in front of him as if it were English, his hands swift and careful when they turned the pages, his posture relaxed and the lines of his suit perfect even when he was sprawling in an armchair. But I thought I still saw the echo of a smile around his eyes, and even my rather frustrating reading couldn't keep the smile off my own face.
* * *
When your governor is literally a person of mass destruction, it can be easy to forget that he's still human and as such vulnerable. You'd think I'd know better, considering that he got shot in the first year that I knew him and almost died on me, but despite worrying about him every now and then, I still tended to think of Nightingale as the cavalry – there might have been a whole lot of wild beasts out there, but Nightingale had the biggest teeth. Hell, Nightingale had the elephant gun.
I was still so tense my neck hurt while I was standing outside a residential building in South London, waiting for Nightingale to get past the demon trap in the flat our investigation had led us to – no word yet on whether it was one of Faceless' or made by some other equally ethically challenged magician – and trying not to be in anyone's way should Frank Caffrey and crew be needed.
After fifteen minutes of unbearable silence the trap went off with so much force that the para-trooper next to me reeled, I heard retching somewhere behind me, and I felt a filthy cacophony of vestigia rolling over me, so overwhelming that I barely heard the physical explosion up in the flat.
I lost about a minute of time, came to again to find the building still standing, and spent what felt like an eternity reeling with nauseous fear because Nightingale had been in there, right in the blast radius of a demon trap that had taken me off my feet even down on the street.
He made it out just fine – I learnt later that he'd managed to contain most of the physical explosion to keep the building from collapsing all around himself, but the trap had been impossible to disarm completely. He was covered in dust and soot, moving with that deliberate care of someone who's too well trained and too experienced to panic, and I ended up having to check the remains of the flat for what we'd been looking for in the first place on my own.
I didn't see him again until three hours later, back at the Folly. He'd gone home while I had dropped off some not particularly damning evidence at Belgravia, and by the time I got back he'd already cleaned up and changed and was sitting in the reading room like nothing had happened. But there was a nasty-looking cut on his cheek that didn't look any better because of the butterfly bandages, and he was much paler than usual, that sickly paleness I'd only ever seen on his face after he'd been shot. I had no doubt that he'd been through worse in his life, and I knew that was exactly what he would have told me if I had asked him how he was, but I also knew how much more sensitive to vestigia he was than me and how close he'd been to that blast.
“I went through the flat, nothing worth finding,” I said by way of greeting because I didn't know how to ask him if he needed anything. He hadn't touched his tea nor the scones Molly had brought him, and he hadn't even unfolded the newspaper that lay on his lap. I hadn't been quiet in my approach, but he still seemed a bit startled when he saw me.
“Ah, yes, I assumed we wouldn't. Our suspect must have cleaned the place out when he booby-trapped it,” Nightingale said. I'd had the same thought myself. I felt like I should ask him if he had any idea now who was behind it, but I didn't want to make him think about it any more than he already was anyway. That and I trusted Nightingale – he was frustratingly tight-lipped at times, but he would have told me if there had been anything I should know. And he was nothing if not dutiful; if he'd thought there was anything we could have been doing right now, he would have soldiered on. Personally I couldn't focus on anything but those endless, stretched out moments when my only thought had been, “Nightingale is still in there”.
Nightingale might not make it out of there.
I stood in front of his armchair and looked at him, and he looked up at me, and we'd long missed the moment when I could have conceivably clasped his shoulder and squeezed it like that accurately expressed what I wanted to say. Not quite knowing what to do, I reached down to take the unread newspaper off his lap, but my hand ended up leaning on the armrest instead, and I leant down, and the next thing I knew my lips were on his in something that was less a kiss and more a desperate grab for him. He gasped against my lips, he tasted of mint like he'd only just brushed his teeth, and the moment his lips parted I pressed forward, pushing into his mouth, my hand grabbing his shoulder and holding on to him.
After a moment he surged up against me, grabbed my shirt and pulled me in like his life depended on it. There was an urgency in it that made me shudder, and for the first time I wondered if he'd been afraid rather than just shaken, if he hadn't expected to come home either.
And then he pulled away so suddenly my lips burnt from the loss, got up out of the armchair awkwardly, trying not to brush against me even though I was standing right there. I put my hand on his arm to hold him back, but he didn't look at me.
“Peter, what –“ He didn't seem to be quite sure what to say, but I got the gist. What are you doing, what did you do that for, what are you thinking? This is a terrible idea, and so on, and so forth. It was a terrible idea. But he was right there, warm and breathing and alive, pulled together so tautly that I could barely even see the cracks in his crumbling self-control, and when was the last time anyone had actually bothered to look?
So I didn't let him go when he tried to step away from me, but put my other hand on his shoulder to make him face me again.
“I know we shouldn't, sir,” and that I still called him that was probably reason enough for that, “but you're … you could have been …”
I couldn't say it, but I saw in his eyes that he understood. He raised his hand to the back of my neck, squeezing firmly. I'd never thought of Nightingale as someone who'd be good at comforting, he was too proper for that, too English, but there was such calm warmth in that touch alone that I melted against him.
“Then we definitely shouldn't,” he said, always so damn sensible. I smelt his toothpaste and his cologne and his shampoo, I smelt him, and his fingers on the back of my neck were like an anchor.
“I know,” I said and kissed him again. Less clumsy than before, hungrier too, and this time he kissed me back like he hadn't been kissed in decades, and what did I know, maybe he hadn't. Who knew if he ever had or if it had been all sentimental poetry about longing gazes and impossible loves, but that thought only lasted for half a second because Nightingale did not kiss like a man who considered anything impossible.
We stumbled back onto the armchair, him into it and me into his lap, both of us with a hand in the other's hair, and I'd thought about dishevelling that meticulous side-part of his for almost as long as I'd known him. He curled his fingers into my hair, pulled a little while he licked into my mouth, teeth grazing my lips, and I didn't know if this was the shock and the adrenaline and the high of almost dying or if he always kissed like a man possessed.
I got my hands underneath his suit, only managed to get half the buttons open on the way. His skin was softer than I'd imagined, so smooth that I wanted to see every inch of it, but I would have had to get up and he would have had to let go of me for us to get rid of our clothes, and that was not going to happen. He had a strength in his hands that made me shudder, made me think of his fingers curling around the gearshift of the Jag, of his fist opening to reveal a blazing globe of fire. After those first moments of hesitation his touch became almost possessive, and it felt so damn good I didn't even have a masculinity crisis when he dug his fingers into my arse and ground me down against him.
He was every bit as hard as I was already, his bulge hot against my thigh. There was a part of my brain that suggested that this might be a good moment to panic and reconsider, but most of my brain was thinking about his hands under my shirt, sliding down until he got to my belt. If I'd expected Nightingale to be shy about this, I'd severely underestimated either his boarding school or London jazz clubs in the '20s.
When his fingers curled around my cock, he gasped against my mouth like I was the one touching him. And maybe it was a competitive moment that made me go for his fly, not wanting to be outdone. So much first time gay porn – these days, that is, I hadn't actually got far enough into the Folly's hidden porn stashes to find any Edwardian gay porn – dwelt on thorough dick measuring and comparing and somehow I had expected that to be a thing that would matter to me, the first time I got my hand on another man's cock, but instead I just thought it felt fucking amazing, the way he jerked up into my hand like he couldn't hold back, the way he moaned against my lips, the way his grip on my arse tightened to keep me as close as possible.
I got with the programme pretty quickly, shifted in his lap until I could rub my dick right against his. I had my forehead braced against Nightingale's, looked down at the slide of our cocks between us, at the glimmer of pale skin where I'd pulled his shirt half open. It was drier than I liked, not really a problem I'd ever run into with women, and he seemed to have had the same thought because just a second later he let go of me, raised his hand to his lips and spit into it like it was the most obvious thing in the world and that – that really shouldn't have made my dick jump. But his hand was slick and hot when he wrapped his fingers around both of us, pushing my own hand down until I cradled his balls instead, petting them tentatively at first until he all but whimpered into my mouth, and I stopped being tentative after that.
He stroked us both as fast as possible at this angle, but it was really the hot pressure of his cock against mine that did it for me more than his hand itself, that and the way he kept kissing me – long, deep kisses that turned into breathless bites, open-mouthed and so hungry I could lose myself in them. I didn't last long, not as keyed up as I was, and the sight of my come splattering over his cock and his stomach was so hot I wished I could have gone a second time right away. It made him moan, too, and he all but came apart when I pushed his hand aside and took him in my own hand again, slick with my come.
“It's okay, sir, come on,” I said more because I couldn't keep my mouth shut than because it needed saying, but he seemed to like that, too, whether it was the words or just my voice, so I kept talking, babbling really, telling him to let go, that I had him, and his voice cracked on that last moan so hard I almost thought I'd broken him. His whole body shuddered underneath me when he came. Even as he relaxed he kept one arm tightly wrapped around me, so instead of pulling away I sunk down against his shoulder and buried my face against his neck.
I must have dozed off for a minute or two because my leg had started to cramp up when I heard him say my name. I turned to look at him, and looked away immediately when I saw the concern in his eyes. We'd both known it was a terrible idea, but the last thing I'd wanted was for him to worry about me or to think that I somehow blamed him.
“Feeling better?” I asked because that was, brilliantly, the best thing I could think of. He winced a little, and I realised too late what that had sounded like. “Not that I did this to … oh, fuck.” I kissed him to make my point more emphatically, and to my relief he kissed me back. I settled back against him, a bit more comfortably this time, but I realised pretty quickly that this armchair was not made for two grown men.
“You know, I don't think I make a very good toy boy,” I said, and at his confused frown I added, “Can't even sit on your lap properly.”
That got me a laugh at last, that slightly hollow, too loud first laugh after a bit of shock. His hand was stroking over my back, slowly, as warm and firm as before when he'd touched my neck, but somehow the whole thing seemed more awkward now. He seemed to realise it, too, because his hand stopped after a few moments, then he glanced at me and let go and I stumbled to my feet. I did take a moment to enjoy the sight of Nightingale looking like my own idea of what Edwardian porn should look like – reclining deep in that leather armchair, his tie still on, his stomach bare and streaked with come, his cock still half-hard, resting against the barely pushed down fabric of his suit trousers. His hair was a mess, one sweaty strand curling against his temple, and one of us – I really wouldn't have been able to say if it had been him or me – had managed to get some come into it. He caught me looking, of course, and then he very deliberately let me look, and that was almost hotter than anything else we'd done.
I had to tear myself away before I could get any more ideas about how to prolong something we probably shouldn't have done, and tucked myself in quickly, not that it helped much.
“You should eat and drink something, you know?” I said uselessly, as though Molly wouldn't have already insisted on that with a few pointed glares. “And then get some rest. You'll feel better after you've slept.”
It sounded like a platitude, but I knew from experience that it was still true. You thought you wouldn't be able to sleep, but sooner or later exhaustion won and you passed out and woke up with one hell of a headache six hours later, but at least you didn't feel like retching your guts out anymore. Or like having ill-advised sex with your apprentice in the reading room.
I considered asking him if he wanted me to stay, but somehow that felt – invasive, even more so than what we'd just done. He'd at least zipped up his trousers by the time I turned around again, and this time I managed to lean in and squeeze his shoulder. Then I felt like an asshole, so I also gave him another brief kiss. He smiled faintly, tired and, I thought, fond.
“Good night, Peter,” he said, and I took that as my cue to leave.
* * *
He actually slept in the next morning, or maybe he was trying to avoid me, but either way I didn't complain. It wasn't that I didn't have a history of sleeping with people I probably shouldn't have slept with, it was that none of those people had been as central to my life as Nightingale. None of those relationships had mattered enough that fucking them up would have been all that tragic. But what I'd realised, somewhere between all but running out of the reading room and getting back from Belgravia the next day, was that I didn't actually regret anything. I couldn't undo what had already happened, and now that it had, I had this curious feeling that it had been bound to happen at some point. If you live with someone and spend half your time with them, it's hard to be in denial about wanting them.
By the time I got back, Nightingale was out walking Toby, so I went down to the lab for my daily practice – Nightingale had me working on a variation of scindere that, I suspected, eventually led up to his rip-a-house-open-with-the-power-of-your-mind trick, but which for now allowed me to tear thick cardboard in half with not even remotely as much precision as he demanded.
Of course he walked in during one of my worst attempts that afternoon. I think on any other day he would have been tempted to tease me about it and show off a little, but now he just leant against the door and watched me. My next attempt made the cardboard catch on fire, and that hadn't happened in weeks. I put it out with a liberal application of aqua and decided to take a break.
“How are you feeling, guv?” I asked.
“My ears are still ringing a little,” he said, “but I'm fine.”
I actually believed him – he had some colour in his cheeks again, the circles under his eyes were gone, and his posture had that same relaxed elegance I was used to. There was some hesitation in the way he was looking at me, the way he still kept a few feet of distance between us like he didn't quite dare to come in.
I wiped the water off the floor and grinned up at him.
“Does that mean you didn't actually hear any of the things I said to you yesterday?”
I threw the rag into one of the sinks and quickly dried my hands on my jeans before I made a few steps towards him. He still hadn't moved, and now he wasn't even meeting my eyes anymore.
“Peter, I'm sorry for my behaviour last night.” He sounded too stiff, too formal, the way he rarely ever did with me anymore. More like he was saying what he was supposed to say than what he meant. “I shouldn't have –”
“Do you regret it?”
Do you ever ask questions and immediately wish you hadn't because you realise how much you'd really, really hate to hear the wrong answer to it? I'd been too wrapped up in my own deliberations about whether or not I wanted to have more questionable, mindblowing sex with my governor in century-old armchairs to wonder if he might not have done that, ever, if not for yet another near death experience. Nightingale had always had his flirtatious moments, but always with a lot of plausible deniability; before last night I hadn't even been sure that he wanted me at all.
He seemed taken aback, like that hadn't been a question he had asked himself either. For a moment he hesitated and I was already bracing myself for the worst when he said, softly, “No.”
He pushed himself away from the door and closed it, and I could tell he was giving himself more time to find the right words.
“But it was entirely inappropriate, and whatever state I was in was no excuse for it,” he said finally.
“Didn't you tell me about 'not entirely platonic relationships' between masters and apprentices?” Not that I ever thought of Nightingale as my master, the word still tasted like lemons in my mouth, but I had been thinking about it. I was starting to like the idea of Nightingale teaching me a thing or two, about him using that patient, stern voice on me and that never got me going so much before. Somehow it alleviated my nervousness about not actually having all that much experience with other men – Nightingale seemed to, and he was an excellent teacher. I looked away before he could see me blush.
“I don't believe that's how the Met would see it,” he said, and I thought I detected a note of wistfulness in his voice. I tried not to think about how much that would complicate things, if anyone knew I had slept with my direct superior in a department that consisted of a grand total of two people. I briefly wondered if there being only two of us would have made it better or worse. Bigger chance of an unnoticed abuse of power? Smaller chance of said superior treating one subordinate better than the other?
“I wasn't going to tell them.” I stepped around the large lab table in the centre of the room and closer to him, and he stayed where he was. “We can both keep a secret, right? Come on, sir, you used to do this when it was illegal; why would you care now that it's 'inappropriate'?”
That got me a quiet laugh from him, and when he looked at me something in my chest tightened.
“I didn't think you would see it that way,” he said more softly. He made a step towards me, raised his hand as if to touch my arm or my shoulder maybe, but then he lowered it again. I wished he had gone through with it. “I'm quite aware that things have changed in that regard.”
“Please, it's not like you pressured me into anything.” I had to snort at the absurdity of it. I liked not having to make the first move, I absolutely did, but I had no doubt that with Nightingale I would have waited until the end of time before he'd ever have touched me. I felt a grin tugging at the corner of my mouth. “Anyway, you wouldn't want to neglect your duties to teach your apprentice all kinds of, er, worldly pastimes.”
He looked like he wasn't sure if I was joking or not, and settled for a dry, “You were entirely resistant to my attempts to teach you about wine.”
“Yeah, but you got me into brandy.” Brandy was what Nightingale drank when he was brooding alone in the dark, on those nights when there were too many memories weighing him down, and at some point I'd taken to joining him to keep him from brooding. Somewhere along the way I'd acquired a taste for it. He smiled, so I stepped into his personal space and added, “And into men.”
It slipped out without me really thinking about it. His eyebrows shot up and I only shrugged in reply. To be fair I had been into men before, I'd just never been into any of them enough to actually try anything. The cut on his cheek looked even worse than the night before, now that it was scabbing over. He didn't flinch when I raised my hand to his face and ran my fingers carefully over his skin, just below the cut.
There was the subtlest shift in his body language – he didn't move much, but he still turned towards me, his shoulders rolled back a bit, his body angling towards me until I turned and found myself with my back against the lab table and Nightingale not quite pressing me against it, just crowding me. He was shorter than me, but he'd always had an undeniable presence, and it was so very easy to follow his lead.
“I never actually slept with any of my masters, you know,” he said, and even his voice had dropped a little, the timbre rougher. I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise.
“No?” I was a little bit disappointed; I think at some point I'd started to imagine Nightingale breaking the heart of every white-haired wizard at the Folly. “Not even any young, rakish, handsome ones?”
He replied with a low chuckle, still not touching me, but one of his hands came to rest on the lab table to my side. It was like being surrounded by him, his scent and the sound of his voice.
“I was very close to one of my teachers at Casterbrook,” he said, and the memory must have been old enough that it didn't bring with it the same shadow as most other mentions of his past. “And maybe he touched my knee a bit more than entirely necessary, but that was about it.”
Thinking of a younger Thomas in school, the bright-eyed wunderkind he must have been, I was suddenly relieved that at least not all wizards had taken their classics too literally – not that Nightingale himself seemed particularly bothered either way. I chased the thought away because it didn't bear dwelling on, and because Nightingale's lips were finally brushing over the corner of my mouth. He didn't need to teach me how to kiss, but I still enjoyed letting him set the pace – he nudged my nose with his in such a playful way that I had to smile about it a little, and the moment my lips quirked up he kissed me. It was warm and filled with the same thing I had seen in his eyes earlier and only recognised for what it was now, a lingering tenderness that warmed me up like a hot cup of tea after a night-long stake-out.
There was a part of me that wondered who had taught him how to kiss like that, like there was nothing else in the world except for his mouth against mine, at least until his hands started to wander. First a featherlight touch that sneaked from my cheek over my throat, a whisper of a caress that still distracted me from his other hand under my shirt, barely bothering to tease before he started pulling it up – apparently he wanted to avoid doing this entirely dressed again. I raised my arms so he could get me out of my t-shirt, but I was in no hurry to deal with his suit. I only loosened his tie a fraction, enough to pop open the first two buttons. He was back to kissing me, but this time he didn't linger quite so long on my lips, but followed his fingers down over my jaw and my throat, and I smiled into his soft hair when he buried his face against my neck.
I'd done my very best not to fantasise about Nightingale, at least not about more than maybe getting him a bit breathless and rumpled and kissing him, but I always cut myself short when my brain wanted to gallop past that like a unicorn on steroids. I hadn't let myself think about how it would feel to have Nightingale's teeth graze my shoulder, worrying just enough at the skin that it might have left a mark if I'd been as pale as him. I had, for that matter, not let myself think about whether Nightingale bruised easily, or what he'd look like with a bite mark peeking out just above his starched collar. I hadn't let myself think about the sensation of his hands sliding down my sides with such maddening single-mindedness, or about how the fabric of his suit would strain when he got hard.
And I definitely did not, not even in the one or two dirty dreams that slipped through my attempts at self-control, think about Nightingale going to his knees in front of me in the lab, his hair still neat except for a strand that had fallen onto his forehead, tie askew and shirt collar revealing just enough of his throat that I would have marked him up right there if I hadn't been so busy holding on to the table behind me.
“You know, if you're still trying to convince me that we shouldn't do this, you're doing a terrible job, sir,” I said and tried not to notice how shaky my voice sounded. He chuckled and I could see his throat move, and maybe I suddenly got that Victorian and Edwardian obsession with the weirdest body parts because I couldn't stop staring.
“Circumstances considered, you might want to call me Thomas,” he said. I tried it out in my head and it sounded about as weird as “master”. I could have called him Nightingale, but without an added “Inspector” that just seemed rude. Looking down at him on his knees, at how absurdly relaxed and comfortable he seemed there with his hands teasingly on my hips, a thought occurred to me.
“Maybe I don't want to call you Thomas. Sir.”
He looked up at me – surprised, but not disapproving. After all it was entirely his fault that I even thought that'd be hot, so he could deal with it now. When you give a man kinks he didn't know he had, the least you can do is indulge them.
Nightingale, being a bit of a mischief-maker at heart, smiled at me, hooked his fingers into the belt loops of my jeans, and said in the poshest, most proper voice he could muster, “In that case I shan't insist. I'd hate to make you uncomfortable.”
I'm pretty sure my dick would have jumped even if the next thing he'd done hadn't been to mouth at it through my jeans. He seemed almost fascinated with the texture of them, ran his fingertips slowly over my hips while he pressed another kiss to my bulge, and let out a slow, leisurely sigh, like a man reclining into the comfort of his favourite armchair after a long day.
He teased me like that for long enough that I was this close to asking – not yet begging – him to get on with it, but just as I was about to open my mouth, his fingers finally moved to unbutton my jeans, then unzipped them ever so slowly. He really seemed determined not to repeat our half-dressed adventure from the previous day, because he didn't content himself with just getting my dick out, no, he pulled my jeans and my boxers all the way down to my ankles. I was cooperating enough that I'd already managed to kick one of my trainers off by then, and fuck if there wasn't something heady about Nightingale kneeling at my feet and taking off my other shoe, and my socks while he was at it.
I felt more exposed than I would have expected. I was hardly a virgin, and I'd done a lot of things more adventurous than missionary with the lights off, but there was something about standing buck-naked in the lab where I did half my magic practice with my still-dressed governor kneeling in front of me. Or maybe it was the way he was looking at me, hungry and appreciative, like he wanted to touch every inch of me and couldn't decide where to start. It made my cheeks burn and gave me the ridiculous urge to cover myself with my hands.
The latter at least didn't last for very long, not when Nightingale ran his fingertips slowly along the length of my cock. His touch was careful, as if he wanted to make up for the previous day's rash impatience. He gave me a first, almost tentative stroke, and my grip on the lab table tightened; if the thing had been any less sturdy I think I might have broken it when he leant in further and tongued at the base of my cock, once, twice, before he licked up all the way to the tip, languidly like he was savouring it. I may have whimpered, and that was before he started talking.
“Did you know that the Romans considered performing fellatio particularly obscene?” It was his lecturing voice, even and patient, but with a low intensity that it definitely lacked when he explained grammar or magic to me. His eyes glanced up at me, his lips brushed over the head of my dick.
“I – no?” I said eloquently. He gave a low hum that I barely felt against my skin, and I think I would have done absolutely anything to get him to do that around my cock.
“It was considered demeaning, dirty, shameful. Nothing an honourable man of any standing would ever be caught doing.” He'd wrapped his fingers lightly around the base of my cock, and his tongue teased the underside.
“You … you really don't look ashamed,” I said, because he didn't, he looked every bit as confident and sure of himself as he ever did. My mouth was dry, I had goosebumps on my arms from the cool air or maybe from his touch, and if anyone was feeling shameful here, it was me. The thought sent a rush of heat through my body down to my dick, and I added with a low moan, “Sir.”
A gasp of hot air washed over my dick, and Nightingale shifted on his knees. It was hard to see from this angle, but I thought he was actually adjusting himself in his trousers before his left hand returned to me, stroking my thigh. He tongued at my cock again, and didn't pull away when he continued to speak, lips moving against my skin.
“There were some wizards I knew who expanded on that idea,” he said, his breath coming faster now, so much that he barely managed to stick to his dry lecturing tone, “considering how closely linked speech is to magic, to power. A wizard offering his mouth was at least symbolically offering up his own ability to do magic. After all you can't very well speak with your mouth full.”
“So you keep telling me,” I replied with a grin, but trying to play it cool was hopeless when I doubted I'd even be able to stay on my feet without the table to lean on. Nightingale grinned back, and with that same easy confidence with which he blew up buildings, he wrapped his lips around my cock. Just because there's no such thing as a bad blowjob doesn't mean there aren't also really, really good blowjobs, and Nightingale was – well, he must have very thoroughly ignored any taboos about a gentleman getting on his knees to suck cock. His tongue kept licking at the underside of my cock even as his lips slid along its length, and what his mouth couldn't reach his hand stroked. I was still dimly aware of his other hand on my thigh, right before he actually did that hum again, deep and low in his throat. I'd been trying to hold back, but I couldn't keep myself from grabbing his hair now – a bit too roughly maybe, but he didn't seem to mind, gave another almost encouraging hum and tried to take me deeper.
I wasn't entirely sure how he kept breathing while he was doing what he was doing, but then I also didn't know what on earth his tongue was doing to the head of my dick that made me jerk into his mouth helplessly. He dug his fingers encouragingly into my thigh, even nudged me closer like he wanted more. I was realising that I was definitely bi enough not to mind another guy's dick, but Nightingale was very obviously into it.
The only semi-coherent thought going through my head was that both the Romans and Nightingale's wizard friends had been so, so wrong. If this was a power game, it was one Nightingale was winning, right there on his knees with not a single word or forma needed. He took me apart like a storm would a cheap prefab, had me moaning and gasping and jerking into his mouth like I didn't have control over my own body anymore. I knew trying to hold back to make it last was a pipe dream, so I simply let go, my fingers still grasping his hair while I came into the heat of his mouth.
He pulled back slowly, letting his lips slide over my cock, lingering for a moment on the head before he let it go and looked up at me – he made sure to catch my eye before he swallowed. I could only stare at him, at the heat in his eyes, the wet gleam on his lips, the expression that wasn't quite smug, but still rather pleased with himself. I only hesitated for a second before I pulled hard enough on his hair to get my point across and get him to rise to his feet, so fast that he stumbled against me, right into the kiss I planted on him. I could taste myself in his mouth, and I could feel how worked up he was, how much he'd been into sucking me off. I got one of my hands onto his damn throat, let my knuckles rasp over it before I tugged his tie further loose and opened another button of his shirt.
“You are scarily good at that,” I mumbled when he'd broken the kiss for a gulp of air, and I only noticed then how out of breath he was. But smiling, smiling so wide I had to kiss him again.
“Believe me when I say that you discover the advantages of fellatio very quickly when someone else washes your sheets,” he said, his eyes gleaming with amusement. Not that Nightingale had, in all likelihood, washed his own sheets even once in his life, but I still caught on after a moment, “Casterbrook?”
“Mh-hm,” he hummed against my lips. For a minute we just stood there, quietly, with our foreheads touching and him catching his breath, his hands on my sides. I ran mine over his, still not entirely sure if I wanted to undress him. I mean, I absolutely did want to, I wanted to get my hands on his skin and find out where he liked to be touched and maybe kiss the insides of his thighs. But I also liked this, the sensation of fabric against my bare legs, my chest, the chill of his cufflinks that sent a quiver through my skin, the fact that something about him still being dressed made me feel like a naughty apprentice who had to be taught a lesson.
“Oh fuck,” I mumbled and hid my burning face against his neck. He put his arms around me and held me close, and that did just about nothing to dissipate the images in my mind.
I kissed his jaw softly, so he wouldn't think I was freaking out on him, but I couldn't quite meet his eyes.
“Is it … weird that I'm kind of … into being embarrassed?”
There was no malice in his quiet laugh.
“Why would you think that's 'weird'?” he asked as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. I stayed where I was, listening to his breathing, feeling the hardness of his cock against my hip. I remembered how it had felt in my hand, how he'd moaned when I touched him.
“I don't think I can do what you just did,” I said, a bit too quickly. There was a part of me, the same part that was apparently discovering a whole lorry full of things I hadn't known I was into, or things I simply hadn't been into unless it was Nightingale doing them, that shuddered pleasantly at the idea of Nightingale's hand in my hair pushing me where he wanted me, of his thumb pressing against my lips to make me open up – but the rest of me freaked out a little bit at the very idea and I didn't want to ruin a good thing.
“Shouldn't have told you about the Romans,” he replied, his tone teasing, but gentle. “It's all right.”
I kissed the side of his neck and suddenly remembered something I'd wanted to try out earlier – so I nipped lightly at his skin to see how he'd react, and when he cocked his head to the side with a small sigh I let my teeth catch on his skin again, sucked on it and nibbled until I heard his breath fasten again. He didn't stop me, although in hindsight I realised that might have been because my lips were actually below where his collar usually was.
I was still doing my best to mark him up a little – his skin was reddening beautifully, a stark contrast against the brilliant white of his collar – while working his clothes open enough to get his cock out. He was harder than when I'd first touched him the day before, the tip already wet when I ran my thumb over it. I smeared some of the moisture over his cock for easier going, and he gave such a soft, sweet sound that I had to pull back and look at him, like I couldn't believe it had come from his lips.
For the first time he didn't look embarrassed as such, but almost a little surprised, like he'd remembered something long forgotten, and then he kissed me again, his next moan ending between my lips when I started stroking him. He had one hand on my thigh again, half holding on to me and half feeling me up, and the other came to cover my own.
“Here, let me …” he mumbled and shifted against me, and it took me a moment to catch on to what he wanted until he slipped his cock between my thighs and – and I had not expected to enjoy the solid heat against my balls that much.
“You are going to make me read Greek porn when we get to Ancient Greek, aren't you?” I said with a soft laugh because now I really felt like any classically educated gay man's wet dream. He laughed against my cheek, breathlessly and so joyfully it took my breath away for a second.
“That would be an, ah, inappropriate use of my authority, don't you think?”
I'd got my hand onto his bare hip and was pulling him closer, could feel his muscles shift at every shallow thrust between my thighs.
“Unlike this, of course,” I said and kissed him before he could get the idea that I was actually complaining. In a moment of daring I sneaked my hand further to his arse, small and firm and just right in my hand when I gave it a hard squeeze and felt him shudder against me. I imagined that it had to be a little frustrating, the angle was somewhat awkward with me still leaning back against the table, but Nightingale seemed to be enjoying himself nonetheless, and maybe he even liked the edge, the teasing. Either way he moaned every time I tensed my thigh muscles, and I made a mental note to put in some extra leg days at the gym.
“Good?” I asked like I needed more of a confirmation than his moans against my lips – he wasn't particularly verbal when not prodded, but he was far, far from quiet.
“Yes. Would be … easier if you turned around,” another gasp, while my brain very helpfully imagined just that, me bent over the lab table, stark naked as I was; I'd be embarrassed as hell, but judging by everything else Nightingale had done so far, I'd probably love it, “but I don't want to stop doing this.”
With that he kissed me again, while one of his hands grabbed mine and pressed it emphatically against his arse, and I could take a hint. I groped him thoroughly and was rewarded with another loud moan, the trembling kind that started deep in his chest and ended in a high, helpless gasp for air. I cupped his chin, too, kissed my taste right out of his mouth. There was no restraint in him now, but this wasn't his previous, deliberate shamelessness, but an actual loss of control. He was leaning on me, his fingers digging into my shoulder and my hip, rocking against me like he couldn't have stopped even if he'd wanted to.
Unsurprisingly, we made a bit of a mess. More surprising was how much I loved that, too, the sticky heat of his come against my skin, dragged over my thighs and my balls, and I loved the way he sank against me like his legs couldn't quite hold him up anymore, his head on my shoulder. We stayed like that for a while and I stroked his hair, indulgently, watching the way it curled just the tiniest bit in the sweat on the back of his neck. I kissed him there, too, felt him smile against my shoulder.
I like to think that the fact that I was naked wasn't the only reason why I didn't run off like a coward the way I had the previous day. Then it had been frantic and hasty, the kind of thing you regretted afterwards in nine out of ten cases, except this was the tenth, and this time had felt like something that was supposed to happen.
He helped me clean up afterwards with a handkerchief he wetted under the tap, and I felt just a whiff of his signare before he touched me with it – warm, much warmer than the water in the lab ever ran. We didn't talk, just exchanged the odd embarrassed look because there is no not silly way to put your socks back on after sex any more than there's a sexy way to take them off before – unless you had Nightingale on his knees doing it for you, I suppose, but unfortunately he didn't repeat that.
When we were at least semi-decent, we both leant back against the lab table and sighed almost at the same moment.
“Right now I very much regret that Abdul made me quit smoking,” Nightingale said after another minute of companionable silence, and I had to laugh. It had never occurred to me before that Nightingale had lived most of his life at a time when smoking was ubiquitous, and I'd slept with enough smokers to know how attached they all were to their precious post-coital cigarette.
“I don't,” I said and nudged his shoulder with mine. I liked the way he smelt, a scent so familiar and comforting I was sometimes not entirely certain if it was only natural or a hint of vestigium. Our hands were resting next to each other on the edge of the table. For a moment he covered mine with his, his fingers gentle as they squeezed mine.
“Shall we get back to those cardboard pieces of yours? I remembered a little trick that might help you with a more precise tear, something a master of mine taught us back at Casterbrook.”
“The one who liked to touch your knee?” I asked and did just that. For once his suit was actually rumpled, the crease smoothed out when he'd knelt.
“No, not him.” He shook his head, but he was smiling, like someone lingering on a fond memory for a moment or two before he stepped away from the table.
* * *
After that we successfully managed not to talk more about what was going on because it probably would have turned into a contest to see which one of us it made more uncomfortable. Instead we had a few more impromptu makeouts in the reading room, and the library, and the atrium on one memorable occasion; and after a couple of days we even managed to make it to his bedroom so I finally got an opportunity to get him out of his suits. Which was, as good as he looked in them, absolutely worth it.
I would have liked to claim that I got somehow less embarrassed about his hands on me and the way he touched me after the first few times, but truth be told the slight feeling of shame, the forbidden thrill of sleeping with my boss, only made it better. I'd realised that even before I'd leafed more through my stash of terrible Victorian and Edwardian porn, and half the writers back then must have had a downright fetish for shame. It still made me laugh more than anything else because it was so terribly, weirdly written, but as with all porn, you still ended up with images in your head that you revisited the next time you got horny. Which in my case was starting to become synonymous with when I saw Nightingale. I still called him “sir” even when we kissed, but it had started to sound different – just like I'd long ago moved on from a stiff, formal “sir” to a much friendlier one, this new one was not quite dirty, but it was getting there. It certainly seemed to make Nightingale take a deep breath every time I let my voice drop low on it.
A week had passed since that first time in the reading room, and the cut on Nightingale's cheek had healed to a dark line of scab, still rough under my thumb when I touched it, under my lips when I kissed my way up to his temple, and it seemed unreal that this was something I was allowed to do now. Not whenever I wanted, no, we both had far too much work to do for that, and there was always this strange little tense dance every time we looked at each other for longer and longer, hesitating and stalling until one of us finally gave in and took those inviting glances for what they were. Usually it had to be me, whether because of some sense of propriety Nightingale still clung to or because he enjoyed being a giant bloody tease. Knowing him it was most likely both. I didn't mind much. Making him wait for it as much as I had to was part of the fun.
We had actually retired to the reading room after lunch, in grand old Folly tradition, Nightingale to do the crossword, me to catch up on the Latin I'd neglected the three previous days while we'd been chasing down a lead. My heart wasn't in it, even less so than usual, but I was determined to at least finish my translation before I'd let my eyes wander too much. And yet I was only halfway through by the time I noticed Nightingale staring – whether he'd finished with the crossword or only grown bored of it, I couldn't tell.
“Anything I can help you with, sir?” I asked after pointedly ignoring him for a minute or two.
“Oh, don't let me distract you,” he said casually and crossed his legs. He'd folded his hands over his knee, long fingers entwined. I'd already developed a bit of a thing for his hands, which was entirely his fault for being too good with them. It was probably the fault of my recent reading that there was one particular thing I hadn't been able to stop imagining that involved his hands. So I turned towards him and gave him the cheekiest grin I could muster.
“As much as you complain about my getting distracted, don't you think you should do something about it?” I bit my bottom lip, which was definitely not playing fair, but I was certain that nobody had ever beaten Nightingale at anything by playing fair. His eyes glimmered a little, more intrigued than suspicious.
“I don't believe anything I'm considering right now would make you less distracted,” he said eventually. His eyes followed me when I got up and walked over to him, leant against the backrest of his armchair – not the same one as that first time, and I idly wondered if we'd eventually manage to work our way through all of them. I was trying for casual and relaxed, but I doubted that I was fooling him. The heat was already rising to my cheeks just from the way he was looking at me, forcedly patient and restrained, and suddenly asking him for what I wanted seemed even harder than I'd imagined. Maybe he'd laugh, maybe it wasn't even something he wanted to do.
“What did your teachers do when you got distracted? And you said you used to, a lot.” I wasn't meeting his eyes, but even a quick glance confirmed that he was frowning now.
“Nothing that would comply with modern Met regulations about disciplining subordinate officers in case of misconduct, I'm sure.”
“So now you care about modern regulations, sir?” I said.
“You do always like to remind me of them,” he said. I sighed in frustration. I had tried to teach Nightingale about modern policing ever since we'd met and while I'd made some progress, I hadn't expected him to start using it against me.
“You know what I mean,” I said, because we both knew that wasn't the point.
He rose from his chair, and I wasn't sure if it was an attempt to put us on a more equal footing or if he was simply uncomfortable. At least he stayed close instead of withdrawing to the other end of the room.
“I'm not sure mixing our professional relationship with what else we've been doing is a good idea, Peter,” he said seriously.
“That's not what this would be.” I had to bite back another sigh. He was trying to be responsible, and I probably shouldn't fault him for that. “I know you're not really going to spank me for daydreaming during my Latin lessons, even though you probably want to sometimes.” Somehow turning it into a negative, into something he wouldn't do had made saying it much easier. I still had to keep my voice from shaking when I added, “I just want you to pretend.”
I couldn't read his expression – I saw surprise in his eyes, but also something that might have been cautious interest. Or maybe it was him trying to think of a way to let me down gently. Nightingale had never been one to wear his thoughts and feelings on his sleeve.
“Ah,” he said. He was turning towards me, standing to my side, and while he didn't touch me, he was close enough now that I could feel the heat of his body. “And you wouldn't consider that … inappropriate?”
“I'd consider hitting a child under one's care 'inappropriate', and the way you talk about getting caned in school like it's nothing makes me want to travel back in time to punch someone.” My mouth was running on auto-pilot now; I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep talking if I stopped for too long. “But I'm not a child and you're not some old pervert creeping on someone who can't say no. I wouldn't do this if I didn't trust you. And I'm … I'm curious, okay?”
I saw the beginning of a smile form on his lips then, and his hand came to rest on the small of my back, a firm pressure that I wanted to interpret as a promise.
“I can understand that,” he said finally and leant in closer before he added, “I always rather enjoyed getting spanked – in more private situations, that is.”
I must have looked incredibly stupid for a second because he laughed, but even that didn't stop me from staring. My mind was stuck on imagining Nightingale bent over with his arse in the air – and I'd found out by then that he had a really great arse for a man in his forties, let alone for a man his actual age –, his pale skin all reddened, the sounds he'd make after every slap.
“Now I'm curious about that, too,” I said. I wasn't entirely sure I'd manage to go through with it – sleeping with your governor is one thing, spanking him like a naughty Edwardian schoolboy was quite another – but that didn't mean I wasn't at least intrigued the idea. I licked my lips. “You could show me how it's done, right? What you like?”
The pressure of his hand against the small of my back was distracting. His hands were so strong, and he generally had a lot more strength in him than one might have expected from someone so proper and dignified. I'd honestly wondered more than once how he kept in such good shape – he liked walking a lot, but I'd never seen him work out and walking hardly gave you upper body strength. Maybe it was related to whatever had caused him to age backwards, and he simply looked the same as he had the last time he'd been this age, whether or not he maintained the same level of physical activity.
He dug his fingers harder into my back, and his other hand grabbed my upper arm firmly.
“Of course you'd even get distracted from your own punishment,” he said with fond exasperation, and I had to laugh because he wasn't wrong.
“Maybe I'm still trying to make sure I'll actually get punished,” I said.
“Oh, you will.” His voice had dropped low, somewhere between a threat and a promise, the look in his eyes was so heated that I had no doubt he'd be good for it. I hadn't been hard before, what with being so nervous that he'd say no, but I could feel that changing now. Nightingale wasn't one for half-measures, and I'd already learnt that extended to the bedroom – or in our case more often the reading room, really. No wonder I got distracted while doing my homework all the time.
He eyed me up slowly, as if taking my measure, then pulled away the slightest bit.
“Drop them,” he ordered. And it was an order, not a polite suggestion. It was that same hard, uncompromising tone he used in the kind of high stakes situations that required a chain of command and actual obedience rather than talking things through in peace and quiet. It could have reminded me of more than a few unpleasant situations we'd been in together, but instead it only reminded me of how much I trusted him to have my back in any of them, how certain I was that Nightingale could get me out of anything.
I was hyper-aware of my dick straining against my clothes, of how exposed I would feel if I undressed. Nightingale had always done that for me the previous times, he seemed to enjoy getting me out of my clothes, and after taking just as much time the first time I'd peeled him out of his suit, I definitely understood the appeal. Somehow stripping for him was a step further.
I swallowed hard and nodded, and then still hesitated for long enough that he pointedly cleared his throat. I tried to start with my shirt to stall for time, but he tutted and shook his head.
“Right,” I said, left my shirt on, and unbuckled my belt. I wasn't sure if I was only supposed to drop my jeans or my underwear, too, but considering where this was, hopefully, going, and considering that he was looking at me like he wanted to eat me alive, I went for both. Pulled them down to my mid-thighs, and I felt a little ridiculous when my dick sprung free from the fabric, poking up from underneath my shirt. He hadn't looked away from me this entire time, his gaze now dropping to my hard cock. The smile on his face wasn't quite dismissive, but just amused enough that I felt a sudden urge to bury my face against his neck in shame. Nightingale had very quickly caught on that a bit of embarrassment seemed to get me going in a way few other things did. So he took his time to look at me like he'd never got a chance to see my dick before, while his hand returned to the small of my back, slipped underneath my shirt this time.
“You seem rather excited for someone in your position,” he said, as if he had expected anything else. He gave my arse a first slap, light and tentative, more teasing than punishing. There was nothing teasing in his voice when he added sharply, “Bend over the chair.”
“Yes, sir,” I said even though actually doing it took me a few moments longer. The armchair was not actually at a bad height for this, I realised and couldn't help but wonder how many other apprentices – or fully trained wizards, for that matter, considering Nightingale's words – had been in the same position that I was now. This wasn't really what I usually had in mind when I thought about the sense of history you had in the Folly.
Even so I felt awkward stepping so close to it that my cock brushed against the old leather, the sensation unfamiliar but not unpleasant. I wasn't sure how far I was supposed to bend forward, but when I only inclined my torso a little bit I felt Nightingale's hand pressing harder against my back. It was warm and grounding as always, and I felt myself relax despite the awkward position. I put my hands on the armrests to steady myself and tried not to think about how I looked, bent over, with just my arse and the upper part of my thighs bare. Of course when you try not to think about something, you think about it even more.
“I do hope you're paying attention now, Peter,” Nightingale said. He kept his voice stern, but there was the same gentleness in it as in his firm touch on my back. I was embarrassed and nervous and so turned on I had to keep myself from trying to rub against the armchair, but I wasn't afraid. Not of him, never that.
“I can read your newspaper from here, actually,” I said because I could and because he really deserved to be teased back, but I hadn't even made it through the last word when his right hand came down on my arse with a resounding thwack. The loudness of it almost startled me more than the pain, which wasn't too bad. Mostly my skin felt very, very warm. Nightingale hadn't removed his hand again, and for a moment he just waited – giving me time, I realised, to tell him that I'd changed my mind and wanted him to stop. I did no such thing. Instead I tried to arch my back a little, which was pretty much impossible to do over that ancient armchair, but Nightingale still seemed to get my point.
The next slap was just as loud, but it also hurt more. A sharp but still dull sort of pain that filled my skin with heat, and the sting of it was always followed by an oddly pleasant tingling sensation. This time Nightingale didn't wait, but delivered a quick succession of smacks on my arse, alternating between both cheeks in irregular intervals so I never knew where his hand would land next. When his hand came down a bit lower, this time hitting the juncture of my thigh, I flinched away, but my cock was almost painfully hard by then. I heard a loud, desperate gasp and realised only a second later that it had come from my lips.
Nightingale's hand was resting on my arse now, rubbing circles onto the warmed skin, gently, but with enough pressure that I felt the ache in my flesh.
“Fuck,” I said, my voice rougher than it was after sex.
“Not distracted anymore, I take it?” Nightingale said, and he definitely sounded smug this time. Smug, but also breathless. I knew that tone, the one he got when he was hard and impatient, but still trying to pull himself together. “You do look rather captivating like this yourself.”
This time I felt the moan start in my throat and I still couldn't keep it down. I'd managed to stop thinking about how I looked while I'd been too busy feeling, but now my mind was back on how exposed I was, on how he was looking at me, on what it did to him to look at me. For all the embarrassment there was something flattering about this, too – that Nightingale, who'd clearly read a few too many Stoics in school, wanted me this much, that I made him breathless and flushed, that I could make him lose his composure. The air in the room was far too cold on my heated skin and my burning face.
“I feel silly,” I said, and we both knew that was entirely the wrong word.
“You like it,” he said, the words punctuated by another stinging slap. For the record, I absolutely did not whimper. “Maybe I should do this more often if it helps you focus.”
“Just makes me focus on this,” I said breathlessly, “Not sure I can sit down and think about Latin after this.”
“Then I might just have to do it again.” Another slap, and another one, and then I started to lose count because they came raining down on my skin. I don't think he was hitting quite as hard as he could have, but the accumulation made every new slap hurt more than the previous one. I was painfully hard and at some point I'd given up on trying not to get some friction against my cock, but Nightingale noticed my wriggling and stopped it with a hard thwack on my thigh.
I did, even before his left hand, the one that had just rested lightly on my back so far, moved to my hip to grip it more firmly. But he seemed to have decided that I had had enough, his right hand stroking over my arse now, feeling me up as shamelessly as I felt right now. I wasn't sure if I wanted more or if I needed him to stop. My eyes were stinging and my heart was racing in my chest, but there had been something so exhilerating about this that I didn't want it to be over yet.
When he stepped behind me, I could feel the hardness in his suit brushing against my burning skin. I couldn't not think about the most obvious thing for him to do while he was standing behind me like that – we hadn't done that yet, not in either direction, nor was I really sure I wanted to, at least not this way. There was a whole world between jerking off another bloke and taking his cock up your arse, and I was fairly sure I hadn't traversed that world in the span of a week. But my nerves were still thrumming with the thrill of anticipation rather than any uncertainty when one of his hands let go of me. The rustle of fabric broke through the silence of nothing but my own panting and his slightly laboured breathing, and I hid my face against my upper arm when I felt the tip of his cock brush against the hot skin of my arse.
“Think I've had enough already?” I asked in a fit of bravery, and he laughed softly.
“I think my hand smarts and the point of this was to punish you, not me.” The calm had definitely gone from his voice, and I was really grateful that my brain didn't have enough time to ponder possible alternatives to his hand for this because I'd already acquired enough weird new things I was into recently, thank you very much. But what I was into most was Nightingale himself, the way he moved closer against me until his cock was nestled right against the crack of my arse, how warm his right hand felt on my hip, how I could hear him breathe behind me. I shifted just enough that I could glance back over my shoulder because I wanted to see him, wanted to see that strand of hair that insisted on falling into his face whenever he started sweating, wanted to see his lips parted while he looked down at me. I pushed back against him and saw how his lids fluttered shut for a second.
He rubbed against me slowly, then spit in his hand to slick himself up a little. Not for the first time I made a mental note that I should really introduce Nightingale to the wonders of modern-day lubricants, but there was something so incongruously filthy about him doing this that I didn't want him to stop. I was pretty sure people had used oils or lotions or whatever else was at hand for lube back in his day, but clearly they'd had to make do every now and then as well.
It was just wet enough that his cock slid more smoothly over my crack, and my skin was so sensitive that it made me shudder against him. He had one of his hands on my shoulder and it took me a moment to realise that he wanted me to straighten up, but once I'd caught on, he wrapped his arm around my chest and buried his face against the side of my neck. His cheek was as hot as his breath as he gasped against my ear, his fingers curled impatiently into the fabric of my already hopelessly rumpled shirt. I turned my head to catch the next moan from his lips, and I had to smile when his other hand, still a little damp, went for my cock and gave it a firm squeeze.
“I can't have been that bad an apprentice, huh?” I said when he stroked me slowly. His cock was still pushed against my arse, but he didn't try to press the issue, and I certainly wasn't going to suggest it. This felt incredible as it was, and my oversensitised skin tingled every time a button or zipper or simply the fabric of his suit rubbed over my skin.
“You aren't,” and there was such a raw honesty in his voice that my heart skipped a beat. Fortunately for me he didn't say anything else that might have made me think about … about him, about what we were to each other, because the next moment he added more lightly, “Or maybe I am too lenient towards you.”
“Bit of a soft spot for me?” I teased, and his answering smile made me feel all but drunk.
“You could say that.” Even my lips couldn't muffle his moans, and I was pretty sure that we could be doing this for years and I'd still not get over the fact that Nightingale was so shamelessly loud once he got going. I loved that as much as his strong hand on my cock, stroking me in time with his own shallow thrusts. I could feel him getting wetter, his hips jerking against mine more rapidly like he could barely hold back anymore. I didn't want him to, reached back to grab his hip.
“We're going to make a mess,” I managed to gasp between kisses, but he smiled like he didn't have a care in the world and squeezed my cock so hard it might have been painful if it hadn't felt so good.
We did make a mess. Nightingale came all over the small of my back and my arse, just like he'd come on my thighs more than once, and his hand never stopped moving even as he groaned into my mouth. It took me only about a minute longer before I came on the backrest of the armchair, my eyes squeezed shut and my hands clinging to Nightingale.
The good thing about leather is that you can wipe it clean rather easily, and I suppose the same went for my skin. As hot as it was to let his come dry on me – we'd done that the first night in his bedroom, refusing to get up after the first time, dozing in each other's arms until we'd been ready to go again – it was also a bit of a pain to clean up afterwards. My shirt was already in dire need of a wash, so I used it to get both the chair and ourselves halfway decent, not that it mattered much when I ended up shirtless in a reading room that very unmistakably smelt of sex.
Nightingale was making his content, post-coital “I could really do with a cigarette right now” face, which never ceased to amuse me because I'd never actually seen him smoke. He was reclining in another armchair and watching me, his eyes roaming over my arms and my chest, and I may or may not have tensed up my muscles a bit more than necessary. I definitely wasn't burly rugby player material, but at least my initial guess hadn't been off that Nightingale liked a bit of muscle better than lanky boys.
I sat down on the armrest of the just cleaned up armchair, my shirt bunched up in my hands, and looked back at him. He'd taken off his suit jacket at some point and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, and it was still heady to see his narrow waist in his waistcoat and the soft brown hair on his forearms. One thing I had to give to Edwardian porn was the appreciation of small glimpses of skin back when people had still covered up from head to toe. Not that I didn't appreciate women in short skirts and low-cut tops, mind you, because I did, but there was an extra thrill in seeing Nightingale in anything less than a full three-piece suit that never would have been there if he habitually walked around in t-shirts.
“You have a filthy mind, sir,” I said and grinned at him cheerfully, and he shrugged with that same nonchalance I was slowly getting used to. “And I don't believe you that you only ever read Uranian poetry. I bet there was Edwardian gay erotica, too, probably just as funny.”
“Oh, there was,” he said. “A lot of books back then actually had quite a bit of everything, men with women, men with men, women with women. For additional decadence.” He shook his head, still smiling. “And I never should have mentioned the Uranians, I didn't even like most of their poetry all that much.”
I gave him a sceptical look, and it seemed weird that he had no problem with any of the things we'd done, but seemed oddly cagey about his reading choices. Or maybe the pictures of men in sock garters had been his after all – I had been rather disappointed to find out that Nightingale did not, in fact, wear sock garters. Apparently socks with elastic bands had been among the few modern inventions Nightingale had embraced whole-heartedly. When I kept looking at him, he went on.
“Actually I always preferred the Germans in that regard. Have you ever read any Hesse?”
The name vaguely rang a bell, the way a lot of names of famous authors from other countries do even though you're not entirely sure where you've heard of them, and I shook my head.
“A bit sentimental at times, but I quite liked him when I was a young man,” he said and added a bit wistfully, “Doomed schoolboy romances.”
“Oh.” Thinking of a young Nightingale pining for a friend who was entirely oblivious to it was downright heartbreaking, but when I leant forward to take his hand he only smiled at me.
“No need to look so concerned. Mine wasn't doomed until much later,” he said. There was a shadow of grief in his eyes, but it was a weak echo compared to how I'd seen him before, when the pain of his memories had seemed to suck every bit of joy out of him.
“I didn't mean to … to bring anything up,” I said awkwardly because there is nothing comforting you can say to a man who had seen all his friends die, and maybe his lover, too. I never knew what to say to him when he thought about the war, but fortunately he never seemed to expect me to say anything.
“You didn't.” His fingers wrapped around mind and squeezed gently, and I let him pull me closer until I was standing between his legs. I leant in for a kiss, a soft, gentle thing, like a feather brushing over skin.
“I'm glad you're here,” he said quietly, and I knew he didn't merely mean right now, here in this room. Nightingale had done so much for me it was easy to forget at times that maybe I had helped him, too, that his life had been bleaker without me just like mine had been without him. That maybe I had been his second chance as much as he'd been mine.
“Me too,” I said. When I ran my knuckles over his cheek, I felt him lean into my touch. “Me too.”