“Come, drink with me.”
Will froze at the sound of Marlowe’s voice. The last person he’d expect out on such a night, the last person he’d expect to intercept him.
He turned slowly. Marlowe was standing in the street, drenched, blonde hair dark and slippery with rain. It was plastered to the sides of his face and the lack of its fullness highlighted the sharpness of the man’s features. His cheekbones looked like they might cut, should Will have courage enough to touch them. His clothing clung to his skin, molding over the flesh and bone beneath. His eyes were glinting in the meager light that shone from the surrounding buildings.
Will swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. He wanted to drop to his knees and beg Marlowe for help. He wanted to wrap him in his arms and drag him out of the rain. He wanted to gouge out those glinting eyes or bite that curl right off those smirking lips.
There was knowledge there, behind Marlowe’s eyes. A whole world that Will knew so little of, that he longed to know. He wanted…He wasn’t sure what. Ever since they’d met, Will had been drawn to Marlowe by some unseen force, some unknown thing.
Will, when he contemplated it, thought that that pull might be the devil. The looming spirits of his past whispered warnings about Marlowe and his sin, Marlowe and his debauchery, Marlowe and his sodomy.
Will shifted on his feet, considering that last and the swelling something inside his chest that always accompanied such thoughts. He tried to make Marlowe understand all this, but started false once, and then again. He couldn’t seem to form whole thoughts.
“Can I what?” Marlowe, for once, sounded genuinely curious, rather than mocking.
Will inhaled and then exhaled slowly. “Can you show me? Can you…make me understand?”
The questions were half finished, unarticulated shapes in the air between them, but Marlowe understood. He always did.
The smirk curled more strongly on his mouth. “Forget the drink. Come home with me. Perhaps we can help one another.”
Will glanced over his shoulder. At the end of this street, his cousin dwelled in someone else’s house. Hiding like a spider in the dark, trying to weave a web large enough to snare a queen. Down that alley, he might assuage his conscience, set his sins to rest.
Down that alley, he might never write again, might be trapped in his marriage, his life, his cousin’s net.
He glanced back at Marlowe, standing patiently in the rain. Marlowe was watching him with those wide, almond eyes that seemed to smile all on their own.
With Marlowe, he might learn the world. With Marlowe, he could see more and do more and be more. He wanted to write plays that held mirrors up to nature, that showed people their own inner workings. But he couldn’t do any such thing unless he better understood human nature. Who better to teach him about the darkness in the human soul than Marlowe, to whom darkness seemed to cling like a lover.
Will swayed forward, toward Marlowe and the greatness he promised. This was surely the work of the Devil. Marlowe offered Will his hand, out stretched and waiting. Will swallowed, spared one last thought for his cousin, for Alice, for Anne and their children. It all seemed so remote.
Marlowe’s fingers were long, slender, nearly skeletal, when Will wrapped his own around them. Marlowe may have been intending a handshake, but turned it immediately to a handhold. Marlowe grinned. He turned to pull Will along the road and away from Southwell.