"Talk to me," said Byron, somewhat wretchedly it had to be said, or as wretched as the man was capable of being, Percy thought. Which was quite extreme indeed, as it happened, for Byron took everything to its extremity. Percy wished he felt more like talking about it, but just the thought became a hot flush to the back of his neck, a prickle down the skin of his arms. He shook his head, mutely, and walked away, leaving Byron and the boat, the cursed craft, to it. He loved the water, he adored sailing, but humiliation was something he had never learned to deal with, despite the heaping of it upon him from his school days on.
Of course, Byron couldn't let him walk away. He never let things go, he and Claire were a good pair in that regard, if no other. But he also didn't talk, for which Percy was grateful. They both crunched their way along the sand and pebble beach, for lack of another term, given that this thin strip of not-quite land was only a lake shore, and far away from the real ocean. Percy tugged his cravat away from his neck before it strangled him, and let the whipping wind carry it streaming away behind, like a scarf. The two of them may have finally made it to shore, but it didn't stop the weather from acting as though its jealous husband had come home to find out that the storm was actually a trollop and the only thing to do was to beat her soundly. The sky was still the colour of a spectacular bruise.
"Percy..." Byron was plaintive, it seemed to him. And that was unusual enough that Percy halted and turned to face the man. Whom he loved, even upon such a short acquaintance as theirs had been so far. It was why he stopped in actual fact. Byron hadn't humiliated Percy deliberately, unlike many others he could name. It had been both their faults that they had come between the stratospheric husband and wife, after all. They had both sat there in that boat, as it span out of control, sail in tatters, rudder broken, waiting to be tipped into the water. Percy had sat on his hands, so the pain could act as an anchor and he would be unable to do anything to make their situation worse, as he was sure otherwise he would have been tempted to do. Not to mention he had been full of dread that he was loath to show; he had no desire to admit he couldn't swim. Byron, on the other hand, had laughed up at Mistress Storm, and his eyes had flashed and his cheeks and lips had been pink and rosy. He'd cheered it on, and taken off his coat to throw it up into the wind. Percy compressed his lips at the memory. Byron had been magnificent, there was no denying it. And beautiful too. Even if he had lost himself an excellently fitting coat.
They stared at one another. "I would not have had you offended for all the tea in China," offered Byron, "Or perhaps for all the Tories in Liverpool's government."
Percy couldn't help but snort at that. Byron's lips twitched, and then so did Percy's, and at last they both laughed. Byron leaned forward, guffawing, his broad hand clasped at the nape of Shelley's neck, the water-wrinkled pads of his fingers stretching up into Percy's hair. The death-fear bled out into a most ridiculous feeling of life, as though Percy had been suffused with it all the way down to his fingers and little toes. It was quite pleasant, really, such a burgeoning, and he lifted his gaze to Byron to see if he felt something similar at all, a symmetry, as it were. He suffered in stultifying emptiness, his black dog days, so often, that this was a marvellous change.
Byron's eyes were sparkling and his lips were pink still, they looked soft and kissable, as much a rosebud as any girl's. Which would have been an idle thought except Byron had referred to his Greek exploits already, his 'experiments', that seemed less experimental and more a fulfilment to Percy's expert eye. That, of course, and his perhaps inevitable attempts to shock. Byron, Percy decided, could really do no other than be as he was.
And so, if Percy Bysshe Shelley had any objection to Greek love and its practitioners, then he would have already objected, would he not? And when, on a windy beach, having been saved from a watery doom by chance and no more, and certainly not by God's intervention, or at Jesus' whim, then if he thought that Byron's lips looked kissable, and that he found in himself a longing to reaffirm himself in life and love as soon as possible, then that was nothing to object to either, was it?
Indeed Percy found himself slinging an arm around his friend's shoulders and leading him further down the beach, until the people who had eventually brought their barque to shore were but mere black dots upon the horizon. He was beginning to shiver, it had to be said, but he was furnace warm all along his side, where Byron was plastered close to him, and he had his coat, where Byron had none. And Byron must feel something of the same for after that last apology he had said nothing excepting always the little ditties he hummed under his breath, scurrilous rhymes of a scandalous nature, that made Percy want to join in and tap his feet to them, like a pig jigging away to market.
And then, when he'd judged that they were far enough away, yet closer to the villa than the boat, able to split tangentially and go their separate ways if the temptation he was about to indulge in went horribly awry, Percy leant in. He allowed himself one kiss, hanging from Byron's lips like fruit from a bough, like a bee sucking nectar, as though Byron's mouth was coated with the sweetness of honey instead of the bitterness of lake water, and he waited for the rosebud to open, or for his friend to reject such an impudent advance. The waiting, too, was quite exhilarating, Percy found, as his heart beat faster and faster, and even knowing that Byron had too many suitors in many ways, and not quite enough friends.
"What is wrong with the gentlemen?" asked Mary later of Claire. It was a pointless question really, as neither of them had any real knowledge, for Mary had already discovered that Percy became less attracted to her milk-swollen form, a fact which did not surprise her, even as it grieved her. And Claire had never really had Byron's ear at all, even if she could still inveigle her way into his bed occasionally.
Mary's question was therefore rhetorical, but no less vexing for all that. John Polidori suggested laudanam, for whatever was ailing the pair, but since that was his answer for everything, the ladies felt they were perfectly justified in ignoring him.
At least Mary was able to cancel the proposed turbot for dinner, since the smell made her nauseous, and that vague sense of triumph carried her through an uncomfortable meal, as both Byron and Percy stared at one another in thunderous silence across the white linen tablecloth.
"I don't appreciate being the butt of such a joke," said Byron, heavily, as he walked along the lake path, slashing at brambles and weeds with his silver-topped cane. It was the next day, and Percy was in agonies, or transports, depending on one's point of view. To think that Byron believed that he had been trying to tease him in some cruel way! Unbearable!
"No, no!" said Percy, "That wasn't it at all."
He wrung his hands, staring across at the perfect profile, at the locks of coal-black hair that tumbled across Byron's forehead, at the pinch between those stormy brows... Heavens, was he considering Byron as though he were a maiden he wanted to tumble, to write a line or two about? Percy looked at his feet instead, at the famous limp that Byron was demonstrating, at the mismatched built-up shoes... The feet stopped striding then and turned to face him, and Percy hurriedly looked up.
"Shall we forget about it?" he tried again to apologise, "It was a clumsiness on my part that I would fain have you forget. Surely, we could converse upon the vagaries of the Royal Society instead? Much more amusing."
He tried smiling, and it felt stupid. Here he was, married, and as good as married again, with children to provide for, even little Willmouse with them both here at Chapuis. He was past his own childish fancies. Surely, he should be able to argue his way past such a trivial issue? It had been bad manners on his part obviously, but did Byron have to remain in such high dudgeon? It was such a bore. Percy was conscious of a sinking sensation, and the almost inaudible tinkling sound of illusions shattering into a fine powder, but he stayed smiling and pleasant. It wasn't as though his expectations of people hadn't been dashed before, after all.
Byron was glaring at him, from under a heavy forehead, his lower lip pouting in irritation.
"That is not the point, for I'm sure you are sorry, but really, Percy. What were you thinking? I have certain tendancies toward buggering about and you make fun? I thought you were more worthy."
He turned and stumped off down the path again. Percy stopped in shock, his mouth wide open. Goodness, were they to lose their friendship as easily as they had gained it? And all over a misunderstanding - apparently it wasn't that Byron was offended that Percy had made a licentious and unwelcome approach, it was more that he had thought that Percy didn't mean it. Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to... Well, not deceive, certainly not that. How deliciously ironic. It certainly added to his determination, Percy found, for he had been but curious before, and now he discovered in himself a trembling eagerness that went far beyond his innocent experiment of a day ago.
There was another rumble in the sky, a distant thunder, and Percy tipped his head up to the lowering sky, wanting nothing more than to run towards the storm. This summer, this ridiculous summer, was only just beginning, and it would be full of incident and interest, shocking as summer lightning - he just knew it. He trailed his hand down to the front of his breeches and pushed discreetly at the cloth there, at the straining flesh it caged. Percy felt like he was an untutored boy again, unable to fully control himself, all at the mere thought of... Oh, he was lost indeed. 'No voice from some sublimer world hath ever to sage or poet these responses given.' Or something like that.
Such excitement, anyone would think that Byron was his first - and then Percy took in a sharp breath as he contemplated it. In these rites of Eros, that would not be an incorrect assumption. Could he turn student again? Could he allow himself this vulnerability? Would Byron even be willing to be his tutor in such a matter?
Percy realised that Byron was getting further and further away down the path, and his chances of mending this particular fence were dwindling by the second. He pushed discreetly once more at his burgeoning groin, a bittersweet ache, a happy promise for later, and then took to his heels and ran, his heart speeding up with the exhilaration of the wind in his hair. And as he ran his blood pounded deliciously, there was a manic grin on his face, and he found himself whooping for joy like a carefree boy. What a journey! What freedom! What a summer! They would all have such liberty as they had never known.
"The pair seem to have become reconciled," said Polidori softly to Mary later that evening, and she nodded, but remained unforthcoming otherwise. Polidori was garrulous if given the slightest provocation, and Mary did not feel in the mood to encourage confidences. The atmosphere was tense still, she thought, with that pregnant pause before the storm. It was a strange thing, for despite the heaviness in the air, it was as though neither gentleman could sense it, or perhaps they didn't care. Percy and Byron could not stop smiling at one another, and she did not quite know if she should mind.
Claire was twitchy with nerves, and her mood brittle. There had been casual talk that night of ghosts and hauntings, and Claire had taken to screaming at the slightest provocation. It was a habit that could pall quickly, Mary thought sourly. But Percy did not seem to notice that either. And Byron? Byron never paid any attention to Claire at all, if he could help.
Mary decided that she was quite justified in having the headache. And no, she required no laudanam.
There was a summerhouse in the grounds of Villa Diodati, fortuitously, as it turned out. Percy was far from averse at the thought of love in the open air, but it had to be said that the weather was far from congenial for such sports. And the summerhouse was a solid wooden thing, a far cry from the light and airy structures that he knew of old. The villa staff stored things there, so Byron had said, but he had demanded the key off them. It meant that they could lock the door.
Byron had brought things into the summerhouse to make life more comfortable too - a rug or two, a brocade dressing gown, a silver ewer of water. Percy had aided him in this endeavour, but only with regard to small things, such as could be carted up from Champuis with ease. He dangled one of these now, negligently, from the tips of his fingers; a crystal wine glass, half full of excellent burgundy. It was a heady, heavy vintage, much like Byron himself.
Percy stared down at the man in question, sprawled on the rug, his limbs askew, his head resting on Percy's knee. His cravat was untied, and his own wineglass was resting precariously on his chest, rising and falling with each breath. Percy, to his mild surprise, was carding his fingers through Byron's hair, something one might do with a female. He had come rapidly to the conclusion that matters with a gentleman were not so very different, at least not in the early stages. It appeared Byron did not quite trust his commitment perhaps, or at least, he had certainly made no demands, seemingly content to leave it to Percy to set their pace. Who did not object, so far as that went, he rather liked this odd sort of courtship, with its sudden squalls and mild calms.
He leant down, as the notion took him, to taste the wine from Byron's lips, and its strong blackberry scent added to the headiness of the lips under his tongue, the powerful heat of Byron's mouth. There was a hint of stubble, hardly anything really, but Byron was of dark complxion, and even when shaving every day, by mid-afternoon the scratch was there, sending a sharp and wanton pang through Percy every time. Lazily, Byron blinked up at him and slowly licked those lips, chasing the taste, Percy watching as a stray drop hovered at the corner of the mouth, where the creasing of a smile might start, and then slowly meandered its way down.
Percy was drunk, it had to be said. And it also had to be admitted that it was mostly by design. He wasn't going to back away from this, of course not, but the slipperiness of an inebriated intellect, and such indulgence of the body, went along very well with what he had in mind. It wasn't precisely that he was reluctant, because he had assured Byron of the seriousness of his intentions, and he would not be made a liar, it was just that... He had never found attraction in the form and shape of male limbs before, he had never thought to indulge in such practices. And so he took things slowly.
"You do not have to, as I have already mentioned," said Byron, smiling up at him, sleepy, seemingly a mind-reader, "I was angry, but I would not have you held here only by your word."
"No, no," said Percy, in automatic denial, for it was true, he was hesitating in committing himself further, but it was also true that immediately he was given an easy way out he stuck his heels in stubbornly.
"Perhaps you are worried about Mary?" asked Byron, and Percy honestly blinked in confusion, for it had not even occurred to him.
"Mary has Willmouse to look after, Claire to keep her company, and her own indulgences, I'm sure," he said, "We share our lives but we are not shackled to one other, you know."
Byron looked melancholy at that, and sighed gustily, "A pearl among women, you have there."
Percy did not want to talk of Mary, and he certainly did not want to remind Byron of his split with Annabella either, if that indeed was where the melancholy had come from. There was a sudden pattering on the roof, as the inevitable rain began again; it made their summerhouse a little more cosy, a little more intimate. A principle was at stake here, he reminded himself, the supporting of which came above everything.
"We both believe in the tenets of free love, Mary and I," Percy declared, at last, and he took another swig of wine. As Byron's eyes widened, Percy nodded at him, decisively, and bent down again.
Percy might find himself uncertain that the lineaments of a man could be as attractive as the curves of a woman, but of one thing he was sure. The scratch of Byron's stubble on his chin sent lightning pleasure to his nerves.
Mary could only wonder in what the gentlemen had been indulging. She did not think it could be opium, there was no-one to sell such a thing here in Switzerland, and besides there was only wine on their breath. But something was making them act unnaturally, almost as though they were drugged. Byron read aloud to the company, chilling tales of ghosts and demons, from a collection called the Fantasmagoriana, and could only find pleasure in it. But it made Mary shudder, as though cold fingers were walking down her spine. She wanted Willmouse in her arms, but of course, he was abed asleep.
This was the challenge, to each write a ghost story of their own. Byron and Percy stared at each other feverishly across the table, and laughed that there would be blood spilt, hot blood in a cold refuge. Their eyes were red and wild. Polidori looked between the two and seemed to have an idea. Mary did not wish to even contemplate that. Claire screamed and fainted, naturally, and Mary wondered whether she had, in fact, two children on this Swiss excursion, and not just one.
She was lonely, just for a second, and so she rubbed her arms up and down as though to warm herself. She did not want to be left out of things, but yet it seemed that she must be, for Percy was oblivious. The story of a ghost indeed.
"Tonight, after dinner, I shall read us Christabel, by Coleridge," said Byron, expansively, and Percy could only grunt in reply, his eyes half-lidded, leaning his head back against Byron's broad chest. As each breath was sucked in, his head moved up and down, as though on a slow sea, and he could hear Byron's heartbeat, feel the heat of him through his half-open shirt. If he turned his head he could rub his cheek against the dark wiry hair on Byron's chest. He was pleased with himself, the shirt was undone through his own efforts, and his mouth felt red and warm from kissing. Even more pleasing, perhaps surprisingly so, was the rigid length of Byron's prick straining the fabric of his breeches, and nestled hot and hard in the crack of Percy's arse.
"What is Christabel about? I don't know it," said Percy, somewhat distracted, it had to be said. Byron chuckled, the vibrations running all through Percy as well. His hands came up and around him then, fleetingly resting on Percy's waist, but otherwise constant in their movement, touching, caressing, tweaking at a nipple, undoing buttons of their own. Percy gasped and shuddered, but didn't move away.
"It is a tale of horror," said Byron, his voice deeper now, his hands skimming down the planes and contours of Percy's form and seemingly finding things to admire there. "Of finding out that a woman is not all she seems - that she is in fact a demon in disguise."
Byron's hands were playing with the ties and buttons of his breeches now, but not dipping below, not undoing anything quite yet. Certainly nothing past the point of no return. Percy was tense, with a kind of fear, but stiff with desire too, he wanted...
"The poem is unfinished sadly," Byron continued, his hot breath gusty in Percy's ear, "As much of dear Coleridge's work remains. Would you want me to continue with the reading, none the less?"
Percy thought about this, as much as his raging perceptions would let him. It seemed an odd thing to ask at such a juncture, and he wondered if Byron was giving him another convenient way to stop this, to let things be awhile. It was kind in him, but unnecessary. He took a breath and moved Byron's hands to the buttons of his breeches, as clear a signal as he felt himself capable of making.
"Yes," he said, "I want to hear," and bucked up towards Byron's hand, the better to get any kind of friction, near mindless now with the hovering phantom touch of another's hand so near his prick.
"I will not recite it all," said Byron, "This will be but an excerpt or two, a taste of things to come, do you see?"
And Percy did see, and writhed as Byron nimbly undid the ties, and pushed his breeches and small clothes down altogether, thrilling to the fleeting touches on his skin, and to the promise Byron was making both.
His prick sprang free, red and proud, damp from its confines, and Percy moaned at the bite of cool air upon overheated flesh. He looked down, fascinated to see such large hands with their slightly swarthy tint, so different from Mary's or Harriet's, as they trailed up thighs that spread open at their touch. Percy felt as wanton as a harlot in his need.
He could hear Byron's heartbeat speed up, pounding like a drum in his ear, and the other's breathing too was coming in stentorian gasps, that seemed to excite Percy even more, if that were possible. Byron was twitching himself forward in minute increments, pushing his rod up against Percy's arse, but only in tiny amounts, as though he was trying to restrain himself, and the thought of that restraint, that control, all on Percy's behalf, had him gasping too, all before Byron had even touched him properly.
Then Byron took hold of him, finally, and Percy shivered all over, a full body shudder, just the feel of another - man's - hand on him, other than his own, that in itself was almost enough to make him climax, but he bit his lip and it passed, that immediate intense sensation just as though he was poised at the top of a tall hill, ready to go plunging down. He knew that if he looked up the tempest would still be there, looming on the horizon, but he could stave it off, hold the lightning contained, even as arcs of pleasure came shooting through him as Byron began to move.
His grip was firm and assured. Much firmer than any lady's, which should not have been a surprise, and yet still somehow was. As Byron's hand lifted and fell, Percy watched fascinated as the head of his prick appeared and disappeared into Byron's large fist; it was beginning to glisten with moisture that Byron then spread across the glans with a swipe of his thumb. Percy wanted to keep watching but the twist Byron somehow managed to add at the end sent sparks flying across his eyelids, so much so that his eyes had fallen shut before he'd even noticed. Percy groaned deeply, and at each noise that he managed to wring from him, Byron seemed to redouble his efforts, his hand flying, stripping him bare, the pressure increasing and relaxing in a precise pattern seemingly designed to drive Percy wild.
All the while, as soon as Percy had first tensed, had begun to react at all, Byron was reciting poetry in his ear, lines and stanzas presumably from Christabel, and the juxtaposition of this craft they both loved so well, the beautifully stressed syllables, and what they were doing, the filthy acts; it became more of an aphrodisiac than he could have believed was possible. He found his hands were fisted tight in the material of Byron's breeches, his nails gripping his thighs so hard he wondered if there would be marks later. The thought that perhaps tomorrow he could explore those marks for himself, explore such unknown territory, put his nose there, his tongue there... Percy let out a little sobbing cry, and came, harder than he had ever done before, shooting in thick strings all over Byron's hand, and his own trembling flesh, before collapsing back to lie in Byron's arms, utterly spent.
"To requite you well, but now unrobe yourself; for I must pray, ere yet in bed I lie," whispered Byron, a dying fall, a coda for their passion. Percy would have tried to move, to reciprocate in some way, but for the fact that there was no answering hardness pressing against him any more, but instead a spreading dampness that meant, he thought, that Byron had enjoyed himself just as much, or if not quite that, perhaps enough at least. Tomorrow, magical marvellous tomorrow, he vowed he would do better.
They drowsed there for a second, an interlude merely, Byron with his arms still tight around Percy's body, his fingers interlaced, his face tipped down into Percy's hair. Percy knew that soon they would be uncomfortable, with sweat and other fluids drying and prickling on their skin, but just these few precious moments felt more intimate than anything he had experienced during the height of their passion, and he raised his own hands to clasp them over Byron's feeling content and amazed in equal measure. There was a pattering sound then, that started slow before speeding up to a light drumming, soothing in its mindless repetition, as the weather broke and the rain began to fall in earnest on the wooden roof above them.
He would move, Percy thought, it was time to move, when suddenly everything appeared to happen at once. Like a too-large painting, details were able to be distinguished but only in flashes, looming out of the whole. Later, he knew he would be able to take a step back and see the whole thing, but that was later, for now he was conscious only of the sound of the door creaking open, even over the rain, the door that Byron was meant to have locked, and which he must have forgotten in their haste. Percy looked up, his reactions slow and dream-like, to behold Mary, pale in a paler dress, her form soaked and transparent, wavering like a ghost in the doorway. Percy had but an instant to take it all in, but that seemed nevertheless to last for hours, the details frozen in the cavern of his memory - her mouth open in shock, or in horror, his guilt supplied, her hands clenched, such colour as remained leaching from her skin. This forbidden perverted union was not what we agreed upon, her eyes seemed to say, I did not expect this when we talked of the freedom to choose whom we love. Her very demeanour was a reproach, and Percy could only be conscious, aghast, of the debauched picture that they must make, his prick still lolling loose against his thigh, their clothes askew or twisted off, evidence of their activities all too clear.
But it was only for an instant. Like the ghost she resembled, Mary stood in the doorway wan and trembling, before she turned and vanished, disappearing in the blink of an eye into the rain. Percy might have thought he dreamed it, but for the terrible pounding of his heart that had banished all memory of the pleasant lassitude that had been their part before.
"I'm sorry," said Byron, and there was a note of regret in his voice, but he did not make it clear precisely what he was sorry for.
Percy scrambled up then, and tucked himself away. He remained staring down at Byron, as he lounged at his feet, legs still obscenely parted. Byron, for his part, was gazing up at him through his lashes in covert assessment, and Percy wondered what he saw. For himself, even disturbed as he was, he was also discovering that the high flush to his friend's cheeks, and the rosiness of his lips remained both exciting and attractive things. A kind of waking misery took hold of him then, for he had only just begun to explore these new delights, and now he must do what? Stop? Would Mary require such a thing of him? He wished she had not seen, it would taint all their activities now.
"Yet she an angry moan did make, what can ail the mastiff bitch?" said Byron, his lips twisting now, and Percy knew he should be offended on Mary's behalf, but he couldn't be, just couldn't be. Byron was only preparing for rejection again, he knew, and after Annabella's treatment of him Percy couldn't really blame him, even after all.
No, this was his fault - he had pursued, not been the pursuer, and it was up to him to be the better man as well. He held out his hand for Byron to take and watched as his dark eyebrows arched in surprise. Byron took his help readily enough however and as Percy pulled him to his feet, rather kept up the pressure, until he had taken Byron wholly into his arms. Percy turned his head then, his nose tickled by the hair curled at Byron's ear, by the spicy scent of his pomade, and hugged him thoroughly.
"Thank you," he whispered, "It... I..." He stopped, overwhelmed and lost for words. "Next time you must remember to lock the door, you know."
He felt Byron relax against him, by degrees, and then the rumble of almost-repressed laughter, before Byron embraced him back. "I thought there was an end to it, I must admit. I'm glad you prove me wrong."
Percy winced, where Byron could not see it - things were not finished certainly, but neither were they cut and dried, nor easy. He must face Mary.
Percy left the summerhouse first, as had become their habit, and went for a walk, all in the rain. It seemed appropriate, and he wanted to think, to grasp at his own feelings, which were muddy and sad, like the weather. He should not feel guilt, surely he should not? He and Mary had discussed the freedom of such things before, how love was such an integral part of nature, the bond and the sanction which connected not only man with man, but with everything that existed. How love was a driving primal force, that there was something within everyone which, from the very instant that they lived, more and more thirsted after its likeness. Surely, she could not begrudge him that love, that thirst that drew the world together? She even had a love that he could never know, a mother's bond with her child, with little Willmouse, and he did not grudge her that, he celebrated it, he positively applauded it! And yet there were loves that the world accepted, and there were others that it sought to destroy, and unfortunately he and Byron... How petty and restrictive was society! How very destructive of the very happiness it sought to preserve!
The waters of the lake were whipped up into a frenzy, he noticed as he walked, the waves white-topped and wild. He liked that the landscape suited his feelings, it was as reflective as any ode of Wordsworth's. The rain washed away any evidence of his love or grief alike, even as he considered all that he might lay at Mary's feet, all the arguments. He didn't know what he could say to her that had not already been debated, he racked his brain for a long time, put together and discarded point after point, and all the while his stomach tied itself into knots. He would not give Byron up, he decided, he could not, whatever Mary said. It was too important a principle for that. But his excitement still had the flavour of guilt, and he hated it.
Percy walked for a long time, and when he came back to the house he was soaked and cold to the bone. Mary ordered a bath drawn for him, and she helped to undress him and put him into it. But they didn't talk.
He wished that they could talk.
"I have made a start on my tale," said Polidori, confidingly, "It's about a Vampyre, and there shall be blood and sacrifice. There is a Lord in it - Lord Ruthven." And he waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Mary was in no mood for Polidori's heavy-handed attempts at satire. Especially since she thought she knew who he might write in as the Vampyre's victims, and regardless of whether it was herself or Percy, she would still want to murder him with her own two hands. She held her fingers together in her lap until the knuckles turned white.
Dinner was cock-a-leekie soup, and she was mortified, as though everyone must know, even though the soup choice had taken place yesterday evening when she was in blissful ignorance. She was angry, and despised herself for it. She was despairing, and hiding it. Perhaps she should have suspected - after all, everyone fell in love with Byron sooner or later. She hated that she was jealous in the first place.
She punished Percy, a petty minor sin perhaps, but she didn't talk to him, did not allow him to expound his views and feel better. Did not forgive him, or understand, or any of the things she knew she would, eventually. But not quite yet.
They didn't talk over dinner either, and she found she couldn't bear to even look at Byron. Afterwards, he read to them, a new work by Coleridge entitled Christabel. He read it well, and Mary felt herself go hot and cold by turns, as the story of a young maid who is seduced by a beautiful demoness unfolded. Certain passages seemed somewhat pointed, but what could be done? She would not give him the satisfaction of reacting.
Percy was enraptured with the story, she could see his mouth part and his breath come faster as the net tightened around poor Christabel. He went pale and flushed by turns, until finally he was wholly caught up. When Geraldine's eyes turned into snake eyes that only Christabel could see, he threw himself to his feet and pointed his finger straight at Mary.
"You are the snake, the demoness, the viper in our bosom. It's your fault! Your jealousies are poisoning us all!"
She stared at him, as his chest heaved with the effort to get more air, as his hand shook, at the bright specks of colour on his cheeks. It would be easier to blame the chill he must have inevitably caught when he went walking in the rain. It would be easier, she knew, but it would not be true.
Percy flushed suddenly, all over, a ruddy unhealthy blotchy colour. He stared at her, then at Byron, wildly, like a man unhinged, and then he ran from the room as though all the devils from Hell were indeed chasing him. Mary wondered whether she should at least be pleased that his conscience was bothering him, but as she continued to poke at her sewing, all too aware of her companions' unwelcome scrutiny, she knew that she merely felt horribly alone.
Mary was placid on the outside, refusing to give Claire any encouragement for her histrionics, but inside she seethed. It was not her fault. None of this was her fault. It was Percy who seemed wholly incapable of facing up to his responsibilities. Who saw something he wanted, and so must have it, like a child, without thinking of the consequences. And then accusing her, when it was his own actions that were at fault.
At last, she went up to her room early, unable to face the others' pity any longer, still upset over their disagreement. She checked on Willmouse, kissing his curling hair gently, longing for him to wake, so that she might nurse him, but he did not. Eventually she lay in bed alone and watched as yet another storm piled over the mountains, lightning splitting the sky with silent flashes, and thunder following on its heels. I am become adult, she thought, I have grown up here in Switzerland, and it is painful.
Mary closed her eyes and dreamed of monsters...