The first time it happened, there was a simple explanation. It seemed that Starecross lay quite close to a fairy orchard, now that the borders with Faerie were open, or lay very near to a fairy road that led to one. Come the first spring after the return of magic to England, the trees in this orchard began to bloom. They wafted sweet-smelling pollen and showers of petals across the Faerie border, down the road, straight into the Starecross garden. Had they been apple or pear trees, this would not have caused problems. However, they were not apple or pear trees. Apple and pear trees were, it transpired, unheard-of in Faerie, whose gardeners preferred to grow pierced-heart, and terror-of-darkness, and past-despair, or, in this case, arrows-of-desire.
Starecross was not, at this time, operating as a school for magicians. It was serving as a residence for only three persons: John Segundus, John Childermass, and Vinculus the Book— Segundus having offered lodgings to Childermass following the disappearance of Hurtfew Abbey, before he understood quite how unpleasant the man was, and Vinculus being something akin to an appendage of Childermass.
On the morning in question, Segundus and Childermass were engaged in a heated argument. This was far from an unusual occurrence. Indeed, it would have been an unusual occurrence if they were not; since Childermass had come to Starecross, they had, by Segundus's reckoning, argued at least daily. Many of these arguments concerned incidents that were no longer really current, such as Gilbert Norrell's treatment of various persons (including Segundus) and Childermass's enforcement of this. Others stemmed from Childermass's grating personal habits (to wit: furtiveness, indifference, a disobliging nature, and a tendency to appropriate other people's magical supplies) and what Childermass chose to insist were Segundus' equally grating personal habits (pedantry, credulity, over-finickiness, and a habit of staring at other people in a reproving fashion). Occasionally an argument would begin in one place— why had Childermass not replaced the red ribbon that he took from Segundus' magical service? did he not appreciate how very many spells made use of red ribbon? had he not just two days ago been in York, where it was perfectly possible to purchase red ribbon?— and journey to another place entirely— did Childermass not find it objectionable to take advantage of other people, for instance by using their red ribbon and not replacing it, but also by swindling them out of books and intimidating them out of magic and ruining their various livelihoods? did he think this a correct way to behave?— before taking a very sharp left turn: really, Mr Segundus need not go on feeling ashamed that Childermass had so thoroughly put paid to his little society of friends; it was quite understandable that after giving up so easily to Mr Norrell, Mr Segundus might feel nervous and inadequate about magic, and that he might then become very insecure about all of his little magical supplies, but not to worry, Childermass would replace his red ribbon, and then he could feel all nice and comfy again.
And so it went. They had just reached the stage at which Childermass offered, with an air of mild exasperation, to pack up all of his things and leave, since his presence was such an inconvenience to Segundus; this was calculated to drive Segundus to distraction, as it implied both that he was being a poor host and that his generosity was so inconsiderable that refusing it would trouble Childermass very little. Segundus was aware of this ploy; nevertheless it did drive him to distraction. He found himself stuttering with outrage immediately, which outraged him further, which then caused him to stutter further. Childermass wore a smug look of amusement.
Segundus said, "And another thing—!" He stopped then, and looked around in vague confusion. He and Childermass were out in the garden by then, where their arguments tended to migrate in a "mysterious" fashion that seemed always somehow calibrated to allow Childermass a timely escape from them.
"Well, spit it out, then," said Childermass. He leant against the garden wall in a pose that suggested condescension.
"Do you smell something?" Segundus asked.
"No," Childermass said. But he furrowed his brow, distracted.
"You do!" Segundus said, pointing an accusing finger at him. "You are wholly absurd, sir! You would deny such a thing, simply because it was I who said it? You are the very definition of contrary!"
"I—" Childermass said.
Segundus could quite definitely smell something now. It was slightly tart and slightly sweet, slightly sour and yet overpoweringly delicious. Something about the ripe edge of its flavour made him want more and more. He felt dizzy for a moment. He stared at Childermass's face.
Childermass was staring at him. There was something quite extraordinary in his gaze, something heavy and dark and melting as chocolate. Delicious, Segundus thought. It looked delicious. It looked like everything promised by that scent.
Aloud, Segundus said uncertainly, "Why do I want to touch you?" Though he was puzzled by the impulse, he really did: he wanted to press his whole body up against Childermass's. He wanted to shove his mouth against the crook of Childermass's neck. He wanted to push both his hands in Childermass's long hair, rake it out of its queue in a raw silky weight, and then he realized hazily that he was doing this already, running Childermass's hair through his hands, and it felt absolutely electric under his fingers, and Childermass was stroking his jaw with a fascinated look, running rough hands over the line of it, caressing the bare inches of skin above his neckcloth, then tugging very forcefully at the neckcloth till it came off, then— Childermass was pulling him forwards by the collar, and he was dragging Childermass's head down, and their mouths met, messy and desperate.
Kissing Childermass was the most tremendous sensation, like his whole body was made of butterflies in rich exotic colours, a whole dense fragile swarm of them, and every time Childermass kissed him they shivered slightly. But butterflies were— they weren't hungry insects, and hungry was the right word for it, the need Segundus had to get more of Childermass's mouth. He kept making little urgent wanting wordless noises, and Childermass was groaning under his breath, a sound which made every exposed inch of Segundus's skin prickle. Somehow there were a lot of exposed inches, because Childermass had shoved the coat off of him, and torn open his waistcoat, sending the buttons flying, and kept trying to push the cuffs of his sleeves up his arms, which sent his thumbs stroking along Segundus's wrists, which made Segundus make more dazed and panting noises, but which was not an efficient way to get a shirt off, not at all, not— no— but he couldn't conceive of how to get his shirt off, certainly not when his hands were pushing up under Childermass's waistcoat, which had far too many buttons on it. Eventually he gave up on the waistcoat with a plaintive, frustrated sound and started trying to undo Childermass's breeches. He didn't get very far before Childermass wrenched his shirt off with a grunt of impatience, hauling it over his shoulders and head, leaving it tangled around Segundus's elbows when he became distracted by Segundus's suddenly naked chest. His hot mouth settled on the collarbone there, and it was good, it was wet, and his tongue!— but Segundus struggled against his knotted-up shirt, because he needed to get his hands on Childermass.
Childermass laughed breathlessly against his skin at his noise of protest, which made all the butterflies of Segundus shudder again. Segundus managed, not very coherently, "No, no I must— I must—" So after a delay of agonizing seconds, Childermass yanked the shirt off his arms, and Segundus tackled him back against the wall, stumbling and frantically kissing him.
At some point, something happened to Childermass's waistcoat. Quite probably it was something magical, because it seemed to cease to have buttons, and Segundus did know a spell to accomplish that effect, though he was not really conscious of uttering it— only that he was ripping it off, and the shirt underneath it, and running his hands across Childermass's darkly haired chest, and Childermass was breathing hard and saying something filthy in his ear, the filthiest promise Segundus had ever had made to him, which made him unable to do anything except make shocked gasping moans for a minute as Childermass rubbed up against him. Childermass was still smiling that dark amused smile. "Oh, you like that," he said.
Segundus liked it. He was riding against Childermass's thigh, and his liking it could not have been more evident, but he nodded helplessly against Childermass's collarbone anyhow, then thumbed a nipple, then lowered his head and bit.
Shortly after this they ceased to have breeches, which must have been Childermass, because Segundus did not know that spell. Then Childermass tumbled them over against the wall, so that he was pressing Segundus up against it, and hiked Segundus up as though he weighed nothing at all, so he could get a hand around where their cocks met. But though Segundus's mouth dropped open in the shock of how good this was, and he liked his legs around Childermass's waist, to press him in, he refused to be manhandled every-which-way in this manner, and he told Childermass so in imperious (though very breathless) tones before squirming out of his grasp.
"Fine," Childermass said in apparent impatience before all but knocking him to the ground, pinning him there with a starving kiss and rough hands on his shoulders that Segundus used as leverage to tumble them over. Then he was lying on top of Childermass, thrusting against him, seizing onto his face with both hands to pant against his mouth and bite at his lower lip, and then Childermass got a hand around him and pulled very slowly, in a very deliberate motion, and Segundus clenched his eyes shut, dropping his head down as a galvanic surge of pleasure struck him, and Childermass was working him so deliberately, and it was so good, his hips jerked forwards in sharp, sharp thrusts, each one building its electricity from the last, and—
And it had been a dirty trick, because Childermass used this distraction to tumble the both of them over again, and he was rutting against Segundus' stomach, tangling a hand in his hair to pin his head down hard and kiss him.
"Cheat," Segundus accused him between kisses. "Oh! You— you—"
"Shut up," Childermass growled at him, and closed his eyes as he got a hand around them both once more, and they both gasped more or less at the same time at the feel of them sliding together, all that slick skin sliding against slick skin. Segundus dug his hands into Childermass's back as his own back arched upwards. Then he managed to get a leg around his hip, dragging him down, forcing his tempo a little faster. Childermass dropped his face against Segundus's neck and moaned there, and then bit quite hard, which made Segundus arch against him again and dig his hands in harder, uttering a raw little cry. After that, Childermass seemed to give up, and just fucked them fast and rough together until Segundus too had given up and was making loud shameful noises, thrashing his head back and forth in Childermass's grip, and had a sense of shoving himself into Childermass's hands, surrendering some central part of himself, like he was crawling out from inside his own skin.
He was aware of climax as a gut-punch moment of release. He thought it might have forced a tear from his eye, it was so intense. Childermass worked a few moments longer and then bit off a sharp sound and came all over him.
They lay gasping heavily in the wrecked earth of the garden. Childermass had half-collapsed over Segundus, though he had artfully done this in a way that avoided where their mingled emissions were cooling on Segundus' body. Both of them were covered in sweat and incredibly filthy: dirt and leaves stuck to their skin, twigs snarled in their hair.
"What," Segundus asked after perhaps ten minutes had passed, "just happened?"
Childermass groaned in the vicinity of his arm pit.
It was another ten minutes before Childermass could be persuaded to move, at which point came the discovery of their breeches' disappearance, Childermass's buttonless waistcoat, the two large bruises above Segundus' collarbone, and the red claw-like welts over Childermass's ribs. Neither could quite meet the other's eye following this inspection.
Shamefaced and in their shirtsleeves, they returned to the house.
"Some sort of spell," Segundus said finally, as they were creeping barefoot up the staircase. "Something in the garden. There was a smell, I smelled—"
"Good," Childermass said. "You smelled good."
They accidentally looked at each other.
Segundus blushed. He was aware of it as a heat rising slowly from his chest. "I will do some research," he said hurriedly.
Childermass said drily, "Somehow I imagined you would."
"And I suppose I need not say that—"
"No," Childermass said. "Never."
"Never," Segundus agreed less certainly. He felt quite weak-kneed, and horrified at himself, but it had been—he thought of Childermass's promise. He thought, and was even more horrified at himself for thinking it, of Childermass holding him as though he weighed nothing. He blushed even more ferociously.
Childermass had glimpsed this. He was smiling slowly. It was a very, very dangerous smile. "So," he said. "Not so prim." He sounded almost satisfied.
Then he turned down the hallway with an easy, ambling stride, as though he were greatly cheered by something he had discovered.
Segundus watched him till he vanished. A slow sense of apprehension seized him.
After he discovered the existence of the fairy orchard some two weeks later, Segundus felt much more secure. What a very sensible explanation! His enjoyment of the incident (not that he had enjoyed it; that is to say, he had enjoyed it, but only in the physical sense) had been perfectly natural, and entirely out of his control.
He suggested to Mr Honeyfoot that they construct a nine-herbed gate across the fairy road that led from the orchard's direction, saying something very casual and vague about the dangers of fairy winds in the flowering season. They spent an entirely pleasant day planting mugwort, wood betony, thyme, nettle, and mayweed; traces of the other four herbs remained, suggesting that such a gate had existed in the past. In the autumn, they could return to mulch the soil with apples. According to the oldest lore about the area, this would put an end to any magical extrusions.
By the end of the day, when Mr Honeyfoot had plodded off amiably across the moor to Starecross village, where he had his wife had taken up residence, Segundus was feeling a little sunburnt across the nose and quite satisfyingly sweaty. He levelled his spade across his shoulder, collected his coat from where he had hung it on a tree— the day was so warm that he had not only stripped to his waistcoat, but had also rolled up the cuffs of his shirtsleeves— and set off towards the house.
Vinculus was dozing in the garden, which is to say that he had propped himself up against the base of a tree, a bottle of Segundus' good claret loosely gripped in his hand. Vinculus's habits had changed very little since his apparent resurrection and subsequent recognition as the living book of the Raven King; the chief difference was that he now had access to Starecross's wine cellar, no matter how ardently and ingeniously Segundus tried to prevent this access.
As Segundus approached, Vinculus snorted awake and peered at him with interest. His bleary eyes seemed to take in Segundus's generally informal appearance. He groaned loudly and shook his head. "No," he said, as though he had been asked a question, or were objecting to some obscure state of affairs. "No, no, absolutely not. It's not my job; it's not my castle; an' I'm not putting up with it."
He rose to his feet rather unsteadily. "You can tell himself I'm off to a whorehouse in Sheffield, if he should need to find me." With that, he clapped Segundus on the shoulder and was off through the garden gate, still carrying the bottle of claret.
Segundus felt extremely confused by this conversation, though not entirely disappointed— despite his efforts to rise above his prejudices— to see Vinculus go. He shrugged and deposited his spade beside the main door, before entering to discover Childermass stretched out with his boots propped on the dining table, reading the Friends of English Magic and absently eating some cheese. This was not a discovery that very much pleased Segundus.
"Mr Childermass," Segundus said in a voice of quiet but ferocious indignation, "could you please remove your boots from my table!"
Childermass glanced at him very insolently before slowly removing one boot and then the other. He did not otherwise alter his pose, or in any way acknowledge Segundus's existence.
This vexed Segundus very much, as he disliked being ignored more than almost anything. "It occurs to me to wonder," he said, "if you are also aware that your book has been into my wine cellar again!"
"He is not my book," Childermass said without looking up from the journal. "He is John Uskglass's book."
"Well, John Uskglass is not here to take charge of him! So if it would not trouble you to much to do so, sir—"
"I do not see why I should trouble myself about him. It is only a bit of claret." He turned a page.
"It is not even my claret!" Segundus said. He was intolerably frustrated by this point, and he felt that Childermass was enjoying his frustration. "That claret was a gift from my patroness! She intended it for the students of Starecross, some of whom may well be gentlemen with finer tastes than you or I!"
"Well," said Childermass indifferently, "the practice of magic requires a great many sacrifices. I dare say they will get on without it."
"That is not the point! The point is— will you look at me, sir, when we are engaged in conversation!" Segundus, in a moment of profound irritation, reached out and snatched the Friends of English Magic from Childermass's hand.
There was a long pause.
Childermass turned very deliberately towards him. His coolly astonished gaze settled on Segundus. This gaze underwent a complex transformation as he surveyed Segundus's dishevelled appearance; it seemed to grow less cool and more astonished. A smouldering quality crept into it. Segundus was abruptly and hotly reminded of the way Childermass had looked in the garden, when they had been under the spell of the orchard's scent— the dark, edgy crawl of want in his eyes. Without meaning to, Segundus licked his lips. Childermass's eyes followed the motion of his tongue.
In a sudden explosion of movement, Childermass lurched forwards. His intent appeared to have been to seize the journal in Segundus's hand; however, some confusion resulted in him gripping Segundus's wrist instead.
They stared at one another. They were both breathing very hard. Segundus thought dazedly that he did not understand why this should be, when no exertion of any kind had taken place. He was not at leisure to think about this for very long, because Childermass was dragging him inexorably forwards, fingertips digging brutally into his wrist, and then Segundus was dropping the journal, straddling him, climbing onto his body, fisting both hands in the cloth of his shirt to yank him into a violent kiss.
Childermass made a harsh noise against his mouth and grabbed his hips, pushing him against the table and tipping him back, standing up so he was between Segundus' legs, thrusting against him, pinning him to the tabletop with kisses. Segundus reflexively dragged him in, pressing a heel against his buttocks. Childermass was fumbling with the buttons of Segundus' waistcoat, a wild look in his eyes, and after a moment he simply seized both sides of it, and Segundus said breathlessly, "Don't you dare, I've only just— ah!— mended the other—"
"At least I left you some buttons!" Childermass retorted, and then he got an evil look in his eye and thumbed the first button open and pressed his mouth to Segundus's neck, sucking hard at a particularly vulnerable location. Segundus cried out and jerked up. Childermass undid another button— very, very slowly. He lowered his mouth perhaps an inch and half and bit delicately at the thus revealed skin. Then a button, then: with his tonge, wetly tracing the shape of a nipple through Segundus's shirt. Segundus dug hands into his hair and said an unrepeatable word, then added, "Please! Please."
He thought that Childermass had probably meant to carry on with this subtle torture, but at the sound of Segundus begging he simply ripped the rest of the buttons off. They pinged madly against the table and floor.
Segundus gasped, "Oh, I hate you, I hate you." This exclamation, however, largely lacked force, since he was sitting up so that Childermass could more easily shove his waistcoat off his shoulders.
"Bloody difficult," Childermass groaned. It was unclear whether this was in reference to the waistcoat or Segundus. He was undoing the buttons on Segundus' shirt cuffs. He held up one of Segundus's hands, which were still somewhat grained with dirt. "And filthy," he added, not disapprovingly.
Segundus withdrew his hand and carefully licked it from the base of the palm to the fingertip, staring meaningfully at Childermass as he did it. Then he repeated the process more wetly and shoved the hand down Childermass's breeches. Childermass made a sound like he'd been stabbed. Segundus gripped his cock loosely, working it back and forth against the damp palm of his hand.
Childermass pushed his own hand against Segundus's mouth, and though Segundus was slightly riled by the implied directive, he couldn't resist tonguing at it, getting the thumb between his teeth, then sucking very slowly and deliberately from the lower knuckle to the tip. Childermass's cock jumped at that. Segundus released the thumb with a wet sound. He said, "Now who's filthy?" He knew what Childermass had been imagining, from that reaction.
Childermass didn't answer that. He was breathing heavily and giving Segundus a wolfish look. Then he fumbled at Segundus's breeches, yanking them impatiently down, yanking his own down, a frenzy of not-very-coordinated movement that led to him shoving Segundus around so that he faced the table and bending him over it.
Segundus made an outraged sound at this manhandling. "You will oblige me by not—" he began indignantly, and then he rather lost track of the sentence, because Childermass had slid his damp cock between his thighs and was thrusting it there hard and driving up against a very vivid stretch of skin. He could feel every part of it, the head nudging against his balls, the slick length rubbing along his tender skin, and he heard himself make a number of inarticulate noises, something in the nature of Unh— unh–!
After a moment, Childermass brought his hand around for Segundus to thrust into. And that was worse, and Segundus dropped his head against the table, feeling almost feverish. The wood was cool under his sweat-soaked forehead, and he mouthed little cries against it.
Childermass laughed softly. "That's what I thought," he said. His voice was barely controlled. "What are you going to do when I've got it in you, eh? When I've got you facedown, just like this, giving it to you— or you're bossy enough, maybe you'd like to ride it. Maybe I'd oblige you by letting you ride my prick for a while, how about that—"
Segundus tried to dig his fingertips into the tabletop, making a strangled, violent sound. He couldn't even picture it; the words themselves seemed to blown out a candle in his brain. He thrust frantically into Childermass's hand over and over, clenching his thighs tight, clenching his whole body tight.
"Yes," Childermass grunted. "Yes, yes—" He sped up his thrusts. His cock was slippery now, moving eager and urgent and so so hot, hitting that electric area again and again, driving shocked sounds of Segundus, and then Childermass stiffened abruptly and was climaxing there, a flood of warmth that was so wet, and his hand paused and Segundus ground out, "If you stop—" so Childermass didn't stop, but kept working him there until he made a crying sound and the bright avalanche of his orgasm crashed unrelentingly through him.
After some time he became aware that his mouth was still pressed against the table, and that the taste of it was not very pleasant. He became aware that Childermass was stretched out over his back, a not-very-comfortable weight slightly squashing him. A number of appalling facts pieced themselves together at this time: what he had just done, and whom he had just done it with— again, as well as the not-incidental question of where they had done it.
"On the dining table?" Segundus said, perhaps a little shrilly. "Have you no decency, sir?"
"I do not recall you protesting," Childermass said. He did not move. "It seemed most convenient at the time."
"Get off of me," Segundus said.
Childermass did so, lazily. He straightened his shirt cuffs. He was still, in fact, mostly dressed, although doing up his breeches did not conceal a certain out-of-breathness, or the flush that had turned his cheeks dusky red.
Segundus himself was still clad in shirt and breeches, but he was much the worse for wear: damp and stained and missing buttons, with bright red fingermarks bruising around one wrist and a very, very distinctly tumbled air. He made a petulant sound as he regarded his shirttails. "Look what you have done!" he complained.
"Mm," Childermass said. He did appear to be considering Segundus thoughtfully, though his conclusions— if any— remained unclear. This contemplation lasted for the space of some moments, after which he collected the Friends of English Magic and sauntered towards the garden.
Segundus stared at him, open-mouthed. He did not know what behaviour might be considered appropriate for the situation, but he was prepared to declare that it was not this. "Are you not going to— are you just going to— what if this was another spell?"
Childermass paused in the act of exiting. "Well," he said mock-solemnly, "I trust you will do the necessary research."
It was not a spell. Segundus did the research. He did a great deal of research, when he was not occupied in sewing buttons back onto his waistcoat. When nothing he found seemed to account for the... incident, he spent a very fretful few weeks making every effort to forget about it. On the one hand, this was made simpler by the fact that Childermass seemed of a similar inclination, and had suddenly discovered a number of reasons to absent himself from Starecross— a trip to Sheffield to collect Vinculus, a mysterious errand in London, a visit to Manchester to torment that city's Learned Society of Magicians. On the other hand, Segundus was appalled to discover that when Childermass was in residence at Starecross, Segundus was now unable to encounter him without inadvertently flushing, a shameful and humiliating response that put him quite out of temper. Furthermore, he was aware that Childermass's absence did not restore his good spirits. Indeed, when Childermass was absent, he felt more vexed than ever— a nonsensical and highly irritating response that made him uncharacteristically snappish.
Come midsummer, distraction arrived in the form of a commission from the nearby town of Gripthorpe. It appeared that the town had recently suffered a plague of sheep-rustling, and wished a magician to enchant their flocks as proof against thieving. Segundus had readily agreed to this; he was most excited to experiment with spells of protection, which he had only theoretical experience with.
On the morning he was meant to ride to Gripthorpe, he entered the kitchen to find Childermass seated at the breakfast table, absorbed in a book and eating the last of the eggs. As was now his custom upon seeing Childermass, Segundus flushed bright red; this did not stop him, however, from observing, "Those were meant to be my breakfast!"
Childermass dipped a piece of toast into an egg yolk without looking up from his book. "Perhaps you should have woken earlier," he suggested.
"A man should not have to wake early in order to enjoy his own eggs!"
"Mm," Childermass said, unruffled. "There's tea if you want it."
Segundus glared at him for a moment before pouring himself a cup of tea. "I had best not discover you have performed similar acts of appropriation with my supplies," he said. "I am performing magic in Gripthorpe today."
This, at least, caused Childermass to glance at him. "Are you," Childermass said. "And what sort of magic would that be, then?"
"A spell of protection," Segundus said. "Against sheep-rustlers."
A number of expressions occurred on Childermass's face. Segundus had a strong impression that he was trying not to laugh, while at the same time deliberately making it clear that he was trying not to laugh and that this effort ought to be regarded as a particular favour to Segundus. The effect was, to say the least, rather condescending. "Sheep-rustlers," Childermass said. "Now I know I'm in Yorkshire."
"You yourself are from Yorkshire!" Segundus pointed out.
"Yes," Childermass agreed. "Though despite my wide and varied experience, I must admit that I have never rustled sheep." He returned to his book, dipping another toast soldier in egg yolk.
Segundus bristled. "There is no need to ridicule the concerns of ordinary people! I am surprised at you, sir! I am not at all ashamed to lend my aim to such; indeed it is one of the noblest opportunities afforded by magic!"
Childermass looked at him ironically but said nothing.
"Perhaps if you engaged a little more freely in such endeavours, rather than— than sitting about eating other men's eggs, you might find—"
"Well, all right, then," Childermass said. He stood in a smooth gesture that did not at all cause Segundus's breath to hitch.
"What?" Segundus said nervously. He felt somewhat distracted.
"You suggest I should engage more freely in such endeavours," Childermass said calmly. "So I am coming to Gripthorpe with you. You could use another magician, I have no doubt."
The implication concealed within this statement caused Segundus's temper to flare up, and put him in a spiky mood for the entirety of the ride to Gripthorpe. It did not help that low clouds were massing in an ominous manner above the moors, threatening a storm at some near interval; nor that occasional spatters of rain fell, dampening their coats in an unpleasant manner; nor that Segundus spent an interminable half-hour lost in the sheep-fields, surrounded by crossly bleating sheep while Childermass smirked knowingly at him.
At last he found the appointed field and performed the spell, which involved setting small black stones at even intervals, watering them, scattering rosemary upon them, and reading an incantation aloud.
Childermass watched all of this with an air of interest. "I would've used ivy," he said when Segundus had finished. "Not rosemary. Ivy appeals to England's laws."
"Yes, well, ivy doesn't have spines," Segundus said, controlling his temper.
"No, it has whips."
"The spell required spines."
"Whips will do as well. Or a briar has a spine and a whip."
"I did not wish to use briars; I wished to use rosemary!"
"You mean you did not think of it," Childermass said with a shrewd air. "I am only offering it as a suggestion."
"I do not require your suggestions!" Segundus snapped.
"There's no need to be tetchy about it."
"I am not tetchy!"
At this point, thunder clapped. A wave of alarmed bleating swept through the sheep flocks. A uneasy wind swept over the grass. The sky had grown very dark. There was another beat of thunder.
"Ah," said Childermass, looking up. "I am very much afraid—"
It rained. It rained, that is to say, in great heavy curtains, in solid silvery walls of rain. So sudden was the onslaught that there was not even an instant for Segundus to think, Damn and blast! One moment he was dry, and the next he was sodden, sputtering and spitting out little drips of rainwater. He was so astonished that for a moment he simple stood there in the downpour.
Childermass, who had swung himself on his horse, rolled his eyes and made an impatient gesture. "Well?" he shouted over the noise of thunder. "Are you just going to stand there?"
Resentfully, Segundus climbed onto his own horse. He followed Childermass, who appeared to have a clear destination. After some few miles of riding, during which Segundus became even more sodden, so sodden that he wondered miserably if his skin had turned to water, this destination revealed itself to be a stone barn squatting on the slope of a hillside.
They tethered their horses in stalls that looked decades old. The absence of the rain was a shocking relief. Segundus watched through the doorway as it continued to come down, beating the moor into muddy submission. He heard a rustling and turned to see Childermass stripping off his coat and waistcoat.
"What," Segundus said uncomfortably. "—What are you doing." He was uncomfortable because the sight of Childermass removing his clothing was making his skin oddly prickly, which he did not wish it to do.
"It's wet," Childermass said shortly.
"I can see it's wet." His breath felt very shallow in his throat.
Childermass removed his neckcloth and rolled up his shirtsleeves. He draped his wet clothing over a hay bale, then sat on the bale beside it and produced his pipe from a pocket.
Segundus was still staring at him. He could not seem to make himself not do it.
Childermass looked up after a long time, when his pipe was leaking smoke. His eyes were very dark and hot. "Well?" he asked. "Are you just going to stay in your wet things?"
"I," Segundus said. He swallowed hard. Without breaking Childermass's gaze, he stepped forward slightly. He began to slide his coat off of him, then— letting it drop to the floor— to undo his waistcoat buttons. His hands fumbled slightly upon them. He was still holding Childermass's eyes.
When the last button was unfastened, he shoved his waistcoat off his shoulders. He lifted his hands and undid one shirt-cuff, then the other. His shirt was so wet that it clung to his skin. He peeled the sleeves back from his wrists, from his forearms. He thought he could hear Childermass's intake of breath.
"My shirt is very wet," Segundus said unsteadily. "Perhaps I should—"
"Take it off," Childermass said.
Segundus hesitated a moment, his hands at his collar. He was certain there was a very good reason not to do this. He had a vague idea that he would probably regret it later. But he was smothered by arousal and not thinking clearly. So he skinned his shirt off in one rapid motion and stood there in front of Childermass, breathing heavily.
Childermass looked him up and down very slowly. This rather explicit appraisal made Segundus twitch. He clenched his hands into fists. He saw Childermass notice.
"... Was there something you wanted?" Childermass asked.
He had an intolerably smug air, like a cat that had got the cream, and Segundus— incensed— wanted to put an end to it. So he flung himself towards where Childermass was sitting, half-tripping and half-crawling towards him, not even bothering to kiss him, but simply shoving hands up under his shirt and mouthing ferociously at his neck.
"Oh, ff—" Childermass said, thrusting his whole body up against him, when Segundus moved his hands to the buttons of his breeches.
"Was there," Segundus breathed against him, getting a hand around Childermass's cock, "something you wanted?" He did not wait for an answer, but slid down to his knees. He lowered his mouth to Childermass's cock. It tasted of wet wool and sweat, but he did not mind, because the instant he hollowed his cheeks and sucked hard, Childermass gave a cracked, pained cry and thrust forwards and clamped hands into his damp hair.
Segundus had not performed this act many times, but he had, he thought, rather a good idea of what Childermass might like. He let himself be loose and wet and filthy. He flicked his eyes up deliberately as he moved his mouth, catching Childermass's gaze, and heard him exhale sharply. Childermass's hands at the back of his head tried to press him down, down, but he pressed back against them so they were engaged in a kind of silent battle, Childermass and he, his mouth always pushing down slightly slower than Childermass would have liked it. When Childermass tried to buck his hips up, Segundus held them down, digging his fingertips into them. He pulled back, breathless, and licked his lips noisily. Childermass stared hungrily at him.
"Stay put," Segundus said, pushing against his hips for emphasis.
Something about the look in Childermass's eyes at that— half outrage and half lust— made Segundus feel overheated for a moment. He had to close his eyes and push his hand into his own breeches, gripping his own cock.
He bent his head again. This time he touched his own cock as he dragged his mouth over Childermass, pulling sharp sounds out of himself that caused Childermass's hands to clench in his hair, a sensation that was painful yet unexpectedly electric.
"Yes," he mumbled, dazed and indistinct, without meaning to do so, and Childermass breathed harshly, hands trembling on his scalp, before doing it again and again, a cycle of shocks and small moans and the wet slide of his tongue, the skin of Childermass's cock growing tighter and more slick. He could taste when Childermass started to get close, and began to bob his head faster, exulting in the thought of driving him beyond control.
A hard wrench to his hair pulled him off and back, and he blinked— confused and breathless— as Childermass kept him there, working frantically at his cock with his other hand, mouth twisting. Segundus realized his intent a moment too late, just as Childermass's back was arching, his head dropping back, as he shot his seed hot and dripping across Segundus' face.
For a moment, Segundus could only splutter in indignation. He could taste it in his mouth, wet and slightly salty; he could feel the spray of it across his cheeks, damp in his hair. He raised a hand to wipe it off, preparing to unloose a diatribe, but Childermass caught him by the wrist and forced him to hold like that: his mouth still swollen, seed turning slightly tacky on his skin. Childermass was still panting out the last of his climax. He stared at Segundus with a heavy-eyed look of satisfaction.
Then he shoved Segundus flat against the ground and climbed on top of him, kissing him through his own emission, licking the wetness of it off Segundus's mouth as he worked Segundus's breeches down. Segundus squirmed against him. He was not— he would not be placated! But at the same time, it was hard to maintain anger when Childermass got a hand around him and was stroking him through long, intent, groaning kisses— harder still when Childermass slid down his body in one motion and put his mouth over him.
Segundus cried out and thrashed his head to the side. Childermass's mouth was warm and wet, and he was not teasing; he was not interested in casual pleasure; he was working fiercely towards a single objective, so fiercely that the pleasure bordered on pain, and yet Segundus thrust up, wanting more, more of it. And Childermass gave him more, dragging him relentlessly towards climax, till he was not even any more crying out little blasphemies, but only mouthing sounds, devoid of air, and then, and then—
A huge well of sensation seemed to drop out below him as Childermass thrust a finger into him. His whole body arched up and he clawed at the earth, his ears ringing numbly for a moment, and he was unaware of anything except that finger thrusting and thrusting, rubbing up inside of him until he finished in a moment so complete that it was as though his orgasm were being jerked out of him by a thread, as though his lungs and his heart were simply unspooling.
He sank back, panting and shaking. His eyes closed. He twitched. Childermass's head was resting on his chest, and for some reason he had wrapped his arms around Segundus's body, which was very strange— but then, Segundus realized, very startled, he himself was stroking Childermass's hair. He could not clearly explain why he was doing this, and the instant he caught himself, he stopped.
Childermass came to his senses a moment later, at which point he sat up abruptly with a very wary expression. "You were—" he began accusingly.
"You were!" Segundus pointed out. Then, remembering, he touched his sticky face in dawning outrage. "You— you—!"
"Oh, here we go," Childermass said wearily, rolling his eyes. He stood up and began to reorder his clothing.
"I can't believe you!"
"Look!" Childermass said desperately. "It's stopped raining!"
This was so transparent a ploy that Segundus actually gaped at him, speechless. Childermass used the moment to snag his wet clothes from the hay bale and retrieve his pipe.
"I suppose I'll be off, then," he said. "I've got to see a man about a... magic... book..." His faintly guilty expression betrayed this as the thin excuse it was.
Segundus began to say several things at once, including How dare you, Do you really think, and You are unbelievable! None of these, however, managed to emerge from his mouth. Instead, what he said was: "What?"
He said it in a faintly bewildered tone that he instantly wished he could take back. Immediately he added, "Which is to say, naturally you should go; I did not invite you in the first place; you were the one who wished to come along, and— and—" He found he had run out of things to say.
Childermass stared at him. "Right," he said.
"Well, then," Segundus said.
"Right," Childermass said again. Then he turned, and went to saddle his horse.
Segundus, still shirtless, sat on the floor of the barn and watched him. He felt rather stupefied and very, very unclean. He was also finding it difficult to decide if he were angry or unhappy. He knew that he definitely felt an unpleasant kind of heat. It did not really make sense for him to be unhappy, and yet if he were angry he was very angry, and he did not know why he should be quite that angry either. In short, he felt deeply confused.
Childermass cast one look over his shoulder. It was a conflicted sort of look. Then he clicked his tongue at his horse and was gone.
Segundus stood at last and kicked a hay bale savagely. "Imbecile!" he said loudly. It was not really clear whether he were talking about Childermass or himself— not even to him.
Childermass did not return to Starecross for several weeks, during which time even pleasant, placid Mr Honeyfoot began to regard Segundus with a certain amount of worry.
"Did you and Mr Childermass— er— quarrel?" he asked delicately, as they were hanging curtains in the bedrooms that would belong to students.
Segundus rather viciously jerked a curtain to one side. "Mr Childermass and I have done nothing but quarrel," he said. "From the very moment he came to Starecross."
"Oh," said Mr Honeyfoot. "I am very sorry to hear it. I had thought he might make an excellent teacher."
At this, Segundus dropped the curtain entirely. He stared at Mr Honeyfoot. "Mr Childermass? A teacher? You astonish me!"
"I do not see why it should be so very astonishing a prospect," said Mr Honeyfoot, bemused. "After all, he is a magician, and a very well-read one at that."
Segundus bent to retrieve the curtain. He was glad that this allowed him to hide his face. "A magician he may be," he said, "but he is undependable, irresponsible, careless, inconsiderate— the most— the most— simply unacceptable as a person!"
He straightened. Mr Honeyfoot was eyeing him cautiously. "... I see," Mr Honeyfoot said. "I am very sorry to have raised what I perceive is a sensitive topic."
"It is not a sensitive topic!" Segundus said hotly. "It is of no importance! I could not be less interested in the matter!"
"Ah," said Mr Honeyfoot delicately. Then he began to speak about the amount of firewood that the school would require in the winter, and whether it might be warmed by magic instead, and what the nature of such a spell might be, and they fell into a long discussion about weather magic, and did not speak again about Childermass.
So it went until the first week of August. At this time, Segundus was very much engaged in trying to map all the various fairy roads, fairy wells, and fairy trees in the county, continuing work that had been begun by Jonathan Strange. It had made for pleasant work, traipsing about Yorkshire in the late summer, encountering various farmers and shepherds and carters who were, for the most part, very interested to meet a magician, and who often had some small work for him. He had located seven fairy wells and two previously unknown roads, about which he was writing a paper to present to the York Society.
On this particular occasion, he was only a few miles from Starecross. He was investigating a particular well mentioned in Anglo-Saxon accounts— or, he suspected, not truly a well, but a spring. He had been walking for quite a long time amidst gorse and heather, and though he had been very comfortable when he left Starecross, he was now beginning to feel the heat. It was so very hot! He felt oddly light-headed. The yellow patches of the gorse seemed to beat like hearts, which was such a queer thing to witness! And then he saw that they were hearts, little yellow hearts on stalks, and a thread of cold crept in through the heat, and he felt such an alarming force of magic all around him as he had not known in a long time— certainly since the disenchantment of Lady Pole. It made him terribly queasy. He wanted to cover his eyes, because it seemed to him that when he looked about him, he saw two worlds: one a summer hillside, and the other a country inside the hill, which was where the yellow heart-flowers were growing. He was vaguely aware that the latter must be Faerie, or at least a place closely related to it, but he could not think what to do with this information. His chiefest impulse was to curl up on the ground and wrap his arms around his head.
"Drink," a voice said from somewhere near him. Or— no, it was a voice from quite a long way off, but it was also a voice from behind him. And yet there was no one there, which was most peculiar. There was, however, a spring in front of him. He recalled that he had been looking for a spring, at some point.
"Drink," the voice said again, coaxingly. "Drink."
"I cannot," Segundus said hazily. "I will be sick." He did not think he could stomach water, even water so clear and sweet and fresh as this.
But it was as though the magic were a great hand that had picked him up by the scruff of his neck and crushed him down. He gasped under the pressure of it. He could see the spring in both worlds, though only in one was the water flowing. In the other, a bare discoloured trickle oozed from it.
He shut his eyes and tried to conquer his nausea. He felt very certain that he should not drink, but he also felt certain that in order to avoid this he would have to employ some counter-magic. At the moment, this was quite beyond him.
Then a very different hand jerked him sharply up by the collar, and a very different voice said, "Idiot!"
Segundus felt that this criticism was most unfair. He felt the need to respond sharply to the voice, and perhaps inquire acidly how the voice would cope with a similar situation. Indeed, the swell of resentment he felt towards the voice seemed out of proportion to the voice's contributions so far. He wondered in a dazed sort of way why this might be, but he was too unwell to really concentrate on it.
Someone was shoving him forwards, mercilessly preventing him from falling to his knees— as he would really like to do, since being upright made him so very dizzy.
At some point the sense of being in two worlds at once became less pronounced, and the force of the magic lessened on him, and the yellow flowers became gorse, and he was back on the hillside, trembling and soaked in sweat.
"I think I'll just," he said indistinctly, and finally slumped to his knees, then thence to the earth. It was very good-smelling earth. Clean and natural. He did not mind having it under his head.
"Have you entirely lost command of your senses?" the voice demanded. It did not wait for an answer. "Or, no: I would not put it past you to think it the very best sense to go wandering off— on purpose— into Faerie, without so much as a charm against enchantment, when I can think of ten such charms off the top of my head that would serve you, all of them as simple as you please. But you must saunter straight in like a rabbit presenting itself for the trapping, because that is the type of idiot that I— you— " There was a noise as of someone kicking a heavy object, or possible hurling a stone at something.
"I'm," Segundus slurred at the ground, because he had a sense that he ought to be protesting.
"Shut up," the voice told him. Oh, he thought. I know that voice. Now that it was telling him to shut up, he recognized it quite clearly. It was Childermass! He wished to tell Childermass that he did not require his assistance, now or indeed ever again, and and that he did not wish to even see or speak to Childermass, but he could not figure out how to make his mouth say any of these things, and after a few minutes of trying, he gave up and slid into sleep.
He had a number of strange dreams in which his heart had been replaced by a flower and he was trying to cut it out and present it to someone, or his heart had become a flower that was growing someplace else, and he was trying to cut it so he could put it back in his chest, and other such nonsensical ideas.
When he woke, he was in bed at Starecross. He felt slightly weak, but much refreshed. For a moment, he could not recall what had happened. Then he did, and felt a headache begin.
Downstairs, Mr Honeyfoot was making tea in the kitchen. He appeared very delighted to see Segundus.
"I have been very concerned!" he said. "You have slept for more than twenty hours! I was not entirely convinced you would wake again, although Mr Childermass did say—"
Segundus winced and rubbed his temple. "...Where is Mr Childermass?" he asked.
Mr Honeyfoot's face fell. "I'm afraid he has gone," he said. "He said he would return in a few days, and that it would be best for you to rest. Perhaps you might share with me your observations as you do so! I am most interested to hear about Faerie, and about the nature of the magical compulsions you experienced—"
It was very comforting to slip into a scholarly discussion with Mr Honeyfoot, and Segundus was more than happy to render his experience in such terms, so that he could view it more clinically, from a distance. Mr Honeyfoot offered a number of useful parallels to reports of fairy springs in folk tales, and wondered whether it was usual for magicians to resist their illusions. Mr Honeyfoot did not think it could be very usual; he thought that perhaps Mr Segundus was particularly stubborn.
This made Segundus smile rather tiredly. "Well," he said, "it has always been my foremost characteristic."
Over the course of the next few days, he slept a great deal and worried incessantly about what he would say to Childermass. He formed a number of perfectly cutting remarks that thanked Childermass while making it exquisitely clear that Segundus did not wish to ever speak to him again; these, however, usually came to him just at the horizon of sleep, and he did not manage to record any of them. He also dreamed, bizarrely, that Vinculus came and sat by his bedside and complained for a long time about Childermass— about how much worse he was when he was besotted, as though he were not quite bad enough the rest of the time, and Vinculus had half a mind to take off to Holland till it was done with, having heard that Amsterdam was a rollicking sort of place, except that the last time he had tried to leave England, he had ended up overboard in no time at all, and towed back by fishes, which was not his preferred means of travel, and had he happened to mention that John Uskglass was a right old bastard?
Segundus could not remember ever having dreamed something as peculiar as this. Then again, he had not ever slept so much as in those few days.
At last he awoke feeling rather irritated with sleeping, and washed and dressed and went down to the kitchen. He was extremely hungry, probably because he'd barely eaten in days, but his appetite shrivelled significantly when he saw that Childermass was already sat at the breakfast table.
Out of keeping with his usual habits, Childermass acknowledged his presence, albeit with only a glance and a curt nod.
Segundus flushed— he could not help himself— and hastily poured a cup of tea, intending to take it back to his room. After a moment, the weight of Childermass's gaze seemed to demand that he speak. He ventured, "Will you be... staying at Starecross?"
Childermass said, "... I had not thought to."
"... Oh," Segundus said. Then, stiffly, because he could not very well refuse to say it, "I appreciate your intervention and I am in your debt. Sir."
"You are not in my debt," Childermass said.
"Do not be absurd," Segundus said before he could stop himself.
"I do not wish to have you as my debtor."
"Why not? I'm sure you would be most inventive in the payment you demanded."
The words came out more vicious than Segundus had intended. In fact, he was quite shocked that he had uttered them. He saw Childermass flinch. Then, after a long silence, Childermass stood and came quite near him. He took the cup of tea from Segundus's hand and set it on the table. Then he came closer still.
"Is that what you think of me?" he asked.
His voice was very low and rough, and Segundus found it hard not to respond to, as he did Childermass's physical presence. He stared fixedly at the far wall and did not respond.
Childermass said, "I suppose it may be I deserve that. But rest assured that if need be, it is I who will make the debt up."
Segundus let out a shaky little breath at that. He still did not meet Childermass's eyes; he felt he could not. He knew the way Childermass would be looking at him— like Greek fire, a dark liquid going up in flames.
Childermass gripped his chin gently in one hand and tilted his head up.
"Will you look at me, sir," he said, his mouth crooking a little, "when we are engaged in conversation?"
"Is that what we were engaged in," Segundus said.
"What would you like to be engaged in?" Childermass asked. He relaxed his hand so it was less a grip and more a caress. His thumb brushed Segundus's lips, as though by accident, and lingered.
Segundus shut his eyes. Vaguely he remembered that he had intended to tell Childermass he did not wish to to ever speak to him again. Why? Well, Childermass had called him an idiot, and had left him naked in a barn out on a moor, and there were several other excellent reasons. On the other hand, however, Childermass was very close to him, and touching him, and Segundus had a very vivid recollection of where such touches might lead, and the idea of creating even more vivid recollections of this nature appealed strongly to him at the moment. His cock was hardening, and this made his resolve weak.
"Not here," he said.
Childermass kissed him. It seemed to happen very suddenly and go on being sudden, moment to moment, for a long time. Childermass stumbled backwards, pulling Segundus with him; then they were staggering towards a wall, catching the edge of a table and sending the tea cups rattling; then Segundus found his back up against the door; then they were through the door, which had possibly involved some magic; then Childermass's back was against the door; then they were fumbling towards the staircase in the most haphazard, unsteady fashion, because all this time had still been the same kiss, or nearly, the same frantic effort to get their mouths together. It involved a lot of intertangling of hair and hands, and of hands and collars, and occasionally teeth in lips.
At the foot of the stairs, Segundus almost lost his balance. Childermass yanked him upwards to prevent this, pushing him against the stairwall, hands cupping his buttocks, holding almost all of his weight up. Segundus thought he really ought to protest this indignity, as he previously had done, but in fact he felt a shameful rush of arousal, and he dug his heels hard into the backs of Childermass's thighs. Childermass shoved him harder against the wall, thrusting against him, murmuring hotly against his mouth, "You like that, you like it," until Segundus bit him rather hard in retaliation.
"Not here," Segundus said again.
"Picky," Childermass complained, but he set Segundus down so they could lurch up the rest of the staircase, and crash through a doorway into a room.
It was Childermass's room, or rather the room he had been using, and as a result was rather spare. Childermass's only additions to the furnishings seemed to have been several large stacks of books that occupied more-or-less random locations on the floor, and a similar stack of magical journals. Nevertheless, there was a—
"Bed," Childermass said, pointing.
Segundus bristled a little at the tone and brevity of this comment. "Is that an offer," he said, "or an order?"
Childermass closed his eyes briefly. "For the love of Christ," he said as though it pained him very greatly, "why must you be so bloody quarrelsome?"
"Perhaps if you did not issue commands like some— mmph!" He was cut short by Childermass shoving him against the wall and kissing him while simultaneously working at his waistcoat, his shirt, his breech-buttons. "If you," he tried again, "—oh. Oh."
Childermass had got his shirt off, jerked his breeches down and, kneeling, was licking at his cock as he undid the buttons at Segundus's knees. He appeared to have an unprecedented patience for buttons now, or at least so long as Segundus was gasping and groping at his hair.
When he had got Segundus's breeches and stockings off, he stood and took him firmly by the shoulders and pushed him onto the bed, crawling on top of him to keep him there. Segundus was very happy to stay there so long as he could get Childermass's breeches off, and preferably also his waistcoat and shirt, which proved very challenging as he was distracted by Childermass sucking hotly at his neck and slipping a hand down to pull at his cock. Nevertheless he was triumphant with the breeches, and, in a moment of justifiable retribution, simply took hold of the waistcoat and wrenched until all of the buttons went flying off and skittering about the room.
Childermass paused and stared down at him for a moment, breathing hard. Then he attacked Segundus's mouth with his mouth, twisting so he could get the waistcoat off his shoulders, so he could get his breeches off. Segundus was gasping under him, urging him on, shoving at these various articles of clothing, groping at every new bit of bare skin he could get, and in very short order he was grasping Childermass's naked cock— at which point Childermass, wild-eyed, shuddered and gave a little groan before pushing two fingers into Segundus's mouth.
"Mmph!" Segundus said again, this time in indignation, but he could not resist sucking at those fingers wetly, playing his tongue around them. Childermass was watching him with an intensity that made his skin burn, and his own mouth had fallen a little open. After a moment he withdrew the fingers and spread Segundus's legs.
"Yes," Segundus said without thinking. "Yes."
Childermass pushed a finger into him. This felt very raw for a moment, but then Childermass was mouthing at his cock, which very forcefully drew his attention from it; and then Childermass was pushing Segundus's legs up, his mouth sliding lower, so very wet and insistent and so very hot, and—
"God," Segundus choked out, knotting his hand in the bedcover, because Childermass had— he had— his tongue was licking there, beside his finger, his tongue: teasing and liquidly warm and precise, so good that Segundus pressed his hips towards it, wanting more of that sensation, at which point Childermass pressed his tongue inside, and Segundus gave a sort of short wail that was very shameful.
The tongue disappeared, and Segundus felt a damp huff of laughter against the skin of his inner thigh. Incensed, he reached down to grip Childermass's hair and drag him forwards.
"Always pushing," Childermass muttered, and then something wholly indiscernible that he mumbled against Segundus's most intimate skin, which made Segundus twitch and gasp even more sharply.
After that, the tongue resumed its diligent work, where it was shortly joined by another coaxing finger. The two fingers slid in and out in a slow thorough manner that increasingly brought to mind the well of sensation Segundus had felt before, something warm and prickling that radiated throughout his whole body, sparking at all the corners of him.
When Childermass drew back, Segundus clenched his fist in his hair and protested, not very articulately, "No!"
But Childermass did not regard him. Childermass gazed at him in a rather frantic, ravenous manner and clutched with fumbling hands at Segundus's hips, urging him over onto his stomach. Segundus let himself be urged; there was a certain desperately filthy promise in Childermass's expression. He buried his face in the pillow, which felt cool against his damp brow, and moments later felt Childermass's cock press into him.
If a finger had been raw, this was very raw, and for a moment he did not think he could breathe. Childermass's hands were stroking the small of his back, the curve of his hips, spreading him wider, and he could hear Childermass whispering raggedly, "Yes, yes—" but that long press went on and on, and he was not sure he could continue.
He bit his lip to keep from making noise, but after a particularly deep slide, he gasped without meaning to, "Too much, I can't—"
He felt Childermass's forehead, shockingly hot, rest between his shoulders for a moment. "You can," Childermass said against his skin, "just— breathe, I won't— I won't—" He lapsed into a moan.
This was not immediately very coherent, but his cock stilled, and Segundus gasped out a breath against the pressure. Then another. Childermass was kissing his shoulderblade, open-mouthed, kissing the ridges of his spine, easing back and barely thrusting against him, each time making a shattered little noise, like even this much movement was chipping away at him inside.
Gradually his thrusts grew minutely deeper, and— Segundus realized hazily— easier to take, so that he was sliding in slowly instead of shoving, a warm and trembling long glide that left Segundus full— so very, intensely, breathlessly full of him, stretched to his limits, but not the point of breaking. Some of that sparking feeling came back at the apex of each stroke, as though it were rekindling in him, and he began very tentatively to work himself towards it, drawing in huge gasping breaths and angling back, feeling it build, feeling himself take Childermass more deeply, which elicited more of those shattered noises. At some point, a very deep thrust struck Segundus fast and right, and he cried out in an unmistakably approving manner, which made Childermass groan and say, "Yes— yes, like that— take it— Christ, I knew you'd be— good, so good—"
Which shot through Segundus like lightning, so that he cried out again and jerked and thrust himself back, meeting Childermass's strokes. He got a hand around his own cock, working it erect once more, and every touch seem magnified through the prism of his body, unbearably huge inside of him. His hand began shaking, but he forced it to keep moving fast. He thought the sheer volume of sensation might overpower him.
Then Childermass thrust even more deeply, dragging him backwards, fingertips digging into his hips, shoving himself into Segundus once, twice, once more, grinding out a kind of moan, and Segundus could feel him finish: the wet spreading heat of his seed inside, which made Segundus's own body twitch. He pulled at himself even more frantically, so close, so close— and felt his own hand joined by Childermass's hand, shaky but deliberate, which in itself was enough to send Segundus towards climax.
He collapsed onto the bed. It was wet with his emission, but he had not the strength of mind to do anything but this, nor the strength of body to shift Childermass off him. For Childermass was still on him and in him— though this last was uncomfortably remedied after a moment. Segundus's heart was thudding, and he felt thoroughly wrung out, and he thought in a very dazed way that perhaps he would just lie there for a while. It was surprisingly comfortable. Childermass was warm, and mouthing at his neck in a rather sleepy fashion, which actually felt very nice, like being mauled by an exceedingly peaceable tiger.
It occurred to Segundus that this was not the way he ought to feel, and that quite possibly he ought to be wondering if he were under an enchantment, since surely it would take an enchantment for him to harbour these uncharacteristic feelings. But he could not muster the energy to care about it, and so he drifted to sleep in that very position.
He woke because he felt extremely hungry and rather dirty, and was somewhat confused to find that he was not alone in his bed. He was even more confused to find that he was not in his bed at all.
"What," he said into the pillow.
Someone groaned, and a hand flailed at his face, apparently in an attempt to cover his mouth.
"Oh, no," Segundus said.
He twisted around and found himself face-to-face with Childermass. Childermass did not appear to be very awake. He blinked drowsily at Segundus. Then his eyes widened and he sat up.
They stared at one another.
"I," Segundus said, just as Childermass said, "Was that—"
They both fell silent.
Eventually Segundus said, "Do not think this means I have forgiven your— your numerous and outrageous misdemeanours, or the fact that you—"
"You had," Childermass interrupted him, looking very uneasy, "—I mean to say, this was not the first— you'd had other... experiences of this... particular nature, of course—"
Segundus had a strong sense that there was a right answer and a wrong answer to this query, and that the most truthful answer was, rather mysteriously, the wrong one in this case. "I do not see why that should be relevant!" he said hotly.
"Christ," Childermass said. He appeared somewhat distressed. He rubbed his hand over his mouth.
Segundus discovered that he was infuriated by this gesture. He did not wholly understand why, but he felt obscurely demeaned by it. He said, "You were the one who—"
Childermass stood up abruptly and reached for his shirt. "Perhaps I should just," he said. He seemed somewhat agitated. He made a motion towards the door.
"This is your room," Segundus pointed out. A very uncomfortable feeling was growing in him. He did not know how to describe it precisely. It made his chest feel collapsed, as though someone had crumpled up everything inside him in one short gesture.
"So it is," Childermass said.
There was a short silence.
Segundus said, "Would you prefer me to...?" He made the same motion towards the door.
Childermass said nothing.
Segundus reached for his own shirt. His hands were unsteady. He was aware of Childermass watching as he dressed. Segundus wished he would not; it made him feel shaky. He was already feeling quite shaky.
The minutes it took him to do up the buttons of his waistcoat were among the most interminable of his life. He did not look at Childermass. When he was done, he turned to go without a word.
"Wait," Childermass said.
"I am not going to—" Segundus began, his temper flaring, and then all at once Childermass was kissing him: slowly and desperately, shoving him back against a wall, cradling his face in urgent hands. It was a different sort of kiss than they had previously shared. There was something immensely tender about it. Perhaps at any other time, Segundus could have borne it. However, at that very moment, it made him feel horribly raw and scraped skinless.
He pushed Childermass away. "Don't," he said. He was aware that his voice was shaking. "How dare you."
He did not wait for Childermass's reaction. He left the room without another word.
Segundus stayed in his bed all the next day, and the day after that. When Mr Honeyfoot came by to enquire after his health, he claimed to still be suffering the effects of the fairy enchantment. However, in reality he merely felt heartsick and sore and listless. All of these sensations vexed him extremely. He did not immediately comprehend why he should be heartsick, and he was irritated that being so made him listless, and when he considered the reasons why he was sore, he was forced to remember—
So he sat in bed and wrote up his account of the fairy spring, omitting Childermass's rescue of him, and read a bit of Ormskirk, and scribbled disapproving notes on a new Norrellite publication (A Diligent Grove of English Magic, it was called— what a name!) and ate soup when Mr Honeyfoot brought it, at which point he professed to be feeling much better.
"Oh, I am very glad to hear it," Mr Honeyfoot enthused. "Mr Childermass and myself were most concerned for your good health; Mr Childermass commented that you seem to have a particular susceptibility to certain forms of enchantment."
Segundus felt that if he had to hear any more about Mr Childermass's comments, particularly as they concerned his susceptibility to anything, he would throw the remainder of his soup against the wall. However, a question had occurred to him which he now felt could not go unanswered.
"Mr Honeyfoot," he said, "did Mr Childermass happen to mention how he came to know I was in difficulty?"
"That he did," Mr Honeyfoot said amiably enough. "He said he saw it in those cards of his. I would have thought that a very imprecise form of magic, but he claims one can achieve a measure of precision if one is very practised at it. I daresay it is worth some further investigation; there are few references to it in the literature that remains, and—"
Segundus was not listening. "... Why would I appear in Mr Childermass's cards?" he asked slowly.
Mr Honeyfoot busied himself with straightening his shirt cuffs, and did not meet Segundus's gaze. "I'm sure I have no idea," he said.
"Does Mr Childermass spy on me with his cards?" Segundus asked with mounting incredulity. "He does! Does he not? I will not have it! It is quite out of the question! I do not wish him to have any knowledge of me or my actions!"
Listlessness forgotten, he climbed out of bed and went scrabbling through his writing desk for paper and pen, throwing a number of half-finished letters to various publications into great disarray as he searched for an inkwell.
"It... did allow him to save you from straying into Faerie," Mr Honeyfoot said hesitantly. "I believe that he means well by it."
"It does not matter what he means! I will not permit it!" Segundus finished hastily scribbling out a letter, and proceeded to read it aloud:
"Sir: I respectfully request that you cease to perform any and all magic that tends to supply you with illicit knowledge of my person, to wit: any perceptive magic of the scrying kind (cards, visions, et cetera) that might transmit to you my location, state of mind, or actions. If you wish to know how I am, you may enquire in the usual manner, although I must inform you that I cannot promise a favourable result to the request. Signed herein, J. Segundus, Starecross Hall, Yorkshire. There. That should have the appropriate effect."
"Well," said Mr Honeyfoot, "it will certainly have an effect. But where will you send it? Mr Childermass has left Starecross."
Segundus thought. "I will enchant it to appear in his pocket," he decided. "That is a very useful spell that a fellow in Cumbria has developed. It will do very well, as Mr Childermass's coat has recently been at Starecross, which will allow me to be very specific in my terms, so that there need be no confusion about the letter ending up in the wrong coat's pocket."
"No," Mr Honeyfoot said rather wearily, "I imagine there will be no confusion."
And indeed there was not, for Segundus received a reply that evening. It came via his own coat pocket— causing him to be briefly annoyed that Childermass was also familiar with this spell. It was scribbled on what appeared to be a used piece of parchment, folded neatly into a square.
Dear sir, it began. I regret to inform you that I must deny your request. So long as you continue to meddle about with what doesn't concern you and go traipsing off into peril without a lick of sense in your [something had been struck out here] head, I will consider it my duty to see to it you are not harmed. You may rest assured I do not pry into other affairs. You may keep whatever secrets you clearly believe yourself to harbour. I merely ensure you are alive to harbour them. I remain: Your servant, John Childermass.
Segundus read this letter out to Mr Honeyfoot in tones of increasing astonishment. "Can you even compass such a— It is beyond my— Whatever secrets you believe yourself to harbour! I do not think I have ever read anything so condescending!"
Mr Honeyfoot took a sip of sherry, looking faintly hunted. "Hmm," he said.
"Of course I do not have secrets in the manner he implies; we cannot all be John Childermass, with mysteries for our lungs and our livers and kidneys, with whole bodies that run entirely on mysteries; I imagine he thinks that what he had for dinner last night is a great mystery known only to the most advanced initiates!" Segundus was aware that he had somewhat run off track. He was trying to avoid saying that though he had a small life, insignificant really, there were still some things in it that he did not wish to be made known. He did not want Childermass to know how very much and how very painfully he was thinking about him. He imagined that he himself had scarcely crossed Childermass's mind, and the thought of Childermass knowing that he felt, of all things, heartsick— that he felt quite ill when he thought about falling asleep with Childermass's mouth at the back of his neck, that he had wondered queasily whether Childermass had read his inexperience from his poor performance of the act— was so violently unbearable that it made him feel physically hot.
All of it, in fact, was violently unbearable. It was as though Childermass had at some point— possibly while he was sleeping— actually peeled off all of his skin, leaving him exposed to the elements, to every imaginable kind of fear and worry. Or perhaps it had been a gradual process, one limb at a time, and he had been very slow to recognize it. He had simply let Childermass carry on— encouraged him, even.
Mr Honeyfoot placed a gentle hand on Segundus's shoulder. "Do not sell yourself short, sir," he said. "It is my opinion you may find that you harbour a few grand mysteries yet."
Having said this, he adjourned to the village for the night, leaving Segundus to sleep— which Segundus found he could not do. Instead, he wrote several letters to Childermass, all of which he promptly destroyed, tested a new spell for recovering lost objects (which did not appear to work, or which possibly regarded footprints as a kind of lost object), drank two cups of sherry, and made some not-very-coherent notes on a book he was contemplating writing (a biography of Jonathan Strange). Around dawn, he dozed for perhaps an hour, and woke to the sensation of magic being done. It was a curious and subtle feeling, like hearing rain on the rooftop. He found that it was concentrated on his coat pocket, where another neatly folded square of parchment had appeared.
It read: If it is my practices that you object to, you might allow me to dispense with them by providing me with the occasional evidence that you have not offered yourself up to a fairy lord, or got lost in a sheep field, or any other d---- fool thing such as you have a liking for. If it is the [something had been struck out rather vigorously] attention that you find so very offensive, allow me to assure you that it is of the most polite sort, and I might well do the same for any English magician whom I so regarded. It was not signed.
This letter did not do very much to allay Segundus's frustrations. Indeed, he was so further frustrated by it that he did not even reach for a new piece of paper, but simply turned it over and scrawled on the back of it:
You do not seem to regard me so very much sir! Indeed you have made very great efforts not to regard me. This being the case I cannot see why my wellbeing should hold your attention at all, and if I should have a mind to go wandering amongst sheep fields or indeed to offer myself up to a fairy lord then I shall do so, for I cannot see how it is any particular concern of yours!
This message completed, he folded it up and sent it back to Childermass.
Moments later, a receipt from a bookseller appeared in his pocket. It was dated from Leeds the previous day, and listed the purchase of a 17th century drama concerning the life of Thomas Godbless and an unnamed work by William Blake. On the back of the receipt, Childermass had written: You are wrong. Then below that, in the manner of an afterthought: I had business elsewhere. I should be very sorry to hear you had offered yourself up to a fairy lord.
"Business?" Segundus read aloud incredulously. "Business? What business of yours is it that requires you to throw me out of your bedroom the instant that you— as though I were—?" He did not, however, address this question to Childermass in writing, for he did not want to reveal to Childermass that he was still dwelling on the matter.
Instead he determined rather spitefully that he would go for a walk across the moor. The sun had risen by now, and he was feeling most agitated, and he was certain that taking some exercise would do him good. Not inconsiderable as a factor in this decision was the idea that should Childermass be spying on him, he might well assume that Segundus had set out with the express purpose of doing what Childermass had wished him not to do. This promised an extremely satisfying row in the near future, to which Segundus found he rather looked forward. And if Childermass was not spying on him, then— well, that was what he had hoped to achieve, was it not?
Outside, a rather sticky summer morning was lumbering into motion. Damp air lay on the hedges and scrubby gorse. Segundus startled several sparrows by the ferociousness of his exit from Starecross, and, once he reached the moorland, a number of larks. He did not think of himself as a particularly terrifying person, but he could not quite blame the birds for avoiding him; his mood seemed to grow no less foul as he proceeded, and he caught himself more than once kicking a rock. (This was, for Segundus, an extraordinarily violent gesture.)
"But it is not as though it is not entirely reasonable of me," he remarked aloud. "He has behaved very badly towards me! I have every right to feel I have been ill-used."
It seemed to him as though in some sense the landscape was agreeing with him. He had directed his path out towards the fairy road where he and Mr Honeyfoot had planted the nine-herbed gate, and he would have sworn that the crab-apple tree stood by the gate bent its boughs towards him in sympathetic interest. A wind rustled through the betony and mayweed. It smelt of thunderstorms and damp skin, sleep and fireflies, waking up beside a lover in a drowsy bed while rain dripped from the eaves and mourning doves called. It was such a very pleasant scent, and for a moment he felt tears sting at his eyes. Somehow it was everything he had wanted without knowing that this was what he wanted.
At the same time, he was very resentful at the notion that he might be so easily sabotaged by sentiment. He sniffed and frowned and dismissed the idea. Why should he care about such a thing? Waking up beside Childermass? "If he did not actually push me out of the bed," he pointed out to himself, "it would almost certainly be because he was reading a book and had not deigned to notice my presence!"
The broad nettle leaves and the rattling fennel sighed as though agreeing with this observation. The wind murmured that certainly Childermass did not appreciate him in the manner that he deserved, and that somewhere else there were soft beds waiting, with other, sweeter-tempered lovers who would, who would cherish him and keep him in those soft, soft beds... Except, of course, that this was absurd, because the wind could not murmur anything at all.
Segundus blinked a little unclearly. "And at any rate," he said, "it would be a very dull thing to stay in bed forever. I do not think I should care for it. And I do not think that I want a sweeter-tempered lover." These words cause a kind of pain in his chest, because they caused him to realize very clearly for the first time that the lover he wanted was Childermass, and that this was quite impossible, for Childermass did not want him.
So sharp was this pain that it caused him to stumble. He was startled to find when he put out his hand that he was at the very threshold of the gate— indeed, he was well on his way to being through it! It seemed to him that this ought to trouble him for some reason. He held onto the gate uncertainly, though he had a strong desire to simply keep walking. This was especially true since the longer he stood there, the more unhappy he felt. He remembered Childermass watching him do up his waistcoat and not saying a word. He remembered Childermass riding off and leaving him on the moor, and how he had stood there with his breeches still unfastened, feeling damp and sullied. The memory hurt. He wondered if Childermass were even now turning over his cards, seeing how miserable Segundus was, and smirking at the cards in which he read it, finding the whole thing ridiculous.
The only thing to do, he thought, was keep walking. If he kept walking, he would not have to see Childermass again, or have cause to dwell on these painful memories, for if he kept walking...
He frowned. What would happen if he kept walking? He found he was not quite sure. There would be no more Childermass, which— to be sure— was a strong recommendation; however, what about magic? What about books and journals and letters to the various reviews? What about Mr Honeyfoot? And the school? And the biography of Jonathan Strange?
He had the impression that various parts of the landscape were exasperated at these questions. No, there would be none of that, but surely these were all tedious things and he would not miss them when he was ensconced in comfortable beds with warm-bodied lovers who would not ever leave him.
Segundus bridled considerably at this. "I will thank you not to call my interests tedious!" he said aloud. "And I do not think that any number of extravagant bedchambers would make up for the loss of scholarship and magic!"
Considering this his final word on the matter, he turned to go. This proved a great deal more difficult than he had imagined; it was rather like walking through a river of heavy syrup, or being up to his waist in snow. It was very slow going. Gradually he perceived that this was an enchantment, which was why he felt heavy and stupid, and that he had every right to feel heavy and stupid when he had gone out and gotten himself enchanted again. He imagined what Childermass might say, and for a fleeting moment he considered simply surrendering himself to the enchantment, since surely a lifetime in Faerie would be infinitely more pleasant than the look of contempt that Childermass would direct at him.
He made an indistinct, frustrated noise and took another agonizingly slow step forwards.
It was at this point that he perceived a dark figure striding towards him from the distance.
"No," he said with a sense of dread. He frantically considered if he might somehow make himself invisible. He did not, however, know a spell for this. He felt certain Childermass did, but he had never asked Childermass for this spell, having always thought of himself as the sort of person who is invisible enough already.
Childermass— for indeed it was Childermass— had a very sour look on his face. It did not change as he drew near. "I see you did not take my advice," he said. "Would the fairy lord not have you?"
"Go away," Segundus said. He was ashamed to find that his voice wavered a little. "I have no need of your assistance."
"It certainly looks as though you have need of my assistance," Childermass said.
"Well, I do not. I have already shaken off the best part of the enchantment by rejecting its offer. This is merely— aftereffects."
Childermass crossed his arms and stared at him in a sceptical fashion.
"Go away!" Segundus said again. His voice did not waver this time. It sounded quite angry. He supposed he was quite angry. "Go look up my fate in your little cards if you must, and then you can have a good laugh over them about how stupid I am, how incompetent and naive and trusting, and how very poor at magic—"
Childermass took his arm as though to pull him forwards. Segundus shoved very hard at him, knocking him to the ground, where he sat with a look of open astonishment.
It began to rain. This was not, as before, a hard rain, but only a summer spatter. Nevertheless, it was enough to flatten their hair to their foreheads, dampen their coats, and slowly turn the earth to mud.
Childermass stood slowly, brushing his hands off on his breeches. "I suppose I deserved that," he said. "Will you not let me—"
Segundus shot him a poisonous look. He focused on forcing his way through the last of the enchantment. It took a lot of work. He had to grit his teeth to make it the last few steps, and then the sudden absence of resistance proved such a shock to him that he sank to his knees. He let his head drop, feeling out of breath.
When he looked up, Childermass was silently offering a hand.
"I told you to go away," Segundus said.
"I know," Childermass said. "I don't listen. I'm told it is one of my defects."
"You have not yet called me an idiot."
"No." Eventually Childermass withdrew his hand. He sat on the wet earth beside Segundus. He said, "You are wrong to think that I regard you so poorly. I called you an idiot because I was frightened. I did not think you could hear me. I—" He hesitated, looking uncomfortable. "I would be very much affected should you manage to get yourself trapped in Faerie for all time."
"Well," Segundus said rather cuttingly, "Congratulations; that is at least the minimum standard of human decency."
"You misunderstand me," Childermass said. He did not immediately offer a clarification. He stared out over the gently rainy moorland. He did not appear to notice the water soaking his coat, for he made no effort to avoid it. When at last he spoke, it was not anything that Segundus might have expected. "What did the fairy enchantment offer you?" he asked.
"What?" Segundus said, taken off guard.
"You said that it made you an offer, which you rejected. What did it offer you?"
Segundus did not answer him. His chest had seized up again with that crumpled-paper feeling. "That is a very personal question," he said.
"Yes," Childermass agreed. But he did not retract it.
Segundus swallowed hard. It did not help with the pain in his chest. "A lover," he said. "A lover who would stay beside me in bed. And no memory of you."
Childermass said, "I thought it might be something like that." His face was very difficult to read. "I do not blame you."
"You do not blame me?" Segundus said incredulously. All at once he felt very angry again, far more angry than exhausted. "How extraordinarily gracious of you not to blame me for preferring that my lover not throw me out of his bed, or leave me in the middle of a thunderstorm in a sheep field, half-naked, after I have let him—"
Childermass was staring at him. "Your—" he said.
"Or constantly belittle my every effort both professionally and morally, or— spy on me, or— or—"
Childermass kissed him. This act was so generally astonishing that it rendered Segundus quite unable to protest for a moment. By the time he had recovered, he had noticed how very desperate the kiss was— how very carefully Childermass held his face in his hands, as though he were afraid that he might somehow break it; how Childermass's breath was very faintly shaky; how the kiss, though fierce, was tender and chaste in a way that was quite unusual for either of them.
"But you rejected the offer," Childermass mumbled against his mouth. "The fairy offer. You did not want—"
"... I did not want any other lover," Segundus admitted rather uncomfortably. Without his conscious permission, his hands had crept into Childermass's hair. It felt as electric as it had felt that spring day in the garden, soft and coarse at the same time, like unmilled silk.
"Oh," Childermass said. It was a soft, astonished sound. It made Segundus want to keep kissing him.
"You did not know that—?"
"No," Childermass said. He kissed Segundus again, with less of the desperation of the first kiss but all of its lingering depth of intent. His hands crept down to smooth at Segundus's shoulders, to cradle and stroke at the arch of his neck, as though he were in some way confirming that Segundus were wholly undamaged, or demonstrating how very careful he could be with him.
Segundus rather felt the fragility that this touch suggested. He said hesitantly, "And you, you want—?"
"I do not want any other lover," Childermass said. As he said this, he pressed Segundus back onto the wet grass, kissing him even more fiercely and deeply, so that the kiss could no longer really be called chaste at all, though it possessed just as much tenderness.
"Oh," Segundus said, just as astonished. Then: "Oh," as Childermass pressed their bodies together, kindling a spark of arousal. "I thought, I thought because you—" He bit his lip, but reluctantly said, "I thought perhaps I was not very good. At. Well."
Childermass paused and gazed at him with a not-uncharacteristic look that said: You are very stupid, you know. "You are," he said, "perfect. I want to pin you down on every table in that bloody house and go at you until I make you cry; it is maddening."
Segundus frowned. "That does not really sound very hygienal."
"You will not be very hygienal when I've done with you." Childermass bit him gently on the neck, and then spent a great deal of time applying his mouth to the area, which made Segundus arch up under him.
"Not here," Segundus said, though he was belying the words by tugging Childermass's hips down close to him. "It is raining."
Childermass groaned and collapsed onto him, still mouthing at his neck. "You cannot be serious. It's half a mile to Starecross, and I want you here."
"Are you or are you not a magician, sir?"
"I'm not having you on the King's Roads, either. It's blasphemous."
"Oh, come along," Segundus said in a very exasperated tone.
So in thirteen minutes, with the aid of a little hand mirror that Segundus kept in his coat pocket— for the example of Jonathan Strange had thoroughly convinced him that there were times when it was quite urgent to have a mirror near— they were tumbling out of the downstairs mirror at Starecross. At first Segundus thought he had a deal more coaxing to do, for the dining table did present itself as appealingly close at hand, and indeed he spent a fair bit of time with his back on said table, first being kissed ferociously as Childermass undid his waistcoat, then having a large slow bruise sucked into the base of his neck. However, Childermass proved surprisingly amenable to abandoning both table and waistcoat as, he declared rather ominously, he had decided they would need the bed.
"You've 'decided,'" Segundus repeated dubiously as they were making their way up the staircase. To say that they were making their way up the staircase is not to imply actual motion, which they were not achieving. Segundus had his back against the wall, his hands down the back of Childermass's breeches, and a leg crooked partway around Childermass's waist. Their cocks were pressed very sweetly together, so that every thrust was pleasurable enough to be a small agony. "I have not 'decided.'"
Childermass lifted his head from Segundus's neck to respond. He was rather breathless. "You've got what you wanted; you're not on any of the tables; you're even getting a bed, aren't you?"
"I suppose that is true," Segundus admitted.
"Well, then," Childermass said, and thrust very hard against him, which caused Segundus to abandon any retort in favour of gasping.
They did not, in fact, immediately make it to the bed; once they were inside Childermass's room, Childermass's first action was to speedily divest Segundus of his breeches and stockings, then press him up against the door and go to his knees to take Segundus's cock in his mouth. There was something almost lazy in his performance of this act, a kind of lazy enjoyment; he did not allow Segundus to thrust fully into his mouth, but rather used his tongue to toy with him, taking the head of his cock and sucking on it lightly, then idling his tongue down the length of it until Segundus began on a sequence of quite desperate noises, which Childermass seemed to enjoy immensely, as they caused him to take on a very satisfied look.
At first Segundus fisted his hands in Childermass's hair, but he quickly found that he could not trust his legs to support him, and which point he was obliged to push his hands back against the door and accept what Childermass gave him. Nevertheless he vigourously if somewhat incoherently protested when Childermass pulled back. Then— upon seeing the condition of Childermass's mouth, with its messy and slightly reddened lips, he was provoked to sink to his knees and shove him back against the floor, knocking a stack of magical journals out of the way.
"Those were—" Childermass began with a slightly sulky frown, but Segundus said breathlessly, "I do not care," and kissed him in a manner that was really much like simply dragging his mouth over Childermass's mouth. The wet slickness of it was unbearably exciting, as was having Childermass under him: feeling him thrust up against him, then shaping a hand around his cock and giving him the barest grip to thrust against. That made Childermass bite his lip slightly, and Segundus whispered, "Yes." He watched in open-mouthed fascination at the sight of Childermass reining himself in.
This, of course, was bound not to last, and when Segundus paused to peel his shirt off, Childermass seized the opening and used it as an excuse to manoeuvre him deftly onto the bed. Having got Segundus firmly pinned there, he stripped off his own breeches and stockings.
When Segundus made a protesting noise at the lack of attention, Childermass muttered, "I don't know what you're bloody complaining about; you're on a bed," which prompted Segundus to kick him in the shoulder with a bare foot.
In response, Childermass seized his legs, folded them forwards, and licked a broad stripe across his fundament. This was rather disarming, and the vigorous licking that followed was moreso. There was something so unconscionably electric about the touch of Childermass's tongue inside his body, that bare wet hint of penetration, probing so intensely in him— pushing him to give up all the places that made him shudder, to surrender himself to the intimate mapping of them. He thought at one point that he would not be able to stop his climax— it was so much, too much, and the rather filthy exuberance with which Childermass set himself to it!— but just as he began to tremble, Childermass moved back, panting, and lowered his legs.
"No!" Segundus blurted out, in something like anguish.
Childermass shot him a dark flash of a smile. "You'll get yours," he said. He had gone to a saddlebag hanging carelessly on the headboard and fished a small bottle out of it. With this in hand, he stretched out against the bed, displaying the lean muscles of his body and his flushed cock in a way that Segundus rather suspected was deliberate. Deliberate or not, it had the effect of making Segundus hungry for him; without prompting, he crawled up Childermass's body and took his cock in one hand.
Childermass's mouth dropped slightly open. He watched heavy-eyed as Segundus pulled loosely at him— just enough to make him feel it, just enough to make him want it. When a drop of liquid welled up at the top, Segundus bent his head and very delicately licked at it: the smallest, cleanest press of his tongue.
"Jesus Christ," Childermass hissed. He leant forward and got an iron grip around Segundus's wrists, dragging him forwards until their cocks were flush. The little bottle he took from the saddlebag must have contained some kind of oil, for when he tipped it out into his palm, his hand came away slick. He stroked himself with that hand, which caused him to close his eyes for a moment, and then he was urging Segundus up to his knees and spreading his legs very wide. Segundus felt the kiss of his cock against him, and then that slow press, the gradual giving-way that forced him so very open. He gasped and gasped; it did not seem much easier than before. But the grip of Childermass's hands at his hips became a feather-touch, stroking frantically but lightly, and he saw that this allowed him to lower himself at his own pace.
It was a slow pace, but he very quickly discovered that the slower he went, the more it was astonishing: the sharp little shocks of pleasure that came from the oddest movements, from the dragging-out and the pushing-in, or even just from shifting slightly. They were so raw, so intense that he could not display them; he felt they were written all over his face, and when he saw Childermass watching him with a look of blunt starvation, he knew that they must be. This, however, only provoked him to display them further. He liked that look; he liked the tremble in Childermass's hands; he liked the very subtle flinch that told him Childermass was preventing himself from thrusting upwards. "Yes," he gasped very deliberately as he rode his hips down, taking more of Childermass's cock into him and "oh, oh, yes," riding up then letting it sink deeper.
"Tart," Childermass accused, and then he did thrust up a little, enough to push him in Segundus completely, then small sharp thrusts that barely withdrew at all. "If I'd've known you liked it so much, I'd've had you riding it months ago, giving it to you every chance I'd get, just— just— ah— picking you up and—"
Segundus made a very violent sound at that and jerked his hips, resulting in a deep thrust that, from the noise, was satisfying for both of them. He did it again, the same deep slide, turning it into a steady back-and-forth of penetration that set the slow fire of pleasure starting inside him. This prompted him to wrap a hand around his own cock, dragging more involuntary sounds out of himself.
"Yes," Childermass said. "Yes." He fucked up hard, his hands digging into Segundus's hips once more. "Show me, show me how much you like it."
Segundus, who did like it, and who was liking it very intensely as his cock slipped more quickly through his hand, was content to oblige him. It seemed only natural to make noise, to gasp out nonsense sounds as though Childermass's cock was forcing them out of him, as though he had always had these noises inside him, but had tried to keep them secret. Now the sensation of being so deeply fucked was too overwhelming, and he could not stop himself gasping out this nonsense. His hand shook as he felt himself inch so very close to climax, a sort of magnetic pole that became more powerful as he neared it, a kind of ultimate extreme, and then he was arching, arching, as though he could escape the pleasure— feeling himself spurt wet— trembling—
Vaguely he was aware of Childermass moaning something under him, pushing up into him very hard and fast, but he was too dazed to really pay much attention. His body felt slightly overheated, almost singed; it threw sparks as Childermass drove into him over and over, sparks that made him squeeze his eyes shut and cry out and wince. He could not say if they were pleasurable or not. Soon he felt the wet rush of Childermass finishing and— oddly— Childermass taking one of his hands and kissing the back of it very fervently.
When Segundus opened his eyes, he saw that he had not imagined this strange idea. Childermass was indeed holding his hand, and was gazing at him with a tremendously complicated expression. It was both serious and unserious at the same time, as though he had been surprised in the middle of laughter by the sight of something quite solemn. Segundus could not really parse it out. He felt ill-equipped for the task of doing so.
Childermass coaxed him upwards, so that he could draw himself out, and then helped Segundus down beside him. They were both very filthy, and the bed was rather narrow, but Segundus found that he did not really mind at that moment, with Childermass wrapping himself around him extremely thoroughly and breathing warmly at his neck. When he found that he was stroking Childermass's hair, he did not stop himself, but— after a pause— shifted the drowsy touch to Childermass's back, so he could run his hand over the warm skin there and feel the heartbeat underneath it.
"I'm," he said tentatively, just to make sure it was all right, "I'm falling asleep." It felt foolish to state so basic a fact.
In response, Childermass groped a hand up to cover his mouth. Segundus smiled against it.
Chapter 6: Epilogue
Segundus half-awoke sometime in the early afternoon because Childermass was getting out of the bed; he turned a fretful face towards him, blinking sleepily, but Childermass whispered, "Hush, I'm going to wash," and stroked his hair with a gentle hand until Segundus was asleep again.
Later, he awoke because he was being thoroughly kissed, which he supposed was not an unpleasant way to awaken. He thought he could get used to it. "Mm," he said, and curled towards Childermass, still very drowsy. "I'm still in your bed."
"Yes," Childermass agreed. "I can see that. Is that all right, then?" He said it in his customary dry, indifferent tone, but when Segundus studied his face, he could see that Childermass was in fact rather uncertain. There was a light tension running all through him.
"Yes," Segundus said. "Please do not throw me out of it."
"I have no wish to do so," Childermass said. He touched Segundus's cheek very carefully. "So there'll be no more nonsense about running off into peril?"
"I— nonsense?" Segundus pushed himself indignantly to one elbow. "Nonsense? You ran away to Leeds and lied about having business!"
Childermass paused and looked shifty. "Well," he said. "That is true."
"I know it is true! I saw the bookseller's receipt! You sent me a letter on the back of it!"
"I," Childermass said. He looked very uncomfortable. "I am not so accustomed to... owning things."
"You do not own me!" Segundus protested. He had sat up by this point, and was seriously considering getting out of the bed, or might have been if Childermass had not been stroking his arm gently, then pressing his mouth in a conciliatory fashion to it.
"No," Childermass mumbled against the skin of his elbow. "But I did not want to damage you."
"Damage me?" Segundus reached a new pitch of outrage.
"Stop," Childermass groaned. His mouth had reached Segundus's shoulder, and he abruptly shifted to pin Segundus beneath the warm weight of his body, burying his face at Segundus's neck. "Stop. Just stop— being offended; stop thinking I do not approve of your magic; stop going and getting yourself enchanted, so I must contemplate very unpleasant things happening to you—"
"I do not see how I can stop being enchanted!" Segundus interjected hotly. "It is hardly my doing!"
"—stop looking at me with that face whenever you are unhappy—"
"Now you are being absurd; I cannot help that at all! It is my face!"
"Yes," Childermass said. "I know. I am very fond of it. I would very much like it to remain in my bed."
"Oh," Segundus said. He had wrapped his arms around Childermass and was very comfortable in this position, so he did not think there was an immediate chance that he would get out of the bed. But he assumed they were talked about a slightly larger timescale. He considered for a while. "I suppose— but I cannot do anything about being enchanted! I do not know why it happens so very often!"
"Are you serious," Childermass said. He lifted his head and peered at Segundus as though to ascertain whether he were, in fact, serious. "I can't imagine anyone having a look and not wanting to enchant you. If I were a fairy, I'd have a go of it myself."
"I do not think that can be the reason," Segundus said rather primly.
"There is also the fact that you are quite a powerful magician, and you go about trailing it everywhere for all to see. And a nine-herbed gate will prevent magical extrusions; it will not stop you being seduced into walking through it."
"I was not seduced."
Childermass smirked. "Well, you were," he said. "But luckily it was not by fairies."
Segundus smacked him lightly on the side of the head. After a moment, he said, "I do not think I can really be a very powerful magician, though."
"I do not know about that," Childermass said. "You have quite enchanted me."
[On a half-sheet of parchment; reverse: "One Spell For Locating
Lost Trace Objects"]
Dear sir: If it was you who removed the November edition of the Famulus Reviviscens from the corner table of the downstairs library, please be so good as to return it at your earliest convenience, as I require it for a footnote and have been in search of it for an hour. I shall be very cross if, at the end of the day, I discover that it is under your bed. As ever, J.S.
[Same page, written very small]
If you knew where it was, then why didn't you look there first? J.C.
[On the reverse of: page 31, A Diligent Grove of English Magic, September 1818]
Dear sir: I have specifically requested on multiple occasions that you NOT transcribe the King's Letters in the kitchen, as doing so causes the potatoes to sprout roots and chickens to hatch from all of the eggs. If you direct your attention indoors, where it has been needed for the last quarter-hour, you will find that a game bird has now sprouted feathers and will not be convinced to surrender its nest in the pantry. As ever, J.S.
[On a strip of parchment, reverse: a list of page numbers corresponding to charms for learning the languages of animals, to wit: horses, tortoises, seals, ravens, and cuttlefish]
You did look very amusing threatening it with a broom, though. J.C.
[On a half-sheet of parchment, reverse: We also need sugar.]
Dear sir: As I suspect your absence signifies that you have gone to York for the week-end, I wish to remind you to purchase some red ribbon while there, as you insist on using mine despite the numerous occasions upon which I have requested that you refrain from this. Perhaps, though I know it is an outlandish suggestion, you might even purchase double the quantity I require, and then regard yourself as having your own red ribbon, so that you need not poach from my supply. As ever, J.S.
[On a York bookseller's receipt for one copy of Raven Volant, an interpretation of the signs and events of the Restoration of English Magic, with an account of the Johannite Rebellions, three magical periodicals, and a book of poems by John Clare]
Always on about your bloody ribbons. I will be back on Monday. Foxcastle wants a word. J.C.
[On a half-sheet of parchment]
Dear sir: I have repeatedly and on a number of very memorable occasions told you: NOT ON THE TABLES. Now, as you may also have observed, the dining table has developed a significant wobble. I suspect there is a weakness in its left leg. I assume you have already conceived of a plan for repairing this defect, since it is very much the consequence of your weak will and impatience. As ever, J.S.
[Same page, reverse]
If I have conceived of such a plan, then I see no reason for the proscription. I will assume it is out of date. J.C.
[Same page, written very small]
Dear sir: You would be wrong to assume so; the proscription stands. You cannot simply go about tipping people over the nearest table-back and [the writing here becomes illegible]