“It’s hypocritical horseshit,” you pronounce, gesturing with your unlit cigarette.
There’s no reply. Instead Reid continues to steadily flick through the reports on his desk. Or rather he pretends to do so. His eyes don’t move and there’s a faraway look on his face. You’re sure that he feels the injustice of the situation as keenly as you do though. He has to, or else he’s not the man that you’ve built him up to be in your mind.
Slouching back in Reid’s visitor’s chair you light the cigarette, your cheeks hollowing with the force of your first inhale. You smoke in silence, lost in your own thoughts as you wait for him to tire of your company and kick you out onto the dark streets.
“It truly doesn’t bother you?” Reid eventually asks, still frowning down at his papers.
“What?” you ask, only to seconds later remember your previous conversation. Well, if you ranting at a silent man could be referred to as such. Straightening up you pluck the cigarette out of your mouth before you continue: “Men fucking other men? No, of course it doesn’t bother me, Reid. It’s no business of mine what other men do with their dicks.”
Reid’s frown deepens but he says nothing. Still refusing to look at you, he scratches something down in the margin of one of the reports. The nib digs deep into the paper. While you’re fairly adept at reading upside down, you don’t bother trying this time. Whenever Reid’s in a snit, his penmanship suffers. You’d be lucky to be able to read his scribbles right side up, never mind at the wrong angle and in poor lighting.
“You gonna pretend that it bothers you?” you shot back, unwilling, or perhaps unable, to let the matter go. You can hear your accent thickening, which only serves to annoy you further as it reminds you of places rather forgotten. “You think one man sticking his hand into another one’s trousers truly warrants-“
You finally get a response. Reid slams the flat of his palm against the wooden surface, producing a loud crack and all but causing a stack of reports to cascade over the edge of the desk. His chair scrapes against the floor as he stands up and storms around the desk to loom over you. You close your mouth mid-sentence, your own outrage forgotten as you sink back into the chair to take in the sight. Reid’s pale skin has flushed in a band stretching over his nose, his eyes flash darkly in warning and his jaw works in silent anger. He looks absolutely furious.
Also, absolutely breathtaking. He’ll either throw you out or slam you into the nearest wall. Either way he’ll have to put his hands on you. Stacking the deck in you favor, you tilt your head up and offer him a lazy grin that’s sure to infuriate him further.
“Do you have to be so foul?” he asks, not taking the bait. In fact, he sounds far more weary than he does angry and it dawns on you that you might have miscalculated his mood. Looking away, Reid quietly continues: “And no, Captain, I’m not going to pretend. Not tonight.”
There’s a young man – hardly more than a boy – in the dead-room, sliced open like a pig and with his intestines in a bowl. Poison, you’d told Reid as you’d scrubbed your nails clean of blood. Checking his meticulous notes, Drake had confirmed that the lad’s last meal had been eaten at home, at his own parent’s table. The mother had confessed after just half a dozen questions, her eyes brimming with angry tears as the words rushed out of her.
How could he, she’d demanded, clinging to Drake with claw-like fingers, how could her only son do this to her? To her husband? To his little sisters? She’d turned in her son’s lover too, shrieking his name and crime for all to hear so to leave Reid with no choice but to act on her accusation. The poor bastard, heart-broken and with his future ruined, now sat locked up below next to Medea herself.
“A good night to share a bottle of whiskey,” you hint, bracing yourself for refusal. Drake has already turned you down, his shoulder slamming into yours as he pushed past you in his rush to leave the station. He’d looked worn, the furrows of his face deep and his posture far from solider straight. You’d called after him, prescribing him a stiff drink and good night’s sleep.
Distracted by the memory, you miss Reid’s answer. Noticing that he’s collected his coat and hat you jump to your feet at once, only to then linger uncertainly by the door.
“Let’s go,” Reid says, shoving you towards the door. “This will all keep until tomorrow.”
You move quickly, lest he change his mind.
Here’s the thing. You carry a torch for that man. Have for years.
How could you not when he drags you away from the monotony of coughs and itches, from the lure of the bottle and the mires of your own mind? When he built you a goddamned replica of the John Hopkins’ dead-room, based on nothing but your drunk ramblings? When just a few words of praise from the man, spoken in his deep and rumbling voice, makes you hard enough to ache?
Susan knows of your pathetic little crush, of course. Drake acts like he does, although you can’t imagine that he approves. As for Reid, you take bleak comfort in the fact that the man’s never been too good at noticing things not directly related to his work.
“Here,” Reid says, passing you a tumbler filled to the brim with amber liquid. Some of the whiskey spills over the edge, wetting his fingers and trailing down the palm of his hand. You follow the tiny drops with your eyes, wishing you could lick his skin clean. Instead you taste your drink, humming in pleasure at the smooth burn.
When you look up, it’s to find Reid staring at you. His pupils are wide, his mouth half-open. The sight sends your heart racing. You want to be close enough to see your reflection in those eyes. You want to press your mouth against his and plunder it. You want to dishevel him further and see him unravel through your actions.
Instead you down the rest of your drink in one swallow. You shudder, fire exploding down your throat and behind your ribs. Your skin prickles with sweat. You push to your feet, discarding your coat and throwing it across the back of an empty chair. Sneaking a glance at your host, you find him still staring. Reid appears as if frozen in place, his own tumbler still on the table and his chest barely moving as he breathes.
Acting on careless impulse, you start undoing the buttons of your vest. If he wants something to watch, you’ll give him a proper show. You’re rewarded as Reid’s eyes lock onto your fingers as if they’re performing the most fascinating trick in the world. You can hear the thumps of your heart pumping blood through your body but nothing else, every other sound drowned by the loud ringing in your ears. Licking your lips, you taste whiskey, sweat and copper.
You could stop now. Do the sensible thing and reach for the bottle, refill your glass and sit back down again. Fill the silence with nonsense until Reid’s collected himself and everything’s returned to status quo. You could do that. You should do that. But you don’t. Hell, you can’t. If you knew how to do the sensible thing you’d never have kissed the daughter of Theodore Swift. You’d never have joined the Pinkerton’s in the first place. You’d probably never even have left Richmond, Virginia.
So instead you reach for the buttons of your shirt, expecting Reid – Reid who never left London, who owns a brick and mortar house and very sensibly goes to work every morning at dawn – to put an end to the madness. You will your hands not to tremble and force your lungs to take slow and even breaths. You can’t risk giving away just how much this matters to you. When Reid puts a stop to this dangerous little game – as he inevitably will – you don’t mean to let it destroy you.
You learned a long time ago that the trick to conning someone is to tell them what they expect to hear. So, when Reid stops you, you mean to laugh and tumble back down into your chair. Act boneless and unsteady as he grimly escorts you out of his home. Should he bring it up again, which you find unlikely, you’ll pretend complete ignorance. You can picture the scene already, your eyes wide and your hands raised as you drawl that’s some whiskey you were serving, brother.
Only Reid doesn’t stop you. Which means that, button by button, you undo your shirt. The air, barely heated by the fire Reid had started upon your arrival, must be cold against your bare skin but you don’t notice. You raise your head and meet his eyes, wishing they were truly the windows to the soul and that, if you tried hard enough, you’d somehow find yourself able to read his intentions.
I’m not going to pretend, Reid had said. Not tonight.
What the hell did that mean?
Since Susan, you’ve been with three men.
The first had been business rather than pleasure. A quick hand-job in a stuffy office, a heavy belly pushing against your arm as some under-paid, lonely clerk rutted against you. His breath had been warm and wet, smelling of sausage and onion. But his signature on your faked travel documents had kept you and Susan safe. You never told her about it, but in hindsight you suspect that she figured it out right away.
The second man she definitely knew about though. She’d watched the two of you wrestle on cold and silky sheets, her fingers playing between her legs and her hair tumbling down over naked shoulders. One moment you’d been on top, straddling him as you’d explored his mouth. The next he’d had you pinned to the mattress, grinding into your belly and sucking on your neck. You doubt you’d recognize the fellow if you bumped into him on the street, but you can still recall Susan’s voice as she heaped praise on you both. Later on she’d petted your bruises, her fingers cool against your flushed skin as she’d told you how very good you’d been.
The third man… well, by that time things had long since gone sour between the two of you. Susan’s eyes had shuttered and her tongue turned sharp. To punish her you’d gorged yourself on soft and pretty, the girls of Tenter Street giggling and blushing as you charmed and cajoled your way into their rooms. Then one morning you woke in a strange bed, bare-ass naked with your belly churning from too much whiskey. Squinting into the grey light of dawn, you’d found a stranger, unmistakably male with broad shoulders and hairy arms, sleeping beside you. That had made for an unpleasant surprise.
So, yes. Three men before Susan. Two before her.
But none like Edmund Reid.
When he moves you’re all but certain that violence will follow.
You decide that you’ll allow him one hit. Maybe two, if the situation seems to demand it. Any more than that and you’ll fight back though. Reid’s taller and heavier, sure, but he also has a bad shoulder and a limited range of movement. You might be soft on the man, but you’re not stupid. Push comes to shove, and you’ll hit him where it hurts. After all, it’s the only way you know how to survive.
Reid grabs you by the shoulders, his grip hard enough to bruise. If he head-butts you, or forces you into a corner you’ll lose what little advantage you have. Yet, against your better judgement, you allow him to crowd you against a wall. His hands weigh you down, anchoring you in place. You can feel each one of his fingertips, burning holes into your shoulder blades. His thumbs dig into the thin skin covering your clavicles. It hurts, yet you’d hate him for let go.
His hands shift, his thick fingers suddenly wrapped around your neck. He could snap it, you think. The thought hits you like a bucket of cold water. You don’t mind some bruises to remind you of a good night, but there are limits even to your particular brand of madness.
“Reid,” you begin, your voice so thick that you barely recognize it as your own. And then he thrusts his mouth against yours, his lips dry and cracked and his grip suddenly feather light around your neck.
A strangled noise finds its way past your lips. For a few heartbeats you claw uselessly at his coat, your body misinterpreting the signals sent by your brain. Then you push back: grabbing hold of him and deepening the kiss, angling your face so that you can tease his bottom lip with your teeth. The noise he makes goes straight to your spine and you lock your knees to ensure that you stay on your feet. An imagine flashes through your mind; Reid in his armchair with you straddling his lap, his fingers tangled in your hair and your mouth on his bare skin. It’s a fantasy, nothing different from what you’ve conjured before, only this time it has the potential of turning into reality.
“Reid,” you say again, speaking into his mouth. When he huffs in annoyance, warm air tickles your upper lip. Instead of answering, he kisses you again. He kisses you like he means it. Like he’s wanted to do so for a long time. At the thought, at the goddamned implication, your lungs struggle to fill with air.
“Reid,” you grind out, more demanding now.
He sighs, pulling his mouth away at the same time as he tilts his head forward. Your foreheads touch, your nose just a hairs-width apart from his and his breath mingling with yours each time he exhales.
“Is this what you want?” he asks, as impatient and easily annoyed with you now as he would be at the station or at the scene of a gruesome murder.
“Yeah,” you manage.
“Then be quiet.”
With working girls you always made a point of being sweet and playful. Seeing the shadows in their eyes you tried to chase that darkness away, offering something light and easy to make them forget about paying clients and faked moans. When angry with you Susan had sometimes made it out as if you pestered her girls, but you both knew that they snuck into your room as often as you found your way into theirs.
With Susan it had been different though. She had known you. And you had trusted her. There had been unwritten rules and well-mapped out limits. The palm of her hand striking your face made you arch up in pleasure. Her nails clawing your back made you beg. But her voice, oh her voice. Tasking you with her pleasure. Scolding you, praising you. Opening the door to a peaceful, quiet place in your mind.
You’ve missed that place something fierce since she left you.
You can be quiet.
You remind yourself of that, over and over again, biting the fleshy insides of your cheeks and swallowing each stray sound before it can breach your lips. Reid tests your resolve, he truly does. What he lacks in experience and imagination, he more than makes up for in determination alone. He approaches your body like a scientific experiment, testing one thing after another to see if it makes you squirm.
If you could speak, you’d tell him not to bother. You’re easy to please. Always have been.
Instead you suck your lower lip into your mouth, your entire body clenching as he closes his fist around you. Your hips jerk and Reid looks satisfied with himself. Proud almost. His grip tight, bordering on uncomfortable. That doesn’t stop you from pushing into his hand. Doesn’t stop you from wanting to beg for more. Or from grabbing onto his arm, your fingers tangling into the fabric of his shirt as if to keep him from leaving.
“Stop that,” he says. “Let go.”
You let go, pressing your hands against the wall instead. It’s hard, even more so than being quiet. He smiles at your actions though, surprised but pleased. It’s a breath-taking smile, all the more because you’re the reason for it.
“Good man,” Reid says, obviously joking. Obviously.
That doesn’t stop you from coming all over his hand. For a few moments, you only know silent bliss. The door to that old, peaceful place in your mind creaks open… only to slam shut as reality catches up with you. You’re not with Susan. You’re not in a safe place.
You’re with Edmund Reid and he’s staring at you like you’re a riddle to solve.