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live inside whatever flies

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Mori wakes from a dream of wings to find Thaniel has gone. He pads downstairs in his bare feet, the morning fog permeating the shutters. He makes breakfast for himself and Six without thinking about it, putting a bowl of porridge on the table for her and making tea for himself, and then for Thaniel. The steam mingles with the fog at the window, the two cross-pollinating in the cracks.

Six is sitting on the edge of the table, swinging her feet. "Where is he?" she asks, in Japanese; Mori only shakes his head. Later today he will take her to the vivarium, or perhaps along the river, where ships' anchors and ropes clank among the ice, and the hawkers sell roast chestnuts along the bank.

*

Even for those without his abilities, there would have been signs and portents. Thaniel in a moment of reverie, standing at the doorway out to Filigree Street, looking out above the fog-blurred rooftops towards the sky. Fanshaw, at the Foreign Office, reading through a document received from the wire with Thaniel's annotations in the margin. "Steepleton, you really do speak the language like a native," he'd said, half-laughing and wholly sincere. And in the workshop, dozens of winged things: starlings and magpies, fragile and luminescent, and hummingbirds spinning so fast that one could hear the clockwork. Mori has made them with absent-minded concentration, these last few weeks; they would have sold well, but he has let none of them go. Thaniel's knuckles white on the edge of the table. The fog drifting in from the river, close and stifling so the light cast no shadows.

And finally, on the table, next to the stone-cold tea that Thaniel is not here to drink: two farthings, a shilling and half-a-crown, shiny from handling; and a paper bag from a toyshop on the Strand, that held a pair of dice.

*

The newspapers are prognosticating snow, once this raw cold deepens, and printing copies of old lithographs reminiscent of Dickens. Mori buys a Standard on the walk through Hyde Park, the grass sludgy and damp beneath his boots.

"What's a frost fair?" Six asks, her eyes uneasy on the blackletter text of the headline. She reads better in Japanese than she does in English, which delights Thaniel, who is teaching Six Japanese which he has learned from Mori who learned English from Thaniel, the three of them making and remaking each other.

"It's when ice forms on the river, and people can walk on it," Mori tells her. "The last time was in 1831. It's unlikely."

The word unlikely snags something in his memory, like a missing tooth on a cog. Thaniel on a street corner in a pool of gaslight, flipping a coin from hand to hand, mind hollow of intention. A clockwork ghost, Mori thinks, and feels wretched with cold.

"Oh," Six says, stops to examine something bright in the grass, and picks up a penny, tossing it from hand to hand.

Unlikely, Mori thinks again, futile and fruitless.

*

Six puts herself to bed that night, mutinous and grumbling. And then the brazier is lit, low and slow-burning so the heat has time to permeate the air, finally, to get in all the crannies and the cracks.

When Mori looks up, Thaniel is in the doorway, his hands in his pockets. "Keita—"

"You don't have to say anything," Mori says, soldering the edges of another clockwork bird, this one a creature of fantasy, wings translucent like boiled sweets. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to do."

Thaniel sits at the table and puts his head down, hands in his hair. He intends to speak of how he walked around London today led only by dice and coin tosses and chance, and it was exhausting; about how Fanshaw told him he spoke Japanese like a native speaker, because what is native to him has been altered, as though clockwork lives within his flesh; that love is something and the best of things but not everything that one can choose. That one must choose.

That he is still sorry, for the day's grief; that he would have been back earlier, but the fog was so thick.

He will fall asleep very soon. Mori puts down the soldering iron and considers the matter. They never found Katsu, but he misses the movement of another living thing in the house. He opens up the heart of the bird and thinks about an assortment of random cogs and gears, falling where they will.

*

When Mori wakes up again, Thaniel is in his bed, his weight making dips and hollows in the sheets, sleeping too deeply for any shadow of intention. Mori holds him and kisses his hair, the warmth between them lingering, and after a while he goes downstairs and makes tea, carrying it back up through the silent house. There is no fog. Sunlight is creeping in through all the gaps in the timbers and the sky is a deep, lambent blue.

"Thaniel," Mori says, "wake up, please. Just for a moment."

Thaniel stirs, moving towards the light spilling from the window. "Keita? What is it?"

"It's all right," Mori murmurs after a minute. "It's all right, sleep, sleep" – and he can't think, even immediately afterwards, if he spoke in English or Japanese or both together. Thaniel intends to stay.

Mori gets back into bed. He takes a sip from the teacup, then puts it back on the side. By some inarticulate instinct, his fingers are tracing the lines of Thaniel's shoulderblades, following the sharp rise and fall of the bones. Outside all such edges are lined with frost and Mori is thinking about clockwork again; about how muscles slide across surfaces, and how one might pattern the same movements in metal and corundum. Later today Thaniel will go out to buy tea and chestnuts for Six, eyes bright in that vivid, intense cold. Mori will keep the doors to the workshop open. The breath of winter tempers the metal, but he wants to hear Thaniel's footsteps when returning, steady beneath the rustle of wings.