The city wakes up at the drone of the iron wall coming down and disappearing into the earth. From above, it's like watching the city emerge, finally, in its glorious morning beauty. The mechanical ramparts enclosing the city give off a soft humming, like the buzz of a big power unit, which is just white noise for the old citizens but requires a few months to get used to from the new ones. It takes the wall approximately two minutes to follow its rails into the ground and settle with a little shake. Meanwhile, the night watch – genome soldiers especially engineered to be most efficient at night – retreat into their quarters, and the day watch replaces it. The staccato of the soldiers' steps echoes through the streets as the market comes alive with his mixture of voices and languages. One by one the Trade Towers light up, and soon people are swarming in and out of them as their working day begins. Everything seems to suddenly move, as if someone had plugged in a plug.
Just a few decades ago, Silverlock was a village in the middle of a valley nobody knew, but nothing remains of that small town now. The city stretches for miles, as far as the eye can see, and it takes almost two hours to get from one side of it to the other with the monorail. In a very short time, exploiting the developing wave that was transforming that part of the world, Silverlock has risen to be what it is now, a monster of glass, steel and silver, the single parts of which fit perfectly with each other, forming a giant mechanism. It's like a perfect mechanical body, with its heart and brain nestled in the same place, the Presidential Palace, where both the political leader and the religious leader reside and are, in fact, married to each other.
Not everybody agrees with the concentration of both powers in one single family, but the marriage broke off a civil war before it could even begin and it's currently keeping the balance between a very religious faction – that has traditionally always controlled the city – and a newest more secular faction that was ready to take over. The most common joke is that the two leaders rule the city as they must be ruling their marriage, by strongly compromising. Satire often depicts them as parents with different, if not opposite, views try to educate a child-Silverlock.
Leo loves those jokes, especially because they are true. That is what would happen if they had a child. It is very hard for him to deal with Blaine's endless ceremonial duties, with his constant reminders of an eternal, impenetrable power that knows everything, with the way he sometimes talks to him, kind of lecturing him in a way, even if Leo is not sure this particularly annoying feature depends on Blaine being a minister, or rather on him being twenty years older than Leo.
But it's hard for Blaine too, as Leo doesn't believe in god. He believes in many things – science, collaboration, treaties, alliances – but not in an invisible man in the sky who created everything, especially when science already established a million years ago how everything came to be. Blaine is a minister of god with an atheist husband, and he really shows a great amount of patience every day in dealing with someone who denies everything he stands for and believes in, in always searching a path between what is utterly true for him and what is clear evidence for his husband to find some common ground.
And yet, despite what someone still thinks, their marriage was not a political move. They really fell for each other and decided that, rather than making war, they were going to make love. A lot of it, actually. The consequence of that was their combined effort to make things work for both their factions, because failing would have meant the failure of their marriage too.
“You awake?” In the perfect quietness of their bedroom Blaine's voice sounds loud and clear, even if it's just a murmur to Leo's ear.
“Yes.” Leo doesn't move. He's trying to make out the outlines of the furniture, but the room is plunged in darkness. He can only barely sense the skyline of the city behind the curtains. Or maybe he's just making that up from memory.
“Did you get some sleep?” Blaine asks, leaving a kiss on his earlobe. He moves on the mattress, pulling him closer. Leo feels his husband's body welcoming his own.
“Not much,” Leo answers. He doesn't feel like talking. He's been staring at the empty space all night, for what he remembers, thinking about what awaits him later, and he doesn't have it in him to do much more.
Blaine lets out a patient sigh as his fingers trace a delicate path along Leo's naked hip. “You don't feel ready?”
“Am I ever ready?” Leo asks. He turns to look at him and Blaine catches his lips in a brief kiss. “Besides, there's nothing I can do. Either it worked or it didn't. I can change the outcome of the examination no more than I can change the weather.”
“Everything's going to be fine,” Blaine says as he has done last time and the time before that, and every time they had this conversation, really. If Leo didn't know him so well, he would be offended by the fact that his husband seems more interested in nuzzling his neck than anything else at the moment.
“What if it's not?”
“It is,” Blaine insists. He grabs him by his hips and forces him to turn around. Despite the comfortable darkness between them, his golden eyes are clearly visible. “Stop fretting over it.”
“Why are you so sure about it?”
Blaine chuckles. “You know very well the answer to that question,” he says.
Leo rolls his eyes. “Right. Then, please don't answer me.”
Leo tries to move away, but he's too slow and he doesn't really want to, so Blaine traps him between his arms and places a noisy kiss on his forehead. “Oh, but I'm dying to answer you,” he says, happily. “I know that everything's gonna work out in the end because the Unicum has a plan for each one of us.”
“Are you aware that if something works out doesn't necessarily mean that everything's gonna be the way you wanted it?” Leo asks, one of his many questions about the usefulness of religious set phrases.
“No matter how it turns out, the result will always be for the best, if you have faith.”
“But I don't,” Leo insists. “You're making me even more nervous.”
Blaine coos a little, sounding very silly and sweet at the same time. “And here I was thinking that I managed to calm you down yesterday night,” he sighs, dramatically as he pushes Leo so close to himself that all Leo can smell for a moment is his strong scent. Not that he's complaining about it.
In fact, Leo looks up, smirking. “Wanna give it another try?”
The way Leo's lisp are turning at the corners shows Blaine that he distracted his husband enough already, but the day is not properly started yet, and it's going to be a long one, so why not enjoy a little extra time in bed? “I had you twice last night,” he reminds him.
Leo shrugs. “Third time's a charm.”
Blaine laughs, a low, rough laugh that seems to fill up the room and makes Leo shiver.
He lies down and parts his legs to make room for him as Blaine gently falls between his knees. The Sun is finally high enough to set their room ablaze, the red curtains turning the light a vibrant orange. Blaine's tanned skin acquires new shades, and lines and shadows that Leo can follow with the tip of his tongue. He closes his eyes, biting down on Blaine's shoulder as he feels him thrust inside, open him up, searching for that perfect spot that makes Leo scream. Blaine's almost on the wrong side of rough, but he never crosses it. Leo can ride that tinge of pain to find his pleasure, and it's always perfect.
They can discuss for hours, fight savagely for days over one single line of a bill they both threaten to reject, but all comes down to this, to the sound of Blaine's voice and the warmth in Leo's stomach. And as long as what matters will be right between them, the city has nothing to fear.
Leo stops pacing, but remains standing. He wraps himself better in his black silky housecoat and ties the soft belt. Then, left with a pair of hands he doesn't know what to do with, he crosses his arms to his chest and sighs for the millionth time in the past ten minutes.
“I have an idea,” Blaine says, perfectly calm as per his own nature. All his toasts buttered, he can start spreading raspberry jam on them.
Blaine doesn't bother to explain what idea is that, so Leo is forced to ask, “Which is?”
His husband smiles. “Since a maid came all the way here to bring us our breakfast and you even got out of bed to meet her at the door, maybe it could be sensible to at least try and actually have this breakfast that dragged you out of bed.”
Leo rolls his eyes and, almost in retaliation, he starts pacing again. “I met her at the door only because I didn't want her fussing around the room,” he explains as he reaches the big circular window that occupies almost half the farthest wall. He pulls the curtains, taking in the portion of the city that can be seen from there. On the right, the financial district, with the Stock Exchange skyscraper towering over two blocks of glass buildings filled with offices. On the left, the Church of the Unicum, shorter than the Presidential Palace, but undoubtedly bigger, spreading all the way to the river, a portion of which has been rerouted to stream inside the church itself. “Besides, you know I can't eat anything. It messes with the test results. Even though why is beyond me. It's not like I'm gonna carry a child in my stomach.”
“A cup of tea, then? No sugar,” Blaine offers again, relentlessly.
Leo's sigh is slow and seeking patience. He knows Blaine won't either get bored with this game or give up. Leo supposes that a life of praying to an entity who never answers prepared him for that. “Fine, but just a bit,” he gives in. He turns around and finds his husband smiling as he pours him a cup. The strong liquorice smell of the infusion fills the room and, for a moment, Leo feels a bit nauseous. Unconsciously, he allows himself a sparkle of hope.
“You'll see, this is gonna make you feel better,” Blaine says. He was expecting Leo to get back in bed with him, but his husband just grabs the cup and his tablet and starts pacing again.
“Thanks,” he mumbles, flipping through the news.
Blaine sighs. He could repeats for the umpteenth time how letting the nerves have the best of him won't change the exam results or help him in any way, but it would be pointless. Once Leo is convinced of something, there's no way of making him change his mind. Sometimes it's useful – when he decided he was indeed gonna marry Blaine, despite his people being against it – and sometimes it's just reason enough to send him away on a long, long trip on some far away planet. In the second case, Blaine always opts for a change of subject. “Good news?” He asks, sipping his coffee.
“I wouldn't say that,” Leo says, reading the news section. “There have been two terrorist attacks during the night, in Ironlock and Goldenlock. That gives a completely different meaning to the failed hacking attempt at our bank system. I need to talk to my chief of security later.”
“Blaine frowns. “What failed hacking attempt?”
Leo doesn't turn his eyes away from the page. “The one we didn't report to the press,” he says, sipping from his mug.
“Excuse me?” There's more than a tip of disbelief in Blaine's voice. “Last time I checked, I wasn't the press and you didn't report it to me either.”
Finally, Leo looks up. “I didn't think it was important.”
“What?” Blaine snorts. “You didn't think a possible attack to the bank system of the city was important?”
“A failed attempt,” Leo corrects him, totally immune to the disappointment Blaine is holding back, but can't hide to his husband because he wears it on his face. “It didn't pass the first level of defense, it was completely ineffectual.”
“I can't believe you didn't tell me.”
“The day you will agree on merging the city bank with your Church's treasury, I'll share details on our security breaches with you,” Leo says, very calmly.
Blaine frowns. “Oh, it's you against us, again?”
“No, it's the city bank, over which you have no control until you decide to merge your treasury with it, against your treasury in which I can't even enter.”
“Well, Leo, you're not the head of state,” Blaine says, quite reasonably.
“No, I'm not,” he agrees. “But there's a Responsibilities Division Decree, dated two years ago, that ratifies—“
Leo would have happily gone on and on about all the decrees and law that make possibly for the government to have some autonomy from the Church, which up to a few years ago controlled the city completely and is still controlling the majority of it – but someone is knocking at the door and they both know it must be the doctor. Suddenly, their full disclosure on political matters is a problem for later.
“I get the door,” Blaine says, getting out of bed. Leo nods, nervously.
Dr. Sam Vanderbilt is an old friend of Blaine. As far as Leo knows, they grew up together in a little town called Westerville, and they were sent here to study. Silverlock wasn't even half of what it's now, but it had already the best private schools of the territory. She's an extremely flamboyant, headstrong woman with the ability to filling up a whole room with her mere presence. In fact, as soon as Blaine lets her in, Leo finds himself plunged into her flowery perfume, her hug and a river of words he can barely follow.
“Sorry I'm late, boys, but the traffic in this city, I tell you, is quickly becoming a nightmare,” she says, taking off her coat and throwing it unceremoniously on an armchair. “You really should do something about it, Blaine.”
“I'll take your complaint into consideration.”
“You speak just like a perfect politician,” she comments, shaking her head. Then, she turns to Leo and smiles, a comforting, motherly smile, even if she looks anything but maternal. “Now, Leo, darling, shall we proceed?”
Leo nods and takes off his housecoat. Nervously, he looks around to see where to put it – he's so agitated he can't even think straight – and Blaine's ready to take it from him. Leo lies down on the bed, his back propped against two pillows.
Sam places her bag on the bed and looks at him as she takes out a scanner and another little device Leo knows and hates with a passion. “Finger, please,” Sam asks. And when Leo presents his index finger to her, she adds, “This is gonna hurt a little, but you know that.”
The device is a small white tablet with two cables. One is connected to the scanner, the other ends with a small needle that Sam uses to prick Leo's skin.
Pregnancies are usually quite easy to detect and monitor. Doctors are not called in to tell you if you are expecting a baby or not. There are plenty of devices a person could buy to check for themselves. But in special cases, that is when it doesn't happen as quickly as one would expect, medical help is required to understand when and why things didn't work.
Blaine and Leo have been consulting with Sam for the past ten months, and last time she suggested a new procedure that also included some specific drugs to help Le's body prepare for what it was expected to do. They had to keep under control a variety of things, from temperature to hormones to blood sugar levels, keep track of what Leo ate and in what quantity, hours of sleep, numbers of meal, being very careful that he would not skip even one of the four different pills he had to take every day, and nothing of this was easy because he's always busy with work, always in motion, with close to no time to sit down for five minutes and catch his breath, let alone take his temperature and have a complete lunch.
But he did it, following Sam's instructions to the letter.
Sam proceeds to read the results on the tablet screen. Her face doesn't show any emotion, neither good nor bad, which doesn't help Leo's anxiety. “What does it say?” He asks. “We did everything you said.”
She gives him a sweet smile that doesn't reach her eyes tho. “Let's go through this visit properly and take a look inside of you too,” she says, unplugging the cable with the needle and placing the scanner on the bed, right next to Leo's legs. Then, she lifts his shirt and passes the scanner over his tummy, a few inches above his skin. She doesn't look at it tho. Her eyes follows the moving images that are now showing up on the tablet. Blaine tries to understand what he's looking at, but it's all a black blur with some white dots here and there to him. After a moment, Sam turns off the scanner and start to put everything back in her bag.
“So?” Blaine asks.
Leo can see the tension on Sam's face, the way her hands just move too quickly. “It didn't work, did it?” He says. It's a question, but not one he needs an answer for. He simply knows.
Sam sighs. “I'm sorry,” she says, finally looking back at them. It's not her fault, but she kinda feels like it is. Possibly because of everything that has been left unspoken but more than vaguely suspected after the first four attempts. This was the ninth. “Everything seems to work just fine up to a point. Leo's body responded to the treatment, there's really nothing that makes me think it could not happen.”
She is not lying – Leo knows that – but she is using a truth to cover another. “Then, we will keep trying,” Blaine says.
Sam nods slowly. “But maybe it's time to take into consideration that this could be... another situation entirely,” she insists, giving Blaine a meaningful look.
Blaine doesn't change expression. “I think it's better not to discuss other situations at the moment,” he says, and there's such an undertone of finality behind his words that Sam gives up. She lets Blaine show her to the door, but she seems to hesitate. “Until next time, Dr. Vanderbilt. Thank you.”
Finally pushed away by the sudden formality, Sam nods again and she leaves the room. “Maybe she's right,” Leo says, after Blaine has closed the door. “We can't keep ignoring the facts.”
“The facts are that we must clearly keep trying,” Blaine says, a bit too sternly perhaps.
Leo strongly disagree with that, of course.
The facts are that Blaine needs an heir, and he needs it quickly, because that's the only way he will keep his position as religious leader of the city. Traditionally, Silverlock has never held elections for the head of the Church, because the Church has its own internal rules. The position is hereditary, it passes from parents to legitimate child and it could stay in the same family for years.
On the contrary, if the minister in charge is proven unable to generate a heir, he is immediately discharged, as infertility is seen as a sign of the Unicum that the family is no longer the chosen one. At that point, a conclave is held – to which the outgoing minister participates – and the new minister from another family is chosen through a secret ceremony nobody outside the Church knows anything about.
Of course, before getting to that, ministers usually change their consorts to try and buy themselves some time. That, apparently, is allowed by the Church. Infertility is a clear sign that your family is no longer the Unicum's favorite, but if you throw your partner out of your life and choose someone else randomly just to make a baby, Leo imagines the Unicum feels compelled to descend upon you from wherever it is and give you a high five because yes, that's the spirit of true love and compassion.
So, these are the facts. And the facts are not looking good.
They cannot rise any suspicion about their ability to procreate, that's why Blaine won't even talk about it out loud. If no words are spoken, no words can be heard by unwanted ears. But they will eventually have to find a solution. In the bad case scenario, the Church will come knocking at their door asking for medical evidence of Blaine's infertility. In the worst case scenario, Blaine will try to avoid that a little longer, by divorcing him and marrying someone else – which might also happen if Leo turns out to be the flawed one, even tho Sam seemed to hint otherwise. And, in both cases, Leo – as a legitimately elected political leader – will also have to deal with a religious leader who will either be his ex-husband or another person entirely. It might not be the worst thing happening to him, but it won't help at all.
“Honey, I know you don't want to talk about it,” Leo starts, hesitantly. He takes a few steps towards Blaine and, when the man doesn't move, he takes a few more and grabs his hands. “But it's important. We need to have a plan.”
“We have a plan,” Blaine says. His smile is honest and affectionate, even if strained. “We're going to have a baby.”
Leo sighs. “But it's not happening.”
“You have to be patient,” Blaine says, kissing his forehead. It's becoming a mantra and Leo doesn't know if it's for his sake or Blaine's. It makes him angry.
“Why are you so calm?” He finally asks, stepping away to give his sudden burst of rage an harmless outlet. “I mean, why am I the only one freaking out here?”
“I told you, Leo.” Blaine doesn't move, but he crosses his hands on his own stomach, more the minister now, than the husband. “I have faith. I'm sure the Unicum has something in store for me. We are facing a difficult time, but it will get me through it. And I will get you through it.”
Leo feels the end of the discussion, but even more, he feels the pointlessness of his attempts, and right now he doesn't have the strength to repeat the same old argument again. “All right,” he gives in. “I need to get ready now, I'm gonna use the bathroom first.”
He doesn't wait for Blaine's answer or the kiss that would have been in order any other day, and Blaine doesn't keep him any longer. He just sighs as Leo slams the bathroom door behind his back.
He lies down on the bed for a moment and closes his eyes. It feels like his head is splitting in two. How he's supposed to get up and out again in less than an hour is beyond him. All he wants at the moment is some medications – one of those strong pill that could knock out a horse – and a good night of sleep. Instead, he has a dinner with the heads of the Trades and their lovely wives and husbands, while his husband will be celebrating the evening rituals, therefore skipping this social event as he does every time he can. Leo grunts and rolls on his stomach, hiding his face in the bedspread as he blindly looks for the button on Blaine's nightstand. He finds it and presses it, knowing that somewhere in the palace someone is getting a notification. He calculates that it'll take the maid at least ten minutes to get here, and that's the time he can enjoy before he'll have to get up, sit properly and look professional.
Unfortunately, the knock on the door comes in less than a minute. He frowns, without bothering to raise his head. “Who is it?”
“Did you teleport?” Leo protests, pulling himself up from the bed with a groan. He changed his mind, he can't look professional. The maid will have to live with the delusion, and possibly fix him up. “Come in.”
Leo was expecting a tall, blond middle-aged woman, but the person that comes inside is neither blond nor tall, and as a matter of fact, not even a woman. “Who are you? Where's Claudia?” He asks, looking suspiciously at the boy in front of him.
“Claudia gave her resignation,” the boy answers. He's tiny and cute, with a bob of shiny black hair and the bluest eyes Leo has ever seen. “I'm your new valet, Mr. Karofsky.”
Leo tries to remember if someone has ever told him something about a change in the staff, but he must face the reality: even if he knew, he was bound to forget it. “Okay. Whatever,” he shrugs, hesitantly. “What's your name?”
“Cody,” Leo tries the name in his mouth, as if he didn't know how to pronounce it properly. “Very well, Cody. Have you ever worked as a valet before?”
Cody stands a few feet from him, politely halfway between the closed door and the bed. He keeps his back straight and his arms crossed behind his back. He's very formal. Actually more formal than any of the other maids and valets. He reminds Leo of some of the people working in Blaine's Church. “This is my first time at the Presidential Palace, but I've worked in several high-profile houses before.”
“Good. So you know what to do,” Leo says, pleased. “Now, Cody, I have a social dinner tonight, but I'd rather spend the rest of the night in my pajamas. So, I need something elegant but comfortable. And I need drugs.”
Cody was already moving towards the walk-in closet he spotted the moment he came in, but he stops in mid-step. “Sir?” He asks, hesitantly.
Leo turns to him, tilting his head. “I have a terrible headache,” he says, hoping this will explain everything.
Cody smiles and his whole face seems to brighten up. Leo hadn't seen someone smiling like him since that children cartoon about that mountain girl going to live in the big city. He wonders if Cody too comes from the mountains. “If I may, sir, I know a fantastic homemade remedy.”
“Will it get me through this dinner?” That's all Leo wants to know.
“It'll do way more than that,” Cody chuckles, an excessive laugh to be a valet, but still a polite, sweet one that fills up the room and doesn't bother at all. “It'll fix you up before leaving the room. It's magic, I promise.”
“All right, what do you need?” Leo asks.
“It's everything in the room,” Cody answers, moving quickly towards the wet bar. “I used to make it for my father. He had terrible migraines.”
Cody grabs a glass and fumbles around it for a while, all Leo can see from the bed is Cody's back. “What did he do?” He asks.
“He was a cook,” Cody answers. “He had his own restaurant. Mom was his pastry chef.”
“Are they retired now?”
Cody comes back holding a long glass. “No. Unfortunately, they both died five years ago,” he says. “It was the monorail crash in Ironlock.”
Leo remembers that incident pretty well. It was June, half past ten in the morning, and the elevated tracks over the city of Ironlock broke down, plunging a 1161 feet long train into the void. Over a thousand people died in the crash. Leo was twenty at the time, barely out of school and working his ass off as a press agent for Mrs. Lopez, who was political head of the city at the time. She was not the easiest person to work with, and that tragedy was not the easiest way to start working as a press agent, especially when your boss had no filters to what she said and how she said it. He was trying to put together a last minute speech for an event she was not supposed to attend, when the news came in. And suddenly that speech became something different all together. Ironlock still observe an hour of silence every year in the memorial day. The whole city goes completely quiet. It's eerie and moving at the same time.
“I'm really sorry,” Leo says.
Cody's smile remains sweet. “Thank you.”
“And when did you move here?” Leo asks.
“Right after that. We were living in the public housing that got destroyed in the crash,” Cody answers. “I was relocated to Silverlock while they were rebuilt. They called me back a couple of years ago but I decided to stay. I had a job and nobody to wait for me there.”
Leo hears the strain in his voice, so he just nods and clears his throat. “So, this magic remedy?”
“Oh, yes!” Cody seems to remember why he was suddenly so close to the bed. This is the first time he has to deal with a politician, but he's more out going that he thought he would be. Cody felt at ease – something that doesn't happen often – and he forgot his job. “The remedy works only if you follow the rules. Now, drink the whole glass, then lie down and keep you eyes closed. I'll cover them with a warm towel and you won't stand up or move for the next ten minutes.”
“All right.” Leo grabs the glass and drinks it down. Whatever it is, the remedy tastes like lemon, soda and salt. Not the most disgusting thing he drank, but surely not pleasurable. He lies down and closes his eyes. A moment later, he feels the warmth of the cloth over his eyes.
“Meanwhile, I'll get your outfit ready.”
Leo hears moving around the room. He hears the closet's door opening and the rustle of fabric. For some reason, he doesn't ask Cody what clothes he's taking out. He wants to guess, and then be surprised when he'll finally be able to open his eyes again. By the sound of it, it seems like Cody is going for a robe or one of his longest shirts. And by the tinkling, we're talking about jewels too. He's so focused on listening that he doesn't realize right away that the pulsing pain in his head is fading. And by the time Cody comes to take away the towel, Leo is completely free from his headache.
“Elegant, but comfortable,” Cody announces, showing him a pair of loose, vaguely ethnic pants and their matching tunic. There's, no trace of the diamond headpiece that goes with it and that Leo has always found horrific. A few leather bracelets have been prepared for him, tho. Cody seems to know his heart already.
“Please, stay forever,” Leo says, looking pleased at the clothes in front of him, as Cody laughs again.
Leo quickly found out he was smart, well-trained and very good at problem-solving, and therefore he thought Cody was absolutely wasted as a personal valet. Three days in at his new job at the Presidential Palace and he was already treating him as his personal assistant.
Now – almost two months later – Cody calls Leo by name and he's kept up-to-date with his agenda. He always knows where Leo is and where he has to go, and he waits for him a the Palace, always ready with the right outfit, a bath or whatever Leo needs before Leo even asks for it. Cody had never hoped for something like this to happen – and surely he had never thought it would be so easy – but he loves this new aspect of his job and, despite the long hours, he doesn't even mind.
The iron wall comes up again after sunset.
An ancient sundial on the wall of the Presidential Palace shows the Sun moving throughout the day, and when the last shadow disappears, the sirens starts howling, announcing that the mechanism of the wall is in motion. Cody can feel it under his feet as he walks, the ground is vibrating.
He needs to be quick, or he'll miss the last bus before the rush hour. The bus stop is two blocks away from the palace – no means of transportation is allowed in a three miles radius around it for safety reasons – and he needs to cross two avenues to get to it. Luckily, Leo gave him a free day tomorrow, since he and Blaine will be out of town for a meeting, and after helping him pack, Cody was allowed to leave early, which means that there are only a few people at the bust stop when he gets there. Not that he's dying to go back home – he'd rather keep staying at the palace – but he couldn't find a good excuse to stay. It would have been strange if he had refused to go home after spending two months at the palace.
When the bus arrives, he manages to find a nice empty seat at the back, and he sits down, resting his forehead against the cool window pane. It's a forty minutes ride to get home, but the only other option is the monorail, and he hasn't found the courage to get back on one since his parents' death.
The outskirts of every metropolis, no matter how rich, are always grayer and poorer of the rest of the city, and Silverlock is no exception. Tall, silvery skyscrapers and government buildings leave room first to the small pretty houses in the residential belt of the city, and then to the monotonous, white endless buildings of the public houses, with their rows and rows of mini-apartments. The bus leaves Cody just at the edge of the neighborhood, as if the driver was scared to go any further.
Only a woman was still on the bus with Cody, and she gets off here too. She doesn't look at him as he ignores the entrance to the buildings complex and walks a few feet back, from where the bus came, until he finds an alley and turns left. They had real apartments once, but William thought they were too exposed, and so he moved the group underground. The old unused cellars beneath the public houses offer them refuge and anonymity, but they are dark and damp and Cody doesn't like them.
Cody reaches the end of the alley and looks around. There's only one flickering streetlamp that does almost nothing to illuminate the narrow street, but it seems like nobody followed him. He moves away some cardboard boxes hiding a trapdoor and knocks five times on it, three short, two long.
It takes someone inside a whole minute to open the door. For a moment, all Cody can see is a dark hole in the ground, then two brown eyes look up at him at the light of a lamp. “Come in, quick.”
Cody climbs down a little rusty ladder into the dark mouth of the trapdoor. He can feel the man somewhere to his left, but the lamp is weak and he can't see him very well. “He's been waiting for you,” the man continues, annoyed. Cody doesn't remember his name. People are continuously coming and going inside William's circle, and all those who go never come back or get anywhere else. “You made him angry.”
Cody doesn't say anything, knowing that there are no right words to say. The man will verbally abuse him no matter what comes out of his mouth, so he focuses on not giving him any chance, and follows him in silence.
This place is a labyrinth, It'd be impossible for him to know where to go without a light. He's been left alone in here more than once, and he doesn't want to repeat the experience, so he's careful to keep up with the man's long strides.
They walk for a while until they reach what looks like a large room. They were several distinct cellars in the past, but some of the walls have been taken down to make one big space. An electrical cord runs all around the ceiling and a dozen nude light bulbs hang from it, weakly illuminating the place. A few people are playing cards on the ground in a corner, others are studying a map on a table, mumbling something Cody can't hear.
“Look who's here!” His guide steps aside, so everybody can see Cody. All eyes turn on him and Cody just looks down, feeling ill. For a long moment, nobody moves or says anything, then someone walks away from the table and gets closer to him.
William's voice is cold and sharp, and yet weirdly mesmerizing, like the tip of an iceberg that forces you to wonder how deeper it goes under the surface. It makes Cody shiver, and it's a strong physical sensation. He can almost feel his skin crawling, the ripples of that single word playing his nerves like strings.
He would like to remain silent, but he knows he can't. “William,” he says, forcing himself to look up and taking in the man in front of him. William is tall and lean, he has that kind of nervous body that doesn't seem particularly strong or fit until he tenses his muscles, but Cody knows his arms are strong and his big hands can hold him tight enough to hurt him, his long fingers, like spider legs, closing around his wrist until it gets a livid.
“You took your time.”
Cody swallows. “I came back as soon as I could,” he explains. “They gave me a day off.”
“Oh, I see,” William nods, slowly. “You see, people, Cody is such a brilliant actor now, that he got caught in his part. He forgot he's not an actual maid and waited for his day off to come back.”
The whole room burst into laughing, but not William. William just gives him a little, disgusted smile. “Were you having fun scrubbing their golden toilets, Cody?”
Cody blushes and tries to find enough voice to make himself heard over the laughs. “It would have been strange for me to ask for some time off right after I was hired. I didn't want to raise any suspicions.”
“I really hope you weren't as clumsy are you usually are, coming here,” William says, grabbing him by the shoulder and taking him away. “If someone followed you, that would be very unfortunate.”
Unfortunate for Cody, mostly.
Luckily, Cody is sure nobody took notice of him when he left. He follows William in the next room, which turns out to be William's private bedroom. There's a makeshift bed on the side, a desk, a bookcase and a wardrobe. Walls and ceiling are falling to pieces like in any other former cellar, and the room is decorated with recycled pieces of furniture, but everything is neat and tidy, so obsessively in order that Cody stops the moment William lets go of his wrists, and he stands still, fearing to break whatever balance is going on in the room with the wrong gesture.
William closes the door. “I thought I was pretty clear when I sent you to do the job,” he says. His voice is calm and controlled, but he doesn't sound pleased at all. “It was supposed to be quick.”
“I'm doing my best,” Cody says.
“But you know your best is usually not enough, Cody,” Williams sighs, shaking his head. “You should do more than that. We've lost two months waiting for you to do your job and give us something we can use.”
Cody doesn't remember exactly how it started. This whole operation was, and still is, one of those things that he got himself in so gradually that he didn't realize it until it was too late. When he was relocated in Silverlock after his parents' funeral, he was alone and basically penniless – considering that nowadays he's still waiting his compensation from the government – in a city he didn't know.
One night William showed up at the shelter he was temporarily hosted in, and it was love at first sight for Cody. William was exactly as Cody imagined Prince Charming. Handsome, blond, with stunning green eyes, so polite and educated – he was, at the time – and charming. No boy had ever talked to Cody like that. In fact, no boy had ever talked to Cody at all, because he had never been that interesting to anyone.
So, he couldn't believe it when William invited him on a date and then a second and a third, until they were an actual couple. He felt so special knowing that someone like William – so smart and gorgeous, so obviously out of his league – found him attractive. Cody wanted to be absolutely perfect for him. He felt like he owed William to be exactly as he wanted him to be. If William had seen something in him – and he was educating him day after day to make him as refined as he was – the least he could do was making an effort to please him. It wasn't easy, tho. William was very demanding.
Cody moved in with him a few weeks later. It seemed the reasonable thing to do, since Cody was basically homeless. William had a good job that could support both of them, so he didn't want Cody to work. Cody would stay home and take care of the house, and try to behave properly.
He doesn't remember when people started coming in and out, when the first whispers of rebellion were uttered in the house. He just woke up one day and it was not just William anymore, it was a whole group of people meeting in the living room every night, discussing the government, planning to change things, to shake the city.
Cody got caught in the whole thing. It was nice to feel included. It was nice to hear Williams say that he just wanted to make a better city for them to live in, that those people were ruining everything that was good in Silverlock, taking away people's rights and people's things. Hadn't his parents died for the government's ineptitude? Because the tracks were old and they broke down? They could start taking down Silverlock and then take down all the other city-states too. It was going to be a Revolution. It seemed a good idea.
Cody isn't so sure anymore, tho. Now they live underground and they're talking about bombs and killings. He knows what happened to Claudia – poor Claudia, she was just a maid and she didn't even know them – but he can't bring himself to ask directly. Two months away from William and his people and he started to question what's going on in these cellars. The city needs changes, but is it not what Leo and his husband are doing? Changing the city? They are trying, aren't they? How can bombs and destruction help more than talking and finding new ways?
“Are you still going on with the plan?” Cody asks, instead of answering. There are things he wants to know before revealing the information he collected. He doesn't know why, he won't stop them anyway. He just needs to know exactly what will happen this time.
William looks at him. “I'd very much like to do that,” he says. “Why? Did you wake up this morning with a sudden understanding of the situation? That would be a first.”
Cody hesitates. “I just...”
“What? Speak for fuck's sake! I hate when you mumble,” William sighs, annoyed.
“I don't see how destroying the city will help with anything,” he says quickly, pushed by William's annoyance.
The man sighs. “That's why these are things I worry about. We are going to make a mess of this city and blame Anderson's government. And to make sure that it's gonna work, I want to take him down too. On a personal level. This is the reason I sent you there,” he says, his voice getting colder as he gets closer. “Now, don't tell me you disappointed me, Cody. You know what will happen if you do.”
Cody shivers. Part of him would like to discuss this a little longer.
He has spent a lot of time with Leo in the past two months. Leo talked to him about all the things he and Blaine want to do for the city, how things are working now, how they can work better. And Leo is not the thirsty for power, mean demon William says he is. Leo is funny and sweet and polite, and he really cares for the city. And Blaine does too, despite his solemn ways. But the fear William's threats inspire in him is stronger than his will to do anything else. It always has. Cody steps back until he hits the wall. He sees William smirking.
“I have information,” Cody says. “I do.”
William steps forward until his body is towering over Cody. It doesn't take much, since he's so much bigger than him. He places his forearm over Cody's head, leaning down. “Speak, then.” He smiles, but he's not sweet. Cody feels that something bad is going to happen either he speaks or not. If he keeps quiet, it will only happen sooner.
“They are trying to have a baby,” he hiccups, looking away.
For a very long moment, everything is still and silent. Cody can hear his own heart beating faster and water dripping somewhere in the labyrinth of cellars, the sound echoing on the walls to get here. William seems puzzled, which is new, but he doesn't like it, so he tenses. Cody feels the body over his turning hard like stone, and he shivers. “Why would I care if those fuckers are trying to make a family?” He spits out. He grabs Cody's chin and forces him to turn towards him again so he can see that he's not pleased.
“They can't,” Cody adds quickly. “They've been trying for almost a year now, and it hasn't happened yet. Karfosky didn't say it aloud, but he hinted that the problem is not him.”
William doesn't instantly relax as Cody hoped, but he seems to think about it. “So the old man shoots blanks?”
Cody nods. “They're trying to keep it quiet,” he continues. “But they want a baby.”
William chuckles. It's a cold mocking sound. “Oh dear, they don't just want a baby, they need one,” he explains to him slowly. “According to the Church rules, Anderson must prove that the Unicum deems him worthy of his position by blessing him with an heir. If we can hint to the press that the man is failing at his heavenly duties, the Church will be on his ass.”
“They can still replace him,” Cody says.
“I'll be quicker,” William smiles. “And nobody will die to fill his shoes and clean the mess we will make in his name. They will stall.”
“What about Karofsky? He's still the political leader.”
“If Anderson doesn't replace him right away in a sorry attempt to save his ass a little longer,” William says, “their government will die right after Anderson is discharged, and we'll say goodbye to the pretty new leader of the future too.”
Cody should be happy – or at least he should feel nothing, he thinks – but he doesn't. In fact, he feels dreadful, like he betrayed Leo, even tho he didn't owe him anything. He wishes he could take those words back, but it's too late, and judging by William's expression, the man got exactly what he wanted. And he got it from him.
“You've been pretty good, I must admit,” William smiles, speaking on his lips. His eyes are dark pits Cody doesn't want to look into. “Making friends with young men, are you?”
“I'm... I'm his assistant now.”
William laughs, the sound trickling down Cody's ear. “Good, very good,” he whispers, his hand slipping under Cody's shirt and cupping his hip in a possessive way. “You need to be rewarded.”
Cody closes his eyes as William kisses his neck and lips, as he pulls him closer. Fear of what he made possible fills him with dread, makes his body cold and rigid. But William's fingers dig deeper into his skin, his teeth bite into his lips, reclaiming his involvement, if not his attention and desire. So, Cody crosses his arms around his neck, giving in, kissing back. It's not a reward, tho, it's a punishment, to know he ruined two people's life together with his own.