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In Want of Diversion

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Mr Norrell being in attendance at Whitehall and Drawlight pleading some unavoidable engagement, Mr Lascelles was alone in the library at Hanover Square. He was, in theory, employed in writing his book, but in practice, this was far from being the case. Norrell’s dry, pedantic, safe cogitations on magic seemed rather more dry, pedantic, and safe than usual, and his attention had wandered long ago - not with any fixed destination, merely meandering down whatever stray paths it happened upon, each as dull and uninspiring as the last. His usual facility for the work had deserted him (unusually, for he was remarkably industrious when it came to pursuits that looked fair to advance his own interests), and he was growing peevish with boredom.

His humour was not the least improved by the entrance of John Childermass. He came into the library with his habitual lack of ceremony, blowing in from the streets like some dark mystery, a sharp breath of wintry air still clinging about the folds of his ancient greatcoat. Without troubling himself to remove it, he made straight for the fire and stood warming himself before it for a minute or two. This concluded, he drew up a chair and settled himself on the other side of the table. To compound the affront, he even put up his feet upon it, shoes still caked with the mud of the streets, and filled his pipe.

It would be hard to say precisely what it was - his slovenly, vagabond presence, or his casual proprietorship of both chair and table - that angered Lascelles the most. Certainly it was that same insouciance, that same want of proper deference, that made John Childermass such a persistent thorn in his side. It was through that that Childermass set himself up against his betters, by which he proclaimed, with every look and deed, that he was quite as good a man as Gilbert Norrell or Henry Lascelles. And it was this that made him - for Lascelles’ purposes - a far more dangerous enemy even than Mr Strange.

Childermass smoked in insolent silence for some time, even going so far as to pick up a newspaper from the table and leaf through it, evincing every intention to remain indefinitely. The thought of having to work in company with this man was one that Lascelles suddenly found intolerable, and at last he said, acidly, “Have you nothing better to do than idle around this room, doing nothing?”

“I might ask the same of you, sir. I have not seen you write a word since I’ve been here.”

Lascelles started, realising the truth of the words even as they were spoken, and that he had been sitting for some minutes with his pen lying quite inert between his fingers. He flushed, but quickly masked his discomfiture with a sneer.

“If I’ve written nothing it is because your infernal interruption has disturbed my concentration.”

A queer expression came over Childermass’ face at that: not quite a smile, but there was something of amusement about it: a secret, ironical look, as if he were enjoying some joke known only to himself. The thought that he might be the object of that same joke inflamed Lascelles further, but before he could work up any decent retort, Childermass cut in:

“You want diversion, Mr Lascelles.”

This pronunciation sent a jolt of shock through him, but he clenched his teeth against it. “I assure you, I have plenty to keep me occupied here. What I do not need are these absurd distractions from you.”

To prove his point, he bent his head and commenced writing, furiously, though with no clear perception of exactly what. Despite this determined show of industry, however, he could not throw off the sensation of Childermass’ gaze still upon him: an oppressive sensation that dragged like calloused fingers against the nape of his neck. When he judged the moment right to look up again, it was to find Childermass still watching him steadily. His expression bore its usual insolent frankness, but Lascelles fancied there was something rather more to it now: searching, even - curious. This really was too much, and before he knew it, he was on his feet.

“I demand you leave at once.”

At once, that curious expression cleared from Childermass’ eyes, and, taking his shoes from the table, he hauled himself to his feet, matching Lascelles glare for glare. Drawing his pipe from his mouth he retorted, darkly, “It is not your place to demand anything of me. You are not my master.”

Lascelles’ blood fired, and he started out from behind the table. “I will not be lectured on my place by a servant. By God, sir, if you were in my employ, I would have the skin thrashed off your back for speaking so. I may not be your master, but I am still your better, and you will obey me. Now get out.” He threw his finger toward the door. “Get out of here, now.”

But Childermass simply stepped closer, so that the hem of his greatcoat brushed Lascelles’ stockings. The breath caught in Lascelles’ throat, but he did not swallow, lest Childermass see it.

“Be assured,” he said, voice tight with the effort of keeping it even, “Mr Norrell shall hear of this.”

“I don’t see that we need to go dragging Mr Norrell into this quarrel of ours, sir,” rejoined Childermass, and now his gaze seemed to have grown darker, the space between them closer. “I’m of the opinion that we could settle our differences easily enough between us.”

Despite his anger, Lascelles could not suppress a sneer. Certainly, Childermass’ eventual destruction was an object close to his heart, and he entertained no doubt that Childermass, in his low way, quite reciprocated his good will. But this unexpected suggestion aroused in him a strange, deep stirring of curiosity.

“Oh? And what do you propose?” With a smile for the absurdity of the notion, he went on, “Do you propose to call me out, sir? Do you set yourself up so high?”

But Childermass refused to be goaded. “Nothing as public as that.”

Those deep-set eyes held his, unflinching, and it was only then that Lascelles realised how close they were standing, close enough to feel the breath of every one of Childermass’ words in his face. The space between them - what little of it there was - drew taut, and an unexpected thrill passed through him, his pulse humming with a precipitous sense of expectation. Anything might happen in the next instant. He might reach out, strike the insolent wretch as he deserved. He might lean in further. He might -

Voices sounded just beyond the library door: Mr Norrell’s - raised, no doubt, in indignation at some new affront to the respectability of English magic, joined in turn by the fawning accents of Drawlight and the conciliatory tones of Sir Walter Pole. At the sound of them, Lascelles and Childermass started apart like guilty creatures. Lascelles’ breath came sharply, his head reeling as if he had been on the very edge of falling from some great height, and had only just pulled back in time. His eyes flew to Childermass and saw, fleetingly, some trace of similar feeling show in his face, before it cleared and he assumed once more his familiar expression of sullen obstinacy. He moved away as the door opened, leaving Lascelles with a pounding heart and an unaccountable sense of consternation and disappointment.


Weeks passed, and relations between Lascelles and Childermass continued inimical as ever, though they never made any reference to the encounter in the library, and, whether by chance or contrivance, were never thus alone together at any time. It was, for all intents and purposes, as if the thing had never occurred. Childermass went about his duties with his usual air of sullen resignation, and Lascelles was employed as usual: writing and editing by day, engaging in the social round by night.

He was a creature of society, and he was pleased to partake of the glory that attended the position of aide and confidant to the first magician in England. But although he indulged in the usual round of parties and routs, intrigues and seductions, somewhere in the back of his mind, he could not dismiss the thought that there was all something rather mundane - rather too easy - about it now. An intrigue only held a thrill if there was at least a nominal element of doubt as to its outcome. Now there was no fashionable venue closed to him, no prospective lover who would not welcome him to their bed. No need to employ artifice: it all came quite as a matter of course.

It was thus in odd moments - when he was standing off to the side at some soirée, contemptuous of the sheer insipidity of those surrounding him, or recovering his breath after some amusing yet curiously unsatisfactory encounter with some obliging young person - that Childermass’ words would wind, dark and insinuating, about him once more.

“You want diversion, Mr Lascelles.”

Over and over, those words returned to him, lodging like splinters beneath his skin, deeper with every repetition, until it was all he could do not to simply claw himself bloody to be rid of them.

The matter came to a head at last, as, on one otherwise unremarkable evening, Lascelles took his leave of Mr Norrell, brooding over some new antic of Strange’s, and left the library at Hanover Square. It was later than his usual wont: there was a party at Lady Jersey’s that night, but he found himself most unenthusiastic about the whole affair.

“Good night to you, then, sir,” came the all too familiar voice from the shadows behind him, and Lascelles turned sharply to see Childermass slouching against the wall, arms folded, eyes fixed upon him. No other servant stood ready with Lascelles’ cloak and hat: they were alone in the hall.

“What on earth do you want?” said Lascelles, assuming an attitude of disdain.

“Not like you to linger on so late,” Childermass went on, impervious. “I would have thought you had somewhere more important to be.”

Once more, Lascelles was struck by that sense of knowing amusement on Childermass’ part, and his blood fired. That this low creature should presume to know anything of him - should presume to read him, as if he were one of his wretched cards! His air of indifference shattered, and in two strides he closed upon Childermass, hemming him in against the wall and putting his face close to his.

“You know nothing of me,” he hissed. “You understand nothing.”

The corners of Childermass’ mouth quirked faintly. “I reckon we understand each other pretty well. We understood each other pretty well that day in the library, as I recall.”

This naked allusion to that bizarre encounter struck some spark beneath Lascelles’ skin: it caught, flashed, and set every nerve in his body alight. Fury, contempt, and deep beneath those - a dreadful fascination. That same breathless, precipitous feeling returned to set his head spinning. His breath came sharply; his lips parted. He saw, very clearly, Childermass’ eyes catch their movement, flicker down - then, with utmost deliberation, move back up to catch his gaze once more.

In the next instant, they were together. It could scarcely be called a kiss: a hard, combative clash of lips and teeth. Childermass’ unshaven jaw was rough against his, and his breath was hot, burning straight down into the pit of Lascelles’ stomach and kindling within him an appalling, marvellous flare of arousal. It flashed through him, wildfire-quick, and in a moment, he felt himself grow exceedingly hard. Before he could think better of it, he ground his hips against Childermass’ and, exulting in the deep groan the man made into his mouth, did it again. And again. His hands tightened on Childermass’ shoulders, clutching at the coarse broadcloth of his coat, the better to hold him in place as he moved against him. Childermass’ cock, equally as hard as his own, pressed against him, spurring him on to thrust harder, faster. For the first time in weeks, he felt ablaze with true exhilaration, which promised to burn out the irritating splinters of Childermass’ words to him in the library. Diversion. Why, he had diversion enough here, and it served the impertinent creature right, that Lascelles should find his relief by slaking himself on his person, spending himself against him, leaving him wanting… the thought was exquisite, and he broke his mouth from Childermass’ to groan against his neck.

“There, sir.” Childermass’ voice sounded low in his ear - strangely composed, not at all the helpless groan he had envisaged - and Lascelles blinked from his daze to find a strong thigh pressed hard between his own, and Childermass’ hands grasping at his waist, urging on his thrusts… dictating them. “I think we understand each other very well.”

Lascelles writhed in his grasp. “You bastard,” he spat, only to break off in a wordless moan as Childermass thrust his hips hard against his own. Suddenly his hands, still at Childermass’ shoulders, seemed less to be holding the man in place than keeping himself from buckling. An image of what he must look like, rutting shamelessly against a man whom he found odious in every particular, passed through his mind, affronting him and flooding him with a deeper, darker thrill of desire. Childermass’ hands moved over his waist, slipping beneath his coat, and even as Lascelles flinched at the thought of those dirty fingers on the embroidered silk of his waistcoat, he could not but imagine what they might feel like moving over his skin.

They remained thus for some moments longer, moving roughly against each other, the breath coming fast and thick between them, until Childermass bent his head and murmured, voice harsher than Lascelles had ever heard it, “Late to be abroad in the streets now, sir. But I can shew you to a bed where you might spend the night.”


Henry Lascelles had certain fixed notions of where and how a night of passion ought to be conducted. As a rule, these notions tended toward a comfortable bed with laundered sheets and a well-turned mattress, where he might luxuriate in pleasure, and, above all, where he might dictate the course of that pleasure on his terms. They did not tend toward a shabby servant’s bedroom, with himself utterly at the mercy of a man like John Childermass.

His garments had been dispensed with in mere moments - no leisurely peeling away of layers, rather an unseemly tearing away - and he was reduced to his linen, pinioned to the wall by the weight of Childermass’ body. Hardly a hair’s breadth of space separated them: he could feel Childermass’ chest brush his own with every breath they drew between them.

Hardly a hair’s breath of space, but for that between their mouths. Childermass’ breath gusted warm against his lips, sharp with some lingering trace of pipe tobacco. Filthy habit: it should repel him, but he found himself reaching out to taste, only for Childermass to pull away at the last, leaving only the breath of a low, dark laugh against his lips instead.

“You’re in a hell of a hurry, Mr Lascelles.”

Lascelles’ temper flared, but the only retort he succeeded in making was a low whine as his body strained towards his tormentor. But Childermass had him fast by the wrists, thumbs pressing firmly over the veins, enough to send a shudder straight through him and sap him of all resistance. Lascelles threw his head back against the wall, feeling the rasp of Childermass’ face against his throat, breath harsh and hot on his skin, mouth pressing to the pulse that thrummed in the hollow just between his collarbones.

“Good God!” It broke from him, wholly involuntary, and he writhed against Childermass’ hands, against every instinct in his traitorous body that urged him to submit.

“There, sir. It comes very easy, if you but let it.”

The low, cajoling note in Childermass’ voice threatened to undo Lascelles completely, and with a sudden burst of force, he threw his weight forward and stopped the brute’s mouth with his own. Childermass’ lips were surprisingly soft as they opened with his, but he was otherwise unyielding, and as their kiss deepened, so it grew in contention. Wresting his hands free at last, Lascelles thrust his fingers through Childermass’ hair, into the lank, tangled darkness of it, as if by pulling him ever closer, kissing him ever more deeply, he might bend him to his will by force of passion alone.

So intent was he upon this end, he hardly noticed Childermass’ hands move up his back, gathering up his shirt as they proceeded, and only perceived it at last as the garment was drawn over his head. He suffered himself to be divested of both shirt and smallclothes; the night air ran cool fingers over his hot skin, but it was as nothing in comparison to the fugitive heat he could sense through the obstructing layers of Childermass’ clothing, and, quite unable to help himself, Lascelles reached for him again. Childermass pulled him hard against himself, the divers planes and angles of their bodies shifting and settling together, and his hands moved freely over Lascelles’ shoulders, his arms, down the furrow of his spine. His hands were rough, calloused fingers raising frissons of heat across his skin, so that Lascelles felt himself trembling with every pass of those hands; and his cock, already swollen heavy, further betrayed his need by grazing against Childermass’ thigh.

“I think it’s time we got you to bed, Mr Lascelles.” Childermass’ voice was hoarse in his ear, and Lascelles bit his lip. He would hardly admit such a thing aloud, but he felt his legs threatening to give way should he remain upright much longer, and it was for that - and only that - that he allowed Childermass to guide him over to the narrow bed.

By slow degrees, Childermass’ hands - singularly persuasive - eased him down onto his back upon the rough blankets. He barely had time to catch his breath (or, indeed, worry what lice or other vermin may be lurking in such a bed), before he looked up and saw Childermass standing over him, making no effort to disguise his perusal of Lascelles’ body. That frank gaze swept over him, took him in from crown to toe, drawing an answering flush as it went. Lascelles felt it, the spreading warmth beneath his skin, and groaned, his limbs falling loose and languid. He was sensible of being at a marked disadvantage: naked save for his stockings, in contrast to Childermass’ fully clothed state, spread out on Childermass’ bed to await his pleasure.

Had there been the merest hint of mockery in Childermass’ gaze, Lascelles should certainly have retaliated: drawn himself up, or found some cutting sneer to deliver. But no - his eyes, as he gazed down at Lascelles, were full of such raw, unvarnished hunger that it quite disarmed him, and called up an answering ache from deep within himself.

“Very fine indeed, Mr Lascelles,” murmured Childermass. “But I’m of the opinion we can do better.”

“Speak-” it was suddenly hard to say anything intelligible - “Speak sense, man.”

Childermass made no reply, but his face assumed an expression of hard determination. He leaned in, right in, rough clothes grazing Lascelles’ bare skin and making him gasp. He took him roughly by one ankle, bending his leg up, fingers dipping around to the underside of his knee, a place where Lascelles had never suspected he was particularly susceptible to being touched, but which now drew a gasp and a shudder from him at once. Then the stroking fingers were gone, and Childermass’ hand was trailing down his calf. It found the hem of his stocking, paused, then tore it off. The swift efficiency of the thing made Lascelles gasp (to say nothing of his concern for the silk), but even before the sound had died away, Childermass had taken him by the other leg and repeated the exercise.

“Better,” he muttered, almost to himself, as he absently caressed one slim ankle. “Much better.”

“You-” Lascelles bestirred himself to sit, but was forestalled as Childermass swiftly mounted to the bed, pinning him in place with one hand on his shoulder and the pressure of his thigh once more between Lascelles’ legs, firm against his prick. Lascelles hissed and tried to arch into the touch, but Childermass had him fast. One hand retaining its position at Lascelles’ shoulder, he moved the other to his own collar and, with much the same briskness as he had removed Lascelles’ stockings, worked loose his neckcloth and threw it aside.

Without taking his eyes from Lascelles’, he proceeded to remove his own garments. The pursuit did, in course, necessitate the use of both hands, and, dimly, Lascelles supposed he might move now, should he wish, but even with no restraining hand upon his shoulder, the fascination of watching Childermass disrobe proved a most effectual means of keeping him still. First to go was the coat, followed by the long waistcoat, then the threadbare shirt, with a slow precision that must certainly be deliberate on his part. Inch by inch, his body was revealed: lean, rangy, and deceptively strong. With one hand, he fumbled to remove his stockings in a manner that would have been very droll had not Lascelles found himself so distracted, for no sooner were they gone than Childermass’ hands were unbuttoning his breeches and working them down over his hips to reveal his cock, standing erect and flushed against its bed of dark hair. Under ordinary circumstances, Lascelles should certainly have taken satisfaction in this proof that Childermass was by no means unmoved by their current congress, for all his knowing looks and taunting words. As it was, however, his desire redoubled, and he was obliged to dig his fingers into the blankets to contain himself.

He half-expected Childermass to come out with some sort of taunt, but he once again confounded Lascelles’ expectations by suddenly bearing down upon him, covering Lascelles’ body with the full length of his own. His skin scorched Lascelles’ wherever it touched, and without the inconvenience of clothing, the sensation of Childermass’ prick, pressing hard and hot against his hip, blazed fiercely through him. He moaned, the sound instantly swallowed by Childermass’ mouth. One rough hand moved against his neck, holding his head in place as they kissed: long fingers covered his throat, closed about it, tightening just firmly enough to send a particularly perverse streak of desire through Lascelles’ body.

Summoning up some last reserve of defiance, he slid his mouth down, catching at Childermass’ bottom lip with his teeth and biting, hard. The sound that Childermass gave in answer could only be described as a growl, rising up from deep within his chest. It imbued Lascelles with a quite savage rush of excitement, and he moved his hands to Childermass’ chest, fingers trailing up until they found what they sought: the round scar left by the pistol ball, rough against the softness of the skin about it. Lightly, he circled it with his fingertips, heard Childermass’ breath go still, then pressed down, hard, and was rewarded with a most delectable shudder. Pain? By God, he hoped so.

But he had not time to savour even this small triumph, for Childermass now released his neck and, seizing his waist in a grip that must surely bruise, drove his cock against Lascelles’ belly, leaving a smear of semen against his skin. Lascelles moaned, fingers digging bruises into Childermass’ shoulders. His own prick pulsed, and his hips thrust vainly up, seeking relief but finding none.

“Chi-” a sound shockingly like a sob choked him - “Childermass…”

Childermass raised his head from the crook of Lascelles’ neck, and took the situation in at a glance. At last, with one hand still at Lascelles’ waist, he closed the other about his cock. His palm was hot and rough and dry, and Lascelles was overtaken by a fresh wave of lust: he bucked into it, quite without decorum, a shout tearing loose from his throat. Childermass gave him no quarter, but curled his hand tighter and, with agonising slowness, stroked upward. Lascelles gasped, but even that was as nothing compared to the feeling when Childermass stroked his thumb over the head of his cock, gathering the first beaded drops of his seed and spreading them over the flushed skin.

Ah-” A soft noise escaped him on a breath, inciting Childermass to kiss him again. His tongue delved deep, moving against Lascelles’ in a rhythm very like the one set by his stroking hand: leisurely, unhurried, entirely unlike any of their kisses thus far, and all the more unbearable for it, for with every moment, a new languor stole through Lascelles’ limbs, rendering him as pliant and biddable as a virgin bride.

Then, all at once, Childermass’ hand stilled. He started, broken from his pleasant daze, and could do nothing to prevent the whimper that escaped him. His hips gave a helpless thrust into the stationary hand, but to no good effect, and he whined, a petulant, desperate sound.

Childermass’ voice, low and amused, sounded in his ear: “You know, if you need summat, sir, you have only to ask.”

Lascelles closed his eyes, biting down hard upon his lip. No. He would not lower himself, even now, to beg anything of this man.

Childermass swept his thumb once more over the head of his cock. The pleasure of it caused him to cry out, his head slumping back against the pillow.

“If you don’t ask,” murmured Childermass, “you’ll get nothing.”

That he should even consider denying him! Chest heaving with every word, Lascelles somehow found the will to spit out, “Damn you! You should be grateful I should even deign to let you lay your filthy hands on me.”

“But why do you let me?” Childermass wondered aloud, still idly stroking him. “What is it you want of me, Mr Lascelles? Do you want me to fuck you?”

The word, in all its naked vulgarity, burned through him. When he had first consented to come up to this room, he had been by no means resigned to playing the pathic. But now, despite himself, he could not help glancing down at Childermass’ cock, still pressed like a brand against his skin, could not help imagining how it might feel sheathed inside him.

Throat dry, he nodded.

But Childermass merely moved the fingers of his free hand against the sweat-dampened hair behind Lascelles’ ear, and put his lips close to whisper, “Say it.”

Shame was a thing almost wholly foreign to Henry Lascelles, but now he felt it spreading within him: shame and desire mingled, dark and sweet as treacle.

“Please,” he said, despising John Childermass with every fibre of his being, “fuck me.”

Childermass nodded. “On your knees, then.”

He complied with a most shameful celerity, almost scrambling in his haste to turn over, his fists twisted in the blankets, his heart pounding in an agony of anticipation. The uneven mattress dipped as Childermass shifted behind him, and he smelt suddenly the particular fragrance of sweet oil - where on earth had Childermass concealed that? But there was no time to dwell on the question, for he then felt Childermass lean over him - close, but not quite close enough to touch - and run a proprietorial hand from the nape of his neck, down the length of his back, over the curve of his arse…

One finger thrust inside him caused him to moan, far more loudly than it in justice ought. Two caused his breath to come swift and shallow, and he hid his face in the pillow. Childermass’ fingers moved deliberately within him, and Lascelles’ face burned with the shame of it. It was insupportable, utterly insupportable, that he should abase himself so shamelessly before this man, insupportable that he should crave it as he did: a deep, pulsing ache of pure need that only increased the more Childermass’ fingers worked him, the more he opened him, until he was gasping into the pillow, his prick aching to the point of pain.

Please…” The word dropped, wholly of its own volition, from his lips.

Presently Childermass desisted, withdrawing his fingers in one smooth motion that caused Lascelles to moan for their loss. But his disappointment was short-lived as Childermass bent close over him, long hair falling against his flushed cheek. “I think we’re ready now, Mr Lascelles.”

Lascelles, inarticulate, could only nod. Again he felt Childermass’ weight shift and settle behind him, heard the rough noise he made as he took himself in hand, smearing more oil on his cock - he could envisage the thing most vividly. Then those rough hands took Lascelles’ bruised hips again, and -

He cried out in alarm, eyes flying open as he felt himself pulled sharply back. In his half-delirious state, it was some moments before he comprehended his position. Childermass was kneeling upright on the mattress, and he had pulled Lascelles back, almost into his lap, his back pressed to Childermass’ chest, his thighs straddling Childermass’ own. Childermass’ arms held him fast, and Lascelles bit his lip as the thick head of Childermass’ cock pressed hot against his entrance, before slowly - oh, so slowly - thrusting up inside him. He moaned aloud as it filled him - pulsing, burning - and despite the first discomfort, he was already pressing his hips back to take as much of it inside him as he could.

“There it is,” growled Childermass against his ear, a hitch coming into his voice at last. “There it is.”

Lascelles could only groan. He was used to face his conquests, to look into their eyes and appraise their reactions, to observe and anticipate and manipulate. Here, he was trapped, unable to see Childermass’ face, or even watch his movements. Unable even to grasp hair, to press bruises into skin, no opportunity to assert any small mastery of his own. He was - his whole body ached with the knowledge of it - utterly helpless.

Not so Childermass. He had perfect liberty to touch and kiss as he pleased. His mouth pressed a succession of soft, wet kisses between Lascelles’ shoulders, hands brushing lightly from his hips, to his stomach, to his chest, circling one nipple, before smoothing down the insides of his arms. Lascelles felt himself sinking, surrendering, caressed into suppliance as he gave himself up to pleasure.

“You are a wretch,” he ground out, in one last, futile challenge, even as his body melted back against Childermass’. “A misbegotten, vulgar wretch, the very scum of the earth…”

“Aye,” Childermass murmured, “I might very well be all of those things. But what does that make you-” his voice dipped, low and dangerous - “when you are flaunting yourself like a whore in my bed?”

As if to affirm the point, he gave one sudden, sharp thrust of his hips, his cock driving deep into Lascelles’ arse and causing light to burst behind his eyes. Lascelles cried out, the sound abruptly turning to a gasp as Childermass’ hand moved from his chest to close lightly about his throat once more.

“Can you feel that?” said Childermass, voice ragged. “Can you feel me inside you now, Mr Lascelles?”

Of all the nonsensical questions… Lascelles would have sneered, but as it was, it was all he could feel, and thus it was all he could do to nod his head, throat straining against Childermass’ hand as he swallowed, and move his hips back against Childermass’ own.

That appeared to be the signal Childermass had been awaiting, for now he resumed his thrusts, establishing a deep, rhythmic pace that tore cries from Lascelles’ throat at every stroke. Their position answered his purposes admirably, for every thrust drove his cock full inside, balls nudging the soft skin of his arse, so that Lascelles was certain he had never been fucked so hard, so utterly, in his life. For his own part, he was powerless to influence the pace of their coupling in any respect, powerless to do anything save feel: the red-iron heat of Childermass’ cock deep, deep inside him, the strength of his arms as they fixed him in place, the vibration of his voice against his skin as he growled out his pleasure.

“A bloody wanton,” he rasped in one instance, as Lascelles grasped the arm that held his throat with both hands, holding it there, delighting in the pressure, the mingled sense of terror and lust.

Lascelles had no will left to repudiate the charge, even less when Childermass gave one singularly forceful thrust that glanced against that hidden place inside him, which flared white-hot with animal pleasure and drove tears into his eyes with his force. His prick, prominent in his exposed situation, was slick with his own seed, and it ached - good God, it ached - but, almost as if he had divined Lascelles’ intent, Childermass deftly caught both his hands in one of his and trapped them against his chest. Deprived of the means of affording himself any relief, Lascelles tossed his head, whining, thrusting his cock into empty air.

“Please,” he gasped, “oh! please…”

Teeth against his cheek, stubble rasping against skin already raw. “Come, sir, spit it out.”

“For God’s sake, man, do it again!”

Despite the imperative nature of the words, there could be no mistaking their tone for anything but a plea. But he was too far gone now to be ashamed, to do anything save sob out his pleasure as Childermass obliged him, fucking him with such ferocity Lascelles thought he might lay him open entire. He rocked his hips back, again and again, desperate to feel every inch of him. By now, Childermass had given up any effort to tease or torment him, reduced to wordless, bestial cries uttered into his sweat-damp skin, his brow pressed to Lascelles’ nape as he thrust into him with increasing abandon.

Then, just as Lascelles thought he could bear no more, Childermass’ free hand left his waist and at last, at last, wrapped about his prick. That did for him: pleasure - as sharp, as bright, as exquisite as pain - blazed through him, instant as lightning, destroying him completely. He gave a shout, painful in his raw throat, and thrust his hips desperately into Childermass’ hand, even as he spent himself in a hot rush. Somewhere distant, he was aware of Childermass’ hoarse cry, only slightly muted in the crook of his neck, the last hard thrust of his cock as he reached his own end. But these were far away: he was entirely lost.

When he came to himself at last, drifting up from a white daze, it was to find himself lying supine against the blankets with Childermass, having disengaged himself, stretched out alongside. His fingers idled over Lascelles’ body, over the bruises now beginning to show darkly against his skin, lingering with a sort of combined curiosity and satisfaction, almost gentle. His thumb brushed Lascelles’ swollen lips, and Lascelles could not help but give a sigh, eyes turning up. Childermass’ eyes - dark as winter, fathomless as ages - held his, and for a fleeting moment he thought he glimpsed something in their depths, something very like the old magic which Norrell so denounced, like the lost roads beyond the mirrors: wild, elemental, vital.

Entirely vulgar.

Only now did he remember himself. He was lying naked in the bed of John Childermass, a man he held in the utmost contempt, had allowed him to use him like a common whore. The sweat had cooled on his skin now, but he could still feel Childermass’ seed warm against the backs of his thighs as it spilled from him, a mark of shame to match the drying stain of his own across his abdomen. Every muscle in his body ached, and his skin was tender with rough usage, the bruises throbbing, proclaiming each place where Childermass had marked him. At that thought, the last lazy vestiges of pleasure were dashed away, and cold anger came flooding in their place.

“Take your hands from me.” Raising himself up on his arms, he glared at Childermass. “You creature - what have you done?”

At that, all trace of mystery disappeared from Childermass’ eyes, leaving them cold and sullen. “I? I don’t recall that I held a pistol to your head and marched you here, Mr Lascelles.”

Lascelles’ face burned at this rejoinder, and he felt his bruises throb anew, to compound his shame. “I will not stay here a moment longer,” he said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “You will never speak of this to anyone.”

A gruff sound, almost a laugh, escaped Childermass’ throat. “Well, I hadn’t planned to go shouting it from the rooftops, sir. We all do things we’re not proud of from time to time. But if you’re set upon leaving, the servants’ door downstairs is usually unlocked.”

With those words, he closed his eyes and lay back with every appearance of settling down to sleep, leaving Lascelles in a silent fury. That Childermass should suggest he was the one who had lowered himself by taking Lascelles to his bed, and then to propose that he smuggle himself out by the servants' way, like some guilty secret. He would not be dismissed, his pride would not suffer it, certainly not from this man, and so it was that (aided, perhaps, by the awareness that in their present state, his legs were unlikely to carry him downstairs at all) which decided him at last.

“I will stay,” he declared, in as curt a voice as he could manage.

“As you please, Mr Lascelles,” came the reply, already thick with sleep.

Left with no other option, Lascelles sank back down into the bed, pulling the blanket over himself, and suppressed a shudder as Childermass’ skin brushed against his once more. Even as his own weariness crept over him, anger coiled away in the back of his mind. He turned his head against the pillow and saw Childermass already asleep, an intolerable air of satisfaction still about him, and as Lascelles closed his eyes, his last thought was that he would certainly make him answer for this. However it was done, however painfully, he would be made to answer.