From the time he was three, Thomas crawled into bed beside Lucille nearly every night. It was especially true when it was cold, or when Mother had punished her. He was too young to understand everything, but he could piece together that Lucille's pain was his fault, that it was the result of something he had done. He would cross the nursery floor, creep into her bed, stroke her hair, and whisper, "Do you still love me?"
Lucille always wrapped her arms around him and kissed his forehead or his cheek, and said, "Of course. Of course I do, my sweet." And even when it must have hurt tremendously, she would caress him and soothe him until he fell asleep.
As he grew older, he knew enough to offer to care for her. He thought of it as penance for causing the situation in the first place. He tried--Lord above, he tried!--not to earn Mother's or Father's ire. It was sometimes unavoidable. He came to realise that there were times when nothing he or Lucille did or did not do could spare them from their parents' wrath. Once he tried to talk Lucille out of interposing herself. "It's not fair that you tell me to run and hide," he told her.
"Shh. I'm older, and I know better. You're frail, Thomas. I'm not. I'll never let them touch you."
"I said no." Lucille's voice rang with determination and even a bit of danger. She sounded so like Mother that she frightened him. He began to cry. She immediately grew contrite. "I'm sorry. I'm not cross, Thomas. Honestly, I'm not. It just hurts, that's all."
"It's my fault, though," Thomas insisted. "My fault you have to stand it for both of us."
"No, never," said Lucille, and she ran a bruised and bloody hand across his cheek. Mother had smacked her cane right over her knuckles when Lucille had tried to shield her face from the blow. "You are perfect and pure and I'm going to keep you that way." She leaned forward and kissed him again, lips partly open to linger against the smooth skin of his forehead. He breathed in the scent of her hair and nuzzled his way under her chin, like a kitten seeking assurance from its mother. He kissed the hollow of her throat and buried his head against her.
He remembered the first time Lucille touched him, the first time he had touched her. She was nine, and he seven. They had retreated to his little attic all day; it was a crisp spring evening, cool, but not cold, and the fire had been more than enough to keep them cosy. Lucille had half a loaf of bread and some cheese from Mrs Palaver the cook, and they had their tea without any fear of repercussion. Mother and Father were in town, some sort of charity function they couldn't refuse to attend. Lucille quipped, "Keeping up appearances," and described her vision of the scene of domesticity they presented outside Allerdale Hall. "They'll pretend to everyone that they're still content with each other, that they have a perfect marriage and a perfect family. Father will say condescending platitudes about the church or the poor or whatever they're meant to be supporting. Mother will cluck her tongue as if she cares, and neither will commit to anything. They'll come home feeling smug and self-important."
"Does that mean they won't, er…?" Thomas asked quietly, trailing off. He didn't like to even voice the bad things. Lucille knew what he meant, anyway.
"We might have a day or two before they notice us again," Lucille pronounced gravely. She chewed her toasted cheese with thoughtful concentration. Thomas, who had already eaten his bread and cheese (because Lucille toasted his first, and then made her own), hopped off his chair to fetch the little figure he'd been whittling. He presented it to his sister.
"I made this for you," he said. He demonstrated how he'd fashioned the dancer so that her arms could move above her head.
"She's lovely, Thomas," Lucille told him. She ran her fingers under the wide winged collar of his shirt, then tilted up his chin to kiss him on the mouth. She tasted of cheese and bread and the birch ash from the fire.
Thomas returned the kiss. He put his hands around her like a dancer holding his partner. She stood willingly, toe to toe, Thomas's head just short of hers. He twirled her tentatively, remembering the two or three lessons he'd had before the winter had set in. Mother had decreed that they would resume as soon as the roads were reliably passable again; Thomas surmised that would be soon, if Mother and Father had travelled themselves. Lucille began to sing their lullaby for accompaniment. Before long they were no longer dancing properly, just holding tight to one another and swaying to Lucille's song. Thomas dropped his cheek to Lucille's chest.
"It's softer," he observed.
"Your chest. Here." Thomas brought up one hand to press lightly on the lump of flesh that he had felt beneath his head.
Lucille giggled. "That's my bosom, sweeting," she told him. "Hadn't you noticed before?"
Thomas shook his head. "But women have bosoms, not you."
"Well, I'm going to be a woman. Soon." She broke away and came to sit again. "Mother says I'll have to start wearing a corset soon, too."
"Why?" Thomas followed, dropping to his knees to sit against her leg.
"Because she wants my bosom to grow properly." She petted his hair absently. "So I'll grow up pretty enough to fetch a rich husband."
Thomas crinkled his nose. "I don't want you to marry a rich husband. I don't want you to marry anyone. If you got married, we couldn't spend our days together."
"I'm not getting married, ever," Lucille assured him. "I told you, we'll always be together. Never apart."
"Never apart," Thomas echoed. "Can I...touch it again?"
Lucille slid forward off the seat onto her knees on the hearthrug with him. She held his gaze with her eyes and carefully, slowly, unfastened the buttons of her shirtwaist blouse. Her pale flesh lay exposed, only slightly bruised from her last beating. The bluish-yellow marks glowed in the firelight and gave her skin a sort of shine.
"Mother did that," Thomas pointed out, "but it's my fault. Do you still love me?"
"I'll kiss them better," Thomas said. He leaned over and gently pecked the dots along her sternum. Lucille reached down for one of his hands and carefully placed it over the swell of one budding, tiny breast. Thomas's hand was small and soft around the gentle curve. His lips parted as he felt the spongy fat underneath. He squeezed it just a bit, experimentally. Lucille gasped.
"Did I hurt you?" asked Thomas, his hand jerking back.
"No. It felt...good." She reached for his hand again; he offered it and she placed it once more to cup her breast. This time, she kept her hand over his and guided him to massage the small mound. She brushed her own thumb over her nipple. "Oh. Do that."
"What I just did. Here." She moved his thumb for him. He repeated the motion on his own, back and forth. Lucille hummed pleasantly, "Mmm." She scooted closer, reaching around his back to pull him even closer. "Keep doing that," she told him. He pushed up onto his knees so that he could put his other hand on her other breast. "No," she said decisively. "Not both at once."
"All right." Thomas bit his lip in concentration. Lucille's eyes fluttered closed and she leaned backward, so Thomas eased her onto her back. On his knees and one hand, he manipulated her tiny breast with rapt attention to her face. She kept one hand near his, but eventually it fell to her side. Thomas brought his head closer and closer, until he could see her skin pucker into gooseflesh from his breath. He dipped his mouth toward her and kissed the space just inside the web of his thumb and forefinger.
Lucille gasped again, the same noise she had made before, so Thomas knew that this was not pain. He dropped another feathery kiss onto her breast, and her hand found his hair and corded through it. Encouraged, he aimed a kiss directly onto her perked nipple. Lucille's hand tightened on his skull, holding him in place. He suckled on her like a babe until she lifted his face with both hands. "Thomas," she said, her voice thick and breathless.
"What?" he asked, concerned although he could not have said why. Had he done something wrong? Was she cross?
She searched his eyes for a moment, as if looking for the answer to his question. But instead of telling him anything, she merely pressed him downward again, this time to the breast she had previously declared off-limits. Thomas did not need to ask; he repeated his attention to this one, and was rewarded by Lucille's hands rubbing his back in comfortable strokes. Eventually she lifted his chin again and pulled him down to lie against her shoulder. "Thomas?"
"Never tell anyone about this. About what we did today."
"Why would I?" he asked innocently.
Lucille was crying, silently, her little tremor in bed the only sign of it. Thomas left his bed and padded to hers, drew back the coverlet and sheets and slid beside her. "What can I do?" he asked.
"There's nothing you can do," said Lucille.
"Why don't we run away?" he suggested.
Lucille scoffed. "I'm only ten; you're eight. Where would we go? They'd find us, and bring us back. There's no point."
Thomas could not disagree. Over the years they had learned that any servant who dared lift a finger to help them was dismissed shortly afterward. No one would aid them and they could not go far on their own. Especially in winter. "Do you still love me?"
"Of course." Lucille twisted gingerly, making sure not to lie on her back. She curled one leg around his ankle. Although she was still taller than he, she pressed her face against his shoulder and absently rubbed his arm. In the moonlight, he could see the purplish finger marks on her wrist where Mother had gripped her hard.
Thomas bit his lip. "Do--do you want me to...I mean, should I--"
"Not tonight. But if you like, I can--."
"Oh. Yes, I suppose. Only if you want." Lucille began to sing very softly. Her hand left his arm and slipped beneath the covers; a moment later he felt her lift his nightshirt. He hitched his hips off the mattress so that she could get the fabric over his hips. Her fingers feathered up his thigh, up to his stomach, and then down ever so gently between his legs. His breath hitched and he grew instantly hard. Her hand cupped around his length and she squeezed. Thomas closed his eyes and let her handle him.
They had discovered this action a few months previously, and though it felt odd to him at first, as Lucille continued, it grew more and more pleasurable. When he asked her how she had ever taken the notion to touch him there, she shrugged. "Father has all sorts of books in the library. Mother makes him keep them locked up. He can only look at them when she's taken to her bed."
"How do you know, though?" he'd asked.
Lucille's face darkened. "Because he showed me once. You were at your riding lesson. He wanted me to be ashamed, but I wasn't."
"Is that all he wanted?" Thomas asked.
"Shh," Lucille had said. "Let's never discuss that again. Do you want me to stop?"
"Then don't ask me about Father."
That was her answer to almost anything, Thomas realised, that she didn't want to discuss. "Do you want this to stop? Then don't ask." He didn't want her to stop, of course, and he knew she didn't want him to stop, either. It was theirs, their secret, their way of making up for the way Mother and Father treated them, and no one could take it away. No one would do, she reminded him, as long as they told no one. Ever.
He had only recently begun to realise that what they did together was something others would consider abominable. But he didn't care. It meant so much to Lucille. It was his best way to show her how much he loved her--and his best way to make sure that she still loved him.
"Lucille?" he asked, back in the present, her hand pumping at him.
"I--Are you sure I can't get you anything?" He longed to make her feel better in any way possible.
"No. I don't want you sneaking downstairs at this hour."
"But there is something, then? Something you want?"
She withdrew her hand and sighed. "Are you unhappy, Thomas?"
"No. Well. I just want to make sure that you're happy. With me."
She levered herself up and took his jaw in one hand. "Always together, Thomas. I would do anything to keep you safe. But we have to be strong for each other. If we're not, they'll take me away from you. I won't be able to protect you. And you'll be all alone. And so will I. Do you understand?"
Thomas felt tears prick at his eyes. He sat up, too. "Never apart, Lucille, please--"
"Shhh…" She cradled him against her. "Never apart." She kissed him on the lips, reached down and seized him, and he stifled a different sort of cry.
It went on like that for another two years, as they gradually discovered more about themselves and each other. Then Father broke Mother's leg and shortly afterward embarked on a prolonged trip to the Continent. He threatened to bring Thomas with him, and Lucille had the brilliance to brew a sort of tea that made Thomas ill on the morning they were to depart. Father lost no time on him, remarking only that Lucille would have two invalids to take care of and had best see to them. She came upstairs before his carriage had even reached the gate.
"He's gone. And Mother's abed. We've the whole house, practically." Yet they still kept mostly to the nursery, or their bedrooms. They each had their own rooms now, but Thomas still crept into Lucille's bedroom where they would lie together, with the moths fluttering against the peeling wallpapers.
As Mother's leg healed, her temper grew shorter. She expected Lucille to remain close at all times, so that they could barely go riding or take a stroll along the ridge without suffering Mother's wrath. At least bound in her chair, she could not do as much damage, but she tried.
The night that it happened, Thomas had retired to his own room because Mother was fussing about wanting to be bathed. Lucille told him it was going to be a lengthy process, so he had taken a book from the library and sat reading in bed. He must have fallen asleep, because when he woke, the lamp had burned low, and the fire was nothing but embers. He shivered, but forced himself to rise and build up the fire again. As he dove back under the covers, his door opened and Lucille came in, still in her daydress, but without boots. She never knocked--but then, neither did he. They had no secrets from one another.
She shut the door behind her, then rushed at him and tore at his shirt. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"Shh…" she told him, fierce and intense. She pushed him toward the bed. "I hate her," she spat in between possessive kisses. "I hate her, I hate her, I hate her!" With every pronouncement, Lucille grabbed at him, raked her nails down his skin, bit at his lips. Thomas held tight through the onslaught, but Lucille pressed him down underneath her. She batted his hands away when he tried to settle her, until at last she was pinning his wrists above his head. She pushed on them sharply.
"All right," Thomas told her. "Lucille, it's all right."
She slapped his mouth lightly--not enough to hurt, just to sting. "Don't say anything," she said. "Don't. She can't stop us."
"No one can," said Thomas, still bewildered. "Did Mother say something?"
"She's always saying things," was Lucille's only answer. She rucked up her skirt and straddled him, grinding against the hardness under his nightshirt.
Thomas did not move his hands. "Will you let me help you undress?" he asked.
"No, just hold still and be silent," said Lucille. Instead, she sat back for a moment and pulled down her pantalettes, then folded the hem of his shirt out of the way. She moved back over him and lowered herself so that his shaft lay along the folds of skin between her legs. She began to rock back and forth, bracing her hands on his chest.
"Please can I touch you?" Thomas pleaded. His erection felt all jumpy and little electric shocks passed through as Lucille rutted on him.
Lucille said nothing, but she stilled. Then she reached out for his left wrist and, taking it in her hand, plunged it into the tight space between them. As she so often did, she cupped her own hand around his. Then she guided their forefingers up and inside her. It was slippery, wet and warm and so strange, Thomas almost pulled away. But her eyes glazed into pleasure as soon as she began to work their fingers around the hole, and her motion grew less violent, so Thomas let her use his hand. It made her happy. After a few seconds and some encouragement from Lucille, Thomas took over the motion himself. "More," she panted, and he added another slim finger. She wiped her sticky fingers on his cock, making it jump again. Then, she pulled up on it and lifted her hips away from Thomas's hand. He lifted with her, trying to maintain his contact. "No," she told him. He withdrew. To his surprise, she lowered herself onto his penis instead of his fingers. With an audible shuddering sigh, she sank onto his hips. The encasement was so utterly unlike the squeeze of her fingers, so encompassing and vibrant, pulsing with the tensing and relaxing of her muscles, that he was unable to keep from emitting his seed immediately.
"Aaaah…." he moaned as the sensation overpowered him. He dimly worried that Lucille would be cross that he had softened so quickly, and then he was overcome by an odd floating feeling that seemed to stop time.
"Thomas?" Lucille asked, hands cradling his face as so often before. Her fingers smelled tangy, a little like fish from the stream or the clay inside of the mine. "Thomas, are you all right?"
"Yes, I.... What was that?"
"That was called sex, but for us, it was making love. Do you want to try it again?" She was still on top of him; he was still inside her. He grew hard even before she finished speaking, and instinctively thrust deeper into her. She laughed. "Yes, darling, yes."
He came a second time, but at least it lasted a little longer. Still not long enough, he suspected. This time, Lucille separated from him to unbutton her shirtwaist and let down her skirt. She unlaced her corset and came back to lie alongside him, snuggled under the covers. Thomas caressed her breast, now more full and blooming. He kissed her deeply. "Never apart," he intoned.
"Never. Never apart."
While Mother was confined, they explored new ways to satisfy one another. They revelled in the lack of supervision. Perhaps that was why they grew careless. There were weeks while Mother was recuperating and they made love every night, sometimes even during the day, if Mother wasn't being too fractious. As she recovered, they tried to curtail their affections. Lucille said they had to do to protect the secret, but it was so difficult. Every moment they spent together, Thomas thought, the world fell away. Every moment they had to pretend to be merely brother and sister was torture. It was only a matter of time before Mother grew suspicious.
Not long after she could get about without her chair again, she discovered them. Thomas still hated to think of that night. He mostly succeeded in blotting it from his mind. Mother had dragged him off of Lucille bodily, and before Lucille could intervene, Mother had thrown him out of his own room and locked the door. Naked in the corridor, he had cried and beaten his hands against the door while he heard Lucille inside, shrieking, and Mother screaming at her. Glass shattered; blows cracked with the slap of a cane against flesh; all to the ungodly tune of shrill voices raised in anger and pain. By the time Lucille's sobs subsided, Thomas was crumpled against the door, curled in a fetal crouch. He knew he should have run and hidden, like Lucille had always told him to do, but he was too afraid for her. So when Mother emerged, he was sitting there, an easy target.
He'd been beaten by both Mother and Father before - there were times when Lucille could not save him from it. But this was unlike any pain he'd felt. She hit him with all her strength. She whipped him until his legs and back were swollen and bleeding, until he thought he might never walk again, and then she had pulled him up and proved him wrong. She forced him to walk to the lift, where she sent him to the pits and locked him in one of the cupboards filled with old equipment. But as savagely as she had wielded her cane, the damage had been blessedly temporary. Lucille, always the more determined, rose from her bed the next night, stole Mother's keys and let him out.
"She's planning to send us both away," she told him, after she had ensconced him safely in the attic nursery. She wrapped him in blankets and rubbed his hands and feet to warm them again. "But it'll never happen. I'll make her sorry she ever touched you." Despite the fact that Lucille's pledge was directed at their Mother, at protecting him, Thomas shivered in fear. She was so vehement, so dangerous, that Thomas shrank back.
"W-w-what are you going to do?" he asked.
"I'm going to make sure she never touches you again," Lucille promised. She caressed his cheek. "Always together; never apart."
Two days later, Mother was dead, but Lucille's promise proved untrue. They were separated anyway.