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When the letter arrives from the Respected Society of Hereford Magicians, kindly inviting Mr Childermass to visit, Childermass is initially reluctant. Having just come back from Troon the thought of another journey so soon is not welcome. Living at Starecross in between his excursions is exceedingly comfortable and he is in no hurry to depart again. In the end, however, the offer proves too interesting to resist.

According to the society, a farmer living not far from the city recently uncovered several stones which the society believes to have been carved with a dialect of fairy on one side and ancient Welsh on the other. In the manner of the Rosetta stone, might Mr Childermass find this of use?

Childermass thinks he would find it very much of use.

Vinculus, when Childermass hunts him down in a York tavern, utterly refuses to go. ‘You have dragged me to London, then to Cornwall, then to London again and even to Scotland this year,’ he tells Childermass somewhat blearily. ‘I’m not setting foot outside this city until at least next spring.’

Childermass considers arguing, but there is some fairness to Vinculus’s complains. Chldermass has much of the King’s Letter’s memorised or copied by now, even if he does not understand much of them, and so strictly speaking Vinculus’s presence is not required. And it will make the travel swifter.

He tells Segundus of this on his return to Starecross. ‘I cannot say I mind going without him,’ he adds.

‘Do you prefer to travel alone?’ Segundus asks, and though he is attempting to sound casual he does not quite manage it.

‘Not necessarily,’ Childermass admits cautiously. Why is Segundus asking? ‘It can be helpful to have someone else there in case of trouble, and as with anything involving fairies a trusted and knowledgable associate would be welcome.’ He leaves it up to Segundus to interpret as he will.

Segundus looks wistful. ‘I would be delighted to come with you, but could the school do without two of its teachers? I could not ask Mr Honeyfoot to carry all the burden.’

‘Ask some of the society,’ Childermass suggests. ‘Or even Mr Levy. He has teaching experience, and he would likely welcome a chance to stay so close to the York society for a while.’

‘That is an idea,’ Segundus admits, brightening. ‘There are a lot of Norrellites in the society I would not like to invite, but there are several other gentlemen who would be ideal.’ He suddenly seems to realise what he has said, and blushes somewhat but Childermass does not hold it against him. Several of the pupils are female, and the Norrellite revulsion of teaching magic to women is strongly entrenched. A Norrellite teacher would not suit.

‘Why not ask Miss Redruth?’ Childermass puts forth. ‘You cannot call her a Norrellite.’

‘No,’ Segundus agrees, ‘but she is entirely unsuitable to teach the younger students. She has too little patience with slow learning.’

‘But she would do for the older pupils, and you could ask another for the younger. Then Mr Honeyfoot needs only to oversee a little.’

‘I will make enquires,’ Segundus decides. Then; ‘that is – I am making assumptions that you want me to come. Is there someone else you would prefer?’ He asks this entirely sincerely, ready to step aside if Childermass names another.

‘There is no other I would chuse,’ Childermass assures him.

 

*

 

The journey out is uneventful, the weather cool but not too unpleasant for late September. The rain mainly contains itself to the late afternoon and evening, and they reach Hereford without trouble.

They do not stay in Hereford itself; after one night there with the Respected Society they are duly conducted to a farm some five miles from the city, located close to a small village where they are able to take rooms. The stones are as they were described, carved in a mix of Welsh and Fairy. There is also the odd Latin part. Childermass and Segundus copy it out carefully, visit the place they were first found, explore the area to see if there are any fairy roads, and in general investigate as best they can. They also spend some time with speakers of Welsh who help them decipher the language, of which Childermass knows only a little. In total they spend a week there before turning back, and a more enjoyable week than Childermass would have expected.

He puts this down to the presence of Segundus.

 

*

 

On the day they have chosen to leave Hereford, the weather takes a turn for the worse. Rain lashes down hard enough to bruise while the wind batters them with every gust. Riding slightly ahead of his companion, Childermass is used to ignoring physical discomfort but even he finds this unpleasant. Behind him he is aware that Segundus is not used to riding in this weather at all, but so far in two days of this weather the other man has not uttered a single complaint, not even when the last inn turned out to be full and they were obliged to ride to the next one. As travelling companions go, Childermass could scarcely ask for more more congenial.

Up ahead Childermass can make out the shape of a building through the wind-driven rain, a light shewing above the sign that proclaims it to be an inn. Childermass hopes very much that this one is not full as well; he does not want to be out any longer than he has to. He reins Brewer in a little to let Segundus catch up. The other man is a miserable sight, bundled up in coat and scarf, hat taken off to prevent it being blown away and hair plastered to his head.

‘There is an inn ahead,’ Childermass tells him, and Segundus nods but does not shew too much enthusiasm. Childermass does not blame him.

The inn, when they arrive, has one room left, and Childermass hears a quiet ‘thank god’ from Segundus when Childermass tells the landlord they will take it.

The room is basic; a large bed, basin and stand and most welcome of all, a large fireplace already lit. Segundus thanks the landlord gratefully when he offers to send up foot warmers, and Childermass silently echoes him.

‘It seems a shame,’ Segundus comments from his place as close to the fire as he can get, ‘that no one yet has invented a spell to repel rain.’

Childermass, hanging his coat up to dry, snorts. ‘Obviously there has not been sufficient need yet.’

Segundus sighs a little, and though Childermass does not care to curb his tongue for any man, he does feel a slight regret at replying thus to Segundus. Segundus, however, does not take offence.

‘Indeed, sir,’ he says instead. ‘I cannot but feel some slight disappointment that the Revival of English Magic has inclined men more to making singing portraits, ever-filling glasses and arguments than it has to making spells that could be of use.’

Childermass nods in agreement as he joins Segundus by the fire. ‘Aye. You have the right of it there.’ They stand silent for some minutes, both glad of the warmth offered. A knock at the door heralds the arrival of the landlady with foot warmers, who tells them that dinner will be in the taproom when they are ready.

Over steak and ale pie, Segundus revisits the possibility of a spell to repel rain. ‘I know you do not mind the weather, sir, but surely it would make the journey more pleasant?’ Childermass, waiting to finish his mouthful, does not reply immediately, and Segundus clearly takes this to be an unspoken rebuke. ‘I do not mean to complain,’ he says, looking away and colouring slightly.

Childermass swallows his mouthful. ‘You are not complaining,’ he tells Segundus mildly. Indeed, when the weather first took a turn for the worse Childermass resigned himself to listening to a litany of bad-tempered grumblings. But, as Segundus has proved again and again, he is not one to take offence at life’s varieties and Childermass has not heard a single cross word from him, even when it was discovered that his saddlebag had a hole that let the rain in.

This, as much as the way Segundus looks when flushed with righteous indignation over some argument, is the reason that Childermass’s appreciation for him is constantly growing.

‘I think a spell to repel the rain would be most useful,’ he continues, reaching for his ale. ‘Have you thoughts?’

‘Indeed,’ Segundus says, turning eagerly as ever to a conversation about magic. Childermass represses a smile as Segundus, animated as he warms to his topic, begins to outline his thoughts on the subject. With his bright, dark eyes reflecting the light of the fire and his drying hair curling into little twists all over his head, Segundus is a very attractive sight, and combined with the ale in his hand, pipe in his pocket and fire at his back, there is nowhere else Childermass would rather be.

A signal to the bar brings the landlord with another pint for each of them. Segundus, who has finished his without even noticing, gives a grateful nod and takes a sip before continuing with his point. ‘… and I do think that Mr Taylor, though he is too much under the influence of Dr Foxcastle, has a point about water being very receptive to magic. Look at the way it can be used to reach the King’s Roads...’

Childermass nods along with Segundus’s words, half an eye on the landlord, who on the pretext of wiping down a table that does not look to have seen a cloth for years has lingered to listen to their conversation. Eventually he moves away.

Segundus seems to have come to the end of his thought and has fallen into contemplation. Childermass uses the lull to excuse himself to the privy. When he returns, Segundus is looking flustered and a little cross. ‘Something the matter?’ Childermass enquires. Segundus looks more cross and flustered.

‘The landlord told me he has had magicians here before and will not have us disturbing honest customers with drunken brawls and contests of magic. He said that if he has one complaint, we will be put out of our room.’

Childermass eyes the landlord maliciously. ‘Oh aye?’

‘Yes.’ Segundus’s face folds into a slight frown; a fierce expression from him, Childermass thinks amusedly. ‘I told him we are gentleman magicians and there would not be any trouble, but he declined to believe me.’ His tone is exceedingly indignant.

‘Did he now.’ Childermass thinks he may need to have a few words with the landlord. He himself does not care what the weather is, and it would not be the first time he has ridden at night, though he does not like to do it to Brewer. But Segundus is another matter. Childermass has observed how easily he catches cold, and he does not want to court illness by forcing him out in the rain again. Really it is only Segundus’s insistence that has them travelling at the moment, that and the fact that Childermass does not want to be considered to be fussing over him. But this is not fussing; this is just common courtesy.

Segundus continues to look indignant. ‘Where he gets the idea we will be anything other than perfectly courteous I do not know.’ Childermass looks at him, then pointedly glances at himself. Segundus takes his meaning and flushes. ‘A gentleman is more than just the cut of his coat. Why, you are dressed no differently than half his ‘honest customers,’ yet I would wager you are far more worthy than they.’ His eyes spark defiantly at his proclamation despite his half shy, half bold expression.

Childermass does not know what to say in response. Unaccustomed warmth fills him at this impassioned defence, all the more meaningful because he knows it is Segundus’s honest opinion. He cannot even say that Segundus is imagining him a better man than he is; Segundus is aware of his flaws. Yet still he sees Childermass as a good man, a good friend, and protests this to any who doubt. Childermass knows how he would like to respond, but that is not suitable for public, and there is no indication Segundus would welcome Childermass’s attentions either. So the silence draws out between them, becoming awkward, Segundus dropping his gaze and beginning to burn red.

‘I will deal with him if there is trouble,’ Childermass says eventually to break the silence. ‘And who better than you and I to change his mind on the subject of magicians?’ He infuses his voice with as much lightness as he can, and Segundus finally looks up at him, flush fading.

Pity, Childermass thinks. He looks right fetching like that.

‘Indeed,’ is all Segundus says, but he seems more at ease, and presently he stands and declares he will go to bed. Childermass is beginning to feel the edges of tiredness too, and after finishing his pint to give Segundus a chance to get into bed, he follows him up the stairs.

 

*

 

Sleeping beside Segundus is, Childermass has found over the length of their journey, an exercise in restraint. Not that Segundus is an inconsiderate bedfellow – indeed, Childermass does not think the man has ever been inconsiderate about anything in his life. He is certainly a better bedfellow than Vinculus when Childermass journeys with him. The restraint Childermass must find is more along the lines of not shewing how much he enjoys sharing a bed with Segundus.

In the room, the fire has died down to embers and candles have been lit. The shutters over the window are closed, and Childermass can hear the rain lashing against them and the creak of wood battered by the wind. In the bed, Segundus has taken the side closes to the door, furthest from the fire. Childermass nods to it. ‘Do you mind if I take that side?’

‘Oh, not at all.’ Segundus moves over, and Childermass nods, satisfied. Segundus needs to be closer to the fire than Childermass does.

He turns his back on the bed, stripping off his waistcoat and shirt to quickly wash himself. He hears the bedclothes rustle behind him as Segundus lies down. Segundus always seems uncomfortable if Childermass is present as he undresses, though he does not find it awkward to see Childermass unclothed.

Putting another log on the fire and climbing into the bed, Childermass quickly settles into the surprizingly comfortable mattress. Beside him, Segundus is a warm weight, and the temptation to roll towards him and press tight to his back is strong. Childermass is no stranger to shared beds while travelling, but never has he shared with someone who tempts him so much. His self-restraint has amazed even himself.

Outside, the wind is howling worse than ever, making the shutters creak and the chimney whistle. Despite this, cocooned in the blankets with Segundus’s even breathing close by, drowsiness begins to descend on Childermass. He is accustomed to sleeping in much worse conditions, and other than the low hum of desire directed towards the man next to him, there is nothing here to keep him awake.

 

*

 

Segundus is not a restless sleeper, and Childermass is used to being alert to any changes in the room, so when he feels the bed shift he comes to attention. Half awake, he watches as Segundus, silhouetted against the faint light of the fire, stumbles round the bed, fumbles with the door and makes his way out into the passage beyond. Privy, he assumes, and closes his eyes again.

Heavy footsteps wake him, coming quickly up the passage. Alert to possible trouble an instant after waking, Childermass reaches fast for the box he placed beside the bed, registering as he does that Segundus has not yet returned. Seconds later the bedroom door is flung open, and when the landlord enters dragging Segundus by the arm, he is greeted by one of Childermass’s pistols pointed at his head.

Childermass darts a glance at Segundus. He looks shaken and scared but unharmed. The landlord, initially looking righteously angry, is now looking much less confident. Childermass imagines if he could see him clearly his face would have drained of much of its florid colouring.

‘Let him go,’ Childermass tells the landlord. The man, eyes on the pistol, releases Segundus’s arm abruptly with a small shove. Segundus stumbles a little but quickly regains his balance, moving swiftly to stand next to Childermass. ‘Are you hurt?’ Childermass asks him, not taking his eyes off the landlord.

‘No.’ Segundus sounds upset though. Childermass has to tell himself that he would swing for murder if he just shot the landlord here and now.

‘What is the meaning of this?’ he asks the landlord coldly. At this reminder, the man seems to regain some of his former bravado.

‘I told you I wouldn’t have magicians taking advantage of honest folk,’ he declares stoutly, though the cautious way he watches the pistol gives away his unease. ‘I told you that and I meant it, and I meant it when I said I’d put you out if I had any trouble.’

Has there been any trouble?’ Childermass asks, injecting an edge of menace into his voice. The landlord swallows but perseveres.

‘Your fellow there was in the parlour going through drawers. That sounds like trouble to me.’

Childermass can’t believe that. Segundus is the last person he would suspect of petty theft. There must be some explanation. ‘What do you say, Mr Segundus?’

‘I tried to tell you, sir, I do not know what I was doing there.’ Segundus still sounds shaken, but not as much as before. Childermass is glad of that. ‘I was sleepwalking. I did not intend to cause trouble.’

The landlord snorts in disbelief, and Childermass twitches the pistol slightly to remind him to keep a civil tongue. ‘A likely story,’ the man scoffs. Childermass has to admit to some surprize too – he has heard nothing of this before. But if Segundus claims it, he will accept the claim.

‘Is anything missing?’ he asks the landlord, and hears Segundus make a quiet protest from behind him.

The landlord admits grudgingly that nothing seems to have been taken. ‘But I’ll not take the risk,’ he carries on. ‘I’ll thank you both to leave without causing more trouble.’

Childermass can hear that the weather has not improved and he is exceedingly reluctant to venture out in it. ‘A compromise, sir,’ he suggests. ‘We will keep our room, and you may lock us in for the remainder of the night.’ As an ex-thief Childermass does not like the prospect of being kept here, but the alternative is even less appealing.

The landlord at first does not like this suggestion and stands by his promise to throw them out, but at length Childermass manages to persuade him. The landlord then wants to take his pistol as a security, but Childermass refuses and eventually the man gives way with poor grace. He takes the key and locks them in, remarking loudly from the other side of the locked door that he has ‘never seen gentlemen act like that.’

Childermass and Segundus get back into bed. Segundus looks deeply uncomfortable and more than a little upset. ‘I did not mean this,’ he tells Childermass unhappily. ‘I promise you, sir, I was sleepwalking. I am not a thief.’

‘I believe you,’ Childermass assures him, and watches as Segundus’s unhappiness lifts slightly with relief.

‘Oh,’ Segundus half sighs. ‘When you said… I thought you believed...’ he doesn’t finish, but Childermass grasps his meaning.

‘Simply arguing would have got us nowhere,’ he tells Segundus. ‘Drawing his venom was the best course.’

‘Yes, of course,’ Segundus murmurs in agreement. He falls silent for a while. Presently he speaks again. ‘I am sorry to have disturbed you like this.’

‘It is not your fault,’ Childermass tells him, and truly, he does not blame Segundus. From what he knows of sleepwalkers, there is very little control. ‘Were you dreaming?’

‘I do not know,’ Segundus replies. ‘I never remember my actions or what prompted them.’

Childermass wants to ask more, but it is late and he thinks they should leave as early as possible. He voices this to Segundus, who agrees. ‘I cannot say I want to stay here longer than we must.’ He still sounds unhappy, and Childermass resents the fact that he was not able to force the landlord to apologise to Segundus. He also regrets that he cannot offer Segundus any further comfort himself.

‘Sleep,’ he advises. ‘We will leave early and breakfast at the next inn.’ Segundus makes a noise of agreement, and they both settle down to rest.

Childermass does not fall back asleep quickly, and he can feel Segundus’s wakefulness beside him the whole time.

 

*

 

Using a small spell found during in his service of Norrell, Childermass can wake at any time he chuses. Accordingly, before first light he rises and wakes Segundus. They both dress as quickly as possible, and Childermass makes short work of picking the lock to the room and letting them out. In the taproom a maid is cleaning up from the night before and Childermass settles their bill, watching as Segundus glances apprehensively towards the stairs every minute or so. He has to resist the urge to leave some trouble for the landlord to deal with; bespelling the drawers to snap at his fingers seems appropriate if perhaps a little mild, but he stops himself. Segundus would not like it.

They collect their horses and are away within half an hour of waking. The inn behind them is still mostly asleep.

Overnight, the weather has not calmed, and it is a blustery and damp ride to the next inn, some six or seven miles away. Neither of them feels like shouting over the wind to hold a conversation, and the ride consequently is long and dull. When they reach the inn Childermass immediately orders them a full breakfast with hot tea, though the look of gratitude Segundus gives him is warming in itself.

Once they have both consumed significant quantities of eggs, bacon and toast, Childermass finally gets a chance to ask the questions he was wondering about the night before. ‘Have you always been a sleepwalker?’ he begins with.

‘Ever since I was a child,’ Segundus tells him. ‘Usually only in bad weather, and occasionally in unfamiliar surroundings. It can cause problems when I am not at home.’ Childermass nods, reaching for his teacup. ‘Indeed,’ Segundus continues dolefully, ‘when I lived in Lady-Peckitt’s-yard, in bad weather Mrs Pleasance had to tie me to the bed-posts. She said otherwise I disturbed her linens.’

Childermass spits tea across the table.

‘Are you alright, Mr Childermass?’ Segundus asks with concern as Childermass descends into a coughing fit. He has no idea what he implied, Childermass thinks dazedly as Segundus mops at the tea on the table and fusses to pour Childermass another cup.

‘Did that help?’ Childermass asks him eventually, when he has recovered and breakfast has resumed.

‘Oh yes,’ Segundus tells him. ‘It was the only thing, other than locking me in, and she was always afraid I might fall out the window if I walked about.’

That had not even occurred to Childermass before, but now he thinks how easily Segundus could have missed his footing on the stairs and broken his neck. The thought sends a chill through him. ‘Do you think it will happened again?’ he asks, concealing his new-found worry.

‘Most likely,’ Segundus admits. ‘In the past, it generally did not end until either the weather improved or I returned to my own lodgings.’

Childermass thinks of the time it will take them to reach Starecross. The journey out to Hereford took them five days, but that was in better weather when they could ride for more of the day. Their return journey has already taken three days, this being the forth, and with the weather so poor they cannot travel for as long. It will take them the best part of a week in total to reach Starecross.

Childermass will have to consider this.

 

*

 

The weather continues poor for the rest of the day, the roads already mostly mud, making it difficult for the horses to traverse. Childermass and Brewer are much used to this and can pick a path easily enough, but Segundus is still not an experienced rider and is struggling. Childermass would like to call a halt early, but the roads will not improve any time soon and it is better to press on. By the time he decides they have covered enough ground Segundus is beginning to look grey with exhaustion from the difficult day after a disturbed night.

Without consulting each other, neither Childermass nor Segundus mention anything to do with magic when they stop at the night’s inn. Instead they discuss plans for the term at Starecross, focusing on the practicalities of whether to advertise for another teacher and if another classroom would be beneficial. Childermass does not often teach but when he does he prefers to teach outdoors. Opportunities will, however, become more limited as the year continues towards winter.

The conversation continues until Childermass can no longer ignore the fact that Segundus is struggling not to fall asleep in his ale. ‘Come, sir,’ he tells him, and chivvies him up to the room. It does not take a lot of persuasion.

Tonight’s room has two beds, and Childermass is simultaneously relieved and disappointed with the sleeping arrangements. It is probably for the best, he concedes.

Segundus’s natural modesty seems to evaporate under the face of his tiredness, and he strips and changes without thought to Childermass’s presence or attention. Childermass, who would usually care little for someone else’s reserve, finds himself awkwardly looking away, taking a seat by the fire and immersing himself in the cleaning of his boots. By the light of the fire and the candles, Segundus’s skin glows, looking enticingly touchable. When he pulls his nightgown over his head, disordering his hair, a part of Childermass aches with the desire to reach out for him. He does not know if Segundus would welcome his touch, and he is not willing to risk his home and their friendship on the hope. So instead he clenches his fingers tight, averts his gaze, and thinks of something else until he hears the rustle of bedclothes. Then there is a pause.

‘Mr Childermass?’ Segundus sounds uncertain. Childermass risks a look up. Segundus is sitting up in his bed, hands clutching the blankets convulsively.

‘Is something wrong?’ Childermass asks him. Segundus swallows awkwardly.

‘I do not know if I will sleepwalk again tonight,’ he says hesitantly, ‘but I think it likely. I do not want a repeat of last night.’ He stops, and Childermass has a sudden premonition of what he might be about to say.

‘I could do some magic,’ he offers to forestall Segundus’s request. ‘Something to keep you in bed.’

Segundus relaxes with the offer. ‘Please, Mr Childermass, that would be most welcome.’

Childermass forces his mind away from what Segundus might have been about to request and towards the thought of magic. Something to confine Segundus to bed, and perhaps an extra spell on the door to be certain.

‘There is a spell for containing geese that could be adjusted,’ he tells Segundus. ‘Would you be interested in adding your input?’

As ever, the thought of magic revitalises Segundus and he sits forward eagerly, tiredness receding from his face. ‘Certainly sir, I would be glad to. What is the form?’

Childermass describes it. It is simple enough, and he and Segundus easily change it to suit their purpose. Childermass sees a definite lessening of tension about Segundus when Childermass puts it in place. ‘It glows nicely,’ Segundus tells him, already lying down and with his eyes beginning to drift closed. ‘It looks like goosegrass leaves.’ His eyes close, and within minutes his breathing is even, telling of his slumber.

Childermass makes as little noise as he can as he performs his own night-time ritual, trying not to disturb Segundus, though in truth the man is so tired Childermass doubts anything short of a bucket of cold water would wake him.

Slipping into bed, he checks the spell again before casting a general ward spell on the door to alert him if Segundus should somehow break the containment spell. Confident that he has done all he needs, he lets himself follow Segundus into sleep.

 

*

 

The rustling of bedclothes doesn’t wake him, but the sound of the bolt on the door being drawn back does. He sits up just in time to see Segundus’s back disappearing into the corridor. With a curse, he climbs quickly out of bed to follow. ‘Mr Segundus!’ he hisses as loudly as he can, but there is no response. He broke the spells without even thinking, Childermass realises in surprize.

Torn between curiosity and caution, he follows Segundus down the stairs to the main room, but realises suddenly that he can hear voices from below. Apparently there are still customers, and Childermass cannot think it wise for Segundus to appear before them clad in a nightgown.

Segundus’s pace is steady but unhurried. He is almost at the foot of the stairs, and Childermass hastens to catch up with him. He manages to grasp hold of the back of Segundus’s nightgown before he reaches the entrance to the taproom. Segundus doesn’t seem to register his presence at all, but neither does he try to continue walking. Childermass manoeuvres around him until he is between Segundus and the doorway. Grasping his arm firmly but gently, he attempts to persuade Segundus back up the stairs. To his relief Segundus follows his lead easily. The blank expression on his face is somewhat disturbing and very unlike the usually emotive man. More disturbing is the way he does not respond to Childermass’s presence at all. For all the notice Segundus gives him, Segundus could be walking up the stairs of his own accord.

He manages to guide Segundus back to their room without meeting anyone else, and Segundus settles easily back into his bed. Childermass bolts the door again and returns to his own bed. He doesn’t manage to fall asleep as swiftly this time, but he is beginning to drop off when he hears bedclothes rustling.

Segundus is siting up in bed again and moving to stand. Childermass is out of bed and across the room within seconds. He attempts to push Segundus back down but Segundus pays this no heed, and a brief struggle ensues until Childermass gives way, reluctant to wake Segundus the way he was woken by the innkeeper the night before.

Segundus makes his way to the room door, only just avoiding stumbling into the end of Childermass’s bed. Childermass dodges round him and places himself in front of the door, and when Segundus reaches him, he turns him aside as unobtrusively as he can. To his relief, Segundus does not seem to take issue with this, making his way along the wall with no concern until he bumps into the dresser at the far end. This does not seem to alarm him either, and after picking up the empty ewer and pouring non-existent water into the basin, he proceeds to draw circles above the empty china. Childermass assumes he is attempting a location spell, but what he is trying to locate is a mystery.

When the spell is apparently completed to Segundus’s satisfaction, Childermass manages to guide him back to bed, where he sinks back into peaceful slumber with ease. Childermass returns to his own bed, but he does not try to sleep yet. If Segundus walks again, he wants to be alert.

His diligence pays off; Segundus attempts to get up again, and this time he tries twice to leave the room, beginning to appear agitated when Childermass does not let him pass. ‘Easy, sir,’ Childermass tells him, speaking as he would to a spooked horse. It works on Segundus too, and he turns aside to put logs on the fire. Childermass watches him carefully, but he does not appear to be in danger. But once again he tries to leave, and this time Childermass is forced to take his arm to stop him. ‘Easy,’ he tells Segundus again, and ‘come along, time for bed.’

Segundus follows his lead willingly enough, and Childermass keeps up a gentle murmur as he draws him across the room. On the way, however, they brush past Childermass’s bed, and Segundus apparently decides this is as far as he will go. Childermass considers disturbing him again for less than a second. Which bed is which makes no matter. He takes Segundus’s instead, and props himself up against the headboard, resigned to a night of watching over Segundus and keeping him in the room.

He doubts he will manage to sleep at all, but to his relief Segundus doesn’t get up again, and eventually Childermass falls asleep propped uncomfortably upright. He must slide down in his sleep because he wakes in the morning draped awkwardly across the bed, the pillow bunched up beneath his numb arm, head resting on the sheets. In the other bed, Segundus is still passed out.

 

*

 

Segundus is mortified and very apologetic when Childermass tells him of his disturbed night. He did not plan to, but Segundus woke surprized to find himself in a different bed, and when he questioned Childermass the whole account came out. Childermass doesn’t tell him that he nearly walked into the occupied taproom – he does not think Segundus would enjoy the knowledge.

Segundus is quiet at breakfast, and Childermass does not try to draw him out. Two disturbed nights after riding all day have taken their toll, and though he is not yet at a stage to consider taking a day to rest, he is still not in the best of moods.

He does not blame Segundus for the disturbance to his sleep but he does not wish to end up taking his temper out on him, so he remains quiet. In truth, Segundus tends to have a soothing effect of Childermass’s ire – he does not fuss or fidget at Childermass, nor does he affect the air of a martyr, and he is unwilling to blindly accept blame with no cause. He will argue against Childermass when he feels it necessary, and reads Childermass well enough to know when to leave him be. He also never treats Childermass as though his past station makes him less intelligent, and this lack of condescension is probably the thing Childermass appreciates most.

But in this case Childermass knows Segundus does feel that he is to blame, and would likely take Childermass’s surliness as his due, and thus Childermass will control himself.

 

*

 

When he glanced out earlier the weather was as poor if not poorer than the night before, and though Childermass little wants to venture out in it, they eventually have to leave the warmth of the inn in favour of travelling on. Within minutes of leaving Childermass can feel dampness creeping through his greatcoat; beside him, Segundus already looks windblown and uncomfortable. A few remarks are ventured between them, but between Childermass’s general ill-temper and the number of times questions lost to the wind have to be repeated, the attempt to converse quickly dies away. The horses trudge on and Childermass and Segundus huddle down into their coats and endure.

The already bad weather only grows harsher as the day continues. Childermass’s bad mood gives way before it, turning to a grim determination to continue, but by early afternoon, the rain having turned to sleet and the wind blowing it directly into their faces, he decides enough is enough. When the next hamlet with an inn appears ahead of them he guides Brewer into the stable yard. Behind him, Segundus is tucked into his greatcoat, head so far down and concentrating so intently on following Childermass’s lead that he doesn’t realise they have left the road until the cobblestones appear, at which point he looks to Childermass in confusion.

‘The weather is too ugly to continue today,’ Childermass tells him. ‘We will stay here and hopefully it will clear somewhat on the morrow.’ Segundus just nods, climbing stiffly off his horse, and Childermass watches with a little concern.

Inside the inn, the taproom is full of locals and travellers, all avoiding the weather. The settles, benches and chairs closest to the fire are filled and there is not a space to be had within several yards of the blaze. Childermass frowns internally at this – the both of them need to get dry, and there is no chance of that as it stands. He does not think Segundus would approve of using magic to clear them spaces, though if Childermass were here alone he might be tempted. Instead he goes to speak with the landlady.

Obviously harried by the influx of customers, her manner is not terribly welcoming. Yes, there are rooms to rent and yes, there is one with a fireplace, but no, he can’t have it.

Childermass nearly loses his temper at this and demands to know why not. Unimpressed, she explains that Maisie hasn’t had a chance to clean it yet, sir, after Mr Porringer left it such a state. If, she continues a little tartly, sir can trouble himself to wait, she can have it ready in an hour or so. If not, The Pear and Partridge is two miles down the road. Childermass glowers a little, but she is unmoved and he has to accept the wait. Looking again at the fire, he asks if there might be a private parlour to use in the meantime. Her expression suggests otherwise, but at that moment Segundus appears beside Childermass and adds his voice to the request. His tone, Childermass must admit, is much more polite, and combined with his bedraggled appearance she softens her stance and directs them to a room off the main one. She apologises that there is no fire, but the fireplace is laid and they can light it if they chuse. Segundus’s grateful thanks win something of a smile from her, and she even promises to send the aforementioned Maisie in with some tea when she has a minute.

A little amazed by this swift turnaround, Childermass follows Segundus into the private parlour and watches as he lights the fire. Segundus, getting up from his crouch in front of the hearth and catching sight of Childermass’s expression, looks a little offended. ‘I am not completely useless,’ he says indignantly. ‘I can light a fire, and have done so successfully many times.’

‘It is not that,’ Childermass tells him. ‘You charmed her so easily, that is all.’

Segundus looks uncomfortable and mutters something about her ‘feeling sorry for him.’ Childermass is about to protest this when Segundus rallies. ‘It does not matter anyway; we have a room for the night. Are you sure you don’t wish to go further today?’ he asks, a trifle anxious sounding.

Childermass assures him they have travelled far enough today. ‘Besides, sir, if we remain here for the afternoon, we could attempt to make a rain-proofing spell.’

Segundus’s eyes light up at the prospect. ‘Oh indeed sir, an excellent idea. Have you thought more on it?’

Childermass has to admit he has not. Other thoughts have taken up his attention, though he does not say what those thoughts were. Much of it was concerned with riding and pathfinding, but in and around that, thoughts on a variety of different topics have managed to sneak in. He asks instead after Segundus’s thoughts.

‘There is a spell I know for making a boat watertight,’ Segundus begins thoughtfully, ‘but I am not sure if it would suit. It is almost the wrong way round.’

‘Is it?’ Childermass questions. ‘It is for keeping water out of a designated space. It seems ideal.’

‘The idea is not right,’ Segundus argues. ‘The boat is forcing a space out of the water rather than diverting something entering an area. It would apply more to the creation of a magical diving bell.’

‘It depends on what result you wish to achieve,’ Childermass interjects. ‘Would you find more use in a piece of clothing that does not get damp, or do you want to ride in a bubble of protection from rain?’

For some reason Segundus looks a little hurt at this. ‘I thought you might want to use it too,’ he says quietly.

Childermass looks at him, trying hard to contain his astonishment. He is so used to riding with no thought to the weather, either from himself or from Norrell, that Segundus’s concern takes him entirely by surprize. ‘Of course,’ he tells Segundus, trying to sound nonchalant. ‘But for myself, either would do. Which would you prefer?’

Segundus does not look like he believes this tone of casual enquiry but he does not draw attention to it. ‘I would suggest the bubble of protection,’ he says, and continues, sounding a little abashed, ‘I would feel very sorry for Absalom if I were to remain dry while he trudged through the rain.’

You care too much, Childermass wants to tell him, but keeps it to himself. It is part and parcel of Segundus, and Childermass does not truly want to change that about him. He does sometimes worry that Segundus’s good nature will be taken advantage of, but Segundus is no fool for all his concern, and besides, Childermass is around to make sure he is not.

‘Brewer would not enjoy it either,’ is all he says.

‘So a bubble of no rain,’ Segundus nods. ‘I think that best. I still do not like the boat spell. It does not feel right to me.’

Childermass bows to Segundus’s superior understanding of magical feelings. ‘Very well. What about something for repelling?’

Segundus considers this, biting his lip as he thinks. It takes everything in Childermass to ignore they slight swelling that results whenever he does this. ‘I think you are right, but I do not know of anything like that. There is one in Ormskirk for keeping eggs separate so they do not break, but -’

‘That is more a spell for padding,’ Childermass agrees. ‘What of St Anthony of Padua? He had a spell to keep off the rain.’

‘He was a saint, though,’ Segundus says doubtfully. ‘Was it a spell or a miracle?’

Childermass has very little consideration of the difference between the two but now is not the time to argue it. He will save that debate for some night beside the Starecross fire, and Segundus will look most appealing, flustered and flushed as he argues his points. The anticipation of this future event lifts Childermass’s mood somewhat.

‘Either way, we have not the form,’ he reminds Segundus. ‘There is one I remember from Hurfew’s library,’ he says slowly, trying to remember the full text, ‘for keeping insects out of a house. Does that feel right to you?’

‘I would not know without seeing the full spell,’ Segundus tells him, ‘but it sounds like the right sort of thing. Do you remember its entirety?’ For there have been many spells that Childermass half-remembers, and did not think important enough to take notes on at the time.

‘I think so,’ Childermass tells him. ‘If I remember correctly, it called for tansy and sweet woodruff.’

‘Would that help with water?’ Segundus sounds doubtful again. ‘Surely that would be for the insects. The form would be of more use than the anchors.’

Childermass acknowledges the point. ‘Dandelion and parsley would work as better anchors. The form can be adjusted to suit.’

At this point, a serving girl arrives with tea and introduces herself as Maisie. ‘I’ll have your room finished as soon as I can,’ she promises, and smiles prettily at Segundus’s polite thanks. Childermass watches her go, keeping his dark scowl to himself. Segundus charms women without trying, without even knowing, and Childermass is self-aware enough to know that he resents it a little. He wants Segundus’s attention, and while sharing it with pupils is a necessary part of life, he does not like the thought of perhaps one day having to share it with a wife.

‘Mr Childermass?’ Segundus’s voice breaks into his thoughts, and he draws his attention away from the closed door to look at him. Segundus is holding the teapot poised over a cup. ‘Would you like a cup?’ Childermass nods and Segundus pours for him, leaving it black as Childermass prefers. ‘How much do you remember of the form?’ he asks Childermass as he hands the cup over.

Childermass recalls most of it, and says so. ‘We can experiment for the bits missing,’ he says, and Segundus smiles at this. Childermass sips at his too hot tea in his sudden distraction, and has to hide a wince and a curse.

They remain in the parlour for another hour or so discussing the possible amendments to the spell, then move upstairs when their room is ready. Maisie has lit the fire which crackles welcomingly, and they re-hang their coats beside it before returning to the spell.

Refining the spell requires some experimentation and the collection of dandelion leaves. At first Childermass proposes to go alone, but Segundus will not hear of it, insisting on going in his stead. Childermass refuses this, and after a brief argument stubborn pride dictates that they both go. Both of them get very wet again searching, and the landlady gives them very doubtful looks when they return, gathered leaves in hand and requesting parsley.

Not wanting to have to keep returning outside to test the variations of the spell, Segundus hits upon the idea of casting it over the basin and pouring water from the ewer to simulate rain. This works, though the floor ends up rather splattered when their first attempt works better than expected. The problem, however, is how to keep the spell with the basin when they move it rather than have it remaining where it is. This necessitates a return to theoretical discussion for which they retake their seats by the fire. The discussion is involved and takes account of several varied points of magical theory and occasionally diverts into a tangent to do with something quite different. It is not until Segundus puts forth the idea that, as both houses and plants are stationary perhaps the anchors are holding them back, that they manage to overcome the problem of immovability. This, however, causes them to have to remake much of their earlier spell. They go down to dinner still discussing.

The inn has emptied somewhat, but there are still plenty of travellers and locals present. Childermass and Segundus chuse a table out of the way so they can continue their discussion without interruption. Maisie brings their food over while Segundus is in the middle of a point about expanding and decreasing the size of the bubble. Childermass watches her approach, uncertain of whether or not to stop Segundus. In the end he doesn’t. Best to know now if magicians receive an unfriendly welcome.

Somewhat to Childermass’s dismay, magicians do not receive an unfriendly welcome. Maisie catches the meaning of Segundus’s speech and is instantly full of questions. Childermass glowers into his stew as Segundus patiently answers her questions, though he is pleased when Segundus declines to shew her any actual magic. Undeterred, she winks at him and tells him ‘maybe later,’ before going back to the bar.

Segundus busies himself with his own dinner and does not look at Childermass, but even so Childermass can see he is blushing. Not so innocent as all that, he thinks, stabbing at a dumpling with more force than necessary. Neither of them speaks for a while. They eat their food in silence.

Childermass is the first to break it. ‘Do you want another drink?’ Nothing of his returned temper shews in his face or voice. He knows well how to keep it to himself.

‘No thank you,’ Segundus replies quietly. ‘I would rather finish our spell.’

‘So you can shew her some other magic?’ slips past Childermass’s guard before he realises. He curses internally but does not let on that the remark was unintentional.

Segundus glances at him briefly. The flush has gone completely, leaving his skin looking almost pale in contrast to his dark hair and eyes. ‘No,’ is all he says in reply.

Childermass stands abruptly. He feels suddenly restless, uncomfortable being indoors, looking at this man. ‘I’ll be back,’ he tells Segundus before walking out.

He does not go far; only to the stable, but the relief of being out of sight of Segundus makes it feel as though he has travelled miles. He goes to see Brewer, and his old friend stands patiently as Childermass mechanically checks him over, thoughts battering viciously at the inside of his skull.

Fool! he berates himself. Do you think that just because you spend time with him, you can command all his attention? Keep your jealousy to yourself lest you drive him away!

He stays in the stable until he feels he can return without taking his frustrations out on Segundus. It is not his fault, he reminds himself wearily. And you have not a leg to stand on should you condemn him for seeking company.

Back in the inn, Segundus is not in the taproom any longer. Nor can Childermass see Maisie at the bar. Half apprehensive, Childermass makes his way up to the shared room. He listens at the door for a minute but cannot hear anything from inside. Cautiously he pushes at the latch; the door is not bolted and swings open to his touch.

Segundus is seated beside the fire. He does not look up at Childermass’s entry. A little cautiously, Childermass hangs up his coat and comes to take his own seat by the fire. There is a long silence.

‘I would rather,’ Segundus says presently, ‘that you not make assumptions on my behalf.’ Childermass does not reply. Segundus carries on. ‘I can speak my own mind, and if I do not mean something, I will not say it. I may not be the boldest of men,’ he says, quite calm and matter of fact, turning at look at Childermass, ‘but I am not so afraid as that.’ He stops and looks at Childermass straight on. For once, it is Childermass who looks away first. He nods once in understanding. The silence continues.

What did he mean by that? Childermass wonders. Does he mean…?

No, he stops himself. He simply means you not to speak for him. Or, he thinks ironically for you not to read things that are not there. Remember that.

‘The spell,’ he says presently. Segundus nods.

‘The spell. Have you more thoughts?’

They continue where they left off earlier, and though the atmosphere between them is at first a little stiff, it eases up soon under the discussion of magic. By the time they are ready to test the next iteration of the spell, they are once again entirely at ease with each other.

 

*

 

The last stage of the spell, once they have it working on a small scale, is to take it outside to test. By now the night has closed in and Childermass had rather hoped that some of the patrons might have cleared out of the taproom. This is not the case, and there are many curious eyes watching them as they make their way across to the door. Maisie hurries up to them before they can reach it. ‘Is everything alright, sir?’ she says, clearly directing her question to Segundus. ‘You aren’t leaving us are you?’

‘No,’ Childermass tells her, pointedly keeping Segundus moving. ‘We’ll be back.’

Outside the temperature has risen enough that the night is not cold, but the wind is strong and still throwing splatters of rain in their faces every few seconds. The spell is a thought-form with gestures, and as he and Segundus stand out in the courtyard with hands outstretched he can feel many curious eyes on their backs. The news that they are magicians must have spread.

The spell works. Childermass watches in satisfaction as, several feet from his outstretched hand, the rain stops and begins to trickle toward the ground as though there were a windowpane before him. When he drops his hands, the windowpane remains where it is.

Beside him, Segundus looks delighted. ‘It works perfectly!’ he exclaims.

‘Try walking about,’ Childermass suggests. Segundus does, and his delighted grin tells Childermass that it is working as they had hoped.

‘The only thing now,’ Segundus comments, ‘is to make it windproof as well.’

‘Do you want to add that in?’ Childermass asks, considering the spell. ‘I do not think the present form would be suitable.’

‘No,’ Segundus agrees regretfully. ‘It would have to be changed completely, or an additional spell made. Maybe something for tomorrow; I am pleased enough with this, and I think it will help immensely just to be dry.’

Childermass agrees, and they head back into the inn where they are immediately met with several questions on what they were doing, the first coming from Maisie. Segundus, always the obliging teacher and delighted as usual to discuss magic, stops to answer their questions. Childermass stands quiet, gauging the mood of the crowd, but it seems entirely good-natured curiosity, not even a lone naysayer decrying magicians as unchristian. Eventually most of the crowd loses interest and only Maisie is left, standing closer to Segundus than Childermass likes, asking question after question with the same focused interest Segundus gets. Childermass is not sure whether it is the magic or the man she is so interested in.

‘Come, Mr Segundus,’ he says presently, when he does not want to hear any more. ‘We have something to discuss.’

Segundus looks a little surprized but does not demure, bidding Maisie goodbye and following Childermass up the stairs. ‘What did you want to discuss?’ he asks as they climb.

Childermass thinks quickly. ‘The stones,’ he tells Segundus. ‘I have thoughts on their translations.’ Indeed he does – they have been in his mind as he rides for the last few days, though they have had little chance to discuss them.

‘Of course, sir.’ Segundus brightens again at this prospect. ‘I have had some ideas of my own.’

They settle back beside the fire, bringing out notes and pens, and dive into discussion. Time passes as they pore over sketches and notes on translations, Segundus struggling to pronounce the Welsh and Childermass correcting him. Outside their cosy room the wind is growing stronger and the rain heavier, drops occasionally coming down the chimney to hiss in the fire.

Eventually they call a halt for the evening. Childermass’s eyes are growing tired, and he can’t imagine Segundus’s are any better. They pack away their papers, leaving the discussion with some reluctance.

A particularly strong gust of wind slams into the building, moaning round the roof and sending a breeze down the chimney. Segundus shivers a little. ‘If this keeps up, we will regret not having a wind-proofing spell tomorrow.’

Childermass nods his agreement. ‘It might blow itself out by then.’

Segundus is silent for a minute, staring unseeingly towards the window. ‘It is very disturbing,’ he murmurs quietly, and Childermass is reminded suddenly of Segundus’s comments about what causes his sleepwalking.

‘I will make sure you stay in the room,’ he tells Segundus reassuringly. Segundus, however, is not reassured.

‘Thank you sir, but I do not like putting you out in this way. You need to rest, and you cannot do it if you must constantly be alert to keep me in the bed.’ He glances at the bed, a stout piece of furniture with carved posts. They look like they would take a rope well, Childermass thinks before he can stop himself.

‘We could make a stronger spell,’ he suggests a trifle desperately. Segundus looks uncertain.

‘Did you not make it as strong as you could last night?’ he asks doubtfully. Childermass has to admit that he did. Segundus looks unhappy.

‘I know it is an imposition,’ he begins, ‘but it is a certain way of keeping me confined.’

Childermass finds it abruptly difficult to breath. He has a strong suspicion of what Segundus’s next request will be. He is right.

‘Would you consider tying me to the bed?’

Childermass turns and fumble in his coat pocket for his pipe. He suddenly needs something to hide his face and occupy his hands. ‘Would you be willing?’ Segundus asks anxiously.

Would Childermass be willing? Is he really asking that?

Childermass has, over the long history of his experience, tried most things. He had his first lessons aged fourteen, with a girl a year older than himself who worked in one of the pubs around the Hull docks. A year later, he kissed a boy for the first time. Since then he has had many encounters with both men and women, as well as with those who count themselves as both, or neither. His experience is wide ranging and includes several things he is not eager to try again.

Bondage, however, is not one of those things.

Several times during his period in London under Norrell’s employ, he visited a discreet establishment where those who like to tie people up could meet those who like to be tied up. His skill with sailor’s knots was much admired. He never visited so often as to be a regular, but that was more to do with caution than lack of desire. On his last visit to London he attempted to visit again but found it had closed down.

Childermass finds Segundus very attractive anyway, and here he is, asking Childermass to tie him up. The devil of it is, Childermass thinks with harsh regret as he fills his pipe, that he has no idea of my inclinations and means it entirely innocently.

Across from him, Segundus is still waiting for an answer. Can I do it and keep my hands off him? Childermass wonders, reaching to the fire to light his pipe. Then; Can I tell him I won’t help?

‘I am willing,’ he says, and is rewarded by Segundus’s relieved smile. ‘But I only have rough rope with me. It would be very abrasive,’ he finishes, half hoping Segundus will abandon the plan.
Instead Segundus looks thoughtful. ‘That is true. I cannot think it a good idea to ask the landlady for a cord of some kind.’

Or Maisie, Childermass thinks, but does not voice it, only nodding his agreement. The silk rope he has occasionally used in the past would be ideal, but it is not available now. ‘What did Mrs Pleasance use?’

‘She used lengths of cloth,’ Segundus tells him. He still looks thoughtful. ‘Would one of my neckcloths serve to wrap the rope in, do you think?’

Childermass considers. The linen should be thick enough to protect without being too loose on Segundus’s wrists, if Childermass does it correctly. He nods. ‘It might get a little crumpled, but it will be fine.’

Segundus smiles at him. ‘Thank you, Mr Childermass, for agreeing to this. I know it is not of your chusing.’

You have no idea, Childermass thinks resignedly.

 

*

 

Tying Segundus to the bedposts is more of a test than Childermass could have imagined. When Childermass carefully wraps the linen-bound rope round his wrists, Segundus’s breath hitches. When Childermass draws his arms above his head to allow the rope to reach the bedpost, Segundus wriggles to move himself up the bed. When the rope is secure and Segundus has given it an experimental tug to test the hold, his sigh on finding it firm is almost a moan.

Childermass curses himself roundly for getting ready for bed and into into his nightgown before doing this – he has no excuse for a quick trip to the privy to take care of his need. Instead he marshals his control and climbs into the bed beside Segundus, quickly turning his back on the other man. Beneath the covers his prick is beginning to fill, and the last thing he wants is for Segundus to discover that.

Segundus, usually so still, keeps making small, restless movements, keeping Childermass in a constant state of awareness. Childermass can hear his breathing, and the way he looked, slightly rumpled and securely bound, is indelibly etched into his brain. He holds himself as still as he can so as not to give in to the urge to touch himself, but Segundus’s squirming is not helping.

I should have tied his legs too, Childermass thinks, then has to squeeze his eyes shut and his hands into fists to fight off that image. Now is not the time! he thinks desperately.

Childermass spends what feels like at least two hours like this before Segundus falls asleep, desperately trying to keep himself in check. In truth, it is probably more like quarter of an hour, but the time drags out immeasurably. When he finally hears Segundus’s breathing even out and the man stops bloody wriggling, Childermass is finally able to let some of the tension out. He dare not take hold of himself for fear of waking Segundus, but at least now there is not the constant desire to roll over and use his body to keep Segundus still.

Despite this, it takes a long time for Childermass to relax enough to sleep.

 

*

 

‘Mr Childermass!’

Childermass is brought out of sleep by the hissed whisper of his name. In an instant he remembers the events of the night before, and carefully turns his head to look at Segundus. Segundus is awake, eyes still sleepy and cheeks a little flushed. Childermass wants so strongly to kiss him that for a second it aches.

‘Mr Segundus?’ Childermass’s voice is a gravelly rumble first thing in the morning. It must be Childermass’s imagination that the flush on Segundus’s cheeks deepens at the sound.

‘I need to leave the bed,’ Segundus whispers. ‘Could you be so good as to untie me?’

This presents something of a problem for Childermass. The easiest way to do it would be to get out of the bed and undo the ties from Segundus’s side. However, to do that, first Childermass’s cockstand has to go down enough that his nightgown doesn’t shew all. Segundus is unlikely to accept ‘in a minute’ without a reason.

As carefully as he can, he manoeuvres himself up the bed so that he can reach the bedpost where the rope is tied, taking care to keep his lower half as far from Segundus as possible. If he stretches, he can just reach the knot.

Childermass takes care not to watch Segundus as he gets out of bed; he’s not sure he could take it if Segundus is hard. He’s not sure he could take it if Segundus isn’t.

Segundus pulls on his breeches and shirt and leaves the room. Childermass immediately rolls onto his back with a groan. The morning light seeping in round the edges of the shutters tells him he has made it through the night; there are at least another two nights before they reach Starecross, and unless the weather drastically improves Segundus is going to want to be tied up again on both of them. Childermass isn’t sure he can make it.

The more pressing problem, however, is dealing with his unruly prick.

His first choice would be to take care of it before Segundus returns to the room, but if the smell were to linger, or worse if Segundus were to return sooner than expected, it would make things very awkward indeed.

With another groan, he gets to his feet. Tucking his erection into breeches is not an enjoyable task, but he manages it and has even covered the tell-tale bulge with his shirt before Segundus returns. Childermass makes his escape as quickly as he can.

Bringing himself off in the privy is something Childermass though he was old enough not to do any more. Needs must when the devil drives.

It takes an embarrassingly short time for Childermass to spill, Segundus’s hitched breath at the first feel of binding the memory that brings him off. He cleans up as best he can and makes his way back to the room. Segundus has dressed in his absence and is currently tying his neckcloth. A swift glance at the bed shews Childermass that the one formerly wrapped around the rope is gone; there is no way to tell if Segundus has packed it or if he is tying it around his neck right now.

Childermass turns away as quickly as he can to finish his own dressing.

‘There is hot water in the ewer,’ Segundus tells him, and Childermass grunts his thanks.

‘How did you sleep?’ Segundus asks presently. ‘I hope I did not disturb you.’

You did, but not in the way you think. ‘I slept well,’ Childermass tells him. ‘And you?’

‘I did wake up once,’ Segundus admits. ‘I think I tried to get out of bed, and the tug of the rope woke me. But other than that I slept very well.’

‘Good,’ is all Childermass can say.

Maisie enquires after their night when they go down for breakfast. I bet she’d have been delighted if she found him sleepwalking, Childermass thinks, and is suddenly glad that Segundus was confined to the bed, difficult as it was for Childermass.

 

*

 

The wind has blown itself out overnight but the sky threatens more rain to come. Childermass thinks Segundus is a little disappointed not to be able to use the rain-proofing spell immediately, but he makes no comment. Instead they make use of the ability to hear each other speak to continue last night’s discussion on the stones, but it soon becomes frustrating to be unable to consult this document or note down that idea and they abandon it. Instead they talk about the non-magical world – the unrest in London, the legacy of the suppression of the Johannites – and their own world of York and Starecross. The roads are still a muddy, rutted mess – not surprizing after the long period of rain – but picking a way through is easier when the rain is not blinding, and so they make good progress.

The rain returns around three, and Segundus is obviously delighted by the effectiveness of the rain-proofing spell. Childermass too admits it is a much more pleasant way to travel, even if the rain streaming down the edge of the spell in front of them occasionally makes it difficult to see. They pass two other riders on the road, travelling in the opposite direction, both of whom stare at them in amazement.

When the light begins to go they stop at an inn – earlier than they would have if the clouds were not so thick, but still later than they have managed yet this trip. Though they are somewhat mud-splattered they are both in much better condition than previously. ‘I think we can count that as a success,’ Childermass comments, and Segundus agrees readily.

In better spirits, they both linger in the taproom, enjoying another pint and alternating talking quietly with comfortable silence. At a request from Segundus, Childermass brings out his cards and checks on Starecross – all is apparently well there. With Segundus watching, Childermass asks the cards a few other questions, mostly trivial and more from habit than anything else. Segundus, though Childermass has tried several times to instruct him, cannot make the cards answer him. Childermass privately thinks it is probably because he is asking too nicely.

There has been some slight temptation in the past to ask the cards if Segundus would be receptive to Childermass making an advance, but he has always resisted. While he can honestly say he has no idea, the hope lives on. If he knew for certain Segundus would not be interested, he would feel somewhat in the wrong to fantasise about him. It may not be the most noble of reasons not to look, but it serves to keep him in line.

‘How are you finding the riding?’ Childermass asks around his pipe after a period of silence.
‘Not as strenuous as I feared,’ Segundus tells him. ‘Finding a safe path is not so difficult after picking a way through the heather.’

Childermass nods, satisfied. Teaching Segundus to ride properly last summer was the beginning of their friendship, and he is glad to see his teachings having a use. ‘Absalom is a good horse,’ he remarks.

Segundus gives him a look that could possibly be termed as fond. ‘You chose him,’ he says, smiling a little. ‘I am glad you did; horse fairs are not something I have experience with.’

Indeed, Segundus has already thanked Childermass several times for accompanying him to the Lee Gap fair after Mrs Lennox decided he should have a horse. ‘It was no trouble,’ Childermass tells him, as he has on every previous occasion.

‘Still,’ Segundus insists, ‘I would surely have made a bad choice without you. And then you so kindly shewed me how to ride properly.’

‘It was my pleasure,’ Childermass says, a little uncomfortable. Then, to divert Segundus’s mind; ‘I should have know you would name him after a magician. I am surprized you did not call him Uskglass.’

Segundus looks shocked. ‘I do not think the King would have found that respectful,’ he protests, a little reproving, and Childermass has to smother a laugh.

‘Perhaps not,’ he agrees, as gravely as he can.

 

*

 

For most of the day Childermass has managed to forget what the night will bring. However, as he climbs the stairs behind Segundus it comes back to him, causing him to have to bite back a growl. I should have taken precautions earlier, he realises, cursing.

Segundus looks just as good tonight as he did the night before. He gives the same little hitch of breath when Childermass begins to tie him up, and Childermass has to swallow back a corresponding groan.

Sleepy-eyed, Segundus watches as Childermass undresses, only looking away when he begins to bare skin. His tiny swallow is only noticeable because Childermass is so aware of him; was that reflex or desire? Childermass wonders, then stops himself. Reflex. You know it is. Stop making more of it than there is, he tells himself firmly.

Glad that he excused himself to the privy, Childermass is able to climb into bed with no fear of his prick giving him away. Residual lassitude from the orgasm helps him to drop off quickly despite Segundus’s distracting presence. He is awoken some time later by Segundus moving, clearly attempting to leave the bed, but Childermass quickly ascertains that he is asleep rather than trying consciously to leave.

He tries speaking to Segundus in the calming tone he used before; it seems to work, Segundus no longer pulling against his bonds, and presently Childermass is able to guide him back under the covers where he closes his eyes in short order and falls back into proper sleep. Childermass returns to his own side of the bed and quickly follows.

 

*

 

It is morning when Childermass wakes again. He is facing the window and can see dull grey light where the top of the shutters don’t quite meet. Everything feels drowsy and slow, as though all urgency has been taken out of the world.

Against his chest, Segundus’s back expands as he sighs. Childermass snaps to full wakefulness.

He takes stock of the situation, the first and most important question answered within seconds. Segundus is still asleep, his breathing surely too even for him to be alert. The answer to the second question makes itself apparent all too easily – Childermass has not brought himself to completion in his sleep. His prick is lying firm against Segundus’s delightful arse.

It takes everything Childermass has not to rock his hips forwards to feel more of it.

With as much care as he can, he disentangles himself from Segundus. His arms have wound themselves round Segundus’s chest, and the temptation to brush against the plains of his pectorals and stomach as Childermass retreats is very powerful. He holds firm.

Reaching above Segundus to untie him is an act of careful balancing and slow movement. The knot has twisted in the night, and Childermass cannot reach it easily to undo. He moves up the bed again to get a better angle, and sucks in a breath as his cock comes dangerously close to brushing against the small of Segundus’s back.

With Segundus untied, Childermass leaves the bed as stealthily as he can. Outside the room the inn is still quiet; a blessing as Childermass makes his way to the privy, breeches and shirt hastily donned.

This time he brings himself off to the memory of Segundus’s arse firm against his cock, how easily Childermass could have lifted Segundus’s nightgown and rubbed himself off in the cleft. How Segundus might have turned to look at him, eyes dark with arousal, panting half moans escaping his open mouth as he tugs futilely at the ties around his hands. How he might have begged Childermass to let him free, touch his prick, anything! Please!

Christ, Childermass can almost hear him begging for it, and Childermass wouldn’t let him, would hold Segundus’s hips still, would rub his prick in the cleft of Segundus’s arse until he was close, so close, rubbing faster, the head catching against Segundus’s hole…

Childermass nearly falls over as his orgasm roars through him, forcing him to put out a hand to prop himself up against the wall. His hair falls over his face as he pants, slowly milking the last few spits of seed from his cock.

When he returns to the room, Segundus is awake and the window has been flung open, filling the room with slightly-too-cool air. Childermass looks at Segundus enquiringly.

‘I was tipping the water out of the basin,’ Segundus tells him, busy with his bootlaces, ‘and the fresh air felt so nice I suddenly realised how stuffy the room had become.’ He sits up, catching Childermass’s curious look, and shrugs a little. Childermass nods in return. The air did not seem too stuffy to him, but he was rather distracted at the time.

 

*

 

They breakfast and are on their way within an hour, and an hour after that the rain returns, continuing the whole day. The water running off the road forces them to ride slowly lest the horses step into an unseen pothole, and Childermass’s hopes of an early return to Starecross begin to dwindle.

The difficult terrain, however, helps him keep his thoughts in line. The temptation to return to imagining Segundus tied in a variety of positions is extremely strong, but Childermass has no wish to ride with a cockstand in his breeches, and he has to keep as tight a rein on his mind as on his horse. Holding back his fantasies does not mean that he manages to stifle all thoughts on the subject, however.

How long has it been since I last found company for the night? He tries to think back, and to his surprize has to go back further than he would have expected. Not in Troon, or when I was last in London, and certainly not in Cornwall. It must have been the time in London before that. Which was a good six months ago at least. Why has it been so long? He could have found someone anytime he stopped the night in York.

Truth be told, though, he does know why it has been so long. He has never had difficulty finding someone for the night, and he has certainly had the opportunity. What has been missing is the desire.

Why stay the night in York when he could come back to Starecross and share a late dinner with Segundus? Why spend the night with someone when they do not have the dark hair he wants, or their eyes are the wrong shade of brown?

Good god, I am become maudlin, Childermass thinks with disgust. Where has this sudden maidenly pining come from? Just find a man next time you have cause to visit York. Forget Segundus for the night and you’ll feel better in the morning.

Unfortunately, the thought rouses little interest in him. Why bother? he wonders. In over six months you have not formed another attachment – what difference will one night bring?

Well, at the very least you might be in a better temper to handle watching him without touching, he concludes with bitter humour. Though this journey has done little to achieve that end. Indeed, Childermass is most certainly finding it harder to push down the attraction he has been feeling, and this new tendency towards jealousy over Segundus’s attentions – not so new if he is honest with himself – is becoming more obvious.

Childermass is a man of action tempered by thought, but he would not say he is driven by emotion. Segundus is a man much given to feelings. Apparently, associating with Segundus is having more than just a physical effect. He wonders if Segundus is being affected in the same way.

I certainly have some effect on him, he thinks, steering Brewer around a fallen branch in the road. He trusts me enough to allow me to tie him up, and he came back to bed when I bade him. My voice calmed him.

And therein lies the sticking point. Segundus trusts him, and were Childermass to abuse that trust he does not think he could ever face himself again. In his life there have been many things done that he is not proud of, but this feels to be the most important for a long time. To the best of his ability he will do nothing that might alarm or hurt Segundus, though he reserves the right to still guard their time together as best he can.

He is definitely going to have to find someone for the night, however, and as soon as possible. And if he happens to be thinking of Segundus during, well, for one night it will not hurt.

 

*

 

The inn they stop at for the night has a two bed room available. Childermass could not have arranged it better if he had tried.

Tying Segundus to the bed has become as routine as it could possibly be. Childermass weathers with fortitude the first helpless noise Segundus makes, the habitual testing of the knot. He cannot help if some of the lust he feels shews through his blank expression; this is likely the last night he will see this as they could reach Starecross tomorrow. While Segundus is busy wiggling himself into a comfortable position, Childermass etches the scene into his memory, moving away only when Segundus has positioned himself to his liking and would notice Childermass’s interest if he lingered any longer. He climbs into his own bed with a mingled feeling of relief and regret. With Segundus confined to his bed and with Childermass’s self-control keeping him in his own bed, there need be no night-time encounters. The most he may have to do is talk to Segundus from across the room. It is better this way, he assures himself.

He wakes to the sound of bedclothes rustling. Still half asleep, he pushes himself up on one elbow to see Segundus more easily. If he’s trying to sleepwalk, Childermass will calm him, or untie him if he is awake and needs to leave the bed.

It only takes a few seconds for Childermass to realise that Segundus is not awake, nor is he trying to sleepwalk. Instead he is dreaming, and it is not difficult to work out the nature of the dream.

It starts with a sleepy moan. Then a sigh. Then Segundus twists slightly to lie on his back. The blankets, already disturbed by his movements, drift even lower. Then Segundus’s hips begin to flex gently, searching for friction. He finds it against a fold of blanket and his breath hitches. He begins to pull against the rope keeping him in place. This arches his chest out slightly, then more when he finds the rope is holding him firm. Another sigh escapes, and his breathing begins to speed up, matching the pace of him hips. The blanket slips a little more, shewing clearly how much Segundus is enjoying this.

On the other bed, Childermass is unable to make himself look away. I wish I knew a lust dampening spell, he thinks feverishly. Whether for himself or for Segundus is not clear. Sweet Christ does Segundus look appealing, tied to the bedposts and arching into the restraint. Childermass fancies that if he listened closely, below the occasional louder moans and sighs he would hear Segundus whimpering in pleasure at the images in his dreams. The cockstand visible beneath the blankets shews just how pleasurable it is. And that is a thought Childermass dare not pursue here and now.

A small part of him wants to take himself in hand, bring himself off to the erotic tableau in the bed next to him. The rest of him knows that this would be a liberty too far. Segundus is unaware, would likely be mortified if he knew Childermass was watching.

Should I wake him? he wonders. But he stays where he is. He does not entirely trust himself to venture across the room so close to Segundus and yet keep his hands to himself. The best he can manage is to use a little magic to rearrange the blankets over Segundus to give him more privacy. He wavers for another few seconds then turns over resolutely, facing away from Segundus. Though this helps with the sight, he can still hear the sounds. In desperation, he casts a silencing spell, and everything goes quiet.

Childermass is too wound up to relax, but to take himself in hand still feels like taking advantage of Segundus. So he lies there in a state of frustrated arousal, trying desperately to think of anything that is not Segundus the sounds he made the way he looked has he climaxed what was he dreaming of?

He waits until a good half an hour has passed before he dares to take off the silencing spell. Segundus’s breathing is even again, no indication of whether he climaxed or the dream faded.
For the best, Childermass tells himself, and closes his eyes firmly.

It takes a long time for sleep to come.

 

*

 

Childermass is unsurprized to wake in the morning to a sticky nightgown. He listens to the pattern of Segundus’s breathing, which seems to indicate that he is still asleep. Small mercies.

There is no easy way to clean his nightgown, so Childermass packs it away and hopes they reach Starecross tonight. He unties the sleeping Segundus and goes to request water for washing.

 

*

 

When they venture outside, the weather is somewhat brighter than it has been, the rain pushed back by a strong breeze. More clouds threaten on the horizon, but despite the distance still to traverse Childermass’s hopes rise that they might reach Starecross today.

By late afternoon, that hope has evaporated. The rain returned shortly after noon and has persisted unabated since then. Segundus as usual has not uttered a word of complaint, but despite the rain-proofing spell Childermass can see he is becoming more and more chilled. Reluctantly, Childermass concedes that they will have to stop again for the night and reach Starecross midday tomorrow.

Before they set out on their journey they had decided to room together for reasons of economy. Segundus is reluctant to spend too much of Starecross’s funds on himself, and Childermass was not going to use his own funds for the unnecessary luxury of a room to himself.

Tonight, however, this luxury seems far more necessary.

The innkeeper has enough space to provide them with a room each. Segundus looks surprized and confused when Childermass tells him they have separate rooms for the night, and Childermass is sure he is imagining the flash of disappointment across his face. Segundus does not ask for a reason behind this change of plans, but Childermass’s oft ignored conscience has him muttering about feeling unwell. He is glad he does – Segundus, who was beginning to look uncomfortably guilty, stops silently blaming himself and becomes all concern, insisting Childermass take himself to bed immediately and asking the landlady for warming pans and mustard footbaths, the latter of which Childermass rejects with some insistence. For this, he is treated to the usually rare sight of Segundus full of heated indignation, something which he enjoys immensely.

Segundus himself brings up Childermass’s dinner, and when Childermass enquires as to his own intentions, departs again to fetch his own at Childermass’s request. They eat together quietly, Segundus darting concerned and assessing glances at Childermass every few minutes. Usually, concern towards Childermass would be met with scorn but he cannot bring himself to rebuff Segundus in this way, and in fact finds the attention more warming than he would have suspected. Perhaps it is that he knows Segundus’s concern comes from a place of knowledge, and that he respects Childermass’s independence and experience and so does not overstep his bounds. Or perhaps it is just part of the magic of John Segundus. Either way, it does not grate on Childermass’s temper.

When dinner is finished they speak for a little while of the stones and what they might mean towards the King’s letters. Segundus once again tells Childermass how glad he is that he himself came on this trip, and Childermass finds he is echoing the sentiment. Segundus has been as agreeable a companion while travelling as he is at Starecross, and his initial thoughts on the stones contrast helpfully with Childermass’s, making him think of them in new, interesting ways.

The discussion makes Childermass long for Starecross for another reason; he wants the library and his notes, the time to fully immerse himself in the research. He is quite sure he sees the same frustrated want in Segundus.

Eventually Segundus’s concern for Childermass’s health overcomes his love of discussing magic, though he promises they will continue tomorrow. Childermass agrees. ‘We will be home,’ he tells him. ‘It will be easier there.’

‘As you say, sir,’ Segundus agrees. He glances around awkwardly for a second, and Childermass suddenly realises what he is about to ask. He groans internally. So much for a restful night.

He forestalls Segundus’s request. ‘I am not willing to tie you to the bed when there is no one else in the room,’ he tells Segundus. Segundus looks worried for a second, then resigned.

‘Very well, Mr Childermass. I will see you in the morning and hope you are not disturbed in the night.’ He stands, but Childermass cannot let him leave like this.

‘Wait.’ He thinks quickly. ‘I could use a slip knot, which you would be able to release yourself from in an emergency, but I would be happier if you would let me use some magic to alert me if there is some trouble.’ He is unable to keep all the reluctance at this idea from shewing on his face. Segundus clearly picks up on it.

Segundus looks unhappy. ‘I do not want to force you, if you are uncomfortable. I can bolt my door and put the washstand in front of it. I do not think I could move that without waking myself.’

‘Yes,’ Childermass says, relieved. ‘That is much preferable.’ The thought of something happening to Segundus, tied to the bed without Childermass to keep watch… he is very uneasy at the thought. ‘I can put a ward on the door as well, if you like,’ he suggests. ‘It could make a noise to alert me if you do manage to move the stand.’

‘Oh.’ Segundus considers this for a minute. ‘I do not want to disturb you while you are feeling unwell. Perhaps a noise loud enough to wake me?’

‘That would also serve,’ Childermass agrees, but he privately decides to add an alert for himself as well. Just in case.

 

*

 

Childermass wakes panting and thrusting roughly into the bedsheets, dream still hovering around his mind. He stills his hips with a grunt of frustration.

As soon as I get a chance, he groans internally, I’ll go to York and find someone for the night. If he’s lucky, they will have dark hair and dark eyes. If he’s very lucky, they will let him tie them to the bed. It may not be Segundus, but it’s the closest Childermass is going to get.

But a visit to York is a long way off, and in the meantime…

Childermass slides his hand down to his aching prick. His dream comes back to him as if there had been no interruption. Segundus, tied to the bed as Childermass kneels over him, eyes bright and hair dishevelled from where Childermass has been tugging it. Hands raised above him, lips swollen and closed tight around Childermass’s prick as he thrusts down into them. Childermass can feel Segundus’s tongue flicking against the head on every stroke in, laving at the slit and, when Childermass pauses for a minute to regain control, teasing at his foreskin…

Fuck! Childermass has to use every ounce of control not to shout when he comes. The image in his mind burns as hot as the spend in his hand. Would he swallow? he wonders, with a last shiver at the thought.

He rolls over onto his back, taking care to keep his sticky hand off the sheets. The alarm on Segundus’s door did not go off – Segundus was right about the washstand as a deterrent. Still, the urge to check on him is too strong to be ignored. He uses the already soiled nightgown to clean himself up. He must remember to clean it before giving it to the Starecross laundry maid.

Pulling on breeches and a shirt, he leaves his room and knocks lightly on the door to Segundus’s. When that gets no response, he knocks a little louder and hears sounds from within followed by the noise of the washstand being dragged out of the way.

‘Good morning,’ Segundus greets him when he manages to open the door. ‘How are you feeling, sir?’ His tone is all concern.

Confused, it takes Childermass a second to remember his lie the night before. ‘Very well,’ he tells Segundus, but his hesitation is enough to have Segundus disbelieving him.

‘Are you certain you are well enough to travel?’ he asks, brow wrinkling.

‘Perfectly,’ Childermass assures him and Segundus does not argue any more, though all through breakfast he catches Segundus shooting him sidelong looks.

 

*

 

Mid-afternoon, Childermass greets the sight of Starecross with a barely concealed sigh of relief. The weather is still poor but not nearly so bad as it has been, and the familiar surroundings are, according to Segundus, less likely to cause his nocturnal rambling. No need to tie him to the bed, no need to justify or feign illness to have separate beds, and if in the night Childermass has any dreams he will have privacy and comfort to deal with anything that arises.

Somehow, on consideration, this is not quite as much of a relief as he would have thought.

‘Home at last, Mr Childermass,’ Segundus comments as the horses cross the packhorse bridge. ‘How you you feeling?’

‘I am perfectly well,’ Childermass tells him, as indeed he has done every time Segundus has asked so far.

As he has done every time Childermass has given that answer, Segundus looks unconvinced.

Honeyfoot is the first person out to greet them. ‘Mr Segundus, Mr Childermass, welcome home! How was your journey?’

Segundus begins to tell him while Childermass sees to the horses, leading them round to the stable and beginning to remove their tack. Segundus arrives a couple of minutes later, a little out of breath from haste. ‘You do not have to do it all, sir,’ he says. ‘Let me assist.’

Childermass shrugs and hands Segundus Absalom’s bridle to put away. ‘Do you remember how to groom him properly?’

Segundus frowns indignantly at him, fetching down Absalom’s halter as he does. ‘I am not so poor a horseman as to forget all your teachings in less than a month.’

Childermass raises an eyebrow in mock surprize just to see Segundus’s scowl deepen, before he relaxes into a smile. ‘I did not say you were, sir. Indeed, you have handled yourself admirably on this journey.’

Segundus doesn’t reply, busying himself about Absalom’s head, but from the next stall Childermass can see his small, pleased smile. ‘I might even go so far as to say you are becoming quite competent,’ Childermass continues. ‘Soon you will not need our rides on the moor.’

At this, Segundus’s head pops up. ‘Oh no sir,’ he says anxiously. ‘I would not say that. Our rides are most helpful.’

Childermass hides his own pleased smile. ‘We can still ride together,’ he states. ‘But it need not be all about teaching.’

Segundus makes sure to catch his eye. ‘I would like that,’ he replies, a soft smile on his face. ‘I would gladly spend time with you.’

Childermass turns away, cursing himself as a fool for the sudden swell of hope at Segundus’s smile.

 

*

 

The rest of the afternoon is taken up with greeting the students and hearing their accounts of the past weeks. All of them have much to say, and it is brought home to Childermass how fond they are of Segundus, as he already knew, but also how well they regard him. He does not like to think of himself as ‘touched’ by this, but it does make it feel more like he is home.

Dinner is a noisy affair, the pupils still delighted by their return and the teachers eager to discuss Childermass and Segundus’s findings in Hereford. When the meal is finished and the students sent to their rooms, Childermass and Segundus are directed firmly into the parlour where Levy, Redruth and Honeyfoot all pepper them with question after question to the point where Childermass almost wishes he were back on the road, at some inn with only Segundus. He puts up with it for as long as he can, but to his surprize it is Segundus who calls an end to it. ‘We have had a long journey, and we will still be here tomorrow,’ he tells them firmly. ‘You may ask more then.’ And he stands, clearly intending to leave for bed. Childermass rises too, glad of the excuse, and follows Segundus out of the room.

‘I did not want to say it in front of them,’ Segundus says to him when they are standing in the hall, ‘but you do not look quite yourself. Is anything the matter, Mr Childermass?’

‘Nothing the matter,’ Childermass assures him. ‘I am simply tired.’

Segundus looks at him for a long minute, and Childermass finds himself nonsensically holding his breath under the scrutiny. ‘Well,’ Segundus says eventually, ‘if something is amiss and you need me, have no fear of waking me.’ He turns and leaves, not seeing Childermass’s look of shock.

What did he mean? he wonders restlessly. Did he mean…?

No, he tells himself firmly once more. He did not. It is concern, as he would shew any other. Do not read into it what is not there.

He slowly follows Segundus up the stairs, and takes care not to look at Segundus’s closed bedroom door as he passes.

 

*

 

Restless after that last exchange, Childermass takes a periodical to his bed, attempting to exhaust himself enough to sleep without dreams of Segundus. So far all he has managed is to stare at the same page for minutes at a time without taking in a single word, the letters overlaid with images of Segundus. That visit to York cannot come quickly enough, he thinks with resignation.

He tries once more to bring his attention back to the article, but this time distraction comes from a noise in the passage. It sounds like bare feet on the floorboards, coming closer. One of the servants? A student? The footsteps reach his door and without hesitating, whomever it is lifts the latch and pushes the door open.

After the first few seconds of staring in astonishment at Segundus, Childermass realises with a feeling of resignation and not a little disappointment that Segundus is sleepwalking. He watches as Segundus closes the door behind him, fitting the latch, then turns and makes his steady way over towards the bed. With a sense of dreamlike shock, he realises that Segundus intends to climb into the bed. ‘Mr Segundus?’ he asks, beginning to wonder if he was mistaken about the sleepwalking. Segundus doesn’t answer, and now Childermass sees his face closer to there is no doubt about it. Segundus is most definitely asleep.

Segundus is in the bed now, pulling the blankets over himself and drawing closer to Childermass. He shifts, then shifts again, bringing his hands up to rest on the pillow beside him, almost as though the rope is still around his wrists. When he is apparently positioned comfortably, Childermass watches as his eyes fall closed and his body relaxes back into full sleep.

Seemingly, Segundus has settled in for the night.

Torn between a reluctance to wake him and cause Segundus embarrassment and a reluctance to let him stay where he is and have to endure another night spent chastely beside him, Childermass goes for the first option. A little embarrassment will cause fewer problems in the long run, and Childermass is not sure he can take another night of sleeping platonically beside Segundus.

Accordingly, he grasps at Segundus’s shoulder and shakes him gently to wake him, then more firmly when that does not work. Segundus frowns a little, hand batting at Childermass. When that fails to stop the shaking he groans, scrunches his eyes then blinks awake. It takes several seconds before his eyes adjust to the light and he can take in the sight of Childermass hovering over him. Childermass is in a unique position to watch as the realisation dawns on him.

First there is recognition, then puzzlement, then a slow-spreading delight. Childermass, caught up in watching this transformation, forgets for a moment to speak.

‘John,’ Segundus murmurs. ‘Finally. I did not think you would ever take hint.’

Childermass’s brain goes blank. ‘...What?’ he manages eventually.

Segundus makes a sleepily contented noise, half moan, half purr, and Childermass is amazed that he doesn’t topple over, how quickly lust bursts through him.

‘I thought you might do something when you woke me up pressing against me. Then again when you watched me as you tied me up the next night. You looked so hungry. I dreamed about you,’ Segundus whispers, eyes lowered, pressing closer. ‘I dreamed you came to my bed and held me down while you told me all the things you would do to me.’ The light of the candle is enough for Childermass to see the flush making its vivid way across Segundus’s face. His eyes are focused somewhere around the neck of Childermass’s nightgown, where his fingers have begun plucking restlessly at the cloth. ‘Last night I dreamed you were upon me, inside me.’ Segundus’s voice has dropped so low that Childermass can only just make out the words. ‘I could not stop myself from spending at the thought.’ His cheeks are flushing wildly, clearly embarrassed by the words but speaking them anyway. The erratic brushes of his fingers against Childermass’s chest feel like they are burning. ‘I hoped you would do something,’ he continues, ‘but it was much wiser to wait until we reached home. I have had so many thoughts of you in my bed, and now you are here,’ he finishes, smiling half shyly despite the incendiary words he has just voiced, finally raising his eyes to meet Childermass’s.

Childermass’s mind is a white space shot through with bolts of lust and imagination as Segundus speaks. He cannot bring together two thoughts to make a coherent sentence. His brain catches hold of the last sentence. ‘This is my bed,’ he says blankly.

Segundus looks at him in confusion, then turns to take in the room beyond. ‘What...?’ he asks, bewilderment strong in his voice. His fingers still their movement.

‘You were sleepwalking.’ Childermass watches as the confusion on Segundus’s face breaks under the growing dismay and horror.

‘No...’ Segundus whispers, but the truth is obviously dawning on him. His gaze drops to his fingers, still on Childermass’s chest, and he jerks them away as if burned. ‘I’m sorry!’ he gasps, struggling back, and Childermass feels abruptly sick at the fear in Segundus’s eyes. What does he think Childermass will do?

‘I did not mean – please do not – I’m sorry!’ Segundus babbles, eyes wide and panicked. He flinches back when Childermass takes a hold of his arm, tugging fruitlessly to try and free himself.

‘Mr Segundus,’ Childermass says, then more firmly, ‘Mr Segundus!’

‘Please -’ Segundus is saying, ‘please, I’m sorry, please -’ He does not seem to be registering that Childermass is trying to get his attention.

‘John!’ Childermass tries, as loudly as he dares, and this is the thing that breaks through, Segundus looking at him with wide, shocked eyes. ‘Stop,’ Childermass tells him firmly. ‘Calm yourself. I am not going to do anything.’

‘You are not?’ Segundus sounds uncertain of whether or not to believe this, and Childermass wonders where this fear of him has come from.

‘I am not,’ he says again, as calmly as he can. ‘You do not need to fear.’ To demonstrate, he lets go of Segundus’s arm. Segundus pulls it back, instinctively cradling it against his chest though Childermass does not think he is hurt.

‘You do not need to apologise,’ Childermass tells him before Segundus can begin again. ‘I am sorry. I did not mean to scare you.’ Moving slowly, he reaches out to take Segundus’s hand, holding it in the lightest of grasps, easy to pull back from if Segundus wants. ‘I should have begun differently,’ he continues, dropping his voice to be as unthreatening as possible. ‘I should have said how welcome you are in my bed.’

Segundus looks at him, traces of fear still in his eyes. ‘I am?’

‘Very welcome,’ Childermass nods. ‘I have imagined you here many times.’

These words chase the last of the fear out of Segundus’s eyes, replacing it with the tentative beginnings of hope. ‘You have?’

‘Many times,’ Childermass confirms.

‘You did not say anything,’ Segundus says, voice small. His fingers, however, have tightened around Childermass’s so they are holding one another.

‘Nor did you,’ Childermass counters. Segundus flinches a little, and Childermass wants to close his eyes at both his own verbal clumsiness and the implications of Segundus’s fear. ‘Can I ask,’ he begins, as carefully as possible, seeking the right words, ‘if you have had… relations before?’

Wordlessly, Segundus nods, blush returning. He doesn’t look any more scared, but nor does he look any less. ‘Was there… were you forced at all?’ Childermass asks, sick at the thought, furious at the thought.

‘No,’ Segundus tells him, quietly but definitely. ‘All I have done has been at my chusing.’

Childermass allows himself to relax and stop contemplating murder, until a more distressing thought strikes him. ‘Do you worry I will do something you do not like?’ He keeps his voice as even and unthreatening as possible, no hint of recrimination in it.

‘No!’ Segundus says, most emphatically. He looks away, but his fingers are still grasping Childermass’s firmly, giving Childermass hope. ‘There was a man...’ Segundus begins hesitantly. ‘I knew him in London. We were friends, of a sort, and by happenstance we spent time together frequently.’ He pauses, and Childermass keeps his breathing even, body relaxed, a suspicion of what Segundus is going to tell him forming in his mind. ‘I began to think he found me attractive,’ Segundus continues, voice nearing a whisper. ‘He looked at me sometimes and I thought he would say something. But he did not, and eventually I decided to speak first.’ He stops, swallows, continues. ‘He was disgusted. He shouted, said I was unnatural, that I… that I planned to force myself on him. I did not,’ Segundus says urgently to Childermass, ‘I would not, please -’

‘I believe you,’ Childermass assures him, tightening his grip on Segundus’s fingers. ‘I promise.’

Segundus nods, still unhappy but believing Childermass. He begins again. ‘He beat me.’ Segundus has to pause and swallow at the memory. ‘I begged… he did not stop.’ He stops again, breathes deeply for a few minutes. Childermass finds, partly to his surprize, that he is stroking Segundus’s thigh in as comforting manner as he can. The part that is not surprized is coldly contemplating murder, and wondering what excuse he can find to visit London tomorrow. He brings himself back. Now is not the time.

Segundus’s breathing is slowing again, and Childermass keeps holding his hand and stroking his thigh in the hopes it will help. ‘You are safe, at Starecross,’ he reminds Segundus softly. Segundus nods, fast and a little jerky, but certain.

‘I am,’ he whispers, then; ‘I am,’ more firmly. He takes a breath and continues. ‘I do not know if someone heard the noise, but there was a knock on the door. He was distracted – I managed to get away.’ Segundus does not elaborate, but Childermass can imagine the terrified and agonising flight, constantly listening for footsteps behind. He himself has run in a similar manner before, though for different reasons.

‘I went back to my rooms, but I could not sleep,’ Segundus says. His eyes are fixed on Childermass’s stroking hand, but he does not seem to find it objectionable. ‘I kept thinking he might have summoned the Runners. In the morning I gave notice on my rooms and moved to another house within the week. I do not know if he ever took steps,’ Segundus finishes. ‘I avoided all contact and never saw him again.’ He smiles mirthlessly. ‘I heard he was sentenced to transportation for indecent acts, in the end.’

Both of them are quiet for what feels like a long time. ‘I am glad you got away,’ Childermass says eventually. ‘Very glad,’ he repeats.

Segundus’s lips twitch into a small smile, the first Childermass has seen since Segundus realised who’s bed he is in. ‘It was a long time ago,’ he tells Childermass. ‘Usually it does not bother me, but you did not at first seem receptive to my presence, and...’ he shrugs a little. Childermass nods, taking his meaning.

‘I am most certainly receptive to your presence,’ he reaffirms. Segundus’s smile grows larger and less cautious, though still shyly pleased.

‘Can I ask why you did not say anything?’ Segundus asks. ‘Was there a similar reason?’

Childermass sighs a little, and wonders how to explain. The room has cooled as they have been talking, and Childermass suggests they get under the covers, a suggestion that Segundus follows with alacrity. Within a minute Childermass finds himself surrounded by blankets and halfway to embracing Segundus. This is a very pleasant state of affairs. He wraps his arm a little tighter around Segundus, and Segundus squirms even closer in response.

‘It was not quite the same thing,’ Childermass tells him when they have settled. He turns his head to look at the ceiling, not especially wanting to face Segundus for this part of the conversation.

‘When you have little,’ he begins, as detached as he can make himself, ‘and there is no expectation that you will ever have more, it can be easy to get into the habit of not wanting things. If you do not want them, there is no disappointment when you do not get them. Or even if you do have them, you are not as discontent should you have to give them up.’ He stops, tries to get his words right. ‘I had a home, of a sort, with Norrell. When I lost it, I was not so upset, though I was there for a long time. When you invited me to live here, I thought I would stay for a while and then move on. That did not happen, and I found myself wanting things, things I did not think I would ever get. I am not good at wanting things.’ Childermass stops again, and Segundus presses a little closer, wordless comfort that Childermass accepts, somewhat to his surprize. ‘Or I suppose I am not good at giving them up. I find I am wanting things now that I am less ready to lose, or to risk by reaching for more. And I was recently thanked not to make assumptions on behalf of another,’ he finishes, attempting to lighten the conversation a little.

Segundus looks at him indignantly. ‘Not making assumptions goes both ways. Asking is easier.’

‘And if you had been repulsed?’ Childermass asks quietly. ‘I would have had to leave my home.’

Segundus gasps a little at this, but sympathy is easy to read on his face. ‘So it was fear on both our parts then,’ he says, and Childermass does not need to answer. They have an understanding.

There is silence again for a while. At first, Childermass is occupied by thinking about what he said, and what it means for him to say it to Segundus. He does briefly think of what Segundus told him, but he can feel himself growing angry again and has to abandon it. It is passed, he tells himself. Then he begins to give less thought to his words and more thought to his position; that of lying in bed, with Segundus, and both of them interested in the other. He tilts his head a little to look at Segundus and finds Segundus looking back with bright eyes. ‘You are recovered?’ Childermass asks him solicitously.

‘Most certainly,’ Segundus assures him.

‘Might I kiss you?’ Childermass asks, as polite and undemanding as possible. Segundus’s response is neither of those things. Before he knows it, Segundus is kissing him, mouth hungry and lips as soft as Childermass had imagined. Childermass kisses him back, losing himself in the taste and feel of Segundus, matching him in passion, bringing a hand up to his jaw to hold him in place and deepen the kiss. By Segundus’s reaction, this is a very welcome move.

When Childermass draws back for air he finds their positions have changed. Segundus is flat on his back with Childermass half over him, pinning him to the bed with his body. From this position Childermass can feel Segundus’s cock, hard against his hip. His own is rapidly attaining the same state against Segundus’s thigh, and he grinds down lightly. The effect on Segundus is as though Childermass has done more. He gasps out a series of little choked noises, hips jerking up to meet the press of Childermass against him, and Childermass feels the twitch of Segundus’s prick through both their nightshirts. He wants to feel it against his skin. Replacing his hand on Segundus’s jaw with his mouth, he drops kisses along the angle and down his neck while Segundus rakes restlessly at Childermass’s hair. Childermass’s newly-freed hand travels down to the already rucked-up hem of Segundus’s nightgown and makes its way directly to Segundus’s cock. At the first touch, Segundus cries out. ‘Please!’

‘Hush,’ Childermass warns him, gripping lightly and moving very slightly. ‘You need to be quiet.’

Segundus does not reply, hands clenched tight in Childermass’s hair, but he turns his head, burying it in the blankets to muffle his whimpers as Childermass slowly, so slowly, takes his hand from the base of Segundus’s cock to the tip, then back down again. I wanted to hear him properly, Childermass thinks with a little disappointment, then rolls his eyes at himself.

Setting the silencing spell around the bed is the work of a second. No lust-dampening spell needed now, Childermass thinks with satisfaction.

Segundus, always sensitive to magic, clearly feels the spell taking hold. ‘Ah!’ he cries, face coming free of the blankets. ‘It felt like this in my dream!’

‘Because you felt this in your dream,’ Childermass tells him, tightening his grip very slightly. ‘You looked so good, tied to the bed and wanting it. You near drove me to madness.’ Segundus looks unjustifiably pleased by this. ‘I had to put a spell up, or I would have spent there just from your sounds,’ Childermass tells him.

‘You like me tied up,’ Segundus says, gasping a little when Childermass’s hand tightens again at his words. ‘I saw it, when you – oh, please!’ For Childermass has risen up and let go of Segundus’s cock, both hands pulling Segundus’s straight up to pin them at the top of the bed.

‘And you did not?’ Childermass growls, resting his weight on his knees to rise above Segundus. ‘When you panted and pulled at the rope, you are telling me you did not enjoy it? That you do not want it now?’

Segundus looks up at him, eyes impossibly darker. ‘Please,’ is all he can say, hips lifting to try and regain friction. Childermass pulls away further.

‘John,’ he says, serious tone catching Segundus’s attention. ‘You have to tell me what you want,’ he continues more gently.

Segundus blushes, darker than Childermass has ever seen before, but he does not let his embarrassment stop him. ‘I want you to tie me to the bed,’ he tells Childermass, voice quiet but certain. ‘I want you to tie me to your bed and do as you will to me.’

Childermass closes his eyes for a long moment, trying to contain himself, trying not to spend here and now. When he feels he has a little control back he opens them again.

‘Do you care to be fucked?’ he asks, as calmly as possible. Segundus doesn’t seem like he can answer, but his indrawn breath and frantic nodding is enough for Childermass. He leans down, face just above Segundus’s, to watch every tiny flicker of his eyes.

‘I am going to tie you to the bed,’ he says with great certainty. ‘Then I am going to torment you. Then, when you are begging, I am going to fuck you. Does that meet with your agreement?’ he finishes, mock-sweetly.

Segundus nods desperately. ‘Please, yes,’ he gabbles. Childermass nods.

‘If there is anything you do not like,’ he says, very serious now, ‘then tell me. Or if you need a moment. I will wait.’ He waits for Segundus’s confirming nod before he releases Segundus’s hands and goes to find the rope. ‘Get rid of your nightgown,’ he directs Segundus as he does.

Stopping only to remove his own nightgown, he returns to the bed with the rope and one of his neckcloths. Segundus, in a late-blooming fit of modesty, has pulled the blankets over his naked body. Childermass gives him a tolerantly amused look but lets it go for the moment. ‘Arms up,’ he says instead.

Tying Segundus to the bed without the need for either of them to conceal anything is a far more enjoyable experience. Segundus’s hitching breath is clearer, and Childermass can stop to press a kiss to Segundus’s wrists as he wraps them in the covered rope. ‘When I am next in London,’ Childermass tells him, ‘I will get silk rope for you, in dark blue. It will look beautiful against your skin, and the feel is exquisite.’ He finishes the knot and stands back. ‘Try pulling,’ he tells Segundus, and watches in satisfaction as Segundus tugs and wiggles but is unable to free himself. ‘Perfect.’

Childermass takes his time pulling back the covers. He would have liked to undress Segundus himself, but that can be saved for a time when Childermass’s need is less urgent. Should such a time ever arrive. The slow reveal of skin as the blanket is removed is almost as good. From where he stands, Childermass cannot see a single mark on Segundus’s body. Someday he will explore to discover if this is true, but right now the urge to leave some of his own is more powerful.

Segundus is not an athletic man, but nor is he idle. His muscles are softly toned, stomach a flat plain with sparse padding; pulling slightly against the rope, his arms are more defined, and he has raised a leg to shyly half-shield his cock from view. Childermass gently but firmly presses it flat. He wants to see all of Segundus.

The longer Childermass looks, the more uncomfortable Segundus seems. ‘I know I am not much -’

‘You are everything,’ Childermass tells him seriously. He leans down to press a kiss first to Segundus’s stomach, then to his hips, then knees, stomach again and up to his chest. By this time he is on the bed too, positioning himself above Segundus and straddling his thighs. From here he can observe Segundus’s reactions to his touch in closer detail.

The first finger skated across Segundus’s ribs makes him squirm. The second, firmer touch makes him gasp, but not with desire. ‘You are ticklish?’ Childermass asks, amused. Segundus nods.

‘Anything on my ribs and waist.’

Childermass experiments with another, more weighted touch, but when Segundus wiggles in a way that does not signify desire he abandons that and moves on.

Trailing fingers up Segundus’s sternum gets him a heavier breath; running a finger over his nipple gets a gasp. Pinching lightly gets a moan. The angle is not quite right for Childermass to reach with his mouth, the stretch just a little too far. Moving up Segundus’s body slightly, he settles firmly just below Segundus’s cockstand, and when he bends down to apply his mouth to Segundus’s nipple, first one then the other, his groin presses lightly against Segundus’s cock. This produces some lovely noises from Segundus, and a deliberate twist to bring both their cocks into contact wins him incoherent cries of ‘please!’

Bracing himself with his arms, Childermass bends down as best he can to reach Segundus’s nipple. The first touch of his tongue to the taught skin draws an exceedingly enjoyable gasp out of Segundus; a hint of teeth makes him cry out. Childermass keeps his hips as still as he can, concentrating on playing with the nubs of flesh until Segundus is gasping with every breath and trying to push his chest higher. Childermass keeps his touches light, his wish to bite harder held in tight check.

Segundus gives a cry and twists his hips at the same time. Caught off guard by the spike of pleasure at the increased contact against his cock, Childermass’s control slips and he bites down harder on Segundus’s chest. Segundus wails, and Childermass has to release his nipple in order not to bite even harder.

‘Careful,’ he warns, breath coming heavier. ‘Much more of that and I’ll be leaving marks.’

The cry this elicits gives him a good idea of Segundus’s thoughts on that.

‘You’d like that, would you?’ Childermass smiles a little meanly. ‘If I left a mark on you. So you could look at it later and remember me leaving it, so you could touch it and no one but me would know what you were thinking of.’

‘Oh – Oh,’ Segundus pants out. ‘Please, please John, please -!’

‘That’s all you can say, is it?’ Childermass rolls his hips deliberately, grinding down on Segundus. Segundus tries to buck up, first his hips, then his chest when Childermass goes back to tormenting his nipples. He pulls back a second later, thrusting again at Segundus’s despairing cry. ‘Something you want?’

‘John, please, I need you to...’ Segundus sounds like he’s about to cry, arms twisting as he pulls harder on the rope.

‘What do you need?’ Childermass asks, sitting back. If Segundus wants to be untied…

‘More!’ Segundus half-sobs. ‘I want you – you promised – please!’

Childermass smiles. ‘You want to be fucked, is that it?’

‘Please!’ Segundus cries again, still tugging at the rope, and Christ, Childermass cannot imagine a better sight.

‘Alright,’ he says, voice dropping to a soothing tone. ‘Alright, love, I’ve got you.’ The endearment slips out, but Childermass is not going to take it back. Segundus’s frantic struggles relent, and Childermass leans up to drop a quick kiss on his mouth. Segundus clings as best he can, straining up into the kiss, following when Childermass pulls back.

‘I need to get some oil,’ Childermass tells him, cursing himself for not fetching it earlier. He hurries to the dresser and back again, floor unpleasantly cold against his heated skin, neglected cock close to pressing against his stomach. When he turns back to see Segundus on the bed he nearly puts a hand on himself, but holds back. If he touches himself now he’ll go off like a callow youth.

The enforced break has brought Segundus back to himself a little. The embarrassment of earlier has been replaced by desire, and when Childermass climbs back onto the bed Segundus parts his legs rather than trying to hide. Childermass kisses him for it before opening the oil.

The first finger slides in with little resistance, Segundus relaxed enough for it not to be a problem. He feels around gently until a jerk from Segundus tells him he’s found what he’s looking for. He keeps his finger there a little longer, Segundus beginning to push back onto it. Childermass doesn’t let him get too worked up.

‘When did you last…?’ Childermass asks, trying not to sound jealous but fearing he doesn’t succeed.

‘It has been some time,’ Segundus admits, breathing a little heavier. ‘In London, when I was there on business...’

‘Certainly some time.’ Childermass does not think Segundus has been to London since he came to stay at Starecross.

‘Do not – Ah! - mock,’ Segundus scolds as Childermass pushes in a second finger.

‘I was not mocking,’ Childermass assures him. Segundus looks at him suspiciously for a few seconds before accepting his assurance. In truth, Childermass is shamefully pleased that it has been so long. He is not a man to share.

By the time Childermass has three fingers inside him, Segundus is back to mostly wordless pleading, the occasional ‘please!’ stuttered out every so often. When Childermass takes his fingers out to pour oil onto his cock, Segundus’s cry of loss is almost enough to make him shoot there and then. He has to tighten his fingers around the base of his cock to stop himself.

Sliding into Segundus is everything Childermass could have imagined. He goes as slowly as he can, hands keeping Segundus’s hips still partly for Segundus’s sake but also for his own. He refuses to spend seconds after pushing in.

Fully inside, he pauses again to regain control. Segundus is hot and tight and slick, and the addition of his gasps at the feeling of being penetrated and the way he is still weakly tugging against the rope is almost too much. When he retreats and then thrusts again, Childermass knows he’s not going to be able to make it last.

Segundus’s eyes are closed, a look of concentration on his face as though he is considering some magical conundrum. Childermass frowns in response. He wants Segundus’s attention on him.

He withdraws and thrusts again, a little harder, and Segundus’s frown dissolves under pleasure. ‘Good,’ Childermass grunts, thrusting again. ‘Remember what you are about.’

With what looks like heroic effort on his part, Segundus opens his eyes and manages to formulate a coherent reply. ‘I can’t – can’t look,’ he gasps. Despite this, his eyes flick to where Childermass’s hands are holding him down, and then up to the red patches darkening his chest.

Like that, is it? Childermass thinks, darkly satisfied.

‘If I had my way,’ he tells Segundus, voice coming from deep inside him, ‘I would mark you all over -’ he rolls his hips again as Segundus tries to push back onto his cock despite Childermass’s hands keeping him in place. ‘- Mark you all over so everyone who saw you knew you had a lover.’

Segundus squirms. His eyes are closed again, tight with pleasure. ‘Yes… please… I want...’

‘You want to be marked,’ Childermass finishes for him, feeling as though someone has placed a heated brick in his chest. ‘So they all know you’re taken. Or maybe I wouldn’t...’ he rolls his hips, withdrawing then shoving a little deeper as Segundus makes a sound of dismay and tightens, trying instinctively to keep Childermass inside him. ‘… Wouldn’t let you out at all,’ Childermass continues with a grunt. ‘Keep you here, in my bed, just – like – this.’ He punctuates each word with a sharp thrust, control fraying at the thought, pace quickening to Segundus’s evident delight.

Childermass has been keeping a tight control on himself since they began, but this new increase in friction is too much. Segundus is pushing back against him with every thrust, wordless sounds escaping him every time Childermass pushes in to the hilt. He likes being ridden, Childermass thinks, almost overwhelmed by the idea that accompanies it. ‘Some day,’ he tells Segundus, almost choking on the words, ‘I will tie your hands behind you and have you do all the work, sitting upon me and riding to your completion.’

‘Oh,’ Segundus gasps. ‘Oh, please, I can’t – you must -’ He doesn’t manage to finish, but Childermass can tell what he wants. It only takes three strokes to his cock and Childermass’s thumb flicking at the head before Segundus spends, hips curling up from the force, arms straining against the rope as he arches. Combined with the way he tightens, seconds later Childermass has no choice but to follow him.

 

*

 

Childermass carefully unties the rope, massaging Segundus’s wrists gently with his thumbs. The neckcloth has kept the skin whole despite Segundus’s tugging, but there is still some slight redness to it. Segundus eyes it with satisfaction, and hot possession blooms in Childermass’s chest.

He draws the blankets over them both. Segundus settles down on his side, facing away from Childermass but close enough that Childermass can comfortably sling an arm over his hip, and also drop kisses on his shoulder when he feels like it.

‘You said you would buy me silk rope,’ Segundus says suddenly. Childermass, with great effort, raises his head to look at him.

‘Yes?’

‘So we will do this again?’ Segundus asks, his tone carefully casual.

‘We will do this,’ Childermass replies, with great firmness ‘as many times as it pleased us. I plan to do much more to you.’

‘To me?’ Segundus is still not looking at him, his voice is still casual, but Childermass understands what he is really asking.

‘To you,’ he assures him. ‘No one else.’ He pauses. ‘I am a possessive man, and that does not suit all. You must tell me if it does not suit you.’

‘It suits me perfectly,’ Segundus tells him with satisfaction, turning awkwardly to kiss Childermass.
Childermass kisses him back most contentedly.

 

*

 

‘What was the direction of the inn we stayed at when we made the rain-proofing spell?’ Segundus asks over a late and mercifully unaccompanied breakfast the next morning. Childermass, occupied with the marmalade, has to stop and think.

‘The Bird and Boar,’ he says presently. Then, ‘Why?’

‘I want to write to the maid there,’ Segundus tells him absently.

Childermass sets down his knife and stares at him, possession leaping up in him. ‘Why?’ he asks again.

Segundus, obviously startled at his tone, looks up from his toast. ‘I thought she might enjoy speaking to Miss Redruth about magic.’ He frowns a little. ‘What did you think?’

‘Nothing,’ Childermass tells him, settling down again. Segundus clearly does not believe him.

‘You thought I wanted to write to her for some personal reason?’ His frown deepens. ‘Really? What would make you think that?’ His glance at the door provides the words he doesn’t say. After last night, you think that?

‘No,’ Childermass says, and realises he means it. Segundus is not one to make false promises.

‘Good.’ Segundus tells him firmly, though his frown does not abate. ‘I cannot believe you would really think that.’

Childermass shrugs a little. ‘I told you I am a possessive man.’ He refuses to apologise for it unless it becomes a problem. ‘But I trust you.’

‘Good,’ Segundus says again, though with an entirely different tone. He dips his head down, glancing up at Childermass slyly through his lashes. ‘But if you have any doubts, I am sure you could make it bindingly certain.’

Childermass catches his breath. Oh, I’ll make it bindingly certain alright. ‘I may take you up on that,’ he says, casual tone hiding his interest in the prospect. ‘If it pleases you.’ Both of them know he is talking about more than just bedsport.

Segundus looks at him full on, everything about him calmly certain. ‘Yes,’ he tells Childermass. ‘It does.’