William had lived in London all his life, but he had no idea that such places or such people existed. They went into alleyways that stank of human effluence. They entered buildings where children, like rats, scuttled away from them at their approach. They were welcomed into houses where women seemed to pollute the very air with their corruption. Everywhere they went, Liam kept a hold on William, sometimes just a hand on his arm, sometimes a firmer grip, leading him, directing him. Only occasionally did he leave William in some safe corner while he disappeared with some of the children or perhaps one of the low women that pawed at his fine clothes.
They didn't stop anywhere for long; Liam always keen to move on when they had stopped for any time. He grew more magnificent as the night wore on. William's energy flagged in comparison. He watched Liam laughing with thieves and beggars, watched him flirting with the whores, watched him play with the filthy urchins, and still they moved through the long night.
Finally, in a daze of exhaustion, Liam led William back to the mansion and repeated his ritual of locking up. He took William by the shoulders and guided him up the stairs. When they reached Liam's rooms, William was too exhausted by all he had seen and heard to be the slightest bit surprised by there being a hipbath in the room full of hot, soapy water. Liam sighed with pleasure. 'Ah, my women know how to please me, that they do. 'T's well for them, for I did not get satisfied by them earlier.' He began to strip off his filthy clothes. William hovered. They had watched a woman bathing herself that night: it seemed unnecessarily coy to turn away from Liam's body. 'Did you enjoy that, William? I think you liked the bath the best of all I treated you to tonight.'
'I'm not sure enjoy is the word I would use. I think, as ink spilt on a page, I am slightly ruined.'
Liam paused with his hands on his britches. Slowly, he unbuttoned them and stepped out. His nakedness was magnificent. William only blinked and held Liam's gaze. 'You had never seen a naked woman, I'm thinking.'
'No. You are right. As usual, Liam, you are right.'
'Huh. You challenge me?'
Liam climbed into the bath with pleasure. 'Come and wash my back, please. It's the least you can do.'
'For what I have been forced to witness tonight?'
'No, because I kept you safe, Will, and did not let any of it touch you.'
'My body, perhaps.'
'Stop being such a woman and wash my back. Now.'
Not because Liam ordered it, but because he could of his own free will, William came forward and took the offered washcloth. He knelt alongside the bath and began to scrub over the flawless skin. 'What did you think, William, when she spread her legs for you to see?'
'I don't want to think about it.'
'Ah. Why? Did you prefer that little boy who… danced for you?'
'Don't do this, Liam, please. I need time to think about all I have seen tonight.'
'Very well. But remember, Will, it is all about power. I did not create any of that, did I?'
'No, I suppose not.'
'It was there all the time, but you never knew.'
'Yes, I suppose so.'
'So, what is more wrong, William? That you hide in your comfortable little life not knowing what it is built upon, or that I open up the sewers and know where the evil lies?'
'Are you evil, Liam?'
Liam turned his head at this challenging question, and their faces were only inches apart. 'Do you think I am?'
'I think you made me think of evil, when I looked on you tonight, yes.'
'Was that me, or what I was surrounded by? Where lies the real evil, boy? Think on that, and while you do, think on this….' He lifted his wet arms from the warm water, clasped William firmly around the neck and opened his mouth against William's resistant lips. William struggled, but he was held too tightly. He tried not to kiss back, but the cold lips on his were insistent. He refused to open his mouth, but he had to breathe, and Liam's tongue slipped in on William's small intake of breath.
William tried no more; he just kissed back: his first adult kiss. He rose up on his knees, and Liam twisted in the water, pulling him closer. What had been a rough, insistent kiss became softer, more urgent from both of them. Finally, William lifted his arms, too, and entwined them in Liam's hair, and he knew that he would never be able to deny again the passion he felt for this man. He knew that Liam felt it; he knew that his heart was as open to this bewildering man as his mouth was. Finally, it was Liam who drew away. He leant back against the rim of the bath, looking at William through narrowed lids.
Suddenly, he looked down as if shy. 'I just wanted to show you how powerful you are compared to them, Will. Did I do so wrong?'
William sat back on his heels. 'I have no memory of what is right and what is wrong now. I have just kissed you. There is no certainty left.'
Liam looked up with a flash of something strange in his eyes. For a moment, William thought that it looked like triumph, but that seemed inappropriate. He climbed out of the bath and began to towel himself dry. 'I must sleep now, Will. I will come for you tomorrow. I will show you something new.'
'No. I mean…. Why do I have to go?'
'You would stay here for the day while I sleep?'
'Well, no. But I thought….' William didn't know what he thought, except that he wanted to kiss Liam again. He took a hesitant step toward him. 'I thought we could….'
'I am tired, Will; I'm full, and I want to sleep. Goodnight.' He turned on his heel and went into his room. Just before he shut the door, he said in an amused voice, 'Help yourself to my bath. I may have cooled it too much for your taste, but I think you should bathe before you make an appearance at your mother's house.'
William glanced down at his hands. They were black, literally, soot and grime coating them. He couldn't look at his face - there being no mirrors - but he suspected it would be as bad. As memories of the filth they had seen that night washed over him, he stripped and climbed into the water. He tipped his head back and tried not to let tears of exhaustion and confusion undo him. As he bit his lip in an effort to remain in control, he sensed once more that someone was watching him. He opened his eyes and looked over at the bedroom door. Naked, aroused, Liam leant in the doorway, watching him. Their eyes locked for a moment. Liam pursed his lips, raised one eyebrow then slipped away into the gloom.
Utterly unable to control the tears now, William let them flow freely. Quite what he was crying for he didn't know - he had seen enough that night to make stronger men than him cry a lifetime of useless tears.
He washed as best he could, dressed, and went out into the dull sunshine of another London day, the events of the night a blur in his mind.
When he got home, he bathed again in clean water that had not had a large Irishman in before him. Of all the things that seemed unreal about that night, this simple fact - that he had bathed in someone else's bathwater - made William dizzy with confusion. Not the fact that he had kissed another man, not the fact that he had wanted to stay and do more with another man, but the fact that he had shared that man's bath water unsettled him.
He suddenly laughed at himself and enjoyed the feeling of doing that so much that he did it again. He climbed naked and clean into a fresh bed and, for the first time in his whole life, felt that life had dealt him a pretty generous hand.
He was just drifting off the sleep when his mother came hesitantly into the room. He sat up then slid back down when he remembered he was naked.
'Are you unwell?'
'No, Mother, I am just tired. Do you mind terribly, but I really do need to sleep.'
'Oh. Well, have you eaten?'
William wrinkled his brow, not at the simple question, but at the odd words of Liam's that only then registered in his mind: "I'm full, and I need to sleep." William huffed slightly. Liam hadn't offered him anything to eat, even though he would not have eaten anyway in any of the places they had seen that night.
His mother had not called him that in a long time, and he tipped his head on one side, looking at her. He smiled. 'I'll eat later, Mother. Leave me be, now. I'm weary, and I must sleep.'
She nodded and left. William smiled and stretched pleasantly in the bed. Power. It was all about power.
William went that afternoon to stand outside Liam's house. He looked it over carefully, sure the man was inside. He tried to work out which his room would be and thought he found it. He concentrated all his efforts on that small boarded-up window, wondering if he thought hard enough, whether Liam would sense him and come down. He could have just gone in but something about his disturbing reception the previous evening put him off. Whether this had been his confusion over the odd appearance of the women, or the thought of Liam with some London whore, he did not question too closely. He thought about the noises he had heard - since last night, the rapid thump, thump, not such a mystery. What if Liam were in there now with another common whore? What if his body lay hot and sweating over that… squishy place? William felt bile rise in his throat. He switched to thinking about Liam's mouth on his, instead. Liam had started the kiss. Liam wanted him. He would not sully this by taking a woman behind his back….
William cursed and stomped back home. He spent a useless hour or two trying to write but could not equate what he felt for Liam with any of his usual style of poetry.
Eventually, the sun set, and eight o'clock arrived. This time, Liam arrived alone, and William joined him in the street almost shyly, not daring to catch his eye at first. Liam glanced around then said, 'We have a lot to do tonight, boy, but first….' He grabbed William's arm and herded him down the basement steps and into the lee of the kitchen door. He pushed William against the wall and covered him with his dark presence. He rubbed himself on William's body. 'I've been dreaming of you, William. Did you enjoy sharing my sleep?'
'I didn't get invited, so I don't know.'
Liam's eyes flashed. 'Ah, little rabbit turns again. I love it when you do that.'
'Why do you call me that? Don't.'
'No, you are right. But, oh, Will, I need this….' He bent and tickled William's lips with his own, then with his tongue.
William laughed, and on that soft sound, Liam entered his mouth. William felt utterly possessed; every inch of his mouth was taken and explored by that experienced tongue. He felt Liam pressing hard into him and then, shockingly, his hand was captured and pressed against Liam's very hard groin. William's hand shook a little, but he allowed Liam to work his palm against his bulge, allowed him to open himself up and slip his warm hand down inside the soft nest of curls. Liam's kisses became frantic. He bent his leg up and seemed about to climb down William's throat but suddenly pulled away, tearing William's hand out and bending over sharply at the waist. 'Fuck.'
William, concerned, but a little shocked at the language, put a hand on his back. 'What's wrong? Are you all right?'
Liam straightened and chuckled. 'Aye, Will. You excited me more than I anticipated. I did not want to embarrass meself and have to go home to change. We have a lot to do tonight.'
'Oh. I thought we could….' He wanted to add, "Some more of this," but didn't have the confidence to admit this need to Liam. He glanced down as Liam refastened his britches. His hand tingled where it had felt that cold shaft. As they walked along together in the dark, William following puppy-like to Liam's dark intent, he thought about the feel of that mysterious place. He pictured them lying somewhere on a large bed, naked, together, exploring and enjoying sensual touch. Beyond that, he did not have the knowledge or desire to go, but almost chaste, brotherly, noble love and physical worship tugged at his mind, making him dizzy to taste its delights. When he sensed people looking at them, he felt a surge of pride wash through him that this man loved him. What those same people would have thought had they known what intimacy now lay between them was a fleeting worry that William did not let distract him from his adoration. Scandal, ruin, imprisonment, disgrace - the words flitted around in his brain with no more power to hurt him than the people themselves, now that he was with Liam. What hypocrites people were; if only they knew what William now knew about life. Liam was right. It was all about power, and the power of being above society's hypocrisy seduced William just as effectively as Liam's hand tucked in his arm, Liam's hand caressing his warm skin as they walked along, Liam's voice, Liam's strong body with its power flowing from it, Liam's presence… Liam… Liam… Liam. William wanted to run; he wanted to shout. He did not know what to call this sense of power, but Liam loved him, and all else was naught compared to that wonderful, blessed fact.
Before he had the sense to protest, William found himself back in the same grimy alleys they had passed through the previous night. This time, Liam led him to the shelter of a doorway and pointed toward a squalid house. There was no light; it was filthy and rancid in the street and an air of deep neglect hung over all the low buildings. 'Why are we here?'
'Shhh and watch.'
'What…?' A woman emerged from the house, carrying a bundle. She put the bundle down, and it walked, appearing to be a tiny child, still tottering, no more than two or three. William frowned. 'W…?'
Liam suddenly took his arm, and they silently followed the two figures in the gloom. They rounded corners and went down alleys almost worse than the ones they had left. Drunks rolled and urinated in the open. Children begged. William shuddered in disgust and felt grateful for the feel of Liam's hand on his. Finally, the woman rounded a corner into a more prosperous-looking street. The child began a pitiful mewing and tried to tug at the hand holding it securely. Liam nudged William. 'See? Childhood's natural understanding of power. She knows she has none, and she complains at the injustice.'
'Liam, I'm not sure….'
The woman stopped at a door and knocked furtively. Liam hastened William into the shadows, stopping his complaint with a cool hand over his mouth. An old woman came to the door and eyed the younger one for a moment, then reached into her pocket and appeared to hand over some money. In exchange, she was handed the wriggling, crying toddler.
'Come now - to the front of the house.'
'Liam, why is she…?'
Liam grabbed William around the waist and propelled him over a small wall; then straightening both their clothing and smoothing their hair, he sauntered up to the impressive front door. It was opened by a house servant, and Liam showed a small card. The man nodded and let them in. William felt incredibly nervous, but Liam seemed quite at home and made his way into the drawing room. A group of men stood around a small fire, drinking, chatting, and looking at pictures and small intricate antiques.
'Liam, what is this…?'
'Shh. Well, my friends, here we all are. I trust you are well?'
An older man came over and clapped Liam on the back. 'Rory, it is a pleasure to see you again. Who is your young friend?'
Before William could reply, Liam said cheerfully, 'This is Samuel, a very good, very new friend of mine.'
'Ahh, well, welcome, Samuel; I am glad to see our select numbers swell.'
'What is this place?'
The man looked surprised. Liam laughed and clapped William a little too hard around the shoulders. 'He's nervous. Maybe we could sit a little to one side tonight. You understand… first time and all….'
They were waved over to a small couch in the gloom of a recess. William refused to sit. When the man wandered away, he hissed, 'Now. Tell me what this is all about, Liam. Who are these men? Why are we here? What has this to do with the little… oh, my God.' He turned as the little girl was brought into the room. She appeared to be drugged, for she could not stand unaided. She was no longer dressed in the rags she had been in with her mother, but had on an array of silk underwear and feathers in the worst parody of a cheap whore that William had ever seen. Her tiny pale face was rouged and powdered, and the smell of scent wafted to William as she was carried past him.
He sank to the couch, but then stood up, agitated. Liam held his arm so hard that William thought it must have been bruising.
'I will not be a party to this, Liam; let me go.'
'To do what, little one? There are eight of them and only one of you. Are you a fighter?'
'I don't care. Oh God! No!' The child was being passed among the men and…. William could not bear to watch and turned his face with an agonised expression to Liam. 'Two of us. There are two of us. I implore you, Liam, do something. Help me.'
'Ah. That is an interesting definition of power, William. Would you like me to put a stop to this?'
'Yes! Yes! That's what I've been saying.'
'How much do you want it?'
'Do you want I should kill them. I could, if that is what you want.'
'God, no! What are you saying? Are you mad? Can you stop this, though; can you?'
'Just stop it? You don't want their deaths?'
'All right, William. It will be as you ask.'
Before William could even begin to intervene, eight men were either unconscious on the floor or wishing they were. William had never witnessed violence. It revolted him at first; then it made him shiver; his ears began to buzz; his blood pounded in his ears; things rose, flushed and hot. He blushed but could not take his eyes off the flowing magic that was Liam. He spun; he kicked; he twisted; he threw, and he dodged in a blur of black power, and his power called to William through the gloom. He wanted to be as Liam was. He wanted the power to help as Liam could; he wanted to be a dark, avenging angel, as Liam was.
When it was over, when Liam stood laughing by the fireplace, William staggered over one of the men to the child who lay insensible on the floor. 'What shall we do? Oh, God, what is this that I am here, doing this?' He made to pick the child up, but as he did, he saw movement and looked down at the seething mass that was her hair. He reared back, revolted and began to rub his hands in distaste on his clothes. Liam laughed. He was leaning over one of the men, wiping at some blood on the man's face. 'Do you no wanna hug and pet your little prize then, Will? Does the urchin revolt you?'
'She can't help… yes, she does. Can we go?'
'Aye, of course we can. I am warming, Will; my heart almost beats, and I long for you to watch me again.'
William was silent at this odd speech. He wanted to put his hand to Liam's chest and reassure him that his heart beat powerfully. He wanted to slide his hands over that smooth chest. When they reached the garden, William began to turn back, doubtful at leaving the child, but Liam grabbed hold of his arm and began to swing him around, dancing through the dark, whooping with power and the fun of his life. William tried to suppress the unseemly display, but then allowed Liam to propel and play with him. The sensation of spinning in the dark was intoxicating; it made William's head spin again and to each spin, Liam whispered intently, 'Power, power, power,' until William was dizzy with Liam's presence.
Finally, panting, William pulled away, laughing. Liam snatched him back and pressed him against the wall. 'Kiss me, Will.'
'Oh, yes….' He tore at Liam's mouth, aroused beyond caring whether they could be observed. What did that matter? Liam was power, and nothing could defeat him. He pulled away then came back to the sensuous mouth. Liam cupped William's backside and pulled them together so their erections rubbed against each other. William groaned, and as his eyes dilated, he murmured, 'Can we go home, Liam? I w-want you.'
'Do you? Well, maybe you can have me one day, Will, but not tonight. We have more to do.'
'More people to save?'
Liam laughed uproariously. 'Yes, quite right. More people to save. So, let's get saving, shall we?'
William nodded faintly. He wanted to go back to Liam's bed and…. Once more, he could not complete the act in his head, but each time he thought of it, it progressed infinitesimally in his mind. Now, after Liam's display of his power, William thought he might even like to place his lips reverentially to Liam's penis, to worship at that core of his masculinity, but that was so shocking a thought that he was almost glad Liam prevented it and dragged him on through the dark night.
They came to the river, and Liam pushed him into the dark under one of the bridges. William looked around nervously. Only a fool came to these places after dark. He had heard of men's throats being slit for the shoes they wore, and even with Liam's imposing presence, he fingered his purse anxiously. After a few minutes, they heard the sounds of a struggle, suppressed cries, grunts, and then a dragging sound. Liam grinned at William, and his teeth stood out unnaturally white in the dark night. 'Time to choose again, Will.'
'What do you mean?'
'Can you hear the soft grunts?'
'No. Yes. What's this all….'
'Take a look, Will. They won't hear us; they are too engrossed in her.'
'Oh, God, no!' William pulled away and went further under the dark bridge.
Three men knelt on the ground around the body of a woman. William could not tell if she was still alive, for she seemed as still as the dead. It was only when he slid silently to the side, where the light from one small lantern shone on her face, did he see that she was very much alive, but that fear and pain held her captive in their twin embrace. He sucked in his breath at what the men were doing to her, and as one, they turned their heads to look at him. He blinked and felt that time stood still. He felt no fear. He did not have power, but Liam did, and as he was with Liam, he felt powerful, too. He held out his hand in the dark and felt Liam's cold one come to his. 'What will it be, Will? What do they deserve for this? Shall I end this for her.'
'Shall I make it quick and easy for them?'
'Oh, yessss, shall I make it hurt?'
'As they have hurt her, yes.'
So, Liam did. The men who knelt to the woman in the dark discovered what it was like to be penetrated. They discovered the smell of fear; they found out how their bodies betrayed them when the pain became intolerable.
William, who had helped the woman out from the scene of such violence, saw only part of what Liam did to her attackers. He only heard a few muffled screams, and when he deposited the woman near a more populated part of the riverbank and tried to return, he found his way blocked by the dark presence that was Liam. Liam pressed him to the slimy wall of the bridge and kissed into William's hair. He rubbed them together once more. William groaned. 'Please, Liam, I think I shall die if I cannot lie with you now.'
'Does this excite you, my love? Did you feel the eroticism of the power you had over them?'
'I don't know. I only know I want you, Liam. I feel….'
Liam stifled him with a kiss, and William smelt the power rising off Liam's clothes like steam. He pulled his mouth away. 'Can we go home now?'
Liam laughed. 'You should,' and with that, he made another of his startling exits, leaving William alone. He looked around at his surroundings and knew that he should feel fear… but Liam was gone. He knew he should be cautious returning home… but Liam was gone. He knew he should avoid the dark places and seek the light, but Liam was gone, and none of it mattered. Liam was his courage; Liam was his strength, and Liam had become the focus of his existence. He made it home and remembered not one moment of the journey. He went to his rooms and shed his filthy clothing. He stood naked by an open window, crying for the shadow that had promised to be his but would not come to him.