A Soul's Worth

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Chapter Two

The man—he supposed you could call it a man—that hunched in front of Warren in the flickering light peered up at him from under a thick black cloak caked with grime and old blood. Dust had long ago settled in the lines under his eyes, and his breath stank of spoiled meat as he wheezed in Warren’s face.

“My name is Warren Hayward,” he said, holding in the retch that threatened to erupt from his stomach. “I came here with Sir Edmund Bennett some months ago. He was asking about golems?”

“The ambitious fool,” the old man cackled, tilting his head and peering sideways at Warren like a bird. His voice was rough and quiet, making his thick Welsh accent even more difficult to understand. His gaze went past the young man to his companion and his burden.

“I’ve brought you a...a gift,” Warren tried, watching the bent figure cautiously. The Llewan were unpredictable—they were just as likely to chat as to kill Warren and Ben where they stood, surrounding them and suffocating them. “Sir Bennett has passed, and it would be...troublesome for me if people were to know. I thought you would rather have his body than see it rot away uselessly in a grave.”

A tremor of excitement seemed to pass through the old man, and he pushed by Warren with a waft of putrid air. Ben was glad to drop the body on the ground and step away from it, leaving the elder to paw at the blanket. When Sir Bennett’s body was revealed, the Llewan recoiled with a hiss.

“No blood,” he spat, glaring up at Warren as though he might be hiding it.

“The spell that killed him required more of himself than he realized,” he explained, taking a careful step back and meeting the tunnel wall. “I thought perhaps you might still find a use for it. The—the bones, or the heart?” He exchanged a glance with Ben, shrugging helplessly in response to his questioning glare.

The old man hummed and pondered, prodding at Sir Bennett’s body and inspecting his limbs. “A powerful witch,” he decided at last, and Warren let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “We appreciate this gift, Warren Hayward. You may leave our home in safety.”

“Thank you,” Warren answered even as Ben was turning him by the shoulder and urging him back down the dark corridor. A creeping, scuttling sound began behind them, but Ben kept Warren’s gaze ahead of them with a strong hand on the top of his head.

“Nothin’ any good man needs to see is ‘appenin back there,” he said grimly, walking swiftly back the way they came.

At the entrance, Warren shut the cellar door behind them and it instantly vanished, perfectly camouflaged by sawdust and footprints. He blew out the token in his hand and slipped it back into his pocket, and he climbed back up into the seat of the autocar while Ben locked the warehouse door.

“Do I have to get back in there?” Ben asked, standing in front of the coach door and looking up at Warren plaintively.

“It’s too suspicious otherwise,” Warren insisted.

Ben grunted, mumbling, “Could’ve at least let it air out a bit while we were skulking about,” as he settled inside.

The engine lasted the entire drive back to the manor, and Warren parked the autocar inside the back gate and unlocked the house. Cam stood just inside the door, startling him into a shout.

“Did you have a successful trip?” it asked pleasantly.

“Yes, thank you,” Warren answered with a sigh as he collected himself. He glanced at the clock ticking on the wall and then to Ben. “Shouldn’t you be getting home? It’s rather late.”

“Mr. ‘Ayward is sorely mistaken if he thinks he’s sendin’ me away on the first night he has this massive house to ‘imself. For one thing, I’m in desperate need of a bath. Per’aps these clothes ought to be thrown in the furnace as well,” he added with a grimace as he lifted the front of his jacket to smell it.

Warren paused, glancing down the hall into Sir Bennett’s comfortable home. He’d thought in a panic that he’d had to conceal his master’s death simply to enable himself to stay in London, but now that the sordid deed was done, he had no idea what to do. How long could he reasonably keep Sir Bennett’s death a secret? If nothing else, his parents would eventually hope to hear about his progress.

He could keep the household running indefinitely, he supposed, and forge any documents that needed a signature. Perhaps he could. Perhaps this could be his house. After a reasonable amount of time, Sir Bennett could go on a trip and have some terrible accident, leaving everything to his humble apprentice. He and Ben could live here together—some excuse could be made for it, surely. He found himself smiling despite the grisly events of the evening, earning himself a curious look from his lover.

He waved away Ben’s unspoken question and turned back to the golem. “I don’t suppose you need to sleep, do you?”

“I don’t think so,” it answered with a blink of its aperture eyes.

“Why don’t we call the workshop your room, for now,” Warren suggested. “You’re welcome to any books, or...I don’t know, anything else you might want. I just ask that you please don’t leave the house, at least until we can find out more about you.”

“I will not leave the house,” Cam agreed with a nod. “Thank you for giving me a room.”

“Of course.” He watched as the machine turned on its heel and almost seemed to hurry back upstairs, the workshop door closing quietly shortly after he was out of sight.

“Now that the abomination has been tucked in, I’m having a bath,” Ben announced, and he walked toward the master bath without hesitation, dropping his heavy belt on the floor and stripping away his fetid jacket as he went.

This could be every day, Warren thought as he watched him go. They could stay here, together, where no one would bother them. There would be no more hasty kisses in the garden, no more creeping through the house in the middle of the night to avoid waking Sir Bennett just so that they could have a moment’s privacy. There would be no more fear.

Warren followed Ben down the hall and through the master bedroom to the bath—he’d dreamt since he’d arrived of soaking in that rub, rather than rinsing himself off in the shallow washbasin in his quarters. Ahead of him, Ben was unbuttoning his shirt while the hot water poured into the deep copper tub.

“Can’t a bloke get even a minute alone?” Ben teased, grinning over his shoulder at the other man. They had so little occasion to be together without worry, especially outside of the darkness of Warren’s cramped room. In the light, Ben’s physique could be properly appreciated, and Warren took advantage of the opportunity. He had a broad, strong back, with pink threads of scar tissue leading across his shoulder to where flesh became brass, fastened to the bone with heavy metal bolts. The skin where the two parts met looked a bit of a mess, but Warren rather liked it.

He’d been clearing out the building of residents long after his superior had called for him to give it up, and he’d suffered the consequences. He was lucky to be alive. The accident had happened shortly after they had met, and Warren remembered Ben sitting in the darkness of Warren’s room after his surgery, carefully touching his thumb to each of his fingers in turn over and over again and filling the quiet night with the soft whirring of tiny gears.

Ben had his work cut out for him as a constable in London who also happened to be a witch—Warren didn’t know which of his higher-ups knew about it, but he and the two other witches in the city’s employ worked the Heolstran road exclusively, keeping the dingy, magic-ridden street under control. It meant that despite all of Warren’s learning on his own and under Sir Bennett, Ben knew more dangerous magic than he likely ever would. Still, a worry never crossed his mind. Ben was one of the gentlest souls he had ever known.

“You aren’t the only one who needs a bath,” Warren said with a smile.

“I’m the only one what’s been ridin’ about in the back of a carriage with Sir No-Longer-With-Us. As much as I relish the idea of doing things to you in that old bastard’s house that would get us both arrested, I really do need a good scrub.”

“Of course,” Warren agreed immediately, pulling the strap from his hair to let it loose and beginning to unbutton his shirt. “But there won’t be enough hot water for both of us. The tub is large enough. We’ll just bathe, and you can stay the night, if you like. I understand the guest room is quite comfortable.”

Ben frowned, but his eyes were on the copper-red tips of hair touching Warren’s shoulders as he slipped his arms from his sleeves and let the shirt drop to the tiled floor. He snorted and turned away from the sight, quite pointedly dropping his trousers and stepping into the steaming water. He let out a groan as he sank into the tub, letting his arms dangle over the edges to keep his mechanized one out of the water.

“Nope; I don’t know if there’s any room for you, mate.” He stretched out his legs and peeked back at Warren with a grin.

“I’m sure I can squeeze in,” he answered, keeping his pale blue eyes on the other man’s as he shed the rest of his clothing. Moving carefully, he stepped into the tub with his feet on either side of Ben’s hips, and he settled himself quite comfortably in the other man’s lap.

“You are incorrigible,” Ben grunted out, but his good hand had already found Warren’s waist, gripping him tightly. He was forced to keep the other out of the reach of the water, which visibly frustrated him. “Didn’t your master die today? Didn’t we visit a disgusting ‘ole full of cannibals today? Don’t you feel anythin’ at all?”

Warren smiled as he leaned over the man beneath him, lightly resting his forehead against his. “I feel free,” he whispered, and he caught Ben’s lips in a kiss that quickly led to a hand in his hair and splashing water as he was tugged tightly against the other man’s chest. His master had died today, and he didn’t care. A golem was creeping around in the attic, and he didn’t care. All the unpleasantness of the day was forgotten, replaced with promises of a liberated future.

He ran his hands down Ben’s chest, fingers lightly trailing through the thick hair and over the hard muscle there. Ben’s familiar shudder made him smile through their kiss as he wrapped his fingers around his lover’s quickly stiffening shaft, squeezing and touching him until his quiet groans grew almost too much to bear. He ground their hips together and nipped at the other man’s lips, gasping and chuckling low in his throat as Ben wrapped an arm around him, allowing his practiced fingers access to Warren’s sensitive entrance.

Ben grinned at him when Warren had to stop his attentions in favor of leaning his head on his shoulder and panting lightly against his neck, his back arching against the familiar touch. He remembered himself quickly and put a warning hand on Ben’s firm chest as he sat back out of reach of his wandering hands. The older man’s protest quickly dissolved into a low moan as Warren’s grip found him again, pulling and squeezing him at an exhaustingly slow pace. He got his fingers around both of them at once, just barely, using his hips to add pressure and friction between them.

He teased for as long as he could, until Ben begged under his breath for release. This was how Warren liked him. Eyes shut, knuckles white around the rim of the tub, whimpering and twitching his hips at every slight movement. At least he had enough presence of mind not to crush the porcelain with his brass hand. As he finally sped up, Ben reached up with one hand to pull him down by the back of his head and hold him in a crushing kiss, both of them short of breath and trembling until finally Ben groaned out his climax. Warren followed soon after, and he collapsed on top of the other man, sending a bit of water sloshing over the side. He chuckled as he felt Ben’s chest rise and fall beneath his cheek in a great sigh and his warm hand patting him affectionately on the head.

They lay like that for a while, quietly entwined, until the water grew too cool to be called a bath any longer. Warren finally lifted his head, placed a soft kiss on the other man’s lips, and murmured, “Now let’s get you that scrub, and then I’ll let you see how comfortable the guest room is.”

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