A Soul's Worth

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Chapter Twenty

Over the next few days, Ben did his fair share of sulking around the house, and Warren watched him with concern. He knew he had pushed it with the blood magic as far as Ben’s approval was concerned, and the matter certainly hadn’t improved his opinion of the Travers. He’d heard Ben call Simon a name when he thought no one was listening—maleficum. A deprecatory name for a man who did blood magic. No doubt Ben had his suspicions as to where Warren had picked up the trick that had left Callaway in a near coma.

Ben was handling all of the change rather well, actually, Warren thought—moving into a new house, his lover associating with known criminals as well as becoming engaged. He supposed he couldn’t blame him for a bit of sulking. While Warren had been reaping the benefits of high society living, the only real change in Ben’s life had been his address. Even then, he still had to maintain his flat for secrecy’s sake. Warren had been neglecting him.

He pondered what he could do that Ben would approve of—a simple gift wouldn’t do. Ben wasn’t a very material person. He might refuse any gift he gave in any case. Ben was terrible at receiving gifts, even on his birthday—he once flat out demanded that Warren return a pocket watch meant for him, simply because he had seen it in a shop and knew the price. Warren could have bought him a thousand of those tin pocket watches now and barely noticed, but at the time, seven and six had been simply too much money to spend.

It needed to be something more substantial—something that would truly make him happy and make him forget the unpleasantness of the wedding.

Warren knocked on the door to the Travers’ room one afternoon while Ben was out, and he took a seat at the small desk in the corner when they received him. Owen lounged on his bed on his stomach, apparently sleeping off the previous night’s outing, and Simon sat with his back to the wall with a glass of water on one knee.

“Bad evening, gentlemen?” Warren chuckled. “Or a good one?”

“Never one without the other,” Simon mumbled into his glass while Owen let out a muffled grunt. “What can I do for you, Hayward?”

“I need to remove someone from the equation.”

“So do it,” Simon said. “You did fine with Callaway.”

“No. Not with magic; Ben can’t know that I’m responsible. He’d suspect me immediately if he thought there was blood magic involved.”

“Who is this person?”

“Well, I’m hoping that you’ll tell me, actually,” Warren said. “How well do you know the police station?” Simon snorted, and Warren held up a hand. “I mean do you know who Ben works with? I’ve heard him mention Mulryan, and another...I think Bailey?”

“I ‘ate that bastard,” Owen mumbled through his pillow.

“We’re familiar with them,” Simon added.

“What about his superiors? Are there more witches?”

The Irishman paused. “The Sergeant isn’t—but he knows. I can’t think of his name. But the Detective Inspector, Abbott, he’s a witch for sure. He only comes out when there’s real trouble on the road. We’ve run into him a handful of times, and the men on the road always give him a wide berth.”

“A danger to the workin’ man,” Owen piped up as he settled deeper into the blankets.

Warren paused, lightly drumming his fingertips on his chin. “Do you think you could get to him?” he asked after a moment.

“Get to him?” Simon asked with a raised eyebrow, and Owen twisted and sat up to join in the stare.

“Do you think you could cause him to have an accident?”

Owen laughed. “What, the Detective Inspector? I’d like to give ‘im an accident all right.”

“With Abbott gone, there would be a vacancy for a witch to fill,” Simon murmured. “You’re hoping that the constable will be promoted.”

“Do you think that’s likely?”

The twins exchanged a brief glance, and Owen shrugged. “T’would probably be him, eh? Bailey’s too young, and some days I’m surprised Mulryan’s got ‘is boots on the right feet. Your constable’s the only one with any sense, pains me to say.”

“You’re asking us to kill the Detective Inspector that oversees the Heolstran road, Hayward,” Simon pointed out, and Warren shook his head.

“I don’t want you to kill him. Don’t do anything that’s going to draw too much attention. I just need him to retire. Without magic.”

“Tricky,” Owen mumbled, scratching at his stubbled chin. “Would mean the constable wouldn’t be out beatin’ the street, wouldn’t it? Better for us.”

“I’ll pay you a bonus, of course. Can you do it?”

The brothers seemed to consider together without the need for words, and then Simon shrugged. “We’ll find out, won’t we?”

“I suppose I can’t ask for more than that. If you can’t do it without it coming back to us, don’t do it at all.” Warren stood and left them to their recovery, making his way down to the workshop to oversee Cam’s construction of the newest golems.

Ben came to the house all in a flurry only three days later, laughing and catching Warren in a deep kiss as soon as he reached him. “You won’t believe it, love.”

“What won’t I believe?” Warren asked with a smile once Ben actually released him.

“Inspector Abbott,” he began, and then he cleared his throat and put on an appropriately somber face. “Inspector Abbot had to step down from his post.”

“Why would he do that?”

“It only happened last night. Apparently ‘e stepped out into the street after a late supper and got run over by an autocar. He’s fine, he’s fine,” Ben said quickly in response to Warren’s look of concern. “Well—not too fine, since he ‘ad to step down on account of ‘is legs not workin’ anymore. But ‘e’s alive, is what I mean. The Captain said ‘e expects ‘im to come out the other side all right. But we can’t not ‘ave an Inspector, can we?” Ben was practically bursting at the seams to tell his news—Warren hadn’t seen a smile like that in his lover’s face in some time.

“No, I suppose not,” Warren said with mock ignorance. “What will they do about it, then?”

“Well—” Ben paused for dramatic effect and then cleared his throat and put his shoulders back as he stood up straighter. “There’s a new Detective Inspector in charge the the Heolstran road.”

“You?” Ben nodded, and Warren smiled and leaned up to kiss him again. “That’s wonderful.”

“Oh, Farnham was furious,” Ben laughed, pacing the room with restless excitement. “He’s the Sergeant, you know. By rights it should have been ‘im. But ‘e’s no witch, and the Captain told me in private that ‘e didn’t want someone in charge who didn’t know anythin’ about magic. So it’s me.”

“Does this mean you don’t have to wear your uniform anymore?”

Ben paused. “I suppose it does. Hell, what am I goin’ to wear? I ‘aven’t got anythin’ other than me uniform what doesn’t ‘ave ‘oles in it.”

“You don’t have to worry about that. Come along. We’ll get you sorted.” Warren tugged him down for one last kiss and then led him to the front door, calling for Cam on his way. The golem drove them to the tailor Warren knew on Savile Row, Ben complaining the entire ride about not spending any money on him.

“You need clothes, Ben,” Warren sighed. “Don’t think of it as a gift. Think of it as a household expense. Everything that I have is yours, you know that.”

Ben turned to face Warren on the carriage seat, reaching up to run his fingers tenderly through his lover’s copper hair. “Maybe now I can keep up with you,” he murmured, and he leaned in to kiss him behind the safety of the darkly tinted windows. “Despite everything, you’ve really made a name for yourself. You’ve worked ‘ard, and I can’t say that I’ve agreed with all of your decisions, but you’ve accomplished so much.” He leaned his forehead against Warren’s with a small smile, the other man’s hand curling around his wrist affectionately. “I try not to be grateful for unfortunate things happening to other people, but Sir Ed endin’ up the way ‘e did was probably the best thing that could’ve ‘appened to you.”

“Second best,” Warren admitted, knowing that the syrupy affection would make the constable—the inspector—smile.

“I didn’t want to get left be’ind. But look at me,” Ben said, releasing Warren with a chuckle, “almost respectable.”

“Almost.” Warren smiled at him as the autocar rocked to a stop.

The tailor almost turned up his nose when he saw Ben’s scuffed and worn prosthetic arm, but he spotted Warren’s warning glare first and went about his conciliatory business. Warren waited patiently while the tailor made his recommendations, first taking Ben’s measurements and marking various templates with chalk, then dressing him in one of the ready suits available. Ben insisted that his new wardrobe not be especially grand—he said it wouldn’t do for his subordinates or his charges to see him in expensive finery. They wouldn’t take him seriously, he said.

The tailor dressed him in dark tones—browns, greys, blues—with simply-cut waistcoats and jackets without tails. He made orders for more suits and told Warren they could be picked up in a few weeks, but Ben left the tailor’s shop in slim, dark brown trousers and a hunter green waistcoat. The overcoat he chose had a tall collar and was long enough to brush the backs of his calves. Warren supposed he could get used to Ben not wearing the uniform if this is what he was going to dress like instead. His brass right hand showing out from underneath the sleeve of his dark jacket seemed more mysterious and distinctive than just dingy and scraped.

“A picture of professionalism and intimidation,” Warren complimented him as they left, and Ben even seemed to enjoy his new attire, though he tugged self-consciously on his waistcoat on his way back to the autocar. Warren managed to wait until Cam had shut the carriage door behind them before telling Ben how much he looked forward to undressing him, which earned him a soft smile and a long kiss.

“I’ll ‘ave to find someone to take my place, of course,” Ben pondered out loud. “‘Ave to try to find out if there’s anyone else with any magic in ‘em what could ‘andle the Heolstran road.”

“I thought there were very few witches who were police?”

“As far as I know,” Ben shrugged. “But who knows if some of the younger ones are just keepin’ it secret? We found Bailey a few months ago completely by accident.”

“Perhaps you need to do a bit of recruiting.”

Ben chuckled. “You lookin’ to change careers, love?

“No thank you. I can think of much better ways to spend my time than walking up and down the Heolstran road all day and night. Does this mean you’ll be at home more?”

Ben hesitated. “I’m not interested in desk work, but I suppose I’ll ‘ave to do more of that, won’t I?”

“It’s safer,” Warren reminded him. “I won’t worry about whether it’s your blood or someone else’s I’m cleaning out of your joints.”

Ben flexed the fingers of his prosthetic hand with a soft whirring of gears. There had been too many nights when he had shown up at Sir Bennett’s back gate with a bloody lip, a charred shirt, and a gummed-up arm. Chasing someone down on the Heolstran road was often more complicated than simply catching someone in the side of the head with a billy club. He had his electroshock device, but it wasn’t much use against men who could make lightning in their own hands. Warren had sat up with him on numerous occasions, shut in his tiny servant’s quarters, attempting to clean the blood and dirt out of Ben’s machinery in the dim lamplight. He had nearly lost his mind after the accident. Ben watched him now, calmly riding along in his autocar that cost hundreds of pounds, and he almost wondered where the timid boy had gone.

Ben had been asked to investigate a disturbance on the West End almost three years ago, back when his arm was made of flesh instead of brass. The neighborhood was well out of his usual patrol, but apparently the Captain knew the owner of the house to be a witch, so sent someone who could reasonably deal with whatever the problem turned out to be.

The old woman next door had called the police after hearing a loud bang from the adjacent house—likely nothing of consequence in the home of a witch, but she doubtless would have continued to call until she saw an officer investigate. Ben knocked on the door and found himself face to face with Warren Hayward for the first time. He was barely twenty-one, and Ben himself only twenty-six. Warren had a bit of chalk dust on his shirt and a smear of soot on his face, and he had answered the knock timidly, peeking around the door with a servant’s smile.

Ben couldn’t be sure that he didn’t already love him then. Something in the way he smiled, like he was always keeping secrets, or the way he kept pushing his coppery hair back behind his ear as it fell out of its strap. Ben had maintained his decorum, politely asking for the master of the house and quickly confirming that it had only been an accident during an experiment—no injuries. Sir Bennett had been short with him, as he was with everyone, but Warren had played the good lad and offered him tea despite Sir Bennett snapping at him that nobody had time for such things. Ben refused as politely as he could, desperately watching Warren for any sign that he might be interested in return. He caught Warren looking at him out of the corner of his eye as he spoke to Sir Bennett, the younger man’s bottom lip caught nervously in his teeth. As soon as the two men caught each other’s gaze, Warren had turned away and busied himself with straightening a stack of paper on Sir Bennett’s desk.

It was a dangerous risk to show any sort of romantic intention toward another man, but as Ben stood on the front step of Sir Bennett’s house, he took a chance and reached out to put his hand on Warren’s to stop him shutting the door. Warren had looked at him like a startled cat, quickly glancing over his shoulder to make sure Sir Bennett had already retreated to his workshop.

“May I see you again?” Ben had asked him, quietly, standing close to the open door to hide their touching hands from any passers-by.

Warren had hesitated, and for a moment Ben wondered if he had completely misinterpreted the younger man’s staring. He was just about to clear his throat and apologize, perhaps make up another explanation for his strange behavior, when Warren said, “Be at the back garden gate at ten o’clock.” Then the door shut between them, and Ben had been unable to concentrate on anything else for the rest of the day.

Warren treated him like he was disposable those first few nights—Ben had the sneaking suspicion that the other man hadn’t had much experience with anything but passing trysts, which was confirmed when Warren mentioned to him that he had grown up in a coaching house in Huntingdon. But Ben persevered, because every moment that he spent with the other man, he loved him more. He was patient with Warren’s skepticism and understanding of his distance and distrust; he knew too well how easy it was to lose someone in a world where every kiss was a crime and every love a punishable offense. It was perfectly reasonable for Warren to treat the arrangement as temporary. Ben’s only previous relationship had ended when the other man had found religion and renounced his sinful way of life. He had worried for a time that he would be turned in, but it seemed that the other man’s newly charitable nature had won through.

Every visit, however, every touch and quiet conversation had convinced him that what they had was worth the risk. Ben had never felt more at home than he had in Warren’s small room, hidden from his master and the rest of the world. It was easy with him. They had the same sense of humor and the same low class background, and Ben loved hearing Warren go on and on about what a grand future he was going to have just as soon as Sir Bennett gave him the chance.

Now they had their own house—one that, in spite of everything they had going against them, they could call their home. Warren owned it his very own self, and Ben came in through the front door. They sat together now on the chaise in the parlor, talking about what the new promotion would mean, and Ben didn’t notice the silent nod that Warren gave the Travers as they passed through the room.

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