A Soul's Worth

By TS_Barnett All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Horror

Chapter Twenty-Four

A week from Monday, Warren waited at the train station like a dutiful son, ready to collect his parents and escort them to their hotel. Cam stood by, passing the time by inspecting the ticket machines, and Elizabeth stood beside Warren with her arm in his, having graciously agreed to play along with the visit.

“I don’t suppose you’ll be telling either of them anything remotely true for their entire trip, will you?” she asked blandly as she gazed down the terminal to watch for the arriving train. “I suppose they’ll be happy about your genius invention, if nothing else.”

“Yes,” Warren agreed, but he wasn’t at all sure. He was banking on his mother not being able to tell the difference between a regular automaton and a golem, but the possibility remained. He only hoped that if she did notice, he would be able to lie to her as effectively as he had Ben when it came to what powered the machines.

The train chugged its way into the station only slightly late, announcing itself with the deep sound of its whistle and pouring smoke out of its stack as the engine began to slow. The train was gleaming brass, a relatively new construction that ran the entire length of the country and was said to have the fastest cars in the world. It would have taken the better part of a day to take a coach from Huntingdon, but the train took little more than an hour. It was much more expensive, of course, but Warren had assured his mother that he would pay for the tickets.

The brakes screeched as the train stopped alongside the terminal, and a final puff of smoke erupted as the engine thudded to a stop. The doors opened, and people filed out in a crowd, most of them looking much better-dressed than Warren expected his parents to be.

As anticipated, a rather hastily put-together couple stepped down from the train, one of them bustling along and the other decidedly not. Anna Hayward was quite short, and growing a bit rotund as she aged. She was also quite clearly the source of Warren’s dark copper hair, accentuating the rosiness of her pale cheeks, the long locks tied up in a tidy bun at the base of her neck. His father, Mason, was broad-shouldered and lean, with a stoic, wrinkled face and large, calloused hands. They didn’t look like they belonged together.

Warren’s mother barely contained herself as she waved across the terminal at her son, tugging her worn shawl tighter around her plump shoulders as she hurried across the platform to him. Elizabeth preemptively detached herself from Warren’s arm, allowing him to be hugged and kissed on either cheek as soon as the older woman reached them.

“You’re a sight, darling,” the woman said with a laugh, steadying Warren by his shoulders as she released him and giving him a long look up and down. “Look at you, in such fancy clothes!” She smiled broadly as Elizabeth unintentionally drew her attention. “And this must be the lucky woman, yes?”

Elizabeth stopped Warren’s mother from breaching propriety by immediately offering her hand and saying, “How do you do, Mrs. Hayward?”

“How do you do, Mrs. Hayward,” she answered with a bright smile as she took the younger woman’s hand. “I’m so glad to meet you, even if it is later than it should have been.”

Warren shook his father’s hand without a word, but Mason’s eyes were on the golem that trotted up behind his son.

“Hello, Mr. Hayward,” Cam said politely as it offered to take the man’s luggage.

“What’s this?” Anna turned away from beaming at Elizabeth to peer at the machine.

“It’s an automaton, mum. They’re very popular in the city.”

“Your son has made quite a name for himself selling these, Mrs. Hayward,” Elizabeth chimed in.

“Selling them? My word, darling, where do you get them?”

“I build them, of course,” Warren said quickly, waving off the question and urging Cam to take up the rest of the bags. “We have a lot to catch up on. Let’s get you to your hotel, shall we?” He led them back to the newly-purchased autocar—one with a nice long inside, as Owen had suggested—and opened the door to the carriage while Cam loaded the luggage.

Warren put on a polite smile as he helped first his mother, then Elizabeth, but he felt a chill as his father approached the door, his dark eyes staring steadily at him as he climbed into the carriage. Warren knew the look. He’d never been able to keep secrets from his father.

The hotel suite Warren had rented for his parents was probably larger than their lodging at home, and definitely grander. His father huffed and grumbled about the cost under his breath while his mother touched everything in the room, sighing and telling Warren over and over again that he shouldn’t have.

“I’m always within reach if you need anything,” Warren said, and he handed his father his card and got a skeptical look in return.

“You’ve more explanation due to us than I expected, darling,” his mother said as she settled on the plush sofa. “Shall we make some tea? Oh, I suppose we’d have to send up for it here, wouldn’t we?”

Cam happily volunteered to be of service and dashed out of the room, but Elizabeth softly cleared her throat.

“I do apologize,” she said pleasantly, “but I have a long-distance conference with the members of my father’s board. Difficult to organize these things across the Atlantic, you understand. I’m sure we’ll get the chance to visit later on.”

“Oh, a conference, is it?” Anna swatted at Warren with her handbag as he took a seat near her. “Couldn’t even tell us your new wife is a businesswoman, could you?”

“I’m quite sure we’ll make up for it,” Elizabeth said with a polite smile, and she gave the couple a dainty little curtsy before excusing herself.

“All right then, young man,” Anna began sternly as soon as the door was closed, “get explaining. How did you meet a woman like that? What are you doing selling machines like that other one? How can you afford to put us up here and live in Belgrave Square?”

Warren took a deep breath, hesitating to give his father time to take a seat, but he didn’t. Warren settled for merely avoiding his gaze while he started as near to the beginning as necessary. He told them the real reason that Sir Bennett had died—that Cam walked and talked because of his sacrifice. He told them about his experiments, leaving aside the gory details, and concluded that he had managed to find just the right spell for creating the legendary automatons without the need for blood. He pointedly avoided his father’s eyes as he divulged this detail, and he hurried on to say that the demand was quite high, and he was working himself day and night to keep up.

“They’ve no idea what they have, do they?” his mother asked as the suite door opened and Cam appeared, carrying a heavy tea tray. She held out a hand to stop the golem from pouring the tea. “Come here, please.”

Cam obediently stood in front of her while she inspected him, gingerly touching his cool metal body and looking into his bright aperture eyes. “It doesn’t remember anything from before? About poor Sir Bennett?”

“Doesn’t seem to,” Warren said, and Cam shook its head.

“Warren Hayward tells me that Sir Bennett died to create me, but I do not believe I am Sir Bennett. I have no memories of being human. I am me. I am Cam.”

“I decided to keep him, rather than sell him, since he’s...the real thing,” Warren said, risking a glance over at his father. “I don’t think the other ones are quite as self-aware,” he added quickly under Mason’s narrow gaze, “but they do speak and learn better than any other automaton on the market.”

“Oh, you must be so careful, darling,” his mother said, lightly patting Cam on the arm and thanking it for the tea it poured. “You don’t know the risk you’re taking, showing something like this to the world. What if someone finds out the truth?”

“I do give them insides,” he objected. “They look like proper machines. Who in their right mind would ever suspect magic, in any case?” His father stared silently at the golem as it handed him a cup of tea, and Warren cleared his throat once and attempted to settle back casually into his chair. “It’s been months, mum. No one suspects a thing—they’re all too enamored with the idea of a mechanized butler. It’s fine.”

“I just worry for you. You know what they’d do to you if they found out.”

“I know, mum. It isn’t an issue.”

Anna took one last look at Cam and gave a small sigh, and then she turned the conversation to the topic of marriage instead. She demanded to know how Warren had met Elizabeth, what she was like, what he loved about her the most, and countless other inane, pointless things. He told the story as best he could, occasionally taking artistic liberties with their courtship, and he finished by saying what he thought they would want to hear—that she was the best thing ever to happen to him, and that he anticipated a long and prosperous future with her. The detail about Elizabeth not being able to bear children could always come up later if need be, at a crucial and heartbreaking time.

“I’m so glad you’re happy, darling,” Anna said, leaning over to place a hand on her son’s knee. “I never would have imagined you’d do this well for yourself. We made the right decision after all, letting him go off with Sir Bennett, didn’t we, Mason?”

His father only gave a small grunt of agreement, his gaze on the bottom of his teacup.

“I’m so glad,” she said again, patting Warren’s knee quickly in a moment of exuberance. “I’m so glad that I won’t even bother you about grandchildren yet.”

“We should get settled in,” his father said quietly, the first words Warren had actually heard him speak in years.

“Oh, yes,” Anna agreed, and she leaned forward to set down her cup. “We won’t keep up your whole day, darling; I’m quite tuckered out from the trip myself. Lots of bustle and go taking a ride on the train, isn’t it? Be quite nice to take a bit of a breather for a few days.”

Warren stood and put his empty teacup on the tray, and he bent to kiss his mother on the cheek. “You should come for luncheon tomorrow. I’ll show you around the city a bit. Just ring when you’re ready and I’ll send Cam with the autocar.”

“All right, dear. We’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

Warren stopped to shake his father’s hand, but Mason ignored him, brushing by him to set his cup on the table. Just as Warren was about to give up, his father muttered, “I’ll walk ‘im out.” He put a rough hand on his son’s shoulder and led him to the suite door, waiting for Cam to follow them out before pausing just outside the doorway and pulling it just to behind him.

Mason leaned over to peek through the cracked door, clearly making sure his wife wasn’t listening, and then he turned back to stare at Warren with a hard face. “You’re a fool, boy, and you’re in over your ‘ead.”

“What are you talking about? I told you; I give them insides—”

“Might fool your mother wiv all ‘at,” he growled, glancing this way and that to check the hallway for eavesdroppers, “but you won’t fool me. You know an’ I know there’s no way to make a golem wivout spillin’ blood. What’ve you gotten into?”

Warren scowled, feeling like a child under his father’s gaze. “Why would I be into anything? Why lie about it?”

“Because you’re a greedy little shit an’ y’always ‘ave been, an’ I wouldn’t put it parst you to kill a man if you thought it would turn you a profit. There’s darkness in you, boy, an’ this city can make any man ruthless.”

“What do you know about me?” Warren hissed, leaning in close to his father to keep his voice low. “I wasn’t anything but free labor to you. You’re just sorry you lost the spare set of hands.”

“I know what I see,” Mason grunted, and he glanced back to the door. “Tomorrow, send your mother off with your new missus. We’ve got some talkin’ to do.” Before Warren could protest, his father had stepped back inside the suite and shut the door in his face.

“Is Warren Hayward in trouble?” Cam asked quietly.

“There isn’t anything he can do to me,” Warren spat, and he waved for Cam to follow him and stalked off down the corridor.

At the house, Warren spent his evening pacing the study, and this time it wasn’t worry that moved him, but anger. He had long ago given up on earning his father’s respect, and their conversation that morning may well have been the most words they had ever exchanged at one time, but Warren no longer felt the need to treat his father with respect that would never be reciprocated. Who was he, anyway, except a bitter old man who didn’t care about anything aside from his business? He didn’t even like his wife, and it had been clear throughout Warren’s entire life that his mother was the one in love—though with what, he couldn’t imagine.

Ben was an adequate sounding board for Warren’s wrath, though he couldn’t be told the whole story. Warren fabricated an argument in which his father warned him against using magic at all instead of revealing the truth to his favorite inspector. Ben listened patiently until he was quite sure Warren had worked out the worst of his bitterness, and then he moved to stand behind him and placed his hands on Warren’s shoulders. He bent to touch a light kiss to Warren’s neck, his rough hands pressing into the tense muscles of Warren’s shoulders.

“If you’re going to keep sayin’ there’s nothing to worry about, hadn’t you best stop worrying?” he murmured, nipping at the redhead’s earlobe and making him jump. “You said he doesn’t mean anything to you.”

“He doesn’t. He never has,” Warren grumbled. “I don’t care that he’s always been distant. But he chooses now to pretend as though he should have a say in anything that I do? It’s infuriating.”

“I can tell,” Ben chuckled, and he gently brushed Warren’s hair behind his ear to get better access to his neck. He smiled against his lover’s skin as he felt him shudder, and he let his hands slip slowly down Warren’s arms as he pressed close against him.

“You’re one to tell me not to worry,” Warren sighed, tilting his head with a small smirk as Ben’s teeth grazed him. “Have you finally finished grousing?” He chuckled as Ben bit him more sharply.

“I’m finished with you telling me I’m grousing because I don’t want to share our home with two thieves and your wife,” Ben muttered as he laced his fingers with Warren’s. “But I trust you. If you say this is the way it has to be, then this is the way it’s going to be. No more fuss.”

“That’s something I’m going to need you to promise,” Warren said with a chuckle as he leaned back against Ben’s chest.

“If you’re keeping all your promises, this one’s the least I can do you.” Ben gave Warren’s neck one last kiss before releasing him. “Now quit your grousing, will you? Your da’s just givin’ you an ‘ard time. You want I should be out of the house tomorrow, or shall I hide in the bedroom and listen through the door with a glass? Maybe ‘ave Cam come and give me the gossip as it ‘appens?”

“I wouldn’t dream of telling you how to live your life.”

“Any more than you already have.”

“Yes.”

Ben smiled at him, a real smile for the first time in what felt like ages, and Warren pulled him down for a kiss, determined to pay him back in kind for all the teasing he’d just endured. He led Ben backward by a hand on his chest until he was close enough to push him onto the bed, climbing on top of him and settling comfortably onto his lap as he deftly began to unbutton the other man’s shirt.

“I thought you were angry,” Ben chuckled, watching as Warren pulled his shirt open and shuddering as the redhead’s fingernails scraped sharply down his stomach.

“You’re a good distraction,” Warren murmured, bending to press a kiss to Ben’s chest as he worked the inspector’s belt undone. He helped Ben wriggle out of his trousers, laughing as the larger man sat up and easily flipped him over onto his back.

Ben kissed him like he always had—with eagerness, need, and care, and Warren realized quite how long it had been since they felt at ease with each other. Ever since the topic of marriage was brought up weeks ago, Ben had pulled away from him and accepted his affection in an irritatingly passive way. Perhaps it really was as Elizabeth said—as soon as it became clear that she wasn’t a threat to what he and Ben had, he had come around. Warren kept his favorite inspector close to him, accepting and returning every kiss and touch.

By the time they heard the sudden knock on the door, the blankets had been rumpled so severely that they were half spilled over the edge of the bed, and Ben jumped at the sound, causing a yelp from Warren as he jerked away with the redhead’s bottom lip still between his teeth. This brought on a hastily whispered apology, which caused a sharp thump to the inspector’s chest, which, in turn, led to Warren shushing Ben’s laughter while attempting to stifle his own.

“Your mother telephoned, Warren,” Elizabeth’s voice came through the closed door. If she could hear them inside, her voice gave away no amusement. “She wanted you to know that she and your father are going to dinner. I’m choosing to pretend that this has some special meaning between the two of you and that she didn’t actually just call to let you know of her intentions to eat today, but on the off chance that she did, it’s my hope that I’m disrupting your afternoon the way she did mine.”

Warren put a hand over Ben’s mouth before he could answer and just called out, “Thank you!” before hiding his face in Ben’s shoulder to laugh.

“Good night, gentlemen,” Elizabeth said, and Warren could practically see the dry smirk on her face as he heard her heels clicking on the hallway floor.

“She’s a bit of a bastard,” Ben muttered, already bending to nip at the tender skin on Warren’s shoulder. “I see why you get on.”

Warren flicked him sharply on his flesh bicep and pulled him down to kiss him again.

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