CHAPTER ONE: The Introductions
Halfway down Sandys Row in the district of Whitechapel, London is a stone house. Walking over the slimy, uneven cobbles, you mightn't even notice the place, it's grimy stone façade blending so well with the general landscape of grey structures and people. Thousands have passed it without a second glance.
But the house is set apart by one small feature. Next to the heavy front door, riveted onto the stone, is a small brass plaque, it's polished surface gleaming out against the dinginess of the neighborhood. "Warwick and Associates" is all it says, in crisp, no-nonsense lettering. A barrister, one would assume. A tailor maybe, or a banker?
But Warwick's is not a reputable institution. No. It is a refuge for the desperate, a lair of pleasure. A male brothel, home of decadence, luxury, sin and cherubic lads who will do anything (…for a small charge).
I've worked this place for two long years, since I was seventeen. Not that I'm complaining. If I wasn't here, I'd have starved long ago. Really not such a bad deal. Bryce is the name. Rowan Bryceton, actually. The short one, with the green eyes and spiky blonde hair.
Welcome to Warwick's. How can I help you?
If you did happen upon us, you would probably be taken aback. Stepping through the front door is like stepping into another world, leaving the abject poverty of Whitechapel behind for a lavish oasis. The front room is open, high-ceilinged and warm, bisected by a wide staircase, hidden from the outside world by heavy brocade curtains. To the right, there's a bar of heavily varnished wood where patrons sit on high stools. And to the left, soft couches on carved feet are clustered around an immense, arched fireplace, always blazing. The place might be an upscale club but for what goes on up the stairs.
There are always ten of us, give or take, working here. A small operation, but profitable nonetheless for old Warwick. At this particular minute, there are only two of us not working upstairs. It's around eleven, and I'm lounging in front of the fire with Fintan O'Flaherty. Finny, quintessentially Irish with his dark curls and glassy blue eyes, is one of the more popular rents. He's been here for almost four years, and still manages to look innocent as a babe. Most don't last as long as he has. Most don't last a month. I wouldn't have, if Finny hadn't taken me under his wing and taught me the tricks of the trade. He's my best friend. We even room together outside of work, in a shitty dive of an apartment above a shitty dive of a pub.
The two of us sit close to one another, sinking into the fluffy cushions of the sofa, chatting and teasing, my arm stretched out behind his shoulders. Everything in our apparent ease is calculated; coached and trained to look enticing, we have learned to nuzzle up to each other, to stroke, caress and flirt shamelessly. To attract the men who might pass through the door, we must be seraphs playing in a languid, elegant garden, with no cares in our pretty little heads.
The door opens with a sharp tinkle of bells, and both our heads swivel towards the sound. A man walks in. In his mid-thirties, he looks stiff and awkward, very apprehensive, as if he might bolt back out the door if someone should approach him.
"Oooh, a new bloke." Finny whispers to me, winking one long-lashed eye. They’re easy to spot, the ones who have never been here before, fresh blood. They always look scared, anxiously curious. "Want him?"
"Be my guest, love. I'm in no mood to teach him how it works. They're always so shy." It's true, most of them are usually blushingly nervous, children needing to be lead by the hand, step by step.
"Goody." His wry tone forces me to suppress a very undignified snort of laughter as he gets up and approaches the man, hips swaying professionally. In a moment, he has the guy's arm linked in his, leading him towards the rooms upstairs. There are ten of them, all the same. Bed, window, armchair, dresser and washbasin. Bare compared to the lounge downstairs, but they do the trick.
They stop at the bottom of the stairs, where old Warwick sits at his ornate desk. The gatekeeper to heaven, he's stout, red and bespectacled. He negotiates the price, takes the money, and then permits man and boy up the stairs. We're paid an allowance from him.
With Finny gone, the night bores me, slow and unchanging. Until one of my regulars arrives, smiling and a wee bit drunk. He's a good tipper, and I prance up to him shamelessly. He embraces me and rushes me past Warwick, tossing the rate that he knows by heart to the old man, practically dragging me up the stairs.
We find an empty room, light a candle, and get down to business. No pretenses with this one, we both know exactly what he wants because he's done me a hundred times. I'm careful with unbuttoning my shirt, because buttons are expensive. I win the clothes-off race, having done it much more often than the average person, and I lay them on the armchair, carefully flat. I only have one suit, and a rumpled rent-boy is a poor rent-boy.
I'm on my knees in front of him before he even has his shirt off, and I help him with his trousers. My fingers are expert with all manners of fastenings, and he's out of his trousers in no time.
I love the ones that are predictable. A little suck, and then I'm compliant on my back on the bed, my ankles resting on his shoulders, his short length sliding into me, hard and fast and intense.
In a minute, he's had his money's worth and, ducking out
from between my legs, he crawls up beside me, panting, and kisses me on
the forehead, his eyes starting to droop. I count the minutes in my head
until his breathing has taken on the soft, slow rhythm of sleep. Only then
do I pull away from him, my silent feet taking me over to the washbasin.
I hum softly as I dip the corner of a towel into the water and systematically
scrub my body down, thighs, chest, face. I try to slick my hair down with
water, looking at my reflection in the dirty panes of the window, but it
adamantly stays spiked in all directions. Sigh.
The door opens softly as I'm sliding back into my trousers, and Finny pokes his head around.
"All done?" Not more than a whisper, but I can hear the witty note in his voice.
"Yup. He's out cold"
"My, aren't we talented?" The door is wide open now, Finny's lithe body lolled against the frame. "Come on then. Warwick says we can go for tonight, it's almost midnight."
"One minute." I'm dressed now, with my eyes fixed on the bulk snoring on the bed. I pick up my client's expensive, tailored jacket, blind fingers rummaging in the pockets. I come up with a roll of bills, but I like the guy, so I peel off only a couple. He'll never even notice. I stuff them in my trouser pocket, put the rest back and head for the door, brushing against Finny as I pass him. He shuts the door behind me and we lope down the stairs.
"Let's get something to eat." I grab my hat and overcoat off the rack beside the front door, plucking my walking stick from the stand.
"Something to drink," he corrects me as we leave for the night.
CHAPTER TWO: The Pain
It's a bit past seven o-clock the next night when Finny and I get back to Warwick's, and a shitty night it is. In typical London fashion, it's raining. But not a hard, cleansing downpour. More of a depressing, soggy drizzle, which makes everything squelchy and mildew-smelling. Finny and I have one umbrella between the two of us, which means each of us gets half-wet which, granted, is better than getting fully wet.
We jog the few blocks from our room to work, over the slippery cobblestones and through the puddles. We burst into the warmth of the lounge with a flourish, a grand entrance if I do say so myself. The old man gives us a glare, glancing at the clock markedly at the elaborate grandfather clock in the corner. A few minutes past the hour. He likes us to be here on the dot of seven. We ignore him and strip off damp coats and hats, tossing them onto the hook-rack.
Four of the other boys are gathered around the fire, three on one couch and one sitting off to himself. The three together, Alfred, Anthony and John, turn to face Finn and I, laughing impishly. They are the picture of casualness, their bodies in close contact, legs and hands woven together into a forest of limbs. They could be triplets for their appearance is so similar, all of them with tawny curls, clear, pale skin and rosy, pouty lips. But Alfred is a bit taller, Anthony bigger through the shoulders and chest, and John more slight, more defined in bone-structure.
"Look what the cat dragged in!"
"What were they up to, d'you suppose? Looks as if they've been rolling about in the mud!" Elbows and giggles.
"Sod off!" Finny and I approach them with a smile, both of us melodramatically plunking down on the opposite sofa with simultaneous sighs. The other boy who I mentioned, the one who I have not described as of yet, sits next to us, straight-backed and unflinching, not joining in the fun.
He is a slight thing, freshly arrived from some Slavic country, Serbia I believe, only a few weeks before. Heaven knows how he heard about this place, he barely speaks the tongue. But heard about he did, and showed up on the doorstep asking for a job in broken, almost unintelligible English. Yuri Cosic, that's him. He's painfully shy and practically mute, which, for most boys in this line of business would be a career-killer. But he has one thing going for him: intoxicatingly gorgeous looks. He said that he's eighteen, but looks years younger, and he's blessed with glossy black hair which flops down over the flawless, dusky skin of his face and into his wide, dark eyes. He has an endearing way of catching his full lower lip in his teeth which makes the rest of us invisible when men are choosing who they want to take upstairs. Not that I'm jealous, I get more than enough business. Really! And there is something in Yuri's eyes every time, fear or dread maybe, that makes me pity him immensely for his popularity. We all try to keep him out of trouble, and we've managed for a few weeks.
Predictably, the first guy who walks through the door wants Yuri. This guy is a regular who hasn't been around lately, a nasty brute of a man who likes to play it rough. We usually draw straws to see who has to take him. But tonight his glance latches onto the small boy next to me, and he saunters over. Finny sees where he's heading and shakes his head almost imperceptibly at me, negotiating with me to keep the guy away from our innocent Yuri.
The man winks at Yuri, beckoning with one blunt hand, the gesture met with a look of mute terror. He gets up stiffly, taking the man's outstretched arm like a zombie, a trained poodle. He seems to know that something is wrong, that this one will not be easy.
The man, instead of taking his prize straight up to the play rooms, leads him across the wide room to the bar.
The five of us are hushed up, brows furrowed, no more laughter.
"Shit." Finny leans forward, elbows on his knees. "That is not going to go well. We should try…"
"Does he know how to make all the drinks?" Alfred breaks in, always the logical one. See, there is no bartender, just us. We're expected, as part of the Warwick's service, to be able to make any concoction imaginable, legal and not-so-legal.
"Feck. I didn't think of that." I grimace. "I showed him how to make some, but I'm not sure he'll remember all of them. Shit."
"C'mon." Finn drags me up and tugs me across the room, me trying to dig in my heels and stop him.
"What the hell are we going to do?" I'm whispering out of the side of my mouth as we walk. Warwick gives us a funny look.
"I dunno, just follow my lead."
Yuri is behind the bar, the guy sitting in front of him, elbows on the polished surface. We saunter up and surround the man, one leaning in on each side.
" 'Ello there!" We're both leaning in close to him, and Yuri watches us curiously from his position behind the bar. Finny takes the lead. "We were hoping you would reconsider your choice."
He looks at us for a minute. "Y'mean take one of you?" He shakes his
"Or both of us." I wink. "We'll do whatever you want."
"I just want 'im." He nods across the bar, the hope that had been in Yuri's eyes disappears and he bends to get a glass out of the cabinet .
"Look at the possibilities. Two of us for one price." Finny is laying it on thick.
"Look, you greedy louts. I want 'im, only 'im. Alone! Sod off!" We both straighten up, holding up our hands in defeat.
"Wanker." I mouth this at Finny behind the guy's greasy head, and he purses his lips and glares at me, trying hard not to guffaw. I tip my head at Yuri, and with a glance we have a plan to help him out, at least a bit.
"Well, if we can't get any business from this kind gentleman, at least make me a drink, doll." Finny says this a little too loudly.
"Anything for you, love!" I spar back, heading back behind the bar, close to Yuri, so that I can keep an eye on his drink-mixing without being obvious.
I bend to the cabinet and make a random grab, coming up with a fluted wine glass, and a sideways glance tells me that Yuri is trying to make absinthe; his lucky guy is looking for the green fairy. I mentally congratulate myself; I've shown him that one before, and he's doing well. He has half a glass of bright green liquid, but he looks unsure now. I start pouring into my glass from the first bottle my fingers touch, trying to send a silent message. Sugar! Sugar! To make it less bitter! But he doesn't know what to do.
I see the spoon he needs, within my reach but not in his. I pass it to him, and wink, trying to give him some confidence. I continue haphazardly pouring small amounts from different bottles into Finny's drink.
It does the trick. He sets it across the mouth of his glass, finds a cube of sugar and sets it in the well of spoon. I pass him the right bottle, and he pours the clear liquid over the sugar like a pro, watching the drink turn from bright and clear to milky and opaque green. He gives it a stir, and slips it across to the guy, visibly relieved that he managed. I pat him on the shoulder while his client is absorbed in guzzling his hard-wrought beverage.
But there's really nothing Finny and I can do now for him, so we head back to the others, me with the precariously full wine-glass balanced in one hand.
We shrug at them, and they understand. It's up to Yuri now, no matter what any of us do. Finn grabs the drink from me and takes a swallow.
"Shit!" He's coughing and his eyes are watering. "What the hell is in this, idiot?" He laughs at me, spilling a bit on his lap.
"I haven't a clue." We pass it around and everyone chokes at the disgusting mixture of mystery booze. Yuri is led up the stairs, which quiets us all down, and an unnatural somberness settles on our normally rowdy bunch.
But almost immediately I'm whisked off by a handsome man in a close-cut grey suit.
The upstairs hall is half-dark when I pad out of the room, letting my customer sleep off his exhaustion. A noise from behind startles me, and I half-turn before being rudely knocked into the wall.
"Watch…" But the knocker is already around the corner, heading down the stairs. My split-second glimpse of him as slid past me is burned into my mind, and the image of what I somehow know was blood on his hand makes my heart fall.
I race into the half-open door he came from at such a bent. I can only see the top of Yuri's down-turned head, and the tops of his slight shoulders. He's sitting on the floor, propped against the far side of the room's bed. The candle is still lit, sitting on a tiny table-stand next to him.
"Shit, shit!" I hiss to myself as I approach him, down crouching down in front before he knows I'm in the room. As I reach out to touch his shoulder, he whimpers, eyes fluttering opening, glinting in real fear. He cowers away from me.
"Yuri, Yuri, it's just me! Allright?" A shaky gasp of air escapes him, as he blinks in recognition, swallowing and breathing hard, but no longer trying to escape my light touch. His clothes are on the floor behind us, and he's totally exposed, knees drawn up against his chest, but both of us are well past embarrassment.
His nose is bleeding rather badly, blood dripping thickly down his chin, onto his chest and knees, mixed with streaming tears. I tug my handkerchief out of my sleeve and press it up to his face, and we sit awkwardly like this for a time, me rocking unsteadily on my haunches and him shaking, arms curled around himself, eyes open and pleading.
My hand is sticky and my shirtcuff spotty red by the time the bleeding stops. I pull away slowly, and toss the sopping rag on the floor. Yuri still hasn’t said a word, made even a sound except for the snarled gasp when I first reached out to touch him. I gently lift his chin with two fingers, examining the damage. The nose is definitely broken, kinked to the left just a bit, and his right eye is already starting to develop a purplish ring. The angel-perfect face is spoiled forever. When I release his chin, his head lolls down, eyes closed but still leaking tears. I have no idea what the hell to do.
"I'll get someone. Don't worry." He doesn’t respond as I get up.
I race down the stairs, confronting old Warwick.
"That wanker hurt him!" I gasp out.
"Is he dead?" The old man looks at me with cold eyes.
"No, but…" I'm cut off by a shrug. I entertain thoughts of killing the old bugger, strangling him slowly. "Won’t you alert the police?"
"For one of *you*?" His laughter is chilly. "They'd shut us down. Fix him. I need him to keep working." I'm incredulous.
"Finny!" I glare at Warwick for a measured second more, before turning to find Finn beside me, brows furrowed. He knows that something is up. But I'm on my way up the stairs already. "Get some ice, second door on the right" I call to him, and see him nod.
Yuri is in the same position as when I left him.
"Yuri, sweet, Finn's getting some ice." I have no idea how much he understands, if any. He doesn't look up. "You need to sit up on the bed."
He doesn't move, so I haul him up, hands gripping the sides of his narrow chest, setting him on the edge of the bed, noting the nasty bruises on the insides of his thighs and a raw, blood-oozing scrape stretching across his shoulder blades. His front is tacky with half-dry blood from his nose, from face to knees, and I can just see the two half-moons of a bite mark low on his belly. Not a pretty sight. His skin tells a story. The guy punches him in the face, throws him down onto his back on the rough floor, kicks him a few times. I don't even want to think about the bite mark...
"Christ!" Finn starts as he comes in. "He really did a number on him, didn't he." He's cradling bit of ice wrapped in a cloth.
I nod as Finn sits down and wraps his arm around Yuri, enveloping him in a comfort-hug. I walk to the dresser and pick up the heavy ceramic basin, trying not to shake and splash any water around as I set it at Yuri's feet.
"We need to clean him off." I grab a towel and wet the corner, wringing it out. I start with his face, sponging carefully, trying to spare his already-swelling nose. "Do you think it's broken?"
Finny leans in for a closer look, and nods. Quickly, catlike, he presses a thumb on either side and there's an audible crack as I turn away, unable to watch. Yuri howls, scratching at Finn, who again gathers him in an embrace, stroking his arm as he settles down.
"You have to set it, or you'll never be able to breathe right again." He says this more for my benefit than for Yuri, who's tears have started again with renewed force.
"You could have giving him some fookin' warning." I punch him in the knee.
"Nah. It's better fast. Caught unawares." Finny holds the ice to Yuri's nose. I shrug, continuing to work on the blood issue, wiping at Yuri's chest, the towel already rusty and mottled, but Yuri's dusky skin is coming clean. When I get to his stomach, his thighs he is still complacent, but noticeably more tense, turning to bury his face in Finn's shoulder. Finny starts humming something sweet into his ear.
"That's all I can get off." I wring the towel out into the basin. "What the hell are we going to do with him?"
"Take him home?"
"Where does he live?"
Finny shrugs, pursing his lips. "Dunno. Could we take him to our place for the night?"
"Do you want to come to our room for the night, Yuri?" I poke him to get his attention. "It's warm, and you can have my bed." I don't think he will respond, but he looks at me through liquid eyes and nods slightly.
Finn and I do our best to get him dressed without hurting him more than he already is. He looks so frail, so young.
"What are we going to say to the old man?" I finish buttoning Yuri's jacket.
"We're going to tell him that we're going home and to shove it up his bleedin' arse, that's what." Finn's words make me smile, and we set off, each on one side of Yuri.
But the old man say naught when we pass him at the bottom of the stairs, and Alfred, sitting by himself at the bar, nods at us understandingly. He knows.
It's not raining anymore when we get outside, but everything is wet, slippery, and all the eaves drip as we assist Yuri over the wet cobbles. The night is not quiet. Typically Whitechapel, rowdy catcalls and shouts from various brothels meet our ears, and we have to weed through groups of drunken people. We're almost home when a particularly determined harlot latches onto us, placing her quite-ample bulk directly in our path.
"You boys looking for someone?" She has bad teeth, but smiles widely
"No." Finn stares her straight in the eye, determined to stare her off, instinctively moving closer to Yuri between us.
"C'mon, you lovely laddies don't want t'have a lil' fun?"
"Sod off! We're not lookin'" I try to shoo her away, but she stands firm.
"All of you, for one price." She licks her peeling lips and winks.
"Look." Finn pushes Yuri back behind us and grabs my arm, tugging me close to him. He smiles at me in a funny way, and I realize what he's up to a second before he leans in to kiss me, mouth wide open and warm. He makes sure the girl in front of us gets a good view of his tongue pressing past my lips, violating the inside of my mouth. As we separate, and turn back to the whore, she looks horrified.
"Thanks, but we're really not interested." I cock my head at her and wiggle my eyebrows. "Sorry, love." She moves in a hurry, disappearing down a dark alley.
We collect Yuri, who is standing, albeit a bit shakily, on his own an arm's length behind us. He stares at us, shocked, and Finn and I both try to keep our faces emotionless, flat. But a smile begins to play at the corner of Yuri's lips, and he lets out a small giggle, which sends the Finn and I into spasms of laughter as we start to walk again.
"Did y'see the look on her fa-..." I can't finish, chest aching as we near our place. Up two steps, and we're in the tavern, curiously called "Fat Sam's" although the owner is an impossibly skinny man named Garrick. The stairs at the back lead up to our small room.
My key sticks in the stiff lock, and I fight with it for a minute before letting us in. Yuri surveys our room, which is not too impressive. Two beds crammed in the small space, a table stuffed in between, a closet with no door and a fireplace.
Finn gets a fire going as I point my bed out to Yuri, and he sits, tugging at his jacket, grimacing. It must be rubbing against his back. His face looks painful, swollen.
With a glance at Finn, we leave him alone, sensing that he might want some privacy. We head down to find something to eat.
"You can share my bed tonight, and he can have yours to himself." We're heading back up the stairs, only a bit tipsily. I nod.
When we arrive back, Yuri is curled up on my bed in just his under-trousers, the blanket kicked onto the floor. He seems asleep.
Without a word, Finn and I both peel off jackets, shirts, trousers.
I pick up my blanket and make to cover Yuri with it. His eyes open and
I see unadulterated fear in them for the second time that night. He's skittish.
But he reaches up to me, his arms open and pleading, or maybe demanding. Finn shrugs at me and covers his smiling mouth with one hand.
I hesitate, but slip under the blanket beside Yuri anyway, his compact
body surprisingly hard and warm against me. He turns his back to me and
snuggles against me on his side, his smaller body fitting perfectly into
the curves of mine. I'm careful not to jostle him as I wrap one arm around
him, settling my hand on the perfect plane of his hip.
CHAPTER THREE: The Past I
When I wake up the next morning, Yuri and I have somehow magically shifted positions on the bed. I started out on the outside, facing in but now my back is against the wall. My small bedmate is snuggled into a ball against me, knees up, hands curled protectively against his chin. His warm breath on my chest makes a patch of my skin moist and tingly. He radiates heat, a tiny furnace.
When I open my eyes, I can see that Finn is already up, sitting on the edge of the bed watching the two of us sleep. He's sees that I'm awake, and mimes his amusement, hands against his bare chest over his heart, and a smirk on his face. I glare and stick out my tongue.
I begin a feeble attempt to wriggle out of the bed without jouncing Yuri. Not that I wouldn't prefer to stay in bed all day, but I have a dreadful need to get out. Call of nature, you see. I bite my tongue in concentration, grimacing as I try to untangle my arms and legs, not wanting to wake him for fear that he might be embarrassed by the way we slept last night.
I almost make it. I've almost managed to slither my way out the end of the bed when I catch the blanket with an elbow, jouncing Yuri. I curse in my head as he opens his eyes Well, one eye. His right is swollen shut from his encounter last night., puffy and ringed in dark purple.
He looks stunned for a moment, unsure of where he is. But recognition settles over his face and he grins at me, languidly stretching stiff limbs. Apparently he's not the least bit self-conscious about the questionable sharing of my bed. No, he almost seems proud of himself, sitting up and yawning, cautiously pressing at his swollen face with his fingertips. His eyes stay locked to mine. I smile despite myself. Little flirt, embezzles half my bed and then stares steadily at me like he had every right to. He is an angelic little thing, though. I can almost see a halo over his mess of glossy black locks. He yawns again, this time accompanied by a vibrato sigh, sounding almost like a cat's purr. Melt.
Enough of this saccharine musing. If you'll excuse my vulgarity, I really must take a piss. I rustle through the pile of clothes on the floor, coming up with my trousers. I drag them on, three buttons up the front. I hook the suspenders onto my bare shoulders and shove my feet into my shoes.
"I'm going out to the lav'." I bend my neck at an odd angle to look up at Finny, who's still sitting on the edge of his bed.
"Get us some breakfast too."
"Aye aye, cap'n!" I salute him jauntily, as I stand up. Yuri is putting on his shoes beside me, apparently coming with. We head out the door. Down the stairs, the barroom is empty this early in the morning. I weave my way through randomly-placed stools, with Yuri hot on my heels. We go through the swinging door into the back, which is a combination kitchen and sleeping-area for the couple that own this *lovely* little establishment. They're used to Finny and I invading their lives, and they smile up from their breakfast, eyeing Yuri a little confusedly. I smile, but we're out the back door before they can ask. The toilet is a short jaunt from the house. I go in first, then wait for Yuri. The morning is cool and clammy, clouds threatening more rain at any minute.
"This is Yuri." Back in the kitchen, I make introductions before our landlords can inquire. They nod at him, and he smiles his saintly smile, flicking his hair out of his eyes. God bless those who can win hearts without saying a word. There will be no questions about why his face is puffy and swelling, or about why he happens to be staying with us.
That over, we get back to the normal routine. The wife, a smiling plump woman, unfortunately named Ethyl, nods at the counter, where two round loaves of bread are cooling and letting off a most delightful aroma. I grin and nance over to kiss her on the cheek, which charms a giggle out of her. She is under the impression that if she didn't feed us, Finn and I would starve to death. An informed assumption. Face it, the two of us are rather incompetent.
I grab one loaf of bread, and nab three apples as well. Yuri and I wander back upstairs.
Finny is sitting on the floor, cross-legged, dressed only in his pants, bare feet tucked under his legs. I plop down across from him, back leaning against my bed, putting us in our traditional morning position. We always sit, eat and gossip in the mornings, usually ending up rolling around laughing. Yuri sits beside Finn, and I toss them each an apple, setting my own on the floor so I can divvy up the bread. I singe my fingers tearing it into three pieces. It's so fresh that sweet steam rises from it.
"So, did you two have a good sleep last night?" Finny, just call him Mr. Tactful.
I choke on a bit of apple, colour jumping into my cheeks, flaming red. But Yuri just shrugs and nods. Bastards, they're two peas in a pod.
"Think nothing of it." Finn playfully punches Yuri in the shoulder, glancing back at me. "You should have seen Bryce on the night we met. Did the same thing."
"I did not!" I protest, to no avail. Finn launches into the story.
FLASHBACK: The Meeting
"Buy me a drink?" I was sitting at a bar, hunched protectively over my drink. At seventeen, dressed in grungy pants and loose, oil stained shirt, I looked like a working man. Which I was. A sailor, even though the slight rocking of waves on the calmest day was enough to make me queasy. But my father had been a sailor, so now I was. My parents had been dead ten years, and living with an aunt and uncle was not the happiest situation, so I had taken the first chance to escape. Had been at sea for six months, and hated every minute.
Back in London for a few days leave, I was determined to go on a respectable bender, sticking to the bars close to the docks. It was late.
I looked up to see the person so rudely propositioning me. A slender boy, tall with brown curls and curiously bright blue eyes. He's dressed to the nines, bowler hat, vest and tight long-tailed coat. Odd, in such a slum of a place.
"C'mon love, I'm desperate for a scotch." I squinted at his open, friendly face, feeling a bit otherworldly. I shrugged and gestured to the bartender, who poured the drink. I had no idea what this guy wanted. I know, I know. I was the most naïve man on Earth.
"I'm Fintan. Finny, really." He shook my hand as he sat down beside me, sliding the stool over so that his knee presses into mine. "Who are you?"
"Rowan. Rowan Bryceton." I was unnerved by his constant smile. His teeth were unnaturally pearly, and the expectant look in his eyes made me uncomfortable.
"So, Rowan Bryceton," he stopped to take a sip of his (…my!) scotch, "are you looking for someone?"
"Muh?" And then it dawned on me. Oh god, how awkward. My eyes widened and I shook my head.
He was taken aback, mouth half open.
"I'm really not! Thanks, though." I held my hands up.
"Then why did you buy me a drink? That's not how it works!" He looked at me as if I was an alien species, incredulous.
"I'm really sorry, I…I…" I stopped and shut my mouth as he began to snicker, trying to hide his laughter in his hand and failing rather miserably. I glared for a moment, but slowly the lunacy of the situation dawned on me, and I began to laugh too. I laughed until my sides hurt, until I couldn't breathe. Tears streamed down Finn's face. We continued on until the obvious looks from the rest of the bar came to our attention. We became best friends in that minute, taking deep, shaky breaths, trying to suppress random spontaneous giggles that threatened to set us off again.
"Oh god, but you are thick!" He smirked at me. "What the hell did you think I wanted?"
"No feckin' clue." I shook my head, pressing my palms to my beet-red cheeks. He drained the last drops of the drink.
"You are priceless!" Goofy grin on his face. "Buy me another drink, and tell me about Rowan Bryceton."
I did buy him another, and another for myself as well. I quickly found him to be a good ear, easy to talk to. I found myself laying my life bare for him. The dead parents, the hated aunt and uncle, the job that makes me sick (literally), it all came out.
"Do you really hate the ships that much?" I nodded before I got to think about it, and amazed myself. I hadn’t realized before, or hadn't let myself realize.
"Well, you know, my job really isn’t so bad." He pursed his lips, squinting at something on the surface of the bar. And then he peeked at me sideways, gauging my reaction. My look, aghast horror, doesn’t deter him. "This shit, picking up sailors at the docks is just extra cash. I actually work at this lounge…club…place. Warwick's. It's over in Whitechapel."
"Are you suggesting that I become a rent-boy?" I spoke slowly.
"Old Warwick is always looking for new boys, good looking boys." He gave me the once-over , arching an eyebrow foxily. I struggle to keep the aghast-horror thing I had going on. I'll admit it, I was pleased.
"Are you suggesting that I become a rent-boy?" I spoke even slower. It was still sinking in.
"Just saying that it's not such a bad deal. And you have the looks for it." He appealed to my vanity, crafty little bugger.
"But I've never…I wouldn't know what…" He silenced me with a wave of his hands.
"It's not really *hard*. You just smile, touch, wink. Shamelessly."
"That's not the part I'm worried about."
Jesus, what the hell did he think I was worried about? Now who's the dense one?
"That part isn't really hard either. On your back, or on your knees. It's quick." He wasn't shy at all, staring me straight in the eye.
We sat in silence for a minute, Finny considerately giving me some time to think and consider. And I did. And I decided.
"Where did you say this Warwell's place was?"
"Warwick's," he corrected, "Whitechapel. I can show you tomorrow."
"Show me? Tomorrow?"
"You don't have anywhere to stay tonight?"
How the hell did he know?
He invited me to stay at his place. I accepted and we left, me leaving a bunch of coins on the bar to pay for our drinks. The tramp through the dark streets was long, but Finn seemed full of boundless energy, laughing and lurching as we walked, his spirit seemingly ethereal, too big for his mortal form. By the time we reached his room, I knew everything and more about Warwick's and Finn and his friends and family. In a big, ramshackle former-mansion that had been converted into cheap rental rooms, Finn's place was small but high-ceilinged, one bed, desk and two mismatched chairs.
He wasted no time, barely through the door before his clothes began to come off.
"I don't know about you, but I'm bushed." He motioned to the bed. "There's the bed." I must have looked a little unsure, standing stiff, hands stuffed into my pockets. I slowly stripped down to my underclothes, more than a little self-conscious. Finn pretended not to notice, careful with his clothes, hanging them over one chair. I was between the covers before him, facing the wall.
I felt him slide in beside me. He was humming under his breath. In the narrow bed, we lay pressed back-to-back. Not one more word as we drifted off.
By morning, my natural instincts had me facing him, snuggled in his arms against his warm chest.
Yuri seems to have enjoyed Finny's story. I have to admit, it did happen exactly that way. Rather embarrassing, if I do say so myself.
The food is all gone, but Yuri watches us expectantly for another
story. We are his jesters. But Finn and I need an audience, after all.
CHAPTER 4: The Past II
Sitting on the floor with Finny and Yuri is rather the most fun I've had in awhile. And what does it really matter that we're wasting hours? What use is the day to a rent-boy? We are, by nature, men of the night.
"So now you know how Finn and I met. Now that I am thoroughly embarrassed, what else do you want to know?"
Knowing when to keep your mouth shut is such an admirable virtue. One that I don't possess.
Yuri opens his mouth, but looks down at the floor and shuts it abruptly, hand tapping the floor unconsciously . There is something on the tip of his tongue. I look at Finn quizzically. He manages to keep his face straight for perhaps three seconds, and then has to press his hands to his mouth, not fast enough to stop a decidedly pig-like snort of laughter escape his lips. I swear that boy should not laugh, it makes him look like a blithering idiot. Not that he doesn’t look like a blithering idiot all the time. Ha.
"What?" I have the distinct feeling that I am living in an asylum. I can make no sense of these two.
"I want to know…" Yuri's shoulders are hunched, making him as compact as possible. His head is still down, but he is looking up at me through a screen of black hair. "If..."
"If..." I do not like where this is headed. Finn's face is buried in his arms, crossed over his knees, his shoulders shaking spasmastically.
"If you have ever..." He points, first and me and then at Finn, raising his eyebrows and shrugging.
"Oh god, Bryce, but you are thick!" Finn can no longer contain himself, flopping onto his back on the floor, looking up at me with twinkling eyes, upside down and backwards. "He wants to know if we've ever...y'know!" A wink. His insane cackle makes me laugh myself. Yuri looks at us as if we might throw him out, but he slowly begins to smile, blushing. Nosy little bugger, but it bound to come up, right?
"I think I'll let Bryce tell this one." I roll my eyes at him and stick out my tongue.
FLASHBACK: FINNY'S HANDS-ON TEACHING (or RENT BOI 101)
Finny took me to Warwick's the day after he tried to entice me into renting him. His tiny room was cold when we get up, but when I start to put on my grungy-sailor clothes, he stopped me. He was already dressed
"Look, you cannot go in those old things." He opened an old trunk in the corner. "You can borrow my other suit." When he pulled it out, a dust cloud dissipated into the air and he coughed melodramatically, shaking out the grey fabric. He tossed a frock coat and a pair of pleated trousers onto the bed, bringing a white shirt over to me. I threw it on, buttoning it up and marveling at the lace at the cuffs.
"You have to look fancy," was his explanation. I put the trousers on. They fit.
"Shit." I looked up, to see him holding a vest in front of him, examining it. "No buttons. I'd forgotten about that." He tossed it at me and went scrounging through the trunk again. The vest looked expensive, satin or something, but where the buttons should have been were only bits of thread.
"Buttons have a way of ripping off." He was elliptical for the first time since I had met him. He held out a thin, long strand of leather and took the vest from me, slipping a short, folding knife out of the pocket of his coat and poking holes where the buttons had formerly been. He passed it back to me. "Put it on." So I did.
He bent, his face close to my chest, and threaded the leather through the holes, criss-crossing it up, deft fingers strapping me into the tight vest. He tied it off at the top and tucked the ends in. The ability to improvise, a useful skill.
"Looks good." He held me at arm's length, admiring his handiwork. "Dangerous. Like a pirate." All I can do is laugh and finish dressing.
But Finn's fussing over me paid off. He took me to Warwick's in the middle of the day, when it was deserted of all but old Warwick himself. The old guy looked me over as if I were a horse being farmed out to stud.
"Does he know what he's doing?" Butterflies in my stomach.
"Oh, yeah." Finny nodded reassuringly. His unconscious charm very convincing. And so I was officially hired, a boy for rent.
"Bring him back tonight." And we left.
"Tonight?" We were back in Finn's room, and I was sitting on the edge of the bed. I looked up at him. "What the hell am I supposed to do? God, why would you tell him that I know what I'm do-..."
"Because you will." He grabbed my hands and pulled me up. He was taller than me, and every bit in charge. "It's alright, I won't hurt you." I must have looked petrified.
"You need to forget," His hands appeared tentatively on my waist, between my coat and shirt, commanding but gentle. "Forget all the religious crap that says this is wrong. Forget what people have told you about how what I...we do is wrong. Forget it. Clear your mind." I nodded, entranced, intoxicated.
I recoiled at his first move to kiss me, drawing my head back, heart pounding miserably in my ears. But he kept a firm grip on my hips, craning forward to press his lips to mine. The first contact was strange. I had honestly never kissed anyone with stubble before. But he was soft and pillowy. My eyes instinctively shut.
But as soon as they did, I was rudely shaken out of my reverie, his hands on my hips giving me a good, jarring jostle.
"Rule one, never, ever shut your eyes. Never." His face was so serious. I nodded.
The next kiss was more forceful, his mouth sucking at my lower lip. But I managed to keep my eyes open. I watched his pupils slowly dilate as he nudged his tongue past my teeth. He knew what he was doing. I shrugged out of my jacket without breaking contact.
When he finally pushed me away, I was out of breath and wide eyed.
"You should see the look on your face." He waved his finger in front of my eyes, smirking. "Innocent."
Bastard. But it was true.
"Now, clothes off." I laugh, but he looks at me candidly, long fingers already undoing his vest. I was suddenly struck by self-consciousness
"Don't be shy. You should always take off your own clothes." Confident teacher-voice. "Buttons are expensive."
My hands were shaking, but I managed to undo the improvisational ties on my vest and the buttons on my shirt. Reality began to set in. This was my *job* now.
"Lie down." I was past arguing with him now, so I did, on my back on the bed. My feet hung off the end. He flopped down next to me, pressing up to me on his side. My body was so tense, my muscles were aching.
"You have to know exactly how your body will respond to anything." He was trailing his fingers absently over my bare chest. "So that you can control it. You always have to be in control. If you're not in control, you're in trouble."
"That can't be too hard." My confidence, a mistake.
"Really?" With no warning, he slid one finger down the middle of my stomach roughly, over my navel, closer and closer to the edge of trousers. My body reflexively curled up to meet him , hips pressing up almost desperately.
"Oh." I tried to catch my breath.
"Yeah. Or..." He caught me unawares, pinching one nipple between thumb and finger. My chin lifted with the pain, head curving back.
"You're closing your eyes again." He gave me a shove.
"Well, you're cheating."
"How am I cheating?!" I didn't have an answer, and he smiled triumphantly.
In a flash he was on his feet again.
"Up!" He stood me up, steadying me, my head was swimming. "Here's where the real lesson begins."
He ignored my sarcasm, smoothly pressing himself up against me, his hips to mine. Arms wrapped around my waist, he began to move slowly against me. My lightheadedness got worse, and I began to get a tight-uncomfortable feeling between my legs.
He pressed me down suddenly, hands tight on my shoulders. On my knees on the floor in front of him, I stared up him as he unbuttoned the front of his trousers.
"Just do it. I swear it gets easier." His hands were gentler now, cupping my chin for a moment before tangling in my hair. He was expectant.
I had to undo the front of his underpants with my fumbling, shaking fingers, freeing his half-hard length. I was breathing hard as I tugged his pants down to around his knees. I honestly had no idea how to go about this.
I finally decided to stick my tongue out, gently touching just his tip. I felt his hand flex in my hair, gently urging me forward. So I opened my mouth and took him into my mouth, feeling him grow subtly harder, enclosed between my lips. I tried sucking gently, rewarded by an ever-so-slight bend in his knees.
"But this is simply a teaching exercise for you?" I pulled back, craning up to look him in the eye., insolent grin on my face.
"Don’t be sassy." He grabbed me under my arms and pulled me up, his arms straining. "You haven't gotten to the hard part yet."
"And what's that." Even as I said it, it dawned on me. My throat was suddenly dry.
"Turn around." He tried to turn me around and I looked at him, suddenly terrified again. He must have seen it. Somehow he always knows.
He pressed his forehead to mine, arms wrapped around my shoulders. "Listen to me carefully." His eyes were so bright blue, so serious. "It's only demeaning if you let it be. Just feel. Feel and learn." I swallowed and nodded, deep breaths slowing my racing heart.
He pushed me around again, his hand on the back of my neck guiding me down. I end up bent at the waist over the bed, my hands on the mattress, holding me up.
"Legs apart." His hands were steady, pressing my thighs apart, positioning
himself against me. "The first time hurts. I'm sorry. Relax"
He was careful, slow to press forward. I did my best to take his advice and relax, but as he slid into to me I had to concentrate on not tensing up. He drew back. His second stroke was faster, deeper, a bit more rough. He slowly established a rhythm, and I found myself pressing back to meet him, a strange warmth inside me promising things yet to be learned.
I keenly felt himself let go if his composure as he finished, his fingers digging into my shoulder hard enough to bruise. As he pulled out of me, pressed his hot forehead to my back, his quick breath bringing goose bumps to my skin.
Finn is still on his back on the floor when I finish telling the story. He hasn’t taken his eyes off me the whole time. But he peels them away to look over at our angel, who looks a bit traumatized, to tell you the truth.
"So," Finn contorts to poke him in the knee, "does that answer your
CHAPTER 5: The Dirty Tricks
Now that Finn and I have thoroughly shocked our dearest Yuri, we have business to get up to. When I said before that the day is no use to us, I was fibbing just a mite. In fact, our true vocation, the one that makes us most of our money, happens between sunrise and the twilight hour.
I'm speaking, of course, of blackmail. There is nothing sweeter than making a client shell out a bundle of extra cash to keep us from giving away his dirty little secret.
Wait a minute. I see your raised eyebrows, your look of disgust at my greed. But I'll have you know that Warwick pays us but a pittance. Without the extra income, we would starve to death. We wouldn’t have a roof over our heads. We might actually have to beg on the street like the common rabble.
And besides, it's jolly good fun as well. And if the men are dim enough to write us fluffy, extravagant letters and actually sign them, they deserve what they get. Hear me, your neighborhood rent is a selfish, bloodsucking rascal in an angelic-boy disguise. You have been warned.
"Where are we goin' today?" Finn's voice is muffled. He's hunting under his bed for something. Eureka. His right shoe.
"Well, my dear friend, we are going to pay a little visit to a Mr..." I pull an crumpled envelope out of the inside pocket of my vest, and tug a sheet of expensive stationary out of it, scanning to the bottom of the flowery script, "..a Mr. Garrick. Bettany Street. Do you believe that he actually put his address at the bottom." I tuck it back in the pocket safely.
"What a sod! An invitation for us if I ever did see one!" Slightly evil laughter. He's trying to knot his tie without the benefit of a mirror. I roll my eyes and push his hands away, doing it for him. He never manages to get it straight.
"What does 'e say about you in this letter anyway?" The tie is done, and he pinches my cheek before I can slap him away. "Skin like porcelain?! Eyes like emeralds?!" He snickers at me, hiding teeth behind one hand.
"You left out 'lips like dewy roses.'" I snicker back. "And 'hair like gossamer thread.'"
"God. 'E really is a sod then." I pretend to be offended, arms crossed.
"Am I coming?" Yuri speaks up, looking at us as if we are mildly insane.
Finn and I exchange glances, mentally discussing his bruised face. Finn nods imperceptibly and I shrug noncommittally.
"Yes." Finn makes an executive decision. "Let me clean you up first." He grabs a rag and dips it in the washbasin in the corner and goes to work on Yuri's face, ever gentle. He cleans off the bits of crusted blood around the edges of the nose, pressing at the swelling around the right eye. He shrugs helplessly at me. Yuri is not a very pretty sight, but nothing more can be done right now.
And so we set off. Bettany Street is quite a jaunt from our little hovel, but the clouds have dissipated a bit and the sun is shining, albeit somewhat bleakly. We get a few stares at first, in our vests and tailed coats, but as we got closer to our destination we began to blend more and more into the increasing prosperity of the surroundings.
The house we want is a large one, set off the street, with a wide lawn. Fronted with two huge windows filled with a fortune's worth of glass, the place smacks of old money. Goody.
We don't hesitate, strutting up the porch stairs as if invited guests, Yuri book-ended between Finn and I. Finny grasps the heavy brass knocker and thumps three times.
The girl who opens the door cannot be more than sixteen. The maid. She has a small child propped on her hip, one hand holding its bottom securely, the other clutching a feather duster. She looks rather frazzled. The child (of which I cannot tell the sex) stares wide-eyed at us, three quite mysterious intruders into the humdrum of its life.
"'Ello, love." I beam my most friendly-evil grin at her, setting a foot subtly against the doorjamb so that it cannot possibly be slammed in our faces. "We're looking for Mr. Garrick. Is 'e 'ere?" She looks positively petrified.
"Who are you?" A small voice, from the shadows beyond the door. But the speaker steps into the light, out into the foyer of polished wood floor in front of the door. Another child, this one five or six. Again, I cannot determine whether it is a boy or girl through bowl-cut, tawny curls and sweet, high voice. I cannot, for the life of me, fathom all these androgynous children.
"Who are we?! Who are you?!" Finn is good with children, being a buffoon and all. He is already crouched down, much to the chagrin of the maid. I half expect she thinks Finn is going to kidnap the young'un.
"I'm Robert Garrick the Third." Matter of fact voice, a name learnt by wrote.
"Then I expect you are Robert Garrick the Second's darling son. And.." He straightened up, "..we 'ave some business with your dear papa." The end of the sentence aimed more at the serving-girl than the little boy. Finn looks directly at the quivering little thing.
"'E's...not 'ere. 'E's out" She is obviously lying.
"'E is too. 'E's in the study." This pops out of the little Robert before he can be silenced, with a finger pointed in the general direction of the upstairs.
"Thank you, young sir. You've been most helpful." Finn holds out a wrapped candy, a toffee, that had been magically concealed in his jacket somewhere. The boy takes it with a giggle and scuttles off to some recess of the grand house.
We breeze past the girl. She is rather inconsequential in the matter, to be honest. The stairs lead to a long wide hallway, furnished with repulsively expensive and tacky Turkish carpeting. We find the study, and Mr. Garrick, near the end.
I peek my head around the entrance, knocking softly on the half-open, burnished door.
"Remember me?" I smile as he looks up from his desk and papers, dropping his pen with a dull thud as he recognizes me. He's a tall man, heavy-built with clumsy, fumbling hands and a graying, balding head.
"What..what are you doing 'ere?"
"You mean what are we doing 'ere?" The other two strut into the room with me, the picture of confidence and menace. Really, there are butterflies in my stomach, a slight shake in my hands. But appearance is everything in these matters, and we look as cocky as anything. Even Yuri looks rather devilish.
"Well.." I sit on the corner of his desk, one leg swinging, my body just close enough to him to be aggravating. I pull the tattered enveloped from inside my jacket. Slowly, taking my time, I unfold the letter and give it the once-over. "I 'ave an interestin' bit of correspondence right 'ere, and I was thinking to meself that I might just take the notion to show it to someone in particular. Where is your dear wife, by the way?"
"Oh god." His face is ashen. He looks from me to Finny to Yuri. They simply smile sweetly at him, lounging in the leather chairs opposite his desk. "You wouldn’t."
"I dunno." I bite my lower lip, mocking indecision.
"Please! I'll be ruined..god, you simply cannot!" He is so pitiful. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
"It seems to me.." Garrick's frightened, frantic eyes dart towards Finny who was now speaking. "..that that letter might be worth a little bit of cash to the concerned party." His eyes are almost slits.
"Yes!" I gesture almost ferociously in his direction, holding up a finger in agreement. I look back at my darling captive Garrick. "My friend may just be correct."
"Yes!" He nods earnestly. "Yes, I think that would be a safe assumption."
"But the real question is, how much?" Expectant purse of my lips.
"Fifty pounds?" He sounds unsure, tentative.
"Fifty?! Be reasonable. I'm sure your wife would desperately like to see this letter."
"Or your friends." Sweet amazing grace, Yuri actually speaks.
"Or even the papers!" Finn butts in gleefully, almost on top of the desk in his uncontained excitement.
"Yes, can you see the headlines? 'Upstanding businessman Robert Garrick caught gallivanting with local boys-for-rent'? What scandal that would be!" I am so malicious.
Garrick is ours now, totally and indisputably. He looks about to jump out the window.
"Whatever you want. Any amount. I swear! Just give me my letter!"
In the end, we leave with a hundred pounds, tucked neatly into my jacket
pocket. Easy as that! What fun!
This is always going to be a work in progress. It's fun to write, so
I occaisonally take an hour when I should be sleeping or doing homework
to write a new chapter. If you like it, or have any ideas, please email
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leave a comment on my ujournal (ujournal.org/~murron). xo.