Title: The Tank: Chapter Twelve, Part One
Chapter Twelve, Part One
Anton hadn’t known a night of slow, quiet passion with Camille since their affair began. Circumstance rendered every moment they had together fraught with concerns of timing, location, and speed. Even though none of those things were pressing upon them right now, they came together like a lightning strike, fast and frenzied. The truth of it was, Anton didn’t know how to slow down with Camille. He had never had a lover he could take his time with, and he didn’t feel at ease here, in this house of wondrous invention and desperate lies.
Camille knew what to do, though, how to handle Anton, how to gentle him through the first clash of ardor and into something more relaxed. Anton had his first orgasm almost fully clothed, biting his lip to keep himself from speaking in tongues. He went to return the favor, but Camille distracted him with the promise of a shower. Showers, ones with actual hot running water, were a marvelous luxury, and Anton thought there was a decided chance he would fall asleep in this one if Camille weren’t in there with him.
As it was, there was no sleeping, but they did stay in the shower long enough for Anton’s toes to prune and his voice to go hoarse from the pleasured sounds he made as Camille took full advantage of their privacy. By the end of it, Anton could hardly dry himself with a towel, much less stagger to the bed, but Camille was there holding onto him, supporting him. Anton’s last thought as they fell asleep together, his head cradled against Camille’s chest, was that the smallness of this world, this hidden refuge and prison, might not be so hard to endure if you could do so with the ones you loved.
Anton dreamed too much, ghostly fire licking at his brain as he relived some of the deaths he’d seen over the years. It was a common refrain for his subconscious, but this time the corpses and their residual spirits were people that he knew. A man who had hanged himself back in London, after illness had taken his children away—he became Dr. Grable. Gaily Gertrude, the poor whore who had been dragged through the streets of Zurich until a false step crushed her into the cobblestones—Caroline. Viscount Bonaparte, the odious cousin of the emperor who had inadvertently been the means of bringing Anton and Camille together, was replaced with a man much less deserving of murder—Camille himself, his eyes open, one hand pressed lightly to the bullet wound in his chest, as though willing himself to investigate his own murder.
The worst of it, the worst thing of all, was that in each of these reenactments, Anton saw himself as well. He saw himself as the murderer: the heartbreaking sorrow, the bloodthirsty john, the Dévoué devotee. He was there, and he persisted even after the death was done. He hated it, wanted to die, wanted to kill himself but he couldn’t, not when there were other deaths to live through again, not when—
His eyes opened, but not a muscle in his body twitched. That was just as well, for he and Camille had switched places during the night. Now Camille rested against Anton’s chest, his arm thrown across his waist, a position of uncommon openness.
Camille accepted Anton’s affection, cradled it delicately, treated it with respect, but he seemed less prone to prolonging their touches, more inclined to let one embrace end and move on to something else. Him lying here like this, was…novel. Endearing. Addicting. Anton deliberately slowed his breathing and relaxed, willing Camille to stay asleep. He wasn’t ready to let go of him yet. Even in this place, he’d have to before long, but until then he would do everything he could to treasure the moment.
They’d forgotten to pull the curtains all the way closed. Traces of light crept into the room, heralding the start of another day. This day would be different, though. Today was the day an outsider—another outsider—came to the Institute. The new Vicomte Voclain was coming to claim his brother’s body, and from the way Lord Jourdain had seemed to seethe slightly at the mention of him, Anton figured that it wasn’t an occasion for lightness and levity. People would be nervous, be on their guard…it might, actually, be an excellent time to check in with Hrym and see what he made of it all. He was too unique a mind to be affected by things in an expected way, and Anton was sure something could be gleaned from him just by being with him and seeing him react to change.
Anton tried to keep his mind on the task Dr. Grable had set for him. It was a nice, concrete thing, a task of discovery, complicated but not devilishly so. Far better to focus on that then to think back to what he’d learned last night, everything Camille had revealed.
For the love of God…too late, now he was thinking about it and it seemed absolutely bizarre that he, of all people, should be in possession of information that was so incendiary it would make the Dévoué seem like a minor problem. His bedmate was a soulless, bastard prince. The emperor was cursed. Lord Jourdain should have been the Dauphin, and had ended up the organizer of his own potential for salvation. It was ludicrous. It was terrifying.
Think what Caroline would do with this information, his traitorous mind suggested to him. It wasn’t something Anton wanted to consider, but there it was, popping up like a cork in a stream and unfurling into a future he’d given up on so long ago. They would take me back, the Order of Thaumaturgy. They would race to throw honors at my feet, do everything in their power to keep me close and comfortable, because I might in turn be a danger to them if they let me go. I would be able to ascend the ranks of British thaumaturges, put ponces like Montgomery and his ilk in their places, be able to care for my mother the way she deserves…
Seductive, so seductive, but ultimately useless. Anton couldn’t betray the man in his bed like that—he was already skirting on the edges of what was morally possible just by staying silent about Caroline. Was she getting what she wanted?
“Mmmm.” Camille stirred, and Anton realized that his heart was racing. With his head so close against Anton’s chest, undoubtedly Camille felt it too. Sure enough, a moment later he lifted his head. His auburn hair was smushed up on one side, his moustache was bent down on the other side, and his eyes were still blurry with sleep. “What’s wrong?” he managed, and Anton smiled at him.
“Nothing but a bad dream,” he promised.
“How late is it?”
“Not late enough to get out of bed.” Anton stroked his fingers down Camille’s arm before kissing his temple. “We have some time yet.” Not enough—never enough—but some.