Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Tank: Chapter Four, Part One

Notes: Anton's world is slowly coalescing, like a black hole, only he doesn't realize it yet. More plots, more schemes, and a few innocent little tidbits that turn out not to be so innocent in the long run!

Title: The Tank: Chapter Four, Part One


Chapter Four, Part One

For the first time in months, the campus was quiet. The university had officially let out for the year, and while there would always be some people about—the staff that maintained the facilities, certain teachers and students who had experiments that couldn’t be put on hold for holiday, and the occasional tourist—the bustling crowds of dark-robed students were by-in-large gone now.

Anton, by all rights, should have been one of them, new graduate that he was. At the very least, he should have been in the process of packing his laboratory, settling his paperwork, and moving on to a new and exciting position back out in the world. The last, of course, hadn’t happened, and because it hadn’t happened none of the rest of it was until he absolutely couldn’t put it off any longer.

He wouldn’t have squatted on campus, of course. Anton had his pride, after all—he would never have pushed his welcome so far that he was forced out. But if he’d had to be reminded more than once, well, he was absent-minded at times, wasn’t he? It was a caveat of the trade—thaumaturges tended to focus so deeply on their work that much of the rest of life passed them by, often including the need to sleep and eat. It was a bit of a miracle that Anton’s parents had ever found each other, given how many thaumaturgical miracles his father had wrought and how much bloody time they’d all taken.

Besides, Anton now had an actual, official reason to stay here—at least until he was called in to meet with Dr. Grable. He’d received a message from the man’s secretary not an hour ago, requesting his presence at four. That was right after Grable was scheduled to meet with the emperor’s delegation, according to a passing comment by Camille that morning.

That morning…mmm, that had been nice. Camille had gone out early, and returned not long after with hot chocolate, ham and gruyere croissants, and just in case Anton couldn’t cope without it, a little cup of espresso as well.

“You are a god among men,” Anton had slurred from where he still lay in bed, his arms wrapped around Camille’s pillow.

“I hope not,” Camille had said, gently setting the tray of food down before joining Anton on the bed again. He didn’t lay down, just sat across from Anton’s head and smoothed a hand across his shoulder and upper back. “There’s too much expected of gods, and I have more than enough people to worry about as it is.”

Anton craned his head around until he could kiss Camille’s palm. “I wish you didn’t worry about me.” He knew better than to suggest that Camille didn’t ever need to worry about him—last night had made the opposite abundantly clear.

“You wouldn’t be yourself if you didn’t occasionally become involved in things that normal men shy away from.”

“I am normal,” Anton had protested sleepily.

“No,” Camille had replied with a faint smile. “You’re really not.”

Anton stopped and stood in front of his laboratory’s window. It was late May, the height of spring now arcing toward summer, and the temperature outside was as lovely as Zürich could possibly be. There was no logical reason for him to keep the window closed. None of his experiments were so sensitive that they would be disrupted by a bit of breeze or a few raindrops, and that was all the weather had offered up lately beyond pure sunshine.

In truth, the laboratory could have used some airing out, after the last round of experiments involving powdered sulfur. That was what a normal man in this situation would do, and Anton was still of the opinion, despite Camille’s easy teasing, that he was quite normal.

None of this logic had much of an impact on Anton’s peace of mind, though.

He touched the stone sill beneath the window, cool and dark, shaped long ago by a stonemason’s chisel and worn a bit more by the hands of dozens, scores of students that had done their work here. It had a bit of a shine to it, this stone. Humanity had literally pressed its grease into the cutter’s marks until the surface was nearly smooth. Once, Anton wouldn’t have hesitated to lean his weight there, to throw open the window and stare down at the square far below with nothing more than a bit of bemusement. Now the thought of it made him shudder.

Oh, get a hold of yourself, he thought irritably. You’re not a child. There’s no need to let the past rule you like this. He was lucky he hadn’t had a nightmare last night—he would have hated to wake Camille up with his shouting.

Sometimes—rarely—hardly more than once a week—Anton relived the sensation of being pushed from this window. In those dreams, unlike in real life, he didn’t catch himself on a bit of gothic ornamentation as he fell, and Camille didn’t haul him back into his laboratory at the last second. In the dreams he fell straight to the cobblestones and dashed his brains out, yet somehow lived to see his own disfigured corpse despite that. Or Camille found him, but their hands slipped apart. The worse ones were the ones where Camille saw him, but never bothered to reach for him at all, and Anton had to see his lover’s indifferent face as he fell to his non-death and wonder what he had done wrong.

They were wrenching, but they were just dreams. “Just dreams,” he told himself. “Now get a move on.”

It made sense to at least start packing now, especially if Camille was right and Dr. Grable was going to offer Anton a place as his assistant for the summer. In Paris, nonetheless. Paris! Anton had always wanted to go to Paris. Some of the greatest technological innovations of the nineteenth century had been made there, courtesy of L’Institut D’Ingénierie Technologique. The Institute was to the development of machinery what Oxford was to British thaumaturgy—simply the best of the best. Anton was greatly looking forward to visiting it, if he got the chance.

Which he certainly wouldn’t get if he couldn’t even pack up his bloody laboratory. Anton began with his notebooks, organizing and triaging the most important ones versus those that could be left in his—safe and securely spelled—trunk for the time being. He needed to keep his greatest works at hand, of course, just in case. Just in case you’re offered a job down there, perhaps, and Caroline sees it and goes into conniptions and tattles on you to the Council and your citizenship is revoked and you never see your mother again.

No. Caroline wouldn’t do that to him. She would hurt him, verbally and emotionally, deliberately and not, but she would never do something to put him in physical danger and she would certainly never cause any harm to his mother. Caroline was like a daughter to her.

Get on with it.

Anton packed up his most specific and irreplaceable spell components next, things that he needed for his masterpieces or that were less essential, but that he doubted he’d be able to afford if he had to repurchase them. Next came the spell housings—little balls like the one he’d deployed yesterday, carved from resinous pine and balsam, light and easily lit. Lastly he added in a few basic alembics and firestarters, in case he had to make things on the go.

“That’s all the important stuff,” he murmured. Except…it really wasn’t. There was still the palimpsest.

It was a copy of the palimpsest, actually, one Anton had made before the original was stolen. He’d very nearly decoded it and he wanted to finish the job, even though it seemed like a waste of time now that the spell was out there in the world. Wasn’t it? Even if it was, there was no excuse for leaving something like that where any old thaumaturge could discover it.

Anton reached beneath his long wooden desk, brushing a few spiders out of the way as he felt around for—ah. The false panel he’d wedged in place fell out, and the copy of the palimpsest dropped into his hand. There. He pulled it out, brushed it off, and tucked it into his holdall. Now he was ready.

The bell tower chimed quarter to four. Anton put on his jacket and hat, straightened his tie, and headed for the stairs.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Tank: Chapter Three, Part Two

Notes: What time is it? Sexytimes! Don't read if you don't like explicit action. Otherwise, enjoy!

Title: The Tank: Chapter Three, Part Two


Chapter Three, Part Two

It was a different inn than the one Anton had been to with Camille before—closer, thank God. They walked there together, mouths silent but bodies speaking volumes. Their shoulders practically touched, hands bumping from time to time as they stepped in sync. Anton had to work not to shiver, and couldn’t help biting his lip as they finally reached Camille’s inn. They entered through a side door, and climbed up a small, dark set of stairs that probably primarily the purview of servants. Camille’s room was the first on the right as they exited, and he withdrew the key from his pocket and unlocked the door in tight, quick movements.

The moment Anton was through inside, it was as though his skin was on fire. He felt like he might burn down to a cinder any second, but then Camille was there, and the fast, fiery heat coursing through him found an outlet in lips and hands. Anton knew he had to be quiet, he knew it, but it was so hard when all he wanted to do was shout his lover’s name to the heavens with every beat of his heart. It shouldn’t have been possible to feel so good from nothing but a kiss to his lips, Camille’s hands bared and trembling against his throat as he undid Anton’s four-in-hand and threw his tie aside.

Anton knocked off Camille’s hat as he dug his fingers into his hair, moaning softly into their kiss. He knew more skin bared was desirable—for all they had done together, gone through together, they had yet to be naked together. As they were now, though, Anton felt wonderfully desperate. Every inch of skin he was able to touch made his nerves thrill with pleasure, and as Camille pressed close enough for Anton to feel his member straining against the fabric of his trousers, the sensation was almost enough by itself to make Anton come. How could he get so much from so little? How would he ever survive having more?

Camille seemed in a similarly disheveled mental state, thank heavens. “Academics and their bloody buttons,” he muttered as be broke the kiss, glaring down at the waistcoat that was giving his nimble fingers pause. “I would rip them clean off if I did not know you would be the one to sew them all back on.”

Anton grinned. “You’re so thoughtful, love,” he said affectionately, then froze. Oh damn. He hadn’t meant for that to slip out. Hell, he wasn’t sure what he meant by it himself, even though he was the one saying it—was it love love, or simply “love” as a convenient epithet, like “dear” or “darling?” Perhaps he could pass it off as an English eccentricity, or a—

Anton.” Camille sank to his knees in front of him, his breaths harsh. He ripped open the fastening to Anton’s trousers, jerked them and the pants beneath them down to his knees, and—

“G-nngh!” Anton bit the knuckles of his right hand to muffle his cry, his left hand still twined in Camille’s hair as the other man engulfed the head of his cock in his shockingly hot mouth. “You—oh—you—” He couldn’t speak, his body barely knew to keep him breathing if the stars shooting across his vision were anything to go by. He had only been touched this way once before, and back then he had been drunk, he and the other boy both. There had been choking, spitting—it had ended with them slinking off in separate directions, never to speak of it, or indeed to each other, ever again.

This was nothing like that. Camille was fervent, mobile, and vocal, his low hums and heat and the wetness of his tongue working together to create a perilous symphony in Anton’s body. Camille leaned into the act with every part of himself, from the tight grip he kept on Anton’s hips, stroking his pelvic ridges with broad thumbs, to the half-lidded look of pure enticement he threw from time to time, as though he wanted to check and make sure that Anton was enjoying this. As though he could do anything else—as though there was any way he didn’t want Camille to touch him.

Anton had done nothing to earn this, he was sure of it, but Camille wanted to do this for him anyway. He wanted Anton, wanted his pleasure and worried over his pain and fell to his knees like a supplicant in a church, and ­god

He couldn’t stop it, any more than he could call back a spell once it was successfully cast. His body was the spell now, all his symbols lit with power, and there was only one way for that power to express itself.  He came hard, lungs folding like bellows, back curling because how could he possibly stand up straight when lightning itself was shooting down his spine?

Anton breathed only when his body forced it, drawing out the pleasure, and when he finally opened his eyes again he was looking at Camille, who looked straight back, mouth slack, his own eyes dark and wanting. Anton stretched out a hand to him and in an instant, Camille was back on his feet, leaning into Anton’s body and taking his hand, sliding it beneath fabric and down until he—touched him, he was touching the hardness of his need, stroking him as best he could within the restrictions of the position, and it couldn’t have been good but it had to be because Camille came fast, so fast, and the secondhand satisfaction Anton got from it was almost enough to make him fall over, his knees went so weak.

Eventually their heads cleared enough to get them to the bed, to get them out of their top layers of costume and into each other’s arms. Anton’s heartbeat finally began to slow, but from his position against Camille’s chest, he could feel that something was still making his lover tense. “What is it?” he asked quietly. “What aren’t you saying?”

Camille sighed. “It is almost a certainty that your Professor Grable is going to be invited to Paris, to spend the summer term working to shore up the Emperor’s mechanisms of war. It is likewise nearly a certainty that you will be invited to join him there. He’ll need an assistant, you’re available, the pay is more than adequate, and he likes you.”

Anton lifted his head in shock. “Is that why you’re here? To ask Grable to go work for Napoleon?”

“No.” Camille shook his head, seeming irritated. “I was in fact expressly barred from being part of the committee the emperor sent. It’s…a personal matter, unrelated to the task. However, I was owed a great deal of time after a particularly long case earlier this year, so I decided to come of my own accord. I wanted to see you, before you were swept along with the tide. Anton.” He looked directly into my eyes. “If you want to avoid the specter of war on the continent, now is the time to leave. Refuse Grable’s offer, go back to London, find another way to get by. There must be work for someone as talented as you there.”

“My own efforts to find it have been fruitless,” Anton replied. “And…” Should he tell Camille about Caroline? Something held his tongue. Things might not all come together the way Camille predicted, after all. There was no need to out her as a spy to a man who, while Anton cared immensely for him, was also one of the emperor’s most powerful secret agents. “And I have the feeling that if war is coming, Britain won’t escape it either. I would rather stay somewhere I can be close to you.”

That got him a reluctant smile. “I can’t pretend not to be pleased by the prospect of your presence. But Anton, just…if you do go to Paris, don’t show anyone else that new spell of yours. I fear what ideas it may foster.”

“I won’t,” Anton promised. Why would he even need to? He was no battle thaumaturge; his craft was nothing compared to a practitioner of Grable’s reputation. “I swear.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Tank: Chapter Three, Part One

Notes: Finally, we meet someone we actually want to! Because I can't not bring in the second half of my dynamic duo once I start with these stories.

Title: The Tank, Chapter Three, Part One


Chapter Three, Part One

Oh God, what had he done?

It was a despicable quirk of nature than Anton was able to recriminate himself even as he ran for his life. It would have been a kindness for him to fill with panic as he fled, unable to think on the situation he’d left behind and what he might have just done to the man who had so recently menaced him.

It didn’t help much that the man had been menacing him either, as it might have if Anton were a little less inclined to overthink things. He’d been threatened with rape, but he’d retaliated with forcing the man to relive a hideously brutal death. Anton swore at himself as his feet began to slow—he shouldn’t go back, he absolutely shouldn’t go back, there was nothing he could do now but let it play out.

On the other hand, the only other person he’d ever worked this spell on was himself. One data point was hardly enough for Anton to draw any sort of conclusions from. Perhaps he could watch from a distance to ascertain the man’s condition, see if he’d come through all right, and if not…well, then, perhaps Anton could—

A hand suddenly gripped his dangling left wrist and jerked him sideways, pulling him into the shadow of a deep doorway. Anton squawked and lashed out with his elbow, riding the surge of adrenaline to help him fight back. He’d been followed, someone had caught him, they were going to try to—

“Anton!” Another hand caught his elbow and pressed it down and out of the way, but nothing about it hurt. Even the grip around his wrist was only tight enough to restrain, not to injure or bruise. “It’s all right,” his gentle captor said. “It’s just me.”

“Camille!” Anton felt like he should have seen this coming, after the day he’d had—unexpected visitors seemed to be in fashion. On the other hand, he’d learned better than to expect what he wanted to happen to actually occur, and he had wanted Camille for months now.

Yet it was Camille. He looked haggard, even more so than the last time he’d visited, and there were a few worrying strands of gray that hadn’t been there before in his moustache, but it was him. There was nothing but warmth and concern on his face.

“I’m sorry I had to—” That was as far as Camille got before Anton pressed in against him, his arms still trapped but not even caring about that, turning his face into the side of Camille’s neck and just breathing. “Anton,” Camille said again, softly this time. He let go of Anton’s arms and wrapped him in an embrace, which Anton was pleased to be able to return. “It’s all right,” he murmured. “You escaped.”

“You saw?” Anton mumbled. “You saw what I did?”

“And what he almost did to you, don’t forget. Not that I would have let him. I’d caught up to you a block earlier, but I didn’t want to approach you in that part of town if I could help it—it would give people the wrong impression.”

“I wouldn’t have cared.” The whole world could have thought Anton a catamite and he would have endured it, if it meant meeting up with Camille a moment sooner.

“I know, so I had to care for you.” Camille paused, then said, “I’ve never seen a death miasma resurrect like that before.”

“It’s not a—well, it’s a…” Anton sighed. “I would love nothing more than to tell you all about it, but I can’t right now, I just can’t—the words are right there on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t speak them. I just—I might have killed that man. I could have killed myself the first time around, and I was only experiencing a suicide, not a—” His voice cut off as Camille’s grip became brutally tight for a moment. “Can’t…breathe…” he squeaked out.

“Damn, I’m sorry.” Camille pulled him arms away all at once, leaving Anton with nothing to hold him up but his own shaking legs. “But what do you mean, you experienced a suicide?” He looked slightly manic around the eyes. “You were suicidal?”

“No—no, I wasn’t at all!” Anton insisted. He could see now how what he’d said might have been misinterpreted, and lord, wasn’t he just going a wonderful job at cocking everything up today? “The first time I cast the spell, it was actually an accident—I was trying out ingredients that would result in a rising, yes, but nothing so powerfully formed. I meant it to be a spell that could be used to help investigate older cases, but I dropped the wrong thing at the right time and got a bit of mercury mixed in that shouldn’t have been in there, not to mention the—well, regardless, it ended up producing much what you saw back there.”

He exhaled slowly. “Only in my case, the dead man had been in the act of committing suicide, hanging himself from the rafter of my laboratory. He didn’t die easily. He suffocated, and the whole time I felt what he felt, and he was so filled with regret, and he wanted to reach the chair he’d just kicked away, wanted to stop what he’d put into motion, but there was no way out. It took him nearly three minutes to die, and I lived the entire thing with him. I…lost most of that afternoon to disassociation, honestly.”

“That sounds hideous,” Camille said, his skin taking on a bit of a ghostly pallor.

“Oh, it was utterly incapacitating,” Anton agreed. “But so interesting too, don’t you think? I knew I was onto something, so I kept working at the spell in my spare time. I filled the wooden ball up with all the right ingredients some time ago, but I confess I was too afraid to drop it for the longest time. I’ve been carrying it around for over a month now, trying to find an area to set it off where I was least likely to be debilitated.”

Camille held up a hand between them, the other one squeezing the bridge of his nose. “Stop. Just…don’t speak, for a moment.”

Anton stopped. He felt a bit sick to his stomach, all the impulse to fight or flee fully drained from his body, leaving him tired and a bit desperate feeling. “I’m sorry,” he offered after what he hoped was an acceptable interpretation of a “moment.” “I’m not sure what I said that upset you, but I wish I hadn’t.”

“It’s not you,” Camille assured him, lowering his hands. “It’s simply that…I’ve been hoping, for quite some time now, that you were safe here. I have not been particularly safe myself, and one of the few things that gave me any sense of comfort was the idea that you were perfectly well and taking care of yourself. And now I find out that you’ve invented a spell that can force a person to relive whatever violent deaths may have occurred in the vicinity it is cast, and in doing so leave them as helpless as babes. It’s a mental contradiction, and it’s taking me a moment to come to terms with it.”

“Oh.” Anton felt very small, but also oddly warm as well. “I really am very careful,” he said. “Please tell me you know that. I wouldn’t deliberately put myself in danger.”

“I know,” Camille agreed. “And I respect your expertise. I just…” He blew out a breath. “Will you stay with me tonight? I have a room not far from here, and I know that you’ve just graduated and you probably have parties to attend and people to see, but—"

“Absolutely,” Anton said before Camille could finish talking about silly things like Anton possibly preferring someone else’s company. “Let’s go there now.”