Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fleur de Lys Part 6


There were soldiers everywhere that spring. Men on every street corner in London with the same, faintly dazed look to their faces. At night, and in very early morning there were men walking or jogging in the parks. Those who were out of the habit of sleep, those too disoriented and those too fearful to sleep.

Cowan walked near the room he rented near Battersea, hanging near the barracks while he summoned up the nerve to go home. At the time, he thought it was the sudden end to the army routine he’d lived by for nearly two years: set hours, set procedures that programmed mind and body and protected from all independent decisions. Like the others haunting the streets that spring, he hoped that when he was tired enough and bewildered enough that he would habituate back to England .

In the meantime he walked.

There were no shortage of people on the streets. He walked through sales pitches, quarrels, love affairs and indifference, without seeing faces or hearing voices. The knot of men that fell past him shortly before dawn were no different, and they barely registered on him. There was the smash of glass as one of them, trailing a little way behind, fell, and a muffled oath. Lights flashed on in the flat above the shop. Shouts and catcalls arose from the other men on the street. The fallen man was staggering, dressed in clothes that looked too big, clumsy on a slight frame. The hands flailed as Cowan passed, and Cowan reflexively grabbed and caught a small wrist. The man’s head flung up in a colt like gesture of defiance, he looked and Cowan saw all anger melt into something else.


Cowan held onto him. Dev glanced back to the crowd of young men now blundering towards another shop window, took another look at the light above which was moving into the broken shop window and tugged at Cowan, snatching a fallen hat up off the pavement. A police whistle sounded some way off. Cowan swore and followed Dev. They ran, pacing each other with the ease of long practise off the main street into a network of alleys. Dev of course knew his ground. He brought them up in a whitewashed alley well out of the street lights and leaned on his knees, panting. Cowan slumped opposite and surveyed him. The suit infuriated him, it made Dev's face look too different. The shine to his eyes and the smile told their own story, and they made him angrier still. Cowan yanked the hat out of his hand, ready to strangle him.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Drinking.” Dev said cheerfully.

It was in his face and voice and loose graced movements as well as on his breath- the intoxication of the fast and determined drinker. Cowan had all the morality of his class and Dev saw his hackles rise.

“Oh aye? Do you know what bloody time it is?”

“About nine am Greenwich meantime.”

Cowan’s hand closed painfully over his wrist and shoved him back against the wall, stripping him of dignity and flippancy in one sharp shake. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“If anyone else says that today I shall go fucking mad.” Dev spat back. It would have made Hayes back off in quiet disgust. Cowan simply shook him like a terrier with a rat, making his teeth rattle.

“PACK that in. Look at you! Pissed out of your head and crashing about the streets like a kid on his first pint! What’s the matter with you!”

He was outraged, and his anger was different to Edward’s. Shame scorched though Dev, followed by desperation. Cowan had always had a gift for getting through every layer of armour and making him feel about sixteen. He tried, ineffectually, to get out of Cowan’s grasp.

“If I want to be lectured I’ll go back to Edward Hayes, how dare you lay down the law to me?”

“Because you can’t con me you stupid little bugger.” Cowan said sharply, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Go to hell.” Dev tried once more to get out of Cowan’s crushing grip. Cowan controlled him effortlessly, wrists bruising in his grasp.

“If Hayes had half a brain-“

“He’d do what? Go on Cowan, tell me. I’ve heard it all.”

“No one with any sense would try telling you anything.” Cowan cut himself off, swallowing what he’d nearly said aloud. Dev was flushed with rage. Cowan recognised the blaze in his eyes. Adrenaline. He was past listening, past reasoning, he had that terrible, satanic smile Cowan had always hated and loved because it meant pure danger. His body tightened with a familiar mixture of anger and tenderness. He could have broken the fragile wrists in his hands.

“You stupid little sod.”

Deverel snarled at him. Cowan controlled his struggles, caught his head and kissed him, hard. It felt, for some minutes, like a battle. Hands clasped iron hard, mouth locked, bodies pushed so hard together that their hips ground, then Dev wrenched his hands free and grabbed Cowan’s head, fingers biting. Cowan fought for air. He had to push Dev off to do it, the younger man was past control. He’d seen Dev like this before, as if some wild beast inside him had slipped its chain.

Deverel gulped for breath and got a little sanity back into his eyes.

“Come on.”


“Come on. Cowan come on.”

Cowan swore and obeyed the command. Through alleyways, streets waking to the morning traffic, into a white marble street where a doorman politely touched his high hat, inclining his head.

“Good morning my lord.”

Cowan balked on the steps, looking at the man in panic. Dev gripped his arm and towed him into the hall. “Come on.”

“You’re mad, you’ll get us arrested!”

“Cowan I could screw a prize bull in the library and they wouldn’t turn a hair, I had that confirmed to me this morning. Do you know who my father is?” Dev nodded briefly to a man behind the desk and ran upstairs. Cowan followed him in mild hysteria.

The room was small and immaculate. Cowan shut the door, locked it, and staggered as Dev crashed into him. He pulled his jacket off as they kissed, flung his hat away and Cowan caught his hands to slow him. “Hey. Easy.”

“Get off me.”

“Easy.” Cowan put his hands down and pulled his own shirt over his head. Dev waited. Cowan looked down at him and winced. There was no thought in his eyes, no mind and no soul. Just a body, young and demanding. Gunbays, steps, places in the dead of night and in earshot of other men, he had seen those eyes and clamped a hand over Dev’s mouth to keep him quiet while he gave the younger man what he needed. He’d thought of this a hundred times- being with Dev somewhere safe and clean, somewhere they were in no danger. This hadn't been what he'd intended to do with Dev at all- certainly not what his instincts had told him to do. And now, here, he had a sudden and clear intention to make Dev stop, take his time, take that frenzied look out of his face, but they were too well practised. Dev caught him the second his shirt was off, and his need was too urgent to control. Pity fought with tenderness, fought with desperation, starvation and several months without him, and lost.

Cowan grabbed the kid already biting at his mouth, wrestled him back down onto the bed and gave him what he wanted, with no illusions that it wasn't exactly what he wanted and needed too.


It was an effort to get out of bed and pull the heavy drapes to let in the noon light. Thin, dusty sunlight. It outlined Cowan, face down, brown and muscled in his bed. Sprawled like a cat. Dev folded his arms and smiled slightly, watching Cowan’s heavy shoulder twitch in his sleep. Standing alone at the end of the bed, he made a faint, abortive move back towards that warmth, then turned away and efficiently sorted through the drawer of the dressing table.

Cowan was woken by a familiar sound. A metallic click-shove. He stretched, arms above his head, legs tangling the sheet as he rolled over. Dev was standing at the window, fully dressed, with a pistol in his hand. Cowan started up, warned by his face as much as the gun. Dev drew sharply out of reach, gave him a faint smile and unhesitatingly aimed the gun down at himself. He fired before Cowan was half way across to him.

Continue on to Part 7 of Fleur de Lys

Copyright Ranger 2010

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