“Do you think I made the appropriate impression?” William fiddled with the lace at the end of his sleeve and looked about the crowded parlor room, scanning it to find Jon Henley. He’d wanted to please him. It was important to William to become
someone important, which he fully believed Jon could do for him.
“I think you made an
impression,” Edmund said.
He was rather brazenly wearing a smug grin that William felt was definitely inappropriate for the occasion. Then again, he admittedly didn’t quite know what
was appropriate for the occasion, hence the question. Sometimes he hated everyone he knew.
“Smooth,” Nate said. He donned his hat and started patting about the lapels of his jacket, searching for his cigarette case. “Not quite as…worldly as you could have been, though.”
“I’ve found, in my dealings about the Opera house, that it is polite to kiss the knuckles of your betters when you greet them.” He found the cigarette case and pulled one out, tapping the tip of it gently on the smooth silver back absentmindedly. “Did you kiss him, Mr. Claxton?”
Edmund choked around a laugh and William felt his ears going red. The silk lining of his jacket suddenly felt as constricting as any male corset. “He’s not my type,” William said.
“It’s hardly about types, my good man,” Nate said. “And I’m off.” William watched him disappear into the crowd.
Edmund crowded in next to him and draped his arm across William’s shoulders. “I’ll buy you a whole bottle of that disgusting Sarmillian plum wine you like so much if you do it.”
“Once a man has tried to kill you with a priceless vase, it’s a little late for first impressions,” William said.
“Don’t you think it’s time we left for the evening?”
William looked at Edmund, who was still carefully composed and smug. “Sod it,” William said. He stalked through the parlor and out into the foyer, leaving Edmund behind. When he finally found Jon Henley the man was surrounded by other people. William stood at the edge of the group for a moment, composing himself. He then did something he had told himself he would never do and let a stereotype get the better of him. He flounced into the center of the circle, letting his cane lead the way.
“Mr. Claxton,” Jon said, eyebrow raised.
“Mr. Henley,” William said. He reached out and grasped at Jon’s naked hand, holding it firmly in his gloved fingers. “It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance this evening. I look forward our next meeting.” And there, in front of everyone, William brought Jon’s fingers to his lips and gave them a quick, dry kiss. Then, without looking up into Jon’s face again, he bowed his way out of the circle and shot for the door.
“Dandies,” he heard Jon say behind him, and the crowd laughed: quietly, politely, conspiratorially.
“I’d say you’ve left an impression now,” Edmund said, clapping his hand down on William’s shaking shoulder and wheeling him off the porch and down to where their horses were stabled.
“I think,” William said carefully, “that if I work for him, I’m going to become someone different than who I mean to be.” 2.
It had been a whirlwind six months, working for Jon Henley as one of his Architects. William learned more than he thought there was to know about the way politics worked and how to get people to do the things he wanted. Edmund was still the deadliest blade in their group, but William had become the most graceful, and as such had made himself as useful to Mr. Henley as he imagined he could be.
And he was
the most graceful. He prided himself in being carefully put together at all times. He liked the way Jon looked at him when he first entered the room. He felt petted and approved of whenever Jon would give him one of his slight nods. “Thank you,” he assumed it to mean. “You’re perfect.”
The fact that that woman
had joined the group did not make things different. Her golden hair and her demure lips and the swell of her hips were nothing when compared to the sword William kept in his cane. Feminine wiles did not a conspirator make. So why did Jon now nod in her
direction when she
entered the room. As if she’d done more than sleep with Nate Ayre and frustrate that Dawes boy. Not that he couldn’t appreciate anything that frustrated Derek Dawes. But still….
William needed to do something drastic. He needed to get himself noticed again. And since carving her heart out and delivering it to Jon with the evening report seemed a little drastic, he settled on something a little more subtle.
“Mr. Claxton,” Jon said, as William entered the main drawing room on the airship. Jon was already seated, preparing for the unmooring that he had never really gotten used to.
William noted the distinct lack of an appreciative nod and straightened up. “Mr. Henley,” he said, stepping forward. He leaned in and grasped Jon’s forearm, pulling him forward in his chair. Then he swooped down and left a small kiss on Jon’s cheek.
Jon froze. William smiled and leaned back, releasing his grip on Jon’s forearm. There was a cough at the door and William turned, taking a step to the side, just in time to see Tom Bridgman back out of the room with a tip of his hat. William smiled at him. After all, there was nothing unusual happening, just a guard dog greeting his master in the appropriate manner.
The silence between them evaporated as the airship’s engines were cranked and prepared for takeoff. William watched as Jon slid back in his seat and gripped hard at the arms of his chair. “The report, Mr. Claxton,” he said in a tight voice. 3.
They were drunk. Edmund disgracefully so, but William wasn’t far behind him. Technically they didn’t have nights off. The job of revolutionary wasn’t one that came with an office or routine, so in general it suited them to be as sharp as they could whenever possible. Some nights though, some nights you just needed to let your hair down.
The necklace at William’s throat was spinning, receiving a message. “You,” he said, pulling at the waist of the woman closest to Edmund. She giggled and fell back into him. He gave her his widest, most charming smile and said “do you have a looking glass on you, my dear?”
“You’re still the prettiest in the land, Will,” Edmund crowed, and pinched the breast of the girl in his lap. She shrieked compliantly.
“No,” William said. “I believe it’s the boss.”
“Ah, that familiar stirring in your heart, then?”
“Almost surely,” William said. The girl handed her mirror over and William took it over to the fire. He unbuttoned his shirt down to his stomach and pulled it and the lapel of his jacket aside, holding the mirror up so that he could clearly see his left collar bone. There they were, the familiar raised bumps on his chest in the code that only the Architects knew. Morse code for the devil himself. “I believe we’re being summoned,” he said.
“Let the bastard bring his arse down here where it’s warm and comfortable,” Edmund said.
shouldn’t have to bring his arse
William turned around quickly, almost tripping over his heel. “Mr. Henley,” he said. “Jon.”
“Has this fine young man come to join the party?” said the girl in Edmund’s lap.
“I’ve come to join nothing. You are needed, Wilson,” he said to Edmund. “If you’re finished polishing your saber you can clean yourself up and meet Mr. Bridgman outside.”
Edmund frowned and stood, carefully pushing the girl from his lap. She gave a small pout, but he tapped the end of her nose with his finger and spared her a smile. “I’ll be back for you,” he said. To Jon he said, “you could use a little polish yourself, careful you don’t tarnish.” Then he stomped from the room.
Jon stared at William expectantly. Do something
, William thought. You have an audience. What would get the greatest reaction?
“What a pleasure this is,” William said. He tripped forward toward Jon as foppishly as he could manage in his already disoriented state. “You are always welcome in our home.” With that William clasped Jon’s neck in both of his hands and dragged him bodily forward, laying a wet, welcoming kiss on Jon’s lips.
The girls clapped and cheered. Jon stood very, very still as William let him go and stepped back, grinning for all the world like a street mutt that had just found a bone.
“You forget your place, Mr. Claxton. And you do it often.”
William let his lips fall, drawing himself in and trying to look more serious. “You forget that you wouldn’t have your place if I knew mine.” This bit of fiction was written for the Second Chance Topic: No Man Is a Hero to His Valet at therealljidol. I realize this is kind of ridiculous, even for me, so you know, let me know if you were amused. As always, all comments and questions are welcome.