Chapter Eight

Luncheon was a bust, the sad ruin of a thousand fruitful hopes as the cove says. The spread was fine, no doubt about that, but I couldn’t really get my nose down to it properly, what with Liv and Wood simpering at me and Miranda glaring at me and Lord Ian sighing without looking at me and Bean trying to kill me, apparently, with his bare eyes. Bloomers was the only one of the lot I could stomach at all–he didn’t take his eyes off Doodle even once, and occasionally jabbed himself in the chin with his fork.

As soon as I decently could I sprinted for the haven of my room. I closed the door and leaned back against it, relief writ large, no doubt, upon my features. My eyes slid shut and I sighed heavily.

“Sir?”

I didn’t move, though my heart did give a bit of a flutter. “Boyd,” I said, and opened the old peepers to have a look. He had a tumbler on a salver and a sympathetic expression, the second easily as refreshing as the first.

I knocked back the drink and ambled further into the room. “What ho, Boyd. Any luck on the sticky situation?” I confess my knees weakened a bit at this daring utterance. Sticky. Boyd.

“I have not come up with a sastisfactory solution yet, sir, I am afraid.” He straightened the decanters on the sideboard with light clinks, his back turned. “I have put several inquiries into train, however, and I hope that one or more of them will bear fruit.”

“Well, I jolly well hope so,” I said, sinking onto the settee. “There’s been a dreadful lot of developments since I saw you last.” Saying so, I brought him up to speed on recent events, including Miranda’s resentment, Colonel Bean’s resentment, his subsequent peeling-off by the manservant Serkis, Lord Ian’s resentment, Liv’s foaming-at-the-mouth crutches and subsequent peeling-off by Miranda, and Miranda’s surreptitious squeeze of Liv’s bottom. I touched briefly on the (dis)pleasures of lunch and concluded by looking hopefully at Boyd to gauge whether any of this had jarred the thinking processes into producing a feast of some sort.

Certainly his fair brow was corrugated with thought; he leaned slightly against the drinks table, hands clasped before him and green eyes gazing into the distance, obviously considering my information. “All very intriguing,” he said at last, but nothing more.

“But blast it, Boyd, what am I to do? I come to you on my knees–” a fit of coughing seized me here. “Metaphorically speaking of course.” Unless you really want me on my knees, in which case here, please do allow me…

“I appreciate your faith, sir,” he replied, smiling at me. A smile from Boyd–ah. Better than patented remedies. “I am afraid only time will knit the ravelled sleeve of care in this case–time to ponder and plan.”

I grumbled a bit but accepted the truth of his words. A knock upon the portal interrupted our colloquy, and Boyd glided across to open it. I heard murmuring, and then he turned to me. “Young Lord Bloom and Mr. Wood desire your company, sir. Shall I grant them entrance, or are you still feeling out of spirits?”

I raised my eyebrows. That slight hint of chill, that barely detectable note of disapproval… I recalled his icy tone when speaking to Doodle last night and thought, what the hell. “I can face them for a few minutes, I suppose.” Boyd nodded, the tiniest dip of his head, and opened the door. Wood and Bloomers trotted obediently in, and Boyd crossed to stand rigidly before the wardrobe.

Bloomers was in fine fettle, swanking in and getting to the point immediately. “I say, Dommie, Doodle here had the idea that we should go and walk about the grounds a bit, enjoy the sunshine and snow and such.”

“There’s a ruin,” Wood added, blue eyes guileless and charming. “Like a maze, Miss Otto said, all little dark rooms and no roof and places to get lost in.”

“Sounds jolly, eh?” Bloomers was mooning at Wood, and Wood was leering at me, and Boyd was above it all, staring at some point just over my shoulder.

“Oh, ah. Yes, I suppose so. Fresh air might brace the soul, what? Let me get my warm-weather gear slung about the old limbs and I’ll be down in a jiff.” I shooed the chaps out the door and went about the business of changing into outdoor clothing, assisted by a silent Boyd. “Might be just the thing, eh, Boyd?” A minscule bow as he shoved my feet into boots. “Crisp, clean air, a look at some ancient hulk or other.” A slight sniff. “Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang and all that rot, what?” Encumbered all round with coats and boots and scarves and caps and gloves and such, I stood outside the door.

“Certainly, sir. Have an enjoyable walk.” And Boyd closed the panel on my visage with a quiet little click.

I shivered. Prize-winning git, Dominic Monaghan.

~*~*~*~

Now, I could go into the gory details of our little jaunt, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that the pendulum of my heart swung lower and lower, thinking about Boyd’s offended silence. Added to this agony were fresh torments from Bloomers, who seemed to believe that the way to Doodle’s heart lay in making a prize ass of himself, and from Doodle, who seemed to believe that the way to my trousers lay in various techniques of ambushing me. When I could finally bear their distressing antics no longer, I suggested a boyish game of hide and seek, sent them off to hide, and made for the house at a pace that would have astonished those earnest do-gooders who refer to my class as the “idle” rich. Idle indeed.

I rounded the house at a fair clip only to be confronted by a sight that chilled the blood–beyond of course, its already chilled state, by the weather and recent events and so on and so forth. It was Liv and Miranda, bundled about in furs (Liv) and workmanlike coat and scarf (Miranda). And damn and blast if they hadn’t already seen me.

“Yoicks, tally-ho,” Miranda hallooed with a grin, referring, one must assume, to my headlong pace. I skidded to a halt and simpered at the ladies, trying to still my heaving breast, wondering if a spot of heart attack would spare me from a conversation. “Where’s the fire, Dommie old boy?” Miranda asked, and I dismissed the heart attack as being fruitless, and instead blathered out the first thought that entered my head.

“Bit of a risky enterprise with the old sticks, what?” I said, gesturing to Liv’s crutches.

“Oh no, I’m fine with Mirrie here to help me,” Liv burbled, beaming at her. “We were just taking a turn round the stables. Would you like to accompany us?”

Mirrie? Had Liv called her Mirrie? I was gaping like a halibut, admittedly, and thus it was that I was swept up in their wake.

I trudged along at what I hoped was a safe distance, and mused upon a phrase Boyd had bestowed on me upon a different occasion, strangely apropos to this one–all about mortals growing swiftly in misfortune or somesuch sentiment. I felt my misfortune burgeoning by leaps and bounds, and perhaps that explains the fact that when Liv whirled gaily to speak with me, I made no move to defend myself and fell beneath the onslaught of her fatal helpmetes so easily.

Next thing I knew I was staring blankly at the sky, wondering if those clouds there presaged snow and look, that one resembles a cow creamer, a bit. If the cow had wings, though what a cow creamer would need with wings escaped me–perhaps they would be functional as a splash guard? My view of the celestial winged cow creamer was cut off by Miranda’s interested face, alarmingly close.

“Quite a knock she’s given you, Dommie, you young pimple. Here, up you go,” and saying so, she heaved me to my feet at a rate that had clouds and trees and ground and she and Liv fairly spinning. She gripped my arms in a vise that bore an uncanny resemblance to Bean’s earlier ministrations, holding me upright by main force until I could stand straight on my own. “Right then, you’ll be fine–though Liv here does pack quite a punch, don’t she?” She pursed her lips coquettishly at said bird, and I swayed in amaze. Miranda’s sharp eyes pinned me again. “You do look something white. Perhaps you should get to the kitchen and have a bag of ice slapped on the old block.”

Liv hobbled up and I backed away, ripping my arm from Miranda’s hold. “Maybe we should go with him, Mirrie,” she chirped. “What if he falls down again?”

“No!” I held my hands up, pretending they weren’t trembling and modulating my tone slightly–a flock of magpies had sprung up from a nearby dryad at my shrill negation. “I’m fine. Really. Fine.” I continued to back away. “Ice is a spiffing idea, friend of my youth, and I’ll hurry right down to do that. Thank you. Thank you.” I turned tail and fled, wincing as my head throbbed in time with my hurried footsteps.

~*~*~*~

Kitchens, kitchens. My head did hurt, a nice gentle whack on the noggin Liv’d given me. Perhaps I could pinch a towel of ice and then have Boyd hold it to my fevered brow. Not that I was likely to calm down with Boyd leaning tenderly over me, one hand holding the towel in place, the other, perhaps, on my shoulder, warm and steadying and gentle and firm… This wasn’t making walking any simpler.

I popped into the kitchen and unswathed the body, then sweet-talked a maid into assisting me. Sitting on the fender by the fire while she bustled off to the icebox, I drifted into absent reverie, only to be pulled back into consciousness by a name that I loved.

“…Boyd,” one lass said to another, her tone one of worry and fretting. My ears sharpened, I leaned slightly to the right, keeping my eyes nonchalantly upon the ceiling. The other servant spoke:

“I ‘eard ‘e was in a right taking–saw ‘im a moment ago as angry as a bull, muttering that ‘e shouldn’t’ve opened ‘is mouth and now ‘e’d ‘ave to find that bleeding valet and put paid to ‘im…” Who was the “he”? Was Boyd threatening a valet’s life? Or was Boyd the gentleman’s gentleman in mortal peril? My heart sped at the terrible thought, and I strained to hear more; conversation had shifted back to the young laundress I’d first heard:

“…and puir Mr. Boyd not knowin’ a thing about it, fair scares me–if I had that great brute Serkis after me I’d hide me head till he’d slept off the drink, I would. Has anyone seen Mr. Boyd?”

“Millicent saw ‘im by the emerald parlour not so long ago, but I dursent go out there meself.”

“Boyd!” my soul cried out, and I leaped up, forgetting about my head and the ice in my haste to protect my darling William. I sped from the kitchen on wings born of love, racing through the hallways toward the aforementioned emerald parlour, a sort of writing-desk-containing, settee-inhabited room toward the back of the house.

My efforts were not in vain–I spied him, drifting sedately through the corridor ahead of me. “Boyd!” I called, just as I heard a threatening rumble from a guest room to my right. I whirred past the door and spared a glance, catching Serkis just turning from a heated search of the room. Feet twinkling nimbly, I slammed the door in his face, zipped ahead to Boyd, grasped his arm and pulled him into the nearest unoccupied room, some sort of musical chamber, it appeared. I heard a thumping, fumbling tread outside the door and–ignoring Boyd’s extremely startled “Sir!” and almost ungraceful pirouette–yanked the delicious Scot into a closet with me, shutting the door just as Serkis slammed open the door from the hall.

The closet, as luck would have it, was one of those louvred affairs that lets plenty of light in and still, happily, conceals any hide-and-seekers in a blessedly efficient manner. I put my hand gently over Boyd’s mouth to hush him–hand! Boyd! Mouth!–and placed my eye to a crack. Serkis was stamping about the room in a muscular and terrifying way, muttering. Boyd carefully removed my hand from his face–ballocks!–and put his own eye to the door, his head–praise be!–just beside my own. As Serkis circled near us I could make out his words:

“Bloody interfering Scot with his bloody whisky and bloody questions and bloody insinuations, should never have–damnation–stupid bloody prat opening my big stupid gob and I’ll have to kill him before he can tell anyone, that’s all…” This blood-curdling monologue trailed away, and Boyd and I watched, enthralled, as Serkis stood in the open door, meticulously surveying the scene. His eye fell upon the closet–he took one step toward us–he fell, slumping noisily to the floor, directly across the doorway.

“Is he dead?” I whispered, once a small eternity had made me acutely aware of Boyd’s quietly breathing presence beside me. Close beside me. In the dark. In a confined place. I had to say something, didn’t I, or else just turn and snog the poor lovely delectable Scot until we both breathed rather loudly. Which seemed a bad idea, as perhaps he was still upset with my earlier behavior.

“Nae, he’s no’ dead.” Boyd’s acent was noticeably thicker, and I surprised a look of grim satisfaction upon his features before he drew back from the revealing light striping through the slats. “Dead drunk, aye. Sir.” He added the title and then turned toward me slightly. “Tha’s my doing and Ah hope you dunnae mind.”

“Shall we try to leave?” I whispered.

Boyd peered out the crack again at Serkis’s prone figure. “I wouldnae. Have to go over him, and while he’s not likely to waken, be a fair terrible thing ‘f he did.” He squinted at me and swayed just a tad–exhaustion replacing fright, one presumed. “When he wakes up he’ll be docile as a lamb and in a fair way to forgetting everything he said.”

“How do you know?” If Boyd had told me that he had divined this intelligence through his uncanny abilities at paranormal phenomena, including mind-reading, I would not have been at all surprised.

“He told me so himself,” was the faintly disappointing answer. “Ah got him drunk as a lord, asked him a few wee questions, and then took m’self away. No’ far enough though, sir, and I thank you for saving me.” His eyes gleamed at me and I coughed nervously, wondering if the same dim light that allowed me to see his jade green eyes would allow him to see my gravity-defying erection.

“Say nothing about it, Boyd, you’ve fished me from the soup so many times that this in no way begins to pay off my debt to you.”

“I endeavor to please,” Boyd breathed, two millimeters or so away.

“I–ah. Oh, blast. Why did you get him schnockered?” My heart was racing much too quickly, and my lungs felt frightfully busy, don’t you know.

“Wanted him to tell me about the Colonel, sir. And Miss Holm. And all tha’.”

“And did he?”

“Oh, aye. Sad tale, really. Two soldiers in a tight spot, faraway corner of the Empire. Serkis was the Colonel’s batman–valet, like, sir.” I nodded, trying to pay attention. Trying not to rip open my shirt and offer myself to him like a cheap trollop in a Byzantine whorehouse. Though that fantasy had potential… Monaghan! Pull it together!

“So there was just the one time, you see sir,” Boyd was saying. “But the Colonel’s always after him for more, but Serkis is a good man, really. Knows his place, and as long as he’s the Colonel’s servant he’ll never touch him again, no matter how the Colonel wants him to. He’s a good man,” Boyd repeated, looking with a strange intensity at the corpse in the doorway.

“So he–and Bean–?” The mind boggled. No wonder Bean had been relieved when Liv threw him the glove, what? “And never since that once, in India?”

“No sir. Though–” Boyd leaned confidentially close– “twice he has allowed the Colonel to kiss him, when he was in his cups.” Boyd’s voice was warm. “He doesnae remember it, sor, but the Colonel tells him about it.” Velvety rough and honeyed, his breath caressing upon my cheek, scented sweetly by bergamot and…

Whisky?

“Boyd? Are you pickled?”

He didn’t answer me immediately, sliding down instead to sit on the floor. I followed suit, since we appeared to be in for a long wait, if Serkis’s contented snores were any indication. Of course Boyd was taken in drink, he’d never have fallen so greatly from formality as to sit before me if he were sober.

“I had to drink alongside him, sir,” Boyd said eventually. “I didnae think I would get really pissed, if I may use a vulgar expression. The day an Englishman can outdrink a Scot…” He snorted to register his opinion of this unlikely turn of affairs. “I doan want you to think hard of me, sir, Mr. Monaghan.” He leaned close to me and I smelt his intoxicated, intoxicating scent again. His eyes glittered a little, and the quick dart of his pink tongue, moistening his lips, nearly made me jump out of my skin.

“I–I could never think anything but good of you, Boyd,” I stuttered. “You are a paragon in every field.” I swallowed.

We sat in silence for a time then; I tried to focus on thoughts that would subdue Dommie Junior down there, but it was a hopeless cause. “Erm. Boyd.” Perhaps I could distract myself.

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you think what you learned is useful?” I had to say something.

His head fell to one side. “Oh, aye, sir. I can think of any number of ways it could be so.”

Silence.

“Would you care–could you share some of those ways?”

Silence.

“Boyd?”

“Yet each man kills the thing he loves, by each let this be heard.” He leaned closer to me, which considering that only a few smallish sardines would have fit into the closet with us meant that we were suddenly very cosy indeed. “Some do it with a bitter look, some with a flattering word.”

“What’s that, Boyd?” Beneath the whisky and tea scent was soap and sweat–Jesus god in heaven help me–and I could feel his knee press against my thigh.

“Oscar Wilde, sir.” The light through the door fell across his face in narrow strips of illumination. “Ballad of Reading Gaol. He went to gaol for buggery, did you know, sir?”

“Oh, ah. No. I mean, yes, I suppose–” please let me go to gaol, pleasepleaseplease, only let me commit the crime and let it be with this man right here.

“The coward does it with a kiss, the brave man with a sword.” Boyd lifted his hand and touched my cheek, then brushed his fingers delicately along my cheekbone, through my hair and to the back of my head. He leaned closer yet.

“William,” I whispered.

He kissed me, a sure, firm pressure of his lips upon mine, followed soon by openness, moisture, heat, followed soon by the taste of his tongue, seeking mine gently and inexorably, so that I opened my mouth and moaned into his, into that dark sweet space where hotwetdeep all mingled and met and tangled moistly.

“Dominic,” he said softly, and then–

Then he was out cold.

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