Henry turned into his drive just behind Ed Cornish. Apparently having been informed about some part of the day's events, Ed strode over from his car. 'Okay, little babe? You seem shattered.'
'You wouldn't believe. Look! Lance's bedroom light's on. Thank God! He's home safe at least.'
'What's happened? Oskar rang me to say Hadjek's been arrested on the Wejg, and you and Tommy were involved somehow. But Lance...?'
'Our baby spread his wings tonight. He was down on the Wejg fighting crime and evil. Now I know how Albert the butler felt when he saw the Batmobile's tail lights heading for Gotham City.'
'Tell me about it.'
Henry filled his partner in as they walked slowly into their living room. A serious-sounding Ed called up the stairs, 'Lance, baby! Down here!'
But three teenagers thumped down the stairs, not one. Along with Lance in his dressing gown appeared Luc Charpentier and Barry Hignett, towels round their midriffs. Henry noticed the two had their hands firmly clasped. He also noticed that Barry's toenails had been painted.
'What the...?' he began weakly.
His son came over and hugged him hard. The boy's distinctive scent was stronger now than ever, as it seemed to Henry.
'You okay, baby?'
Lance smiled happily. 'Sure, dad, it's fine. I've told Luc and Bazza everything. They had to know after what they saw tonight.'
Ed intervened. 'How did they get here, and where are their clothes?' He looked askance at Luc's lean, tattooed body.
'Yeah, well, they got off lightly.'
Henry demanded, 'What happened after you burst in on that brothel?'
'You'd better sit down. It's all to do with Maxxie.'
Pausing to register his dads' looks of concern, Lance continued, explaining his contacts with the boy-king, and Barry's entrapment first by Luc and then by Wulf Sczneczen.
Luc had the grace to stare at his feet as his part in the business was explained. Barry noticed and took him round the shoulder, pulling him close. 'Those days are gone, Lucky,' he whispered in his lover's ear. A kiss on his cheek answered him.
Henry brooded on his son's news. 'So Maxxie has revealed himself to you.'
'He's drafted me, dad.'
'And you don't like it, do you, son,' Ed observed.
'No. I was just getting the hang of being human, then I have this dumped on me. I don't think Maxxie quite gets the adult world.'
Henry nodded. 'True enough. He's not seven yet, and a child that young, however sweet, wise and well-intentioned, just can't exactly come to terms with adult nuances. He needs his dad and mum to sort him out, now he's feeling his power. He did a wrong thing tonight.'
'He did? How's that?'
'Those two younger boys...'
'Laszlo and Franco?'
'They were found dead in the house. Whatever Maxxie thought he was doing, he should never have done that.'
Luc appeared shocked. 'Mais le petit roi... he sent them away to a nice place with the golden angel!'
'But the nice place was the world beyond this one. It may be a better life there for those two horribly abused kids, but he denied them their mortal existence.' Henry looked glum. 'I'm going to have to explain this to Harry.'
Lance shook his head. 'No, dad, let me deal with it. Harry doesn't need that. She's got too much else to worry about.'
Henry surveyed his eager son, and came to the inevitable decision. Lance was his own man now. Sighing, he nodded in assent.
Ed folded his arms and sized up Luc and Barry. 'Then there's you two. What do we do about you? Your parents must be worried sick, Barry.'
Barry blushed down to his shoulders, but muttered, 'They don't seem to care what happens to me. They just give me total grief.'
Ed shook his head. 'They give you grief because they care for you. You're going to have to find a living arrangement with them somehow. And what about you, Luc?'
'What do we do with you? Where's your mother?'
'Ma mère? Gone off with her boyfriend. I have no idea where. We were at the end of the road. It is why I left home to live on the Wejg.'
'So what about your father?'
'I never met him. I don't know who he is.'
Lance leaped in. 'We can let Luc stay here for now. It's only fair.'
Henry struggled to keep a neutral face. 'Er... but maybe there are other options. Luc isn't a stray puppy we can just take in like that. There are social services.'
When Luc heaved a deep sigh, Henry noticed how both Lance and Barry reached out to comfort him. Maybe the boy was not a total loss after all. His eyes caught Ed's.
Ed winked back at Henry and weighed in. 'Okay, for now you two can kip down in one of the spare bedrooms. We'll sort something out in the morning.'
Barry looked hopeful. 'The same bed?'
'That's up to you. But I thought, what with everything else, you'd be wanting sleep rather than the other thing.'
'Oh crap!' exclaimed Lance. 'Have to ring Reggie! Dammit! I gotta buy another new handij. I'll have to Skype him. He'll be out of his mind with worry.' Lance raced up the stairs.
Luc and Barry followed on more slowly, still hand in hand.
'Good morning, ma'am.'
'Is it Friday, Tommy?'
'Saturday, ma'am. Why do you ask?'
'You're wearing that rather fetching pin-striped twin set, with the pearls. Lovely blouse too.'
'Oh... just feeling good about the world. That nice Mr Hadjek is lodged in the Arsenal Prison, an accommodation I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, but he's beyond even that class of toad so I'm okay with his being there. Then we have Wicked Uncle Robert by the balls. Is he coming over for tea this afternoon? Does he have a clue that he's been screwed over by the late Prince Leopold of Thuringia?'
'I doubt it, though his mother might not have been able to resist telling him. Old Elenja's been wonderful.'
'How are you going to manage this, ma'am?'
'I'm still working on it. I have more worries about the collapse of our political élite. As of last Wednesday, Rothenia has in effect had no government. Milo von Lauern's still in the Chancellery, though he has no support in Parliament. This weekend that vile Hadjek and his CDP allies were supposed to be presenting me with the name of a replacement chancellor they could support. Now that he and some of the others have been detained, I doubt they'll be turning up.'
Tommy nodded. 'Oskar thinks they would have stalled in any case, since they were confident King Robert Rudolf would be on the throne by the end of next week.'
'Then you see my problem, sweetheart. I'll have to intervene and ask one of our more respectable statesmen to form a government of national unity. But who?'
'Didn't Oskar have any suggestions? He usually does.'
'He had ideas, but he is so anti-CDP. He still associates the party with the attempt on Rudi's life.'
'It seems to me you have your own ideas, ma'am.'
'I do. Count von Lauern will be here this afternoon.'
'Oops! Better get changed then.'
'You'll do no such thing, Tomasczu. It's time that man faced up to the changes in his world.'
Tommy grinned. 'By the way, ma'am, I've had an odd request. The Mendamero Men want an audience with their sovereign. Damien was on the phone first thing this morning.'
'They want to play with Maxxie? Not a problem. It's the weekend. He could do with the distraction. He was tired and fretful this morning. I think he may be coming down with something.'
The day started promptly on Fridricsgasse. It was a bright sunny morning, though an autumn chill was in the air. Luc and Barry woke early, as Luc erupted in a catastrophic fart.
'Oh sheesh! Lucky, you're disgusting!'
'You stink. I mean, I love you and all that, but do you have to smell so bad?'
'It's just me.'
'If we're gonna sleep together, it's time you faced up to deodorant. You don't shower half enough. Why can't you smell like Lance?'
Luc emerged from under the duvet with a faintly sheepish grin plastered over his face. 'Lance smells like a Parisian parfumerie. I have a really manly odour.' He laughed, and pulled Barry down on to him. Soon they were kissing, and then locked in sex. Barry groaned as Luc's fat knob found its way home and swelled up inside him.
'You like me to fuck you, don't you?' Luc gasped as he pulled out of Barry and thrust back hard.
Barry saw stars. 'Oh my God! You were the one who took my cherry, Luc. Somehow it seems just right when you top me.'
'That's because I'm your man, et t'es mon enculé. Say it!'
Strangely, the demand excited Barry. He desperately wanted to make an act of submission to the French boy. 'I'm your bitch,' he gasped. 'Fuck me, Luc!'
'C'est mon enjeu! Dieu, c'est si bon!'
Luc applied himself to the task with great energy. Barry came between them, such was the frenetic pace of his lover's fucking. He gripped Luc round the flanks hard with his long legs as he climaxed. Luc yelled in his ear when the pressure on his cock triggered his own ejaculation.
They lay stunned and exhausted in the aftermath. Luc finally leaned in to kiss Barry. 'You may call me Lucky, mon copain, It seems nice coming from you, better than in the Wejg days. I love you.'
The knock on their door caused them to jump apart.
Lance stuck his head into the room. 'Thought I'd see how you are, since it's obvious to the whole house you're awake. Take a shower and come down to the kitchen. I've put some clothes on the landing for you both. Barry's about my build, and my younger stuff'll fit you, Luc.'
The two teenagers exchanged quirky looks, but complied. Luc spent a long time chipping the nail paint off Barry's toes. 'I suppose it would be too much to hope they had varnish stripper here,' he observed.
'Thanks for doing this. I love you for it.'
Luc smiled up from the bathroom floor, where he was on his knees. 'I want you to be perfect for me again. I'm so sorry I got you into this mess.'
Barry kissed him. 'It'll be better now. I know it. I'll even face my parents for you, my Lucky.'
'In the meantime, we must face Lance's family. Allons-y!'
But when they got to the kitchen, they found others rather than the Atwood-Cornishes. Henry and Ed were nowhere to be seen. Instead, a satirical-looking Damien was enjoying a huge fried breakfast alongside Lance and Helen Debies, while a middle-aged lady was busy at the stove preparing more. Lance introduced Luc to Mrs Willerby, the housekeeper, as a new resident in Fridricsgasse. Luc managed to be courteous.
'Love the Gallic charm, mate,' commented Damien. 'New, innit?'
Luc did not rise to the bait. 'Where are the grown-ups?'
Helen joined in. 'Ed's put his best uniform on and gone to straighten things out with Barry's parents. He thinks they need educating on what it is to be gay. From the look on his face, I don't envy your mum and dad, Barry.
'Henry's having a whale of a time in the studio.' She thumbed at the kitchen wall-screen, where Eastnet 24 was on, though muted. There was Henry, deeply engaged with a panel of experts, while the screen scrolled in English: BREAKING NEWS: NEW CRISIS: CDP MINISTERS IN SEX SCANDAL ON WEJG.
'What's the plan?' Barry asked, already well-enough inculcated in the ways of the Mendamero Men to make the request to Damien.
'Well, Bazza boy,' came the reply, 'I'm fuckin' pissed at yer. Yer shoulda came to me, yer dick. I'd 'ave sorted them people out for yer double-quick.'
'Daimey!' scolded Helen.
'Okay, okay. Since it seems to have turned out alright wivout me help, we'll move on to the next problem... Maxxie, the rogue Messiah.'
'He was awesome!' marvelled Barry. 'I mean... the things he said and did, and just a little kid too!'
Lance demurred. 'It's not as simple as that, Bazza. There's politics going on here you don't know about.'
'Maxxie is the One, which means that, unlike me, he's a fully human kid, for all the power and second sight. He looks to adults to help him, and he's looking the wrong way at the moment. He should have gone to his mum and dad, but someone else slipped in there first.'
'What? I don't get it.'
'I'll explain...' began Lance, but got no further before a car door clunked in the drive Standing up to see who it was, he announced, 'It's my dad... and yours too, Bazza. Time to face the music.'
Mr Hignett came in and peered hesitantly at his son. Ed Cornish, impressive in his dress uniform, had clearly made the most of his advantage. Mr Hignett looked to him before mumbling hesitantly, 'You alright, son? The general here's been telling me what you've been going through... I'm... really sorry. Your mum and I, we just didn't understand. I blame myself.'
Ed put a large hand on the man's shoulder. 'I'm sure Barry knew deep down you meant well.'
'Dad... er...' Barry was tongue-tied.
His father looked even guiltier. 'Will you come home with me? Your mother's been so worried. We'll try to come to terms with your... y'know.'
Barry demurred, putting his hand on Luc's narrow shoulder. 'Dad, this is Luc Charpentier, my boyfriend, and I love him. I've got to know he's going to be welcome in our house before I go home.'
Mr Hignett struggled, but with a sidelong glance at Luc, finally nodded. 'Sure, we'll make him welcome.'
Barry seemed satisfied with that assurance. 'Okay then. Better be off.' He looked round at the others. 'Let me know how things go... alright?' Then he leaned down to give Luc a thorough kiss. His father managed to keep control of his face as Barry did it. With Mr Hignett's hand on his back, he left the room.
Tommy smiled cheerfully as he offered Count Milo von Lauern his hand to greet him on arrival at the Residenz. The count struggled to maintain his composure at the sight of the queen's private secretary in drag and makeup. Although it was clearly a titanic effort, he just about managed it.
'Herr... er, Enn-vissel. Good afternoon.'
'This way, excellency. Perhaps the young man can come with us too?' Tommy's high heels clicked as they crossed the marble floor of the entrance hall towards the stairs made famous in Hirth's Defence of the Palace.
The count was accompanied by no staff and had no official car. In fact, he had been driven to the Residenz by his son Marek, neat in suit and tie. The boy beamed over his father's shoulder at Tommy, clearly enjoying the encounter. The palace guards, accustomed to Tommy's transvestism, did not so much as blink as he sashayed elegantly past.
Tommy seated Marek in the outer office before ushering the chancellor into the queen's inner sanctum. After he had bowed the count through the doors, he quickly returned to Marek and whispered, 'Some friends of yours will be here in a minute, Marky.' Then he followed Marek's father into the queen's presence, carefully closing the doors behind himself.
The queen had a tea tray on the low table in front of the sofa where she had taken her station. She politely poured Count Milo a cup, and then sat back to enjoy the fragrance of her own as the steam curled up from it. 'My dear excellency, things have come to a crisis in our political system, wouldn't you say?'
The count sighed. 'It seems to be falling apart, your majesty. My party... I can't tell you how betrayed I feel.'
'You were treated very badly by your colleagues. But I should add that you made yourself a victim.'
'These men – some of whom are now facing serious criminal charges – played on the weaknesses they were aware you had.'
'They knew you were bound tight to tradition, and so they used you to attack my son's right to be king.'
'But Count Robert's right to succeed to the throne was perfectly clear...!'
Tommy passed him a piece of paper while the queen continued, '... as is his signature on the deed of resignation of which we have finally obtained a copy despite his best efforts.'
'What! You mean....?'
'Count Robert lied to you, Milo, to you and many others. I think our police interrogators may discover that Herr Hadjek was perfectly aware of that lie, but pressed on regardless. When you didn't move fast enough for him, Hadjek was happy to dump you as chancellor. If friends and patriots had not been risking their lives for the sake of truth, Hadjek would have been sitting in your Chancellery next week. Which brings me on to the next point.'
'Your disconnection with the spirit of our times – and our nation – led you into further error. Hadjek and his cronies were prime examples of why your sort of politics goes wrong. Hadjek masqueraded as a pious Catholic layman, committed to every conservative principle and cause. Had you not blindly shared his professed prejudices, he would never have got as far in the CDP as he did, furthering his own corrupt followers in the process.'
'I'm sorry, but...'
The queen held up her hand. 'I respect you, Milo. You are a man of integrity and honesty, a good father and a patriot. You could be the man to rally our nation, except for one thing. You will not accept many of your fellow citizens for what they are: people of just as much integrity and love for their country as yours.'
'But the teachings of the Church...!'
'Will you then cast off your son, young Marek?'
'He's a gay man. Do you love him any the less? Is he someone of inferior integrity and worth simply because he was born to love other men?'
'Your son has many friends at the International School, Milo. They miss him very much.'
'But the English boy who seduced him!'
'There was no seduction, Milo. These were two young men fumbling to find love and trying to be themselves. I think it's time you recognised that the only unnatural thing in all this is your insistence that what Marek did was wrong. Don't tell me you're not finding it hard to reconcile what you know Marek to be with what your inflexible beliefs tell you he is.'
The count slumped, running his hands through his hair. There was silence while he mastered himself.
Eventually the queen continued, 'Milo, I want you to take up the reins of government again. You can rally some of your party to yourself. You still have allies.'
Von Lauern shook his head. 'I could never find a majority.'
'Then talk to Trachtenburg. He's another great patriot. We need to find unity in our national politics, and re-establish trust in our democracy. Between the two of you, you can do this. It will mean abandoning your attempt to reverse the liberalisation of the past years, but I think you now realise there are more serious problems facing our nation than that. Milo, please consider this offer.'
'Have you talked to Trachtenberg?'
'He will support your ministry, if you do this.'
Von Lauern straightened his shoulders. 'Then I will approach him. There will be difficulties, I have no doubt, but your majesty has seen into my heart. I love my son, and I cannot for a moment believe him a conscious sinner or in any way wicked. It seems I must reassess something of my beliefs.'
'Excellent, Milo. Now, let's move on to the official business...'
Hearing the door behind him open, Marky von Lauern turned. 'Helen! It's you!'
Helen Debies ran over to her friend and hugged him hard. They exchanged kisses. Others filed into the office behind her.
'Lance! Reggie! Damien! Mattie! This is so good!'
'Hey mate! Good to see you've escaped house arrest. How're things?'
'Not very satisfactory. I hated the Jesuit school before. I hate it twice as much now. The brothers watch me all the time. How is... Barry?'
Helen took his hand. 'There's an awful lot to tell you, Marky.'
They did their best to cushion the shock, but it was clear that Marky was shaken when he heard Luc and Barry had been in the 'whorehouse of horror' as the Rothenian press was calling it. He was even more shaken when they had to tell him that Luc's heroics had led to Barry and Luc falling into a relationship.
Marky shook his head sadly. 'He did not take long to forget me.'
Damien echoed his regret. 'Thass Bazza. The emotional attention span of a gnat. Luc'll have his work cut out keeping him in order.'
'But Luc! A hero? What miracle was this?'
'Damn right,' Damien observed. 'The little weasel fooled us all.'
Helen shook her head. 'It was Barry. I know you men believe he's flighty, but there's something nice in his eyes. He was always looking for the right sort of love, I think. Finally it found him. Luc'll never have to worry about his devotion.'
'Makes the fooker sound like a fookin' Labrador,' Damien muttered in Reggie's ear.
Reggie giggled. He had not quite forgiven Barry for taking in Lance on his emotional tour of the SIS.
Marky smiled. 'Did you come here just to see me?'
'No, sorry, mate. When we heard from Tommy after we got here that you were driving your dad round, we just had to come over and say hello. Our main business is with little Maxxie.'
'The king? You almost sound angry with him.'
'You might say that,' answered a stern-looking Lance.
The king and his brother were in their play room, where Maxxie was reading Leo a story from one of his many books, something by Dahl. Maxxie seemed a little listless, but perked up at the entrance of his friends. Leo hopped off their sofa and went looking for their nanny to continue the story.
'Lo, Helen!' Maxxie smirked. 'You want to be my Esquire too?'
'No thanks, Maxxie. I have my work cut out keeping one of them under control, isn't that right, Daimey?'
'Sure is. Come and sit on my lap, Maxxie.'
The little king duly took his place on Damien's thighs, and snuggled back into him with a grin. The others sat on the floor around him.
'Has your mummy let you out today, Reggie?' the king asked with a little smile.
'Sure Maxxie, she reckoned I couldn't get up to much mischief here, but I gotta go straight back home afterwards.'
It was Lance who led off. 'Maxxie, may I ask you a few questions? When I met with Tobias the Seraph in our school, it wasn't the first time he'd been there, was it.'
The king shook his head. 'He's my friend. He came to sit by my bed sometimes when I was very little, and we often chat. He says he's here to watch over me. He's my guardian angel.'
Lance shook his head. 'No, Maxxie. He's not an angel, you must know that.'
The child looked a question.
'Angels and seraphs are different. Toby lives outside the world and he's the only seraph that ever enters it, but angels are often here.'
'Yeah. Toby said you did it a lot... too much, he said. Isn't that why They made you a human boy? Cos it was to teach you a lesson?'
'Politics!' growled Lance. 'Look, Maxxie, Toby's the leader of the erelim, they're like a political party... you understand?'
'Sure! Just like those CDP people.'
'That's truer than you might imagine.' Lance sighed. 'The Great Council is a place of debate between erelim and angels, and if Toby leads them, your Satan here is the leader of the angels. Looks like in my absence the erelim have gained the upper hand.'
'Oh! Just like the Parliament in Strelzen! With the CDP and the other people... Unity, yes?'
Lance smiled. 'You're a clever lad. It's true, and the similarity isn't accidental.'
'What?' snapped Helen.
Lance looked around. 'It was the Great Icon. Because of its presence here, Rothenia became a nation far more closely aligned with the Kingdom Beyond than any other part of the world. You must know that. Things have never been quite the same here, even after the Icon was extinguished. If the struggles in the Great Council embrace the fate of the whole universe, they are echoed here on earth in Rothenia in a lesser way.'
Reggie was awed. 'That's totally amazing, Lance! So who are the bad guys?'
Lance shook his head. 'It's not that simple, baby. Toby is a creation of love as much as I am. The difference between us is political. To put it bluntly, he wants to destroy the world... as an act of kindness, of course.'
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]