A Kind of Alchemy
by London Lampy
"I hope Uncle Fran and Mama are going to be all right." Fudge said anxiously to Sam as they walked home from The Empress after Ava's final show.
"Yeah, me too." He agreed. Fran had told them a few days ago that Mother was holding a late night party in the theatre, and that he didn't want either of them to stay on with him. Sam had been only too happy to comply with this, he didn't want to be anywhere near the man ever again if he could help it, but he also didn't like the idea of Fran being around him either. He wasn't so bothered about Ava.
It had been a strange day, Fran had been jumpy all afternoon after he found them in the lingerie shop, he had told them that he had come to find them because he needed them to return to The Empress to finish stocking the bars, but this didn't seem to ring true to Sam. Fran had looked desperate when he had burst into the changing room, not like someone annoyed at a job being left unfinished, and he had then accompanied them and Ava to have tea and cakes, wasting even more time. Something odd was going on between Fran and Ava, everything they said to one another seemed to be loaded with meaning, although Sam couldn't work out what it was, and they kept exchanging glances, little shakes of the head and raised eyebrows. Sam didn't think that it could all be over Ava's attempts to buy Fudge revealing underwear, but he also had no idea what else it could be about. As far as he was concerned Ava's visit was causing everybody nothing but trouble, and he was glad that she was due to leave tomorrow and then things could go back to normal.
As they approached the house Sam glanced at the one next door and noticed that although the curtains were drawn he could see light around them and that meant either Ed had forgotten to switch off before he went to bed, or he was still up. He'd neither seen nor spoken to Ed since the night they'd kissed, far too much of his time had been taken up Ava related chaos of one sort or another, but perhaps tonight would be a good time to talk to him.
Sam had taken on board Victor's advice that Ed wasn't worth the effort, and he certainly didn't want to waste his energy on someone who ran away every time they got close, but he wanted to speak to Ed again before he gave up on him entirely so he waited until he was sure that Fudge was in bed before quietly letting himself out of the house. Although he was very fond of her much like her uncle she had a tendency to read far too much into things, however they did it in slightly different ways. Whereas Fran tended to over think and worry Fudge would get carried away, and he knew that if she knew about the kiss she'd be creating all manner of romantic scenarios and asking him about his feelings toward Ed. He didn't want that any more than he wanted to be worried about.
Rather than knock on the door and risk waking Ed if he was sleeping he tapped on the front window softly. After a few moments the curtain was partly drawn back and Sam saw Ed cupping his hand on the glass to get rid of the light glare from the room and looking out at him.
"Can I come in?" Sam mouthed, pointing at the door. Ed gave a brief nod and Sam soon found himself being ushered into Ed's living room.
"I haven't seen you for a while." Ed said as Sam sat down on the sagging sofa that he'd helped lay the late Mrs Anglemol on a few weeks earlier. The floor was covered in old newspapers and on top of them, upside down and resting on its handlebars, was Ed's bike. The front wheel and the chain were off and sitting along side them were a set of tools and a rag, and Ed's hands were streaked with black grease.
"I've had a lot of stuff to do what with Ava being around." He replied, feeling a little like he was being accused.
"Oh, I thought you were avoiding me." Ed picked up the rag and wiped his hands a little cleaner. "After...you know."
"You kissed me then ran off." Sam supplied.
"No, I've just been busy, but I do kind of want to talk about that."
"So do I." Ed nodded, sitting down next to Sam.
Fran sat in his office with the door firmly shut, trying not to think about what was about to happen in his theatre. The setting up hadn't been too bad, he'd shown Mother's hired help where everything was in the bars and given then serving trays to take drinks around the auditorium, he'd even recognised one of them as the waiter who sometimes let him into the restaurant that Mother had his offices above. He had, at least for a while, managed to push aside the reason behind all of this and concentrate on the small details, that was until he'd seen the "lots" start to arrive. They were all very young, many of them wide eyed and scared looking and they were led in and told to keep quiet unless they were directly spoken to. This was the point at which he'd had to leave, he found it heartbreaking that he could do nothing to save them from their fate, and he hated himself for being in the situation where this was happening under his roof.
He'd briefly come back out to watch the guests roll up in the foyer, they were nothing like his usual audience. They had mostly arrived in private carriages that were now parked up in rows outside, rather than on foot or by tram, and at least two thirds of them had their faces covered in one way or another. Some simply had cowls or scarves draped over their heads, while others had gone for masks, elaborate things with devil's horns or peacock feathers mostly, but one tall solidly built man he saw had a mask that was just a white blank with eye holes, and somehow he found this to be more sinister than the rest. Most of them were men, but there were a few women scattered amongst the small crowd as well, although the one thing they all had in common was that they all appeared moneyed, Mother it seemed didn't pimp children to the masses, only those with full wallets.
When his office door opened he wasn't one bit surprised to see Ava striding in, a half full glass of clear liquid in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and an annoyed expression on her face. "Fran, why did you tell me this was a party?" She demanded, throwing herself down into Ozzy's chair. "I've been talking to people and you've made me look like a complete idiot when they asked if I was here for the auction."
"Did they tell you what sort of auction it was?" He couldn't imagine she didn't know by now.
"Yeah." She took a swig from the glass. "A people auction, perhaps I'll put in a bid if some sexy man catches my eye."
"It's a virginity auction and they're all kids Ava, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Just kids." He got a sudden mental image of Fudge, eyes wide with terror standing on his stage having her innocence sold off to the highest bidder, he shook his head to try to rid himself of it.
"Then maybe you should bid." Ava suggested. "You're the one who likes buying boys."
Fran hadn't intended for Ava to be anywhere near The Empress tonight, but since she'd discovered the truth about Sam and his deal with Mother it was quite simply the lesser of two evils. Fudge and Sam were safely at home and he didn't trust her left alone with them not to say anything she shouldn't. She was still very angry with him, and an angry Ava was liable to do things simply out of spite, so he'd had to let her stay for the "party". He was very glad she'd be leaving the next day.
"That chubby pasty looking man, the one with the comb over, he's the one isn't he? The one you sold our theatre to."
Of course Ava would have worked that out, Fran thought to himself. No chance of keeping a single thing from her. "Yes." He replied. "But stay away from him please, he's a nasty piece of work."
She laughed her husky laugh. "My dear big brother, still trying to protect me when he can't even protect himself. I actually thought I might have a little chat with him, see if I can't renegotiate a better deal."
"Ava, no. Stay out of it." He protested.
"Sorry Fran I don't think I can do that, you've simply fucked things up far too badly, it's my turn now." With that she drained her glass, stood up and left the room.
"I like you." Ed confessed. "I even kind of liked you before Fran's party...before..."
"You punched me." Sam finished his sentence.
"And I did apologise for that. I was trying to convince myself that I didn't like you...I mean can you imagine what Gran would have said? Then you made a move and I...I guess I was annoyed at myself for wanting it."
"So you punched me."
"I know that I don't deserve to be forgiven for that, but perhaps you could let it go for now?" Ed said with a sigh.
"All right." Sam agreed. He knew that he was labouring the point a bit, but he really hadn't appreciated the bloody nose.
"When you said that you were never going to kiss me again I was really disappointed."
"Can you blame me after what happened?" Ed briefly frowned at him. "Sorry. So why did you run off the other night?"
"Because." Ed stopped to think. "I wasn't sure if I should be doing that...you know...enjoying kissing you. I mean it's not exactly normal is it?"
A few months ago Sam would have agreed with his sentiments, but since coming to the city he'd realised that normal could mean all kinds of things, and nothing at all. "I don't think it's that odd." He told Ed. "And anyway, it's not really anyone else's business."
"That's easy for you to say, you live with Fran and he's possibly the nicest man in the city. He was so good that night in the hospital with Gran, even after...you know."
Sam resisted the temptation to say "after you punched me" and simply nodded in agreement, he did understand, his father was about as opposite to Fran as was possible. "But I didn't always live there, or always think that way." He took a deep breath. "I ran away from home you see..."
He told Ed the whole story, about the beating, about his narrow escape from Mother and even about the stolen brooch. The only thing he left out was Victor, he didn't think that Ed needed to know about that right then.
"Shit." Ed said once he was finished. "You were lucky Fran found you."
"I know." He nodded. "It make me feel sick to think what I might be doing now if he hadn't."
They sat in silence for a while, Sam chewed on his thumb nail while Ed wiped the last of the bicycle grease off his hands and onto his trouser legs. Sam came to the conclusion that Ed probably wasn't going to say anything else until he spoke. "What do you want to do?" He asked eventuality.
"I mean do you want to be friends, just friends, or..." He shrugged.
"Or." Ed replied. "I think."
They looked at one another, despite what Ed had told him Sam was reluctant to make the first move again, so it was left to Ed to lean toward him and initiate a kiss. Sam quickly responded though and soon they ended up wrapped around one another with Sam lying partially on top of Ed, one of Ed's legs thrown over his. Sam knew that he would quite happily get naked with Ed then and there, but he wasn't so sure that Ed was ready for that so he kept his hands strictly on the outside of Ed's clothes, even though he could feel Ed's erection hard against his body.
"Do you want to go any further than this?" He spoke quietly into Ed's ear.
"Further? You mean like sex stuff?" Ed asked, tipping his head back to look at Sam.
"Yeah. We don't have to go all the way and fuck or anything, and I'm happy just doing this if that's what you want."
"Fuck?" Ed scrunched up his freckled face in a puzzled frown. "How? I did it with a girl once, but you're not a girl."
"You put it in here." Sam took one of Ed's hands and guided it to his bottom. He wasn't surprised Ed didn't know that.
"Are you sure?" He sounded more shocked that interested.
"Yes, it feels really good, I've done it...before." He just stopped himself before he said "loads if times before", he didn't want Ed to think that he was some kind of slut.
"I'm not sure I'd like that." Ed replied.
"No...you'd put it in me." The only person Sam had been inside was Jack on a couple of occasions, and they'd both decided that they liked it better the other way around.
"But we don't have to do it tonight, this is nice." Sam added hurriedly.
"Yeah." Ed sounded relived. "It is."
They kissed again, and Sam had to try hard not to feel Ed up too much, Ed's tongue in his mouth was making him aware that he'd very much like other parts of Ed inside other parts of him, and he really didn't want to scare him off now. Knowing that he couldn't do this for much longer without needing more, and knowing how late it was getting, he slightly reluctantly suggested that he went home and came over again the following night.
"You're not going to change your mind this time, are you?" He asked Ed as they stood saying goodbye at the door. He kept his tone light but he hoped that Ed understood if he did Sam wasn't going to try again.
"I won't." Ed lent forward and kissed him softly on the lips. "I promise."
Back at Fran's house Sam felt far too wide awake to even attempt going to bed, so he went to the kitchen to make himself a mug of hot milk, like his mother had done for him when he was a child and he couldn't sleep. There was no sign of Fudge still being awake, and he briefly considered going to wake her because he badly wanted to tell someone about what had just happened, but then decided that if the situation were reversed he wouldn't much like her turning up in his bedroom in the middle of the night while he was sleeping.
As he sipped the milk Sam couldn't keep the grin off his face, he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so happy, it was as if with the long cold winter coming to an end so were his troubles.
He was half way through his drink and busy replaying everything that had just happened between him and Ed in his mind when he heard the front door opening followed by footsteps on the stairs to the basement that had to be Ava's, unless Fran had suddenly and unexpectedly taken up wearing high heels. She clattered into the kitchen and Sam looked up at her thinking that maybe she wasn't so bad, just a bit of a pain.
"Good, you're still up." She said.
"Yeah." He smiled, missing the chill in her voice. "Would you like some warm milk?"
"No, I would not." She came and stood at the table, gripping the back of one of the chairs hard enough to turn her knuckles white. "And if you knew what you'd cost my brother you wouldn't be sitting there making free with his things like that."
Sam frowned. "I didn't cost him anything, he told me, he didn't pay a penny for me."
Ava laughed a nasty laugh. "He's right in one way, not a single penny changed hands, you cost him much more than just money boy, let me explain..."
Once she had finished Sam felt sick, but he never once doubted her word, it all made perfect sense. Mother had been right when he had said Sam had cost Fran more than he could afford, the only person who had actually lied to him, or at least misled him, was Fran himself.
"I didn't know." He whispered when she was done. "I promise, I didn't know."
"Of course you didn't boy, my brother wouldn't want you to think you'd taken advantage of him, which is exactly what you have done." There was none of Ava's normal mock friendliness now. "But I've managed to find a way for you to repay him."
"How?" He questioned. At that moment if she told him to repay Fran he'd have to cut his leg off he'd have done it in a heartbeat.
"Come back to The Empress with me now and I'll explain on the way."
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