by London Lampy
"More wine?" Ry offers, pouring it into my glass without bothering to wait for a reply.
"Um...thanks, it doesn't really go with the...what did you say it was called again?"
"Crème brulee." It kind of tastes like custard, but really good custard.
"Shall I ring for Dawson and have him bring up a desert wine?"
"Are you trying to get me drunk?" I ask through a spoonful of custard, he grins in reply. "Ry, come on, that's not fair."
"You can spend the night here if you want...in one of the guest rooms," he suggests. We both know if I stay here it sure as hell won't be in a guest room. I'm tempted, really tempted, I still find him very attractive. I look over at him considering it, his grey eyes contrast nicely with his pale skin and dark hair, he gives me a small smile that goes straight to my cock and I suddenly remember how good he looks naked. I decide it's best to change the subject.
"I'm going away for work soon," I start. He frowns at me.
"For how long, why and where?" I know he's being like this because he's worried about me, but it's a bit irritating.
"About a month, just babysitting Sampson while he visits places on the Northern Continent."
Ry nods, sipping his wine. "Where on the continent? It's pretty big."
"The south east, we're taking a boat to Kipp, then a train to...Shelly, I think it's called." I'm quite excited about this, I've never been on a train. It's going to take a couple of days so we will be sleeping in cabins on the train.
"She-lay," he says. "It's spelt Shelly but pronounced She-lay, my family have interests near there."
"Yes, that's the place." His family have "interests" near there? I've never spoken to him about this, but seeing as we're not dating any more...
"Do you mean rubber plantations?" I ask.
"Yes, that's what I mean." He takes a rather large mouthful of wine, I guess he knows where this is going. "You want to know how we staff them don't you?"
"For the last ten years or so it's been with paid labour."
"And before that?" I look him in the eye, he blinks.
"Do I need to spell it out for you? Yes, it was echoback slaves. I'm sorry but it wasn't anything to do with me, I've always lived in Parnell and the plantations were set up long before I was born. If it helps we were one of the first companies to sign the forest treaty."
I frown at him. "What's that?"
"You don't know? It's a contract between some of the plantation owners and echobacks with the owners promising not to use slave labour and not to cut any more of the forest down in return for the echobacks stopping burning the crops and attacking property. My family company's profits have dropped by fifteen percent since we signed, but we felt it was the right thing to do."
"Of course it bloody well was, how can slavery be anything other than wrong? The slavers cut off their tails you know!" I say loudly, putting down my spoon.
"Yes, I am aware of that," he say stiffly. "I never thought it was a good thing, but I didn't realise how horrific it was until I met you, I know how important yours is to you."
"Important! How would you like to have your legs chopped off, or your cock?" Important? It's more than fucking important.
"I know, I get it," he puts his hands up in surrender. "But I didn't start the slave trade, all I've ever done is import rubber. Anyway, what about all the chocolate you eat?"
"What the hell has that got to do with this?" I ask puzzled.
"Rubber isn't the only thing grown on slave labour plantations in the forest, cocoa is too. What do you think chocolate is made out of?"
"Echoback slaves make chocolate?"
"In a roundabout sort of way, yes. Just like the rubber growers some of the cocoa growers signed the treaty and don't use slave labour these days but some didn't and still do. You can't tell when you're eating it how it was harvested."
"Really?" Oh hell.
"Does that mean I shouldn't eat it any more?" It's not like I can't live without it.
"That is up to your conscience," he gives me a small smile.
"Hmm." I pour myself another glass of wine.
"So you'll be passing through Kipp," Ry changes the subject. "It's an interesting place, but dangerous."
"I've been there before, I know the rules. Don't go out by yourself after dark, avoid the street children and don't eat the insects." I count the points off on my fingers.
"Eat the insects?" he pulls a confused face.
"Yes, you know, you can buy them fried in paper cones like chips." I remember Topher eating some in Angel Square, I'm pretty sure it was mostly done to shock me. I push the memory away quickly, I miss him, a lot.
"Oh yes, probably best not to eat them," he laughs, then looks at me. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I drain my glass. "I'd better go."
"Are you still angry about the slavery issue?" Ry frowns. "I don't know what more I can say to convince you I've got nothing to do with the whole nasty business."
"No, well yes, but not at you. It's getting late and I have to work tomorrow." I stand up, feeling the effects of all the wine I've drunk.
"You could stay here," he steps toward me and puts his hands on my waist. "It's a lot closer to Municipal Works than your flat."
I look up at him considering it. "I don't think that's a good idea." I wrap my arms around his neck.
"But I don't know when I'm going to see you again," he says quietly into my ear, moving one of his hands onto my tail.
"About a month, I told you," I reply as he kisses my jaw and neck. He's not making this easy. He moves his lips across my cheek until until they meet mine; I know I shouldn't be letting him do this, but when the tip of his tongue touches my lips I can't resist opening my mouth to let it in. A loud thud followed by a crash distracts me and I break the kiss and look round to see a young maid awkwardly entering the room pushing a small cart for the dirty dishes to be loaded on to. She looks across and sees us, then turns bright red.
"S...sorry Sir," she stammers, appearing to be frozen to the spot.
"You're new aren't you?" Ry says, his voice full of irritated frustration. She opens her mouth but no sound comes out, so she simply nods.
"And did Dawkins teach you never to enter a room without knocking first?" she nods again. "Then you'd better remember that for next time, or I shall be instructing him to have words with you and you don't want that do you?" She shakes her head but still hasn't moved, she looks terrified. "Go on, you might as well clear now," Ry instructs her with a sigh.
"Th..thank you Sir," she stammers.
"I'm going to go." I step out of Ry's embrace, glad of the distraction.
"Are you sure?" he asks, glaring at the maid who is now nosily loading up her cart.
"Yes," I say quickly before I can change my mind. He throws the poor girl another dirty look then sighs again and we walk together to his front door.
"Please be careful this time." He touches my cheek .
"I will. I've promised Effie I'll try to send her a postcard, do you want one too?"
"Why not?" he laughs, leaning in to kiss me. I manage to keep the kiss brief and leave without him trying to get me to spend the night again, although I do get another lecture on keeping myself safe.
Sitting on the tram home I start to regret my decision. I could be naked and wrapped around Ry with him inside me now, instead I'm alone on an almost empty tram on a damp night. I lean against the window and watch the city pass by outside, the shops are mostly shut up for the night but the lights are on in the flats above them and the houses that surround them. As we rattle by I catch glimpses of other peoples lives, two children playing a board game together, an old man petting his dog, a visk stirring a cooking pot on a stove, a family sitting around a table eating. I breath on the glass and write my name on the window in the condensation.
"Hey, love, don't do that, it leaves marks." The clippy is suddenly standing beside me looking stern, she's a solidly built woman with curled grey hair and a hint of a moustache. She peers at what I've written.
"Exit? Why do you want to be writing that? The door is at the other end, you'll just go confusing people."
"It's my name," I reply.
She pulls a doubting face. "Don't be stupid love, no one's called that, not even one of your sort, do you need a ticket or do you have one?"
I show her the one I bought on my way to Ry's and she clips it. "Now you be leaving the windows alone, you ain't in the jungle any more." I resist the temptation to point out that if I was in the jungle there wouldn't be any trams, let alone windows to write my name on, and she moves on to the next passenger, throwing me a look over her shoulder as she goes.
"Come on, I need to get to the shop before it closes," I complain at Vio, who's taking forever tidying her desk.
"You might not give a fuck that your desk is going to be left looking like a rubbish tip for the next month, but I care about mine, so be patient. Anyway, what do you need to get that's so urgent?"
"Trousers," I reply, watching her checking through a stack of files then squaring them up. "With holes in the back, I've only got one pair and they're the ones I use when I'm breaking into buildings so I'm having some more made, they said they would be finished today and I need to pick them up before we leave."
"Are you planning on walking around with your tail out while we're away?" She looks slightly shocked.
"Yes, it's hot up there, and no one cares, it's not like here."
"Have you run it past Vin?" She opens her drawer and sweeps all the loose items on her desk top into it, then shuts it again soundly.
"No, it's got nothing to do with him. It's not like I'm going to be walking around naked." Although he'd probably like it if I did. "We'll all be wearing short sleeved shirts, it's no different from that."
"Hmm...I still think you should have checked with him." She crumples a piece of paper into a ball and tosses it into the bin. "I'm done, lets go." Vio slings her work bag across her shoulders, then slides another, much larger travelling bag out from under the desk.
"We're going tomorrow, not tonight," I say eyeing it.
"I know." She picks it up and marches straight ahead to the lift.
"So why have you got that with you?" I ask as she pushes the button.
"Curiosity killed the cat," Vio mutters as the doors open and we get in
"But I'm not a cat, I'm a monkey according to you. So why have you got all your stuff with you?" She lights a cheroot and ignores me, and I suddenly work it out. "You're not going home tonight are you?" I ask grinning.
"None of your fucking business."
"When you suggested we go for a drink at Caddy's place after work," she lives with her father over his pub, "I didn't realise you were planning to stay the night, does she know?"
"Of course she fucking does," Vio snaps, blowing out smoke as we reach our floor. I have to stifle a laugh."Why do you think this is funny? I don't find it funny every time you spend the night with someone."
"No, you just call me a slut."
"That's because you are."
I'm still giggling as we leave the lobby, it's not really that the idea of Vio having sex is funny, it's the way she gets all embarrassed about it. For someone who likes to swear as much as she does she comes over very coy on the subject.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," I say as we descend the front steps onto the street. She stops and stares at me, her ice blue eyes unblinking.
"That makes no fucking sense whatsoever," she shakes her head at me.
I start laughing again. "If you didn't want me to know then why did you invite me to come out with the two of you tonight?" We resume walking once more.
"Because you've been such a fucking miserable little sod recently I thought it might cheer you up a bit, and I didn't think you'd be quite so childish about it."
Oh. Maybe I shouldn't have teased her.
"What's this?" I say, taking a sip of my drink. It's meant to be beer, it kind of looks like beer, but it tastes very odd.
"Bitter shandy," Caddy says, sitting down with her own drink, something clear and fizzy with a slice of lemon in it. "Vio said it's what you wanted, on account of you not...not wanting to drink." She glances at Vio, who smirks at me.
"What?" I question her.
"I told her to get you a shandy because you're a lightweight who can't hold his drink and we have to be up early tomorrow. I don't want you puking your guts up on the ship."
"I don't get seasick," I protest. That much I do know.
"Yeah, but you get beer sick pretty easy," she laughs. I suppose she's just getting her revenge.
"Vio, that ain't nice," Caddy grumbles, frowning at my partner. As far as I can tell Caddy seems to have removed all of her eyebrows then drawn them back on with a black pencil higher up, so when she frowns it looks kind of odd. "Do you want a proper drink love?"
"No," Vio might have a point. "This is fine."
"You been shopping?" she asks, looking at my parcel from the tailors.
"New trousers," I tell her, "with holes in the back." She looks puzzled.
"For his tail," Vio adds.
"Ah, 'cos it's hot up there, I got you, makes sense." Caddy nods, patting her platinum curls. She and Vio have almost exactly the same hair colour, except I doubt hers is natural.
"See, Caddy gets it," I say to Vio.
"I didn't say it didn't make sense, I just think you should have asked Vin, that's all. He's going to have enough on his plate trying to keep Sampson out of trouble without you distracting him." She gives me a meaningful look. How does she know about that?
"All the echobacks on the northern continent wear theirs out, you'd know that if you'd ever been there. If I don't people will think I've been docked," I come back.
I notice Caddy is watching us intently, her elbows on the table, her chin resting on her folded hands. "Carry on," she says. "This is better entertainment than the varieties at The Empress theatre, are the pair of you going to keep it up the whole time you're away?"
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