viceindustrious: (Blackwood)
[personal profile] viceindustrious
Title: Golden Dawn
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes 2009
Pairing: Blackwood/Coward
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing.
Summary: The beginnings of a special relationship.
Word count: 4138
Notes: I don't believe I haven't written anything since June. Had a bit of a lull in inspiration (and too much stress) but I still love our boys. :3

Blackwood is chasing an argument across paper when the maid knocks, three times three before he lifts his pen and bids her enter. The tips of her fingers creep first around the edge of the study door before she pushes it open with cringing hesitancy.

"Please, my Lord, there is a gentleman-"

She holds one hand to her chin as she speaks, clenched in a tiny fist. When Blackwood cuts her off she bites down on her knuckle.

"Yes, yes, show him in."

He waves her away and turns back to his letter. The visitor is one he is expecting, though hardly a gentleman. He supposes Berkeley might pass for such a thing in poor lighting or under the examination of the uneducated eye, but of course Blackwood has had a lifetime instruction in what sets one man above or below his brother.

Mister Berkeley makes a good living from exotic imports, though lately he has been having trouble making his deliveries on time. A personal audience to emphasise the inconvenience he's putting Blackwood to is long overdue. When the door opens again, Blackwood holds up a hand before he can be interrupted.

"Not a word. I'll deal with you shortly."

He puts his pen back to paper and resumes writing: . . . to call such a thing black magic is to create an illusion itself, though one that should only rightfully convince children and dullards, it is the switching of a diamond with a spade. In truth, the colour of . . .

Twenty minutes pass. He is too preoccupied to notice until the clock strikes five. When he looks up from his desk he half expects to find the room empty, for surely even a man afraid of an interrogation to come would have spoken up by now.

But the man standing in the centre of the room is not Berkeley.

Lord Coward starts slightly as Blackwood's gaze falls on him, like a dreamer waking from a light sleep.


Coward blinks, shakes himself. The cravat nestled in plump silk around his white collar is the colour of merlot and puts Blackwood in mind of a bleeding heart dove. There is a sense of plumage about Coward, always. He dresses in only the best and carries it with the authority of one who has never been accustomed to anything less.

It is surprising to see him adjust his shirt now then, fidgeting with his cuffs. Blackwood sets his pen down slowly. Of course they've spoken before, spoken often in fact, but Coward is emphatically part of his father's circle. He has wealth and power, both of these things vouchsafed by his name and when they first met he had glanced at Blackwood as though he were some potential acquisition, your reputation proceeds you, he had said and smiled, imperious and self satisfied.

At parties, dinner engagements, the corridors of the Lords, their paths will meet and Blackwood cannot help but wonder if this is fate, an alignment of stars that crosscut Coward's pale throat. The quirk in Coward's wide mouth when he offers, Lord Blackwood, makes him want to wring his neck.

In public, Coward is sharp, speaks to him with a calculated viciousness that hides in double meanings and beneath a predictable varnish of civility. The week before he had been holding the floor at the Lyall club when Coward insinuated himself into the circle. Henry is eminently amusing, declared to the room at large and then, holding a glass of amber liquid to his mouth, not drinking. Oh! But I am afraid someone has done you a disservice, members are not permitted to bring in guests on week nights. Of course, I would dearly love to see you apply for membership yourself.

Sweet as honey, such fawning insincerity, those buttered smiles and gentle inclinations of his head. Whatever lies in Coward's true heart is well hidden. Sometimes they might pass on a stairwell, or in a reception hall, with no other company but the chilly echo of their footsteps fading to silence. They do not speak but Coward fixes him with his curiously bright eyes and his lips curved and harbouring some secret challenge.

"Henry," he says now, so familiar and approaches the desk. "My apologies, I thought we had agreed to meet."

Coward's tongue trips light, articulate, over the words. There is a breathlessness to them, as though they have been placed with perfect poise and anything more would send them toppling. Blackwood turns his letter over and folds his hands atop the paper. Twenty minutes, Coward was waiting, perhaps making a catalogue of the room, although he spares not one glance for the desk now or any of the books upon it.

"To meet?"

"You offered . . . "

Coward pauses, wets his lips, but Blackwood remembers now. That very same night at the Lyall club, he had offered to take Coward to visit some other eminently exclusive gentleman's clubs in the East End. An invitation clearly made in jest. He wanted to watch Coward blush and stammer at the suggestion; he would not be embarrassed by Coward and his vacuous games of etiquette.

This must be Coward's next move.

"It slipped my mind," Blackwood says.

"Oh." Coward almost looks disappointed. "Some other time then?"

What are you doing? Blackwood wants to ask. He watches Coward smooth back his hair. His beard is very neatly trimmed, the first thing Blackwood notes as he makes a long, slow study of the man before him. There is a barely visible mark on his jaw that suggests he was at the barber that day.

The clock marks the seconds with the beetle-like tick of its mechanism, it is past summer and the sky was darkening before Coward was let in.

"No." Blackwood makes a decision. "Give me one moment and we'll set out."


There is a notion forming in Blackwood's mind as they move through the herd. The wind makes his ears ache, brings the blood singing to the surface of his skin. His senses are keen. He knows this feeling, this appetite. His strides are long and sure and the city rises up to meet his feet, the cobblestones shining damply in the twilight like dragon scales. London exhales, he knows the beating heart of it and how it longs for his mastery.

Coward's fingers brush his coat sleeve.

The chill in the air cuts through the smoke and the smell of the river carried up from the south. The lamps are lit already, will-o'-the-wisps leading them further into the mazy slums of Shadwell. Coward draws closer to his side; he isn't watching where he's going, gazing curiously at the houses and people that are bustling past. More than once he is almost knocked over. His steps are short and clumsy, as though he's making an effort to balance on the round tops of the cobbles.

Blackwood walks faster and Coward touches his arm again, not tugging, not quite. He is struggling to keep pace. He cannot be used to walking at such length and besides that, his shoes look unworn, bright and stiff with their counters still sharp. Blackwood notices him grinning at the brash patter of a merchant as they pass by and smiles himself. Coward is out of his depth already, five minutes ago his wallet was lifted from his pocket by some opportunistic urchin and he has yet to notice.

This excursion is a novelty to Coward. Blackwood tightens his hands and feels the leather of his gloves squeaking, he can't hear it above the din of the street but he can sense it in the back of his teeth - nails down a chalkboard - there is something utterly repellent about the vacant pleasure on Coward's face.

Coward is the epitome of everything he longs to destroy.

Coward is all that he desires to tear down and rebuild.

There are precious seams in Coward too. He may have to be crushed completely, as will be the fate of many men of status in the years to come and then those seams will be the splitting open of his flesh and the spilling of his blood. He would not give Coward an impersonal death.

But he would have more of Coward than that. It may be neonatal, the way Coward pulls at his sleeve, inbred and pampered into a prolonged childhood - but Coward's proficiency in his own arena of politics and parties, the labyrinth of high society, is stunning. He is greedy, spoiled of course, but greedy in the sharp, lean sense that breeds ambition. He is blinkered, certainly, and easily distracted. He enjoys his games, a manipulator with no small streak of sadism in him.

He is beautiful and Blackwood is sure that he knows it too, but he has made no good match for himself and Blackwood imagines that no young lady has yet to live up to whatever exacting standards Coward would measure such things by. 

He has sought Blackwood out to sneer at him and he is here now, following him out into the dark and dangerous night as docile as a lamb.


"I thought we'd be visiting some sort of public house."

Blackwood locks the door behind them and they alone, cut off even from the night. There are no voices arguing politics in a room nearby, no music, the quiet of the house wraps them intimately together.

Was it the noise that kept him from hearing what trembling thing was fluttering under Coward's words all this time? Blackwood can hear it murming, perhaps it's simple nervousness but he rather thinks not. 

The front hall is not that narrow, but Blackwood pushes past Coward on the way to the stairs all the same and starts to climb them, two steps at a time.

"Come," he says.

There is a pause before the creak of Coward's ascending footsteps follow him. Blackwood glances over his shoulder and Coward's chin tilts up toward him, both hands gripping the bannister. His face is hidden in the shadows but his hands are taut and pale, still as sculpture, tendons flexed. Blackwood feels a surge of irritation toward the darkness obscuring Coward's expression. There are more helpful shadows flooding the ground floor, pooled in front of the front door like a moat.

"Where are we?" Coward asks. The old wood gives away every little shift of his weight.

Blackwood takes the final step up onto the second floor and lights a lamp. The flame throws a weak halo of light into the gloom and Coward raises a hand to his eyes, squinting up at him.

"I own this house."

"You're the landlord?"

"I keep it for my own personal use."

"Here?" Coward's astonishment must exercise whatever doubts are plaguing him, for he starts to climb the stairs again. "But, why?"

"Are you an imbecile, Coward?"

Blackwood steps back further into the gloom of the corridor and Coward hurries the rest of the way up, pausing in the lamplight with both hands pressed against the mottled wallpaper. He leaves prints in the dust as his hands fall back to his side, long-fingered streaks like the marks in a condemned man's cell.

Is there any Irish in the Coward bloodline? They would never admit to it, but that colouring; deep brunette with those striking blue eyes, narrowed at him now. The porcelain veneer of Coward's cheek is dashed with mottled red, the lamplight reflects the glow of his indignation as he purses his lips.

"Don't ask foolish questions," Blackwood says.

"If you're going to speak me to like that, I'll take my leave."

It's instinct that makes Blackwood laugh. The sound does not echo, the dust hangs in the stale air and the mould cushioning the wallpaper like quilting, swallows up noise. His laughter is a thing that rings between the two of them for one moment and one moment alone and Coward flinches as the message of it disappears into him.

"No," Blackwood says. "You won't."

Not a threat but simple truth. He realizes that now. Coward's breath hitches and Blackwood watches the shudder that runs through his body, the stiffening of his shoulders and the way his chest rise and stalls there, puffed up. Coward's brow is furrowed and two little dimples appear on either side of his mouth as he chews his response.

"This is tedious," he says at last, folding his arms.

He is looking down at the floor, down at his shoes. Perhaps the sight reminds him of the pain in his feet, for he winces and rocks one foot back on its heel.

"Follow me," Blackwood says.


He has tidied in anticipation of this. The contents of his mind had been pinned to these walls, stacked on the floor in half ordered piles of correspondence and papers; cluttered with books whose spines were cracked from the addition of his own notes, bookmarks, missing passages that had been amputated to form theoretical frankensteins elsewhere. He is not a disorderly man by nature, but his work has always been solitary and his plans so grand in scope that housekeeping has never been much of a priority. Magic and murder both necessitate a little mess.

He enjoys being surrounded by the patterns of his own genius. The room looks bare with its books all neatly squared away on the bookcases. Coward wrinkles his nose when they enter.

"Is there anything to drink at least?"

Coward approaches a table and picks up a brown glass bottle, turning it over in his hand.

"Don't touch that," Blackwood says.

"I had tickets to see The Bells of Haslemere this evening, you do realize?" He peels off a strip of paper that had been hidden, stuck to the bottom of the bottle and reads it out loud. "Susan Willis. Who's that?"


Coward puts the bottle down with great care, he seems reluctant to let go of the thing. Fingers playing with the neck of the bottle. His hands drop to the desk and start to trace the grain. Blackwood can feel the weight of his eyes when he turns to light the rest of the lamps. There is no gas lighting in this house, only paraffin and he adjust the wicks so their flames burn short and allow the shadows to repopulate themselves in the hollows of the room.

Almost too quiet to hear, Coward says. "Well, it's been a pleasant evening but I fear it's getting awfully late."

"You didn't come to me seeking a pleasant evening."

Blackwood turns. Will you run now? he wonders and his mouth splits into a grin at the prospect. His teeth are sharp on either side of his tongue, he feels marvellously inhuman. Coward's shoulders are squared back, his head held high but his eyes are fixed on some uncertain point below Blackwood's collar.

"I don't think you're loyal to Rotheram, regardless of any ridiculous vows you may have taken. You're not a spy, are you, Coward?"

"What? No!" Coward meets his gaze and then looks away again, shaking his head. "No. I heard-"

His words dry up as Blackwood takes a step toward him, the floorboards squealing beneath his feet.

The house is in pain, rotting from the inside out. Blackwood bought it with his own money, not that of his father - the first or the second or any other man who may have had intentions of patronage in his youth. The building is cheap and lousy with the ghosts of paupers. The wood groans and Coward looks just as horrified as if the spirits of the past were floating up through the floor to shake their chains at him. He's clutching the gold chain of his pocket watch like a rosary.

"Mmm, yes. What did you hear?" Blackwood asks.

Coward winces and backs away. Blackwood waits until he's trapped himself against the windowsill and then asks again.

"They behave, they behave as though they hold you in contempt," Coward says, struggling with the words and Blackwood fancies he can hear his heart, thrumming like a hummingbird. 

"They behave?" Blackwood chuckles. 

"I . . . I know you have power. They are afraid of it. Of you."

Blackwood has made it so, he has whittled the contempt of lesser men into blades to use against them and he has turned those same knives on himself to carve himself a stronger heart. They are contemptuous, they are afraid, they have always been afraid of him and his will to power. He was born a murderer, the one true fatherly gift that Thomas ever bestowed upon him was to make sure he did not forget that fact.

"Perhaps, though not as afraid as they should be. But you're only telling me what I want to hear. Charming. That's your talent, isn't it? To be charming." He places his arms on either side of the window, fencing Coward in. "Do they tell stories about me? Not over dinner I wouldn't think."

Coward blushes.

"Get away from me," he says.

"No," Blackwood replies, and then repeats the word, for the pleasure it gives him to see Coward struggle with the meaning of such a simple thing. "No."

Coward breaths in and holds it, nostrils flaring, his eyes gone panic wide and round. He blinks furiously, Blackwood can hear when he swallows, the wet, sticking sound of Coward biting the inside of his mouth.

"How dare you," Coward says, exhaled with one great shaking breath. "Who are you to-"

"I believe someone told you to stay away from me. Which of course you could not countenance. Now you're thinking that this was a miscalculation on your part, though it wasn't your fault, you were merely seeking some novelty and why on earth would the young Lord Coward ever deny himself anything?"

Out on the street there's a shattering of glass and Coward flinches away from the windowpane. A voice call out a cordial invitation to violence to some unknown. The noise sets off a dog, which sets off another, until the lane is clamorous with the sounds of beasts and animals.

"Will you find your own way home? You've been robbed once already."

It takes a moment for Coward to begin searching his pockets and find what has been taken from him. The look of betrayed innocence on his face is savoury; Coward is framed like a martyr in a setting of colourless stained glass, the window gleaming darkly behind his ashen skin. It's a dirty sort of naivety that widens Coward's eyes, so disgustingly complacent - the idea that some lesser creature might prey on him would never cross his mind.

"It will explain the bruises at least," Blackwood says.


He's cut off by the back of Blackwood's hand, snapped across his face, knocking his head against the window with a hollow crack. Blackwood clenches his fist, and releases it, even with his gloves the blow made his own knuckles ache. Coward's cry of pain mists across the glass, his face turned to the side, one cheek glowing.

The condensation smears as Coward ducks his head, rubbing against the glass as though he's trying to disappear into it. Blackwood pulls him back up by his hair.

"I'm not!" Coward gasps.

The wave of his hair falls in clinging curls around the base of Blackwood's fingers. Blackwood slaps him again, holding him in place and the imprint of his hand flares up, white to red, like a firework. Coward whimpers, pushes down against the window sill with his palms, pressing his head up into Blackwood's grip. Above his collar, the skin of his neck is blotched carnation pink.

"You're not what?" Blackwood demands. "A spoiled brat?"

Coward bites his lip, staining it darker with a rush of blood below the surface. There's blood on his tongue, bright and garish. Blackwood's hand slips down to cradle the base of Coward's skull, pinching the downy skin at the base of his neck between forefinger and thumb.

"I'm not," Coward sucks in a deep breath. "I'm not thinking this was a, a miscalculation."

His lips are barely moving, the words themselves are shivering. Coward's chest heaves up and down as he stares at Blackwood, eyes shining from lack of blinking. Blackwood looks down and notices Coward's hands clasped neatly in front of him.

Coward bites his lip again, worrying it between his teeth. Blackwood shakes him once by the scruff of his neck and then pulls his hand back, holds it poised to strike and Coward's hands stay exactly where they are.

"They do tell." Coward stops. Swallows. "Stories."

He gazes up at Blackwood and his pupils are huge, all the ice in his eyes has softened to liquid silver, malleable enough to hold any imprint that Blackwood might wish to make upon him.

Blackwood hits him again and Coward keens, one high note that breaks into a flurry of little gasping moans. Blackwood steps back and stares down at Coward. He keeps his gaze cold, lips set with a slight curl of contempt. Coward cringes and then makes a hiccuping, stifled noise of distress and raises his hands. Pressed against his mouth like so, it looks as if he's praying.

"I want . . . " Coward begins.

His face blanches, sweat beading at his forehead. His eyes dart from Blackwood's shoes to the door and his hands clench together in front of his mouth, fingers worming against one another.

"My Lord Blackwood," he says.

He begs, there's no other word for that timbre, or the desperate entreaty in his eyes.

"Do you honestly think that what you want is important to me at all?" Blackwood asks.

Coward's eyes flutter shut and his spine snaps straight.

"No," he whispers.

"What was that?"

"N-no," Coward repeats, louder.

A shiver slides it way up from the pit of Blackwood's stomach, twisting hot and smooth up along his back; he rolls his shoulders, flexes his fingers.

"Get on your knees," he says.

Coward starts.

"I-" He wets his lips and then his mouth hangs there half open, mute apart from the sound of his shallow, quivering breath.

"Do it, Coward."

The creaking of the floorboards and the moan that hitches in Coward's throat twine together as his knees hit the floor. Blackwood senses the lamps dimming in unison, a rolling wave of darkness washing up around the two of them. It's the narrowing of his eyes, blocking out the light, fixing on the offering that Coward is making of himself.

It fills him with hunger. With a pressure that builds for every moment he stands there, watching the trembling of Coward's limbs. He wants.

He wants Coward's throat, still. Wants him yoked, worshipful, adoring, afraid. He's known hunger all his life, felt the rush of power carving caverns inside his soul like a thundering river and there is so much room now, endless space to consume. He surges forward and pushes Coward's face to the floor, hand clamped around the back of his neck.

Coward sobs and prostrates himself in the dust.

"Please," he says.

Blackwood's foot replaces his hand and Coward pleads again, spreading his knees to wriggle his belly lower to the ground. The arch of his back flexes, stiffens, writhes in architectural beauty. He will have the city like this, prostrate beneath his rule. It will give itself over too.

"I could." Coward pants. "I could help you."

Blackwood laughs and presses down harder. It's a pretty match, the polished black of his shoes against Coward's dark eyelashes -trembling on his cheek as he grimaces in pain.

"Indeed," says Blackwood. He grinds his heel down and steps off.

Coward lies there, breathing hard, fingers making slow, twitching movements against the floor. His mouth moves soundlessly, mumbling something to the ground. When he raises his head, his hair falls into his face and over the red rimmed wildness of his eyes.

"I could be of service to you," Coward says, spilling the words out in a rush.

He seems to shrink from them as they hang before him, face flushed and tight with the pain. His mouth is bleeding from Blackwood's hand, but Blackwood thinks the silence hurts him worse.

"I could serve you," he says and presses his lips to the toe of Blackwood's shoe. "If you desired it."

Even on his knees he's the spoiled child of privileged, begging for what he wants. But the needy stuttering of Coward's breath and the proffered helplessness of his bare neck is honest. He does not know what he is offering, Blackwood is certain of that, he can not know how much Blackwood will take.

Will take. The decision is made. Still, let him prove himself worthy.

"If." Blackwood nods and Coward sighs his gratitude against his feet.
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January 2012

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