April 23rd, 2006
|ariastar||05:14 pm - fic: Delusions of Normalcy|
Summary: In which Sacharissa gets married, but not to William, and everyone (William included) tries to figure out why.
Rating: possibly a very soft R? for lots of groping and ridiculously vague sex.
Delusions of Normalcy
William, Otto, and the clacks crew had been back from Borogravia for three days now. Sacharissa had been a good Editor in Chief in William's absence, but she relinquished this position in some relief. To tell the truth, William was very glad to be back.
Three days of blissful press-feeding. Three days of normalcy.
Then, on the third afternoon, Sacharissa knocked on the frame of William's office door with an air of purpose.
That never boded well; it tended to mean that she was going to commandeer either Otto or the front page, and sometimes both. "Yes?"
"Do you have a moment?" she asked. That was a cincher. She wanted to catch William in a good mood, too.
"Yes," he said, cautiously now. The first time she'd done this, she'd caught him unaware and stolen both the front page and the pressroom.
"Thanks," she said, and flashed him a brilliant smile, and shut the door, then leaned back against it. "William, while you were in Borogravia, I did some... thinking."
There are words that no man ever wants to hear, and small important parts of William's brain froze in terror.
"I think I want to get married," Sacharissa said, and before William's face could decide on an appropriate facial expression, she plunged on, "I've already had a few proposals, but I thought it was only fair if I asked you first."
"Me?" William repeated. "Why? Why me?"
"Well, I work with you," Sacharissa said, blushing a little, as though this explained everything.
"Oh," William said, and blinked. "Well, it's not-- I mean, go ahead. I didn't think I had any say in it."
A little frown line creased Sacharissa's forehead. "I thought perhaps--" she started, and broke off.
William reran her last sentence through his head again and paled. "Oh. Wait, why?"
Sacharissa looked a little flustered. "Well, you've-- you've walked me home, even when I didn't need it, and lent me clothes..."
"You needed them for the ball," William said, frowning. "I didn't realise that meant-- I mean, we're not--" he waved vaguely, and tried to stop his mind gibbering with terror and producing images of what they weren't doing.
"Most men aren't serious when they say I'm the wrong sort of girl," Sacharissa said, still looking flustered. "But-- well, all right, it makes sense. Anyway," and she went brisk, "I have gotten other proposals. I promise marriage won't interfere with my work."
"I wouldn't imagine you'd let it," William said faintly.
"I'll make sure the bridesmaids outfits are an easy colour for mass-printing in the Octeday edition," Sacharissa said, quite happily. "Oooh, do you suppose Gunilla would like to be matron-of-honour?"
"I'm not sure he would want to wear a dress," William said. "Anyway the ax might get in the way." Once again, his mind reran the words across the front of his brain. "Mass-printing?"
"Cheery Littlebottom does some quite tasteful things with fancy-dress parties and her axe," Sacharissa said, shrugging. "And yes, William, my wedding certainly counts for the social events section."
"Oh, of course," William said, and images of Sacharissa's wedding splashed across the front page faded from his mind. "I'll let you get on with planning that, then, okay? You could ask Miss Spielmann about doing the food. I'm going to take Otto out reporting now. The pressroom's yours until we get back. Congratulations!"
He fled down into the darkroom.
"Vhat's the hurry?" Otto asked in some surprise as William shut the door behind him. The vampire was up to his elbows in bright yellow ink.
"Please come reporting with me," William said. "Now. Unless that's going to explode if you stop."
"I should probably vash my hands first," Otto said doubtfully. "Vhy, what's happening?"
"Sacharissa's going to make pigeonhole me into discussing her marriage plans if I say here," William said. "And possibly everyone else as well."
"Oh," said Otto, quite without inflection, and pulled his arms from the yellow ink. "I see."
William stared at him; it looked like he'd been dyed with essence of canary. "What is that for?"
"Colour experiments." Otto went to the little sink he'd rigged up in a corner, and began to rinse the yellow off. "And Sacharissa is marrying...?"
"I have no idea," William said. "And I really don't care."
"So not you, I take it."
"What? No! No! Why does everyone think we're--" Once again, the mental images rather drowned out everything he might have said. William gesticulated helplessly.
"You remember vhen ve first started the press? Sacharissa had this... habit of falling into your arms." Otto turned from the sink, his arms more or less normal-coloured again, and gave William a grin. "Your heart vould always beat faster."
"Usually because we were about to die!"
"Possibly," Otto said mildly, and gave William a thoughtful look. "So zhere is no attraction at all?"
"She's Sacharissa," William said. "I can't even conceive of it. I mean, I guess she's pretty, yes, but-- but it's Sacharissa."
"It is," Otto said. "Okay, I'm ready to go now."
The scene in the pressroom revealed Sacharissa surrounded by a circle of females and an occasionally giggling cartoonist. William shot them all a terrified look and dragged Otto outside.
"Mein gotts," Otto murmured. He seemed to be trying not to laugh.
"It's not funny. It's terrifying," William insisted.
"Otto! She's probably going to have children. Think about that for a minute."
"They'll probably grow up at home vith their father." Otto gave William a sideways look. "Vhy is this so terrifying?"
William shook his head darkly and didn't answer.
They walked in silence for a short while.
"No," Otto said. "Really. I do not understand."
"Forget it," William snapped.
"Okay," Otto said.
William sighed inwardly with relief. It good that Otto would drop things if asked, because otherwise he'd have to try and explain his way around the realisation that the thought of marriage terrified him, and the thought of children even more.
William had nothing against children; they were a rather vital part of the continuation of the human race. So long as they were quiet and didn't get in his way, he was fine with them.
It was only that he'd just realised that was probably exactly what his father had thought of them, too, although William didn't also want to mould them into copies of himself.
Or hit them, no matter how loud they got.
He was jolted from this train of thought by the arrival of News, and then there were questions to ask, and pictures for Otto to take, and by the time they'd gotten back to the press, sanity had regained some hold of the atmosphere, and the newspaper was business as usual.
William just hoped Otto wouldn't bring it up again.
It was a singularly fruitless hope. A sort of low-grade insanity seemed to grip the pressroom from that point on, and all of it focused on Sacharissa and her wedding.
William had to explain to at least four junior staff that no, he wasn't the lucky groom. Yes, the groom probably was very lucky. No, it wasn't him. No. It really wasn't. No, he and Sacharissa weren't together.
After the fourth time, he almost turned and hit the next person who took his elbow. Luckily he saw in time that it was Otto.
"Come down to the darkroom," Otto said kindly. "You can hide vith me until after the wedding is over."
"Thank you," William gasped gratefully, and nearly locked the door behind them.
"It is a bit mad, isn't it," Otto said philosophically, going back to whatever experiment he had lying out on a table now.
"I kind of wish they'd just eloped," William said. "I mean, that's suitably romantic, isn't it?"
"Sacharissa is not suitably romantic," Otto pointed out. "Anyvay, it's only two more days."
"I don't want to go to the wedding to begin with!" William wailed. "The junior reporters keep giggling at me!"
Otto set down his imp crate in some alarm. "Villiam--"
"I don't like weddings," William went on, ignoring this. "They're long and tedious and half the girls want to murder each other and the rejected suitors linger around outside and look sullen."
"Don't go, then."
"Oh, that's a great idea. Then the Assistant Editor will never speak to me again, none of the females on the staff will talk to me, and I'll find little gifts of hatred on my desks, and deliberately misprinted articles."
"Okay. Hide behind me all evening."
"You're too thin to hide behind."
Otto grinned faintly. "Metaphorically, Villiam."
"I hate weddings," William moaned, slumping down in the corner.
The vampire hesitated briefly, then came and sat down next to William.
"I don't understand," he said quietly. "You're very good about most social occasions."
"No, I tolerate most social occasions," William corrected. "And you'll notice I'm not complaining where anybody else can see. I just... I hate weddings."
"Is it because everyone thinks it's yours?"
"No! That just makes it even worse. Look, haven't you seen them? They all think it's wonderful. And the women keep congregating and having these giggly sort of talks. Yesterday they were talking about having babies and picking names and they paused and looked at me. It's terrifying."
"Vimmin," Otto said airily. "It's okay. It's just vhat they do."
"Yes, exactly," William said. "It's what they do. It's what Sacharissa thinks she should do, but of course she's going to do it her way, and that kid's going to be miserable."
Otto was silent.
"Look, if you're zhat worried, I can help her raise the kid," he said finally.
William choked. "What?"
"If you're that worried, I won't let the kid be miserable," Otto repeated.
"It's a nice thought," William said, "but like you said, she'll probably leave it at home, and I'm sure she'd just give you a strange look and thank you politely if you offered."
Otto went silent again.
"Vhy... vhy are you so worried? I expect Sacharissa will do all right."
"No, she won't!" William waved his hands, and nearly hit Otto. "Because any kid she has is going to take second to the press. You know that. Because she's so concerned about being her own woman, and that means she won't stay at home raising the kid. You know how aloof she can be about things like that. That kid is going to grow up knowing its mother puts more stock in her work than in it. And she'll expect it to understand."
Otto caught William's hands. "Calm down," he said firmly.
William flinched back so violently that he knocked his head against the wall and saw stars, spinning angrily in front of his eyes.
"Villiam," Otto said, soft and alarmed. He let to of William's hands.
William scrambled to his feet. You don't understand, he wanted to say, You can't touch me, it never works when people touch me.
Otto stayed on the floor, staring up at him in something approaching shock.
"Sorry," William mumbled, backing away. He ran into the door and said it again, "I'm sorry," while he fumbled desperately to open it.
Otto didn't stop him from leaving.
William fled, up the stairs, threading his way through the pressroom until he was out in the street, and he could breathe again. Even Ankh-Morpork air was a relief, when it mean he no longer felt like he was in old musty rooms, trying to muffle screams.
After a while, he'd calmed down enough that he could go back into his office long enough to write Sacharissa a note saying he didn't feel very well, but would be back at work the next day. Then he went home.
He sat at the kitchen table, head buried in his hands, occasionally looking up to take a sip from tea with a shot of brandy in it. This would all go away after Sacharissa got married. It had to. He was being unreasonable, and Sacharissa would never raise her child the way he'd been raised. Absence didn't always mean neglect. And so long as she didn't try to raise it her image...
Of course she wouldn't. Sacharissa was too practical for that sort of thing.
His back ached and William shifted, drinking again. Anyway, she'd never sink to the methods his father had used, whatever her intent.
William fell asleep at the kitchen table that night, and woke the next morning with a crick in his neck and the pattern of the wood grain imprinted on his cheek.
He scrubbed his eyes tiredly and changed into new clothes. The wood grain print had faded by the time he stole into the press, which was in such a flurry of excitement that his arrival went unnoticed.
Thankfully, the reporters were still at work, and they came and went through his office with various articles for him to edit. Most of the male reporters looked harried.
Shortly after noon, Otto came in with a batch of iconographs. Instead of setting them down and leaving, though, he shut the door behind him.
William glanced up. "Have they got into your darkroom, too?"
"No," Otto said, setting the iconographs down on William's desk. "I just vanted to apologise for yesterday."
William covered his face with one hand. "It wasn't anything you did. I was just-- my mind was somewhere else. You startled me."
"Startled isn't the vurd I was looking for," Otto said softly, and looked away with a very small shudder. "You vere screaming."
"I was what? No I wasn't!"
"Not aloud." Otto's hands clenched briefly. "I'm sorry, zhat's all."
"It wasn't you," William mumbled into his hand.
"I know." The words were so quiet, William barely heard them.
William blinked and looked up at him. "Then what are you apologising for?"
"Vhatever it was. I know I triggered it, anyvay."
"No, it wasn't you, it was what we were talking about. Never mind. I told you, I was just startled, that's all."
"Okay," Otto said, in the sort of voice that meant it wasn't, but all he added was, "Anyvay, the wedding's tomorrow and that's the end of that."
"Right," William said, staring at the opposite wall. "That's that." Until she gets pregnant, at least, he added in the privacy of his head. Until she has to raise a kid, and I have to wonder about it, and either envy it or feel sorry for it.
Otto nodded and left him.
The wedding was, of course, both far less and way more traumatic than William had predicted. Sacharissa's former suitors were not in attendance, and most of the other women seemed genuinely happy for her. Otto took iconographs of the painfully gold dress she wore, and it all would have gone very well if over three quarters of the people hadn't been Times workers, and there hadn't been News just like there was every other day.
William had told a few of the junior reporters, in no uncertain terms, that they were getting a paper out today, so on the way home after the wedding, he stopped by the Times office and sorted through the frantic scribblings of a few kids afraid of losing their jobs through a dearth of information.
Otto, unfortunately, hadn't had the foresight or the lack of compassion needed to tell any of the junior iconographers the same thing, so William found himself sorting through the stock iconographs, with a handful of dwarfs, trying to write up a decent paper for the next morning.
After an hour of this, Otto turned up, cheerful and smelling rather of champagne, and began to help sorting through the iconographs.
That allowed William to hole up in his office while he finished editing the articles. Thankfully he'd already had the front page written up, and somebody else had adequately covered the wedding, allowing him to focus on the frankly miserable efforts of the junior reporters.
That took another few hours. Otto eventually pulled him gently out of his daze of badly spelled words. "Come on, Villiam," Otto was saying. "That's enough. The dwarfs can sort of it out from here."
"The dwarfs don't edit," William said. "I need to finish here."
"You've edited enough for vun edition," Otto said firmly.
"Not when they still think 'they're' is 'their'!"
"The dwarfs can edit grammar, Villiam."
"I need to finish this," William mumbled, trying to refocus on the article.
Otto tugged it from his hands.
"Otto!" William stood up to grab it back, and swayed for a moment as the room spun.
"Vhatever's been bothering you," Otto said, in a very quiet and oddly dangerous voice, "distracting yourself vith all this vurk will not make it better. I'm valking you home. Now."
William's self-preservation instincts shut his mouth before he could protest again, and kept working nearly the entire way home.
Otto was silent, and though he didn't touch William, he walked closely enough that William could feel how tense he was.
William unlocked his door silently, and wasn't entirely surprised when Otto followed him in.
"Vant to tell me why you're acting like this?" Otto asked quietly from the doorway.
"Fair enough." Otto shifted slightly. "Villiam, in... an hour, let's say, I vill suddenly remember that you are my employer. I vill suddenly remember that Otto Chriek is funny and unobtrusive and does not get angry. But, and this is the funny thing, Villiam, sometimes I need you to remind me of these things, and you cannot do that if you are like this. Let me rephrase my question. Vill you tell me vhy you're acting like this?"
William stared at him. There was suddenly something a lot less nice about the set of Otto's shoulders, and it made him remember hail and candlelight and swords.
"Do you remember what we were talking about?" he asked quietly. "When I reacted so badly?"
"Children," Otto said.
"Raising children," William corrected, turning to head up the stairs to his rooms. Otto shut the door behind them again, and William stared at the couch and went on, "My father didn't want children, he wanted copies of himself. And he didn't get that with me."
Otto was silent for a long moment.
"But he tried," he said finally.
"Yes," William said. "He was convinced that with the right amount of... persuasion, I'd see that his way was right."
"Ah," Otto said, the smallest possible sound.
"So that's what I was thinking about, and that's why I flinched," William finished, hearing the temperature drop in his voice. "Satisfied?"
Otto stared off into space for a long moment.
"I keep on being reminded," he said, "zhat you are a better person than I am. I vould haff killed him, but you believed that I vas stronger than that. You could have asked me to kill him, and I vould have done it. You did not do so. I know it vas not out of love for him."
"He might as well be dead," William said. "He's got nothing left, and that's worse, as far as he's concerned. Anyway." He stared at the floor. "He's family. And I wish I hated him enough that that didn't matter."
"Anyway, what would that have made us?" William shook his head.
"People like him," Otto murmured. "But you already know that."
"Yes." William turned away, heading towards the kitchen. Tea and brandy definitely sounded like a good idea right now. His back ached faintly. It was phantom pain; the scars were nearly invisible unless someone was looking for them.
He didn't hear Otto follow him-- the vampire could be entirely silent when he wanted to-- but Otto's voice did ask plaintively from the kitchen doorway, "Vould you like me to leave now?"
William stared at the tea leaves. "Do you want to? I don't-- there isn't any reason for you to stay," he said fumblingly, "but if you want to--"
"If you vouldn't mind." Otto sounded surprisingly unassuming, considering how he'd sounded only a few minutes before.
"That's fine." William waited for the tea to steep before he said, "You're back to being the other Otto now, then."
"Yes." Otto sat down cautiously. "Sorry."
"Why?" William added a careful shot of brandy.
"Because you needed that." Otto stared down at the table.
"Do you want cocoa? I still have boiled water. I didn't realise," he continued, as if it were simply another thing to say, "that you needed me to be you."
"Cocoa vould be nice, thanks." Otto gave him a little smile.
William found the cocoa packets where they were buried at the back of the cabinet, and made Otto up a cup while he sipped at his own cooling tea. The brandy gave him an excuse to relax.
When Otto's cocoa was ready, the vampire took it with a nod of thanks and curled up in his chair. It was nearly impossible now to see any of that coiled-up danger he'd carried with him earlier. It was just Otto, with his red-lined opera cloak and iconograph vest, and the little pointy smile he gave William over the rim of his cup.
William returned it uncertainly, not because he remembered that danger but because there was something strange about the fact that they seemed to depend on each other to keep their pasts in check. He thought this, and looked at Otto while Otto looked at him, and there was a moment of--
And a little voice that he'd never heard before, at the back of his mind, said, Yes.
Otto blinked and sipped his cocoa again.
William shivered and drained his tea, turning away to wash out the cup in the sink.
Otto joined him there, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, not quite touching.
William didn't know how to reach over to him. Instead he too Otto's cocoa cup and washed that out, too, and put the brandy bottle away in the cabinet, and the empty cocoa packet in the waste bin.
And he thought about vampires, and how they could sense emotion, and he tried to reach out for that recognition, to put it into words but also into something loud enough to speak without them, and all the while that little voice was humming away in his mind, Yes. Yesyesyesyes, like someone had flipped a switch he hadn't known was there.
"Villiam?" Otto murmured.
He blinked. "What?"
Otto gave him another little unobtrusive Otto-smile. "I should probably go now," he said, but he said it like a question.
The little voice shut off like the switch had been hit. "Oh," he said in a small voice. "Right." No.
"Get some sleep, okay?"
"Right," he said miserably, in exactly the same tone as before. "I will."
Otto's hands twitched. "Okay," he said. "Vhat did I miss? I thought I vas doing well."
William stared at him. "What do you mean?"
"You were doing fine until a moment ago." Otto frowned slightly. "If you vant, I can stay longer. I just thought I'd-- I mean, I haff probably overstepped enough boundaries today..."
"No, you haven't," William said immediately, and then covered his face with one hand and sighed. "I just--"
It was probably only the second time in his entire acquaintance with Otto that the vampire touched him, and it was the first time William registered it properly.
Otto's hands were cool, fingers just thin enough to be edging on frail, but he pulled William's hand from his face with no effort at all.
William stared at him, registering Otto's eyes as wide dark things that hurt, somehow. The little voice was back in his mind again, yes, and he was acutely aware of Otto's fingers around his own.
He swallowed despite a suddenly dry throat. "Just--"
He found he couldn't quite go on, although he wasn't sure whether it was confusion and fear or a simple lack of knowing what the words were.
"It's okay," Otto said.
"It's really not," he murmured, "but it's not wrong." It was just strange, to look at Otto and think, You're like me. To look at him and want to be closer to that. To want, suddenly, things he hadn't known he wanted. Needed.
"I can't read your mind," Otto said gently.
"That's probably just as well." When had his voice turned husky like that? It was probably because his throat was so tight. The voice in his head was so loud now as to be nearly deafening, short-circuiting all his other thoughts.
Otto gave William a little smile. It looked nearly sad. "Villiam, your heart is beating so fast."
He still hadn't let go of William's hands.
"Yeah," William managed, and clutched at Otto's hands. "Yeah, it is. Otto, I don't know how to say--"
"No," Otto said. "Vhatever it is, I know you have the vurds."
"Please," he said sharply, swallowing hard. "Otto, I've never-- I don't get this, I don't understand it, I just-- stay, please, gods, stay, I need--" That was where the words failed, what he needed; there was no frame of reference, no idea past a fierce, whole body ache and desire pooling low in his stomach. It was terrifying.
After a moment he realised that Otto was trembling, that the vampire's pale face was slightly flushed. Then Otto's hands were in his hair, pulling William down to his mouth, and coherent thought failed too.
William clutched at Otto's sides, groaning when the bulky iconography vest got in his way, and he slipped his hands beneath the vest, resting against Otto's silky shirt. His mind was rocketing on new sensation; another body pressed flush against his own, legs nearly tangling as they angled to press closer; what Otto's lips tasted like, what his mouth tasted like; what cocoa and brandy tasted like mixed together in the press of tongues. The sounds; shifting fabric and muffled moans. The way all the strength seemed to go out of his muscles, and he trembled fiercely.
In far too short a time, Otto broke the kiss. The whimper at this loss of contact tore itself from William; he couldn't have stopped it for the world.
"Ve should sit down," Otto whispered, his lips brushing William's. The jolt of contact earthed itself somewhere in William's spine, and his legs nearly folded.
"Yes," he mumbled, leaning forward to catch Otto's mouth again for an achingly brief moment. They moved without his realising it, and he sank readily down onto the couch. His mind spun with dizzying new possibilities, and he dragged Otto back to his mouth with a sharp little groan.
Otto's hands twisted in his hair for a moment, on the edge of being painful, before letting go and trailing down his back. The touch was over his shirt, but William's back was already far too sensitive with phantom pain.
William tore his mouth away. "Gods, Otto," he panted, staring at the vampire's face, inches away. "Gods," he breathed again. "Yes."
Otto's eyes were very wide. He looked stunned. One of his hands left William's back, came up to William's face. His thumb brushed over William's lips, along his jaw line, and still Otto looked stunned.
More himself, William realised with the small part of his brain that still noticed these things. The tension, the edge of danger, was back in the set of Otto's body, but the vampire's face was open; not sweet, silly, unobtrusive Otto, but Otto completely immersed in his study of light.
Otto focused on him, and that should have frightened him, knowing how Otto was about light, but it was possibly the most erotic thing he'd felt in his life, and while that list was very short it was suddenly very, very important that Otto keep looking at him like that.
"Villiam," Otto whispered, and it was in his voice, too, all that singular intentness.
"Yes," William said, nearly a moan. His hands found their way under Otto's vest again; sweat made them slip over the silk.
Otto shivered, and whimpered quietly, tipping his head back. He was gasping, and William wondered for a brief moment why, because Otto was a vampire and surely he didn't need to breathe; but William's every breath was ragged, and Otto's was too, and William was visited by the idea that Otto's body was somehow echoing his.
William leaned forward, kissing Otto's neck. He wanted to bite, to taste, but the tiny part of his mind that was still coherent told him that was a bad idea just yet. It also made him think that he didn't want Otto to be echoing him, he wanted Otto to be feeling the same things completely independently. Wanted it to be not just this time...
He found Otto's mouth again, kissed him possessively.
Otto moaned quietly into the kiss, shifting a little on William's lap, and then, by accident or design, ground his hips sharply against William's.
"Gods!" William hissed it against his lips, then fell back, dragging Otto with him, rocking upward against Otto. His mind, hazy with sensation and lust, managed to suggest that less clothing would be very good.
Otto seemed to be having the same idea, although simultaneously getting William's clothes off and pressing as close to him as possible were proving to be difficult, and he settled for tugging frantically and ineffectually at William's shirt.
William shoved him away long enough to manage the buttons with sweat-slippery fingers, and reached up to shove Otto's iconography vest off his shoulders.
Otto froze for a moment.
"Careful," he murmured, and pulled it off, suiting action to words. He set it gently on the floor and turned back to William, but whatever madness that had gripped them both had left Otto now.
"Villiam," he said softly, "you'd better be sure about zhis."
William stared up at him, and felt his breathing slow gradually. "I am," he said, when he could breathe without panting. "I was-- back in the kitchen. I just got it. I'm sure, Otto, I really am."
Otto swallowed hard and nodded.
"I'm frightened," he whispered.
"So am I," William said thickly. His chest hurt with a sort of sharp, aching want and he tried to calm it. "Don't stop, though."
Otto's eyes squeezed shut. "I forgot about zer light, Villiam." His voice trembled.
William swallowed hard. "You didn't hurt me, though."
"I know. I--" Otto looked at him helplessly. "I shouldn't do zhis to you."
"Otto, I want you to." William sat up, with difficulty. He was shivering, now that the flush of desire had faded. "Please. Otto I-- I know you. You're like me. It's different, but I get you. And I understand me better because of it. And I know you can do the same thing."
Otto gave him a sweet, helpless smile. "Zer League teaches us how to fool ourselves, so that maybe vith time ve can fool everyone else, too. Vhat happens if I find out I am right? If I find out zhat I really am a good person, just because you say it is so?"
"It's not just because of me." William leaned forward, resting his head against Otto's. "It's because you were willing to try, and because you fought past it, and because every day you fight it back again, and I do the same thing. And if I weren't here, you'd still have the light and maybe it would take longer, but you wouldn't lose that. None of this has happened because I said it. I never said anything, before tonight. But you are good, and one of these days you're going to realise that. You're not fooling anyone."
He felt Otto blinking rapidly, right against his cheek.
"Do you believe zer same of yourself?"
"I'm not... nice," William managed. "I never was and I'm not trying to be. But I'm different, and I'm what I want to be, and I'm where I want to be, and I know what I believe and it's mine now, not anybody else's. I think... I think I could call myself good, yes."
"Okay," Otto said, and tilted his head, and kissed William very gently.
William made a surprised little sound and kissed him back. They tasted less of brandy and cocoa now, and more like things he couldn't name, and it was nice to explore Otto's mouth, with desire still heavy in his stomach but not drowning him now.
Otto's hands slid down and then up under William's shirt, against his sides. He was still trembling a little. I'm frightened, Villiam.
William reached up, resting one hand against the back of Otto's neck, holding him steady; the other carded soothingly through his hair. So am I. We'll be okay. It was strangely easy to hear Otto without speaking.
Otto relaxed against him, and his hands slid up William's back, over the old scars and the phantom ache.
William didn't flinch. Later, he thought, he'd show those scars to Otto, let the vampire trace them. He had the idea that perhaps the ache would stop, then.
Otto pulled away a little, and gave William a serious look. It was also that very intent look, again, the immersed-in-light look. "If ve're going to do this properly..."
"Right," William whispered roughly. "Right, sorry. Um. The bedroom's through here..." He struggled to disentangle himself from Otto, a difficult task when neither of them wanted to move. He tried to distract himself by thinking of silly ways to refer to what they were going to do, phrases found only in very bad novels.
It was surprisingly ineffectual.
Eventually they managed to sort out which limbs were whose, insofar as it was possible for Otto to get to his feet and hold out his hand for William.
And here was something else. He was still looking quite intent, but now there was something subtly different about Otto's posture. He was entirely sure of himself, entirely sure of what he was doing, and just the way he was standing, one hand outstretched, was fusing parts of William's brain.
He took Otto's hand and held tightly while Otto led him to his own bedroom. He thought about unreformed vampires, and nightdresses and open windows and chilly night air, and then the door closed behind him and he reached out with his free hand, running his fingers along Otto's collarbone, sharp beneath his shirt, and it was nothing like that at all.
Instead, it was--
William had no words for what it was. It wasn't simply that it was outside his vocabulary-- which it was, various crude turns of phrase he'd picked up over the years notwithstanding-- it was outside his ability to explain.
He could follow the parts, fragmented; Otto's skin was pale and amazingly smooth and William could not stop touching it; Otto's fingers undid all William's buttons deftly, and William could not stop staring; Otto touched him, gently, nearly reverently, and William could not stop himself from crying out.
Because he didn't know what it was like, he kissed Otto's neck and his shoulders and, when they sank weak-kneed onto the bed, his collarbone and his chest, before his face was turned up so Otto could kiss him again. He touched and kissed all of Otto that he could, with the fractured thought that perhaps if he could just learn how, he could keep that look from ever leaving Otto's face.
Otto held him close, touched him in turn, whispered "Villiam," and it was, peculiarly enough, that last which sparked the strongest sensations. He'd heard Otto say his name before, thousands of times, politely, excitedly, tiredly, disappointedly, cheerfully, absently, but not like this. This was Otto saying his name like it was the only word in the world, and like it didn't mean William, de Worde's boy or William the Times editor, but like it just meant William, right here, touching and being touched, being somehow trusted. William like he was the only thing in the world.
He loved that, wrapped himself around Otto and that word, clung to it. He loved Otto's voice like that, and he loved Otto's hands on his skin and he loved Otto, like this and a thousand other ways. He'd realised it back in the kitchen, a thousand years ago, but he got it now, when they were tangled up in each other, breathing the same air.
Perhaps that was in the word too, the realisation echoed back on him. William didn't know. Right now it didn't matter, because what mattered was suddenly narrowed down to a world where it was only himself and Otto, nearly nameless, Otto's whispered Villiam only another wonderful sound.
Then things slowly came back, and he could see again the muted grays and dark shadows in the bedroom, and feel the body against his own.
Otto shivered a little and pressed a kiss to William's shoulder.
"Hi," William murmured, curling against him, half-draped over the vampire's thin frame. The sweat on his body cooled rapidly, and he shivered also and pulled the covers up around them.
The vampire laughed quietly. "Hi?" he echoed, only slightly disbelievingly.
"Oh, shut up," William mumbled against his skin. "I can't even think right now."
"Yet another mutual feelink," Otto murmured.
William smiled. He meant to say something more, maybe point out how Otto's accent was stronger than normal and he liked how it sounded, but between one thought and the next he was sleeping.
He woke up the next morning with the sun in his face and Otto beside him, burrowed under the blankets.
William blinked, wincing at the light. It occurred to him that he was very lucky not to have woken up next to-- or in-- a pile of dust, and he slipped out of bed to pull the curtains closed.
Otto stirred a little and poked his head out from under the blankets. "Thank you," he said. William had never heard Otto's voice like that before, either, all muzzy with sleep. Otto had usually slept during the day during their close confinement in Borogravia, and was professionally alert whenever William needed him to be.
William nodded and sank back down next to him, staring thoughtfully at the vampire. A very large part of him was utterly terrified, but it seemed to be overruled by the little voice that said, So what? Who's going to cause trouble about this? That was nice. It was the voice that always spoke up when he made things very, very uncomfortable for people trying to impede the Freedom Of The Press.
"Good mornink," Otto added, and gave him a slow sleepy smile.
"Morning," William returned, smiling cautiously back. It seemed the thing to do.
Otto sat up carefully.
"So," he said, after a moment.
"Please don't say that," William said. "It implies there's going to be a discussion about what to do next, and where we go from here, and I frankly have no idea although if you leave I'm going to make your life very unpleasant."
"I vas actually going to ask vhat you were planning to do for breakfast," Otto said mildly. William knew that was a lie, but the look on Otto's face said quite plainly that he knew that William knew.
"Do you eat breakfast?" William asked, taking the excuse to fish around for a clean set of clothes. Otto's were strewn with his on the other side of the bed.
"Cocoa, sometimes. Or an apple."
"I have both, if you like. I just have toast usually."
"Cocoa vould be fine, thanks." Otto grinned a little nervously. "Am I really not allowed to ask you vhat happens now?"
"No, go ahead. I have no idea, though." William pulled on a shirt and frowned down at the vampire. "Otto. I've never had any sort of relationship before. You know what my life was like before the Times; I've told you."
"Come to it, I haff never had a relationship either," Otto pointed out, reaching for his trousers. "Ve seem to be doing okay so far."
"In that neither of us have messed up horribly yet, or in the sense that we're actually successful?"
"I think it is alvays the former," Otto said ruefully.
"I thought I was supposed to be the cynical one about romance," William murmured, pulling on a pair of socks. He left the room before Otto answered; it was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic.
He'd had time to bring water to a boil, enough to serve both for cocoa and his morning coffee, when Otto joined him in the kitchen and sat down quietly.
"There's apples in the breadbox if you want any," William said, without looking over at him.
"I am fine for now, thank you."
Gods damn it all. Otto was back to his Polite Vampire Employee voice.
William turned the stove off and swung around to glare at him. "Stop that."
"You're using that voice, the one that means you're just being polite because you're too tactful to say what you're thinking!"
"I do not know vhat I am thinking," he said. "Give me a vhile."
William slid the cup of cocoa across the table and retrieved his toast before it burned, then slumped into the chair across from Otto.
"Thanks," Otto said quietly, and sipped it, giving William a thoughtful look.
Otto set his cocoa cup down with a thump. "Do you think I haff zer answers?" he asked softly. "I am thinking, Villiam."
"I know! You said. It just... looks like you're trying to read me. And that's my job."
That produced a faint fleeting grin from Otto. "And no vun else is allowed?"
William looked away.
"If it helps, I'm probably more scared zhan you are."
"That's really worrying," William said, staring morosely at his coffee cup. At the back of his mind, he had been expecting that Otto would know what to do. Otto had been alive for hundreds of years; he should know how romance works, right? His mind had just failed to take into account that most of Otto's previous experience had been with one night bites.
"I could pretend to know vhat I vas doing," Otto offered, taking the opposite tack.
"That works great right up until it explodes in our faces," William said.
"But you do it all zer time," Otto said softly.
"I don't want to do it with this." William shut his eyes, leaning his face in his hands. "This isn't a story. This is... this is mine."
There was silence, broken by the sound of Otto's chair scraping back. After a moment, Otto's hands settled on William's shoulders. "Okay," he murmured, "so ve're scared and ve don't know how to do this. That's fine. It's alvays this way."
William leaned back into his hands. "Always?" he said quietly. "Is everyone in love very mad, then? I think I would be, if it was like this all the time."
"I meant us, Villiam."
"I know how to do other things," William said. "Just not this."
"I know." Otto sat down again beside him, still touching William's arm lightly. "It is the same vith me."
"This should be very interesting, then," William said dryly. "The sort of interesting that terrifies our employees. You realise that."
The corners of Otto's mouth twitched. "Ve are fairly good at not being terrifying, Villiam."
"Actually a healthy amount of fear is useful when it comes to dealing with junior reporters and iconographers. But they're not afraid because you're a vampire; they're afraid because you're their boss and you know a lot more than them. I'm not entirely sure why they're afraid of me, but I think it might be because I can stand up to Sacharissa and live."
"It is probably because you know more zhan them, and everyvun knows it." Otto gave him a fond little grin. "Anyvay, I do not see why... this... vould give rise to terror."
"You have worked with me on bad days," William said. "And there are going to be bad days. There always are. And I'm going to snap at you, because that's what I do. And you'll be very polite about it, because that's what you do, at least when there's other people around. And it's going to be chaotic and we're not always going to have enough time for each other even when we try to, and that's going to be difficult. All in all this is a very bad idea."
An oddly soft look crossed Otto's face. "Villiam," he said, "ve do all that already. And zhere is never enough time."
"I know," William said. "But now I want there to be."
"Ah," said Otto, rising and going to the sink with his empty cocoa cup, "zhere, I cannot help you."
"Never mind." If they had progressed to the stage where the vampire was in his kitchen, doing his dishes, they were certainly too far gone to turn back because of a little thing like common sense, which had never been very high on the priority list of Times work anyway. "We'll manage anyway."
"Yes." Otto turned and gave William his intense playing-with-light smile. "To vurk, then?"
It was a week later.
Sacharissa had returned from her honeymoon in Quirm, glowing with health, bursting with ideas, and smelling faintly of cabbage.
William hadn’t really spoken to her since her return, not out of any desire to avoid her but because she had been surrounded since she'd walked through the door with a throng of female reporters and iconographers who wanted to know every little and, judging by the giggles, extremely licentious detail.
Eventually, though, by dint of being more or less second-in-command, Sacharissa turned up in William's office, shut the door firmly, and gave him her professional smile.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello," William said, returning it, although is own professional smile wasn't really a smile, per se. But there was implied friendliness.
"So." Sacharissa folded her hands demurely. "The Times seems to have kept itself running while I've been gone. Did anything significant happen that I should know about?"
"Actually, yes," William said, picking up a report and ignoring what the statement implied. "Just yesterday. The Post Office has reopened. I'd like you to take a look at it, see if there's anything especially interesting about that. Other than that, there was a hanging that Mrs. Tilly covered, the Alchemists Guild blew up again, and there were more problems with the clacks. That's mostly it."
"Post Office," Sacharissa murmured, materialising a notebook and jotting this down. "All right." She flipped it closed again. "And you, William, your week went well...?"
"Yes, it did. I'm going to assume yours did too, and I really don't want any details." He hesitated, tapping his pencil on the desk, and then went on. "I didn't have the opportunity to say this at the wedding, and I wasn't even really thinking it then anyway, but I do wish you luck with this."
A startled look crossed Sacharissa's face before gracefully metamorphosing into a smile. "Thanks, William," she said.
"Take one of the junior iconographers when you go to look at the Post Office," William said. "If it turns out to be a story, let me know and I'll send Otto."
"Actually," Sacharissa said thoughtfully, "have you seen the front of that building? It's grand. I'm sure Otto would want to take an iconograph." She hesitated. "You can have him back if it doesn't turn out to be a story after all."
"Ask him about it," William suggested. He tapped his pencil on the desk again, thoughtfully. "I'm backed up here anyway and he'd probably like to get out and take some pictures. He doesn't have any projects going right now unless inspiration has struck sometime in the last four hours."
"Always a possibility with our Otto."
Firmly quashing the instinctual response that Otto was William's only and not in the least Sacharissa's, William said, "Like I said, ask him."
"I will," she said, and reached for the door. "Thanks for letting me borrow him."
"You're only borrowing him, remember," William said sternly.
"I know," Sacharissa said. "Have a good day, William."
"I think I will," William said, leaning back in his chair. He wondered if he'd always been this possessive of Otto, that Sacharissa didn't think anything of an order like that.
No reason to hide, then, a logical little part of his mind said, and he smiled. "Yeah, I think I will."
Mweep! It's been so long since I've read one of your lovely William/Otto fics that I forgot how absolutely perfect they are. Sweet yet analytical and mmm yay good.
Haven't slept properly in a week, so my brain is functioning on drops of coffee and not up to proper glowing adjectivey reviews, but this would definitely deserve one could I manage it. Thank you both!
Absolutely marvellous! This was the first story I've ever read with this pairing, and although I'm a hardcore William/Sacharissa shipper I loved it.
You really made it work. Many big compliments!
He was jolted from this train of thought by the arrival of News,
This line amused me for some reason.
Elegant handling of the romance aspect without going overboard. I approve!