Pacing the corridors of the Estate's Main House as if he were a ghost himself, Locksley considered the implications of what he had seen that night. If his experiences that night were to be believed, then he had somehow called his long-dead lover back from beyond the Veil. How? Had he released some kind of erotic essence into the universe by burning those many letters, filled with longing and regret? Those papers had been imbued with many hard feelings, collected across the years, in addition to an abiding love.
If the Shade was called and fed by Locksley's own emotions, it might well be malevolent. He had learned from experience to trust Sawyer's intentions when he was alive, but spirits were not to be trifled with. Death was transformative, and he had died violently. Did Sawyer resent Locksley's part in his demise? Who was to say what would have happened, had Locksley taken his hand earlier that evening. Would Sawyer have dragged him over the edge of the cliff to shatter his bones on the rocks below, ten years of resentment paid with a most permanent vengeance?
Sawyer had said that he would appear every night until All Saints Day. All Locksley had to do was avoid meeting with him again, and he would safeguard his life — perhaps his very soul. And yet, he had promised to go to the Shade tomorrow evening, and did not wish to anger it further — nor renege on a promise to a man that he had already failed so direly. Perhaps he should enlist the aid of a Priest to put the spirit to rest. Or perhaps there were protective charms that could be employed. He had never held with such bunk, but the evidence of his eyes and body was hard to deny. Sawyer had spoken to him. If that had been a hallucination, then it held a power and verisimilitude unlike any that Locksley had ever heard of.
Locksley found that, once again, he was feeling more hale at night. This had thus far been the case since his illness began on Tuesday morning, following his return from Fredericton. To his knowledge, this was strange behaviour for a flu, but perhaps the concussion came into it as well.
Nevertheless, Locksley supposed that he ought to make hay while the sun was shining...so to speak. He went to the study to begin a note to the local parish, hoping that they would be able to send some spiritual aid. With some effort, he unscrewed the top of his inkwell, nearly spilling it across the carpet when the cap came loose suddenly. Dipping in his pen, he pulled a sheet of foolscap from the pile.
To the Priests of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception,
I write in dire need of your succor. A spirit has haunted the Somerville Estate since Tuesday, October 11th. He appears once nightly, carrying a lantern in the fog. This troubled young man appears to have business with the household. Please, help us to grant him the peace of the grave, and whatever may lie beyond. We have no experience in such matters, but are hoping that you may provide some guidance.
May this letter find you well,
- L. Somerville
Locksley was growing tired from the effort of writing such an emotional letter about his Sawyer. Folding the letter and placing it inside of an envelope, Locksley hastily scrawled the address and placed the letter in the tray for the servants to gather in the morning and send off.
As he did so, he clumsily knocked the inkwell over, spilling it about the carpet. With a disgusted, resigned sigh, he threw some foolscap sheets atop of it to absorb the worst of it, and found that he had no further energy to expend. The household's maids would surely know the best tricks to get ink from a carpet, he reassured himself, and dragged himself up to bed.
All of his dreams were of Sawyer.
The privacy of the cottage was perfectly suited for their on-going tryst. That first day, Sawyer and Lock stuck to kissing. But there were so many possibilities when it came to what to kiss and in what manner. For a wonder, Lock found that he was able to put aside shame and worry. It was just as Sawyer had told him — he could always come a little closer to shore if he found himself out of his depth.
As Sawyer kissed his stomach, nuzzling his lower abdomen, there was one intrusive thought that Lock found just wouldn't go away.
Sawyer paused, laying his head on Lock's soft stomach. "Yes, Lock?"
"What about Burnaby Lovelace?"
Raising himself up on his elbows, Sawyer cradled his chin on his knuckles. "What about Burnaby Lovelace? Oh, Lock...Are you worried that I won't have time for you if I'm also seeing him? Haven't I made the time?"
Lock bit his lip. "That's true, but...isn't it different if we're...uh...kissing?"
"I've never been monogamous before. Now that's a perverted idea!" said Sawyer teasingly.
Lock considered those words carefully. Was that what he was asking for? He found that he didn't mind if Sawyer still saw Lovelace, really, except..."Well, I can't seem to be alone in a room with him without telling him to...to go choke on...well, nevermind what I told him to go choke on. And vice-versa. Won't he be upset about it?"
Sawyer chuckled. "I heard about that luncheon of yours. Oh, Burnsy was absolutely tickled! I don't think he minded very much. I gave him an earful though — he knew you weren't ready to talk about your...feelings...and he tried to force it on you anyhow. He's apologetic, I promise."
"Well, all right then. But don't expect me to join in on any lovey-dovey stuff with the two of you."
Sawyer gave a playful bark and nipped at Lock's stomach. "Oh no, my dear Lock — I don't intend to share you. You're the Lock — I'm the key! Unless that is, there's someone you want to be shared with?"
Picturing Sawyer putting the key in his lock, Locksley blushed fiercely. "I'll let you know if I meet a handsome longshoreman or the like."
"You do that, Lock. Meanwhile, it's time for another kissing lesson. You have to practice if you want to be any good! And there will be a rigorous examination at the end of the winter term."
The next morning, drifting in and out of consciousness in the too-bright light of the morning sun, Locksley heard a loud exclamation of surprise from downstairs. The household staff had found his mess, then. Whomever it was sounded rather more upset than an ink spill called for, if Locksley was honest. Dramatics! He would apologize to them at the next opportunity, when he was feeling better. For now, they would surely do what they were paid to do, Locksley thought to himself as he drifted back asleep.
When next Locksley awoke, the sun had already gone down and it was unsettlingly dark. All the eagerness that he had felt the previous night was nowhere to be found. He dreaded the thought of going out of doors to meet Sawyer's ghost. Yet, he found that he was feeling well enough to keep his promise. The day's rest had done him some good.
Having had no response from the priests, Locksley stopped in at the estate's chapel and rummaged about. He found a small wooden cross in storage belonging to the outdoor nativity scene. Armed thus with the cross and a lantern, he went outside to await his visiting spirit. He waited at the memorial monument for some time before he spotted the lantern coming through the fog.
As the lantern drew nearer, Sawyer's form asserted itself. "Hello, Lock."
"Keep your distance, Spirit," said Locksley, raising the cross.
Sawyer's expression soured, his lips forming a dour line. "You know, it's often those who hide behind that Cross would see people like us killed before our time — like your father. And I know that you only attend Christmas mass, Lock."
Locksley lowered the cross sheepishly, staring at it before tossing it aside. It clattered on the stone monument. "Fine. But tell me — why have you come back?"
Sawyer exhaled, though he needed no breath, and it even misted the air. "I've been here, waiting, Lock. You called me here on the night of the full moon. Now you can see me, and that's because —"
Mid-word, the expression on Sawyer's face changed to one of deep sadness and regret, even a little fear, as the wind around them seemed to reach gale-force, the wooden cross clattering on the stone, the trees shuddering.
"What's happening, Sawyer? Is it the Veil calling you back to the other side?"
Sawyer shook his head, and reached out toward Lock, mouthing for him to take his hands, but Locksley drew back. Sawyer stood shaking his head in frustration.
"I need to know your intentions, spiri— Sawyer! Why do you haunt me?"
Sawyer's brows furrowed and he made to speak. The wind picked up again, and Sawyer tried to charge Locksley through the wind, grasping for his hands...
...Without knowing quite how he had gotten there, Locksley found himself back in his bedroom, short of breath and terrified. Sawyer had tried to attack him!
That settled it. He would not indulge the monstrous creature who took on the guise of his dead lover any further. He would take great care until All Saints Day not to be outside at night. That was when the spirit had said it would cease these visitings — if it had been telling the truth.
It was late February before Sawyer brought up the idea of doing a perverted hypnosis session with Lock again. He came over to the cottage with a list of ideas, all neatly laid out in pencil.
"The human mind," Sawyer began, as if he were a traveling salesman at a county fair. "Is an amazing sexual organ. It can convince us all sorts of things, if we're willing to be convinced."
Lock threw an arm around Sawyer's shoulders and pulled him in close as he picked up the list. "Oh. Well, this is all very interesting. I am especially interested in what you wrote down here..."
"...And whenever I touch a part of your body while telling you the word 'pinned', that part of your body becomes stuck fast to whatever surface I've pressed it to — including your own body. You'll be totally unable to move it from that spot," murmured Sawyer in Lock's ear, lying pressed up against him in Lock's bed. "You'll be under my hypnotic spell."
Lock, deeply hypnotized, gave a moan and rubbed his cock under the duvet cover. He was entirely naked, and had been playing with his needful penis for some time now. He nodded enthusiastically.
"That's my good boy, Lock. Touch yourself and listen to me. This is important. Now, if I say — and only if I say the word 'unlock', your body will become unstuck. All of it at once. Any part that I've pinned will become unpinned..."
Sawyer ran a hand gently through Lock's hair. "All right, I think that's enough for now. I'm going to have so much fun with you, Locksley Somerville. I am going to tease you like you've never been teased. And I say that with confidence, because almost everything I do to you is entirely new, entirely my experience to give you first, isn't it?"
Lock nodded and bit his lip, his body utterly relaxed and open to Sawyer's touches.
"Time to come out of trance then, my good boy."
With all of his limbs and even his buttocks pinned firmly to the bed via hypnotic command, there was nothing that Lock could do to stop Sawyer from engulfing his cock in his mouth. Lock's eyes rolled back at the sensation and he longed to bury his hands in Sawyer's hair. The fact that he could not seemed to make the sensations all the more delicious.
Sawyer delighted in teasing him. Smiling, Sawyer had told Lock to touch either of their bodies anywhere that he liked, so long as he could manage it. That was when he had leaned over and swallowed Lock's member with such skill and enthusiasm. Lock tried to hold back, but his inexperience betrayed him, and far too little time had passed before he sprayed his seed into Sawyer's mouth.
Crawling toward Lock with his mouth closed, Sawyer pressed his lips to his newly-minted lover's. Probing with his tongue, he deposited Lock's own load in his mouth. Shocked but entirely aflame with desire, Lock tasted his own semen for the first time. Sawyer ruffled his hair. "Attaboy, Lock."
The praise made Lock's softening cock jump a little. He wondered what else Sawyer intended, and hoped that his cock's enthusiastic eruption had not disrupted any plans.
Sawyer took off his own underwear and stroked himself to full hardness. He began to rub his hard cock all over Lock's body while the prim and proper boy writhed. When Sawyer reached Lock's face, he rubbed the head around Lock's lips, pressing it forward in askance. Lock parted his lips, and Sawyer thrust into his mouth.
All the while, Lock remained pinned. He trusted Sawyer to take charge of him. He knew that Sawyer would steer them back toward safer waters if Lock was ever out of his depth.
For almost a fortnight, Locksley stayed shut up in his room with the curtains drawn and the doors locked. On the thirteenth day, October 27th, he chanced a look outside the curtains, just intending to see whether he could spot the lantern light in the fog.
What he saw weakened his resolve. Sawyer was splayed out, supine, the lantern next to him on the ground, in plain view of Locksley's window. The fog rose through and around him, licking at his limbs. One arm was thrown across his face, and his shoulders seemed to be shaking vigorously, as if wracked with sobs.
Of course, Locksley had no intention of going down there, but he unlocked the window and pushed it open a crack to confirm with his ears what he thought he was seeing. Even from three stories up, he could hear Sawyer's sobs.
Sawyer stopped then, and lifted his arm away from his face. "Lock? Locksley! You have to listen to me, please!"
Though his heart broke, Locksley shook his head. "Why did you attack me?"
"Attack you—?! No, Lock, you've misunderstood! I'm trying to help you! Come down and let's try again. I know I can get through..."
As if sensing that Sawyer had nearly broached whatever topic the Veil wished him to keep quiet, the wind rose in the distance, a threat that Locksley could feel the pressure of in his sinus cavities. "You mustn't say anything more, Sawyer. Whatever it is you're trying to tell me, you're calling that awful wind down upon us."
"Me? Lock, no, y— "
Locksley could see that Sawyer was still speaking from the way that his lips moved, but the wind was once again drowning out his words. Looking defeated, Sawyer sighed, his shoulders collapsing. He picked up his lantern, and retreated back into the fog.
All that spring, and well into the summer, Locksley and Sawyer studied in the faculties of engineering and sexual hypnosis, with electives in perversion and inverted sex. Sawyer was a strict teacher, and a distracting study partner. Lock found that he didn't mind that at all.
Sawyer's visits at the Somerville Estate also resumed, to the relief of Lady Eleanor, who greeted him fondly. She admitted over afternoon tea one day, in Lock's presence, no less, that she had worried about Locksley making the adjustment to university, for he had been a solitary boy growing up. Sawyer assured her that he had integrated well into the University culture, and was well-loved by his peers.
When the summer started, so did a new ritual for Sawyer and Locksley. Sawyer showed up one day with a mercury thermometer that he had purchased at the pharmacy, with a glass eyelet at the top that he appeared to have tied a shoelace through, and asked Lock to come down for a walk on the beach. Every day that Sawyer spent at the Somerville Estate, which was most of the summer, as there were no classes during the summer term, Sawyer stuck his thermometer into the ocean, waiting for the water to climb to a high enough temperature that he could have his swim.
The water finally reached 20 degrees centigrade in late July, just as Lock had told Sawyer it would. Sawyer suggested that they go for a swim, gauging Lock's reaction carefully.
"Well, what do you think, Lock? Does the water look appealing?"
"Am I jumping out of my skin, do you mean?" said Lock, staring at the waves. He evaluated his condition carefully. His heart was beating no faster, and he was not in a panic, though he still didn't relish the idea of jumping in. "I can face almost anything, so long as you're here with me."
Having changed into their bathing suits, the two came back down to the beach. Lock wondered then whether all of Sawyer's hypnotic suggestions would amount to anything. Sawyer took his hand, and led him toward the water, glancing back at him continuously and reassuringly.
"We'll go in together," said Sawyer in that gentle manner of his. "I won't leave you to face it alone."
Lock allowed himself to be led, step by step, into the water, until the water began to creep closer to his bollocks. He let go of Sawyer's hand. "This is no way to get in the water, especially not the ocean! Sometimes you just have to go for it!"
Crouching down, Lock launched himself into the water in a near-perfect breast stroke, wetting the rest of himself in one go. He was mid-way through this little show of bravery when he realized what he had just done. Behind him, Sawyer was whooping and cheering, and came splashing after him. He let out a high-pitched cry of surprise as the seawater touched his testicles.
"Attaboy, Lock! You did it!"
All through August of 1916, Sawyer and Lock swam in the ocean. Sawyer's favourite time for a swim was in the middle of the afternoon, after lunch had been digested and before afternoon tea was served. At that point in the day, the tide was in a liminal state, neither high nor low. He would cajole Lock into coming down to the beach. Sometimes, Lock just watched Sawyer swim out to a particular rock that he favoured. He would stand still, and smaller fish would nibble at his feet.
Although Lock had mostly overcome his fear, Sawyer remained the more daring of the two of them. Sawyer had a healthy respect for the ocean, but he seemed to trust in its benevolence. Life had always been benevolent to Sawyer Mulholland, after all — why should the ocean be any different? Occasionally, Lock would tether a life buoy to the small private wharf and allow himself to drift. On more than one occasion, he opened his eyes to catch Sawyer watching him intently as he did this.
Sawyer always took great care when it came to Lock. When it came to swimming, if Lock was in the water, Sawyer was never far behind. He seemed to feel responsible for Lock, after all the care that he had put toward his recovery. No matter how often Lock told him that he didn't have to worry, and no matter how many times Sawyer pretended to acquiesce, Lock would still catch him peering his way with great care, even while he pretended at play.
Lock tried to be accepting of the fact that Sawyer Mulholland might always feel that kind of responsibility toward him. After all, Sawyer had saved Lock's life. It did cause him some moments of doubt — about whether Sawyer had taken him on as some sort of charitable work, or whether Sawyer had taken pity on him when he had broken his arm. He did not think that Sawyer would ever pity him in a condescending way, but there were faces that Sawyer was very good at not showing to the world. At not showing to Lock. Including the face that had almost gleefully, sadistically spanked Burnaby Lovelace out on Forest Hill. Lock had not seen such a devious expression on Sawyer since.
It was then that Lock realized that when it came to Sawyer and Lovelace, he might be a slight bit jealous. It wasn't the fact that the two of them had sex or spent time together. No, Lock realized that it was the fact that there were parts of himself that Sawyer shared with Burnaby Lovelace that he did not show to Lock. Lock wanted to know every part of Sawyer.
So, one day, as they were lying on the beach together, their towels cosied up to each other, Lock told Sawyer his request shyly and haltingly. "I want to... I want to watch you spank him. I want to see how you are with him. Then I want you to spank me, too. I want to know that side of you."
Sawyer grinned and rolled over to rest his head on Lock's stomach, pressing the bathing suit top, still chill and damp from the ocean, to Lock's skin.
Locksley remembered how difficult it had been to catch a truly private moment in those years. Seeing Sawyer again, he was achingly reminded of all the sneaking around that they had done to the various hidden spaces of the Somerville Estate in all those stolen moments, ending with that fateful night with his father, the Lord Somerville, the bastard. Locksley reflected that there were worse ghosts to be haunted by than Sawyer Mulholland.
What was it that Sawyer wanted to tell him, he wondered, and what was the malevolent-seeming wind that battered down whenever Sawyer tried to speak of it? The wind made it difficult to do anything but react — certainly Locksley could not think with such shrieking and raw power threatening to bring down the very trees around him.
Having spent the day in dazed contemplation about his dead lover and their time together, Locksley found that he regretted the loss of the letters. His recollections, as set down there, were no doubt more whole and more pure than the shadows of the past that came to him now. And yet, their sacrifice had brought Sawyer back to him, in a limited way. Surely, even in death, even with how things had ended, Sawyer could mean him no harm?
Locksley had imagined what it would be like to have Sawyer returned to him too many times to count, and in none of those scenarios had he doubted Sawyer, or tried to fend him off with a cross, for goodness's sake, or done anything but go to him and hold him tight. Tonight, he resolved, he would try to catch a ghost — in his arms.
When Sawyer arrived with his strange, ghostly lantern — a lantern that he had not had when he needed it the most — Locksley had already been waiting for him for twenty minutes. Locksley ran through the fog, searching his visitor out. When Locksley ran to him and threw his arms around him, two things happened: Locksley was able to touch Sawyer, and Sawyer let out a surprised laugh and swept him up in a hug.
Sawyer kissed Locksley's forehead, his eyelids, his nose, the cups of his ears. He held him tightly, and curled his fingers in Locksley's hair. Locksley closed his eyes and leaned into the touches, the feeling of relief at being touched after so long by just the right person flooding his senses. He felt his eyes flood with warm tears and he half-laughed, half-cried them all.
"Lock... my God, Lock, it feels so good to touch you," said Sawyer, holding Locksley at arms length to look at him, his own eyes also shining and well-washed. "You're not afraid of me?"
Lock's earlier foolishness came back to him and he found himself at a loss. How could he explain? "Sawyer...I wanted this so badly, that when I finally got it — this impossible moment — I thought there must be something rotten and wrong about it. And...I thought that you would hate me. I failed you."
Sawyer pulled Locksley in closely again, sighing a little. "Oh, Lock..."
"I was a coward — I let you leave alone...and you died, Sawyer," said Locksley frankly, his speech coming quickly and erratically as Sawyer pressed his head to his chest in a solid hug.
"I've had a long time to think about those minutes, Lock, and I know you have too. I forgive you. I forgive you for being scared, and I forgive you for being unable to leave in that moment."
Locksley moistened his lips and burst into silent sobs anew, shuddering in Sawyer's grasp. His voice was small, tentative, when he spoke again. "That...that wasn't your...last remaining task on this Earth, was it? Letting me know that? You'll still stay for a few more days?"
"Yes, Lock, I'll still be here for a few more days. And there are still things that I left undone in life that I intend to do," said Sawyer with a small laugh, and tilted Locksley's chin up to kiss him.