by Kuruki (来木)
William Ogden sat down to breakfast. He had a lot to do today, but no machine, including the human body, could run without fuel. Before he could get his fork to his mouth, Sasha jumped on his lap. He stroked the cat with one hand and ate with the other. Across the table, John Rutherford chuckled over his paper. John had claimed for many years to be too old and set in his ways to take on a new apprentice, but when Will graduated three years early from Highgate Academy for Science and Invention, John changed his mind. Will didn’t need constant monitoring, only a workshop and enough funds to get started.
John pushed his empty plate away and laid his open paper on the table. This meant he wanted to talk. Will preferred the company of books or gears and grease to that of other people, but certain allowances had to be made if he was going to share a roof with someone. John looked up with a smile. “The alchemists are at it again. Whoa, Sasha, I was reading that.”
Sasha had climbed across the table and like a good cat settled on top of the paper. Will watched him lick his paws. The gears scarcely made any noise. John sighed then lavished Sasha with attention. Sasha got to his feet, but John made the mistake of looking down at the paper. Sasha turned once and settled on top of that article. Will grinned. Sasha was perfect. He was Will’s senior project for Highgate. Even people who knew better kept forgetting he was clockwork. John sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair. “The alchemists received an enormous Royal grant and will attempt a man again. They say they can make one indistinguishable from a human.”
“Alchemists are stupid,” Will said in disgust. “How can they believe that mixing gold, iron, and calcium together are going to make a man?”
“Well,” said John, “They seemed to think that with the right ratios plus a secret ingredient….”
Will swallowed the last of his eggs. “I don’t care what they think. They are all crazy. Sure some alchemy works, but only the part that is real science. Philosopher’s stones do not exist. They’ll end up with a pile of goo. Indistinguishable, my foot.”
“If anyone could,” John said, petting Sasha, “it would be you.”
Will went back to work on a set of moving stairs for the Royal University library. It ascended if someone put weight on the bottom step and descended if the weight was on the top step, but if weight was on both ends then it stopped moving. His problem was that if it was ascending and the weight was closer to the top when someone stepped on the top and then off, the stairs started descending. He didn’t have time to think about building a clockwork man.
Cabot, the Royal University librarian, shook Will’s hand and complemented him on his fine work. Will hated attending unveilings. What was the point of making the moving stairs look exactly like the original if everyone knew they were different? A student stepped on the top step, ignoring the ribbons across the top of the stairs, then squealed as he clutched for the railing. By the time he was at the bottom he was wide-eyed and whimpering. Will tried to hold back his laughter. Cabot patted the student’s back. “What was it like? I can’t wait to have a go myself.”
Will waved him towards the bottom step. “Ride it as many times as you like. If you have any problems, write to me. I’ll come back and fix it myself.”
“But aren’t you in high demand?” Cabot asked. “Especially for someone as young as you?”
“Child prodigy,” the student muttered as he slunk away through the crowd. As if being smart was a bad thing. Will had taught himself to read at three and spent hours on end in this library among the shelves, or in the abandoned workrooms in the basement where he put his knowledge to practical use. His late father had been a Royal University professor and left him here while he worked, rather than get him a nurse after his mother died. But for all the hours he’d spent here, this wasn’t where he’d made his most important discovery; that had been in the library at Highgate.
The mayor joined them at the bottom of the stairs. “What’s it like?”
“You first,” said Cabot.
What was the point of all Will’s talent if no one used the stairs? He pushed on the men’s backs until they were on the first step and, when the next step appeared, followed them. John was going to tell him to work on his people skills, but, genius though he may be, Will was still sixteen. He would be forgiven. “Don’t be shy. The stairs can hold the weight of twenty students with twelve kilograms of books apiece.” He turned to the crowd at the bottom. “Come on, who is next? If you gentlemen are too cowardly, I see several ladies ready to show you up.”
Three female students hurried to the bottom step, followed by a woman in an extravagant feather hat. Will turned around to step off the top. Everything was working out fine.
Three letters came begging Will for moving stairs. He added them to the growing pile. John said that Will should draw the blueprints and let someone else build them. Will hadn’t decided. First off, he didn’t like the thought of someone else working on his ideas. Second, he hated redoing any project unless he could make it better—Sasha was really Sasha III. The moving stairs hadn’t been up long enough to discover all its flaws.
But most problematic was that he kept finding himself thinking about building that clockwork man. Old school papers were spread out across his desk. These were the study of the human body, the most complicated machine in existence. He unrolled a to-scale diagram of his own skeletal system at fourteen. He’d grown a lot since then. Most students didn’t start studying the human body until they were in their last year, but then most went on to a university before their apprenticeship. John often said that if Will were older he would be considered a journeyman with all the money he was bringing in.
Could Will make a man, a boy really, that was indistinguishable from the real thing? He rolled up the diagram. This would take some thinking.
John knocked on Will’s workroom door before opening it. “I just want to see what’s been keeping you so busy. Your foreman wants you to inspect the opera house stairs before the unveiling.”
Will turned from his work, resisting the urge to hide it. John only came to the workroom when he wanted to talk. “I forgot about that. I just can’t get this color right.”
John took the rubbery cloth. “What color is it supposed to be?”
Will laid a second piece of cloth over his hand. “I wanted it to match my skin tone, but I either get it too dark or too light. I don’t think I mixed the pigment enough before adding it.”
John took the second cloth and looked at the others lined up on Will’s workbench. “Our bodies come in more than one shade. While you are dressing for the inspection, compare each of these to your stomach, feet, groin….” He piled them up and brushed his hand over the top cloth before handing them to Will. “You did a good job with the texture. They really do feel like skin.”
Will nodded absentmindedly. His stomach was a different color than his hands. He also needed to figure out how to make the skin whole. He could sew tiny seams, or have it knitted or woven to order, but how should he repair a tear? He simply gave Sasha a new cat pelt, but for a boy that would be different. He would ruminate on that later. Once he got back from the inspection he would work on the muscles again.
When the opera house paid their final installment, Will was going to bite the bullet and buy some of that strong, lightweight metal the alchemists had invented. Iron was too heavy and tin too weak. He waved John out of the work room and locked the door behind them in case one of the maids got the urge to clean.
“Someone is installing imitations of your stairs,” John said across the breakfast table.
“Don’t care,” Will said, looking over a sketch. He took another bite of his toast. The imitator didn’t plan the stairs around the building, but the building around the stairs. How many institutions could afford to build a new wing just for a moving staircase?
“Someone is copying your mining machine,” John said.
“Don’t care.” While fixing a problem that developed on an early model, Will invented a mask to filter out the coal dust, click if the oxygen level became too low, and hold a light safely. Mining unions were demanding that mask as safety equipment. They were selling faster than the factory could produce them.
“A group is petitioning to only allow inventors who graduated from the Royal University to take city contracts.”
“Don’t care.” They would miss Will’s work sorely if that got approved. He always had more requests than he could fill. But maybe he should accept that honorary degree the Royal University kept offering him.
“You’re twenty-one. You’re not a child prodigy anymore.”
“As if I ever cared about that.”
“What do you care about then?”
Will lowered his sketch. Sasha was enjoying his place on John’s paper. No wonder he hadn’t interrupted Will’s breakfast. “I care about making a gear that can change direction without breaking or being over the size of a pin head. Then about finding a mile of thin tubing to run lubricant through, like I use in Sasha. I think I’ll go a higher grade this time. And maybe a second set of hands.”
John laughed. “Maybe you’re making yourself a second set of hands.”
If this boy never was more than a second pair of hands, then Will would have failed.
Will pulled at his cuffs as he waited by the front door. John stopped in the entryway. “What? You’re coming with me?”
“I was invited, wasn’t I?”
“My boy, you’ve been invited to parties every Season; you’ve just never attended. Why now?”
“People watching.” A man could learn only so much from books.
“Trying to improve your people skills?”
“Open your mouth,” Will said to the clockwork boy who was barely more a skeleton. The tubing to hold the lubricant was not yet in place so the gears made noise as it moved its jaw. Will dripped some grease into the jaw gears. “Now close it.”
The boy complied. John leaned forward and stroked the boy’s left clavicle. Will bit back an angry remark. He had invited John into the workroom. John liked to touch everything. That’s just the way things were. Will took a deep breath, then another, as John’s fingers ran over his boy. Finally John turned. “I can’t believe how like bones they feel. They even look like them.”
Will shrugged. “Authenticity.”
“But,” said John. “No one’s going to see his bones.”
“Correct. But I’ll know what they look like. I want him to be a human as possible. He has got to eat. People eat all the time. I just need to figure out how to flush his system thoroughly after a meal. I can’t leave anything to compost in his stomach.”
“Or else he might get bad breath,” John said, laughing.
That wasn’t funny. Flushing the system was a serious problem.
“So,” said John, “you are giving him a tongue.”
“He’ll be able to talk?”
Will turned to stare at John. What did he think Will had been working on for all these years? “If he can’t, then how will he pass as human?”
“Tongue, lips, larynx, but what are you going to use to pull the air past?”
“Lungs and diaphragm muscles. The human body is my model.”
“But you’ve got him attached to an engine.”
Will waved a hand, hoping John would take the hint to leave. “That’s only for now. I found a powerful energy source that’s small enough to fit in his chest cavity.”
He opened the door and John sighed. “Invite me back when he’s got skin. Have you named him yet?”
Will shook his head. It had a name, but Will wouldn’t call the boy by it until the boy was complete.
The muscles didn’t look right. As a boy, Will had had prominent ribs, but that made his boy look too young, especially since Will had smoothed out his own features on the boy’s face. But any fix would need to wait until Will got back from the latest unveiling, this one for a steam engine that reused water and filtered the smoke so it could be used indoors, modeled on the one he invented to temporarily power his boy. He would be demonstrating its use with a horseless carriage, a printing press, and a hand-crank washer.
Will put his boy back in its box and made sure his workroom door was locked.
Will’s boy no longer looked like Will at fourteen. This boy’s nose was less sharp and lips were not as thin. Its cheeks were smoother and its ears smaller and more even. Its fingers were thinner and therefore looked longer. Nary a crooked tooth graced its mouth and it was completely symmetrical, so its eyes were exactly the same shape and color. And it had black hair which the barber sold cheap. Blond was the color in high demand. The body was beautiful and perfect. But something wasn’t right. Will just couldn’t put his finger on it.
“I like the blending of skin tone at his wrists and neck, like he spends time in the sun.” John lifted the boy’s arm to inspect the inner wrist. “The veining is good. His fingernails are perfect, but I think that’s the problem. He’s too perfect.”
“What?” How could something be too perfect?
“He looks like a doll. He has no blemishes, no scars. Give him a hangnail or cut his nails back like he bites them. Make one ear just the slightest bit higher than the other. Make one eye brow longer.”
Just the thought of messing with the boy’s perfection twisted Will’s gut. John patted his back. “Think about it for a while.”
Will opened a letter from the dean of his old school. John abandoned his attempt to get Sasha off his papers. “Anything up? Did the boys manage to break the stairs you installed?”
“Every single one in Highgate. But it seems that they are all broken in different ways. Likely, it was an experiment.”
“So, will you send your foreman?”
“No,” said Will getting up. “I’ll go myself. A train leaves at noon, I believe.”
But that wasn’t true. Highgate had the last part Will needed to bring his boy to life. Only they didn’t know they had it.
The fall Will turned eleven he had been dragged from the Royal University library and sent to Highgate Academy for Science and Invention. He could get along with others, but only for short lengths of time, and after he completed his first month-long project in two days, he was given his own workroom. When he was between the extra projects his teachers came up with to keep him busy, he spent his time in the library. The building was much smaller than the Royal University library, so rather than random study, he decided to read every single book from cover to cover, even the school books he owned. That was how he came across a first-year tome that weighed far more than it should have. His own book had never been opened in class, but this tome couldn’t be opened at all.
He had know at once that it was a book made into a box, and his curiosity wouldn’t let him quit. For two weeks, he pulled it off the shelf and checked for hidden switches. Once they were found, he took three more days trying to click all twenty-seven switches in the right order before the book finally opened.
Inside the book was another box made of iron, which explained the weight, and inside that box was a glowing, white stone the size of his fist. The stone sparkled like an opal, but was layered like a pearl. And it was warm as if it had been set in the sun. Will had quickly put it back in the box and returned the book to its place. Hunting through the older Highgate books, Will had found descriptions that matched the stone. Some books called it the Stone of Life, but that sounded far too like alchemy to Will. Others called it the Perpetual Engine, for it was said to run forever on very little fuel. The books disagreed on how much fuel and whether it had to be human seed or could be the chemical equivalent.
Highgate still looked the same as when Will graduated, but the dean had more wrinkles and was plumper. He greeted Will enthusiastically. “Thank you for coming. The boys…. Well, you know how they are.”
Will nodded. He’d been one himself, not long ago. He declined tea and went straight to work inspecting the damage. A group of boys followed him from staircase to staircase. He turned to them. “Who did this?”
No one said anything and most of the boys wouldn’t look at him. He should have known that the boys wouldn’t squeal on each other. It was against all sorts of those unwritten rules that Will still didn’t fully understand. He needed to make it in the boy’s best interest to confess. “I’m not getting anyone into trouble. I just think that the one who caused the damage should help me fix it.”
Several of the boys stepped forward eagerly like Will knew they would, but a tall, skinny one stepped back. He was the person Will was looking for. Will caught his eye. “Come on. What were you trying to do here?”
“Well, sir,” the boy said looking at his feet. “We, um, we have two sets of stairs going to each floor. I was, um, I was thinking that if one set went up and the other down….” He glanced up at Will. “You know, um, the way kids are here. Once they learn a trick…. Sometimes someone would leap on the top, just to keep stairs from moving….”
Will nodded. Bullies were everywhere. He’d put the ones in his class in their place with a mechanism that spurted water into their sheets at dawn. It took the boys weeks to find the small device hidden in their mattresses. Will pulled out the diagrams of the staircases and spread them on the floor. Wheaten, the boy who’d tinkered with the stairs, explain what he had done to each case and what he thought it would accomplish before explaining how to fix each one. Then Will set his volunteers to work.
Most of the boys didn’t want to stop for dinner, but Will insisted, as all engines needed fuel. The boys were back at work the moment they finished eating. Will stayed at the dean’s table and reminisced with his professors. They told him how much work it had been to keep his mind busy and that the diagrams required of him had more detail than they asked of other students. The dean asked after Sasha, and Will told funny stories about John’s interactions with the cat. The dean laughed with the others and then said, “If you every get tired of the rush and hustle of the city, you have a place here with us. Even if you taught only one class a week, I think the students would be better for it.”
Will nodded and said he’d think about it, but all he could really think of was how long it would be until everyone was asleep and he could sneak down to the library.
When Will returned home he slid the stone out of his bag and into the secret compartment behind a bookshelf that he’d made years before for this purpose. He’d lined it with iron as well. He didn’t know if that was necessary, but it seemed a good precaution.
Now was time for some intensive research and experiments since he had the subject in his hands. But there was still the matter of plumbing. The stone was said to drip a slimy, white substance. Will was hoping it was slimy enough to act as lubricant for the gears, but there would be waste. He made the boy to be able to excrete the excess substance both at will, such as voiding urine, and against it, as in ejaculation. Sex was an important part of human life for most people. Will had never felt the need to try, but he knew he was different. John, like many men his age, mourned his inability to take a woman as he had years ago.
The problem was that when the stimulus was present for an involuntary excretion, some of the substance dripped into the anus, coating it. This didn’t happen during the voluntary excretion, nor was it enough to drip out. Was it going to be a problem? Will hoped not. For now he would just wait and watch.
The stone required human seed—or the chemical equivalent, but as a man was more than the sum of his chemicals, so was his seed. Will couldn’t risk his creation on less than the best. The most trustworthy of the books Will found said that for the greatest potential, the seed should be young and not stuff that had sat in the body for long. The best way was to milk off the old seed several times a day for a week. Will had never milked himself twice in a day. He’d never done so twice in a week. When he was wrapping his mind around a new idea, he didn’t need to do it at all.
He was never going to survive this.
Will added freckles in the shape of a lopsided rhombus under the boy’s left ear and a scar at the base of its right thumb. Some of its eyelashes were no longer set in perfectly straight. Once Will added the stone in place of the boy’s heart it would become a he, but not before. Thinking of the boy as a real person would add unnecessary complications. Will still needed to stick his fingers into orifices, try out all the reflexes, and remove the epidermis. Once it was a real boy, he couldn’t do any of these things without apology. And the boy would need to be dressed all the time.
The stone oozed warm, milky-white gel from its entire surface. It could not be called a drip. What had the author been thinking? Had he never seen the stone? The book said that the stone needed more of the same fuel every two weeks, but it didn’t need to be as pure. Will added a third tube from the throat beside the trachea and esophagus, but this one led directly to the heart chamber. Hopefully the boy did not dislike the taste of Will’s seed too much. Will couldn’t bear the idea of opening up his boy to feed him.
And surely, the boy would have a sense of taste. Sasha seemed to, now that Will had added the necessary equipment for him to eat. The cat preferred John’s food to Will’s and fish to fowl. Will couldn’t risk putting a system in his boy that he wasn’t sure worked. Once the heart was placed in the chest cavity, Will would never open his boy again. If he could help it.
“Fuel,” Will said, holding a cup to the boy. “Drink it.”
The boy was obedient as always. Once the stone was in place, Will hoped he wouldn’t stay that way. Humans didn’t always obey.
Will had told John he could visit the workroom this evening, so the boy was wearing Will’s old castoffs. The sleeves and legs were rolled up, and somehow the too-large clothes made the boy more real, despite the arm of the steam engine attached to his back. He still didn’t have a heart, but Will was having a hard time not thinking of him as a person.
This fuel was the gel from the stone. Will had experimented on the gel but still didn’t know what it was. He refilled the cup and gave his boy more. Will had flushed the grease from his boy’s system twice before the addition of the white gel. One thousand four hundred cubic centimeters would be needed to fill its veins. A pump worked as a heart and beat steadily, moving the gel through the boy’s body. After the third cup the boy blinked several times and yawned. Will sighed in relief. He had been worried that residual grease might interfere with the gel. He had added a bit of the grease to a bowl of gel and the grease had dissolved, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t change the gel’s properties.
The boy’s eyes followed Will as he poured another cup. This time as the boy raised the cup to his lips, the gears were silent. Perfection.
Will couldn’t keep a grin off his face. He popped the lever to disconnect the gears from the engine. Normally this would stop all movement in the boy, but when Will turned the boy was watching him. Will poured another cup and held it out.
The boy looked down at the cup then back at Will before taking it. Will almost laughed. He walked behind the boy and unfastened the engine arm. A small tear-like hole was on the boy’s back; Will would glue it shut later. It would simply look like a scar. Will pulled down the boy’s shirt and hooked the front of the overalls. The boy was perfect.
As Will filled the cup again, the boy shifted on the bench. He didn’t drink this cup as quickly and when Will filled it again he just held it on his thigh, his foot swinging just above the floor.
John walked around the boy twice then stood in front of him. “Hello. My name’s John Rutherford. What’s yours?”
As he spoke, the boy turned his head and looked at Will, who answered. “His name is Joseph Ogden. He’s the son of my father’s cousin and my ward. I’ve talked to that lawyer friend of yours and he said the paperwork is easy even if I don’t have the original birth record. He’s just been in an accident and lost some of his memories, so I’m keeping him here until he recovers.”
John laughed and reached for Joseph’s arm, but Joseph leaned away and shook his head. John turned to the work bench. Will was pleased by Joseph’s reaction, although Joseph would need to learn to be polite. Even John’s sad face couldn’t bring down Will’s mood. John wanted everyone and everything to like him. That was why he never just lifted Sasha off his newspaper.
Will took the cup from Joseph and held the boy’s hand as he passed John the cup. “John, look at this. It is what he runs on.”
John smiled as he took the cup. “He drinks it, then?”
Will didn’t plan on explaining the stone to John so he said, “What better way?”
John stuck his finger in the gel then licked it. “Sweet, with a little something else, spice… but what kind?”
Will shook his head. He’d never gone as far as tasting the gel. “I just followed the recipe. The major ingredient was rather bitter.”
Or so Will supposed. He’d never tasted that either.
John rubbed his fingers together. “Viscous, but slick. Does it work as a lubricant?”
Will looked down at Joseph and the boy squeezed his hand. Will grinned again. He was a mother duck and Joseph was his duckling. “The gears are quieter with this than with any other grease I’ve tried.”
“What do you call it?”
Will waved his free hand. “You know I’m no good at names.”
John laughed. “Then let us call it ambrosia. May I take some to study?”
Will waved at the jug on the workbench. “Take it all. I’ll make more.”
The stone oozed an average of ninety-three cubic centimeters a day. Will had plenty. John took the jug and left without looking back. Will disengaged his hand and locked the workroom door. When he turned, Joseph was on his feet, taking hesitant steps toward him. Will licked his lips. “Joseph, my boy, I have a lot to teach you. I think we will learn together.”
Will lifted a gear and looked back at the motor he was building. “Joseph, do you think this one will fit?”
Joseph took hold of Will’s lower arm and turned it back and forth then reached into the box and pulled out another gear. He looked at it before setting it aside and finding a third. He turned it around and then passed it to Will. The gear fit perfectly. Will was good at gauging sizes within two millimeters, but so far Joseph had never been wrong.
Will grinned at Joseph and patted him on the back. Joseph threw his arms around Will. Joseph still didn’t know that any kind of physical affection between men was frowned upon. But he was young and would learn. Will hugged Joseph back, glad of the boy’s ignorance.
Will had never done anything harder than peeling back Joseph epidermis to place his heart. He would have found it painful even if Joseph hadn’t been awake and watching him during the process. But with the stone in place, Joseph would be complete.
As Will removed the last of the ribs from over the chest cavity, he felt a tug on his coat. Joseph’s fist was tight around the fabric of the hem. That wouldn’t be a problem except the stone was now just out of reach. Will caressed Joseph’s cheek with the back of his hand. “I’m almost half done, Joseph. But I can’t finish unless you let go.”
Joseph shook his head. Will hoped he would start talking soon. “All right. I’ll let you hold my coat until I’m done.”
Will slipped out of his coat and Joseph pulled it across his face. Will moved the hem up so the chest cavity was exposed again then took out the screws before stepping away to get the stone. He had given the stone fuel the day before and the gel was thick and abundant. Why had he never tested to see if it gave off more right after it was fed? Too late now. Unless he collected it once Joseph excreted it. That he could do.
Will had meant to stop adding fuel to the boy and see how long he kept working, but hadn’t been able to force himself to. He wasn’t the kind of scientist that experimented on animals, and tinkering with Sasha was different from withholding food from someone who could pout.
Joseph whimpered as the stone was set inside him. Will couldn’t decide whether to be alarmed that he hurt Joseph or glad that he’d finally made a sound. “Everything’s all right,” Will said. “I’m not hurting you, am I?”
The coat shifted side to side, but Will pulled it back to be sure. “Can I keep going?”
Joseph nodded, his eyes bright with tears. Will gently wiped them away and brushed Joseph’s dark hair from his brow. “I’ll be a quick as I can.”
Haste makes waste and the need to redo a job, so Will tried to be as precise as possible. The lid to the chest cavity and the ribs were simple. The muscles were harder. If one was even a hair out of place, Joseph would be lopsided. When Will finally had the skin glued down he leaned back with a sigh. Joseph sat up abruptly and threw his arms around Will.
Will wasn’t exactly surprised. Sasha always ran off for an hour or so after Will tinkered with him even if John’s spread newspaper was available. Will hugged Joseph back, but their position was uncomfortable. Will buttoned Joseph’s shirt closed then fastened his overalls before tugging the coat out of Joseph’s hands.
Will grinned. Wasn’t that every child’s first word? He wrapped the coat around Joseph’s shoulders and lifted him up. The boy weighed exactly forty-four kilograms. Or he had without his heart. The workroom had one upholstered chair. Will sat in it with Joseph on his lap.
Joseph slipped his arms into the coat sleeves and lifted the collar to his face. “It smells like you.”
Will was so pleased with Joseph’s progress—had the heart made all the difference with his speech?— that he let Joseph snuggle against him for two hours while he went over the list in his head of all the thing his boy would need to know.
“Joseph,” said Will, “When someone introduces themselves, you put out your hand like this.” Will demonstrated with John. “Now it’s your turn.”
“Hello. My name is Joseph Ogden.” He held out his hand to John. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
But the moment John touched Joseph, John flinched away. He turned to Will. “He’s warm.”
Will shook his hand in the air. “Of course.”
John apologized to Joseph and then left the room. Will stroked Joseph’s hair. Joseph didn’t know enough to be offended by John’s actions. He didn’t know enough to tell Will to stop touching him, which was good because Will didn’t think he could stop.
Will went down to breakfast. Joseph and John were already at the table. John said something and Joseph laughed. The sound was beautiful. Joseph glanced up and his whole demeanor changed. He licked his lower lip and shifted in his seat. He looked down at his plate then back at Will. Will grinned. Joseph wiggled his head just a bit. John had said that it would be a blush on anyone else. Will touched Joseph’s shoulder as he greeted John.
His boy was ready to meet people. Maybe Will should take him shopping.
“Like this,” Joseph said, showing Will the proper steps to the waltz. The orchestra music drifted though the heavy curtain and onto the balcony outside the ballroom. “Let me lead.”
Will might as well. He wouldn’t be using these steps with anyone else. Will didn’t dance; Joseph was an exception.
The dance led them around in a wide circle. Will never understood people’s fascination with dancing. What was the point? Only now with Joseph in his arms, dancing didn’t feel so senseless.
Joseph swept them near the balcony edge and light from torches in the gardens below lit his face. He was beautiful and Will wasn’t just saying that because he’d made Joseph to his ideal. No, Joseph was beautiful beyond reproach; everyone would have to agree.
Joseph ducked his head. Will hadn’t meant to embarrass him. “Joseph, you really are everything I could ever want.”
Joseph’s breath caught and he met Will’s eye. Will smiled, glad he was the one in Joseph’s arms.
“What is my fuel?” Joseph asked, looking into his cup. “I know it comes from you, but it looks like what comes from me.”
Will took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He had been dreading this question. “It is my seed.”
“What is it for?”
Will brushed aside embarrassment and got as technical as he could. Unfortunately, Joseph’s eyes didn’t glaze over in boredom.
“So,” said Joseph, “this is important stuff.”
“Some men might think so,” Will said, tightening a bolt, “but I have no use for it. All of mine is yours.”
Joseph made a weird sound and Will looked up quickly. Was something broken? But Joseph wore a grin that looked out of place of his innocent face. “You give John my equivalent. He adds it to his medicine. He says it makes him young. Do you ever drink it?”
Will shook his head and set the wrench on the table. “I’m not that old.”
“Oh, don’t be like that. Come on, I’ll let you try the fresh stuff.”
Will grabbed Joseph’s hand before he could unfasten his trouser buttons. “Not now. I still have some of the old stuff.”
“Fresh is better, isn’t it?” Joseph asked, licking his lips.
Will turned back to his work. He would never taste that sweet smelling substance because if he did, he was sure to get addicted.
“You don’t need to help me,” Will said for the third time in as many days. “Your friends are waiting. Go.”
Joseph’s shoulders slumped as he shuffled from the workroom. Will could have used the extra hands. He did get more done when Joseph was around, but the boy couldn’t stay cooped up in the house forever. And Will had had one of those abominable morning dreams again. Memories of warm flesh, needy moans, and willing fingers flashed through his head. Memories of something that hadn’t happened, that should never happen. Will needed a couple of hours alone to banish the dream with grease, gears, and diagrams.
Besides, Joseph had friends, more friends than Will did, almost as many as John. Joseph knew the steps to all the dances and could dance all night at every ball Will took him to. Society loved him. People on the streets loved him. John loved him like a son and had long since forgotten that he was not born of a woman.
John actually was looking younger lately, acting younger at least. There was a spring in his step and he flirted outrageously at parties, filling his conversations with innuendo. Maybe John could take Joseph to the parties without Will from now on. Will had always hated parties.
The look on Joseph’s face when he realized that Will would not be going to the ball with them was almost Will’s undoing. But Will turned back to his workbench. He ignored Joseph’s sob and the slam of the door, but even after the carriage left Will couldn’t concentrate on his work.
“Thanks for the ambrosia,” John said as Will poured some gel in a beaker. “Joseph tells me you save the stuff that goes through him. I hope I’m getting the pre-Joseph stuff.”
Will turned to John. Whatever was making John act younger was bad for his personality. Long ago someone had said John had mellowed with age. When would the mellow John return?
John held up the beaker. “But you want to keep the post-Joseph stuff for yourself, I warrant. Suck it right out of him, I’m sure. You can’t fool me. I see how you look at him and how much he worships you. He would do anything for you and he probably does. He’s your very own love doll made to your exact ideal.”
Will took the beaker back and pushed John out the door, locking it behind him. Was this substance, this ambrosia, what was making John act so crazy? Will tossed the beaker and its contents into the fire. The flames sparked white and blue. How could John think that? Once the boy became Joseph, Will had never once touched him inappropriately. Even when he helped him dress. Even when he taught him to bathe. Even when he had Joseph discharge into a cup. He was always careful and gentle with his beautiful creation. He was like a father, wasn’t he? But he didn’t feel like a father, not when he looked at handsome, young Joseph. If he did, John’s words wouldn’t have hurt.
He strode to the door and yelled for Joseph. Feet pounded the stairs before he finished the sentence. Will ushered Joseph in and locked the door. He wanted to tell Joseph to be careful around John until the madness was gone, but seeing Joseph’s weak smile stopped his tongue. “I need your help. Hold this tube please.”
The season was nearly over before Will allowed Joseph to attend another party with John and even then Will went with them. John’s back was still straight and his shoulders sure, but his mellowness had returned. He laughed with some friends about his odd behavior months before while Joseph entertained the ladies on the dance floor. Will didn’t dance and he only talked when cornered. He drew a diagram in his head of a chandelier that put out light more evenly.
Joseph looked up from his dance partner and met Will’s eye. Will read the need on Joseph’s face. He walked across the ballroom and put a hand on Joseph’s arm. “Time to go.”
The girl pouted and Joseph made his excuses. Will didn’t bother. Will took Joseph’s arm and led him out of the mansion as the hostess begged them to stay. John’s chauffeur ran up as they walked through the yard. Will waved a hand. “Get the carriage and catch us up.”
He sighed. Joseph laughed, squeezing his hand. “I know you hate parties. You don’t need to take me.”
Will stopped and glanced at Joseph before walking again. “You are not going without me.”
“I know,” Joseph said, a smile in his voice. “I don’t need to go. I’d rather be helping you in your workroom.”
Will would rather Joseph was with him whether they were working or not. But he wouldn’t think of that. Joseph was his own man. He had the right to be free. Maybe Will should send him to school. That would keep him safe from John and from Will.
Will arrived home from an unveiling tired and hungry, but all thoughts stopped when he saw Joseph in John’s arms. He strode across the room and peeled his boy away. “What is going on?”
Tears were in Joseph’s eyes and his cheeks were wet. Will wrapped his arms around his boy and glared at John, who shrugged. “I’m not the one who makes him cry. You are.”
“What do you mean?” Will look down at Joseph, who hid his face against Will’s waistcoat.
John cleared his throat. “He opened the letter from Highgate.”
Of course the school sent Joseph his acceptance letter. The dean wrote Will last week that it was coming. How could he not have warned Joseph? “Sorry.”
“Sorry?” Joseph asked, pulling away. “You hold me then push me away. You ignore me for months then pull me close. Now you’re sending me away. You say I should do what I want. Can’t you understand that I just want to stay with you?”
Joseph might think he wanted to be with Will, but he couldn’t really feel this way. Will was an unsocial hermit who only went out to show off his latest project or to watch over Joseph at parties. Joseph shouldn’t want to be in the company of a man like him. If Joseph was exposed to more people, he would realize that.
Will led Joseph into his workroom and only took the time to lock the door before sitting down in the upholstered chair. He would force out all thoughts of Joseph as the beautiful young man that Will loved, and treat him like he had at the beginning. He pulled Joseph into his lap. Joseph felt larger, more grown up than on that day so long ago. “I know the academy is far from parties and dances and ladies….”
Joseph pushed out of Will’s lap. “Didn’t I tell you I don’t care about that? You just won’t listen.”
Will took Joseph’s hand. “I’m here. I’m listening. Tell me.”
Joseph pulled away and paced the floor. Maybe it was too late for Will. Maybe he had messed up too many times. He still wasn’t sure what he’d done wrong.
Will watched Joseph pace. The boy only looked enough like Will for people to acknowledge that they were related. He wore clothes made for him. The trousers hugged his legs and the brocade waistcoat showed off his slim waist to its best advantage. He wasn’t wearing his coat. That state of undress was probably what disturbed Will the most about the scene downstairs.
Joseph glared at the workbench, the fire, and at Will. His hair was perfectly cut, mostly because it didn’t grow, but he’d run his fingers through it so many times that it stood like a haystack. His steps were loud and papers rose off the workbench as he passed. His eyebrows furrowed and his lips were pursed.
And Will was in love with him.
Will knew the day Joseph became more than just a creation. Or rather the day he realized it. He had woken that morning from a dream that Joseph had visited his room. The dream had felt so real he almost expected the sheets to be warm with their shared heat. Will buried that dream with work. When another came, he got up earlier. He shouldn’t have been having those dreams. He would survive without sleep rather than live with the knowledge he lusted after his creation. What he felt for Joseph was wrong.
“Joseph,” Will said. Joseph turned around, his face full of sorrow rather than anger. Will’s chest hurt to see it. “I am not worthy of you. I—”
“How can you say that?” Joseph shouted. “Isn’t that for me to decide?”
“How can you make a decision without all the information?”
“If I meet every person in the world and reject them all, would you be happy?”
“Joseph, I am a man—”
“And I’m not?”
“Wait,” Will said, getting up from his chair. “I never meant it like that.” He stood behind Joseph and took his hands. Joseph pulled away, so Will wrapped his arms around him. “You are a precious treasure. I want to keep you close. I want to keep you hidden. Do you know how hard it is to hear you laugh at John’s joke? Or see you dance with a woman in your arms? Or to let anyone near you? These things break my heart.”
“You love me.”
“You are perfection. You were made to grace the halls of palaces.”
Joseph turned in his arms, a grin on his face despite his tears. “You are wrong. I was made to love you.”
Joseph’s tongue found Will’s lips, and Will didn’t have it in him to deny Joseph anything. He opened his mouth and let the sweet tongue inside. Everything about Joseph was sweet. Maybe the stone…. Will pulled away. Or tried to. Joseph was strong and his kiss was more like being devoured by a lion than receiving the first kiss of an innocent boy.
Will gasped through his nose as his mouth was occupied, but he couldn’t get enough air to cool his overheated lungs. His member stiffened uncomfortably. He didn’t know where to put his hands, so he let them drop to his sides. He shouldn’t be touching Joseph. He shouldn’t be thinking of his strong arms and firm muscles and soft skin. He shouldn’t be letting Joseph kiss him. Not that he had a choice at the moment.
Joseph pulled back. “What’s wrong?”
“I didn’t build you for this.” Will waved his hands, trying to indicate their position. “You don’t exist to please my body. You are so much more than that.”
Joseph licked his lips and relaxed against Will, his neck tilted back so his lips were only inches from Will’s and his sweet breath caressed Will’s cheek. “I would not love you if you had.”
Joseph’s heavy eyelids and dilated pupils were immeasurable beauty. His lazy tongue that slipped out to cover his lower lip was exquisite torture. The soft puffs of sweet breath against Will’s cheek were pure temptation.
Will wrapped his arms around his boy and lowered his mouth to get another taste of those sweet lips. Joseph’s growl was hungry and Will’s member throbbed. But this wasn’t right. He pulled his lips away, but couldn’t force his arms to relax their grip. “I shouldn’t. I wish I were better than this.”
“Oh, my Will, my love,” Joseph said, his lips wet and eyes heavy. “You are a good man. Do not doubt it for a moment. I am much more than someone to help in the workroom or please you in bed, but that does not mean that I cannot do both. Or that I should not. Trust me.”
Will followed Joseph down the hall to his bedroom. Will hadn’t been in Joseph’s room in years. The walls were deep blue with paintings of country landscapes. Will had long known Joseph preferred this color, but did Joseph wish to live in the country? The furniture was not overly ornate as fashion demanded, or simply utilitarian as Will preferred. The lines were soft and curved. Joseph had his own style and, as always, he wasn’t afraid to show it.
Joseph closed and locked the door, then backed Will against the bed until he was forced to sit down. “You don’t know how long I’ve wanted you here, how long I’ve dreamed of this.”
Will could hardly breathe, his body stiff and his groin sore as Joseph climbed on the bed, straddling him. Joseph’s mouth met his and pushed him flat. The kiss devoured his very soul, which was good, because he would have gladly sold it to the devil himself for a taste of the warm body writhing over him.
Will rubbed Joseph’s sides then slipped a hand between their trousers and rubbed Joseph’s member, which was as hard as Will hoped and feared. He could not pull away until Joseph was satisfied. He owed him that much. He owed him more. He sought and found the buttons of Joseph’s trousers, but Joseph stopped him with a hand. “No, you first.”
Joseph leaned back and unbuttoned Will’s coat and waistcoat, then reached for his trouser buttons. But fair was fair. Will unbuttoned Joseph’s waistcoat and tugged his shirt from his trousers. Joseph’s skin was soft and warm. Will let his hand explore, eliciting gasps and moans from Joseph, whose hands stopped their work. Will grinned and tugged Joseph’s loosened clothing off.
He pulled Joseph down for a kiss then rolled them over.
“Hey, no fair,” said Joseph, but he didn’t try to get away.
Will sat up. “Too many clothes.”
Joseph grinned. “We agree on that. Let me help.”
Joseph’s hands were more distraction than assistance. Will could barely concentrate enough to remove his cufflinks while Joseph untucked Will’s shirt and ran his fingers under the edge of Will’s trousers. The coat, waistcoat, collar, and cuffs were tossed onto the floor as Will removed them. Joseph’s hands followed the hem of Will’s shirt up his chest, stopping to tease a nipple as Will’s shirt joined his other clothes.
Will’s member throbbed and pushed against its fabric cage. Joseph laughed, which didn’t help, then unbuttoned Will’s trousers and drawers. He uncovered Will’s member as if he were an archeologist and Will an ancient treasure. Will’s body was fever hot. He was dizzy and lightheaded. He needed to lie down or he would surely fall.
Joseph caressed Will’s member. It jerked once before Joseph seized it. His hand wrapped it painfully tight, but not tight enough. It seeped. Joseph touched the slit in the tip and then ran that finger down his tongue.
Will’s world contracted. His mind closed in on itself and his body folded. “Joseph.”
Before his moan was over he was lying on his back. What little breath he had was knocked out of him and the world went white. He couldn’t see, but he could feel. Joseph’s hot mouth encased him, sucking hard. One of Joseph’s hands caressed Will’s balls, while the other held his hips still.
Will disentangled his hands from the sheets and touched Joseph’s head. Joseph looked up, but didn’t stop sucking. Will was already getting hard again despite the heaviness of his limbs. “That’s enough. Your turn.”
Joseph pulled away with a loud pop and grinned. “But you taste so good. It is much better straight from the source.”
“Is it really?”
Joseph licked his lips. “I’m going to take all my meals this way from now on.”
Will blushed. “I… I’m sorry. If I’d known….”
Joseph shook his head and slid his body up Will’s. “I don’t want this to be a chore.” He stopped to lick Will’s nipple. “I’ll just eat every time we are together and you will never have to think about it again.”
He grinned wickedly. “What did you think about while you milked yourself to feed me?”
Will looked away. “Do you really need to ask?”
Joseph tilted Will’s face back, then claimed his mouth. Seed did not taste as bitter as Will had supposed, or maybe Joseph’s sweetness countered it. Joseph planted his hands above Will’s head and his elbows by Will’s shoulders, as if this kiss was going to last a lifetime.
Will slid his hands up and down Joseph’s back as he caught Joseph’s tongue and sucked hard. Joseph returned the favor, and Will’s temperature rose again. He gasped for breath around the kiss. Joseph’s lips moved to his cheek, then to his neck where he sucked hard. Will moaned and his member pulsed again.
Joseph lifted his head and met Will’s eye. “You are mine, you know.”
Will nodded. He ran his hand through Joseph’s hair. “And you are mine. Now and forever.”
Joseph stepped from the bed and removed the last of his clothing. Then he pulled Will’s trousers and drawers the rest of the way off. He seemed to want to be in control. Will could give him that. Will would give him anything.
Joseph climbed back on Will and, after a brief kiss, attacked Will’s right nipple. Will saw stars as he gasped for breath, but his hot lungs refused to fill. He reached between their bodies and took Joseph’s member in hand. The tip seeped. Joseph raised his head. “Rub it on me.”
Will slicked the tip, and as Joseph’s member continued to ooze, he moved further down. Joseph sat up and watched Will’s hands. Will was doing all of the touching, which shouldn’t have made him feel this good, should it? Being touched was what felt good, wasn’t it? Will had never pleased himself to a state of needy discomfort, but just touching Joseph made him pant heavily as he tried not to writhe. His body was feverish and he couldn’t think properly. He wanted Joseph to touch him. He needed Joseph to touch him, to be around him, inside him—anything as long as the two became one.
Joseph looked down with hungry eyes. He spread Will’s legs apart as he put his knees between them. Then he slowly rubbed the tip of his member with the first two fingers of his right hand. Will couldn’t breathe. Once Joseph’s fingers were slick he pushed them against Will’s tunnel. Will brought his knees up to ease the fullness of those fingers, but Joseph simply pushed them deeper.
Will moaned. His member pulsed and slapped his stomach. His need was so great, he would explode. “Joseph, please…”
Joseph shifted, easing his member between Will’s legs, where it butted sensitive flesh. Joseph slipped his fingers out and his member in. But the member was so much bigger and pressure so much more. Will gasped and squeezed handfuls of the sheets.
This was what he wanted. He wanted to be one with Joseph. He panted as the enormous object pushed into him. He looked up to see Joseph’s face full of concentration. He was trying not to hurt Will, but he had needs, too. Will should not have ignored them for so long.
When Joseph stopped pushing in, he caught Will’s eye and grinned. “I bet you’re glad now that I’m a self-lubricating machine.”
Will protested that he hadn’t meant to build him that way, but Joseph stopped his words with a kiss. When Joseph eventually pulled away, he eased himself part way out of Will then thrust back in. Joseph picked up a rhythm, moaning with each thrust.
Will was curled up, his hips raised by the pressure of Joseph’s hands on the back of his thighs, but his body felt light. Joseph’s member was huge and stretched Will with each smooth, gentle thrust. Never had Will felt like this before. Never had pain and pleasure mixed so thoroughly that he could not tell one from the other.
He reached for Joseph’s shoulders, squeezing them too tightly. He should have left them grasping the sheets, but once they touched those sturdy shoulders, Will knew he could never let go. “Joseph, I… I love you.”
Hot liquid filled his insides to bursting and Joseph froze deep inside him. Will writhed, his eyes squeezed shut. He was so close. So close.
His member was enfolded and stroked and white-hot fire burned him to cinders. He couldn’t breathe. He didn’t want to breathe. He had died and this was heaven.
Will’s limbs were as heavy as lead. He body ached more than it had in his entire life. Joseph eased out, but even empty, Will still felt overfilled. Joseph straightened Will’s legs and pulled a blanket over them, resting his head against Will’s shoulder.
Inhaling the sweet scent, Will wrapped a leaden arm around his beautiful lover. Joseph wiggled closer, drawing a leg up Will’s thigh. Will’s tired body wanted to react, but couldn’t. Joseph’s hand wandered across Will’s chest. “You don’t want to get rid of me now, do you?”
Will blinked heavily. He was nearly asleep but awake enough to know a small lie might smooth things over. “I never meant to send you away. I’ve been offered a professorship at Highgate. I want you to come with me. Classes will give you something to do while I teach.”
Joseph lifted his head. “Why didn’t you say so before?”
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” Will said, reminding himself to post a letter to Highgate’s dean first thing in the morning accepting the offered position.
“Tomorrow, I think we will have words,” Joseph said as he lay his head back down and pulled Will’s arm more securely around him. “I’m too tired right now to give you the bawling out you deserve.”
In the morning Joseph would rant about Will’s lack of consideration in his failure to warn Joseph of his plans, and Will would apologize profusely. Maybe if he apologized enough, Joseph would let him test the effectiveness of Joseph’s self-lubricating anus. Anyway, whatever it took on Will’s part, he would make sure everything worked out.
Wheaten, Dean of Highgate Academy of Science and Invention, led his newest professor towards the dining hall. “There’s not much to worry about. I’ll introduce you. You can say a few words if you like, but the students are hungry so keep it short.”
“That’s all right,” said the new man, “I’ll save my speeches for class.”
Wheaten grinned. “Good.”
He stopped with his hand on the door to the teacher’s entrance. “And one other thing.” He tugged on his short, white beard. This was always the hardest part for new professors, at least for the ones that weren’t alumni, so Wheaten put it off as long as he could. “Do not question either Professor Ogden about their ages. They may look as young as some of the students, but I assure you that Will Ogden is the same one that installed the staircases when I was a student.”
The new professor raised his brows and opened his mouth. Wheaten cut him off, “And under no circumstance should you ever mention Alchemy in William Ogden’s presence, unless you are tired of life, or your ears are.”
With that, Wheaten opened the door. Joseph Ogden, professor of Philosophy of Invention, looked up with a smile. Wheaten gladly left the new professor in his hands. Will Ogden, professor of Advanced Practical Science, stared softly into space. He was either inventing something or coming up with new diabolical plans to stretch the students’ imaginations. Either way, the school was better off for the two of them.