Yeah, I am actually still writing this. Amazing, isn't it. ._.

Chapter Eighteen

James didn't stop wandering the streets over the next few days, despite all the looks and stage-whispered comments his presence received. Being outside in the fresh air helped him to think. Unfortunately, no matter how clear his mind was, James just didn't have the mental capacity to come up with a solution. He wasn't very smart in that way - with numbers and money. He knew how to spend it on frivolous things but finding a huge amount to pay off a debt was something completely foreign to him.

But he still kept right on thinking about it, hoping the solution would come to him by itself. It didn't, of course, but hoping it would was all that kept James going. As he slunk through the streets a few days after his father's death, however, he received a surprise that could only be described as startlingly pleasant.

He was walking past a seemingly innocent alleyway, when a hand reached out and grabbed his arm, dragging him into the shadows. His mind immediately leapt to the night of his father's murder, and the shadow people that had killed him. A scream for help welled up in his throat, but before he could cry out a hand clamped across his mouth. His scream was reduced to a shrill, muffled whine and as he struggled valiantly he was pulled back against a strong, firm body.

"Settle yerself, Pumpkin," a soothingly familiar voice whispered in his ear.
James heaved a sigh of relief against Sparrow's palm, before squirming out of the other boy's grip. "What are you playing at?" he snapped, taking a step back and folding his arms. He realised he was trembling from the shock. "You nearly gave me a bloody heart attack."

"Sorry," Sparrow said, shrugging. Pumpkin sat beside his feet, wagging his tail obliviously. "I needed to get yeh back here before anyone saw."

"I don't see why you couldn't have just called to me," James replied, looking away into the shadows with a darkly thoughtful expression. "I thought you were..." He trailed off and glanced at Sparrow. The look the young gypsy gave him told him that Sparrow already knew what James had thought. Something like guilt flickered in his eyes for a moment. James sighed heavily and shook his head. "What do you want?"
Sparrow was silent for a moment, watching James's face like a hawk watching a rabbit. "The monks up at the Temple of Light... they've been talkin' about what happened here. I wanted to see if yeh were a'right."

James clasped his hands in front of his chest, wringing them anxiously. "I'm fine. I didn't get hurt. My mother did, but she'll be alright, and the guards say we'll be able to move back into our house soon-"

"Yer dad's dead."

Wincing at Sparrow's bluntness, James ducked his head and swallowed a deep breath. Sparrow took the opportunity to continue. "Grim killed him. He's probably not done with yeh yet either. That's the kinda man he is. He's gonna keep comin' after yeh, James."

"Well aren't you just a fountain of good cheer," James hissed, turning away from Sparrow and folding his arms across his chest, like the stance could protect him from Sparrow's words.

"I'm not here to make yeh feel better," Sparrow said. "I came to make sure nothin' happens to yeh."

A terse silence stretched out between them as James fumbled with this news. "I don't understand," he said finally, giving Sparrow a long, measuring look. "Why would you come all the way back here just to protect me or... whatever it is you're doing?"

Sparrow seemed just as puzzled by it as James was and he shrugged slowly. "I dunno." He still wore his usual expression of vaguely-amused-by-everything, but it seemed a little more forced than usual, like he was trying to cover something else up. "There's just somethin' about yeh. Theresa – yeh know, the seer – said somethin' about- what was it... infatuation? Makin' people do stupid things. I dunno. I reckon it boils down to me wantin' to do yeh."

"Do... me?" James repeated, confused. After a few moments it dawned on him. "Wait, no- that's not- hang on a moment, that-" He stopped talking abruptly, sputtering. "Is that what the kissing was all about? Why am I even asking- my father just died and you're-"

Sparrow held up a hand to silence James who fell quiet after a moment and settled for just glaring. "I'm just bein' honest with yeh," he said, shrugging. "Not expectin' anythin'." He looked down at the dog beside him and absent-mindedly ran his hand across the crest of the dog's head. "All I'm sayin' is... I wanna keep yeh safe an'..." He stopped with a frustrated grunt and shook his head. "I dunno. I just- I dunno."

James stared at Sparrow intently, wholly focused on what Sparrow may or may not have been trying to say. It felt good to have a different problem to focus on, especially when the problem wasn't his. "Shall we go somewhere?" he asked finally. Sparrow's shoulders seemed to melt at the sound of his voice and James felt a little thrill of sadistic pleasure when he realised his silence had been making Sparrow anxious. "There are some gardens around here. They'd be a much nicer setting for this kind of conversation than a shadowy alleyway."

"Can't," Sparrow said, shaking his head. "I ain't supposed to be here." James tilted his head quizzically and Sparrow added, "Got into some trouble with the guards last time I was here."

Something about his tone told James he wasn't going to go into details and James didn't have the energy to push it. "A few of my fath- of my family's properties are empty. Their gardens are private and no guards would see us there." He padded past Sparrow, deeper into the alleyway. "There's one nearby and we can get to it through the back lanes. Come on, I really... I don't like the dark very much right now."

Sparrow didn't argue against that and followed silently. James imagined that if he were anyone else, being followed through an alley by Sparrow might have been one of the more terrifying events of his young life. Yet somehow he felt nothing but safe in Sparrow's company.

When they reached the garden James had spoken of, Sparrow clambered over the stone wall first before helping James over as well. In what was either a display of remarkable restraint or perhaps a sign of maturation, James didn't even acknowledge the scuff marks on his trousers.

Pumpkin headed straight for a patch of grass bathed in sunlight and James followed. Sparrow stayed in the shadows a while longer before joining them. He dropped heavily onto the little grassy bank and then James and Pumpkin settled on either side of him. They sat quietly for a few minutes and then James spoke.

"I'm scared, Sparrow," he said, staring blankly at the bed of flowers on the opposite side of the garden. They had wilted from lack of care and James thought it was a rather sad sight. "I feel like everything around me is just... falling to pieces and I'm expected to put it all back together but I can't because I don't understand anything about anything and I'm just- I'm too stupid to fix it and-"

Sparrow's arm curled loosely around his shoulder – an invitation – and James gladly accepted it. He threw himself against Sparrow's chest and clutched at him desperately. When Sparrow tightened his grip, holding James against him like a vice, the rock in James's belly that he hadn't even realised was there fizzled away and was replaced with nothing but warmth. A hiccupped sob escaped James but no tears fell. He suspected he had no tears left to cry anyway.

They sat like that for a long while and it was only the cramping of his muscles from the uncomfortable position that convinced James to let go. He pulled away from Sparrow and ran a hand back through his hair, tousling what had once been perfect little curls. "You're the only thing that hasn't fallen apart yet, Sparrow," he said tiredly. "I just wish I knew you better. It feels like such a bad idea to rely on someone I barely know and yet you're all I have."

"Well..." Sparrow began, "I reckon it's better to have someone yeh don't know, rather than no one at all? Right?"

"That's true, I suppose." James looked down at Sparrow's hand where it rested on the grass between them. He was wearing thick leather gloves. The stitching was shoddy and they were damaged from use, but they looked sturdy and reliable. By contrast, the soft white fabric of James's gloves was flimsy and delicate and utterly worthless for anything other than looks. He pulled off both of his gloves and discarded them, but his hands were just as fragile as the gloves had been. "I need you," he said to Sparrow as he inspected his baby-soft palms. "I can't do this alone and I need you." The conviction in his own voice startled him and he blinked at Sparrow owlishly.

Sparrow lifted a hand and stroked James's hair back from his face. His touch was firm and solid and reassuring and James sighed contentedly, pressing upwards into Sparrow's palm. "I got problems of my own," Sparrow said and James ceased his nuzzling immediately, giving Sparrow an utterly crestfallen look. "But-" Sparrow added, "I... I wanna help yeh, I guess, and even though I know yeh not likely to be givin' me any of what I want, I reckon it'd be pretty shite of me to leave you in the lurch just 'cause of that, yeh know?"

"Any of what you want?" James repeated, frowning. Sparrow gave him a loaded glance and James's face burned when he remembered. "Oh that..."

They sat in silence for a long time as James thought about what Sparrow had said. It would be a lie for James to say he didn't find Sparrow... intriguing. The gypsy boy certainly had a sort of terrible charm to him and though he was awfully uncouth and definitely not the type James should be seen with if he wanted to remain in high standing, James couldn't help the little thrill that shot through him at the idea of Sparrow... wanting him, in that fashion.

His breath faltered as he snuck a glance at Sparrow out of the corner of his eye. Despite his many flirtatious escapades, James had never had the opportunity to be intimate with anyone. Sparrow, who certainly didn't seem the type to pass up an appealing opportunity, would no doubt be receptive if James perhaps wanted to... share a private moment while they were alone and unlikely to be disturbed.
It would certainly take his mind off Grim for a while.

James licked his suddenly dry lips and reached out to take one of Sparrow hands. His own two hands were tiny in comparison, even after he slipped off Sparrow's bulky glove. He stroked his fingertips along Sparrow's fingers and palms, tracing the calluses and cracked skin. Their hands told such different stories and James wondered to himself what Sparrow's hands would feel like.

Sparrow, who had been silently as James explored, gave a little cough and James jumped, letting Sparrow's hand drop. Sparrow was watching him with a bewildered little twist of a smile and the thought of Sparrow's usual smug smirk made the decision for James.

He launched himself at Sparrow, throwing himself at him with such force that Sparrow fell back onto the grass with a startled yelp. Pumpkin, shocked by the sudden attack, leapt to his feet and started bouncing about, barking uncertainly. Sparrow flapped a hand at him to shut him up but fell limp when James crushed their mouths together.

It wasn't vindictive like their first kiss, or a mocking tease like their second. James planted his hands firmly either side of Sparrow's head and put everything he could into the kiss. James was new to kissing - at least in this fashion - and despite Sparrow's best efforts, it was a messy affair, all teeth and clumsily tangled tongues. Neither of them seemed to care though. Sparrow's hands ventured lower, finding a welcome handhold in the form of James's rear and James dropped to his elbows, weaving his fingers through Sparrow's unkempt hair.

It was easily the most passionately heated moment of James's life, and so he was understandably baffled when Sparrow broke the kiss, easing his hands around to James's chest to push him back a bit. "What's wrong?" he asked, his swollen lips making the words feel clumsy, "I thought you wanted this?"

"And I thought yeh didn't," Sparrow said. "Don't get me wrong, normally I'd have my prick so far up yer arse yeh'd be chokin' on it by now-" James's nose crinkled at the vulgarity, "-But... Dunno. Guess even I know better than to take advantage of someone in yer situation."

James frowned and sat upright, still straddling Sparrow's belly. "But it's not taking advantage- Sparrow, I want-"

Sparrow pushed himself up, forcing James to slip down into Sparrow's lap. A little whine escaped him as Sparrow pulled him in for another kiss, this one slower and much more controlled with Sparrow in the lead. When they broke away again, James felt lightheaded and airy. "Yeah, I know what yeh want," Sparrow said. "And when all this shit's settled down, if yeh still want it, I'll give it to yeh."

Disappointed, but unable to deny that Sparrow had a fair point, James gave a little defeated sigh. "Alright," he said, bumping his forehead against Sparrow's affectionately. "Assuming you're still around then."

"I ain't got any plans to leave."


They said their goodbyes after that and James headed home, with Pumpkin at his heel. Sparrow had said that the dog would lead James back to him if he ever needed any help and James was glad of the company anyway. Having the dog tripping along at his heels was like having a little part of Sparrow at his side. It was comforting.

It was also fortunate that James had a safety net to fall back on, as something very unpleasant awaited James at home.

T'was not my plan to have them get this smoochy this early on, but hey, whatever gets me writing. :D