There were a lot of whores where Thom lived, and almost all of them adored him for some unknown reason other than he was possibly the only male to ever enter their hallowed perfumed halls to only want bedtime stories and a place to sleep, and be mothered (this was only when he was younger, of course, in later years he'd be giving bedtime stories to whore's drunk off wine and appropriately melancholy for their state), but he would still need somewhere warm and covered to sleep.

Thom had a system for remembering the whores:

Anabella for Amorous.

Belinda for Beautiful.

Fiona for Fascinating.

Jocinda for Jewels.

Sophie for Soulful.

Belinda was the kindest to him, not that the others weren't kind to the poor little boy pulled off the streets with the soft dark hair and the big green eyes, who started crying almost immediately whenever they lit a fire in the parlour, and who would watch fireflies, rapturous, from the other side of the round glass windows, almost smothered by velvet cushions and tassels.

In later years, Thom would grow up.

He would turn his attentions to study, not pausing to listen for a voice that would never come. The whore's gave him a small room in the attic, comfortable and separate from the rooms of business. Anabella would come up with some coffee whenever his light was lit past midnight, and would set it beside his notes with a fond smile and an absent adjustment of her gaping dress. Fiona, who had the personality of a hummingbird, liked to sweep in without a moments notice and play with Thom's hair, examine his clothes, and reorganise the blankets on his bed, finally sweeping out again with just a few minutes having passed and leaving Thom in a momentarily bemused state.

Sophie for Soulful spent her nights crying in her room. Sometimes when Thom couldn't think enough to study and couldn't bear the sound any longer, he would bring her wine from the parlour and lull her into a drunken stupor, before tucking her into bed and reading to her from one of his pilfered volumes. The whores had made a type of game in luring men in from the street whom had just very obviously come from the bookstore. These men tended not to notice they were missing a volume or two when they eventually left, and the whores were rewarded with their little Thom's undying gratefulness and sparkling eyes as soon as he opened the first page, as if he was trying to absorb the vat of information straight into his skin.

Sometimes men would ask if the pale young man in the back would like to join them.

"Who, 'im?" The whores would reply flippantly. "Oh, no. That's our little Thommy. He's gunna be great one day, just you wait an' see. Smart as the E'sar, 'e is."

Years later, when Thom actually met the E'sar, he would realise that the whores were unintentionally paying him a great insult, but he had other things on his mind then.

Mostly he was left alone with his study and his room, the heady perfumes and thick powders of the house clinging to his meagre possessions. There was always a film of powder and glitter on the floor of his room, so that the soles of his otherwise grimy feet would sparkle when he propped them on his bed, shining in the candlelight.

One time, Thom thought he heard a familiar voice, laughing uproariously and somewhat drunkenly downstairs. He was halfway out of his seat and to the door when it abruptly registered that the voice was sharp and bold like a knife in a dark alleyway, and that was not at all how he remembered his brother.

Thom taught himself to stop listening for familiar voices after that.

And some years later he was accepted into the 'Versity.

***

One day John thought he saw a shadow of his brother, but, fuck, that was the reason he went to whorehouses, so he ignored it and turned back to Jocinda for Jewels.