There was nothing much more between them that night. David, in all his late nights driven by obsession, had never experienced such a complete and thorough exhaustion. He carefully dried Julio's skin, running thick fluffy towels over his body and stroking and murmured until the boy ceased to tremble and his muscles relaxed. It was like comforting an infant, David reflected, as he lay Julio down beside him and continued to coax and soothe with his hands, but there was a certain sensuality to his actions that could not be denied. It was what he had intended, dreamt of and worked towards, after all. Each caress carried the whisper of desire and Julio leaned into him and sighed deliciously, satisfied and just slightly aroused by his touch.
He soon fell asleep and David followed him gratefully, burying his face in Julio's hair and breathing him in. He had fantasized about this, he had so longed for this, but the reality was more than his imagination could have conjured, complete with the harshness and complexity that fantasy did not allow for. It was only once the boy was unconscious that David allowed himself to whisper, almost silently,
"I love you," against Julio's skin, "I love you, my Julio
" He was almost beside himself with wonder and pleasure but this was threaded, also, with an acute sense of guilt. He knew, as he tangled his fingers in the fair hair, his body aching with exhaustion, that Julio was not his property or, in any true sense, his lover.
He slept like a corpse, a heavy dreamless sleep, only stirring now and again, along with his companion. They leant towards one another, seeking the reassurance of each other's presence, and then drifted away again, into oblivion. They might have slept longer than ten hours, day and night had less significance in the bitter constancy of winter. When David awoke though it was bright enough that the room was illuminated without the light of the candle.
He found Julio sat up on the bed with his hands pressed up flat against the windowpane. His face was close to the glass, his breath making a opaque mist, his eyes wide and bright. Every now and again he wiped at the condensation and tilted his head closer to look out at the world.
David lay still for a while and watched him. His body was heavy, his eyelids opened only just a little to watch the boy beside him. The room was practically silent apart from the occasional sound of Julio's skin slipping across the glass with a squeak.
Eventually he lifted his torso up, with a strain, and the sound of the bedsprings alerted the attention of his companion. Julio turned about to look at David and asked, in a whisper,
"What is it?"
"Nothing," David replied thinking that he meant to ask why his master had stirred but when Julio's eyebrows compressed he considered that the question might have been literal.
"What do you mean?" he asked, gently, "what's what?" Julio pressed one slender finger to the glass and pointed. David got up onto his knees, the bed creaking a little more, and moved over to the window, with Julio. He regarded the view uncertainly; most of it was obscured by a thick blanket of snow.
"Do you mean the whiteness?" He asked Julio. Julio nodded.
"It keeps falling and gathering," Julio told him, "in patterns. It's beautiful." David smiled at him warmly. He hesitated for a moment and then, although he had promised himself to be more conscious of Julio's space, reached out to take Julio's hand, wrapping his fingers tightly around the other boy's. Julio's flesh was wonderfully warm and he seemed to long for the contact just as much as David did. David had to remind himself that what Julio might want now was not necessarily what was natural and right for him. The thought brought a lump to his throat.
"It's snow," David told him, "it's just frozen water, just like the water from your bath but so cold that its gone hard." Julio's eyes glittered just like the minute snowflakes that still, sparsely, peppered the winter's air.
"There are some things I know instinctively," Julio told David, unexpectedly, his body quivering again with a supernatural energy, "as if you have already told them to me as if I have drawn them from you and this place without effort but there are many things I don't know and have never seen or experienced. When I awoke, at very first, I was not sure if I could speak but then I found my words straight away and there were things I knew and understood." He looked at David then, an intense, passionate look across his face. It was so passionate that David felt a little startled to look upon it, his own face flushing and his hands trembling.
"I knew you," Julio told him, his fingers slipped between David's, "I remembered you sculpting my body, your hands were the only ones I knew, your face was the only one I knew. I knew I knew you were my master." He closed his eyes for a moment and tilted his head forward, pressed himself close to David so they were temple to temple. It was as though he was praying. He seemed consumed by devotion. David let out a little breath and it hitched over his teeth with an awkward trip, he felt as though he might cry; too overcome with emotion. He wiped his face with his free hand and then whispered, kindly.
"Would you like to go outside? You can touch and play with the snow, if you like?" Julio's eyes opened again, immediately, his whole expression overcome with that childlike wonder.
"Please," he said, "oh please."
David had bought many comfortable clothes with his newly-acquired fortune. He had many thick overcoats, beautiful furs, the most delicate leather gloves and the softest, most exquisite scarves. He had not experienced much joy from them himself though, rarely needing to dress up. He spent most days in his workroom in simple cotton shirts and trousers, unseen by any other human eyes. Dressing Julio gave him a great pleasure though. He encouraged Julio to dress himself as much as possible, twisting his hands through the sleeves and shifting his shoulders, but he carefully did up the buttons for him and tied the cravat and scarf.
The exercise had all the delights of dressing a doll but the way in which Julio responded to the sensation of soft wools and furs stirred a deeper delight in the pit of David's stomach.
"You must be warm enough," he told Julio and he showed him how to pull on thick gloves, pulling at each finger, "I don't want you to become ill
"I feel too hot," Julio murmured, pushing up his head, "I'm sweating."
"That's because we're inside," David told him, "it's very cold outside."
Julio found the cold alarming at first, pausing at the doorway and needing coaxing outside, staring at the strip of snow that stood just outside the door as if it were an impassable barrier. Once he had taken his first few steps outside though his countenance changed; wonder and delight overtaking him and he walked through and through the heavy snow. He stared at his footsteps a long time, his breath lingering in the air mistily, and then reached down to cup his hand about a thick ball of snow.
"It hurts!" He gasped as he tightened his fist about the icy ball. Even through his thick gloves he could feel the cold and as he gripped a trickle or two of icy water slid down his wrist and he jumped. He was surprised but not afraid, he continued to pick at the snow and David had to stop him from taking off his gloves entirely and picking at the ice with his bare hands.
"Your hands will go numb," he told Julio, grasping his palms, "your finger will ache and you won't be able to move them properly for a while." A spasm of fear passed over Julio's face at this.
"I don't ever want to stop moving again," he whispered, pulling back on his gloves, "I hate the idea of not being able to move
"That won't happen," David told him firmly, "I'm I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. I meant it will be difficult to flex your finger and, well, it's just uncomfortable more than anything." He put an arm about Julio and leant close to him.
"Don't be afraid," he whispered and he longed to kiss Julio, to feel the contrasting surface cold of his skin and the warmth underneath, he only leant close however, allowing his cheek to press against the other boy's.
He taught him how to gather snow together and build snow sculptures. David's talented fingers were hampered, like any human being, by the insubstantial, watery nature of the snow but despite the constraints of this medium he was still exceptional. He was able to sculpt the form of a deer quite adeptly, becoming absorbed in the spindly legs and the large eyes. Julio watched him for a while, transfixed, and then tried his hands at his own creation but it was the crude snowman that any child would form, rolling the snow into large balls and then patting them down.
Julio was pleased when he was done though and took his time gathering and shaping the snow. David helped him finish it, showing him how to gather stones and sticks for the eyes and the arms and then their creations stood together one perfect and glittering one duller and rougher. David reflected that the opposite was true of their creators because Julio was beautiful with such a keen perfection but then Julio was his creation, a fact which at that moment astounded and humbled him.
"We should go in now," he announced, seeing that Julio was trembling. "Warm ourselves up."
He lit the fire in the living room, a rarely-used grate it took a while for the flames to spring into life. Once ignited though the great fireplace was filled with roaring flames. Julio moved forwards towards the warmth gratefully, apparently having forgotten the delights of such comfort. David helped him take off his coat and gloves again and brought blankets so that they could huddle up together on the rug, wrapped up tightly together and enjoying the sound of the crackling flames and the distant winds.
He toasted bread on the fire and gave it to Julio with cheese and nuts to form his very first meal. He worked his jaw awkwardly at first, tearing at the toast like an animal but started to swallow more easily and slowly began to take small, purposeful bites. He was soon eating delicately, sucking at each mouthful for a long time before gulping. It was a bitter winter and so, as was customary in David's culture, he gave Julio alcohol to drink; a tall mug of cider and, for when that was drunk, wine.
Julio found the taste a little bitter at first, David watched him cough after his first sip, but drank slowly and steadily without complaint and certainly appreciated it after he became accustomed to it. He lay back with the blanket wrapped around him and leant against the back of a stool, his face content and his eyelids drooping.
"I feel so sleepy already," he murmured, "even though I've been asleep for so long already. Is that normal?"
"Sometimes," David said, he too was already become lethargic, having comfortably drunk a considerable amount of wine. He traced the patterns on the hearth, lazily, reminiscing about the Christmases he had spent with his parents, tenderly held in his mother's arms and listening to his father's stories. Like all good toymakers Gideon had learned many tales that excited and enthralled young minds. Without deliberating too much on the idea David began to tell Julio a story, appreciating the way that the boy fell silent as he spoke and his body became still and thoughtful.
He told him the story of the Ginger Cat that lived in the kitchens of a great palace. He was supposed to catch mice but spent much of his time listening to the gossip of the kitchen staff and amusing himself with the follies of humans. One day it transpired that the youngest daughter of the king had gone missing and there was a tremendous reward for anyone who could return her. The cat, who had grown tired of catching mice at all and felt ill-used by the cook and the maids who no longer fussed over him, wondered why he couldn't claim such a reward and eat well for the rest of his life. He had heard enough talk through the castle, whispered in corridors and empty halls by people who did not care to mind the ears of animals, and he knew that the princess had not been kidnapped at all. She had run away with a circus performer, her young lover, who indulged her desire for excitement. He had promised her that she would see the world, the cat had other ideas. He would find a way to strike a bargain with the young trapeze artist and have him return the princess and split the reward with him, ensuring that he ate fat fish every day and slept on a soft feather bed of his own
cat's don't think do they?" Julio asked, uncertainly, absorbed in the folk tale.
"No," David replied, "not really. It's just how people imagine a cat might think, so the story is interesting." Julio nodded, apparently appeased by the information.
"I don't know much about animals but I know they aren't like people, are they? Only in stories. It's one of those things I know instinctively although I've never seen a cat." David considered this.
"We could get a cat, you know," he told Julio, "if you like?"
"Could we?" Julio whispered, "I think I would like that very much."
"It could be my Christmas present to you," David told him, "although I don't think we could get one until after Christmas, of course, everything is covered in snow and no one is working by now. Would you like a kitten? A baby cat?"
"I think I would like a fat ginger cat," Julio suggested, "like the cat in your story. I could rub his fat tummy and it would be happy and comfortable and smug." David laughed lightly.
"The cat of the story is selfish and lazy," he commented, "aren't those undesirable traits?"
"Not in a cat," Julio argued, "why shouldn't a cat get whatever it likes? I like the cat from the story go on tell me does he get his riches?" David smiled and then, slowly, continued his tale.
He explained how the ginger cat contrived to communicate with the young trapeze artist, bringing him the proclamation in his teeth and glowering at him with his yellow eyes. The young man had been raised with a troupe of outcasts ; he knew that things were not always as they seemed. He understood that the cat was wise and crafty and he saw, by the way the cat slipped between cracks in the palace brickwork and was gone in a flash that he knew his way about the palace with an ease and intimacy that not even the most experienced criminal could hope to achieve. He convinced the princess that she must return to the palace telling her that once he claimed the reward that they could run away once more. The ginger cat would be sure to show her a passage out of the palace, even if her father locked her up securely.
It was in this way that the circus performer claimed the reward, telling a story about a daring rescue from some gypsies within his troupe who had now, alas, escaped. The princess backed up this story, affecting tears when she spoke about the brutes who had deceived everyone around them and kidnapped the princess when she visited the circus with her sisters. Once she was back in the castle and her lover had been rewarded she followed the ginger cat out through a hidden tunnel and they were reunited.
The ginger cat now expected to be taken with the couple and be treated well by his friends but the trapeze artist, who knew how hard a life of travel can be, no longer cared for the idea of supporting a cat and gave him only scraps for a while, before giving him the slip entirely. The ginger cat, disgruntled by the whole experience returned to the palace and vowed to himself to never try and make a bargain with a human again. He honed his skills of trickery and stole food from the kitchens by himself. He slept in the youngest princess' room which was kept for her while the king searched for her kidnappers, once more. The cat would sleep comfortably in the princess' room for many years while the king continued to looking furiously, and fruitlessly, for the cunning gypsies she had once described.
After David concluded his story they sat in silence for a while. Julio seemed to be thinking the tale over, his eyes glittered in the light of the fire.
"I liked that story," he told his master, "although it's sad that the cat never got his reward. It's a sad ending."
"I always thought that it was quite a nice ending," David commented, "I mean the princess and the trapeze artist get their happy ending and the cat still manages to get some good food and a place to sleep." He smiled to himself.
"My father told me lots of stories when I was a little boy," he told Julio, fondly, "I can tell you more and, in time, I could maybe teach you to read and to help me make things, if you wanted."
"I would like that," Julio replied and he moved forward on the rug, sliding awkwardly to sit closer to the other boy. He reached out to press his hands to David's, his fingers curling lovingly over his. David looked down at their hands in the firelight, his heart thudding rapidly and his flesh tingling. He lowered his eyelashes and swallowed.
"I need you to understand, Julio," he began slowly, " that if the time came - you could leave me if you wanted. If you need money to go and live somewhere else I can help you with that." He felt Julio's grip upon him tighten convulsively. His face became stricken, distress tightening every smooth nerve.
"What do you mean?" he asked, his voice high and unhappy, "I'm going to be with you forever. I'm meant to be with you
"You need to understand," David said slowly, his voice hoarse, "you're not my property. You can choose whatever life you want."
"No, no I can't!" Julio cried out, he leant forward and clung to David desperately, "I couldn't go and live somewhere without you! I don't know how to I couldn't do anything I couldn't bear it!" David put his hands to Julio's face and gently stroked his cheeks, he could feel the hotness of them and there was the first signs of tears in the corners of Julio's eyes.
"Hush," he whispered tenderly, "calm down, it's okay." Julio breathed heavily and rubbed fervently at his face.
"Don't you want me anymore?" he asked, miserably, the tears spilled out and trickled over his cheeks, "am I am I not what you wanted?"
"No, no," David said quickly, "you're perfect, you're absolutely perfect and I don't want you to leave."
"Then why are you saying this?" Julio declared desperately, his large eyes sad and deploring, it tore at David's throbbing heart.
"I never want you to leave me," David whispered, "I will have a place for you as long as you want but but - one day you might want to leave me. You can't do things by yourself now but you will learn. You have to understand that if you ever want to leave me that you can, even if I don't want you to."
"I could never hurt you," Julio protested, "I would never leave you."
"You should, if you want to," David told him firmly, he gripped the boys hands tightly and held them, the trembling digits tight in his fists, "I will understand. If you want to leave you should leave." Julio stared into his eyes, his fair eyebrows furrowed in an intense expression.
"I never want to leave you," he whispered, his voice shuddering in a hiss. Silence descended upon them once more and Julio hung his head, suddenly weak and limp like the doll he had once been. David leant close to him, creeping up like a curious child, and gently stroked his hair and face. He tilted his head to softly kiss his cheek, feeling the hot skin beneath his lips, the shuddering of the boy's body taste the salt of his tears. Julio sighed hungrily and reached out to wrap his arms about him. David held him close for a long time kissing his cheeks, his neck, the smooth curve of throat. He could feel Julio's heart beating against his own, a hard regular rhythm beating out with a true passion.
He paused only to recover himself as the scent of the boy's hair overwhelmed him, feeling that deep and secret desire that he had kept buried for so long tingling in his body, swimming in his bloodstream. He closed his eyes at the sensation of Julio's hair over his face and tried to calm the beating in his heart, the uncomfortable and unusual throbbing in his loins.
Julio was unaffected by hesitation or uncertainty, although he sat as still as his companion, paralyzed by his kisses and unable to respond without David's lead.
"Why did you stop?" he whispered, "what is it?" Then he fell still and quiet once more as the sound of high voices reached their ears, distant, human and musical. Julio gasped, wondering what it could be while David too picked up his ears, leaning away from Julio and listening.
"It's carol singers," David said, with certainty as the singing became closer. Julio's face became transported with a mixture of excitement and a queer anxiety.
"Will they come here?" he asked, his eyes flickering to the windows.
"Yes," said David, wondering how Julio would react to seeing people, he had no other human contact than David himself. "They'll come sing for us, they usually do each year." Julio scrambled up off of the rug, throwing off the many blankets that had been pressed about his shoulders, he played with the buttons on his rumbled shirt, absently, as he listened to the approaching voices and footsteps in the snow.
"They're here," David told him, "they're just-" but he had not time to finish before, with a firmness of purpose, Julio started running towards the door. He knew from his senses and limited experience that this was where their visitors would congregate. David shifted off his own blankets and hastily followed after Julio arriving just in time to see Julio pulling off the chains and throwing open the door.
The small collection of local people, most older couples, parents and their small children faltered a little as they sung. Many of the young girls halted completely for a few moments taken aback by the sight of the strange young man that stood in front of them. There was a ripple of gasps and awkward sounds. The song continued, despite the mild disarray , but many voices dropped out completely and small eyes ran over Julio with amazement and interest.
Julio was delighted, smiling at them with the purest pleasure and his appearance was made all the more astounding by his delight; all the more beautiful. A couple of girls laughed and whispered, in hisses, behind their hands. It was not usual for any newcomer to happen upon their small town without notice, let alone such an exceptional young man.
Julio laughed and clapped while they finished, unaware that he was their spectacle almost as much as they were his and he turned to David, to show him his delight. Meanwhile David was fumbling through his purse, looking for some change.