Nicholas woke slowly. It was chilly in the room, and when he shifted his body between the clinging flannel sheets, he could encounter zones of warmth and cool. Two down comforters were draped over them as well; Nicholas could not sleep without their weight on him, while Feniker, who seemed to burn with a furnace’s metabolism, would inevitably throw most of them off during the night, onto Nicholas.
He could hear Feniker’s soft breathing, a burry almost snore, a sound so uniquely Fen that it tugged a smile onto Nicholas’s lips, knowing what his lover’s face looked like when sleep-slackened, how it must look right now. He had drawn the drapes across the windows; the hotel’s front looked out onto the plaza, but Nicholas had opted for one of the less ostentatious back chambers which he secretly thought more pleasant, overlooking the back gardens, which were the more handsome vista, even when leaf-deprived and blackened by the cold, due to the green cedars that ringed it round.
The hotel was stirring. Soon enough his breakfast, with plenty left over for Feniker, would arrive and be deposited outside the door with a discreet knock. The hotel’s own brand of fish tea, with an odd peppery brackishness. He still wasn’t sure whether or not he liked its aftertaste, even after living in the hotel for almost two months now. He had lived with his father before then, but fire had taken their mansion, and both had taken themselves to alternate lodgings. He had chosen this hotel, which he could afford on his lavish allowance, for the way it managed to combine proximity to the student quarter with luxury.
He rolled on his side and found Feniker watching him, no longer snoring, blue eyes bright in the morning light, almost luminous.
“Good morning, sunshine,” Nicholas said. He leaned over to give Fen a kiss. Fen’s fingers tangled in his hair, drew him down to meet lips.
“What’s on your agenda for today?” Fen said.
“I am meeting with my father to go over the plans for the new factory in Cloudmarch,” Nicholas said.
“Will you be visiting it? The expedition is going through Cloudmarch. You could come out with us, say goodbye there, do whatever you needed to do with the new factory.”
“I would serve my father ill as a factory manager,” Nicholas said. “I’m not good with such things.”
“You have a mind keen enough to keep up with anyone in their classes,” Feniker said. “If you chose to exert yourself. Instead you pretend yourself slower than you are, and use it as excuse to while away your days drinking fish tea and playing cards.” He pushed himself off the bed and strode across the chamber, naked, to reclaim his clothing from the bench below the window.
Nicholas gathered the covers around himself, reluctant to lose their warmth, even in pursuit of what the kiss had promised. “What of you, what does the Duke’s secretary do today?”
Fen shrugged and drew on his trousers, sat down to pull on his boots. Behind him the window panes were laced with frost, a pattern like the ghost effluvium a professor had demonstrated at the last University lecture Nicholas had attended.
Thinking of that, he protested, “I do go to some lectures after all, and meet with Professor Wirewit to work on my paper.”
“Meetings that are few and far between,” Fen said. He caught himself. “Look, I don’t mean to nag you.”
“Will you come tonight and see a play with me?” Nicholas asked.
“I will have papers to transcribe,” Fen said. “I have been burning the candle at both ends, and I must decide where I should be spending my time. I do not mean to imply that it should not be with you, only that I would rather spend time enjoying your company, than sitting together staring down at a stage while the audience gossips so loud that we cannot hear half the lines.”
The reasonable tone, the exaggerated patience in his voice made Nicholas want to smack him.