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A month of Sundays

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When Richard first came to the Underside to stay, he marked time with his watch. He wasn't trying to maintain a link with London Above; it was more that he felt things needed a rhythm, and he didn't know how else to give them one. Down here, there was no day or night. It made him feel disconnected and a little panicky, like nightmares about being late for the exam in a course he'd forgotten to attend. He found a discarded pocket calendar and crossed off the days, carefully.

Then his watch broke in a fight. It was a Sunday. "I want to go to London Above," he said. He was tired and scared and his knee hurt, and it was very dark.

"What?" Door sounded scared too. "Again?"

"Not permanently," he said hastily. "Just for a walk round the park. It's Sunday. I want sun."

"No," the marquis said. "It's too dangerous. There are people trying to kill us, or had you forgotten?"

"There are always people trying to kill us!"

"Richard?" Door sounded like a worried little kid on television, about to ask if her parents were getting a divorce.

Richard sighed. "I'm sorry, Door. It's nothing. I'm just--homesick."

"This is your home," the marquis said flatly. "London Above is--"

Richard sat down. The ground was damp--possibly with blood--but he'd mostly stopped caring. "I'm not from London Above."

"What?" Door said.

"I'm from Scotland."

The marquis raised his eyebrows. "Really."

"You're not a Jacobite, are you?" Door asked, wrinkling her nose.

Richard blinked. “Door, it’s the twentieth century. Almost the twenty-first.”

“And yet Bonnie Prince Charlie seems set to outlive us all,” the marquis said in a bored tone.

He decided not to ask. "The point is, I'm from the country! I miss green. I miss the smell of growing things. At least London Above had parks and back gardens and window-boxes."

There was silence.

###

An indeterminable amount of time later (Richard guessed it to be less than a week), the marquis presented him with a new watch. It was very old, and battered, and ornate, and Richard thought he had last seen it on Mary the Bone, a scary old woman who did not support unification. Since her lack of support had entailed trained mice, razor blades, and Richard's ear, he wiped the blood off the glass face with his cuff and thanked the marquis politely. He kept forgetting to wind it, though.

###

For a while, he marked time by how often the marquis saved his life and/or minor appendages. But he lost count pretty quickly.

###

Richard more or less resigned himself to feeling adrift, eventually. When the marquis told him that the two of them would be exploring the new DLR tunnel today, he followed without asking any of the questions that would have seemed so important a mere unknown-but-short amount of time before.

The marquis let go of the strap. "This is our stop."

Richard looked at the sign. Island Gardens. He vaguely remembered that when he left London Above there had been plans to relocate the station underground. He followed the marquis off the train, down the platform and around a corner, past a kiosk, into a women's toilet, and then into a broom cupboard.

"Um." He shifted awkwardly in the dark, hoping he didn’t elbow the marquis somewhere unfortunate. The cupboard was close and smelled nasty, like bleach and vomit and artificial vanilla. Richard pressed a little closer--the marquis didn't bathe often but at least he smelled familiar, like sweat and the curry from yesterday's lunch, and that brown soap and vinegar the laundress at the Floating Market had used to get the stains out of his new coat. Richard breathed in and froze, disbelieving. “Do you smell--?”

"Aha." The marquis was the sort of person who really said aha. The back wall of the cupboard swung outwards; the tiny space was flooded with brilliant light and--yes, there it was--the smell of growing things. "Come along."

Richard followed the marquis out onto a small platform at the edge of a vast underground lake. The lake was dotted with islands of various sizes, and on each island was a garden. Above them, rows and rows of giant grow lights were suspended in midair by a mechanism Richard couldn't see.

"Where are we?"

The marquis glanced at him. "Island Gardens, where do you think?"

A rowing boat banged against the platform. "Name and plot number please, sirs," said the rower, a young girl with brown eyes and powerful arms.

"De Carabas, one hundred and eleven."

The marquis’s island was small, about the size of a London back garden, rocky and covered in patches of stubbly grass. There was a small stack of battered, rusting gardening tools off to one side, and an ancient pair of leather gloves.

Richard swallowed around the lump in his throat and gave the marquis a sidelong glance. “Uh...thank you.”

The marquis shrugged. “The Lady Door wishes to keep you happy.”

Door, when Richard asked her later, said, “Oh, yes, de Carabas mentioned something about that. Was it lovely?” She was making notes on one of her father’s maps, and didn’t sound too interested in the answer.

###

Richard tried to go to the island every Sunday. After a while, he gave up, and began calling days he went to the garden “Sunday” instead. The marquis always accompanied him. When Richard offered to go alone, the marquis raised his eyebrows. “And let you get your throat slit? I think not.”

There was a brief, awkward pause. In the bright light of the grow lamps, the line on the marquis’s dark throat stood out very clearly.

He didn’t help with the work, though. Richard didn’t expect it, or want it. He dug out the rocks and dumped them in the water, and turned over the soil a few square feet at a time. The marquis sat on the edge of the island with his boots off, bare feet dangling in the water, and played his pennywhistle. Richard discovered that he liked David Bowie, Tchaikovsky, and Irish punk.

The islands nearest Richard’s were a marijuana plantation and a very odd rectangular island of about an acre, whose lessee had used a system of large magnets to make it float in the air several feet above the surface. At the moment, the island was divided into three sections with police tape. The man had built a small fire in the corner and was heating something in batches.

“What’s he doing?” Richard asked idly.

The marquis let “Diamond Dogs” trail off jerkily, like a music box winding down, and looked over. “Oh, he’s on a quest.” He began to play a different song, now, one Richard quickly recognized as “Scarborough Fair.”

Tell him to plow me an acre of land
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Between the sun and salt-sea strand
And then he will be a true lover of mine,

the marquis sang mockingly.

“He’s--heating the peppercorns?” Richard squinted. The man was sticking a large glass thermometer into a bowl of something black that could very well be peppercorns.

The marquis rolled his eyes and splashed his feet. “If following impossible instructions were all that was required to make someone love you, the world would be very different.”

Richard thought about Jessica: how beautiful she was, and how much he had loved her, and how he hadn’t thought about her in weeks--or was it months? “Getting someone to love you is easy,” he said. “Love is just what happens when you spend enough time with someone. It’s the rest of it that’s difficult.”

The marquis looked at him thoughtfully. Then he turned his back and began to play “What is Love?” It wasn’t a song that lent itself well to the pennywhistle, but the marquis managed it.

###

Richard’s bluebells were blossoming. The marquis eyed them skeptically. “I’m sure we could get you something more useful. Herbs, maybe. You could sell them for pin money.”

“I just want flowers,” Richard said.

“But what are they good for?”

“Nothing at all. You don’t have to get a thing from flowers, you just put energy in.” He smiled. “A luxury.”

The marquis shrugged. “If you say so.”

###

In their next fight Richard was almost killed.

“If de Carabas hadn’t been so quick, if the knife had been just a few inches farther down--” Door choked back tears, pressing a disconcertingly clean cloth (which the marquis had produced from somewhere) into the wound. Richard felt as if he were in an old Hollywood movie. He also felt as if his shoulder were on fire and he were about to die.

“So I’m not going to die,” he said.

“No. My lady, if you would stop sniveling and press harder?” The marquis was sterilizing a needle with a lit match.

Richard chuckled. “Too bad that won’t work on the thread.”

The marquis glanced up and smiled. It was not his blinding, glorious smile, a flash of white teeth in a dark face. It was crooked and distracted, and for a moment he looked like an ordinary man, in strange, rather pathetic clothing.

###

Richard was in hiding for a long time, healing and being very grateful that the marquis’s contacts included a supplier of black-market painkillers. He thought for certain that his garden would be dead by the time he recovered.

“Bank holiday Monday,” he said glumly as they stepped off the train in Island Gardens station. The marquis looked at him inquiringly. “It feels like a Sunday, but it isn’t.” The marquis didn’t bother to respond, which was all right because Richard wasn’t really talking to him anyway.

His garden wasn’t dead.

Bluebell season was over, of course, but there were spreading patches of phlox and myrtle. Along one side of the island, someone had set a row of twisted-branch trellises and planted rose shoots in front of them.

Richard looked at the marquis. “I thought you didn’t want to garden.”

“I don’t.”

Richard raised his eyebrows.

The marquis smiled. “I already have something in my life that is a great deal of trouble and gives me nothing in return.”

“Which is?” Richard asked, because the marquis obviously wanted him to.

“You.”

Richard nodded. “Good one.”

The marquis made a sweeping bow, his hair swishing against his shoulders.

Richard stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Is there something you would like in return?”

“What would you give me?” the marquis asked with a mocking smile.

Richard met his eyes steadily. “Anything.”

The marquis started back, frowning. “Have I taught you nothing?” he demanded irritably. “What if I told you I wanted your heart for a conjuring?”

Actually, Richard had learned something from London Below. He’d learned the power of words, and the rarity of trust. He’d told the marquis exactly what he’d meant to. “If you want my heart, you already--”

“Oh, Hammer and Arch, don’t be mawkish.” The satisfaction beneath the drawl was unmistakable; Richard had forgotten how much better Bank Holiday Mondays were than Sundays. There was a pause. “Well? Actions speak louder than words, you know.”

Richard looked at his carefully tended garden. “They do, don’t they?” He didn’t know the hour, the month, or the day. But for the first time he could remember, he felt that he knew exactly where he stood in the universe.

The marquis heaved a long-suffering sigh.

“Oh, sorry,” Richard said, and kissed him.