« Back
Generated: Mar 06, 2020 3:52 AM
Post last updated: Feb 23, 2020 11:04 AM
my labor and my leisure too
valentine furnishes his new house
Permalink Mark Unread

It's been a week, since Jean Dulac didn't die.

A week, since Valentine came upstairs with him, holding him in the shroud, alive. He explained his mistake to Cato, and he explained the wounds to Doctor Sato, and everything went on like Jean was supposed to be there.

(The night that Jean Dulac didn't die, Cato spent the small hours of the morning spitefully refusing to cry into his pillow, and since then he's been refusing with equal or greater spite to think about why.)

Cato doesn't trust him. He doesn't like him. He hasn't forgotten how they got here.

But he's right about something, and Valentine wants him kept busy, and some things need doing.

 

Cato reaches out and shakes their houseguest awake.

"Get up."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean is awake as soon as Cato steps into the room. He's been sleeping poorly, anyway; he's still not used to having the freedom of his bed, without cuffs keeping him safely in place.

He lets Cato play out the little scene anyway, blinking and rubbing his eyes obligingly.

"...I'm up," he says, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and suiting the action to the words.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Not even going to ask why, apparently.

"Get dressed and meet me outside."

He heads out the door – when he descends the stairs, he skips every other step, and makes it sound like nothing.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean dresses with inhuman speed, and is following Cato before the latter has reached the bottom of the stairs.

Permalink Mark Unread

He doesn't turn back towards him until they're out the door, into the cold.

"...be quiet," he cautions, before he heads towards the garden.

(It's still mostly bare. They'll have a few vegetables in winter, more in spring, but it's too new to have seen much growth.)

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean, it transpires, can move with an unearthly silence, every footfall calculated in advance.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Stop being good at that.

That's his thing.

 

When they reach the chicken coop, he picks up a basket left by the door, hangs it on his elbow.

"You're going to try it tomorrow, so watch."

He opens the wire outer door and ducks inside.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean couldn't watch more intensely if he were observing the test of a nuclear missile.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He steps carefully around a couple of errant chickens and opens the door to the house.

He takes the eggs from the empty boxes first, and then starts on the rest – one or two of the chickens need to be moved, but most will let him slip his hand underneath them and pluck the egg out to lay in the basket.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean is visibly memorizing the process, step by step.

(He's identified two of the chickens -- the one which laid an egg in his lap, the one which invaded his room -- and watches them with particular attention.)

Permalink Mark Unread

When he closes the house up and turns back around, the eggs have all been transferred to the bottom of the basket.

"...you can spend some time with them today. I'll be out here anyway. They should probably get to know you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I don't ... I'm not good with animals."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What does that even mean."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I don't know how to do things with them. When I try to guess, I usually guess wrong."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...you don't have to do anything. Just sit out here with a book, or something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"--what about facial expressions? What about posture? What about breathing?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...you should breathe," he says, trying to formulate another response.

Permalink Mark Unread

"But how?"

He is, obviously, deadly serious.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"How...do you normally pick how to breathe."

Everything about that sentence is too weird for Thursday morning at 6 AM.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I have a default pattern which is unremarkable for my age and physical state. I adjust when circumstances call for it -- to indicate emotion, to suggest recent physical exertion..."

Permalink Mark Unread

That's really fucking bizarre but he's just going to accept it for a minute.

"Why...would the chickens change any of that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I don't know what emotions I should be indicating to the chickens!"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Are you paying attention to their breathing?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Obviously!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"And what's that telling you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Nothing! I'm not good with animals!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"They don't understand what your breathing means, either. They're chickens. They're not good with humans."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"So how do I breathe in chicken?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...you don't...have to. I don't even know how you would try."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh."

 

 

"What about posture?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"The thing you want to do on the first day," he says, carefully, "is sit on the ground with a book, so you're not too tall, and look like you're not paying attention to them."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I don't know what chickens think not paying attention looks like."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Just...don't look right at them a lot? You can just – actually not pay much attention to them, if you want."

Permalink Mark Unread

"....that sounds extremely difficult but I can ... try?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You don't have to – ...act like you're not paying attention to a bunch of three-year-olds, maybe."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not very good with children, either," he sighs.

 

 

"...what book?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Are you worried that–"

 

 

"Anything. Doesn't matter. Whatever you want."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...all right," Jean says, sounding deeply skeptical.

Permalink Mark Unread

How were you a detective.

"I promise that the chickens aren't going to judge your taste in literature."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well, no. I have excellent taste in literature."

It really doesn't sound like he's making a joke.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"I'm going to show you which plants are weeds now."

Permalink Mark Unread

"All right!"

He is a willing student of weeds, and can reliably remember plants after being shown them once.

Permalink Mark Unread

He takes him around the backyard, that morning, and shows him a variety of chores to be done outside, weeding and pruning and raking and sweeping and checking for pests.

It's a moderately exhausting kind of work. By the time they're heading back inside, Cato has his shirt halfway off, heading for the shower.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you," Jean says, at the end.

That's all he says, but there's a wealth of feeling in it: deep, desperate gratitude.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It wasn't my idea."

He heads up the stairs with his shirt thrown over his shoulder.

Permalink Mark Unread

Well.

Jean goes and showers himself, before finding an inoffensive volume of nonfiction and putting on Cato's posture and mannerisms and going out to sit with the chickens.

Permalink Mark Unread

They keep their distance, mostly – occasionally, one of them edges closer, investigates for a moment and then wanders away.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato himself returns outside, after a while, with a sketchbook and accompanying pencil.

He sits up against the wire, watching the chickens scratching about, sketching.

Permalink Mark Unread

Occasionally, one of them makes an attempt to steal the pencil out of his hand – he does a light tug of war with it for a little while before shooing it off.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean carries on with his quietly uncanny imitation of Cato -- the way he sits, the way he holds himself, the way he turns pages, all perfect little replicas of Cato's mannerisms.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato glances at him, every so often – can't quite seem to figure out what's bothering him.

Permalink Mark Unread

Valentine appears in the garden.

"...meeting the extended family, are we?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean glances up at him but doesn't say anything. (Cato's instructions did not include talking.)

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He looks between the two of them.

 

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Jean returns to reading, looking very like Cato as he does so.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...Monsieur Dulac."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean looks up, still with Cato’s attitude — glances apologetically at Cato — extracts himself from the chickens, heads over towards Valentine. 

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...I appear to have acquired another Cato overnight."

Permalink Mark Unread

“—oh, I’m sorry.”

He drops it all, halfway through the sentence. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"...that's quite impressive, actually."

He looks him up and down.

"How long does it take you to, ah, pick someone up?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“...it usually takes me a few days to see someone in enough different situations to observe the full range of their mannerisms?”

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

"And between observation and execution...nothing?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“...yes, Valentine.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"You continue to surprise me."

Permalink Mark Unread

“... I just ... do what they do.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's not as easy as all that, for the average person."

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato is, apparently, extremely focused on drawing chickens.

Permalink Mark Unread

“The average person isn’t very good at things.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"A fair point. But it's not as easy as all that for most professionals, either."

Permalink Mark Unread

He shrugs, helplessly. 

Permalink Mark Unread

He opens his mouth – glances aside at Cato.

"...in any case, I'll want to see you demonstrate your talents sometime soon."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Yes, Valentine,” transcendently delighted. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato can hide an impressive amount of himself behind an 8.5"x11" sketchpad.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Cato, your bread is in the oven."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...oh. Okay."

He stands, nudging a bird out of the way.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

“I did something wrong,” Jean sighs, when Cato is out of earshot. 

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He sighs.

"I'm not sure there's anything you could have done to prevent it."

Permalink Mark Unread

“I didn’t mean to.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's my fault more than yours, really."

Permalink Mark Unread

This causes Jean, if anything, more distress. 

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...I can think of something that might help. In the long run."

Permalink Mark Unread

“Oh?” (Hopefully.)

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Ask him to teach you to fish."

Permalink Mark Unread

“I will. Thank you, Valentine.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"Don't thank me just yet."

He heads back towards the house, motioning for Jean to follow him.

"And don't ask right away. Tomorrow, maybe."

Permalink Mark Unread

“Yes, Valentine.”

He follows, of course. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Presently, there is breakfast.

Jean is given a new book – Valentine compliments the bread.

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

The rest of the day goes on more or less as usual, until the evening, when there's a knock at the door.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean answers, finger in his book. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do you happen to know your measurements offhand?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“Certainly—” and he gives them, rather exhaustively. 

Permalink Mark Unread

He notes them down, carefully.

"...not quite everything, I'm afraid."

Permalink Mark Unread

“...I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

Permalink Mark Unread

He reaches into his pocket–

"If you'd undress."

–and removes a measuring tape.

Permalink Mark Unread

He looks puzzled, as he undresses, no more than that.

Permalink Mark Unread

He begins with a few odd but not overly unusual measurements – the length of his neck, the circumference of his ankle, the inseam to the knee.

He's very quick with his hands and with his pen.

Permalink Mark Unread

Valentine, he knows, can bear to see him enjoying himself.

So he doesn't have to hide how good it is just to be touched.

Permalink Mark Unread

(There's a smile.)

"I apologize in advance, for this–"

He nudges Jean's legs apart and takes the first of his more unconventional measurements. Once he begins, he moves very quickly.

Permalink Mark Unread

He'll need to be quick, if he wants to get the measurements before they alter. It doesn't take much.

Permalink Mark Unread

Valentine waits, with the tape wrapped loosely around him, until he's hard enough that there's no further change, and then begins again.

Permalink Mark Unread

He holds very still.

His breathing is very uneven.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He takes down the final numbers – pauses, a moment.

"...now, I wasn't quite done with the first set."

He winds the tape around him once or twice more, and pulls slowly downward, sliding the plastic over his skin.

"If you'll make that a bit easier for me..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...yes, Valentine."

He starts out into the hallway.

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

He catches Jean's wrist.

"Really, now. You thought I was ordering you nude out into the house."

Permalink Mark Unread

"--oh, I'm sorry."

His towel is over here.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He's just going to let that happen.

Permalink Mark Unread

It's a few minutes before he returns -- towel wrapped around his waist, still visibly hard under it -- carrying an ice pack.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

...he’ll admit that these aren’t measurements entirely wasted.

“Go ahead.”

Permalink Mark Unread

He hangs up the towel, carefully, before he does it to himself.

The first touch of the ice makes him nearly double over; it's obviously an effort of will to keep going, and he whimpers into his free hand as he holds the pack in place, going soft at a painfully slow pace.

Permalink Mark Unread

He watches, half-smiling — doesn’t touch him, out of mercy, as he waits for him to judge himself finished.

Permalink Mark Unread

There are tears standing in his eyes, by the time he stops torturing himself with it. 

Permalink Mark Unread

He begins to go through his remaining measurements as quickly as possible.

Permalink Mark Unread

He can get through most of them.

Permalink Mark Unread

As soon as the measurements start to alter, Valentine pulls his hand away, nods to the ice.

Permalink Mark Unread

He reaches for it willingly.

It's not any more enjoyable than the first time.

Permalink Mark Unread

He finishes his last two measurements, notes them down carefully, knelt at his feet.

 

There are a few more, after that, none so difficult to execute.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's hard, once again, by the end, and looking apprehensively at the ice pack.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I think that's all I'll need, for the moment."

He tucks his notebook away in his pocket.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, Valentine."

Getting dressed again is less than perfectly comfortable.

Permalink Mark Unread

He ruffles Jean's hair, once he's standing, and glances briefly down.

"You may take care of that however you feel inclined."

Permalink Mark Unread

"--oh, it doesn't work."

Permalink Mark Unread

“...ah?”

Permalink Mark Unread

“...I tried, it doesn’t ... I need the ice. If you want me to take care of it.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I see."

He makes his way to the door.

"I suppose I'll leave you to whatever remedies you prefer, then."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, sir."

Well, that's -- agonizingly humiliating.

 

 

(He ends up resorting to the ice again.)

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

The next morning, Cato wakes him again.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Good morning," Jean says, already on his way to his wardrobe.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...morning."

He sounds approximately as suspicious as always, and he's out the door before Jean is done dressing.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean, as always, follows him.

Permalink Mark Unread

They proceed to the coop, first.

"They're not going to want you to pick them up yet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, Cato."

 

He re-acquires Cato's mannerisms, as he steps into the coop.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He gets over the brief moment of unsettling deja-vu, and demonstrates how one slips a hand under a chicken to retrieve an egg.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean imitates the motion with eerie exactitude.

Permalink Mark Unread

The chicken is very soft, and does not protest.

Very shortly, Jean has an egg.

"...quick study."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Good teacher."

The egg goes in the basket, as quickly as he can carefully put it there.

"...Valentine said you could teach me to fish."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"He said that."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes."

 

 

"I'd like to learn. If it's not too much to ask -- if it is, of course, I understand."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll take you tomorrow morning."

 

He keeps grinning, occasionally, all morning – not so much at Jean as at some private delight, one he's not inclined to share.

Permalink Mark Unread

Of course Valentine gave him good advice.

Jean will do anything Cato tells him.

Permalink Mark Unread

The chores go quickly enough. So does the day.

 

Cato wakes him the next morning, just as early as normal, already holding a basket of eggs.

He sets it in the kitchen before they head out, past the garden, out the back gate.

There's a stretch of tall grass before the woods begin. Cato is fast, and light on his feet, and even when they step onto twigs and dry brush he makes very little sound when he moves.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean isn't nearly so quiet, when he's not specifically trying.

He follows, neatly, in Cato's footsteps.

Permalink Mark Unread

They duck through underbrush and thick stands of trees, further and further into the woods, out of a grove and into the clearing around a clear, sparkling stream.

They follow it, for a minute, before Cato nods.

"Here's good."

He sets his backpack aside on a rock and approaches the water.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean stands back a little; watches attentively.

Permalink Mark Unread

He gets down on his belly beside the river, rolls up his sleeves and puts his arms in the water up to his elbows.

It must be freezing – he doesn't seem to mind.

Permalink Mark Unread

Watching; waiting.

(Watching where Cato looks, how he breathes, how he moves...)

Permalink Mark Unread

It's about ten minutes, maybe more, before his shoulders twitch – his eyes narrow –

His hands creep forward in the water, just barely, a centimeter at a time –

Permalink Mark Unread

And then, in a single flash of movement almost too quick to track, he pulls a thrashing, glittering fish out of the water.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He's fascinated.

Permalink Mark Unread

He grins down at the fish, for a moment, before he tosses it back into the water.

 

"Your turn."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I don't think I can do it yet. I don't know the timing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Come here and watch, then."

His hands are already back in the water.

Permalink Mark Unread

He lies down beside Cato and watches. 

Permalink Mark Unread

He waits for it – fish swim by downstream, and he ignores them until one passes in particularly close to his outstretched hands, brushes against his forearm.

He edges his hands closer, circles it in tiny, precise movements –

Permalink Mark Unread

– and then, hooking his fingers in around its gills, snatches it up out of the water.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...that's fantastic."

Permalink Mark Unread

He looks away and scoffs, hiding behind his hair and dropping the fish back in the river.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...should I try?"

Permalink Mark Unread

He nods. (He’s rubbing his hands together, trying to get blood back into them.)

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean assumes a careful imitation of Cato's position, hands in the water; waits for the fish.

Permalink Mark Unread

The icy water goes from uncomfortable to painful very quickly. The fish — faint glimmers under the surface — are giving his hands a wide berth, at least for now.

Cato watches him carefully.

Permalink Mark Unread

The pain is irrelevant.

He's imitating Cato's breathing, meticulous, not an extra motion anywhere; watching the fish, trying to extrapolate principles for when he should move.

Permalink Mark Unread

They approach his hands more as they cool closer to the water’s temperature.

Eventually, one passes between his outstretched arms.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato didn't move until one touched him.

He waits.

Permalink Mark Unread

It takes a few minutes longer before a fin brushes the back of his hand.

Permalink Mark Unread

By then, he has to tell by looking; his hands are too numb to feel the delicate touch.

Jean imitates Cato's exact sequence of motions -- edging his hands closer, circling ...

Permalink Mark Unread

Before he can even grab it, it startles at a movement next to its face and wriggles away.

Permalink Mark Unread

"--what did I do wrong?" he asks Cato, all wide-eyed inquiry.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You almost poked it in the eye. Keep your fingertips away from its face."

This is turning into an actual exercise in learning, and he's not sure he likes it.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean nods, smiles gratefully at him, tries again.

This time he's very careful to keep his fingertips away from its face.

Permalink Mark Unread

Then, eventually, it's right between his hands.

Permalink Mark Unread

He makes the grab exactly like Cato did.

Permalink Mark Unread

The fish is, immediately, writhing and struggling, thrashing in his hands. It is very slippery, even with his fingers digging into its gills.

Permalink Mark Unread

He'd guessed wrong about how tight to hold it.

He loses it.

"...I think I can do it this time."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...let's see it."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He doesn't even catch the fish, this time; it moves in a way he didn't expect.

"This time."

(His fingernails are a little blue.)

Permalink Mark Unread

"–stop and let your hands warm up."

Permalink Mark Unread

"--oh, all right."

He pulls his hands out of the river, breathes on them.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...can't do it like this for too long. You'll get nerve damage."

He's pulled his knees up to his chest, and he's staring down into the river.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato is upset.

Probably, Jean supposes, Cato didn't expect to spend this long out in the woods with a slow student. Cato is doing him a favor, after all.

"...I'm sorry to keep you so long. I can practice on my own...?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"–you're not slow. Faster than I learned it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I've done something wrong."

Was he careless about nerve damage? He should be more careful with things that belong to Valentine.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He buries his face in his knees.

"I expected – everyone is bad at this. And you're – there's not going to be anything fucking left that I'm better at."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

"He loves you," Jean says, as if it's the only possible answer.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Of course he fucking does," he says, miserably. "He has to. Have you met him?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...what does that mean?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"He has to. He couldn't – kidnap some desperate teenager from a psych ward and then decide he didn't want them anymore. It'd fucking kill him."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...no, he loves you. Like he loves art -- like he loves food. As ... as bread loves butter, as meat loves salt. Are you blind?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"You've seen him eat, right?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're confused."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're deaf and blind."

Permalink Mark Unread

"If he wanted – any of this, he could have it. He doesn't."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...now I'm confused."

Permalink Mark Unread

"By what."

Permalink Mark Unread

"In what possible sense does he not have you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"You're serious," he says, after looking for a moment like he's changed his mind about his inclination towards murder.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...perfectly."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"He does not fuck me. We are not fucking. We have not nor will we ever have sex. You can't tell me he feels about me like he feels about food when he has literally taken a bite out of you. Fuck off."

He's peering sullenly over his knees.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"But he loves you," Jean insists, in the approximate tone of eppur si muove.

Permalink Mark Unread

“Not like that.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"...maybe he doesn't want to fuck you. I don't know. But he loves you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's not what you said."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...why are you so obsessed with sex? It's not about sex!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's not– you don't get it. I'm not art. I'm not food. The closest I ever fucking got was being a ballerina, and he won't let me go en pointe."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...he obviously thinks you're art--"

Permalink Mark Unread

"--he used to let me ask him questions, sometimes. I'd ask him about art. Once I asked him if he preferred opera or ballet."

 

"He wouldn't answer me. He said his judgement was compromised by ballerinos."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He is, very clearly, trying to decide whether he counts.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"When we fled the country, his first priority was being unfindable. His third was keeping his identities clean -- his fourth was his house."

"You were his second."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"...I know he loves me. It's stupid to care about – the rest of it."

 

"It's just...him or nobody. For me."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I know."

 

"I -- don't mean to -- compare. I can't possibly -- not the way you can. But..."

"...he loves you. He feeds you. He -- the way he looks at you, the way he looks to you..."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"You...actually love him. Don't you."

Permalink Mark Unread

"--I wouldn't presume to such a thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's not how it works."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...something like me ... couldn't love someone like him. Not ever."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"That's not...the point. Anyway."

 

"How...does he —"

Permalink Mark Unread

No. Nope. Going too far.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...like a man looks at his right hand; like he doesn't need to see it to know where it is. Like a man looks at the sun; too bright to gaze on, but he sees everything else in its light."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He stares out onto the river, the glint of the rising sun on the water, one hand over his mouth.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"...I'm sorry. I'm ...going to go back to the house."

Jean stands up.

 

"He does love you, though. And he feeds you. And -- he uses you."

He takes a moment, looking at Cato, and then turns around and walks back towards the house.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

It's still not late enough for Valentine to be up and about. The house is dark, and the garden is quiet.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He finds Cato's room; only hesitates for a moment with his hand on the door.

Cato is close enough to his height. The clothes aren't a good fit, but he can make them work, with just a few creative adjustments. He uses Cato's lotion on his hands, Cato's conditioner on his hair. It's a rush job, but it'll have to do.

When he knocks on Valentine's door, it's with Cato's cadence.

Permalink Mark Unread

When Valentine answers the door, he's still in pajamas (silk, practically something you could wear out of the house), hair just slightly out of place.

"I would have thought that would–"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...take you..."

 

He fixes his hair.

Permalink Mark Unread

"We finished early."

He sounds exactly like Cato. He moves like Cato, as he brushes past Valentine, stepping into the room.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...What – are you doing."

He looks just slightly shaken.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Something I should have done a long time ago."

Cato's voice, still. It could be Cato, taking Valentine's hand, pulling him gently towards the bed.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He pulls his hand back, sharply, and then he slaps Jean in the face.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He draws in a sharp breath.

Before he's finished with it, he's on his knees, looking up at Valentine, cheek flushing.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I can tolerate," he says, tightly, "a great many things. But this – to use him for this – how dare you."

Permalink Mark Unread

It hurts -- even more than this already did.

The show must go on.

 

"You don't want me?" he asks, in a coy tone that doesn't belong in Cato's voice, leaning in.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Stop."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You don't want that. Not really."

A hand on Valentine's thigh.

"Tell me you don't want me. Tell me you don't want him."

Permalink Mark Unread

He brushes Jean's hand away.

"You could at least have enough respect for him to play him correctly."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

In his own voice:

"If I'd done that, it might have worked."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...what, exactly, is that supposed to mean."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You might have said yes. If I'd played him right."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Ordinarily, that is the aim of a seduction attempt–"

His fingers brush his side, and he stops.

"...Stand in the hall. We'll continue this once I'm properly dressed."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, sir."

He stands stiffly in the hall and waits.

Permalink Mark Unread

He emerges a quarter-hour later, clean and dressed and immaculate as always.

"Explain yourself. Please."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You want him," he says, level and toneless and uncompromising.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...of course I do."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Then take him!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"That would be incredibly unethical."

Permalink Mark Unread

He throws his hands up in the air.

"I don't care! He's miserable! You're both miserable! Fuck him and pretend it's me pretending to be him, just do something about it!"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"–and if he changes his mind, later? If he's stuck in this place with me, with no one else, if I use it to – I can't protect him from myself!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I have seen at least four other people in this place."

He sighs, slumps against the wall.

"Look, can't you just -- anything you would have given me. The way you used to touch me, sometimes -- if you would ever have done that again -- I know you won't, now. Can't you give that to him, instead?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...has he really been so miserable?"

He knows. He's resigned to the answer, even as he asks.

Permalink Mark Unread

"How could he not be?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"You have no idea how many ways I could hurt him. There are already too many."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're hurting him right now!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I know that."

He sighs, compulsively tucks back an errant strand of hair that isn't there.

"Of course I know that. But it is easier, isn't it? To have the illusion."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not for him."

 

"Please, Valentine. Please. If there's anything I could ever have begged you for..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...it's very important to you. That this be fixed."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

“...it’s — incorrect, for it to be wasted," he says, in an uncanny imitation of Valentine's tone.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"I...suppose that's a way you could approach it."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"He's at the river, still, as far as I know. If you're lucky he's not crying. I'm going to my room."

He turns and goes, as promised, to his room.

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

 

The door shuts, downstairs, a few minutes later.

Permalink Mark Unread

He sits on his bed and weeps.

(He can't even manage jealousy, for what Cato's being allowed, off in the woods. Can't even dare to imagine it. He doesn't deserve -- he as good as raped Valentine again, and even if he hadn't bartered away anything good left in his life, he'd have lost it.)

(The only question, now, is whether Valentine kills him, or Valentine leaves him to be alone forever.)

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

It's a while, before Cato returns, before he opens Jean's door.

He's flushed, missing his shirt, holding himself differently – taut, a string pulled up through him, shivering with tension.

"You–"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Are those my–"

Permalink Mark Unread

"–never mind. Doesn't matter."

 

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"Thank you."

He leaves, as quickly as he came.

Permalink Mark Unread

...god.

Jealousy, now, in waves -- or something like it, at least. Longing, for what Cato has; the joy that Cato, at least, has it; the pain of the longing redoubled by that faint taste.

He occupies himself by stripping out of Cato's clothes, folding them neatly, putting on his own.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

It's an hour or two, before his door opens again.

Permalink Mark Unread

He stays very still on the edge of his bed, head bowed, not daring to speak.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Keep your eyes closed, please."

He approaches – his footsteps are perfectly even.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, sir," barely louder than a breath.

(Is Valentine going to take him to kill him? Or, worse, is this his punishment -- that he's never going to be allowed to see Valentine again?)

Permalink Mark Unread

A hand under Jean's chin turns his face up, and then –

It's only the briefest thing, there and gone, a fleeting half-glimpse of tenderness, gratitude – but there is a kiss.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Jean makes the smallest noise, when it goes, almost more a gasp than any kind of utterance: the faintest shadow of a cry of ecstasy, something which might have grown up into a sob if it hadn't been smothered in its cradle.

There's tear droplets creeping out the corners of his closed eyes. The expression on his face is unworldly.

Permalink Mark Unread

The tip of Valentine's finger at the corner of his eye, wiping the little droplet away.

"You may open your eyes again when I've left."

Permalink Mark Unread

That manages, somehow, to be more intimate than the kiss.

"Thank you, Valentine," and he wants to wonder how he can have something this good when he's been this bad, but Valentine kissed him less than a minute ago so he's not thinking very much at all.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It wasn't all for my sake, was it?"

Permalink Mark Unread

It's very hard to think, but --

(Cato bending his broken finger -- Cato holding Valentine's medicine -- Cato telling him to sleep outside -- Cato waking him to gather eggs -- Cato teaching him to fish--)

"--no, Valentine. Not ... all."

Permalink Mark Unread

He sighs.

(It's deep, heartfelt relief.)

"I'm going to ask you to promise me something."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Anything."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Promise me that you'll help him leave, if it's ever necessary, if he ever asks you. Regardless of your future orders."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I swear it. On all I hold dear."

(Future orders -- he suppresses the way his heart leaps. Valentine means stay here, don't go there, don't touch that.)

Permalink Mark Unread

(A brief silence.)

Permalink Mark Unread

"...thank you. It means – everything. More than you could know."

Permalink Mark Unread

Of course he couldn't know. He's not good enough to love, not really, not the way Cato loves, the way Valentine loves.

"It's my honor, Valentine," he says, softly, and means it. To be trusted with something so important -- it's beyond credence.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"I still don't entirely understand why you've done what you've done for me. I thought that I did, when we first met, but you're – somewhat more complicated than I expected."

His fingers card through Jean's hair.

"...we'll have to trim this, soon," he says, absently.

Permalink Mark Unread

He gives a deep shuddering sigh, when Valentine touches his hair, leans precariously into the hand to draw out the touch.

"As you like," he agrees, softly, and then adds, "...he's yours and you didn't ... you needed ... it needed doing. It made you happy. It was..." (another little sigh) "...useful."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Not just that, pet."

Nails on his scalp, lightly.

Permalink Mark Unread

More a moan than a sigh, this time, and it's much at pet as at the nails.

"I..."

He's clearly struggling to think.

"...just ... trying ... be good ... for you..."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You do try your best. Choice of method notwithstanding."

Fingers on the back of his neck.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...sorry..."

He's trembling, nearly lost in the sheer physical pleasure of being touched; his eyelids flutter just enough to show the whites of rolled-up eyes before he shuts them tight again.

Permalink Mark Unread

"As you should be."

He puts a hand on Jean's shoulder and a hand on his thigh and guides him onto his back on the bed, feet up.

Permalink Mark Unread

He gives a little sob, in response, lets Valentine move him, shakes a little more.

Permalink Mark Unread

One of his hands returns to Jean's hair, and the other slides under his shirtfront, runs firmly over his chest and down his abdomen and then back up again.

Permalink Mark Unread

He moans aloud, arches up almost off the bed, gasps "--sorry -- I'm sorry, sorry -- sorry--" because Valentine said he should be, this is good, he wants to be good...

Permalink Mark Unread

He laughs, quietly.

Hands in his hair, caressing his sides, on his thighs through his clothes – fingers down his neck and pressing gently into knotted muscles and drawing swirling patterns over his chest.

Permalink Mark Unread

He keeps gasping sorry, sorry, sorry, well past when it's lost all meaning as a word, still sincerely contrite, crying and moaning and moving helplessly under Valentine's hands, eyelashes occasionally fluttering before his eyes scrunch closed again.

Permalink Mark Unread

Eventually he stops, pulls his hands away.

"Very good."

His lips brush Jean's cheek.

"You'll stay in your room for the day."

Permalink Mark Unread

He's lost words some time ago, but he nods fervently, gasping desperately for air.

(There's tears all over his face and he's trembling violently and he's not even hard, just completely overcome with touch, lying in his rumpled sheets with his eyes closed.)

Permalink Mark Unread

He stays there for some time, just looking at him.

Then his hand ruffles his hair one last time, and a few seconds later the door shuts.

Permalink Mark Unread

(He does start to become hard, with Valentine just watching him; squirms, a little, under his gaze.)

When Valentine goes, he curls up where he is and weeps -- catharsis, not grief. One hand settles on his cheek, where Valentine kissed it; the other ends up in his pants, cupped over himself, not moving, only soothing himself a little with the touch.

He stays that way for a very long time.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato comes twice that day, to bring him food.

Both times, his lips are pink and bitten and slightly swollen. He has the look of someone who's failing to catch his breath, hazy and far away with pinpoint vision, desperate but detached.

He's audible going down the stairs, when he leaves. From the number of footfalls, he's skipping an extra step.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Jean can't even find it in him to be jealous. It's too good, to see Valentine having such a beautiful thing, to see Cato so perfected.

He pretends to read, and plays the events of the day over and over in his head. The kiss ... the slap ... good ... pet ...

Permalink Mark Unread

He's left to himself through the night.

 

Valentine is the one who 'wakes' him, this morning.

 

Permalink Mark Unread

"--Valentine," he says, sitting upright in bed; and then, a moment later, "...good morning."

Permalink Mark Unread

He laughs.

"Good morning."

He takes a seat in the desk chair.

"We'll be having visitors, today."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'll stay in my room."

Permalink Mark Unread

"–you may, if you like, but I suspect the young prince at least would enjoy your presence."

Permalink Mark Unread

"--oh."

He's somewhat startled at the idea, trying to navigate this new social concept.

"...if you'd like...?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"I have something for you to wear. Not made to measure, of course, there hasn't been time, but upon comparison I did make a decent guess at your sizes."

He places some neatly folded clothes on the desk.

"If there's anything else you'll need, please don't hesitate to ask."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Valentine chose something for him to wear.

"Thank you, Valentine."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's my pleasure."

He stands.

"They'll be arriving around noon – I'll expect you downstairs by half past."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, Valentine."

 

The moment Valentine is gone, he approaches the clothes -- eager, nervous -- touches them cautiously before he unfolds them, gazes at them before he puts them on.

He spends some time in front of the mirror just admiring them, adjusting them, thinking about Valentine choosing them for him; some time, after that, biting his lip and willing himself not to embarrass himself by mussing them.

Permalink Mark Unread

They're not overly formal – collared shirt in a pale blue-green, slim pants, matching belt and shoes, unremarkable dark socks.

There's a plain cardboard gift box underneath all the rest.

Permalink Mark Unread

Valentine chose them, for him. He loves them more than anything. (He vacillates for a quarter-hour on the second button from the top of the shirt.)

It takes Jean a while before he dares to open the gift box -- but Valentine couldn't have left it by accident, could he? It must really be for him.

Permalink Mark Unread

The collar matches the belt, as well.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

Oh.

 

After he puts the collar on -- adjusts the collar of his shirt, around it -- he can't do anything but stare into the mirror, until half past noon.

Then he comes down, cautious, step by step.

Permalink Mark Unread

There are more people in the living room than he's seen in one place for weeks.

Valentine is poised on one couch, gesturing vaguely with one gloved hand,

Permalink Mark Unread

with Cato beside him and clearly debating whether to scoot in an inch closer.

(He's in a dress shirt and slacks and suspenders, clearly not quite used to them, fingers worrying at one cuff.)

Permalink Mark Unread

The doctor is here, on the other couch,

Permalink Mark Unread

beside the stern woman who copiloted the plane on the night of their escape.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oooh. You did keep him."

The prince is curled up in the most overstuffed of the armchairs. He's switched out the pilot's outfit for what looks suspiciously like a full military dress uniform, but with shorts and cap sleeves.

Permalink Mark Unread

In the other chair, there's a new face.

He's all in black, unadorned aside from the glittering rings on his fingers, and when he looks aside at Jean it's with the air of an antiques dealer appraising a piece of furniture.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"Your Highness," Jean says, executing a slightly dramatic bow in the prince's direction; and then, standing again, "Mademoiselle. Doctor. Valentine. Monsieur. Cato," nodding to each in turn.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

(A muffled giggle, behind his hand.)

Permalink Mark Unread

 

The stranger looks aside at Valentine.

Permalink Mark Unread

Valentine looks slightly embarrassed, slightly unnerved.

"–forgive me, your Grace, I wasn't aware you would be joining us."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean blushes, just a little (deliberate, but very pretty), and bows even more deeply to the stranger.

"I beg your pardon, your Grace."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...not bad. He was a detective?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"He's taken well to the career change. –Cato, would you fill him in?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"–yes, Valentine. Sir."

He's up on his feet in a moment, crossing the room to Jean.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean ducks his head and allows himself to be cornered by Cato and attempts not to glow too obviously.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato moves in close to him, as the conversation resumes, gestures to each of them in turn.

"Prince Aska. He's...weird. But he set this whole place up. Yaika is Aska's older brother – I think he's technically 'Sovereign Prince'. He funds everything. Dorothy is Doctor Sato's – partner? I...don't actually remember what she does."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...professional partner, or personal partner?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"At...least the second one."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean nods, glancing over the room.

"I ... don't know what's expected of me, here."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I...don't know exactly. But I think he'll take you somewhere and tell you if you're supposed to do anything other than – what people tell you."

He's just slightly flushed.

Permalink Mark Unread

This is a deeply insufficient answer, but it's clearly going to be all he gets out of Cato.

(Cato is obviously only thinking about kissing Valentine.) (Jean can hardly blame him. It's not as if he can think about much besides the collar.)

"...thank you."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...also – maybe don't...sit on the furniture. Unless he tells you to."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Obviously." There's royalty present.

Permalink Mark Unread

He takes this as a sign that he's done his due diligence, and returns to the couch beside Valentine.

Permalink Mark Unread

Aska is eyeing Jean, his collar, inspecting him head to toe.

Permalink Mark Unread

The doctor is relating the details of an old case – it sounds like it involves more bones on the outside of the body than is strictly preferred.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean moves to stand as close as he dares to the couch where Valentine is sitting (it's not very close); listens timidly to the anecdote; attempts to conceal how much he's enjoying the prince looking at his collar.

Permalink Mark Unread

The prince beckons to him, still curled up in his armchair.

Permalink Mark Unread

He moves in the prince's direction, to stand beside the armchair; makes just the smallest suggestion of a bow.

Permalink Mark Unread

He glances at the other parties in the room, then gestures to the floor beside the armchair at Jean's feet.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Jean isn't quite sure whether he's meant to stand or kneel.

In the end, he compromises by sitting back on his heels, looking up at the prince.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He reaches down to pet Jean's hair.

Permalink Mark Unread

...oh.

All right.

 

He lets his eyes flutter closed, leans obligingly closer, head resting against the arm of the chair.

Permalink Mark Unread

He coos quietly down at him.

"So soft. What a good boy."

Permalink Mark Unread

This is ... humiliating.

It's also more enjoyable than it has any right to be.

He makes a soft noise in return, nuzzles up into the hand.

Permalink Mark Unread

The prince giggles and rewards him with a scratch behind the ears.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...no one else is going to ask about the dog collar."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I assume there's a reason for it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's not exactly hard to work out."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I think it's very cute."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean, whose input does not appear to be solicited, ducks his head and lets the back of his neck flush hot and makes no comment.

(One of his hands creeps up to touch the collar, just briefly, before he moves it away again.)

Permalink Mark Unread

Aska takes advantage of the shift in position immediately to pet the back of Jean's head.

Permalink Mark Unread

Dorothy sighs.

The conversation moves on fairly promptly.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean isn't quite sure what happened to his life such that he's ended up kneeling in a room, wearing a dog collar, being petted by a prince.

What's worse is that he's enjoying it.

He makes very soft noises, so as not to disrupt the people talking, allows himself to be lulled into a half-aware state.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

“...have no idea how much infrastructure it takes to...”

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

“...didn’t expect a pilot’s license to be...”

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

“...have the equipment for total laparoscopic...”

Permalink Mark Unread

 

“...would prefer to have it intact...”

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

 

“I bet there’s room on the chair for both of us.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I don't know if I'm allowed, your Highness."

Permalink Mark Unread

“Of course you are. I said so.”

Permalink Mark Unread

...Jean glances nervously at Valentine, and then at Cato.

Permalink Mark Unread

Valentine appears to be arguing very politely with the crown prince, and is not looking in Jean's direction.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato is...distracted.

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean flinches, nervously...

(-- he's a prince -- but Valentine is Valentine -- but he's a guest -- but Cato said no when he asked for the egg--)

...and freezes in indecision.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He looks in Valentine's direction, opens his mouth, closes it again, frowns thoughtfully.

He ends up dodging back and forth slightly, trying to catch his eye without speaking.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I really think that if you've been sourcing it from South America, you..."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...yes?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Can I put your pet in a chair?"

 

"Please?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...oh. Yes, of course, go right ahead."

Permalink Mark Unread

Your pet --

He thinks about Valentine's voice, soft and low, sentencing him to live. There you are, pet.

Jean thinks he can live with that.

Permalink Mark Unread

He clambers up into the chair next to the prince.

Permalink Mark Unread

He shifts immediately into Jean's lap, swinging his legs over the arm of the chair and putting an arm around his neck and shoulders.

"Thank you!"

Permalink Mark Unread

The crown prince glances in their direction.

The look he gives him, in the brief moment before he turns back to Valentine, lowers the temperature in the room a few degrees.

Permalink Mark Unread

What did he do!! He was only doing as he was told!

Jean suppresses the urge to squirm out from under the prince and run to Valentine.

Permalink Mark Unread

The prince giggles, quietly, and pats him on the shoulder where his hand was already resting there.

He's paying rapt attention to his face.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean has no idea what emotion he's meant to be displaying.

He settles on something that's not quite the cringing of a kicked dog, but certainly gestures in its direction.

Permalink Mark Unread

This is apparently satisfactory enough to get him pet some more.

Permalink Mark Unread

This does a relatively good job of distracting him from anxiety. 

Gradually, he snuggles up more and more. 

Permalink Mark Unread

Aska squirms equally gradually into the most comfortable possible position, curled up against his new source of warmth.

Permalink Mark Unread

He doesn’t quite fall asleep, but he dozes contentedly, enjoying the bliss of skin contact and petting. 

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

"Caaaato."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...what," he says, cautiously.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Let me borrow your pet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"He's not my pet. Ask Valentine."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He's gone a little pink.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Watch it.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean tries to muster up some qualms about how content he is with being Valentine’s pet. 

It doesn’t really work. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I'm not sure he's quite ready for your particular affections, your Highness."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I could be careful. I don't want to break your things."

Permalink Mark Unread

"That's not how we talk about people when they can hear us, Aska," he says, automatically and absently.

Permalink Mark Unread

"He's not being a person."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

This is terrible, terrible timing for the current state of his lap. 

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He squirms very slightly but quite deliberately in Jean's lap.

"I guess I can wait, though. He's comfy."

Permalink Mark Unread

...it’s obvious what the prince wants. And he’s being good. (He’s Valentine’s good pet.)

Jean gasps, just softly, and lets it show on his face. 

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He's being watched, now.

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

"I appreciate your patience," he says, with only the very faintest trace of sarcasm.

Permalink Mark Unread

-- fuck. The way they're looking -- was that wrong? Was he not supposed to give it away?

He freezes, schooling his face to neutrality.

Permalink Mark Unread

He snuggles into his lap and stops squirming, for a moment.

"And soft."

Permalink Mark Unread

(Snort.)

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, he is that. –you were saying, your Grace, about Cuzco...?"

Permalink Mark Unread

...all right.

Back to being agreeably tormented by a very cuddly prince, then.

Jean is entirely contented with his lot in life.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

The moment the conversation starts up again, so does the gentle squirming.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's just a little responsive; not enough to disrupt the conversation, but enough to make it clear how every motion affects him.

(It's been since that time in Valentine's bed, for him; and there have been so many things in between. It affects him a great deal.)

Permalink Mark Unread

"Such a good boySo cute."

He keeps on squirming, rhythmically, in small enough motions not to draw attention.

"Is that nice for you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

It's incredible. There's a squirming boy in his lap, and Valentine's in the room, Valentine's voice is in his ears; he could get off like this, if he let himself.

"Y-es, your Highness." He lets his voice crack, just a little; digs his fingers into the fabric of the armchair; basks in the praise.

Permalink Mark Unread

He practically purrs.

Permalink Mark Unread

Valentine is having a good-natured argument with the sovereign prince about, apparently, South American coffee. He gestures lightly, smiles, occasionally rests his cheek delicately on his curled fingers when he makes a particularly bold point.

Permalink Mark Unread

The prince himself acts, on every point, like he is only grudgingly prepared to admit that Valentine has one. He clicks his fingernails and scoffs and rolls his eyes and never quite extends his hands.

He also changes his position, as the conversation goes on.

Permalink Mark Unread

Every time Valentine smiles, Jean loses another inch in the fight to keep himself under control.

He hooks a finger through his collar, reminds himself whose he is, reminds himself to be good even if the prince rocking in his lap is so sweet and so insistent, even if his legs tingle and his toes curl and he can scarcely bear to fight it.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You like him, don't you, puppy."

He's so quiet, enough to be inaudible from anywhere but his place right next to Jean's ear.

"You wish he was looking at you."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean whimpers and nods, jerkily, squirming under Aska and making it worse for himself.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Wouldn't it feel nice?"

His eyelashes brush Jean's temple.

"He's right here."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean makes the mistake of looking at Valentine.

 

He has to go very still, very tense, unbreathing, exercising all his willpower to keep from falling.

Permalink Mark Unread

Poised and perfect and interested, every glance and gesture an invitation to stand closer, to lean in –

Feet away from him, almost close enough to touch, Valentine laughs.

Permalink Mark Unread

No--

He almost pushes the prince from his lap, to try to save himself, but -- no, even in the instant he has to decide it's obvious in which way he should fail. Valentine might be disappointed that his pet isn't better house-trained; Valentine would be ashamed to have his guest treated rudely.

Jean comes in his pants, pinned under the prince, sobbing and shaking his head violently in protest and forgetting entirely to be quiet, lost in the terrible pleasure of it.

Permalink Mark Unread

By the time he's aware of his surroundings again, everyone in the room is looking at him.

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh, no.

He's just -- he -- in front of -- damp in his pants and cooling -- and not even at Valentine's touch, at a stranger's --

-- and the worst of it is how he can already feel the slight relief of it, the gentle ebbing of desperation, and that's wrong, he isn't meant to want Valentine a scruple less, that's all he's good for now.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...Aska. Your highness."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Mhmm."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Please don't do that."

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

 

The sovereign prince has started to laugh behind his hand.

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean is crying, silently, ashamed and trapped and lost.

Permalink Mark Unread

"–let him up, you asshole."

He gets reluctantly up off the couch and approaches Aska, making shooing motions with his hands.

Permalink Mark Unread

He laughs as Cato shoos him, stands and flees to perch on the arm of his brother's chair.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean stumbles to his feet, immediately; he doesn't have permission to be on the chair alone.

(This, of course, showcases his shame to the whole room. But what more does he have to lose, in that respect?)

Permalink Mark Unread

"–come on. I have pants that'll fit you."

He takes his hand and leads him firmly towards the stairs.

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Jean doesn't understand this at all -- from Cato, of all people, who hated him so much -- but he's so grateful to follow, rubbing tears from his cheeks with his free hand.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato leads him up to his bedroom, and lets go of his hand just inside the door to start digging through a drawer.

"You don't have to feel bad about it. Aska's a prick."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I didn't ... I'm not..."

Jean stands nervously near the door, pointlessly brushing away tears which are quickly replaced by fresh ones.

 

"...I'm no good for anything, now."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...what?"

He stops digging, looks up towards him with the leg of a pair of jeans in one hand.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's -- I'm sorry."

He makes himself stop crying, brushes away a final tear or three. If Valentine wants to leave him useless, that's Valentine's prerogative.

"It's nothing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What did he tell you?"

He looks just about ready to walk back downstairs and start a fistfight.

Permalink Mark Unread

"--it's not his fault."

 

 

"I only--"

"Even the chickens lay eggs."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...what does that...have to do with this?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"The only use for me," Jean says, slowly, teeth gritted, staring at the wall like it just insulted his mother, "was wanting him and not getting anything. And now I'm not even good for that."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"There are...so many reasons that's bullshit."

Permalink Mark Unread

He exhales, slowly, tension draining into miserable resignation.

"I'm a detective, Cato. He doesn't need anything detected. I sit in a room all day because he's got no use for me. He knows it, you know it, I know it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...he likes you. I don't – know what goes on in his head, but he's careful with...stuff he likes."

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's possible to be fond of knickknacks."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He sighs, resigning himself to some unknown fate, and tosses a pair of pants at Jean's head.

Permalink Mark Unread

He catches them.

"Thank you," he says, stripping.

Permalink Mark Unread

He puts a hand over his eyes.

"Shower! Go take a shower!"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, all right."

He finishes stripping and heads for the shower, pants in hand.

Permalink Mark Unread

He calls down the hall after him, eyes still covered.

"Don't just take your clothes off in front of people!"

Permalink Mark Unread

These rules are very confusing.

Jean showers, dresses in Cato's pants.

Permalink Mark Unread

They aren't a perfect fit, but they're roughly the same color.

No one is there, when he emerges, to tell him what to do.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's inclined to hide, but he doesn't have permission to linger in Cato's room.

Jean glances nervously out the door, before moving swiftly and silently to the safety of his own.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He's left alone, for several hours, before there's a knock on his door.

Permalink Mark Unread

He answers, of course, looking only a little miserable.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...are you feeling all right?"

He clearly knows, even as he says it, that he's not.

He's holding a full plate in one hand.

Permalink Mark Unread

"--of course." He draws himself up, a little, lets his face smooth out. "I'm sorry about this afternoon."

Permalink Mark Unread

"The fact that you're sorry means that I was negligent. I apologize."

Permalink Mark Unread

He's visibly alarmed and disoriented by this development.

Permalink Mark Unread

"If you consider yourself responsible, the fact that I allowed him to treat you as he did was unacceptable. –may I come in to put this down?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...of course," he says, in a tone which sounds more like it means obviously.

Permalink Mark Unread

He does so.

"...this–"

He gestures at Jean's neck.

"If you were given the choice, would you keep it?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"--please--"

He starts to move, sharply; visibly stops himself from going down on his knees.

Permalink Mark Unread

"If it were to mean you were always treated the way you were treated this afternoon?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He looks agonizingly stricken; starts to speak, stops, struggles with conflicted emotions.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Tell me your thoughts."

Permalink Mark Unread

He doesn't want to. But Valentine has the right to command this from him.

"...I don't want to -- fail you, again."

 

"It feels like it might still be worth it. But that's -- selfishness."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...you haven't failed me, Jean. And I'm not sure you understand my meaning."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I'm sorry?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"What I mean to say is that when the young prince said you weren't 'being a person', he wasn't entirely off the mark."

Permalink Mark Unread

"...yes...?"

Still confused. That much was obvious.

Permalink Mark Unread

"And that's something you would be glad to do indefinitely?"

Permalink Mark Unread

There's only a breath of hesitation before he says "yes, Valentine," but the breath is there.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...was that entirely true?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I'd be glad to do it. I only wish I could -- be useful to you."

He's glad to be Valentine's pet. But even the chickens lay eggs.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...I suppose I've been neglecting that, as well."

He puts a hand on Jean's cheek.

"I intend to keep my promise, pet."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I ...'m sorry, I didn't ... mean to..."

Whatever he was saying seems much less important than Valentine's hand on his cheek.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Shh. You've done nothing wrong."

His thumb brushes gently over his jaw.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean hushes, rapt and shivering, gazing up at Valentine with painful adoration.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Anything, to be useful? Any use at all?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Valentine doesn't ask meaningless questions. He stops to think.

If Valentine wanted him to die, of course he'd die. If Valentine wanted him to kill -- it would be someone who ought to die. If Valentine wanted him to rape -- Valentine wouldn't. If Valentine wanted him to be raped, it would be less than he owes.

What else could Valentine do to him? Maim him? He hates the idea, but he'd bear it, for Valentine. Send him to burn down the Musée d'Orsay? Valentine would never ask.

If Valentine wants Jean to hurt him again -- god. He'd rather die a hundred times over. But -- if it would be useful -- he won't refuse this time either.

If Valentine wants to send him away...

 

...he doesn't know if he could bear it. But he'd try.

"Nothing to harm my sister."

Permalink Mark Unread

He nods.

He smiles.

"I'm sure I'll find you something appropriate."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I -- please don't go to any trouble on my account, Valentine, that's not -- I can sweep floors, I can -- only let me be good for you, please."

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm not quite sure that would be dramatically appropriate, are you? But you can certainly do housework in the meantime."

He looks immensely fond.

Permalink Mark Unread

It would be unflattering to describe the noise Jean makes as a squeak.

Permalink Mark Unread

The laugh isn't any less fond.

Permalink Mark Unread

"--thank you, Valentine," finally remembering to speak.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's my pleasure."

He drops his hand.

"If you'd like to join us after dinner, you may. I'll expect you to help clear up after everyone is gone."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Thank you, Valentine," he repeats, breathless with delight.

Permalink Mark Unread

He smiles, and nods, and then he leaves Jean alone with his food.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's practically floating, as he eats.

Rejoining the company sounds -- ill-advised. But he'll wait until the faint sounds from downstairs disperse, and then come help clear up.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato isn't the only one helping.

Valentine, himself, has his sleeves rolled up and is scrubbing out a pan.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean isn't about to venture into the kitchen without an explicit invitation. He stacks plates and passes them to Cato, sweeps the dining room, puts the tablecloth in the laundry.

He lets himself stare through the doorway at Valentine with his sleeves rolled up. Just a little; not even the beginning of as much as he'd like to.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's kept busy up until the end.

 

Valentine takes him up to bed, when they're done.

Jean gets a kiss, a small one, on the temple, before he leaves.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's so happy, it's hard to sleep.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

For the next week, he's kept very busy.

There's things to put together and to clean out and to fill in, a hundred little tasks, and when there's a chore to be done Jean is the one to do it.

Permalink Mark Unread

Cato seems pleased with the extra free time, curled up with his tablet or his laptop or out in the garden with the chickens,

Permalink Mark Unread

when he's not looking increasingly desperate.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean is blissfully happy with Valentine's kept promise. He's delighted every time he's given a task; he hums, sometimes, when he's reasonably sure no one is listening.

Everything is done to the absolute best of his ability. This occasionally leads to spectacular disasters (bleach and ammonia should not mix), but he never skimps on a task.

At night, he hides his head in his pillow and grins until his face hurts.

Permalink Mark Unread

He gets a kiss, on his forehead or his temple or his cheek, every night.

And, after a week –

"You've been happy."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, Valentine. Thank you."

He's been useful, and he's been kissed, and he's had snatches of time to read books and listen to music; he's been able to be good for Valentine -- mostly -- and to see him every day, to be smiled at sometimes, spoken to. He's watched Cato be Valentine's, and it's like seeing a planet return to its proper course in the sky. He hasn't caught a fish yet, but he's determined to learn.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You will be doing something...slightly different, tomorrow. I think you'll enjoy it. Please make sure you're well-rested."

Permalink Mark Unread

"--yes, Valentine."

He looks a little like he might want to stay up and watch for reindeer.

Permalink Mark Unread

"I mean it, Jean. I don't want you falling asleep sitting up."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, Valentine," he sighs, obediently.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Very good."

He pats him on the head, kisses him on the cheek.

"I'll see you tomorrow. Sleep well."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, Valentine," he says, once again, happily, "good night."

He sleeps with his hand on his cheek, smiling.

Permalink Mark Unread

When he wakes up, there's breakfast on his desk and a chicken feather on his floor.

Permalink Mark Unread

He spends an alarmed minute making sure that there are no chickens in his room, before he eats.

Permalink Mark Unread

When he's done – once the sun is up – Valentine comes through his door.

"Good morning – are you ready? All washed up?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes, Valentine," already standing to follow him, eager.

Permalink Mark Unread

He takes him down the stairs, and around the corner, and into a room he hasn't entered before.

It's small, but comfortably furnished, with gauzy curtains and pale turquoise walls. There's something up against the wall, covered with the shroud, and Valentine leans down to uncover it.

It's difficult to tell what exactly it is, at first, a frame of dark wood padded in odd places, leather straps and locking hinges.

Permalink Mark Unread

His eyes follow the shroud, more than -- whatever that is.

He's not sure what this is going to be. But, evidently, it's important.

Permalink Mark Unread

He indicates a pair of narrow pads at the base of the device.

"Kneel here for me."

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean does as he's told. "Like this...?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Yes," he says, "like that."

He tightens the first straps around Jean's calves, then his thighs.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh..." he breathes, relaxing into the straps. He'd missed this.

(Is he to die, after all? Is he to have flesh taken from him alive? Is he...

...it's not important. He'll be useful.)

Permalink Mark Unread

There’s a thick, padded one that Valentine pulls around his torso, another across his chest, and—

“Arms back, please—”

—two sets of long cuffs for his arms. The whole thing carries weight beautifully — he can relax into it, and it doesn’t cut into him, doesn’t press on anything too sensitive.

“...your role here is going to be somewhat different than it has been before.”

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean is completely failing to even try to discern his purpose. Everything is too good.

"Yes, Valentine, thank you," he murmurs, dreamily.

Permalink Mark Unread

...perhaps now is not the ideal time for explanations.

He loosens Jean’s collar carefully, has the next strap around his neck before he removes it.

“Don’t worry yourself about that. You’ll have it back afterwards.”

And then he turns Jean’s head carefully in its cushion to secure it in the blindfold.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh...."

The blindfold moves a little as he blinks behind it for a moment, then closes his eyes peacefully.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

A hand opens his mouth, and a pair of fingers stroke his tongue, gently.

Permalink Mark Unread

-- oh.

This is a new kind of touch. And like this -- bound, blindfolded -- it's incredibly intense; the sensation washes over him, making him shiver, filling his world.

Jean opens his mouth as wide as he can, tries his best to be still.

Permalink Mark Unread

His fingers slide across Jean’s tongue, to the very back of his throat, over his lips, careful and measured.

Then they’re removed. There’s the faint sound of rustling fabric as Valentine stands.

Permalink Mark Unread

-- no. No.

It can't -- no.

 

(Please yes.)

Permalink Mark Unread

The barely audible sound of a zipper.

“Does this seem appropriate to you, detective?” he murmurs.

Something new presses up against his lips.

Permalink Mark Unread

The strap around his neck is a crime and he's choking himself on it, trying to lean forward even an inch, trying desperately to taste.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He doesn’t need to for very long.

Valentine presses slowly into Jean’s mouth, stroking his hair, one hand on his jaw.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's so eager for it he forgets to be good, at first; all he can think about is how badly he needs to suck, to swallow, to taste, to have Valentine as much inside him as he can.

He's crying under the blindfold before it even hits the back of his throat.

Permalink Mark Unread

He lets him just have it on his tongue, for a minute, lets him suck at it desperately and watches the tears trickle out from behind the blindfold, before he begins to push into his throat.

He’s — not small. Not even remotely. It’s a stretch before he’s swallowed any of it at all.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean wishes he knew whether Valentine would prefer him to choke or not to choke.

Being as taken as this -- it's incredible. In theory, he knows how to do this well; but like this, bound and blindfolded and so full his jaw aches, there's really no room for artifice. All he can do is open for it, swallow desperately, try to relax, try a little to suck.

Permalink Mark Unread

He’s incredibly careful about it — he opens him up a little at a time, feeds him his cock by half-inches and then pulls back for him to breathe and swallow and recover.

It’s torture.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean whimpers for it, whenever he has enough breath to whimper; gasps for it, when he can gasp; opens his mouth, offers his tongue, begging for it.

When he has it, he can think of nothing else.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Eventually, he presses forward just a little further than the last time — and the last time, and the last time, and the last time — and Jean’s nose presses into his abdomen, and his lips touch his skin.

He holds him there, just like that.

Permalink Mark Unread

He can't breathe.

He doesn't want to. This is better.

His pants are painfully tight, and he's held all over, very securely, by Valentine, and he can taste him and smell him and -- useful, he's useful, he's good and useful and Valentine is using him and it's -- the absolute summit of his purpose, it's as much as he can take and it's everything he wants, Valentine has given him everything and made him take it, made him good--

Moaning, choking on it, weeping and perfectly utterly happy, with Valentine's cock in him and his lips on Valentine's skin and finally everything in the world is in its right place and he is content.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He waits, just listening, just watching, just feeling.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

And then he pulls back just enough to let him breathe, just before he begins to fuck his throat in slow, long, even strokes.

Permalink Mark Unread

It's transcendent.

A moment ago, he'd thought just having Valentine in him was good. This -- it's incomparable. To be used -- to be used with the same care as any of Valentine's possessions, to be turned to Valentine's purpose as surely as a glove or a knife -- it's everything in the world.

He'd never known, before, how much he was capable of feeling, reduced to just mouth and lips and tongue, the rest of him irrelevant and packed neatly away. It's not just the taste (though the taste is incredible -- to know what Valentine tastes like, what a gift); it's the nerves alight with sensation, his lips stretched around Valentine, the weight on his tongue, everything combining to madden with arousal. He's grateful to be blindfolded; he couldn't bear another sense. One is enough.

After a little while, he inhales at the wrong moment. He has no room to correct for it -- can't move back even an inch, can't control the pacing at all -- and so he's choking on the next thrust, and then again on the next.

After that, there's no recovering. There's only choking. That's fine, though -- that's good -- he's choking on Valentine's cock, and everything is utterly out of his control, and he couldn't ask for anything more.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's clearly careful, when Jean starts to choke. He gives him just space enough to keep breathing, times everything correctly.

He does not, however, stop.

 

And then – a twitch, just the slightest hitch in breathing –

The strap around Jean's neck pulls tight.

Permalink Mark Unread

Everything narrows down, all at once, to Valentine's cock down his throat, better than air.

Permalink Mark Unread

There's another twitch, the smallest gasp.

Valentine comes down his throat.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Please, Valentine, he prays, don't loosen the strap. Don't. This is enough. This is perfect.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

The strap loosens.

Valentine pulls out of his mouth, leaves another taste behind.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's entirely lost in it, half-moaning, tongue slipping out a little to catch the last remnants of the taste on his lips.

Permalink Mark Unread

A warm hand ruffling his hair. The sound of a zipper, again. A soft cloth on his cheek, two fingers under the strap.

 

And then the door closes, and he is presumably alone with his thoughts.

Permalink Mark Unread

As if he has thoughts.

He floats, perfectly contented, held and safe, chasing the lingering taste around his mouth.

(Valentine used him. Valentine was pleased. Valentine petted him, afterwards -- he's Valentine's good pet.)

Permalink Mark Unread

The sounds of the house filter through to him. Cooking, creaking, stairs taken two at a time – chickens.

 

 

It's some time before the door opens again.

Permalink Mark Unread

The sounds are good -- comforting. He hadn't realized how much he'd come to love all of them.

At the first sound of the door, he's alert. What now? Is Valentine here to take him out?

Permalink Mark Unread

This time he gets no warning.

A zipper, a hand opening his mouth, and then his mouth is full.

Permalink Mark Unread

Oh. So much better than freedom.

There's a special blessing to being taken as straightforwardly as this: simply because Valentine wants him, and he is at hand, and so Valentine is using him.

(It means, after all, that Valentine wants him.)

It's so easy to be good, like this. He doesn't have to do anything; everything which is required of him is simply taken. Valentine's cock down his throat makes him good, imbues him with grace.

He gasps, when he can, moans softly at the pleasure of being used for Valentine's pleasure, swallows and swallows and swallows.

Permalink Mark Unread

He doesn't pay quite so much attention to Jean's breathing, this time, doesn't slow his pace for him quite so much – tightens the strap a little further, and a little earlier, when he comes.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean loves that -- wants Valentine to take more, give him less mercy, make the world swim and dance for him.

Even more, though, he loves Valentine coming down his throat while he chokes for Valentine's pleasure.

Permalink Mark Unread

He checks him over, like before, just before he leaves — a hand on his face, on his neck, under the strap.

 

An hour later, he returns to let him up, takes him to the bathroom without once speaking. He leaves the blindfold on.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He finds himself shivering, a little, pulling against the bonds to feel them firm against him.

(It's a long time to be alone with his thoughts. Is Valentine pleased with him -- is he good? Is this the use to which it pleases Valentine to put him, or is Valentine only humoring him?

Worse, is this somehow a punishment? He thinks again and again of Valentine saying detective to him, Valentine keeping silence on the way to the bathroom, Valentine checking the strap but not petting him--

-- it's stupid. He knows it's stupid. But it's dark and he's alone.)

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

The next time Valentine enters the room, his hand is on Jean’s cheek, in his hair, checking his pulse.

Permalink Mark Unread

He's trying to slow it -- thinking of slow music, sleepy late-night stakeouts, mornings sitting with the chickens -- he doesn't want to fail, doesn't want Valentine to take this away from him --

-- but he's certainly not succeeding at slowing it fast enough.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

The strap loosens from around his neck — the collar goes back on — the blindfold comes off.

Only then does he speak to him.

“Have we encountered some complications, pet?”

Permalink Mark Unread

"--please, I'm sorry, I'll be good--"

He's near tears. (He's ruined this -- the best thing he's ever had--)

Permalink Mark Unread

“Shh. You’ve been very good.”

He keeps on petting him.

“Is something painful? Are you suffering from time to think? Have you, perhaps, left the oven on?”

Permalink Mark Unread

...he has to laugh. It makes tears spill over, just barely.

"--the second one, Valentine."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Well. That seems like a solvable problem."

He is very dedicated to petting.

"Anything I can put to rest for you?"

Permalink Mark Unread

The petting is so good. Tension spills off of Jean and pools metaphorically on the floor.

 

Softly: "...why this?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Why this task, you mean?"

He drums his fingers on the top of Jean's head, thoughtfully.

"...because it seemed dramatically appropriate. Because it's a satisfying reversal. Because, to tell you the truth, I've always wanted to do it to someone... Because I'm currently spending quite a bit of time practicing admirable self-restraint. Because you're lovely as a piece of furniture."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Oh..."

He melts, as Valentine speaks, relaxing completely until he's almost entirely supported by his bonds.

"Thank you, Valentine."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You also happen to have an excellent mouth."

He strokes his hair again, then his cheek.

"Will you be able to make it until dinner?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean whimpers softly; he’s returned, at some point in the conversation, to a state of painful arousal. 

“Yes, Valentine, please.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"I'm glad to hear it."

His fingers comb through Jean's hair one last time.

"Did you drink, earlier?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"No, Valentine." It seemed unwise, given that he doesn't know how long he'll be here or how often Valentine will take him to the bathroom.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Best not to let you dry out."

He reaches aside, and then puts a cup of water up against his lips.

Permalink Mark Unread

There's something incredible about that: himself, utterly helpless; Valentine, offering him this small work of mercy. Valentine could drown him as easily as tipping the glass a little farther, but Valentine is giving him water to drink instead.

Jean doesn't have much choice, really, but to drink until Valentine decides he's done.

Permalink Mark Unread

He gives him the entire glass, slowly and steadily tipping it up until it's drained.

"There you are."

He begins to undo the buckle on the collar.

Permalink Mark Unread

He feels a little overfull, by the end. It seems on-theme for the day.

"Thank you, Valentine."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You're very welcome."

The collar comes off, replaced by the strap.

Permalink Mark Unread

He relaxes happily into it. (It's so good. It's his favorite thing.)

Permalink Mark Unread

And then there's the blindfold.

 

You could call it loving, this time. There's always a hand in his hair.

He still chokes him at the end, down his throat completely, but he pulls back at the last minute, comes over his tongue.

Permalink Mark Unread

The aching has become throbbing, by the end; the restraints preventing him from so much as squirming to rub against his own pants are actively torture.

Valentine coming in his mouth is blatantly, wonderfully a gift. He can only bear to swallow it because he wants that, too, to have Valentine inside him as much as he can get.

Permalink Mark Unread

He’s checked — pet — left.

 

The next time Valentine returns, there are fingers in his mouth again.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean sucks them, eagerly, showing off all the tricks of tongue and lips he's had no chance to display until now.

Permalink Mark Unread


The blindfold comes off.

“Very talented. Where did you learn that, I wonder...?”

He hasn’t taken his fingers away.

Permalink Mark Unread

Then Jean has more urgent things to do than responding. (Like sucking Valentine's fingers while watching Valentine's face. It's a minor miracle in itself.)

Permalink Mark Unread

He enjoys himself for a good minute or so before he pulls his fingers from Jean’s mouth.

“We’re going to feed you now.”

The strap comes off, and the collar goes on.

Permalink Mark Unread

To anything else, he'd object. But there's no objecting to Valentine feeding him.

"Yes, Valentine, thank you."

Permalink Mark Unread

The straps come off, one at a time, and then he helps Jean to his feet.

Permalink Mark Unread

He stumbles, slightly, and looks very annoyed with himself about it.

Permalink Mark Unread

It might help, when Valentine catches him, just as slightly as he stumbles.

“All right?”

Permalink Mark Unread

He only barely has the self-control not to lean into it more than he needs to. 

“—of course. Thank you.”

Permalink Mark Unread

Then he'll help him out of the room, one hand on his waist.

Permalink Mark Unread

It’s an exercise of will, walking so close to Valentine, to resist the temptation to steal more touch by brushing against him. 

(The hand on his waist is already the center of his world.)

 

Permalink Mark Unread

When they enter the kitchen, the table is already set.

Cato is seated, drowning in an oversized sweater and halfway hiding behind Brave New World.

There's a place set in front of Cato, and a place set for Valentine. Jean's place is apparently at a folding tray set at the base of the table. There's a pillow on the floor beside it.

Permalink Mark Unread

...oh.

(Valentine's hand on his waist might catch a small, quickly-suppressed shiver.)

"...reading, or re-reading?" he asks Cato, casually.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...Re-reading."

He starts to fold over the corner of the page – catches Valentine's face, and digs in his pockets instead.

"Haven't stopped hating it since last time."

There's a slightly bitten mechanical pencil in one of his pockets. He deems it an acceptable bookmark.

Permalink Mark Unread

"Do tell."

He's still standing. He wants to kneel at the place which -- must be set for him, surely -- but, without an invitation, it feels presumptuous.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's just – smug."

Permalink Mark Unread

Valentine is watching him.

Permalink Mark Unread

(He likes Valentine watching him. It's terrible.)

"How so? -- I don't disagree, mind, I'd just like to hear your thoughts."

Permalink Mark Unread

He nods, and thinks about it, twirling his fork between his fingers.

Permalink Mark Unread

"You may sit down, if you'd like."

Permalink Mark Unread

He folds to the cushion immediately, eagerly, legs crossed tailor-fashion.

Permalink Mark Unread

"It's so..."

He stabs a green bean with a slight excess of force.

"Look at all those stupid people who want to not–be in pain, or die in childbirth, or whatever. Look at how fucking unvirtuous. I hate it."

Permalink Mark Unread

"You could stop reading the book, you know."

Permalink Mark Unread

"No. I want to hate the entire thing."

Permalink Mark Unread

"A second time."

Permalink Mark Unread

"My reading comprehension is better."

Permalink Mark Unread

"What changed?"

It's surreal, to be here with them in the dining room, to be sitting on the floor, to be discussing literature.

(Surreal: above the real. Better than the real.)

Permalink Mark Unread

“I was sixteen last time.”

Permalink Mark Unread

“I think it’s perfectly reasonable either way.”

He takes a bite of pasta, hums in satisfaction to himself.

Permalink Mark Unread

He carefully averts his eyes from the sight of Valentine eating; waits for Cato to start before he touches his own food.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...why do you do that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"--you told me to."

Permalink Mark Unread

“...what?”

Permalink Mark Unread

"...the first time we ate together. You made me stop looking at him."

Permalink Mark Unread

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t do that.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"But you did. You kicked me."

Permalink Mark Unread

He thinks back, tries to remember.

 

“—you weren’t eating anything. I don’t care where you look.”

Permalink Mark Unread

"--oh."

He'll eat blindly, then, eyes fixed on Valentine.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

 

Okay maybe he cares a little.

Permalink Mark Unread

He feels very admired.

He doesn’t enjoy his food any less for it.

Near the end of the meal, as Cato brings his plate to the sink, he picks up a sliver of potato delicately between his fingers and holds it out towards Jean.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Somehow, this is better than anything else he's been fed today.

Jean leans over, carefully, hands neatly behind his back. He doesn't indulge himself -- doesn't let his lips do more than brush Valentine's fingers -- but he makes it beautiful, and he doesn't try to hide what it does to him.

Permalink Mark Unread

It’s rich and tender, falls apart in his mouth, leaves just a trace of heat behind.

Valentine is watching him.

Permalink Mark Unread

 

In terms of simple flavor, it's quite possibly the best thing he's ever tasted.

He lets that show, too.

Permalink Mark Unread

“...you flatter me.”

Permalink Mark Unread

He can’t summon words, but he shakes his head violently: not flattery, never flattery. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"I wouldn't have thought this was an exceptionally good night, myself..."

He looks contemplative, pets Jean slowly.

Permalink Mark Unread

He leans into the petting, eyes fluttering shut.

"I ... wouldn't know..."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

"...how is that?"

Permalink Mark Unread

"Nnnnnot usually ... paying ... attention..."

Permalink Mark Unread

 

 

"Is that so."

Permalink Mark Unread

"Mmmhmm..."

He's quite lost in the petting.

Permalink Mark Unread

The petting has, quite abruptly, ceased.

Permalink Mark Unread

Jean lifts his head a little to blink up at Valentine, mildly alarmed.

Permalink Mark Unread

Valentine is very occupied with something in the middle distance.

Permalink Mark Unread

"...is something the matter, Valentine?"

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He looks to be somewhat at a loss for words.

"...please pay attention in the future," he manages, clearly inadequately.

Permalink Mark Unread

“...what, every time?” he asks, as if Valentine can’t have possibly meant that. 

Permalink Mark Unread

"...excuse me?"

Permalink Mark Unread

Every meal? The whole time? Forever?

Permalink Mark Unread

"I – as opposed to what, exactly?"

Permalink Mark Unread

“...not paying attention? Reading? Having a conversation? Watching you?”

Permalink Mark Unread

"...then it takes active effort for you to know what something tastes like."

Permalink Mark Unread

“...I suppose?”

He’s at sea with this whole line of questioning. 

“I’m simply — not paying attention to it, usually, any more than I am to — the seams of my clothing, or the floaters in my eyes, or the number of tiles on a floor.”

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He takes a deep breath.

“Did you...happen to notice any of it, during the last meal at the country house?”

Permalink Mark Unread

Caro is watching this entire exchange across the table as if it’s slow-motion footage of an immersion blender accident.

Permalink Mark Unread

It’s slowly dawning on Jean that he’s done something terribly, terribly wrong. 

“I ... don’t think so? If it was ... like this ... I think I would have remembered, sir.”

Permalink Mark Unread

 

He sits, for a few minutes, looking distant, hands shifting slowly in his lap in a motion that can only with difficulty be identified as wringing.

Then he stands up.

"I," he announces, "am going to take a walk. Cato, please look after the house."

He leaves the room at once.

Permalink Mark Unread

Permalink Mark Unread

 

Well.

That ... was not the end to today he'd been hoping for.

 

It feels wrong to stay here. Sitting here is a privilege.

Jean silently sets about gathering up the dishes from dinner, stacking them neatly. He leaves them for Cato to take to the kitchen to be washed.

Permalink Mark Unread

He doesn’t quite make it out of the dining room.

“...sorry, what?