It wasn't Fitz anymore. Burrich felt the first wild flush of elation falter and flutter and finally gutter as Fitz's quickened corpse snarled and drooled and snuffed at the air like something feral.
Chivalry Farseer had taught Burrich how to be a man, and in return he had failed Chivalry's only son at every turn, and finally taught him to become a beast. Fine recompense indeed. Bile rose in his throat. He could not bear to look at Chade and see the uncertainty in the old man's face.
Fitz lay ill for a long time, and Burrich tended him with the quiet efficiency he would have directed at any beast under his care. Outside the wolf was waiting, and often the wolf's miserable howls cut through the night air. He could feel the creature imploring him, pining for his boy. Nighteyes. Almost Burrich began to hate it. Him. But whenever that thought occurred to him his anger dissipated – it was no fault of the wolf's that Fitz had been born Witted, or that they had been drawn to each other. Burrich had never hated anything on four legs, and he would not begin now. He could not blame the beast for loving his boy. But he came close to hating himself, as he watched Chivalry's son move like a wolf in boy's clothing and wondered what folly he had wrought.
He spoke to Fitz all the time, hoping that understanding would eventually animate the boy's features – all the words he had never voiced flowed from his lips now in an unceasing stream, as though some vital dam had been ruptured at last. He spoke of everything, hearing himself mouth inanities about the weather and recite old receipts for healing balms, hearing himself paint Chivalry and Patience in words he had never used to their faces. Hearing himself spill secrets into the boy's uncomprehending ear, willing to offer up anything now if it might bring FitzChivalry back to himself. Memories painful and shameful and bright he unpacked in the quiet of their hut and offered Fitz awkwardly, hoping they would spark some answering memory or interest in the lad.
Sometimes he thought that the boy was beginning to recall speech and human ways, but then the wind would change, or a bird would alight on the window ledge, and suddenly he was all wolf again.
Burrich had thought, once, that he understood suffering. His had been a harder life than most, and there were pains he would not think on or speak of to anyone. Gaining Chivalry. Losing Patience. The bitter rightness of finding her his lord's lady. Losing Chivalry.
All of that paled besides the sight of Fitz's face in that dungeon. He had been beautiful, had Chivalry's son – every bit as beautiful as his father. And more than that, he had been Fitz. Burrich's in a way that Chivalry never was, for good or ill. A responsibility, a gift, an irritation. A source of pride and annoyance and an ever more disturbing reminder of Prince Chivalry Farseer as he had once been. Beautiful. Or he had been, before Regal's thugs were loosed upon his frail young flesh. The bloody parody of Fitz's beloved face had been a shock and a horror that Burrich had wrongly believed himself braced for. The expression on those battered features when Burrich spat upon him – when Burrich cursed him and rejected him and poured all those words of drunken bitterness down upon him – this was a memory that haunted Burrich now. Misery. Guilt. Failure. Despair. Such a hideous procession of naked emotions on Fitz's abused face, and all Burrich had wanted to do was take the words back, tear down the walls, gather the boy to him and keep him safe from it all. But he did not. He could not. He had will enough, but no power to enforce it in Regal's court.
He had been so afraid that the boy would die. Terrified beyond reason, beyond morality, beyond everything he had thought he valued and held dear. Regal had taught him that everything was dispensible after all – honesty, integrity, everything except FitzChivalry Farseer. Chivalry's son. His own boy. His Fitz. And so he had urged this last, most desperate, most despicable ploy – that the boy give over his soul into Nighteyes' keeping, for a time. That the boy become the beast. The very thing he had feared all along – but in the end he discovered that it was infinitely preferable to letting the boy die.
Fitz stirred in his sleep and whined softly in the back of his throat, his hands twitching for all the world like the paws of a puppy dreaming of hunting rabbits. Burrich's tongue stilled, and he asked himself once again what he had done.
The seizures were erratic and pitiful, and as Fitz's young body spasmed helplessly, Burrich fantasized a host of lingering deaths for the boy's uncle.
"There, Fitz. Good lad, there's a good lad," he muttered, wrapping his arms around the twitching limbs and hating Regal with all his heart. The pained incomprehension on the boy's face cut him to the quick. He didn't understand, had no notion of what had brought him to this pass, of why his body betrayed him thus. But Burrich knew, and knew that he must have once had it in his power to keep Chivalry's son safe from the wretched uses his king had found for him. There must have been a point at which he could have said no, a time when he could still have fled and kept Fitz innocent of all the sordid skills they taught him.
The tremors passed, as they always did. Fitz's arms and legs remained clenched tightly around Burrich's body as though he were the sole stable and solid thing left in a treacherous world, but Burrich felt the tension in chest and limbs relax very slowly. He knew that Fitz, or the wolf thing that now dwelled within his skin, no longer trusted his own body. Long after the last shudder had ended the boy remained miserably wrapped around Burrich, his scarred face buried in the hollow of his collarbone. His breath was hot and moist through the fabric of Burrich's shirt, and it was some time before Burrich even realised that the lad had fallen asleep.
He lay there for hours after the first soft snore sounded against his chest, feeling the fragile pulse of life quiet and steady in Fitz's once-dead body, and sleep eluded him.
The first time it happened, Burrich crossed the room in two swift strides and cuffed the lad so soundly that he fell back hard upon the dirt floor in a startled and ungainly sprawl. His eyes, gazing up at Burrich, were huge and baffled, and he panted, his tongue lolling slightly from his lips. His hand slipped back out of his breeches and he raised it uncertainly, a placating gesture but with all the fingers bent into claws. For a moment there was a flicker of fire in the lad's eyes, the beginning of a snarl contorting his soft mouth. Faster than thought Burrich hunkered down, straddling the lad's waist and deftly pinning his wrists to the floor beside his head. The boy growled. Burrich growled right back.
"You don't do that," he said clearly, in a dark voice that brooked no defiance. "Not in front of others." Heart of the Pack mastering an unruly pup, every inch of his body expressing his will and his readiness to enforce it. He could feel the anger and frustration singing through the young sinews and muscles under him, and he braced himself for a fight, knowing he would win, wondering whether he was relishing this, in some dusty corner of his soul.
After a long moment Chivalry's son arched his spine and let his head fall back, baring his throat. The plaintive whine that he made was no fitting sound for any human creature, let alone a Farseer. A chaos of conflicting emotions seized Burrich, and he could hardly keep from trembling as the warmth of the body beneath him gradually soaked into his flesh.
"It's not – appropriate," he said awkwardly, unable to bare the honesty of silence between them. And this was nonsense, in a way, for he had been a soldier and he had shared living quarters with large groups of men. There had been no room for secrets or privacy. "Not when there's light," he amended. "Not before other people." As well chastise a dog for licking its balls, he thought with sudden hopelessness. But FitzChivalry Farseer was not a dog, and in time he would know it.
The boy was still hard, and Burrich could smell his arousal very clearly in the quiet hut. Could feel it pressing against him. They sat very still. Burrich knew that he was much too close, and he was certainly going to move in a moment. Fitz's gaze was locked upon his own, and Burrich couldn't help following the path of Fitz's pink tongue as it darted out to wet his lips. He felt the boy begin to squirm under him, and there was an instant when he thought that this was going to be another tussle for mastery, an attempt to win freedom. But it wasn't. He gasped, his shock unfeigned as Fitz began to rub urgently, hopefully against him, and then in one appalled movement he had released the trapped wrists, cuffed the boy again and flung himself away as if burnt.
"You don't do that," he shouted again, although whether he was speaking to the boy or to himself he was not sure.
Burrich emptied a bottle of blackberry brandy that night, and his dreams were full of the Fitz's father. In the dreams, Chivalry's face was scarred, and Burrich knew it was his fault.
The second time it happened, the lad was on the very cusp of coming when Burrich unlocked the door and stepped into the hut. Slitted eyes met his, glassy with lust, pupils dilated so wantonly wide that each iris was reduced to a fragile ribbon of colour bound around the darkness. His father's face, battered and bruised but beautiful despite it all. Burrich felt the force of it like a kick from a plough horse. His treacherous eyes darted at once to the jutting flesh that Fitz had freed from his breeches, and which Fitz was handling with an almost brutal efficiency. For a moment he could not breathe.
"Stop that." His voice was like a lash, breaking the urgent rhythm of the lad's hand for a moment. The boy who had once been FitzChivalry Farseer snarled at him and resumed his task. "You are NOT a beast," Burrich insisted, as if the words might make it so. He was dry mouthed as he crossed the room to wrench Fitz's hand away. He felt the lad's gaze sliding shamelessly over him as Fitz quickened his rhythm to a frantic pitch. Burrich's hand closed on his wrist just a hair's breadth too late, and the sudden splatter of wet heat against his skin shocked him into stillness.
They stared at one another, Fitz's breath warm against Burrich's face and the stink of sex in the air. He should, Burrich knew distantly, cuff the lad. Hard. He needed to learn that this was not done, was not acceptable behaviour for a Farseer, even a bastard Farseer. He needed to learn how to be human again. Instead he released his grip on Fitz's wrist very carefully, and pulled himself away from the boy. The back of his hand brushed fleetingly against the boy's wet and wilting flesh, and the accidental contact sent a jolt through both of them.
"Oh, Fitz," he rasped, the name torn from him. It was almost a plea, although to whom and for what he was not sure. Burrich backed away, stumbling all the way to the door. Fitz watched him lazily through slitted eyes and gave a vast and guileless yawn. He rolled over, doglike, as Burrich closed the door behind him and leaned back against it, staring blindly out into the dusk. He was, he realised, shaking like an old man with the palsy. Or like a bride on her wedding night.
He was also achingly hard.
This could not go on.