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There’s a certain irony in their family reunion ending here, in the belly of the beast, squaring up with a devil. Julius laments his own melodramatic imagery, but the reds and blacks of his father’s clothes, the sharpness of his haircut, the slick grin—they aren’t lost on him either. That man might as well be some kind of demon, and were he not already convinced of it, his ensnarement of Ludger would’ve sealed the deal.

It’s his own fault, of course. All of it, this included. This is just another in a long list of sins on his conscience, punishment realized as a toxic kind of dread for whatever reprimanding Ludger now faces. He just had to step in and beg him for his trust. Ludger just had to listen.

The others have been escorted out. It’s him and Ludger now, facing Rideaux and Bakur in that too-quiet office, too expansive for the single desk at its head. Their father stands behind it, Rideaux stands before it, watching Julius with a sick excitement glinting over his eyes.

“What do you want?” Julius asks calmly. His hands are still cuffed behind his back, but damn it all, he’s not about to let Ludger get any more involved with these men. Not if he can help it.

Bakur, in all his arrogance, does not respond. He stares out the window, hands clasped behind his back, chest puffed, authoritative, even in his pointed ignorance. Rideaux leans against the desk, kicking out a lanky calf, tossing his hair, brushing a hand thoughtfully along his chin.

“Just thinking of a suitable punishment, is all.” He sounds painfully nonchalant. Julius can feel Ludger tense beside him. “You both have caused quite a stir,” His smirk turns into an ugly grimace “And you might as well do it together, since you love each other so much.” There’s bitterness in that last part, an obvious sort that prompts Julius roll his eyes. He wants to tell him to shut it, to leave his grudge for some other day. Keep Ludger out of it, you fuck. But that’s just the thing—Ludger is here, and Julius remembers that he doesn’t even know the severity of their situation. Speaking, he realizes a bit too late, is risky. A creeping panic starts to gnaw at him, as if he’s already pushed them over the edge without even knowing.

Rideaux sneers back at him, but thankfully, doesn’t take it as a challenge. He straightens his posture and looks back to Bakur.

“Please?” He asks. There’s a terrifying edge to his voice, and its cadence tells Julius he’s right, he’s made one too many mistakes this time. His stomach ties up in a knot and he drops his gaze. Ludger’s eyes tickle the back of his neck with all the worry he cannot express. It makes Julius feel even sicker.

“Ludger,” Bakur says. “Come here.”

“H—huh?”

Julius’s shoulders slump. Sometimes, it takes Ludger a second to process words. Fine, not a problem, shouldn’t be a problem—but god, Bakur won’t like that.

“…Come here,” He repeats, stern, as Ludger makes a soft ‘oh’ halfway through the sentence. Ludger obeys, hesitantly walking to the other side of the desk, no doubt self-conscious of each movement as Julius and Rideaux’s eyes follow his walk. He stops several feet from Bakur, standing rigid, eyes focused on the ceiling, the floor—anywhere but the man himself.

Julius is so absorbed he doesn’t notice Rideaux lurking over to his side. The expression on his face is—odd, to say the least. Dark. The mood has changed—Julius’s head and heart race, dizzy with a terribly abrupt understanding of what’s happening here.

“Wait—“ He tries to step forward, but Rideaux has one hand on his arm, and another on a knife pressed to the hollow of his throat.

“Don’t even try,” He whispers into Julius’s ear like he did when they were young and dumb, strung out and fucking each other in dirty inns, lavish fractured hellscapes. He sounds aroused, thrilled even, and that scares him more than anything.

Bakur has moved from his place by the window, now before Ludger, holding him by the shoulders. Julius struggles to keep his eyes on him, unable to crane his neck for a better view. Even like this, he can see disorientation overwhelm Ludger, and it makes his skin prickle. He can’t tell who’s actually shaking—him or Ludger. Both, probably.

The tension snaps. Bakur’s hands shift to Ludger’s arms, pinning them behind his back and slamming his cheek into the desk. Ludger screams, short and sharp. Julius tries to look away this time—but the knife guides him back. Their breaths both come ragged. Bakur fixes one hand in Ludger’s hair, the other pressing his hands together. There’s no way Ludger can overpower him—Bakur is easily larger than most, Ludger is easily smaller. It’s like a vulture eating a sparrow. He’s going to break.

“Ludger—“ Julius hoarsely repeats his name, desperate, as if he can stop this. He can’t. Ludger is dazed, squirming and coughing for air. Satisfied, Bakur clenches the fist in his hair and pulls him from the desk. He views him for only a moment, then starts at his clothes, tie fluttering to the floor, suspenders drooping at his sides. Julius wants to throw up. He thinks he might, but every time the bile rises, the knife presses closer.

Ludger is conscious, but limp, supported only by Bakur’s arm, one snaked around his waist to keep him aloft. He runs his hand down Ludger’s cheek with his free hand, and cups his chin, as if to admire an art piece. Ludger gives a weak kick, but it only serves to prompt the hand away from his jaw with a jerk. Bakur narrows his eyes and makes a shushing noise, then slides a hand under his shirt, forcing open the buttons from the other side. Ludger stops his struggling, cries replaced by a bitter, involuntary moan. His shirt falls open. Reality sets in, and Julius crumples as their father runs his hands along the length of Ludger’s body, across his chest and down his slender waist, nose pressing against his neck.

“Stop—“Julius finally growls. “Not him. Please. Not him.”

Bakur pauses, looking towards Julius. His face is calm and stony, save for a hint of sickness in the way his mouth curls into a somber frown. Without breaking his gaze, he bites Ludger’s ear, then drags his mouth along his jawline, until he reaches Ludger’s lips, and forces him into a strained kiss.

With that, Ludger finally seems to break. He recoils, eyes wide and vacant, repeatedly trying to pull away, Bakur forcing him back with hands and teeth.

Rideaux is laughing, but it sounds tinny and distant in Julius’s ears. “It has to be him, you dumb fuck!” He sounds broken, hysterical. “This is your punishment.” He quells his laughing just long enough to lean forward, and, almost tenderly, stroke Julius’s cheek. It’s more a feint than anything—Rideaux is quick to push him to his knees, his free hand woven into his hair, forcing the back of his head against his dick. Julius shudders, trying to ignore it. It’s not hard. The world by now has closed in; all he can see is Ludger.

Ludger. Ludger. Ludger.

He slumps against Rideaux at the sound of a zipper and a restrained sob. Ludger’s face is red and wet with tears, legs and feet bare, still squirming under Bakur’s touch as best as he can. He’s fading fast—no—Julius realizes, his glasses fogging up. There was never any hope in the first place

They’re closer now. Ludger is thrown to his knees, stunned. He’s shaking his head ‘no,’ his lips tight. Julius feels his body quiver against Rideaux and his knife, and despite himself, he cries out, pitiful, ashamed, childlike in his despair.

Bakur ignores him—ignores both of them. He grabs the back of Ludger’s neck, earning him a short cry and a fresh welling of tears.

He says something. Julius can’t hear it. There’s a terrible beat of silence, Ludger’s dizzied stare searching for the meaning.  It’s like they’re children again, with the way Julius yearns to scream at him, force words into his mouth. Talk, Ludger, talk—just say anything—dammit—and maybe things won’t go sideways, maybe you can be spared iota of joy.

Ludger doesn’t respond. He couldn’t possibly.

“…I figured.”

Bakur forces himself into Ludger’s mouth. Julius half chokes, head jerking forward. His glasses fall askew, prompting Rideaux to neatly fix them with the tip of his knife.

“Oh, come on. You have to enjoy the show, Julius.” He hisses, leaning down. Julius grimaces, and spits on his shoe.

Fuck off, he thinks, that was you once. But Rideaux wouldn’t care, would he? His interest lies solely in the preservation of his own sick skin. Rideaux only proves it when he scoffs and kicks him with the same foot.

Yet it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. Watching is more painful than Rideaux’s kick, more painful than it has any right to be. Bakur uses him like a toy, Ludger unmoving, offering nothing but a mouth to use, a pain from which Bakur can reap his joy. Julius’s mind is blank. He just needs to wait it out—no, Ludger needs to wait it out. No, better still, he prays Ludger will faint and wake up thinking it was nothing but a bad dream.

He’ll take it all on alone if he has to. He’s done it before and he can do it again—he just needs— needs more than anything—some way for all the shame and hurt to be relinquished onto his shoulders. He needs Ludger to forget. Ludger can’t live with this—he doesn’t deserve to bear this.

His eyes snap back into focus when he hears a pained cough and sputter, then a nauseating sound of vomit. Ludger trembles, crouched over and coughing, spit and otherwise dripping from his mouth, and Julius wants to believe for a moment that it’s over.

But their father stands erect, and he takes his bastard son by the hair and drags him up and around. Ludger’s cries are loud and pained, worse than Julius has ever heard. Bakur forces him back over the desk with a dull thud that knocks the wind from Ludger’s lungs.

The shrieking stops. They hang there in a pained silence, waiting for the other shoe to drop, two against two, or all against one. Julius closes his eyes—squeezes them shut—and waits.

He opens his eyes.

Ludger’s lips part, blood and spittle dripping from them. His eyes widen, then glaze over. He falls eerily silent, barely making a noise with each thrust that carves his body. His head sinks, fingers slipping against the surface. A low whine fills Julius’s ears, then a scream. He wants to close his eyes again, but the noises pile up, a laugh, a scream, a grunt, Ludger’s name on his tongue. He wonders, for a fragment of time, his head in a fog, his throat raw, if this is what it’s like to live in Ludger’s world, where noise reverberates and you can’t tell when you’re screaming and when you’re whispering.

No. That’s foolish.

No matter what he does, no matter what he thinks, no matter how hard he tries to see the world through his little brother’s eyes—he can’t swap their places. He’s nothing but a cruel and selfish man, pretending he can understand what he cannot, twisting Ludger’s self into a shield, crying not for the rape of his brother, but for his witness to it. He is party to it, to their flesh and blood eating his flesh and blood like a snake and its tail.

Maybe he’s not so different, marginally better, with nothing but tenderness separating him from his father. Words once spoken echo in his head—“he belongs to me now.” Had he not been so possessive, so preoccupied—would they not be here now? Could they have escaped? Vile noises punctuate his thoughts, turning memories of shared beds and kisses into stains of a sick man who fucked his little brother again and again and pretended it never happened.

He tells himself that Ludger wanted it too. He begged, he smiled, he questioned (again and again) why they’d never say a word come morning. Is that all an excuse? He wonders if he’s just saying the same shit their father would.

He’s his older brother, after all. He should know better.

Even that cannot stop him from leaning forward, just enough for the knife to hurt. He searches for Ludger’s eyes, desperate to offer comfort, no matter how flimsy.

“I’m here,” He croaks. “Ludger, I—”

Ludger tries to speak. Half a sound escapes, but it is choked back by Bakur’s hand thrown against his mouth. He presses his chest flush with Ludger’s back, shirt stained dark from sweat and holds him there, placid smile against his ear.

“…So that’s what it takes? To make you talk?” He murmurs between breaths, ersatz mildness slathering his words. It’s just loud enough for Julius to hear. It’s purposeful as it is disgusting. 

Ludger’s gaze quivers and drops. If any sound escaped, it was quickly extinguished by the hand clasped tightly against his lips.

Bakur’s expression twists. He grunts his displeasure, and slides his hand from jaw to hip, grinding his teeth, squeezing Ludger’s skin. Then he goes blank, and sighs. “...I had hoped you’d be obedient, not slow.”

There’s not much to resume. It’s over in less than a minute, each jerk more vicious than the last, pain and pleasure of his victim coming in ever-duller gasps. He’s little more than a ragdoll when Bakur finishes, inside of him, torturously silent. It’s over.

Bakur is, again, saying something, pulling himself from Ludger, reaching for a handkerchief. Rideaux is laughing, again, although the timbre is now strange. His knife is gone, an arm laced under Julius’s chin instead, as if to grip him in excitement, or maybe disgust. Bakur tuts, as if repulsed by his son’s deficiency. Ludger doesn’t move.

They’re walking. “Leave him,” Bakur says, nodding towards his elder son.  Rideaux’s giddiness fades back into a hard charade as he grunts, landing one last hard kick to Julius’s back.

“What?” Rideaux’s voice is dry and stilted. His boot trembles against Julius’s spine. “Why?”

“Because he needs to convey a message.” Bakur gazes down at Julius where he kneels, pity and disgust in his eyes. “I think he can imagine what it is.” Rideaux’s foot leaves his back, and they keep walking. “Clean up. Vera will be with you shortly.”

The cuffs unlock as the door seals shut. On unsteady legs, Julius rises. Ludger still hasn’t moved. He feels a lump rise in his throat.

“Ludger?” He calls. “Ludger, I—please say something.” He rounds the desk, shuddering when his feet catch on an orange tie.  “Ludger—“ He doesn’t know what his hands are doing, but they move, gingerly grasping Ludger’s arms and easing him from where he lay slouched on the desk. He feels smaller than usual, matted and fragile.

Slowly, Julius eases him to the ground and wraps his arms around his shoulders, delicate in each movement. He’s shaking violently, a dazed look stuck in his eyes. Blood and semen run down his legs, pale and twiggy, painfully slick.

“Julius,” He mumbles, folding in on himself. “Julius…” It turns into a cry, his face falling, nose buried in the crook of his neck.

“Shh, shh, shh, I’m here,” He rubs his back and holds him close, trying to fix his shirt as best as he can. They don’t have time. They never have time.

Ludger is mumbling, begging him not to go. Julius knows that’s a promise he’d never be able to keep, leaving him nothing to offer in return. He steels himself, turns cold, and pulls away. Like clockwork, Ludger begins to shake with fervor, mouthing a plea. Julius has to pry his hands away.

It hurts more than anything. He lowers his gaze. There is silence, save for Ludger’s breath, unsteady as he tries to stop his crying. Then Julius kneels, and starts to work. He buttons his shirt and flattens the wrinkles with his hands, then cleans the filth from his legs, using his own jacket in the absence of a washcloth. He can’t bring himself to have him turn over. He doesn’t want to see it.

While Julius works, Ludger fixes his bracelet between his teeth and bites. Finally, he is silent. He gnaws on it until his breaths even out, then reluctantly drops it from his mouth to wipe his chin with the heel of his hand. It comes up red, stained by the cut on his lip.

“Your friend’s a doctor?” Julius asks as he buckles Ludger’s suspenders. “Jude, was it?”

Ludger nods. He keeps one hand firmly braced against the desk, and sways only a little. It’s visibly painful, even to stand.

“I—“ He hesitates. It’s risky, but Bisley is wrong—Ludger is sharp. He can and will adapt. “I want—I need you—to see him as soon as you can.” Ludger’s brow furrows, his gaze drops. He’s scared, maybe ashamed. “Make something up if you have to. I don’t know what. Just don’t let him know who—who did this. Do you understand me?” Julius finishes with his tie, knot pulled taut, pin replaced, and steps back. Ludger’s gaze is frantic and uncertain.

“Ludger?” His voice is firm to the point of sounding severe. It scorches his tongue. “Ludger. Do you understand me?”

“I understand.” He replies, though his voice is small and tumultuous, head lowered, hands in fists. His eyes are red and his lips are cut, a brush of purple blooms just above his cheekbone, around his neck and wrists. He looks like shit. He smells metallic.

Julius can’t help but feel this is just one more betrayal. He shouldn’t be leaving him alone—especially not now. The guilt overtakes him and he lapses, pulling Ludger close and clinging to him, like his body is a raft in a world where neither is meant to survive. He buries his face in his hair and wants to say “I love you,” but it feels like a selfish thing to do. Maybe even cruel.

While Julius overanalyzes, Ludger’s arms encircle his waist, and for just a moment, they grip the back of his vest and shirt with fear and desperation and—maybe, he wants to think, affection, despite it all.

He’s probably just imagining things. Useless brother he is, this is all he can give.

The door opens, and Ludger’s arms fall away, another Kresnik lost to their war, lost to their father. Julius can only stand tall and surrender himself to prison.

“Mr. Kresnik,” Vera’s voice comes from the other side. “…May I come in?”

“Go ahead.”

Shit.