Beauty no longer takes him by surprise. For the centuries that he has lived, he has had beauty surrounding him, has had it take him by the throat and choke him. Beauty no longer touches him because he has seen the ugliness that beauty can cover up, he can see that beauty is sometimes no more than a facade, knows that beauty is more often than not used as a weapon and has been surrounded by those that wield it like a master. Nathaniel is beautiful, but his beauty is hardly more than a drop in an ocean.
No, what arrests him is not the fact that Nathaniel is fair of face. It is not the silk waterfall of auburn hair, or the startlingly exotic lavender eyes. It is his submissiveness that has Jean-Claude stilling like a predator scenting its prey, it is his weakness that has Jean-Claude sit up and take notice. It is his fear, his worry, his vulnerability. His pain, his brokenness. In a group that is filled by those with a tragic history, Nathaniel's pain stands out because it is an open wound that bleeds and bleeds and does not stop and Jean-Claude... well, Jean-Claude is a vampire. He cannot help but be attracted to blood.
Nathaniel's history is not the worst, not by far. He is also not the most scarred by it, though he is certainly among the top. Still, he is crippled by it. Anita tries to heal him, tries to soothe him, tries to make him normal, to make into what she believes to be whole, but his petite bourreau does not understand. She is part of their world, yes, but yet she is wholly separated from it. She is too human, too American, too clean to fully understand. She sees Nathaniel as unfixable, as paralysed. She sees him as less of himself.
She does not understand that his predilection for pain is not what is broken about him. She does not understand that while his background is certainly the reason for the lengths it has come to, that Nathaniel is not damaged. No, but Jean-Claude does, he sees the imperfections in Nathaniel. He sees the cracks and fractures and missing shards but he also sees that Nathaniel is whole. No, the bondage, his want, need of pain is not due to his past.
He is merely a putain de douleur.
Nathaniel was born craving the redhot flash of pain, born to need restraints, to feel tied down, controlled and pushed beyond his boundaries, beyond his body. Nathaniel was born to need the sting of the lash, the crack of the whip. His body is a perfectly tuned instrument, only waiting for the right musician and Jean-Claude... Jean-Claude is a maestro. And as a maestro, he sees Nathaniel's potential. Sees what Nathaniel is made for. The only part of that which is damaged is Nathaniel's inability to see what is too much, too far.
He only wishes that Anita could too see the beauty, the perfection that he does. Jean-Claude knows, though, that were he to approach her, were he to tell her what he sees, she will not understand. She will be confused and outraged at what she feels his belittlement of Nathaniel. Anita doesn't realise that it is her own inability and disinterest in understanding this part of Nathaniel that is what belittles him, that never allows that confidence, that thread of steel that otherwise Anita has helped instill in him to grow true and strong.
It is not his place to say anything, so he keeps silent. It is not his triumvirate that Nathaniel belongs to, after all. While they share Anita in common, they are separated. The only power Jean-Claude has over Nathaniel is that of his employer, and the Master of St. Louis. Nothing more, nothing less. So he leaves it be. He trusts in Anita and Micah to give Nathaniel what he needs - if not to thrive, than at least to survive. He trusts in Micah at least to give Nathaniel what he really needs at least some times, because Micah is truly part of their world. Micah understands in ways Anita will never understand.
Jean-Claude forgets, sometimes, that he overestimates Anita. He loves his petite, but he forgets how stubborn she is, how possessive and unfair and jealous. He forgets how narrow minded she can be. He does not blame her, not everyone can be a shifter and need a shifter's closeness. Not everyone can have lived for so long that morality has bled out from its black and white and merged into grey. He forgets when he is lost in her softness, her heat, her passion, how she only allows him herself, her body. Only allows him to take his pleasure in her, but she goes where the wind takes her, where her magic takes her, and he allows her to move freely because he understands what the ardeur is like, what desire and passion is like and he is far more open with her than she with him.
It irritates him, sometimes, that she holds him back. He feels like a pet kept chained to her side while she plays Master in his city. He allows her as much as he is able not because he is weak, as some of his enemies believe. He allows Anita her freedom because she is his weapon, because it is a small price to pay and Jean-Claude is a great believer that the ends justify the means. He lets her believe that she has him cowed, that she has him controlled, but he and those under him know that he is the true Master. He loves her, yes, but he is responsible for the lives of those who answer to him, responsible for the safety of his city and he takes that seriously.
Nathaniel is his, simply because he takes residence in St. Louis. Anita might be his Nimir-Ra and Micah his Nimir-Raj, but Nathaniel is his in the way that both Anita and Micah are his and so when Nathaniel goes into work dark eyed and listless and lost and a little too much like the broken child he once was, Jean-Claude is angry. He is angry at Anita because he knows what's wrong. He knows why Nathaniel is not whole and the reason is Anita and that is not something which he can let go of. That is not something that he can ignore.
He goes to Micah first, but the wereleopard only looks at him sadly, resigned.
"It's Anita," Micah said, softly. Like the words are synonymous with what can you do? and you know how it is and that's how she is and it is. It is all those things and Jean-Claude wants to explode, wants to rage and scream because Nathaniel is sitting curled at Micah's feet and he doesn't even look up once, doesn't even acknowledge that they're talking about him. He is so angry that Anita refuses to see what's right under her nose, what's screaming at her in her face that when she steps into the house with her clothes wrinkled and stained from a full day's work, dark shadows under her eyes and her steps heavy with tiredness, he doesn't even think as he slams her into the wall, eyes glowing with power, lip curling in a snarl.
"If you do not want to dirty your hands doing what must be done," he hisses, fangs gleaming against his lips. "Then give him to me and I shall do what you so despise doing. Give him to me before you break his spirit even more."
And Anita looks at him bewildered and shocked and hurt but because he's looking, Jean-Claude sees the guilt that flashes into her eyes and his fingers tighten against her shoulders. Nathaniel lets out a little sound, eyes wide in his too pale face, lips going bloodless with fear and that fear is echoed in Anita's eyes, the words I can't let him/her go almost audible in the air and Jean-Claude lets out an oath of frustration, abruptly letting her go to pace, hands going to shove agitated fingers through his hair and that is the biggest sign of his displeasure, that his mask has slipped so fully, so obviously. Micah just watches with his characteristic quiet stoicism, but Micah is clever, Jean-Claude has never doubted that. He knows that Micah understands, even if Anita and Nathaniel do not.
"Not forever," he finally snaps, but his tone is tired. "A week, at most. At least let me take him so that he may restore his strength. Ma petite, look at him. Look at him."
And Anita does, her eyes widening for a split second before her eyes goes dark and sad and her shoulders slump. She rubs her face tiredly, trying to physically chase away her jealousy, her denied homophobia, her insecurities and Jean-Claude has always both loved and hated that her feelings show so openly on her face. Finally, though, her feelings for Nathaniel win and she looks up, scared and small and vulnerable and nods. Jean-Claude doesn't give her time to change her mind, just swoops in to kiss her, hard, before he turns to Nathaniel, gives him a look that's enough to make him stand even without a vocal order.
"A week," Jean-Claude promises her, smoothing his hands through her hair, tipping her head up so her eyes meet his squarely. "I will return him to you, whole."
"Take care of him," she whispers, and Jean-Claude smiles, leaning forward to just press their lips together. And he loves her, he does. He loves that even with her hangups, her morals, her prejudices, she loves enough to go against everything she knows for those she cares for. He goes to Nathaniel and places a hand on the young wereleopard's back, leading him to the door and then he grips him before he flies, takes Nathaniel with him in the unnatural method of vampires to the Circus of the Damned.
He bypasses the rooms for the staff, leads Nathaniel straight to his own private chambers. Leads him to his private room with its tall shelf of tools, filled with the equipment they will need. He waits, and when Nathaniel stands and looks to him for orders, he steps closer, tips Nathaniel's chin up until those exotic eyes met his. His fingers caresses Nathaniel under his chin and the young man shivers, eyes dark and lashes fluttering. His body is so tight, so tense, his full mouth dropping open so immediately that Jean-Claude feels pity stir in him. He pushes it away, because in this room, there is no place for pity. There is only order, only compliance, only power. There is only pleasure: the pleasure from following an order, the pleasure of gaining a reward from listening to orders, the pleasure of pain.
There is only acceptance.
"You are not a martyr," Jean-Claude tells him, softly. Nathaniel's eyes focuses slightly on those words, the softness sharpening. "You are not wrong or dirty. I will not do this for my own pleasure. I am doing this for ours. Do you understand me, mon chat?"
"Yes," Nathaniel says, but there is doubt in his voice, in his tone, and Jean-Claude's mouth firms in displeasure, his grip on Nathaniel's chin tightening until he winces with the pain.
"I'm not quite sure I believe you. And I don't believe I gave you leave to address me so casually. Now, I will ask again; do you understand me?"
Nathaniel takes a moment to answer, inhaling sharply, but Jean-Claude prefers that. He prefers that he thinks, that he realizes, that he understands. Finally, Nathaniel nods, and it is sure.
"Very good," Jean-Claude murmurs. "Give me a safe word, mon chat. Do not disobey me," he continues, tone sharpening slightly and Nathaniel's eyes immediately drops, his posture immediately submissive. Jean-Claude jerks his chin roughly, forces him to meet his eyes once more. "I don't believe I told you to look away."
"No master, forgive me," Nathaniel says, immediately.
"Good. Now a safe word, ma beauté. And you will use it, Nathaniel. By the time this night is through, I will make sure of that."
"I won't – "
"I'm not asking you," Jean-Claude interrupts, silkily. "I am telling you. You will use your safe word once tonight. Only once, and that will be the end of our game tonight. But you must know your own limits. I have made a promise to Anita to return you whole."
"Anita," Nathaniel says, immediately. Jean-Claude's brows furrows in puzzlement and Nathaniel's voice quietens as he continues. "My safe word. It's 'Anita'."
"Then 'Anita' it is," Jean-Claude agrees. "Remember, Nathaniel. The real Anita will not appreciate it if I returned you harmed."
"Good." Jean-Claude runs the back of his fingers over Nathaniel's cheek, a bare caress. "I will take care of you, Nathaniel, make no mistake. I will take very good care of you." Nathaniel shivers, and Jean-Claude allows himself a smile. "Go to the crux decussata. Wait for me."
Nathaniel obeys immediately, naked back and perfect ass on display before he presses back against the x-frame. He lifts his arms in readiness, legs spread, and Jean-Claude moves, bending down to secure his ankles first. He stays down, smoothing his hands over Nathaniel's thighs, feels it trembling against his hands and he digs his nails hard into skin, hard enough to bruise. He hears Nathaniel's whimper, and there's no pain in it. He smiles as he leans in, tongue flicking out to trace over the red marks left on milk skin, dragging a fang lightly, making Nathaniel's whimpers gain in volume.
"Silence," he orders, and Nathaniel immediately does so. He looks up, sees Nathaniel's teeth biting down on his lip to keep back the cries and he smiles, wide and satisfied and awards Nathaniel with by closing his hand around Nathaniel's cock, stroking the hardening length of him lazily before finally getting to his feet. Nathaniel's wrists are pressed hard against lacquered wood, and Jean-Claude presses his lips to the thin skin of the inside of his wrist, presses his fangs there, feels it prick the skin, tastes the first drops of blood. Then he fastens the padded leather cuff before moving on to the next.
He pauses just before he pulls the snaps into place, looks at Nathaniel in the eye. "This does not make you wrong. Your desires do not make you dirty and tainted. Nathaniel, your needs… it does not mean that you are broken. This does not mean that you are trying to prove something. This is just you. This is just need. This is just pleasure. Do you understand that? You may answer me."
"I know, Master."
"Do you?" Jean-Claude shook his head slightly, mouth turned down. "I do not think you do. Not truly. Anita doesn't understand, mon chat. That is the only reason why she does not embrace this with you. It does not make you wrong or dirty in her eyes. She simply does not understand."
"I wish she'd try," Nathaniel whispers, the words fast and hard and bitter, but he sounds surprised. Jean-Claude isn't sure if the surprise is for saying them, or that they were there to say in the first place. He suspects that Nathaniel does not know, either.
"She needs time. She has already adjusted to a great deal in such a short amount of time. She has grown. She will learn. We will make sure of it."
"I want… I need her to do this for me, but she can't. She can't and she looks at me like I'm wrong, like I'm crazy for asking her for it but I'm not, I'm not, I just need it, I just… I want it. There's – "
There are tears in the cat's eyes, and Jean-Claude realizes that he is closer to the breaking point that even Jean-Claude has realized and his stomach tightens in sorrow. He's glad that he had given in, that he had asked, now. Any more, and Nathaniel really would be broken, impossible to fix. Jean-Claude cards his fingers through Nathaniel's long, long hair, then tips his head and kisses him. Despite the stiff leather around Nathaniel's wrists and ankles, despite the authority he obviously wields over Nathaniel, despite what they are going to do, the kiss is tender, soft. He bites at Nathaniel's lips, slides his tongue over the fullness of them before Nathaniel opens to him on a moan that sounds like a prayer. Jean-Claude rubs his thumb in soothing strokes over Nathaniel's cheekbone.
"You're so strong, ma beauté," Jean-Claude whispers against his lips. "So strong. I do not understand how you can be so, but I am glad for it, because it has kept you here with us. Let me show you, Nathaniel. Let me show you how much stronger you can be."
"Yes," Nathaniel says, sobs, a sound of stark relief. "Please, yes."