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Bianchi had accepted the assignment with an expression so perfectly blank that Takeshi hadn't been able to help being impressed by her sangfroid. She gave Takeshi a long look when it had become apparent that he was the only real option for her partner and shrugged. "Okay," she said. "I can work with this."

"Great," Gokudera had muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Now, for God's sake, don't tell me anything else about it."

Takeshi didn't have a sibling of his own, but he supposed he could see why Gokudera would maybe not have wanted to know anything about this: Bianchi was a beautiful woman, and right now that was even more apparent than usual. Sort of. The leather actually covered up most of her skin—the boots went all the way up to her thighs; all that really showed was a span of creamy skin maybe the width of a man's palm. Maybe. And the—thing, corset, bodysuit, Takeshi didn't know what to call it—covered her torso pretty well. The front of her torso, anyway. It plunged in the back, and man, Bianchi was built; there were muscles going on in her back and shoulders that he'd never suspected of being there. They moved smoothly under the switch of Bianchi's high ponytail—much longer than usual, straight as a blade and black now, and he had no idea how she'd made that happen without the Mist—and somehow that and the fact that she had gloves up to her shoulders made that expanse of bare skin all the more fascinating.

Frankly, between Bianchi's get-up and the wide band of leather wrapped around his throat, Takeshi was finding it difficult to get a decent breath in.

Not that he was sure he wanted to take a very deep breath. The air they were moving through was too warm by half, thick with the scent of heavy incense and, not to put too fine a point on it, sex.

Takeshi considered himself a pretty cosmopolitan sort of guy, certainly wasn't a virgin, and had engaged in what he'd previously thought of as some moderately kinky behavior in the bedroom. But. Some of what he'd seen from the corners of his eyes as Bianchi had led him into the Pirocchi's house party suggested that as far as all that was concerned, he was nothing but a rank beginner.

(Tsuna had said, forehead creased, "I won't order you to do this, but—this is the only way we know we can get anyone in for sure, since the Varia are going to be busy with the warehouses."

Takeshi laughed and said, "Don't worry so much, I don't mind. It'll be fine.")

If Bianchi was all covered up, Takeshi felt rather exposed. Maybe, as he'd joked, her outfit had borrowed from his and that was why there was so little of it left. It mostly consisted of a harness that crisscrossed his chest for what Takeshi suspected—hoped—were purely aesthetic, not practical, reasons. There were a set of thick leather cuffs wrapped around his wrists and another around his ankles; both sets had rings attached. Thanks to their little walk through the rest of the party and some of the things he'd gotten a glimpse of, Takeshi had a lot clearer idea what those rings were for now. They'd made a concession, sort of, to modesty, which was why he had a set of briefs on that made it pretty damn clear why they were called briefs.

What really made him feel naked was his hands: Bianchi had his rings, though Takeshi had pretty much no idea where she was keeping them. Their absence made him feel far more stripped than the fact that he was walking around in the skimpiest pair of underwear in the history of such things—more vulnerable, even, than the weight of the eyes he'd felt running over his skin and the admiring murmurs he'd caught fragments of as Bianchi had led him around, his leash wrapped carelessly around her fist.

The thing was, their mark was somewhere in this crowd, one more member of this strangely anonymous group. Takeshi didn't know how they were supposed to find her when nearly everyone had some kind of mask on, fancy like Bianchi's or minimalist like his. He didn't know how they were going to manage their job, either, considering, but Bianchi moved through the place like she owned it and had told him to leave all that to her. Maybe that made sense; he was here more as a prop or an accessory than anything else, maybe backup in case things went to hell. He didn't have much choice about it now, anyway; he followed along after her, eyes dutifully lowered, which—he didn't know if that was good, to keep him from seeing everything going on around him, or bad, since he could hear perfectly well and his imagination kept wanting to suggest reasons for the things he was hearing. Sure, there was music, something low and pounding, but that didn't cover up all the grunts and the moans, the sounds of blows landing on flesh or the occasional squeal or cry.

And he'd seen just enough things from the corners of his eyes to give his imagination plenty of material to work with.

Sometimes Bianchi stopped to observe something; a few times she exchanged conversation with other—other guests, he supposed. The things they talked about mostly didn't make sense to him, may have been in code for all he understood of them. He listened for the phrases that Bianchi had drummed into him, code words to tell him how their hunt was going, but so far there hadn't been much.

Eventually Bianchi brought them through a pair of velvet curtains. This new room was crowded; she wove their way through it. When they stopped it was in a little open space. The gesture she made then was one they'd worked out ahead of time; Takeshi knelt in obedience to it, keeping his eyes on the floor, skin prickling a little as he wondered what they were going to do about their mark, now that they were close.

Something whistled through the air close at hand and landed on—bare flesh, by the sounds of it. A man groaned, sudden and open, in response, practically in Takeshi's ear. He couldn't help starting or glancing sideways. There was a table maybe half a meter from them and a man spread out across it; he was naked except for his mask and he was gripping the ropes that had his hands tied down. His knuckles were standing out white against his skin; that sight stayed with Takeshi even after he'd remembered himself and jerked his eyes back down to the floor. Well, that sight, and the shape the man's mouth made as he panted, and the movement of the—he didn't know what it was, it had a lot of tails—that was raising the welts on the man's back.

The man groaned again; Takeshi curled his fingers against his knees, listening to the harmonics of it and wondering at them.

His field of vision was narrow, consisting mostly of the carpet. Someone stepped into it—whoever it was had tiny feet encased in glossy, pointed-toe boots with impossibly high heels. Somewhere up above his head, someone laughed, sweet and soprano. "Isn't that adorable?" Something touched Takeshi's cheek, tracing it. He couldn't manage more than a glimpse of it, but it was long and thin and dark. A riding crop, maybe?

He held himself very still.

The tension of his leash changed a bit as Bianchi turned. "Isn't he?" She laid her hand on Takeshi's head, running her fingers through his hair. "Their first time always is."

Whatever it was, a crop or—whatever it was, she stroked it against Takeshi's mouth. "Is it really his first time? No wonder he looks so excited."

Takeshi would have flushed if he hadn't already been too warm from the blood-heat of the air, because anyone would have been showing a reaction in a place like this. But that was part of the role he was playing too, so maybe it wasn't worth being worried about.

Bianchi's laugh was—he hadn't ever heard her laugh quite like that, so rich and satisfied. "Indeed. Poor thing. I think he's a little overwhelmed." She flexed her fingers against Takeshi's scalp, short pressure and long pressure flickering back and forth, though he supposed he didn't really need her to spell it out. He'd been there for the briefing on their mark and her tastes. "I promised him we would play a little as long as he behaved, but..." The leash tugged at his collar as she shrugged. Takeshi leaned into it. "He's been an angel, but I'm afraid he'll find it a little much."

The crop left his chin, stroked along his shoulder. "It would be a shame to disappoint such a good boy, especially on his first outing." Takeshi twitched; it was because the man on the bench cried out just then, his voice hoarse, and not because of—not because of anything else. "Perhaps what you need is a little more privacy."

Bianchi made a sound like she was mulling it over; her fingers beat a tattoo against his skull.

Takeshi glanced up at her, doing his best to look both shy and yearning. He was pretty sure the nervousness was coming naturally. "Please, Mistress? Please, can we?"

(Takeshi laughed, a little disbelieving. "What, seriously? I have to call you that?"

Bianchi wasn't smiling. "While we're under, you had better not just call me that. You had better mean it.")

Their mark was tiny, encased in the same patent leather as her boots. Her hair was gold, tumbling over her shoulders, and she was one of the few people not wearing a mask. Just now she was raising an eyebrow. "He is new to this, isn't he?"

"He's young." Bianchi shrugged, running gloved fingers along Takeshi's jaw. "It has its compensations. More privacy, you say?"

"I can arrange a private room." Their mark's pretty pink mouth curved. "On the condition that you allow me to enjoy the proceedings."

("What we know is that she never leaves the Pirocchi house," Gokudera had said. "Too many people have tried to grab her." He looked pained. "But she has some pretty specific tastes and hosts, um. Parties. Big ones. If we could get someone into one of them, that might do it."

They'd all looked at each other, wondering who would be able to do such a thing. Then Reborn had glanced up. "You might ask Bianchi."

Gokudera had sputtered for a solid ten minutes.)

Bianchi took her time pretending to mull the offer over. "A private room... and an audience of one." She stroked Takeshi's hair. "That seems like it might be an acceptable compromise."

Their mark made a delighted sound. "Splendid! Why don't you follow me, then?"

Bianchi gestured; Takeshi rose obediently and followed them along. Their mark led them out of the crowded room, through a short corridor, and then through a door. Takeshi didn't notice any security, though perhaps there were cameras. The noise of the music fell away as they moved away from the public rooms; when she shut the door, it fell away completely. Soundproofing, Takeshi thought; the Pirocchi sure liked to keep their pet weapons developer happy.

"Are you sure that we won't be bothered here?" Bianchi inquired, while their mark locked the door. "And that it's completely private?"

Their mark tossed her head. "Of course it's private." She laughed again, light and tinkling; it was an odd sort of laugh for someone who'd come up with the single most diabolical set of weapons Takeshi'd dealt with since the future-that-wasn't. "This room isn't even on the house security system. No one will bother us until I give them leave to."

"Well, that makes things depressingly easy." Bianchi dropped the leash and went straight for their mark. She didn't use poison cooking—too obvious, Takeshi supposed—but it was over quickly anyway.

"I don't even know why I'm here," Takeshi said when she was done.

Their mark had managed to knock Bianchi's mask askew; she pulled it off and tossed it aside. "To look pretty. Help me move this."

Takeshi stooped to take their mark's arms. Bianchi got her legs; together they lugged her away from the door and tucked her behind one of the room's pieces of heavy furniture. Unconventional heavy furniture, benches and other things that Takeshi couldn't suss out the purpose of. It was almost too bad, Takeshi thought, folding their mark's arms across her chest and closing her eyes, but then—well, they'd all seen what kind of damage the things the Pirocchi were trying to distribute were, so it had to be done. With any luck, the CEDEF people were already deleting records and blueprints and the Varia were making hay at the Pirocchi's warehouses and they'd all been fast enough to nip this in the bud.

He left their mark where she was; Bianchi had picked up her mask and was dangling it by its strings. "What would you have done if she'd said we'd be disturbed?"

"Tied you up and started the show." Bianchi glanced over her shoulder and snorted at the look on his face. "What, you knew that was possible going in."

Takeshi looked away from her. There was a sideboard with an array of—implements—laid out on top of it. "Did I really?"

"Mm. Come to think of it, probably not." Bianchi drifted over to the sideboard, inspecting the things laid out there. "I suppose it's one of those things you have to experience to really understand." She picked up one of the things—some kind of whip or something—and sighted along the length of it.

"No kidding." Takeshi couldn't quite help the way he was watching her handle the whip, which was stupid of him, really. Their mark was dead; the chances of his having to go through with the role he'd put together for himself had dropped so far as to be nonexistent. And yet that didn't stop him from asking, "What would you have done?"

"I already told you—" Bianchi stopped and looked at him. Seconds ticked past; then she tilted her head just a bit. "Do you really want to know?"

Takeshi nodded.

Bianchi's mouth quirked as she set the whip or whatever it was back down again. She folded her arms across her chest; that and some trick of her posture made her suddenly seem to be standing taller. "I said, do you really want to know?"

"Yes." Takeshi saw the look in her eyes and added, "Mistress?" after it, uncertainly.

It seemed to have been what she wanted. She nodded. "Better." Her eyes traveled across the room, returned to him, and moved up and down his body. She came away from her place by the sideboard. Takeshi couldn't help thinking that even the way she moved had changed, had turned into a prowl. He tensed when she approached him, but she kept going right past him. "Here." Bianchi laid her hand against one of the benches. "I would have told you to lose the underwear and to lay down on this." She walked around the bench, contemplating it—no, looking for something. She found it and hauled it out from beneath the bench: a cushion of some kind, covered in vinyl or something. "I would have put this under your hips."

Takeshi stared at the shape of it, long and triangular. "Why? Mistress?"

"So your ass would be in the air. So you wouldn't be able to move." Bianchi drummed her fingers against the cushion while Takeshi swallowed, feeling the shape of those words as they took root in his imagination. She strolled around the bench again, trailing her fingers up the padded length of it. "There are restraints, see?" She pointed to them, one set at the head of the bench and the other at the foot. Anyone bound by them would have found his hands under his chin and his legs spread wide, held open by the width of the bench itself. Takeshi found that he needed to swallow again, thinking about how that would have felt.

Bianchi glanced at him again. "This would have been a first time," she noted. "I would have kept it simple." She gestured at the sideboard. "Maybe used some of those on you. Or maybe just spanked you till your ass turned red." Her shrug was elaborate; it folded a multitude of possibilities into it. Takeshi's mouth ran dry just from considering them. "I wonder if you would have liked that?" Her voice had dropped lower, turned silky. "Being bent over and tied down for me, with no choice but to take whatever I decided to give you. Would that have gotten you hard for me?"

"I—I don't know, Mistress," Takeshi managed.

Her eyes narrowed. The look in them made his spine crinkle. "That's not an answer."

"I'm sorry, I—it sounds—I think I could, Mistress," Takeshi breathed, uncertain and fumbling for the right answer. "I haven't—I've never done anything like that. So I don't know."

Bianchi considered that and snorted. "You're thinking too much for this." She looked him over again. "Your cock likes it, anyway."

"I'm sorry, Mistress?" Takeshi ventured, certain that he was blushing all the way down to his shoulders.

She waved that aside, the gesture impatient. "I think you would have liked it." She all but purred it. "I think you would have made the prettiest noises for me while I worked your ass. I think you would have gotten as hard for that as you are right now." Bianchi smiled, eyes moving up and down his body, lingering on it like a caress. "I think you would have begged for me when you decided you couldn't take being held still any more, once you thought you'd die if you couldn't get some friction against your cock." She lifted her eyes to his; Takeshi couldn't have looked away from them if his life had depended on it. It was like her words were a spell weaving itself around him until he could almost feel himself spread out for her, could imagine his cock trapped against that cushion, how it would feel to have no way to move to relieve the pressure on it. "Would you have begged for me, Takeshi?"

"Yes," he breathed. "Yes, Mistress, I would have."

Bianchi's mouth curved, the perfect red bow of them gleaming. "I think you would have," she agreed. "But that wouldn't have been the point. You don't get to choose. I do." Her smile stretched further. "I would have kept you there," she said, soft as velvet slipping over skin. "Right there on the edge, begging me till you were hoarse, till you were promising me the world if only I'd let you come, but I wouldn't give you the word till I was ready for it. Because that's what this means. I decide, not you. You do what I say."

That made him moan; so did the way she studied him. Takeshi could feel himself trembling, hard enough that he was dizzy with it, dizzy with imagining himself giving himself into her hands so completely. Bianchi looked him over again, slow, and smiled again, expression almost tender. But her next words were as sharp as the crack of a whip. "Now. Come for me, Takeshi."

Before this, he would have said that it was impossible to get off just from someone talking to him without even touching his cock. But the command hit him like a fist to the gut, driving all the breath out of him. Orgasm slammed down on him, driving him under the force of it, pushing him to his knees as pleasure seized him and his cock pulsed in his briefs. Takeshi caught himself on one hand, hunched in on himself, gasping and shaking and stunned blank by the surprise of it.

Bianchi stepped closer. Takeshi lifted his face to stare up at her and gasped when she reached a gloved hand down to cup his chin. "Good boy," she said, softly, and smiled at the sound he made.

He didn't know what to say, so said nothing. Bianchi held his chin and his eyes until his breathing evened out. Then she nodded, releasing him, and was suddenly ordinary Bianchi again. "It's time to get out of here," she said. "No, don't try to clean up. Adds verisimilitude."

Takeshi nodded and pushed himself to his feet, knees still trembling. Bianchi fixed her mask in place again; he waited until she'd tied the strings of it off before he found the end of his leash and offered it to her, silently.

Bianchi regarded it, and him, and didn't move to take it. Takeshi kept holding it out to her until she said, slowly, "I think that you and I must talk, once we're off-duty."

Takeshi wet his lips. "Yes, Mistress."

"A long talk," Bianchi said. She reached out to lift the leash out of his hands and wrapped it around her fist.

"Yes, Mistress," Takeshi said again, and let her lead him where she wanted.