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The Faithless God

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Kolya had known the second he stepped into his quarters, knocking mud off his boots at the door, that he'd been made. An augur was sitting at his desk, papers strewn across the floor. Kolya didn't know him beyond occasionally shepherding him through the battlements with his basket in tow — sometimes offering to carry it, because the augur was a slip of a man with a slim figure and a pointed, foxy face. Now, however, that face had a grave, contemptuous look on it, and Kolya's last thought before the men behind him pulled the bag over his head and cinched it tight was did they get Vitale too?

*

He woke up to the fuzzy sound of nearby voices, trying to remember when he had fallen asleep. But he could smell blood, and taste it too. Probably hadn't fallen asleep by the fire with his boots on or down with the recruits with his head on the table.

He remembered then, how he'd fought — he'd always told himself he wouldn't fight when they came for him, but when everything had gone dark, it was all he'd known how to do, until they'd coshed him on the back of the head. Kolya opened his eyes, but found darkness, his eyelids brushing against cloth. The blindfold was tied so tight he could feel its edges cutting against his cheeks when he moved. The voices were swimming through the fog, both familiar. He was lying face down on something hard and unforgiving, a solid line of wood underneath him, with his hands and legs lashed together underneath like a pig on a spit. The image was unsettling. He tried to move, and found no leverage, the wood under his thighs chafing at his naked flesh. He was naked, splinters pressing gently against his chest and arms, warning him not to move.

"He's awake," the voice said, and he knew it was the fox-faced augur, his name surfacing from under the pain welling up in Kolya’s head. Augur Thei, who had always had a red blush to his cheek, and barely met Kolya's eyes. Footsteps came forward — a pair of them, the first light and the second heavy and sure. "Are you awake?" Thei said, poking ungently at the back of Kolya's shoulder. "We know who you are." Kolya didn't answer, just held his tongue and repeated his mantra in his head, ignoring how the poke turned into a slide, then the slight warmth disappearing, goosebumps rising in its wake. "They really don't talk?"

"No," the other voice said, and Kolya had to bite his tongue until blood seeped against his teeth. They'd only met once, and it was only to exchange names and faces. Vitale. So they had caught both of them. He didn't know the man, not really, except for the notes tucked deep into the roots of the withered almond tree at the edge of the camp. Vitale had a sure hand, letters inked deep into paper, muddy fingerprints marring the edges, smudging the neat lines of figures, details of the excavation. "They don't talk. It's very hard to get them to crack."

"But you've done it before," Thei said, and Kolya couldn't escape hearing the unsteady note in his voice, like a barely held-back laugh. That wasn't right; augurs took an oath against harm. He'd seen them do it, one morning before the sun rose, heavy clouds laying low. They’d knelt in the mud and pledged their blood to the blood of others, or some such nonsense. He'd busied himself with cracking the ice on the battlements that had grown overnight and tried to ignore their chanting. Memory was no refuge.

"Yes," Vitale said. "That's why I'm here." His voice was warm and slightly burred with an accent, each word deliberate. Kolya heard the question, and it was his question too: why was Thei there? If Vitale could get him to leave, they could work something out, organise his extraction. Kolya bowed his head against the rough wood and tried not to relax. If Thei noticed, Vitale would have to kill him.

"How do you do it?" Thei said, and there was an accompanying soft scrape of metal on stone. "With this?"

"Only if you want to kill him," Vitale said, and then there was a beat, and he laughed softly, so quiet that Kolya barely heard it.

"This?"

"Not to start," Vitale said. His footsteps went away and then came back. "Most wouldn't start this way, but I prefer it." Kolya swallowed, tried not to brace himself. He didn't know what it was, how to anticipate it, but the first touch was Vitale's hand, big and warm, palm down against the bare skin of his back, and he couldn't help flinching, full-bodied, his thighs scraping against the wood. Light steps came closer, and somehow he could feel the eyes on his back, like a farmhand looking down on a lame horse. His muscles tensed and he fought the urge to try and buck against the ropes and the wood, to try and knock Vitale's hand away. He couldn't remember the last time he had been touched on bare skin. The light pressure disappeared, and Kolya tried to breathe. "What do you know about him?"

"Not much," Thei said. "Just worked with the recruits, I think. You know, sometimes I thought he was a bit sweet on — "

Something hit Kolya across the back, wide and hard, enough to knock the breath out of him, its tail curling around and licking across his ribs. Kolya could hear his body working, the laboured gasps, but all he could feel was that wide, dull pain, the shock of it reverberating around his body. The pain of it anchored him down into his flesh until he could feel every bruise from the fight, the strain in his legs from training, the broken-open knuckles on his left hand. The second hit followed, half an inch below the first, and he only had the sound of it in the air to let him know it was coming. He tried to relax — he'd been trained to relax — but his body rejected the instruction, and the belt came down again, his lungs seizing, the top half of his body radiating heat and pain, his hips kicking downward with the blow.

Reprieve — he couldn't draw breath, like his lungs had been crushed down against the wood, and when his breath came, it rasped loud. He couldn't fathom how Vitale had laid him low in just two strokes. It felt like he was hitting him with a plank, but a plank wouldn’t curl across his ribs to kiss hot on the other side, lashing directly against his bones. He could feel both marks, perfectly spaced half an inch apart, as if Vitale had etched a target there while Kolya slept. He rocked a little against the wood, unable to stop himself. It felt like one long bruise across his back, and the motion stretched it, his muscles protesting at the ache.

"I thought you'd start with the small one," Thei said. "Work your way up."

"No," Vitale said, and then the third blow came. This time, it came with no warning, no sound that was louder than the sound of Kolya's breath, which turned into a yelp with the impact, rattling his heart around his chest, with that same, hot mark matching down his ribs. He inhaled five, six times, but no breath caught against his lungs, all of them seeming to stream right back out his mouth. His eyes were wet, tears seeping down into the blindfold. It had slipped a little, and he could just see a flickering spark of light above his left eye, wandering in the water. "Someone that doesn't know what they're doing might."

Thei tutted at that, as if he was perturbed by Vitale's rudeness, and the sound was so out of place that it was making the room spin, Kolya’s entire body lit up with bruising heat that Vitale had kindled. They'd never discussed this — of course he'd been told what to do if he was captured, but not if it was Vitale's hand with the blade. He damned himself for that brief moment of feeling safe.

Burning pressure that made him gasp — Vitale's hand sweeping over his work, thumb digging in over each mark on Kolya’s ribs as if to test his aim. Kolya whimpered, trying to nudge the pathetic sound down into the wood that was beginning to feel wet from his mouth, blood and spit mixing. It was like he wasn't even there. No sound he made had drawn any reaction from either of them. Vitale hadn't even asked him a single question.

"Pass me that," Vitale said, and he could hear Thei rushing to obey — there was almost a skip in his step. He rocked against his bonds a little, testing if Vitale had given him an out. Couldn't he get rid of him? There was no give in the knots, no dead-tree loop that he could spring. He moaned a little against the wood, trying to send a desperate signal to Vitale — get me out of here! No response came. Something whistled through the air, and he flinched, pulling at the ropes with all his strength. They only tightened, clasping down on his wrists hard enough to bruise, each attempt running them rough across his entire body. The wood didn't even move, bolted down deep into the stone — or maybe he wasn't moving at all, even though he thought he was, and it was just a weak, ineffectual twitch that would make Thei laugh. "Careful," Vitale said, and then Thei did laugh, and something thin and hard licked across Kolya’s back in a diagonal stripe, and he felt it land slowly, even though he knew it was fast, lighting up the bruises on his flesh like they were three separate tines, made discrete by the seconds between each of them.

This time Vitale didn't pause for breath or to let Kolya recover, caning him for five or six strokes until he lost count, his mind somehow removed from his body, the pain being generous and letting him drift. He could smell crushed herbs and damp wood, hear it sputtering in the braiser. Was Vitale still hitting him? He couldn't tell. His own harsh breath was mixed with Vitale's, until he felt like there was no air left in the room. It was something thin and flexible, and each lash felt like a cut until he was sure that blood must be pooling on his back, but he couldn't feel it.

"Let me try," Thei said, breathless. He hadn't spoken in so long that Kolya had almost managed to forget he was there, as if it was just him and Vitale in the room and he could make of the situation what he willed — that Vitale needed practice in his role, or that Kolya did, to be tested until he broke. It wasn't real — it was a fiction that he'd drawn up to protect himself, and he pushed it down again. "Like this?"

"Like this," Vitale said, and the same swish through the air with no impact followed. Again, he flinched, but he thought, suddenly, that he was flinching at the lack of impact, rather than the promise of one. He'd lost the mantra on the first stroke, and he couldn't grasp it back. Vitale had been practicing well, and for a long time. The switch tapped him on the back, and the light, tentative touch sent a chill down his body, his thighs shaking with the effort of keeping still. Thei dragged it down his back, slowly, investigating every dip of his spine, until it came down to the small of his back, and then slipped over the curve of his arse, lingering.

"Here?"

"If you want," Vitale said, sounding indifferent. Kolya tried not to make a noise, baring his teeth against the wood. That wasn't — they didn't — they'd never stripped him naked in training. Vitale must have been the one that did it, pulling off his clothes with heavy, sure hands. The knowledge rested on the back of his neck. He swallowed. The switch lingered on the curve of his arse and then slid away, the tip poking bluntly against his flesh. It was harder knowing he could tell Vitale to stop than it had ever been in training. There had to be some kind of wordless signal he could send. But would it even be noticed with Vitale standing over him, concentrating only on where the switch would land, his dark eyes travelling the lines of Kolya's body? Maybe he wouldn't stop at all.

The switch came down with a light blow, startling him more than hurting. It felt like a tease, and he shuddered with it, the anticipation of pain leaving him bereft, his stomach tied in knots and his hands clenching on nothing. Vitale had tied him in a way that meant he could not move, and the thought of how he must look, rope encircling his limbs — first a tight restraint and now a cutting pressure — sprang fully formed into his mind. He wondered if Vitale had touched him while he was tying him up, a careful hand on the back of his neck to make sure his head was in place, the flat of his palm skimming down the outside of Kolya’s thigh, up over his hip and then down again, cupping his soft cock — the switch lashed down again, meeting his body on the underside of his arse, just where it began to swell. He yelped, choked on his own spit and bit his tongue, hard, until it felt soft and bruised from his teeth, worried over.

Distantly, quietly, he could hear Thei speaking, his tone still light and amused. "I thought he'd scream."

"It's easy to make them scream," Vitale said. "Harder to extract a genuine confession."

"Is he going to genuinely confess?" Thei said.

"He doesn't need to," Vitale said. "His body will do it for him. Keep trying."

Another crack of the switch against his arse, this time across the widest point, and then again, the lines criss-crossed and overlaid, wandering up onto his hip and back down, each stroke adding a layer of fire to his skin that was threatening to consume him entirely, until he could barely think and he knew he was half-hard against the wood, hips hitching up with each stroke. His mouth was wet and open against the wood, sweat beading on his shoulders and rolling down his neck, each stroke accompanied by a huff of his breath, the faintest keening noise trailing off, his eyes closed so tight beneath the blindfold he could see flashes and whorls of light and dark, colours sparking off each other. His body was just trying to distract itself from the pain the only way it knew how. Vitale was conducting a medley across his skin, even if it was Thei who was holding the switch.

There was a deep silence at the back of his mind that he was struggling not to fall into. If he vanished into it, he might never come back, becoming nothing more than a slavering thing, broken and begging. His hands were forming meaningless symbols, unable to communicate anything, unable to signal. Vitale didn't care. Vitale would carve Kolya's real name into his back and hang him off the battlements next to the other blackened bodies of caught spies, birds pecking at their skin and reducing them to bones that rattled in the wind. It horrified him, as it should, but his body was twisted and turned around, each thought, each new strike on his skin only making his cock harder until he had to fight the urge to thrust down; he could feel how wet it was, a new gush of precome following the thought of how the first press of Vitale's knife into his back would feel.

"I can make him scream if you really want," Vitale said.

"Yes," Thei said, without hesitation. There was a moment of movement behind Kolya, and he was able to catch his breath, bend his head and tug the blindfold half off his left eye, the room swimming into focus. Though he was almost blind with tears, he could see the darkness of the walls, the table to the side of him, his arms disappearing down below the beam of wood. He could see the red abrasions on his arms underneath the rope, the braiser on the wall guttering. Someone touched him from behind, hands on his hips, the grip harder than was comfortable, the rope on his side loosening until he was pushed forward, his weight resting on his shoulders. It pulled at his back until he did want to scream, but there was a flash of movement at his side and he tried to push the blindfold back up into position, but it was too late. Thei was there, looking down on him, a curious sparkle in his eye.

Vitale was behind him, then, his hands hot and calloused against Kolya's inner thigh, the back of his hand brushing gently on the underside of Kolya’s balls. He thought Vitale would touch his cock — grab his cock — he must notice, there was no way he couldn't notice, but instead his hands withdrew again, and a sob caught in Kolya's throat. He wished Vitale would just do it, just seize his hips and fuck him, stop teasing, stop dancing around, pull Kolya down onto his cock so hard that Vitale's hips would leave bruises on his arse — if there was any of his arse left to bruise.

Thei knelt in front of him, reaching out to hook his finger under the blindfold and pull it down until it rested limp around Kolya's neck, sweat and tear soaked. But Thei didn't remove his hand, running his finger over Kolya's cheekbone, then down and over his top lip. Kolya tried to recoil, but couldn't, trapped. Thei's eyes were darting between Kolya's and his mouth, his finger drifting down to press against Kolya’s swollen bottom lip, pulling it away from his teeth until it rolled back of its own accord.

"He might bite you," Vitale said.

"I don't mind," Thei said, and Kolya could see on his face that he didn't, his eyes a little too wide, his smile a little too pointy. He returned his hand to Kolya's mouth, and the pressure of his finger entreated Kolya to open his mouth, let him press inside, but he tried to ignore it. Whatever Vitale was doing, he wouldn't scream. He wouldn't open his mouth, or turn away from Thei's gaze like a coward.

A whoosh of air, and pain exploded in his balls, knotting in his stomach and flooding forward through his whole body. He screamed, the sound bouncing off the wall and right back into his face, ringing in his ears. Numbness settled over him, his balls trying to retreat back into his body, his thighs trying to close to protect himself, Vitale's hand closing over his sack, and it felt wrong, his hand hot and huge. He tugged on them, his thumb stroking over the skin with a surprising gentleness, and then retreated.

"No," Kolya said, voice startling himself with its roughness. "Please don't."

"You're not allowed to talk," Thei said, and leaned forward and kissed him, hard on the mouth, his lips soft but insistent, his tongue forcing Kolya's mouth open, curling against his, sliding wetly against his. Kolya couldn't move his head, couldn't retreat, forced to endure, surrender, his jaw going lax and allowing Thei to do whatever he wanted. Thei withdrew when Kolya was breathless enough to pant, desperately trying to free himself from the ropes. Again, he felt the air before anything else, the tip of the cane flicking against his flesh and leaving a branding line. Kolya didn't scream because he couldn't. No air remained in his body to push out, and it stayed within him, his limbs shaking, pain rolling in waves up through his stomach and into his hands, blood dripping from his palms.

"Please don't," he said, his voice cracked and ruined. There was no mercy in Thei's eyes, but he heard the switch clatter to the ground, Vitale's hands gripping his arse and parting it, fingers probing at his hole. Somehow — somehow — he was still hard, and his cock gave a kick at the pressure against his hole, Vitale's hot thumb rubbing gently at it.

"Why do you think you're hard?" Thei said, inching closer to lick, kittenish, at the corner of Kolya's mouth. "Is it because of the pain? Or is it because it's Vitale, do you think? Have you been thinking about this for years?"

"I don't — I'm not — "

"Vitale was right," Thei said. "At least your body is trying to confess."

Something wet touched against the top of his arse and travelled down to his hole, furling against his hole — Vitale's tongue, sweeping flat and hot against Kolya's hole, his cock dripping down against the wood, and Vitale teased at Kolya's rim with his teeth, pressing gently. Kolya gasped, tried to bow his head, his cheeks burning red, and it wasn't even despite the pain or in spite of the pain, but it was because of it, Vitale's calloused fingers dragging over the cheek of his arse and lighting it up again, squeezing until he whined, Thei capturing the sound with his mouth and biting down on Kolya's lip, worrying at it until it was swollen and sensitive. Vitale didn't stop, his tongue insistent against Kolya's hole until he was rocking between them, unable to stop himself from keening, his cock hitting against his belly, smearing precome there. He could hear the sound of Vitale's tongue, the filthy, wet sound of it rolling against him, into him, Vitale’s thumb pulling at Kolya’s hole until it slid in next to his tongue, the stretch unbearable, like sinking his fingers into a days-old bruise.

"I won't," Kolya tried to say against Thei's lips, and he withdrew, cocking his head.

"Won't what?"

"I won't tell you anything."

"I haven't asked anything," Thei said. "Stupid." And it sounded almost fond. He tapped his finger on Kolya's cheek.

Kolya tried to think. It was almost impossible to make his thoughts come with what Vitale was doing, pressing a second finger in beside the first, not rough, but slow, the stretch wet and painful. He'd never had anything inside him before, and he'd never imagined it would feel good, that he would want to push back against it, Vitale angling his fingers, thrusting inside him. He nudged a spot inside him and Kolya gasped, moaned. His hips jerked and he started to come without realising it.

Vitale reached forward and cupped Kolya's cock, squeezing the head and collecting his come in his palm, Kolya trying to squirm away from the pressure, Vitale still touching him long after it hurt, his fingertips running along the underside, coaxing Kolya back to half-hardness. "Vitale," he said, "please." It came out as a half-groan, Thei turning his head back to meet Kolya's eyes. Vitale was listening, at least, his fingers pulling out of Kolya's hole, leaving only wetness and a sudden feeling of emptiness. His hips hitched backwards — he couldn't help it. His cock was hard again and it hurt, every movement flaring pain on some part of his body, but it was all counterweighted by Vitale, anchoring him down.

There was a moment where Kolya could think, could raise his head to meet Thei's eyes, despite the tears slipping freely from his own. "Why aren't you asking me questions?" That was how things were meant to go. That was how they had tested him, dunking his head in a bucket, slapping him across the face and asking how many spies are in the camp? No one had whipped him. No one had kissed him.

There was a blunt pressure against his hole, hot and thick, and he heard Vitale grunt as he pressed his cock into Kolya, no hesitation, no regard, just one deliberate push, the breadth of it stretching his hole while he moaned and tried to adjust, unable to stop himself squeezing around it, feeling the beat of Vitale's blood inside him, his hands gripping at Kolya's hips, pulling him back until it was all inside, and he was filled, Vitale's cock inexorable inside him, no way to pull forward away from it or push himself back against it, Vitale grinding inside him, his cock sliding against Kolya's prostate, pushing more precome out of Kolya’s cock until it felt like a steady stream.

"Because you already know," he said, cutting himself off as Vitale pulled back and fucked into him in a short, sharp stroke, the pressure of it unsatisfactory, but the slide deep and wet, Vitale pushing inside him like he had a right to it — like he had waited long enough.

"How did you think I knew who you were?" Thei said. "Vitale told me, of course." He looked down for a moment, his tawny, foxy eyes briefly illuminated by a dance of the light. Kolya gasped, and it wasn't just because Vitale had bottomed out again, leaning forward, hands sliding down and around to tug at Kolya's nipples, twisting them hard enough that he cried out.

"Vitale," Kolya said. There was no reaction, except the relentless thrust of Vitale's cock over his prostate, the rhythm unbreakable. "Vitale, please!" Still, no answer, beyond the harsh pant of Vitale's breath, the wet sound of his cock pushing in again and again, the movement knocking Kolya against the wood each time. He realised he was close to coming again and bowed his head. Thei hummed, and moved closer. The ropes around Kolya's hands fell away and Thei's hands replaced them, encircling his wrists.

"If you fight, he'll stop," Thei said. "I don't think you want that. Do you?"

Kolya couldn't have moved even if he wanted to, his freed hands numb and slack, boneless against Thei's grip. Thei massaged his wrists, and feeling began to return in dark tingles. The other ropes slid away from his body and Kolya tried to sit up, but the movement just pushed him back onto Vitale's cock. He was over sensitised, unable to coordinate, and Vitale wouldn't stop.

"What have you done to him?" Kolya said, and Thei laughed.

"Nothing he didn't ask for."

Vitale pulled out and Kolya moaned, the emptiness overwhelming. This was his moment. He could plot his plan from here to the door without lifting his head. Thei was too small to be a threat; Vitale — he had to trust Vitale wouldn't hurt him. They could have killed him by now. He wished they had. He didn't move, his hips twitching, trying to get friction against his cock, which leaked against the wood.

The moment passed, and Vitale was picking him up, depositing him on a mat at the edge of the room. He knew this room — he'd been in here once before to wake a guard sleeping between shifts. But it was blurry at the corners and his head was spinning, trying to hook his fingers into the mat, trying to pull himself away.

Vitale knelt behind him and pulled him back, turned him over. It was shocking to see his face, his dark hair damp with sweat, his eyes glazed with arousal, pupils blown. There was no recognition there — or none that Kolya could understand. Vitale's chest was thick with muscle, tapering down to his waist, his cock hard and red, and wet, wet from being inside of Kolya. He pushed his hips back, tilted them up. But it was Thei's attention he had caught, making a motion to Vitale to pick Kolya up, hauling him up and pulling him back onto Vitale’s cock like he was weightless. The stretch burned, the head of his cock butting right up against and then over Kolya's prostate, and he was coming again, each spurt of come from his cock accompanied by a gasp for breath. Vitale pulled him back against his chest and Kolya cried out, the pressure against the lash marks on his back unbearable. He turned his head up to Vitale, but there was nothing in his eyes except desire, his hips bucking up against Kolya, bouncing him in his lap.

"Make him stop," Kolya said, voice so low he could barely hear it.

"I don't think so," Thei said.

"Your vows," he said. "What about — "

"I haven't taken any vows," Thei said. "Vows made to me are a different story."

"He's loyal to his country," Kolya said, and all his energy went into his vehemence, but it was knocked out of him by a rough thrust. "Please make him stop!"

"He is loyal," Thei said, and walked closer, until they were eye to eye, Thei's hand reaching down to touch where they were joined, his small fingers running around where Vitale's cock was pushing in, stretching Kolya's rim with each thrust. Thei put his hand in the crook of Kolya's knee and pushed it up towards his chest, forcing him to balance on Vitale's thighs. Kolya could no longer tell what hurt and what felt good; the slide of Vitale's cock hurt, but it felt necessary, it felt right to have it inside him. Vitale needed it. Whatever Thei had done to him, he needed it, and Kolya could sate that urge — any urge — just by offering up his body. Thei was smiling, then, his fingers teasing at Kolya's hole, pressing in next to Vitale's cock. "He asked me for something and I gave it to him."

Pain was returning, breaking out in Kolya’s voice, rising high against the ceiling as Thei bent his head to his task, wet fingers pushing in beside Vitale's cock and pulling little by little to stretch him until Kolya was trying to beg and plead, the words meaningless when they came out of his mouth. It didn't matter. Thei didn't stop, didn't pause, except to withdraw his fingers and line his cock up, pressing hard until he forced his way in, his cock not as thick as Vitale's, but longer, pushing in for what seemed like forever. At first there was only pain, blinding him, his head lolling back against Vitale's chest. Thei paid no interest to Vitale's slow rhythm, thrusting in fast and harsh.

Perversely, the pain only made Kolya's cock harder, wetting his stomach with a fresh layer of precome. He thought it might never stop, and it would be hard forever, his world narrowing down to the counterpoint rhythm, Vitale speeding up, hand coming up again to pull at Kolya's nipples, which were red and sensitive, pulling and twisting at them until he had to try and lean into Vitale’s grip to get some relief. Thei grabbed his cock and squeezed so hard Kolya thought he would have bruises or fingerprints on his cock, thumbing at the slit and rubbing at the top with the flat of his hand until it felt raw and sore, Kolya’s hips rolling of their own accord to try and seek pleasure, Vitale's cock bullying at his prostate until he was coming again, shuddering with it, eyes rolling back in his head, the roaring in his ears overwhelming. He was disgusting, belly covered in his own come, sweat rolling down his forehead and under his arms.

Vitale spilled first, hot inside Kolya, his hands pulling Kolya’s hips down and holding him there while he shuddered, gasping against his shoulder. He came for what seemed like forever, hips hitching back up until Kolya could feel it running out of him like they'd fucked him too far open - like he would never be able to close again, just be a thing that Vitale could use, if he needed. Thei followed, the only indication he was coming first a faint gasp, and then he bit down on Kolya's shoulder, the pressure increasing against his bone until Kolya felt his blood running down across his chest. Come squelched inside his hole as Thei pulled out, running down his thighs and onto the mat, spilling out.

"What do you think?" Thei said, and he wasn't talking to Kolya, wasn't looking at him, but looking over him, like he didn't deserve acknowledgment. "Are you done?"

There was movement behind him — Kolya thought Vitale would pull out and whatever would happen next would happen. He couldn't conceive of what that might be. His mind ran into a blank wall, unable to escape the room. It didn't matter, because he could feel Vitale hardening inside him again, his hips starting a slow roll, dragging through the come, the wet sound disgusting.

"No," Kolya slurred, his voice thick with exhaustion. Thei's face was very close, eyes alight with mischief. "Vitale, please, stop."

"He'll stop when he's done," Thei said. "I don't think it'll be for a while yet." Kolya's vision was going dark around the edges, gaze rolling up across the ceiling and catching on the stone, unmoving. "Don't worry," Thei said, and there was a soft sensation across his face, like Thei dragging his thumb along that same path. "You don't actually need to be awake."

*

Kolya woke again, suddenly, his limbs kicking out and finding water all around him, hands skimming across the surface. His first thought was that he was in a mountain pool, where he'd bathed before coming to the plains, but that was fiction, his mind trying to hide. He was in a bath, the water hot and fresh, steam rising lazily from the surface.

"Don't panic."

Kolya turned as fast as he could and cried out, his back pulling hard, dark bruises feeling like they permeated all the way to his chest, his nipples raw and red, his cock feeling bruised, thighs abraded. Tears sprung to his eyes and Vitale wiped them away with a damp cloth, meeting Kolya's eyes. He was himself, exactly as Kolya remembered him, the quiet intelligence in his eyes belying his true quickness of thought.

"Vitale," Kolya said, "is he here — he did something to you." He grabbed Vitale's arm, his wet hand staining the linen of his shirt with splotches. "The augur — the augur did something — drugged you — "

"He's not an augur," Vitale said, quietly.

"I don't know what he is, then, but you've got to send a message home to — "

"He's a god."

There was nothing but sincerity in Vitale's eyes. Kolya swallowed, and his throat clicked. Vitale resumed washing him, as he must have been doing before Kolya woke, the soft cloth skimming over his back making him flinch, feeling like scouring. Vitale's hand followed, tracing straight lines across Kolya's back where he had marked him, and then a soft kiss at the top of Kolya’s shoulder, his lips tracing across Thei's bite.

"I found him," he said. "There's a part of the excavation I thought wasn't right, but then I went deeper and — "

"And what," Kolya said, after the beat had gone on too long, and he was too afraid to turn and see that look in Vitale's eyes again.

"You'll understand when you see it," Vitale said. "I gave him what he wanted, and he gave me what I wanted. Made you how I wanted." He reached down and touched Kolya's cock, and first it hurt, but it came alive under Vitale's touch like it was keyed to him, his hips going loose and pushing up into the channel of Vitale's hand. "I'll take you, after you see him." He rubbed his thumb over the head of Kolya's cock, reached down to touch his balls and rub his perineum, and Kolya was coming, legs twitching in the water like he'd been dropped by the hangman's noose.

Vitale took him from the water and dried him, but didn't dress him, carrying him out into his chambers when they found Kolya couldn't stand, and putting him down on his knees in front of the bed, in front of Thei, who perched there, looking down. Vitale pressed on the back of Kolya’s neck until he went to his hands and knees, the stone cold and harsh against his flesh.

"Are you happy?" Thei said.

"I think so," Vitale said, his hand resting on the top of Kolya's arse, slipping down between the cheeks to press at his hole, which was still wet and sore. "Can you — "

Thei hopped to his feet and laid his hands on Kolya's back, first flat and then digging his fingers in, hard, until the pain mounted and washed over him in one great wave, Vitale pushing his fingers deep into Kolya’s hole while the pain grew and then he was coming and screaming at the same time, come splattering onto the floor, and the pain lifted and ceased, all at once, the air ringing with it like the aftermath of a blast. Kolya turned his head until his shoulder ached, then the other way, then back again, seeing nothing but naked, unblemished skin, unmarked, unbruised. He couldn't turn to look at Thei, afraid to even glance, or meet his eyes. Vitale's eyes would be glazed with that look again, so Kolya bowed his head and said nothing, tears rolling down his cheeks as he bit his tongue and tried to remember his mantra, tried to remember the mountains.

"Better," Vitale said.

"Good," Thei said, and now that Kolya was listening for it, he could hear the wrongness stirring under his tone, dark earth and broken bones. "Now, whip him again. This time, don't stop."