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Of night and light and the half light

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By right, they should each be wearing an ensign's tabs, but by mutual agreement they've promoted themselves to the rank of lieutenant.

Gregor felt, not as idiotic as he'd feared but rather… confessional, sharing this fantasy with Henri. It wasn't even particularly sexual, really, in its basic form. Nor was it surprising. Both men dreamed of a service they'd been denied.

In the wake of the Hegan Hub Incident Henri had envied even Gregor, now, for what little risk he'd been able to take, and Gregor had felt the need to purge himself of all the petty misadventure he'd had -- had, indeed, instigated, though he spared Henri the worst truths -- in an effort to even the field between them once more.

It had worked. He told Henri, with brutal honesty, about the shock stick, and Miles' reaction.

Henri had simply worn a look of sadness borne of complete understanding. And then, perhaps because one secret deserves another, Henri told Gregor of his fantasies, in his youth, and even after knowing that he would never be allowed a real career, of swearing his officer's oath to Gregor, and keeping it through danger and darkness and even unto death itself.

Gregor had quirked a smile at this. He'd had the similar fantasies, though he'd never quite managed to make them work. After all, for whom could he die? And while the Emperor dying for Barrayar was romantic, it was also implausible. And awkward, because the kind of destruction that would have to be levelled for him to be at risk was not something he could wish for, even in fantasy.

They'd bedded each other a handful of times over the years: drunk and horny; in need of comfort; idle and bored; out of something like camaraderie. It was Henri, who far too many people thought completely unimaginative, that had come up with the idea of doing it for wish fulfilment.

Gregor had gotten hard just listening to Henri rely his idea.

He was a bit more nervous now. They stared at each other, both dressed in undress greens (for neither had any camo, and neither could acquire some without raising questions). With that, and the lieutenant's tabs, and the look of slight dread on Henri's face -- mirrored, Gregor knew, on his own -- Gregor thought they probably did look like a pair of young officers captured by enemies, and in for an unpleasant time of it.

Henri's office, its furnishings rearranged, made a convincing interrogation cell. A black suit jacket, one of Henri's, would serve as the interrogator's costume. They would have to trade off. Both men eyed it speculatively.

"So," Henri began, his voice calmer than his face, Gregor thought. "Which of us will play the interrogator first?"

Gregor knew that he had to, despite Henri's oblique offer. He loved Henri a little more for it, all the same, but it was far too much to ask of even Henri to hurt Gregor, not without the certain proof that it was all in mutual play. Strangely, that was in itself reassuring, the knowledge that he was going first, as it were, to spare Henri the same, to the extent of even overriding his fears of -- no. He was not going to worry about that tonight. They both wanted this. They were doing something for themselves, and for each other. But, "I will," was all he said aloud.

Henri bit his lip, as Gregor slipped off the green jacket and donned the black. Henri nodded, a wordless signal that he was ready.

Gregor inhaled deeply, and made his face a blank mask. "Strip, Lieutenant," he ordered laconically. "To the waist." He watched appreciatively as Henri complied, muscles rippling seductively under skin. "Give me your belt, Lieutenant," he added, as Henri hung his shirt off the back of a chair. Henri's face flushed at this, and Gregor smiled thinly. Henri slid the belt from its loops, and handed it to Gregor, without ever breaking eye contact.

Gregor could not do less as he reached for his friend's hands, and bound them in front of him. "On your knees, Lieutenant," Gregor ordered. "Facing the wall."

Henri turned to the wall and sank to his knees. Gregor's heart rate sped up a little, watching him. Even kneeling, even in this absurd play, Henri looked proud, as benefited a Vor.

Gregor removed his own belt, and held it in his hand, considering it. Henri's room was atmospheric, but it may not have been the best choice, on reflection. As it was, Gregor's head all but brushed against the low ceiling. Wielding the belt, overhand, would likely not work. Underhand? From the side, perhaps?

Gregor was careful not to hit himself with the belt as he drew it back; he let it go, somewhat experimentally. He winced as it hit Henri with rather more force than he'd intended for the first blow. Henri took it well, though, a mere harsh intake of breath his sole reaction. And it might not hurt -- no, it would hurt, bad choice of words, there -- it might help, to give Henri tangible permission not to go easy on Gregor when their roles were reversed.

Gregor laid on another three strokes, taking a great deal of care to pay attention to his precise technique and what Henri's reaction was.

Henri was breathing only a little heavier when Gregor paused. "Lieutenant, we need not endure this… unpleasant business. Give me the codes I wish and this will all stop."

Henri, per Academy training, said nothing. Gregor resisted the urge to go to him and kiss him; even just his posture was arousing. Instead, without warning, Gregor lay on another stroke, a little harder this time. Henri gasped, and Gregor, a bit more confident now, lay on another two, quite quickly in succession.

"No, Lieutenant?" Gregor asked once more. But there was no response. He lay on another three, as heavy as the last set. They were up to ten, now. Neither of them had any idea of what was the right amount to aim for. Henri's back was getting quite red, now, where he'd been hit. But at the same time, Henri seemed to be bearing up well enough under it. And in times past, a couple dozen with an actual whip was a fairly standard military punishment. Gregor decided to aim for twenty, but prepared to stop if it seemed they were going too far.

He gave Henri a set of five, then, as hard as previously, but a little more slowly, so he could pay close attention to Henri's reactions to each blow. Henri blew out a hard breath on the last one. He'd probably expected Gregor to stop at three again, Gregor realised.

"Ah, Lieutenant," he said lightly. "Your stoicism will not benefit you as much as you believe. You see, you will crack eventually. Everyone does. Why attempt what you must inevitably fail at? It will save you nothing, in the end. Give me the codes."

"Never," Henri said, his voice a low, vehement whisper that shot directly to Gregor's crotch.

Gregor let loose another blow, heavier this time than the others, tapering the next four down to where they'd began. Henri was breathing heavily, his back red from lower ribs to shoulders by the time they reached twenty.

"Very well, Lieutenant," Gregor said quietly. "If you will not give me the codes, perhaps your partner will."

Henri hissed at this, and Gregor smiled, despite the returning butterflies. He was not at all certain of his ability to endure his beating as stoically as Henri had.

Still, he dropped the belt over the chair, and doffed the black jacket. Then Gregor knelt on the ground in front of Henri, and began unwinding the leather lashing his wrists together, searching his face as he did so. Henri looked a little euphoric, and a little proud of himself. He deserved to be, Gregor thought. He kissed his lover on the mouth, before helping Henri up.

Henri swallowed a few mouthfuls of water, before shrugging his t-shirt over his head. Gregor handed him the black jacket, wordlessly, but couldn't quite meet Henri's eyes as he did so.

Henri buttoned the jacket casually. "Strip, Lieutenant," Henri returned with a smile.

Gregor removed his tie, shirt and t-shirt perfunctorily, and kept his gaze fixed over Henri's shoulder.

"Lieutenant?" Gregor's eyes snapped to Henri's at this amused inflection. "I said strip." Gregor blinked, a little stupidly. Of course, Gregor did not need to worry about a quick costume change. And it wasn't like they'd never seen each other naked before. Slowly, Gregor forced himself to remove his boots and socks -- both a little awkwardly, standing up, and then he swallowed, undid the placket on his uniform trousers, and slid them and his underpants off in one move. Easier that way. He dropped them on top of chair, and tried not to feel quite so self-conscious about it.

"Give me your wrists," Henri ordered.

Gregor presented them, already side by side. He returned to gazing past Henri, over his shoulder, at the wall, in regulation form.

"Turn and kneel."

Suppressing a shiver as he did so, Gregor obeyed.

Without warning, Henri laid the first blow. It landed with a dull thud, rather than the sharp sting he expected. At the same time, he heard Henri hiss behind him, and realised that the belt must have twisted in air, landing edge on. Gregor rather suspected that the hiss had, in fact, been the start of a cut-off 'sorry'.

Henri landed the second blow perfectly, and it hurt pretty much as Gregor had suspected. It was his turn to hiss, in appreciation of the pain. Henri went to five before he spoke again. "I can continue like this for quite some time, Lieutenant. But you cannot. Eventually, you will be broken under the weight of the beating. Must we go to those lengths? You will give up the codes, anyway, Lieutenant. You should do so while it will still make a difference to you."

They had worked out codes -- two sets in fact. One, the "real" code would stop the game immediately, but both man knew that they wouldn't use it. There was a second "fake" code, meant in the language of the game to distract the interrogator, and in the real world to signal the need to slow down. What a strange mix of romance and pragmatism they both were, Gregor reflected.

He didn't have time to reflect long. At his silence, Henri lay on another lash, harder this time. Gregor gasped at the sting. He wondered if Henri was actually hitting him harder, or if it was that it was him being hit that just made it seem so. It was followed by four further blows, equally firm. Henri did like a certain neatness with regard to numbers.

"Lieutenant, I can tell you now that it will go very badly indeed for you if you keep this up. As it is, you try my patience. You do not wish to see it spent."

Gregor did actually shiver at that. Henri was surprisingly convincing in his role.

Henri unleashed a further barrage of five blows, and Gregor forced himself to breath through it. Fifteen. Would Henri stop at twenty? Probably, Gregor decided. For all sorts of reasons. He couldn't decide if he was more excited or nervous at the prospect that Henri might not.

"You should reconsider your silence, Lieutenant," Henri spoke once more, voice like black velvet: soft and rich and dark. "You become less useful as time goes wears on. And you have given us no reason to keep you alive beyond that point."

Good god, but Henri was wasted in accounting. Gregor couldn't decide if his lover should be off in theatre, or prowling around the bowels of ImpSec, but the man was surely turning in a compelling performance.

"Nothing to say? A pity."

The next set was of four, and Gregor still held himself braced for a fifth, when Henri spoke again.

"One final chance, Lieutenant. To save your own life, and that of your comrade."

He was breathing too hard for speech to be easy, and besides, what could he say to that? So he shook his head, silent to the last.

Henri's final blow was -- well vicious might have been too strong a word, but it was certainly forceful, and Gregor gasped raggedly. Almost before he'd really processed it, Henri was in front of him, his tight t-shirt hugging his beautiful form. Gregor kissed him deeply, and Henri kissed back, before undoing the belt winding around his wrists.

As soon as his hands were free, Gregor helped Henri out of his clothes, far more rapidly than Henri's usual wont.

One final part to their fantasy: the doomed young lieutenants would feverishly take comfort from one another, one final flame against the oncoming dark. They really were a morbid culture, Gregor thought. He pushed that thought aside, and lay down on the floor of the dungeon, grateful for the rug someone had thrown down at some point over the years. Henri lay down beside him, and Gregor turned so they were facing each other. They hadn't discussed this part in detail, and all of a sudden, Gregor didn't want to wait. He grasped Henri's cock -- as hard as his own, he noted, and tugged at it roughly. Henri's eyes closed briefly at this sensation, and his hips snapped, a sign of his own desperate arousal. But he opened them quickly, and met Gregor's mouth for a fierce kiss, before grasping Gregor's cock in turn.

Gregor almost lost his rhythm at this touch. He kissed back wetly, messily, uncaring. This was fantastic. A few more mutual strokes, and he broke the kiss. He could tell Henri, like he himself, was getting close. "Scratch me," he told Henri, all thoughts of their elaborate fantasy gone from his head. "Scratch my back."

Henri's breath on his face was shuddering, but he did as Gregor asked; Gregor surprised himself by coming at the sensation of his lover's nails raking down his over hot back; perhaps he surprised Henri too, for Henri spilled over Gregor's fist hardly a moment later.

They lay on the rug like that for a while, simply touching each other.

It was enough.