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It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a good idea and one that has been considered so thoroughly it has become like the divot in the marble steps of an old building: treacherous in its well-worn, unassuming way. This may be, if not the sibling, then certainly the cousin of compulsion, an idea with its jagged edges erased under the relentless consideration of the thinker like a stone at the bottom of a river worn smooth. A stone can, of course, break a glass window regardless of its shape.

“I require your assistance in the conduction of an experiment,” was all Laszlo needed to say to John over the ’phone. John’s voice sounded metallic and far-away when he consented to come to 17th Street despite the lateness of the hour. So Laszlo waited, uncharacteristically nervous, in the front parlor, pacing between the settee and the fireplace, turning over and over again the idea in his head until it seemed not just logical but inexorable, the obvious solution to the present conundrum.

Snow had begun to fall by the time John arrived at Laszlo’s home, little stars dotting the clean black expanse of John’s well-tailored wool overcoat and the soft dimples of his felt Homburg, the curl of its brim, the sleek shiny ribbon of the band. When Laszlo greeted John at the door John stared for a confused moment before entering, a tall, handsome figure illuminated by the gold light of the foyer, around whom glittering snowflakes whirled, alighted, and disappeared.

“Where’s Mary?” John asked with his eyebrows raised significantly as he brushed past Laszlo and hung his coat and hat on the rack himself. He smelled of tobacco smoke and whiskey, of the velvety horse- and hay-scented inside of a calash and of wet wool and of the clean outdoor sharpness of late-winter snow.

“Mary, Cyrus, and Stevie have the evening off.” Laszlo led the way into the parlor, trusting that John would follow him, and his trust was not misplaced. He heard John’s soft footsteps behind him as he headed to the side table upon which sat a crystal decanter and a few glasses, pouring a measure of whiskey for John. John settled on the settee, leaning comfortably against one plush arm, and when Laszlo handed him the glass he nodded gratefully, accepting it with an outstretched hand. His shirtsleeve pulled back to reveal a slim, strong wrist, the underside of which was pale, highlighted and shadowed in turn by the stark protrusions of his tendons.

“I hope this occasion does not require evening dress,” John said with a wry little grin. Indeed, the cutaway curve of his coat revealed a dove gray waistcoat and burgundy ascot stuck with a fat gray pearl whose perfect sphere glistened in the low light of the parlor.

Laszlo almost laughed. “No, John, our endeavor this evening should not require any formality of dress. In fact,” and at this he turned abruptly before the fireplace, letting the tails of his thickly quilted dressing gown stir around his legs, “it may require even less than we now wear.”

John leveled an extraordinarily skeptical look at Laszlo, who had not yet removed the starched collar from his shirt though it circled his throat loosely for want of a necktie.

Discretion, valor, Laszlo thought; but sometimes forward was the only way through. He donned, as a broken-in pair of shoes or favorite jacket, a didactic tone. “As you know, our endeavor of late has been to understand the mind of one whose actions appear to us baffling, even monstrous.”

“Yes,” John said slowly, bringing the glass to his lips but watching Laszlo all the while. Laszlo could not see the motion of his throat as he swallowed but he imagined it, suddenly conscious of the complex inner machinery of the throat, the delicate, precise muscles that governed swallowing and speech, the flutter and pulse of the veins and arteries that lay just below the skin.

“I have attempted, to the best of my ability, to solicit from those who voluntarily partake in similar sensual indulgences their specific motivations and the nature of the pleasure they experience. However,” he continued, swallowing against a sudden reluctance his own throat seemed to have developed, “there is yet one aspect of our murderer’s… actions… into which I have yet to gain insight.”

“You may not stab me, if that’s what you’re asking,” John said dryly.

It was the levity Laszlo had needed without knowing it himself; he let out a shaky, relieved little laugh and relaxed against the mantelpiece. “We shall not go quite so far.”

“That does not put me at ease, Laszlo,” John said, serious now. There was an undercurrent of real nervousness in his voice and the way he held himself, no longer relaxed against the plush velvet of the settee but perched on it with tension vibrating all through his body, ready to spring up at any moment.

“As you know, an aspect of our murderer’s compulsion is the strangulation of his victims, yet strangulation is not simply a means to an end for him. The bruises Lucius found around the throat of Giorgio Santorelli indicate repeated instances of asphyxiation, yet the lack of defensive wounds on the boy’s arms and hands indicate that this was an expected, even accepted, part of the sexual act.”

“Laszlo,” John said warningly. The whiskey glass was not yet empty yet dangled, ignored, between his knees, cut crystal glittering with the almost imperceptible motion of his trembling hand.

“I need you to asphyxiate me,” Laszlo said, all in a rush. “You are the only person I trust to do this.”

“Jesus Christ, Laszlo,” John mumbled, and seemed to remember the whiskey, tossing the dregs back with a sharp motion. He placed the empty glass on a side table with a loud, hollow sound, then passed his now-empty hand over his face, callused palm dragging over his end-of-the-day stubble with a soft prickling noise. “And,” John continued, looking not at Laszlo but at the plush carpet beneath his own feet, “if I do not trust myself?”

“Then let my trust be enough for the both of us.”

There was a taut silence in the room, no sound from the smoldering fireplace behind Laszlo, the quickly falling snow outside muffling the intermittent clatter of wheels and horseshoes against cobblestone, and Laszlo waited it out, watching the top of John’s dark head bowed in consideration. Then John sighed heavily and Laszlo knew he had won: he was very familiar with the sound of John’s resigned acceptance. He suppressed a smile in case John would deem it inappropriate. For all John’s loucheness, his drinking and whoring, how comfortable he was in the city’s many and varied dens of iniquity, he sometimes had a surprisingly traditional sense of morality.

“You might have at least kept Cyrus around in case this all goes horribly awry,” John finally said. When he looked up at Laszlo the corner of his mouth was turned in a wry little grin.

Laszlo laughed. “I thought your propriety would not allow the potential of our being walked in upon.”

“Propriety,” John mumbled. “That’s the first time I have ever been accused of that.”

“You live by a remarkably traditional set of morals,” Laszlo said.

John snorted. “Have we met?”

A fascinating conversation topic for another time, Laszlo decided; he left the little circle of warmth radiated by the embers in the fireplace to sit beside John on the settee, keeping a careful distance between their bodies. “Regardless,” he said, “I have devised a system by which I will be able to communicate to you a desire to stop, despite the trying conditions under which I will be operating.”

“You say it like that so it doesn’t sound like we’re doing something completely insane,” John said.

“Insanity,” Laszlo began with a great breath, gearing up for another lecture, but John silenced him with a hand on his knee. Laszlo’s entire focus narrowed to just that point, the fine wool of his trousers pulled taut over his thigh and John’s broad, warm hand, the way his fingers curved to fit around the knob of bone under the skin. Of all the facets of this experiment Laszlo had examined he had failed to consider this: the inescapable closeness of their bodies, the intimacy of John’s skin tight against Laszlo’s own. This omission hinted at the terrifying possibility that this experiment was not, in fact, a good idea, but rather one that had become so familiar to Laszlo that it disguised itself as one, a divot in the center of each step of the marble staircase of Laszlo’s mind.

It was, however, a little late to turn back now.

“I suggest we adjourn to my private study upstairs,” Laszlo said, and John agreed that the additional door between their sordid endeavor and the judgmental eyes of the world could be nothing but a good thing, so they ascended the stairs together, John hanging a little behind Laszlo, the plush, expensive carpet muffling their nearly synchronized steps.

The study was much smaller than the parlor, the air closer and heated more thoroughly by the little fire that smoldered behind the grate of this room’s fireplace. Between the sudden warmth of the room and, perhaps, his own burgeoning trepidation, Laszlo found a fine sheen of sweat springing up on his skin beneath the evening softness of his shirt and the press of his thick dressing gown. After a moment of hesitation during which he hovered by the door, very aware of the coolness of the key in his hand and the warmth of the room behind him, Laszlo locked the door to the study but left the key in the lock.

When Laszlo turned John was not pretending to look anywhere but at him, leaning his hip against Laszlo’s dark mahogany desk. The pose was at once insouciant and confident in a way that sent a little thrill curling through Laszlo’s stomach. John’s fashionable cutaway coat framed the lean lines of his body, emphasizing his long legs and the trim dip of his waist. John seemed to fully and consciously inhabit his body in a way Laszlo could not even imagine doing, familiar with its abilities and limits, comfortable with the base mammalian nature of it, with its needs and desires; knowing, too, exactly how to display it to his advantage. Laszlo, in comparison, felt like a tenant in a rented room, unwilling to settle permanently in the space, surprised anew at the pleasure he felt at feeding or grooming the strange animal he inhabited. John’s physicality was something Laszlo alternately condemned and admired: as much as John’s habit of falling asleep at the opera sparked a vicious feeling of superiority within Laszlo, Laszlo ultimately enjoyed a fine meal or perfectly sung aria from an aesthete’s perspective, detached and intellectual. John, meanwhile, submerged himself fully in the warm waters of life’s carnal delights, food and tobacco and whiskey and sex, not just appreciating but inhabiting them. Perhaps this was the reason Laszlo trusted John above all others to put his hands around Laszlo’s throat and squeeze: he trusted that John knew his own body and even Laszlo’s—knew bodies in general, the slide of skin and thrum of blood—well enough to bring Laszlo just to the brink of danger without tipping over the edge.

“I don’t suppose we’ll do this standing up,” John said, calculatedly casual.

Laszlo flashed a smile that he meant to be more comforting than it turned out, rather a downturn of the corners of his lips beneath the soft obfuscation of his beard. “No.” To Laszlo’s obscure relief John stepped away from the desk as Laszlo went toward it, picking up a small brass paperweight and testing the heft of it, the way it felt cradled in his palm with his fingers curled around it.

They sat side by side on the small couch in the study, crowded closer together than they had been downstairs possibly because this settee was smaller than the one in the parlor but possibly because keeping a careful two inches between their thighs seemed ridiculous considering their aim for the evening.

“John,” Laszlo began, looking seriously across the little space between them at John’s slightly flushed face, the wide pupils in his dark eyes, “please do not feel obligated to indulge my whim in this endeavor if you do not feel comfortable doing so.”

This close, Laszlo watched John’s gaze flicker away only to alight again on Laszlo’s face. He was quiet for long enough that Laszlo thought he would call the whole thing off and they would descend to the safety of the parlor with its big windows that looked out over the street (and, more importantly, that let the street look in), sharing a drink in a silence that was only uncomfortable until they both pretended that none of this had happened.

“You really think this will help our investigation?” John asked, instead of any of that.

“I do.” Laszlo held his gaze.

“Why not you?”

The question confused Laszlo for a moment before he interpreted it: why not the other way around; if Laszlo was intent on discovering the killer’s state of mind, why have John assume his role? Now it was Laszlo’s turn to slant his gaze away from John’s wide-eyed gaze. “My arm,” he replied. “I do not trust the strength of it.”

John nodded, perhaps more to himself than for Laszlo’s benefit. “All right.” He looked uncharacteristically serious through Laszlo’s explanation of his improvised safety measure: should Laszlo drop the paperweight, John would know to desist. John asked him to drop it before they began, once, then again, eyes focusing somewhere far away as he catalogued the sound in his mind.

“You must pay particular attention to your own feelings throughout the act,” Laszlo said, fiddling at his collar studs with his left hand until the collar popped free of his shirt. “Even the most sordid of thoughts—perhaps particularly these. The appeal of the act must lie in its inherent transgressiveness.” He looked very seriously at John. “If you are dishonest with me, what we are about to do loses all meaning.”

“Yes, I do understand the purpose of this exercise,” John said. He leaned away from Laszlo to remove his jacket, tossing it haphazardly over a nearby chair, and when he settled back against Laszlo’s side the sharp masculine scent of his skin washed over Laszlo with the current of air the movement stirred. He flexed his hands by his thighs, perhaps unconsciously, and Laszlo’s eyes were drawn to the movement. John’s hands looked very broad.

Laszlo swallowed and John tracked the movement, the bob of his Adam’s apple under the cleanly shaven skin of his throat evidently as relevant to John’s state of mind as John’s hands were to Laszlo’s.

“How should I do this,” John asked, but his voice was lower than Laszlo had expected, softer and more intimate.

“Just one hand to begin with, I should think,” Laszlo said with an air of authority he did not feel.

“Right.” John half-turned toward Laszlo on the couch, his knee pressing insistently into Laszlo’s thigh, arm braced beside Laszlo’s shoulder. They watched one another for a strange, tense moment. Wearing his heavy dressing gown and this close to the heat of John’s body Laszlo was already overwarm, sweat prickling at his temples and under his arms. He wondered if John could smell his body the way he could John’s. Then, as though deciding something, John pivoted, knee still pressed tight against Laszlo’s, primly tugging at his trouser leg as he hitched his other leg on the other side of Laszlo’s: straddling Laszlo’s lap.

“Oh,” Laszlo heard himself say as the hot huge weight of John settled against him.

John was heavy, of course, but it was not just the force of gravity that caught Laszlo by surprise. The fine wool of John’s trousers strained against the muscular thighs splayed obscenely across Laszlo’s lap. One of John’s legs was tucked between Laszlo’s thigh and the arm of the couch and Laszlo felt even through the material of his dressing gown the shape of his bony kneecap and the thick curves of his calf and thigh. The cushion sank under the combined weight of their bodies, forcing them closer together, tightening the squeeze of John’s legs around Laszlo’s.

“Is this all right?” John asked. The question was so incomprehensible at this juncture that Laszlo could only stare blankly at him, realizing with detached interest that his own right hand had settled into the crease where John’s thigh joined his torso, the wool of his trousers soft but the ridge of his hip hard where Laszlo’s fingertips inadvertently brushed against it. “Laszlo?”

“Yes,” Laszlo said, quickly mastering himself. He closed his eyes and took a measured breath, in and out, John’s tobacco and whiskey and the warm-skin, end-of-the-day scent of his sweat and cologne. He opened his eyes. “You may begin.”

John shifted above him, balancing his weight on his knees and the hand he had braced beside Laszlo’s shoulder so he could splay his right hand tentatively at the base of Laszlo’s throat. It felt big and so hot where his palm touched the skin bared by the vee-shaped gap at the collar of Laszlo’s shirt. Then John nudged his fingertips under the shawl collar of Laszlo’s dressing gown, crinkling Laszlo’s shirt against his skin, flattening his palm to the plane of his chest. His thumb and forefinger crept up the column of Laszlo’s throat, the proximal knuckle of his forefinger dipping slightly into the hollow between Laszlo’s collarbones. When Laszlo swallowed the muscles and tendons of his throat flexed against John’s yielding hand.

Then John tightened his fingers. Just a little, just enough to stop Laszlo’s next convulsive swallow, the soft swell of his knuckle abutting Laszlo’s Adam’s apple. Laszlo breathed a quick sharp breath.

“We don’t have to do this,” John said, but he did not remove the pressure. He looked not at Laszlo’s face but at his throat, or perhaps at his hand on Laszlo’s throat, the wide splay of his callused fingers across this vulnerable part of Laszlo’s body.

Unable to speak, Laszlo gestured at the edge of both of their fields of vision with the hand that held the paperweight.

“Right,” John whispered, “right,” and he moved his hand up Laszlo’s throat so that his thumb and forefinger were pressed to the pulse points below the hinges of Laszlo’s jaw. The pads of John’s fingers rasped against the closely shorn hair at the edge of Laszlo’s beard. John squeezed, not with his whole hand but with his careful artist’s fingertips, putting pressure on the wildly fluttering veins on either side of Laszlo’s throat. The weight of John’s palm choked the frantic movement of Laszlo’s Adam’s apple.

Laszlo’s perception narrowed to the insistent thud-thump of his own heart, the slightly sweaty heat of John’s hand, the tight pressure of John’s body where it pressed Laszlo into the couch, neck and chest and hips and thighs. When Laszlo tried to swallow his throat spasmed uselessly against John’s hand and saliva welled up in the back of his mouth. His lips were parted; he couldn’t make himself close them. He heard as though from a great distance labored breathing that was not his own. Laszlo’s body was a stupid thing gone limp and numb beneath the hot weight that encompassed him within its pulsating darkness.

Then: like surfacing from underwater: the shimmering veil that shrouded his vision, the unresponsive sluggishness of his limbs, the strange and foreign sensation of taking a breath and then another.

“Laszlo,” John was saying his name, “Laszlo,” and his thighs were heavy on Laszlo’s, his thumbs gentle where they smoothed over Laszlo’s blood-hot cheeks.

Was?” Laszlo slurred.

“Hey,” John said, stroking gently over Laszlo’s beard, his cheek and jaw.

Laszlo’s mouth was still slack. His throat ached when he swallowed, clicking wetly. “Why did you stop?” he wheezed.

“Jesus, Laszlo,” John said, a little noise like a laugh catching in his throat. His forehead was wrought with wrinkles, his eyebrows drawn together. His irises looked very green and seemed to glitter. Laszlo remembered that it was snowing outside; John had stood illumed by the warm yellow light of Laszlo’s foyer, sparkling snowflakes alighting on his coat like pollen in the summer. John cradled Laszlo’s jaw with both his hands, his fingertips pushing into the sweat-damp hair behind Laszlo’s ears. It was like and unlike being choked: still the feeling of John surrounding him, pressing comfortably tight all over, but softly tender instead of achingly erotic.

Erotic—all at once, arousal swept over Laszlo; or rather, Laszlo felt for the first time the arousal that suffused his whole being, his sweat-prickled face and heaving chest, his belly and groin, even his hands splayed, as much as he could considering his disability and the skin-hot bronze paperweight he still clutched, upon John’s upper thighs.

John was breathing as heavily as Laszlo, hands fluttering about Laszlo’s face, touching his ears and the carefully trimmed edge of his beard and the lock of hair that spilled over his forehead, his jaw and throat which still felt as though some phantom hand crushed it. “I won’t,” John murmured as he touched Laszlo, “I won’t,” a gentle brush of his fingers catching dampness from under Laszlo’s left eye. “I won’t do it again, don’t ask me.” And John took a quick gasping breath as though he had been the one choked, face still lined with some obscure pain Laszlo couldn’t quite parse, and he pressed their lips together with more ardor than finesse.

This, too, was asphyxiation: John’s soft insistent mouth upon Laszlo’s, the nudge of the tip of his nose against the slope of Laszlo’s cheek, the trembling way he cradled Laszlo’s head in his hands. John did not part his lips to deepen the kiss nor delve the hot slick muscle of his tongue into Laszlo’s mouth, so it remained chaste, comprised as much of the quick huffs of John’s breath that stirred the short hairs of Laszlo’s beard as of the plush brush of John’s lips against Laszlo’s. With their hands stilled on one another’s bodies (and when did the searching fingers of Laszlo’s weak right hand creep into the hot space between John’s waistcoat and shirt?) all of Laszlo’s attention narrowed to the little space between their mouths that disappeared and reappeared between the sweet kisses John bestowed upon Laszlo, warm and damp with their combined breath and the sheen of saliva that moistened John’s lips.

When Laszlo was a boy he found a magnificent Papilio troilus troilus darting quickly through the shaded underbrush of the woods near his family’s summer home overlooking the Hudson River. Its glossy black wings were lined with bright white spots, minuscule on the pointed tips of the forewings but growing larger as they neared the shimmering blue half-moons twinned on the butterfly’s hindwings. So close, Laszlo could see that the brilliant blue of the half-moons was more of a dusting upon the off-black of the wings than a pigmentation all its own, scattered across the deepening black of the butterfly’s hindwings like stars in the sky as seen through the peering eye of a telescope: more and more again when you looked closer, little dots so densely clustered together they were almost, but not quite, indistinguishable from one another. This P. t. troilus had strangely long tails that extended from its hindwings, stark midnight black compared with the softness of the green-brown summertime shade that mottled the forest floor, their tapered teardrop shapes fluttering gently with the movement it exerted to fly.

The butterfly alighted upon a wildflower’s little white cluster of petals and Laszlo approached it, readying himself to catch it without damaging the fragile splay of its slowly moving, white-spotted wings. It took off; Laszlo reached out, as though in a dream, and plucked it from the air; his plump, nimble pianist’s fingers closed around its twitching thorax; he pinched it between his thumb and forefinger and something within it crunched; its hair-thin legs spasmed and went still. Laszlo almost dropped it in surprise: surprise that he could do such a thing to such a creature, that he could feel the collapse of its obscure foreign insides, the life processes of this beautiful thing brought to an abrupt end.

Only afterward did Laszlo learn that squeezing a butterfly’s thorax stuns it but does not kill it; it died some time between when he slipped it into the thick cream-colored envelope he snuck from his father’s study and when he slowly, meticulously forced the insect pin through its body to affix it to the clean new mounting board his tutor had graciously gifted him. The dissection pin did not go in easily. The butterfly’s wings twitched and flexed backward in a strange simulacrum of life before, with gleaming silver forceps, Laszlo straightened them again. It was this that Laszlo remembered more than even the delicate crunch of the butterfly’s inside parts between his soft fingertips: the stutter of the thin gleaming pin as he forced it through the crisp exoskeleton of the butterfly’s thorax, the uncanny backwards movement of those beautiful wings.

And it was this moment that rose unbidden to the forefront of Laszlo’s mind as John kissed him close and hot on the little settee in Laszlo’s study, curling hugely over Laszlo’s helplessly pinned body, drawing involuntary motions from Laszlo’s distantly twitching hands. Perhaps it didn’t matter whether the butterfly died crushed between Laszlo’s fingertips or suffocated in the stiff parchment prison of the pilfered envelope: what mattered was that, even long dead, when driven through with a dissection pin its wings still fluttered.

Laszlo dropped the paperweight beside their pressed-tight thighs and it rolled across the curving cushion of the settee to settle against John’s calf. With his newly free hand, knuckles still aching with tension from where his fist had been tightly clenched, Laszlo tentatively touched John’s side. First the line of his waist, tense even beneath the rich layers he wore, then around to his back, tailored silk pulled tight over taut skin. John arched into Laszlo’s touch with a soft groan and Laszlo, in response, pulled him closer. John’s arousal was obvious and insistent when he was sprawled over Laszlo’s lap like this, his thighs forced lewdly apart to accommodate Laszlo’s hips. Laszlo ached to thrust up against John, rocking them together in a sweet contrapuntal rhythm, but caught like this beneath the weight of John’s body he could hardly move except to settle his good hand just above the swell of John’s ass to urge him closer.

They kissed hungrily now, Laszlo’s slack mouth opening to the slick intrusion of John’s tongue, mindless guttural noises caught in the hot wet space between their lips. John’s hands touched the sweat-damp nape of Laszlo’s neck and his throbbing throat, the delicate cartilage whorls of his ears and the beard-muted line of his jaw, his heaving chest first without and then within the stifling confines of his dressing gown, and when they splayed over Laszlo’s sternum Laszlo shuddered and arched, tipping his chin up reflexively to allow John access to his throat once again. Instead John unbuttoned Laszlo’s shirt, the rough backs of his knuckles dipping into the hollow between Laszlo’s collarbones and brushing over hair that downed his chest. He unfastened another button, revealing the flat plane of Laszlo’s sternum and the little swells of his pectorals to either side, dragging his fingers through his chest hair as though savoring the coarse masculinity of Laszlo’s body. A flick of John’s deft fingers, another button slipping out of its hole, John tugging at the tails of Laszlo’s shirt where it was neatly tucked into his trousers, wrestling with the gleaming mother-of-pearl buttons, crumpling the fine material in his hands. Revealed: the arc of the bottom of Laszlo’s ribcage, his tremblingly tense muscles, the little curve of his stomach.

John drew back to look at Laszlo and, in doing so, allowed Laszlo to watch him in turn, the hectic blush that colored his face, his heavy-lidded eyes and parted, kissed-red lips. His waistcoat and the previously crisp sleeves of his shirt were rumpled and creased, his ascot crooked and partially tugged out of the collar of the waistcoat, and his broad chest heaved with each breath he took. As earlier John looked not at Laszlo’s face but at his own hands on Laszlo’s body, his rough and perpetually ink-marred skin against the vulnerable pale softness of Laszlo’s belly. It felt obscenely intimate to see one another like this, flushed with want. Laszlo was untethered—unmoored, the irony not lost on him—adrift in this dreamlike twilight world where John’s hand knew the shape of Laszlo’s throat and where Laszlo’s mouth knew the heat of John’s tongue, where John could slide his hand up Laszlo’s bared chest to push the loose strap of his suspenders off his left shoulder. The silk webbing of the strap and the crumpled material of Laszlo’s shirt and the plush pushed-aside collar of his dressing gown all tangled about Laszlo’s upper arm and effectively trapped it against his side. Like the hot clutch of John’s big hand around his throat this was thrillingly, erotically forbidden, the sweet struggle and soft binding tension.

“Tell me to stop,” John said. He sounded desperate, voice raw. His gaze darted from Laszlo’s torso to the bare curve of his shoulder to, finally, his face. Distasteful if not impossible to imagine what he saw there; yet John’s pink tongue darted out between his swollen lips and he swayed toward Laszlo as though drunk.

It would be easy enough to put an end to all this. “Do you want to stop?” Laszlo asked, voice unfamiliar in his own ears. He sounded as wrecked as John did.

“No,” John murmured.

The silk of John’s waistcoat was so soft against Laszlo’s chest and stomach when John leaned in to kiss him again, trapping Laszlo with both forearms braced beside his head. John’s tongue dipped into his mouth, sensual and newly familiar. The splay of John’s thighs and the cant of his hips still allowed only the faintest brush of Laszlo’s trapped cock against John’s but instead of lessening his arousal the tantalizing contact only heightened it. As though reading Laszlo’s need in the futile abortive movements of his hips, or perhaps simply recognizing it as he felt his own, John wriggled an arm between their bodies to press the soft cup of his palm to Laszlo’s erection. The sweet relief of the supple pressure of John’s hand where Laszlo most wanted it was enough to drag an involuntary moan from Laszlo’s throat; John echoed it with a needy little noise of his own as though Laszlo’s piqued arousal heightened John’s, too.

Laszlo was aware, in his detached and academic way, that this was something that other people did regularly, the animal rut and grind of hot bodies together. Yet it was unthinkable that anyone should be so familiar with this wild uncontrolled need and still be able to function, at all other times, in full possession of one’s faculties in the world: to live always knowing that one had the capacity to descend with only a few spare touches into a state so base one barely recognized oneself. Was this how their killer felt? Holding gingerly in his cupped hands the clear water of his humanity, aware that any sudden movement would cause it to leak through the spaces between his fingers to reveal the ugly animal wants of the coarse skin of his palms? Hands; throats.

John deftly unbuttoned Laszlo’s trousers, the pressure of his fingertips brushing over the plump curve of Laszlo’s cock as he did so sending bright shocks of pleasure all through Laszlo’s body. Then the curl of John’s broad hand around it, exquisite, not quite so encompassing as to bring him to completion but rather another deliciously teasing sensation that stoked Laszlo’s wild arousal. John nuzzled the line where Laszlo’s carefully groomed beard met the clean-shaven skin of his cheek, the blunt tip of his nose soft, his parted lips damp and warm, and when he opened his mouth beside Laszlo’s ear Laszlo heard the wet sound of his tongue moving against the slick inside of his mouth.

“Let me use my mouth on you,” John said.

“Yes,” Laszlo said, the breathy syllable sounding more like please than he had intended it to.

With some soft sighing noises that could have been pain as easily as pleasure John eased off Laszlo’s lap and wriggled to the floor to kneel between his legs, immediately setting his hands and mouth to the splay of Laszlo’s upper thighs, tugging at the loose fabric of his unbuttoned trousers, hot and eager. His mouth: soft, wet, the muscles of his tongue and the slick walls of his cheeks fluttering around the head of Laszlo’s cock then the shaft, taking him deeper, the pressure lessening and then increasing as John swallowed. Laszlo curled his good hand against his own knee, blunt fingernails scraping the fine wool of his trousers, imagining the pomade-slick strands of John’s hair twining into the creases of his knuckles.

It was easy to lose himself in the sweet rhythm of John’s mouth, the intermittent pressure of his tongue which teased and then sated, the puff of each little breath out and in that Laszlo felt against his oversensitized skin. He could barely still the shallow thrusts of his hips that drove his cock deeper into John’s mouth, possessed by the unfamiliar spirit of pleasure, until John’s roaming hands locked against the soft flesh and hard underlying peaks of Laszlo’s hipbones to hold him in place, tightly enough for Laszlo to feel deliciously caught. Like that Laszlo came: overwhelmed by John’s determined hands and relentless mouth, hands scrabbling uselessly against his own thighs, head tipped back against the settee, left shoulder still louchely bared.

John pressed his face to the inside of Laszlo’s thigh, mouth open and breathing hotly against the fine wool of his trousers; he must have swallowed Laszlo’s ejaculate, which struck Laszlo as at once disgusting and shockingly erotic. One hand worked between his legs but the other was curled tenderly around the slimmest part of Laszlo’s thigh, just above his knee, and the warmth and affection with which John tucked his whole broad body against Laszlo’s leg seemed as unspeakably intimate as John’s mouth upon Laszlo’s cock. Laszlo finally allowed his hand to drift toward the disarrayed pomade-slick curls of John’s hair that tumbled across his forehead, and John immediately pressed his face into the tentative curve of Laszlo’s right palm. Laszlo splayed his fingers as best he could across John’s cheek and jaw, flushed hot and damp with sweat. John’s mouth was open, his plump red lips shining with saliva, and Laszlo dipped his thumb into the spread-wide corner of his mouth. John’s tongue fluttered against the pad of Laszlo’s thumb and then he sucked the entire digit into his slick hot mouth; when he came Laszlo could feel the vibration of his sated, relieved groan all up his weak arm.

On the wall that Laszlo faced from his position on the settee were a whole cluster of white-backed display cases with all manner of insects, not just butterflies but moths and dragonflies and round beetles with gleaming, iridescent shells. Centered on the wall in its own case was a P. t. troilus, not so big nor so distinctive as the one Laszlo had caught and pinned as a child, the tails shorter, the shimmering half-moons on the hindwings closer to gray than to the bright blue of that first one. He had not pinned this one himself but he thought, again, of the uncanny after-death flutter of those brilliant wings, the catch of the pin as he eased it through the creature’s thorax.

“John,” Laszlo said softly, and John’s eyes darted up toward Laszlo’s face. His eyebrows were drawn together with worry but his mouth was still swollen and slack, his gaze a little unfocused though his eyelashes fluttered as though he were trying to clear his vision. Laszlo brushed his thumb over the soft damp curve of John’s lower lip. The pink tip of his tongue darted out to taste Laszlo’s skin; the involuntary sensuality of the movement was a stark contrast to the seriousness with which he looked at Laszlo. “Come to bed.”

“Oh,” John breathed.

“With me,” Laszlo clarified.

“I should hope that was what you meant,” John laughed; his eyes closed and he nuzzled into Laszlo’s thigh again, his fingers curling against Laszlo’s knee. Laszlo felt an extraordinarily fondness toward John, his disarrayed waistcoat and the tender way he held Laszlo’s knee, the ease with which he had agreed to this idea of Laszlo’s—with which he seemed to agree to all of Laszlo’s ideas. Laszlo delved his left hand again into John’s hair, carding the warm slick strands between his fingers. As before John tipped his head into the touch like a cat and Laszlo gently scratched his nails over John’s scalp. When John sighed, Laszlo felt the warmth of his breath against the inside of his thigh.

The first P. t. troilus had adorned the wall of Laszlo’s childhood bedroom for several years until it too had become a victim of his father’s rage: shattered glass, a torn wing. When he had acquired the second he placed it carefully above the little desk in the flat in Cambridge he had shared with John, silently vowing that no harm would ever come to this one.

Thus far, he had kept his promise.