Actions

Work Header

Pygmalion

Work Text:

Medren has always had a way for making me forget that I don't make a habit of getting drunk. We've not seen him in weeks - he's been off visiting one of those little valleys in the northwest where stories come from. He knocked on our door still in his riding-boots and, oh, looking so thirsty - saying he'd come to check if either of us had killed the other yet. We shared a suspicious look, confirmed that we remain alive, and concluded the excellent Palace wine supply might also have something to do with this unexpected visit.

Medren's full of stories. He says he saw the phoenix and it was thirty feet tall, with wings of flame and claws like the curved scimitars of Evendim raiders (who I am sure he has also seen, perhaps marauding through some southern badland he has not, in fact, ever been to) - claws that dripped red with the blood of its latest kill. Vanyel feigns puzzlement and says he once spent many years diligently observing their social habits and is quite sure that they only eat grain. Medren demanded to know, on that account, why they have such damn big claws. I'm getting progressively more sure that this mythical beast they are arguing about doesn't really exist and I sigh into my empty cup, and fill it again, while Vanyel recollects Medren with tall tales of years long past. I still suspect that the reason he never became a bard himself is that he's far too honest.

I've little to contribute to their arguments except innuendo, and I do. It's been a lot of fun, trying to find that fine line between amusing Medren with the fact that I sleep with his uncle and revolting him with it and then verbally tap-dancing on that line until one of the three of us cracks. Medren always fights back, and not fairly, either. He has almost ten years'-worth of stories about me with which to entertain my lifebonded, and some of them are even true. It's a good thing I never had any shame to lose, I guess.

"I will never," he tilts his glass at me unsteadily, but keeps looking at Vanyel, "ever, forget that first week after I met him. I thought I was out of place 'round here, and then Lynn shows up with him in tow -"

"And promptly leaves, and returns to Haven only four times in all the years since." Lynnell loves starting things but never stays in one place long enough to finish them. I would know, I was one of them. "At least I was excused from replying to her letters at first because -"

"- you couldn't write. Couldn't read. And you were top of the class at arithmetic." He heaves a longsuffering sigh. "It took me a month to convince you to wear shoes -"

I shrug, and waggle my bare toes towards the open fire. "Never did start liking them much."

"- And the way you talked -"

"Wha'?" This is becoming a joint showcase of my sordid past, so I switch smoothly into my role. "Ain't me who made you all talk funny. Wha's this, some poxy molly'ouse?" Vanyel is gaping at me. Not sure if he's horrified or fascinated. "An' I don trust the none of yer," I add.

At this point in such revelatory conversations I can usually rely on Van to retaliate on my behalf with embarrassing stories about Medren, but clearly all such thoughts have vacated his mind. Medren glances at him, clearly noticing that I've somehow ruined our usual pattern and he reaches for the thread that Vanyel dropped. "Always reminded me of that whole mess in Highjorune, when you went off spying an' pretending like you were a street-singer. After meeting Stef, I got wondering how you ever convinced anyone." He's grinning heartily.

Van shrugged, a little awkwardly. "I always explained myself away by saying I'd fallen on hard times."

Medren nodded. "There's one way to excuse your highfalutin ways -"

I look from one to the other, confused. This isn't something either of them have ever told me of before. "Wait, you really played on the streets? For pennies and secrets?"

"And in drinking-houses, yes. You can learn a lot about what's going on that way - I'm sure you'd know."

I would. I test out that accent again. "You'd've got more coin wheelin' stern." It takes them three seconds to translate the euphemism, and Medren guffaws, and Vanyel's face turns bright red. Oh gods, now I know I'm in for it as soon as Medren leaves - but I've no idea what I might be in for.

*

Van closes the door behind his nephew, and I know where the conversation is headed back to before he draws the bolt closed. He's got that fascinated look on his face, like there's some detestable detail of my past that's raised all his curiosity. "What was that other word you used?"

"Mollyhouse? Sort of a brothel - a place where men meet for, you know, acquaintanceship. I really did think that was what Lynn was dragging me off to. I figured Berte had finally sold me." His eyes widen. "Took Medren a while to convince me otherwise." I owe Medren a lot - more now than ever.

He's giving me that thoughtful look that makes me feel twinges of his love and protectiveness - two things I'm still not used to wanting. "I still can't believe that someone was heartless enough to abandon you on the street."

Well, they did. Or lost me, or sold me, or died. Pick one. Be as imaginative as you like. No one's ever kept me around unless they've had a use for me. Except you. "You've seen worse things happen."

"You have a point," he says sadly. He's told me of enough of them. I know what really troubles him is that it was me - he thinks better of me than anyone ever should, and I'm used to people seeming to think me too good, too talented or too successful at Court, to have ever been what I was. "I've never heard you speak like that before," he adds.

"That's because I don't. It's not real," I explain. "More like a performance I'm giving from memory. Breda drilled the street-talk out of me hard - no one wants a bard who talks like a draggle-tailed guttersnipe."

He remains incredulous. "You rarely even swear in public."

"Compared to you." I tilt a finger at him - he knows it's true. "Your kind can get away with it."

"My kind?" He looks hurt. It's a low swipe, as I know well enough that he has as little shared cause with the backcountry gentry as I do with the backalley vice gangs; misfits, both. Doesn't mean it's not true, though, and he frowns thoughtfully, half an admission. "I can see how one kind of respectability grants leave to flout others. The Heralds have always tried to appreciate our differences but -"

"Have you seen Court society? They don't appreciate anything that's so much as a hair out of fashion. If I'm not passable as one of them, I'm nothing."

"True," he says. Doesn't yet seem willing to abandon the point, this idea that there's some illusion at work. My mind latches on a remembered thought from my first years at the Collegium, one I don't really feel like sharing with him right now; the way elocution lessons always reminded me of those times when I used to go peer through the windows of riverside bars and see beautiful young men dressed up as beautiful girls.

There was always more to it than showed on the outside. More than shoes and literacy and talking in a way that would make people listen to me for once. I had to learn their whole game and how to cheat at it better than they do.

He's still watching me in that way that speaks of dozens of unvoiced questions, and I shrug them off, not caring if it seems petulant. I've never had a choice about any of it - which of us ever did? "I'm not a cover story, and if I don't belong here you can take that up with Lynnell." She dragged me here because she saw something that was useful to the crown and she couldn't care how much I had to change to fit in here, or how many people would hate me for it. Everything I've done this year - everything, including you - has justified that, I'm sure, assuming she's spared attention from her adventures to take notice of news from Court. I should write to her, I guess.

"Stef, I'm far from the only one who's cause to be thankful she found you -."

"Oh, I know how lucky I was." I don't bother to point out that if it weren't for my coveted giftedness I'd still be on the streets. Or dead. Most likely dead. No matter what kind of person I was. "So how did you like the gutter life?"

"You know damn well it was hellish," he replies coldly. "But it was so strategically worthwhile that I had to do it - it let me get at the information I wanted while staying unnoticed -"

"Beneath notice, right?" He turns his face away, not taking the bait, but I see his face colour and I can feel every old resentment rising in my throat and I'm tipsy enough to not care that so little of it is his fault because there's enough immediate facts of it that are. "At least you only remind me you're my better some of the time."

"Some of the time?" he snaps back.

Oh gods, I'm a fool and I'm halfway drunk and we're both spoiling for a stupid argument. "Do you really think you're perfect? Of course you hold it over me sometimes. Like when you first saw that thing." I wave at the half-globe of amber that hangs from his neck. "You gave me a horse and then when I tried to give you a - a bit of rock - you act like, like you thought I..."

"What?" He harries my hesitation, chasing for something he can get defensive about.

"I thought," I force out, "that you thought I'd whored for it."

I feel his shock before he damps down on it, pointlessly as it's still written all over his face. He's silent for several seconds. "That's not what - Stef, I - I don't know what I thought. Only that there was no way -"

"- No way I could ever offer you anything that was as good as you deserved. Except - with my body -"

His whole posture seems to shrink. "Did I really make you feel like that?" he asks, voice small and shaken. "Like the only value I saw in you was in bed?"

I turn away, not granting him an answer to that - but I know damn well every other highborn I ever slept with felt that way. I've learned to sense when he's fishing for something to get upset about, and I don't truly want to hurt him. I go stand by the window, glance out at the smothering clouds, close the curtains, rearrange the oddments on the writing-desk, ignore his needling question and his helpless stare. He wants me to either reassure him or to be cruel to him and I'll do neither. I feel as painful and awkward as a bone spur, and that look on his face was so guilt-striken that my heart is giving lodestone-tugs to go take it back, try to comfort my own words away, throw the covers back over my ugly past existence. (I couldn't call that history a life.) But I can't. I won't. There's a lump gathering in my throat and I know it's as selfish as it is foolish but I'm not letting it be all about how he feels.

I'm caught unawares by a hand on my arm and he says the only thing he could that wouldn't make me push him away. "Stef - I'm sorry."

I turn to him slowly, take his other arm and look warily up into his eyes. He means it. The hurt gives way in my chest, softer things welling up beneath it, and I squeeze his arm to steady myself. "I'm sorry too. But I want to be able to give you things, alright? It's not often I've had a chance to give anything to anyone." I can feel his recognition - gods, I know how much he values those few people he lets himself care for - is it so hard to see that I do too? "It would be nice not to have my motives questioned because of -" I switched, that other voice tasting of bile, "- where I come from. Cant ask that of eve'one but I can ask you."

It's as much of an illusion to me as to anyone else, sounds I've not used since before my voice broke, a forgery of what I might have sounded like today if, if, if, if I'd never been spared the streets or if I'd tumbled back down there and if I'd somehow lived this long anyway. But my voice is enough to fool both of us, and I feel that gulf between us open wider - and Van pulls me tight against him anyway.

"I'm sorry," he says again. "I've been unfair to you, and - hells, Stef, I'm no good at saying what I feel -" He leans his head against mine, a gentle gesture for all I can almost hear his feelings pounding through skin, much stronger than his whispered words. "I love you. Not in spite of who you are, but because of it. There's no one else like you, and everything that makes you - different - is one more thing I love about you. I never intended to slight you for any of it. And - and bedding you isn't a tenth of it, you know that."

I hope he can feel my forgiveness, because I've no words of reply in any voice. I let him hold me for silent minutes. It's never perfect - and thank the gods, truly, for someone to yell at about the bad old days, someone who'll learn to understand, someone worth arguing with, someone who won't give up on me even when I make everything complicated. If we wanted perfect, we wouldn't be doing this. And he's said I'm too young, that he'll put me at risk, and we don't either of us have enough time for each other, and I know very well there's people - even Heralds - who still look askance at him for taking me into his bed -

This is not about how unsuited we are for each other. This is about how that will never stop us from loving each other.

He kisses my forehead, and I attack his neck in return - roughly, but it won't be the first time I've given him cause to be glad that high collared shirts are fashionable this year. I feel his laugh shake against my lips. "Not just - I told you, it's more than -"

"More than just sex. Doesn't mean we should to let up on the sex." I smile at him. Maybe my problem is that this is too easy - it's what I'm most confident in delivering, smoke, mirrors, pleasure - whereas I'm a wide-eyed, cack-handed newcomer to real intimacy. I could burn every song I ever wrote about love before knowing him. And he knows exactly what we're doing and I think there's part of him that's terrified of it, terrified of losing me because of what happened to him last time and I can't blame him or fight him or do anything but ineptly coax him into letting me love him the way he deserves, and sex is such a simple way to reach him. It's so easy.

"You..." He's trembling under my lips, and his hands are roaming my back. "You have a point there."

"Even the sex isn't just sex any more," I say thoughtfully. He shrugs an awkward acknowledgement of it, and I note how the talk of our perversities brings more colour to his face. "Would you like to..." He meets my eyes again, waiting for me to figure out what the hell the question is. "That voice of mine," I try, and switch over to it. "Wanna hear it while I fuck you?" His eyes widen, but he looks fascinated all over again. "Say it," I demand.

"I want to hear it," he replies, with a little hesitation, "while you - fuck me. Milord."

No, gods no, I've never been anyone who could presume to command him and tonight I don't want to indulge that pretence. "Drop that," I correct him. "Aint no lord right now. You got that?" He nods. "So take your clothes off, then," I add roughly. And I watch from my comfortable vantage point of perpetually two steps ahead of him as he reacts to this demand.

I love playing with words. Every other time I've taken his body like a plaything, I've used a steady, demanding press of them to tame him into kneejerk compliance. I've let him respond to that role, let him play-act at thinking I deserve it. Listen to me, love - I'm not someone there's any reason to obey...unless you really, really want to.

So take your clothes off. For me. Because you get off on doing what I want you to. Because you want to be used and don't care who by so long as it's me.

I watch him become calm and determined, ready for anything I want from him, and he unfastens his belt. For me. Whatever I am. He's bold enough to accept whatever and whoever I want to try doing and being. He pulls his tunic and his shirt up over his head, and I see the cause of our argument hanging below his throat; I watch the warm candlelight catch in its centre, thinking fast.

He always takes it off last, so I grab his hands as soon as he's off with his underclothes. "No. Leave it."

He freezes for a second. I let him go, step back again, so he knows he could stop this, we could go talk about this some more and draw new lines or try something else. He doesn't have to give me anything, much less everything. This isn't a test; it's just a game.

"Alright," he says. "What now?"

"Sit down." It comes out as all one word, schwas slurring from consonant to consonant. I point at a space on the floor at the foot of the bed, and turn my back on him as he sits. "Oh, an' touch your cock, you slut."

I hear him make a low throaty sound behind me, and let it go unacknowledged as I sense that he's doing as I told him. He's not one for making dirty talk, and I've had enough experience to know that it's the ones who shy from it who are most inflamed by it. I strip slowly, with my back turned to him so he can see without ever directly getting the impression that I care how he feels; though he knows very well that I thrive off exhibition and can surely tell how much I'm enjoying the way his eyes fall upon me. I gather a few things I think I might need, toss them on the bed, and return to watch him.

I love his cock, and it looks even better with his hand wrapped around it, playing lightly up and down the shaft, perhaps anticipating how much more I intend to torment him. He spares the head brief squeezes to relax the pressure, and, with the openness I've always insisted upon within these games, I can feel his lust under my own skin. What a sight. What a filthy sight.

"C'mere." My hand slips around the back of his neck, fingers catching his silver chain and twining around it, gently drawing him half-upright, leading him across the room in a stoop. I feel his breath hitch against the pull of links, entangling in my playfulness. I wouldn't break it - why harm something that binds him to me? It's -

- And I can't breathe either. I'm thinking of that more usual kind of binding, a string about the hands and a ring upon the finger. The kind the gods approve of. He stumbles into me where I stand, and I wonder if he knows what I'm thinking about us. He looks up at me, confused but still open and unfearing. "What are you doing?"

I don't reply. I just wrap an arm around him and turn us towards the mirror behind the door, pushing him to his knees as we move.

We are so different. What we are, what we look like, even how we see it - a blush rising in his cheeks at the sight of himself down on the floor with his cock so hard it's almost dripping, while I smile shamelessly at his reaction. He tries to avert his eyes and I pull his head up, remorseless. It's not like his embarrassment is dampening his lust - quite the opposite, so I'm sensing, and I do want him to see this...

It's not right. It's impossible, like I've caught one of those far-west story-monsters and wrapped a chain around its neck - as much spirit as human in this light that flickers over scarlines and shines white-gold in his hair. I know that somewhere in the shadows of him there's that place where lightning-lines meet a claw-scar, form a crosshatch below that lump of amber; I'm not the first to try to steal his heart away.

I could feel plain, standing over him - only human and a gutter runt at that, all jutting bones and asymmetric knots of muscle, not suited to catch anything but pigeons and somehow I've got this. And why? Because I wouldn't let go. I never will.

I stroke at the hair over his neck, and he shivers. "Nice bit of tail, ain't you? I'd've slipped you a silver if I met you on a street corner. Y'made me court you instead. Made things complicated." I curl my hand in the chain around his neck, pulling roughly, breaking skin. The stone settles in the hollow of his throat, and I feel him breathing fast against it. He knows. He knows I'll be leaving marks. He knows that I like to leave signs of possession on him - drawn on skin, or deeper - signs I can't lose sight of and he can't run from, memory in flesh. You're mine. "D'you like this?" I ask, giving him enough slack to speak. "Like seein' what you're doin'?"

"Yes," he admits, gasping.

Pointless not to. I see him glance from me to the mirror, and he sure as hell isn't looking at my eyes. I lean closer, and brush my hard cock against his cheek, leaving a bead of fluid like a spilt tear. He hisses, needy, not willing or daring to ask for what he wants. He doesn't have to ask because I'm going to tell him. "Get that easy mouth to work." Not that my hand at his neck would give him a choice, but he turns into me and eagerly wraps his lips around me. Oh he is so good, soft tonguetip playing around my foreskin as his mouth presses lower, and the way his eyes flutter closed like this is something romantic will never stop being unspeakably sexy.

I watch him. His hunger to please, his intentness. Like getting me off is more important than any dignity he ever wore. He's got a hand cupping my balls with incongruous delicacy, another alternating between holding me tight around the base and reaching round my hips, pulling me closer. "Y'could've been made for this," I murmur appreciatively, and feel a shudder within that rhythm he's keeping, lips pulling forward and back around my cock, bringing me closer each time he moves. I think he's forgetting himself.

I know he's forgetting which of us is in control.

I tug hard at the chain around his neck, yanking his head up, and oh gods and demons, for one furious second he tries to keep his mouth over my cock, so desperate. His lips relinquish me, and his mouth hangs open, tongue dry and needy, breaths shallow and urgent. "Not 'ad enough yet? Oh, don't you worry." I point to the place at the foot of the bed where I had him earlier. "Get back there," I ask casually, and then slap him across the face when he tries to get up. "No, you scumsucker. You can crawl. I wanna good look at your arse."

He gives me that hopeless, incredulous, needy look I've been seeing a lot of since we started doing this. Like he can't believe what I just asked of him but is so turned on by it that he can't refuse. I smile down at him. I know - I can feel - that it's not easy to do this. To cast off his rank and its burdens and be mine completely for a few stolen minutes.

Let go, ashke. I'll catch you.

He dips his head in shame as I feel him surrender to me. And he sinks down on his elbows and does it. Knees sliding over the rug, his beautiful hips waving side to side as he moves - giving me a delicious show because he'd never bow without a flourish. Mine. I can't resist grabbing a handful, twisting his firm and inviting flesh, and he lifts willingly up to my hand. "You fucking love this. You love acting like a good-time-boy." I slap his ass and he gives me a low groan. "Get moving, trollop."

He stops by the footboard of the bed, and looks up at me. Eyes wide and dark and wanting. He'd do anything for me. Anything. I reach over to my assembled oddities and hold up a length of ragcloth. He looks down at his wrists and I feel a bold thrill go through him, like he's past discomfort and into that place where the only question he has is 'which hand?'

I make him offer the left one first, and tie it slack enough to let the blood get to his fingers - I don't waste time on real knots, because if he wanted to get away from me he'd just burn the old rags with his mind and me with them. Then the right one, tied to the other post. Now he's facing me, kneeling on the rug, his arms spread and his cock shedding clear drips of precome over his lap - I've still barely touched it, so far.

I should fix that.

I sit beside him and kiss him soft on the neck, open-mouthed and tongue stroking him gently. He can't move much, so he moans and tilts his head against mine. I've noticed that tying him up makes him relaxed and vocal, as if indulging an illusion of there being no chance to escape from this makes it easier to accept his own wantonness. He could break his bonds any moment - it's no realer than my voice is. I drop my head and take a nipple into my mouth, still offering only gentle caresses. He strains, knees twitching and back arching under me. I reach a hand to the other, and twist it hard, making him buck with hurt. It's - both strange and wonderful that I've had the most tender, easy sex of my life with him and also the most vicious and bizarre, and I love to let the two halves mix together freely. He brings out the everything in me.

I kiss his cock once, softly and completely, my lips reaching almost to its base before pulling off him. He tries to rise up in my mouth but I press my forearms down on his thighs, keeping him trapped in place. Once is all I'm going to offer him, and only on my terms. I step back to my feet and his lips part immediately, because I promised, I warned him, I know what he likes.

I grab him by the chin and slap him again. "Be a nice comeslut and ask for it. Polite-like."

He bites his lip, scrabbling for words to please the me I'm pretending to be this time. It's cruel and ridiculous and he knows it - he's spent years fending off all the people who would offer anything to go to bed with him, only to cleave to a presumptuous arachnid who likes to hear him beg for his satisfaction. "Please - I want to suck your cock. You can - have anyhing else you want, any way you want, I'll do anything else you -"

I cut him off by putting my thumb to his lips, and he captures it, tongue eager to curl around anything I might give him. I smile wickedly, and come a little closer. He leans in for my cock with his lips, and I dance away again. "Desperate much?" His face creases. "S'no wonder you make your pretty promises so easy. You want me to bugger you - why don't you spread them thews like the whore you are?"

I didn't know his face could get any redder. Part of our pact, that; he mustn't hide anything or lie to me, while I can say whatever I like, so he complies, showing me the soft flesh of his inner thighs - it's a little thing, but it makes him feel debased and vulnerable, and that pleases the both of us. "Yes. Please -"

"Shut up and I might let you suck me." I touch my cock to his face again, brushing it from one side to the other over his nose, watching that confounded expression form on his face; frustrated with me, definitely, but his submission is strong enough to keep it in check and that is what I want, and I'll go to any ridiculous lengths to get it. To get him out of control.

I slip my cock between his lips and he keeps dutifully in place, merely holding me and working his tongue over what I've allowed him. My hands wrap around his head, curling them in his hair, and I start thrusting into his mouth.

This is using him. Because he wants it. It's more than I thought sex could ever be, even with him. Yes, he's an empath, and everything I ever heard about them exulting in the pleasure they cause others turned out to be true. And yes, we're lifebonded, and feelings spill so easily between us. But striking this total imbalance - me as everything, him as nothing except the cock in his mouth, with no concern outside of acting on the need he's fuelled within me - it's intense and obscene and completely wonderful.

I start slow. No harm in offering him a chance to get used to it before I start fucking his mouth properly. He's trying to adjust, trying to breathe. He's pulling at the ropes around his wrists and I realise how helpless he feels because he can't touch me, can't push back or hold me close to him. It's not his decision any more. I hold his head tighter and pull him towards me as I thrust, feeling him splutter and fight his against his own reflexes because he'd rather make me come than breathe.

Oh gods, that shouldn't feel good but it does. Stealing all his control and fucking him, leaving him choking and desperate to satisfy, it shouldn't feel better than letting him suck me off properly but it does. He's trying so hard and I'm making him hurt and flail and try harder, all of his own lust diverted into making me satisfied.

When I pull him off me again, he doesn't resist. I've taken that burden from him. He's just going with this, being my godsdamned wonderful possession. His head lolls back against the footboard of our bed, saliva escaping his mouth at the corners and breaths coming hoarse and hard. His cock is full and dark and hard enough to hurt, and I reach down to stroke him with one finger, not enough to relieve need but enough to stoke it. "You look smoked," I tell him. "Like you gave someone your face to fuck." He moans, at the touch or the words or both, and I ask him, sharply, "What are you?" - words for words for filth, for me, come on, tell me, touch me, respond.

"I - gods - I'm yours."

Oh, yes, and that's more than any attempt to match my foul cant ever could be. All my words have been lies, meaningless, bindings as fake as the ones on his arms - and he still offers me truth. I sigh, and look down at him, letting the voice go. "I love you, you know?" He nods, and returns my smile shakily. Watches me tug on the head of my cock, hard and fast and ready.

He has the wits to close his eyes. Like this - is something - romantic. Oh stars, and I can't think, can't stand, nothing left of us but blood and light.

*

I let my knees buckle the rest of the way, and stare wearily at my handiwork. While seed is never as dramatic as it feels, I am going to hold this sight of him among my dearest, profanest memories - his limbs splayed wide, the remnant of my lust trailing down his throat and chest. There's a little of it on that piece of amber, marring and marking it, and I lean close to kiss it clean, catching the taste of myself with my lips and then raising them to claim his. I find him open, warm, willing. He feels as profane as he looks - all abandon and reflected ecstasy, only still attached to this world because I tied him to it and spattered it over his body.

Knife. Somewhere. I left it on the bed. I find it and scurry back to him, drop to my knees, and kiss his cock with the care and attention it deserves. He lifts his hips under me, moaning, and that's enough, that's what I need, so I sit up and cut his right hand free.

He stares at me, waiting, flexing his wrist back and forth, not daring to ask for more freedom. "Are you going to...?"

"Not bloody likely. Play with yourself," I demand, and I walk away from him, smiling. I hop on the bed behind him, and lie carelessly on my stomach looking down at where he sits, and I reach down to touch him, to twist at his hair or his nipples, to kiss gently around the sides of his face, to whisper sweet filthy nothings that degrade and inflame him. And when he comes I'll feel it through him, let him go, and I'll be ready with handkerchiefs and embraces and thankfulness. For now, I'll simply watch and sense and interfere and make him listen to me - to lost words that I never missed, almost forgot I still knew, always knew he'd reject on first hearing.

Which he didn't. He isn't. He - I break character, vexed. "You like this filth."

"I - like you," he moans, as if to say that the two are connected. Well, huh.