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Deeper into the Woods

Chapter Text

If someone had told Augus Each Uisge that by the time the sun set on the day that stretched ahead of him, a Seelie War General would end up kneeling in his foyer, dripping blood, he would have laughed. Seelie fae didn’t want much to do with him, and though he took them on as clients sometimes, a War General was a whole other issue.

As it was, Augus had cleared the week for himself. There were some curative herbs he wanted to prepare, there were drying sheafs of whitewheat which needed to be stacked and packaged for transport to one of his buyers.

Before he’d taken on work as a professional dominant, he’d worked as a herbalist – primarily in the procurement, preparation and selling of rare flora to healers – and he liked to keep his skills honed.

He wasn’t the most conventional of all the reincarnations of the Each Uisge, and he knew that. Certainly, he was Unseelie, and that meant he possessed an Unseelie appetite, hunting humans once a month, tearing their moresome flesh apart and gulping it down, rending it between the sharp, ugly teeth of his true-form; a giant, sleek, raven-pelted waterhorse. The wild joy he experienced when he slipped into the human world to hunt his prey, the savage satisfaction he felt rending their delicate flesh apart until nothing but a whole liver remained, that was all true to the fairy tales that contained his name.

Otherwise, he wasn’t supposed to have a job, even if it was one that used his sensual abilities in self-mastery and the mastery of others, even if it was more of a vocation, than anything. He was expected to look predatory and pretty around a lake that he’d nurtured, to saunter about in human form on the banks, or occupy his underwater home; which despite its location, was dry and protected from water by a magical green dome of his own making. Like most waterhorses, he liked the sensation of being dry in his human-form, which meant that having long hair that constantly dripped fresh, pristine lake water was sometimes something of a chore. Then again, he’d been alive for nearly two thousand years, and it was safe to say he was used to that. The fae world was adaptable to his needs and the similar needs of other fae, tailors and weavers had developed water-wicking fabric that didn’t get wet, and simply let the water sluice away to the floor.

He was proudly Unseelie, and that meant that Seelie clients tended to be few. After all, they were often too busy nurturing their righteous devotion to virtue, the idea that they were the ‘good guys,’ the heroes of all the tales where the Unseelie were the flesh-devouring, emotion-eating, soul-sucking villains. Even those Seelie that had a more even-tempered view of the world, who understood that their realm needed light and dark and that the alignment divide was biological – and not all Seelie fae were quite so virtuous as they believed anyway – it still didn’t predispose them to wanting to submit to Augus’ skills, even for the purposes of healing some broken rift inside of themselves.

Early afternoon found Augus in his large herbal room, boiling tubes set below steadily burning flames as he carefully added a pre-selected number of leaves to each one, making sure the colouration of the bubbling liquid was closer to bottle green than jade green. The room stank of heavy, acrid sap, but it wasn’t a scent that bothered Augus at all.

A dull, low chime sounded throughout his house. Low enough to not disturb any clients he might be entertaining, but he felt it reverberate through his feet nonetheless.

As his brother, Ash Glashtyn, wasn’t prone to pulling on the bellpull, Augus knew it was someone else.

Augus stared at the liquid in the boiling tubes. This had to be done correctly, and the leaves were too expensive to waste. He needed to stay in this room for at least another five minutes, and perhaps, by then, whoever wanted to bother him when his schedule was clear, would leave. After all – they couldn’t enter past his foyer without his permission. It was magically warded to keep intruders at bay.

A minute passed, and the bell didn’t ring again. Then another minute, and Augus breathed out a sigh of relief, adding one more tiny, grey leaf to a third boiling tube and turning up the heat. His rig of herbal equipment was a hodgepodge of items that had been purchased from fae who stole from the human world (despite his hatred of humans overall, he accepted they had their uses when it came to technological advances, as fae still liked to pretend they lived in some idyllic Victorian age.) Alongside that were fae inventions, and the purchased, expensive magic that kept machinery working when it was supposed to run on other fuels like petroleum or coal.

The bell rang again, this time for far longer. Augus looked up impatiently, hissed as he decanted the second boiling tube – now held safely in well-used tongs – into a large, tempered jar. He made himself focus on what he was doing, easy enough given that his life had been spent in the stillness of lakes, in the focused quietude of his own mind. Even though the bell was still ringing, he decanted the contents of the third boiling tube steadily, his breathing even.

He left the corks off the bottles, knowing the liquid needed to breathe. The most pressing moment was over, and now he could tell whomever was at his door to go away and come back later. He removed thick gloves from his long-fingered hands, and lay them, one on top of each other, precisely on the corner of the table where he did the bulk of his herbal work. He removed his apron, untying the knot at the back of his neck, and then around his waist. He folded that quickly, and lay that beside the gloves just as neatly.

His walk was quick and crisp. His boots clicked on the dark tiles of his floor in a way that was reminiscent of hooves; each step reminding him of his true-form. He made his way down a long corridor, past the closed doors that led to the rooms where he assisted his clients, into the open plan area that contained a lounge, a generous kitchen space, a very generous pantry where he did the bulk of his herb drying. He passed all of that, towards the narrower entrance where double doors opened out into a charmed foyer that allowed visitors to come only so close to Augus’ private living space.

The doors opened smoothly to his touch, and Augus blinked to see no one standing before him, and then his gaze was drawn down. First to the bloodied, huge sword laying at Augus’ feet. Then the fae kneeling before the sword, wearing what looked like the undershirt and pants that might go beneath armour, spackled in so much blood and gore that it was hard to even make out what kind of fae the creature was, especially with their head bowed like that.

Augus made a clicking sound in the back of his throat, his mind working quickly. A client, because on rare occasions they did come to him like this, they were clearly broken by something. But Augus was firm with his boundaries, and some soldier could usually hold off, there were healers on the battlefield they could see, fellow soldiers to vent to.

‘If you’d like to make a time in the future,’ Augus said, ‘that would be welcome. I am not seeing clients today, and I have actually cleared my sch-’

The fae looked up at him. Blood was still smeared across his face, like someone had slapped him while their hand had been covered in it. There was one broad smear across his cheek and nose, and splatters of the stuff in his hair which was not white, as Augus had first suspected, but white-blond. Those eyes, too, so pale that they looked like cold, shallow water. They were definitely blue, but a shade he was unaccustomed to, even amongst the fae, who could have irises and eyes any colour imaginable, depending on their species.

Beneath the blood, the fae looked wrecked. Desolate. There was an emptiness in his gaze, a tightness to his mouth, and Augus could see tension in every line of his muscular body. It wasn’t the tension of exertion, but something else.

‘What do you want?’ Augus said, his voice firm. The creature’s gaze looked far too dazed for Augus to bother with anything more sophisticated.

‘I think…’ the fae said slowly, and then blinked at Augus like he was seeing him for the first time. His brow furrowed, his mouth pulled just so, in a way that had Augus’ mind flickering ahead to how the fae might look underneath a whip, or tormented by bondage. The fae looked down at the sword and one of the hands on his knee clenched into a fist, tendons pulling and straining, muscles bunching. He was not built like the more favoured fae generally considered attractive; the ones that were lithe and more androgynous like Augus was. This fae was thick through with muscle. His lips were full, the line of his nose strong, his brow broad.

Augus tilted his head to one side, squinting at him. There was something familiar about him, and he couldn’t place it. A faint glow to his appearance, as though he was lit from within, but it was a trick of the eye and it disappeared from blink to blink. But that white-blond hair, the sword…

‘What is your name?’ Augus said, and this time he put the weight of command into his voice, and the shoulders that bowed before him stiffened, as though resenting the order.

‘Gwyn ap Nudd,’ he said. ‘War General of the common fae, and-’

‘Seelie,’ Augus said, smirking. ‘A War General? If this is how the Seelie military are deciding to do away with friends of the Unseelie King, they’d best think up some new strategies, hadn’t they? Good day, Gwyn.’

Augus stepped backwards, somewhat disgusted at the guise of it all – it had seemed quite convincing, but really – when Gwyn lashed out far more quickly than anyone had a right to.

Gwyn went for Augus’ ankle, but Augus was also fast, and he sidestepped and lifted his boot, slamming it down into the hand Gwyn had extended, pinning it to the floor hard enough that the bones crunched.

Gwyn flinched and went still. He didn’t press his attack, he did nothing in the face of the pain in his hand. War General to the common fae, and kneeling before Augus, pinned to the floor, his breathing now audible.

‘Please,’ Gwyn said, his voice rough, deep, breaking.

‘Why are you here?’ Augus said, his voice holding that same sense of command as before.

‘I’ve heard things…about you.’

‘I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of things about me,’ Augus said smoothly, grinding his heel down into the back of Gwyn’s hand to see what he’d do. Gwyn shuddered, but otherwise did nothing at all. How curious. ‘I am the Each Uisge, sixth incarnation in a line of Each Uisge, and well known to many fae. So why are you here?’

He infused the compulsion into his voice automatically, tired of the way Gwyn didn’t quite answer his questions.

So he was doubly shocked when Gwyn didn’t react to the compulsion. Most fae – even higher class fae who possessed more innate magic and ability – could not resist them. Augus had one of the strongest abilities to compel the truth from others supernaturally of any fae, and it worked just as well gleaning the truth from his clients as it did when forcing humans to hold still while he ripped them apart.

‘What, specifically, have you heard about me that has brought you here today, to interrupt me so? If you think I delight to have unwashed, bloody Seelie garbage on my doorstep, think again.’

Gwyn didn’t even flinch to be described so, which was also surprising. Augus had heard of Gwyn ap Nudd, the shining War General, the one that every fae with any military interest talked about. The Unseelie spitting that he was too good at what he did; likely charmed with how he won so many of his war campaigns against those of Augus’ alignment. It seemed all Augus could really remember hearing was that everyone thought Gwyn had a direct line to becoming the Oak King’s personal War General, the one who would rule not just the common fae, but the entire Seelie military. He would occupy the highest position in the Seelie military, and likely become an esteemed member of the Oak King’s personal coterie, his Inner Court.

More than that, Augus lived relatively close to the An Fnwy estate – the estate of Gwyn’s family and his childhood home – even now. It took no longer than twenty minutes to reach by horseback, through dense forest. How odd to have the son of Lludd and Crielle on his doorstep, when Augus was quite certain that both of Gwyn’s parents would be more than happy to get rid of the Unseelie waterhorse that occupied a lake nearby, in the forest of Ethallas. He’d had almost nothing to do with them, growing up, but he couldn’t help but be aware of their presence, given how rich and privileged they were.

Gwyn shifted, shivered.

‘I heard you broke people,’ Gwyn said, hesitantly, ‘…and made them whole again.’

Augus slowly moved down to one knee, keeping his boot on Gwyn’s hand and careful not to rest his knee on the sword. ‘How very crude. And do you know how I break people?’

Gwyn shrugged. ‘I’ve heard…things.’

Weariness marked all of Gwyn’s words, and a fraught energy that Augus couldn’t quite place. The reek of blood on him was strong, and Augus could already scent out different strains belonging to different people. Had there been a battle? What could have possibly driven Gwyn here?

Was it worth finding out? This wasn’t the sort of situation he found himself in on a regular basis. A Seelie War General. If nothing else, it would make a unique experience that wasn’t likely to be replicated. It would be quite…diverting, to make this one submit to him.

Augus reached out and slid his hand beneath Gwyn’s chin. The motion changed his centre of gravity so that even more of his weight was resting on Gwyn’s hand. Augus lifted Gwyn’s head, felt smooth skin and no stubble, looked at the very thick white eyelashes fringing Gwyn’s eyes. It was almost like looking into clear, fresh water. But it was deceptive, for everything about Gwyn seemed strangely caustic. The sword and the scents of battle weren’t helping much.

‘I will hurt you,’ Augus said.

‘I deserve to be hurt,’ Gwyn responded, blinking at him like it hadn’t even been a question.

‘Do you?’ Augus said, eyebrow arching. ‘Have you committed some horrendous crime? Are you so ridden with guilt you can hardly stand?’

Gwyn closed his eyes, squeezed them shut, and he tried to bow his head. Augus’ stern grip, fingers now digging in, wouldn’t let him escape.

‘And what is so criminal for a Seelie fae, hm?’ Augus said. ‘Did you tell a white lie to someone? Tell someone you’d arrive in the morning when you had no intention to be on time?’

Augus laughed at his own joke, and he was moderately surprised when it was that which made Gwyn try and yank his hand away from underneath Augus’ boot, try and yank his head back. Augus’ other hand swung up and took a handful of sticky, bloodied hair and he tightened his wrist, growling.

‘Think about what you want, Gwyn. I’d just as soon as not have you here. The Unseelie are far more graceful than you’d suspect, and I don’t often enjoy Seelie clients.’

‘But you have them,’ Gwyn said, trembling.

‘Sometimes,’ Augus said. ‘Stop interrupting me. You are not the one who holds the authority here, and I don’t care what your status is, or how often you whisper in the Seelie King’s ear. What do you want?’

Gwyn’s face seemed to close off, go cold. His eyes went distant and then he gazed through Augus, not at him. The pain in Gwyn’s hand had to be hurting, it was relentless and strong, it would have caused long-term injury to an underfae client. Augus didn’t cause his clients long-term injury, he knew very well that Gwyn would heal from things that most of Augus’ clients couldn’t.

A minute passed, another, and then Gwyn tried to twist his face out of Augus’ grip. He was shaking now. It was very likely some kind of shock, a response to whatever had brought Gwyn to his doorstep in the first place. Augus wanted him stripped naked, wanted to see what it might take to break a War General. Gwyn seemed like one of those types who would pretend at being stoic, but would break as fast – if not faster – than all the rest.

‘I need something,’ Gwyn said, like he’d never spoken the words in his entire life.

For all Augus knew, he hadn’t.

‘State what you want and clearly,’ Augus said, his voice hard and unforgiving. ‘Only then can we talk anything like terms.’

‘My heartsong,’ Gwyn said, his voice weakening. For a few seconds, Augus worried that Gwyn was having trouble hanging onto consciousness, which made no sense at all. ‘My heartsong is corrupted. I need it gone. I cannot keep living like this.’

Augus frowned. That was an odd request indeed. Heartsongs paralleled not so neatly with the human concept of the soul. Each fae had a heartsong, or a core energy, and each heartsong vibrated in synchronicity with an abstract concept. Augus’ heartsong, as far as he knew, was dominance, or mastery. As long as he lived in service to that heartsong – his chosen vocation of mastering others to help them, or mastering himself in order to grow – he would remain mentally and emotionally sound. Most fae had a single heartsong for their entire lives, and that was why some fae were so singularly good at representing things such as wealth, virtue, healing, strength, and so on.

On the very rare occasion, usually due to trauma, a heartsong could corrupt. Then it would fester, and drive the fae to commit poisonous acts. Someone with a heartsong of righteousness may commit mass murder in their zealotry. A fae with a corrupted core of cleverness, may turn their sights to evil matters, more evil than most Unseelie might consider acceptable. If the heartsong didn’t stabilise or change naturally, it would often lead to the death of the fae, and many other fae besides. Even the mild destabilisation of a heartsong lead to soul sickness.

But to interfere with them directly was considered…far too intimate a thing to offer to someone else. It was one thing to offer up one’s body, even one’s mind, but to say ‘I need my heartsong gone’ seemed almost repellent.

Then again, Augus always had liked a challenge. It also wouldn’t be the first time he had broken someone of a corrupted heartsong, even if he hadn’t known that was what the client truly needed when they first visited him. But to do so intentionally?

‘What is this heartsong of yours, that’s so apparently vexatious to you?’

‘Triumph,’ Gwyn said, swallowing like he was about to be sick. ‘It’s triumph.’

No wonder the beast wins so many battles.

‘I can’t imagine the Oak King wants you to lose that one.’

‘I need it gone,’ Gwyn said, quailing in Augus’ grip. ‘You don’t understand. He wouldn’t understand. I can’t live like this anymore.’  

Augus leaned in even closer, his gaze unblinking, quickly turning predatory. ‘And what’s so bad about winning, hm? Or is it the very terrible things that one does during war, to ensure those triumphs? I think we all understand that the Seelie aren’t quite as virtuous as they like to think they are. We all know that Seelie fae torture their prisoners for information as much as the Unseelie do.’

‘Are you turning me away?’ Gwyn said, sounding frightened now, and despairing, like the very thought of an Unseelie fae turning him away was unbearable.

And that was fascinating. Gwyn’s entire career was based on killing Augus’ kind.

‘How in the world did you end up here?’ Augus breathed. ‘And quite the contrary. But there are terms that need to be discussed. It’s best if we do that inside. How’s your hand?’

‘Sore,’ Gwyn said. ‘It’s nothing.’

‘It is nothing, compared to what I want to do to you,’ Augus said. ‘Be honest with yourself now. Do you really want an Unseelie fae – one who has an idea of the many of us that you’ve killed – taking you in?’

Gwyn didn’t respond, but Augus could see the answer writ plainly in his gaze. Whatever the problem was, Gwyn was desperate, and obviously didn’t feel he could go to anyone in the Seelie world. Perhaps he required confidentiality. Perhaps the matter was so dire he worried it would affect his standing with the Seelie King.

‘All right,’ Augus said, standing and lifting his boot off Gwyn’s hand. It had started to ooze blood where Augus’ heel had cut in. ‘Pick up your sword. Do you need assistance standing?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said, sounding mildly affronted. As though he hadn’t just been kneeling there pathetically. As though he hadn’t begged.

Augus found that deeply amusing. He turned and walked towards the open doors, and then heard a clattering sound, and the sound of someone not quite able to stand. Augus continued to face his own home, a smile finding his voice. ‘Are you sure you don’t need assistance standing?’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said, voice unexpectedly hard. Didn’t have much of a sense of humour then, not that it wasn’t obvious enough.

Augus walked into his home and paused by the doorway, waving a slightly wobbly Gwyn within. Gwyn walked about fifteen paces into Augus’ home and then stopped, looking around, still dazed, and now looking unsure of his choice. But Augus was feeling more and more certain. The opportunity to break a Seelie military member presented its own thrills, though he was sure he’d find nothing exceptional underneath that expressive face. A fae who had been trained to fight with an unusual number of wins behind him. How utterly tragic.

Eyes prickled at his back as he walked into his own kitchen, drawing out two glasses from a cabinet. He filled one with water, and the second with a chilled, unsweetened tea from a fridge that ran on magic. The fridge was filched from the human world, they were certainly adept at technology, even if they were determined to pollute themselves and their world in the pursuit of it. Fae tended to steal what they wanted, and then run it on magic or different engineering systems.

Augus walked over to Gwyn, looking him up and down, wondering what Gwyn might look like beneath all the blood. His mind filtered through details. No visible arm hairs, no stubble, only eyebrows, eyelashes, the hair on the top of his head, which was thickly curled and long enough that it would likely form individual, bulky ringlets when wet or drying. He was extremely pale for someone who spent a lot of his time on battle campaigns, no tanned skin, no visible scarring, and his face looked emotionally worn, but otherwise, he looked to be no older than about thirty, maybe thirty five. He was, of course, much older than that. Augus looked no older than his mid twenties, despite being nearly two thousand years old. Fae instinctively shaped off their physical age at a certain point, Gwyn’s had let his drift later than the average fae would, there were slight creases at the corner of his eyes.

Gwyn took the glass of water and sipped it nervously, politely. He looked around and seemed to be making an obvious effort not to actually look at Augus, which was interesting, given he must spend most of his days commanding others, making his presence known. Even his glamour was odd – rough and prickly, the kind that would aggravate and rally people into war. Augus’ fae glamour was, on the other hand, charming when he wanted it to be, predatory at other times. It could evoke fear or seduction, or both, as the situation required.

‘It’s probably much simpler than what you’re used to,’ Augus said blandly, noticing the way Gwyn stared at all the items of furniture in his lounge, as though logging them.

‘I run battle campaigns,’ Gwyn said to the glass of water, before taking another sip. ‘I sleep in tents, a lot of the time.’

‘Surely War Generals don’t have to be on the frontlines, in tents, if they don’t want to be? There is such a thing called delegation.’

Gwyn stiffened. He didn’t seem to know what to do with the glass of water. ‘I want to be there. On the frontlines.’

‘Until today?’

‘Until…’ Gwyn shook his head like Augus had asked something particularly irritating.

You’re not going to like the rest of the things I ask you, particularly when you’re tied up and hurting.

‘My terms,’ Augus said, changing the subject. Gwyn looked relieved when Augus took the glass of water and set it down on the coffee table, before sipping at his tea. ‘They seem quite simple, but you must give them serious consideration. First, if you agree to my methods, there is no backing out. There is no human concept of a ‘safe word’ here. Once you subject yourself to me, you will not leave this house until I am satisfied with what I have wrought from you and your mental state. Let me be frank. My methods take time. You can expect to be here for at least a full day, if not two days. And you will hurt, Gwyn.’

‘Torture doesn’t mean anything to me,’ Gwyn said, dismissive.

‘It will,’ Augus said, gazing at him. ‘Because you’re here because you want to give something up to me. And I know it’s something that is not easy to give, and I know that you will fight giving it to me. For if it was easy, you would not be here, a Court fae in the home of an Unseelie underfae, would you?’

Gwyn flushed, he swallowed thickly. He still looked very distressed, very desperate. Augus wondered if he’d feel shaking in Gwyn’s limbs, pulled to tautness. He hoped Gwyn would say yes to him, because he wanted to know what would happen if Gwyn surrendered to bondage, if he gave himself up to the cross. If Gwyn was truly conditioned to most forms of pain, he could take a lot more than the average fae, and Augus was a sadist through and through. He wanted to know what Gwyn could take.

Wanted to push him further to see what Gwyn would give to him.

‘I will not release you in a worse state mentally, physically or emotionally than when you arrived,’ Augus said. ‘And everything that transpires here is confidential. The details of what happens here do not get shared to others. You may, if you feel the necessity, tell others of what transpired. But I will not.’

Gwyn looked sceptical, and Augus didn’t bother to push his point. The Seelie tended to show Unseelie fae little trust by default. Augus still couldn’t quite understand why – of all his options – Gwyn had chosen to come here. It must have been quite some recommendation that Gwyn had heard.

‘What about fucking?’ Gwyn said bluntly.

‘Ah, so that’s what you’ve heard?’ Augus said, laughing. ‘Well, maybe. If I want to. If I think it’s necessary. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t.’

Augus could hardly see Gwyn’s chest moving, he was breathing so shallowly. His pulse fluttered quickly at his thick neck. He was obviously good at compartmentalisation. The broken man that had been on his doorstep wasn’t the one standing in front of him now. This was someone who was good at looking at details when tens of thousands of soldiers were bearing down on him. He liked picking at compartments. He smirked.

‘You must have done something terrible,’ Augus said. ‘You could save yourself a lot of trouble if you just tell me the events that led you to want a different heartsong.’

Gwyn tensed, blinked twice, very quickly. He shook his head. ‘You don’t need to hear it, you just need to do what I want you to-’

‘Oh, it doesn’t work that way,’ Augus said, feeling that part of himself that liked the hunt wake up even more. He flicked his tongue against his canine tooth and tilted his head. ‘The last thing you should know is that you will hate me, you might change your mind about even wanting to be here, and I don’t care. I have had over a thousand years to cultivate my reputation, and I know what I’m doing far better than you. If you agree to what I’ve asked, we do things my way. If you choose not to listen to me, obey me, you will be disciplined.’

Gwyn made a scoffing sound, but his body seemed to lean towards Augus, as though…he wanted that? Augus catalogued everything. Interesting body language.

‘Do you have any questions for me?’ Augus asked.

‘Payment,’ Gwyn said.

‘Whatever you think it’s worth,’ Augus said, waving a hand. Gwyn scowled at that, and Augus sighed. ‘That’s all. Payment in proportion to what you think I have given you, within two months of what we have undertaken.’

Augus walked up to Gwyn, watched the way Gwyn didn’t tense, but actually deliberately loosened his limbs. Augus kept his face schooled to blank confidence, but he was impressed. Gwyn was reacting like a fighter. Relaxing his stance to stay loose and able to fight back as necessary. Which meant that he saw Augus as a threat, even now. It was for the best. If Gwyn wanted his heartsong broken, he should feel threatened.

‘What did you do?’ Augus said, touching two fingers to Gwyn’s lower back through his shirt, feeling tautness beneath, muscular definition.

Gwyn said nothing at all.

‘Are you even going to accept my terms?’ Augus said, and Gwyn closed his eyes as Augus leaned in closer. Gwyn was taller than him, but not by much. Still, Augus felt slight against all that power. The Court status, the muscular build – so rare in a world where most fae simply used fae abilities or magic to bolster their strength, the military skills he likely possessed. But then, Augus felt powerful too, that Gwyn stood still for him, that he felt threatened.

‘What happened to that creature that was kneeling at the front of my home, hm? I saw it, Gwyn. You are so broken. Aren’t you? How much of you is running on instinct right now? To defend yourself, to make sure you don’t get hurt, to be the soldier.’

Gwyn’s lips pursed, his eyes squeezed shut so that Augus could see minute creases in his eyelids. His forehead creased together. Augus wondered what he’d look like pushed to the point of surrender, face slack with pleasure, or the relief that came from a lack of pain. He placed his hand flat between Gwyn’s shoulder blades and felt a thundering heart. Yet if he flared his nostrils he couldn’t smell fear. Did Gwyn have an ability to mask it? That would certainly be an asset in the field.

‘Do you accept my terms?’ Augus said. ‘Is it so very hard to say yes to me? An Unseelie fae, promising to hurt you?’

Gwyn said nothing at all, though he tensed further.

Augus laughed softly. ‘You reek of desperation.’

‘Okay,’ Gwyn said, his eyes still closed.

Augus paused. At first, he thought that Gwyn was agreeing with him, and then he realised that it was consent. Reluctant, yes, but definitely there.

He slid his hand up into Gwyn’s hair, fingers trailing through thick curls as he tightened his hand into a fist.

‘I need you to be very, very sure,’ Augus said. ‘So I will ask for the old bindings of verbal contract. Three answers, and the pact is sealed. So, Gwyn, tell me, are you willing to give yourself up to my care?’

‘Care or not, I have already said that I will,’ Gwyn said, sounding faintly impatient, even as he didn’t respond to the hand in his hair, didn’t shift away from the threat of that contact.

Augus slid the fingers of his other hand across Gwyn’s waist and measured the muscle that rested over his ribs, and then slid his claws through a linen shirt, directly into skin. Gwyn’s muscles jumped, blood seeped from him, the scent of it so much sharper and acrid than most of the blood that already covered him. But Gwyn didn’t try and move away.

‘You accept my terms?’

A long pause then. Gwyn knew what it meant to answer in affirmative or negative to the same thing three times. All fae knew. It was a binding contract, and there would be no breaking it once made.

‘I accept,’ Gwyn said, his voice surprisingly strong, given that he still had Augus’ claws in his ribs, and his fist in his hair.

‘All right,’ Augus said, clicking with his tongue as he thought everything over. ‘Give me your sword.’

It had been hanging in Gwyn’s left hand, the point of it lazily pressed to the tiles. Gwyn looked down at it as though he’d forgotten it was there, and then his nostrils flared.

‘You must keep it safe,’ Gwyn said.

Augus drew back his hand and then struck Gwyn’s face with the tips of his claws. It would sting, it would raise welts, but it wouldn’t bruise. Wouldn’t daze him. Gwyn blinked in shock, and then looked at Augus in outrage.

‘First rule,’ Augus said, staring at him. ‘You do not give the orders. You are not my War General, and I do not answer to you. You answer to me. Give. Me. Your. Sword.’

Gwyn’s hand tightened on the hilt of the sword instinctively, and Augus couldn’t help the lazy smile that crossed his face. He drew back his hand and Gwyn’s eyes were widening in anger when Augus struck him again. This time hard enough that Gwyn’s head moved. Not as much as if he were a lower status, but then that was part of the fun of having someone who was Court status in front of him.

‘Second rule,’ Augus said, ‘you respond to my requests promptly. Now, do I have to ask you again to give me your sword? Or do you just like being hit in the face?’

Gwyn’s glower was impressive. His eyebrows drew together not in anxiety, but in rebellion. Augus could see a muscle jumping in his jaw as Gwyn handed the bloodied sword over. Augus took it, surprised at its heft. He looked at it curiously. He had no idea how to measure a sword’s worth, but he had the sense that this one was valuable and well-used.

‘How many Unseelie fae have died by this blade, do you think?’ Augus said.

When Gwyn didn’t respond, Augus shifted the hilt to one hand and stepped forwards, meeting Gwyn’s gaze when he drew his hand back this time. Gwyn’s lips thinned, but he didn’t step back, didn’t move away. Didn’t even flinch when Augus struck him a third time. Already, he was distinguishing himself as one of those typical soldier types who were all about showing how much machismo they had, how much they could handle pain.

Augus followed up the strike by reaching between Gwyn’s legs, gripping a handful of his crotch before Gwyn had a chance to step back. At that, Gwyn’s eyes widened in surprise, and Augus tightened his hand until Gwyn’s nostrils flared, his face blanched.

‘Ah, there we go,’ Augus said. ‘I asked you a question. Perhaps you’d like to answer?’

‘Many,’ Gwyn said, his voice faintly strained. ‘Many. Thousands. Tens of thousands.’

Augus looked down at the blade in his hand again, even as he kept that tight grip on Gwyn’s limp cock. It felt decently sized, the brute was probably considered quite appealing in certain circles.

‘Where’s the scabbard to go with it?’ Augus said, with a threatening squeeze.

Gwyn looked down, and Augus was about to respond with more pain when Gwyn’s face showed nothing but confusion. He was looking for his own scabbard.

‘I don’t know,’ Gwyn said, blinking at his own clothing. ‘I don’t know where it is. I think I left it.’

‘Where?’

Gwyn’s lips thinned again, but he shook his head rapidly.

‘I can’t,’ he said.

A rapid answer, so Gwyn was learning, but Augus didn’t like to be denied. Still, whatever matter had driven Gwyn here in the first place wasn’t one that Augus could just bully out of him in a few minutes. It was rarely that easy. He let go of Gwyn’s crotch, and then rubbed at his hip briefly in clinical reassurance.

Then he walked away and placed the sword down on his table, before walking past Gwyn, down a corridor.

‘Follow me,’ he called.

He heard Gwyn turn quickly, no hesitation. Then footsteps behind him, as Augus walked into one of the guest bathrooms and opened the door, gesturing for Gwyn to enter.

‘Strip and then shower,’ Augus said. ‘You reek, and you’ll not be needing your clothing.’

Augus expected some kind of hesitation, but Gwyn pulled off his shirt easily, and Augus filed away the knowledge that this was someone who had absolutely no problems with nudity. It was likely then, that Augus wasn’t dealing with a history of someone who was used to being ashamed of their body, though there were always exceptions to the rule. Gwyn stripped off his pants, no underwear beneath – not unusual for fae – and then looked at his bloodied wrists and hands, shuddering. But he looked up at Augus, and seemed to collect himself, and then walked over to the shower.

Someone who really is out there in the field then, with all those other soldiers, bathing together and having to strip and change around each other. Fascinating. War Generals can hang back as far as they want and protect themselves. Not this one. Self-sacrifice? He is Seelie.

Gwyn didn’t even seem to mind that Augus was there, watching. He turned on the shower – which was more a replica waterfall that could be turned on or off at will – and stepped into the shaped stone, looking at the glass vials of unlabelled products hiding on subtle moss-covered shelves. Then he stared at his wrists again, rubbing at the blood, something furious and repulsed coming over his face as he rubbed even harder.

Augus’ eyes widened.

He could use that.

Quickly, not caring for his boots or his clothing, he stepped into the shower, wincing at the heat of the water. He grabbed Gwyn’s wrists and yanked them out of the spray, ignoring the look of shock on Gwyn’s face.

‘Whose blood is it?’ Augus said, staring at the chunks of gore stuck to his skin. He picked one off, smelled more than just blood, but also viscera. And this was not the back-blow spray from sword fighting. This looked dense enough, thick enough, that Gwyn could easily have thrust his hand into someone else’s chest.

He held bits of half-dried, sticky lumps of clotted blood and gore in his hand, and then reached forwards to Gwyn’s mouth. That got an immediate reaction. Gwyn stumbled backwards, making a sound of horror, and Augus followed his motion until Gwyn’s back hit the stone wall, his head no longer underneath the fall of water. Augus slammed his palm against Gwyn’s mouth, forcing the blood and gore against it.

Gwyn’s pupils had dilated. The smell of rust, carbon, ozone filled the air. Gwyn unable to mask his fear. Augus, by counterpoint, kept his expression careful, controlled. But he didn’t move his hand away, and when Gwyn reached up with his other hand to no doubt wrench Augus’ away, Augus lashed out quickly, digging claws into Gwyn’s arm and raking the skin apart, before reaching down between his legs and grasping first his cock, then part of the skin of his scrotum, twisting his hand just enough that he had Gwyn’s attention. Those wide, wide eyes were oddly captivating. Gwyn made a sound of protest against Augus’ hand.

‘I wonder,’ Augus said quietly, his voice magnified on the wet stone, the fall of water around them, ‘I wonder who you did this to. What you did. You’ll tell me, soon enough. Do you know how many Unseelie fae eat the flesh of their kills? Have you ever done it, Gwyn? Ever gotten curious? Or does it offend you so? So much righteousness that you don’t even get to enjoy your bloodlust, do you?’

Gwyn had gone even paler than before, despite the heat of the water. His nostrils kept flaring as he gasped for breath, even as he kept his mouth shut.

‘Open your mouth, Gwyn,’ Augus said, his voice a croon.

Gwyn shook his head, tried to get away, and Augus squeezed the hand between Gwyn’s legs so hard that he yelped and went still.

But it was curious. Gwyn was strong enough to get away. He was definitely strong enough to stop what was happening. Even if Gwyn didn’t know it, even if he thought he was fighting back in every way he knew how, he wanted some aspect of this. Wanted to give Augus something he didn’t know how to give.

That was all right, Augus was practiced at waiting people out.

‘You’re breaking my rules,’ Augus said, ‘and I’ve only given you two, poor thing. You must have spent most of your life as a soldier, I was certain they were good at following rules. Especially Seelie soldiers. You’re all so very well trained. And yet here you are, not following my orders, let alone following them promptly. I hope you realise that these delays will result in discipline. What I’m doing to you now is not the worst thing I will do to you.’

Gwyn closed his eyes and pressed his head back against the stone, shaking his head, and Augus leaned closer, shifted his grip between Gwyn’s legs and wrapped fingers around his vulnerable balls, threatening claws against that tender skin.

Gwyn made another sound of protest.

‘I thought you were accustomed to torture,’ Augus said. ‘But then, it’s so much easier to deal with torture when you can hang onto the fact that you’re not going to betray your country, your Kingdom. Here, now, it’s quite obvious that you already feel like you’ve betrayed them. Otherwise, why come to me? Hm? Why would a War General want to give up such a helpful heartsong?’

Gwyn’s throat worked, his lips thinned even more.

‘Open your mouth, Gwyn. Why not taste your handiwork?’

Gwyn’s hand came up reflexively, and Augus punctured Gwyn’s skin. Gwyn’s arm dropped. He went limp against the wall, legs locked to hold himself upright. Now Augus could feel him shaking.

Could it really be so easy? Was it just this? Maybe it would all be over in a few minutes. Augus felt disappointed at the thought.

‘Just do this one thing for me,’ Augus said. ‘You know I’m not going to care. I eat humans, as does my brother. I’ve had countless clients who cannibalise fae. You have to know that the only person in this room who is bothered by swallowing down a little blood is you. Perhaps if you weren’t so high and mighty, you’d realise that what I’m asking you to do isn’t truly that bad.’

Augus pressed his ear to Gwyn’s mouth. ‘Unless, of course, you did something terrible to someone. Something awful. Even then, you must have wanted to do it. Someone on the frontlines like you, year after year, when you don’t have to put yourself in so much danger? Do you want the sacrifice of it, Gwyn? Or do you enjoy the bloodlust?’

Gwyn’s eyes were closed again, his chest was heaving now. He was panicking.

‘So it’s the bloodlust then?’ Augus said. ‘They say you fight like a berserker. So you must know the taste of blood, and I doubt you dislike it so, to spend so many years slaughtering tens of thousands of Unseelie fae. So why not the taste of this blood? Hm? Too afraid to taste the evidence of your crime?’

Violent trembling now, in Gwyn’s muscles. His jaw so tense it felt like the muscle might as well have been bone. Augus resisted grinning. He loved this part. His nostrils flared and he drank in the scent of him while Gwyn’s eyes were closed.

‘So afraid,’ Augus said, modulating his voice so it was soothing, instead of cold. ‘All you have to do is open your mouth, Gwyn. If you do that, I’ll let you wash all the rest of it off.’

Gwyn pressed a desperate sound against Augus’ palm. It could have been denial. It could have been a plea. Whatever it was, it meant that Gwyn was one step closer to doing what Augus wanted.

‘You knew that you couldn’t go to a Seelie fae for this,’ Augus said very quietly. ‘So whatever it is, you feel like they wouldn’t understand. You’d be surprised how many Seelie fae aren’t the perfect paragons of virtue. Or would you? You must know yourself that the Seelie are just as capable of slaughtering fae as the Unseelie, the only real difference is that we consume many of our kills, and the Seelie don’t. That’s not much of a difference, when you think about it. Not to me anyway, it seems somewhat arbitrary.’

A sound of denial, and Augus squeezed his hand a little tighter into Gwyn’s balls. He could feel blood trickling. Not much, and a very slow ooze more than anything. There were fae that would have been screaming in pain at this point. Gwyn seemed less bothered about that, than he did about what Augus was saying, or the blood and gore against his mouth. But it certainly kept him focused.

‘I’ll let you wash every sign of it away, if you do this thing for me,’ Augus said. ‘Just this one thing, Gwyn. It’s not so hard. I promise you. You’re already so broken. You’ve already committed the crime. Does this one thing really matter so much? You’ve already done the thing that sent you here, and it’s too late to undo it. This would be nothing more than the full stop at the end of a sentence you’ve already scribed.’

Augus felt the shifting of Gwyn’s jaw, saw the way he screwed up his face, like he didn’t want Augus to be right.

‘Just this one thing,’ Augus said, licking his lips. It wasn’t even about breaking Gwyn’s heartsong; not yet. Augus just wanted an inroad into the psyche that lay before him. ‘It’s almost nothing, really, compared to everything else that you’ve done. Just open your-’

Gwyn’s mouth opened, and Augus moved quickly, sliding his fingers deep into Gwyn’s mouth, the blood and gore on the underside of his fingers touching Gwyn’s tongue. Gwyn made a sound of outrage, obviously having thought that he’d just have to lick at it, but Augus wanted this instead. Wanted the frantic back shift of Gwyn’s tongue against his fingers, the way his jaw went to slam shut and at the last minute closed only gently on Augus’ fingers, trying not to do him harm – interesting – and then holding still.

Augus rubbed his fingers down generously, scratching the back of Gwyn’s tongue with his claws, only lightly, but enough that Gwyn’s chest heaved with a gag.

‘Shh,’ Augus said, ‘this is perfect.’

Gwyn’s eyes rolled back and he looked utterly miserable. But after a few seconds his tongue shifted underneath Augus’ fingers not to get away, but to taste. There was the faintest suction, as though Gwyn wanted either more of Augus’ fingers, or more of the blood itself.

Augus’ heart leapt. He could work with all of this.

‘It tastes good, doesn’t it?’ Augus said, his mouth close to Gwyn’s ear again. ‘What you’re doing right now, it’s exactly the right thing, exactly what you should be doing.’

Something in Gwyn seemed to settle at that. He was still tense, he still looked unhappy, but there was a brittleness that downshifted. Gwyn had a praise kink then, which was…curious. Not unusual, but still, not something he’d expected to create such a reaction.

In fact, at Augus’ words, Gwyn had actively started to clean the blood away from Augus’ fingers, enough that he opened his mouth wider and slid his tongue between Augus’ index and middle finger, which created all sorts of images and thoughts in Augus’ mind that he carefully pushed away and banked behind an inner wall. This wasn’t about him. Oh, he’d get the pleasure he wanted from this exchange, but it still wasn’t about him. Those needs he could get met elsewhere.

Besides, there was something delicious about having a Seelie fae sucking the blood of his own crimes off Augus’ fingers, and appearing more and more hungry as he did it.

‘Good,’ Augus said, watching him, and Gwyn’s eyes opened.

His eyes were dazed, lost. He looked like he was falling further down the rabbit hole that he’d already been falling down when he arrived.

‘And so,’ Augus crooned, ‘we get a bit further away from that heartsong of yours. Because this, Gwyn, this is not anything like triumph. This is a lot like you giving yourself up to the enemy, isn’t it?’

He slid his now clean and spit slick fingers free from Gwyn’s mouth, and placed that hand on Gwyn’s chest. Gwyn sagged against the wall, and then seemed to gather himself together. Braced himself against whatever was going on in his own head, or what Augus had said, or both.

That’s it, fight back. Give me something to work with.

‘You can clean the rest of the blood off now,’ Augus said, stepping out of the shower, sounding casual and aloof. ‘We’re only just beginning, Gwyn. You have no idea how far I can push you.’

Gwyn looked at him, confused and uncertain, no doubt thinking that perhaps he shouldn’t have agreed to this after all.

But it was too late now. The game had begun, and Augus intended to see it through, finding himself far more excited at the prospect than when he’d first seen Gwyn kneeling before him.

 

Chapter Text

Augus sipped at lukewarm tea, leaning back in a comfortable chair picked out with delicate green embroidery – a gift from another client – and looked through a book he’d traded for recently, enjoying the illustrations and the quality of the writing.

He smirked when Gwyn made another sound of frustration, followed by a few bursts of heavy breathing. Then, once more – brave soldier that he was – he calmed his breathing and settled back into the confection of ropes that Augus had bound him into.

He could feel Gwyn’s angry stare and looked up, met it with a placid openness, made a show of getting more comfortable, wriggling down into the cushions and sighing in contentment.

They were in one of Augus’ scene rooms. As much as he hated humans, he had to hand it to them for coming up with a more broad vocabulary when it came to the methods and habits of dominating others. In their quest for the taboo – what fae merely considered a healthy sex life – they needed endless words and descriptions for everything they did. Most fae that entered the human world for sex and satiation, returned back to their own realm with amused recollections of entire vocabularies that rose and died upon subcultures of sexuality. They seemed less inclined to admit how often they borrowed mercilessly from the vocabularies of the quick-lived creatures.

Predicament bondage was the order of the day. It was obvious to Augus that Gwyn needed to be worked to a greater form of fatigue before any of his more serious work could begin. He was too conditioned to bursts of pain to find them any great threat.

After Gwyn’s shower, after Gwyn had scrubbed the rest of the blood away while looking furtively at Augus as though he expected to be ambushed again, Augus had led him into this room and looked him over. He’d pressed fingers to joints and muscles, looking for any tender or sore points that he’d have to be careful of. He found none. Gwyn even tolerated Augus handling his genitals with nothing more than an exasperated sigh and a rolling of his eyes. As though Gwyn was doing Augus a favour.

It was an interesting attitude to slip into, given that whenever Gwyn thought Augus wasn’t paying attention, his expression would become haunted and lost. His face was drawn, his fingers still shaking. Whatever plagued him, Gwyn couldn’t simply will it away. If he could, he wouldn’t be here.

Augus liked stubbornness. It meant he could be more creative.

He’d stayed silent as he examined Gwyn, as he directed Gwyn around the room. Partly to throw Gwyn off balance, partly because he wanted to leave a space for Gwyn to speak if he wanted to. But he seemed to be very well trained, for whatever Augus did, Gwyn tried to follow suit. If Augus wasn’t talking, Gwyn didn’t talk either. He just watched, warily, but without the true fear of some. He didn’t expect to be truly harmed here. But then, he was Court fae, and they often had an over-inflated sense of invulnerability.

When Augus drew several lengths of soft, worked rope from one of his drawers, Gwyn stiffened where he’d been standing at attention. Augus said nothing, only walked over and manipulated solidly muscled limbs into position while he started creating the rig he’d need for later. Rope looped around different points at Gwyn’s arms and legs, over his shoulders, secured by clever, aesthetic knots that were designed to spread weight evenly. Augus had a few different things in mind, but the first thing he wanted to do was tire the creature out.

Gwyn wasn’t exactly uncooperative, but he’d had clients who put their arms up over their heads straight away when Augus encouraged them to. With Gwyn, he had to place each one and make sure he was going to hold it in place. Then, he threw a length of rope over a reinforced beam in the roof and secured it once he had Gwyn up on his tiptoes, body stretched lean and taut. Augus hummed, pleased. Gwyn might be a brute of a creature, but he made a nice picture with ropes to frame those muscles.

Next, Augus lifted one of Gwyn’s legs and started roping it in a tightly bent position so that Gwyn only had one foot to rest his weight on.

The fun part came afterwards, and now, two hours later, Gwyn’s balls were flushed very dark from the additional rope that Augus had looped around the top of them and secured tightly. That rope was attached to a different beam, so that if Gwyn tried to lower himself and get some of the strain off his feet, his balls ended up being pulled mercilessly upwards.

Two hours of Gwyn on tiptoe, and only now was he starting to show visible signs of strain. A faint sheen of sweat on his body, and Augus could tell he was trying to gauge just how far he could lower himself before the pain was too great. The answer was: not very far at all.

Augus went back to reading. It was tempting to leave the room, to display how little he cared about this part, but this one was unpredictable he sensed, and it would be better for safety’s sake to stay.

It took another two hours, Augus well and truly absorbed in his book, when the first cramp happened. It must have been in his calf, because Gwyn simultaneously dropped down onto his foot and then tried to jerk his leg backwards to shift the muscle. Augus watched as Gwyn shouted, the yank on his balls unbearable. Nothing too dangerous, Gwyn was Court fae, and he could heal from just about anything that wasn’t repeated bone damage. But very painful.

‘Let me go!’ Gwyn shouted, commanded. ‘Now!’

Augus watched as Gwyn tried to force himself back into position, to alleviate the pressure on his balls. But the cramp in his leg wasn’t letting him. The harsh panting was very nice, along with the way he gritted his teeth together, trying to look down despite the ropes and the position of his arms making it difficult. He made another sound of frustration, then tried to grab the ropes that secured him to the beam – no doubt to lift himself. But Augus had tied Gwyn in a way that prevented that, and Gwyn’s fingers touched upon nothing at all.

The cramp eased off eventually, as they always did, and Gwyn was back on tiptoe again, sounding tired now. His breathing was laboured, and he didn’t get it under control quickly this time. Not only that, but it only stayed even for five minutes before Gwyn lost the measure of it again.

Time for the next step.

Augus got up and put the book face down on the table, his page marked. He took another sip of tea and then walked to a chest of drawers behind Gwyn. He drew out a small box and rattled the items within. He clicked it open behind Gwyn’s back and watched him tense, and then drew the first alligator clamp out. These were metal, reserved for Court status fae. He placed the box on the floor, pinched a bit of skin on Gwyn’s underarm – not that there was much loose skin to grasp – and then attached the clamp quickly.

Gwyn jerked, air blew out of his mouth.

‘I fail…to see how this is any more than…how this helps me,’ Gwyn said, his voice strained.

‘Hold it together, Gwyn,’ Augus drawled, as he attached another clamp and watched a muscle twitch. ‘You’re meant to be some great War General, aren’t you? I haven’t even drawn blood.’

Rows of clamps on both of Gwyn’s underarms, and then Augus rubbed at the soft, sensitive skin of Gwyn’s flank before attaching clamps there, too. Gwyn’s lips were paler, whiter, and though he didn’t make any sounds as Augus attached each of the clamps, it was obvious that Gwyn found them painful. Which was the point.

‘The thing is,’ Augus said, as he attached another row to Gwyn’s other side, ‘you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t think there was something you needed to be punished for. Certainly, different people come for different reasons, but it’s quite obvious what you came here for. Let’s not forget the bloodstained sword in my living room.’

Gwyn hissed a breath and then held it when Augus attached the next clamp.

‘I could just go to my commander,’ Gwyn said, when he started breathing again. ‘There will be punishment waiting for me there, too.’

‘The Seelie military doesn’t usually whip its Generals when they do something wrong. But how interesting. You did something so wrong that the Seelie military will frown upon you?’ Augus looked up from where he now knelt on the floor. He flicked at one of the inner thigh clamps until a muscle in Gwyn’s inner jaw jumped. ‘Answer me.’

‘No,’ Gwyn said.

Augus smiled, unable to resist pressing his tongue to his sharp canines.

Gwyn realised what Augus was going to do when Augus pinched up some of the delicate skin of his scrotum.

‘Wait,’ he gasped. ‘I’ll answer, just-’

Augus snapped on the clamp and Gwyn shook to stillness, his eyes squeezing shut.

‘Oh, shhh,’ Augus said, petting his thigh. ‘Now answer me. And think about what else I could do with these before you think about holding back again.’

‘Take it off,’ Gwyn said. ‘I can’t concentrate.’

Augus made a clucking sound under his tongue, though truthfully he was having entirely too much fun as he pinched up more skin and attached the second clamp.

He expected one of two reactions, the first obedience, the second…

Gwyn jerked hard on the ropes, tried to yank his arms free, and then tried to shift his body only to have his balls jerked by the rope looped around them, which in turn shifted the clamps. All his stubborn, wilful movements did nothing more than hurt him.

‘I’m getting a third clamp ready for your insolence,’ Augus said calmly, and Gwyn’s mouth opened on something that would have been a cry, if he hadn’t closed his mouth immediately. ‘That’s it. No more insolence now. I’m still getting this one ready, though, Gwyn. You haven’t answered me.’

The third clamp attached, and Augus waited then, because Gwyn would be having trouble concentrating.

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said finally, beads of sweat on his forehead. ‘They’ll…they’re…unhappy. It could be…demotion.’

‘Fascinating,’ Augus said, and truthfully, it was a little fascinating for all that Augus didn’t care about the brutishness of war. He rubbed soothingly, firmly at Gwyn’s outer thigh. A reward, something pleasant to focus on amongst the muscle strain, the clamps, the pain. ‘Breathe, Gwyn. Take deeper breaths.’

He didn’t normally start with metal clamps of this nature with other clients, but it was satisfying beginning with them, with Gwyn.

When he touched his fingers to Gwyn’s cock, Gwyn’s entire body jolted, his eyes flew open. Where, before, he’d been entirely nonplussed as Augus had touched him, now he looked frightened, afraid.

Now he was starting to take all of this seriously. Which was good. Augus needed a measure of that fear.

It surprised him how easily Gwyn took to pain. There were plenty of other people who wouldn’t have lasted through three or four of the metal clamps, let alone the twenty five that Gwyn now had attached to him.

Augus stood up, faced Gwyn and moved his hand on his limp cock. Each tug moved the ropes, agitated the clamps. Gwyn bit his lower lip and Augus lifted an eyebrow when Gwyn’s cock started to flush with blood, started to get hard in his hand.

‘Deeper breaths,’ Augus reminded him, and Gwyn’s head moved like he was trying to nod. He tried to take deeper breaths, and his struggle to complete each one showed how much the pain was starting to build up.

Exceptionally obedient for someone who had all those flashes of stubbornness and rebellion.

‘Did you disobey orders?’ Augus said. ‘Are you here because you did something so mundane?’

Gwyn shook his head, his nostrils flared. ‘I did disobey,’ Gwyn said. ‘It’s not why I’m here.’

‘What did you do?’ Augus said. He doubted that he’d get a proper answer now.

‘I hurt someone,’ Gwyn said, his voice raw.

‘But Gwyn,’ Augus said, smiling. ‘You hurt people all the time. You murder them. You’re a berserker, you’ve even caught up some of your Seelie brethren in collateral damage. None of that has led you to my doorstep, has it?’

‘I did something monstrous,’ Gwyn whispered.

‘Oh no, how dire,’ Augus drawled, still jacking Gwyn’s cock. ‘Absolutely dreadful. We’ll never understand, us Unseelie. We don’t know anything about that at all. Please, could you be here with anything more pathetic?’

Gwyn’s eyes snapped open, pale blue irises flashing at him with fury. Augus wanted that, wanted the fire and the fight of it, even as he let go of Gwyn’s cock and flicked the metal clamps on Gwyn’s balls, watching his eyes cloud over with pain. Even that didn’t last, Gwyn was back to glaring at him.

‘Touched a nerve?’ Augus said, smiling. ‘I think I’m touching a few, actually.’ He deliberately flicked the clamps again, and Gwyn grunted.

‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, because you don’t know me at all,’ Gwyn snarled, surprisingly coherent for someone who had been in predicament bondage for four hours, covered in clamps biting angrily into his skin.

‘Ah,’ Augus said, pulling at one of the clamps and watching Gwyn’s eyelids flutter. His eyelashes were very thick, packed tightly together. ‘Here’s what I do know. You were trained as a soldier all your life and you are now War General of the Seelie common fae. You are expected – as War General – to exemplify certain Seelie traits. Boring things I expect, like virtue and honesty and loyalty and ‘doing it for the Kingdom’ and more. You disobeyed, did something monstrous, and it was bad enough that you turned up on an Unseelie fae’s doorstep and begged him to help you. But now that you’re here, you think you can hide the truth of it all from me. You’re feeling a little better now that someone else is taking control of you, aren’t you? Better enough that you think you can fight me. That tells me a lot, Gwyn.’

Gwyn watched him, hanging on the words, strong despite everything that was happening. Augus admitted to himself that he was surprised that Gwyn was proving himself an interesting client. He’d been expecting…not tedium, exactly, for he had to find something fascinating in all of his clients in order to treat them with the respect they deserved; but he’d been expecting this all to be very predictable.

In some ways, it was always predictable.

But there were small reactions. The way Gwyn would maintain that fierce eye contact in some moments, as though he were truly engaged in everything he was hearing. The way his muscles rippled; a frame too big and strong to be appreciated by most fae who preferred lithe, limber bodies and sharp, pointed faces. Not Gwyn’s long, strongly boned nose, or the eyes that were a little too big for his face and gave him a sense of constantly being wide-eyed, nor his thick cupid-bow lips.

‘I know that a part of you likes this,’ Augus said, trailing his hand up the centre of Gwyn’s abdomen, watching sensitive muscles ripple beneath his touch. ‘You take to bondage far more gracefully than most. Even clamps. That’s not something you could advertise to your fellow colleagues now, is it? I have guessed that if you do have any regular lovers, you do not trust them enough to confide in them. Since you seem taken aback by these moments of gentleness even more than moments of pain, I know that you are not used to indulging gentleness. How far off am I, Gwyn? Do you want to tell me again that I don’t know you at all?’

A bead of sweat trickled down the side of Gwyn’s face like a tear, and when Augus tickled at the clamps at his flank, Gwyn blanched, his mouth dropped open.

‘How’s that pain going?’ Augus said.

‘I’ve had worse,’ Gwyn said. But there was no contempt in his voice now. It was a statement of fact.

‘Ah, yes, so you’ve said. And how do you respond to torture, Gwyn? Betray the Seelie’s secrets to anyone who hurts you long enough?’

‘Never,’ Gwyn said. ‘Don’t even try.’

‘I’m not interested in military strategies,’ Augus said, rolling his eyes at the thought even as he bent down and picked up several clamps and shook them in his hands. Gwyn watched them, his eyebrows pinching together. Oh, he did not like those at all.

Augus traced his fingers over the stretched flesh between thigh and pelvis. There wasn’t enough skin to pinch up into a clamp. But he flirted with the idea of it. Gwyn’s trembling was visible now.

‘You said, ‘Torture doesn’t mean anything to me.’ Those were your exact words, Gwyn. Interesting. Why wouldn’t it? Everyone knows that it’s meant to be painful, there’s no shame in admitting that it hurts.’

‘I never said it didn’t hurt,’ Gwyn said, still having far too much control over his voice for someone who hadn't stopped shaking for some time. ‘I said it didn’t mean anything to me.’

‘So pain doesn’t mean anything to you?’ Augus said, eyes narrowing. ‘It seems to mean something to you now. If it meant nothing, you wouldn’t have answered my questions. You would have just kept silent and bore it. Shall we see how much pain doesn’t mean anything to you?’

Augus lifted Gwyn’s cock, which had been slowly wilting now that Augus wasn’t moving his hand on it. He pinched some of the looser skin up and Gwyn looked away as Augus trailed the cold metal of the clamp over the skin.

‘You’re not tired enough yet,’ Augus said, looking up at him.

He took up some of the loose skin at the base of Gwyn’s cock and pinched on the clamp. At that, Gwyn’s eyes squeezed shut, and he blew out a hard breath, Augus could feel the force of it. When Augus took up another clamp, Gwyn tried to lean away from him, though he had no real ability to do it, not with how the rope attached to his balls stretched him.

‘Whoever told me about you, was clearly misinformed,’ Gwyn said, as Augus touched the clamp to the sensitive head of Gwyn’s cock. He was circumcised; many of the armour-wearing fae were. It wasn’t common in the fae world, and was usually only done when a job required it. He traced the slight discolouration where it had been cut away.

‘Were you awake, aware, when they took your foreskin?’ Augus said.

‘Yes.’

‘You weren’t misinformed, Gwyn. This all might seem quite strange to you now, of that I have no doubt, but as I swore to you earlier, you will not leave my home in a worse physical or mental condition than when you arrived. I meant it. Accept it, Gwyn. You are actually handling this all rather well for someone unused to it. Have you ever done anything like this before?’

No,’ Gwyn gasped, sounding scandalised. Augus wondered if Gwyn had even noticed that he was volunteering answers rather willingly now. The pain was too distracting for him to put up much of a fight to more innocuous questions. Everything was going to plan then.

Augus attached the next clamp, a few millimetres up from the first, and Gwyn was struggling with the clamps now. On his balls, his sensitive armpits, the side of his flank. Fatigue in his muscles. Augus would get him some water soon.

He pressed his palm flat to Gwyn’s abdomen, feeling ridges and dips of muscle. He leaned forwards and licked across Gwyn’s collarbone. His sweat was caustic, acrid. Augus frowned at it. He leaned in again, tasting flavours that were faintly bitter, almost like burnt carbon. No sweetness there, and yet there was something fresh about it. Augus scraped his teeth over Gwyn’s skin, and then kissed him, mouthed his way across flesh.

‘What are you doing?’ Gwyn said, sounding more concerned now than he had before. ‘Why are you doing that?’

‘You’ll not question clamps on your cock,’ Augus said against his skin. ‘But kissing is alien to you?’

Augus kept mouthing him, mostly for his own satisfaction. The taste was strange, but he liked it. Gwyn was common fae, and Augus had common fae clients before, but none tasted quite like this. Was it some dietary difference, because he was a War General? Or something else? Either way, when Augus started licking over Gwyn’s throat, he could tell that Gwyn didn’t like it. No fae really did. Baring one's neck and having a mouth placed over it was an ancient sign of being threatened, fearing for one’s life. When Augus placed his teeth over the column of his throat, Gwyn grunted, his breathing quickened.

Augus stayed there, curious to see what he’d do. But there was no verbal protest. Not like he expected. Was it Gwyn trying to out-stubborn him? Or did he like it?

He slowly withdrew and saw a faintly glazed look in Gwyn’s eyes, his mouth hanging slack.

Well, look at that.

Augus used the stillness to press his ear to Gwyn’s chest, listening to his heart. His hands hovered over Gwyn’s skin and he felt like he was falling into a shadow. There, he found Gwyn’s heartsong, just a faint thread of energy. He attuned to it and pursed his lips. It was already destabilised. Whatever Gwyn had done to it had already hurt it. A person with a destabilised, corrupted heartsong could do very dangerous things indeed. It explained why Gwyn had turned up on his doorstep, if he didn’t particularly trust what Augus could do to him.

‘We’ll give you a bit more time,’ Augus said quietly, stepping away then, picking up the box of clamps and taking them with him, setting it on the table where Gwyn could see it. He took up his book again, sat down, started reading.

Minutes ticked by, and Augus settled his hair at his back so that it wouldn’t drip onto the book. He could protect a lot of things from the damaging effects of the water he shed – especially fabrics – but books and parchments were different. Each item cost magic to make waterproof, and Augus had to pay a Mage for it; too costly when he could just try and keep his hair away from paper.

Gwyn was truly struggling now. Muscle fatigue in his feet and ankle where he was holding himself up. Soreness in his balls only aggravated by the clamps. His skin had flushed red across his cheeks, his forehead.

Some time later, Gwyn’s muscles failed him and he sank to the flat of his foot, moaning low, eyes squeezed shut. Augus watched him, alert. He’d been waiting for this. Gwyn made a faint sound, the pain in his balls must have been encompassing.

‘Get yourself back up again, Gwyn. All you have to do is just get on tiptoe again. Come on, try for me.’

Gwyn did try. In fact he managed it – Augus was impressed – but he didn’t manage it for long. Another five minutes later, Gwyn gave a sound of frustration as his foot gave out again.

‘Come on,’ Augus said, putting the book on the table and resting his hands on the armrest. ‘You can do better than that.’

Most fae would have given out far sooner. But everyone had an end to their endurance, and common fae were not the most hardy of species. Gwyn’s training was impressive, but it wasn’t as though he was training to withstand predicament bondage.

He stood up when Gwyn tried to rise and simply couldn’t. A low sound then, one of pain.

‘All right,’ Augus said, unable to stop the excited leap in his heart. Now the work could truly begin, and he’d so been looking forward to it.

He walked over to Gwyn, found the knot of rope around his balls and picked it apart easily, the rope responding to him, charmed to be obedient to his fingers. He unwound it, noticed the dark, swollen flush of colour and let the rope hang from the beam to which it had been attached.

A few seconds, and a pathetic, delectable sound as blood started to circulate through Gwyn’s balls properly. It would have been a fractious, awful pain.

He removed the clamps at Gwyn’s armpits, clicking each one off and looking at the angry white skin that was already starting to flush with blood. He monitored Gwyn’s breathing. Taking the clamps off was worse than putting them on, and he suspected Gwyn didn’t know that.

Once Gwyn’s other armpit was denuded of clamps, he moved his fingers to the one on his flanks and Gwyn gasped.

‘Wait,’ Gwyn said, his voice cracking.

‘You can bear it,’ Augus said, his voice firm, but reassuring. ‘Remember? Pain means nothing to you.’

‘Just wait,’ Gwyn said, close enough to begging that Augus felt a thrill of heat in his blood.

‘No,’ Augus said, removing the clamps one at a time, quickly, dropping them on the floor where they made a musical, metallic tinking sound.

Gwyn gasped through it, though it was obvious he didn’t want to be making noise at all. He didn’t have the energy to stand on tiptoe, he certainly didn’t have the energy to control his breathing the way he wanted. All of it was welcome, appropriate. Augus needed Gwyn worn down physically, because he suspected that Gwyn had a whole lot of physical techniques he used to keep his emotions and vulnerable thoughts at bay. He was mastered at controlling his breathing. He had exceptional physical strength. He could handle a great deal of pain.

Augus needed all of that gone, or at least broken down. Predicament bondage was efficient. Minimal amount of effort expended, and he could blow through a great deal of barriers at once. Not all fae could handle it. Many required a far more delicate touch. But not this one.

The first moan came when the last of the clamps on his flanks were removed. Augus placed the flats of his palms on either side of Gwyn and rubbed quickly, firmly, encouraging blood to return. It had the dual benefit of both allowing the pain to fade faster, but causing it to peak in the short-term. Gwyn groaned, the sound cracking halfway through. His eyes were squeezed shut. He’d had grown fae, thousands of years old, scream for him after those metal clamps.

‘No,’ Gwyn murmured, when Augus lowered his hands to Gwyn’s cock. ‘No. Augus. Augus.’

Augus made a condescending, clucking sound of sympathy with his tongue and removed the first clamp, smirking when Gwyn stiffened, when his whole body shook like electricity or magic was running through it.

‘I’ve changed my mind,’ Gwyn said, the words breaking. ‘Let me go.’

‘I still have to take the clamps off,’ Augus said lightly. ‘Also, no.’

He removed the next clamp and Gwyn cried out then, the sound higher than Augus expected.

‘Three left,’ Augus said. What he conveniently didn’t say was that the ones attached to Gwyn’s scrotum would hurt worst of all. Or that he was quite looking forward to it. He’d enjoy his sadism regardless of whether he was gloating about it or not.

He didn’t remove them quickly, and he had Gwyn trying to writhe away from him for the last two. There was nowhere for him to go. He was only on one leg, he no longer had the arm strength to pull himself up and backwards on the ropes.

When he removed the last one, Gwyn moaned, the sound low and broken. Augus only then reached up and placed his hand on Gwyn’s chest, pressing grounding circles into his skin, giving him something else to focus on.

Go on, General, tell me again how pain means nothing to you.

‘Careful,’ Augus said quietly. ‘Careful. Is it worse now?’

Gwyn made a faint sound of assent, and Augus was glad that Gwyn couldn’t look up to see the way that he smiled in response to that. Instead, Augus said:

‘You poor thing. Turns out you have a pain threshold after all.’

Harsh panting when Augus slid his fingers over the metal of the next clamp. He removed it carefully, tiny pinpricks of blood showing now. They would cause hardly any pain compared to blood flushing back into the nerves, the skin. Gwyn was a high enough status that the little tiny pricks into his skin would heal in minutes.

Gwyn sagged then, the pain must have hit. Augus removed the last clamp and cupped his hand protectively over Gwyn’s limp cock, his sore balls. He watched every twitch of Gwyn’s eyelids, the shift of his upper lip as he bit the flesh on the inside, the furrows in his brow. Gwyn’s mouth fell open and he started panting, at one point a noise on his exhales, unable to contain himself.

Augus stayed close enough to offer the illusion of support, even though it was the ropes around his arms holding him up now.

‘Let’s give you a little longer in those ropes,’ Augus said quietly, petting Gwyn’s thigh before walking back to the chair and sitting down.

He picked up his book and began reading. He was only going to give it another ten minutes, because the fatigue had to be terrible. Twenty minutes passed and he’d gotten absorbed in a passage, when he heard a slow, steady intake of breath.

Augus put the book down as Gwyn looked up, looked at him directly. His eyes were surprisingly clear.

Then, with something belligerent on his face, he rose on tiptoe once more, and stayed there. Even his leg wasn’t shaking.

Gwyn didn’t smile, exactly, but Augus could see the way the corners of his lips had tensed. And that would never do. Gwyn wasn’t meant to find moments of triumph in here, not if Augus’ task was to break it. That heartsong would try and heal itself, reassert itself however possible. But interesting too, here was a much darker expression, here was someone who might be capable of the kind of acts that might get a Seelie General demoted. So he’d stripped back some barriers at least.

‘Well,’ Augus said, getting up and putting the book down. ‘I guess we’ll have to use a great deal more of those clamps, won’t we?’

Something flickered in Gwyn’s expression. Something doubtful. Augus beamed at him.

‘It’s good to see that heartsong of yours hasn’t stopped kicking. But you came here so I’d break it. And I shall break it, Gwyn.’

‘Good luck with that,’ Gwyn said, and Augus laughed as he walked over.

Oh, this was going to fun.

Chapter Text

Defiance came and went, returned again. More than twelve hours had passed now. Augus wiled away the earliest hours of the morning reading his book and keeping a surreptitious eye on Gwyn, who was proving far more challenging than he’d first suspected.

He’d used several different positions of predicament bondage, freely used the clamps – which Gwyn now loathed, actually snarled at him the last time Augus had approached to remove them again – and still Gwyn would manage to rally himself just when he seemed close to breaking point. It was obvious then that he wasn’t just paying lip service to the idea that he was used to torture. However, it was a lie that pain meant nothing to him. It meant a great deal indeed. With every few hours that passed, Augus saw more of a raw creature beneath the Court manners, even beneath the commander.

It intrigued him.

There was a small pool of sweat on the ground where Gwyn was standing on one leg, on tiptoe, once again. This time, he had alligator clamps on his nipples, down his flank, the underside of his buttocks (Gwyn hadn’t liked that at all, and risked hanging on his arms to try and kick backwards at Augus), he had clamps on his armpits, his cock and balls, the inside of his fingers, even the spaces between his toes of the leg that Augus had rebound in a bent position to Gwyn’s torso.

Every time Gwyn came close to wavering, to giving something of himself away, that destabilised heartsong would rear its head and try and re-establish himself. It was obviously very important to him. Augus could empathise. He was very attached to his own heartsong of dominance. It was more than just his way of nourishing his soul, it was written into his very vocation, it had become something of a life philosophy. Given that winning wars and battles was so incredibly important for a War General, Augus was starting to wonder if Gwyn even wanted it gone. Perhaps he only thought he did.

At dawn, Augus got up and left the room. He made himself breakfast – a salad of greens and shaved roots, he was exclusively vegan when he wasn’t hunting human flesh, a relic of the days when he was an herbivorous colt before his predatory appetites had kicked in. He brewed himself some tea which he sipped once it had become lukewarm. He buffed down his claws so that they weren’t quite as sharp nor as dangerous.

Then, he filled a pitcher of water and brought a wooden cup with him back to the room where Gwyn was waiting for him.

It had taken Augus at least an hour to do everything. He’d taken his time, wasn’t about to let a client rush him through his morning routine.

He paused at the door – which he’d left open just a crack – and his ears tensed. Gwyn’s breathing was far more laboured than before. He entered the room, eyes narrowing, closed the door behind him so that the click was audible.

Gwyn’s body shifted as much as it could in the ropes, he tried to master his breathing again.

‘Where…where did you go?’ Gwyn said. His voice was thin, worn.

Abandonment issues? Augus raised his eyebrows as he walked over to his table and set down the water and the cup. He sat down again, crossed his legs, picked up his book. Gwyn wasn’t even looking at him. Too tired. He was approaching another breaking point. Soon, Augus would be able to take all those clamps off, he wasn’t getting at all tired of the pained noises that Gwyn made.

‘You’re not the one who asks the questions, in this room,’ Augus said calmly, and Gwyn’s eyes squeezed shut as though the reprimand was far greater.

Gwyn was struggling, ten minutes later, not to sink down to the flat of his foot. Augus had tied him far more mercilessly than before. His cock and his balls were tied with separate ropes which were anchored to two separate beams. Even just sinking halfway to the flat of his foot caused a horrible pain. Augus watched Gwyn fighting his own body, watched muscles leaping in his jaw, the fluttering of eyelashes. He couldn’t help but put his book down. This was too entertaining to pass up.

‘Ask them then,’ Gwyn said, his voice harsh. ‘Ask your questions.’

‘Were you giving me a command?’ Augus said, smiling. ‘How delightful. You’re not the one who gives those either, in this room.’

Gwyn shouted in frustration, then cried out as he couldn’t stop his descent to the flat of his foot. The expression on his face was anguish now, and Augus only sighed.

‘My dear, I want to work with you, but you keep fighting me at every turn. This heartsong of yours is very stubborn, are you sure you want it gone?’

‘I need it gone,’ Gwyn gritted out, breath escaping him in a dry sob. ‘I need it gone.’

‘I don’t think you do,’ Augus said, leaning his elbow on the table next to him and leaning his head on his hand.

‘I need it gone,’ Gwyn repeated. ‘I swear.’ He opened his eyes, looked up, face tortured. ‘I swear to you. I need it gone. I know I’m stubborn, I know it, I can’t seem to stop myself, but there is nothing else for me if you can’t rid me of it. Do you…’

He trailed off and groaned, trying to get back onto his tiptoe again.

‘You’re fighting a losing battle there, Gwyn,’ Augus said softly. ‘You know that’s the point. Go on, build that heartsong up again, fight me some more. Convince yourself that you can triumph in this.’

Gwyn sagged back down again and then hung, limp, chest heaving for breath.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said, his voice firm, ‘why do you need it gone, when it’s such an asset to you in the field?’

‘I am…’ Gwyn trailed off and shuddered, his muscles spasmed like those of an overworked horse. Augus looked over at the pitcher of water. Truthfully, he should have given Gwyn some water sooner, but even just getting to this preliminary step of starting to get real answers had taken long enough. ‘I am…its servant, and it is my master.’

‘Are you saying your heartsong has triumphed even over you?’

‘It’s corrupting me,’ Gwyn said. ‘Or…’

Ah, here we go. Actual progress.

‘Or what?’

‘I don’t know,’ Gwyn said, the despair and loss of earlier in his voice again. Was this the Gwyn that had knelt on his porch and begged him for assistance?

‘Or what?’ Augus repeated.

‘I don’t know,’ Gwyn moaned, shaking his head. ‘I can’t concentrate.’

‘You can,’ Augus said. ‘You’re doing quite well.’

Gwyn flinched at the praise and Augus filed that away for later. There were troubling loose ends being lain around the place for him to pick up, make sense of. An abusive commander perhaps? It wouldn’t be uncommon or unheard of, even in the Seelie military.

‘If you go back to your commanders with another heartsong, surely they won’t be pleased?’ Augus said.

‘They won’t,’ Gwyn said. ‘They won’t be pleased.’

‘That’s important to you though, isn’t it?’ Augus said, standing up and walking over. ‘Pleasing them.’

‘I’m Seelie,’ Gwyn said, like Augus was stupid. ‘I work for the good…of all. Doing what is right for the Kingdom is paramount.’

‘This thing that you did, that drove you here. You said it was disobeying them. Did it serve your heartsong at the time?’

Gwyn moaned as Augus flicked the metal clamps on his nipples. His skin was looking bruised, angry. It would heal, but if Augus kept inflicting these small wounds and hurts upon him without offering any food or water to fuel his healing process, eventually that healing process would start to slow down.

‘Did it?’ Augus said, watching his face.

Gwyn’s head twitched into something of a nod. It was an answer, since it was obvious that Gwyn was struggling with the pain again. Would he rally once more? Augus was getting answers to his questions and, granted, Augus wasn’t digging very deep yet, but he sensed that if he plunged too deep into the well of Gwyn’s thoughts, he’d get nothing at all. Gwyn was secretive.

‘You need to say it out loud, Gwyn,’ Augus said, pulling on the clamps and watching Gwyn’s lips press together in a line.

‘It did,’ Gwyn gasped. ‘It’s…making me do things that aren’t…for the good of the Seelie.’

‘That’s convenient,’ Augus said. ‘Blaming a heartsong for your own actions. I didn’t actually have to choose a career of domination, just because my heartsong is dominance. And believe it or not, Gwyn, your path as a soldier and a commander was not fated because your heartsong is triumph. There are fae out there, I’m sure, who have the same heartsong as you, who are just very good at gambling.’

Augus reached out and sunk his fingers into Gwyn’s mop of sweat-drenched hair, the blond curls turning to ringlets when wet.

Gwyn shied away from the gentle touch, and Augus pursed his lips, kept the fingers on Gwyn’s head soothing. Perhaps he was overstimulated, but Augus was no longer sure.

‘Your heartsong didn’t make you do things that aren’t for the good of the Seelie. You chose to do things that aren’t for the good of the Seelie.’

Gwyn’s head snapped up, his eyes blazed.

‘Why do you think I am here?’ he shouted, his voice cracking. ‘But I know, I know that if you change the heartsong, I will be less likely to do these things. I just- If you can’t fix it then let me go.’

The words sounded so despairing, as though the idea of being let go now would not be a relief or a freedom.

‘Is it because I’m Unseelie that you struggle to open up to me? Or is it some other reason? I suspect you’re not that open a person, Gwyn. What do you think?’

‘I am an…open book,’ Gwyn said.

Augus laughed and slipped off three of the clamps quickly. He placed his hand over Gwyn’s mouth as Gwyn’s head rolled to the side and he moaned in pain. He removed more of the clamps and watched his pulse flutter in his neck, his chest heave.

‘Don’t lie to me,’ Augus said, as he continued to pull the angry little clamps away. He then pulled off two attached to one of Gwyn’s nipples and after several seconds, Gwyn choked on the wave of pain. ‘Do you need a break?’

Gwyn nodded. That was a tangible sign of weakness that his heartsong hadn’t been able to get to in time. Augus rubbed his hand firmly over Gwyn’s skin instead, where none of the clamps had been. Offered him something else to focus on, and enjoyed feeling all that muscle underneath his palm. Common fae didn’t carry this sort of musculature naturally, even at Court status, which meant Gwyn had to apply himself to pursuits of fitness most days. He wasn’t likely to get a client with this type of physique again any time soon.

‘Now, let’s try this again,’ Augus said after a minute. ‘Is it because I’m Unseelie that you struggle to open up to me? Or is there some other reason?’

‘I need privacy,’ Gwyn said, his voice shaking.

‘Why?’

‘I am not…a good person,’ Gwyn managed, and that had a depth of truth in it, that rang like a tuned note in Augus’ chest.

‘Thank you,’ Augus said, stroking the side of Gwyn’s head. ‘Thank you for answering that. I’m going to remove more of the clamps now. I’ll do it quickly.’

Gwyn’s breath betrayed his reluctance to have the clamps moved at all. At least when the clamps were on for long enough, a numbness started to be associated with them. But when they were being placed or jostled, they hurt. When they were being removed…

Well, he didn’t think Gwyn would look at any sort of metal clamp the same way again after this.

Augus was fast as he promised, removing all the clamps from Gwyn’s flank, his armpits, and then between his toes. At that, Gwyn’s head rocked back, and he was momentarily limp. Augus thought he might have passed out. Several seconds later Gwyn made a thin, pained noise and then gasped over and over again. He was betraying his hurt and upset far more now than before. His heartsong hadn’t attempted to rebuild yet. It would, of course, but Augus had some other things in mind for breaking it down now that he’d started to forge these small cracks, these little streamlets, into Gwyn’s psyche.

‘Breathe slowly for me,’ Augus said. ‘I know it’s hard. I assure you, you can do it. You’re a soldier aren’t you? Pain means nothing to you, remember?’

‘You use that against me,’ Gwyn said, his voice cracking. ‘Will you keep doing that if I admit I was wrong?’

‘Were you wrong?’ Augus said, smirking. ‘Think about that hard now, Gwyn. I’m sure that heartsong of yours doesn’t want you to admit that now, does it?’

Gwyn tensed, made a sound of frustration. ‘Stop doing that.’

‘Oh dear,’ Augus said, stepping away, but not before trailing his fingers over Gwyn’s very sore cock. Gwyn gasped. ‘I don’t think you’ve learned that I give the orders here after all.’

‘Why do you keep…antagonising me?’ Gwyn said. ‘You know my heartsong is triumph, stop…’

‘You’re also not the one who asks the questions,’ Augus said, bending down to pick up some of the clamps. He trailed one back of Gwyn’s flank, and watched him flinch as much as he was able to get away.

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said quickly. ‘I’m not. I’m not.’

‘Are you sorry?’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said, his voice desperate.

‘Too bad, I think,’ Augus murmured, as he pinched Gwyn’s nipple up and reattached a clamp. Gwyn whined. ‘There are consequences to everything you do here, so you should really think harder before you act. As hard as it is, I know you can do better than this, Gwyn.’

‘I was wrong,’ Gwyn said, stumbling over the words. ‘I was wrong. It does mean something to me. And no, damn you, I don’t want to admit it. I don’t.’

‘Good,’ Augus said, and Gwyn shuddered again.

Definitely can do some things with praise here. Wonderful.

‘You’re going to get a proper break soon,’ Augus said, ‘and some water. Wouldn’t you like that?’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said, hoarse.

‘All you have to do is tell me what you did, that drove you here. That’s all. Just tell me a story, Gwyn. I like a good story, don’t you? And I’m Unseelie, so whatever this terrible thing is, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it a great deal more than your Seelie counterparts.’

Gwyn shook and shook, and didn’t answer. Augus’ jaw tightened, but he waited, because this was not someone who just caved to someone’s will. He needed to know where he was at with Gwyn’s progress.

He took several steps backwards and Gwyn inhaled sharply. Gwyn had to be in an immense amount of pain. He’d not been able to raise himself back on tiptoe yet, and Gwyn’s cock and balls had developed a dark purple flush. If this was many of his other clients, he would have untied them to give them a chance to speak without the pain muddling their thoughts. But then most of his other clients wouldn’t have handled over twelve hours of predicament bondage and metal alligator clamps with high tension in the springs. He decided against it, took some more steps away, playing with the sense of abandonment and threat.

‘There is a sword,’ Gwyn gasped. He coughed, his mouth worked, no doubt to try and bring some saliva into it. Augus walked over to the table and poured some water. He brought the cup back to Gwyn and dipped his index finger into it, before painting the cool water over Gwyn’s chapped lips.

A pink, bitten tongue came out and licked at Augus’ finger, lapped at it. Augus withdrew it, dipped it back into the cup and Gwyn made a yearning movement forwards. Augus placed his wet finger into Gwyn’s mouth, and Gwyn let him, opened his mouth wider, hot breath gusting over Augus’ flesh. Augus painted the inside of Gwyn’s cheeks, the roof of his mouth, then withdrew his finger and dipped it back into the cup of water, back into Gwyn’s mouth; he repeated the gesture over and over.

He could have let Gwyn simply take one sip, but this way, he got to exercise his control. Not only that, but the intimacy of the act sent lust into his own gut. He dammed it away, since his own arousal could interfere with these proceedings, cause bad judgement, but he was hoping he’d get an opportunity to fuck Gwyn before the weekend was over. He had a very strong need to know what sort of noises Gwyn would make when he was split upon a decent sized cock.

‘There is a sword,’ Augus said, prompting him, once he knew Gwyn’s mouth wasn’t so dry anymore.

‘She is called Creiddylad, an enchanted…sword. Sentient. A woman’s spirit inside of it.’

‘Could this be any more the clichéd fairy tale?’ Augus drawled.

‘My father…convinced me to steal it back from Gwythyr ap Greidawl. Gwythyr, he loves the sword. Like a person. Like a wife. He’d wed it, but his family has not allowed him. My father told me the sword was always ours. But it wasn’t.’

All of this for a sword that doesn’t belong to them? These Seelie… Augus rolled his eyes, waited for Gwyn to continue.

‘I took it back. I raised a host of my most trusted and best soldiers and we sacked Gwythyr’s fortress, took prisoners, took the sword.’

‘So this was a civil matter then,’ Augus said quietly. ‘Not Unseelie versus Seelie.’

‘Civil, yes,’ Gwyn said. He swallowed, his throat clicked with dryness, and Augus raised the cup to his mouth. Gwyn made a desperate, hungry sound of want, and Augus smiled dangerously as he tilted the water. Just enough. Gwyn opened his mouth for more, but Augus drew the cup away when Gwyn had enough to wet his throat.

A short moan then, the sound of someone who wanted more water and realised they weren’t going to get it.

‘You’re doing very well,’ Augus said again, and wished he could eat up every single one of those reactions that Gwyn gave, every time he praised him. ‘Very well indeed. Continue.’

‘A civil matter,’ Gwyn repeated. He was dazed, tired, had to make himself concentrate. Augus watched him, marvelled at his mettle. ‘I have the sword and it’s mine, it’s rightfully mine, as battle gains. That is how it is…in the Seelie military. But I learned afterwards, that my father was…wrong. The sword belonged to Gwythyr. But the sword was mine. I’d won it.’

Hyperventilation then, and Augus pressed his other hand to Gwyn’s chest.

‘Breathe,’ Augus said. ‘Deeper, slower. There, just like that.’

‘Gwythyr drew up a mighty host for revenge and retaliation…his noblemen too. He didn’t give a chance for the Oak King to judge the situation. He just…did it.’

‘You had stolen his wife,’ Augus said.

‘A sword,’ Gwyn said, though he didn’t sound so sure. ‘I was…pushed over the killing edge. I was triumphant again. We destroyed Gwythyr and his host, we took prisoners, again. I made them kneel, I was so…angry. I couldn’t…’

More hoarse, harsh breaths. Augus kept his hand over Gwyn’s chest constantly now, feeling that thundering heart, the power in it. How many fae had this one killed? From both sides? It was impressive to think about it, to have all that in here, in this room.

‘Nwython was one of Gwythyr’s most trusted…he was antagonistic and furious and mad with…grief. He taunted me. I didn’t- And then I lost my mind, I think, I- I must have, I can’t… Augus, I can’t…’

‘Yes,’ Augus said firmly. ‘You can. There were witnesses. This is something that you will hear told back to you. You had best know the story for yourself, in your own words. Tell me.’

A thready inhale and Gwyn opened his eyes and stared at Augus, something bereft in that gaze, as bereft as when Gwyn had grabbed onto his ankle in the beginning and begged for help.

‘Just tell me,’ Augus said, feigning puzzlement at Gwyn’s reluctance to speak. ‘It’s only a story after all.’

An ironic thing to say, given all fae knew how much power stories held, how much power words held. But Gwyn seemed to need it, for his eyelids sank closed again and he nodded, bit at his lips, nodded again.

‘Nwython has a s-son,’ Gwyn said, laughing, an edge of hysteria in his voice. ‘Cyledr. A pretty lad, not…suited for war. Trained because his father was trained but…a poet. Nwython wouldn’t stop taunting me and I was… I slew him. I ran him through with the sword Gwythyr loved.’

Gwyn’s voice went cold and dead, and Augus almost shuddered to hear the shift. The story itself was not so horrifying, but seeing how Gwyn was unable to handle this section of the story, let alone the psychological repercussions of it…

Your work is cut out for you today.

‘I hewed Nwython’s chest open with my hands,’ Gwyn said, his voice a monotone. ‘I took out his heart. I forced Cyledr to eat it. No one stopped me. I didn’t stop until Cyledr went…quite mad. The light left his eyes. Not of life but of…something else, of sanity. Then I…came here.’

Gwyn’s eyes opened and he stared ahead, dissociated, empty. Augus turned the story over in his head. It wasn’t quite the thing a berserker would do. Someone mad on battle lust could tear people’s throats apart with their teeth, kill indiscriminately, but there was a level of cold cruelty in Gwyn’s act that couldn’t entirely be blamed on being pushed over the killing edge.

Which meant that there was something in Gwyn capable of this level of cruelty all the time.

Augus had to work hard to make sure no glee showed on his face. But truthfully, knowing what many Unseelie were capable of, knowing how the Seelie looked down on them for their cruel appetites…this felt like a personal coup. That those uppity hypocrites always swore to be so virtuous and righteous, when one of their best Generals was capable of this.

‘All right,’ Augus said, making his voice steady and even. ‘That’s all then? I guess we can make a start after all.’

‘A start?’ Gwyn said, blinking hard.

‘The story is only the beginning,’ Augus said, smiling beatifically at him. ‘Wouldn’t you say?’

‘Is it?’ Gwyn sounded horrified.

‘Mm,’ Augus said.

He stepped away and put down the cup of water, and then picked up the open box of clamps. There weren’t a great deal left, most of them were on Gwyn’s body. Augus returned and began methodically removing them from Gwyn, watching the way he was snapped from dissociation back into pain, and stayed there. That was good, Augus didn’t want to leave Gwyn in that mindless horror for too long. For all Gwyn was affected by pain, he could handle it, and Augus would have rather inflicted that on him. Give him something he could grasp, since it was obvious there was something in the story that he couldn’t.

Gwyn was swimming in pain halfway through the removal of the clamps. Shuddering over and over again, muscles tensing and relaxing, exhausting himself more. Augus removed the ones from the underside of his firm, rounded ass, and rubbed the bruised skin vigorously, enjoying the whimpers that Gwyn gave in response. Augus dragged his fingers along the seam of Gwyn’s ass, noticed the way he tensed, the way he held his breath.

Augus continued removing the rest of the clamps. He saved the cock and balls for last, handling everything as carefully as possible, not that it would matter now. Any handling at all was excruciating, and groans had disappeared in favour of higher whimpers. Gwyn dripped sweat regularly, it hung in droplets from his hair, had turned his eyelashes to spikes.

He closed the box, set it aside, and looked around the room to a low, leather padded, T-shaped bench with heavy metal rings reinforced by magic set into the bench along the sides. Augus still wanted him in bondage, even if he was getting a break.

He untied the knots around Gwyn’s cock, his balls, letting the two ropes hang from the beams they were anchored to. He might need them again later. As blood reperfused into sensitive organs, Gwyn’s breathing strangled in his throat. Augus placed a stabilising hand on his chest, another on his hip, stood before him and watched him closely.

Two minutes passed, Gwyn’s breathing coming easier, even though it was still strained.

‘I’m sorry,’ Gwyn whispered.

Augus’ eyebrows pulled together. He frowned. ‘Why?’

‘I’m not…sure.’

‘You’re doing fine,’ Augus said, curling his fingers into muscle and pressing a centimetre closer. ‘I’ve never had a common fae display as much endurance as you. You’re doing fine. Take some slower breaths now. You can manage it.’

Gwyn could manage it. Augus watched as Gwyn tried to follow orders, marvelled at how he’d gone from so entirely resistant, to this. He still wasn’t entirely certain if Gwyn was apologising for what he’d done, or for not being able to handle the pain better. He suspected – despite how Gwyn reacted to telling his own story – that Gwyn was upset with himself for not being more silent as Augus inflicted pain upon him.

Another twenty minutes and Gwyn seemed almost calm, yet still none of that rebellion came to the surface again. He stood with his head down, and Augus decided it was time to remove the ropes.

First, he removed those pinning Gwyn’s leg to his chest. He worked his hands efficiently, deftly, over locked up muscles. Gwyn moaned softly at what Augus was doing, made the same noises as Augus slowly straightened his leg, not letting Gwyn move it too quickly. The muscles would be too stiff for that. When he finally had Gwyn on both legs, he looked over the rest of the ropes. Gwyn’s arms and shoulders would be very sore.

Augus picked up the cup of water and raised it to Gwyn’s mouth, and Gwyn didn’t seem at all bothered to have it fed to him in sips. Augus wouldn’t let him drink it quickly, and every now and then he stopped and dipped his own fingers into the water and painted them messily over Gwyn’s lips, watching that pink tongue come out and flick over the pads of his fingers. Did Gwyn know how sensual he was being? Just how much of a sexual creature was he? There were a lot of things Augus didn’t know about him, but he’d find out.

When the cup of water was finished, Augus walked away to fill it, and didn’t miss another sharp intake of breath when Gwyn thought he was going away.

Definitely abandonment issues then.

Augus thought about the An Fnwy estate that backed up onto the Ethallas forest. The forest was huge, and the An Fnwy estate also sprawling, an acreage really, so Augus hadn’t had much to do with the family despite their being technically neighbours. Augus had memories of the father and the cousin going for hunts within the woods, running down fae as often as they’d run down animals. He knew of a curse that was meant to make the An Fnwy family more vicious and cruel than the average Seelie fae. Augus knew bits and pieces of rumour that floated around. He’d always assumed that Gwyn hadn’t been on those hunts because he’d been at war, but now he wasn’t sure.

Augus returned with more water, and when he lifted some of it in his fingers to drip into Gwyn’s mouth, Gwyn ignored the water and licked long stripes over Augus’ fingers. The motions seemed ameliorating, even pleading. Gwyn’s eyes were tightly shut, his forehead furrowed.

‘The water, Gwyn,’ Augus prompted, and let Gwyn finish the second cup, waiting to see if the hydration would incite enough energy for rebellion. But no, Gwyn only stood quietly, malleable.

Augus was very careful when he removed the ropes around Gwyn’s arms. He kept some of them in place, because he’d need them later. He pressed his fingers into Gwyn’s shoulders to massage the locked up joints long before he even started lowering them.

‘Good,’ Augus said, as Gwyn didn’t try to rush getting his arm down by his side. He also didn’t complain about the pain, despite the fact that he was still shaking from it. He swayed slightly, and Augus stood closer, ready to brace him if necessary.

Getting Gwyn over to the bench was no more difficult than it would be with other tired clients. Gwyn managed to mostly keep his feet underneath him, and he lay down without fussing. Augus made sure he was in the right position, before starting to secure his limbs again. This time, his legs bent and spread, ankles secured with short, powerful ropes to two rings on either side of the bench. His arms secured by his sides, resting.

Augus walked over to the chest of drawers and felt Gwyn’s eyes following him, even though he’d mostly been avoiding making direct eye contact for some time. Augus returned with a black piece of cloth and lay it over Gwyn’s eyes. Gwyn flinched even before Augus had started securing it.

‘I don’t like blindfolds,’ Gwyn said.

It wasn’t an order, and it wasn’t a question. Which meant that he was learning. Gwyn’s wrists tested the ropes for the first time then, as though he’d only just realised he’d been tied once more.

Augus said nothing, but continued to fasten the blindfold. Gwyn didn’t fight him, didn’t try and dislodge the blindfold or turn his head away, but his lips tensed and his jaw was tight. Augus made sure the blindfold cut out almost all light, shifting it a couple of times until he was satisfied, and then he sat behind Gwyn and picked up a small hand towel that he had resting nearby. He wrapped it around individual curls and squeezed the sweat out of them, encouraged them to dry.

He did the same to Gwyn’s forehead, his neck, and then moved down across Gwyn’s chest, towelling skin dry and watching the way that Gwyn slowly settled down at the touch. It was almost uncanny, the transition from repeated attempts by his heartsong to re-establish itself, to this.

Augus had no doubt that his heartsong wasn’t done, but he’d take advantage of this quietude while he could.

‘I know a little of your family,’ Augus said. ‘I know the An Fnwy estate borders the Ethallas forest. So tell me, before you came here, were you at all tempted to return to the home of your childhood?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said, stiffening.

‘Would not they be better suited to providing you comfort? I am aware of the An Fnwy curse. They would – more than other Seelie fae – understand what you’d done.’

‘I’m nothing like them,’ Gwyn said, and then his cheeks flushed red. ‘What I mean to say, is that I cannot go home for this.’

‘Your father was the one who asked you to get the sword,’ Augus said, keeping his voice gentle and even, keeping one of his hands on Gwyn’s chest. ‘Surely he will defend you, defend your actions?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said, even shaking his head to reinforce it.

‘Are you saying he’ll disapprove of what you’ve done?’

‘I can’t talk about this,’ Gwyn said suddenly, his voice strained. Augus nodded to himself.

‘That’s a shame,’ Augus said. ‘You seem to be doing so much better now, having a chance to rest. But perhaps I’ll have to string you back up in bondage again until you understand who holds the balance of power here.’

He stood up, made his chair scrape across the floor. Gwyn’s reaction was instantaneous.

‘Wait!’ Gwyn said, his arms and legs jerking at the ropes, the metal rings clinking hard. The bench didn’t move, made too sturdy for far larger species of fae. Augus tested walking several steps away, and Gwyn jerked his arms as much as he could, despite the fact that it had to hurt him. ‘Wait, please.’

‘You handled that bondage and the clamps for over twelve hours, Gwyn. Another couple of hours will be nothing to you.’

Please,’ Gwyn said, trying to lift his head, even though he couldn’t see.

‘Let’s compromise,’ Augus said, picking up the box of clamps and walking back over. Gwyn was shaking again, and when Augus opened the box, Gwyn drew in an unsteady breath. ‘Just a few, Gwyn. Nothing you can’t handle.’

‘I don’t think I can talk about it,’ Gwyn said, something lost in his voice.

‘I know,’ Augus said. ‘I believe you. I just think you don’t have the right incentives to try.’

Gwyn moaned from behind clenched teeth when Augus pinched up small bits of skin along his upper arms and attached the clamps. But he either realised that Augus wasn’t aiming for the most painful places, or he had no strength left him to protest further, because he bore it otherwise without complaint.

‘Let’s try this again,’ Augus said, sitting behind Gwyn’s head and placing a hand back on his chest. ‘Will your father disapprove of what you’ve done?’

‘I don’t…think so,’ Gwyn said, his voice weaker than before. Smaller.

‘Don’t you want to please him?’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said, nodding as though Augus couldn’t hear him. ‘I do. Not like that. Just not with that.’

Augus licked his lips slowly. Something had occurred to him. Earlier, in the shower, Gwyn had tried scrubbing that blood off his hands as quickly as possible. Nwython’s blood, if he had the story right. But Gwyn’s reaction to having that blood and gore pressed into his mouth, the remainder of Nwython’s heart, his flesh…

Ah, Augus realised, his eyes flying open. It was like a puzzle falling into place all at once, and he realised where he was meant to be driving Gwyn, and had an idea of just how resistant Gwyn might be in getting there.

‘He’s a hard man to please, isn’t he?’ Augus said, making his voice lower, softer.

‘I didn’t come here to talk about this,’ Gwyn said, anguish in every measure of his voice.

Augus drew out two more clamps and attached them quietly, and Gwyn lifted his head and thumped it back onto the leather bench in frustration. But he didn’t complain, and he didn’t protest.

That heartsong of yours hiding away now, isn’t it? I wonder what will make it come back?

‘He’s a hard man to please, your father, isn’t he?’ Augus said again.

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said.

‘So why not embrace this?’ Augus said. ‘You get to keep your heartsong, you get to impress your father. These are all good things, Gwyn. It’s not even a Seelie versus Unseelie matter, and we all know that civil matters attract disciplinary action far less than one would think. I’m sure you wouldn’t be demoted.’

‘I should be,’ Gwyn rasped. ‘You don’t understand. By the gods I should be.’

‘Would you demote yourself for what you did?’

‘Yes.’

‘You’d do more than that, wouldn’t you? What a crime to have committed. You think you deserve far worse than that, don’t you?’

Gwyn’s breathing caught in his chest, even as Augus tried to sort different strands of information out in his mind. Someone with abandonment issues who reacted poorly to offerings of gentle touch but bore pain almost too well. It was unsettling.

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said, belatedly answering the question. ‘You don’t understand.’

‘I’m trying to,’ Augus said. ‘But you’re not exactly volunteering a great deal of information. What I’m trying to understand is really, from what you’ve said, these actions of yours would garner your father’s approval at the least. I know you want that. You’re so eager to please even me. I’m an underfae Unseelie, who you’d run through without a second thought on the battlefield. These actions would make you more like that family of yours, wouldn’t they? And yet you think you deserve some dire, unimaginable punishment for what you’ve done. Does your family deserve the same?’

Gwyn opened his mouth, then went still. That wasn’t rebellion, but something else entirely. Augus risked actually rubbing small circles into Gwyn’s skin, his lips pursed.

‘I’m not like them,’ Gwyn said finally.

‘I think you’ve just proven from what you’ve done, that you are actually quite like them. Enough that at least one member of your family would approve of you for it.’

‘I’m not like them,’ Gwyn repeated, taking a huge, panicked breath. ‘I’m nothing like them.’

‘And yet…’ Augus said, leaving it hanging.

‘No!’ Gwyn shouted, his voice hard. ‘I didn’t come here for this!’

‘Didn’t you?’ Augus said lightly.

‘I don’t want to be like them.’

‘Ah, that’s different to saying you’re not like them. I don’t see what the problem is, personally. A little cruelty never stopped the world from turning. It happens in nature all the time. We Unseelie, we become quite peaceful about it over time, you know. We cannot help the way we’re born, we cannot help our appetites. Look at me, I am the perfect hunting machine when it comes to locating my prey and destroying it. I have my hypnotic compulsions to lull them or turn them to terror. I have my true-form, designed for rending apart my prey and digesting it underwater. I may inspire fear in some, but that’s not all I am.’

‘I didn’t say I didn’t want to be like you,’ Gwyn said, ‘I don’t want to be like them.’

Gwyn exhaled heavily, and Augus drew his fingers up to Gwyn’s throat, tracing the line of his trachea, moving up and pressing his fingers into the carotid arteries, feeling them work to beat blood through Gwyn’s veins. It was making Gwyn uncomfortable, he shifted his head and Augus only followed the movements as he turned over Gwyn’s words.

With his other hand, he began unknotting Gwyn’s hair where it had started to mat together. He worked thoroughly, methodically, teasing apart the soft, fine strands. It was completely different to his own hair, which was more a mane; coarse in nature.

Augus cupped Gwyn’s jaw which was soft, didn’t grow any stubble at all. From there, his fingers trailed over Gwyn’s lips. After several pass-overs, Gwyn’s mouth opened, and Augus felt his breath, warm and humid.

It was relaxing to have Gwyn like this, to soothe him like this. It gave Augus an opportunity to think, and afforded Gwyn the break that he needed.

Even so, Augus felt impish as he slid his other hand out of Gwyn’s hair and moved down, removing one of the clamps.

Gwyn tensed immediately, lips pressing together underneath Augus’ fingers.

‘Oh,’ Augus breathed, ‘you don’t like these at all, do you?’

Gwyn shook his head as Augus removed another clamp. His breath hitched.

‘Open your mouth,’ Augus said, and Gwyn made a faint noise as his lips reluctantly parted. Augus slid two fingers inside. The angle was awkward, given he was behind Gwyn’s head, and he pressed fingertips against the roof of Gwyn’s mouth and removed the last of the clamps.

Teeth closed on Augus’ skin as Gwyn tried to fight off vocalising the pain. Augus leaned closer.

‘Don’t hurt me,’ Augus whispered, ‘or I’ll just put the entire box back on you. I think you know by now that I mean what I say.’

Gwyn whimpered, the sound broken and high and delicious, like something Augus could swallow down. Gwyn’s teeth remained nothing more than light pressure on Augus’ fingers, his breathing gusting back and forth, the evidence of his pain tangible.

‘I quite like you like this,’ Augus said, turning his fingers and rubbing at Gwyn’s tongue. ‘The thing I find curious is that I think you like it as well. Is that the way of things? The rumours about you on the battlefield is that you’re something of a ploughman.’

Augus withdrew his fingers and drew spit slick patterns over Gwyn’s cheek. ‘Well? I’m waiting for an answer.’

‘I don’t know what you’re asking,’ Gwyn said, his voice raw.

‘Have you ever been in a situation like this before?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said. ‘Do you think I…seek this out? That I am that low?’

‘You sought it out now, how am I to know just how low you are? You think coming here and offering yourself up like this, is a form of lowness?’

‘Stop doing this,’ Gwyn hissed. ‘Stop playing these word games. Either you can break the heartsong or you can’t.’

‘Is this something of a sore subject?’ Augus said, smiling. ‘Antagonising me. Breaking the few rules that I have already. There’s a part of you that likes this, Gwyn. That’s all right, you know. For all that your heartsong tells you otherwise. For all that it’s struggling.’

Gwyn bared his teeth at the room, and Augus felt his toes curl in anticipation. Soon then, they’d reach a different kind of breaking point.

‘What was it like?’ Augus said, leaning back in the chair and folding his arms. ‘What was it like feeding Cyledr his father’s heart? Because, Gwyn, I have to say, you didn’t look like you minded at all, swallowing that blood down in the shower earlier. You-’

Gwyn’s arm lifted against the ropes, and Augus’ eyes widened as the ropes started to fray, began to give. This wasn’t the jerking of before, this was concerted strength. Wood creaked. Augus stood up quickly and positioned his arms in case he’d need waterweed to bind Gwyn back down again. It was a sign, more than anything, of how willingly Gwyn had submitted to the bondage even as he enacted his small rebellions. Now Augus was seeing genuine rebellion.

‘As I was saying,’ Augus continued, keeping his voice very calm as Gwyn’s muscles bunched and part of the rope snapped. ‘You seemed, in the shower, like it was something you liked, actually.’

‘I didn’t come here for this,’ Gwyn growled, and he sounded dangerous. If Augus wasn’t used to handling Court fae by now, he’d be afraid. A Court status fae could easily overpower and kill a fae of underfae status. It was one of the reasons Augus knew to start with predicament and endurance bondage with most of the higher level fae.

‘I think,’ Augus said, watching the rope pull tighter, the creaking, whining sound it gave under the force of Gwyn’s muscles, ‘that there are two different things going on here. Do you want to know what I think?’

Gwyn snapped his arm free at once, ripped off the blindfold and tried to free his other arm. He growled, pushed to the limit.

Augus summoned thick strands of waterweed and shot them out of his own wrists, capturing Gwyn’s arm again and yanking it back towards the metal ring, binding the prehensile, rubbery stuff around Gwyn’s arm thickly, until there was so much waterweed that Gwyn’s arm could barely be seen. Then, calmly, he secured Gwyn’s arm so that it was stretched up and to his side, down to several points of the T-shaped bench.

Gwyn struggled against the waterweed.

‘You said you were going to give me a break!’ Gwyn shouted.

‘I did,’ Augus said. ‘Look how ungrateful you were.’

‘I didn’t come here for this!’

Augus stepped forward, grabbed Gwyn’s hair and yanked it down to the bench, Gwyn’s head smacked against the leather. Augus stared down at him, his own teeth baring in a flash of irritation.

‘You keep saying those words like they mean something to me. You came to me so that I might rid you of your heartsong. So yes, Gwyn, you did come here for this. If your heartsong was something you knew how to get rid of, you would have gotten rid of it by now. The fact that you haven’t found the means to dismiss it, when you are rich beyond bearing, when you are privileged, wealthy, possess status, connections, a direct line to the King, the fact that you are here despite all that suggests to me that you have not a single idea how to begin breaking yourself of a corrupt heartsong. You come here, into my home, insult me, my methods, treat me with disrespect, but you were the one who chose to come here, Gwyn. How many options did you have left to you, truly? That an underfae who was Unseelie was the best option? I’ll cut you free, shall I?’

Augus walked over to the drawers and pulled out a sharpened knife, walked back to Gwyn who watched him with wide eyes, dilated pupils.

‘Look,’ Augus said, sawing the through the ropes. ‘I’ll cut you free, and you can pursue all the other viable options that you have.’

‘Wait,’ Gwyn said, as Augus moved to the other ankle. He was breathing harshly now, his eyes going even wider. ‘Wait, I didn’t-’

‘Oh no,’ Augus said, shaking his head as he freed Gwyn’s legs and noticed how they didn’t even move off the bench. ‘You didn’t come here for this, remember?’

‘Augus, wait, please. I didn’t mean-’

‘Why do you keep saying things that you don’t mean?’ Augus said, moving up and beginning to slice through the rubbery waterweed, the smell of astringent sap filling the air.

‘Please don’t do this,’ Gwyn said, his body tensing. As soon as his forearm was free he grasped the knife to stop Augus. The move was so unexpected that Augus stared down at Gwyn’s palm wrapped around the blade. He could already smell the sharp scent of carbon and ozone, saw blood dripping down Gwyn’s wrist.

Pain means nothing to me.

Obviously in some contexts, it was true.

‘I didn’t know it would be this hard,’ Gwyn said, staring at Augus, his eyes wide, shocked, earnest. ‘I didn’t know. Of course you have the right of it, Augus.’

‘Let go of the knife, Gwyn,’ Augus said.

Clients did unexpected things sometimes, but Augus had a rule that they weren’t to come to any harm that Augus didn’t inflict upon them in a controlled manner. It hadn’t occurred to him that Gwyn would just grab a blade – even Court status fae didn’t do things like that. He could tell from Gwyn’s grip on it, that the cuts were deep.

Gwyn’s hand opened, and Augus frowned to see the blade covered with blood, Gwyn’s palm cut open in two places. Augus took his fingers and Gwyn left his hand limp for Augus to do what he wanted. He spread open Gwyn’s hand and looked at the wounds. They were not simple cuts. The blood had already trickled down his forearm, dripped onto leather. Gwyn had gripped the blade hard.

He met Gwyn’s eyes and smiled. ‘Well, since you like knives so much, I suppose we can graduate to those next.’

Gwyn blinked at him, looking somehow naïve and innocent after all that he’d shared. He was a wild creature. Augus felt like he’d stumbled across a young buck in the forest. Capable of all the bluster and fury when necessary, and the rest of the time living a gentler life. Augus felt like a curtain had been drawn back, was surprised that he was only seeing it now. He swallowed, felt an odd sense of connection.

Gwyn was right, his heartsong needed to go. It was already destabilised, it was corrupted.

But now, Augus thought, he knew what Gwyn actually needed. It was like he’d glimpsed a budding heartsong beneath the other. A direction to push towards. Something that was already there, and just needed to be drawn forth.

‘I know you need to fight back against me,’ Augus said, his hand still holding Gwyn’s bloody one. ‘I know you need to try and re-establish your heartsong, and that you can’t help it. But I grow tired of the way you do it. You chose this, remember? You might not like my methods, but you are yielding to me, however slowly, however the reality of that terrifies you. You are the one who doesn’t want me to cut you free, even now. Can you admit that?’

Gwyn looked away, he shivered. When he looked back to Augus, there was desperation and fear in the lines of his face.

‘I don’t know why you’re asking me the things you’re asking me,’ Gwyn said. ‘I can’t divine why you’d need to know them.’

‘You don’t need to know,’ Augus said. ‘You’re not here to predict my every move, Gwyn. I am not an enemy on one of your battlefields. Nor am I some Courtier you have to decipher. You came to me for one reason, and that reason has nothing to do with knowing why I’m doing what I’m doing. Does it?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said, shaking his head. ‘But I want to know why-’

‘That’s not why you’re here.’

‘I can’t tell what you’re going to ask me,’ Gwyn said.

‘I know that frightens you,’ Augus said, curling his fingers around Gwyn’s bloodier ones, ‘and I am not even interested in soothing that fear. I need it, Gwyn. I need that too. Whatever you are afraid of, you are far more frightened of what lies within you. You fear the very heart of yourself, don’t you?’

Gwyn’s chest stopped rising and falling, he just stared.

‘Look at that,’ Augus said, smirking. ‘Too stunned to even tell me that you’re not afraid.’

‘I’m not afraid,’ Gwyn whispered mechanically.

‘There we are,’ Augus said, smiling.

In one of the moments of connection that made his vocation so rewarding, Gwyn’s lips twitched upwards, the hint of a smile echoing Augus’ own. There, for the first time perhaps, Gwyn realised he had something of an ally. It wouldn’t last – couldn’t – Gwyn had too many defences in place and Augus couldn’t smash through them in an instant. But there it was, all the same.

‘My wild creature,’ Augus said. ‘I hope you realise that you have rebelled, fought back, not answered questions, and issued your own orders. There’s consequences to your actions. But you’re not going to fight me as much as before, are you?’

Gwyn shook his head, though he raised his eyebrows like he wasn’t sure that was the right answer.

‘Lie back down,’ Augus said.

Gwyn went without a word, staring at Augus as though his life was somehow in the balance. Augus pressed a fingertip to the deepest wound in Gwyn’s palm, and Gwyn grunted, his eyes closed.

‘Tell me something that no one knows about you,’ Augus said, his finger still pressed into the blood. He had a vision of cutting Gwyn open, pulling him apart with his claws to see what really made him work. Of course, no one really worked that way, but Augus could indulge his predatory drive briefly as he waited.

‘I like the ropes,’ Gwyn said, his voice small, each word delicately placed.

‘I like you in them,’ Augus said, ‘which works nicely for the both of us, doesn’t it?’

Gwyn’s gaze rolled back to Augus’. Once more, Augus felt like he was glimpsing a wild animal in the woods. Wary, but not afraid enough to run away. Wild, but not enough to have given up every offer of trust.

And to think, you just thought he was another dumb soldier.

Chapter Text

The ebb and flow of pain was an incoming tide. Every time, it encroached more, stole a little more of the debris of whatever shoreline Gwyn had within him. It left him weaker, and it was nothing like being tortured, where he had the option of choosing emptiness, choosing to abandon whatever beach this was and enter black space where there was nothing more than stars whirling against the backs of his eyelids.

He’d chosen this, and he couldn’t enter into that black space, that emptiness, to deal with the pain. For once he had to stay on the shore and watch as Augus took what he liked.

The waterhorse was stunning. Acerbic, witty, beautiful. He was everything that the Courtiers had said, when Gwyn had overheard them speaking in the confection of turrets and spires that was the Oak King’s golden Seelie Court. He was even everything that a fellow Seelie General had said. Augus broke people and remade them.

Gwyn knew he was being broken, and he knew he was being remade, but he didn’t know when he would lose the curse of his heartsong. So long an asset, now something brutal and awful. He’d always been prone to enjoying killing and murder too much, always been prone to feeling a ruthless joy on the battlefield that he’d never felt in any other aspect of his life. But now…

Cyledr was also beautiful, in a different way. He was finely boned, had a boyish face that he would keep well into maturity. His eyes were large and brightly blue and finely lashed, his hair had curled dark blond, and Gwyn had imagined that he was staring at a younger version of himself. Though why he’d imagined that, and why he’d then done what he’d done…Gwyn didn’t have an answer for that.

He’d been so furious with Gwythyr retaliating. His own anger made no sense. Of course Gwythyr would retaliate.

The sword was always rightfully his. You stole it from him. As base as any Unseelie.

Gwyn’s own thoughts were too dangerous, he focused on the pain again. He was drifting too far inside of himself. Augus wasn’t asking him questions, wasn’t speaking, and it left Gwyn with too much freedom. Even with the ropes, it was still too much freedom. He wasn’t even sure what Augus was doing.

‘Where are you?’ Augus said, and Gwyn blinked hazily, drawing the room back into view.

It was a large room with no windows, metal and wooden beams arching across the ceiling, thick circular rings set deep into the walls, black chests of drawers everywhere, contraptions that all looked like torture devices. There were items of softness too. Handtowels and towels, a few tastefully woven rugs, unlit candles here and there, the book that was facedown by the armchair where Augus sat when he watched Gwyn in the ropes.

Augus himself was standing in front of him, and Gwyn was re-tied to the bench, the leather stable beneath his back. He didn’t really like having his legs spread, but Augus hadn’t done anything to make him dislike it more. Not yet, anyway.

‘I’m here,’ Gwyn said.

Augus nodded quietly, then pressed the round stone cylinder to a place at Gwyn’s left hip. Pain gathered slowly, heavily, a cumulonimbus on the horizon. Gwyn didn’t know what the object was, it looked like an oversized dowel, or perhaps a pestle that needed a body as its mortar, but it was obviously spelled. The pain it brought was slow and deceiving. It began like a flower blooming, subtle but deep, all the way down in his bones. But it was faint. Like a muscular ache.

The longer Augus held the rounded, warmed tip of the stone in place, the greater the pain would become. It radiated out, following a wider circumference until Gwyn felt himself start to drift again. It wasn’t like being driven out of his body, it was more like he was tied to an anchor sinking to the bottom of some dark place. Only the anchor was the pain, and he couldn’t escape the core of himself. It was frightening, because it wasn’t questions. He tried to maintain his strength in front of it, but it was wearing him down. Yet he didn’t dread it. He knew he should. He didn’t.

How much time had passed now? He had no idea.

Could Augus even break the heartsong?

If he couldn’t, Gwyn had one more option available to him. One more. But that option would please his parents too much. They would say, ‘we always knew he’d do this one day. He was never strong enough to have much of a survival instinct.’ His mother – his glamorous, beautiful mother – would incline her head and look mournful and pretend that she had lost something great. Her glee that he was gone would be greater.

Gwyn groaned and tried to focus on the pain again. It spread too slowly, it was too hypnotic. At least when it was the sharper, angrier bite of the clamps, he was in the room. He could stay in the room.

Not that he wanted anything to do with the clamps again.

‘Where are you now?’ Augus said, his voice like a dream.

Augus talked almost like a Courtier, but he had a welsh accent. He was everything the fae world adored. Lithe and svelte, tall and lightly muscled. His hair was long and black and straight and gleamed greenish in certain lights, and the waterweed he grew from his scalp was healthy. His eyes burned an emerald green so bright it would be out of place in the human world. His muscles were long, he had a taut waist. Gwyn wanted to know what his hands might feel like, wrapped around it. Strange that Augus had already done so much to Gwyn’s body, and Gwyn had hardly been able to touch him at all.

Everything about Augus was composed. Even when Augus had seemed irritated, impulsive, cutting the ropes away and forcing Gwyn to confront the fact that his only other option was… Even then, Gwyn had belatedly known that to be composed too. It had been an act. Augus had pretended at something to get a reaction. It disturbed Gwyn, frightened him that Augus could know almost nothing about him and yet still predict his responses to that degree.

The only response he hadn’t seemed to predict was when Gwyn grabbed the knife. But Augus had his hand on the hilt, and there was nothing else to grab. It didn’t matter if Gwyn hurt himself anyway, how could it? Augus was already hurting him.

‘Gwyn?’ Augus said, his voice firmer. ‘Where are you?’

‘Here,’ Gwyn said, coming back. His back was against the leather bench, sticking to it as he sweated freely. His fingers curled. His right hand was bandaged. It was ridiculous. He didn’t need a bandage. He’d heal quickly. But Augus had tended the wounds from the knife like they mattered. Gwyn wondered what kind of mind game that was, and he watched everything Augus did suspiciously, even as Augus watched him with a faintly perplexed look on his face. Gwyn didn’t know what that meant, but it was likely calculated, part of…something.

‘There are many clients who don’t like this,’ Augus said, his voice coming from a distance. Gwyn could just open his eyes and look at him, but he felt drugged. Could he have been drugged? Gwyn doubted it. ‘There are clients who loathe this actually. You look quite relaxed. Are you enjoying this?’

Was he?

It was only that the pain was so slow to build. There was nothing to hang onto, nothing to protest against. By the time it was a huge swell, Gwyn almost wanted the wave of it to break over him. His breath hitched in his throat. It was unlike anything else he’d ever experienced.

Even his innate fae power, his light that he refused to show to anyone, didn’t try to rise up sharply in response to it. Gwyn had shoved it down hard when he’d been in battle, and even now, it still stayed out of the way. It had only jumped into threatening sparks once or twice along his spine, but seemed as afraid and worn as the rest of him was.

‘I don’t think so,’ Gwyn said, and finally he blinked his eyes open and stared up at the ceiling at the beam above him. The stone was still pressed to his hip and the pain was radiating at such a large circumference now that it was pinching at the back of his skull. He felt like he wouldn’t be able to move again. For once the prospect wasn’t as terrifying as it should be.

‘Oh, look at that,’ Augus breathed, and then he was leaning closer, everything about his presence ringing the surface nerves on Gwyn’s skin. ‘Look at those pupils, Gwyn. Did you know you were a masochist before today?’

‘Am I?’ Gwyn said.

Maybe he was drugged.

The stone dragged over his skin and pressed in the taut space above his cock, the skin there delicate, and the pain came with it. Starting slow, blooming down into his balls, travelling along the backs of his thighs, unfurling and stealing his breath.

‘That’s stunning,’ Augus said, and Gwyn had no idea what he was talking about, so he didn’t bother responding.

He liked Augus’ voice. It was smooth and moderated and it could be sharp or gentle. Gwyn’s voice was always clunky. He was so used to giving orders. But then it had always been a clumsy thing. His mother used her glamour to make her voice as refined and engaging as possible. His father had always been authoritarian. Augus’ voice was different. It seemed friendly even when it was firm. It invited participation.

The scent of him was fresh water and the faintest hint of silt, something fresher than petrichor but with a glimmer of that heaviness. It was a storm of rain, or a large, healthy lake. It was the chlorophyll of fresh algal blooms that hadn’t begun to rot.

Gwyn focused on Augus. Everything else hurt too much.

Fingers trailed over the length of his cock, from the root to the tip, and Gwyn groaned softly. He wasn’t hard, exactly, but he could be, if Augus kept that up.

‘Are you floating, Gwyn?’ Augus said, a smile in his voice.

‘I’m right here,’ Gwyn murmured.

‘You’re certainly just as literal as ever,’ Augus said. ‘How do you feel?’

Feelings were difficult. There were too many of them. If he thought about Cyledr’s face, those wide eyes and tear-spiked lashes and trembling lips and the way his eyebrows pulled with rage, then anguish, then rage, then anguish, until finally they didn’t pull at all and his face went blank. Blank, even as the lower half of his face was covered with blood and black gore. Even his body had stopped shaking. The screams had stopped. That high, shrill screaming.

‘Gwyn?’ Augus said, his voice sharper. ‘Where are you?’

Gwyn was aware of his throat vibrating, knew then that he was making some distressed noise. Absently, he jerked on ropes and tried to remember.

In the room. On the bench. Ropes. Augus. The stone dowel, or pestle. He wasn’t supposed to be making noises like that. He wasn’t weak. He was strong. He had more wins behind him for his age than any other Seelie War General. Ever. That alone brought him standing with some of the Courtiers, even if they were all in his mother’s pocket. Even then.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said, and Gwyn shuddered when the hand pressed on his sternum. ‘Where are you?’

‘Here,’ Gwyn said.

‘I don’t think that’s entirely true, is it?’ Augus said, rubbing at his chest. ‘What was it like? Was it hard to pull Nwython’s heart out of his chest? It’s hard, yes? The arteries are very stubborn. Even in humans.’

Gwyn felt like ice water was being dripped down his back. His awareness narrowed on Augus’ words and he felt hot, thick blood and viscera on his hands and wrists. His forearms twitched. It had been difficult. He’d only gotten so far with the sword and then he’d wanted to do everything else himself. Nwython’s heart had still been beating. There was a chance he could have survived the sword injury itself, if Gwyn hadn’t forcibly ripped his heart from his chest. Blood had gone everywhere. Sprayed. Gwyn’s mouth had flooded with saliva and he’d convinced himself it was because he’d wanted to throw up.

‘I don’t want to be here,’ Gwyn said. He didn’t mean the room, didn’t even mean Augus. He didn’t want to be in that great hall with its columns and the prisoners lined up and kneeling and shackled and Cyledr kneeling nearby and Nwython on the floor in a pool of his own blood while everyone watched Gwyn like he was a monster. All those wide eyes horrified like they hadn’t just been in a battle to the death. Like there hadn’t been a battle in the first place. Acting innocent, like they didn’t understand, like they didn’t…

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, his voice getting rougher. ‘Stop it.’

The stone at his pelvis pressed harder into his skin, almost too hard, and the pain was so deep that Gwyn gasped, sank like a stone. This wasn’t space and stars, this was the bottom of some shaft set into the earth, the ground humid around him, packed tight. It was almost claustrophobic.

‘No,’ Augus said. ‘You don’t give me orders, remember?’

A grating shriek of pain and Gwyn was yanked back from the dark, deep place to somewhere a little shallower. His cock was singing a sharper pain and Gwyn realised that Augus had reattached a clamp.

They hurt going on. They hurt coming off. He hated them.

He opened his eyes – hadn’t realised he’d closed them again – and stared at Augus.

‘Hush,’ Augus said, smiling. ‘It’s hard for you to think about, isn’t it? What you did? But you’ll need to think about it, for if the story is as awful as you say, I have an idea of how the Seelie will think about it. A great War General gone mad. A temporary insanity, perhaps. What do you think it was?’

‘Don’t do this,’ Gwyn said.

The sound of metal touching metal and Gwyn realised that he’d issued another order. He hadn’t meant for it to be an order. He had already learned that Augus didn’t punish him if he found other ways to phrase things. If Gwyn had only said, ‘I don’t want you to do this.’

The clamp attached to the loose skin at the underside of his cock, and Gwyn sobbed. The sound shocked him. He hadn’t known that he had been brought down so far. He thought he was far away from that sort of weakness.

Apparently he was already there.

His heart beat faster, fear creeping up on him. What was Augus doing with the stone? He stared at Augus, and Augus watched him, an unreadable expression on his face.

‘Did you feel triumphant when you fed Cyledr the heart?’ Augus said.

Gwyn closed his eyes and lifted a head that felt far too heavy and dropped it back against the leather, trying to think about anything else except what Augus was asking him.

His cock was being shifted, skin being pinched up, the punishments for breaking rules were coming faster, they were harsher.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, and never got a chance to say anything else. Another clamp. Gwyn wanted hands to cover his face, and instead turned it to the side, away from Augus. His face screwed up with pain. Something about the stone was making the clamps harder to bear. ‘Augus.’

‘Did you feel triumphant when you fed Cyledr the heart?’ Augus said again.

Seconds passed, Gwyn was still thinking about how awful the clamps were, and again he felt Augus’ fingers on his cock and Gwyn jerked and then tried to shift away and of course that wouldn’t work because he was bound and even though he could arch his hips the stone was still laying on him making his entire lower body feel like it was made of granite.

‘Not again, please,’ Gwyn said.

One clamp and then another following immediately afterwards, getting closer to the sensitive head of his cock. Gwyn was gasping, couldn’t make himself stop. The horror of knowing they’d all have to come off.

‘The first for not answering,’ Augus said. ‘The second for trying to tell me what to do.’

‘I can’t concentrate,’ Gwyn said, his voice breaking.

‘I think, actually, that you can,’ Augus said, like he knew everything. ‘I think you’ve been spending an awful lot of time in that memory. I think you know exactly how you felt. I’m going to ask you one more time, and I want a prompt answer. Did you feel triumphant when you-’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn ground out, angry and trying to swim back from that hypnotic pain.

‘Did anyone try to stop you?’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said, thinking of voices and how he’d snapped orders across all of them. Thinking of how hard his voice had been, how he’d looked at the others like he wanted to destroy them all, regardless of alignment, or that they’d surrendered, or that they were already so scared.

Gwyn’s eyes burned. He couldn’t stop himself from gasping. He’d felt triumphant. He didn’t understand how. His own soldiers were afraid of him. It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Certainly, they got out of his way on the battlefield. But they weren’t meant to be afraid of him. And he’d liked it. He’d wanted it. He’d known in an instant how to destroy every last one of them. Imagined himself standing in a hall of bodies and wanted to laugh with joy.

He was no better than Efnisien. No better.

What if, one day, he wanted to find a boy to torture? Just to torture? What if Cyledr had been the start of that? He’d been blond-haired, blue-eyed. He’d have fit into Gwyn’s family well. Cyledr had cried so sweetly. His rage had been so futile and all the more exquisite for it.

‘Gods,’ Gwyn said, and he was jerking hard at the ropes. His wrists hurt. He was sure he could just pit himself against the ropes and break them but that stone had made him so weak. How long had Augus been using it? Hours? Gwyn wasn’t weak. His heartsong was triumph, and he wasn’t about to go down on some bench, in front of some Unseelie fae, some underfae, he wasn’t about to-

‘Shhh,’ Augus said, and a hand smoothed over his forehead. ‘Where are you?’

‘I’m done,’ Gwyn said. ‘I’m done.’

It wasn’t an order, Augus couldn’t hurt him. Augus could untie him, and Gwyn could go and do what he’d wanted to do in the first place. He shouldn’t have to persist knowing that he was like his cousin. Knowing what he was. He shouldn’t have to. He didn’t want to. It was futile thinking that anyone could help him. He’d just find himself in exactly the same position again one day, laughing while he destroyed someone. His whole life he’d never wanted to- He knew exactly what it was like to be the recipient of that. Efnisien laughing over him and the whole field around him, stalks of grasses and weeds reeking of blood.

‘I’m done,’ Gwyn couldn’t stop himself saying, over and over, and there was a hand on his forehead and clever fingers and a voice hushing him. Then a thumb on his cheekbones smoothing wetness away.

‘You have to talk to me, Gwyn,’ Augus said. ‘Why are you done?’

‘I don’t want to be like this.’ He was still struggling against the ropes and the stone was still resting on the lower half of his body and Gwyn couldn’t summon the strength to try and get it to roll off. Augus wasn’t even holding it anymore. Both hands up by his head. One petting his forehead. Comfort. It was false. It was all false. ‘I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t do this, and you can’t-’

‘What if I told you that you can do this?’ Augus said, and the words seemed to cut through everything.

Gwyn fell still.

‘If you don’t want to be something, you don’t have to be it,’ Augus said, like it was that simple, like it could ever be that simple. ‘Already, you are taking great steps to make sure you are not like that in the future. You don’t want the heartsong anymore, for all that it fights this. You want to change. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want that.’

‘It’s inevitable,’ Gwyn said. Gods, he really was crying. He was. This was awful. He couldn’t turn his head away because of how Augus’ hands were bracing him. ‘What did you do to me?’

‘It takes time to wear you down, Gwyn,’ Augus said softly. ‘But we’re getting there.’

‘You can’t tell anyone that you saw me like th-’

‘You have my complete and utter confidentiality, remember?’ Augus said, his voice firm. ‘If I had a reputation for betraying people’s deepest secrets, that’s what you would have heard about me first. How’s the pain?’

It was bad. Gwyn knew it was bad. It was everywhere. All the way through him, focused on the lower half of his body. His cock throbbed, by the gods he hated those clamps. He didn’t know why he wasn’t protesting it more, when he knew that it was so all-encompassing. But it was nothing like torture, where the pain was sharp and hard and then excruciating. This was…

‘It’s different,’ Gwyn said. ‘It hurts. I don’t know why I don’t mind it.’

‘You’re a masochist,’ Augus said simply.

‘I don’t like being tortured.’

‘No one likes being tortured,’ Augus said, and Gwyn could tell that he was rolling his eyes. ‘There’s a reason you likely weren’t aware that you were a masochist before today. Honestly.’

Hadn’t he been panicking? Where did that go?

‘What did you do?’ Gwyn said.

‘You need to be a bit clearer than that,’ Augus said, stroking the backs of his fingers across Gwyn’s forehead.

‘I was panicking, and now…’

‘Oh, that,’ Augus said, like it was nothing. ‘Redirection. I just gave you some other things to think about. Don’t worry, Gwyn. We’ll return to all the things you don’t want to think about soon enough. We’re going to talk about something else for a little while. How’s the pain? Can you manage?’

Gwyn nodded. Yes, he could manage. It was so strange to experience so much pain he didn’t have to pit himself against.

‘Do you like hunting? Going out and hunting game?’ Augus said.

‘Oh, yes,’ Gwyn said.

‘How do you prefer to do it? Talk to me about that. More than just a yes or no answer this time.’

Why Augus wanted to know about this, Gwyn couldn’t fathom, but already his heart felt lighter. He could almost feel shafts of shifting sunlight on his skin, could feel loam and dirt packed cool and damp against his feet.

‘I’ve always liked hunting,’ Gwyn said. ‘I use a bow and arrow usually. Recurve, or sometimes longbow for larger game like the big wild boar that can be found around Ethallas. I can hunt on horseback but I prefer to do it on my own, or with a couple of good hounds. I like…the forest. It’s always full of activity and noise, and yet it can feel so silent and so peaceful.’

Those fingers moving over his forehead, it was disquieting. Gwyn hadn’t wanted any touches like that in the beginning, now he craved them. They felt as good as the cups of water did when Augus let him have them.

‘Sometimes,’ Gwyn said, ‘I wander without the bow and arrow. Just on my own. I don’t have to hunt.’

‘You just like to be in the woods?’ Augus said.

‘Anywhere,’ Gwyn said. ‘Though I prefer cooler places over warmer ones. Jungles can be cloying. Though even there… I like the places that aren’t heavily inhabited by fae. I watch things. Birds and animals, I look for broken twigs or spoor, I just like to know what is living there, to know that it is living there and that it has nothing to do with me. All those creatures living their lives, and I imagine they understand. I know they don’t. I know that unless they’re fae beasts and sentient, they don’t. But there is a…’

Gwyn wasn’t sure how to finish that sentence. There was a shared wildness between them all. A sympatico. An understanding of belonging that had nothing to do with sentience. But could a sense of belonging even exist without that? Gwyn had no idea what he was talking about.

‘I like it,’ Gwyn finished, feeling sheepish.

‘How often do you do that? With a bow and arrow or without?’

‘As often as I can,’ Gwyn said. ‘Whenever I’m away from campaign, or done with field duties. Even then, I’ll sometimes steal time to do it. I know I should spend the time training, and that it’s very indulgent, but I can’t help himself.’

‘How’s the pain?’ Augus said, and Gwyn frowned.

‘You keep asking me that, like you expect me to dislike it. Am I supposed to?’

‘Your pain threshold is very, very impressive,’ Augus said, and Gwyn felt a faint glow of warmth at the praise. Especially given that not so long ago, he’d been reduced to tears. Was Augus only humouring him? Gwyn didn’t even care.

‘Is it?’ Gwyn said.

‘What did it feel like, in the moment, before you made the decision to come here? When you felt triumphant. How did it feel?’

A swell of nausea and Gwyn gagged, he hadn’t been expecting it. Everything had been peaceful, almost normal. He couldn’t hold any of his responses at bay. Whatever the pain was doing, all his resources were going to managing that, even though he felt like he needed to manage nothing. He gagged again, and then there were fingers in his hair, sharp pinpricks in his scalp.

Concentrate,’ Augus snapped, and Gwyn gasped, swallowed, tried to concentrate. ‘How did it feel?’

Please, Augus,’ Gwyn said, his voice breaking. ‘We were talking about hunting.’

‘And now we’re not,’ Augus said. The hand let go of his hair and then Augus’ body was over him, Gwyn could feel the shadow of it. Then the sound of metal again and Gwyn whimpered and tried to turn away when he felt fingers on his cock once more. Another clamp. ‘How did it feel?’

Gwyn didn’t mean to hesitate, couldn’t help it, and there was another clamp and Gwyn shouted.

‘You’re not winning this, Gwyn,’ Augus said.

Augus used those words on purpose, Gwyn knew he did. Antagonised his heartsong, and Gwyn felt it rearing again and he didn’t think he could bear it. Felt stubbornness set in and wished it would just go. He never thought he could hate something so much. Especially something that had almost brought him his family’s approval and certainly their tolerance. Something that had brought so much pride to the Seelie overall. It made him sick.

Another clamp, this one scraping on the flare of the head of his cock, actually pinching into nerve endings so sensitive that Gwyn couldn’t stop groaning for several seconds. Everything was pain then. Bone deep and on the surface. He was thrust into blackness, scraped his nails against wood. Noise rasped in his throat.

There was a sharp blow against the side of his face and Gwyn blinked, dazed, to see Augus standing over him, a hard expression on his face. His eyes glittered.

‘How did it feel, Gwyn?’ Augus said.

It didn’t matter anymore, Gwyn realised. It didn’t matter if Augus knew. Gwyn couldn’t concentrate enough anyway. He could hardly remember why it was such a hard question to answer.

‘It felt good,’ Gwyn said, staring at him, eyes watering.

‘How good?’

‘Exhilarating.’ Gwyn said, though he thought he may have pronounced the word wrong. His tongue felt thick and woollen in his throat.

Fear was building, eclipsing even the pain.

‘What are you afraid of?’ Augus said, and Gwyn nodded like that was an answer to the question.

‘How it felt,’ Gwyn said finally.

‘When you gave Cyledr his father’s heart, forced it upon him, did you want to try it?’

Gwyn stared at him. Even as he felt his stomach turn, beneath all that pain, he couldn’t stop himself from nodding.

‘And when you fed it to Cyledr, what did you want from him?’

‘To…destroy him,’ Gwyn said.

‘No,’ Augus corrected, and Gwyn was aware that the pain was becoming impossible now. Normally the clamps started to turn the area numb and vague. He was panting, didn’t know how to indicate how much pain he was in. Augus’ eyes flickered down between Gwyn’s legs and then up again. ‘You’re doing very well, Gwyn. I was expecting you to hit this point a lot earlier. Hold on a bit longer, you can do it, you’ve already done so well.’

Gwyn closed his eyes and winced.

‘If you wanted to destroy him, you would have simply killed him,’ Augus said. ‘What did you want from him?’

What did he want? He was there again. His body prickled with gooseflesh, a feral savagery spreading through him like fire. Every vulnerable movement on Cyledr’s face, it had felt like fuel. Every minute reaction led to some internal combustion, a heat that made the light inside him hungry and vicious. What had Gwyn really wanted? His destruction. What else?

‘Revenge,’ Gwyn whispered. ‘Vindication. To make sure that none of them dared to stand against me again. To…’ he made a sound and could tell then that he no longer had any capacity to handle what the stone was doing to him. He was shaking so badly. Augus wasn’t making any move to remove it, to help him, and Gwyn thought that Augus was lying, he was lying when he said he wouldn’t let Gwyn leave in a worse state than he’d arrived. There was no way he could survive this pain. It was devastating. It was in his skull, his hips, behind his kneecaps, in the ridges of every joint.

‘I hated…everything he was,’ Gwyn gasped, knowing that none of the pain would stop until he was done. ‘Everything he was. Stupid, innocent, naïve, mewling boy that shouldn’t even have been in battle. What was he even doing there in the first place? I wanted him to know everything we have to know, everything we have to learn about carnage. How awful and ugly and relentless and never-ending and total and final so that he would finally understand that there is nothing, there is nothing else but the winner doing whatever they like, the victor victorious, that total power, that I could do that to him and he could only…’

The pain was still building and Gwyn’s eyes were open and unseeing, he couldn’t stop shaking. He was saying something over and over again and from a great distance realised that it was Augus’ name. He was jerking at the ropes hard enough to strain them, break some of them, and it wasn’t even that he needed to escape, he just needed the pain to stop and then he could- he could-

The stone at his gut was removed, and the pain receded slowly. Gwyn sobbed in relief, uncaring of his reaction, still tensing rhythmically against the ropes, unable to help the reflexive responses of his muscles. Vaguely, he thought he should get a hand on one of those things, it would definitely assist the torturers the Seelie Court had on staff.

‘Careful,’ Augus whispered. ‘Careful. Easy, Gwyn. I know how to break this heartsong now, thank you. All right?’

Augus crooned to him, words that Gwyn could hardly make out, he swam in and out of consciousness, he could hardly remember what he’d said. He knew it was important, but couldn’t hang onto the words. The pain receded, but far too slowly. The shoreline the tide revealed was battered, broken bones and snapped off poles and torn pennants. It was all so ugly. He hated it. He wanted the pain back.

‘Oh, Gwyn,’ Augus said. ‘You hate war?’

‘I love it,’ Gwyn mumbled. ‘I’m good at it.’

‘You love some parts of it,’ Augus whispered. ‘You hate the rest.’

‘I’m good at it,’ Gwyn said, the words slurring. Gods, when had he become so tired?

‘That’s so important to you,’ Augus said.

‘Important,’ Gwyn said, being sucked into some whirlpool too quickly to swim back out. Everything was greyness encroaching on the corners of his mind. He was drifting. He couldn’t afford to sleep. It was important he not sleep. But whatever was happening, he couldn’t fight it. He whimpered.

‘Stop hanging onto everything,’ Augus said. ‘Just let go. It’s all right. Everything will still be here when you come back.’

‘Okay,’ Gwyn said.

The greyness flooded over him, Gwyn swore he could even hear the ocean, or the sound of a gale blowing through thousands of trees. Then, there was nothing at all.

Chapter Text

He swam back to consciousness, pain stinging him like bees. It wasn’t until he tried to knock Augus’ hand away from his cock, that Gwyn realised two things: Augus was removing the clamps, and Gwyn’s hands were untied.

‘Hold them,’ Augus said, taking Gwyn’s hand and resting it upon his belly, palm up, cupped to receive every flesh-warmed clamp that Augus removed.

‘Gods,’ Gwyn said, his voice breaking. He was beginning to think he’d have some of this pain shadowing him forever. Augus was quick, dropping each clamp into Gwyn’s palm. Each made a shallow clinking sound. They sounded far more innocuous than they actually were.

He was still on the bench. His legs were still tied.

The last clamp was removed from the flare at the head of his cock, and Gwyn couldn’t brace himself for the depth of pain that began to flood him. It rose sharply when Augus wrapped fingers around his cock and started pumping his hand up and down, aggravating all the sore, clamp-nipped places. Gwyn sat up immediately, head spinning, only for Augus to wrap his other hand around Gwyn’s throat.

The move held such audacity that Gwyn froze. Augus watched him. Gwyn bared his teeth.

‘Let go of my throat,’ Gwyn said.

‘That was an order,’ Augus said. ‘Care to give another?’

‘I want you to let go of my throat,’ Gwyn said.

Augus’ grip wasn’t tight, it didn’t even hurt.

‘No,’ Augus said. ‘You want me to let go of your throat? Fight me. See if you can win this one, Gwyn. I’m curious. You’ve won so many wars, so many skirmishes, goodness knows how many fae have pitted themselves directly against you only to be slain. You want the hand off your throat, remove it. Go on. No punishments if you do.’

Gwyn raised his other hand and Augus squeezed his cock so hard that lights spun in front of Gwyn’s eyes. The pain shot all the way to the base of his spine.

‘Come on,’ Augus said, his voice flat, impatient.

But the hand around his cock was tighter than ever, and Gwyn’s legs kicked spasmodically at the restraints. He was aware of metal spilling all over his belly as his hand splayed.

‘Oh, come on,’ Augus said, sounding disdainful. ‘How did you manage to triumph over anyone? This is pathetic.’

Not pathetic, Gwyn thought, gritting his teeth together. Not.

He was able to brush his fingers over Augus’, even though his hand and arm shook with pain. Augus’ hand shifted deftly and then Gwyn choked at the merciless agony of Augus taking his balls up in a grip that felt like it was crushing him. He stopped focusing on the hand at his throat, tried to move uncoordinated limbs to the hand that was-

The grip only tightened and Gwyn hyperventilated. He could hear the cadence of Augus’ voice, taunting him. Taunting him. Something about torture. About how Augus had no idea how he could withstand torture.

‘Remove my hand from your throat, Gwyn,’ Augus said.

His fine motor control was lost. The hand at his throat was a constant threat, it felt like Augus was eroding more than just his physical resources. He knew he was making noises and didn’t care what they were. That was harm. Augus was harming him.

‘Isn’t it a good thing you’ll heal from this?’ Augus said. ‘Underfae wouldn’t.’

Augus was harming him. Gwyn panicked. He couldn’t even curl his fingers around the wrist between his legs. His hand was too clumsy.

‘Stop fighting me,’ Augus snapped.

Gwyn stopped fighting him, his arms going as limp as they could when horrible tension wound up through him.

‘How are you even a War General?’ Augus breathed. ‘I thought you said that torture was nothing to you.’

Gwyn was making pleading noises in the back of his throat. His back was shaking. He knew that his foot had cramped and he hardly cared.

‘I definitely think that heartsong is ready to go,’ Augus said. ‘You won’t even fight me?’

Greyness at the edges of his vision again, and then the hand at his throat let go long enough to slap him. He moaned.

‘Don’t black out,’ Augus said. ‘If you want me to stop, tell me that I’ve won.’

A brief round of struggling that Gwyn couldn’t stop, despite the fact that it made everything worse. Augus didn’t even shift, didn’t seem bothered by it. There were fae on a battlefield who would run from battle if Gwyn so much as stepped onto it. Augus, underfae and technically his enemy, sat casually next to him. Gwyn wanted to scream, the sound breaking in this throat over and over.

‘Tell me, Gwyn.’

You’ve won.

Two words. It should be easier. He desperately wanted the pain to stop. So much of him wanted to utter them. He felt them on his tongue, they almost tasted sweet. But there was something in the core of him that convinced him the pain was preferable when it wasn’t.

‘You can’t take much more of this,’ Augus said. His voice was almost gentle. Almost. ‘You just need to taste the words in your mouth. That’s all. The first time is always the hardest, isn’t it? You’ll need to say them a great deal more before we’re done. Say them, Gwyn.’

Gwyn had no idea how much time passed before the pain eclipsed everything. He knew he said the words, knew because of the bitterness that shot through him, nausea in his gut. Augus let go immediately, his throat and his balls, and Gwyn was bending sideways and gagging, unable to bring anything up.

There was a hand between his shoulder blades. Gwyn thought at first it was meant to be comforting, but then he realised that Augus was feeling his heartrate.

‘All right,’ Augus said. ‘You’re healing, Gwyn. You’ll heal. Let’s give you a couple of hours to rest that off. And then we’ll start the next round.’ A pause, Augus’ head pressed against one of his shoulders – Gwyn could feel his cool, long wet hair clinging to his skin. Augus inhaled sharply. ‘Ah, I knew it. Look at that, Gwyn. No longer destabilised, but actually fractured. No wonder you feel so ill. Did you even know it would be traumatic to lose a heartsong like this?’

Gwyn nodded, amongst the pain, amongst the shaking. Yes, he knew. He’d lost a heartsong before, had it sundered from him in a moment. A moment he wouldn’t think about, not ever again.

‘It’s going to get easier,’ Augus said.

‘When?’

‘When I decide,’ Augus said. ‘You don’t get to decide that. And I don’t think you need to know. You’ve lost, Gwyn. You literally surrendered to the enemy. You actually gave yourself up to an Unseelie fae. And not just any Unseelie fae, not the King of the Unseelie Court, but to an underfae that you’d never even met before. How badly did you want to lose again? Did you miss failure so much you decided to embrace it wholesale?’

A part of Gwyn knew that it was aggravation, provocation, deliberate. But every word hammered at him and he placed his palm over his face. Then both of his hands. His arms were still shaking. He only realised his teeth had been chattering when they stopped.

It had almost been nice before. This wasn’t nice.

Augus was behind him then, straddling the bench. His clothed chest pressing to Gwyn’s back, an arm looping around his torso. It was more physical touch than he’d had in…

How long had he been here now?

He wanted to turn into it, but there was a stubborn pride in his body, and an unworthiness beneath it. Still, he knew he gained something from it, because his breathing began to calm.

‘No permanent damage,’ Augus said. ‘You’re healing. All the damage is minor, ancillary. It feels worse than it is. The pistillum makes you feel that you are more hurt than you are. It takes a good day or so for the full after-effects of that to wear off.’

Gwyn nodded mechanically.

‘If you want a break, you’ll need to do something for me,’ Augus said. Gwyn blinked, hadn’t Augus said he was already getting a break? Then he was distracted by a fresh wave of pain, he bowed over himself, his lower spine felt like it had taken a beating. Between the pestle-thing – pistillum – of earlier, and Augus’ hand delivering that crushing grip to his testicles, his body was still trying to find something that resembled equilibrium.

‘You need to thank me for giving you the break. You need to tell me you’re only getting it, because I have decided it. I’d like you to remind me who holds the balance of power here. In words.’

Gwyn winced. He needed that break. He felt like he was going to fly apart at the seams if Augus did anything else. Having his body pressed against his back made him feel wary and comforted at the same time, he shuddered hard. He needed some time, just some to think, just-

‘If you don’t find the words in the next twenty seconds, Gwyn, we’ll start again.’

Augus’ hand moved lovingly across his ribs, and then down between his legs again, the parody of an embrace. Gwyn jerked when fingertips brushed against his cock, then moved lower.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, not a warning, but something else. His voice was wrecked. ‘Gods, I need a break.’

‘That’s not what I asked you to say at all,’ Augus purred, and Gwyn made an embarrassingly high noise when fingers gently took up his testicles again, Augus’ cheek resting between Gwyn’s shoulder blades.

‘I need…’ Gwyn said, his voice hitching. ‘Could you- I’m…I’m only getting a break because,’ he took a shaky breath, ‘because you decided I could. Because you hold…you hold…’

Because you hold the power here.

It should be easy to say. Far easier than it was. It was only words. His heartsong chafed against every single one them. Yet in his day to day life, it didn’t hurt him like this to acknowledge the power that his father held over him, to acknowledge the power of the Oak King or his commanders. But this…

Augus’ fingers started to squeeze and Gwyn’s head rocked backwards sharply, Augus shifting in time to prevent a collision.

‘Because you hold the power, Augus,’ Gwyn said, his chest hurting. ‘Because you decided. Because of you.’

‘Now I want you to tell me that you don’t get to decide things like that for yourself. Not here. You’ve lost, remember?’

‘But-’

Augus’ fingers shifted minutely and Gwyn cried out, nodded frantically.

He was partly stunned at his inability to hold up to this, knowing that he could handle torture so much worse than this. But Augus had been right, this wasn’t about torture. When Gwyn was being tortured by the enemy, he could send his mind away, he could hold his truths to himself and know that it was righteous to do so. Here he was supposed to bare certain parts of himself, he’d chosen it. Even when he hated it, even when it terrified him…

‘I don’t get to decide when I have a break,’ Gwyn said. ‘You do.’

‘Good,’ Augus said. The word was delivered in a detached tone of voice, Augus moved away from him and Gwyn sagged forwards, barely able to catch himself with his arms. ‘Two hours, Gwyn. Make the most of it.’

The door clicked closed and Gwyn realised Augus was gone. He was gone.

Gwyn lifted his head and stared at the door, made a sound that made his cheeks burn, and he raised his own hand to his mouth.

It shouldn’t matter. Augus was the one inflicting all the pain in the first place. Gwyn should want him gone.

But he didn’t.

He closed his eyes, shuddering at the pain still, and forced himself to lie back upon the bench. He covered his face with his arms, moaned softly now that no one was there to hear him. He didn’t feel well.

*

Two hours passed and Augus came back, directing Gwyn into an adjoining room behind a black, lacquered door. Gwyn was finding it hard to keep his feet underneath him, shocked at how exhausted he felt. But then, there had been two battles very close together, and he had come to Augus’ immediately afterwards. When was the last time he’d slept? Two months ago? More?

There was a saltire cross in the middle of the room. Shaped like someone crossing two sticks together at a diagonal, except that these sticks were reinforced metal and wood, bolted to the floor with screws so large that Gwyn knew he wouldn’t be escaping from that in a hurry. He baulked, and felt a hand at his lower back, pushing him forward.

‘You’ve been tortured against one of these before, I imagine,’ Augus said, and Gwyn nodded. He felt slow and ungainly, he didn’t think he could withstand much of what Augus had in mind. Not if there was a cross involved. People were lashed against crosses like that. His father had one on his barque, making sure that he could punish his ship-fae at sea whenever necessary. Gwyn was amazed his father had never had one installed back at the An Fnwy estate, he’d have used it freely if he had.

Augus showed him where to stand, and Gwyn felt like an idiot letting Augus lash his arms back up and apart, restrained against the forks of the cross, facing it. Ropes at his wrist, midway down his forearm, his elbow, his upper arm. Then one of his legs was tied, also spread. Like this, most of Gwyn’s body was bared.

His mind kept flickering back to what he’d done. The King would ask about what he’d done, his family would, they’d all want to know if it was the family curse, if it was madness, if it was just cruelty. He kept seeing Cyledr’s eyes, heard the screech of his voice. Worse, he heard his own deeper voice taunting the boy, demanding he eat more, more.

‘Where are you?’ Augus said, voice penetrating the haze.

‘I don’t know anymore,’ Gwyn mumbled, arms pulling against the ropes and finding no give there. His hands curled. He was getting tired of this.

He should leave.

His heartsong was already fractured, wasn’t it? He could leave.

‘I’m tired, Augus,’ Gwyn heard himself say, and flushed to have revealed himself so. You didn’t tell a torturer you were tired.

He was losing time. One moment Augus was in the corner of the room, the next, hands pressed against his shoulder blades. His head hung, his eyes half open, but he didn’t focus on anything at all. Whatever magic had been in that stone pistillum had ruined him. Augus was…a liar. Gwyn had delivered himself to some sadistic, Unseelie underfae.

Fingers dug into each of his ass cheeks and Gwyn bit out a breath. Hissed. He felt like he could have been on one of his father’s ships. Though his father had never taken him out over the sea, because Gwyn had never earned the privilege. He had to serve on the land army, his father wanted him nowhere near the Seelie navy.

‘Where are you?’

I can smell the ocean, Gwyn thought, nostrils flaring. His lungs hurt. Each full breath ached at its peak. His balls were such a constant source of pain that he mostly just thought of his lower body as a bruise and left it at that. At least they were healing. That was something.

‘Gwyn,’ a hard voice. ‘Pay attention.’

Yes, papa.

There was a blow against his ass then, a bare hand, his bare cheek, and his eyes flew open. His head snapped up. Had he done something? Two more blows and Gwyn couldn’t even think of what he’d done except yes, Cyledr, and he’d brought shame upon the entire family.

‘Father, I didn’t mean to!’ Gwyn shouted.

Making excuses never made an ounce of difference, but of all the different ways his father chose to hit him – whip, crop, quirt, cane; he liked the bare hand the least. It was so humiliating.

Abruptly, the blows stopped. Gwyn was astounded, and then more astounded to realise that he wasn’t on a ship at all, wasn’t even over the sea, couldn’t really smell salt. He blinked in confusion, and then he saw Augus’ face in front of him, and couldn’t begin to make out the expression on his face. It didn’t look like anger. But why would Augus look concerned?

‘Gwyn, look at me,’ Augus said. He even raised his fingers and pointed to his eyes. Such a brilliant green. Like faceted emeralds at the bottom of the sea. Buried treasure. Gwyn blinked at them.

‘I think…I’m losing my mind,’ Gwyn said, and then he tried to move away from the cross and couldn’t.

‘A little, probably,’ Augus said, looking deep into him. ‘What are you thinking?’

‘I don’t want to be like my father,’ Gwyn said, the words falling out of him. ‘I should. I should, he’s so…respected, by everyone. You’d like him. He’s so…cruel.’

Augus rolled his eyes. ‘Believe it or not, Gwyn, that is not the thing that Unseelie value most in our close friendships with one another.’

Gwyn’s entire chest ached. Augus’ hand was on his cheek now, and Gwyn jerked his head backwards, not wanting it, not that delicate, careful attention. Augus was meant to break him, and all the extras were only confusing. He didn’t warrant meticulous attention. He just needed the heartsong gone. Everything else was…extraneous, and it made him certain that Augus had no idea what Gwyn was really like. Even as Gwyn had tried to convince him.

‘I thought cruelty was frowned upon by the Seelie,’ Augus said, his voice so even and calm.

‘Not…when it’s in service of the Kingdom,’ Gwyn said, resting his head briefly against his shoulder. ‘Not then.’

‘And his cruelty is always in service of the Kingdom, is it?’

‘I don’t want to talk about him,’ Gwyn said, closing his eyes.

‘Then let’s talk about something else. What were Cyledr’s last words to you?’

It was like a blow to the gut. Gwyn even jerked like he’d been punched. He lifted his eyes, stared at Augus to try and convey how wrong it was that Augus would even ask that, but Augus was already walking away.

This room was far more bare than the other. But it still had chests of drawers, and Augus went to one, taking out a long, black case and unclipping the shiny latches. When he turned around, he had a knife in his hand. Sharp-bladed. A proper hunting knife.

Gwyn tensed, his breath caught. His whole body pulled spasmodically away as Augus came towards him.

‘You said it wasn’t the same as torture,’ Gwyn blurted. ‘You said.’

‘The Unseelie lie,’ Augus purred, and Gwyn yanked so hard on his arms that if they had only been tied at the wrists, he would have dislocated his shoulders. Finally, he understood why Augus had secured him so thoroughly.

‘I am done,’ Gwyn said.

‘I did say you’d hate me,’ Augus said, coming ever closer. There were hardly any steps left now.

‘Just let me go,’ Gwyn said. ‘My core energy is already fractured, you said so yourself. You-’

A cold blade of metal rested flat across his chest, and Gwyn shuddered, felt like rabbits were thumping their hind legs in a panic deep in his gut. He could hear his breathing, a trickle of cold sweat moved down his back. He had images of Augus just thrusting the blade straight into his gut. He would survive that, yes, but…

But he could be severely weakened, very hurt.

‘What did Cyledr say to you, Gwyn?’ Augus said, shifting the knife slowly, until only the very point rested against his sternum. If Augus leaned forwards, it would part flesh. If Augus used his waterhorse weight, it would sink into his heart. Even a Court fae could die if their spinal cord was severed badly enough.

Gwyn stared at him, unable to think. Everything felt very cold.

His mouth fell open when Augus parted the skin with the tiniest amount of pressure, and then drew the blade slowly down. A very shallow wound, Gwyn could tell, because his skin stung from sweat and more, because he couldn’t feel blood oozing or trickling down his body.

Augus’ other fingertip came and dragged over the wound, and then Gwyn felt warm wetness press against his open mouth. He tried to close it, but too late, Augus’ finger was already resting on his tongue and Gwyn could taste the harsh chemical brightness of his own blood.

‘It doesn’t have to be torture,’ Augus soothed. ‘Did you know that? You have an immense capacity for pain. I think you could even like this.’

Gwyn shook his head.

‘I’m quite sure,’ Augus smiled. ‘In the meantime, what did Cyledr say to you?’

Augus’ finger slid out of his mouth, and the blade was placed again, this time over the fleshy point at the top of his left pectoral.

‘It doesn’t matter what he said.’

‘I think it does,’ Augus said, drawing the blade down slowly, skin parting, heat rushing through him until he felt like he was flashing between icy cold and unbearable heat. He pressed his nose and mouth against his shoulder, blew out a scared breath.

‘Why can’t you just fix it,’ Gwyn said abruptly. ‘Why can’t you just fix me? What’s wrong with you? Are you so base and so awful, you can’t just- Isn’t it enough that I don’t want to be like them, and that I don’t want to be like that again?’

‘You do, though,’ Augus said. ‘You loved it. You loved the taste of it. You loved it at the time. You’ll want to be like that again. You’re afraid of not having control over it.’

That knife still cutting him. The blade moved so slowly Gwyn could almost hear it, but of course it was too sharp for that. Whatever excess blood there was – and Augus moved the knife too finely for there to be much – was painted over Gwyn’s mouth, so that it tickled and itched at his skin, and his tongue came out and licked it away.

‘Fine, yes,’ Gwyn said, his voice higher than usual, far more desperate. ‘Then I’m afraid of that. Why can’t you just – with all your tools and all of…whatever you can do at your disposal, why can’t you just fix me?’

The knife curved around the underside of a pectoral, where the skin was more sensitive, and Gwyn cried out. It hurt far more than the pistillum had in the beginning. These stinging pains, seeping into him, aggravating everything.

‘What did Cyledr say to you?’

‘He told me he hated me. As anyone would. Are you satisfied now?’

‘What else did he say?’

‘Why would you think he said anything else!?’ Gwyn shouted.

‘Because of the way you’re reacting to me,’ Augus said. For every loud response Gwyn gave him, Augus’ voice was always even and careful. Every word precise. ‘What else did he say?’

Augus moved around him, standing at Gwyn’s back, making his skin crawl. The knife then cut the skin of his flank. Short, criss-crossing motions. Every cut that crossed another hurt more, and it felt like Augus was cutting something out of him, exposing a poison that would spill.

Gwyn stayed silent for as long as he could, thinking he could withstand this, on top of everything else. After a few minutes it was almost good. Every new cut sang to him, while the old ones healed far more slowly than usual. Even Augus’ fingers playing over his lips, painting them red, until Gwyn licked them clean again absently; even that felt good.

Pain added to pain, and Gwyn began to gasp. Whatever he thought and felt, his body was finding it overwhelming.

‘He begged,’ Gwyn said, his voice cracking. ‘He begged for me to stop. He begged for the others to help him. He said he couldn’t do it. He nearly vomited. What do you want me to say?’

‘The truth,’ Augus said.

‘Because that matters so much down here,’ Gwyn said, scathing.

‘It does now.’

‘He…talked to his father,’ Gwyn said, gasping through the latest cut, which was across the back of his thigh. Gwyn whimpered, couldn’t stop himself.

‘His dead father?’ Augus clarified.

‘Yes,’ Gwyn moaned. ‘Augus, please.’

‘What did he say?’

Did it matter anymore? When Augus already had so much? Why was this particular thing so shameful? Gwyn’s chest heaved and he tried to twitch away from the knife, which was cutting up his inner thigh towards his balls. Gwyn had no doubt that Augus would cut him anywhere he wanted.

‘He- He called out for his father,’ Gwyn said, his voice deepening, still hoarse. ‘He cried out, ‘Papa! Nwython! Forgive me!’ And then…a few minutes later, his gaze went blank. And he was gone. And if I had just stayed in that moment and not thought about what he’d said- if I’d just stayed in the rapture of it…it was so much easier when I didn’t- I want it sometimes. I want it so badly. To not have to think anymore. To just do what comes n-’

Gwyn choked himself off, fear coiling at the base of his spine. He was going to reveal something he couldn’t if he kept along this path. He’d destroy everything.

‘To do what comes naturally?’ Augus finished for him. ‘It is easier, sometimes,’ Augus said, still cutting him, though now back to his flank once more. ‘But a lot of things come naturally to you, Gwyn. Not only that. You aren’t just one thing. You know that, don’t you?’

‘Do you?’ Gwyn’s voice was shaking.

‘Yes,’ Augus said, and his other hand came up and rubbed at Gwyn’s lower back. The touch soothing. ‘I suppose you wouldn’t have much exposure to it, given that you’re Seelie, but many Unseelie fae have to learn how to…honour the different parts of themselves in different ways. Certainly, some Unseelie are just malice or predation. But so many of us are multi-faceted, like most fae. You’re already a berserker, so there is some part of you that needs the hunt, and bloodlust and…yes, possibly, cruelty. You’ll not get condemnation from me about that. As long as you pick your battles and your victims wisely, that’s really none of my business. Though I’m not sure you picked any of it wisely in this case. And that tells me that you aren’t really living a life that’s healthy for you, or one that nourishes you in any way.’

Gwyn hung on every word, even as he wasn’t sure he’d remember them all later.

‘Your heartsong is corrupted,’ Augus continued, now cutting up the centre of Gwyn’s spine, less than a millimetre deep, his other hand catching the trickle of blood that eventually made its way down Gwyn’s back. ‘You’re clearly not experiencing much of a harmonious relationship with the Court, the military, or your family. Something is missing, Gwyn. I can break your heartsong, but you’re the one who will have to make some changes to look after yourself better. You don’t react to some of these things like someone who takes personal pride in their measures of self-care.’

That was all too complicated to hold onto. Gwyn’s head fell forwards again. The knife was getting to him. He liked it, he didn’t like it. He shouldn’t. He couldn’t afford to be someone who looked at knives with the hunger he was feeling deep in his gut.

Augus came around to his front again, and Gwyn flinched when he felt a hand on his cock. He was surprised that he was half-hard, and Augus inhaled sharply enough that Gwyn looked up. He met a hungry gaze, something wanting. It was baffling. Then it wasn’t relevant at all, as Augus moved his hand on Gwyn’s cock and pressed the knife to Gwyn’s collarbone, cutting him open once more.

Gwyn moaned, the sound pained. His cock twitched in Augus’ grip.

‘I knew it,’ Augus breathed. ‘But it’s still difficult, isn’t it? Even people who like it can only take so much. The body has too many defences against wounds like this, too many chemicals pouring through your body in increasing amounts. Part of you wants more. Part of you would do anything to make it stop.’

Augus continued to cut him, continued to move his hand slowly on Gwyn’s cock, keeping him hard. There was a familiarity there, like Augus had handled him like this all his life. The dry palm of his hand twisted over the head of Gwyn’s cock, skin catching on skin, but the roughness of it added to the brittle pleasure of it.

Even so, Gwyn was at the edge of some precipice, and he knew he wouldn’t last through it. He felt like he was going to start screaming, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop once he started.

‘I can’t take anymore,’ Gwyn blurted, at the same moment as Augus said:

‘You can take more.’

‘No,’ Gwyn said, voice small.

‘Watch,’ Augus purred.

Augus’ hand on his cock made it worse, not better. It left all of his senses in overdrive. Gwyn was begging Augus to stop again within minutes, especially when Augus started making parallel cuts right beneath the ones he’d already made. When he dragged the knife up into Gwyn’s armpit, the skin there sensitive and tender, Gwyn wailed into his shoulder, trying to jerk away from the knife and only managing muscle twitches that did nothing at all.

‘If I didn’t need you awake and aware, I could push you so far, just with this,’ Augus said, like he was right up against Gwyn’s ear. ‘You’d float for me, wouldn’t you? But we can’t have that. You’re not the triumphant one here, are you?’

‘I am,’ Gwyn said, reflexively.

‘No,’ Augus laughed. ‘You’re not. You’re tied to a cross, you’re bleeding, a stranger’s hand on your cock that you’re hard for. Tell me, Gwyn. Tell me that you’re not the triumphant one, and I’ll let you come. You’d like that wouldn’t you? I can tell you’re close. This vein underneath…’ Augus skimmed his fingers roughly along it and Gwyn shouted, ‘it’s very expressive.’

He’d get to come, and it didn’t even matter that he didn’t know Augus at all, and it didn’t matter where he was, he just wanted some kind of relief from the knife, from all of it.

He nodded blindly.

‘Yes, okay,’ Gwyn said, gasping. ‘You’re…you’re the triumphant one.’ The words were like bitter poison under his tongue. He retched. ‘You. I’m…I’m not the triumphant one. I’m not. Augus, you are.’

‘I am,’ Augus said.

Everything stopped.

The hand on his cock, the knife, everything. Gwyn felt like his body was still being yanked halfway off a cliff and he teetered there, every breath nearly a sob.

Augus had stopped moving his hand on Gwyn’s cock.

‘This isn’t about you,’ Augus said, stepping back from him. Stepping away. ‘You said it yourself, remember? Look at you. Stupid, innocent, naïve thing, coming to me, expecting me to just do what you wanted. What are you even doing here in the first place?’

They were Gwyn’s words. They were his words. Augus was flinging them all back at him, every one landing like an arrow. Gwyn couldn’t even blink the sweat out of his eyes.

‘There’s nothing else, is there, Gwyn? Nothing else but the winner doing whatever they like. Victor victorious. I don’t have to follow through on anything I say to you, because I owe you nothing. I can do whatever I like, and you? You just have to take it.’

Nausea rocketing through him, and Gwyn swallowed saliva down automatically. It tasted like his own blood.

‘I’m not like him,’ Gwyn rasped.

‘Cyledr?’ Augus stared at him. ‘Really? Aren’t you?’

Gwyn stared at him, as Augus smiled, but the smile was cold, cruel. Augus took a deep breath, lifted the hand that wasn’t holding the knife theatrically.

‘Papa!’ he shouted, a mockery of a more innocent voice. ‘Forgive me!’

Augus lowered his arm and took another step backwards, another, until he was leaning against the wall. ‘Isn’t that what he said? Isn’t it what you want to say to your father? Tell me, then, how good triumph has really been for you? What have you really won from life? Hm? Sure, you’re rich, you possess wealth and status, but what else is there? No friends that you trust. No confidantes. No one you’d go to with this. No lover who knows you well enough to come to your aid. Who is there, Gwyn? A family that you don’t trust enough to go to with this and what else?’

Gwyn felt hollowed out from the inside, a great roaring noise inside of him, and he could hardly process when Augus walked back to him. Couldn’t pay attention when the knife hewed through ropes binding one arm, then the other. Gwyn’s arms dropped and he registered the pain as though from a distance. He was water spiralling down a drain, everything narrowing to a point.

But Augus wasn’t being gentle now. As soon as Gwyn was free, Augus slapped him across the face to get his attention, dragged his head back with a handful of hair.

‘I think,’ Augus said, ‘I will fuck you. And I think you’re going to stand up for it, aren’t you?’

He didn’t wait for Gwyn’s response but hauled him bodily across the room and slammed him face first into stone, by a chest of drawers. Gwyn blinked, everything sluggish, and by the time he processed what Augus had said, by the time he thought to move away, one arm was twisted up sharply behind his back and wet fingers were pushing between his ass cheeks.

Gwyn gasped, then went silent when the pain in his arm was sharper, Augus twisting his wrist up between his shoulder blades even further.

‘Don’t make me dislocate your shoulder,’ Augus ground out, none of that careful, gentle creature of before behind him.

‘I won’t,’ Gwyn said, swallowing at how invasive it all felt, how Augus moved his fingers like he knew exactly what he was doing, when Gwyn had very little experience with being on this side of things. He hissed as a fingernail scraped over his opening, and then cried out when Augus hushed him.

Augus’ fingers slowed, everything became…intimate. Gwyn blinked in confusion at the wall and then rested his head against it. He was too tired to fight back. He didn’t want his shoulder to be dislocated and he believed Augus was more than capable. After everything, he didn’t want this to happen, could feel his heartsong determined to fight through this, but it was like Augus kept taking a knife to a flag. At some point, the flag wouldn’t fly anymore, even if it was flapping valiantly now.

A finger pressed against his opening, and then pushed into him. Gwyn jerked forwards automatically, and Augus hushed him again.

‘I could make you feel so good,’ Augus said, his voice rich and deep and warm. ‘So good.’

How could he feel like he was losing his balance when he was pressed against a wall? The last time this had happened and he’d been sober for it… Gwyn shook his head sharply, made a faint noise, felt wounded, and Augus was still hushing him.

‘Careful,’ Augus soothed, as he worked his finger deeper into that tight space. Gwyn’s nerve endings were singing with something very like pleasure, even though it felt odd and too personal. He could feel every shift of Augus’ finger, could tell when Augus was turning his finger on its side, crooking it, pressing it down, and then-

Gwyn gasped when a flare of heavy heat coiled through him, a burst of sensation.

Augus shifted his finger again, stroked down, and Gwyn groaned. It was pleasure, despite the pain of his shoulder, the many pains in the rest of his body.

Despite Augus moving slowly, thoroughly, there wasn’t quite enough lubricant, and the entire way through Gwyn felt his skin becoming sensitised. Augus said nothing at all, moved inside him with an ease that suggested he knew Gwyn’s body far better than Gwyn did himself. Each shift of his fingers created pleasure alongside stinging or fullness or weight.

Augus withdrew his fingers, and the hand imprisoning his wrist tightened threateningly as Gwyn heard the sounds of Augus undoing his belt, sliding down a zipper. It was human-styled clothing. For all that it was likely made here with special, fae-produced fabrics. Gwyn hung onto anything that might distract him, for he felt his heartsong chafing inside of him, grating at his ribcage.

Regret was building. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t have his heartsong gone. He needed it for the Seelie Kingdom, for his military, for the King, and he needed it for his family. The past few decades he’d enjoyed something that almost looked like approval. He could see a future where things might be different, if he just…accepted the price. That was- That seemed far easier a prospect than this.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, trying to step away.

Claws pierced his wrist, and Gwyn cried out. Then, before he could gather his wits together, he felt Augus’ hard length against him, pressing, seeking. A flare of panic. There was nowhere to move to, and as soon as Augus’ cock found his entrance, Augus thrust once, hard, brutal, into him. Gwyn felt himself tear, made a sound that hurt his own ears, and in the same instant felt Augus’ head resting against his forearm where it was bent behind his back, Augus’ breaths faster than usual.

‘You have no control here,’ Augus said, his voice deeper than usual, harsher. ‘None. You are not triumphant, not a winner, nor anything so crass. You, wild beast, you’ve lost, haven’t you?’

Gwyn couldn’t concentrate for the pain that clawed its way up his lower back and sunk hooks into the base of his skull. Couldn’t think for the upturning of nausea, the swell and crack of something fundamental inside of him. He knew he was making noises, and didn’t care. Everything turned white, and when he could see the dark room again, the stone in front of his eyes, he was covered with cold sweat, and Augus was bullying his way deeper into Gwyn, before withdrawing just a little.

‘You’re going to like this too,’ Augus said, biting out the words. ‘Eventually.’

It didn’t seem possible. Augus’ movements, initially, were awful. Gwyn had no hope of keeping control of his breathing, of the noises he was making. His skin was scraped raw where it was pushed into the wall, Augus’ cock was long enough that Gwyn swore he could feel it all the way in the back of his throat, he breathed like he was choking on it.

But after a couple of minutes, Augus’ hips took on a cleverer undulation, the grip at Gwyn’s wrist loosened, and then shifted Gwyn’s arm so that it was pinned to the wall. Gwyn felt damp hair against his back, hard breaths against his skin, and the thought that Augus might be enjoying himself, that Gwyn could…somehow…have a pleasurable impact, leave something of himself behind, it sparked something inside of him.

First, Gwyn worried it was his light, but it was still deep where he’d shoved it, though he pushed it even further away in his mind, not wanting his destructive power to reveal itself here, not now. Then, Gwyn realised that there was an odd warmth following on the heels of every thrust, chasing the pain like a baying hound.

Augus’ other hand snaked around the front of Gwyn’s torso and wrapped around his cock, his grip firm, moving his hand up and down in time to his thrusts.

Whatever hounds inside of himself got louder, and Gwyn felt himself rise above the nausea, following the pleasure of it.

‘My wild creature,’ Augus breathed, ‘are you with me now?’

Gwyn made a sound of acknowledgement.

‘It’s broken,’ Augus said, laughing. ‘It wouldn’t have taken much, after everything else.’

Gwyn didn’t even know how he could talk. But he knew Augus was right. It was broken. It was an echo inside of him. The tattered rags of it would always be there, he’d always crave triumph, but he’d never need it in the same way, he wouldn’t have to bend his entire life to its whims again. But he’d lose the chance to win over his family, too. It was gone.

‘Stop thinking,’ Augus said, and Gwyn nodded, had no idea if he’d spoken aloud, or if Augus just knew far more than he should. ‘Follow me, Gwyn. You can have this, it’s all right. It’s all right, Gwyn. You’ve done so well. You’re doing so well.’

Gwyn growled, not wanting to be comforted, yet needing it too. Then none of it mattered as the pleasure finally eclipsed the pain and became the loudest sound, the brightest light, a red and black heat that he chased inside of himself. Every flare of pain was an accent, no longer detracting, but building the tangled knot, making it swell and expand.

Augus said he’d never tell anyone…

Augus was right, he could have this.

It felt like falling, except that Gwyn wasn’t worried – for once – about what it might be like to crash when he hit the bottom. Augus murmured words of encouragement and Gwyn didn’t hear any of them. There was a crest of colours in his mind, wilder and brighter, and at the last moment he did need to shove down his light because it was arcing up inside of him, exploding across the sky of his thoughts. He felt wiped clean, reduced to a raw form, as exuberant as he’d felt when he was alone and prowling the woods, hunter and prey, wild, wary, strangely safe.

Augus was telling him to do something, but Gwyn couldn’t hear him anymore. There was nothing but the relentless pace that Augus had set and the roaring demands of his own body. A single, sharp sound when he started to come, and then in a pinwheel of furious sparks, the pleasure peaked. His mind went to white, and didn’t return.

Chapter Text

‘Careful.’

It was the first thing he heard. A voice, sounding amused, and the sensation of water all around him. Except that it was warm water, a hot spring perhaps, or maybe – yes, his arm brushed against porcelain. A bath?

There was skin behind him and he was soothed by it. There was a hand in his hair. It smoothed strands away – all wet – and then there was the sound of running water as it was poured directly over the back of his head. The water made rivulets down the back of his neck, his shoulder, and he heard himself sigh, became aware of the ache in his chest, the huge rise and fall of his breath.

‘Are you with me yet?’

That voice again.

Gwyn asked himself the question, but even as he tried to fumble for an answer, he fell away into nothingness.

*

He was still in the bath when he came to again. This time he knew that only minutes had passed since the last time he’d been awake. He was lying back against Augus. The bathroom swam into view as he blinked his eyes open. The room was tiled, its fixtures looked like stainless steel or chrome.

‘It’s all human make,’ Gwyn said, confused.

‘There you are,’ Augus said.

Augus was naked beneath him and Gwyn tried to face him, but hands kept his head forward, stopped his shoulders from twisting. After everything he’d experienced, he found that he didn’t particularly want to fight Augus now. Not when he was comfortable. Not when the aches and pains of his body were leaving and the water tingled at his skin, bringing warmth and blood circulation to sore joints.

‘It’s the curse of the waterhorse,’ Augus said quietly, and Gwyn could feel Augus look around, felt muscles shift against his back. ‘We crave human comforts. A warm, dry bed. A fireplace or hearth. Blankets and cushions and pillows. No matter how we live in the fae world, no matter how much I loathe the petty hearts and foolish minds of my prey, I find myself in a home similar to their homes.’

‘Is it over?’ Gwyn said. He meant was Augus done with him, he hoped Augus would understand.

‘Not quite,’ Augus said. ‘But the hard part is over. Well, that’s what I’d usually presume, but you’re not quite comfortable with this either, are you?’

Gwyn grimaced and looked at his hands beneath the water. The bath was deep and wide, and down by his feet, plants grew green. A frog watched him from a ceramic shelf further up, its eyes jewelled, its throat vibrating with motion.

‘You’re still disoriented,’ Augus said quietly. ‘It’s normal. It’s normal to feel displaced or upset or distressed. Don’t let it worry you.’

‘It’s that simple?’

‘That’s never simple,’ Augus said, laughing.

Gwyn liked him. It was more than that he was charming. He was svelte and beautiful, no wonder the Raven Prince adored him. He had a way of talking that was…appealing. Gwyn’s cheeks flushed. This was embarrassing, frustrating. He had no time to feel these things. Already, he had to go back to the Court and report to the Oak King. They would wonder where he was.

‘Careful,’ Augus said again.

‘How do you do that?’ Gwyn said, his voice far harder and far less welcome in the space that Augus had created. His voice echoed off tiles, reflected back to him, made him feel ungainly.

‘You tense,’ Augus said. ‘Your back and shoulders in particular. You were relaxed, now you’re not.’

Gwyn huffed a breath and sank deeper into the water and Augus let him. Gwyn didn’t stop until the water met his chin, and then his lower lip. His hair swirled around his ears. He didn’t take moments like this for himself. Baths took too long. Bathing was perfunctory. At the An Fnwy estate he used a shower, out in the woods or on campaign, he used lakes or rivers or even waterfalls. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d soaked in a bath like this.

He looked at his fingers again, raising them. They were pruned, he had no idea how long he’d been in here for. But Augus would have had to have moved him while he was unconscious. Had to have waited for the water to fill. And for all of it, Gwyn was unconscious. It was a long time to be away from himself.

‘Is this normal?’ Gwyn said finally. ‘To have been unconscious for so long?’

‘Mm,’ Augus said. ‘It happens.’

Gwyn was shocked when Augus leaned forwards and rested his nose against the back of his head. Surprised when fingers curled around his shoulder, when Augus’ other hand snuck up and rested on his belly. It wasn’t…it didn’t feel right. Not that it was unwelcome, but Gwyn couldn’t remember the last time…

There just hadn’t been a time in his life quite like this.

‘What are you doing?’ Gwyn said.

‘Waiting,’ Augus said, ‘to make sure you’re hale. You don’t have to worry, Gwyn. It’s a normal part of the process. I’ll let you know when it’s all over.’

Gwyn was starting to feel sleepy, his eyelids felt heavy, his breathing slowed. The arms around him tightened and Gwyn wanted to preserve this. He knew – worst of all – that he would want it again, which wouldn’t be possible.

What would the rest of the Seelie say if they saw him like this? If they knew?

‘Stop thinking, Gwyn,’ Augus said, his voice low. ‘Just stop.’

‘I can’t,’ Gwyn said.

‘Then talk to me.’

‘Is my heartsong really gone?’

‘It’s gone,’ Augus said. ‘You can’t tell?’

Gwyn could tell. Already the sensation of triumph felt more like a relic, than something that lived in the centre of his being. He squeezed his eyes shut and shivered. No one would be happy with him. That he would do what he did, and then he’d return and his heartsong would be gone. But it had to go. He wouldn’t have survived it. Still, a heaviness rocked through him. It had been a stable companion, it had given him confidence in the field, it had allowed him to look at a battle and know that he had a higher than average chance of winning, because his heartsong allowed him to see pathways to triumph and victory that he might not see otherwise.

He risked losing more battles now. More fae would die.

He blinked when Augus pulled him up so that his head was out of the water again. He thought they were getting out, but instead he felt lips move on the side of his neck. It was startlingly intimate, and Augus’ mouth was clever. Lips dragging across his wet skin, across his jaw. Teeth brushed, the sharp points of canines contrasting against humid breath and a hot tongue. Gwyn swallowed, felt his mind beginning to drift. He wanted to ask questions. Why would Augus do that? What was the point of this part?

He made a small sound when Augus sucked at the sensitive juncture of neck and shoulder, and Augus hummed lazily, happily. It was like the sound a lover might make as they were waking up. Not that Gwyn knew what people sounded like in those situations. But if he had to imagine it…

In the background, there was a small part of him that was afraid. He didn’t want to survive the crimes he’d committed and yet now that his heartsong was gone, he knew he would survive. He would live.

He wasn’t sure if the life he saw stretched ahead of him was worth living, at least…not as it was.

He sighed, his mind drifted, and he let it. The real world was intimidating, and Gwyn didn’t want to look at it. Not now. Besides, if he concentrated very hard, perhaps he could remember the way this felt for centuries to come, and recall it in his darker moments.

*

Augus didn’t talk again for some time. Not when Gwyn sat up and Augus helped him out of the bath (even though Gwyn shied away from the help, it turned out the steadying presence was…somewhat helpful.) He didn’t speak once he offered Gwyn his clothes which were now clean of almost all blood. Gwyn stared at the fabric. When had Augus had time to do this? He could still scent the deaths of fae on it, and it felt strange to put it on.

Then, instead of leading him to the front of his house, Augus led him to a room that had bookshelves filled with books, an overstuffed sofa, a table with two chairs. He led Gwyn over to the table, gestured for him to sit down and pursed his lips, looking him over critically.

‘Stay there,’ Augus said finally.

Gwyn watched him leave, and then looked down at the wood of the table. It was fine-grained, very expensive. The kind of item that his father might like. Looking closer at the items in the room, Gwyn realised everything was carefully made and crafted. None of it quite matched, as though Augus had collected the furniture piecemeal over a long time. But every item was made with care.

After a beat, he realised these were all most likely gift items from clients. There was almost no way Augus could amass the kinds of funds for even the tiles on the floor, or the rugs that covered it, without trading with very wealthy fae.

Augus returned with a tray that had on it a pot of tea and two cups, a plate of what looked like grain-leaf, and a salt shaker.

‘Apologies,’ Augus said, as he sat, ‘I wasn’t expecting a client, and I usually try and have something they’d be more likely to eat when they come. But I have hadau grawn, and salt if you need it. I don’t eat the salt myself.’

‘Waterhorse,’ Gwyn said, understanding. Waterhorses found salt in high concentrations to be an anathema to them, even poisonous. Gwyn watched as Augus poured tea, following all the correct inter-alignment fae protocol. He poured Gwyn’s cup first, then took a sip from his own, proving the tea to not be poisonous. He then pushed the plate of hadau grawn between them and picked up one of the leaves of pounded seeds and grains, breaking it in two and giving Gwyn the larger half. He nibbled on his own half to once more prove it was hale, before setting the rest back down on the plate.

Gwyn picked up the bigger half and bit into it, uncaring that it was a little bland. He’d need to consume fat, protein and sugars later to make up for energy burned, but this would do for now.

‘We need to talk,’ Augus said, resting his elbows on the table and folding his hands together, then resting his chin on his hands. ‘You’re not well, Gwyn ap Nudd.’

‘I’m perfectly well. Aside from being a bit tired, I believe that you are right, I am leaving far haler now than I was when I arrived.’

‘Let’s put prevarication aside, shall we?’ Augus said, smiling darkly. ‘I’ve just had you screaming for mercy, and it’s possibly a little too soon for you to be donning that stoic warrior mask that you apprehend the world with. Or have you forgotten?’

Gwyn coughed, having swallowed the wrong way, and then he put the grain-bread down.

‘I haven’t forgotten,’ Gwyn said, finally.

‘You don’t like war,’ Augus said, staring at him like he could see everything. ‘You love parts of it, but overall, I think it tires your spirit. Aren’t you the one who sometimes rolls out speeches about how you want more inter-alignment cooperation?’

‘Sometimes,’ Gwyn said, shifting uncomfortably. ‘It’s- Only because it makes sense.’

‘The Oak King doesn’t talk about it. Since the Oak King came into power, Seelie participation in the Wild Hunt - and other inter-alignment events like the Winter Court - have dropped precipitously, even with the Raven Prince in power as the Unseelie King.’

Gwyn shrugged. He wasn’t here to talk politics, and he didn’t want to discuss sensitive matters with Augus. Not when it was obvious that Augus had some kind of connection to the Unseelie King. These matters, they weren’t why he’d turned up on Augus’ doorstep.

‘You’re not happy, Gwyn,’ Augus said.

Gwyn laughed. ‘Oh, is that all? Come, Augus, how many fae can say that they’re happy, truly? We might play up our reputations and joie de vivre for the humans, especially during the Season of Mutuality, when humans and fae regularly crossed the veil between the two realms, but let’s be honest. I didn’t come here so you would make me happy. I came here to rid myself of that heartsong.’

‘A heartsong that – outside of a single event that will likely be forgiven in time – has been winning your father’s approval, and the approval of the Oak King and from what I can gather, the Seelie military.’

‘It corrupted,’ Gwyn hissed.

‘I said this isn’t over yet, and it’s not over,’ Augus said, his own eyes glittering stubbornly. ‘Do you want to go back into those rooms again? Hm? Shall I find more enticing ways to get you to listen to me? Because I will do that. And you would let me.’

Gwyn bristled, folded his arms, stared down at the table itself. He only realised how hard he was grinding his teeth together when he stopped. Augus then had the audacity to laugh at him.

‘I am trying to help you,’ Augus said. ‘Any heartsong you gain that isn’t triumph will still corrupt if you don’t take steps to nurture whatever…capacity for contentment that you have.’

Gwyn looked up and glared at him, because the things that Augus was speaking of…Gwyn already had his life mapped out for him. There was one thing he was supposed to do, and he was going to keep doing that thing until it killed him.

‘I don’t see clients multiple times,’ Augus said, sighing. ‘I don’t take repeat clients, but you need help beyond just the breaking of a heartsong. I think you know that.’

‘I think I am one of the most successful War Generals for my age, and on a trajectory to be the Oak King’s confidante. Help? What help do I need?’

‘Do you know what your new heartsong is?’ Augus said. ‘Because I do. Have you figured it out yet? I shouldn’t be the first one to realise something so important. You should. And you have no idea.’

Gwyn picked up the hadau grawn again and ate in place of replying. He didn’t know what his new heartsong was. Didn’t even know if he had one. It wasn’t as though he’d had his wits about him to figure it out anyway. He was only now starting to feel more grounded, more stable. He was – he realised – far more stable than he’d felt for months. It was hard to believe everything he’d experienced at Augus’ hands could help so much. And yet it was almost as though he’d been floating away for years and hadn’t realised. He was anchored again.

Gratitude overwhelmed him for several seconds.

‘I have no idea what it is,’ Gwyn said.

‘You gave it away yourself,’ Augus said, smiling at him. ‘And I think you were ready to transition to it anyway. Had you not come to me, I think you may have transitioned to it anyway, over time.’

If I’d lived that long.

‘Well?’ Gwyn said, impatient. ‘What is it?’

‘You are daft,’ Augus rolled his eyes. ‘It’s wildness. Something that could still come in handy on a battlefield, but, something that also needs to be nurtured. Or you’ll simply lose it.’

Gwyn felt the resonating throb in his gut at the word, and knew that Augus was right. He vaguely remembered Augus calling him a wild creature, over and over again. Had Augus pushed him towards it, even as he’d taken the other one away? Still, it felt…real, and even right. Something that didn’t chafe against him, that didn’t take anything away from him.

It was a shock when he realised that he wanted to keep it. The third heartsong he’d ever had, and he wanted it to stay his, forever. Most fae had one heartsong, and it never changed. If they lived a very long time, they might have two. But Gwyn wasn’t that old by fae standards, and he was already onto his third. He didn’t want it to change again. He wanted his soul to have something like stability for once. Especially if it was for the sake of wildness.

‘You need to listen to me,’ Augus said, leaning forwards and lowering his arm, placing his index finger point down on the table. ‘I don’t know what is amiss in your life, but I do know that the best way to nurture a heartsong like that one is to simply let yourself be in wild spaces. Untouched forest or other forms of wilderness, allow yourself to be predator and prey. Your former heartsong made you choose between one or the other. Victim or perpetrator. Winner or loser. You know as well as I do that life doesn’t always work that way. And that, in the balance of things, we are always both. That is why the King of the Forest allows himself to be hunted during the Wild Hunt, even as he could decimate all of us in a moment with his magic. Even as he regenerates and returns in that endless cycle of death and rebirth.’

‘This is far too prosaic and wise for me,’ Gwyn said, rolling his eyes, while secretly agreeing with all of it.

‘Don’t play down your intelligence,’ Augus said, glaring at him. ‘You’re not stupid, and you know what I’m talking about.’

Gwyn shook his head, but said nothing.

‘This heartsong is not about other people. And it’s not about serving a Kingdom. It can be used for that, certainly, but first and foremost, Gwyn, wild creatures serve themselves. And you need to find a way to do that. Hunt more, the way that you enjoy doing it. Do you have any hounds?’

‘Not…’ Gwyn flushed and then fidgeted. ‘Not for a long time now.’

‘Why not? How does someone like you, with your status and standing, not have any?’

‘I am away, often.’

‘And you can’t keep them kennelled like most Court hunters? You…baffle me, Gwyn. You have access to ways to help yourself already, and you don’t use them. Look, I don’t know what commander or military official abused you when you were growing up, but-’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Gwyn said, unable to stop the sharpness that entered his tone.

What had Augus divined about him? How did he know…how did he know? Even if Augus was wrong about who had hurt him, how did he even know? The signs couldn’t be that obvious. No one else said anything about it.

‘If you want to play dumb, that’s fine,’ Augus said, picking up the teacup and sipping at the murky liquid. ‘But I don’t have to.’

‘You are delusional.’

‘I’ve touched a nerve, have I?’ Augus said lightly. Then his entire demeanour shifted and he stood up, picked up his chair and walked around the table, placing it so that he was facing Gwyn directly, his knees touching the outside of Gwyn’s thigh. Gwyn stared at him, affronted, as Augus carefully took one of his wrists, than the other, and applied a light, steady, increasing pressure. It was like being tied with the ropes again. Gwyn tugged absently, then felt a kind of lassitude move through him and the tension unwound. Just a little. ‘Here. This is better, isn’t it?’

‘Why does that work?’ Gwyn said, staring down at the hands encircling his.

‘I don’t think you get the opportunity to not be on guard often,’ Augus said. ‘Even your new heartsong requires a measure of constant wariness. It’s been hard for you to relax. All your life. But if someone makes you, then you don’t have to worry about it quite as much.’

‘That’s… Okay,’ Gwyn said, exhaling hard. ‘Okay.’

‘All right,’ Augus said, nodding. ‘Listen to me, please. I am telling you to take better care of yourself.’

‘I have to return to the Court,’ Gwyn said, meeting those green eyes. ‘I have to go…report to the King, the-’

‘They haven’t come knocking down my door,’ Augus said. ‘They aren’t here now. Who cares if they wait another day, two days, more? Gwyn, it doesn’t matter. Go somewhere wild, relatively untouched. If you have a cabin or a residence in the wilds, stay there for a little while. Clear your head. You know you need to. I can tell. You look at me as though you’re starving whenever I tell you these things, and then the words you shape insist you don’t need the nourishment. I am telling you that you do. Is there no one who can remind you to look after yourself in this way?’

Gwyn opened his mouth, ready to say that actually he didn’t need anyone to remind him of these things. That Augus had no idea what he was talking about. That…

Augus tightened his fingers enough that Gwyn’s wrists started to ache, and his eyes sank shut.

‘No,’ Gwyn said finally.

‘Don’t go back to the Court straight away,’ Augus said. ‘You don’t need to. Certainly, they might be marginally unhappier, but you’ve dealt with their displeasure before and you will again. It’s obvious that your father is a difficult fae to please. You can deal with them as well in a week, as you can today. You will probably deal with them better, in a week.’

‘Perhaps,’ Gwyn acknowledged.

His heart ached for it. To wander through forests that were barely populated by fae. To find the folded pockets of space in the fae realm where hardly any fae went, because they were difficult places to reach, or because underfae couldn’t get there because they couldn’t teleport. He wouldn’t even need to hunt. He could just…wander, learn a place, understand the breezes, the scents and sounds that surrounded him.

‘You are not theirs to tame,’ Augus said quietly. His voice was insistent, hypnotic, even without compulsions. ‘You do not belong to them. You make your own decisions. For yourself.’

‘But what I did to Cyledr…’

That will haunt you for a long time,’ Augus said, shrugging. ‘If you don’t want to do it again, it probably should haunt you for a long time, wouldn’t you say? You have a right to your bloodlust and yes, even your cruelty, but you have the means to control it. And one of those means is to make sure you are looking after yourself better, so that you don’t have these…breakdowns. It’s logical, Gwyn. I am telling you nothing that isn’t logical.’

Gwyn stared at him, wished he could write everything down so he could hold it and remember it. How had no one ever told him these things before? Ever? Because Augus was right, it did seem so basic, and logical, and true.

‘It’s in your best interests to sabotage me,’ Gwyn said finally. ‘I’ve killed your…your kin.’

‘Not my kin,’ Augus said. ‘I know who my family are, and they’re alive and well, thank you. It’s in my best interests to serve my own heartsong, and I’ve done that with you over these past few days. So please, let’s stop changing the subject just because you’re uncomfortable. Tell me what you’re going to do when you leave.’

Gwyn shivered when Augus’ hands shifted, when his palms pressed flat to Gwyn’s palms. Gwyn noticed how warm his own body temperature was, against the lukewarm temperature of Augus’ skin. Noticed that Augus’ palms were long and narrow, felt his skin go even hotter to think that some of those fingers had been inside of him. He swallowed and looked away.

‘Not go back to the Court,’ Gwyn said, hesitating, trying the words out. ‘Find somewhere…wilder. Where I don’t have to do anything but be myself.’

‘Perfect,’ Augus said, looking up from their hands and smiling at him. ‘Exactly.’

I want to stay here, Gwyn thought, but he held himself back from saying it. It was only that he wasn’t used to this undivided attention when it was so strangely positive. Not like this. Certainly, commanders and officers and Generals told him that he did well in battle, but that was…different.

I want to see you again.

Gwyn forced himself to look away again, feeling stupid now. The last time he’d felt like this about someone it…hadn’t ended well. He couldn’t afford anything like this, and after today, he wouldn’t see Augus again.

Would he?

‘You’re going to be all right, you know,’ Augus said after a minute. ‘Eventually. It might take a little while, but you’ll get there.’

‘Will I?’ Gwyn said, feeling doubtful about that.

‘Mm,’ Augus said, smiling like he knew. ‘We live a long time, Gwyn. You clearly have a drive to heal, even if you don’t trust it. You sought me out, didn’t you? There’s something in there that wants you to live, even when you’re on a destructive bent.’

‘Well…’ Gwyn said, not sure what to say to that.

Augus reached across the table, picked up his tea and drank it, before setting his cup down.

‘Now, physically, how do you feel? Are you sore anywhere? Injured?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said. ‘A bit achy, but that’s standard after battle. It’s still better than it was when I arrived. Did you…have something in that bath water?’

‘Yes,’ Augus said. ‘I dabble in wortcunning. And you’re Court fae, you already have accelerated healing. What about mentally? You seem far more sound than before, but do you feel it? Be honest with me.’

‘I…for all my doubts, Augus, I feel better than before. Not well, exactly, but you’ve pointed out that there are other reasons for that.’

‘You don’t live a life designed with your happiness in mind. In that, you must be an exemplary Seelie fae, except the rest seem to manage the divide between working for one’s Kingdom and being happy in one’s self far better. Surely there’s a way to serve the Kingdom that serves you as well?’ Augus shrugged. ‘You’ll find it at some point, I’m sure.’

Gwyn wasn’t so sure about that, but…that was a complicated area that he couldn’t afford to think about now.

‘Now,’ Augus said crisply, ‘since we can’t talk about political matters, why don’t you tell me about the latest hunt you undertook that you determined to be a success?’

Gwyn tilted his head to the side, curious to know if Augus really cared, and finally – catching no dissembling – he talked about something which made his spirit feel far lighter than it had in a long time.

*

At the doorway, Augus presented Gwyn with his sword. No longer covered in blood and gore, but cleaned, pristine. Gwyn took it, turned it in his hand and felt the weight of it. Even after all he’d done, the evil things he’d used the sword for, it felt good in his hand, like an extension of himself. He brought his other hand to the hilt and held it balanced in his arms, before dropping it by his side, letting the point rest on the ground. He’d have to re-hone it later anyway.

Augus opened the door, and Gwyn walked through it, then stopped halfway over the threshold when a hand wrapped around his wrist.

‘All those talks of inter-alignment cooperation,’ Augus said pensively. ‘They really mean something to you, don’t they?’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said. ‘They do.’

‘You should…’ Augus tilted his head to the side, and it was plain he was still thinking something through. ‘You should come helm the Wild Hunt with me sometimes. The Raven Prince is far too busy to helm it every time, and I take charge from time to time. I tell you, the energy there would be very good for you, and having a Seelie fae helm with an Unseelie fae, well…it’s unconventional, but it might attract more Seelie hunters back to the event.’

Gwyn stared at him.

Augus was inviting him to something like the Wild Hunt? To helm it with him? Gwyn reminded himself not to jump to conclusions and told himself it probably meant nothing and that was for the best anyway, but his heart leapt all the same. He’d always been curious about the Wild Hunt. His father would be furious. But it was an inter-alignment event anyway, and it didn’t put him any closer to ever having to visit the Unseelie Court. His father couldn’t publically order him not to go.

‘It would be all right?’ Gwyn said finally.

‘I wouldn’t invite you otherwise,’ Augus said. ‘Trust me, I’m not in the habit of forcing myself to be in the presence of people who aren’t worth my time.’

Gwyn smiled at him, and though the expression felt stiff, it felt genuine, too. ‘I’ve always wanted to experience it. I’ve heard it’s quite a rush.’

‘You have no idea,’ Augus said, his eyes brightening. ‘It’s frenetic, frenzied, reminds you of who you really are. Plus, it’s once a month, and something you could do to reinforce that new heartsong of yours. So…consider it, please.’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said, trying not to sound too eager. ‘Of course I will.’

Gwyn lingered, feeling like he couldn’t just leave. He swallowed nervously, and he had the sense that Augus could see through him even now, could see into his clumsy heart. He probably had to deal with these sorts of things all the time.

‘On the matter of payment…I am starting to see why your house is so well provided for.’

‘Yes,’ Augus said. ‘I am good at what I do. You’d agree, wouldn’t you?’

‘I understand now, why I’ve heard people talk of you with the respect they have. I didn’t understand it at first. I’m not sure I understand it now.’

‘I’m not sure I understand it either,’ Augus said, smiling ruefully. ‘It’s not a line of work that any previous incarnation of the Each Uisge has seen fit to involve himself in. But I find it nourishing. So…I’ll see you at the next esbat? The Wild Hunt?’

‘Perhaps,’ Gwyn said, already knowing that he’d try and make it.

Gwyn took several steps backwards so that he was now beneath the green dome that protected Augus’ entire house, that reminded Gwyn that he was many metres beneath freshwater, in the gloom of a lake. He looked up, and when he looked back down again, Augus was already closing the door.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn called, something huge and desperate in his heart.

Augus paused, his head poking out from behind the half-closed door.

Gramercie,’ Gwyn said. ‘Truly.’

Augus only smiled at him, and then the door closed with a quiet click.

Gwyn closed his eyes, called his light to him and teleported to the lake bank. It was dawn outside, the sky was lilac one side and a deep bruised blue on the other. Gwyn felt renewed, somehow. Refreshed. He turned a full circle, considering his surroundings. A breeze was cool and wintry on his arms, the Ethallas forest was fresh in the beginnings of spring.

He could go back to the Court like this, could confront the King, could even handle the shame of his deeds.

Instead, he thought of one of his favourite places and teleported there, a full breath of fresh air in his lungs, wildness beckoning him deeper into the woods.