“... perhaps we can renegotiate the terms of defeat?”
The Bachelor Dankovsky is apple-red and squirming with discomfort.
The man is fiddling with the cuffs of his coat, pulling them further down his wrists, like he is suddenly acutely aware of the scant strips of naked flesh between the ends of his coat sleeve and glove. In Artemy’s opinion, he has every reason to be overly conscious of them. Those precious few centimeters and his face are all the skin that the Haruspex is accustomed to seeing, even in the close quarters they now keep. Dankovsky is a man who wraps himself in layers, and it never seems enough protection.
No. Not Nearly enough.
“I won’t negotiate again,” Artemy answers. He recognizes that this is a plea for grace and mercy, but he isn’t in a particularly graceful or merciful mood tonight, not when he has finally gained that hard-won upper hand.
Weeks of restraint, silence, and pretending to be worse at chess than he actually is have given him this chance. This miraculous tower can accomplish many things, but it clearly can’t bestow the gift of clairvoyance upon his captor.
This flavor of captivity could be mistaken for a fine evening… if he would ever be allowed to leave. This facet is all he's been allowed to know for the past weeks. It’s a convincing imitation of a cozy, firelit study, but he knows better than to believe it. There is more dignity, he thinks, in being starved in a freezing, plague-infested cell. Like that, there is no question of his role.
Like this? There is denial, like Dankovsky wishes to pretend this is something else. Artemy loosens the collar of the ridiculous, starched shirt the Bachelor has him dressed in; one of many luxurious, tight-fitting layers he is required to wear during their evenings together. Artemy is no fool though, and he knows a collar and leash when he sees one. Silk or no silk, it’s a symbol of ownership—of care. To all outward appearances, he has been tamed and claimed by the venerable, merciful Bachelor Daniil Dankovsky.
The atmosphere of it all is a testament to the wholly bizzare sort of imprisonment he is held in: A captivity that seems to require formal dining, rich red wine, and nightly chess games. Like this really is some jovial dinner between colleagues, and that Artemy doesn't now live and die at The Bachelor's pleasure. Every night up until now, Dankovsky has been the victor of each game.
“Surely you’re not getting worse, Burakh?” The Bachelor had teased him the week prior. “You’ve fallen for the same gambit I pulled last time. I thought you’d see it a mile away with those sharp eyes of yours!”
“Ah, did I? Hell, it looks like I did. Perhaps I had too much wine this time?”
“Well, you ought to keep a clearer head next time, and we’ll see if you can wring a victory!”
He wonders if Daniil is regretting that suggestion now. Artemy’s glass is still at the same level it had started at when their evening began, and while that might have escaped his notice before, he is surely now acutely aware.
“We agreed to make the game more interesting this time,” He reminds the still, tense Bachelor. He hadn’t placed Dankovsky as the sort of man to back out of a bet, but it would seem that he is correct in one guess; Dankovsky will only gamble if he’s confident of the outcome. He’s squirming now undoubtedly because he has to honor a bet he hadn’t at all anticipated losing. To his credit, he hadn’t surrendered after realizing when he’d been had. He’d fought it to the bitter, gripping end. A grim pallor had crept over his features when he started to suspect that Artemy would triumph, but he hadn’t run, hadn’t called it off.
“—the loser surrenders their clothes to the winner. Surely you recognized that this was an actual possibility?”
The look he is fixed with in response is answer enough. The Bachelor hops up to his feet, and he shakes out his wrists, trying clearly to expel what must have been deeply nervous energy.
“Must you stare?” he mutters through his teeth.
“What would the point of my winning be if I can’t?” Artemy answers, leaning back against the plush loveseat he’s seated in. He lays his long arms against the backrest, reclining and feeling a spark of wicked, anticipatory excitement start to curl low in his gut as the Bachelor shrugs off the first exciting layers: his prized black leather and snakeskin coat, and the thin burgundy labcoat that lay beneath. For all the pageantry that went into these ritualistic chess games with one another, The Bachelor had never pressed his luck. But why else would he keep Artemy here in the first place, if not for this exact thing?
The coat is folded with the most gentle reverence lengthwise, and Dankovsky seems reluctant to part with the thing even now in the cozy safety and warmth of this private facet of his. He clutches it in both hands, unwilling at first to surrender it. If Artemy could imagine the Bachelor to be a man of mystical inclinations after all, he might guess that he is willing some soft, fervent little protective prayer for the precious thing before reluctantly handing it over.
Artemy accepts the precious coat. He recognizes that he could let the thing crumple to the ground, and let the Bachelor be struck by the pain of callous disregard. As guarded as Dankovsky tries to be, his eyes are wavering with the inevitable mortifying chill of vulnerability.
Yes, the possibility of cruelty is here. Dankovsky has more than earned that ire, keeping him here, making him play house in this cursed glass tower. Instead, Artemy brings the folded fabric to his face and presses it to his nose to inhale, watching the Bachelor’s mouth drop open in incredulity.
Like you haven’t wanted this all the while.
It doesn’t smell like the spice and bite of twyre bloom, or the smoke of the factory. When the town still stood, being enrapt in its iron-smoke scent was inevitable. In this perfumed, luxurious facet, the Bachelor has his own distinct, rich smell. Something like felled timber, late-spring lavender, a low musk, and just a hint of the sweetness of a freshly-baked cake… Silly, frivolous scents that could belong only to those with the means and money to bathe daily in hot water instead of the slaughterhouse river of blood and viscera.
“Don’t be so shocked,” Artemy remarks, folding the coat further to lay it next to him on the sofa. “You’ve many layers to remove, oynon. I intend to enjoy each one to the fullest extent.”
The Bachelor’s mouth works up and down, trying and failing to form words despite his throat supplying no noise to be shaped. There is a question burning there in his gaze—of course there would be—but it doesn't escape. Instead, Daniil resumes his task with cheeks flushed burgundy.
He slips suspenders from his shoulders, and unbuttons the fitted black shirt underneath. When surrendered, Artemy notes that the rich scent of his cologne is even stronger, mixing delightfully with the musk of nervous sweat. Artemy rakes his eyes up and down the Bachelor’s body once more.
He’s so uncommonly slight, isn’t he?
The boots and trousers follow, and the sight of Dankovsky's knees is almost comical. They're bony, hairy, pale, and are only accentuated by the black sock garters strapped around the top of each calf. For a moment, Artemy is tempted to make him keep them on; so he can reach out and snap one against his skin.
When his feet and calves are bare, he seems even more naked than before. Dankovsky's feet are surprisingly small, and delicate, characterized by high arches, tiny toes and a fine dusting of hair at the apex of the arch. Was he wearing boots a size larger to compensate for insecurity?
“There? You’ve undressed me. Surely this is enough,” Daniil is pink to the tips of his ears, crossing his arms over his chest as if he has something there to hide. It’s an unintentionally coquettish posture, speaking worlds of his discomfort. He is down to a cream-colored set of combinations, and his toes now noticeably curl against the texture of the rich persian rug.
The Bachelor is so suddenly intent on stopping his hard-earned show, and Artemy stops swirling the wine in his glass, frowning.
“Hardly. I am disinclined to believe that you’d have shown me such mercy, had I lost to you like you’d banked on.”
“I should have anticipated you were playing me,” Daniil hisses through his furious blush. “You're just as crafty as you’ve always been. And all the while I’d been wondering how you’d wrapped Aglaya Lilich around your little finger…”
“Naturally I’m stalling, Burakh!” Daniil exclaims. “I’m about to be completely nude!”
“Exactly. Those were the terms we agreed upon.”
There is no verbal reply. Just those hard, brown eyes sparking in restrained defiance as ivory buttons are loosened and pried free of their respective holes. The wobbling, now-mismatched folds of fabric shift and tease against one another, slowly yawning apart to reveal creamy skin and a sparse, smooth layer of straight, black chest hair.
Now that… that’s interesting, isn’t it?
The Haruspex downs the last of his wine when his throat goes dry with anticipation, and Dankovsky slips his white arms out of the top layer combinations, leaving him entirely nude from the waist up. Before Artemy is given the chance to really appreciate the newly bared flesh, the Bachelor’s stubborn left arm comes to close around his chest while the defiant right hand clutches at the waistband of his underthings.
He’s being obstinate, and has no real idea of how enticing it makes him.
But why should a man shield his chest? Was that a scar?
“This isn’t what you want, Burakh.”
“You’re playing me all over again. I’m not so blind as to not notice when the wool is being pulled over my eyes again.”
“Hm. What makes you so certain?”
Dankovsky’s mouth flattens into a hard, straight line of displeasure. “If I weren’t a man of honor…”
“Now that’s a questionable claim, isn’t it?”
A flinch. For a moment, Artemy thinks he’s solved the mystery of Dankovsky’s prudish nerves. It hasn’t escaped his notice that the man is not pitching a tent, despite the fervent blush. But Daniil exhales, and tries and fails to stand with dignity.
“I can’t ask for your forgiveness, Burakh.”
“And it won’t be given,” Artemy answers. “ I’m not asking for you to apologize, I’m telling you to stop stalling, and drop your drawers.”
Dankovsky doesn't. His fist curls in the cream-colored linen of his underthings, a final defiant defense. It's something unbearably, frustratingly western; like he's cast himself as a brave hero making his last stand in the face of peril. But it's a gross miscasting, as Artemy understands it. He's not the hero in this little production, but he can understand how the habit is hard to kick.
Dankovsky is hiding something, and Artemy has the distinct feeling that he knows what it is.
"Fine," Artemy mutters, and Dankovsky pales. He tries to take a step back in retreat.
"Now Burakh, you're a man of intelligence and I firmly believe that at the very root of your heart, you have the capacity for mercy. Please reconsider—!"
The Bachelor then shouts in wordless, indignant shock. Artemy is on his feet now, and he's hooking his fingers in the waistband of Daniil's last garment and gripping and pulling, catching a thrilling flash of black pubic hair, but Dankovsky is desperately holding on and trying to yank his clothing back up into place.
“You’ve hardly been subtle, Dankovsky. Keeping me in your pretty room in fancy clothes, wining and dining me like some bourgeoisie pig…. As if you could somehow win my forgiveness through nourishment alone. If you want an animal to trust you, all you have to do is feed it, isn’t that right?”
"You don't know what you're talking about," The Bachelor argues, red all the way down to his bare chest. Artemy catches the hint of a scar, but doesn't yet have the chance to properly look at it. He burns with fierce, unexpected, shameful jealousy at the prospect of Dankovsky laying under a lesser surgeon's knife. It makes his blood burn.
"So I'm supposed to believe that you're keeping me as a pampered little pet out of the unbearable goodness of your heart? No. No, I think I've realized exactly what sort of man you are, Daniil Dankovsky."
"You don't know anything."
It's enough to stay his hand for only a moment. Artemy locks eyes with the flushed Bachelor, whose jaw is clenched in quiet fury. Artemy notes, though, that he has not yet told him to stop.
"I know more than you like to think, Bachelor," Artemy whispers, before yanking the fabric so hard that the buttons tear from their settings. Rendered functionally useless, the drawers drop to the floor in a messy heap, and the Haruspex fits his large hand against the Bachelor's distinctly cockless mound. Sweet vindication races through him at the discovery of physical proof of his burgeoning suspicions, and Daniil chokes. His eyes boggle while Artemy slips long fingers down to his extraordinarily slick seam. "—I’ve encountered men of your sort before. I know enough to not be surprised. Not surprised that you've got a secret cunt, not surprised that you're getting off on this. "
"Balderdash, Burakh!" Dankovsky is quick to object, squeezing his thighs together as if that might lock Burakh's hand in place. Whether that was to keep Artemy from incriminating himself further, or to keep him firmly in place, he didn't fully know. He wondered if Dankovsky even knew himself. His thighs are trembling. "...This is just a… physiological reaction to the shock! This is nothing! Pay no mind to it!"
Artemy leans in to brush his lips against the shell of Dankovsky's ear, getting a shiver for his troubles even before he speaks.
"I'm paying every mind to it," he murmurs, heat in his voice. "Now, I'm going to take a good long look at this cunt of yours and you won't be able to do a thing about it. You're going to lay there, and you're going to fuss. But you'll do it knowing that I am seeing every, single, wet, secret inch of you. You'll lay there and burn because you won't be able to do a single thing to stop me."
Dankovsky is frozen, no longer trembling but locked in rapt attention, hanging off of his every word. Only when Artemy has stopped speaking, does he react, but reacting at all seems almost an afterthought.
"You're disgusting," Daniil hisses. "A brute driven only by perversion. That's why you're violating me."
But as he says it, he leaks against Burakh's fingers, so wet that it's dripping through the gaps of them. The rest of him is locked tight in restraint, but his sex is quivering, slick, and eager.
"You're dripping for violation," Artemy accuses. "I haven't even dug my fingers into you and you turn into a wellspring at the first chance you get to call me a brute. I think we both know who is guilty of the real perversion, oynon."
Dankovsky does not have an answer for him, and when Artemy looks him in the face, he won't meet his eyes. His jaw is locked stubbornly shut. He will not ask for his own debasement, but it is empirically clear from the way that he quivers that he is starving for it.
Artemy walks Daniil back against the closest wall of this facet, watching goosebumps jump up his arms when his bare back is pressed against a theoretically 'wooden' wall. He knows from experience that the tower can't 'render' everything, so instead of feeling woodgrain, Dankovsky will be experiencing the dissonant feeling of smooth, cold glass. Artemy wonders if he feels even more naked, knowing that glass implies transparency, like there were unknowable, alien eyes peering in at the two of them and appreciating the show.
This is what he thinks about when he takes Dankovsky's knee and hoists up his leg to spread him wide open. I am not the only one privy to this moment. I open him, but the sight of him is devoured by all.
Dankovsky covers his mouth when it is clearly futile for him to try and cover anything else.
He's so wet that it's smearing in a slick sheen across his inner thighs and leaking into the cleft of his ass. That 'physiological reaction' was nothing less than a grand, eager betrayal of Dankovsky's spoken will.
"... You've been wanting this for a while. All of this has been some grand, ridiculous set up," Artemy accuses, resting his thumb against the swollen bud of a flushed clitoris. Dankovsky still doesn't look at him, but his eyebrows twitch as the shame roils and burns through him. Vindicated by this, Artemy continues, rubbing back and forth.
"You hate yourself. You hate that no one could truly know you without knowing this. You hate the choices you were forced to make, you hate the cost paid for the privilege of making them. You hate the blood on your hands and you hate that you can't wash it away."
A whine escapes the Bachelor's nose. Artemy keeps going.
"You hate the people you're stuck with. You hate the Scarlet Mistress. In fact… I'd venture to say you hate this entire fucking tower and you're just as trapped in it as I am."
He curls two fingers inside of Daniil and the man howls into his own palm, eyes wide with the sweet shock of entry. The Bachelor thrusts down a hand with the squirming effort to dislodge Artemy’s fingers, but the Haruspex gives him no quarter. This is just like opening any other body. He is already thrusting his fingers in and out at a punishingly fast speed, curling to strike him right where it makes his legs tremble. Eventually, Dankovsky isn’t even trying to push his hand away, but instead clinging white-kuckled to his wrist as he squeezes around him.
Daniil fails to remain impartial. His eyes are clenched shut once more, but he is no longer merely muffling himself. He is biting his own fingers, trying to hold in noise. His nostrils flare white with the effort of trying to breathe calmly, but he hasn't realized yet how his hips are hitching to meet each thrust.
It isn’t exactly hate that drives Artemy to this. He doesn’t want to think about what does.
When Dankovsky is on the crest of—something—Artemy can feel it. He can see the contraction of his abdomen, feel the clenching of his walls. Dankovsky is bearing down with everything he can, trying desperately to crest, and it is then that Artemy rips his hand away and takes three steps back; leaving him empty and wanting.
The Bachelor catches himself just before the damning word ‘stop’ slips from his lips. He is held frozen in utter mortification, reaching out towards his captive Haruspex because he selfishly wants.
He curls awkwardly around himself, shaking and flushed.
"Artemy, I… I should apologize, I—"
"No. What you will do next, is beg."
For a moment, it seems like Dankovsky won't do it; like his pride will win after all. Like he'll pick up his clothing and walk out an unseeable door and leave Artemy here once more, alone. But instead, he swallows, and meets Artemy's gaze. His legs tremble as he speaks.
Artemy’s ears prickle, and he listens.
“ I admit to it. I begged Maria to keep you because I wanted you. I dressed you in finery because I wanted you to be implicitly mine. I keep you here because even though I stole your town and your life, and your divine, blood-soaked victory from you… I want you. And I know that I don't deserve it, Artemy. I know what I've done. And… I want you to touch me. I want you to look at me, mock me, treat me like some mere sexual plaything because I know I don't deserve grace. So please, please, I implore you to just finish what you started and—ah!"
Artemy doesn't hesitate this time. He doesn't tease. He surges forward and he crushes his mouth against the Bachelor's, prying it open with tongue and teeth. He grips the hair at the nape of his neck with one hand as he presses the flat of the other to his swollen clitoris, and mercilessly, firmly rubs.
When Dankovsky peaks, it's a howling, jerking affair. Weeks and weeks of pent-up guilt, self-loathing powerlessness and repressed desire all coming to a humiliating head as he comes; spurting through the gaps of Artemy's fingers and staining the expensive rug.
His own cock is flushed and heavy and demanding to be used but Artemy abstains. He steps back and lets the Bachelor slump naked to the ground.
Pushing himself upright by trembling arms, Daniil meets the Haruspex's gaze, the question that has been simmering all night finally escaping the tight clamp of his teeth.
“You asked to make the game more interesting tonight, Burakh. You set the terms. Why didn’t you ask for your precious freedom if you hate it here so much?”
Artemy should have known the question would come eventually. It lies between them like an opportune knife. He’d banked on the Bachelor being too shocked, too humiliated to remember to ask it. But he was surprising him again and again, aiming precisely for the vulnerable heart even when he was slumped in a puddle of his own thin ejaculate.
Artemy doesn’t want to tell him, doesn’t want to speak it into existence; but his reason was real and horrible, even unspoken as it was.
He turns his back.
“... Why did you ask your revered Scarlet Mistress to keep me?”
He doesn’t have to see Dankovsky’s eyes to know that they will be nearly comically wide with shock. Was it truly so surprising? Another possibility the man hadn’t dared entertain... And what would be done with it in this fanciful, impossible place? By blood and strife, Dankovsky had earned the right to call this place his home. But it was just a prison for him too, after all. Some victory.
“... If you can answer that, then you’ll know why I didn’t ask to leave tonight. And if you can somehow live with your selfish, rotten heart, I must too, live with mine.”
“Don’t. It’s Burakh to you. Go and strategize again for our next game. Mark my words, I won’t be playing to lose ever again, Dankovsky.”