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the indulgence of vice

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Through the closed shutters the soft sounds of carpentry rise up from the courtyard below - hammering, chiselling, an inexorable chipping away at the quiet. There are voices: Duplay's men, and though he cannot hear the Duplays themselves, Monsieur and Madame, the Mademoiselles, they cannot have left the shrine wholly untended. The door does not lock. Camille pins Max's wrists to the bed.

This is a vice of Camille's, long-standing like many others, though of late very rarely indulged. But Camille, as half of Paris will tell you, is adept in the indulgence of vice.

Max looks up at him with his careful, steady gaze. He exerts a little pressure against Camille's hands on his wrists, though not enough for any serious attempt to dislodge him. Camille has spent years mapping the borders of Max's special leniency towards himself - he knows, he thinks he knows, when he is in comfortable territory and when he is pressing on into wilder terrain. He shifts, presses a leg between Max's and an almost involuntary shudder runs through Max's body.

There are times when Camille thinks that he might be the only person to have touched Max this way; he enjoys the thought of himself as the Corruptor of the Incorruptible. He expects to see his fingers leave sooty marks on Max's skin and sometimes, revisiting Max's body after a shorter span, he has found them: purple-grey and ruinous. He thinks of them as the marks of his own worst qualities: his recklessness, his carelessness, his penchant for destruction.

He smiles then and Max, mistaking the smile, thinks he is being laughed at. You can tell when Max thinks he's being laughed at: he looks somewhat puzzled, as though he would like you to explain the joke.

(Danton says that Camille is the only person who can make Max laugh, which is not strictly true. Camille thinks rather that he is the person who can make Max see how absurd is the rest of the world - he is the key to Max's laughter, not the cause of it. Camille thinks that he knows a lot of things about Max that Danton never will - and that much of that is for the best. What Georges might say, for example, to the idea that austere, Roman Robespierre has on occasion more than a touch of the Greek about him, is best left unimagined.)

But Max doesn't ask - in the end, there are lots of things he simply doesn't want to know. Instead he closes his eyes and relinquishes a soft breath against Camille's cheek. If Camille were a better person he supposes he should find Max's trust in him terrifying, or feel at the least some sort of moral obligation towards it, as one would towards a particularly valuable gift. But Max knows Camille, and so he offers himself with eyes shut. And Camille, eyes open, tightens his grip on Max's wrists, and bites a crescent moon into a pale shoulder - bites down until he elicits a gasp, and feels the place where Max no longer yields to him: under the flesh, in the bone.