Night under cover

(a completely pointless "plot? what plot?" fanfic from Risu-chan, Jan. 2003.)

Multiple hazard alerts are in order: rated R (at least ^^;;), incredibly thin pretense of setup, and some substantial out-of-characterness ensues...

It was a terrible night out; Martha the innkeeper was hardly surprised to find a well-dressed couple being blown in late, seeking refuge from the teeth of the storm. The gentleman was tall and fair-haired; his lady looked fragile beside him, like an exquisite porcelain doll, with hair like a raven's wing, and striking hazel-gold eyes. She also seemed to be shy; she hung behind her gentleman, and didn't speak.

Neither of them had rings in evidence, so Martha made careful inquiries as to whether they could safely share a room in propriety.

They exchanged a long, private look; pink-cheeked, the gentleman stammered a few shy words about families' disapproval, and a visit to a minister this afternoon...

That was all Martha needed to hear; she called out the cook and the serving-girls and started setting up a wedding reception on the spot. The various locals nursing beers through the worst of the storm while waiting for its fury to abate were far more eager to join in the revelry when Martha announced that spirits would be on the house for the evening, as a present to the newlyweds.

Martha coaxed a warm meal and several glasses of wine into both of them, so as to help with newlywed nerves, because they were both painfully embarrassed with each other and with all the fuss. The lady in particular seemed wilted by the long day and the ruckus being made in celebration of their marriage; the gentleman put a protective arm about her shoulders, and she settled her head against his chest with a sigh, her pale complexion charmingly warmed by a bright blush in her cheeks.

The blush brightened visibly when Martha made a grinning and loud-voiced offer of a bed, and the room erupted in catcalls and cheers. The giggling servant girls chased each other up the stairs in a race to see who could best set up a room for newlyweds; the sweet shy bride completely buried her face in her husband's collar, and he held her carefully, his own cheeks burning.

The servant girls were back in short order, and the bride stood a bit unsteadily to try to make her escape to a more private room. Of course, the guests would have none of that; she had to have her health toasted one more time, and various raunchy comments about cherries and flowers were made, and the servant girls insisted that the new husband had to carry his bride into the room, since obviously they hadn't crossed this threshold properly with all the rain.

The tall young gentleman wasn't burdened at all by his bride's slight weight; his two awkwardnesses came in trying to discreetly manage her skirts and in trying to negotiate the stairs when he couldn't see his feet for the frothing of her petticoats. The inn patrons saw them off with a cheer, and loud advice not to be too quiet tonight or people would be suspicious, and many other kinds of loud advice as well.

And they weren't even left in peace once the bride had been carried across the threshold of their room; the giggling servant girls followed them in, and tried to chase the gentleman out into the hall while they saw to the bride. Mute and white-faced, she clung to her husband's sleeve; he clung to her shoulders.

"Oh, don't be silly, ma'am, a man doesn't know what to do with all the laces! Just let us--"

"No," the gentleman said, and in response to two baffled stares added, "Please, please, no. I... I've wanted... the chance to do this... I've wanted it badly, for so long... please, allow me this gift..."

The servant girls looked at each other, and then began grinning; one made an incoherent sound of delight and the other dug an elbow into her friend's ribs with commentary about 'why can't we find a romantic like that?' and they ostentatiously tiptoed out and shut the door behind them... and stood in the hall giggling. With no indications that they intended to move.

Bride and groom stared at each other for a long moment; the bride made a sharp gesture at the door, and the groom stalked across the room to open the door and speak rather brusquely to the giggling girls outside. After a moment, he closed the door again, and latched it, and braced a chair against the handle just to make certain; he came back across the room a little shamefacedly.

"Newlyweds?" the bride asked, in a hushed but fierce tone of outrage.

"What else was I to do?" the groom replied. "It's obvious enough we could not be siblings, sir, not with our coloring..."

"While you seem to have chased them off for a short time, it would hardly surprise me if they were to indulge their prurient curiosity when they believe us too -- otherwise occupied -- to notice scuffles outside the door." The hitherto-silent bride could be devastatingly sour-voiced when she wished to be.

The groom dug a hand through his hair, and said in quiet misery, "The thought had occurred to me as well, sir."

"Sounds...?" The bride pulled off her hat, and with it the shining dark length of her hair, although the shorter-cropped hair beneath it was precisely the same raven's-wing black. "The difficulty here is that I may break a rib laughing if we were to spend some extended period of time providing, er, suitable sounds. Particularly with one of us faking falsetto...  --Honestly, Riff. Newlyweds. Eloping newlyweds. What did you think they would do with us?"

"We hadn't precisely planned on the storm, sir. What else could I have said?"

The bride sighed, and sat on the bed, and made a face when it creaked. "I don't know. A lesson for next time, then; we should bring rings..." 'She' looked up at him with bewilderment in the luminous golden eyes. "What are we going to do? I drank too much of that wine; I can't think of anything to do..."

"Well, first, I expect that bedclothes are in order."

"Anything other than this thrice-damned corset, yes." 'She' stood and turned to present the back of the dress to him.

"You're so much more demure when you're keeping silent, sir."

The reply was quiet but unprintable; Riff chuckled, low-pitched, and turned his attention to unlacing the gown.

Despite the fact that he knew the vivid marks he saw were long since healed as much as they would ever be, Riff took particular care to be gentle when his fingers brushed against the scars his 'bride' carried. When Riff finished unlacing the gown and corset, the resulting sigh he heard had far more to do with the renewed ability to breathe than with any particular wistfulness; Riff bit his lip to suppress a grin which might not have been taken kindly.

"How do women do this?" Cain asked, quiet but irascible. "No wonder they faint so much, if they can scarcely move or breathe to begin with..."

"High fashion and good health have never seemed to have as much of a connection as they ought, medically speaking." Riff debated how to help his master free his feet from the layers and layers of skirt-ruffling, then decided it was easiest just to pick him up and carry him away to set him down outside the puddle of skirts and crinolines.

Cain gave another soft but heartfelt sigh of relief, stretching both hands over his head because he now could. Then he turned to face Riff again, with both hands planted on his hips.

"I'm bored." He knelt to look under the bed, and sighed. "Not even a mouse's nest; at least I could have caught one of the things and tested the dosage of that new strychnine compound on it. ...From the level of help they employ here, I'd have thought there would at least be a mouse's nest. No books and no mice; what is a person supposed to do to entertain himself?"

With a slight sour gesture toward the door, Riff said, "I'm sure our over-attentive maids would have suggestions, sir."

Cain chuckled. "Well, it would relieve the boredom, anyway," he replied, with a malicious light in his eyes. "And you did swear yourself to my service in any way that would be required; and as this whole ridiculous farce could quite legitimately be called your fault..."

Riff stopped breathing.

Cain simply looked up at him for a long moment, curious whether he would take a breath or pass out where he stood. The breath won, barely, shakily, and he stumbled back to lean against the wall.

"I'm joking, you know," Cain said.

Then Riff did gasp for air, and the color came back into his face.

"The next time you decide to tell a joke like that, sir," he managed, "give me a bit of warning, so that I know what's happening."

"Is my sense of humor that severely lacking?"

"Sir," Riff said unsteadily, "you think catching and poisoning mice is a natural way for a person to entertain himself through a dull evening."

"What's wrong with it?"

Riff made a gasping face like a landed fish, opening his mouth to try to explain, and then giving up because he couldn't find the words, and then trying again weakly.

Tart-voiced, Cain said, "Shall I make myself a little flag labeled 'joke,' and wave it at appropriate intervals for you?" He pulled his nightshirt on over his head, and sat on the edge of the bed to deal with the high laced boots; the bed squeaked again when he sat on it.

There was a giggle from outside the door that cut itself off with a yelp.

Cain stared at the door in consternation; Riff started across the room angrily, and Cain reached to catch his sleeve.

"Don't open the door!" he hissed. "What do we do if they look inside?"

"...Damn it." Riff leaned his forehead against the cool stone of the outer wall. "I think I could fit through the window..."

"I couldn't," Cain said. "Not in that dress, anyway, and without the dress, if we were seen..." He stood and paced a small frustrated circle about the floor, and kicked the dress aside irritably. "What do we do?"

There was brandy and two glasses on the sideboard; Riff poured himself a glass, and drank it in one gulp. Then, almost steadily, he said, "Well, since there aren't any mice for you to kill, and there's no fire, and no books to burn for heat -- I suppose it would be a way to pass the time..."

Cain stared at him for a moment, and then laughed. "Has it been that long since the last time you were laid?"

With his face burning, Riff said, "It has been a while, sir."

Cain picked up a discarded boot and threw it at the door halfheartedly. "And I'm so sorely tempted to shock the wits out of our obnoxious young scandalmongers. But it would be an abuse of the power I hold over you; and that is something I would never forgive myself, especially not for one night's amusement."

"It would not be an abuse of your power, sir," Riff said, "if you do not demand what I offer."

"Yes it would," Cain said, looking away. "You offer because you serve me. There is no way to remove the question of authority." Then, a little giddily, he added, "I've drunk too much; I'm actually considering-- ... but I don't know what to do with a man..."

With his cheeks a bit too warm, Riff managed, "It's not... difficult. I could teach you; in medical school, we are taught ways to... to make certain examinations... --There are ways."

Cain stared up at him; those golden eyes were always unsettling from so close, particularly when Riff was not certain he would be comfortable with the thoughts hidden behind them.

"You keep offering," he said. "Are you actually as tempted as I am to give them an earful to gossip over? I hadn't realized your sense of humor was as twisted as my own..."

The bed squeaked again when he stood up; there was a corresponding rustle and giggle from the hallway. Cain shot an aggravated glare at the door, then walked over and knotted both hands in Riff's shirt and dragged his head down far enough that he could reach up on tiptoe to kiss him.

Riff staggered back into the wall, leaning on it for support; Cain sighed a little, the candlelight dancing over shadows in the depths of his eyes. "I am a complete bastard. You should hit me over the head with a candlestick, and spend the evening sweet-talking the bedpost for the edification of our reprehensible little gossipmongers."

"I am none too pleased with them at the moment, sir," he replied, shakily, and put both arms around his master's waist.

"'Sir,'" Cain echoed, bitterly. "You call me 'sir;' and yet you say that this has nothing to do with power." He let go, and started to turn away; rather than letting him go, however, Riff tightened his careful embrace.


Without a word, Riff lifted him into his arms, and kissed him for a long fierce moment. Then he murmured, "Even if it does, sir, there is nothing you are forcing from me."

Cain stared up at him; then, finally, he reached up to straighten Riff's rumpled collar. "Teach me, then," he said. "After all -- I'm your bride, aren't I."

Startled, Riff said, "Master Cain--"

"It's simple enough," Cain replied. "You know what is to be done, and I don't. And if I submit myself to you, the question of authority can be placed aside." With a sardonic glitter in his eyes, he added, "And I'm certain it would add a -- more plausible note to what our charming audience is expecting to hear; they know your voice better than mine, obviously..."


There was a dangerously wry quirk at the corner of his lips. "What? Am I so very unattractive after all? And here I thought I'd made a rather pretty bride... I can wear the wig if you like."

"No, sir."

"Why not?"

Riff lifted a trembling hand to brush a stray lock of hair back from Cain's face, and said, "Because the one to whom I have given my heart is you, sir, not a dressed-up doll in a wig."

Something shifted behind Cain's eyes; without a word, he reached up to take Riff's face between his hands, then kissed his cheek softly. Shivering, Riff tightened his arms around his lord's slight body.

"Master Cain..."

"You really can't do that, you know," he murmured. "You can't just give me your heart; it is a gift I am too frightened to hold, because I would never forgive myself for breaking it.  --And you'll certainly need to get in the habit of calling me something else, this evening. Perhaps I should wear the wig after all, to remind you."

"No, s-..." Riff stopped, struggled with himself for a moment, and then said, "No. I would rather share as much honesty as circumstances permit us."

The slightly predatory glee in Cain's bright-eyed smile was rather unnerving. "Well,  if we're speaking of honesty -- you've spent entirely too many years undressing me and staring at my body; it occurs to me that just once, turnabout is quite fair play."

"I... er... oh, dear..."

Naturally, Cain was quite a bit more familiar with men's clothing than Riff was with women's clothing; he also had an unfair advantage in the area of knowing where and how to touch the body beneath as he removed things. Riff clutched at the edge of the windowsill as Cain's hands made a particularly intimate business of some buttons; he pulled himself away, gasping, and turned to his overnight bag to busy himself looking for something.

Cain was finding a wide range of ways to entertain himself with the situation; he giggled like a girl, just to see Riff's appalled reaction, and stuck out his tongue when Riff had to abruptly stop himself from shouting for him to stop doing that. Riff found the jar he was looking for, but almost dropped it when Cain slipped both hands under the back of his shirt and let his fingertips wander up his spine, then around to his breast.

"Your heart is beating so quickly..." Cain folded his hands over the pulse-point, and snuggled his cheek against Riff's shoulderblade. "I'm flattered. After all, it's not as though my body has any secrets left for you; and yet here you are, trembling in my arms like some sweet shy virgin. How unexpected..."

Riff leaned hard on the table, struggling even to breathe, let alone come up with a coherent response, as Cain made a leisurely game of coaxing buttons loose from inside and easing arms out of sleeves. When the shirt slipped to the floor, Cain brushed a light kiss against the arch of Riff's bare shoulder.

"This isn't fair, you know."

"I know," Riff gasped. "God, I know -- what are you doing...?"

"I mean it's not fair of you." Cain trailed a fingertip down his spine, counting each ridge. "You are quite perfectly handsome; it makes me ashamed of my revolting scars."

Riff froze for a minute, and then twisted sharply around; he lifted Cain off the floor entirely, so that they would be close enough to the same height for Riff to be able to kiss him breathless. When Cain's startled wriggle faded into faintly bewildered but happy acceptance, Riff kissed his cheek as well, and his forehead. And then he said, huskily, "Don't ever be ashamed of such things. Don't ever think that you are revolting. To me... to me you are..." He stopped, and gulped hard, and said, "Let me teach you that you are precious, and dearly loved."

He set Cain down, and turned him around, and bent to brush a kiss against a whip-scar that laid its trail over his shoulder; Cain caught his breath sharply, shivering.


Quietly, Riff followed the tracework of scars on his back, to place a gentle kiss against each old mark of cruelty. It took a long time, because Riff was careful, and thorough, and tender. He could feel Cain shaking in his arms; for a moment, he rested his forehead lightly against his master's scarred shoulders, and then he coaxed him into turning about.

The tears silently streaking Cain's face startled him; he took a sharp breath to ask why, and Cain set fingertips against his lips. The request for silence was clear enough, but he couldn't leave it as it was; Riff lifted him again, gently, and saw to kissing the tears from his cheeks. Cain clung to him with startling desperation.

"Take what you want from me," he whispered into the curve of Riff's throat, with a tangled knot of emotions illuminated by the candlelight's flickering in the golden depths of his eyes. "Take anything you want. Because you are the only person who has ever known what I am and still loved me regardless..."

"Not regardless," Riff replied, holding him close. "Why do you think I loved you in the first place?"

He gave a small tearful giggle. "How should I know? Nobody else ever has."

"Miss Merry has, though you haven't let her know everything. Sane people can and would," Riff said with a sigh. "You simply haven't met enough sane people."

"And if that isn't God's own truth...!" Cain streaked a hand across his face, and settled his head against Riff's shoulder.

Riff hesitated, and looked at him oddly for a moment, struck by a note in his master's voice. "Are you frightened...?"

"I'm your virgin bride, remember?" he said tartly. "Isn't it natural to be a little... unfamiliar with... a little uncertain about... --yes, damn your eyes, I'm frightened. But don't you dare put me down and walk away in the middle of this!"

"I... um... Yes, sir."

Cain blinked at him, and then clamped a hand over his mouth to stifle laughter. "And stop calling me sir--! The fact that this is stranger than our peanut gallery can imagine is hardly a reason to give them cause to start imagining..."

"May I call you beloved?" Riff asked softly.

Cain looked up at him for a quiet, hesitant moment. "I... if you like... --What should I do...?"

The overly assiduous serving-girls had done them a favor, however heavily laced with unseemly amusement; the bedcovers had been folded down, and the sheets had been strewn with flower petals. Riff laid him in the bed, feeling his face burn with embarrassment at the bed's creaking, and sat beside him, and bent to brush a kiss against his brow to try to ease the anxiety there.

"A woman's body is... a little different; women... women become... --Their bodies expect such things, and... a man's body doesn't, not in the same way. So... in order to... to ease this..." Riff opened the jar and dipped two fingers into it, to have an excuse not to look at the alarm in his lover's eyes. "...This will be cold at first; try to relax, and breathe deeply..."

He set his fingertips to a sensitive place, and Cain made a startled sound at the chill; Riff rubbed a little soothing pattern, and set his other hand to Cain's stomach to try to feel for tension there. "Ready...?"

Cain took a deep breath, and nodded; despite his intentions, though, his hands knotted white-knuckled in the sheets when Riff pushed his fingers in. He made a little sound of panic, panting like a frightened puppy; Riff kept that hand very still, and rubbed carefully with the other. "It's all right," he murmured. "If you can relax a little, it will be better soon; my fingers will warm the salve... slow, deep breaths... deep... there, better. Are you all right?"

The only response was a slight, pale nod; Riff doubted the honesty of it, but with his other hand against Cain's tense stomach, he could feel the rhythm of his breathing, and saw to rubbing the salve inside him in time with each breath. He also parted his fingers a bit, carefully stretching the opening; Cain bit his lip hard to keep from crying out.


After a moment, another stiff nod. Riff bent to kiss him again in tender apology, and withdrew his hand  to dip his fingers in the jar again. With slick moisture already present, and the first penetration past, his fingers slipped inward more easily the second time; he pressed as far inward as he could reach this time, and rocked his hand a little in rhythm with Cain's shallow frightened panting.

"I'll follow you," he said. "It'll be all right. Try to relax yourself, and breathe as deep as you can... slowly... deep, deep breaths..."

When Cain had learned how to relax into the waves of pressure as Riff rocked his hand in time with his breathing, the fright in his eyes was fading; Riff smiled to see it, and let his fingertips seek out a particularly sensitive place within.

Cain half-convulsed at that touch, and bit his own wrist sharply to keep from crying out; he collapsed back into the bed and curled up despite the presence of Riff's hand.

"I'm sorry," Riff said. "I didn't mean to hurt--" Cain shook his head a little, wild-eyed, with a small convulsive push of his hips. "...Oh. Not a bad guess, then...?"

"Do that again," Cain gasped, hoarse but fiercely demanding. "Oh, God, do that again--!"

Feeling his heart beating fast in his throat, Riff shook his head a little. "Not just yet."

Sulky like a thwarted child, he demanded, "Why not?"

"Because first, my beloved master," Riff whispered into the soft skin at his throat, "I want to drive you mad..."

Cain made an incoherent sound of frustration, and struggled against him; Riff's greater height and weight made it simple to pin him down with both arms crossed over his head, and he bent to kiss the strained arch of his throat as Cain threw his head back in mute desperate need. He trailed kisses up the clean arch of his jaw, and traced the graceful curve of a cheekbone with the tip of his tongue; quick and fierce, Cain twisted about to claim Riff's mouth with his own -- and to bite his lower lip for him.

With his teeth very precisely against a place that would hurt a great deal if struggled against, Cain mumbled, "Le' my han's go."

Very carefully, keeping his head perfectly still, Riff shifted his weight so as to be able to release his master's hands; in response Cain released his lip, and kissed him in quite a sweet conciliation -- and then trailed his newly-freed hands up the soft skin at Riff's sides to tickle mercilessly.

Riff bit his own lip harder than he meant to, in order to keep from entertaining their audience too much with a shriek; he thrashed and cracked his head against the headboard, and Cain's hands stilled immediately.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry -- are you all right?  --I didn't know you were so ticklish; I'm sorry..." Still breathless himself, Cain pushed himself half-upright with one hand and cupped the other very carefully against Riff's head, feeling for a knot or blood. He smoothed Riff's hair gently, with a trembling hand. "Are you all right?"

Riff reached up to twine their fingers together, and brought Cain's palm closer, so that he could kiss the sensitive spot in the palm, and the delicate skin at the flex of his wrist, so that his life-pulse would beat against warm lips. Cain drew a shuddering breath, and pulled his hand away so that he could twine both arms around Riff's shoulders and draw him closer.

"Do that to me again," he said, half an order and half a plea.

"Not just yet..."

"Must I drive you mad as well...?" He sat up, and Riff made a small distressed sound and sat up with him.

"I don't want to make you angry; I want..."

"I know," Cain replied, and crept into his lap, and pressed himself close, so that each of them could feel the frantic pulse of the other's heart and breath. "I know, but I'm impatient--"

Riff had been far more polite in his explorations; when Cain trailed a path up and down Riff's throat, he didn't just kiss. He also licked, and bit, and Riff writhed in his arms, but couldn't hit his head on the headboard when they were sitting up; Cain's low-pitched chuckle tickled mercilessly against the skin at his collarbone.

"Oh, God-- s--..."

"Call me beloved," Cain whispered against his throat, with both hands trailing fire up and down his chest and stomach. "Call me yours. Make me yours..."

His hands wandered lower, seeking out the tender skin between the thighs and the even more tender place just above them. Riff clutched at Cain's shoulders, teeth ground against an outcry; Cain laughed again, and reached over for the jar Riff had used.

"I take it that other places than fingers could also use -- assistance...?"

Riff nodded, wildly, not trusting his voice; he whispered, "Please... please..."

"Lie back, then..."

Cain took his time exacting vengeance for Riff's persistent denials; he played the chill of the salve against the heat of his hands like an artisan, and bent close enough to kiss the flat plane of Riff's stomach just beside the hipbone, tracing the sensitive place inside the curve with the warm tip of his tongue. He smiled to hear his stoic servant whimper at that.

"Now will you do as I ask?" When Riff didn't immediately respond, he teased a little more, kissing just above the navel and then dipping his tongue into that sensitive place to probe; Riff choked off a cry sharply. "How else can I beg? ...well, I can be creative..."

Riff took him by the shoulders and dragged him up so that their mouths could meet again, and kept him too occupied to taunt with words. But the rest of his body was free to speak for him; twined together in the bed, skin to skin and heat to heat, they held an eloquent debate without a single word.

All in all, it could be said that Riff won the debate. Or in another way it could be said that Cain did; neither one was in any way displeased with the meeting of minds they came to.

It was different for them both than the first teaching moments had been; Cain's eyes were wide and dilated in the candlelight, struggling to learn how to bear the difference, the deeper pressure, even with the now warm and slick salve to ease things. Riff couldn't pretend to hold his impartiality; his own body cried desperately at him, and he struggled between his own needs and the pain that flickered in his lover's eyes when he moved too abruptly. But gradually, carefully, they learned each other's needs, and their own, and found a rhythm that matched. Riff dug his heels into the bed, arching his back, trying to shift the angle just enough --

Cain's eyes widened, and his mouth made a desperate movement, but he couldn't make a sound; Riff claimed Cain's parted lips with his own, in case he relearned how his lungs worked while each shift of their bodies rubbed and stroked against that fiercely sensitive place inside him. They rocked and strained, caught in the tide of mutual desperation and delight.

The sensation of Riff's shivering release, the rush of heat and spreading pressure, pushed his lover past the edge as well; for a long gasping moment they lay twined in each other, panting for breath, and Riff bent his head slightly to brush a soft kiss against the crown of his master's head.

Then Cain made a startled sound of pain, and he scrambled off the bed to reach under it for the chamber pot the maids had left there, in their mouse-banishing moments.

Still out of breath, Riff pushed himself up on shaking arms, and reached over to touch his master's shoulder. "Cramps...?"

Huddled around a knot of agony, he nodded a little, panting; Riff dug a hand through his hair and climbed out of bed to be able to slip both arms about his waist and try to support and warm him.

"It's all right," Riff said. "Relax, and breathe, and don't worry..." He held him carefully through the worst of the spasms, with a gentle and warm hand curved to his side; when Cain could breathe again in a lull, he said, "Better...?"


Riff sighed, and rubbed a little; it set off another round of cramps, and Cain choked off a sound of pain.

"No, don't fight... just try to relax, if you can..." He kept up the gentle but heartless rubbing; when the cramps had eased, and the circling pressure was only a comfort to aching muscles rather than a trigger for another spasm of pain, Riff bent his head to brush a kiss against the curve of his shoulder, and helped him sit more comfortably on the floor.

"Better now?"

"Still humiliated," he muttered, looking away.

"It's a natural response," Riff said. "Some people are... well... more sensitive to such things. I'm sorry; it's not pleasant, even if it's natural..."

"Natural in that women do this too?" he asked softly, sourly. "Then how do children ever happen?"

"No, natural in that..." Riff hesitated, then said a bit awkwardly, "It is a common prescription for, er, certain conditions. If you take salt water warmed to body-heat, which is quite like... well. I'm sorry; I hadn't thought... I just wasn't thinking." His voice shook a little. "I'm very sorry. I'm a clumsy thoughtless fool; I'd wanted you to enjoy--"

Cain put a hand under his chin and pushed up until his teeth clicked together, and said wryly, "Oh, you needn't worry there."

Riff blinked several times, startled, and then embarrassed, and then somewhere in there shyly delighted as well. "Really? Er... oh. Um. --really?" He tucked his head down a little, and said, stammering, "I've never -- I'd never -- this was my first time, I didn't know-- I was hoping not to make too many mistakes-- but if you didn't mind..."

He stopped then, because Cain had stiffened in his arms.


"Don't call me sir," Cain murmured.

"Um... then..." Very shyly, Riff smoothed his hair a little, and said in a tremulous voice, "Beloved... my beloved lord... did I say something badly...?"

Cain said nothing, his arms wrapped around his ribcage tightly, rocking in some silent pain that seemed to have nothing to do with physical aches.

Now anxious, Riff stammered through an incoherent string of guesses. "I... it's not that I was... experimenting, not exactly; I'd heard... I'd been told... the theory, or rather several of the students had been loudly bragging over... more details than one strictly needed to know. But it seemed -- er -- plausible, and... I'm sorry I hadn't thought that -- that you might react badly... truly, I never meant to hurt you. I swear that on my life -- does it hurt that much...? I'm so sorry, sir--"

"Stop calling me that."

Riff flinched, and then hesitated over whether or not he should put his arms back around his furious master. He took a careful breath, and set a light palm against Cain's shoulder, and said, "Please, tell me what it is I've just done..."

"You should have told me first!"

"Told you...?"

Cain twisted around to glare at him. "Or was it that amusing to lie to me? You said it had been a while, not that you'd never--"

"Twenty-odd years is quite a while, s-... I mean..." He flinched again at the flare of rage in Cain's molten-gold eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I... didn't mean to be clumsy, I didn't know I--"

"This has nothing to do with 'clumsy'," Cain snapped. "This is -- God, how would you live with yourself if you'd gotten me drunk and taken my virginity because you were feeling bored and vindictive one evening? I pray to God that you know, because I have no idea how I'm supposed to live with myself tomorrow -- I told you I didn't want to take your heart! Not to mention your--"

Feeling his face burn, Riff said, "You took nothing, sir. I swear to you, I gave myself to you willingly. --And... happily..." His voice strained on the edge of breaking.

"If you're mocking me, Riff, I may kill you."

"No!" he said, desperately. "No, sir-- I mean-- I..." He stopped, and gulped hard, and reached a trembling hand out to touch Cain's hair. "No. I... my lord, my liege, I meant every word I said to you. I am yours. Everything I am is yours, and always has been... for me, there has never been anyone else in the world to whom I could give everything that I am. My service, my life, my heart and soul... I don't know how else I can explain it. I am yours, and yours alone. I wouldn't want to live any other way, with any other person on this earth. --You said that I was the only person who knew all that you were and loved you... sir, those words should have been mine..."

"I didn't know all that you were, though, did I," Cain murmured. "I'm such a fool. I felt it myself; I even laughed at the thought -- shy like a virgin in my arms..." He glared at Riff again, and said in a tangle of outrage and misery, "Why didn't you ever stop and tip over a barmaid while you were studying with your obnoxiously overinformative drunk friends?"

"I was studying, sir," Riff replied, injured. "Medical school is hardly easy, especially when you have to try to win a scholarship!"

"It would only have taken an hour -- less if she was cheap!"

With bright blushing patches staining his cheeks, Riff said, "Thank you for the information, sir, but if you'll pardon me I shan't ask how you came to know."

Cain made a sound of helpless aggravation, and dug both hands through his hair, staring up at the ceiling.

Very tentative, and a little hurt, Riff said, "I wanted to make myself a gift to you. I wanted to make you happy, not... angry, or hurt, or... whatever this is..."

"You've always been too generous," Cain said, chin propped in one hand. "How could I possibly repay you for something like this? It's not as though I was still a virgin, you know."

In a very sheepish voice, Riff said, "Well, in one way, sir... in that particular way..."

After a moment, Cain chuckled, darkly. "Yes, I suppose I must grant you that point. But... damn it all; I thought that you knew what you were offering me!"

"I did, sir."

"But I thought that for you, this was just a more entertaining way to spend an evening than poisoning mice."

"But it was, sir," Riff said immediately, anxiously. "Far more entertaining than poisoning mice!"

Cain glanced at him sidelong.

"...That is... I mean... --Not that there's anything wrong with... um..." He simply couldn't finish the sentence, as badly as he wanted to. "--All right. Yes. I'm sorry, but yes, there is. But even if there's something wrong with spending an evening poisoning mice, it's not that you couldn't if you wanted to, it's just that I... um... I don't think..."

Cain tilted his head sideways to look at him steadily.

Riff said, painfully embarrassed, "I'm really very sorry, Master Cain, but I just don't think I could ever enjoy... spending an evening... poisoning... um... mice... and... er... --I believe I should stop talking now, shouldn't I, sir."

Cain made a small whimpering sound, and clamped a hand over his mouth.


He twisted around sharply, knotted a hand around Riff's shoulder, buried his face against Riff's chest, and proceeded to laugh himself giddy, trying hard to mute the sound with a handful of sheet dragged off the bed and shoved against his face.

"You... you... never change... --you never change at all...! --oh, God, I can't laugh, they'll hear my voice..."

A little light-headed with his own relief, Riff put one arm about Cain's waist and tugged at the sheet with the other. "Don't suffocate yourself--!" Then, helplessly, he started to laugh too. "Neither do you, sir; you never change either..."

"We're doomed, aren't we? Completely hopeless... not a damned thing to do... about either of us..."

Riff scrubbed a hand across his cheeks, and said, "Next time we should bring rings and mice."

Cain stared up at him, wild-eyed, and then hastily clutched a fistful of sheet against his face again, to muffle shaking hysterics. It sounded like there was an attempt at words tangled in there too, though; Riff bent closer to try to make them out.

"What, sir...?"

"...books...! Rings and... and... books... no air holes... much simpler...!"

"Oh! Books!" Riff echoed, in giddy relief. "Yes, I hadn't thought of those-- I mean, since you couldn't poison a book... Well, you could, just not... The book wouldn't... --Oh, never mind!"

Cain gave up any pretense of coherence then, clinging to Riff, completely convulsed with laughter.

When they had both laughed themselves exhausted, and were sitting half-sprawled across the floor and half tangled in each other, Riff sighed a little and smoothed his master's rumpled hair with a light hand. When he tried to move, though, Cain made a small sound of protest.

"The bed is somewhat more customary for sleeping, sir, and it's quite a bit more comfortable than leaning against the post."

Cain sighed, and stretched, and got to his feet, moving very carefully. Standing with his back to Riff and his head bent, he said, "But if we didn't have to move, then you wouldn't have to let go..."

All the words he might have said tied themselves in a knot in Riff's throat; he stood unsteadily, and put his arms around Cain again, and held him close. Cain sighed again, and set a hand over Riff's for a moment, and then pulled away.

"Where did you put your razor?" He went looking through the various implements laid out on the table for the next morning, and came up with the small knife used for trimming the lantern's wick. "Never mind, this will do..."


Cain passed the blade through the candle's flame briefly, twice, and then pushed back the sleeve of his nightshirt.

"Sir--! What are you--"

"There is always a price to be paid, isn't there?" he said, almost cheerfully, and nicked his forearm, and held it over the bed so that the bright blood would drip onto the rumpled sheets. "A virgin's price is paid in blood; the least I can do is pay that debt."

Riff grabbed a roll of bandages out of his night kit, and said with some force, "Just once -- just once -- I want us to go on one of these escapades without needing me to bandage you, sir! What are the maids going to say?"

"Less than they would have said if there hadn't been any blood," Cain replied drolly, but let Riff take his arm to wash and bandage the cut. "And if it takes them a while to scrub the stains out, they deserve it."

"...They do, at that." Still holding Cain's hand, Riff sighed, and bent to brush his lips against his master's upturned palm. "I do... I do understand... it can't be like this when we return; there would be too much gossip. But just for tonight... would you mind if I held you...?"

"At the risk of sounding utterly pathetic, I would be most grateful," Cain said, wry.

It was an awkwardly shy business, finding how their bodies fit together in a way that was comfortable enough to rest, rather than just comfortable enough for a few minutes out of more protracted and vigorous maneuvering.

"Are you... I mean... won't your neck be stiff tomorrow, at that angle...?"

With his head carefully settled against a particular place on Riff's chest, he murmured, "I want to hear your heart beating, just... just to be sure..."

"Master Cain," Riff said, very gently, "for all your fascination with poisons, people do not simply drop dead because you loved them."

"Which of them haven't?" he asked, not joking nearly as much as he should have been.

To avoid having to answer that one directly, in large part because he didn't have a good answer at hand, Riff said, "I'd rather not begin enumerating all your past loves just now; I would imagine you can understand why." He tucked a pillow behind Cain's shoulders, and left his arm about him for support as well. "Better...?"

"As long as you're here, yes," Cain murmured, still intent on listening to Riff's heart.

Riff sighed a little, carefully, and pulled the blankets up further for both of them. "Sleep well, sir."

The next morning, Riff's first semicoherent thought was that while the blankets were wonderfully warm, they were quite heavy as well. Then he blinked himself back to consciousness, and remembered, and had to struggle not to let himself laugh.

To ease the sharp bend in his neck, rather than moving away and losing that heartbeat-point to listen to, at some point during the night Cain had curled up on top of Riff's chest like a kitten. Riff tried not to let himself wonder if his master reacted this way when he slept with women, or what they might think of him if he did, or whether there would be any un-humiliating way to ask.

Riff didn't do a very good job of not wondering whether it was a common response, because he found the gesture both revealing and achingly vulnerable; he tried carefully to lie as still as he could, so as not to disturb his master's sleeping fascination with the sound of a human heart. But he was quite certain there was no reasonable way to ask; Cain had no reason to wish to explain his love life, and his lady-lovers would wonder how Riff had come into possession of information that would lead to the question. All in all, it seemed far better just to observe the point, and to hold him.

It was some time later when Cain sleepily tried to turn over to escape the sunbeam that glanced down across his face; despite his best intentions Riff couldn't help a grunt of pain at a sharp elbow in the hollow of his stomach, and that startled Cain considerably, because he wasn't in the habit of hearing mattresses complain.

"What the...?" Then he remembered, too; the sunlight showed off his blush. "...Oh. Er. What does one say in a situation like this...?"

"Like what, sir?"

"Like this!" Cain yawned, and scrubbed some of the sleep-bleariness from his eyes, and said, "I hardly make a routine of sleeping with employees, or on them... particularly male employees..."

"Oh." After a moment's thought, Riff offered, "Good morning seems suitable."

"Good morning," Cain echoed dutifully. "That was my elbow, wasn't it? I'm sorry."

"No permanent damage, sir," Riff murmured, smiling. "And you see -- I'm still breathing."

"You should've just shoved me off hours ago, you know..." He yawned, and stretched very carefully, and then said in a very small voice, "Thank you. For everything, but particularly for... well... still breathing. God, I'm a fool..."

"I quite like breathing, sir," Riff said, smoothing a rumpled dark lock of hair back from Cain's face. "I have no particular plans to stop any time soon. I suppose one might call it an addiction, but it's a habit I have no interest in breaking, so you may wish to let yourself become accustomed to it."

Cain snorted his opinion of that, and reached back for a pillow to thump him with.

"I wouldn't, sir."

"You're bigger, but I'm sneakier."

"Yes, sir, but our audience..."

Cain stared at the door. "You're kidding."

"I believe the original rationale was breakfast left at the door, but they've been taking that as an excuse to sneak up the stairs and eavesdrop every so often. One of them is quite disappointed that the keyhole view has been blocked. --I thank God twice that I put the chair under the doorhandle; I think the odious little girl actually managed to pick the lock..."

"Are we being served by thieves as well as shameless wenches?" With an entirely too malicious sparkle in his eyes, Cain took a much deeper breath; he barely managed one falsetto squeak before Riff got both palms over his mouth.

"Don't you dare, sir!"

Cain let the breath go, pulled Riff's hands away, and said in far too reasonable a voice, "But what else is a lady to do when her bedchamber is violated in the middle of the night? Because of course, being so utterly weak and defenseless, there is nothing for a lady to do but scream the bloody roof down..."

"Sir, you don't want the lot of them to come break the door down at your screaming when you aren't wearing the dress!"

"But with that damned corset on, I can't breathe deeply enough to scream like a banshee."

"I see this as a benefit, sir, not as a problem," Riff said, very patiently. "Let's just get you tied back into it, shall we..."

"And you say that my tastes are abnormal."

"I have never said that, sir," Riff replied, very much on his dignity. "I may have thought it, at great length, upon a miscellany of occasions, but I have never said it."

They made a quick and chilly business of washing with the assistance of the jug of water and basin left from the night before, and Cain surrendered his ability to breathe for the sake of their mutual ability to escape the inn without causing a scandal. Riff was careful to pull the laces tighter than he might have, because Cain kept glaring murderously at the small scuffles and rattles at the door, and testing whether or not he could breathe enough to scream. Finally, though, their public faces were suitably back into place.

Cain crept over to the door as quietly as he could manage, carefully lifted the chair away and handed it to Riff, and set his fingertip over the keyhole so that the sudden shift in light wouldn't warn the miscreants on the other side.

Riff had just taken a breath to protest when his 'sweet demure bride' pulled the door open so sharply that the two girls who were kneeling with their heads against the door fell inside, on top of each other and on top of the tray with their breakfast.

At which point his 'silent' bride proved that although she might not be able to properly scream the roof down with a corset on, she could still manage a piercing shriek that was high and shrill enough to make his ear bones hurt. She then 'dramatically' fainted into his arms and left him to deal with the aftermath.

Martha the innkeeper scolded the serving-maids within an inch of their lives, and got the spilled breakfast off the floor, and made loud and fierce arrangements for another breakfast to be packed up for them to take along. Then she flopped down in a chair and leaned her face into one hand and said, "Sir, I'm very, very sorry. They're mine and I love them, but sometimes I wish I could kill them..."

Riff made sure he was out of range of an 'accidental' kick from a sharply pointed boot when he replied, "Believe me, ma'am, I certainly understand that impulse."

Their reception downstairs was quieter than their sendoff the previous night, because fewer people were present and intoxicated at that hour of the morning; every single person in the room was grinning broadly, though, and there were quite a few inquiries about whether they had slept rather than how they had slept. And several comments to the effect that they'd already paid for their room, they should go get some more use out of it during the day, and wasn't it practically suspicious for a pair of newlyweds to be awake and dressed this early the day after; one might almost get the idea they didn't like each other or something.

Feeling his face turning crimson, Riff tried desperately to stammer out some kind of half-coherent excuse about a long journey, and to interpose himself between the rest of the room and his entirely-too-unpredictable bride.

She ended up taking the conversation out of his hands without a word; she kilted up her skirt enough to be able to see her feet so she could step up onto a bench. Then she reached over and caught him by the shoulders from his own height, and kissed him. For quite a while, actually, until his knees gave out and he sagged against the bench's table as an alternative to falling over. (The patrons were vocally appreciative.)

Then she sat quite demurely on the edge of the table beside him, and folded her hands in her lap, and asked in a light breathless contralto, "Any more comments?"

"Name the baby after me!"

"Or after Martha if it's a girl..."

"Or both!"

"We've really got to be going now," Riff wheezed, and threw her over his shoulder bodily in order to carry her out with his shoulderblade in her diaphragm so she couldn't decide to strike up any more of a conversation with the locals.

He shut the door of the carriage with more force than was strictly necessary, and pushed the startled horse into a canter.

"Spoilsport," she said, with a malicious golden glitter in the eyes. "And there I was collecting names for our baby! One would think you don't want me to have your children..."

"Respectfully speaking, of course, you can go and screw yourself, sir."

"But isn't that what I have you for?"

"Eat bat shit and die, sir!"

"Really? I hadn't known it was toxic..."

"Do NOT go and test it to find out, sir!"

The sound of slightly breathless but enthusiastic laughter trailed them along the road.