A/N – Once again, EXPLICIT SLASH warning. Things get graphic in this chapter, so please don't read if you don't want to see this sort of thing. Thanks.

x x x

I gestured toward his chest; he began to unbutton his shirt. When finished, he untucked his shirttails, and though he did all this painstakingly, carefully; he tossed the garment on the chair afterwards, not looking, instead of folding it up.

His bony chest gleamed pale – so pale – in the lamplight. Every rib was visible; his collarbones stood out in high relief. Despite this deceptive appearance of frailty, his wiry strength showed in the way that his taut muscles slid under his skin with every movement.

He was tense; tightly coiled. He blinked at me. I continued to regard him, unspeaking, and he dropped his gaze, though I could feel his expectation.

"Erik is but a poor specimen," he said.

"Would you like to see a contrast?" I asked. He nodded, once; curtly, almost unwillingly.

Admit it, you yellow-eyed fiend, I thought. Admit, just once, that you want me as much as I want you. Or at least admit that you desire my desire for you, if not myself.

I undid my dressing-gown, folding it neatly on the chair, then pulled my shirt over my head, folding it and depositing it on top of the dressing-gown. I looked back at him; he had raised his head, and one corner of his mouth crooked upwards.

We made quite a contrast: I, dark as a fig; he, pale as alabaster. I felt thick and clumsy by comparison; not fat, but with layers of once-solid muscle grown somewhat soft with disuse. He was, as always, whippet-lean and gleaming.

"Come here," I commanded. It was odd that in every respect but this, he was the leader and I the follower. In this matter alone he remained passive and would only be coaxed, when he would permit it at all. He advanced a few steps toward me.

"It has been a long time," I said. He nodded, betraying no emotion, though I could see the rapid movement of the pulse in his neck.

"I would see your face," I said, and heard his sharp intake of breath. I knew that I was pushing things; though I had seen that face before, he hated to show it, even to me. For him, this was somehow a deeper intimacy than the other. It made him vulnerable.

"No," he said, and now there was a note of pleading in his voice. "Please."

But I was determined to be as stubborn as he, for once. "Very well." I crossed my arms to signal: Then there's an end to it.

He made a few awkward movements with his hands, standing there, already half-undressed, alternately glaring at me and shooting me fearful glances. Torn between dread and desire, that limbo in which I spent far too much of my time. I could almost hear his thoughts: I don't want to give you this much of myself. What will you do with it?

But I was adamant, and he was needful. At last, he consented, pulling off his mask and discarding it almost defiantly. "Look, then, if you must, daroga."

I looked him full in the face.

You are truly ugly, my love. You are sublime in your hideousness: that face like no other; like a naked skull which yet lives. The sculpted planes of your cheekbones, the mysterious deep sockets of your eyes within which two flames eternally burn…you are an architectural marvel, a strange monument to the limits of variation permitted to the human animal. And yet, there are places where you are beautiful: the space between your collarbones, the back of your neck…

"Well?" he said. Impatient. "If you would do, have done." He pushed a strand of lank, colorless hair out of his face; sometimes, as when making a gesture like this, he could look disarmingly young, though I knew him to be my age.

I gestured to the bedroom and he preceded me, back stiff as a poker. (I know each of the knobs on your spine so well…) I followed, shutting the door behind me.

Inside the room, we found that Darius had lit a candle. Erik was shifting from foot to foot; it was one of his many nervous habits. His gaze would not settle. It flitted from the tapestries, over the silks and velvets, the patterned carpet, the silver statuettes, to the cabinet of inlaid wood. He looked at every object the room contained, in turn, though he had seen them all before. None of those things were what he was most aware of. His focus was the one thing my room contained at which he would not look directly: me.

He could see my arousal as well as I could see his, and this embarrassed him. I prolonged the moment because this was the one time during which I truly had any power over him at all, and that only because he let me. Still I relished it, this tiny edge, even while it made me ashamed of myself; he and I were not so different in some ways. That thought was not a comforting one.

Finally, I reached the limits of my patience and my private, petty revenge on him (about which he cared nothing) for always choosing the roles that both of us would play. I slowly removed my trousers and the rest of my apparel, revealing myself fully to his view. He stopped trying to look as though he were not looking, and stared openly at my body and at my sex, springing upright nearly to my belly.

"Behold, the instrument of my torment," he said dryly, mocking himself.

"Now, you," I said curtly, cutting him off. Again, he obeyed, disrobing in his turn. His breathing had become rapid, as had my own.

Erik's body was, in coloration, as in everything else, unique. The parts of his body which, in a normal man of his race, would have been a dark peach-pink – lips, nipples, that stiff and standing rod at his hips, his scars – were instead a grayish mauve, as if his blood were black, or perhaps blue. He had very little body hair. Even the hair on his head tended to be fine and sparse. I believed he had been born with grey hair.

I walked over to him. Tip touched tip, tantalizing; mauve to nut–brown, moving as we breathed. He shivered. I ran one hand from his neck to his loins, as if inspecting merchandise, then cupped my hand under his groin, squeezing gently. His eyes closed; his head fell back slightly. I took his hand and directed it to my arousal; he circled me with long, bony fingers, and began to stroke. I toyed with him, teasing, tickling, lightly touching; but did not stroke in return. He shifted his slender hips impatiently, but would not ask, trying to stifle the noises of pleasure that strained to escape his lips. And I withheld.

"Get on the bed," I said, abruptly.

His eyes flew open. "Daroga – Erik is not ready…"

"The bed," I repeated.

His mouth made a crooked "O" of surprise, but his eyes snapped with interest, and he did as I had bid him.

It was always a delicate balance, this game. If I did not push hard enough, he would lose interest. If I pushed too hard, he would take back the reins and vanish.

He seated himself awkwardly on the bed, not knowing what to do with his hands; painfully aware of his arousal. I loved to look at him there, set like a prized, exotic possession among the rich patterns of the silks and velvets, this creature I craved like a drug. He looked small and lost amongst all that luxury (for I liked my bedchamber to be comfortable), each quilt and pillow more brightly-colored than the last, and all of them more brightly-colored than he.

His bone structure was surprisingly small; his strength came from the iron bands of his muscles, his power from his indomitable will.

"Turn over," I commanded. It had been too long. I was lost, and could not contain myself.

"Not yet – " he began, but,

"Did you say 'No' to me?" I said. I want you, Erik. Why won't you let me say that plainly?

To my great relief, he turned over, meekly.

I climbed onto the bed and knelt, straddling his prostrate form, teasing the spare ivory mounds of his buttocks with the tip of my flesh. I could see him clenching his muscles, trying not to writhe, not to press himself into the softness of the bedclothes. I knew he wanted desperately to rub himself against the silky fabrics, and yet craved the exquisite agony of self-denial until the last possible moment.

I ran a hand down his spine, the knobs of which stood up like a miniature mountain range. His back was a sad tapestry of textures; smooth and rough – a relief map of his life's trials. I knew how he had come by some of the purple scars that crossed it, but not all of them; he refused to speak of the others. I would take all your pain upon myself if I could, but you hold it to yourself like a lover. I tracedthem with a finger – the markings on his flesh were old and twisted for the most part, but it still gave me pain to see them.

He shivered again beneath my touch; I too, was growing restless.

I put one of my fingers in my mouth, wetting it thoroughly. I placed my other hand flat on his back, which made him start to turn around, but before he could complete the movement, I thrust my dampened finger into that space between his ivory flanks quickly; roughly. Erik cried out, and my heart gave a strange leap within me. At such times I felt I could almost understand the reason for those hideous scars on his back (and the thought made me despise myself), though to look at them made me angry with myself as well as with the torturers of his past.

Erik's voice when he sang out in pain was much like his regular singing voice: clear, bell-like, and filled with a haunting, terrible beauty. Listening to him made my soul ache in tandem with my body.

So much that is beautiful has its origin in pain. A poem, an opera, a life…it is one of the arcane mysteries of existence.

And for right now, the marvelous creature from whose throat issued such unforgettable sounds was mine…

I added a second finger to the first, but this time Erik stifled his cry against one of the pillows.

I spread my fingers, testing. A muffled noise of protest arose from the head of the bed, but it was a weak one. And I had decided that I would have him. Now.

Removing my fingers, I teased the sensitive area which they had just abandoned with the swollen, thick head of my sex, then, pulling back slightly, thrust partway into him, evoking further moans. I made a few tentative movements inside him, raised his hips against me, then brutally thrust into him with my entire stiff length.

Erik screamed, pain and pleasure mingled.

I have you now, I thought. Oh, to be one with you always. Monster. My monster…

I withdrew, prolonging this, then plunged again, deep inside of him, as if I would pierce him clear to the heart. His muscles convulsed violently around me and I gasped. He would strangle me; I would stab him.


"Daroga!" Erik cried. I paid him no heed and thrust again, pulling his hips up and into me. I felt I wanted to crawl inside his skin. "Don't stop…" he trailed off, moaning with need, and began to meet my thrusts with backwards thrusts of his own. We moved together, joining fully, almost separating, again and again.

Why do you let it go so long between times, my love, my torment? Why must we only come together through these games? I would openly confess things, but you would not want to hear them. Why…

Why do you never call me by my name, even at times like this?

I sometimes wondered if he even remembered it; he only ever called me by my title. I had lost myself in him, become only the Persian. I had given up my country and my identity for his sake. Sometimes, when in the throes of passion, he would mutter a sound that might have been a name, but it was not one I recognized. I could not tell whether it was male or female; it might have been his own true name for all I knew.

But in this moment, the naming of things mattered not at all. We had become something other. We were one creature, a monstrous chimera; he had given some of his quality to me…

Sweat beaded on my chest and glistened on his back. I pulled him to me, upright. He sank back against me, gasping; my breathing was heavy and ragged. I reached down, at last circling his sex with one hand, beginning to stroke and squeeze. I felt him twitch and jump in my hand, straining for release.

He let out a groan as if a long siege of torture had at last ended, and reached down to brush my hand with one of his, a rare gesture of tenderness. I rested my cheek briefly against the back of his neck, and again we moved. And again.

My sex in his body. His sex in my hand. The waiting had been harder on him; he was more ready than I was. He gave a sob which seemed to catch in the back of his throat, and spent himself over my hand in great, hot spurts.

I felt the tension go out of him; I still drove into him even as his body relaxed until I reached my climax inside of him: hot, liquid, breathless.

We collapsed back onto the bed together, lying on our sides, still joined. I held him to me with one arm, running my free hand over his flat belly, smearing him with his own stickiness.

He sighed, closing his eyes. I finally drew out of him, gently, earning a sleepy sound of protest from the man whose body I'd just ravaged.

I looked over his shoulder; his eyes were closed. Erik had surprisingly long lashes within those deep sockets. You never saw them unless you were very close.

I lay curled against him, feeling the sweat dry and cool on his back. It was not until I heard his breathing settle and I knew he slept that I dared to whisper something in his ear…

I reached over carefully and pinched out the candle.

I have never smelt the decay, the death, which you claim to find on yourself, I thought. Though at times I have told you that I did. You have always smelt dry, sweet, and musky to me, like the rosewood casket in which my mother kept her jewels when I was a child.

You have more grace and light in yourself than you realize, but you continually turn your face to the darkness, not seeing it. For tonight, though, I would hold him and keep him, trying to impart some of my own light to him.

Although I had left my book forgotten on my chair, Rumi again came into my mind:

It's no good giving you my heart and soul, because you already have these. So – I've brought you a mirror. Look at yourself and remember me.

In the morning, I knew Erik would be gone. He'd steal away sometime before dawn, quiet as a cat. He would not speak of this nor of the times that had come before it, ever; would not appear to think of them - until the next time. Meetings of this nature were fewer and farther between, these days, and he was beginning to make noises about wanting a wife.

Someday, I knew, this would cease entirely, and I would lose him. For him, it was a way to pass the time and ease a hunger.

For me, it was something else.

Eventually, I too slept.

x x x