You see him almost nightly, a slender thing all fine fabrics and a pinched waist, and you watch him from behind your mask. You see the way he walks, the way he silently teases everyone around him even when he doesn't realise it. You watch his thin legs and his perfect hips and you think about grabbing them, about pinning him to the wall and feeling him struggle beneath your hands. Every time he smirks you want to strike him, you want to see his confidence shatter and his black eyes shine with fear. You want to kiss his lips—or bite them—and you want to hear him raise that level voice beneath you. You want to tear at his perfectly arranged hair and stomp his hat into the ground. And in the end it all comes reduces to one burning truth: you want him.

You follow him home one morning, home to his little flat in a section of town where his clothes don't fit in and no one else dares to swagger as he does. He doesn't see you—nobody sees you unless you want it—as you wait at his window, watching him pace back and forth, blocking the light from the candle each time he passes. You see him remove his hat and his cloak with such caution, laying them gently across the crooked little table; you hold your breath as his slender white fingers move to untie his cravat. The knot falls away smoothly and he slowly slides the red silk away from his neck. Even when he thinks himself alone he teases. A tiny groan rises in your throat as he nimbly plucks open the buttons of his chemise and reveals a white neck and a creamy shoulder. The sleeves are momentarily caught at his wrists as he removes the shirt and stands in profile, gaze distant, in only his trousers. Your hidden eyes roam across his flat stomach and the ribcage just visible beneath the soft skin of his torso; you cannot suppress another moan at the thought of your own rough fingers scraping along that surface. Your nails would dig in and you would claw at him, draw forth little spots of blood and smear them crimson across his ivory flesh.

But he has stopped undressing now. He is glaring at the door and going back to the table, snatching the chemise up and jamming his arms back into the sleeves. You watch with disappointment as the dark hairs on his forearms disappear again, as he jerks the fabric back up over his shoulder blades and storms across the room, unfastened shirt billowing behind him. When he answers the door his back, all broad shoulders and narrow waist, blocks your view. He puts out a hand to receive something; when it falls back to his side it holds a familiar yellow envelope. Jondrette.

And then he steps aside, revealing the Jondrette daughter, and you don't want her to enter. You don't want to see him empowered—he is always empowered, isn't he? always watching with satisfaction as someone squirms under his steady black gaze. You want to see him exposed, alone, stripped of all his finery and of his blade. You aren't here to watch him with a girl.

But then she tries to enter and he throws out an arm, blocking her path, and thrusts the letter back into her chapped hands. Her strange little face radiates disappointment as he closes the door and, scowling, stalks over to his mattress and throws himself down, out of your sight, still half-dressed.

He didn't lock the door.

You pass the Jondrette girl as you round the building. She doesn't see you. You would never want her to. She is a horrible creature, a hunched little thing that always seems to be retreating, bare feet scuffing the pavement though she tries to go unnoticed. She has none of his grandeur. You see that she is holding several of those yellow letters and imagine one might be intended for you. Useless. You would never let her find you. Even if she did, only Babet can read.

There is no porter. The door slides open silently beneath your touch. The floorboards don't creak as you approach the room at the back of the building. You pause on the threshold for a moment, but there is no sound within.

Everything is always silent around you, isn't it? Eyes never meet yours. It's as though you don't travel in shadow but bring the shadows along, wrap yourself in them, a being that pulls in reality and light but leaves the space around it undisturbed, lingering in every periphery but dissolving under a direct gaze.

The hinges of his door don't creak. He doesn't move as you approach him. You pinch out the flame of the candle; now you are free to do what you want.

You can see him in the dark. You peel off your gloves and place one bare hand over those lips, tracing the line of his perfect collarbone with the other. His eyes snap open in the dark and dart around, but still he does not see you. Understanding lights his face and he struggles.

You wanted him to struggle.

X

The next time you see him he is changed. You see that his shoulders are hunched now, are not thrown back with his old pride. His walk is different. He does not brag or demand attention. He toys uneasily with his gloves and chews his lower lip, throwing unhappy glances in your direction. You say nothing, but still you cannot take your eyes off your pathetic creation.

The Jondrette girl is there, but she, too, is not the same wretch you saw before. She is standing before you in defiance, her chin stuck out as she guards the old gate. You see in the boy's eyes that he wants to hurt her the way you wanted to hurt him. And once he does, whom will she hurt? Is it all one long chain, begun by someone long ago, someone before your father? Is it all a path of violence passed from one wretch to another, passed across families and time?

You do not rob the house that night, but you do not follow him home, either. You watch him retreat, head lowered and gaze on the ground, boots scuffing at the cobblestones, and you move on.