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What did you do!

Luca was not given time to answer. Master Boq’s slap caught him across the cheek and sent him reeling back into the wall. Before he could catch himself a closed fist spiked with rings smashed into his mouth. He fell to his knees, cupping a hand over his mouth to keep the blood from splashing on the floor. He knew, with the part of his mind not gibbering with terror, that if he ruined the tiles he’d be in even worse trouble. Though given the trouble he was already in, he wasn’t sure how it could get worse.

“You made him runaway – from – you!” Master Boq punctuated his words with hard kicks to Luca’s stomach. “How could you have displeased him enough to send him fleeing after only thirty – seconds – in – your – presence!

Luca doubled over, tasting bile and blood at once. He registered that this was the appropriate time to begin begging for mercy, but his teeth were chattering too hard to form a coherent sentence.

“Get him up,” Master Boq ordered Sark.

Sark grabbed Luca by the hair and yanked his head up. Tears sprang to his eyes as strands were ripped from his scalp by Sark’s ungentle fingers. Through the film of wetness, Master Boq looked like a giant man-shaped flan wobbling with indignation. Under other circumstances Luca would have had to swallow a laugh. Now it was all he could do to keep from vomiting.

“Describe to me,” said Master Boq with a sudden dreadful calm, “in exquisite detail, exactly what happened between you and his lordship.”

Luca licked his lip carefully, wincing at the bright flare of pain from the split. “I don’t – master, I swear, I don’t know, everything was – like it always is—he chased off the B– the centaur, and then he came over to me, and he, and we – kissed—” Luca shuddered a little, remembering with shame the hungry way he had met the lord’s mouth. Could that have been it? Had the lord been offended by his impropriety?

“Go on,” Master Boq prompted impatiently.

“The – the kiss.” Luca had to force the words. “I think – master, please forgive me, I – when he kissed me I—”

Master Boq narrowed his eyes. “You didn’t become…aroused?”

“No!” Luca said violently. “No, master, not that, I swear. But – when I responded, I – his mouth – he was so – it felt —”

Sark interrupted him with a harsh bark of laughter. “The little bitch liked it.”

Luca felt his face become suffused with heat. He bit his lip, forgetting the split, and then, gasping, purposefully bit down harder. Stupid whore. Stupid whore. Stupid whore…

Master Boq’s expression shifted from fury to mild disgust. “Is this true, boy?”

Luca couldn’t answer, couldn’t further disgrace himself by telling the truth and couldn’t bring himself to lie. He sank his teeth into his lip until whiteness prickled at the edges of his vision and tried very hard to disappear.

“Master, I was watching from offstage, and I promise you, I saw no sign whatsoever that the boy’s response to Melchior was at all inappropriate,” Bogoas put in smoothly.

“Hm.” Master Boq narrowed his eyes further, until they all but disappeared into his face. “Well, something must have set the lord off.”

“If I may be so bold, master,” Bagoas interjected, “when I was preparing his lordship, I could not help but notice that he was very drunk.”

“A freeman drunk on Bacchanal?” sneered Master Boq. “Great gods, I can hardly contain my shock.”

Bagoas inclined his head. “As you say, master. However, if it pleases you, I cannot but recall that during my…preparations…his lordship was, how shall I say, experiencing that particular insufficiency associated with excessive enjoyment of the fruits of the vine?”

Master Boq furrowed his brow. “He could not…rouse himself to the occasion?”

“I am afraid not, master.”

“Huh.” Master Boq jerked his chins at Luca. “Did you notice his lordship having difficulties in that area, boy?”

Behind Master Boq, Bagoas widened his eyes meaningfully at Luca. Luca took his cue and nodded quickly.

“In which case the boy can hardly be blamed,” Bagoas concluded.

“You overstep yourself, Bagoas,” said Master Boq coldly. “In my experience a pretty slave with an artful mouth and willing arse can easily overcome the effects of hard liquor.”

Luca gasped at the unfairness of it. How many times had Master Boq been so fuddled he’d fallen asleep with Luca still trying desperately to stir his limp prick?

“Indeed,” Master Boq went on, clearly building up a head of steam, “I can only blame the boy’s failure to secure the lord as a patron upon his own inadequacy.” He rounded on Luca, jowls quivering. Luca flinched instinctively. “And this, after all I have done for you!” He pressed a hand to his bosom in a gesture of injured benevolence. “After the expense! My generosity clearly overcame my reason. I ought to march you down to the docks and sell you to the first brothel that offers for you.”

Luca went cold. No. Not that. Not again. Not left on the floor in his own little hell with men already crowding around to take turns with him…

A sob caught in his throat, choking him.

“But no,” Master Boq continued, lowering his voice to a purr, “too easy a fate for you by far. Why lose so much of my investment when the Councilor grows impatient for your purchase? My contacts in the trade tell me that he and that slave of his have rather…particular tastes which I am, of course, too careful of my stock to cater to. But perhaps you’ve grown bored of the Harlequin. I daresay you’d rather entertain his lordship. They’ll use that lovely body of yours quite unspeakably, I’m afraid. Such a pity. If only you’d done as I asked…”

Luca realized, in a distant way, that he was hyperventilating. His breath was coming in short alarmed hiccups and the sound was so ridiculous, so comical, that he laughed, only it came out as a stuttering hiccup.

“Stop that at once,” Master Boq ordered irritably. “Control yourself, boy.”

Luca pressed his hand over his mouth, swallowing desperately. “Please,” he managed to croak out between his fingers. “Please. I’m sorry. Master. Please. Please. Don’t. Let me stay. I’ll do anything. Please. Please…”

Master Boq pursed his rouged lips, making a show of considering. Luca folded at the waist and pressed his forehead against the floor. He wasn’t thinking about the tiles anymore, only of the Beast and the things he would snarl while fucking into him with a frothing fever that was not quite human.

“Please,” he whispered again.

Master Boq sighed, one of his long wounded sighs that pitied and accused in equal measure. “I suppose that your worth to the House outweighs your transgression against me. Just.”

For a moment, Luca was sure that the relief had stopped his heart. He brushed the unbloodied corner of his mouth against his master’s slipper. “Thank you, sir. I hope – that is, I promise – to earn your mercy.”

“Oh, you will.” Master Boq nudged Luca’s chin with the toe of his slipper, forcing his gaze up. “You’ll have to be beaten, of course. And if you ever lose the House a patron again, I will sell you back to the fuckhouse I found you in. After giving the Councilor and his slave three days with you in a locked room. Do you understand, boy?”

Luca nodded fervently, gratefully. “Yes, master. Thank you, sir.”

Master Boq dismissed him with a disgusted wave of his hand and turned to Sark. “The cane, I think. And leave him tied to the horse for the night. I want to give him time to think about what he’s cost me.”

Sark looked thoughtfully down at Luca through a haze of cigarette smoke. “He’s dancing Ganymene again tomorrow,” he remarked.

“Oh. Yes.” Master Boq furrowed his brow. “Well, can’t you just use Tris?”

Bagoas shook his head. “Tris is hardly an adequate replacement, master. His singing voice is without equal, but his dancing…” He trailed off tactfully.

“Do we not have a brothel full of beautiful and highly trained boys?” Master Boq shouted. “Get one of them to do it!”

“The patrons bought tickets to see this one,” Sark said, jerking a thumb at Luca. “‘The Golden Bird Dances Ganymene.’ People’ll notice if it’s not him. There might be folks asking for their money back.”

The idea of refunds made Master Boq turn a delicate shade of mauve. He kicked at Luca in frustration and would have missed had Luca not moved conscientiously to offer his thigh for the blow.

“Fine. Put him out in the public room, then. Apprentice page’s rate. He can stop when he’s earned enough to recoup his lordship’s ticket price for this evening’s performance.”

The passageway to the public room ran along the outer wall of the Harlequin. As Bagoas hustled Luca down the narrow corridor, hissing low and furiously in his ear, Luca imagined he could hear the faint pop pop of fireworks in the far-away sky.

“You’ll never make first whore now. How could you have ruined your chances so utterly? I sent his lordship out to you stiff and aching. You had only to bring him to pleasure. How was that too difficult for you?” Bagoas squeezed Luca’s arm bruising-hard to punctuate his point. “And what did he say to you? I saw his mouth move.”

Luca shook his head, feeling the dried gilt on the back of his neck crack and flake. He was suddenly, immensely tired. “Just – just that I was beautiful,” he whispered, “and that he wanted to kiss me.”

Bagoas tched in frustration. He opened his mouth to say something else, but by then they had reached the arched entrance of the public room.

The public room was a great stone chamber like the mouth of a tomb. Candlelight flickered over bodies lounging and entwined, and in the undulating dimness the pornographic friezes that scrawled the walls almost seemed to move. The patrons here were merchants and tradespeople with slick-parted hair rumpled and too-careful elocution slurring into cant. They’d no doubt saved every brazen bit for Bacchanal with a Harlequin whore and cozened the rest from the till.

“A moment, sirs!” Bagoas announced, clapping his elegant hands together to command attention. “I have my master’s leave to offer this whore—” he pushed Luca forward— “the Golden Bird, jewel of Paradiso, for one night only at a fraction of his standard price. The bargain of the century, good my lords! An exquisite barbarian, as beautiful as the sun rising over the glacial mountains of his homeland. You’ll not find a more willing slut outside of the King’s own bed. Now, which of you esteemed gentlemen are interested in buying the most celebrated arse in Lyonesse?”

Laughter then, and raucous shouting from the patrons. Luca’s arm was grabbed by a man, thick-bearded and thicker-waisted with a butcher’s nicked palms. Luca could feel the smooth scars on his skin when the man groped between his legs. There was more laughter, jeering and aroused, but Luca registered it only distantly. He had gone as cold and smooth as glass. The body that the butcher pawed at was a thin, transparent thing. They couldn’t see him, the men whose eyes raked greedy over his body. They could only see through. Only through.

The butcher dragged him stumbling down the hallway, shadows swallowing the edges of guttering candlelight, shoved aside a gaudy curtain across one of the narrow antechambers not already occupied by a grunting patron and softly gasping whore. He shoved Luca inside with as little care as he’d given the curtains. A courtesy, this; he could have fucked Luca in the public room, a hundred leering gazes passing through him. Luca reminded himself to be grateful.

Come here, little bird. Show me your gratitude.

The butcher pushed him up against the wall, grabbing handfuls of arseflesh. A hocking spat, and wetness dribbled across Luca’s sore hole. He remembered to be grateful for that too before the man pushed in.

Like light, he thought. Light passing through a pane of glass.

Once the butcher had finished Luca was steered back to the public room, thighs glistening with gold and seed. The next man had a sharp moustache and sharper teeth that teased the bloody indents the Beast had left on Luca’s shoulder. He murmured polite obscenities in Luca’s ear and drove in thin fingers alongside his thin cock. His semen was thick and copious and Luca clenched to hold it inside, telling himself to be grateful, grateful.

Even with cum slicking the passage, Luca couldn’t help crying out when the next man thrust into him with a cock as thick and unyielding as a cudgel. It felt like a deep blueblack bruise was being pinched and twisted, and the hurt of it lanced all the way to his teeth. The man with the cudgel-cock took his whimpers as encouragement and battered into him with brutal enthusiasm. He left Luca bent over the stained cot, collapsed in tremors of agony and exhaustion. Luca heard him remark to the man waiting outside that the bitch was wet as a woman down there and almost laughed, stupidly, hysterically, but bit into his lip instead until that one sharp pain eclipsed all the rest.

He lost count after that. There were no more trips to the public room; the men lined up outside the antechamber. After a while they didn’t even bother to pull the curtain closed. Luca tried to stay whole and cold and transparent but he could feel himself cracking as another and another and another stiff prick stabbed into him. It couldn’t hurt this much, light through glass, it couldn’t, couldn’t. In his mind the Saxam ambassador recoiled from him, disgusted, red hair falling into eyes the color of a storm.

Bagoas came in after some interminable period of time. He probed at Luca’s raw-gaping anus with clinical detachment, paying no heed to the small bitten-off noises that Luca muffled against the cot.

“Mouth only from now on, I think,” he said, voice almost, horribly, satisfied.

Luca was turned on his back. A man straddled his face, rubbing cock and balls and arse across still-bleeding lips. The stink of him, gods. Luca had gotten too used to nobles with their scented baths and cloying perfumes. He gagged, and gagged again as the man fed cock down his throat until his nose was crushed against pubic hair and tears were streaming down his cheeks. He tried desperately to breathe through his nose, licking and swallowing as best he could to make the man come faster. The cot dipped; someone grabbed his hand and closed it around their erection. It was already sticky, which either meant that the man had jerked off watching him get fucked or had fucked him himself. Luca didn’t want to know which. He moved his hand up and down, praying that this would end.

The man on his face was grinding down, bollocks tightening. He hissed a stream of expletives as he came, “fuck yes take it all little shit so good”, and Luca choked and swallowed and choked until the foul heaving weight was lifted off of him and he could breathe again.

He was still sucking down lungfuls of air when fingers twisted in his hair and yanked him to the floor. He landed on his knees in front of a man whose penis was already out of his trousers, red and almost vertical. Luca closed his eyes and opened his mouth. The man shoved in.

There were more after, a seemingly endless parade of men with their breeches unlaced and cocks in hand. Luca thought that it went faster this time, the fucking; or maybe it was just that he grayed out in his mind and the hours slipped away from underneath him. After some period that could have been a minute or a year, the room was suddenly, inexplicably empty and a blurred figure was bending over him. A bear, Luca thought, a bear with an ember between its teeth.

He shook his head and the figure slid into focus. No, not a bear. Sark, smoking a cig and looking down at him with that odd sideways expression that he could never decipher.

“Have I earned enough?” Luca managed to croak. He could barely hear himself. “Is it – over?”

Sark shrugged, exhaling a cloud of smoke into Luca’s face. “It would take a month to earn back the ticket price silver by silver. You’re done, though.”

He hooked a paw – Hand, Luca corrected himself – under his arm and hauled him to his feet. His knees buckled and he fell forward. Sark caught him like a bundle of clothes.

“Can you walk?”

Luca nodded, face buried in Sark’s broad chest. His jerkin was rough and warm and Luca had to fight the urge to slip into sleep. Sark clasped his arm around Luca’s waist and steered him forward.

Fortunately the dormitory was also in the old part of the Harlequin, accessible by a winding stone staircase that Sark had to half-carry Luca down. It was early still for Bacchanal, not yet dawn, and the halls that usually hummed with activity were almost eerily silent. Luca was glad. He didn’t want to be seen like this, hanging from Sark like a blind child with his face and arse a mess of paint and semen. Didn’t want to have to explain, to boys bright-eyed with interest, what he’d done to deserve it.

When they reached the bath, Asher was waiting. He was still made up for the night and scowling under thick layers of maquillage. Luca thought distractedly that he couldn’t let Asher do his own makeup again; his lipstick was smudged down his chin and the kohl around his eyes looked as though it had been applied during an earthquake.

“You look like hell,” was Asher’s greeting.

“Your eyeliner is crooked,” Luca returned, voice a rasp. “Shouldn’t you be working?”

Asher grinned. “Bagoas told me to see to you. Guess that means I’ve got the rest of the night off.”

“You’ll go right back upstairs once your pedant’s sorted out,” Sark barked around his cigarette.

Asher tucked in his chin and muttered, “Yes, sir.”

Sark pulled his arm away from Luca’s waist. Luca stumbled a little, but managed to stay upright. “Get yourself cleaned up,” Sark ordered him. “I’ll be back in an hour.” With that he turned and stalked out of the bath.

Luca let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and sank ungracefully to his knees at the edge of the bath. So Sark would be taking his trade tonight after all, then. Gods, he wanted to sleep so badly…

“He’s not to bring you back out there, is he?” Asher asked, trying to sound indifferent.

Luca shook his head. “He’s got a book for me.”

“Oh,” said Asher, and then, “oh. But he can’t think – he can’t be expecting to fuck you, can he? Not after—” He glanced at Luca’s arse, then looked quickly away. “I mean, you’re – you’re all – messed up.”

Luca shrugged. Even that movement hurt. “It’s only one more,” he said, and before Asher could respond he slid forward into the stale, frigid water until it closed over his head.

When he opened his eyes the world was all shades of green. He ached everywhere, split lip and arse most specific and persistently, but with a background of dull, sick throbbing from his ribs and stomach as well. Nothing felt broken, thank the Lady, but he’d be bruised as old fruit come morning.

He would have gladly sunk to the bottom of the bath like a stone and stayed there, but his burning lungs forced him up. Asher, crouching at the edge of the pool, scuttled back to avoid getting splashed.

“Watch it, Bagoas’ll let me have it if I ruin this stupid costume.” Asher twitched his trailing gauze sash out of the way irritably. “Here.”

He tossed Luca a scented bar of soap. Luca, nerves frayed ragged, flinched away and had to fish the soap out of the water. He lathered himself into a froth, shedding scales of paint into the water, and scrubbed with a stiff-bristled brush until his skin was bright pink and the bathwater was swampy with flaked paint and maquillage. After he couldn’t put it off any longer, Luca closed his eyes, summoned his courage, and reached down to scour the crack of his arse.

Ah, Lady, it hurt. How it hurt. Like broken glass. Luca buried long moaning screams into his arm and scrubbed, scrubbed until his knees buckled and all he saw was white.

When he climbed clumsily out of the bath, still wracked with residual shivers of pain, Asher was waiting with a towel. Luca dried himself gingerly, hissing at the pressure on his sore ribs and stomach. With shaking fingers, he tried to tangle out the wet braids that hung around his face.

“Don’t.” Asher caught his hand. “I can do that.”

Luca nodded jerkily. “Thank you,” he whispered.

“Can you walk?”

The same question Sark had asked. Luca knew better than to say yes this time. Asher pushed his shoulder under Luca’s arm, grabbed his waist and then, when Luca cried out, moved his hand lower. They were almost the same height, though Asher was years younger, and with Asher stooping and Luca half on tip-toe they lurched down the corridor, giggling weakly at how odd they must look.

Luca’s room—or, more accurately, the third whore’s room—was a small, narrow chamber next to the main dormitory. It had been a beer cellar when the Harlequin was a wealthy merchant’s palazzo, and the packed earth floor still smelled like hops. There was a wooden cot in the corner – a luxury after years of sharing straw pallets with snoring bedmates – and a wash-stand beside; against the opposite wall stood a rough-hewn vanity with a mirror that was only a little cracked, and a chair scavenged from the old parlor.

Asher helped him into his robe and Luca sat awkwardly, pulling his leg under him so not to put pressure on his bottom. He glanced at the mirror and grimaced. His reflection resembled a drowned dowager’s, swathed in faded silk with long curls hanging wetly about a damp, hollow-eyed face. He looked away quickly.

Asher was as inept at taking braids out as putting them in. Still, his fingers working clumsily through Luca’s hair felt soothing, gentle after the rough hands of the men. Luca drifted into a half-sleep as he worked, the chorus of a thousand great and little pains fading to a manageable white noise.

“Saw you hit the Beast,” Asher said suddenly.

Luca startled awake. In the mirror, Asher was frowning determinedly at the braid he was undoing.

“What’d he say to you?” he asked, without looking up.

Luca shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

Asher didn’t say anything for a moment. Then, “Was it about me?”

Luca opened his mouth. Closed it.

“He said – when he was – you know. Rubbing on me. He started saying—” Asher broke off, winding the braid around his hand like a tourniquet. “He said he was going to do – things to me. Fuck me, but worse – choke me, and – cut me…” He shook his head, spasmodically, as though trying to shake something loose. “He said he’d make you watch.”

Luca let out a long stuttering breath. For the second time that night he felt as though he might vomit. He turned in the chair, ignoring the protest from his ribs. Asher was pale with the effort to hide his panic. His hand was clenched in Luca’s hair so tightly that his knuckles were going white.

Luca forced his voice calm. “Asher. Listen to me. He can’t do that. Master Boq won’t let him. I won’t let him. I’ll kill him, do you understand me? I swear to you, if he – if he does – anything like that – he’s dead.”

Asher made a small, choked noise. Luca opened his arms and Asher barreled into him, almost knocking him off the chair. He buried his face in Luca’s shoulder and scrabbled at his back, not crying, never that, but grinding his teeth so hard that Luca could feel the vibration against his chest.

“I’ll keep you safe,” Luca whispered into his hair. “Promise.”

“How sweet.”

Luca dropped his arms and Asher sprang away as though he’d touched something scalding. Behind him, Luca saw Sark leaning against the doorframe, rolling a cigarette between thumb and forefinger.

“If you’re quite finished…” he drawled.

Asher glanced at Luca, who nodded slightly. Asher scowled, scuffing his heel and working his mouth around as though struggling to keep it shut.

“Get back to work, Asher,” Luca said softly.

Asher’s scowl deepened. He went reluctantly, glaring at Sark through his hair as he sidled around him. He cast Luca one last, long look before stomping off down the corridor.

Luca stood, letting his robe fall open. Sark watched, expression unchanging, as Luca skimmed his fingertips lightly over his chest. He stifled a gasp as he touched his nipples, already purpling from the Beast’s rough treatment earlier. Sark tucked his unsmoked cig behind his ear. Luca’s cue. He walked over to the man, trying not to limp, trying harder not to think about how much getting fucked again would hurt.

Sark was gentle, like he always was at first. He ran his fingers through Luca’s wet hair, cupped his head, then moved down to slip the robe from his shoulders. The air was chilly, and Luca, still damp, felt his skin prickle into goosebumps. He shivered.

“Are you cold, love?” Sark asked, stroking Luca’s back.

He only ever calls me love when we’re alone, Luca thought.

“No, sir,” he said, like he was supposed to. “Not – not with you here to warm me.”

Sark smiled, one of those rare smiles that wasn’t cruel or sarcastic or mocking. “You say the prettiest things,” he murmured, sliding his hand down to caress the swell of Luca’s arse.

Luca couldn’t help it. He flinched.

Immediately he knew he’d done the wrong thing. Sark pulled away, face contorted with fury.

“Can you not even stand to be touched by me?” he said, with awful, dangerous calm.

“No! Sir – please—”

The hand that had cradled Luca’s head moved down to grip the back of his neck so hard Luca was sure his spine would snap. Sark dragged him stumbling across the room and threw him down onto the bed.

Luca landed on his back. Instinctively, he spread his legs, drawing his knees up to his chest and pulling apart his buttocks to expose his aching hole.

There was a long moment. Sark loomed over him, breathing shallowly, jaw clenched. Luca began to tremble with the strain of holding himself so very, very still.

Suddenly Sark moved. Quick as a striking snake, he seized Luca’s legs—shoved them, not further apart, but together—and unlaced his breeches, eyes never leaving Luca’s face. He spat into his palm, slicked his cock, and pushed—Luca stopped breathing—pushed—between his thighs.

Luca thought, for a moment, that he’d missed, but no, how could he miss, with such a gaping target to aim for—and then Sark began to thrust, and he understood. Quickly, he pushed his hand down, made a tight O with his fingers. Sark fucked him like that, through his thighs and into his hand, looking down at him with an expression that Luca could not name.

He finished quickly and silently, collapsing onto his elbows before coming in two short bursts. Luca dropped his thighs open so that Sark could lie between them, panting hotly against his chest as his spent cock slicked across Luca’s stomach.

Luca brought his palm to his mouth and, as Sark watched, licked the man’s seed from between his fingers. A violent shudder passed through Sark like a current. He crushed his mouth to Luca’s, muffling his yelp of pain as the split on his lip was reopened. Sark pulled away. He licked the corner of Luca’s mouth almost apologetically.

They stayed like that for a moment, Sark’s lips pressed to Luca’s cheek and Luca trying to stay silent as the weight of the body on top of him compressed his aching ribs. Finally Sark moved, rolling off of Luca and onto his feet. He laced his breeches and refastened the collar of his jerkin, businesslike.

“He’ll probably have me beat you after the show tomorrow,” Sark said, not looking at Luca.

“I know.”

Sark nodded, compressing his lips into a thin line. He looked as though he were struggling to say something, or not to. Instead he reached into his jerkin and withdrew the book.

“I suppose you’ll be wanting your payment.” His voice was edged with its usual singsong scorn.

Luca sat up too quickly—his ribs punished him with an especially vicious throb—and reached out, not quite daring to grab the book although he dearly wanted to. Sark ignored his outstretched hand, instead flipping the book open and fanning through its pages.

“What is it you see in these old things anyway?” he asked, affecting indifference. “Do you rub your little prick to them or something?”

Luca dropped his gaze. “No, sir.”

“Good.” Sark tossed the book carelessly onto the floor, and laughed as Luca scrambled to pick it up. “Eager, aren’t you? Yes, gobble it down, love. All the sooner you’ll be gobbling down my cock.” He grinned with his teeth. “Looking forward to that, aren’t you?”

Luca hugged the book to his chest. “Yes, sir,” he said. “I love to suck your cock.”

Sark laughed again, high and false and cruel. “Oh, love,” he said, voice hard, “you do say such pretty things.”

Luca waited until he could no longer hear Sark’s heavy footsteps echoing down the hall. Then, slowly, carefully, he brought the book up to his nose and inhaled the odor of dust and ink and parchment. He caressed the cover, tracing the ornate gilt letters with his fingertip, and then, slowly, slowly, opened to the first page.

By the thin wedge of light from the hallway, Luca began to read.

A/N: This would have been posted an hour ago, but LiveJournal decided that it would be fun to get rid of all my formatting. I had to go through adding line breaks after every paragraph so that I didn't end up with the dreaded wall of text. Sigh.
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