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[personal profile] pierrot_dreams
The Grand Reunion Chapter that I've written and rewritten, oh, about a hundred billion times. Hope you enjoy. *bites nails*


 

CHAPTER 7

 

 


 

 

*

 

 


In the dream Luca flies like a bird over the mountains. Below there is a figure, running. He is naked. His face is red and his hands and feet are blue. There are men chasing him. The men have dogs. Luca can hear them baying in the not-far distance. He thinks of red muzzles, of red on the white snow. The running man can hear them as well. His legs fail him. He falls. Luca wheels closer, thinking he can help the man, help him escape from the dogs. The man looks up. His face is red with blood. He is Alek. He is Luca’s brother. Alek sees Luca and he screams.

 

*

 

 


Luca awoke to someone shaking him. For a moment upon opening his eyes all he could see was the blinding whiteness of snow. Then Bagoas loomed over him, face pinched with panic.

“Wake up!” he hissed, clutching at Luca’s already-bruised arm. “The lord is back. He wants to see you.”

“The lord?” said Luca groggily. “What—”

Melchior!

Luca was on his feet before he had time to think. Ah, Lady, he’d forgotten the drubbing his body had taken last night. He was obliged to clutch at the wall for support. Fuck, even his teeth hurt. He felt like one great bruise.

“Damned boy!” said Bagoas, near-hysterical. “Blessings upon us, can you not even stand?

“He can,” came Sark’s voice from the corner. He was still in his nightshirt, customary cig clamped between his teeth, and despite his even tone his eyes were red and crumpled with temper.

Luca straightened immediately, sucking in his breath at the lancing ache in his side. “I’m fine, I’m ready—how long has the lord been waiting?”

“Too long.” Bagoas ran a critical eye over Luca, tching disapprovingly at his swollen lip, the dark circles beneath his eyes. “And he’ll be waiting longer still. We can’t let him see you looking like this.”

“Be enough to drive him to cunt,” Sark put in helpfully from around his cig.


The next twenty minutes were a blur of activity. Luca was directed to sit, stand, and bend over while Bagoas and an extremely irritated Asher applied careful maquillage to his bruises, painted his eyes and lips, wove his hair into a crown of braids, and prepared his horribly sore anus for the lord’s ministrations. Luca muffled gasping moans into his sleeve as the consolateur breached him, vision going vague around the edges. After maneuvering his still-limp body into a transparent robe, Bagoas slipped a hinged ring onto Luca’s finger. Luca knew without having to ask that it contained smelling salts. If the lord fucked him to the point of fainting, he was to discreetly open the ring. It wouldn’t do for him pass out under a patron.

All the while, Bagoas was speaking, his voice fading in and out for Luca in shrill, excited swoops. “...redemption is at hand...can still become first whore if...not to be importunate, but listen carefully to what he...Master most interested...prove yourself...listening? Luca, are you listening at all?”

Luca snapped back to the present. “I’ll redeem myself if I please the lord and tell the master everything he says,” he parroted obediently.

“Clever boy.” Bagoas adjusted a bangle to hide the finger-marks on Luca’s upper arm. “Please do try not to give his lordship the impression that you are completely ignoring him. I doubt he will find it charming.”

“Yes, Bagoas.”

“Hm.” Bagoas cast a critical eye over Luca’s body and sighed. “It will have to do.” He turned to Sark, who was waiting in the doorway. “Tell the master that the Golden Bird is ready.”

Sark made a mocking bow. “And where should I direct His Nibs?”

Bagoas pursed his lips consideringly, then replied, “High Parlor.”

Luca’s eyes widened. High Parlor -- that was where Bridda had recieved patrons. Luca had only been there once, when he was a page; Carr had been first whore then. A patron had blacked out drunk on the floor and pissed himself. Luca had been sent to clean. And now--he suppressed a laugh. Well, hopefully he wouldn’t be mopping up after another drunk lord today.


High Parlor was at the top of the House, up a winding staircase with many low, broad stairs. Luca took them three at a time. The stairs led to a landing arrayed as a waiting room, with a couch and fat tuffett beside a table upon which sat a tray of assorted sweetmeats and a crystal bottle of some dark liquer. A silk ribbon hung beside the Parlor door; when pulled a bell within would ring, letting Luca know when he had a patron. Inside there would be an identical device which he would use to let the patron know that he was ready.

Luca pulled the ribbon and listened for the muffled chime. Then, slowly, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.

His first impression was one of overwhelming blue. The walls were upholstered with blue velvet panels, the same deep marine of the furniture and bedcoverings -- Bridda’s color, Luca remembered. The room had been red in Carr’s day. Everything would no doubt be changed out for gold now.

Luca shut the door carefully behind him and walked slowly around the room. High Parlor was even larger than he remembered, almost as spacious as Master Boq’s parlor, and perfectly round. Painted freizes wheeled on the high domed ceiling, cherubs gamboling through spun-sugar clouds in pink and white. Whichever way Luca turned he caught glimpses of himself in many mirrors, set like eyes amidst the gauzy drapes. It was unsettling. He raised a hand self-consciously to his face -- how pale he was! Did he look old? -- then frowned, seeing that his reflection did not carry over to one pane of glass half-hidden beneath a panel. Odd. When he went to examine closer he found that he had lost sight of the pane; he had to back up, turning his head, before he caught it again. He walked towards it, keeping it in the corner of his eye. When he reached the wall he raised his hand, fingers finding smooth glass beneath the seam of the panel. He pulled a little and the panel gave way to reveal --

A window. Luca shut his eyes tight and opened them again. It was still there. There was a narrow window in the wall, a hand’s span across and as high as Luca was tall. The glass was warped and spiderwebbed, obscured by streaks of filth and creeping ivy, but when Luca pressed his face against it he could see the sky.

Five years. It had been five years since he had seen the sky.

Luca would have stayed there for hours, days even, nose to the glass as he took great gulps of the sweet cold air that came through the cracks, but the chime of the bell jolted him from his trance. He jumped, guiltily. Quickly he pulled the panel back over the window and folded the drapes to cover it completely. Then he ran to the bed and arranged himself, kneeling with his robe open just enough to let his nipples crest over the neck. He checked his reflection in the nearest mirror and grimaced. He did look old. Tired and old. Never mind. Perhaps the lord would still be too drunk to notice.

Luca pulled the ribbon beside the bed and heard the answering chime outside. Then the door opened and the lord stepped inside.

He was wearing the same clothes from last night. They were crumpled and stank faintly. He was sallow with hangover, hair limp, the ruins of a lord’s knot tangled above his ear. Last night he had been almost handsome; now he was nearly ugly. Luca could still feel the lord’s mouth, his tongue, the weight of his hands. He clenched his knees together and refused to acknowledge the rush of heat to his chest.

Instead  he licked his lips and tried to give his schooled smile. When he spoke, it was hardly above a whisper. “Welcome to the Harlequin, my lord. How may this slave serve your pleasure?”

The lord ran a hand through his hair and barked a laugh that sounded half-mad.
“It is you, isn’t it?” His voice was rough, wondering. “I didn’t think I could be wrong. Not about you.”

Luca felt a twinge of unease. Was this some sort of roleplay he didn’t understand?

“I can be whoever my lord wishes me to be,” Luca said carefully. “If my lord cares to inform me of his preferences, I can -- “

The lord moved his hand in a quick sharp gesture. “Don’t,” he said abruptly. “Don’t talk like that. Please.”

Unease was quickly becoming outright panic. Whatever Luca had done it had been wrong. He slipped to the floor and prostrated himself, hoping this would placate the lord.

It didn’t. If anything, it made him more agitated. He gave a great groan of distress and began to pace, filthy boots moving back and forth in Luca’s limited field of vision. Finally he stopped.

“Please,” he said, “look at me.”

Obediently, Luca rose to kneel.

Look at me,” the lord repeated. He dropped down to kneel in front of Luca. Before Luca had time to register how inappropriate this was – a prince of the blood on the same level as a slave, as though they were equals – the lord grasped his chin and tilted it up. Unwillingly, expecting to be hit any moment for his impudence, Luca raised his eyes.

The lord was staring at him with such searching intensity that Luca almost dropped his gaze again. “Do you not know me?” he said.

“I would know my lord however he wishes himself to be known,” Luca stammered.

The lord shook his head angrily. “No, don’t answer me like that. Do you know me?”

“My lord was Melchior,” Luca said helplessly.

The lord gave a wordless howl of despair and reeled away, clutching his head in his hands. Luca was too afraid to move. He wrapped his arms around himself and cowered, terrified that he was going to be attacked any second by this madman.

There was a long silence during which the lord rubbed his temples and Luca tried to shrink into as small a target as physically possible. When the lord looked up, his face was tight with agony. He came towards Luca half-crouched, as though approaching a cornered animal.

“Listen,” he said, voice cracking and uneven. “Listen to me. Please.” He took a breath. “You knew a boy once, a long time ago. He -- “ Laughter, shuddering close to tears. “He loved you.  Do you remember?”

Luca opened his mouth. Closed it again. Did he speak? He couldn’t know.

“Luca.” The lord was almost crying. “Luca, I’m so sorry.”

The world went slow. For a blink of time that stretched into endlessness Luca was back at the Laughing Rooster. He could see the dim outline of a door from where the men had him down, from where he was being hurt, and he could see the door, and he could see the door, and Robbie was going to come through the door, and the men would stop, and Robbie would come, and he would take Luca away, away from the men, and Robbie was coming, he was, he was --

And then Luca was on the floor of another brothel years later, and Robbie had come, and Robbie was here, and all Luca could think to say was, “Your nose used to be crooked.”

Robbie was silent for a moment. Then his face split into the widest, truest smile Luca had ever seen, and he laughed a great, deep laugh that seemed to echo from the very fathoms of him. Luca tried to laugh, too, but it went wrong somewhere and came out as a sob. Then he was doubled over, sobbing and sobbing and sobbing.

Robbie pulled him into his arms, murmuring “Sh, sh.” Luca tried to speak, but he could only say “Please”. He sobbed “please” after “please” into Robbie’s chest, ashamed, distantly, at the blubbering mess he must seem. Robbie held him, made soothing noises and stroked his hair. His hands were so gentle. The way he held Luca, as though he might break. Finally the sobs subsided, leaving Luca feeling weak and sticky and ashamed.

“I ruined your shirt,” he said stupidly.

Robbie smiled again, making Luca feel weaker and stickier and more ashamed than ever. “I have others.”

Luca nodded, bit his lip. “Are you really a lord?”

“Yes, for my sins.” Robbie fingered Luca’s braid. “Your hair -- you’ve grown it long.”

“Your nose,” Luca reminded him.

Robbie laughed and pulled a face that reminded Luca so achingly of five years ago he nearly began to cry again. “My grandfather had it fixed. Dreadfully boring, isn’t it? No character whatsoever. And I used to have such a noble profile.”

Luca giggled. “You still do.”

“Rather literally now, I’m afraid,” Robbie said ruefully. He touched Luca’s cheek with his fingertips, light as a kiss. “I don’t know where to begin.”

“You didn’t come.” It burst out of Luca like something alive. “I thought -- I was so sure you’d come.”

He regretted it as soon as he’d said it. Robbie’s eyes clouded over; his hand fell from Luca’s hair. Luca panicked. He’d made Robbie angry. Robbie was going to leave again. In his mind’s eye the empty doorway loomed wide and dark.

“Please. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please don’t go. Please. Please.”

Luca was babbling. He knew he was babbling but he couldn’t stop himself. Nor could he stop himself from taking Robbie’s hand and pressing it urgently to his mouth, his chest, lower, desperate, offering himself. Robbie wrenched away and Luca squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the blow to fall. Hoping it would, because maybe if Robbie beat him he could forgive him after.

But the blow never came. Instead Luca felt Robbie’s hand on his hair again. Luca opened his eyes. Robbie was looking at him, and Robbie was crying.

“I promised that I’d find you,” Robbie said softly. “Remember? I swore that no matter where he took you, I’d come after you.” He looked away, jaw clenched. “But I didn’t. Did I? I never thought -- how you must have waited. Waited for me. And I never came.”

“But you did,” Luca insisted. “You’re here now.”

“Almost six years too late.” He drew a ragged breath. “Luca, I thought you were dead.”

What?

“After Lord Frederick came back,” Robbie said. “He said he’d killed you himself. Told me he’d strangled you and thrown your body in the river.”

Luca shook his head. “No. He -- he tried, I think -- he put his hands around my throat, but I -- begged -- ” He broke off, words sticking in his throat. Gods, how he’d begged. Blubbering, hysterical, half-incoherent, snivelling please and master and I love you. That had always been what Master Frederick wanted to hear, what he asked for when he was thrusting into Luca. Say that you love me, doll. As if saying it could make it true.

“Where did he take you?”

“Paradiso. “ Luca looked down. “There was a man there -- I don’t know how Master Frederick knew him. He was -- he -- he did -- things --“ Luca shook his head again, spasmodically, as though trying to shake something lose. “Master Frederick said he’d come back for me. After I’d learned how lucky I was, he said. For his mercy. But he never came back.”

“There was a fever,” Robbie said. “It killed most of the household. He went first.”

“Oh.” Luca stared at his hands. “I thought he’d forgotten about me. I thought you -- “

“I hadn’t,” Robbie said hoarsely. “I couldn’t. You were dead. I thought it was my fault.” He laughed, harsh and without humor. “I tried to hang myself, you know. A rather pathetic suicide attempt, all things considered. I hadn’t even tied the noose right. I ended up falling off the beam and broke my wrist. Not exactly the romantic end I had in mind.”

“Oh,” Luca said again in a small voice. “I’m glad. Not that you tried to kill yourself,” he hastened to add. “Glad it didn’t work.”

The corners of Robbie’s mouth quirked. “So am I, most days.”

Luca hesitated. “Your wife,” he said carefully. “She must be glad as well.”

Robbie reeled back. “Wife?” he sputtered. “What the devil are you talking about? I’d sooner marry a goat.”

“But -- how else -- “

“Ah, I see. I’m neglecting vital details of my rise to the aristocracy.”

Robbie sighed, raking his fingers through his hair. Luca got the distinct sense that he would rather not talk about it at all.

“Well,” Robbie began, “you remember I told you that my mother was always going on about how my father was someone important? It turns out she was telling the truth for once in her silly little life. Dear Papa was the heir to the House of d’Argent. After Lord Frederick turned us out Gran went to see my father—only he had just died, you see. He’d never married and had no legitimate heir, so Grandfather d’Argent decided to take me instead. Made up some story about my father having had a secret marriage to an exiled Tyrmanian princess, got the documents forged and everything. He hired tutors for me -- a bloody stable of tutors, each one more irritating than the last. Dance, deportment, languages. You may think being a noble is all swanning about at balls and spending prodigious amounts of money on imported fruit, but that’s just the show we all put on for the rabble. Underneath the silk and the perfume and the -- the affectation, we’re as venal and corrupt as the crookedest street-thief in Lyonesse. Hypocrisy is what it is, rank hypocrisy -- “

Robbie finally seemed to notice the way Luca was staring at him. He gave an embarrassed cough. “Sorry. Got a bit carried away there.”

“You sounded like your Gran,” Luca said. “She was always going on about the nobles.”

Robbie grinned. “I shall take that as a compliment. My populist rage shall be a testament to her memory.”

“Her memory?” Luca said. “Is she -- “

“The fever.” Robbie’s tone was even but his face had acquired a taut, strained look. “I didn’t know she was sick. She must have had it for days without telling me. The day after Grandfather adopted me she just -- slipped away in the night.”

Luca knew that there were things people ought to say in these sort of situations, clever comforting things that would make everything somehow all right. But all he could think of was, “I’m so sorry, Robbie.”

Robbie looked startled. “Gods. Nobody’s called me that in ages. I go by Robert now.”

“Robert,” Luca said, trying it out. “Lord Robert d’Argent.”

“Robert Barnaby Alphonse Gustave d’Argent, Prince du Sang and Exalted Lord of the Realm,” Robbie -- Robert -- corrected. “Isn’t it awful?”

Luca giggled. “Certainly a lot more complicated than Robbie Carpenter.”

Robert’s face softened. “Well. Perhaps I’ll still be Robbie on special occasions.”

Luca wasn’t sure what changed, then, but there was a subtle shift in the air, in their bodies. He flushed suddenly, dropped his eyes. He was suddenly acutely aware of how close he was to Robert. Could he hear how quick Luca’s breath came?

Tentatively, Robert traced the line of Luca’s chin with his thumb. When he spoke his voice was soft, reverent. “You’re beautiful.”

Luca was so warm and dazed he felt feverish. He licked his lips. “Not -- not too old?”

“Perfect.”

And then Robert’s hands were cupping his face, and Robert’s lips were on his lips, and Luca found himself curiously unable to form a coherent thought for quite some time.
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