Encounters on the Way: Noons of Dryness


            So this, presumably, was grief. How odd. It felt like not being able to feel anything at all. As if someone had opened him up while he slept and removed his heart. He even had the oddest sensation of something being missing inside him, sort of at chest level, but he couldn't say what. Only that it made day-today living immensely difficult.

            Dinner with his brothers. He cut his roast beef into smaller and smaller pieces, postponing the moment of actually putting it in his mouth. A faint wave of nausea rippled his throat at the thought and he quickly took a sip of water. He ought to eat- he would eat- but he looked down at the plate of beef and potatoes and carrots in despair. He felt as if he was trying to climb a mountain with a boulder strapped to his back. He couldn't. He just couldn't.

            "For god's sake, aren't you going to eat anything?" Magic snapped at him.

            "Yes, I'm eating." Please, don't let it be today. Magic would start in on him sooner or later, but please not today. He didn't have the energy. He put a piece of potato in his mouth and started chewing, his throat closing. He took another mouthful of water and got it down that way.

            "Christ, don't you know what beef costs these days? And all you do is push it around your plate. If you'd ever been on a battlefield and had to survive on field rations, you wouldn't be wasting good food like this." Magic was working himself up to a scene. He'd seen it all happen before, last year when Servis had come back wounded from the war. The physical and emotional shock had turned their youngest brother from a cheerful adolescent into a pale frozen ghost, who looked at them from his one remaining eye as if they were strangers and who hadn't spoken more than a handful of words to anyone for three months. Sick with worry, baffled and impotent, Magic had badgered and bullied and stormed at the boy with no result whatsoever. Servis had watched his brother as if he were a TV show, something with no relation to himself at all. He didn't know how it would have ended had not Harlem, Servis' twin- deliberately, he sometimes thought- chosen that moment to get involved in a messy statutory rape case. Magic's attention had been most effectively diverted. And then there was the child- the children- coming, and all the debates about names and education and the rest... But there would be no diversion this time; and he didn't have Servis' shell-shocked invulnerability to see him through. If Magic began on him he didn't think he could take it. It wasn't as if his brother was worrying about him personally, as he had been about Servis. Magic's concern was for his baby son, currently suffering a series of high fevers as he cut his first teeth, and for his wife, still recuperating from the child's birth in a sanatorium in the countryside. His wife- who was still alive.

            He should eat. He pronged another piece of potato. He should keep his strength up. He didn't want Magic to guess- and what if he did guess? What could he do about it now? He had nothing left that Magic could take from him.

            The angles of the room went wavy as tears flushed his eyes. In alarm he took a large gulp of water. Those tears- constant, unexpected, humiliating. A humiliating business altogether, grief. He'd have liked as little to do with it as possible.

            Servis was eating, slowly but steadily. If Servis could come back from the hell where he had been, so could he. He'd get back to normal. Eventually. With a little will-power...

            "Luzar, we've almost finished and you've barely started. Are you going to keep us waiting all afternoon? What's the matter with you? Answer me, dammit."

            "I'm not hungry to-day." He tried to keep his voice mild but anything was enough to set Magic off once he got started. He waited for the sharp scolding voice to begin again.

            "Well, I'm starved," Harlem's unexpected baritone cut in. "If you don't want that, I'll take it." He stretched an arm over for Luzar's plate and dumped the contents on to his own.

            "Harlem!" Magic bellowed.

            "No point in wasting good food, nii-san." Harlem grinned at them, a large blond beast overflowing with health and vigour, and shoved a laden forkful into his mouth.

            "Is that the way I brought you up? What kind of manners are those?"

            "Camp manners," Harlem said with his mouth full. "I have been on a battlefield. And you're right, you take what you can get when you can get it."

            Magic snorted, but let it drop. Harlem was the only one who ever challenged Magic directly. Their frequent battles shook the house and destroyed everyone else's peace, but in an odd way they understood each other. Which was more than he could say about himself.

            "May I be excused, nii-san?" Servis' light voice came across the table.

            "Christ what's the matter with you lot? All I want is a peaceful Sunday meal together with my family and look what happens. Half of you don't eat and the other half runs away as soon as it can. Do you all hate me so much?"

            "I'm here and I'm eating," Harlem said pointedly, "and I'm ready for dessert. What are we having? And is there any brandy?"

            "You're too young," said Magic, automatically.

            "Crap. I've been drinking since I was fourteen. You could use some too, nii-san. I'll go get it." He pushed back his chair and headed off to the living room liquor cabinet.

            "What the hell- Harlem!" Magic got to his feet and went striding after him. "Harlem- get back here!"

            In unspoken accord, Servis and Luzar rose quickly and left. The tightness at the back of his neck eased when they were safely out in the hallway.

            "You're going back to the lab?" It was less question than statement. Luzar nodded. "Can you give Takamatsu a message?"


            "I have some books he wanted. Tell him to come round tonight.  I'll be in after eight."

            That cold self-contained manner- that curt adult abruptness: it was so odd in a nineteen year old, in the boy his brother had been.

            "'Please, nii-san', how about?" he suggested.

            "Please, nii-san," Servis said, a grownup placating an imperious child.

            They looked at each other. Not Servis too- I don't want to have to fight him as well. Tiredness made his back ache.

            "It's a bad time, Servis. Magic's worried. We just have to get through it somehow. Let's not make it harder than it is."

            "Get through it? Do you think it's going to end?"

            It has to, Luzar thought. It has to or I can't go on living.

            "It has to. When Shin-chan's finished teething, and his wife is on the mend. And maybe-" he couldn't help saying it- "if you could show a little interest in life again-"

            "I'm not the one who ate half a potato for lunch."

            "I'm not hungry," he said, and then, defensively, "It's a normal reaction to loss. I'll get my appetite back eventually."

            Servis looked at him with remote distaste. "Do you do everything by the book? 'The six stages of grief- which one am I at today?' Getting married that way was bad enough, but this is worse. You aren't human." He turned suddenly on his heel and walked away.

            Luzar made a move to catch his arm, to- what? explain? but checked himself. He wasn't so far gone that he needed his little brother's pity. But a part of him was shocked to stillness by the unexpected pain of the rebuff. Servis of all people ought to understand how it was with him.

            Be reasonable, he chided himself. You didn't want anyone to know. No-one does know. You're safe. But another part of his mind insisted, childishly, stubbornly, that if his family cared about him at all they would know, they would sense... just as they all knew when something was bothering Magic and closed ranks to take care of him. Well, he thought wryly, something wrong with Magic could be fatal for other people. It was in their interest to take care of him...

            He had come to his rooms, empty now as they had been two years ago. No one knew.

            Odd, to think how indifferent he'd been at first. Magic had very much wanted the alliance and Luzar, with no strong feeling in the matter, had agreed. He wasn't a romantic; he knew he wasn't the sort of man who falls in love. And he hadn't fallen in love. He'd treated his wife with politeness and consideration, knowing she wouldn't have married him if she'd had a real choice in the matter. In time he realized she was treating him the same way and for the same reason. It was then that the first genuine liking had begun. They talked more; they began to share life stories and jokes; they became friends. She had a good intelligence and a gentle, wry sense of humour. In many ways she was more like him than any of his brothers.

            He'd never had anyone who was specially his own before: there'd been no best friends, no girlfriends, in an academic life lived mostly in the shadow of his older brother. It made the world look quite different. He supposed it was like having a sister, someone who teased him, talked to him, looked after him... She didn't always agree with his ideas, but her very disagreement was stimulating. She had her own interests and was surprisingly grateful that he didn't expect her to drop them: as if she had thought that marriage would somehow mean an end to her own life. But he'd have hated living with someone who had no other focus for their attention but himself.

            They'd managed to please each other physically as well. Sexual technique wasn't one of his fortes and he'd seen no point in pretending that it was, when the facts would be obvious even to someone as inexperienced as herself. Starting as virtual beginners, they'd worked out what each of them enjoyed, and then provided it. Maybe the earth didn't move, but it was a consolation and a pleasure.

            She even understood, on short acquaintance, why it was necessary to conceal from his brother how close they'd become. Wait, he'd said, until Magic has a family of his own; he'll be less jealous then... So they'd been politely friendly to each other in front of the others, like two people with no active dislike of each other, and had kept to separate bedrooms. He was always careful to spend at least an hour in his own bed each night. When his wife became pregnant, Magic's congratulations held a slight note of surprise that pleased him out of all proportion to the event, and a certain peacocking satisfaction that they'd laughed at together, afterwards: Magic, his own wife two months pregnant, thought Luzar was trying to emulate him.

            He wasn't the sort of man who falls in love, and he hadn't fallen in love. She had been his friend and, in an unspoken fashion, his ally. And now she was gone, leaving only this deadly tiredness every day, and the faint fear that Magic might yet discover his treachery and punish him for it.

            Oh, and the boy, of course. As he finished changing into his lab clothes he wondered if he should look in on the nursery. But it seemed too much trouble. Gunma was barely four months old- such a good baby, his nurse said- but to him a baby was a baby. Maybe when his son developed a personality he'd be able to feel some interest...


            The lab was quiet and empty, save for the dark-haired figure he knew would be there even on a Sunday afternoon. Takamatsu, his assistant. He watched, unseen, as the young man made swift notes, checking from a clipboard beside him. No, he'd been wrong. There was something Magic could still take from him. He had reason to be cautious.

            It had been clear even from his high school work that the boy had intelligence far beyond the ordinary, an intelligence that could perhaps be nurtured into brilliance. He'd wanted it for his own, before any one else could get their hands on it, wanted to put his own stamp on it, to be the first... He'd stolen Takamatsu from under the noses of the academics at the university, given him a position fresh out of high school, insisted that it wouldn't interfere with his studies. Takamatsu had bloomed as his student. He thought it distinctly possible that the young man's work might in time surpass his own, and the thought gave him an odd contentment. It seemed a sort of immortality, his thoughts and his work carried on, past even the point where he himself could take them.

            He came into the room and Takamatsu got hurriedly to his feet.

            "Have you eaten yet?"

            "No, sir. I wanted to finish this first. I can get something from the cafeteria later."

            "Go now. I'll have work for you after."

            Takamatsu left and he was alone. Work in the lab was the one thing he could do without strain, almost with pleasure... He seemed to be able to leave the tiredness and the tears at the door and for however many hours go back to being himself. They would be waiting for him when he left, but for now he felt as if a hundred pounds had been lifted from his back. He began writing up the observations from yesterday's experiment.

            On the paper in front of him a white plate appeared, bearing two slices of caraway rye bread cut diagonally. Bright green lettuce frilled from between the brown crusts, a very red cherry tomato and a slice of olive-green dill pickle was tooth-picked to each one, and the smell of tuna fish and mayonnaise filled his nostrils.

            "What's this?" he asked, looking up at Takamatsu.

            "A sandwich," the young man said, somehow managing not to imply that either question or answer was at all silly.

            "I've had lunch, thank you. You can take it away."

            Takamatsu said nothing, just looked at him with those disturbingly intelligent eyes. Luzar moved to take the plate off his papers, and Takamatsu's hand came down at the same time to hold it in place.

            The thought of giving him a direct order went through his head, and out. Orders were for the army: and what if Takamatsu refused?

            "It's no good," he said calmly. "I can't eat."

            Takamatsu still said nothing, made no movement. He was the soul of propriety in the lab, quiet, deft, deferential; but one or two of Servis' remarks had hinted that his true character was otherwise. Luzar began to think that perhaps he was dealing now with that other Takamatsu. There was an odd twist to his mouth, not exactly a smile and not exactly kind, and an odd light in his downslanting eyes, one Luzar couldn't place but which he was certain no subordinate should turn on his superior.

            "I can't," he repeated. "It makes me ill."

            Takamatsu just looked at him, and the weight came pressing back down on Luzar's shoulders. Someone else's expectations to deal with, even here. He couldn't, he just couldn't... god, was this never going to end? And there they were again, the tears. His throat ached with the effort of holding them back. He gazed fixedly at the sandwich on its white plate, thinking he'd probably remember it until the day he died.

            He spoke without thought. "There's a legend in the country, where my family comes from, that we have the devil's blood in us and ordinary women die giving birth to our children. It's just peasant superstition, childbirth was always dangerous, even into this century, and my mother survived three pregnancies and four births and she didn't die. She was never well after the twins came along but she didn't die. She didn't die right away. And Magic's wife is alright. You know the real reason that she got sick and had to go away was that she simply couldn't stand the strain of living with my family any longer, and who can blame her? It's a madhouse over there." He shouldn't be talking like this, not to an outsider, not to a subordinate, but his wife was dead and there was no-one else to talk to anymore and the silence and the loneliness were killing him. Let Takamatsu run off and tell Magic if he wanted to- he didn't care, it would be a relief... "The peasants say it's the devil's blood that gives us the evil eye, our killer eye, and makes our wives bear only boys before they die from carrying the devil's spawn in a human body, and what do you make of that, Takamatsu-kun, what's your opinion of that, speaking purely as a man of science of course?" The words poured out of him in a scornful torrent and he felt, for the first time in days, the exhilaration of energy flowing through him. He sat back in his chair, panting a little and gazing fiercely into Takamatsu's black eyes.

            "Perhaps sensei would like to see the results of a project I've been working on." He went over to his own desk, unlocked a drawer, and took out a metal file case. It too had a small lock which Takamatsu opened with a key on his keyring. He came back with three sheets of paper and, pushing the plate aside, laid them in front of Luzar.

            "It's the DNA analysis from some tissue samples I've been investigating."

            Luzar began to scan the charts, then looked again more closely, unable to believe his eyes.

            "You've been doing bio-engineering on human tissue?" It wasn't possible. The young man might be brilliant, but he wasn't twenty yet. He couldn't have the skill for a complex construction like this; and he couldn't have used the lab facilities for this kind of genetic surgery without Luzar knowing about it.

            "This isn't the result of engineering, sir. These are naturally occurring cases." Luzar's stomach shrank in on itself with an evil premonition. "Sample A is from one of Servis' hairs, B is one of Harlem's, and C of course is your own." He smiled, ironically. "I didn't try for one of the Commander's."

            "Naturally occurring... Takamatsu, this significant a deviation from the norm... this standard a deviation... occurring three times in one family... It's scarcely possible. We'd all qualify as major mutations."

            "Surely not. Aren't major mutations sterile by definition?"

            "Not by definition. There's a tendency only." His mind was racing. "Somehow... We need a specimen of Magic's DNA to complete the set. That won't be a problem- I can always pick a hair off his jacket." Realization dawned. "I suppose that's how you collected your samples."

            Takamatsu smiled briefly. "Sir, would it be possible to get them from the children as well? Gunma-sama and Shintaro-sama?"

            "Gunma certainly; Shintaro may be a problem. But why? Do you think it will be significant?'

            "I'm theorizing that we'll find the pattern stable cross-generationally as well."

            "Takamatsu- mutations can't be stable. It's stunning enough that three of us show the same divergence..."

            "Luzar-sama," Takamatsu interrupted him. "This isn't a random mutation. It's stable and, almost certainly, recurring. Not mutation, sensei- evolution."

            Evolution- a new order of being. His family? Could it be? The idea made him feel dizzy; he fell back on his scientific training for protection.

            "You're theorizing ahead of your facts, Takamatsu."

            "How else can you explain the Ganma eye recurring in each generation?"

            "The evidence that it recurs is mostly anecdotal. Except in the distant past, we've generally considered it too dangerous to use, so there's no telling who actually has it or not." His stomach groaned; absently he reached for a sandwich and started eating. "We need the children's samples, definitely, to find how stable the pattern is. And whether there's a relation to the fact that our family produces only males. If the coding is carried on the Y chromosome..." He chewed and thought. "I wonder if genetic engineering would allow for female children in future? But that's speculation. If only there were a way we could check for susceptibility on the female side: perhaps some women's genetic patterns are more compatible than others? And if so, how? Damn, our sampling is just too small..."

            "It's a start, sir."

            "Yes I suppose." He smiled at the young man. "Patience is the first virtue of a scientist." His smile grew hard. "You've been very clever, Takamatsu-kun."

            Takamatsu went white- that tell-tale skin, so transparent- but his eyes remained on Luzar and that odd half-smile curved his mouth.

            "I was getting desperate, sir."

            That wasn't the answer he'd expected. "Go on."

            "If I've stepped out of place, I apologize."

            "Never mind your apologies. I want an explanation."

            Takamatsu's smile deepened. And now he could recognize it for what it was: the smile of a man who is afraid but ignoring his fear.

            "I was worried, sir. You've lost weight, and you look tired all the time..."

            "Thank you for your concern."

            "I'm sorry, Luzar-sama." He wasn't, of course; the apology was pro forma only. And there was in fact no reason why he should be.

            "No matter. Looking after me is probably one of your duties. Investigating my family's biology isn't. What's your explanation of that?"

            "I wanted to know," he said, as if it were self-evident.

            "Some knowledge is dangerous."

            "Only if the wrong people know you know."

            "Aaa." Maybe he could trust him after all. "Not everyone has the scientific viewpoint, it's true."

            "Some people are more interested in practical applications than theoretical rigidity..."

            They looked at each other. He had to be sure. "If he finds out-"

            "It won't be from me, sir. An outsider poking into the family secrets, turning up such lovely grist for his enemies' propaganda mill- scientific proof of the old peasant superstition- he's not likely to forgive that."

            "In you or me."

            "So if he hears of this, it's both our necks."

            Mutual blackmail, the soundest basis for an alliance. Suddenly, they both smiled. Luzar took a deep breath; it felt like he hadn't filled his lungs properly in years. Young Takamatsu might be as crooked as his own family but for that very reason he was safe, or as safe as an outsider could ever be. Luzar wasn't likely to harm him accidentally, unwittingly, the way Servis had his friend Jan, the way he himself- he stopped the thought. Takamatsu would always be safe from him. Maybe everything would be alright after all.

            "Fine, I'll get those samples by tomorrow. But now we've got to get back to work."

            "Yes sir." Takamatsu bowed and took himself off to his own desk. Halfway there, Luzar's voice stopped him. "Thank you for the sandwich, by the way. I'll buy you lunch tomorrow."

            His chest tightened in satisfaction. "Thank you, sir. I look forward to it."


            It had worked. It had worked. Thank God. He'd done it. He'd been so afraid- when Luzar-sama had looked at him with those cold grey-blue eyes: "You've been very clever, Takamatsu-kun," he'd thought, "This is it. This is when it happens. Like Jan..." He'd spoken the absolute truth- he'd been desperate. Luzar had been fading in front of his eyes, and with him Takamatsu's own position, his future, the chance to do the research he wanted... Gossip had never suggested that Sensei was particularly fond of his wife; maybe he'd surprised himself. Sometimes in these last months, when Takamatsu saw him by chance here or there in the Ganma headquarters, he'd had the oddest expression, as if there was something puzzling him very deeply. Takamatsu had been worried. And irritated. It wasn't fair. Luzar was clearly the pick of the family. He had more intelligence in his little finger- in his little fingernail- than the other three combined. Well, alright- Servis was bright-enough; but his brother was brilliant. Takamatsu had read his research papers in senior year high school, stunned with admiration and sick with envy, knowing he would never- could never- produce anything on that level. The idea of working with Luzar began to obsess him, like being in love, like lust: I want him, I need him. He targeted his senior research project to Luzar's field of specialization: spent endless hours verifying his data, reproducing his results, striving to produce a paper that was impeccable in all respects, one that Luzar couldn't ignore. And he'd succeeded beyond his wildest hopes. Luzar wanted him as a research assistant right away, even before he started university; he'd insisted that Takamatsu could easily combine his lab duties with his course work. Takamatsu had been delirious with joy. That first year was heaven- paradise-; he woke each morning to a feeling of complete satisfaction such as he'd never known. And then suddenly to have it all slip through his fingers- to lose that brilliant mind and everything it could teach him when he'd only just got his hands on it- no, he refused to let it happen. Over my dead body, he thought, knowing it might be true.

            He'd long ago dealt with that possibility. When he learned how Jan had died, caught in the energy field of Servis' Ganma eye, he realized that no-one who was closely associated with the family could count himself safe. If Servis could do it to Jan, however accidentally, then... a moment of irritation or a bad headache on Sensei's part, and he'd be dead. He'd known it was well worth the risk. But it started him wondering where the family's mutant ability came from, and why they all had it, and that had led him to to-day. And a good thing too.

            "By the way," Luzar's quiet voice cut across his thoughts. "I forgot to mention. Servis has those books you want. He'll be in after eight to-night. He said you can come by then."

            "Thank you, sensei." His heart dropped. He hoped it didn't show in his voice.

            Luzar was looking at him over the papers piled up on his desk. "How well do you know my brother, Takamatsu-kun?"

            He swallowed. "Not well, really. We- hung out- together in high school, but we were never close." It wasn't for lack of trying on his part. Servis had brushed off all his overtures with an easy, galling indifference, and gone off with- that

            As if reading his thoughts, Luzar said, "I've always wondered. What was this Jan person like, anyway?"

            "Very- energetic," Takamatsu said carefully. "Extroverted. Cheerful. Not subtle." He met the blue-grey eyes and realized that their relationship had changed since this morning. He'd have to be more forthcoming or Luzar would regret that step towards intimacy, might even resent it-- "Brainless. Loud. Naive. I never knew what Servis saw in him."

            "Opposites attract, I suppose. I just wondered. Were they lovers?"

            The question was a bombshell. Before he could calculate the ramifications of telling the truth, Takamatsu said, "Yes."

            "They say twins have their first sexual experiences with each other. I suppose it gave Servis a taste for it."

            "It didn't have that effect on Harlem."

            "Harlem is polymorphous perverse. Men, women, vacuum cleaners..."

            Takamatsu choked on a laugh. Luzar had never made a joke like that before, either. He was still feeling out his new boundaries- presumption would be as bad as too much reserve at this stage- or he'd have said that in his private opinion, Harlem was unspeakable.

            Instead he gave a discreet "Mm" of agreement and, after a pause, went back to his work, while the back of his mind pondered despairingly this new/old complication of his life.

            Jan and Servis. The old discontent. Their casual exclusiveness, their absolute lack of need for anyone else's company at all-- especially his... It drove him crazy, back in high school. He'd taken out his irritation on Jan periodically, in barbed remarks and humiliating little pranks that afforded him, both at the time and in retrospect, a great deal of pleasure. In spite of that he couldn't really say that he'd hated Jan: in an odd way, he'd rather liked his gullible good nature. But the news that he was dead had seemed to him, after the first shock, to be the last wonderful stroke of luck in an already wonderful year. Jan was finally out of the way, and Servis, wounded and in pain, was in need of his consolation.

            Takamatsu prided himself on the scientific detachment which let him remain serenely unaffected by the troubles and traumas of others. But Servis was different. From the very first he'd been aware of an obscure- and, given Servis' character, patently absurd- instinct to protect him and see that he was alright. The idea of Servis alone and suffering now hurt him in a way that was almost physical, and made him feel a tender melting pity that seemed exactly like lust.

            He'd gone to see him often in the hospital, talking inconsequentialities to the pale silent figure with its bandaged eye, who had scarcely seemed to register his presence. Servis was in there somewhere, he knew, and eventually must hear him and respond. With humble confidence he'd awaited the day when Servis would turn to him for comfort. Well, he thought bitterly, you should never want anything too much; you might get it. Servis had indeed turned to him for comfort: if that was what you wanted to call it.

            Takamatsu had always thought himself unshockable until the afternoon that Servis had had him to his room and told him what he wanted him to do. That cool matter-of-fact voice, requesting horrors as if they were the stuff of daily life... He'd gaped like a small boy first hearing where babies come from: he still winced at the memory of his gaucheness.

            "I can't do that," he gasped. "Servis, for god's sake-"

            "You don't have to if you don't want to. I only asked you first since it's your sort of thing."

            His mind dithered between the insult in Servis' words and the implication behind them.

            "First? Who's next?" he demanded, his mind furnishing hideous possibilities that started with Harlem and ended in nightmare.

            "None of your business. Good-bye, Takamatsu. And don't bother telling my brother. He won't believe you."

            He gave in then, his one weapon taken from him. Later he'd wondered which brother Servis meant, the Commander or Luzar-sama; not that he could have gone to either, as he finally realized on reflection. He did what was asked of him, reluctantly but afraid of what might happen should Servis, god forbid, ever find a willing partner. Servis had come back from near catatonia and taken up his daily life again; maybe someday he'd get over his guilt as well, and no longer feel the need to be punished.

            But so far there were no signs of that. Every time there was some new demand, some new ritual expected of him. He kept expecting Servis to produce a whip and ask to be flogged. And if he did, friend or no friend, that was the end. It was as much as his life was worth to mark the Commander's brother like that. What they did together was already dangerous enough.

            He arrived at Servis' room; the cool voice said "Come in" to his knock. He walked-in, scowling a little as if by reflex. Servis gave his usual sardonic smile and looked at him under his eyelashes.

            "OK, let's start," Takamatsu growled. He was never comfortable with the preliminaries. "Get undressed."

            Servis' smile widened. "Make me."

            He slapped him. "I said, get undressed."


            Christ, now what? He looked around for inspiration. A plaid bathrobe lay across the bed. Grabbing Servis' arm he twisted it up behind his back, dragged him to the bed and threw him across it. When he tried to get up, he kicked him back down, his hands busy pulling the cloth belt from its loops. After a short struggle, he got him satisfactorily immobilized, hands lashed to the light on the headboard. He supposed, from the lack of real opposition, that that was what he was supposed to do. One or two punches to the ribs ended Servis' kicking, and he was able to strip him from the waist, not gently. He left the pants dangling from his ankles as a way of deterring any more leg action, and unbuttoned the shirt. Now for the usual warming up. He didn't have to try to remember where the pain centres were any more: he could locate them by the old bruises. That matte porcelain skin, seemingly so resilient, took forever to heal; it worried him a little. He began his regular routine, pressing, pinching and squeezing the sensitive areas that made Servis arch in agony, tears streaming down the side of his face. Except for the gasps and muffled groans there was no sound in the room. Pretty soon he was going to have to start talking: another part he hated.

            Servis' ribs and thighs were covered with new angry red patches on top of the fading brownish marks; his nipples were sore and swollen from Takamatsu's pinching fingers, and his cock was half erect, quivering whenever Takamatsu began on a new area.

            "Right," he said finally. "This bores the shit out of me, Servis, you can't imagine. I can't believe it doesn't bore you too. Let's move on. You're going to get my fist up your whore's ass. Where've you hidden the cream this time?"


            "Gah." He grabbed Servis' balls and squeezed them. "One of these days I'm really going to hurt you, you know. I don't want to, but you insist. The cream, Servis- where is it?"

            His mouth was open in a silent scream, but he managed to pant through it, "I'm not telling."

            Takamatsu let him go. "OK. No cream, no fucking. Have it your way. I'm just as pleased to keep my hands clean."

            Servis sneered at him. "So even your delicate precious fingers need lube now?"

            "Insulation, stupid. Who knows what bacteria you've got up there? Not to mention the syphilitic leftovers of your other-- visitors. I should use surgical gloves."

            "Bring them next time."

            "Forget it. You know what those things cost?"

            "Take them from the lab."

            "I'm not going to steal from your brother just to satisfy your perverted little whims. The cream. Give."

            "Fuck you."

            "Fuck you, Servis. I told you, this bores me. Fighting about whether we use lube or not, every time; doing stuff that turns you on, but not me. I've had it. I'm leaving."

            "Good. Go. You think it's fun for me, doing the work for both of us, while you pretend to be so pure and normal and above it all? I know better. There are other men I can fuck, and they aren't liars like you are."

            It always came back to this- those faceless others he threatened to go to when Takamatsu's acquiescence was too grudging, his performance too graceless, for Servis' tastes. More upset than he wanted to admit, he went off to the bathroom to rummage fruitlessly through the medicine cabinet on the very slim chance Servis had hidden it in the obvious place.

            "It isn't there," the mocking voice came from the bedroom. Tears suddenly spilled out of his eyes. He didn't want this- he didn't want it this way- he wanted to hold Servis, let him cry in his arms, kiss him, make love to him gently... He splashed water on his face and buried it in the towel for a moment. Go back. Finish. The Ganma family- you did it their way, or you didn't do it. He wondered for a brief moment if he had the courage to call Servis' bluff, just walk out the door and not come back, and knew he didn't. He had to stay by Servis until he came to his senses, not abandon him in his present insanity...

            He went back to the bedroom, looking about for clues. Servis usually left hints of what he wanted done. Oh yes; and there it was. A large candle, thicker than the usual, on the bookcase, the matches beside it. Alright, Servis; we do it your way. As always.

            He held the candle above his midriff, the hot wax running down onto the thin skin. Servis blinked at the pain.

            "Boring, boring, boring, Servis; everything you think of is boring. Turn over. Oh no, right; I have to do it for you." He put the candle down carefully, grasped Servis' ankles and twisted him around, then shoved the upper torso over as well.

            "Now, let's try this on your butt." He sat on the legs, holding them down, while Servis arched and hissed. "Lie still. I'm giving you what you want." He dribbled wax down the back of his thighs, and when it congealed, ripped it off. Servis gave a little scream. "Oh be quiet. Do you want me to gag you?" He held the candle above the back of the knee, listening to the sobs in Servis' throat. "You do want a gag. What'll it be? Socks? Underwear?"

            "No- no- I won't make any more noise," Servis panted.

            "You think not?" He pulled one foot free of the trousers, and bending the knee, wedged it firmly under his arm. He held the candle underneath it, the flame about five centimetres from the skin. Servis writhed desperately, giving voiceless screams from his rigid throat.

            "Takamatsu- Stop-" the voice was a desperate whisper, "Stop- please-"

            "Stop? This is what you want. You go do this with anyone else, you think they'll stop when you say, 'Oh please'?"

            "Please- Takamatsu-" The foot wriggled like a landed fish, the toes clenching up into themselves. He moved the flame so that it was below the thin skin of the upper arch.

            "You're going to get hurt someday, you know, really hurt. You're going to make someone so mad they won't care who you are or what happens. Think about that, punk- not having Magic to hide behind any more." He blew out the candle before he got too angry himself. That someone wasn't going to be him. He had too much to live for.

            "Last chance, Servis. The cream."

            Servis took his mouth from the pillow. "No."

            "Right." He slapped his backside, once, very very hard. "Get your ass in the air." Servis crawled to his knees, the thin hard buttocks thrust up, his balls contracted and his cock standing stiffly against his stomach. Takamatsu took a mouthful of spit and rubbed it over the candle's end. It wasn't enough, and the skin would probably tear when he inserted it, but it wasn't the first time. Resignedly he spread Servis' cheeks open and began pushing it in.

            "You want it this way, you get it this way. You don't co-operate, you don't get me- not my cock, not my hand, not anything." Servis' strangled cries, muffled by the pillow, clawed at his heart; but at the same time a surge of anger made him want to hit the candle end squarely with his fist and drive it violently in, ripping the little shit's asshole to ribbons.  He stopped, checking the pounding rage inside him. Very gently he reached underneath and took hold of Servis' cock, palming the head, massaging it slowly with his fist.

            "No!" Servis' head jerked back and forth. "Don't- not yet- don't make me-" Do it or not? But he could imagine what Servis would say afterwards if he did. He grabbed him hard, holding off the impending climax, and listened to Servis' sobbing breath grow calmer.

            "You're right. We're not finished yet. I can't just leave you with a candle shoved halfway up your butt. Well, maybe I could. Tie you up really tightly, not just pretend like that silly belt; tie you up so you can't move; and leave you that way." He began to rotate the candle back and forth, pushing a little so that it went in slightly deeper each time. "Do you know how silly you look just now, with your ass waving in the breeze and this candle sticking out of it? Not exactly what we expect of the Commander's brother, is it? What happens if I leave you for your orderly to find in the morning? It'll be all over the Ganma Army in half an hour, the things you get up to at night. How will you explain that to Magic?"

            He got up and started rummaging through the chest of drawers. "Where do you keep your ties, Servis? I don't suppose you have any clothesline handy?" Shit- he was probably giving him ideas for next time. Oh well; maybe there wouldn't be a next time.

            "They're in the closet."

      Now what did that mean? Go ahead and do it? But if he did, he'd have to backpedal, change the scenario. It was too dangerous to go through with, for him if not for Servis.

            "Maybe belts would be better," he temporized, playing for time. "Silk slips." He could use a belt on his ass, if he didn't hit too hard. He opened another drawer.

            "They're in the closet too." Servis sounded impatient.

            "Never mind," he said, sudden satisfaction in his voice, as his fingers encountered the thick softness of a plastic tube thrust under the t-shirts. "Funny place to keep your hand cream, Servis." Well, great- only now he'd have to fuck him and he wasn't even hard. Hands, then, if that candle hadn't done too much damage. He turned back to the bound figure on the bed. Oh, but- it was so pathetic- so stupid, seeing him like that.

            "Oh shit, Servis," he said, his voice both exasperated and pleading, "why are you doing this to us?"

            Servis looked at him in cold contempt. "There's no us, Takamatsu."

            Always, always- the fist in his face, the unyielding wall, whenever he tried to come a little closer. He sat down wearily.

            "Speaking purely grammatically, and never implying for a millisecond that there is, was, or ever in any way shape or form might be any sort of a god forbid relationship between you and me--" He pulled the candle out gently, noting the streaks of blood. "I wish you'd keep first aid cream around here; god knows, you need it," he said in parenthesis, "-why are you doing this to us?"

            Servis lay silent, blind eye turned up at him. He hadn't really expected an answer.

            "Or some kind of antiseptic ointment, even." He picked up his other sentence. "You're going to get a major infection one of these days." Nivea would have to do; at least it would stop the fissures from drying. He began to rub it in.

            "Nurse Takamatsu." Servis turned his head and smiled up at him, gently, teasingly. Oh no. Not this. This hurt worse than anything else. He looked away.

            "Takamatsu, look at me. No look at me, silly."

            That playful friendly voice, that charm that could make water flow uphill. It means nothing, he told himself, nothing, he can turn it on and off like a tap. But Pavlov's dog heard his bell ringing. A warmth began to run through his veins; hating himself, he turned back.

            "Aren't you going to do it? I'm waiting for you. I'm all ready to have you inside me- greased up and everything." His face sparkled mischievously.

            This was when he should leave- get up, walk out, not be humiliated one more time by the lying promises in that voice. His body wouldn't let him go, but his stubborn will, holding on to a last shred of self-respect, refused to let his body have its pleasure.

            "I'm not ready." It sounded sulky, even to his ears.

            "Untie me and I'll do something about it."

            Servis sat up, rubbing his wrists. "Here on the bed, or over by the wall?"

            "The wall," he said tiredly. He needed it at his back

            "Come on then." Servis leant over and kissed him.

            "Don't do that." His irritation exploded in the hard crack of his hand on Servis' face. For a moment his heart stood still- what now?--

            Servis laughed gently. "Poor Takamatsu. It's alright. I understand."

            You don't understand. No, you do understand; and damn you to hell forever for it. That soft laughter had taken the last of his energy. He leaned against the wall, exhausted, while Servis' long cool fingers took out his cock and Servis' warm mouth wrapped around it. His flesh responded and his heart wept in desolation. You own me, Servis; I'm just your toy, your obedient walking dildo. You can do what you like with me and I can't stop you. But it isn't right; it isn't fair, to use another person this way--

            "I think you're ready," Servis said.

            Suppose I say no; suppose I say, forget it, Servis, you're going to suck me off till I come, forget having me inside you, this is what I want... But he felt shrivelled, willess, unable to do anything but what Servis wanted him to do. He opened his eyes and looked down at the face kneeling by his thighs. The hostility was back, if it had ever gone away: under the surface, but there. Did Servis despise him for his powerlessness or just for himself? No matter. Get this over with, somehow; let him get out and back to his own room and into a shower where he could try to wash the dirt of the encounter off himself.

            I hate you, Servis. I hate you, you lying little whore, you arrogant fucking shit. He pulled him to his feet and pushed him against the wall, placing the forearms low so that Servis was compelled to arch his back, hips outthrust.

            "That's right, slut. Show me your tail. Give me a good view. You're no better than a bitch in heat, you know that, waving your skinny little ass in my face, wanting me to fuck that hot little hole of yours." Where did he get the words from? He hated them, their vulgarity, the indignity of the whole thing. He got the cream off the bed and daubed it thickly on his cock. He didn't want to hurt him more than he had to. He did want to hurt him-- He squeezed himself in, feeling the involuntary constriction of Servis' anus, hearing the breath hiss in the other's throat, oh god Servis why are you doing this to-

            "Wimp," said Servis' cold voice. "Snivelling sentimental wimp." Harder, he meant. Takamatsu moved in and out of him, trying to pick up speed, but he didn't want to be doing this, he didn't want to, and he was desperately afraid he was going to lose his erection. He tried for one of his jerk off fantasies, but what he thought of instead was that DNA analysis, sample A, those strange deflections from the norm- no, something else, quick- Luzar-sama, if only it could be

            OHH, yes- his cock jumped, inside Servis, and he could see it clearly- bent over one of the lab tables, trousers pooled around his ankles, strong hands grasping his waist holding him motionless, poised on a pinnacle of absolute terror- This is it. This is when it happens- but wanting it: "You've been very clever, Takamatsu-kun. Take your reward." That cool voice, so like Servis', so very very different and he begged "No, Sensei, don't" and "Yes, Sensei, please" feeling the polar emotions simultaneously, as Luzar-sama's hand spread his cheeks- Oh- and thrust himself in, hard and thick and so long he seemed to go on forever- ohh- indifferent to his fears and desires, reaming him the way he was reaming Servis, making - him - oh god- his -- Takamatsu arched, pushing Servis flat against the wall, the hard buttocks squeezed together imprisoning him within, oh god oh god Luzar-sama it went on and on and on and in that moment he saw- knew- what-