When he woke next morning, it was to fresh realization. True to his promise, Servis had left him no time to brood the night before. He wasn't going to be doing a couple of things for several days including, he thought as he first stood up, walking. A shower helped- another shower- and he prodded his various aching areas under the warm torrent, checking for damage. He hadn't been fucked in ages- how had Servis talked him into that one?- come to think of it, he hadn't, Takamatsu'd woken to him doing it-- The front of his mind played with the events of last night, while in the back a monstrous rage was growing.
He winced at the sight of Servis' back when he came to join him, yawning and monosyllabic, in the shower. He'd never had to face the next-day effects of his handiwork before. Hell, Servis, you asked for it, he thought in fury and pity, and insisted, over the other's protests, on applying a new layer of antibiotic ointment. Servis' mood was as bad as his own; they said very little before parting at the front gate.
He went into the lab, making his preparations with a furious concentration, waiting for that familiar step. And there it was. And there he was. Calm, he told himself, calm, let's do this adult fashion, but his insides were shaking with anger.
"Good morning, Takamatsu-kun."
"Good morning, sir."
Take the briefcase, hang up the jacket, get the lab coat--
"I'd like a word with you, sir."
"Yes, of course. What about?"
"You asked me for time, sir. I gave you time. It's been three weeks now. Three weeks of 'good morning Takamatsu-kun' and 'good-night Takamatsu-kun' and 'please get those samples Takamatsu-kun', and I'm going crazy wondering what did I do, what should I do, what's he waiting for? And now I know. You're waiting for the Commander, right? It's natural-- I mean, it's just courtesy. The oldest son comes first. First served at dinner, first into the bath, first to get a piece of my ass--"
"Well that's fine, I understand, I was brought up in an old-fashioned family myself; but I can't take the waiting much longer. Let's go see him, let's go see him now, you can say "Nii-san, will you please bugger my assistant here because he'd like to get on with his life and he can't until we've got you out of the way--"
"Takamatsu, stop." There was no anger in the voice, only a distant authority. Takamatsu stopped, his stomach doing flipflops.
"I thought, even three weeks ago, that this was a bad idea. You're my student, we have a professional relationship- do you want to jeopardize that?"
"Why would I? Can't we have a personal relationship as well?"
"It's too difficult," Luzar said with finality.
The boy went green. "Are you saying you don't want me?"
Better for them both- "That's exactly what I'm saying. I'm sorry, Takamatsu-kun. I didn't mean to-"
Takamatsu suddenly turned his back. Oh god, Luzar thought, don't let him be crying.
"I see," Takamatsu said after a moment in a small quenched voice. "Will you do one thing for me?"
"Kiss me." He turned around, the down-slanting eyes, like a mournful clown's, unable to meet his own. "Just once. For me to remember. I won't ever ask you again."
Hell- the poor boy. I never thought he was such a romantic.
"Yes, of course." He took him by the shoulders and put his mouth to the younger man's. Takamatsu's arms came around his back, and suddenly Takamatsu's mouth was open and Takamatsu's tongue was in Luzar's mouth and an amazingly sweet sensation was flooding his groin. Shocked, he tried to pull away, but his student held him tightly, the black eyes glinting evilly at him.
"You're a damned liar, sensei. And you a scientist. You should be ashamed."
"Let me go, Takamatsu." He made it a request; he was in no position to be giving orders. And he was ashamed, desperately.
"You want me. That's a fact. You can't deny facts. So what are you waiting for?"
He didn't answer.
"It is Magic, isn't it?"
"Takamatsu, you don't know- you just don't know-"
Straniero tu non sai- the aria floated through Takamatsu's head. Why was he thinking of his father's operas at a time like this?- di qua cos'e capace la Crudele- He shut it off.
"What don't I know? I bet I do."
"How you'll feel- about us-" he struggled with the words-"about me- afterwards-"
"You think I'll hate myself in the morning? I'm no virgin, sensei. You're the one who might have regrets-"
Luzar closed his eyes for a long moment. When he opened them he was calm and collected and a million miles away. "Let me go, Takamatsu. This scene does credit to neither of us." Takamatsu loosed him at once, chilled and more than a little afraid.
"I'm sorry, sir. I forgot my place." He tried for his most persuasive voice. "But sir- I still don't see what the problem is. I can be your lover and your student at the same time. I don't always behave like a madman, you know that, it's just-- I've been so frustrated lately- not knowing..."
Luzar turned away and walked to his desk.
"You're my assistant. That's what's most important to me. I won't let anything threaten that relationship."
"Neither will I. I won't leave, sensei. You can't make me leave. So what's the problem?"
He sat down. "Servis said you could take care of yourself. I know it's true. It's even truer than I thought. Maybe, Takamatsu, I have enough sexual pride not to like the idea of being my student's student."
He'd humiliated him. He's not Servis, asshole.
"I apologize, sir. I shouldn't have done that.
"Then why did you? Just to prove me a liar?"
God, he would go on his knees this time. He did, putting his arms across Luzar's thighs and his head on his lap. Begging wasn't too high a price to pay.
"Sensei, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Don't be angry at me, please, it's breaking my heart. It's breaking anyway. All I want is to be yours, and you don't want to want me, and I don't know why."
"Takamatsu." Luzar's voice held a note of helpless amusement. "You're being absurd. Get up, for god's sake."
"No. I like it like this." He knew he was being absurd. So what?
"And here I thought you were a serious young man. What on earth has come over you?"
"Well," he said, looking up at him reflectively, "I have been seeing a lot of Servis lately."
"Oh god. No, alright, I suppose I had that coming." He paused. "You're not serious, are you? Takamatsu, don't take my brother for a model-"
"I'm not, really. But he can get anyone he wants. Maybe I'm just jealous--" And that brought them back, very neatly, to the main problem. "Sensei, what is it? You want me and I want you. I promise it won't change anything here in the lab, and I promise I won't feel differently about us afterwards- why would I?"
"About- oh, I see. I meant, about my family."
"Me. Ohh- I'm no good at talking about these things. Takamatsu, will you please get up off the floor before the others come?"
"You know, every time you're going to tell me what the problem is, you back off and change the subject. You're as bad as Servis. He won't tell me what's bugging him either unless I beat him with a whip- oh shit," he said, and added hastily, "Figuratively, I mean, figuratively, I've never-- you do know that?"
Luzar was laughing, a little shakily, and Takamatsu, his alarm subsiding, couldn't keep the corners of his own mouth straight. "Oh, come on. Tell me," he coaxed. "What's the problem with you and me?"
Luzar bit his lip. "Magic," he said at last.
"We talked about this before. If we became- involved- he'd be certain to find out- and- you know what would happen. And I can't see how you could- how you could- go on-" he was struggling with the words. Say it, Takamatsu thought, say it-- "go on thinking about me in the same way. Afterwards." He averted his eyes. "You'll associate the two of us- you couldn't help it- and that will be the end of everything. You won't want to stay-"
"That's ridiculous!" he exploded. Luzar looked back at him, startled. "Sensei, that's-" words failed him.
"You don't know," Luzar said with decision. "Do you in fact know what you can put up with? It's easy enough to say before the fact, yes I can take this, it won't affect me, but when it's over and it has affected you and everything's different, then what?"
"We'll deal with that then. You're not going to deny yourself something now because of something else that may happen later that may change how I feel-"
"I can't take the chance. I couldn't stand it if you began to hate me because of Magic. I shouldn't be telling you this-- you already fancy yourself enough, god knows- but you're the kind of student that comes along once in a lifetime. I don't want to lose you. I'll do whatever I have to to keep you safe, and that includes staying away from you."
"You mean, you don't want to have me in case you lose me. Christ, sensei--" He sat back on his heels, looking up at him in exasperation and worry. What do I say, how do I convince him? He's so used to being afraid of Magic--
The door banged open just as he grabbed hold of Luzar's knees again, about to launch into an impassioned speech in defence of love and liberty.
"Good morn- uh- I'm sorry, sir." Ng looked flummoxed.
"Good morning, Ng. Takamatsu here has temporarily taken leave of his senses. Would you go get us a cup of tea while I try to bring him back to them?"
"It's not made yet," Takamatsu informed him.
"I beg your pardon. Would you go make us a pot of tea?"
"Take your time," Takamatsu called over his shoulder, and Luzar, forgetting himself, swatted his head in a manner more brotherly than professorial.
"Mind your manners. You're still the most junior member of this team."
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir."
"And get up."
"You see the problem, Takamatsu? Trying to mix the professional and the private?"
"It's not unsolvable, sir. And the private isn't going to go away just because it's inconvenient."
"All this- they're just feelings. They can be controlled."
Takamatsu looked at him from the other side of the gulf that had just opened between them.
"Just feelings. Just something that gets in the way. So you lock them away someplace where they can't bother you. Oh, sir." He took Luzar's hand and put his lips to the inside of the wrist, the way he'd always wanted to.
"We're scientists, Takamatsu. We deal in facts, not in-- intangible entities."
"Radiation is intangible too, but it kills you if you ignore it."
Luzar said nothing.
"I guess it's easier for you. You only have to keep saying no every time I say please." Like Servis. What's wrong with this family?
Right. Well then.
Attack the problem at its source. I go to him and--
The idea made him cold to his fingertips. His stomach turned over, as if he'd swallowed a lead weight. No way. No way.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, looking into the abyss. "You're absolutely right. I've been behaving like an idiot. I'm very sorry." He was on his feet. "I promise you, there won't be a repetition of this. May I go now?" He bowed, waiting for dismissal.
"Yes, of course." Luzar barely managed to hide his surprise. "Start setting up for that infra-red measurement."
"Yes, sir." Subdued, he went back to his place, the very picture of a chastened subordinate. In a slight daze, Luzar greeted Lee and Dufay as they came in, took the cup of tea Ng brought him, and fell into the routine of the day.
So that's over, a part of him thought mournfully. His eyes stung, and he blinked hard. He was not going to start that again. Better for them both, the way they were. And if Servis went on being careful, there might be nothing more to worry about. Takamatsu wouldn't be hurt more than he had been- and he was young, he had Servis, he'd be alright. He remembered that kiss, those strong hands on his back- it would have been nice- and stopped the thought. Not for him...
He looked over at his assistant with love and regret. Takamatsu was positioning the infra-red scoptometer, neatly and competently. Self-contained and more than self-confident but not, definitely, someone who could eat Magic for lunch. Thank god he would never- if he were lucky- have to try.
"Do you remember some story about a giant who turned people to stone?"
"It's in the back of my head- someone standing in a roadway, turned to stone, and something about a giant or a monster. Not Medea."
"Medusa," Servis said irritably.
"Whatever. Maybe he ate them as well, I forget-"
"Why the hell are you talking about that now?"
Servis' annoyance was perhaps justified. He was kneeling on Takamatsu's desk chair, bent over the back, with his wrists tied to the legs and his calves bound to the seat and four-fifths of Takamatsu's hand up his ass.
"I can't place it. It's driving me crazy."
"You're driving me crazy. You've got me practically upside down here, and you're not even paying attention."
He sighed. "Hell- I don't know, Servis. I'm just not in the mood today." He withdrew his hand.
"Obviously. Well, untie me and let's go fuck."
"I don't think I could."
"I'll fuck you, then." Takamatsu looked up, startled, from wiping his hand on a wad of tissue. "You liked it the other night."
"Then let's do it again."
He untied Servis' wrists and helped him up, struggling inwardly. The lump in his stomach, there for the last three days, seemed to grow heavier. He didn't mind; of course, he didn't mind. Just...
"Takamatsu, where did you learn these knots? Or is this an improvisation?" Servis was trying to pick apart the complex, knobbly net of shoelaces that imprisoned his cock between two slats of the chair.
"Mmh. I may have to use scissors on that."
"I'll use the scissors. You'd do an impromptu circumcision and not even notice."
Takamatsu found the scissors for him and went off to scrub his hands.
"Look, Servis-" he said as he came back.
"Mmm." Servis was still working at the shoelaces. "Don't you have nail scissors?"
He got them out of his shaving kit. "Here. Let me do it. I'll be careful." He snipped, and got him free from the chair. Servis pointedly took the scissors from him and got the rest of the laces off.
"How come you're always dressed and I'm always naked? Let's get these off you-"
"Look, Servis- oh, alright." He let Servis undress him and take him to the bed. It would make Servis happy and, god knows, he couldn't do much for him the way he was.
"Who do you want me to be?"
"What do you mean? Just be you."
Servis' fingers came inside him, slippery with cream.
"You don't want me to call you Takamatsu-kun?"
"No," he said ferociously, "I don't want you to call me Takamatsu-kun." Call me 'cadet.' No, no, don't. "Just fuck me, damn it."
Servis began doing so, delicately and thoroughly. He ought to be enjoying this more than he was; Servis really was good.
"Harder," he said, through gritted teeth.
Servis speeded up. It was almost right- but he remembered other times, and decided he wasn't above getting a bit of his own back.
"Wimp. Faggotty wimp. Can't you do better than that?"
Servis leaned over and licked his ear.
"You're asking for rape, Takamatsu-chan."
"You? Ha. Let's see you do it."
"Why didn't you just say at the start that you wanted me to be Harlem?"
"Wai-" but it was too late. Both arms were pulled out from under him and bent behind his back. His head hit the mattress, and he yelled as the new angle of his hips stretched his asshole.
"Servis- stop- Christ-" Servis was pounding at him- oh god, it hurt- he couldn't take it, he couldn't- he howled helplessly into the sheet. The red pain went on forever, growing worse and worse, and then suddenly Servis was out of him, it was over, and he folded up, biting his hand to kill the sound. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit- his other hand pounded the mattress- oh shit oh shit- Servis caught his wrist and held it still.
"Let me go," he yelled, around his fist.
A sudden spasm shook his body. He thought he was going to be sick. Servis put both arms around him, his warmth pressing against his back.
"You should've said you'd never done it rough before."
"Of course I have," cursing his wavering voice. He elbowed him violently away. "Fuck off, Servis. Fuck- get out- just go away and don't ever let me see you again." He sat up and swung at him with all his strength. Servis, dodging, ended on his feet on the floor.
"Out. And don't come back."
"OK," Servis said mildly. He dressed quickly, gave one last glance at Takamatsu curled up by the wall, and left.
Takamatsu heard the quiet click of the latch. The knot in his stomach still threatened nausea. Relax, relax, he told it, but it did no good. Luzar-sama was right. I won't be able to take it. It'll change everything. He was numb with fear and despair, face to face with the wall that stood in his path, and seeing no way around it. But he had to get round it.
He stood it, the voice in his head said again,- when he was half your age. He turned wretchedly to his other side. Jan stood it. You want to be one down to Jan all the rest of your life? "Oh, shit," he said aloud, miserably, and buried his face in the pillow. I never want to see any of them again in my life. No not true. I want- oh Christ.
There was a knock at the door. I'm not here, he thought, putting the pillow over his head. Another knock. Fuck off, whoever, I'm asleep. Silence. Good.
The door clicked open and he jerked up to yell at the intruder.
"Trolls turn to stone in the sun. Was that what you meant?" Servis asked.
Trolls, he thought, something slotting distantly into place. "Yes," he said eventually, his thoughts too porridgy for any one of them to be clear.
Servis hesitated, then walked into the room. He prised off his shoes and came to kneel by the bed.
"At least let me make you a little happy before I have to go home," he said.
"You can't," he said, lying down again. Then, relenting, "I mean, not even you can. You might as well leave."
"You aren't worrying about something like that, are you? It happens to everyone."
He didn't answer.
"Is it Luzar?"
"No. Leave me alone."
Servis got up and went away. He heard water running in the bathroom. Trolls turn to stone- trolls turn people- under the bridge- what's he doing?-
"Lie over. You're bleeding."
"I said, leave me alone."
"You look after me when I get hurt, you have to let me look after you. Over."
"I can look after myself."
"Fair's fair." The hands turned him. It wasn't worth fighting about. Servis washed him and applied the ointment.
"You didn't tell me it stings."
"I like it."
Servis' warm hands, slightly damp from the washcloth, moved across his shoulderblades.
"What are you doing?" peevishly, but it felt good.
"What I can." The hands travelled in circular motions down his back, his ass, his legs, making his blood move, and ended up flat on the soles of his feet. Warmth ran up his legs, and he felt, in surprise, the centre of his back melt into relaxation.
"That's a neat trick."
"Hush." Servis worked his way back up, strong hands massaging his muscles gently. Tears began to trickle out of Takamatsu's eyes and run across the bridge of his nose, but his face was hidden, it wouldn't show. Servis was kneading his shoulders now; he could feel the stiffness begin to go out of them, but the stiffness within was still there, unyielding.
A warm mouth planted itself on the edge of his shoulderblade and moved gently down his back, the pointed tip of a tongue flicking within it. It was like being nibbled by fish when you swam at the pond. It moved down his hips and stopped at the under edge of his ass, lipping the sensitive skin at the top of his legs. He groaned softly, pressing himself into the mattress. The little fish came and nibbled at his balls, and he gave a deep 'ohh' of surprise and pleasure. Servis' hands urged him up: he raised his hips, and Servis slipped his head underneath. That firm flexible wetness began to work on his scrotum, washing and prodding and licking busily, and suddenly the mouth opened and took him into a- a vibrating darkness. It was beyond anything he'd ever felt in his life. Blood drained from his head, and he saw stars. His cock forgot all about being too paralyzed to move and stood up straight, sandwiched between his stomach and Servis' face. Trolls turn to sun... no, to stone- a stone bridge... In the sun- heat radiated from his body, his face, his back, his cock- he was going to shoot, he ought to- and he came suddenly, in great quivering gusts, and slipped from Servis' mouth, remembering only just in time to roll on his side and not on top of him.
Servis sat up and found the washcloth, dabbing the white cum from his hair.
"What was that about trolls?" he said at last.
"A story my nurse told me when I was a kid. There was a monster- a troll, I guess- who lived under a bridge and ate people. And someone- I can't remember who, some clever person-- he tricked the troll into coming out and the sun turned him to stone and that's why some hill is the way it is, or where it is. I forget." He turned on his back, arms behind his head, watching Servis' long pale hair.
"So what's the connection?"
"Don't know that there is one. Just, I decided there was a monster like that in the cupboard under the staircase. It reminded me of the bridge, maybe, I don't know." He always felt chatty after sex. It looked like this might be one of the times that Servis was going to indulge him.
"Anyway, I was scared sick it would come out and eat me. My nurse kept saying it wasn't there, but I knew it was, so she said if it came out I could fight it and win. But I knew I couldn't- it was so big and I was so small. I started using the back stairs instead, the ones that went to the kitchen and the servants' hall. Mama was annoyed- scandalized, actually. She told me the cupboard was locked and she showed me the key, and I made her give it to me and wore it around my neck. But I knew the monster was still there, and I thought it might call to me when I was alone and make me let it out, so I still couldn't use the stairs."
"Oh, my father finally realized something was wrong, and when he found out he said, what you have to do with monsters is figure out what they're afraid of and then be it. And I said monsters aren't scared of anything, and he said everyone's afraid of something. Mostly they're afraid of what's different from them. Think about a monster, he said, think about where it lives, in the dark and the dust and the spiderwebs, next to the cold ground and the grubs and the earthworms. What would a monster like that hate? Soap, he said, the smell of strong soap. Especially carbolic. It reminds him of hot water and baths and being clean, and all the other things a monster can't stand. I turned into a bath freak. Before, my nurse had to drag me in every night, kicking and yelling." He smiled at the memory, his wily Papa being so grave and matter-of-fact about the psychology of monsters. "After that, when I walked downstairs, I'd sniff the carbolic on my hands and feel wonderfully safe." He wasn't going to tell Servis he still felt that way, whenever he scrubbed up at the lab. "The old man's pretty amazing."
"'The old man'?" Servis' eyebrows rose.
"A statement of fact. He's over sixty. It's 'sir' to his face."
"Why so old?"
"Wild oats. He ran through half a fortune by the time he was thirty-nine, then settled down to being a good businessman. I don't think he meant to get married, but my mother had other ideas. She's a lot younger than him."
"It's a family business? What'll you do when he dies?"
"It'll go to my cousins. My uncle stayed at home minding the store while Papa was cavorting with opera singers in Milan, so it's kind of a reward. I figure that's why he doesn't mind me doing what I do."
"What was your father like? I always wondered."
Oh great. Just great.
"Syphilis, probably, Luzar says. After Mother died."
"That's tough. Papa was lucky that way."
"Mmh. You ok now?"
"Yeah. Thanks." He felt awkward.
"Incidentally- that money I lent you two years ago. I need it back."
"When can I have it by?"
"I haven't got it."
"Ask your father."
"He keeps me short." Servis was looking at him. "Well, I can ask-"
"Good. Do that. Goodnight, Takamatsu." He got up and was gone.
I must be out of my fucking mind. They're all crazy, and I'm going crazy too. Momentarily he indulged the fantasy of dropping everything and going back home to demand his rightful position. To be the young master again instead of Takamatsu-kun... He'd never do it, and he'd hate it if he did, but the idea made him feel safe and warm long enough for him to get to sleep.
Servis dropped his coat and hat on the hall chair and came into the living room to find what looked amazingly like Harlem and Luzar getting drunk together. An empty bottle of Scotch was on the table, a half empty one beside it, and each was nursing a glass in his hands. But he realized after a moment that he was mistaken. The hostility from Harlem's side and the distaste from Luzar's were nearly tangible. They were getting drunk separately: it was coincidence that it happened to be in the same room.
"Where've you been?" Harlem asked, sullenly pie-eyed.
"Your friend Gregor."
"That's a damned lie!"
"Yes indeed. And lies are all you'll hear if you keep on asking questions like that."
Luzar's eyes flicked over at him. He reached for the bottle and refilled his glass to the brim. Harlem sat back, looking ill-used.
"You're a cunt, Servis. You always were- just a frozen little piece of shit."
"Is Magic back yet?"
"No. What do you want him for?"
"If you're going to stay, you might as well have a drink too," Luzar said detachedly.
"Mm." He went and got a glass from the sideboard. "No ice?"
The other two didn't bother to answer. He went to the kitchen, put crackers on a plate, found an almost untouched hunk of cheddar, added a knife, remembered to put ice in his glass, and returned.
He splashed Scotch into the tumbler, making the ice crack.
"It's Glenlivet," Luzar said with a hint of reproach.
"Yes indeed," he agreed, unmoved. At least Harlem, after a moment, began to cut himself slices of cheese, fitting them between the crackers and eating them in one bite. The silence continued. He had nothing to say to Harlem anymore, and anything he might say to Luzar had to wait till they were alone.
"Why don't you turn on the TV?"
"He doesn't want it on." Harlem jerked his head at Luzar.
"You can watch the one in your room. Television is an abomination. It kills brain cells at the rate of 350,000 a minute."
Luzar was seriously drunk. This had to be a first.
"Have some cheese." He pushed the plate in his direction.
"Thank you, no." He finished his glass and immediately poured another. Scotch slopped over the edge.
"It's Glenlivet," Harlem said, spitefully. "You're drunk, nii-san. You never could hold your liquor."
"I'm not nearly as drunk as I'd like to be, and not half as drunk as I intend to be, and not a tenth as drunk as you are, Harlem. This must be hell," he said, without pause, "all the damned sitting together with nothing to say to each other, forever."
That was so true that there was nothing to say to it. Servis struggled for a minute, the urge to go to his room fighting an old reflex, to try to help his brothers. You can't help them, he told himself, and was just putting his glass down when they heard Magic enter the front door and dismiss his aides. A minute later he was in the living room.
"What, all here together? It's been a while."
He was smiling, in excellent spirits. Obviously, something had gone very right today. There was a high edge of energy about him that made Servis withdraw into himself, like a snail pulling in its horns.
"All we needed was you, nii-san," Harlem said. It sounded like bitchery, and Magic gave him an angry look. But oddly enough, Harlem probably meant it, more than he would admit at any rate. That edge in Magic drew him; he couldn't help himself. Poor Harlem.
"This is my house. I hope you don't mind me living in it occasionally. And that's my Scotch you're drinking."
"It's very good Scotch," Luzar said objectively.
"Well then, you won't mind me having some. Get me a glass, Servis."
"Do you want ice?"
"God no. It's Glenlivet." Harlem sniggered. "What's so damn funny? Sometimes I think you have something missing upstairs, Harlem." His twin succumbed to a fit of furious sulks. He brought a glass and poured the Scotch for Magic without thinking. It was hard to think when he was near Magic. He was only too much aware of those bright blue eyes, that thick springy hair that felt so good to dig one's fingers into, the muscled chest that showed between the red lapels of the Commander's uniform... Like an undertow, he felt himself being drawn by the sheer physicality of his oldest brother. It would be nice to lie against that broad chest once more, to feel the strong arms around him and pretend that he was a child again, safe and protected...
"Well, it's been a long day," Magic was saying, draining off his Scotch. "I'm for a bath. Are you coming, Servis?"
The world stood still. It was now, not then, and Takamatsu's damning marks were all down the back of his body.
"I had a shower at the gym this evening."
"Not as good as the real thing. Come and wash my back."
He tried to think of something to say, but absolutely nothing came. His mind was empty. Momentary panic beat at him- Takamatsu- he'd promised Luzar-
"You didn't tell him?" Luzar sounded accusing.
"How could I?"
"What?" Magic looked from one to the other.
"I'm having a Wasserman run on him. He's to stay out of baths and pools until he tests negative."
Magic drew back. "Servis!"
He shrugged. "It's army life, nii-san. Don't tell me you never caught a dose."
Magic's hand slammed against the side of his head and he went sprawling on the floor.
"Don't talk to me like that," Magic said through set teeth.
He picked himself up. "Sorry."
"You should be. Now, where did you get this disgusting disease? Who infected you? Was it Takamatsu?"
His start of surprise was, fortunately, quite involuntary.
"Maybe. We shared a beer glass."
"Do you want me to hit you again?"
"It wasn't Takamatsu. Takamatsu," he said deliberately, searching for the most contemptuous term he could think of, "wouldn't dip his wick in anything that hadn't been through a sterilizing unit. You should do something about that germ phobia of his, nii-san," he said to Luzar, "it's unnatural."
"Turned you down, did he?" said Harlem, smiling. "He's smarter than he looks, if he knows to stay away from that clap hole of yours."
"No-one ever turns you down," Servis observed. "You don't bother to ask first. Most accomplished rapist on base. No wonder Magic's aides hide behind his chair when you're in the room." He got himself on the other side of the sofa to avoid Harlem's lunge.
"You fucking cocksucker! You shithead long-haired faggot!" Harlem floundered around the furniture.
"You're too drunk to stand, Harlem," he said, giving a considered judgment.
"Cut it out, the pair of you!" Magic waded in, pushing Harlem back down into his chair and punching him when he tried to get up. But Harlem, tears streaming down his face, went on fighting. "I'll kill him," he yelled, "and I'll kill you too, you fucking-- fucking--" Magic pinned his arms behind him, holding back the thrashing torso that was still trying to get at Servis like a dog straining on a leash.
"Calm down," he said, peremptorily but without anger. He gave Harlem a considering look. "Servis, you can apologize to your brother."
"He can apologize to me."
"That's an order."
"I apologize. Commander," he added, crisply formal, "I request a transfer. To the European base."
"Don't start that again."
Harlem had stopped struggling in his surprise. "What!?"
"I wish to be assigned to the European base in the capacity of cryptographer. This is a formal request."
"No. I've told you before. You're in no condition to go anywhere. You'll stay here where I can look after you."
"You want to leave?" Harlem was having difficulty speaking. "Well hell- well hell- let him go, nii-san. I can't stand the sight of him either." His rage was building up to explosive force. "Send him to Europe. The place will smell a lot cleaner without him." His voice shook.
"Servis, you're impossible. Get out, go to bed- you've done enough damage for one night. Luzar, get him out of here."
Luzar got to his feet, jerking his head at the door. Servis gave Magic and Harlem a last inscrutable look and went with him.
"Fuck him. Fuck him. Fuck them both." Harlem was biting his lower lip.
"You've calmed down?"
"Yeah. Don't worry. You can let me go." Magic loosed his arms and he slumped back into the chair, head down.
"You are drunk," Magic said genially. "And you smell like a goat."
"Not in my army. A clean mind in a clean body. Bath time, Harlem. On your feet."
Magic took his arm and pulled him unresistingly to his feet. "Be a good boy, or Nii-san will spank. Can you walk?"
"Of course, dammit." His shin crashed into the coffee table, and he swore. "I'm not drunk." Magic put an arm around his back and draped Harlem's own arm over his shoulder. "I can walk. I don't need you to lean on. I'm not a f-fucking faggot like him." Harlem's muttering became incomprehensible.
"Mm-hmm. I know. There you go. Good boy. One step at a time..." Magic was smiling a little. With Harlem leaning heavily on his shoulders, and lurching a little from the weight of his larger body, he led them slowly out of the living room.