Luzar and Servis went up the stairs in silence.

            "Nii-san," he said when they were at the top. "I'm sorry. I really am. I just froze there."

            "Yes, didn't you just." Luzar spoke with far more venom than he'd ever heard him use before. "You must have known something like this would happen someday. I'd assumed you had some plan to deal with it. I assumed that plan didn't involve throwing Takamatsu to the wolves. How wrong I was."

            "I can understand why you're angry..."

            "How very obliging of you."

            "I covered alright afterwards," he protested.

            "And what would you have done if I hadn't been there?"

            He was silent. Luzar almost never lost his temper; this couldn't last long. He waited.

            "You knew it was dangerous. You simply didn't care. Takamatsu is just a convenience to you. If he gets hurt, too bad. Just another of your casualties." Servis flinched. He'd hurt him. Good. Maybe he might get it through his pig head that other people were people too.

            "Your sex life is no business of mine. I don't care what you do. But I'd have a lot more respect for you if you'd paid a professional to give you your kicks, instead of making my assistant risk his neck to do it."

            "I'm not making him do anything he doesn't want to."

            "Crap." The vulgarity was almost as shocking as the tone of voice. "Sometimes I could hit you, you're so stupid. Would he ever, in a million years, have suggested it on his own?"

            The answer to that was no. He couldn't deny it.

            "Alright. I'm a turd. I admit it. Are you satisfied?"

            "Yes, you are," Luzar said flatly. "And no, I'm not."

            "If you're so worried about Takamatsu, take him away from me," he said coldly. "You could do it in five seconds. But you won't." They heard voices leaving the living room, and moved round the corner to stand in front of Servis' door.

            "We have a fair exchange," Servis went on, low-voiced, not giving Luzar time to begin. "Something for something. He gives me what I want, I give him what he wants. It isn't me he wants it from, anymore, it's you, but you won't give it to him. And it's driving him crazy. Don't talk to me about what I'm doing to Takamatsu. Think about what you're doing to him yourself. I'll tell you something. He beat the shit out of me Monday night. He was out of control, way over the edge. But it wasn't me he was talking to while he was doing it. It was you."

            Luzar's eyes shifted. It had been Tuesday that...

            "He changed his mind next day. We had a talk. He realized that we're better off the way we are."

            "And today he had a little bout of impotence, purely by coincidence."

            Luzar's hand came up as if by reflex, but he checked it.

            "You had no business telling me that," he said with controlled savagery. "You have no respect for Takamatsu's privacy- for his dignity-"

            "He doesn't have any. He's a clown." Don't tell me how to talk about my friends, he thought, but it made no difference. Luzar hit him anyway; not as hard as Magic had, but enough to make his ears ring. Without another word, his brother turned and went back down the corridor.

            Servis went into his room, refusing to let himself feel anything because all the things he might have felt were so unpleasant. He locked the door and, opening a drawer in his desk, took out an old wallet. Carefully he counted the money in it. He knew exactly how much it was, but counting it always made him feel better. Enough to get to Shanghai on, if he went by tramp steamer. With the money from Takamatsu, he'd have a week at least to find work. But Takamatsu wouldn't be busting his ass to get that money from his father. He might not be able to wait for it.

            Someone tried the handle of his door. "Servis. I want to talk to you. Open up." He put the money back unhurriedly and went to let Magic in.

            "Why do you keep your door locked?" his brother asked, peering around suspiciously. "What are you doing in here?"

            "It's locked to keep people out," he replied without expression.

            "Meaning me. You have secrets from me, Servis. You never used to."

            "I've always had secrets from you, nii-san. You didn't know about them. That's what made them secrets."

            "We used to be so close," he said reproachfully.

            "Very close. Your cock up my ass. You can't get closer than that, so obviously all we could do was get farther apart."

            Magic shook his head. "You're so cold now. You don't know how much it hurts me to be treated like this. I never know what you're thinking these days- you used to tell me everything."

            He said nothing.

            "Alright," Magic said, getting angry. "Have it your way. Look where your secrets have got you now. Rotting away with the same disease that killed Papa."

            "I don't have the clap. Luzar just thinks I do."

            "He knows more than you do. I know more than you do. Show me. Take it out and show me, now."

            Servis looked at him a long moment. "Alright." He undid his fly and took out his cock. There were mottled bruises where the shoelaces had held him as he struggled against Takamatsu's fist.

            "Those aren't- What's going on?"

            He took off his shirt, to show the traces of bruises and burns from the last two months, then his jeans and undershorts. He turned around to give Magic a view of his thighs, fading black and yellow from the waist down, and the backs of his legs, dappled purple and red from the clothespins and candle wax.

            He turned around again. Magic was staring, aghast.

            "Servis- in god's name- who did that to you?"

            "A very expensive professional. Several of them. You have to pay double the ordinary to have it done, and extra if you have special requests. Which I do. Can you guess what they are?"

            "That's sick. Sick- disgusting. You're never going near that place again. I'll lock you up if I have to-"

            "That won't be necessary. I don't have to go back, now. I should just have come to you in the first place and you'd have done it for free, right? Such a kind older brother. You know the definition of a sadist, nii-san? That's a man who's kind to masochists. And I'm a masochist- as you can see. And you're always so kind to me."

            All the time he'd been coming closer to Magic, and Magic, he saw with unbelievable joy, had been backing away. It wouldn't last- the fire would come into his brother's eyes in a minute, and the white smile curve his mouth- but in the moment before he had to pay for it, he savoured his small victory.

            "So what about it, Magic? I know a lot more than I did when I was a kid. I can tell you what I like--"

            "Servis, stop this. Stop now. You're not- you're not yourself."

            "Yes I am. All I want to do is what we did before, but with-- refinements. You can afford the equipment. I don't mind you buggering me, but I want to be chained while you're doing it. Leather cuffs and steel chains. I've had it done to me while I was upside down- it's the best. You'll like it."

            "This is sick, Servis- I want to vomit. Before was different: it was... natural, and beautiful. You want to make it twisted and perverted- the way you twist and pervert everything," Magic said with sudden anger.

            Servis smiled sweetly at him from under his eyelashes and came closer. "'Sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me,"' he chanted. "Perverted is a lot more fun for me, nii-san. You'll get used to it. You'll even come to like it. It's so you. There's all sorts of things I bet you never even thought of on your own: cock restraints and nipple piercers and branding irons- there's a million ways you can hurt me, and a million ways you can fuck me-" He had Magic backed against the wall and was talking right over his protests, snuggling up to him, smiling into his eyes, the achingly familiar smell of his brother's skin making him hard. "And you know where I want you to do it first? I have a special place for you now- it's all yours - I couldn't do this when I was a kid." He pulled back the thick hanging hair from the deep crevice of his right eye socket. "Here," he said. "In here. A virgin hole, just for you." He smiled at the coming joke. "You can fuck my brains out. Literally."

            Magic choked in horror. "Servis. Servis. You're crazy." He was crying. "You don't know what you're saying. Look, it'll be alright. I'll get you the best doctors-- I'll see you're alright-"

            "I'm fine, nii-san," he said coolly, calmly, and turned and began to get dressed again. It took all his will power to let go of Magic and pick up his clothes with steady hands. Just once, just once more, his heart pleaded, but he ignored it. He'd won; he'd gone farther than Magic dared to follow; maybe he'd even wanted to win, but that he wasn't sure of. "I'm not insane, you know," he said. "Just tired of the lies. The ones you tell yourself, the ones you make us tell you. So, do we have a deal? I'll do what you want, you'll do it the way I like it. OK?" He looked over at his brother.

            Magic's mouth was working. "This is- filthy- filthy- twisted and evil and disgusting. Oh god. Why me? What have I done- what did I do to deserve- why do I have a monster like you for a brother?"

            Magic's histrionics were always so tiring. "I don't know," he said flippantly. "Heredity?"

            Magic went rigid. "Papa," he said, barely above a whisper. "Oh Servis- you've got- you inherited- it wasn't after Mother died-" The colour had left his face, so that the fine lines of his skin suddenly looked deep as fissures, and his blue eyes were grey with despair. "Servis," he said in a numb voice, "I'm sorry- I can't let you go on-"

            "You're going to kill me?" he asked calmly, but an amazing joy, like a summer's sunrise, was beginning in his heart.

            "I don't have a choice," he said desperately, half-pleading. "I can't let you become- I can't let you do what he did- there's Shin-chan, and Gunma, and I can't keep you guarded forever- You'd want me to stop you, if you could understand. I'm sorry, Servis."

            "Don't be." He was smiling at his brother, transfixed with happiness. Free- free. It was over. He didn't have to do any of this anymore. Tears filled his one eye; he could have embraced the whole world. "I love you, nii-san. You know that. All this-" he waved his hand vaguely around him- "I guess we just couldn't help it. You'll say good-bye to Harlem for me? And tell Luzar- tell Luzar I'm sorry."

            Magic stared at him, his face unreadable. Then he turned and walked out of the room, stiffly, as if his legs were made of wood.

            After a moment Servis sat down at the desk again. He took out the wallet and laid the money in piles on the desk top, then sat staring at it for a long long time, his mind as empty as a reach of sand under a cloudless sky.


            Shock and revulsion had wiped Magic's brain clean of thought. Body and mind felt paralyzed, incapable of movement. That sudden glimpse down the long alley of the years to his nightmare childhood had brought an instant nausea, almost a panic. It was still happening. It had claimed Servis. And there was nothing he could do about it.

            Instinct took him blindly to his bedroom where his son was sleeping. He looked down at him, safely tucked up in his crib. As always, his knees melted at the sight of that tiny scrunched face under the black hair. He ran his fingers through the damp feathery stuff. That beautiful hair- and those lovely black eyes- his fear began to loosen. Shin-chan was safe. Whatever was the matter with his family- you could call it a curse, as he did, or genetics, like Luzar- whatever it was, Shin-chan didn't have it. His very face proclaimed the fact.

            He relaxed and took a deep, shaky breath. Poor Servis. He'd overreacted there. A good thing he'd left- he might really have killed him, persuaded that his brother wanted him to do it. That cunning insanity... They'd had a narrow escape. So what was he to do? He didn't want to lock him away: he was still young, he had all his life before him. Maybe he could be treated- this was the modern age, there were drugs... He needed to know when the signs had first appeared. Seeing him every day, his family had noticed nothing. His friends might- who are his friends? Takamatsu and who else? No other names came to mind. Who took him to that- It must have been Takamatsu. Who else is there? That young man is definitely depraved. You can see it in his eyes. I can see it, at any rate. Of course Luzar wouldn't, he doesn't live in the real world. Tomorrow. I'll put the fear of God into him and get the whole story, tomorrow.


            Takamatsu woke next day with nothing resolved. No miracles, no insights: meaning today was a day like yesterday and the day before and the day before that. With a heavy heart he dressed and went to the lab. His work held little consolation for him these days. He tried to remember when even the routine chores had given him satisfaction, back in that other life of his a scant month ago. Now the tedium was doubly tedious, and the interesting parts were made painful by the untouchable proximity of Luzar-sama. And there was still no way out. All that kept him going was the conviction that this couldn't last forever. Something had to break: and it would probably be him. Maybe today would be the day that his frustration finally grew stronger than his fear, propelling him into action. But he didn't think so. Both seemed to be exactly where they had been since Tuesday, almost perfectly balanced, eating at him alternately: with fear most definitely uppermost.

            But today held, as it turned out, a semi-reprieve.

            "Gentlemen," Luzar said in the late morning, "I've been called away this afternoon. If you see any problems about to arise in your work, consult with me now, because I won't be here after lunch." Dufay and Gibson both had concerns that needed talking over. Takamatsu didn't, and didn't know whether to be glad or sorry. But he was aware of a definite feeling of relief that he wouldn't have to see Luzar until tomorrow. Hard on its heels came a gray wave of depression. Had it really come to this, that he was grateful for Luzar's absence?

            It was two o'clock when Magic's aide came with a summons to his office. He was startled for a moment, then realized that Luzar must be with the Commander now. Mildly puzzled nonetheless, he followed the brown haired young man. What could they want him for? The answer came with dispiriting conviction. Servis. They must be having a brotherly conference about what to do with him, and Takamatsu, as his one remaining friend, was being brought in to give an opinion.

            Quickly he reviewed the official version- We hung out in high school. We were never very close. He likes to talk about the past with me- about Jan- cause I'm the only one left who knew him. He wondered if he should suggest that Servis might benefit from a change of scenery, try to get him away from this-- madhouse, hadn't Luzar called it? Well, he'd follow Luzar-sama's lead in any case, but if the chance came up...

            The aide knocked on the door.

            "Come," said the familiar deep voice, and the aide opened the door for Takamatsu, giving him a knowing, unpleasant smile.

            That smile troubled him for the three seconds it took him to realize that the Commander was alone. After that he was beyond thought. His mind, his heart, and his stomach all froze, but his legs walked quite steadily across the broad expanse of carpet towards the large desk and the red-jacketed figure sitting behind it with his chin resting on his laced fingers. Distantly, obscurely, he was aware of a feeling of relief. It had happened, finally. It was happening. Whatever it was, it was better than waiting for it to happen.

            It was a long room, and he had ample opportunity to observe the Commander's face. Not that it told him much. When he was all business, Magic's expression was deadpan. When he was pleased or annoyed or enraged, he smiled. And he was smiling now. Takamatsu reached the desk and bowed formally, very low indeed.

            "Takamatsu." He straightened up and found himself looking into both the bright blue eyes, like a rabbit at a hawk. "I know what you've been doing with my brother. What have you got to say for yourself?"

            His mind wasn't working, so his mouth had to be on automatic. That was what it felt like, at any rate. "Sir?" he heard himself saying in polite if bewildered enquiry.

            "Don't pretend!" Magic's fist crashed on the desk. "Did you think I wouldn't find out?"

            "It's no secret, sir. But it's still in the early stages-- not much more than a theory yet. We wouldn't want to trouble you with something whose results are so uncertain."

            Magic's eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"

            "Our experiments with nicotine and its effects on the nervous system. I shouldn't say 'our'- it's Mr. Dufay's project, mostly. He's the one investigating its paralyzing properties. I'm just trying to increase the growth rates." Where was all this coming from, he wondered, and then, just don't stop. "But it's years away from practical testing, let alone use as a weapon." Why are you asking me about this, his voice seemed to suggest.

            "Don't be clever!" Magic snapped in fury. "You know I'm talking about your disgusting little- entertainments- with Servis. What excuse do you have for that, you pervert?"

            His stomach lurched sickeningly. It was like sobering up suddenly when he had been safely drunk the moment before. That protective paralysis was gone: he could feel the fear moving up from his bowels past his heart. If it reached his head, he'd be lost- crawling on the floor, begging for mercy- from the Commander... Even as his throat closed in terror, he gave a crooked smile and said, "Jealous?"

            And waited to be slaughtered.

            "You shameless degenerate! You dare- You debauch my brother and then come here with your filthy innuendoes..."

            That was too much. "I debauched Servis? I debauched Servis?! I debauched Servis?!? Give me a break, Commander." Outrage and indignation stopped his tongue. He glared at Magic.

            "You deny it?" Magic roared. "Deny taking him to that-- establishment- that whorehouse- with those- depraved professional-"

            "What? What whorehouse?" It wasn't pretence. He was completely lost.

            "The whorehouse where he has himself flogged."

            His eyes went wide and his mouth opened. He stopped himself from closing it just in time, letting himself gape and swallow hard.

            "He doesn't. He wouldn't. Commander, that's not possible. He wouldn't."

            "He does. He told me. I've seen for myself."

            "And he says I took him there?"

            "No, of course not. But who else is there?"

            He was all ready to invent a fictitious drinking buddy-- someone safely civilian and transitory- but a wave of revolt went through him and he heard himself saying instead, "No. No. I don't mind lying to protect Servis but I'm damned if I'll let him lie to protect me. There's no whorehouse, Commander, no professionals. I'm the one who did it to him. Nobody else."

            For a moment he felt wonderful, his self-respect returned for the first time in months. This family and their lies, he thought, screw them all. Then he looked at the Commander. The price tag... Shit, he thought wearily, even as his stomach tightened again, I'm getting tired of being scared all the time.

            Magic was smiling lovingly at him.

            "You did?" he purred. "You did that to my brother?"

            "Yes sir," he said flatly.

            "How did you dare?"

            "He asked me to."

            Magic leaned back in his chair. "And you were only too happy to oblige."

            Instinct told him to back off. He could meet Magic man-to-man only when they were both angry.

            "No sir. Servis's my friend. It wasn't much fun seeing him like that. But all the alternatives seemed worse. He might have gone to someone who enjoyed hurting him, or someone who didn't know what they were doing- I may be only first year med, but I know enough- or-"

            "Stop making excuses. Why didn't you come and tell me? Or Luzar, even? Having too much fun?"

            "Frankly, sir, I didn't say anything because Servis' private life is his own business. He isn't insane-"

            "He most certainly is. He-"

            He cut in right over him. "With respect, Commander, he's not. He's in a lot of pain and dealing with it the best way he can. He killed his best friend- alright, his lover-" he looked at Magic meaningfully- "and he wants to be punished for it, and it's easier for him to take physical pain than the other kind." He spoke urgently, quickly, to keep Magic's attention on the point. "And it gives him a sort of- satisfaction, knowing he can take it, and not much else does, these days-"

            "Shut up," Magic said with cold violence. "Stop trying to talk your way out of this. You knew he was insane- he had to be, or he wouldn't have asked you in the first place. And instead of coming to me like a real friend would, you took advantage of his condition- you abused and tormented him- and if you think I'm going to forgive that, think again. You may be able to fool my idiot of a brother, but you can't fool me. I know exactly what goes on in that twisted head of yours. You're responsible for all of this and now you're going to pay." He stood up.

            Oh, Luzar-sama, I'm so sorry, he thought in huge regret. But his mouth widened in a smile and he took a step towards Magic.

            "Am I now?" he said calmly, hearing in his voice the settled tones his father used in response to his own clamorous demands. "Well, if I must, I must. Just don't waste your resources, Commander. You'll need me in future."

            Magic's eyebrows rose above his smiling, angry eyes. "Oh, you think so, do you?"

            "Yes. And so will you, if you think it over. Conventional warfare is finished, Commander. You can't outgun a country with nuclear capability, and even the small countries have that now. They'll flatten you with one or two warheads. But biochemical warfare- a virus, a plague, a sickness that decimates the enemy's troops and attacks the leaders as well- something invisible, waterborne, airborne, whose source is untraceable, whose effect is totally democratic- that's how small powers can bring down the big ones. And that's what I do. I'm good. I'm better than good. Ask Luzar-sama. He doesn't pay compliments, but even he's said so." He stopped, looking closely into Magic's face. Caught, or not? "If you're looking for someone to take your anger out on, Commander, I'm entirely at your disposal, now as always. Just don't damage the goods too much, if you want to use them later." He made himself stop talking and stand placidly. He fully expected to be dead in ninety seconds, and he was going to think of nothing but Luzar for that length of time.

            "Mmmh." The Commander's voice was deep and meditative. Was there a trace of a smile in it? "There's more than one way to skin a cat." Takamatsu glanced up to meet that intent blue gaze. The light in his eyes had changed to- oh god. Oh well. Here it was. He swallowed. It wouldn't be fun, but it wouldn't kill him.

            Magic straightened up, his mouth becoming firm. "How clean are your habits, young man?"

            "Very, sir. I don't have the time- or the money, come to that- to be anything else." Unfortunately.

            "How regular are you?"

            Christ, he'd forgotten about this. "Completely, sir," he said firmly. "Morning and evening evacuations, like clockwork."

            "It's the middle of the afternoon." Magic turned and pressed the intercom button, and the brown-haired aide reappeared. "Take him away and clean him up. Call me when he's ready."

            They marched him away, his soul wailing like a three-year-old 'I don't want to, I don't want to.' They were the usual boyish types that Magic favoured, slender, without much muscle, and when their sniggering remarks became too disgusting, he had no difficulty in punching both of them out. Unfortunately it was still near the office area where there were reinforcements at hand, and he found himself facing four or five brawny bodies from the ranks, all of them trained in combat. He wanted nothing better than to take them all on, at whatever cost to himself, but they were obviously used to this scenario. Ignoring his taunts and kicks and punches, they pinned his arms and dragged him off to the lavatory.

            Three of them stayed to strip off his clothes and, laughing and joking, held him down while Magic's aides went about their revolting work. They were vicious with it, jeering when his body, still tender from Servis' roughness last night, flinched at the brutal insertion and doubled up with pain as the water was forced into it. The fight went out of him. He bit the inside of his mouth and endured, in sullen silence, the cramping of his bowels and the burning when they voided themselves and the infantile, filthy remarks of his captors. He was back in a forgotten part of his childhood, raging with the miserable impotent fury of the powerless, and seething at the unfairness of a world where stupid people could do what they liked to him just because they were stronger than he was. He fought back tears of anger and hopelessness, the final humiliation. If only he'd been able to fight, to get himself knocked unconscious, not to have to be here for any of this. And the terror was back, an omnipresent nausea behind everything, unescapable as air...

            They hosed him down, aiming the jet spray at his asshole to make him jump, and gave him a towel, too small to be much use, to dry himself off with. His clothes stuck to his skin as he got back into them.

            "We get a piece of you afterwards," the blond aide said, rubbing the darkening bruise on his cheek meaningfully. "It doesn't end when he's through with you. Just remember that, smart-ass." They took him back to the office and sat him down in a chair outside to wait until Magic called him in. He hunched into himself, staring down at the carpet, unable to think anything except that the worst hadn't even begun yet.


            It was turning out not badly for a day that had started so inauspiciously, not to say painfully. He'd woken with an appalling headache, a reminder that he was in no sense at all a drinker. He hadn't wanted food and he hadn't wanted to see any of his brothers and he very especially didn't want to meet Servis, so he'd breakfasted on black coffee and heavy dose painkillers in the army cafeteria. They'd taken effect by the time he got to work, late but functional; the tranquillizing numbness had even made it possible to greet Takamatsu with his usual calm. In midmorning a message had come that the Oceanic scientific mission, with a touchingly academic ignorance of protocol, had signified its intention of dropping in on Ganma Headquarters that day and would like a few hours of his time. He'd been momentarily appalled- today, of all days--but it had in fact turned out most pleasantly. True, he'd had to lunch them on short notice at the officers' club, whose food was just passable, and the mission head turned out to be a chain-smoker who favoured strong European cigarettes. But the conversation, which was all about his new interest in tropical flora and Jurassic survivals in their area, had been fascinating enough to make him overlook both the food and the smell. In the end, they'd all come up to the house in the mission's car to examine his own specimens in the garden and greenhouse. The head had been most complimentary, and they parted with many expressions of good will and a great deal of satisfaction on his part. He'd been wanting for a long time to collect specimens from certain islands in their region, and could now look forward to a measure of co-operation from the Oceanic government. Probably he should have seen them back to headquarters as well, but the cigarette smoke in his clothes was threatening to bring his headache back, and he had to get into some clean ones.

            There was an envelope sitting on his chest of drawers, with his name on it in Servis' neat handwriting. He opened it and read the short message inside. "Nii-san: I didn't want to go without saying good-bye to you. You'll have to take care of Takamatsu now. Good luck. Love, Servis."

            He went momentarily cold. Running to Servis' room, he threw open the door, but there was no-one there. The room looked the way it always did, which seemed to him an evil sign. Had Servis just left home, or had he-? He opened drawers at random, but nothing looked out of place. Was there something he would have been sure to take with him if he were going away- a picture, maybe, or-? He had no idea. He could feel a vague panic beginning, and his mind fluttered in distress. Call Magic, tell him? Or not? No- calm, calm. He had to think. Servis had talked of leaving home just last night; it wasn't likely to be more than that. And in that case, he wouldn't have expected Luzar to get his message before to-night: if he told Magic now he might spoil whatever plan Servis had. He should- he should-

            He went and spoke to the housekeeper but she wasn't much help. She thought Master Servis had left about mid-morning, but she wasn't sure. He'd come down late to breakfast after the others had gone... He thanked her and went back to his room, hands beginning to shake. He didn't believe Servis had just run off to be elsewhere. Luzar had known, and refused to admit, that his brother was in a desperate psychological state. He'd done nothing to help him, and the result was that, at this very minute, Servis might be... He put his head in his hands. What should he do? Magic would never forgive him. Takamatsu? No, he wouldn't know anything. He had to do something. He had to-  And his car was back at the lab. He called a staff vehicle to come get him and stood outside, in an agony of anxiety and indecision, until it arrived.


            "Up, smart-ass. He wants you."

            It was the brown haired one. Numbly he got to his feet, and followed him through the door, back inside and across the endless carpet to the desk.

            "Dismissed," he heard Magic say, and was aware of emptiness at his back as the aide walked away and left them alone. He looked up dully. Most of his fear was gone, but most of himself seemed to be gone with it. It was too difficult, that was all. If he were Takamatsu, he would be frozen with terror and transfixed with shame and burning with impotent rage, and he just couldn't afford it. It was much easier simply to not-be. If he could just keep Takamatsu far enough away from whatever it was he was now... nothing, no-one, just a body watching, just- a creature without a name, looking at the Commander, wondering what it felt.

            Not human, he thought, remembering that he had, in another life, the proof of it. Not one of us. Nausea rose in his throat, and he dropped that line of thought. Stupid, he thought, brainless, demented, self-deluded-- but that was too close to what Takamatsu would think, and might bring him back. No. The Commander. The Commander. Just, the Commander- as the Commander got up and came round the desk. Yellow hair, lightly tanned skin, blue eyes- those blue eyes: deep, intense, an amazing colour, really, scarcely natural, and so- so-

            "Well, Takamatsu," the blond man said, coming close to him and smiling into his own eyes, "are you ready for what you've got coming to you?"

            -so focussed, so aware, so-- intelligent. A different sort of intelligence- he'd never known this was possible... Not a thinking intelligence but a perceiving one. He felt a little dizzy. This man could see him, see right inside his head. His own perceptions knew it for a fact: the Commander looked at him and knew at once what he was feeling- knew better than he did himself. His fear, his resistance, his- yes- after all- his attraction: all were perfectly clear to him. It was a shocking, exciting intimacy, as though Magic could see him without his clothes even when he was wearing them. A wave of fire washed through him, with shyness hard on its heels. He was so naked, and certain he must seem lacking. His gaze dropped, past the curving mouth and the strong column of the neck down to the broad expanse of bare chest, hard and smooth-skinned and hairless, that seemed to demand to be touched. Come here, that body said, embrace me, this is what you've wanted all your life. There would be heat coming from that living skin, like a summer's day or an autumn bonfire, warmth to last him a lifetime. Not human- no, not human; more than human- of course we have to worship it-

            "Yes, sir," he said, huskily. "Anything." He wanted to be taken by those strong arms, and he knew Magic knew it; he wanted to feel that firm mouth on his body; he wanted to hold, possess--be held, possessed- I want, he thought, I want, and between his legs he could feel the painful evidence of that wanting-  I want to be-  He was still afraid, a little, because what he saw was so different from himself, because he might be annihilated in his attempt to possess it. But that didn't matter, really. He had no choice but to try. It called to him, gloriously and irresistibly, this more than humanness. Here was the next stage, what he wanted to become, what he might become if he could take it into himself. If he could just abandon the old and familiar, get up from his four legged crawl and take his first tottering steps- here was the moment when he could stop being a little less than the angels and begin to soar. Merely open himself... if he had the courage...

            There was only a second of a second's hesitation, when what had once been himself might have been making a last, voiceless protest. Then he stepped forward, bowed his head, and put his lips to the Commander's heart. This is the end, after this-  he didn't know what would happen, there was a wonderful terror and joy all mixed together- and the skin was so warm, so alive, he could almost feel the blood pulsing through it. Magic's strong fingers took him by the jaw and lifted his face. He met the unhuman smiling eyes again.

            "Hot, aren't you?"

            Only because of you. The fire in those eyes entered his; he could feel his mouth widening in the same unholy smile, and a spasm of joy shook him. Oh, he'd been wrong- and he'd been so right. They were the same- in his soul, somewhere, there was a piece of the same stuff that was Magic. Now it could emerge. He wouldn't die, he would be transfigured...

            "Get out of these." Magic's hands ran down his clothes.

            Hastily, hardly able to wait to undo buttons and zippers, he flung his shirt and trousers and underwear from him. He wanted to be naked for Magic: washed and empty and dressed in nothing but his desire. Magic smiled wider at the sight of his rampant organ, and pulled Takamatsu to him. Yes, this was what he wanted: those lips on his, that insistent tongue entering his mouth, promising future invasions of other areas by other organs... He shuddered in delight and caught at himself, whether to slow down or urge himself on, he wasn't sure: but Magic seized both his wrists and held them behind his back with one hand, while he massaged Takamatsu's jaw painfully with the other.

            "Wait," he said, "wait your turn. You need to learn your place, little boy." That 'little boy' made him deliriously happy because he was in fact an inch or two taller than the Commander and felt gawky and overgrown with it. The Commander would put him in his place, most definitely. He smiled, and Magic invaded his mouth again. Oh, it was torture- he wanted to touch that golden skin, to have his hands all over it, and his hands couldn't move. He pressed his body forward, to be as close to Magic as possible, and Magic's mouth moved down his neck to his shoulders, the strong teeth worrying his skin, love bites that went well over the line into pain. The fingers of Magic's other hand dug hard into his ass, pushing their pelvises together so that his engorged organ rubbed against the hard bulge under the textured wool of the Commander's trousers. His head swam and his cock quivered--

            "What do you think you're doing?" Magic's voice, cold and enraged, caught him like a whip. He froze. "I said, wait your turn. Who do you think you are? Nobody comes before I let them."

            The blood curdled in his veins and his penis dropped its head in shame. "I'm sorry, sir- I didn't mean to- I'm sorry." Magic let go of his hands and stood back, eyebrows drawn and mouth a flat, angry line. Terror twisted his stomach. "Please-  I didn't do it on purpose, sir. I'm sorry." Hastily, clumsily, he got to his knees. He couldn't bear to have Magic angry at him- to have Magic send him away- he had to placate him somehow- "Punish me, Commander. I deserve it. Do what you want to me." Something inside him loosened at the words. It felt so good to be able to acknowledge his master at last. He leaned down and put his forehead on Magic's black boot, the leather cool and comforting against his burning skin.

            "That's better," Magic's voice said with a hint of satisfaction in it, and his heart bounded in relief. "I don't tolerate insubordination in my army, from anyone. Remember that." The foot nudged his cheek. "Look at me."

            He sat back on his heels, hands still on the floor, and looked up the long red clad body to the face above his. There was a small smile on it, and the eyes glowed.

            "Pretty raw still, aren't you? You look like you know so much, and you turn out to be just a green kid who comes in his pants when someone kisses him." He reddened in shame; the Commander despised him. But even his contempt was sweet; and his cock began to stiffen again.

            Magic was watching him. "Oh no," he said. "I'm not having some country oaf squirting chiz all over my uniform. Don't think it." He turned and went behind his desk. Takamatsu went cold again- he was going to call his aides, they'd take him away and-- And he'd have nothing to show for his ordeal after all- Tears burst from his eyes, and he wailed, "Commander!" even as Magic came back with whatever he'd taken from his desk drawer.

            "What's all this?" Magic said in surprise and annoyance. "You mustn't be a coward. You're only getting what you deserve."

            "I thought you were going to send me away," he said, sobbing a little in relief.

            Magic snorted. "Not yet. I've barely started on you. You'll be begging me to let you go before I've finished. Here-- put this on. Wrap it around the base, right next to your body. And tightly, mind. If you act like a stupid little boy with me, your backside will regret it for the next three weeks." He took the piece of rawhide and did as he was told, trying not to catch his pubic hair in the string. When he was finished, he looked up at the Commander again.

            "Like this, sir? Is this alright?"

            Magic smiled slowly in satisfaction. "That's right. You're pretty obedient after all, aren't you? Do you always do what your father tells you, and your professors?

            "Well, yes sir, sort of-"

            "Do you always do what I tell you?"

            "Yes, Commander, always."

            "Yes, I bet you do. And Servis- do you always do what he says?"

            "Yes, pretty much."

            "Hmmm. You shouldn't. My brother is a pervert, and he tells you to do perverted things. I'm not pleased about that- not pleased at all."

            "I'm sorry, Commander. I never will again. Forgive me this time-"

            "I'll think about it. If you're really sorry-"

            "I am, sir."

            "You're going to have to prove it. What did Servis make you do? You beat him, right-"

            "Yes, sir."

            "And fucked him?"

            He nodded, ashamed.

            "And went down on him?"

            "No, sir. He did it to me.--

            "Oh really. You've never done it to him?" He shook his head. "Well then let's make it that. You'll go down on Servis while I watch. Maybe that way you'll learn a little respect for our family, and teach Servis the proper order of things."

            "Yes sir," he said submissively, but he knew he didn't want Servis, that pale moon shadow of this wonderful sun. As Magic turned to reach for the intercom, he said, "Sir," and met Magic's eyes directly when he turned back. For a long moment their gazes locked; then a smile curved one side of the Commander's mouth.

            "Think you're something, don't you?" he asked softly. "What if you're wrong? I'll be very angry. And I punish people who make me angry- I punish them severely." A blue fire was running through those eyes, and it leapt and dived into Takamatsu's veins, right down to his groin.

            "Try me, sir. If I disappoint you, I don't mind what you do to me. I'd rather be punished by you than rewarded by anyone else."

            "Alright. Alright. Let's try." Magic unbuttoned his jacket, and undid his belt and fly, pulling his trousers down and open. Takamatsu's heart pounded in wild joy. Magic sat on the edge of the desk. "Come here." The Commander wore no underwear: with his fly open, his penis stood erect above Takamatsu's head. He opened his mouth to receive it, wider and wider, denying the spasm at the back of his throat. He would have it all: he gulped desperately and his lips in triumph reached the crisping yellow curls of the Commander's pubis. Slowly his tongue worked round the wide shaft of flesh that filled his mouth. He had to release it a few inches to get his breath, then he swallowed it again. The next time it was Magic who withdrew so that his tongue could pleasure the thick fleshy head, slipping under the prepuce and licking at the slit so that Magic groaned and arched and then thrust himself deep within him again. Inside me, inside me, I have the root of you in my mouth- his mind spun in happiness, and he concentrated his attention on the ache in his jaw and the movements of his tongue, the need to please the Commander, because otherwise it would be too much...

            Magic's hand grabbed the short hairs above his forehead.

            "Good," he said deeply, "Good." His voice groaned. "Stop there." Magic drew deep panting breaths.  "You're right. You're right. You're too good to waste on my brother." He slapped the side of Takamatsu's face, a rough caress. "You're a good boy, Takamatsu. Good boys get to sit on my lap. Come over to the chair."

            This was it. This was when it happened. He wanted it, he did, but it would hurt and he was afraid and the Commander wouldn't be gentle with him-- No, of course he wouldn't. This was the moment that decided whether he was worthy or not, this was the bridge that would take him over to the other side: there could be no allowances for weaklings. He got to his feet and stumbled to where Magic was sitting, lounging in the chair, his great red organ upright and ready to impale him. "Facing me," Magic said, and he swallowed hard, once, and straddled his lap and lowered himself slowly, with Magic grasping his hips and guiding him to the spot--

            He opened his mouth wide as the thickness tore at the split inflamed flesh. It was white hot agony, it hurt, it hurt, there was a stake thrust up into his bowels--

            "Thought you were so clever, didn't you?" Magic's low voice said, intimate, terrifying, from three inches away. "Thought you could play around with my family. You ignorant little upstart. Now you see where your cleverness gets you. You've only yourself to blame for this, Takamatsu." He stared, appalled, into the demon eyes. Both of them-- they could kill him in an instant, they would-- "I am clever," he said, tears running down his face, "and I'm not ignorant, and I want you. I still want you. How could I not?" He didn't dare kiss Magic on the mouth, but he put both arms around his shoulders and buried his face in his neck.

            "You little whore," said Magic, but the note in his voice had changed. "You shopkeeper's son. You'd follow anyone. What's devotion like yours worth to me?"

            "What you make of it," he sobbed. "I can't help it. I'm yours whether I want to be or not."

            "You don't mind what I do to you? what if it's this?" He bucked his hips suddenly and Takamatsu cried aloud in pain. "Shall I do it again?"

            "Yess-" his voice hissed in his throat. "Do it. Do what you want. I want- it-" There was so much pain, it was hard to think but he knew with absolute sureness that this was what he had to do: will Magic to do whatever Magic was going to do, become so much one with his desire that both of them could only want the same thing. And then, inevitably, what Takamatsu wanted would be what Magic wanted too. It only made sense. This was the opposite of abnegation, it was the completest realization of self. Magic's hips moved him up and down, and he sobbed raggedly, giving long thin cries that barely sounded human.

            "Don't cry, little boy." Magic was smiling. "It gets worse. He picked up his right leg. "Lean back. I'm going to turn you around." He brought Takamatsu's leg over to the other side, and Takamatsu somehow managed to swivel himself around, away from Magic. "Up you go." They rose together, and he found himself face down on the desk, the edge pressing hard into his chest, a minor discomfort in the sea of red pain surrounding him.

            "This is what you want?'

            "Yes," he sobbed.

            Magic began to move in and out. "Is this good?"


            "The way you like it?"

            "Yess.. yes.. yes.." He howled the word in order not to scream, his mouth wide open and the sweat running in rivers down his face and his cock monstrously, horribly engorged, straining at its bonds. "Fuck me- fuck me-" his hands were at his cock, trying for some release, heedless of consequences- "Fuck me," -he was yelling at Magic to do it, Magic was only doing what he wanted him to- "fuck me, I want it-"

            -and the door opened suddenly and a man was standing there saying "Nii-sa-" and staring into his eyes.  Luzar-sama.  How odd, was his first calm thought, I'd completely forgotten about him...

            "Well, Luzar," Magic said. "Just in time to join us."

            "Nii-san." Luzar was dead still, looking at Magic.

            "When my aides say I'm not available, it means I'm not available. But of course I can always make time for the family." Magic's hand gripped his shoulder. "Your assistant here has quite a number of unsuspected talents. Maybe it's time you found out about them for yourself. Why don't you take the front? I think it'll work if you sit on the desk. Unless you prefer to suck him off?"

            Luzar took a slow step forward. His left eye had gone a strange colour.

            "Don't do it, Luzar," Magic said smilingly. "You can't control it either. You'll only do what Servis did- and you wouldn't want that, now would you?"

            Luzar paused, looking expressionlessly at his brother. "Really?" he said, after a moment, in an almost abstracted tone. "You know, nii-san, I've always had my doubts about that story. It seems just a touch too pat somehow as a cautionary tale."

            "Oh?" said Magic, and his voice had altered too. He felt the Commander withdrawing from him. "Just what do you think happened, then?"

    "The old murder mystery formula. Who had the means, motive and opportunity? Especially the means." He looked down at Takamatsu. "If you're finished with my assistant, I need him back at the lab." Unbidden, Takamatsu stood up.

   "You can have him back now, but I'm not finished with him. You- get that thong off and get dressed."

   "What are you going to do- make him your mistress in residence?"

   "What's got into you to-day, Luzar? This isn't like you.  I can discipline any member of my organization any time I want.  Oh-- that's right, you don't know. Well, never mind. Let's just say Takamatsu here has been biting off a bit more than he can chew, and I'm teaching him his place. That's all. What did you think I was doing?"

   "Droit de seigneur," Takamatsu said, dropping the leather on the desk and walking over to his clothes. The other two turned to stare at him as if a table had spoken. "Well, isn't it?" looking back at them as he stepped into his shorts. "That's what I thought it was. Or don't you have that custom where you come from?" He put on his trousers and shirt, watching them in mild interest.

   There was a short, absolute silence. Then Magic said, as if everything was absolutely normal, "If you two have finished, I've got work to do. Run along." Luzar turned his back on his brother and walked over to him. Seeing him dressed, he continued on out of the room. Takamatsu's shoes weren't properly on, and he limped a little in the effort to keep up. He barely saw the aides bowing to Luzar, and forgot to notice the expression on their faces.