He met the painted gaze of the young man and felt his chest tighten again. No, it was no good. It seemed that the young man was looking at him directly, as if trying to convey a message that Sergei instinctively shrank from understanding. And behind him was the blackness of the unknown, of some ending, or of something worse than an ending... Everything was wrong in this picture: the trees too green, the sky too threatening, the rocks themselves too twisted and mounded, as if themselves alive. The landscape hinted at things unnatural, at some terrible secret about to be revealed. It gave him an obscure horror that had no source. His fancies, only his fancies. This picture had nothing to do with himself. Why couldn't he see it as the others did? Scudéry saw a set portrayal of Orpheus' descent into the Underworld, Miraglia saw the loneliness and regret of a fated godling, and Dorian... Dorian saw only a lovely painting with a lovely mystery behind it. Dorian was all sunlight and his presence banished shadows. But he himself belonged to the dark and the nighttime world. As Madame la Duchesse had said...
"Ah. M.la Lune."
He turned as she came walking into the room, leaning on a heavy cane.
"Madame." He took her arm and helped her to an easy chair near the painting.
"Merci, monsieur. A little promenade is necessary from time to time to stop these old bones from stiffening. But now I'll rest some more."
She sighed as she sank down and stretched out her legs like a little girl.
"Ah, to be young again. When I was your age, M. Serge, I enjoyed gatherings like this. Those west bank evenings before the war, with all of us talking at once and keeping the poor waiters from closing the café. But now- ohlala. The noise."
"Ahh?" Sergei looked an inquiry. Faubourg duchesses were not usually found in company with Rive Gauche intellectuals. A piece of information slipped into place in his head and his eyebrows rose. "But of course. Madame is the poet Sibylle de Lavallée."
She nodded, but the faded blue eyes looked surprised. "Yes, I published a few poems many years ago. It's strange that you would know that."
"Not at all. The intellectuals cherish you like a jewel. Calmus of the Petit Revue lent me the two volumes of your verse like a man confiding the address of a marvellous restaurant he doesn't want the world to find out about." She looked amused. "I think your poems have a lovely melancholy to them, like fountains under rain.
Tu es inscrite dans les lignes du plafond
Tu es inscrite dans les yeux que j'aime." 
At that she laughed aloud. "M.Serge, you should be a diplomat. Such beautiful tact is wasted in a dealer."
"It's not tact, Madame." He gave her a small smile in return.
"Merci, Monsieur." She patted his hand. "But you understand- that melancholy was the emotion of a young woman who knew nothing of true sadness. It was an intellectual game, no more. Then the war came, and the Germans. My country was defeated and my city occupied. I stopped writing poems after that."
"But after the war? Why didn't you return to your art?"
"Life got in the way. My husband was hurt in the war, my son was growing up..." She shrugged. "My husband died young- his poor heart gave out- and my son even younger. He and his wife were killed by a terrorist bomb on the Champs Elysées during the Algerian war, leaving my poor little Gontran an orphan of two. And so I became a mother again. But these are things of long ago, Monsieur. I don't mean to bore you with the past."
"It's not the past for some people," he said without thought, and felt compelled to add, "I come from Circassia."
"Ahh. Then perhaps you will understand. When you've lost someone..." There was a silence. "It's the reason I wonder about this painting... It haunts me a little. The enigma of the return, it says. The return. Some see this as a return to the earth which takes us all to its breast: a young man going into the darkness of death. But that is the course of nature. There's no enigma there. No, to me it seems to be the opposite: a young man coming back from the dead, like Lazarus. One who has stepped forth into the light again from the darkness. Maybe that's why the world about him seems so strange and unnatural: because the natural order has been reversed. And the sadness in his eyes- surely it's because he knows he no longer belongs here. What home has he now, what place is there for him in the world? He will go to those who once loved him, and they will stare in shock and disbelief and terror at the sight of him, as I would if my son were to walk into the room now, alive and unchanged from twenty years ago. 'Who are you? Why are you here? How can you be here?' This the young man knows, and so he gazes a last time at the darkness to which he properly belongs as if wishing to return-- M. Serge?"
"Ah- nothing, Madame. You could well be right. A guest out of place. Someone safely dead- mourned, missed, yes all that- but someone who should be gone. And who comes back to stir up all the old emotions again, the ones that were safely buried with him. How true, that the dead should know their place and stay in it."
"You are angry, M Serge?"
"I don't know, Madame. It may be that I am."
"Might I ask why?"
He shook his head. "I don't know myself. Things are never clear, are they? Would you be happy if your son walked into the room now, or terrified, or angry that he died and left you in the first place?"
"All those things, perhaps. Yes, I think you are right."
There was a step behind them and a manservant entered the room. He bent by the duchesse's chair and murmured in a low voice, while Sergei turned his eye back to the painting. The duchesse's words had touched that cold knot of fear within him that he'd been trying all day to ignore. That-- dream-- last night, and the picture before him now, the two mysterious returns-- Both symbolizing the turmoil in his soul, both adding to it. The return of his past, his return to the past. Was this himself, then, a dead man- or a man as good as dead in his family's eyes- returning to the land of his birth? Returning to face Halim, his other self, the self he had so shamefully failed to be? Last night he had wept with joy because Jahn had come back to him, but Halim would show no such joy at his own return. Sergei was everything Halim hated and despised. He'd be like a walking corpse to Halim, something nauseating and unnatural. Unnatural... His mind winced away from the thought. A cold avenging ghost, prepared to kill his own twin if he thought it necessary...
The duchesse touched his arm.
"Monsieur Serge, one of the guests is looking for you. He said it was urgent."
Dorian. Thank God. But what could be the trouble? "Of course, Madame. I'll just see what it is." He rose and followed the servant out of the room. The man took him back to the front of the house and the dim vestibule. Sergei stopped dead, frozen by Fersen's glare.
"A word with you, Monsieur Serge," he said in a half-whisper. Suppressed rage tightened his body like a cord pulled too far. "Outside."
"Thank you," Sergei said to the manservant, who bowed and left them. "And do you have your little thug waiting out there with his blackjack?" His nostrils flared in anger. The anger was real enough, even if the cause was feigned. "There's no need to crack my skull a second time, thank you. If you've come to apologize, here will do just fine."
"Apologize??" Fersen's voice was still a thick whisper. Obviously that kick to the neck last night had damaged his vocal chords at the very least. The man was mad with frustration, wanting to bellow and not able to. "After what you did?"
"Yes. Apologize for making it necessary to attack you, and thank me for taking you to the hospital afterwards. Then you can go. I have no further business with you."
Fersen seemed to swell with fury. "I'll see you in hell first, you pompous little whore." Only a fool would turn his back on the kind of hatred that stared from those eyes. "Bien," Sergei said. "Then I have no more to say to you," and turned his back on him, heading down the corridor. Fersen's heavy step came right behind him. Sergei swung round suddenly so they stood chest to chest: and then checked abruptly.
"It's a gun," Fersen whispered, "and I will shoot you, you snot, without thinking twice. Outside. Now." Blunt and heavy, it nudged underneath his ribs. The damage would be fatal, if Fersen took the chance of firing. And he could, and be out of here before anyone else arrived to see what had happened. Sergei walked forward slowly, and the gun moved to his lower back. Fersen hugged close to him, an arm about one shoulder, concealing the gun with his body.
On the Quai d'Orsay Fersen hailed a cab and sent them back to the apartment. He passed a fifty franc bill to Sergei, who paid the driver and retrieved the change. Incurious as only a Parisian can be, the man didn't even turn his head when they got out of his cab, which allowed Fersen to keep the gun almost in open sight as he backed out first. Sergei waited for an opening to come- and waited. The gun was trained on him, far too close to miss, and Fersen was alert for the slightest tensing of Sergei's own body. He gave Sergei the key and made him unlock the apartment. Fersen took him down a corridor and into a room dominated by a large bed.
"Undress," Fersen said.
"You intend to finish what you were doing last night?"
"Yes. Get undressed."
Sergei didn't bother to look at him. "I think not. If you're going to kill me, do it now. Spare me your embraces, at least."
"I'm not killing you. I don't sleep with corpses. You'll stay alive, M. Serge- lacking a leg, perhaps, or an arm. One bullet from this would shatter anything it hit. Your shin, say- I can't miss at this range--" the gun dropped down a fraction, but Fersen's eyes didn't follow it. "Or your shoulder..." The muzzle came up again. "Shall I turn you into a dinner plate, Monsieur? No arms, no legs..." The whispering voice made the words even more obscene. "Well, maybe later. Or maybe you'd like to walk out of here in one piece. You don't really want to die, do you?" Fersen smiled fiercely. "And never screw that brainless Englishman again?"
"You're quite right," Sergei said. "I don't want to die. Equally, if I am going to die, I'd rather do it unravished by you. I'm afraid, M. Fersen, that I place little confidence in your sanity."
"Forget the poses," Fersen snarled. "I don't believe them. You'll do what I say or die-- after I've fucked you to ribbons." The gun pressed into his abdomen. This one would be tricky- before Fersen got angry enough to make a mistake he might have done real damage.
And tomorrow... He had to be in one piece to go to Circassia tomorrow. Or Majek would die and Halim- and Szincza- and the country itself- be destroyed.
"Oh yes," Fersen whispered. "I mean it. I really mean it."
"Yes," Sergei said in a whisper of his own. "I see you do." He began to unfasten the snaps of his coat and heard Fersen's sigh of satisfaction.
He undid the coat and removed it, then took off his boots and socks, unfastened his trousers and removed them as well. He seemed to be watching himself from far away with a mind quite empty of feeling. He slid off his briefs.
"The bed," the man behind him said, and he turned to it. Not an ordinary bed after all. From an ornately carved headboard hung leather and steel handcuffs on long ropes of twisted gold silk. "Sit down and fasten the cuffs around your wrists." He obeyed. He had to sit with his back pressed against the headboard, but the ropes were long enough that he had about half a metre of play in front of him. Or rather, as he discovered, there was only one rope threaded through the headboard. With one hand against his chest he'd have a full arm's reach with the other. The cuffs locked together with a snap.
"Now," the other said with satisfaction, and sat down at the foot of the bed. "You can reach yourself like that. Good. Begin."
Sergei looked at him blankly. The muzzle of the gun indicated his groin. "Caressez-vous," the whispering voice commanded. So. The man wanted a show. Sergei felt no desire to give him one, but the reluctance was far away and unimportant. 'You must live' a voice in his head told him and he registered that that was indeed the business of the moment: to satisfy this tiresome man in front of him so he could go to Circassia tomorrow. He began the motions even as he doubted they could have any effect. Pleasure was a concept a million miles away.
"Harder," the whispering voice said a minute later. "If you don't come, you'll lose it. Pretend I'm your fancy-boy lover, why not?"
Fancy-boy? Dorian, did he mean? But Dorian had nothing to do with this. The smiling golden face swam into his mind's eye and he sent it gently away. Dorian belonged to the light, and this was a matter of dirt and darkness, of expediency and need.
"Damn you," the hoarse voice whispered, cold with rage. "You think you're too good for this. You still think I'm the mud on your boots. Well, think again. I'm going to wipe that self-satisfied smirk off your face once and for all. When I tell you to come, you'll come. When I say open your arse, you'll open it. And you'll do it with a smile, monsieur, if you want to walk out of here alive."
"And will I walk out of here alive?" Sergei asked. "And be allowed to report you to the police?"
"Oh yes," Fersen assured him. "Yes indeed. That's exactly what I want you to do. Tell the police your story. Try to make them believe the hysterical accusations of a foreign pervert. That's the part I want to see- the one where you find out how little you really count for in the world. But first you'll do exactly as I say, however humiliating, however much you hate it, or I'll have to remove some very important pieces of you. And you know-" the hard eyes smiled, "if you make me do that- and give you something to back up your whore's story for the police- why, I'm afraid you won't walk out of here at all. There's your choice, monsieur. Now proceed."
So that was it. It wasn't simply his body Fersen wanted. Well, if he had to suffer humiliation, so be it. Should he weep and beg?-- pretend his fear was too strong and wouldn't let him respond? But he knew he wasn't a good enough actor. It had to be the real thing or nothing, and he had no idea of how to beg for mercy. He looked away and reached into his mind, willing it to do his bidding- <<give me something... not Dorian someone else something to keep me alive or Majek will die and what will become of us then me and Halim and Szincza...>> His vision became fixed suddenly as he saw it- (long hair, so black, his naked back turned to me)- and swiftly he invited the deadly vision in before his self could refuse as at once it tried to do, but 'You must live' the voice told him, an unquestionable command, and he saw--
...it felt he'd fallen asleep unawares watching Dorian and the boy, and he started as he woke suddenly to a hand plucking at his coat, working at the fastenings. 'He's waiting for you' the young voice said, unplaceably familiar, the one that went with the hand, and Sergei stood up obediently, stepping out of his coat and looking over to where the other man stood, naked muscled back and sturdy buttocks turned towards him, black hair inky in the candlelight. Black hair... An amazing joy blossomed in his heart as he realized who it was. 'He's been wanting you so long' the voice said as hands helped him out of his clothes 'don't keep him waiting now' and he knew it was true, finally finally it was going to happen he hardened harder and harder where the hands drew his trousers from him and a wave of happiness and desire carried him over to Jahn's side. Sergei clasped him from behind, registering the aching familiarity of that body, remembering clearly how much he'd wanted this: to feel Jahn responding joyfully to his touch, to feel Jahn's need and his relief that Sergei was here at last at last to bend him over so the hard buttocks came up to meet Sergei's own clamoring need. Sergei slid inside him, quickly quickly, and lodged at last in the hot narrow channel oh at last at last the two of them were together at last how long he'd waited they'd waited for this- happiness and relief and pleasure floated his spirit into the sky so long so long they'd waited always wanting this. Sergei moved a little, slowly, delicately, feeling all the tiny sensations, all the details of this possessing slowly out a little then in, out a little then in, feeling the other's desire and frustration mount, Oh yes trust me his heart sang trust me I know what I'm doing this is the best way it only gets better after this and the body before him bent at a sharper angle thrusting harder against him Oh yes oh yes this is what you've always wanted my love trust me trust me. His own body was screaming at him 'more, more, harder, do it faster' and he reined himself in wanting to laugh as he played with the need, his own and the other's, holding it back a moment another moment so that when he let it go it would be like a cliffside falling on them it was coming it was coming it was crashing down on them he pulled his partner up as the wave peaked and buried his face in the black hair-- but how? Jahn topped him by eight centimetres and his mouth opened to scream in horror as orgasm hit him- not Jahn it's not Jahn it's not Jahn oh god help me it's **Szin---
He cried aloud, hideous sweetness and terror together arching his body and dropping him back against the fretted wood behind him. Nausea filled his throat at the memory, so horribly clear again. That was what had happened, that was what really happened. And he'd wanted it, he'd wanted it to happen, it was disgusting and unnatural not even an animal would do it to its own and he'd loved it, the feel of entering his nephew's young buttocks, the pleasure of mounting his own kin-- Betraying the innocent boy who'd loved him-- trusted him... He put his hands over his face and howled in silent agony. Dry heaving sobs racked his gut like a man trying to vomit poison from his body- too late it was too late he was poisoned-
"Good, good, oh that's good," the caressing whisper said beside him. Hands ran through his hair, pulled it painfully away from his face, pulled his head up. Mouth still constricted in horror he looked up at the blond stranger smiling down at him. "Was it that bad then? I'm glad." The touch like a lover's, fingers that raked through his thick hair, blue eyes that devoured the sight of his agony and his mutilation, the hideousness of his soul made manifest in the gaping hole of his right eye. Weeping Sergei could only gaze at him dumbly. "It gets worse," the man assured him, hand clenched in the hair at the back of his head and hard eyes glowing. "You'll see." The face went still a moment. Fingers moved through his hair, over his scalp, light feather touches running everywhere, back down his neck behind his ear...
"Where?" the man said incomprehensibly. "Where did he hit you? Answer me, damn you!" His hand cracked hard against Sergei's cheek pushing him sideways with the force of the blow. Sergei huddled, face averted from the madman who was hitting him and screaming in a strangled whisper, "That whore! That little liar! What are you two playing at?" Then he was gone from the room. Sergei heard his heavy boots pounding down the corridor, somewhere far away as he lay frozen in the realization of what he'd done last night. 'A dream,' a voice said inside his skull, 'it was only a dream' but it wasn't a dream, it had been real, as real as the feelings that brought it to birth. There was his true desire, dragged out into the light at last, and he thought the shame of it would kill him.
A hand pulled him up, cruel and painful in his hair. "What did you do with them?" the voice demanded, thick with rage and fear, and he knew it was the voice of death. He looked up, welcoming what was to come: and felt the barrier again, the absolute command, Majek's voice laying the curse of life on him. He had to live to expiate his crime- but he was like a man woken suddenly from sleep with no idea of what is going on about him.
"What?" he whispered. "With what?"
Hot pain ran down his spine as the man jerked a finger into the nerve centre at the base of his skull. "The papers. You're from the police. Talk now or I'll start shooting pieces off you. Where are they?"
Papers? He knew nothing of any papers. And somewhere in the rest of the apartment he heard a noise, heard a voice calling "Count? Are you here?" a young voice, ambisexual like a male contralto, the voice of his dream-- And as if remembering a dream, he remembered: Count Fersen. Sephiras. Spies or something. The red-haired witch boy whose step was coming closer down the corridor as Fersen snarled and moved like a great cat, white-faced and intent, to where he had a clear view of the door and held his gun steady with both hands, preparing to shoot first. "Count?" the voice said outside the half-opened door which moved a little into the room and simply as breathing with no thought at all Savijc called his will to him and stretched out his right hand so that the other pulled tight against the headboard. Blue light shot out and dropped the count, and the gun went off with a roar just as the door opened on the youth crouched to spring and casting a surprised eye from the falling body to himself on the bed. Sergei curved himself over, legs up protectively, riding the familiar reaction- the ballooning feeling in his gut, the reflex erection, the brief euphoria- all of which would be over in a moment. In a moment--
"Here," the voice said just by his elbow and he recoiled violently, pressed like an animal against the headboard.
"Keep away," he snarled and saw the boy freeze not a foot from him.
"I've got the key for-"
"Don't. Touch. Me," Sergei told him, teeth bared. The other saw he meant it. He laid the key carefully on the bed, looking puzzled and put out. Sergei glared at him until he backed away a few paces, then reached for the key and unfastened his cuffs.
"Oh," said the boy in a different voice. "I see. I'm sorry. Do you want- should I call a doctor?"
Sergei didn't answer. He wrapped his arms about his knees and buried his face in them, doing deep breathing routines to still the shaking in his body and his soul.
"It's happened to me too," the boy was saying diffidently. "I know what it's like. Let me get you some brandy-"
"No," he said heavily, to shut him up. "You're mistaken. I don't need your help and I don't want your company. Leave me. And take that--" he jerked an arm at Fersen- "with you. He knows the papers are gone." He added, with the last of his patience, "He was going to shoot you as you came through the door."
"I thought he might. That's why I had my bulletproof outfit on," the youth said. He went to the window, opened one side of the casement, and gave a brief two-note whistle. A minute later a body came through off the balcony.
"Here?" Bancoran's voice said, and then "Oh," as he took in the scene. "Is he dead?"
"No, just unconscious by the looks of it."
"By the looks of it? Don't you know?"
"Not a clue," the boy said grimly. "Serge there took him out as I was coming through the door."
"Serge did?" He sensed Bancoran turning towards him and kept his own eyes averted. The black gaze took in his naked state, the undone chains. "How?"
"I'd like to know too," the boy said with an edge in his voice. "All I saw was this blue light."
"Blue-- Oh. Ohh indeed."
"Indeed," Sergei said, addressing his knees. "And don't ask me what it was because I'm not telling you. Now go away. I want to be alone."
"Certainly," Bancoran answered, unexpectedly obliging. "But perhaps you could tell us how long he'll stay out?"
Sergei shrugged. "Five, ten minutes."
"Then we should hurry. Maraich, is there anything to tie him up with?"
"Those fetters on the bed would be best," the boy pointed out. Sergei looked unbudgeably fixed in place. The boy sighed. "Well, there are some cords in the other bedroom."
"Fine." There was a grunt as Bancoran hoisted Fersen off the floor and carried him from the room. Sergei sat still, spirit in darkness. He had to get dressed- get out of here- and go where? It didn't matter where he went. Back to Circassia or back to Dorian, what difference did it make, since his monster self accompanied him? 'Stop,' he told himself. 'Stop this. You did nothing. You never touched him.'/ Yes I did. Last night--/ 'That was a dream, an hallucination- a mistake. Remember--'
'But I wanted it-' The old old familiar voice, Savijc's voice, eaten by guilt and pain. 'I wanted it to be him.' His stomach curdled in shame at the admission.
'But it wasn't,' his other voice said, the commonsense voice of sunlight and rationality. 'It wasn't him. He doesn't know. He's safe back in Circassia with his father, doing the things young men do, and wondering sometimes where you are.' He saw that, briefly, the dark-haired boy among all the other boys, chasing a ball or having a fight, all wild arms and legs, the way he'd been on Sergei's visits home. 'That's all. You did nothing to change him. He may even be married now.' Married- his heart contracted in a fierce spasm of jealousy that took him by surprise. 'You're in love, you goop,' his other voice said in amusement and exasperation. 'That's all.' Goop? Oh yes- what Dorian had called him the other night when he'd- well, never mind. His chest heaved with a shaky half-laugh at the embarrassing memory- the contretemps that can happen during sex, even among the experienced. And for the other- I never touched him. I wanted to. I wanted him: so much like Jahn come back to me, so exactly alike... But I never touched him and I never will. He sat still, seeing the two realities as if with split vision: the one in his head, the other out there. The poisonous and cherished fantasy in his head, the one that had seemed real last night; and the daytime reality, safe and desolating as the truth: I never touched him and I never will. Like Jahn. Exactly like Jahn.
There was a step behind him. "M.Serge?" Bancoran's voice said. "Perhaps we could have a talk?"
"M. Serge," Bancoran said. "Please look at me a moment. It's quite safe. I'm not using my eye." Sergei's head turned involuntarily at the word. Bancoran-- He found himself looking into two intelligent and slightly amused black eyes, with lines of habitual wariness about them. Eyes, as Dorian had said. He'd seen better himself. Bancoran smiled a little. "Maraich said you dropped Fersen from across the room with a blue ray of some sort. He's seen the same sort of thing from me. So-- do you have some version of our Bancoran eye?"
"What?" His heart stopped. "What do you mean?" In spite of himself it came out as a whisper.
"The Bancoran eye- eyes, actually: either will do, or both- have a- well, what would you call it? You experienced it this morning, Maraich says." Sergei was dumb. "Well, a sexual power, shall we say? that acts on young men. It doesn't work on anyone over eighteen or so, so I couldn't quite believe it was affecting you. But if you've got the same characteristic as us-- I suppose-- maybe there's some kind of sympathetic reaction involved?"
"You're mistaken," Sergei said automatically. "I've nothing of the sort."
"Indeed?" Bancoran looked unbelieving. "You don't find that young men fall in love with you a lot?"
"*No*." The snarled word stopped Bancoran short.
"Of course, if you say not," he said politely. Sergei clenched his shaking hands. "But there are definite points of resemblance between us. As for instance- if you'd look at that mirror over there-"
He looked up automatically and saw the blue flash that broke it into a million fragments. Stone cold, ice cold, he turned his head slowly to look at Bancoran again. Black hair, black eyes-- dear god--
"Acaille," he whispered, coldness creeping up his spine and muscles tensed to spring. The ancient enemy of his line, the red stone clan, twins to his own blue clan family... Encountered at last, but here, a thousand miles from home-
"I beg your pardon?"
"You're Acaille-- But how? How did you come here? They've never left the mountains of Circassia before--"
"Circassia? I'm afraid not. My family have been Cornishmen since before the Romans left."
"From Cornwall in the south-west of England. Celts."
"Then how can you have the eye?"
Bancoran shrugged. "We just do. We always have. All the men in the family."
"And you- Acailles, did you say?-"
Sergei shook his head violently. "Aouille. The Acailles are the other Circassian tribe."
The other frowned in confusion. "I don't understand. Which tribe has the Bancoran eye?"
He took a deep breath. "Each tribe is led by a family, descended from the priest-kings of old. The men of those two families in the direct male line, and only those men, have- the power you spoke of."
"The power to destroy, I take it. But not the power to attract, you said?"
"I--" He tried to gather his scattered wits. "In our family, yes. It has to be different from yours. It- it's destructive, and very-" he had to swallow. "Very hard to control. And it's only one eye." Except for Majek, he thought, but belated caution stilled his tongue. "I don't know how it is for the Acailles. I never met one of the guardian family. They secluded themselves in the mountains centuries ago. But they're dark, like you, with black eyes..."
"Hmmm..." Bancoran mused. "I don't know what the relation can be, then. I suppose it's just a coincidence- the same mutation happening in different parts of the world. How often do you use your eye, then?"
Alarm bells went off. "Why do you want to know?"
"Interest, purely. I thought my family was unique."
He was lying. That Sergei knew, though he didn't know why. He looked at him sombrely.
"What's the matter?" Bancoran asked. "Do you have- I don't know- some taboo about discussing it?"
"No. I don't use it, to answer your question. I did once and this was the result." He pulled his hair aside, hearing Bancoran's startled breath. "I said it was hard to control. Not something you can turn on and off for amusement, as you seem able to." He heard the asperity in his voice and stopped himself.
"I beg your pardon," Bancoran said, sounding sincere. "But then how did you take Fersen out?"
"With this." He raised a hand and sent a thought along it that picked up an armchair and hurled it gently at the wall. "It's different. Don't ask me how. A matter of focussing your will. You don't need the eye to use it." And he wasn't even going to consider the sexual aspect of it, though in his present state its manifestation was clear enough.
"Hmmm," Bancoran frowned. "Focussing your will- that's like us, but--" At that moment the bo-- Maraich came into the room.
"What are you two doing? It sounds like you're throwing furniture."
"We were," Bancoran said. "Or M. Serge was, by way of demonstration."
"And so nothing, evidently. An odd parallel to the Bancoran eye."
"Really?" Maraich looked suspicious. "And what's that all about?" He nodded at Sergei's groin.
"That's a reflex reaction to its use," Sergei told him, "caused by my well-meant but superfluous attempt to save your life."
Maraich blushed. "Oh. Well, I mean- well, thank you anyway. It was nice of you."
"You're welcome. Now if I could have a little privacy, I'll take care of this and not trouble you further."
"Maraich," Bancoran said, "maybe--"
"Yes, I think so too. Here, let me look after it for you," he said smiling, and approached the bed. Sergei hissed and his hand came up automatically. He glared into the violet eyes that stared outraged back at him.
"It's me, isn't it? You don't want me near you, isn't that right?" Indignation and hurt pride warred in the boy's face. "You do have your eye on Ban--"
Sergei said a word he normally never used, vulgar and convincing.
"Then what the hell's this all about?" the youth demanded.
"You have to ask?" Sergei said, breathing deeply.
"Yes I have to ask! The last time I saw you yesterday I thought we were at least friends."
"The last time you saw me was early this morning in my bedroom," Sergei corrected him. "Have you forgotten what happened there?"
"What happened?" Bancoran demanded.
"Oh." Maraich looked startled. "But- It was exactly like all the other times. I started doing it-"
"Doing what?" Bancoran sounded outraged.
"And then there was this gap like always and then there you two were asleep on the bed so I left. What- what happened?"
"That's what I want to know!" Bancoran insisted. "Maraich-"
"Oh, Ban. This rite I used to do for Fersen's clients that I could never remember what happened when I did it. I did it for them last night--" He nodded at Sergei.
"And?" Bancoran was looking at him too. Sergei looked away.
"I don't know what happened," he said at last. "I only know what I thought happened, and you may well believe no-one will ever find out what that was. But I won't risk a repetition."
"Was it so terrible?" Maraich asked round-eyed.
Sergei ran a tired hand over his face. "It's that medallion. Someone told me it's the key to heaven or hell, depending on who you meet there. It's true. You called something down with it, some- some power." He shuddered briefly, as Bancoran said roundly, "Oh nonsense."
"I'd have said the same thing this time yesterday. Now I know better. Don't ever do it again," he told the boy. "Whatever it is, it gives men the wish of their hearts, and no-one can forgive that."
"Why?" the boy protested. "What's wrong with getting your wishes granted?"
"You're too young to understand."
"Don't be ridiculous!"
Much too young, but he might understand one part at least. After a minute Sergei said, "Have you ever loved someone you couldn't have?"
There was a silence. "Yes," Maraich said, in a different voice. "Sort of."
"And if," Sergei went on, looking at the wall, "one night, past all possibility, they came to you, wanting you as they never did in reality- if you found them in your arms, not a dream, but real, living, warm--" He felt his voice about to break and stopped dead.
"I'm sorry," Maraich said helplessly.
"Maraich," Bancoran said.
"Yes- alright. We'd better go. Serge- I- look, I really--" He flailed about for words.
"Maraich," Bancoran repeated. "I think you owe M.Serge something. For this afternoon if not for last night."
"Yes but- he doesn't want--"
"I know. So give me fifteen minutes alone with him."
The boy went white. "Ban!!"
"Just this once, for a very good reason. You know it won't happen again."
"With *him*, you mean!"
"Yes, with him I mean. What about it?"
Maraich's eyes darted from Bancoran to Sergei. Before Sergei could protest, the boy burst into tears and ran from the room, slamming the door behind him.
"You might as well go too," Sergei said with dislike. "There's nothing for you here."
"Is that a fact? I rather think there is myself..." Bancoran murmured, moving towards the bed. The warm voice caressed Sergei like brown velvet, familiar, friendly, exciting-- the voice of the lover he'd known all his life, speaking directly to his groin--
"Use that eye on me and I'll take it out of your head," Sergei informed him viciously. "Or them, as the case may be." The subliminal warm feeling, like sliding into a deep perfumed bath, ceased abruptly. "Now go."
"Oh come," Bancoran said in a reasonable and perfectly ordinary tone of voice. "Let me give you a hand at least. How're you going to get your pants on in that state?"
"Thank you," Sergei said. "I'll manage."
"But why bother when I'm here to do it for you? Experienced, willing, and able to turn necessity into pleasure." Sergei chanced a glance in his direction. The hallucinatory sense of familiarity that had misted Bancoran a moment before was gone, replaced by something much more mundane. Certainly Sergei had seen the Major's like before: highly-sexed, available, and attracted to Sergei himself. Not unattractive, really. In fact, with that waterfall of hair, rather the reverse. In any other circumstances, not a partner to complain of...
"Keep your talents for your boyfriend," he suggested. "Why do you torture him when he minds so much?"
Bancoran sighed. "One of these days Maraich will come to his senses and understand the situation. He owns my heart. He rules my soul. He's my life and my reason for existing." Sergei snorted at the hyperbole. "Well, he's the one, whatever. I can't live without him and he knows it."
"Then why not be faithful to him?"
"I am," Bancoran said. "It's my cock that isn't. No-one owns that, including me." He sounded both proud and rueful. "I do what it tells me to do. Don't think I have a choice."
"Pauvre petit," Sergei murmured. "Just an animated dildo."
Bancoran gave him a sex-charged smile under his eyelashes. "Exactly. You should be complimented. Normally it never looks at anything over seventeen. You must be very unusual to have the effect on me you're having."
Yes, there was something very familiar about Bancoran. Nothing mystic, merely that teasing déja-vu sense that Sergei had slept with him or someone very like him before. The impression wouldn't get any clearer than that, but of course he'd met enough men who boasted about being slaves to their cocks. Normally he left such types alone: they usually thought that being a randy stud excused them from any need for technique. But this one- well, there were intriguing peculiarities to this one. If nothing else, it might be that Bancoran was some long-lost and many-centuries removed cousin of his own. And he was attractive, damn him. And at the present moment, if he were being honest, he had no wish to be alone. It would be a long time before the idea of self-pleasure brought anything but nausea.
"I suppose I'm not above accepting a mercy fuck," Sergei mused aloud. Annoyance flickered across the other's face, to vanish at once in a tide of lust. Yes, and he'd seen that happen before too.
"Just close your eyes and think of Circassia," Bancoran said, gently pushing him onto his back with a gloved hand. "This won't hurt at all."
"'Your cheque is in the mail and I won't come in your mouth,'" Sergei supplied.
"You're quite free to come in mine," the other said, and his mouth closed about Sergei's groin. Sergei cried aloud before he could think. Oh god- oh god it was- it was- Clever probing, cunning pressing, all the right spots- yes, just there- oh god, and there, my god- In a minute he was soaring out of his skull, thrashing on the bed and yelling out loud in Circassian, "Iyaaa- iyaa da- hanase--" Bancoran's hands grasped his wrists and held them down, which somehow made his hips try to arch off the bed. But Bancoran's torso was there to pin him in place, as Bancoran slid up him and fastened his mouth first round one nipple and then the other. Sergei twisted and wailed as his cock felt the heavy pressure of Bancoran's body, and Bancoran's hair slid across his chest and arms like silken tentacles, and Bancoran's tongue did unspeakable things to all of him. "Ikasete-" he begged, and the Englishman understood his tone at least and slipped back down to engulf the throbbing need between his legs. A finger moved back behind his balls and pressed with wicked accuracy on that one spot, and the top of Sergei's head came off. All of his gathered self exploded at once and darkness took his sight.
Lying panting and content and empty, he was aware of someone lifting his legs up and pushing them back. Heat slid into him, solid and satisfying, and he rocked with his rider, back and forth, the gentle plunging motion consoling him. He opened a languorous eye and watched Bancoran's straining face above him, twisted as if in pain with the sensations of sex. Eyes closed, lips drawn back like a snarling wolf's, mouth a rictus-- like a man possessed by a demon or a god... Bancoran's rhythm became more violent as he whipped himself to the peak of ecstasy, his hair flowing about him like a black cloud. Like Samson, was that it? his strength in those long strong coils of midnight black? Bancoran's fingers sank into his shoulders as Bancoran arched in the sexual spasm, and Sergei noted the sensation of soft calfskin against his flesh, providing the right decadently discordant note. Bancoran collapsed on top of him. Sergei laid a little bet with himself that he'd fall asleep at once, counted five, and heard the gentle snore. He didn't awake even when Sergei pushed him away and went to retrieve his clothes.
He dressed slowly, and as he did so a number of seemingly unconnected elements came clicking together in his mind. He looked at them, and looked at them again. They made a convincing and disquieting pattern.
He slipped out the door and walked down the hallway. The boy was in the second room on the left, hunched in white-faced misery on the edge of a bed. Fersen was laid out on top of it, face-down, wrists bound behind him.
"Still unconscious?" Sergei asked.
The boy glared at him, traces of tears on his face. "What do you care?"
"I'd rather not have an audience for what I'm going to say."
"He's out. I used sleeping gas. What do you want?"
"Does the Major ever take his gloves off?"
The boy looked wary. "In the bath, yes."
"Not in bed?"
"Does it matter?"
"It might. What I used to take Fersen out- it comes from here." He held his hand open, palm up. "I think Bancoran may have a sensitivity there he doesn't know about."
Maraich frowned. "Ban- it's all in his eyes."
"As far as he knows, yes. This one-" he gestured with his hand- "needs training to produce. The other's a reflex."
"We- my family- we have the same power in our eyes." Maraich's gaze sharpened, travelling between Sergei's left eye to the one hidden under his hair. "It was the one I lost," Sergei told him. "I'm not sorry for that. It's deadly. It draws on a power outside ourselves that's too great for most of us to control. The one time I used it I killed-- more people than I want to think about. Now I keep to the minor form. That one at least responds to my will." He took a deep breath. "I don't know what the connection is between my family and Bancoran's. Maybe it's just a coincidence, as he says. But I do know this. I have a --a kinsman-- who can use the power in his eye for his own purposes, as Bancoran does. He's the only one. And he's a man possessed. When he wants something he can't stop until he has it. He doesn't care how long it takes or who gets hurt along the way. When he loves, it's the same. He becomes obsessed- infatuated, possessive... Ridiculous, even. It's painful to watch. We all say he's the one man of our family who can control the eye, but now I wonder. After seeing the Major, I begin to think that maybe the eye controls him. A parasite relationship: the more he calls on its power, the more that power dominates his soul."
Alarm flashed across the boy's face. "You're saying that Ban--?"
"He thinks he uses his eye. Consider the possibility that it uses him. And don't blame him too much for what it makes him do. It could make him do much, much worse." He turned on his heel and walked away without another word.