viceindustrious: (Blackwood)
[personal profile] viceindustrious
Title: Femme Fatale 
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes 2009
Pairing: Blackwood/Coward
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing.
Warnings: Issues of consent. Deeply unpleasant attitudes toward sexuality, sex, gender, etc.  
Summary: Magic is real - Blackwood decides to make use of this reality by amending something unfortunate about Coward. 
Word count: 6240
Notes: Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] unsettledink  for taking a look at this for me, remaining mistakes are all my own. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] the_me09  for replenishing my fannish enthusiasm when it was running low. (And thanks to all the fellow B/C fans out there too, for being so top notch.) 

Coward turns his cheek to the cool side of the pillow and frowns as morning light casts a bloody orange glow across the insides of his eyelids. His nose twitches and he tosses his head back away from the window. Evidently the curtains were not drawn last night - but a servant neglecting their duties is a matter that can wait until later. There's an ache in his head that's hiding behind his dreams and he would avoid it for a little while longer, except something else needles his dozing mind.

Then again. Sharper. Coward frowns and turns over.

The curtains were drawn when he arrived home yesterday evening. But, no, that was the day before, he's suddenly quite sure. Yesterday they were - the wrinkle between his eyebrows deepens; he can remember the morning before the morning that is now but the rest of that day has gone up in a plume of smoke.

No, no, yesterday ended in a plume of smoke. Spiralling, grey and thick like fog, issued forth from a quintet of squat censers. Wide mouthed things, like the mouths of the toads that live in the marshy banks of the river running through his estate. The memory of boyhood toad hunting, the inevitable vivisection down to soft, slimy bones, rises with far more clarity than anything of last night.

He remembers the rattle of the teaspoon knocking against the side of his cup and the rattle of an athame in its sheath. Yesterday, these things happened yesterday, didn't they? One came before the other, yes. Tea in the morning and daggers after dinner. There had been a ritual, there had been, there had been. Smoke. Smoke from the censers, from those heavy iron fire pots set on flagstones marked with chalk, blazing at each corner of a . . . of a pentagram. Cutting the name of god five ways, yes, yes, from where he had been kneeling at the northern tip it seemed to read: matontetragram.

The more he awakens, the worse the pounding in his head gets. There's a beat behind his ears now. Ma-ton-te-tra-gram-ma-ton-te-tra-gram-ma-ton-te-tra-gram. He'd been light-headed last night from reading round and round the circle, tapping his tongue on the roof of his mouth in time with the silent thrashing of his heartbeat and his shallow, panicked breath and the chant of Semitic syllables from the circle of cloaked figures surrounding him.

Blackwood in front of him, conducting power with the blade. His fingers gripping its hilt. Flashes of silver and purple and darker blacks against the pale night shadows in the crypt. 

Coward opens his eyes as the memory explodes in a scatter shot of splintered detail. Blackwood's hand and how it had touched him yesterday as he gave the instruction that they were to meet at Highgate that evening for the ritual. How it had been incorrect. How afterwards, his ears hot and pink and his coat stiflingly warm, he was sure he must have been mistaken.

But why would he want to imagine such a - an incident. Blackwood has his devotion, his admiration and loyalty and faith and he would not hesitate before swearing that Blackwood has his love, but it is not -

(The love between fellows, brothers or comrades. He is a vassal, enamoured by his lord)

- the love between a man and a woman, nor the perversion of that. Blackwood has set his sword against the laws of Man and so Coward is sure he would have made any such intentions clear well before now if he possessed them. Within their particular circle, most vices are treated as fashionable accessories to ones character. They are beyond judgement after all and concern about respectability is almost appallingly middle class; though it still stirs some doubtful murmurs, it is an open secret that Lord Wellesley's tastes run to his fellow man.

Coward has heard Blackwood expressing his disgust at that fact on more than one occasion. Not in murmurs or glances or a pointed exit from a club room, but in cold, clipped monologues on abnormality. What does he think he's doing, Blackwood sneers. Flaunting his disgrace like that.

There is nothing casual about Blackwood's disgust and Coward, when he thinks about it at all, finds it rather perplexing. Though if there is some slight discord between what Blackwood believes and his own feelings, he supposes Blackwood must simply know better. He trusts Blackwood's vision in all matters, least of all in something as inconsequential as Wellesley's dalliances.

His trust in Blackwood calms the least quiver of dissent in his breast for if he knows one true thing about Blackwood it is that his dark aspect is more truly like the plumage of a peacock than a raven, that he understands the importance of appearances and so, can see beneath them too. He is certain that Blackwood knew him for what he was beneath all his seeming from the very first time they laid eyes upon each other; saw all of his frustration, his restless ambition and glistening absence of conscience and what had Blackwood done after that? But extend the hand that Coward had been waiting all his life to kneel and kiss.

He knows as well, that though these things must make him beautiful, since they make him so fit to serve, they would be ugly in the eyes of others. If anyone else were to glimpse the pestilence that Blackwood praises so, blooming like mushrooms in the warm, dark secrecy of his soul, they would draw back.

Blackwood has only ever drawn him closer. Yet never, never in such a manner as that.

Except, perhaps, the very first time Blackwood shook his hand. Introducing himself most cordially, the flash in his gaze had been so brief and so exceedingly full of appetite that Coward would not have been able to decipher one particular kind of hunger from its brother if he had attempted it.

But now, there was yesterday too.

You'll make sure to be on time, Coward. It is the most vital working yet. Blackwood was stood near enough that Coward was forced to tip his head up to look at him, speaking soft enough that their proximity was a necessity.

The whisper of cotton on cotton, the slight shift of their clothes stroking one another, folding gently in with the sound of Blackwood's breath. Blackwood's fingers on the side of his face, drifting down, slow. Coming to rest not quite at the corner of his mouth, his lips, where Blackwood's eyes were already fixed.

There had been a sickening moment of certainty where he was sure he was about to be kissed. He flinched and Blackwood smiled at him. Blackwood stepped back while he was still holding his breath and then he was walking away and then he was gone, leaving behind the gooseflesh of his touch and the faint scent of oak apples when Coward finally inhaled.

That scent is with him now as he squints against the morning light, mixed in the familiar smell of his own bed linen; the memory of how he finds himself here is absent, he doesn't remember putting himself to bed. He remembers nothing more at all after Blackwood held the chalice to his lips, the knock of copper against his teeth. Coward runs his tongue over his gums and winces.

Something is terribly wrong. He can feel the knowledge lurking deep inside, waking with him and rising as he stares dumbly at the curtain ties. On the floor, the window frame has branded the sunlight into squares and the pattern falls across the rug at the foot of his bed. He blinks, counts the right angles of the shadows, his mind blank. He doesn't want to start piecing together the fragments of yesterday, the invitation, the ritual at Highgate, it feels as though he's drawing a bucket from a well with some dreadful, unknown weight within.

His eyes move over the rug, adjusting to the light. The pattern creeps up the bedspread a little, but it stops there. There is a glass of brandy beside the bed he doesn't recall pouring. The rest of the room-

Blackwood is sitting in the chair beside his washstand.

Coward jolts upright, pulling the bedclothes with him like a shield. Incorrect, wrong, wrong, the same unsettling lurch from yesterday ties his stomach into a tight, sick knot. What on earth is Blackwood doing in his bedchamber? His hands fist in the sheets, he looks away, splotches of colour rising in his cheeks and across his collar. There is a knife between the headboard and the mattress, but it's Henry sitting there and as he clenches his fists, checks the impulse to grab for it, he feels a cold pendant of dread drop down into the pit of his stomach.

His body feels . . . but that's just it, it feels like nothing he can put a name to and yet he's terrified and there is a nauseous echo of alarm reverberating through the whole of him. A swell of horror, like watching the sudden thick flow of blood from the subtle cut of a straight razor.

Blackwood merely stares at him, his forehead smooth, eyes bright and inscrutable. He is tapping his index finger against his cheek, comfortably settled back in Coward's chair. Coward opens his mouth, Blackwood leans forward. Coward shifts and shudders at the strange sensation; pulls the bedsheets away from his chin and looks down at himself.

A thin, suffocated whistle of disbelief ekes out of him. He's naked, but that's not - someone is naked in his bed. He's looking down between the sheets at a naked body, a soft, pale form that does not belong to him, that cannot belong to him and he tries to twist away from it but it moves with him and that same, sick feeling tears deeper into his gut.

He shuts his eyes, then opens them, keeping them fixed straight ahead this time. He forces his breath to a slow, shallow stutter. Blackwood's elbows are on his knees and his thumbs are propping up his chin.

"What-"

Coward cuts himself off and coughs.

"What is-"

But there's still something wrong with his throat. He coughs again, harder this time and rubs the soft-

Oh. What, what, soft, too soft, too smooth, column of his throat. His fingers explore further, trembling as they move up his chain and along his jaw, below his nose and over his mouth. His beard is gone and no shave has ever been this close. His fingertips are numb to the subtleties of this new skin, the fine downy hair in place of stubble or whiskers. His hands fall away from his face, shaking.

He touches his collar, holding the rest of his arm out and away from this body. His arm, perhaps, except no, he can't look at that either, but he presses down hard against the reassuring, hard solidity of his clavicle. The bone beneath his skin is flat and strong and familiar. He knows what he saw and yet he thinks, maybe, if he can just stay still and hold his breath and concentrate on what his hands should find if he touches his chest, it may yet still be so.

The heel of his right hand rests unsteadily against his sternum. He fans his fingers out slowly. His little finger is the first to feel the swell of the breast, the plump, round, abundance of flesh that rises up to greet his palm. His index finger brushes over the peak of a nipple and he snatches his hand away with a gasp.

There is a woman's body in his bed. It is his body.

He doesn't need to touch his hips to sense the new weight that clings to him. The curve of his waist and belly, the cushion of fat beneath the skin of his stomach. He touches anyway, the tightness at the base of his skull stitched tighter still as the pounding there roars up anew. He grasps at the slope of his hips, digs his fingers into the new flesh there, measures the fertile width of his pelvis with cold, slick palms.

His hands are smaller. The bones are delicate, padded gently. Natal, he thinks as he stares at them, hyperventilating. His vision is doubling, the backs of his eyes burn. He plays a silent octave, bobbing his fingers in the air and shakes his head as they move to his will. His? His? The image of the knife behind his bed rises with a violent urgency to the forefront of his mind.

“The ritual,” Coward whispers.

He's afraid to hear his voice any clearer than that.

“It did this?” he looks over his hands at Blackwood. “Something. Some. A mistake. A mistranslation? A, a something, some, some, misstep. Blackwood?"

Blackwood approaches the side of the bed, shoulders rising as he takes a great breath, blocking out the sunlight. “There was no mistake.”

“But I'm-”

“Yes. You are."

Coward stares into the light and the dark blot of Blackwood rising in front of it. His tongue is trapped at the back of his mouth, struggling to dam the sickness roiling in his stomach. The black and white shape of Henry stood in front of the window is etching itself on his vision like a balistraria in reverse but he cannot close his eyes, he's screaming with them.

It pierces him from the inside out, a terrible flesh and blood pain that leaves him dazed, somewhere in the crowded, sticky confines of this body. Behind his heart or nestled in his gut, wherever his soul resides. The unthinkable, unspeakable, enormity of this betrayal.

"Why?" he asks.

Swallows down hard after he speaks, tongue rolling up and pressing once more to the roof of his mouth.

"C . . . " Blackwood hesitates. "Coward. You are . . ."

Another hesitation, then Blackwood steps swiftly round to the side of the bed and sits beside him. Blackwood's eyes move over him, unashamed and Coward tries to edge away from his gaze, but a hand comes down on the top of his thigh; over the sheet, holding him in place. Blackwood's hand, so familiar. The bedsheets, clean and crisp and ordinary. Mild sunlight picks out the inoffensive details of the cotton thread. The horror is beating within the bed curtains, the wallpaper, the sunlight, the details blur and sharpen before Coward's eyes. If he struggles against Blackwood's hand then the insanity of it all might scuttle out from the corners of the room and descend upon him.

“You wanted that?” Coward asks, softly.

Blackwood makes a nose like a bull, a startled, angry huff of air.

“I didn't,” Coward grabs Blackwood's hand, turns toward him. “I would've given you that. How could you think otherwise? Henry, my lord, please, I'm yours, never anything less than yours.”

He shuts his eyes and strokes his palm over the back of Blackwood's hand. Laughter bubbles up in his throat like hiccups.

“Then there is no need for this. You can undo it. I'm sorry I never-”

Blackwood's hand wraps around his neck and squeezes his words into silence, tearing his breath in two and leaving him spluttering, choking. Dislocating all his relief.

“I did not want that,” Blackwood hisses. “How dare you.”

The damp, salt sting around Coward's eyes is hot enough to be blood, not tears. The pressure between his temples rises like the tide and crashes over his head and he can't get air. Refracted through the grey, surging suffocation of Blackwood's hand, Henry still looks magnificent in his fury.

"I know very well what you would have given me. Do you think I couldn't see?" Blackwood says.

Coward gags around the press of his hand and Blackwood laughs, showing all his teeth. The contempt in his eyes is polished and brassy as a counterfeit coin.

"Do you have no shame," Blackwood says. "To so easily admit in what vile ways you'd pervert yourself?"

He slackens his grip and leans in toward Coward, the bed creaking beneath his weight. The inside of he wrist is pressed up against Coward's thigh.

"You gave me no choice," Blackwood says.

"But how could you?" Coward's voice cracks. "I thought-"

He grits his teeth against another rising flurry of nausea, his throat aching from Henry's hand and struggles to find his breath again. Slow and shallow, slow and shallow, not these deep, gasping things that cause the weight on his chest to rise and fall, heavy and tumorous.

He wonders when Blackwood made the decision. A dinner, perhaps? While Coward twisted his fork into some piece of meat, had he missed the judgement as it tightened Blackwood's mouth, the slight twitch of his eyebrows, the way he would have shifted his shoulders back and then relaxed, content. Just when had Blackwood first fixed him with that dear, familiar look of consideration Coward has thrilled at so many times to see directed at other, lesser, pawns?

Always? Was it always?

"No, no, no, no . . . " Coward is moaning beneath his breath.

Blackwood cups the left side of his chest and squeezes.

"No!" Coward cries, then clamps his hand over his mouth.

It was a squeal really, high pitched and reedy and startling and not at all his own. His other hand gropes blindly behind him, slipping on the headboard as his heels dig into the mattress, trying to kick himself up and away from Blackwood's touch. His fingers scramble over the bas relief of scrolled foliage in the wood, strain to reach the finials, then fall back down to the pillows hopelessly

"Don't be hysterical," Blackwood says.

And then mouths the last word again, wry little smile on his face as he drops his hand to Coward's stomach. His eyes are half closed, eyelashes dark like Kohl beneath the severe black lines of his eyebrows. Coward stares at him and feels a queasy flutter of love - a bird with a broken wing jerking on the ground, mad with fear and confusion, it struggles inside him and then lays still.

Blackwood shudders too, as his hand travels up Coward's thigh. His size is suddenly terrifying, sickening, implacable. Cowards knows how small and slender his hands will look against Blackwood's chest if he tries to push him away and so he does not try. He tells himself this decision makes sense, he will stay calm now, collected; he will find a way to make Blackwood understand and all the while his hands are scrabbling amidst the pillows.

"Henry, please," he says.

He grits his teeth. Harder, harder, until his jaw is aching, but at least his mouth does not tremble. With his eyes fixed to the ceiling he does not have to see himself. His heart hurts. A dark little knot in his chest, hammering, hammering, hammering. Blackwood's thumb is resting above it, settled perfectly in the dip between his breasts. The fingers of his left hand drum against Coward's leg, impatient.

"My lord," he says again, drawing his voice up from the lowest part of his belly. "I know that you don't . . . I know that . . . this isn't . . . "

Blackwood's drumming fingers stop and sink down into the flesh, open wide so they spread over the inside of his thigh and begin to slide up, forcing the bedclothes to mould to this false form.

"This isn't real. It is a deception!" Coward cries. "You know that. Magic is, is, is a tool, yes? One must never, ah, one must never allow oneself to be seduced by the glamour of one's own creation. The power of magic is in belief is in, is in, oh wait, my lord, is in the power of, of-"

He shakes his head, the words run away from him like text in a dream. He is over enunciating, skipping over words, he has no time to pick his message out before he speaks it or hone a pretty turn of phrase and all his rote rhetoric has fled him. If he could sharpen his tongue on the slab of fear pressing down on his chest that might be something, but it only robs him of breath and he stammers instead.

And Blackwood's hands are moving slowly, surely, over this awful encasement of flesh he's been sewn into. Every inch is an open wound and the soft touch of Blackwood's skin against his skin, so certain, makes tears spring up in the corners of his eyes.

"Control, control is important, strength of purpose, knowledge of one's will. For practical magic, yes, will and clarity and control, you cannot let it overtake you. Above all things, self deception is dangerous."

Blackwood freezes.

"This is a lie, you know it. It changes nothing. I am a man, I am a man, Henry, you know that, you see that. And so this, this, it makes no difference, except as a lie and what a weakness it would be to need that, so I cannot believe that you do, or that you truly wish it. A whim-"

Blackwood tears the sheet away. There is a very slight noise as it falls off the side of the bed and into a soft, crumpled heap on the floor. A death rasp, whispered guillotine sigh and the soundless rush of air over this body. The hair it has is sparser, finer, but each follicle is like an anchor as it stands up in the cold; Coward feels their roots within him, making him shiver. His hair, his flesh, his body.

The sheet settles. Coward's eyes widen in the new silence. They sting, unblinking and fixed on the picture rail.

"You are what I desire you to be," Blackwood says.

Coward shakes his head and the movement sends the tears spilling from his eyes and he has no sense of them other than the cool wetness they leave on his cheeks. He opens his mouth but his tongue feels fat and dead and as though it's choking him.

When he looks at Blackwood's face he tries to swallow and gags instead.

The morning lies on Blackwood's face in pale, austere planes. Hard, but for his mouth, lips parted soft, and sensual; the shadow beyond the gleam of his teeth is like black velvet. Vast as the sucking silence between them, all pitiless lust.

"Please don't hurt me."

Begs a voice like any other girl's voice, a familiar four word plea. The frightened, keening whine of it disgusts him, but he cannot separate that squirming, filthy feeling from the vertigo that hits him, looking up at Blackwood when he should be looking down at an altar and the girl who spoke those words stretched across it; the rose blur of her lips, babbling entreaties and stretching her arms up to him for rescue.

He understands why they so often fix on him, a young, kind face amidst the vultures and now he understands too, why they would waste their breath begging even after they saw the death promise in his smile. All through it knowing, deep down, how little it would profit them. The word - don't - is catching in his throat over and over like a spasm.

Blackwood looms over him. The veins in the backs of his hands stand out like cord as his fingertips dig into the flesh above Coward's knees. Coward can tell he has not changed out of his shirt since yesterday and the smell of him is strong. Smoky and warm and . . . comforting, scents loving and well loved and well known. They conjure memory like magic, Blackwood sitting with a book and a pensive frown, and what do you think of all this, Coward? covering the page with his palm.

Was Blackwood watching him then, eyes on his back as he tended to the hearth? So many meetings under the shadow of dusk and night, curtained rooms and lamp lit halls and vaults, where things could hide and swell, their plots forming with thrilling, secret speed and what else?

There are notes in Blackwood's scent that were always part of him, but leap out bold and vivid now. The exhalations of his body, the smell of sweat, the scent of his skin steeped into his clothes. Blackwood's tongue is resting on the top of his teeth and his bottom lip shines slightly; his breath is damp and sour and makes Coward think of steam rising from the open mouths of wolves, tongues lolling.

He looks down to where Blackwood's hands are touching him, his disfigured limbs all smooth and round and the soft, pale excess of flesh that swells his thighs. Blackwood's thumbs are nestled at the crease of his hips, the heart shaped bloat spreading from the delicacy of his waist. Coward lays his own hands on his ribs, digs his nails into the blunt, hard lines of his bones and rakes them down, trying to wipe himself clean of the curves that cling to him.

He's never seen a wolf, of course. Not a real one. But there's the black hair below Henry's knuckles, the shadow on his jaw; hands still quivering and the uneven rise and fall of his ribcage and his broad shoulders shaking, but not with fear. He can smell Blackwood's arousal, he can, he's sure. He can see the measurement in the tilt of Blackwood's head, one way, then the other. Where to start his meal.

Hunger is the best spice.

"How long?" he hears himself ask.

But Blackwood takes a handful of flesh and squeezes, ignoring the question as he scrabbles more fat beneath his fingers. He works his way over Coward's hips in handfuls with his short, blunt nails, his elegant, butcher's hands.

"This isn't what you want, it's not, it's-"

His teeth clamp together, a muffled scream beating against his larynx as he throws his head back. Away, not looking, not here, while the edge of Blackwood's hand has slid, is sliding, is pressing, pressing into the cleft between his legs. He waits for pain, for the sting of a wound that's being pried open and the protest of raw, bare nerves that shouldn't be touched.

But it doesn't hurt. Not like that. Blackwood's hand saws between the absence, the numb mutilation where his, his, his - where he should be whole. There's friction, a sense of tugging and the catch of Blackwood's pinching fingers. Inside but not inside, they burrow through folds of strange, hot skin. The heel of Blackwood's palm rubs against him, crushing the splayed, frilly flesh against the bone of his pelvis lying flat and smooth beneath.

Blackwood's fingers worm, worm and Coward tenses his toes until they cramp and his face is itching from the tears drying on his face. Blackwood's hand is the only part of him that moves and neither of them blink. His eyes dried up and aching like the tender place between his legs, threaded through with capillaries like dashes of blood in milk and where Blackwood is grinding his skin against bone, which he supposes is white too, beneath the red, red slice that's been carved out of him. He feels all solid down there, Blackwood is rubbing against a painted artifice.

Then a slip, sudden and rough and Blackwood's knuckles are digging against him and the chill brand of Blackwood's ring is pressed there too and Blackwood's finger is. Gone. Strong, long, thick. Is there. Is inside of him.

He grabs Blackwood's wrist and Blackwood looks up at him, dragging his heavy stare from his calves to his belly to his face, one eyebrow arched. Coward shakes his head minutely and they stare at one another.

He unwraps his fingers from Blackwood's wrist one by one and looks away. It is not consent, for who is he to give consent. He offered himself, head bowed and hair pushed up to show the naked nape of his neck to Blackwood. To his hand or his boot or to the blade that could prise between the column of bone there and end his life. So now his substance has been ripped apart and put back together to Blackwood's liking and no, he was never promised care, or a choice; he was never promised anything but the chance to serve, but had believed . . .

Well. He made a mistake and it is too late now.

Don't move, don't move, don't move, he lays back, still as he can be. He thinks if he moves then something will tear, something will be pierced. Blackwood's finger is up in his soft, inner workings and surely any minute now it will bump against something vital and untouched and then the pain will start.

Blackwood's breath comes heavy, leaning over him, giving more weight to the hand crushed up against him. Coward knows he would be begging still, but he's too ashamed to speak. He goes limp, closes his eyes and tries to escape into some small safe space in his mind, but he never built such places. He never had need of them. He is a creature of observation and he cannot ignore the fact that as he lies there like a dead thing, there has been no change in Henry's breath.

Dark shades of umber burst behind his tightly closed eyes. There is a sharp, jarring bolt of pain between his legs and he tries again, frantic now, desperately searching for something to cling onto. It's not his body, is it? But that difference can't help him against the pain or the humiliation or the dirty violation of Blackwood's hand.

Blackwood has made him a more serviceable tool though, and that is his worth, his purpose and the words fall flightless, pathetic and hollow down to the pit of his stomach. Perhaps he should embrace this decision as every decision Blackwood has made before, but even as he thinks it, Coward knows it is impossible. Something has shifted.

You gave me no choice.

There is no going back from hearing those words from Blackwood's mouth. It loops in his mind, scouring the perfect lens of his devotion into a milky, ruined mess. What weakness in that lie. And not Henry's decision by his own blind admission, so how could he embrace it besides? The brittle carcass of his trust will crumble altogether if he tries. It is already dead and decomposing, leaving a gaping nothing behind it. Leaving the image of Blackwood, smiling, striding, passionate -

(Once, near midnight, Henry had reached out to take his hand and their fingertips had touched just barely, but then no more. Henry had turned and placed both hands on the mantelpiece and the set of his shoulders was stiff in the crackling silence. It was late, he would call for a cab. They said goodnight. Did Blackwood ever touch him again after that? Until yesterday? Until right now, those same fingers spreading with him?) 

- and It means nothing. He feels nothing except a kind of draught, whistling through him, putting out light.

Blackwood pulls his legs apart and tugs him down the bed. His head falls off the pillow and onto the mattress, rolling to one side like a rag doll. It's cold, the bobbin lace hemming the pillow scratches his bare, smooth cheek.

On the pillow there are little stitched flowers in pale blue and pink and green, filling his vision. He is surrounded by cream and pastels. Something stabs between his legs and pain jolts up his spine in a scalding bright line. The floral patterns swim before his eyes, multiplying in front of him. Simple, pretty shapes, neutered of stamens; sown with care and deliberation to fulfil their decorative function.

Blackwood is tearing him open in red hot increments. Unknown seams inside him burning as they split. The sharp, stretching bite of it makes him clench against his will. Blackwood doesn't slow his invasion, the ache deepens into a dull, percussive throb, but it still stings. His face rubs back and forth against the lace as Blackwood's thrusts rock his body.

Bruises swell inside him. He whimpers and those noises hurt him too. Blackwood's fingers dig into his hips, tighter, tighter, until that pain manages to bully itself above the rest of it, but only, Coward realizes, because Blackwood has stopped moving. He's not done. He's panting above Coward, breath catching in the back of his throat with quiet frustration and the anger that's in the clench of his fists. He grunts and flips Coward over onto his stomach. Stabs back into him from behind.

He turns his face to the side to breathe and Blackwood covers it up with his hand. Coward blinks through the space between those fingers, his eyelashes catching every time. The world is shuttered between Blackwood's warm, damp skin, but he is entirely alone. It is a desert and it is vast and empty and the pain is merely part of the landscape. His mouth is slack and half open and as limp as the rest of him. The palm that's digging into the hollow of his cheek, pushing against his teeth from the outside, is part of the landscape too.

A cloud drifts in front of the sun, passes. Blackwood climbs off him and leaves the wound behind. Coward's chest is crushed beneath him and there's a wet, stinging mess between his legs that pulses like an infection. It feels unclean. He pushes himself up to his elbows, arms shaking and edges toward the side of the bed.

"I suppose you're happy now," Blackwood says.

Coward tries to get his knees under him, but he tumbles onto the floor instead. His breasts sway as he slowly drags himself back onto all fours. He hears Blackwood chuckling, indulgently.

"Don't pretend you . . . "

Blackwood carries on speaking, Coward concentrates on the floorboards and crawling over them. Blackwood laughs again, Coward doesn't think he realizes what a naked, angry sound that is. All that fury, tight laced behind the same smile Coward has seen him flash to those enemies he cannot remove quite yet. Coiled so stiff; it's not what a man should sound like after having his release, Coward thinks dizzily, but he knows otherwise, he could feel between his legs for the proof of it couldn't he? Couldn't he, he could-

He's still a good two yards away from the washstand when he throws up.

Blackwood makes another harsh noise that could be laughter. Coward wipes his hand over the back of his mouth, there's nothing in his stomach except, perhaps, the honey and wine from last night's ritual. He shivers, the back of his throat burning.

"A little premature," Blackwood says. A pause, before he finishes, cold. "I expect you'll grow accustomed to such sickness when you're carrying my son."

Coward's hands fly to his belly without his consent, protective, shielding himself as he shakes his head. His stomach convulses again and he retches as something cool rolls down the inside of his thigh. Harmless compared to what must be inside him, potent and parasitic. If he could bring himself to touch that . . . place he would be ripping himself up trying to claw it out. His fingers knead the flesh of his belly instead, digging in.

"Undo it, Henry."

Blackwood approaches, still fastening his trousers. He reaches out as if to touch the side of Coward's face and Coward flinches back, violently. Blackwood's hand drops to his side.

"There is nothing to undo," he says. "I was correcting an unfortunate mistake of birth, my sweet girl. You will not mention it again."

"I'm not a girl."

Blackwood flushes. "You will not mention it again, Coward."

"I am not a girl."

He stares up at Blackwood and for an instant he can see it, a whole, breathtaking architecture of fear, lit up like a cathedral in a lightning storm. A second of white, bright detail, Blackwood is terrified of him and then he's blind again.

And whatever is left in the dark can twist and turn on its foundations, for Blackwood's eyes narrow and not in fear. Coward tries to duck his head but too slow. Blackwood grabs hold of his hair, and pushes two silencing fingers into his mouth, presses down hard on his tongue.

"No longer a maiden perhaps, but certainly a girl." Blackwood's smile is sharp with vicious, calculated glee. "Or did I not just fuck that little cunt of yours?"

His fingers are spreading the taste of bile and salt over Coward's tongue and he gags. Blackwood pinches the tip of his tongue.

"Much more ingratitude and I'll have you confined to a sanatorium until you come to your senses." He chuckles, like they're sharing a joke and tugs at Coward's hair, turning his head to the right.

It is the last time Coward will ever look at himself in a mirror.

" . . . in Persia," Blackwood is saying. "Layla. Do you like it?"

He stares at the crying girl in the glass and thinks about reaching out toward her. Mercy, just this once. But his arms stay fixed where they are, he doesn't move and he realizes she must be just like all the others. Past saving.
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viceindustrious

January 2012

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