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Johannes T. Evans

Table of Contents

Chapter One: An Angel Falls Chapter Two: A New Nest Chapter Three: Twisted Feathers Chapter Four: Sunday Mass Chapter Five: The Artist in the Park Chapter Six: Family Dinners Chapter Seven: Talk Between Angels Chapter Eight: When In Rome Chapter Nine: Intimate Introductions Chapter Ten: A Heavy Splash Chapter Eleven: A Sanctified Tongue Chapter Twelve: Conditioned Response Chapter Thirteen: No Smoking Chapter Fourteen: Nicotine Cravings Chapter Fifteen: Discussing Murder Chapter Sixteen: Old Wine Chapter Seventeen: Fraternity Chapter Eighteen: To Spar Chapter Nineteen: Violent Dreams Chapter Twenty: Bloody Chapter Twenty-One: Bright Lights Chapter Twenty-Two: Carving Pumpkins Chapter Twenty-Three: Powder Chapter Twenty-Four: Being Held Chapter Twenty-Five: The Gallery Chapter Twenty-Six: Good For Him Chapter Twenty-Seven: Mémé Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Eye of the Storm Chapter Twenty-Nine: Homecoming Chapter Thirty: Resumed Service Chapter Thirty-One: New Belonging Chapter Thirty-Two: Christmas Presents Chapter Thirty-Three: Familial Conflict Chapter Thirty-Four: Pixie Lights Chapter Thirty-Five: A New Family Chapter Thirty-Six: The Coming New Year Chapter Thirty-Seven: DMC Chapter Thirty-Eight: To Be Frank Chapter Thirty-Nine: Tetanus Shot Chapter Forty: Introspection Chapter Forty-One: Angel Politics Chapter Forty-Two: Hot Steam Chapter Forty-Three: Powder and Feathers Chapter Forty-Four: Ambassadorship Chapter Forty-Five: Aftermath Chapter Forty-Six: Christmas Chapter Forty-Seven: The Nature of Liberty Chapter Forty-Eight: Love and Captivity Chapter Forty-Nine: Party Favour Cast of Characters

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Chapter Forty-Eight: Love and Captivity

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JEAN-PIERRE


When everyone came home, Jean-Pierre was half-asleep, dozing on the rug in front of the fire with Brigid curled up against him, lying on her side with her back resting against Jean-Pierre’s chest. He had one arm curled around her chest, his arm sinking into the thick fur of her winter coat.

He couldn’t help but wonder, throughout the day, how Asmodeus had picked her – Asmodeus had picked out dogs for him before, and he knew that Asmodeus would sit just like Jean-Pierre did amongst a litter and see what puppies came toward him and which ones didn’t, that he liked to wait until they accustomed to him, until he wasn’t just a novelty any more, before he really took into account their behaviour.

Asmodeus did that for everything.

Brigid was about three months old – she was a little under eighteen kilos, he’d guess at having carried her, bigger than one would ordinarily expect for a female Pyrenees, but not extremely unusual for the breed. She’d be a big dog when she was fully grown, imposing.

She was curious, but not extremely outgoing – there was a caution in her that Jean-Pierre was interested in. Brigid, when exposed to the new house, had mostly been interested in Colm and Jean-Pierre, but then she’d moved around and explored her new surroundings.

He’d walked with her, let her explore and sniff at the different soft furnishings, moving around the living room, the hall, the kitchen, and most of all out in the yard. She’d walked very slowly amongst Colm’s rows of crop, most of them covered over with plastic to save them from the winter chill, and had stopped to sniff each of them with a great deal of focus and interest, almost studying them.

She’d done the same in the greenhouse when Colm had brought her inside, and let her sniff each plant and plot of compost.

There were issues they’d have to deal with, of course – she’d barked furiously when the postman had knocked on the door, and again when Mr O’Malley’s car had backfired across the road; she was nervous and uncertain about going up the stairs to the bedrooms, not looking as though she’d either seen stairs before, and she’d been utterly terrified when Colm had walked down into the cellar without turning on the light, and had sat on the floor of the pantry and cried for him to come back.

It had been funny, getting her to come onto the rug with him – she’d been alright on the welcome mat and the grass outside, but something about the rug’s furry texture made her very sceptical, and she had repeatedly placed her paw on it before withdrawing it again. This had gone on for ten or fifteen minutes before she’d put both paws on the rug, decided it must be alright, and collapsed into Jean-Pierre’s side.

“I need to trim her paws,” he said to Colm – almost had to shout - when Brigid got up barking loudly at the depression of the front step and the sound of Asmodeus’ key in the lock.

“Trim them?” asked Colm, and Jean-Pierre nodded to the way that Brigid was skidding on the polished wood floor, the fur between her paws making her slip and slide, and he laughed.

Jean-Pierre got to his feet, blocking Brigid with one leg as Asmodeus, Benedictine, and Aimé came in.

“Don’t acknowledge her,” he said, more to Bene and Aimé than Asmodeus, who of course knew better. “Lift all your bags out of the way of her, turn your body away from her if she jumps up.”

She had a loud bark for a puppy, and Jean-Pierre almost wanted to roll his eyes at the way that Aimé flinched, but something about the way he moved, his shoulders hunching up, his eyes closing, his head turning to the side like he almost expected a blow, made Jean-Pierre feel sad and somewhat nauseated instead.

He let Asmodeus and Benedictine pass him into the kitchen, and waited for Brigid to follow after them, still bouncing and skittering on the floor with her tail wagging behind her, before he took two steps forward and slid his hands onto Aimé’s cheeks. Aimé relaxed almost immediately, pressing his stubbled jaw into Jean-Pierre’s palm, and although his mouth remained twisted in a grimace, he opened his eyes.

“I smell like dog,” said Jean-Pierre softly, by way of apology.

Aimé’s grimace morphed into a slight smile for a few moments, and he said, “I didn’t know that’s what it was, but if you say so.”

“It’s not aggression,” said Jean-Pierre. “Just excitement – she’s alerting us to new people, to a threat. Pyrenees are bred to guard livestock. Her bark needs to be loud, that it should traverse the mountainside, and be heard from a long way off.”

Jean-Pierre felt the shift of Aimé’s throat as he swallowed, and then he nodded. Jean-Pierre slid his thumbs over the scarred and mottled flesh of Aimé’s cheeks, brushing between the rough flesh there and the point where his stubble grew, his nails catching on the bristles of his beard.

A part of him wanted to be angry, almost – it was transparent, what Asmodeus had done, leaving Brigid with them on the same day he was going to a meeting between angels, and Jean-Pierre distantly remembered how much he’d once enjoyed those meetings, how happy it had made him to be amongst angels and to be admired and treated with caution and desire at once. There was a painful loss, a pang, in the core of his chest at having missed out.

It wasn’t the same any longer – it wouldn’t be the same for anyone, if he went. It seemed wrong, an insult, a cruelty, that Aimé should be able to go where he couldn’t, when Aimé was not an angel himself, and for that matter, was neither Asmodeus’ nor Benedictine’s to invite.

“We got Chinese to split between us,” said Aimé. One of his hands was cupping the back of Jean-Pierre’s, his thumb sliding over the back of his wrist, and the other was resting on his waist, curled around his back. “Doros told me to tell you he sends his love.” He seemed to regret it after saying it, becoming hesitant, but Jean-Pierre nodded his head.

“You enjoyed it?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said Aimé. “You mind I went?”

“A part of me is possessive,” Jean-Pierre admitted, after taking a few seconds to decide how exactly he wanted to say it. “But I would be dishonest if I didn’t say the bulk of my bitterness is in my exclusion, not your invitation.”

Aimé turned his head to the side, pressing a kiss to the centre of Jean-Pierre’s palm, and Jean-Pierre smiled. He was leaning in to kiss him when Brigid rushed in from the other room, shoving her white little snout between their legs and trying to shove between them.

Aimé’s body stiffened, and Jean-Pierre kept hold of him.

“Ignore her,” he said softly. “She’s learning manners – that she doesn’t get to demand attention, that she must wait her turn.”

“Do what I say, not what I do, is it?” asked Aimé weakly, but he remained in place as Brigid sniffed vigorously at his trousers and the hem of his coat, and when Brigid tried to jump up at him, Jean-Pierre took him by his shoulders and turned his body so that she fell down. She tried twice more, and Aimé turned himself, putting his back to her until she fell back on her arse, looking up at the two of them with her large eyes wide.

“It will usually take longer than that, I expect,” said Jean-Pierre. “She’s tired.”

He reached down to scratch one of her ears, and Aimé looked down at her, raising one of his hands but not actually moving to touch her.

“You’ve been bitten by large dogs?” asked Jean.

“No, of course not,” said Aimé.

“You’ve seen guard dogs, though,” said Jean-Pierre. “Fled them while sneaking one place or another?”

Aimé opened his mouth, and then closed it. He searched his recollection for a moment before he reluctantly nodded. “I never thought about it,” he said. “But yeah, when I was a kid, sure. Between school and the house, it was probably the only time I saw big dogs, you’re right – not like her, though, not big white fluffy bears. More like Rottweilers and German Shepherds. How’s it feel to be an amateur psychiatrist?”

“I’m not an amateur, I’ve done psychiatry rotations,” said Jean-Pierre. “But that’s not the only reason – she’s a large animal with big sharp teeth and a loud bark. We don’t have to pathologise your anxiety to know it has a reasonable source.”

“She’s cute,” said Aimé, seeming as embarrassed as he was anxious, one of his hands twitching at his side as the other rubbed at the back of his neck. “I just don’t want her to bite me.”

“She won’t,” said Jean-Pierre. Demonstratively, he put his hand in Brigid’s mouth, feeling the wet heat of her tongue and her saliva-slick teeth, the soft inside of her sagging lips, and she wagged her tail and bowed in play, mouthing over his fingers. She bit very lightly, not even enough to leave marks, but Aimé looked pale, and Jean-Pierre drew his hand back. “Food?”

Aimé nodded.

Don’t feed her from your plate,” Jean-Pierre growled sharply as they went into the room, and Colm gave him a very flat look.

“Oh no,” he said sarcastically, “the world will end if the dog begs for food. She’s a dog, she’s going to beg for food.”

“Only if you teach her that begging gets her food,” Jean-Pierre retorted, and Colm rolled his eyes but put the piece of chicken in his own mouth instead. Jean-Pierre pretended not to notice the way Benedictine raised her eyebrows and looked at Asmodeus, who at least had the good grace not to respond in kind.

The night went on.

That evening, Aimé sat on the bed with a sketchpad in hand, watching Jean-Pierre write up a schedule for Brigid on a chalkboard for the hallway, saying what time she would go for her walks, what time she’d eat, what time she needed to be let out to go to the bathroom.

“No bedtime?” asked Aimé, and Jean-Pierre shrugged.

“I expect she’ll set her own, depending on who’s home. She wasn’t that bothered tonight about coming to bed with one of us because Benedictine is sleeping downstairs, and Asmodeus will be up very late, but after she learns the stairs, I expect it’ll be different.”

Aimé leaned forward, and his expression was serious as he glanced up at the ceiling, toward Colm’s room, before looking back to Jean-Pierre.

“What?”

“You’re stern,” said Aimé. His lips were shifted into a slight smile, his head tilted to the side, and Jean-Pierre gave him a questioning look of his own. “With Brigid, but with Colm. Telling him not to feed her, not to put stuff on her plate, that she has to learn to walk on a lead.”

Jean-Pierre set his chalk aside and dusted off his hands, standing from the bedroom floor and coming to Aimé. Aimé dropped aside his sketchpad and opened his arms, letting Jean-Pierre drop against his chest and land half on top of him, Aimé’s body a comfortable mattress underneath his own.

Aimé’s sketch, half-finished and all sloping guidelines etched with a featherlight touch of his pencil, showed Jean-Pierre kneeling on the floor, most of the detail concentrated in the furrow of Jean-Pierre’s brow and the focus on his face, and it made Jean-Pierre smile.

Sitting up on his elbows, he rested on Aimé’s chest, looking down at him, at his lopsided smile. He hadn’t gotten comfortable with Brigid, not exactly, but although he hadn’t interacted with her actively, he’d not flinched away from her as she’d walked past, nor gone upstairs any earlier than usual.

“If we give her structure now, and a clear schedule,” said Jean-Pierre, “clear rules to follow, she will feel that her world is secure, and solid. She’s only a baby, Aimé, and like all creatures undergoing periods of growth, she will benefit from consistency – the more consistency we give her now, and the more we introduce stress to her with a great deal of support, and structure behind it, the better she will cope when she faces other stressors down the line. A stable mind cannot come to one who does not know if their world is stable beneath them.”

Aimé’s slight smile had faltered, and Jean-Pierre studied his expression, trying to understand why. Aimé’s lips were pressed loosely together, his mouth drawn.

“I upset you?” Jean-Pierre asked.

“No, I’m not upset, I just… I didn’t think it was that big of a thing,” said Aimé. His voice was soft and solemn. “It is, when you say it like that.”

“It’s big for Colm,” said Jean-Pierre. “He won’t like how I train her, either, to walk on a lead, her recall. I doubt she’ll have a mind for agility – Pyrenees usually like to conserve their energy – but Colm doesn’t like that I’m strict with dogs. He thinks they learn things from nowhere, or should. You will see him angry with myself and with Asmodeus, these coming weeks, over nothing – he always is.”

“Because of the dog?”

Jean-Pierre laid his chin on his hands. “It’s not really about the dog.”

“You teach the dog the same way Asmodeus taught you,” said Aimé slowly, experimentally. “Taught you dance, I mean.”

“After I was freed from Myrddin’s captivity, and again after I killed Rupert, Asmodeus controlled almost every aspect of my life,” said Jean-Pierre softly. “Not in that he held me prisoner, but in that he provided a rigid structure, a schedule, rules for me to follow. It wasn’t really about the rules, though – the real comfort came in his constant presence, his support, the knowledge that he was looking after me. Security begets a sense of security.”

“Benedictine said he’d have a load of kids if he could,” said Aimé, and Jean-Pierre thought of every time he’d seen Asmodeus with other people’s children, how happy he was with them, the way he taught young classes of dancers.

“Yes,” he agreed. “I think so. He can’t, in the position he is in – he retains no firm place of residence, and is always moving, always working, has no free time. It would be cruel for him to have children, he thinks. His absence in their lives would be assured.”

“He looked after you for years.”

“He did,” said Jean-Pierre softly. “And every angel he neglected in that time resents him for it, no matter that the Embassy greeted them where Asmodeus did not. They think he rejected them, abandoned them – were he to do such a thing for a human child, a fae child, it would be even worse, I expect. An assassin I may be, in their eyes, but at least I am an angel – were he to abandon his duties for some mortal child or children, I expect it would be looked on very poorly.”

Aimé sighed, his head tipping back against the mattress. “Fuck. I think I met one of them – someone said what year she Fell, like it was significant, and I didn’t get it, but it was when he wasn’t meeting new Fallen angels, I think. Why do they need him, why does he matter so much?”

“He’s greeted everyone else that came before,” said Jean-Pierre, “for millennia. Perhaps I don’t take it personally because Colm and I had to be greeted some while after our Fall, each of us being one third of a triumvirate, but for them, it feels like rejection, and the Fall is rejection enough itself. Everything feels like rejection and abandonment after the Fall. It isn’t that he always arrives immediately after someone Falls, but it’s about the stability when he comes along.”

“Even people dying?” asked Aimé, and Jean-Pierre’s stomach gave a hard, uncomfortable twist, but he nodded his head, and Aimé responded by wrapping his arms around Jean-Pierre’s lower back, squeezing him closer. “When’s your choir party?”

“Friday night,” said Jean-Pierre. “You’ll come with me?”

“’Course.” Aimé’s hands slid up and down Jean-Pierre’s back, pressing down before he went further down and cupped his arse. “I was talking to Doros. The guy’s fucking—” He cut himself off, biting back a word: crazy, Jean-Pierre would wager, but he didn’t point it out, just watched Aimé move his tongue behind his teeth, thinking. “He talked about, uh, about Hephaestus. About how he met Hermes – how Hermes bought him.”

“This troubles you?”

Aimé opened his mouth, closed it. “Yeah. But I’m not thinking about Hermes – I’m thinking about… you.”

“Me?”

“I want to see that guy fuck you.”

Jean-Pierre’s cheeks felt warm at the way Aimé said it, blunt and certain, as his hands slid up Jean-Pierre’s back beneath the fabric of his kimono, tracing the divot of his spine. “Oh?” he asked softly.

“Yeah. But I want to… Let me do it,” said Aimé, and Jean-Pierre looked down at him, arching one eyebrow. “Convince him.”

“Convince him?” repeated Jean-Pierre softly.

“Yeah,” said Aimé. “Let me sell you.”

Sell me?” repeated Jean-Pierre, delighted, and Aimé sighed, pushing himself up to sit. Jean-Pierre let him, remaining straddling his lap as he wrapped his arms loosely around Aimé’s shoulders, feeling his skin sing under his pyjamas. He looked regretful, his lips twisted, and Jean-Pierre observed him with interest s he went on.

“Let me sell it as not really gay,” said Aimé. “’Cause you’re so pretty – pretty like a girl. He’ll take that from me, if I sell it like that, said I’d never fucked a guy before I fucked you.”

“You think I cannot advertise the charms of my cunt on my own, hm? I need a salesman to do it for me?” asked Jean-Pierre, and Aimé laughed, playfully slapping his arse. Jean-Pierre’s skin felt warm, and he spread his legs a little wider over Aimé’s lap, grinding himself down against Aimé’s cock through his underwear, making Aimé hiss.

“I think you can,” he said, voice laboured, “but I don’t think you can sell it to him and all his room mates – or more like, I don’t think you can sell it to him and get him to get his room mates on board for you. If you were doing it, I feel like you’d have to sell it as something you weren’t into, like they were forcing you, ‘cause if they’re gonna fuck a guy they need to feel like they have power in it – I can sell it as me letting them do it, so they have power over you, but without you having to act drunk. Even if you could sell it to them, you definitely can’t do things so that I get to watch. I think I can tick all our boxes on that front.”

There were a great many exciting things in this statement. It wasn’t merely the way that Aimé thought about every word, considering them carefully, nor the way that Aimé’s mismatched eyes were glittering with keen focus as he analysed his way forward – it wasn’t even, just, that he was doing all this for Jean-Pierre.

There was a selfishness in it, a desire Aimé had to look after his own interests, that made Jean-Pierre’s skin come alive, burn with a desire to be touched, swell with want.

“A very enticing proposal,” said Jean-Pierre, and dragged his mouth slowly over the side of Aimé’s jaw.

“Let me do it.”

“It’s not as if I can stop you,” said Jean-Pierre, nipping at the curve of Aimé’s earlobe. “How am I to know what you say to another man, if you plot against me with his assistance?” He lowered his voice as he slid his palm down the front of Aimé’s belly, cupping his crotch and making him hiss. “How am I to know what schemes you have to debase me, Mr Deverell – how am I to know what you will do to me, as soon as I turn my back?”

Aimé bit down on the juncture of Jean-Pierre’s neck, and Jean-Pierre moaned as they fell back onto the bed together.

* * *

AIMÉ

Aimé put his hands in his pockets, standing in the middle of the room, as Asmodeus walked with the agent back out to his car – the two of them were talking about another space Asmodeus was renting for the ballet dancers he’d been working with, and Aimé tuned a lot of it out.

The winter sun, which was very bright, shone in through the wide window, and into the room. It was a big space, and although he’d need to do something about the direct sunlight, maybe enchant the glass so that the light was softer, it would be great to work in: well-ventilated even before he asked Jean-Pierre to help him install a magical AC system, high-ceilinged with more than enough space for his canvases to cure, with a tiled floor that would be very easy to clean, it was perfect.

The actual shop was split into two main front rooms – this one, which Aimé was planning to use as his studio and his office, and then the other, which was slightly smaller and adjoined it via an archway. That would be his waiting room and the gallery.

He wasn’t sure yet if he was going to actually keep the glass into the studio transparent or frost it over – Asmodeus had said that people would likely find it interesting to look through and see the artist at work, see him paint from outside, that it might appeal to them and encourage them to buy from him in the same way it did when they saw him paint on Stephen’s Green, but he didn’t know.

It was different, somehow, if they were looking at him through the glass, as if he was in a box, or a cage.

Aimé thought of Doros, thought of Jean-Pierre, and his hands twitched at his sides.

There was a little kitchenette and a tiny toilet downstairs, enough that he’d be able to make a cup of coffee or something for a client or toast himself something to eat while he worked, but the flat upstairs was…

Nice.

Cosy.

It was strange – he’d thought when De had showed him the listing that it would feel cramped and small compared to what he was used to, but actually walking around the little flat upstairs from the shop, he’d found he felt as though he could be at home there. It was listed as a two-bedroom, but the second room would barely fit a single bed and a wardrobe, let alone any more furniture than that: the bigger bedroom was small, a little smaller than Jean-Pierre’s, but there was something comforting in the size of the space, like being wrapped up in it.

“You might like to measure,” the real estate agent had said, “just to see if your things will fit—”

“I don’t actually have much,” he’d replied.

The door in the waiting room opened, closed, and Aimé looked to Asmodeus as he appeared in the big archway, leaning against the side of the wall.

“How do you feel about a bead curtain?” he asked, gesturing in a slow, arcing wave to the arc above him, and Aimé laughed.

“My main feeling is disgust,” he said. “But I suppose it’s better than velvet. Thanks.”

“Cosigning hardly means anything to me,” said Asmodeus.

“Not for cosigning, De,” said Aimé, and Asmodeus smiled at him.

Jean-Pierre, Benedictine, and Colm had gone off to Tayto Park – they’d taken George and Bedelia with them, and Jean-Pierre had whined when Aimé had said he didn’t want to go, until he said he wanted to be energised for the party later. Pádraic was babysitting the dog while Aimé and Asmodeus were gone.

Brigid didn’t look like such a big dog at all in Pádraic’s huge arms, and he’d cooed over her, called her all kinds of Irish pet names, kissed her on both of her cheeks before he’d set her down again, and gone to sit down beside the fire to knit. Lying down at his feet on her back, one of Pádraic’s feet rocking against her belly, Brigid had looked tiny, and very at-home.

Benedictine was going home soon, and once she was gone, it would only be a few more days before Colm and Jean-Pierre flew off for Berlin. A while after that, and Aimé would be back to school, and Jean-Pierre too – and maybe Heidemarie would be living in Dublin with them, and after that, Aimé would be going full-time as an artist, and after that…

“You’ve barely said a word today,” said Asmodeus. “Not buyer’s remorse, I hope?”

“No,” said Aimé. “I’m excited to move in here, really, get everything out of my dad’s remit, and just… Just be. I’m grateful.”

“Worried about the dog?” he pressed. “About Jean-Pierre?”

Aimé hesitated, not knowing exactly what to say, exactly how to phrase it. It was Asmodeus who’d warned him to leave Jean-Pierre the most, more so than Colm, who seemed to know the best what Jean-Pierre was like – it was also Asmodeus, though, who’d been with Jean-Pierre after Myrddin, after Rupert.

“Do you think I’m a bad person?” asked Aimé. “Is that why you think me and Jean are good for each other?”

He felt small, in this big room, with Asmodeus on the other side – not because Asmodeus was really that big in body, even though he was, but because he filled the room, and Aimé didn’t know that he did, that he could, even if he tried.

“I think you and Jean-Pierre have complementing insecurities,” said Asmodeus simply, not flinching away from the question, not even seeming surprised by it. “You have been consistently undermined and belittled the whole of your life – Jean, on the other hand, has been idolised and worshiped so consistently, contrasted with instances of unthinkable brutality, that he spirals at the mildest instance of rudeness on the bus, some days. You two balance one another, give each other a needed dose of reality.”

“And what’s reality?” asked Aimé. “Hurting people? Killing them? Like the rest of his boyfriends?”

“Bui never killed a man in his life,” said Asmodeus. “He refused to – he was committed to education. He was a cold man, could be tremendously cutting, but he believed in the sanctity of life, and preserved it above all else. Farhad, of course, never killed anybody either – nor did Rupert. Loving my brother does not require you to kill, Aimé. That’s a choice of your own.”

“What if I’m worse?”

“Than a killer?”

“Yeah.”

Asmodeus was quiet. He looked thoughtful, standing like he did, his arms loosely crossed over his chest, his feet crossed over one another, his shoulder leaning against the wall – with his perfect proportions, his perfect hair, the dancer’s pose, he looked as though Aimé had painted him there, almost, before Aimé had even had the chance.

“This is about your conversation with Doros,” he said slowly. “He told you about his purchase by Aetos. Is that what you’re worried about? That you own Jean-Pierre?”

“I know I don’t own Jean-Pierre,” said Aimé, moving on his feet. “What I’m worried about is that I listened to a man tell me about how his husband bought him as a slave – less than a slave, even, as a, as a source of fucking alchemy ingredients – and I applied what he’d told me to a conversation I had Jean-Pierre, because I felt like it had given me insight into how to turn him on. And you know what? I was right.” He scoffed to himself, shaking his head, and he pressed his lips tightly together, feeling the guilt that had started last night, after Jean-Pierre had fallen asleep, start up again in his chest. He hadn’t thought about it, exactly, on the way back, in the car – he had once they were in the house, and watching Jean-Pierre with the dog had been at odds with what he’d been thinking about, about…

Jean.

“Of course you were right,” said Asmodeus. “All his life, my little brother has delighted in games where his freedom is taken away.”

Aimé thought about how it had felt, when he’d won his fight against Jean-Pierre coming back from Paris, fucking him against the stairs and feeling the way he’d ultimately relaxed, the triumph he’d felt at having Jean-Pierre finally submit.

The thing with the men would be different, because it wasn’t just about controlling Jean-Pierre – it was about trying to control other people, trying to get them to do as he wanted with someone else. He’d done that before: Aimé had manipulated people all his life, enjoyed riling people up and was just as good at calming people down, but this was…

Specific.

Targeted.

His skin thrummed with anticipation, eager to try, and to do it for Jean-Pierre – and eager that it was something Jean-Pierre wouldn’t be able to control. All he could think about was that guy from his choir with Jean-Pierre on his knees, his cock shoved down Jean-Pierre’s throat as Aimé watched, like he had been with Aetos and Doros but this time, not the one in command.

He couldn’t decide how much that memory was soured, knowing how Aetos and Doros had met, knowing what their relationship had been, and having no way of knowing what it actually was now.

“What Doros and Aetos have isn’t a fucking game,” said Aimé. “He bought Doros from a guy who raped him as soon as looked at him, before he was even awake, harvested ingredients from him, then sold him off because he didn’t want him any more. And it doesn’t even occur to Doros that that was rape. Because to him, consent isn’t what makes rape rape, it’s… It’s whatever Ancient Greek legal idea he learned three thousand years ago. He thinks he can’t be raped, because he’s a man, or not even a man, but an angel. And so he stays with Aetos, Hermes, because he doesn’t know any different.”

“To Doros,” said Asmodeus in a measured, neutral tone, “it is natural to him that you would understand that by staying with Aetos, he consents.”

“Consents to what?” demanded Aimé. “Consents retroactively to what was done to him? Says, oh, that was all okay, do it some more, I liked it?”

Asmodeus nodded, and Aimé let out a sound of frustration, crossing his own arms tightly over his chest.

“And if I hurt Jean-Pierre?” he asked. “If I fucking hurt him, would he even bother to tell me? If I hurt other people for his sake, would he care? If I raped him, would it even occur to him that he shouldn’t forgive me?”

“Do you plan to rape him?”

“Of course I fucking don’t!”

Asmodeus tilted his head slightly to the side and asked, “Do you think about it?” He didn’t sound angry. He didn’t sound like he was going to have a go at Aimé, didn’t sound like he’d even say anything cold, but somehow Aimé was still terrified.

Aimé swallowed, hard, shook his head.

“Do you think about it?” asked Asmodeus again, his voice soft and quiet, his eyes focused directly on Aimé, not looking away or even blinking. “Bringing my brother under your power, so that he can’t even think of acting against you? Do you think about breaking his resolve, so that he gives himself over to you completely? Do you think of all the things he does to hurt himself, to sabotage himself, and think of how you might bring him in line?”

Aimé stared at Asmodeus. The pit of his stomach gnawed with an aching anxiety, but something about the way the other man talked made him feel like he was on uneven ground.

“It’s Jean-Pierre’s assertion,” said Asmodeus, “and his belief, that by remaining in his presence, even when he harms you, that you consent to all he does to you. Otherwise, in his mind, you would leave. Your staying is your statement that he can treat you as his – as he likes. You are right to think that he considers you to have the same freedom and control over his body as he has over yours. If you prove to him you can control him, if you best him, he’ll let you. To him, that is natural law.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

Asmodeus shrugged. “Don’t. You wouldn’t be the first to resist his expectation.”

“And what if I do?” asked Aimé. “But… but know that I shouldn’t? Know that it’s wrong?”

“What do you want me to tell you, Aimé?” asked Asmodeus. “That if you hurt my brother, I’ll reject you, drive you out, kill you?”

“You wanted to kill Myrddin,” said Aimé.

“Myrddin hurt him. What Myrddin did to Jean-Pierre was beyond the bounds of what Jean-Pierre considers play, and most crucially, stopped him from leaving even though he wanted to, held him captive. Jean-Pierre likes to play, Aimé, and he does consider it play, when certain people hurt him. The way he approaches it isn’t in line with healthy BDSM practice, Aimé, and it certainly isn’t normal, but if you went and found him now, pinned him down, hurt him, humiliated him, Jean-Pierre would let you – he’d kill you, if he felt you deserved it, or cut you from his life. To you and I, that certainly isn’t an example of consent, let alone a sensible negotiation of one’s kink, but to him, it’s simple, obvious.”

“But that’s fucked,” said Aimé.

“Yes,” said Asmodeus, and laughed powerlessly, gesturing vaguely about with his hands. “Tell me about it.”

There was something tortured in Asmodeus’ expression, something pained, before he went on, “Aimé… Jean-Pierre is precious to me in a way that almost no one else on this earth is, but even were it not for the severity of his mental illness, he has been forged in steel by the world he has come into. All angels have. Would that I could protect every one of them from the reality of the world they Fall into, but that is not within my power: all I can do is offer the support that I can. For Jean-Pierre, that means, to some extent, seeing the world as he sees it, and playing the game by his rules.”

“By his rules?” asked Aimé. “So, so what does that mean, letting him get beaten up?”

“I have before,” said Asmodeus. “I have done things to my brother, Aimé, through inaction or manipulation, that would make you weep.”

Aimé recoiled, staring at Asmodeus’ face, because he looked no less pained, no less distantly disgusted, but there was a sort of hardness in his voice that Aimé couldn’t get past.

“It’s the only way he learns, at times,” said Asmodeus quietly. “The only way he checks his behaviour is by extremity of punishment – but more than that, there are times when pain, agony, captivity, even, in limited amounts, allow him balance. He can ask for help – he can always ask for help, ask for me to come and get him, he isn’t too prideful to ask things of me, but he will withstand agony because he knows I am watching him. Because he knows that with me there, no matter that he might be suffering, he is safe. That is the essence of what he wants, in someone he loves. It is not merely about controlling and being controlled – it is that that control is driven by love and adoration, and a knowledge that when you hurt him, when you drive him, you do it for a reason.”

“My dad did everything he ever did to me for a reason,” said Aimé. “A reason doesn’t make it… good.”

“I don’t think you’d know what to do, seeing me train Jean-Pierre,” said Asmodeus quietly. “At dance, or acrobatics.”

“I’ve seen you teach him.”

“No,” said Asmodeus. “You haven’t. I drive my students very, very hard, and I expect discipline, if not perfection. You’ve seen me play with Bedelia and George, seen me fix Bene’s hair, seen me cuddle Jean-Pierre and soothe Colm’s hurt feelings. You have not seen me train or teach, Aimé. When I train Jean-Pierre he sweats, and he cries, and he works upon himself until he is perfect… and then, I tell him he’s done well, and we take our rewards, and he knows I love him very dearly. Do you think that’s so different to what he wants from sex? Do you think it’s so different to what he does to you – wrestling with you, fighting you, until you’re almost ready to drop?”

“Because there aren’t other people,” said Aimé. “Because I’m not manhandled into the ring with him – because there isn’t an audience if he humiliates me. Because we’re fucking wrestling or dancing instead of sexually assaulting one another. Don’t act like the comparison is simple.”

“Nothing about our lives is simple, Aimé,” said Asmodeus. “We have each of us suffered too much for that.”

“I’m scared it makes me a bad person,” said Aimé. “The things I want to do to him – the things I… kind of enjoy, when he does them to me. I never used to give a fuck whether I was a good person or not, but he makes me care – and at the same time, this shit fucks me up.”

“Would a hug help?” asked Asmodeus, and Aimé laughed, putting his head in his hands, and then looked to De, who was smiling faintly at him.

“Yeah,” said Aimé, stepping forward. “Think it might.”

Asmodeus hugged him tightly, rested his chin on top of Aimé’s head, squeezed his shoulder.

“I love him,” he told Asmodeus’ chest.

“I know,” said Asmodeus. “Me too.” When he pulled back, he cupped the back of Aimé’s head, then patted his cheek.

“Is this what your relationship is like?” asked Aimé. “With the Scottish guy? MacKinnon?”

Asmodeus laughed. “Hamish and I don’t have a relationship, not like yourself and Jean-Pierre,” he said quietly. “It isn’t romantic.”

“You hurt him?” asked Aimé. “He hurts you?”

“He hurts me in ways you couldn’t imagine,” said Asmodeus softly. “But it’s a good hurt. He cauterises all my wounds.”

“What wounds?” asked Aimé, and Asmodeus patted his cheek and the side of his jaw before he pulled back. When Asmodeus didn’t answer, Aimé asked, “What do you think they’re doing right now?”

“Sitting in the petting zoo, out of their faces on mushrooms,” said Asmodeus, and Aimé laughed. “Do you want to stay here a while, pick out paint swatches, or…?”

“Nah,” said Aimé. “No, I’m good to go home. You’ll still help me move everything in?”

“Of course,” said Asmodeus. “Always.”

When they went home, Brigid rushed to meet them, and Aimé hung back, watched the way she leapt up at Asmodeus, but Asmodeus didn’t even look at her. He stood up straight, his arms crossed over his chest, and stared forward as she hopped around his feet, barking her surprisingly loud bark, until she calmed down, standing on four legs in front of him.

Asmodeus let the silence reign for a few seconds, and then he smiled, leaning down and stroking her head, ruffling her ears under his hands. “That’s a good girl,” he said warmly, and Brigid’s tail began to wag again.

Aimé closed the door, and Brigid looked to him, but she didn’t run and jump at him like she had at Asmodeus – she jogged forward, her tail swinging from side to side, and stood at his feet, looking up at him with huge, doleful brown eyes.

Aimé wanted to reach out, wanted to touch her, feel how soft her fur was, but he hesitated too long – she impatiently turned on her heel and ran back to Asmodeus, leaning her body against the side of his leg.

Aimé shrugged off his jacket, smiling to himself, and went inside to sit with Paddy.



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