Copper Kisses

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Nathandiel's gums were bleeding.He'd brushed them down past the first layer of tissue.

Compulsive much?

He grimaced and pulled his lips back from his teeth to reveal two lines of white enamel awash in bubbles in a ribbons of bright red. He turned his head from side to side as he watched himself in the mirror, his right hand still up and gripping the pink toothbrush. He stuck out his tongue and leaned forward to examine it. He could still taste copper.

One little kiss from one little elf who felt the need to nibble on human bits and now I'm stuck with the taste of people in my mouth.

Maybe that's what he got for an act of secondary cannibalism. He could taste his own blood now, but it wasn't the same as the underlying taste. He cursed and jammed the brush back into his mouth and resumed his relentless scrubbing, the sound of the brush moving over his teeth loud inside his skull.

He wandered away from the mirror and scratched at his bare stomach as he left the wash station behind and approached his desk. His fingers moved over a filing folder, the index one moving to caress the name on the patient tab: Kerala. She wasn't' a patient, none of the files in that pile belonged to his patients; they were all Grim. He hooked the edge of the cover with his index finger and opened the file.

Kerala had made a spectacle -albeit an unoriginal one, but a spectacle none-the-less - of her inquisition trial that night. Nathandiel couldn't remember which stage of her inquisition she'd been in and he wasn't terribly familiar with the process; he'd only been required to do the first one. He switched hands and picked up his pen and began to scribble his notes while he brushed.

The Grim who'd gathered at Awatu's overblown establishment in Frostfire had all partaken of the hearts that Kerala had removed from her line of victims. He winced internally as he recalled her extraction technique and detailed it in his notes. Inefficient surgical techniques annoyed him but he'd come to find that Hordelings were particularly fond of doing things with about much as finesse as they used to empty their bowels.

He wasn't sure what the eating of the hearts had been intended to mean. Blood for blood's sake seemed to be a practice the Grim were fond of. He supposed he could inquire further with Drinn when she arrived. They were off harassing someone somewhere in an Alliance city and he couldn't risk being seen there in the event that they failed, so he'd gone home.


He stopped and looked at his toothbrush; the pasty bubbles pink now. She'd sliced out the cartilage from the bit of heart that she'd gotten a hold of and she'd done it expertly. She'd offered it to him but he'd declined. He wondered if that had disappointed her at all. He would have to make it up to her. When she got back she'd be full of stories about the things that had happened on their excursion and positively bursting with energy from all the fighting. He'd have to diffuse her anyway if he planned on getting any sleep, he'd make it up to her then.

He finished his notes on Kerala and stashed the folders amongst the genuine patient files. He headed over to the bed and sat on the end, staring at the fire as he continued to brush, pressing back to reach the molars now.

Soft and warm things curled around his ankles and he looked down to find he two wolf puppies; Castor and Linna, looking up at him. He lifted a brow as he paused in his brushing and both pups stood, their tails wagging and their eyes on the brush.

"Yeah it's blood." he said in the higher-pitched tone he used when speaking to his and Drinn's puppies. "I think at this point it's more Daddy's blood than anyone else's."

Their tails continued to wag.

His eyes narrowed, and out of pure curiosity he extended the bush down to the tiny dogs. Miniature noses flared and then slender pink tongues licked at the bristles. Castor shook his head and made a scoffing sound. "Minty isn't it?" Nathandiel asked. The pups continued until Linna snatched the brush and hurried away with it, Castor padding awkwardly after her.

Nathandiel's shoulders began to quake, the laughter coming on slowly. He wiped his mouth as the giggles became involuntary and laid back on the bed. "Where the hell am I?" He asked and closed his eyes, wincing, he could still taste peoplein his mouth.

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<<WARNING - Just in case.>>

The screaming got old. Adults were like babies, they could just keep screaming.

Shut. up. He thought, sneering. "I'm trying to work...." He grumbled, turning over another page in the parchment deck, the sheaves rustling and adding a note of punctuation to his request.

"Khaz. Khaz-al-a-khan!" The human male screamed. "Khaz-al-lakhala-Khan!"

Nathandiel rolled his eyes, and for a moment, buried his face in his hands, exasperated. He pulled his palms down his face, stretching the skin, and then turned, his eyes narrowed and fixed on the man who laid supine on his table. The man shook his head from side-to-side, his large, full lips wet and his saliva foamy in some places. His dark eyes were focused on the ceiling of the dank chamber as he recited that demonic nonsense.

"Really?" He asked. "Really?" He stood, his lab coat had become stiffer in some places and it softly crunched around his elbow joints.

"Khaz-al. Khaz-al-a-kahn!" The man decried with all the fervour of a street-corner prophet.

"Khaz-ala-blah-blah-blah!" Nathaniel cried back, holding up his hands, fingers splayed and waggling as if to offer some razzle to the man's demonic dazzle. He hissed at the man who continued, but was grateful that he lowered his volume. Nathandiel drew himself up as he approached the table, gesticulating smoothly with his hands like a time-seasoned academic lecturer. "You would think, that with all the human meat that comes through this place that I would get one that actually spoke my mother tongue." he said.

The man's dark eyes flickered towards him, his long lashes wet, and his chants became more like prayers as the eyes flicked away.

"Yeah. I miss the sound of these words." Nathandiel said slowly, letting the syllables slide off his tongue, the contact with his palate natural and free from the need for him to assert conscious attention. "Cellar door." He said. "I had a literature professor once that said that was one of the most beautiful compositions that we can say; cellar door." He closed his eyes and drew himself up straighter, his hands lowering easily to his sides as he basked in the aftermath of the spoken words.

"Khaz-ah-" The man continued in a hushed tone.

Nathandiel opened his eyes, his mouth curling into a down-ward horseshoe of disgust. He turned to look at the man slowly. "...really?"

He was at the head of the table in a flash, pulling a metal cart up as he reached above the man and adjusted over-head light. Tools and vials clattered in their metal dishes as he lifted his mask to cover his lower face with on hand and felt for the tools he desired with the other, making sure they were all there. He tied the laces at the back of his head as he spoke. "You know, I don't often try to have conversations with the poor saps that end up on my table - most of you don't have anything interesting to say." At this he let out a clipped bray of laughter. He leaned over the man and looked down at him past the upper edge of his mask, their images inverted to one another. "And you know...that's really my job here - to get you to talk and say interesting things, things the upper tactical minds are interested in."

"Khaz-al-a-khan-al-kah..." The man continued, but his dark eyes were focused on Nathandiel's.

"I don't really believe in demons." Nathandiel whispered to the man, as if this were a secret. "But I do believe in the divine and if I were you, where you are now...." He gestured with one finger to the man's general state before snapping on gloves. "That's who'd I'd be talking to, not Khaz-allah-ballah-wan or whomever you are appealing to. Demons ask you to do a lot of bullshit to gain their favour. As I understand it, the kinder deities usually just ask you to acknowledge them and then reward you with all sort of good things like eternal happiness and forgiveness."

Nathandiel tilted his head in the opposite direction, eyes widening slightly as the man became silent. Nathandiel was also silent, only blinking, one hand hovering over the tens-blade on the tray next to him. They regarded eachother like that for some time, Nathandiel's breathing slow and deep, but his heart rate quickening as the anticipation grew. The man was going to say something and it was going to be profound.


The shriek of frustration the rose from Nathnadiel drowned out the man's pleas as his face contorted behind the mask. "Raaaaaaaggggggh!" The sinew of his jaw stretched and his lower lip split on the surface where it was dry as he pulled his lips taut over his teeth. He brought his free hand down on the flat of the table next to the man's ear and the blunt sound of flesh on metal, contrasted by the sting, was paradoxically sharp in the silent room. He shook as he looked down at his fare - who no longer looked at him - and tried to calm himself.

"Fine." He snarled. The man had resumed his chanting prayers - if that's what they were.

He got up and wandered to the phonograph. He plucked a sleeved record from the nearby basket, turned it over and lifted a brow at the title. Elven script was flagrant and ran together. It was far more visually appealing than effective, in his opinion; it was a bitch to learn. He slid out the large disc and set it on the turn-table. "I've always liked music." He said slowly, guiding the needle to surface. He wasn't really talking to the blabbering fanatic on his table anymore. This was his time; when the occupants checked out mentally there was little else to do but amuse himself.

He held his hands together loosely at the level of his belt as he watched the record spin and the needle find its groove - much as he did for himself. The man's chants were not at all of the same cadence as the music. He didn't mind classical Elven music, some of it was very powerful, some was hypnotic - both characteristics that he valued in the ambiance of his workplace.

He moved back over to the table, calm now, and smiled down pleasantly as his 'patient', taking on the demeanor more of a physician than an interrogator. "I think you're just playing me." He said gently. "I think you're pretending to be a devout patron of whomever you're praying to and that you've committed to a role that will lead me to underestimate you."

The man continued and gave no indication that he was listening.

"I can understand that." He said. "My training was the same. People always say 'expect the unexpected,' but really they never do - you can't. That whole motto is a fallacy. 'Expect nothing,' at least then you're never disappointed. " He sighed as he looked down the form of the man; he was still dressed in his prison greys.

Nathandiel reached over him, their bodies connecting a moment, as he stretched his arm for the bandage scissors on the tray. He began to cut at the crucial seams of the patient's pants. The gown was fine, but the pants, those would get in the way.

"I'll tell you a story." he said. "I've always appreciated the interrogators that told me stories. I mean I didn't ask to meet you and you didn't ask to meet me, and I can at least entertain you while we get down to good stuff." He punctuated with this with a tear of one pant leg, pulling the fabric up and away as he cut. "It's my job to do more than just cut you." He stopped and looked up at the man with a pitying smile. "Too bad for you." He popped his brows for effect.

The man's prayers had become more silent and his hands balled into fists at his sides, shaking his restraints.

"I know these people." He started. "Decent but mediocre people. And with them, I'm just silly." He explained as he bared the man below the waist line and tossed the tattered sections of fabric that had made up his pants away. "I play the part well, I play it to a fault, and the only one who knows it's a 'part' I keep in line through more creative measures. You see, I don't want to hurt these people, that's not my task, so I simply am around them and I am a certain way - a way that wont alarm them because it shapes their expectations." He moved around the table so that his tray was within reach and pulled the patient's IV pole closer so he could adjust the flow rate.

"No one expects the village idiot to be the one to bring it all down." He said slowly, surveying the pale landscape of the man's thighs. "And no one thinks twice when the village idiot finally leaves."

He ran one gloved hand up the man's legs, his pupils dilating as he felt the skin pucker under the barrier of synthetic material. As his hand travelled he didn't realize that all he heard then was music and not the man's chants - they were gone. His hand found the man and there was an instant reaction of fright. A smile spread across Nathandiel's lips and his eyes move up to the man's face.

The man swallowed and no protuberant apple bobbed in the neck. The neck wasn't the only place the 'man' was missing round objects - or objects all together.

"Clever girl." Nathandiel said slowly.

Either the nurses had missed it or he'd read through the file too quickly, either way the patient nearly passed for their opposite gender. Her dark eyes found him finally. "Please." She said, her voice deep and gravelly. "Please no."

It's not just a disguise for this one. This one's caught between the poles.

"Please. Not that." She begged and swallowed again, and now, he could see the largeness of her eyes and the fullness of her cheeks. He could see it was a 'her'.

"Don't flatter yourself, honey." He said as he took his hand away and pulled her gown down her thighs. He picked up the tens-blade, tossed it expertly from one hand to the other and then buried it in her thigh, through the fabric, pinning it in place and sealing off her modesty as an instant tattoo of red stained the fabric and the table below.

She screamed.

"See." he said, surveying her again and deciding where to begin. "Expect nothing. You won't be surprised."

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The bass was throbbing, the ladies were bumping, and the wine was flowing.

It's my party and I'll do what I want to. Nathandiel thought.

The young thing on the stage before him bent over, pressed her prized parts together and he favoured her with a ten-bit note. She blew him a kiss and resumed her acrobatics. The young thing on his lap smoothed a hand down his chest and nibbled at his ear-lobe. "How old are you now?" the thing on his lap asked, shouting over the music.

"In your years, I'd be thirty-seven." He replied, shouting just the same.

"Oh, an old man!" the young man teased.

Nathandiel brought his cigarette to his lips, inhaled and then blew his smoke in the face of the dark-eyed beauty. Young, trained things, they were taught to be sassy.

"Get the off of my lap." Nathandiel said with a polite smile.

The young man giggled, seeming to think that Nathandiel had been kidding.

"Now." Nathandiel said sternly, clipping his teeth at the youth's ear. The young man's demeaour of flirtatious comfort melted and he quickly scrambled away. Nathandiel swatted his bare rear-end as he beat his retreat.

Nathandiel drank and smoked and enjoyed the pretty things that danced for him. Private party rooms were the best places to be. They were meant for actual parties, of people, but he preferred to be alone with his entertainment. He received several invitations to partake of complimentary services on behalf of the house, but politely declined each; he had a date with a special lady later and had decided to save himself for her.

When his blood flowed comfortably through his dilated veins, his sinews awash in warmth and the kind of chemicals that made a man content with his plight, he shooed the pretty things from the room until he was alone with the music. He vaulted onto the stage and stood for some time, just listening and enjoying the sensation of his own heartbeat. Each contraction sent new waves of delight through his tissues, from his scalp all the way down into his toes.

He took to the pole, regarding it with hesitation and suspicion at first. He was alone and it was inviting. He followed the rhythm around him and got lost in the bars and chords of artists whose relevancy wouldn't survive the decade. He moved, and the faster he went, the easier it was to let go of the life he'd lived so far and the worries that consumed him about the one he still had yet to lead.

Birthday's were sometimes best when spent alone.

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"This is going to look really, really bad on us." Nathandiel said as he guided his razor along the contours of his jaw. "Neither one of us even ranking in the scalp hunt."

Behind him, in the bathtub, Drinn did not answer. He spied her reflection in the mirror and smirked for a moment. She was submersed in the still bathwater, her nose and heavily-lidded eyes above the surface. She reminded him of a crocolisk, lazily waiting for prey to wander into it's path.

"I know you can't take the title -- tactician and all -- but I really did like mine." He dipped his razor in the wash basin and shook off the accumulated cream that was peppered with fine, back hairs. His bride-to-be was not fond of facial hair, and neither was he really.

"They've all been in the battlegrounds, hunting and maiming and raking in the tally numbers. What have we been doing?" He posed, dabbing more cream on his cheek. "Fighting and fucking and...good Gods...cuddling." He frowned at this; it was very un-Grim.

"Shhh." Drinn said and he heard the water become disturbed. In the mirror he watched her emerge from the tepid water, placing her arms along the side of the tub and resting her chin on one wrist. She motioned with the forefinger of her other hand for him to come to her, curling the slender digit as she grinned salaciously at him. "Bring me the blade."

He lifted his brows at this and then turned to face her. She had that look in her eyes again that said she didn't care about whatever he was jabbering about and that she had her own plans. "Oh alright." He headed towards her and deposited the blade in her hands. "Maybe next hunt."

Screw hunting, they had better things to do.

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Nathandiel's eyes had been drawn to the leather-bound notebook on his writing table many times as the day had moved from morning, to the peak of the afternoon sun, to the fading time, when the lamps needed lighting. But he'd ignored the book, opting instead to turn over this way and that, to snarl at Castor when he got too rambunctious, and then to feel immediately guilty for having snapped. The wild wolf need running, he needed to stretch and he needed attention. He'd been domesticated and Nathnaidel had done that -- he needed to care for the pup and the way he'd made him. But he hadn't. He'd just turned over again.

He and Drinn had become more than just a sordid affair, and he thought that they had both been surprised by it. But then she'd pulled away, and he'd lashed out, and she'd gnashed back...and now they seemed to be done. She'd promised to meet him at their favourite summit in Hyjal after a long separation due to their duties before Winterveil...she hadn't come. She'd had reasons out of her control, but she hadn't come. He had cried.

He hated that he'd cried.

And then they'd fought. They'd made up, but then they'd fought more. She'd promised to spend time with him so they could repair, and she'd spent a little -- but then her duties had taken her elseware and the general dissatisfaction and distaste with the state of his life and where he was had wormed back into him until the many-tentacled beast of depression held him firmly in it's inky, black-armed embrace.

Castor jumped on the bed and nosed at him. "Stop it." Nathandiel grunted.

The dog continued.

"Stop it!" He hissed, sitting up.

The clever pup took the opening and slid under his arm, flopping onto his side and beating his tail against Nathandiel's belly. The stupid, tongue-dangling face of his dog, who despite all the hurt, was happy just to have cuddles, made him smile.

"Fine...." he groaned and laid back down. In time he fell asleep, putting off the book for another day while he dreamt with his wolf pup -- the one his Drinn had given him. If she didn't love him anymore, her gift still did.

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He was thinking about going home. Just leaving the whole thing and calling it quits. He'd only come for work, but he'd let himself fall for a girl and now the work was still there -- it could even still be good if he got back on the horse and back to it -- but the girl had used him.

Used him good. He was sure of it. Atticus; that was who she was probably with. The familiar and the first were far more alluring that the new and next. She talked tough, but he wasn't sure was.

Promises, promises.

Castor brought him back the ball they were throwing and Nathandiel smiled. "You're a silly dog." he said and the beast backed up, head down and tail wagging. He chucked the ball across the snowy courtyard and the wolf took off.

Castor made him smile. He watched the silly thing lose the ball in the snow, and then run around in circles looking for it, dropping his face into the banks for scoops of the white stuff every now and then. Nathandiel laughed and called the dog back to him. Castor tackled him and he fell back into the snow, laughing as he was showered with affection.

God, he missed affection.

"You're ridiculous!" he cried, but the dog just licked his face. "We'll freeze together if you keep these kisses up!" He wrestled his dog and they laid down together, his enthusiastic scratches becoming affectionate pets. He looked up at the white sky while his dog nosed into the front of his coat for the snack pocket.

"I knew it." Nathandiel said. "You just want me for the tasty bits." He took out the treats and fed the pup. "Kinda like her, I guess." he added sadly.

The dog was nice to him, so he gave it extra bits. He knew he should focus on moving past it all and maybe --just maybe -- finding a new girl. She'd been a nice a experience with love, and as much as it hurt right then, he thought he'd like to feel love again.

"Love. But not puppy love." he told Castor, tipping up the dogs snout to kiss him back. "Puppy love makes only unwanted children, and morons. Thank the Gods I only landed myself a moron."

Thank. God.

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Nathandiel looked around the darkmoon faire and exhaled slowly as he watched the carnies clean up discarded wrappers and boxes, torn teddies and kiosk prizes left behind -- things once shiney, and prime candidates to be loved.

All the prizes stood in lines, and people approached, pointing to the ones they wanted to take home, to give love to, and to hold as a special moment of fun, love and happiness. The pretty girls that the boys won the teddies for, tossed them away, once they'd gotten what they really wanted -- the boy.

Girls are bad. Girls are really, really bad.

Syreena was bad. She wouldn't even be friendly. She was an ugly girl, but he liked her anyway. She was smart and quick and cunning and he wanted to be friends. But she didn't like him.

Hateful, cold...but at least consistent.

Shaelie was bad. She was aloof and dismissively, snooty and overrated. He'd thought she was smart, but she was just self-absorbed. He'd reuqested her help once, a desire to utilize her skill, and she'd assumed he'd wanted to utilize her ass.

Arrogant, awful, self-flattering woman.

Lillianna was bad. She made fun off him and laughed off his attempts to be friends. She was cruel and dismissive. Sh was an evil woman. She made his brows furrow when he thought about her.

Two-faced; ditzy and dumb, but smart enough to hurt people to feel cute.

A pink teddy bear, still clean and fluffy was plucked from a rubbish bin. Castor mewled at the same time that Nathandiel sat up, head perked at the sight of the bear.

"Don't toss it!" He called, scrambling off the bleachers when the carnie looked up. He hurried down the benches and ran to the bin, snatching the bear from the Carnie.

"Geez, if it's yours, just say so. We get these made for coppers...." But Nathandiel wasn't listening. The pink bear had a small stain, sauce most likely, on his belly, but that was all that was wrong with him -- certainly not enough to invalidate him and sent him to the rubbish fires.

He glared at the rubbish bin and clutched the bear to his chest, brows deeply grooved. Some girl had thrown it away he was sure. It had gotten sauce on it, probably because she was stuffing her fat face, eating the food that made her lie about her weight, so she'd thrown it away.

He hunched up his shoulders as he walked away and looked down at Castor. "Girls. Bad, bad girls. Liars, manipulators, mean mean mean cunts." Castor made a noncommittal noise. "There's nothing wrong with this bear, nothing at all that cant' be fixed." He insisted. Castor's tongue hung out of his face as he looked up at his master.

I don't even know what's wrong with me and Drinn threw me away.

The thought was sad and it lanced his heart. She'd left. Drinn was mean. She'd been honest about being being mean, but that she had been so mean as to leave him without a word, after she'd pretended to be so excited about getting married.

Maybe I've got sauce on me.

This made him giggle, and giggle he did, all the way into the treeline where he hear young, mean, bad girls giggling. When he was done with them, he was the only one giggling.

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In a way it felt good to be abused, especially by people he regarded with respect. It confirmed for him that he was all the things the Mean Voice said: ugly, foolish, stupid . . . unwanted. Hope was the worst hurt; because it kept one from accepting the facts. Being attacked and ganged-up on by Syreena and Leyujin and Lillianna had stomped out the small ember of hope that had begun to glow again.

Thanks guys. He thought, as he drew the cotton swab over the split in his lip. It stung and he tongued it, the taste of ointment was bitter.

"What did you expect? They don't take your seriously and they never liked you. They put up with your because of her." The Mean Voice said. Nathandiel's shoulders slumped. "Without her you're just annoying. "

He finished cleaning himself up and went back to the bedroom. Castor waited for him in bed, but even his dog couldn't make him smile. "At least Aderlee tried to help." he murmured into his pillow.

"And now you look stupid and weak." the Mean Voice said, perching itself on his shoulder so it could whisper to him. "Stupid, weak, and useless. You know Nath...the roof is adequately high, the poisons adequately strong, the bullets adequately--

"Shut up!" Nathanidel snarled.

The Mean Voice was quiet for a little bit, and Nathandiel was able to sleep.

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She tasted like salvation; like a reprieve from a pain that had been endless. She felt like velveteen on sensitive new skin, warm and soft; a covering to wrap up the things most cherished. She smelled like home; the only place he could really be as the Gods had made him.

"I love you...." he whispered against her flesh, kissing down the centre-line of her taut tummy. "I love you so much."

He felt her fingers in his hair, the tip of her pinky-finger cutting a gentle path through the shorter hairs at the back of his neck. The way she cut him there was far gentler than the way she'd cut his heart. His hands moved over her body as he placed his kisses, using his mouth to love her the way he intended to once they were ready for the main affair. His fingers splayed over her ribs, when she inhaled he blunted them into claws that moved over bones likes piano keys.

She gasped, and the fingers of her other hand curled in the length of his forelock and tugged.

"I was lost without you." He breathed against her skin, the tip of his nose drawing its own line down her body. "I was so sad when you were gone."

He kissed passed her navel, and bit softly at the very slight bump that ladies had between the navel and the promised land. He felt her shiver and then pull more forcefully at his hair. He lifted his head and looked up at her, his chin just above her "below." She looked down at him with something like impatience, punctuated by the way her toes curl next to him.

"Don't leave me like that again Drinn. Please." He pleaded. "Please...please...." he lowered his mouth and kissed her there. When she gave her approval he took his communion, and finally, found peace from his heartache.

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Nathandiel was hurting, the stages of grief were not stages at all, they were more like a matrix, a table that one jumped around like a ricocheting bullet. Acceptance started to come, but then the denial was there; the panic came, and then bargaining began.

He was beyond weary.

The Grim member had been kind to him, speaking to him in confidence and allowing him to speak words he'd feared too deeply to even write down. The Grim regarded him as a clown, and they took delight in torturing him, but that one had treated him at least as a person. He was grateful.

He was in the acceptance box right then of the broken grief stages, sitting with his drink, his quill in hand and a cigarette burning abandoned in the tray. Castor was curled at his feet, gnawing on a rope toy. Linna still sat by the door, waiting for her Drinn to come back. Nathandiel didn't have the heart to tell the pup that he didn't think she was, and he brought her supper plate to her so she didn't have to leave her vigil at the door.

But she might, so I can't allow the pup to lose hope. He thought as he took a sip of his wine. He wold polish off the bottle, taking double measures of water for each finger of wine before he retired for the night. I can't allow myself to lose hope either.

This time it had been his fault, regardless of any injustices she had borne him. He had been cruel to her and she'd gone -- rightly so.

Love is patient, love is kind, love is fucking cruel as glass in a fresh wound. . . .

He worked on his notes. The raid for "wreave" had won The Grim samples, or rather it had won Nathandiel samples. He'd hidden vials in Castor's collar sleeve. The preliminary laboratory results from the Undercity had come in, and he distracted himself from his anxiety by delving into the numbers, pulling apart the chemist's qualitative analyses, and looking for holes in the data.

He took another sip of his wine and then reached for his drug compendium. He flipped through the large tome as different drugs and semi-licensed subsntaces came to mind. He skimmed through the monographs, looking for something that might have been the mother of what they were calling "wreave."

The liquid seemed to be a suspension, and it wasn't clear to him yet how it was intended to be ingested. He had ordered a series of test subjects to find the route of administration. His suspicion had been that it was an intravenous drug, but the scant reports from the field said that multitudes of alliance were using it, and the supposed demographic of users were not the kind that he felt wold have the technological know-how to deal with intravenous administration.

So why then is it suspended at all? If it can be ingested as a solid it could be a powder, and that offers far more avenues for administration let alone convenience in trafficking. So how do they take it?

He held up the vial he'd taken against the lamp's light. The colour was not quite discernible to him, but he suffered from a degree of colour blindness. It was a dark colour though, rich, and he suspected that his sample had been a stock sample, not a diluted unit meant for distribution.

Nathandiel was no stranger to drugs, he enjoyed them greatly and he was, after all, a modern physician -- he didn't care for magic, he cared for science. He set the vial down.

The laboratory reports had lead him to suspect that "wreave" was a derivative of something that could already be found on a shelf in a modern physician's drug cabinet, or at least on the shelves of a chemist's closet.

Nathandiel was somewhat out of his depth, he knew. He had come to the Undercity to work as a surgeon, but he had been a practicing paediatric psychiatrist back home with his own people. His cover story had called for a man of the knife though, and he'd never been bad in a body cavity.

As a psychiatrist though, my off-the-head knowledge of drugs is restricted to those of abuse, and those of the psychiatric -- a tiny drop in a large pool of chemicals.

He was no longer convinced that the precursors of "wreave" would be so obviously found in those categories.

He needed to know more about "wreave" if he wanted to satisfy his curiosity, and perhaps lend any assistance to The Grim with it. No one had asked for his help, but he was confident that he had a way of approaching such things that the shamans and the voodoo priestesses did not.

"Cold, hard, factual fucking numbers, baby. That's what I got." He mumured.

At this Linna yipped, and when he looked at her, she was facing him, her tail tentatively wagging as if unsure she could be excited. He smiled and slouched, holding out a hand to her. "C'mon girl . . . c'mon to me."

The wolf pup came and she sniffed, then licked at his hand. He pet her. "It's okay girl. Even if she doesn't come back, it's not because she didn't love you. I will love you. You have a home here with Castor and I." He knew then that he would keep the female pup.

"Your Drinn left again because of me and my awful, cruel mouth. But she loves you, she just had to go, to get away from me. I sent word to every place that I know she could go where she could receive it, begging forgiveness. She might come back. . . ."

When he finally put his books away, resigned to waiting for more data, he crawled into bed and slept between two pups, warm and as safe with them as they were with him. They would tackle the world again in the morning.

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Keeping his mind off of Drinn had been an excruciating task in itself. Drugs, drink, and the company of strangers had helped though. Staying busy had given him breaks between his painful oscillations between telling himself it was over, and telling himself why it might not be. People had helped the most as something to be busy with, so he'd forced himself to spend time with them.

Strangers. Some of them are quite nice though. Funny how when you're in love, your social circle collapses around a single person. Then when they go away, you've got nothing at a time when you need people more than ever.

He looked at himself in the mirror, inspecting his features, holding back his hair in search of greys and pulling up his face to assess the lines. He didn't look bad, not really. His ears were a bit short and his face a little long, but he wasn't ugly. He opened his mouth wide and moved his jaw to spot the line of three teeth on his lower left row that were crooked -- the rest were good.

Even if she doesn't come back, maybe someone else will want me. Surely I'll want someone else too, even if I can't imagine that now.

He'd been propositioned by a lady named Ophila or Ophinnia -- he could not remember without her card in hand -- to work as a prostitute in her brothel. The woman had propositioned him and a large, well-built Orcess named Shokkra.

He touched the shell of one ear, teasing the mark there. Shokkra had whispered to him that he was hot after touching his tummy and commending him on getting sloshed at a tavern. When they'd bid eachother farewell she'd bitten his ear.

He liked the way it hurt when he fingered it. He let his mind wander a moment, recalling the curves of her sculpted muscles and the smooth-looking condition of her emerald skin. He'd really liked her mohawk, he wondered if it would droop with exertion. What would it be like to be crushed between her strong, supple thighs?

He twitched in his pants.

He turned and drew fingers over his bare shoulder. His alabaster skin had burned a lovely pink in the sun of the Echo Isles. They'd gone swimming, rather he'd gone swimming with strangers. He'd enjoyed himself, and he'd enjoyed all of them, their company.

He opened a drawer and took out a tin of zinc oxide. He circled two fingers in the thick cream and then began to spread and work it into his skin. The burns were bad enough that he thought he'd peel later. He hoped it wouldn't be too unsightly, especially if he met with Ophinnia. Would she still want him to . . . do whatever a male tart did if he was shedding?

As he settled in to the soothing aspect of his own touch, he thought Drinn and his stomach clenched. Why hadn't she written? Surely couples fought and she'd come back. Wouldn't she? Had his actions been so unforgivable?

He caught his eyes in the mirror, a sliver of black bangs along his nose. "Please Gods, please make her come back. Please, please, please."

He started to tear up and forced his fingernails into the burnt skin. He grit his teeth, embracing the physical pain instead of the emotional pain he still waited to develop and immunity to -- Gods knew his exposure had been high enough. Both pups yipped at him and he offered them a hushing command.

"Be still babies, Daddy is fine."

When he finished annointing his body, he crawled into bed naked and embraced the dogs. It took some work, and it took some pills, and it took more wine, but eventually he found peace.

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"You sing so well, I think the being naked part helps." Nathandiel said, smiling up at the younger man on his lap. He reached up to brush his dark curls from his brow so he could see the pretty blue eyes again.

"I think wine helps." Pascal said, ignoring Nathandiel's compliment and reaching to the side table to refill his glass. He brought it to his lips and the crimson liquid left a new stain there, mixing with the natural pink to make a very kissable ruby colour.

"You look like a tart." Nathandiel said.

Pascal batted his lashed and puckered his lips several times, then returned to his wine. When he put his glass back on the table their bare chests came together. Nathandiel wrapped his arms around the other man, holding him tightly and trapping him. Pascal swatted at him, but was giggling. "You're crushing me! I'm little!"

"You're not that little." Nathandiel responded, maneuvering his lover into a kiss before releasing him. Pascal was on the thin-side, but he was hardly slight. "Now sing for me some more . . . please?" He brushed the curls aside again, but his touch was far gentler, adoring even.

Pascal shook his head, his eyes closed and his chin in the air. He stopped and then cracked the lid of one eye, a mischievous smile curling his lips. ". . . are you going to be good?" He asked. "And by "good," I mean let me finish this time?"

"You finished." Nathandiel said, popping his brows.

"Shut up!" Pascal swatted him agian and it smarted. They both laughed and Nathandiel held onto Pascal as they swayed in the wingback chair, shifted by their giggles. Pascal tipped up Nathanidel's chin and kissed him, pressing their foreheads together, their eyes meeting. "Do you promise to be good?" He asked in a whisper. "I'll sing if you promise."

Nathandial slipped a hand between them and drew an 'X' over his heart. He'd be good.

"Good boy." Pascal proclaimed before he plunged his fingers into Nathnadiel's hair, holding him in place so that he could plant a smacker of a kiss on his cheek. He then slid off of Nathandiel's lap and wandered towards the turntable, picking up his discarded robe on the way and slipping into it, hiding his naked body from view. The robe billowed gently behind him as he walked, a series of red waves, like poured wine into a glass.

Nathandiel fingered his lips as he watched the other man move, eyes narrowing as he took him in -- drank him in.

So pretty . . . prettier every year. They had known each other since they'd been at school; that had given Pascal a lot of years to get as pretty as he was right then.

Pascal lifted the needle and looked back at Nathandiel as he held it above the record, hesitating. "Remember. You promised to be good." Nathandiel nodded silently, and Pascal set the needle down.

Pascal closed his eyes as the melody began, moving slowly as the piano and kit came together to make music out of their rhythmic stutter stepping. He stepped away from the table and swayed slowly, tying the sash at his waist in long draws that were, in themselves, melodic. Pascal was a lovely to watch as he was to listen to.

Nathandiel brought the ankle of one leg to the knee of the other and then reached for his cigarettes. He tapped one from the carton and lit it, inhaling deeply and settling in for the show. He'd taken his eyes away from Pascal just long enough to miss the opening notes -- and they froze him.

No boy has business singing along with a woman that well. . . .

Perhaps not, but Pascal did a grand job of challenging that notion.

He turned his neck slowly, his bangs in his eyes as he looked upon the soloist in his parlour. Pascal began to rotate his hips as if he were mixing something, but there was nothing vulgar about it. Nathandiel had been in enough dens where naked women thrust their vulvar property at him to know that it was far easier to ignore the subtleties of a showing a slip, or a delicate gait. Allure was in the lining, not the garment itself -- Pascal wore himself well.

There was a little bounce to his shoulders as he moved away from the table further and opened his eyes finally, settling them on Nathandiel. The lyrics that had been written were not particularly deep, but the way Pascal looked at him, and the way he crafted them with his lips--

--his mouth

They were deeply, deeply moving.

Pascal approached him and took short, measured steps as he moved, a smile blooming as he soaked up Nathandiel's unbroken attention. He was blushing, but he wasn't at all shy as pulled the sash free and opened his robe, baring himself again before he leaned over Nathandiel, straddling his lap and taking up his previous perch.

He plucked Nathandiel's cigarette from him and brought it his own lips when the instruments were given their solo. Even the smoke the came from Pascal's mouth was beautiful, prompting Nathandiel to reach up and try to catch it, curling his wrist in the bluish-gray snake that coiled up towards the ceiling. But like the slip of a man on his lap, it was too pretty to hold onto.

Pascal took Nathandiel by the chin, the grip of his fingers a hard contrast to the smooth notes that flowed unrestrained from him. Whatever the diva on the record sang about was lost on Nathandiel; the words didn't matter, Pascal's eyes said far more. He could have been putting the ingredients for mutton into song, and it would have stirred Nathandiel. Pascal punctuated the end of a stanza with a kiss that was deep and tasted like wine, cigarettes, and very much like the comfort of familiarity, The Known and all the appeal that could be found therein.

Nathandiel broke his promise and didn't let Pascal finish the song. Instead he picked him up, carrying him like a child, and took him upstairs to their bed.

Pascal did not complain.

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"I had somewhere else I wanted to be tonight." Nathandiel said softly, drawing the file down the liston knife as he looked down at the woman. "I had planned on spending the evening in the presence of lovely, respectable women . . . but here I am . . . with you." He huffed. Her green eyes watched the blade, and her upper lip twitched into a shaky, nervous sneer each time the file cut the air with that awful, distinct sound that was music only to the ears of butchers and swordsman -- Nathandiel was neither.

Some call us butchers. Some say sawbones. How fitting.

He closed his eyes a moment out of frustration. What luck. He'd been stuck in that awful desert of ice for months, his Drinn had gone away, and the one event he'd really been looking forward to had evaded him -- because of work. He stopped sharpening the knife and looked down at it. The light caught the blade and the refraction danced over the woman's cheek before skipping over her eyes, causing her to squint and look away.

Blinding her wouldn't be the worst thing that the blade would do.

"There was an auction on ladies tonight and I had intended to go. There was one lady I particularly wished to buy." He set the knife down on the instrument tray and stowed the file on the shelf below. He turned his attention to the anesthetics laid out on the table behind him. This one would get to sleep through her adjustments. Truth be told, he was glad for it. The screaming did get old, and heartless as one might have been, it got to whatever soul was left in a man of the one he'd been bestowed at birth.

Missing Drinn had made him miss Pascal, his lover from home, and he'd wanted very much to be distracted from the pain that his affections had brought him in their absences.

Just not like this.

He filled syringes and made notes on the prisoner's chart. He'd order pain control for her given that he was feeling generous.

"Her name is Shaelie." he murmured, scribbling and speaking to the elf on the table that surely did not care what he had to say. She was frightened and rightly so. She'd done a bad thing and now she was in he bowels of the Undercity. She hadn't been ordered dead for her infractions -- whatever they had been -- but she had been ordered changed. Judging by the order on the chart, the woman was either very dear to whomever she'd offended, or very despised. That Howard Phillip Glinn had signed the order only spoke to the severity of the woman's offenses.

"She's interesting, but she won't speak with me. We don't cross paths much and -- like everyone outside of this place that i spend my time with -- she thinks me a fool." He filled the last syringe. "I just wanted a reason for her to talk to me. She seemed like a nice lady to talk with. They have boats in the moat here and I thought I might take her there. But alas, I am here with you instead." He turned back to the woman and saw that she was crying.

At first he thought it was because of where she was and what was going to happen to her, but then he saw the wetness on her gown and the drip of urine on the floor, a yellowed rubber tube hanging limp from where it was taped to her thigh. "Oh dear . . . your catheter's come out." He frowned, wondering how that had happened. The balloons rarely failed. It must have been very painful for her.

"Not to worry my dear" He stepped around the puddle and snatched up the tube. He tore the tape from her thigh and detached the collecting bag. "We'll get you a new one of these, then I'll put you down for your dead nap, the nurse will come in to ventilate you and we'll get these off." He gave her ankles a squeeze.

"I promise, the catheter I install before you wake up won't be able to come out. This one was temporary." He waggled the rubber at her and then gave her a reassuring smile before going to fetch a replacement.

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The woman's feet had been pickled and mounted in jars filled with formalin. He carefully affixed the ribbons on the jars before setting in them their shipping container. He'd had time to admire her impeccable toenails when he'd washed the feet, whisking away the brown of iodine that had stained the pink flesh. She'd been fond of painting her nails it seemed, and while he'd never really noticed ladies' toenails before, he'd thought hers were capable of inspiring desire -- had their still been a woman attached to them.

I like that whore-red colour better on their lips, but it's nice on these toes.

Perhaps she could still paint her fingernails that colour.

As he sealed the box he wondered if the person she'd offended had been fond of her feet, and if that had been why they'd requested them returned while she recovered in hospital.

Amazing what I find myself wondering about down here. Someone ordered her feet amputated and I'm worried about why they want the feet back?

This made him smile. Silly how work could skew one's views.

He picked up the box and took it from his desk to the table by the door. The mail boy would be by later and he'd take the macabre package away. He'd already checked on the patient when he'd returned that morning and found her comfortably doped, legs elevated, and giant, thick bandages wrapped so liberally around each stump that it now looked like she had cotton boulders for feet. Men liked women's feet and often celebrated their deformation as parodies of beauty -- high heels, dancing slippers, small sizes -- but he didn't think he knew any men that would find stumps a pleasing deformation. But then he didn't know who he'd just sent the woman's feet to. Maybe the recipient had more use for her feet than for her.

His expression soured.

He went back to his desk and reached to open a new chart. The small, stuffed dog on the desk caught his eye and he smiled, feeling easy again. He picked it up and sat back in his chair to admire it.

He'd gone to The Filthy Animal after he'd missed the auction, and taken a bed. At some point he'd slept and woken from bad dreams -- to find a blue troll looking down at him, concern and kindness pasted absurdly on the long, tusked face. He couldn't remember the man's name even thought they'd met before, and he wished he could, if only to say that he was thankful for the kindness that the man had shown him.

The man had run fingers through Nathandiel's hair, held him, and told him he was alright. An elf had brought him a glass a wine, and as Nathandiel had fallen back asleep, the troll had covered him with his blanket and tucked a stuffed dog under his arm. He couldn't be sure, but he thought he'd been kissed softly as he'd traversed back into the land of sleep.

Pure, unadulterated kindness.

His eyes were drawn back to the package as he fingered the soft fur of the dog toy.

Gods, I miss kindness.

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She was already asleep when he'd come home from the battlefields. He'd left her at the after party to join Ley'ujin and his men. Cobrak's wedding had been important for Drinn, and Nathandiel wondered if that was why she'd come home finally -- to be there for a comrade. He didn't mind either way, he was just pleased to have her back. He was mad at her, surely, but it was hard to stay mad at her when she blatantly adored him public.

It's even harder when she's naked in our bed again.

He smiled at her, curled around the puppies amongst their bed furs, as content looking in her sleep as if she'd never left. She'd told him that she suffered from nightmares, awful things her husband Atticus had done his best to keep at bay, but Nathandiel had yet to feel her stir too badly at night. She said perhaps he was soothing to her.

He undressed and went to the washroom to clean himself. The puppies appeared, sluggish from sleep but happy to see their Dad. He grinned down at them as he washed his underarms. "Yes, I'm home. You would like my stink, but I don't think your Mum would." Linna began to yip and he hushed her. "Don't wake Mum." He said sternly and held a finger to his lips; she hushed. She also sat down. Drinn's dog was confused about her commands.

He brushed his teeth, shaved, and changed his clothes. When he pet the dogs he could smell that they'd been bathed -- with rose shampoo, Drinn's favourite. He frowned as he ruffled their manes. "Pointless. Like putting perfume on pigs." He kissed each of them and went to the hearth. He ate bread and cheese, drank pulpy juice and then crawled carefully into bed with his Drinn.

He curled around her, finding his fit with her and kissed the back of her head. The pups leapt up onto the bed and piled on top of them. Nathandiel knew that she could be gone again in the morning -- they'd discussed nothing. So he endeavoured to enjoy the moment's peace, even if that's all it was -- a moment.

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Bright. White.

That was the problem living in an arid waste of snow, it was blinding when the sun was at it’s peak.

Drinn groaned. Her lips curled into a natural sneer as she cursed the light that cut rays through fur coverings of a single window. She rolled over and tucked in, her face hidden in the curve of a neck. The sleep that addled her senses slowly began to wash away as she inhaled. Soap, and the scent of the familiar. Nathaniel.

Her sneer slowly turned into a hidden smile and toes curled. Small, fury lumps began squirming, sensing that one of them was close to being awake. She wiggled her toes again, intentionally catching fur between them before sitting up. Drinn’s eye narrowed, squinting against the light that had woken her. Nathaniel’s part of the Grim compound was set apart and more a hovel than a garrison. He had proven himself worthy of better living arrangements when he had become the Executioner. She didn’t understand why he hadn’t taken the upgrade. He was more liked than he assumed. It was true, the others didn’t have a clue what he was like, what he was really like. They would have liked more. She did.

Carefully she snaked her way out of his arms and slid off the bed, not bothering to dress as she padded across the worn wooden floor. The fingers at her side wiggled and Linna lifted her head and slinked off the bed as carefully as the Elf. Drinn had taught her pup the subtleties of Silent Speak and responded well to the simple gestures. Castor, the more boisterous of the two, bounded off the bed after his sister.

She had to turn her head when she cracked the door to shield her eyes as the pups tumbled out into the snow.

She did like him. Maybe that’s why she came back. Her lips twitched at the corner lifting into a lopsided smile as she looked to the bed. Nathaniel was still sleeping. His forelock fallen over one eye. His body still folded as if he were tucked around something. Drinn had taken care not to wake him when she got out of bed but now she found herself nearly prancing before bounding onto back into bedding like one of their pets, rolling the male to his back. Nathaniel blinked, his lips parting in confusion. She grinned as she loomed down at him, waggling a plush dog she had found tucked near the pillows in his face and making little ‘arf’ noises at him.

He was why she came back.

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"Arf! Arf-arf!" Drinn waggled the dog toy at Nathandiel, the one that the nice troll had given him.

She's still here.

And she's naked. On top of me. Fuck. Yes.

"That was a present you know. . . ." He said cooly, looking up at her, his hands on her hips. She was skinny -- too skinny, even, and her hip bones were like handles. In the back of his head where his brain cells were still working he made a note to stuff her full. Of food. He like Syreena and all, but skinny, skeletal broads did little for his dick.

Her though . . . she's still got it where it counts.

He closed a hand over one small, delightful breast as he smiled up at her.

She shrugged at his comment and dropped the dog toy, discarding it. Her long, black hair was unbrushed and tumbled down over her shoulders in thick, unruly locks. A tuft of it sprang up over one of her ears, like a bear's ear, bowed and floppy. He reached up and picked it straight, smoothing it down the curve of her skull. She had a good, strong skull. He liked it very much and thought that if she died, he would clean it and mount it and keep very close for the rest of his days.

She shook her nice skull back and forth, raven locks swaying, the longest parts tickling his tummy and making him laugh and squeeze her.

Her hands became claws on his chest and she looked down at him, jewel-like eyes blazing. She smiled, and it was the true kind of smile where her little, white teeth peeked out, revealing her very slight over-bite, and making her cheeks into taut, pink apples that made him . . . attentive.

"I think you and I are supposed to have a fight." He said, caressing her gently but still touching on something important. Her smile faded a little and she looked down at his chest, her claws blunting and then softening as she beacme solemn, like a child awaiting a mandatory talking-to.

"I said some awful things. . . ." he offered. She nodded, petting the light smattering of hair he had on his chest. "And I'm sorry I said them. . . ." She was quiet and still -- then she pinched and tugged at his nipple, baring her teeth and nodding at him. He cried out in pain and suprise, but as she released the tender bud of flesh he found himself laughing. "Alright! Okay! Yes, I deserve that!"

His Drinn looked like a cuddly little ragamuffin, but she stung like a red hot scorpion.

She nodded, and swooped down, tucking her hair behind her ear as she did , in a manner that was far too polite for a creature like her. She drew her tongue over him, and then kissed his offended nipple, one, twice, then she bit at it, catching it between her teeth.

He held his breath, his lips parted and his muscle stiff.

She eyed him, holding his tender bit hostage, her eyes giving nothing away.

". . . I was jealous and frustrated and mad and I did a very, very bad thing for which I am very, very sorry?" He offered as quickly as he could spit it out. He trusted her, but he also thought she was perfectly capable of nipping off just a bit of him if it so suited her.

Her breath was hot against his skin, her teeth barely felt after he'd been tugged so hard. Her childlike brutality made him want her more. The shine in her eyes made him want to forget about all the pain she had caused him.

He caressed her cheek gently, killing her with the kindness that had won her over in the first place -- genuine kindness, that thing he'd been wanting more of. He was happy to heap it upon her. Kindness and flattery had gotten him everywhere with Drinn Sel'Quar, contrary to what other's had said he could expect of her. She had been hard on the outside, but pink and soft as fresh fruit on the inside -- a hurt soul that had need some love.

"Fight later?" He suggested softly, his eyes and his touch really saying "I love you." It scared him a little that he was going to say that soon and that he was going to mean it, no matter what she did to him.

She released him and sat up again, drawing her tongue along her teeth as she regarded him. She nodded slowly, and a genuine grin bloomed on her face as she leaned down, held his cheeks, and blessed him with a heart felt kiss that became an embrace, her slender body coming against his own.

He took hold of her and flipped her, getting her on her back and pinning her there. He popped his brows at her when she frowned. "Or we could fight now." He teased. She snarled and wrangled him, pulling him to her and reaching between them to bring them together.

They had each other, the entanglement somehow as tender as it was brutal. Their efforts brought them to a mutual satisfaction that left them panting, spent, and unable to do anything but hold each other under the covers, rubbing noses and stealing kisses while the grounds outside froze. They didn't come out from under their blankets for a long time, content to stay in their tiny little space in the great big world while their pups played in the cold, cold snow.

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"She's gonna die anyway." Nathandiel murmured, peeling open the prisoner's eyelids and fixing them in place. "And I have to practice on someone." The woman on his table had already been processed and she was slated to be put down with the next terminal batch. He'd selected her from the holding population based on her elven ethnicity, and her striking similarity to the pretty boy elf, Baalthemar. She also hadn't been altered too badly by her surgeons and her chart declared her healthy.

"Does this friend of yours intend to be fitted with a prosthetic once you've plucked out his eye?" Slenn asked, her tone indicating that she was clearly displeased.

Nathandiel looked up at the nurse, her blonde hair hidden under her skull cap and her elongated elven ears a touch pink from the cold of the operating theatre. She was pretty in a plain way, like many elven women she was pretty because she was generic. Elven women rarely transcended from pretty to beautiful, at least to Nathandiel.

Human women on the other hand. . . .

"You know, I didn't ask." he confessed, frowning. Slenn's frown mirrored his own and he felt her disapproval growing. He too disapproved of the prospect, but he had agreed to do it. "Look, the kid came to me and said he wanted to take out his eye and stick in in some statue and that if I didn't help him, he'd just do it himself. He needs it for some spell." He rolled his eyes at the end of the explanation.

"Magic. Magic creates more patients than swords and siege engines." Slenn said, lifting her chin. Even with a mask on, she had a regal look about her when she did that.

Nathandiel wasn't sure if that was true, but he didn't like magic either -- or what people did for it. Baalthemar's decision to remove his eye had been to appease his inquisitor, Ruuki, and to meet the requirments of his sacrificial trial as a supplicant hoping to enter The Grim. Nathandiel had skipped his trials, and thought them rather foolish things. People ate hearts, burned down homes, denounced marriages, and now removed body parts. How any of that made better soldiers to serve The Mandate Nathandiel did not know.

"Well you should have asked, how else will you know if he wants the ocular muscles to remain?" Slenn said, eyeing the anesthetized test patient.

"I intend to leave them there regardless." Nathandiel said. "This kid assumes that eyes just pop out and they don't. They're complicated, and attached to all sorts of shit. Given that he's decided to do this in the field with an audience, I'm only taking out the eyeball itself; In and out as quickly as possible. He also doesn't want to be anesthetized. . . ."

"Pardon me?" Slenn asked severely as she held out the tool tray to him.

Nathandiel picked up a pair of small scissors and fine set of forceps. He leaned over the patient's head, looking down into the green eye. With the lids pulled so wide the eye lost most of it's appeal, like a painting that lost it's punch without it's frame. He began to cut the tension capsule to separate the eyeball form it's housing, and was surprised at how little it bled.

"Yeah . . . stupid kid wants to feel it all, so I need to get very good at doing this quickly." He said as he snipped. ". . . don't worry Slenny, I'll paralyze him so he doesn't move. He wants the eye intact."

She snorted and her poised disapproval became plain, generic derision.

As he worked through the surgery, he noted that while it wasn't a complicated procedure, it certainly couldn't be done on one's own. The idea of slipping a spoon into the socket and popping out the orb just wasn't realistic, there were all sorts of muscle attachments and pressure gradients. The vessels and the optic nerve at the back of the ball were surprisingly thick, and once he'd cut them and removed the eye completely, he'd had to deal with the bleeding, and also with not allowing the vessels to retract back into the brain. A brain-bleed was what he worried about Baalthemar.

Baalthemar was a moron, but Nathandiel would help him. He'd still be pretty after the surgery, perhaps he'd show his poor doctor some grateful kindness. Even without an eye he would still have a pretty mouth and a flawless figure.

Oh Nath, you are a bad, bad man . . . .

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The men and women in the Undercity had become boring fare. They were plentiful and Nathandiel needed only to browse the population catalogues to pick one for his use when the mood so struck him. They had a plentiful variety and he'd found great satisfaction with those available, but there was something lacking about them, something that left him always wanting more.

They're boring. . . they're already here. They've been obtained for me.

The man he watched though, not only was he unobtained, but he was trying to obtain someone of his own -- a woman. He'd caught sight of the man in Warspear when he'd been leaving the auction house, drawn to him by his dark hair and impressive build. It had taken him a few twists and turns during the slow chase that they'd commenced after leaving the acution house to realize that the dark-haired man with the nice build was slowly chasing someone of his own; and she seemed none-the-wiser.

I wonder if someone is following me, and if we've formed some sort of silly, homicidal dancing line. This thought made him grin. He flipped up his collar as he followed the duo down a narrower, lesser-travelled street. It was quieter there, and when he strained he could hear the woman humming, lost in her own thoughts as she was unknowingly pursued.

It occurred to him how truly delicious and pleasing it would have been if the woman was known to him, if she were his accomplice, perhaps if it were Drinn. How amazing would that be, to close in on the hunter from both sides just as he thought that he was doing the closing?

He licked his lips at the thought.

He followed the two until the man with the dark hair and the lovely build made his move, grabbing the woman by her hair and dragging her into an alleyway. She let out a strangled cry, getting off half a second's signal of distress before the man covered her mouth and her cries of alarm were muted, blunted like the beating of her hands on the man's overcoat. And just as useless.

Nathaniel came upon the allyway and peeked around the corner with one eye, watching. From where he stood he could see that the man was on her. He had her on her front and he was trying to mount her, but she was proving to be an uncooperative mare. Their upper bodies were blocked from view by a stack of discarded crates and the detritus that had found its way into them, but the struggle was evident from the way their legs tangled.

The man cursed and insulted the woman, but still she fought. Personally, Nathandiel didn't relish the fight, rather he savoured the final submission. The man though, he was loving the fight.

When she failed to keep him at bay, Nathaniel approached. Quick, silent, and as lithe as a spectre. He'd wanted the man, but my how his prospects had changed!

He mounted the man, but not for the purpose he had orginally intended. He didn't actually cut the man's throat until Nathandiel had pulled him off the crying woman; she'd had enough trauma, bathing her in her rapists blood would do her no good. She was still crying, face-down and quivering, undergarments around her knees when he cast the man with the dark hair and the nice build aside. He was done and could finish dying on the ground.

"Shhhh." Nathandiel whispered and hitched up her undergarments, making her scream again. "It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you." He promised and smoothed down her dress, restoring her modesty. "It's alright now." He assured her, swaddling her with reassurances as he took off his coat and wrapped her in it. He picked her up and she beat at him at first, but when she looked at him and he favoured her with his best smile -- his physician's smile -- she pressed her face to his chest and cried.

He held her, petting her hair. It was reddish and soft as cotton. "It's alright now, let's get you somewhere safe, let's get you home."

She couldn't see him smiling, but he was. From where he stood he could see the rapist, and the surprise on the face of the man with the dark hair and the attractive build was so pleasing he couldn't help it.

Took your bitch didn't I? Whose the bitch now?

When the life finally faded from the rapist's eyes, Nathaniel took the poor girl into his arms and carried her away. Later, when he was cleaning her up, she asked him "why" it had happened to her. He offered her the truest answer he had, "This world is full of monster's miss. . . they're where you least expect them."

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"You invited a boy back to our rooms?" Drinn asked, fingering her lower lip absently as she regarded him. ". . . and he didn't accept the invitation?" At this she scoffed and returned to picking at her food. "I think you've taken a liking to him."

Nathandiel turned and peered at her over the rims of his spectacles. There she sat, in his bed, atop their furs and picking at a plate of cheese and fruit. She still had a dark stain on one cheek, a smudge of dirt on the back of one hand. She'd been out hunting their supper and hand not yet bothered to bathe. Her perspiration, mixed with the scents of the woods, was somehow clean. It aroused him, but he would let her finish her snack before he became a bother to her.

"It's that silly one that needs a haircut and wants you to cut out his eye?" She asked, studying a grape as if it were as worthy of interest as a lost artifact.

He nodded but said nothing, still watching her. Baalthemar had been loopy the last Nathandiel had seen him. He'd said that all he'd had was some wine from Ul'Rezaj -- surely something he should not have ingested, but the boy was a bit silly. Nathandiel had invited the boy home to sleep safely with him and Drinn. Given his state, Nathandiel had thought it best, but Baalthemar had written to decline, asking instead to come another night.

Missed the point completely. . . .

"Bit of a moron." She declared and popped the ball of fruit into her mouth, pushing it to one cheek so that it bulged, squirrel-like. She looked at him and he couldn't help but chuckle at how young she looked, silly even. "What?" She asked, the question distorted by the grape. "Why're you laughing!?" She demanded and reached over to punch his shoulder when he did not answer her.

The pain was sharp but it only made his chuckle into actual laughter. "You're just so sweet." he said finally.

"Sweet?" She repeated this after swallowing the grape. She looked offended.

"Sweet." He affirmed, nodding.

"You're sweet." She retorted, darting a grape spitefully at him. "Sweet on the dumb boy."

Nathandiel only shrugged.

Her face split into a grin, her eyes becoming predatory as she lowered her chin. She pounced him, toppling over her plate of nibbles. She straddled him and got hold of his wrists when he tried to fight her off. He thought he could have kept her at bay but--

--why in the world would I want to?

When he smiled up at her, pleased with her, she slapped him. Her palm kissed his cheek painfully but it was as welcome as her softest touches. She leaned down, pinning his wrists above his head, and kissed him. She was brutish about it, forward and demanding like a man. He could soften her, he had before, but part of why he liked her so much was this part of her, the hard part. It excited him.

She bit his lip and he hissed when he felt it split, the coppery tang of blood mixing with the sweet traces of fruit from her mouth. She released him and sat up, her chin stained with red. She reached behind herself to fondle him and raised her brows when she found that his status was alert. She clucked her tongue at him.

There was a moment of apprehension, when he wasn't sure if she'd tear it from him or caress it lovingly. Niether would have surprised him from Drinn; she was traveller between the poles of the extremes. He thought that too was part of why he loved her, at least a little.

Perhaps it was the softness behind his eyes as he gazed her then that spooked her, but she was up and off of him before he could reach out to grab her arm. "Cook my dead pig for me; I'm going to take a bath." She informed him and slammed the bathroom door behind her.

Shocked and aching a little, he gripped himself. "...oh you cunt." He breathed. She really had just left him like that.

Why is that more arousing than frustrating?

He really did love her, and it was becoming more than just a little.

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Baalthemar had remarkably soft lips for such a tough young man. Nathandiel ran a finger over own lips, remembering how the other man had tasted, how he'd trembled, but also how he'd pushed back. There was fight in the younger elf. The pretty creature had boasted a back covered in scars--Nathandiel had blessed all of them with kisses, enjoying their tougher, smoother feeling as much as he'd liked the warmth and softness of Baalthemar's other unblemished parts.

What a boy.

He stepped into his own home with Drinn and the pups ran to meet him. He crouched down, ruffling their manes and letting them smell him, letting them snuffle at him and smell the other man on him and the blood from that day's kills. "Yes. Daddy had a long day, and long night." He told them. Castor was excited, but he didn't pee on himself. Drinn must have let them out recently.

He stood up, looking towards the bed. Drinn was still in it, her back to him, buried under blankets, only her long hair there to signify that she was under their fur collections. She slept so much lately. Ever since she'd come home, she'd mostly slept. She hadn't had any interest in going out, not even to hunt really--something she used to bother him to do.

He frowned. Her sleeping made him mad even as it made him worry. He didn't know what had happened to her while she'd been away, or what was still happening to her now that she was home. She told him nothing, only brushed aside his inquiries and distracted him with sex. He was a sucker for that.

She is the tactician.

"Good babies. Go lie down and keep Mum warm." The pups looked up at him, tails wagging, but went to the bed and piled onto Drinn when he snapped his fingers. They watched him as he moved across the room towards the washroom. He'd have liked to take his clothes off and crawl into those furs with the scent of Baalthemar still on him, he thought he still had the stamina to pleasure himself once more before sleep and reliving what they'd done together would satisfy him. But he needed to bathe before he tucked in with Drinn. He didn't think she'd object to him being with the boy, especially since had been meant to give the boy something to remember before he lost his depth perception, but just in case . . . well he was going to be clean for her.

He bathed quickly, soaping his body and relishing the feel of his own physique. It wasn't 'perfect,' as some would say, but it was his and he was satisfied with it. He knew what it could do, for him and for others.

To others. He corrected himself. This made him smile. He hoped Baalthemar had liked what he'd done, he could be a rough lover at times but he had wanted to please the other man. With all that talk during drinks about asphyxiation he'd wanted to give him just a tiny taste, just a hand around the throat, nothing real. He wanted the other elf to have his own memories to satisfy himself with. He'd been hard, but soft too. There was something sweet about the boy who wouldn't get his hair cut and wanted to pluck out his own eye.

He liked Baalthemar. He thought he was an idiot for taking out his eye, but that was part of why Nathandiel liked him. He was silly and he believed in the Grim and it's mandate whole-heartedly. He was foolish in someways, but not in others. He also inspired a desire in Nathandiel to be good to him. He would bring Baalthemar back with him after the trial's ritual, keep him fed, medicated, and make sure his wound was clean. Drinn had helped him furnish the cot with new furs and comfortable bedding. It had been a project she'd actually seemed interested in, speculating about what the boy would need and what he just might like to have around while he recovered. She'd even hung sheer netting about the bed in case Baalthemar wanted something sort of pretty.

He rinsed and dried himself, still savouring his nakedness and remembering how Baalthemar's body had felt against his own. The elicited a low groan. What a boy. What a treat.

He climbed into bed with his dogs and his woman, putting an arm around her and holding her close. She fit him perfectly as a little spoon, like they were made for each other by a Godly silversmith. It felt good to be home with her, even if she just slept. He was falling asleep when she spoke. "You had him." She whispered. He smiled and nodded into the crook of her neck. "Dick." She said, but he could hear her smile. He grinned and kissed her shoulder, glad to be home and to be home with her.

"Yes I did dear, and he was very good. You'd have enjoyed it. Go back to sleep babe, let's go have a dream together."

She wiggled back into him and groaned her approval. "Yes Doctor. Whatever you say."

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************************!Warning Adult themes!*****************

Baal smiled to himself as he lay in his bed, still sweating from the night’s exertions, Nathandiel had indeed given him some wonderful memories, to think about.

Baal sighed and got to his feet, his hair was a mess, and his body ached in places he didn’t know existed, but he felt happy for the first time in a very long time.

Because of him.

Baal grinned. And thought about the night's events. Vivid images of Nathandiel’s lips kissing his neck and firmly pulling on his hair, the feeling of his warm body against him, filled his mind’s eye.

Baal felt a fresh wave of lust wash over him at these thoughts.

Groaning Baal grabbed a robe and his grooming kit, and headed to the lake behind his herb garden. The cold air calmed him down as it bit at his skin, he walked quickly to get into the warmth of the lava heated lake.

The cold snow and rocks sent shivers up his legs as Baal headed to the water giving a distraction form the lewd thoughts coiling in his head.

Disrobing he jumped in, and letting himself sink deep into the water, clearing his mind.

He looked up at the rippling surface. And thought of Nathandiel. His body was like polished bone. Hard but smooth, a small grin crept into the corner of his mouth. And surprisingly flexible he would give him that.

And all his hard work to banish his lewd thoughts was undone.

Lazily Baal floats back to the surface and over to his grooming kit.

Pulling a hair brush out from it, he combs his hair.

*You’re swooning.* a voice warned from the back of his mind.

It was right, he needed to be careful to keep Nathandiel at arm’s length or he could damage what he and Drinn had.

Caution then. He thought to himself. Few would be comfortable about what he had done to Hendrick but Nathandiel seemed fine with it, and it would be a shame to lose Nathandiel because he had driven a wedge between him and his lover.

Baal finished with his hair and relaxed against the wet stone bank of the lake.

He closed his eyes and he could still feel a soft but firm hand on his throat.

Baal quickly opens his eyes and looks under the water. "Ugh..Damn it, You are poison Nathandiel. you've gotten in my veins."

Sinking lower into the lake Baal is forced to deal with a new and aching problem.

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The love making was savage and violent. Drinn bit him all over his body, marking him. Poor Baalthemar had made the unwitting mistake of nipping Nathandiel's chin after he'd kissed Nathandiel--and Drinn had taken exception.

He winced as he twisting in the bed, feeling her bites over the pleasant soreness of his daily activities, and his exciting rendezvous with Baalthemar the night before. He laid on his back and ran his palm over his chest, catching one sore nipple. Good God his Drinn had teeth. He tugged the taut nub of flesh, hissing. It hurt but it was delightful to know that she favoured him so much. Sometimes he had his doubts.

Wherever she's been and whatever she's done, she feels deeply for me like I do for her.

He smiled, massaging the oval of offended flesh to soothe it, staring up at the ceiling of their garrison. Next to him Drinn slept, naked and half on her belly, hugging a large pillow. She was peaceful, no nightmares and there was even a hint of smile on her pretty face. Linna and Castor slept at their feet, entwined with each other like an ornate medallion of the Frostwolf Clan. They were good dogs, Drinn was a good woman to mate with and even though they he still had questions for her, he was so pleased to have her home that he was willing to wait to get the answers for them.

She'd felt up to going out that night and they had met Baalthemar at the Wyvern's Tail. Nathaniel had been pleased to see him and relieved that the other man hadn't shied away after their night together. He hoped they would have another night like that, there were things he still wanted to do to Baalthemar, less gentle things.

Now I don't want him to cut that hair. If he cuts it I can't pull it.

Pulling hair and bowing the spine of a lover beneath him was a singular favourite of his. It allowed him to reign them in and kiss their necks, nip their earlobes, and make his approval with them clear in their ear. Then he could release them and press his chest flush with their backs, love them more gently after having been so fierce. Long hair had it's pluses.

Thinking about Baalthemar stirred him and his hand drifted. Drinn kept him more than satisfied but he was insatiable. He took his time and his thoughts drifted to their conversation in the tavern, to the explanation Baalthemar had given about Hendrick, the Slug Man, and how he'd talked with such conviction about the Grim. He was an eager supplicant, a genuine one. There was devotion in the tow-headed man that Nathandiel hadn't yet seen from a Grim-hopeful. The Grim would do well to appreciate him.

But do they? He wondered. Something was wrong with Baalthemar, something that had been very apparent at the unveiling of Hendrick. Something about the way Baalthemar's eyes had sparkled and his skin had looked hot had made Nathandiel suspicious. The creature he'd created had been an appreciable bit of work, but the younger man had seemed. . . well he hadn't seemed quite right.

His tugs under the blanket were languid as he worked at the conundrum, his mind worrying the problem with the same comfortable surety that he worked himself towards a climax; he'd get there, he'd work it out. Baalthemar had talked about wine, and he'd been drinking it when the Grim had arrived for the show.

And then there's what he did. How long would that have taken, de-boning a man and managing to still keep him alive?

"It was just like a big fish." Baalthemar had said, and he hadn't batted a lash at the statement. Drinn had been curious about the technique and she'd wanted details, but Baalthemar had only given her enough to entice her. She'd pounced him, played with him, and Baalthemar -- surprising creature that he was -- had played back. He had a monster of his own surely, but was that all that had driven him to create his "slug man?" Nathandiel wasn't sure that it had been the monster alone.

No, there's something else. Something was happening then that wasn't just an artist's fervour for his work or a psychotic personality at play. I'm not wrong. Something is up.

He'd solved the problem so far as being certain that there was one and that it wasn't just Baalthemar's propensity for creative violence. He would question the younger man further.

Baalthemar had confided in them about a future work, and Nathandiel had seen how it had excited his Drinn. He bit at his lower lip as he thought about her excitement and how she'd sat on Baalthemar's lap, eyeing him. They had agreed to help with the next piece after Baalthemar's trial. He could find out more about Baalthemar and what was happening with him before then if he was lucky, but if not, working together would surely unearth the answers he sought. Drinn had sealed the deal with a kiss, then requested that that he and Baalthemar do the same.

And Baalthemar had reached for him; Baalthemar had kissed him. Thinking about that kiss made him forget the conundrum. The confidence behind it and even the little bite to Nathandiel's chin, the one that had set off Drinn's territorial reaction, and the way she had watched them together, took him through the threshold with great satisfaction. He grit his teeth as he held back his cry of release, his veins dilating and his skin becoming hot, warmth pouring over him like the embrace of a good bath. Or a good lover.

As the pleasure passed, he was comforted by the stings of Drinn's bites and the subtle fire of her claw-marks. He cleaned himself up, put on pants and than curled around Drinn, tucking into her and holding her tightly. She didn't need to bite him. He was in love with her. He hadn't been sure before, but there was no way he could go home so long as she was there. Not when she looked at him like she had when he and Baalthemar had kissed. Not when she took him with the fervour of a possessive man like she had when they'd gotten home.

Not when she sleeps so soundly in my arms like she is right now.

He kissed the back of her head and closed his eyes, tangling his feet with hers. He slept soundly when he was with her. He wasn't willing to give that up.

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