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[personal profile] maculategiraffe
So I feel guilty about even having written this because I'm like "self, at this moment where you are writing this thing you should be working on The Maiden, or doing LJ housekeeping, or unpacking boxes, or something" and "self, you are never going to get on this whole selling SB thing if you keep writing random follow-up one-shots instead," also I am trying to title things now by ripping off song lyrics which is at least a step in the right direction from never titling anything at all, also I have to go do laundry right now.

post-Lee, ~2600 words

"Holden," said Alix, handing him a letter, which he took without looking and added to the top of his unread stack. He didn't remember it taking quite this much letter-reading and letter-writing to start a business twenty years before, but of course it wasn't just the change in focus of their business now; the article, and the notoriety of the court case, meant the letters of congratulation, excoriation, encouragement, inquiry, and threat piled up unless he and Alix both devoted their time to scanning and discarding, answering, or forwarding to the police, depending on genre. Alix was handling the threats at the moment, while Holden wrote a polite response to a letter expressing interest in the business, inviting its author-- a stranger to him-- to meet at the house and discuss business.

He signed his name and picked up the letter Alix had given him, scanning quickly and pleasurably the words that promised more money for their project, and then saw the signature.

"Holden?" said Alix, as he crumpled the letter in his hand. "What are you doing? Don't do that."

She snatched the letter back as Holden said, "Alix, did you read the signature?"

Alix smoothed the letter back out and looked at the bottom of the page.

"Lord Yevgeny Fedotov," she read. "Should I know who that is?"

"Think cocktail-party gossip," said Holden. "Think disapproval. Head-shaking and tongue-clicking."

"Since when do we care about gossip?" Alix asked. "We've been the subject of enough tongue-clicking ourselves. What is he, a bigamist?"

"He's one of Mikhail Dunaev's best friends," said Holden flatly. "Or he used to be, anyway. Those men-only parties Dunaev used to throw? Remember how we used to hear about them, before we bought Bran? Fedotov was on the regular guest list. It was a scandal and a byword among people who didn't get drunk and gang-rape slaves for fun!"

"But--" Alix looked at the letter again, then whisked it behind her back as Holden made a grab for it.

"You think we're taking money from him?" Holden demanded furiously.

"We need money," Alix said firmly. "We need all the money we can get, so we can keep other slaves from getting gang-raped by drunken partygoers. You weren't above taking money from Nikol Argounov when we were first starting out."

"That was different," said Holden, but with less conviction than he would have liked. "Argounov was just a prick. Dunaev's friends--"

"He can't still be one of Dunaev's friends when he wrote to us asking how he could contribute," said Alix. "Look here, he says--" She brought the letter back around, keeping a firm grip on it and shielding it from Holden with one arm, and read aloud, "I have seen firsthand the abuses that the helpless suffer under our current system of slavery--"

"Too fucking right he's seen them firsthand!" Holden said, possibly a little louder than he meant to. Alix shushed him with a glance at the ajar door, and Holden subsided slightly as Alix said in a low voice, "It's perfectly possible he's had a change of heart. People do change, Holden. You should know that."

Holden glowered, sure he was right, but feeling momentarily outmaneuvered.

"What if it's some kind of trick?" he argued. "What if Dunaev's people are trying to infiltrate our circle and, and spy or something?"

"Oh, Holden, for the love of the All-Father, talk sense. What is there to spy on? We're not exactly being secretive about our agenda now. Anyway, he just says he wants to contribute financially. Where's the conspiracy there? You think he's going to pay us in exploding money?"

"Who's paying us in exploding money?" Bran asked from the doorway, and Holden and Alix both looked up, Holden a bit guiltily.

"Hey, love," he said. "Sorry if we were yelling."

"You weren't," said Bran. "Well, not much. But what were you yelling about?"

Holden laughed and Alix smiled as Bran came further into the room, looking curiously at the crumpled letter in Alix's hand. Holden reached out for him, and Bran moved close enough that Holden could slide an arm around his waist and pull him even closer.

"Sweetheart," he said. "Does the name Yevgeny Fedotov mean anything to you?"

Bran thought for a moment. "I don't think so."

"He would have been a friend of Dunaev's," said Alix quietly, and Bran went still.

"Oh," he said. "I-- I knew-- there was-- a Genya."

"That would probably be the one," said Alix, and Bran looked uncertainly from her face to Holden's.

"I remember him," he said. "He-- why?"

"He just wrote us a letter," said Holden, and Alix handed it to Bran.

Bran read slowly, his lips moving as his eyes tracked deliberately across the page. Finally he looked up.

"He doesn't say anything about me," he said. "Do you think he knows I'm here? I mean, that I'm the kid he used to-- know?"

"He probably knows," said Holden, letting the obvious last-minute substitution of the last word of Bran's question pass. "He probably just didn't think we'd make the connection. Alix didn't, since she's too high-minded to listen to gossip."

Alix swatted him perfunctorily on the arm, but her attention was on Bran.

"I think we should take his money for the cause of good," she said to him, "and Holden thinks we should destroy his letter and not taint ourselves with foul associations. What do you think, dear?"

"He's a potential patron," said Bran, with mild surprise, as if stating the obvious. "Just do what you do. Write him a nice letter thanking him for his interest, invite him over, tell him all about the business and what he'll be contributing to, and then take his money."

"Have him over?" Holden repeated, outraged. "In my house?"

Bran turned calm gray eyes on him. "Would you rather go to his house?"

"I'd rather not have anything to do with anybody who--" Holden broke off, and resumed, "was ever invited to a party of Mikhail Dunaev's."

"It's okay," said Bran. "You can say it."

"All right," said Holden. "I'm not comfortable doing business, however righteous, with someone who raped you. I'm assuming he raped you. And probably worse. Correct me if I'm wrong."

"You're not wrong," said Bran steadily. "But, Holden, you've done business with Lord Argounov, and he used to rape you."

"Thank you, Bran," said Alix. "We've all done things we're not proud of, in the past. If this Fedotov wants to make amends-- I'll write him, Holden. And I'll see him. You can be out."

"I'm not going to be out," said Holden, "unless Bran's out with me."

Bran smiled at Holden, who found his insides going warm and soft and his rage unknotting itself against his will as Bran said, "You don't have to protect me from him, sir. I'm not a slave any more."

"Even so," said Holden. "I'll take you out somewhere, and Alix can meet this fucker and make nice with him."

"No," said Bran. "If he's coming here, I'm going to be here to meet him." He smiled at Holden again. "This is my home. I don't have to leave it for anybody."

"Then I'm going to be here too," said Holden.

Alix glanced back and forth between them worriedly. "Then I should be here-- but we're so busy-- I'd have to check our schedules, find an afternoon when neither of us has anything scheduled--"

"It's okay," Bran told her. "We'll handle it."

Alix frowned, and then, looking at Bran, smiled reluctantly. "I suppose you will. Just don't let Holden hit him."

"Don't worry," said Bran.

But Alix did look worried when she left at two o'clock four days later, and at three, when Holden answered the door to his lover's rapist, he was fairly sure her worry was justified.

Fedotov was younger than Holden expected-- not more than thirty-five, or even a hard-living thirty: a well-fed and not too well-muscled man with longish, brownish hair, dressed in a rather flashy purple tunic with gold ornamentation and boots of a peculiar burnt-sienna hue. He shook Holden's hand with a hearty grip and several pumps of the wrist-- Holden resisted the urge to jerk his hand away-- and then looked up and saw Bran, who stood straight and still, his chin slightly lifted.

"Hello, Genya," he said.

Fedotov's plump cheeks went red, and he gave a small, nervous chuckle.

"Bran," he said. "I didn't know if-- you'd--" He cleared his throat. "You, ah, you look-- well."

"I am well," said Bran. "Thank you. You didn't know if I'd what? Remember you?"

Fedotov stared at him for a moment, while Bran looked back steadily. Then he said, "May I-- sit down?"

Bran looked at Holden, who raised his eyebrows, offering the question back to Bran. Bran nodded, accepting it, and looked back at Fedotov.

"Yes," he said. "Let's."

In the parlor, Fedotov located a chair, a small straight armless chair that seemed too flimsy for his bulk, and sank into it with a few ominous creaking sounds. Bran sat down opposite at one end of a sofa, and Holden took the other end.

"I, ah," said Fedotov, clasping his hands awkwardly on his lap. "I-- I wasn't expecting--"

"Did you think I'd hide, when I heard you were coming over?" Bran asked politely. "I tried that a couple of times, when I belonged to Lord Dunaev, but it never worked out very well for me."

Fedotov stared at him for a moment before he said, "I'm sorry. It's-- I can't quite believe you're the same boy."

"I am," said Bran.

"Well, I know," said Fedotov, and cleared his throat. "But, I mean."

"I know what you mean," Bran said. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

Fedotov cleared his throat again before he said, "Certainly. Certainly not. Ask away."

"Did you know Lee?" Bran asked.

Fedotov shook his head. "No. No, I know who you mean, I read the article, but-- I haven't been to-- those parties-- for some time. No, I never, ah, met Lee."

"Okay," said Bran. "I just wondered."

"I-- Bran, I owe you an apology," said Fedotov. "I'm-- I apologize."

Bran said nothing.

"I wasn't like that," said Fedotov, almost pleadingly. "Even back then. Not-- not when I was at home, as you might say. I had a slave of my own, a girl--"

"Meg," said Bran.

Fedotov blinked at him. "You remember Meg?"

"I remember," said Bran. "You never brought her to my master's house. But at your house, she sat in your lap at the table and ate from your hand. You used to tickle her and she'd giggle."

"Ah, good memory," said Fedotov weakly. "Yes. So."

"What happened to her?" Bran asked.

"I sold her," said Fedotov, and cleared his throat yet again before adding, "To a friend of my sister's. She's, she's fine. Meggie, I mean. And the lady too, of course."

Bran nodded. After a moment, he said, with a very slight quaver to his voice, "Why me?"

"You were--" Fedotov closed his eyes briefly, then opened them to look at Bran with a new intensity of focus. "God, Bran. What can I say? Those parties of Misha's. You know-- you know how they were."

"I know how they were for me," said Bran. "I imagine they were a little different for you."

Fedotov tried for a smile, and failed.

"There was-- everyone was always drunk," he said. "And we all just-- Misha egged us on, and we egged each other on, and it was-- it was like a game, do you see? With different rules than-- than reality." He shut his eyes and opened them again. "I know it was real for you. But-- and in the morning I always said, oh God, never again, I'm never drinking again, I'm never going over there again, the things I did to that poor slave. But the next time Misha had a party, there I was again. I-- I couldn't help myself. But I never did anything like that-- except at Misha's. Believe me."

"I do," said Bran.

Fedotov nodded. "I didn't even want to-- behave like that. Most of the time. At home, with Meggie. But when we were drunk and-- and rowdy-- and Misha brought you out-- it was a game, a contest, you'd start out clean and how-- how many ways could we-- dirty you up-- what could we leave you looking like-- who'd be the first one to make you cry--"

"Bran," Holden said, struggling not to scream the word, and Bran, who had been listening with a perfectly blank face to Fedotov, turned swiftly to look at him, his stiffly upright posture melting in an instant to tender susceptibility. He moved close to Holden on the couch and leaned his head on Holden's shoulder; Holden wrapped one arm around Bran's shoulders and groped for his hand with the other.

"Please," he whispered in Bran's ear, "please, Bran, I'm begging you, let me beat this fucker up."

"No," Bran whispered back, squeezing his hand gently. "He's just answering my question."


"I'm okay, Holden," Bran murmured. "Don't worry about me."

"I'm not worried," Holden whispered. "I'm homicidal."

"Don't be." Bran kissed Holden softly on the lips and, still leaning into Holden's arm, turned back to Fedotov, who was staring at the two of them, his mouth hanging slightly open.

"You'll catch flies," Bran said, in conversational tones.

Fedotov closed his mouth and swallowed.

"Thank you for answering my question honestly," Bran added, squeezing Holden's hand again. "I appreciate it. I asked because I wanted to know-- what changed? For you? You said you used to wake up the next morning and think never again, but then you did it again. Why did you stop? What happened?"

"I--" Fedotov lowered his eyes to the floor at his feet; with his hands still twisted together on his lap, he looked as if he were praying. "I don't know. Nothing. I just-- got more and more disgusted with myself, and-- one day, the invitation came, and I still wanted to go, but the-- the disgust-- was stronger." He looked back up at Bran. "Maybe it was just-- maybe I just-- grew up."

Bran regarded him for a moment, and then, suddenly, smiled.

"Me too," he said.

Fedotov mustered a smile back. "I can see that."

"And so now," said Bran, "you want to help us."

"Yes," said Fedotov quietly. "I want to-- help you--" He looked past Bran at Holden, winced slightly, and looked back at Bran.

"Look," he said. "The best I can say for myself-- at the moment-- is that I don't-- do that-- any more. And that's not much, to be able to say for myself. But I'd like to say better. I'd like to do better. That's why I wrote."

"He wants to give us money so he can feel better about himself," Holden said to Bran, not bothering to keep his voice low this time. "I don't want to help him feel better about himself."

Bran smiled again.

"But do you want to use his money to help make kids like me safe from men like him?" he asked. "Kids like I used to be, I mean." He glanced back at Fedotov. "And men like he used to be."

"Well," said Holden, after a few moments, to Fedotov. "When he puts it that way."

Fedotov took a long breath, looking at Bran.

"Thank you," he said, a little unsteadily. "I-- thank you. Both."

"For what?" Bran asked, sounding amused. "For agreeing to take your money?"

"Well," said Fedotov, and flushed again, and laughed a little. "Well, yes."

"You're welcome," said Bran. "Let's talk amounts. Holden?"


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