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Sanctuary - Carnival
"Carnival," Sanctuary, James Watson/John Druitt, NC-17, ~2200 words. Warnings for S&M and, once again, seriously, Jack the Ripper.  Set some years before the events of Normandy.

The games they play at Carnival aren't ever safe....

James inspects the costumes with a certain wry amusement, which is better, he supposes, than the exhaustion or irritation that have been his most common states since the surgery.  It doesn’t help that he has always loved Carnival, particularly here in San Gregorio, where an old and well-established Abnormal community has managed to live peacefully with their human neighbors for several centuries.  Any costume he chooses will pale beside the horned and goat-legged satyrs, the dryads with twigs for fingers and leafy hair and the lamia nesting in her serpent coils, but still it pains him to abandon Harlequin, the bright satin motley that once showed off a sleekly elegant form.  It’s bauta and tabarro for him from now on, sad commonplace, and his eyes stray instead to the medico della peste with its long hooked beak.  This one is the color of old ivory, shadows poured into the grooves that define its shape, harsh and fragile as a bird’s skull. Memento mori suits his mood, and when he tries it on and finds the eyeholes deceptively wide and useable, his decision is made for him.  He accepts the full black coat and the long staff, the hat and hood, but refuses the boots and the white gloves.  He will wear gloves of his own, fine black leather, and be all in black except for the grotesquerie of the mask.  He hands over the money and the maskmaker promises to deliver the whole to his hotel.

It’s more of a struggle to dress than in other years, and he has to settle for his ordinary shirt and trousers beneath the coat, as nothing else will accommodate the device strapped to his chest, its leads plugged in to the sockets embedded in his skin.  But once he’s resigned himself to that, and to the necessity of carrying his pistol tucked into his pocket, the outer shell is perfect, and he picks up the staff in his black-gloved hand and sallies out into the evening streets.

The air is cold, and he’s glad of the costume’s weight, the absence of bared skin.  He strides along the main street, where music spills from bar and palace alike, and his fellow revelers make way with exaggerated shivers, enjoying the frisson, death as play.  Only once a satyr looks after him, frowning, his laurel wreath caught on one delicate nub of horn, but his companions tug him on.  And to be fair, James enjoys being the threat, the specter at the feast; if he cannot be Harlequin, witty seducer, he’ll be death himself.

In that guise, he pays his respects to the lamia, bundled in a cart piled high with pillows and fur, her coils gleaming in the lamplight.  Her escorts hover jealously, cloaked against the wind, some with their masks pushed to the tops of their heads, showing faces of youthful unexpected beauty.  The lamia sees where his eyes stray, and raps his knuckles with her fan.  He bows even more deeply and kisses her fingers:   Harlequin’s manners are hard to forget.

He turns away, smiling behind his mask, and out of the corner of his eye catches a familiar kind of movement.  He neither starts nor turns to look directly, lets the crowd carry him a little further before he  turns with apparent unconcern.  A tall man is walking away from him, wrapped in tabarro and tricorn.  James does not need to see his face to know he wears the plainest bauta, and carries a knife in his pocket.  John was always fond of Carnival, too.

He scans the buildings to either side, the smallest palace with its courtyard filled with revelers, the closed and shuttered stables — if they didn’t both know it was a favorite resort for young lovers at Carnival, he’d suspect that was John’s destination — the busy restaurant and the coffee shop with the crowd spilling into the street beyond.  The road curves sharply beyond the last of the shops, following the low headland; you can see the lights of Venice from that curve, fireworks blossoming nightly above the lagoon.  But that won’t be where John is headed.  James turns away.  No, this is a blind, a feint to draw out anyone who might be following.  He walks unhurried through the crowd, past the lamia still holding court, and up the broad steps to the open door of the church, San Gregorio di Ponti, St. Gregory the Wonderworker, patron of Abnormals and other lost causes, for whom the town is named.

It is very dark inside, only a few votives still lit by the door, and the presence light on the altar.  James slips into the darkness of the nave, the deepest shadow between the broad columns.  Across the nave, a single candle burns on St. Gregory’s altar, casting more light on the defeated demons crouching at the statue’s feet than on the saint himself. He is aware, the device forces him to be aware, that his breath has quickened, and he tells himself it is the thrill of the hunt, but that’s not what causes the tightening in his groin.

He doesn’t have to wait long before the air twists and John materializes out of the shadows, a new solidity in the dark.  He is wearing a plain white bauta, a pale blur in the dark, and James draws his revolver as he steps out of the shadows.

“Good evening, John.”

John spins, the black cloak flaring, and James catches a flying edge, insurance against the other teleporting away. John steps into his grasp, bustling him back against the nearest pillar, the knife edge showing silver, and James presses the revolver hard into his ribs.


John hesitates, his knife not quite at James’s throat. The dark and the mask hide his expression, but James can imagine the curl of his smile.  “Hello, James.”

And then they are falling, rushing through emptiness to land against another wall in a brighter place, where a low fire smolders in the stove.  James has kept his grip on the revolver, grinds it against John’s side.

“I said, careful.”

“My dear Dr. Watson,” John says.  He keeps the knife at James’s throat, but he flicks the beak of the mask with his free hand.  “That’s — pessimistic.”

“I’m not in an optimistic mood,” James says.  They are pressed close enough that he fears John can feel the device even through the layers of costume.

“How unlike you.”

“Helen was the optimist,” James says.  “I was merely wrong.”

He feels John flinch, and seizes the moment to free himself from the plague doctor’s mask and hat, letting them fall to the floor at his feet.  He could shoot John now, and probably should, but the weight of his body, even the caress of the knife, are unexpectedly arousing. John’s eyes are dilated behind the mask, caught in the same web, and abruptly John makes a sound that might have been a laugh.

“Is it time to unmask, then?”

“Yes,” James says. “I think so.”

The knife at his throat doesn’t waver, but John strips away tricorn and bauta, flings them aside in a single flamboyant gesture, flashing like wings in the shadowed room.

“You’ve something new,” he says, and his free hand taps James’s chest.  There’s no real sound, metal muffled by fabric, but the device’s presence is unmistakable.  “A new toy?”

“Not exactly.”  In spite of himself, James’s voice catches in his throat.

John takes that as an invitation, his hand sliding up beside the knife’s blade to unfasten the first button. It slides free easily, and John works his way down the front of the coat, finally parting the heavy fabric to squeeze James’s erection through his trousers.

“Careful,” James says again, on an indrawn breath. He’s not sure what the device will stand, what it will allow him to do — it’s hardly something he could ask Helen at the time, furious as she was at the necessity of the operation — but at least he is fairly sure John is just as trapped as he.

“May I?” John says, and his hand rises to the buttons at James’s collar.

James says nothing, and John takes that as consent, begins with exquisite care to undo the front of James’s shirt. He hisses softly at the first sight of metal, finally takes the knife from James’s throat to part the fabric with both hands.

“Helen’s work?”

“And Tesla’s.”

John presses close again, hard against James’s thigh, then slides his fingers under the edge of the chestplate.  He can just reach the outermost lead, and James cocks the revolver.


They hang there for an instant, and then John withdraws his hand, leans back again to study the controls.

“You should be more careful with the cocaine.”

Somehow, from John that stings less than it did coming from Helen, and James shrugs, returning the hammer to its previous position.  “It corrects a hereditary problem.  Nothing to do with that.”

“No,” John says, with only a touch of irony.  “Of course not.”  His fingers wander across the controls, a touch too light to do more than brush the dials and recessed switches.  James can feel the machinery hammering, pacing and matching his rising heartbeat, the shortened breath, the ache in his groin.

“What does this one do?” John murmurs, and flips the switch.

James’s head jerks back against the wall, mouth gaping for the breath that won’t come. Nerve damage, there was nerve damage during the admittedly experimental surgery, and he can’t breathe now without the machine —

“Ah,” John says, his eyes alight, and flips the switch back again.  “That’s interesting.”

Air fills James’s lungs, sweet and strong, and somehow he’s kept his grip on the revolver, though he suspects John could take it from him in an instant if he weren’t so distracted.  If they weren’t both distracted.  He grabs the front of the tabarro in his free hand, hauls John closer, so that he can feel his breath and the insistent pressure of his erection even through the layers of cloth.  John smiles and kisses him, thoroughly enough, but breaks away before James would have released him.

“What about this one?” he says, and turns a dial.

The pain sears from chest to fingertips, white as lightning.  James swears, but doesn’t drop the pistol, just grinds it harder into John’s ribs.  John’s smile widens, and he inches the dial to the right.  James is on fire, burning to the bones, and he’s still hard, still impossibly aware of John’s breath against his burning skin.

“Oh,” John says, and it’s the voice of a child at Christmas, his shiny new toy unwrapped by the fireside.  “Oh, James.”

He flicks the dial back to its original position, and James sags against the wall.  The revolver wavers, but he controls that, presses it back into the cloth until he finds John’s ribs again.  With his free hand, he gropes beneath the tabarro, flicks open John’s trouser buttons.  John is breathing just as hard, eyes wide, and James grasps him by the root, working him roughly until John pulls away.  The cords stand out in his neck with the effort at control, but he takes James in hand, stroking almost gently as his other hand splays across the device.

“John.”  James isn’t sure if he means that as warning or plea, but in answer John reaches for the dial again, twists it to send fire leaping along his nerves. He bites his lip to keep from crying out, thrusts blindly, comes at last in an incandescent rush that turns even the pain to searing pleasure.  John releases the dial, and James braces himself against the wall, gasping for air, for strength.  His heart is pounding hard enough to shake his entire body, but no alarms are showing, and he’s still alive, still standing.  Still himself, despite the indignities of the device, and that is more than he expected.

And for that, he will pay anything.  He slides to his knees, seeing John’s expression change from surprise to blind desire, and takes him in his mouth, finding the rhythm he has never forgotten.  John fights it, fights him, sheer perversity, but he can’t hold out for long, comes with a long moan.  James pulls back, swallowing, and John sinks to the floor beside him, both of them cushioned by their costumes.  James has dropped the revolver, somewhere at the end; he finds it again, drags it to lie beside him as his heartbeat finally slows.  He should move, he knows, at the very least, he should leave, but John holds out an arm and he leans into it, resting his forehead on John’s shoulder.   He has no words left, if ever he had any that were adequate for this.  Instead, he lets his weight rest on John for  just a moment longer, eyes closed against the dark.


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Oh, what a dangerous game, but such a hot one ...

A very dangerous game indeed. I'm glad you think it's hot. :-)

Oh, man, those two are a hot mess, they really are. Poor James, all raw and awkward, and surrounded by a personal history that he really loved and misses.

I adore all the detail and world building in this - the masks, the community of Abnormals living with humans. St Gregory, patron saint of Abnormals! And Helen and Nikola piecing James back together on the operating table, making it up as they go.

Thank you - I suspect Helen has been hovering, which doesn't make it any easier for James to deal with the device. This - is effective, but hardly recommended.... :-)

So bad, so hot! Oh boys. There's really nothing you can say about them except how totally, awesomely, hotly wrong! :D

John had to learn how to manipulate James's device somehow.... :-)

Hot, hot, hot... And I agree with penknife, those two are a mess. :D

Thanks! And, yes, they are a mess, all right. And yet perversely functional....

Perverse sums it up rather nicely. I'm fond of perverse.

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