djsoliloquy: (Default)
DJ ([personal profile] djsoliloquy) wrote2012-09-23 07:57 pm

[AC fic] With Bells On, parts 1-2

Fandom: Assassin's Creed
Rating: R
Pairings: Altair/Malik
Summary: Prostitute!AU. Wills clash when the mysterious and infuriating regular starts making Altair wear a belly-dancing dress.
Notes: Still a WIP. Inspired by kinkmeme request for 12th century belly-dancing prostitute!Altair. Nailed it.




“He's back,” says Yazid. A sandaled foot aims a hard kick at Altair’s middle.

Altair dodges just in time. “Who's back,” he mumbles and turns over, returning to the warmth of the threadbare azure pillows. He has half a mind to sleep the rest of the morning, if only to exact revenge against the brothel manager for waking him. But something clicks in his mind and he is instantly awake.

He's back. Yazid could only mean one person.

"The one with the special tastes," Yazid says, confirming Altair's secret thoughts. It’s clear from his tone Yazid hates to say it as he adds, “You are the best I have. He's willing to pay more for you.”

“I know,” Altair says simply. “And you're right, I am the best you have. Remember that next time you want to kick me awake.”

A hand instantly seizes the back of his neck, pinning him down and holding there when he struggles, like grabbing a troublesome stray by the scruff of the neck. “Yes, you are the best—the best whore, and you would do well to remember that,” says Yazid, and Altair long ago learned not to allow his skin to crawl from this manner of treatment. “I know exactly how you see yourself. Snarl all you want so long as you remember who owns you.”

Altair doesn’t move when the hand releases him, though he yearns to strike back. The foot comes down and this time he lets it finds its target. “Get ready,” Yazid mutters. “He wants the dress again.”

Altair reaches for the women's garment. It is altered for him, has been since the second time with this particular customer when Yazid forced one of the girls' skirts on Altair in a panic and tore the fabric clean through. Not that the man minded—Altair made sure he was too distracted to notice. Now they have a female dancer's uniform fitted for Altair's more muscular frame, cut to bare stripes of skin and the flat of his stomach. The way it molds to his body and conceals his face is oddly pleasing, though Altair hates how the bells jingle when he moves. It’s impossible to walk without being heard from rooms away.

“Why does he only call in the mornings?” Altair huffs as he arranges the veil. As an afterthought, he sweeps lines of the cheap Egyptian paint around his eyes.

Yazid smirks. “He must be like us and work nights, eh?”



This patron is always weary upon arrival. He doesn't usually rise from the cushions, lets Altair work until morning light creeps in around the edges of the curtains. He's one of those eternally disgruntled men—Altair imagines he learned to smile from studying the concept in a book. It’s almost satisfying to strip down that abrasive attitude and watch him come, see those few exposed seconds when he is utterly open and overwhelmed. And Altair always makes him come.

He thinks he's figured out what the man likes, his tells—when he welcomes something, loves it, the way his body changes when he's close. But he has become more challenging to please with every visit. The same moves simply don’t work twice. Last time, three months ago and after he asked for Altair specifically, Altair struggled for the first time in years, working up a sweat and exhausting all his best methods, desperate to make anything work. It ended with them throwing each other to the carpet, clawing each other up while the man's hands slid up Altair's dress and Altair moaned brokenly and bit marks all over his shoulder. He made sure the patron came, but then the man wouldn't stop until Altair had as well, like it was a competition.

No one thought the man would return, especially when Yazid charged him extra for the ruined dress.

Altair doesn’t know his name. Yazid doesn’t know the man’s name; he pays that well, or hands over that many weapons for safekeeping before meeting his whore of choice upstairs. So far that has always been Altair.

He slowly inhales when he stands outside the door. He knows his usual techniques won’t work. He has one maneuver left—a dance. Hopefully it will help direct the man in his desires, and Altair will focus on checking his temper. A patron won’t get the better of him a second time.

He's already half hard. With others he sometimes must arouse himself first to appear enthusiastic. Perhaps it’s the challenge that has his blood up this morning.

“Is it a habit of yours to make customers wait?” the man asks without looking when Altair enters.

The cursed bells.

“I humbly beg forgiveness, master,” Altair says in his best docile tone, lines from a prepared script they use with all customers and with all the gravity Altair can muster while wearing a dress, speaking to the smug man before him. He's glad for the veil, even if it is rather transparent. He worries less about whether his face betrays his annoyance. “Welcome. You…”

The blood on the man's white robes stops him. When he lifts his eyes, the man is watching him closely. “You are the only patron we ever have at this hour,” Altair says. There isn't a lot of blood, but that is even more unsettling. Whatever it was, whoever it was, it was inconsequential. A struggle, but not for long.

He can’t pretend he doesn't see it. He doubts Yazid even noticed the blood when he allowed the customer entrance—gold easily blinds the whoremaster to other hues. “Will you require a bandage,” Altair says, although the man clearly isn't the one who lost the blood.

“Don't pretend to be stupid.” The man settles against the chair and the cushions, nods to the carpet in front of him. “Come here.”

Altair does, with the supple, sinuous stride he uses in this room. Women are blessed with rolling hips—he has to force himself into the suggestive movements the dress demands. He watches the man's eyes, lets his hands drape over his thighs and stomach, drawing the man's eyes there. “A difficult night?” he says, arms unfurling from his sides like wings as he begins the dance. The movement begins in his stomach, isolated from his upper body. The effect is pleasant, he’s told.

“A worse morning,” the man answers. He hasn’t looked above Altair’s neck yet—a good sign. The bells rattle with Altair’s pace, faster. “It’s not something I wish to discuss with you.”

“Understood.” He lifts his foot, touching down his toes where the man is seated to create a graceful angle for leg. The secret to the dance is displaying the body in the most desirous way, to create a delicious spectacle of it for the spectator’s consumption. It is at heart a form of bragging, a sensual manifestation of the boast. Altair knows he has a lot worth showing off, and all else merely depends on how well he executes the performance. His pride is part of the reason he’s so good at it.

The patron pays enough that he can do more than look, if he likes. But he has a very... intense way of looking. Altair feels it on his body at all times, even when facing away from him. It's like a physical touch moving down his back as he pivots his hips, rotates to display himself from every side. The man’s stare is more invasive than when other clients restrain Altair’s arms and pin him against the wall. It makes him breathless, flushed to think on it, feeling that presence always on him.

“You must hate those bells,” the man says leisurely.

Altair laughs. He dips to the floor between the man’s parted legs, still dancing, so close the shape of the man’s cock nestles against the cleft of his ass for a moment as he rises up. He moans and gives an extra grind of his hips, glances over his shoulder. “Does the... does the sound please you?”

“Not particularly. Was it meant to?”

Without looking, Altair reaches up and tears them off. Almost immediately he feels more agile in his actions. He moves like shadow over the patron's lap. He doesn't care how much the man is paying Yazid; Altair intends to reward him handsomely for allowing him to dispose of the bells.

He swings a leg over one of the man’s knee, stroking down the back of his leg and rubbing over the man’s thigh, rolling his hips towards his lap and—

Altair catches sight of the patron’s face. It shocks him out of his rhythm. He stands there, leg crooked over the client’s, panting. “You look bored,” he says bluntly. He tries not to sound severe.

“I am bored.” Altair thinks he keeps from reacting, but the man snorts at whatever he sees in Altair’s face “Though that was interesting. You took that as a challenge, didn't you?”

“No.” Altair shakes his head, willing his mind to clear. With the grinding and dancing, the hunger of the eyes always on him, he’s aroused himself more in the process than he has the customer himself. And it makes him vulnerable to other passions, namely his anger. “My only concern is your pleasure.”

“No it isn’t,” the man says. He leans back, sure of himself—sure of Altair. He grabs Altair’s chin. “That's what the fat man who takes my money wants, it's what I want. But you think I don't know arrogance when I see it? I am not going to be impressed by you simply because you are impressed by yourself.”

It takes all his will not to slap the client’s hand away.

Slowly and deliberately, as though he knows how close Altair is to resisting him, the man lets go of his chin.

“Again,” says the man.

Altair staggers back, unfocused and off-rhythm now. The only move he can recall is one he’s seen the girls do. Nothing else comes to him, yet it might work. He takes an easy turn about the carpet to find his head space again. This will have to suffice until he plans the next step.

He nears the man, undulating as the dance requires and grabbing the back of the chair for balance, arching his spine to roll his chest forward. The dress floats his scent over the client’s face; Altair can only hope it’s somewhat pleasant. This close, he notices the dark blown centers of the man’s eyes, wide with a more open show of interest than the rest of his face. He exhales and Altair feels it on his chest, over one partly exposed nipple.

Altair swallows, frowning in concentration. “I think this technique is better appreciated when the dancer has breasts,” he says and instantly regrets it. Some clients would beat him for speaking. Obviously this one is more lenient, but that Altair feels the need to say anything at all, blurting out like an unsure virgin, is…

The man’s lips part, opening as if to take the nipple in his mouth, but he doesn’t make to grab, merely looks up at Altair through his eyelashes. Altair takes a deep breath—his chest, damp with sweat, grazes the man’s mouth—and he steps away, trying in vain to distance himself from the man as much as his own excitement and growing alarm. He shouldn’t be this flustered. Even if it is a more devious game than usual between them it should not be this difficult.

His patron makes an amused sound, at least recognizing Altair’s effort. “I would call you a whore,” he murmurs, drawing his fingers through the cheap silk draped on Altair's thigh, “but it loses its power when you actually are. So what shall I say? Look at you, so eager to get the better of me and making yourself desperate instead. What will you do when all of your plans fail you? What will you do when it isn't enough?”

When, not if. Altair edges his knee against the white robe, putting pressure between the man’s legs. “It will be enough,” he says in a low growl.

The man’s eyes narrow at him. “Good.”

It’s almost a physical sensation, something in Altair breaking as all the rules and restrictions suddenly become inconsequential to erasing the assured air from the man’s posture, his challenge and his tone—Good. But it won’t be enough. The man has no intention of letting him win. It was never an option.

It undoes him. He sets his jaw and drags his nails over the man’s legs as he stands. “Well, we wouldn’t need to search aimlessly for your pleasure if you were decisive,” he says, releasing his frustration. “Less inhibited. Or perhaps you’ve become secretly impotent since last time? You know, there are special techniques we use for the weak and the ineffective—”

He braces when he senses movement, but by then it’s too late. The man moves faster than should be possible, from reclining on the cushions to knocking Altair to the floor and straddling him before Altair can blink twice.

His legs are bound from the dress twisted around his ankles, but he thrashes wildly all the same. “No self-control,” the man mutters, and that seems more than a little hypocritical to Altair. “No discipline, restraint,” he adds, grabbing Altair’s wrists to pin him down. “Like a child throwing a tantrum. Be still.”

The man covers him and Altair laughs thoughtlessly, in shock, fury, reminded of dogs fighting in the street. He shows his throat to his patron, sneering because it’s going to end just as it did last time, with them on the carpet biting and rutting like animals. “This was all you wanted?” he asks, baring his teeth in a vicious smile. “You had only to ask.”

The man doesn’t slap him very hard. He grasps Altair’s wrists in one hand, and the force of the blow is light, almost teasing. It’s worse for that, just like the blood on his robe: inconsequential—a struggle, but not much of one, and instead of silencing Altair it enrages him. He curses, bucks with all his strength to dislodge the man and only managing to drive his cock up against him instead.

The face above him smirks. It drops, perhaps for a kiss, and Altair jerks to the side, receiving another of the maddeningly light slaps to his turned cheek instead. It doesn’t hurt but stings his pride beyond endurance.

“Do you know how much I’m paying for you?” the man asks.

He snorts. “Knowing Yazid? More than you should!”

Another dainty slap. Altair roars, shoving at man forcefully enough to lift his hands off the ground before he’s slammed back to the carpet. “You will regret this when I’m free,” he seethes. His struggling has settled the dress, freeing his legs.

“You think so?” says the man. He rips away the veil from Altair’s face, maybe preparing for another slap. Altair doesn’t stop to ask him.

He heaves to the side until he can hit the man with his knee, then quickly rolls over him while he’s still stunned. Unlike his patron, Altair has no intention of targeting the man’s arrogance alone. The loud grunt when he landed the kick rises to his ears like birdsong, but he’s shoved back before he can strike again.

The man calmly blocks his blows and heaves him to the carpet, and in place of the beating Altair expects, the man lowers himself over Altair and kisses him.

Kisses him, full on the mouth, immediately parting Altair’s lips and sucking at his tongue, all the ease of familiarity and hunger of the deprived. Altair writhes at first, moaning, but it’s everything the infuriating slaps were not—hard, unrelenting, like Altair is an equal worthy of the effort instead of something to be taken lightly, ignored and cast aside. One hand holds his jaw to keep him from biting, though Altair never thinks of it, even after the man has let go and merely holds Altair’s face with his open palm.

They’re both undeniably hard now, though of course Altair is the only one tenting the sheer fabric of a dress from his erection. He pants from the kiss as much as the fight when the man pulls away. He doesn’t follow to entice him back, just rests limp on the floor, flushed and watching the man with hooded eyes. His rage burns with the quiet warmth of old embers, no longer the unchecked blaze igniting him from within.

His patron sighs. “That quieted you, anyway,” he says, looking over his shoulder. He leans back and puts pressure on Altair’s cock, rubbing the wet stain where the drops leaking from the tip soaked through. Altair’s thighs stretch farther apart, as far as the dress allows, little gasps escaping him as he strains towards that touch. “There is a lot of anger in you,” the man murmurs to himself. “I’m not surprised.”

He throws the veil in Altair’s face and gets to his feet. Altair blinks, realizes the man is walking toward the door. He can’t unwrap himself to stand up and keep the man from leaving. “What is your name?” he calls out, tearing the skirts to stand fast enough. The man doesn’t look back. “Stop and tell me your name!”

The patron scoffs. “Demanding? As though you have a right to it? No,” he says. Then he appears to consider. “But you may ask once more.”

Altair clenches his fists. He has no outstanding respect for this man as his superior, and the language of his work rises in his throat like bile. “If it would please you—”

“No. Enough.” Still nameless, he turns to go. “I’ve heard enough.”

Wait.”

Altair stops, hearing the command in it himself. But the man pauses, and Altair closes his eyes.

His foot nudges the torn string of bells, rolling them aside with a gentle ringing as he gets to his knees. He bows over the man’s feet, touching his forehead to his boots. He kneels until his breathing slows, until the peace is a comfort instead of an affliction, and he understands what he will do—because this too is a kind of dance, with a different purpose, different strides, but still for the desire of the spectator, always for the customer’s will. And this time he can’t afford missteps.

He kisses the top of the boots and lifts himself, pressing his lips to the hem of the white robe with the quiet reverence of a monk bent to worship. The quiet is important—his instincts say the man will respond best to silence. Altair offers the most genuine, compliant, dutiful silence he can pull off.

Only when the man doesn’t stop him does Altair stand. He keeps his eyes lowered, grazing his hands over the rest of the man’s clothing, not daring to grab. Still the patron does not move. Altair feels the strength of his stare, as always.

“Whatever you see fit,” Altair says at a whisper, breath shaking from the strain of effort and concentration. He risks lowering his head to kiss the man’s neck. And, as in the other dance, Altair is the one who shivers from it. “It is not my privilege to ask anything of you.”

“Then why do you ask?”

If anything Altair lowers his eyes more when he feels the hand touch his face, drawing aside what little remains of the veil. He wonders if the other man was this close—close enough to catch the warm scent of sweat and leather, feel the breath on his ear as Altair can—at least, before his client killed him. “That something is merely impossible should never stop one from trying to attain it,” Altair says, staring at the browning blood stain on the man’s robe.

“Ah, only merely impossible,” the man says. “When you put it like that...”

Altair mentally deflects the teasing. “And should I fail,” he continues, “I can hope for mercy.”

Mercy. He did not expect that word, more apt than he wants. No, Altair is not his own man. Yazid owns him, the patrons own him, but he has never felt at someone’s mercy before.

And yet he does for this, for a name?

He has never failed to fully satisfy a patron, he thinks. That must be it. That is all.

He yearns to take back his entire attempt, cease placing himself in such a position, but the hand by his face has withdrawn and the man himself the first to break away. Then Altair feels coldness, the hollow chill of failure and anticipatory aches from the feeble but enthusiastic beatings he is going to receive. Nothing will save him from Yazid if he loses the brothel a customer.

He hears the silvery chiming, looks to see the man picking up the string of bells from the floor. The man brings it to his nose and mouth, breathes in. He passes Altair for the door and the glint in his eyes stops Altair mid-breath—

“Malik,” says the man, holding Altair’s gaze.

Altair will never think of him as the man again in his life.

“Malik,” Altair repeats, stunned out of defeat into an even deeper confusion. Malik casts him a charitable glance before depositing the bells into a pouch on his belt, and without another word he opens the door and leaves.

Altair stares at the door, not hearing the footsteps fade down the hall. He sinks into the pillows once he knows he is alone, more exhausted than he has ever been from a session. He fights with the conflicting upwelling of anger, relief, what may possibly be respect, though he can never forgive Malik for bringing him so low. But there had been a second, just single moment as he crawled to kiss Malik’s feet, begged into his ear...

No. Altair’s eyes widen. The glint in Malik’s face was one of satisfaction, true. But not simply because Altair did as he wanted. It was almost as though Altair had finally fallen for the trick, finally been enticed into making a fool of himself of his own will.

Altair shakes. He’s ready to throw down the dress and hunt Malik down when Yazid bursts through the door, bouncing with fury. “What happened?” He advances on Altair with murder and the threat of bankruptcy in his eyes. “What have you done?”

“He left on his own!” Altair thunders, stopping Yazid in his tracks. “It was never about pleasure for him. And I did nothing wrong! A thousand Saracen warships could not pull his conceited beard from my ass, yet he had the nerve to—”

“Yes, I’m sure you are entirely innocent in this, as usual!” Yazid snaps. “Do you think I care? Whose job is it to see he’s too content to leave, for any reason? Silence!” he warns when Altair opens his mouth. They glare at each other until Yazid sighs. “I suppose he only asked for half of his money back. And I don’t have to have you refitted for a dress this time.”

Altair also sighs. “He intends to return. I am sure of it.”

“You better hope so.” The brothel manager looks disgusted, more weary than incensed as he waves Altair towards the door. “Go. Prepare yourself before the regulars start arriving.”


Part Two

Malik returns sooner than either Altair or Yazid expected. Before it took him months between visits, but Altair wakes one morning from the kick to his side, after only a week, and knows instantly. He reaches for the belly dancing dress without being told. He enters the room to find Malik sunk in his cushioned chair as usual, Altair in his dress as usual, unsure how he will please his customer this time, as usual. But now he knows Malik’s name. It changes everything, and yet nothing.

Altair is still furious with him.

“Have you eaten?” Malik asks.

Altair stares, half anticipating the worst pre-fellatio ridicule he’s ever received. When he doesn’t answer, Malik nods at the bowl of bread and fruit on the table. “Bring me something.”

You could find better quality bread anywhere in Damascus, and Altair thinks the fruit gives the room a careless, peasant quality, but it's all insightfully chosen to be bite-sized and convenient. He isn't sure what the man would want. He's embarrassed to offer him fruit, but the bread is in worse condition. Altair finally picks a few dates, stolen from the palm in the neighboring garden, no doubt. “Kneel,” Malik says, indicating the chair between his legs for Altair to rest his knee upon. Altair hands over the dates when Malik extends his hand, and— “Open,” Malik says, and places one inside Altair's mouth.

Malik looks up, watching him, running his hands over the exposed small of Altair’s back and across his belly, reasserting his presence with the cautious rise and fall of Altair’s breathing. The room falls silent. This is not at all what Altair expected.

He blinks, eyes flickering away from Malik's gaze as he chews around the pit. The flesh is dark and soft in his mouth, almost too sweet. He reaches up to remove the pit, but Malik slaps his hand away and he must blush and bear it as Malik reaches inside his mouth, fingertips petting Altair's tongue as he finds the date pit and tosses it to the floor. Malik eats one himself before feeding Altair a second. “I don't want to taste another man on you,” he says, watching Altair chew.

“I told you,” Altair says after Malik takes the second pit, “we usually don't see men at this hour.”

“Well,” Malik says. He rests back in the cushions. It opens a gap between them, and Malik reaches under the skirts and takes Altair in hand, beginning to fondle him the rest of the way to hardness with date juice and Altair’s own spit. “Any new talents for me today?” Malik says as Altair hisses. “Some secret skill you made up a few seconds ago while you stood outside the door?”

“No.”

The amusement shines in Malik’s face, though his tone remains serious. “No?”

Altair tries to slow his heartbeat, stave off the reaction Malik elicits from him with unexpected deftness. “I don’t know what you want.”

“Better.” Malik gathers the pearly drops leaking from Altair’s prick as he strokes, then able to move his hand faster. Altair’s hips shudder and slide the rest of the way onto his lap, urging into that touch. He grabs the back of the chair when Malik calmly continues, as though he isn’t in the process of stroking Altair off, “Your enthusiasm was amusing, to a point, but I have little patience for those who anticipate my needs and wants.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“This was more fun. For me, that is, but your comfort is not a priority of mine.”

“Because there is no point paying money to see to my needs,” he tries to reason with him, feeling close, balls drawing up tight against his body. He can’t force Malik to stop, but… “Some try to pleasure us out of pity, but you don’t pity me.”

Malik smirks. “I would not dare.”

“Then you get off thinking you can make me feel whatever you want.” He shouldn’t say that, and he only hopes Yazid isn't listening in. He'll be reprimanded for speaking to a patron this way, but he doesn't care, can't stop himself. “Does it get you hard believing you have that power over me, Malik?”

“Believe I have, Altair?” Malik says softly, responding in kind with his name. “You are mine. Mine to pleasure myself with and mine to use however I want. And you are easily manipulated. I know I have that power over you."

Altair bites back a groan. He drives forward, helplessly seeking that friction, when Malik stops. The hand moves away, dropping him a moment away from release. Altair opens his eyes. He stares as Malik casually wiping his hand on the dress.

He blushes, hard. In anger, humiliation. Painful arousal. “You don’t come here because it’s the cheapest brothel that will let you in with blood on your robes,” he snaps, voice dropping to a harsh whisper. “You did not ask I wear the dress the first time, only after you knew me—how many arrogant men do you know who you wish every day you could dress up and take like this? Tear down their pride by wrapping them in silk? But instead you do it to me because you are too much of a coward to do it to them. Well? Have I been sufficiently humbled, master?” Altair bites on the brothel language. He leans in, hands on the back of his chair to steady himself. “Did you really think it would work?”

“No.” And Altair stills, because Malik's hand is on his thigh, easing up the fabric of the dress. “Of course not. You wear it well,” he says evenly, his eyes slightly narrowed and Altair can't look away.

“It is my job to wear it well,” Altair argues. “Even if it is only intended to shame me.”

“A waste of time,” Malik says. He pulls Altair down with his other hand, a possessive nip at his ear and neck. “Be quiet. You wear it well because you enjoy it,” he says, humming as his hand wraps back around Altair’s cock under the skirts. Altair falls forward with a moan, head on Malik’s shoulder. “Listen to you,” Malik says, slowly moving his hand until Altair makes small open-mouthed gasps into his hood. “You really do like it, don’t you? Perhaps today we can see what a fine whore you are without this useless pride. Stand,” he says in a harder voice, letting Altair go.

He does stand, swaying and feeling weak as Malik reaches into one of his pouches. Altair hears it before he sees it, as Malik produces the line of bells he took last time. Malik dangles them, letting Altair take in the sound. “Hold your dress up,” he says. After a moment’s hesitation, Altair does, blinking as he uncovers himself for Malik’s scrutiny. “And the organ,” Malik says, and Altair holds his erection against his stomach.

He can’t see well over the skirts, but he holds his breath as Malik reaches forward with the strip of cloth and ties it snug around the base of Altair’s cock, just above his balls. Altair stares at the wall, hearing the bells shift when he shudders. Malik laughs. “Very handsome. How does that feel? Not too constricting?”

“I thought you disliked the sound,” Altair says tightly.

“It has its merits,” Malik responds, and Altair sees that his erection is also full and heavy under his robes. Malik leans back, his serrated grin deepening. “There is a jar of grease somewhere in the room, if I remember. Get it for me.”

An emotion like panic floods through Altair’s body, pounding in his throat. Small movements roll the bells, eliciting tiny jingles, but obvious motion would have them chiming merrily. Altair holds himself absolutely still. “I don’t know where it is,” he lies.

“Search, then. And you may drop the skirts, if you wish.”

That he cannot endure it is Altair’s first thought—the mortification rises before him like an unassailable adversary. But he looks at Malik and knows it isn’t up for debate: the decision is either to continue or call Yazid to end the session. Yazid has a favorably preemptive attitude concerning the protection of assets, but it will be Altair who feels the brothel owner's wrath if he ends the session for anything inconsequential. It's not as though Malik has asked for something life-threatening.

It paralyzes him for a moment—Altair doesn’t want to stop, he just doesn’t want to do this. The bells are far more demanding than the dress. Malik raises an eyebrow at his refusal. “I could have you dance for me again.”

Altair clenches his jaw. This is his fault. He had to antagonize the man, had to keep pushing. “One moment,” he says and holds himself with dignity as he searches, the jingles following him around the room.

Malik is chuckling when Altair returns with the jar, and Altair doesn’t attempt to hide his expression. “Yes, you feel like you’re suffering now, but think on what I just witnessed,” Malik says, in what would be called affable on anyone else. “A sturdy man with all the conceited posturing of a veteran warrior—which I know you have more experience in than probably even your pimp knows—imagine that man stalking around a room in women’s clothes, jingling like the collar around a pet kitten.” He smiles against his knuckles. “I will treasure that.”

“Does it worry you?” Altair says.

“That you sound like a kitten when you swagger? Not especially.”

“My fighting experience.”

“No,” Malik says, and it is so certain, so absolutely assured. It just is, and it wipes the hint of a sneer from Altair’s face. Malik holds his hand out, and Altair gives him the jar with his eyes lowered.

“I have no preference to how you are prepared,” Malik says, examining the jar. “Over my lap, the table, on your hands and knees, against the wall… Are you partial to any of them?”

At last Altair says, “Whatever would best please you.”

Malik’s eyebrows rise. “Correct,” he says. “Though I could do without the sullen tone.”

The skin across Altair’s nose ridges in a scowl. “I was not—”

“Or the insolence.” Malik stands and gestures to the room around them. “But this time I did want to know what you want.”

Altair wets his lips and checks the room. Malik watches him think it over, so he tries not to stare at any one place. Finally, he nods at the wall. “There,” he says, and Malik jerks his head in the direction, directing him to take position.

He swallows and walks past him, hesitating when he stands before the wall and receives no further orders. He decides to remain with his back to Malik and shifts his feet apart for stability, keenly aware of the rub of the carpet beneath his feet. He leans in with his palms at head height against the wall, and he lowers his forehead, closes his eyes and breathes. He wants to be able to brace against whatever is coming, but he wants it to please Malik as well. That alone keeps him off balance, the challenge to get it right, that today it actually matters to him.

But Malik has not spoken yet. Slowly, Altair looks over his shoulder. “Like this?” he asks, trying to sound certain but shifting his shoulders and legs to ease into the position.

Malik’s eyes jump to his. He hadn’t expected Altair to look around, Altair thinks. It’s so easy to see the mask Malik wears after catching him scrambling to put it back on. “Almost,” Malik says. With a few quiet steps he’s close enough Altair senses the heat from his body behind him, then Malik’s hand twines around his and pulls it off the wall. He turns Altair over before pressing snug against him, with Altair’s back to the wall.

“And what of this?” Malik says. He holds Altair’s wrist above their heads and slides his free hand down Altair’s thigh, encouraging him to lift his foot. “I actually had not considered fucking you against the wall,” he adds, grinding forward, dragging the dress fabric over Altair’s skin—the muscles flex involuntarily in Altair’s arms, his mouth hanging open to pant, throat bared. The hard rise beneath Malik’s robe nudges under Altair’s balls, jingling the bells in tandem.

This is the only option—the one Altair had not anticipated—that leaves him exposed under Malik’s piercing gaze, a mere breath away. “This is not what I imagined,” he says. He lifts his leg more, held by Malik’s arm, and hooks it partially over his hip.

“I know.” Malik almost smiles. “It’s pretty,” he says, “but I don’t intend to hold you up all morning.” He stands back and Altair’s leg slides to the floor, along with what feels like the bottom of his stomach when Malik returns to the cushioned chair and pats his lap. Oh.

Altair can’t bring himself to arrogantly meet Malik’s stare. He lowers himself over Malik’s legs, wavering on how to bend, where his body should be to maintain balance until Malik touches the small of his back, pushing him down till he rests entirely over Malik’s lap. “This is the way you wished to avoid most, wasn’t it?” says Malik above him, stroking the naked skin on Altair’s spine.

Altair shudders. He knows Malik can feel his gasps but he can’t slow his breathing; his mind is suddenly calm but his body is not. He grips the edge of the chair and bites back against panic. “Yes.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Reflect on it.” Malik holds Altair’s bare shoulder, steadying him. “That you have no reason tells me you aren’t thinking enough.” Altair closes his eyes. The bottom of his dress is pulled over his legs for Malik to stroke his rear, though with surprising gentleness. Altair lets his head fall and feels the rest of his body become loose, held up by Malik’s thighs.

“I did not want to feel weak,” says Altair, emboldened. He remembers honesty seemed to appease Malik in their last encounter. “But how much worse could it get, at this stage?”

That loses him any earned approval. “Much,” Malik says, landing a warning slap to his ass before opening the grease jar.


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