Office Romance

By Kat Reitz & kumiko


A summer job. Junior year in college, and his parents had suggested he get a summer job. But he'd just *had* to get a job that wasn't fast-food. So when he'd heard about an opening at Khushrenada Corp from the department's head, he'd neatly printed his resume and mailed it over.

And been struck that they'd set up an interview for his application. Was it the grades he was maintaining that had made them want to hire him, or his field of study in business law? Even though the job probably wasn't anything more than that of an over-hyped janitor, the pay and the *status* of having worked there, such an elite place!

The first thing that struck him upon entering were that the acoustics of the large front hall -- with arched glass and steel ceiled, vaulted in mimicry of a great cathedral -- were terrific. For every step he took he could hear it echo behind him, as if there were a hundred more of him following after himself.

It surely made for grand entrances. Down at the sleek steel and aluminum secretary's desk at the far end of the hall all three women looked up as one, fixing his entering form with eyes that didn't seem to really see him.

All three women were auburn-haired, in different styles. But the face was in triplicate, as were the clothes. "You must be Mr. Marquise, here for the three o-clock interview?"

"Yes," he said, a little unnerved by the similarity between them. He straightened his tie and unconsciously smoothed his hair back behind his ears.

The second one, with hair cropped in close feathers of red against her scalp, handed him a folder, while the third pressed something -- a switch, perhaps? - that opened ominous sliding glass doors. "Take this with you. Second door on the right; Mrs. Une will be interviewing you."

"Thank you," he replied, a trembling hand reaching for the folder. What was it about the place? It was all so incredibly intimidating somehow. Hard to believe that someone actually *lived* here -- that it wasn't some kind of church. /That's it... it looks like my church... maybe that's why I don't want to make any noise.../

He found the door and knocked, entering when he heard a stern female voice call, "Come!"

"Ma'am? I'm... I'm Zechs Marquise. I'm here to interview for the household assistant position?"

The woman he faced was stern-looking, dressed in a sharp grey suit. Her plain brown hair was bound up in buns at the sides of her hair, matching grey ribbons holding them neatly in place. She peered at him over the top of wire rimmed glasses, dubious of his claim for a moment. "Sit down, Mr. Marquise; and tell me what you think the position of Household assistant would require of you."

"W-well..." he stammered, "the notice for it said light household duties, some cleaning, some filing... I assure you that I'm very fit and I can work hard at whatever you want me to do."

"Are you a patient man? Can you follow orders precisely?" while he sat down in a stylized, metal and leather chair she walked around him, behind him and to the side. "tell me."

"Patient?" he repeated, trying to look ahead and not follow her with his eyes. "Yes, I'm patient. And I'm very good at following directions. I'm the youngest of three -- everyone's always telling me what to do." He chanced a look up at her and smiled weakly, but it was obvious that his attempt at levity wasn't working.

In fact, she seemed to almost not like it at all -- disapproval gleamed in chill brown eyes. "What hours would you be willing to work?"

"Any that you needed me to," he said promptly, trying to make up for the gaffe. "I'm completely flexible."

"Completely? How far do you live, and do you have your own transportation?"

"W-well... I live about five miles away and I have a car. Getting here wouldn't be a problem."

"We would need you to be able to arrive at a moment's notice, if you're needed. You would have to come and go freely; if it's urgent, we would not want time wasted while you explain 'why' to someone. do you live alone?"

"I live in the garage apartment at my parent's place," he told her, praying it wouldn't disqualify him. He really needed this job! "I have my own entrance -- I can come and go as I please."

"The car, too, is yours -- not borrowed off of your parents?" Odd, odd questions to ask a prospective employee, but it was, then again, an odd job.

"No," he said, frowning slightly, "it's mine. I can make the hours, really. Any hours."

"Mr. Khushrenada often has parties on friday and saturday nights -- you would be expected to work then," she told him solemnly, finally moving to sit down at her stern desk instead of hovering behind him.

/I already knew weekends would be a luxury that I couldn't afford.../

"FIne," he said. "I can do both with no trouble."

"If you don't own a good tuxedo, one will be supplied to you. You will be required to dress neatly at all times." And the look she gave him said that what he was wearing wasn't acceptable.

He looked briefly but guiltily down at his suit. "I... I don't own... a tuxedo... ma'am."

"One will be supplied to you. If necessary, we can supply you with a suitable uniform." Apparently his lack of money wasn't going to be a hinderance in his being chosen for the position.

"Thank you, ma'am," he said, feeling excruciatingly humbled.

"You will also be required to sign these release forms, commitment forms -- you will agree to work for Mr. Khushrenada for eight weeks minimum." A sheaf of papers was produced, and a fresh ball-point pen, both slid across the desk towards him.

He looked at her, apprehension showing in clear, azure eyes. "So... if I sign these... I can have the position?" he asked tentatively.

"Yes. You can go to Mr Khushrenada's tailor and get fitted for a tuxedo and uniform; just tell the man that you were sent there because of this position." She folded her hands neatly in her lap, watching him pick up the pens. "I apologize for the number of forms, but the last Household assistant leapt from a window at one of the business parties. You're allowed to mingle with the guests and serve, but not drink unless Mr Khushrenada approves it directly."

Zechs felt his mouth go dry and he slipped a little when putting his signature to the first page. Looking up at her slowly he said, "Leapt... from a window...?"

"He became disgustingly drunk and thought he could walk out of it as if it were a door; we had no idea when we hired him that the boy had such a drinking problem." Stern eyes didn't waver in the least from watching him sign.

"Oh," Zechs said weakly, "I... hardly ever drink, myself." /Did she have to tell me that! So I'm replacing a dead man? What a way to begin a job.../

"That's good to know." Her eyes scanned over him a final time. "Occasionally Mr. Khushrenada becomes ill with fatigue; would you be willing to tend to him if he requires or requests your aid?"

"To Mr. Khushrenada himself?" Zechs asked, amazed. "Oh, well, of course. I'll do whatever I can for him." The very idea that he might even *see* Treize Khushrenada, millionaire several times over and captain of a dozen industries, was exciting, let alone actually get to *tend* to him -- whatever that meant!

He finished signing the last form and pushed them across the desk towards Mrs. Une. There had been so many that he hadn't bothered to read most of them. "Here you go," he said, "all signed."

She checked, making sure that all twenty seven pages bore the man's signature, and then she slipped them away into her desk after pulling the twelfth sheet free of the rest. That was put into a different drawer on the other side of her workspace. "You are now, for all purposes, Mr. Khushrenada's personal assistant. I'm going to issue you a beeper, that you will keep at all times, set to vibrate, and then write an explanation for you to take to the tailor."

"Thank you, ma'am!" he said gratefully. "I'll do my very best for you -- and for Mr. Khushrenada. You can count on me."

"I hope I can," she murmured, getting up to open a cabinet that had previously seemed to be part of the crisp metal-covered wall. There was a tray that she pulled out, with numbered slots and beepers. The only one with a beeper in it was number thirteen, and it was plucked deftly from it's home to be handed to Zechs. "It's default setting is vibrate. When it goes off, there will be no message for you. You are simply to come here immediately."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, taking the small device. "And do I report to you, or to someone else?"

"Eventually you will report to Mr. Khushrenada," she said, moving to her desk to lean over it, writing on an small, neat pad of white paper. "For the first few times, when you come in, the secretaries will tell you where to go. Mr. Khushrenada lives in the penthouse of this building, so you'll soon become very familiar with the layout."

"Yes, ma'am. Is this the note I give to the tailor?" he said, accepting the small piece of paper.

"Yes. Tell him what your job is, and give the note to him; the clothes will be ready at seven tomorrow morning. You will report to the secretaries at eight. I expect you fully dressed." Swift words, as she moved to the door.

"I'll be here, ma'am. Thank you so much for giving me a chance. You won't regret it, really." He held out his hand as he approached the door.

A firm crisp shake -- it was only once she'd let go of his hand that he realized her fingers were as chill as the metal of the doorknob. "I hope I won't. Good day to you, Mr. Marquise."

Zechs entered the tailor's shop at exactly 7am the next morning. Actually, he'd been there at 6:45, just to be sure, and waited in the cold until he'd seen the man turn around his "open" sign.

He walked into the shop, surprised and grateful for the intense warmth within, and smiled at the owner. "I was told to give you this," he said, holding out the note. "I'm the new household assistant at the Khushrenada estate."

The owner was a short-ish man, a little haggardly tired looking. "You wanted that job...?" the man asked, shaking his head. "I was told you were a little taller than Mr. Khushrenada, and a little broader, so hopefully what I've prepared won't require many adjustments. Get up on the stool there while I get the tuxedo."

Zechs did as he was told, climbing onto a small, black three-legged stool and looking around the shop. It was small, impeccably neat, and without any obvious merchandise whatsoever. There were no suits on racks, waiting to be picked up, no suits on mannequins, for display, no sign that any work was being done on clothing at all. /He must keep *everything* in the back,/ Zechs thought. /Strange.../

The man came forwards from the back door with a crisp tuxedo, settled neatly on a hanger that was quickly hung up on the one pole that jutted from the wall. "I hope you didn't take the job just for the money; it's not worth it if it's just for the money. Money's a hollow reward."

"Well... the money was certainly a part of it," Zechs said. "It pays a lot better than making hamburgers or being a lifeguard. There's nothing wrong with wanting money, is there?"

"Take your shirt off and put on this one," the man ordered crisply, shaking the pleated white tuxedo shirt out sharply. "don't *ever* think money's worth that job."

Zechs slid out of his shirt and put on the new one, buttoning it carefully and trying not the wrinkle any of the precise creases. "What do you mean? Is there something really horrible about it?" he asked the man.

The look the tailor gave him was almost as dubious as the look Mrs. Une had given him the day before. "I hope you're getting more than just money, and that's all I'm going to say. If it's just the money, it wasn't worth it."

Frowning as he finished buttoning the shirt, Zechs asked, "Well, what else is there to get? I mean, aside from a letter of recommendation if I do a good job? Is making money what jobs are all about?"

"You're going to have to *want* to do the job, to *like* it, and I don't think you know half of what you signed yourself in for, boy," the tailor sighed, handing Zechs the pants next. "Not half."

The man was aggravating. He kept saying the same thing, over and over, and not really getting down to specifics. Zechs tried to force the issue as he stepped into the slim-fitting pants. "Does this have something to do with the last guy?" he asked, "the guy who killed himself? Is that what you're talking about?"

"*He* realized what he'd signed himself into. He only sealed it, though. stupid -- you need to get more than money if you're going to do that, I always tell them, but *no-one* listens to me. I'm the original speaker on how money can harm you. But no-one listens.... put on the jacket."

Zechs did, lifting his long hair out from under the collar and staring at the man. "What do you mean 'he only sealed it'? Sealed what?"

"What he signed." That was told him as if he were the *stupidest* man in the world, to not understand. then the tailor stepped back, shaking his head. 'Tuxedo fits you well. the uniforms will, too. I'll bring them out. best put the uniform on now."

Zechs scowled at the man's retreating back, wonder what on *earth* he could be talking about. /Must just be old and bitter -- thinks everything's horrible..../

Moments later he returned with an armful of clothes -- four hangers, each one covered over in opaque plastic. "This is your uniform; they can be washed in the washing machine, put in the dryer, press them before wearing. Mr Khushrenada likes to see neat."

"So I've been told," Zechs said, eyeing maroon pants and vest with a black shirt to go with it. The vest was embroidered around the edges with a strange and intricate design Zechs had never seen before, all stitched in gold thread.

"He likes things flashy too, I see," the blond remarked, slipping into the outfit and looking into the mirror in back of him.

"He's vain," the tailor shrugged. "Likes all of his employees to look perfect. to 8be* perfect."

Well, it's a tall order," Zechs said, smoothing down the lapels on the vest, "but I'll do my best." He stared at himself in the mirror and shivered. /Was that other boy less than perfect? Is that why he threw himself out the window...?/

"If you wouldn't, they wouldn't have hired you," he was told. "Don't quit before the eight weeks, though. Don't break the contract. Mr. Khushrenada doesn't *let* people break their contracts."

"I don't plan to," Zechs said, stepping down from the stool. "I really need the job. Why would I quit?"

"Most like the job until they have to tend to Mr. Khushrenada," the tailor smiled. "He gets very tired -- the works exhausts him sometimes, since there's so much to control and keep watch on. Sometimes his assistants all but feed him. He's a morose man."

"Maybe I can cheer him up," Zechs said, not at all sure he could do anything of the sort. "Why's he morose if he's so rich?"

"He can't get what he wants with money. No one could," the tailor chuckled, the sound almost vindictive as he pressed the other uniforms and the tuxedo into Zechs's hands. "Best leave now -- you won't want to be late."

"Oh, right," Zechs muttered as he was all but pushed out of the shop. He turned and looked back at it once he was on the sidewalk, but the tailor had vanished into the back room, leaving the shop completely deserted.

The car drive over there was a quick one; and this time when he pulled up to the building, with it's neatly packed parking lot, he noted it looked even more like a church from the outside. The shining steel and glass, metal layered together; the building should have drawn in extreme heat, covered in what it was, but the temperature didn't seem to rise any as he strode in through the arched doors and into the front hallway.

The triplets were working again, and even as he approached their desk the short-haired one rose to her feet. "Mr. Marquise? Mrs. Une is unavailable to be here today. I will be showing you the upper floors and the penthouse."

"All right," Zechs said, giving her a timid smile that was not returned. "What will I be doing today?"

"Learning Mr Khushrenada's file system. You will meet with him at tea-time, because you will be serving him." Crisp words as she led the way through into the next hallway, her sharp heels click-clicking over the tiled floor.

Zechs followed obediently, admiring the enormous paintings that hung on the walls. They all seemed to have a biblical feeling to them, and most involved people being done away with in dramatic and gruesome ways.

/Filing -- how exciting... but I'll actually get to meet the great man himself! And it's better than polishing silver, I guess.../

Or mopping the floors.

The elevator she lead him to was tucked away in on gleaming wall, the doors parting unexpectedly for them. Together they entered the empty space, and she keyed in a code for the top floor. "Mr Khushrenada will give you your clearance code for this elevator in due time. This is the only one that will take you to the penthouse."

"So, will I be seeing a lot of him?" Zechs asked, not hiding the awe in his voice well at all.

"Weren't you told that?" she asked him, not even watching the numbers tick away steadily. then the elevator stopped, she tapped in a different code and the doors opened into a short hallway that was such a sharp contract to the cold steel and glass of the lower levels. Not a window in that short hallway; dark grey-black marble floors, richly panelled wooden walls covered in religious tapestries, lit only by the occasional pale yellow wall light, beautiful things of wrought iron.

Zechs was awed into silence by the sudden hush of the atmosphere. He trailed after the woman, eyes drawn to each scene on the walls. Angels, sages, the Kingdom of Heaven.

For the first time it struck him that his father, an anglican priest, would surely approve of Mr. Khushrenada's taste in art.

Down the hall to a door-way that was opened carefully, the woman's hand light on the elegant gilded lever. It seemed, for a door so heavy, to swing inward with surprising ease for her.

They were in an office, decorated tastefully in woods, fancifully shaped iron, and leather cushions. The filing cabinets were *huge* wooden structures that threatened to take over the left side of the room. "Everything is perfectly alphabetical."

"This is some office," Zechs muttered under his breath, taking everything in with a slightly stunned look. Everything was *rich* and *opulent* and built on a grand scale. How had he ever managed to get a job that included working *here*?

"What are they files of?" he asked, gazing at the massive cabinets.

"That is precisely what you are not going to pry into, the woman snapped. "They are all sealed, and you are not to open any of them."

"Sorry," the blond boy said, somewhat bewildered by her touchiness. "I won't even look that way, really," he added. "So what *will* I be doing today?"

She moved to the neat desk, piled with folders -- all of them carefully sealed at all three sides. Some in red, some in blue, some green, some black. "You will be organizing these in alphabetical order until Mr. Khushrenada comes in. That door there," and she pointed to one of two on the other side of the room, "is the one he will come in from."

He regarded it carefully. "Yes, ma'am. *That* door. Um... where shall I put these once their alphabetized?"

"Into the filing cabinets. Do *not* break any of the seals. This is all very confidential information." There was no warning of what would happen were he to break a seal -- and yet her tone said it would probably get him fired.

"Yes ma'am," he said, properly sobered. She left him and for a moment he just stood and looked at the view from the desk. Everything around him radiated power, almost tangible in it's intensity. It made him more than a little nervous to be there and for some reason he felt suddenly small and inconsequential when compared to the massive file cases and large, executive desk. "Better get to work," he whispered to himself, wanting to hear any comforting voice in that profound stillness -- even his own.

The files were all marked with names, last name first, followed by first and middle name. He wondered about the colors and picked up the first, for "Armstrong, George." He dropped it immediately. It was warm -- nearly hot -- to the touch! Deciding it would be best to make piles on the desk, he turned that one over and reached for the next name, "Blair, Jeanne."

It was black and icy cold.

Each colored file had a feel to it, though he realized it was probably his mind playing tricks on him -- how could a plain manila folder had a *temperature*?!

It all seemed very intense, each folder -- there were more green and black than any other color. Each black was crisply cold to feel, each green almost stiflingly heavy! The blues were the only ones that seemed almost normal.

And then he saw a tab that read "Marquise, Zechs", blue-tabbed.

He froze, unable to breathe for a moment, before forcing himself to relax. /Of course he's got a file on me. He's my employer -- all employers keep personnel files... Maybe blue is for people who work for him./

He picked it up and, as with the other blue files, it felt normal. Slipping it into the pile after the warm, red file of "Ludovitch, Sarah," he shook his head a bit and went on sorting.

Engrossed as he was in his sorting, he didn't notice when the desk he stood in front of became occupied. Only that a rich voice, accented from a hundred places reached his ears and spoke in precise pronunciation, "Good morning, Mr. Marquise."

Zechs jumped, surprised at the sudden voice and it's closeness. Clutching a pair of cold, black files, he looked up, slightly panicked and saw a man behind the desk.

But this was no ordinary man.

Everything about him radiated control. Not a hair was out of place, not a spot or wrinkle on the exquisitely tailored suit, not a line on the smooth, achingly handsome face.

He struggled for breath and then whispered, "G-good morning... Mr. Khushrenada?"

"That's right." That chill, rich voice had a gentle tone of confirmation to it as he gave an inclination of a nod to Zechs. Long fingers curled over the ends of the arms on the high-backed chair as his new employer relaxed into it, a movement that Zechs didn't even see until it was complete. "You're the new household assistant; I hope you will be less trouble than the prior position holder."

"I'll... I'll do my very best for you, sir," Zechs said, watching those fingers, flexing almost like a cat's claws. Then he looked at the man's face, deep, intensely blue eyes like spotlights on him, no doubt seeing right through to the innermost part of him. "I certainly don't plan to kill myself, sir."

"That really was... most inconvenient," the man purred intensely, lifting his chin a little to better peer into Zechs'. "When a client enters the room, I want you to leave and not return until you are called back."

"Certainly, sir," Zechs said, the feeling of being pinned by those eyes growing stronger. "I'll be very discreet."

"Good; my clients appreciate discreetness. You will see people that you've only seen on television, Zechs; in the papers. I want no drop-jawed fumbling. You're at the top of your class right now, and I hope you have the common sense to match it." Those eyes didn't turn from him -- didn't even blink as the observation of him continued.

"Yes, sir," Zechs said, wondering what could be going through the man's mind, hoping he wasn't coming across as young or stupid, even though he felt every bit that way.

"I'll be very professional, sir. You can count on me."

"I hope that will prove to be true. Finish with those files, Zechs, and then I'll find something else for you to do." Firm instructions as he almost lazily pulled open a drawer, a sleek lap-top pulled out to sit atop the blotter on the desk.

"Yes, sir, I'll just get these out of your way," Zechs said, trying to scoop up the files and clear them off the desk. They were heavy, much heavier than he thought they should be, the strange feeling of warmth and cold mixing in his hands and making him shiver. Carefully, he sat them on the floor beside the filing cabinets. As he set the pile down, he could have sworn he heard a small shriek from one of the black files.

"Good." The approval the man gave was odd -- but expected from one who wielded such power so easily. Like a trainer patting his dog's head. The computer could be heard whirring and gently beeping to life, and while it brought up the system, Mr. Khushrenada settled into his chair again, panther-like, with a smooth, powerful restlessness.

"Tell me, Zechs, what are your goals in life?"

"*My* goals?" Zechs asked, suddenly very self-conscious. "I... I'd like to be a lawyer someday. Contract law. That's what I'm planning anyway. I take the law school entrance exam this coming fall." He opened a drawer where most of the files were red and it was if he had opened an oven door. He could actually feel his hair stir in the breath of heat convection coming from it.

"Contract law. How very interesting -- have you been taught how far back binding contracts go?" The intensity of cold blue eyes seemed to tone down the heat of that drawer, as Mr. Khushrenada looked at him.

Zechs shivered again and murmured, "No... I haven't taken any law classes yet. I'll have my first one next year..."

"How far do they go back, sir?"

"Adam and Eve."

"I... I beg your pardon, sir?"

"I thought you father was a minister," his employer's voice rumbled, a rich laugh. "Adam and Eve broke the first verbal contract."

Something about that laugh was eerie, and Zechs felt a trickle of cold fear move down his spine. "Oh -- of course sir," he said, smiling weakly. "You're right about that. Uh... how did you know my father was a minister?"

"I have sources -- wouldn't you expect me to look into a candidate before I hire him? Background checks and such." Mr Khushrenada tapped a few keys on his lap-top to lock it in a screen saver mode, and drew himself upright from the chair without any obvious intent.

"Yes, that makes sense, sir, excuse my stupidity. OF course, any employer would do background checks..." /Just how do you do one that includes a person's parents and what they do for a living?/

He slid the last drawer into place and turned toward the desk again. "I'm finished with the files, sir. What would you like me to do next?"

"Get me a glass of wine. The bar is in my living room, on the left," he drawled, moving around the desk to open one of the drawers himself. A black sealed file was opened, the stickers broken with slender pale fingers.

Zechs forced himself not to look at it, worried that he'd be thought to be snooping, but he couldn't help but noticed the sudden coldness of the air that rose from it as he moved towards the door.

He went through it into a room of absolute gothic splendor, the walls lined with velvet of a deep scarlet color and tables with strange, exotic-looking objects on them. One was a small brass machine, encased in a dome of glass, which whirred silently and seemed to emit a pale, blue mist that dissipated at the top of the dome. Another was circle of silver with a pentagram in the middle, suspended on a silvery thread from tiny pole.

Spotting the wine, glowing ruby red in a crystal decanter, he walked to it and carefully poured out a glass.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing, though, was the animal curled up before the unlit gas fireplace. Shimmering white, with crisp black strips, the size of a medium sized dog, curled up sleepily. As Zechs moved past it again black tipped ears flickered, and it looked up at the blonde man through sharp blue eyes. It wasn't quite a cat -- bigger, heavier, and yet there were differences in features, too.

"Nice kitty," Zechs said, inching past it, breath held. There was something about it's eyes that reminded him of his employer, almost as if Mr. Khushrenada were actually in the room with him, looking at him through this animal's eyes.

Perhaps it was the extreme blueness. Perhaps not.

When the animal rose it was in a rush, standing for a moment before padding across the marble floor. Nails clicking with every step closer to Zechs, finally stopping to rumble at him, sniffing one polished shoe.

The blond boy held his breath, praying that he wouldn't be bitten, watching its sleek lines. It's breath was like ice on him and it took all his will not to pull his foot away. "Easy," he breathed, "easy..."

"Rrr." Somehow, the animal knew he was supposed to have been there -- because with a whuff of breath, and then a sharp look at him, it clicked over to it's place before the fire-place.

Allowing him safe passage back into the office only three steps away.

He was still trying to get his breath back as he stepping into the office once more, concentrating only on not spilling the wine, though his hand was shaking badly. He put it down on the desk, ridiculously happy to be rid of the burden and murmured, "Your wine, sir."

"Is something wrong?" that smooth voice asked him, fingers sweeping out to take the glass mere moments after it had touched the wood. "You look ill."

"No, sir, I'm fine," Zechs lied. "I just... wasn't sure how to act around your..." He searched for the appropriate term, failing utterly. "Your pet, sir."

"Lilith, you mean. She won't hurt you." There was no assurance granted, though, that she was harmless as a fly or anything else someone defending a vicious pet would say; because it was obvious that 'Lilith' could and would hurt people. "You'll become quite attached to her as time goes on."

He wanted to ask about the name, a rather odd one if taken in the light of biblical history, but he merely nodded and waited for another order.

"I have a client arriving momentarily; you will let him in, see him seated, and then wait in the living room with Lilith until I call you back." The lap top was being folded closed again, but he paused for a moment, looking up at Zechs with the oddest half smile. "Do you type, Zechs?"

The idea of going back into the room with Lilith was not at all appealing to him, but he simply nodded and said, "Yes, sir. Seventy words a minute."

"Take dictation?"

"If you mean shorthand, sir, no. I'm sorry, I don't know that." /Too many summers as a lifeguard.../

"Do you think you could type it?" The half-smile curled a little more, Mr Khushrenada's agelessly handsome face falling into thought.

"Oh, yes -- I could do that," Zechs said, smiling just a little back at the man. He looked far kinder with that smile, even if it was only a mild one.

"Good. I have a letter I want you to type for me after this. Now, get the door."

And order given moments before the sound of a light, hesitant knock sounded.

/How did he do that?/ Zechs wondered, looking around for a hidden camera but not finding one. He walked to the door and opened it quietly.

Stepping into the room was a well dressed man with a grim expression.

"Mr. Khushrenada," he started, just as Zechs recognized him as a *prominent* member of parliament -- only to be stopped by Mr. Khushrenada from speaking further.

"Sit down, Mr. Lloyd. Sit down for a moment, and -- Zechs, fetch a glass of wine for Mr. Lloyd."

"Yes, sir," he said, heading reluctantly into the living room again. Skirting Lilith, he poured another glass of the glowing liquid and took it back into the room. "Here you are, Mr. Lloyd."

"Thank you, son," Mr. Lloyd uttered, taking the glass with clammy fingers from Zechs' hand. two long sips, and he set it down on the desk, looking at Mr. Khushrenada's almost smug expression. "Sir, I--"

"Take your leave, Zechs," Mr. Khushrenada said, a gentle reminder.

"Yes, sir," he said, hurrying into the living room again and closing the door to the office.

He looked around the room and wondered what he should do. Seeing the bookshelves, he went over to peruse the titles, but found they were all in languages that he didn't understand -- some whose alphabets were completely strange to him.

There was one book in english, though -- a worn, well-loved copy of the bible, though it was piled under un-intelligible tomes, all gilded and beautifully bound. There were a few newspapers too, all from that very day. And of course, Lilith's watchful eye.

He picked up a newspaper and settled on the sofa, well away from the animal. "Just be calm and don't attract her attention," he murmured to himself.

"Rrrar." His *voice* drew her in like a magnet -- moving from the floor before the fire-place, with striking swiftness to the sofa, jumping up onto it to settle beside him. Eyes daring, with every second that passed, to tell her to move.

"Ah!" He tried not to gasp too audibly as she jumped next to him, uneasy at the look. As her fur pressed against him, he thought how strange it was that she was so cold. Unlike other animals that would have felt warm against his leg, this one felt as though she'd just stepped out of a winter night. "Nice girl," he said warily.

Her chin settled atop his thigh with another 'whuff' of breath, those sharp blue eyes sliding closed now that she was sure he wouldn't be able to touch anything else or move.

Which left him with the newspaper in his hand, and his eyes, roving over the decorum on the walls. Such an odd mixture of things from *all* religions.

It wasn't until a good twenty minutes had passed, and he'd gone through every inch of the paper, that he noticed the odd painting at the far end of the room. It depicted three steps, made of white veined marble. There was nothing else in the picture, only the steps, with an diffuse light shining down on them. With a start, he realized that the steps in the picture were actually built into the wall to the left side of the picture -- that the steps were actually there in the room with him.

Lilith made a warning noise at Zechs even as the door opened, Mr Khushrenada striding smoothly into the room with Mr Lloyd right behind him.

"Zechs, put away Mr Lloyd's file; we won't be more than a moment. Close the door behind you."

"Yes, sir," Zechs said, trying to stand up without dumping the heavy animal on the floor. He took the file from his employer and closed the door to the room. Mr. Lloyd had looked oddly excited when he passed him. He search for the 'L' files and put away the blue folder.

It was perhaps three minutes before Mr Lloyd came out of the living room.

His step was lighter, his smile brighter still; and his suit fit better -- or so it seemed, because he walked out of the office with a straight back, a gleaming smile from a face that now barely bore a wrinkle at all.

Zechs stared after him, unable to say a thing. If he hadn't known it was impossible, he would have sworn the man had gone back in time to his mid thirties!

"Zechs -- get me the files on both of the Armisteds," came Mr Khushrenada's voice from the slightly cracked open living room door.

The blond boy swallowed heavily and turned to the files. /I shouldn't ask... it's none of my business... but -- what exactly does he *do*??/

He found the files, green ones that he could barely lift, though they were both fairly slim. "Here... you are, sir..." he managed to get out, muscles straining from the weight.

Mr Khushrenada was seated on the sofa n the living room, Lilith laying beside him, her head in his lap as he stroked over her fur slowly. "Thank you. Get my Laptop -- top drawer, left -- and come in here. I'm going to dictate a notice."

And he took both green files from Zechs one-handed, as if there were no more weight to them than they appeared.

Zechs stared at the files as he backed away, wanting desperately to ask about their strange properties and, at the same time, knowing the wrong questions might very well get him fired.

He walked to the man's desk in the adjoining office and pulled out the sleek, black laptop, carrying it carefully back into the living room and sitting at a small table that stood diagonally from the sofa.

It was apparently already on, and a blank screen with a cursor was waiting for him.

"Ready, sir," he murmured.

"Type in '13lucstar' and open up word," Khushrenada instructed with an easy smile, closing his eyes and letting his lean body melt into the sofa's comfortable leather cushions.

Zechs did as he was told, taking the opportunity to look over at Mr. Khushrenada while the man's eyes were closed. He was the sort of man who seemed comfortable in his skin, whatever he happened to be doing. Zechs couldn't imagine him ever being surprised or ruffled, couldn't imagine him being out of control for a moment and, in a way, he envied him for that poise.

"Yes, sir -- what next?"

"Tell me when you have a new document opened."

A few more keystrokes and the blond murmured, "Got it."

" 'To Mr. and Mrs. Armisted: Your Contract is being called in. Please report immediately, as your services are regretfully required.' Do you have that, Zechs? Hit the print button." All said in a slow, precise tone so he wouldn't miss a word.

Zechs repeated it back to him, to make sure he had gotten it all. It sounded vaguely threatening, but he didn't say anything about it -- it wasn't his job to ask questions. He tapped the print key and heard the sound of a printer from the office.

"Shall I get that for you, sir?" he asked.

"Yes; it's the copy for my records. The Secretaries will mail the copy they receive," he told Zechs, still not moving from his comfortable repose. In fact, the only motion in his body came from his lips and the idle hand that stroked through Lilith's course fur.

Zechs got up and skirted the sofa, moving into the office and searching around for the printer. He didn't find it immediately, but after several minutes of looking found a strange, stone gargoyle-like face on the wall with a sheet of paper hanging from the wide, slit of a mouth. Chancing a look, he saw the letter he'd just typed and removed it, very cautiously, from the stone figure.

"H-Here you are, sir," he said, as he walked back into the living room.

"Does my decorating frighten you, Zechs?" Treize asked in a cool drawl as he opened his eyes, taking the sheet of paper from Zechs and putting it into one of the Armisted's unsealed folders. Zechs could spot a thin stack of forms in each, and a few other similar sheets of paper before Treize reached to the side of the sofa and picked up a sheet of the seals from beside the newspaper. Each one was neatly closed, and then he held them out to Zechs. "Put these back where you found them, then come back here."

Zechs took them, struggling to hide the fact that they felt like lead in his hands and returned them to the file cabinets. He walked back in and stood quietly by the side of the sofa. "Yes, sir?"

"Sit down and tell me what I know you're thinking."

Zechs blinked a few times, then frowned slightly and took the chair opposite the sofa. "I'm... not sure what you mean, sir," he said hesitantly.

"Unless you're a stupid person at heart, Zechs, you probably have a thousand questions. Questions left unanswered could lead to... messy run-ins with curiosity; I prefer to simply answer them." Those striking blue eyes pinned him again, the fingers of his free hand flexing a little atop the arm of the chair as he sat up more, still petting Lilith.

Not knowing what would be too much to ask, Zechs searched for a reasonable question. It was difficult, because most of what he'd seen that morning was anything but reasonable.

"You seem... very fond of religious art, sir. It's unusual to see in a place of business. Do you collect it?"

"If anyone walks through these halls and has a protest to something they see on one of my walls," Khushrenada drawled in a tone that was dripping with arrogance, "then they have come to see the wrong man indeed. I've always been just *fascinated* by the way religion is viewed all over the world."

"Are you... a religious man yourself, sir?" Zechs said, before realizing how personal the question was. /Damn! That probably did it!/ "I'm sorry -- I don't mean to pry!"

"No fear -- you're right. I believe very strongly in religion," he smiled, that same odd half-smile that didn't quite reach his eyes but still softened his expression considerably. "You have a strong sense of self preservation -- but there is not need to walk on eggshells."

Zechs had never heard a statement he disagreed with more. From the odd triplets in the foyer to the strange gargoyle printer, everything in the place seemed designed to intimidate.

"I just... don't want to offend you, sir," Zechs murmured. "Or pry into your personal matters. You seem a very private man, sir."

"I am; but you won't know about any personal matters I don't want you prying into," Zechs was told almost idly by his new employer, as if such a statement shouldn't have been even the least bit shocking. "I think today will be a short workday for you. Sometimes things are slow."

"Have I done something wrong, sir?" Zechs asked, surprised by the idea that he'd be going home early.

"Why would you ask that?"

"Well... you're sending me home already... if I've done something wrong, sir, please tell me! I'll do it right next time, I promise!"

That gained him no chiding, only a rich rumbling laughter from his new employer, a sound that rolled over his ears for moments that were tense for him before he got an actual answer. "The Armisteds will be arriving in four hours. I don't want you here when they arrive; but you're not going home yet."

"Oh," Zechs said, weakly. "Oh, right." He looked at his hands, feeling rather stupid. "Sorry sir," he murmured. "I just want very much to get things right..."

It didn't occur to him until later to wonder how Mr. Khushrenada knew that the people he'd summoned by mail would be arriving in four hours.

"You're doing fine, Zechs," the rich, chill voice assured him, Khushrenada tilting his head down a little to look at something -- it had the odd effect of spilling a few short strands of hair down towards one eye, that were quickly shoved back in place when he looked up again. "Tell me, how long are you looking to stay in my employ?"

Momentarily distracted by those gingery strands, Zechs murmured, "What...? Oh -- at least the summer sir. Longer if you'll have me. I go back to school at the end of September, but my afternoons and weekends are free."

"Good -- I'm always busiest on the weekends. You are aware of the sort of prestige this simple job gives you in the world, don't you?"

"Yes sir," Zechs said promptly. "I'm very honored to have it."

"It's an even trade," Khushrenada smiled. "You're a very respectful young man."

"Thank you, sir," Zechs said, feeling a blush rise to his cheeks and not knowing why. "That's very kind of you to say."

"Why *are* you so? It's such a rarity. Few young men today respect their mother and father, let alone their elders." Odd words to hear from a man who looked oddly youthful.

"I was raised that way, sir," Zechs said, looking up at him. "My father is very strict and demands absolute respect. I... appreciate authority... sir."

"Everyone should bow down to the higher powers," the man mused, voice a little lower toned. "Tell me about yourself. Anything at all; I enjoy hearing people's lives."

"Oh, there's not much to tell," the blond boy said nervously. "I've lived with my parents all my life, been a good student, gone to church on Sunday, all that boring stuff."

"You said you have siblings...?"

"Yes, sir -- an older brother and two older sisters. They all live at home as well."

"Your parents have raised quite the brood, then," Khushrenada chuckled, amused for reasons beyond Zechs' comprehension.

The blond smiled, looking a bit confused. "Yes -- it's quite a houseful when everyone's there. Not peaceful, like this place."

"One can never have the proper amount of peace. I once lived in a place that was even *more* peaceful. Unfortunately, I was forced to... move on," he sighed, patting Lilith's head gently. "You had best get the door to the hall - Catherine has brought up tea."

Just then a light knock came from the door to Zechs's left. He looked back at his employer, who simply smiled at him, and then got up to let in a woman carrying a large tea tray.

Her hair, too, was auburn, though her face was thankfully a different one than that of the redheads. "You may go, Catherine -- Zechs will be serving," Khushrenada dismissed.

Zechs watched her disappear with some anxiety. He had never served tea in his life! His mother had always done that, or his eldest sister. Looking down at the formidable silver tea pot, he took a deep breath and picked it up.

As he poured the tea, the pot gave a soft hissing sound and a pale, amber liquid filled the delicate china cup. It's fragrance was slightly sweet, and a moment later he felt a bit lightheaded from the strength of its vapors. "Here you are, sir," he said, holding out the cup a bit unsteadily.

Graceful fingers caught it from Zechs before any could be spilled by those shaking digits of Zechs'. "You will have to work on your nerves, Zechs, if you want to go into law."

"Yes, sir," Zechs murmured. "May I ask... what kind of tea this is?"
Zechsy (9:28:26 PM): "Something you won't have anywhere but here," Khushrenada told him, taking a slow sip, before tossing a pinch of sugar into it. "A special blend made just for me."

That, thought Zechs, was no doubt true. Everything here seemed to be one-of-a kind. He poured a cup for himself and took a sip. It was spicy, cinnamon with a strangely smoky flavor underneath.

"What shall I do now, sir?" Zechs asked, putting his cup down. "After tea, I mean."

"After tea you will finish organizing any files you haven't put away yet and... perhaps dust in here."

"Yes, sir," Zechs said, taking another sip and feeling a bit dizzy. The room seemed to be moving slightly around him, and when he looked up, he saw a mirror over the sofa that Mr. Khushrenada sat upon -- a mirror that was filling up with mist.

"What... what is *that* sir?" he asked in an unsteady voice.

"Something that helps me keep watch over people I have contracts with -- think of it like a satellite TV for people-watching," Khushrenada smiled, looking absently over his shoulder for a moment, before looking at Zechs again. "You look ill."

"Just... just a little dizzy, sir," Zechs murmured, passing a hand over his forehead. The fumes from the tea seemed to press around him, making him feel almost drunk. The same feeling of relaxation that a few drinks might give someone was passing over him now and he looked at his employer, smiling apologetically. /He really is quite a nice-looking man.../

"Mm, well, you should really drink your tea slowly. Come, sit down beside Lilith and I," he instructed.

"I... I beg your pardon, sir?" Zechs said, not knowing at all if that was a wise idea.

"Sit." That was firmer, and the rumble in his voice somehow tripled -- *pressing* the command.

"Ah -- yes, sir," Zechs said, leaving his tea cup and moving to sit on the other side of Lilith.

The creature lifted it's head to look at him, and then stretched it's tail across his lap. "Now, tell me what you think of the things you saw today."

"This is... a very strange place, sir," Zechs found himself saying. "There are so many things I've never seen before... and the files... so *strange*..."

He was becoming very aware of the cool weight on the animal against him and the man's eyes upon his face. "You're a very interesting man, sir."

"I am...? Tell me how," Khushrenada asked him, tone a deeply satisfied one.

Zechs reddened and looked down at Lilith, beginning to stroke her timidly. "You... seem so confident, sir... and you're obviously very good at what you do... but I can't figure out just what that is."

"You will with time," he was assured in an almost gentle tone of voice. "With time. I'm the best at it -- the only person who can do it."

Despite his feelings of reticence, Zechs looked over at the man, straight into those intense blue eyes and murmured, "Yes, sir... I would believe that."

"Sometime, Zechs -- perhaps this weekend -- I would like to meet your family," Zechs was informed with a slow smile. "To see if they are all as innocent as you are."

"Innocent?" Zechs said, blinking at the man.

"The more corrupt of mind, Zechs, would have quickly guessed what I do here. But it's refreshing to meet someone who doesn't know how close they dance to the fire..." His employer had turned to face him on the sofa, Lilith somehow avoiding getting tangled in those long lean legs as Khushrenada did so, reaching a graceful hand to touch Zechs' chin. "You're beautiful."

The blond's cheeks flooded with color. He knew he should pull away, but the touch of the hand, so very cool and gentle, seemed to hold him in place. "You're more beautiful, still, sir," he heard himself say, shocked at his own words.

"Yes, I know." Thick with arrogance and pride, but also a knowing -- an agreement to the truth in Zechs' words, as his hand caressed along Zechs' jaw. "I know it too well."

Zechs felt absolutely hypnotized by the touch of that hand. He struggled to keep his breathing under control, but couldn't summon the will to do it, and with every caress, he seemed to fall deeper into the lovely stupor the tea had put him in. "Sir..." he sighed, as happy as Lilith to sit there, and be petted.

Fingers slipped momentarily into his hair, dancing there as if to tease him to lean closer. "If I kissed you here, my beautiful child, would you try to leave?"

/Of course I should! Kiss me?? What the devil is he talking about??/

"No, sir," he murmured, eyes locked on his employer's. He was astounded at his own reply, but unable to say anything else.

His employer leaned forwards, the scent of the tea's sweet spice on his breath as he caught Zechs' lips almost carefully with his for a moment, and then pulled back, hand still caressing his chin. Lilith growled a little, but made no movement. "You're lovely; you must learn to trust me."

"Oh~hh... yes, sir..." Zechs sighed, feeling his body grow warm, even though the man's touch was smooth and cool. "I... I want to trust you..."

"Do you?"

Zechs nodded, but then admitted, "You're a bit scary..."

"Scary?" the stroking fingers didn't stop, nor the man's near lean. "How. Tell me how."

"Powerful," Zechs said, not really wanting too, but unable to stay quiet. "Like... like a coiled spring. And I never know if you're going to snap..."

"Not... at you," came the slowly soothing words.

"N-no?" Zechs said, almost hopefully. "Why not me?"

"You would never ask me to do something you weren't worth," Khushrenada told him, hand giving one last caress. "I'm afraid you'll have to go home now -- I don't want you meeting the wrong sort of people."

"Home...?" Zechs said, staring at him for a moment. "Oh -- right..." He got up, swaying slightly, and reached out a hand. "Very nice to meet you, sir," he said, realizing it was stupidly formal, given what had just happened.

"My pleasure, Zechs, but... perhaps you should wait in my bedroom, instead. You still look... ill," he smiled, rising to his feet and still holding onto Zechs' hand. "I wouldn't want you to crash your car."

"Your bedroom?" Zechs breathed, unable to believe what he'd just heard. "Ah... well I..." The room was swaying around him, the tea fumes clouding the air. He looked down at the silver pot and saw it steaming gently on the tray, even though no heat source was beneath it. Looking up to say something, he caught a quick glimpse of the handsome face of his employer before being swallowed by blackness.

All was silent again when he awoke, in a room decorated very much like the last one. The bed he laid in was covered in slick satiny sheets, and someone he stripped him down to his boxers before tucking the sheets neatly around him.

"Welcome to the land of the living, Zechs."

"Hmmm?" he murmured, blinking his eyes open and trying to focus on the figure standing beside the bed. He realized several things at once: he was almost naked, he was in a large, luxurious bed that very likely belonged to the man he worked for, and that man was now staring down at him.

He sat up quickly and regretted it, his head still spinning a bit.

"Mr. Khushrenada! I'm... I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to -"

"Quite all right -- you must be allergic to something in the blend," the man, now casual and resplendent in a dressing gown, jacket and tie gone. "How are you feeling?"

"Better," Zechs murmured, "much better... But I must be disturbing you," he said quickly, taking in the dressing gown, the casualness of the man's behavior. "What time is it?"

"It's only nine; I've just finished business for the day." Which meant the people that Khushrenada didn't want him to meet were long since gone. "You must be hungry -- join me for dinner before you head home?"

"Nine?" Zechs said weakly. "Oh, I *am* sorry. I had no idea." He started to get out of bed, only to see himself dressed in only underwear. He pulled the sheets back, an odd, almost modest gesture, and asked, "My clothes...?"

"Hanging up on the wall," Khushrenada gestured to the uniform, crisply pressed again as if waiting for Zechs to put it on. "There's no reason to keep apologizing."

"I just feel very stupid, something like this happening on my first day here. It... doesn't make a very good impression, does it?"

There was nothing for it but to get out of bed and walk to where his clothes were hanging. "Thank you for understanding," he murmured, back turned as he began to dress.

"You've made a grand impression, I believe, just from your eagerness to continue working here," he was told by his employer, the man moving to smoothly perch on the edge of the bed.

Zechs turned to face him, only his trousers on so far. "Have I?" he said hopefully. "I *do* want to do my best for you, sir. I wouldn't want you to think I'm not up to it."

The edges of his employer's mouth curled up. "You will not be fired because you were allergic to my tea, Zechs."

Zechs smiled, feeling foolish. "Thank you, sir," he said, slipping into his shirt. "I'd be honored to stay for dinner."

He could feel eyes intent on him, again, by the time he slid on his vest, though. "Good. You should be aware that Lilith is becoming attached to you. She sat outside the door the entire time." Attached or she was thirsting for his flesh.

"Did she?" Zechs asked, feeling worried at the thought. "May I ask, sir... what kind of animal *is* Lilith?"

"You have heard how scientists hybrid animals, haven't you?" he asked with a smile. "She is part white tiger, and part labrador retriever. An odd experiment that was given to me as a gift -- the others in the litter died shortly after being birthed."

"Tiger?" Zechs said in disbelief. "And Labrador... I see, sir," he said, not seeing at all. "Is she... friendly to most people?"

"No," Khushrenada told his assistant. "She's very protective of me, and doesn't like most my clientele."

"Well," Zechs said, not knowing if that was bad or good, "maybe she knows I'm not a client."

"Oh, *everyone* is a client, Zechs," Khushrenada told him in the most knowing tone in the world. "In one way or another, everyone treads near my doorstep."

The blond looked surprised. "They do?" he said, and then bolder, "is that why you have a file on me in those file cabinets, too?"

"Actually, yes."

Taking a deep breath, Zechs looked at Khushrenada and said, "Why am I blue?"

"You haven't actually bogged yourself down so deep in this business that you can't leave," he said a bit ruefully, pushing a slender hand back through his hair before moving towards another door in the room. "Come along -- dinner is already set."

Zechs stood and watched him for a moment. It was odd that at times the man seemed quite young and vigorous and at others so ancient that he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.

"Coming," he said, and trailed after his employer, into a small sitting room.

There was a table set, two plates of fresh lobster and all of it's trimmings. "I do hope you're not allergic to shellfish."

Blushing, Zechs said he was not and sat down, spreading his napkin in his lap.

"I have to admit, sir," he said as they started on their salads, " that I didn't expect to be around you this much. I wasn't even sure I get a chance to meet you. This had been a great honor."

"I do not know how a household assistant could do otherwise -- since this is a one man household," he was smoothly told, Khushrenada eating with an exquisite grace. Not a bit spilled or smeared, each bite perfect and easily taken.

"Surely you don't live here alone, sir?" Zechs asked. "You must have other staff -- live in staff." He struggled gamely to open his lobster without splattering his uniform with juice.

While his employer neatly finished his salad. "The staff in this building work in shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are *all* my staff, all at my call in a moment's notice. Yet I like to have one person who is *hired* to just do things for me."

"And that's me?" Zechs said, smiling up at the man shyly.

"That would be you, Zechs," Khushrenada affirmed with a sly smile cast at him as he started his own lobster, not even a 8risk* of splattering from his crisp, precise motions. "I think I choose right when I decided to hire you."

"Really?" Zechs said. "Why is that?" He wanted to hear it, wanted for some strange reason to know that he had the man's good opinion. It had become important to him.

"I have a good sense of people, Zechs -- Holistically, you are a good choice. I believe you can be trusted with the knowledge you will acquire in days and weeks to come."

"Thank you, sir," the boy murmured. "I'm ready to learn anything you want to teach me."

"Do you truthfully think you would want to learn my trade, Zechs?"

"Well, if I knew more about what it is that you do... sure," Zechs said.

"Ah, said with the true innocence of a pure mind," his employer smiled a little ruefully, shaking his head to himself. "Perhaps I will tell you more tomorrow."

"Yes sir," Zechs said, looking back down at his lobster. It was very odd, the way the man kept saying his was innocent. He didn't consider himself to be, certainly not more innocent that anyone else.

His employer seemed content to eat in quiet for a while; but the silence was broken by Lilith, and a foot batting at Zechs' leg.

Zechs looked down in mild alarm, then up to Khushrenada for guidance. "Does she want my lobster, sir?" he asked.

"You don't want to feed her just yet," the man uttered, taking the shell of his own that had been mostly cleaned of meat, and set it down on the carpet at his feet. Lilith was crunching away merrily in moments.

Watching the animal down the shell in a few loud mouthfuls, Zechs asked, "Why would that be?"

"You've had a long enough day without a trip to the emergency room for bitten off fingers. She's eager to snack," he was told in a smiled tone. "I would hate to see such fine fingers snapped off by my pets careless teeth."

That made Zechs pale considerably.

"Yes, sir," he said, "I can appreciate that."

More silence. He set his utensils down over the plate, and then gave the last of the shell to Lilith, before he murmured, "I hope your parents won't mind that you've been gone so late."

"Oh, I doubt it," Zechs said, "especially when I tell them that I've been at work. My father values hard work. He'll probably be pleased..."

"Good." His employer seemed pleased by that, looking at Zechs with a sharp look. "Come back here tomorrow. Eight sharp -- It's a Friday, and those are always busy; I close out the defunct files from the week before. You know how to shred things?"

"I can run a shredding machine," Zechs said, hoping he didn't mean shredding things by feeding them to Lilith.

Khushrenada's eyes twinkled oddly for a moment, as if he'd heard that thought. "The shredding machine works fine. I will bid you goodnight, then. Your clearance doce for the elevator is the password I told you earlier. the second time, it's that password backwards."

"Yes, sir," Zechs murmured, standing, yet hating to leave. He felt strange, uneasy, and yet he yearned to stay with the mysterious man. "Thank you again, sir. I promise to be smoother tomorrow."

"Things will get easier once you learn the lay of the office and my procedures a little better," Khushrenada told him, moving back into this bedroom. The dressing gown was stripped off languidly, shirt coming off with it.

Standing in the doorway, Zechs felt his blood race at the sight of the smooth, rippling muscles, exposed slowly as the silk fell to the floor. /Ohhhh, sir... so *beautiful*!/

"Yes," he said vaguely, unable to tear his gaze from the man. "Yes, I'm sure..."

The muscle at his shoulders and upper back, in particular, were well defined, powerful things. The pants came next, slithering off of his hips to reveal narrow hips and a simple, if small pair of black underwear. "Good night, Zechs. Lilith will see you to the door," Khushrenada said, moving unself consciously to slide under the sheets.

"Good night, sir," Zechs said, his voice tinged with a sad longing. He turned and followed Lilith to the door, looking at her for a moment before bending down the stroke her fur. "Good night, Lilith," he said quietly, then walked to the elevator and headed down.

Living at home had it's obvious benefits; aside from someone else being in the house, there was the added benefit of home-cooked meals and parents willing to smoother you with attention when you least --sometimes -- expected it.

"Good-morning, Zechs -- how was your first day on the job?" his mother greeted him as he came down the stairs. "You missed supper last night.'

"I had dinner with Mr. Khushrenada," he said, kissing her on the cheek before sitting down at the breakfast table. "It was really an honor so I couldn't very well say no."

"I hope you gave him a good impression on your very first day," his mother smiled, moving to get him a place of scrambled eggs and bacon.

"Dinner, hmn?" Zechs' father uttered, picking up the newspaper that laid beside his own mostly empty plate. "Not what one would expect from such an exclusive man."

"No," Zechs said, buttering his toast, "that's why I was so flattered. He's really very nice, a little intimidating, but nice. And he has a really beautiful collection of religious art from all over the world."

"Religious art?" his father asked, looking up for a moment. "*Really* -- doesn't seem the sort of chap to collect that, not the way his company runs. What sort of art did he have?"

"A lot of biblical pieces," Zechs said around his eggs. "Tapestries and paintings, that sort of thing. And some things that look like they come from other religions as well, but mostly western things."

"That's very interesting," his father mused. "What sort of work does he have you doing?"

"Uh... filing mostly, so far. He said I'd be learning a lot of other things in the next week or so." Zechs finished his toast and picked up his glass of orange juice. "He said something about having us all over for dinner sometime this weekend. Would that be possible?"

"Dinner at the bequest of Treize Khushrenada?" his father asked, sounding very impressed by the idea. "We can't make it friday or saturday -- the choir practices on friday, and there's service at five on saturday..."

"Sunday then?" Zechs asked hopefully. "I can ask him today if he's free."

"Ask politely," his mother reminded him, pouring more juice into his glass. "He seems very friendly to be offering that to an employee he just hired."

Zechs reddened a bit, remembering the kiss, the gentle touches the man have given him. "I... I think he just wants to be magnanimous," he said quickly. "He probably does it for any new employee." He turned to his father again. "So, should I ask about Sunday? Is that all right?"

"Sunday, if the man isn't too busy, yes," his father told him in a warm tone, completely unaware of the things his son was remembering. "Is he a very businesslike man, or is he as eccentric as it's rumored?"

Zechs thought for a moment. "Both, really. He's definitely different from anyone else I've ever met, but he handles his business affairs very professionally." /Even if he does strange things to clients.../

"Good information to know," his father nodded solemnly, finally looking at the paper. "Ah, the things the world is coming to -- Vivian, have you read the paper this morning?"

"You know I haven't," she said matter-of-factly. "I've been getting breakfast for you two, and everyone else an hour earlier.

Zechs's oldest brother was a graduate student in Divinity at a nearby university, while his two older sisters worked the early shift at the parishes large pre-school. They were all usually gone by the time Zechs got up in the morning.

"Our Parliamentary representative was found murdered in a back alley. They found him around nine last night," Zechs' father scowled, tapping at the front page article.

Zechs's head shot up. "Mr. Lloyd? He's... he's dead?" A shiver went through him at the news. Dear God, he'd just seen the MP yesterday! What had happened to him?

He couldn't help but wonder what Mr. Khushrenada would think about it.

"Article says here "Two suspects are being currently looked for -- a mister and misses Armisted, suspected in the brutal slaying of MP Lloyd."

"Armisted...?" Zechs said weakly. It couldn't be! Yet certainly... they *had* to be the same people. What would his employer say? He was probably already helping the police...

"I... I think I'd better get to work. I don't want to be late," Zechs said, standing suddenly and smiling at his parents. The smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'll see you later tonight."

'Have a nice day, honey!" his mother said as he headed towards the door.

The trip to the Khushrenada Co. building was a tense one for Zechs -- replaying the coincidence of the day before in his mind. All three, suspects, and killed, were 'clients'. A blue folder and two heavy green folders.

/Mr. Khushrenada might be tied up with the investigation today... probably won't see him... maybe I could ask Mrs. Une.../ He thought of her, severe hair, severe glasses, severe voice. /Or maybe not.../

He parked in the outer parking lot and walked into the building. He had expected noise, maybe people whispering about the murder, phone calls with the police, but if anything, the building was quieter and eerier than the day before.

The triplets were at their desks, watching him as he came through the foyer.

Passed them by -- one of them buzzed him into the next hall -- and then he walked to the end of it, the recessed elevator that would take him up

"Mr. Khushrenada is waiting for you."

Zechs passed the triplets by after that concise phrase -- one of them buzzed him into the next hall -- and then he walked to the end of it, the recessed elevator that would take him up to Mr. Khushrenada's office and rooms. Now he just had to remember the password.

"Mmm... 13luc... Damn! What was that again??"

The elevator made a buzzing noise, and the doors closed -- but it didn't yet move.

Zechs drummed his fingers on the panel for a moment before finally remembering. He punched in '13lucstar' and the elevator hummed to life, carrying him upwards. /Is it bad? No one around, no one saying anything... I hope Mr. Khushrenada is taking it well.../

The elevator finally opened and he walked down the hall, tapping lightly on the gleaming wood of his employer's office door.

"Come!" a sharp order from his employer, but when he opened the door, the man seemed in his usual calm spirits, one of his filing cabinet drawers open as he worked his way through them carefully, pulling one out here, and two out there. "Start shredding the ones already on my desk, Zechs. You can begin with Mr. Lloyd's -- I'm sure you heard the unfortunate news."

"Shredding?" Zechs said faintly. "Shred the entire folder, or just the papers in it?" He felt uncomfortable opening the folders, having been told so many times the day before to keep his hands off them.

"The entire folder, Zechs," Khushrenada said crisply. "What do you think of Lloyd death? Tragic, really."

Zechs reached for the blue folder and walked to the shredder, by the window.

"It *is* tragic," he said, turning the machine on. It had very strange blades -- he could almost swear they looked a bit like teeth. "I mean," he continued, "he was just here, yesterday. He looked so... so happy and healthy when he left. Terrible, really..."

Placing the folder atop the blades, he pushed on it firmly and the paper began to shred into a sealed bin beneath the machine. As it did, a rather dreadful smell came from it, like something in the early stages of decay. It was bad enough to make him turn his head.

"Well, he was making the wrong sorts of bargains with the wrong sorts of people," his employer all but purred, plucking a few more -- black and red -- from that tightly packed drawer before moving to another. "But he knew what would happen."

Zechs let the folder continue through the shredder on its own and stared at Khushrenada's back. "Are you saying... he *knew* he was going to be murdered?" he whispered.

"He knew the consequences of his actions -- here, put the Armisted's files in the little cabinet under my desk,' he told Zechs, holding them out out-handed while he continued into the next lower drawer to pull more out.

Zechs took them, struggling once again to hold the heavy weight of them, amazed that they seemed like nothing to Mr. Khushrenada. "But sir... does that mean you knew he'd be killed, too?" he asked, no wanting to hear the answer.

"Oh, everyone dies eventually,' Khushrenada told him vaguely.

It didn't answer his question in the least, but Zechs decided not the press the point. He struggled to get the Armisteds' heavy folders into the cabinet under the desk and then went back to retrieve another stack of the ones his employer had removed.

Each one smelled of death as if went through the shredder.

But the green ones had lost their weight when then were picked up, the red their heat, the black their chill. "Do you know why these files are shredded, Zechs?"

"Trying to hold his breath, Zechs squeaked out, "No, sir, I don't."

"These files are the files of clients who have died; the ones under my desk are the files of clients whose services I cannot currently utilize," Khushrenada told him, moving on to the next drawer, lingering for a moment to pull two free, and then moving to the last drawer of that cabinet.

Could not current utilize? The Armisteds...

"Sir? Do you know where they are now? The Armisted's I mean? Because the police are looking for them."

'the police will find them within the hour, Zechs -- so it doesn't matter if I tell the police or not."

A look of utter bewilderment crossed the blond's face. "How... How do you know that, sir" he said.

'it's a matter of keeping your eyes open,' he was told, treize pausing his search to pull out a green folder from the other cabinet. "You see this folder? the chief inspector for london.'

"Has he died, too?" Zechs said, feeling a shiver run up his spine.

"Oh, no -- if he keeps on the track he's on now, he had another forty years in him, easily. Hearty as an oxen. No... I have his folder right in this cabinet here," Khushrenada said, slipping it away, "and he knows it."

Zechs was beginning to get a strange feeling about all of the files they were handling. They way Mr. Khushrenada was talking it almost seemed... well, it almost seemed that the files themselves were some kind of threat towards the people they referred to. What exactly was in those files? Was the man he'd just gone to work for engaging in some kind of blackmail?

/No harm in asking,/ he thought and sent another file through the shredder, wisely stepping back to avoid the smell.

"What sort of work did you do for him, sir?"

"I organized his current position for him." Crisp, unhesitant words as he moved back to where he was, the first drawer of the second cabinet.

"You work in politics, sir? Were you a campaign manager for him?"

"I... suppose you could say I work in Politics. *Old* politics," he chuckled. "You know Khushrenada corp fronts over two hundred companies world-wide. I have subordinates who deal with that -- what I personally do is barter with people -- trade something for something."

Zechs was getting more and more confused. He had stopped shredding and was simply staring at his employer, trying to understand the vague words.

"But... how do you barter with something like a police appointment?"

"by giving a member of parliament something *they* want, to go and help that person," Khushrenada said, dropping another pile of folders atop his desk.

Zechs shook his head, fine blond strands slipping out from behind his ears as he did. "I'm sorry, sir -- I just don't understand... you don't... you don't offer bribes, do you?" He looked up at Khushrenada, eyes full of anxiety.

"Bribes?" his employer looked slightly offended by the idea, shaking his head. "No. It's not bribery."

"They all come to me."

"Oh," Zechs said, still looking worried. "Oh, well... I suppose that's different..." He tucked his hair back behind one ear again and then added, "I suppose that's how you've become so wealthy."

"I was... born into my status, Zechs; It's just a matter of having the strength to maintain it. Now, don't fall behind on that shredding -- fridays are busy, and I have an appointment in little under two hours." All of that said without looking at a clock.

"Yes, sir," Zechs said quietly, turning back to the shredder and beginning to work again.

"Did you ask your family about dinner?"

"Ah, yes -- yes I did," Zechs said. "They said Sunday would work best for them. Does... does that fit with your schedule, sir?"

"Sunday at seven," he drawled, putting a last pile of the folders on his desk. "And tomorrow night you will be serving me at a party."

"A party? What will I be doing, sir? And do I wear the tuxedo?"

"You will be at my side, doing whatever I tell you to," Khushrenada said, closing all of the drawers. "You'll see some no doubt surprising things tomorrow evening, and I go by many names in many different countries."

"Oh, so it'll be an international group?" Zechs asked. "I know some French and Italian..."

"You could call it that," his employer mused, moving to sit in the chair behind his desk as if it were, for all the world, a throne, hands curling over the ends of the arms with the same motions they had the day before. "You can call me 'Treize' if you wish, Zechs."

"Are you sure, sir? I don't want you to think I don't respect you. Treize. Sir." He trailed off and looked at Treize hesitantly.

"I'm sure -- you've more than proven that you're respectful to me, and it isn't my real name to begin with." He ended the sentence with a wise, old smile that looked so *right* on his ageless face.

"You don't want me to know your real name?" Zechs asked, feeding another file through the shredder.

"I doubt you want to know it," he was told in a serious tone, while Khushrenada watched him with brilliant, calm eyes.

"Why would you say that, sir? I mean, Treize," Zechs asked, frowning slightly.

"It doesn't matter, at any rate. I've had so many over the years -- none of them are really me. My adoptive name is perhaps more so me than my given name," Khushrenada all but purred, eyes still on Zechs as the young man moved from the shredder to his desk to pick up more folders.

"All right," the blond said. "I'm not one to pry." He took another stack of files to the shredder. "When should I be here on Saturday?"

"Six -- in the evening. Already dressed in your tuxedo." Those cold eyes followed him back to the shredder, too. "Do the folders bother you, Zechs?"

The younger man looked over his shoulder, expression wary. "Um... bother me, sir? Well... they just... smell a bit funny, as they're going through the shredder." He looked apologetic -- as if the smell were his fault. "Just that, sir."


Zechs turned around again.

"Excuse me?"

"The smell is decay," the cold voice told him smoothly. "Haven't you ever been near a crypt before?"

The reply stunned Zechs. What *was* the man talking about?

"A crypt, sir? Why... why should they smell like a crypt?" He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to here the answer and he felt a shiver go through him.

"It's the status of the contract," Khushrenada smiled, expression not softened -- no, it was sad, and a little rueful. "You'll understand with time."

"Yes," Zechs said quietly. "I'm sorry to be asking so many questions... it's just... well so many things are *strange* here, sir. I don't quite know what to make of them."

"I've told you to ask me, and I will answer as best as you can understand. When you finish with the pile on my desk, I'll like a glass of wine," came the series of instructions.

/A glass of wine? At... ten in the morning? He *is* eccentric!/ "Yes, sir," Zechs murmured and returned to his task.

After he'd sat in the living room with an increasingly friendly Lilith, for over two hours, Zechs had grown a little concerned -- he'd been run out of the room even before the client had entered. Had it been the police? Had Mr. Khushrenada been involved somehow...?

When the time was verging on three, though, he could hardly wait any longer in there, even with Lilith sitting half in his lap, her chill form purring flatly at him.

That was when the door opened, and Mr. Khushrenada stepped in, leaning heavily on the door-knob. "Turn on a radio for me, Zechs, and then help me sit down."

Zechs nearly jumped, only slowing down at bit for Lilith sake, and was on his feet in seconds. "Are you ill, sir?" he asked with concern, looking around and spotting the sleek black radio on one of the bookshelves. He pushed the power button and then moved quickly to Treize's side, sliding an arm around him and leading him to the sofa.

"Exhausted,' the man sighed calmly, seeming to seep against the sofa's cushions limply, eyes closing. "go downstairs and cancel my other appointments for the day."

"Yes, sir," the blond said, then added, "Can I get you some wine before I go?"

From the curl of his lips, it seemed that Zechs' suggestion was not only a 8perfect* one, but that he was catching on to his employer's habits. "Yes, I would appreciate that."

Walking over to the cabinet, Zechs poured a glassful of the ruby liquid and took it to Treize. He held it out to the older man and murmured, "I'm sorry your not feeling well, sir."

"That's quite all right," the man sighed, taking the glass from Zechs' fingers. "Just run that errand for me and then come back."

Out in the office, the more prominent thing that was out of place was that Khushrenada's chair was turned over, laying forlornly on it's side.

It upset Zechs to see it that way, and he bent to turn it over, putting it back in its rightful place behind the desk before turning to leave.

Out in the hallway beyond the office, all seemed normal; the elevator ride down was quiet, and each door on the silent hall was closed, keeping in any noise of work that may or may not have been going on within.

He knocked on the door to Mrs. Une's office.

"Excuse me, Mrs. Une? I have a message from Tre -- from Mr. Khushrenada."

"Come in and tell me, then," came the whip-crack of noise that was her voice.

Zechs opened the door nervously and stuck his head inside.

"He wanted me to tell you, ma'am, to cancel all of his remaining appointments." /Please don't hit me for saying so.../

"What?" she looked a little startled -- flustered, even! -- "Why?"

For a moment Zechs simply stood with his mouth working, no sound coming out. "Uh... because... he seems to be very tired and needs to rest?" It came out much more like a question then a statement and he found himself wondering if she could smell fear.

For a moment, her eyes narrowed like Lilith's did; but his fidgety demeanor cleared him of any sins, or so it seemed. "Go back to him and see to your duties," she said, turning to the drawers of her desk to take out a radio.

"Yes, ma'am," he said, backing out of the room and then sprinting for the elevator.

A minute later he was back at the door to the living room and knocking before he walked in. "You're appointments have been canceled, sir," he said quietly.

"Good." It was a chill breath, the wine-glass in his hand empty and being set down on the side-table. "Sit down and listen with me, Zechs -- sit and listen. The French embassy in Washington DC has exploded; as has the one in Berlin, Rome and Moscow.'

"What?" Zechs said, horrified. "*All* of them?" He sank down onto the sofa next to Treize and listened to the news report come over the radio. frantic, fast paced -- each bomb exploded within five minutes of eachother; more were suspected to be planted, evacuations were taking place in french embassies world wide.

"And... London."

And as Khushrenada breathed those words, the sound of shattering glass and mortar could be heard.

Zechs gasped and ran to the window. Several blocks away, on Embassy Row, smoke and flames were pouring from one of the elegant old buildings. It looked catastrophic in nature.

"How... how did you..." The words refused to come as Zechs continued to stare, now seeing emergency vehicles making their way through the crowded London streets. His breath fogged the glass as he murmured, "How did you know...?"

"Five more minutes, Canada. Ten from now, Spain. Fifteen Egypt. Twenty, every small consulate world wide," Treize told him, voice a calm drawl. "Sit down and have a glass of wine, unless you'd rather watch it on the BBC than listen to it."

Zechs couldn't believe what he was hearing. His employer was evidently behind the bombings! It was staggering to realize and part of him, the part that had said the man was beautiful, and blushed when he'd kissed him, was refusing to believe it.

"Why?" he whispered, staring at the man. "Why would you do this?" Then he realized -- he had to tell the police! The other bombs hadn't gone off yet!

He ran for the phone in the office.

"Don't touch the telephone, Zechs. GET back in here, and sit *down*," he growled; and in the seconds between Zechs moving for the phone and Treize's utterance, Lilith stood between him and his employer's desk. "The police already know; there's no point in calling when I've already told them."

Drawing up short at the site of the bristling animal, Zechs felt his heart racing in panic. He turned to face Treize, although the man's back was to him.

"Why??" he said in disbelief. "Why would you *do* something like this??"

"I didn't do it, Zechs. Sit down, beside me," he ordered calmly, not bothering to turn and look at Zechs.

The voice commanded obedience and Zechs couldn't help but obey it. He walked to where Treize was sitting, and perched on the sofa a little away from him, staring down at his hands and saying nothing.

"One of my clients -- the one whom I had an appointment with -- is the man who heads up the group that did this," Khushrenada told him in a crisp tone of voice. "Understood?"

"Yes, sir," Zechs whispered. He would probably be killed. Surely Khushrenada wouldn't let him leave, now that he knew what had happened. He was going to die without ever seeing his parents again...

"Stop that idiotic thought right now."

Zechs lifted his head and stared at the man. "What thought?" he asked, a shiver in his voice.

"I'm not going to kill you; I told you, i've already called the police about this, and they'll do what they can."

Azure eyes widened. "How did you know I was thinking that?" Zechs said slowly.

"It's a skill," Treize murmured, fixing him with ice-chip eyes.

"It scares me," the blond said. He was trembling, wanting to run but caught by the man's eyes, his voice, the sheer force of his presence.

"Are you a god-fearing man, Zechs?"

"Yes, sir," came the quiet answer.

"Then you have no reason to be scared of me," he was told, Treize Khushrenada's voice a slow whisper of voice, chill and barely audible above the panic the radio was playing.

"And... why is that?"

"Some people are worth too much to harm." As he said that, Lilith jumped up on the other side of Zechs, grumbling under her breath.

"Why would I be worth anything to you?" Zechs asked him, voice trembling. "You can't try to ransom me, you know. My parent's don't have much money."

"I'm no madman who's going to kill you on your second day of the job, Zechs -- I believe you need to understand better what I do. Lilith." The creature nudged at Zechs' side, while Khushrenada uttered, 'sit closer, Zechs."

It didn't seem like a very good idea. This was a man who had just cooperated in several horrible tragedies and didn't seem at all remorseful for it, and yet... Yet the eyes beckoned and that strange power was coming from him, just as it had the day before.

He couldn't help himself, it seemed, so he inched closer to the older man.

"Tell me, what do you think I do, Zechs?"

The blond shook his head, unable to meet Treize's eyes. "I... don't know... something bad... you help bad people do bad things..."

"I do what people who come to me want -- for a price. And sometimes that price is for them to die in the process, gunned down by police fire. Six minutes from now, in fact."

"The French embassy," the woman in the radio was saying, "in Canada has just exploded; the area was cleared of all personnel just moments before; the bomb in the Spanish embassy has been *located* and now similar searches are being conducted in embassy's world-wide, regardless of country."

Zechs's hands went to his head. "What is *happening*?" he said, voice not more than a hoarse whisper. "Are you responsible for every bad thing that's going on? Why are you doing this??"

"They'll miss the consulate in Quebec," he sighed ruefully, shaking his head to himself for a moment, still utterly, utterly calm. "It's my job, Zechs. It's what I do. Turn off the radio -- I've heard enough."

Blindly, the blond boy got up and stumbled to the radio, brushing the power button and standing there, frozen. WHat had he got himself into? Who was this man, who knew every bad thing that would happen, before it even did? "Why?" he whispered again.

"Because He hates me," Khushrenada uttered, rising languidly to his feet to look Zechs in the eye. "I'll release you from your contract if you desire."

"My contract..." Zechs said, the words sounding strange in his ears. It should have been a easy one to decide. The man was evil, he did evil things. Of *course* Zechs should get away, and get away fast.

But what about those eyes...? They seemed to bear a great sorrow, something ancient and terrible that Zechs couldn't fathom. Could he really walk about from that? Devastating beauty, wrapped in mystery and despair?

Then he heard his voice, as if from far away. "I don't want to leave you... sir."

"Good," his employer uttered, sounding genuinely pleased as he moved closer to Zechs, and his smooth stride seemed to fumble. "So much to coordinate today... help me to my bed."

Without another word, Zechs slipped his arm under Treize's. They walked to the bedroom in silence, Zechs remembering the crimson walls and ornately carved wooden bed from the day before.

"Shall I... shall I help you undress, sir?" he asked.

"Yes," he said, seeming to be concentrating as he stood still for Zechs to undress him.

Moments later, the sound of screeching tires could be heard from roughly a block away; was it Zechs imagination, or was sound from outside louder than it should have been?

With trembling hands, Zechs removed the man's jacket, then fumbled with the buttons of his shirt before taking that off as well. Treize's skin glowed under his hands and Zechs felt a wave of desire that made him weak.

"I'll... just hang these over here, sir," he said weakly, "while you take off your trousers..."

He had to use the hangers for light support as he hung up both shirt and jacket, and then he turned around the man was nude, stripped down to a complete and glorious nothing.

And glorious was *such* an understatement. Smooth, rippling muscles, broad shoulders and lean hips -- such a perfect image of masculine beauty. "Sir..." Zechs breathed and then forgot what he was going to say when he noticed the man's belly: smooth, flat, and without a ghost of an indentation, where a naval should be.

"Yes?" Khushrenada asked him, moving smoothly to pull back the sheets, though still on the same side of the bed as Zechs.

"N -- Nothing sir," the blond boy said, dragging his gaze from that strange sight. "Here... let me fluff up the pillows for you."

"Thank you," he uttered, waiting and watching Zechs do that before he slid under the satin sheets.

He brushed against Zechs as he did so, the skin of his back as cool to touch as his hands had been. But before that thought could be processed, Lilith was rubbing against Zechs' leg, growling almost happily.

"Can I get you anything else, sir?" Zechs said, watching the animal from the corner of his eye. It was making little chuffing noises, sending cold air in a wash over his shoes.

"Your company."


"At least sit on the edge of the bed, Zechs. I tire of being immensely alone," he uttered, head turning on the pillow to affix his eyes to Zechs' body.

"Oh, of course," Zechs murmured, cheeks reddened at what he thought the man had meant. He settled lightly on the edge of the bed, not knowing what to say after the events of the afternoon. "I hope you feel better soon, sir," was all he could manage.

"It will pass once I've rested," he said, moving one hand to rest it atop Zechs' thigh, as if it belonged there. "Fridays are always busy. Have you ever noticed that in the news?"

Zechs's eyes stared into those of the man on the bed, his expression bleak and frightened. "Yes, sir," he said softly. "Is there a reason for that?"

"Not in particular. It's a human urge to do things on friday, seems to be," he drawled, lowering his gaze to where his hand rested on Zechs' thigh, massaging lightly now, like a cat kneading it's bedding.

Feeling his breath catch at the light touch, Zechs looked across the room and tried to think of something to say, if only to distract himself from what felt like a definite caress. His eyes fell on a painting of a glorious angel that hung opposite the bed.

"Do you... do you like angels, sir? Only I noticed the painting over there..."

"Angels are beautiful creatures -- and I adore beauty in any form," he breathed, pressing the caress a little more by letting long fingers creep against the inside of Zechs' thigh.

The blond boy's cheeks suffused with color. "Yes, they are beautiful," he said breathily. "I remember staring at them during the sermons when I was little... they seemed so, so far away and perfect... not ever something you could touch."

"Certain types of angels are easier to touch with others," Khushrenada told him, leaving his hand in place for a moment, still kneading gently.

Once again, Zechs was feeling the strange dreaminess steal over him -- the same wanton relaxation he'd felt yesterday, but this time there were no tea vapors to blame it on. Only that strong, caressing hand.

"You look like the angel in the painting, sir," he heard himself say. "So beautiful..."

"Once," Khushrenada breathed, hand slipping farther yet, giving Zechs' thigh a gentle squeeze. "Come into my bed if you wish to, Zechs."

"Ohhh... sir," Zechs whimpered softly, his eyes closing against his will. "I... I've never... *oh!*" He ducked his head, unable to keep his hips from lifting slightly, pressing into that searching hand.

"I promise to make it enjoyable for you." Another press, this one lighter and right over his groin. "undress; you already know how comfortable this bed is."

He was a puppet on strings, surely, and his body felt strangely light and warm as he stood and slid his clothing off. All the while the man in the bed watched him and it made Zechs's blood race to have those eyes upon him.

"Sir," he breathed at last, slipping under the sheets beside Treize. "I... I want to make you happy..."

"You do," the cool, rich voice said, Khushrenada's sad expression deepening worse, even as he smiled; what didn't linger on his lips moved up to fill his bottomless eyes. Smoothly, he moved to lay against Zechs, an arm around the young man's waist as he gleaned with a light kiss.

Zechs was eager though, the feeling of wantonness spreading through him like fire as soon as felt the man's lips on his. Sliding his arms around Treize's neck, he deepened the kiss, small sounds of pleasure escaping him as he did.

"Never with a man, Zechs, or never at all?" Khushrenada asked in a quiet tone, pulling back from the kiss for a moment to purr those words.

"Never at all," Zechs whispered. "Never before..." He pressed his mouth to Treize's throat and moaned softly.

Cool skin, but not so cool as to be uncomfortable -- instead it was like touching the cold spot on a pillow in the middle of a hot summer night. A refreshing relief in sensation, even as his owner reared up over him, kneeling atop his narrow hips. "You're beautiful, Zechs -- It's hard to believe, but I know you speak truth..."

"Never felt this way before," the blond said, dreamily, gazing up at the man above him. "Never wanted anyone like this... not the way I want you."

"But you barely know me," treize smiled down at him, an expression that sent a shiver of pure bliss down Zechs' spine; a shiver that spread out through his groin when the other man dipped his lean hips so that they would meet.

Zechs head moved back and forth on the pillow, his hair fanning out around him. "Doesn't matter," he panted, amazed at his own boldness. "I know I want it -- want you... do you want me too?" His hips bucked up a bit, erection grazing Treize's before pressing back against the man's bottom.

"Uhhhn -- you feel so *good*!" he whispered.

"I want you, too," came the purr of voice, a phrase that seemed to sink into his very soul and mind, echoing even when full lips had closed. "tell me, my sweet -- how do you want this?"

"Anyway!" Zechs said, squirming. "What would give you the most pleasure?" His hands were threading through Treize's hair and he was falling forwards into the man's deep blue eyes. "Anything..."

~Your purity.~

Had that been spoken, or thought? The two words filled his mind in a swell, but never touched his ears. but he was drowning in touch again, prey for an animal-like lover who caught his mouth again, hands raking tenderly through his silken hair before stroking along his sides and over his chest, rubbing and pressing his nipples.

Soft cries escaped him and he writhed under the man, arching his back to press harder against the teasing hands, to feel the pleasure bloom between their legs. /Give it all up for you... every last bit... it's yours, and yours alone.../ "Oh, take me, please..."

~Yes. You *are* mine.~

Hands vacated his chest long enough to move their hips closer, Zechs finding himself slid up minutely as Khushrenada knelt between lean golden legs. "You look like a fallen angel."

/How far will I fall... and will I even care? How could I when you're here to catch me?/ The words felt as if they were streaming from his mind to Treize's, words completely unnecessary. His eyes pleaded with the man. /I'm yours... oh, dear God, I'm *yours.*/

~not god,~ he was told, leaning down to blanket Zechs for a moment, rolling their hips together for a moment. sapphire eyes closed tightly for a moment, and then Zechs felt it -- two things at once. hands, unseen, plucking and caressing the head of his cock, his tight nipples, and a odd seeping slickness from the ring of his anus.

"Ahh! Oh, sir!" he cried softly, eyes going wide. What was it? What was happening to him? The soft tugging at his shaft felt so good, but something cool and slick was squirming into him. "Ahhh!" he gasped, tightening his grip on Treize's shoulders.

~It's me,~ he was told, the smile on Khushrenada's face echoing that as he hitched his hips forwards -- the slow, cool squirming came to an end, and simply forged past any resistance there may have been left. leaving Zechs's bottom filled with a throbbing coolness.

Azure eyes closed in a haze of pressure and bliss. He felt completely impaled, nailed to the bed, and the thoroughness of it made the wantonness come back tenfold as he dropped back his head and moaned. Nothing had ever felt so very complete -- as if he'd been waiting all his life for that thick, cool stab of flesh inside of him.

He could feel Khushrenada's hands on his hips, fingers kneading, the three unseen but warm hands on his chest and cock still working their magic when treize made his first shirt. a luxurious pull back out, only to slide back in, angling to perfectly hit against his prostate. it wasn't just a scrape of pressure, but a constant throb of it, that remained even when the next stroke was taken.

Zechs's legs slipped around Treize's waist and he rocked back and forth with each movement, moaning softly as if the sound were being pressed out of him with every thrust. /Can't... can't be this good... can't take this *good*.../

Over the panting that wouldn't stop, he managed to get the words out. "Deeper -- oh, *deeper*, please!"

Hips pressed already flat against Zechs' rounded bottom, that request was somehow complied with -- for the cold thickness lurched into his body deeper, as if with a thrust, and then Khushrenada began to move again, leaning forwards to take Zechs' wildly moaning lips in his own.

Now every ounce of need was moaned out into Treize. The only thing Zechs could do was cling to him, and be ridden, that cool stabbing impossibly deep inside him. His insides seemed to turn molten with each impalement, Treize's shaft leaking something that was half ice, half fire, burning cold at Zechs's trembling core, fiercely erotic and making him wild with need.

~You're mine to cherish now, forever.~

the unseen hands on his body continued, despite the searing kiss that held him captive, the even purr of pleasure that left Khushrenada as he kept hitching his hips in, his invasion inching deeper and deeper into Zechs every moment more.

/I can't last! Too good... ah! Oh, ohhh.../ Zechs tore his mouth from the older man's and let out a raucous cry of pleasure. He seemed to come for an eternity, the deep, chilly stabs within him drawing it out, making him no how thoroughly he'd been taken. The last few spasms nearly made him faint, so intense was the pleasure and he could only shake his head, aware too late of tears on his cheeks.

He'd lost, in that heady barrage, when the chill that bubbled up within his body had begun. Only that the deepness had receded when he could think coherently again, that there were no more than two sets of hands on his body, and that his new and first lover was still cool to the touch. soft lips kissed at his eyelids in the most gentle of manners.

"Thank you for such a gift," Khushrenada's voice rumbled, deeper than it had been before, as if he were reluctant to use it.

"You gave the gift," Zechs murmured, feeling the loss of those other hands, just as his mind was finally comprehending what that meant. "I wanted it so badly... and you gave it to me..." He looked up at the clear, sapphire eyes of the man above him and whispered, "I'll never be the same..."

"Never," Khushrenada agreed, and it sounded, from his lips, to be a good thing -- there *was* no going back once you've had such a force of pleasure in your life... ~you're mine.~

/Oh, *yes*... only yours... beautiful man. If you are a man.../ He felt the words cross his mind and wondered where they'd come from, deciding he was too weak from pleasure to care.

"Lay here with me, Zechs, and rest," his new lover sighed, shifting to lay beside Zechs for a moment, before urging Zechs to lay atop him, the both of them still a sticky mess form sex. Somehow in the movement Khushrenada's hair glinted from ginger to gold to brilliant white, and then back again.

"Who are you?" Zechs said dreamily, his head coming to rest in the comfortable crook between Treize's neck and shoulder. "You feel like magic to me..."

"Then we shall leave it at 'magic' for the moment," Treize breathed in his ear. "Perhaps you will learn tomorrow. It's inevitable, my sweet child."

"Inevitable... just like what happened tonight... can't fight it. It just is."

Zechs snuggled in closer, shivering a little at the feeling of the cool skin beneath him. "Magic," he breathed, and then fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

"You're home early, honey," Zechs' mother smiled at him as he came in through the living room, where she was reading a magazine. "Supper's on the stove. Sit down and talk with your mother about how your day went."

The blond boy was still reeling with the events of the day. He hardly remembered the drive home from the Khushrenada estate, and now he sank on to the sofa opposite his mother, looking dazed.

"It was... fine..." he said, voice weak, as if coming from far away.

"Zechs...?" he hadn't noticed when it had happened, but his mother was standing in front of him, hands light and gentle on his shoulders. "Zechs, are you all right?"

"What?" he said, looking up at her and blinking softly. "I'm... fine, really."

"Hon, you don't look well at *all* -- why don't you go up to your room and rest? I'll bring you up some juice and crackers."

"Okay," Zechs said non-committally. He stood up, swaying a little. His entire body felt weak, traces of wanton pleasure still shivering through him now and then, making him want to go back to the estate and find the man... do it again and again...

He walked to the stairs and slowly made his way up to his room.

When his mother came in, he'd undressed and slid under the sheets. That too fleeting experience with his employer had done more than physically exhausted him; chill touch had drained him completely and left him sated with pleasure all at once.

"Zechs, I don't think you should go in to work tomorrow," he mother sighed.

He looked up at her languidly. "I *have* to, Mum," he said softly. "Mr. Khushrenada's counting on me." /And I have to see him again... need to do it again.../

"Oh, counting on you for what?" she asked him, pulling the sheets down a little to tuck them around his body. "Oh, Zechs! Where did you get this mark from?!"

He looked down where she was looking; against his chest on one side was a reddish burn mark that seemed to wrap back around his back.

"What?" Zechs asked lazily. He looked down at his chest and saw what appeared to be a sunburn, in the shape of a spade, with a long, tail-like attachment on it that wrapped around towards his back. That is, it looked like a sunburn, but it didn't hurt like one. In fact, it felt rather cool to the touch.

"I... I don't know," he said, mind straying back to Khushrenada's bed and what they'd done there.

His mother touched it lightly for a moment, before drawing her hand back. "It doesn't feel like a burn... maybe I should have your father look at it."

"Mmm..." Zechs closed his eyes and ran his hand over the mark. Instantly, images of their coupling flashed through his mind, making his heart race, his body arching up to his touch as he closed in eyes. He moaned softly and turned his face into the pillow.

His mother, while this happened, was giving him the oddest, most frightened look. "z-Zechs...?"

But her son only sighed heavily, hands roaming over his chest, his expression blissful.

He wasn't really there, it seemed -- still frightened, she backed out of his room, to stand in the door-way and call, "Devlin! Devlin, come *here*!"

"What is it?" her husband said, emerging from their bedroom, a book in his hand.

'Devlin, Zechs...." he couldn't even phrase it, only pointed into his bedroom. "H-he has a mark..."

Zechs's father scowled, moving quickly towards the room. "Whatever are you talking about Fiona? What sort of mark?"

"It's a burn, but it's cold..."

Ice to the touch, and why was Zechs still moaning quietly?

Devlin looked down at his son. He moved the roaming hands to Zechs's sides and then felt a cold shiver down his spine. It looked... like a tail, of sorts... something familiar about it that he couldn't quiet remember.

Something sinister.

"How long has he been like this?" he asked his wife quietly.

"When... when he came in," she told him, her own startled breathing calming down. "I told him h-he looked ill and that he shouldn't go to work tomorrow -- he said something like 'Mr. Khushrenada's counting on me' -- and then.... he touched the mark when I saw it, and..."

He looked sharply over at her. "And then?" he said.

"H-he just tuned me out! moaned and... stayed like he was when you c-came in!" Her voice was shaking, part fear, part a knowledge that *something8 was wrong. "what is it?"

"I don't know," her husband said, "I... I need to look up a few things... in my library." But he didn't move -- just stared down at his son, whose hands had returned to the mark.

"Ohhhh, my baby," his mother shivered, watching the movements before she moved forwards again, to pull his hands away. "*Zechs*! *Zechs* -- pay attention to me!!"

"Hmm?" Zechs said, struggling a bit against his mother's grasp. "Mum...?"

"Yes! Yes, oh, darling -- you've been scaring me!!"

"Scaring...?" he said, continuing to struggle, although he didn't seem to realize he was doing it. "Why would I... scare you?" he asked quietly. His eyes seemed to be going in and out of focus and his voice was, by turns, dreamy and confused.

"*Zechs*... Oh, sit up first..." Her hands coaxed him, pulling him up sitting. "You just... disappeared!"

"He let himself be pulled to a sitting position, feeling like he'd been drinking, and tried to focus on his mother's face. "What do you mean 'disappeared'? You're... you're not making sense, mum."

"Don't you remember what you were *doing* a moment ago?!" she exclaimed, face drawing tighter with worry as she looked over her shoulder to her husband's face.

"He shook his head, following his mother's gaze to where Devlin stood. "Dad...? Why are you here? What's going on?"

Devlin was about to speak when, before his very eyes, the mark on his son's body began to fade.

"Fiona -- look!" he said, pointing to it, unable to believe what he was seeing.

Both of Zechs' parents watched as the sun-burn like mark that curled around their son's body faded -- faded completely, as if it had never been there.

"Oh my god!"

Zechs's gaze went back and forth between his parents, his eyes troubled. "What are you two staring at?" he said with a trace of irritation. "What's wrong?"

"You had a mark on your chest, Zechs.... and it was cold to the touch," his mother started, staring at what was now pale smooth skin.

Zechs looked down and, seeing nothing, looked up at her suspiciously. "Okay..." he said slowly. "Then why isn't it there now?" His look suggested that he thought his mother might have gone temporarily insane.

"It *was* there!" his father said, and then, more quietly, "I'll be in my library."

"I'll come get you if... anything happens, Devlin," Zechs' mother uttered, sitting on the edge of her son's bed. "Honey, when you came in today, your eyes were glasses over and you weren't making any sense. I don't want you going to work tomorrow, because there *is* something wrong with you."

Zechs felt a flash of anger, tinged with desperation. "I *have* to go back!" he protested. "If I don't, I'll be fired and I really need this job!"

"Oh, Mr. Khushrenada doesn't sound like an unreasonable man; I'll have your father call him and explain that you're ill."

"*No*, mum, you *can't,*" he insisted. He's having a party tomorrow evening and I have to be there to help." His expression turned conciliatory. "Look, it isn't until the evening, so I'll have the whole day to rest, and really, I feel *fine.*"

"If you *promise* to rest," 'and not get anymore marks like that!', she wanted to add, "then you can go," his mother told him, standing up. "I'm going to be in the library with your father for a moment, dear -- should I call you when it's time for supper?"

"Yeah, I'll just rest until then," he said, catching her hand as she stood. "Thanks for understanding, mum."

Her fingers grasped his tightly for a moment, and despite her smile her eyes were still intensely worried. "I know this job is important to you."

Her fingers grasped his tightly for a moment, and despite her smile her eyes were still intensely worried. "I know this job is important to you."

All consumingly important -- but that had always been part of Zechs, to be so thoroughly devoted to what he did, be it a hobby or a job. "Just rest, hon."

The walk from Zechs' little apartment over the garage -- really just one large bedroom that he'd always lived in -- to Devlin's library was a short one; she knocked first, gently, before opening the door. "Do you have any idea what that was?"

Her husband was deep in a book that looked to weigh several stone. His hands ran through his hair and he was muttering to himself.

"I know I've seen that mark somewhere..."

"Devlin..." She stepped closer to him, to touch his shoulder gently. "I've never seen anything like that in my life."

He was looking in the index of the book, then, finding something, paged forward rapidly to a chapter entitled, "Symbols and Portents."

"I saw it in Divinity school... I just can't remember... wait!"

A long finger traced one of the columns on the page to a drawing of a young woman. She was reclining on a daybed and her blouse was mostly open. Around her neck and over her breasts was the same mark that Zechs had carried -- a spade-like tail that trailed around to her back.

Devlin gave a hoarse, croaking sound. "Fiona -- here it is... the demon's mark!"

"But Zechs... he hasn't done anything but go to work and back, and he'd *never*..." fiona trailed off into a shiver of voice, so very scared now that Devlin could feel her fingers shaking.

Devlin looked up at her. "What... did you say...? He's gone to work..." His eyes flashed for a moment. "What is he doing for that man, Fiona? Has he said anything to you?"

"Only what he told us at breakfast -- that he's filing papers for him," she said. "But... tomorrow he's going to a party for Mr. Khushrenada and doesn't have to go to work until the e...evening."

"I'm calling that man. If he's laid one hand on Zechs I'll see him *jailed*!"

He reached for the telephone called information, getting the main number at the Khushrenada Company.

A chill voice answered the phone, female and crisp. "Khushrenada co's headquarters -- may I help you?"

"I need to speak with Mr. Khushrenada at once," Devlin said, *just* as crisply. He wasn't about to be put off by a mere receptionist.

"Name, sir -- I'll see if he wishes to speak with you."

"My name is Devlin Marquise. I am the father of Zechs Marquise, his employee."

"I'll see if he's free," she told him crisply, and then put him on a silent hold for what felt like an eternity.

And then a new voice broke the silence, one accented from all corners of the world, cool and well modulated, "Treize Khushrenada speaking -- to what do I owe the honor, Mr. Marquise?"

"YOu owe the honor, Mr. Khushrenada, to the fact that my son came home from work today looking very ill indeed. I want to know what happened to him there and I want to know why..." He could hardly think of how to say it so he didn't sound a food. "I want to know why there was a reddish burn mark across his chest -- a demonic mark!"

"A *what*?" Khushrenada asked, sounding deeply incredulous of Devil. "Am I expected to know of this...?"

"He wasn't anywhere else, Mr. Khushrenada," Devlin said firmly. "He went to work this morning and came straight home, and when he got here he was acting very strangely and had this... this *mark* on him. JUst how do you explain this, sir??"

"I've no idea how to explain it or if I even can; he spent most of the morning and afternoon in my living room with my pet while I spoke with a client. Perhaps he's allergic to her," was the completely unflustered response.

"Pet?" Devlin said, sounding flustered. "How could an allergy to a dog or cat produce a mark that looks to be demonic, sir?"

"How could you expect me to know how he got it? Sir, are you trying to accuse me of... of *marking* your son?

"Where else could that mark have come from!" Devlin said hoarsely. "I want to know what you've been doing with him!"

'Doing with him...? Sir, he keeps track of my files for me and fetches my clients and I drinks; he serves tea and today, due to illness, he helped me to my penthouse's bedroom. I was asleep long before he clocked out for the day, nd I would like to return to my sleep -- perhaps we can finish this conversation before dinner on sunday."

There was something about the voice -- smooth and persuasive -- that Devlin couldn't argue with. Perhaps it was an allergy to the man's dog after all, he found himself thinking. What am I getting so worked up about. They could settle it on Sunday, surely...

"Very well," Devlin said, trying to sound firm. "We will see you then and you and I shall continue this conversation."

"How many should I expect to be attending...?"

"There are six of us," Devlin said. "My wife and I, my oldest son Paul, my two daughters, Eve and Sarah, and Zechs of course."

"Six?" he repeated back, that cool voice seeming to swell with a sort of amusement. "On Sunday then, Father Marquise."

And then he rang off.

"Sir," came Mrs Une's voice from the corner of the room. "Is the boy's father causing trouble?"

"Somewhat," Khushrenada sighed, leaning back in the chair at his desk, looking at her languidly. "But it changes nothing."

"He could be eliminated easily, sir. Should I take care of that?"

"No. Don't touch the boy or his family," was the rumble or an unquestionable Order from Khushrenada. "Zechs is mine now. It doesn't matter if his father tries to take him from me."

She frowned, staring at him in concern. "Sir, may I ask why the sudden possessiveness? He's only been with you a few days."

"Two," he told her with a minor note of amusement in his voice. "He's special -- like nothing I've had in a very long time."

"He's just a boy, sir. Surely there's nothing different about him from the many others you've had. May I remind you what happened last time...?"

"Would you dare to remind me of that failure?" he snapped, voice sharp, still cool, as he rose from his desk. "That one was a toy, and I don't care if toys die. Zechs... Zechs is so much more."

She was silent for a moment, obviously chastened by his remarks. The she stared over at him and murmured, "WHat more is there for you sir? I've rarely seen you choose favorites... certainly... favorites of *his* kind."

"Mortal... It's been so long since I've had a mortal lover that pleased me so very much," he murmured, moving around his desk to lean against it, fixing Une in his sharp gaze. "He's signed his soul to me and asked for nothing in return."

"ONly because he doesn't know he'd done it," she said quietly. "What will he do when he finds out, I wonder. Surely sir, he'd not worth all the effort you'll have to expend to keep him."

"What effort?"

"It sounds as though his father is not happy with the situation," she said pointedly. "Do you think he will feel any different after having come here on Sunday and seen who you are. He's a clergyman. Surely he's more knowledgeable than most. He's bound to be suspicious and will probably want his son to stop working for you."

"Zechs will know by then who I am," Khushrenada purred, the edges of his lips coming up in a wicked smile. "If he lasts through the party tomorrow, it will be no matter of whether his father suspects me or not."

"You should expect him to fail," she sniffed. "He hardly seems like the type to be able to withstand what will happen to him tomorrow evening."

"He will only be standing at my side," Khushrenada reminded her in a chiding tone. "And don't think to question my sense of one of my servants."

"You know the demons will want to play with him, sir..." she said, her tone almost pleased.

"They are not good enough to play with one I have given my favor," he drawled, brushing past her. "Lilith!"

The creature came out of his bedroom, peeked through the door, and then leapt up atop of Khushrenada's beautiful desk. "Sweet Lilith," he sighed, petting the animal's striped fur, still looking at Une. "You know how to treat a mortal male, don't you?"

The animal closed liquid eyes and made a sound that was almost like purring.

"They may try sir," Une said. "And he will not be able to fight back. He's too weak."

"Are you trying to displease me, Une?" he finally asked, chill eyes fixing sharply one her face. "Don't."

She held his gaze for a moment and then nodded her head.

"As you wish, sir."

"It will be, Une. Just as I wish. Come, Lilith," he moved into the living room, a beckoning pat to his hip for the animal to follow him.

Leaving Une along in his office to mull over the effects of being on Earth for too long.

Zechs gave one last tug on his tie, checking its position in the rear view mirror of his car, before steeping out and walking to the Khushrenada house. He was nervous -- nervous about what had happened between he and his employer the night before, nervous about how he'd handle the party, nervous about the memory of Khushrenada's last assistant, who'd not made it through the party alive.

Nodding to the triplets, who even now were at their desks, he made his way quickly up to Khushrenada's office, so he could knock on the door exactly on time.

"Come in, Zechs," the man greeted, standing up from his chair as Zechs entered the room.

Like everything else about Khushrenada, the tuxedo he wore was not simple.

It was old styled, something that would have been fitting from a hundred years before. Bits of gold and sparks of hard diamond marked buttons, cuff-links and his pocket chain, along with a single brilliant diamond piercing in his right ear. And the cloak that dusted against the floor, a velvet purple that was nearly black. Lilith padded into the room at the same time Zechs entered.

"Good evening, sir," Zechs said, feeling awkward and not really knowing why. What he did know was that the man before him was stunningly beautiful, the strange, antique clothing only adding to his aura of power and radiance.

"What would you like me to do first?" he murmured, trying not to stare at Khushrenada.

"Accompany me down a level so I can look over the ballroom once more," Khushrenada told him smoothly, while Lilith trotted to stand at Zechs' side. "Lilith will be shadowing you this evening, just as you will be at my side."

The headed out to the elevator and got in. Looking down at the animal by his side, Zechs said uneasily, "So, Lilith will be attending the party as well?"

"Lilith attends every party," his employer smiled smoothly, tapping with a light touch the proper buttons. "You will assuredly have an interesting evening; I must greet subordinates from around the world."

"All of the guests work for you, then?" Zechs asked, sneaking a peek at the man out of the corner of his eye.

In profile his face was nothing if not more beautiful than it had been the night before. So calm, youthful and beautiful, yet ancient and sad beyond belief. "All of them. Some of them I favor, others I work with out of necessity; they fall within my jurisdiction."

/Jurisdiction... an odd word. Are they all terrorists I wonder? And if they are... why am I still here, and working for him?/

"I see, sir," he said, trying to sound calm as the doors slid open.

"You will, Zechs. You will."

The ball room beyond was probably the most opulent thing Zechs had ever looked upon in his life, seeing the wide expanse from the very back, looking all the way up to the front. The lights were all candles -- every single spot of it in the room, real candles, in the chandeliers and in the fixtures on the sides of smooth stone walls. A type of grey granite, it looked like, very castle-like and chill; the floor was black marble, threaded through with gold, the carpet that led from the elevator doors the richest, darkest shade of red Zechs had ever seen in a shade of dye.

It was as if Khushrenada, when he stepped forward, laid his feet upon a river of blood. His expression as he entered the surreal room was not a joyous one; no, it grew even sadder, though the edges of his mouth curled a little when a servant approached, wearing a uniform very much like what Zechs wore. Only his skin and hair were of purest white, and he bowed, quickly telling him of the wines and foods to be served.

His ginger-haired employer only nodded crisply, as if he'd expected it to be so, and strode over the long length of the carpet, to where it stopped.

A marble throne that was curled in tendrils of gold. "You will sit at the steps at my feet, Zechs."

Trying not to stare at the albino servant, Zechs followed him hesitantly, glancing around at the astonishing room. The dark marble beneath his feet and the strange flicker of candlelight conspired to send a chill through him, not helped by the close presence of Lilith at his feet.

The throne was approached with an aire of familiarity, and Khushrenada pivoted perfectly, seating himself in it with the grace of nobility and the confidence of a lion. His hands settled atop the arms of the throne, stroking it with familiarity. "Sit, Zechs."

Looking around blankly, the blond boy noted with some discomfort that there were no chairs nearby. Feeling humiliated. he sat hesitantly at the man's feet. As he did so, an odd thrill went through him.

A thrill that repeated itself when Khushrenada leaned lazily towards Zechs, one hand alighting atop Zechs' head to run through his hair. "Sweet, sweet Zechs. You're going to hear a number of my names tonight..."

"Names, sir," Zechs murmured, pressing closer into that touch. "You have many?"

"Hundreds," he uttered sadly, still stroking. "Could you get comfortable here, Zechs?"

Zechs looked up at him, gazing into the sapphire eyes. "What do you mean, sir?" he said quietly.

"This atmosphere, Zechs -- could you learn to like it?"

Something moved inside his heart and Zechs sighed, laying his head on the man's knee. It felt a bit like he was watching himself from a long way off. "I could... if *you* were here, sir..."

"I am always here, Zechs," he was told, the rumble of voice deepening somehow. "I am always in this place."

"Then I always want to be here," Zechs said, marveling at his own words, seemingly without the ability to control them. He turned his head and pressed a reverent kiss to Khushrenada's thigh.

There were no more words to be said towards that matter -- only a softening of Khushrenada's icy lips, a sigh of enjoyment. Moments later, the elevator doors opened.

Two people stepped out, one a tall, gaunt man with a greenish-tinted face, the other a woman with long, striking black hair and eyes wide and staring. They moved forward into the ballroom and bowed deeply to the man on the throne.

"Greetings, Awar and Lamia," Khushrenada purred to them, shifting on his throne and not stopping in his lazy stroking of Zechs' hair. "Your service has been considerable of late."
The man spoke first, voice deep and rumbling. "It is our greatest pleasure, My Lord, to serve you."

"And you have served well," Khushrenada praised, "such loyal service will not be ignored." he was looking straight at the two, yet the elevator doors opened once, and then again, seconds later -- the assembly, it seemed to Zechs, were arriving in an array of off, beautiful clothing and strange appearances.

One such man had a powerful beauty to rival Khushrenada's -- strode up to the throne, knelt and smiled as he lifted his head to look at Khushrenada. "Beautiful evening, isn't it Lord Daystar?"

"Indeed, Arioch."

From where his head lay on Khushrenada's knee, Zechs could see the man's eyes. They were a dark green, and flashed silver when he moved. He was beautiful indeed, and the blond boy stared at him as if he were a work of art come to life.

"Will this be a tense affair, or shall we have some fun and shed the masks?"

"Once Demogorgon has arrived, Arioch," Khushrenada drawled. "He's a guest that I have no control over, sadly."

"Always interesting when he shows up," Arioch murmured, looking down at Zechs. ""A mortal, Lord? Another toy? What happened to your last one? Did you use him up too fast?"

"The last one was a sad mistake," the man still stroking Zechs' hair said, looking at Zechs with a fond gleam in his eyes. "This one is mine alone, Arioch -- spread the word of that."

"A pity, my Lord," the other man said, noting the slow progress of fingers through pale blond silk. "He is so *very* pretty. He'd be fun to play with."

"I'm sure all of you find your own catches easily enough," he uttered almost dryly, patting Zechs' head gently. "Time to let him truly Experience this..." And the haze of pleasure the boy had been sunk into by Khushrenada's touch lifted without the touch stopping. "Zechs, I want you to meet Lord Arioch; he meddles in the affairs of military."

Zechs's eyes seemed to clear of their vague cloudiness and he stood, nodding his head to the man. "Good evening, my Lord," he said hesitantly.

Arioch smiled broadly and nodded in return. "Only when it's absolutely necessary of course.."

"Have a pleasant evening, Arioch; I will summon you if you're needed,"

Khushrenada stood, too, as if sensing a shift in the air of the room, though no-one else noticed. For a moment his eyes turned to the windows that looked over the edges of london's night sky, but then he looked to the elevator, and drew himself up larger, or so it seemed.

The doors opened and a tall man stepped out. The first thing Zechs noticed about him was his hair. It swept down to his knees and was a deep black in color, so black it gleamed blue in the candlelight. Part of it was caught up in the back in an elaborate hairpiece inlaid with what looked like glowing jade. The long ends were here and there caught in circles of gold and tied with scarlet ribbon.

As he moved forward, his long robes rustled along the floor, a dark teal undercoat and a overjacket of deepest, midnight blue. His face was pale and almost frighteningly beautiful in it's proud and cold expression.

Sweeping down the room towards Khushrenada's throne, he came to a stop some ten feet from it and made a small bow. "Prince of the Air," he murmured.

Khushrenada gave him a crisp inclination of his head, gaze never parting from the new entrant's eyes. "Lord of the Fey," he purred, moving down a step to approach the man. Something in his motion told him he expected Zechs to follow, and Lilith was already padding to follow.

As Zechs approached the tall man, he could see eyes of darkest green. They weren't quite asian and not quite caucasian, giving the man an strange, exotic look.

"You call us together again," the man said stiffly. "How like you to think only of yourself and not of what you're guests might have been doing."

"If I want you at my beckoning, Demogorgan, then you will arrive then. Very seldom are you summoned." Shards of sapphire met those emerald flecks, and he moved his hand languidly to brush the edge of his own jaw. "How goes you realm?"

"My realm is in mourning for the destruction of my latest wife. It was a great inconvenience to lose her, but she was growing old... it could not be helped. I am courting a new one at present."

"Mortal or fey?"

"There are no attractive females in my kingdom at present," he sniffed haughtily, "but recently a very nubile young girl from a nearby village strayed too near my Hall. She has been taken and she will be mine, soon."

"Pure? It would be... messy if she were one of mine," Khushrenada said with no small amount of pleasure in his voice.

"Oh, she is very pure," Demogorgon said, eyes locked onto the other man's. "My wedding night will be pleasurable indeed."

"May your bride bear you many children. There is a certain pleasure to be taken from the company of mortals."

"So there is," Demogorgon drawled. "That one, for example?" He pointed to Zechs with a long, narrow finger.

"Zechs is very much mine," Khushrenada said with a slight challenging lift of his head, and a smile. "Mortals, as you know..."

The conversation grew all the more surreal for Zechs, surely, when Arioch's voice came again, excited. "Lord Lucifer! Belial arrives..."

Zechs looked up at the man's cry, but there were too many people in front of the elevators for him to see anything. He glanced up at Khushrenada for reassurance -- there was a definite current going through the room and it felt odd, an unhealthy excitement.

When the gathered people parted to let him pass and approach Khushrenada, Demogorgan and Zechs, all three standing on the red carpet. A Zechs' side Lilith arched against his leg, making a pleased noise.

Belial was a broad-formed man, his ensemble no-where near the decadent glory of the two nearest Zechs. A crisp shirt, clean pants, and a exuberant bow. "I'm not late, am I Lord Lucifer?" he asked, looking directly at Khushrenada when he spoke the words.

"No, you're perfectly on time for being the last to arrive. Arioch, shutter the windows."

The beautiful man's eyes gleamed and he moved to carry out the order. As far as Zechs could see, people were murmuring and smiling. What was about to happen?

"Tonight, ladies, gentlemen, fey, let us cast off these fetters we wear for humanity's sake!" Khushrenada's voice boomed once the windows were shuttered, already moving to his throne once more. But he didn't sit yet; his brilliant cloak was tossed uncaringly onto the gold and marble structure, and he stood at the upon the highest step, looking out over the gathered. "WE WILL BE DEFIANT!"

A deafening roar came from the crowd as Zechs turned to watch his employer, the sapphire eyes gleaming, a hand held high in a fist.

Then, all around him, the people who had come to the party, the people who looked only slightly exotic, but otherwise normal, began to change.

The man with the greenish face grinned broadly as his skin began to darken and then slide off of his face to reveal a gaunt, skull-like head. The woman beside him stared at Zechs as her breasts enlarge grotesquely and her mouth widened to a sickening proportion.

Arioch, moving to stand on the first step, and then others with him -- all turning into brilliant creatures, their already beautiful faces growing moreso than Zechs could have believed possible. Beside him the creature that had been a pleased-sounding animal turned into a beautiful, seductive looking woman, long white hair that bore black streaks cascading down and over her body. He could see Mrs. Une, with her familiar braids, clear across the room, turning into a grotesque creature.

A sickening *snap* pulled his eyes back to his employer.

He seemed to be feeding from the joyousness in the crowd, that fist still held up in the air, even as he, too, changed. Clothes melted away entirely, but the glitter of gold and diamonds didn't. The snap must have come from the broad grey wings that were now folding back against the glowing golden skin of Khushrenada's back.

"Our light bearer," Arioch whispered, starting a chant that soon added more names.

"Old Reg."




"Little Horn."

"Prince of Tyrus."

/No... what in God's name...?/ Zechs mind was reeling, his eyes wide, mouth open in shock. The chanted names continued and the crowd seemed to be surging forward, towards the creature that had been his employer. He could feel them all around him as he stared at the figure on the throne.

"Treize..." he whispered. "Treize..."

"*Defy*, my friends. Tonight we take as ours -- Defy! Prove to Him his failings!" Khushrenada roared, only *feeling* the chant as it surged higher, more names still.

"Herr Drachen!"



"*GO*!" A final rumbling order, as he seated himself in the throne, atop the beautiful purple cloak.

In a flash, the grotesque figures vanished, all scattering to the windows and out through them like shadows. The remaining guests, the beautiful and seductive figures, remained behind, lifting their arms and voices in revelry, beginning to dance and embrace.

Lilith moved closer to Zechs, her smile intimate and voluptuous.

"Come up to my throne, Zechs, and sit," Khushrenada purred, turning eyes on him that were brilliant -- mercurial, flickering between golden and sapphire, roiling with the color. His hair, too, shifted color with every moment. "Lilith, join the play."

"Yes my Lord," she said, her voice liquid velvet. She ran a hand over Zechs's chest and then slipped into the riotous crowd.

Zechs watched her go and then forced himself to approach the man on the throne. His face had gone white with fear and he couldn't stop the trembling in his body, no matter how hard he tried.


"I won't hurt you, sweet boy," he purred, leaning forwards minutely and shifting his great wings, folding them a little tighter against his back. "I told you I has so many names."

A shiver ran through the blond boy as the wings moved and settled. /Can this really be happening? SUrely I must be dreaming this. It can't be -- there's no such thing as a beautiful devil.../

"*The*," came the correction as he held a hand out to Zechs, full lips curling, "not just 'a' beautiful devil. We are the Fallen, the Prideful, the Beautiful."

"You're... you're really... you're really him?" Zechs said, his voice weak.

~"Yes."~ A word that echoed both in Zechs' ears and in his mind, while the being on the throne smiled at him, eyes shifting color once again.

It felt as if all the air were being taken out of his lungs, and Zechs felt himself slip to the floor, ending on his knees, his gaze still on the unbelievable creature before him. /I'm losing my mind... I've gone insane and I'm trapped inside this hallucination.../

"Not at all -- rise up, my lovely, and join me." The hand beckoned again, Khushrenada trusting that Zechs had the strength of want to rise.

Part of him wanted to shrink back, to run as fast as he could, to flee from what he knew was ultimate evil. But the sight of that hand, smooth and persuasive, and the radiant face behind it, pulled him up and he slowly walked forward, straight into the devil's arms.

It wasn't something one could escape, once they chose it -- the Morning Star wasn't about to give up a consort.

The coolness of flesh was gone now as the beautiful winged man enfolded his mortal within strong arms -- now, a brightly burning thing, his body glowed with head that pulsed with every shimmer his skin gave. "Sweet boy."

The heat flooded Zechs, reaching to every part of him and banishing the voices that still screamed in his head. Why should he run? He had everything he needed right here; life and beauty and sweet pleasure, all in the powerful arms of this radiant creature.

"Sir... so beautiful..." he whispered.

"Call me 'Treize'," the creature, 'Treize', breathed, as he settled back in his throne, settling Zechs' back against his powerful chest. "Watch my Fallen play, Zechs."

The blond boy looked out across the room at the whirling of bodies, each one shining and beautiful, moving together to a raucous music that only know he became aware of. It flowed through the crowd and seemed to press them against one another and in the center he could see Lilith rubbing against the Fey King, who held her fast in long, slender hands.

"Why are they fallen... Treize?" he murmured.

"We were cast out for my folly of pride; these are my loyal, my trusted brothers and sisters in arms," the voice in his arms purred in the saddest voice Zechs' had heard in his existence. "We are the Fallen, the Dispossessed, the Unloved. Stay with me, Zechs Marquise. Stay with me."

The heat from Khushrenada's body was relaxing him and he leaned his head back against the powerful chest. "What good am I to you? I'm... I'm not like them... you could have anyone of them..."

"I have had them," Zechs was told. "All of them -- but I learned quickly that it turns them against each other."

"Will they hate me?" Zechs asked, his voice small, still struggling a bit against the pleasure he felt in Treize's arms.

"No. They know I tire of pleasures that still amuse them. You will not be hated." The breath against his neck drew closer, his golden hair pushed to one side with a heated gentle touch. "You are mine."

A shiver went through the boy with those words, with that warm breath and sweet caress. "Yours..." Zechs whispered, feeling the last of his will giving way. "Yours... my Lord..."

Across the room the movements were getting more intimate and several of the creatures were obviously engaging in what passed for sex among the Fallen. Moans and cries filled the air, weaving into the music that seemed to come from everywhere.

As his cheeks flushed a deep red, Zechs found he couldn't take his eyes off the writing figures and their obvious pleasure made him press back against the creature behind him, his blood beginning to warm unbearably.

A gentle warming that rose to a boil when Treize unbuttoned the tuxedo shirt with surprising ease, hot fingers slipping inside and beneath the thin cloth. Ripples of that heat lingered at every point where he'd touched, singing at Zechs in unison. The song within him grew louder still when warm soft lips pressed against his neck. ~Watch them while I take you.~

As his cheeks flushed a deep red, Zechs found he couldn't take his eyes off the writing figures and their obvious pleasure made him press back against the creature behind him, his blood beginning to warm unbearably.

A gentle warming that rose to a boil when Treize unbuttoned the tuxedo shirt with surprising ease, hot fingers slipping inside and beneath the thin cloth. Ripples of that heat lingered at every point where he'd touched, singing at Zechs in unison. The song within him grew louder still when warm soft lips pressed against his neck. ~Watch them while I take you.~

"o~oh..." Zechs warbled softly, body arching up to the heat of those fingers. "Treize... my Lord..."

He felt himself harden as he watched them all, bodies meshing together without regard for male or female. Many of them were in groups now, connected to two or even three bodies. Without a deep moan he realized that there entirely too many hands, too many hardened shafts for the number of creatures there...

"It is beauty unrestrained," Treize whispered, and then Zechs felt his clothes disappear entirely. From being parted off of his chest to nothing at all, so that his naked body was resting atop the beautiful creature behind him. Burning warm fingers settled on his nipples, pinching slowly as teeth bite at the muscle of his neck, exploring mortal flesh.

Zechs gave a soft cry, arching further towards that intimate touch and beginning to rock back and forth on Treize's lap. The sighs and moans that seemed to come from everywhere around the room only quickened his desire and he pleaded softly with the creature that held him -- pleaded for more, as much as he could stand.

"Oh, *please*... please... I need it so *badly*..."

~Satisfy that need, sweet, in me,~ he was urged, one heated hand dropping to stroke over his cock, while the other pulled his hips so that he was sitting right over an undeniable heated hardness. Invisible fingers took up the motion over his nipples, pinching perhaps a bit harder over already aching nubs. ~Impale yourself on me.~

"Ohhhh... *yes*..." Zechs whispered, lifting his hips and then lowering himself onto a long, hot shaft that seemed to go on an on, filling him completely. He gave a long, wanton cry as he was penetrated, back arching towards those maddening fingers, hips not knowing whether to press backwards, further onto his impalement, or forwards towards other knowing hands that stroke him feverishly.

The last time had been ice, a burning chill that stroked passion to life within him; and now the creature on the throne filled him with a searing heat, his hands lifting Zechs up off of him, and lowering him again. ~Wanton, beautiful boy... You take me in so perfectly -- shall you take all of me?~

The only answer coming from the blond was long, low moan of pleasure. His eyes had closed and he didn't see the creatures, still rutting throughout the chamber, turn their eyes to the throne to watch their Master possess his mortal.

/Anything... anything for you.../

It was just him there, alone, riding slowly atop the demon's groin; he was filled, deeper than the last time, wider, all that he could physically stand before pleasure would transform into pain. ~Anything. My Beautiful Zechs.~ The pulsing rhythm that held him began to throb higher, every spot that had been touched now in perfect tune.

And the throbbing made him lose control, too filled with desire to think of anything but that deep heat inside of him.

Zechs threw back his head and gave a pleasured howl that seemed to echo through the chamber. He was nothing now but impaled flesh and that was all he ever wanted to be.

The creatures before then seemed to draw excitement from the mortal boy's noises, and their own cries grew louder, bodies writhing wildly in mad congress with each other.

~Yes, my boy, my sweet, mine, mine...~ That echoed louder in his ears than ever, the intense *mine* as that impossible impalement twitched within him, washing his inside with a burning light.

"Ahh! Ahhhh!! Ohhhh..." It was too much for Zechs and he felt himself come, flooding those strange hands and making him so dizzy he could hardly stay upright. The pleasure was deep and intense, like nothing he'd ever felt before and for a moment, he wasn't sure he could survive it. But it went on and on and on... shaking him to the very core of his being.

He had no idea how the rest of the evening went; only that when he regained consciousness he was laying in Khushrenada's bed.

It could have been a terrible hallucination, the dancing forms, the evil and beautiful faces that had surrounded him, Lilith human-looking body...

Only, standing at the end of the bed in a contemplative manner was Khushrenada. He was half-way between his glory of the evening and his human form -- bothering to wear a pair of loose pants, yet there was nothing he could put over his chest that wouldn't interfere with his beautiful large wings, still folded against his back. "I see you've awakened."

"Treize...? What... Where is everyone? How did I get here...?"

"You've been sleeping for a few hours now -- the gathering is over." In truth, if had simply dissipated out across the city, where Mortal eyes would not see the laughing demons and beautiful Fallen. "I carried you down here."

"I... I didn't mean to fall asleep!" Zechs said, sitting up suddenly. "I'm sorry, sir! I should have been helping you..."

"You did," he was told, his employer's lips curling into a soft smile as he stepped forwards, shifting his wings some. A half-hearted stretch of them. "Don't you remember?"

Far, far to late, Zechs felt himself blush. He did remember and the thought of what they'd done, or at least the part that he'd been conscious for, made him feel strangely excited and terrified at the same time.

"It was... so good, sir..." he whispered, ducking his head and feeling slightly ashamed.

"Don't be ashamed, Zechs -- you were with the most shamed beings in existence."

Far, far too late, Zechs felt himself blush. He did remember and the thought of what they'd done, or at least the part that he'd been conscious for, made him feel strangely excited and terrified at the same time.

"It was... so good, sir..." he whispered, ducking his head and feeling slightly ashamed.

"Don't be ashamed, Zechs -- you were with the most shamed beings in existence."

"But I wasn't one of them... until now," came the reply.

Zechs felt the sting of tears behind his eyes and keep his head lowered so that Treize couldn't see him. "What have I done...?"

Not seeing the tears didn't mean that Treize was unaware, moving forwards smoothly to lift Zechs' chin with one cool hand. "Sweet, why are you sad?"

"Am I going to burn in hell forever?" the blond asked. "I am, aren't I? I'm going to suffer for eternity for what I've done with you..." The tears were falling now, but Zechs kept his eyes on the winged creature above him.

"Not everyone suffers," Treize told him, putting a knee down on the bed to get closer to his mortal lover. "Hell isn't quite what you think."

The name send a lick of fear through Zechs and he let out a little gasp. "My father told me that hell is eternal suffering... eternal separation from God... is that true?"

"It's eternal suffering for those who give me their souls in return for earthly rewards; it is suffering for the Fallen, all of us who know what it is to be with Him... and it is separation." There was no way to soften the truth, and he didn't want to lie to his new lover -- wanted to let the boy know what he was going into. the more willing, the better.

Zechs looked up at him, confused, looking for reassurance. "Will you get rid of me after a time?" he asked. "Will you have me killed, too?"

"I won't be getting rid of you, or killing you, my sweet." The words *sounded* so truthful... but he was talking with the Devil! the ultimate liar, the deceiver!

There was a long pause and then Zechs murmured, "Did you love Him once? Do you regret your decisions? If you could do it all again... would you do the same things?"

"I knew you were the son of a theologian," he sighed with a faint smile, sitting down beside Zechs, his long lean body barely making the bed shift, despite the weight of wings. "Yes -- I couldn't do anything but. God pays this world no attention; someone must."

"But you do terrible things here!" Zechs said, turning towards him. "Are you so against anything good? Do you do those things just out of spite?"

"It's my duty," the cool being told him, voice stressing that clearly. "To weed out those who would fall to folly."

"The weak ones," Zechs said quietly. "Like me."

"No." cool fingers slid at the side of his jaw, and the other hand rose to draw the boy up in a kiss. "You didn't fall; I pulled you down."

Sweet fire raged through Zechs at the touch of the man's lips. Had he ever had a chance? Even if he had the strongest character of anyone on earth, would he have been able to resist this kind of pleasure?

The kiss broke, he gulped for air and murmured, "Why me?"

"You're beautiful, charming, respectful, guileless," the demon purred, fingers stroking gently at the side of Zechs' face. "No-one is perfect, but you are perfectly what I want. Now, you had better rise, and dress; I'll get you home; tomorrow you and your family will be dining here."

Zechs's eyes went wide. "My family -- I can't let them come here! I don't want them hurt! Please, I beg you!!" His hands reached up to Treize's shoulders, beseeching.

Those large wings unfolded, and curled forwards, around them both. "They will not be hurt."

Without thinking, Zechs's arms slid around Treize's waist and he pressed his face to the man's neck. "Thank you... thank you so much!"

"Don't thank me, sweet," the rich voice murmured, cool tones reaching towards soothing but not quite meeting that point.

"I do thank you," Zechs said quietly. "I don't want my shame to touch them."

"Our shame. Ours." Rueful, Khushrenada rocked his lover a little, still keeping him close; one hand cradled the back of Zechs' neck. "Now we shall be alone in this world together."

"Yes," Zechs said, surprised by the ease with which the word came forth. The decision was made, really. And now the horror of it, the profundity of what he'd done seemed far away and the only thing that mattered was the presence of the creature beside him.

"Yes, my soul is yours..."

Devlin, when he knocked on the door of his son's room, was wary of the coming meeting with Mr. Khushrenada. So, to make his stance on such things as the mark Zechs had borne upon returning from work on friday, his clerical collar was clearly visible, and he had a cross tucked neatly beneath the black shirt. And another cross to give to his son.

"Come in," said a slightly shaky voice from within.

"Zechs...? Are you ready for dinner yet?" his father asked, peeking into the room carefully. Nothing had changed...

Zechs was dressed in his best suit. He turned away from the mirror, where he'd been adjusting his tie, and tried to smile at his father. Every word he'd spoken to the man since coming back from the "party" had felt like betrayal.

"I'm ready. Everyone else as well?" he said.

"Waiting downstairs; we'll take two cars, and meet there. but first, Zechs..." He pulled the small gold cross out of his pocket, offering it to his son. "Put this one."

Trying not to flinch, Zechs turned away quickly and looked back in the mirror, adjusting a tie that was perfectly straight.

"Dad, you know how I feel about jewelry," he said, trying to sound light. "I don't need that." /And it wouldn't do me any good, even if I put it on and bathed in holy water.../

"Son, it's not *jewelry*," Devlin uttered, tensing as he kept it held out to Zechs. "Put it on under your shirt."

"Dad!" he said turning towards his father again. "I don't want it! It might be your style but it's... it's not mine."

"Zechs bishop Marquise, it's a *cross*, not a style! i thought I'd raised you better than that!"

Zechs stared at him, eyes glaring. "Why are you being so *stubborn* about this? You're acting like a hero in a bad movie about vampires! Do you think I should wear garlic as well?"

"Maybe," his father gritted out, looking at his son with deep concern, "but if I shouldn't be worried, why are you refusing to wear it?"

"Because it's ridiculous!" Zechs countered, "and insulting to Mr. Khushrenada! What are you going to do, sprinkle holy water all over him just because I had an allergy to something? Dad, we're not living in the middle ages. Don't embarrass me like this!"

"Fine," he sighed softly, moving to the door. "Fine. Your 'old man' won't embarrass you. Your mother and I will drive with your sisters, and your brother can ride with you."

As his father walked out ahead of him, he murmured, "Thanks, Dad -- I appreciate it..." /I'm too far gone for you to help... don't waste your efforts on me./

In the evening, lit up in places, the outside of the Khushrenada co. building looked like a great cathedral, woven of glass, steel and stone. Zechs led the way into the empty, echoing main hallway; the three secretaries didn't hesitate in letting him pass on through the next barely lit, silent corridor, to the elevator that he held the password to.

"You work *here*, Zechs?" his older brother asked him in a tense voice. "It's so..."

"So what?" Zechs asked, looking over at him. He punched in the code and they were lifted upwards smoothly and silently.

"Unreal," his oldest sister completed for him, looking over to her mother in the compact space of the elevator. "Mr. Khushrenada lives in this building?"

"Yes, on the top floor," Zechs said. He was more than a little nervous -- he was terrified his family would find out the truth about his 'job' and he didn't want them anymore suspicious then they already were.

"It makes sense," he added. "He can be close to his business this way."

The elevator reached the top floor, and Zechs tapped in '13lucstar' again; crisp metal doors slip open, letting the Marquise family into the short hallway.

"Oh, the decorum," the younger of his sisters exclaimed, stepping out just after him, eyes drawn to everything.

"Ostentatious," Devlin muttered, glancing around, though his eyes were drawn to the religious paintings lining the walls.

Zechs, not knowing exactly where to go, headed for the living room door and knocked on it. "Sir? Are you in there?"

"Just on time!" Khushrenada's voice greeted him from within the living room, door opening smoothly. the smile on this face was familiar to Zechs, as if made just for him, even as Khushrenada offered his hand to Devlin first. "Mr. and Mrs. Marquise, it's a pleasure to meet you -- please, come in."

He wasn't dressed anywhere near as gorgeous as the night before; only crisp black trousers and a deep navy-blue sweater that accented a beautiful body. but he blended well into the comfortable dim lighting in the room, small lamps turned low.

Devlin took his hand, reluctantly it seemed, and dropped it instantly, looking down at his fingers as if they'd been stung. The rest of the family, however, seemed to have no problems and soon there had been handshakes all around.

"Sir, please let me introduce my brother Paul, my sister Eve, and my sister Sarah."

"A please to meet all of you -- come, sit down, and don't mind my pet too much," he said in a genial manner, stepping out of the doorway to let them enter the room. Lilith was sitting dead center, surveying all of them as they came in and dismissing any of them as threats. "Would anyone like a drink? Dinner will be a few more minutes."

As Zechs moved into the room, the entire family stopped dead in their tracks, staring at the strange animal on the floor.

"W-What is that?" Eve said quietly"

"She's a hybrid of a siberian tiger and a labrador -- rather exotic, I know," Khushrenada drawled, patting his hip once, an obvious gesture to the animal. "Lilith, bed." A moment of non-reaction, and then she trotted through another door that was barely cracked open. "She'll probably come out when dinner is served, but I know she makes people uncomfortable."

Five pairs of eyes followed the animal out the door and then swung back to regard Treize warily.

"Mr. Khushrenada," Devlin said, breaking the silence, "I believe you agreed that we could talk before dinner. I'd like to do that now if it's convenient."

"I can serve drinks if you like sir," Zechs murmured, hating the idea of his father and Treize alone. Treize had promised nothing would happen, but his father was *minister*...

"Thank you, Zechs," Khushrenada said with a light inclination of his head, a smile to the ladies and Paul. "I'll return in a moment; hopefully by then dinner will be served in the dining room." He glanced to Devlin for a moment, those sharp blue eyes almost cutting. "We could follow after Lilith, if you'd like...?"

"Fine," Devlin replied, his own eyes almost steely in their suspicion. He followed Treize out of the room and into his office.

"Have a seat," he nearly ordered, gesturing to the chair across from the large high-backed one that he settled comfortably in. "Now, you wished to talk with me?"

"I did," Devlin said in a sharp tone. "I want to know exactly what my son is doing here during the day."

"And I told you, Mr. Marquise -- do you see those filing cabinets behind you? He keeps them perfectly, to my exacting standards. And he servers drinks, just like he's doing now," Khushrenada rumbled coolly.

"And he comes home with strange marks," Devlin said, "marks that happen to show up in my theological dictionary as signs of the devil. Not only that but twice now he's come home as if in a daze. How do you explain such behavior, sir!"

"Maybe he is consorting with a devil," Khushrenada chuckled, shaking his head, "But it's not in my office. I can't say I'd care if he were -- he's the most precise household assistant I've ever had."

"And I've told you, sir, that he doesn't *go* anywhere else but here! Now *something* here is causing him to be that way and you, as his employer, have an obligation to find out what it is." He hesitated and then spoke again. "Or to tell me what it is, if you already know of it!"

"Really, why are you trying to accuse me of this?" Khushrenada sighed, fingers stretching atop the arms of the chair. "It's obvious you're not going to take any answer until you hear the one you want; may i remind you that your son *is* of legal age?"

Devlin's eyes grew wide. Drawing himself up, he thundered, "and just what does *that* imply, sir?? I demand to know what you have been doing with my son!!"

The edges of Khushrenada's mouth curled up for a moment, one forked eyebrow raising a little, "Jumping to conclusions?"

"You *bastard*! How dare you treat me this way, a 'guest' in your house. You do nothing but rebuff every question I have. An honorable man would never do such a thing."

"I seldom have a guest try to interrogate me, when I'm *trying* to not divulge things that would make dinner quite uncomfortable; I've no grudge against you, Father Marquise," the man was told in cool tones.

"And just what do you mean by that, Mr. Khushrenada?" Devlin said, taking a step towards the desk.

"Yes, it does matter to me what age your son is, because I'm having sex with him," was the unruffled answer.

The color drained from Devlin's face. "Y-You're *what*? he rasped.

"I really don't think you need to have that repeated for you, Mr. Marquise," Khushrenada told him in an almost sympathetic tone of voice.

"My son... how could you?" the priest said in a strangled voice. "You're his employer!"

"A fact I'm well aware of," Khushrenada said with a flicker of pain crossing his face. "But... I've fallen completely in love with him."

Zechs's father stood for several moments, silently regarding the other man and then said quietly. "What were those marks, Khushrenada? What did you do to him?"

"I don't know -- I didn't see any marks on him at the time," he uttered, rising smoothly from his chair, too, to look Devlin in the eye.

"Don't you *dare* hurt my son," Devil rasped. "I will hunt you down and kill you if you do!"

Something glinted in Khushrenada's eyes -- a spark of gold, almost, there and gone. "Not words I often hear -- but, you shouldn't worry. I wouldn't hurt your son." And then he offered one chill hand to Devlin, a sign of no hard feelings.

It took everything that Devlin had to shake that cold hand, and after he did, he felt icy and weak. "I don't approve at all of what you're doing. I want you to know that..."

"I never thought you would, given your job -- but keep in mind that your son has one of the most powerful men in the world to take care of and protect him."

Devlin's expression was bitter and he turned away towards the door. "Don't say anything about this to my wife," he said hoarsely. "It would tear her apart to know..."

"I wouldn't think about it -- Despite your opinion, I'm a gentleman," Khushrenada said with a faint smile, opening the office door to head into the living room. He spotted Lilith slinking out of his bedroom door, and just sighed, patting his hip again. the animal came running. "Looks like having company over has gotten her excited..." He spared a moment as they re-entered to smile at Zechs.

The blond boy's eyes darted from Treize to his father, his face a mask of anxiety. /Does he know? About you? Oh, please tell me he doesn't!/

~Only that we're lovers; please relax, sweet.~

Khushrenada smiled at Mrs. Marquise and Zechs' siblings as he knelt with royal grace beside Lilith's form, slender hands stroking over soft fur. "She's really not quite the threat she'd seem. Do any of you have pets?

They all looked at each other uneasily and then Fiona said, "A cat... we have a cat named Shadow."

"Oh, really? Cats are lovely animals to own," he murmured, petting Lilith lightly atop her head, touch so oddly knowing and gentle with the animal. surely, it was helping the appearance of eccentricity -- but, it was also keeping them from studying too closely his walls, the decorum.

"What... is *this*?" Paul said, looking at the small, whirring machine and it's blue smoke. At least one Marquise's attention had wandered and he stood a few feet from it, staring at it, transfixed.

And Khushrenada startled -- well, if not startled, started to his feet, giving Lilith a nasty scare. "don't touch that."

Paul backed away quickly, giving the man an odd look. "I... I wasn't going to touch it," he said, a little defensively. "I just wanted to know what it was. I mean... how does the smoke get out? There aren't any holes in the top?"

"Tiny holes -- it's a porous casing," Khushrenada said with a slight curling of his lips. "Very, very delicate. Some of the things in this room are irreplaceable."

"What is it for?" Paul persisted, looking down at the tiny machine again. Every Marquise face was turned towards Treize, except for Zechs's. He was looking away, into the fire, face strained with anxiety.

"I've no idea, really," Khushrenada commented, moving towards it and sweeping a hand through the smoke. "Perhaps it's an ancient humidifier?" while he made that motion, though, he spotted a file sitting on the table nearby and swept up quickly the black-tagged thing, making a musing sound. "Zechs, would you put this away for me? I'm going to see if dinner if prepared yet."

"Yes, sir," Zechs murmured, taking the icy thing in his hands and hurrying away into the office with it.

The question rose in his mind again, of what was in those folders. Khushrenada dealt in contracts, in...

In souls. He wasn't just Khushrenada, he was the *devil*, so Zechs must have been filing away souls in that cabinet!

It made him feel ill, particularly remembering the file that had let out a small shriek. These were living things he was putting away in the drawers. The essence of human lives...

For a moment he thought he was about to be violently sick and he dropped to his knees by the desk, one hand over his mouth. /DIdn't I see one of these... for myself? My soul is locked away in here...

Tucked into a blue marked folder, just like Mr. Lloyd had been. What did each color mean?! Why were the black ones so cold, the red so hot, the green so heavy, while the blue had no property to them?

He had a sudden urge to find his folder -- to open it up and see what was in it. Standing shakily, he moved to the cabinets and filed the cold black folder away, then turned to the drawer marked, 'Ma-Mc.'

The cabinet opened easily under his fingers, large drawer sliding out smoothly. /Marquise, Marquise.../ It was still the thin, propertyless blue folder, while the rest of the drawer still bloomed with heat and cold in spots; the one before his name, in fact, glowed with a burning heat when his fingers brushed it.

/Will mine do that someday? Hot or cold? Or will it be heavy? Oh, *god* what have I done!/ He reached the file with, "Marquise, Zechs B." across the top and pulled it out, dropping it face up on top of the other files.

/I have to know... I have to know what I've done... what's in this file.../

Lifting it quickly, he broke the seal and opened it.

There was nothing -- it was stunning in the anticlimacticism of it. Just a single sheet of paper, typed neatly in legalese, with his signature at the bottom, dated for the day he'd accepted the job.

The signature with which he'd signed away his soul. No detailing of his couplings with the most powerful of demons; no listing of his small sins in life.

He looked at his signature on the page and remembered vividly when he had signed it. /Didn't even look at what it said... stupid idiot. You deserve to be with the devil.../

Feeling a wave of self-disgust, he close the file and stuffed it back into the cabinet drawer, then turned to rejoin his family in the living room.

Khushrenada wasn't in the room any longer -- nor Lilith. Just his family, all of them looking nervous to one degree or another.

"He's... really odd, Zechs," Eve said quietly.

"He's just... eccentric," Zechs said, "that's all. He's been all over the world and he has tons of money... that's bound to make a person a little... quirky." /Stop asking questions... *please* just stop asking questions!/

"Seems a little, I don't know... *queer* to me," Paul sniffed. "I'd watch myself it I were you, Zechs."

"Paul!" Zechs' mother snapped. "You don't say such things -- that's very cruel to say and I expect far better than that from you. The man may be a little quirky, but there's no grounds for calling him such a thing!"

Zechs's head was down, to better hide scarlet red cheeks. He could feel his father staring at him and wondered if the man was going to say anything, but the elder Marquise kept silent. "Well, I think this is a very interesting place!" said his youngest sister, Sarah. She was smiling and looking at everything in the room with wide, gray eyes. "Look -- there's a beautiful angel!"

She walked to a tall figurine that stood on a table across from the door. It was painted exquisitely and, for the first time, Zechs noticed the gray wings, the shining face, and ginger hair...

"It doesn't look like a very happy angel," Paul snorted. "Grey wings. With everything else in here, I'm amazed they aren't ash-black! Father, you've seen the pentagram there, haven't you?"

"No, I *hadn't*" Devlin said, walking up to it and then looking pointedly at his younger son. "Zechs, I want the truth. Does this man practice Devil worship?"

Fiona's hand went to her mouth. "*Devlin*!"

"No Dad," Zechs said. At least he was able to answer that one truthfully. /No Dad, it's something much, much worse.../

"Maybe Zechs is right," Eve said, looking at the beautifully done, intricate design around the pentagram, all wrought of the same silver as the symbol itself. "maybe he's just odd -- it... it's a nice piece of craftsmanship, maybe he just bought it because it was pretty..."

"What's pretty?" Khushrenada's voice, sudden where everyone could have sworn they hadn't heard him enter the room.

Eve jumped and stepped back from the pentacle. "Ah, this sir," she said pointing to it. "It's sinister but still, a pretty work of art, if... well, if that's all it's for..."

"I've never really seen the sense of these," he purred, moving forwards to lift it, chain and all, from the simple wooden stand, the symbol resting perfectly in the palm of one elegant fingered hand. "But it was a gift."

"They're used in satanic rituals," Devil said pointedly. "Or didn't you know that?"

"Dad!" Zechs said, glaring at his father. /Let's just have dinner and be *done* with this!!/

"Do you really think, sir, that a *symbol* could call down *anything* powerful?" Khushrenada asked him in a serious tone of voice, and then dropped it down over his neck, tucked beneath his sweater. "A pretty bauble of jewelry couldn't do it anymore than a stop sign could. Now, Dinner is served in the dining hall -- this way Mr. and Mrs Marquise, Paul, Eve, Sarah."

Zechs could see his father's face stiffen as Khushrenada donned the pentacle.

"If find that very offensive, sir," Devlin said to Treize's back. "I'd rather it not be at the table with us. We are a Christian family, Mr. Khushrenada, and the sign of the Devil is repugnant to us."

"Really? Well, then I apologize," was the reply, in a tone that had no such feeling behind it. The symbol was yanked quickly off of is neck, and then tossed back over his shoulder, towards a corner -- broken chain and all.

Then Khushrenada led them into the dining hall; yet when Zechs, the last one to pass out of the room, passed the necklace, it was whole again.

Dinner was more extravagant than it had been the day Zechs had dined with Khushrenada -- there was Lobster again, laid in the center of the long table, on either side of a stack of cuts of game-meat, the haunches amongst it. The candles were gleaming with an intense burn that evening, and somehow, the dining table had lengthened from the last time. "If Lobster is a problem for any of you, the meat in the center is venison. Quite good, too -- the chef can cook nearly anything to perfection."

"It... looks delicious, Mr. Khushrenada," Fiona said, smiling timidly. "Thank you, for inviting us."

"You're more than welcome -- I enjoy having guests up here who aren't my clients," he said, sitting down at the head of the table, while mentally asking Zechs to sit to his right. Lilith, too, padded in, to sit towards Khushrenada's right side, curling lazily on her side like any cat would. "Your house, with so many people in it, must be drastically different than my home here."

"We like it," Devlin said firmly. "It's good to have the company of large family. Are you not married, Mr. Khushrenada?" he asked, pointedly.

"Married? Ohh, no, no, I'd never go in for a large fiasco like that," he chuckled coolly. "Never."

"Fiasco?" Devlin and Fiona said in unison.

"What do you mean by that, Mr. Khushrenada?" Sarah asked, bewildered.

"Just that any *woman* I would ever involve myself with, in such a manner, would want only my empire and power -- half of it, to be exact, probably a year after the marriage. And my... what passes for my family could never set foot in a church."

Devlin looked up, bristling a bit. "And why is that, pray tell?"

"Oh, social norms I would suppose," he mused, as a crisp, cool-looking servant went to each of them and asked if they would prefer lobster or deer. "Though a few would probably get struck with lightening or some such. Every family has a few members that are despicable, though."

It wasn't a thorough answer -- not in the least -- and Devlin continued to glare at Khushrenada under his brows.

"Does your family live near by, Mr. Khushrenada?" Fiona asked politely.

"No -- I am, in fact, the only one who lives in England; the rest of us are scattered around the world." He lifted his wine-glass smoothly to his lips, looking over at Zechs for a brief moment.

The blond boy felt his cheeks go red, and it was some moments before he could break that intense, blue gaze.

"Have you traveled much?" said Sarah, eagerly. "I'd *love* to see Italy!"

"Italy? Ah, I've travelled Italy -- the ruins are beautiful. The Romans left behind as much beauty as the renaissance... greece, too -- you must go to greece, if you travel," he told the eager young girl, signaling for the servant to give Lilith a haunch to eat.

"You've been to *all* those places?" she said, looking awestruck. "Oh, you're so lucky! I've never been anywhere but England."

"There's nowhere better than England in my opinion," Paul said to her. "You should consider yourself lucky you were born in the most beautiful country on earth."

"The most soddingly damp country on earth," Khushrenada sighed. "This is no Eden, Paul -- you should really travel some once you're out of divinity school."

Paul look surprised at the reference and then glanced over at Zechs. "So you've told him all about us, eh?" he said, not looking quite happy about it.

"No, I -- " Zechs tried to think what to say, but couldn't, so he gave Treize a pleading look.

"What's wrong with a little conversation between people?" came the crisp question to Paul. "I ask questions; it's my habit to know everything I can."

"So how much about us do you know?" Eve asked warily.

The edges of Khushrenada's lips curled up a little; at that very moment, Lilith began to crunch against the bone of the haunch she'd been given. "More than you'd think; but it's what I do."

That silenced the table. Zechs's eyes remained locked on his plate but he only pretended to eat his food. This wasn't going at all the way he'd hoped, but then, what realistically could he have hoped for?

~You cannot have both me and your family, Zechs -- you must choose, and choose now.~

"Well, you're frightened lot."

Devlin nearly got to his feet. "And just what does that mean?" he said sharply.

"Yes, Mr. Khushrenada," Fiona said, "really, what a unkind thing to say."

"Unkind... I've been accused of being a *satanist* by Father Marquise since before you even set foot in my home. Your sense of manners does not, it seems, cut both ways; I wonder if you're all acting this way because you want me to fire Zechs here. Tell me, Zechs, do you want to be dismissed from my service?"

Zechs looked up at him in disbelief. "What...? No, I..."

"Perhaps you should, Zechs," Devlin was saying, again, nearly getting to his feet. "Mr. Khushrenada doesn't seem to think you're invaluable. There are lots of other positions you can find where you *will* be valued."

"Dad!" Zechs said, looking to his father pleadingly. "Stop this, *please*!"

"I value Zechs above any other human, Mr. Marquise -- if you're trying to imply something, please, say it outright." Angry words, but it didn't show on Khushrenada's aristocratic face, his leonine posture, or in his icy voice.

"I'm *saying* that I don't think your attitude is necessarily a good one for my son. You seem to care nothing for your guests' feeling of comfort, nothing for the family of a so-called valuable employee. I find that disturbing sir."

"Perhaps it's because I find your religiousness offensive."

"Zechs is religious as well," Devlin said angrily. "He was raised a Christian in a Christian home. He was baptized in the Anglican church. Do you find that 'offensive' as well?"

"It can be undone," Khushrenada purred at them, expression an almost victorious one as he settled a surprisingly warming hand on Zechs' shoulder, rising to his feet gracefully. "Anything can be undone."

Devlin and Fiona's eyes went wide and then Devlin got to his feet as well. "And just what do you mean by *that*, Khushrenada? Are you saying that you *want* my son to renounce his faith??"

Fiona, Paul, Eve, and Sarah were all staring at Khushrenada, their faces white.

He just looked coolly, almost sadly at all of them, his hand kneading with a tender touch at Zechs' shoulder. "I'm saying it's too late."

"Too late?" Fiona said in a shaking voice. "What does that mean? What have you done to my son! Zechs? What's wrong?"

He looked at her, eyes sad, near to tears. "Mum... I'm so sorry... I never wanted to hurt you..."

~My sweet Zechs. I know what it feels like to received such from a parent. My poor boy -- I will not leave you, you will not be cast off.~

The words, the feelings echoed in his mind while Khushrenada looked over his family. "He truly didn't know what he was getting into at first."

"What are you *saying*!" Devlin demanded. "Is it something *worse* than sleeping with him?"

"Dad, *please*!" Zechs cried.


It seemed to come from many mouths at once but Devlin pushed on. "Answer me, Khushrenada!! What else have you done to my son??"

"It's all right, Zechs -- some parents are just un-sympathetic," he uttered coolly. "What else have I done to your son... not much else, though considering my position in life it's quite a lot."

"And just what is that?" Devlin growled.

"Dad! It's not important!" Zechs said, looking at his father for what he knew would be one of the last times. "Please just let it go!"

"Would you let this go, Devlin, because your son is begging you? Or will you be unforgiving just as He is?"

Zechs's father looked confused. "Unforgiving? Zechs?"

"No, Father Marquise -- not Zechs. Zechs is the most forgiving person I've met -- even knowing who I am, he won't try to not love me. But your precious *god*, Father Marquise..."

"WHat are you saying, Khushrenada? I'm getting the feeling that you don't much are for my God... is that true?"

"You're brilliant." The beautiful man's voice shifted to a deeper purr. "There are some of us who god hasn't loved for longer than your breed has existed. Poor Lilith here can attest to that cruelty."

The table seemed to hold its collective breath and Zechs closed his eyes. /It's coming... I know it had to, but I don't feel nearly ready enough.../

"You're talking nonsense, Khushrenada," Devlin said, eyes bewildered but still angry.

"I'm talking nonsense? *I*? No, no; you're the one who called a complete stranger because Zechs here was coming home with The Mark on him. did you ever think that, if I'm responsible for that being there, you might want to not be so rude towards me? There *is* only one way to get such a mark, after all."

"I asked you if he was a Satan worshipper!" Devil said angrily to Zechs. "You told me he wasn't!!"

"Dad, please!" Zechs cried. "Don't ask anymore!"

"Oh, I *don't* worship -- I don't have to." That rich voice seemed to be warming, but no less a crisp sound -- Zechs had heard it in those tones before, he knew, at the ball.

The blond boy put his head in his hands, feeling doom coming and not being able to do a thing about it. "Please, Dad," he whispered. "Please..."

"And just what is *that* supposed to mean?" his father thundered. "Are you saying you're above God?"

Doom for Zechs' fate came in a *crack* of noise. The fine sweater Khushrenada had been wearing became so much shredded fiber as large grey wings unfurled, stretching out for a moment, their fine tips brushing the ceiling before he folded them back down against his back. "I'm saying that I do not worship myself."

Everyone at the table, save Khushrenada and Zechs, went deathly silent. The blood ran from their faces and all but Sarah staggered out of their seats, backing up from the table.

Devlin took out his cross, holding it up before the winged creature who had suddenly taken the place of their host.

"Fiona!" he finally said, "take the children and get out! Zechs! come to me right this moment!!"

But the creature's hand was still on Zechs' shoulder, patting with a tender familiarity. "He's mine, do you understand? Your beautiful brilliant son is now the consort of the Day Star. so stop waving your cross at me -- a mountain of those couldn't move a Fallen."

"Take your hands off my son!!" Devlin shouted and made a lunge for Zechs, pulling him away from the Devil. "You *can't* have him! I would never surrender him to the Beast!"

Zechs was pulled forward, losing his footing and falling to his knees. "Dad!!" he screamed. "Just get away! Please!!"

"Just leave, Father Marquise. He's mine," the beautiful golden creature reiterated, moving in with a quick movement that Devlin didn't even see. And then Khushrenada was on the other side of the room, Zechs wrapped up in strong shimmering golden arms.

He looked up at his father, tears streaming down his face. "I'm sorry," he sobbed. "I don't want you hurt! It's no use fighting him, so *please* just go! Take care of Mom and the others... *please*!"

"NO!!!" Devil screamed and lunged at the winged man, hands out for Zechs, pulling hard as he could to get the boy away. "In the name of the Father," he panted, "and the son, and the Holy Spirit! Get you *gone*, Father of Lies!!"

"Do you think this is just some possession, Father Marquise?! they don't teach you what to do when you meet a Fallen's physical form!" the creature laughed richly, his grip of Zechs unyielding. "Get out of my domain."

"Give me back my *son*!!" Devlin shrieked, lunging once more for Zechs.

~"No."~ That seeped deep into his mind, and then he was filled with the being's consciousness, which moved him, puppet like, out of the room.

Leaving the fallen with the task of soothing his new lover.

After puppeting Father Marquise from the room, from the building, Khushrenada had shifted back to his half-way form, Zechs within both arms and wings.

After several minutes of silence, Zechs spoke, his voice hoarse and raw with despair. "I'll never see them again... never see my mother smile, or my father look at me in pride... I'm a horror to them now..."

"They don't blame you for this, my sweet," the golden voice purred in his ear, Khushrenada moving him towards the bedroom. "I'll let you see them again. If you wish... if you wish it so much, I'll release you."

But Zechs knew that would never be possible, even if Treize granted it to him freely. He looked up at the winged man's profile, the way his hair gleamed in the light of the candles. The arms around him were warm and held such a promise of such sweet pleasure that he knew he could never live without the touch of the creature again.

"Too late," he murmured, "I'd just come crawling back to you..."

"You're too beautiful to crawl," he was told, warmed lips brushing his forehead. Did he know or not that Zechs needed the warmth so badly then, instead of the seductive chill? "And you're fully mine now, sweet Zechs; few mortals have ever had such privilege. No mortal has drawn me so much."

"What did I do?" Zechs said in a voice have pleading, half lamenting. What had he done to draw the Devil's eye? Could he have prevented it? Would he have wanted to, even if he could?

The questions swarmed through his mind like wasps as he was lowered to the bed.

"You glowed." It was simple, and didn't convey half of the intangible sparks that had led to it -- it was a gestalt effect, the holistic soul and body of Zechs. "You'll always glow so."

"My mistake," Zechs whispered, "I thought that was you..."

"Different glow, my mortal love." He was stretched out on the bed, the demon laying against him at his side, enfolding him again in his arms, as the wings were retracted back into nothingness. "You will not be taken for granted."

"Do you love me?" Zechs asked.

"Love you, my boy...?" A kiss pressed softly against his lips, then the edge of those lips, working in a line to kiss his temple. "Yes. You had best not use it against me."

"I wouldn't... even if I could... I could never betray you..."

Zechs leaned into the kisses, feeling the sweet abandon welling up in him -- the strange feeling of wanting to immerse himself and lose himself completely in the dark lord by his side.

A strange, familiar feeling that he'd felt the two times before that he'd been possessed by him. "And you won't; you still have your soul, my sweet boy. It's still yours -- you are not the soulless thing you think you are..."

"But I thought you took people's souls as your own," Zechs said softly. "Isn't my soul in your filing cabinet? With all the others?"

"Oh no. What I have in my cabinet is a paper with your signature -- that I know you looked at -- that says your soul will eternally be mine if you claim something from me; some large sin." The golden voice was purring again, amused in a warm way. "If you ever turn your back on me, my boy, while you're still alive, you could end up going to heaven after all; if you die with me, you'll be in my realm, forever my lover."

"What is it like, Treize? Your realm?"

"You were there last night," he was told. "There is no ball room in this building."

That should have stunned him, he knew. That he could take an elevator to Hell itself and consort with the Devil among the Fallen Angels. But under the man's touch, nothing felt wrong or out-of-place. Everything made a strange and beautiful sense and he was becoming a part of it, dragged down so sweetly.

If he was falling, too, it wasn't a fall -- he'd dived into the beauty that was his lover, the wonder of an impossible world. "Let me kiss your soft mouth, my Zechs, and erase the bitterness of this last hour."

The blond boy leaned eagerly into the kiss. It deepened, shared between them like breath as Zechs tangled his fingers into feather-soft hair, and arched his body up to meet his lover's.

"You take away every sorrow," he whispered. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for you."

"There is nothing that shall be denied to you, if you want it, Zechs -- my world is now yours to play in..." Heated fingers slipped into his corn-silk hair, and the kiss was broken so that the demon could peer down into the boy's deep blue eyes; it left Zechs looking up into color shifting blue and gold. "You will never want for love."

Only a heartbeat went by and Zechs murmured, "Neither will you..."

His hands glided over silk-smooth skin, soft and warm, put hinting at the power underneath. It made him moan to remember the pleasure there was to be had at the creature's hands.

"Please... please, I need it again," he breathed.

"Need 'it'," came the lofty purr in his ear, sharp teeth tugging at his earlobe tenderly. "Tell me what 'it' is..."

"Uhn... you, all over me... inside me... everything."

"Everything is what you've yet to have," the demon informed him with a particular warmth. He didn't even pull back from the beautiful boy laid out beneath him, like a medieval sacrifice. Just pressed closer, and Zechs felt the press of cloth against cloth replaced with skin on skin.

The boy let out a long, low moan of pleasure. Absolutely nothing else mattered but the fit of body to body, the heat of their skin radiating against each other. /So good... you've spent aeons of time perfecting this... ah, I adore you for eternity.../

An eternity that had been promised to him, that the brilliant creature atop him had said was theirs, together. "Tell me how you'd like it, my sweet possession."

"Just like this... with my arms around you," Zechs murmured. "I want to look you in the eyes..."

"Look too deep and you could drown," was the almost serious warning, moments before he locked eyes with his lover. Zechs was assailed almost instantly by touching, teasing hands, fingers trying to draw from him an intensity of passion.

"Just like this... with my arms around you," Zechs murmured. "I want to look you in the eyes..."

"Look too deep and you could drown," was the almost serious warning, moments before he locked eyes with his lover. Zechs was assailed almost instantly by touching, teasing hands, fingers trying to draw from him an intensity of passion.

"Where...? Where do... all the hands come from...?" he gasped, writing under fingers that pinched at his nipples and more that pulled at his shaft. Still others probed between his legs while ones he could really see caressed his cheek. "Where?" he panted. "How...?"

"I make them," he was told, those warm slender fingers tracing along his cheekbone. "You're even more beautiful in pleasure."

"Uhhhh~oh... you make me want it so badly... do you... do you... uhn! with all your Fallen?"

"Do what will all of them...?" was the tenderly amused question to him, the stroking of his body intensifying, invisible fingers starting to pry at his nether entrance.

"Ohhh... *this*!" Zechs cried arching up to the spectral fingers, his head thrown to one side, eyes closed in bliss.

Their touch left a slickness in their wake, delving farther in, three now, or four, prying at him and pushing in -- it was certainly no work of *god* that would do that.


Zechs gave a sharp cry, pushing himself back against the thick invasion. His back was arched up off the bed, arms gripping Treize's forearms, riding his fingers and loving the feel of it.

"Why not...? They're... they're all so... *beautiful*..."

"They meant nothing to me as any more than comrades. Beautiful to a mortal, but familiar to me -- we are the Fallen. Once, we were angels, in heaven...." The fingers from within Zechs' body pulled out, leaving him aching and empty. "Now we must make our own."

The blond boy gave a whimper of frustrated desire. "You're an angel..." he whispered, eyes pleading. "The most beautiful of angels..."

"One day I will let you see my full form." Not yet -- not when it could still hurt the boy to lay his gaze upon. for now, a quarter or half form would suffice, with fully touch... because the demon needed to fully touch his boy. "You are the beauty I want." A shift of hips again Zechs' and the slick width nudged against his worked entrance.

"Yes, yes, yes..." The words came as a steady chant of desire, causing the boy to rock his hips upwards, to take his lover deeper. "Only you... only you, sweet Lord..."

"Call me Treize." Hips soon met hips, the creature's cock forging deep into the Zechs' wildly clutching body.

"Treize..." But it came out only as the ghost of a name. Zechs was whole now in a way he'd never dreamed of just days before and with the deep thrum of pleasure that filled him he knew he'd never be whole in and of himself again. There would always be the need for this... the need for the Devil's touch, an aching void in him that only the Fallen One could fill.

Addictive. His father had always told him that bad behavior was a heady drug, best left untouched altogether. And this had to be of the worst behavior...

"My sweet Zechs -- you're such a satisfaction..." His hips twitched back, pulling nearly out of Zechs before plunging back in.

Zechs let out a very unholy howl of pleasure and jerked upwards towards that heated thickness. Without his even being aware of it, his body lifted off the bed, suspended there for the Devil to plunder. He couldn't speak at all, but could only moan as if the sound were pushed out of it by each deep thrust.

Soon the thrusting became all that he was -- far more than the other possessions, he lost track of how deep it was. Finally his demon lover seemed to stop pushing farther in. He was still filled and teased, pushed and pulled by the movements, but it was as if the tip has dissolved into him, his body filled with an aching presence all over.

His moans had become screams, pleasure almost painful in its intensity, reaching into every part of him. It didn't seem possible to be possessed, invaded that much -- to feel his body taken over by something not human, and to feel every tingling inch of it coursing through him.

Zechs struggled to open his eyes, and when he did his breath was stolen away. They had left the confines of Treize bedroom and were somewhere, riding the wind through swirling clouds. All around them were low voices, chanting something -- ancient words for ancient acts.

A feeling came, too, in the midst of that possessive pleasure -- a feeling between them that he truly wasn't a throw away, that his sacrifice would be rewarded with an eternity in such pleasure.

And, above him, was that beautiful face, those bottomless shifting eyes.

/I'll love you forever... and worship you with pleasure/ Zechs thought, holding on so he wouldn't fall into endless mist. /Heaven would be nothing to me, without you.../

~We'll make our own heaven, forged of sadness and loneliness, a temple to pleasure like this, the pleasure found in your soul. Forever.~