Chapter 1: [ lure ]
No one’s ever accused Oscar Wilde of resisting temptation, and he certainly isn’t going to give them a reason to do so now. He hasn’t even finished breakfast yet.
He sets his cup down and turns to Hamid. Hamid has lovely eyes: large and dark, generous lashes like the stroke of an ink-laden brush. Even better, Hamid is skilled at communicating entire paragraphs worth of discourse with a single glance, a talent Wilde admires and hopes to encourage him to cultivate.
At present, Hamid is desperately begging Wilde to not say whatever he is obviously about to say. It’s a wonderful look on him, and Wilde silently vows to give Hamid reason to wear it more often.
Wilde’s smile spreads slow and sweet as honey dripping off a spoon. He leans forward, resting his hand on his chin, close enough to Hamid that he could lower his voice to a whisper.
But he doesn’t. “That one really does need special handling, doesn’t he?”
Hamid slowly exhales through his nose. Wilde does not look away. Absolutely lovely eyes. He’s never really understood the routine dismissal of brown eyes; they hold so much depth, so much soul. Hamid’s irises are dotted with little flecks of copper that seem to flash brighter whenever he’s irritated.
Like now. The dining room has gone silent around them, and what little warmth there was has crystallized into a tense, frozen silence.
Eventually, a voice speaks up. “ That one is right in front of you.” Yesterday, there’d been rapid-fire threats and a danish flung at Wilde’s head. Today, Grizzop is notably not shouting.
Wilde is delighted. There’s just something so promising about the ones who become quieter and more controlled the angrier they get; hidden depths, still waters. That sort of thing.
“I’m in the room, my name is Grizzop, and you can either start addressing me or you can finish the mission without me.”
Wilde tries not to give himself away; his mouth twitches at the corner, but he keeps his eyes on Hamid. “Oh, he’s fun.”
Instead of a violent tirade and a projectile of some sort, there’s the scrape of a chair pushing away from the table. Wilde startles, expecting to be confronted by an angry goblin, but Grizzop is already retreating.
Sasha’s hand darts out, grabs a croissant, and stuffs it in her mouth before leaving the table.
Wilde reaches for a croissant of his own. “Well. My aim was better than I thought if I made her lose her appetite.”
Hamid sighs and looks away. “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
Wilde offers the bread basket. “It’s just so easy,” he admits, the closest he can get to an apology that wouldn’t be a lie.
Hamid selects a pastry and splits it open, begins heaping jam on it. “Are you that bored?” His motions are carefully controlled and precise. Wilde would never mention it, of course, but funnily enough, Hamid’s never more similar to his father than when they’re both irritated. “You’re antagonizing him for no reason. He and Sasha were out late last night, investigating the address you sent us to, and.” He pauses and takes a moment to clear the anger out of his voice.
Wilde waits, chin in his hand. He raises his eyebrows in encouragement.
“Grizzop is a part of the team,” Hamid says. Ah. A tactic switch. His voice now carries the painfully honest vulnerability that sends a cold chill through Wilde’s spine. “He’s been through a lot, and you treating him like that, well. It just compounds things, makes everything worse.”
There it is. Gods, he’s nothing like the elder al-Tahan now; Hamid sounds on the verge of frustrated tears. Better to dial it back before he attempts to pry and ask why Wilde is doing this, or worse, suggests a hug.
“Of course.” Wilde spoons some berries onto his plate. “I just can’t help myself sometimes.”
Chapter 2: [ ambush predation ]
Wilde miscalculates; how embarrassing.
In all fairness, most paladins are disappointingly cliche with their anger, Wilde has found. And Grizzop doesn’t seem particularly artsy or creative, so he’d likely take a day or two to brood on a rooftop somewhere before any sort of confrontation. Wilde assumes he’ll have time to actually get some work done before being stopped in public for an impassioned lecture or the like.
Wilde puts a book down on a nearby shelf and tries to move toward his desk only to find that he can’t. An arrow pierces through his shoe leather neatly, down into the floor. Wilde hadn’t even felt it land. There’s a confused moment where he’s embarrassed, as if he somehow missed it during breakfast, as if he has been walking around like this all morning.
Grizzop is impressively fast. Wilde hasn’t even taken another breath before there’s a knife pinning his left sleeve to the wall. Grizzop uses the motion for leverage, lets it ricochet him to pin the other sleeve to the opposite wall. The force from that second knife lets him push up against the wall and dig the claws of his feet into the wood on either side, which is a very creative and impressive way to end up looming over Wilde, not to mention holding a third knife to his throat.
Wilde often finds himself cornered in this line of work, but it’s rarely so delightfully literal. He says as much to Grizzop’s snarling face, a few scant millimeters from his own. It receives no reply but a firmer press of the blade against his throat, and Wilde lets it tilt his head back.
Wilde’s not dead yet and feels confident in assuming this isn’t his time, either. Time to see what this is about, then. “Never knew you to favor a blade when a shaft would do.”
“Well, depends what you’re going for, right?” Grizzop’s tone is as conversational as Wilde’s. Contemplative, even. They could be discussing the weather. “This case, Mister Wilde, I’m making sure you look me in the eyes proper.”
“They’re quite pretty,” Wilde offers. They’re not, obviously. No human would accuse Grizzop’s eyes of such a thing. Cute, maybe, in the way that especially hideous newborns or elderly beloved pets are called cute. Grizzop’s eyes are dark red with a small pupil: round and akin to the eyes of foxes and coyotes, of taxidermy lions. The level stare of a wolf, actually, and much the same sort of teeth.
From this angle, Wilde can see those teeth glinting in Grizzop’s mouth as he speaks. Some are smaller than others, but all of them are clean, white, and sharp. “My name, Mister Wilde, is Grizzop.”
Each syllable is bitten off and with it, Grizzop comes closer and closer. For a moment, Wilde thinks their faces will bump against each other, and won’t that be awkwardly erotic, but Grizzop veers off and ends up speaking into Wilde’s ear. “Grizzop drik acht Amsterdam. And I am here, on this job, as a paladin of Artemis Parthenos, Artemis Agrotera, Artemis of the deer, Artemis of the golden reins, far-shooting queen of beasts Artemis.”
All the quips Wilde has die on his lips at the invocation of the goddess. The silence gives him the time to hear Grizzop’s steady breathing, time for the awareness of one of the ways Wilde has misstepped to settle on his shoulders.
Paladins, honestly. At least clerics have the good taste to take their gods off the pedestal now and again.
“Usually, I don’t really care what posh types like you think of me,” Grizzop goes on, and the only reason Wilde can suppress a bitter laugh at that is Grizzop’s bared teeth pressed against his cheek when the goblin pauses for a breath. “But I’m here as Her representative, and you will not disrespect Her choices.”
A sudden motion and for a moment Wilde’s magic rises in a panicked defense. Grizzop ducks out, down, out of it; Wilde never even sees it happen.
But he’s gone.
Wilde stares at the dagger beside his head, still vibrating from being slammed into the wall.
It takes him a bit to wriggle free of his jacket and then carefully free it from the blades pinning it to the wall. His magic quietly mends the threads back together, strong as if they’d never been sliced through. His shoe might be a lost cause, though.
The door to his bedroom is ajar, Wilde realizes. He shuts it. Locks it, leans on it. One hand rises to stroke the skin on his cheek, and he thinks about the way hard enamel felt against it. He stares at the corner where Grizzop caught and held him. The last knife is still embedded in the wall.
Wilde’s heart hammers against his ribs like an animal slamming against the bars of its cage.
Chapter 3: [ social predation ]
It's hard to play the game of passive aggression when the other party has a completely different set of rules.
If Sasha is surprised, she hides it well.
“They’ve been sharpened,” Wilde offers, though she didn’t ask. Rude. “Gods know what state they were in by the end of yesterday morning.”
They were fine, actually; good knives, at the end of the day. He admires her ability to have found tools that hold their edge so well, but a little love never hurt a blade any. However, the green satin ribbons and ornately carved presentation box are doing their best to divest them of any dignity they may have ever had. Their return could be a peace offering, an apology for her ruined appetite. It could be a recrimination for them being used to pin him to a wall. He leaves the decision up to her; meaningful gifts tend to work best when the recipient decides the meaning.
Not that Sasha’s expression gives anything away. “Yeah, alright.” She shuts the box and tucks it under her arm. She looks up at Wilde, chewing on her lip and squinting at him thoughtfully. “You going to want the box back, mate?”
“You don’t like it?” He feigns surprise.
“I like it, I just like it a few dozen gold’s worth.” She brings it out again and flips it open; the knives are gone now, and she examines the hinges critically. “He’s good at what he does, by the way.”
Wilde arches a brow. “Speaking from experience, are we?”
She doesn’t rise to the bait, either absorbed in appraising the box or unwilling to engage with it. Pity. “Maybe a hundred’s worth, actually. Not too shabby.”
The box goes back under her arm and she flips him a lazy salute. “We’ll be heading off soon, but yeah. Think about it. He’s someone you want to keep around.”
“Indeed,” says Wilde.
Chapter 4: [ fight or flight ]
Taxonomy and memory.
Wilde thinks about evolution.
Dwarves and orcs and elves and halflings aren’t too different from humans, the proportions mostly similar. Easy enough to see them sitting on neighboring branches of one of Mr. Darwin’s family trees.
The way their legs bend, the enormous pointed ears that twist like a cat’s. Their clawed hands, wide mouths full of pointed teeth, inhumanly green blood. The steady, red eyes that don’t blink half as often as they should.
Grizzop might be large for a goblin, but he’s still only half as tall as Wilde. He’s met at least three spoiled dogs that weigh far more than Grizzop does.
And yet Wilde keeps remembering being pinned to a corner. The efficiency, the speed of it, the absolutely deadly pinpoint accuracy. One bad decision away from having his throat slit before he could exhale any magic protection.
Wilde doesn’t wear that pair of shoes anymore; they’re ruined.
But he hasn’t gotten rid of them, either.
Chapter 5: [ chum the water ]
A skilled man can make a misstep seem like a dance step.
The distance between the first incident and the next ends up being a month and several countries apart.
The al-Tahan estate is rather lovely, and even with the dust storms, the Cairo Strip is always a spectacular view, which is a small comfort given that the rest of the world is falling apart. Things are going poorly enough that any pleasantries go on the backburner, which may’ve been the problem. Everyone is on edge, nerves frayed raw with everything from grief to fear.
Including Grizzop. Including Wilde.
“I’m sure you’ll find that if you have a complaint, Grizzop,” and Wilde ensures that every consonant gets rolled around his tongue and spat out, “my door is always open as far as you’re concerned.”
Any other time, it might’ve had the flavor of a flirt, a cheeky double entendre. But Wilde is tired, and he puts all his energy into a perfectly acidic tone, and it’s not until it’s out of his mouth that he realizes exactly what this sounds like.
Grizzop’s mouth snaps shut with an audible click.
The memory of what those teeth feel like on his skin rushes into Wilde’s head, enough to make his breath stutter in his chest. He suppresses a shiver and looks away, though not before catching the way Grizzop’s ears flick back and forward.
Wilde smiles prettily at the new member of the team and pours her some tea.
Chapter 6: [ signalling theory ]
Honest signaling conveys information that is a true indicator of the underlying quality of the sender and is useful to the receiver.
Normally, Wilde is very good at analyzing his mistakes. Possibly too good, but in his line of work, that’s far preferable to being kind to himself and missing something important. He balances this with a healthy indulgence in vices here and there and uses the one to hone his skill in the other. And Wilde prides himself a virtuoso when it comes to knowing how to prod angry men and which angry men enjoy a good prodding. He wouldn’t be as effective at his job if he didn’t. He wouldn’t be as alive as he is now if he didn’t know how to do it well.
For gods’ sakes, he went to Trinity.
But overconfidence is a sin when one’s tongue is not firmly in cheek, and Wilde had essentially flashed the cards in his hand to the room, or at least, to Grizzop.
It’s when he takes the turn down the hallway to his room in the human-sized wing of the estate that a tendril of anticipation coils through him. There’s a corner there, he thinks, and something in him stirs at this.
He feels the arrow pass behind his head, cannot suppress the instinct to try to look at it, cannot stop the rising wave of panic when he physically can’t. He’s stuck to the wall, a moth on a pin. He pulls at the shaft with one hand, palms it with the other and finds that it’s wedged between the masonry.
Part of Wilde admires how clever that is. The arrow would have to be aimed very particularly to hit that gap, the bit where it can sink in and trap hair rather than slice it off. Perhaps a specialized tip, as well.
The rest of him draws breath to scream.
Something (someone) knocks the air out of him before he can, and the next second is a blur of motion. Wilde’s knees hit the floor with a thud that sends pain shooting through his legs, and that’s almost enough to bring clarity to what’s happening as he’s trussed up.
Through the confusion, through the distress and the panicked beating of his heart, Wilde finds his mistake: Grizzop is not an individual who wastes time.
Wilde gulps breath back into his lungs, coaxing the frightened animal portion of his brain back into submission. The world is tilted; Wilde on the floor, knees bent, arms pulled uncomfortably back. His wrists are likely tied together, but it takes him a moment and a futile tug to realize they’re looped with whatever’s tied his ankles.
And Grizzop is humming.
Nothing particularly notable, slightly offkey, just a pleased soft noise as he finishes whatever he’s doing at Wilde’s ankles. From the floor, Wilde watches him come around, smile smug and motion languid.
He plunks himself down to sit on Wilde’s shoulder, ignores the soft, pained whimper it pulls from Wilde. “Wotcher.” His boot casually rests on Wilde’s throat.
Wilde finds himself able to speak before he’s able to think. “…how?”
Grizzop snorts. “Taken down bigger than you before, mate.” His head tilts, and in the darkness, his eyes catch what little light there is and gleam with mirror-like intensity.
“That gets me thinking, though.” Grizzop moves his foot, presses it to the underside of Wilde’s chin instead. Wilde lets it force his neck back into an uncomfortable arc. “You’re a lot of things, Mister Wilde, but stupid isn’t one of them."
His neck aches. He can’t see Grizzop anymore, just feel him. The pressure of him on Wilde’s shoulder, his boot keeping his head back, throat vulnerable.
Grizzop hops off him, leans down close to Wilde’s face and closes his hand over Wilde’s windpipe. No force to it yet, just. Present.
The pinprick of his claws a warning, a promise.
“So what exactly are you playing at?” And he’s close to Wilde’s face again, and it hits Wilde that Grizzop is scenting him, picking up a signal, a message that Wilde had no idea he was giving off.
Grizzop’s ears flick. “Ah,” he murmurs, and slowly bares his teeth in a grin.
Wilde has never felt so naked.
There is an art to obfuscation, an honesty to lying when everyone in the room knows and acknowledges the lie. Manipulators and diplomats at least make sense. When everything is so aggressively straightforward, there’s less of a chance for truth to slip through.
There’s no way to know what it actually means that Grizzop’s just stuck a hand down Wilde’s trousers, cupping his rapidly hardening cock.
“So what’re we doing about this?” Grizzop asks, voice low and quiet.
“I’m surprised you’re taking suggestions.” Wilde cuts himself off with a hiss when the heel of Grizzop’s hand grinds down against him.
“No, no, I think I’ve made up my mind.” Grizzop manages to sound calm, somehow. “Right, then. Here’s how this is going to go: you get a choice, Wilde.” Grizzop’s hand withdraws, the lightest scratch of claws on its way out. He makes fast work of the ropes and steps away, leaving Wilde free – and alone – on the floor. “You tell me no, I walk away. Tomorrow, you treat me like you would any other member of your team.”
Wilde nods and leans against the wall to pull himself up. The cool air raises goosebumps on his skin and he realizes how open his shirt is, exposed from collarbone to navel. He tries to button up and finds that it tore during the struggle and won't close properly anymore. He would love to be irritated about that, but he can’t quite, not now, not with how he can see Grizzop’s teeth glinting in the low light of the hallway. There are so many, and they are so sharp.
A small, primal part of Wilde’s brain is screaming that he needs to run.
Grizzop watches him try to right himself, gives him a second before continuing. “Or. You tell me you want this, Wilde, and I give you three more breaths before I catch you and rip you apart.”
Later, Wilde will claim he got four, but this will be a lie.
Chapter 7: [ interception predation ]
chew up your love and swallow
Wilde goes down hard on the carpet outside his room, just inches from the door. He struggles to drag himself up, but Grizzop pulls the carpet out partway from under him and loops it around Wilde’s legs, lightning fast. Wilde’s own weight keeps him from wriggling free, trapped.
He cries out, involuntary and distressed, but it dies quickly when Grizzop loops his bow around his throat and yanks it back: a sharp, brief choke that kills the sound before it can rise.
“Caught you,” he murmurs, rubs his face against Wilde’s face. There’s at least a small amount of satisfaction in how he’s panting a little, some evidence that this took any amount of effort from him. “Gods, you reek of need.” A hot huff of breath against Wilde’s cheek, and Grizzop licks.
Wilde can’t suppress a moan, finds it’s cut off when Grizzop yanks his hair back and kisses him, swallows down the sound.
A memorable first kiss is always delightful. He’s never really kissed a goblin before, but aggressive partners aren’t a first. This one just has sharper teeth to navigate around.
“You don’t even know what I might do to you,” Grizzop murmurs against Wilde’s mouth.
And Wilde can’t stop himself from a shaky laugh. “Anything you like, I expect.”
Grizzop’s answering grin is feral and he licks Wilde’s face again before he’s gone.
Wilde gets pushed forward onto his stomach, his hips lifted up and pulled back, forcing him into presenting himself. His trousers get yanked down around his arse, then down to his thighs, and his pants follow after that.
Wilde doesn’t even realize he’s been begging until Grizzop replies.
“Please what, exactly?” Grizzop’s voice remains conversational, unbothered. One could ascribe a hint of boredom to it. “Please let you go?” His claws dig into the meat of Wilde’s thigh, hard enough that for a moment Wilde thinks the skin has broken. “Please chew off your leg?” A subtle shift, and the claws are replaced by the pads of Grizzop’s thumbs.
Wilde’s breath catches as he’s spread open.
“Please use you?” One of Grizzop’s thumbs brushes over his hole, presses firmly but doesn’t do more to push inside. “Take you from behind, here on the floor, like you’re an animal, a doe in heat?” A sharp, sudden nip that makes Wilde whine. “Get it out of both our systems?”
Wilde gasps out a wordless plea.
“Please what, Wilde?” Grizzop demands.
“Please fuck me,” Wilde begs.
The metallic clink of Grizzop’s trousers unfastening is a small relief, and the air in Wilde's lungs catches in his throat. He can’t breathe until Grizzop slots himself against Wilde’s backside, cock hot and stiff and slipping between Wilde’s thighs.
Wilde arcs into it, lifting his hips. Begging.
Chapter 8: [ blooding ]
After Grizzop finishes, he rolls Wilde onto his back. Wilde hears him spit, then the utter relief as he takes Wilde’s aching cock between his hands. They’re shaped so differently from human hands: fingers long, palms narrow. They pump Wilde until he sobs.
Grizzop’s eyes catch the dim light in the hallway and reflect it back like a mirror. Wilde is grateful he can’t see himself in them, can’t see what he looks like.
Wilde arches his neck, mouth open in a silent cry. Any rational thought, any coherent thought, any thought that isn’t pure animalistic hindbrain, all fade away when he comes in Grizzop’s clever hands.
He shudders through the last of it, aware dimly of Grizzop wiping his hand off on Wilde’s ripped shirt. With post-orgasmic dullness, he watches Grizzop walk around him, towards the door that Wilde was one or two breaths away from wrenching open.
“This your room?”
Wilde tries to answer, finds he can’t actually speak. He settles for a nod.
“Right then.” Grizzop grabs Wilde by the collar and there’s somehow enough shirt left for him to pull Wilde up into a sitting position. “Let’s try for a longer round.”
Wilde yelps, doesn’t manage to quite stand before Grizzop drags him into the bedroom.
They didn’t even fix the carpet, he thinks.
Chapter 9: [ aposematism ]
and some find a mouthful of poison to be rather delicious
Wilde manages, “I had no idea the paladins of Artemis Parthenos were skilled at sodomizing men.”
It earns him a soft laugh from Grizzop. No edge to it, either because he’s tired or because the afterglow has tempered his high-strung energy somewhat. Wilde notes this down in case it’s ever of any need. “Yeah, well.” He wrings out the handkerchief he’s using to clean Wilde, gives it a final shake before going back to dabbing at Wilde’s injuries. “You’re not the first one to make eyes at me after I show ‘em my teeth.”
“Gods above. You absolute rake.”
“That’s me, alright. Nothing to do with you lot and your poor sense of self-preservation.” He nudges at Wilde’s knee. “Here, open your thighs a bit more.”
“You insatiable rake,” Wilde corrects himself. Grizzop flicks his kneecap and Wilde laughs and acquiesces, opening his legs with a wince. Grizzop pats at the puncture wounds there, cleaning them off. What begins as warmth sharpens into a sting, and Wilde sucks in a sharp breath through his teeth.
“Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just heal me?” Not quite acidic enough for his usual sarcasm, but, well. He’s recovering from a rather energetic buggering, and it’s not as though he’s young anymore.
Grizzop raises an eyebrow. “It’d be more efficient to not have given you what you wanted in the first place. Is this really the time for- for philosophy?”
Wilde laughs, less because it’s funny and more because there’s an odd abrasion on his hip from the carpet, and whatever salve Grizzop’s rubbing on it makes his skin feel like it’s burning. “If not now, when?”
“Alright, fair enough.” Grizzop soothes Wilde with a soft shush, pats the side of his hip. “So it’s not about doing things fast, then, right? It’s about doing them well and making good choices about what deserves your time and effort.”
“To think I warranted your effort. I’m flattered,” Wilde says. It’s not even sarcastic.
Grizzop doesn’t reply. No eyeroll, no words, nothing. He keeps cleaning Wilde and brings the dish of water closer, dips the cloth in it and wrings it out again.
And Wilde doesn’t feel entirely human or entirely within his wits, enough that the fear overwhelms him again. Different, this time. Less an arrow fired in the dark and more a stone sinking deep into his guts.
He asks a question he’s asked others before. “Do you regret it?” He thinks he manages to sound nonchalant, indifferent. Purely a scientific inquiry. “What we just did?”
Grizzop snorts. “Not much point to regret, is there? You make a mistake, you do better next time.”
“Look at you, equivocating.” Wilde masks any hurt with a smile, and if it’s more of a baring of teeth, so be it. He sits up with a grunt. There’s a tenderness in his midsection, a bruise that hasn’t arrived quite yet but will blossom tomorrow. “I’m learning a lot about you this evening, aren’t I.” Not quite a threat, but certainly a display that he is not entirely unarmed.
Grizzop doesn’t rise to it. He tilts Wilde’s shoulder so the bloody water sluices across his body and off into the small dishpan. “Look, if we’re - if we’re going to do this, again, in any capacity--”
Wilde stares into the rust-colored water. Blood in water never looks as dramatic as it ought to, honestly.
And then there’s a hand gripping Wilde’s chin, jerking him down and forcing eye contact. Wilde snarls and tries to jerk back, tests the strength of it because he can, but Grizzop’s ready. His fingers find the right spot to dig in and send pain shooting through Wilde’s nerves.
“Oy. This is important.” The room is dim enough that Grizzop’s eyes are a deep, drowning black. “Settle down.”
The pain in his jaw fades until it’s nothing but firm, unrelenting pressure. Wilde takes a breath and.
Feels the tension slip from his bones and down, spilling from his veins. Grizzop shifts from forcing Wilde down to stroking his face. “There y’go. Look at you, good boy.” He tucks a stray strand of hair behind Wilde’s ear, and it’s too unexpectedly tender.
His only weakness: sincerity.
Wilde tries to breathe but even that doesn’t work. His breath catches in a mortifying hiccup and for god’s sake, he’s taken countless spankings, a few consensual beatings even, before. He’s not exactly certain why this has reduced him to slumping forward, clutching Grizzop like he’s the only real thing in the room.
“This is very embarrassing,” Wilde manages. Grizzop’s chest had patches of drying, flaking blood – red, Wilde’s – and now it’s smeared with tears, as well. Wilde laughs shakily, aware how unwell he sounds. “How are you so strong but so small?"
“Manufacturing error,” Grizzop answers solemnly. His fingers keep stroking Wilde’s hair; the scent of the herbal salve that Grizzop’s been using on the various injuries is strong, enough for Wilde to focus on and draw himself back from the state he’s in.
“Let’s get some water in you.” Grizzop gently peels him away, shushing the faint protests and holding a cup of water to Wilde’s mouth. “Drink slowly, there’s a love.”
The water is cool and sweet, and Grizzop dabs at Wilde’s mouth and murmurs faint praise that doesn’t register fully. It’s all rather absurd, really. Wilde, twice Grizzop’s size, is being cradled and soothed like a child who’s skinned his knees. Worst of all is the way Grizzop keeps looking at him, worried and gentle and Wilde –
Wilde doesn’t deserve this kindness.
Ah, of course he said it out loud. Wilde sighs and shuts his eyes, smashes his face against Grizzop’s stomach. If the man has any scrap of pity in him, he’ll let Wilde keep his dignity and not acknowledge the far, far too vulnerable thing he just said.
For a few moments, there’s just the comforting feeling of Grizzop’s fingers combing through Wilde’s hair. He smooths down Wilde’s eyebrows, traces the bridge of his nose and his jawline, and worst of all, leans over to pepper small kisses on Wilde’s forehead. The indignity of it. Wilde tries to protest.
“If you really want me to stop, I can heal you up quick.”
Wilde opens an eye.
Grizzop’s expression hasn’t changed. He rubs slow circles over Wilde’s temples. “But you should know… I’m doing this for my benefit, too.”
“So you can feel good about having destroyed me.” It comes out flatter than Wilde means it to, but that’s the problem with having his curiosity at war with affected nonchalance.
So I can feel like a person.” Grizzop sighs. “Right. Work with me. I’m, I’m having a bit of a religious crisis here.”
“Oh?” Wilde blinks and lifts himself up on his elbows so that they’re face to face.
Grizzop frowns. “Ah, so. There’s this thing that happens– if you're part of the Artemis lot, you’re bound to be drawn to hunting in one way or another, yeah?”
Wilde nods assent. What’s especially fascinating about this isn’t so much the fact that Grizzop is dancing around Artemisian mysteries as the fact that Grizzop wants to, finds it necessary to explain some of this.
“Right,” Grizzop goes on. “There’s – when you’re deep in the hunt, some parts of your brain go to sleep. Other parts come awake, like. Like when you’re learning a new language and suddenly one day you hear someone say something in it and you know it.” His shoulders slump a bit and he exhales, falls back into a sitting position. “I’m mucking up the explanation,” he says, tail flicking ruefully.
It occurs to Wilde that Grizzop is occasionally, unfortunately, quite wonderful.
“You’re doing fine.” Wilde props himself up on his elbows, thinks about what it’s like when the magic wraps around his windpipe. “Your brain uses different words because you know different words, yes?”
Grizzop nods. “Yeah. You’re you, but you’re… you’re speaking a different language at the time. And if you keep listening to the blood--” He catches himself and cuts the sentence off, and Wilde tries his best not to look as though this small detail (listen to the blood) isn’t as delicious and rare as it is.
After a few moments, Grizzop starts over. “You went to Oxford. History’s required there, likely.” He looks at Wilde out of the corner of his eyes. “Don’t know if you’d remember reading the name Ankaios, though.”
Wilde smiles pleasantly. “A crime of hubris, wasn’t it? Claiming his skills surpassed Hers?” He doesn’t have to say Artemis’ name, nor does he have to draw attention to having researched historic stories directly related to her worshippers in recent weeks.
The switch is subtle, and Wilde feels a pleased curl of pride when Grizzop’s mouth twitches, the barest hint of approval. “Close, but still a miss. Specifically, he declared he would not be stopped. Not by anything, not by anyone – not even Her.”
“Ah. That’s the danger of it, then.”
“Yeh. You lose yourself in it, you don’t come back, and even She can’t bring you out of it if you’ve forsaken Her hand on your bow.” Grizzop stretches out – those strangely jointed legs that make Wilde think equally of a deer and of a cat, but on close inspection, aren’t quite like either. His cock has sheathed back inside his body, leaving only a tidy slit between his legs. “You end up a monster who won’t stop, and that’s when She’s got to take you down. Turn you into a beast and send the rest of us after you.” His long, thin tail flicks lazily, and he watches Wilde for a long moment before pulling him in close.
Wilde thinks of resisting. Doesn’t. Instead shuts his eyes and rests against Grizzop’s chest, inhales the odd, musky sex smell on him, and thinks about how often Grizzop has likely been called a monster.
“There’ve been others,” Grizzop says quietly. “From my lot, I mean. Artemis blesses us, we learn what it is to hunt in her name, under her light, and we make the choice to do good with it. Be responsible and all that.”
In spite of himself, Wilde sees where this is going. “And what we just did was blasphemy to your god.” Not quite a pointed emphasis on the your; he’s too tired still, too languid from earlier. Too sore. He begins to pull away from Grizzop.
Grizzop doesn’t permit it. He curls around Wilde, arms wrapped around Wilde’s head, one leg thrown over his shoulders. “Oscar. Stop.” No anger, no fire, just a fond exasperation. “Look, I’m going somewhere with this. Keep up, all right?”
Wilde mumbles something, and it’s mostly drowned out against Grizzop’s skin.
“If we’re going to do this again, we’ve got to – we’ve got to talk about it, you can’t just bait me into it. ‘s not healthy for you or for me. And this—” Grizzop pulls back, motions around the room. “—this is a part of it, you and me after. You letting me take care of you, come back to myself like that, yeah?” He exhales. “Part and parcel, Wilde.”
“You’ll tear me limb from limb, but you want to stitch me back together.”
The silence between them hangs thick and sluggish and surprisingly sweet, honey dripping off the comb.
“I want to,” Grizzop says, eventually. “I like you like this.” He’s started stroking Wilde’s hair again. “Might even get you to sleep.”
Wilde laughs, a sound far too light and happy to have come from him. “Aim high, archer.”
He’s surprised by a kiss to his throat, gentle and chaste. “You’re a tall bastard. Leave me no choice.”
Many hours later, certainly more than eight, Wilde is pleased to discover that Grizzop also enjoys the luxury of sleeping in.