There is a rumor among the lower ranking soldiers of the Fatui that Pantalone is, unfortunately, privy to. By this point, he knows it very well:
The Harbingers have something the Tsaritsa does not, recruits whisper to themselves along the fringes of the battlefield, something she is missing. They are each a part of her heart. Once, after a long day of being in active combat, Pantalone had been peeved enough to inquire his closest secretary regarding the rumor himself. He'd said, they think you will all steal her heart for yourselves.
Now, Pantalone hardly agrees. There are a myriad of reasons why he and his colleagues share their ranks; none of them point to a grandiose scheme such as this, something so cruel, so unbecoming, as to hurt their Queen. And, as all Harbingers know, their speculation is merely a farce. A foundation to lay in whenever they deem fit. Perhaps the biggest mystery amongst themselves is Tartaglia, for he barely has anything going for him other than finesse in spilling carnage.
As for him? There is simply nowhere else for something like him to go.
The day he finds out he's being summoned to Her Majesty's throne room, it is unusually warm. Temperate days are rare in Snezhnaya this close to the Palace; such is why he'd forgone his typical dress, instead donning a neatly-pressed button down and dark slacks, in order to complete his work amongst plush, velvet sofas and dark shelves of stained wood. Such is why he feels criminally out of place and underdressed beneath looming canopies of intricately carved crystal, below her sprawling throne of ice. Her royal guards lead him to the carpeted section where she entertains guests, then march to the door when she waves her hand and motions for them to leave them. She intones to him with an extended hand and a brief nod; he ventures up the throne’s stairs and kisses her hand without hesitation, and settles back down on one knee at its base.
Sometimes, he begins to entertain the idea of the rumors being true; that they'll all betray her in the end despite her boundless kindness. On days like this, he reminds himself simply thinking of rumors is blasphemous; reminds himself of her generosity and by extension, his servitude. It is clear in the affectionate kiss she presses to his cheek on the way down, in the loving whisper she utters to him reminding him how much she adores him. Such is the same for all other Harbingers.
“Your Majesty,” he greets. She smiles down at him, something soft and unguarded… unusually pitiful. He suddenly has the notion something terrible is about to happen; the last time she had graced him with a look akin to this one, he was only beginning his time as a Fatuu.
“My child,” she says. Her voice is carried to him by frosted wind, all the way from her blue-tinged lips and perpetually smiling eyes. “I bring unfortunate news.”
Pantalone steels himself. He is sure it shows in his eyes, as deep a red as wine whenever he is close to needing to feed. It cannot be worse than when Scaramouche had accidentally shredded work-in-progress diplomatic assets, or when Dottore had attempted to steal five-billion mora from him under the pretense of ‘friendship’—that cursed man. The grim expression on his Queen’s pale face tells him it is somehow magnificently worse.
“What is it, Your Majesty?” he presses, “is there anything I may do for you?”
She smiles at his princely tone, the charismatic smile atop his lips. “No, my child. This matter regards your disposition.”
Ah. Pantalone swallows a curse, throat scratchy and dry— as if his body recognizes what she alludes to on its own accord, tongue rolling over his teeth repeatedly. But he still smiles and nods, honeyed and too kind.
“Ah, you mean to say there is an issue with my sustenance,” he guesses. She nods, drums her fingers against a crossed leg.
“Our supplier for your needs has been cut once again,” she announces, “and as of now, there is no one to take his place. The fool was caught embezzling mora under the table, how unruly.”
Shit. Shit. Pantalone curls his hands into loose fists—the only slip of his mask he allows. If she notices, she refrains from pointing it out to him, instead allowing him his moment of emotional turmoil.
And, an emotional turmoil it is—to not have his supplier… to not be able to sustain his hunger… is the absolute worst case scenario he could have possibly imagined before their excursions to Sumeru. She very well recognizes the gravity of his situation, as does he, with a panicked stuttering of his cold, dead heart, and a biological urge to bite at his own tongue with sharp, needle-thin teeth. This cannot be happening. Not again.
“You will need to satiate your needs elsewhere for an indefinite period of time,” she continues. She is ruthless in her own way, he knows—she even appears to be amused, watching the minute click in his jaw with keen interest. “You understand, don’t you, my child?”
His voice is intentionally warm when he says, “oh, dear. Thank you very much for telling me.”
She graces him with a soft tut and twirls a lock of her silvery hair. “Child, I have a proposition—not an order—for you.”
From nonhuman to nonhuman, is what she omits from her statement. Pantalone understands the implication all the same. So do his teeth, which begin to unsheathe from his gums, millimeter by grueling millimeter. As they tend to do when confronted with the reality of who he is, despite his age.
“Yes, Your Majesty…?”
She smiles wider at the sight of his fangs, hand atop her knee ceasing its incessant motion.
“I shall allow you to pick any person within the Fatui—from recruit to fellow Harbinger. They shall act as your donor according to your regular schedule until we find a new supplier for your needs. Otherwise, you may drink from me, but we know that can only sustain you for so long.”
Pantalone’s breath falters. In his brief moment of hesitation, his Queen takes further pity on him; she is in front of him in an instant, his only warning a miniscule flash of cold light. When he peers up at her, he feels much more like he did back when she had first taken him in: calculated, ravaged with hatred for the gods, jaded with human affairs. Her gloved hand smooths out a wrinkle between his brows he was not aware had formed.
“Drink from me, beforehand,” she commands. She rolls up her sleeve, shimmery fabric revealing pale skin and spidery veins. His mouth waters with a base need. “Then, make your decision. Come to me in four days’ time, and I will make the proper arrangement—confidentially.”
He slips his fangs into her wrist without another word. And then, when he takes his leave, he can feel her immeasurable power coursing through his veins. He prays it will last him through the rest of the day at least.
The problem with the Tsaritsa’s blood is it cannot sustain him for more than twelve hours at maximum. Thus, he feels utterly abysmal, here, the next day, standing before a congregation of recruits he and Capitano are supposed to be handing off to Arlecchino, under the blinding sun and cloudless sky of late summer. His skin prickles with something akin to sweat despite the at least two feet of snow blanketing the earth, and with every smile he must construct, every feathery word he utters, he can feel his composure slipping like sand from between his fingers. In the snowy courtyards outside of the main Palace, he cannot lose himself to hunger and make a negative expression, nor misspeak. He must remain the same as he always does.
He does not know how this could have possibly happened. He makes spreadsheets, see, of his feedings: of when his supplier (that he arranged himself, mind you), would come and drop off his fill of blood bags from local hospitals, even when the snow would get thicker and delays were estimated. Now, however, he is thrown for a complete loop as he cannot calculate a single thing in relation to his feedings. The worst part of it all isn’t even that he must scramble his agents together and assign them to find a new supplier (he’d last done that twenty years ago and the entire affair is dreadfully awkward). It’s that he’s so close to reaching the point of no return—and it drives him mad. Utterly insane.
He’d last had a proper feeding twenty-seven days ago. That means he has approximately four days to figure out how in the hell he’s going to survive without dropping semi-dead (he can’t actually die without assistance), or starving himself until the point of bloodlust. He’d only felt bloodlust once before, and it is not an experience he wishes to live again, especially not at a time like this, when one of their own has betrayed them and their lives are about to get far busier because of him. And, when another has passed. Gods, Pantalone has done so much work lately.
He blinks, eyes focusing on a recruit towards the rear end of the group. He nods once, a prompt.
“What do I do if I have no vision to fight with?”
They must be greener than he initially thought. He exchanges an amused glance with Capitano’s void-face, and is undeterred when his colleague gives absolutely no response.
“Ask the Tsaritsa,” he chirps, “I have none, myself.”
Their eyes grow impossibly wide. Pantalone pulls on the chain of his pants, revealing the face of an amber-tinted gem embedded within the Snezhnayan crest.
“In due time, you will be assigned a delusion,” he muses. The recruit who’d spoken nods vigorously, mask practically slipping off his face. Genuine amusement sparks in his chest. Ah, newcomers are all the same. “Learn to handle it properly, and you very well may land yourself within our ranks.”
Lying through his teeth should not be so mentally taxing. Such is why when Pantalone begins to feel a tension headache coming on he is baffled, and wants nothing more than to strangle the sun himself, for oppressing him in this way.
“Thank you, Lord Pantalone.”
He smiles and nods despite the pain. Pleasant. Too cordial. “Of course.”
What he doesn’t say is, I have none because the gods rejected me from obtaining a vision. He knows why, of course; it’s not as if many gods are willing to dish out power and protection to a creature of the night, as if they would ever acknowledge him as more human than Abyssal. They are fundamentally different, he and gods; he takes life force whereas they give it, in excess perhaps, and to those who may not deserve it. A pity he ever prayed to an Archon to begin with, begging on his hands and knees like a dog for water, before a statue of gold and earth and cor lapis. The gods rejected me, yet I have found my own way to sit upon the thrones of the Divine.
After what seems like hours, their exchange finally ends, and one of Arlecchino’s men is summoned to transport the recruits to her section of the camps. He and Capitano walk in silence towards the route exclusive for higher-ranking individuals, one that extends all the way to the Palace without interruption. That is, until Pantalone’s vision begins to grow fuzzy despite his glasses sitting perfectly still atop his nose, and his throat begins to feel raw and blistered, and his forehead is dappled with sweat he did not recognize was there. He falls behind Capitano, stares at the heels of his heavy, leather boots, when he feels a stuttering breath wrack his body in a way he cannot control.
Maybe he should ask the Tsaritsa for one more dosage.
His hands are clammy and moist underneath his gloves. He begins to tear one off, but remembers they are in public; reluctantly, he lets it hang back over his hand, combs his fingers through his hair, adjusts his coat, his glasses. Mere minutes into their journey back, Capitano pauses and in turn, forces Pantalone to pause.
“You seem tense,” he states, in that typical, gruff, Capitano way, “are you okay?”
Pantalone nods too quickly—curses himself, because the flow is permanently altered, and he will need to cover up more for himself—and fixes Capitano with a small grin.
“Yes, as always.”
“You’re lying,” Capitano says. For all of his worth, he is incredibly, indescribably, stubborn. Far more stubborn than Pantalone himself, and that truly is a wonder. Even still, Pantalone disregards his concern for polite small talk, tsking and shaking his head.
“My, my, I merely did not sleep well,” he excuses, “don’t we all have similar nights, Capitano?”
Capitano’s lumbering figure steps towards him, practically backing him into a decorative pillar. He blinks, schools his expression into one of practiced nonchalance, and pushes his indignation aside. If Capitano recognizes his frustration, he gives no indication.
“Let’s drop the façade,” Capitano suggests, although it sounds nothing like a suggestion given his tone, “and have a normal conversation.”
“What constitutes a ‘normal conversation?’” Pantalone murmurs. His fingers itch to reach for the daggers strapped to his thighs, or to conjure a geo construct, but his mind berates himself for ever thinking such a thing. Fighting Capitano in broad daylight is something Tartaglia would do, and he would rather eat glass than be compared to that child, he thinks. “Be concise, please. I have lots of work to attend to.”
It’s not a lie—he truly does have a mountain of reports and spreadsheets to leaf through—but the mere thought of digesting an equation or picking up his pen makes his skin prickle as if adorned with hives. Capitano seems to chuckle, an odd sound from him.
“One that acknowledges our lack of humanity,” Capitano asserts. Pantalone’s eyes widen a fraction, lips parting momentarily. “And your hunger for sustenance. Did you think you were the only nonhuman amongst us?”
Not by far. He only did not expect Capitano to be one of them. Instead of voicing his thoughts he says, “oh, my, what an accusation. What made you come to such a conclusion?”
Capitano gestures an armored hand to his face, then points at his own helmet, where Pantalone assumes his teeth must be. Sure enough, as he feels around his mouth with his tongue, he notes that his fangs have begun to slip out. Curses.
“If you need one of us to help you, do not hesitate to ask,” Capitano finally reveals. Despite how it miffs his pride, Pantalone keeps quiet simply to hear what he plans to say next, after Capitano checks doubly that they are alone within the corridor. “I don’t know what exactly you are—I have my speculations, but they are neither here nor there—but you can rely on at least me for help.”
This catches his attention. He raises an eyebrow and clasps his hands together, the pleasant weight of his rings his only comfort.
“Oh? Is that so?” he purrs, “my, my. I did not take you for the type to be so chivalrous.”
The problem with Capitano is, it is impossible to gauge his reactions aside from what he willingly puts forth. It throws Pantalone off, to have to be the one to do all of the prying, when he is so used to pressing sweet words into virginal necks and the ears of stuffy businessmen. It is by far the method he prefers, to be at the receiving end of information. Thus, when Capitano speaks, he is bewildered by how amused he sounds.
“If I may ask, what do you need to be… refreshed?”
Pantalone quirks his lips into a far more sinister smile and says, “blood.”
Capitano makes an oh kind of sound, an acknowledgment. It sounds gravelly coming from his deep baritone, almost indiscernible.
“I believe Tartaglia, Arlecchino, and Columbina are the only mortals within our ranks. So long as you do not ask them, you should be fine. And, please, refrain from using me as sustenance for the time being.”
A tempting suggestion. Pantalone wonders what Capitano’s blood would taste like, if he has blood he is able to ingest at all—is it as dark as the rest of his discernible features, such as his skin and empty face? Would it be able to sustain him? Would it feel heavy, taste metallic, just like his armor? All questions his fangs are dying to know. But Capitano is larger, stronger than him, and would not be gentle in dissuading Pantalone from doing something he would not want him to do. He’ll just have to find someone more suited to his taste.
“Although,” Capitano mutters, and if a black mass of shadow could appear smug, he may as well be, “if blood is what you seek, you could always visit the Doctor. He should have lots of blood for you to choose from, right?”
Ugh, Dottore. Pantalone shakes his head curtly and lets his hands return to his sides, heavy with renewed indignance. Who does the Captain take him for? A fool? Who in their right mind would willingly subject themselves to the ramblings of that lunatic? The other Harbingers know of the quarrels between himself and Dottore—and they are very familiar with Pantalone’s outward distaste for him. Regardless if his interests align with Pantalone’s necessities, he would rather not indulge his insatiable curiosity.
“Thank you for your concern, but I will manage,” he muses, with a flash of sharp canines and narrowed eyes. Capitano shrugs once and backs off, returning to their previous pace. Good, he thinks. He at least acknowledges that Pantalone is able to hold his own.
But, as Pantalone catches up and glances at his reflection in the ice structures nearby, the seeds of Capitano’s suggestion are sowed and planted in his mind, and he cannot shake the feeling that, perhaps, he is not as subtle as he thinks. His eyes are sunken in, cheeks unusually pale, and his lips appear to be dry and lifeless. Maybe, he’ll have to ask one of his secretaries for blood, and to make them privy to his personal life. The thought of that truly gives him an insatiable urge to tear his skin off, shuddering into the fur of his coat. Or, perhaps, he could point a dart at a wheel of all of his underlings’ names and choose one out of pure faith in the universe. Not that he ever had much to begin with, that is.
Capitano parts with him at the Palace gates, insisting that he must go to the courtyards and train. Pantalone bids him an amicable farewell and almost joins him. He rarely spends his days out training, exposed to the elements and away from the cups of fine Liyuen tea his keepers bring him. Now, however, he aches to feel the kiss of a blade against his abdomen and to tear his teeth into the throat of another, in a way he has not felt in years. The reason Her Majesty allows him to order his blood rather than hunt it is simply raw performance—he is more agreeable, less likely to cause conflict, when he ingests blood regularly, on a rigid schedule. An important aspect for a diplomat who breathes numbers during all hours of the day to have. Thus is likely why she suggested a person to fit his regular schedule.
Yet he still cannot think of who exactly he wants to doom himself to opening up his deepest, most carnal needs to, except for the Tsaritsa herself. And obviously, this is not an option—therefore he is at a complete and utter loss. Therefore, his performance will decline exponentially. Therefore, he will need to sacrifice even more sleep than he already does, with his lack of a true need to revive himself. Therefore, he cannot possibly-
“Well, if it isn’t the Regrator.”
Just his luck. Pantalone breathes in harshly through his nose, swiftly dancing out of the way of none other than part of his moral dilemma, donned in his typical lab coat and mask. Right outside the Palace, underneath the canopies and internal greenhouse, there is nobody to be seen; Pantalone allows himself to scowl, once, and fold his hands behind his back.
“Doctor,” he muses, and bows respectfully. He schools his lips into a warm smile when Dottore regards him with an overly-pretentious bow himself, a mockery. He is about to return to his quarters and, hopefully, mull over his dilemma further, when Dottore grabs his wrist and pulls him back in the middle of taking his first step. He wills his body to remain neutral even if his blood boils, preemptively.
“Leaving so soon?” Dottore taunts, chipper, “I was hoping we could grab lunch together.”
Genuine interest sparks in Pantalone’s chest. Dottore so rarely seeks him out directly unless his sole purpose is to be a bother. He raises an eyebrow, prompting him to continue.
“You know, I haven’t seen you in—how long has it been? Oh, yes—over three weeks,” Dottore says, and runs a hand through his messy, moonkissed hair, “time flies when you’re holed up in the bank, hm?”
“Oh, my, has it truly been so long?” Pantalone grits out, “a pity I must take my leave. Farewell, Doctor.”
Once again, Dottore’s hand does not budge. In fact it grabs his wrist further, wrapping his long, gloved fingers around the minimal strip of exposed skin on Pantalone’s arm. He stares down at their contact, willing an invisible laser to slice through Dottore’s metacarpals.
“I insist,” Dottore says, “I’ll even treat you. Doesn’t that sound better than signing papers all day?”
Pantalone considers many things, of which he comes to two conclusions: one, Dottore has ulterior motives and, two, he is increasingly desperate about acting on them. As he studies him, Dottore releases his wrist and grins, sharp teeth glinting ivory in the light of midday.
“Eager, aren’t we?” Pantalone purrs. And, then, just to annoy him, he pulls out a copy of his daily schedule, making a show out of checking each and every item. “My, my, you caught me at just the right time; lead the way.”
“Oh, I know I did,” Dottore muses, and prompts him towards the opposite direction with a brief hand on his lower back. Such a simple touch is enough to render Pantalone’s mind speechless, devoid of his usual predictions. “This way.”
On the way towards Dottore’s chosen destination, Capitano’s words filter back to him. He watches with acute precision how Dottore handles himself—how all of his colleagues handle themselves, in fact—and he must admit, the man is highly dedicated to his craft. Skilled, even. There is a low possibility that the extracted blood he would offer Pantalone would be tainted or inedible in some way, if he were to have any at all, despite how often his office space and living quarters are an absolute mess. The thought does eventually interest him when they sit down at one of the dining tables in the Harbingers’ lounge, and when he picks at his Liyuen-style noodles and wishes he could enjoy the taste of the sauce. Really, he shouldn’t have put his feeding off for this long to begin with; when all of his human food begins to taste like rusted nails and soil, he knows it is time to feed. Perhaps he should request his next supplier to bring his blood earlier in the month.
“Speak,” is what he says, first, when Dottore receives his food from one of the servants. A simple steak, with his usual pick of seltzer water. He removes his mask and slips it inside his coat pocket, crimson eyes finally focusing on Pantalone without obstruction. This way, it is easier to analyze him, to find the true root of his thoughts even if he won’t speak them aloud.
“I need to test a hypothesis,” he prefaces, and cuts a large chunk of meat. Pantalone observes as he stuffs it into his mouth without trouble and keeps his look of disgust off of his face. “You’re exactly the type of person I need.”
“And what does this entail? Mass-produced clones? I would rather not,” he simpers, drawing in a bundle of noodles and meat with his chopsticks. Dottore shrugs and twirls his steak knife around, pointing its sharp end towards Pantalone’s chest.
“Nothing of the sort,” Dottore mutters, “although, that is not a bad idea, at all.”
He not-so-subtly drags his eyes over the tight material of his high collared sweater, eventually ending at his lips. Pantalone sighs.
“Get on with the point.”
Dottore sets his fork and knife down in lieu of leaning forward in his chair, his elbows drawing him across the table. When he is close enough to Pantalone he mutters, “I need someone human. I can’t do anything with myself, and Tartaglia is out chasing that pesky Sixth.”
Ah. Dread, unfamiliar and unkind, sinks like a cold stone in Pantalone’s stomach. “You could always ask Arlecchino or Columbina.”
“They refused,” Dottore begrudges, “and, what do you know? You're the only human left.”
Ah. Pantalone swallows around tasteless, limp noodles.
“You are human, right?” Dottore murmurs, eyes penetrating and clinical, “I’d assumed you’ve only been alive for so long because the Tsaritsa favors you, gives you extra life or something.”
He weighs his options, carefully and with the urge to fidget with his rings again. If he were to disagree, he would be subject to endless experiments (he's seen the aftermath of Capitano’s and Scaramouche’s experiments, and they are less than tasteful). If he were to agree, he would be roped into furthering Dottore’s hypotheses whether he likes it or not. If he were to outright refuse, Dottore would undoubtedly take this to the Tsaritsa… and he would have to tell Dottore either way. Archons.
“I am not.”
No turning back now, he thinks, when he sees the immediate manic interest grace Dottore’s features. Pantalone rolls his eyes and places his chopsticks aside.
“But I would rather not participate, regardless,” he says, quickly. Dottore opens his mouth, eager and exploding with energy, and Pantalone talks over him with a scoff. “In fact, I refuse to participate in newfound hypotheses.”
“You can't just do that!” Dottore cries, slamming his hands down on the table. The silverware jitters, his glass threatening to spill. “You drop something like this on me, something of this magnitude, and refuse?”
“Is it not your fault for not noticing soon enough?”
Dottore scowls and flicks Pantalone's forehead. Pantalone feels his patience begin to ebb, the muscles in his temples twitching. “Don't spin this on me, Banker. Simply looking at you catches me a charge.”
Pantalone pauses and grins, something wolfish and unkind. “That will be twenty-thousand mora, by the way.”
“For flicking you?”
Pantalone shakes his head. “For suggesting such an indecent idea to me. Touching me will be fifty-thousand mora.”
Dottore gestures wildly with his hands to emphasize his distress. In return, Pantalone gives him a calm smile.
“If that’s all, I will see myself out,” Pantalone announces, standing with his hands poised delicately on the table. “Goodbye.”
“Wait!” Dottore calls, “I still need to-”
And then Pantalone is falling. His legs give out, and he braces himself for impact or to dodge his fall, but instead he falls onto something solid and warm. A shout of utter frustration almost bubbles its way out of his throat, because there Dottore is, peering down at him with a cheeky, shark-like grin, sprawled legs opened just enough for Pantalone’s chest to fit snugly against his torso. He takes a deep breath, checks that nobody important is in the vicinity, and lunges for his throat with a heavy, clawed hand.
“Just who,” Pantalone seethes, and with his other hand he draws his blade, “in the Tsaritsa’s name do you think you are?”
The shing of the blade doesn’t phase Dottore at all; in fact he tips his head back, exposes even more of the pale column of his neck, the scarred tissue of his face gleaming cold and discolored. Pantalone takes it as his invitation to slide the blade against his skin right above the ring of his harness, just barely drawing blood. Then, he realizes what a terrible fucking idea that was, because he cannot stop staring as the cut immediately begins to weep, dripping down the sides of Dottore’s throat like honey.
“I know who I am,” Dottore says, gruff and disinterested, “but I’d really like to know who you are, my dear Pantalone.”
His hands card through Pantalone’s long hair, pulling at the roots just so. This catches his attention; he casts a piercing glare, squeezing at his throat to block his airway. Dottore merely laughs, a wheezing sort of sound.
“I’ve told you enough,” Pantalone hisses, “and I owe you no more clarity. Kindly leave me the fuck alone, or else I will have your debts paid doubly; interest included, of course.”
“That—hhck—that’s nothing,” Dottore manages, breaths rattling. Pantalone observes with mild interest as his eyes begin to grow more foggy, the devious smile on his lips ever-present. “Now, if you would please-”
Pantalone releases his throat and glides up to his feet, wiping the face of his dagger with a handkerchief and returning it to its sheath. The urge to slide the entire blade into his mouth is overwhelming, to the point he must curl his hands into fists to prevent himself from looking stupid. Dottore remains sprawled out on the floor, catching his breath, and dabs at the wound with two fingers. It stains his pristine, dark glove a wine red.
“Maybe you need to be reminded of your place,” Dottore muses. Pantalone stiffens, folds the handkerchief, and places it back into his pocket. “You should be going with what I say, according to the hierarchy.”
Pantalone sneers and purposefully looks down at Dottore, if only to prove his point. “My, my, when was the last time you did something Pierro asked of you?”
“That’s not important.”
“I beg to differ.”
Dottore raises a suggestive eyebrow and rises to his feet. “You beg, do you? I never thought you would be the type to beg… perhaps I pinned you wrong.”
Rather than rising to the bait, Pantalone smiles and adjusts his glasses, dusting himself off with meticulous hands. “Believe what you will, Doctor.”
“Listen,” Dottore sighs, and for a moment, Pantalone observes a lapse in his twinkling eyes and jerky, energetic movements that speak of an insistence to take in every piece of information he can get his hands on. Instead, a firm, determined set to his features causes him to narrow his eyes, snow-crusted and somehow alive and utterly dead all at once, against cheekbones made of porcelain fractures. His more fractured cheek, the one that extends its cracks to his ear, seems to strain and peel with the movement, as if not used to being used in such a way. Pantalone only now remembers, when Dottore brings his bloodstained hand in his line of sight, that he has a bleeding man in front of him. And he is hungry. “How about I cut you a deal: I get to know who you are and, hopefully, still use you for my hypothesis… and you can get anything you want from me. Anything at all.”
A tension seeps over the both of them, strains at the angular visages of Dottore’s jawline and shoulders, leading Pantalone’s gaze to his neck. It is extremely, wonderfully alluring to agree—why would he not, logically, only to get a taste, to end his starvation?—but, he digresses, he didn’t necessarily plan to reveal his true nature to two of his colleagues today. Noticing his hesitation, Dottore ups the stakes, stepping forward.
“You have my honest word, on the Tsaritsa’s grave,” Dottore murmurs. Oh, the weaker portion of Pantalone thinks, and in tandem, admires his conviction—he is sure it shines a bright vermilion in his own eyes. “As long as it is within my power, I will do it.”
It is simply too good an opportunity to pass up. Pantalone swallows his distaste down and allows his smile to morph into a grin, his fangs to fully extend, and himself to watch as Dottore’s composure snaps like thin wire.
“Oh,” Dottore marvels, “oh. You are….”
He lurches forward and runs his thumbs along Pantalone’s bottom lip, the one stained with blood dipping into his mouth. Pantalone holds his breath, waits it out. “Who are you, my dear Pantalone?”
He rolls his tongue along his thumb, lets the flavor of his blood bloom in his mouth. He tastes like something akin to roses, or perhaps smoke, and it gives him whiplash. “Vampire.”
“Vampire,” Dottore repeats. And then, as if something clicks, he deliberately rubs his thumb along the entire width of his tongue, wide eyes watching as Pantalone’s throat swallows around nothing and his gums begin to ache. “You’re a vampire… I never thought they were anything other than fiction, yet it makes too much sense to be a lie.”
From this angle, with the warm lights overhead, Dottore is swallowed by a halo of divinity, hand forcing nectar from the sweetest fruits of Eden into his eager mouth. Pantalone lets his lips close around his thumb, fangs just barely grazing the surface of his leather gloves, enough of a mimicry of skin for him to be deluded into attempting to bite down on his nail. Rather than ambrosia all he tastes is antiseptic and the lingering scent of formaldehyde; he pushes his thumb away, peeved.
“However, I agree on three conditions as per our deal,” Pantalone continues, despite the, frankly, terrifying urge he feels to ravage Dottore’s wrists and neck, “and they are irrefutable.”
“But of course,” Dottore sings, “I expected nothing less.”
Pantalone licks at the lingering traces of blood around his teeth, retracts his fangs halfway with some effort. “One, this will remain strictly confidential; only your closest agents and the Tsaritsa may know I am visiting you. Two, you must produce a down payment for my time as your new experimental candidate. Three, you will provide me with blood for an indefinite amount of time; this could be one month long, or years long, and you will need to keep a consistent and steady supply of blood.”
Dottore snaps his fingers and mutters, ah. “So that’s why you’ve been looking at me like you’re going to rip my head off. You’re not raging, it’s only that you’re hungry.”
“Oh, no, I still very much dislike you,” Pantalone simpers. Dottore laughs, hearty and loud. He runs a frantic hand through his hair, swipes at the cut on his neck again, brings it between their bodies. A clear taunt. “Do you accept my conditions?”
“Do you think I’m mad? Of course I accept,” Dottore says. Yes, Pantalone does think him to be mad, but he refrains from snatching low-hanging fruit. “I’ll do you one better: meet me in my lab at your earliest convenience tomorrow. I will have so much blood, you’re bound to be drunk.”
Pantalone smiles and nods. “Excellent. I will write the contract.”
“Wait a moment, can you even get drunk?” Dottore mutters, turning his analytical gaze towards Pantalone, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest. Then, he seems to think better of it and shrugs. “I guess I’ll find out soon. Right, Pantalone? Say you’ll get drunk, won’t you?”
“If it helps you sleep better at night,” Pantalone redirects. He is about to bid his goodbye for the nth time when Dottore’s high, leather boots clunker up to him and corner him in between the table and chair, and then he keeps moving forward, all the way forward, until Pantalone practically bends in half at the waist. He narrows his eyes, braces his right elbow on the surface of the table while Dottore’s arm traps him by settling at the ridge of the chair, effectively leaving him no escape. From up close, like this, Pantalone is helpless to observe details he otherwise misses when they’re passing each other in the halls or forced to collaborate; the slight discoloration of his scarred eyelid, the jagged harmony of his teeth, a grin of glass and rose petals. And his eyes, his eyes that glow like a forest fire underneath a moonlit canopy, destructive and reviving and decomposing all at once, and Pantalone only watches with bated breath, hand on the table curling and flexing.
“Knock thrice on my door and Clone Twelve will answer,” Dottore murmurs. His eyes travel to Pantalone’s lips, no doubt observing the curvature of his fangs, a deceivingly benign hand placing a strand of hair behind his ear. “Ask him for me. He will show you the way.”
And then, he leaves. Pantalone stands there, for a second, to catch his breath. It takes the sound of a servant's footsteps approaching from the next room over for him to straighten up, fix his clothes, and pace out of the room, with a fire in his gut he was not aware could be rekindled.
Fine, then. If Dottore wants to play dirty, so can he.
He finds himself out of bed the next morning less refreshed than ever before, and over a bland breakfast of buttered toast that causes his keepers to gaze at him with bewildered eyes, he decides upon his plan for the day. His schedule, as he reads it, requires him to leave the Palace by mid-morning to collect a downpayment; he can push that to early in the afternoon. New documents to sign that spell out the ambitions of potential government figures… an appointment consulting a man who’d paid an exorbitant amount of mora to meet with him, to discuss his future business endeavors… a visit to the main Northland Bank… and so on. And on, and on, and on. And it is a shame that he would rather curl up in his foyer and laze around all day, because he simply does not have the energy for anything else.
He zones out tracing the luxurious gold trimmings of his shelves, fingers restless against the edge of his desk. They seem to understand the urgency of his racing thoughts, bouncing around his skull in tandem; he is so unbearably starved that he even considers clearing his entire schedule in favor of hunting, which he hasn’t done in decades with the Tsaritsa’s benevolence. That isn’t acceptable for a multitude of reasons ranging from reputation to repulsion. So, the only option he has is to finish drafting the contract he’d spent the majority of the night mulling over, and ring his bell to alert his secretaries of his altered schedule.
Before he leaves his office he grabs one more thing, hidden in between lavish, Inazuman ornamental sets and antiques from Natlan—its long, leather surface is difficult to maneuver into his innermost coat pocket, but he makes do, and smiles at his keepers on his way out of his wing of the Palace.
“If I don’t return by noon, send Ivan to find me,” he instructs them. He truly wouldn’t mind his closest secretary finding out he visits Dottore, of all people; but he would also rather nobody know but themselves. “Have my documents regarding the down payment on my desk by the time I am back.”
The journey to Dottore’s lab renders him feeling so antsy he almost knocks four times; Dottore’s twelfth clone does, indeed, fling the door open after three knocks, revealing unkempt hair and a half-moon mask.
“What are you doing here?” Twelve asks, accusatory. Pantalone smiles and bows (although, should he, really? Twelve is younger than he is, after all).
“I am here to see Prime,” he announces. Twelve shoots him a disapproving glare and motions for him to step inside the bleak interior of his lab, and the door shuts with a resounding slam. Twelve has never favored him, and doesn’t plan to begin favoring him. Pantalone is inclined to agree. Thus their short trip down the winding hallways, to the innermost portion of Dottore’s lab, is chalk full of a tension that begins to feel heavy on Pantalone’s skin, akin to the humid summers of Inazuma.
By the time they reach Dottore Prime’s lab space, where none of his clones are permitted to work, his hands have begun to prickle with a layer of sweat underneath his gloves. He is quite glad scientific research requires lab spaces to remain frigid. Twelve knocks, Prime beckons them inside, and Pantalone’s fate is sealed as soon as the door slips shut, much quieter than the previous door. Its impact is all the greater, and Pantalone almost wants to turn tail and resort to Ivan for blood after everything, as the smell of rot and sanitizing fluid hits him like a ton of bricks.
Dottore looks up to see his bow from his work, masked and gloved to his standards. He has a partially-dehydrated human on his table, a cadaver saw in his right hand and chicken scratch notes in his left, lower lip gnawed in between his teeth. As he spots him he grins. Pantalone always found it strangely unnerving to see such a wide smile without the eyes to accompany it.
“You’re rather early. Are you that hungry?” Dottore calls. Pantalone makes his way across the room, brandishing the contract for him to take in. “Ah, so pragmatic. Hand me a pen, will you?”
Dottore gestures to his desk, illuminated by stark artificial lights, where a canvas sack rests beside cluttered utensils and books. Pantalone assumes it to be collateral—the down payment he had in mind is at least twice as large.
“Let’s get this done with, shall we? Quickly,” Pantalone says. Dottore waves his saw around, swapping the items in his hands in favor of holding the pen Pantalone finds on his nearby desk. In the eerie, blue light that emanates from capsules of newly-developed clones, Dottore’s mask gleams silver, skin grey and as washed out as his corpse; especially when his lips press into a neutral line, reading over every point in Pantalone’s crisp lettering.
“This one is interesting,” Dottore mutters, the end of the pen pursed against his bottom lip. Pantalone watches it a little too closely to be excused. “‘If, at any given point, I feel unsafe or that you will use my body non-consensually for science, I will be allowed to physically restrain you with whatever I see fit.’ Do you really trust me so little, dear Pantalone?”
Pantalone gestures to the corpse on his table, then the recruit’s insignia beside its barely-intact foot. “Considering your track record, yes.”
“Technically, he offered, so I don’t see what your point is.”
“I will not reason morality with you,” he simpers, “get on with it. I have a meeting to attend to soon.”
“But how will you restrain me, is the question?” Dottore urges. He sets his saw and notes down on the corpse’s gaping chest cavity, balanced in between layers of fascia and muscle tissue. “This is my domain. You may be able to rip my throat open, but I still have my clones.”
In a mimicry of the day before, Dottore barely manages to contain his shocked yell when Pantalone surges forward, swipes at his legs with a curved geo construct, and kicks his abdomen with enough force to send him backwards. He watches both him and the contract fall with a satisfied little smile, settling with both of his knees perched atop his chest. One of his daggers pierces his lab coat while the other fishes for the object in his pocket.
“I am beginning to think this is a favorite position of yours,” Dottore leers. Pantalone ignores him and leans down so that the paler strands of his hair brush against Dottore’s lips.
“Like this,” he says, chipper and deceiving. The mouthpiece of the object clicks into place on the ring of Dottore’s harness, and he tugs at the leather band—with his leash, that he had procured specifically for disobedient creatures like Dottore, lips twisting into a deep scowl. “Now, if you will.”
He hands the contract to Dottore once again. A manic laugh erupts out of his chest, head tipping back, accentuating the sharp cut of his chin and cheekbones. Pantalone takes it as an invitation to pull harder, until his upper back lifts off of the linoleum floor.
“I understand,” he hiccups, tapered off and weak with joy, “you can unhand me, now.”
Pantalone does, but only with enough slack in the leash to let him sit up and place the contract down on his thighs. His signature is barely legible; he takes it anyway, grinning with a hint of fang.
“Pleasure doing business with you.”
He slides the dagger back into place. Dottore stays put as he stands, and does not make any effort to move. His voice runs an octave lower when he says, “I quite like this look on you.”
Pantalone raises an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Very nice, indeed,” Dottore mumbles. His hands run along the seam of the leash; Pantalone wishes he could see his eyes, could see whether they favor Pantalone or the leash in this still moment. Then, he seems to snap himself out of a daze, standing with a flourish. “Alright, how much time until your meeting? We have lots of blood samples to look through. Think of it as a wine tasting.”
“You have until noon. No experimenting on me today?” Pantalone faux-gasps. Dottore shrugs and drags him along to his desk, by extension of the leash.
“Well, I could, but I would have rather had more supplies prepared. I guess we can make do with questions….”
After what feels like several hours, but could very well have been only one, Pantalone finds himself with two test tubes in hand, each half-full of blood from two different humans. One of them, he feels inclined to settle on simply because it tastes similar to his previous blood donors; the other, though, has a smokey, sweet odor that seems oddly familiar to him despite never having had it, and its taste is strong like fruity liquor. The remaining samples rest on a rack with varying levels of fullness, in between the both of them from where he stands and Dottore sits in his beaten-up chair, scribbling something down in a thick notebook. His mask rests long gone by the leash that Pantalone has let drape over the surface of the table, folded neatly. Pantalone finds he cannot keep his eyes from tracing back over the arch of his brow bone, settling into pools of crimson when he loses focus. Red against blazing red.
“I have made my decision.”
Dottore perks up at the sound of his voice, knees knocking against his desk. Pantalone furrows his brow. Honestly, how on Teyvat he sits in such back-breaking positions for so long, he will never understand.
He gestures at him with the second tube. Dottore nods and rummages through one of his desk drawers, producing a horizontal chart.
“Hand me the- yes, thank you,” Dottore hums, and peers at the number marked on the tube, “hm… oh, I see. Give me a moment.”
He shoots up from his chair, padding over to the opposite side of the lab. He seems to pay no mind to the leash grazing against his ankles with each step.
“That would be this batch here,” Dottore calls. With his back turned, Pantalone has no shame running his eyes over the unfairly small cut of his waist, sleeves rolled up his toned arms. “Now, it’s my turn to have fun.”
Dottore presents about two gallons of blood to him. He cannot keep his eyes from widening, fangs biting into his tongue. “My, my, from where did you procure such a large amount of blood?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” Dottore grins, wolfish and suggestive in nature. He returns with two hearty jars, filled to the brim with dark liquid. “First question: is this enough for the time being?”
Pantalone prematurely sits down at his desk chair and sighs, accepting his fate. “Yes, this is enough. Does it really have to be an interview?”
“All I have for you are questions, at the moment. Sit pretty and answer them for me.”
Something about his words irks Pantalone. He scoffs, braces his hands atop the table. “Watch your tone with me, Doctor.”
Dottore steps within his range on his side of the desk and sets the jars down with a thud. Pantalone grasps the leash and pulls, a clear warning.
“What will you do if I don’t, Banker? In fact, I should be telling you to watch your tone.”
“Do you really want to challenge me?”
Something stirs within the deepest, darkest, most hidden crevices of Pantalone’s gut. Something that feels like fire and tastes like its smoke, embers staining his throat with the steady rise of his heartbeat. It begins to make him feel as if he wants Dottore to challenge him, to get him to tug on the leash a little more, make him bring the sole of his foot in between his spread legs. But that is dangerous territory, and he knows it. He blinks the smoke out of his eyes. Dottore watches him, expectant, with a shit-eating grin on his face.
“Anyway,” Dottore says, pointedly, “my second question is: how much blood do you drink, and how often?”
Pantalone returns to his usual smile. He finds himself playing with his rings. “I feed once per month according to my schedule, on the twenty-second of each month. One half of a gallon is enough to sustain me.”
Dottore picks up on him omitting certain details. He places his hands on the table, shuffling amongst piles of loose leaf paperwork. “Tell me every last detail about your feedings, would you? Treat this like learning about the creation of mora, or something. Who gave you blood before? Why do you need to use my samples now? How long can you go before you get too hungry? Is it really a hunger, or is it more like a thirst? Can nonhuman blood sustain you?”
“Any more questions?” Pantalone grits. Dottore holds up a sharp, medical-grade knife and makes a little oh! sound.
“And how does blood taste to you? No basic answers, if you will.”
Pantalone watches with mild curiosity as Dottore twirls the knife. “You are absolutely insufferable.”
Dottore grins, as sharp as his knife. “Naturally.”
“I organized my own supplier; he would bring blood bags from the hospital. I need blood from you because he was fired, and presumably assassinated, for embezzling mora. I can survive three weeks without blood comfortably, assuming I do not lose blood myself; after four weeks I am starved.”
He pauses, hesitates at the uncontrollable pressing sensation that surrounds his chest. Threadbare and vulnerable to his superior by seven ranks. Gods.
“Go on?” Dottore murmurs, nibbling on the seam of his glove. Pantalone swallows something cruel down his throat and feels it burn a mark into his flesh.
“It is… a compulsion that feels like hunger, not thirst. Blood tastes different depending on the donor; sometimes it is just sweeter than water, and other times it tastes like whatever the human has eaten that day. Nonhuman blood can sustain me, yes, depending on the species.”
“Fascinating…,” Dottore murmurs. A pinkish tint to his cheeks catches Pantalone off guard; he has no time to react when Dottore’s knife slips from his hand, slides down the length of his forearm in a clean line, and rattles to the floor. And then Dottore flings his arm out in front of his face in an expression of frustration, hands held towards the ceiling. “Archons! That fucking hurt.”
He does not move his arm. Pantalone loses the sharpness to his vision, colors bleeding away slowly but surely until he finds himself far closer, enough so that the red takes up his entire field of vision. His glasses nearly slip off his nose. Dottore says something, but it comes muffled and indistinguishable, through the walls of Pantalone’s skull, trapped beyond the ringing in his ears, and the first bite lulls him into letting his eyes slip shut, mind going utterly still.
Smoked rose hemp and sweet, overripe fruit, the richest of liquid golds. His mouth explodes with the taste of nectar, of charred wood, ashes coating the gaps of his teeth, fangs piercing through the bellies of the muscles in his forearm right by the crease of his elbow. He bites down and slides forward—is rewarded with a sharp inhalation of breath—and sucks the gold in. It runs down his chin in lines of fire, drips onto the fur of his coat as Dottore stands above him, eyes unreadable and distant, while his hand caresses the junction of Pantalone’s jawline to his skull. He shuts his eyes again, lets the blood fill his mouth and almost drown him, swallowing it all with a barely-restrained groan.
And then, he remembers where he is, who he is, and who he is feeding from. He rips his fangs out of Dottore’s arm, brings a gloved hand to his mouth, wiping furiously with the back of his sleeve. Time stops in that very moment; Dottore stands there with his pupils blown wide, lips parted in either shock or something else Pantalone barely has the mental strength to acknowledge, because his reeling mind can focus on one thing and one thing only.
The test tube had contained Dottore’s blood.
His stomach swoops with something angry and hot and indignant all at once. Dottore’s shock morphs into the absolute picture of smug amusement, his razor teeth shining just like Pantalone’s—like a predator’s.
“You…,” Pantalone breathes, and immediately regrets it as the blood’s scent wafts through his breath and ignites the fire further. Dottore runs a hand through his hair and peels his gloves off to reveal scarred, calloused skin.
“Tell me, Pantalone,” Dottore murmurs, and leans down so that his breath just tickles Pantalone’s forehead, “do I really taste good enough for you to choose my blood out of thirty samples?”
Frankly, Pantalone has had enough. He snakes his hand to Dottore’s neck under the pretense of kindness, a gentle caress—and yanks the leash in a vice grip, forcing Dottore to a sit, hands braced behind his rear end. The impact makes a resounding noise that sounds painful, and Dottore confirms it by spitting a curse, eyes narrowed and brimming with anger. Nothing compares to the fury Pantalone feels.
“You insolent, foolish brat,” Pantalone says, uncaring for the way Dottore’s hands grip at his harness, dripping blood onto his own thighs, “would you care to explain why you deem this as appropriate for our work relationship?”
“I would be delighted- to,” Dottore says, and wheezes when Pantalone chokes him further, his sentence ending in an abrupt gasp. He gestures to his bleeding arm, and then the capsules of his new clones. “I have more than enough blood to go around.”
“You are playing a very dangerous game.”
“Fortunately for you, I like to play,” Dottore chokes, grinning like a madman. Pantalone sneers.
“You do? My, what a pity,” Pantalone says, brushing the minty locks out of Dottore’s piercing eyes, “I discipline brats who like to play.”
Dottore’s breath audibly shifts, caught in the pretty column of his throat. Pantalone releases his grip on the leash, only tight enough to be a prominent threat. Dottore inhales raggedly, chest stuttering. “What if I said I was keen on being disciplined?”
This, Pantalone did not expect. He so rarely finds people within the Palace who are willing to divulge in his flavor of sadism; a flavor that does not smell of gunmetal and carnage on the battlefield. He brings his free hand to Dottore’s lips, grazing his thumb along the edge of his jawline.
“Was this a plan of yours?”
Dottore nods, smug as all hell. “Indeed.”
“Hm,” Pantalone hums. He pretends to consider his next move, crossing his legs to disguise the interest in his groin. “What do you intend to do, Doctor? What was the end goal? Sex, a fight…?”
“Sex is but a byproduct, I assure you,” Dottore snickers, “the only goal is to find out everything about you. Why not start with my first hypotheses?”
“You are aware of the down payment, correct?”
“But of course,” Dottore says, chipper, and grasps Pantalone’s crossed leg, “I’ll have that ready for you by tomorrow night. If only you weren’t so stingy with mora….”
The room echoes with a resounding slap. Pantalone’s hand feels like magma under his glove, eyes downcast and disapproving as Dottore seizes up and shivers, hand flying off of his leg. The lovely red mark on his skin looks like it belongs there to compliment his eyes. “Sit.”
Dottore takes his merry time, maneuvering his body into a kneel at his feet, although his hands rest a little too high up his thighs. Pantalone narrows his eyes and nudges his knee with the toe of his boot.
“Tell me what you plan to do.”
“You’re intuitive, aren’t you?” Dottore mocks. His large hands reach to palm at himself through his pants; Pantalone’s mind wanders to how they would look around his wrists, scarred and unmendable and as pale as a corpse. Would he be more akin to a fleeting, paper-thin specter? Or would he be frigid like the dead, to claim him and bury him alive? “Our interests align. Piece it together.”
Pantalone yawns, uncrosses his legs, and yanks the leash. Dottore falls forward and gags, hands braced against the legs of his chair. His chin falls right in the juncture between Pantalone’s pelvis and thigh, breath ghosting into the fabric of his slacks.
“Then, I suppose you wouldn’t mind this,” Pantalone murmurs, and skims his boot against the seam of his high-waisted trousers. Dottore’s breath hitches, eyes focused on Pantalone’s tongue as he wets his lips. “Would you?”
“As long as I get to fuck you in the end, not one bit,” Dottore admits and, wow, Pantalone did not expect to hear such a statement so readily said, without hesitation. Has Dottore always seen him this way? How long has he been interested in “fucking him,” that it takes no effort to say it aloud? His chest squeezes and lights up with something white-hot, almost blinding, as Dottore nuzzles into his crotch, the blue of his hair an admittedly pleasant contrast to Pantalone’s dark wardrobe. Pantalone brings his free hand up to his mouth and laughs, although it has no heart.
“My, what makes you think you will fuck me?” he simpers. Dottore’s brows knit together, a slip in his coy mask that Pantalone delights in. “As if I would soil my hands with you.”
He brushes his boot against the growing tent in Dottore’s pants. Dottore’s eyes widen with realization, pupils blown and heated with desire. Slowly, he increases his pressure until he practically kicks into him, and with each passing moment, Dottore’s hands clench and grapple at nothing but air, a lovely flush painting his cheeks pink. Pantalone almost thinks the heat of his skin will seep into him.
“But you like this, do you not?” he asks, “disgusting.”
His other foot stomps on Dottore’s hand when he attempts to grab at his pant leg. Dottore yelps, the metal of the leash and harness ring jingling with the force at which he jumps.
“Me? Disgusting?” Dottore laughs, although instead of its typical smug grandeur, his voice runs thin. Pantalone smiles, and this time it is genuine. “You have your foot on my dick, and you’re calling me disgusting.”
“Yes,” Pantalone says, simply. The rough sole of his boot begins to roll up and down the length of the bulge, paying extra attention to where he knows the crown of his dick meets the base. Absently, he searches for something on Dottore’s desk. “You instigated me into drinking your blood against my will, twice, and thought it wouldn’t warrant a punishment, monetary or otherwise? That’s naïve, even for you.”
Dottore’s eyes flutter shut, body swaying in tempo with Pantalone’s ministrations. Just when he gets too comfortable, Pantalone increases his pressure to the point of almost being unbearable, and Dottore groans, resting his open mouth against his knee. A wet spot begins to form, chilling his skin. He frowns, and pushes in even harder when he finds what he’d been looking for, free hand adjusting his glasses.
“Doctor, can you tell me what time it is?”
The man beneath him only mumbles something incomprehensible under his breath, eyes screwed shut in painful pleasure and temples shining with sweat. Pantalone pushes in just slightly harder at the crown, watches his throat work around a deep swallow, and returns to his slow, tantalizing brushes. Dottore’s chest stutters on a barely-restrained whimper; it kindles in his gut, sends zings of satisfaction through his blood.
“The time, Doctor. I am a very busy man.”
“Fuck if I know,” Dottore mutters, scathing, and bites fruitlessly into his slacks, “keep going, damnit.”
“My glasses do not seem to be clear enough; I would appreciate it if you told me the time.”
Pantalone nudges the hot skin of his neck with a pocket watch. Dottore glances at his hand and seems to ignore it.
“Looks like noon.”
Pantalone smiles, grasps at the semi-long locks of the nape of his neck, and pulls hard. Dottore cannot hold in his high keen, shocked and aroused. Then, he removes his foot, unclasps the leash, and stands, his coat draping around his calves. Dottore peers up at him with unadulterated shock, lips forming colorful insults his breath cannot manage.
“Ah, then it is time for me to return to my quarters,” Pantalone chirps. Dottore’s hands reach out to his coat; he glides out of the way, folding the leash back into his pocket as he goes. “This was fun, really. Thank you for your patronage.”
He also picks up the sack of mora and one of the jars. The other, he can simply collect later… if he decides to drink it at all, because he must still mull over the implications of being reliant on Dottore’s own blood. Archons.
“You can’t be serious,” Dottore says, dumbfounded. The tent in his pants twitches, and Pantalone almost feels compelled to feel sympathetic. “You’re not serious, are you, Banker? If this is a joke it isn’t funny.”
“No jokes,” Pantalone says. He jostles the jar around and gives his own mocking bow. The glee he feels when Dottore visibly begins to tremble with anger is absolutely delicious. “Take care, Doctor. I will return whenever my schedule deems fit for your continued research.”
The last thing he hears before he shuts the door is a long string of curses and fumbling limbs against the floor. And so begins Pantalone’s next idea, so long as Dottore does not make the first move.
It is a mere three days later when Pantalone begins to feel an itching underneath his skin. He’d expected it—withdrawal from changing donors is never a fun experience—and he finds himself pacing the Northland Bank’s office with his hands behind his back just to feel any sensation other than nausea, in the middle of filing paperwork for a new branch in Sumeru. He cannot even bring himself to eat human food (avoiding his keepers’ concerned eyes was a grand feat); any movement inside of his body is agonizing, from his magicked heart to his contracting muscles.
And it is in the middle of his pacing that he hears a knock at his office door, not firm enough to be Ivan’s yet not hushed enough to be his agents’. He calls them in and straightens his back.
“Lord Pantalone,” one of the tellers greets and bows deeply, “you have a visitor.”
“Who?” he demands. She stands upright and visibly suppresses a wince, to which an acute sense of unease fills his chest.
“Lord Dottore, sir.”
Ugh. Pantalone brings his thumb and forefinger to where his glasses rest against the bridge of his nose and sighs. There goes none of his staff knowing he and Dottore associate with one another. And in his bank, for the Tsaritsa’s sake. “Him? In my bank?”
His teller peers at her feet and says, with a timid bite of her lip, “yes, sir.”
“Send him in. Do not allow anyone into my office until he leaves.”
She salutes and takes her leave. In his place comes Dottore, barging through his dark stained door like a fawn who’d just learned to walk, lips pulled into a grin that displays all of his teeth and a large bottle of wine in hand. His other hand holds yet another notebook, multi subject yet unassuming; Pantalone vaguely sees a scribbled title on its plain cover, but cannot make out what it says. Before he can move, or even speak, Dottore plops down on one of his leather sofas and lifts his feet up on his coffee table—his rare acacia wood coffee table, from a tree that no longer exists in Teyvat—and leans back, peeling off his mask. His eyes sparkle with pure mischief.
“Remove your filthy boots from my table,” Pantalone laments, and doesn’t bother smiling to mask his displeasure. Clearly, this is the reaction Dottore was seeking; he laughs and tosses his mask onto the opposite sofa, barely missing a custom candelabra he’d had imported from Mondstadt. Also made from a material that is so rare, it may as well be nonexistent. He’d had to barter for almost a full year to finally add it to his collection. Pantalone feels his eyebrow twitching; the urge to grab Dottore by his stupid harness and bring him to his feet is overwhelming.
“What’s the point in having maids at a bank if there’s never anything to clean?” Dottore says, simply. He slaps his notebook down on the table and raises the wine bottle—unopened yet mostly unmarked, to which Pantalone raises a suspicious eyebrow. “Grab us a pen and two goblets, will you?”
Pantalone opens his mouth, pauses, and lets it shut with a click. He trudges over to his desk and rings his bell, prompting two maids to materialize in his doorway and whisk up what Dottore had requested. As he sets the two goblets on his table he mutters, “I cannot fathom what the Tsaritsa sees in you.”
“My scientific prowess.”
“Yet you use it for creating clones to fuel your egotistical complex.”
“You know me so well and we’ve barely spoken,” Dottore purrs, placing an exaggerated hand over his heart, “you are certainly a man of observation, as they tend to say.”
“Who is ‘they?’” Pantalone demands. Dottore swiftly ignores him and uncorks the wine bottle, pouring two teeming glasses. He holds his hand out for the pen; Pantalone withholds it and smirks, lounging on the opposite sofa (a good few feet away from his mask, if only to emphasize his disdain). “Explain the circumstances for your visit, Doctor. I do not often entertain guests at my bank.”
“Am I not allowed to visit my colleagues in their places of work?” Dottore fawns. He lifts his goblet and downs one third of it at once; by the fragrance, Pantalone can tell it is a high-quality plum wine, likely from his home country. Something peculiar stirs in his chest, intrigued and perhaps impressed. “You are certainly judgmental.”
“Is observation not a synonym for judgment?”
“Fair enough,” Dottore chuckles, twirling his goblet in his long, almost elegant fingers. With his opposite hand he brushes a long strand of hair behind his scarred ear, his earring glowing its typical eerie blue. “I am here to conduct research, as the Tsaritsa willed it.”
Their Queen’s will trumps every ambition they may have for themselves, and they know it. He relinquishes his fate with an inaudible sigh, though he is sure it shows on his face for Dottore grins and sets his goblet down, wagging his fingers. “Pen, my dear Pantalone?”
He chucks the pen at his face; Dottore catches it with feigned offense without so much as a flinch.
“What business do I have with your research?” Pantalone muses. He lifts his own goblet, chilled against his ungloved hand, and allows it to waft over his nose; no traces of poison nor unusual chemicals. Dottore is known to have a resistance to toxic substances the rest of them don’t have, thus he can never be too cautious. “This is of the highest quality; who did you need to abduct in order to get your hands on it?”
“You really think so little of me?” Dottore gasps. Pantalone nods, with a cheerful smile. “It was an assassination mission. He had far too much wine for a normal human’s body to handle, therefore I did him a favor. Can you imagine the liver of a guy with sixty-five bottles of liquor on his wine rack alone?”
“You just claimed it to be an assassination.”
“What, I can’t help people after death?”
“Oh, right,” Dottore says, snapping into clear-cut focus, “my research. I am here to pursue the cause of your existence and further our discussion from earlier this week. I would have written a letter, but I find the element of surprise to bring the most authenticity out of people; you would understand, wouldn’t you?”
“Did Her Majesty really tell you to come here?”
“Well,” Dottore says, eyes fidgety around his office. They land atop a stack of thick, liberally marked files. “Not really, but she did say she wished for me to pursue any new hypotheses before we prepare for Sumeru. And, in truth, I wish to pursue you; I supposed you could say she indirectly told me to visit you.”
His heart stirs. To dispel its odd nature, Pantalone nods to the files for emphasis.
“I am a busy man with a busy schedule,” Pantalone reminds him, “and in approximately two hours, I am to attend a high-stakes business investment that may or may not lend us the upper hand in Fontaine’s political climate.”
“As am I,” Dottore says, with the sole intention of one-upping him, “do you know how many delusion prototypes I am supposed to be sifting through, right now? Think of the number of delusions you’ve encountered in your life; then double it.”
“And so, once again: why are you here?” Pantalone retorts. He takes a sip and lets the wine rest in his mouth to savor its taste, swallowing without resistance. It slides down with a pleasant warmth his office tends to lack, with its dark furniture and drafty windows; he sets his goblet down and folds his hands, burrowing into his fur coat. “We both have more important items on our schedules to attend to, therefore this visit can be rescheduled if it does not benefit us at this time.”
“Do you always have to think as if everything is a transaction?” Dottore bemoans, his head tipped back and hanging off the edge of the sofa, “what if I simply wanted to see you without making an appointment, is that so wrong? Honestly.”
Pantalone’s lungs seize and grip at his heart. The air escapes his chest with a short gasp that leaves him feeling almost lightheaded; from which emotion or sensation, he cannot decipher. All he knows is that his brain has momentarily disconnected from his system, utterly blank and the color of Dottore’s thick, unwashed hair as it fans over eyelashes of pure white. His mouth stays smiling, desperate for consistency—for control, for a lack of change, for his heart to stop fucking leaping into his throat when he and Dottore lock eyes, and oh Archons, how long has it been since he’d started staring?
“I have no place to dictate your wrongdoings,” Pantalone mutters, and Dottore makes a noise of triumph before he adds, “but I do have a place to judge: yes, I think your idea is absurd.”
“Are all vampires like this?” Dottore scoffs. Pantalone genuinely ponders on it for a moment before his smile drops, eyes narrowed.
“No, don’t distract me again,” Dottore says, shaking his head vigorously, “I have questions for you. Firstly, how-”
Dottore gawks at him, leaning forward in a flurry of white cloth and shocked eyes. “Pardon me?”
“I will allow ten questions, and no more,” Pantalone says, “considering your affinity for losing focus and wasting my time.”
“But I have at least thirty!”
“How unfortunate,” Pantalone says. A satisfied grin emphasizes his next words, chalked full of mock disappointment. “Since you’ve previously asked me a question related to your topic, that brings your limit down to nine.”
Dottore makes a noise akin to a steaming kettle. He leaps to his feet and points an accusatory finger at Pantalone’s nose, silhouette carved lovingly by the window behind Pantalone’s back, notebook clutched to his chest like a lifeline. If Pantalone weren’t familiar with him, he would assume Dottore to be an overzealous preacher, and finds the mental image of Dottore doused in stained glass panels and golden iconography oddly appealing. “If you weren’t one of the Eleven, I would have skinned you and dissected your corpse long ago. Do you understand?”
“The feeling is mutual.”
“Is it, really?” Dottore grins. Pantalone raises a prim eyebrow and gestures to their surroundings.
“I would watch my tone, if I were you; considering both where you are, and how you are ‘keen on being disciplined.’”
Pantalone does, in fact, keep various items in hidden compartments underneath furniture in case he decides on spontaneous play; which is why, although Dottore may have a very one-track mind, he seems to pick up on his honesty and rolls his eyes. Not that he'd been interested in anyone enough to play with them in his office, at least not until now.
“Archons, it’s like talking to a wall,” he huffs as he sits back down with a fwump, feet returning to cross over one another on his table, “fine. Question two: how were you conceived?”
Pantalone squints and watches Dottore’s earnest eyes. He deduces no ill will, outstandingly. “Is this a joke?”
“Now, why would I joke about my research?”
“My, my, you are quite touchy with research, aren’t you,” Pantalone purrs. Dottore nods emphatically. “Alright, I will humor you. When a man and a woman are deeply in love-”
“As a vampire," Dottore rushes to correct, “how were you conceived as a creature of the night, not a human. You’re so pretentious….”
Satisfied, Pantalone nods and crosses his legs. “Good boy. Let’s see… I was around eight years old, if I recall correctly. I’d been in our garden harvesting before winter, walking back to our hut. I was bitten from behind, and so I lost myself to bloodlust and drained my parents’ bodies. I may have woken up days or weeks later, I don’t remember… it is all quite fuzzy. Is that enough?”
“Ah, that would explain the scar on your neck,” Dottore reasons. Pantalone nods and brandishes the scar, twin pinpricks right below his jawline. “I’ve always wondered.”
“Next question?” Pantalone sighs. Dottore nods and peels open his notebook, writing with a vigor Pantalone has never seen before, and he does not look up as he speaks.
“To preface, I’ve been searching through Sandrone’s restricted library for the past few nights, and we have exactly one certified scientific text about the existence of vampires, so forgive me if these are stereotypes. Next question: how is it possible for you to bear the sun?”
“Well,” Dottore stresses, and finally looks up although his pen doesn’t still, eyes so intense they appear to spear right through his skull, “the text concluded vampires cannot walk among humans as creatures of the night. Therefore, you should not be able to exist in sunlight. Another question: does your skin absorb vitamins and create melanin the same way a human’s does?”
“Well… I have always been able to tan and walk during the day,” Pantalone mutters, truly speechless. He wets his throat with another sip of wine; does he feel dizzy from the wine, or from the heat within Dottore’s gaze? “Is that truly a recording? How strange.”
“What a once-in-a-million sight,” Dottore says, laughingly, and before Pantalone can protest he uncrosses his ankles, picks up his glass, and swings himself around to sit directly next to Pantalone. If he can feel Pantalone’s entire body grow rigid—which he certainly should given his proximity—he refrains from commenting. “I never would have thought a mere Doctor such as I could be so witty and intelligent to render the Regrator without words.”
“How quaint,” he croons, “do you think you’re special?”
He doesn’t know why he does not ask Dottore to move, nor why he settles against the back of his sofa, shoulder brushing against Dottore’s arm until he too, leans back, and spreads his legs so that their thighs just barely touch. Although his coat acts as a barrier, he still feels Dottore’s body heat seeping into the marrow of his bones and reforming his chemistry, atom by grueling atom, until he can do nothing but accept the way his eyes continually trace over the strong arch of Dottore’s nose, the petal pink of his lips, the bruised, discolored patches of his neck marked like squeezing a peach—just breaking the skin enough to lave his tongue over the liquid that resides inside. Coinciding, he does not know why when he finishes his glass and Dottore offers him his own, he accepts; he does not know why he places his lips over the mark left by Dottore’s, claiming it for his own, tongue savoring the taste of the ghost of a mouth that is not there. And he does not notice when Dottore has finished with his questions, and their bodies have fully relaxed against one another, and he especially doesn’t sense it when one of Dottore’s arms is thrown around the back of his sofa, and his gloves are tossed aside, calloused hands playing with the chain of his glasses.
What he does notice is, as he watches his analog clock tick away his free time, a stillness in his chest settles that he has not felt for a very, very long time. Perhaps, longer than his time as a Harbinger—no, a Fatuu, even—and it is utterly serene, to sit in contemporary silence as Dottore enthuses about clone-related anecdotes, or new recruits he’s been forced to make nice to, or even old stories from his time in Sumeru Akademiya. Pantalone offers his own gossip in return, and by the time they’ve finished most of the bottle, he realizes he has not day-drank in years, and although he should not make it a pattern he cannot deny how satiated he feels, licking his lips to chase the tang. To chase the sweet breath on Dottore’s lips, as he leans in and cards his fingers through Pantalone’s hair, eyes half-lidded and focused on Pantalone’s own wet, wine-stained lips. Even wetter when he runs his tongue along his bottom lip and teeth, and his fangs feel a compulsion to slide out and sink into Dottore’s tantalizing neck, open and inviting and utterly divine.
He leans in. So does Dottore. And then, there is a knock at his door.
“Lord Pantalone, your carriage arrives in thirty minutes,” the same teller’s muffled voice announces, “your secretary will have your clothes ready for you soon.”
He watches with blatant amusement as Dottore jumps away from him and balks, eyes wide as saucers and still staring at his mouth, his hand reaching for his mask in record speed. What he doesn’t find amusing is the way his hand yanks at his hair and pulls his head aside, reflexive and not his fault, of course, but he cannot help but hate him for it. Because in place of indignance and displeasure he feels something white-hot shoot through his gut from inside out, and his throat squeezes shut on a noise he refuses to let loose, eyes narrowed and teeth grit and mind an absolute mess of ohshitohshitohshit. He clears his throat to dispel its lingering effects, removing Dottore’s hand with a pointed scowl.
“Dismissed,” he calls. Her footsteps taper off and leave them in relative silence, except for that Archon-forsaken clock and its endless counting, his heart pounding in tandem. “So it seems our time has been cut short.”
“Indeed it has,” Dottore agrees. Pantalone sighs, shucks off his coat, and stretches, arms held high above his head. When he catches Dottore staring in the middle of putting his mask on he only smiles and winks, exaggerates the curve in his spine just so. “Well, I’m satisfied with my information. Are you?”
The genuine note of apprehension in his voice does not go unnoticed. Pantalone merely laughs, polite and only slightly patronizing. “But of course.”
He rises and lays his coat along the arm of the sofa, leaving Dottore to do as he wishes to be presentable. As he reaches the door he hears Dottore stand and assumes him to be collecting his things. Thus is why when an unforgiving pressure spins him around and slams him to the wall so hard his paintings rattle in their frames, he can’t hold in his gasp of surprise, and then Dottore’s head dips down and kisses him exactly where his scar is, smoke and fire and kerosene all at once, pressing his venom into him like a syringe. He goes utterly still, hands automatically gripping at Dottore’s hair, tugging him off to no avail because he simply laughs and dives right back in, this time with his teeth. The pain they leave behind makes his head spin, toes curling.
“Dottore,” he grits, “get off of me-”
“Not so authoritative now, are you?” he mutters, cold breath fanning over a mottled bite mark. He pulls away only slightly and licks his lips, and although he has indeed redressed in his mask, Pantalone can feel the devious nature of his eyes. “I’ve wanted to do that ever since I first saw you.”
Pantalone shoves him away with all of his might, yet does not wipe his skin. “Leave my bank or I will have my personnel handle you.”
“What can mere human beings hold against me?” Dottore says. Pantalone’s hand shoots out to wrap his fingers around the back of his harness. His grip is so fierce that Dottore gags, tongue slipping out from behind his teeth.
“Get out,” Pantalone breathes, eyes utterly fixated on Dottore’s struggling throat, adam’s apple bobbing uselessly, “of my bank.”
Dottore takes his leave with his typical, cackling laughter. Its echoes linger for far longer than Pantalone would like to admit; as he dresses he finds his hands wandering to the hem of his trousers more than once, and then the very visible mark on his neck, which he absolutely cannot excuse. Therefore he must use some of that powder Columbina is fond of to cover it, and although his application is flawless, it feels uncomfortable and sticky.
The appointment comes and goes—successfully, of course, and by the time his carriage transports him back to the Palace gates he feels ready to burst out of his own skin, hands itching for the sensation of muscle fibers and sweat and the burn of leaving a lasting impression on pale skin. It’s almost a hunger: similar to the hunger felt when nearing his time to feed, yet not quite as all-consuming. It is just as carnal, however, and his eyes lose focus on his automatic route to his wing of the Palace, replaying the images of Dottore’s neck, his chipped nails, his skin that is so easy to flush, his thin waist, the way his slacks hug his long legs, his defined arms, his chapped lips and his eyes lidded and so, very sly and-
Archons. Pantalone needs this to stop, and now. They're colleagues, for the Tsaritsa's sake; and frankly, Pantalone does not want to be dependent on Dottore for more than one thing, in blood and in sex.
So, when he reaches his room, he hesitates at the spark of an idea in his mind. And, after he finishes the rest of his work for the day he lingers over to his expansive wardrobe, rings along his fingers glinting in the light of the setting sun. And, instead of chalking himself up in his usual getup, he decides to dress himself in something a little tighter, more flattering to his hair and legs, and wrap himself in a long cloak. If any of his colleagues see him taking the common roads out of the Palace courtyards, he does not notice. The only thoughts racing in his mind are hunger and need, and perhaps even blood if he gets lucky.
He ends up at a tavern not too far from the Palace, one that he knows many of the lower ranking Fatuus surround like a moth to a flame; alcohol and war go hand-in-hand, after all. As Pantalone reaches the tavern and the bouncer does not recognize him, rather lets him in before all of the others, he feels himself growing tempted to buy yet another bottle of wine to celebrate the minor victory.
He delegates himself to the uppermost floor, watching the buzzing crowd below. Perched up on the rail like this, he begins to feel a lot more like himself: a man who analyzes and tracks his prey five steps before they land in his awaiting palms, in more ways than simply financial, rather than the man Dottore tends to reduce him to: ill-tempered, perhaps even easy to seduce. It’s why when the man who’d been eyeing him from the corner finally approaches, he does not startle. It’s why he runs his hands along his arms he smiles coyly, tips his glasses down so that he can give him a proper look of his batting eyelashes. It’s why he doesn’t mind his smudged eyeliner when he brings one of his dirty, impure hands to Pantalone’s eye and traces its shape, landing at his lips with his thumb. And Pantalone, like the pragmatic man he is, takes his thumb into his mouth and suggests they take this outside.
His blood is bitter and cloying with smoke. Pantalone grimaces the entire time he takes his fill, because he knows it will do positively nothing to make him feel the way Dottore’s blood does, but it’s too late because the man has given up struggling and accepted his fate, pressed against the wall of a deserted alleyway. If anyone were to walk by, they would assume Pantalone was simply pleasuring him; and his body gives a visceral reaction to the thought, a shuddering sort of repulsion that causes him to bite down viciously, and the man cries out something weak and pitiful. He wishes he were Dottore. He wishes he were tracing the outline of Dottore’s collar bones with his blood-slick lips. Dottore. Dottore. Dottore.
He is positively fucked.
“Apologies,” he breathes into the man’s skin after minutes of agonizing feeding, “you and I are not compatible.”
He knocks him out with a swift jab to the pressure points on his neck, and he slumps forward with a pathetic noise. He lays him down on the ground somewhere he will not be seen, pats down his clothes, and takes his leave. And his skin itches the entire way back, mind reeling at how utterly helpless he is to his own desires, an animal trapped inside his own rib cage, clawing at his intercostals, screaming and drowning in its own desperation. He is the animal, in the end. He is the incarnation of primal desire, the lines between human and Abyssal, whereas Dottore has ascended beyond the need for a human shell, yet he remains encased in bone and tissue and blood. Pantalone wants nothing more than to unleash himself and tear him apart layer by layer, vein by vein, until he has eaten him whole. How delicious his heart would be bursting in between his jaws.
When he enters his quarters, he doesn’t bother removing his makeup nor undressing fully. Instead he lands on his bed with a sigh, bare skin of his shoulders heated against luxurious sheets, and pours himself a shot glass’ worth of Dottore’s blood—to dispel the taste of tobacco, he reassures himself—but then, he remembers something. And he feels the undeterred ache in his chest, spiraling into his gut. And he reaches for his fur coat, fingertips grazing on silken smooth cotton, eyes firmly shut as he drinks Dottore’s blood in one go and slides his pants down to his ankles, bringing his bloodstained handkerchief to his chest.
Behind his eyelids, it is safe to let the events of today spill into his thoughts. He remembers the sensations of smooth leather and cold glass, the exchange of heat through layers of fabric, the draft of an open window within his office, Dottore’s thick hair in between his fingers. The smell of liquor and flesh, of his own cologne mixing with Dottore’s general scent of antiseptic, grating and nauseating but so very right, and Pantalone realizes that when he’d been staring at his neck, he’d wanted nothing more than to rip his dress shirt open and pierce his fangs through the surely visible wound on his forearm, reigniting the embers in his gut.
His hand slips underneath the waistband of his pants while the other traces the planes of his chest. He’d wanted to undress him, he knows; to tear him apart, bring him to his knees to quell his insistent questions and over-confident smiles, make him shake at the sound of his voice. To make him submit and worship the very ground he walks on. To allow his rough hands to take Pantalone out of his own body wholly and entirely, yet return to his lap at a simple threat, or at the crack of a riding crop. To hear his skin break and his voice pitch high enough to shatter.
He spits in his hand and wraps his fingers around himself, laying flat on his back with his knees bent. Would he like this position, to watch Pantalone as he utterly dominates his thoughts? Or would he rather be tied up and restricted to the point of being unable to speak? Maybe he would break, then; not being able to use his voice would surely destroy a part of him for Pantalone to eat alive, figuratively or literally. Would he let him drain him dry? Would he let him mark his body and drip blood all over Pantalone’s sheets? Red and white go wonderfully together. As do desire and blood, sex and violence, a palm to Dottore’s cheek or a hand in Pantalone’s hair.
Oh, Archons, his hands in his hair. Pantalone abandons the idea of teasing himself with his chest and instead grabs at his hair so viciously he can feel his scalp give. The hand around his cock tightens, thumbnail digging into the slit, precum staining his boxers. Does he want to hurt Dottore, or does he want Dottore to hurt him? He doesn’t know. He’d never been one to revel in his own pain, not with any of his romantic or sexual partners; so why does he scrape at his scalp and throw his head back on a choked-off moan? And Dottore’s teeth… his shark-like teeth, so sharp they could easily draw blood. A gasp wracks his body at the realization that Dottore had been holding back, today. If he really wanted to, he could bite his neck open and invert him until he reaches his heart, and feast upon it like the sweetest fruits tainted by his serpentine hands. He could devour him exactly the same way Pantalone could do to him. Fuck.
His hand begins to pump in earnest, the obscene sounds far too loud even with how heavily he breathes. Heat sears across his cheeks and licks at his shoulders, kindling hot rods of pleasure in his groin. He wants, oh how he wants. He wants to lose himself, to be so high off of the scent of Dottore’s blood he threatens to pass out. He wants his blood dripping from his nose, encircling his neck, on his wrists, in the artery that runs along the inner portion of his thigh. He wants to tease at his cock with his bloody tongue, take it all in one go, watch the shock on Dottore’s face as he understands his lack of a gag reflex, and he wants to feel the weight of it down his throat. He especially wants to feel it brushing against his hole, just barely breaching the muscle as Dottore struggles and fails to keep his composure, yet he cannot do anything but submit to Pantalone’s crop and stern words. He’d drag the riding crop along his wounds and sing his praises in response to his broken, shaky voice, and yet Dottore would still throw his head over his shoulder and look into Pantalone's eyes as he’d say, “I’ve wanted to do that ever since I first saw you.”
Ah, no, his mind is mixing his phrases up; but his body still reacts at the memory of Dottore’s voice, as clear as day, back arching and cock twitching painfully. The hand in his hair slides out and fumbles for his chest, and when he grasps the handkerchief and brings it to his mouth he sobs, eyes blinking open only to roll back behind his eyelids. The scent of his blood consumes him; he squeezes his cock tighter, thumbs at the prominent veins along the shaft, and rubs precum just underneath the crown. Just how Dottore would, he reasons. He would be a horrid tease, taking his time, watching almost clinically as Pantalone falls apart. And then afterwards Pantalone would whisper filthy, degrading words into his skin, and he would finally sink his teeth in and draw his blood, kissing him as he bleeds.
He cums with a shout and a drawn-out moan, sweat dripping down his temples. His thighs ache as he relaxes onto the bed, rolling over and bringing his knees upwards so that he can cradle the handkerchief to his face uninterrupted. He only realizes when he gets up to shower that he’d soiled it with his own drool.
One day passes, and then turns into one week, then two. Time slips by as it did pre-Dottore blood consumption, and Pantalone finds himself utterly satiated with half of a gallon of Dottore’s blood (after many late-night thoughts and logical conclusions). The Tsaritsa had approved of the circumstances—and had even congratulated him on finding a donor so convenient to him. The only major difference he sees is that his workload begins to taper off, to accommodate for his preparation in aiding whoever is assigned to obtain the Dendro Archon’s gnosis; otherwise, he wakes as he always does, his keepers aid him in creating his schedule and dress for the day, and he sleeps with no issue.
He wakes just before dawn, groggy and disoriented. He can barely form a fist with his hand, as if the connections of his nerves have been severed, skin cold and unfeeling on silk sheets. Normally, he would call for Ivan—could it be possible that he’d been poisoned at last night’s banquet?—but the rational part of him reasons that he’s felt this before, and he knows exactly what to do.
Fortunately, he keeps blood in his bedroom in case something like this were to happen, in an icebox hidden in one of his shelves. He barely manages to open the lid to his flask and down the remainder of Dottore’s blood, as if he’d been traveling the expanse of Sumeru’s desert without water, tongue dry and feeble.
The unfortunate thing is, Dottore’s blood can sustain him—he only needs to consume more of it, and it’s looking to be twice as much as he initially thought. Which means he must see Dottore not once every two months, but once per month, if not even more. As if life could not get any worse for him. Pantalone slams the flask down on his shelf, uncaring for the way his books and antiques rattle in their places, lid to his icebox shutting on its own—mocking him.
After the sun comes up and paints his room in ethereal golds and creams, Ivan knocks on his door twice to announce his arrival at his usual time. Pantalone looks up from his desk while he enters with Pantalone’s schedule and, interestingly enough, a sealed, plain letter. Pantalone takes it with a raised eyebrow and picks up his letter opener.
“A letter, at the apex of dawn?” he mutters, eyeing the wax seal with suspicion. It is unassuming, a plain red with no insignia. “Did you happen to see the sender?”
“No, Lord Pantalone, sir,” Ivan says, his masked face upright and rigid, “none of us did. Not even your agents.”
That is troubling. He signals for Ivan to shut his door and lock it; he does without question, even barricades it for him.
“Then I trust you have inspected it.”
“No unusual substances in the paper, sir.”
“My, that is most unusual,” he muses, smiling. His letter opener slides under the seal with ease, flap popping open as if it had just been written. “They must have been very stealthy… or good with bribery. Perhaps I should hire new agents?”
As soon as he catches sight of the letter’s contents, his smile drops into a deep scowl. Ivan picks up on his mood immediately, preparing himself for combat; Pantalone holds his hand up and shakes his head, tossing the letter onto his desk. Yet another tension headache pulls at the outward corners of his eyes, culminating in a twitching eyebrow.
“No need,” he retorts, “it is from Il Dottore; such a pity he has no concept of manners for my staff.”
When he looks up at Ivan again, he sees his mouth open in a stunned gape. Pantalone narrows his eyes and sends him a warning glance, to which Ivan pretends to be very interested in a series of limited edition Khaenri'ahn scriptures he has seen hundreds of times.
“Will this interfere with your schedule?”
“Let’s see,” Pantalone hums, parsing over his schedule. Nothing out of the ordinary today: another visit to the primary branch of the Northland Bank, a checkup on the status of Liyue’s branch, three meetings. All before mid-afternoon, so for once in quite a while, he has the evening off.
Now… the letter. He anticipates whatever Dottore is asking for him this time; will it be a loan for illicit drug production? Or, perhaps a request to naturalize another one of his clones as a citizen of Snezhnaya? Ugh, the last thing he wants to do is more paperwork on an evening off.
(Or maybe, the depraved part of his mind reasons, Dottore only wants to speak with him, and his mind replays the shape of his lips as he’d said, “what if I simply wanted to see you.” When did he turn into a man so weakened by his own desires?)
My dearest Pantalone,
I humbly request for you to clear your schedule this evening, as your superior and your colleague, and as per Her Majesty’s recommendation. I am required to attend an event with a “reliable presence”; the one and only reliable presence in my life, although a recent development, is you. Meet me in my lab and knock thrice; Twelve will answer once again. Be ready by sundown. Dress well!
- Il Dottore
“Archons,” he mutters, quietly enough to keep Ivan out of the loop, “I despise this man.”
He grabs his pen and marks down ‘sundown until unknown time: event with Dottore,’ mouth pinched in a deep scowl. Ivan peeks at his schedule and raises an inquisitive eyebrow.
“What are you thinking about, Ivan?”
Ivan, for his worth, covers up his shock with an easygoing smile. “Nothing interesting, sir.”
He rounds his desk and steps before Ivan. His secretary only keeps smiling, back straight and confident. As is the con with choosing an incredibly self-reliant and capable secretary to be his closest staff member.
“Really? It seems you’ve been captivated by an interesting thought,” he murmurs, “do share it with me.”
Ivan shrugs and points to his desk with his thumb. “You almost never talk about Lord Dottore, sir. It was just odd hearing his name in your voice—and odd to remember his unexpected visit to your bank….”
So word has spread among the Fatui of him and Dottore meeting, after all, and far enough to reach Ivan. He can only guess what stories the agents of the other Harbingers are spinning.
“That’s all,” Ivan concludes. Pantalone purses his lips and rips the mask off of his face to reveal wide, lying eyes. “Ah.”
“I have known you for most of your life,” Pantalone presses, and brings a comforting hand to Ivan’s cheek, “you very well know you can tell me what troubles you. Did he coerce you into an experiment? Did he hurt you in any way?”
“No, no, not at all,” Ivan reassures, wide, hazel eyes glancing at Pantalone’s hand, “I promise, sir.”
He gives the Fatui’s salute for emphasis. Pantalone sighs and retracts his hand.
“Alright,” he accepts, and returns to his desk chair with a sigh, “you are dismissed. Tell the others of my new plans on your way out.”
Ivan sends him a knowing, coy grin as he leaves. One that Pantalone valiantly chooses to ignore.
And so, hours later, he finds himself outside of Dottore’s laboratory yet again, with his hands doused in ornate rings and the chain of his glasses extra sparkly, the high collar of his shirt lined with precious gems. He hadn’t been given any other details besides ‘dress well,’ therefore Pantalone assumes he means slightly more intricate than his typical wear. He knocks thrice, Twelve answers, and Dottore Prime materializes in the doorway mere moments later, as if he’d been waiting. Odd, as he is not regarded for his punctuality.
“Hello,” Pantalone greets with a bow, “why am I here.”
Dottore cracks a wide grin at his blunt tone of voice and lifts his mask to reveal coy eyes, shutting the door to his lab. “Hello, my dear Pantalone. Whatever do you mean, ‘why are you here?’”
Pantalone ignores the not-so-subtle hand that sneaks its way to his neck and marvels at the gems. “Explain to me the circumstances of this ‘event.’”
“Ah, that,” Dottore says absently, resting his fingers along the nape of his neck, “I’ve been asked by the Tsaritsa herself to attend a scientific fair with a partner. Of course, none of my clones can do that, and everyone else is busy. Even Pierro, believe it or not.”
“So, what am I to do? Talk medical jargon with strangers and pose?” Pantalone mutters, swatting his hand away. Dottore’s face lights up with a nod. “And here I was, thinking I’d finally gotten an evening off. You are a burden.”
“So long as I’m your burden,” Dottore says, and just before he slides his mask into place, Pantalone catches something inexplicably warm in his eyes. Something he does not want to touch with a ten-foot pole, yet his cold heart leaps in his chest, and he almost wants to squash it with his own daggers. “You talk economic jargon with strangers every day, don’t you? Help me out a little.”
Pantalone has already begun calculating Dottore’s expenses. Each time he places his hands unnecessarily close to any part of Pantalone’s body, or says something especially irritating, he tacks on an extra fifty-thousand mora. By the time their carriage reaches their destination and they meander to the fair, Pantalone counts five-hundred thousand mora; he also realizes it is much less a ‘fair’ and more a gala, if the women doused in diamonds and men with form-fitting suits have anything to say. And finally, he realizes that both he and Dottore are severely underdressed, and the anxiety jumps off of his skin, flighty and trepidatious.
“You are not stepping into that building like this,” Pantalone hisses, ignoring the hot flash of anxiety he feels, and pulls him aside by his harness just as he attempts to step onto the long, winding pathway towards grand iron gates and a mansion that appears to be more like a palace in itself. Dottore chokes and pinches him through his thick shirt; it does absolutely nothing but make Pantalone huff in exasperation. “A lab coat at a gala? Disgraceful.”
“Listen,” Dottore whispers, and he suddenly looks far more serious, ducking behind the trunk of a large tree. Pantalone narrows his eyes and waits. “I lied to you. I lied! This is not a scientific event.”
“I would have never figured that out on my own,” Pantalone says. His voice drips with contempt. “Thank you dearly, Doctor, for your boundless knowledge-”
“Yeah, yeah, chew me out for this later, I don’t care,” Dottore stresses, and grabs Pantalone’s face in between his hands. His words evaporate on his tongue, mouth agape. “My darling Pantalone, your silver tongue is duly appreciated when I am not trying to explain myself. Will you let me speak?”
Ah. Pantalone is beginning to grow used to the feeling of air inflating his chest and encasing his heart with bubbling desire.
“I am to be undercover and poison a Liyuen agent working with the Qixing with a prototype drug; if he dies, the Tsaritsa will reward both of us lavishly. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
Pantalone rubs his cheek against Dottore’s hands. He stiffens, fingers spasming for a fleeting moment. But he does not release him. Satisfied, Pantalone pouts, and is rewarded with Dottore clearing his throat and licking his lips, a sight very unfamiliar to Pantalone. Not often is Dottore silenced from his buzzing thoughts and inquiries; he counts himself a very accomplished man.
“You did not need to deceive me,” Pantalone scoffs. Dottore’s lips part but he cuts him off and grasps at his mouth, shoving him against the tree. Another reward is allotted to him as he just barely feels the indents of his teeth from underneath his skin. “Keep yourself quiet for once, will you? If I had known I wouldn’t have let you leave without decent clothing. Did you let your clones dress you?”
Dottore slaps his hand away and shrugs, straightening his coat. In the meantime he schools his façade into its natural, musing tone and smirking lips.
“That would just be me dressing myself, wouldn’t it?” Dottore retorts, and pauses, seems to really think about it. “Well. I suppose that would be correct.”
“Fortunately for you, I so rarely leave without supplies,” Pantalone announces, and reveals a handful of items from his pockets: a small mirror, a stick of koal, a red eyeliner pencil, extra jewelry, and so on. Dottore smiles, and even without the assistance of his eyes, Pantalone knows it is mocking. “Be still.”
He pries his mask off. Dottore’s vermillion eyes stare back, inquisitive and challenging. Pantalone wets his lip once, twice. Lets himself imagine it’s Dottore’s tongue instead.
He begins with replacing his gaudy earrings with silver studs, and moves onto his face, valiantly ignoring the sounds of his (rapidly heightening) pulse from being so close to his neck. Applying eyeliner to his scarred eyelid is a bit of a challenge, yet he makes do; the end product is, surprisingly, not too bad of a job, and as he steps back and observes his canvas fully, he cannot contain his huff of satisfaction.
Dottore’s hand reaches for his head. He freezes, body unable to do anything his mind wills, and stares at nothing but Dottore’s lips as he leans so close that their breaths intermingle, noses a hair's width apart. When his glove lands in his hair, carding the thick locks in between his fingers, his eyes slip shut on their own accord.
“I need to tell you something, love.”
He nods. From behind his eyelids he imagines the words ‘I am fond of you’ falling from Dottore’s lips. It shocks him enough to blink his eyes open and startle, knocking his forehead into Dottore’s.
“Ow,” Dottore mutters, and does not release his grip. Pantalone screams into the void of his mind, with passion. “This is not an ordinary gala.”
Dottore grins in that feral, manic way he does when he’s found himself with the upper hand. “This is a masquerade, ergo, a gala where nobody will be able to recognize us… I do appreciate the effort, really.”
Hot, indignant curses bubble in his throat, manifesting in a flush he cannot control atop his cheeks. Dottore cackles and ruffles his hair. He would slap him away, but all he can think is, oh, but now I won’t be able to see his eyes like this, and they sure are beautiful.
“I- you- I cannot believe you,” Pantalone seethes. He grabs at the ring of Dottore’s harness. Dottore laughs until the air escapes his lungs with a choking, floundering gasp, and Pantalone’s hand grips his neck until his knuckles turn white. If he bruises again, then so be it. “I warned you not to play with fire, and you do. Continually. What are you so desperate for?”
“Investigating you,” Dottore wheezes. His voice is earnest, always so earnest, and yet his eyes glitter the same way knives do when they slide through the gaps of a ribcage. Pantalone’s hand relaxes its grip out of shock. “Always you, dear Pantalone.”
When did he become so easily startled? Somewhere between now and the moment he’d seen Dottore all those years ago, he surmises. This was inevitable. It was always going to end with Dottore’s uncontrolled laughter severing the connection from his mind and heart, a guillotine of sharp words cushioned by his hands in Pantalone’s hair.
The shock carries him all the way throughout entering the gala, from the time they take returning to the carriage (to change, as the driver had also been privy to Dottore’s plans), to scheming on their plan of action. As it turns out, the vial-shaped earring Dottore carries with him is of actual use—it contains the drug he needs to slip into their target’s drink, clear and unassuming. Its fragrance is pungent, however, and Pantalone mentally prepares himself for the endless sweet talk he will need to produce in order for this to work. Dottore himself is illiterate in the script of playing mind games despite his demeanor.
In response to Pantalone’s question about how he will use his glasses whilst wearing a mask, he presents eye contacts. Pantalone has always despised contacts—they dry his eyes out, and he is set in his ways—but alas, he takes them and parts with his glasses.
“At a masquerade, we would normally pick our masks from the doorkeeper,” Dottore prefaces, brandishing two ornamental masks in a Fontainian style, “but we can’t do that, regrettably.”
They are large enough to hide any features that may reveal their identities, even Dottore’s scars. Mildly impressive. Pantalone runs his bare hands along the smooth texture, and has to pretend to not feel vulnerable without his rings.
“Do you think I’ve never attended a masquerade?” he laughs. He slips on the mask Dottore offers him—a mimicry of a panther, with narrow eyes that curl upwards. He almost feels mocked. “Foolish.”
“I never said that,” Dottore retorts. He fusses with the sleeves of his suit, pinching at the stiff material with gloved hands meant to hide his distinguishable scars. Somewhere in the pockets of his slacks rests the vial. “A man like you is certainly used to wearing many masks, right?”
“Ha, ha,” Pantalone mutters, sarcastic and not at all endeared, believe him. He observes the curvature of Dottore’s waist, emphasized by a wired corset he’d just had to wear, with feigned disinterest. What is it with that man and suggestive clothing? “A rabbit is an interesting choice for you.”
He gestures to Dottore’s mask. He only smiles, all teeth and no warmth. He does not offer Pantalone an answer until they have graced the building’s marble-floored ballroom and towering chandeliers of gold and twinkling crystal, the smells of perfume and skin hitting Pantalone like breaching a barrier. He only smiles, dawning a pretense of innocence; it looks wonderfully awful on him.
“I like rabbits,” Dottore says, finally, when they have gathered in a surreptitious corner, “don’t you?”
Pantalone thinks of rabbits and their long, yellow teeth. “Not particularly.”
A servant offers them flutes of champagne in between conversations Pantalone sparks up with other guests; he takes one, and Dottore does not. From what he can gather, they’re at an auction of some kind, with a live band to punctuate an announcer’s countdown until it begins. Astonishingly, there seem to be no Fatuus present other than themselves.
“Why, if I may be so ambitious as to ask?”
“They’re weak,” Pantalone offers, and nothing else, before sipping his champagne; surprisingly average quality. He can tell how much Dottore aches to press him for depth. “Although, it makes sense, now, why you would choose an animal in your likeness to be fond of.”
If Dottore could knock his head back and explain in intimate detail how much Pantalone infuriates him, he surely would; instead he visibly bites back a colorful insult and smiles, jaw clenched. “I had these imported from across Teyvat with express shipping just for this. It took all of two weeks, if you can believe it. You’d better appreciate them.”
“Did I ask to wear this?” Pantalone chides, and leans in just so. Dottore’s eyes grow wide from the gaps in the mask. He smiles with genuine glee. “No.”
He spots him, then: a man with a beard of grey and hair tinged with midnight blue. But there’s something off about him; Pantalone cannot place his finger on it until he recognizes the jade encircling his wrist with a dawning realization. A devilish flavor of satisfaction entices him into laughing—he refrains, only barely.
“What’s with that look? Do you see him?” Dottore demands, turning his head every which way. Pantalone slaps his wrist, chiding. He ponders upon the man’s blue hair, and then about the stolen jacket he’d bought for the Tsaritsa a mere few months ago, and then the matching jade bracelet in his quarters, encased in elementally-resistant glass. It is one of his most prized possessions, after all. Oh, how delightfully fun this night has just become; he smiles, sly and eager, much to Dottore’s chagrin.
“Yes, I do,” Pantalone purrs. Dottore scrambles for the vial and turns his back to the crowd, dripping the poison into Pantalone’s glass. “Oh, so obedient. Perhaps you’ve learned proper discipline, after all.”
Dottore clears his throat, very loudly; or, perhaps Pantalone is too in tune with Dottore’s reactions. He swears that, despite the sheer volume of bodies around them, he can hear Dottore’s pulse spike and his heart skip a beat. “My dear Pantalone, you say I play dirty, but what about you? Aren’t you to blame for the way I retaliate?”
He laughs, utterly fake. “That begs the question: aren’t you in control of your own body? Maybe if you weren’t so obvious with your desire, you would find yourself with the upper hand more often.”
“You fucking- alright, okay,” Dottore grumbles, and, to Pantalone’s great amusement, makes an erratic motion with his hands in his frustration. He coos, Dottore rolls his eyes. “Go do your thing. I’ll meet you when you’re finished.”
Pantalone nods once and slips away, uncaring whether Dottore follows or not. He strikes up a conversation with a woman doused in a hijab encrusted with jewels. Her airy voice is the perfect soundtrack for Dottore to make his way towards the stairs to the left of the ballroom, skillfully blending in with the other masked patrons. And for Pantalone to turn ever-so-slightly and bump shoulders with their target, before apologizing profusely and rebounding to a different corner, the slightest fraction of his champagne missing from his glass. As the host begins to announce the main attraction—something to do with celebrating a merge in business endeavors—he takes a sip of his drink and holds it in his mouth to dispel any lingering distrust. He tunes the voices out, running his palm along the smooth, stone railings that lead to the second, then third floor.
After discarding his champagne he finds Dottore perched on an open windowsill in his chosen room to await their plan, legs dangling precariously outside of the building. It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, stinging from either the contacts or the lighting. Fortunately, this face of the building does not point towards the front; Pantalone stomps over, prepared to chastise him for being careless, when Dottore’s voice filters through the dust-ridden air of a guest room untouched for many months.
“I like them because they survive despite everything.”
Pantalone halts and blinks, casting a cursory glance behind them before slipping the door shut. He regains his composure and paces up to a shelf beside the window, leaning against it with crossed arms. “Who is ‘them?’”
Dottore does not look back at him. The moon’s pale gaze washes over his figure, benign hands caressed in the tresses of his hair. “Rabbits.”
“Do tell me why you like weakness, Doctor,” Pantalone muses, only half-sarcastically. Dottore does acknowledge him at this; he sends a heated glare at him through his white mask. It makes the breath in Pantalone’s throat meant for words weasel its way out.
“They are born to die,” Dottore begins, and leans back into the room so that his legs begin to rise, “more so than other mortals. They’re prey to everything that has teeth, a snake, or an owl, or a fox. And yet, they live their lives, duplicate, and make more fodder. They exist purely to survive.”
Pantalone sighs and looks away from his piercing eyes, concentrates on the long shadow his body casts along the floorboards. “And why is that appealing?”
“How could it not be?” Dottore splutters. One of his hands releases the windowsill. His body teeters, and Pantalone instinctively reaches out to balance his upper back—but, it was not instinct. His instinct urges him to retreat and cover all places Dottore’s eyes had touched tonight with the shadows that seep from the corners of the room. So what is this wretched spontaneity? “You know, I figured you of all Harbingers would understand me.”
Pantalone bristles and promptly retracts his hand. His voice is cold when he says, “what are you insinuating? Choose your words carefully.”
An uproar from the crowd below makes him tense, and relax as it tapers off into laughter and cheers. Dottore does not stop staring at him, not even when he discards his mask on the floor and turns his lined eyes towards him, a magnetic pull.
“You’re weak, too,” he states, simply. Something in Pantalone’s heart seizes, waiting. “Perhaps not objectively—after all, you’re here, aren’t you? But compared to Capitano or Pierro, you’re as weak as I am and you know it; even with a delusion and a moderate sense of the battlefield. I know how you grew up, my love, I’ve done my research. We were both prey to a world of predators touched by the divine gaze.”
“What compels you to do this?”
Dottore raises an eyebrow and laughs. A breeze draws the long strands of hair that frame his face back, giving way for the moon to illuminate the cut of his jaw.
“Do what? Say you’re weak?” he snickers, “fuck, yes, you’re weak. In all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never once seen you excel in battle—humiliating, isn’t it? But guess what, Banker? So am I. That’s the thing about not having a vision: you will always be weak, no matter how many iterations of you there are, nor how hard you work to climb the ranks.”
The urge Pantalone has to shut him up is overwhelming; perhaps, more so than he’d admit. Something similar to how he’d felt before. Before when? Oh, fuck. He feels a shock course through his body, an electric current through water, tingling in his fingertips. How long has it been since he’d grown fond of Dottore?
“For the Tsaritsa’s sake,” Pantalone says, albeit more scathing than necessary, “you are more naïve than I could have possibly imagined, admitting weakness to me as the Second Harbinger. What is your motive?”
“This is where we differ: you see weakness as detrimental,” Dottore sings, and the grin he bears is nowhere near condescending like Pantalone would expect. It reeks of sympathy. “I see weakness as an advantage—a strength on its own.”
Pantalone sneers and taps his foot in an irregular pattern against the floorboards. If only he had the patience to withstand his nonsense twofold; the task of assassination already wears him down, and he barely has it in him to keep himself collected when he says, “I believe there is no strength in weakness.”
“Sounds like a personal problem to me; have you considered doing introspective work from Inazuma?” Dottore chides and gestures to Pantalone with a flippant hand, “I hear it does wonders to the soul.”
Indignance kindles his muscles into gliding forward and bracing a hand against the side of the windowsill, adjacent to Dottore’s head. Dottore is forced to angle his head towards him, eyes wide and amused. From this close, he looks more like an apparition than ever; Pantalone fears his hands could sink into his chest and pluck his ribs like a harp, playing to the tune of his rotten desires. Rather one of his hands grabs hold of Pantalone’s free hand, encircling his wrist, playing with the lines of his tendons with a reverence as if he’d never seen a hand in his entire life.
“Ah, but if I may say-”
“You have said quite enough,” he interrupts. Dottore refuses to release his wrist, grip unrelenting when he attempts to pull himself free. “What more could you possibly desire from taunting me like this, Doctor? I am tired.”
“Tired of what, exactly?” Dottore muses. He widens his eyes in faux bewilderment, leaning even further, his spine curving deliciously at the aid of the corset. The buckles of his boots sway precariously. “Do describe in great detail how my wisdom, as your elder, bores you so much.”
“Oh, enough. I don’t want to be roped into more questions nor spontaneous endeavors-”
“Is that how you see it, then?”
Pantalone pauses, lips suddenly very dry. When he licks at them, Dottore, for once, doesn’t watch the movement. Eyes fixed upon his. Hazard lights dampened by red wine. “Pardon?”
Dottore tips his head back and sighs, long and hard, eyes screwing shut as if Pantalone is the grievance, and not himself. And the line is severed, and Pantalone finds himself with a gash deep within his heart.
“I’m only ‘roping you in,’ am I?” he laughs, and its sound corrodes at Pantalone’s ears, something bitter and grating, “and I’m only forcing you along. Oh, poor you! How dreadful it is to be asked questions and given the sustenance you need to survive without a cent of debt. In fact, I owe you mora. How do you think I feel about that?”
Pantalone curls his fingers around Dottore’s forearm. He hopes he digs his nails into his scabbed bite wounds, and he hopes his touch stings. He hopes Dottore will stop seeing through him.
“You don’t merely ask questions,” Pantalone snaps, “you force me to answer your awful, scientific hypotheses to further your own gain. You taunt me continually, despite knowing I am a vampire and utterly dependent on your blood to, yes, survive. Are you waiting for something, Doctor? Do you want me to bite you, kill you, mangle you? It seems like that is your goal with this horrid taunting, and I am not interested in killing you—Her Majesty would kill me, too.”
Something shifts in Dottore’s expression. His eyes twinkle, awfully keen despite the circumstances. “So you finally admit it: you don’t want to kill me. You don’t only tolerate me; you like me, don’t you? Dare I say, you’re fond of me.”
Pantalone grits his teeth. His fangs prick even wounds into his gums. Yet the muscles of his arm begin to relax, aching and exhausted.
“And your threats, they’re all bluffs,” Dottore presses. The smile on his lips speaks of the triumph of a victor rather than a killer. “You speak with such vitriol to throw everyone else off, but not me. I can see right through you, my dear Pantalone… and I always have.”
“That is what you deciphered from this conversation: that I am fond of you. How delusional.”
“But it’s not a delusion,” Dottore breathes. He lifts his hand to his own neck, resting Pantalone’s palm there. Poised to hurt him. To kill him. “Is it?”
Pantalone brushes his thumb along the muscles of Dottore’s neck. He swallows, and Pantalone can feel it all the way down to his bones.
“Dishonorable,” Pantalone huffs. Dottore swings his legs over the windowsill and lands on his feet, and does not stop walking until his hands are braced against the shelf, around Pantalone’s waist. One of them slowly pries Pantalone’s mask off; he tosses it on top of his own. Pantalone yearns to adjust his glasses, to feel their comforting weight against his skin.
“I was never poor in mora, but I was always poor in power,” Dottore reveals. From this close, he no longer needs to project his voice, dipping into a low cadence that twists Pantalone’s gut. “Well, influence rather than power, I’d say, and it was my potential for power that the Akadamiya feared. When I was at my trial, Celestia did not bestow me a vision; but the Tsaritsa bestowed me Pierro. That is where I find my advantage: in a lack of divinity. Do you honestly think Celestia would allow an unlimited amount of power to anyone, at any given point? Don’t you think we were destined for something beyond divinity?”
“If visions symbolize power to you, you must be a fool,” Pantalone says. Dottore’s hand returns to fiddle with the collar of Pantalone’s blazer. “Weakness is not whether you own a vision; it is how you measure in skill.”
“Agree to disagree.”
“But why?” Pantalone pleads, and allows a lapse in his façade, “I cannot fathom your logic. What do you see in weakness other than the need to grow stronger?”
Dottore traces his chin with gentle fingers. Pantalone’s gums tingle at the proximity to his mouth and his mind reels at the rapid change of pace: from anger to desire to both at once, and he understands, now, how Dottore uses his own weakness. He places Pantalone’s fingertips along his pulse points and belies his desire to spectate, no, witness the rot that consumes Pantalone from inside out. Maggots churning inside the cavity of his chest and crawling underneath his skin, released from his mouth in a deep sigh, Dottore’s scent sticking to his throat like the remnants of their meal, his rot that spurs his tongue to be sliced by his own teeth. He wishes it were Dottore’s blood instead.
“You, again,” Dottore whispers, “I see you.”
There he goes again, with that deliberately enticing voice. It no longer borders on flirtatious as much as it dips its toes into yearning. Pantalone’s hands hover over the dip in his shoulders, permanently erect due to poor posture and maintenance. His mind wants to tear his suit jacket off and sink his nails into his skin. His heart simply traces the outlines of his muscles, feather-light touches along pristine seams.
“Hm,” he breathes, thumbing along the wired caging of his corset, “how quaint.”
“I have another question for you, love.”
At Pantalone’s inquisitive look, Dottore dips his head to the side and bares his neck. Pantalone, for once, does not feel compelled to watch his hair cascading down his shoulder, rather the shine of the earrings as they highlight the ghastly nature of his scarring; tainted by the claws of impurity, a Seraph cast down from the Heavens. “How does it feel to be bitten at the neck?”
“The same as being bitten anywhere else, as far as I can tell,” Pantalone murmurs. Internally, he screams, because if this is going where he thinks it is, he is not sure he will be able to stop himself from unleashing each and every one of his desires. Dottore rolls his eyes, but the impact is dulled by the rapid rise and fall of his chest.
“It must be more than that,” he reasons, “when you bit my arm, I felt… something, but I doubt it is on par with the neck as an erogenous zone. It’s just biology.”
He pretends to ponder on it. Dottore waits with bated breath. “You want to know, now? On a mission?”
Dottore blinks in his sheepishness and, shockingly, breaks the eye contact first. His hand, nervous around Pantalone’s blazer, begins to slide down his upper back.
“I am a pragmatic man.”
“I suppose we could test it out. How long have you had this hypothesis?”
“Oh, you know how long, don’t you?” Dottore grumbles. His deft fingers draw senseless patterns along his spine. “Stop being a stubborn bastard and indulge me.”
“All I do is indulge you,” Pantalone says, crested with a laugh he truly feels, “I have forgiven your debts. Is that not enough?”
Dottore gazes at him with bewilderment and says, “you have?”
Then, something sly and enticing pulls at his lips and the corners of his eyes. Pantalone has the urge to roll his thumbs along his teeth. Dip them under his tongue.
“And I thought this wouldn’t work.”
A bluff. It had been a bluff, and Pantalone had tripped and landed right into his waiting arms. If Pantalone were a lesser man he would run, evade the question, push Dottore out of the window, watch his body slump and still against a graveyard of white snow. He would not smile. He would not allow his heart to increase its incessant pitter-pattering at the slightest notes of overripe fruit on Dottore’s breath, lips parted just enough for Pantalone to ghost his nose against the high of his cheekbone, body aching to take, and give, and devour.
“I will get you back for this, Doctor,” he promises. Dottore nods emphatically and sings a pleased tune.
“How? I am dying to know.”
“Know what, Dottore?” Pantalone persists. Dottore brushes his lips against his chin, a hair’s width away from his bottom lip. Pantalone licks his lip just to see if he can swipe his tongue against his skin (he does). “We don’t have all night.”
“How you feed. How you kill."
His hand pries Pantalone’s lips apart. Pantalone bites down, but only enough to sting. From around his finger he murmurs, “do you want to find out?”
Dottore’s eyes flutter shut. “Yes.”
Oh, fuck it.
His lips are softer than Pantalone had imagined. For someone so determined to waste away his health and hygiene in the name of science, his lips are as plush as peach’s skin and part so, so easily under the pressure of his tongue, the cavern of his mouth just as divine as his blood. Perhaps the gods were wrong in leaving him without a vision; Dottore’s shocked, tapered gasp and the way his hands clutch at his wrist so fervently the bones threaten to rub together are the most divinity Pantalone has ever experienced save for the Tsaritsa, as sweet and tangy as overripe fruit. More divine than groveling at the adeptis’ feet. More than touching the gnosis of his homeland’s Archon. Nothing in the entirety of Teyvat can compare, and Pantalone wants more. More.
He pushes Dottore against the wall, loosens his hand from his grip enough to grab at his harness and shove his tongue down his throat. Dottore gags, clenches his eyes shut, and promptly flips their positions. The chill of the window’s draft makes him arch away, permeating through his clothes effortlessly.
“Pantalone,” he breathes, gasping and shuddering, eyes blown so wide they appear two shades darker, shoulders drawn high. Pantalone smiles and licks the remnants of Dottore’s saliva from his lips. “There is no turning back, now. I’m not going to be able to-”
“Quiet,” Pantalone mutters. Dottore’s mouth shuts with an audible click. Pantalone smiles even wider, bringing his lips to the lobe of his scarred ear. “Good boy.”
He presses a languid kiss against his warm neck. Dottore’s body jolts, pulse thrumming against his lips. At the scrape of his dull teeth his breath hitches, and Pantalone smiles, wicked and victorious. He allows his fangs to slide out, nestling into the crook of his neck, and traces their sharpest edges along the dip in his throat. Teasing. Deliberate. Dottore inhales, ready to protest. He doesn’t get the chance.
“Will you just do something you- oh,” Dottore gasps, as soon as Pantalone bites down—hard and unforgivingly. Blood rushes into his aching mouth, pools underneath his tongue, and slides down his throat like the sweetest liquor, the hottest of teas. Dottore moans, throws his head back, and grasps at Pantalone’s shoulders.
And Pantalone does not stop drinking even when footsteps thunder up the stairs, and out of the gates, pinching and gnawing his salty skin in between his teeth, sucking a bruise at the same time he dips his tongue underneath his flesh. Carnal desire lights him up from the inside out, and he slams Dottore against the wall beside the window, glass shivering in its panes. From this angle, he can hear all of the otherwise inaudible gasps Dottore makes, retorts dying on the tip of his tongue; he can also hear a rush of voices, a crescendo of gasps, and the host’s booming voice taper off into a cry.
“A man has been poisoned!”
Pantalone freezes. Poisoned. Not killed, not assassinated. Dottore must recognize the magnitude as well; he pries Pantalone off of his neck, uncaring for the blood that pools in his collarbone and splatters his coat, and glances out the window, chest heaving with clear arousal.
“Why did you stop?” he breathes. Pantalone holds up a hand and glances outside. The crowd moves in a frenzy.
“Poisoned,” Pantalone repeats aloud. He cannot mask the way his own voice aches to devour Dottore whole. “It did not work.”
A whirring sound. Instantly, he springs into action, and Dottore falls alongside him as an arrow made of anemo energy spears the wall opposite to them, aimed for Dottore’s head. After a moment, Pantalone reaches for his mask and slips it on. He does not care if he looks deranged, bloodstained lips a mess of fragmented skin and red wine; Dottore looks about the same. As he reapplies his own mask, its pristine surface becomes marred with rust-colored smudges in the shape of Pantalone’s unquenched desire.
“How about we continue this back at the Palace?” Dottore breathes. Pantalone huffs and curses, presses Dottore’s own blood into his mouth, and splits his lip with his fangs. If Dottore is surprised, he doesn’t say as much; only grabs Pantalone’s outstretched hand as he places a geo construct on the outside wall and pulls them along, something hot like anticipation stewing in his gut.
They make it back to the Palace in one piece. Pantalone should return to his office and write up a report about their failure. He should bid Dottore goodnight and send Ivan to the Tsaritsa’s agents. He should not dismiss his keepers and agents as he takes the most hidden passages towards his wing with Dottore in step behind him, masks long discarded, and hands running along each other’s bodies. He certainly should not let Dottore into his personal quarters, let him kick off his boots and unpeel his gloves, press languid bites to his neck, card his hands in his periwinkle hair. Most of all, he should not command him to stay put as he retrieves his glasses and the leash, latching it onto the ring of his harness, before pressing him to the wall.
Dottore’s willingness is so easily desired; his obedience. Pantalone finds himself swooning at the blush that begins to dust Dottore’s cheeks, and his voice drips with honey as he says, “this is quite the look for you, Doctor.”
And it truly is. From up close, even with the absence of proper lighting, he is adored by the moon; given sharp relief to his jawline and the scars along his neckline, shining like the very blades that caused them, and Pantalone may very well add to his collection by the end of the night. His neck has long since ceased its bleeding, though the sheer amount of blood that encircles his neck is a collar on its own—a sign of ownership that Pantalone cannot help but trace with reverent hands. They come back sticky and rusted.
“I do try my best,” Dottore says and grins, sharp teeth glinting eerily cold from his floor-to-ceiling windows. Pantalone raises an eyebrow and tugs him forward. He goes without resistance, mouth latching onto his neck. Pantalone shudders involuntarily and yanks him backwards; when Dottore only smiles at him, he draws his hand back and unleashes.
“Hm,” he intones when Dottore gasps, hands reflexively holding his cheek—beautifully darkened in the shape of Pantalone’s hand. When he glares at him with enough malice to be tangible, Pantalone grins, entirely predatory. “It seems you still need to be taught proper discipline.”
“Are you going to leave me high and dry like last time?” Dottore laughs, albeit bitterly, and squirms in place with his hands curling into fists by his thighs. Pantalone beams at the action. “Are you into that sort of thing—using celibacy as discipline? Or, I take it you might want to utterly dominate me. Would you tie me up, love? They say those with the least power crave the most dominance, don’t they?”
The mental images he so kindly provides are enough to fuel Pantalone into bringing a hand to his cheek, this time with a gentler hand. He pulls at the corner of Dottore’s mouth with his thumb—mindful of his teeth as they attempt to bite.
“Are you psychoanalyzing me?” he muses, and Dottore tongues at his nail, its tip catching underneath the trimmed edge. Pantalone pretends to be very interested in the leash, inspecting it keenly. “If I may reiterate: I would reconsider due to your position.”
“As if I would take your advice,” Dottore murmurs. His hands slide slowly, ever-so-closer to the growing tent in his slacks. Pantalone must pass on his thanks to his clones if they did, in fact, help him get dressed tonight; his thighs bulge deliciously underneath the thin material, almost bursting at the seams. “Come on, Banker. What are you waiting for?”
Pantalone smiles, placid and cautionary all at once. Dottore barely has a moment to breathe before Pantalone turns on his heel and yanks him forward, forcing him towards his bed, underneath a canopy of red silk that dances languidly in the draft, as incessant as Pantalone’s tapering patience to utterly ruin Dottore’s smug disposition. It is high enough for him to sit comfortably, pleased with the view of Dottore’s annoyance as he struggles to right himself, hands hovering over his crotch. A disdainful glare from Pantalone isn’t enough to dissuade him; he grazes his hands against the rising bulge, and the sound he makes is nothing short of exaggerated, lewd and unabashed. Pantalone swallows an irritated quip behind a smile and a crossed leg, perching one of his hands behind himself for balance. “Are you trying to piss me off?”
Dottore’s voice pitches deliberately breathy and stilted as he whispers, “absolutely.”
He really can’t take it anymore.
He presses a brutal kiss to Dottore’s lips and licks into his mouth, tongue grazing against his teeth like a taunt, too shallow to draw blood. Dottore’s entire body seizes up, hands hovering over Pantalone’s shoulders—he can feel the heat radiating from his body, seeping into his core. He deduces that he must truly be respecting Pantalone’s wishes, to not touch without being given permission. To reward him, he moans into his mouth and melts, eager to witness the way Dottore’s tongue presses against his own, drawing back and just barely touching his gums, right beneath his fangs. A clear plea. Pantalone smiles wickedly into his mouth.
“You may,” he says. Dottore springs into action immediately; his tongue ravishes his mouth, its tip encircling his fangs as if to coax them out, body relaxing as Pantalone nudges him downwards and onto his pile of luxurious pillows. He reaches for the buttons in his shirt as he obliges; his fangs slide out in one swift movement, slicing right into the belly of Dottore’s tongue, almost enough to pierce. Dottore throws his head back and cries out, full-bodied and guttural, and it is only now that Pantalone realizes he likes pain, not only uses it for scientific gain; he likes pushing the limits, getting Pantalone to lose his patience. He breathes in a shaky gasp, grin twitching into something giddy.
“My, my, this whole time you sought me out for pain,” Pantalone murmurs, and licks up the remnants of Dottore’s blood that spill past his lips. Dottore watches with wide, blazing eyes, shucking off his shirt and tossing it somewhere across the room. Whereas Pantalone would normally find it disgraceful, now he appreciates his enthusiasm. What an odd thing it is to be fond of someone. “You’re a little masochist, aren’t you? Cute.”
“You’re a damn hypocrite,” Dottore purrs, and lunges for his neck. Pantalone indulges him, turning his head to the side so he can access the unblemished skin above his high neckline. “Scolding me for psychoanalyzing when you’re doing the same thing.”
He punctures the flesh with a shallow cut, opposite to his scar. Pantalone feels blood run down his neck in sticky, thin lines. Dottore runs his tongue along each and every one, swallowing it all with a groan. “Touché.”
He raises an eyebrow and cards his fingers through wintry hair, a silent question. Dottore squirms in place, a pleasant contrast to his ruby red lips. Murder weapons.
“Bite me again.”
“Ah, you will have to do better than that,” he taunts, and runs his free hand down the expanse of his chest. Just toned enough to give his chest definition, yet full enough to allow his harness emphasis, the flesh around it bulging and so very tempting. He pinches at it and tugs, to which Dottore shivers, nipples pebbling. He rolls one in between his nails just to see his muscles jump.
“You damn tease,” he groans. Pantalone giggles and takes the other into his mouth, grazing his fangs along the nub. Dottore curses.
“Think of it as payback,” he says, reasonable and not at all triumphant (he promises), “for everything you have done to me. All you wanted was a reaction; now you have it. Be grateful.”
Pantalone twists and pinches hard. Dottore thrashes, eyes screwed shut. If only he knew how reactive he would be under his guise, he would have done this sooner, he thinks; now, he designates himself to bringing his lips to his mottled neck, a mercy, thumb smoothing out the wrinkles in between his eyebrows when he releases his hair. If he thought Dottore was responsive on the floor, gagging for his dick… he has no idea how to compare this Dottore. This Dottore, who shows his vulnerability so openly, edged with an air of challenge Pantalone finds himself eating from his palms. Eager and unabashed.
Dottore’s eyes open a peek, blown wide and defiant. “Not there. Don’t bite there.”
Pantalone raises an eyebrow. Dottore gestures down to his crotch; Pantalone, shocked, opens his mouth, but Dottore rushes to clarify, shooting him a glare.
“Do not bite my dick, you fool. My femoral artery.”
Ah. Pantalone suppresses a punched-out noise that would almost certainly sound like a scream, if not for his pride when he reiterates, “don’t you know your manners? Or, shall I teach them to you?”
Regardless, he straddles his hips and shoves his pants down until the waistband reaches his thighs, belt clattering to the floor. How in Teyvat Dottore knew he wants nothing more than to draw the blood from his thighs, he doesn’t know; he simply accepts it for what it is, and it is a call to action, his hands tearing at the hem of his boxers. He can barely appreciate the curvature of his large cock before Dottore spreads his legs and urges him downwards, so that he hovers over his pelvis, mouth watering at the husky smell of his arousal. That, he will savor later.
“Please,” Dottore musters, and although it is quiet and begrudging, Pantalone cannot hold himself back. He laves his tongue along the plush flesh of his left thigh, prodding at the muscles underneath, and unsheathes his fangs entirely. The only warning he gives before he bites down is a cruel smile, a flash of teeth. And then, he bites without mercy.
He was holding back before, at Dottore’s neck, because such a tender body part is particularly susceptible to breakage; now, however, he can ravage him as much as his instincts propel him to, screaming at his mouth to suck deep bruises into his skin, his fangs to reach deeper, deeper, until he may bite around his bone and suck at the marrow within. Dottore’s wanton cries are only a bonus, emphasized by his heavy breathing, doubly motivating him into pushing his tongue into the brutal wound, circling and drawing mouthfuls of blood in before swallowing as much as he possibly can, cheeks so warm he feels as if he may combust—his vision begins to blur, dotted with red, and he only realizes blood has splattered onto his glasses when he pushes them further up the bridge of his nose. Gods, he tastes so good wreathed with desire that Pantalone might begin to cry. He only realizes he’s been gripping Dottore’s thighs when he feels him jerk and his skin erupts into gooseflesh.
“Pantalone, ohh, you greedy bastard,” he moans, hand inching down to encircle his cock, “give me more-”
“Don’t cum,” is all he says before dipping down and taking the entire length of his cock into his throat at once. Dottore stifles a yell, free hand biting down at the back of his wrist, and he indeed still has the marks Pantalone had given him in his lab, twin pinpricks of deep magenta. They look divine against a canvas of pale skin. He groans, lapping at the blood and taste of Dottore’s precum that runs down his shaft.
He does not retract his fangs entirely—intuitively he recognizes Dottore craves the edge of anticipation. Hence, he just barely grazes the tips of his fangs against the veins that run along the underside of his cock, and is pleased to hear him unable to hold back a gasp of instinctual fear. He relents only when Dottore’s breathing becomes labored and he struggles to stifle his sounds of pleasure, slipping his mouth off with an obscene pop.
“Cute,” he reiterates. Dottore rolls his eyes, but its impact is dulled by the flush that paints his ears to his shoulders, almost the same shade as his scar. “Are you going to cum, already?”
“No,” Dottore spits, with venom, “come on, Pantalone, do something. Better yet, let me do something.”
He’s lying, and they both know it; they both know the ins and outs of every human reaction, by different means to the same end. Pantalone knows that Dottore knows very well what the short rise and fall of his chest and the incessant twitching of his cock mean. “I think you’re forgetting something very important.”
Dottore’s face lights up with something coy, the very same look that makes Pantalone’s chest constrict and his thoughts scatter. “My dear Pantalone, may I please fuck you?”
Beautiful, Pantalone thinks as he grins and pries Dottore’s pants off, folding them into a neat pile beside the foot of the bed. And then, he allows his eyes to travel down the entire frame of his body, from his hairline to his toes, drinking in inches of scarred skin and blemishes in the shape of Pantalone’s unhinged desire, blood running in a steady stream down his thigh and staining his pale sheets. He does, in fact, relish in the contrast as he thought he would—although nothing in his imagination could hold a candle to his moonlit glory, and it truly is a shame he was never dubbed as divine. The way he beckons Pantalone forward and cards through his hair, nimble fingers stripping Pantalone of his layers, would cause any atheist to question their beliefs.
He doesn’t give him a verbal response; instead he reaches for a box in the drawer of his bedside table, producing a vial of oil and a set of conjoined nipple clamps. Dottore eyes them with an unreadable expression, hands just grazing against the swell of Pantalone’s ass.
“You just have to torture me, don’t you?” he mutters, although it has no bite, full of sorrow for the inevitable. Pantalone merely nods and laughs. His hands creep down to his chest, nails raking red circles around his nipples, and Dottore’s reaction tells him he made the correct decision; his chin tips back, eyelids growing heavy, as his knees rise and almost knock Pantalone off of his hips. He grinds down, slowly and deliberately—a warning. Dottore’s neck flexes on a heavy swallow.
“So responsive,” he teases. He unhinges the clamps and Dottore squirms away, a protest ready on his lips, but Pantalone is quicker. The cry he lets out as the metal sinks atop his nipples makes his gut twist, mouth watering and cock pulsing with desperation from within his boxers. He has an even more visceral reaction to the way Dottore’s limbs go all taut, muscles tensed so much that Pantalone is tempted to bite. He does so, and is satisfied when his bicep twitches and jumps underneath his blunt teeth. “What happened to being a brat, hm? Have you given up?”
Pantalone grinds down, a serene smile on his lips—that is, until Dottore surges forward and knocks him down on his back faster than he can blink, and it is with a shocked wheeze that he finds Dottore looming over him and removing the remaining pieces of clothing from his legs, eyes drinking in every square inch of his body. He feels an unexpected sense of hesitation take over him—whether it be from being forced onto his back, or the intimacy, he doesn’t know—and he falters, hands automatically grappling for the leash. He pulls back at Dottore’s neck. He doesn’t budge although he chokes, eyes watering.
“Isn’t this what you wanted?” Dottore preens when Pantalone loosens his hold, “didn’t you want a reaction?”
Dottore punctuates his question with his teeth in his neck, trailing lines of bites down his chest. Pantalone grits his teeth and bears his fangs. “Unhand me.”
“My Pantalone, my love,” Dottore muses, and it is with enough conviction to make Pantalone’s breath become edged with something wet and unnatural in his throat, eyes blurring, “let go, will you? Let yourself be weak, for tonight. For me.”
He pretends to not understand. “Elaborate.”
Dottore grapples for his hand and brings it to the chain between the clamps. He pulls, only slightly, and Dottore’s mouth contorts into a silent moan, eyebrows drawn. At the same time he encircles his dry hand around Pantalone’s cock, thumbing at the arousal that gathers at the tip and smearing it along the crown. “Do I need to? You despise being deemed as weak; losing control of yourself. Sex isn’t fun if only one of us is getting all of the action. Do you get where I’m going with this?”
“I’d rather not,” Pantalone dismisses. He attempts to squirm out from under Dottore’s body. He doesn’t get the chance.
This time, when they kiss, it is like a fire has been ignited in his gut. It is nowhere near as bruising, no tongues nor teeth nor Pantalone’s satisfaction at having won an invisible battle; now, it is almost chaste, a simple glide of lips and stilted breaths and closed eyelids. From beyond his line of sight, Pantalone sees sparks of bright lights dotting his peripheral, and yet he continues on without breathing, if only to cherish this moment of sanctity. He was not aware a simple exchange of breath could be so… mind-numbing. Intoxicating. He never viewed intimacy as loving, as kind; it was always a business ordeal. Yet another means to an end.
Now, when Dottore pulls away to catch his breath and a string of saliva connects their lips, breaking and making Pantalone inadvertently gasp, he thinks he is beginning to understand Dottore’s nonsensical ramblings. Weakness, and sanctity, and intimacy, and plain acceptance. He is weak. He accepts. And he dips in for another kiss before he can fully recover, pressing a question like venom into Dottore’s eager mouth, their tongues swiping together almost sweetly—why?
Dottore spreads him out like a full course meal, taking his time with each and every crevice of his body—in the same way Pantalone does with his hands, whereas Dottore uses his tongue and teeth, only stopping at the dip between his thigh and pelvis. He reaches for the oil. Pantalone hands it to him wordlessly, antsy and anticipating while he watches the substance drip over his long, calloused fingers, at the knowledge that he’s actually doing this. And Dottore weaves his answer into him as his fingers tease at his rim, dipping into his hole only slightly, smug and watching every one of his reactions with bated breath, until Pantalone twists and pulls at the chain and he finally relents, body nearly collapsing from how hard he shudders.
“You’re such an asshole,” Dottore breathes, fixing his mouth over one of Pantalone’s own nipples—perhaps his own form of payback. “I’m so nice to you, and how do you repay me? By torturing me?”
“‘Nice’ to me?” Pantalone scoffs and pointedly tugs at the semi-long locks of hair at the base of Dottore’s neck. He only hums and sucks on the bud, clearly quite pleased with himself. Pantalone’s breath falters, eyes slipping shut. “Our definitions of ‘nice’ differ greatly.”
“They sure do,” Dottore says, enthusiastically, and promptly inserts one finger into Pantalone’s hole. He holds back a wince, the sensation unfamiliar and slightly painful. “Have you ever received, before? Or should I gloss over this part?”
“I have received,” Pantalone snaps, eyes opening a peek. Dottore raises an exaggerated eyebrow at his defiance. “Long ago. Not recently, is what I mean to say.”
“Then, I will be thorough,” Dottore promises. It feels like a threat, particularly when he retracts his finger and pushes it back in almost clinically, regardless how hard Pantalone grasps at the leash—his only form of stability. “Easy on my neck, love.”
Dottore inserts the next finger with considerably more resistance; it does not sway him from fucking his fingers in and out, torturously fast, inching deeper with each movement. With his free hand, he continues pumping Pantalone’s cock to maintain his arousal. Admittedly, he does begin to relax, releasing the leash and grabbing Dottore’s arm, instead, as he spreads his legs further and leans in to steal a kiss.
“I would not have to do this if you weren’t so rough,” he says. Dottore laughs and pushes his fingers deep inside so that his knuckles press against his swollen rim, prodding and curling, and there, right there.
Pantalone freezes, eyes going wide and lower lip caught in between his teeth. A spark of undeniable pleasure soars through his blood, electrifying his veins, and Dottore makes a pleased sound and brushes the pads of his fingers against his prostate, ruthlessly. His legs curl around his waist, head thrown back.
“I never said I would be gentle.”
Pantalone does not dignify him with a verbal response; rather he rolls his eyes, indignation boiling in his blood that he allows to fester until Dottore deems him loosened enough and removes his fingers—not without being a horrid tease, of course. He swipes his fingers over his puckered hole incessantly, eyes blown wide and fascinated, lower lip caught between his teeth to the point of bleeding. The scent of his blood permeates the air even more. Pantalone waits, Dottore reaches for the oil once more. He acts.
In an instant, Dottore’s eyes go wide with something other than satisfaction: genuine shock as Pantalone knocks him over and shoves him onto his back once more, his thighs bracketed around his hips as he reaches for Dottore’s cock and teases it against himself. It twitches and Dottore releases his lip, mottled and swollen in a shade that matches the red of his eyes. Only now does Pantalone notice his eyeliner has been smudged beyond repair; he leans in and licks a long stripe from his jaw to his temple, chasing a droplet of sweat. His tongue explodes with salt and desire.
“Ah- oh, Pantalone,” Dottore breathes, without the sense of challenge Pantalone expects—he worships, rolling his thumbs over the planes of Pantalone’s chest and dragging his nails through the dips in his collarbones, tracing drying blood and pressing his ear against his left pectoral. He makes a satisfied little humming noise and nuzzles against him. Pantalone buries his nose in his hair, sighing long and deep as the tip breaches his hole, the burn amplified by tenfold. He halts, though, right there, just to see him hold back his guttural sounds and thrashing. “Come on, you smug bastard.”
Dottore tips his head back and smiles, eyes slipping shut. “You’re never letting this go. You are cruel, Banker.”
The muscles in Pantalone’s thighs twitch, and his rim spasms along with them. Dottore groans.
A genuine, shameless plea. Pantalone breaks, right then and there; he finally, finally lets the thick length of his cock breach his hole, eyes watering and tongue lolling out of his mouth as Dottore pulls him in for a sloppy, barely-formed kiss.
His back bows instantly, but he steamrolls through the pain and braces his forearms on Dottore’s shoulders. It is almost unbearable, this mix of pain-pleasure-pain; he makes it about halfway down before he has to squeeze his eyes shut and pull away to catch his breath, eyes slipping shut.
“Here,” Dottore murmurs, and Pantalone’s mind short-circuits at how husky his voice is, pressing his words into his skin like poison—necrotizing tissue, “let me help you.”
He shifts his legs, inhales, and slams his hips up so hard Pantalone’s cock bounces, precum splattering. His thoughts scatter like electricity on water’s surface and his entire body jolts and shudders with its aftermath, his stomach swooping. He can practically feel himself melting when Dottore’s cock twitches, stretching him further, mercilessly and brutally. If Pantalone is cruel, Dottore is evil; Dottore with his hazard light eyes, his skeleton hands, the damp heat of his mouth overtop Pantalone’s lips singing the sweetest of narcotics into his lips, tongue swiping over Pantalone’s tongue to collect the drool that collects there. His body so easily betrays him; it shudders and seizes, tightening around Dottore’s cock as if to meld him into his very being, even more so when he beckons Pantalone into burying his face into the crook of his neck: a clear invitation to bite, albeit shallowly, just to feel his flesh resist.
“Did I say you could stop?” Pantalone heaves. Dottore laughs, breathless and unrestrained and hungry.
“Your greed knows no bounds.”
Without any other warning he bucks his hips up again, this time far harsher, balls slapping against the swell of Pantalone's ass, and the chain of his glasses sways precariously. He gasps, hands curling into fists. The head of his cock brushes against his prostate, but it’s not enough, too shallow to drown out the burn quite yet; either way he droops forward and peers at his own cock leaking onto Dottore’s stomach. His abdomen glistens with his arousal; Pantalone drags his fingers through the mess and licks it off only to hear the utterly punched-out noise that rises from Dottore’s lungs.
“My, you can do better than that,” he taunts, tugging on the chain of the clamps. Dottore laughs at him, voice bordering on patronizing.
“Can I? Pray tell, what makes you think you have the power to tell me what you want me to do, right now?”
Pantalone narrows his eyes. When he leans back and meets Dottore’s gaze he can see the flash of panic that crawls across his otherwise imperceptibly smug face, but Pantalone has had about enough of his shit to really relish in it.
Before Dottore can mutter, “‘alright?,’” Pantalone braces himself, lifts all the way off of his lap, and slams his hips down so that he’s fully seated on his dick with a lewd, resounding slap. A cry almost makes its way past his lips, but he resists; only to watch with keen eyes as Dottore, all high and mighty, attempts to restrain his own sound of approval, mouth falling open. And yet he does resist the agonizing amount of pleasure that stabs through his gut, into his limbs, nerves in his fingers zinging. He grinds, slow and dirty; his hands curl into fists nails scratching clean lines into hot flesh. Dottore chokes out a gasp like it’s punched out of him and visibly struggles with his words, eyes wide. And Pantalone grins, sharp and only a little condescending. He lifts himself again.
His cock slaps against his abdomen, dripping precum in between his thighs. Electricity shoots through his blood, ass clenching as he groans, and Dottore’s response is to clutch at his ass with rough hands, kneading the muscle. He gives an experimental slap. Pantalone stiffens, glaring. He’s sure it doesn’t look as menacing as it should amplified by the flush of his skin and his panting mouth, glasses fogging up and blurring his vision. Humiliating. Delicious.
“You have some nerve,” he snarks. Dottore chuckles, low and deep, and rakes his nails up his back to rest near his waist. “Insufferable.”
“Oh, but you like it,” Dottore muses. Pantalone doesn’t have it in him to disagree. He can’t possibly when Dottore places his hands on his ass, this time with more focus, and lifts him off of his lap, the heat of his dick almost slipping out of his hole entirely. Pantalone feels himself gaping, hungry and begging to be filled, and he almost voices his complaints—that is, until Dottore drops him down and slams his hips up in the same instant, and his thoughts scatter like they’ve evaporated into his breath, because holy shit.
“Gah!” he yelps. Dottore grins, peering down at him, and bucks his hips up and into Pantalone. His entire body jerks, glasses slipping off his nose and thumping against his sweaty chest (at the very least, he is grateful he is near-sighted). “Ha-aah!”
He can’t breathe. When he tries, his chest stutters and his mind goes blank, thus all he can do is sit and attempt comprehending the mind-numbing pleasure soaring within his body as Dottore’s cock spears his prostate head on, and Dottore is very aware of it. He knows it in the way he grasps at his hips with newfound confidence and presses divots into his skin so hard he will surely have bruises come morning, the slick sounds of his cock slipping inside of him making his head spin. He can’t take it—he knows he can’t—and at last, he fully surrenders himself to pleasure, surrenders himself to Dottore’s manic grin as he pulls him down and leans in for a messy kiss, swallowing the startled moan Pantalone shouts.
“Dottore, ahh, puhh-ut me down,” he pleads, only for Dottore to scoff, shake his head, and lift him up, only for him to fuck into him with all of his strength. “Fuck!”
Dottore’s voice is laced with animalistic desire and hunger that tastes of bloodlust when he says, “I don’t think I will.”
He fucks into Pantalone harder than he’s ever been fucked, balls slapping agaist the swell of his ass with every thrust up, abusing his prostate mercilessly. With each and every movement the chain clanks and flashes silver, Dottore’s teeth bared in a snarl. Pantalone’s body loses its will to resist, swaying forward and trembling, his aching dick trapped in between their stomachs. It is too overwhelming, too much, but his mind is too foggy to comprehend it and he can only stay there and moan, tears gathering at the corners of his eyes while shockwaves of pleasure eat away at his pride and consciousness. He really does cry when Dottore wraps a hand around his cock and pumps in time with his thrusts; Pantalone’s body seizes up, ass squeezing him tight, and Dottore moans something unintelligible, twitching inside him.
“I’m not going to last,” he warns, and sends a particularly hard thrust up and into his ass. Pantalone wails. “But it seems, neither will you.”
“I’m going to—kill!—you, ahhn-”
“Oh, sure you will,” Dottore condescends, lovingly and with a pretty cadence to his voice that makes his heart shatter and rearrange itself all at once, leaping to his throat only for him to swallow it down. It hits his stomach with a sickening sound. “Are you going to cum for me?”
For him, Pantalone thinks as his body spasms, abdomen clenching and toes curling, hands grappling desperately for purchase on the scarred tissue of his back. He hopes it stings just as much as when the wounds had been inflicted. His cock screams at him to cease the friction but that’s impossible with the way Dottore holds him and fucks him without abandon, faster and rougher, his walls clinging to him as if he can’t live without him, as if he was made for him. And when he nods Dottore growls, whips his head to the side, and tugs Pantalone’s body against his.
“Please, Pantalone,” he begs, and Pantalone has already unsheathed his fangs, “please, please, please-”
He bites as deeply as he can whilst yanking viciously on the clamps and Dottore keens, throwing his head back and tightening both the grip on his cock and his ass, jerking him hard and fast, and Pantalone so very clearly tastes the unspeakable pleasure in his blood, incomprehensible to either of them, just as his vision blacks out and he cums with Dottore’s cock grinding against his prostate. He barely registers the ringing in his ears is his own voice, high-pitched and delirious, and he finally cums with the scent of Dottore’s blood in his mouth for the second time; only now, it is not alone, because now he has the privilege to witness Dottore’s knitted eyebrows and swollen lips and entirely flushed face and shoulders as he falls over the edge directly after Pantalone, eyes screwed shut. Pantalone’s entire body trembles and aches, head spinning and lips pulled into a dumb, fucked-out grin when Dottore pushes one final thrust into him and cums, hot and sticky and coating his insides.
His mind is utterly void and euphoric, a bliss that causes him to sway backwards and watch the cum drip out of himself. He collects as much as he can on his fingers and pushes it into Dottore’s mouth. He laps each and every drop up with unparalleled eagerness. Pantalone cannot help himself from leaning in and letting Dottore’s blood drip into his own mouth in a red, translucent line. It severs just as Dottore licks his lips and opens his eyes, panting and glowing. The last thing he does before slipping out of Pantalone is press a chaste kiss to the corner of his mouth, cum oozing out of him and dripping onto his balls. Somehow, this tiny portion of their entire encounter is what makes him bury his head in Dottore’s chest out of shame, face burning.
They stay there, intertwined, for what feels like seconds and hours all at once, Pantalone’s arms wrapped around Dottore’s shoulders while Dottore’s rest around his waist. All he knows is that by the time Dottore shifts and gently lays him down, skillfully avoiding the (many) bloodstains on his sheets, his skin has dried and cooled from all of the sweat that had collected. He blinks, and Dottore has left the bed, taking the oil and long-forgotten leash with him, until he is out of Pantalone’s line of sight. He is far too dizzy to care about seeing clearly; so he waits, and is pleasantly surprised to find Dottore returning with a damp rag and a glass of water.
“Where did you get this?” he croaks. Dottore grins and carefully removes the clamps—not without a pained wince. His nipples are a shock of vivid pink, puffy and well-abused. Pantalone’s mouth waters with something other than thirst.
“I asked one of your keepers,” he informs, casually. Pantalone scrambles up, disregarding the pain that shoots through his back.
“Relax,” he snickers, and takes a heaping gulp of his own water. Pantalone lifts his chin enough for him to pry the chain of his glasses out from around his neck, placing it atop his bedside table with careful hands. “It was that blond one you’re fond of—the one with the scar on his lip.”
Oh. Ivan. Pantalone relaxes; he begrudgingly accepts his water, regardless, and allows Dottore to steal a kiss. “Please do not tell me he saw you naked.”
“I will neither agree nor disagree.”
Neither of them comment on the hypocrisy of his statement when he invites Dottore underneath his sheets for the night. They can simply deal with the consequences of being seen tomorrow morning.
The Tsaritsa calls them into her throne room unexpectedly late in the day, just before the sun begins to line the clouds with its golden rays. Permafrost is a funny thing; despite the warmth he should feel, Pantalone finds himself donning a fur-lined coat and thick boots, perhaps due to where he grew up; Liyue Harbor never truly gets beyond chilly. Perhaps it is a comfort to remain as warm as possible. Perhaps it is due to his constitution. Perhaps it is to shield himself from being seen with the glorious new array of marks on his neck and dispel the taste of blood from his mouth.
He enters the throne room without a word, heavy footsteps positively deafening; he rushes to the base of her throne’s stairs and kneels with his head held in a bow, just barely able to see Dottore’s gloved hands out of the corner of his eye, flexing and curling out of either irritation or amusement. It also amuses him to see Dottore with an unusual choice of clothing—a high turtleneck sweater, frayed at the edges and obviously not worn very often.
“Your Majesty,” he greets. She says nothing—not until she appears before them in a flicker of frigid light, icy cold air causing Pantalone’s breath to fog his glasses.
“I suspect your failure of a mission last night was due to your arrangement.”
She lifts Pantalone’s head with a single finger under his chin, her other hand slipping the fur off of his shoulders. Dottore audibly suppresses a laugh, choking and heaving under his breath.
“Ah… you would be correct, Your Majesty.”
There is no point in lying, and they both know; not even a fabrication could dispel their Queen’s vapid curiosity. So, he is at mercy to her inquisitive, calculating eyes, lips ever-smiling despite her clear dilemma, and it feels like an eternity before she at last strikes the gavel and releases his chin. She addresses Dottore, now, softer in tone—likely due to his status as the Second.
“Be sure to make proper foresight into your missions. You know very well you cannot risk failure as Harbingers.”
“Yes, My Queen,” he purrs, far too confidently. Too callously. Pantalone’s heart grows two sizes larger. “I’m sure we’ll take that into consideration next time.”
Next time. Pantalone refrains from raising an eyebrow, although he does risk an inquisitive glance. It does not matter, however, because the Tsaritsa gently prompts them out directly after, and they are out in the halls and their hands are brushing before he can think clearly about it, fingers intertwined not entirely but just enough for the tips of their gloves to curl around each other: a betrayal of the flesh.
“How about you visit me in an hour’s time?” Dottore proposes, meeting his gaze with earnest eyes, “we still have a list of questions to go through.”
Next time, and then, we. Pantalone smiles a true smile that tears his lips apart and turns his breath damp with decay.
“My, how could I refuse?”