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He saw the glances, heard the whispers: dumb as an ox and all looks, no brains.

Fit only for wiping his lord's arse and offering his own arse on demand.

Laughter and contempt. Rolling eyes and obscene gestures not hidden behind Frenchie's back, furtive only to avoid drawing the new Chamberlain's attention.

Milus knew better; knew Frenchie comprehended just fine. His spoken English was still hesitant and his vocabulary small as his accent was thick, but he heard and saw and understood as well as any man--and better than many.

Frenchie had arrived at the castle as the Baron's man, gathered up after some foreign fight in Longshanks' army. He'd been of peasant stock, orphaned as a youth in one of the regular sweeps of the plague; uneducated and without prospects until Baron Ventris carelessly offered the man without a future he'd become the chance to venture to a faraway place and see exotic vistas he'd only dreamt of.

Only to land in this place of grey stone and greyer skies, of rain and bleakness and people as blunt and rough as their coarse tongue. Milus never asked, but he wondered occasionally if Frenchie regretted leaving his sunny homeland and mellifluous language for lonely exile encircled within unyielding stone.

He hadn't offered Frenchie the means to go home after the Baron's death. He'd meant to--for at least a few moments. He was well placed now as Lady Love's Chamberlain, with a purse that wouldn't miss the few coins it would cost to carry one man back to France. Instead, he'd offered Frenchie the position as his own servant. Being chosen above all others gave Frenchie a certain protection; nobody dared harm what belonged to the Chamberlain.

Only Milus himself had that option.

Frenchie had kept his head lowered after the beating, careful not to catch Milus's eye. He'd crept about his work in Milus's chamber even more silent than before, trying to draw no attention to himself. Milus wasn't given to regrets about his actions, for the most part; he had no time to waste on the past, or on matters once done that could not be undone.

Nevertheless, a tinge of shame nagged at him, once his head cooled, contemplating the scrapes and bruises on his knuckles in the flickering half-light of his night time candles, seeing the stain of blood he'd washed away that had mostly not been his. He told himself the remorse was for his complete loss of control in his rage after Gaveston's humiliation of him, and nothing to do with Frenchie at all. Frenchie was never the target.

...but that he was French and the sole safe proxy for the untouchable Gaveston. Most of all, Frenchie was the unforgivable visceral reminder of Milus's own vulnerability: his desire for a man's flesh in which to sheath his cock, a man's angular planes and muscular strength to lean his weight on without fear of collapse, to rest his burdens on for snatched moments, rather than the natural need or want of a woman's soft, enveloping curves cushioning him, yielding and pliant and smothering.

Later, in daylight's grey light, in the bustle of departure, the wolf of tamped rage, which had had to crouch chained in his depths these past weeks, at last freed to hunt Gaveston as the true prey, he hid the rip of pain in his gut when Frenchie flinched at his lifted hand. To speak regret was impossible--only a fool would expose his own culpability so baldly--but Milus let the whisper-soft stroke of his fingers down Frenchie's cheek carry his message.

He'd scrubbed his hands harshly this morning, stripping away the stink of these past weeks he'd spent courting debauchery and perversion that had led him to neither the forgetfulness nor the freedom he'd sought, only numbness.

And Frenchie, who was neither stupid nor cowardly, lifted his shadowed eyes to meet Milus's gaze, and, after a long moment of fixed watchfulness, with a barely discernible tilt of his head, acknowledged both apology and pledge with the hint of wary returning warmth in a promise of his own.

Milus dropped his hand and turned away with a buoyant step, anticipation drumming in his chest: For the heat of the chase and bloody vengeance, but even more for his return to triumph and welcoming arms, his world alight and clean again.