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Stephen

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Poster by [info]katekat1010


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"You're not being punished. Do you understand?" Master stroked his hands down Stephen's arms as Stephen knelt, trembling, on the floor in front of him. He forced himself to nod and tried to hold still because Master didn't like it when he was frightened. "I don't like to see you upset, Stephen. It makes me think I don't take good care of you. You know everything I do is for you." But then Master dropped to his knees, too, and that was terrifying. Master shouldn't be on his knees, not ever, and when he put his arms around Stephen and pulled him into his chest, he could feel Master's heart pounding and feel his arms shaking, too. Stephen couldn't stop a gasp of fear from escaping. "Shh. It's O.K." Stephen snuggled into Master's embrace, and Master stroked the back of Stephen's head. "You're going to have a new master now. And you're going to be very good for him, aren't you?"

Stephen nodded against Master's shoulder. He would make Master proud of him.

"I need your words," Master said. He hooked a finger under Stephen's chin, raised his face up. Stephen let his eyes close briefly, shielding his tears from Master's view, but at a soft cough from Master, he opened them. He couldn't hide anything from Master.

"Yes, Master. I'll be good for him." It took all of Stephen's control to keep the resentment out of his voice. Master presented Stephen with schedules months in advance that included the most mundane minutiae, but he couldn't tell Stephen that he was being handed off until five minutes before someone turned up to take him away? He pushed the thought away. It was Master's right. He should be grateful that Master was telling him at all, was saying goodbye to him at all. As much as Stephen liked to believe that he had a special place with Master, he knew he was as exchangeable as the furniture. But Master had taken care of him for so long. He had never actually thought that he'd have to go one day.

He must have succeeded at hiding his feelings because Master said, "Good boy" and kissed the top of his head. Then, with gentle pressure on Stephen's shoulder, Master gave the signal that sent Stephen rolling gracefully onto his back. He caught his thighs and pulled them along so he landed flat, legs up and spread, presenting himself to Master. Maybe Master would keep him if he served him well, and he always served him well in this. He sighed in relief when Master sank into him. "You're so good. Such a good boy," Master said, over and over, as he palmed Stephen's cock and coaxed him into coming.

Stephen wanted to push him off because Master never made him come first, and it felt too much like an apology. He wanted to latch on to Master and never let go. He and Master could run away. No one would ever find them. He only realized he was babbling when Master shushed him. After he came, Master kept going, driving into him until Stephen was fucked out and pliant. He lay flat, idly gazing up. Master dressed him then, in shorts and a t-shirt. Stephen tried to protest because clothes really meant he was leaving, but a sharp smack on his bottom stilled his feeble attempts to push Master off. The punishment didn't extend further than that, though, and Master immediately kissed the tender spot. Stephen begged a little, and this was also tenderly brushed away. When Stephen was still once more, Master took his arm and finished threading it through the t-shirt. Another touch and Stephen rolled to his knees. Master produced his leash and clipped it to Stephen's collar. His fingers dipped into the space between collar and skin, and Stephen almost mewled from the sensation.

"I'm going to miss you so much, sweetheart," Master said. "I'm so sorry that I have to let you go. But it can't be helped. You need to remember that. It's not your fault. This has nothing to do with you."

Stephen nodded. It was so hard not to cry, but Master never liked it when he cried. Master laid the leash down, trailing it along Stephen's back. He kissed him on the mouth and stood up. "Stay," he said, and Stephen let his eyes drop to the floor as Master walked away.

He heard bits of conversation filter in through the closed door. "My employer is serious about your gambling debts...if you had the money, he wouldn't be asking for the boy...do you think my employer wants your sloppy seconds? You should be grateful. He's doing you a favor. Do you think he doesn't know how used your slut is? Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Smith. We know what happens to your boys."

Stephen knelt perfectly still. He didn't understand. Master was always good to him. He only punished him when he misbehaved, and he always explained it. Master wanted him to be good, and Master always helped him to be good, like when he tied Stephen's legs open so Stephen would be able to service Master's friends. The first six had been fine, but then his hole had started to get sore and he'd tried to struggle away, so it was a good thing that Master had tied him like that. He had been so grateful to Master for caring for him and helping him to be good.

The door opened and Master came back with another man. "Stephen." Master picked up Stephen's leash.

Stephen looked up. He tried not to flinch as he watched Master hand his leash to the other man. Then Master stepped back without another word, turned around, and walked away. Stephen followed him with his eyes until Master crossed out of his peripheral vision, but he could still sense him standing not too far away.

"Well," the man said, "I guess he's done with you. Come on." He tugged the leash and started out of the room. Stephen hesitated at the door to look at Master, but his back was still turned. He wanted to call out, but he remembered Master's command to be good for his new master, so he kept quiet, and followed obediently. He tried not to shake too much as he crawled along behind.

At the door, the man ordered him to stand. Once he was up, Stephen saw that he was about the same height as the man. There was a small suitcase there, which the man ordered him to pick up. Then he followed the man out the door, keeping close enough to him so that the leash was a little slack, just as he had been trained to do. When they reached the car, Stephen moved automatically to the trunk to wait. The man unlocked it, and took the suitcase, and tossed it inside. Stephen frowned, but he quickly cleared his face of the expression when he saw the slight look of disapproval from the man. It would be all right. It was a small trunk, but he could fit. He was little enough.

He started to climb inside. The man was still holding the other end of his leash, and it stretched and almost choked him as he tumbled forward. Suddenly the man's petite hands closed around his upper arms and yanked him out.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

Stephen dropped, terrified, to his knees. Gravel bit into his skin as tears sprung to his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said. "I thought--" He fell silent immediately because he hadn't received permission to talk.

The man pulled him up and roughly dusted off Stephen's knees. "It's fine. Just. Get in the car. In the front. Like a fucking person." Gripping Stephen's arm, he yanked him over to the front and opened the passenger side door. Stephen stood there and looked at the interior of the car. "Any day now," the man said. Stephen looked at him again. It could be a trick. He wasn't sure how he'd messed up, but he knew he had, big time.

The man didn't look like a person who pulled tricks. Stephen got into the car. It wasn't as fancy as Master's. As ex-Master's, he corrected himself. This man was Master, now.

Master pulled the seatbelt over Stephen's lap and buckled him in. He slammed the door shut. Stephen heard him swearing outside the car and then the trunk slammed. God, he was an idiot. He had promised to be good not five minutes ago, and he was already fucking it up. But...but maybe by pulling him out of the trunk, his new master was helping him to be good, just like old master had. He sat and thought about this as Master got into the car. Master didn't say anything as he put the car into gear and started to drive away from the estate where Stephen had spent the last three years. He stared at his hands instead of the house and grounds because he was afraid that if he looked up at the cream-colored pillars and perfect rows of topiary he would fling himself from the car and completely lose control.
"You all right?" Master said.

"Yes, Master," Stephen said.

"I'm not your master."

Stephen turned to look at him for the first time, his mouth open in a question.

"I'm taking you to him. You'll meet him later today. We're heading to the airport now. He's in L.A. He's looking forward to having you."

"Oh." This man wasn't his master? He was a...courier? "What should I call you?"

"You can call me Brad. You got a name?"

"Stephen."

There was a slight hesitation, and then Brad put his hand out. "Nice to meet you, Stephen."

"Thank you, sir." A new kind of tenseness settled over Stephen. Now he had to worry about meeting yet another person--someone who apparently had the power to make his former master give him up, who could send someone across the country to fetch him, and who could stay in his home confident that all of this would happen.

"It's Brad," he said, a little more firmly. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but instead he turned towards the road. "You should get some sleep if you want. It's O.K."

Stephen kept his eyes open for as long as he could, but soon they started to droop. He was still slightly tired from being fucked, and that helped lull him into sleep. He heard Brad humming softly as he drifted off.

Brad woke him up when they reached the airport. Stephen wasn't surprised that Brad had his passport to give to the gate agent. Master had always kept it up to date, and he must have handed it over when Brad took custody of him. Master had never allowed Stephen a driver's license, which had suited Stephen fine. He didn't care much for cars. Once, Master had suggested that Stephen might want to drive the car around the circle drive for practice, but Stephen had emerged from the experience on the edge of terrified, so Master hadn't suggested it again. In the gate area, Brad pulled a laptop out of his bag and cued up a video. He sat it on Stephen's lap. "This is your new master," he said, and hit play.

Stephen watched as a six foot man with dyed black hair, six-inch boots, and an outfit made entirely of leather strutted across a stage,hitting inhuman notes with impeccable control. He was intoxicating, gorgeous. Terrifying. "He's my. Um. He's going to be..."

"He is really looking forward to seeing you." Brad set his hand gently on Stephen's shoulder. Stephen didn't know what to do. No one was supposed to touch him without his master's permission, but maybe Brad had that. Brad must be someone special if he had been trusted to bring Stephen back. Brad took his hand away before he could ask, and cued up another video, this one of his new master singing a much quieter song as he sat on stool. His expression looked torn open, as if someone had stamped on his heart. Stephen wanted to hold him. With the other video, he had been intimidated by the thought of belonging to someone so vibrant, but now he wanted it. He was certain that there was a place for him in his new master's life, perhaps even a need for him. He could be good for this man. He knew it.

"What do you think?" Brad said.

"He's beautiful," Stephen replied, and he blushed as soon as he realized what he had said.

"Yeah," Brad said. "He is. He's a good guy." Again, there was the feeling that he was going to say more, but he just put the computer away and closed up his bag. Stephen's collar was in there, too. He'd had to take it off to go through security. He wanted badly to put it back on, but Brad had told him that he didn't want to call attention to them, and a collar would definitely do that, especially one made from bright red leather. "Plus, Adam won't want to see you with that bastard's chain around your neck," he muttered, but Stephen didn't think he was supposed to hear that. He focused instead on his new master's name. Adam. He thought it was a good name, and regretted a little that he would never be allowed to say it, but that was a small price to pay for the honor of belonging to him.

#

The flight was five hours. They had first class tickets, which came with a huge meal, but Stephen only picked at his food. He tried to watch Brad without being obvious about it, just little glimpses out of the corner of his eye to see if Brad needed anything, or wanted Stephen to service him in anyway, but Brad spent most of the flight asleep or listening to music. When he did speak to Stephen, it was to ask how he was doing, which was so odd that Stephen just stared at him before stammering out "fine". He knew he would be punished for lying, but Brad wasn't his master, so maybe he wasn't allowed to do anything. Instead of reprimanding him, Brad just nodded. It wasn't much, but there was something reassuring about it, about Brad, so Stephen felt safe with him. Once the plane landed, it was another two hours to Master's home. Stephen was almost sick with nerves and worry when they finally pulled up to the drive. "Hey, are you all right?" Brad asked.

Stephen nodded weakly. "What if he isn't pleased with me?"

A soft snort from Brad. "Trust me, he's been waiting for you a long time. So don't worry." He smiled, big, and there was just enough light to see the moisture in his eyes.

"O.K.," Stephen said. He did feel a little better, even though he didn't know what it meant that his new master had been waiting for him. Just how long had his old master known he was going to be giving him away?

As soon as the car stopped in front of the house, Brad got out. Stephen waited for the command that he should, too. When it didn't come, he hesitantly let himself out of the car. He was prepared to dive back inside if Brad told him, but then the door to the house flew open and a man came charging forward. It took a second for Stephen to recognize him. He looked different from the man in the videos. His hair fell loosely over his head, not slicked up and back as it had been, and he was wearing a t-shirt, sneakers, and blue jeans. But he was tall, and the build was the same, and the eyes were as bright. He had a smile on his face that made Stephen feel like a well-anticipated gift. This was his new master. Stephen snapped out of the stupor that the man inspired in him and dropped to his knees. He controlled his wince just in time as yet again gravel pushed into his skin.

Brad stepped in between them, and Master stopped cold, even though he was big enough to just shove Brad out of the way if he wanted to. "Adam," Brad said. "I want you to meet Stephen."

Master's smile became hesitant. The joy of it was certainly gone. Stephen bowed his head. He didn't know what he had done, how he had managed to fuck up so soon. He was about to prostrate himself when Master said his name.

"Stephen."

There was a question in Master's voice, and Stephen wondered if Master would give him a new name. He knew that sometimes that happened, but he liked the name Stephen. He had picked it out himself. Master had allowed him to. He was about to look up because that was what he was supposed to do when someone said his name, but Master touched his face and knelt down in front of him. Stephen closed his eyes as Master traced his fingertips over Stephen's eyelids and down his cheeks, over his lips. He wondered if Master was going to use him right there beside the car, but Master took his thumb away right as Stephen started to suck, and then ran his hand back over Stephen's hair, tugging it back off his neck. For a moment, he held it loosely like that, and peered at him like he was inspecting him. Stephen kept his eyes down. Master's hands were shaking a little, but they were warm, and there was something soft in his face that hadn't come through in the videos. It was comfortable, and different from anything he had ever seen in his other master. Master crouched down, moving his head beneath Stephen's until he had to meet his eyes. When he did, it was like falling.

"Adam?" Brad said, and the attention shifted.

If Master hadn't moved away and stood up, Stephen probably would have gone on plummeting into that gaze. He looked up. Master had turned towards Brad, but his arm was extended behind himself. Stephen couldn't tell if Master was telling him to stay or reaching for him.

"Why don't we take Stephen inside," Brad said, still talking soothingly, as if he were the master. Stephen didn't know what to do, so he waited. He was aware of Brad whispering to Master, but he kept his eyes on the ground and tried not to eavesdrop.

"Would you like to come inside?" Master said. He held his hand out. Stephen took it, and Master pulled him up. He put his arm around Stephen's back and nestled him against his side. Stephen thought about telling him that he had a collar and leash if he wanted to use them, but Brad gave him a look, so he kept his mouth shut. It was a perfect fit, anyway, and he didn't really want to move away from Master.

"I need a fucking bottle of Jack Daniels," Master said. He walked right into the kitchen, still holding onto Stephen. When he let him go, Stephen knelt on the floor as Master also went to his knees and started opening a lower cabinet. He disappeared into it up to his torso until only his legs and ass were visible.

"I can do that for you, Master," Stephen said. He knew he was taking a chance by speaking without permission, but he had the feeling that Master wouldn't mind. It kind of seemed like Master needed him to speak. But then Master emerged and whirled around, his eyes a little wild, and Stephen wondered if he'd misjudged. Before he could apologize, Brad was there, interrupting softly from the kitchen island where he had unobtrusively sat on one of the stools.

"You should let him. Stephen feels more comfortable when he can serve."

"Is that true?" Master said, looking at Stephen.

Stephen nodded. He could feel himself blushing under Master's intense gaze.

"All right." Master stood shakily and went to sit beside Brad. Stephen found the bottle of whiskey and a glass. He filled it and presented it to Master, going to his knees to do so. "You don't have to do all that kneeling," Master snapped. Stephen flinched, but then Master pressed a hand against his cheek, soft and warm. "I'm sorry. This is just taking some getting used to."

Had Master never owned a slave before? Or perhaps had one who acted differently? "I only want to please you, Master," Stephen said. "If...if you would just show me what to do, I promise, I'll be a good boy for you." He looked up to make the sincerity of his plea clear. Master had gone to so much expense to get him here; he had to prove that he was worthy of it. He began to stroke the inside of Master's thigh. Brad was right behind him, but he didn't mind. The only thing that mattered was Master's pleasure. Master was his center and purpose right now. Master was...

...pushing him backwards and walking away.

"Master!" He reached for him, caught the air.

Brad's hand on his shoulder stopped him from running after. "It's all right. He just needs a minute. You're doing fine. Don't worry."

Stephen was worried. This couldn't be any more of a disaster. He was so shaken that he didn't even protest when Brad held Master's glass to his lips and tilted some of the whiskey down. It hit his throat with a warm, sharp burn. When Master returned, he was carrying a photograph. "Sit." He patted the stool, so Stephen sat. Master sat down beside him.

Stephen examined the photograph for a few seconds before he recognized Master in it. He looked several years younger, almost a different person. He was a little heavier there, and the skin around his eyes now was sallow in comparison to the ruddiness captured in the photo. Against this younger visage, Master looked washed. There was a smaller man also pictured. They were both wearing suits, but Master looked classier in his. Stephen said so and was pleased when Master smiled. Master was holding on to the man in the picture by both arms. His eyes were opened wide in excitement, and the other man's face was scrunched up joyfully.

"Do you know who he is?" Master asked.

"Is he your boyfriend?" Stephen ventured. He wondered if Master would want his boyfriend to use him, too.

"No," Master said after a moment's hesitation. "He is someone I love very much, though. Someone I lost."

"Is he dead?" Stephen knew he shouldn't be asking such personal questions, but at the same time, Master's expression was so open that he felt compelled to. If this was what had caused the difference in Master's appearance between the picture and now, then Stephen needed to know so he could think of the best way to care for him. He had always prided himself on how well he'd cared for his other master. That came from honesty. Stephen told him everything. That was a rule, and Master Smith had said that it was one that went both ways so they could take care of each other.

Master shook his head. He pulled the picture away, regarded it for another moment, and then turned it over. "He's not dead. He's just...not himself. But I'm going to help him."

"That's good," Stephen said. A yawn took him by surprise. His other master hadn't liked it when he revealed his weariness, but Master just smiled.

"Come on, Stephen. I'll show you where you're sleeping." He tucked Stephen under his arm again and led him up the stairs and into a bedroom. "This is your room. There's a bathroom there." He pointed. "That's just yours, too."

"But where do you sleep?"

"Across the hall."

"But what if you need to use me in the night?"

"Use you?" Master said. He looked confused.

"For sex," Stephen clarified. Now he was really wondering what Master had used his other slaves for because Master was turning red and his fists were balled up and it really looked like he was going to... Stephen flattened his face to the floor when Master's hand hit the wall. He had started reciting his apologies on the way down and didn't stop until Master was beside him.

"It's O.K. It's not your fault." Master pulled him up and Stephen tilted his head towards Master's hand as Master stroked his hair, trying to soothe him. "I'm not angry at you. Shhh. I'm sorry I frightened you." Gradually, Stephen stopped shaking.

"Come on, now. Go into the bathroom and wash your face. There are pajamas for you, too." He kissed the top of Stephen's head. "You've had a big day, so I want you to go to sleep, O.K.?"

"Yes, Master," Stephen said. He thought he saw Master's jaw tighten, but Master kissed him again in the same spot, and then pulled him up and pushed him gently towards the bathroom. "If you need me, you come get me. Anytime, understand?"

Stephen nodded, and Master left.

He went into the bathroom, urinated, and splashed water on his face. He could hear Master and Brad talking downstairs, but he tried not to listen. He had been trained to only pay attention to certain words and let anything that didn't apply to him float over his head. But it was hard to ignore shouting, and impossible when it was coming from Master, who had a set of lungs like an opera singer's. He closed the door, turned the water on and let it run while he brushed his teeth. When he emerged, the shouting had stopped. He turned the lights out and got into the bed. It had about thirty pillows on it. He found a spot for himself in the middle. He sank into the mattress and three layers of blankets. After a bit, he heard footsteps coming up the stairs.

"Adam..." They stopped right outside his door, which was partially closed, but Stephen could see a fragment of shadow on the wall. "Just take your time. Don't pressure him to be himself too soon."

"Pressure him to be himself?" Master said. "Brad, I've spent three years looking for Kris, and now that he's in my house, he doesn't know who he is!"

"He'll learn. He'll remember," Brad said softly. "You never gave up on him, Adam. It'll be O.K. Did you tell anyone? His parents?"

"I tried, but I remembered what they said, and I couldn't. I'll do it later. I just want some time with him first. I didn't know I'd have to find him after I'd found him."

The voices drifted away after that. Stephen stared up at the ceiling. Kris. It was an all right name. He didn't like it as much as he liked Stephen, but if Master wanted to call him that, he guessed it would be O.K. He didn't understand any of the other things they were talking about, though. Whose parents? And how was he supposed to know who he was if Master didn't tell him? He was there to serve and please Master. He rolled over and sighed. It was a good thing that his old master had trained him so well because apparently now he would have to train Master, and he had the feeling it would take all the knowledge and skill he had. He could sense that Master was unhappy, and he didn't like that at all. He was going to take care of him. He'd make him forget all about that Kris person. He was the reason for Master's unhappiness. Stephen was certain of it. He already disliked him.

#

In the morning, Stephen woke up as soon as he felt the sun on his face. He went into the bathroom to shower. A set of clothes--jeans, underpants and a plaid shirt--were sitting on the toilet lid. Master must have put them there during the night. His cock ached a little as he thought about Master sneaking silently past his bed, perhaps pausing to watch him sleep. He moved the clothes over to the countertop so he could use the toilet. After his shower, he rummaged around in the drawers and closet until he found a bottle of lube. He prepared himself quickly, propping a foot up on the edge of the bathtub and working two fingers into himself until he felt sufficiently stretched. His other master had always wanted him to be ready, but Master hadn't said anything to him about it, so he figured that this was a compromise--he would be slick, but still tight enough that Master could stretch him more if he wanted, or just push his cock in. He shivered a little at the thought and squeezed the base of his cock until it lost some of its eagerness. Sometimes it still needed to be reminded that it wasn't allowed to come without Master's permission.

The clothes were a little big. He stared at himself in the mirror and tried to figure out how to make the shirt fall flatteringly over his bony shoulders. The jeans were loose enough that they barely sat on his hips. He tugged experimentally, and they slid right down. Perhaps Master wasn't as adverse to fucking him as he'd led Stephen to believe... Stephen smiled as he tugged his pants back up. The waistband of the underwear was visible above them. They fit fine around the waist thanks to the elastic, but were a little wide through the leg. He fiddled around tugging and rearranging the clothes, but finally gave up. There was nothing he could do to make himself look attractive in them. He spent a few minutes toweling his hair and then applying gel to slick it back. He knew it wouldn't stay, never did, but he always made the effort. He wondered if Master would want him to get it cut. He liked it long, almost to his shoulders, but as he looked at himself now, he had to admit that it wasn't a style really suited to plaid shirts. He pulled it back in one fist just as Master had done when he was examining him beside the car last night.

He looked like...

Like that man in Master's picture. He let go immediately and almost sighed in relief when he looked like himself again. He looked away from his reflection, gathered his hair up, and looked again. Yes. He could definitely see it. If he gained a little weight, they could be twins. If he... he stared down at himself. He was wearing someone else's clothes. The thought hit him with profound certainty. Suddenly he wanted to run to Master, to hold him and protect him. Oh Master, what has that asshole done to you? With that thought, he realized that the man in the picture had to be Kris. He composed himself before his trembling turned into anything like tears, and left the bathroom in his bare feet.

He hesitated at the door to Master's room. It was already open a crack, so he pushed it open a little further. Master was sprawled face down beneath the blankets, his face smashed into a pillow. Stephen crept forward. When he reached the edge of the bed, he went to his knees. "Master?" His heart pounded. Master hadn't said to wake him, but he hadn't said not to, either. However, if he had someplace to be this morning and Stephen didn't wake him, then that would be very bad. Master wasn't moving, so Stephen called to him again, a little louder.

Master made a noise that sounded like a cross between a curse and a gargle.

"I am here at your service, Master," Stephen said. He bowed his head towards the mattress. A moment later, he felt Master's hand lying warmly on top of it.

Master grumbled something again, and after a few seconds Stephen deciphered it as "I'm sleeping."

"I will go prepare breakfast." He kissed each of Master's fingers as he removed the hand from his head, then backed quietly out of the room. Master was snoring when Stephen closed the door.

#

His former master had hired a chef to teach Stephen how to create meals. Not cook, but create, which included developing recipes, choosing ingredients, the process of preparing and cooking, and finally, presentation. Stephen was used to a well-stocked kitchen and a pantry overflowing with spices.

He was not used to a kitchen with six eggs, three slices of Kraft American cheese, a bag of brown rice, and what appeared to be sixty flavors of tea. This was what Master's kitchen presented him with. He thought about calling information for a local grocery store and arranging delivery, but stopped when he remembered that he didn't have permission to use Master's money. His old Master had trusted him enough to do that, enough to do anything, really, because he had understood that all Stephen wanted to do was please him. Plus, it was a rule that Stephen keep the kitchen running smoothly, and he had permission to do whatever was necessary to make that happen. Stephen knew that he and Master needed to talk today to lay out the rules and expectations. Otherwise, there was a risk that he would break them without knowing, and he really didn't want to be punished for that if he could avoid it.

He did the best he could with the cheese and eggs, which was basically just to put them together. He selected one of the lightly spiced teas and found the teapot. Master came stumbling in just as Stephen was moving the eggs over to a plate. He sat down on a stool at the island and blinked blearily as Stephen set the plate in front of him.

"Thanks," Master said.

Stephen knelt slightly behind him so he would available if Master needed him, but unobtrusive if he didn't.

"So, this kneeling thing," Master said. "Are you, like, totally committed to it, or could I get you to sit up here with me?"

Stephen thought for a moment and decided that he could interpret this as permission to speak. "It is my pleasure to sit where Master pleases me to sit."

"Oh for the love of...fuck." Master spat the words through clenched teeth. Stephen carefully did not wipe away the spittle that landed on his cheek. He kept his head down, but raised his eyes in case Master's body would indicate what he needed, what he meant. Stephen had said the right thing, hadn't he? Honestly, if Master hadn't wanted a slave, then why the hell did he buy him? Master had hunched over his plate, and scraped his fork morosely over it. He looked down at Stephen a few times and opened his mouth as if to speak, but then sullenly pushed another bite of omelet onto it.

"I didn't know it would be like this. Brad told me. He tried to prepare me, but I didn't..." Master trailed off, his voice a little shaky and talking around the food. Stephen leaned forward a bit and risked laying his head against Master's calf, in what he hoped was a comforting gesture.

"Are you not talking because you think you don't have permission?"

Stephen looked up and nodded. Maybe Master was starting to catch on, but Master just looked more depressed than before.

"But I don't want to order you to do anything. I want you to talk to me, but I don't want to force you, and if I say to you, 'talk', then you'll do it because I'm telling you, won't you?"

Stephen nodded again.

"Well." Master's mouth twisted into a mockery of a smile. "That's just the shit, isn't it?" He looked towards the stove and the sink. "Where's your plate?"

Stephen blinked and waited. Master's tone had taken on a musing quality, as if he no longer expected to be answered.

"Did you eat?"

Stephen shook his head.

"Because I didn't tell you to?"

Stephen bowed slightly. Master's hand came down on his head, ruffled his hair, and then was pulled abruptly away. Stephen unconsciously followed it, trying to reclaim the touch, which was warm and as welcome as it had been when he'd woken Master up, before he caught himself and sat back on his heels again. Master got up and stepped around him, carrying his plate. He moved the tea kettle off the stove and put the skillet back on. Stephen watched as he cracked eggs into it and began to scramble them. While he whisked them with one hand, he tore open the tea packet using his other hand and his teeth, but when he struggled to pull the bag out, Stephen stood up to help him. He wanted to say that whisking wasn't the way to make scrambled eggs, but he kept quiet even as he watched the eggs turn into chewy bits of yellow.

"Thanks," Master said, as Stephen took the tea bag and set it into the mug, and then poured the hot water over it. "Make one for yourself if you want it."

"Thank you, Master," Stephen said.

"Oh, so you talk for that." Although it was delivered in bemusement, Stephen could sense an undercurrent of irritation in the tone.

"Yes, Master." As he selected an orange tea for himself, he wondered if he could explain to Master that gratitude could be shown in a number of ways, and that speech was only one, but that it should always be expressed.

"What else do you talk for?"

"Direct questions that require vocal answers, Master."

"Short and to the point, huh?"

"Yes, Master." Stephen busied himself dipping the tea bags until they became saturated enough to sink to the bottom of the mugs. He kept his body turned towards Master, though, and his senses attuned to him.

"All right," Master said. "What do you need from me?"

"Rules." Stephen blurted it out before he had time to think, but he wasn't surprised by it. "I need rules." He was a little afraid that Master would object to this. Maybe it was his rock star persona--Stephen couldn't really imagine the guy he'd seen strutting across the stage in that video living by rules of the strict nature that Stephen needed. However, Master pursed his lips a little and then stuck the tip of his tongue out and scratched his head and fidgeted around some--all while he scraped the eggs onto a plate and pushed it across the counter to stop in front of Stephen's tea.

"All right. Eat these eggs."

That was a little more specific than Stephen had expected, but at least it was a rule. He reached for the plate. Master grabbed his wrist as Stephen raised the fork and gently moved it to lay down on the counter. "Or don't eat the eggs. Eat if you are hungry; don't eat if you're not hungry. Speak if you want to; don't speak if don't want to. Kneel if you want; sit on a chair if you want. Use the furniture or use the floor. Or neither. It's all fine by me." He looked pleased with himself as he continued. "Use the bathroom if you need to; don't if you don't need to. Go outside if you want. Stay inside if you want. Play the television and the stereo, listen to all my CDs, watch all my DVDs, sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing, or do all the housework you can think of, if you want. Jerk off, bring girls home, bring boys home, shoot yourself up with heroin and pass out on the front lawn, or live like a monk if you want. Tell me all your thoughts; don't hide anything from me, or tell me nothing, or tell me some and hide others. Just..." Here his hand tightened on Stephen's wrist, just a gentle pressure that still seemed slightly desperate, "tell me," he finished in a contradiction, and then took his hand away. It landed on his mug, and he pulled his tea bag from it, which looked just as sullen as he did.

Stephen imagined that he didn't look much better. Master's words had struck him right in a place where his other Master's commands never had. He felt frightened, but not in a bad way. It was more like he was being cared for in a way that he had never known before, in a way that carried more responsibility, like the duty of throwing himself in front of a bullet to save someone--to save Master. It felt...unconditional, as if Master would do the same thing for him. Master was staring at him, a hesitation and question in his expression, and Stephen remembered the final rule. "Tell me." He pulled the teabag out of his own mug and laid it dripping on the counter beside Master's. He stared at it, trying to compose himself and formulate what he wanted to say.

"I think..." He paused as he heard Master's breath hitch and looked over as Master leaned towards him, open and hopeful. "That you are a little bit crazy," Stephen said. He braced himself for the blow that would certainly come next and the retraction of all the rules, but he had needed to say it. It had seemed like the only thing that could be said.

Master grabbed him, though, and squeezed him into a bone crushing hug. "Maybe," he said, "but at least I've got you." After a moment he added, "unless you don't want me to have you." He started to loosen the hug, but Stephen held on. The odd feeling in his gut shifted a little. Maybe it wasn't fright. Maybe it was need.

"You can make that a rule if you want," Stephen said, "but I'm probably just going to ignore it." He leaned back and looked up into Master's eyes as he returned Master's own phrasing to him. "Unless you don't want me to."

Master kissed him then, deep and hard, moaned against his mouth, and Stephen kissed back, just as willingly. He opened for him, took Master's tongue inside. When Master let him go, Stephen wiped his mouth on his sleeve, no, not on his--on Kris's sleeve--and turned towards his tea. It shouldn't have mattered, shouldn't have bothered him at all, but he still needed to face away from Master just for a second, just long enough to make sure that there was no jealousy showing on his face, no acknowledgment that he knew what Master had whispered into his mouth was Kris's name. When he turned towards him again, Master was smiling, happy.

Stephen smiled back, swallowing down on the bitterness that rose unbidden on the back of his tongue.

Master's smile didn't last. He looked at Stephen, a little stunned. Stephen was certain he saw regret as well. "I shouldn't have done that."

"Kissed me?" Stephen said. "Why?"

Master scrubbed his hand through his hair and turned his body away. "I didn't ask and... I got carried away. I'm sorry. It won't happen again." He hurried out of the room before Stephen could ask what would happen if he wanted Master to kiss him again.

Left to the empty kitchen with a set of rules that said he could do anything he wanted, Stephen didn't know what to do. Anything he wanted? What did that mean? What if he did it wrong? Would Master punish him for doing something that he didn't want to do if it was something that needed to be done? He sank to his knees. Even though he was alone and didn't need to kneel, the position always helped him think. He could focus better with his hands on his thighs and his bottom resting lightly on his heels. Want. It wasn't a concept he spent much time--any time--thinking about, but now it was a rule that he had to. So what did he want? He wanted to be good for Master. So what did Master need? Stephen glanced around. The dishes. Right. Start simple. Good. He got up and went to the sink. In addition to the ones from breakfast, he found the dishwasher full, so he emptied it. It took awhile to figure out where each item belonged in the kitchen. He killed most of the morning there between doing the dishes, scrubbing down the counters, and preparing a grocery list for Master's approval. Master wandered in from time to time and watched him with a confused expression, as if he had never seen someone cleaning before. He only stayed a few seconds before going out again. Stephen got the vague feeling that Master was checking to see that he was really there. He had to stop himself from waving and offering to do a trick.

Once he was finished and had the kitchen sparkling and dishwasher running, Stephen went out into the living room. It wasn't as much of a mess as the kitchen, but there were throw pillows to be picked up and afghans to be folded. He moved through the downstairs, straightening up as he went. In a hallway near the back of the house, he found a red light. It was mounted on the wall just above his head next to a door. As he stared at it, it turned off, and the door to the room began to open. He started to stumble backwards. Perhaps this was Master's secret room and he shouldn't be... His feet tangled in themselves as he tried to turn and flee.

"Stephen?"

In his haste to twist around and face Master, Stephen fell flat on his face. He quickly pushed himself to his knees. "I'm sorry, Master. I was cleaning, and you said I could go anywhere and..." He stopped speaking. What was he doing, acting like it was Master's fault that he'd almost stumbled into his secret room? He looked up when he heard Master laughing. Master held open the door and reached his arm out to Stephen

"Come on," he said, and tilted his head. "I'll show you."

Stephen got to his feet and cautiously made his way inside. His eyes moved to the far wall first, seeking out the spot where his other master had mounted wooden units that held whips, floggers, and canes, but this wall was covered in what looked like a foam surface. Stephen swallowed as he thought about what it would be like to be thrown against it. He could sense Master standing beside him, his body large enough to dwarf Stephen's. Perhaps Master did not use implements. He glanced down at Master's hands. They would be powerful enough to do damage. He was only able to look away from them when Master moved past him. Stephen scanned the other walls for items--handcuffs and chains, leather straps, anything, but there was nothing like that. There was some kind of console. Master moved over to it and started pushing buttons.

Suddenly the room filled with sound. "My new song," Master said. "Do you like it?" He stood and bobbed his head as it played. Stephen thought it was too loud, too screechy, especially at the end, but when Master smiled at him, obviously waiting for his opinion, he said: "It's great."

Master's smile got wider. "Liar. You hate it."

Part of Stephen wanted to shrug and smile back, to congratulate Master on reading him so well. But the part that was thinking about those hands and being flung into the wall for lying, and, worse, not liking the song, won out, and he ended up on his knees with his arms stretched out in front of him and his nose in the carpet.

He was barely aware of Master saying, "Shit," and then kneeling beside him. Master's hand landed warm on his back. "I'm sorry, all right? I didn't mean to set you off like that. I promise I'll be more careful. I'm just... I'm new at this. You have to be patient with me, O.K.?"

Master wanted Stephen to be patient with him? That wasn't how a master was supposed to behave. Stephen should be pleading with Master for forgiveness for not predicting his needs well enough, for not being able to read him. He held himself still and concentrated on the weight of Master's hand. It felt pleasant and soothing. How could he go from fearing it to needing it? To letting it center him? And yet that was exactly what it was doing. He arched up a little and it moved with him.

"You think I'm nuts again, don't you?" Master said.

Stephen kept carefully still. "Not nuts. Just...confusing," he said to the floor.

A soft chuckle. "I guess I can take that." A tap on his back. "Sit up. Or lay there. Whatever. You might like this song better."

Stephen tried not to groan in disappointment when Master's hand disappeared. He only failed a little. He turned to see Master at the console again. This time he noticed a laptop next to it and a microphone.

"Is this where you record your songs, Master?" Now that he thought about it, what with Master being a singer, a home recording studio made sense.

"Just the demos. I go to an 'expensive' studio for the album tracks." He air quoted 'expensive.' "Here. Since you said I was crazy." He hit play and then trotted over the few feet to sit on the floor beside Stephen. His legs stretched out in front of him as he leaned back on his elbows. Stephen was still on his knees, so he rolled until his hip hit the floor. He wasn't quite touching Master, but it was a near thing.

Someone who wasn't Master sang first. He had a rich voice, and Stephen liked listening to it, but he was still glad when Master's voice came in. Master tapped out the rhythm of the song on the floor, and Stephen found himself swaying along with it. He might have scooted back a little so he could hear Master quietly singing along. Well I think you're crazy, I think you're crazy, I think you're crazy, just like me. Stephen wasn't sure how it happened, but by the end of the song, he was lying with his head against Master's chest and Master's arm was around his shoulder.

"I like that one," Stephen said. "The growly parts were good."

"Do you think you could sing like that?"

"I don't know." He looked up and made his face serious. "I'll try if it pleases you."

Master pursed his lips, and Stephen prepared himself for another 'do it if you want' rule, which was exactly what he didn't want. There were too many ways to go wrong with those. He wanted to know what would please Master so he could just do it already. But instead, Master asked, "Did it sound familiar?"

"The song?" Stephen shook his head and nestled a little deeper against Master's shirt. "Master Smith preferred classical music. We didn't really listen to songs with words. Or, at least, not ones in English. And not like..." He sat up a little, although he really didn't want to because Master's chest was so warm and his heart was beating right in Stephen's ear. But Stephen needed the space to wave his hand around and demonstrate just how excited he was by this. "Not intense like that. That was like..." He stumbled over the words. He'd never needed to express an idea like this before, and he didn't know if he could do it right. Master was nodding at him, though, listening, so he did his best, even though he had to start and stop a few times. "It was like a duel or something, but not like you were against each other. It was like you were challenging each other to hit another level."

Master smiled. "So you liked it?"

Stephen nodded. "Who was singing with you?"

Master hesitated. It was brief, but Stephen caught it. "A friend," Master said, and like that, Stephen shut down. Because Master said 'friend' in a way that meant more than that. He said it in a way that meant love and regret and grief. He said it like he said Kris.

"It was him, wasn't it?" Stephen said. "Kris." He couldn't keep the anger out of his voice. Master launched up immediately onto his knees. Stephen stopped breathing for a second, but Master looked so eager.

"You remember? You..." He faltered. "You said 'him'. Oh." He slowly sank back onto his heels. "Brad said I shouldn't mention anything, but I thought, maybe, the music would help..."

Stephen didn't know what the music was supposed to do, but at least now Master was actually talking about Kris, which was a big step up from whispering his name into Stephen's mouth when they kissed. "He's the one from the picture, isn't he? The one you showed me? You said his name when you kissed me. You're in love with him, aren't you?"
Master was staring at his knees, looking as if he'd been scolded. "Yes. To everything," he said, finally.

"I'm wearing his clothes, aren't I?" Stephen did not mean to sound accusatory. It just came out that way.

"I didn't have anything else that would fit you," Master said, in a tone that was entirely unconvincing. "I didn't know you'd be as thin as you are." He sounded disappointed, but Stephen didn't think that it was directed at him. It was almost as if Master was blaming himself for Stephen's skinniness. Stephen knew he should force a smile and at least try to be reassuring, but he really couldn't manage it.

"I'll buy you ones of your own," Master said.

"Was he your boyfriend?"

"No."

This got Stephen to look at Master. They weren't together? The way they looked at each other in that picture, that was love if he'd ever seen it. Plus Kris's clothes were at Master's house. Maybe they'd only fucked. Of course, he'd already figured out that Kris was a huge asshole, so maybe he hadn't even let Master fuck him. But what kind of idiot wouldn't want Master inside him? Or to lie against him afterwards, warm and comfortable in his arms? "Why not?" He knew it wasn't his business to ask, but the rules said that he could ask. Not specifically--they said he could share his thoughts, but he hoped this would be close enough to count.

Master shrugged, but his face, God his face, it was just...broken, like it had been when Stephen had watched the video of him singing that ballad. "I was too late," Master said.

Stephen crawled towards him. Master opened his arms, and Stephen moved right in. "You're not too late for me," he said. Master closed his arms around him and for awhile, they just...sat. An idiot like Kris, Stephen thought, in answer to his previous unspoken question.

A thought came unbidden into Stephen's mind, but not for the first time. "Master. If you want me to pretend to be Kris for you, I can do that. It won't be the strangest thing I've done. I'd do it for you."

He waited for Master's smile, for his pleasure at Stephen's idea. For anything except Master pushing him away. He did keep one hand on Stephen's wrist, though, just enough of a touch for Stephen to comfort himself that he hadn't said entirely the wrong thing, especially since it was obvious between the clothes and the song and asking if he could sing that it was exactly what Master wanted.

"I don't want you to pretend," Master said. "You don't ever have to pretend for me." He brushed his fingers down Stephen's cheek and got up. "I need to finish a few songs. You can stay. If you need to leave, though, do it when the red light isn't on." He pointed above the door, which had a red light identical to the one on the other side of the wall.

Stephen thought about leaving. He could probably find tons of things to do in the house. He hadn't even started on the upstairs and who knew how long it had been since Master had done his laundry? But Master was here. So Stephen stayed.

#

In working on his new song, Master fiddled on the computer more than he sang. He rearranged phrases, added instruments, deleted them, and hummed to himself. Sometimes he asked Stephen for his opinion. It was probably another two hours before the song satisfied him. Stephen was pretty sure he had fallen asleep for part of that time.

"What do you think, another one of those for it?" Master said as the song finished playing. He gestured to the three gold records above him on the wall.

Stephen shook himself out of his dozy state and sat up. "What does it take to get one?"

"Selling a fuck of a lot." Master grinned. "That one's my favorite." He pointed at the first. "That's from my first album. My first ever gold record."

"I don't think you're supposed to have favorites. It's like having kids, isn't it?" Stephen grinned. He felt easy and relaxed, like his limbs could just melt into the floor.

Master rolled his eyes and said confidentially, "There are always favorites." Then he brightened even more. "Hey, you managed three full sentences without calling me 'Master'. We should celebrate!" He turned back to the computer, maybe to turn music on, but Stephen wasn't concentrating on that.

The shaking started first, followed immediately by the dread. Shit. Shit. Shit. Stephen didn't even know he was moving, but suddenly he was on his stomach, mouthing apologies to the floor. He sensed Master standing next to him and tried not to tense for the first blow.

"So," Master said. There was no humor in his voice. "I'm thinking maybe it's time you told me just what, exactly, the asshole I rescued you from did to you."

The words stopped Stephen cold. He raised his head and turned towards Master's socked feet. "Rescued me?" His voice came out small. What was Master talking about? He hadn't needed to be rescued. He was happy. His other Master gave him everything he needed. He gave him a collar, a purpose, punishment and guidance. He knew what his other Master expected of him. It was different from this. He didn't have any idea what his purpose was here, and it didn't seem like Master was going to tell him, either. "What do you mean, 'rescued me'?"

Master slid down on the floor beside him. "Will you turn around, please? I want to see your face." For once, his tone actually had some command in it, albeit mild, so Stephen pulled his knees beneath himself and knelt up. He waited obediently and tried not to make it too obvious that his cock liked Master's new tone. Master's eyes did glance downwards when Stephen spread his knees by a fraction of an inch, and Stephen sucked in a whimper.

"You get off on this?"

Stephen nodded. His mouth fell open a little.

"You get off on me telling you what to do?"

Stephen's head wagged helplessly. "Yes. No. On...on doing what pleases you. On pleasing you." Stephen hoped Master would understand. He didn't know how else to explain it. He'd never had to explain it before.

"Could you come just from me talking to you? If that was what pleased me? Would you come from my voice?"

Stephen didn't understand why Master sounded so cold, but his eyes slid closed and he nodded. Yes, he could do that. God. Master's voice washing over him, talking to him, commanding him. His cock was so hard now, pushing right against his jeans. It wasn't such a bad thing now that they were too large. He could come from Master's voice. He could come from... He could...

"Did he teach you that?" Master was suddenly against him, his body solid and unyielding, but barely brushing his side, and his mouth was against Stephen's ear. Stephen nodded.

"Yes, Master." He was so close. He hadn't come since his last master had fucked him. He was accustomed to being used five times a day, more, to coming at least three unless he was being punished or used simply for his Master's pleasure. He needed to. God. So bad. Needed to come. "Please. Master. Please."

"You want to hear me?" Master said. There something harsh in his voice, but Stephen nodded anyway. Anything for Master to keep talking. "Then let me tell you a story. About Kris. I know you want to hear. Tell me to stop if you don't."

Stephen did not want to hear about Kris. Master thought Kris was a zillion times better than any person who ever lived in the history of the world. Stephen understood that. But Master had his hand on Stephen's belly now and if Stephen didn't say anything to stop him, then maybe Master would move it downwards to his cock. He tried to lean against Master, but Master moved with him so the distance between them remained the same. Master's hand disappeared from Stephen's stomach, too. Stephen sucked his bottom lip between his teeth. Master had shuffled backwards. He was staring at his hands as if he were trying to figure out just which of Kris's no doubt varied and innumerable virtues to start enumerating first.

If Stephen could come from listening to that, then he could come from absolutely anything.

"He disappeared three years ago. Right after the Idol tour. It was my fault." Each sentence came out in a short burst. Stephen raised his eyes to see that Master was looking straight at him. He wanted to speak, but he didn't know what to say. This wasn't what he had anticipated. Disappeared? He'd figured Kris had left. 'Fucked off ' had actually been the term he'd decided on. Not that he'd... Kris had disappeared?

"Brad told me I shouldn't tell you any of this. He said that it would upset you or mess with your brain, or something, your memories, but you don't have any memories, do you?" There was the slightest hint of accusation wavering beneath the surface of Master's tone.

"I have memories," Stephen muttered. Just because Master hadn't asked him anything, it didn't mean he could assume he didn't have memories. True, most of them were things he didn't want to think about, like the accident, but there were good ones. He knew the lullabies his mother used to sing to him and the cat he'd kept as a pet when he was little.

"You're supposed to remember on your own," Master said.

"I don't understand." What was he supposed to remember? How could he remember something when he didn't know that he'd forgotten anything? His cock had flagged down to half-hard and was sitting dejectedly in his jeans.

"You're not who you..." Master stopped. Shook his head. There was that sad smile again. Then he passed his hand over his face and wiped his expression back to blank. "Look, I was going to tell you about Kris. I was in love with him, but we weren't as close as I wanted us to be. We were friends but not... I thought there could be more. There were a lot of things in our way. Kris had a wife. And we both had P.R. people telling us to tone it down, even though nothing had happened between us. See, the thing about Kris is--" he got right down into Stephen's face--"he's kind of naive. I could suggest anything and he'd do it. So, his wife left him, and he came out to L.A., and I suggested that we go out. A big group of us. A commiseration-celebration because we could finally be together. When he called me to tell me, I was happier than I had ever been because I thought..." He shook his head again, harder this time, as if he were trying to purge the idea from his mind.

"We went to this French restaurant. Really fancy. Big group of people with us because we had to be careful. People would talk if it was just the two of us. There had been rumors. After dinner, before they brought out the dessert, I made an excuse to get him to go into the men's room with me. I told him I needed help with my hair." He smirked, but his self-hating tone stopped Stephen from laughing with him. He was hanging onto Master's every word, waiting to hear how Kris had fucked everything up. He already knew Kris was an idiot. It was a sure thing that he'd fucked up somehow.

"I told him that we could be together now. And I kissed him. But he didn't kiss me back. He said he loved me, but the ink wasn't dry on the divorce yet. That there wasn't actually a divorce. It was only a separation. He said that maybe they could work it out. I thought he was naive about love since Katy, his wife, really had been adamant that she was done with him. But I was the one who was naive. I had a ring in my pocket. I wasn't going to ask him to marry me; I wasn't crazy enough to do that. It was just for a promise. I wanted him to know I belonged to him."

Belonged. That was something Stephen could understand. But Master had wanted to belong to someone? He had a little more trouble deciphering that. He couldn't imagine Master on his knees and taking orders.

"I wanted him to belong to me."

Oh.

"I didn't give him the ring. I got embarrassed. I told him I was sorry for jumping the gun, that I'd waited for so long--I'd thought we had been waiting for the same thing, but evidently I was wrong. I got out of there somehow. He was saying something, trying to stop me, trying to apologize, but I didn't want to hear it. I got my jacket, and I left." For a moment, his mouth worked and nothing came out.

"Master?"

Master looked up, meeting Stephen's eyes again. Stephen hadn't wanted to hear about Kris, but now he was hanging on every word. He leaned forward, but Master was too far away to reach. He wanted to give Master the acceptance that Kris wouldn't. He was happy, so happy, when Master reached towards him, too, and pressed his hand into Stephen's. Master's palm was slick with sweat. Stephen raised it to his cheek. It was shaking. He breathed safe thoughts into it. He almost didn't hear Master's next sentence.

"That was the last time I saw him."

Stephen laid a kiss on Master's palm. When he couldn't stand the way Master was looking at him anymore, as if they would both shatter right there on the floor, he closed his eyes and just held on.