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Broken Collar

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“If my Master is lost, I'll find him. I'll lead him back to himself,
because to serve doesn't always mean to follow.”

― Joey W. Hill, Hostile Takeover

The rain thrummed against the windows as Peter let himself into his apartment. Flipping on the lamp on the foyer table, he hung his suit bag in the side closet and put his pilot’s hat on the top shelf.

The flight from Reno to Teterboro had been uneventful – well, as uneventful as dealing with the drunk wife of the third vice-president could be. Her husband was too busy schmoozing to notice her state. Between her soused ramblings and her attempts to undress Peter before they took off, he was never more grateful to lock the cockpit door in his life.

Peter tossed his keys in the topaz Blenko glass bowl his sister Isabel had gotten him for Christmas last year and headed to the kitchen. On his way, he grabbed the remote to the Bose system, pressed a button, and the sounds of Yo Yo Ma’s rendition of Saint-Saëns’ The Swan flowed gently from the speakers.

Peter felt his shoulders relax as the music washed over him. While he loved his job and its ability to take him all over the world, there was just something about his home that kept him settled – grounded. He chuckled to himself at that term. A pilot who needed to be grounded. His Nan would have had a good laugh at that. Some days the flower arrangements that his housekeeper Marta insisted on scattering around his apartment fluttered in the breeze, and he thought he could hear Nan's mirth in the gentle eddies.

Nan had left him the apartment, plus a sizable trust for its upkeep, telling him in her will that everyone needed a ‘safe haven in stormy times’. Sighing, Peter pulled a bottle of water from the fridge and leaned against the counter, cracking the lid. He still missed her.

The music segued into Bach’s Air from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major. Peter closed his eyes, enjoying the melody as he sipped his water. He had the next few days off – his CEO had winked at him as they’d practically carried the vice-president’s wife off the plane and told him he’d earned it.

Finishing the water, Peter tossed the bottle in the recycling bin and wandered into the living room. He was deciding whether to settle on the terrace with the latest Sunday Times crossword or maybe order some late-night Thai when he heard a thump from the upper floor.

He tensed. There shouldn’t be anyone in the apartment – Marta would have left hours ago – and the security in his building was excellent. Still, Peter looked around the room, checking to see if anything had been pilfered or pawed through. Everything looked undisturbed.

Another sound echoed, and now Peter was certain it came from the direction of his bedroom. He silently moved up the stairs, stopping at the hall closet to get his Louisville Slugger. It wasn’t the best defense, but at least it was something. He cursed under his breath that his gun was upstairs in his nightstand instead of downstairs where it would have been more accessible.

The upstairs hallway was shadowed, the only illumination seeping in over the balcony from the table lamps in the living room downstairs. The door to Peter’s bedroom was ajar, but there was no way he’d be able to see into the room.

Peter took a deep breath and said a quick prayer that if someone was in his room, they didn’t have a gun. The door creaked as he pushed it wider and slipped past the closet.

As his eyes adjusted to the dim light coming in the large windows from the cityscape, Peter could see a silhouette of a person. He hoisted the bat into a defensive position and flipped the light switch that controlled the recessed ceiling lights.

He gasped, his mouth dry with shock at the image before him.

A man was kneeling on his bed. Well dressed, he wore a white linen shirt opened at the neck and black pants. His head was bent, his hair shadowing his face and his hands were resting palms up on his thighs. A chill swept over Peter as he recognized the Submissive position. And the man holding it.

“David?” It was barely a whisper, but the man’s hands twitched. “What the - ?” Peter moved closer into the room. “What the hell? How did you get in here?”

David was silent.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” Peter put the bat down with a sigh. He knew that David wouldn’t say anything unless Peter gave him permission. David's insistence on following total Sub protocol was one of the many reasons why Peter had dissolved their contract. “Look at me and you may speak.”

David’s head jerked up and their eyes met.

“What are you doing here, David?” Peter kept his voice modulated but strong. David wouldn’t respond to anything else.

“I came to see you.”

The eagerness of David’s words made Peter flinch. He’d forgotten how he’d grown to hate David’s needy tone. Hearing it brought back the arguments, the begging, the destruction – Peter shook his head to clear the memories.

“How did you get in?” He would need to have a talk with Carl from security. David had been removed from the approved list as soon as he had moved out.

“I took the service elevator.” David smiled. “I think we’ll like the new neighbors.”

Peter cursed softly. There were new tenants moving into one of the other penthouses today. David must have ridden up with them.

“But how did you get in here? You gave me your key when you left.” When I had you removed, Peter thought.

“I had an extra.”

Peter’s blood ran cold. For the last month David could have come into his apartment at any time. He could have touched Peter’s things, stolen something, or – oh god – watched Peter while he was sleeping. He mentally kicked himself for forgetting to change the locks. He was about to speak when David’s comment caught up with him.

“Wait, what do you mean we will like the new neighbors?” Peter had a sinking feeling he wasn’t going to like David’s answer. Surreptitiously he felt for the phone in his pocket. He really didn’t like where this was going.

“We have to have them over for dinner. You know, as a welcome to the neighborhood party.”

Peter couldn’t believe it. David was talking as if he was moving back in. “David…” he began, but the other man kept speaking.

“…In fact, I think we should have a party. Something on the terrace, maybe. The weather is getting so pleasant now.”

“David, stop.” Peter took a step forward. “You’re not moving back in. We’re through, remember?”

“No, we’re not.” David shook his head in calm denial.

“Yes – we are.” Peter tried not to let his anger show. David’s reaction was just another reason for their breakup. His refusal to address their issues had become a huge stumbling block for Peter.

“Then why do you still have this?” David gestured to something in front of him on the bed.

Peter glanced down to see a band of leather nestled in the sheets.

Fuck.

It was the collar that he and David had purchased together on a trip to San Francisco. David had loved it, and they hadn’t been fighting at that point, so - on a whim - Peter had bought it for him.

They’d never used it. Every time David had brought it up, Peter had come up with a reason not to. And the more David pushed, the firmer Peter stood his ground. Peter had put it in a box in his playroom, and frankly, had forgotten it was there.

Obviously David hadn’t.

“Tell me, Peter. Why do you still have it if you don’t want us to be together?” David’s voice rose and Peter saw a flush spread over his cheeks.

Peter considered what to say. He could lie and tell David what he wanted to hear, or he could tell him the truth.

“We’re not getting back together, David.” Peter kept his voice firm but soft. “I should have removed it after you left. I’m sorry.”

“No.”

“No?” Peter was confused. “What do you mean ‘No’?”

“You wouldn’t have kept it if that were true.” David smiled and it was chilling. “You want us to be with each other – me wearing your collar.”

“I think you need to leave, David.” Peter pulled his phone out of his pocket. “I’m going to call security and they are going to escort you out.” He unlocked his phone to dial the front desk when he heard a clicking sound that made him freeze.

Slowly he raised his head to see David pointing a gun at him. His gun. “David, what are you doing?” Peter tried to think of some way to get David to put the gun down, but his mind was paralyzed.

His eyes darted around the room, looking for something anything to distract David, but all he could focus on was the gun in David’s hand and the bead of sweat sliding down his own face.

David smiled. “Say you’re sorry, Peter.”

“What?”

“Say you’re sorry for leaving me.”

Hoping it would buy some more time, Peter stammered, “I’m – I’m sorry, David.”

“For leaving me.” David gestured with the gun.

Peter flinched and prayed that the safety was on. “For leaving you.” He breathed easier as David lowered the gun.

“You’re such a liar!” David jerked the gun up and it went off, shattering the mirror behind Peter’s head. “You lied to me for months, Peter. Months! You promised me you’d collar me, make me your permanent Sub, but you lied!”

“David, I - ”

“Shut up! I don’t want to hear any more of your lies.”

David was waving the gun around and Peter was certain that his finger was on the trigger. He had to do – say – something to gain control of the situation.

“You’re right. I lied.” Peter paused and licked his lips. “But it was because I was scared. I wasn’t ready for you to be my permanent Sub. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I understand. But if you put the gun down, we can talk about it.” Peter was grasping at straws.

“What, so you can lie to me again?” David snorted. “Do you know how much you hurt me, Peter?” He pointed the gun at Peter again. “Maybe I should just shoot you so you could understand my pain.”

Peter swallowed, his throat closed. “You won’t shoot me, David. We both know that’s not who you are.” He took a deep breath and said in a firm voice. “Put the gun down, David.”

Time felt like forever, but it was only a moment until David crumbled. “You’re right. I could never hurt you.” His voice was tight with tears. “But I can blame you. This is your fault, Peter. You drove me to this. You’re responsible. And I want you to live the rest of your life with that thought.”

Peter watched in horror as David brought the gun up to his temple. He lunged forward to grab the gun. “David, NO!...”

…Peter screamed, jolting upright in the bed, the gunshot echoing in his head. He scrabbled at his face, trying desperately to wipe off the blood and brains.

But it wasn’t David’s brains - it was only Peter's tears.

He took a shuddering breath, realizing he’d been dreaming yet again.

“Oh god, oh god…” The nausea hit and he rolled over and emptied the contents of his stomach into the trashcan which had taken up permanent residence next to the side of his bed.

After he was finished heaving, Peter fell back onto the bed, his eyes shut. His breathing was erratic and he felt his heart racing. Peter tried to calm himself but it wasn’t working.

He reached for his phone on the nightstand and tapped the ‘number one’ position on the speed dial. Holding it to his ear, he curled in on himself and rode through the tremors that were shaking his body.

The person on the other end picked up. “Hello?”

“Elizabeth,” he whispered. “I need you.”

Elizabeth Mitchell pressed the elevator button repeatedly, even though she knew that it wouldn’t make the machine descend any faster. It helped ease her stress. Carl was sitting at the security desk and he chuckled as she cursed the old technology.

“You know that won’t help, right, Dr. Mitchell?”

“Yes, Carl.” She turned to him with a sigh and a smile. “But it makes me think I’m doing something.”

“I understand.” His face became solemn. “He having a rough night?”

Elizabeth sighed again. “Yeah, Carl, he is.” She was consistently amazed at the concern the staff had for Peter after what had happened. They kept track of him, going so far as to call her if they thought Peter needed to see her.

The elevator door opened and she stepped in, waving at Carl as she did. Pressing the button to the Penthouse floor, she dug inside her purse for her keys.

Pulling them out, she flipped to a solid brass one for Peter’s apartment. Looking at it, she smiled slightly. She never regretted not taking Peter on as a patient. She could be more help to him in an unofficial capacity. Like tonight.

Stepping out of the elevator, she let herself in to Peter’s apartment.

“Peter?”

There was a lamp on low in the living room, giving just enough illumination to let her know that Peter wasn’t there. A quick check of the kitchen came up empty as well and her concern grew. She knew Peter must have called her from the bedroom – it was typically how things started – but if he was still in there, then she knew it must be bad.

Elizabeth hurried up the stairs and pushed the bedroom door open.

“Peter?” She spoke softly, not wanting to startle him.

“El?” Peter’s voice was hoarse and she could smell the stench of vomit in the room.

“I’m here, Peter.” She opened one of the windows, the spring air clearing the odor in the room, and came over to the bed. Wrinkling her nose, she quickly bagged up the trash liner and made a mental note to take it out with her later.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, she gazed down at Peter.

He was pale and sweaty, wrapped up in the blankets as though they were protection against the outside world. She ran a hand through his hair in a soothing manner, glad to see that he didn’t flinch when she touched him. That meant he was calming down. Sometimes it would be so bad that she couldn’t touch him for hours, instead having to helplessly watch him shake and cry.

“El,” he said again and reached out to pull himself closer to her. She let him, scooting back so he could wrap his body around her. It was a position she knew would help him calm even further. She took his hands and rested them in her lap, circling her thumbs in his palms.

They sat like that for a while. Elizabeth monitored Peter’s body language, his breathing rate, noting that the shaking had finally stopped.

“Need to shower.” Peter shifted and she got up to let him leave the bed.

“I’ll be downstairs in the kitchen.” She took the trash bag with her, letting Peter have his privacy. She heard the shower start as she headed downstairs.

Trash disposed of in the incinerator, she busied herself making tea and digging around for some of the orange cranberry cookies she knew had been delivered a few days before.

“Hey.”

Elizabeth looked up to see Peter standing in the doorway, his hair still damp. He was dressed in a pair of sweatpants and an old Yankees t-shirt who’s logo was faded to the point of invisibility. She didn’t ask if he was okay. She wouldn’t be here if he was.

“Hey back.” She took down two mugs. “I have tea but I can make coffee – your pick.”

“Tea’s fine.”

She fixed him the Earl Grey that she knew he liked – two sugars, please – and herself some Orange Zinger. Handing him his mug, she grabbed the tin of cookies. “Dining room, living room or terrace?”

“Terrace. I think I need some fresh air.”

Peter followed her as she headed to the French doors that led outside, opening them so they could walk out to the grouping of lounge chairs.

Elizabeth placed the tin on the table. Sitting down, she kicked off her shoes and curled her feet up next to her. Peter sat down in an opposite chair and placed his mug on the table next to the tin.

“So,” Elizabeth said, breaking the silence. “You dreamt again.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah.” Peter sighed. “About that night. When David…” He stopped and she watched him shudder. “I woke up right when David pulled the trigger and…his blood...it was all over me.”

“Do you know what might have triggered it?” Elizabeth didn’t offer comfort; that moment had passed. Now came the part where Peter had to work through his trauma.

“Honestly, I don’t know.” Peter shrugged helplessly. “I can’t think of anything specific.”

“Sometimes there isn’t anything.” Elizabeth smiled softly. “Sometimes it just can be in the back of your subconscious and surface.”

“Well then, how the hell am I supposed to get better if I don’t even know when I’m gonna have the damn dream!” Peter was angry, and she couldn’t fault him for it. “This has been happening for six months, El. The guys at work have commented that I’m crankier than usual.”

She laughed softly. Peter’s definition of cranky was far different than the real world’s. He might be stern, but he was always quick with a smile and everyone loved him.

Which is what made him - had made him - an excellent Dom. From what Mozzie had told her, Peter had been in high demand for scenes before he and David had set up their contract.

Now? He hadn’t stepped foot in the club since David’s suicide, much to Mozzie’s disappointment. It was one of the ongoing disagreements she had with her friend and sometime scene partner. Mozzie thought Peter needed to get back into the lifestyle as quickly as possible, while Elizabeth knew that too much too soon might trigger Peter and set him back.

“You’re not cranky, Peter and you know it.” Elizabeth sipped her tea as she thought about her answer. “You know, we’re never going to be able to determine every possible trigger, but we CAN see about tools to reduce your stress level. How do you feel about yoga?”

Peter snorted. “Um…no. Downward Facing Dog is not gonna happen.”

“I didn’t think so.” Elizabeth leaned forward and opened the tin. Grabbing a cookie, she held one out to Peter. “Meditation could work. I’ll be happy to research some techniques and see what we can come up with.”

“See, this is why you need to be my therapist, not Dr. Hartfield. So far he’s done nothing for me.”

“You know why I can’t be your official therapist, Peter…” she began.

“Yeah, yeah. Doctor-patient ethics. I know.”

“Plus Dennis has been helping you. When’s the last time you had a panic attack during the day?”

Peter sighed. “You’re right, he has been helping. I just get so frustrated.” He ran his hand over his face. “I’m so tired of feeling like I’m broken.”

Elizabeth leaned forward and put her hand on his thigh. “You’re not broken, Peter. Just slightly bent.”

He chuckled at their old joke. “Yeah, just ask my cousin Bill when he accidentally opened the door to my playroom.”

“Mozzie told me about that.”

“I don’t think Bill’s spoken to me since.” Peter took another cookie. “Man, these are good. Mozzie?”

“Yeah. He made a big batch and thought you would like them so he had them delivered.”

“Huh. Probably should call him and tell him thank you.”

Elizabeth looked at him over the lid of her mug. “Maybe you should thank him in person.” She saw Peter’s face close down and sighed. “Peter…”

“I’m not going to the club, El. I’m done with the lifestyle.”

“Then why haven’t you dismantled your playroom?” she challenged him. “If you’re truly finished, then it should be easy to get rid of everything.”

“I’m…not ready.” Peter looked down at his mug. “Just…not yet.”

“Peter.” Elizabeth spoke gently. “Is the reason why you haven’t taken down your room because of David or because of you?”

She saw Peter flinch and knew she’d touched a nerve. But she knew it had to be done. In order for Peter to truly get better, he needed to be honest with himself. Patiently she waited as he formulated an answer.

“I don’t know,” he finally said.

Elizabeth wasn’t surprised. In all their talks over the last six months, it was obvious to her that Peter didn’t want to explore that issue – it hit too close and he wasn’t ready for it. But tonight she saw a slight crack in Peter’s façade that she thought might be a way to start.

“Do me a favor,” she said, placing her mug on the table. “Close your eyes.”

“El.” Peter shot her an exasperated glance. “We’re not going to play one of your games, are we?”

“Just humor me, Peter.” Elizabeth smiled at him. “Close your eyes.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She watched as Peter did as she asked.

“Now breathe. In for three and out for three.” She waited, observing the drop of his shoulders and the seeping out of tension as he became more relaxed.

“Ok, now I want you to say the first thing that pops into your head.” She paused. “What do you think of when you think of your playroom?”

“Control,” Peter said immediately.

“Why control?”

“Because that’s who I am when I’m in there.” He grimaced, eyes still shut. “Or who I was.”

“Are you not Control anymore?” She added a slight emphasis to the word, turning it into a name, giving it power.

“No.”

“Because of David?” Elizabeth kept her voice even, neutral. They were walking a fine line and she didn’t want Peter to tip and either close down or spiral out.

“Yes,” Peter said softly.

“But David didn’t kill himself in the playroom.”

“Doesn’t matter. He killed himself and I couldn’t stop it. I wasn’t in control.” Peter was shaking, not as bad as earlier, but enough for Elizabeth to be cautious. “It was my fault he died.”

“Why is it your fault?” This was the question, she thought. The one Peter always shies away from.

“Because…because I’m responsible.” The words were ripped out of Peter’s mouth. “I’m responsible…it’s what he told me right before he pulled the trigger…”

Peter started sobbing, big gasps of air as he continued to tremble. Elizabeth quickly got up, sinking down next to Peter and wrapping her arms around him, holding him tight as he shook.

Peter had never shared that part of what happened with her or Dr. Hartfield before. It explained so much. And it gave her a firm direction towards helping him.

God, David, what did you do? Elizabeth thought angrily as she held Peter while he cried. She wished she could go back in time and undo all the damage David had caused. She was sure that there were things even before the suicide that she could blame David for.

She stroked Peter’s hair, rocking him and murmuring nonsense words until his breathing eased and he began to relax.

Peter straightened up and wiped his face. “Sorry. God, El, I’m so sorry. I keep doing this to you.”

“Don’t be. It’s what I’m here for.” She hugged him tight. “Besides, it’s not every day that I get to hug the premiere Dom in New York City,” she said in a teasing voice, testing his reaction to her words.

Peter smiled weakly at her. “You’re the only one who gets to these days.”

Elizabeth ducked her head so he wouldn’t see the small smile of triumph on her face. Peter usually scoffed or got angry when she called him that. This was the first time he’d actually answered with humor.

It was a start.

“You look beat. How about we get you to bed?” She rose and held out her hand.

“You know, I already have a mother,” Peter commented, but he wrapped his fingers around hers.

“Yes, but she’s living in Boca Raton with her cabana boy and I’m here,” Elizabeth replied with a wink. “So you’re stuck with me.”

“Don’t remind me.” Peter groaned. “That is an image I don’t really need.”

Elizabeth laughed at the face Peter made, happy to see that he was starting to relax again.

“Want to change the sheets?” she asked as they entered his room.

“Yeah, I think I’d feel better. I’ll go get them.” He headed to the hallway linen closet.

Elizabeth went to the bathroom and poured a glass of water. She opened up the medicine chest and took out the bottle of melatonin that she knew Peter used to help him get to sleep. Returning to the bedroom, she put both items on Peter’s nightstand in case he needed them.

Peter returned and they quickly changed the sheets.

“You’re staying, right?” Peter gestured to the alarm clock that read ‘3:45 AM’.

“I have a nine AM appointment,” Elizabeth began, but Peter shushed her.

“Let me rephrase that. It’s late, you’re staying and we can call a car in the morning.”

His voice was confident – Dominant – and it made her shiver. It was no wonder he’d been in high demand if he could do that strictly by speaking.

“Yes, Master.” She teased him again and was rewarded with another smile.

“C’mon, smartass. It’s late.” Peter pulled a t-shirt out of the dresser drawer and tossed it to her. “You can sleep in this tonight.”

“Thanks.” Elizabeth stepped into the bathroom and quickly changed. When she emerged, Peter was already in bed.

She crawled in next to him and kissed him on the cheek. “Sleep well.”

He regarded her with a soft expression. “Have I told you thank you lately?”

“What for?”

“For all this. For caring. For not giving up on me.”

“You’re worth too much to give up on, Peter Burke.” She held his gaze. “And we will work through this and you will get better.”

“Okay.” Peter smiled. “Okay.” He opened his arms and she settled in for the hug. She knew Peter needed the closeness and she was happy to give it to him. “Good night, Peter.”

“Night, El.”

She listened as his breathing lengthened and felt his body slip into sleep.

As her eyes closed, she renewed the promise that she had made to herself when she first met Peter – that she would help him become whole again.