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Leatherdar

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I don't know what to call the way I can always pick out those guys in a crowd. My friend Martin calls it "gaydar," which leads to us having long arguments over whether being able to tag a guy who doesn't know he's gay counts as gaydar.

Master Trent has another word for it. He calls it "corruption."

Honest to God, though, Lawnville College's Fall Cotillion isn't my usual hunting ground. For one thing, I'm usually sipping champagne, and the students around me aren't. That means they're too young for me. I'm not going to spend all evening chatting up some guy who claims to be a senior, only to discover that he's a seventeen-year-old freshman.

No, I go to the college dances for one simple reason: to get out of my jeans and tee-shirt and boots and into something a bit more stylish.

Don't tell the guys at the Eagle. They would roll on the floor to see me in a double-breasted, black serge suit and fedora. "Hello, Fred Astaire," said Martin with a grin, the first time he saw me dressed this way.

Actually, I usually sit out the swing numbers. It's much more entertaining to watch the back ends of the male students as they dip down their partners. I was doing this, and drinking from a plastic champagne glass as Louis Armstrong sang "Just a Gigolo," when I caught sight of my target.

Short guy, pale-skinned and spotty-faced. Bowl-cut hair that made him look like a Beatle who had wandered into the wrong decade. A tee-shirt of indeterminate color, so baggy that it threatened to drown him. Mud-brown pants with enough pockets to carry all his textbooks.

And a can of beer in his hand. Bingo.

"Wait a minute," I can hear you saying as I make my way across the dance floor toward him. "You've figured out he's gay from the fact that he has bad taste in clothes?"

Nope. From something simpler. He had a camera around his neck. And every time one of the male students dipped his partner, this guy took a shot of the student's back end.

He nearly dropped his beer when I tapped him on the shoulder. He looked around swiftly, then relaxed. I have that effect on people. Makes it easier for me, when I'm on the hunt.

"Are you old enough for that?" I asked, pointing to the beer.

"What business is it of yours?" he replied, frowning.

A bit too relaxed. I gave him the stare I reserve for bottom-men whose list of limits go on for five minutes. After a moment he bit his lip and scrabbled in one of his twenty pockets. He pulled out an ID.

I held it up to the light, blessing whichever state official decided to add holograms to drivers' licenses. At least I'd be able to argue in court that, if I couldn't tell the difference between a fake hologram and a real one, the blame lay with the state.

This one was real, as far as I could tell. I handed the ID back and said, "Okay, so you're not a wet-behind-the-ears freshman. Why aren't you dancing?"

He waved vaguely toward his camera. "I'm taking pictures for the yearbook."

My guess was that he'd be doing a fair amount of weeding through his photos before he handed over the results. "So?" I said. "There's no law against you taking a few minutes on the floor, is there?"

"Uh . . ." He looked at the dance floor. It was a jam at the moment. Students were weaving between pseudo-Corinthian columns lit by pseudo-Colonial chandeliers in their very authentic dance clothes. I'm always impressed at the ability of Lawnville's students to dig out top hats and seamed silk stockings from the nearby shops.

"I'm not dressed right," he said.

"Now you are." As I spoke, I slipped off my jacket, took the guy firmly by his arm and spun him around. He had time enough to protest while I took his beer can from him and then pulled his arms into the jacket. He didn't.

All he said was, "But now you don't have a jacket."

"Doesn't matter. Gives me a chance to show off what's underneath." As I turned him back around, I plucked one of my white suspenders.

"Oh." He looked at the jacket. On him, it practically went down to his knees. Which was just as I'd planned it.

He looked up at me and said, "Uh . . . Mr. . . ."

"Just call me sir."

He didn't protest, which told me a lot. "I should give this back to you," he said. "The thing is . . . I don't know how to dance."

"It's easy enough to learn."

"Sure, if you're a girl." He looked back at the dance floor.

I knew exactly what he meant. There aren't many activities I know of that establish the dominance of the male more firmly than ballroom dancing. Every guy on that floor was choosing every step his partner took. There wasn't any opportunity for the guy to just lay back and let his partner determine their path.

Truth was, there wasn't any such opportunity for the gals either. But unless you've let someone take the lead, you can't know that.

I snatched the camera off his neck, which caused him to catch his breath and open his mouth. I quickly tucked the camera into one of the side pockets of his pants. That sounds easy. Actually, what it involved was me leaning over and feeling around the left leg till I found an empty pocket. That took me a minute or two. He made a few sounds in his throat that I ignored.

"So you just need someone to teach you to dance," I said as I straightened up.

"But . . ." He waved vaguely toward a young woman who was floating by in her partner's arms, her full skirt swirling out. "They don't know how. I mean, they only know how to follow."

My guess was that quite a few of the gals here knew how to lead, if not necessarily on the dance floor. Since this fell into the category called "irrelevant information," I just said, "No, I meant I'll teach you."

His mouth dropped open. I waited patiently as a swing number by the Cherry Poppin' Daddies came to an end and couples began to wander off the floor of the college dining hall, which was swept free of tables on this night. Some of the guys approached gals sitting in chairs against the wall, to ask them to dance. Some of the gals did the same. There's a limit to how traditional Lawnville's young women are prepared to be.

It's a pity that it didn't occur to Lawnville's young men to take their cue from this. Obviously such an idea had never entered this particular guy's head. "But . . ."

I would have heard him out, but that's when "The Blue Danube" started. Perfect. I'd need all ten minutes to complete what I had planned.

"Come on," I said, grabbing his hand. I dragged him onto the dance floor.

Literally; he was stumbling to keep up. I half expected, when I released him, that he'd dart away. But he simply looked uneasily toward the nearest exit and said, "I'm not sure I should be doing this. My roommate's going to be picking me up any time now – he just went to photocopy our term papers for our metaphysics class."

Well, that was an interesting variation on, "My mom will be home soon." I told him, "This won't take long." Then, switching to the brisk voice I use on the occasions I'm called upon to do SM ed, "I'm going to teach you to waltz. The first thing you need to know is that this part of the music is the introduction, and you don't dance during the introduction."

The guy looked around the cluster of couples on the dance floor. "Most of the people are dancing now."

"They're ignoramuses. Ignore them."

I could tell he wasn't the type to ignore other people; he kept looking around us as I taught him the simple three steps that make up the waltz. He was a quick learner, though. When I got to the point of explaining that we'd be twirling in a circle at the same time we circled around the room, he said quickly, "Ptolemaic epicycles."

Thank God Lawnville College teaches its students useful information. I'd been afraid I'd have to draw diagrams. "Exactly. Or like the moon going around the earth while the earth goes around the sun. Our linked hands will be the moon, while we" – I took a step forward, my hands reaching out – "are the earth."

He nearly backed into a pseudo-Corinthian column. "I'm not sure—"

"Hold still," I said in the voice I use with bottoms who wriggle in their bonds at the wrong moment. He froze, and I took his right hand, holding it out in proper waltz fashion, while my own right hand slid around to the small of his back.

By now, the waltz proper had started. A few of the dancers looked our way, but I think their main reason was to keep from crashing into us. "The Blue Danube" has the ability to wipe away all other thoughts from listeners.

"I know this music," said my dance partner breathlessly as I took firmer hold of his back. "It's from 2001. The film plays this music when the spaceship is docking."

I refrained from making the obvious joke. All I can say is that the designers of spacecraft must be well versed in Freudian writings.

"Bend back a little," I instructed. "No, more. You need to trust that I won't let go of you. What's your major?"

"What?" he said in a startled voice.

"Your major. That's the traditional opening gambit at these places, isn't it? Not 'what's your sign' but 'what's your major.'"

"Oh. It's philosophy." He looked down at his feet, suddenly aware that we were moving.

I didn't want him aware of that yet. He'd be like a caterpillar tripping over its legs. "Philosophy? That's an interesting choice."

"My dad's a philosophy teacher." He turned his head to look at the dancers who were whizzing past us as we twirled our way slowly around the room. "And my roommate's a philosophy major too. That's how we met."

He craned his neck to look at the exit again. Why did I have the feeling he had a crush on his roommate? Well, I'd have to do my best to tear his thoughts away from unrequited love. "And your name is . . . ?" I prompted.

"Fade," he responded. "Look, we're dancing awfully close to the others."

"That's not your business to worry about. It's my business. I'm leading, remember? What's Fade short for? Fade Into The Shadows?"

Suddenly he was stumbling. I had to catch him quick to keep him from trampling on a nearby dancer's silver sandals. "It's a nickname," he mumbled.

I found myself wondering what horrendous name his philosophical father had given him that this guy would choose Fade as a better alternative. He twisted in my arms again, looking at the dancers rushing past. None of them were paying attention to us, but inevitably someone would, and I didn't want him to notice when that happened.

"Hey," I interjected, "didn't you hear what I said before? You're not in charge of determining our path. I am."

"Oh," he said in a small voice. "Right. I guess I'm not supposed to do anything."

Maybe someone else wouldn't have made much of those words. As for me, I remembered them quite clearly: they were the words I'd spoken, equally mournfully, the first time another man demanded I bottom to him.

I smiled at him. "You're not getting out of it that easy."

"Huh?" he said. He had to raise his voice to be heard over a chortle nearby. I knew what the cause of the chortle was, but I didn't let him guess that from my face.

"I'm in charge of determining our path. You're in charge of making sure we don't step on anyone's toes. I can't watch people's feet at the same time I'm watching where we're going, so I'm delegating that duty to you."

I let him chew over that for a few seconds. We'd reached one of the quicker portions of the waltz, so I said, "Pay attention to your back."

"Huh?" He tried to look around at it.

"Not that way. Pay attention to how I'm holding it. If I grip you harder, that's a sign I'm about to swing us around faster. Like . . . now!"

And he took flight.

I don't know anything closer to flying than waltzing. For the dancer who follows, that is – the dancer who leads simply gets the enjoyment of watching his partner spin through the air, like a balloon on a tether. If both of us did that, the result would be chaos. But while I was still doing the careful one-two-three steps, Fade was free to spin through the air.

He was laughing by the time the music slowed and I brought him back to earth. "That was great!"

"See how much more fun it is to follow?" I said, smiling at him. "Don't forget to watch our feet, though. That's your duty."

"Oh, right." He carefully scrutinized the floor. "I didn't think I'd be doing anything. I thought you'd be in charge."

"Sure, but since when did being in charge mean doing all the work yourself? I give part of the work over to you, and we get the job done better that way. Have you heard of Socrates?"

He gaped at me, leaving me to wonder whether Lawnville College was as thorough in its education as I'd assumed.

"Greek guy," I explained. "He was executed for . . ." I hesitated, then decided to skip over the "corrupting the youths" bit. ". . . for the way he educated his students. He taught them to think for themselves, and people didn't like that. There's a story written about him called the Phaedrus. It's about how Socrates goes off with his student . . ."

Fade opened his mouth wider, but at that moment there was a squeal next to us. A young woman glared at me as her partner spun her away from us, making solicitous enquiries.

I shouted an apology her way, then said to Fade, "You let me down. You were supposed to watch our feet."

"I'm sorry."

He had such an appalled expression on his face that I relented. "My fault. I was distracting you with talk. What were you going to say?"

"Um . . . nothing." Whatever it was, my little lecture had apparently evaporated any courage he possessed to voice his thought. His face had turned pink, like he was all too aware of his cowardice.

I gave him a long look, slowing us in our path, before saying, "Anyway, Socrates talks to his student. Supposedly they're discussing the best way to debate someone, but actually Socrates is teaching his student about desire." And with those words, I let go of Fade's back, reached into his jacket, and moved my hand around to his back again.

He gave a yelp. I said, "Do you mind? I was having a hard time holding onto the jacket. I don't want to let go of you when you're flying over the floor."

"Oh." He chewed on his lip, looking doubtful. Could be it was because my hand was playing up and down the knobs of his spine, like it was an instrument. "You said . . . desire?"

"Yes, desire." I let my hand travel up high enough to lightly touch the back hairs of his neck. He gasped. Then my hand traveled down. And down. Like I said, the length of my jacket had its advantages.

"Socrates had a different way of looking at desire than most of us today," I said. "We see desire as something that happens between people who are equal – like attracts like. But Socrates thought it makes more sense for someone to be attracted to a person who is unlike him. That's why he was attracted to his student, Phaedrus. Because the young man wasn't someone in charge – he was someone who followed Socrates. You see?"

Fade didn't reply. Maybe he was having a hard time following what I was saying because I was slowly squeezing his ass-cheeks, one by one. He lifted his gaze from the floor to look at me.

Which I was glad of. Martin and I had held a debate once – okay, so it was a shouting match – over what the difference was between what I do and what sexual harassers do. I ended the argument by saying, "The difference is, I don't get sued."

Yet.

But Fade didn't look frightened, just somewhat stunned. Sounding a bit breathless, he said, "That – that was a long time ago. I don't think people see things like that today."

"Sure, they do." I let my index finger trail its way along his crack. I'll say one thing for his taste in clothes; at least he picked thin cloth. I could feel the hair on his ass, especially as I got down close to his balls. "You just need to look in the right places. There's a bar downtown in the city, called the Eagle, where like looks for unlike. That's where you go if you're looking for someone to follow you . . . or someone to take the lead."

He didn't say anything. Could be he was breathless because I was swinging him so rapidly around the room now. Or it could be that his mind was on my hard-on, which was probing its way in a line along his stomach. That's the nice thing about ballroom dancing – details like that are hard to miss.

His eyes had an uncertain look to them, as though he'd encountered a book in a language he hadn't tried to read till now. He opened his mouth. I'd swear he was going to ask about the Eagle.

But at that moment, audible above the music, came a gal's snigger, accompanied by a guy's voice muttering, "Fucking faggots."

A moment later, the guy screeched. That's the natural consequence of having someone stomp on your toes. The gal merely got one of the looks I reserve for bottoms who try to top me; that was enough to make her shrink into her dance partner's arms. I quickly swung Fade and me away from the danger, but it was too late. I could see from his expression that Fade had heard the other couple, and that he was now aware, as he had not been aware before, of the stares and smirks and cat-calls that were accompanying us around the dance floor, like one of those damned pieces of wet toilet paper that you just can't shake from your shoe.

He twisted his head around – seeking an escape route, I think. I didn't bother to explain to him that staying to fight causes less trouble in the end than running. "Hey," I said, my voice stern. "I'm the one you're dancing with, not them. Pay attention to me."

He looked back at me. A tear had escaped his control and was glimmering its way down his cheek, like a line of fire. I slowed our progress, pulled my hand out from under the jacket, and pressed his neck down till his face was against my shoulder. "Just dance with me," I murmured. "Don't think about those assholes."

The front of my shirt was wet by now with his sweat, and my shoulder was soon wet with his tears. I was going to have one hell of a dry-cleaning bill to pay. I kept my hand against his neck and began humming "The Blue Danube" into his ear.

Yeah, corny. I was glad Martin wasn't here to whip out his camcorder, the way he's accustomed to doing at odd moments during club meetings. Next time I bottomed to Master Trent, he'd probably have borrowed the video and played the whole thing to me, just to make sure that my torture was excruciating.

I could feel Fade's body shaking under my hands. He was doing a good job of smothering any noises he made against my shirt. I let my fingers rise up and begin stroking his hair. I'd gone beyond corny now, I knew. That's the problem I always have with crying boys: after a certain point, I can't keep up the drill sergeant routine.

"It's okay, boy," I murmured to him. "As long as you keep dancing, it doesn't matter what else happens."

He was so much into what was taking place that he didn't think to ask why I was addressing him that way. This was just as well, since I doubted that my usual speech to novices about how "being my boy has nothing to do with what age you are" would go over well in this situation.

Not that I was even thinking about such matters by then. I'd slowed our dance practically to a walk, and I could feel Fade's heartbeat slowing too. Pretty soon the shaking stopped. He didn't lift his head, though, even when I released his neck.

We went like that around the full circuit of the room, and damned if I could tell you how the onlookers reacted, because I wasn't paying attention to them. I was feeling Fade's slender body molded against mine, his moist hand pressed into my palm, his face resting against the hollow of my shoulder, his breath warm and steady against my neck.

Then I heard the violins swell, and I snapped out of my daze.

He felt the tightening on his waist and reacted immediately, throwing himself back against my right hand in preparation for our twirl. I grinned at him. "Big finish now. Hold on tight."

He gave a yelp as I swung him through the air – a yelp of delight, I'd swear, because I caught a glimpse of his smile as I turned us with a centrifugal force that must have broken any records made by the astronauts in training. I just managed to avoid the temptation to bang into a few of our gawking onlookers along the way. As the music finished and our spiraling path reached an end, we found ourselves exactly where I'd planned, in the corner of the room, nearly hidden by the shadows.

Some of the folks nearby were clapping. It seemed they appreciated good dancing, if nothing else. I don't think Fade noticed; he'd stopped paying attention to them a while back. He stared up at me as I let my hand glide up to rub again the hairs on the back of his neck.

I said softly, under the sound of chatter, "I can teach you other ways in which you can be the one to follow. Shall we go back to my place?"

A cough sounded behind me. I would have ignored it, but Fade pulled back from my arms. "Dave!" he said. "It's about time you got here."

His tone was of relief rather than embarrassment. I turned and eyed the newcomer. Broad-shouldered like an athlete, handsome as all hell, about Fade's age. Wearing a button with two Mars symbols interlinked. He was scrutinizing me with an expression I couldn't quite interpret.

"Sorry, dude," he said to Fade. "It took me forever to find a photocopy place that would handle your naughty pictures."

As he spoke, he handed Fade a stack of papers. The title on the first page said, "Images of Desire in Plato's Phaedrus and in Greek Pottery."

"The black-figured vases didn't come out very well," Fade said critically, flipping through the paper-clipped pages. I caught a glimpse of some of the "naughty" vases reproduced there. Then he appeared to remember his manners. He turned to me and said, "Sir, this is my roommate, Dave. Dave, this is some professor who won't give me his name because he's afraid I'll report him to the dean. He's been corrupting me."

Dave smiled. "So I noticed. Hello, Mr. Socrates." He reached out his hand.

I like to think I'm man enough to be able to handle such situations with grace. "Hello," I said, shaking Dave's hand rather than breaking it. "It seems I've been an unnecessary addition tonight."

"Not at all," Dave replied in an easy manner. "I've been trying to get him to do something like this for months." He turned to Fade. "Does this mean you'll be willing to go to the Pink Triangle Club meetings with me from now on?"

"I guess so." Fade shrugged, giving a small smile. "Everyone knows about me now."

"If I'd realized it was that easy to kick you out of the closet, I'd have dragged you onto the dance floor long ago," Dave said.

"Maybe you should have."

There was a small silence as the two young men eyed each other. I started to back away. Fade caught sight of me and said, "Oh, wait. I have to give you back your jacket."

He shrugged it off. I took it from his hands and was about to scoot when he grabbed my tie and pulled me down for a kiss.

It was a long one, long enough for us to be noticed from the dance floor. Cat-calls began again, accompanied by hoots. I was fairly sure some of the hooting was friendly. It didn't matter; Fade took no notice of any of it.

When he finally released me, I glanced quickly over at Dave, but he simply seemed amused. Fade looked a bit embarrassed. "Thanks," he said softly. "I hope that kiss won't get you fired."

"I hope it does," I replied, trying my best to look like a professor. "Then I can corrupt you some more."

Fade simply laughed, not taking me seriously. Dave was smarter. With a warning look at me, he grabbed Fade into a headlock and said, "Come on, Phaedrus. Let's go home, and you can tell me all about it. Preferably in bed."

The two of them made their way to the door slowly. I saw Fade take Dave's hand. His voice drifted back as he spoke to his roommate: "Do you think we could go to the Eagle some time?"

"The Eagle? Cripes, Phaed, you just came out of the closet five minutes ago, and already you're hooking yourself up with the leather crowd?"

"What do you mean by leather?"

I caught a final glimpse of Dave scrutinizing Fade as they approached the door. "So," Dave said slowly, "you like someone else to take the lead, do you? How much do you like it?" His hand traveled up to grip Fade's arm. I caught the beginning of Fade's surprised smile as they disappeared through the door.

Leaving me behind with my cold bed, my hard cock, and the sound of Louis Armstrong crooning in my head, "I ain't got nobody."

Okay, so sometimes my gaydar is a bit slow in picking up what others have already figured out, to their profit. My leatherdar, though, is always ahead of the game.