The girl cried. They often did, of course, or at least they did in Arthur’s experience, which admittedly only involved three acquisitions so far. He stared at the girl. She clung to the house’s bannister, became an angry barnacle on the stairs, and glared right back.
“Um,” he tried, “we need you to come with us.”
“No.” She said it again, not aloud but loud: NO.
The entire model home of middle-class suburban existence wobbled just a little. The parents—who had to’ve known, had to’ve been expecting a visit from the Organization—scowled at him. The mother—a Mrs Lee, he reminded himself—demanded, “Can’t you let this go?”
“I’m sorry,” Arthur said, and he was, oh god he was, they had no idea, “but we’re supposed to take her.”
Little Jennifer shouted, NO!!!
The six Organization agents at his back eyeballed each other and his leadership. They had tranquilizer guns, but the Commanders frowned on force unless absolutely necessary. Harder to cover up. More mess left behind.
In theory Arthur—and Devon, who was taking a hell of a long time to arrive from wherever he’d been that morning—was supposed to be making this easier. He was a telepath; eight-year-old Jennifer Lee was beginning to be a telepath; the Organization recruited telepaths and empaths and absorbed them into its ranks. Should be smooth. Natural. Compatible.
Arthur Wintower, who secretly worked for the Resistance, hated the whole idea of the Organization, and had agreed to this mission because it meant infiltration and exposure of powerful child-abducting evil, had never been good with children.
He cleared his throat. Tried to look less large and broad-shouldered and potentially menacing. Didn’t work. Nothing he could do about his size, which Marisol’d once referred to as “herculean” and “godlike,” before her lover and co-conspirator and second head of the Resistance had looked up from coffee and said mildly, “If you’re going to start noticing men’s godlike attributes, we’re going to have a talk.”
He missed Mari and Rosa, dammit.
And Devon, who was by nature better at this, still wasn’t here.
He tried, “Please, um, honestly she’ll be better off with us, with other telepaths? We know how to handle these things…”
The Lees did not appear convinced. He couldn’t blame them. He wouldn’t’ve been.
Some secret agent I am, he thought, I can’t even sell the menace convincingly—
Listen, he said this time. The shape of the word bloomed out like concrete roses, heavy and grey. It filled up the room and kicked over the squashy brown sofa and loomed at the box-framed wildflowers above the fireplace mantel. We’re here because we know what’s best for you and for her. Trust me.
He even half meant it. He wanted to be the person they could trust. He wanted to rip off his own disguise and yell, no, I’m sorry, I’m on your side, there’s a massive group of very bad people who secretly DO control everything and they use telepaths and empaths to do it and I’m going to bring them down…
Jennifer put hands over her ears and screamed. The muscle behind him tensed and rattled weaponry. Arthur spun around. “Don’t you dare—”
The front door opened again. “Will you all behave,” said an extremely annoyed familiar voice, “you’re scaring her, and I have a headache already.”
Arthur turned. So did everyone else. Like magic.
Devon Lane walked into the room. The room instantly brightened up and went about becoming a backdrop for him: ordinary chairs and floorboards and a rug leaning in to frame messy black hair and brown skin and average height. He was wearing skinny jeans and a casual navy-blue t-shirt and a black leather jacket and black boots, a sort of nineteen-fifties collision with present-day hipster-casual; he might’ve been a king or a youthful emperor. He was The Organization’s pride and joy and not-so-secret weapon.
Arthur watched him and smothered a grin of delight. No admission of secrets. No fraternization. No teasing about the way Dev looked with pillow-creases on a cheek, hair standing up like improbable dandelion-fluff, yawning after a nap. Behaving. Right.
Devon glanced around, took in the situation, and went over and sat down next to Jennifer on the lowest stair-step. When he smiled, when he started talking softly, the universe bent that direction.
Arthur felt it. The generally human Organization minions, shifting weight and holstering tranquilizer guns, felt it. A sense of calm, of peace, of trust…a sense that of course this was the right thing to do, the best answer, no need to be scared…Devon himself was kind and the Organization was kind and they were here to help, they’d make the world better, and she could be a part of that, just come and see…
Devon held out a hand. She took it and uncurled from her tremulous ball. Her parents were smiling. Half the Organization hulks, despite psychic shields and intensive training, had ended up smiling soppily too.
And that was why Devon Lane was dangerous. Dangerous, and beautiful, and a weapon. The most powerful empath anyone’d ever heard of. Strong enough to shake the foundations of the earth, to command loyalty, to make men and women weep or swear everlasting devotion or laugh until they collapsed.
He also stole blankets in the night and got teary-eyed watching old Pixar movies. Arthur, with the memory of those cool grey-green eyes all brilliant and breathless beneath him in bed, ended up smiling for a different reason, half wistful, half abruptly entirely explicably aroused.
He shaped a thought, an image. Pushed it Dev’s direction. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing suspect if one of the minions had latent telepathic sensitivities and could pick it up. He’d not be surprised; the Organization liked doing things like that.
This particular image was only coffee, rich and dark and steaming invitingly. Might mean mental support for any tiredness; might be a suggestion for after, in the compound’s commissary. Devon would probably need the support, with that headache. Arthur himself did, because this dazzling high-wire tightrope act kept fraying his nerves, giddy and wondrous and draining and fearsome.
Dev handed young Jennifer over to one of the agents, turned back to the parents, shook their hands. His smile was flawless.
And the Lees nodded and murmured words about this being the best, about being glad someone was here to help, about knowing their daughter would be taken care of. They would be left with the impression, strong as an instinctive emotion could be, that to speak of this would cause problems, perhaps even threaten the vital secrecy of this terrifically important role their daughter would play. They’d tell everyone she’d gone to a special boarding school as a cover story.
Arthur very, very carefully did not project any of his own thoughts. Telepathy under control. Doing his job.
Dev’s hand brushed his on the way out. Might’ve been accidental, a bump in the doorway, framed by suburban sunshine. Those rainshadow eyes didn’t meet his.
In the car, he ignored the driver—who ignored him right back, being a stoic professional, not here to make friends—and grumbled, “Where were you?” You were supposed to meet us outside, what happened, is everything okay?
“Sorry.” Devon ran a hand through his hair, left it even messier than before, somehow managed to turn this look into rock-star style. “I was meeting with the Commanders.” Neatly, precisely, he shaped specific words right back; Dev wasn’t a telepath but had picked up a few techniques for clarity. They felt I needed a reminder. About duties. About what happens to someone who fails.
“Oh. That takes priority, of course. Never mind.” Are YOU okay???
Not great. I’ll live. The image bobbed up and sharpened as Dev focused on it, sharing: one of the other empaths, not someone they knew well, had refused an order, a mission, a certain head of state to influence. Devon had sat beside him, while the Commanders watched, and had under orders quietly thoroughly poured sheer mind-destroying fear into his heart and soul. The man had screamed, and then sobbed, and then shattered, a blank shell.
The message had been clear. It was clear now, in the replay.
Arthur deliberately did not react. Did not think of another time, another place. His own parents. The way they’d once laughed while singing old once-popular tunes in the kitchen, and danced around the room with their young son, and kissed each other. The way they existed, if that was the term, now.
“I’m happy to serve the Organization however they require,” Devon added dryly—a small amount of sarcasm was allowable, an outlet, and Dev’s commitment went beyond doubt—and then sighed. “I wish they’d given me time to find coffee. Which you pointed out.” His boot nudged Arthur’s shoe lightly.
“We can stop and get you coffee,” Arthur said. “You can have anything you want. You basically rescued us all.”
“From the horrors of small children, yes, I saw the look on your face. For a telepath you’re not very good at talking to kids, are you?”
“They’re tiny alien creatures in miniature human bodies,” Arthur explained, and instructed their driver to head for a nearby coffee-shop drive-through, because the Organization’s superpower needed sugar and caffeine and, if he was any judge, about twelve dozen painkillers.
They got coffee because Arthur promised they would, and the drive-through limited the number of extra people in their space to one perky server, black rimmed eyes and purple lipstick oddly but welcomingly warm as she took their order. In the front, Harrison asked for Devon’s white chocolate mocha first. His expression remained stony as he asked for a caramel latte for himself, then soured when he looked pointedly in the rear-view mirror at Arthur. Arthur ordered the same black coffee steadiness every time, but Harrison had never liked him. He’d pretend he’d forgotten.
It wasn’t quite jealousy, not quite resentment, but it was tangled and heavy and pressed against the frayed edges of Devon’s mind like a smothering weight. Devon leaned back against the leather seats of the car and closed his eyes. Guilt folded in, an extra layer to contend with, until Harrison managed to force the majority of his emotions behind a wall.
He should’ve been better at shielding himself. Even the normal, human members of the Organization were trained in some form of psychic defence. The furthest most of them ever got was the construction of that wall, but that was the bare minimum they needed in order to survive their work.
A telepath like Arthur never had a problem taking those walls down, and Devon could move through them as if they weren’t even there, but it required effort they had to put into doing so. If someone was shielding and they didn’t go looking, they could all just about work together in harmony.
The world moved at Devon’s left. Arthur’s shoulders took up more than half of the back seat and his arm, thick and heavy and warm, wrapped itself around Devon’s shoulders, an extra, physical barrier between Devon and the world. I got you , Arthur’s voice rolled through his mind, gentle and light as a breeze.
In the front seat, Harrison turned to hand them their coffee, his eyes contrite. “Sorry, boss.”
Technically, Arthur was Harrison’s boss. He led the team, not Devon. For security reasons, Devon wasn’t allowed to be in charge of anything or anyone, not any more. Old habits were hard to break though, and Arthur, being made up of kindness and secrets, never minded the slip.
Devon summoned a smile, forged forgiveness from thin air, and let it soothe away Harrison’s guilt.
His order tasted more like sweetness than coffee. Enough of a kick to jolt the exhausted parts of his brain back into focus, but it was more the sweetness he liked to savor. Once, when he’d been a lot younger, he’d been sent on a mission that left him near comatose for a week, his mind halfway between madness and the black void of death as entire families were massacred around him. When he woke up, one of the Commanders had sat him on their lap, and slowly fed him bite sized morsels of gilded chocolates. Dosed to the eyeballs on suppressants, the pleasure he’d felt had been his alone. He’d never been that cut off from the emotions of others since, but the sweetness of his favorite drink was the easiest way to replicate that simple moment without actually having to face the consequences of being alone in his head.
Besides him, Arthur shifted uncomfortably. His arm tightened around Devon’s shoulders.
“Don’t be nosy,” Devon mumbled, no heat in his voice.
Arthur's chest rumbled beside his own. “Don't think so loud,” was what he said, but the emotions that went with it were fierce and strong: protective.
Arthur, who was named so perfectly for knights battling dragons, for protection and safety. Who looked at him with eyes the color of oceans, deep and dark and ever changing. Arthur was brightness. Colors Dev had only seen in pictures, and in Arthur. Those eyes, and hair the color of fall. Russet and golden and easily ruffled beneath Dev’s fingers. They weren’t allowed to grow beards, but sometimes, on days when he had no contact with anyone but Devon, Arthur let shadows grow on his face, and that looked warm as well.
He'd probably grow one when he left. Devon could imagine it, almost as clear as he could imagine a place for himself at Arthur’s side.
It was a pretty fantasy. A lovely dream.
He finished the coffee, and the world outside the car turned to night. The intercity tunnels were always lit up no matter the hour, but it was an underworld light and there'd be no escaping the knowledge that they were driving deeper and deeper underground.
All of Arthur was large. The hand that gently folded over his eyes was no different, covering his face from palm to fingers with grip left to spare. Those hands made everything they held look small.
“Sleep,” he said, a quiet song hummed against the fluttering exhaustion of Devon’s mind. “I'll wake you before we get there.”
There. The glittering tower from which the Organization worked their machinations. The highest building in the world. Right at the top, with views above the clouds, Devon’s home.
He'd lived his life at both ends of the tower. He'd earned the privilege of cloud-strewn views and luxury through years of dedication and craft. When he got called in front of the Commanders, the trip down to the basement always served as a reminder of where he'd come from.
“Sleep, that's an order,” Arthur said, chuckling at the rush of tired indignation Devon projected.
His hand stayed over Devon’s face, blocking out the world, and his voice continued to hum gently in Devon’s head, drawing focus away from the parts of him that ached and hurt and whimpered. If Arthur pressed down harder, it would be a struggle to breathe. It was not a scary thought. It was comforting. Securing.
Devon closed his eyes. He couldn’t sleep. Not now. Not yet. But this was close enough.
Technically Arthur, as a team leader, had quarters in the low extension behind the central tower. Technically he was supposed to stay there upon their return, writing up his mission report and being a good foot soldier.
He even managed to do exactly that for an hour or two. Cover. Infiltration. Keeping up the facade of loyal Organization obedience. He knew Devon knew about him, which meant the Commanders knew, but no one had chosen to do anything yet, so either they couldn’t prove he was a traitor or they were seeing what he’d attempt if left alone.
Or, suggested his brain, Devon hasn’t told them.
He mentally rolled eyes at his brain for that suggestion. Of course Devon had. No illusions there.
His fingers shivered with memory: Dev leaning into him, trusting him, falling asleep against him, accepting the caress.
Devon Lane was complex and contradictory and nothing Arthur’d ever expected. Infiltrate the Organization, Mari’d said. Bring back tangible evidence, proof we can use to expose them to the world. You might need to do something about the baby empath. Be his friend if he needs that, seduce him if that’s an option, he’s probably got a whole private harem but you can try.
Devon Lane did not have a private harem. Devon had in fact been a virgin in some very important and fairly central ways, though extraordinarily and astonishingly aware of the theoretical cornucopia of things people enjoyed while getting off. But he’d bitten his lip and offered up wide-eyed apology when Arthur’d rather desperately inquired, when they’d first fallen into bed.
These days Arthur knew that story--the Organization liked to reward their pet powerhouse, and when a younger Devon had expressed teenage interest in sex, had assigned him an agent for those purposes. They’d gotten just about as far as a skilled blowjob; Dev had started losing control of those empathic powers, which would’ve been bad enough, but what he’d picked up from the man between his thighs had been a swarm of lust and fear and greedy pride: he’s goddamn dangerous, isn’t he, look at him, but he’s so damn PRETTY too, bet he can use those skills for all KINDS of crazy shit in bed, and the other guys in the barracks are gonna be so fucking JEALOUS, wait until I tell them everything…
Even at fifteen, Devon had thought for Arthur to hear, not quite looking up, studying the bedside table instead, I knew that wasn’t--it didn’t feel like what sex was supposed to be. I didn’t really know more than that, but I thought--it was supposed to be--not that. I sent him away. I let him think he’d done his job and we were both feeling satisfied--I didn’t--I didn’t want him to get into trouble. Because I couldn’t go through with it.
Arthur had, loudly and deliberately, telepathically voiced a string of profanity that would’ve made hardened Resistance fighters blush, and then yanked Dev into his arms for kissing. The bedside table had cheered.
In the present he knew that Devon would need him, now, tonight.
He closed his grey Organization-issue tablet, got up from his grey Organization-issue desk--at least he had his own private room; he was useful enough for that--and went out his grey Organization-issue door, as usual nearly missing his head on the door-frame.
The door stoically ignored this close encounter. The world, at least this part of it, had not been designed for people his size.
He took the connecting hallway over to the tower, and found the elevator, and went up to the top floor. He saw no one along the way; he’d never been quite sure whether that was coincidence or arrogance or the Commanders allowing this to happen. Fraternization and partnerships were discouraged. Divided loyalties. Desires. Emotions that could be manipulated. But Devon was special, and needed to be kept happy; Arthur himself was special, in the very specific sense of being an undercover Resistance spy.
Anyway, Dev’s apartment had the nicer bed.
In the quiet of sky-level heights, carpet still determinedly grey but windows wider and summoning stars, he padded down the hallway and over to that familiar door. Devon had a whole floor to himself; he’d never had guards. When Arthur’d asked, early on, he’d only laughed.
The door opened even as his hand moved to knock. All the lights were on, and music danced in the background, ridiculous bubbly pop about teenage dreams and hands and kisses; seeing Dev’s expression, Arthur had the impulse to take on every last one of the Commanders bare-handed. At the moment he might even win.
“How’re you feeling?” He was already stepping inside, shoving the door closed, kicking off shoes and socks to match Devon’s bare feet. The rugs were blue and expensive, and kept trying to snuggle his toes. The Organization held out carrots as well as sticks, and would readily purchase affection with plush luxuries or new books or stylish trendy leather jackets. What can I do? What do you need?
Devon took a step forward, right into his arms, right there on the spot, and Arthur wrapped him up in strength. You’re okay, you’re okay, we’re fine, I’ve got you. I’m here. He found himself immeasurably grateful, then, for his own size and breadth: he could fit himself around Dev’s slimness and become a shield.
The cheerful pop song kept playing, doing its best to be a good distraction. Devon tucked his face into Arthur’s neck. Arthur remembered all over again that Dev was younger than he was, and not a Resistance fighter, and not prepared to dive into battle against evildoers with fists swinging.
And then he thought: that’s not true, he broke apart someone’s mind with fear today because the Commanders told him to, and if you feel protective it’s because he wants you to, he can make you feel anything he wants and he doesn’t need guards because he’s a weapon…
He ran a hand over Devon’s hair. Wayward strands of black popped up to cling to the touch. “Headache?”
“Better with you here,” Dev said, muffled. “I want to not think about—about anything. I want to just…forget the world. Please.”
“We can do that.” He coaxed that chin up. “But only if you feel up to it, kid.”
“Kid,” Devon said, amused and tired and affectionate. He’d changed clothes—soft plaid pajama pants, a simple white t-shirt—and he looked even younger than his supposed twenty years, all enormous eyes and wayward hair and naked toes peeking out under fabric. “I can make you feel like getting on your knees and apologizing for that.”
“And we both know you’d rather be the one down there.” They did know that, and mutually enjoyed it. Extensively, spectacularly, so. “You want me to do that now?”
“Yes, please.” Devon held his hand; Arthur took him through the sprawling living area to the bedroom, where cool crisp white sheets and dark solid wood and a scattering of old paperback romance novels framed Devon’s smile. The lights were on in here too; he closed his eyes for a moment. His chest ached. Too many desires.
He said, both aloud and silently, impressing words with command, “Take off your clothes, and get on your knees.” Here. On the floor.
Devon Lane, stunningly beautiful empath and Commanders’ pet, knelt for him. Face tipped up, gazing trustingly at Arthur’s rapid tossing-away of clothes. Waiting for Arthur to take him out of himself, or back into himself, the place where he was only simply himself, given over to gently conquering hands.
Anyone else—certainly everyone else here at the tower—would kill to be standing here. Access to this room, this place, this person, who could amplify everything over and over, climax after climax, wave upon wave, gathered up and multiplied and crashing like bodies together...
The edge of danger sent a rocket down his spine. Devon could kill him; the Organization could kill him. A Resistance member. A spy in enemy territory. Fucking the devastatingly lovely prize asset.
The prize asset with a startlingly sweet heart. Who had been crying, earlier; the tear-tracks when he’d come in had been proof of that.
He could trust Devon this much. Enough for this. Enough to have this. The need and the comfort were real.
That thrill came back, mingled with the clear poignant knowledge that he could care for Devon, that Dev wanted him to, believed that Arthur would take care of him.
He wanted that. He wanted all of that. He did.
He also wanted the Organization brought down and shattered and broken. He wanted to erase the memories he carried like weapons: the anger, the fear, the mindless faces of his parents in that Resistance hospital facility. He wanted to scream and rage and fix the whole damn world.
He took a breath, shoved those thoughts away. He’d thought that he could trust Devon, in this. He could help Devon with this. That was real.
If it was real, that meant complications. For the mission, for himself.
He did not like thinking about those complications, so he did not. He focused on what he could do, instead. Keeping up the seduction and the cover; caring for Devon. One and the same, at this moment in time.
Those pretty stone-and-moss eyes were watching him: devout, quiet, hopeful.
Arthur put a hand on Devon’s head, and guided him down.
He wasn’t gentle; they didn’t need that. He fucked Devon’s lovely mouth as hard as they both liked, cock shoving deep into his throat, making Dev moan and choke and struggle to take it. He demanded, be good, open up, take it, the way you want to, the way you want me to use you, show me how good you are, and Devon swayed in his hands, eyelashes fluttering, overcome by words and telepathic orders and the use of his body. And that was good; that meant the fall into delicious weightlessness, that space where Devon only knew the cock in his throat, the ache of arousal, the deep throb of obedience and response. Not thinking; not scared or hurting from what’d been asked of him; not wondering what secrets Arthur might not be telling him.
Only this: the bedroom and their bodies, heat and shuddering arousal and naked skin, glowing in amber lampgleam.
He moved a foot. Pressed it deliberately against Devon’s cock, which stood up hot and leaking. Dev moaned again and rubbed himself against it. Arthur pushed harder, and said, you love this, don’t you, kid? Everything I do to you, you love the way I make you feel, knowing you’re all mine and I can do anything I want with you, your mouth, THIS—
Scarlet need and anguish snapped out into the night. It tasted like ginger and felt like roses, like pleading, like an inarticulate ball of yes and please and desperate craving: Devon was far enough gone to not notice or care about his own control slipping, so they were nearly there—
He jerked on that hair. Devon, betrayed and trembling, knelt open-mouthed before him.
Devon dove for the bed. Their heartbeats matched, pounding.
Arthur kept him on his back. Made liberal use of lube, vanilla-scented, and fingers, and then his cock, thick and so ready he could barely hold on, pushing in. Dev made small begging sounds, and the claws of want and now and harder raked down his back.
Harder. More. Slamming into him. One hand on Dev’s cock, alternately kind and firm and cruel, without predictability. Devon was sobbing, unfocused, drifting; the scarlet shimmer had become unbearable euphoria, suffusing every touch and every thrust.
Now, he ordered, and pressed a thumbnail into that dripping slit, the sensitive tip; Devon cried out and came, helplessly tightening under him and around him. Arthur groaned, buried deep within him, and came as well, tugged by the coiling pull of that irresistible wave-crash climax.
Devon curled into his arms again after, and cried a little more, but that was natural; that felt like release, reprieve, cleansing of wounds. Arthur kissed his hair, and rubbed his back, and wondered how he’d gotten here, how they’d gotten here, how this had ever happened.
Devon had smiled at him, the first day he’d arrived. He’d never expected the Organization’s favorite to smile like that. Radiant. Sunny. Astonishingly unguarded. A boy who’d pour an extra cup of coffee and bring it over to the new recruit, no evident ulterior motive or suspicion of any Resistance ties.
Not then, anyway. Not until the first night they’d spent together, the night Dev had asked about a certain scar and Arthur, half-asleep and sex-idiotic, had drowsily explained about dodging Organization acquisition at the tender age of ten. He’d stopped himself, horrified, before letting anything more slip; Devon had sat up and stared at him. Arthur’d been preparing himself for a fight, knowing it’d likely be futile and he’d go down screaming, and Dev had said, “Oh, so you are one of them, I’ve never met anyone who got away before, what’s it like being outside?”
Unless that’d been a lie too, and Devon had known all along, and had gotten close to him for a reason.
He thought, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know anything at all.
He stroked Devon’s hair. Dev woke up enough to make a contented kittenish sound at him. Arthur laughed, and held him.
Later, the two of them still tangled together, Devon said, “I hate it. Not this, I mean, not you. I like this. I mean…”
“I hate hurting people. It’s not—I know it’s not right. What I’m doing. When they ask me to. We shouldn’t have to do that. I hate that part.”
Arthur ran a hand over his hip: soothing, comforting, cradling him. Devon nestled into being held like a forlorn baby sparrow, broken-winged and needing safety and wanting him. Arthur’s heart ached with too many emotions. “I know. Me too. It’s not gonna be much longer. As soon as I’ve got something tangible to take back…”
“You can take me. I’ll come with you.”
Oh, that hurt; that cut like a scalpel to the bone. He wanted, oh how he wanted—and Devon Lane in the hands of the Resistance would be a prize. Interrogated, explored, mercilessly scrutinized, suspected of lingering loyalties. The moment quivered, painted in pale sheets and topaz lamplight, fragile and fleeting. They’d never have this again.
They didn’t have it now. He knew perfectly well that the Organization certainly knew about them, and Dev’s allegiances were…complicated. Given to himself, yes; that sweetness and surrender and open heart were all genuine. But Devon Lane had grown up a pet of the Organization. Had never known a life beyond this building, these walls, his instructions. Still smiled when recounting stories about kindnesses from agents and Commanders.
Arthur, for a brief furious second, wanted to tear down all those walls. To smash the constructs of expectations and spycraft and dishonesty, the Organization and the Resistance and the whole damn world, and to walk away into a stunning pink-and-cream sunset with Devon’s hand in his.
“I heard that last bit.” Dev tipped that head up to gaze at him; mischievous ink-pool hair whispered across Arthur’s bare shoulder. “You’re projecting. Also, I like sunsets. I think. I’ve only seen them in cities.”
“Fuck,” Arthur said, unsure whether he meant his own slip or the understanding that Devon Lane had never seen a shore, an ocean, a horizon of endless rolling blue and the celebration of color as the sun sank into the embrace of the sea. “Sorry. Do you think anyone else heard?”
“No, I’d know. Nobody’s even around. A few agents having a movie night, some boredom, a lot of beer…” Dev paused, eyes distant and then extremely amused. “A few more doing…well, essentially what we were just doing. Oh, that one feels nice…”
“Still disturbing,” Arthur said, “even if I like you feeling nice,” and slid a hand along one slim thigh, up to Devon’s cock, which was half-hard again already, stirred by irresistible sensation both tangible and not. “Completely insatiable…do you need suppressants? How long’s it been?”
“They know about me. They knew when they signed on.” Dev wriggled against him; Arthur took a firmer grip on his shaft, very nearly enough to hurt, an admonishment, and Dev sighed and melted bonelessly into this dominance, pushing a tangle of silver-gold pleasure-pain confetti into their emotions. “Um…I can’t think when you’re doing that. Not yet, I think. Tomorrow. I took them this morning.”
I’m going to make sure you take them, Arthur promised, shaping words into incontrovertible stone. The image projected with that involved Devon on his knees, naked, hands behind his back, mouth obediently open. “I need you to take care of yourself. You know that.”
“I know.” Devon let Arthur push him to his back, and stretched arms willingly over his head at the silent command: don’t move them. His eyes were enormous, river-water and misty rocks and eloquent compliant onyx; his cock was stiff and dripping. Emotion, sensation, desires and passions and fears and yearnings and confusions and surrenders: those were all present in that gaze. “I wouldn’t lie to you.”
But you do, Arthur thought. You do, and I lie to you, and the whole fucking world lies. You work for the Organization. You know I work for the Resistance. You tell me you’ll run away with me, and you know and I know that you’re a spy too, you’re seducing me on their behalf, you want to know how to find Marisol and Rosa and all the rest, and you look up at me with those eyes and I worry that you’re not eating enough and I want to watch you walk barefoot in the sand…
He was a telepath, and a good one. He could hear thoughts; he could project them. He couldn’t outright compel anyone—that’d be a mythical skill set, or mythical for pretty much anyone not Devon—but he could make suggestions in a perfectly reasonable internal voice. He wasn’t powerless. He just needed time and evidence, something physical and undeniable, some proof he could take back to his friends and show to the world. The Organization being real. Being evil. Abducting children. Breaking families into pieces.
Thought and emotion weren’t the same. Emotion could be instinctive, unreasoning, unconquerable. And he himself was good but Devon Lane was better. Stronger than anyone he knew about. At risk of drowning in the cacophonous music of the world’s rampaging drives, which was why the suppressants; most telepaths and empaths needed them, Arthur himself needed them sometimes—the world occasionally shouted too loudly for comfort—but Devon wouldn’t be sane otherwise.
And Dev could knock him off his feet with terror or desire. He’d never see it coming.
Devon had been one of those abducted children. Taken from his home, his mother. Young enough that he didn’t even know his birthday; he knew he was twenty years old now because he’d asked once, he’d said, long legs entwined with Arthur’s on the sofa. He’d been curious about milestones like learning to drive; he did know how, along with basic combat and gymnastics training. Nobody’d bothered to tell him the specific day he’d been born.
Arthur got a grip on his own emotions, in the wake of that reflection. Ordered voicelessly, stay put and be good, we’re going to see exactly how insatiable you can be, and reinforced that one with a sting of command, a whip-crack in thoughts and a pinch to the softness of Dev’s inner thigh. Devon moaned, instantly spread his legs further, got lost in the physicality of sensation: grounded and anchored and experiencing everything. That glittery swirly delight erupted outward and encompassed them both, sparkling and catching fire.
Arthur bent and licked that straining flushed cock, a reward. Took the whole rigid length into his mouth, caressing and sucking, while his hand explored. A little bit of hurt, he’d learned, worked beautifully when paired with pleasure: Dev stopped thinking and being aware and maintaining control, and dissolved into pure intense feeling.
Right now that was what he needed. Right now neither of them had to think. Right now they could simply be this, could have this, tonight.
In silken lamplight and snowdrift cotton sheets, he left a kiss on Devon’s hip, and scratched fingernails along delicate flesh, and Devon gasped his name and came apart under him, for him, with him, both of them shuddering with ecstasy.
Fresh out of his weekly medical, Devon took a seat in the small interview room and idly stared at a loose thread of his white pants while he waited for a Commander. His feet, still bare following the procedure, kicked back slowly against the metal chair legs, and his toes curled against the cold.
It was rare they kept him waiting, not these days, but almost fifteen minutes passed before the door behind him opened. The woman who walked in was tall, willowy, with shiny black hair and onyx eyes. One of Devon’s favorites. She smiled at him and took the seat opposite. “Good morning, Devon.”
It was easy to smile back. “Morning.”
The Commanders didn’t have names. If they did, they didn’t share them, not even with him. They all answered to the same title, each as calm and soft spoken as the next. There was never any emotion to read in them, either non-existent or beyond even his ability to sense. In his head, Devon had named all of them. This one, with her cheeks the color of pink blossoms and small, delicate features, he called Mai.
“How are you feeling, this morning?” Mai asked. Her manicured fingers formed a steeple in front of her. It wasn’t quite a perfect arch - double jointed fingers and wrists overextended themselves and formed an angle too extreme for perfection. “Any lingering pain?”
Devon shook his head. “No,” he said. “I feel fine.” It wasn’t a lie. Falling asleep in Arthur’s arms was always a balm for aching senses.
Mai smiled. She looked pleased. The Commanders didn’t like hurting him. They disliked it almost as much as he disliked the hurt. “I’m glad to hear that. You’ve had your suppressants this morning?”
“Not yet, Commander.” Using her name wasn’t an option. “I’m supposed to see Doctor Richards when you dismiss me.”
Unsteepling her fingers, Mai reached across the table and rewarded him with a pat on the back of his hand. “Good boy,” she said, and Devon flushed at the praise.
The touch was removed as quickly as it was delivered. Mai leaned back in her chair, smile undimmed. “Tell me about your assignment yesterday.”
“We collected a Potential from her human family,” Devon reported. Mai wasn’t the usual Commander to interview him, but the process would be unaffected. He knew what was expected of him. “She’s been successfully delivered for processing.”
“I hear Arthur struggled with the parameters of the assignment.” Every agent was expected to debrief. Devon wasn’t surprised by the question, and he answered honestly.
“I think he’s scared of scaring them. The children, I mean.”
“That’s understandable. He’s an intimidating man. It’s fortunate he has you there to help.”
Devon’s smile wavered. “I’m less scary,” he said, wishing it were true.
“You were intimate with him last night,” Mai continued. Devon nodded. His apartment was monitored by both cameras and microphones. It wasn’t a concern for him, but he doubted Arthur knew they were being watched. He would be more careful with the things he said. He probably wouldn’t want to continue. That knowledge, more than any personal discomfort, was what kept him quiet.
“Yes,” Devon said, then, “you said that was allowed…” It came out more of a plea than a statement.
“Of course,” Mai said. “We want you to be happy.” Devon nodded again, his throat suddenly tight. He didn’t trust his voice not to waver if he responded. “Has he told you anything about the Resistance?”
Back on task, Devon found his focus. “No, not yet. But he… he wants me to go with him, when he leaves.”
“You’d be a considerable asset to them,” Mai agreed. “Do you want to go with him?”
There was no point lying. They’d heard his answer to that already. “I like him. He promised to take me to see the ocean.” It wasn’t quite an answer. Biting his lip, Devon hoped she didn’t notice.
“And does that feel like a lie to you?” Mai asked. “Do you think that is what he plans on doing, once you both leave?”
Devon swallowed. “No,” he said. Arthur wouldn’t take him to see the ocean, or the forests. He wouldn’t walk hand in hand down a busy street with Devon. He wouldn’t smile and laugh at him across a table in a restaurant, roses between them and candlelight in the air. Whenever they talked about leaving, no matter how brief, how vague the conversation, it wasn’t hope or excitement that flowed from Arthur in waves, it was guilt.
Mai’s lovely face twisted in sympathy. “Don’t let his lies cloud your judgement, Devon. You hold the power, remember that. Do not let him chain you.”
“I hold the power,” Devon repeated, thinking of last night. Of being pushed down onto his knees, of being conquered. Arthur fucked him like he owned him, and for a glorious moment, he did. But it would’ve stopped with a word from Devon. It would have been Arthur on his knees, gentle and contrite and desperate to make Devon happy.
“Yes,” Mai said with an encouraging nod of her head. “The sooner you get him to open up to you, the sooner he reveals the location of his fellow traitors, the better it will be for everyone.”
“I can’t push him,” Devon said, helplessly hurt at the implication of weakness, of a flaw in his usefulness. “He’d know.”
“You’re letting him read what he wants to read,” Mai reminded him. “Nothing more, nothing less. You’re doing wonderfully. We just want to help you reach your full potential. We want to help you help us all.”
“How?” Devon breathed. He wished, for the first time in years, that there was something, anything, behind the Commander's calm blandness to read. He reached out, tentative and slow, and felt nothing.
If Mai felt the touch of his power, there was no change in her expression to give it away. Instead, she stood. Devon quickly followed her to his feet.
“I don’t want you to take your suppressants today, Devon,” Mai said, one arm extended, a guide towards the door. Devon hesitated. His last dose had been over twenty-four hours ago. She must’ve seen something in his expression, because a small hand came and rested lightly on his bare arm. “You can continue tomorrow as normal. I have complete faith that you can handle just one more day.”
That became the deathblow to any resistance Devon might have formed. They had faith in him, and he would do anything to prove himself worthy of that. “Yes, Commander,” he said, and followed her from the room.