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A Superior Slave (Ganymede Quartet Book 0.5)

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AUGUST 28, 1900

Martin woke with a sudden start, certain he’d overslept and would be in trouble, but then he remembered what day it was and relaxed back down into the bed, nestled between Charlie and Georgie.

It was Tuesday, the day before the auction. Today they would be allowed to sleep in a little. No lessons, no chores. Today they would be indulged.

They’d had a late night. Their farewell party had been a bittersweet affair, marked by volatile emotions. Every one of them was being separated from a lover or lifelong friend, and it was hard to accept these breaks.

Both the boys leaving and the boys being left behind had been determined to say proper goodbyes. The farewell was for the companion slaves only, but the entire cohort, all the sixteens, had come together to reminisce and comfort one another. It was difficult to make himself believe that he’d really never see these boys again when they were so familiar to him, and such constant presences in his landscape. Martin had made it a point to spend time with a great many boys over the course of the evening, but he’d ended up where he liked to be best.

His jerk awake had disturbed the others, and Georgie made a questioning sound as he stretched and yawned.

“Good morning, Martin.” Georgie drew Martin close and kissed his forehead. “How are you feeling today?”

Martin laid his head on Georgie’s chest and gave a soft laugh. He idly traced the edge of Georgie’s tattoo with his finger. It was the same as his tattoo except for the number, a chalice wreathed in laurels done in Ganymede blue and inked high on the chest, just below the knobs of the collarbones. They all bore this same tattoo; it meant they were the property and product of House Ganymede. “I’m a little sore, but I don’t really mind.”

Noah, on Georgie’s other side, raised his handsome head and scowled at Martin. “Keep your voice down! Some of us are still sleeping!”

Georgie patted him placatingly. “Be sweet, Noah. It’s our last day.”

Charlie wrapped his arms around Martin’s ribs and pressed himself against Martin’s back. He yawned with a loud groan, his jaw popping. Stuart sat up and leaned over Charlie to kiss Martin’s cheek, and Martin caught him with a hand around the back of his neck and pressed a kiss to his lips. He let Stuart go and pushed himself up to sitting, then crawled to the end of the bed and swung his legs down to the floor.

“Are you getting up already?” Charlie asked.

“I’m hungry,” Martin said. “I want to eat. Besides, we’ve already slept an hour longer than usual.” It was nearly 6 o’clock, and they’d all been getting up at 5 o’clock every day for the last decade, ever since they were old enough for chores. He stood on wobbly legs, hips loose and ass tender. He really didn’t mind; he liked feeling as though he’d been put through his paces.

“We could have sex really quickly before we eat,” Charlie suggested hopefully.

Martin shook his head, collecting clothing from the dresser they shared. He didn’t want to wear himself out before the auction. “Have it without me. I had plenty last night.” He found his shoes in the heap of discarded footwear on the floor beside the bed and slipped his feet into them. They were new, flimsy and thin, issued specifically for the auction. The sturdy boots they’d all worn before would be handed down to boys who were staying on the farm. Naked but for shoes, Martin took trousers, braces, shirt and undergarments with him as he left the room.

There was only one other boy in the showers, and Martin smiled and nodded at Otto as he took a clean towel from the pile by the door. He made his way to the center of the row of shower nozzles, to a place across from a high window where the light was especially good. He hung his towel and clothes on a hook opposite the shower head and kicked off his shoes. He had to hunt a bit before he found a bar of soap he liked, one scented with vetiver, which he much preferred over the lavender soap they had in profusion. At last, he stood under the water wetting his hair and trying to calm himself, but he was too tense, too excited. This was the last time he’d wash in this room, and he never would have imagined he could be sentimental about the dormitory showers, but he found himself teary-eyed as he looked at the old, cracked tiles, and was grateful for the water’s camouflage.

Philip and Bradley came in laughing and shoving each other and they called hellos to Martin as they joined Otto under the spray. They were all Standard boys, while Martin was Superior, and they were accordingly friendly but deferential toward him. Outside of training exercises, the Superiors didn’t have much to do with the Standards. The Choice boys were a different story; Superiors and Choice were close.

Martin washed very thoroughly, lathering away all traces of sex and enjoying the soothing heat of the water. Other companions began to file in, taking their places under the shower heads in singles and pairs. It was much less chaotic than a usual morning, but that was because all the other, younger companions-in-training were already at their tasks and lessons. It was only the companions who were leaving for the city today who were showering at this late hour.

Every other boy on the farm—the future butlers, footmen, coachmen and all the rest—would have been up at 5 o’clock, and showered, fed and at work by 6 o’clock. Most of these others would stay at the farm until they were eighteens or even older; it was only the companions who were sold as sixteens so that they might grow up in tandem with their young masters and develop a beneficial closeness. Companions were meant to be mature boys because they were given great responsibilities at a young age, but today Martin did not feel particularly adult. He felt giddy and breathless with anticipation.

He was eager to take on responsibility, to put into practice all he had studied and trained for. He was prepared to serve as a valet, and while he and his master were still in school, that would constitute the bulk of his work. While they were young and his master was as yet unmarried, he’d serve him with his body so that he might have a healthy outlet for his sexual impulses; the use of a companion was preferable to self-pollution or involvement with low-class women. Ideally, they’d be close, and if he was fortunate, his master might confide in him, trust him. When they were adults, he’d serve as his master’s secretary and assist him in the operation of his business. He’d be in charge of supervising the household’s slaves, and he’d manage his master’s accounts. The role was one of an indispensable assistant, a most personal luxury. The men who could afford to buy and keep a companion were society’s elite, and companions were accordingly at the top of the slave hierarchy. Martin had worked hard to end up in this rarefied position and now he anticipated reaping his reward.

Leo came in with Sandy and they joined Martin, crowding close to stand under the water. Leo was Superior, like Martin, but Sandy was only Choice. Leo and Sandy did everything together, were close and always had been, and Martin worried a little about how they would adjust to being separated. They hugged Martin, Leo at his front and Sandy at his back, rubbing his cheek between Martin’s shoulder blades.

“Will you miss us?” Leo asked. “We’ll miss you.”

“Of course I’ll miss you. We’ve been friends our whole lives.”

“I always liked fucking you so much,” Leo told him.

“We both did,” Sandy said. “We always had such fun together.”

Martin wanted to ask if they were going to be all right, being separated tomorrow, but he was afraid to hear the answer. All he said was, “I’m glad we all have so many good memories to take with us.”

Memories were all they’d take with them. Like all the other companion slaves, Martin had been required to rid himself of his few possessions, whether by giving them away or burning them, and he’d thrown it all on the fire with an extravagant gesture, a sweep of his arm, and had watched his love letters and talismans catch spark. He was clean now, and ready, truly ready, for a fresh start with a master of his own.

Martin stepped out of the water and dried off and dressed as he watched Sandy go to his knees before Leo and take him into his mouth. He called a goodbye as he turned to leave, and Leo gave him a wave.

At breakfast, Martin ate second helpings of everything while boys were still straggling into the mess hall. Georgie and Noah came and sat with him, though Noah clearly would have preferred to have Georgie to himself. Charlie and Stuart came in late, having opted to have sex first. Leo and Sandy came in and sat at a table apart from the rest, and it looked as if Sandy might be crying, so they all kept an uneasy distance.

Martin drank another cup of coffee while his friends took their seats around him and ate pancakes and scrambled eggs and bacon. With graceful gestures, Georgie tucked his long dark hair behind his ears as he bent over his plate, and as he admired his attractive friend, Martin recognized how much he would miss seeing his fellow companions every day. He would miss their fine features, their sleek bodies, their beautiful long hair. Chances are, the boy who would be his master would be an utterly ordinary fellow, albeit a rich one. Martin only hoped the boy wouldn’t be terribly ugly.

Georgie and Charlie, both dark and lithe and handsome, were just Martin’s type, though for reasons not entirely clear to himself he’d always favored Georgie. If Martin were allowed to choose his own master, a boy with dark hair, dark eyes, and olive skin would be ideal. Blond, blue-eyed Stuart was certainly handsome, and Martin had always enjoyed their intimacy, but Martin didn’t want a blond master. Noah had glimmering copper hair and porcelain skin, but there was a great deal of jealousy between them, and Martin found Noah’s personality so odious that he couldn’t find him attractive at all. Still, a master with Noah’s coloring wouldn’t be terrible, provided his character was more admirable. But really, ideally, Martin’s master would be dark. He thought he would rather have a homely dark boy than a handsome blond.

But, of course, he would have no say in it whatsoever. It would all depend upon a master’s preferences.

Martin considered his own coloring, his own attractiveness. He understood that he, like all companions, was of exceptional appearance; plain boys became butlers and footmen. He was quite pale, with reddish hair that was neither brown nor blond; he was quite vain about his strawberry hair. He had high cheekbones, full lips, a strong jaw. His eyes were an unusual shade of gold-tinged green and were said to be one of his best features. However, he did wear glasses, and that evidence of imperfection might be enough to dissuade a prospective master. He was tall, possibly too tall to appeal to some, and lean and fit. He was muscular and strong, but sleek rather than bulky. Ganymede had endeavored to mold Martin into the most optimal version of himself, and now it was dependent upon a master’s taste whether or not he would be chosen.

Georgie put down his fork. “So, Martin. Did you say all your goodbyes?”

Martin paused with his coffee cup before his lips. “Well, I said them to all the other sixteens, but I still have some younger boys I want to try to see before we leave.”

“Who’s that one you especially like? The runty little eleven?”

Martin smiled. “That’s Frankie. I won’t leave without seeing Frankie.”

“You certainly get along with kids,” Georgie remarked. “When you were making wishes at the bonfire last night, I hope you wished for a master with a little brother.”

Martin had, in fact, wished for this, though he hadn’t been picky about whether it would be a brother or sister. He just wanted a surrogate sibling, and he wanted a master who would allow him to be friendly with the younger child. He was going to miss the little Ganymede boys.

“The little guys are really going to miss you,” Charlie remarked, tilting in his chair to bump Martin with his shoulder. “You and Philip and Mitch. Hopefully some of the fifteens will take up the slack and play with the poor little buggers.”

Martin had always liked the sociability of life on the farm and had taken advantage of the opportunities to know boys of all ages and interests. He liked being around the little ones because they were funny and sweet and saw things in surprising ways. While he’d never have children of his own, he hoped his master might eventually have a family, and that he would be allowed to share in the childcare to some degree. He did understand that it wasn’t considered fitting for men to participate in child-rearing out in the wider world; however, here at Ganymede, where nearly everyone was male, it was definitely considered men’s work.

Noah finished his plate and pushed it away from him. He slid his chair closer to Georgie’s and leaned his head on Georgie’s shoulder, and Georgie let him do it, though with a roll of his eyes and a slightly put-upon expression. Noah narrowed his eyes at Martin and snuggled closer to Georgie’s side. Martin tried not to let Noah’s possessive behavior annoy him. After all, Georgie had made sure he and Martin had had time alone during the party last night, and they’d shared sex that had felt a little meaningful; it had been a proper enough goodbye. Clingy Noah would have to give Georgie up for good soon enough; Martin wouldn’t add to the day’s stresses by challenging Noah’s claim.

As they ate and talked, boys continued to wander into the mess hall, filling up plates and sitting down to a last breakfast with their friends. When nearly all of the boys were in the room, eating and sipping coffee, their group’s minders, Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott, stood at the head of the room and asked for a moment of everyone’s attention.

“Congratulations, boys,” Mr. Jacob said. “Just one more day!”

There was scattered cheering, a current of excitement.

“I trust you all had a satisfactory farewell party?” he asked, and waited a moment for their approving laughter, their quick applause.

“Everything you’ve worked so hard for will be yours tomorrow. We’re so proud of you, you know.” Mr. Jacob did look proud, and very fond. He was the nicer of the two, softer and kinder. He had been trained as a companion himself, but a skin condition that resulted in scars and pits all over his handsome face had prevented him from becoming a full-fledged, salable companion. Now nearing 30, he had been training and chaperoning young companions for a dozen years.

It was said that Mr. Elliott had been an angelic child when he was chosen to train, but he’d grown into an ungainly man. He was tall and gawky, his ears stuck out like handles, his chin was weak, and his nose was outsized. He was stricter and more businesslike than Mr. Jacob. “Do any of you have any questions about what’s happening today or tomorrow?” Mr. Elliott asked. “We have time for questions now, and we might not later. Remember, as soon as we leave the farm, you’re representing Ganymede. You’ll represent Ganymede for the rest of your lives, and you’re expected to do us proud.”

Across the room, Jerome put his hand in the air, and Mr. Elliott said, “Yes, Jerome?”

“I think we all want to be good representatives for the House, Mr. E, but we hear things about the boys at other Houses,” Jerome began. “We hear that they flirt, and make offers, and…how are we supposed to compete with that?”

Both Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott shook their heads at the idea of Ganymede needing to compete.

“Ganymede is the oldest House,” Mr. Elliott said. “The oldest and best, and our reputation is unparalleled. We’re known for excellent service, including sex. We don’t need to seduce prospective masters in the auction hall to prove our worth.” Mr. Elliott shuddered with distaste at this, the idea of vulgar boys being inappropriate. “Each of you has a stellar pedigree. You’ll all find quality masters because you’re all quality boys. It’s not necessary for you to offer to suck some prospective master’s cock to get attention. Everyone knows you’re the best slaves on offer, including those boys offered at other Houses. Most importantly, the fathers of these young masters know you’re the best, and the fathers are the ones placing the bids.” Mr. Elliott sounded supremely confident in what he was saying, and Mr. Jacob was nodding along, in full agreement.

Mr. Jacob attempted to reassure them, as well. “Each of you was chosen carefully for this role, and you’ve been trained to the highest possible standard. You’re handsome, talented and clever, every one of you. You’ll have no trouble finding excellent homes without resorting to groveling. You’re from Ganymede, after all.”

“Any other questions?” Mr. Elliott cocked his head and surveyed the room. The boys all looked at one another, but no one raised his hand. Mr. Elliott shrugged. “All right then. We’ll meet up in the common room and leave for the train at 10 o’clock,” Mr. Elliott said. “You’ll need to finish up your business here for good and for all before then. If you need to say goodbyes to the younger boys, try not to distract them from their work for too long. And be sure you’re clean to get on the train—no coming straight from anyone’s bed!”

“Has anyone seen Rex? Or Mitch?” Mr. Jacob asked, peering out over the tables. “I haven’t seen Ben, either. Has anyone seen them this morning?”

“They’re somewhere,” Mr. Elliott reassured him, unconcerned. “I’ll just make a pass through the bedrooms. Wake up any late-risers.” With that, he turned and left the dining hall, presumably in search of stray boys.

Martin glanced at the clock, stood up, and pushed in his chair.

“Where are you going?” Charlie asked.

“I’m going to see if I can find Frankie.”

Charlie gave him a wry smile. “You’re a good brother.”

Martin gave Georgie’s arm a squeeze and bent to kiss the part in Charlie’s hair as he left the dining hall. The sun seemed especially bright, hazy colored dots floating in his vision, and he blinked owlishly as he made his way to the horse barn to see if Frankie’s cohort were having their riding lesson.

The little boys—they were no longer elevens anymore, Martin realized with a sentimental pang, but as of last night were twelves—were taking their turns to ride. Ganymede had a great number of horses, but there were even more boys, and everyone had to share. That was how Martin had first met Frankie—the younger boy had been grooming the horse they both rode, a temperamental black mare named Bonnie. At the time, Frankie had been just an eight, and Martin a thirteen in his first year of companion training, and Martin had initially taken an interest in the little fellow because he found Frankie’s frequent fits of exasperation with their shared horse amusing. Over time they’d become genuine friends, their relation one of brotherly affection with a healthy dose of hero worship from Frankie’s side.

It was dim and cool under the barn’s roof, with a nice cross-breeze through the big open side doors. The little boys were sitting up very straight on their horses’ backs as they made a circuit of the ring under the riding master’s critical eye. Martin scanned the faces of the waiting boys but did not see Frankie. Glancing into the ring, he first saw Bonnie, and then Frankie’s pale, heart-shaped face, his dark brows angled together in a vee of surly concentration. Frankie and Bonnie still didn’t get on terribly well.

Some others of the waiting boys were excited to see Martin, full of questions about his future that he was unable to answer.

“What kind of master will you have?”

“What’s the city like?”

“Will the slaves at your new house be nice?”

But they had other questions that he could answer readily.

“Will you miss us? Will you miss the farm?”

“I’ll definitely miss you,” Martin told them. “And Ganymede is my home, isn’t it? I know I’ll be going to a nice place, but I’m sad to leave this one.”

There was some commotion while the riders, Frankie included, dismounted and handed their steeds off to the waiting boys. Martin lost sight of him in the crowd for a few moments, as Frankie was shorter than most of the others. Frankie had an elfin delicacy that he did not appreciate, as he wanted to be a manly specimen and was impatient to grow up. As Frankie exited the ring, he saw Martin right away and his solemn little face was enlivened by a wide, pleased smile.

“You came! I was afraid you’d leave without seeing me!”

“I wouldn’t have left without saying goodbye to you.” Martin bent to give Frankie a quick hug, to press his cheek against the younger boy’s hair. “Do you have a minute to talk, do you think?”

Frankie darted a glance at the riding master and thought a moment. “There’s this group and then the next one before it’s my turn again. I think there should be enough time, don’t you?”

Martin led him out of the crowd, stopping in a shady spot just inside the barn where there was a hay bale they could perch on. Frankie hopped up to sit, legs swinging and heels kicking against the bale.

“I’m so happy you came,” Frankie offered shyly. “The others said you wouldn’t have time.”

“I’m making time,” Martin said. “You’re important to me, Frankie. You know we probably won’t ever see each other again, but I want to be sure you understand that it isn’t because I don’t love you.”

“Next year when I get my training assignment, I’ll be a companion, too,” Frankie said confidently, “and when I grow up and get a master in the city, I’ll find you and we’ll be friends again.”

“That might happen,” Martin allowed, taking Frankie’s hand. “But for now, I just want you to know how much I care about you, all right? Whatever assignment you get next year, I know you’ll work hard and do a good job.”

“I don’t want to be anything other than a companion,” Frankie insisted. “The rest of the jobs are stupid.”

“Don’t be like that. There’s nothing wrong with being a butler or a footman or anything else.”

“I want to be like you.”

“Then you’ll work hard at whatever job you’re given. That’s what I do.”

Frankie was silent a moment, then said, “I wish you didn’t have to leave.” He picked at a patch on the knee of his trousers and then bumped Martin’s leg with that knee.

Martin thought about what he might say. “It’s my time, though, Frankie. I’m excited to begin the next stage of my life. But I will miss you so much. I promise I won’t forget you, all right?”

Frankie bit his lip and lowered his head, hiding his face. His voice wavered as he said, “I won’t forget you, either, Martin,” and then he turned and buried his face against Martin’s shirtfront. Martin put an arm around his narrow shoulders and let him cry. His throat grew tight as he realized he might never know what would happen to Frankie, whether he would make companion or not. They wouldn’t be allowed to write—it was forbidden for slaves in training to exchange letters with anyone outside the farm, even their former Ganymede comrades.

Martin bent his head and kissed Frankie’s soft, flyaway hair, and Frankie made a loud, hiccupping sob and clung tighter to Martin’s shirt.

“Promise me you’ll be a good boy and work hard, and then I’ll know for sure you’ll be successful, all right?”

“When I grow up and have a master of my own, I’ll find you,” Frankie said again stubbornly.

“I’d be very happy to meet you again someday,” Martin assured him. “I’d be proud to know you when you’re grown.”

Frankie let out a long, shuddering sigh and let go of Martin’s shirt. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve and gave a loud sniff.

“Here—” Martin dug his handkerchief out of his trouser pocket and offered it to Frankie.

“I’m okay,” Frankie insisted, rejecting the offered cloth with a shake of his head. “I have my own. I just didn’t feel like getting it out.”

Martin snorted and gave Frankie a nudge. “If you want to be a companion, you’ll have to start using a handkerchief instead of your sleeve, you know.”

Frankie nudged back and snickered.

The boys in the ring relinquished their horses to the next in line.

“It’ll be my turn again soon,” Frankie noted. After a few moments pause, he said, “Do you think Bonnie will miss you?”

Martin laughed. “I doubt it. I think Bonnie really just wants to be left alone to eat grass with no boys around at all.”

I’m going to miss you,” Frankie told him. “Of all the big boys, you’re the best at reading to us and doing voices. I don’t know who’s going to read to us now.”

“Someone will want to do it,” Martin assured him, giving him a squeeze. “It’s fun, after all.”

“They won’t be as good as you, though.” Frankie seemed quite confident of this.

“They might be. Lots of boys are good at reading aloud.”

Frankie gave him a sidelong, dubious glance, doubting this very much. “It won’t be the same,” he insisted, and Martin didn’t argue with him on this point. It wouldn’t be the same.

“If I ask,” Frankie began, a hint of bargaining in his tone, “do you think they’ll tell me where you go? If I ask nicely?”

Martin shook his head. “You probably shouldn’t ask. I’ll go somewhere good, though, Frankie. I’ll have a good master, I’m sure of it.”

Frankie leaned heavily on Martin’s side and put his spindly little arm around the back of Martin’s waist. They were quiet for awhile, not having much more they needed to say.

Finally, Martin bent his head and said, “I think it’s near time, Frankie. Let’s say goodbye for real, all right?”

Frankie’s eyes welled with tears, but he gave a hard sniff and set his jaw and slid down from the bale to stand at Martin’s side. Martin knelt down and held his arms open, and Frankie threw himself into the embrace. His little body was hot and trembling, and he tightened his arms around Martin’s neck and clung.

“I love you, Frankie, and I’m going to miss you a lot.”

Frankie’s whisper was so hoarse it was almost inaudible. “I love you, too. I don’t want you to go.”

“You know I have to. Let’s both be strong, all right?” Martin rubbed Frankie’s back and tousled his hair. “It was lucky we got to know each other so well. Let’s remember all the fun we had and try not to be sad.”

The boys in the ring were sliding down out of the saddles.

“It’s your turn.” Martin quickly kissed Frankie on both cheeks and a last time on his forehead, smoothed his hair back from his face, squeezed his shoulders, and steered him toward the riding ring. “Go show Bonnie who’s boss.”

Frankie went to join his cohort, his back very straight, and there was a terrible empty pain in Martin’s chest as he watched him go. Frankie turned back for just a moment, hesitant, as if he doubted Martin would still be there, and gave Martin an unsteady smile before quickly turning away again. He would be all right in the end, Martin thought. As Frankie stepped into the ring, Martin turned and left the barn.

The sun seemed too bright, searingly bright, stinging Martin’s eyes. He did not know if he could bear to say goodbyes to any of the other little boys. They’d all been warned that the older boys simply might not have time for them, and that would have to be his excuse. After Frankie, he felt quite sure it would hurt his heart too much to look at their faces.

He made his way back to the dormitory. Their beds had already been assigned to the new crop of companions-in-training, so he went to the common room to wait until it was time to go to the station. Leo and Sandy were there already and beckoned him to their couch, and the three of them petted and soothed one another, Martin sprawled across his friends’ laps.

“You seem sad,” Sandy said, trailing languid fingers through the open neck of Martin’s shirt.

“I said goodbye to Frankie,” Martin told him. “The goodbyes are just going to get harder, I think.” And then he remembered who he was with, and the duration of their bond, and felt ashamed of his insensitivity.

But his friends didn’t seem to take offense. Leo said, “Most of us will end up in the city, don’t you think? We might have chances to see one another again.”

“We might,” Sandy echoed, his attempt to be optimistic seeming very valiant. He reached inside Martin’s shirt and brushed his fingertips over a nipple, grinning when Martin squirmed. “Do you want me to do it again?”

“Do what you want,” Martin suggested, arching his back a little by way of encouragement.

Any other day, they wouldn’t have been bold enough to kiss and caress in the common room, but today was different. They no longer belonged here, rogue elements with nowhere to be, and it seemed like the regular rules should no longer apply. Leo bent to kiss Martin, holding him where he wanted him with a hand twisted in his hair, and Sandy was ready to claim Martin’s mouth when Leo broke away gasping.

Martin enjoyed kissing both Leo and Sandy, but even more he liked watching them together. They were the only real lovers of their group, devoted to one another for most of their short lives, and they had a tender, passionate regard for one another that made Martin ache for a lover of his own. Maybe there would be another slave in his new household who would care for him, someone who would appreciate every loving thing Martin had learned in company with all the clever, beautiful boys of his cohort.

The other boys drifted in singly and in pairs and observed what was happening with interest, then made similar arrangements for themselves. By the time all twenty-three companions had settled in the common room, necking in pairs and little groups, the atmosphere was charged and thick with the smell of wet, aroused boy. No one had yet dared unbutton his trousers, however, when Mr. Elliott swept in and clapped his hands loudly.

“Boys! Boys! We leave for the train in five minutes! Put yourselves in order, please!”

Immediately, boys broke apart and began buttoning their shirts and retying their hair, red-faced.

“Use the toilet if you need,” Mr. Jacob reminded them. “It’s forty minutes to the station and we won’t be stopping along the way.”

Their minders herded them toward the wagons, and the boys working in the garden near the barn where the wagons were kept all put down their hoes and spades and came to say goodbye and offer encouragement. It was heartening to see how much goodwill the rest of the boys in the House had for companions. Martin was hugged and had his cheek kissed by boys he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen before and then climbed up into the wagon in good spirits.

While they settled in the wagons, a minder for the twelves—or, rather, the thirteens now—hustled up with a set of pretty blond twins, Conrad and Gideon, who would serve as decoration at the auction. They would stand at either side of the showroom doors handing out Ganymede favors, blue ribbons and miniature silver chalices, to all potential bidders.

Conrad and Gideon were certainly attractive enough to make companion, but they’d be training as footmen. People liked having matched sets of footmen, so identical twins were nearly always trained as such. A handsome matched pair could easily bring in as much as any two quality companions.

The twins were gregarious, cheerful boys, well-known to the older boys simply because they were very visible about the farm and so notable for their likeness. Mr. Jacob seated them at the front of the wagon where he could keep an eye on them and gave the driver the go-ahead to depart.

Martin’s chest felt tight as they passed through the farm’s gate. Chances were good he’d never see the farm again. He’d known his whole life that he’d be going to New York City to be sold, and that he’d probably even live there, and the idea had always excited him. However, the farm was all he knew. It seemed as though everything familiar was being taken from him at once.

The day was bright and hot, and they all squinted in the sun as they sat swaying in the open wagons, the mood subdued and voices kept low. Mr. Jacob left his seat and came to sit beside Martin.

“Are you excited, Martin? We have such high hopes for you.” He patted Martins’ knee and gave it a squeeze.

Martin swallowed, suddenly nervous. “Y-yes, Mr. J. I am excited. I’m a little scared, though, too,” he admitted.

“Now, really, Martin, what do you have to be scared about?” Mr. Jacob smiled and put his arm around Martin’s back. “You’re a very special boy. We know you’ll find a good place.” He lowered his voice and said, “It’s the Standard boys who should be worried! Lazy Lloyd and poor, befuddled Rex! The Standard boys are the ones in competition with the stock at other Houses. Choice and Superior boys from Ganymede have no competition.” Mr. Jacob always sounded so sure of himself when he touted the superiority of his charges, but surely the boys at other Houses had some merits.

At the station, the auction-bound train was waiting for them on a siding. Cars for Orpheus and Perseus, Houses whose farms were further north, already held a full complement of young passengers. The Ganymede car was painted the familiar azure blue that marked all things that belonged to the House, GANYMEDE and the silhouette of a chalice painted in cream and outlined in black. The black-and-red car of House Apollo was coupled to it, and Apollo boys were already boarding. The Ganymede boys were all very interested in seeing their counterparts from competing Houses, but they were hurried onto their car without much opportunity to look around. Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott enlisted Winston, Lloyd, Rex and Philip—all Standard boys—to load the wicker hampers with their lunches and auction clothes while the rest of the boys found their seats.

Martin had seen hundreds of trains pass by on the tracks that ran alongside the Ganymede fields, but neither he nor any of the other boys had ever had occasion to ride one. The paint on the outside of their car appeared fresh, but the inside was well-worn, like most things at Ganymede. Martin had seen pictures of train cars with plush upholstered chairs for passengers, but this was not so fancy as that; the Ganymede car had two rows of utilitarian bench seats with a center aisle, and these quickly filled up with pairs of boys.

As it happened, everyone sat with his bed partner, but Martin hadn’t had a partner these last two years, so he was left to sit alone in a seat near the front. He’d thought to go squeeze in with Georgie, but just a glance in Georgie’s direction earned him a venomous glare from Noah, who clung possessively to Georgie’s arm, sticking to his side like a limpet.

Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott, along with the twins, were the last to board. Mr. Jacob directed the twins to sit in the front row opposite the car door. Mr. Elliott sat down on the other front row bench and turned to look back over the boys, his expression stern. Mr. Jacob stood in the aisle and clapped his hands.

“Boys! Boys, take your seats. Settle yourselves, please! There’s absolutely no need for you to be moving about. We’ll be underway in a matter of minutes.” He waited until they had quieted sufficiently before sitting down next to Mr. Elliott. They spoke in low voices, their heads inclined together. Martin wished that one of them would come sit with him, and he could certainly ask for that, but he wanted someone to notice that he was feeling left out.

He was being silly. Sighing, Martin turned around and faced front, then let his head tilt against the window, staring out unseeing at the rail yard. There was a strong jerk, metal groaned, and the car shuddered beneath them as the train began to slowly roll forward. Some of the boys gave a nervous, excited cheer, but Martin did not join in.

It was discovered that the car windows could be opened, and soon nearly every window stood open, the crosswinds stirring the boys’ hair and whipping their long tails into each other’s faces. The rumble of metal wheels on metal track had already been quite loud, but now it was a roar, and there was a strong smell of coal smoke. 

“Keep your hands inside the car!” Mr. Elliott snapped. “Shut those windows!” There was some negotiation, and it was decided that four windows could remain open for ventilation, but heads and limbs were to remain inside the compartment at all times.

Once they were well clear of the depot, Mr. Jacob stood again. “Boys! Attention, please! I want to lay out the rules for our journey today.” He waited for quiet, his frown suggesting that his patience was finite. Gradually, the hubbub in the car quieted and Mr. Jacob had their attention.

“We know this is an emotional time for you, and you’ll want to say your goodbyes, but understand that we expect you to have gotten your fill of certain activities last night.” He paused while boys snickered and nudged one another. “Note, please: you are forbidden from engaging in intercourse from this point forward. You need to be scrupulously clean for the sale tomorrow. We don’t need any prospective master examining you and coming away with a mess.” There were more snickers, uncomfortable this time. No one would want to disgust or offend a prospective master!

“You may use your hands and mouths as you see fit until we get to the city—within reason. Keep your voices down—I’m talking to you, Mitch!—and don’t wear yourselves out.”

“What about when we reach the auction hall, Mr. J?” asked Ben.

“We won’t be needlessly strict,” Mr. Jacob said. “We’ll allow kissing on the lips tonight and before the sale, but nothing else, no other contact of any sort until your new master takes ownership and starts telling you what he wants you to do. Believe me, they’ll keep you busy. They’ve been anticipating this day just as much as you have.”

“We have a long ride ahead of us. We’ll have our lunch around 1 o’clock,” Mr. Elliott said, glancing at his pocket watch. “I’ll ask again: does anyone have any questions about the auction?” He looked out over the compartment and then shrugged. “Very well then. If you think of anything, I encourage you to ask.” He then turned to the twins. “Face forward and be good,” he said. “Let the big boys have some privacy.”

Evidently, Mr. Jacob did not trust the twins to obey Mr. Elliott; he dosed them from a bottle of laudanum to put them to sleep and patted their heads. He then sat down next to Mr. Elliott, effectively leaving the older boys to their own devices.

All around the car, conversations broke out, low voices chattering and negotiating favors. Martin turned around to look at his friends, but everyone he was especially close to was engaged with his seatmate in some intimate way, whether mere conversation or a more physical encounter, and he didn’t want to intrude.

Martin had been in training for auction day all of his life, but now that it was almost upon him, he felt unprepared. He’d always understood that someone else, a master, would decide the course of his life, but something in Martin’s nature made him wish for control. He felt like a fraud because he was meant to be the best of the best, but he knew he was far from an ideal slave. His mind was rebellious, making him wish for things he had no right to desire.

He wanted his master to be a handsome boy, dark and handsome, and he wanted this master to like him more than he was supposed to. He wanted to beguile this rich, privileged, handsome boy and make him want to do Martin favors, to touch him and care for him in ways that masters weren’t supposed to do. He had never voiced these desires to any of his friends or teachers because they certainly weren’t the thoughts of a top boy, a servile boy, the sort of boy Martin was supposed to be.

Martin had only ever wanted to be the best. He’d dreamed of becoming a companion, one of the elite, and one of his happiest, most triumphant memories was hearing his name called when Mr. Jacob read from the list of boys who were to be his new charges.

Martin and his friends had had a good life at Ganymede. Up until they became sixes, their lives were simple and they had no real responsibilities beyond working to get along, minding their manners, and learning their letters. They’d played outdoors in good weather and inside the barns in bad. They’d had plenty of food to eat and were treated with kindness and affection by the adults and older boys. Most importantly, they’d had each other, all the other boys in their cohort. They’d slept together in warm heaps of tangled limbs and milky breath, and they’d roamed the farm in cheerful marauding packs, trailed by harried, patient minders. 

From their sixth through twelfth years, boys had outdoor chores and did all manner of farm work in addition to attending lessons in the farm’s classrooms. Ganymede was a dairy farm and also grew apples and potatoes for sale in the nearby towns and as far away as the city. Additional gardens supplied food for the residents of the farm, and there were chickens and hogs that needed tending, as well. Once you were a six, you worked at something, whether it was farm labor or efforts to improve yourself.

As a companion-in-training, Martin was in a special category and no longer had to do farm work; no more milking duties, no gardening, no harvesting. Instead, he had been encouraged to cultivate talents, to develop interests that might make him appealing to a rich family. His skills as rider, dancer and musician had been honed. He had been required to exercise, to strengthen and improve his body, and it had been impressed upon him that this should be a lifelong endeavor.

Martin’s childhood friends were not the boys he was close with now, but he loved them all the same, and he’d said heartfelt goodbyes at the party. But his friends now, his fellow companions, understood him better than the boys he’d loved when he was just a six, or even a twelve. They’d gone through the same things, had the same training, learned the same lessons. They understood how hard Martin had worked and acknowledged his effort; he was well-liked and respected amongst their group.

With this in mind, Martin surveyed the compartment again, hoping someone might want his company. Leo and Sandy were kissing passionately, and it looked as though Sandy was crying again. Stuart was slumped against the wall of the train car, his cheeks pink and lips parted, but Charlie was not visible at all, hunkered down below the level of the seatbacks. Noah was straddling Georgie’s lap and moving against him with his head thrown back, and, as Martin watched, he put his hands to either side of Georgie’s face and bent to kiss him.

It seemed that he was essentially forgotten. All the rest were in urgent pursuit of pleasure, and Martin felt keenly the loss of his bedmate, his handsome Richard, who had died unexpectedly two years prior. What he wouldn’t give to have Richard beside him now, even knowing they’d be separated again tomorrow!

The tenor of Martin’s thoughts veered from hurt feelings to anxiety to a sort of anticipatory boredom, both dull and alert. He watched the landscape whip by, fields and cows and trees, and tried to imagine what the city would look like. The closest any of them had ever been to a city was the Ganymede produce stand at the market in the town nearest the farm. They’d all had a turn selling apples there, and most of the boys had appreciated the opportunities to interact with girls, both the free girls buying apples and the slaves-in-training from House Demeter who brought eggs to market.

Being tall and handsome, Martin drew plentiful female attention, but he wasn’t attracted to girls. He liked them well enough to talk to, but he had no interest in intimacies with them. Boys like Martin were always made companions if they were attractive and reasonably intelligent. A few of the others were like him, completely uninterested in women, but most of his friends were attracted to both men and women to some degree. You couldn’t really be a proper companion if you didn’t enjoy sex with other men, after all. Growing up surrounded by boys and men, you naturally became accustomed to taking your comfort from other boys, even if you felt you’d rather be with a woman if given the choice.

Maybe he should see if the twins were still awake and wanted to play some game or be told a story. It wasn’t how he’d imagined spending his last day with his cohort, to be sure, but it would be better than moping. He was about to call out to them when he heard his own name.

“Martin! Martin, why are you alone? Come sit with us!”

Martin turned to see Ben and Mitch beckoning and grinning at him. Ben was a pretty little thing with tawny hair and blue eyes, and his best friend Mitch had just the sort of coloring Martin liked. They were both Choice boys. Perhaps it was snobbish, but the Superior boys tended to socialize with only other Superiors and the Choice fellows, letting the Standards fend for themselves.

Martin returned their smiles and got up from his seat. He made his way down the aisle, swaying slightly with the movement of the car. Mitch got up and welcomed Martin to sit beside Ben with a graceful sweep of his hand, then slid in next to him, hip to hip.

“None of us should be alone today,” Ben said, taking Martin’s hand. He leaned his head on Martin’s shoulder and idly played with his fingers. “I want to find a master, I really do, but I wish I could have a master and still keep my friends close.”

Mitch slipped his arm around Martin’s shoulders and leaned close, his breath tickling Martin’s ear.  “I was too shy to say so when we were together, but you’re a wonderful partner. You were so good to Benny, too. It’s obvious to me why you’re top boy.”

“Thank you.” Martin’s cheeks pinked at the praise.

Ben shifted in his seat. “Can I…?” He neither finished his sentence nor waited for an answer, but instead got up on his knees and straddled Martin’s lap. “If I remember correctly, you’re a really good kisser.”

Martin laughed. “You could test me to see if your memory serves you well.”

They necked for a bit, Ben grinding against Martin’s lap and panting in his mouth. Mitch watched, occasionally dipping in to kiss Martin’s neck or to steal a kiss from Ben, and every now and then he pushed at his cock with the heel of his hand. Martin decided he would ask Ben to suck him and had opened his mouth to voice the request when a hand came down heavily on his shoulder. He turned and looked up into Georgie’s face. Georgie’s hair was out of its tail and his braces were off his shoulders and hanging at his hips.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Georgie said, though he plainly was not sorry at all. “I need Martin.”

“We’re right in the middle—” Ben began.

“Finish with Mitch,” Georgie suggested, unconcerned. “I have limited time and you know Martin’s special to me.”

“We all have limited time,” Ben pointed out testily, though he did climb off Martin’s lap.

Mitch sighed and got up to let Martin out.

There was a wet spot on the front of Martin’s faded trousers and his cock was obviously hard, but it wasn’t the sort of thing that any of his friends would find remarkable. It would be different out in the wider world, the world of masters, where you were required to be discreet about your arousal.

Georgie took Martin’s elbow and steered him up the aisle to his empty seat.

“You’re bossy,” Martin said, though he wasn’t complaining.

“I made a deal with Noah so he would leave us alone for a bit.”

“What did you promise him?” Martin took his seat and Georgie sat next to him.

Georgie rolled his eyes. “I promised I wouldn’t suck your cock, so be warned I won’t be doing that.”

Martin laughed.

“He wanted reassurances, as well, so I said some sweet things to him, and I did mean a few of them. I do care about him, after all. He’s really only horrible when it comes to you.”

“I don’t know why he bothers being so jealous. You chose him, after all.”

“I haven’t chosen anybody,” Georgie insisted. “I’ve just shared a bed with him.” He stroked Martin’s hair, smoothing the strands, and then touched his cheek. “But do you really want to spend our time talking about my relation to Noah? Wouldn’t you rather kiss me instead?”

“I would rather kiss you,” Martin said readily, nodding agreement.

“Then do it.”

Martin put his arms around Georgie’s neck and gave him a tender kiss, the soft press of his lips followed by the merest flick of his tongue. Georgie sighed and opened his mouth for Martin to deepen the kiss and fisted his hand in Martin’s hair. Out of the corner of his eye, Martin saw Noah glaring, and he shifted in his seat so he wouldn’t have to look at Noah any more.

“Get on my lap,” Georgie said. He slid to the middle of the bench as Martin obediently moved to kneel astride his thighs. He rubbed Martin’s hard prick through his trousers and then began unbuttoning the placket.

Martin shrugged out of his braces and bent to kiss him. “What are you doing?”

Georgie snorted. “Well, I’m not going to suck you. But I want to make you come.” Martin’s prick sprang forth from the vee of his trousers, wet and slick, and Georgie took hold of it with just light pressure, fingers barely touching the tissue-thin skin. They both watched, breathing hard, as Georgie played with it, petting the head. Martin shuddered and a surge of fluid welled up from the slit, a thick droplet sliding down the shaft and disappearing into wiry reddish hair.

“What about you?” Martin asked in a low whisper. “Don’t you want to come, too?” He reached for Georgie’s buttons.

Georgie shook his head and stayed Martin’s hand. “Not yet, all right? I want to give you my full attention.” He gave Martin more of the delicate, glancing contact that had him squirming and rocking his hips in search of more pressure. “You’re always so eager,” Georgie said fondly, his voice husky. “Begging for it.”

Martin scoffed at this. “I don’t beg.” He lifted his hips in insistent little thrusts against Georgie’s palm.

“Maybe not with your mouth,” Georgie countered. “But you do with your body. You do with your eyes.” He wrapped his fingers around Martin’s prick and at last gave him the definitive touch he craved. Martin moaned and trembled as Georgie gave him a few squeezing strokes, his thumb sliding across the wet head on each upstroke. Martin took Georgie’s mouth in a hard, insistent kiss and thrust into his fist. To his dismay, Georgie let go of his cock.

“Georgie?” he asked, baffled and blinking, blood pounding in his ears.

“Please don’t come yet. This might be the last time we ever do this.” Georgie did not look at him, uncharacteristically shy. “I don’t want it to be over in a hurry, all right?”

Martin was touched by this and melted into Georgie’s embrace. They kissed and Georgie pulled the tie from Martin’s hair and took the loose waves in slippery handfuls. A few kisses later, they held each other desperately close, rocking in a tight embrace.

“I’ll miss you,” Georgie said quietly. “I’ll never forget you.”

“I won’t forget you, either,” Martin promised. He was quite sure he would never forget any of these boys, even the Standards. He wasn’t in love with Georgie, but he did love him, and they’d shared so much. He tightened his arms around Georgie’s neck and they kissed again, deeper and more languid. Georgie slid his hand between their bodies and took hold of Martin’s cock again and squeezed, slow strokes.

Martin sighed and moved against Georgie’s hand. They had done this so many times, dozens and dozens, and Georgie’s fingers felt almost as familiar as his own, and Martin would miss this, this deeply erotic ease, and he trembled as Georgie touched him with practiced skill.

When he came, he called out, “Georgie!” and shuddered against him, burying his face in Georgie’s neck.

Georgie caught Martin’s mess in his hand. He brought his hand to his mouth and licked his palm, then offered his sticky fingers to Martin to lick clean. Martin kept his eyes on Georgie’s as he did it, both of them very solemn. No doubt Noah would be angry that Georgie had tasted him, but he hadn’t actually sucked Martin’s cock, after all.

“Am I forbidden from sucking you?” Martin asked, petting Georgie’s hard cock through his trousers.

Georgie thought about this a moment. “Hmm. I’d like it, of course, but I think you’d better not. He’s so upset about everything already. I don’t want to hurt him, you know.”

They weren’t supposed to be jealous, none of them, but boys still formed attachments. Boys still had rivalries. When they were all new companions-in-training, Noah had wanted Richard for a partner, but Richard had chosen Martin instead, and Noah had gone with Georgie. When Richard had died, Georgie had been one of the boys who’d made sure Martin had comfort, and an angry Noah had accused Martin of wanting to take away everything that mattered to him. It seemed obvious to Martin that Georgie cared a great deal for Noah, much more than he’d admit, because he put up with so much bad behavior. But no matter their feelings for one another, they were all destined for other partners, and Martin wasn’t sure Noah understood or accepted that.  

“Use your hand,” Georgie said. “Touch me and kiss me. Just do that much.”

Martin did as Georgie asked and Georgie came, moaning into his mouth. Together they licked Martin’s hand clean.

“Will you do something for me?”

“What?” Martin asked.

“Will you think of me every now and then? Will you remember me? Will you touch yourself like I would do and make yourself come for me?”

If Martin’s master wasn’t a beautiful boy, as he likely wouldn’t be, it would be useful to imagine handsome Georgie in his place. “You didn’t have to ask me that,” Martin assured him. “Of course I will.”

“I needed to hear you say so, though.”

“Do you have to go back to sit with Noah?”

“No, not yet.”

Martin sat close within the curve of Georgie’s arm and leaned heavily against him. He yawned and took off his glasses and settled in, and Georgie bent to kiss his head.

“Will you stay here while I sleep a little?” Martin asked. He was hit with a sentimental pang. “Oh! I’m really going to miss sleeping with you!”

“Shh.” Georgie kissed him again. “Go to sleep. I’ll be here.”

Martin gradually relaxed and let the train rock him to sleep, comforted by Georgie’s familiar smells. He woke when Georgie nudged him awake. While he’d been sleeping, the train had made a stop to add on cars from more Houses, and it was now close to 2 o’clock. Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott were handing out paper-wrapped sandwiches and battered enamel cups of warm lemonade.

Noah got his sandwich and came to reclaim Georgie, sitting in the seat in front of Martin’s and leaning over the back practically into Georgie’s lap. Charlie and Stuart brought their food and came to sit in the seat directly behind.

Charlie, who was a notoriously fast eater, finished his sandwich and said, “Do you think it’s bad luck to talk about what sort of master we’d like?”

“Yes,” Noah said firmly.

“No,” Georgie said at the same time. “What do you want, Charlie?”

Charlie thought about it a moment. “I just hope he isn’t actually ugly. Hideous, I mean. It would be nice if he was handsome, but we’ve been warned so often that most masters aren’t that I’m pretty well reconciled to my master being homely.”

“I hope he’s clean,” Stuart said, making a face. “We all keep so clean for each other, but I don’t imagine free boys even think of such things.”

They all contemplated gamy cocks for a minute, noses wrinkled in distaste.

Georgie said, “I just hope he’s not a mean little bastard. I don’t want one who’ll be bossing me around for no other reason except he can.”

“Yes, I want a kind master,” Charlie agreed. “A nice boy, more or less. He doesn’t have to be an angel or anything, but a decent guy. That’s what I want.”

Noah cleared his throat self-consciously. “Not too fat.”

They all looked at him.

Noah blushed. “I don’t want some great huge boy squashing me,” he said, sounding somewhat defensive.

“Well, of course not.” Georgie put his hand on Noah’s arm and gave him a reassuring squeeze. “No one wants that.”

“In that case, you get on top and ride him,” Stuart pointed out. “Let him just relax and enjoy you, and no one gets squashed.”

“It would be nice if he wasn’t terrible at sex,” Charlie said. “I know I’ll have to teach him everything, but I hope he’ll learn. I hope he’ll listen to me.”

Martin thought the things his friends hoped for were very reasonable, very modest. He did not want to share his hopes because they were not reasonable at all. He wanted a handsome master, kind and affectionate, who’d touch him like a lover and treat him like a friend, and these wishes were desperately, unrealistically romantic. He’d been taught as much at Ganymede and it had been made very clear: his master would be an ordinary boy with an extraordinary bank account, and he would be under no obligation to think of his slave as a person.

They all finished their sandwiches and then Noah came to squeeze in beside Georgie, forcing Martin up against the wall of the car. Georgie kept his left arm around Martin’s shoulders but embraced Noah with his right. Martin thought Georgie enjoyed the enmity between Noah and himself a little too much at times.

Noah whispered in Georgie’s ear and they kissed, very tender and affectionate, and Martin grew annoyed in short order. “You could go back to your own seat, you know, if you’re not going to talk to me. You’d certainly have more room to do…whatever it is you’re doing.”

Georgie laughed and gave Martin a one-armed hug, but then did exactly as he had suggested, giving Noah a little push to encourage him up and out. Triumphant, Noah stood in the aisle and gave Martin a smug smirk.

Georgie leaned in and gave Martin a quick kiss. “He’s needy,” he explained in a low whisper. “You’re mostly not.” In a more normal tone, he said, “We’ll have more time together later, all right?”

Martin shrugged and turned up his nose haughtily, as if whatever Georgie might do was none of his concern. He slumped down in his seat, arms crossed over his chest.

Realistically, he wouldn’t get it from a master, of course, but he did want some young man, some other slave, to put him first, above everything but service. He didn’t want to have to compete for some boy’s divided attention; he wanted a man devoted to him and him alone. Please, he thought, please let there be someone for me.

He’d have ample opportunities to meet other slaves, he was quite sure, at the swap parties his master would participate in. If the teachers at Ganymede were correct, swap parties were practically all young gentlemen did with their free time. The masters would trade slaves with one another, and Martin was amenable to this, of course, but what he was looking forward to were the couplings with other slaves, the sex performed for the delectation of masters. It seemed possible he’d meet a boy who’d care for him, another Georgie or Charlie who would like him especially well, and he was very much looking forward to his master’s swap parties for this reason.   

Rex and Otto were enlisted to collect everyone’s cups and sandwich wrappers—Standard boys always did clean-up—and Mr. Elliott asked again if anyone had questions about the auction.

“Really, don’t you boys have questions about anything? Anything at all? The auction hall? The city?” Mr. Elliott seemed baffled by their lack of curiosity. “We’ve taught you as best we can, but I’m quite sure that living in the city will be a difficult adjustment for most of you.”

“Why is that, Mr. E?” asked Artie, one of the Standard boys. “Why will it be difficult?”

“Most boys are overwhelmed by the crowds and the noise and the dirt. Even with so many boys, the farm is very quiet in comparison.” Mr. Elliott considered a moment, then added, “You’ll all be going to grand homes, and you’ll likely be outfitted in good style, but out on the streets you’ll see evidence of poverty like nothing you’ve ever imagined and it can be very shocking.”

“We weren’t rich at Ganymede, though, Mr. E,” Rex pointed out.

Mr. Elliott and Mr. Jacob gave each other wry looks. Mr. Elliott said, “Ganymede gave you everything necessary to bring you to this point. You weren’t given luxuries because you didn’t require them, but you certainly didn’t grow up in poverty and deprivation!”

They had grown up with the knowledge that elsewhere, in the wider world, boys had their own bicycles and needn’t bicker about whose turn it was to ride. Elsewhere, boys had toys all to themselves. Elsewhere, boys had clothes that were bought new, just for them. But none of them had ever met boys like that; all they knew were the others on the farm, so it was hard to be envious of these imagined boys with their myriad privileges.

Of course, now each one of them was about to become another thing a privileged boy would have all to himself.

There’d been some attempts to train them to function in a city. Ganymede’s rickety horse-drawn omnibus was pulled up and down the road running past the farm loaded with boys taking turns playing at master and slave traveling via public conveyance. They’d pored over maps and handbooks. They’d been encouraged to be succinct and assertive in their dealings with shopkeepers. It had been impressed upon them that they should never, ever dawdle on a city sidewalk.

They were encouraged to depend upon their new family’s existing slaves for guidance, to learn from their examples. A family’s more senior companions would hopefully be welcoming to the newcomers and eager to help them learn to best please their young masters. The goal was to provide excellent, high-level service without any disruptions secondary to a slave’s unfamiliarity with city activities like riding public transport or negotiating a busy sidewalk. When a new companion climbed on an omnibus for the first time, his master shouldn’t have any idea he’d never done it before.

While they didn’t have practical experience of a city, they had practiced everything else. They knew how to dress and undress a gentleman. They knew a multitude of knots for neckties. They knew how to shave a man smoother than he’d ever shaved himself. They’d learned how to massage sore muscles and tense necks. They excelled at schoolwork. They’d learned to play all sorts of games that a young master might enjoy, poker and chess and parlor amusements, and they’d all learned to ride bicycles and horses. They knew the basics of serving at table and coordinating service with other slaves. They’d all been taught to defend themselves and their masters with their fists. And, of course, they were all very well-versed in sex.

Individually, they had their particular talents, the hobbies for which they’d shown aptitude, and which they’d pursued in an effort to become appealingly well-rounded. In addition to mastering all the usual skills, Martin played the violin well enough that he had served as first chair in the Ganymede orchestra this past year. He’d been the epée fencing champion for the fifteens and sixteens, and he was adept with bow and arrow. He did not care so much about the archery, but he had enjoyed fencing a great deal and he fervently hoped he’d be allowed to continue with the violin. He’d been warned, however, that a master might not be interested in music, and most families would balk at the cost of an instrument if the young master wasn’t enthusiastic. So really, Martin wanted a master who was dark, handsome, unusually kind, and a music lover besides, and odds were that he wouldn’t get this, or anything close. He might be top boy, but even a top boy couldn’t expect anything exceptional from a master.

Anyone might choose him. Anyone at all, and as long as he could pay, he could have Martin, and Martin would have no say in the matter.

Martin was slumped against the window, watching the landscape roll past, when Charlie slipped into the seat at his side and leaned close to kiss his cheek, just in front of his right ear. “Hey.”

“Hey yourself.” Martin shifted in his seat, turning towards Charlie with a grateful smile. It was not like him to be morose, and he welcomed the distraction of his friend’s company.

“I don’t know if we’ll have the chance later,” Charlie began, “so I wanted to talk to you before we get to the city.”

Embarrassingly, Martin felt his eyes begin to immediately tear up. He loved Charlie and was going to miss him. He loved all his friends. He gave a shaky laugh and said, “Don’t say anything to make me too sad, all right?”

Charlie laid his arm along the back of the seat and toyed with the neckband of Martin’s shirt. “I just want you to know how much I care for you,” he said shyly, not meeting Martin’s eyes. “You’ve been my favorite since we were just kids, and I know it wasn’t the same for you—”

“Charlie—”

“No, it’s all right. I know you wanted others more.” He indicated Georgie at the rear of the car with a jerk of his chin. “It’s all right, Martin. I’ve never needed you to feel the same. Besides, we’re not meant for each other, anyway.”

“No, we’re not,” Martin agreed. They were all meant for the rich boys who’d bid on them tomorrow. “But you’re one of my dearest friends. You know that, don’t you?”

“You’ve always been so sweet to me,” Charlie said by way of agreement. “Loving and generous. Your master is going to be so lucky. I’m just imagining some virgin boy who’s never had his cock sucked getting service from you.” He laughed. “He won’t know what’s happened to him! He won’t know how to react!”

Martin laughed. “That’s how they’ll all be, don’t you think? Everyone’s masters?”

Charlie put his hand around the back of Martin’s neck and gave it a little squeeze. “Will you do it for me one last time? I’ll be happy to return the favor.”

Martin glanced toward the front of the car, where Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott sat together talking in low voices, indifferent to the sighs and groans of their charges.

“We could move to the back, if you want,” Charlie suggested. “If you don’t want them to hear.”

“They’re making a point of not paying attention. I think they expect we’re all doing something anyway,” Martin pointed out. “I think they might be disappointed in us if we weren’t!” He reached for Charlie with both hands, running his fingers through his long dark hair. Charlie sighed and tilted his head to rest his cheek against Martin’s palm.

“I’ll miss your hands,” Charlie said wistfully. “I love the way you touch me.” He put his own hand on Martin’s cheek and caressed its curve. He leaned close and kissed Martin very softly, his breath fevered and sweet. Martin shivered with pleasure and opened his lips for Charlie’s tongue, darting and slick. Charlie took hold of his waist and pulled him close with a little grunt.

Martin paused to remove his glasses and they traded places, Martin straddling Charlie’s lap and moving against him while they kissed, then Charlie shifting to take the place by the window, Martin on the aisle. Charlie trembled and held Martin close and whispered, “Will you let me be the last of us to kiss you? Please?”

Martin shook his head, “I can’t promise you that, Charlie.” He reached down to unbutton the placket of Charlie’s trousers.

“What about this? Can mine be the last cock?”

Martin chuckled, considering this. They’d be in the city soon, and of course they wouldn’t be allowed any further sex once they’d arrived at the auction hall. If he’d been planning for sentimental cocksucking, he would have made Georgie the last one, but it was fine if it was Charlie instead. He’d be sucking a new cock by dinnertime tomorrow anyway.

“It’s important to you, isn’t it?”

You’re important to me.” Charlie seemed so lovelorn, so woebegone, and it moved Martin to be especially tender with him.

“Then you can be the last. The last before I have a master.” He unbuttoned Charlie’s drawers and spread them open around his hard, wet cock jutting up. Charlie had a pretty cock, pink and tan surrounded by glossy black hair. “I’ve always liked your cock,” Martin told him. “You respond so nicely to everything I do.” He leaned in for a deep, languorous kiss while he played with Charlie’s foreskin, hiding and exposing the head of his cock while Charlie panted into his mouth.

“Let’s play that game,” Martin suggested, sliding off the seat to kneel on the floor of the car. “The one where you make me do it. Do you want that?”

Charlie gave a shaky moan. “I’d love that,” he managed, his voice sounding constricted and breathless.

Martin put his hands on Charlie’s thighs and leaned in to breathe on his cock. He nosed around the base, smelling and nuzzling, and every now and then giving it the barest flick of his tongue, just tiny licks.

“Oh, god, wait,” Charlie said. “Let me just—” He shrugged his braces off his shoulders and wriggled out of his trousers and drawers, pushing them down to his ankles and sitting with his naked ass on the dusty, worn upholstery of the train bench. “I don’t want to miss anything,” he said. “Your hands, your mouth, your hair—I have to feel all of it.” He was very emotional saying this, and seemed near tears, his hands shaking as he reached for Martin and drew him close, Martin’s cheek pressed against his belly.

Martin put his arms around Charlie’s waist and kissed his golden skin. “Hey,” he said. “Charlie. Come on. Make me do it.”

Charlie laughed and gave a wet sniff. “All right.” He buried his hands in Martin’s hair and steered his head into position, his cockhead sliding slick along Martin’s cheekbone. “Put it in your mouth.”

Martin acted as though he might do this, but then turned his face to the side, deflecting Charlie’s cock into the hair at his temple. He huffed hot breath on Charlie’s balls and gave a glancing lick to the shaft.

“Go on.” Charlie tightened his fingers in Martin’s hair and gave his head a little jerk. “Put it in your mouth, dirty boy.”

“Make me,” he whispered, breathing the words over Charlie’s wet cockhead. “You have to make me do it.” 

Charlie pushed Martin’s head down in his lap, but Martin kept his mouth closed and again Charlie’s cock slid into his hair. Charlie made a little grunt of frustration and shifted in his seat. He kept one hand in Martin’s hair and grabbed hold of Martin’s chin with the other and attempted to force his jaw open. Martin put up token resistance, but let Charlie open his mouth wide enough to fit his cock inside.

“Suck it,” Charlie insisted, giving Martin’s head a little shake. “Go on. Get to work.”

Martin kept it in his mouth, but simply bathed it in his hot breath for a bit, keeping his tongue away. Charlie squirmed and lifted his hips against Martin’s mouth.

“Do your job,” Charlie murmured. “Show me how well you can do this.”

Martin chuckled and at last licked Charlie’s cock, wet and salty, and then sucked, cheeks hollow, while Charlie moaned and pulled his hair.

For a few minutes, Charlie let Martin do what he wanted, working the length and sucking on the head, but then he asked, “How deep can you take it, do you think?”

As a reply, Martin took him in to the root, the fat cockhead in his throat making it hard for him to breathe. Charlie held him there, hands fisted in his hair, pulled him off, then pushed his head down again, over and over, setting his own erratic rhythm. He held Martin’s head down, cock choking him and cutting off his air, and Martin trembled and struggled for breath, verging on panic and very aroused. He gagged and gasped and all the while kept his tongue moving around Charlie’s cock, kept working to suck and swallow around the head. Charlie did it again and again, at unpredictable intervals so that Martin was never prepared, never knew which breath would be his last. Martin didn’t really want to be hurt or truly forced, but he liked being made to do things, liked being told he’d been a good boy when he’d done them.

Charlie held onto Martin’s jaw with one hand, the other fisted in his hair, and shoved his cock deep into Martin’s throat, moaning with pleasure. As he continued to suck, Martin struggled awkwardly out of his own braces, unbuttoned his own trousers and drawers, and let his hot, hard cock spring forth into the cool air of the train compartment. The faint breeze gliding over his wet cockhead made him shiver, and he wrapped his fingers around the shaft, gave himself a squeeze.

“Are you touching yourself? Don’t touch yourself.” Charlie gave Martin’s head a little shake. “Hands off.”

Martin groaned a complaint around Charlie’s cock, but brought his hands back to rest on Charlie’s tensed thighs.

Charlie began to lift his hips hard against Martin’s mouth, holding his head in place. Martin’s throat felt raw, his jaw was tired, and he’d drooled spit all down his chin, but he was incredibly aroused, incredibly aware of the shape of Charlie’s cock in his mouth and pushing into his throat. He dimly recognized that Stuart had come to watch, leaning over the back of the seat and whispering in Charlie’s ear, and knowing he had an audience made what was happening even more exciting. He whimpered and dug his fingers into the hard muscles of Charlie’s thighs, and Charlie began to make low, frightened cries, his hips jerking erratically, and then he stilled and shot against the back of Martin’s throat.

Martin gagged, struggled to relax his throat, and swallowed, the taste of Charlie bitter against the back of his tongue. Charlie held Martin’s head in place a few seconds longer, then let go his grip on Martin’s hair and smoothed it into place. Martin looked up and saw how much Charlie was going to miss this, was going to miss him, and his throat tightened. He looked away and blinked rapidly, unwilling to start crying. They’d all go to quality people, and they’d meet new groups of slaves, and they’d play with these new boys, and it wouldn’t be the same, but it would be just as good as what they had now. It had to be. Real life had to be better than training, didn’t it?

“Get up here,” Charlie said, his voice rough as he gave Martin’s ear a little tug. “It’s your turn.”

Despite his churning emotions, Martin was still very excited, very hard and wet. He slid his trousers off his hips as he got up from the floor and sat on the bench beside Charlie, who reached out to stroke his hair, looking as though he might cry.

Stuart darted forward and kissed the corner of Martin’s mouth. “Good job, Martin.”

Martin laughed softly. “Thank you. What did you think, Charlie?” But it was cruel to have asked that, perhaps, because he could see what Charlie thought, what Charlie felt. “I think you liked it,” he decided, relieving Charlie of the need to say anything at all.

Charlie reached for Martin’s cock and gave it a few strokes. “How do you want it?”

Martin pushed Charlie’s hair back off his face. “Just regular,” he said. “You can be sweet. I don’t need to choke you or anything.” Charlie was game for anything, he knew, but he didn’t actually like being made to do things the way Martin did.

Charlie got to his knees and went to work, giving Martin the tenderest treatment, loving and dirty, his tongue busy and slippery, and his mouth so hot and wet. Martin let his hand rest on the back of Charlie’s head, encouraging him down and deeper but not forcing. Still leaning over from the seat behind, Stuart kissed Martin’s neck, being careful not to leave marks, and Martin tilted his head to give him better access. Martin was so excited from playing the rough game that he was already close to coming. He shifted in his seat and spread his thighs further apart.

“Finger me,” he urged, tilting his hips to make it easier. “Please, Charlie.”

Charlie pulled off his cock long enough to wet his fingers in his mouth and then sucked it in again. He pushed his fingers into Martin’s asshole and Martin drew a sharp breath and moaned. It wouldn’t be long now. Charlie’s fingers crooking inside his body, Charlie’s tongue swirling around the head of his cock, Charlie’s other hand snaking beneath his shirt, pinching his nipple.

“Oh, god,” he said. “Charlie!” He bit his lip and came, shuddering and suddenly very emotional. This was the last time, the very last time they’d be together. Stuart took hold of his chin and turned his head so he could kiss him full on the lips, and when Stuart broke for air, Charlie got up from the floor and was waiting to kiss him.

Martin loved to taste his own spunk in another boy’s mouth, and all his friends knew this about him and indulged him in it, as they all indulged one another to the best of their abilities. Would he get along as well with his new friends? They’d be from different Houses, most likely, and they’d have different traditions, and what if they weren’t as friendly and generous as the boys he’d grown up with at Ganymede? He was excited about new boys, new bodies, but he didn’t want to give up these familiar boys, the playful partners of his youth. He felt his eyes well with tears and pulled Charlie close, his shoulders hitching with silent sobs.

“Aw.” Stuart petted his neck and his jerking shoulders. “You poor thing.”

It was mortifying, even though Charlie was crying, too.

“Oh, no,” someone further back in the car said. “Don’t you dare cry or we’ll all cry.”

They all cried, even the twins, who were awakened by and frightened of the older boys’ dramatic emotions.

Martin couldn’t stop. He choked on his tears and hid his face against Charlie’s neck. Charlie was whispering all kinds of nonsense in his ear, about love and never, ever forgetting, and Martin thought those things, too, but it made him a little angry that Charlie would encourage it because they knew better, and had for years. Their futures were tied to boys they hadn’t yet met, not the boys they’d grown up with.

Martin took in a deep breath, shuddered, and tried to forcibly calm himself. They were sixteens, after all, practically grown men, and not a bunch of unsorted twelves! Even when they’d been twelves, they had been tougher than this! He wrested himself out of Charlie’s embrace and dug his handkerchief out of his trouser pocket to wipe his eyes.

In a low voice, Charlie said, “I’m sad we’re going to be separated, but I’m glad you’re going to miss me, too.”

“Of course I will,” Martin told him testily. This was obvious. “You’re my comfort, after all.”

All throughout the compartment, boys were in varying degrees of distress, tearful and emotive. Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott got up from their seats and made their way through the car, attempting to soothe their distraught charges.

“I can’t believe we’re all being such babies, Mr. J,” Stuart sighed, shamefaced. “We should be better than this.”

“Nonsense,” said Mr. Jacob. “Everything familiar is being taken from you, after all. You’re all being very brave.” He kissed Stuart’s forehead and gave his shoulder a squeeze. He had brotherly affection for Martin and Charlie, as well, and slowly made his way back through the compartment dispensing kind touches and kinder words.

Martin wiped his eyes and blew his nose, feeling a little sheepish about his loss of control. It was best to get this tearfulness out of his system now, though, well in advance of the viewing and sale. He couldn’t be tremulous or weepy in front of prospective masters. He needed to be reconciled to beginning anew, with a master of his own. He would miss his childhood friends, but he’d make so many new ones, all the slaves of his master’s friends, and surely there’d be boys he would come to value every bit as much as Georgie and Charlie and the others.

Stuart left his seat to come forward to slip in beside Charlie, crowding Martin against the wall, but Martin didn’t mind it so much this time because Stuart had always been generous with his bedmate, unlike Noah. Stuart was always happy to share Charlie with Martin, and he enjoyed Martin, too. The three of them had had such good times together, Charlie and Stuart both so willing to give Martin what he wanted. Martin had always preferred the receptive role, and it made him very popular with the other boys. A master would like this about him; this he was confident about.

Leo and Sandy came up from the rear of the compartment and sat in the seat behind Martin’s. Sandy’s eyes were red and puffy but he seemed to be making a heroic effort to get himself under control.

“We’re hoping we’ll both stay in the city,” Leo said. “If we’re both in the city, surely we’ll be able to find one another again, and if we can find one another, maybe we can be together somehow, don’t you think?”

Martin thought it would be better to make a clean break, and he thought they should have prepared for it months ago, but it would serve no purpose to tell them this now. He had admired their devotion, and envied it, but it had always seemed a poor proposition to fall in love with a member of one’s own cohort. He supposed he might have been in a similar pickle had Richard lived, but Richard had not lived, and Martin didn’t doubt he was a better companion because of it. He would be going to a master ready and willing to be utterly devoted to his needs with no distractions and all past ties severed. Leo seemed resigned to being separated from Sandy, but Sandy was despondent, and if he couldn’t adjust his attitude by tomorrow morning, his melancholy might well affect his salability.

Nothing was going to keep Martin from finding the best master possible. He would not let himself dwell on the past, on his friendships, on the comforts of home. He would make the best possible presentation. He would show all the prospective masters why he deserved to be ranked as top boy, and maybe, just maybe, he’d find a master who had some of the qualities he wanted.

Stuart encouraged Charlie and Martin to switch places, putting Martin in the middle, so that Stuart could pet and stroke him, and Martin was grateful once again for Stuart’s affection and generosity. Stuart was cheerful and pragmatic and not possessive, all excellent qualities in a slave, and Martin suspected that Stuart actually deserved the top boy designation more than he did. He leaned into Stuart’s embrace and closed his eyes. While Stuart and Charlie talked to Leo in low voices, Martin let himself drift into sleep.

Charlie shook Martin awake as they neared the city. The sun was starting to set and the buildings were all gilded with western light, the view very dramatic. They’d all seen pictures, of course, but the city was still shockingly big, like a mountain range made of buildings. Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott insisted that they close the windows, and they all saw the wisdom of this as they entered the densely smoky tunnel beneath the city streets that led to the train station.

At the station, the sudden stillness of the train after so many rattling, swaying hours was unnerving, and the boys were all unsteady on their feet. Mr. Elliott and Mr. Jacob made them wait until the boys from the Orpheus and Perseus cars had disembarked and been hustled from the station by their own minders before allowing them to step out onto the platform. Winston and Rex were enlisted once again to carry the hamper with their auction clothes and they were all herded out to the street.

Just as they’d been told, the city was loud and crowded, and passers-by eyed them with suspicious and studied disinterest. They clung together nervously, unsure of themselves. The city simulations back on the farm had been poor preparation. A pair of electric omnibuses waited for them, the drivers standing on the sidewalks with cardboard signs bearing the House’s name. There were omnibuses and wagons waiting for boys from other Houses, as well, and just departing with the boys from Orpheus and Perseus. The Standards all went with Mr. Elliott and the twins in one omnibus, the Choice and Superior boys with Mr. Jacob in the other.

The boys all crowded against the windows, wide-eyed. They were dumbstruck by the sheer variety of the city. The street was crowded with a multitude of carriages and wagons, every imaginable version of every sort of conveyance, and the sidewalks were teeming with people of all ages and colors, with and without slaves accompanying them. The buildings were grand, much grander than anything on the farm, certainly, and much more impressive than anything they’d ever seen in the little rural market town. The streetlights were coming on as they rolled past. This street, Mr. Jacob informed them, was Park Avenue, and most likely some of them would go to families who lived on Park, albeit north of the train station.

“The best streets are 5th, Park and Madison Avenues and their cross streets,” Mr. Jacob informed them. “It’s unlikely you will go to homes elsewhere, unless your masters reside in other cities. Families from other cities often do come to this auction because the stock sold here is of such high quality.” At this, Mr. Jacob smiled and patted Sandy, who was nearest. “You’re really such a lovely group of boys. We’re very proud to be offering you.”

“How do we compare to last year’s boys?” asked a nervous-sounding Stevie, one of the Choice boys. “Do you think we’ll do as well as them?”

Mr. Jacob smiled. “Ganymede boys do well every year. You’re the third class I’ve taken to auction since I began this work,” he said, “and I can tell you that you’re the most promising group Mr. Elliott and I have yet had the pleasure to guide.”

Although Martin wasn’t sure he believed that Mr. Jacob’s relentless insistence on their superiority was genuine, it was reassuring nonetheless.

The ride downtown was uneventful except that Terry tickled Jerome to a disruptive extent and Mr. Jacob scolded them for their immature behavior.

“That’s the auction hall,” Mr. Jacob noted, pointing out the window at a substantial building with a set of massive, green-painted doors. “We’ll be going in through the back today, but when you leave, it will be through those doors.” This information had the effect of subduing them all. Somehow, seeing those green doors made it seem that much more real, that much more serious.

The omnibus turned the corner, then into the alley, and they pulled to a stop behind the wagons and omnibuses for the disembarking Orpheus and Perseus boys.

“Can we get a look at them, Mr. J?” Terry asked hopefully. “Check out our competition?”

“You have no competition,” Mr. Jacob said, rather predictably. “No, we’ll wait till they’ve gone inside.”

They all jostled for position and pressed their faces against the windows, doing their best to get a good look at the offerings from the other Houses. The Orpheus boys wore the same sort of faded and patched garments that Ganymede boys did, though theirs were a darker blue. The Perseus boys were in faded green and, as the Ganymede boys watched, they were hustled inside the building by their minders. Martin did not have a chance to evaluate the Perseus boys, but there were several fellows amongst the Orpheus offerings whom he judged very handsome, even by Ganymede standards.

Mr. Jacob waited until the Orpheus boys went inside, and then he let them out into the alley, and Mr. Elliott did the same with the Standard boys. The alley smelled of urine and the pavement was wet underfoot, although it did not appear to have rained recently. It was, all in all, not a place Martin cared to linger. Mr. Jacob signed some paperwork for a representative of the auction hall who met them at the door, and they made their way down a dimly-lit corridor to a door with a frosted glass panel with GANYMEDE painted in gilt-limned black letters.

“Inside, please,” Mr. Jacob said, ushering them through. “Don’t dawdle, boys.”

They entered a room that seemed to be part office, part kitchen. There were a dozen unfamiliar gentlemen waiting for them there, all very stylishly dressed, and all wearing critical expressions. The room smelled of coffee and cigarettes and warring colognes.

“So this is the group, then, Jacob?” asked a frowning blond fellow. “Not what I expected, based on their photographs.”

“I can’t imagine what you expected, Mr. Paulsen,” Mr. Jacob said huffily. “They’re better than the photographs.” He turned to the boys and said, “These gentlemen are Ganymede’s salesmen. These are the men who will be helping you find the best possible homes. You’ll need to listen to them and do as they say, understood?” He cocked his head to the side and looked at them expectantly. “Understood?”

“Yes, Mr. J,” they all said, more or less in unison. Martin was wary of these glowering dandies and didn’t want to trust them with something as important as his future.

“Which one is top boy again?” asked Mr. Paulsen, taking in the whole group with a brisk sweep of his hand. “Which is our moneymaker?”

Mr. Jacob frowned at this, but he said, “Martin, come forward,” and Martin did, doing his best not to seem sulky or defiant.

Martin smiled at Mr. Paulsen and bowed his head. “At your service, Sir.”

Mr. Paulsen stepped forward and peered at his face. “You’re top boy?”

Taken aback, Martin blinked, startled. “Th-that’s what I’m told, Sir.”

Mr. Paulsen turned to Mr. Jacob. “Well, he’s certainly good-looking, but he can’t possibly wear those glasses in the showroom. Can he see without them?” He turned to Martin. “Can you see without them?”

“I can see up close, Sir.”

“Take them off.” Mr. Paulsen asked Martin to describe people in the room until he was satisfied that Martin could see well enough without his glasses to manage during the viewing in the morning.

“It does say in the catalog that he requires glasses,” Mr. Paulsen pointed out to Mr. Jacob, who did not seem to like the idea of offering Martin up without them. “It’s right there for them to read, so it’s certainly not deceptive to have him do without for a few hours.” Again, he turned to Martin. “Tomorrow morning, give your glasses to Jacob to keep safe for you, all right? You can have them back after you’re sold.”

Martin could say nothing but, “Yes, Sir.”

The salesmen began evaluating and questioning all the boys in scattershot fashion. Like the rest, Martin was very accustomed to his attributes being discussed openly. Most of the salesmen seemed to think he was very attractive, though several expressed some concern about his height. A few thought he was a bit too thin and took Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott to task for it.

“You could have been fattening him up weeks ago,” Mr. Paulsen said, chagrined. “Him and the smaller colored boy, whatshisname…?”

“Do you mean Jerome?” asked Mr. Elliott. “Jerome is slender, but I wouldn’t say he was underweight, and neither is Martin.”

“A bunch of handsome skeletons,” put in another of the salesmen. “This whole group is scrawny.”

“You’re exaggerating,” Mr. Jacob insisted. “They’re fit and strong and very healthy.”

“Well, those are the sorts of complaints we’re going to hear, you know,” Paulsen pointed out. “Buyers always find fault with something.” He patted Mr. Jacob on the shoulder. “It’s all right. I know you and Elliott have done your best with these boys.”

“You should see how much they eat,” Mr. Jacob said fretfully, arms crossed over his chest. “They’re like hogs at a trough! I don’t know how we could have possibly fed them more!”

Paulsen gave Mr. Jacob another pat. “It’s not a problem, Jacob, not really. I promise we’ll sell each and every one of them,” he said reassuringly. “They’ll all meet their reserves, I guarantee it.”

Mr. Jacob shrugged off his hand. “They’re absolutely lovely boys. They’ll sell themselves.” Looking at Mr. Jacob’s face, it was suddenly obvious how tired he was, and how little he appreciated these criticisms of his charges, his work.

Martin struggled not to panic. Was he really so unappealing after all? He’d perhaps been given an inflated sense of himself at Ganymede, where he’d been an acknowledged beauty, and it was all too possible his charms had a diminished luster in the wider world. His cohort had been full of the sort of dark-haired boys Martin himself found so attractive, but his own coloring had been considered unusual. However, that might not be the case here and now, off the farm. Perhaps the city was full of boys with strawberry hair and exceptionally green eyes. Perhaps his hair wasn’t red enough. And he was too tall and skinny besides.

Mr. Paulsen clapped his hands together loudly. “Listen up, boys! I want the Standards over there near the stove, the Choice boys in that corner, and the Superiors here in the middle of the room. Go on, then; you know where you belong.”

Martin stayed where he was standing, and was joined by Charlie, Stuart, Leo and Georgie. Sandy, Noah, Jerome, Ben, Mitch, Steve, Terry and Paul went to the Choice corner. The Standard boys all crowded together in the kitchen end of the room: Artie, Bradley, Lloyd, Philip, Randy, Rex, Otto, Eric, Winston and Sam.

“It’s a shame you haven’t brought us more colored boys,” remarked one of the salesmen. “There’s a greater demand every year.”

“You need to be talking to management,” Mr. Elliott pointed out. “Not us. We don’t have any say in what sorts of boys are bred.”

“We watched the Perseus boys come in,” said another salesman. “Nearly half their boys are colored this year.” His tone implied that the Perseus salesmen would have an easier time of it with their fashionable stock.

“Well you have three wonderful colored boys,” Mr. Elliott said. “Jerome, Artie and Philip should go high, then, if you’re correct about what these prospective masters are looking for. You’ve got an excellent group of boys overall, and you’re certainly not helping morale complaining about their imaginary shortcomings! Too thin! Not colored enough!” Mr. Elliott shook his head as if disappointed in the salesmen. “You should be building them up, encouraging them! Tomorrow is the biggest day of their lives!”

The salesmen divided up into groups and began interviewing the boys in earnest while Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott prepared them a light meal of canned soup served up in enameled mugs. If they ate more substantial food, then they’d digest more substantial food, which could cause problems in the morning when they were being examined by prospective masters in the showroom. Martin was used to eating large meals and felt the lack, but was quite sure he could bear it if it meant the difference between finding a master and going back to the farm in disgrace.

Salesmen had questions about his hobbies and schoolwork. They questioned why he was top boy rather than Stuart, who they all seemed to favor. Martin could see why they felt this way. Stuart was exceptionally handsome, slim and fit, not too tall, and very accomplished. Martin wasn’t entirely sure why he’d been designated top, though perhaps it had something to do with his eagerness to be on the bottom in sex. That was definitely Martin’s preference, but given the choice, most of the other boys would prefer to be on top. However, with a master you wouldn’t be given any choice.

Mr. Jacob had Otto and Bradley collect all the soup mugs and then called an end to the questions. “They need to be shown the bathroom,” he told the salesmen. “They need to know where they’ll be sleeping.”

There were five toilet stalls and a long line of shower nozzles in a narrow, tiled room, and the boys took turns in the toilets. For sleeping, they’d be in another narrow room, this one crammed with cots big enough for just one boy at a time. To the boys, all used to sleeping piled together like puppies, this was a rude shock.

“But can’t we sleep with our friends, Mr. E?” Sandy asked, sounding bereft.

“No,” Mr. Elliott told him firmly. “The cots won’t hold two boys. Sleep near one another if you must.”

“But I don’t think I can sleep without Artie, Mr. E,” Sam said. “What if I can’t sleep?”

“We have laudanum if you can’t sleep on your own,” Mr. Elliott said. “Tomorrow you’ll be sleeping alone in a strange bed, or even with a strange boy. Sleeping in your own bed in a room full of your brothers isn’t going to be so bad.”

“Can we sleep together on the floor, then, Mr. J?” Sandy asked, appealing to the more sympathetic Mr. Jacob. “If the beds won’t hold two of us, then isn’t it all right to sleep on the floor?”

But Mr. Jacob wasn’t going to countermand Mr. Elliott’s instructions. He shook his head firmly and said, “No. You’ll sleep by yourselves, in the beds provided,” and refused to listen to any further pleading.

They were shown the viewing area where they’d be on display tomorrow. This was a cavernous room decorated with bunting in Ganymede blue and cream. There were gilt-lettered signs for STANDARD, CHOICE and SUPERIOR hanging over the appropriate daises; the Superiors would be furthest from the curtained doorway where the prospective masters would enter. They were allowed a peek into the luxurious anteroom, designed to resemble a fancy men’s club with carved wooden paneling lining the walls, images of Ganymede and his chalice everywhere, and the House colors setting off the glowing grain of the polished wood. There were huge double doors opening into the auction hall proper, but they weren’t allowed so much as a peek outside, and the stained glass panels gave only an impression of darkness.

“You’ll be seeing it all from the best vantage point in the house tomorrow,” Mr. Jacob told them, meaning the stage where they’d be standing as they were sold off.

“Do any of you have questions?” Mr. Elliott asked, head cocked. “Any questions for us? For Mr. Paulsen?”

Martin had so many questions, but they were all unformed and panicky, wordless and grasping, and it seemed the others were equally inarticulate, as no questions were forthcoming. Mr. Elliott sighed once again and he and Mr. Jacob ushered them back to their dormitory room.

“See here,” Mr. Elliott said brusquely. “Fresh decks of cards. When’s the last time any of you saw a complete deck?” There were four decks total, and it seemed luxurious to have cards that were clean and unbent. It was novel to have cards that originated from the same pack, all the backs the same. Toys and games on the farm were used hard and were often broken or incomplete. Mr. Jacob gave them boxes of matches to use as counters and four games of poker started up immediately.

Martin didn’t want to play poker and hung back. Mr. Jacob touched Martin’s elbow. “You so love to read,” Mr. Jacob said. “We have books and magazines here that you won’t have seen at the farm, if you’re interested.”

“I’m interested, Mr. J.”

Mr. Jacob showed him to a low bookshelf with the last three annuals for American Adventure, a few issues of Wayfarer, and a coverless book that appeared to be a shipwreck story. Martin picked up a Wayfarer and flipped it open, but then Mr. Jacob took his elbow and bade him to sit on the nearest cot.

“I saw your face earlier,” Mr. Jacob said. “When they were discussing your weight. Please try not to worry about it, Martin. You’re a lovely boy, and you’re not too thin at all. We’ve always known you’ll need to work to keep weight on, though, and you’ll need to continue that out in the world, all right?”

“Are you sure I’m not too thin, Mr. J? They seem so unhappy with me…”

“It’s part of their job to anticipate the complaints the prospectives might have, that’s all.”

“They like Stuart so much better, though, Mr. J. They all think he should be top boy.”

You are best-suited to this role of any boy here,” Mr. Jacob said in a tone that brooked no argument. “Stuart is a good boy and an excellent companion, there’s no question, but you’re definitely our top candidate, and Mr. Elliott and I will endeavor to make sure the salesmen understand that before tomorrow morning, all right? Don’t let doubts creep in, Martin. You’re going to make us so proud.” He clapped Martin on the shoulder and left him sitting slumped on the cot, a magazine open on his lap, though he felt reading would be quite impossible now.

He hoped Mr. Jacob was right. He knew he’d have the highest reserve price, and he worried a little that no one would want him enough to pay it. He worried that Stuart would surpass him, and it wasn’t so much that he begrudged Stuart, but he wanted to really be top boy and bring in the best price, and it was seeming more and more possible that a towering, bespectacled scarecrow of a boy wasn’t going to be worth the astonishing sums people paid for companions.

Someone plopped down on the cot at his side, leaning heavily against him, and Martin turned to see Georgie at his shoulder.

“Are you more excited, or are you more terrified?” Georgie asked with a rueful smile. “I don’t seem to be able to tell the difference any more.”

Martin smiled in return, grateful for Georgie’s cheer. “I think I’m the same. But with all the things the salesmen were saying, I got a little spooked…”

“Ugh,” Georgie said, waving a dismissive hand. “I don’t think they saw anything good about any of us. Did you see? They made Noah cry.”

“I didn’t see,” Martin admitted. “What do they think is wrong with Noah?” Martin didn’t like Noah, but Noah was handsome and smart and accomplished—it was only his personality that was horrible.

“They were all going back and forth about whether or not his hair was a selling point or not because some of them don’t like redheads, and Noah got his feelings hurt—”

“He should know better than to take it personally,” Martin pointed out.

“Well, yes, he should, but he cried a little, and then they all jumped on him for being inappropriately sensitive and questioned whether he has the right temperament, and that just made things worse. Now Mr. Elliott is trying to give him a pep talk.”

Mr. Elliott was not the best at pep talks, and Martin cringed a little at the idea, feeling surprisingly sympathetic toward Noah.

“They’re annoyed by how many of us have dark hair,” Georgie continued. “Too many dark boys, but not enough colored. They wanted at least one colored boy in the Superior group, but Jerome is so clumsy and terrible at sports that they can’t justify putting him with us. They’re not happy with anything.”

“They like Stuart better than me,” Martin admitted. “They want him as top boy.”

“You’re better than Stuart,” Georgie dismissing the idea with confidence. “And cheer up—at least you’re not dark!” He shook his head. “Really, shouldn’t these fellows be encouraging us? Helping us get in the proper frame of mind?”

Noah appeared on Georgie’s other side. He gave Martin a nod and sat down, seeming dejected. “They hate all of us.”

Feeling a tenuous solidarity with his erstwhile adversary, Martin said, “I’m sure most of the prospective masters will think your hair is beautiful, Noah.”

Noah gave Martin a long look, trying to determine if he was being mocked, but seemed to decide Martin was being genuine. “Thank you,” he said. “That’s what I think, too.”

“I like to see you two getting along,” Georgie said, pressing a quick kiss to Noah’s cheek. “Even if it’s only because we’re all scared.” He put an arm around each of them and squeezed. “My gingers,” he said fondly. Martin slipped his arm around Georgie’s waist, and Noah did the same, and for once Noah didn’t complain about Martin’s proximity.

“I’d like a ginger master, I think,” Georgie said, as if it had just occurred to him. “Seeing red hair around a nice hard cock every day would bring back some pleasant memories.” He gave Martin a nudge, then Noah, and both boys snickered.

Martin leaned on Georgie and sighed. He felt such affection for him, and for all the others, even Noah. He hoped his new master would be eager to share him; the sooner he met the slaves who would be his new friends, his substitute cohort, the better. Surely there would be a boy or two he would like especially well, boys who would be sweet to him, and who he might spoil, as well. He would work the hardest to be good to his master, naturally, but he couldn’t expect anything in return beyond an absent-minded caress now and then. He had fantasies about closeness with a master, but it was shameful to want things he had no right to. Maybe the salesmen sensed this in him, this inappropriate grasping after privilege, and that was why they preferred Stuart.

Mr. Elliott came through and suggested that boys avail themselves of the showers before bed. “But if you won’t shower now, you’ll have another chance in the morning,” he assured them. “You should all expect to do an enema in the morning, too. You will be scrupulously clean for the viewing.”

The poker games were breaking up, and most of the boys decided to bathe. Martin tied his hair in a knot on top of his head so as to keep it dry and undressed. Conrad and Gideon came around and collected the clothes the older boys shed; their farm garments would be returned to the farm to be worn by other boys. Everything at Ganymede was used until it was used up.

Surrounded by beautiful, familiar bodies, and in very sentimental moods, most of the boys were at least half-hard. Mitch put his hand on Martin’s hip but Mr. Jacob strode up and gave his wrist a brisk slap.

“None of that. Remember what we told you on the train: nothing more tonight,” Mr. Jacob warned them. “It’s better luck to be feeling a little bit of desire when you’re on view. You’ll want to feel eager for some sort of release, boys; the prospectives will sense that about you and respond accordingly.”

It seemed excessively cruel: sleeping alone, no bedtime release, the prospect of an enema first thing in the morning. Martin felt a sullen discontent settle over him and tried to shake it off but with little effect.

They had been told they could kiss, however, and Mitch approached Martin again under the shower spray and kissed him up against the tile. He was a better kisser than Martin remembered, with a cleverer tongue. He moved against Martin, their cocks pressed between their bellies, and he might have easily made Martin come, but Martin made him stop. If it was true that it was better to go to the viewing full of unresolved longings, then that’s what he wanted to do. He would do anything that might bring him a good master, a boy who would appreciate everything Martin wanted to do for him.

Mitch was disappointed, but Paul and Randy stepped in to fill the void Martin left behind. Martin took a towel from the stack by the door, dried, and hung the towel on a hook. As he was leaving the bathroom, Mr. Elliott was coming in.

“I’m coming to check on you,” Mr. Elliott warned in a loud, carrying voice. “I expect you’re all on your best behavior.”

Out in the dormitory, boys had dragged the narrow cots into smaller groupings, crammed up tight against one another.

“Over here, Martin.” Charlie waved from the far end of the room. “We’ve saved a bed for you.”

They had put four cots in a row and run out of room, so a fifth ran across the top of the quartet. The four were for Noah, Georgie, Martin and Charlie, and Stuart would sleep stretched above their heads. The air in the room was warm and close, and the unnecessary blankets had already been stripped from the beds. Martin lay down on top of the sheets on the bed his friends had assigned to him.

“I thought you’d want both Georgie and me,” Charlie said shyly. “Was I right about that?”

Martin rolled onto his side and kissed him. “Of course you were. I’ll be lucky if I meet another boy who’s even half as kind to me as you are.”

“Who knows? Maybe our masters will know each other. Maybe we’ll see each other again.” Charlie sounded hopeful but not entirely convinced.

As clean boys came back into the room, everyone found their places and began to experiment with sharing the cots, but they truly weren’t big enough for two boys, and the metal frames made it uncomfortable to lie across the junctions between beds. Martin lay on his back and held Charlie’s hand with his right, letting his left rest on Georgie’s hip. Stuart idly stroked his hair. They were all unusually tense, unusually still.

“You’ll have an early morning, of course,” Mr. Elliott reminded them. “Nothing you’re not used to, but it’s likely you’ll have difficulties falling asleep tonight. We’ll be around with some medicine to help with that.”

Martin was relieved to hear this. His mind was racing and he felt restless and twitchy. He kept thinking about the vast differences between what he wanted in a master and what they’d been taught over and over were reasonable expectations. Masters were rich and spoiled and indulged and most of them would be indifferent to the feelings of their slaves, but Martin couldn’t help thinking that some of them might care a little bit anyway. There were rumors, unsubstantiated of course, that there were masters who did all sorts of forbidden things with their slaves, acting practically as wanton as slaves themselves, touching and caressing, and Martin wanted so badly to have a master who would behave like this, a master who would touch his cock and bite his neck and want to make it feel good when he fucked him. The idea made his cock throb and he gave a little involuntary shiver. He knew he couldn’t have everything he wanted, but surely he could have some of it.

Sandy was crying again, crowded onto a single cot with Leo, and Mr. Elliott had to threaten to separate them completely to get Sandy to move to his own bed. Martin worried about Sandy. It seemed possible that Sandy would keep crying through the viewing. Not only would that be bad for Sandy himself, but it would make it seem as though Ganymede slaves were unstable, and that was unfair to the other twenty-two boys who were looking for masters. Martin fretted about this for a bit, then went back to worrying about what sort of master he’d end up with.

Mr. Jacob came around with a bottle of laudanum and dosed them all. Martin fell asleep to the sounds of Sandy’s soft sobs.

AUGUST 29, 1900

They were awakened at 5 o’clock and offered weak tea with a little milk and bread with butter, the last meal Ganymede would serve them. They’d eat next when their new families fed them their dinner. While boys yawned and ate their meager breakfasts, Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott saw to it that everyone made a trip to the bathroom to clean out his bowels.

Scrupulously clean,” Mr. Elliott reminded them. They held in the water until Mr. Elliott, who was timing them with his watch, gave them permission to release it in a rude rush. Martin checked; he was indeed scrupulously clean. There would be no unpleasantness for any prospective master to encounter during the viewing.

They took turns shaving one another, a last practice. Martin shaved Charlie, and Charlie shaved both Martin and Stuart. The next boy any of them would shave would be his own new master.

A bottle of oil was passed around and the boys were instructed to prepare themselves well. They should be ready to be examined at all times. They could expect the prospectives to be woefully unschooled in intimate touching, and most of them would offer rough treatment out of simple ignorance. The boys were warned they would be sore by the end of the viewing.

“The salesmen will try to keep an eye on what’s being done to you,” Mr. Elliott told them. “They’ll do what they can to prevent any real rough stuff. We can’t allow anyone to damage the merchandise, after all.”

Conrad and Gideon brought them the brown-paper-wrapped packets from the clothing hamper that had their names written in black pencil. Each packet contained a pair of tight, old-fashioned breeches in Ganymede blue, a white shirt cut to show their tattoos, and a blue ribbon to tie back their hair. For the viewing, they’d wear nothing but the breeches. They’d had to try these on the day of their farewell party, looking for a tight fit.

Martin pulled on his breeches and buttoned them, smoothing the fabric over his hips. They were snug enough that his cock was plainly outlined; he’d never deliberately worn pants this tight before. This kind of display seemed more overtly sexual than simple nudity could ever be. There was a long mirror in the smaller bedroom where Mr. Elliott and Mr. Jacob had spent the night along with the twins, and the boys were allowed to go in to look at themselves. Martin was pleased to find he looked very attractive, actually, and this put him in a more cheerful mood. His ass was round and squeezable, his cock blatantly on offer, the long muscles in his thighs sleek and hard. If a prospective master liked his coloring, surely he’d find nothing to fault about Martin’s form.

“Let someone else look,” Otto complained, digging an elbow into Martin’s ribs. “You’re the fairest of them all, everyone knows that already.”

Martin laughed and gave Otto a quick kiss on his way out of the room.

Mr. Jacob came to Martin and said, “Your glasses, please,” and Martin gave them up with some reluctance.

They stood in nervous clumps or perched on the edges of the cots, all tense with anticipation. A few boys made last-minute trips to the bathroom. Martin stood with Charlie and Stuart, their arms about one another. Nearby, Leo was saying to Sandy, “…always be in my heart,” and stroking his hair. Sandy wasn’t crying, at any rate.

At a quarter to seven, the salesmen came into the room, all dressed in blue jackets and beautifully groomed, each carrying a riding crop for effect. The salesmen drank tea and conferred with Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott. Conrad and Gideon, dressed in blue-and-cream togas, were led out to take their places at either side of the entry doors.

Mr. Paulsen said, “Superiors, follow me, please,” and strode from the room without waiting to see if they’d do as he’d asked.

They did hurry to follow him, padding silently on bare feet, and were led to the dais where they’d stand during the viewing.

“Line up,” Mr. Paulsen said. “Top boy on the far end. That’s you, Martin.”

Martin was greatly relieved that they hadn’t replaced him with Stuart. He climbed the two steps to the dais and stood on the faint chalk X marked on the blue carpet. Stuart stood to his left, Charlie beside Stuart, then Leo, then Georgie. Mr. Paulsen climbed up and fussed with their hair, then climbed down and squinted at them critically.

“Hands behind your backs, please, and keep your hair out of your eyes as best you can. We want them to see your handsome faces, all right?” He cocked his head, expecting an answer.

They all mumbled a, “Yes, Sir.”

The Choice and Standard boys were being arranged. Sandy turned to cast an anguished look back at Leo, who mouthed something at him, but Martin couldn’t know what because he couldn’t see well enough at this distance.

Mr. Paulsen said, “You, there. All of you. Keep your attention on the prospectives. Paying attention to the other slaves will make you seem unfriendly, all right? You need to convince yourselves that these prospectives are the most fascinating boys you’ve ever met and behave accordingly.” He checked his watch, and it was suddenly apparent that he was almost as tense as they were.

“I know you’ve been told over and over that Ganymede boys don’t need to be vulgar to find masters. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be flirtatious. That doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of situations to make it clear to a prospective that you’re interested in becoming his. No offering to suck boys’ cocks, of course, but you can hint. You’re all supposed to be smart, so use good judgment, all right?” Again, he cocked his head, waiting for an answer.

“Yes, Sir,” they said.

“You have to be nice to every prospective, of course, and you need to do whatever they ask of you, but you should be especially nice to the prospectives that we bring to you. These will be the richest families, valued patrons of the House, and we want them to bid on one of you. We don’t want to waste them on a Standard boy they can get cheaply, all right?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Say yes to everything you can say yes to. Remember they’re all Sirs. Let them see whatever they want to see, and touch whatever they want to touch—it’s entirely up to them if they want to risk the stigma of being seen touching another boy’s cock, after all. These are the sons of very powerful men, and they can afford to overcome a lot of stigma. Every one of them is going to want to examine your ass, and you’re going to be sore by the end of the day, so just expect that. It’s going to be a long morning, but if everything goes well, there’ll be a big payoff for Ganymede, and you’ll go to some of the best families in the city.”

Mr. Paulsen checked his watch again and chewed his lip. “Very well, then. Do you feel ready?”

Martin was excited and nervous, but mostly excited. He looked good in his tight breeches. He was still top boy. Everything was as it should be.

“Yes, Sir,” they all said.

“I’ll be back with buyers soon,” Mr. Paulsen said. He turned and headed for the curtain separating the viewing area from the anteroom.

They stood alone for only a few moments before Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott approached.

“We’re so proud of you,” Mr. Jacob said. “You’ve worked so hard to get here. You’re going to do the House proud.”

“I’m sure Mr. Paulsen told you already—you’ll want to put your best face forward when you meet the prospectives,” Mr. Elliott reminded them. “Make sure they understand that you are the best, that you’re a quality slave.”

Mr. Jacob pointed out that, “It’s true that the more they pay, the more likely they are to treat you well when they get you home, so think about being as charming as you are able and bringing those bids up, up, up!”

Somewhere, a clock chimed 7 o’clock.

“Oh!” said Mr. Jacob, putting his hand on Mr. Elliott’s arm. “We still need to talk to the others!” To the boys, he said, “Good luck, my dears. Make us proud.” He and Mr. Elliott hurried to give some final remarks to the Choice and Standard boys.

It was a good ten minutes before any prospectives entered the viewing area. The first grouping consisted of a portly gentleman with an even fatter son. The father’s companion was a refined-looking creature bearing the black-and-red mark of House Apollo. Martin and the rest of the Superiors stood at the ready, their attention focused on this trio, but these prospectives came no further into the showroom than the Standard dais. The father and son talked briefly with Sam and Winston and then left.

A few more trios trickled into the viewing area, but none of them made it any further than the Choice daises.

It was another ten minutes before Mr. Paulsen brought them a group of prospectives. These were the Athertons, and they were shown Martin first. Young Mr. Atherton, a tawny-haired boy with freckles, looked at Martin and frowned, and Martin understood his dismay. In Mr. Atherton’s place, he wouldn’t be interested in a boy with coloring so similar to his own, either.

“What about that one?” he asked, indicating Charlie with a nod, and Mr. Paulsen smoothly altered his sales patter midstream to tout Charlie’s many virtues. For his part, Charlie was charming and servile, demonstrating an appealing eagerness to cater to Mr. Atherton’s whims. When this prospective master asked to examine him, Charlie pushed down his breeches with the air of a bride revealing herself on her wedding night. While Charlie was bent over, Martin watched the expression on young Mr. Atherton’s face. Quite obviously, and quite understandably, he’d never put his finger in anyone’s asshole before, and he seemed to find the experience most edifying. He didn’t seem rough or careless, and Martin hoped he might be so lucky when some boy decided to finger him.

The Athertons were still talking with Charlie when another of the salesmen, Mr. Flowers, brought the Miltons to see Martin. Young Mr. Milton was blond and sullen, a short boy, not the sort Martin would pick for himself, but he made a friendly presentation nonetheless. Mr. Milton glared at the front of Martin’s tight pants, his glower growing ever-darker, and he finally interrupted Mr. Flowers’ recitation of Martin’s fine qualities and asked to see him exposed.

“Of course, Sir,” Martin said, smiling. He unbuttoned his breeches and slid them off his hips, fully expecting that he’d be asked to turn around and bend over, but Mr. Milton surprised him.

“No. He won’t do,” Mr. Milton said with an adamant shake of his head.

Mr. Flowers was taken aback. “He won’t do? Pardon me, but you haven’t examined him yet.”’

“He’s too big,” Mr. Milton said, blushing angrily. “Show me a smaller one.”

“He doesn’t want to compare unfavorably,” the elder Milton explained, seeming slightly embarrassed by his son’s behavior. “Do you have any with smaller…male parts?”

Martin stood awkwardly exposed, unsure if he should pull up his breeches or not.

“I must confess, sir, it’s not a question that’s come up before. I can ask—”

“Never mind,” said young Mr. Milton angrily. “If he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know. I’m not about to look at every single one.”

Mr. Flowers realized Martin was still exposed and turned to him, murmuring, “You can dress now, please.”

Martin was grateful to cover up.

“That’s exactly what you’re going to have to do, son,” the elder Milton explained. “If this is going to be your only criteria…”

The father’s companion, a fellow who bore a Ganymede tattoo, put his hand on his master’s arm. “Sir, perhaps we should discuss this at the club. Young Sir might enjoy a coffee, don’t you think?” He steered the Miltons toward the exit.

The elder Milton turned to glance back over his shoulder, apologetic, as they left. “Thank you for your time,” he said to Mr. Flowers.

“Certainly, sir. I was glad to help. Please do come back after you’ve had time to think things over.” He rolled his eyes, making all the Superiors bite their lips against rude giggles. To the boys, he said, “I shouldn’t say it, but I hope that one goes to another House. None of our boys needs the headache.”

Some of the prospectives who came looking introduced themselves, but most didn’t bother, so Martin didn’t learn the name of the first prospective master who fingered him. He was a boy with brown hair and sharp nails who had been inspecting most of the slaves on view and Martin was suspicious he had no intention of bidding on any of them but was simply taking advantage of the situation.

Martin was bent over, hands on knees, wincing as this inexperienced boy roughly probed his ass, when the boy complained to his father, “He doesn’t feel any different than a Standard one. What’s supposed to be so special about him?” He withdrew his finger and walked away wiping it on his handkerchief, still complaining. Martin pulled up his breeches and fastened the buttons and tried not to look annoyed. Somehow, he had not anticipated that the prospective masters would irritate him.

Mr. Pepper brought him a dark-haired boy, quite attractive, but short and slight. Still, he was some of what Martin liked, so Martin gave him a very warm smile. These people were the Darlings, the boy was called Andrew, and the father’s slave was a Ganymede man.

Andrew Darling was saying, “But, Papa, we passed one on the way in—”

“These are the better ones. These ones right here,” his father insisted.

That one has red hair,” said young Mr. Darling, pointing back toward the Choice dais. “Can’t we look at him?”

“The one right in front of you has red hair,” the father suggested, though he did not sound convinced by his own words.

The boy scoffed at this assertion. “Not hardly. That other is a real redhead.” He glanced up at Martin and said, “Sorry, but you’re not a redhead.”

“Oh, no, Sir, I wouldn’t claim that distinction,” Martin said with as much cheer as he could muster.

“Well, at least give this one a chance,” the father insisted. “Take a look at him, and if he won’t do, we’ll go look at the other.”

It was disheartening to be made to offer oneself to someone who did not wish for such accommodation, but Martin did it all the same, smiling and giving a little shimmy as he wriggled out of his breeches. He bent over for a decidedly perfunctory probing and looked back over his shoulder at young Mr. Darling, intending to offer an encouraging smile, but Mr. Darling was looking back over his own shoulder at the Choice dais even as he poked at Martin’s insides.

“I really want to meet the redhead, Papa,” the boy said. “This one won’t do for me at all.” Again, he glanced at Martin and said, “Sorry.”

“It’s quite all right, Sir,” Martin told him, buttoning his breeches.

“Very well,” the father said to Mr. Pepper with a sigh. “Show us this redheaded boy.”

Mr. Pepper led the Darlings toward the Choice daises and Noah’s red hair, and a new trio came to look at Martin, to ask that he expose himself and bend over.

Two more trios of prospectives came and went, and then Mr. Stephens approached with a new set. This grouping was unusual in that the prospective master, a thickset blond with a combative demeanor, already had a slave, a dark-haired, delicate, cringing boy from House Apollo, who looked quite despondent. Was this master planning to replace his current slave? But then how cruel to bring the slave on his shopping trip! Martin took an instant dislike to this prospective master.

The family were the Pettibones and the boy was called Adam. They stood before the Superiors’ dais, Adam Pettibone with his hands on his hips and a scowl furrowing his brow.

“Which is the best one, then?” young Mr. Pettibone demanded of Mr. Stephens. “My father says I can have whichever I want, and I want the best.”

“Our Martin is our top candidate this year—”

“Is he a smart one? Because the one I have is stupid, and I won’t put up with another dummy.” The little Apollo boy flinched when Mr. Pettibone called him stupid and Martin wished he could say something in the boy’s defense or offer him some comfort. A master could treat a slave however he chose, of course, but this callousness was worrisome. If Mr. Pettibone was this unkind in public, it was easy to imagine how much worse he might be in private.

Mr. Stephens seemed quite taken aback by Mr. Pettibone’s vitriol. “Oh, I see, Sir. Well! Yes, Martin is a smart boy. He receives top marks in every class. He’d be able to help you with your schoolwork if that’s something you’re interested in.” Mr. Stephens looked up at Martin. “Martin, please turn around. Let Mr. Pettibone have a look at you.”

Martin obediently turned in place, avoiding making eye contact with Mr. Pettibone. He willed Adam Pettibone to lose interest, to lose interest in him and all Ganymede slaves.

“What sort of talents does he have, then?” Mr. Pettibone jabbed at the little Apollo slave with a finger thick as a sausage. “This one doesn’t do anything you can show off. I want one I can show off. I want everyone at school to be jealous.”

“Martin is an excellent sportsman and he plays the violin beautifully,” Mr. Stephens offered.

Adam considered this. “What sorts of music do you play?” he asked, his tone aggressive and demanding. Everything out of his mouth sounded belligerent. 

Martin cleared his throat and swallowed. “Any sort you might like, Sir. I have a wide repertoire.”

“A what?” Adam frowned, eyeing Martin suspiciously.

“Sir?”

“What did you just say to me? Reper…?”

“Oh, Sir, I only meant that I know a wide variety of music.”

“Well, why not say that instead?” Mr. Pettibone demanded irritably.

“My apologies, Sir.” Martin ducked his head in a show of contrition. The prospect of going to this horrible boy filled him with dread, and it took effort not to let his lips turn down in a frown.

“I suppose I ought to examine him,” Mr. Pettibone said to Mr. Stephens. “Have him drop his pants.”

Mr. Stephens said, “Martin, if you please…”

Martin gave him a curt nod of acknowledgement and unbuttoned his breeches. His balls were drawn up tight, his cock shrunken. The idea of being touched by Mr. Pettibone was abhorrent.

“Turn around,” Mr. Pettibone demanded. “Bend over.”

Martin did as he was asked, bracing his hands on his knees. He was jolted nearly off balance by the abrupt force of Mr. Pettibone’s examination. Mr. Pettibone shoved two fingers inside him and rooted around as if searching for something he’d misplaced. Martin winced at the discomfort, and it was all he could do not to squirm away.

“He’s better than the one I have,” Mr. Pettibone remarked, withdrawing his fingers.

Martin turned to face forward again, pulling up his breeches, and noted with distaste that Mr. Pettibone wiped his fingers on his trousers.

In a challenging tone, Mr. Pettibone asked, “So, what makes this one the best, anyway?”

“Martin is particularly well-suited for this role,” Mr. Stephens said. This was the phrase they always used when talking about boys like Martin, boys who preferred the attentions of other boys.

Mr. Pettibone snorted. “Ha. That’s what they said about this one.” He elbowed his slave hard in the ribs, and the boy hunched over and gasped, clearly in pain. 

Martin frowned in concern and Mr. Stephens gave him an answering frown and a little shake of the head. It wouldn’t do for Martin to be scowling on the sales floor, much less scowling at a prospective master.

“Is he obedient? I don’t want one that fusses or fights back.”

Mr. Stephens seemed slightly nonplussed. “‘Fights back,’ Sir?”

“You know. When you make him do things, does he do them like he’s supposed to? I want one who does what he’s told and doesn’t try to get out of following orders.”

Mr. Stephens recovered somewhat. “Martin is well-trained, as are all of our offerings. They’re all tractable, obedient boys.”

Mr. Pettibone looked Martin up and down and then turned to his father. “I like this one, Dad. You’ll buy me this Martin, all right?”

No. It couldn’t happen. The thought of being this master’s slave was terrifying, and Martin hated that it was even a possibility. He went numb, freezing cold, his lips frozen in a friendly-seeming rictus, while inside he was howling in a panic. He didn’t want to end up like that miserable, cowed boy at Mr. Pettibone’s side.  

The elder Pettibone said, “He’ll be expensive. Why don’t you look at the rest of these Superior boys, as well?”

“Don’t you want me to have the best, though?” Mr. Pettibone demanded. “You didn’t spend enough on this one—” he elbowed his slave again “—and he’s no good. Now that everyone is going to have one, I have to have a better one, and Ganymede is best. Everybody knows that.”

“I told you back in April that it would be prudent to wait,” the father said, frowning. “But no, you insisted you had to have one the minute you turned 16.” The father puffed on his cigar, then added, “Sam’s better than you give him credit for.”

Sam. That must be the slave’s name.

“I want the best slave from the best House,” Mr. Pettibone insisted. “I don’t need to look at the others. They won’t be good enough. I’m not settling for second best again.” He shot a baleful glare at poor Sam, who cowered under his scrutiny.

Mr. Pettibone turned his attention back to Martin, who was having trouble maintaining his benign smile. Couldn’t this horrid boy tell that Martin loathed him? Didn’t it matter to him? He pressed his lips together in a tight line and was at least able to keep himself from outright frowning in a prospective master’s face.

“We’ll be bidding high on you.” Mr. Pettibone reached out and jabbed Martin in the belly with his oafish finger, and it hurt, and Martin hunched over with a surprised grunt. “You’ll be mine all right,” he said cheerfully, quite satisfied at the prospect.

Martin could manage no more than a curt nod and a, “Very good, Sir.”

Sam made momentary eye contact with Martin, and his gaze was full of sympathy.

As the Pettibones walked away with Mr. Stephens, Martin began to shake. Any one of these prospective masters might take him home if his father was indulgent enough, and the fact that Adam Pettibone already had a slave was a good indication that the elder Mr. Pettibone was very indulgent. Martin took deep breaths and tried to calm himself. Someone else might bid higher. Someone else, someone kinder, might want him more.

Stuart leaned close and said, “I hope you don’t go to that one.”

A steady stream of men was passing through the room, all black hats and dark suits, cigars and mustaches, and clumsy boys with unmanicured hands who just wanted to examine as many slaves as possible. One such boy had just finished with Martin, and he had stood upright and turned to face forward when he saw the tall pair from across the room. He froze in place, open-mouthed and staring.

One was fat with sandy hair and the other was dark and slim, and it was as if there was a spotlight following these prospectives, keeping Martin’s attention on them and their progress through the crowd. As they drew closer, Martin could see them well enough to know that the dark one was the younger, the son. They were accompanied by the father’s slave—a Ganymede man and a bland-faced fellow, quite unusual for a companion—and Mr. Paulsen, who was gesticulating with his crop and fending off the Standard boys who tried to grab at the son’s sleeves.

Even at this distance, even with the details hazy, this prospective master was notable. He wore his hair longer than most, and he was wearing a fashionable dark green suit with a striped waistcoat, but he did not have the swagger of a true dandy. Martin squinted a little, trying to see the boy’s face; it seemed possible that he was a pretty boy, a handsome fellow. Martin’s heart began to pound a little harder. Here was quite a lot of what he wanted, and Mr. Paulsen was bringing it directly to him!

Martin stood up straighter, hands clasped behind his back, and leveled his best, most welcoming smile at this still-blurry boy. 

They came a few steps nearer and, as his vision clarified, Martin went weak-kneed, swaying on the dais and short of breath with the force of his attraction. At close range, the boy was handsome, so very handsome, and just Martin’s type. He was everything Martin wanted: black hair, olive skin, a shy blush on his cheek, tall and lean and graceful, his clothes hanging beautifully from his broad shoulders. There was something sensitive in his aspect that made Martin think he must be an artist, or perhaps a poet—or maybe he would simply appreciate such things.

It wasn’t just the boy’s looks, though. There was something between them, some magnetic pull, that made it so painfully obvious to Martin that this was the boy he belonged to that it was impossible to believe the boy didn’t feel it, too. He’d felt powerful attractions to boys at Ganymede, but this was of another order entirely. He was too pragmatic to believe in love at first sight, but this was certainly something, something momentous. If this had been a boy at Ganymede, he’d have been able to proposition him, say exactly what he wanted and what he could offer, and it was terrible that he had to wait patiently for this boy to indicate that he wanted Martin, too.

Just based on his initial impression, his visceral response, if this boy took him, if he could belong to this boy, he didn’t think there was anything he wouldn’t do for him. Just to know that this was the boy fucking him would be enough, and he could imagine the rest of what he needed. He’d never receive them, of course, but he could imagine searing kisses from that beautiful poet’s mouth being pressed between his shoulder blades as he was fucked from behind. He could imagine—

Thwack!

Mr. Paulsen’s crop came down hard on the edge of the dais, and they all obediently turned to the left for a beat, to the rear, to the right, then forward again. Martin darted a glance at the boy, and the boy was looking back at him but then blushed and quickly looked away. Martin arched his back a little and wished with all his might for this prospective master to look at him again, to look as long as he liked. He watched the boy’s long hands wringing together nervously and fervently wished that the boy might want to examine him. He’d do everything he could think of to seduce him, bending over so as to blatantly offer himself and squeezing around his fingers once they were inside. The thought of having any part of this beautiful young man inside his body made him tremble.

Mr. Paulsen was speaking to the father. “Let me introduce you to our Superiors, Mr. Blackwell. These five represent the highest standards of service and achievement that Ganymede has to offer. These are well-trained and lively boys, obedient and gentle. They're the culmination of a proud tradition and are eager to begin service. If you don't mind, sir, I'll just show you…” Mr. Paulsen took the catalog from the father’s hands and found the page he wanted. “Here we go, sir.” Using the crop to point, he said, “This is our Martin. Our finest offering this season. A handsome boy and, as you can see, he is also quite accomplished.”

Martin directed a smile at the elder Blackwell, who paid him no mind, and then at young Mr. Blackwell, who seemed hesitant to meet his eyes. He darted glances at Martin, skittish as a wild animal, and his cheeks pinked. That such a handsome boy would be so bashful was charming, and it made Martin want to teach him to be bold. Oh, how he loved the idea of teaching him! He’d need to learn everything, wouldn’t he? Martin gave a little shudder and nearly moaned aloud at the idea of being the first one to suck this boy’s cock. Would he blush while Martin did it? Would he pull Martin’s hair with his nervous hands?

Mr. Paulsen and the elder Mr. Blackwell chatted about Martin’s health, and then Mr. Paulsen invited the gentleman to examine him.

Mr. Blackwell said, “Turn around, boy,” and Martin did as asked, rotating in place on the dais.

Mr. Blackwell said, “Come here.”

Martin came down the two steps from the dais to stand close in front of Mr. Blackwell, who was extremely tall, intimidatingly so. Mr. Blackwell set his hands heavily on Martin’s shoulders and gave them a squeeze.

“Hmm.”

He examined Martin’s arms and hands with the air of someone looking for something specific, but Martin could not guess what. He took hold of Martin’s chin and turned his head to the right and then the left and then gazed levelly into Martin’s eyes.

“Henry. Come here and have a look at him.”

Henry. That was his name. Beautiful Henry.

Henry stepped forward, his nervousness apparent. He kept his eyes down, his cheeks pinker still. Face to face, just inches between them, he was everything Martin liked in a boy, everything he found attractive. It wasn’t just his obvious beauty, though; standing together like this, the air was rich with a powerful erotic chemistry that made Martin want to rub up against this Henry, to fall to his knees and serve him. He thought of the boys at other Houses making just such offers to their prospective masters, and he wished that his Ganymede training would permit him to be so brazen.

Henry took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He was taller than Martin, though by no more than an inch, and a little broader. He put his hands on Martin’s shoulders, just as his father had done, but his hands immediately began to shake. Martin trembled, too, and wondered if Henry noticed, if Henry realized how Martin thrilled at his touch. Henry ran his hands down Martin’s arms and held his hands for a breathless moment, but then dropped them hurriedly. He stood back, shoving his hands in his pockets, and said, “Turn around.”

Martin turned in a circle and fervently wished Henry would ask to examine his hole. He was half-hard just thinking about it, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted Henry to notice this or not. Some masters might be put off by a slave’s enthusiasm.

“His parts are very nicely formed,” Mr. Paulsen remarked, as if reading Martin’s mind. “If you'd like to see—”

Before Henry could answer, his father broke in with a question. “What's this?” Mr. Blackwell asked, jabbing at the catalog page. “Myopia?”

“He does wear glasses,” Mr. Paulsen admitted. “Just a touch of nearsightedness, sir. Really, it shouldn't be a problem in the course of normal duties…”

Henry looked at his father, panic in his eyes at the possibility that his father might be unwilling bid on an imperfect boy. It was the first sure sign Martin had seen that Henry might be interested in him, and it provided him a little welcome reassurance.

“Where are his glasses now?” Father demanded, frowning. “Can he see? Boy, can you see?”

“I can see you very clearly, Sir,” Martin told him. “I only have trouble with distances.”

Henry met his eyes, and Martin smiled at him, his most dazzling smile. Henry ducked his head.

“He’s an excellent scholar,” Mr. Paulsen put in, hurrying to extol Martin’s virtues. “Should Henry have occasion to require assistance with his schoolwork, Martin is prepared to help.”

“How is he with Latin?” asked Mr. Blackwell, giving Henry a sidelong glance.

“He’s always received top marks,” Mr. Paulsen assured him. “But he’s also conversant in modern languages, as well. He manages quite well in French, Italian and German.”

“Hmm.” Mr. Blackwell flipped through the catalog with an inscrutable expression. He closed the catalog with a snap. “Henry is athletic,” he announced. “Whatever choice we make, we will expect the boy to be able to keep up.”

“Rest assured, that will not be a problem. As I'm sure you're aware, all of our boys are given a thorough background in sport. Martin, for instance, is the House fencing champion for the fifteens and sixteens,” Mr. Paulsen told them. “He sits an excellent horse and is expert with bow and arrow. I should not presume that he is any match for Henry, but he should have no trouble keeping up.”

While the adults talked, Martin lowered his voice and asked, “Excuse me, Sir. Henry, Sir. What sports do you enjoy?” It was risky to have used Henry’s name, and his minders would be furious with him for taking such liberties, but he desperately wanted Henry’s attention.

“Just those.” Henry’s voice was barely audible. “Same as you.”

Martin hesitated a moment, confused; it seemed unlikely that Henry also participated in the exact sports that Martin had trained in. Well, he wouldn’t question it now, and, hopefully, he would have a chance to clarify matters in the future.

In the same intimate tone, Martin offered, “I also like to swim, Sir. I play the violin. And I'm keen on reading. I could read to you, if you wanted, Sir.”

Henry shook his head, but he did not seem to be rejecting the possibility outright.

How could he make this boy understand what he wanted? Martin leaned closer. “I don't look it, but I'm very strong. Feel, Sir.” He took another risk: touching without asking. He reached for Henry’s wrist and drew his hand close, pressing it flat to his belly. Henry gasped and pulled back sharply.

“What are you boys talking about?” Mr. Blackwell asked, turning to look at them.

“Nothing, Father.” Henry shook his hand as if burned.

Martin shivered, feeling the hot imprint of Henry’s hand like a brand across his belly. He wanted to feel those hands on his body, holding him down. He wanted Henry to make him do things, to play dirty games with him. He’d known shy boys at Ganymede, and they could be just as dirty as any more brazen boy.

Mr. Blackwell stepped back and looked Martin over again. “Hmm…yes, quite impressive, but what about these others?”

Mr. Paulsen said, “Martin, return to your place, please,” and Martin would have preferred to stay within touching distance of Henry, but he certainly wasn’t going to be disobedient in front of the very boy he wanted for a master. He returned to his place on the dais and watched Henry intently.

As Mr. Blackwell and Mr. Paulsen discussed and compared the merits of the other Superiors, Henry poked at the Ganymede disk woven into the carpet with the toe of his boot. He glanced at Martin occasionally, always looking away quickly when Martin caught him doing it. Martin did what he could to attract and hold Henry’s attention, shifting position and arching his back, offering himself as blatantly as he dared. Mr. Blackwell called Henry back and directed him to look at Charlie and Stuart both, but Henry seemed to do this only grudgingly, reluctant and apathetic, and returned to carpet-scuffing and sneaking glances at Martin as soon as he was allowed. 

Martin tried to looking as welcoming and unthreatening as possible in hopes that Henry might talk with him a little. Henry was definitely shy, but Martin suspected he might be a little strange, as well. Martin didn’t think he would mind overly much if his master was eccentric. After all, an unconventional master might be more amenable to the sort of relationship Martin fantasized about. It didn’t seem that Henry was going to want to make the sort of inspection of Martin’s body that he’d been putting up with all morning, and that was a disappointment after having to accommodate so many unwelcome touches, so many rough fingers shoved in his hole. Henry didn’t want to touch him now, perhaps, but Martin felt confident that, with time, he could make Henry come around.

His reverie was interrupted by a trio of prospectives, people called Winkler. The prospective master was Bobby Winkler, and he had read the catalog; he asked about the violin, and Martin smiled at him because it was his job to do so, and he chatted with Mr. Winkler about the music he enjoyed playing, always aware of Henry, of Henry’s eyes on his face. Henry looked like he wanted to come force his way in between Martin and Mr. Winkler, and Martin wanted him to do it.

“…most difficult pieces?”

Martin blinked. “Sorry, Sir. What was that again?”

Mr. Winkler frowned, irritated. “I asked you what you think are the most difficult pieces.”

Martin gave his opinions in a halting voice, half of his attention on the conversation between Mr. Blackwell and Mr. Paulsen, who were discussing Martin’s merits, and the merits of the other Superiors, and Martin couldn’t tell who Mr. Blackwell favored.

Mr. Blackwell called out, “Timothy, come here,” and the plain-faced slave joined him and Mr. Paulsen in lively consultation.

Martin answered some questions about fencing, which Mr. Winkler had never done but found interesting, and really Martin ought to have been paying more attention to him. He was a smart, curious boy who was musical besides, and he seemed gentle and was surprisingly tolerant of Martin’s inattention. But he did not make Martin feel the way Henry Blackwell did. Henry, who was slouching a short distance away, still kicking at the carpet.

“What do you think, old man?” Mr. Blackwell asked. “I think it has to be one of these.”

Timothy said, “Well, it’s quite plain that Young Sir is only interested in the one,” to his master. “If you’re going to take his opinion into account, Sir, which I think you ought to do.”

Mr. Blackwell snorted. “That’s what you think, eh?”

Timothy smiled. “If you’re going to take my opinion into account, Sir.” There seemed to be a great deal of affectionate familiarity between Timothy and his master, and Martin thought this precedent boded well for whoever was fortunate enough to become Henry’s slave.

Mr. Winkler turned to his father and said, “I think I like him, but I’m not sure he likes me,” and Martin was embarrassed at his own bad behavior.

“We seem to have quite a few things in common, Sir,” Martin offered tentatively. And although he didn’t want to encourage anyone to bid except Henry Blackwell, he made himself say, “I think we could get along well.”

“So do I. Thank you.” Mr. Winkler gave Martin a little nod and turned to leave with his father and father’s companion.

“Thank you for your consideration, Sir,” Martin said, because that is what they were supposed to say. That was what a top boy, a good slave, would say to any prospective master.

Mr. Paulsen addressed Mr. Blackwell and said, “If you have any further questions, sir, I should be happy to answer them.” Mr. Blackwell did not answer right away, so Mr. Paulsen added, “If these candidates are not to your liking, perhaps I might show you something else…?”

“I think we've seen enough.” Mr. Blackwell put his catalog in his pocket. “Thank you for your time.” He headed for the curtained doorway, Timothy in his wake, Henry trailing forlorn.  

Martin followed their passage through the crowded room with a sense of panic. He willed Henry to glance around, to see him, to understand how much he wanted to be Henry’s slave. By the time the Blackwells reached the curtained doorway, Henry was nothing but a tall, dark blur, and Martin couldn’t be certain of anything, but he thought Henry looked back.

Mr. Paulsen stood before Martin. “Good job,” he said. “That young Blackwell seemed to like you all right, and his father seems amenable. They’re very rich people. That would be a nice outcome all around.” He gave Martin a friendly tap on the hip with his crop and headed off in search of more rich buyers.

Martin didn’t really believe in a god, but he prayed a little anyway, just in case. He wanted the Blackwells to bid high for him. He wanted Henry to put him on his knees and make him do his job. He wanted to make an effective wish—written down and then burnt, the way slaves always did wishes—but had to settle for just wishing in his head.

He leaned over and said to Stuart, “I wish I could make a proper wish.”

Stuart laughed and said, “I know what you’re wishing for. You want that tall one, don’t you? He’s a handsome thing! He didn’t like me at all. He only had eyes for you.”

Martin was cheered by this. “Do you really think so? Do you think he liked me?”

Stuart opened his mouth to answer, but he was approached by a trio of prospectives in the company of Mr. Pepper and needed to give them his full attention. The father and son were nice-looking blonds, and Martin couldn’t help but notice that the father’s companion looked as though he might be the father’s better-looking brother. Likewise, the prospective master looked like a lesser version of handsome Stuart. Martin tried to get his mind off of Henry Blackwell and instead contemplated all the possible reasons a rich family would want lookalike slaves.

The next two hours seemed the longest of Martin’s life. He was questioned and examined and prodded by boy after unremarkable boy, and he did his best to be polite and engaged with every one of them, but his mind was on lovely, shy, awkward Henry Blackwell, and the smiles he gave these prospectives were all meant for Henry.  

Some of the prospectives were enthusiastic and indicated their intention to bid, and Martin was polite and grateful for their interest, but somehow he did not believe any of them would prevail. An occasional fearful thought of dreadful Adam Pettibone crept in, but Martin did his best to tamp down his panic. Mr. Pettibone’s confidence that his father would bid high enough might be misplaced. Surely someone else would want him more.

But the terrible fact was, if Adam Pettibone won Martin at auction, he’d have no recourse, and he’d have to make the best of it.

It was better to think of Henry.

At 11:30, the showroom doors were closed to new customers, and those who lingered in the viewing area and anteroom were gently encouraged to leave. When at last all the prospectives had departed, the boys were allowed to come down off the daises and were ushered into the back rooms where Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott had lemonade and weak tea waiting for them.

Martin asked Mr. Jacob for his glasses but was told he couldn’t have them until after the sale. However, he was given tea with milk and went to sit on the floor against the wall with Georgie and Noah. His back was sore from standing all morning, and his asshole was throbbing from all the rough handling. Despite his nerves and various discomforts, he was in hopeful good spirits. He turned to the other boys, smiling.

“Did you meet anyone good?” he asked.

Yes,” Noah said happily. “A nice boy called Darling—”

“Oh, I met him!” Martin said, excited for Noah despite their history.

“And he didn’t want you,” Noah said with unbecoming satisfaction. “He loved my hair. I think he’d spoil me, really. He says his father will bid high, and he seemed to want me very badly. If he takes me, I’ll definitely be happy.”

“There were a few I liked all right,” Georgie said with a shrug. “None I’m too attached to, and I’ll be happy with any of them. But you,” he said, nodding at Martin. “You fell in love, didn’t you? I saw you do it.”

Martin felt his face grow hot. “That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But I did like one better than the others.”

“The handsome tall fellow,” Georgie said, “With the even-taller father. He had just the looks you like, didn’t he? But he seemed a little odd.”

“He’s shy,” Martin said, slightly defensive. “It might be nothing more than that.”

Noah laughed. “You don’t care, though, do you? You want him even if he is odd, that’s plain enough.”

Martin frowned. “I think Mr. Blackwell would be a good master,” he said, though this estimation of Henry’s merit was based entirely on his own attraction and not on anything Henry had said or done.

“Well, you can’t expect anything more than that,” Noah said with cruel cheer, and then he proceeded to brag. “Mr. Darling told me I’m the best-looking boy he’s ever seen. When he bent me over, he gave a little moan when he put his fingers inside, and I think he’ll have trouble keeping to just what’s allowed when he’s got me alone, which is fine with me!” Noah also preferred the affections of other boys. With a smug smile, he turned to Martin and asked, “Was your tall boy anything like that? Was he rough with you, or was he sweet?”

Martin turned his face away when he admitted that, “Mr. Blackwell didn’t touch me like that. He was very shy.”

Noah gave a derisive snort, and in Martin’s defense, Georgie said, “This Blackwell fellow really did like him, Noah, it was clear. He wouldn’t even look at anyone else. He was just…strange. But harmless, I think.”

Martin did not think Henry had seemed as peculiar as all that, but it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. It did not seem likely that he would be able to explain how Henry had made him feel, so he decided not to try.

“Boys! Boys, please take this opportunity to use the toilets!” Mr. Jacob walked through the room clapping for attention. “Boys! Twenty minutes!”

Martin didn’t need the toilet. He put down his empty mug and curled close to Georgie, and Noah did the same on Georgie’s other side. Martin laid his arm across Georgie’s waist expecting Noah to protest the intrusion into his space, but all Noah did was put his hand on Martin’s forearm and squeeze.

“We’ve had our differences, certainly,” Noah said, “but I’ll miss you anyway.”

“Me, too,” Martin admitted. “I hope your Mr. Darling bids high.”

Noah smiled at him. “Thank you. What was the name of yours?”

“Blackwell.”

“I hope Mr. Blackwell takes you. I don’t want you to be unhappy, you know.” He touched Martin’s cheek. “Say, do you want to give Georgie a nice goodbye present?”

“A present?” Georgie asked, very interested.

Martin thought he knew what Noah intended. “All right. Let’s do it.”

Noah leaned across Georgie’s lap, and Martin met him halfway, and they kissed, long and slow, while Georgie chortled with pleasure and rubbed their backs. Noah was a good kisser; Martin could understand why Georgie had favored him.

“I’ll take that picture with me all the rest of my life,” Georgie said happily when they finally parted, their lips wet and high color in their cheeks. “My beautiful ginger boys.” He kissed Noah and then Martin and adjusted himself in his tight breeches. “I wish you’d shown me that when I could have done something about it.”

“You’re lucky you got to see it at all,” Noah said, elbowing him in the ribs.

Mr. Elliott came around with their lot numbers, bold black on white cardstock with string to hang around their necks. Noah was #57, Georgie #59, and, as top boy, Martin would go last for Ganymede at #63.

Mr. Jacob clapped his hands for attention again. “Boys! Listen, please! We’ll be heading out to the holding area in a few minutes. Ganymede is up third this year behind Nereus and Apollo, so you won’t have too terribly long a wait.”

Boys all around the room cheered a little at this, and Mr. Jacob made calming motions with his hands until they were quiet again.

“I just wanted to tell you all one last time how proud we are of you. You all did a wonderful job at the viewing, and I’m confident you’ll exceed your reserves and go to masters who’ll value everything you have to offer. Please give yourselves a round of applause.”

Everyone clapped, hugging and patting the boys nearest by. They were proud of themselves, proud of each other. Even the lowliest of the Standard boys had worked very hard to get to this point.

“Once we leave this room,” Mr. Jacob continued, “we’ll want to keep emotional displays to a minimum, please, so if you need to say any last words to your friends, now is the time to do so.”

Poor Sandy (#58) let out an anguished cry and clung to Leo (#60), and boys all around the room made sounds of gentle dismay. Charlie (#61) came to find Martin, Stuart (#62) in tow, and kissed him and held him close while the room broke out in pandemonium around them.

“I want that boy for you,” Charlie whispered. “The tall one you liked so well. I saw how you were with him.”

“I did really like him,” Martin murmured, kissing his neck.

“I want someone to love you like I do,” Charlie told him. “I want a boy to care for you the way I would. I think that one just might.”

Martin was pleased by this. “Do you think he would? Georgie thought he was strange, you know.”

“It’s all right if he’s strange, isn’t it? Only a strange boy would really care for his slave.”

Martin was touched by Charlie’s thoughtfulness. Charlie had always been so good to him, so considerate. Martin had loved Richard better, and then Georgie, but Charlie had always been devoted to his happiness, and Martin realized with a pang that it was unlikely he’d know such a selfless love ever again.

Leo and Sandy came to huddle with them, and Stuart was drawn into the circle, and everyone was especially kind to Sandy, who was doing his best but was obviously despondent.

“He did meet a nice master,” Leo said, petting Sandy’s hair as Sandy sniffled. “A patient boy who’ll be kind to him. He’ll be all right if that boy takes him.”

“He won’t be you, though,” Sandy said stubbornly.

“We’ve talked about this…” Leo said, warning in his tone. “You’ll be brave for me, won’t you, sweetheart?” He bent his head and whispered in Sandy’s ear and Sandy listened, eyes closed, and gave a little shiver as Leo spoke.

Martin said his goodbyes to the rest of the boys, all through the ranks of Choice and Standard, all the way down to lowest-ranked Rex (#41), dim and gentle and so very pretty, with soft brown curls and a long white neck that smelled sweet as milk. So many lovely boys! How he would miss them!

Mr. Elliott checked his watch and said, “It’s time, then.”

They were led out to the holding area by means of a long, winding corridor that took them behind the stage and into the rear part of the main hall, separated from the bidders by just a wall of heavy curtains. The Houses each had a section of the floor, delimited by ropes and stanchions, and now was their first real opportunity to look at the competition, but few had the stomach for it at this late hour. They stood nervously shifting from foot to foot, or paced, or sat on the floor hugging their knees.

The Nereus boys were already being sold, ascending the stairs to the stage one at a time, passing to stand before a canvas backdrop, and posing silhouetted in the hot lights while the auctioneer solicited bids. The sales went quickly, much faster than Martin had expected. It seemed that they’d scarcely have time to draw breath before their fates would be decided; maybe it was better that way.

As the Nereus boys came down from the stage they first spoke briefly with a gentleman with a clipboard who stood at the base of the stairs, and were then met by their minders. They were dressed in their white shirts and flimsy shoes, and had their hair tied back and their wrists bound while their new masters completed the sale paperwork. The paperwork took much longer than the bidding, and soon there was a long line of sold slaves waiting nervously to go to their new masters.

The Apollo boys were up next and again were sold with unnerving rapidity.

When there were only four Apollo slaves remaining at the foot of the stage stairs, Mr. Jacob stood before them and clapped his hands softly. “Boys!” he said in a loud whisper. “Boys! On your feet please, and put yourselves in order. We’ll go line up after the last of the Apollo boys.”

Mr. Elliott made hurrying gestures as they all got to their feet and arranged themselves, Rex in front and Martin at the rear. Mr. Jacob led them from their roped-off pen to the end of the Apollo line and then he and Mr. Elliott fussed them into position, straightening their queue.

Here, close to the stage, they could hear the auctioneer’s loud, rapid-fire voice more clearly. There was a startling bang of the auctioneer’s gavel and he announced, “Sold! To paddle 57!”

When the slave came down from the stage, he asked the man with the clipboard, “Who’s 57, Sir? Who bought me?” with some urgency.

The gentleman flipped a page and ran his finger down a column. “Parker,” he said carefully. “You sold to Parker.”

The boy seemed relieved. “Oh, that’s all right, then!” He trotted over to join the line of sold boys.

The remaining Apollo boys sold, each finding out the name of his purchaser as he descended the stairs, and all of them seemed happy enough upon learning the identities of their new owners, which Martin decided to think of as a good omen.

The lots for House Ganymede were announced. Poor Rex was trembling as he ascended the stairs.

“We love you!” Mr. Jacob said in a loud whisper. “You’re a good boy, Rex!”

Rex was the least of them, very beautiful but almost simple-minded, and Martin worried that he wouldn’t meet his reserve and would have to go home in disgrace, but instead there was competitive bidding and he sold for nearly double the reserve price. Martin decided this was another good omen.

There was more competition for the Ganymede boys than there had been for the Nereus or Apollo offerings, so the bidding took a little longer, but the process was still dizzyingly fast. Every boy exceeded his reserve by a wide margin, which made Martin proud of his friends and proud of his House; it wasn’t just Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott making claims—Ganymede really was best.

The Standard boys all seemed happy when they learned the names of their new masters. The first sour note was sounded when Stevie, third of the Choice boys, was told he’d sold to some people called Bennett and struggled to hold back tears, obviously disappointed. Mr. Jacob put an arm around his shoulders and hustled him over to the line of sold slaves, speaking intently into his ear.

Bidding for Noah was heated, but he eventually sold to Mr. Darling and was clearly elated at the news. Sandy sold to a Mr. Fenton and did not look particularly happy about this, but Martin heard Leo say, “Good!” under his breath and knew this must be the especially kind boy Leo had hoped would take his friend.

Georgie was bought by some people called Hanover and seemed well-pleased. Leo went to a Mr. Carson and was plainly relieved. Charlie went to Mr. Atherton, the boy who had found Martin so uninteresting, and Charlie was obviously satisfied with this result.

Now it was only Stuart and Martin, and Stuart gave Martin’s hand a squeeze and climbed the stairs, leaving him all alone with Mr. Elliott. Martin’s heart began to pound so hard he could scarcely hear the auctioneer above the blood roaring in his ears. He wanted to be won by Mr. Blackwell so very badly, but he could just as easily go to Mr. Pettibone. Mr. Pettibone had said outright that he wanted Martin, and Mr. Blackwell had said nothing much at all.

Stuart sold in no time, descending the stairs and asking after paddle number 32.

“DeWitt,” said the man with the clipboard.

Stuart laughed, delighted. “Oh, the blond people! I liked them!”

“Up you go,” said Mr. Elliott, pushing Martin toward the staircase with a hand in the small of his back.

Martin climbed, his breath seeming very loud, his legs seeming very heavy. A gentleman employed by the hall was there to meet him at the top of the stairs, and he was led around the edge of a heavy canvas backdrop to stand in the blinding lights of the sales stage. The auctioneer stood at a podium at stage right. The hall attendant gave Martin a little push toward the center of the stage and he saw where he was meant to go, a white-painted X on the boards. Even with his glasses, Martin doubted he’d have been able to see anything in the glaring light. He was disoriented and frightened, but then he remembered who he was, top boy at Ganymede, and drew himself up tall. He threw his shoulders back and smiled and felt approval and interest return from the crowd.

He hoped that Mr. Blackwell was in the audience looking at him and wanting him. He hoped that Mr. Pettibone had found someone else he’d rather own.

The bidding was fast and furious, the number going higher and higher, and Martin thought he must be misunderstanding, but no, it was a huge sum being offered. The number was intimidating; the bidding parties must want him a great deal, and they must have great expectations. There were quite a few prospective masters who’d been interested, but Pettibone and Blackwell were the only ones Martin could remember in the moment, and when the gavel came down several long minutes later with paddle number 71 the winner for an astronomical amount, he was frozen, terrified, and needed a nudge from the attendant to get moving toward the stairs.

Descending the stairs, he begged, “Please, Sir, who is 71? Who’s my master?”

The man with the clipboard flipped over a page and squinted. “Hmm…it’s Block—no, sorry, Blackwell.”

Martin’s knees went weak and he swayed on the stair and clutched at the railing as his body was flooded with happy relief. Blackwell! Beautiful Henry was his master! His eyes welled with tears and he grinned like a fool, unable to maintain any semblance of dignity. Oh, they were going to have such a wonderful time! Martin would help Henry get over his shyness right away, and he’d show him everything he’d been taught, everything he’d been practicing in hopes of having a worthy master.

Mr. Jacob hurried to meet him with a broad smile as he stepped off the staircase. “Martin! Congratulations! You’ve set a record, my dear! We’re all so very proud of you.”

Martin blinked at the line of blurry boys who were all clapping for him and was deeply moved. Mr. Jacob handed him his glasses and he settled them on his nose. Now he could see the boys clearly, and they all seemed genuinely happy for him. All of the Standard boys had gone already, and half the Choice, but all his closest friends were still present and witnessing his triumph. Charlie, dressed in his white shirt and with his hair tied back, held out his arms.

Martin turned to Mr. Jacob. “Mr. J? May I?”

Mr. Jacob glanced at Mr. Elliott, who gave a tiny nod.

“All right. Just a quick hug,” Mr. Jacob agreed.

Martin ran into Charlie’s arms and held him tight. The nearest boys immediately joined their embrace despite Mr. Elliott’s admonishments.

Georgie said, “You did good,” into the curve of Martin’s ear.

“That’s quite enough,” Mr. Elliott said irritably. “We certainly didn’t give you permission to all pile on.”

“Martin, come get dressed,” Mr. Jacob said in stern voice. “Take your place in line. The Orpheus boys are selling right behind you.”

Martin reluctantly let go of Charlie and went to the back of the line where Mr. Jacob waited with his shirt. He pulled it on over his head and did the buttons and then tucked it into his tight pants. The neck of the shirt was cut in a vee to show his tattoo, so it would be clear to anyone who saw him that he was a slave. He slipped on and tied his shoes and stood upright. The shirt was scratchy, cheaply made; it was meant to be discarded immediately. The Blackwells would buy him an entire wardrobe in short order, everything new for him alone, and surely they would be nice things; rich people liked the things around them to be quality.

Mr. Elliott bade him hold still while he combed his hair back from his face. “You’re very handsome,” he said stiffly, never as natural with the compliments and endearments as his counterpart. “Now tie it back, please.”

Martin did as he was told, his hands shaking. He was hit with wave after wave of giddiness, his stomach unsettled and his breath coming short. He would have to calm down or he’d make himself sick. He couldn’t let himself be so worked up that he’d burst into tears when he saw Henry again. Would Henry still be reticent, still shy? Or would he meet Martin’s smile with one of his own? Did Henry’s determination to take Martin mean that he also felt what Martin felt? Was he as eager to be reunited as Martin was?

“Congratulations,” Stuart murmured, giving Martin’s hand a brief squeeze.

“You, too.” Martin squeezed back.

Stuart chuckled. “The DeWitts are a whole household of blond and blue, family and slaves alike, can you imagine? They made sure to let me know that I fit into their scheme. I do really like the young master, though. He seems kind and he’s not stupid. Nice-looking, too.”

“He reminds me of you, but not so handsome,” Martin admitted.

“Yours is very handsome,” Stuart remarked. “He could be one of us, except for his shyness.”

“I’ll help him get over that,” Martin said confidently. “He won’t need to be shy with me.” He thought again of having Henry’s cock in his mouth, thought of Henry’s pink cheeks and nervous hands, and gave a little shudder.

Another boy’s paperwork was completed and they all shuffled a few steps forward.

Martin couldn’t help getting ahead of himself, imagining scenarios in which Henry touched him with affection, a lover’s touch. He dared to imagine Henry’s hand low on his belly, just where he’d made Henry touch him earlier, and then imagined it lower still, Henry’s fingers closing around his cock. He bit his lip against a whimper and his eyes fluttered closed.

Stuart was watching him and laughed. “He’s lucky to have you, I think. You’re so eager to serve!”

The Orpheus boys were lining up behind Martin now. When the Orpheus minders moved to the back of the line, the boy directly behind Martin tugged on his shirt sleeve. The boy was short, with a pretty face and straight brown hair.

“Congratulations,” the boy said in a low, surreptitious voice. They really weren’t supposed to be talking. “Your master really wanted you.”

“Thank you,” Martin whispered back. “You’re kind to have noticed.”

The boy snorted. “Everyone noticed. Everyone wants to be wanted like that.”

The Orpheus minder came hustling over and shushed the boy and gave Martin a sharp look. “Now is not the time to make friends,” he told his charge.

Charlie stretched his arm back, behind Stuart, and held Martin’s hand for a bit, but Mr. Jacob made them let go. The line continued to move slowly but steadily. As each new boy stepped to his place at the head of the line, Mr. Jacob or Mr. Elliott would bind his wrists together with a Ganymede blue cord to be presented to his new master. It was a gesture of surrender, of submission, and it was tradition. Some of the boys began to cry a little when their wrists were tied. They cast frightened glances back at their lifelong friends, their eyes wild and lost when they recognized there could be no help from that quarter.

Martin was not frightened at all; he was exhilarated. He felt so lucky, so blessed. He hadn’t made his wishes in vain. It was possible that Henry Blackwell might turn out to be stupid or cruel, but he didn’t think this would happen. He had such a good feeling about Henry!

Georgie turned back, hands bound, his face pale and eyes wide with fear, and Martin gave him a loving smile, hoping to reassure. He loved Georgie and he would miss him, but it was time for them all to grow up and go out into the world, and the sooner Georgie stepped through that curtain, the sooner Martin would, too.

The hall attendant called Georgie’s number and ushered him through the curtain to join his new people, his new master. As soon as he was gone, Leo started quietly crying, shoulders shaking, and Mr. Jacob dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief and fussed over him, encouraging him to buck up.

“You don’t want him to think you’re unhappy he’s your master,” Mr. Jacob said, keeping his voice low as he bound Leo’s wrists. “He won’t understand it’s Sandy you’re crying over. You don’t want to start off on the wrong foot with your Mr. Carson, Leo.”

Leo shook his head. “No, I don’t want to do that, Mr. J.” He paused, lip held between his teeth, then asked, “Sandy will be fine without me, won’t he?” in a plaintive tone.

Mr. Jacob petted Leo’s hair. “Sandy is stronger than he knows.”

“I didn’t cry before, Mr. J, because I didn’t want to scare him,” Leo explained, “but now…” He inhaled sharply and shook his head, not wanting tears.

“Not now,” Mr. Jacob said firmly. “You can cry later. Late at night, after your master falls asleep, you can cry all you want. That’ll be your time, Leo. Right now, this is Mr. Carson’s time, and you need to do a good job for him, understand?”

They’d been trained all their lives to put a master’s needs first, and the reminder seemed to do Leo good. He gave a wet sniff, stood up straight, and was dry-eyed when he passed through the curtain.

Charlie turned to Stuart and Martin as his wrists were being bound and smiled tremulously. “My two favorite boys,” he said. “I’ll miss you so much. I love you both.”

“I’ll miss you, too,” Stuart said. “You’re my best friend, Charlie, and I love you.”

Martin felt tears well in his eyes. “I love you, Charlie.”

“Your Mr. Blackwell will take good care of you, Martin,” Charlie said confidently. “I just know it.”

Martin smiled. “I hope you’re right.”

“Maybe we’ll see each other again?” Charlie said with a little shrug. “It won’t hurt to hope, I don’t think.”

Martin leaned against Stuart and reached past him, and he and Stuart each put a hand on Charlie’s back, keeping contact until his number was called. Charlie passed through the curtain with just a brief backward glance, the barest curve of a smile.

“My turn,” Stuart said with a rueful chuckle. He held his wrists for Mr. Elliott to bind. “I don’t want to leave you here all alone, but I guess we don’t have much choice…” He leaned in and kissed Martin quickly, ignoring Mr. Jacob’s tsk-ed warning. “I love you, of course, but Charlie…well, please think of him every now and then, would you? I think he deserves that much.”

“I will,” Martin promised. “I love you, too, you know.” They did love each other, but it was a friendly love, not exactly brotherly, of course, but certainly not romantic. He’d had such fun with Stuart, but he wouldn’t miss him the way he’d miss Georgie or Charlie. “I hope you have a good life with your lookalike family.”

Stuart laughed. “Well, I hope you have a good life with your weird, shy master.”

“I’m sure I will,” Martin told him, supremely confident. He felt a sick surge of excitement at the realization that he was only minutes away from seeing Henry again, face to face. Henry was surely waiting for him just the other side of the curtain, and Martin could only hope that he was just as excited, just as full of nervous energy, just as eager.

The attendant called for #62 and Mr. Elliott took Stuart’s elbow and steered him toward the parting in the curtain.

Stuart sounded calm when he said, “Goodbye, Martin.”

“Goodbye, Stuart.”

Now it was only Martin left for Ganymede. As Stuart stepped through the gap, Martin held his hands out, ready to be tied. Mr. Jacob and Elliott fussed over him, Mr. Jacob binding his wrists while Mr. Elliott combed and retied his hair, then polished his glasses with his handkerchief.

“We’re so proud of you,” Mr. Jacob reiterated in a hushed voice, mindful of his voice carrying through the curtain. “The Blackwells are a very good family, Martin, and they wanted you very much. A boy like you, you’re lucky to have such a handsome master. You’ll do an especially good job for him, I think.”

“I will, Mr. J,” Martin asserted. “I’ll make the House proud.”

“You’ll have an amazing life,” Mr. Elliott said gruffly. “I’m sure of it.”

“I hope so, Mr. E. I’m looking forward to it.”

Mr. Jacob slipped his arm around Martin’s waist and gave him a squeeze.

“Mr. J? Can I ask you a favor?”

“What is it?”

“My friend Frankie, the little one…could you tell him I got a good position, Mr. J? Could you tell him I’m happy?”

Mr. Jacob and Mr. Elliott looked at each other frowning, but then Mr. Elliott shrugged, as if leaving it entirely to Mr. Jacob’s discretion.

Mr. Jacob sighed. “Oh, I don’t see what it would hurt. If I see him, I’ll tell him.”

“Thank you, Mr. J.” Martin felt utterly content, settled. He was so ready to go to his master.

They stood in silent anticipation perhaps two minutes, muffled voices carrying through from the other side of the curtain, and the whispers of the Orpheus boys behind them. Martin was fairly vibrating with the desire to be with Henry, to be at his side, and it seemed a terrible torment to be delayed.

The attendant opened the curtain and stuck his head inside. “Ganymede 63, please.”

Mr. Elliott took Martin’s elbow and steered him toward the break in the curtain, the scrim between his old life and the new. Martin wanted to say goodbye to someone, but of course when he turned there were only the Orpheus boys, and he didn’t know them. Still, they were slaves, and they knew what he was going through.

“Good luck!” he said, and raised his bound hands to wiggle his fingers in an awkward wave.

The brown-haired boy who’d spoken with him raised his own hand tentatively and smiled, mouthing a Thank you.

And with that, Martin passed through the curtain and into his life with Henry Blackwell.