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First Time (Rebirth #3)

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The year 355, the seventh month. (The year 1880 Barley by the Old Calendar.)
 

One of the great mysteries facing historians studying the history of the Eternal Dungeon is understanding what triggered the madness of the dungeon's first High Seeker. By Layle Smith's own testimony, his "dreamings" (whose exact nature we will never know) had been occurring since the time he first arrived at the Eternal Dungeon. Yet his madness occurred eighteen years later, when he was thirty-six. What caused the High Seeker to lose control of himself?

Most historians trace the trigger point to six months before the crisis of the madness, when "the harm done to a Seeker" as a result of following the High Seeker's orders – which all the contemporary witnesses agree was the primary cause of the madness – evidently occurred. Yet historians who have examined carefully the surviving letters of the High Seeker disagree. They believe that the seeds of Layle Smith's madness were planted in the previous year . . .

Psychologists with Whips: A History of the Eternal Dungeon.
 

CHAPTER ONE

Layle Smith drew his head back from where it had been resting upon Elsdon Taylor's shoulder. The young man was still wearing the red-trimmed black hood of a Seeker-in-Training, but with the face-cloth pulled back; he smiled. Layle took a deep breath. He was still shaking from the words Elsdon had spoken a short time before – not only at what those words had told him about himself, but also at the depth of love it must have taken Elsdon to speak them.

Layle was the High Seeker; he ought to be able to penetrate behind this wall of love to find the fear that must still lie behind it. Yet try as he might, nothing he saw before him – lips smiling, eyes joyful, body calm – would reveal to him that fear. The fear remained within Elsdon; there could be no doubt of that, given the youth's background and the mind-sick manner in which Layle had initially handled Elsdon's declarations of love. Yet Elsdon seemed to have succeeded, by sheer force of his will, in driving back that fear and imprisoning it so that it could not be of harm.

Just as Layle had imprisoned his own dark desire seventeen years before. And now Elsdon had opened the cell where that desire lay bound.

Layle had never been more frightened in his life.

The young Seeker, unaware of the full cause of the shaking he must be feeling within his arms, placed his right hand behind Layle's hooded head and drew the High Seeker forward. Layle had only one moment to wonder again at how the youth who had shown such diffidence upon his arrival at the Eternal Dungeon could be so forceful in matters of love; then he felt Elsdon's lips upon his, warm and moist.

He let himself be drawn into the other Seeker's embrace. A book dropped from Layle's hand onto the floor. It was the Eternal Dungeon's Code of Seeking, which Elsdon had handed him a short time before. Many of the words in that oft-revised book were Layle's own: bindings he had placed upon himself years before, in one of his periodic efforts to prevent himself, and anyone like himself, from harming the prisoners. Even that, Elsdon had recognized – he had seen, in the Code's harsh indictment of abusive Seekers, Layle's own indictment of what he might become.

Of what he was. That was how he had thought of it these past seventeen years – he had thought of himself as an abuser, a rapist, a corrupt torturer who inflicted pain purely for his own enjoyment. Except for two brief falls – which he had quickly confessed – he had not yet committed such crimes in the Eternal Dungeon, but he had held no doubt in his mind that he would do so in the end. The germs of destruction lay within him; he was a sadist.

Yet Elsdon – who had more reason than any other man in the dungeon to hate and fear sadists – was holding Layle in his arms. Layle released his breath slowly and relaxed into the kiss.

The mouth was soft and tasted sweet. He could feel the desire begin to course through him, and he tightened his grip. A whimper came from the mouth he was probing, and he drew back, but only to view for himself the results of his kiss.

The prisoner stood bound and bloody against the wall, his skin mutilated in dozens of places by the blades and brands that Layle had used upon him. His hands were tied high above him, and he stood upon his toes, his feet barely reaching the ground. He was naked, of course, and Layle allowed his hand to trail down to the youth's groin. The prisoner's eyes widened, and the fear in them grew deeper . . .

With a shudder and a gasp, Layle broke free of the dreaming and of Elsdon, whirling round to face the corner.

He felt Elsdon's hand on his shoulder, firm as it pulled him back. Layle tried to look away from his new love-mate. In his memory, he still held the image of Elsdon bound and tortured.

"Layle," Elsdon said softly, "don't be this way. I told you: I give you permission to use me in your dreamings. You're not really hurting me – it's only images."

"Elsdon," he whispered, "you have no idea what I hold within me—"

"So reveal yourself to me. Would it help if you told me what you saw?"

"No!" His reply was swift and instinctive. He knew it for cowardice, but two-quarters of an hour before, he had been sitting by himself in this bedroom, contemplating the coming decades of loneliness and shame. He could not bear to risk losing the love Elsdon had showered upon him.

Elsdon was silent a while. At last he said, "All right. Later, when you're ready. For now . . . Layle, what can I do to convince you that what you experience and what you give me are two different things? All I felt in that kiss was tenderness and warmth. If you experienced something different, it was beyond my sight."

Hope stabbed at him, painful in its intensity. During his first, terrifying occasion of kissing Elsdon, two days before, he had managed to hide from the young Seeker the existence of his own dark dreamings. Could he do so again? Could he share his bed with Elsdon in such a manner that Elsdon felt only love coming from him, not seeing the reality behind that love?

"If I should fail . . ."

Unexpectedly, Elsdon laughed. "Layle, sometimes I think that, virgin though I am, I know far more than you do about these matters. Of course you will make a mistake sooner or later. Do you remember the first day I was brought here as a prisoner? You thought I had deliberately lied to you and you had me beaten, in accordance with the Code's prescribed treatment for prisoners who lie to their Seekers. You were wrong to think I was deliberately lying, but I survived your error. All of your prisoners have survived the errors you've made over the years. It will be the same here; any mistakes you make won't destroy me. What we have between us is too strong for that."

Layle stared at Elsdon, trying to see the bound prisoner, the diffident youth, the Seeker-in-Training . . . all the weaknesses and frailties he had assumed drew him to Elsdon. What he saw before him was a man stronger than himself in matters of love, capable of enduring more than a decade of bindings and beatings from an abusive father, and then entering the bedroom of a man he knew to be a sadist, and offering his body and soul.

There was no frailty here, yet Layle could feel that his own desire had not waned. Something was occurring that he had not expected. Elsdon was not the prisoner – Layle was. Layle was not the man conducting the searching – Elsdon was. Layle had fallen in love with a man gentle enough to be imagined as a terrified prisoner, but strong enough to accept the dangers of sharing the bed of a sadist.

Elsdon reached forward and brushed back the hair from his eyes. "Trust me," he said softly.

Layle closed his eyes and nodded his head. He felt Elsdon's lips touch his cheek. Then the young Seeker said, "Love, I don't want to probe into the privacy of your life before the Eternal Dungeon, but it would help if I was sure . . . You do know what we're about to do, don't you? Because truly, I never got beyond kisses with the girls at school. . . ."

It was another point at which he knew he should be honest; he should tell Elsdon the truth of where his dreamings came from. He imagined himself doing so, and his heart cowered back. He opened his eyes and smiled at Elsdon, saying, "I know our path well enough that we won't have to stop to ask others for directions."

Elsdon's eyes searched his face for a moment, as though sensing that more lay behind the answer than had been spoken, but he was still new to his art. The young Seeker nodded after a moment and leaned forward to kiss him.

Layle allowed himself to be kissed, but his mind was elsewhere. When Elsdon surfaced a minute later, Layle said, "My dear . . . did your father ever speak to you when he was hurting you?"

A darkness passed over Elsdon's face, like the shadows that clustered in the cavern holding the Eternal Dungeon. "Not really. Whenever he first started to bind me, he'd be chatting about my schoolwork or something like that, but he'd fall silent soon afterwards, and he'd say little until he was through. Why? Are you worried about whether you should speak to me while we're making love?"

"I'm wondering whether your father gave you any orders."

"Oh." Elsdon's voice was quiet; Layle could see that he understood. "No, he didn't, Layle, truly." He smiled, adding, "The only people I associate with order-giving are my old schoolmasters, and I was quite happy at school. Following orders wouldn't spark any painful memories for me."

Layle felt himself growing more tense, and he struggled to make himself understood. "Elsdon, when you kiss me, your reality is here, in what you do. That's where your desire comes from. But when I kiss you, my reality is outside this room, in my dreamings . . ."

Elsdon touched his palm against Layle's cheek. "Your reality is here, in your love for me. But I understand what you're saying: you need something to happen here that connects with your dreamings. Otherwise, nothing that happens between us will raise your desire."

"If it would be too hard for you . . . The first time we kissed, I didn't try to do anything like this . . ."

"And you were completely disconnected from me. I felt that, and I knew that something was wrong." Elsdon smiled and took Layle's hands in his. "Love, I want part of you to be here, with me. If giving me orders helps to keep you halfway in this world, I'll be happy to obey you."

The very word "obey" sent a flame of desire through him so keen that it was a moment before he could speak. Then he said, his voice more husky, "If I should do anything that makes you uncomfortable—"

"I'll tell you. Or more likely, you'll sense it. Stop worrying, love."

Layle put his arm around Elsdon's waist. Though his desire was beginning to draw him away, he was not so far gone that he had forgotten Elsdon's fear of binding and restriction. He kept his arm light upon Elsdon's waist, as though Elsdon were a prisoner who had been so hard tortured that he might fall to pieces at any strong touch.

He took a step forward to stand chest-to-chest with the young Seeker. He could feel now the warm hardness under Elsdon's trousers, and he wondered that Elsdon could maintain his desire through such a conversation as they had just held. Tightening his grip slightly, he said in a low voice, "I want you to do as I tell you. If you begin to be hurt or disturbed by what I'm doing, you're to say so, but otherwise you're to remain silent. Do you understand?"

Elsdon nodded, apparently undisturbed by Layle's peremptory tone. Schoolmasters, thought Layle. In what followed, he must try to act as much as possible like a schoolmaster. Certainly he must not do anything that would seem fatherly.

He had been working in his profession for twenty years, yet he had never done anything as difficult as this: to try to shape his own dreamings in such a way that they did not call up another man's dark memories. He was trying to imagine abuse at the same time he was trying to keep his love-mate from remembering abuse; he could have cried at the absurdity of it. What the bloody blades was Elsdon doing here? Why couldn't the youth have fallen in love with a kind, gentle love-mate who would have given him what he needed to heal from his father's woundings?

He was strongly tempted to set his own dreamings aside and concentrate his mind solely on giving Elsdon pleasure. But it would be a very naive virgin indeed who failed to notice that his partner felt no desire, and Elsdon was not the sort of man to take without giving. That was one of the things that bound them.

Layle's desire lay within the cell; the door stood open, unlocked by Elsdon, but the desire remained chained to the wall. Layle took a deep breath and brought his hammer down in the first strike to break the chain.

"Disclothe yourself," he said in a deep voice.

Elsdon, his smile gone, stepped back, not moving his gaze from Layle. The bedroom was small; the young Seeker's few steps brought him up against the bed. Elsdon's hand moved to the knot-fastenings of his shirt, and then paused. With a muted smile, he reached up and removed his hood.

Though Layle was by now well familiar with Elsdon's face, this was the first time he had seen Elsdon bareheaded in three months. Since his trial, Elsdon had worn the hood indicating that he was in training as a Seeker, though in fact his training had begun only two days before, when he walked into Rack Room A. Layle turned his mind away from that memory with the reflex of long training. Then, on second consideration, he turned back toward the memory. The image of the prisoner he quickly erased; he had always taken great care never to use the image of any real person in his dreamings, frustrating though that was. Now, as the hammer continued to chip away at the chain, he placed Elsdon upon the rack.

Before him, in this world that he had not yet left, the young Seeker had finished stripping himself. He stood straight and slim, his body pale in the manner of a rich man's son who has spent most of his life indoors; his skin was unmarred by any mark. Even the whip-mark that Layle's junior night guard had given him when he first arrived at the Eternal Dungeon had faded from his arm.

Layle knew that the other side of Elsdon looked very different; he resisted the impulse to turn Elsdon to look. Instead he said, his voice still deep, "Come here and kneel."

Elsdon walked forward slowly, his gaze still locked with Layle's. He knelt at the High Seeker's feet with simple grace, though Layle guessed that this high-born man had never knelt to anyone in his life. Layle reached up to pull down the face-cloth of his own hood.

And stopped as his hand touched the cloth. There had been the barest intake of breath from Elsdon. The young Seeker opened his mouth slightly, then closed it.

"You said you'd tell me," Layle reminded him quietly. "Don't hesitate next time."

Elsdon nodded, and Layle let his hand drop. His heart was beating hard; Elsdon could not have known the fateful decision he had just made. Through all these years, with deliberate care, Layle had always set his dreamings in the Yclau royal dungeon – not in its present life as the Eternal Dungeon, but in its previous life, before the earliest version of the Code of Seeking had been born five generations before. Those days before the Code had been a time of barbarity, when the torturers of the Yclau queendom had been permitted great leeway in their dealings with prisoners.

But even then there had been restraints upon them. One of the traditions always practiced by Yclau torturers – now called Seekers in a day when torture had become a secondary method of dealing with prisoners rather than the primary one – was that the torturer hid his face from the prisoner. If a torturer derived pleasure from his work – and in those barbaric years most of the men working in this dungeon had been sadists – the prisoner would not have to endure the sight of the torturer's gleeful face.

This was a common tradition among torturers everywhere. In only one country in the world were prisoners forced to look upon the naked faces of their torturers: in Vovim, where Layle had received his training.

Layle stood motionless, trying to force his heartbeat down to a reasonable level. It had always been difficult for him, in his dreamings, to imagine kissing prisoners; he had had to lift his face-cloth briefly to reveal only the mouth. But he had considered that a price worth paying, rather than place his dreamings in Vovim, where no limits were placed upon the torturers, provided that the confession was obtained. And now Elsdon, for whom a lowered face-cloth brought back memories of his imprisonment within the Eternal Dungeon, wanted Layle to keep his face-cloth up. Sweet blood, this was going to be too dangerous . . .

It was too late. The hammer fell again, and the chain was severed.

Before him, the youth continued to kneel, his face turned up. He was quite simply the most beautiful young man Layle had seen in his years of working in the dungeon: ivory skin framed by golden-brown locks, eyes the shade of the dark blue of evening, lips deep red like a wound . . . Layle let his fingers trail over the lips, and he felt the youth tremble under him. He smiled.

"You know what I want," he said in an uncompromising tone.

"No . . ." The prisoner's voice was breathless. "Please don't make me do that. I'll do anything else that would please you. . . ."

Layle raised his eyebrows. "Such as lie on the rack? I assure you, it would give me great pleasure indeed to hear your joints pop out of their sockets."

The youth's face held such horror and sickness that Layle nearly laughed. He gestured toward his clothes, and after a moment the prisoner reached forward his shaking hands and undid the flap of Layle's trousers. He was nearly hit in the nose by Layle's shaft, which tumbled out eagerly, happy to be freed from confinement. The youth gave a yelp and drew back. Layle laughed and forced the prisoner's head forward again.

"Kiss them," he said in the voice of a strict schoolmaster issuing orders to his pupil.

The youth, innocent as he was, seemed momentarily puzzled by the plural of this instruction. Then his gaze fell slightly, and he swallowed.

"Please . . ." he whispered.

Layle let his hand tighten on the hair, and he heard the youth gasp. "The rack," he said in his deepest voice. "Or this. Make your choice."

His hands shaking again, the youth reached forward and pulled the shaft up out of the way; then he put forward his mouth. Layle smiled as he felt the youth's trembling lips touch him. There was in fact no choice; the prisoner would end up on the rack in the end. But the prisoner didn't know that.

The youth silently followed his instructions, using first his lips and then his tongue, working his way upward. Layle watched him, allowing his gaze to linger upon the prisoner's half-naked body, still shrouded by the tattered remains of his clothes. Layle had received a great deal of pleasure from tugging and tearing at those clothes, teasing at the youth's fear, moving his hands up and down the slender body but never trying to move the youth's hands, which had instinctively flown to protect the most vulnerable part of the body.

Now the youth's hands were following Layle's orders, tentatively stroking the softness between his legs as the youth's tongue worked its way higher. When the prisoner reached the tip he hesitated, looking up at his torturer.

Layle smiled back at him. Pleasure was coursing through his body now, and he knew that even greater pleasure lay ahead. He said, speaking the words he knew the youth feared, "I want it in your mouth, whore."

The youth looked at the object in front of him, as though trying to judge whether it was possible to fit it into the container proposed. In a quavering voice, he said, "How do I . . . ?"

It was always a delight to rape virgins; they were forced to reveal their ignorance in the most humiliating manner possible. Layle made the youth voice his question in the plainest terms possible; then he patiently supplied the youth with the answer. He went further in his instruction than he needed to; the youth began to struggle not to cry as he was told what to do when the shaft drove far into him. In reality, Layle had no intention of going that far. Yet. It was always amusing to let prisoners think that they had been reprieved from the worst, so that their hopes would rise, only to be battered down at a later point.

Besides, Layle admitted to himself, he had a certain gentleness within himself which did not quite fit the image that the master who was training him held of him, of the perfect Vovimian torturer who would teach the other torturers how to break prisoners in the most merciless manner possible. Part of him yearned for something beyond that. . . .

Dimly, within his dreamings, Layle was aware that he had travelled past imaginings to memory. He closed his eyes momentarily, worried that the prisoner now sliding his lips onto Layle's shaft had taken on a different face. But when he looked down, the prisoner was the same beautiful young man as before.

The youth was beginning to cry now, and his tears added to Layle's desire. Layle had been resting his hand lightly against the back of the youth's head until now, preferring to watch the prisoner degrade himself of his own will, but now his hand tightened upon the head. The youth whimpered . . .

And immediately Layle was drawing back, away from the youth, away from the dreaming, back into the cell of the High Seeker of the Eternal Dungeon.

Below him, the youth had his head bowed. Layle knelt down and placed his hand tentatively upon Elsdon's. His love-mate responded by leaning forward.

Layle embraced him, keeping his touch light. Elsdon was not shaking – that was a mercy, showing that Layle had not thrust the youth too far into his own memories. The young Seeker's body was tense, though. Layle inwardly cursed himself as he kissed Elsdon's hair and murmured, "I'm sorry."

"It's all right." Elsdon's voice was blessedly calm. "I was fine as long as you were just holding my head – it felt as though you were cradling it. But when you began to push . . . It was only a featherweight push. Next time I'll know that I can break free, and I won't be scared."

"There won't be a next time," said Layle, his voice muffled in Elsdon's hair. "Elsdon, this is madness. You've never gone beyond kisses, and I have you on your knees, servicing me as though you were a whore. Sweet blood, I can't keep from hurting you—"

Elsdon laughed and extracted himself easily from Layle's arms. "Love, do you have any idea what it's been like for me in bed these past three months, lying awake thinking of you? Even with my limited knowledge, I took us far beyond what we just did. Do you realize what pleasure it gives me to finally be able to touch you rather than myself?"

Layle reached forward to brush his fingers across Elsdon's lips, which had grown red and swollen with desire. Elsdon leaned into the caress, wrapping his lips around Layle's thumb and then sucking it suddenly into his mouth, as though taking a prisoner. He grinned around the thumb, but Layle's sober mood remained. Carefully removing his thumb, he said, "Be truthful. Did my orders upset you?"

Elsdon laughed again. "How could they? 'Kiss them.' 'Lick it.' Layle, those weren't orders; those were permissions for me to do what I wanted." He looked more carefully at Layle, and his expression grew more serious. He said quietly, "Did you speak more to me in your dreamings than you did aloud?"

"Yes." His throat constricted around the word.

"What did you say?"

Layle looked down at his hands; they were clenched into fists. He forced himself to relax but did not look up.

Elsdon sighed as he shifted to sit on the floor. "Love, can't you at least give me a hint of what you're dreaming?"

After a minute Layle said, "When you opened my trousers . . ."

"And nearly got hit in the nose, and we both laughed. Yes?"

Layle raised his eyes to where his love-mate was smiling. "In the dreaming, you didn't laugh."

The smile faded. After a moment Elsdon reached forward and drew Layle into his embrace. Layle shifted so that his back was against Elsdon's chest. He felt Elsdon nuzzle his neck through the hood-cloth.

"All right," Elsdon said after a while. "I can see why this must be hard for you. But truly, Layle, you're doing a wonderful job of translating your dreamings into lovemaking. I wouldn't have guessed if you hadn't told me. Your voice is patient, your touch gentle, your expression affectionate. Am I really supplying anything to your dreamings, or is your mind completely off in another world, leaving your body here to function by whatever commands you've left it?"

Layle shook his head. "My dear, it's hard to describe. I feel as though I've entered into something akin to madness. Of course the dreamings have been with me for years, and they've seemed so real to me that they've frightened me sometimes. I spoke to Mr. Bergsen about them when I first began to have the dreamings, soon after I arrived at this dungeon, and he said that I have the same sort of power as a small child, to place myself within the imaginary. He thought that power might do me good in my work, since it would allow me to enter more deeply into whatever life-tales the prisoners told me. But this . . ."

He turned within Elsdon's arms to look back at the other Seeker. Beyond Elsdon lay the familiar surroundings of the bedroom Layle had occupied since being appointed High Seeker. Aside from a cupboard that held the chamber-pot, there was little in the room: a night-table, a clothes-chest, lamps, and a bed. The bed, in accordance with his seniority, was designed for two. No one had yet used it besides himself.

"You're there in the dreamings," he said slowly. "And you're yourself, but you're a self that's never existed. You're what you might have become if your father had broken your spirit entirely. Only I'm the one doing the breaking—"

He stopped, realizing, too late, that he had evoked the man who must be barred from this room. He felt the tremble go through Elsdon's body, and he turned swiftly, pulling Elsdon into his arms. He kissed the young Seeker's head and said softly, "We're finished. No more of this."

"No." Elsdon's voice was not that of a youth protesting an elder's decision; rather, it was that of a Seeker disagreeing with a colleague. "Layle, you don't understand . . . I didn't understand until a short while ago, when you began. I once thought that the way for me to heal was for me to go to bed with someone who was utterly unlike my father. That's why I was so horrified to learn of your likeness to him. But now I realize that I need someone who is like my father: someone who shares my father's pleasure at pain, but who uses that pleasure only to bring gentle delight to those he loves. That's the only way I'll be able to reconcile the mixture of love and hatred I feel for my father – to recognize that he was not an evil man for feeling pleasure at pain but for inflicting that pain."

Layle was silent, his mouth resting upon Elsdon's hair. Then he said in a muffled voice, "During my early years in the Eternal Dungeon, before I realized the unlikelihood of this happening, I held hope that I could find another Seeker who enjoyed having pain inflicted upon him, so that I could rouse both our desires that way. I came to believe even that would be wrong."

Elsdon shook his head. "That's different from what I'm talking about; you know that. You wouldn't hurt anyone purely for the sake of your own pleasure; everything you've done in your life shows that."

Again he felt the piercing pain of his conscience; he should speak now, he knew. He imagined himself saying, "Let me tell you what I was dreaming, and let me explain which parts of it were drawn from memory. . . ." He closed his eyes, his throat tightening.

"You were talking about your dreamings," said Elsdon.

It took him a full minute to speak. Elsdon remained quiet in his arms during that time, warm and solid. Sweet blood, he hadn't touched a naked body in seventeen years, and never had he touched anyone this way. The highest hopes of his youth had not imagined such joy for him. How could he chance losing this? Especially since few other people in this place knew the full truth. He had told only the Queen, and the Queen had not considered it necessary for most others to know the facts of his past. If she did not consider it necessary . . .

"The words you speak in the dreaming are my own imagining," Layle said as he let his fingers trace their way across Elsdon's face, "but some of your gestures and touchings are what you are doing here, and some of how I speak to you and touch you are from this world. I combine that world and this—"

"Like a painter combining colors. Yes, I see." Elsdon nibbled at Layle's hand for a moment before saying, "Does that make it harder for you or easier?"

"In terms of desire, it makes it easier. I've never had a dreaming before that aroused me so strongly. In terms of my conscience . . . I don't know. Elsdon, I'm still having difficulty with the idea that even allowing you into this bedroom is right. But you say that it helps you."

"Yes." Elsdon's voice was soft. "It does. It's as though you're cutting the bindings around me slowly, rope by rope. I know that you have the ability to do what my father did to me, and instead you give me love. Layle, I can't tell you what a difference that makes to me."

"Well, then . . ." Layle bent his head, trying to think. "Next time we should talk first about what we're going to do—"

"Next time!" Elsdon squirmed around in Layle's arms. "High Seeker, you must be mocking! You're not going to leave me like this!"

Layle craned his neck to look, wondering whether what he saw was another dreaming. "Bloody blades," he said weakly. "The vitality of youth. Have you been that way the whole time we've been talking?"

Elsdon laughed. "Well, up or down, depending on whether we were talking about my father. But I don't lose hope. At least, that part of me doesn't."

"Ah. Well." Layle looked down at his lap. He had left his youth behind, as the evidence showed. "I'm sure I can manage to work my way back. This time, though, I do the kneeling."

"Layle, you couldn't possibly—"

"Yes, I can," he said, leaning forward to silence Elsdon with a kiss. "I've been dreaming for seventeen years. Believe me, I can find a dreaming for any position we choose."