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Scene (Edgeplay in Mayhill #3)

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Every man that comes under your hand is your responsibility. And once he has surrendered, once he has given himself to you, then he is forever under your protection. . . . Forever, my young, would-be Master, is a hell of a long time. Remember that when you set about to dominate another man's heart and mind.

—A leather master to his apprentice in the 1950s, as quoted by Thom Magister.


CHAPTER ONE

Back in 1948, in a warehouse next to a Pacific Coast wharf, Nick paused to wipe sweat off his forehead. He still had a dozen more crates to move, and no one to help him – the other men had gone off elsewhere to claim their latest prize. He could hear the prize squealing in anguish. He sighed and muttered black words against men who took play more seriously than work.

Nick loved his work. There had been a time, right after the war, when he'd been uncertain whether he could find any job that would grant him the same sense of adventure and comradeship he'd felt in the war. But here in the port city where he'd been dumped once the war ended, he'd found others like himself: adventurous men, not afraid to be rough in their ways and not the sort to whimper during the sometimes painful work they undertook. And they were fast comrades, always ready with a slap on the back when a guy needed cheering up. It was a good life, being a dockyard laborer.

If it weren't for those fucking queers. Nick frowned as he moved over to take care of another crate. Those queers were everywhere on the wharf, like cockroaches: always peering around corners to gape at the tough guys who worked here. Nick felt like stomping on them. He knew that some of the other men here used the fags for a cheap thrill. That's how the others were amusing themselves now, giving the latest queer what he wanted, or so they said.

Nick didn't see the point. You stuck your dick in a queer's hole, and it only encouraged him. Better to flatten the queers, so maybe they'd learn something. He'd done that yesterday to a soft, limp-wristed creature that had been hovering at his doorway for days, watching him work. He'd backhanded the bitch and sent him off whimpering. Queers had no guts. This one wouldn't be back again.

Nick straightened up, breathing heavily. Eleven more crates to go. Why the hell didn't the other men leave their entertainment and help? He turned round to see whether there was any sign of them returning – and there, standing boldly in the doorway, was the queer from yesterday.

It took Nick three strides to reach the creature, and one swing to flatten him to the ground. "Why the fuck did you come back?" he shouted.

Loren's master raised his head from the ground. He could taste blood in his mouth, and his jaw ached, but not as much as the ache in his groin.

"You could use your belt on me," he suggested. "Or you could . . . make me do things for you."

He watched, his heart thumping, as Nick's expression changed.

o—o—o

That was the beginning. Or at least, it was the beginning for Loren's master; Loren knew that it had begun differently for other leathermen. Within a few years of that wharf meeting, Loren's master had been transformed enough by his service to the man at the warehouse that he was ready to join a brotherhood of his own. And after that, not many years had passed before he met Loren and began the training all over again.

What had impressed Loren most, when he first heard this story, was that his master was willing to admit that he had once been like Loren: soft and womanish. Loren understood the lesson his master was giving him. He too could emerge from softness. He could become as much a man as his master was.

Unfortunately, his master left town before Loren could figure out how he was supposed to accomplish this marvellous transformation. After that, Loren was left in a bind.

The cruising grounds were fairly evenly divided in those days between two types of men. There were the heterosexuals, usually married, who didn't consider it adultery to take pleasure on an effeminate man – the more effeminate the better. And then there were the queens, who supplied the complementary element to the masculine heterosexuals.

Loren sensed that he belonged to neither of these groups. His master had been homosexual, proudly so. But his master had regarded sex with another man as an act of masculinity rather than an act of womanly surrender. He wasn't heterosexual, but he wasn't homosexual either, not as Mayhill regarded such matters.

Confused, Loren reached a compromise. At his university, where homosexuals were despised, he did his best to act heterosexual, which meant acting masculine. At the cruising grounds, where the heterosexuals sought queens, he acted as he was expected, soft and yielding. He had already learned the gestures that accompanied this condition; now he taught himself to talk in a dramatic manner that was like a parody of the women he knew.

He wasn't entirely successful in splitting his personality. Bits of him kept drifting over from one side to the other, until he was known in the classroom as "the odd one" and was known on the cruising grounds as an undesirable. That he periodically expressed a desire to tie up and beat his partners made the cruisers yet more wary of him.

Then two things happened that changed everything. First he began to meet more and more homosexuals who didn't fit the image that he knew in Mayhill – Bill, for example, who saw no reason to let his wrists fall limp. The second thing that happened was that, like many other Mayhill residents at some point in their lives, he became aware that a world existed outside of Mayhill. He began paying closer attention to the big-city newspaper and to the television news, and in doing so he realized, with a shock that shot right through him, that he had taken the wrong path. To be gay he need not be effeminate. His master had tried to show him this, and he had failed the lesson.

It was too late. In the anonymity of the big city he might have been able to successfully erase his past, but too many people in Mayhill knew Loren as he had been for the past decade. No matter how hard he tried to change his gestures, no matter how successful he was at changing his speech, people still saw him as he had shaped himself back in the days when he made the wrong choice, and destroyed all chance of mastering others.

Or so he had thought.

He stood on the second-floor landing of the stairwell, smoking a cigarette in the darkness as he faced the front of the building. To the right of him stood the door leading to this apartment; to the left of him stood the door leading to the much larger portion of the second story, which he and Elia earned money from by renting to – of all people – the members of the Mayhill Historical Preservation Society. They were the perfect tenants: they never complained during the day about noise from the bar, and at night they weren't present to hear the sometimes louder noise from the apartment next to them.

Loren leaned upon the circular railing, staring down at the dark pit. The staircase was one of the remaining features of the original building: a spiral staircase surrounding a firepole. Elia, who must have been an apocalyptist in his former life, had dubbed the stairwell the pit of hell. Loren considered flicking his cigarette down and seeing how long he could watch the tiny glow of fire before it was swallowed in darkness. Then he considered the trouble it would be to sweep the floor clean the next morning. He pushed himself away from the railing and walked round it till he had reached the only open portion of the stairwell: the floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the street and the park.

He could see very little outside; the night had grown cloudy, blanketing the cruisers in comforting blackness. He thought of how easy it would be to simply walk out of the bar, cross the street, and find a cruiser who would fuck him senseless.

He sighed. If he was beginning to use words like fuck in his mind, it was a bad sign. It meant that the part of him that lay ever under the surface – the sadist – was beginning to rise. That part of him wouldn't be satisfied if he played on the bottom tonight. That part of him wanted what lay inside the apartment.

"Shoot," he whispered. It was a final, token gesture to the civilized scholar who spent his odd moments struggling over the fragmented passages in Petronius, trying to fill in the blanks. That part of him, he knew from experience, would begin to disappear the minute he walked through the door.

Could he be trusted to walk through the door?

He pushed himself back again, this time mentally, and stubbed his cigarette out on the railing. Then he resolutely walked up to the door. It was unlocked; Elia would have loaned Ken his key. With deliberate quietness, Loren entered the apartment.

The room within was not quite so dark as the stairwell. He and Elia always kept some dimly lit lights on in the kitchen, and the reading lamp in the corner of the living room was still on from when Loren had sat there earlier in the evening, trying to read Ovid and failing miserably because his mind was on a policeman. The curtains were drawn for the night – vast floor-to-ceiling affairs that were necessary to hide the wall of plate glass.

It took Loren a moment to locate Ken. Loren had looked, in an automatic manner, toward the kitchen first, only because that was where Elia was most likely to be found in his off-shift hours. The kitchen formed one end of the room, with only a counter dividing it from the dining room, where a large wooden table sat. He and Elia had bought the table together; Loren suspected that Elia had been trying to prevent him from going shopping for a table and bringing home a rack.

The table suited Loren's purposes quite well, on the rare occasions when it had seen use. The overly sturdy piece of furniture was just about the only sign that an educated eye might have picked out as to what use this apartment served. There were a few other things – innocent objects that a raiding cop could be forgiven for overlooking. The living room, for example, had an inordinate number of eye-hooks.

Loren had installed them one day when Elia was out on errands. When Elia returned, his lips thinned, but he said nothing until the evening. At that point, he had sat Loren down for a long talk, the upshot being that Loren had promised not to inflict the presence of his play partners on Elia when Elia was home, and Elia had promised not to inflict the presence of his frequently boring straights on Loren when Loren was home.

Elia would not be in any rush to return home tonight, Loren knew. Loren would have the place to himself for several hours more. He turned his eyes toward the living room.

Ken was standing in the duskiest corner; his face was so dark that it was unreadable. His body, fortunately, was quite readable. He was tense. He was glistening with sweat. His chest was rising with quick breaths. Loren felt his cock stir.

Ken took a step out of the corner, then another, until he was full in the light. Then he said, in the same soft voice had used at the end of their previous meeting, "Sir, I'm sorry."

Loren paused. He knew what his cock wanted; it took him a moment to double-check that this decision fit with what his mind would permit. Then he said in his hardest voice, "Apologies should be made from the knees."

Ken dropped like stone into a pit, so quickly that it was clear he had only been awaiting Loren's word. His gaze was fastened to the floorboards before his knees even reached the floor. All very nice, but there was a reason Loren disliked the custom of ems dropping their gazes automatically. He needed to be sure of Ken's expression, if this was to be done safely.

Part of him didn't give a damn about safety. That part of him was already in the next room, picking through what lay in his closet.

"Look at me." Loren kept his voice as it had been before, a blow upon the silence. Ken actually flinched; then he looked up quickly. His gaze wavered almost immediately, then returned to Loren's face, but his chest was heaving faster now. Clearly he would have much preferred not looking straight at Loren. Loren felt the moist warmth of pleasure begin to sink deep inside him.

"Why did you agree to do a scene that would out you to the other policemen in this town?" Loren snapped.

Ken hesitated before saying, "I wanted to give my Sadist pleasure, sir."

Oh, shoot. The standard lie of any em who had let his lust drive him onto foolish paths. And just for a moment, Loren had thought this would be easy.

Loren acted on instinct again, closing the distance between them with a few strides – his apartment was small enough for that. His palm hit Ken's cheek before the em had time to see it coming.

"Don't give me that shit," said Loren, his voice now tight as a drawn bow. "Only masochists in porn novels sacrifice their lives for the pleasures of their Esses. Were you on drugs tonight? Or were you—?"

He stopped, like a man who has halted just short of a cliff. Ken's face had turned to the side for a few seconds, driven there by the blow. Now it turned back, and Loren saw his eyes.

Loren had to step back to be sure of what he saw. Ken's gaze wavered again; with a visible effort Ken met Loren's eyes squarely.

Shit. Shit, fuck, hell, and the names of all the gods dead and alive. Two minutes into this, and already he was screwing up.

Loren didn't mind frightened ems. Frightened masochists added spice to a scene; more importantly, they alerted him to when he had gone too far. An em who screamed in genuine fear or jerked back or begged gave Loren important information that he might or might not choose to follow, depending on how far the em's limits lay. Or so Loren's master had told him; Loren had rarely experienced this except from the other end of matters.

A screaming em Loren was prepared for. He wasn't prepared for an em with eyes dead with fear, who knelt silent and unmoving.

Loren stepped back to where he had been before. This time Ken didn't flinch, but he might as well have; the expression in his eyes turned from fear to terror. Still he did not speak or move. He waited, like a dumb lamb baring its neck for the slaughter.

Something was wrong here. Very, very wrong.

Loren heard himself speak even before he knew what he had decided to say. "I apologize."

The terror in Ken's expression was replaced by bewilderment. That was good; bewilderment in an em was never a bad thing. It kept the em on his toes. "Sir?" Ken said breathlessly.

"For striking you. I shouldn't have done that. You hadn't asked me to be your Ess, so I had no right to discipline you."

Even as he spoke the words, he knew they were true, and he felt an easiness come over him. He wasn't sure, offhand, whether his master would have approved of the apology, but he knew darned well that Elia would have. Elia had no patience with Esses who did a major screw-up and then refused to acknowledge the fact, allowing their ems to blame themselves.

He could see Ken working his thoughts round this unexpected development. Finally Ken said hesitantly, "It's your bar, sir."

"That doesn't mean I have the right to hit my bar customers. Not unless they become violent."

Ken licked his lips. His gaze had strayed away from Loren's, but Loren allowed himself to overlook the fact. He was more interested in hearing how Ken would react to his apology. Finally the em said, in an even softer voice than before, "I deserve to be disciplined, sir. For what I did."

Now it was Loren's turn to hesitate. If this had been Felix, he would have known quite well what was being requested. But Ken didn't look as though he were trying to get a scene out of this. "Let me be clear," said Loren. "You want me to punish you for what you did – not play with you, but punish you? As payment for your behavior?"

Ken hesitated before answering, "I know it's an imposition, sir. I wouldn't ask if there was anyone else to do this, other than—" He bit his lip, catching the final word, and his gaze drifted down to the floor.

Loren was mildly surprised. It usually took new ems weeks before they realized that they were the ones who received the highest reward from punishments – a reward in the form of greater discipline over time. He remembered how he had cursed his master each night after their sessions together, until he realized how his master was shaping him into something stronger than he had been before. And it was then that he realized his master might not be getting as much out of these punishment sessions as Loren himself was.

Loren gave an abrupt nod. "Very well. Strip yourself, and kneel over there." He pointed without looking. "I'll return shortly."

Three doors led from the living room: the door to Elia's bedroom, the door to Loren's bedroom, and the door in between, to their shared bathroom. Loren entered his own bedroom first, making his way across the sparsely furnished room through use of the lamplight pouring in through the alleyway window. He reached the window itself, turned left, and entered the walk-in closet.

Here he paused to pull the chain to the light before contemplating the rainbow of colors that hung before him. Elia, in one of his less patient moods, had accused Loren of wearing out-of-date clothing in order to antagonize the other leathermen. Loren had cheerfully admitted this to be part of his motive. If he was going to be ridiculed for his appearance, he was determined to have as much fun as possible. And the bold cut and colors of the disco era were far more fun, to his mind, than the drab clothing now worn by most men his age.

However, he had been sensible enough to prepare himself for another day that might come.

He found what he was looking for without having to search: a smartly cut black dress-shirt and a pair of black slacks with an extra-sharp crease. The combination made him look vaguely like a prison guard. Loren knew better than to wear a tee-shirt and jeans: they emphasized his skinniness and didn't fit with his scholarly air. He wasn't a wild biker; he was an authority figure, sent to drum discipline into a new student or to exert punishment upon a fractious student, as the case might be. Tonight it would be punishment.

Nonetheless, he glanced involuntarily toward the cap on the shelf above the clothes rung. The cap was a gift from the Mayhill Christian Motorcycle Club, given after Loren let slip that he had been initiated by the member of a fifties motorcycle club. Fortunately, no one had asked him what the initiation had consisted of. He had worn the bikers' cap once – in his bedroom, with only his mirror for company – and then had offered it to Elia, who had politely rejected the gift. Loren's business partner wasn't a wild biker either; he was the boy next door who turned, at unexpected moments, into a potential killer. Elia had always worn what could pass as mufti when he was with his ems, and he had continued this tradition with his straights. Some of them were actually fooled by this, until their first disciplinary session with Elia.

Loren tore his eyes away from the cap. His apprentice, as usual, knew best. Loren was not what his master had been; there was no point in pretending to be. If Ken couldn't be satisfied with a lecturer in black clothes, then there was no hope of anything taking place tonight except brutality. Loren would just have to trust that Ken possessed a good imagination.

He glanced over at the far end of the closet, where shadows gathered. No, on second thought, the belts wouldn't do. There had been far too many belts in Ken's closet to be explained by fashion-consciousness; Ken was no doubt well acquainted by now with their effect on his own flesh. Loren wanted something new, something that Ken hadn't yet done to himself, to put Ken in the proper frame of mind.

He felt a momentary stab of anger at the Mayhill Post Office, which was rumored to routinely inspect packages with suspicious return addresses, or worse, no return address at all. Loren knew that it was now possible to buy single-tails through mail order, but neither he nor anyone else in Mayhill's leather community dared take the chance of ordering contraband materials through the mail. Some of the leathermen in town had bought floggers during visits to the big city, but Loren didn't dare own such equipment either. He'd received too many visits from the police. Everything in his apartment had to serve an obviously innocent purpose if he wasn't to be hauled down to the police headquarters to be questioned about where he had buried the bodies.

That gave him a thought. Turning off the closet light, he returned to the living room. Ken now knelt in the middle of the room, his back to Loren. Loren was tempted to linger and watch the muscles that rippled like waves across the ocean, but he forced himself to continue into the bathroom. There, lying on the shelf in plain view, was what he needed.

Corporal Pollacco had given Loren a long look when he first saw that shelf. Loren had merely smiled sweetly at him. After all, everyone knew how old-fashioned Mayhill was, and Loren, with his interest in classical literature, could be expected to be more old-fashioned than most. Why on earth shouldn't he want to shave with a straight razor?

Loren ignored the razor and brush and shaving mug. Instead, he picked up what lay beside them and ran it through his fingers. The strop was heavy and smooth to his touch.

He made his way next to the kitchen, where he rummaged through drawers filled with odds and ends, the sorts of belongings that a careless householder might accumulate. Corporal Pollacco, who knew Loren to be far from careless, had lingered a long time at those drawers but had been unable to find anything except objects that could be bought at a hardware store. Everything there had, in fact, been bought at a hardware store – at Art's store. The other Ess always found it amusing to discover what Loren would buy next, and he nearly burst into laughter the day that Loren, in the presence of Elia's minister, explained earnestly to Art what length and thickness of chain he needed for the dog he was contemplating buying.

Loren took the chain out of the cupboard now: four pieces, all as thick as a bike chain. He saw Ken's back, which was stiff, stiffen yet further at the sound of clanking. What Loren lacked in dungeon equipment, he could make up for in sound effects. He had been planning this for a very long time.

He spent the next couple of minutes testing the strop upon the kitchen counter and watching Ken's breath increase at the sound of every loud blow. No doubt the length of his cock was increasing too. Well, let the boy have his fun for now; it wouldn't last for long. Loren finished finally, gathered his tools together, and was about to make his way over to where Ken knelt when he caught sight of his winter coat hanging from a hook next to the front door. After a moment's thought he fished out the gloves from the coat pockets. Black leather gloves, very thin, with a good grip. Elia had a talent for knowing the right Christmas presents to give Loren.

The gloves increased his hold on the strop. They also went wonderfully well with the black shirt. He tossed away a temptation to go back into the bedroom to admire himself in the mirror. That would be tempting fate; he'd be more likely to grow discouraged at his appearance. Instead he laid down the strop on a table nearby and walked forward with the chains.

Ken's eyes had been examining the floorboards, but his gaze rose quickly as Loren walked round to his front. No doubt he was remembering his earlier instructions. Loren began to smile; then his smile disappeared abruptly. He had been so busy admiring Ken's lovely shoulder blades before that he had missed something very obvious.

"When I give an order," he said, "I expect to be obeyed."

He kept his voice quiet; Elia's example had taught him the value of soft instructions delivered with the right tone. Ken swallowed, and his hands went to the waistband of his shorts. Slowly, though; at the rate he was inching his boxers down, he would be stripped some time in December.

What delightful surprises this boy offered. Loren could do splendid things with a body-shy em. But not now. He wanted Ken's mind to be on the coming punishment, not on his forced nakedness. Loren waved a hand, dismissing the matter, and Ken's hands dropped. Relief and gratitude were written across his face.

This was all very different from the last beating he had given during a scene, Loren reflected. Six years before, any small mercy he offered had brought smugness to Felix's face.

He circled slowly round to the side, watching how Ken's eyes followed him as he went. When Ken's head began to turn, Loren said, "Eyes front," and immediately the em's eyes snapped toward the curtain he was facing.

The back of Ken was nearly black, like the shadow-side of the moon. Loren paused to shift the reading lamp so that he would have light to work by. The chains rattled in his hand, and Ken stiffened again in an exquisite manner. Loren gave himself a moment to appreciate once more the curve of the muscles along Ken's flesh and the strong bone structure beneath, like an iron support for a skyscraper. Then he set his mind to his work.

One chain round the right thigh, near the knee, tightened into a loop around the hook; the other end of the chain looped round one of the legs of the sofa. The same procedure with the left thigh, this time spreading Ken's legs just far enough to be uncomfortable, and with the end of the chain looped round the base of the reading chair. The next chain required Loren to stand on a chair behind Ken, but fortunately the ceiling was low enough for him to reach. Ken had positioned himself perfectly under the eyehook there, which was attached to a beam behind the plaster. Hooking the chain from it, Loren hoped the eyehook would hold. It had been tested – by his own body, alas, when he had other Esses over to play – but he doubted that he had placed anywhere near the force upon it that Ken would exert.

The chain hung down from the ceiling, and he examined it with a critical eye. No, he wouldn't need the fourth chain; Ken's arms would rise far higher than his own had. That left only one thing to do.

"Hands above your head," he ordered.

Ken immediately placed his hands palm-down over his head. The boy had seen a goodly number of POW movies, Loren guessed. Loren grabbed hold of the unresisting hands and raised them to where the chain lay in wait.

Perfect. Just enough chain to loop round the wrists. There was a bit of slack, but that was as Loren wanted it: he wanted Ken to bend and bow during this exercise. It made Loren's job more dangerous, for he must be precise in his blows. But danger was what this was all about, wasn't it?

He climbed down from the chair, placed it and the chain aside, and let his eyes linger on the view: Ken kneeling with his legs spread wide, his arms pulled above his head. Loren could just make out the outline of Ken's balls against the now-tightened fabric of his boxers. He vowed to make good use of that knowledge of where they lay.

He picked up the razor strop and circled back round to the front. Ken's face remained obediently turned toward the curtain, but the em could not seem to prevent his eyes from following Loren's progress. Loren said nothing as he came to a halt directly in front of Ken; he simply smiled as he stroked the strop. Ken swallowed. Then his eyes shifted downward.

Loren didn't have to look to know what Ken was staring at. "Yes," he said quietly, "I'm enjoying this. You, however, will not. I promise you that."

He had a moment to send up a note of thankfulness to his old master, wherever he might be. Loren could still remember the night when his own resentment overcame him and he furiously accused his master of disciplining him only for his own pleasure.

His master had not hit him, as he had expected. Instead the Ess had said, in the mildest of voices, "An army sergeant spends all day putting his men through hard drills, sending them through hell. At the end of the day they are bruised and battered and are stronger men than they were at the beginning of the day. Should the sergeant be ashamed of himself because he feels pleasure at the work he has done?"

Loren had remained silent. His master took his shoulder in a tight grip and shook him slightly. "Never be ashamed of what you are, boy. That's the worst mistake a sadist can make. If you commit a careless error . . . Yes, that's a matter of shame. But never let yourself feel anything but pride and pleasure at your work if you do it well."

Then he had beaten Loren, to teach him not to be impertinent. But it was the words Loren had remembered, not the blows.

Without those words, Loren knew, he might have ended up like Elia, ashamed of himself for desiring other men's pain. As it was, he did not allow his thoughts to dwell on the swelling that was tenting his slacks. The pleasure would come – had already begun to come – but that was a mere byproduct of what happened here. The heart of this must be a job well done, or Loren wasn't worthy of the training he had received.

There was movement at Ken's groin too. Loren had expected that – had planned that. He waited until Ken's cock was hard against the em's belly. Then Loren began moving again toward Ken's left side, letting the strop handle lie loose in his right palm. The em's eyes moved with him; Loren could almost imagine Ken trying to calculate the amount of time it would take Loren to reach his back. Six steps left, five steps, four—

There were advantages to being ambidextrous. Without warning, Loren switched the strop to his left hand and brought it hard across Ken's rising cock.

Now in very truth the earth is staggered. Such is the storm that comes against me manifestly from Zeus to work its terrors.


Ken's body jerked backwards a short space, but not far, for it was restrained by the chains, now biting into Ken's wrists as his body absorbed the impact of the blow. Ken's mouth was open, his eyes wide; no sound emerged. Loren had a moment to be impressed. He had done this procedure perhaps half a dozen times during his years as the leather club's leader; every year an overconfident leatherman would come along, boasting that he could take any amount of pain without breaking. Loren would simply smile, lay down a small bet, and then proceed, in the presence of witnesses, to prove the man wrong. It was just about the only thing he could do that impressed the other leathermen: his ability to bring a belt hard onto an erect cock without doing it permanent damage. Loren had never explained that he had learned this technique from the receiving end.

Usually, by this point in the proceedings, the other man was screaming. Loren had no time to wonder whether he had been too soft with Ken; he was busy bringing down the strop a second time, onto Ken's nipples.

I groan for the present sorrow, I groan for the sorrow to come . . .


A grunt this time; Ken's body was pulled back like a bow, straining to escape from the strop. It made an irresistible target. Loren brought the strop down straight onto Ken's belly, where his delicate button poked its head out from the smooth flesh.

By the time Ken emitted a sob – and drove Loren's appetite up accordingly – Loren was already behind the em, choosing his next target. Just as he had calculated, the slack chain had permitted Ken's body to bow so far back that his balls now hung out from the rest of the body, protected only by the thin fabric of the boxers. Loren's strop whistled down.

Now as I hang, the plaything of winds, my enemies can laugh at what I suffer.


The sob had not been followed by a second one; instead, Ken was breathing heavily, like an old man. Loren had another moment in which to be impressed. Then he concentrated his mind on the difficult task of bringing the strop down onto Ken's back.

Just as he had expected, Ken's body moved at the last moment, so that the blow would have fallen upon Ken's lower back if Loren had been any less skilled at this than he was. As it was, it landed exactly where Loren had intended it, on the fleshy area surrounding the shoulderblades.

You see me a wretched God in chains, the enemy of Zeus, hated of all the Gods that enter Zeus's palace hall, because of my excessive love for Man.


Back, bottom, thighs, two swipes at Ken's feet to give him a brief taste of bastinado, and then back round again to strike again at Ken's nipples, which were thrust out as Ken's body continued to try to escape the punishment from behind. Loren was sweating, and it seemed that at any moment a hole would be drilled through his slacks. Darn, he was coming too close to the end; he needed to take a break to calm himself and to assess the damage he had done.

Not that such an assessment was likely to do anything to calm him.

Therefore I am tortured on this rock, a bitterness to suffer, and a pain to pitiful eyes. Pitiless is he that thus chastises me . . .


Ken's body, unable to cope with the constant switch between blows to the front and blows to the back, remained where it had been a moment before: thrust forward, spine curved with aching beauty, torso sparkling with sweat under the reading lamp light, chest striped with the marks of the strop's passing. Ken's head was tilted toward the ceiling as his mouth sought to gulp down air; his eyes were closed. His body throbbed with hard heartbeats. His cock—

There shall come a day for me when he shall need me, me that now am tortured in bonds and fetters. So he shall free me from my cruel chains and pay me recompense for what I suffer.


Loren stared, trying to tell himself that what he saw was an illusion. It simply was not possible. Less than two minutes had passed since that organ had taken the full blow of Loren's punishment; there was no way that any mortal man's cock would recover in that amount of time, much less recover itself to full strength.

"A demi-god at the least," Loren muttered, still staring at the bulge in Ken's boxers. He saw Ken's body begin to go limp in the chains, and he heard the rattled gasps of Ken's throat that testified the em was in continued pain – severe pain, if Loren knew anything about his trade, which he was increasingly doubtful that he did. Ken's cock continued to poke up toward the ceiling, as though deliriously happy at the punishment it had received.

Loren finally forced his gaze upward. Ken's eyes were open now; water leaked from them, but the em seemed unaware of the fact. He was staring at Loren with all the horror of a god who has been unmasked to mere mortals.

Loren cocked his head. "As a point of information," he said in a conversational manner, "how much harder would I have to hurt you before you would feel the pain more than the pleasure?"

Ken didn't say anything. Still too breathless, perhaps. But his gaze drifted down, then quickly up again, as though he hadn't meant to let his eyes stray. His boxers now looked as though they would explode from the pressure.

A body-shy em. Something clicked in Loren's mind at that moment. When, in fact, had he seen all of Ken's body? Not when Ken sexually assaulted Loren; Ken had been wearing boxers then. He had worn them in the shower too, and on the living room floor when he rubbed himself against Loren. And before that—

Yes, Ken had been naked once during their first scene together. Most of the time Loren had been blindfolded, but there had been a brief period when Loren had seen him completely naked. In a dark room. In a room that was dark because Ken had turned the lights out.

Loren was seized with an overwhelming desire to discover what it was that he had missed in that dark room. He fell to his knees.

He had pulled Ken's boxers down only one inch before he understood.

I know that he is savage: and his justice a thing he keeps by his own standard: still that will of his shall melt to softness yet when he is broken in the way I know, and though his temper now is oaken hard it shall be softened: hastily he'll come to meet my haste, to join in amity and union with me – one day he shall come.

o—o—o

Zephyra lay on her stomach upon Ken's bed, staring at the clock on the night-stand. Just about now, her feverish imagination told her, the man with the switchblade would be discovering the truth about her brother, and would realize that he had been handed a gift-wrapped package. And then . . .

She stared hard at the hands of the dial, willing them to turn backwards.

Chapter Text

Loren sat back on his heels, contemplating what lay before him, trying to place into a recognizable pattern the thoughts that raced through his mind. Really, he thought to himself, the simple sight of scars should not place him in such a tizzy.

But saying these were just scars was like saying that the Sistine Chapel frescoes were just sketches. Ken's lower torso was so covered with scars that it was difficult to see where one scar began and the next ended.

They began just below the waistline, a couple of inches beneath that belly button which Loren had marked with the strop. Loren reached out and traced the scars with his fingers, recognizing their origins through his own experience. Long, thin lines: knife cuts, no doubt, cuts that had taken place above some of the most vital organs of the body. A jagged line upon the hip: glass, probably. Tiny bumps upon Ken's backside, too small to be seen, but Loren could feel them: pins or needles. A dark patch in front where hair should have grown: fire. They wove together like a pattern in a quilt made of gnarled yarn, an endless path of pain, heading straight into the pubic area. Loren passed his fingers into the thick jungle there and yes, the scars were beneath the hair as well. More recent scars, from the feel of it, not yet settled into the flesh as the older ones were. They were all headed in the same direction.

The cock had not yet been touched. But that was only a matter of time, it was clear, and from the scars' proximity, Loren guessed that the time was quite close at hand.

With Ken's legs spread wide, Loren couldn't pull the boxers far down, so he slid his hands up the shorts. More scars there, and even more numerous than on the torso, with different instruments that bit and clawed and pinched and cut and pierced and mangled. Loren couldn't find a single piece of smooth flesh, no place that had been left unmutilated. The testicles were free of scars, but here too it was obvious that the enemy was within breaching distance.

Feeling the plowed ground of the skin, Loren tried to analyze why he felt so disturbed. The gods knew that scars were familiar to him, even scars from self-inflicted injuries. Most of the ems he knew had them – Felix, for example, had always possessed a healthy collection of bruises, and as with Ken, these telltale proofs of his sexuality were hidden under clothing rarely removed. That was one of the advantages of being an em: lacking a partner, you could still play.

But the scars before Loren now did not suggest play. There were too many of them, too deep, and in portions of the body that even bold Felix would never have attacked. It looked to Loren as though this was no playground, but a battlefield.

He began to withdraw his hand, then paused as it finally reached a piece of smooth skin at the bottom of a short channel within Ken's inner thigh. The skin was as silky as a baby's bottom. Loren pressed the skin, and it gave way easily for a short space, as though nothing substantial lay behind it.

He sat back on his heels again, laying his arms across the thighs of his spread legs as he looked up. Ken's expression held more agony now than it had when Loren had beaten him.

Loren asked, "How deep?"

A full minute passed before Ken replied. Then he said in a low voice, "Two inches. The blade was three inches long, but I was . . . interrupted before I had a chance to finish."

Loren raised his eyebrows. "You were lucky not to be crippled or killed."

"Yes, sir." The words were barely above a whisper. "That's what the doctors said."

Loren reached forward and tugged the boxers up. As he did so, his fingers touched a scar he had not felt before. A new one, judging from the amount of dried blood he felt. The lines curved and touched one another. He traced them with his finger, then sat motionless a moment. Then he looked up again.

Ken's face was turned away; the em seemed unable to bear this final revelation.

For once, Loren was in empathy. He silently pulled up the boxers, stood up, went round to the back, and proceeded to unchain Ken. He couldn't even take pleasure from the sight of the indentations left upon Ken's body by the chains. When he was through, he tossed the chains and the strop onto the floor and walked over to the side of the room. A good, stiff bourbon was what he needed, but he would have to make do with a sofa to collapse onto.

Ken remained where he was, kneeling, his gaze now fastened on the ground. Without looking up, the em said softly, "Would you like me to leave, sir?"

Loren decided not to give him an honest answer. "No," he said as he burrowed his back into the sofa cushions. "Come here."

Ken began to rise from his knees, then halted abruptly, looking over his shoulder toward where Loren sat, unsmiling. After several seconds more, the em began to make his way over to Loren at a crouch, half shuffling on his knees, half crawling. Even this gave Loren no pleasure, though he could see from the stiffness with which Ken moved that the em was still in pain. Loren didn't bother to look to see whether Ken's cock gave continued evidence of this.

Ken reached the sofa finally and pressed the side of his body up against it, as though he were trying to hide behind it. His gaze had returned to the floor. Loren spent a minute examining the lovely black hair with the slight kink in it, trying to figure out what to say that wouldn't cut Ken as cruelly as the blows of the strop had been intended to.

Ken was the one who broke the silence finally. "I'm sorry, sir." He addressed the ground, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Sorry?" Loren could think of any multitude of reasons that he himself was sorry this episode had begun, but few of them required an apology from the em.

"For . . . failing you again." Ken's voice sounded more in agony than his body had been. "I thought that, if somebody else did it rather than me—" He bit his lip shut.

Loren stared, startled out of his morose thoughts by this development. A clear, awful conclusion was forming in his mind, one that he wanted to avoid at all costs. "Are you crazy, boy?" he cried.

Ken's head jerked up, and he turned his tight-drawn face toward Loren, as though pulled there by a hook. Loren wondered whether Ken was offended at being addressed in such a fashion. Well, if so, he would have to deal with it. Loren knew only one way in which to cope with this situation, and that manner of coping wasn't vanilla.

"Good gods, boy, don't you know that some people would sell their souls to the devil to have your ability to transform pain into pleasure? A soldier, for example, who's trying to endure the agony of wounds in order to save a fallen comrade. Don't you realize that what you have is an effing gift?"

Ken stared at him, his lips parted. It was a full minute before he said, "I – I hadn't thought of it that way, sir. I—" He fell silent. After another minute, he said, "I was shot in the leg once – an accident during a training exercise. I didn't want to scream or make some other big fuss, because I was afraid they wouldn't let me be a policeman if I did. But it hurt so bad, so instead I let myself feel—"

His eyes jerked down as color flooded his face. His breath, which had been heavy before, now became asthmatic. It was clear that he had just made what he considered to be an extremely shameful confession.

O Most High, Loren thought. O far-seeing Ruler. Why hadn't he recognized it before? It was all there – everything he needed to know had been there, from their very first meeting.

You're a pervert who enjoys being punished.

The cycle was clear; the only question was where it had started. Loren would be tempted to say it had begun with the knife, but he suspected not. For himself, sadism was a pleasure whose greatest asset was that it allowed him to achieve the higher pleasure of mastery over other men. As a child, that desire for power had existed in him, long before he discovered his sadistic potential. Something like this had occurred to Ken also, he thought – but in a terrible, twisted fashion.

It had started off pure, most likely, in a desire to please and serve. Loren could imagine a childish version of Ken, kneeling at his elder's feet as Ken had knelt at Loren's during their first scene together, asking what he could do for them. It was an image that any adult might find charming in a small boy.

But not as Ken grew older. Loren did not have his own memories to prove this; instead, he must rely on the testimony of the ems he had known. Felix, for example, had once kept all of them riveted as he told the tale of what his life had been like before he learned of leather and discovered that he need not be ashamed of his strong desire to follow the orders of other men in the bedroom.

For Felix, leather was solely a sexual matter. But in Ken's case, the situation must have been far worse: he would have desired to please and obey other people in all aspects of life. A charming trait in a small boy, an increasingly disgusting trait as he grew older. Men did not serve: that was the message which every boy in the country was taught, unless they had the good fortune to be raised in a military family or one other of the small pockets of life where male submission was still valued. Men did not serve, they did not bend their knees to others – they lived their lives as leaders, taking the starring role, exerting control over others. It was easy for a boy with a gift for mastery to reconcile his desires with what the people around him expected. For a boy drawn to service, as Ken had been, what he wanted and what others expected of him would continually clash.

And then something – the gods knew what – had driven Ken too far one day, and he had set out to punish himself for his strong drive to please, his strong drive to obey. He had hurt himself in some way, seeking the sort of absolution that some men can only obtain through pain. And then, to his horror, he had discovered that part of him enjoyed the pain. Now he was a monster twice over: for wishing to please others with his service, and for enjoying pain.

So the pure, beautiful desire to serve had become twisted into something terrible: a compulsive need to serve, at any cost. From that time forward, the cycle was set: Ken would do something in an effort to please someone, something that brought harm to himself. Filled with disgust at his lack of self-control, he would hurt himself to pay for what he had done. The pleasure he received from the pain would cause more self-loathing, driving him to even greater depths to please others, in order to receive their favor and make up for his own self-hatred.

An endless, black cycle, spiralling downwards, straight into the pits of Hades.

Loren stared at Ken's bowed head, the picture so clear in his mind now that he could almost imagine fetters upon Ken's wrists and ankles. The knowledge had come slower to Loren than it ought to have. He had only begun to suspect Ken's nature in the moment that Ken requested discipline for his misdeed – a penitent seeking to make justice with the universe through use of the confessional and of any discipline laid upon him by the priest.

Loren had not thought twice about dispensing such discipline. That was one of the things he had been trained to do, as thoroughly as any Vatican-trained priest. But the quickness with which Ken had requested this discipline, and his utter willingness at accepting whatever Loren did—

His willingness at accepting it. Yes, that was what had broken his secret open in Loren's mind.

Beg me to hurt you!

Loren sat motionless, appalled at the temptation he faced. The erotic stories he had read during the past few years flittered through his mind: Roman slaves, passively enduring whatever their masters chose to inflict upon them; perfect ems, never raising so much as a whimper as their Esses drove them toward death. The stuff of pornography. The stuff of dreams for a sadist. A completely compliant bottom-man to be broken and used for the Ess's pleasure.

It would be pleasure beyond any which Loren had ever dreamed of.

Damn, Loren thought. Damn and hell. If only Loren could rid himself of his conscience.

But he could not. The training he had received was too strict, and it had been reinforced by his years with his strongly conscientious apprentice. If Loren took advantage of this boy, both Elia and Loren's old master would haunt his sleep. Better that he rid himself of Ken at once, rather than give in to the temptation.

On reflection, that seemed like an excellent plan. Push Ken out the door, push him out of mind, forget that they had ever met. The temptation would be gone, and so would the disagreeable evidence of what could happen when an em's growth was stunted and warped.

He could eject Ken from here. And then what would happen? The penitent, flung from the confessional booth, goes home and tallies up all his crimes, real and imaginary, and adds to his sum the very great crime of having offended his confessor and received excommunication. Then he sets a price on his sin.

Fuck. Castration seemed a real possibility.

Loren had waited too long to speak. Ken said in a rush, with a broken voice, "Sir, I'll do anything you want. . . ."

As though Loren needed reminding of that. The temptation came again, fainter this time, and Loren pushed it impatiently aside. He was not going to become Felix, using his partners as tools for his own pleasure. That would warp his own growth as a master. Nor would he abandon his duties. Quite unwittingly, he had placed Ken in increased danger from the moment that he first lured him into playing a scene. But even if that had not been the case, it was the duty of any master to come to the aid of an em who was so badly in need of help as Ken was.

Fine. That was settled. Loren didn't have to like this, but then, when had he ever received much enjoyment from leather? To undertake a disagreeable task as an Ess was no worse than undertaking a disagreeable task as an em. At least he wouldn't feel ashamed of himself afterwards.

Shame. Loren shifted in his seat. Yes, shame was the key to all this, the way to break the cycle. Ken hadn't seen that yet – no doubt he had been trying to attack the problem in the wrong way, by ridding himself of his desire to serve or his enjoyment of pain. Making the cycle yet more vicious by attempting to breach unbreachable walls . . .

Instead of strengthening those walls to return to the purity in which this had all begun.

He had remained silent for too long again. Ken said rapidly, like a man desperately trying to call for help before he is sucked under the deadly waters, "Sir, I'll do anything you want! You can send me away if you want, you can beat me harder if you want—"

"Shut up!" Loren growled, worried that the next words would offer him something far too tempting. Ken closed his mouth at once. His breath was as rapid now as if he had been running, but he didn't move. He couldn't move, Loren realized with growing horror. Ken had been ordered to come to Loren, and he couldn't move until he was released from that order.

"What good would it do for me to send you away?" Loren asked roughly, as though the thought hadn't occurred to him. "As for beating you harder, that wouldn't do any good either, would it? You'd just get off on the pain, as you did with the three-inch knife."

Ken's eyes were lowered now. He was swallowing over and over, obviously doing his best to keep back tears. "Sir, I'll do anything that would please you – anything . . ."

"I'm going to fucking well hold you to that promise, boy." Loren leaned further back against the sofa cushions. His own breath was none too steady now, but he wasn't about to let Ken guess how high he was driving Loren's desire. The essence of being an Ess was control, and Loren had to find a way to take control of this situation.

Fortunately, he knew the perfect way.

"Is anyone expecting you at home, boy?"

Ken's head jerked up. The frozen terror was back in his eyes, like that of a deer which is paralyzed by oncoming headlights. It occurred to Loren, after a moment, that his question was exactly the sort of question that would be asked by an incipient rapist and murderer. No doubt Ken, as a policeman, spent his days coaching citizens not to answer such a question truthfully.

Yet when he bowed his head and spoke finally, Ken replied, "No, sir. No one knows I am here."

"Good," said Loren, his voice clipped short to keep it expressionless. "Tonight you will serve me as my slave."

Ken raised his head slowly this time, but the expression was no less readable than before. "Sir, I'm not sure . . . That is, are you sure . . . ? You said that we weren't going to play . . ."

He stumbled, obviously trying to find a way to express his doubts without giving away the fact that Loren had just handed him the biggest present of his life. Loren barely managed to keep from smiling. "Are you questioning my order, boy?"

"No, sir." Ken's response was instantaneous.

"Idiot. Of course you're questioning my order. And you have every right to, at this stage. Learn to negotiate, boy, or Esses will think the less of you. Esses want strong, intelligent ems – where's the fun in receiving submission from a spineless wimp?"

He spoke the words as much for his own reminder as for Ken's elucidation. Ken simply stared at him dumbly, blinking slightly. Loren sighed.

"Listen, boy, what I'm proposing is not a scene – it is punishment. Punishment and training. Your problem is lack of self-discipline, and the only way in which you can learn to discipline yourself is to accept discipline at the hands of another man. Once you've learned how to obey orders from me, you can learn how to order yourself to stay in line. Understand?"

Ken continued to stare at him with a look of bewilderment. No doubt, Loren thought with a sigh, he himself had looked no less confused when his own master had given this speech.

Loren could still remember his days of wildness. So lacking in control had he been during his teen years that, when his counsellor in high school examined his records, he had made the dry remark, "I take it your goal is to spend your life in prison." And no doubt he had been right: that was the direction Loren would have taken if his master had not come along and shown him a way in which he could turn his power to a more useful purpose. But to do so, Loren had needed to learn self-discipline, and his master had not worn a padded glove the first time he slapped Loren for disobeying his orders.

If experience was any guide to Loren, he could not afford to be any less strict with Ken. He waited a moment to see whether Ken would reply. Then he said, "Here are the terms I offer. We do this with the same limits that you gave me: I will not cause you permanent damage, nor will I practice unsafe sex. But you will not have the option to stop the session. From now until dawn you are mine, and you will do as I say. Is that agreeable to you?"

Relief had flushed across the em's face within Loren's first few words. But he hesitated before saying, "Sir, I'll be glad to do whatever you want. But my family – please don't make me do anything that will harm my family. I'll do anything else you want. . . ."

Sweet gods, what sort of life had this boy been living that he felt he had to bargain for his family's safety? Loren cut him off, saying, "This is between you and me, boy. I have no interest in involving anyone else. All I want is your unconditional service within these walls, under the terms I've described. Do you trust me with that?"

Ken licked his lips. Obviously, the answer was "No," or at best, "Maybe." But all that he said was, "Sir, I'm not sure . . . It just doesn't seem like much of a punishment . . ."

Spoken like a true slave, Loren thought with amusement. It didn't seem to have occurred to the em that some people would be appalled by the request Loren had just made. He said abruptly, "You're turned on by the idea?"

Ken's breath hitched, and for a moment it looked as though he would indeed flee toward the door. Then he said in a tight voice, "I'm sorry, sir."

"Good lord, boy, what are you apologizing for? You're an em; I expect you to be aroused at the idea of serving another man." He waited to let Ken absorb this heretical notion, then added, "But that's as far as I'll allow it to go. I said this would be a punishment, and I meant it. However hard this may get your cock – and I promise you, your cock will be very hard indeed by the end of the night – you are not to allow yourself to come. Will you obey me?"

The surprise on Ken's face screamed "leather virgin." After a minute, the em said, "Sir, I'll try, but I'm not sure—"

"Boy." Loren emphasized the word in as deep a voice as he could manage. "I didn't ask you to try. I asked you whether you would obey my order. Will you obey me?"

"Yes, sir." There was no hesitation this time; the words emerged instantly.

Loren nodded. This resolved the only remaining mystery, which was how a man so out of control as Ken was had managed to work as a policeman. As Loren had suspected, the answer was simple: Ken was under orders at work.

Loren had met men like Ken before, who needed clear and direct orders if they were to achieve anything difficult in life. Such men tended to be drawn toward the military or, as a less satisfactory solution, toward businesses where the hierarchy was obvious. Mayhill's police force, with its military ranking system, must have drawn Ken like nectar to a hummingbird. Yet even there, Ken would have had to learn how to work independently, making decisions on matters where he had received no direct orders. All that Loren needed to do now was to teach Ken to do the same in his private life.

But in order to do that, he must establish firmly his right to give Ken orders. Which led to a certain problem that he must not, under any circumstances, allow Ken to contemplate.

Even as he thought this, Loren heard himself say, "I can turn you over to a more suitable master if you wish."

"Sir?" Ken, whose expression had been growing more relaxed in the moments since he agreed to obey Loren, took on the tight look of anxiety again.

"A more suitable master than me," Loren repeated, hoping that Ken would get the point without Loren having to spell it out.

"I don't understand, sir."

Damn it, was the boy being deliberately obtuse? Loren gritted his teeth, took a deep breath, and with his heart beginning to pound, he said, "I'm a flaming queen."

He deliberately allowed himself to return to his old, sing-song speech pattern, and he saw the surprise enter Ken's face. Loren thought to himself that plunging a three-inch blade into his own thigh would be easier than this. But it was no use trying to hide the obvious any longer. Driving Ken away now was better than entering into this matter, only to find his em laughing at him midway through. He waited, feeling the bite of the humiliation at what would happen next.

The surprise had finally abated from Ken's face. It was replaced by hesitation. No doubt he was figuring out how to politely accept Loren's offer of a transfer, Loren thought sourly.

"Sir," Ken said slowly, "when you gave the demonstration last week about how to be a master . . ."

"Yes?" Loren tried to anticipate Ken's excuse and failed. Gods, he wished this was over with. Then he could drink himself under the table and resolve never to put himself into this type of situation again.

"The master you chose for the demonstration was a woman, sir."

Now it was Loren's turn to blink. After a minute, he said, "Melody is a woman, so it's natural for her to master in a womanly manner. I, on the other hand . . ." He took another deep breath. "I am not a complete man. I never have been."

The words were like poison in his mouth; he had never spoken them aloud, not even to Elia. Yet Ken merely stared at him. After a minute, the em said, "I'm sorry, sir; I can see that this bothers you, and I apologize if I'm being stupid, but manliness or womanliness isn't something I've ever thought about when I thought of what sort of master I'd li—" He stopped, his face flushing, and bowed his head.

He meant it, Loren realized with wonder as he stared down at the em's bowed head. The proof was in the blush rather than in the words – the blush that revealed Ken had achieved a long-sought-after dream.

Good gods. It hadn't occurred to Loren before now that there might be advantages to cruising a bisexual.

"You agree to accept this discipline from me, then." Loren kept his voice flat this time.

"Yes, sir." Again, no hesitation.

"Very well." Still feeling somewhat unsteady, Loren pushed himself to his feet and looked down at Ken. Ken was in a position half-sitting, half-kneeling, with his hands awkwardly wandering between his lap and his sides – the usual uncertainty of a man who has never knelt to another man before. Loren said sharply, "Raise up your butt. Back straight. Hands behind your back, right hand holding left wrist. Legs parted – no, more. More. That's it. Keep your eyes on my face when I'm in front of you; otherwise, look straight ahead. Eyes down only when I reprimand you. Good. Hold that pose."

Ken looked much better now, like a policeman standing on duty. His expression looked more at ease too. Loren wasn't surprised. Tank, who had entered into leather during the free-wheeling seventies, laughed at Loren for his obsession with protocol, but protocol was designed exactly for situations like this: to give the em clear indication of how he should present himself to his Ess, so that he could stop worrying about his bodily position and put his mind to more important matters.

Loren left Ken staring toward the apartment door and headed toward his bedroom. He was halfway into the room before he remembered.

"Shoot!" Loren muttered and hurried to the night-stand drawer where he kept the K-Y Jelly. Nothing there besides the lube. Of course not; it had been months since Loren's last play session, and on that occasion, the Ess had supplied the rubbers.

Loren didn't bother to search Elia's room; any condoms Elia might possess would have expired years ago. Instead, he stood next to his bed, cursing the vice squad.

There had been a rubber machine in the public restroom next to the town hall until the sodomy squad ripped it out, claiming it encouraged tea-room sex. Since Tank had had to translate the term "tea room" to most of the other leathermen in Mayhill, that accusation had been a source of much amusement to Loren at the time. But not now. Not when he lived in a town with no twenty-four-hour pharmacy.

Loren stood motionless, trying to hear some sound from below the floorboards, but only silence arose from downstairs. No doubt Elia had done what he had promised, shutting down the dungeon and sending everyone home early. No one else in Mayhill was likely to be awake at this hour, unless they were on night shift. Loren toyed with the idea of proceeding without protection. Even Elia agreed that fellatio interruptus lay within the realm of safe sex; they had pored together over the booklet forwarded to them by San Francisco leathermen. But no, Loren dared not try to revise Ken's inadequate sex education tonight; it would only confuse the em. Loren drummed his fingers upon his slacks, anger against the vice squad growing higher at every moment.

Then it came to him.

Ken was still in the same position as before. He turned his eyes – but not his head – as Loren went over to where Ken had dropped his trousers. Loren fished in one of the pockets and withdrew the em's wallet. Ken, watching, said nothing as Loren began rifling through the wallet pockets, though the em's expression had grown uneasy. No doubt he would say nothing if Loren pocketed the money there.

He found them at last: two wrapped condoms. He held them up to the light, examining their wrappers more carefully than he had back in Ken's apartment. Then he let out a sigh.

Bless the vice squad. Bless the narrow-minded vice squad that had held a raid three years ago on the town's pharmacies, confiscating every item that those paranoid cops thought might be used as sex toys. Among the items confiscated had been the town's supply of condoms. The Mayhill Sexual Education Society had raised a squawk about that, and enough people in town had backed the society that Corporal Pollacco had been forced to apologize publicly for his squad's "error" in confiscating items used by respectable married couples. But since that time, only one pharmacy in Mayhill had dared carry condoms, and that pharmacy, it appeared, was only prepared to sell standard-sized rubbers.

The condoms must be an uncomfortable fit for Ken. For Loren, on the other hand . . . Well, they weren't ideal, but at least they were unlikely to slip off.

He turned his back on Ken, spent a moment composing in his mind the vision of Ken awaiting him, kneeling and half-naked, and then unbuttoned and unzipped his slacks, leaving his belt buckled. He spent an awkward moment fishing himself out and rolling the condom down. Then he sucked in his breath and turned round.

Ken's eyes were still looking toward Loren, but he immediately switched his gaze to the apartment door. His eyes didn't move as Loren approached him. Finally Loren reached him and stood in front to him, willing himself – with assorted curses – to stay upright when Ken saw what his master-of-the-night had to offer him.

Surely his reaction wouldn't be that bad. Ken had seen Loren before, after all. Surely his reaction couldn't be that bad. . . .

Ken's gaze fell to the bit of hard flesh that poked out from Loren's slacks, almost hidden by the folds. He stared for a moment, as though he could hardly believe his eyes. Then his gaze rose slowly to Loren's face.

"Sir," he whispered, "this isn't punishment. Far from it."

The wave of heat that entered Loren burned so bright that it removed Loren's power of speech. He tried to speak; failed; tried again. Finally he resorted to the clichés of porn.

"Suck me."

o—o—o

Zephyra slept in Ken's bed, amidst troubling dreams.
 

Chapter Text

Loren walked over to the far end of the living room and tossed the dirtied bit of cellophane onto the floor. It landed atop a small pile of tools.

The stack was not very high: Loren had seen no point in trying to test the limits of a man who could turn a bullet hole in his leg into an S&M session. Indeed, this was a night when the atmosphere was potent enough that Loren could have accomplished his work without props. But the props were necessary, for Ken's sake. Every tightening of a screw, every jerk of a rope, every scrape of a file told Ken, "Whatever you think of doing to yourself, I can do better."

Whether or not his own skills at S&M exceeded Ken's, Loren knew that the very fact that another person was doing this to him was exciting to the em. Loren had evidence enough of that from Ken's reaction. So Act One of the drama was now completed: the establishment of Loren as the director of Ken's stage movements. Now came an equally important act: a lesson in the power of imagination.

"I'm going to open the curtains, boy."

He looked over his shoulder to see how Ken would react to this statement. The em was where Loren had left him, with his torso lying stomach-down across the dining room table. The table, carefully selected to be groin-level for Loren, was far too low for Ken: the em had been forced to spread his legs wide in order to keep his feet on the ground, as his master-of-the-night had ordered. He was lying across the short portion of the table, so that his head half hung over the end. His hands gripped the edge of the table. His eyes were closed, again in response to Loren's order.

"What do you suppose passers-by will see when they look up?" Loren asked softly. "You know, don't you? They'll see a man lying naked on a table, held there, not by any outward bonds, but by his own willing submission. A big, strong man who has lowered himself so far as to allow himself to be used by another man. They'll see the marks on you, and they'll see that you're held here by your own will, and they'll know what you are: a masochist. A masochist who gives his body over to the pleasure of another man."

Ken emitted a small moan. Watching him, Loren reflected that he was doing very well tonight at torturing Ken with nothing but the simple truth. He had dared not use the sort of verbal abuse Ken had flung at himself during their first scene: it was easier to judge the strength of Ken's body than the strength of his mind. But obscenities did not appear to necessary. Even without being able to see that part of Ken, Loren could tell that the em's desire was swelling with every word Loren spoke.

"I'm opening the curtains now, boy," he said softly. "Within seconds, everyone will see what you are. Within hours, everyone in Mayhill will know about you – you know how gossip runs in this town. Are you ready to be stripped naked before the town?"

Ken gave another little moan. Smiling, Loren turned off the reading lamp light, then reached to the curtain ropes. The curtains made a very satisfactory swishing sound as they were pulled back. Ken was practically writhing on the table, but he didn't speak, didn't jerk back, didn't open his eyes.

The light from the street poured into the room. That is to say, virtually no light poured in. Elia had already turned off the bar's neon sign, whose letters jutted up to block the bottom part of the second-floor window, and in this portion of the street no lamps were lit. The moon was down. Even if any birds nested in the park trees across the street – which were realistically the only creatures that could see more than a couple of yards into the apartment – then it was unlikely they'd notice anything more than a dark blur where Ken lay.

Loren was sure that Ken must be aware of this fact; the care with which Ken had prepared their scenes suggested he had a policeman's eye for detail. It didn't matter; imagination had done its work. Ken was groaning now, fully immersed in his fantasy of being stripped naked before his fellow citizens.

With any luck, Loren thought, the next time that Ken was tempted to destroy himself by stripping naked at work, he would remember this moment, and realize that imagination was as powerful a force as reality.

Loren closed the curtains again after a couple of minutes, only because he wanted the reading lamp back on so that he could look at Ken more carefully. The slick sheen of sweat on Ken glistened under the light; it dripped its way through runnels between the muscles of his back, into the crack of his ass, and across the face contorted in the agony of the em's imaginings. Loren, feeling a certain amount of agony beginning to build up in his own loins, decided that he really needed to take the edge off his appetite, or he was likely to end up doing something far too interesting, like placing Ken across flame-hot burners.

He walked up to the other man. Evidently hearing his footstep, Ken opened his eyes and peered up at him cautiously. His breath was heavy, but he remained motionless where Loren had placed him. Loren stopped and looked down at him.

"I want to fuck your ass," Loren told the policeman bluntly. "Will you try to stop me?"

Ken shook his head. Immediately, without hesitation. Loren considered him for a long minute, then walked over to the living-room side of the kitchen counter, where he had tossed his jacket.

He was still wearing his shirt and trousers; his confidence had not yet risen high enough for him to abandon that protection. He still wore gloves as well, but that was for a different reason. Now he peeled off the leather and fished out his cigarette case from his jacket pocket, frowning at the mark of his switchblade upon it. The gods only knew what sort of insanity had caused him to deface one of Elia's gifts. Setting the matter aside in his mind, he extracted a cigarette, took his lighter from his jacket pocket, and walked back to the table.

A chair was nearby; hooking it with his free hand, he placed it next to Ken's head. Ken had his eyes down now, and he was frowning slightly, in apparent puzzlement at Loren's silence. Loren did not bother to enlighten him as he sat down, lit his cigarette, placed the lighter aside, drew in a long breath of smoke, emitted it slowly, and then took another drag. His eyes never looked in the direction of Ken.

After three minutes' silence, unbroken by Ken, Loren glanced at him. The em was looking exceedingly nervous. Loren told him, "You must have a poor opinion of me."

Ken's breath rushed in so sharply that he choked on it. Or perhaps he was choking on the smoke that Loren had blown in his face. He finally managed to say, "Master?"

Loren hadn't ordered the boy to address him that way. He had called his own master "sir"; that was the only term that had ever figured in his fantasies about having an em. Ken, though, had evidently possessed his own fantasies; he had begun calling Loren "master" from the moment that Loren took charge of him as a slave. Well, Loren liked to think that he was more flexible than Tank and most of the other Esses he knew. He was willing to indulge Ken in small matters. But only in small matters.

"Let me rephrase myself," he said, turning a dark eye upon the man on the table. "I have just told you, an officer of the law, that I wish to have you willingly engage in a sexual act that is a felony in this state. I ask you again: Will you try to stop me?"

Ken shook his head. Loren just looked at him, impatiently tapping ash onto the floor. He'd have hell to pay with Elia in the morning for dirtying the apartment floor, but impressions were everything, and a neat little ashtray such as a maiden aunt might use didn't fit the impression he wanted Ken to have of him.

After a full minute more he said, in a voice such as he might have used toward a student he'd caught making paper airplanes, "You are not going to try to reject the idea of me fucking you. Of putting you in danger of fifteen years in jail. Is that the sort of man you think I am? Someone like Grover?"

He was genuinely angry now, and he allowed Ken to see it. If that was all the boy thought he was – a heartless, self-centered master out of a porn novel – Loren had best know the worst now.

He tried not to think how close he had come to embracing that nightmarish destiny.

Ken said, his voice as desperate as his expression now, "Master, I've thought about this in the past. Before I met you."

Loren raised one eyebrow; then, when Ken said nothing more, he impatiently gestured for the boy to continue.

Ken took a deep breath. "Master, some of us in the force talk about such matters among ourselves at the bar next to the police headquarters. We discuss – in purely theoretical terms, of course – whether we'd ever break a law that we believed to be wrong. What most of the guys mean is, Would they smoke marijuana? But for myself . . . I've known for a long time that, if another man wanted to have sex with me, I wouldn't be able to stop myself from doing what he wanted. So I asked myself how I'd feel if someone did that to me – whether I'd feel ashamed, or whether I'd feel that I'd done something wrong."

"And what did you decide?" Loren nudged the ash with his sneaker to give himself an excuse not to look at Ken. White sneakers with a black outfit – what had he been thinking when he dressed himself? He was lucky Ken hadn't burst into laughter when he entered the room.

"Well, sir," Ken said softly, "I decided it would depend on who the man was."

Loren slowly turned his eyes back to the boy. For the briefest of moments, Ken met his gaze squarely with the look of an honest policeman who has nothing to hide; then he lowered his gaze.

Loren dropped his cigarette and ground it underfoot as he stood up. Enough. He himself had no moral qualms about transgressing the state legislators' idiotic law against anal sex. If Ken had decided, of his own accord, to do the same, then Loren wasn't going to waste his time changing Ken's mind. His main point had already been made: that he expected intelligent service from the boy, not self-destructive servility.

The second condom was still in his pocket. He tore the wrapper as he walked round to Ken's other end, wishing he'd finished that cigarette. He needed something to calm his nerves.

"Master?" Ken's voice was soft.

"Speak." His tone was harsh; he didn't need distractions at this moment.

Ken's voice was barely above a whisper when he spoke next. "Forgive me for troubling you by asking, master, but . . . Will it hurt very much?"

Loren, in the midst of rolling the rubber over the pathetic part of his body that he would need to make use of in this exercise, nearly burst into laughter. Hurt? Oh, he could only wish.

The boy was rigid with tension, though; no reason to make the matter worse for him than it already was. Loren was not so old that he had forgotten the nervousness he had felt during his own first time. "There'll be no pain that you can't manage," he assured the boy. The statement would have been true even if he'd forced a baseball bat into Ken, he suspected.

Ken sighed with relief, and Loren was left with his own problem.

He had never done this before.

Been fucked, yes, many times. He'd even received blow jobs on a few occasions. But the one time he had gotten up the nerve to suggest that he be the top during a fucking session, his partner had laughed in his face, following his laughter up with a few choice remarks about the effectiveness of matchstick-sized pricks.

Never again had he possessed the courage to ask for such a role, and nobody had ever volunteered to let him fuck them. He hoped he could at least remember how he was supposed to do this.

He finished squeezing the K-Y onto the head of the rubber and placed his hand on Ken's back. It was still rough as a ridged potato chip with the welts from his beating, but Ken made only the slightest noise as Loren ran his fingernail over one of the welts. Not enough of a noise; Loren's cock couldn't seem to make up its mind whether it wanted to enter Ken's body or not. Loren switched his attention to Ken's pose: utterly still, spread across the table, awaiting his master's next orders. Yes, that was good – Ken's positions were always good. Just a little more was necessary.

"Hands behind your neck," Loren barked.

Ken's hands flew through the air, as fast as a hummingbird's wings; he laced his fingers behind the back of his neck. To achieve this, Ken needed to turn his head so that the back of the neck was pointed toward the ceiling, which in turn meant that Ken's chin got in the way of the table, so that he was forced to arch his neck backwards in order to lay the front of his neck flat on the table. An uncomfortable position, no doubt. Ken's breath was a bit more ragged now.

Oh, beautiful. Without thinking of what he was doing, Loren slid inside the em.

Ken's warmth enveloped Loren. No mouth Loren had ever entered, no hand squeezing around his cock, had ever been as tight as Ken's ass. Loren couldn't imagine what the sensation would have been like if his cock had been any larger. His circulation would have been cut off, surely.

Loren took a moment to steady his breath before he said, "Well?" Know the worst from the start; that policy had already worked for him twice already, and he could only hope that it would work again.

"Master, it doesn't hurt at all." Ken's voice was filled with wonder and gratitude.

Loren did laugh then. He drew back and shoved himself hard into the boy, causing Ken's breath to catch. Judging from the moan that followed, Loren's aim had been true.

"That's what you think, slave," he told Ken. "By the time I'm through with you, you'll be screaming for release."

o—o—o

Ken didn't scream by the end, but he was panting as much as he had when Loren opened the curtains. As soon as Loren had gotten his own breath back, he pulled Ken up from the table and pushed him in the direction of the bathroom, instructing him to take a cold shower.

Loren managed to hold out five whole minutes before he stripped himself and went to join Ken.

He stood in the doorway for a while, watching the em. When Loren and Elia had first moved to the apartment, their bathroom had looked much like the one at Ken's townhouse: a tiny sink, an ancient toilet that woke the neighbors whenever it was flushed at night, and a claw-footed tub. Loren had gone away on a week-long trip to the big city to consult with the leather bar owners there on how to run his new business, and when he returned he found that Elia, the handyman, had transformed the bathroom: the sink was now surrounded by a counter, the ancient toilet had been replaced by a quieter model, and the claw-footed tub had been relegated to the basement, where it stayed until it found a new home in the dungeon. In its place, Elia had installed a glass-panelled shower in the corner of the bathroom.

Ken was in the shower now, his back to the door. No steam drifted up from the spray; he was evidently following Loren's instructions to the letter. He had reached the stage of cleaning his hair and was just turning to rinse it when he caught sight of Loren, standing outside the shower.

Ken stared for a moment while Loren's guts lodged in his throat. It was the first time the em had seen Loren completely naked while he was playing the role of the master; Loren waited for Ken's expression to fall. But if the em was disappointed, he hid it well. After a second he recovered himself and reached out, fumbling with the shower knobs. By the time Loren opened the door and stepped into the shower, the water was pleasantly warm.

"Is that the right temperature, sir?" Ken asked with all the apprehension of a newly trained waiter presenting wine.

"It will do," Loren replied. He was amused to see that Ken had been washing his hair with soap; evidently he considered the shampoo nearby to be too great a luxury for a slave. Loren took the Irish Spring from his hand, examined it a moment, and then tossed it back to Ken's waiting hands. "Clean me," he ordered.

Ken didn't wait for further instructions. He lathered up his hands, then carefully began washing Loren's shoulders, evidently fearing that washing anything above Loren's neck would be a liberty. His hands felt as strong as they had when they held Loren down on the bed the previous evening, but his face was different: it had a look of intense concentration on it, as though Ken were undertaking a difficult exam. His fingers began to slip down, and Loren raised his right arm so that Ken could wash his pit. The em ran his fingers through the hair there delicately, and Loren felt the first stirrings below.

He cursed inside. Darn it, nothing tonight was going the way he had planned it. He had had a very clear plan in mind at the beginning of this night: he would take his pleasure in Ken's mouth, give the em a bit of S&M to calm him down, and then proceed, quite firmly, to more mundane service. That was how his old master had handled matters. Loren remembered his own disgust when he had discovered that his primary duty to his master each evening would be to clean his dirty dishes and laundry.

His master had laughed. "Why do you want me to make the scene with you each night?" he asked. "So you can have your fun? Boy, you haven't figured out what slavery is all about. This is for my pleasure, not yours. I'm the one being served, and your pleasure doesn't matter to me in the least."

It was a great deal less than the truth, and at a later stage his master let him know that. But at this early stage, his master hammered in the message: a slave's mind must be on his master's pleasure, nothing more. Mundane tasks taught that quickly.

So Loren had planned to spend the night watching Ken clean the apartment. It hadn't turned out that way. Twenty years of sexual frustration were driving Loren to his third hard-on of the night.

Ken appeared not to notice. He had gone down on his knees and was beginning to scrub Loren's chest. Loren felt his stomach tighten as Ken's hands slowed. He knew that Ken had noticed the most prominent sign of Loren's bodily ugliness: the patchy chest hair, thin and scraggly in certain places, nonexistent in others. Ken's hands trailed its way through a thin patch, then stopped at a bare patch. Then, as Loren held his breath, Ken ducked his head and kissed Loren's chest.

His lips brushed Loren's left nipple. Loren nearly jumped three feet in the air. Startled, Ken drew back, and his eyes rose swiftly to Loren's face.

Loren managed to clear his throat. "Get on with the washing," he ordered gruffly.

Ken murmured an acknowledgment of the order, and his hands travelled down.

Down and down, washing Loren's thighs, his knees, his calves, fingers stirring the wet hair on Loren's legs, brushing them one way and then the other, hands firm but head bowed.

Loren thought it was just as well Ken had skipped his cock. Loren wouldn't have been able to hold out.

Ken spent a long time washing the tops of Loren's feet. Staring down at the em's hair – still curly despite the water – Loren thought to himself that Elia should have been here. He would have enjoyed this. And ended up feeling guilty for enjoying it. Perhaps it was just as well that Loren and his temporary slave were alone.

Ken cleaned between his toes, and then nudged his left foot, ever so slightly. Curious as to what the em had in mind, Loren braced himself against the wall and let Ken lift his foot.

There was a sudden blur, a body dropping, a door crashing, and then Ken was motionless on the floor, and the shower door swung slightly on its hinges as cold air shivered into the shower.

Loren, fixed motionless, raised his eyes to the doorway.

Nothing was there. Not Elia, bursting in to rescue Ken from a life of immorality. Not Corporal Pollacco, with his gun trained upon Loren. Loren looked down at Ken's body. It was motionless, yes, but it had fallen in a precise manner: Ken was lying on his back, with his arms behind his back and his legs sprawling beyond the confines of the shower. His face was under Loren's foot.

Ken's tongue licked Loren's sole.

He shot then – came with a cry and a burst of heat as his cum fired into the air, white globs mixing with transparent water and falling onto the body of the em still licking his foot. Loren barely managed to keep balance; he was blind with passion for a moment.

Then his sight cleared.

The shower door was closed. Ken knelt in front of it, Loren's cum still dripping down his torso. The em's head was bowed, but Loren could see that the boy was smiling broadly. His cock was hard against the scars on his belly.

Loren put his foot down tentatively. The room swayed for a moment. Staggering somewhat, he made his way over to Ken. Perhaps remembering his earlier instructions, Ken raised his smiling face so that his eyes met Loren's.

Loren tried to think of what to say. He failed. All the eloquence of the classical world stored inside him, and he couldn't think of a single aphorism that would encompass what had just taken place.

He settled for taking hold of himself.

The golden droplets mixed with the creamy cum and dripped their way down Ken's chest, rushing faster as they joined with the shower water. Ken's face had taken on a look of shock. Too late, it occurred to Loren that, for all of Ken's skill with dirty talk, there were some aspects of leather life that he could not be expected to know about.

"Sir." The em's voice was barely above a whisper, yet the strain in it was clear. "Please tell me – what did I do wrong?"

Loren struggled for speech. "Nothing. You did nothing wrong. This—" He touched one golden droplet that continued to cling to the rug of hair on Ken's chest. "This is my essence. I am giving it to you."

Ken's expression changed. For a moment, Loren thought he understood that what his temporary master had done was meant as a gift. Then the em burst out, "Thank you, sir! Thank you for showing me another way to serve you!"

The knowledge came to Loren then, like a vulture's beak plunging into his liver.

Almost nothing had changed since the beginning of the evening. Ken would still obey any order Loren gave him, no matter how harsh the consequences for himself. He would walk in front of a speeding truck if Loren told him to.

The only difference was that Ken would die with a smile on his face, joyful to have finally found someone who appreciated his service.

Somehow, Loren managed to leave the shower without satisfying his impulse to shatter the glass. He left Ken with instructions to clean himself off, and to get rid of that erection, darn it, and then Loren made his way to the bedroom and stood there naked, trying to figure out what to do.

He had only made matters worse – much worse. Before, Ken had received no real enjoyment from obeying the orders of others; he had been driven that way, but he had struggled against his drive. Now, having tasted the full pleasure of service, he could not possibly free himself of the desire to serve – but he was no more capable now than he had been at the beginning of the evening of keeping himself from self-destruction.

It was as though Loren had handed him a bowl full of candy laced with a secret poison.

"Damn!" He allowed himself one of his rare moments of obscenity. "Damn and hell!"

He heard a sound behind him. Turning, he saw Ken standing at the doorway. The em was wearing a towel now, but that couldn't hide what was happening beneath the towel.

Loren waited. Ken bit his lip. "I'm sorry, master," he said. "I did use the cold water, I promise you, and I was all right when I left the shower. It's seeing you like that, without any clothes . . ."

It was almost too much. Loren had the impulse to scream the building down – or better yet, scream for help from Elia. Perhaps his apprentice could have found his way out of the trap that Loren had freely and blithely walked into.

Instead he said gruffly, "Come help me into my pajamas."

Ken did so, his touch tentative again, as though he were clothing a precious statue. When they were through, Loren climbed into bed. It felt colder than usual.

Ken was kneeling by the bed now. "Do you require anything else, master?"

He would kneel there all night if ordered to, Loren knew. Or would sleep on the cold floor or in a heap of dung.

This was getting ridiculous. It was like a Roman farce. Loren had to find a way out of this.

"The bed is cold," Loren replied, dealing with the most immediate problem first. "Come keep it warm."

Ken crawled into bed, the towel slipping off him as he did so. He seemed inclined to teeter on the edge of the bed, so Loren offered his arm, and Ken lay his head down on Loren's shoulder. Sighing, like a man who has wandered for years and finally found his home.

He dropped asleep almost at once. Loren lay awake, staring at the ceiling, remembering the final morning he had spent with his master.

o—o—o

They had risen at dawn, after a night spent sleeping together. It was not the first full night they had been together. Loren's parents – who would move out of town almost immediately after they were able to rid themselves of him on his eighteenth birthday – no longer took any notice of his comings or goings. He spent most of his time now with his master, occasionally snatching food from the cupboards at his parent's house.

Except that the man who had trained him was no longer his master, in any meaning of the word. He had made that clear to Loren.

The biker let him carry his cap to the motorcycle, and then took it from him once he had mounted. Loren expected him to say something, but the biker did nothing but gun his motor and swing the motorcycle out of the lot on the edge of town where he had been keeping it. He started down the road—

—and stopped almost immediately. The light was against him, and though Loren knew him well enough by now to guess that he would run a red light if it suited him, a tractor-trailer was passing through the intersection at that moment.

Suddenly Loren found himself running. He reached the intersection just as the light turned green. He half expected the biker to ignore him. But the man who had been his master smiled and leaned forward to kiss him.

The kiss was brief. "Take care of yourself, young master," the biker said, tugging the brim of his cap in a salute. "And take care of your boy."

And then he was gone, the dust from his bike spinning into Loren's eyes and making them water. He waited for a long time, watching the biker grow small in the distance. Then he turned round, wiped his eyes, and walked back to Mayhill.