Cloud knelt in the dirt, hands chained behind his back and legs tied together. At least he was upright, even if he didn’t dare lift his head to see the strangers who had come to buy him. Lord Palmer had filled his head with stories about the infamous slave breakers and how they could train any slave, how they used whips and chains and other implements of torture to achieve results. Now as Palmer negotiated with the two men he could barely keep himself from trembling in his bondage. This was it – this was how he died.
“I’m sure you understand.” Palmer was saying to the two men. “I tried everything I could think of with him but it wasn’t enough. He’s simply too much of a handful for me.”
“We understand.” One of the men replied in an almost soothing tone of voice. “We deal with cases like this all the time. Slaves just need a little extra attention than what a master can offer. We fix those problems.”
Cloud tried not to shake harder, worrying at his lip as Lord Palmer said, “I’m sure with your reputation this one will not be a problem at all, but as I said, it’s just too much – I’m a very busy man. Although, I’d love to own one of the famous slaves trained by the slave breakers.”
The second man was keeping quiet, so the first Slave breaker said, “We cater to a very exclusive clientele, but I’m sure we can put you on a waitlist.”
It was the sort of backhanded compliment that Cloud might have chuckled at, in another lifetime. As it was he only registered the surge of panic – would they sell him back to Palmer once they trained him? Please, by Shiva, no!
The negotiations turned to a discussion on price, and with mounting dread Cloud listened as the slave breakers drove the price lower and lower until it was surely far less than what he’d sold for years ago, when he’d been a virgin and untrained. It was fitting, he decided. He was worthless and this is what he deserved for being such a terrible slave. If only he’d done better – tried harder – he wouldn’t be here.
Cloud almost didn’t notice when the price was settled and decided on, when the transaction took place, so lost in thought. Then the slave happened to glance up just high enough to see a leather clad knee before the silent Slave breaker knelt in front of him, inspecting him. Cloud ducked his head even lower, careful to keep his eyes on the ground.
The man didn’t say anything, just rose back to his feet and, with careful arms, tilted Cloud back until he could lift him in a bridal carry, since Cloud could not walk with his legs bound. The chatty slave breaker said his farewells and they turned and walked back to their waiting car. Cloud found himself settled on the floor of the back seat as the chatty one climbed in after him while the silent one went to the driver’s side and got behind the wheel.
“Honestly.” The chatty one said. “The nerve of that man – as if we’d sell to a scumbag like him.”
“It almost always happens and you complain about it every time.” The previously silent one added. He had a deep, rich voice and Cloud found himself shivering.
“You’re right, I do, because it’s laughable.” One hand reached down to run fingers through Cloud’s tangled blond locks. “He beat this one into catatonia and then expects we’d trust him to know how to handle one we’ve trained.”
Instinctively, Cloud leaned into the comforting touch of the man, pressing his cheek against his knee. The man above him chuckled. “You’re a sweet one, aren’t you?” He said and with his other hand cupped Cloud’s cheek, raising his face to meet the man’s eyes. He was a handsome man, perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties, with fine, delicate features, bright blue eyes, and red hair that brushed the shoulders of his red jacket. “What pretty eyes you have, too. Blessed by the goddess, as they say.”
Internally, Cloud brightened at the compliment. Maybe if he pleased them they wouldn’t hurt him. He hated being hit with a whip so maybe he could avoid that if he just tried hard enough. Certainly he’d failed spectacularly to even be sold to the slave breakers but at least he could appease them. Couldn’t he?
As soon as the red haired man released his cheek, Cloud pushed forward, nuzzling against the man’s groin with his nose, pressing soft kisses to the leather clad flesh there.
“Well now,” The man purred and with gentle strokes encouraged Cloud closer. “Catatonic, Lord Palmer said, well this certainly isn’t my definition of catatonic.” To Cloud he said, “You’re positively a sweetheart, aren’t you?”
Cloud managed a small smile at the compliment. So it was working. He was ingratiating himself to them. That was good, that was what he wanted. The red head smiled back. “What a beauty! Yes, this one will take some real breaking.”
Instantly Cloud’s smile faltered and he began to shake again.
“Genesis.” The man in the front seat said. “You’re scaring him.”
“I’m sorry darling.” Cloud wasn’t sure who Master Genesis was talking to, but it probably wasn’t him. “I always know what to say to frighten the new ones, but you don’t need to be frightened, do you?”
This was nice. Cloud had never had a master who talked to him like Master Genesis did, all sweet words and comforting. “We should have brought Zack.” The other master said.
“Yes,” Said Master Genesis. “He’s good with the new ones, but we were told this one was dangerous. I was imagining something of a different scenario getting him home and didn’t want Zack getting hurt.”
“Angeal, then.” The other master insisted, and Cloud wondered vaguely who they were talking about.
“And scare the poor thing with Angeal’s size? Even if he is a gentle giant, he’s quite intimidating. No, you knew it had to be us alone, Sephiroth.”
“And now we have a frightened slave.” Master Sephiroth pointed out.
The car pulled up into the driveway of a house in the suburbs of Kalm. Cloud could see glimpses of it when Master Genesis opened the door to get out of the car. It was fairly nondescript in a distinctly middle class part of town, surrounded by identical houses in a quiet cul-de-sac. It was the type of place Cloud’s mother would have clipped pictures out of magazines of, back when she was alive.
Master Genesis was the one who picked Cloud up this time, carrying him up the front porch with its idyllic swing. The front door opened and a young man around Cloud’s age stepped out. He was dressed in the loose shift of a slave, the deep red color complimenting his dark hair perfectly. A collar around his neck confirmed what the tunic had already revealed. One of the slave breaker’s other slaves. He didn’t seem hurt in any way. In fact, he smiled when they approached, bowing to them as he held the door open.
“Did it go well?” The slave asked as Masters Genesis and Sephiroth stepped past him into the bright foyer of the house. “He certainly doesn’t look vicious.”
“He’s not.” Master Genesis answered and to Cloud’s amazement did not reprimand the slave for speaking out of turn. So this was a favored slave then. Master Genesis set Cloud on the floor as Sephiroth used a key to lock the front door, typing in the security code in the panel as he did so. Cloud knelt with his head down, trying to pay attention to his surroundings so he could follow this conversation more clearly, even as Master Genesis began to undo the ropes around his legs.
Tears sprung to Cloud’s eyes as limbs that had long gone numb from the tight ropes suddenly had blood flowing through them again. He fought not to cry out from the pain but it must have shown on his face because Master Genesis cursed. “Should have taken the ropes off sooner. Zack, call the doctor and let her know we might have some nerve damage. Ask if she can come immediately.”
Zack bowed and left the room as Master Sephiroth came to stand beside the other master. “We should bathe him before the doctor gets here. He looks like he’s been sleeping in ashes.”
Well, Master Sephiroth wasn’t too far from wrong. Cloud had been given a blanket and a pallet in Lord Palmer’s dusty cellar with its spiders and cobwebs and bugs. Cloud hated bugs, but that had only served to amuse Lord Palmer, who would leave him locked in the cellar for days with the bugs for company. Cloud also couldn’t remember the last time he’d had more than a quick shower or a sponge bath in the bathroom sink. He probably didn’t smell too good, but Master Genesis didn’t act revolted as he carefully picked Cloud up again and carried him up the stairs when it became clear Cloud couldn’t walk on his numb feet.
Cloud wanted to cry; he felt so useless. Master Genesis followed Master Sephiroth up the stairs and down a long hallway to the room at the end and Cloud froze. The room was filled with binding apparatus of all different types from the Saint Andrew’s Cross to paddling benches. Cloud recognized it all from playrooms that other nobles had. Whips and floggers covered the walls along with manacles and chains and ropes. But rather than tying him up in here, Master Genesis walked through the room to a door on the other side. The room beyond was dominated merely by a large soaker tub, easily big enough for two people to stand in. In fact, it was more like an indoor hot tub. It was already filled with water.
Master Sephiroth pulled out a pair of scissors from one of the drawers along the wall and cut through Cloud’s blue shift and let the fabric fall to the ground before stripping efficiently out of his own clothes and leaving them folded up on the counter. He pulled out a hair tie and tied his long silver hair up in a bun out of his face and stepped into the water, reaching for Cloud.
Master Genesis handed Cloud over wordlessly and Cloud froze in terror as he was lowered, arms still manacled behind his back, into the water. He was going to drown! The water was too deep! But Master Sephiroth kept Cloud’s head above the water as he settled him into a kneeling position in the tub and began the process of lathering his body with soap and washing away the dust and dirt.
Master Genesis left then, leaving Cloud alone with Master Sephiroth. Cloud tried to relax but he kept thinking about drowning. About what Lord Palmer had said about water torture. Whips and chains and drowning slaves. He’d filled Cloud’s head with so many stories about the slave breakers that he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Master Sephiroth lathered shampoo into Cloud’s matted hair and gently washed the dirt out of it. “Hold your breath.” He said and that was the only warning Cloud got before he was pulled forcefully back into and under the water.
Cloud flailed in fear and tried to get away, struggling to his feet as he burst out of the water and tripped over the edge of the tub, falling to the bathroom floor in a splash of water. Cloud tried to get to his feet but they were still numb and felt like they weren’t really there. Master Sephiroth, on the other hand, just stared him before stepping out of the tub and grabbing a towel out of the cabinet behind the tub. He returned to Cloud and grabbed him by the manacles, pulling him to his feet. Cloud managed to find his footing and even though each step sent jolts of pain through his feet he let himself be pushed into the playroom.
Now he’d really done it. He’d tried to run away from another master – this one a slave breaker! He was definitely going to be punished for this and he’d deserve it. Master Sephiroth led him to a low table and pushed Cloud to lie on it on his stomach. Cloud trembled but did as ordered, fighting back the urge to cry and beg for mercy. Whatever was coming next, no matter how bad, Cloud reminded himself, he deserved it.
Master Sephiroth used rope to tie Cloud to the table via the rings along the side but he used much more care than Lord Palmer had – inserting fingers under the rope and carefully moving knots away from pressure points. Cloud was baffled. Why did Master Sephiroth care if he was damaged or made uncomfortable by the knots?
When he’d finished, Master Sephiroth grabbed the towel and began to dry Cloud off, carefully working his way down his body with brisk efficiency. Cloud remained tensed as no pain followed, aware that it would. He was so lost in worry that he almost missed when Master Sephiroth finally spoke. “Were your last escape attempts like this?” He asked.
Cloud couldn’t comprehend the question. “I’m sorry.” He cried. “I didn’t mean to. I won’t do it again I promise. Please don’t kill me.”
There was a sound behind him that Cloud thought might have been a sigh. “We don’t kill slaves, especially not when we first get them.” Master Sephiroth said. He set the towel aside and left the room, leaving Cloud to contemplate that last sentence.
When Master Sephiroth returned a few minutes later, he was dressed and his long hair was once more unbound. It had managed to stay dry and untouched even with Cloud’s flailing. Master Sephiroth climbed on top of a paddling bench, resting comfortably on the surface as he regarded Cloud.
“You never answered my question.” Master Sephiroth said. “Did you try to run away because you were scared or did you make a plan?”
“I…” Cloud trailed off, trying to force his words out through the numb haze of terror. Why wasn’t Master Sephiroth doing anything to him, especially now that he had him tied down? “I was scared.” He finally managed, stilting. “I didn’t mean to run, it just happened.”
Master Sephiroth nodded at him, as if his explanation made sense. “Fear is a tricky thing. Too little and you get burned by the fire. Too much and you’re too paralyzed to live life to the fullest. Just enough is good for everyone, especially slaves.”
Cloud kept his silence as he listened, wondering what Master Sephiroth was going on about. The man seemed to notice and sighed again. “I don’t need a scared slave.” He said. “I need smart slaves. I need slaves that know how to think through a situation and decide what will bring about the optimum outcome. Do you think you could do that, Cloud?”
“Yes sir.” Cloud said without really thinking about it. Could he? Everyone said he wasn’t smart, even as a child other children had called him dumb and slow. He wasn’t smart enough to be what someone like Master Sephiroth needed.
“No.” Master Sephiroth said. “You don’t think you can, you’re just agreeing because that’s what you think I want.”
Cloud froze in fear, but was saved from punishment when Zack knocked on the door and stepped into the room. “The doctor’s here.” He said and a young woman with brown hair pulled back in a long braid stepped into the room. She looked like she was around Zack’s age – too young to have completed the required training for a doctorate.
“Dr. Gainsborough.” Master Sephiroth greeted and the woman smiled at him.
“Sephiroth.” She greeted. “Zack told me you had a slave with possible nerve damage, is this him? Why did you tie him down if he’s injured?”
“He tried to run.” Master Sephiroth said simply and Dr. Gainsborough frowned. “I checked all the knots but you are more than welcome to undo them. I believe Cloud will behave for you.”
Cloud nodded because he thought that might be what they wanted from him. Dr. Gainsborough tsked and set to work on the knots. Without permission, Zack came and helped her. “Master,” Zack said, “You tied the knots too tight.” He fumbled with his while Dr. Gainsborough used her nails to undo the worst of them, freeing Cloud’s legs but leaving his shoulders tied to the table.
“Tell me if anything hurts.” She said, and ran her hands over Cloud’s legs down to his feet. Cloud held still – the pain was gone but her touch was so light it tickled and he had to fight to keep from squirming. Involuntarily, he kicked out when she reached the sole of his foot. “Ah, so you can feel that,” She said, catching his ankle easily. “I supposed that’s a good sign. Look for any tingling or numbness over the next couple of days, but I think everything’s going to be all right.” She spoke to Master Sephiroth as she released Cloud’s foot and pulled her stethoscope up around her ears. “I’m going to listen to your lungs now. Breathe deeply for me.”
The rest of the exam was the routine checkup he’d been through before, but Dr. Gainsborough was gentle and kind and didn’t push him into positions. She freed him from the table and had him sit up so she could check his blood pressure and pulse, which she noted the latter as being high.
Finally, Dr. Gainsborough said, “Is there anything I should know about? Any damage to your body I need to look at.”
Cloud considered it, shifting uncomfortably. A few days ago Lord Palmer had had a few friends over and one of them liked to be rough with Cloud. “I don’t know if this counts as an injury, ma’am.” He began, “but my… my hole… is a little torn.”
Dr. Gainsborough had Cloud lie back on the table and pulled a pair of gloves and antiseptic lubricant out of her bag. She was gentle as she probed his hole. “It’s torn all right.” She announced. “And chaffed. No sex for you until this heals. I’ll leave some medicine that should help with the pain and keep you from getting an infection.” She sighed. “This is why lubricant is not optional during sex. Even my wife and I use it and we’re both women!”
It was apparently an old conversation, because Zack just laughed – outright laughed! – at the free person. “Yes ma’am.” He said. “We’ll be sure to tell Lord Palmer that.”
Dr. Gainsborough sniffed and put her supplies away. “Well, that’ll be all. You’ll call me if anything changes or an emergency comes up.”
“Of course, doctor.” Master Sephiroth said and stood up from the bench. He led the doctor out the door and they both disappeared down the hallway. Alone with Zack the other slave grinned at him.
“So, welcome to the jungle.” Zack said brilliant white teeth flashing. “Do you have any questions? You can ask me, all right? Don’t be afraid. I know it’s always really scary – it was when I was first sold here – but everything will be all right.”
Cloud was dying to ask a question but didn’t want to be rude to the obviously favored slave. “How long have you been here?” He ended up asking. He managed to relax a little around the infectious personality of the dark haired slave.
“About three years.” Zack answered. “It used to just be the masters and Angeal – he’s been with Master Genesis since the beginning, apparently – but they decided to keep me around since I’m so good with the new ones. Plus I’m the one person who doesn’t complain when Master Sephiroth wants to practice ropes.”
Three years! And he didn’t seem to be hurt or broken – seemed downright disobedient at times, even if he seemed to have proper deference towards the masters. Maybe… maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Master Sephiroth hadn’t hurt him when he tried to run away, hadn’t beaten him for disobedience or denied him care from the doctor.
“You’re shocked, I can tell.” Zack said, interrupting Cloud’s train of thoughts. “You know, they call Master Genesis and Master Sephiroth the slave breakers, but that’s really not what they do.”
“What do they do then?” Cloud found himself asking before his brain caught up with his mouth.
“They train, that much is true, but they teach more than that. It’s about knowing how to be smart and obedient, about learning to be observant. They teach slaves how to be better. You’ll see. They’re good at what they do – sometimes they hurt but they’ll never harm you.”
Cloud couldn’t comprehend the difference between the two, especially not when he was sitting in a room that was antithesis to all that, a room meant to hurt, to punish.
Master Genesis chose that moment to step into the room. He glanced at Cloud and Zack, sitting together on the table, and at Cloud’s still nude form. “Zack, fetch a tunic for Cloud then take him downstairs. The doctor says he’s underweight and needs food.” He peered at Cloud as Zack did as ordered. “When was the last time you ate?” He asked.
“Yesterday morning, sir.” Cloud admitted. Before his disastrous attempt to run away from Lord Palmer.
Master Genesis frowned at him. “We don’t use food deprivation as punishment in this household.” He explained. “You are always welcome to eat. Angeal cooks twice a day for communal meals, but you are always welcome to fend for yourself and eat what you please.”
Cloud startled backwards in surprise. Previous masters had kept him on a strict diet, keeping him trim and aesthetically pleasing on the eyes. What Master Genesis was suggesting ran opposite of that – unless Cloud was being given the responsibility to keep his weight down on his own. He could do that – that he wouldn’t fail at.
Zack returned with a red tunic for Cloud, which Cloud guessed was the house uniform. He led him down the stairs to the kitchen at the back of the house, which was through a formal dining room. The kitchen was big enough to have a breakfast nook where Zack sat Cloud down and rummaged through the fridge. “Hey, we’ve got casserole left!” He cheered and pulled out a plastic container of food, which he threw in the microwave and began to nuke it. “Angeal makes the best casseroles.” He explained to Cloud. “I thought for sure Master Sephiroth had eaten it all already.”
The microwave dinged and Zack set the food down in front of Cloud, along with a fork which Cloud picked up and handled awkwardly. It’d been a long time since he’d used utensils. Zack watched as he ate in silence, managing to eat half the casserole leftovers before he pushed them away, stomach feeling unusually full. “Hey now, don’t make yourself sick.” Zack said. He cleaned up the leftovers and put the food away just as another person stepped into the kitchen. By process of elimination, Cloud guessed that the tall, broad shouldered man who stepped through the back door carrying gardening supplies was Angeal. His face was smudged with dirt, as was his red tunic. He punched a code into the panel by the door and the door locked shut, arming the system.
“Hey Angeal.” Zack greeted cheerfully. “This is Cloud. Cloud’s probably not going to be with us very long, but hey while he’s here let’s make him comfortable.”
“Zack.” The older slave sighed, setting the supplies on the bench near the door. “You should really watch what you say. Besides, you’re terrible at predicting how long someone will take to train.”
“Nah.” Zack replied. “I got this one down pat. He’s a sweetheart. Unlike that last hellion we had – Reno was a nightmare. Cloud’s got nothing to worry about.”
Cloud watched the interaction silently but felt soothed by the realization that he wasn’t going to be here long. Although he wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Sleepy from the warm food and from a late night, Cloud yawned.
“Oops. Busy day, huh?” Zack said. “Here. I’ll take you to your room and you can get some decent shut eye.”
Cloud followed after Zack as he led him back upstairs and to a room next to the playroom. It was dominated by a large bed that looked sinfully soft and had a black and red sheet set on it. This must be the master bedroom, Cloud thought, and looked around for a pallet his could lay out to sleep on. Not finding anything he frowned and asked, “Where do I sleep?”
“On the bed, silly.” Zack answered. “This is your room. While Master Sephiroth or Master Genesis may come in here at will, Angeal and I will stay out of your personal space. My room is right next to yours, Angeal’s is downstairs near the kitchen, and the master bedroom is across the hall. If we get any other slaves in while you’re here, they’ll share your room but otherwise it’s all yours.”
“My own room.” Cloud whispered in disbelief. Even as a child he’d slept on the floor of the loft with his mother next to him, too poor to afford a house with real bedrooms. Certainly after becoming a slave the only time he’d slept in a bed was when his master found favor with him, which was rare.
“You’ll get used to it.” Zack reassured him. “Now under the covers you go. Try to get some sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.”
Cloud pulled the covers back and climbed under them, nestling into the warm softness of the bed and pillows. He was out almost immediately after Zack flipped the switch.