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Forging the Chains

Chapter Text


Geoffrey Mason looked at the card in his hand and then up at the tall man standing in front of his desk. He stood stiffly, head up and eyes forward. Military, Mason thought appraisingly. Vietnam era, most likely. Possibly later, depending on whether he was in the military prior to or post college. Some kind of bureaucrat - the standard drag of crisp white shirt and well-fitted suit gave that away.

He looked back at the card in his hands. It was a standard invitation card, the type that the senior members of the club had at their disposal. No indication of whom had passed it on to him.

"And how did you come by this, Mr. Skinner?"

Walter Skinner dropped his eyes and coolly studied the man behind the desk. "It appeared in my morning mail, accompanied by that note."

Mason studied the note again. It was brief and to the point:

Mr. Skinner - I believe that you will find the enclosed invitation of interest to you.

Nothing there to alarm him, and yet.... Something was not quite right. He studied the man again. Government? Perhaps, but not a politician. Law? Law enforcement? A cold feeling settled in his stomach.

"Mr. Skinner, are you aware of the purpose of this Club?"

Skinner cleared his throat. "Not entirely."

"But you have your suspicions," Mason said shrewdly. "Mr. Skinner, what is your profession?"

"I'm an assistant director with the FBI."

Mason rose, saying with quiet finality, "I am afraid that there has been a mistake. I will escort you to the entrance - "

"There's no mistake," Skinner said quietly. "And I am sure that your Club - no matter how unusual its purpose - operates within the law."

Mason came around the side of the desk and invaded Skinner's space deliberately. "Our purpose is to provide a safe and discreet location for our members to express their personal predelictions."

Skinner didn't back down. "Which includes S&M."

"We prefer to call it SM, but not all our members practice that variant. Some of them are into D/s or B&D. What we are not, Mr. Skinner, is a kinky sex club."

"Isn't sex involved?" Skinner asked, surprised.

Mason stepped back, studying the man again. "For some people. But it's a matter of personal preference. So if you're looking for a place to get over your midlife crisis with kinky, anonymous sex, I advise you to look elsewhere."

"That’s not what I’m looking for."

Mason settled one hip on the desk and studied the man before him. "What are you looking for?"

Skinner sighed. "I don’t know exactly. Something – more. Some type of control in my life."

"Looking to control or be controlled?"

"Control. I’m a top, not a bottom."

"So you know some of the terminology?" Skinner nodded and Mason crossed his arms. "I hate to tell you this, Mr. Skinner, but all tops here start on the bottom while they’re in training."

"Training? What for?"

"We don’t let just anyone declare that they are a top and start snapping a whip. You have to pass tests, go through levels to be come a top here. Our members are monitored carefully since our primary concern is the well-being of submissives. That’s what makes this the safest place to play in this city -– in fact, on the whole Eastern seaboard."

"What is involved in this training?"

"A senior member takes you under his or her wing, teaching you the basics. After you demonstrate your ability to learn and play within the rules, you become a junior top and are allowed to take your own submissives. At that point, you can continue to train with the senior until you become a senior yourself, transfer to another senior for additional training, or discontinue training. Not all our tops become seniors – only the best."

Skinner frowned. "I’m not looking to be a submissive."

"You wouldn’t be. The training for a sub is different from that for a Dominant. Submissives are learning to give over complete control to their masters. Dominants learn how to take control of subs, and they learn what it is like to give control to another. Top training is a hell of a lot tougher than sub training."

"If I joined this club, how would I be assigned to a senior top?"

"If you were accepted into the Club, I would make a recommendation. It would be based on what areas you were interested in learning, what my evaluation of you shows – and I’m a pretty good judge of character – and what senior would be the best fit. And based on whether you wanted a male or female trainer."

"A male," Skinner said without hesitation. "And I am interested in all areas."

Mason studied him again. "Have you ever had sex with a man?"

"Yes, but it’s been over fifteen years ago." As Mason raised his eyebrow, Skinner said, quietly, "I have been married for the past fifteen years. My wife and I recently separated."

"And is that why you’re here? A mid-life crisis? Then I suggest that you buy a sports car or pick up a sweet young thing instead. It won’t change your life as much as this will."

"I want to change my life," Skinner said firmly. "I’ve been looking for something like this for a long, long time."

"I advise you to consider this carefully, Mr. Skinner. As a SM top in training, you will experience everything, all aspects of the lifestyle. You will endure bondage, suffer physical pain and humiliation, and submit sexually to a man who will be your master. You will be made to cry, Mr. Skinner, and to accept comfort."

"And you don’t think I can handle that."

"No, I don’t," Mason said frankly. "I think you are the kind of man who keeps everything inside. Who would rather be dead than appear weak. Who would rather be alone than accept comfort."

Skinner’s eyes met his firmly. "You are wrong."

"Perhaps." Mason went back around his desk and sat down again, pulling out a card and writing rapidly on it. "Go home, Mr. Skinner. Think about this carefully. Return to your ordered life."

"And if I cannot?"

Mason handed him the card. "Read these books and picture yourself on both the giving and receiving end. If either makes you uncomfortable, tear up this card and forget you ever heard of this place."

 Skinner looked down at the card for a long moment, then back at Mason.  "And if I continue to want this?"

"My number is on the front of the card. Call me and we’ll set up another meeting."

Skinner tucked the card carefully into an inner pocket of his suit jacket. "Thank you for taking the time to see me."

Mason smiled faintly. "Have a good life, Mr. Skinner."

A security guard escorted Skinner out of the room. Mason picked up a pencil and the operating expenses report but found himself staring at nothing until a slight knock on the door shook him out of his thoughts. "Come."

A small red-haired man entered the room. "Got a moment, Mason?"

Mason stood. "Certainly, Mr. Matthews."

Sean Matthews settled into a chair with a grin and waved for Mason to sit. "You are such a formal bastard, Mason. As the Yanks say, ‘chill, dude’. Treat me like any other sub."

Mason sat down again. "Impossible. In the first place, you are my boss and the owner of this place."

"And the second?"

"If you were an ordinary sub, you will not be sitting here in my office." He allowed just a hint of menace into his voice.

"Good point, mate." Sean grinned, unaffected by a voice that would make most subs shiver. "I understand that you had a potential top visit today."

Mason nodded, not surprised that Sean knew about it. Sean seemed to know everything that went on within the place – instinct or intuition or just that submissive-grapevine. "An anonymous referral."

"Any good?" As Mason hesitated, Sean grinned again. "Why Mason – doubts? From you?"

"It has happened on occasion," Mason retorted. "I’m only human."

"That’s not what I hear. Several of the boys think that you’re a demon. In the nicest way, of course."

"I try my best."

Sean snorted. "So – what did you think of the applicant?"

"The potential is there, but he’s got so many internal walls that I don’t think he’ll be able to get past. I gave him an idea of what he’d be in for and told him to think it over carefully. I don’t think he’ll come back."

"Too bad. We could really use some more tops around here. Speaking of which, I’ve got to get going – hot date tonight."

"Anyone I know?" Mason’s face was composed, his voice even.

"No worries, Mum. In-house talent." He grinned at Mason. "I play safe, Mason."

"I hope so, Mr. Matthews," Mason said soberly.

Sean stood up and came over to the desk, leaning over it so that his face was inches away from Mason’s. "Such a formal bastard," he said teasingly. "One day that cool exterior will crack and then I’ll see what’s underneath all that control."

Mason’s face was set in stone. "It’ll never happen."

"If you’d play with me, I bet I’d see that fire you hide so well."

Mason shook his head. "That will never happen, either. I don’t think it’s a wise career move to spank and fuck the boss."

"Oh, I wouldn’t hold it against you, Master Geoffrey," Sean said seductively, then laughed and leaned back. "We’ll see, Mason. One day I’ll get past those lovely principles of yours. " He sauntered to the door and opened it, blew Mason a mock-kiss, and left.

Mason sat for a long time staring at the door until a snapping sound brought him out of his trance. He looked down at his hands blankly for a moment, at the broken bits of pencil in them, and drew a ragged breath.

"You already have, Sean. And may God have mercy on my soul."

He threw the broken pencil in the trashcan, pulled a fresh one out of his drawer, and determinedly turned back to his reports.

Chapter Text

Geoffrey Mason hated Tuesday mornings. That was the day the supply report appeared on his desk, a report created in excruciating detail by his anal-retentive assistant, and Mason felt obligated to look over it before signing it. Which is why he found himself with the unwanted knowledge of just how much antibiotic ointment and lube and how many condoms Housekeeping had replaced after the weekend. Even though many Club members preferred to provide their own, Sean was adamant that no one would get sick in his Club because of the lack of proper supplies. And Mason had to admit that while Sean might appear to be a flighty member of the Top-Of-The-Month club, he was fiercely protective of his boys. Mason understood that, admired his stand, and agreed with him. It didn't make him any happier about having to go through the reports.

The phone rang and he absently answered. "Geoffrey Mason."

"Mr. Mason, this is Walter Skinner. We talked in your office about three weeks ago."

Mason sat back in his chair. "I remember. I must admit that I'm surprised to hear from you, Mr. Skinner, after all this time."

"It took a little while for me to go through your book list. Some of the titles were hard to find."

Mason blinked.  "You read them all?"

"Of course."

Mason was stunned. Although he had ordered potential tops to do this in the past, none of them had actually done so. Either they came back within a few days or their first talk or he never heard from them again. Despite his earlier misgivings, he felt a stirring of interest in this man.

"And what did you think?"

"I'm still interested, Mr. Mason. I'd like to set up a time to discuss the next step."

The voice was cool, collected, the voice of a man who was used to getting his own way, of being in control. Idly, Mason wondered what it would be like to shatter that control, to see what lay beyond it. If anything lay beyond it. Three weeks ago, he had been certain that there was nothing under that cool surface but now he wasn't so certain.

It couldn't hurt to talk to the man again.

"All right, Mr. Skinner. My office. Tonight. Seven PM." There - the gauntlet was thrown down. Would the man be able to bend enough to pick it up?

"I'll be there. Thank you, Mr. Mason."

Mason looked at the silent phone, stunned yet again. The man had thanked him? And then had hung up on him? Well, that would certainly be the last time that one Walter Skinner would end a conversation with him before he had been dismissed! Then he slapped his forehead - what was he thinking? Take on a stiff-necked control-junkie who was looking for a brief walk on the wild side to settle a mid-age crisis? Didn't he have enough problems without that additional worry?

A familiar laugh in the hallway and faint but unmistakable making-out sounds caught his attention and he drew in a deep breath. Maybe that's what he needed after all - something, no someone, to take his attention away from a red-headed imp who had unknowingly wormed his way past Mason's defenses.



Walter Skinner followed the security guard down the hallway, amazed again by the level of security in this building. Then again, if even a quarter of the people that he thought might be members of this club actually were, he wasn't the least bit surprised at the lengths taken to protect their privacy. He thought again about why he was here, about the driving need that had brought him back to this place, against all reason and against everything he had been raised to believe was right and "normal". Then he shook his head - it was no good lying to himself about this. Wasn't that one of the points of this whole exercise, to discover the truth within himself?

The guard knocked briefly on the door to Mason's office and then opened it. "Mr. Skinner, sir."

"Thank you. Come in, Mr. Skinner. You're right on time." Mason was pouring himself a drink and he held up the bottle. "Care for a drink?"

"Scotch? I drink it neat."

"A man after my own heart." Mason handed him the glass. "So, Mr. Skinner, you have read the books I recommended and you are still interested."

Skinner took a sip from his glass and gave Mason an amused look. "Recommended? More like ordered."

Mason nearly choked on his drink. Where the hell had that come from? He saw a corner of Skinner's mouth quirk up at his reaction and let a chuckle escape. So the man had a sense of humor and he was apparently comfortable with the idea of accepting orders? Maybe this would work out after all, he thought. He finished his drink and set the glass down on the table.

"Well, let's start with a look around the place, then we'll discuss assignment of a trainer and some of the rules."

Mason led the way into the main part of the Club. "We don't have any of the common dungeons or playrooms that some of the other clubs have. Those things have their place, but not here. This club was created to provide a safe, secure place for high-profile players. It would probably surprise you to learn who some of our members are."

"Actually, it wouldn't," Skinner said. "I imagine that there are many high level officials who need this kind of release."

"Exactly - and more of them are subs than Doms. In gact, about 75% of our members are subs, so good tops are always in demand. The majority of our tops are Juniors; only a quarter ever reach the Senior level, like myself. Seniors are the only ones allowed to train other tops. Juniors are allowed to train their own subs or play with freelance subs. You, Mr. Skinner, would enter as an apprentice. Your master may allow you to participate in his training sessions with his subs - or not, at his discretion."

Mason showed him the common social rooms: the library and billiard room, the restaurant with its own four-star chef, and the fully equipped gym. Then he took him upstairs and showed him one of the private suites. Skinner studied the posts and rings attached to the walls, the rings attached to the bed, then opened the armoire on one side of the room and studied the collection of toys.

"Fully equipped?"

"The contents vary on the type of games preferred by the room's occupants - B&D, SM, D/s - and we provide a checklist for our players to choose from. And, of course, some players prefer to provide some or all of their own equipment.

"Can they leave their personal equipment on site?"

Mason nodded. "For many of our players, it could be awkward for them to have their toys at home. We have storage lockers at the check-in area for members to store personal equipment bags, or a member can choose to reserve one of these rooms on long-term basis instead of on demand and keep their gear in their room. Most of our Seniors do that; it also allows them to customize the room. All of our suites have cardkey access and keys may not be taken off-site. A security alert goes off if someone tries to take a key past the doors."

Skinner raised an eyebrow at this level of security.  "I've already seen some of your security measures. Impressive."

"We try to err on the side of caution. With a dozen clubs in town for players to choose from, our chief claims are the high level of security and safety."


"Mr. Matthews, the club owner, believes strongly in keeping subs as safe as is humanly possible. Even long-term players have to pass our tests before becoming Juniors or Seniors here. Every room has a complete first aid kit plus lubricants and condoms, as well as a panic button, and a small medical staff is on-site for emergencies."

Skinner nodded and closed the cabinet door, looking around the spacious suite. "Nice."

"We try to provide anything that might be needed. Several of our staff live on site as does Mr. Matthews."

They left the room and Mason led the way back to the office. "Well, Mr. Skinner. You've looked the place over. You've done the reading and you seem comfortable with the concepts. Do you still want to join and accept our rules?"

"Yes, Mr. Mason. I do."

Mason pulled a ledger off the shelf behind his desk and opened it. "All of our members are registered in here as either dominant or submissive. We have a computer database as well, but somehow seeing your name in black and white makes it seem more real." He held out a pen and Skinner signed the book, then Mason put it back in its place. He gestured for Skinner to take a chair while he settled at the desk.

"Now, the next item of business it the assignment of a trainer. There are several seniors available - "

"Am I allowed to state my preference?"

"You can make a request. The final decision is up to me." Mason looked at him curiously. "I didn't know you were familiar with any of our members."

"I did my own investigation during these past three weeks," Skinner said quietly. "I've talked to several known players, confidentially. I've learned that one of the best tops on the Eastern seaboard, possibly one of the best in the country, is a member of this club." He met Mason's eyes squarely. "That's you, Mr. Mason."

Mason's eyes were cool, his face non-committal, although his pulse had picked up. Damn it but the man just displayed one fascinating angle after another. And Mason wanted him. He wanted to make Walter Skinner his apprentice. He wanted to see just what lay under that surface. He wanted to strip away each outward layer and see just what lay at the heart of the man. Out loud, he said, "Hell of an ego you have, Walter Skinner."

Skinner shrugged. "Maybe, but I want to learn from the best. Someone who can out-alpha me, mentally and physically."

His desire was becoming a living thing, burning through him, but he was too good a player to let the man before him see that. He leaned back in his chair and let his eyes scan up and down Skinner's body in cool appraisal. "I'm a busy man, Mr. Skinner. I have a club to run. Why should I waste my time training you?"

"For the challenge." Skinner's eyes locked on Mason's, and Mason's breath caught at the fire that he saw burning like coals in the dark brown depths. "I'm not a submissive, Mr. Mason. I doubt that I have a submissive bone in my body and I will not make it easy for you. I will follow your rules and I will obey you. But if I call you 'master', it will not be as part of any game.  It will be because you have earned it. And I will belong to you for life."

Mason's head spun and he felt as if the room was suddenly short on oxygen. It had been a long, long time since he had faced a real challenge. And now here it was, if he was willing to take a chance. A slow smile crossed his face and he held out his hand across the desk. "You have yourself a deal, Mr. Skinner. I hope that you will not come to regret this."

Skinner returned the handshake firmly, a hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth again. "I doubt that I will, Mr. Mason. No matter what happens."


Chapter Text

Saturday - a typically cold and miserable February day, and Walter Skinner found himself heading in a different direction than usual. He pulled into the parking deck under the Dionysus Club using his new security pass and took the elevator up to the main floor. The Assistant Secretary was waiting for him at check-in, issuing him a card-key and taking care of the membership forms. 

"Follow me, Mr. Skinner," the Assistant Secretary said when Skinner had signed the last form. "Mr. Mason asked me to personally escort you to his suite. He had some urgent matters to attend to this morning." Turning the desk over to a clerk, the man led Skinner across the lobby and down a hallway that Skinner remembered from his past two visits. The Assistant gestured to the doors to left as they passed. "These are the Security and Data centers. As you recall, Mr. Mason's office is at the end of the hall. These rooms on the right are part of Mr. Mason's suite - his private dining room with a small kitchen behind it here, and the living area here. Your card-key will give you access to all the rooms on this corridor."

Skinner was surprised. "Including the Security center?"

The Assistant smiled. "Mr. Mason assures me that you are trustworthy, and he may need to send you there on errands. There is also a connecting door between Mr. Mason's office and the Security center." The Assistant paused at a door and slid Skinner's card-key into the access slot, then turned the handle and handed the card back to Skinner. "Here you are, Mr. Skinner. Go on in - he's expecting you."

Skinner found himself standing in the entryway to a large living room and he looked around. It was a large, spacious room, sparsely furnished but with an understated elegance. An atrium stretched across the back of the room and also appeared to serve as a small dining area. To his right was a closed door, evidently leading to that private dining room and kitchen, and to his left were two other doorways. He shifted the overnight bag in his hand, unsure of what to do, then looked up in relief as Mason came out of the far doorway to greet him with a cheerful smile.

"Good morning, Mr. Skinner. It's a beautiful day, isn't it?"

Skinner glanced briefly at the wintry sky visibly outside of the atrium's windows and thought that it was anything but a nice day. "Yes, sir."

Mason chuckled. "Are you always going to be this agreeable? I thought you were offering me a challenge."

Skinner's jaw tightened. "I was only trying to be polite."

"Temper, temper, Dimplecheeks. It won't do to lose your control so easily."


Mason laughed. "I've been thinking about what to call you, Walter Skinner. Every master has a pet name for his slave, something unique and descriptive." He gestured toward the bag in Skinner's hand. "Go set that in the closet in the bedroom - you won't need it until tomorrow evening when you leave." Skinner nodded and returned a moment later without the bag.

"First, we're going to handle some business and discuss what you can expect from me. Primary order of business... " Mason walked over to the coffee table and picked up a box. "This bracelet shows that you belong to me and you must wear it at all times until you pass your master tests." He took out a gold bracelet and fastened it around Skinner's right wrist. "I'm very serious about this, Walter Skinner. If you remove this bracelet, you remove yourself from my protection. You will then be held directly accountable for all of your actions, and a more senior Dom would be within his rights to punish you - and every Dom here is more senior to you at present."

Skinner looked down curiously at the design on the back of the bracelet. "Is there a significance in the color or the design?"

"Yes. Gold bracelets are for senior masters and silver are for junior masters. The design is unique and identifies that you belong to me. Now stand up straight and let me have a look at you."

Skinner stood at attention, watching as the man circled and looked him over appraisingly. Up close, he was surprised to realize that Mason was actually several inches shorter than himself. The man had such a presence that he seemed much taller, seemed to fill up a room with his essence. Skinner studied the man who was his trainer, who might become his master, curiously. In his office earlier that week, Mason had looked like any high-level corporate exec, average in appearance with his flawless grooming, tailored suit and crisp white shirt. But this man was sleek and definitely dangerous looking, dressed in black leather pants that appeared to fit like a second skin and an open-neck white shirt. His dark wavy hair looked slightly damp from his morning shower, and the slight greying at the temple highlighted ice-blue eyes which seemed to pierce through Skinner like lasers.

"This weekend we'll be going over what your training will entail. Have you done military service, Walter Skinner?"

"Yes; I was in the Marines."

"Ah, then you remember basic training. Well, think of this as our version of basic training. I can promise that you're not going to like it, and you're not going to like me. In fact, you're probably going to hate me but I'm going to get you through this. All you have to do is trust me, trust that I know what I'm doing, and you'll make it - more or less intact."

Skinner raised an eyebrow. "More or less?"

"Well, this is an SM relationship. But I promise not to do anything that will cause serious or permanent damage." He saw the sudden tightening of Skinner's body. "Nervous, pet?"


Mason reached out and grabbed the back of Skinner's neck, and Skinner was surprised by the strength of his grip. "No lies, boy. I don't tolerate lying at all, and I don't think you want to taste my whip this soon."

"No. I don't."

"No what?" The hand tightened its grip and shook him.

"No, sir."

Mason released Skinner, running a caressing hand down his back. "Better. Not as good as 'master', but it will do for now." He studied Skinner again. "Shirt - off."

Skinner obeyed and stood bare-chested while Mason circled him, studying him critically. "Hmm. Well, better than I would have expected considering you ride a desk all day," Mason said, closely examining Skinner's upper torso. "At least you haven't let all that military muscle go to flab but you're a little rangier than I like to see for your size. I'm going to design an exercise program to tone and build your muscles, and I'll expect you to follow it."

"Yes, sir."

"Pants off."

Skinner toed off his shoes and stripped off his pants, flushing a little to find himself standing in just his briefs and socks, and Mason pounced on this sign of weakness.

"Embarrassed, boy? Shy about having me looking over your body? You'd best get over it - we're going to get to know each other quite well while you're in training. Not that that flush is unattractive - reminds me of the color of a peach. Maybe I'll call you 'Peaches' - would you like that, boy?"

"No, sir."

"No, I don't imagine you would. Not that it matters. When I decide on a name it will be to suit me and not you. Is that understood, Peaches?"

"Yes, sir."

Mason studied his legs, kicking his feet further apart to get a better look at him. "Hmm. These need work, too. Being a Dom takes a lot of stamina - you can be on your feet for hours when you're working a sub. What about your diet? Do you eat regular meals?"

"Not since the separation," Skinner admitted. "I rarely have more than a cup of coffee and toast for breakfast, maybe a quick sandwich at my desk if I'm not taking a business lunch. And by the time I get home I'm too tired to cook."

"Well, that'll change. Nutrition is very important. Topping takes a lot of energy, besides the fact that you need to set a good example for your subs. I'll be putting you with the kitchen staff as well and you'll learn to cook and to eat properly. I want you to keep a daily log of what you eat and when starting on Monday. And starting next weekend you will be responsible for all our meals - is that understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Take off the rest of it." Skinner hesitated and Mason walked over to the coffee table, picking up a riding crop that was lying there. "Walter Skinner, let me introduce you to my friend here." He smacked the crop down on his open hand and Skinner flinched involuntarily. "You and this crop are going to become very well acquainted. Anytime I give you an order and you hesitate to obey, the two of you are going to have a conversation - the crop will be doing all the talking and your ass will be doing all the listening. Am I clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Now I believe I gave you an order."

Skinner quickly pulled off his socks and briefs, setting them on top of the pile of his clothing.

"There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Mason tapped his shoulder gently with the crop and slid it down Skinner's spine, watching Skinner shiver under the contact. He slowly circled Skinner, trailing the crop over his body as he did so, watching the man stiffen. "And you have nothing to be ashamed of, Walter. Quite a nice package altogether." He paused and waited for Skinner to say something. When it became apparent that Skinner wasn't going to, he gently tapped the crop against the man's flat stomach. "Well, Walter?"


"I just complimented you, and you should respond by thanking me."

Skinner flushed. "Sorry, sir." He cleared his throat. "I'm not used to comments like that."

"You will be." Skinner flinched as hands trailed over his flesh, tracing the faint network of scars over his abdomen and chest, following them around to his back. "These are old and they have a history. Nam?" Skinner nodded silently. "I must be going deaf - I asked a question and didn't get an answer."

Skinner cleared his throat. "Yes, sir. I got them in Viet Nam." He tried not to pay attention to the trail of fire that those demanding fingers were tracing across his body. Fingers that turned unexpectedly gentle, almost caressing. He swallowed hard and closed his eyes, and Mason turned away with a smile.

"Now, about clothing. I have a tailor coming in to take your measurements for the clothing you'll wear around the Club. There will be no discussion on this matter. What you wear will be very important for setting your image outside this room as a Dom. As you develop a reputation, you'll find that you can wear anything you want but to begin with image is everything. Do you understand me?"

"I - think so, sir."

"Around here, your clothing will be more relaxed." He crossed to the coffee table and picked up the item lying there, handing it to Skinner. "You will wear this. Additional clothing will be at my discretion, depending on your behavior."

Skinner held up the jock strap and looked at Mason, disbelievingly. "You have got to be kidding."

The crop smacked against Skinner's backside and he flinched. "I never kid, Dimplecheeks. Put it on. Now." Skinner obeyed and felt somehow more naked and exposed in this little bit of clothing than he had when he had been completely naked. He stood flushed and stiff as Mason critically examined the results. "Very nice, indeed."

"Thank you, sir," Skinner grated out as the crop moved threateningly in his direction.

"That was not at all gracious," Mason said, a humorous glint in his eyes. "Try again, boy." As Skinner started to open his mouth, Mason stopped him and pressed down on his shoulders. "On your knees first. Apologize and then thank me properly."

Skinner slowly went down to his knees, then drew a deep breath. "Sorry, sir," he said, hesitatingly and reluctantly. "And - and thank you for - the compliment."

Mason patted his cheek with a laugh. "Well, I've heard better! Still, considering everything, it's acceptable as a first effort. The blushes and the slight stammering were very charming - reminded me of that little friend of Winnie the Pooh. I believe his name was Piglet." Mason grinned wickedly. "Shall I call you, 'Piglet', my pet?"

Skinner's head jerked up in horror. "God, no!"

Mason tilted his head speculatively. "So you really don't like that one? Then ask me nicely, pet, and I may decide not to use it."

"Please, sir, don't call me 'Piglet'."

"You'll have to be more convincing than that," Mason said, shaking his head. "Later. As to our working arrangements: when we are in the common areas together, I will expect your obedience but I will also treat you as I would any other top junior to myself. As with the way you dress, the way you conduct yourself is important for your image as a competent top. I will never purposefully humiliate you in public - so long as you don't give me any reason to do so. When you are in public and not with me, I shall expect your behavior to reflect well upon me. Are we clear on both those areas?"

"Yes, sir."

"In here is another matter. Within this suite, you are mine and my word is the only law. There is no court of appeal. If I say jump, don't even ask 'how high?' - just start jumping and pray that you guess right. I will turn you inside out and tear down all those walls you hide behind, and a humiliating nickname will be the least of your worries. You are my apprentice and we will embark on a voyage of discovery together. It will only end one of three ways: if I choose to terminate it because I can't train you, if you choose to walk away, or if I determine that you are ready to take the tests to become a junior master. Do you understand me, Walter Skinner?"

Skinner lifted his head to meet Mason's eyes directly. "Yes, sir."

"If you have any second thoughts, now is the time to voice them. You still have a chance to get out of this intact."

Skinner shook his head slightly, his eyes not leaving Mason's. "No second thoughts."

"Very well then. Go into the bedroom and put on the sweatpants lying on the bed. They should be the right size. We're going to start working on your exercise program."



Skinner leaned his head against the shower wall, letting the hot water cascade over his back and down his legs, which still trembled slightly with fatigue. He couldn't remember a time when he had ever been this wrung out, this completely exhausted and drained. His DI had been a son-of-a-bitch, but he could have taken lessons from Geoffrey Mason. His college boxing coach had been tough on him and had pushed him to his limit but Mason had pushed him beyond his limits. The master Dom had put him through the most intense workout of his life, spotting him, counting out the reps, challenging him to do more with his voice and with his eyes, eyes which mocked him and seemed to expect him to fail. He had gritted his teeth and pushed himself, determined to prove those eyes wrong, determined not to allow the Dom to win. Until finally, when he had started to do another set, a firm hand had stopped him and a surprisingly gentle voice had broken through his focused mindset.

"Enough, tough guy. Hit the showers."

Now that same voice was ringing through the locker room. "All right, Walter Skinner, get your ass out of the shower and get dressed. I'd like to eat lunch sometime this century."

Skinner roused himself, quickly soaping and rinsing, then turned off the shower and dried himself briskly, wrapping a towel around his waist before heading into the main locker room. Mason was standing there with a fresh pile of clothing in his hands: another of those damned jock straps plus some casual pants and a shirt. Skinner dressed quickly, slipped on his shoes, and followed Mason out of the gym.

Mason led the way through an elegant dining room that Skinner had seen on his tour earlier that week and into the kitchen. Skinner winced at the onslaught of sound and the blur of motion within the room. A sea of aromas assaulted his senses and made him painfully aware that he hadn't had more than a cup of coffee for breakfast.

Mason had disappeared into the confusion and returned a moment later with a cheerfully rotund man at his side. "Jean-Pierre, I'd like you to meet my new apprentice, Walter Skinner. He's in dire need of your expertise, and I'll be putting him into your capable hands starting next week for cooking and nutrition classes."

"Bon, Master Geoff," Jean-Pierre said with a beaming smile directed at Skinner. "We shall work well together, yes? But first I think we must feed this poor boy before he faints from hunger. I have something very special - you will like it and eat every bite. But for now, out of my kitchen and let me work!"

Mason chuckled as he led the way to a table in the dining room. "Jean-Pierre is a master chef - and a Senior member of the Club as well. He's also the terror of the kitchen staff."

"He's a Dom?"

Mason nodded. "Many of the staff members are players here at the Club: kitchen staff, Security, Housekeeping. It was one of Mr. Matthews' ideas and it has worked out quite well. We find that the staff who are also players are much more committed to the Club, to making sure that our patrons are happy - and there are very few instances of inappropriate behavior since nearly every one of them has someone holding their leash."

"Must make performance reviews very interesting," Skinner said with a grin. He drained a glass of water, feeling more dehydrated than he could ever remember, and a waiter was immediately as his side to refill his glass. "I can see that it has a positive effect on service, though."

"You'd be surprised what the proper combination of discipline and positive feedback can do to motivate someone."

Skinner smiled and shook his head. "I can just imagine. So what comes next - if I may ask?"

"Certainly. After lunch, the tailor will be here and we will spend most of the afternoon with him. That should take us to dinner time, followed by a few basic lessons before bedtime."

Skinner found that, unexpectedly, his hand shook as he set his glass back down. "Lessons? What kind?"

"You'll find out in due time. Ah, here is our lunch." Mason turned the conversation into general topics, and Skinner tried not to think about just what those lessons might entail.



Arriving back in the Secretary's suite after lunch, Skinner noticed that Mason was looking at him pointedly. "What?" he asked, confused.

Mason sighed. "Piglet, this will be your one and only free warning on this subject. When you are in my suite - unless I specifically say otherwise - you wear only the jock strap. That means that you start stripping the moment you get inside the suite - got me? If it takes you any longer than 60 seconds, the crop will count off each additional second on your ass."

"But - you said that the tailor was coming - "

"And your point would be?"

Skinner heard the steel in the voice and clenched his jaw but began removing the shirt and pants he was wearing. Once he had stripped, Mason led him into the bedroom and showed him where his clothes would be stored when he was not wearing them.

"All right, we have a few minutes before my tailor arrives, so I'm going to give you a quick lesson," Mason said, leading Skinner back into the living room. "One of the most important things a Dom needs to teach his sub is to assume different positions on command. Some positions involve more comfort or discomfort than others, so you should be familiar with all of them yourself. And you will become very familiar with them, believe me. So let's start with the first one - 'stand'. When I order you to stand, I want you to stand straight with your arms relaxed at your side. Let me see it."

Skinner stood at attention and Mason shook his head. "No, Walter Skinner. You are not a Marine on the parade ground. You are my personal slave. Head tilted downward and eyes lowered - a slave never looks directly at the master unless given permission to do so. Feet spread apart for balance - and so I can access any part of your body that I wish." Mason watched Skinner adjust his position. "Don't clench your fists - hands open gracefully at your sides."

Mason circled around Skinner and nodded. "Very good. You're a natural at this, Dimplecheeks." He chuckled as Skinner's jaw clenched at the nickname and reached up to gently pat Skinner's cheeks. "Uh-uh. Relax that jaw. A slave should present a relaxed and graceful picture to his master." He leaned closer to Skinner's ear. "Remember how vulnerable you are, my pet. Naked, dependent on me for your food, sleep - and pleasure." One hand trailed down Skinner's back, teasingly.

There was a knock on the door and Mason turned away from the now furiously blushing man with a laugh and a smack on the ass. "Saved! Go answer the door, Peaches, then return to this position."

Skinner obeyed, thankful for the interruption, and let in the tailor who didn't seem to be in the least bit surprised to find the door answered by a mostly-naked man. Mason greeted the man warmly and they settled down to business. For two long hours, Mason and the tailor was absorbed in discussing colors and fabrics and lines while Skinner stood in position, moving only when the tailor needed to take measurements. By the time they finished, Skinner's legs were starting to tremble with fatigue and a headache was beginning to pound behind his eyes. A persistent ringing began in his ears and he had the horrifying feeling that at any moment he was going to take a nose-dive into the floor.

"Walter, are you all right?" The voice was distant but compelling, and he tried to respond. A forceful hand propelled him over to a chair, pushed him into it, and forced his head between his knees. "Deep breaths, Walter. Just a little dizziness - you'll be fine in a minute." Footsteps receded and then returned, and he felt his head pulled up. "Here - drink this. Slow sips."

Skinner obeyed, drinking the Gatorade slowly. Gradually, his eyes came into focus again and he saw Mason crouched in front of him, studying his face with concern. "Sorry."

"Shit, Walter," Mason said, cuffing his head lightly. "This isn't some sort of endurance contest. Any time you are having a problem, it is your responsibility to tell me, got that? You've been through a hell of a lot today, you haven't been taking proper care of yourself - it's not surprising that your body decided to take a break. In fact," Mason said, looking at his watch. "That's just what we're going to do. Come." He steered Skinner into the bedroom and over to a pallet set up on the floor. "This is your bed while you’re here in training. I want you to lie down and take a nap before dinner while I finish out here."

Skinner nodded and sank down gratefully onto the mat, pulling the blanket over his chilled body. In a matter of minutes, his exhausted body and mind had pulled him into a deep and dreamless sleep.




"Hmm?" The voice sounded vaguely familiar but Skinner couldn't place it.

"Time to get up, Dimplecheeks."

Now he knew the voice. And one of the hated nicknames. Geoffrey Mason. Skinner blinked open his eyes and groaned as he sat up.

"You've had a nice long nap. Now it's time to have some dinner before we have another lesson. Wash up and join me in the living room."

Skinner groaned again, pushed himself to his feet, and made his way into the bathroom. Surprisingly, he felt pretty good after his nap.

He found Mason setting out dishes from a serving cart onto the table in the atrium. Mason looked at him appraisingly and nodded. "You look a lot better now."

"I feel a lot better," Skinner admitted. He cleared his throat. "I'm - um - sorry about that."

"You should be - and you'll be a lot sorrier if you pull that again," Mason said, gesturing for him to sit down. "But it's partially my fault, too. A top should always be aware of his sub's mental and physical state. Even if that sub is a stubborn hard-ass with no common sense and a fear of appearing weak."

Skinner chuckled at that. "Well, I did warn you that I wouldn't be easy to train."

"You did at that. I'm starting to wonder just where exactly my brains were vacationing when I agreed to take you on."

Skinner chuckled again, then gestured to the serving cart. "So, is this normal or do most people eat in the dining room?"

"It depends, but many of our patrons don't want to break out of their games - or are too exhausted after playing - to dress up and come down to the dining room. All the other suites in the Club have dumbwaiters for their food service, but the two suites on this floor - mine and Mr. Matthews' - use the serving carts since we're on the same level as the kitchen and we don't have dumbwaiters. I usually eat in the dining room - I don't like eating alone in my room - but while you're here we'll be eating a lot of our meals here. In the future, though, you will be responsible for cooking and serving them."

"I'm not much of a cook," Skinner warned.

"Don't worry - Jean-Pierre will whip you into shape," Mason said with a laugh.

Skinner ate for a few minutes then, hesitantly, spoke. "May I ask you something?"

Mason paused and looked at him with a half-smile. "Well, you can ask…"

"Earlier - in the bedroom - you said that the pallet was where I was going to be sleeping while I'm here training."

"And you wondered why, instead of in the bed?"

Skinner nodded. "You asked me in our interview if I'd ever had sex with a man so I assumed... "

"Fair enough question." Mason leaned back in his chair, considering his answer. "Every player is different and each person gets something different from SM. For some people, it's about control - giving and taking of power - and sex never enters into it. For some people, it's a powerful sexual release, a high greater than any other. For some it's a release from guilt or fear or pain. Sometimes the sub gets one thing out of it and the Dom something completely different."

"And you?"

"I don't do casual sex, Walter, and I'm not looking for a sex slave at present. I'm not against it, it just doesn't work for me." He shrugged and smiled. "I'm a control freak; I can't love someone and just let them go. When I play with subs, we work in the playroom and I give them what they want and need, including sexual release, but I won't make love to them. With my apprentices and juniors, it's a training relationship and involves discipline and caring, but I rarely take them into my bed. That's just my style; it's different for everyone and it may not turn out to be yours."

"Have you ever gotten involved like that with a sub or trainee?"

Mason nodded. "A couple times, and we've remained good friends even though we've gone our separate ways. And I'm not saying that it would never happen, just that it would have to be the right circumstances, the right person - "

He broke off abruptly, and Skinner thought he looked unbearably sad, as if thinking of someone in particular. Then Mason shook his head and looked over at Skinner, and his eyes glinted. "And I promise you, Walter Skinner, that on the day you call me 'master', I will take you into my bed and show you what you've been missing all these years." Skinner flushed and dropped his eyes to his plate, and Mason laughed softly. "You are such a contrast, Peaches - a stubborn hard-ass on the outside but inside shy and rather sweet. Now finish your dinner - we've got a lot to go over tonight."

Skinner applied himself to his food, wondering just what Mason had planned. At this point, he knew better than to ask - the Dom liked to be mysterious and would only tell him when he was good and ready. And, when they had finished their meal and Skinner had cleaned up the table and put the cart outside the door, Mason gestured for Skinner to follow him. He opened the door to the room next to the bedroom.

"This is my playroom." He walked into the middle of the room and turned around, studying Skinner's face as he took in his surroundings. The room was outfitted similarly to the suites upstairs but was larger: a large cabinet to one side, a table for laying out the implements and "toys", a padded bench and a post with anchor rings, a massage table over to one side. There was a door in the interior wall that must lead to the bathroom adjoining the bedroom.

"You'll become very familiar with this room over the course of our association," Mason said, running a hand over the padded bench with a gleam in his eyes. "Very familiar. We won't start to play in here this weekend - that'll have to wait till next week. But I want you to become accustomed to my toys, to look at them closely and familiarize yourself with their functions. And then there is the matter of punishment."

Skinner went still. "Punishment?"

Mason's eyes met his across the room. "You didn't think that you were going to be allowed to get away with your little acts of defiance, did you? I wouldn't allow a sub to get away with that for a minute, and I'm certainly not going to let my apprentice learn bad habits."

Skinner's mouth went dry. "I see." He drew a deep breath and let it out. He was well aware that he had been skirting the edges in his behavior towards Geoffrey Mason, even if he had not gone so far as open defiance. He had deliberately stopped addressing the man as "sir", had hesitated at every command that he could get away with. Part of it was curiosity, wanting to see what Mason would do, and part of it was a deep-rooted fear of surrendering to the intoxicating pull of this lifestyle. If he gave in to Mason, let down his own inner walls and let the man take control, would he lose himself? If he released the hunger within, gave in to the dark that paced within his soul like a tiger in a cage, would he ever be able to cage the beast again? Would he be able to find his way back to himself?


He blinked and looked into the face close to his, felt warm hands on either side of his face.

"It'll be all right. You'll see. Just trust me." Imperceptibly, Skinner nodded and Mason smiled. "Good boy. Now come over here and let me show you the tools of my trade."

They spent several hours going over the various implements and toys, Mason explaining the uses of some that Skinner was unfamiliar with and encouraging Skinner to test the feel of the various types of multi-tailed whips against his thigh. Skinner had assumed that they would all sting but soon learned that some produced merely a "thud" feeling while the deerskin flogger almost caressed the skin and produced only a mild pinking.

"Single-tail whips are a challenge to use properly," Mason said, recoiling the whips to put back into the cabinet. "But some subs absolutely love them and won't respond to anything else, so it's worth the effort to learn them. The floggers are easier to work with and that's what I'll be starting you out on. Canes are an art form and accuracy is extremely important with them - they are probably the most dangerous implement with the most damage potential. It'll be a while before I let you play with those. Paddles and straps are easy, and so are crops. Speaking of which, I believe that you have an appointment with our friend. Let's get it over with - it's been a long day and you need to get to bed."

Skinner nodded, his throat going dry again. "Where do you want me, sir?"

"Over the bench." Mason adjusted Skinner's position so that he wouldn't hurt anything vital. "All right, Walter. I want to make sure that you know what this punishment is for."

Skinner took a deep breath. "For forgetting to address you properly as 'sir' throughout most of the day. And for questioning your orders, sir."

"Very good. But did you forget, or did you deliberately stop using 'sir'?"

"It was deliberate."

"I thought so. A petty form of disrespect, boy, and one I hope I won't see again. It is not the kind of attitude I expect from you. Questioning my orders - yes, that I can understand if not condone. It's hard for a man who's used to giving orders to have to take them, but it's something we all must face at some time. But blatant disrespect - I know that you wouldn't tolerate that from your subordinates, and I don't intend to tolerate it from you. Am I understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well, then. I'm going to give you ten strokes - I don't expect you to count as they will be quick and hard. Ready, Walter?"

Skinner took a deep breath. "Yes, sir."

Mason placed a steadying hand on Skinner's back and brought the crop down hard and fast ten times. Skinner caught his breath at the first stroke and he could hardly breathe through the rest, stunned by the sheer pain that flashed through his entire body. It was totally unlike the earlier warning strokes that he had received, and he felt as if his entire backside was on fire. He drew another breath and was surprised to find that his whole body was shaking.

"All right, Walter. It's all over."

A soothing hand ran down his spine while the other hand applied a soothing balm to the punished flesh. He winced at the first touch, then relaxed as the pain began to recede under the balm's numbing effect. Mason helped him to stand up and pulled him into a hug.

"You okay?" Skinner nodded against Mason's shoulder and the Dom squeezed him once more before releasing him. "Good man. Now head on to bed. It's been a long day and tomorrow starts early."

"Good night, sir. And - " Skinner hesitated then, at Mason's questioning look, added, "thank you."

Mason smiled at him and patted his cheek. "Good-night, Peaches. Sleep well."



"Morning, Walter Skinner." A booted foot nudged him awake. "Rise and shine - daylight is burning."

Skinner blinked his eyes open and forced himself into a sitting position with a grimace as the footsteps moved into the other room. His muscles ached from their unaccustomed usage the previous day, his backside was sore from the stinging welts it had received, and his back was protesting about the night spent on the floor. He thought longingly of his soft bed at home, of a lazy Sunday morning spent on the couch reading the paper and watching a game, and wondered what in hell he was doing here.

"Piglet, if I have to come back in there and get you moving, my crop will be doing the motivating."

"I'm up, I'm up," Skinner growled, forcing himself to his feet and he could swear that he heard a low laugh from the living room. He staggered into the bathroom and relieved himself, then splashed cold water on his face in an effort to wake up. It was moderately successful - he was awake but he was also aware that the room was chillier than his mostly-naked body liked. He dried his face and hands and tried to stretch the kinks out of his muscles as he walked through the bedroom into the living room. Mason was stretched out on the couch, reading the paper, and he jerked his head in the direction of a loaded cart that stood near the door.

"Coffee - black with one sugar. Then bring me a selection of the pastries."

Skinner prepared a cup of coffee and set it on the table beside Mason, then investigated the contents of the covered platters on the cart. There were eggs, assorted breakfast meats, half-dozen different kinds of pastries and muffins, plus butter and jam. He arranged a tray with one of each kind of muffin and pastry, plus the butter and jam, and carried it over to stand beside Mason. The Dom looked up at him and raised an eyebrow.

"The proper way for a sub to offer a selection is on their knees."

"I'm not a sub. Sir." Skinner said tightly.

Mason's eyes locked on his. "You are my apprentice, Walter Skinner, and you are what I say you are and will do what I tell you without question."

Eyes battled for a long moment, then Skinner drew a deep breath, reminding himself that this was necessary to learn if he was going to become a top. He went down on his knees and offered the tray again.

Mason nodded. "Better." He picked up an empty plate and made his selection, then gestured for Skinner to take the tray away. "You may choose what you would like for breakfast, Peaches."

"Thank you, sir," Skinner said, ironically. Mason raised his eyebrow at the tone but made no comment, and Skinner surveyed the cart again. He was hungrier than he could remember ever being and quickly loaded a plate, then fixed a cup of coffee and carried it into the living room. He glanced longingly at the easy chair but another glance at Mason's face told him that the Dom would not be agreeable to Skinner sitting on the furniture this morning so he settled on the floor and began eating.

"Walter, what do you think was the purpose of my earlier order?"

Skinner looked up. "I'm not sure I understand the question, sir."

"When I told you to assume the sub position to offer me breakfast - why do you think I did that? Because I'm a control freak who enjoys throwing my weight around?" Skinner flushed a little at that and at the amused eyes studying his reaction. "There is another purpose, a method behind my madness."

Skinner frowned in thought and remembered some of what Mason had said the previous night. "Well, sir, I suppose that if I ever have subs of my own, I'd need to know the correct way to do things like that. How can I teach them if I don't know how to do it myself?"

Mason grinned widely. "Give the boy a gold star. Exactly. And, of course, I am a control freak who enjoys throwing my weight around."

Skinner chuckled at that. "Couldn't we just get in an experienced sub, sir? I could watch you put him through his paces, learn by observing."

Mason shrugged. "Sure - if I just wanted you to go through the motions. There are plenty of tops who have done just that, who have never bottomed, never subbed. And they are decent enough tops. But the best Doms have been there themselves. They’ve felt the whip on their skin. They've bent their knee to a master and felt the exhilaration of having their service accepted. They’ve freely given up their control to another and have felt what it is like to fly free. They haven't just seen it; they've felt it as well. And I think that you, Walter Skinner, have the potential to be the best top I have ever trained."

Skinner felt stunned at that unexpected statement. "Have you ever bottomed, sir? Is that how you learned how to do this?"

Laser-blue eyes pierced him. "Yes. I once called a man 'master' and learned how to serve him completely and joyfully. And that is that last time that I will speak on that subject, Walter Skinner."

Skinner nodded slowly, not looking away from the Dom sitting across from him. "Yes, sir."

"Good. Now finish your breakfast - we have a lot to do today."

After breakfast, Mason led the way into the playroom and Skinner felt his pulse quicken with a mixture of anticipation and dread. He wondered what the other man had in store for him today. Mason gestured to the massage table.

"Lay down, Piglet, on your stomach." At Skinner's surprised look, Mason smiled. "I imagine that those muscles are pretty sore after yesterday's workout. I'm going to give you a massage to loosen them up."

Skinner stretched out on the table, smelling the faint fragrance of warm massage oil in the air, groaning as he felt the firm fingers begin to work over his muscles. Skillful hands started at his neck and shoulders, gently kneading the muscles tight from their unaccustomed exertions, and felt himself relax into the knowledgeable hands. Talented fingers moved down his spine and across his back, never too rough or too fast, moving with a steady rhythm and just enough pressure to make every muscle in his body melt like butter. The hands worked some more balm into his sore buttocks and, as they worked the muscles of his thighs and calves, he couldn't suppress the groan that escaped him. Muscles that had felt like they were weighted with cement when he woke that morning were starting to feel more like functioning parts of his body as Mason worked his magic on them.

"Turn over."

Skinner complied and Mason finished working on his legs from the front, then massaged his feet and each individual toe. Then the skillful hands moved back to his shoulders, massaging the chest muscles before moving down each arm then down to each individual finger. Finally, the hands moved up to his scalp, circling and soothing away the tension that he hadn't even been aware of, making even the muscles in his face relax into purring contentment.

"You can get up now."

Skinner smiled without opening his eyes. "I don't know about that, sir. I think my body's been turned into mush."

There was a low chuckle. "Go on, you sweet-talker, you. Into the shower and then put on the clothes on the bed. I've got to do some work in my office this morning and I want you to accompany me."



As they entered Mason's office, Mason pointed to an area to the side of his desk. "All right, Peaches. Just in case you're wondering, I haven't forgotten about that little display earlier. So while I'm taking care of business, I want you to kneel right there and put your hands behind your neck, elbows out."

Skinner moved into the position and linked his fingers behind his head. "For how long, sir?" he asked, finding that this was not a very comfortable position.

"Until I say otherwise, and if you say another word until I give you leave, I will make you hold the crop in your mouth and use it afterwards on your ass. Is that clear?"

Skinner nodded and sighed, preparing himself to endure. Mason settled at his desk and looked over the usual Sunday morning business. A list of infractions, a pile of videotapes to be sorted through and distributed to the proper tops, and a complaint against one of the subs. He frowned and picked up the phone, calling his assistant. "Hanson, would you find Sean and send him to my office?"

Half an hour later, Sean bounced into the Secretary's office like a redheaded Tigger on speed. "You're looking for me, Mason?"

"Yes - " Mason began, but Sean had just caught sight of Skinner kneeling over to the side.

"Well, hell-o and where'd you come from, gorgeous?" Sean said, sauntering over to Skinner and running a practiced eye over him.

Mason sighed. "This is my new apprentice, Walter Skinner. Walter, this is Sean, a sub here at the Club."

Skinner rose to his feet. "Pleased to meet you, Sean."

Sean's eyes widened as Skinner stood up. "My god! The man's as big as a fucking mountain!"

Skinner chuckled softly and looked down at the diminutive redhead. "I'll take that as a compliment."

"You can take that anyway you want, big guy."

"Sean," Mason said warningly. "Walter is an apprentice and that means hands off. You know the rules."

"You're no fun, Mason," Sean said with a slight pout. "I promise I won't break him."

"Leave him alone, Sean. And you - did I say you could get off your knees?"

"No, sir." Skinner went back down on his knees under Sean's appreciative eyes.

"Sean, if I could just have your attention over here for a moment," Mason said sternly, and Sean sighed and turned back to Mason. "I've had a complaint filed against you by Waterman."

Sean looked at him, all wide-eyed innocence, as he hopped up on Mason's desk. "Me? What did I do?"

"He claims that you - decorated all of his 'toys'. With day-glow pink nail polish."

A smile spread over Sean's face and he snickered. "Yeah. I did. And super-glued his nipple-clamps together."

"May I ask why?"

"Lord, Mason - have you ever spent any time with the man? He is bore-Dom on two legs. He worked me over for two hours and I didn't even break a sweat. I could have given myself a complete manicure and pedicure. And then the man had the nerve to say that I'm a lousy sub. Me! No one has ever said that I was a lousy sub."

"True," Mason said. "Irritating, exasperating, headstrong - "

"All right, all right. I get the picture. Jesus Christ, Mason, you're getting more uptight every day. When was the last time you got some?"

"We're not here to discuss my sex life."

"Too bad," Sean murmured provocatively. "That's a subject I wouldn't mind hearing more about."

"If you knew that he was such a lousy top, why did you go with him?"

Sean glanced sideways at Skinner and gave Mason a sharp and questioning look, and Mason shook his head slightly. Sean shrugged and returned to channeling Tigger, bouncing impatiently on the desk. "Oh, I don't know, Mason. Hope springs eternal? One sub's trash is another sub's treasure? Besides, I've played with just about all the other tops here - except you." He pouted. "I'm bored, Geoffy, and you won't play with me, so what's a poor subbie to do?"

"Try to practice self-control? Or get into a long-term contract instead of one-nighters?"

Sean made a face. "Booooring! I'd go nuts in a week." He looked over at Skinner with seductive cow-eyes, totally missing the brief look of pain that crossed Mason's face. "Now if you'd just hurry along with this one - he looks like he'd be fun to play with."

"Stop teasing him, Sean," Mason said sharply.

Sean grinned and turned his attention back to Mason, fluttered his eyelashes at him. "All right, Mason - for you."

Mason glared at him. "What you need, young man, is for someone to take you in hand and warm your ass properly. Someone who could actually control you instead of the flavor-of-the-month-tops you normally choose."

Sean gave a mock sigh and folded his hands together prayerfully. "From your mouth to God's ears." He got up and sauntered out of the room, pausing at the doorway to grin back at them. "Bye-bye, boys. Play nice."

Skinner looked over at Mason after Sean had left the room. "He's quite a handful."

"Yes, he is," Mason said shortly.

"Out of curiosity - you didn't reprimand him. Why?"

Mason sighed. "Sean is a special case. He's a sub and, as such, is subject to disciplinary action. However, he is a free agent and has no master to refer this matter to." He paused, as if trying to make up his mind, then added quietly. "He is also the owner of this club and my boss. And that information is strictly confidential."

Skinner blinked. "Why?"

Mason shrugged. "One of his quirks. He wants to be free to play and to keep his ear to the ground, which he wouldn't be able to do if everyone knew. And it works - everyone loves Sean and tells him everything. If there's any trouble brewing, he knows it. If a sub is having adjustment problems, Sean's right there to help him or her. And if a top doesn't play by the rules, Sean's the one to verify the rumors. All that by-play aside, we've had complaints about Waterman from other subs and Sean just confirmed it. A top that blames the sub for his inability to get the desired results is trouble."

"So what happens now?"

"I call Waterman in and pull his membership."

"And Sean? Will he receive any kind of punishment for his actions? To maintain his cover?"

Mason sighed. "I hadn't thought about it but you're right. Nail polish - hell - what was he thinking?"

"He can't have been thinking," Skinner said, shaking his head. "Pink is definitely not his color."

Mason choked on his coffee and looked at his apprentice with an appreciative grin. "Damn it, Walter! Don't do that when I'm drinking. You're going to kill me." Skinner returned the grin, unrepentant, and Mason shook his head, saying with mock-ferocity, "Not a good plan, Piglet. I still have a crop with your name on it, and if I hear another word it's going in that saucy mouth of yours."

Skinner chuckled but didn't say a word, settling back into place. Silence fell over the room as Mason returned to his work, but it was a companionable silence, an easy silence. Skinner made himself as comfortable as possible, aware of the still-tingling warmth in his muscles, and settled in for the duration, feeling a flicker of something that he hadn't known in a long time, something that might be contentment, begin to unfurl inside.


Chapter Text

Sean Matthews was bored. He kicked back on the sofa in his suite, flicking through the channels on the TV, disgruntled and displeased with a certain tall, dark-haired, hard-nosed Dom. A smugly self-righteous pain-in-the-ass who had put him under Disciplinary Action for two weeks because of the prank he had pulled on that asshole-Waterman. 

Geoffrey Mason, in his capacity as Secretary and Lord-High-Arbitrator-of-Moral-Code, had called him on the carpet Monday morning after his apprentice had left and had read him the riot act over the incident. Never mind that it had been a fact-finding mission for the Club to determine if the two complaints that had been filed by other subs were justified. Mason had said that there were other ways within the proper channels to handle Waterman. Mason had said that his actions in defacing Waterman's toys were childish. Mason had said - and the hell with what Mason had said! he fumed.

Mason had absolutely no sense of humor.

Mason had faced his ire calmly, saying nothing in the face of Sean's temper-tantrum, but had merely pulled out his access cards and set them on the desk, halting Sean in mid-rant.

"What's that?" Sean asked suspiciously.

"My access cards."

"I can see that," Sean said, irritated. "Why are you giving them to me?"

"I resign from my position here at the Club."

Sean stared at Mason, flabbergasted. "You what?"

"Mr. Matthews, you hired me to run your club, which includes dispensing discipline to the members of the club. All members. If I exclude anyone, my authority will be called into question. I cannot operate effectively that way." Mason paused. "The only other alternative would be if you disclosed your identity. The other members would then understand why your actions did not result in discipline."

"But I can't work effectively that way!" Sean protested. "No one would want to 'play' with the Club's owner! How could I possibly find out what is really happening around here if everyone knows who I am?"

"Exactly," Mason said quietly.

"Dammit!" Sean paced restlessly back and forth across the office, throwing a dark look at Mason. "I hate this, you know."

"I know." And the odd thing was, he knew that Mason did know, that he understood, that he was probably one of the few people who really did understand him. Which was one of the reasons why he couldn't let the man leave. Besides, the man was a damn good administrator.

Sean sighed and pushed the cards back toward Mason. "All right. I don't accept your resignation, but I do accept the restriction. I won't play with anyone here at the Club, or bring any guests onto Club property to play, for two weeks. And I'll replace the damaged equipment." He looked at Mason hopefully. "Will that be okay, Geoff?"

Mason studied the face on the other side of the desk, looking so much like a puppy that had had its first experience with a rolled-up newspaper. He couldn't help smiling and reached out to ruffle the younger man's hair. "All right, brat. That'll do." An ear-to-ear grin broke out on the young man's face and he felt something inside turn over at the bright sunshine of that smile. "Sean, if you play outside of the Club, be careful."

Sean shook his head. "I won't, mate. There's too many crazies out there - and you know I promised the Paternal Unit that I wouldn't."

Mason nodded, relieved, and dismissed the younger man.

So now Sean was at loose ends, facing the middle-of-the-week blahs with nothing to do. Nothing but think about the man that was coming to occupy most of his waking fantasies - and all of his nightly ones, too. A man who was so insightful and yet totally clueless, who had no idea how much Sean wanted him.

The phone interrupted his reverie and he picked it up. "'allo, 'allo."

There was a deep chuckle on the other end of the phone. "Still up to your tricks, old man?"

Sean grinned widely and sat up. "Da! It's been ages since you last called! Where are you?"

"At the Hilton."

"At the - you mean you're in town? When did you get in? Are you here on business? How long are you going to be here?"

The voice chuckled again. "Slow down, my boy. Yes, I'm here in town on business. Think you can leave your den of iniquity long enough to have dinner with your old man tonight?"

"It so happens that my social calendar is free - though I'd cancel any plans for you. I'll meet you there in an hour, okay?"

"Sounds good, lad. My usual suite."



George Matthews opened the door to his luxury suite and suddenly found himself holding a warm redheaded armful that had bounced enthusiastically into his arms. He chuckled and half-carried the younger man into the room so that he could shut the door. "I've missed you, too, my boy. Let me have a look at you." Sharp parental eyes studied the grinning face before him and he smiled, patting his son's cheek affectionately. "You look good, old man. Life must be agreeing with you."

Sean grinned. "I can't complain. The Club is doing well."

"So Mr. Mason tells me." The elder Matthews led the way into the sitting room and Sean saw Mason rise from the table at his entrance.

Sean cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at his father. "Spying on me, Da?"

"Nothing of the sort, my boy. I asked Mr. Mason to bring the annual report so I could go over it before the Board meeting next month." George Matthews caught an impish look cast at Mason by his son and crossed his arms, fixing his eyes sternly on his only child. "Sean Michael Matthews - have you been giving Mr. Mason headaches again?"

Sean grinned at his father. "Mason lives for those headaches, don't you, Mason?"

Mason closed his briefcase and stared at his boss blandly. "Of course, Mr. Matthews. How else am I going to make a killing off my investment in Tylenol stock?"

Sean laughed but the elder Matthews just shook his head. "Why you put up with his antics is beyond me, Mason. You should just put the little imp over your knee and tan his hide."

Two heartbeats picked up but Mason's cool exterior didn't change a fraction. "I'm afraid that he'd enjoy it too much, sir." Sean laughed at that and threw himself down on the couch. "Will there be anything else you need before the meeting next month, Mr. Matthews?"

George Matthews shook his head. "Not that I can think of. Thanks for making the time to meet with me." He walked Mason to the door and shook his hand warmly, then closed the door behind the Secretary and turned to fix his frowning attention on the young man sprawled on the couch.

"What?" asked Sean, trying to maintain a look of youthful innocence.

"One of these days, my boy, you're going to push that man too far and he's going to walk." He noted his son's absorbed study of the arm of the couch, the way he traced the stitching with his fingertip, and sighed. "Sean? You haven't done something stupid have you?"

Sean sighed and shrugged. "It's not important, Da. I thought you said something about dinner."

The elder Matthews allowed the subject to drop as they left the hotel and took a cab to the restaurant, but his sharp eyes studied his son while the younger man talked about the latest Washington happenings. Sean kept up an endless stream of chatter in the cab and at the restaurant, but his father could see that there was something under the surface that was bothering the young man.

George Matthews was reckoned by many to be a tough businessmen, a self-made man who had worked his way up from a humble Welsh immigrant family to one of the wealthiest men in Australia. He had gotten where he was through hard work, shrewd business sense, and a sixth sense about people. And that sixth sense was telling him that his son was not as happy as he was pretending to be.

Matthews was not a sentimental man, but he had two soft spots in his heart. One had been for his wife and the other was for his only child. He had come to love late in life, had adored his beautiful and spirited young wife, and had mourned her death to the depth of his being. Their son, Sean, who looked so much like his mother that it was heart breaking, had become the focus of his attention and love. He had adored the child, showering him with everything money and love could provide. Sean had wanted for nothing - the best schools, tutors, a devoted household staff - and the elder Matthews had given up most of the social whirl to spend his free time with the boy. He had continued to build his empire and had dreamed of big things for his son and heir.

His plans had received their first blow the summer after Sean turned sixteen. George Matthews had been stunned to return from a business trip to find his teen-aged son in bed with another boy. He had told himself that it was one of those experimentation phases that young people went through, had accepted the situation with barely a blink of his eye, and then had quietly arranged to send his son away to college in America, away from the undesirable infatuation. And the boy had done well, top of his class at Harvard Business School, and he had been pleased to think that his son would be stepping into his shoes someday. He had come to Boston for graduation, planning on bearing the younger Matthews home in triumph, when fate gave him a second blow. At their celebration dinner, his son had calmly announced that he was gay, that he was involved in Boston's leather community, and that he planned to stay in America.

George Matthews had gone ballistic. He had demanded to know what the younger man was thinking - throwing away a degree and a brilliant career to do what? Be chained to someone's bed as his sex slave? Sean had stood quietly and let the waves of anger wash over him, unfazed by his father's ranting, and then told him that it was his intention to invest his trust fund money into an SM club. The elder Matthews had been stunned into silence. His son running, what? A house of prostitution? A sex club? Sean had proceeded to lay out his plan to run a very exclusive and very discreet club where people who liked to indulge in BDSM could meet like-minded individuals. George Matthews had been impressed - the boy had done his research, had determined that DC was the best area for the club, had worked out some of the organizational structure, had even located an old hotel that could be converted - all he needed was the financial backing to get started. He had been torn between pride at his son's business savvy and certainty that this was just another phase, that the young man would become bored after a time and come home. And George Matthews loved his son, deeply, so he decided to let the young man test his wings. He had talked to some business associates, secured the necessary backing, and had formed a Board of Directors. And, to everyone's surprise and his own astonishment, he found that his son had been right - the Dionysus Club had become an overwhelming success within the first two years.

Now he studied his son and wondered if that time had come, if Sean had become bored with his toy. If he would be coming home at last. Unwilling to get his hopes dashed a third time, he decided to wait and see what was weighing so heavily on Sean's mind, knowing that the boy would tell him when he was ready.

"So what other business brings you to DC?" Sean asked him after they placed their dinner order. "Must have been urgent - you were planning to be here next month for the quarterly Board meeting."

George Matthews nodded. "I'm putting together a deal to purchase a communications syndicate - some TV stations, radio stations, newspapers. I'm meeting with my potential partner who already owns some properties, name of Winston Fields." He saw a flicker of expression on his son's face. "What? You know him?"

Sean shrugged. "He's a member of the Club."

The elder Matthews cleared his throat. "Do you - ah - know him personally?"

Sean looked at this father and grinned. "He's a het sub, Da. I don't play with other subs, especially those who swing the other way." He noted a look of relief on his father's face and his smile widened. "Relieved, Da?"

"Yes," George Matthews said frankly. "There's something a little disconcerting about having business dealings with a man who may have spanked your son."

"Well, at least you'd have something in common," Sean teased.

"Not exactly what I had in mind."

"You'd do well to be cautious with Winny. He's a little too free with the green - and there was a minor incident about Club fees just before Christmas. Word is he's desperate for a cash-infusion."

George Matthews frowned. "My researchers didn't find anything."

"Your researchers don't have a friend who's shared a pillow with Winny," Sean said frankly. "The man has a reputation for being a motor mouth after sex - can't keep a secret for the life of him, especially the ones he should keep. He also has a rep for being very creative."

"Are you saying he doctors the books?"

Sean paused for a moment and said, carefully, "I'm telling my father rumors from my Club, personal information obtained from a close friend who happens to be a Domme that Winny has played with on occasion. I have no proof of anything I'm saying."

"You're as cautious as a lawyer, old man."

"I have to be, Da," Sean said seriously. "There are a lot of people playing at the Club who could do serious damage to your fair-haired boy if they found out he was talking out of school. Reputations are on the line every day - the wrong people find out about what goes on at the Club and governments could literally fall. Or be kept from falling."

George Matthews pursed his lips and nodded. "I understand. I'll have my people dig a little deeper, and I won't tell anyone where I got this information." He took a drink and cocked his head at his son. "Have I ever told you that I'm proud of you, son?"

Sean flushed awkwardly and ducked his head. "Oh, Da - "

"I'm serious. When I first bought the Club for you - frankly, I thought you'd play with it for a little while and get bored and go on to something else." Painfully, he added, "I thought you'd come home."

"Da - "

He held up a hand. "Let me finish, Sean. I was wrong. You're already home. You've put your heart and soul into that Club, and you've made an incredible success of the place. So much so that some of your investors are complaining that they don't have the tax write-off they thought they were getting. No matter; I'm buying out the complainers and the rest are tickled to have the unexpected revenue. There's only one thing I want to know, son."

"What's that, Da?" Sean asked, trying to will away his flushed countenance.

"Are you happy?"

"Of course, Da. As you said - the Club is a success - "

"No. I mean personally happy."

Sean stared at his plate and sighed. "No, Da. I thought by now I'd find someone - you know - special."

"You're young, boy; you've got plenty of time - "

"I'm lonely, Da."

His father smiled sadly, recognizing the hungry yearning in that voice, the eternal cry of the very young who are sure that the rest of the world has something that they don't. That everyone else is pairing off, that the rain is about to fall, and that they will not be allowed into the ark because they are partner-less. He wanted to tell the boy that he had his whole life ahead of him, that love would be all the sweeter for the waiting, but he knew that Sean would brush aside his reassurances. At Sean's age, the ache to love and be loved was just too strong. He couldn't give the boy the wisdom that had come with his years; all he could offer was comfort. He reached out to cover his son's hand with his own.

"I know, child. I know."

Sean smiled at him crookedly. "How do you deal with it, Da? How do you live with this hurt inside you all the time?"

"You just try to remember to keep breathing and find something to occupy your mind."

"Is that what you did when Mum died?"

"Ah, that's different. The bad times were before I found her, before we fell in love. Since then, she's never really been gone. I miss her, of course, but she's in my heart and in my thoughts. She walks with me every day and I know that we'll be together again someday." He smiled wistfully, and Sean was filled with a sudden overwhelming fear.

"But not for a long time, Da."

George Matthews smiled at his son's frightened face and patted the boy's hand reassuringly. "No, not for a long time. I'm in good health and strong as an ox, and I've got too much to do with my life."

Sean drew a deep breath and managed to smile back at his father. He pushed away his food, suddenly not hungry. "I don't want anymore."

George Matthews signaled for the check. "Then we'll go back to my hotel and have a nightcap."

They talked companionably about a variety of subjects on the way back to the hotel, then the elder Matthews fixed them each an Irish coffee and they settled down in the sitting area. George Matthews' eyes fell on the annual report that Mason had left on the table and he couldn't resist the urge to tease his son.

"So, what's going on between you and Geoffrey Mason?"

Sean sat up abruptly, nearly spilling his coffee, and swore as a little spilled onto his leg. "What the hell - nothing is going on between me and Mason. The man thinks that I'm a irresponsible child."

"And what do you think of him?" At his son's sudden blush, he chuckled and said, "Are you in love with him, old man?"

"No, I am most certainly not in love with a self-righteous hard-ass who thinks that he's God's gifts to subs. Even if he is. God's gift to subs, I mean." He set down his mug as he got to his feet and began pacing restlessly, one hand running nervously through the red-gold waves of his hair. "Mason's a top-level player who has subs waiting in line for a chance at him - not that he seems to notice. And he's training this absolute hunk of a man who has got to be seven feet tall with that gorgeous Picard look going for him and obviously hung like a horse and so full of testosterone that the two of them probably set the sheets on fire. So why in hell would he ever take a second look at a little runt like me? I mean, he's always chewing my ass out for something, so he probably thinks that I'm a trouble-magnet - " He stopped at the sound of his father's laughter and looked over at the man, frowning. "What?"

"Oh, my boy, you've got it bad," his father chuckled.

"I'm not in love with him," Sean said with a shade of petulance as he threw himself into an armchair. "I like him. I think he's the best manager that the Club could ever have. I think that he is probably the best damn Dom in the country. I would certainly love an opportunity to play with him, but it ain't gonna happen. As he says 'spanking and fucking the boss is not a smart career move'."

"He has a point."

"As if I'd ever hold that against him," Sean said huffily. He glared over at his father who presented his best poker face. "And you don't fool me one bit, father of mine. Don't you dare go around playing matchmaker. I'm not going to have the man give me a try because of pity or because you strong-arm him."

"Fair enough," George Matthews said with a slight smile. "I'll stay out of your love life if you'll make me two promises."

Sean looked at him suspiciously. "What?"

"First, you'll stop making the man's life hell just to get his attention." He held up a hand to stop Sean's protest. "You do, Sean; you've done that since you were a child and you still do it. Temper tantrums are fine for children, but a twenty-two year old should be past them."

"Oh, all right," Sean said with a scowl. "What's the second?"

"Stop trying so hard, my boy. If you keep desperately casting your line around, you only confuse and scare off the fish. But if you just throw in your lure and wait patiently, something will bite."

Sean sulked. "You know that I hate these folksy-analogies, don't you?"

"Yes, my son, I do. But will you promise to try it?"

Sean sighed. "Okay, Da. I promise. It can't hurt - I've tried just about everything else to get attention except stripping on the Mall."

"Let's keep it that way, old man. I'd hate to see you deported for obscene behavior."

"Are you kidding, Da? In DC they would hardly notice. Stuff like that happens in Congress every day." He drained his coffee cup and stood up. "Well, I'd best be getting back. Mason has me under something resembling house arrest so I'd better head home before he sends out the Security squad. Although some of them are pretty cute…"

George Matthews walked his son to the door. "I'll be in town for a couple days, although probably less than I had planned if what you say about Fields is true. I'll give you a call before I head off again." He enfolded Sean in a warm embrace. "Take care, boy. Chin up - things will get better."

"No worries, Da. Just take care of yourself, okay? I'm not nearly ready to step into your shoes."

The elder Matthews snorted. "And what makes you think I'm leaving my shoes to you? I think I'll rewrite my will in favor of a Home for Old SM Masters. The way you're wearing them out, my boy, they'll need it."

Sean grinned cheekily. "I do my best, Da. I do my best."

Sean was still grinning when he entered the Club half an hour later, humming to himself. He was totally unaware of a figure sitting in the shadows, watching him make his way down the corridor toward his suite. The man sat motionless till he heard the click of a door shutting behind the young man, then he fumbled in his pocket and bent his head to light his cigarette.


Chapter Text

Skinner opened the door to the suite and headed for the bedroom, hastily shedding clothes as he moved. The suite appeared to be empty and for that he was grateful as he was running late. Once stripped, he stored his bag and clothes in the closet and donned the hated jock strap.

"You're late."

Skinner swung around, startled. Mason was leaning against the door frame, arms crossed, a frown on his face.

"Sorry, sir. Traffic - "

"Did I ask for an excuse, Piglet?"

The tone of voice was quiet but somehow more intimidating that a loud or angry voice would have been.

"No, sir."

"All right, let's get started then. Out in the main room - get into the position I showed you last week. Let's see what you remember."

Skinner moved past Mason into the living room, half-expecting a swat from the crop as he passed, but Mason just watched him move into place. He moved into the "stand" position that Mason had put him into the previous weekend, body erect but relaxed, head level but eyes down, feet spread slightly for balance. He could feel the other man circle him but didn't risk a peek. Mason didn't appear to be in the kind of mood to put up with anything today. Skinner idly wondered what was troubling the other man.

"Very good, Peaches. You seem to have remembered something at least from last week. Have you been going through the exercise routine I set up?"

"Yes, sir. I've worked out three times this week."

"And your eating habits? Did you make a daily list like I requested?"

Skinner hesitated, then admitted. "I started one at the beginning of the week, but things got a little hectic and I - stopped."

The crop forced his head up so that he had to meet Mason's eyes. "Piglet, do you think I gave you that order for my own amusement? Just a little exercise you could do or not as you saw fit?"

"No, sir."

"Damn straight!" The crop smacked his ass and he flinched. "Last weekend you nearly fainted after standing for two hours. Everything about you tells me that you are a nutritional basket case. How in hell do you think you're going to be able to manage a sub when you have no endurance? You think you can just say 'excuse me, I know you're all tied up and ready for fun, but I've got to take a rest break before I pass out'?"

"I - "

"No excuses, boy!" Mason was in Skinner's face again, and Skinner flinched from the intensity of his eyes. "The first rule, the most important rule that every top I train learns is this: your sub is your responsibility. From the moment that he or she surrenders control to you, you are responsible for everything that happens to them. They are taking a big chance in trusting you, and you have to be worthy of that trust. That means that you must be in top condition yourself so that you can guide them along their path from pain to pleasure. Am I understood?"

Skinner's mouth was dry and he had to swallow several times to get any sound to come out. "Yes, sir."

"Good. Because if there is one thing that will get you into trouble with me faster than anything else will it is acting irresponsibly with your sub. And I don't care whether you're playing with your first sub or your five hundredth, whether you're an apprentice or a Senior master - you forget this first rule and you'll be back under my crop before you can blink. Got me, boy?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Now, as long as we're on the subject of nutrition, we'll get started on your cooking classes. Your clothes are laid out on the bed. Go get dressed."

Skinner obeyed, grateful to escape from the wrathful Dom's presence. He found casual clothes laid out and dressed quickly, not wanting to give the other man reason to lay into him again.



Jean-Pierre studied Skinner intently, examining his eyes and skin, all the time muttering to himself in French.

"Hopeless!" he finally said aloud, glaring at Mason. "Completely hopeless! Mace, you know not what you ask - no! It is too much this time, my friend."

"I know that it won't be easy, J.P. - "

"Easy! You are correct! It is impossible! I would not know where to start. Look at him! His bones, they practically stick out. His skin, it is not of a good color. The man has possibly not had a decent, nutritional meal since his left his mother's teat."

"But think of the challenge, Jean-Pierre. I certainly couldn't do this - no other master here could. Except you. You're the only one with the skill to do this."

Jean-Pierre eyed Mason with amusement. "You think I know not what you are doing? You are like glass to me, Mace. Very well - I shall somehow endeavor to teach this man something of nutrition. You - can you cook?"

"Not really."

Jean-Pierre rolled his eyes. "Of course. You owe me, Mace. We are understood?"

"I am forever in your debt, J.P.."

"Do not forget that, my friend. All right - out with you. I shall take good care of your boy, only you must stop hovering so."

Mason chuckled, then patted Skinner's cheek. "All right, Peaches. I leave you in Jean-Pierre's capable hands. I will see you this afternoon."

Left to themselves, Jean-Pierre raised an eyebrow. "Pee-a-chez?"

Skinner flushed. "It's one of his nicknames for me. My real name is Walter Skinner."

Jean-Pierre snorted. "Appropriate - you are far too skinny and I shall call you that. Come with me - and try not to touch anything. Understood?"

Skinner nodded, understanding that it was going to be a long, long morning.



Skinner entered the suite for the second time that day, resolving to be changed and in place before Mason returned. He figured that it was his only hope after the Dom heard about the fiasco in the kitchen. He absently began pulling off clothes as he moved across the suite toward the bedroom. The sudden awareness that he was not alone made him stop and turn around. Sean Matthews was sprawled on the couch, eating an apple and watching him with interest.

"Don't stop on my account," Sean said with a wicked grin.

Skinner flushed, relieved that he had not gotten to the point of dropping his trousers. "Mr. Matthews - I - where's Mr. Mason?"

Sean's eyes narrowed at the sound of his full name. "In his office; he'll be here in a minute." He got up to dispose of the apple, frowning as he said, "So Mason told you."

"Yes. I also understand why you don't want anyone to know."

"Well, I'd appreciate it if you'd forget about all that and call me 'Sean'."

"Of course - Sean."

Sean's eyes twinkled at him as he moved closer, saying mockingly, "That's better - you really don't want to deal with 'Mr. Matthews' because I take a dim view of people who try to burn down my club."

"It wasn't that bad," Skinner protested. "The fire extinguishers took care of it, although that one stove may need some repair. I'll pay for the damages."

Sean waved a hand dismissively. "No need - just seeing Jean-Pierre collapsed with smelling salts in one hand and a hankie in the other was payment enough. Mason know yet?"

Skinner grimaced. "Probably."

"How are you and Mason getting on?" Sean's eyes appraised him expertly. "He can be tough, but he's the best that there is. If he agreed to take you on, it must be because he sees potential. A diamond in the rough."

Skinner half-smiled. "Let's just pray that I survive the polishing process."

Sean chuckled. "The Mountain being reduced to a molehill? Ah, but there is so much material to work with!" Sean circled Skinner, eying him in a provocative manner from head to toe. "A lot of material."

Skinner flushed. "I don’t think Mr. Mason would like this."

"You're right, Peaches. I wouldn't." They both swung around to see Mason standing in the doorway. "Hands off, Sean. You know the rules - or do I have to add another week to your restriction?"

Sean pouted, but Skinner could see the twinkle in his eyes as he moved in on Mason. "You're no fun, Mason. And the restriction says that I can't play  but it doesn't say anything about checking out the merchandise."

"Well, this merchandise isn't on the shelf yet, so be a good boy and leave him alone."

"I'm always good," Sean purred, invading Mason's space and giving him a teasing look. "Which you would know yourself if you'd give me a try."

"Sean, the next time I see your father I'm going to advise him to give you a good hiding."

Sean laughed, moving away. "Da gave that up - said he couldn't compete with professionals."

Skinner, watching the interplay between the two, saw a fleeting expression of sadness cross Mason's face before the controls came back down. Something was going on there, and he had a feeling that he had a couple pieces to the puzzle that was Geoffrey Mason - now all he needed was the time to put them together.

"So, if you didn't invite me to play with you two gorgeous hunks, why am I here, Mason?"

"For a professional opinion. I'll need a demo sub to play with next weekend - who do you recommend?"

Sean sat down on the couch again, looking thoughtful. "Light or heavy?"

"Light. Someone who knows the ropes, who won't get their head so heavily into the game that they can't answer questions about what they're feeling. No prima donnas or SAMs."

Sean nodded. "I've got a couple possibles in mind. One is contracted but his master has lent him out for demos in the past; I'm not sure if the others are available. Want me to check it out and let you know?"

Mason nodded. "I'd appreciate it. And now, Sean, if you'd excuse us?"

Sean grinned. "I can take a hint. Good luck, Mountain."

Once Sean had left, Mason gave Skinner an inquiring look and Skinner hastily resumed stripping.

"I was getting undressed, sir, but I didn't think you'd appreciate Mr. Matthews being given a free show, at least without your presence."

"Good thinking, Dimplecheeks." Once Skinner was stripped down to the jock strap, Mason indicated that he should take the kneeling position. Skinner obediently dropped to his knees, his ass on his heels, his head level but eyes downcast and his hands relaxed at his sides.

"Well, Piglet, I have to congratulate you. I have never seen Jean-Pierre reduced to tears like this. The favors that I owe that man..."

"Sorry, sir," Skinner said contritely. "I didn't mean to distract the staff when I cut myself."

"I am aware of that, and I don't think anyone can really blame you for starting the grease fire. You showed great presence of mind to put it out so quickly - being cool-headed in a crisis is a good quality. However, I think a less blood curdling scream would be appreciated - it was only a slight nick, after all. So you've been banned from the main kitchen and consigned to my kitchenette for now, after Jean-Pierre recovers enough to resume lessons."

Mason sighed again. "Now I can understand that parental curse of 'someday you'll have children of your own'. My only consolation is the sure knowledge that, karma and fate being what it is, you will undoubtedly have a sub harder to deal with than you are. How's your thumb, by the way?"

Skinner held up the bandaged thumb. "It'll be fine, sir. No stitches needed."

"How on earth did you get to your age without learning how to slice up vegetables?"

Skinner chuckled softly. "Childhood conditioning, sir. In my home growing up, my brother and I considered eating vegetables to be a death sentence. I've never gotten past my suspicion of anything that is natural and good for you, so I avoid vegetables on principle."

"Well, I've got bad news for you, Peaches - you're on vegetable death row for the duration of your apprenticeship with me, and you'll learn to like them. In fact, I'll have you chanting that 'vegetables are our friends' before I'm done with you."

Skinner sighed. "You're a sadistic man, sir."

"Thank you, Walter. I do my best. Speaking of which, put away your clothes and join me in the playroom."

When he entered the playroom, he found Mason setting out an array of curious items on the floor. Mason looked up and gestured for him to come over.

"Okay, today's lesson will be Bondage 101." He tilted his head and studied Skinner. "You ever do a little of the dominance bit with the wife or a lover? You know, holding down wrists or using scarves or something like that?" Skinner flushed slightly. "I'll take that as a 'yes', Peaches. Well, congratulations, you've had the introductory course to bondage already. It can be as low-key as that or all the way up to complete immobility."

He indicated that Skinner should take a seat on the floor and settled down across from him. "Now there are two kinds of bondage - physical and psychological. Today we're going to getting into the physical. First, you must always keep in mind that it takes a hell of a lot of trust from a sub to submit to being bound and you must be sure that you never do anything to break that trust. If a sub refuses or seems extremely reluctant, don't try to coerce them or even persuade them to change their minds. Just accept it and move onto something else - chances are that if they are reluctant now they will totally lose it when they are helpless, and that can be a dangerous situation. It's not uncommon for even a willingly bound sub to suddenly get a panic attack - and I'll teach you how to handle that crisis - but you don't want to set yourself up for something to begin with. Understand me?"

Skinner nodded, his serious eyes fixed on Mason's face. "Yes, sir."

"Good. Now for the hardware, so to speak." Mason gestured at the pile in front of him. "These are some of the standards but just because you don't see it here, don't automatically dismiss something that could be useful. A skillful master can make do with a few kitchen items - tape, saran wrap, and towels. You can arrive at a session dressed in a suit and have enough to completely immobilize the sub. That being said, I do have my personal favorites."

He picked up a set of leather cuffs. "There are as many variations on these as you can imagine. I like the leather ones with fleece lining - easier on the sub's wrists. You can also get them with fur or soft leather lining. The main problem with these kinds of cuffs is the adjustment - too tight or too loose can be a problem. If you play with a sub regularly, it's worth your investment to have a pair specially made to fit their wrists. I have several different sizes here - hold out your wrist, Walter." Mason studied the extended wrist for a moment, experimenting with a couple of cuffs before fastening one on him. "You'll notice that they have rings on the outside for attaching the sub to ropes, chains, whatever you need."

"What about using handcuffs, sir?"

Mason shrugged. "Some subs love them, and sometimes they are necessary if you are role-playing. And they are easy to apply and adjust. The problem with them is that they create a great deal of pressure on a narrow area. You get a sub all worked up and moving around and they can damage themselves - and I'm sure I don't need to tell you to make sure they are double-locked so they don't ratchet tighter. Oh - and make sure you have a spare key or two." Skinner nodded.

Mason picked up a couple coils of rope. "But you don't need cuffs - you can do just fine with a lot of other things, including rope. You need to make sure that any rope you get for bondage is soft and flexible with just a slight roughness to hold knots - remember that this is going to be around some pretty sensitive skin so nothing too rough or stiff. And you don't want to get something too thin - that'll cut into the skin - or too thick so you won't be able to tie it. Cotton clothesline works wonders, the kind without the wire core. Before our next session, I want you to buy a 100-ft rope and bring it with you. I'll show you how to soften, cut and mark it."

"Yes, sir."

Mason nodded and put the rope aside. "You know anything about tying knots, Dimplecheeks?"

"I was a Boy Scout, sir, although I may be a little rusty."

Mason grinned. "Why am I not surprised? When you get your rope, we'll go through some basic knots for you to practice." He picked up a strap of leather with a rubber ball. "Gags: there are several different types, and this one is called a ball gag. Open your mouth, Walter."

Skinner reluctantly did so and felt the ball slip into his mouth, forcing his jaws apart. Mason fastened the strap and Skinner felt a momentary panic. "You can use other things but be careful with them - some kinds like pump gags are very dangerous. And don't use them on a new sub even if they really like gags.  You need to get to know the sub first so you can tell if they are in trouble, even if they don't use their safe word, and they need to be able to trust you." He removed the gag and set it aside, much to Skinner's relief.

"Blindfolds: you can use anything, but most fabric leaves a little gap, so if you really want them sightless try a sleep mask or one of these." He picked up a piece of material with padded eyepieces and tied it over Skinner's eyes. "A blind-folded person is more vulnerable as well, and men moreso than women, so wait until at least your second or third session before using one."

Skinner sat in the dark, feeling a tendril of both fear and anticipation rise in him. He could hear Mason moving around the room but had no idea what the man was doing. The need to surrender control to someone else, if only for a little while, was overwhelming and scared him. And then the habit of years, the equal need to be in control, rose and suffocated the other growing need. He reached up to untie the blindfold and saw Mason seated back across from him, watching him with unreadable eyes.

"You're right, sir. It is intense."

Mason just nodded but his eyes continued to study Skinner. "Ear plugs: you may want to reduce the sub's ability to hear although this is generally not as big an issue as removing sight or speech. And then you can go to hoods." He held up a black leather one. "This is a very powerful item and too intense for many subs, although others adore them. These shouldn't be used until you are very familiar with a sub and you have experimented with blindfolds and gags together."

He tossed the hood to Skinner, letting him look over it. "Okay, let's play a little and go over some basic rules." He fastened the other cuff on Skinner while talking. "Bindings should be secure, tight but it should never tingle. On the other hand, the idea is to immobilize the sub so make sure they can't escape without help. And always have a backup plan, a quick release method in case of emergency. Never use bondage involving the neck. And never, ever, tie someone up and leave him or her completely alone.  Always stay within earshot. If you gag them, never leave the room."

Mason indicated that Skinner should stand and clipped the two cuffs together behind his back. "You can secure a sub to a piece of furniture - bed, posts, St. Andrew's Cross - or a wall. Experienced subs will be up for any of those, but if you have an 'SM virgin' you'll want to take it slower - just secure their hands together for starters." He stepped back. "How's that, Peaches?"

Skinner looked over his shoulder at the Dom. "If you don't mind my asking, sir, what did you plan to do to me?"

"I generally start off with limited submission roles, to give them a taste. Last weekend we did light dominance only. This week I thought we'd do light bondage. I want you to understand the helplessness that a sub feels when he or she is bound and waiting for you to do what you want to them."

Skinner felt a wave of intense need wash over him again, followed by an equally intense chill. Get out, get out, something inside him began to gibber as he broke out into a sweat. Get out before it's too late.

Mason could almost see the walls come slamming down inside Walter Skinner. He knew that there was no way that he was ever going to remove those walls - Skinner would have to want to do it himself. And it didn't appear that the other man was going to be able to do that.

"Enough," Mason said quietly. He unfastened the cuffs and started to put away the equipment. "Get dressed in your regular clothes and meet me in the main room."

Skinner knew that something was wrong but decided it was better to obey. He went into the bedroom and stripped off the jock strap, toweled off, then dressed in his clothes and went back into the main room. Mason was waiting for him.

"Hold out your right wrist, Walter Skinner." As Skinner did so, he unfastened the gold bracelet. "I'm sorry, but this isn't working."

Skinner looked at him, stunned. "But - "

"You're fighting this too much, Walter," Mason said gently. "Your mind engages and pulls you out, away from the game. It you were going to make this work, if you truly wanted to do it, you would have to commit to this. Instead you hang back, don’t commit, don't embrace the opportunity to know yourself better. I was right in my first assessment - you have too many walls to do that." Mason set the bracelet on the table. "I'm sorry. Hanson will be here in a minute to take your access cards and complete the paperwork."

"Mr. Mason, won't you give me another chance? I know I can do this - "

Mason shook his head. "I think this is for the best." He turned to walk towards the bedroom.

Skinner suddenly felt panicked. He hadn't realized how much he wanted, no needed this. And he knew that once Mason walked out it would be over.

He hit his knees, head bowed. "Please. I'm asking - I'm begging - for one more chance. Please."

Something in the tone caught Mason's attention and he turned back. He studied the kneeling man for a long moment, need visible on the usually impassive face for the first time. And he sighed as he realized that he was about to make what could be a big mistake.

"All right. One last chance." As Skinner's head snapped up, he added warningly, "But these are my conditions. First, I want you here for two weeks straight. Take vacation, a leave of absence, sick leave, whatever. Just arrange it." Skinner nodded. "Second, during that time, you will be my slave, my sub, not a top in training, until I say otherwise. You will obey my every order immediately without question or hesitation." Skinner nodded again. "Third, if at the end of that time I decide that you are still untrainable, that will be the end of it - no more chances, no discussion. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well. Get up, get out of here and make the arrangements. Call me when you have the time off confirmed. Oh - and Walter?"


"Be very sure that you want this because Hell will look like a picnic compared to what I'll do to you."


Chapter Text

Skinner entered Geoffrey Mason's suite with a determined look on his face. He had been going over the implications of his decision for the past week, aware of exactly what the Dom was asking of him and wondering if he could go through with it. During the day, he had sat through interminable meetings, his mind far away from the latest crime statistics and personnel records. At night, he had paced the floor of his small apartment, restlessly settling for a short while with one of the books from the Dom's list and a glass of Scotch before getting up to pace again. And the answer had always come up the same - no matter his qualms, no matter his self-doubts, he had to do this. If he didn't, he would always wonder and he would always have regrets. This was his last chance and he was not going to mess it up.

Mason looked up as he came in and Skinner began shedding clothes before the door shut behind him. "Right on time, Walter Skinner. Put away your clothes and then bring me the items on the bathroom counter."

"Yes, sir."

Mason watched the other man disappear into the bedroom and wondered, for the first time in his life, if he had taken on more than he could handle. He had no doubts of his ability - given the right amount of time - to take apart any sub, to get to the very essence of what they were. What he questioned was whether he should attempt to do that with this man. Those shields had been in place for so long and were so strong - what would happen when they were gone? Could he give the man anything to replace them, help heal whatever lay under those defenses? Hell, he had already made one colossal mistake with the man by letting his own internal conflict over Sean Matthews intrude during the previous weekend. Mason had been, he freely admitted, as surly as a bear and had taken it out on Skinner. When his would-be apprentice had balked at the restraints - which really was only to be expected for a first-timer - all his frustration had risen to the surface and he had snapped. He would not make that mistake this time; he was enough of a professional at this to keep his personal feelings out of the picture, to concentrate on the man with him now and not the man he desired to make his own.

Skinner came out of the bedroom carrying a bowl of warm water and shaving implements and set it on the table, waiting for Mason's next instructions.

"All right, Walter Skinner. This is your final chance to walk out. From this point on, you belong to me for the next two weeks - no games, no backing off. The only way to end it before then is for you to quit. Do you understand?"

"Yes. And I am still determined."

Mason nodded. "Very well. Put on these." He held out a set of cuffs. "These are nylon so they won't be damaged by anything - you are to wear them at all times during these two weeks unless I tell you otherwise. They are to remind you of your status as a slave in training, as is this collar." He picked up the collar and fastened it around Skinner's neck, securing it with a lock. "Now I am going to prepare you for your place as a slave. Display."

Skinner stood at attention, his legs spread and his hands locked behind his neck. Mason picked up the shaving gel and applied a goodly amount to Skinner's chest, then began shaving off the hair. First the chest, then the armpits, and finally the groin. He ran an assessing hand over the skin, checking to make sure that all the hair had been removed. Skinner was embarrassed to find his body automatically responding to the attention to his genitals but Mason only laughed and tugged at the denuded balls.

"Been a long time, Peaches? We'll have to do something about this. There's no greater nuisance than a slave's erection." He picked up a strap and quickly bound up the other man's cock and balls.

"Down and display," he ordered, and Skinner went to his knees, arms again behind his neck, bottom on his heels and knees spread. "Very pretty, Piglet. You do this so well - better than many of the others I have trained. Perhaps you would like to know what's in store for you?"

"Yes, sir."

"As I said, you belong to me for these two weeks. You have no control - everything is out of your hands. I will decide when and what you eat. I will decide when you sleep and what will fill your waking hours. You have nothing to do but let it go - and obey me."

"Yes, sir." It sounded so tempting, to just let go of the burdens that he carried: the decisions, the responsibilities, and the failures. None of it mattered here, only serving this man.

Mason saw the first glimmer of light, the first hole in the shields and smiled. So that was where the attraction lay, was it? He removed Skinner's glasses. "Do you require these to see, Piglet?"

Skinner shook his head. "I wear them for reading and close-up work."

"And to keep the world at a distance, too, I imagine." He folded them and placed them on the table. "You won't need to do any of those things, and I want to see those eyes clearly."

"Yes, sir."

"To continue, then - every day, following your work-out, you will shave your body and then present yourself to me so that I can check that you have done it properly. We will set up a regular routine including lessons and playtime. Now for the house rules. You are to remain naked while you are here in my rooms. Should we leave this suite, I will determine what you will wear, as usual. You are to remember that you are my slave, not my apprentice or my sub, and that you have given me consent to do whatever I wish to you, within the Club restrictions. Disobedience will have unpleasant consequences. Obedience will be rewarded."

Skinner's breath quickened and Mason smiled again.

"All right, Piglet. First order of business is a taste of my crop." Skinner's head jerked up, eyes narrowed. "Unfinished correction from last time, plus I believe that a new slave should get in the proper frame of mind." Skinner dropped his head and drew a deep breath but said nothing. "Fetch my crop from the table, Piglet. No - crawl to the table and pick it up with your teeth, then bring it here."

Skinner obeyed, crawling over to the Dom with the crop in his mouth, flushed with humiliation.

"Very good. Now - hands and knees. Chest down to the floor, ass up." Skinner obeyed, and Mason made a slight adjustment. "Good. New position, Piglet. When I tell you to prepare for punishment, I expect you to drop into this position immediately, no matter where we are or what we are doing. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir."

Mason raised the crop and brought it down swiftly a half-dozen times, raising several red welts before he set the crop aside. "That's it for now, Piglet. And, I hope, a reminder. Up now and put on sweats. We'll be spending a couple hours in the gym going over your workout."



Skinner ran through the workout routine at his new weight level and had the satisfaction of seeing Mason raise an eyebrow as he adjusted the weights. Mason said nothing, though, merely watching and spotting him when needed. When Skinner had finished, Mason handed him a towel and then smiled.

"Well done, Walter. If you dedicate yourself to the rest of your training as you have to this, you'll be a Senior someday." He reached out to pat Skinner's cheek. "Hit the showers, Peaches."

When Skinner came out of the bathroom, he found that the kitchen staff had delivered lunch and his stomach growled in appreciation of the wonderful smells filling the suite.

"Hungry, Dimplecheeks?" Appraising eyes studied him. "Did you eat anything for breakfast?"

"No, sir," Skinner admitted. He had been unable to keep anything down that morning.

Mason sighed. "You are impossible, Piglet. I can see that I am going to have to take a firmer handle on your eating habits." He went into the playroom and returned with a double snap. "Hands behind your back, slave." Skinner obeyed and Mason clipped the cuffs together. "All right, I want you here on the floor by my chair."

Skinner awkwardly knelt and Mason adjusted his position, then took a seat at the table.

"Well, let's see what Jean-Pierre has sent for our lunch, shall we?" Mason uncovered the plate and smiled. "You're in luck, Dimplecheeks. Broiled chicken and lots of tasty vegetables."

Skinner groaned and Mason chuckled. He speared a carrot with his fork. "Open up, boy."

Skinner reluctantly opened his mouth and accepted the carrot, making a face as he slowly chewed. Mason ate a few forkfuls and then speared another carrot. He looked down at Skinner, still slowly chewing the first piece, and frowned.

"All right, Piglet. One warning - for every time you keep me waiting you will receive a stroke of the crop." Skinner hastily swallowed, choking a little, and Mason sighed. He picked up a glass of water and held it for Skinner to drink. "On the other hand, if you choke I shall be very angry with you. And I promise you won't like me when I'm angry."

Skinner nodded and opened his mouth for Mason to feed him the next bite. This time he quickly chewed and swallowed so that he was ready when Mason presented the next forkful. It was a bit of chicken and Skinner readily ate it, then struggled through several more bites of carrots and green beans. Mason was watching him with amusement and Skinner gritted his teeth, determined to make it through this damned embarrassing situation intact. His backside still stung from the earlier lesson and he had no desire to undergo another session. Mason gave him more water and then continued feeding him until he seemed to have determined that Skinner had eaten enough.

"Well done, Peaches," Mason said, briefly caressing the sleek head and then helping him up from the floor. The Dom unclipped his cuffs, then led Skinner into the bedroom. "It's been a busy morning - I think a short nap is in order."

Skinner was actually rather relieved at the suggestion, needing time to absorb the morning's lessons, and settled down on his pallet. To his surprise, Mason picked up a chain attached to a bolt in the floor by the pallet and attached it to Skinner's collar.

"Get used to it, Piglet. You'll be chained in at night as well." He patted Skinner's cheek. "Sleep well. I'll be working in the living room so if you need something, just call. Otherwise, I'll be back to unlock you in two hours."

Skinner lay down, pulling the blanket over his body. He had intended to take the time to think, to try to deal with the conflicting feelings and thoughts racing through him, but his body seemed to have other ideas. He was really very tired, worn out from the morning's activities and from his lack of sleep over the past few nights.

'I'll just close my eyes for a few minutes,' he thought sleepily. 'And then I'll think about all this.' And, almost on the thought, he drifted into a deep sleep.



Mason let him sleep for two hours then woke him to instruct him on his other duties around the suite - namely housekeeping. Dinner followed, during which Mason fed him as he had at lunch although he allowed Skinner he have his hands free. After dinner, Mason led the way into the playroom and gestured for Skinner to take a seat on the padded table.

"I believe that we were talking about bondage last time and you had some problems with the idea. You've had a taste of it now, at lunch. How did you feel?"

"Helpless. I couldn't do anything - feed myself, drink, nothing. I had to - to trust you."

"And trust doesn't come easy for you, does it, Walter?" Mason took Skinner's chin in his hand. "It's hard for any of us to trust, but that is what you are asking a sub to do. You are asking him to trust you - and not only that you won't turn out to be a homicidal maniac. He's also trusting that you will respect his limits and yet give him what he needs." He smoothed his hand over Skinner's cheek. "You can trust me, Walter Skinner. I will never harm you and I will give you what you need."

Skinner found himself unable to pull away from those sharp blue eyes.

"Do you believe me?" Mason asked, quietly, and Skinner nodded. "Do you trust me?"

Skinner nodded again, slowly. "Yes. Yes, I trust you."

Mason smiled at him, a wide smile that warmed his eyes. "Good. Now, let's have a little fun."

"Lie down and grab the bar above your head." Skinner did as instructed and Mason clipped his cuffs to the bar. "Hands only today. Comfortable?"

Skinner looked at the Dom with a glimmer of a smile. "Not particularly, sir. But I'm not in pain."

Mason laughed. "Ah, Peaches, you are a rare treat!" He smiled down at Skinner. "Once you have the sub all tied up, there are many things you can do with him," he said conversationally. "Being helpless increases the intensity of feeling, makes one more sensitive to stimulation, both physical and mental. Lying there, helpless, you have nothing to do but wait and wonder what your master has planned for you. When he will touch you and how he will touch you. Will it be soft and gentle," Mason let his hand run down Skinner's chest, caressing the skin softly, "or will it be sharp and painful?" He pinched Skinner's nipple, making Skinner gasp with the sudden pain. "Will it be soothing," The hand was gentle again, not quite caressing, "or erotic?" Once again, the hand moved to his nipples, this time rubbing the nipple into a nub and making Skinner arch towards him. "Will he touch me here - or here - and the hand moved to tease the other nipple, " or here?" The hand moved across his belly, down the smooth flesh to tease his cock with one finger. Skinner drew in a sharp breath as sudden need flared through him. "Will he give me the release I need," The hand stroked him, coaxing an erection easily, and he could feel himself hardening under the barely-present touch, "or will he leave me unsatisfied?"

Mason pulled his hand away and Skinner bit his lip to keep a groan from escaping. "And, of course, what toys will he play with today?" Skinner watched Mason walk over to the cabinet, trying to control the sudden racing of his heart, equal parts dread and anticipation filling him. Mason brought out a cock ring.

"I imagine that it's been awhile, Peaches, and some of our games over these two weeks may be a little too stimulating. That's another rule - you don't come without my permission. No jacking off in bed or in the showers, either. I will let you know when, and if, you can get off. Understood?"

"Yes, sir, but I - " Skinner hesitated.

"You have a question?"

"I thought you didn't have sex with your subs."

"I don't. However, some subs require sexual release as part of their game and I have no objection to that." Mason paused. "But slaves are a different matter. As my slave for these two weeks, you belong to me. If I want to spank or fuck that beautiful ass of yours, it's mine. If I want bring you to orgasm or make you wait, that's my choice. You have no more choices, Walter."

Skinner drew a deep, shaky breath glad for the cock ring so that the sudden arousal that had filled him at those words didn't show. But somehow he thought that Mason knew anyway. Mason always knew.

Mason released Skinner from his bonds. "Go get cleaned up, Peaches, then join me in the living room."

Skinner wanted to refuse, to protest at being left aroused like this, but he found that he couldn't speak. He nodded, dazed still, and went into the bathroom to wash up and recover his composure.

Mason settled on the couch and waited. He watched Skinner come back into the main room, his eyes studying the silent man with the vulnerable eyes as he moved stiffly around the suite, straightening up its slight disorder. Another crack in the wall, Mason thought with satisfaction. And now for a little gentle water to widen the crack.

"Come here," he said, indicating the floor by his feet. Skinner settled, then was surprised when Mason poured a glass of Scotch and handed it to him. Mason smiled at him. "I thought you could stand to unwind a little."

"Yes - thank you, sir." Skinner sipped his Scotch, wondering what the Dom had in mind now. He almost jumped when Mason's hand gripped his shoulder.

"Damn, Walter - you are wound up tighter than a drum." He began massaging his slave's shoulders, gently working out the tension knots that had developed. "You need to learn to relax - figure out what works to defuse you. I know what you're thinking - sexual release would do that for you and you’re right. But you won't always have that luxury."

Skinner closed his eyes, relaxing under the warm and skillful fingers, knowing that no answer was really required. He let himself drift, uncaring for the moment about what was happening around him, to him. All that mattered right now was this massage.

A gentle tug stirred him and made him realize that he had drifted off to sleep. "Go to bed, Walter. I'll be in shortly to attach the chain."

Skinner nodded, shuffling wearily into the bathroom and then collapsing on his pallet. He felt exhausted, drained, and could hardly muster the energy to pull up his blanket.



It seemed like he had barely fallen asleep when Mason was shaking him awake and unfastening the collar. Skinner groaned and got up, staggering into the bathroom to get ready to face the day. Then Mason sent him into the kitchenette to make coffee while he ordered breakfast from the kitchen. Skinner set the pot on the table and settled back onto the floor, waiting for Mason's next instructions.

Mason poured a cup of coffee and took a sip, then made a face. "God, Walter - I can tell that you're in law enforcement. This is the worst coffee I've ever had. Its only good point is that it would be impossible to sleep after drinking that." He gestured for Skinner to take the other seat at the table. "I'll have to trust you to feed yourself this morning - the shock to my system has been too great."

Skinner grinned at him, recognizing the teasing tone, and poured himself a cup of coffee. "Tastes fine to me, sir."

"Your shocking lack of taste worries me. I can see that I've got my work cut out for me."

They enjoyed a quiet, companionable breakfast and Mason was pleased to see his apprentice eat a hearty meal. Afterward, Mason sent Skinner to the gym to work out while he put in a couple hours in his office.

Skinner went through his regular routine then returned to the suite to shower and shave. It was more difficult than it had appeared and he took his time, not wanting to risk the Dom's censure for an inadequate job. When he finally emerged from the bathroom, Mason was waiting in the main room with lunch. He checked Skinner over carefully and nodded approvingly.

"Good job, Peaches. Now let's have lunch and then we'll work for awhile."

After an afternoon spent learning how to prepare rope for bondage and practicing knot tying, Skinner was surprised and embarrassed when Jean-Pierre came into the suite for a cooking lesson. The master chef didn't seem to see anything unusual about Skinner's nakedness, merely tossing him an apron so that he wouldn't burn any sensitive skin, and Skinner soon relaxed. Jean-Pierre had decided to teach him how to make lasagna and Skinner, much to his own surprise, became absorbed in the lesson. Jean-Pierre's volatile teaching style was totally different from Mason's quieter manner but just as effective, and Skinner found himself moving quickly at the Chef's orders in order to avoid the large wooden spoon that the other man wielded with great effect.

As delicious smells began to fill the suite, Jean-Pierre set Skinner to cleaning up the kitchen and then preparing a salad to accompany the meal. Following which, accompanied by rolling eyes and imprecations muttered in French, Jean-Pierre demonstrated to his student that lettuce alone did not constitute a salad.

Still, twin smiles met over the lasagna pan as it was removed from the oven.

"It is magnifique, Skin-neh," Jean-Pierre said approvingly.

"Well, it looks all right - do you suppose it's edible?" Skinner asked, surveying the pan in his gloved hands.

Jean-Pierre laughed. "You have doubts?" He set the pan down on the counter and cut a wedge, sampling it. "Perfect. You have done well."

Skinner took a taste and grinned. "I think that lasagna has just become my favorite dish."

Mason poked his head into the kitchen. "Smells good. When's dinner?"

"Out, out, out!" Jean-Pierre ordered, brandishing his spoon at Mason. "I shall tell you when it is time."

Mason threw up his hands in mock terror, laughed, and left. Skinner looked at Jean-Pierre speculatively. "You've known Mason a long time, haven't you?"

Jean-Pierre gave him a sideways look. "Oui, Mace and I have been friends for a long time. We became acquainted when we were both young."

Skinner smiled, shaking his head as he tried to picture Mason as a young man. "I wish I had known him then."

"No, you don't," Jean-Pierre said bluntly, his expressive face shuttered. "Let me warn you, my friend - this is not a house cat that you play with. No, this is a wild animal, partially socialized but never a pet. And I doubt that there is any man who can tame him completely. Certainly not you."

Skinner's eyes met Jean-Pierre's, narrowed as he studied the other man's unrevealing face. "I think you forget that I am not the master in this contract. He is the teacher, not I."

"And you have a lot to learn, young one. It is love I speak of - love that tames us all. And you and Mace - no."

Skinner nodded, not in the least offended. "I have no intention of falling in love - with Mason or anyone else."

Jean-Pierre smiled, slowly. "Someday I think I shall see you tamed as well, when the right one finds you. And now," he said briskly, turning back to the dinner waiting to be served. "We have dinner to serve and a very hungry Dom who will become very cranky if we keep him waiting much longer. And I don't think you want him angry at you, petite."

"No," Skinner agreed, and followed Jean-Pierre into the dining alcove carrying his precious lasagna.



The next day followed a similar pattern, breakfast in the suite followed by a workout in the gym, lunch with a cooking lesson and then a nap. However, when Skinner woke up from his nap, Mason was walking around the bedroom wrapped in a towel and setting clothes on the bed.

"Ah, you're awake, Peaches. You'll be happy to know that you have the rest of the day at your own disposal. I'm going out this evening."

Skinner stretched and yawned, still a little muzzy from his nap. "Out, sir?"

"Quarterly Board meeting." He gave Skinner a sideways look that Skinner found hard to interpret. "Come, help me dress."

Mason dressed quickly, with practiced ease, transforming before Skinner's eyes from the Dom to the Businessman. As he dressed, Mason gave Skinner final instructions about what he wanted him to do while the Dom was gone

"I have no idea how late I'll be, but I'll expect you to eat the dinner that Jean-Pierre sends in - all of it. I'll be getting a full report from him. I don't have to tell you what will happen if you don't eat."

Skinner sighed, resigned. "I suppose that means lots of vegetables."

"Broccoli - your favorite," Mason said, teasing him. Skinner groaned and Mason laughed, patting the other man's cheek. "Never mind - be a good boy and I'll have a special treat for you tomorrow."

Skinner looked at him suspiciously. "Will I like it?"

Mason laughed. "Piglet, Piglet, where is that trust? Would I do anything that you wouldn't like?"

"Yes," Skinner said succinctly.

"That sounds suspiciously like disrespect to me," Mason said mockingly. He hadn't intended to play this evening - he didn't really have the time for it - but he only had a little over a week left to get through this man's defenses. "And it occurs to me that I haven't seriously taken my crop to you in days. Perhaps you need a reminder while I'm gone this evening. Prepare for punishment, Piglet."

Skinner dropped to his knees as instructed, heart sinking and cursing his failure to hold his tongue. Mason slowly circled him, admiring the picture he presented.

"That was a saucy remark for a slave to make, Piglet. Now, I might allow my apprentice to talk to me like that, but you're not my apprentice, are you?"

"No, sir."

The first blow fell from the crop, a stinging swat across the upturned ass. "What are you, Walter Skinner?"

"A slave, sir."

"And whose slave are you?" There was a hesitation and the crop fell again, making Skinner wince. "I don't think I heard you, slave."

"Yours, sir."

"That's right, slave." A third swat fell. "I would suggest that you don't forget that again."

"Yes, sir."

"You can get up now." Skinner obeyed, resisting the urge to rub the abused flesh, secretly determined to see that the crop met an untimely end - and soon. Mason tapped Skinner's cheek with the end of the crop. "I'm going now. Behave yourself while I'm gone. And don't wait up." Picking up his briefcase and giving the other man a final appraising look that Skinner missed completely, Mason headed towards out of the Club.



Mason entered the hotel where the Board meeting was regularly held and headed up to the suite that Sean's money and George's influence had secured for them. Sean was in the hospitality area adjoining the conference room fixing himself a tonic with a twist when Mason entered. The younger man cast him a quick, appraising glance and poured a finger of Scotch, handing it to Mason. Mason nodded his thanks, tossing off the drink, then set down the empty glass.

"How's the crowd look tonight?"

Sean fixed another Scotch, this time cutting it with soda. "Full house. Da is in there warming them up right now." He cocked his head as he handed over the glass. "How's the training going - or shouldn't I ask?"

"I'm not even going to ask how you know about that - "

"Jean-Pierre," Sean murmured, giving Mason a wicked look from under his lashes.

" - but it seems to be going well." He studied Sean in return. "You seem in high spirits tonight. New lover?"

Sean sighed blissfully. "It shows, does it?"

"So is this the one then?" Mason tried to keep his voice neutral, resisting the urge to drain his glass.

Sean shrugged. "Could be - too early to tell. But I'm having a hell of a good time finding out." He picked up his glass. "Well, shall we?"

Mason numbly followed his boss into the Conference Room, wrenching his thoughts to the agenda for the quarterly Board meeting and away from the delectable form in front of him. He quietly slid into his place at the table and watched Sean make his way to the head of the table, working his magic as he stopped to chat a moment with each member. It never failed to amaze him how easily this came to the young man, how he could wind each individual around his finger and convince them of their unique importance to him - even in a room full of other people - and how he could be utterly sincere. The boy was the consummate businessman, having left the frivolous sub persona at the door, talking the language that these men understood - profit, growth, future returns. But then, why should he be surprised? Sean had learned from the best and that man was sitting beside his son, all but beaming with pride.

Mason was called upon to give his report and passed out the glossy annual report, his inner sense of humor suddenly tickled at the idea of a BDSM club being presented with all the seriousness of a more reputable business. He managed to hide his inappropriate humor while he gave his report and answered questions, then settled back into his chair in relief to listen to the remaining bits of business with half an ear.

And then it was over and the members were moving back into the hospitality suite for drinks and dinner, and he found himself reluctant to join the convivial group. It suddenly occurred to him, in one of those blinding flashes that seemed to be striking him tonight, that he was a fool. He should get out, get away from this temptation, go somewhere far away so that he wouldn't have to face this aching need. And then there was that laugh, that voice that rang through the room and through his soul, and he knew that he would never be able to go away. No matter how painful staying was, it would be even more painful to leave.

"Are you okay, Geoffrey?" A deep voice, so like his son's lighter tones, and Mason looked up into concerned eyes.

'No,' he thought bleakly, 'and I don't think I'll ever be.' But he pulled himself together, smiled, and stood up. "I'm fine, but I think I could do with a drink."

George Matthews wasn't fooled but he had promised his son not to interfere so he merely clapped Mason on the back and chuckled as he led the younger man out of the conference room. "Well, it just so happens that I know where you can get one of those…"



It was just before midnight, and Skinner yawned, deciding that it was time to go to bed. It had been a quiet evening but he had found himself oddly restless, missing the vibrant presence of the Dom that filled the suite when he was here. In an act of mild defiance, he had stretched out on the couch to read a book but over the last half-hour he had found his attention wandering.

Skinner looked up from his book at a peculiar sound at the front door. It sounded vaguely like humming and like someone was having trouble with the lock. He sat up and looked over at the door, puzzled. The door swung open and Mason entered, standing a little unsteadily in the doorway and blinking owlishly at the unexpected light in the room.

"Piglet? You're up late - 'spected you'd be in bed by now." Mason let the door close behind him and ditched his briefcase and coat on the floor by the door, making his way towards his chair and plopped into it.

Skinner stared, totally stunned by the image in front of him. Mason had lost his tie somewhere and his shirt was unbuttoned. One jacket pocket lining was hanging out - probably done when getting out his cardkey - and his hair was disheveled.

"How did the meeting go?" Skinner asked, putting away his book.

Mason let out a snort of laughter and let his head fall back against the chair. "Fine, fine - how could it not? The Crown Prince waves his magic wand and all fall before him. Boy could sell snow to - I need a drink," he said abruptly, pushing himself out of his chair and headed towards the wet bar on unsteady feet.

Skinner intercepted him. "I think you've had enough for tonight, sir."

"Enough what?" Mason asked, diverted from his original course. He beamed at Skinner, as if seeing him for the first time, and threw an arm over Skinner's shoulder. "'Lo, Peaches! Where've you been? Hell of a party - no, that was the other night… Meeting tonight - boring shit - wanna go find a party?"

Skinner determinedly steered the drunken Dom towards the bedroom. "I think you've had enough partying. Bedtime."

Mason snickered and leered at him. "Why, Peaches! Didn't know you were interested."

Skinner snorted, depositing the other man on the bed. "As much as you've had to drink, you couldn't get it up with both hands." He tugged off the suit coat and Mason fell back on the bed, snickering again. Skinner removed the Dom's socks and shoes and then ruthlessly stripped off his pants before rolling him under the covers. He located aspirin in the bathroom and filled a large cup with water.

"Here. Take these."

Mason managed to push himself into a sitting position and glared at the other man, which was rather difficult as there appeared to be two Skinners and neither one was standing still. "Awfully bossy for a slave, aren't you?" he said, pulling together the shreds of his dignity. "Should paddle your ass - "

"You're welcome to try, sir," Skinner said, dryly, "but I think you would fall on your ass." He put the aspirin into Mason's hand. "Take it or you'll be even sorrier in the morning."

"Fine," Mason said petulantly, and tossed back the aspirin with a mouthful of water. "Lost it completely when a slave is telling me what to do. Should quit and sell insurance."

Skinner took back the cup and put it on the nightstand. "You can redeem your honor tomorrow. For now you need to sleep this off."

Mason fell back on the bed, grumbling to himself, and Skinner turned off the bedroom light before going into the living room to take care of the overcoat and briefcase. By the time he had finished settling the place for the night, Mason was sound asleep and snoring slightly. Skinner sighed and settled himself on his pallet to sleep. He had a feeling that the next day was going to be very, very long.



When Skinner woke, he realized that it was late morning and that the Dom hadn't roused him as usual. He sat up and glanced over at the bed; Mason was sprawled face down on the bed sound asleep still. He smiled to himself and shook his head, wondering what had caused the other man to go on a bender like that. Some of the comments that Mason had made stuck in his head and that, coupled with other things that he had seen, made Skinner wonder if the Dom was in love with Sean Matthews. And to wonder why, if he was, he didn't go after the mischievous sub. It was clear that Sean was interested in playing with Mason but the Dom wouldn't even do that. Something else Mason had said that first weekend, about not being able to love someone and let them go, added to the mystery and made Skinner aware of how little he really knew about Dom.

He sighed, realizing that it was unlikely that he would ever really know Mason well, and got up. After washing up, he headed into the kitchen to make coffee and then decided to cook breakfast.

A groan from the living room alerted Skinner to the fact that the other occupant of the suite was back among the living. He poured a large cup of coffee and carried it out to the living room, along with aspirin, and got his first look at the hung-over Dom. Mason was slumped in his chair, wrapped in his robe, and his hair glistened from the water he had obviously splashed on his face in an effort to wake up. His skin color was decidedly pale and what Skinner could see of his eyes looked bloodshot.

"Coffee, sir. And aspirin."

"Bless you, Walter Skinner." Mason tossed back the aspirin, wincing at the movement of his head, and wrapped his hands around the coffee mug. He inhaled deeply. "And I think I owe Jean-Pierre at least one kidney for teaching you how to make a good cup of coffee."

"After what you put your body through last night, I'm not sure he'd want one."

Mason sipped the coffee and raised an eyebrow as he looked over at Skinner. "Disapproval, Piglet?"

Skinner almost smiled to himself. The iron fist was back inside the velvet glove this morning, no matter how shaky that fist might be. "It's not my place to approve or disapprove of your actions, sir."

"Damn right," Mason growled.

Skinner didn't reply, returning to the kitchen. He finished mixing the pancake batter, one of the few things his mother had managed to teach him to cook. It had been awhile since he had made them and the first couple were unqualified disasters but then he got the hang of it. He carried out a stack of golden-brown pancakes and set them on the table.

"Breakfast, sir."

"I don't want - " Mason paused, sniffing the air. "Are those pancakes?"

"Yes, sir."

Mason got up and approached the table, smiling. "Jean-Pierre won't make me pancakes - says they're not good for me."

"Then we won't tell him," Skinner said, setting out butter and syrup.

Mason took a bite and closed his eyes, savoring the taste. "Heaven. I think I might live after all. And I take back every evil thing I've thought about you this morning, Walter Skinner. You are a pearl beyond price."

Skinner chuckled as he refilled Mason's mug. "Just don't look in the kitchen - you might have a relapse."

Mason laughed in return, restored to good spirits, and indicated that Skinner should join him at the table. They shared a companionable meal, neither one mentioning the previous night.

"That was excellent, Walter," Mason said, sitting back with his third cup of coffee. "And I think we both deserve that treat I promised you. After you finish cleaning up in the kitchen, put on your sweats - and you can leave the collar and cuffs here."

Skinner quickly put the kitchen to rights and dressed, wondering what the Dom had in mind. Mason led the way toward the gym but then went past it and opened a door that Skinner hadn't noticed before now. A young woman looked up from a receptionist desk in the outer room and smiled at them.

"Good morning, Mr. Mason. Room 3 is ready for you - go on in."

Mason opened a door and gestured for Skinner to enter. He tossed a towel and a terry-cloth robe at Skinner. "Get undressed and put these on."

Skinner obeyed. "Where are we, sir?"

"Our own massage therapy center. The best kept secret of the Club - subs are only allowed here in the company of their Dom."

For the next three hours, Skinner reveled in the feeling of being utterly pampered. It had been a long time since he'd surrendered completely to the luxury of being massaged like this, every muscle in his body manipulated under strong fingers until he was totally boneless, before being sent to gently steam away his remaining tensions. His skin was scraped and then washed, leaving him feeling tingly all over and alive in every nerve and pore. Another massage, this one a gentle soothing of his skin, and then they were relaxing in a hot tub as they sipped on fruit juice. He noticed that Mason was looking a lot better, having shaken off the last effects of his bender the night before, and thought that the man looked so different when he was utterly relaxed like this. He liked the look of utter relaxation on the Dom's face and, idly, wondered if the man looked this relaxed after sex as well. A faint flush ran over his body and he hastily looked away from Mason, taking a drink of his fruit drink. He wasn't naïve enough to think that this was love he was feeling; it was lust, pure and simple, but it had been a long time since he had allowed himself to feel this for another man.

Mason watched the man across from him through half-closed eyes and allowed himself a small, satisfied smile. He knew what the sudden flush meant and felt an answering arousal stir within himself. This wasn't the man he wanted to spend his life with but there was no denying that Walter Skinner had a fine body, one that he could appreciate and would enjoy getting to know intimately. If the man could only get past his final barriers…

He roused himself and dragged them both out of the hot tub for a brisk shower, then they dressed and headed back to the suite.

"Ah, nothing like a bit of pampering to make you feel energized," Mason commented as they entered the suite. He felt more alive than he had in a long time and felt like sharing his energy. "I'm in the mood to play, Walter. Fetch your collar and cuffs and meet me in the playroom."

Skinner stripped and put on the collar and cuffs as he headed towards the playroom, wondering what Mason had in mind. They hadn't played at all the previous day and the memory of their last brief session made Skinner tingle in anticipation.

The Dom patted the padded table as Skinner entered. "Lie down, Peaches, on your stomach." Skinner obeyed and Mason fastened his ankles and wrists to the frame. "Just relax and breathe evenly for now." He ran a hand over Skinner's back, gentling and soothing him. "You have nothing to fear, Walter. I won't take you any farther than you can go."

Skinner relaxed, letting himself be stilled and soothed. Mason's hand moved in slow circles, warming the flesh under his hand, until he was certain that Skinner was comfortable in his bondage. Then he turned to the table where he had laid out a couple items and picked up a soft deerskin flogger, aware that Skinner was watching him uncertainly.

"Relax," he murmured to Skinner, trailing the flogger over Skinner's back slowly. "You remember playing with this one. There won't be any pain. I promise." There was a sense of air moving over his back and a warm whisper against his skin, reminding him of the earlier massage. The flogger moved over his back, down his backside and the backs of his legs, creating a delicious sense of warmth all over.

Mason paused, running his hand over the smooth skin, listening to the sigh of pleasure that escaped from the captive man. He picked up the next flogger, one of soft suede, and drew it along the man's back. "A little more substance to this one, Piglet." A practiced flick of his wrist brought the flogger down on Skinner's backside. Skinner had tensed slightly, expecting pain, and was surprised to feel nothing but a slight thump against his skin and a tingling sense of warmth spreading outward from the targeted area, like ripples in a pond. Another strike, another point of warmth that rippled along his skin, and he relaxed into the sensation. It felt so good, each blow generating sensual warmth, and it was arousing as well. Skinner could feel the sexual tension building through him, considered telling Mason but a wonderful lethargy was filling his brain and his body. Besides, he thought dreamily, Mason knew. Mason always knew.

Mason ran his hand over Skinner, expertly gauging the level of stimulation and arousal, and picked up the next flogger. Again he trailed it over Skinner's back, letting him feel the texture against his sensitized skin. "A little more bite to this one, Piglet." Skinner was only aware that the wonderful sensations had stopped and made an impatient sound, and Mason grinned at that. He brought the flogger down along Skinner's backside, firmly but not with full strength, hearing the soft grunt followed by a sigh. He smiled and began raining a series of rhythmic blows along Skinner's back and buttocks, gradually increasing the intensity, watching the skin pink up with satisfaction and listening to the increasingly loud sounds of pleasure.

Skinner had been disappointed when the soft tingling warmth ended and vaguely heard Mason talking but he didn't care - he just wanted the man to keep doing what he had been doing. The first blow of the new flogger was a surprise, a harsher thump and a sensation of tingling that made him grunt in surprise. It was followed by an even more intense sensation of warmth along his skin and he sighed with pleasure. So good, he thought with what remained of his brain, and waited in anticipation for the next strike. He absorbed the sensation, felt the surge of pleasurable warmth moving through him, and it was wonderful but not enough. He arched his body towards the anticipated blow, felt the slight increase in power behind it and moaned his approval.

The blows were coming steadily now, his back pulsing with intense warmth and pleasure, and he was so aroused that he thought he would explode. Each movement caused his cock to rub against the padded table under him and it was a delicious agony. He wanted to come so badly but the Master had forbidden it; he wanted this to go on forever but his brain felt like it was going to explode.

"Please," he gasped, desperately fighting to hold on. "Please - let me - "

A soft voice in his ear, demanding and not to be ignored. "Come for me, Peaches. Come now." And he had to obey, he couldn't ignore that voice, and he was coming so hard that he thought he would surely die from this, would explode into a million pieces and no one would ever find Walter Skinner anymore. And he couldn't care less.



Skinner woke to the feeling of gentle aches all over his back and the soft coolness of fresh sheets around him. He blinked his eyes open to find that he was lying in Mason's bed with no clear recollection of how he had gotten there. No, that wasn't quite true.

Memory came over him. He remembered the whisper of soft suede against his skin, the gentle thud vibrating through his body, releasing feelings and needs that he had kept locked up for so long that he had been barely aware of their existence. He remembered falling through the darkness, the soft murmur of a reassuring voice, a strong arm guiding him into blissful softness.

He sat up, aware of a curious feeling of lightness within him. Everything had changed and yet - and yet -

He was still the same person. All his beliefs and dreams, all that he valued remained the same. His deep-seated fear that giving way to his need, that lowering his barriers would destroy him hadn't happened. He was still Walter Skinner. And he wasn't sure if he was completely happy about that.

But he did know that something inside him that had resisted this, something that had refused to give in was gone. And what remained in its place was a need so strong that it drove him to his feet and out of the bedroom, to locate the source of his need.

Mason looked up with a smile as Skinner entered the living room. "Ah, Peaches! You are alive. I was beginning to wonder."

Skinner crossed the room and went down on his knees before the Dom, barely aware of the look of surprise on Mason's face. All he knew was that the only one who could help him find the answer to all of his questions was here before him, waiting for him to make that final step. And he was terrified and exhilarated at the same time, his heart racing as he sought the one word that he needed to say, the one word that would carry him across the chasm separating him from what he was and what he wanted to become. He bowed his head, laying it against the other man's knees.



Chapter Text

Mason stared down at the head pressed against his leg and, for the first time in a long time, he was stunned speechless. 'How in the Hell did I miss this?' he wondered. 'It can't possibly be this easy - one real session and the walls come down like Jericho?'

His hand tilted Skinner's chin up as he said, "What did you just say?"

"Master," Skinner repeated, and his eyes met Mason's directly, allowing the Dom to read everything there.

Mason had heard that word from many men and women before, had heard it uttered in every tone imaginable and had seen every accompanying expression. Breathless adoration, reluctant capitulation, sexual neediness, lustful desire - none of these was new to him. What was new was the look in those eyes now turned up to him, eyes that revealed a need so great that it scared the hell out of him. It was like looking into a well and not knowing where the bottom was or how to fill it.

'Walter Skinner,' he thought numbly, 'what in hell happened to you in your past?'

And then Skinner's eyes closed, briefly, but long enough for Mason to think, to pull together some rational thoughts. Never mind that he hadn't meant to do this, that this shouldn't have happened at the level they were playing. The fact of the matter was that it had. Whatever had caused that wall to fall, it was gone now and the man before him was an empty vessel. Walter Skinner was his responsibility and Mason took his responsibilities very seriously. It only remained to determine what to do to begin building stronger walls, walls that would let him in but keep Walter safe.

And then he remembered the way Skinner had flushed in the hot tub, the evident desire that the man had felt. Not love with all its complications but good, healthy lust, and all the desires and needs that Skinner had kept hidden for years. He nodded to himself - give the man emotional and physical release, set up some boundaries to replace those walls till the man was strong enough - he could do that. But from now on he would have to concentrate on this man, protect him from any further damage, and not dwell on the one that he could not have.

Mason smiled at Skinner and caressed his face. "Walter Skinner, you are full of surprises." He stood up and tugged Skinner up with him. "And I believe that I promised you something when you called me by that name. Come with me."

He led Skinner into the bedroom. "Undress me. Slowly and carefully. A slave should always be mindful of his master's comfort. Especially considering the penalty for failure to please."

Mason stood perfectly still while Skinner carefully unbuttoned the Dom's shirt and slid it down off his shoulders. Skinner started to toss it onto a chair when a frown from Mason made him reconsider; instead, he folded it carefully and placed it on the chair. He unbuckled Mason's belt and pushed the pants to the floor, kneeling to finish removing the man's shoes, socks, pants and underwear.

Skinner knelt on the floor, looking up at the other man, his breath catching at the sight. Mason had always been casual about nudity around the suite and Skinner had seen him naked before, but he had never before looked at him in a sexual light. And so now he got his fill of looking, noting the broad muscular shoulders and the chest with a thick mat of dark hair touched with silver. The Dom's chest and abs were as well-shaped as a younger man's and a thick brush of dark hair surrounded an impressively sized cock.

"See anything you like, Peaches?" Mason asked, amused.

Skinner allowed a smile to slowly spread across his face. "Yes, Master, I do."

"Mmm. I like the sound of that. I may just keep you answering questions all afternoon to hear you say, 'Yes, Master'."

Skinner leaned forward, his face nuzzling Mason's groin. "I can think of better uses of our time, Master."

Mason chuckled. "You are impudent, my slave, and presumptive. I don't believe that I have given you permission to touch me." A strong hand tugged him up and pushed him face-down on the bed, and the other hand smacked his ass twice. "Just because I have decided to take you into my bed doesn't change the rules." Skinner was then tumbled over onto his back and Mason followed him down, kissing him fiercely.

And that was a pleasure that Skinner had somehow forgotten in the long years since he had taken a male lover. Lips that were firm instead of soft took possession of his, a tongue demanding entrance to his mouth, and he submitted willingly. The slight roughness of beard stubble against sensitive skin aroused feelings that he hadn't had in far too long, feelings that he had pushed down in an effort to conform within his world. His hands clutched at firm skin molded over hard muscles before they were captured and pinned to the bed beside his head. It was disconcerting and oddly arousing to have a partner stronger than he was, and he stared up at the man looming over him.

"No touching, Peaches. I want you to lie there and let me explore." Skinner groaned and Mason growled, "You got a problem, Piglet? Because I'm sure that my crop has the solution."

"No, Master," Skinner said, fighting for control of himself. "No problem."

"Good. Grab the headboard and don't let go till I tell you otherwise."

Skinner grabbed on tight as the Dom began a thorough exploration of his body, cataloging the results of every touch on every inch of his body. Skinner was desperate long before Mason finished, only kept from release by the cock ring that Mason had fastened on him before beginning his exploration. When Mason finished, his hopes for release were dashed as Mason turned him over to begin on his back. Skinner protested, involuntarily, and Mason popped him again on the ass.

"Quiet. I am not interested in your opinions or desires."

Skinner subsided, clutching the headboard desperately as knowing fingers moved over his back and his buttocks, down the backs of his legs and over his feet. He was desperate, attempting to grind his erection into the covers for release, but a sharp smack on the ass stilled him again. He lay, panting heavily, waiting for his tormentor's next move.

Mason ran his hand over the firm ass, admiring it. "This is a good look for you, Peaches. I've always liked that faint blush on your other cheeks - I think I'll make sure that these cheeks keep the same blush on them for the rest of your time here." Skinner stifled a groan as a warning hand rested on his ass. "You have a problem with that, Peaches."

"No, Master," Skinner managed to mutter.

"Good. Not that it would matter, one way or the other. Who do you belong to, Piglet?" A finger trailed between his ass-cheeks and Skinner caught his breath.

"You, Master."

"Very good. And I think a good slave deserves a reward. What would you like, slave? Would you like to come?"

"Yes, Master." His voice was low, almost a whisper.

"Then ask me, my pet. Ask me to let you come." He flipped Skinner over onto his back and tweaked his nipples.

"Please, Master - let me - come."

"You can do better than that. Ask me nicely. Beg me, slave."

Skinner could feel the unbearable tension in his body and he wanted to scream with frustration. He gritted his teeth together. "Please, Master. I beg you - let me come."

Mason removed his hand completely, shaking his head mockingly. "Peaches, Peaches - I've heard better begging from a child at the toy store. One last try, and then I'm going to turn you over and blister your ass instead."

Skinner unclenched his jaw, swallowing hard. With as much humility as he could muster, he tried again. "Master Geoffrey, please, I beg you to allow your slave to come."

Mason grinned. "Beautifully done, my pet. And as your reward - "

With deft fingers, he unfastened the cock ring and then swallowed Skinner's cock completely. Skinner gasped and thrust involuntarily into that exquisite heat. Mason held his hips down and sucked again, hard. And it had been forever since the last time someone had done this, and he had been aroused for so long, and Master's mouth was so insistent. He erupted down Mason's throat as the Dom milked him until he was empty and boneless.

As reality returned, he heard a soft chuckle from the region of his groin. A smug sound filled the Dom's voice. "Very good, my pet. See what nice rewards you get for being a good slave?"

Skinner managed to gasp, "Yes, Master," then gasped again as molten fingers began to run up and down his cock, teasingly. To his own surprise, his cock began to swell again.

Mason chuckled. "Well, we are a little piggy, aren't we, my Piglet? Such a good slut." He encircled the cock with his fingers, languidly stroking it, slowly building up the heat this time. Skinner had let go of the headboard after his climax and, as Mason gave no orders to the contrary, he tentatively reached out to touch Mason's chest.

Mason smiled at him. "It's all right. You can touch me now."

Mason rolled over onto his back, pulling Skinner over with him, making it easier for him to explore his master's body. Skinner let his hands move over the firm chest and shoulders before him, his fingers discovering again the pleasure of touching muscled flesh instead of soft tissue. How much I have missed this, he thought wonderingly. How could I have forgotten how good this feels? He leaned forward to taste, his mouth mapping the contours of flesh and bone. An overwhelming desire filled him, a need to touch and taste and know every bit of this man he now belonged to. Mouth and hands set to discovering everything, learning where all the pleasure points were.

Mason watched the younger man in amusement, noting the surprised pleasure on his face. For the first time, it was clear to him that Skinner really enjoyed being with a man. Another piece of the puzzle that was Walter Skinner seemed to be falling into place, and he determined to find out more about his past lovers and the failed marriage. Right now, though, he needed to regain control of the situation.

He gripped the smooth head, pushing it downward towards his groin. "Pleasure me, my pet. I trust you haven't forgotten how to do that?"

Skinner smiled. "I may be a little rusty but I don't think you can ever forget."

Skinner wrapped his hand around the Master's cock, feeling it begin to lengthen at his touch, and bent his head to run his tongue over the length of it. From tip to root and back again, then around the sensitive head before engulfing the whole length in his mouth. Mason rested his hand on Skinner's head, not to direct but to simply enjoy the feel of smooth skin under his fingers. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back, enjoying the sensations. Not too shabby, Walter, he thought to himself. The other man was working over him with gradually building confidence and Mason thought that with a little practice the other man could become an expert at this. He smiled. And I plan to give him a lot of practice.

"Enough," Mason said, tapping on Skinner's head, and Skinner reluctantly released the thick cock in his mouth. He sat back on his heels, waiting for Mason's next instruction. Mason sat up, reaching for the tube of lubricant on the nightstand.

"Hands and knees, Peaches, in the middle of the bed."

Skinner complied, feeling himself tense up at the knowledge of what was to come. Mason moved behind him, his hands running over Skinner's back as he gauged the tenseness in the muscles. He moved his hands in soothing patterns, leaning forward to lick and nip his way down the younger man's spine. Reaching the base of his spine, Mason used both his hands to spread the ass cheeks as his mouth continued its downward exploration. Skinner groaned under him, his body trembling slightly.

Mason raised his head, continuing to caress the firm buttocks with his hands, soothing the other man again. "You ever been on bottom, Peaches?"

"Once," Skinner admitted. "With my first lover.  We didn't really know what we were doing - it was painful."

"Well, I'm very experienced at this so just relax and let me take care of you."

Skinner consciously tried to relax, his breath catching as Mason's mouth continued it exploration. The feeling of a tongue against him was intense and more exciting than he had imagined it could be. No one had ever done this for him before, not his first lover during their passionate but inexperienced couplings, nor any of the casual one-night-stands during his college years. It was an incredible sensation and he wanted more, needed more. He rocked back, trying to increase the sensation, and felt the vibrations of soft laughter against his skin.

"God, Piglet, you are hot for this, aren't you? Hang on - we're getting there."

Something firmer than that tongue pressed against him now, the lubricated digit easily breaching the tight ring. It was more pleasurable than he had remembered, and he felt himself relaxing into the rhythmic stroking, closing his eyes and surrendering to the intense feelings.

"That's it, pet," Mason's voice murmured as his lips once more traveled over Skinner's back while his free hand moved around to caress the younger man's renewed erection. More pressure but no pain, and he found himself rocking again, thrusting against the invading fingers. And it was good, better than he had expected, but it wasn't enough.


Mason smiled, relishing the restrained passion in the body under him. Yes, having this man in his bed was going to be pure pleasure -not true submission but power held in check, subject to his own dominance.

"Patience, Peaches," he said soothingly, rolling on a condom and moving into place. "Relax. Take a deep breath and then let it out."

Skinner obeyed, willing his body to relax, pressing his forehead against the bed. Both of Mason's hands were on his hips now, holding him in place, and he felt a steady pressure filling him - not quite pleasure and not quite pain but somehow both and neither at the same time. He drew in a ragged breath, and to his own ears it sounded like a groan. The pressure didn't cease, seeming to push into the very heart of him, and he thought that he would never be able to breathe again. Then a firm warmth was resting against his ass and that familiar voice was mixed with the ringing in his ears. "Breathe, Walter Skinner. In and out. Come on, boy, you can do it."

Skinner drew in a ragged breath and the world came rushing back. He was lying, chest down and ass up, on Mason's bed with the Dom buried deep in him. The uncomfortable sense of being too full was still there but the pain was receding. He drew another breath.

"Good. Very good. Now I'm going to move and I want you to think of nothing but the pleasure. Got me?"




"Better. I've become very fond of that word on your lips. When you come, that's the name I want to hear on your lips. Understand me, Peaches?"

"Yes, Master."

Mason was still holding his hips and Skinner could feel him steady them both for his thrusting. Slowly, very slowly, the cock filling him pulled out and then just as slowly pushed back in. And it wasn't nearly as painful; in fact, it felt good. Another retreat and faster thrust, even better, and he was panting under the intense sensations building within him. Mason shifted behind him, changing the angle of his thrusts, and Skinner felt the brush against his prostate. He caught his breath and then groaned.

"Feels good, doesn't it, pet?"

"God, yes," Skinner panted, "more, please more."

Mason freed one of his hands, reaching around to grasp Skinner's cock. He stroked it in time with his thrusts, increasing the tempo of both, gauging the response of the man under him by his grunts and gasps, filing away the knowledge that Walter Skinner wasn't a talker in bed. He knew that Skinner was totally into the experience when he felt the other man push back against him, meeting his thrusts. Smiling to himself, he closed his eyes and gave into his own feelings, thrusting more rapidly to find his own release. A groan, a warmth over his hand as a gasping voice said "Master", and he was falling over the edge, pumping into the tight heat once, twice. He collapsed onto the sturdy back under him, trying to catch his breath, and heard Skinner breathing hard as well. Carefully, he eased out of the other man, disposing of the condom and then flopping on his back. He looked over at Skinner, lying still on his stomach, and reached out to stroke the sweaty back.

"Okay, Peaches?"

Skinner rolled his head towards Mason, and a smile spread across his face. "Definitely okay."

Mason breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. Time to catch a little rest."

He snagged the covers and pulled them up over them both. He checked again to make sure that Skinner was all right, saw that the other man was sound asleep already, and let himself drift into sleep.



Mason woke up to the unusual sensation of another warm body curled around his. Unusual because he rarely took anyone into his bed these days. Never one to enjoy casual sex, Mason had long ago discovered that most of the pleasure he found in the sex act was the domination of the person in his bed, true domination. Most subs wanted to play at submission and, while Mason was perfectly willing to play games in the playroom, he was not willing to play that kind of game in bed. He wanted to possess the body in bed with him, not merely find release and then send the sub on his way afterward.

He rolled over carefully and propped his head up on his hand as he studied the sleeping man. Walter Skinner. Not a submissive, never a submissive, and yet the man had readily acknowledged Mason as his master the day before and had submitted his body to his master. What an enigma the man was: former military, highly placed in the FBI, dedicated to the law, victim of a failed marriage, either bisexual or gay. What brought a man like that to a club like this? And what had happened over the course of those years to build walls that kept the rest of the world at bay - and yet fell at a single deft touch? And what was it about that session that had made those walls tumble? Mason was determined to have the answers to all his questions before the end of the week - by the end of the day if possible.

For the present, he decided to have the man himself. Skinner was still heavily asleep but that didn't deter him. After all, this was about the master's needs and not the slave's. And his morning erection, fueled by his study of the delicious body in front of him, was definitely expressing a need.

Skinner muttered in his sleep and rolled to his other side, facing away from Mason, and the Dom smiled to himself. Perfect, he thought. Reaching for the necessary supplies on the nightstand, he prepared his cock and then coated his finger. A probe of the anus revealed that it was still slightly loose and lubricated from the previous night's activity, but he stroked in two fingers to make certain before pushing his way home. One long slow slide seated him and he revealed in the tightness gripping him before sliding back out and in again. One arm wrapped aro nd Skinner's body held him in place as he began rhythmically thrusting.

Skinner stirred under him, coming awake slowly and clearly surprised to find his body being used like this. "What the hell - ?"

"Hush," Mason ordered, speeding up his thrusts.

"What are you doing?" Skinner growled, barely containing himself from pulling away.

"Whatever I want. Now shut up - I'm a little occupied right now."

Skinner obediently went quiet, lying still while the Dom thrust faster and faster until he came with a groan and several short jabs of his hips.

Sighing contentedly, Mason pressed a kiss against the back of Skinner's neck. "You have a great ass, Peaches."

"Thank you, Master," Skinner said quietly.

Mason pulled out, disposing of the condom with a frown. "That sounded sulky, Piglet. Are you sulking?"

Skinner rolled onto his back, frowning at the Dom. "You didn't ask. You didn't even wait till I was awake. And you didn't let me come."

"I don't have to ask.  Have you forgotten that you are my slave? You belong to me. That means I can take you anytime, anywhere, anyway. And I decide when and if you come. I was intending to bring you off in the shower, but I think I'll make you wait because of your impertinence. Turn over on your stomach."

Skinner obeyed, grimacing a little at the discomfort as his aroused cock was trapped against the mattress. He felt Mason's hands move over his ass, parting the cheeks and checking to ensure that he hadn't been hurt, one lubed finger gently probing him.

"You look fine, Peaches. And now I believe that I promised to keep that nice flush on your ass cheeks." Mason smacked his ass several times, until it was slightly pink. "Much better. Get into the shower while I call for breakfast. And see if you can lose that attitude in there or my crop will be having a serious talk with your ass. Oh - and you cannot come until I decide to let you so no jerking off in the shower."

Skinner got out of bed, silently holding the robe for Mason to put on, then went into the bathroom as ordered. Mason went into the living room and called the kitchen to order his usual breakfast. By the time it arrived, Skinner was out of the shower and moving around the apartment, setting things to rights. Skinner prepared a plate and coffee for Mason and then collected his own breakfast, settling on the floor to eat it. Mason studied the other man as he ate, seeing that he was quiet but no longer appeared to be sulking. Good, he thought. I expect this has been an interesting lesson for him.

Once they finished their breakfasts and Skinner put the cart in the hallway, Mason indicated that he should kneel before him. Skinner did so, quietly waiting for the Dom's next instructions. Mason turned Skinner's face up towards him, smiling. "Over your sulk, my pet?"

Skinner flushed slightly. "Yes, Master. I'm sorry, Master."

Mason patted his cheek. "Well, it does take a little getting used to, especially since you are not a natural submissive. I think that keeping your ass tingling will help you remember your place. Up and over my lap, Peaches."

He saw Skinner draw a deep breath. "Yes, Master." He moved into position, lying still while Mason administered a couple stinging swats to his backside, just enough to refresh the pink to the skin.

"All right, Peaches. Put on your sweats for your work out."

Skinner obeyed and, while he was in the bedroom changing, Mason heard a knock at the door. He opened it, smiling when he saw Jean-Pierre standing there. "Hello, Jean-Pierre. What brings you here?"

Jean-Pierre gestured to his assistant who was carrying a filled bag. "Groceries for tonight's cooking lesson. You permit?"

"Certainly." Mason waved the assistant toward the kitchenette, then turned to his friend, gesturing him to take a seat. "So how is Walter coming on his cooking lessons?"

Jean-Pierre shrugged. "Better than I had thought. Once the man puts his mind to it, it is surprising what he can do."

Mason grinned. "You're telling me. He's a constant surprise to me."

"Do you know what that little imp Sean calls him? The Mountain. And it fits, no?"

Skinner came out of the bedroom, dressed in his sweats. Mason pointed to the floor and Skinner knelt, looking up at him.

"Now I expect you to push yourself, Peaches, but not to the point of exhaustion. I need you healthy for later. When you come back, we'll have lunch and another lesson."

Skinner flushed. "Yes, Master." Dismissed by Mason, he stood up, nodded respectfully to Jean-Pierre, and left the suite.

Jean-Pierre looked at Mason, his eyes narrowing. "Something is different with that one. Never before has he called you 'master'."

Mason smiled, his eyes twinkling at his friend. "A lot of things have changed."

To his surprise, Jean-Pierre's face became livid. "Are you mad, Mace? Are you totally insane to take this man into your bed? That man is just as bull-headed as you are and will not play the submissive forever. And you know that you must have that submission. You will kill each other!"

"I hear you, J.P., but I had no choice. The man was vulnerable, totally open and empty. I couldn't leave him like that."

"But to seduce him, to make him fall in love with you - "

Mason shook his head. "Walter's not in love with me. Like you said, he's too much like me - he won't fall for anyone who's not willing to be submissive. At the most, he is intoxicated with the rediscovery of the pleasures of sex. The man has been denying his true nature for far too long. And do you think I am an amateur at this, that everyone I sleep with or play with becomes my lover? You should know me well enough by now."

Jean-Pierre looked at him, the expression in his eyes one that Mason couldn't decipher. "I thought that I knew you, Mace. Some days I'm not as certain that I do. And I know what you truly want, mon ami. Why can you not tell that little imp how you feel?"

Mason narrowed his eyes. "What are you talking about?"

Jean-Pierre snorted. "Do not play the idiot with me, mon frere. I have seen you at your best and your worst. I have held you while you have wept, oui, and shed my own tears with you. It is as plain as the nose on my face that you love l'petite Sean. So why do you do nothing about this?"

"Why does everyone assume that I'm in love with Sean Matthews?" Mason snapped. "I'm not!  I think he is the most stubborn, infuriating, fickle, submissive it has ever been my unfortunate pleasure to meet! And even if I was, there is no way in Hell that I would claim him - he's our boss, in case you haven't forgotten!"

"I think this matters not to him."

"Well, it matters to me. Besides, I've got Walter to worry about now. He needs me, and I'm responsible for him."

Jean-Pierre sighed and got to his feet. "All right, mon frere. Just be very, very careful with this one. He is more vulnerable than he appears." At the door he paused and said, quietly, but in a tone of voice that was hard and unlike his normal affable tones, "And I swear to you, Mace, if you damage the Mountain, I shall have to let a certain party know."

"Threatening me, J.P.?"

"But of course! As you would do were the situations reversed. Behave yourself, mon ami. I do not wish to make that phone call."

The corner of Mason's mouth lifted in a half-smile. "Afraid to have your own transgressions brought to light, J.P.? You know how keen those eyes are. Very well - I'll behave myself. I promise."

"I shall hold you to that, Mace. Until later, then."

Mason sat in the silence of his suite for a long time after Jean-Pierre had left, trying to ignore the chill that had run up his spine. Oh, I will be very careful, my friend, he thought. Very careful, indeed. Then, with a sigh, he went into the bedroom to get his shower and dress.



Skinner noticed that Mason was sitting on the couch, an introspective look on his face, when he returned from the gym. Deciding that it was best to leave the brooding man alone, he went into the bedroom to strip out of his clothes, shower and shave. Returning to the main room, he found that Mason was sitting in the same position.

"Master Geoffrey?"

Mason looked up, looking a little startled. "Yes, Walter?"

"Should I order lunch?"

Mason glanced over at the clock, surprised that it was so late. "Good idea, Walter." He watched Skinner walk over to the phone, placing the order, and thought about what he'd like to do with the other man later. But first, he thought it was time to get to the root of some issues - and he knew just how to get the other man off balance.

After they finished lunch, he called the other man to his side. "Time to refresh the color in that backside. Over my knees, Peaches."

Skinner reluctantly knelt and bent over Mason's legs. Mason arranged the man comfortably over his lap, carefully settling the vulnerable cock and balls so they wouldn't be injured, and rested his hand on Skinner's backside. He could feel the tenseness radiating through the younger man's body.

"You don't like this very much, do you, Peaches?"

"No, Master."

Mason raised a hand and swatted the smooth skin of one ass cheek, not a punishing smack but just enough to slightly sting and start to raise the color. He rubbed his hand over the skin, smoothing away the pain. He repeated the action on the other cheek, heard a soft catch of breath, and felt a stirring in the genitals tucked against his leg. He smiled to himself.

"What is it that you don't like?" He swatted the other man's ass again and then smoothed away the sting.

"I - feel like a child like this."

"Believe me, Walter; there is nothing about you that is childish or childlike. And, like I've said, this is a good color on you." Another swat, another rub of the skin, and there was a definite movement in the cock resting against his leg. "Have you ever considered that this could be...erotic?"

There was a muffled groan from the other man. "No, I haven't."

"Part of you finds this very erotic." He rubbed a finger slowly up and down the valley between the ass cheeks, heard the catch of breath, and repeated his swats. "There's no reason to be embarrassed, my pet. You are hardly the first to be turned on by a spanking."

"It doesn't seem - normal."

"Define normal, Walter. Most people don't consider belonging to a club like this normal. Many people don't consider two men having sex to be normal. And yet you've enjoyed both, and you're not the only one to do so. Relax and enjoy what I'm doing." He adjusted the other man's cock so that it would rub against his leg with each swat and continued, swatting in an even pattern, rubbing the sensitized skin occasionally.

With a groan, Skinner did that, giving way to the rush of emotions flowing through him. He felt equal amounts of arousal and embarrassment, but the former was rapidly outpacing the latter. As with the floggers from the previous day, the thud against his backside seemed to send a charge directly to his cock, the slight sting making his skin tingle in anticipation of the next blow. When the Dom paused to caress his warming skin, it felt so good that he couldn't help rocking himself into the soothing touch, which also made his cock rub against the rough fabric of Mason's pants. As Mason began spanking him again, he felt the wave of pleasure building steadily inside him, pushing him towards release.

"Master - please!"

And Mason understood what he needed, starting to read this man. "Come for me, my Piglet. Let it go."

The swats increased slightly in intensity and it was enough to push him right over the edge. Gasping, shaking, he felt himself climaxing with an intensity that left him mindlessly numb.

He came back to his senses, still draped over Mason's lap, feeling boneless and spent. The Dom's hand was running soothingly over his back, easing him back from the intensity of the sensations that still caused tremors to run through his body. Once he had settled down, Mason pulled Skinner up to lie on the couch, his head on Mason's lap.



"Piglet." The warning tone was in his voice.

"Sorry. Yes, Master."

"You should also thank me, Piglet. Any time I give you pleasure or pain, you should thank me for the attention that I am giving to you."

"I'm sorry, Master. Thank you for your attention."

"Better, but the next time you forget, it will be the crop doing the speaking. Understand?"

"Yes, sir." He sighed. "I really hate that crop, you know."

Mason smiled and looked down at the man. Skinner's eyes were half-closed, a drowsy expression on his face. "You're supposed to hate it. If you liked it, then it wouldn't be a very effective training tool, now would it?"

"I have fantasies about destroying that thing."

"Wouldn't do you any good. I have a half dozen of them so I'd just pull out another one. And this one's been broken in a bit so it's much more flexible. You think you dislike this one? You've really hate a new, stiff one."

"Maybe. But it would give me a lot of satisfaction in the meantime."

Mason laughed. "Just for that, Piglet, I'm going to make you carry it with you every where you go. Kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, gym. Everywhere. And when I ask you for it, you had better be able to give it to me right away or I'll get one of the new ones and give you twice as many strokes. Got me?"

"Yes, Master," Skinner said with another sigh. "Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut."

"No maybe about that, my pet." Mason caressed the shoulders, moving up to the smooth head, watching Skinner's eyes slide fully closed. "Life doesn't always offer you the option of stating your mind with impunity. We may not like it, but sometimes the wisest course is to keep our own counsel and express our opinions when they'll do the most good."

"I'll try to remember that."

"I expect that you will." He continued soothing the other man. "I expect that you've had some experience with keeping your own counsel. How long have you hidden your sexual preferences?"

Skinner grimaced. "Most of my life, it seems."

"When did you first figure out that you preferred men?" Mason kept his voice low, soothing. He kept one arm around Skinner's body, to give the illusion of being sheltered and protected, while his other hand kept stroking Skinner's head. He had a feeling that it was a combination of the intense release and the comfort he had felt afterwards that had lowered Skinner's walls, and he intended to take advantage of this state to find out more about the man.

"When I was in high school. I was into sports - wrestling mostly, didn't have the bulk for football. Seeing the other guys around the locker room, I'd have to hide the fact that I was popping an erection. I tried dating girls but it didn't do anything for me. I knew it was supposed to; I thought there was something wrong with me."

"Tell me about your first male lover."

Skinner was quiet for a moment. "Murphy. He was in my unit in 'Nam." He smiled suddenly at a memory. "Midway through my tour, and we were in Bangkok with the rest of our team. The rest of the guys were out scoring at one of the whorehouses. I had lost my virginity during my first pass that way and found it less fun than I had expected it to be, so I decided not to go with them. So Murphy and me were sitting around the hotel room, drinking and watching TV. We were just drunk enough to be honest and Murphy asked me why I wasn't out with the other guys. I shrugged and said something like 'been there, done that', and he laughed and agreed that one was pretty much like another.

"We lay on our beds, drinking a little bit more, and then Murphy said in a quiet voice, 'Skinman, you ever think about doin' it with a guy?' I looked at him, a little scared and wondering how I had given myself away, when he added that he had. Thought about it, not done it. I admitted that I had thought about it, too. Then I said that had I wondered what it would feel like to kiss a guy. Murphy sat up and looked at me, then said that we could find out. I didn't say anything, just nodded, and he came over and sat on my bed. We just sat there for a moment, then we leaned toward each other and kissed, just barely, and it was so nice that we did it again, only more intense. And it was so good that we both just clung to each other, kissing and humping and rubbing until we both came. Then we just lay there, breathing hard, and I was feeling like a complete idiot and certain that I had just screwed myself with the unit. And then Murphy started laughing and I looked at him like he was out of his mind. He got this big shit-eating grin on his face and said, 'Dammit, Skinman, you are so hot - but next time let's at least take our clothes off.' I was stunned but those words 'next time' made me hard again so I dragged him into the shower and we did it all over again - only this time without our clothes."

There was a slight smile on his face at the memory, and Mason continued his gentle stroking. "What happened to him?"

"He was killed." Skinner's eyes closed in pain. "They were all killed - the entire patrol. Ambush. They thought I was dead, too.  I opened my eyes when they were zipping me into the body-bag."

"I'm sorry," Mason said softly, thinking that another piece of the Skinner-puzzle was falling into place. He was no stranger to the effects of survivor-guilt; they saw a lot of that in the players that came through the Club, particularly in the subs. "Was he the last?"

"No. Well, he was my last long-term male lover. I had a couple of one-nighters when I was in college. Nothing special but better than my dates with women."

"How did you come to marry your wife?"

Skinner sighed. "I met Sharon at a party when we were both seniors - oddly enough, I was there with another girl who was a friend of Sharon's. So we set up a double date, only Sharon and I got to talking and totally forgot about our partners. They were good sports about it, and Sharon and I started dating. It was different than the other times I'd been out with women.  We would talk about all sorts of things. Politics, history, art, literature. I was a Law Enforcement major and she was studying Art History, but we were both minoring in History and we found out that both of our favorite area was the Civil War. I felt good when I was with her, but more like friends than anything else. On our fourth date, she suddenly grabbed me and kissed me and then teased me that she had gotten tired of waiting for me to make the first move. It was okay - better than any of the other girls that I had kissed - almost as good as with Murphy. We ended up in bed and it was better than the first time, and I was relieved to think that I was 'normal' and it had just taken the 'right girl'.

"We got married right out of college, and I went to graduate school and then joined the FBI. The first five years were okay - we had some ups and downs, but we were friends most of all so we were okay. Then she wanted to have a baby but we kept running into problems, miscarriages. The doctors thought it was because of what I might have been exposed to in Viet Nam and that we would probably never be able to have children, that if we did it was likely that there would be birth defects. So we stopped trying. I knew that Sharon was disappointed, but she just threw herself into her two favorite projects: art and me. She'd work at whatever art museum there was in whatever city we were sent to, and she was very successful at it. She was less successful with me. She wanted me to talk, to embrace my feelings, to talk about my experiences. I was starting to have nightmares - this had brought back everything from 'Nam - and she wanted me to talk. I couldn't, not without telling her about Murphy. I was already feeling guilty about not being able to give her children - I couldn't tell her that I was really gay as well. We stopped having sex. Sharon thought it was impotence caused by repressing my inner feelings but by this time I knew that I was still attracted to men while women did nothing for me. Even Sharon. I didn't cheat on her, though - I felt that I owed her my fidelity even if I couldn't love her anymore. Then I received this promotion, and Sharon didn't want me to take it. She thought the pressure of the job was contributing to my 'problem', and she wanted me to retire and take up a consulting job. I wanted the promotion, took it, moved here - and Sharon stayed behind in LA and filed for separation."

Mason sighed and bent over to kiss Skinner's forehead. "Sounds to me like you are dealing with a lot of guilt here. Have you ever sought counseling?"

Skinner shook his head. "In my career, I don't need the information on my record that I'm seeing a shrink."

"It's possible to find one that will preserve your confidentiality. The Club has a lot of contacts with professionals that work with 'alternative lifestyles' clients. Lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists. I can see about setting you up for counseling."

Skinner opened his eyes and looked up at the Dom. "Is this an order, Master?"

"Do I need to make it one, Piglet? Many of our people have problems and, while this can be therapy of a kind, professional help is also recommended."

Skinner sighed. "All right. Find me someone to talk to who will keep it off my health record and I'll go."

"That's my boy." He tapped Skinner on the head. "And now -naptime, Peaches. For both of us."

Skinner followed Mason into the bedroom, removing the Dom's clothes as he had the night before, carefully putting them away, then headed for his pallet on the floor. Mason caught hold of him, pushing his towards the bed.

"You'll sleep with me, Peaches. Lay on your stomach - I want to check you out." Skinner lay on his stomach, burying his face in the pillow as Mason checked him carefully for any damage. "You're a little swollen, which is not surprising. No damage, though." He ran his hand over Skinner's backside, which was still red from the earlier attention, though it was only slightly warm. "I like this color on you."

Skinner heard the expectancy in the voice and had no intention of going a round with the crop so he merely murmured, "Thank you, Master."

"That's my good slave. It seems that a warm backside is very good for your memory. Roll over, pet. I want to snuggle - there's nothing I like more than the feeling of a warm ass against me." Skinner obliged, rolling onto his side so that Mason could curl up against his back. He kissed Skinner's neck. "Sleep well, Peaches."

"Yes, Master." Skinner closed his eyes, feeling a deeper content that he had felt for a long time. Maybe there was something to all this talking business. If you had the right person to talk to. He put his hand over the arm wrapped around him and fell asleep.


Chapter Text

Walter Skinner drifted towards wakefulness as he felt a peculiar sensation on his foot. He rolled away from the sensation, growling and pulling the covers over his head. The sensation started again and he kicked his foot, trying to dislodge whatever it was. Again the sensation started and he forced open his eyes as knowledge slowly sunk into his sleep-and-sex-fuddled brain. He groaned as he surveyed the Dom lying on his side, his head by the foot of the bed, a feather in his hand.

"You're a sadist, Master Geoffrey."

Mason grinned. "You noticed. I must be doing something right." He sat up and tossed the feather on the nightstand. "Time to get up, Peaches. Jean-Pierre will be here in an hour to help you make dinner. In the meantime, we need to shower and talk about the new rules."

"More rules?"

Mason confiscated the covers and smacked Skinner on the ass. "I don't think I like that tone of voice, Piglet. Your mouth is engaging before your brain again."

"Sorry, Master."


Skinner drew in a deep breath. "And thank you for correcting me, Master."

"Much better." He took Skinner's face between his hands. "Don't bother butting heads with me, pet. I'm more stubborn than you'll ever be and I eat tough guys for breakfast." He let go of Skinner. "Up, and start my shower. I'm going to show you how a proper slave bathes his master."

Skinner rolled out of bed and went into the bathroom to start the shower. He adjusted the water and got out fresh towels, then waited for the Dom to join him. Mason stepped into the shower and gestured for Skinner to follow him, then picked up the soap and worked up a lather.

"It is a master's responsibility to take care of his slave." He began washing Skinner's body as he talked. "Bathing is one of those responsibilities. While being bathed, a slave stands still and submits to his master's pleasure." Mason flicked a nail over his nipple and Skinner flinched. "Without moving. Without speaking, if the master wishes. This morning, however, you may speak if you have questions."


"Yes, Peaches?"

"Does a slave wash his master?"

"Only if the master gives permission." He continued soaping the front of Skinner's body, washing around the cuffs and collar, then indicated that Skinner should turn around. He ran his hands over Skinner's back, noting with satisfaction the beginning of muscle definition. "A slave belongs to the master and may be touched at any time and in any way. But a slave may only touch his master when given permission and in the way that the master instructs."

"That doesn't seem fair."

Mason chuckled. "It isn't. That's the whole point, Walter Skinner. If you're looking for equality in the bedroom and the playroom, you're not going to find it in this lifestyle. The sub or slave gives up his power to the Dom, who in turn takes that power and combines it with his own energy before redirecting it back to the sub. Each gives up something to the other so that together they can achieve something more."

"And if – when – I become a master someday? We will be equals then?"

"We will never be completely equal." His eyes locked on Skinner’s. "You have called me ‘master’ and I have claimed you. I am responsible for you and you belong to me.  Forever. And someday, when you take someone as closely as this, not just playing the game, it will be the same for you. As it is between me and the man who mastered me."

Skinner had a sudden dizzying vision of being part of a long line of Doms, the shadowy figure of Mason’s master standing behind him and that man’s master behind him and so on.

Mason finished washing and pushed Skinner under the spray to rinse off, then handed the soap to Skinner. "You may wash me now. Carefully. The slave should consider his master's body to be infinitely precious. Any opportunity to touch his master should be approached with respect and reverence."

Skinner nodded and worked up a lather, then began washing the master’s body. For the first time, he had license to touch everywhere and he intended to take advantage of it. His senses were tuned high, wary for the slightest sign of displeasure by the Dom, knowing that a sharp smack would be earned for each mistake.

He moved slowly and carefully, his fingers firm but not teasing. Skinner could feel Mason’s eyes on him but he didn’t look up at the other man; it was easier to do this, to worship the Master when he couldn’t see those too-sharp eyes. Mason's skin was firm, every muscle well defined, and it was a pleasure to touch him. Skinner’s hands moved over chest and shoulders and across the flat stomach as he traced each rib. Downward he moved, carefully avoiding the groin area, which he planned to save for last. Down each firm thigh and calf as he knelt, then each foot. The Dom stood still and silent, and Skinner marveled at the man’s self-control.

He looked up at Mason from his kneeling position, meeting intense blue eyes. One hand reaching towards Mason’s groin, he asked, "You permit, Master?" Mason nodded once, not releasing Skinner from his imprisoning eyes, and Skinner swallowed hard. The man had been aware of what he had been doing, how he had been hiding behind his walls again. There were no walls allowed here, just the two of them and what they had become to each other.

Skinner carefully washed his Master's groin, soaping and then rinsing the heavy balls and large cock, making sure that both were thoroughly clean. When he finished, he looked back up at Mason, his eyes reflecting to the Dom what he was still unable to voice. But he knew that the other man wasn't going to let him get away with that.

"What, my pet? What is it that you want?"

"You, Master," Skinner admitted. "I would like to take you in my mouth."

Mason smiled. "Certainly. But no hands - only your mouth."

Skinner nodded and locked his hands behind his back. Leaning forward, he nuzzled at the semi-flaccid cock, licking once down its length before encircling it with him mouth. Deftly, he worked the cock with tongue and suction, feeling it lengthen and harden under his attention. Abandoning the cock for a moment, he paid equal attention to the heavy sac underneath, licking and sucking. Above him, he could feel Mason bracing himself against the sides of the shower stall with his hands. He let his mouth move back up to take in the cock again, sucking it deeply into his mouth.

"Slowly, my pet," Mason murmured, his voice sounding remarkably controlled, and Skinner was determined to shake that control for once. He stopped sucking, concentrating on teasing and toying with his tongue, covering the underside with nips and soothing them with gentle licks. He heard Mason groan, saw the Master close his eyes and drop his head back, and smiled with satisfaction. Taking the cock into his mouth once more, he relaxed and moved down as far as he could, allowing his throat muscles to work on it. Mason let out a surprised gasp and was suddenly coming, nearly losing his footing. Skinner swallowed him down, milking him till he was finished, then gently cleaned the relaxed cock with his tongue. He sat back on his heels and looked up at the Dom, waiting for his Master to come back to earth.

Mason drew a deep breath and opened his eyes, looking down at the kneeling man. There was a hint of a smug smile on the man's face and Mason grinned back, allowing Skinner his moment of triumph. The man had earned it, and Mason would get his own back again later.

"Very good, Peaches. You are improving by leaps and bounds. By the end of these two weeks, you'll be the best head man in the Club."

Skinner grinned widely. "Thank you, Master. I will do my best to please you."

"That you do, my pet. That you do." Mason turned off the water. "Out. Jean-Pierre will be here before long and we never had our little talk."

Skinner stepped out, grabbing a towel so he could thoroughly dry the Master before running a towel hastily over his own body. He followed Mason into the bedroom, helping the Dom to dress then disposed of the towels. While Mason brushed his hair and finished, Skinner stripped and remade the bed, then tidied up the room.

"Come, Peaches," Mason said, leading the way into the living room. Skinner started to follow him, then his eyes caught sight of the crop on the nightstand and he suddenly remembered the Dom's new order. He grabbed up the crop and hurried into the living room.

Mason's eyes gleamed with amusement as he saw the crop in his slave's hand. "Very good, pet. You can remember the rules, can't you?"

Skinner decided the question was rhetorical and, without prompting, went down on his knees and into the display position, crop balanced across his thighs. Mason nodded approvingly.

"All right, Piglet. I want you to tell me the rules I've given you so far."

Skinner drew a deep breath. "I am to be naked at all times in this suite except for the collar and cuffs, and keep myself shaved. I may not touch myself or come without your permission. You control what I eat and when I sleep. I am to keep this crop with me at all times and present myself for discipline at your orders."

"Do you think these are a lot of rules, Peaches?"

Skinner knew what the answer was, both the wise thing to say and the truth. "No, Master."

"Then why did you protest when I said that there would be new rules?"

"I was feeling grumpy," Skinner admitted. "I'm not...used to this."

Mason sat back against the couch, considering the slave at his feet. "Why do you think I have rules?"

Skinner hesitated, uncertain what to say.

"You have rules at your work, don't you? Why?"

"Several reasons: safety, so everyone knows their responsibilities…"

"Exactly. My rules tell you what I expect of you. There is no ambiguity here. Doms and subs know their roles, their 'place'. Within our relationship, you know where the limits are. And limits are very important, Walter Skinner. Everyone likes to know where the boundaries are. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Now our relationship had changed and we both need to know where the new boundary lines are located."

"Yes, sir."

"You have been here almost a week learning what it is like to be a slave. For this next week, you will also learn what it means to be a sex slave. This will be a very good lesson for you if you ever take one when you become a Dom. The regular rules remain in place with some modifications. First change: I will take you whenever and wherever I please, and my concern will be with my own pleasure and not yours. If you have pleased me I might let you come, so I advise you to continually think of ways to earn that reward. Do you understand me so far?"

"Yes, Master."

"You are to be ready for me at all times. I expect your ass to be lubed and loose enough for me to take you without preparation, and I expect your cock to be semi-erect at all times inside this suite. This means that you are permitted to touch yourself but you still may not come without my permission. Do you understand this part?"

"Yes, Master."

"At any time, I may check to see if you are aroused and ready for me. If you are not prepared to receive me, I have an effective little device to keep you open and ready - effective but not very comfortable. I will demonstrate it to you after dinner." Skinner visibly blanched. "As for your cock, I will take my crop to your ass while you bring yourself to an aroused state again. Am I clear on this?"

Skinner swallowed. "Perfectly, Master. If - may I ask a question?"

"Certainly, Piglet."

"At all times, Master? Even when...others are here?"

Mason looked amused. "You think Jean-Pierre has never seen an erect male cock before this? There is nothing you could show him that would surprise or shock him. Embarrass you, perhaps, but not him. It is up to you whether you want him to see you stroking yourself - or receiving a whipping while doing so."

Skinner closed his eyes briefly. "Yes, Master."

"Very good, Peaches. You are a quick learner." He checked his watch. "We have just enough time to refresh the color in your backside before Jean-Pierre gets here."

Skinner bit back a groan and obediently moved into place over Mason's knees. Mason took his time, first running his hand over Skinner's backside to judge the feel and temperature of his skin. He made an adjustment in Skinner's position, moving his genitals so that they couldn't rub against anything for relief, then forced the legs a little wider so that he could examine Skinner's ass more closely. He was pleased to see that the anal entrance was no longer swollen. He had a little demonstration in mind for after dinner that he imagined the other man would enjoy despite himself.

He heard Jean-Pierre's knock on the door and smiled to himself. Perfect. Lifting his hand, he brought it down sharply on the firm ass, a blow that was more sound than substance, merely causing the skin to slightly pinken while being very audible to the man outside the door. He did it again on the other cheek then continued distributing swats back and forth in the same manner until the entire surface was a warm pink.

"Very good, Peaches," he murmured, rubbing the man's back while waiting for him to center himself again. "Now go let Jean-Pierre in."

Skinner flushed as he got up, embarrassed by the thought that the other Dom had heard Mason spanking him, but Jean-Pierre didn't seem the least bit affected as Skinner opened the door and gestured for him to enter the suite.

"Ah, Jean-Pierre," Mason said genially from his seat on the couch. "Right on time. I'm afraid that your student is not quite ready for you - he has some prep work to do in the bathroom," he said with a meaningful look at Skinner. "He will be with you shortly, however. Please, pour yourself a drink and get comfortable." Jean-Pierre nodded and went to the bar. To Skinner he said, "I advise you not to take too long, Peaches. Jean-Pierre is a busy man. I would say that if he was kept waiting longer than five minutes, you and I will have a discussion on good manners."

Skinner repressed a sigh. "Yes, Master." He quickly moved into the bedroom, heading for the lube in the nightstand, and Mason watched him with a satisfied smile. There was something about the sight of a perfect pink ass that gave him a feeling of pleasure.

He looked up to see Jean-Pierre admiring the same disappearing view and grinned at him conspiratorially. "Nice sight, isn't it?"

Jean-Pierre chuckled softly. "So we are playing that game, are we? And how does he take it?"

"About how you'd expect. Embarrassed, humiliated, and secretly aroused by the whole thing."

"And when these two weeks are up? What then?"

"He'll be ready," Mason said confidently. "He's almost there. He trusts me; he just has to learn to trust himself."

Skinner came out of the bedroom, moving stiffly, and Mason was amused to see that his face was very flushed.

"Ah, Skin-neh," Jean-Pierre said genially. "To the kitchen, s'vous plait." He looked at Mason with mock seriousness. "And you are not to peek or I will come after you with my spoon."

Mason laughed. "You've got me terrified, J.P.. I'll go hide in my office - I've got regular business to handle. Behave yourself, Peaches, and don't forget my orders."

"Yes, Master."

After the door closed behind Mason, Jean-Pierre smiled at Skinner and tossed him an apron. Skinner hesitated. "Do not be so worried, mon chou. I will not get you into trouble with your master. I merely wish to protect his assets."

"Thank you, sir," Skinner murmured, wrapping the apron around himself. "What are we making tonight, Master Jean?"

"Tonight we shall make beef stroganoff with salad. I trust that you remember how to make a proper salad?"

Skinner had to laugh at that, remembering how Jean-Pierre had stood over him during the previous lesson and had drilled that particular skill into him quite forcefully. "Yes, sir."

"Bon. Then we will begin."

For the next two hours, Skinner found himself indoctrinated into the intricacies of seasoning, the skill in fine slicing, and the art of maintaining a proper thickness in sauce. Despite himself, he became more and more interested in the subject, absorbing everything that Jean-Pierre said. The chef genuinely enjoyed cooking and had a way of instructing that was both interesting and amusing. And so it was with a sense of shock that Skinner heard the front door shut as Mason announced his return - and realized that he had totally forgotten Mason's instructions.

Jean-Pierre saw the ashen look on Skinner's face and his furtive glance downward. He smothered a laugh even as he took pity on the man.

"Don't worry, mon chou. I will distract him while you slip out and take care of matters."

Skinner's face flushed red now. He wasn't sure if the chef knew Mason's instructions but he evidently had some idea. Still, as Mason had said, it would be infinitely more embarrassing to have Jean-Pierre witness his punishment for failure. "Thank you, Master Jean."

Jean-Pierre grinned and left the kitchen. "Ah! Mace, just the one I needed. Come, taste the sauce and see if it is seasoned to your palate."

Skinner had followed the chef out of the kitchen and, as the chef gathered his Master with a friendly arm, he slipped around them into the bedroom. Hurriedly, he ensured that he was lubed and stretched, then applied himself to bringing his dormant erection back to life. Desperately searching for erotic images to stir his libido, he found himself flashing to images from the morning. Waking to the feeling of being slowly and thoroughly fucked had both startled and aroused him and, for a moment, he had felt like he was outside his body watching the Dom possess him. Helpless under the other man, he had wanted it to stop and yet never wanted it to end.

A sharp voice calling his name pulled him out of his thoughts and he looked down to realize that he was hard and aroused. Hastily, he washed up and returned to the kitchen where Mason looked at him sharply, his eyes telling Skinner that he had not been deceived for a moment. Jean-Pierre set him to finishing the salad and dishing up the noodles, then showed him how to arrange an aesthetically pleasing plate. Mason tasted it, pronounced it a very credible effort, and Jean-Pierre left the two of them to enjoy their meal.

Mason indicated that Skinner should join him at the table, and Skinner set out a second place setting. The butterflies in his stomach seemed to have settled and he found that he was very hungry so Skinner dug into his meal with a healthy appetite. He looked up after finishing his second helping to find the Dom smiling in amusement.

"Master?" he asked cautiously, wondering if this was a good thing.

"I don't think I've ever seen you eat this much at a sitting, Peaches. All the exercise you've been getting lately must agree with you."

Skinner flushed. "Yes, Master. I think that it does."

Mason laughed. "My bluntly honest pet! I am flattered, then, to know that I contributed to the hunger that engendered this healthy display of appetite. And I can see that I am going to need to continue to encourage such activity."

"As my master wishes."

"Piglet, you are positively agreeable tonight. If I was a suspicious man, I'd say that you were hoping to divert my attention from the fact that you forgot my earlier orders."

"No, Master," Skinner sighed. "I didn't think Master Jean would be able to successfully divert your attention."

"I've got lots of experience with slaves, Walter Skinner. I'm not easily fooled. The idea was Jean-Pierre's, then, and not your own?"

"Yes, Master."

"Then I won't punish you for attempting to deceive me. You will, however, have a lesson regarding your failure to maintain an aroused state."

Skinner's heart sank - and so did his erection. He pressed his hand against his lap, applying pressure and several short strokes to keep it up. The last thing he needed was to present Mason with another failure.

They finished their dinner in silence and then Skinner busied himself with cleaning up the dishes and then straightening the kitchen. He washed down each counter multiple times, scoured the sink, washed each dish by hand, and then swept and mopped in an effort to avoid his Dom. Finally he heard an exasperated voice call him out of the kitchen.

"All right, Peaches, I think you've got it clean enough to eat off. We've got work to do."

Skinner sighed. He was afraid of that, wondering what Mason would have in mind for his punishment. He finished the kitchen and went into the main room.

Mason was standing by the cabinet and Skinner's heart began to race, wondering what the Dom had in mind. Mason glanced at him with a smile, gesturing towards the padded bench he had pulled into the center of the room.

"Wait for me over the bench, Peaches." At the look on Skinner's face, he laughed. "Relax, my pet. You're not in for heavy punishment but I do want to play with your ass."

Skinner reluctantly knelt on the lower padded bench and bent over the upper padded arm, his hands gripping the handholds. It was humiliating to lay here, ass exposed and vulnerable. It was worse not being able to see what Mason was up to.

He felt the Dom's reassuring touch on his back. "Steady, Piglet. I'm not going to hurt you. In fact, I think you'll enjoy this." Mason slid a finger easily into Skinner. "Good. I see you followed these instructions at least." He stroked the finger in and out. "Do you remember what I told you I was going to do after dinner?"

"Yes, but I don't need a reminder."

A firm hand smacked his ass. "I will decide what you need and don't need, Piglet." Skinner felt blunt pressure against his anus. "Deep breath and relax." Skinner obeyed and felt the device slide in further. He couldn't help the moan that escaped him and felt Mason's hand running soothingly over his back.

"Relax, don't fight it. That's better. How do you feel?"

"Full," Skinner groaned.

"Good." Mason left the plug in place as he continued caressing Skinner to relax him. "Get used to the sensation. I may have you wear this frequently over this week."

Skinner managed to say, "Yes, Master."

"There are advantages to this for your master," Mason said and he began to slide the plug in and out. "I can do this to you and watch your face, see how close I can bring you to orgasm without taking you over the edge." He varied the motions, alternating fast with slow. Skinner clenched tightly onto the hand-holds, trying to hold himself still.

Mason leaned over, murmuring in his ear, "You are so beautiful like this, my pet. I want you to think of this when you're preparing yourself for my use. Think of my cock filling you like this, taking you thoroughly for my own pleasure. Think of me watching you, how it feels to be open and exposed to me. Think of how much you want this, want to be owned and mastered by me, how hot you are just at the thought of my touch."

Skinner groaned under the verbal and physical stimulation, feeling his climax build. A sudden pressure stopped him from coming and he nearly swore in frustration.

Mason laughed softly. "Not yet, Piglet. I have much more in store for you before I let you come. In fact, I may not let you come at all tonight."

Skinner moaned at that. "Please - master - "

"No, I'm not sure that you've earned it. After all, you disobeyed me earlier. I seem to recall the penalty for that was a whipping with the crop."

Skinner could feel the sweat popping out on his skin as the Dom continued to fuck him with the plug. He wanted more, he wanted something else that he couldn't begin to name. "I tried, Master - "

"True, my pet, so I believe that I'll give you a special punishment tonight. But keep in mind that I will not be so lenient with you tomorrow night." Mason stopped playing with the plug, making sure it was fully seated, then turned back to the table where he had set his toys. He picked up a small, round paddle. Skinner had turned his head to see what Mason was up to and now wished that he hadn't. With a groan, he dropped his head down and closed his eyes.

Mason looked at him in amusement. "Worried, Peaches? This is actually one of my gentler toys." He ran the cloth-covered surface of the paddle over Skinner's ass, moving in slow circles. "But it does raise a nice blush on skin." He flipped the paddle over to the wooden side and brought the paddle down with a practiced ease and smiled at Skinner's surprised gasp. Mason knew that this particular paddle provided more noise and surface sting than deep pain; he also knew that Skinner would be experiencing an unexpected side effect from this session. With a steady rhythm, he began working over the other man's ass, alternating a series of strikes with a soothing rub with the cloth side.

Skinner found himself caught between pleasure and pain. The slap of the paddle against his skin was actually less harsh than the crop and had a different sting than Mason's hand, more like one of the floggers. And each swat of the paddle made him move slightly, made his ass muscles tighten up around the anal plug, intensifying the feeling of pleasure that was building inside him. Just as the rhythm was starting to build, Mason would stop, making Skinner want to swear in frustration, but at the same time, he enjoyed the sensation of the cloth moving over his ass. Then it would start all over again.

Another round with the paddle and he needed more, needed the freedom that giving in would allow him. He pushed his ass up to meet the paddle, felt Mason adjust to strike him harder and deeper, felt the blows move over the plug itself, forcing it deeper inside.

"Master!" he gasped.

Mason watched Skinner move under the paddle, saw the walls coming down completely again, and smiled as the pattern of this man finally settled into place. "What do you want, my pet?"

"To - come - "

"No, you want more than that. Tell me, Piglet, and I'll let you come."

"Can't - "

"Yes, you can. Talk to me, my pet. Tell me what you want."

"More - "

"Not until you tell me."

Skinner almost sobbed with his need, held on the edge by the Master's expert skill. "Free."

"Free of what?" Mason asked, his voice gentle but his words still demanding a response.


The single word was almost a whisper but Mason heard it and smiled. "Very good, Walter Skinner. I'm very proud of you, and you deserve your reward." He changed the angle of the blows and their intensity, centering on making the plug move deeper.

Skinner felt the brush of the plug against his prostate and he couldn't hold anything back anymore. He cried out as he came, his entire body shuddering under the force of the assault against his body's senses. And then he collapsed, boneless and uncaring about anything beyond the blissful sense of peace throughout his body.

Mason set down the paddle and put on a chamois glove, gently stroking over the spent man's back and ass, moving down his leg muscles and then back up in a soothing massage. He could sense that Skinner was in that place where he felt totally relaxed and safe and he smiled again. So Walter Skinner needed the pain of punishment combined with erotic pleasure to knock down his walls, to allow himself to surrender. It still wasn't clear whether the man felt the need to atone for some perceived flaw or whether it was just a sexual kink, but he had a feeling that it was the former. Now that he knew this, knew the key to open the man up, the rest of the training should be easy - not a piece of cake, of course, but a lot easier than he had thought at the beginning of the week.

"Walter," he said softly, "Are you back with me?"


Mason grinned. Well, it wasn't much of an answer but not bad considering the intensity of the man's release. "Feel better, my pet?"

Skinner sighed and felt the sigh come from deep within. "Yes." He vaguely remembered earlier instructions. "Thank you, Master."

"You are most welcome, Peaches." His hand moved soothingly over the reddened skin of his slave's ass. "And now I think it's time for bed. Tomorrow will be another busy day."

Skinner nodded and, with an odd reluctance, pushed himself up from the bench. He wondered when he had stopped worrying about his body being exposed like that and, with a smile, decided that it had probably been about the time his ass was turning the same color as a strawberry. Mason caught the smile as he was putting away his toys and hid one of his own. Skinner was so high right about now that it would take hours for him to come down. That, or some masterly intervention.

"Go lay down on your pallet, Peaches, on your stomach. I'll want to check you before I fasten your chains for the night."

Skinner paused in the doorway, turning back from a puzzled frown. "Master Geoffrey? I won't be sleeping in your bed tonight?"

"That is correct, Walter. You won't be sleeping in my bed tonight."

Skinner's shoulders slumped. "Yes, Master."

When Mason entered the bedroom, he saw that Skinner was doing as he had ordered and was amused to note that the other man had remembered to bring the crop with him and was, in fact, lying with it next to his body. Evidently Skinner was uncertain about Mason's mood and wasn't taking any chances.

"Spread your legs, Peaches. I need to make sure that there isn't any damage." Skinner obeyed silently and Mason checked him carefully, noting with satisfaction that there had been no bruising or tearing. Next, he ran a hand over the reddened ass, expertly gauging how long the color would last. "Very nice, my pet. You took that very well. What did you think of it?"

Skinner hesitated. "It was...intense. In a good way." Then he raised his head and looked at Mason directly. "Master, did I do something wrong?"

Mason looked at him, amused. "Why do you ask? Because you're not sleeping in my bed?" At Skinner's nod, he said, "Peaches, have I ever failed to tell you when you did something wrong?"

"No, sir. You are generally quite...skilled at making your displeasure known."

Mason laughed and ran a hand over the smooth head. "Well put, my pet. No, Walter Skinner, I am not displeased with you and no, you did not do anything wrong. You are sleeping on your pallet for two very good reasons."

"May I know them?"

"In this case, yes. First, you said something very important tonight and you need to think about it. About the feeling of freedom you get when I am doing certain things to you. I don't want you distracted by anything else - and with you chained down for the night, there is little else you can do except think or sleep."

"And the second reason, Master?"

Mason grinned and reached out to touch his finger to the end of Skinner's nose. "Because I'm the master and I said so." Skinner groaned at that and Mason just laughed, then fastened the chain and went to bed.



Skinner awakened in the early morning of his seventh day as a slave, unable to sleep any more. In point of fact, he hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, his mind having been caught up in what Mason had done and said. His own words had haunted him. Freedom from myself. Just what in hell had he meant by that? It had seemed so clear to him at the time, like one of those dreams in which you suddenly realize that you know the meaning of life and that it is all perfectly simple, only to have it elude your grasp on waking.

It had meant something important, that he knew, and he wondered ruefully if he should have a pad or tape recorder present the next time Mason did something like that to him, so he could record just what he thought and meant before it slipped away again. A shiver went down his back at that thought. The next time. He was too smart not to see the pattern there, the fact that his own walls had tumbled each time that the Dom had combined that erotic level of touch with the cleansing pain of punishment. And he had been through it too many times with subordinates not to see the underlying causes for this need to be punished, his inability to release himself without it.  Guilt.

He and guilt were old friends, as he had told the Dom the previous day. He had always had a keen sense of guilt, from childhood up. His parents had never needed to confront him about his misdeeds - he had always been the one to confess them and accept his punishment with relief. And then the ambush, his friends and comrades, his first lover, had died and somehow he had survived. A miracle some had said, but he hadn't been too sure about that. At the time, it seemed like it would have been better if he had died, too. Added to the responsibilities of his job, the necessity to send his subordinates into dangerous situations where they could be killed, and it made for one hell of a guilt complex. He knew that. And he knew that, despite the Dom's order to seek counseling, he would do no such thing. He'd been through it after he had come home; he knew all the questions and all the answers. Nothing had worked in the past and it wouldn't work now. No, this was something he would have to tackle in a new way, from a new angle.

Skinner turned his head and saw that the Dom was awake and watching him. He flushed, wondering how much of his thoughts the Master could read, and was vaguely relieved when Mason just smiled at him.

"Deep thoughts, my pet?"

"You told me to think about my words, sir. I've been doing just that."

"And your conclusions?"

Skinner rolled onto his side, facing the Dom's bed. "Nothing we haven't already discussed. Guilt complex. Need to talk to a professional."

"But you won't," Mason said shrewdly. "You're not the kind to open up your heart and feelings - to family much less strangers."

Skinner smiled faintly. "That's what Sharon - my wife - says."

"And she's right. So you came here, seeking expiation for your guilt."

"If that were the case, wouldn't I be a sub?"

"From my point of view, that's just what you are," Mason pointed out.

"Temporarily," Skinner pointed out. "When these two weeks are up, I go back to being an apprentice top."

"If you pass," Mason said mildly. He got out of bed, crossing the floor to kneel beside Skinner, taking the younger man's chin in his hand. "Walter Skinner, you seem to have somehow gotten the impression that a sub is inferior to a Dom, somehow less or weaker when nothing could be farther from the truth. It takes a lot of inner strength to surrender to someone else. Look at Sean Matthews.  He plays the helpless subbie to the hilt but no one doubts that the man is just about the toughest player in the Club, top or bottom." He smiled at Skinner. "And I don't think any less of you for submitting to me. The training that we need to do would be impossible if you couldn't submit to me and trust me. Do you understand me, Peaches?"

"Yes, sir," Skinner said woodenly and Mason sighed but decided that there was no point in pursuing this any further at the moment. Skinner needed to have some time to sort through all this and get it straight in his mind.

He unlocked the chain from the collar. "Very well. Breakfast and then on to the gym. I've got some work to do in the office and then I'll join you for lunch."

Skinner nodded and got up, heading into the kitchen and Mason sighed again. Two steps forward, one step back. But at least they were making progress.



It was mid-morning and the gym was full of Doms and subs going about their exercise routines, winding down from the Friday night sessions. Sean sat on a bench against the wall, idly watching the people working out, a part of him looking for any signs of trouble while the rest of him wallowed in his own discontent. Sean was not a morning person, much preferring to spend this part of the day lounging in bed with a newspaper and a breakfast tray and a hope of a continuation of the previous night's activities. But not this weekend, he thought with a moody sigh. The top he had been playing with for the last two weeks had turned out to be a great disappointment, just like all the rest. The man had certainly been a good player and they'd had a good time, but it had been all too easy for Sean to manipulate the man. They had parted friends, but they had definitely parted, and Sean had crashed from hopeful happiness into abject despair.

Seeing Walter Skinner working out across the way from him didn't help. Not that he cared one way or the other about Mason or who he was playing with, but it was galling to think that this newcomer had waltzed into the Club and walked away with the best player. And now, if rumors were correct - and they usually were - the man was even sleeping in Mason's bed, something practically unheard of. Mason had lovers, and he had subs, and rarely were the two combined. Although, technically, Skinner wasn't a sub, but that really didn't matter. What mattered was that Skinner had what Sean wanted, and wanted desperately.

Not for the first time, Sean wondered why in hell he had hired Mason. True, he'd had a reputation as a fine business manager and a top-notch player, but Sean should have known that there would be trouble the first time he laid eyes on the man. Mason had arrived with a half-dozen glowing recommendations in his pocket but Sean hadn't had eyes for them at all. From the moment that he saw those intense blue eyes and the humorous smirk on that firm mouth, Sean had known he was lost. The man was everything anyone could want in a Dom and more. And what had he done? He had gone and hired the damned man, had become Mason's boss and therefore the last person on earth that the man with his firm ethics would choose as a playmate.

Sighing, he got up from the bench and followed Skinner into the locker room. It was almost empty and he stood for a moment watching Skinner pull on a shirt over his workout T-shirt. Sean had noticed a reluctance in the older man to shower and change in the locker room lately and concluded that Mason had been working the man over regularly, something that Skinner was embarrassed to have as common knowledge. Definitely not a sub, he thought with a grin. If it had been him, he would have been proudly displaying every stripe and reddened cheek - in the dining room if he thought he could get away with it.

Skinner looked over and nodded a greeting. "Sean. What can I do for you?"

"Mason was asking for a player to demo with a couple weeks ago. Would you let him know that I found one?"

Skinner nodded. "Certainly."

Sean nodded his head and turned away, then drew a deep breath and turned back around. "Walter, have you got a few minutes? I'd like to talk."

Skinner looked at him curiously. "Mason is expecting me - "

"Just a few minutes. I'll take the heat." Skinner nodded, and Sean led the way out of the locker room and into a private meeting room down the hall. He gestured for Skinner to have a seat and, when the man declined, said, "I thought you might be having some trouble and that you might want to talk to someone. I'm good at listening, and sometimes I even have good advice."

"I'm not - "

"Yes, you are," Sean interrupted. "I watched your workout. Usually your movements are very fluid and easy, but today you're moving like your body is in cement. Or like it belongs to someone else and you're not sure what to do with it. I'd put it down to having had a thorough workout - in the playroom or in bed - but you don't have the peaceful satisfaction from either. It's my job to make sure that everyone in my club is happy and you seem far from that right now."

"I'm not unhappy," Skinner said stiffly.

"No, but you're so deep in denial that the crocodiles are biting your butt," Sean said frankly. "You have all the symptoms of a man who is fighting instead of giving into his slave-hood."

"I'm not a slave," Skinner said with a touch of anger. "I'm not a submissive. This is just a training phase. Why doesn't anyone understand that?"

Bingo, Sean thought with satisfaction. He was vaguely pleased that, even absorbed by his own misery, he could still peg what was going on with others. It seemed that this was a sore point with Skinner, probably something Mason had been working on getting him to admit. He felt a sudden warmth inside. If he couldn't have the man himself, at least he could make sure that Mason was happy and help him out.

He hopped up to sit on the table, pointing at the chair in front of him. "Walter Skinner - sit." The older man did so with a sigh. "Now, you and I are going to have a little heart to heart. I want you to forget all this crap about top or bottom or sub or Dom. Those words don't exist for either one of us for the moment."

Skinner crossed his arms, studying the determined face on the redhead sitting in front of him. Mason was right, he thought with a slight smile - Sean was one tough character. "All right. I'll play along."

Sean grinned. "If I didn't know that Mason would chew me up over it, I'd definitely take you up on that."


"All right, all right. I'll be good." Sean drew a deep breath, going serious again. "You have a picture of yourself in your head as one way and you're having a hard time picturing yourself as something else. It reminds me of the time my Granda came to visit when I was a kid. My Da was a traditional kind of father, tough and loving at the same time, and I could see that Granda was the same way. The first time Da smarted off and Granda threatened to take his belt to him, I thought I'd die of shock. It was scary like, too. Seeing my Da as someone else's kid. And I asked him about it, asked him if it was hard being treated like Granda's child when he was someone else's father. He sat real quiet for a time then looked at me, and there was a peaceful look on his face.

"'Sean,' he said to me. 'It's tough being a grown up and sometimes it's a relief to turn to someone who'll take care of you for a change. It doesn't make me any less your Da to admit that sometimes I need to go home and feel strong arms around me.'"

Skinner sighed. "I get it, Sean. Mason has said the same thing. Can I go now?"

"No." Sean glared at the older man. "Stop running away for just a minute and really listen to what I'm saying here. Your brain is focused on the world out there - next week, work, your regular life. Instead, you need to immerse yourself in the now. Stop worrying about what will happen then and just let yourself be in the now."

"It's hard for me to do that," Skinner admitted.

"Have you ever gone on vacation where you didn't wear a watch, didn't have a plan, just let yourself 'go with the flow'?"

"Yeah. A fishing trip with my dad."

"And didn't you feel relaxed? Free?"

Skinner thought back and nodded, smiling in memory. "Yeah."

"Okay, then put yourself in that mindset for this week. The world outside has ceased to exist and time ends after this week. Your only reality is this Club and Mason. Look no further ahead than the minute you are living in and the next minute after that. Stop anticipating and just start living. Can you do that?"

The thought was so compelling, so enticing, and Skinner drew in a deep breath. "I think so."

"Okay. Now for your second problem. I told you not to worry about labels, about whether you're a top or bottom or sub or Dom. And don't worry about what anyone else sees or thinks - not me or Jean-Pierre or the others in the gym. We don't exist, we are just background. The only reality in your universe is Mason - who he is and what you are to him at the moment. Not last week or next week. Now."

Sean's words were almost hypnotic, and Skinner closed his eyes, giving into the fantasy. "Yes."

"What are you?"

"His slave - " His eyes popped open. "I don't know how to do that," Skinner admitted. "This is...difficult for me. It doesn't seem to come naturally."

"That's because you are fighting it. Close your eyes." Sean got down from the table and prowled around Skinner, continuing to talk in the same soft tone. "Don't think about yourself and what you are doing. Focus on your master, direct all your thoughts towards pleasing him. Does he look tired or thirsty or sad? Think of what you can do to make him happy. Don't wait for him to tell you what he needs or wants.  Anticipate. Provide backrubs, footrubs, massages, food or drink before he asks for them."

Skinner drew a deep breath, nodding. He could do that.

"You're having sex with him, right?" Skinner flushed and Sean grinned. "Yeah, well, you're lucky - Mason doesn't usually do that. So be available. If he hasn't given you orders to always be ready for him, do it anyway. Sit as close as possible to him, preferably on the floor between his legs with your face as close to his cock as you can get."

Skinner's face flushed with embarrassment. "What if he doesn't want me to…?"

Sean grinned. "Doms are good at letting you know when they don't want something, but I've never yet seen one punish a slave for being too interested. As long as you don't come without their permission - and you already know about that one, right? Most of them will love the attention even if they don't carry it into sex - and a happy, satisfied Master is less likely to tan your ass."

"Good point," Skinner admitted with a smile.

"And that brings up another thing. Stash condoms and lube everywhere so he won't have to stop once he gets going. The last thing you want to do is get a Dom all hot and bothered and then have to interrupt play to fetch the supplies. Any time you give your master a chance to stop and think is Bad. If you're lucky, he'll just take out his frustrations in the sex act. If you're not...well, a frustrated Dom can be hell in the playroom."

Skinner shuddered. "I can just imagine."

"Good. And use that imagination as much as you can. Masters like their slaves to be creative - and the more interested and occupied you keep him, the less time he has to think up little torments for you."

Skinner opened his eyes and looked at him curiously. "Why are you telling me all this?"

Sean shrugged. "I told you - it's part of my job. And I like Mason. He deserves it more than most."

"You love him, don't you?"

Sean flushed. "Hell, no. I like him, sure, and I'd love to play with him. That's as far as it goes."

"For someone who told me not to fight myself, you're pretty deep in denial yourself," Skinner observed.

Sean's head snapped up and his eyes met Skinner's, then he grinned reluctantly and shook his head. "You're good. You're going to be a great top someday."

"You're pretty good yourself. So why are you giving me all these tips instead of going for him yourself?"

Sean sighed. "There's no point. He's made it quite clear that as long as I'm his boss he'll never play with me. And I suppose I can understand that; it's hard to keep work and play separate. So unless one of us leaves the club, it ain't gonna happen. Otherwise," he said, his eyes meeting Skinner's firmly, "I'd give you a run for your money."

"I'm not in love with him," Skinner said quietly. "He has something I need; I admit that. I admire him and respect him, and he has a fantastic body. But love - no. Your path is open."

"If only," Sean said, his throat suddenly tight. "I'd give anything for the chance - for just one night - no. I'd give him the rest of my life if he'd take it." He looked back at Skinner, eyes suddenly vulnerable. "Don't tell him. Please. I - if he doesn't want me on his own, I don't want it out of pity." Skinner nodded, and Sean smiled at him, a little tremulously, then drew a deep breath. "Well, I'm a total mess, aren't I? I'm going to take myself off and fix my face, then indulge in a chocolate orgy. And you - go find your master and make the most of this week."



The suite was empty when Skinner entered and he was glad. Between the revelations of the past two days and Sean's words to him, he had a lot to think about.

He stripped off his clothes and stepped into the shower, washing himself thoroughly before starting the task of shaving. And while his body went through the motions automatically, his mind was busily working. Much of what Sean had said appealed to him. The thought of turning off everything and just living moment to moment was very intoxicating. There was no doubt that he had enjoyed the times that Mason had taken control of him, had pushed him over the edge, both in the playroom and the bedroom. He flushed again as he recalled how turned on he had gotten the previous day when recalling being taken by Mason that morning, waking to the feeling of being possessed. He could feel himself getting hard again even as he wondered why he was getting so turned on by the thought of his own sexual submission.

He sighed again and shook his head.  Sean was right. There was no point in trying to analyze this. He had made an agreement with Mason and the man had the right to take him whenever and wherever. And if he got off on it too, well, that was all to the good, wasn't it? He could do this - he would do this. Walter Skinner had never given up on anything in his life and he wasn't about to start now.

A different Walter Skinner got out of the shower, a man more relaxed and ready to go with the flow. And if he was determined to push those currents a little, well - he smiled at himself in the mirror - that was in the time honored tradition of smart-ass subs everywhere, wasn't it?



Mason sat in his office, his thoughts focused on the paperwork on his desk. Something was happening, something that he couldn't put a finger on, but it was disturbing. The number of complaints against Doms was slowly edging upward, all the infractions involving Junior members who were playing a little too rough or not paying attention to safe words. Normally, he might not have noticed the pattern, only this week one of them had hit the magic number three - automatic dismissal from the Club. Since he was a Junior, it was the responsibility of the man's Senior to tell him and take back the silver bracelet, so Mason pulled up the Junior's computer record. A sudden thought occurred to him and he pulled the records on all the Juniors that had been reported to him for discipline infractions during the past six months and compared them. Of the ten Juniors reported to him, six of them had the same Senior, a man by the name of Spender.

He frowned, recalling the man to memory: an older man, rather quiet, sitting in the smoking corner by himself at the Senior meetings. He turned back to the records, going over them slowly, and what he saw disturbed him even more. Two of the six had been trained by another Senior and then had switched over to Spender after passing their Junior trials - not an uncommon occurrence but it tickled something inside, a memory of one of the other Seniors complaining about his Junior being lured away by another senior. He pulled his friend's record and found the name of his junior, Jason Benett, vaguely remembering the man from his trials, then pulled the other man's record. Yes, Benett had changed his allegiance to Spender shortly after passing his Junior trials, which brought the number of Spender's Juniors to seven. An uneasy knot started to form in his stomach and he had the computer pull up all the records on the Juniors in the Club, listing their training Senior and their current Senior. A few minutes later, he stared at the printout in growing worry.

Of the fifty-five Juniors in the Club, Spender had twelve, higher than any other Senior in the Club. Further, although he had only trained five of the twelve, the other seven had changed their allegiance to him within three months after passing their Trials. None of these incidences in themselves would have concerned him but the combined pattern and the volume was disturbing. That combined with the fact that half of these twelve had been reported for safety violations made him feel uneasy.

Sean would need to know about this, he thought, knowing that the sub may have played with the men in question and might have some insights into the situation.

He put in a call to Sean, only to have it rerouted to the front desk where Hanson reported that Sean had retired to his suite with a "Do Not Disturb" request. Ignoring the sudden jealous thought that Sean was probably entertaining - common-sense told him that Sean would hardly take a top back to his own suite - he left a message for Sean to contact him when he had a moment. Then, his stomach telling him that it was past lunch time, he closed up his office and walked down the hall to his suite.


Chapter Text

Mason opened the door to the suite and inhaled the delicious scent of Oriental cooking, a scent that brought back pleasant memories and made him smile. Skinner came out of the kitchenette bearing a platter and a bowl of rice and set them on the table, looking over at Mason with a smile.

"Good timing, Master Geoffrey, as always."

"If I'd known that Jean-Pierre was serving this for lunch, I would have been early."

Skinner grinned over at him conspiratorily. "He isn't. I had this ordered in. Master Jean mentioned that it was your favorite."

Mason crossed his arms but allowed a little smile to play on his lips. "Are you trying to get on my good side for some reason, my pet? Have you been doing something that you shouldn't?"

"Of course not, Master. Come, sit down and eat before it gets cold."

"Your words do not reassure me, Piglet," he said but took his place at the table. Skinner hid a smile as he saw Mason inhale the scent from the food appreciatively. Mason gestured at the seat across from him. "Join me, Walter. And I expect you to eat some of these vegetables and not just pull out the meat."

Skinner smiled ruefully. "Yes, Master." He served himself and sat down across from the master, attacking his food with enthusiasm. "Actually, you know, these vegetables aren't bad."

Mason choked on food that suddenly seemed to have gone the wrong way and hastily drained his water glass. Skinner was up instantly, refilling the glass and watching the Dom in concern.

"Now I know you’re up to something," Mason said with a mock growl when he could talk again. "Are you admitting that vegetables actually have a purpose in the universe?"

Skinner grinned. "Well, I wouldn't go so far as to claim that, but I'm beginning to doubt that they are as dangerous as I first thought."

Mason laughed. "Peaches, you are a delight to have around. I shall miss you when you return to your world next week."

And I will miss you. The thought surprised Skinner but he realized that it was true. No matter how difficult this past week had been, he had never felt this close to anyone before in his life. He knew without question that he could tell this man anything and it would be accepted.

He found himself studying the other man closely and noticed that the Dom was looking both tired and worried. Why hadn't he seen that before now, he wondered? The answer was obvious, of course - he had been wrapped up in his own concerns and inner struggles. And all this time, Mason had not only been helping him work through his concerns but managing all his regular business at the Club. For a moment he felt guilty for adding to this man's burdens but then he pushed away the guilt feelings. He wasn't responsible for something that Mason had clearly chosen, but he could do his best to lighten the other man's burdens.

Mason watched the man across from him as he silently finished his meal and it was clear that some heavy thinking was going on behind that impassive face. A continuation of this morning's conversation? Something the man had worked out on his own? Mason had no idea, but at this point he thought that the best thing to do was to let Skinner to continue to work things through in his head.

Skinner cleared the lunch dishes and cleaned up while Mason moved into the main room to relax on the couch. His mind kept going over the latest developments with Spender and his Juniors. A warmth against his legs and a tingling in his groin told him that he was no longer alone and he looked down to see that Skinner was kneeling on the floor next to him, his head on Mason's lap. His face was turned towards the Dom and his warm breath stirred Mason's cock even through the clothing. His lips twitched as he fought to contain a smile. I sense Sean Matthews' touch here, he thought in amusement.

He rested a hand on the other man's smooth head, caressing it gently with his fingers. "My pet is quiet this afternoon. Is something bothering you, Peaches?"

Skinner shook his head slightly. "No, Master." He seemed hesitant about something, and Mason tried to picture what it might have been that Sean said to affect him like this.

"Something you would like, then?"

Skinner flushed before saying, hesitantly, "Master appears tired and worried. I wish there was something I could do to - help you relax."

"My pet has something specific in mind perhaps?"

Skinner nodded, edging his face slightly closer to Mason's groin. "Perhaps Master will allow me to work on my oral skills."

Mason could feel his cock pulse at those words and he smiled indulgently at Skinner. He had enjoyed the other man's demonstration of his skill in the bathroom the previous day and was ready to experience it again. He was also amused at this shift in behavior, too deliberate and yet tentative to be natural. Sean Matthews again? He would have to talk with that young man and find out just what he had said to Skinner – later. For now, he intended to fully enjoy this. "Certainly, my pet."

Skinner straightened, moving closer to Mason as his hands eagerly reached out for the zipper, then he paused and looked warily at Mason. "Any restrictions, Master?"

Mason grinned. The man was certainly a quick learner. "None. You may feel free to indulge yourself. But one warning, Piglet - if you tease me too much, I might just order you to stop and take out my frustrations on your ass."

Skinner swallowed. "Yes, Master."

Skinner reached again for the older man, unbuttoning and unzipping his pants to free the erection that was already responding to the idea. He watched Mason close his eyes and lean his head back against the couch, settling his body more comfortably while giving his slave better access. Skinner stroked the other man for a moment, watching his face as he relaxed. Following Sean's advice, he made himself forget about anything else but the man before him and the warm flesh in his hands. Gently he caressed the lengthening member, giving himself up to complete adoration as it came to life under his attention. He was suddenly hungry to taste the Master, licking the thick cock completely before drawing it into his mouth. The low groan from the man he was pleasuring was sweet music to his ears and made him determined to draw more of those sounds from the Dom.

Mason opened his eyes lazily and glanced down at the man working over him so enthusiastically, noting that Skinner had gotten extremely good at this. He let his hand drift over the other man's smooth scalp, enjoying the texture against his fingers. "Very good, my pet," he murmured. "You have a definite talent in this area. If the Club had a common playroom, I’d take you there – let you show the other subs how it’s done. Show them how beautiful a man can be while on his knees before his Master.”

Skinner groaned, his mouth working faster over the Master, drawing the heavy cock in deeper. As he moved, his own erection rubbed against the couch and the exquisite sensations combined with Mason's words made it hard for him to keep from coming. He swirled his tongue over the head of Mason's cock and sucked him in deep, hearing the Dom groan in pleasure. He pictured himself as Mason had described, kneeling in the middle of a room with his master's cock down his throat, everyone watching as he drove his normally controlled master crazy, pleasuring his master like this and pleasing him by making his master the envy of the others in the room.

"That's it," Mason gasped, throwing back his head and closing his eyes again. "Just like that."

Skinner increased his actions and was rewarded by the sudden shudder that racked the Dom's body. He swallowed eagerly, feeling his own body giving way to its needs. When he had taken everything the other man had to give, he changed to gentle licks, cleaning his master's softening member before tucking it back into his pants and straightening his clothes.

Mason sighed and stroked Skinner's head fondly. "Perfect, Peaches. I have absolutely no fault to find with you. Unless - " The lack of tension in the other man's body caught his attention and he narrowed his eyes as he studied his slave's face. "Unless you came without permission."

Skinner flushed. "Um - "

Mason sighed. "You know the rules."

"Yes, Master." Skinner was embarrassed to have made such an elementary mistake, but he had been so wrapped up in pleasuring the master that he had hardly noticed his own release.

"All right, Piglet. Punishment position."

Skinner moved into place on his hands and knees, his ass raised up into the air, his hands spread to the side to hold himself in place, the crop at his side. Mason pushed himself up from the couch, groaning as he did so. "This was not a good idea, slave. I was feeling very relaxed and content and now I'm having to exert myself to punish you."

"I didn't do it on purpose," Skinner said in irritation. The words weren't even out of his mouth before he knew that was a mistake.

The sharp crack of the crop across his ass made him wince. "You still haven’t learned to think before you speak, have you? And I don't appreciate smart mouths, Walter Skinner." The crop fell several times and Skinner gritted his teeth against the sting. "Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly clear - Master Geoffrey," Skinner managed to say.

"Now repeat the rule that you broke."

"I may not come without permission."

"Again." The crop punctuated the order.

"I may not - come without - permission."


“I may – not come – without – permission.”

Mason paused. "Any clauses to that statement, Piglet? Anywhere that it says 'unless I can't help myself'?"

"No - master."

Mason administered one last blow, and then threw the crop down beside the younger man. "If you are getting that close, I expect you to bring it to my attention. I will then decide whether to allow you to come or stop you from coming. Am I understood?"

"Yes - Master."

"All right, into standing display position." Skinner gingerly moved into the requested position. "You've earned yourself a special punishment." Mason disappeared into the playroom and returned a few minutes later, and Skinner stared in alarm at the metal cage he set on the table. The Dom took Skinner's cock in hand, stroking him rapidly as he spoke. "For the next forty-eight hours, you are not allowed to come. This little device I'm going to put on you will ensure that. Several times a day, I will remove it and stroke you to hardness before putting it back on. I will expect you to tell me each time when you are getting close to coming so that I can stop. This should help you control your body better. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Master."

He could see Mason looking at his unresponsive cock and felt embarrassed at his failure to respond. "Having a problem, pet? Not too long ago you weren't having any problem responding."

Skinner flushed. "Sorry, Master. But at my age - "

"Nonsense, Walter. I can see I've got a lot to teach you in that area as well. Never mind - I know ways to stimulate your interest." He released Skinner’s cock. "Follow me."

Skinner obeyed, following Mason into the playroom. To his surprise, he noted that the Dom didn't appear to be as tired or worried as he had been earlier but rather seemed to be almost gleeful about whatever he had planned for his slave. Skinner knew that he should be worried at the very least but, oddly enough, he was pleased and just a little self-satisfied. He had given the Master something else to occupy his mind, something to amuse him and, although Skinner had no doubt that his body would be paying the price, he couldn't help feeling good. He wondered in amusement what Sean would think about that.

“Over the bench, Peaches,” Mason ordered as he opened his cabinet and began looking through it. He watched the Dom out of the corner of his eye, not knowing whether to be pleased or dismayed when his master drew out the device he had introduced Skinner to the previous evening. His cock knew, though, as it began stirring to life.

Mason noticed this with amusement as he returned to his slave’s side. “Ah, I thought that would catch your interest.” He lubricated a finger and eased it inside the prone man, gently stretching the passageway. Despite the fact that this was for punishment purposes, he had no intention of harming the other man. “I forgot to mention a few things about this device that make it more – interesting than regular plugs or dildos. Are you interested in hearing what those are?”

Actually, he was dreading it but he knew what the Dom wanted him to say. “Yes, Master.”

Mason slid in two fingers, pleased with the way that Skinner was consciously relaxing his body to ease the penetration. “This device is hollow and somewhat expandable. When I remove the cover from the outer end, I can fill it with a variety of things. Warm water, ice water, a vibrator, for example.” Skinner shivered at the thought of ice-cold water up his ass even as he felt Mason remove his fingers and begin inserting the device. “Easy, my pet. You are supposed to be enjoying this.” The device was fully inserted now and he slid it in and out for a few minutes, watching until a look of pleasure come over Skinner’s face. He stopped playing and inserted a thin vibrator into the hollow portion of the sheath then turned it on low. Skinner groaned as the vibrating device brushed up against his prostate, feeling his body respond. His cock was swelling to life, as hard as if he had never come before this, and he ached to touch it or have Mason touch it.

Mindful of his earlier instructions, he gasped, “Master – close.”

Mason reached around to grasp the other man’s cock assessing and smiled. “Very good. I knew you could do it.” He switched off the vibrator and removed it but left the device in place, sliding a solid plug attached to a chain inside the sheath. “Standing display, Peaches.”

Skinner moved into position as best he could with an achingly hard cock and a sore ass combined with the feeling that a tent peg had been inserted into him. He watched as Mason strapped the metal cage around his penis and then attached it to a leather belt around his waist. The chain from the anal plug was drawn up tight and also attached to the belt. Mason tugged at the chain experimentally and was rewarded by a moan from Skinner. He grinned at that and smacked the other man’s ass.

“All right, Peaches. Until mid-afternoon on the day after tomorrow, I expect you to come to me in the morning, at lunch, mid-afternoon, and at bedtime. You will find me wherever I am and go down on your knees, asking me to arouse you again. I will remove the cage, allow you to relieve yourself, and then I will stroke you until you are hard before putting you back in this pretty cage. Understood?”

Skinner nodded. “Master?”

“You have a question, Peaches?”

“This other thing – will I have to wear it the whole time, too?” He indicated the plug.

“No. I’ll have a number of other uses for that ass of yours,” Mason said with a gleam in his eye that made Skinner groan. Mason laughed and patted the ass in question affectionately. “You never know, Peaches – you might enjoy it. However, you should know that over these next days you will not be sharing my bed although I will use you at various times for my own pleasure.”

Skinner was surprised at the flood of disappointment that filled him at this. He hadn’t realized till now how much the one night that he had spent in the Dom’s bed had meant to him.

Mason seemed to have read his face easily because he stroked Skinner’s face and said gently, “Be a good slave; bear your punishment with good grace, and I will reward you with a night in my bed that you will never forget.”

Skinner smiled at that. “Thank you, Master Geoffrey. I will do my best.” A knock on the door caught his attention. “That will be Master Jean-Pierre for my lesson. May I let him in, Master?”

“Of course. I’ve got some Club business to take care of and I need to talk to Sean, so I’ll be out of the suite till dinner. If you finish your cooking lessons early, I’ll expect you to occupy yourself around the suite.”

“Yes, Master.” Skinner opened the door for the master chef and the two Doms exchanged a greeting in passing while Skinner went into the kitchen to get ready for his lesson.

Jean-Pierre paused on the threshold of the kitchen, taking in the full effect of his student’s accessories. “Mon Dieu! Someone has been a very bad boy, no? This is not for yesterday, is it? If so, I shall tell Mace that it was my fault.”

Skinner gave the concerned Dom a half-smile, a little surprised that he didn’t feel embarrassed. Then again, he had spent the past week naked in this man’s presence. “No, this is for something else entirely. Master thinks I need to learn control.”

Jean-Pierre chuckled at that. “Ah! It is understood now. And tres amusing.” His eyes twinkled at Skinner. “When you are a Senior, you come to me and I will tell you some tales about your master, yes? I think you will find them most amusing.”

Skinner smiled back. “I would like that – if it wouldn’t get you in trouble with Master Geoffrey.”

“That one and I have been friends for a long, long time, and have been in and out of trouble more often than I can count. Do not worry about me, mon enfant. Instead, worry about how you are going to show me that you learned yesterday’s lesson.”

Skinner smiled and put on the apron that Jean-Pierre handed him. “All right, Master Jean – prepare to be amazed.”

Jean-Pierre laughed at that, and they turned their attention to culinary subjects.



Mason knocked on the door to Sean's suite, having been informed by his assistant that Mr. Matthews was still shut into his suite but had grudgingly agreed to see the Secretary. The door swung open and Mason quickly appraised the young sub.

Sean caught the worried look and grinned, an inner part of him warming at the thought of Mason's concern. "Not to worry, mate - I'm not suicidal, just indulging in chocolate therapy. Although I should warn you that when I come off the sugar high, I might be dangerous."

"I think I can defend myself," Mason laughed, looking at the evidence of candy wrappers strewn about the couch. "And I suppose you haven't eaten anything else today, have you?" He crossed to the phone and ordered the kitchen to send over a plate of sandwiches and a glass of milk.

Sean made a face and threw himself on the couch. "Spoilsport. You're ruining my temporary good mood."

Mason crouched by the couch and gently touched the flaming red curls, and Sean looked up at him in startled surprise. "Sean," he said softly. "I heard and I'm sorry. I know that you hoped this was the one."

Sean swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat, looking away as he blinked back tears. He resisted the urge to rub his cheek against the big hand, shrugging as he said with studied nonchalance, "No big deal, as you Yanks would say. We had a few laughs and a bit of fun." He sighed in mock dramatics. "I expect that I'm not built for long-term relationships. I get bored when they let me boss them around." He caught his breath as he realized how much of his soul he had just bared.

Mason glanced down at the diminutive redhead, resisting the urge to run his fingers through the boisterous curls, and thought, You would not find me so easy to control, my boy. Out loud he said, "I give you a week and you'll be back in the thick of it, breaking all the Doms' hearts."

Sean tilted his head back, smiling mockingly as he fluttered his eyelashes. "You say the sweetest things."

Mason looked unimpressed. "Don't try to vamp me, boy - I'm here on business."

"Of course," Sean said with a sigh. "What's up?"

In reply, Mason handed Sean the reports without explanation, preferring to see if Sean drew the same conclusion that he did. Sean scanned through the pages then looked up at Mason, startled. Going back to the beginning, he slowly went over the entire report. The tray arrived and Mason handed Sean a sandwich that the young man ate absently as he read. By the time he finished the report, he had eaten two sandwiches and had a frown on his face.

He accepted the glass of milk as he said, "Spender - that's the older American gentleman with the nicotine habit, correct?"

"Yes. You are familiar with him?"

"Only to pick out from the crowd - one of the few Seniors I haven't played with. Small and cute isn't his preference."

"What is his preference?"

Sean thought and then said slowly, "Power. The subs he chooses are Juniors. They are strong, the kind that take a lot of physical and mental mastering. But not only that, they tend to be power-brokers in real life - bankers, politicians, corporate climbers."

"Any rumors? Stories? Complaints?"

Sean shook his head. "His subs don't complain although I've thought ..."

"What?" Mason prompted as Sean paused.

"I've had the impression that he's a very rough player," Sean said, reluctant to say anything without proof. "I told you that I've never heard a word, but I've seen a couple of his subs a week after a session and they're still marked up. Nothing that he could be called on and many of the boys like the harder play, but it has caught my attention."

"What about his boys?"

Sean looked at the listing. "Well, as you noticed yourself, six of them have had one or two complaints registered against them and one is on his way out. That's pretty high odds for any Dom. And anyone can make one mistake, but it's unusual to have more than one complaint against a Junior when his Senior is a member as well.  If they were yours, I expect you'd have hauled them in at their first infraction and shown them the error of their ways."

Mason smiled. "You know me so well."

Don't I wish, thought Sean but out loud he said, "It's what a responsible Senior would do. It’s almost as if he’s encouraging them to play to excess. I've played with a couple of these guys, when they were Juniored to someone else, and they were decent players. Some of them were more than decent, had Senior potential." He looked over at Mason hesitantly. "I know that a few of them wouldn't mind playing with me again. I could see what I could find out..."

"No," Mason said sharply. "That's too risky."

Sean stood and lifted his chin defiantly. "This is my Club and I won't stand for anyone making it his personal power base. If Spender is doing that, then I want the evidence found, I want him kicked out, and I want him blacklisted in the SM community."

"Granted," Mason said, meeting his eyes. "I want the same things as much as you. But if these guys are that rough, I'm not going to take a chance on you being hurt."

"I'm not a baby, Mason. I've done this before. I can take care of myself."

"There are other ways," Mason insisted, his voice hard and unyielding. "If Spender's building a power base, then he could be very dangerous and he could be the type to take personal revenge. And if something should happen to you, what would become of the Club?"

Sean stared at him, his face becoming mask-like in its stillness. "Of course. The Club." He turned away from Mason, growling as he picked up the empty wrappers strewn on the floor.

"Sean," Mason said quietly, realizing that he had hurt the younger man's feelings. "Please. As a personal favor to a friend – and I hope that I am your friend - stay away from them."

Sean looked up at him and saw the sincerity on the older man's face. He scowled. "Damn you, Mason. I was working up a really intense snit against you and you ruined it." He sighed and sat back on his heels. "All right, I'll stay away from them. Okay if I put out feelers among the boys, though? One of them might hear something?"

"Of course. I'll leave that to your own discretion." He paused. "You do have discretion, don't you?"

Sean burst out laughing, his hurt nearly healed by the teasing. "Bastard. I hope the Mountain short-sheets your bed and replaces your shampoo with hair-remover."

"That sounds like the voice of experience," Mason said with a grin. "Someday, you'll have to tell me what you’ve made your poor, rejected Doms suffer - preferably on a day when I am very drunk and won't be shocked or able to remember anything incriminating in the morning." He stood up, gathering the papers as he said, "By the way, whatever you said to Walter - thanks."

Sean shrugged. "Just call me the Subs' Confessor. He seemed a little confused. I take it he's setting in better now?"

"I think so. I'll know more in two days - he's on a punishment cycle right now." He walked to the door as he said, "After he goes home next week, let's get together and talk about those demo subs you've picked out. I think it would really help him to see how an experienced sub acts."

"Sure - whenever you're free." Sean spoke absently, a thought forming in his mind. And, as the door closed behind Mason, he smiled and began to flesh out his plans.



Skinner knocked on the door to Mason's office and, at the sharp command to enter, opened the door. He couldn't help flushing as he saw the Dom look him over, taking in the sight of the master's robe wrapped around Skinner's otherwise naked body. After trying unsuccessfully to ease sweatpants over the device, Skinner had resorted to this and fervently hoped that the older man wouldn't take offense.

Mason smiled wickedly as he studied the man in the doorway. "Nice look, Peaches," he said. "What's the occasion?"

Skinner closed the door behind himself. "Sorry to disturb you, sir, but it is mid-afternoon and you said I should find you wherever you were." He crossed to Mason's desk and knelt. "Master, it is time for you to punish me. Please, arouse me again."

Mason leaned back in his chair and gestured for Skinner to approach him. He unfastened the robe and pushed it off the other man's shoulder before removing the cage and setting it on the desk. He took the semi-erect cock in his hands and Skinner bit back a moan. He was halfway through his punishment and had spent the better part of the day in a state of sexual frustration. At this point, he wouldn't have cared if Mason took him in the middle of the main dining room as long as he got to come.

Mason saw the frustration on the younger man's face and smiled. "All right, Piglet. What is this punishment for?"

"For coming without permission," Skinner grated out between his teeth, trying to keep his body in check.

"Correct. And how much longer is your punishment?" Slowly, he teased his slave, drawing out the torture, watching the man try to control the trembling in his legs.

"Twenty-four more hours, Master." Skinner bit his lip, trying to contain his moans.

"Stop biting your lip, Piglet. I'm quite fond of those lips. And I want to hear your moans." He gave a quick stroke and Skinner groaned loudly. "Much better."

"Close, Master," Skinner said between gritted teeth.

"Already, my pet? Are you certain that you're not exaggerating to get through this sooner?" Deliberately, he stroked Skinner's cock quickly and he felt the younger man nearly jump out of his skin.

"No! Please, Master, I'm close. No more, please."

"Very well." He fastened the cage back on, ignoring the almost pitiful whimper from the younger man. "You have a problem, Piglet?"

Other than having a sadistic master? He thought sarcastically. Fortunately, he didn't say it out loud. "No, Master."

"Good." Mason hid a smile, knowing what the poor man was thinking. He ran his hands over the other man's chest, tweaking the nipples, then down the flat belly to tug on the belt before sliding his hands around the back to cup firm ass cheeks. He had removed the anal device the previous evening before sending Skinner to bed, knowing that the younger man would be uncomfortable enough trying to sleep in the cock-cage, but this morning he had bent the man over his mattress and taken him. He intended to take him again that night, to give Skinner something else to think about while he tried to sleep, but for now he was content to play with the man's ass. Finally, with a light smack on his butt, he released Skinner and sent him back to the suite for his cooking lesson.

To Skinner's own surprise, he managed to sleep that night, mostly due to fatigue. The next day seemed to drag by without the usual distraction of a workout in the gym. Mason spent most of the day in his office again, returning only for lunch and to torment his slave again. Skinner found himself pacing the floor, one eye on the clock as his last hours crept by, and only Mason's promise kept him from ripping the damned cage off and pleasuring himself. He tried to think of something to distract himself but the suite was immaculate, Mason's personal effects tidy, and Skinner had even ironed the man’s shirts in his desperate need to distract himself.

At this rate, he thought to himself, I'll come the moment he takes the damned thing off me and be back on punishment again. The thought sobered him and he managed to settle down to read for a little while. Finally, with only an hour to go, he hopped in the shower - a cold one - and then shaved the parts of his body that were accessible. Carefully, he prepared himself and then settled down to wait.

Mason entered the suite and saw Skinner waiting for him in his designated place. "Good afternoon, Piglet. I believe that there is something that we need to take care of, am I right?"

"Yes, Master," Skinner said, finding himself oddly at peace. He had done it; he had survived the punishment and, not only that, had not earned himself any additional discipline. He felt a sudden wave of euphoria sweep over him and was able to rise to stand before his master without a tremor.

Mason sat on the couch and removed the belt, then unfastened the cage and set it aside. His hands moved gently over the other man's cock and balls, not seeking to arouse this time but instead checking to make sure that there had been no harm done. Skinner sighed blissfully at the feel of the other man's hands caressing him, letting his eyes drift shut. It felt so good, especially knowing that he wasn't going to be left unsatisfied and aching when the Master was done. He felt the older man coax him closer and complied, groaning with pleasure as he felt the moist heat envelop his cock.

"Thank you, Master," he murmured, his hands moving involuntarily to touch Mason's soft hair. "Thank you for taking the time to discipline me."

Mason chuckled and leaned back, his mouth releasing the other man's cock momentarily although his hand continued to caress. "Very nicely done, my pet. I am very proud of the way you handled this punishment and now you shall have your reward. You may come at any time you like, and as often as you like, from now until morning." His mouth claimed the younger man's cock again and Skinner's head dropped back as he felt strong hands grasp his hips and move him so that he was fucking the Master's mouth. It was so good, too good to last, and he exploded with a half-sob, half-groan.

Mason stood up and pulled Skinner into his arms, letting him recover as the older man rubbed his back. "You okay, Walter?" he asked softly, feeling the nod against his shoulder. "Good. Because I think I promised you a night in my bed that you would never forget, didn't I?"

He felt the smile forming against his shoulder. "Do we have to wait for night, Master?"

Mason chuckled and slid his hands down to cup Skinner's firm ass, rocking him forward so that their groins met. He could already feel the reviving interest in the other man and said, "No, we do not, my pet."

"Good." Skinner slid out of his arms, grabbing his hand and tugging him into the bedroom.



Mason lay sprawled on the couch in a state of near bliss. He had awakened late in the morning after a long night of erotic pleasure with a warm body curled up next to him in his bed. The owner of that warm body had served him brunch in bed before diving back under the covers to give him a tongue bath starting from his feet and moving up his body. He smiled to himself in memory, thinking how two days on the sexual edge had touched off a nearly insatiable appetite in Skinner. He'd finally sent the man out to the gym to wear him out and had collapsed back in bed for a well-deserved nap. Lunch had been followed by a head-to-toe massage, an area in which the younger man had also improved, and Mason had been able to summon just enough energy to make it to the couch afterward. He laughed softly – if the rest of the week continued like today, he was going to need vitamins.

Skinner had finished cleaning up the suite and settled on the floor by the couch within his reach and now appeared to be dozing. Mason bestowed a fond caress on the man's head before settling down to read the mail.

Skinner heard a muffled curse and opened his eyes to see the Master staring into space with a frown on his face, his hands worrying over a square of cardboard. "Master Geoffrey?"

Mason looked down at the man kneeling beside him. "Yes, my pet?"

"You look troubled. Is there something wrong?"

Mason sighed and reached down to caress his slave's head again. "We've been invited to a party in a few weeks."

"And you don't want to go?" Skinner said shrewdly.

"I don't care for these kinds of parties anymore. Too much posturing by shallow people who have no idea what it is really like to own or be owned by another. Most of the time, there is too much alcohol and too high a chance of something going wrong."

"So don't go."

"I'm afraid that I have no choice. This invitation was sent by my former master and that is tantamount to an order."

Skinner's heart thudded in his chest. "Will your master be there, then?"

"I doubt it.  He seldom travels anymore, but he will have a representative there to check on me."


Mason frowned. "I'm not sure. He must be concerned about me for some reason."

"What are you going to do, Master?"

Mason tapped Skinner's head reprovingly. "First, I'm going to give your mouth something else to do beside asking questions." He got up and led the way into the playroom. "We're going to work on bondage, getting you more accustomed to it. Before we begin, I want you to remember that you can have me slow down at any time by saying the word 'yellow', and if you say 'red' I'll stop. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Master. Yellow for slow down and red for stop."

"Good. Now I'm going to lay you on your back on the table since you're accustomed to it already and attach your cuffs to the outside rings." His fingers moved deftly as he spoke, setting up something for Skinner to focus on. He bestowed a caress along Skinner's body for reassurance and murmured, "Comfortable, Peaches?"

"I'm ready, Master."

Mason smiled and stroked his head. "I believe that you are, my pet. In more ways than one."

Skinner nuzzled his hand. "Thank you, Master. I enjoy serving you."

"And you do it so well now. You are truly beautiful in your collar." He caressed his way down the captive body again. "Perhaps this party will be a good opportunity; it’s always a pleasure to show off a well-behaved slave. And a chance for you to see how the SM scene outside the Club works."

"Then we are going, Master?"

"Yes. As I said, we have no choice." He studied the bound man and said, "There's a possibility that you might be recognized so you'll have to go hooded. Black leather, I think, with a matching leather jock and boots. A black leather collar and cuffs to replace your working set, and a harness to show off those developing muscles." He smiled at the thought. "We'll have all the Doms and subs drooling over you."

Skinner turned his face to nuzzle at the clothed crotch beside him. "I think everyone's eyes will be on Master, and not on his slave."

Mason allowed the slave to nuzzle him for a moment as he said, teasingly, "Such a hungry mouth you have, my pet. Shall I find something to fill it?"

"Please, Master." He tried to mouth the swelling mound and received a playful tap on his face.

"Greedy. It is not your place to take only to accept what you are given."

Skinner sighed as the other man moved out of reach. "Sorry, Master."

“Just for that, I’m going to make you wait for your treat.” He ran a finger along Skinner’s erection. “Remember that you are not to come until I give you leave. Can you control this or do you need help?”

“I can control, Master.”

"I think you can, too. I've been very pleased with you, Peaches. You've come a long way during these two weeks. How do you feel about yourself?"

Skinner considered this for a moment. "Centered. More certain of who I am - in here." He gestured as best he could towards his chest.

Mason walked around Skinner, caressing him lightly with his fingers. "And who are you - inside there?"

Skinner smiled faintly. "Your slave, Master, until you give me leave to be otherwise."

Mason laughed softly. "Pretty words. Are you trying to flatter me, pet?"

Skinner shook his head. "I wouldn't dare try," he said dryly. "You are too good with that crop."

Mason laughed louder. "Ah, Peaches! You are turning out to be very good for my ego. You think I'm omniscient, then? That I know your every thought?" He shook his head. "I am neither omniscient nor infallible, Walter Skinner. I can make mistakes just like everyone else. After many years at this, I am very, very good at reading people - their needs, their patterns, their habits. But not their minds." He tapped Skinner's head. "You are the only one living here. The only one who knows what you are really thinking. It is up to you to tell me what's going on in there. It is the responsibility of every sub or slave to make sure that his or her Dom is kept informed. And what happens if you fail to do this, my pet?"

"Your crop talks to my ass, Master?"

"Very good." Mason caressed his head. "Never be afraid to tell me what is going on inside of here." He tapped on Skinner's head, "or here." He tapped on Skinner's chest.

"What if you don't like what you're hearing?"

"I am willing to talk over anything, if you approach me and ask to talk. It is when you don't talk that you get into trouble."

With a final caress, he moved his hands back up Skinner's body, teasing the nipples before returning to the cabinet. "We haven't played with clamps yet. These are very mild ones and I'll only leave them on a short while, just to give you an idea. Before you leave on Sunday, I want us to work on both intensity of clamps and duration." He suckled each nub before deftly fastening the clamps. Skinner grimaced at the discomfort but held still.

"Now I'm going to blindfold you so that you can concentrate on what I'm saying and you're feeling. I know that you had a problem with this initially, but by now you know that you can trust me. And I know that you’ll do this because I’m asking it of you.”

Skinner’s eyes were filled with trust. “Yes, Master.”

Mason tied the blindfold over his eyes, checking to make sure that it was comfortable. He moved around the table again, towards Skinner’s feet, his hand in constant contact with the helpless man. “Imagine yourself at that party, my pet. I’ve decided to put you on display, to show everyone how beautiful you are in your submission.” He unfastened the chains at Skinner’s feet and repositioned his legs so that his feet were flat on the table, exposing his groin completely. “You are the center of attention, all eyes on you, every master longing to touch you as I am touching you. I can feel it, feel their need in the air. Can you feel it, Peaches?”

Skinner nodded, his heart beginning to race. Mason lubricated a finger and eased it into the younger man. “Maybe I’ll have you show off your fine oral skills, show how you pleasure me with that greedy mouth of yours. Or I might fuck this fine ass.” He removed his finger and inserted a small plug, sliding it in and out slowly. “Can you see them watching me move in and out of you, taking you, possessing you completely?” He changed to a larger plug, moving it faster, and heard the other man moan. “That’s it, my pet. I want them to hear you voice your pleasure.”

“More – please, Master.”

His hands caressed Skinner's chest, assessing the strain he was feeling from the clips. "I believe that is enough of the clips for this session. Relax, Piglet, and take a deep breath - you'll find that the hardest part is when blood flows back into the pinched area." He deftly removed the clips and, after a few seconds, Skinner suddenly gasped at the tingly pain.

“God...“ he groaned.

“Breathe through it. Don’t fight it, let the endorphins kick in.” Mason put his fingers up to Skinner’s mouth and smiled as the man sucked them in readily. “You are such a greedy Piglet,” he said indulgently. Skinner groaned as Mason pulled his fingers free then, as the fingers pinched up a sensitive nipple and rolled it, hissed and arched his back against the sensation. “Such a sweet slut. Perhaps I’ll get some volunteers to help me. Can you picture two sweet little subs licking and biting at your nipples like this?” He leaned over, licking and biting one nipple and then the other, and Skinner moaned.

“Close, Master,” Skinner groaned. “Please – “

“Not yet. I want to play with you for a lot longer.” He went back to the cabinet and returned with a weighted device that he attached to Skinner’s balls. “That will help.”

Skinner groaned at the tugging feeling on his balls but the master was doing something else with his ass that caught his attention. The plug was removed and something different inserted in its place, something familiar, and, when the sensation of cold filled him he realized what it was. He swore, his ass moving involuntarily as it tried to avoid the cold water filling the device but Mason held him firmly in place.

“That should cool you down, Peaches.”

“Shit, that’s cold!” he protested and heard the Dom laugh as he moved back around the table towards Skinner’s head.

“Then maybe I should give you something to warm you up and take your mind off that.”

Skinner heard the sound of a zipper and tilted his head back, opening his mouth readily. Mason freed his cock, feeding it to the eager mouth waiting for him. Skinner greedily licked and sucked, his attention held by the warm thickness in his mouth as he forgot the coolness invading his lower body. Once again, nothing existed but the Master and his pleasure in serving the man. Hungry for the taste of the Dom, his mouth moved at a nearly frantic pace and he could feel the tension igniting in the balls pressed against his face. The older man groaned, murmuring praise and endearments, and then he was coming down Skinner’s throat as the younger man swallowed eagerly. His tongue moved over the softening cock, securing every precious drop until, with a reluctant sigh, he released his Master.

Mason caressed the other man’s head affectionately. “Well done, my pet. When you become a master yourself, you are going to make some lucky sub very happy by doing that.”

Skinner smiled, wishing he could see the master’s face. “I love pleasuring you, Master.”

“And I enjoy pleasuring you.” Mason moved around to the foot of the table, removing the device and setting it aside. “And I think that it’s time to see if I can finally wear you out.”

Skinner chuckled at that. “Why, Master, two days ago you were telling me that I needed to learn how to increase my libido.”

Mason smacked his ass playfully. “I had no idea you were going to take that lesson to heart. And I forgot to figure in the effect from that increased testosterone.”

“Are you saying that I’ve worn you out, Master Geoffrey?”

“Saucy slaves can find themselves over my knee for a thorough ass warming, Piglet. Which reminds me – I’ve been neglectful in keeping that pink flush on your ass today." He smacked Skinner’s ass a few times, just enough to raise little pink in the skin. "Thank you for reminding me.”

Skinner grimaced. “You’re welcome, Master.”

Mason grinned. “I doubt it. But now I’ll make you feel very good, my pet.” He removed the weights from Skinner’s balls and inserted a vibrator, taking the other man’s cock into his hand. Skinner groaned and arched into the hand moving so skillfully over him, writhing against the hard tool that was sliding in and out of him. “You look so beautiful like this, flushed and wanton, taking everything that I can give you and wanting more. A slut for your master’s touch, your master’s taste, your master’s cock.”

“Yes,” Skinner gasped. “Need you – want you – “

“Show me how much you want me, pet,” Mason said, pausing to unfasten the chains from his ankles to allow Skinner to move. “Move that sweet ass of yours. Let me see you fuck yourself.”

Skinner planted his feet firmly on the table and began thrusting himself up and down against the solid weight filling him, his head thrown back in ecstasy as his pleasure spiraled upward. Mason continued stroking the younger man’s cock, watching him carefully to make sure that he didn’t hurt himself in his eager thrusting. Skinner’s breath was coming shorter now, interspersed with gasps and groans, and his hips twisted as he thrust downward, seeking the spot of pleasure inside. An incoherent shout signaled that Skinner had found it.

Mason leaned forward, aware that Skinner was holding himself on the edge, waiting for the word to be given. “Come for me, my pet. Come for me now.”

Skinner groaned in response and thrust again, and then came hard in Mason’s hand, his whole body shaking with the intensity of his climax. Mason continued stroking him until Skinner collapsed boneless onto the table, then cleaned up the younger man and removed the blindfold.

Skinner blinked open his eyes to find the Master smiling down at him and managed a weak smile. “I think you broke me that time, Master Geoffrey.”

Mason laughed. “I doubt it, my dear Piglet.” He leaned over to kiss Skinner gently. "Nap time, I think. We could both use one." He helped Skinner to his feet, guiding him towards the bedroom.

"Both of us?" Skinner said with a smile. "Feeling a little tired, Master? So I'm not the only one worn out."

Mason growled good-naturedly and pushed him towards the bed. "Watch it, Piglet. I'm not too tired to apply my hand to a smart-aleck backside."

Skinner slipped under the covers and yawned as he settled down on the pillows. "I'll keep that in mind."

Mason chuckled and sat down on the bed, slipping off his shoes before joining Skinner under the sheets. "You do that." When he looked over at Skinner, he saw that the other man was fast asleep. He smiled and pulled the covers up around the sleeping man, then sighed. "Only four more days. I'm going to miss you, Walter Skinner. I'm going to miss you a lot."



Late Saturday night, four days later, Skinner lay in Mason’s bed feeling deliciously languid and pleasantly exhausted. Mason had put him through an intense final session that night, using the floggers to take him down and open him up before taking him into his bed and fucking him through the mattress. Skinner was aware of the warm tingling along his back and ass as well as a pleasant internal ache and smiled contentedly up at the ceiling.

In the morning, he would return to his own apartment to get ready to return to his regular life. The following weekend he would return to his training as Mason’s apprentice, learning how to do the things that had been done to him over the past two weeks. He was conscious of a slight sense of loss, the realization that things wouldn’t be like this between them again. Skinner sighed and snuggled in a little closer to the warm body beside him.

"I needed this," he said quietly.

Mason smiled and rubbed his hand soothingly over Skinner's back. "I know. We all need to let go from time to time."

"It's confusing," Skinner admitted. "I know I'm not a submissive. I don't feel like I want to submit to someone all the time, or that I could do this with anyone else. I know that I could top someone else but have anyone else but you top me?" He shook his head. "So what happens now?"

Mason tilted Skinner's face up and smiled at him. "I'll always be here, Walter Skinner. No matter what, you will always belong to me. And whenever you need to let go and have someone else take control for awhile, I'll always be here."

Skinner's eyes met his for a long moment and he nodded. "Thank you, Master."

He settled back down on Mason's chest and let his eyes drift shut. And for the first time in years, he felt completely free.


Chapter Text

Mason settled into his desk with a sigh and looked at the stack of work before him. Another Monday morning and it looked like the members of the Club had been busy over the weekend. After glancing at the list of infractions and video surveillance reports, he set aside those matters to be handled later. Waking up alone in his suite after having Walter Skinner around for two weeks had made him feel depressed and melancholy, and he wasn't in the mood to see other Doms frisking about with their respective charges. Instead, he found himself staring moodily into his coffee cup, wishing for something a little more permanent in his life. Not that he would want Skinner at his feet on a permanent basis for, as much as he had enjoyed the past two weeks, he had to admit that it was fatiguing to be on his toes every moment. No, what he needed was a submissive he could relax with and play with, someone to dominate and spoil, someone like -


There was a knock on the open door and Mason cast his eyes up at the ceiling, muttering imprecations under his breath at the humor of the gods. He gestured for Sean to enter and close the door behind him.

"Thanks for taking the time to meet with me," he said, sitting back in his chair. "Any news from the Sub Information Network on our Mr. Spender?"

Sean grinned and settled comfortably into a chair. "SIN? Catchy title, that."

"And somehow appropriate with you as its head."

Sean put a hand over his heart. "You wound me, mate. I’m as pure as the driven snow."

"I’d say the snow has drifted considerably."

The sub laughed but shook his head. "Unfortunately, the network hasn’t been very helpful. The ones who’ve played with Spender or his Juniors once or twice have nothing bad to say, with the exception of those that have filed complaints. Those that have complained say that Spender's boys don’t always listen to safe words – one even refused to play using safe words – and that they push too hard."

Mason nodded. "What about their regular play-partners?"

"They don’t talk at all. One or two of them seemed scared to talk." His eyes met Mason’s and there was no hint of the playful sub in him now. "I don’t like it, Mason. I don’t like it at all."

"Neither do I. Since we’re not getting anywhere with the subs, I’ll start asking discreet questions among the Doms. I’ll talk to those who lost their Juniors, find out what happened."

"You want me to chat up some of the Juniors, too?"

"Only the ones not involved in our investigation." As Sean made a face, Mason said sternly, "You promised me, Sean."

"All right, all right - no need to get clucky," Sean said with a sigh. "You worry too much."

"And you don’t worry enough."

"Oh, believe me, I do," Sean said soberly. "I worry about the other subs all the time, wonder if they are happy, healthy, fulfilled. This place is my life, and I want the people who play here to feel happy and secure. Which they can’t do if some power nut is trying to put one over."

"Any ideas on why he’s doing this? Or how?"

"Why’s pretty easy – he likes power-people so he probably is into control. How – that’s tougher. I haven’t been around him much so I don’t know if he’s the charismatic type, but I suspect that there’s an element of blackmail involved." Sean’s mouth tightened. "And if I ever find out that he is keeping these subs quiet through threats, I’ll have his head. And nothing you can say will stop me, Mason."

"I won’t stop you, my friend. In fact, I’ll be right there with you." Sean grinned at him and Mason felt his heart contract painfully. He cleared his throat and turned back to his desk. "Well, we’ll see what we can find out before we go scalp hunting. In the meantime, you said that you have a recommendation for a player to help with Walter’s training."

Sean nodded. "Three actually. I thought you would like a choice."

Mason nodded, sitting back. "That would be appreciated."

"Michael Beddington. He’s been with the Club since shortly after we opened and he knows his stuff. He’s a good player, one that you can rely on to safe word, and he’s played everything from D/s to very heavy SM. His preference is in the middle. He has no problems with working with more than one Dom and has done demo stuff with regular dungeons before coming here."

Mason nodded. "We’ve played together once before – he’s a good man. Bad points?"

"His mouth is double-hinged," Sean said frankly. "The last person you tell a secret to. An hour after he’s left your playroom, every sub in the place will have a blow-by-blow description of your game."

"Ah, I wondered where the stories about me had started."

Sean grinned. "No, Mike just added to the stories. You’ve had a rep since the day you walked in." Mason smiled and shook his head. "Mike’s last top tried to control his mouth but it didn’t work and they split."

"Who’s next?"

"Martin Fields. He and his Dom do demos for the local SM organization’s bashes. Ben's out of town this week so he's okay with you borrowing Martin – just don’t break him." Mason laughed at that. "Martin prefers heavy play. He’s done canes, whips, everything. No limits. He’s done multiples – I’ve played with them both together. He’s a good sub – responsive, obedient. And he’s close-mouthed, too."

"And his faults?"

"Safe-wording. He gets his head so far into subspace that he doesn’t realize when he’s at his limits. Ben knows him, knows how to play him so it’s not a problem for them. If you’re going to play Martin, you have to keep a close eye on him. You could do it easy. Your apprentice – no way."

Mason nodded, frowning. "And your third player?"

"Experienced, has done demos and training sessions. He’s done everything from D/s to heavy SM and likes it all, no limits, but he’s a safe player and doesn’t get too deep when training. Has experience with training new tops so he’s able to lead or follow as needed. No master at present so you’re free to do what you’d like. Completely discreet as well."

"And what is his bad point?"

Sean’s eyes met his. "You’ve sworn that you’d never play with him."

Mason’s mouth tightened. "And I meant it, Sean."

"Come on, Mason! I’ve gone over every sub in the place and these are your choices. All the others are either committed or can’t vary their play or don’t like spectators. You need someone to show Walter the ropes but you can’t risk playing with someone who’ll destroy his rep before he’s started – and just because you won’t personally play with me doesn’t mean that I can’t play with your apprentice. I’m safe, I’m discreet, and I’m available."

"Sean – "

"If you’re worried that I’ll get mad at something you do and fire you, then you’re wrong. I’m a professional – what happens in the playroom has no affect on how this Club is run. Hell, Mason – I’ve played with two of the board members and we all still feel free to agree or disagree with each other at meetings."

Intrigued, Mason asked, "Which two?"

Sean grinned. "See – you didn’t even know that, did you? And I’ve promised them not to split on them – they’re in the closet and have families or sensitive jobs to protect."

Mason studied the short redhead curiously. "Why do you want this so badly, Sean?"

Innocent eyes met his. "Why would I want to play with the best top at the Club and his gorgeous hunk of an apprentice? Do you even have to ask?"

Mason sighed. "All right. As you said, I have no choice."

"Gee, mate, your enthusiasm overwhelms me."

Mason couldn’t suppress a grin at that. "Scamp. All right. Walter is coming in this weekend for a regular training session. Are you free Saturday afternoon?"

Sean grinned. "I'll make myself free. Negotiation now or then?"

"Let's get together Friday night, in the dining room - you, me and Walter. I want him to see how that’s done as well."

Sean nodded and stood up. "Right. I’ll meet you in the dining room at 8pm on Friday."

As the office door closed behind Sean, Mason sat staring at it and wondered if he had just made the biggest mistake of his life.


Skinner entered Mason's suite on Friday night and, for a long moment, stood inside the doorway and took a look around at the place that had become more familiar and welcoming to him than his own apartment. Returning to his home the past Sunday, he had expected that he would enjoy the comfort of his own place and the freedom of being able to make his own decisions. Instead, he had been surprised to find himself at loose ends, prowling restlessly around the rooms the first night. The rest of the week, he had brought work home to occupy himself and had tried not to count the days till he was back at the Club -unsuccessfully.

The door opened behind him and he swung around guiltily, aware that he should have been getting ready, but Mason just smiled when he saw him.

"Good - you haven't changed yet. We'll be eating in the dining area so you'll need to put on suitable clothes." Skinner glanced down at the suit he was wearing and Mason smiled. "That may be appropriate for your office, but you need to start working up an image here - and competent but ordinary is not what you want to present."


"Ordinary." Mason was already leading the way into the bedroom, opening the wardrobe where Skinner normally stored his bag. Skinner saw that the shelves were now filled with folded piles of clothes and that other things were hanging on the bar. "Not a bad thing in itself if you want to blend in, but we'll want to work on that work image if you want to advance career-wise." He pulled out a pair of dark brown pants and a cream-colored shirt, subtly tailored to showcase Skinner’s body. "Tonight we will be negotiating with a sub, working out the terms of a training session. This should do nicely."

"Why not the black, Master Geoffrey?" Skinner asked, catching sight of black leather pants hanging in the closet.

"Black is classic for a Dom but a trifle formal for this situation. You need to save the big guns for the playroom or special occasions." He tossed the clothes to Skinner. "Iron them, then shower and dress. Oh, and a jock strap underneath but nothing else."

"A jock strap - under this?"

Mason reached out and pulled Skinner closer with a hand on the back of his neck. "While you're training with me, anytime I have you dress up on the outside, I'll expect you to wear a strap or a cock ring and nothing else underneath. To remind you of what you are and who you belong to."

"Yes, Master Geoffrey," Skinner murmured. A firm hand pushed down on his shoulder and Skinner went to his knees.

"Who do you belong to, Walter Skinner?"

"You, Master." He breathed on Mason's crotch, watching it stir to life under his attention.

"And what are you, my pet?"

"Whatever you say I am, Master." Skinner longed to reach out and liberate the cock before him but had learned enough from his weeks as a slave to make him wary of overstepping his bounds.

Mason's mouth lifted into a smile as he surveyed the man kneeling before him. "Are you hungry, Peaches? It's been several days since you tasted cock, hasn't it?"

"Yes, Master. Five days, five nights."

"And you'd like to touch mine, wouldn't you? You want to take me in that talented mouth of yours and suck me off, don't you?"

"Yes, Master," Skinner said, trying to suppress the longing in his voice.

"Then ask me nicely, my pet."

"Please, Master Geoffrey, let me take you in my mouth and pleasure you."

Mason caressed Skinner's face gently. "And how will you repay me if I allow you this?"

"I'll do anything you want, Master."

Mason smiled. "You will anyway because you belong to me. Very well, Piglet, you may service me."

Skinner eagerly reached out to unbutton and unzip Mason’s pants, carefully releasing the other man’s cock. He trailed his tongue over the entire surface, relearning the flavor of his master, and was pleased to feel the member swell under his attention. His tongue swirled over the head, teasing the most sensitive areas and then he moved down to pay attention to the heavy balls. Mason groaned and shifted his feet for balance, his hands moving to rest on the kneeling man's head. Skinner smiled to himself and turned his head to nuzzle one of the hands before returning his attention to the thick cock standing proudly erect. Skillfully, he pulled it into his mouth, relaxing his throat to take it in deep. Using all the skills he had honed over the previous two weeks, he swiftly brought the Dom to the edge of climax. Mason’s hand tightened on his shoulder, warning him not to tease the older man. He sent the Master over the edge, swallowing quickly so that he didn’t spill a drop, relishing the involuntary noises that Mason made.

Mason drew in a shaking breath and then opened his eyes, smiling down at the man kneeling before him. "Damn, Peaches – you get any better at that and you’re going to kill me." He drew the other man up to his feet and ran a hand over the front of Skinner’s pants, then grinned as he realized that Skinner was still hard. "Well, I see that you learned that lesson well." He kissed Skinner briefly and then swatted the younger man’s backside playfully. "Be a good boy and we’ll take care of that when we get back from dinner."

Skinner smiled and went off to prepare for dinner.

An hour later, Mason led the way into the dining room and the two men settled at the Secretary’s private table. A waiter was immediately at Mason’s side and he ordered wine and appetizers while Skinner looked around curiously, wondering who was going to be his practice subject. Mason watched him in amusement.

"Relax, Walter. He’ll be here shortly."

Skinner nodded and took a sip from his wine glass. "What should I expect? Something similar to when you and I talked?"

"Somewhat. Think of it like a business negotiation: each of us will state our expectations and try to come to an agreement that seems reasonable to all of us. This player is very experienced and knows the ropes so he’ll participate fully in the discussion. When you’re negotiating with a first-time player, you may have to assume more control of the discussion since most SM virgins don’t know exactly what they want, just that they want something more."

"Am I supposed to participate in this discussion or listen?"

"Participate. Feel free to ask questions any time you don’t understand what’s happening." Mason smiled as he took a sip from his glass. "This sub won’t be expecting you to know everything."

As if on cue, Skinner heard a quiet voice beside him. "May I join you, Masters?"

Skinner looked up, startled, to see Sean Matthews standing next to the table but Mason didn’t seem surprised. Skinner automatically started to stand up but at a gesture from Mason, remained seated. Mason gestured for Sean to sit and poured him a glass of wine.

Sean raised an eyebrow. "I don’t normally drink during negotiations, Mason."

Mason smiled and nodded. "An excellent idea but, since we aren’t playing tonight, I think we can afford to indulge."

Sean sat back in his chair, studying the older man with a grin. "Are you planning to get me drunk and take advantage of me, Master Geoffrey?" he murmured seductively.

"I wouldn’t need to get you drunk if I wanted to take advantage of you," Mason said, ignoring the warmth that tingled inside him at the thought. He leaned closer across the table and said, lightly, "Just a word or a gesture and I can have any sub on his knees."

Sean nodded, his eyes lit with humor. "Yes, I figured you to be a figjam."

Mason laughed and Skinner looked puzzled. "What’s a figjam? I’ve never heard that term."

"It’s Aussie nickname," Mason explained. "It stands for ‘fuck, I’m good, just ask me’."

Skinner laughed and Sean looked at Mason speculatively. "You spent time in my part of the world?"

"A little," Mason said, his face impassive. "Singapore, Indonesia, other places."

"We’ll have to compare notes," Sean said, leaning on an elbow, his eyes intently studying Mason’s face. "Maybe we know some of the same people."

Mason smiled faintly. "I doubt it. Now, shall we get down to business?" He turned toward Skinner and said, "Sean has agreed to be a training sub for some of our sessions that require a third party for you to practice on."

Skinner had been watching the exchange between the two men with amusement but now settled in for serious negotiating. "Do you usually negotiate before playing?"

Mason turned toward Skinner. "Not always, but it’s a good idea. It gives both parties a chance to set out expectations prior to the session so that no one is hurt or disappointed. It’s easier to decide not to play at this stage rather than when both are invested into the scene."

"Sometimes – like at a party – you’ll have a brief discussion," Sean added, picking up his wine glass. "Just to set the boundaries, find out what’s allowed and what isn’t. For more involved games, it’s better to sit down and discuss things thoroughly. Some people in long term contracts even put the agreements in writing and both parties sign them."

"Discussions should always take place on neutral ground," Mason added. "Not in the play-area and not in persona."

Skinner nodded thoughtfully, then looked over at Sean. "So what areas do we need to discuss?"

"Parameters of the game – when, where, how long, is this a one time or ongoing thing. Rules of the game – level of play, roles, safe words. Whether the games will include sex. And emotional or physical hot spots."

"So let’s discuss the parameters first," Mason said. "I’d like to start playing tomorrow afternoon in my suite, and it will probably run several hours this first time. I imagine that there will be more sessions, but that’s up to you, Sean."

Sean shrugged. "I’m all too available right now, so let’s see what happens. Rules – I can take any level of play but I don’t play without a safe word, not even for you, Mason."

"Agreed. Simple yellow and red code?" Sean nodded. "Since this is a learning session for Walter, we won’t be getting into any role playing."

"Role playing?" Skinner asked.

Mason turned towards him. "There are several common SM games: master and slave, Daddy and boy, teacher and student, trainer and pet, among others. Since you’re just learning the ropes, we won’t be getting into any of those."

"I like ropes," Sean said, as if seriously considering the matter. "Among other things."

"Behave," Mason said sternly. "Or I’ll change my mind on that and turn you into a pony-boy."

"I might like that - particularly if you plan on riding me." Skinner choked on his wine and Sean solicitously patted his back. "Was it something I said?"

Mason sighed dramatically. "I should have known. I’d appreciate it, boy, if you’d refrain from killing my apprentice until after he’s out of my care. It would be devastating for my reputation to lose one before he even made it to the Junior tests. Not to mention the paperwork."

Sean laughed at that. "All right, I’ll behave."

"That I’ll believe when I see it," Mason said dryly. "Next topic – sex."

Sean shrugged and leaned back in his chair. "I can play with or without sex, and everyone knows that you don’t have sex with your play-partners, Mason – with a few notable exceptions." He looked over at Skinner with frank curiosity.

"What do you get out of it, then?" Skinner asked curiously.

"The endorphin rush can be better than sex sometimes," Sean said honestly. "In fact, sex can detract from the high after a really intense session. Of course, if you're with a partner who really knows you, good lovin' while you're at the peak can be the best." His voice sounded a little wistful, and all three men sat silently for a moment with similar thoughts before they were interrupted by the arrival of dinner. Mason deliberately steered the conversation back to the negotiations.

"Since we're in agreement on the rules, I’ll expect you at my door on Saturday at 1 pm and I’ll expect you to be ready for play."

Sean nodded, digging into his dinner with a healthy appetite. "Shaved or not?"

"Don’t shave unless that’s how you prefer to present yourself. No need for an enema, either – we won’t get into plugs or anal play. We’ll be concentrating on bondage and light SM this first time. Nothing too sophisticated. I want Walter to concentrate on what he needs for his Junior test and not beyond that."

"Right," Sean said. "And believe me, it'll be a privilege to get your Walter ready to join in the games." He raised his glass to Skinner in a toast. "Here's to a pleasurable association."

Skinner raised his glass in answer to the toast and glanced over at Mason, catching a fiery look for a brief moment in the Dom's eyes. And then the older man blinked and smiled, raising his own glass in return, leaving Skinner to wonder just what he had seen in that instant.

Skinner was silent as they walked back to Mason's suite, and the older man looked at him sideways. "You're quiet, Walter. Something on your mind?"

Skinner hesitated, wondering if he should mention what he thought he had seen for a moment in Mason’s eyes, then decided not to stir up dangerous waters. "He's quite a handful, isn't he?"

"That he is." Mason smiled. "Feeling a little -intimidated by the idea of taking him on?"

"More than a little," Skinner said frankly. "I've heard stories about some of his -exploits. Hell, he's told me some of the stories."

Mason laughed as he opened the door to his suite. "Don’t worry, Peaches - I'll protect you from the big, bad sub."

Skinner eyed Mason skeptically. "Ha. More likely, you'll join up with him and really give me hell."

Mason reached out to pull Skinner closer and said, in a silky voice, "I can give you hell without any help."

Skinner chuckled and wrapped his arms loosely around the Dom's waist. "I know. Although I seem to remember a promise you made for later, if I was a good boy."

Mason pulled Skinner closer, his hands running over the firm body. "And have you been a good boy, my pet?"

Skinner rubbed his body against the older man. "I think I've been very good, Master Geoff."

Mason kissed him briefly. "I'll be the judge of that." He led Skinner into the bedroom and slowly stripped the clothes off the younger man, admiring the way that the workouts were adding definition to Skinner's body. His hands trailed lightly over the bared flesh, stirring the faintest whisper of arousal in the other man and he heard the slight catch of breath. "Beautiful, my pet. Each time I see you, it amazes me how much you've improved."

"Your doing, Master Geoff."

Mason shook his head. "No, Peaches. I am only the teacher here -it is your determination and effort that makes these changes possible."

"I do feel better," Skinner admitted, a little reluctantly. "I don't get nearly as many headaches now that I'm eating better, and I seem to have more stamina. And I've started working out in the gym at work every day. Although the way things are going, I'm going to have to replace all my suits – they’re getting too tight across the chest and shoulders."

"When you get ready to do that, I’ll take you to a tailor friend of mine who is a genius – part of that image enhancement for work," Mason said, turning away from the other man to remove his own clothes and toss them into the hamper. "But now, as you reminded me, I promised you something special for being a good boy."

Skinner sat on the bed. "Now why do those words strike terror into my heart?"

Mason looked back at him with a grin. "Because you are an intelligent man? On your back, Peaches, and reach for the headboard."

Skinner obeyed and felt the cuffs go around his wrists. "Afraid I'm going to run away, Master?"

Mason ran a hand down Skinner's body. "Let's just say that I'm not taking any chances." He leaned over to kiss Skinner briefly. "Don't go anywhere - I'll be right back."

Skinner watched the Dom leave the room and heard the cabinet in the playroom open up. His heart began racing, trying to anticipate what the Dom might be up to. Mason rarely combined SM and sex but when he did it was always a treat.

Mason came back into the room, dangling a set of clips from one hand and a blindfold in the other, and Skinner's eyes widened. "Relax, Peaches," Mason said soothingly. "I promise that this will be fun – I won't push any of your buttons tonight." He knelt on the bed next to Skinner and placed the blindfold over the younger man's eyes. "I want you to focus on what you're feeling and not what you see, but if anytime you feel anxious just let me know and we'll remove this."

Skinner nodded and consciously relaxed, placing himself in the older man's hands. Mason felt the relinquishing of trust to him and leaned over to kiss his apprentice thoroughly until Skinner was gasping for breath. His mouth traveled down the younger man's body, teasing and arousing him. He devoted a lot of time to each nipple, sucking them into points before slipping the mild clips he had brought with him onto the flesh. Skinner breathed in slowly, adjusting himself to the pain, feeling a soothing hand caress his abdomen.

Mason felt the moment when Skinner accepted the pain and once more leaned over to kiss him. "You're doing so well, my pet. You look incredible like this – your hot, hard body decorated for my pleasure. And I intend to take my pleasure from you tonight."

Skinner smiled, wishing he could see Mason's face right now. "I missed you, too, Master."

Mason chuckled. "A bit presumptuous, aren't you, Piglet, since I didn't say that?"

"Not in so many words," Skinner murmured, "but I know that you did."

"Hmm, looks like I need to shake up that smugness a little." Mason reached over for the glass he had set on the nightstand and selected an ice cube, putting it into his mouth. He leaned over and ran his chilled tongue over one of the clamped nipples, making Skinner gasp and attempt to pull away. Mason's hands held him firmly in place as he continued to torment first one nipple and then the other until the ice melted.

Mason selected another ice cube and moved lower on the bed. Holding the cube between his teeth, he ran it along Skinner's half-erect cock making the other man gasp and writhe in an attempt to move away. Mason didn't let him move, running the ice cube over the entire cock until it had totally melted. Skinner was swearing weakly by then and groaned in something between pain and pleasure when Mason took the wilted cock in his hand and began to stroke it.

"Such language, Piglet," he said in mocking disapproval. "I think someone needs a reminder of his place. Roll over on your stomach."

Skinner groaned, knowing what was coming next, but obediently maneuvered onto his belly, adjusting the cuffs so that his hands were bracing his body.

Mason ran his hand over the firm backside then leaned over to plant a kiss in the middle of each cheek. "These are so pale. I think they need some loving attention from your master. What do you think, Peaches?"

Skinner sighed, knowing the only answer that wouldn't get him into trouble. "It's up to you, Master."

"You're right, and I think that they need to be my favorite color again." Holding Skinner down with his left arm over the man's back, he used his right hand to alternatively swat and caress the younger man's ass until it was a light shade of pink. "Much better," he said in satisfaction, "although they might be a little too warm now."

Skinner groaned and tried to brace himself for the ice he knew was coming next. The sudden chill against his warm bottom made him jump and swear, and if it weren't for the blindfold he would have turned and glared at the Dom. He gritted his teeth, enduring while the ice ran over his skin cooling the slight burn from the spanking, moaning when he felt the master Dom part his cheeks and run the ice along the crack. Then the ice was circling his anus before it was quickly pushed inside, making him swear fluently and squirm to get free.

"Behave," Mason admonished, smacking his ass again. "I think I need to warm these back up again."

Skinner tried to lie still under his Master's hand, but the alternating swats and caresses made his cock rub against the sheet until he was close to begging the Dom to fuck him. Only the knowledge that his begging would only prolong the erotic torture kept him from doing so, but he was nearly incoherent with need by the time he felt himself being pulled up to his knees. A probing finger bearing lubricant and not ice made him moan, pressing backward to impale himself more fully, and he heard Mason chuckle.

"Are you hot, my pet? Do you need me to put out this fire?"

"No more ice, Master, please!" Skinner begged, trying to force the invading fingers deeper.

"No ice, pet. I think you need something else to put this out." Mason withdrew his fingers to roll on a condom. "I think you need to be fucked long and slow."

"God, yes!" Skinner moaned, pressing back against the Dom, trying to recapture the warm presence within him.

"Grab the headboard and hold on," Mason ordered, moving into place and grasping the other man's hips. In one smooth movement, he thrust himself in to the root and then waited for Skinner's body to accept his presence. Feeling the muscles relax slightly, he slowly pulled out and just as slowly slid back in, setting a leisurely pace.

Skinner was moaning almost continually now, totally caught up in the thorough fucking he was receiving. Only his hands cuffed to the headboard kept him from collapsing onto the bed but they also kept him from being able to thrust backward so he had to accept the slow pace that Mason set. He blinked the sweat out of his eyes, gasping for breath and nearly begging the Master to fuck him hard, to make him come before he died. Desperately, he squeezed his inner muscles around the invading cock and heard a gasp from Mason. And then the Dom was moving suddenly moving faster, rocking Skinner's body with the force of his thrusts, and he could feel the tingling beginning in his toes. He squeezed again and felt the older man suddenly convulse as Mason came deep within him and he was hanging on the edge, desperate for a touch to send him over. Then suddenly the clamps were removed and the shock from the return of blood to the pinched tissues was enough to trigger his own climax. He cried out as he came and warm arms wrapped around him, holding him safe as he shook apart with ecstasy.

Skinner felt the cuffs release him and gratefully crashed into the mattress, rolling onto his side so that he could catch his breath. He felt his Master's arms wrap around him again and a gentle kiss was pressed against the back of his neck.

"Thank you, Master," he murmured, exhausted, as his eyes began to drift closed.

"You're more than welcome," Mason said softly. "Now go to sleep. Tomorrow will be a busy day for you."

Skinner nodded groggily and before he could finish a yawn, he was asleep.


Skinner studied his reflection in the bedroom mirror. Although he wasn’t a vain man, he had to admit that he was pleased with the way he looked today. Mason had selected the black leather pants and an open-front white shirt for him to wear for the afternoon’s play session, and Skinner enjoyed the way they fit comfortably without restricting his movements.

The door buzzer sounded and, since Mason was still getting ready, Skinner went to let Sean in. The sub looked Skinner up and down, raising an eyebrow and grinning.

"My, my, my. You look good enough to eat."

Skinner smiled back. "As I recall, you’re the one on the menu for today."

"So I am." Sean strolled in and looked around. "Mason didn’t ditch you, did he?" He was careful to keep his emotions out of his voice; no matter how much he would enjoy playing with the big man beside him, he was really hoping to catch Mason’s attention and change the older man’s mind about playing with him.

"He’s getting ready. He said to offer you some orange juice while we’re waiting."

Sean nodded and followed Skinner into the kitchen, noticing that Mason's apprentice seemed a little nervous. "Breathe," he said quietly. "You’ve got nothing to be worried about. I’ve done this lots of times, Mason’s a pro, and neither of us will let you make any serious mistakes."

Skinner drew in a deep breath, nodding. "Thanks. I admit that I’m a little nervous – you’ve got quite a rep among the players here."

"I hope that it’s a good rep."

"The best. Although I hear you can be a little tough on Doms who don’t meet your expectations."

Sean shrugged. "I’ve parted amicably with just about all the tops I’ve played with – the few exceptions were fools or incompetents that I was checking out for Club reasons. I doubt that Mason would have put up with you for this long if you were either."

"No, Mason doesn’t suffer fools, does he?"

"Not bloody likely." Sean placed a hand on Skinner’s arm, grinning up at him. "Don’t worry, Walter. I’ll go easy on you."

Skinner smiled. "You are a brat – did you know that?"

Sean laughed and fluttered his lashes. "I’m so glad you noticed."

"If you two are quite through flirting," came a stern voice from the doorway, and both Sean and Skinner swung around to see Mason leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed. Sean’s eyes widened appreciatively at the sight of the older man; although it was obvious that Mason had deliberately dressed down so as not to take the focus away from Skinner, Sean couldn’t help admiring the way the casual shirt and jeans accentuated the Dom’s rugged good looks.

"Sorry, Master Geoff," Skinner said quietly, setting their glasses in the sink.

The dark look in the Dom’s voice disappeared as he straightened up. "Sean, please go into the bathroom and strip, then put on the cock ring you’ll find in there and meet us in the playroom." Sean nodded and headed off, and Mason gestured to Skinner. "Come with me – we need to decide what toys to play with today."

Skinner followed Mason into the playroom and watched with interest as Mason opened the cabinet. Although he was very familiar with everything inside – Mason having made him clean every bit of equipment one day during his slave training – he had only been on the receiving end. The idea of being on the administering side made his heart beat faster with anticipation.

Mason pulled out cuffs with chains and took them over to the whipping post, attaching them securely. Then he returned to the cabinet and took out a collar. "This should be the right size to fit Sean, but you’ll need to make sure of the fit. I haven’t played with anyone as small as he is in a long time." He pulled out what looked like a wide leather belt. "Kidney protection," he explained to Skinner. "This will keep internal organs from being accidentally damaged – always a good idea with inexperienced Doms."

Skinner nodded. "What kind of implements do you want me to work with?"

Mason pulled out some of the floggers and laid them out. "We'll go for overall stimulation and not finesse this first time, let you get used to the feel of the implements and a sub's response to them. I'll hand them to you as we go along."

Skinner drew a deep breath. "I hope I don't disappoint you, Master."

"You won't," Mason said firmly, grasping Skinner's chin and making him meet the older man's eyes. "Just remember that three-fourths of this game is played in the head. Take control from the start and act like you know what you're doing – the rest will follow."

Skinner nodded in understanding and Mason released the younger man just as Sean entered the room. The Dom looked over the young sub with approval. Despite his small stature, the redhead was sturdily built and well proportioned. As he would have expected, Sean didn't seem to have any inhibitions and wasn’t at all self-conscious as he stood calmly awaiting the assessment by the two Doms. Mason picked up the collar, turning to Skinner.

"Walter, different Doms have different philosophies on collars. I use a collar during playtime only, using it to mark the start and end of a session, and most SM players I know have the same philosophy. On the other hand, a lot of D/s players use collars to symbolize a bond between the two players in which the sub 'earns' the right to wear a collar and then wears it while they are in the roles of Dom and sub, regardless of whether they are actually playing a scene. During your training time, I want you to follow my philosophy - when you are a Junior or Senior you will, of course, use it how you like."

Skinner nodded and took the collar from Mason, walking over to Sean. The sub went gracefully to his knees, his legs tucked under him with his knees spread, his back and head straight with his eyes on the floor. He was impressed at how easy Sean made it look, remembering how difficult it had been to get that position right.

"Why are you here?" he asked the sub.

"To serve you, Master," Sean said promptly.

"Kneel up." Sean rose on his knees in one fluid movement, and Skinner fastened the collar around his neck. "As long as you wear this collar, you are mine to command. Until I remove it from your neck, I will consider you my responsibility and my possession."

"Yes, Master," Sean said and bent over to kiss Skinner's booted feet. "Thank you, Master."

"Stand up." Sean did so with equal grace and barely restrained himself from looking over at Mason to see if he was paying more attention to him or his apprentice. He stood still while Skinner fastened the kidney belt and checked to make sure that it was in place. "All right, over to the post."

Sean walked over to the whipping post, glancing at the table where the implements were laid out as he passed, and a smile of anticipation crossed his face. It looked like it was going to be an interesting afternoon. He positioned himself in front of the post, legs spread wide for balance, and lifted his hands towards the cuffs.

Skinner attached the cuffs onto the sub, adjusting them so that Sean's arms weren't unduly strained. "Ready?" he asked and the sub nodded. "Remember your safe words? Say them for me."

"Yellow for slow," Sean responded promptly. "Red to stop."

"Good." Skinner turned to the table where Mason had laid out the floggers. Picking up the lightest one leather one, he swung it experimentally to get the feel of it, then frowned. Something didn't feel right and he looked over at Mason for guidance. The Dom smiled and came over to him, adjusting his stance a little bit.

"First, stand about an arms' length away," he said, then moved into place behind Skinner and wrapped his left arm around Skinner's waist bringing their bodies close together. He laid his right hand over Skinner's, adjusting the grip on the flogger, and showed him how to swing it. "Nice and easy strokes to begin with right across the buttocks." He demonstrated, pulling Skinner's arm back and then forward to strike the firm buttocks with a soft blow.

"Sean, give me a pain count, please - one to ten."

Sean nodded and called out, "One."

"That'll help you gauge how hard the blows feel to him, but never forget that a sub can get so deep into his sub-space that he'll misjudge the pain." He pulled back Skinner's arm again. "Aim your strokes so that the tips land in the lower middle of the far buttock." He demonstrated and Sean called out a one again. "Now you do it. I want half a dozen strokes gradually building to a three."

Mason released Skinner and stepped back, critically watching as Skinner pulled back his arm and administered a blow precisely where Mason had placed the previous one. He smiled, pleased with the rhythm and placement of the following blows, the next one receiving a one rating followed by several twos. The final one got a gasp and a "five", and Mason frowned slightly.

"You sure, Sean? It didn't look that hard."


Mason nodded and gestured for Skinner to follow him as he moved up close to Sean and ran his fingers over the sub's hips. "See these here?" he asked, pointing to the slight red marks on the far right hip.

Skinner nodded. "But I didn't strike him over there."

"Not on purpose," Mason said. "That's one of the problems with a flogger. This is called 'wrapping' and happens when you overshoot the tip striking area a little. On a curved body surface, the tip gains force as it wraps around the side of the body and it'll leave marks. Pros don't wrap, so be sure that you hit where you're aiming." Skinner nodded his understanding. "Four more, all at level three."

Skinner moved back into place, and set down the next four strikes as ordered, then Mason called him back over to check the sub's body again.

"A good Dom will take the time to check his sub regularly to make sure that he's not being harmed," Mason said as Skinner ran his hands over the slightly pinkened backside. "This looks very good. Now I want you to aim for this area," Mason said, touching a spot on the muscle in Sean's middle back above the kidney belt. "This is muscle area and is usually pretty sensitive, so watch for the sub's reaction. Some of them love it but some find it a turn off. I imagine our little pain slut here will adore this area being played." He smiled at Sean's snort of laughter. "Put three strikes here, ranging from one to three, then move back down to the buttocks for six more at level three to four."

Skinner nodded and laid down the strokes on Sean's back as instructed then moved back to the buttocks. When Skinner reached level four, he could almost hear the purr in the sub's voice and smiled to himself. Another check of the sub's back and then he looked at his master for further instructions. Mason half-smiled and raised an eyebrow.

"Well, Walter? What do you think you should do next?"

Skinner paused, glancing at Sean then back at Mason. "Change floggers. He's had a warm-up and now I think he needs something a little stronger. If I strike any harder with this one, I'm going to risk wrapping."

Mason nodded. "Good observation. Use this medium weight leather one now. Start in the same area with a light strike and get a pain level so you can gauge how hard to strike with this flogger. You want to keep these blows in the four to six range for now - that's enough to cause a slight sting but not deep pain."

Skinner nodded and moved into place again, striking across the backside and getting a "three" pain rating. He settled into a steady pattern, about three seconds apart, with a half-dozen "five" level blows before moving up to the back where he pulled the blows slightly, rating threes and fours until he was satisfied with the color coming up in the skin. He returned to the buttocks, moving downward until he caught the sub just under the rounded part of the fleshy backside, smiling as he heard Sean's gasp followed by a purring "five" count. Mason raised his eyebrows at that; it looked like Skinner was definitely a natural at this and that Sean was enjoying himself immensely. He frowned at a sudden feeling of jealousy before pushing it away.

Skinner checked Sean again, glancing over at Mason for confirmation as he went back to the table for another flogger. Mason was surprised when he chose a very light deerskin one but kept silent and waited to see what Skinner was up to. Skinner used the light flogger over the sub's entire body now, moving upward from the buttocks to cover the entire back and then moving downward to caress the backs of Sean's thighs, applying blows that were light in delivery but quickly spaced together so that they seemed like one continuous rippling blow. Sean forgot to call out a pain level and purred under the sensual assault that left his whole body tingling with pleasure. There was a pause in play and then Sean suddenly gasped as a flash of pure fire laced across his bottom.

"Nine!" he called out, gasping, wondering where that one had come from and hoping that there would be more. The light flogging he had just received had made every nerve on his body stand up and pay attention and now the sharp pain set him ablaze. Another blow landed across his ass with the same intensity and he cried out, eagerly reaching out for the pain and embracing it, feeling the endorphins kick in.

Skinner struck again with the heavy cat Mason had handed him, concentrating on the buttocks. Sean was breathing heavily now, sweat pouring off his body, and Skinner took a moment to check him out.

"He's ready for you to take it home," Mason murmured, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb Sean. "Level nine and ten for two or three strokes should push him over."

Skinner nodded and aimed the crop for the buttocks. On the second stroke, he heard the sub cry out in a voice combining pain and ecstasy and then Sean slumped against the post. Worried at this, he hurried over to release the sub from his bonds, cradling the younger man as he collapsed bonelessly into Skinner's arms. Skinner sat on the floor, pulling the young sub into his lap, and Mason smiled as the apprentice Dom called Sean's name with no response except for a silly grin on the sub's face. Skinner looked up at Mason in concern as the Dom brought over a blanket to wrap around Sean.

"Relax, Walter. Sean's okay -he's just so high that he doesn't know that we're on the same planet."

Skinner stared at the sub cradled in his lap and said, in a voice filled with disbelief, "I did it."

Mason chuckled. "You certainly did, Peaches." He reached out to caress Skinner's head affectionately. "I'm proud of you, my boy. You have a definite feel for this kind of work."

"Oh yeah," Sean purred with a contented sigh although he still refused to open his eyes.

"I think my opinion was just seconded." Mason stood up. "Bring him into the living room and let him rest on the couch while he decides if he wants to join us lesser mortals again."

Skinner shifted Sean's body up into his arms and carried him into the living room, tucking him up on the couch with the blanket and removing the collar. Sean made a contented noise and snuggled down, content for now to drift in the afterglow.

Skinner studied the sub for a moment then looked over at Mason. "Is that it?"

Mason's eyes twinkled at the edgy tone in Skinner's voice. "Problem, Piglet?"

"I - hell, I don't know what's wrong," Skinner said, turning restlessly towards the playroom. "I had better clean the toys and put them away."

"That can wait," Mason said, reaching out to capture Skinner's wrist with his hand. "Talk to me, pet. What's wrong?"

"I don't know," Skinner growled. "I just feel - " He paused, uncertain about how to describe the edginess he felt.

"Keyed up? Restless? Horny?" Mason grinned. "It's okay, Peaches. A lot of Doms get pumped from putting a sub through their paces. That's why sex is often a part of the games, although some tops like me get our thrills just from being in control and don't need sexual contact to burn off the extra energy."

He pulled Skinner closer, kissing him, and Skinner wound his arms around the Dom as he kissed him back. "Come on," Mason said, pulling Skinner towards the bedroom. "I think I can take care of this problem of yours."

"What about Sean?" Skinner asked, glancing back at the resting sub.

"He'll be out of it for a while yet, then we'll have dinner and talk over the session. In the meantime, let me take care of you."

Skinner didn't bother protesting further, releasing all his hunger into the kiss that Mason pulled him into. Unlike their session the previous evening, there was nothing leisurely about this coupling. Clothes were stripped off as they tumbled onto the bed. The two men wrestled for dominance until Mason finally pinned the younger man and bent his head to latch onto a nipple still sensitive from the prior night. Skinner groaned and surrendered, giving himself up to the older man, and Mason released the tit he had been torturing, pulling back a little.

"On your stomach," he ordered, reaching for the condoms and lube on the nightstand. Skinner readily obeyed, moving up onto his hands and knees. Mason swiftly prepared the younger man and then smacked him across the backside.

"Get that ass up higher," he ordered. "This is going to be a hard and fast ride."

Skinner shivered in anticipation as he shifted so that his shoulders were on the mattress and his ass was higher. He needed this, needed to be taken hard, and Mason didn't disappoint him. Skinner groaned at the burn as his body was invaded but the sound changed to a moan as Mason began to fuck him. Waves of pleasure washed through him as the Master's hands held his hips tight enough to leave bruises while he thrust rapidly into Skinner's willing body. Each thrust ground Skinner's cock against the sheets, the friction enough to crank up his arousal without being enough to take him over the edge, and he tried to get a hand free to touch himself.

"Don't," Mason gasped warningly. "That's mine and you don't come till I tell you to."

Frustrated, Skinner growled and thrust backward in counterpoint to Mason's strokes, satisfied to hear a needy groan from the Dom. Then the older man was reaching around his body, grasping his cock and pumping it firmly.

"Now!" Mason's voice ordered. "Come now." And Skinner's body automatically obeyed, his climax violently overtaking him and ripping both his sanity and a scream from his body. He was vaguely aware of Mason's own shout of completion before he collapsed into a velvet darkness.


Skinner came back to awareness of his surroundings with a groan and heard a soft chuckle from beside him.

"Well, you're alive at any rate."

He groaned and rolled over onto his back. "That's a matter of opinion. It feels like you fucked me into next week."

Mason grinned. "Another satisfied customer." He laughed at the one-finger salute Skinner shot him. "Watch it, Piglet – disrespect like that will earn you a session with the crop."

"At this point, I don't think my body could feel anything – pain or pleasure."

"Well, that body needs to get itself up and into the shower," Mason said firmly. "You have a sub that needs to be taken care of still."

Skinner groaned as he forced himself up from the mattress, grumbling as he headed towards the bathroom. "I don't recall this being in the job description."

Mason laughed. "And you wonder why there are more bottoms than tops." He followed Skinner into the bathroom and joined Skinner in the shower. "Although it's actually one of the nicer perks of the job when you're with a long-term partner," he said, handing Skinner the soap. "Nothing makes you feel needed more than an incoherently blissed-out sub."

Skinner looked thoughtful. "I hadn't thought about that, but I suppose you're right. I imagine it must be wonderful to share that with someone you really care about."

"It's incredible," Mason said with a sigh. "And, unfortunately, it's an unfulfilled dream for many of us."

Skinner studied the Dom for a long moment, wondering if he should say anything, then decided that he should make sure of Mason's feelings before saying something about Sean's own feelings for the Master. He stepped out of the shower and dressed quickly in the jock and sweat pants he wore around the suite when there was company, then went into the living room.

Sean was looking more coherent than the last time he had seen the sub, propped up on the couch with the blanket still wrapped around his body. He looked up with a wicked grin as Skinner entered and he flushed, realizing that the young sub had heard them.

"Have a good time?" Sean asked blandly, and Skinner glared at the younger man. Sean just chuckled at that and stretched lazily. "At a guess, I'd say that you are going to be one of the tops that needs to combine sex with play. Either that, or you're going to wear out poor Mason before his time." There was a glint in his eye that said that he would like the opportunity to wear out the older Dom himself.

Skinner crossed his arms and looked sternly at the sub. "I thought you promised Mason that you were going to behave."

"And I did," Sean said promptly. "But I only promised to behave during game time, not after."

"You know, I think I liked you better when you were incoherent and blissed out."

"And you sound a little cranky. Didn't get enough - rest?" He fluttered his eyelashes at Skinner and patted the couch next to him. "Come sit over here, sweet thing, and let Sean rub those poor, tired, over-worked, masterly shoulders."

"Stop vamping my apprentice, brat," Mason said sternly from the doorway.

Sean grinned over at the master Dom. "But you won't let me vamp you, Mason, so what's a poor subbie to do?"

"How about grab a shower, dress, and come back in here so we can have a post-play discussion?"

"And I suppose I'll get thumped if I suggest that one of you scrub my back?" At the glare from both Mason and Skinner, Sean sighed and unwrapped himself from the blanket. "I thought so. Be back in a few minutes."

Mason watched Sean saunter towards the bathroom, and watched Skinner's eyes follow the naked sub with a look of amused admiration, and thought again that he may have made the biggest mistake of his life. Only now it was too late to change his mind.

Chapter Text

Mason leaned against a wall in his playroom, watching the three men working in the center of the room with appraising eyes. Three weeks into Skinner's practice sessions, and he could tell already that the man was going to be one of the best masters at the Club once he got a little more experience under his belt, possibly second only to himself. Skinner seemed to have a natural gift for reading his sub's reactions, for gauging when to push a little more and when to pull back. Once he had a little more confidence in his abilities, he would be ready for his Junior tests.

This evening, Mason was watching Skinner put a new sub through his paces under Sean's watchful eye. Mason had instructed Skinner in the use of a cane the previous weekend and his apprentice was now practicing that skill on Jonathon, a sub that Sean had selected because of his love for the cane. Sean was giving him pointers on the sub's view of a caning as Skinner took Jon deeper into subspace. Mason was pleased with the way Skinner handled this challenge, both in learning the new instrument and his willingness to learn from Sean.

After a few minutes, Sean leaned over and murmured something to Skinner, then crossed the room to stand next to Mason, keeping his eyes on the two men. "I thought he needed a little space to gain confidence and Jon's an easy worker," he murmured in a low voice so as not to disturb the players. "But I don't think Walter'll have any problems. He's a quick learner."

Mason nodded. "I was thinking the same thing myself. Jonathon appears to be enjoying himself."

"Jon's a pain pig," Sean said in amusement. "I've watched him play parties before, and he's always ready for a new challenge." He looked up at Mason. "Speaking of parties, I hear you've been invited to Madame's tomorrow night."

Mason grimaced. "My former teacher's idea."

"I've been invited too and, as Jean-Pierre's been commanded to attend, he's coming with me to play dragon." He cast Mason a sideways look. "I thought that we might all go together. I've got transportation covered."

"The last time I checked, that sporty little number you drive only seated two."

"Madame is sending a limo for me."

"Oh-ho-ho! How did you get to be in her good graces?"

Sean preened. "Need you ask? Madame adores pretty young men and wants me to grace her party."

Mason chuckled. "You scamp! You bribed her, didn't you? Just for a limo? Sean, you can afford a dozen of them!"

Sean snorted. "Right. The day I have a limo in my stable is the day that they take away my license." Then he grinned at Mason. "Besides, have you seen Madame's limo? Tres lux." He looked back over at Skinner and straightened up. "Here we go. Jon's just about there. If your boy is reading him correctly, he'll pick up the pace a bit now and send Jon over the edge." He watched Skinner avidly, and Mason felt a twinge of unease at the intensity of Sean's focus. "There! Jon is in another world completely." He turned and grinned at Mason. "Like I said, your boy is a quick learner."

Sean went over to the two men, patting Skinner on the back and then kneeling beside the spanking bench, stroking the sub's hair as he spoke to him in soothing tones. Mason could see Jon's head nod once, then gestured for Skinner to join him. He drew his apprentice out into the main room.

"Let Sean settle him down now - he's been there and knows how to handle him," he said with a smile, then drew Skinner into his own arms. He could feel the tension in the man's body and kissed him briefly. "And I think you could use some time to unwind as well." He led Skinner into the bedroom and shut the door behind him.

"What about – "

"They'll be busy for awhile," Mason said, efficiently stripping the clothes off his sub's body. Watching his apprentice work over the other man had built up an appetite in him as well, and one he intended to satisfy. "If they get through before we do, they'll let themselves out."

Skinner surrendered to Mason's attentions, his own hands stripping off the Dom's clothes. These sessions got his blood pounding and made him so hot that he thought he would explode if he didn't get any sexual release. And so far, he hadn't been allowed to have sex with either of the subs that he played with, Jon because he didn't get sexually high from playing and Sean because – because – Skinner was stumped on that one. Sean didn't belong to anyone, although Skinner suspected that Mason was more than a little attracted to the effervescent sub. Not that Skinner really wanted to have sex with Sean – the sub just wasn't his type. Now Jon was another story - tall and dark and good looking, and Skinner could have easily been persuaded to tumble him.

Mason pushed him towards the bed and followed him down, devouring him with mouth and hands. Skinner responded fiercely, his need for release intense, wrestling with Mason for dominance until the more experienced Dom pinned him and demanded his submission. He surrendered willingly, more aroused than he could ever remember being in his life, silently acknowledging how much he needed this type of sex play. With his estranged wife and other past lovers, he had always been the dominant one, the larger partner, and he had had to restrain himself so that he didn't hurt his partner. With Mason, he could let himself go, secure in the knowledge that the other man could give as good as he got.

Rolled onto his stomach, he felt Mason swiftly prepare him before sliding home in one long, steady glide. Skinner growled his need for more and bucked back toward the Dom, forcing him in deeper. Mason seemed to recognize Skinner's need for rough sex tonight; he pulled out and smacked Skinner several times on the ass before slamming back in and setting a brisk pace. Skinner grunted and his hand moved towards his needy cock.

Mason slapped his hand away. "Touch it and I get out the crop." Skinner groaned but dropped his hand away, using it to brace himself on the headboard instead as he surged backward to meet each thrust. Mason was hitting his prostate with each thrust now and Skinner could feel the inexorable roll of his impending orgasm. He only hoped that the Dom was close as well because he knew that there was no way he could stop it now.

Mason increased the pace of his thrusts, panting, "Now, Piglet! Come now!"

Skinner abandoned his last shred of control, letting his body seek the release it needed, hearing the Dom shout as his own climax hit. He collapsed onto the bed, gasping and panting, and briefly considered passing out.

They lay there for a long moment, both men catching their breath, and then Mason eased out and went to fetch a warm washcloth. Deftly, he cleaned up the other man, checking to make sure there had been no damage, then pulled up the covers and tucked them around Skinner.

"Get plenty of rest, my pet. Tomorrow will be a busy day."

Skinner managed to force his eyes open, regarding the Dom warily. "Any reason in particular?"

"We're going to a party tomorrow night, and I want you to look your best."

Skinner groaned and pulled the sheet over his head. "Shit!"

Mason chuckled at that and switched off the light, then went to check on the two subs.



The next evening, Mason surveyed Skinner and nodded in satisfaction. "You'll do very nicely."

Skinner surveyed himself in the mirror, feeling a little self-conscious at the sight of the thin black mask covering his skull and concealing the upper part of his face. A pair of black leather shorts barely concealed the lower part of his body and, as tight as they were, left little to the imagination since Mason had tied his balls and cock with a strip of leather before lacing him into the shorts. The combination of leather rubbing against his sensitized cock and against his tender backside threatened to drive him crazy before the night was over. A black leather harness framed his chest and rubbed over his nipples, another source of irritating stimulation. At least the short black leather boots, the thick studded collar, and the wide wristbands made him look dangerous instead of simply like a boy-toy, he thought with relief. He looked into the reflected face of the master standing behind him and caught the man's grin.

"Well, what do you think?"

Skinner couldn't help smiling back as his eyes took in his master's formal tuxedo, thinking that the man was born to wear formal attire. "I think that crop you make me carry is going to be useful for a change. I'm going to need it to beat off the other slaves."

Mason laughed and cuffed him lightly. "Idiot. I'm talking about you, not me." He moved up tightly against Skinner's back and held the other man still so he had to look at himself again, murmuring in his ear, "You look hot, Peaches. Tonight you are not an apprentice top but my slave. Take a good look at yourself and know that I am proud to be holding your leash tonight, my pet. And if you are a good boy tonight, I'll give you a special reward when we get home."

"What kind of reward?" Skinner asked suspiciously, mistrusting the wicked gleam in the master's eyes.

Mason just shook his head and stepped away, popping him on the ass. "Depends on how good you are," he said mockingly. He tossed a cloak to Skinner. "Wrap this around you - I don't want you to get jumped between here and the party."

Sean and Jean-Pierre were waiting for them in the lobby, and the sub let out a wolf-whistle at the sight of them. "Jean-Pierre, I think we've been outclassed tonight. Mason - you look absolutely delicious. Jean-Pierre and I are going to have to beat the boys off with sticks. And Walter." Sean looked Skinner up and down and smirked. "Nice turn out, Mason. He looks darkly mysterious like this - and incredibly hot. Good thing he never wore this in the playroom - I would have come in my pants."

Mason snorted. "You'd never do anything so unprofessional, even if it killed you."

Sean laughed. "Seriously - why the get-up? You planning on putting on an exhibition tonight?"

Mason shook his head. "You know I don't play in public. Just a little matter of impressing a certain party. And you look very nice tonight, too, Sean."

Sean wrinkled his nose at Mason and glanced down at the tight leather pants and open green silk shirt he wore. "Nice? That's it?" He pouted. "And I was trying so hard to impress you. Good thing I have a healthy self-esteem or I'd be weeping my eyes out now."

"Are you finished playing Drama Queen?" Mason asked in amusement. "May we go now?"

Sean stuck out his tongue at Mason, tucked his hand in Jean-Pierre's arm, and led the way to the waiting limo, the most elegantly opulent thing that Skinner had ever seen. He was quiet on the drive out of the city, increasingly nervous about this party. Not only were there going to be a bunch of strangers there but somewhere in the crowd would be someone who was checking up on his master. He had a bad feeling about that, a feeling that he was the root of the situation. And he wondered what the man was like who had mastered Mason, wondered if he would ever meet the man.

The limo drove through an imposing set of gates and stopped in front of a brightly lit entrance. The doors were opened almost before the car stopped and they were ushered towards the door. Skinner followed silently in the Dom's wake, resisting the urge to look around him with Sean and Jean-Pierre close behind them. As they stepped through the doorway, the murmur of voices told him that they weren't the first to arrive. He watched as Mason paused in the doorway and looked around, then turned around to remove Skinner's cloak.

"Follow at my heel," he murmured his last minute instructions to the other man. "Do not speak to anyone unless I give you permission to do so. Most here will know to address their comments to me first but if someone should address you directly remain silent no matter what they say. Some Doms have deplorably bad manners and even like to get other masters' subs into trouble."

"I'll keep an eye out for him," Sean assured Mason.

"And I'll keep an eye on both of them," Jean-Pierre said with a grin.

Mason rolled his eyes. "Heaven help us all! Peaches, just try to stay out of trouble, okay?"

"Yes, Master," Skinner murmured, focusing his eyes on the other man's chest as he tried to control his breathing. He felt Mason's hand stroke his cheek gently.

"Breathe, Peaches," Mason teased.

Mason recognized their hostess approaching and they moved forward to meet her. Madame was a contemporary and great friend of his former master and in her youth had been acknowledged the premier Domme in their world. It was rumored that her past lovers and submissives had included prominent government figures in several countries, even a Royal or two. She was no longer as active in world-wide circles although she remained a prominent force in the Virginia area, and she always managed to have one or more pretty boys at her feet. Even now, he saw a handsome and scantily clad young man standing a few paces behind Madame.

"Madame, you look enchanting, as always," Sean said, leaning forward to kiss her cheek.

"And you, my little imp, are a terrible flirt - as always," she retorted, gently slapping his chest, then relenting to caress his face. "You naughty boy, you haven't come to see me in a long time."

"Which is my loss, Madame."

"And you, Mason - you have been positively invisible this past year."

Mason bowed over her hand, kissing it. "True, Madame, but work has been keeping me very busy."

"Not too busy for some amusements on the side, I see." Madame's eyes moved past Mason, surveying Skinner with appraising eyes. "This is the new project Master Nin mentioned? You permit me to take a closer look?"

"Of course." Mason glanced at Skinner briefly. "Peaches, standing display."

Skinner obediently moved into his display position, his feet spread apart and his hands locked behind his neck, his eyes focused straight ahead. Madame circled him, studying his body and his positioning, observing but not touching. Her head nodded and signaled her approval.

"Very nice, Mason. A well-developed physique - is he an athlete?"

Mason shook his head. "No, he's in law enforcement, hence the need for the disguise. When he came to me, he was fit but undefined. Peaches has worked hard to achieve this result."

Mason could see Skinner flush slightly at the praise - as could Madame. She laughed and reached up to gently pat his cheek. "Now I see why you call him 'Peaches'. What an adorable blush - one doesn't expect that from someone this big and dangerous-looking. You must value his submission highly."

"I do - but he submits only to me. He is my apprentice, not a submissive. Normal position, Peaches."

Madame's eyes lit up. "Ah! What a treasure - to have such a forceful presence at your feet! And what a splendid Dom he will make one day. Has he taken his first test at your Club, then?"

"No, but I plan to propose him for the Junior test at our next meeting." Mason could see Skinner's brief, startled movement before he collected himself and Mason couldn't help grinning.

"And do you plan to play with him here tonight? I imagine everyone will be envying you and wondering if he plays as well as he looks."

Mason shook his head. "A thousand pardons, Madame, but I no longer play in public."

Madame sighed. "A pity - such a superb looking man. It would be entrancing to see you put him through his paces. And an education to some of the younger Doms. You would not believe the kinds of people who are calling themselves 'Doms' these days. One wonders where they got their training."

He raised an eyebrow. "Surely that has always been the case, Madame? I have heard my former master moan about the decline of standards ever since I was a young man."

She shrugged. "Perhaps it is only an old woman's notions, and I have delayed you long enough. Go and enjoy yourselves." She moved past them to great new arrivals and the four men wandered into the main room.

Skinner looked around at the assembled crowd curiously. There seemed to be two distinct groups of people present at the party. The elegantly dressed Doms and Dommes were chatting and looking around the room, while the more scantily clad submissives were standing silently at their backs or kneeling beside them. A glance into one of the side rooms showed a full buffet table, and another seemed to be a smoking parlor from the haze of cigar smoke he saw.

"Master Jean-Pierre, will you permit me to serve you?" Sean asked and the other man nodded his assent.

"Go with him, Peaches," Mason said, and Skinner murmured "Yes, Master," before following Sean into the buffet room.

"Looks pretty good," Sean said, studying the table with a critical eye. "Madame's outdone herself." He picked up a plate and began selecting items to tempt the portly chef's appetite while Skinner did the same. Then Sean gestured towards the bar. "Mason usually drinks tonic with a twist at the Board meetings, so that's probably your best choice."

"No alcohol?" Skinner asked in surprise.

"Madame never serves alcohol at her play-parties. No responsible host would take the risk of one of his or her guests losing control. Of course, no responsible top would drink when he or she is planning on playing."

"But you serve alcohol at the Club."

"In the dining room only – it's not available from room service. And I only gave in on that from a business point of view – a lot of our members bring clients there to dine because of our chef's reputation, and they wanted the option of being able to order a drink. Our staff are all trained to keep an eye on anyone drinking and alert one of the senior members if someone looks like they may be overdoing it."

"Mason has a bar in his room."

Sean nodded. "But I'll bet anything you like that he never takes a drink when you two are going to play. Nothing prevents a Dom from bringing in their own alcohol but, like I said, a responsible top won't drink or use drugs when playing. It's one of the worst offenses a top can commit."

They returned to the two Doms and Skinner envied the graceful manner in which Sean went to his knees before Jean-Pierre to present his offering. Skinner imitated him and was warmed by an approving smile from Mason. The Dom continued his conversation with Jean-Pierre and another man who had joined them, sipping from his glass and occasionally selecting something from the plate Skinner continued to hold up for him. From time to time, Mason gestured for him to open his mouth and popped one of the tidbits inside.

"Enough, Peaches," Mason said, handing back his glass. "Dispose of the plates and then we'll take a look around."

When he returned, Jean-Pierre announced that he was going to go talk to a few friends. "What about you, Sean?" Mason asked. "Coming with us or going with Jean-Pierre?"

"Going downstairs?" Sean asked and Mason nodded. Sean grinned. "Well, much as I'd like to see the education Walter'll be getting, I'd best stick with Jean-Pierre or there's no telling what trouble he'll get into."

Leaving their two companions, Mason led the way toward the back of the house and Skinner murmured, "Education?"

Mason just smiled enigmatically and shook his head. "You'll see."

They walked down an elegant staircase into a world of darkness. What appeared to have originally been a large, open area had been divided up by moveable partitions into smaller areas. Track lights illuminated each section, the light absorbed by the dark material of the dividers so that there appeared to be islands of light throughout the room. It was dark and erotic and yet oddly comfortable at the same time.

But it was the sounds that caught Skinner's attention, caught and held it. Somewhere a whip cracked and a sound of incoherent cry of pleasure echoed it. Softer sounds came from another area, perhaps a suede flogger, followed by a sigh of bliss. And from another area, there was the sound of soft crying and the murmur of a reassuring voice.

A touch on his chest nearly made Skinner jump out of his skin and he heard a soft laugh from Mason. "Pay attention, Peaches. Maybe I should put a leash on you - I wouldn't want you to get lost in here."

"Sorry, Master," Skinner murmured, flushing slightly. He felt a gentle tug on his harness and obediently followed as Mason slowly circled the area. Mason would stop from time to time to watch one of the sessions, softly murmuring to Skinner as he pointed out good and bad things that the tops were doing. Skinner had never before watched a session and, had he been asked about it before, would have said that it would be too embarrassing to watch complete strangers. Maybe it was the anonymity of the darkness, or the feeling of sultry sensuality in the air, but he found that he was not in the least embarrassed. Intrigued, amazed, and aroused, yes, but not embarrassed.

Mason stopped at one area and pulled Skinner to stand in front of him. He wrapped one arm around Skinner's chest to pull him close and murmured in his ear, "Watch this one."

Skinner turned his head to say softly, so as not to disturb those watching, "The Dom? Is he good?"

"Better than many, but I want you to watch them together. They are lovers in real life and, if you watch closely, you'll see something rare and incredible."

Skinner turned his attention back to the scene. The central feature was a sling and the sub had already been bound into it with his hands and legs spread wide apart. Other than the cock harness he wore, he was naked and his body glistened with oil or sweat. Dark hair was plastered against his skull and his head was flung back against the mesh of the sling. The top was slowly working a dildo in and out of his body, letting the movements of the sling assist him. The Dom was silent but he didn't need to say a word – a litany of pleas and demands fell from the sub's lips as he panted and wriggled in his bonds. He was so abandoned to his pleasure, so lit with fire and desire, that Skinner couldn't take his eyes off him.

Mason murmured softly in his ear, "Beautiful, isn't he? Look how he completely surrenders to his lover, how he trusts him. And how his lover knows just when to move faster and when to slow down. The bond between them is so strong that it's almost as if each knows what the other is thinking, feeling. This isn't just sex or kinky games, this is Magic."

Skinner watched, mesmerized, his heart beating faster. It was more than magic; it was art in motion, and somehow he felt as if he was linked with the pair moving at the center of the light. Tension was building all around him and he thought that his body would explode but he couldn't take his eyes off the sight of them claiming each other. When they finally cried out in completion and slumped together onto the sling, he thought that he would collapse as well. It was only Mason's strong arm around his waist that kept him on his feet. Dazed, he was barely aware that Mason was pulling them back into the shadows, away from the lighted areas.

"Walter? Are you all right?"

Mason's voice was full of concern but Skinner could barely focus. He slid to his knees, wrapping his arms around the hard body that was his lifeline in a sea of sensation. He rested his cheek against a firm thigh.

"Damn it, Piglet, answer me!"

How on Earth could that man sound so - normal? Skinner wondered. Hadn't he been stirred by the fire that had raged between those two? Skinner turned his head, intending to answer, but his cheek brushing against Mason's groin and the fire was reignited.

"Master, please…let me…"

His hands were moving for the zipper even as he spoke, not waiting for permission, and he heard a sharply drawn breath as he freed Mason and took him into his mouth.

"Damn, Peaches," Mason groaned, his hands moving down to cup the other man's head. Then his brain shut down, refusing to produce any more words, as the man on his knees before him proceeded to suck his brains out through his cock. This wasn't a slow teasing or a skilled demonstration - it was hot and fast and more intense than any other in recent memory. His climax hit him like a freight train and he bit his lip to keep from shouting as he pumped hard and fast.

A few minutes later, he was aware that he was leaning weakly against a wall and that a warm tongue was cleaning him up before hands tucked him away.

"Damn, Peaches," he said with a shuddering breath. "If that's what watching does for you, I'll have to take you to more parties."

Skinner flushed as he stood back up. "Master Geoff, I'm sorry - I don't know what came over me - "

Mason pulled him into his arms, hushing him. "It's all right, Walter. It can be pretty intense sometimes. And I've hardly got room to complain since I was on the receiving end of an incredible blow job."

"But here - in public - "

Mason laughed softly. "Hardly in public, Peaches. And I doubt we're the only ones indulging in a quick one in the shadows." He hugged Skinner one last time. "Now we'd better get back upstairs before Sean and JP think we've been abducted."

He led the other man upstairs with a quick detour into the bathroom so that Skinner could clean up a bit. When they entered the main room, Mason saw that Sean's face lit up with relief.

"Damn it, Mason, I thought I was going to have to send out Search and Rescue." Sean looked at Skinner and then back at Mason and grinned. "Although now I see what took you guys so long."

"Don't tease, brat," Mason growled but good-naturedly. "Did you need something?"

"Obviously, since I haven't had nearly as much fun as you two," Sean said with a smirk. "Madame is looking for you - here she is now."

Madame had a faintly troubled look on her face but it brightened as she saw Mason. "Ah, there you are, my friend! You have a phone call. You may take it in my study."

Mason frowned, wondering who would be calling him here. He turned to Skinner and said, "Wait here. I won't be long. If anyone tries to talk to you, tell them to speak with me. If you feel like you're in trouble, get JP or Madame. Understood."

"Yes, Master."

Mason followed Madame down the hallway to the library as a sudden suspicion crossed his mind, and he wasn't surprised to hear a familiar voice on the other end.

"Hello, my son. Are you enjoying the festivities?"

"All right, Master. What are you up to?"

A soft laugh made him smile as well. "You have a suspicious mind, young one. Why should you think I am 'up to something' as you so inelegantly phrase it?"

Mason sighed, recognizing that his former master was going to be as enigmatic as usual. "Oh, I don't know. Years of experience, perhaps. You never do anything without a purpose, sir."

"And may I not do something for the pure joy of amusing you?"

"Not likely, unless you are also amused."

"You are becoming impertinent, young one. It is perhaps fortunate that you are not within my reach at the moment."

"I count it as a blessing each day," Mason said dryly. "I take it that this call has a purpose, Master?"

"Several purposes. First, I have heard talk of your current protégé. You have brought him with you tonight?"

"As per your orders."

"Merely a suggestion, my son. I understand that matters between you are progressing well. I am pleased that you are once again making use of the skills that I labored to instill in you."

"You've been spying on me, Master. Or has JP been telling tales out of school?"

"Jean-Pierre accords his master the respect he is entitled to and communicates with his master regularly."

The voice on the other end was deceptively mild and Mason sighed, realizing that he was truly in for it when they met next. "My apologies, Master Nin. I will endeavor to check in with you more often in future."

"That would be most appreciated, my son. I have not often had the opportunity to talk with you much of late."

There was a touch of sadness and a hint of frailty in the elderly man's voice and Mason was wracked with a sudden wave of fear. Memories of the man who had taken him in as a rebellious young man, who had straightened him out and given him a purpose in life and been the only real father he had known flooded him. "Master, you are well, aren't you? Should I – should I come there?"

"My son, I am as well as a man of seventy years can be," the elderly Oriental's voice said dryly. "And while I appreciate your enthusiasm and would certainly welcome a visit, I am not on my death bed."

Mason chuckled, relieved. "You will doubtless outlive us all, Master Nin, and be wielding your cane when you are a hundred. And I promise to find the time to fly out for a long visit. Now, you have something else on your mind besides my apprentice, don't you? A reason why we are at this specific party?"

"You have always been astute, my son. The party you are attending is the Event of the year among the elite in the Lifestyle in your area. Study those attending and then call me tomorrow with your observations."

Mason sighed, knowing it was useless to rail at the other man when he chose to be mysterious. "Yes, Master."

"And Mace? Be very, very careful."

Mason's blood ran cold. Master Nin rarely ever used his real name. He cradled the phone against his chest, ignoring the dial tone, and wondered what in hell was going on.



Skinner stood against the wall in the main room, in the same position that Master Geoffrey had placed him, and watched those attending the party as they circled through the main room and into the buffet room, then back into the playrooms. Jean-Pierre was still in the side room enjoying a cigar and quiet conversation with friends. Sean had been dragged off a few minutes earlier by one of his friends who just had to introduce him to the newest love of his life. Skinner was a little bored but also relieved that it had been easy to turn away the few people that had approached him. Two submissives had practically drooled over him and one Dom had inquired whether he was available for playing, but a quiet request that they speak to Master Mason had sent them running. Now, as he watched the stranger walking purposefully towards him, he had a feeling that this one wasn't going to be so easy to dissuade.

"My, my, look what someone has so carelessly abandoned."

The man was almost a head shorter than Skinner and appeared to have no idea of what appeared to be Universal Top Dress Code. His faded and open leather vest was meant to show off his over-developed muscles but in Skinner's opinion just displayed his poor taste. He looked like he belonged in a leather bar instead of at this elegant party. He put one hand on Skinner's chest, toying with his harness, and circled around Skinner.

"Looks like someone's already put that mouth of yours to work. Why don't you come play with me, boy? I expect that I can find a way to amuse you - and use the rest of that body."

Forcing his face to remain impassive, Skinner replied, "I'm sorry, sir, but you must speak to Master Mason."

"I have no intention of talking with that bastard Mason. I want to talk with you and play with you. And I would like to see what's behind that mask." One arm went around Skinner's body, pinning him tightly against the wall, as the other hand reached for the fastenings of his hood.

Skinner stiffened and attempted to pull away but the man was strong and had the advantage of having him pinned against him. He had no doubt that he could get away if he wanted to but he didn't want to embarrass either Mason or Madame with a scene. "Let me go. I belong to Master Mason."

"Oh, I'll let you go, boy - when I'm finished with you."

Skinner was about to make a scene even if Mason would be angry with him later when a cool voice said, "I see you still haven't learned what the word 'no' means, Peterson."

"Go fuck yourself, Sean," the man growled. "This is none of your business."

"I'm afraid that it is my business. He's my friend and he belongs to someone else. So I suggest that you take your hands off him before I fetch Madame and have you thrown out." Peterson hesitated. "Now, Peterson, before I blackball your name in this circle, too."

Peterson released Skinner, pushing him roughly aside, and glared at Sean. "You just wait, Sean. You and Mason, both. Someday you'll get your come-uppance, and when you do I hope that I'm there to celebrate." He stormed off, knocking into a few people as he headed towards the buffet.

After Peterson left, Sean turned to Skinner and asked, anxiously, "Are you okay?"

Skinner nodded. "He didn't hurt me, just annoyed me. Thanks for the rescue."

"Any time, Mountain."

Sean looked around him, starting to feel a little uneasy. Madame's parties were usually well-controlled and riff-raff like Peterson would have not been allowed inside in the past. The fact that he was here, as well as a few other Doms who had bad reputations, made him aware that Madame's influence in the Lifestyle was not as strong as it used to be. Someone else was infiltrating the Scene, consolidating power, and it had all the same ear markings as the infiltration at the Club. Spender's work – or was he merely a puppet, concentrated at the Club, while someone else pulled the strings?

In addition, Peterson had clearly been drinking and he wasn't the only one. The fact that alcohol was flowing at the party meant that someone was deliberately sabotaging it.  He thought that it was likely that things would degenerate before long. It was time that he dropped a word in a few people's ears and then got his little group out of this lion's den. Much to his relief, he saw Mason heading towards them and took a few steps forward to meet him.

"Mason, I think that it's time for Cinderella to go home."

Mason raised an eyebrow at him and smiled. "Not enjoying yourself, scamp? No one falling for your bait?"

Sean ignored the teasing. "Peterson is here. He just tried to unmask your boy and threatened you and me. In addition, he has been drinking and he's not the only one."

Mason's smile disappeared. The reason for Master Nin's cryptic words suddenly became clear: there was something disturbing happening in the local scene and the elderly master wanted him to be aware of it. "Where's JP?"

"In a side-room talking. I'll go get him."

"Take Walter with you." He stepped over to Skinner, looking at him in concern. "You okay, Peaches?" Skinner nodded. "Good. We're leaving now, just as soon as we pry JP away from his cigars. Go with Sean while I find Madame and make our excuses."

Mason watched the two subs head off towards a side room and made his way across the floor, pausing a few times along the way to drop a word into the ears of prominent members of the Elite circle. If anyone could prevent a catastrophe from happening, it was these people. He was satisfied to see the alarm on their faces and their assurances that they would quietly handle the situation.

Reaching Madame's side, he took her hand and smiled ruefully at her. "Madame, I am sorry but I'm afraid I have to cut this delightful evening short."

Madame looked worried. "Is everything all right with Master Nin?"

"Perfectly. He's just set me a task to accomplish, and you know with Master Nin it is always business before pleasure." He bowed over her hand. "I hope that I see you soon."

The other three members of his party were waiting in the foyer and he joined them. "I've made our farewells to Madame. She appears unaware of the situation. I also spoke to a couple highly-placed and reliable Doms who are going to make sure nothing happens tonight."

Sean lead the way to the car. "What do you think they have planned, Mason? A scandal to blacken the local community? A personal affront to Madame? Just flexing their muscles?"

"I don't know," Mason said grimly. "But I intend to find out. And Heaven help them when I do."



Skinner was completely baffled by the outcome of this evening. Following the cryptic exchange between Sean and Mason, the two had appeared to retreat into their thoughts during the trip home. Jean-Pierre had been even more in the dark than Skinner was but had been reassured a little as Sean murmured something about telling him about it when they got back to the Club.

Mason was silent as they entered the Club and Skinner kept giving the older man anxious looks as he followed Mason to his suite. He couldn't tell if the Master was angry with him for what he had done earlier or merely tired. He restrained himself until they were inside the suite and then said, hesitantly, "Master?"

In an instant, he found himself pressed against the wall with a ruthless mouth plundering his own. He gasped and tried to grasp the other man's body with his hands, only to find his wrists pinned against the wall. An insistent mouth was now working its way down his neck, raising a row of love-bites that would surely be visible in the morning.

"Do you have any idea how hot you were tonight?" the Dom murmured, deliberately forgetting all the unpleasantness of the evening and concentrating on the man he had pinned against him. He released Skinner's wrists so that he could open the harness and caress the firm nipples made sensitive by the harness. "No one could take their eyes off you, including me. Half the people there wanted to fuck you, and the other half wanted to be fucked by you. And none of them could touch you because you belong to me." His hands slid down the sleek, nearly naked body, moving around back to take the firm ass in both hands. "And then when you went down on me - even in the dark, I could see you, looking so dark and dangerous, and on your knees before me."

Skinner tried to breathe as he leaned helplessly against the wall. "Master - please - "

"What, my pet? What is it that you need? After tonight, you have only to ask and - if it is reasonable - you shall have it."

Skinner flushed, unsure how to ask for what he needed. His whole body seemed to be coiled up in a knot, craving something that he couldn't name. "I want you to fuck me, Master, but first - " He hesitated. "I want - I need - "

Mason rubbed the ass under his hands and then, experimentally, smacked one of the cheeks. "Is this what you want, Peaches?"

Skinner groaned, leaning into Mason's body as if seeking more contact. "Yes, Master. Please."

Mason's hand circled to soothe the slight sting. "You want me to put you across my knee and make you come like this, don't you? Give you a chance to get all the emotions out, to cry in a way you can't do elsewhere without loosing your image."

"Yes," Skinner groaned again, trying to push both against Mason's body and back into the hand caressing his ass.

Mason kissed him quickly. "Go into the bedroom. Remove the mask and the boots, set out the lube and condoms, kneel on your mat, and wait for me."

Skinner obeyed quickly, and a short time later, Mason entered carrying a small black paddle in his hand. He sat down on the bed and called Skinner to stand between his knees.

"Do you remember this paddle?" he asked Skinner, showing him the paddle.

"Yes, Master Geoff," Skinner said. This was the first paddle that Mason had used on him, teaching him how erotic pain could be and how much he needed that release at times.

Mason turned the paddle over and showed Skinner the wooden side of it. "Look at this, Peaches. I had this done since that first time."

Skinner saw that the varnish had been removed and his name had been carved into the paddle, painted with gold, and then the paddle had been revarnished. He smiled. "It's beautiful, Master Geoff."

"I'm glad you think so, because this is going to be exclusively used on you from now on."

Mason set the paddle down on the mattress and removed the harness, tossing it aside, then unzipped and pushed down the shorts. He ran his hands over the sleek body in front of him, slowly removing the tie constricting Skinner's cock and balls, then patted his legs. "Come here, Piglet."

Skinner carefully maneuvered himself so that he was over Mason's lap, his upper body lying on the bed for support, and grabbed a pillow. Mason adjusted him so that his cock was safely tucked between the Dom's legs just where Skinner's movements would make it rub. Then he picked up the paddle and rubbed the fabric side slowly over the firm cheeks before him.

"Beautiful, Peaches. Nice and firm, but a little pale. How about we put some color in these cheeks?"

"Yes, Master," Skinner gasped, waiting tensely for the first blow to fall, feeling a little embarrassed by the anticipation building inside him. It was crazy to want his ass paddled like this, it was insane, it was -

The first blow fell, a firm slap with the hand and not the paddle, and Skinner jumped and then groaned. Mason was rubbing away the sting now, his hand soothing and warm. Then another slap followed by the soothing stroke, and Skinner no longer cared if it was insane. It was what he needed, what he wanted. He closed his eyes, concentrating on feeling each slap throughout his body, and rocked on Mason's lap to meet the blows.

Mason worked over Skinner's backside with his hand until it was a pale red, until Skinner was rocking and moaning almost constantly now. The other man's eyes were closed and he was obviously in his own private world of sensation and need. Time to intensify things, he thought, and picked the paddle back up again. For a minute, he ran the smooth side over Skinner's ass, soothing and teasing, then he flipped the paddle to the wooden side and began applying it in earnest. He could hear the sudden hitch in Skinner's breathing, feel the sudden tenseness in the body he held across his lap. Then Skinner was gasping and moaning, humping himself against Mason's leg, pleading and swearing at the same time, but not for Mason to stop. He was pleading for more.

Mason moved the paddle to the underside of the firm cheeks and Skinner groaned, arching up on Mason's lap to give him a better angle. "That's it, Piglet. You're a little piggy for this, aren't you, boy? You needed to get your ass paddled and I'm just the one to do that for you, aren't I?"

"Yes, God, yes!"

Mason chuckled. "Not God. Not even close. But I promise you'll hear the Halleluiah Chorus before I'm done."

Skinner groaned. "Please - Master - please - " His ass tingled everywhere and his body seemed to be stretched tighter than a rubber band. "Please!"

"All right, Peaches." Mason intensified his paddling, hearing the break in the Skinner's voice as he continued to plead for more, and then the shuddering began. Skinner rocked faster against him, pushing himself into the paddle, and then he was crying out in pleasure mixed with sobs.

Mason tossed aside the paddle and pushed Skinner off his lap towards the headboard even as he started to quickly strip. "Hands and knees."

Skinner scrambled into place, breath hitching in his chest as tears continued to run down his face. He felt so good, so free of everything that had been wrapping itself around him and keeping him from getting a deep breath. But he needed more. He groaned as he felt Mason's hands on him again, preparing him to be taken, and he tried to push back onto those deft fingers, earning himself a hard smack.

"Easy, Piglet. We'll get there soon enough but if you make me hurt you, you'll have a close encounter with my crop. You're sore enough from last night as it is."

Skinner groaned again but tried to keep still until he felt the sheathed cock slide into him. "Finally!" he gasped and heard Mason chuckle. But the Dom seemed to be as needy as he was now, for he set a fast rhythm of thrusting that had Skinner panting before long. His ass was on fire and the friction of flesh slapping against flesh intensified the sting. He was being rocked by each thrust and there were lights flashing behind his eyes. Howling his release, he rocked back hard against the Dom and heard Mason's shout before he tumbled into darkness.



When he came to again, he found he was lying on his stomach on the soiled comforter with a dead weight along his back.

"Master Geoff?" he croaked.


Skinner snorted at the inarticulate reply but grinned with pleasure at the thought of having taken the Dom with him on his trip into darkness.

"You weigh a ton, Master."

Mason groaned. "Nobody likes a smart-ass, Walter." He managed to flop over on his back beside Skinner with a groan. "God, I haven't done that in years. You certainly are good for my ego, Walter Skinner."

Skinner chuckled and managed to summon enough energy to get up, strip off the coverlid, and get both of them between the sheets. Trying to settle down to sleep, he found that he was once again thinking of that pair at the party. He wondered what it would be like to have someone like that in his life, to know someone that well and be known in return. He shivered at that and rolled over against Mason's back, snuggling close to his warmth. He let himself drift into sleep, although it was a sleep filled with dream-images of dark hair and a sensual mouth and laughing eyes…



Chapter Text

Geoffrey Mason was awakened by the distant sound of a phone ringing. He groaned and rolled over on his side, opening a bleary eye to check the clock. It was midmorning, and he collapsed onto his back with another groan. Who in the hell could be calling him at this time on a Sunday?

There was an irritated murmur from the body next to him and a restless movement, and he rolled up onto one elbow to look down at Walter Skinner with a smile. The man was deep in the sleep of the sexually sated and Mason allowed himself a moment of smug satisfaction. It had been a good evening and a great night, and all-in-all, his world was looking pretty good at the moment. Then he remembered Master Nin's cryptic conversation the previous evening. Something was not quite right and it was time he found out just what the hell his former master was up to.

He quietly slipped out of bed and padded into the living room to check the answer machine, already suspecting that he would see a familiar number on the display. His suspicion confirmed, he sighed again. He definitely needed both caffeine and a shower before this conversation. Starting the coffee maker, he headed for the bathroom for a long, hot shower.

A half-hour later, clean and wrapped in a robe with a cup of coffee in his hand, he settled on the couch with his phone and dialed the number. A young man answered on the other end; Mason didn't recognize the voice but he gave his name and was quickly transferred. A familiar cultured voice answered on the other end.

"Good morning, Master Nin," he said.

"Good evening, young one. It is about time that you were out of bed."

Mason grinned at that but shook his head. "Have a heart. It's only mid-morning in this part of the world, I was at that party till past midnight, and I have an attractive man in my bed. A very attractive man that this conversation is keeping me away from."

"You are becoming a hedonist, my son."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Mason replied, sipping his coffee.

"You are becoming soft, boy. I have been up since dawn, put in a full day's work at my business, worked one of my new subs after dinner, and will be up for several more hours attending to Network affairs."

"Ah, but I am not as young as you are, Master."

There was a chuckle on the other end of the phone. "You are an impertinent rascal. I do not know why I put up with you."

"I love you, too, sir," Mason said softly.

Another chuckle but there was no reply to that; there never was. "So, you observed as I instructed? What did you learn?"

"Madame is as charming as ever but - " He hesitated. "She has lost her influence within the local scene. There were several tops at the party who would never have been allowed there in the old days, ones with bad reputations. Sean had to rescue my boy from one who didn't know the meaning of the word 'no'. And someone smuggled in alcohol. I alerted some of the more responsible Doms there before we left."

He heard Master Nin's sigh. "It is as I feared. Madame, in her day, was a force to be reckoned with but she no longer wields the power that she once did. It is a pity that she did not recognize her own failing in this area and step aside. Now it appears that certain actions will have to be taken."

"What are you planning to do?" Mason asked sharply.

"That is not your concern, young one."

"I'm making it my concern. Madame is a friend of mine; I am very fond of her and don't want to see her hurt."

"You are becoming impertinent, boy. Madame has been a friend of mine for considerably longer and I shall certainly do nothing to harm her."

"And your associates? Will they agree?"

"Again, that is not your concern. If you recall, you turned down the right to be involved in such decisions."

Mason's mouth tightened. "I forget nothing, Master Nin. Including the reason why I turned it down."

"You are a child, Mace. An idealistic child."

"Perhaps. But there are some compromises I can't make." He rubbed his eyes, longing to be back in bed. "We disagree on this subject and neither of us are going to change our minds."

The voice on the other end of the phone softened. "You are right, my son. If it will ease your heart, I will personally ensure that Madame is allowed to retire with dignity. I will have her replacement speak with her. Unless you would care to spare her further pain and speak with her yourself?"

"Her replacement is already in position?" Mason felt a wave of anger surge through him. "You knew about this already, didn't you? If you have your little puppet in place, why did you need me to go through that - that charade last night?"

There was a moment of silence on the other end before Master Nin said, reluctantly, "As you have pointed out in the past, the Network requires some...unusual alliances."

Realization dawned. "And you don't trust this person."

"Not completely, no."

Grimly, he asked, "Is his name Spender?"

"Mason, you know that I may not reveal Council members' names to you - "

"To Hell with these games!" Mason snapped. "Spender is doing his damnedest to take over this Club and I, for one, will not stand for it! I don't care if he's your new fair haired boy -"

"He's not."

The voice on the other end of the phone was quiet, suddenly sounding fatigued. Again, Mason's heart contracted and his anger dissolved. His old master might be cryptic, cynical, and controlling, but they had a shared past.

"Good," he said quietly. "Then I need have no compunction about doing what I have to in regard to Spender?"

"I did not say that. The man you refer to has become known to us and he has dangerous connections. If you interfere with his plans, he is likely to retaliate."

"I can't let him ruin this Club."

"Is it truly the club you are concerned for, my son, or the owner of the club?" Mason was silent and Nin said with quiet amusement, "In your silence is your answer."

"My affairs are my own business, Master," Mason said shortly.

"It is my understanding that there is no affair," Nin said tranquilly. "We have an ancient saying, my son - he who delays the harvest will one day weep with hunger."

Mason rolled his eyes. "Don't give me that 'ancient saying' nonsense; I figured out a long time ago that you just make those up. And did I ever tell you how crazy you made me with these sayings of yours?"

"From the way you usually behaved, I had not thought that you ever listened to them. Not without a painful incentive - which I am neither too old nor too infirm to administer."

Mason sighed. "Fine, Master. I get the message."

"Good. Then I shall say good night, my son. Be well."

"'Night, Master Nin. And take care of yourself - if only so that you can continue trying to run my life." There was another soft laugh on the other end of the phone before the connection ended.

Mason sat for a long time, holding the phone and thinking. Until Master Nin hung up, Mason hadn't realized that the wily old man had steered the conversation away from Spender and Madame. He knew it had been deliberate; Nin had known that diverting Mason's attention to the subject of Sean Matthews would distract him. And the fact that he was apparently transparent about his feelings for Sean bothered him. He rubbed his aching head, wondering just what he should do about that fascinating young man.

"Master Geoff?"

Mason's brooding thoughts were interrupted by a soft voice, and he looked up to see Skinner standing in the doorway to the bedroom. The other man was still naked and blinked owlishly as he tried to focus his eyes.

"Peaches. Did I wake you?"

Skinner yawned. "I was half-awake. I thought I heard voices."

"You did, but it's not important." Deliberately putting unpleasantness behind him, Mason crossed the room and took Skinner into his arms, nipping his apprentice's neck. "Are you hungry?"

Skinner dropped his head back, allowing Mason more access. "I think I could manage to eat something."

"Good." Mason soothing the mark he had placed on Skinner's neck with his lips. "Because I believe that I have something to feed you." Letting go of Skinner's body, he took the man's hand and led him back into the bedroom.



It was several hours later before Mason found himself back in the living room, stretched out on the couch with the drowsing body of his apprentice stretched alongside him. They had finally emerged from the bedroom around noon, devouring the brunch sent in by the kitchen, and had collapsed onto the couch afterward. Once more, Mason was aware of a feeling of contentment. For the moment, anyway.

Skinner turned his head and kissed the skin under his chin. "You're thinking again."

Mason smiled slightly. "And you have a way to stop me from doing that?"

Skinner chuckled. "I'm not that young, Master Geoff. I think you wore me out."

"You think? Doesn't sound like I did too good a job if you don't know for certain."

Skinner smiled and laid his head back down. "Oh, I'm certain. And I was thinking that you might want to talk about whatever is bothering you."

Mason sighed and tightened his arms around the solid warmth in them. "Earlier, just before you came in here, I was talking to my former master about last night's party." Skinner flushed, his mind immediately returning to the scenes from the basement, and Mason chuckled. "I see that you have some pleasant memories," he said, kissing the smooth head under his chin. "But I'm talking about the less pleasant aspects."

Skinner frowned. "That man who wouldn't leave me alone?"

"Among other things. Someone had slipped in alcohol and several of the tops were drunk or on their way there. A couple of the men and women attending were ones that I would prefer you not to have an acquaintance with. You certainly won't find them here."

Absently, he began stroking Skinner's back and Skinner let his eyes drift shut. "Isn't there some way to – I don't know – track and censor people like that?"

Mason looked down at Skinner sharply, suddenly recalling the man's profession, but Skinner was half-asleep and appeared to be have no secondary motive behind his words. Slowly, feeling the waters, he said, "There is an organization, a network, that keeps an eye on Doms."

"And what do they do about these people?"

Avoiding a direct answer, Mason said, "What would you have them do?"

Skinner leaned up so that he could look in Mason's face. "Are you saying that they just watch? What if a person is really dangerous? How can they allow him or her to continue playing, possibly cause serious harm to a sub?"

"They're not the police," Mason said quietly.

"So they'd let someone be hurt or even killed without trying to stop it?" Skinner pulled away from Mason, sitting up and glaring at him.

"They've been known to give an anonymous tip to the authorities to help catch a top that has crossed the line. However, many in law enforcement consider what even the safest tops do as abusive. And it almost always causes headlines and adverse publicity for the Lifestyle when a member is arrested."

"We're talking about lives here," Skinner objected. "If they can stop it and don't, then I don't think much of your network."

Mason's eyes narrowed. "Would you have these people be vigilantes? If they were to, for example, take out someone who had seriously hurt or killed someone within the Scene - would they be justified?"

Skinner bit his lip, torn between what he thought was the right thing to do and what the law enforcement side of him knew was legal. "I don't know," he said finally. "But it seems that there should be some middle road." He looked at Mason sharply. "You sound as if you know a lot about this network."

Mason smiled faintly. "At one time I did, but I walked away from it many years ago." He stretched and sat up. "And now we need to go stretch out some kinks in the gym and then take a look at the rooms where you'll be taking your Junior test."

Skinner recognized that Mason was changing the subject but knew by now that when the Dom refused to talk about something, there was no way to change his mind. He pushed himself up from the couch and followed Mason into the bedroom to get dressed.



After their workout in the gym, Skinner followed Mason up a short flight of stairs from the main hallway and found himself in an unfamiliar corridor with closed doors along either side. One door had a small sign next to it reading Seniors' Lounge along with a key-card reader, but the other doors were unlocked and Mason gestured to them.

"These are the common play rooms. Although most of our members prefer to play in their private suites, there are occasions when a more public arena is desired – although not as public as the Dungeon you saw last night."

Mason opened a door and gestured for Skinner to enter. He looked around at the room, noting that it was large and open and empty. A doorway at one end of the room led, upon investigation, to a changing room with a small adjacent bathroom – toilet, large shower, sink – and a prominently displayed first aid kit.

He returned to the main room. "It's rather empty."

Mason smiled. "Each Dom selects what they want when they reserve the rooms." He pulled out a form from a small rack next to the door and handed it to Skinner. "You can even diagram on the back where you want everything to be placed and the support staff sets it up. All you have to bring is your own implements. Which reminds me – I need to take you shopping. You may continue to use any of my toys and the suites are provided with the basics, but you'll want to start your own personal collection as you start playing on your own."

Skinner was surprised to feel a wave of sadness pass over him at the thought of leaving Mason. The Dom saw the look and reached over to caress Skinner's cheek.

"We'll still continue playing, Walter. At least until you become a Senior. You still have a lot to learn."

"I'm glad," Skinner said simply. He glanced around the room. "Are you sure I'm ready for this?"

Mason smiled. "I'm sure. You've got good technique and great instincts. And all you have to do for the Junior level is show the Seniors that you can play safely and responsibly."

Skinner nodded. "Will they be in here watching me?"

Mason shook his head. "We'll be watching from the Seniors' room down the hall." He indicated the camera in the corner of the ceiling. "Each of these play rooms is wired so that those in the Seniors' lounge can observe without bothering the players. If trouble arises, one of us can be here in mere seconds."

"Who's my sub for this?"

"You won't know until the day of the test. Part of the process is to ensure that you know how to play from start to finish. You'll meet the sub, negotiate, and then play." Skinner nodded. "Let's take a look at one of the rooms that's been set up to give you an idea of what you can do."

Skinner followed Mason into the hallway, glancing down the list as he did so. The list of available equipment was amazing – spanking benches, tables, posts, crosses, chairs, slings, a rack –

"A rack?"

Mason grinned at him over his shoulder. "For situations where the sub needs to be completely immobilized. Brandings, piercings, tattoos, that sort of thing."

"Are you serious?"

"Completely. It's not uncommon for a Dom in a long-term relationship to decide that he wants to mark his submissive permanently. And it's not unusual for a sub to ask for some kind of symbol of possession. Usually it's done in front of friends in conjunction with a party, which is why we provide big rooms. I've been to a couple – nipple piercings are the most common - and I've also witnessed a branding and a few tattooings."

Skinner shook his head, bemused, then looked around the room Mason had led him into and wondered if he had been transported to a movie set. The room had been set up with a long, low table and reclining benches and he had the feeling that a Roman emperor would walk through the door at any moment. He looked questioningly at Mason and the other man smiled.

"One of our Doms likes to have Roman-style orgies with a few of his friends and their subs. We have a very talented support staff, ex-theater people mostly, and they can turn out all kinds of settings. The Roman orgy and Arabian Nights settings are the most popular, from what I understand, although not to my particular tastes."

Skinner looked at Mason speculatively. "And what would your particular tastes be in this area, Master Geoffrey?"

Mason tilted his head at that, his eyes twinkling at Skinner. "Considerably less innocent, my boy. And beyond that, I'm not saying." He led the way out of the room, gesturing at the form in Skinner's hand. "You won't need to be so elaborate for your test. Choose whatever piece of equipment you want to work the sub over, plus a table for your implements, and that should do just fine."

Skinner considered the list again. "What level of play will they require?"

"Medium level of intensity. The sub they'll choose comes from a list of volunteers, and they'll pick one who plays SM games like you. You'll need to know what you're doing to take him flying but I don't think you'll have any problems with that." He glanced at his watch. "Speaking of flying, our weekend is almost over and I'd like to spend a little time going over your bondage techniques."

Skinner smiled at that. "Tying up or being tied up, Master?"

Mason laughed. "Both, Peaches. Both." And he led the way back down to his suite.



Mason looked up from his Monday paperwork as the door opened, unsurprised to see Sean standing in the doorway. "Come on in, Sean," he said, gesturing towards a chair. "What can I do for you?"

Sean plopped down into a chair and ran a hand through his hair, a troubled look on his face. "I needed to talk to you about the party. About what you think is going on out there and here at the Club."

Mason sat back with a sigh. "I don't know," he said frankly. "I don't think it can be coincidence that someone is playing around with the local Scene while at the same time someone appears to be trying to form a power-base here at the Club."

"Do you think it's the same group, or could it be two different groups competing for attention?"

Mason shrugged. "Again, I have no idea."

"But you can find out."

Mason looked up sharply at the knowing tone in Sean's voice. "Why would you think that?"

Sean snorted, completely dropping his flighty sub persona. "Get off it, Mason. You think I don't talk to my friends in the Scene?"

Mason's eyes met his, hard as flint. "And?"

Mason's voice was like ice but Sean refused to back down. "And I know that you have connections. I recently ran into an old friend from my Boston days. He was back in the country visiting family – oh, did I forget to mention that he is currently working as Marketing manager for a large business in Singapore." He saw with satisfaction that Mason's face paled slightly. "I thought you might be interested in that. Pete's the friendly type and he's been making his way into the Scene out there. Hasn't gotten in deep enough to meet the top man but he's played with people who know people who know the top man, and it seems that he's heard an interesting story."

Mason sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers. "Go on," he said politely.

"Seems that Mr. Big out there had a very promising protégé, a young rascal he had pulled off the streets and practically adopted. Tough little son-of-a-bitch by all accounts who gave him all sorts of hell before he got him whipped into shape. The kid's name was Mace Jefferson, his father an American doctor who had married a local woman, and it seems that something happened to the parents – "

"Car accident on the way home from a medical emergency in a remote town," Mason murmured, his eyes fixed on his fingers.

Sean's eyes softened. " – and both sides of the family had disowned them so no one wanted the kid until Mr. Big – or should I say Master Big?" Mason was silent. "This boyo finishes school and goes to work for Master Big, and he turns out to have a flair for business. Both businesses. So the Master makes him his heir and inducts him into some kind of hush-hush Top organization. It's a fairy tale come true for our Mr. Jefferson – only guess what happens?"

"You tell me."

"That's just the thing. No one knows. Seems they had a blue about something, only no one's certain why or what it was about. All they know is that the young man resigned from his job and left Singapore, disappearing completely. Interestingly enough, at about the same time one Geoffrey Mason came out of the ether to manage a leather bar in Hong Kong and turned it into a classy little place that made money for the first time." Sean sat back in his chair and made a little "over to you" gesture.

"Interesting story," Mason said after a moment, "even if it is a figment of someone's imagination."

"I expect it's easy enough to check into. There have got to be birth certificates, death certificates, school records – "


Sean paused and looked over at Mason, surprised by the forcefulness behind the voice. "I beg your pardon?"

"Don't go digging into this, little boy."

"Why?" he asked softly. "Give me an answer I can accept and I'll drop it. Did something wrong?"

Mason lifted his head and met Sean's eyes directly. "No. I promise that I've never done anything illegal, immoral, or unethical in my life."

"And your mentor? This mysterious Master Nin?" Mason's mouth tightened as his eyes dropped away and Sean felt a wave of sympathy wash over him. "Okay, mate," he said gently. "I'll let it go."

Mason drew a deep breath. "I appreciate it." He pulled over a notepad and scribbled something on it, then handed it to Sean. "Here. For your friend."

Sean glanced curiously at the name and address scribbled on the paper. "What's this?"

"A person he can contact in Singapore if he's serious. Not Master Nin or anyone in his stable, but a safe, reliable player."

Sean smiled and tucked the paper into his pocket. "Thanks, Geoff. I'll make sure he gets this before he leaves town." He cocked his head at Mason. "I don't suppose you have another contact who can tell you what’s up with the local Scene."

Mason sighed and shook his head. "All I can tell you is that Master Nin's group is not involved. They appear to be just as puzzled as we are. They are also aware of Spender and he seems to have some kind of dangerous connection to a bigger organization, but if they know more than that, they aren't talking."

Sean frowned. "What I don't understand is why? What's the point in trying to muscle in on the local Scene? It's not like there's any money in it."

"Power," Mason said with a sigh. "The ultimate power trip."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Three fourths of the Club members are key figures in government, industry, the military and it's no different out in the general Scene around DC. And most of them are subs. What greater high for a control-freak than having a person like that under your whip?"

"Oh, come on, Geoff! Those are kid games. You can go into any leather bar in town and buy yourself a politician or soldier-boy to play Daddy games with. Hell, you've got a high player in the FBI submitting to your whims."

"Yes, but Walter and I know where the games end and real life begins. What if I was unprincipled enough to gather blackmail info on him? I could do it easily and then I could make sure that he danced to my tune or I'd ruin his career."

"All players know it's a risk, but that's why I set up this Club and why every member has to agree to the rules. Any member who tries to blackmail another member will find himself - or herself - caught in a trap that would cause them a lot more embarrassment."

"As long as the rules stay the same."

"It's not the members who make the decision to change the rules, it's the Board." Sean's eyes suddenly widened. "But two of the members of the Board have to be Club members - one Senior and one submissive, not including you and me."

Mason nodded slowly. "And the vote within the Seniors comes up in two months." He frowned and shook his head. "No, JP's too popular and Spender couldn't possibly have enough pull within the Seniors to displace him."

Sean frowned. "Well, I guess that's why Spender's trying to pull the Juniors under him as well, but he still won't have enough to influence the member vote."

"If he has the Juniors under him 'persuade' the submissives they play with, he might be able to do it, but it still seems like a hell of a lot of effort for such little payback. He'd have more luck for less work finding out about the outside players and taking them down."

"Maybe he already has – or the people he's working with have," Sean said thoughtfully. "Maybe that's what's going on outside, but why be so obvious about it at the party? I would think that if they were trying to run a blackmail scam, they would be more discreet. At this rate, they're going to scare off their potential victims." He ran his fingers through his hair again and said, irritably, "Hell, I can't figure this out. It just doesn't make sense."

Mason had an overwhelming urge to pull the frustrated younger man into his lap and soothe away his worries. He gripped the edge of his desk tightly, resisting the urge to run his own fingers through the beautifully disheveled hair, and said, "There's no point in driving ourselves crazy over this. All we can do is be vigilant here in the Club and wait for these people to show their hands."

Sean sighed. "Yeah. And hope that the fall-out isn't more than we can manage."

"Well, if this place goes to hell, we can always close it down and open a new one elsewhere," Mason said blandly in an attempt to distract the younger man. "I hear that Wyoming and Montana have lots of wide-open space."

Sean's lips twitched. "You have a sudden urge to go cowboy, Mason?" He leaned over the desk, teasing the Dom as he plunged into his flighty sub persona. "In need of a long, hard pony ride?"

Mason leaned forward until his face was inches away from Sean's. "I don't think that a pony is up to my weight."

"You'd be surprised," Sean said softly, demurely looking down, well aware of the effect of his long, dark lashes against his cheeks. "Ponies can be pretty tough creatures."

"And willful. Some ponies act like they've never been broken to the bit."

Sean raised his lashes, his eyes meeting Mason's challengingly. "Maybe they've just never felt a real master's hand on their reins."

"Ponies can be fickle, too. They'll carry anyone who can climb into their saddle."

Sean leaned in closer, his lips almost brushing Mason's, and felt a little giddy. After so long and so much teasing, Mason finally seemed to be rising to the bait. "You want loyalty, go get a dog."

It was like cold water dumping over him, and Mason sat back. Coolly, he said, "I just may do that. But for now, I'd better get back to work. My boss can be something of a tyrant if his reports aren't in on time."

Sean sat on the desk, dazed and shaken. Mere inches from his goal, he felt as if he had suddenly tumbled off a cliff and numbly checked for damage, wondering where he had stepped wrong. "Mason – "

Mason met the younger man's confused eyes and said, gently, "One other thing about me and horses. While I admire the high-spirited thoroughbreds, I need a reliable workhorse, one I can count on to be there, day-in and day-out."

Sean flushed, wishing that he could assure the older man that he could be faithful to the right person but dismally aware of his past track record in that area. And, truth be told, he wasn't sure that he was ready to settle down with anyone long-term, not even the fascinating Geoffrey Mason.

"Mason, I..." He cleared his throat, standing up as he did so. "Well. I'd better get going. I'm supposed – supposed to meet..." To his own horror, he found tears welling up in his eyes and he hastily headed for the door before he made an even bigger fool of himself.

Mason had seen the tears, though, and cursed himself for being weak enough to encourage the younger man for even a moment. He moved quickly to intercept Sean at the doorway. "Sean," he said gently. "I'm sorry. I wish..."

Sean smiled crookedly up at him. "Yeah. Me, too." He visibly drew himself up as he opened the door. "Never mind, mate. Plenty of fish just waiting in the sea – for both of us."

With a last brilliantly false smile, he left the room, letting the door swing closed behind him. And Mason stood leaning his head against the door for a long time after Sean had left, trying to catch his breath around the devastating ache in his heart.



Madame looked up with a smile as Mason followed the scantily clad slave boy through the garden. "Ah, Geoffrey, my friend. This is a pleasure to see you again so soon." She turned her head to the slave boy. "Another plate and cup for Master Mason, pet." As the boy silently bowed and moved away, she smiled at Mason. "You will join me for luncheon, won't you?"

"I'd be delighted," Mason said, smiling, and took a seat at the table. "I wanted to thank you again for a delightful evening at your party. My apprentice was particularly taken with the entertainment."

Madame laughed softly. "And we were all particularly taken with your apprentice. It reminded me of a time when I was training a certain member of a royal house…" As she reminisced, the slave boy returned, setting out a place for Mason and serving them both in silence. He started to kneel at Madame's side and appeared to be crushed when she instructed him to return to the house.

Once they were alone again, Madame looked over at Mason. "You didn't come here to discuss the party, or to listen to my tales of the old days," she said shrewdly. "The Network sent you, didn't they?"

Mason looked down at his plate. "Master Nin asked me to come here, as a favor to him."

"So." Madame folded her hands in her lap. "What is it to be, then?"

"Master Nin has arranged for a replacement to work for the Network in this area. He's asked that you quietly step down."

Madame clenched her hands and then deliberately relaxed them. "That is all? Nothing more? I will be allowed to continue training?"

"I don't see why not," Mason said, though he looked troubled. "Master Nin assured me that you would be all right."

Madame reached over to grasp his hand, giving him an amused look. "Do not be so concerned, my dear boy. I do believe that you are more upset over this than I. But then, you've never made a visit for the Network before, have you?"

Mason was silent for a long moment. "How can you possibly..." he began, and then stopped.

She sat back in her chair and said quietly, "When I was sent here, when I made my first visit, I was no older than our dear Sean. It made me ill twice, just thinking about what I had to do. But then I met the...person I was sent to...handle. He had tortured and killed three subs before the Network figured out who he was."

"The law - "

She shook her head. "He was a diplomatic aide. At most, he would have been deported and would have taken up where he left off back home." She looked at Mason and smiled faintly. "My dear boy, when you get to be my age, you'll realize that there is little that is black and white in this world. And that sometimes there is no right or wrong choice, only one that is less wrong than another."

Mason nodded, still troubled, but smiled as he stood up. "Thank you, Madame. For lunch and the conversation. And I shall tell Master Nin that you have agreed to step aside."

Madame held out her hand. "Good-bye, Geoffrey. It has been a pleasure talking with you."

He kissed her hand. "I have enjoyed it as well, and I hope that I will have a chance to visit more in the future."

A slight shadow crossed her face but she smiled. "You will always be welcome, dear boy. And now I'll have Dmitre show you out." She summoned the slave boy to show Mason out, watching with troubled eyes as he crossed the garden.

Dmitre returned, kneeling beside her chair, and looked up at her. "Trouble, Madame?"

She sighed. "Yes, Dmitre. I think it's time for us to take a little vacation. Pack our bags quickly. I believe it is best that we leave tonight."




Mason entered the Seniors' lounge and found that it was three-quarters full already as the members gathered for an afternoon of watching the testing of three new Junior candidates. Skinner was the second of the three, and Mason saw that the first candidate was already well into his session by this point. He wasn't concerned that he had missed part of it – these sessions were videotaped and kept for one week to allow those Seniors who were unable to attend to view and vote.

He headed to the bar and poured himself a small glass of Scotch, carrying it over to one of the overstuffed chairs that were loosely arranged in a circle, pausing to exchange a word of greeting with a few of the members on the way. Settling into a chair, he glanced again at the screen but he didn't recognize the young man.

"Whose apprentice is this one?" he asked.

The older gentleman in the chair next to his looked up from his newspaper and sighed. "Johnson's," he replied. "Dreadful, wouldn't you say?"

Mason studied the man on the screen's style for a moment. "I don't know about that. Predictable and boring, perhaps."

The other man folded his paper and set it on the table, picking up his own drink. "Precisely. Is there anything worse for a Dominant than to be boring? His submissives are more likely to call a grey than a red or yellow."

Mason chuckled at that, amused by the man's dry humor. He knew the man only distantly, being one of the six that the Board had admitted into the Club during the early days based on his reputation. The man, who went by the patently false name of John Smythe, had an impressive standing in the London circles. Rumor had it that his reputation wasn't exaggerated and that he was an expert with the cane, and Mason didn't doubt either.

"Not everyone can be witty while wielding a whip, Mr. Smythe." The speaker's voice was soft but there was an undercurrent of something to his words that made Smythe stiffen. Mason turned his head to look at the man standing in the doorway that led to the smoking part of the Seniors' suite.

"True, Mr. Spender, but one can at least attempt to rise above the mundane," Smythe said, gesturing towards the viewing screen where the candidate was finishing up. "This one will never make it to the Senior level."

"Not all can, nor would we want them to," Mason said. "And the majority of subs out there won't notice."

"True enough," Spender said, stubbing out his cigarette and crossing the room to settle in a chair on the other side of Smythe. His eyes met Mason's and the cold, fixed look in them reminded the Dom of a cobra waiting to strike. "I understand that you have a candidate today as well."

Mason deliberately forced himself to relax, to sit back in his chair and sip his drink. "Yes. He'll be next."

"I expect that he will be anything but boring, if he has been under your expert tutelage."

Mason shrugged, controlling his revulsion at the smooth flattery that seemed to ooze out of the other man. "I'll let you judge that for yourselves."

The monitor switched to the room where Mason could see Skinner waiting. He was relieved to see that the man appeared to be relaxed and calm, going over his implements at the table while he waited for his sub to join him. Skinner had opted to dress in comfortable clothes instead of going for a definitive Top look and Mason nodded approvingly.

"Who's his sub?" he asked. He hadn't talked to Skinner since this morning, allowing the other man to prepare for this on his own.

"Sean," Jean-Pierre said shortly, settling down in the chair on the other side of Mason.

Mason nearly choked on his drink. "Sean?"

Spender shrugged. "I offered Mr. Skinner one of my own subs for this session but..."

Mason exchanged a look with Jean-Pierre. As the Senior representative, matching of candidates and volunteer-subs was his responsibility. The man shrugged slightly as if telling Mason that he had no other choice. Mason drew a deep breath and tried to release the anxiety that suddenly filled him.

"A good pairing," he managed to say casually, although he had the feeling that both Spender and Smythe had seen his momentary dismay. "They've played together, however, which may prejudice the results of this testing."

"I hardly think we need to be concerned about collusion between Mr. Skinner and young Sean," Spender said. "From all I've heard, Mr. Skinner is extremely honest and unlikely to cheat."

There was movement in the room on the monitor, and Mason turned his attention to it. Sean had come out of the bathroom and he was ridiculously relieved to see that the young man was wearing a leather jock instead of being totally nude. He knew that he was being stupid to be concerned about all the Seniors seeing Sean naked – for all he knew, they might have all had personal experience with the young sub. All but him. He fought the wave of bitterness and closed his eyes.




In the playroom, Skinner watched Sean enter the room, his eyes sizing up the sub's condition. Something wasn't quite right about the younger man today. He seemed jittery, on edge.

"Sean? Are you okay?" he asked, concerned.

Sean smiled at him, a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'm fine. It's just been a little while. I really need to play."

"Sean, I'm not going to play with a sub who's not up to par, particularly not in these circumstances."

Sean sighed and reached over to touch Skinner's arm. "It's all right, Mountain. I'll be fine. I certainly wouldn't mess up your test. Now let's play."

"Your safe word?"

"Peter Pan." At Skinner's amused look, he said, "One crack about boys who never grow up, and I'll take out your kneecaps."

Skinner smiled and gestured towards the post. "In that case, boy, I think it's time for you to assume the position."

Sean gave him a slow, sexy grin and sauntered over to the post, leaving his back up against it and stretching his hands up towards the ring. "How's this?" he asked, deliberately posing.

"I had something more like this planned." He turned Sean around to face the post, briskly attaching the cuffs to the ring. "If you don't mind, of course," he added with a mock growl.

Sean laughed. "Whatever, mate. You're the Dom."

"Glad you figured that out." Skinner turned to the table and picked up a light flogger, then turned back to the waiting sub and began to play.


In the Seniors room, Smythe laughed softly and glanced over at Mason. "What a little minx that one is! I give your boy credit for not letting him take control from the start."

Mason tried to shrug but the sight of the two indulging in a light-hearted moment was somehow more disturbing than watching the play that was going on right now. On the monitor, Sean was now writhing under the flogging he was receiving, head thrown back as he was brought closer to flying. In this room, Mason was aware only of the concerned eyes of Jean-Pierre and the enigmatic scrutiny of Spender.

Smythe appeared to be unaware of the unusual tensions in the room, his attention fixed on the players. Mason concentrated on watching him out of the corner of his eye and felt his own tension easing away. The critical attention that the Englishman was giving to the scene reminded Mason that this was only a game, that he had seen dozens of pairs of players go through this dance, that it meant nothing in the long run. He relaxed, focusing his attention on the monitor, critically appraising Skinner's performance. There - that abrupt change that Skinner had a habit of making, of not following the tried-and-true but instead doing something surprising by choosing a different implement or altering his pattern. He saw Smythe's eyebrow go up at that and smiled. He doubted that Smythe would find this performance boring.

On the monitor, Sean had thrown back his head, shouting in ecstasy before slumping forward against the post. Jean-Pierre touched a button on the remote panel and the screen went blank before switching to the third room where a woman was pacing anxiously and watching the door.

"Well," Jean-Pierre said, breaking into the silence of the room. "It appears that our third pair isn't quite ready for us. Shall we take a ten-minute break? Give us all a chance to refresh ourselves?"

The others in the room agreed, and under the general noise of the men and women getting up and moving about the room, Smythe leaned over and murmured, "Very interesting indeed, Mason. But a word of caution, if I may. Sometimes such a performance can draw the wrong kind of attention."

Mason glanced over at Spender who appeared lost in his own thoughts, his unfocused eyes still on the screen, and he felt suddenly uneasy. "I understand." He stood up, turning to Jean-Pierre as he said, casually, "I believe I'll go check on my apprentice. If I'm not back before the break ends, go ahead without me. I'll want to review the videos on all three before I cast my vote, in any case."

Jean-Pierre nodded and said, softly, "Give your boy my congratulations as well."

Mason smiled and nodded, then left the room and headed down the hallway.




Almost before Sean's cry finished echoing through the room, Skinner had moved forward to brace the young man. He released the cuffs, catching the sub as he sagged toward the floor. "Sean? Are you all right?"

"Oh, yeah," Sean said, grinning up at him, still flying high. "I'm more than all right. Definitely more."

Before Skinner could blink, Sean was suddenly all over him, hands and mouth moving eagerly over his body. Skinner's over-heated libido took control and he returned the caresses hungrily. He was so hot and horny and the younger man's mouth was promising him expert delights, and he wanted nothing more than to surrender to them.

The sudden push Sean gave him sent him sprawling on his back on the thick mat, knocking his breath away but restoring a brief moment of sanity before Sean was straddling him and resuming his oral mapping of Skinner's body. It was enough to make him stop and think, and he managed to grasp the young sub firmly and push him up.

"Sean – stop."

Sean's hands were still free and he grinned down at Skinner as his hands traced a firm erection. "That's not what your body is saying."

"Shit – cut it out!" Skinner ordered, rolling and pinning the younger man under him, his hands firmly pulling Sean's above his head. "We're being watched – "

"Camera's off," Sean said, jerking his head in the direction of the camera, which Skinner could see no longer had the red light lit. He flexed his leg, rubbing it against the erection he could feel in Skinner's pants. "It's just you and me, and I think you could use a little special handling." He smirked at Skinner as he said that.

"Bad idea, brat. Mason'll be in here any minute now."

"So?" Sean said, nonchalantly, now arching his body and rubbing against Skinner. "He can watch if he wants. Maybe he'll learn something."

Skinner growled and pushed himself up and off the sub's body. "Oh, no, you don't! You got a problem with Mason, you deal with it. Don't pull me into the middle. I have no desire to get my ass tanned, thank you very much!"

"You sure know how to kill a mood." Sean remained sprawled on the mat and looked up at him sulkily. "And I haven't got a problem with Mason. Or anything else with him, for that matter."

Skinner stared down at Sean, his expression softening. "Still haven't talked to him, kid?" he asked sympathetically, sitting down on the mat beside Sean and placing a comforting hand on his leg.

Sean sighed and sat up, giving Skinner a wry smile. "Oh, we talked. A little. Not that it did much good. There's a chasm between us and I don't think we'll ever be able to cross it."

Sean sounded so desolate that Skinner put his arm around the smaller man's shoulder, hugging him comfortingly. "It can't be that bad. I know he's interested in you – the way he teases you, hell, the look in his eyes. So what's the problem?"

Sean turned into the comfort of the arm around him, burying his face in Skinner's shoulder. "It's not that easy," he said, his voice muffled. "He's got all sorts of concerns – and rightly so. I haven't got the best record for sticking with one partner. I get bored and restless, and the next thing I know I'm chatting up some new bloke, and it's out with the old and in with the new."

Skinner chuckled softly. "I doubt that you'd get bored with Mason. The man is a constant surprise. I think you could live with him for years without running through his full repertoire." He felt the slight stiffening of the younger man's body in his arms. "Is that part of it? The idea of committing to someone for years?"

Sean nodded, raising his head to look into Skinner's face. "I've never managed to keep anything going beyond a couple months. Geoff and I work together every day as it is – if we're living together as well, we'd probably drive each other nuts before the end of the first month. And if he ever caught me screwing around on him, I'd be dead."

"Aren't you jumping the gun a bit? You haven't even slept together one time and you're talking about forever?"

"His rules, mate, not mine," Sean said, burying himself back in the comforting warmth of Skinner's arms. "I'd be more than willing to take a test-tumble but he's so pig-headed..." He felt Skinner's chuckle at that and couldn't help grinning himself. "And damned if I know why I'm telling you all this, or why I'm weeping on your shoulder like a bloody water-pot, but if you will insist on being as big as a mountain…"

Skinner chuckled and squeezed the younger man affectionately. "Idiot."

The door opened and Mason entered, pausing in the doorway as he saw Skinner and Sean sitting on the floor mat, the younger man burrowed in Skinner's arms. He raised an eyebrow and said coldly, "Am I interrupting something, gentlemen?"

Skinner felt the slight stiffening in Sean's body and directed a glare at the Dom, fully aware that he would pay for that later but unable to resist. Softly, he said, "Go wash your face, kid. You'll feel much better. And thanks for partnering with me for the test."

"You're welcome," Sean murmured, pushing himself to his feet. He headed into the bathroom, carefully avoiding looking over at Mason.

Skinner rose more slowly, giving himself time to straighten his clothes and get his feelings under control. He was still dealing with the adrenaline high from the session, still hot and horny, but now he was also dealing with feelings of anger towards these two men, Mason in particular. How the two of them could continue to dance around each other like this was beyond him, and he hoped that if he ever behaved in such a stupid way that someone would give him a swift kick in the ass.

Mason, meanwhile, was fighting down an incredible wave of jealousy that had washed over him at the sight of Skinner and Sean cuddling on the floor together. It was obvious that Sean had been upset about something and Skinner was just trying to comfort him, but the logic didn't seem to be playing a part in his feelings.

"Sorry I intruded," he said coldly. "I was under the mistaken impression that you would be requiring some relief after that intense session, but I see that Sean offered his services first."

Skinner had never heard such a tone of voice from the Dom before and he was intensely glad that Sean wasn't in the room. He glared at Mason and growled, "You are an asshole. Sir." As Mason stood gaping at him in stunned surprise, Skinner moved past him out the door and down the hallway.

Mason stood there, stunned, for a minute before the full impact of Skinner's words hit him. The insolence in his words and in his eyes was something he hadn't expected from Skinner, not at this stage of their relationship. And then to just walk out on him like that! Combined with his earlier jealousy, it fanned his temper to a white-hot glow.

With a snarl, he turned and left the room, but the other man was nowhere to be seen along the hallway. He stalked down to the front desk, determined to stop the man if he attempted to leave the Club, but the startled clerk said that he hadn't seen Skinner since he checked in the previous night.

Mason stalked down the hallway towards his suite, unaware of the looks that he was getting as people quickly moved out of his way. Keying open the door, he slammed it behind himself.

"Walter Skinner! You damn well better be in this suite!"

"Here, sir," said a quiet voice from the playroom. He stomped across the suite and then stopped in the doorway. Skinner was kneeling in the middle of the floor, naked, the punishment crop laid out on the floor in front of him. For a moment he was disconcerted, then Skinner raised his head and the defiance in those eyes fanned the flames of his ire once more.

"On the bench – now!" he snarled. Without a word, Skinner rose and got into position over the spanking bench, griping the bar in front of him tightly. Mason snatched up the crop and flexed it in his hands as he moved into position behind Skinner. Taking a deep breath, he fought to control his temper as he brought down the crop in a swift blow across the center of the other man's ass.

"That remark was uncalled for, boy," he snapped. "And out of line."

Skinner grunted under the sting from the crop. "With all respect, sir, so were you."

Mason paused, arm raised to deliver another blow. "What did you just say?" he demanded.

Skinner turned his head so that he could meet the Dom's eyes. "I said that you were out of line, sir. And I think you know that I'm right."

Mason found himself unable to look away from the reproach in those eyes until Skinner turned his own head, once more bracing himself for punishment. Mason snarled and turned away, flinging the crop across the room. "Get up," he snapped. "Go take a shower and then find a corner. I'm too angry to deal with you right now."

As Skinner quietly obeyed, Mason dropped to his knees on the floor and buried his face in his hands. To his surprise, he found that they were shaking. He stared at his hands as if they belonged to a stranger, wondering just exactly when he had lost control of himself. He couldn't remember the last time he had lost it this badly.


Mason glanced up and saw Skinner standing in front of him, holding out a glass. The other man's head was still damp from the shower and Mason wondered just how long he had been kneeling here, caught up in his thoughts.

He accepted the glass, suddenly aware of how thirsty and tired he was, and was relieved to see that his hands were no longer shaking. "Aren't you supposed to be standing in a corner somewhere?"

"Yes, sir, and I'll be doing that – as soon as you drink this," came the unperturbed reply.

Mason couldn't help chuckling at that, even if his laugh sounded a little shaky to his own ears. "You are a stubborn man, Walter Skinner." He sipped, finding it to be one of the sports' drinks that he stocked in his refrigerator, and thirstily drained the glass.

Skinner took back the glass. "I believe you've mentioned that before, sir."

"I believe I have." Mason sighed and pulled himself to his feet, wrapping his arms around the other man. "I also believe that I owe you an apology."

Skinner relaxed in the warm embrace, hugging Mason back. "Accepted, sir, though I must admit that I goaded you as well."

"You certainly did," Mason said ruefully, pulling back slightly. "I can't remember the last time anyone made me that angry." He gently patted Skinner's cheek. "We'll talk about that shortly. I want to wash and finish calming down. In the meantime – "

"I know – find a corner."


Thirty minutes later, relaxed and refreshed from a hot bath, Mason put on a robe and wandered into the living room in search of his apprentice. He found Skinner standing dutifully in a corner and stood for a moment admiring the picture the man made, standing there naked with a single red stripe lighting up his pale backside. He sighed and decided that it was time to deal with what had just happened.

Sitting down on the couch, he said, "Come over here, Piglet."

Skinner obediently left his corner, dropping to his knees beside the Dom and moving to lie down across the other man's knees. Mason stopped him, gesturing to the couch.

"No. I'm not going to punish you – not at the moment, anyway. Sit. We need to talk." Once Skinner had settled on the couch next to him, Mason reached out and took both of the man's hands in his. "Walter, you have just seen proof that even an experienced top makes mistakes from time to time. While I don't have to permit such insolence from you, I admit that I over-reacted. Also, my original comment was uncalled for, and I can understand why you reacted like that."

Skinner nodded. "You know, if you're going to react that way when someone just hugs the kid, you're in for a hell of a rough life."

Mason stiffened. "Don't push it, Peaches. We're not going to discuss Sean Matthews."

"Why not? He's at the root of this situation. I've seen that every time I play with him you get edgier."

"I do not - " Mason broke off his indignant response and looked at Skinner questioningly. "Do I?"

"You do." As Mason groaned and dropped his head back against the back of the sofa, Skinner said, "You don't need to worry. Not about me falling for him, at any rate. He's not my type."

Mason snorted. "You could have fooled me earlier."

"I was comforting him. If I wanted to nail him, I've had plenty of opportunity, but I'm not looking to become anyone's Daddy."

Mason raised his head and quirked an eyebrow. "A Daddy? Last time I checked, Sean had a father and wasn't in the market for another."

"You know what I mean. That's one young man who'll need a lot of attention - more than I'm prepared to invest, even if I was attracted to him in that way. Which I'm not." He looked at Mason. "So what are you going to do about him?"

"Nothing." At Skinner's frown he added, "For now. But I'll think about the situation. And I'll think about finding you someone else to play with. That'll take some of the tension off both of us."

Skinner looked doubtful but Mason just smiled and reached out to gently grab Skinner by the back of the neck. "And now I think that we have a little matter to settle between the two of us." He pulled Skinner forward and kissed him, hard.

When Mason released him, Skinner murmured, "Was that supposed to be punishment?"

"Can't tell the difference between pleasure and pain?" Mason asked with a grin. "I think I need to brush up on my technique." He got up from the couch, pulling Skinner up with him.

"For which - pleasure or pain?"

"Both," Mason said, and pulled Skinner into position across his knees. "And now I think that we have some unfinished business."

Skinner grimaced and grabbed a pillow to rest his chest on. Mason settled him more comfortably across his knees, making sure that his genitals were tucked away. He ran one finger over the red welt lying precisely across the firm buttocks, wryly amused that even when pissed, his aim was on target.

He felt the shiver go through Skinner's body and smiled. Having all this controlled passion under his hands never ceased to amaze him. He ran a hand over the smooth skin and down the legs, gauging the tension remaining in those muscles. With everything that had occurred, they hadn't taken care of Skinner after the session like he normally did and it was apparent that the other man was still on edge. Mason considered what to do. He really wasn't in the mood to punish Skinner, especially since he was aware of his own fault in the matter, but he didn't want the man to think that he could get away with being insolent no matter what the provocation.

Smiling to himself, he adjusted Skinner's legs, slightly, opening the man's body more fully to him. He tickled the back of Skinner's knee and caught his foot when he involuntarily kicked it in response, running one finger over the sole of it. He knew that Skinner had turned to look at him, puzzled, but he wasn't about to enlighten the man on his plan. Instead, he began wiggling Skinner's toes as he chanted.

"This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home. This little piggy had roast beef, and this little piggy had none. And this bad little piggy," and here he smacked Skinner on the ass and made him jump, "got a spanking on his naughty little bum."

Skinner snorted. "You're a sick and twisted man, Master Geoffrey."

Mason laughed, rubbing out the sting from his swat. "And that's a remarkably foolish thing to say when you are lying in such a vulnerable position, my pet."

Skinner was relieved by the teasing tone of voice and relaxed slightly. The stranger who had looked at him so coldly and spoken to him so cuttingly was gone and the familiar Dom was back. "Does it matter? You're going to do what you want to me, no matter what I say."

"Absolutely correct, Peaches," Mason said, grinning and swatting the man again. "You did very well today, pet, and I was very pleased. So I'm not going to give you the whipping that you no doubt deserve for that insolence." He rubbed away the sting and then swatted Skinner again, this time once on each cheek. "Instead, I'm going to light up this enticing ass of yours and then fuck you into next week." He soothed the skin again and swatted him again. "Any problems with that?"

Skinner groaned, feeling the build up of heat inside that seemed to increase with the build up of heat outside. "No - no problem, Master."

"Good." Mason picked up the little black paddle that he had left on the table earlier that week and rubbed the cloth side over the slightly pink skin, then reversed it so that the wooden side rested on the naked skin. "In that case, here we go."




Skinner shifted restlessly in bed, awakened by his insistent bladder, and carefully slipped out from under the covers to take care of the matter. Nature satisfied, he slipped back into bed, careful not to wake the sleeping Dom. Mason was sprawled across the bed, oblivious to the world, sleeping with the exhaustion of the completely sated. Skinner smiled ruefully, shifting to find a comfortable sleeping position. His ass was sore in more ways than one which made this a challenge, but he was exhausted and knew that he would have little trouble falling back asleep. For the moment, though, until sleep claimed him, he thought that he would just watch the sleeping man. Watch him and try to figure out how in the world to bring together two stubborn and desperately unhappy people.


Chapter Text

Skinner entered the Dionysus Club on Friday evening, mentally sighing with relief. It had been a long week, the end of his first quarter as Assistant Director, and he had the discouraging feeling that he was nowhere close to where he had planned to be at this point. Part of the problem was his predecessor - a good man and, in his day, a great agent within the Bureau, but the man had lacked the skills necessary for an administrator. Consequently, he had relied on his subordinates to manage their own departments with little input from him, passing their reports upward. While Skinner was willing to allow a certain level of autonomy in his department heads, he preferred to keep a closer eye on the men and women under his supervision - a fact that was causing some conflicts with those who had grown accustomed to having little interference. It wasn't anything that he couldn't handle and his reputation for being a tough administrator had at least ensured that his subordinates took him seriously, but it placed an additional level of stress on him.

It was in anticipation of reducing his stress that Skinner approached the desk and signed in. The Assistant Secretary was manning the desk this evening and he flashed a big smile at Skinner.

"Good evening, Mr. Skinner, and congratulations."

Skinner looked at the man blankly. "For what?"

"Passing your Juniors," Hanson said. "Unanimous approval, too, from what I hear. It's been the talk of the Club today." He handed a card-key to the stunned man. "Mr. Mason's been eagerly awaiting your arrival and told me to send you directly to his suite. I understand from Master Jean-Pierre that he ordered quite a celebration."

Slightly dazed, Skinner picked up his bag and headed down the hallway toward Mason's suite. Mason wasn't in the main room when he entered, but it was obvious that he had been busy. The small table in the dining nook had been set and delicious scents flowed out from the kitchenette and filled the room. Candles had been set out and a bottle of champagne was chilling beside the table.

Skinner took in the scene, touched that Mason had gone to so much trouble. He crossed the suite to put his bag away and found Mason in the bedroom where he was finishing dressing. The Dom looked up with a smile and got up to pull Skinner into an embrace.

"Congratulations, Peaches. All the Senior members reviewed the tape of your test and agreed that you passed with flying colors. You are now a Junior Dom, my boy."

Skinner smiled and returned the hug. "Thank you, Master Geoff. I couldn't have done it without your expert training."

"Nonsense," Mason snorted, releasing him. "Oh, I've polished off some of the rough edges and taught you some techniques, but you have an innate ability that anyone can see. Now, shower and get dressed – dinner will be ready shortly, and I think we both need a little celebration before we start on the next phase of your training."

Skinner suppressed a groan at that but wasn't in the least bit surprised that Mason had heard it anyway and aimed a swat at his retreating backside.



Mason was pouring the champagne when Skinner emerged from the bedroom, dressed in the clothes that Mason had laid out for him. He smiled at Skinner and waved for him to have a seat.

"Perfect timing, Walter. I hope you're hungry - JP went all out this evening."

Skinner sat down, nodding, and reached for the basket of rolls. "I'm starving. Things were so hectic at the office that I didn't even get a chance to grab a sandwich at lunchtime." He paused in mid-reach and looked over at Mason, suddenly sheepish. "Shit. I shouldn't have told you that. I'm in trouble now."

"Depends," Mason said, helping himself to a seafood dish, "on whether you've been eating regularly the rest of this week." He saw Skinner flush and grinned. "Yep. You're in trouble, Piglet. But it'll keep. This evening, I just want to celebrate." He raised his champagne glass. "To you, Walter. The best apprentice I have ever had the pleasure to train."

"Thank you, sir." Skinner lifted his own glass in return.

Mason held out a small box. "Here - this is yours now. A symbol of your place here at the Club." Skinner opened the box and found a silver signet ring inside. There was a design carved in the flat surface and, looking at it closely, he saw that it was his initials entwined with a grape vine. "You don't have to wear this, but many of our members find that it is convenient to identify yourself to other members. Later, if you wish, you can choose your own design."

"Thank you - it's beautiful." Skinner slipped it onto his finger, then picked up his glass again. After taking a sip, he set it down and asked the question that had been bothering him. "What now?"

Mason cocked an eyebrow at him. "Can you be more specific?"

"Now that I'm a Junior Dom, what happens?"

Mason grinned. "Lots of exciting things, Walter. The doors are now opened to you.  You can take subs of your own and play with them - ones that you choose, not partners that I bring in to help train you. You can form relationships if you like, giving someone your bracelet as I have given you mine. Or you can choose to play the field with different partners. Whatever you wish."

"And what about us?" Skinner asked quietly.

"Ah." Mason sipped from his champagne glass again. "Well, that is up to you as well. We can continue as we have, with me training you towards the Senior level. You can choose to switch to another Senior trainer - JP, for instance. Or you can decide not to continue with a Senior Dom. While the majority of our Juniors belong to a Senior here or a Dom outside the Club, at least a quarter of them are independent players."

"I prefer to stay with you, Master Geoffrey. If you still want to continue."

Mason grinned at that. "I'd be more than pleased to continue, Peaches. I wasn't flattering you when I said that you were the best I've ever trained. I think that you can become one of the top Seniors here at the Club. And I'd like to be the one who takes you there."

"And us? Does this change anything between us?"

Mason reached out to grasp Skinner's wrist. "You belong to me, Peaches. You always will." He grinned. "And I intend to prove that to you when we finish dinner."

Skinner caught his breath at the fire in Mason's eyes and started eating quickly.



Skinner lay stretched out on the couch, feeling languid and relaxed. Over the past day, Mason had taken him down into his deepest self, catered to his deepest needs, and freed him from the overwhelming pressure that had been crushing him. For the first time all week, he felt light and almost carefree. Now, well rested and well fed, he was content to just doze and wait for Mason to join him, to learn what the man had planned for them today.

A weight settled on the couch next to him and he opened languid eyes to see Mason smiling down at him. The Dom had changed into casual clothes and the dampness of his hair told Skinner that he was fresh out of the shower. "With me yet, Peaches?"


Mason chuckled as he leaned over and nuzzled his neck. "Was that a yes or a no?"

"Yessss," Skinner groaned, his arms coming up to hold Mason's head in place.

Mason laughed again, moving his body to cover Skinner's. "You are insatiable, Peaches. Have I ever told you how much I like that in a man?" His mouth moved downward and he nuzzled at a nipple that was still reddened from its earlier torture.

Skinner groaned, rocking up towards the tormenting mouth. "I think - you've mentioned it - before."

Mason laughed again and the vibration of his mouth on the nipple nearly drove Skinner crazy. The Dom moved to the other nipple, teasing it as well, and felt Skinner's body thrust up against his.

A sudden pounding on the door made Mason's head jerk up and Skinner groaned at the loss of attention. The pounding continued, and Mason swore under his breath. He crawled off of Skinner and stormed over to the door.

"This had better be damned important," he snarled, glaring at Hanson as he stood in the doorway, obviously out of breath. "Well?"

"Mr. Matthews - something's wrong - got a call - sounds like he's - tearing apart his room."

Mason raced through the Club toward the suite that Sean kept for his personal use. Banging on the door produced no response so he used his access override key to open the door. The living room was a mess, looking like it had been ransacked. He raced into the bedroom where he saw a suitcase on the bed. Sean was throwing things into it haphazardly, throwing things he didn't want on the floor.

"Sean, what in hell's wrong?"

Sean glanced over at him, his eyes large in an unusually pale face. "It's - it's Da. They called from the hospital in Sydney - his heart - " Sean looked around wildly, looking for something. "I've got to get there - I can't find my damn passport - "

"It's okay, Sean," Mason said quietly, putting a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "We locked it in the safe in my office, remember?"

"Right - right. Should have remembered - should have - " Sean's breath caught on a sob. "Should have been there."

"It's okay," Mason repeated, gently, and Sean broke down completely. He threw himself against Mason, clutching the larger man desperately as he buried his face against his chest and sobbed. Mason lifted him up into his arms, sitting in a chair with the young man cradled on his lap, stroking his head and murmuring soothing words.

Skinner had paused long enough to throw on clothes and arrived on the scene in time to hear Sean's words. He turned to the assistant secretary and, in a low voice, said, "Have you got a key to the safe?" The man nodded. "Good. Get both their passports and make the necessary travel arrangements."

Hanson nodded and hurried off, and Skinner turned to the mess on the bed. He dumped everything out of the suitcase and began packing swiftly and efficiently. He had no idea how long Sean would need to be in Australia but packed enough for two weeks, then put away the remaining clothes and tidied up the room. He glanced at Mason, still wrapped up in soothing the distraught man, and left the room, going to Mason's suite to pack a similar bag for the Dom.

By the time he returned to Sean's suite, Hanson joined him and said, quietly, "Mr. Matthews' private plane is standing by at the airport. The flight crew reports that they'll be ready to take off within the hour."

"Good," Skinner said. He glanced over at the pair and saw that Sean was collapsed against Mason's chest, worn out from his emotional outburst. "And Mr. Matthews' father?"

"Stable but serious condition. The hospital has been notified that Mr. Sean is on the way and a driver will be waiting for him at that end."

"Good. I'll drive them to the airport myself." He set down the suitcase he carried and Mason looked up for the first time, raising an inquiring eyebrow. "I assumed that you'd be going with him, sir."

Mason smiled and shook his head. "You know me too well, Walter. Thank you." He looked at his assistant. "My passport?" The man smiled and held up the two passports in his hand. "Gentlemen, you are starting to worry me. Have you called a cab?"

"I'm driving," Skinner said. Mason nodded and stood up, swinging Sean up in his arms.

Sean stirred enough to protest at that, wriggling in an attempt to get down. "Geoff, I can walk - "

"I'll keep that in mind."

Mason headed towards the elevator, ignoring the sub-vocal mutterings about bossy Doms from the man in his arms, and Sean finally gave up and surrendered to the undeniably pleasant feeling of being snuggled close to the man he had lusted after for so long. He was a little disappointed when Mason deposited him on the seat instead of continuing to cradle him on his lap, but since Mason immediately sat down next to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, Sean was willing to forgive him. He settled into the curve of Mason's body with a contented sigh and let his eyes drift shut.

The airport authorities were waiting for their arrival, opening a gate to allow Skinner to drive right up to the waiting plane. Once again, Mason shifted the now-sleeping man into his arms and carried him towards the plane. Skinner stowed the luggage and met Mason at the front of the plane.

"Thank you, Walter," Mason said quietly. "I'm sorry for upsetting our weekend like this."

"Don't worry about it," Skinner said, glancing over Mason's shoulder at where the sleeping young man lay strapped into his seat. "Just take care of him."

"I will." Mason patted Skinner's cheek affectionately. "And you take care of yourself, Peaches. I don’t know how long I'll be gone, but I better not find that you've drifted into any bad habits while I'm away."

Skinner grinned at that. "I promise, although I may do some permanent damage to that crop you love so much."

Mason chuckled. "My impertinent Piglet." He pulled Skinner into a hug, suddenly filled with foreboding, although for whom or what he couldn't say. "I'll ask JP and some of the other Seniors to keep an eye on you, my boy. And I'll call you once we know more about the situation."

Skinner nodded and, as the flight crew indicated that they had received clearance from the Tower, he said his final good-byes and left the plane. Standing on the tarmac, he watched as the plane taxied out of sight and then, with a sigh, got into his car. He had a feeling that it was going to be a long time before they were all together again.



Sean woke feeling stiff and uncomfortable. He stretched gingerly, aware of something restraining his body. "Okay, I have just two questions," he murmured. "One - what the hell did I do last night, and two - did I have a good time?"

There was a soft chuckle from nearby and Sean forced open bleary eyes, surprised to see Mason kneeling before him. "Here, drink this. It'll help."

Sean accepted the glass of orange juice, slowly sipping it. His looked around him, recognizing the lounge of his private jet, but his fuzzy mind was having a little problem with some details. Like what he was doing on a plane.

"I take it that we are going somewhere?" Memory slammed into place suddenly, and he sat up abruptly, spilling his juice all over himself. "Shit! Da!"

"It's all right, Sean," Mason said soothingly. "We're almost halfway there,  just getting ready to land for refueling. Hanson called the hospital before we left and your father was stable."

Sean's eyes locked on him and his hand grasped Mason's arm. "Condition?"

"Critical," Mason said reluctantly. He didn't protest when Sean's hand tightened on his arm, hard enough to leave bruises. Instead, he covered Sean's hand with his own. "It'll be all right," he said softly.

Sean drew in a shaky breath, releasing Mason's arm with a murmured apology, then glanced down at his damp pants. "Right bit of a mess I've made of myself. Did you bring along any spare clothes or do I need to run around in the nuddy till these dry?"

Mason grinned. "Well, charming as that picture would be, Walter packed a suitcase for you before we left." He gestured towards their strapped-down luggage. "Help yourself. I'll go up front and check in with the flight crew while you change." Trying not to think about a naked Sean in close quarters with him, he went forward to check on their ETA.



The door to Skinner's office opened. "Sir," Kim said from the doorway. "Your ten o'clock appointment is here."

"Thank you, Kim," Skinner said absently, signing off on a report and tossing it into his out box. He glanced at his schedule and frowned at the entry of Jones - State Department, wondering what the man could want with him. "Show Mr. Jones in."

Skinner stood up, watching as his secretary ushered in an older man, and he gestured towards one of the chairs in front of his desk. "Mr. Jones. Please - have a seat and tell me what I can do for you."

"Thank you, Mr. Skinner." The man took a seat and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. As the man lit one, Skinner could see that the stranger was coolly assessing him. "And I have, indeed, come here to ask you to do something, in a situation that you are uniquely qualified to handle."

Skinner leaned back in his chair, gearing himself for the usual bureaucratic back-scratch session. "And what would that be?"

"We share a special hobby, you and I," Jones said, and there was a glimmer in his eye that made Skinner uneasy. "And I must congratulate you on your recent performance. I have rarely seen such skill displayed at your level of play."

Skinner frowned. "I'm afraid that I don't follow you."

"Come now, Mr. Skinner. There is no need to be coy."

Jones held up his right hand, and Skinner could see the distinctive gold band displayed there, nearly identical to his own silver band. Skinner felt his heart suddenly slam into high gear and wondered if he was watching his career nose-dive into the toilet. Jones smiled widely as if easily interpreting the look on Skinner's face.

"There is no need to be concerned, Mr. Skinner. One of the requirements of the Club is that members agree to protect the identities of other members. I am not here to coerce or blackmail you." Jones stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray beside him. "It doesn't matter to me what games you play – or who you play them with, for that matter."

Skinner sat back in his chair but didn't relax. "Then I'm afraid that I still don't understand what this visit has to do with our mutual hobby."

Jones smiled. "Of course you don't." He paused to light another cigarette. "First, I must tell you that 'Jones' is not my real name although that will do for our business dealings, and that I am highly placed in the government." He blew out smoke and smiled. "Very highly placed. And part of my responsibilities, and that of my co-workers, is to watch certain gifted individuals within the government, military, law enforcement, academia, and so forth."

"And what has this got to do with me?"

"You have within your department one of these very gifted individuals, a young man by the name of Fox Mulder."

Skinner raised an eyebrow. He had heard that name, years before, in reference to a young man at the FBI Academy. A sort of enfant terrible, according to rumor, who had immediately been snatched up by Patterson to join his conclave of profilers. "And what interest do you have in a profiler like Agent Mulder?"

Jones blew out another smoke tendril. "Agent Mulder hasn't been a profiler for several years, Mr. Skinner. On your desk you will find his personnel record. I took the liberty of requisitioning it for you, and I think that you will find it interesting reading."

Skinner looked over the collection of file folders on his desk, surprised by its size. "It appears that Agent Mulder has been busy during his time with the Bureau."

"Indeed." Jones stubbed out his cigarette again. "You are new to this area so this information will be unfamiliar to you. A few years back, after Agent Mulder transferred to the Violent Crimes department, he discovered a cache of files from unsolved cases and requested that he be assigned to them. As Agent Mulder was ostensibly on medical leave following a...terrorist incident, his request was granted. It was apparently the thinking of his superiors that he would grow tired of these cases and return to more normal ones. Unfortunately, that has not happened, and Agent Mulder has become obsessed with these so called X-Files."

Skinner frowned, opening the personnel file. "X-Files?"

"Paranormal phenomena, for the most part. Ghosts, UFOs, and so forth."

Skinner looked at the man, starting to suspect that he was the butt of some kind of joke. "You're putting me on."

Jones lit another cigarette and studied its glowing end. "No, Mr. Skinner, I am not."

"You're trying to tell me that Agent Mulder, one of the most gifted agents to graduate from the Academy, has been allowed  to waste his time - and the Bureau's time - chasing ghosts and aliens?"

"Among other things. I should also point out that his department has a 75% solve ratio, the highest within the Bureau." Jones smiled at the stunned look on Skinner's face. "I did mention that Agent Mulder is a very gifted individual."

"So what, exactly, is your interest in Agent Mulder."

Jones inhaled in silence for a moment. "Like many other gifted individuals, Agent Mulder lacks self-discipline. His current supervisor, Blevins, is incapable of controlling him. His only significant contribution to date has been to assign Agent Mulder a partner. One who seems equally incapable of slowing down his race towards self-destruction."

"Self destruction – how?"

"Agent Mulder has little regard for proper procedures – as you will find when you go through his file. His commendations are equaled by his censures. He also has a tendency to throw himself into situations where his personal safety is at risk. Mulder is too valuable an asset to be allowed to destroy himself like this. He is needed alive and here at the Bureau where his unique abilities can be fully utilized." Sharp eyes studied Skinner. "That is where you come into the picture, Mr. Skinner. You and your own unique abilities."

Skinner felt his jaw drop open. "You are referring to my SM skills? Are you actually suggesting that I approach Agent Mulder regarding an - an encounter?"

"I am suggesting nothing of the sort, Mr. Skinner. However, I watched you manage young Sean during that session and I was impressed. It is my thinking that your personality might be more suited to handing Agent Mulder than his previous supervisors."

Skinner frowned and sat back in his chair. "Agent Mulder's department is under Blevins' administration. It would be highly unusual for me to change procedures to have him report directly to me."

"Unusual situations require unusual solutions, Mr. Skinner." He tucked his pack of cigarettes back into his pocket. "I suggest you look over that file and reflect on the matter. I'm sure that you will come to the right decision."

Skinner stood up as his visitor did, still trying to comprehend the situation. "I'll certainly do that."

"Good." Jones smiled at him and, for a moment, Skinner felt an odd shiver run down his back. "I'll be in touch."



Mason followed the whirlwind that was Sean Matthews through the doors of the hospital. Fortunately, he didn't have to restrain the young man from making a scene in the hospital lobby as it appeared that they were expected. One of the doctors stepped forward, a patented smile of reassurance on his face, and Sean's face lost some of its worried look.

"Dr. Cassidy,'" Sean said in relief. "You're in charge of my father's case? How is he?"

"As well as can be expected, under the circumstances, Mr. Sean," Cassidy said, guiding them towards an elevator. "He is resting comfortably and eager to see you."

George Matthews was watching the window as they entered the intensive care unit and his face lit up as he sighted Sean. The younger Matthews almost hurtled across the room, grasping the hand held out to him and perching on the side of the bed.

"You are very, very naughty, Da," Sean said, managing a mock frown even though he was shocked at his father's haggard appearance. "Why didn't you tell me that you weren't feeling well? I would have come home sooner."

George snorted at that. "Exactly my reason. Lot of good you could have done, sitting about and watching me." He squeezed Sean's hand and said, softly, "I'm glad you came, lad."

"You could use a bit of caring for, Da. You look rooted."

"Sean Matthews, you watch your mouth!" George reprimanded, trying not to laugh. "You're never too old to go across my knee for a warm-up." He glanced past his son at the figure standing in the doorway. "And if I can't manage it, I'm sure Mr. Mason will be more than happy to oblige."

"At your service," Mason said, smiling as he crossed the room to take George's hand. "How are you feeling, sir?"

"As well as can be expected with these blood-suckers and ghouls hovering over me." George glared at the doctor still standing in the doorway. "Go away, you, and let me visit with my son."

"Not today. It's time for your medication and rest."

"But we just got here!" Sean protested.

"There will be plenty of time tomorrow," Dr. Cassidy said firmly. "And don't argue with me, Mr. Sean - I've seen you through every illness and injury, and I'll stick you in a hospital bed if you don't go home now and get some sleep."

"But - "

Mason placed a hand on Sean's shoulder. "Come. It was a long flight and you could use some rest."

George squeezed his son's hand. "It's all right, lad. You rest up and we'll talk tomorrow. The house is open and the staff is expecting you."

Sean reluctantly stood up, leaning over to kiss his father's forehead. "All right, but I'll be back early tomorrow." He glanced over at the doctor, worry on his face. "If you need me..."

Dr. Cassidy nodded, ushering the two men towards the doorway. Sean paused to glance back at his father, reassured by the smile on the older Matthews' face, and followed Mason.



Skinner stared at the pile of folders in front of him, deep in thought. For the past day, he had spent long hours reading over the most recent case files plus the personnel files of the two agents assigned to the X-Files section, and he was more puzzled now than he had been when he started. What he had read was a record of the most bizarre encounters, the most unbelievable conclusions, and with the most blatant disregard for proper procedures that he had ever seen. Since the assignment of the most recent department member, Agent Scully, the reports had become smoother, more complete, but there was still an underlying...something...that bothered him.

It was the earlier reports that intrigued him the most, though. The ones done by Agent Mulder himself. There was a dazzling intelligence that danced beneath the words, that darted out briefly to catch your attention before disappearing again behind the smokescreen. It made him wonder about the man, what he was like, and about the potential that had been there at the start. Before he had been so badly mishandled. Before something had happened to make the man distrust both the system and his superiors.

He flipped open the personnel folder again and stared at the picture inside. A good looking young man but with something about the eyes that caught his attention. Something that hinted of sadness, of a sense of humor mockingly self-directed. It made him want to know more about the man - who his friends were, what his hobbies were...

We share a special hobby, you and I.

Skinner abruptly shut the personnel folder and set it back on the stack. It was crazy - no, it was worse than crazy. It was suicidal to even think about going that route. Even if this Agent Mulder was inclined that way, had that particular kink, getting involved with a subordinate in any kind of personal relationship was the fastest route to sabotage his career.

No, he would handle this in a more conventional manner, and he would reel in this rogue pair of agents. By the book.

Skinner pressed the intercom button. "Kim. Schedule an appointment with Agent Scully - as soon as possible."



George Matthews looked up with a smile on his grey face as Mason entered his hospital room the next morning. "Ah, Mason. Have a seat, please." He glared at the nurse. "I'd like some privacy, please."

"Not too long, Mr. Matthews," she warned him.

Mason took a seat close to the bed. "Dr. Cassidy said that you wanted to see me, to speak with me privately."

"Yes. I wanted to talk to you without Sean around." He moved slightly and grimaced in pain.

Mason leaned forward. "Are you sure you're all right, sir? Perhaps I should call the nurse - "

"I'm dying."

The tone in his voice was flat, and Mason looked at him sharply, seeing the acceptance in the man's eyes. "Is that what the doctors say?"

He snorted. "The doctors can't collect additional fees from a dead man. They'll keep me alive as long as they can, and I'm grateful to them. Gives me time to get my ducks in a row for my boy to step into my shoes."

Mason's heart sank. "Of course. Mr. Matthews will be returning here to run your businesses."

"I doubt it," George said dryly, and Mason looked at him, surprised. "Oh, he's got the brains to do it. The boy takes after me that way - look what he's done with that club of his. But he'd be bored inside a year and would be bound to get into mischief. He inherited his mother's spirit."

George smiled nostalgically, then glanced at Mason. "She was a rare lass, my Fiona. A little slip of a thing, no higher than my heart, but as fiery as her hair. There was little that scared her. I've seen her put men twice her size in their place. Always in motion, she was; couldn't abide to sit still."

"You miss her very much still, don't you?" Mason asked softly.

"Yes," he said simply. "One thing that reconciles me to this dying business is knowing I'll be with my little lass again. If it weren't for my boy..." He sighed and looked at Mason directly. "You'd say that I've spoiled him."

"I'd say nothing of the kind, sir."

"No, you're too polite," George Matthews snorted. "No need to dress it up, Mason. I know I've overindulged the boy. When his mother died, and he so like her, I couldn't bear the thought that he might want for anything. I let him have his head when perhaps I should have reined him in a bit, gave him everything he wanted." He drew a deep breath. "Not that he didn't have love, too. I don't think he's ever doubted for a moment how much I love him."

"I don't see how he could, sir."

"He's a good lad. A little headstrong, inclined to get his own way. He needs a strong hand to control him." He looked directly at Mason. "That's where you come into this, Mason."

"Me, sir?"

"You love the boy. I've seen it in your eyes. You're probably the one man in this world who could make him mind without breaking him completely. So why haven't you done it?"

Mason stood and walked to the window, looking out over the grounds. "There are a lot of good reasons, Mr. Matthews."

"So tell me what they are. I'm a businessman - make your case."

"First, your son is my boss."

"A minor issue. Sean doesn't care for any of that nonsense."

"I care, sir. It's hell to love the man who controls your livelihood - either the work or the love suffers. Arguments over business spill over into personal lives, and before you know it, the love is smashed beyond repair."

George nodded. "I can see your point - not that I agree with you. I've seen others work it out, when they care enough."

"Secondly, I'm twenty years older than Sean."

"And I was nearly thirty years older than his mother. My boy needs an older lover, someone who won't be intimidated by his brains or twisted around his finger by his charms. Only an older man could understand, appreciate, and handle him."

Mason shook his head and said, "Third, Sean can't handle a committed, exclusive relationship for a long period of time - not at this point in his life, at any rate - and he's said so himself. And I care too much for him to accept anything less."

There was silence from the bed behind him, and he turned to find the elder Matthews regarding him with a serious look.

"Yes, I love Sean. Yes, I think that I could handle him, keep him from getting into trouble. But he would get restless, bored, and he would look for something new. Someone new. I couldn't handle that, sir. I would probably do something...regrettable." Something dark and dangerous flashed in the icy blue eyes.

George shrewdly studied the man and sighed. "I suppose so. But I think you underestimate the boy. His mother was the same way, a honeybee flitting from one flower to another, and Lord knows the hearts that she broke! But she never looked at another after she chose me. I think Sean can be just as faithful - given the right garden to flourish in."

Mason sighed. "Then perhaps one day Sean will choose me, but until that day..."

Sean breezed into the room, interrupting them, and Mason turned back to the window. Sean planted a fleeting kiss on his father's cheek. "Hello, Da. Chasing the nurses yet?"

George snorted. "None of them worth catching, them and their needles and bedpans and such. And what have you been up to, young rascal?"

Sean grinned and sat down on the side of the bed. "Chasing the male nurses, of course." He glanced over at Mason. "Hullo, Geoff. Keeping Da entertained, are you?"

Mason smiled fleetingly. "Doing my best, Sean, but now that the expert is here, I'll leave him in your capable hands."

"Mason," George called out as Mason opened the door, and the man looked back at him inquiringly. "Don't forget what I said."

Mason smiled faintly. "I'll keep watering those flowers, sir."

Sean looked at his father, puzzled. "Geoff taking up gardening?"

George frowned at his only offspring. "You're breaking the man's heart, boy."

"Geoff? Come off it, Da.  Mason doesn't give a zack about what I do. Or who I do, more's the pity."

George looked at Sean sharply. "Sounds as if you wish he did."

"Yeah, well, wish in one hand and - "

"And that's enough of your smart mouth, my lad," George said, aiming a mocking swat at his son's backside. Sean laughed and danced away.



Skinner looked at the pair of agents sitting across the desk from him, his attention focused on one of them in particular. Agent Mulder had been accused of attacking a former serial murder suspect, of taking out his frustration about the man being released from custody by severely beating him. Only a phone call from a highly placed Senator had kept Mulder from being suspended - that, and an order from the Director himself.

The phone call had surprised Skinner. He had learned that Mulder had few true friends within the Bureau apart from his partner, although that friendship was evidently strong enough to make Agent Scully look him in the eye and lie for her partner. The knowledge that Mulder had powerful supporters outside had been a surprise, although he supposed that it shouldn't have been, given Mr. Jones' interest in the agent. He was sitting in the room now, at the conference table, watching all of them with those eyes that still made Skinner feel uneasy.

Skinner directed his attention back to Mulder after dismissing Agent Scully, trying to figure out just how to get to this man. Perhaps an extension of support and concern would work - the man seemed to have gotten little of that from his previous supervisors. He stood up, removing his glasses, and moved around the corner of the desk.

"Fox," he said, and noticed a slightly pained look on the man's face. "You are one of the finest, most unique agents in the nearly sixty year history of this institution. I mean, we were talking about you when you were in the Academy."

He sat down in the chair just vacated by Scully, leaning toward him confidingly, his eyes meeting the younger man's. "Now most of us, including the Director, feel that your talents are wasted on the X-files but we respect that you are deeply invested in those areas. But if these cases are creating such stress as to cause not only you to act inappropriately but those agents close to you as well, then may I advise you to step away for a while. Clear your head, take an extended vacation."

Mulder nodded, blandly returning his gaze. "That's a good idea. Thanks for your concern."

Skinner knew a brush off when he heard one and he glanced briefly over at Jones. If Mulder wasn't interested in the "chums" approach, he would have to play tough-guy. He rose and moved back around his desk, putting on his glasses. In a tone of dismissal, he said, "You are forbidden to go near Eugene Tooms."

Mulder rose without a word and moved toward the door. Before he could reach it, Skinner growled, "Mulder!" The young man stopped, his back to Skinner, and Skinner could see the stiffening in his posture. Good - at least Mulder responded to the authoritative tone in his voice. Perhaps there was hope for him.

"This was close. Any closer and a thousand friends at the capital won't be able to help you."

Mulder stood still for a moment, then opened the door and left, and Skinner tried to ignore the speculative smile on Jones' face.



After lunch, George settled down for a nap and Sean left the room to let him sleep. He was surprised to find Mason sitting in the waiting room outside - surprised but pleased. He sat down next to the older man and looked at him with troubled eyes.

"He doesn't look good, does he?"

Evasively, Mason said, "What does the doctor say?"

"He doesn't, but I'm going to get the truth out of him," Sean said determinedly, standing up as he saw Dr. Cassidy leaving his father's room. "Dr. Cassidy!" he called out.

Cassidy turned and saw the redhead walking towards him with a determined look on his face and sighed internally. "Mr. Matthews. If you'll come this way, we can talk privately."

"Good," Sean said firmly, following Cassidy into a small lounge. He was relieved to see that Mason followed them as well, and turned to the doctor. "Now. My father's condition - and I want the truth."

Dr. Cassidy met his eyes and he smiled slightly. "You definitely take after your father. Very well." He gestured for Sean to take a seat on one of the couches and sat down across from him. "You know, of course, that your father had heart surgery several years ago. He has done quite well until recently, when he had a reoccurance of his symptoms. We had scheduled surgery before his most recent heart attack, but now - "

"But now what?" Sean demanded.

"Frankly, Sean, with the extent of the damage and his age…" Cassidy made a helpless gesture.

Sean drew in a shaky breath. "I see. What - what are his chances?"

"Not very good, I'm afraid."

Sean dropped his head to stare at his hands, clenched in his lap. Mason resisted the urge to reach out to hold him and reassure him. After a moment, Sean looked up, his face tight.

"So what do we do now?" Sean asked.

"Do?" the doctor asked blankly.

"Yes!" Sean said. "What do we do next? Open heart surgery? Transplant?" As the doctor shook his head, he snapped, "Well, we have to do something! We can't just let him die! We can't - " He looked blindly at Mason. "We can't."

"Sean," Mason said quietly, offering support and comfort.

Sean's eyes widened. "You knew?" And you said nothing?"

"You father told me this morning. I assumed he'd want to tell you himself." Mason allowed himself to reach out now, to lay his hand on Sean's. "I'm so sorry, kid."

Sean swung his head back towards the doctor. "How soon?"

Cassidy sighed. "We don't know. Not long; a few days at most. He's asked us not to institute any extraordinary measures."

"I can't just let him..." Sean was on his feet, angrily brushing away the tears on his face. "I'm going to talk to him, and you've got to come up with something! I don't care what it takes, what it costs - just don't you dare let my father die!"

As he stormed out of the room, Mason looked back at Cassidy. "Is there anything you can do?"

Cassidy shook his head. "Mr. Matthews is too old to qualify for transplant surgery. And the damage to his heart is too severe to allow him to function for much longer. All we can really do now is make him comfortable."

Mason nodded. "And pick up the pieces when he dies."

"I don't envy you that job," Cassidy said frankly. "I've known Sean since he was in nappies, gave him vaccs and stitched him up when he took a tumble or two, and nursed him through his share of illnesses. Headstrong, liable to chuck things at you if he gets his temper up. But I expect that you know that already, and that he's kicked up the domestic dust a time or two."

"We're not involved," Mason said quietly. "He's my employer - and my friend."

"Aye, if you say so," Cassidy said with a disbelieving snort. "Not that I can't see which way the wind blows." He looked at Mason shrewdly. "He's going to need a friend to get past this, a good friend. Our Sean feels things deeply, for all he appears to be a care-for-naught." He stood up. "And I'd best get a sedative ready. My instincts tell me we're going to need it before long."

Mason watched the doctor leave and sighed heavily. He had the same feeling.



George Matthews blinked his eyes open, his uneasy rest disturbed by the violent opening of the door to his room. He was surprised to see his son storm across the room, his eyes snapping with anger.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Sean demanded. "You told Mason - why not me?"

"Sean," George said, his voice as firm as he could make it. "Stop behaving like a spoiled brat and sit down."

Sean was startled by the stern tone in his father's voice, a tone he rarely heard. He closed his mouth and sat down on the side of the bed. In a more quiet tone of voice, he said, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because there's nothing you can do, my boy, and it just would have made you worry. I didn't want to make the time we have left unhappy." George raised his hand and gently touched his son's cheek, a tender smile lighting up his face. "Ah, my lad," he murmured softly. "It's sad I'll be to leave you."

Sean held the hand against his cheek, tears splashing down on the back of it. "Then don't," he said, his voice choking on a sob. "There must be something they can do - you know people, we've got money - "

"Your mum's waiting for me, boy. Would ye have her wait in loneliness longer?"

"Yes!" Sean said fiercely. "She's waited this long - she can wait a bit longer. I need you! I love you, Da."

"And I love you, too, child. More than you will ever know." A loud sob burst from Sean and he buried his face in the sheets. George gently carded his fingers through the fiery hair, so like his beloved wife's. "Sean, lad, you're breakin' my heart." His voice broke on his words.

Sean couldn't bear that; hearing his father's pain hurt worse than the ache in his own heart. He choked back a sob, lifting his head again. He wiped his face with the back of his hand, like a child, and managed a weak smile. "It's selfish I am, Da." Unsteady fingers moved up to tenderly caress the older man's face. "Are you in pain?" he asked softly. "Do you need - should I get - "

George smiled and covered Sean's hand with his own. "All I need is you, my boy."

Sean buried his face against his father's chest, careful not to disturb the wires, and held on, as if by sheer will power he could keep the man with him. George stroked the soft curls and smiled to himself, his eyes already focused on something distant and beautiful, but taking comfort for the moment from the loving warmth curled up next to him.



Mason looked up as the door to George Matthews' room opened and Sean walked slowly out into the hallway. Dr. Cassidy was there and he spoke quietly to Sean for a moment before going into the room and closing the door behind him. Sean stood for a moment, and Mason stood up to get the younger man's attention. Sean walked towards him, slowly, and Mason saw the dried tear-streaks on the composed face.


"He's gone," Sean said quietly. "He was holding my hand, and then he suddenly smiled and said my mother's name, and then - and then he was gone." He looked up at Mason, his eyes suddenly gleaming with tears. "Geoff?"

Wordlessly, Mason held out his arms and Sean moved into them, hugging him tightly and weeping as if his heart would break.



Skinner looked at the report in front of him, hardly believing what he was reading. However the evidence was meticulously noted and the proof was irrefutable, even if Skinner was having a hard time believing it. He closed the file and looked over at Jones, or whatever his name was. The man stood looking out the window, silently smoking one of his endless cigarettes.

Quietly, Skinner said, "Do you believe them?"

"Yes," Jones said, calm certainly in his voice. "I do." He looked down over the sidewalk for a moment, then stubbed out his cigarette and turned back to Skinner. "And now you have seen Agent Mulder, seen that what I have spoken of is true."

"I've also seen that Agent Mulder has powerful friends outside the Bureau, so I'm not sure why you need my help."

"His friends will be of little use to him if he ends up dead." Jones lit another cigarette. "Or perhaps you doubt your ability to exercise control over him."

"I thought it was my 'ability' that made you suggest that I take responsibility for bringing Agent Mulder into line."

"Of course. But your talent is still, how shall I put it, raw in many areas. You need a mentor, someone who can help you to sharpen up those skills."

Skinner frowned at the man. "I already have a mentor."

"And Geoffrey Mason is one of the best. But he is also out of the country at present, and may not be returning within the near future. You need looking after while he is gone."

Skinner hesitated, thinking that it was possible that Jones could be one of the Seniors that Mason meant to have look in on him - the timing of the man's visit was just too close to be coincidence. And yet, there was something about the way the man looked at him that made him uneasy. It looked like he was going to have to walk a middle road here until he could talk to Mason.

"Thank you for the offer, Mr. Jones. I expect that I could benefit from your knowledge."

The man smiled widely and Skinner repressed a shudder. "Excellent! Well, my boy, I will leave you to your work now, but we'll talk again later. I have a few...suggestions in regard to Agent Mulder that I think will interest you."

Long after the cigarette smoking Jones left, Skinner sat at his desk and stared at the file folder there: Eugene Tooms - Closed. And he had a feeling that his life had taken an abrupt turn into the Twilight Zone.


Chapter Text

Geoffrey Mason sat down at the desk in his office and sighed as he surveyed the stack of work piled up there. Three weeks out of the Club had left behind its own legacy and he was not looking forward to plowing his way through the folders before him. Plowing of another kind was much more to his taste at the moment and he made a mental note to call Skinner before the day was over, to let the other man know that he was back in town and make arrangements for the upcoming weekend. Spending the past three weeks in the company of the one submissive that he wanted most and couldn’t, in good conscience, have had driven him to a level of frustration that he had never known before. Even his brief visit to his old master in Singapore before heading home had failed to give him the inner peace he desperately needed, stirring instead painful memories of the past.

Abruptly, he reached for the phone and dialed Skinner’s private office number.

“Hello?” the gruff voice said on the other end, and Mason felt an involuntary smile cross his face.

“Hello, Peaches.”

“Sir!” Skinner’s voice sounded startled. “I didn’t expect – are you back in town?”

“Got in late last night,” Mason said, leaning back in his chair. “And the sight of all the work on my desk was enough to drive me to looking for any excuse not to start into it.”

Skinner chuckled. “I know the feeling. I think that’s why I hate to take vacation time – facing my desk afterward is enough to give me a relapse.” There was a murmur of voices in the background and then Skinner came back on the line. “Sorry, Sir – had to finish up with one of my agents.”

“No problem, and I didn’t mean to take you away from your work. I just wanted to touch base and make sure that you’re all right. And see what you’ve been up to.”

“Am I a diversion, then?” Skinner asked with a smile.

“A very pleasant one. And I can certainly use the distraction.”

“Are you all right, sir?”

Mason sighed. “Just tired. It’s been a long three weeks.”

“I was sorry to hear about Sean’s father. How is he doing?”

“Holding up better than I thought he would. He had a rough first week, but by the time I left him, he was doing better. I expect that he’ll be back within the next few days.”

“Good. The Club didn’t seem the same without you two.”

Mason smiled, pleased to have been missed. “Did you play while I was gone?”

Skinner hesitated, not wanting to hurt the Dom’s feelings - or risk his ire - by telling him that he felt uncomfortable around the “watchdog” that Mason had provided. Although he had managed to get out of working with the man at the Club, “Mr. Jones” had continued to show up at his office to offer advice or just to observe him. Both Jones' association with Mason and his mysterious “connections” higher up in the Justice department had made Skinner treat the man with respect, but there was something about him that made him uncomfortable.

He temporized. “Master Jean-Pierre and I had some more cooking lessons, and I worked out with him and one of his subs a couple times. I was pretty busy with work, though.”

“Not too busy to spend some time with me this weekend, I hope?”

Skinner smiled at that. “Never too busy for you, Sir.”

Mason laughed, feeling better already. “Piglet, are you trying to flatter me? Have you gotten into some trouble that you don’t want me to know about?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Skinner said frankly.

“Good. I think that we both need a chance to play.”

“Now, why does that word ‘play’ fill me with dread?”

“Because you know me so well?” Mason said, grinning. “See you Friday night.” Hanging up the phone with a smile on his face, Mason decided that he would reward both of them with something special that weekend. Then he determinedly faced the pile on his desk, and by lunchtime he had whittled it down to a few stacks that needed more attention. He decided on a working lunch instead of going to the dining room and, when the knock came on his door, called out for Jean-Pierre to come in without looking up.

A hesitant throat clearing caught his attention and he looked up, frowning slightly as he saw two Juniors standing in the doorway.

“Master Mason? Could we talk to you, Sir?”

“Of course,” he said, gesturing to the two chairs in front of the desk. “Elaine and Peter, correct?”

“Yes, Sir,” Elaine replied, sitting down.

Peter followed more slowly and Mason frowned. Then, as Elaine turned her head towards him, he saw the obvious signs of bruising on her cheek and a swollen lip. Frowning, he stood and came around the desk to examine the bruising more closely.

"Any other injuries?" he asked her and took the medical report she handed him. He scanned it, frowning at the evidence of a heavy-handed session, and then looked at Peter. "What about you - have you seen a doctor for your injuries? Any tearing or bleeding, or just soreness?” He smiled slightly at the surprised look on the younger man’s face. “My boy, I was playing these games when you were in diapers, and I’ve seen just about everything.”

He sat on the corner of the desk. “Since you’re both here in my office, I take it that what happened to each of you was not done by your consent or that the person responsible violated Club rules – and that these incidents took place here at the Club with the same top.” They nodded. “Very well. I’ll need to ask for some details for the complaint forms –“

“No!” Elaine blurted out and Peter shook his head. “We – we don’t want to file complaints. We just – Sir, isn’t there anything you can do quietly?”

Mason frowned. “Look, I don’t know what this person has said to intimidate you, but you can be assured that he has no power here. You’re safe from retribution.”

“Here, yeah, but what about outside?” Peter said bitterly.

“This man is blackmailing you, then? Threatening your private lives?”

Elaine nodded, looking at him squarely. “He’s got pictures,” she said frankly. “I just made full partner at the firm – the first woman to do so. If anyone sees them, I’ll be discredited.”

“Trust fund – and a real dinosaur for a trustee,” Peter said at Mason’s inquiring look.

Mason sighed and rubbed his eyes. “All right. What if I promise that what you tell me won’t leave this room? You tell me the whole story and I’ll find a way to take care of this person without involving you. Deal?” The two Juniors exchanged a doubtful look and he said persuasively, “Look, you’ve come to me for help, but I can’t do anything if you won’t talk to me. And you both know that if you walk out that door now, he’s going to do it again – to you or to someone else.”

Peter nodded slightly and Elaine turned back to Mason. “All right. We trust you.”

“Good. Now, before we get started, do you want your Senior present?”

“He is our Senior,” Elaine said bitterly.

Mason stared at her, appalled. “Are you telling me that Jean-Pierre did this to you?”

Elaine shook her head. “Master Jean isn’t my Senior anymore.”

Mason frowned at that. “But Elaine – you two worked so well together! And I know that you enjoyed working on the special catering with him. You told me yourself that it was a welcome breather after the corporate world. What happened?”

She flushed and looked down at her hands. “What happened was that I was stupid – and conceited,” she said bitterly. “This person approached me a couple months ago, right after I made Junior, told me that he’d been watching me and that he was impressed with my skills. At the time, Master Jean was really busy and didn’t have as much time to devote to me as he had in the past.” She shrugged. “I suppose that I felt flattered to have caught someone’s attention.”

“And he convinced you to change Seniors,” Mason finished. “Would this man happen to be Master Spender?”

Elaine looked up at him, startled. “You knew about him?” she asked sharply.

“Not about this,” he said, indicating her appearance, “although a sub told me that there were rumors that he played rough.”

Peter snorted. “That’s not the half of it. Not only does he play rough, but he demands that his Juniors play rough.” He pulled off his sweatshirt and Mason could see that his body was striped raw with whip marks. “I got this - plus a dry fucking - for refusing to take a crop to my sub, Edward.”

Mason circled the Junior, his expert eye gauging the severity of the marks. “Why did he want you to do that?”

“Because he likes to break people,” Peter said bitterly. “My Eddie’s into baby play. Master Spender wanted me to take him through a Bad Boy scene, tell him that Daddy was very angry with him and that he had to be punished severely.”

“And you refused.”

“Damn straight. It would send him off the deep end – Eddie spent most of his childhood in foster care and has a lot of trust issues. Hell, it took him thirty years to get up the nerve to find a place like this, and it’s taken us two years for him to completely trust me. Anything more than a mild hand spanking and he’d be out the door like a shot.”

Mason frowned, trying to determine what benefit Spender would get from that situation. Unless Spender planned to be there to catch the other man when he was down and broken…

“There’s more, Master Mason,” Elaine said. “Two weeks ago, our friend Terry committed suicide.”

Mason nodded. “I saw the report of his death this morning, but I thought it was ruled an accident.”

Elaine shook her head. “Terry raced motorbikes as a hobby. There’s no way that he would have misjudged like that. He drove into that wall on purpose.”

“And you think that Spender was pressuring him as well? Wasn’t Terry an aide to one of the congressmen?”

Elaine nodded, compressing her lips tightly. “I could see that something was bothering him but he wouldn’t talk about it. I think – I think Spender was threatening to Out him. Although the Congressman he’s working for is liberal, he’s also in the closet and something like this would destroy both their careers.”

Mason drew in a deep breath. “Damn. I knew that the man was up to something, but I had no idea that it was this bad.” He turned to the two Juniors and said solemnly, “Thank you for coming here – I know that this was a great risk, but I’ll do my best to protect you from any retribution. And if there is anything I can do to show my appreciation - ”

Elaine stood up, sharing a glance with Peter. “Thank you, sir, but just having that man out of our lives will be more than enough.”

Once the door closed behind them, he called his assistant and told him to set up an emergency meeting of the Senior members, excluding Spender. Then he pulled out everything he had gathered so far on the man and started putting together a case for Club expulsion.

Two days later, Mason entered the Senior lounge and secured the door, then turned to face the curious faces of the men and women gathered there. "Thank you for coming on such short notice." He glanced around at the Seniors. “We’re missing two members. Spender I know about, but where’s - ”

“She won't be here,” Jean-Pierre said quietly, and the look that he gave Mason told him that there was more unhappy news. He closed his eyes briefly, not wanting to hear any more bad news that day. “We’ll have to go on without her.”

The Englishman, the one he knew as "Smith", frowned and said, "What is all this about, Mason?"

Mason drew in a deep breath, steeling himself to present his case to his peers. "I’ve asked all of you to come here today because of some nasty business here at the Club, something that has to be stopped now before it ruins the Club's reputation and - by association - ours." He paused and handed each of them a folder. "It concerns a Senior member who is violating the most basic Club rules. Mr. Spender."

"Come on, Geoff," Gabrielle, one of the newer D/s Seniors, protested. "He's been here a long time. Don't you think we should cut him some slack?"

Mason looked at her soberly. "I know that Mr. Spender has been with us since the early days of the Club but, rather than giving him 'slack' as you put it, I think that we should judge him harsher for that. He certainly knows better."

"What has he done then?" Tex asked, frowning while opening the folder.

"There are several charges. First, he has been accused of excessive force in his encounters and refusing to honor safe words."

"When you talk 'excessive'," said PJ, a D/s master, "are you talking excessive for me or for RJ?" There were some laughs at that since his brother, known as RJ, was one of the heaviest SM players while PJ was at the other end of the playing spectrum.

"We're talking marks that are still there a week later, far beyond what any responsible player would inflict, plus non-consensual sex. Abuse, not game-playing, PJ."

"I don't see any signed complaints," pointed out Ex, an SM mistress.

“Ex is right,” said Ford Green. “Doesn’t the ‘three-strike’ rule apply here? Doesn’t seem fair to go after the man if he doesn’t even have one strike.”

"Ordinarily, yes, but this is a special case. There won’t be any official charges against him because he uses coercion to keep his Juniors and subs from filing complaints."

Jean-Pierre frowned. "Are you certain of this?"

Mason nodded. "I saw the injuries and heard the stories from two Juniors. Also, you know how the subs always talk about every detail of their encounters - well, his subs don't. Not a word from any of them, and Sean says that they appear to have been excessively used. And you all know Sean - he's not the type to get hysterical over a bruise or a whip mark."

Ben Thompson nodded. "I'd be inclined to take Sean's word alone on this. If he says that he won't play with Spender because he's not safe," he said, indicating the signed form that Sean had given Mason for his file, "then I believe him."

RJ frowned. "You said that he uses coercion. Are you talking violence or blackmail?"

"Both," Mason said grimly. "One of the Juniors I spoke with had been beaten and forcibly penetrated for refusing to put his own sub through a Scene that would have been too damaging. Another was told that pictures would be sent to her firm if she refused to obey him. And there's strong suspicion that Terry may have killed himself because Spender was threatening to out him and his employer."

Ford, who had been Terry's Senior, went ashen at that and said, numbly, "I knew that something was bothering him.  The foolish boy; he should have come to me."

Gabrielle frowned. "So far, however, we only have your word that these incidents have occurred. If no one is willing to sigh a complaint, then we have no solid evidence."

"Gaby, this isn't a court of law," Mason pointed out. "This is a private Club, with rules that we all agreed to upon joining. And primary among those rules is that the Subs are our first area of concern and that no one shall be allowed to abuse them. Second but no less serious is that all members of this Club shall be protected from blackmail by other members. Master Spender has broken both of these rules."

"Mason is right," Ex said. “And if we allow him to blackmail the Juniors, how long before he comes after the rest of us?”

"Spender’s trying to garner a power base here," Mason said. "An abnormally high percentage of the Juniors at this Club are his, and nearly every one of them has had at least one complaint signed against them. And these are good Juniors - ones trained by most of the members here in this room. Spender managed to get them to switch to him - through flattery or blackmail or threats - and then coerced or encouraged them into rougher play."

Smith frowned. "I don't like the sound of that at all," he said with a regretful sigh. "I don't see that we have any other choice but to censure him."

Jean-Pierre nodded. "And speaking as a member of the Board, I think that we have to terminate Mr. Spender's membership."

Mason looked around the room. "Are we all agreed on this, then?" They nodded and Mason drew a deep breath. "Then I shall inform Mr. Spender of our decision and remove him from the membership rolls." He gathered the folders, careful to leave nothing behind. "Thank you for taking this time."

As the other Seniors filed out of the room, Mason said, “Ben, could I speak to you for a minute?”

Ben hung back, giving Mason a curious look. “What’s up, Geoff? More bad news?”

"No, nothing like that. Now that you're back in town, I was wondering if you and your boy Martin would be available for a training session with my Junior, Walter."

Ben looked surprised. "I thought you two were playing with Sean."

"Yes, we have been," Mason said and he avoided looking at the other Dom. "He's a good player."

"He's a great player. Martin and I played with him a couple times and if he'd been willing to do a permanent threesome, I would have taken him on."

"Sean doesn't do permanent."

"He might for the right Dom." Ben sighed. "I don't know what that boy is looking for but I hope he finds it before trouble finds him. He needs a keeper." He glanced at Mason briefly. "I thought maybe your boy Walter would be it."

Mason pushed down a surge of jealousy. "I don't think Sean is Walter's type," he said shortly.

"Ah." He felt Ben's eyes on him for a long moment. "Well, I'm sure that Martin would love a chance to play with your boy. Martin's a pain pig and loves new experiences," Ben said affectionately. "I'm going to miss him when he leaves."

"How soon?"

"At the end of the summer, when he graduates. He's going to join his father's business." He sighed. "He's a bright boy, maybe too much so. I'm afraid he'll end up in trouble without someone to keep an eye on him."

"Vancouver, right?" Mason said. "I've got a contact in the area, someone owns part of one of the local clubs. I'll give you her name to check out with Martin."

Ben nodded. "Thanks. When do you want us?"

"Saturday afternoon sound okay?" Ben nodded and Mason watched him head off, feeling both relieved and unhappy that Walter's training would no longer require Sean's help.

Skinner opened the door to the suite and looked around for a long moment, feeling an unexpected wave of contentment flow over him. It was good to be back here, good to know that his mentor and trainer was back in town. He hadn't realized how accustomed he had gotten to their weekends here, how much he had gained from this relationship, and not just here at the Club. He chuckled as he realized that the agents under his command might not be so grateful to Mason for that.

"That's a cheerful sound - and one I've missed," Mason said with a smile as he came into the bedroom. He cast an appreciative glance over Skinner as the man undressed. "New suit? Very stylish - I like the way it looks on you."

Skinner nodded. "I thought about what you said, about developing a certain style, and went to that tailor you recommended." He hung up the suit, glancing over at Mason as he did. "Should I get dressed, Master? Or would that be a waste of time?"

Mason gave him a predatory smile as he crossed the room. "Definitely a waste of time," he said, sliding his arms around Skinner and backing him towards the bed. "As I recall, earlier this week I mentioned that you were a very pleasant diversion."

Skinner's legs pressed against the mattress and he let himself fall backward. "I remember."

"Good. Because a diversion is just what I need right now. It’s been a hell of a week." Mason crawled up the bed on his hands and knees as Skinner scooted back up towards the headboard. He covered Skinner's body completely and fastened his mouth on the other man's, kissing him until they were both shaking and breathless.

"A diversion sounds nice," Skinner managed to gasp when he was released.

Mason chuckled. "Peaches, by the time you get out of this bed tomorrow morning, you're going to be so diverted that you won't be able to walk." He pushed Skinner back down onto the bed and proceeded to show the Junior Dom just how much he had missed him the past three weeks.

Skinner groaned as he bent over to tie his sneakers, ignoring the self-satisfied chuckle from the bed. "Problems, Dimplecheeks?" the very languid and satisfied voice said and he resisted the urge to flip off the Master Dom. He settled for giving the man a baleful glare instead.

Mason ignored the look and sipped his morning cup of coffee contentedly. "You might want to soak in the hot tub before you exercise, Walter. I think we stressed some muscles that you haven't used recently."

Skinner gave Mason a rueful smile. "We did more than just stress them. And I'd appreciate a chance to soak. What's the schedule for today?"

"Take your time this morning," Mason said. "I've got a bit of Club business to handle, and then we've got a practice session scheduled for after lunch."

"Sean's back?"

Mason frowned at the pleased tone in Skinner's voice. "No, as a matter of fact, he's not. Ben Thompson and his boy, Martin, are coming over to play. I think you'll like Martin - he enjoys heavy play and can be a bit of a challenge since he gets into sub space completely and becomes non-verbal. Ben will show you how to work someone like that."

Skinner nodded. "Sounds interesting. Any special orders, sir?"

"Just one - come over here and give me a kiss before you leave." Skinner smiled and complied, focusing all his attention on the kiss, and Mason was breathing hard when they broke apart. "Damn, Peaches. You just keep getting better and better at that."

Skinner chuckled. "Thank you, Master Geoff. I had a pretty good teacher."

Mason snorted. "Getting a bit cocky, are we, Piglet? I think it's a good thing that I came back when I did - another week and you'd be impossible." He pushed Skinner towards the door, popping his backside. "Now scoot - and don't skimp on your workout."

He watched Skinner leave the room and then drew a deep breath, letting it back out forcefully. Then he got out of bed, focusing his mind on showering and dressing instead of the unpleasant task awaiting him.

Mason looked up as Spender entered his office and stood up. "Please have a seat, Mr. Spender," he said, going to the door and closing it. As Spender pulled out a pack of cigarettes, Mason said firmly, "I'd prefer that you didn't smoke in here."

Spender raised an eyebrow. "Of course." He tucked the pack back in his pocket. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this meeting?"

"Mr. Spender, I'm afraid that I have no choice but to terminate your membership at this club." Mason sat back down at his desk and looked across the desk at the other man.

Spender frowned. "I'm afraid that I don't understand, Mr. Mason."

"Oh, I think that you do," Mason said grimly. "Did you really think that we wouldn't notice all the Juniors that have switched to you? And the increase in sub complaints against them? And the fact that none of your subs or Juniors will press a complaint against you? You have abused your place here in the Club, and you have attempted to use your membership here for personal gain by means of blackmail. You may also have been the indirect cause of death for at least one Club member."

"Really?" Spender looked unperturbed by the charges. "I think that you'd have trouble making those charges stick, seeing that you don't have a formal complaint."

"You forget, Mr. Spender, that this is a private club. I am well within my rights as executive officer to revoke your membership for any reason that I see fit. However, I have also brought this matter to the attention of our peers, and they have voted to have you removed. Unanimously."

"Unan - " Spender looked stunned. "I see. Well, in that case, I suppose that there is nothing that I can do except surrender gracefully." He reached into his pocket and pulled out his Club passcard, then pulled off his ring and laid them on the desk.

Mason picked up the items and locked them in his drawer, then tossed an envelope in front of Spender. "In this envelope you will find reimbursement for the membership fees you have prepaid. The Housekeeping staff is packing your suite and will send your personal items to your address on record. A Security team is waiting outside the door to escort you to your car."

Spender smiled faintly. "You seem to have thought of everything, Mr. Mason." He stood up and walked to the door, then paused and pulled out his cigarettes. Lighting one, he looked over at Mason and said, "Almost everything. You see, you don't know who you are dealing with, and that could have...unpleasant consequences for you."

Mason stood up again and glared at Spender. "Are you threatening me, Mr. Spender?"

Spender blew out a puff of smoke, looking amused. "Threats are an idle waste of time. And I am a very busy man." He opened the door and then glanced back at Mason. "I won't say good-bye, Mr. Mason. I have a feeling that we'll be seeing each other in the future."

Mason watched the door close behind the other man, and the uneasiness that had plagued him for the past two days nearly overwhelmed him. He had a sudden urge to gather up everyone near and dear to him and hide away for a while, until this dark cloud that he sensed passed away. Then, shaking off such grim and nonsensical thoughts, he headed for his suite and the comforts there.

"Well, well, well - if it isn't the Mountain," said a teasing voice across the lobby. Skinner, on his way back to the suite after an intense but satisfying workout, swung around with a surprised smile.

"Hello, Sean," he said, accepting the younger man's brief hug. "I didn't know that you were back." His eyes ran critically over Sean, noticing that the sub was thinner than the last time he had seen him.

"Got back yesterday," the younger man said breezily, and then rolled his eyes as he noticed Skinner's look. "And Mason already read me the riot act about my weight, so don't you start."

"But - " Skinner began, then bit back his words.

Sean continued. "Is that some sort of Dom thing? They hand you the ring and you suddenly get an urge to worry about everyone's nutritional habits?"

"Something like that," Skinner said absently, wondering why Mason had lied about Sean's return. "It's a more subtle form of SM - the broccoli torture test."

Sean wrinkled his nose at that. "Yuck! That stinks! And so do you, by the way." He ducked the half-serious swat Skinner aimed at him, laughing, and headed off towards the dining room.

Skinner chuckled and watched him go, then turned back towards the Dom's suite. He noticed “Mr. Jones” watching him from the lobby and nodded politely in his direction, relieved that the man seemed to be heading out the front door. The last thing that he wanted to do today was talk to him.

Skinner continued across the lobby towards Mason's suite and unlocked the door. Expecting the Dom to still be tied up with Club business, he was surprised to see the man standing at the bar, pouring himself a drink.

"Bad morning?" he hazarded.

Mason sighed. "A disturbing one." He sighed again as he studied the drink he had poured and then dumped it down the sink. "And I expect that it would only make it worse if I started drinking." He set the bottle back in the bar and turned toward Skinner. "How was the work-out?"

"Went well. I think I'm ready to go to the next level." He had begun stripping off his clothes upon entering the suite, heading towards the bathroom, and Mason followed him. Skinner paused in the bathroom doorway and looked at Mason. "I ran into Sean in the lobby. He says that he got back yesterday and that you knew because you chewed him out."

Mason flushed slightly. "Yes. Well." He cleared his throat but didn't seem inclined to continue.

"So that's not the reason that you set up a play-date with Master Ben instead?" Skinner asked evenly. "Does this have to do with your reaction to my Junior test? You've found someone else for me to play with so that you don't have to deal with Sean?"

Impatiently, Mason said, "It has to do with more than just Sean. You're a Junior now - and as good a player as any Junior in the Club. If you wanted to go out that door right now and pick out a sub to play with, I couldn't stop you. In fact, I should be encouraging you to do just that."

Skinner cocked his head. "So why aren't you?"

"Because I think that you can be better than any of the others. We have some empty places in the Seniors now, and I think that you could fill one better than anyone else. With a little more time and training, of course."

Skinner looked at him, surprised. "You've said that before, but you really are serious, aren't you?"

"Very serious. I think that before summer you could be a Senior - which means that I'm going to push you harder than I ever have. You're going to be playing with all kinds of subs, and you're going to learn to deal with every kind of situation and kink that there is, whether you end up practicing it or not.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“I hope so. But it also means that things are going to change. I'm going to be putting you through some intense sessions, but from the other side for a change, and we'll be using a number of different subs so that you can experience while I'm watching you. And that also means we'll be changing your image around here. For one thing – don’t shave your body anymore. And I’ve got some new clothing for you to wear while you're running around the suite.”

Skinner smiled as he started the shower. “Something besides that damn jock strap, I hope?”

Mason opened a drawer and pulled out an assortment of leather accessories, smiling as he considered the little leather pouch he dangled from his fingers. “Definitely. But you'd better be careful what you wish for, Peaches…”

The Englishman had been expecting a confrontation from the moment he caught Spender’s eyes across the room. He ignored the man, concentrating on the faces and words of the other Consortium members as they discussed the current situation and, in particular, the persistence of a certain young FBI agent. But he knew that Spender wouldn’t allow him to ignore him for long and wasn’t surprised when the man took the seat next to him during a break in the discussions.

“Mr. Mason said that the decision to expel me from the Dionysus club was unanimous,” the smoker said without preamble.

The older man met Spender’s eyes evenly. “Yes. It was.”

He could almost hear Spender’s teeth grind at that. “Might I know just why you sided with them?”

“Because you’re a fool.” The Englishman didn’t bother to hide the chill in his eyes. “What is more, your self-centered actions could have endangered much of what we have been working toward.”

The man blew out a puff of smoke. “Surely not,” he said, amusement in his voice. “You take this too seriously, old friend.”

“And you don’t take it seriously enough,” Smith said sharply. “You are like a child poking at a rattlesnake nest with a stick. Just be careful that you don’t get bit.”

Spender snorted. “Mason may get off on playing his petty little power games, but I could smash him like a bug.”

“I wouldn’t count on that. Geoffrey Mason is a dangerous man – and he has powerful friends.” He leaned closer to Spender and said, coldly, “And if you do anything to jeopardize the project because of your petty little power games, I shall personally authorize my people to eliminate you. Do we understand each other, old friend?”

Spender met his eyes for a long moment and then looked away. “Yes. I understand perfectly.” Then, after the Englishman moved away, he said under his breath, “As will I, old friend. Without hesitation.”

What a way to start a week, Mason thought dismally on Monday night, sipping a drink as he stood to one side of the room and watched those mingling around the buffet table. For a Wake, it was almost oppressively quiet. The large gathering of people were talking quietly among themselves with only an occasion laugh stirring the gloom that had seemed to settle in the room. The truth was that the entire community was on edge, reeling from a series of shocks starting with Madame’s mysterious disappearance followed by Terry’s apparent suicide and now a Domme’s unexpected death. The Law of Three he thought idly, but wondered if this was the end or the start of trouble in the community.

A commotion and familiar laugh from the doorway caught his attention and made him swing around with a frown. Sean was standing there chatting with a clump of people and Mason’s danger-meter abruptly jumped upward. While he knew that no one would be as tacky as to cause trouble at the Wake of a respected community member, he had already sighted two players that hadn't been allowed admittance at the Club because of their reputations and at least one other who had been tossed out on Sean's testimony. Intellectually, he knew that Sean was an adult, one of the shrewdest subs he'd ever met, and could handle himself. Emotionally all he wanted to do was march over and escort Sean Matthews' audacious little ass out of the room. No, what he really wanted to do was to turn that ass over his knee and paddle the imp until he couldn't sit for a week.

Mason drew in a deep breath and walked over to where Sean stood exchanging greetings with his many acquaintances. He waited until Sean's friends had moved onward and then stepped forward, consciously looming over the smaller man. “What are you doing here?”

Sean looked up at him from under his lashes and gave him a sober look. “Hello, Mason – and why didn’t you think I’d come? We may not have played together, but she was a Club member. I respected her humor and inventiveness. And don’t worry - I brought Master Jean-Pierre along to play Dragon.” There was a message of some kind in Sean’s voice but he couldn’t figure it out. If he had to name it, he would have said that it sounded like Sean was upset with him.

Mason looked past Sean at the bulky Dom standing behind him, and Jean-Pierre looked a little sheepish. "JP," he said sternly.

"Do not scold me, mon frere. You know I can't resist the little imp when he gets it in his mind to charm me. And I swear I will keep a close eye on him all evening."

Mason turned to Sean and said, quietly, "You shouldn't be here, Sean - with or without a dragon. There's at least three people here who hold you personally responsible for not being in the Club, and the alcohol is flowing pretty heavily."

“Of course – it’s a Wake.” Sean frowned. "And I can take care of myself. I've been doing it for years." With deliberate nonchalance he said, "I heard you were playing with Martin on Saturday."

Mason heard the sharp undertone and said, warily, "Walter needed to know how to hand non-verbal subs, and Ben was happy to oblige by providing his sub."

"And I imagine you were only too happy to go along - despite the fact that we had an agreement."

Mason was startled. The decision to play with Martin had been a spur-of-the-moment one, prompted by Ben's return to town so that he could supervise, although Mason had admitted to Skinner that he had felt a strong desire to put a little breathing room between him and Sean before something serious developed. He had never thought that Sean would be upset.

"Sean," he said, intending to apologize.

Sean interrupted him, his voice angry and hurt. "And I prefer to get my walking papers in person, instead of hearing about it second hand."

Mason's eyes narrowed. "Actually, you prefer to be the one doing the walking, don't you?"

Sean glared at him. "I've never led anyone on or broken any hearts. Anyone I played with knew the score going in. Dammit, Mason, I've held myself exclusive to play with you and Walter!"

"I never asked that of you!" Mason snapped.

Pain seemed to flash through those bright blue eyes and then they hardened. "Fine! Then I won't any more. Just be sure that you find another boy to play with because my dance card is going to be pretty full from now on!"

Appalled by this sudden turn of events, Mason tried to redeem the situation. "Sean - "

Sean turned on his heel and headed into the crowd, leaving Mason staring after him with trepidation.

Chapter Text

"Mr. Mason? Please come into my office - I’m Kate Malone."

Mason had been standing at the window, looking out over a garden that was more restrained wilderness than careful cultivation, but he turned around at the sound of a woman’s deep voice. The woman standing with her hand held out was not what he had expected but seemed to fit perfectly with her surroundings and, absurdly, he felt some of the tension drain out of him.

He shook her hand, feeling the firmness of her grip. "Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice."

"I was fortunate to have a cancellation. And you come highly recommended, Mr. Mason," Dr. Malone said, leading the way to a back room that was as far from a psychiatrist's office as he could imagine. The furnishings were comfortable without being either cute or imposing, and he settled into a comfortable chair across from the doctor.

"As do you, Doctor." He looked over at the doctor, meeting her eyes directly. "I understand that you counsel people in alternative lifestyles."

She nodded. "All of my clients fall outside what would be considered the norm. Are you looking for counseling, Mr. Mason?"

"Not for myself." He smiled as he said that. "And I expect that you hear that a lot, but I'm serious. I manage a large BDSM club in the City, and I'm looking for someone to counsel several of the members."

Dr. Kate smiled. "Someone who won't try to convince them that they're sick for wanting to play those kinds of games?"


"Is this proactive, or are you doing this in response to a problem?"

"The latter, I'm afraid," Mason said with a sigh. "We had a problem with one of our Dominants – abusing the trust that the Club had put in him, as well as misusing his submissives. We've expelled him from the Club, but I'm concerned that his former subs might be traumatized by his treatment of them. I'd like to be able to offer them counseling, at the Club's expense."

The doctor nodded. "I'd be glad to do that. If it would help, I can arrange to spend a weekend on site, to make it more convenient for your people to see me the first time."

Mason smiled. "That's more than I expected. Thank you."

"And, as a matter of fact, I think you should be one of the first that I counsel."

Mason blinked. "Me? But I wasn't one of his people."

"But you obviously feel that you're responsible for this man's actions," Dr. Kate said, sitting back in her chair, studying him intently.

"I am responsible," Mason said. "I should have seen what was happening – it was pure serendipity that led me to suspect that there might be a problem. Meanwhile, people have been emotionally and physically traumatized – one even committed suicide under the threat of blackmail."

"That is certainly tragic, and I'll be glad to help the people who've been damaged by this man. But you seem to be carrying more than your share of the blame for this situation. I'm assuming that you didn't see this abuse taking place and turn your back on it, and that as soon as you knew about it you took steps to stop it, correct?"

Mason nodded. "But it wasn't soon enough."

"It never is," Dr. Kate said quietly. "But you did the best you could and you need to learn to let go of your guilt. I imagine that's hard for you to do."

He stood up, saying coolly, "I have my own ways of handling my problems, Doctor."

Dr. Kate smiled widely. "I expect that you do. However, even the most self-sufficient – and stubborn – people need someone to talk to. Someone that they don't have to preserve the 'All-Powerful-All-Knowing-Dom image for."

He couldn't help chuckling. "You're right about that."

"Of course I am," Dr. Kate said, her eyes twinkling at him. "I'm always right – that's why they pay me the big bucks."

Mason laughed out loud at that and sat down again. "All right, doctor. I surrender. When do you want to schedule me?"

"No time like the present, unless you've got a sub all tied up and waiting for you."

"I wish," Mason said involuntarily, then sighed as he saw the doctor's eyebrow arch upward. "I'm going to regret saying that, aren't I?"

"I'll never make you regret anything that you say, Mr. Mason – is it all right if I call you by your first name?" Mason nodded. "Well, then, Geoffrey. Let's talk about this situation…"

Mason rubbed his temples as he studied the folders on his desk, then he looked up at the man entering his office. "Mr. Bennet," he said, gesturing towards the chairs. "Have a seat, please."

Bennet sat down, looking at Mason in concern. "Is there a problem, sir?"

Mason pulled Bennet's file from the stack and flipped it open. "No, Jason. As a matter of fact, my records show that you've been an exemplary player."

"Then why – "

"- did I call you in here? A fair question." He sat back in his chair. "You've probably heard by now that Mr. Spender is no longer a member of the Club." Bennet nodded silently. "According to this, you were trained under another master but transferred to Mr. Spender a month after you became a Junior. May I ask why?"

Bennet flushed and looked down at his hands. "Master Spender asked me, sir. My former Senior was busy at the time so..." He shrugged.

"He didn't threaten you? Blackmail you in any manner?"

Bennet's head jerked up. "Oh, no, sir! He wouldn't."

"Jason," Mason said gently. "He would and he did. Several of his Juniors were coerced into switching to him, and threatened with exposure or bodily harm when they tried to get away from him. Did Spender ever threaten you?"

"No, sir," Bennet said firmly. "He was tough but he was good to me."

Mason sighed but refrained from saying anything else that might force the other man to defend his former Senior. "In any case, now that Mr. Spender is no longer a member of the Club, I'm going to have to ask you to give me his bracelet."

Bennet unfastened his bracelet with obvious reluctance. "What happens to me now, sir?"

"Your Junior status remains, and you are free to play with any of the subs here at the Club. If you wish, you may talk with our Seniors about one of them taking on your training, or you can continue as you are."

"And if I choose to continue playing with Master Spender – offsite?"

"That is, of course, up to you, but I hope that you will seriously consider the alternatives." Mason slid a card across the desk. "Also, we've made arrangements for someone to counsel any of Mr. Spender's former associates, at the Club's expense. Dr. Malone will be here at the Club next weekend and you may make confidential arrangements at this number to talk with her."

Bennet stood up and Mason noticed that he didn't pick up the card. "If that's all, sir?"

Mason sighed. "That's all, Mr. Bennet. But please – be careful."

Bennet nodded and walked out of the office, and Mason had a sudden bad feeling. He made a mental note to keep an eye on that young man.

Skinner opened the door to Mason’s suite and was surprised to find the Dom lying on the couch, an ice-filled glass pressed against his temple. He dropped his bag and moved over to the couch, kneeling beside it.

"All you all right, sir?"

Mason opened his eyes and smiled at the concerned look in Skinner’s eyes. "It’s all right, Walter. Just a bit of a headache. It’s been a rough week."

He pushed himself into a sitting position with a groan, and Skinner moved to sit next to him so that he could massage the Dom’s shoulders.

"No wonder you have a headache," he said, shaking his head. "Your shoulders are tense, your muscles are one big knot." Skinner patted the master’s back and said, "Why don’t I give you a massage? It’ll make you feel a lot better, get rid of that headache."

"Sounds like heaven." He got up and stretched, wincing at the tightness in his neck muscles. "I’ll go get undressed while you get ready."

Skinner retrieved his bag and stored it in the closet, along with his clothes. With a sigh, he slipped on the leather accessories that Mason had decided would make up his new wardrobe – a cock-ring and pouch, collar and cuffs, a chest harness, and a pair of tight leather pants with a double-zippered crotch. He felt more than a little self-conscious in this get-up, but the look in Mason’s eyes when he caught sight of him at least relieved his worries that he looked foolish.

Mason wrapped his arms around Skinner, hands caressing the leather-clad ass. "Mmm. You look good enough to eat, Peaches."

Skinner grinned. "I hope that’s a promise for things to come, Master Geoff."

Mason laughed and popped Skinner’s butt lightly. "Impatient, my pet? If you’re a good boy, perhaps you’ll get a reward."

He removed his robe and lay down on the massage table on his stomach. He groaned as he felt Skinner’s skillful hands go to work on his stiff muscles, willing himself to relax and let go of all his worries.

"God, that feels so good."

Skinner carefully worked across Mason’s shoulders and down his arms. "So what’s gotten you so tied up in knots?"

Mason sighed. "We had to expel one of the Senior Club members for his irresponsible – and dangerous – behavior. I’ve been meeting with all his subs and Juniors to make sure that they’re coping."

"And you feel responsible, don’t you?"

"Dammit, Piglet, not you, too," Mason grumbled.

" ‘Too’?"

"The shrink I’ve contracted to provide counseling for his people wants to counsel me, too."

Skinner was silent for a few minutes as he worked down Mason’s back, moving to the muscular thighs. "It might be a good idea."

"I know, I know. I already had one session – I’ll go for more if I feel I need them."


"Drop it, Walter," Mason said warningly, and Skinner went silent again, only speaking to ask Mason to roll over onto his back. Mason caught sight of Skinner’s tight face and sighed, reaching up to caress his cheek.

"I’ll be fine, Peaches," he said softly. "And thank you for worrying about me." He grasped the back of Skinner’s head and pulled him down for a kiss. "Now finish the massage and we’ll have some dinner. Then we’ll see if we feel up for playing."

Skinner smiled. "Sounds good." He moved behind Mason, massaging his skull with strong, sure fingers. Mason moaned and let his eyes slide closed, relaxing under the skillful manipulation. Once he felt Mason relax, Skinner moved down his body, making sure that every muscle was soothed and relaxed.

Well, nearly every muscle, he thought with a smile as he observed the effect that the massage was having on the Dom. He let his hands move back up the firm legs and cupped the heavy balls with one hand while the other hand massaged the stiffening cock. Skinner bent and licked at the head, savoring both the taste and the Dom’s moan.

"I don’t remember giving you permission to do that," Mason gasped, clutching the side of the table with his hands. He moaned again as he felt the warm mouth close over him.

Skinner let the heavy cock slide out of his mouth and looked up towards the Dom’s face. "I could stop."

Mason let go of the table and grasped Skinner’s head, pushing him back towards his aching cock. "You do and I’ll have to find where I left that crop."

Skinner chuckled and returned to his earlier task, teasing and tormenting the older man until Mason was moaning constantly and trying to thrust himself deeper into the mouth pleasuring him. Skinner relaxed his throat and released his hold on Mason’s hips, finally letting the Dom move as he wanted. He loved it when Mason lost control like this and, as the older man climaxed with a shout, readily swallowed everything he had to offer.

Mason lay panting and trying to recover his wits while Skinner carefully cleaned him up, then brought over his robe. He had to help Mason sit up and slip into the robe, and he couldn’t help grinning with satisfaction.

Mason saw the smile and pulled him close, growling, "Someone is entirely too satisfied with himself this evening. I’ll have to do something about that later." He kissed Skinner, hard, only releasing him when the other man’s breath grew ragged. "Dinner, Peaches."

Skinner leaned on the massage table, trying to catch his breath and silently cursing the tightness of his pants. "Yes, Master Geoff."

Over dinner, Skinner felt Mason’s eyes on him several times but was unable to catch the Dom’s eyes directly. Finally, in exasperation, he set down his fork and said, "What?" Mason looked puzzled, as if he didn't understand what Skinner meant. "You keep looking at me. Did I do something wrong?"

A corner of Mason’s mouth twitched upward and he reached out to touch Skinner’s hand. "Not at all. I was just thinking: about how far you’ve come, about how soon you’ll be going off on your own to terrorize and thrill submissives throughout the Club." Skinner chuckled at that and Mason smiled a little, then squeezed the Junior’s hand. "I’m going to miss you, Walter Skinner."

Skinner suddenly had difficulty swallowing, and he returned the hand-squeeze. "I’ll miss you, too. It’s been a hell of a journey."

"That it has," Mason said, smiling wider now, shaking off his gloom. "And it’s not over yet." He tossed down his napkin and stood up, holding out his hand for Skinner’s. Puzzled but willing to go with the Dom’s whims, Skinner abandoned his own dinner and let Mason pull him up and lead him into the playroom.

Mason released his hand just inside the doorway and Skinner automatically moved into a waiting position in the center of the room, his body relaxed but aware of every movement the Dom made. Mason circled him, one hand trailing over his Junior’s skin, making minor adjustments to the accessories Skinner wore and gauging the tension in the body.

"It looks like I’m not the only one who had a rough week," Mason commented. He moved behind the younger man, pressing his chest against Skinner’s back. Letting his hands slid downward to caress the prominent bulge in the leather pants, he leaned forward to murmur in Skinner’s ear, "I think someone needs to play very badly."

He released Skinner, ignoring the other man’s moan, and walked over to the wall. Releasing a lock, he lowered a net-like sling from the ceiling, stopping when it was waist-high and locking it down again. Skinner eyed the sling curiously, and a vivid memory jumped out – two men in a nearly dark basement, moving together in a display of nearly perfect sexual magic. He drew in a shaky breath but quietly took his place on the rectangular mesh, letting Mason fasten the wrist and ankle cuffs to the webbing, a little surprised that the Master had not removed any of Skinner’s clothing yet.

"May I ask what you plan to do, Master?" he asked.

"Of course," Mason said with a smile and ran a caressing hand over Skinner’s body as he circled the sling, making sure that Skinner was secured but safe. "I’m going to take very good care of you. So good that, when I’m done, every muscle will be limp and relaxed."

Skinner couldn’t help smiling at that. "Every muscle, Master?"

"Every muscle, my pet."

Skinner groaned. "I have a bad feeling about this," he said humorously.

Mason gave him a mock-stern look. "Impertinence, boy? Don’t think that I can’t wear out your ass just because you’re trussed up like this."

Skinner chuckled. "I would never make that mistake, Master."

Mason shook his head even as he laughed. "You are a handful tonight, pet. I expect that I should gag you – only I’m looking forward to hearing all the delightful screams and noises you’re going to make." He leaned over and gave Skinner a hard, intense kiss. "Now hush and let me work."

Skinner chuckled again, a little breathless this time, but didn’t say anything else. He craned his head to watch as Mason went to the toy cabinet, attempting to see what the Master was getting out, but Mason shielded his choices with his body. He placed everything in a bin on a small rolling cart; once he started, he didn’t plan to take his hands off Skinner for a minute, and he wanted to have everything he would need at hand.

Rolling the cart over to the sling, he picked up a hood and held it up where Skinner could see it. "I'm going to put this on you now. It's designed so that you'll be unable to see or hear when all the flaps are down, but for now I'm going to start with the ear coverings up so that you can hear me."

Skinner lifted his head and quietly waited while the Dom adjusted the hood so that it would be comfortable. It was a curious sensation but, after a momentary panic, he found that it wasn't too bad. He had been blindfolded before and had noticed how intense sensations seemed when he couldn't see what was being done to him. This was even more intense – not a glimmer of light getting through the eye pieces. He was bound, he was blind, and totally out of control of the situation, and he felt his body begin to relax as he accepted the fact that he was no longer responsible for what was happening.

Skinner flopped his head back down on the webbing, both frustrated and aroused by the fact that he had no idea what the Dom was up to this time. He shivered when he felt the first touch on his leather-clad thigh, just a hand moving caressingly across the supple material, circling and lightly stroking him, moving slowly and steadily upward. The hand skirted across his exposed abdomen, lightly but not enough to tickle, and then teased his tits through the openings in the body harness. He groaned, arching upward, and was rewarded as a gentle tongue teased each nipple into a stiff peak. Then, suddenly, he felt a sharp pain as twin clamps fastened on the sensitive nubs, and he groaned and tried to press back, away from the tormenting things.

"Easy, pet," Mason murmured against one ear, his hand moving back down to caress Skinner’s abdomen. "I know that you don’t like them, but they look so good on you – I know you’ll wear them to please me, won’t you?" Skinner drew in a deep breath and nodded. "Good boy. I think that you deserve a reward."

He moved around the sling, his hand stroking downward until he caressed the prominent bulge in Skinner’s pants but, to his disappointment, continued to move downward along the zippered crotch. Skinner groaned and tried not to voice his frustration, but Mason seemed to read him like a book and chuckled.

He leaned over the other man and said, in a humorous voice, "Upset with me, Piglet? Already begging for release when we’ve barely started?" Skinner shook his head in denial but Mason just smiled and, once again, stroked upward over the restrained cock. "Don’t lie to me, my boy. You want me to take your lovely cock out and play with it, bring you off, don’t you?" Skinner nodded silently and wasn’t surprised when Mason moved his hand away.

"Sorry, Piglet, but you’ll just have to wait and earn that," he said mockingly. He unzipped the back of Skinner's pants and ran a hand over the exposed flesh. "I intend to drive you insane with pleasure before I let you come."

Skinner groaned as a lubricated finger probed and stretched him slightly, then sighed with pleasure at the warm burn of a dildo sliding into place. By its feel, it was one of the smaller ones, and he hoped that the Dom intended to make him take the bigger ones as well. There was no way to predict what the other man would do, though, so he just abandoned himself to the sensation of being filled.

Mason seated the dildo and moved around to the side of the sling, unzipping the front of the pants and freeing Skinner's cock from its pouch. It was already hard although restrained by the cock ring, and he smiled as he slowly slid his hand up and down on it. "You look beautiful like this, my pet. So hot and hard, so eager for my touch, my taste, my cock. Shall I give you part of what you want?" Skinner dropped his head back and opened his mouth, and Mason chuckled. "Such a hungry little piggy."

He moved to the head of the sling and unbelted his robe, then fed his cock into the open mouth. Skinner's mouth closed on it eagerly, his mouth and tongue thoroughly exploring every inch, savoring the taste of the man.

Mason grasped his head between his hands, forcing Skinner to be still. "Relax, Piglet – I'm not going anywhere, and I plan to use this beautiful mouth the way that I want to." He began to thrust in and out of the warm mouth, carefully so that he wouldn't hurt the other man. Skinner relaxed and let himself feel the joy of simply being used in whatever way the Dom wanted to use him. Fuck his face, fuck his ass - it didn't matter to him and it was completely beyond his control.

Too soon it seemed, Mason was groaning and shooting down his throat. Skinner swallowed readily, eager to catch each drop, and was disappointed when Mason finally pulled away.

"Peaches, you're entirely too good at that," he said with a contented sigh.

Skinner smiled. "Thank you, Master."

Mason refastened his robe. "I'm going to close the ear flaps now, and then I'm going to finish you, and I want you to think of nothing but what you're feeling. I'll be right beside you the whole time, so there's nothing to be afraid of."

Skinner nodded and lay still as he felt the ear coverings fastened into place. They were well-padded, and he was unable to hear anything around him. Momentary panic was instantly soothed by a touch of the Dom's hands, keeping in constant contact with him as the hands moved down his body while Mason moved around the sling. Skinner drew a deep breath and let it out, releasing his fears as he did. Mason was once again between his legs, sliding out the dildo and replacing it with a larger one. Skinner groaned in pleasure, arching upward, and felt a warm hand wrap around his cock.

"Yes – please – please, Master," he found himself gasping, over and over. The rhythm of the toy sliding into his body matched that of the hand stroking his cock, and he knew that he was thrusting into them. Skinner lay in darkness, unable to hear and unable to see, keenly aware of the taste of his Master in his mouth, of the man's hands on his cock, of the toy that he was being fucked with. It was ecstasy, and the only thing that he thought would possibly be better would be to be doing this to someone else. A momentary image flashed through his mind of a certain troublesome but beautiful agent of his, stretched out before him like this, being fucked into oblivion while he called out Skinner's name.

The image and the stimulation was too much, and he was barely aware of the ring being unsnapped from around his cock and balls. All he knew was that blessed relief was surging through him, shooting up from his toes, running through his ass and up his thighs, until it exploded from his body with a surge of light that took him into darkness.

When he was next aware of anything, Mason had removed the cuffs and was taking off the hood. Skinner blinked his eyes as they rebelled against the sudden light and tried to push himself into a sitting position.

"Whoa, Walter," Mason said, sliding an arm around his waist to brace him. "I don't think you've gotten your legs back in working order yet."

Skinner chuckled weakly. "I don't think my body is in working order."

"Bed," Mason decreed, and steered Skinner through the bathroom and into the master bedroom. He helped Skinner sit down on the side of the bed and made quick work of stripping off the harness and pants, then pushed Skinner under the covers. Shedding his own clothes, he crawled in beside Skinner and felt the other man spoon up to him with a contented sigh.

"Bad week, Peaches?" he asked softly. "Anything you want to talk about?"

Skinner sighed. "Not that bad, it's just.... There's one of my agents. He's brilliant and tenacious – and completely pig-headed. I'm afraid that he's heading for a fall, but I don't seem to be able to stop him."

Mason turned onto his back and studied the other man's face. "He means a lot to you, doesn't he? Does he have the potential?"

Skinner flushed slightly and shook his head. "He appears to be both straight and vanilla. And even if he wasn't, the man is my subordinate and I won't jeopardize either of our careers like that. Although I must admit that the idea of turning that young man over my knee has a certain appeal."

Mason snorted at that. "Tell me about it. I know someone else who's itching for a thorough spanking, and I'm just about fed up enough to give it to him."

"Sean?" Skinner asked curiously. "What's he up to now?"

"What isn't he up to would be more to the point. He's running through every one of the Doms here at the Club like they were water, and I heard that he held an orgy in one of the party rooms with a half dozen of them."

"Disappointed that you weren't invited?" Skinner asked quietly, and Mason frowned over at him.

"Of course not. It's just.... I'm worried about the boy. Something's eating at him, and I'm damned if I know what it is." As Skinner opened his mouth to say something else, he leaned over and hushed him with a hard kiss. "Enough about that brat. Tomorrow, I want us to go over your new suite and set up your toy collection. I think you're about ready to go trolling for subs to play with, and you're going to need your rest."

Mason turned out the light and lay down again, aware again of the comforting bulk snuggled up against his back. He smiled to himself, thinking how nice it was to have Skinner here in his bed. But as he drifted off to sleep, it was a smaller and more turbulent figure that was in his dreams.

Sean breezed through the Club lobby, pausing as he caught sight of a dark-haired man standing there. Ordinarily, Sean wouldn't have noticed him, but the way he watched the door and looked at his watch, coupled with his visitor's badge, made him curious.

"Hi," he said, walking over to the man. "You look a little lost. Can I help you?"

The man looked startled as he swung around to face Sean, then smiled. "I wish you could," he said with an appreciative glance at Sean, "but I'm waiting for someone."

"Who is late."

"Very." The man looked at his watch and sighed, shaking his head ruefully. "Gideon's probably lost track of time – again – and will show up all apologetic before too long."

"Gideon Long?" Sean asked and the man nodded. Sean chuckled. "Giddy is always late for everything, but he's a good player and will make it worth your wait."

"That's the only thing saving his ass right now," the man said, shaking his head, his eyes twinkling at Sean.

Sean grinned back. "Look, why don't you let the Desk know where you'll be and wait in the lounge. Who knows how long Giddy will be, and you should at least be comfortable."

The man shook his head. "Thanks, but I don't drink before a session, and certainly not alone."

Sean nodded; he didn't approve of intoxicants before a session. "They have non-alcoholic drinks as well. And I'll keep you company."

"All right." The man held out his hand. "Paul Douglas, by the way."


They shook hands, then Sean waited while Paul told the desk where he would be. The two men took a table in the lounge, ordering tonics from the waiter. Sean was accustomed to making people feel at ease and soon had Paul relaxed, swapping stories about their SM experiences. Paul laughed a long time at Sean's recounting of his disastrous session with a former Club member and the revenge he had taken by decorating the man's toys with nail-polish.

"I wish I could have seen that," Paul chuckled, wiping his eyes. "It sounds like he deserved it."

"Our esteemed club manager didn't think so."

Paul looked at him and shrugged. "He's got a tough job, enforcing the rules."

"Yeah, well, Mason's got no sense of humor."

Paul picked up his drink. "Oh. Like that, is it?"

"Like what?" Sean asked defensively.

Paul shook his head, then reached over to touch Sean's wrist. "I don't see a bracelet."

"I don't do commitments. I prefer to play the field."

"You like the variety? The adventure of discovery? A little spice in your games?"

"Definitely," Sean purred, leaning closer. "I love playing games."

"Too bad I'm already spoken for," Paul said, giving him another appreciative glance.

"My loss, Giddy's gain."

"Mr. Douglas?" They both looked up to see the desk clerk standing there. "Message for you, sir."

Paul took the note and read it, then sighed. "Well, that's that. Gideon's been called out of town on business." He finished his drink and stood up, holding out his hand. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Sean."

"I enjoyed it, too." Sean hesitated, watching Paul head towards the door. "Paul – wait."

Paul turned inquiringly.

"Look, it seems like you're at loose ends. So am I. What about the two of us getting together for a session?"

Paul shook his head. "I'm not a member, Sean –"

"I'm a member, and I'm allowed to bring in a guest, just like Giddy."

"But Gideon and I have played before. You know nothing about me. It's not wise."

"I trust Giddy's instincts."

Paul hesitated, then demurred. "I'm a heavy player."

Sean grinned. "I knew that once you mentioned Giddy, and I adore heavy play."

Paul hesitated. "Well, all right. But not tonight. I'm a little angry about Gideon right now, and I never play when I'm not in complete control of myself."

Sean was a little disappointed but he nodded. "Tomorrow?"

"All right. Provided we play here and we spend some time negotiating first." He gave Sean a sharp look. "You don't use drugs or play unsafe, do you?"

"Not on your life, mate."

"Good." Paul held out his hand and shook Sean's, smiling at him. "I'm looking forward to it, Sean."

"So am I," Sean said, looking up at him through his eyelashes.

Paul laughed and chucked Sean under the chin. "I can see that you're going to be a handful. Just what I like."

He walked out of the Club and down to the sidewalk. After a few minutes, a limo pulled up in front of him and he got in.


Paul glanced over at the other occupant of the limo and smiled. "It went just like you said. He was so eager to play, he would have agreed to just about anything."

"Good." Spender lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. "The trap is set. Now all we need do is wait." He smiled ferally. "Mr. Mason will regret the day he crossed me."

Skinner entered the Quantico training center, internally grumbling over the tradition of one of the Assistant Directors spending a week with the soon-to-be-graduating cadets. As the newest AD, it had fallen to his lot this time, and he expected to be heartily bored. He thought about all the paperwork sitting on his desk and how much higher it was going to get while he was away, not to mention his troublesome head of the X-Files department. Skinner shuddered to think of what Mulder would get up to during his absence, and hoped that he could do his duty here quickly and return to more important tasks.

"Assistant Director Skinner?" A pleasant male voice spoke behind him and he turned inquiringly. A young man was approaching him, his hand held out, with a smile on his handsome young face. "I'm your liason this week."

Skinner was struck dumb by a sense of familiarity and knew he was staring. The dark hair and build were similar, achingly so, but this man moved with a sensuality more deliberate than Mulder's casual grace. And the eyes that met his weren't the changeable hazel ones that told anyone perceptive enough Mulder's every mood. No, these eyes were green, like a cat’s eyes, and for a moment he thought he saw a flash of predatory amusement.

"Thank you," he said, returning the handshake.

"Krycek," the young man said with a smile. "Alex Krycek."


Chapter Text

Alex Krycek turned out to be an excellent guide, thoroughly knowledgeable about his Academy classmates and engagingly modest about his own placement at the top of his class in several areas, including marksmanship. After weeks of dealing with his best agent's cocksure attitude, Skinner found that it was refreshing to talk with a young man who was eager to learn from his superiors. Krycek wasn't in the same category of brilliance as Agent Mulder, but he was intelligent enough to make talking with him a pleasure instead of a chore. Skinner ended his day at the Academy feeling absurdly pleased that he would have to return the next day instead of resenting the draw on his time. And during the drive home, instead of thinking about the work piling up on his desk, he found himself thinking about that young man.

Alex Krycek was no Fox Mulder; he lacked whatever it was that drove Mulder to tilt at windmills against all odds, a quality that Skinner privately admired even if it infuriated him on a professional basis. On the other hand, Krycek was a personable and handsome young man – and he was available. Skinner's instincts, his "gaydar" had definitely registered a ping from the young Cadet. The only question was what Skinner intended to do about that attraction.

Krycek wasn't his subordinate, and chances were the young man would be posted somewhere far away from D.C. following graduation and Skinner would never see him again. Although he had never been one for casual liaisons with either men or women, in this situation casual was good. Skinner had no delusions about this being more than a one-off for either of them. Of course, in the new era of "Don't ask, Don't tell", it could be professional suicide to have an affair with the young man. Even though going public about their encounter would ruin the young man's career as well, Skinner had much more to lose. Which also made him ripe for blackmail.

Skinner's hands gripped the steering wheel and he consciously forced himself to relax. His only option was to wait and see what happened, to let Krycek make the first move. If he did, then Skinner would take what precautions he could while pursuing what he wanted. If he didn't...Skinner sighed. Well, it wasn't as if he didn't know what frustration felt like or how to deal with it. And in either case, young Alex Krycek would be gone in a month at the most.

The next day, Skinner noticed that his young guide was quieter than he had been the previous day and slightly uncomfortable in his presence. An accidental close encounter when a sudden rush of cadets along the hallway had forced them close together made Krycek flush and stammer an apology, after which he was careful not to come too close to Skinner. Skinner readily diagnosed the problem:the young man was interested in him and too unskilled to know how to approach him. He smiled to himself, wondering if he had ever been that young, and steered their conversation into safe topics until the younger man finally seemed to relax.

Lunch found the two of them sitting in the cafeteria at a table away from the rest of the cadets. Skinner watched as Krycek picked at his food and finally decided to take pity on the other man, despite his earlier resolve to wait for Krycek to make the first move.

"Alex," he said quietly. "It's all right."

Krycek looked up at him, startled, and seemed to read the message in his eyes that spoke of understanding and acceptance. He flushed again and dropped his eyes back to his plate. "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to – I never would have - "

As he stammered to a halt, Skinner smiled slightly. "And I'm sorry that I make you feel uncomfortable."

A slight smile turned up the corner of Krycek's mouth. "You don't, sir. Not a bad sort of uncomfortable, at any rate." He looked up briefly, his eyes meeting Skinner's with a smoldering look before he looked back down.

Skinner flushed, suddenly uncomfortably hot, and glanced around the room. The other cadets were finishing their meals and no one was sitting close enough to overhear them, but it was almost time to head towards the auditorium where he was scheduled to give a final talk. There wasn't time to discuss this further and this certainly wasn't the place to discuss it.

Taking a sip of water to cool down, Skinner said, "I've enjoyed our talks, Alex, and I’d like the opportunity to further our acquaintance."

Krycek nodded. "I'd like that, too."

"Then perhaps we could meet for dinner? Tomorrow night, after graduation? But then, you probably have family who'll be taking you out to celebrate."

"No," Krycek said shortly. "I have no family left."

There was a shadow in the young man's eyes, one that spoke of past pain. "Then shall we say six tomorrow evening?" He saw Krycek hesitate again and made a quick assessment of both the cheap suit and the man's stiff pride. "I'll pick up the check, but you won't be under any obligation whatsoever."

Krycek closed his eyes, apparently thinking it over, and Skinner found himself fascinated by the way the long lashes brushed his cheeks and then lifted, revealing those stunning green eyes. "Thanks. I'd like the chance"

Skinner jotted down the name of the restaurant and the address on a piece of paper and passed it to the younger man. "I look forward to it, Alex." He stood up, picking up his tray. "We had better get going.  You know how restless that crowd can get if they have to sit too long."

Krycek smiled at that and stood up. "By all means. I'd hate to have to defend your person from my own classmates at gunpoint."

Skinner chuckled and followed his guide out of the room, unaware of the man sitting at a corner table, watching them unobtrusively. Once they had left the room, the stranger pulled out a cell phone and dialed a number.

"Sir? I think I've got someone that you'll be interested in meeting. His name is Alex Krycek…"

Sean floated up from the blissful haze of subspace and opened his eyes to see strange black eyes looking down into his.

Startled, he blinked his eyes and then refocused on the face hovering above his, recognizing the brown eyes as belonging to Paul Douglas, the top he had met a few weeks earlier and with whom he'd just spent a second stimulating session.

"I see you're back with us," Paul said in amusement, unfastening the wrist and ankle restraints. "How are you feeling?"

"Good." Sean winced a little as he stretched but he grinned at the same time. "Very, very good."

Paul laughed outright at the purr in Sean's voice and handed the sub a glass of water. "You're a pain slut, aren't you, Sean?"

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Sean replied with a teasing smile, draining the glass thirstily. Their first session the previous week had been little more than negotiation and a little experimentation, but this second session had been the real thing and Sean was still feeling higher than a kite. It had been a long time since he had been taken flying like this, pushed to the limits of his tolerance the way he liked to be. The Top was obviously a highly skilled player, and Sean wondered vaguely why he had never seen the man around the local SM community. Someone new to town, most likely, and he idly made a mental note to have Jean-Pierre extend him an invitation to join the Club.

Normally he would have gone to Mason for such a thing, but he and the Dom weren't on speaking terms at the moment. The closest he had been to the other man in the past month was seeing him frown at Sean across the table at the monthly staff meeting but, although in the past Mason had always made a point of spending extra time with him afterward discussing Club business, at that meeting the Dom couldn't seem to get out of the room fast enough. Sean had also stopped dropping into the other man's office like he usually did at least a couple times a week, determined that he'd make Mason come to him first. The Dom owed him an apology, didn't he? And until he got one, Sean was determined to do everything he could to push the other man's buttons.

Which brought him to the subject of Paul Douglas. Sean looked across the room to where the Top was stripping the sheets off the bed, guiltily aware that he was using the man in the most despicable manner possible. Despite the man's consummate skill, he didn't really want to play with the Top, had only suggested it because the man was an outsider and he knew it would infuriate Mason. Or at least he had hoped that it would.  Surely Mason had heard from his loyal assistant that Sean had booked a room for an outside guest? Why, then, hadn't Mason stepped in to stop him? Obviously, for the same reason that he hadn't put a stop to the Sean's escapades with the other tops over the past month – he simply didn't care.

Sean's heart contracted painfully at that. He had come to look at the Dom as one of the anchors in his life – the only one left since his father's death. No matter how angry Mason's control-freak attitude made him, he had been grateful to know that the Dom cared enough to interfere. But now it appeared that he had been wrong, that Mason had just been amusing himself and that there hadn't been any serious intentions behind it. Just as well that he hadn't taken that final step, hadn't told Mason how deeply he cared about the Dom and made the offer to commit to him.

He snorted; he had certainly seen how well Mason kept a commitment, picking someone else to train with Skinner without a word to Sean. Tears pricked behind his eyes at that; he had become fond of the Junior as well, had enjoyed training with him, and had even come to look at the three of them as a family of sorts. To find himself out in the cold had been the most painful thing of all.

Sean drew a deep breath and blinked away his tears – they were pointless and would give Paul the wrong impression. He slipped off the padded rack and ambled into the bathroom for a quick wash. Sean critically surveyed his body in the mirrors there, noting that although Paul hadn't broken the skin anywhere, his entire back and ass had been gone over and would undoubtedly be sore the next day.

He grinned at his reflection, still flying high on the endorphins. Although he had played the field with a vengeance since his argument with Mason, all his partners had been old friends and their techniques well known. But Paul was an unknown, and the thrill of not knowing what to expect as well as the underlying fear from playing with a complete stranger – even here at the Club where there were so many safeguards in place – had added an extra zest to the whole scene. Sean had almost forgotten how much fun it could be to take such a risk, something he hadn't done since his college days. The question was did he want a repeat or would it be better to give Paul the "it's been fun but" speech.

After pulling on his clothes, he went back into the main room and noted that the Top was nearly finished cleaning up the play area. A bin containing the equipment he had used sat to one side, waiting for the housekeeping staff to take them to be cleaned since they were Club tools, not personal ones, and Paul had just finished bundling the dirty laundry into a bag.

"You didn't have to do all this yourself," Sean protested, crossing to help him.

"I'm the guest here," Paul pointed out but he didn't argue when Sean took the laundry sack away from him to toss it down the chute. Instead, he followed the younger man and, when Sean turned back around, pinned him to the wall and kissed him.

Sean was startled by the unexpected advance and annoyed that the Top hadn't asked before just pouncing on him, but he passively submitted to the kiss. After a brief moment, Paul lifted his head and frowned down at the younger man.

"What's wrong? You don't like to kiss men?"

"It's not like that. I just don't like to mix play and real life. Not unless I'm in a relationship. Less chance of heartache that way."

"Surely that doesn't include kissing." Paul leaned in closer, seeking another kiss, but Sean turned his head away.

"I said no," Sean insisted, pushing at the bigger man.

"Too bad," Paul said lightly, tracing Sean's lips with a fingertip. "Because you're really hot and I'd like to spend a couple hours rolling around in the sheets with you. But you're the one calling the shots here – for now." He grinned at Sean and for some reason Sean found himself shivering although he managed a stiff smile in return. "We're still okay, aren't we?"

Sean's mouth felt dry and he was suddenly dizzy. Although right now the last thing he wanted was to be in this man's presence, he felt trapped by the body still holding his against the wall and a feeling of panic washed over him. He managed to nod, desperate to get the other man away from him. "Yeah," he croaked, then cleared his throat and managed another smile. "We're okay."

"Good." Paul let Sean go, crossing the room to pick up his bag, and turned to give the sub a grin. "I'll call you next week, set up another session."

Sean nodded again and watched the door close behind the other man, then shuddered as a chill ran up his spine. He sank bonelessly to the floor, the excitement in taking a risk gone, and in its place was a sudden sick feeling. He felt an almost desperate need to get the taste and smell and feel of the other man off of him, to scrub his body clean of some lingering feeling of wrongness. Stumbling into the bathroom, he fell to his knees in front of the toilet and heaved until his sides ached, then dropped his forehead on the seat while he tried to gather the strength to get up.

"Mr. Matthews?"

He recognized Hanson's voice in the outer room and managed to croak, "In here."

He felt the other man crouch next to him, a cool hand on his burning forehead. "Are you okay, sir?"

Sean nodded weakly. "Just a little stomach upset."

Hanson fetched a glass of water and a washcloth, and Sean grateful rinsed out his mouth. Hanson helped him get to his feet, then closed the toilet lid so that Sean could sit down while he wiped down his face with a cloth.

"Do you need a doctor, sir?" Hanson asked. The Junior's eyes flicked over Sean's body to see if he could determine the problem, but saw nothing obviously wrong except for the young man's extreme pallor.

"No," Sean said, closing his eyes against a sudden headache. "I just need to rest for a few minutes."

"Security was watching but they didn't see Mr. Douglas do anything to harm you. Did they miss something?"

Sean shook his head, unable to explain that, although Paul hadn't physically harmed him, something about the man in those last few minutes had spooked Sean. "No," he said. "Must have been something I ate. Or a touch of the flu."

Hanson looked at him doubtfully. "Would you like me to get Mr. Mason?"

"No!" Sean flushed as he realized that he had practically shouted. "There's no need to worry Mason about a little stomach virus. In fact, I don't want you to say anything to Mason about any of this."

He saw the conflict in Hanson's eyes, torn between his employer and his direct superior – who was also the man who had trained him to become a Junior. Sean felt like a heel for forcing the man to make a choice but he wasn't up to dealing with Mason right now.

"I'll be fine," Sean said reassuringly. "If you can just help me get to my suite, I'll have a lie down and be right as rain. You'll see."

"Well, if you're certain, sir," Hanson said doubtfully. He helped Sean get to his feet, an arm wrapped around the young sub's waist, and slowly walked him down to Sean's suite. Despite Sean's protests to the contrary, he insisted on remaining while the young man took a brief shower and saw him tucked into bed with an aspirin. Then he headed towards Security, to have another look at that tape and see what he had missed.

The Smoker didn't look up as the other man slid into the booth across from him. "Is it done?"

Paul Douglas set an empty vial down on the table between them. "I gave him the first dose, like you wanted, but it wasn't easy. The damn guest room's wired with a security guard watching the whole time. They'll notice when I give him the trigger dose."

The Smoker took a long drag on his cigarette, then blew it out. "Then you'll just have to make sure that you give it to him away from the Club."

Paul snorted. "Right. That kid's way too smart to do that." The other man said nothing, just stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray, then looked at Paul. He broke into a sweat under that gaze. "But – but I'm sure that I can think of something…"

"You do that," the Smoker said calmly, shaking out another cigarette from his pack. "I have the utmost faith in your abilities – and your ingenuity." He lit the cigarette and tossed the match into the ashtray, then his eyes met Paul's again. "Failure is unacceptable."

Paul swallowed hard. "Yes, sir. I understand. I won't fail you."

"See that you don't." The Smoker drew another deep breath, savoring it and the sensation of victory that lay within his grasp.

Skinner arrived at the restaurant early and had finished his first scotch when he saw that Krycek had arrived. The young man approached his table hesitantly and Skinner smiled a welcome, gesturing for him to take a seat.

"Congratulations, Agent Krycek," he said with a smile, referring to the young man's recent graduation from the FBI Academy, his smile broadening at the younger man's flushed cheeks.

"Thank you, sir," Krycek said.

"Since we're not at work, I think you can call me Walter."

Krycek smiled back, a tentative smile that made him look even more youthful, then turned to the waiter and ordered a drink. When he looked back at Skinner, he seemed to have relaxed a little. "Thank you for asking me to dinner, s- Walter."

"No problem, Alex," Skinner said with a slight smile. "An important day like this – you shouldn't celebrate it alone."

The younger man dipped his head at that and smiled. "No," he said quietly, sipping at his drink.

Skinner watched him for a moment, noting the faintly wistful look on Krycek's face. "You don't have any family?"

Krycek shook his head. "My parents died when I was a child. My grandparents raised me, and they passed several years ago. I don't have any other family."

"I'm sorry," Skinner said sympathetically then, seeing Krycek's discomfort, changed topics. "So, any word yet on your first assignment?"

The younger man nodded. "I'll be staying in the area for a little while. I've been recommended for HRT training – if I pass the selection course. In the meantime, I'm taking some advanced firearms training."

Skinner raised an eyebrow at that. The Hostage Rescue Team was based out of Quantico and if Krycek made it into that unit, he'd be in the area long-term. If they indulged in a one-nighter, it would be awkward to run into the young man in the future. He sighed internally, resigned to abandoning his plans for the rest of the evening.

Still, the evening was not a total loss. Skinner found that the young agent had a wicked sense of humor, that he was a subtle flirt, and had a way of using his eyes when talking that should be listed as a lethal weapon. The AD was amused and aroused and reluctant to cut the evening short, easily convinced into lingering for coffee and dessert.

It was after the waiter had filled their coffee cups for the second time that Krycek suddenly reached over and touched the silver Club ring on Skinner's right hand.

"That's an interesting ring."

Skinner froze in place. Did Krycek know the significance of the ring, or was this just his way of initiating contact between them? "Yes, it is."

"I think I saw one like this a few weeks ago," Krycek said absently, continuing to stroke the ring. "Only it was gold."

"Oh?" Skinner asked, his mouth feeling suddenly dry. "Where was this?"

"At a funeral for a friend," Krycek said quietly, sitting back in his chair.

"A close friend, I take it," Skinner said, noticing the shadow on the man's face.

"More of a friend of a friend," Krycek admitted. "He is – was – an aide to one of the congressmen, killed in a motorcycle accident. My friend knew him quite well; they shared the same...hobby." His mouth quirked upward at that for a moment, then became sober again. "There was a man at the funeral who wore a ring like this - I think his name was Green - and he seemed extremely upset by Terry's death." Krycek frowned slightly. "Come to think of it, I saw Terry wear a silver ring like this a couple times."

Skinner sat still, remembering rumors circling the Club about the death of one of the Juniors. He had the impression from what Krycek had said that his friend was a player, probably had subbed to the deceased Junior, and he wondered if Krycek was a player as well. If by some good fortune he was…

Carefully, he said, "There are a number of people around here who wear rings like this, both in silver and gold."

There was a hint of a smile on Krycek's face again. "Sort of a club, then?"

"You could say that," Skinner said. "A very exclusive club."

Krycek tilted his head slightly, studying Skinner. "I take it that you knew Terry."

"Not personally, although I've heard his name mentioned." Remembering what he had heard of the deceased Junior, he said cautiously, "We shared the same hobby but we never worked together."

Krycek's eyes lit up and he leaned forward. "Terry told me about the club, asked if I was interested in going there with him." He grinned. "He thought I would be a challenge - and said that he liked challenges."

"So why didn't he?" Skinner asked.

Krycek shrugged. "I'm not sure. He was bothered about something, stopped taking my friend there as well. And then – " He drew in a deep breath. "Well, you know what happened."

Skinner nodded, his mind processing this new information. If Krycek was a player and a submissive, this put a new spin on things. Within the protection of the Club, he could have a chance to indulge his interest in the young man without fear of repercussions. He studied Krycek again and then said, abruptly, before he could change his mind. "I could take you to the Club. If you're interested."

A slow smile spread across Krycek's face and he sat back in his chair, green eyes suddenly shrewd as they studied Skinner. "I'm interested."

Skinner nodded briskly, sitting forward. "I'm strictly a top, cover almost all areas, and play at moderate to medium intensity. You?"

Krycek's smiled widened. "Submissive, and I've dabbled but nothing serious so far. And I'm very adventurous."

"I can see that," Skinner said with a returned smile. "Look, I need to set things up with the Club, see what I need to do to get you access. Then we'll need to meet and discuss specifics – say sometime next week?"

Krycek seemed disappointed at having to wait but agreed, jotting down a phone number. "You can reach me here in the evenings, or leave a message during the day." Briefly touching Skinner's hand, he gave the older man another one of those looks through his lashes and said softly, "I look forward to it – Sir."

Skinner felt his groin tighten at that and turned his hand over to capture Krycek's briefly. "So do I – boy."

The waiter was coming their way with the check so Skinner released the other man's hand. But his fingers felt like they were still tingling from their touch all during his solitary drive home.

"Mr. Mason?"

Mason looked up from his desk to see his assistant standing in the doorway. "Yes, Hanson?"

Hanson hesitated, hating the idea that he was betraying his employer like this but worried about the young man. He had seen Sean in the lounge just a few minutes earlier and, although the young sub looked better than he had earlier that afternoon, he still looked a little pale. Hanson had debated for a few minutes, then picked up a videotape copy of the sub's session and headed for Mason's office.

Now he closed the door behind him and moved closer to Mason's desk. "Sir, it's about Mr. Matthews."

Mason sighed and sat back, rubbing his eyes wearily. "What's the brat done now?"

"I'm worried about him, sir. He was violently sick after a play session earlier today."

Mason looked up, startled. Hanson had been the last player he had trained before Walter Skinner and Mason knew that he was strictly a D/s player, not Sean's favorite type at all. "You were playing with Sean?"

"Oh, no, sir!" Hanson said hastily. "He was playing with a Mr. Paul Douglas, an outsider that Mr. Matthews brought in as a guest."

Mason frowned. "Sean brought in an outsider? Why wasn't I told about this?"

Hanson blinked. "Sir, it's not unusual for our subs to bring in a guest, and he'd only been here twice." The Club had a firm rule that a guest – sub or Dom - could only be brought in three times before he or she had to be nominated for membership to continue to play on Club grounds.

"Sean is not our normal type of sub," Mason growled, then sighed. "Never mind. I know you were in a difficult position since he's our employer. Did something happen during their session? I assume that you took the usual precautions."

"Yes, sir," Hanson said promptly. "They were in a monitored suite with Security watching the whole time. I've watched the tape myself, sir, and nothing unusual happened. It was afterwards.  Security notified me that Mr. Matthews suddenly ran into the bathroom where he was sick to his stomach. I went there immediately and found him sitting on the floor, still looking pale and weak."

"Did you call for the medical team?" Mason asked.

Hanson shook his head. "Mr. Matthews insisted that he was fine, that it must have been something he ate or a touch of the flu. I escorted him back to his suite, stayed with him while he showered and got into bed. He seemed to be fine, sir."

"This took place earlier today?" Mason asked and Hanson nodded, biting his lip and waiting for the Dom's temper to explode. Mason sighed. "I suppose he ordered you not to tell me."

"Yes, sir. But I saw him a short while ago in the lounge and he still looked pale, so I thought you should know." He set the videotape on the desk. "I brought you a copy of the session."

"Thank you, Hanson," Mason said. "You've done the right thing. However -"

Hanson swallowed convulsively at the sudden grimness in the Dom's voice.

" – next time something like this happens, I expect you to come to me immediately. No matter what Mr. Matthews' orders are."

"Y-yes, sir," Hanson stammered, then escaped out of the office, thankful for the reprieve.

Mason put the tape into the player in his office and took a deep breath, steeling himself to watch Sean playing with someone else and privately determining to have Paul Douglas' balls if the Top had done anything to harm Sean. An hour later, he sat at his desk, a puzzled look on his face as he stared blankly at the now-dark video screen. He had seen nothing on the tape to account for Sean's illness. The man playing with him, this Paul Douglas, had been a top-notch SM player and certainly not any rougher than others that Sean had played with in the past. That little incident at the end, though, when Douglas had apparently kissed Sean against his will - Mason's jaw clenched at that and he felt an irrational desire to punch the other Top. He didn't know what the two of them had said afterward – the cameras were set up to capture video but not audio – but it must have rattled Sean to make him first collapse like that on the floor and then send him running for the toilet.

Turning off the videotape machine, Mason got up and left his office. It was time that he talked to the young sub, sorted out all the problems and misunderstandings between them. Something he should have done long ago.

He found Sean in the lounge area outside the dining room, talking with a couple other subs. From the way Sean was acting, whatever had been bothering him earlier seemed to be all right now, and whatever he was telling the others had them laughing. He thought about waiting till another time, but the idea of Sean in some kind of trouble bothered him. He approached the group of subs and the group fell silent, eying him with wary respect.

All but Sean, who had his back to him and didn't seem to notice Mason's presence. Mason cleared his throat. "Excuse me, gentlemen. Sean – a moment of your time, please.”

"I'm busy," Sean said shortly, still not turning around.

Mason blinked, not quite comprehending what Sean had just said. The younger man had always treated him with respect, whether in public or private. Thinking that Sean hadn't understood, he said, "It's important that I talk with you right now."

"I said I'm busy," Sean said, turning his head now to give the Dom an insolent look. The other subs gasped and one of them backed away nervously.  No one spoke to Mason like that and they were certain that the fall-out wasn't going to be pretty.

Mason's eyes narrowed as all the events of the past month seemed to coalesce. Sean's reckless behavior, his parade of new conquests, his outrageous orgy, playing with an unknown outsider - all of it seemed to be purposefully designed to taunt Mason. And now this outright rudeness was the final straw.

"And I said now."

Mason grabbed Sean's shoulder and spun him around, and Sean was surprised to find himself abruptly swung up and over Mason’s shoulder.

“Mason! What in Hell are you doing? Put me down!” He pounded on Mason’s back to get his attention as the Dom strode across the lobby towards his suite, and Mason responded by swatting his jean-covered ass. “Oww! What do you think you are doing?”

“Something I should have done a long time ago," Mason said grimly. "Now shut up unless you want the rest of the Club to see you getting an ass-warming.”

Sean shut up. He had no idea what had sparked this caveman-like behavior in the Dom but he had no intention of making more of a spectacle of himself than he already had. Hanging upside down, he fumed silently at this treatment, ignoring the brief hope that Mason was finally making some sort of claim on him. This wasn't the way the Dom acted with subs so Sean decided that it must be his high-handed way of dealing with Sean's refusal to talk. That thought ignited his temper, and by the time Mason set him down inside the Dom's suite, the sub was quivering with rage.

"How dare you!" Sean shouted the minute his feet touched the ground. "You embarrassed me in front of my friends!"

Mason crossed his arms and glared at Sean. "Something that wouldn't have happened if you had agreed to speak with me in the first place."

"I told you I was busy!" Sean snapped. "What – I have to drop everything when you snap your fingers and come running? I'm not your 'Peaches'!"

"What you are," Mason said, straightening up and advancing on the younger man, "is a brat who is dangerously out of control and is this close to having his backside warmed properly. Something that none of your playmates have apparently had the balls to do."

Sean's eyes widened and he swallowed hard but stood his ground. "Yeah? And what makes you think that you have the right to do that?"

Mason halted a few inches away from Sean, facing down the angry sub glaring up at him. "Because I promised your father that I'd look after you, keep you safe!"

Confirmation that Mason had only been looking out for him because of his father stabbed Sean deeply. He caught his breath on an angry sob. "Don't you dare bring Da into this!"

"And why not? How do you think he'd feel to know that you were playing this recklessly? A stranger, Sean?"

Sean bit his lip and dropped his eyes but said stubbornly, "I'm not taking any risks. I was playing on site, I had all the security measures in place – "

"Which wouldn't have done you a damn bit of good if he had been a psycho.  You'd have been dead before Security could get to you," Mason pointed out.

"Paul wasn't a psycho, and he didn't do anything that I didn't want."

"Right," Mason said dryly. "I saw how much you wanted him to maul you there at the end."

Sean's head jerked up and his eyes widened. "You watched the tape?" he screeched. "I don't believe it!"

"Hanson thought you might be in some sort of trouble and brought me the tape. It's my job to check out situations like this – "

"Right," Sean snorted, infuriated at being reduced to a "situation like this". "Pull the other one – it's got bells on it." He turned and took a few steps away, perching one hip on the back of the couch, and gave Mason an insolent look. "Tell me, did you enjoy it?" he taunted the other man. "Get a hard-on from watching, like the damned voyeur you are – "

"That's enough!" Mason snarled and once more advance on him, only this time there was no place for Sean to retreat to. Before Sean knew quite what was happening, he'd been turned and flipped over the back of the couch, and a hard hand was being vigorously applied to his backside.

"Geoff!" Sean screeched, wriggling to get away. "Stop!" The Dom didn't seem inclined to listen. "I didn't mean it! I'm sorry!"

"Too late, brat," Mason snapped, continuing to swat the jean-covered backside displayed over the back of his couch. "You've had this coming for a long, long time."

Sean frantically put a hand back to try to deflect the blows, only to have the hand caught and pinned against the middle of his back. He swore and tried harder to wriggle away but the Dom had him pinned so that he couldn't do more than kick his legs and scream. And scream he did – in between cursing Mason and then pleading for him to stop. Sean finally gave into tears and hung over the back of the couch, sobbing.

Hearing the change in tone, Mason stopped and pulled Sean upright, then swiftly lifted the younger man into his arms and carried him over to his big chair. Sean clung to him tightly, burying his face against Mason's shirt as the Dom settled with the sub on his lap. Mason let the younger man cry, knowing that it was more than just the pain of the spanking that wracked Sean.

"It's all right, Sean," he murmured, soothingly stroking the curly head. "Cry it all out, baby."

All the pain from the loss of his father, all the resentment and anger over being shut out of Mason's world for the past month, all the need to be loved burst to the surface and Sean found himself crying hard against the bigger man's shoulder. "I miss Da so much!"

Mason smoothed down the tousled red curls. "I know, Sean."

Sean hiccupped as he tried to control his tears. "He didn't - understood all this - but – but he loved me. I could talk to him about anything." Another flood of tears overwhelmed him.

Mason rubbed Sean's back soothingly, waiting till the younger man had calmed down some before he said, quietly, "You can talk to me."

Sean snorted. "Dammit, Geoff, you're part of the problem and you know it," he said crossly and tried to push away from the larger man, but Mason wouldn't let him go and he gave up. He nestled back into the Dom's arms, surreptitiously enjoying the feeling of being protected and safe even if he wouldn't admit it out loud. His tears had subsided to hiccupping breaths and he was aware that his backside was throbbing uncomfortably. "Bully."

"Brat," Mason retorted affectionately, hugging the younger man closer and kissing the top of his head.

Sean suddenly felt a wave of almost giddy happiness flow over him. Mason did care about him, cared enough to get upset, enough to try to stop him from being an idiot. He grinned against Mason's shoulder. "Yeah, and you wouldn't have me any other way."

Mason sighed, wishing that he did have the younger man. When he held Sean like this, he could almost pretend that there were no issues separating them. That Sean loved him and trusted him enough to even consider a commitment. Or that he himself could be flexible enough to take what Sean could give him and enjoy it while it lasted. "I'd prefer to have you alive and in once piece," he said quietly. "And I'm sorry I forced you into doing something stupid."

"Whoa," Sean said sharply, his good mood evaporating. He pushed hard enough to free himself from Mason's grip and got off the Dom's lap. "No one makes me do anything that I don't want to do, not even you, Mason! I do what I want." He stormed towards the door.

"Playing with outsiders?" Mason captured the younger man before he could reach the door, picking him up easily and carrying him to the couch. "Speaking of which, let me take a look at you."

He set Sean down on the couch despite his protests, pulled his T-shirt free of his jeans and undid the fly so that he could examine the younger man's abdomen. Huffily, Sean crossed his arms over his chest and shut his eyes, but he didn't appear to be in any pain as Mason probed his lower abdomen, protesting again when Mason asked him to roll over onto his stomach. Mason ignored the protest and pushed aside his own jealousy when he saw the evidence left behind from Sean's session with his "guest", carefully checking for signs of damage to the kidneys. Not finding anything obvious, he frowned and sat down on the couch next to Sean.

"Where are you hurt, Sean?" he demanded.

Sean rolled over on his side and opened his eyes, giving the Dom a puzzled look. "I'm fine, Geoff – "

"Don't give me that!" Mason snorted. "I know that you don't usually throw up like that after a session, and don't try to give me that story about flu or something you ate! I know that you never order more than a light Tea before a session."

Sean gave him a wry smile. "Either I'm too predictable, or you know me too well."

Mason sighed, recognizing evasion when he heard it. "Sean, I just want to help."

"Let it alone, Mason!" Sean said sharply, his hands refastening and retucking. "It's not up to you who I play with or how I play!"

"Yes, it is. I care about you, dammit!"

Sean paused in mid-tirade, stunned by the quiet declaration, and he shook his head. "No. Oh, no. You don't mean that. You're just saying this because you feel guilty, because you think you owe me something."

"I'm saying it because I mean it." He reached out to ruffle Sean's hair affectionately and he said softly, "I care about you, brat. I always have."

Tears stung Sean's eyes. "Then why did you push me away like that?" he asked, his throat tight. "Did I do something wrong?"

Mason shook his head, reaching out to brush away a tear that had run down Sean's face. "It had nothing to do with you, or with Walter. It was me. I was jealous and I couldn't handle watching the two of you working together."

Sean's eyes widened and his breath caught, hope lighting up his eyes. "You were?"

Mason nodded. "Yeah. And I know that I handled it badly – just goes to prove that even Doms can make mistakes."

"I won't tell," Sean breathed, aware that the Dom was leaning closer to him, a soft light in his eyes. "Your secret's safe with me."

"Good," Mason said with a soft laugh. He smiled down at the imp lying on his couch, his face still pale and his eyes bruised with the need for sleep. He brushed a kiss over the younger man's forehead.

"Geoff!" Sean protested, angling his head up for a proper kiss.

Mason hushed him with a finger to his lips. "We need to talk, brat. But right now, you look all done in; you need to get some sleep." He stood up and shook out the afghan lying along the back of the couch, covering Sean with it.

"But – "

"Later," Mason said sternly, then softened his words with a brief brush of his lips across Sean's. "Sleep now."

"Bully," Sean said softly, even as his eyes slid closed. The infuriating man was right - he was tired. The emotional roller coaster he'd been on during the past half hour had drained his energy. His body ached from the earlier session with Paul, his butt was sore from the spanking, and his stomach still felt queasy. A short nap wouldn't be such a bad idea, especially here on Mason's couch, with the Dom sitting beside him, stroking his hair. Later, when he could think properly, he would figure out just how to cut past all the talking and seduce the Dom into his bed. He'd have to get untangled from Paul Douglas first – and it wouldn't hurt if Walter Skinner was spending less time with Mason, either. He smiled sleepily. Time to set the boys on the newest Junior, something he imagined would be immensely satisfactory to both parties. Then Geoffrey Mason would be available and Sean would use every trick he knew to woo and win the Dom.

With a contented smile on his face and his hand tucked in a warm large hand, Sean drifted into slumber.

Krycek hummed to himself as he walked down the hallway towards his apartment. It had been a very pleasant evening. Walter Skinner was interesting company with the added bonus of being the type of ruggedly handsome man that he was attracted to. And a surprising man as well, he thought with a wry grin. His expectations of the evening had been good food and conversation and, if he read the AD's signals right, a couple hours together at a nearby hotel. He certainly hadn't expected that Skinner would share his interest in SM, an interest that Krycek hadn't had a chance to explore in more than theory. Well, there were those mild bondage scenes with his ex-lover, but they hardly counted. Not against the tantalizing prospect of the real thing, and that with a man who obviously knew his way around a whip.

Krycek couldn't help smiling broadly at that, but the smile was wiped off his face a moment later as he heard a sound in the darkness at the end of the hall. The sound of a match striking. In an instant, he was flat against the wall, his gun drawn and cocked. Tensely, he waited for some sort of movement.

"There's no need for that, Agent Krycek," a smooth voice said from out of the darkness. Krycek didn't reply, keeping his gun pointed at the shadows. "I'm just here to talk."

"I don't talk to strangers who hide in the dark," Krycek snapped. "Show yourself."

The man walked forward, an older man who looked vaguely familiar to Krycek. He held a cigarette in one hand and his expression was one of tolerant amusement. "As you can see, I'm unarmed."

"Just the same, keep your hands where I can see them," Krycek said, not relaxing his stance.


"You want to talk, then talk."

The man smiled and took a drag off his cigarette. "Did you enjoy your dinner, Alex? Was it everything you expected?"

Krycek frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about Walter Skinner."

Krycek froze, then took in a slow, deliberate breath. "A.D. Skinner and I had dinner together. So what?"

"Did he offer to take you to his club, Alex? An exclusive club where they play interesting games?" Sharp eyes flicked over him insolently, making him feel like he had just been stripped naked. Krycek forced himself not to react to the words or the looks. He'd had a lot of experience not responding to jibes, and he'd certainly been cruised enough times in his life.

"I'm not interested in playing games, old man," he said shortly.

"That's not what I hear," the man said with another of those smiles, like he knew something that Krycek didn't. "We had a mutual friend. Terry." Krycek drew in a deep breath, his automatically going to the man's hand to see if he wore a ring. The smoking man smiled faintly. "No, I'm not a member, but I know several influential people within – and without. People who can make life a lot easier for their friends."

Warily, Krycek asked, "What do you want?"

The man smiled broadly. "Me? Nothing, Alex. Nothing except your well-being."

Krycek snorted at that. "You accost me outside of my apartment, just to tell me that you want me to be happy? Give me a break. Everyone wants something and I expect you do, too."

"So cynical for one so young," the smoker said, shaking his head with a faint smile on his lips. "I meant it when I said that I want nothing from you – at the moment. I merely wish to encourage you to accept Mr. Skinner's invitation. I think that you'll find it enlightening." Again that smile, gone when the man turned his attention to lighting another cigarette.

"Are you blackmailing me?" Krycek asked sharply.

"Of course not, Alex." The man drew in a breath of smoke and exhaled it. "Blackmail is such an ugly word, and the farthest thing from my intentions." He dropped the barely-smoked cigarette to the floor and ground it out under his foot. "Enjoy yourself, Alex. Experience Mr. Skinner's skill to the fullest. And when you tire of him, as I have no doubt you will, we'll talk again." The man turned and walked down the hallway away from him and disappeared into the shadows again.

Krycek had no doubt of what the man meant by that and, even as he holstered his gun, muttered to himself, "When hell freezes over." And a shiver ran up his spine like a ghost walking over his grave.

Sunday morning, Skinner pulled into the driveway of his house, thoughts focused on the pleasant weekend he had just passed. Dinner Friday night with Alex Krycek had been pleasant, with the unexpected bonus of finding out that the young man was a player and was interested in playing with him. Then the past day spent at the Club where he had gotten a guest pass for Krycek and had started the process of getting the younger man admitted as a member. Mason had been occupied with Club business, which had been a disappointment, but while he was working out in the Club gym, he had been courted by one of the freelance subs and had spent a rather pleasant evening in the young man's company. Then he had been approached by two other subs as he was checking out this morning, and had set up future play-dates with each of them. Evidently the word had gotten out that he was available – and he wouldn't put it past that imp, Sean, to have started the talk. So even if Alex Krycek decided not to take him up on his offer, it looked like there were plenty of interesting opportunities ahead.

He got out of his car and walked up the path towards the front door, idly glancing over the lawn as he did. He had hired a lawn maintenance company to take care of it since he never seemed to have the time. He should sell it, he thought to himself with resignation.  It was really too much for him, too big and too empty since Sharon had kept most of their furnishings at the house in L.A., but he had been reluctant to do that, as if it would be another acknowledgment of the fact that his marriage was over. He snorted at that; his wife was living thousands of miles away, and he was spending his weekends at an SM club.  What more did he need to tell him that it was over?

Skinner pulled out his keys even as he noticed that a light was on in the living room. He frowned, certain that he hadn't left a light on when he had left the previous morning. And the door was unlocked as well.

Cautiously drawing his gun, he opened the door and sidled in. Nothing appeared to be stolen or damaged, but there was a scent of perfume in the air, and the smell of something cooking. He frowned as he holstered his gun; he hadn't expected his mother that weekend and it was unlike Anne to show up unexpectedly without calling, but the only other person who had a key to the house was –

His heart clenched in his chest as he slowly walked into the kitchen where a slender woman was checking something in the oven. She looked up with a smile and closed the oven door, crossing the room towards him.

"Hello, Walter! I didn't hear you come in."

"Sharon," Skinner said heavily. "When did you get in?"

"Yesterday afternoon. I called but there wasn't an answer – surely they didn't have you working all weekend? Or were you up at that horrid cabin?" She shivered then kissed him on the cheek.

"You should have called me, told me you were coming," Skinner said quietly, not returning her embrace.

Sharon sighed and stepped back, shrugging. "What good would that have done? You would have said not to come, we would have argued..." She gave him a humorous half-smile. "I thought we could do that just as easily in person."

"Sharon – "

"Walter," Sharon said, her smile fading away and a determined look appearing on her face. "We have to talk."


Chapter Text

Walter Skinner sat at the desk in his office, turning the ring in his hand over and over. It was his wedding ring, and for over fifteen years it had never left his hand. Not until six months ago when he had sat in this office as the new Assistant Director and had heard his wife, Sharon, tell him on the phone that she was staying in Los Angeles and filing for legal separation. Angry and hurt, he had stripped off the ring and tossed it in his top drawer, and the next day that anonymous invitation to the Dionysus Club had appeared in his In box. He hadn't looked at the ring since then.

He turned it over again, looking at the inscription and snorting. Forever had turned out to be far short of that, hadn't it? They hadn't even made it to twenty years.  Hell, during the last five years since Sharon's miscarriage they had just been marking time. So why was Sharon's announcement last night that she wanted a divorce so devastating?

Because divorce was a sign of failure, and Walter Skinner had never failed at anything in his life. He had done well in high school, in the Marines, in college, and in his career. He was on the fast track at the FBI, rumored to be a favorite candidate to replace the Deputy Director when he retired in a few years. During the six months that he had been here, the departments under his control had achieved the highest rankings in terms of efficiency – except for the X-Files, of course, and that department had compensated by having the highest solve rate anywhere in the FBI.

And at the Club, he had progressed in four months from being a trainee-Top to a Junior – and a highly sought after one as well. Mason had told him that he had the potential to become a Senior member, and Skinner knew that the other man was not an idle flatterer.

Walter Skinner was a success at everything – except his marriage.

Impatiently, he opened the top drawer and tossed the ring back in it. So  Sharon wanted a divorce.  Fine, he wouldn't fight it, but he wouldn't go out of his way to make it easy for her, either. He'd put the house on the market today – let Sharon find another place to live if she decided to stay in the area. He'd find a smaller place to live closer to work and have his belongings packed and moved there. And if she didn't want him...well, there were plenty of others who did.

He pulled a card out of his pocket and dialed the number on it, waited for the answering machine on the other end to beep. "Alex? It's Walter. We're all set for this weekend. I'll meet you Friday night…"

Sean hummed as he walked along the corridor towards the main offices. Life was good, he thought contentedly. Not as good as it could be – he wasn't in Mason's bed yet – but it was pretty damn fine at the moment. He and Geoff were talking – Geoff, he thought in his mind, savoring the name as he thought about the way the Dom had treated him this past weekend. Worried about Sean's sudden and unexplained illness, Mason had insisted that Sean stay in his suite Friday night where he could keep on eye on the sub. Sean had made only a token protest – his nausea and headache really made him reluctant to move, and Mason's couch was very comfortable. He hadn't even rolled his eyes when the Dom insisted on spoon-feeding him dinner, although he hadn't been able to manage more than a few bites of the bland food before it threatened to come back up again. Mason had tucked him into his own bed to sleep – although, sadly, the Dom had slept on the couch and not with him. But it was only a matter of time.

Saturday he had spent most of the day resting on Mason's couch with the Dom coddling him between handling Club business. Sean had taken advantage of a window of time when Mason was out to deploy the next part of his plan – to let the Sub Information Network know that Walter Skinner was not only available but the best thing since sliced bread. Sean smirked. It had worked even better than he had anticipated. Sean had arranged for one of his friends to approach Skinner when he showed up on Saturday, for which Jon was now declaring his undying gratitude to Sean. Sean could have sworn that the other sub was still wearing a silly grin this morning, and word of mouth had done the rest of his work.

For a moment, a niggle of regret surfaced. Although they had played together, Skinner had never engaged in anything sexual with him, and Sean had just assumed that he played the same way that Mason did. Jon's report had utterly squashed that thought.  According to him, Skinner had been a most enthusiastic and skilled bed-partner, and Sean was disappointed that he would never get a chance to find that out for himself. But the regret was fleeting.  At long last he had Geoffrey Mason in his sights, and nothing and no one was going to distract him from his goal.

Saturday night had been a repeat of Friday, and Sean had been surprised at how enjoyable a quiet evening at home with Mason could be. The man was a wealth of knowledge, had a dry wit, and was relaxed enough to share a few amusing anecdotes from his youth. Sean had been totally entranced and more than ready to spend another evening, chaste though it was, in Mason's suite.

He had awakened Sunday morning feeling unusually alert and invigorated, ready to take on anything, and more than a little smug that his diagnosis of twenty-four-hour flu had been correct. The only bad thing about it was that there had no longer been any reason for him to remain in Mason's suite, and he had reluctantly removed to his own rooms. He had chided himself for acting like a schoolgirl with a crush, but it was true that the rest of the day had been a crashing bore.

This morning, a summons to the Secretary's office had lifted his spirits and he tapped on Mason's door with a smile. "Geoff? You wanted to see me?"

"Come in, Sean," Mason called, glancing up from his paperwork, his eyes searching the sub. "I wanted to see how you were feeling today."

"I'm fine," Sean said, crossing to stand behind one of the chairs. "Of course, if you want to fuss over me some more, you're more than welcome."

Mason chuckled as he sat back in his chair. "You're shameless, imp."

Sean grinned, then looked down at the chair back and ran his fingers over the seam. "I'm okay about the other thing, too."

"The other thing?"

Sean nodded, still not looking up. "Yeah. The spanking."

Mason gave him an amused look. "You didn't seem okay with it at the time."

"Well, it hurt, dammit!" Sean said, then looked back down at the seam he was tracing. "Um – you said that it wouldn't be a good career move to spank and fuck the boss."

"I remember."

"I just wanted you to know I'm okay with the spanking thing. I'm not gonna throw a fit or fire you or anything, so – so if you want to try to fucking thing, it's okay, too."

"I don't want to try the 'fucking thing'," Mason said, watching as Sean's face dropped almost comically. He stood up and came around the desk as he said, "I would like to try the 'game-playing' thing."

Sean's head jerked up and a hopeful expression dawned in his eyes. "You – are you serious?"

Mason nodded, a half-smile on his face. "Completely. Think you'd have time to go to dinner with me and discuss it?"

A grin spread across Sean's face. "Yes! You name the day and I'll be there."

"Without checking your calendar first?"

"If I have anything else scheduled, I'll cancel it," Sean said, almost quivering with excitement. "I'll cancel everything – hell, I'll burn my damn book."

"Do that," Mason purred, advancing on the sub. "I prefer that my subs belong exclusively to me."

Sean's eyes widened. "Belong – "

Mason lifted his chin up. "Unless you have an objection?" Mutely, Sean shook his head. "Good." Mason affectionately tapped the end of Sean's nose. "7 pm tomorrow night. My table in the dining room. And make sure that Hanson has your wrist size."

He turned towards his desk then paused, aware that Sean hadn't moved. "Sean? Is there a problem?"

"You – " Sean swallowed. "You wouldn't be having me on, would you?"

Mason crossed the room in two strides, pulling Sean into his arms and kissing him thoroughly. When he released the younger man, he was pleased to see that Sean's eyes were glassy and his breathing unsteady.

"That answer your question?" he asked softly.

"Yeah," Sean said weakly.

Mason smiled and went back to his desk. "I think you have calls to make and a book to burn."

"Yeah." Sean grinned widely. "Oh, yeah."

He staggered into the hallway, looking half-drunk, and then Mason heard something like a triumphant whoop coming from the hall. He smiled and turned his eyes back towards his papers, but his mind was definitely elsewhere.

"You're selling the house."

Skinner stood in front of the fireplace, hands in his pockets, his most inscrutable mask on his face. He nodded once.

"Without talking to me about it?" Sharon asked, incredulously.

"There's nothing to talk about. You didn't like this place to begin with. And it's a bit big for a single man to live in."

She winced slightly at the cutting edge in his voice. "You've been here less than six months – you're going to take a terrible loss on the resale."

Skinner shrugged. "It's just money. I don't need to make anything off the sale; both of us have comfortable salaries."

"Well, what about me? I haven't even had time to get settled here after my job transfer, and now I'm going to have to go house-hunting as well? Is this to get back at me for asking for the divorce?" Sharon demanded.

Skinner sighed. "Sharon, we're getting a divorce. We can't both continue to live in this house as if nothing was happening."

"Why not?" she said bitterly. "It sounds like a description of the last few years of our marriage." She saw the way his mouth set and sighed. "Walter, I'm sorry," she said. "I know that this situation is difficult. The last thing I should be doing is flinging around insults and accusations."

He relaxed slightly, looking down at the floor. "Look, I doubt that the agent is going to be able to sell this place for a few months. You're welcome to stay here until the sale, or until you have time to find your own place."

"And what about you, Walter?" she asked.

"I've got a rental agent looking at some places for me, something closer to work."

"Of course," Sharon said with a slightly bitter laugh. "Heaven forbid that you be too far away from your office. There might be some crisis involving triplicate forms that they need you to avert."

He frowned. "My job involves a lot more than paperwork, Sharon."

"And how would I know that? You never talk about your work anymore – haven't talked about it for years."

Skinner turned away from her, staring into the fireplace. "There are some things you're better off not knowing. There's a lot of ugliness in the world."

She gave an exasperated sigh. "Walter, you can't always protect the ones that you love from the bad things out there." He gave her a startled look and she gave him a half-smile in return. "Yes, I know that you still love me – as much as you're able to. But I also know that it's not enough. Not for me, and not for you."

He looked back down at the floor and said, quietly, "I'm sorry, Sharon."

"So am I," she said softly, her heart aching for them both. "So am I."

Mason waited until the Tuesday morning breakfast rush was over and then went into the kitchen looking for Jean-Pierre. He found his friend consulting with his assistants over the general dinner menu and waited till the man was free.

"You are looking for me, Mace?"

Mason nodded. "I need a special dinner arranged for tonight, my table."

Jean-Pierre cocked his head. "How special?"

"China, crystal, flowers, champagne. Your best wine with your best meal."

The other Dom's eyes widened. "Oh-ho! A very special dinner, indeed. What are you and Walter celebrating?"

"It's not for Walter," Mason said. "I've decided to take your advice, J.P. I've asked Sean to join me for dinner to discuss an arrangement."

Jean-Pierre caught his breath. "The Infant?" Then he frowned. "You are not kind to tease him, Mace. He loves you, that one."

Mason took the box out of his pocket and opened it. "Does this look like I'm teasing?"

Jean-Pierre stared at the golden bracelet, sized to fit a slender wrist. "You are claiming him, then? And he said yes?"

Mason smiled. "When he recovered from the shock."

"And you can tolerate his little amours?"

"He's giving them up. Last I heard, he was vowing to burn his little black book." He noticed a hesitant look on Jean-Pierre's face and frowned. "What?"

"The little one – he is not like you and me," Jean-Pierre said frankly. "He needs his little intrigues like he needs air to breathe. And he needs a lot of attention – more, perhaps, than you will be able to give him."

"I plan to give him a lot of attention," Mason said firmly.

"But not, I imagine, moving him in with you," Jean-Pierre said shrewdly.

Mason frowned. "I'm taking him as my sub, not a slave or life-partner."

"And what if he needs that?" Jean-Pierre insisted. "Is it fair to offer him the appetizer if you may not be able to give him the full meal?"

"You're being over-dramatic, J.P.," Mason said impatiently. "Sean's been wanting to play with me, and that's all. Now, can you have everything ready by 7 tonight?"

"Of course," Jean-Pierre said with a sigh, pulling a pad out of his pocket. "Champagne, flowers. Now, let us discuss the appetizer and main course…"

Sean sat curled up in the armchair in his suite, a day-planner resting on his lap and a phone in his hand. Scattered on the floor around the chair were wadded up pieces of paper. He consulted the page he was on, dialed a number, and waited for an answer on the other end.


"Paul? It's Sean."

"Sean!" He could almost hear the smile in the voice. "I was just about to call you about getting together again."

"I can't," Sean said regretfully. "That's why I'm calling you. I – um – I'm about to commit to a contract, an exclusive one."

"That's too bad – for me, not you, of course. Can I ask who the lucky man is?"

There was a bit of an edge to the other man's voice that made Sean feel uncomfortable. "Just one of the Doms at the Club."

"Sean, I'm not trying to pry. I'm just worried about you – want to make sure that the guy getting you is okay. Is a little reassurance too much to ask?"

Sean felt ashamed of his suspicions. "Of course not. It's Geoffrey Mason."

Paul whistled. "The big man himself. But I thought his time was locked up – doesn't he have another sub or something?"

"He's training one of the Juniors, not at all the same thing."

"Still, I hope he has enough time for you. I know how much attention a sub like you needs."

A qualm washed over Sean, making his stomach tighten. This was the second Dom he had talked to who thought that he'd be too much for Mason, or that Mason wouldn't be enough for him. Sean didn't think that would be the case – but was he wrong?

"Sean? Are you okay?"

"Um – yeah. I'm fine. And thanks for worrying about me, but I'll be okay."

"If you say so. Look, maybe we can get together for a drink – a sort of send-off. What d'you say?"

"Sure." Sean didn't really want to meet the man for a drink, but he had been a great player and Sean was guiltily aware that he had used the man. "Give me a call later this week."

"I'll do that."

Sean disconnected and stared at the phone for a long moment. This was harder than he had thought it would be. He drew a shaky breath and tore out another page from his Daytimer, wadded it up, and tossed it on the floor.

Mason arrived in the dining room early, to make sure that his instructions had been carried out. His personal table was gleaming with china and crystal, champagne chilled nearby, and an elegant floral arrangement occupied the center of the table. He pulled the box out of his pocket and set it on Sean's plate.

A soft voice behind him said, "Am I late?"

Mason turned and smiled. "You are exactly on time." He took Sean's hand and raised it to his lips. "And you look incredible."

Sean flushed. "Thanks." Then he grinned. "You should see my place, though. I think I tried on everything I own before settling on this outfit. It'll take a bulldozer to find my bed." He held out a small box. "This is for you."

Mason opened it and stared, puzzled, at the black and gray powder inside. "I'm touched but – "

"My book," Sean said simply. "I told you I would burn it."

Mason swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. "I can't remember anyone giving me a gift that meant more." He carefully closed the box. "Thank you, Sean."

They were interrupted as the waiter arrived with appetizers and poured the champagne. Mason gestured to the box on Sean's plate. "I have a gift for you as well."

Sean took the box with shaky hands, opened it, and stared at the bracelet he had longed for so long. "Wow," he said softly. "It's really happening."

Mason smiled and reached over to take the box back, removing the bracelet. Sean silently held out his wrist and Mason fastened the bracelet around it.

"You belong to me now, imp," he said softly. He lifted his champagne glass. "To an enjoyable partnership."

Sean grinned and raised his glass. "I'll drink to that." He sipped and then set down his glass, saying briskly, "All right, Master Geoffrey, what are your rules?"

Mason set down his own glass. "First, you belong to me until such time as we both agree to end our association. That means exclusively on your part. Agreed?"


"I won't take on any other subs, short-term or long-term, without discussing the matter with you, although any final decision will be mine. I will also continue to train Walter, and there may be other apprentices in the future. As Master, that is my decision to make."


"Since this isn't a 24/7 slave contract, we will continue to maintain separate suites. Any game-playing will take place in my suite. Are there any health restrictions that I should be aware of?"

"No, Master," Sean said. "My latest test results are on record, as well as information from my last physical. I have no allergies that I am aware of, although wool makes me itch dreadfully."

Mason chuckled at that. "Don't worry – I don't plan to keep you dressed while we're playing."

Sean's eyes glowed at that and he grinned. "Promises, promises."

"You have a saucy mouth, imp. I look forward to teaching it better manners."

Sean leaned forward, looking up at Mason though his eyelashes. "My mouth – and all other parts of my body – are yours to command, Master."

Mason felt heat flash through his body and lifted his water glass, drained it. He saw the amusement on Sean's face and had to chuckle. "You really are a brat, but I will have my revenge."

"I look forward to it," Sean purred.

"As do I," Mason said, deepening his voice. He had the satisfaction of seeing Sean shiver and smiled. "Now, any game restrictions?"

"None," Sean said quickly. "I like it all. So – when can we start playing?"

Mason gave Sean an amused look. "Oddly enough, my weekends have suddenly opened up. It seems that the Club grapevine has caught up with Walter, and his schedule has become amazingly full. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"

Sean opened his eyes wide, giving Mason his most guileless expression. "Who me?"

Mason chuckled. "I thought as much. You are a complete brat, and it is high time you were taken in hand."

"Mmm, I like the sound of that," Sean said. "You aren't mad at me, then?"

"Quite the contrary – I am indebted to you. It was time to cut Walter loose, to let him have a chance to play around and develop both his skills and reputation. I was reluctant to just let him go, but with an assortment of playmates ready and panting to play with him, I don't think I need to worry."

"Oh, I expect you'll worry anyways," Sean said with amusement. "You Doms aren't happy if you're not fussing over something." He leaned forward on his elbows, a serious expression on his face. "Look, Geoff, if you feel like you need to have this weekend free to check up on him, I don't mind. I'm here all the time – we can play weekdays as well."

"That's very generous, Sean," Mason said, surprised. "Why don't we plan for Saturday afternoon and see what happens? If it looks like Walter needs me, we can reschedule. That'll give both of us the chance to tie up any loose ends we may have, all right?"

Sean nodded. "That sounds acceptable to me."

"Good." Mason filled his champagne glasses again. "I'll have the contract drawn up tomorrow, and Hanson will let you know when it's ready to be signed. In the meantime – let's celebrate."

Sean lifted his glass. "I'll drink to that."

Skinner stood in the middle of an empty townhouse in Georgetown and looked around him. It wasn't anything special, and it was small, but it was reasonably priced and near to both work and the Club, and those were the main things.

"When will it be available?" he asked.

The listing agent consulted her book. "It's already been repainted, but the carpet needs to be cleaned. It should be ready by the first of next week."

Skinner nodded. "I'll take it."

The woman smiled. "Wonderful. If you'll follow me back to the office, Mr. Skinner, we'll fill out the paperwork."

Wednesday morning, Sean entered the kitchen and found that the usual bedlam reigned. He found an empty section of counter space and hopped up on it, then waited for Jean-Pierre to find him. It didn't take long.

"So. The master-schemer finally emerges," Jean-Pierre said, fixing him with a disapproving look.

Sean opened his eyes wide. "Me? Scheming? You wound me, mon chere."

"Save your flatteries for Mace," Jean-Pierre said shortly, stomping off. He returned a moment later with a plate of pastries and a mug of coffee. "Eat," he said grudgingly. "You must keep up your strength after all."

Sean frowned as he picked up one of his favorite Danishes. "All right, what did I do to get your knickers in a twist?"

"You finally got Mason to play with you, didn't you? After you teased him with all those others?" Jean-Pierre accused him. "You are toying with a good man's affections - I saw the way Mace looked at you last evening."

A soft smile warmed Sean's face at the memory of the previous evening. It had been perfect – good food, great conversation, gentle flirtation. Sitting in the dining room, with everyone watching them in avid speculation, Mason had been very attentive, and Sean had forgotten just exactly who was supposed to be doing the wooing. Especially when Mason had picked up his hand and kissed his palm - just a light kiss, but it had made him tingle all over.

He grinned and shook his head. He was still tingling, and this after taking a cold shower both last night and this morning. A cold shower that was necessary because Mason had walked Sean back 'home' but refused to come in. He had kissed Sean, though, and the kiss had been so very, very sweet…

A hand whapped the back of his head. "Oww!" he protested, glaring at Jean-Pierre. "For your information, I am not toying with his affections. I wouldn't do that to Geoff."

Jean-Pierre stared at Sean in surprise. "You are serious about him then?"

"Completely." He jangled the bracelet on his wrist. "I wouldn't have accepted this if I wasn't serious." A dreamy smile crossed Sean's face. "In fact, I think Mason's courting me."

The chef blinked. "Courting – Mon Dieu." Jean-Pierre sat down heavily and gave Sean a bemused look. The other Dom's words hadn't given Jean-Pierre any indication that Mason was looking to get romantically involved with Sean, but the table decorations had been a bit excessive for a contract negotiation. And Sean was no stranger to romantic affairs, so he supposed that he should trust the boy's instincts. Still, it would be better to make sure they were both on the same page.

He shook a finger at Sean warningly. "You had best know what you want, enfant, because if you take this path, you will find there is no turning back."

Sean nodded soberly. "I know. I don't want to keep playing the field. I'm ready for something...more."

"Then tell him so," Jean-Pierre said, thinking how certain Mason had been that Sean was only interested in playing Dom/sub games. "Make certain that he knows how serious you are, what kind of commitment you are making, not just the games."

"You're right," Sean said, hopping down from the counter. "I'll go talk to him right now."

Jean-Pierre gave him an amused look. "What? You admit I am right for a change?"

"Don't get used to it," Sean teased. "It won't happen that often."

The chef chased him out of the kitchen, although Sean managed to rescue a pastry before surrendering the field.

Sean wandered down the hall towards the main offices, feeling oddly shy about approaching the Dom this morning. He hadn't felt this uncertain about anything since he was in college, and it was unnerving to think that one man could do this to him. Unnerving and completely wonderful.

He knocked on Mason's open door and the Dom looked up with a smile. "Sean! I'm surprised to see you up and about so early this morning."

"Couldn't sleep," Sean admitted, parking on the corner of Mason's desk and giving him a sultry look through his lashes. "Too busy thinking about a certain tall, dark, and masterful Dom."

Mason sat back in his chair and gave him an amused look. "Anyone I know?"

"Maybe," Sean said with a seductive purr.

Mason chuckled. "All right, imp.   Have you come here on business or just to vamp me?"

"And if I said the latter?" Sean asked, leaning closer.

Mason leaned forward till their faces were only a few inches apart and said, in a soft growl, "Then I'd have to swat your oh-so-seductive little ass and send you on your way, because I have a lot of work to do today."

"Mmm, I might like that," Sean teased, then placed a quick kiss on Mason's lips before sitting back. "Actually, I came to talk about something in regard to our contract."

Mason frowned slightly. "Something we forgot to talk about?"

"Yes. That is, I think we forgot to talk about it, although you might have assumed that I assumed that the matter was covered. But knowing your general attitude on the subject, I thought it would be better to bring it up and see if you mean what I think you mean."

"Sean, I don't understand a thing you just said."

Sean flushed, knotting his hands in his lap. "I know. I haven't felt this flustered since I walked into my first leather bar. Am I acting like a total idiot?"

Mason got up and went around his desk to stand in front of Sean. He brushed the tumbled curls back from Sean's forehead and said, "Actually, I think it's cute."

Sean looked up at him through his lashes. "Really?" he asked shyly.

Mason smiled; he had seen Sean vamp many a Dom with that trick of using his eyelashes, but there was something soft and sweet about the look on his face today, something Mason had never seen there in the past. It was entrancing, and he reached out to draw the young sub closer, one hand grasping Sean's chin and tilting his face up. "Really," he murmured, and brushed his lips over Sean's.

He could feel the response in Sean's kiss, but the younger man didn't try to take over or deepen the kiss, seemingly content to let Mason set the pace. It was a heady feeling and Mason readily surrendered to the intoxication. He wrapped his arms around Sean, delighted to finally have this engaging sub in his arms, and let his kisses become more insistent.

Sean melted against the Dom, reveling in the feeling of being mastered by this man. When Mason eased out of the kiss, he gave a blissful sigh. "Oh, my," he murmured, leaning his head against Mason's shoulder. "You keep kissing me like that and I'll forget how to talk."

Mason chuckled and wrapped his arm around Sean's body. "I think I like that idea. So – what is it you wanted to talk about?"

"Never mind," Sean said with a contented sigh. "You just answered my question."

"In that case, little boy, you need to let me get back to work." He dropped a kiss on Sean's head and let him go. Sean sighed and got off the desk, heading towards the door. "Sean."

The sub paused in the doorway and looked back. "Yes, Geoff?"

"You free for dinner Friday night? I thought we might share a pizza and talk some more."

Sean's face lit up. "I'd like that."

"Good. My suite, seven o'clock?" Sean nodded and disappeared with that smile on his face, and Mason turned back to his work, satisfied that their friendship was back on steady ground after the last few rocky months.

Skinner met Krycek outside the Club and escorted the younger man to the main desk.

"Hello, Mr. Skinner," Hanson said warmly, then turned to smile at Krycek. "Welcome to the Dionysus Club, Alex. Mr. Skinner tells me that you're interested in becoming a member, as a submissive."

Krycek nodded. "What do I need to do to become a member, and what are the fees?"

"For our submissives, there are no fees." Hanson smiled at Krycek's surprise. "Our Club owner designed this place as a safe haven for subs." He pulled out a ledger. "You are required to sign this ledger, enrolling you as a submissive, and I'll need you to fill out this information card."

Krycek glanced over the card. "Medical conditions and contact information?"

"It's important to keep you safe," Hanson explained. "If something were to happen to you on site, the medical staff needs to know possible health problems, doctors, and who to contact."

Krycek filled in a few lines and then frowned. "Sponsor?"

"You need to have a member who is a Dominant agree to take charge of you for your first three visits, to make sure that you know how to play safely. If you don't have a sponsor, then we'll have the system assign you one, but you'll have to wait a day for the system to process you."

"I'll sponsor him," Skinner said, and signed the bottom of Krycek's card.

Hanson initialed the card, then looked up at Skinner. "Are you Claiming Alex, Sir?"

Skinner shook his head. "Not at this time." He smiled at Krycek. "I expect that Alex would like the chance to play the field."

Hanson grinned. "I imagine Alex will be very popular, Sir." He handed Skinner a card-key. "Have an enjoyable stay, Sir. Alex."

Krycek waited till they were in the elevator before asking, "Claimed?"

Skinner nodded and extended his wrist to show Krycek his bracelet. "Some of the Tops extend a formal ownership over other members. I'm a Junior – that's what my silver ring means – and this bracelet means that I belong to a Senior member. Which means that he's the only Top I play with, although I may play with any submissive I want. If I were to give you a bracelet, it would be silver, and it would mean that you only play with me."

Krycek digested that as he followed Skinner into the hallway. "Not to be pushy, but why aren't you claiming me?"

Skinner paused to unlock the door and looked at Krycek with a frown. "Alex, claiming or being claimed here at the Club involves a lot of responsibilities on both sides. Frankly, I'm not ready to take on anyone yet. I'm here to have fun and to make sure you have a hell of a good time. I'm not playing exclusively with you. And – after your third visit – if you want to play the field, you are more than welcome to do so." He paused. "If that's not what you're looking for, Alex, then we'd better stop before we start."

Alex looked at him for a long moment, and a smile slowly grew on his face. He closed the door and deliberately stepped closer to Skinner. "Exactly what I had in mind – Sir."

Before Skinner quite knew what was happening, Krycek had pressed his body against Skinner's and had fastened onto his mouth like a limpet. After a moment of surprised stupefaction, Skinner swiftly took control of the situation. He grasped Krycek by the back of his neck and pulled him away.

"Kisses are earned, boy," he growled, watching the feral light come on in Krycek's eyes. He put his hand on Krycek's shoulder and forced him to his knees. "Starting now."

Alex gave him a blatantly provocative look and unfastened the front of Skinner's pants. Deftly, he drew out the flaccid cock and began stroking it with his hands and tongue.

"Take it in, boy," Skinner ordered. "I want to see that pretty mouth of yours put to good use."

Krycek opened his mouth and swallowed Skinner's now-engorged cock to the root. Skinner couldn't help the gasp that escaped him at the feel of the warmth that surrounded him, at the skilled tongue that worked over his flesh.

"Damn! You're good at this, boy," Skinner groaned. "Like sucking cock, do you?"

Krycek's reply was to take him in deeper, sucking him rhythmically while his hand found Skinner's balls and rolled them in his hand. Skinner could feel his climax coming on him, and it was so good, so very, very good…

With a shout, he came down Krycek's throat and felt the younger man swallow everything he had to give. His legs felt weak and he wanted nothing more than to collapse onto the bed, but there was Krycek to be considered. He could hardly start off their first session being weak.

He pulled out of Krycek's mouth and looked down at the darkly beautiful face turned up to him. For one moment, another face was superimposed over Krycek's, a different set of lips reddened with use. He blinked hard and the young man's face fell back into place, as a teasing tongue ran over the sensuous lips searching out the last trace of his semen.

"Well, I can see that you're useful for something, boy," he growled. "Shower – now!"

Krycek rose slowly to his feet and sauntered towards the bathroom, throwing a smug look over his shoulder at the Dom before he disappeared. Skinner drew a deep breath – Krycek was an aggressive sub and Skinner would have to work hard to make sure the sub knew who was in charge. Right now, the power was leaning too much in Krycek's favor, but not for long.

He pulled off his jacket and hung it in the closet, along with his dress pants and shirt. Quickly, he pulled on a pair of black leather pants and a black T-shirt, setting aside his glasses for now. He wouldn't need them for the kind of work he was going to be doing. Then he went to the cabinet and brought out a set of wrist and ankle cuffs and attached them to the spanking bench.

Krycek emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, naked, with drops of water still glistening on his body. His eyes widened appreciatively as he caught sight of Skinner's changed appearance.

Skinner pointed to the floor in front of him. "Kneel, boy," he barked.

Krycek sauntered over to the spot, then tilted up his chin. "Make me."

Skinner had been expecting this and moved quickly. Before Krycek had a chance to react, Skinner grabbed one arm and twisted it behind the young man's body, using the leverage to force the sub over to the spanking bench. He quickly fastened the straps to Krycek's wrists and ankles, then fastened the waist strap so that the sub was securely bound.

He gave Krycek a moment to struggle against the bonds, then knelt down close to Krycek's head.

"Alex," he said in a voice that demanded that the younger man pay attention. "Your safe word is 'FBI'. If you say that, I'll stop whatever I'm doing and we'll discuss the situation, or even stop if that's what you want. Do you understand me?"

Krycek nodded.

"Repeat your safe word."


"All right. Before I start, are there any games or implements that you know you won't be able to tolerate?"

Krycek considered that briefly, then shook his head.

"Words, Alex."

Krycek turned his head, grinning at Skinner for a second, then let the scornful mask drop into place again. "Do your worst – Sir."

Skinner stood up, smiling as he did so. He hadn't had a chance to play with a sub that wanted such a physical mastering, and it was a heady experience for him. He knew how he had felt when Mason had gone total-Dom on him, and he was determined to give Krycek an equally enjoyable time.

"You need to learn who's the Master here, boy," he said roughly, grasping Krycek's hair to pull his head up. "I'm the one who decides when you eat, sleep, piss. You get my mouth, my dick, when I decide, not you."

Krycek glared at him. "Fuck you," he snarled.

Skinner released his head. "That's another thing you need to learn – you're the one who gets fucked, and I'm the one who decides when and how and if you get to come." He went to the cabinet and returned with a cock-ring, fastening over Krycek's semi-hard cock. He was pleased to see that Krycek was getting aroused – it reassured him that this was what the sub wanted as well.

"You'll come when I say you can, and that will be when you are begging me to let you come. And that will be after you've begged me to fuck you."


Skinner chuckled, returning to the cabinet to fetch a plug and lubricant. "Never say never, Alex." He ran an assessing finger over Krycek's opening, and slid a lubricated digit inside, determining that the other man was no stranger to anal sex although still tight. He worked his finger in and out for a moment, then slid the plug, the smallest one he owned, into place.

Krycek groaned and wiggled slightly under him, and he smacked the sub's ass with his hand. "Hold still, boy."

"Make me, damn you!"

"I intend to." Skinner stepped back to the cabinet and debated for a moment, then pulled out one of the light floggers. He swished it through the air a minute, then looked back at Krycek and pulled out the medium weight one instead. While Krycek was a novice at this, something told Skinner that he liked the heavier end of the spectrum and would barely feel the light one. With this one, he could administer light blows or heavier ones, depending on the sub's response.

He took his position and snapped the flogger across the exposed back with a moderately hard stroke.

"Shit!" Krycek gasped.

Skinner grinned. "Go ahead and yell, boy. These rooms are sound-proof – no one's going to come rescue you, no matter how loud you yell."

"Thank God," Krycek muttered, trying to control his breathing. The most interesting tingle was running up his back where the flogger had hit, and he wanted more of that. He turned his head and glared at Skinner. "What – lose your nerve, Master?" he asked sarcastically.

Skinner couldn't help the grin that momentarily touched his lips, then he resumed his fierce scowl again. "Not even close, boy." He began laying down a pattern of stokes across the back, the buttocks, the backs of the legs, starting light and moving up in intensity. Krycek had grunted and sworn under his breath during the first passage and, as Skinner started a second round, started yelling in earnest, his shouts mixed with curses. Skinner paused at the end of the second round, casting an appraising eye over the sub. Krycek was covered with a fine coat of sweat and his skin was pink from the flogger, but he wasn't in any kind of distress. Well, Skinner corrected with a grin as he checked the man's cock and found it rock hard, not any disabling pain.

"Had enough, boy," he asked, pulling Krycek's head up by the hair again. He held a straw to Krycek's lips and let him take a few sips of water. "Well, boy?"

Krycek felt like he had never been so hard in his life, and his skin was tingling all over. He wanted nothing more at the moment than to feel that big cock he could see tenting Skinner's pants, but he knew it was too early in the game to give in.

"Go to hell!" Krycek snapped back, although his voice was slightly breathless.

Skinner grinned and stepped back to the cabinet. "I can make your ass feel as hot as hell." He pulled out a small paddle, not as elegant as Mason's little black one but serviceable enough for his purposes. He took position behind the bound sub and smacked first the left, then the right cheek hard one time.

"Damn!" Krycek swore. The paddle had been unexpected, as was the strangely enticing heat he could feel on his ass cheeks, heat that he wanted to feel again. "God – more!"

Skinner laid down another series of swats, not quite as hard this time but at least a half-dozen on each cheek before he paused to check how his sub was doing. Alex had started begging halfway through – for more, to be fucked, to be allowed to come. It was all mixed up together, combined with foul epithets and curses. Skinner laid down another half-dozen, then judged that the color of the cheeks was a nice red for this first time.

He moved around to Krycek's head and lifted it up again. "You have something to say to me, boy?"

"Please – fuck me – please."

Skinner opened his pants with one hand and pulled out his cock. "Show me how much you want this, boy. Show me what a good little whore you are."

Krycek eagerly opened his mouth but this time, instead of being allowed to pleasure Skinner as he liked, he knew he was little more than a hole to be fucked. He sucked and licked, trying to pull Skinner in deeper, and almost wept with frustration when Skinner pulled his cock out.

"I'm going to fuck you now, pretty boy. I'm going to put this big, hard cock up your ass and fuck you so hard you'll see stars."

"Yes!" Krycek panted. "Yes – now – please – "

Skinner moved around to the back of the bench and pulled out the plug, tossing it aside to be cleaned later. He pushed two lubed fingers inside and judged that Krycek was loose enough to take him. He rolled on a condom and coated it, then slid in with one smooth glide.

"God!" Krycek groaned. "Fuck me! Fuck me now, dammit!"

Skinner pulled all the way out and smacked Krycek's ass once. "You're not the one giving the orders here, boy." He thrust in again, hard, and leaned over Krycek's back. "What am I, boy?"

"Master," the sub managed to gasp.

"That's right, and every time I thrust into you, I want to hear you say that. If you miss, I'll pull out and blister your ass some more. If you do it right, I'll let you come when I'm finished with you." He pulled out and thrust back in. "Get me, boy?"

"Yes – Master."

"That's right." Skinner pulled out and thrust back in, heard the man beneath him groan out 'Master', and grinned. It was so good, so delicious, and he didn't think he was going to be able to keep from coming for long. It felt so good to be the one in charge, the one giving the orders, the one doing the fucking, and he thought that he could do this forever.

He set up a steady rhythm, thrusting to the sound of Krycek chanting "Master", and it was too much, too hot. With a shout, he exploded deep inside his sub's warm body, barely retaining enough sense to unfasten the cock-ring so that Krycek could come as well. He collapsed on Krycek's back, feeling the shudders that ran all through the other man's body, and he couldn't have stopped the grin that covered his face to save his life.

A few minutes or a lifetime later, he managed to pry himself up off Krycek's back and pull out, disposing of the condom and grabbing a damp cloth to wipe himself down before he began attending to the sub. Krycek was still breathing hard and shuddering, so Skinner knew it hadn't been long, and barely seemed to notice when Skinner unfastened him.

"Alex," he murmured into the younger man's ear. "I'm going to move you over to the bed now."

Krycek gave him a tired grin. "Whatever you say, sir,"

Skinner grinned and looped an arm around the other man's waist to hoist him up. "Are you always this agreeable after you've been beaten and fucked, Alex?"

Krycek flopped down on the bed on his back, winced, and rolled to his stomach. "Must be a character flaw, Sir."

Skinner chuckled and crawled into bed beside the exhausted sub, pulling the covers up over them both. It looked like it was going to be a very interesting association.


Chapter Text

Sean stuck his head in Mason's office Saturday afternoon. "Got a moment, Geoff?"

Mason looked up in surprise. They were due to meet in two hours for their first "session" and he hadn't expected to see Sean before then. "Of course, Sean. What's up?"

"I'm afraid I need to break our 'date'."

Mason frowned as he sat back in his chair. "Second thoughts?"

"Oh, no!" Sean said hastily. "Nothing like that. It's business." He plopped down in one of the chairs with a sigh. "One of Da's associates is in town and needs to meet with me. He's only going to be in town today, flying out again tomorrow, and he says that it's urgent."

Mason gave him a concerned look. "Trouble?"

"I don't know. He wouldn't talk on the phone." Sean sighed again. "Since Da died, the sharks have been circling the waters, looking for a sign of weakness in the Matthews empire. Not that they'll find one – Da taught me too well – but all it takes is a hint and the shareholders start panicking. I've got to meet him, Geoff."

"I understand," Mason said, coming around the side of the desk to sit in the other chair. He took Sean's hand in his. "Are you okay, Sean?" he asked gently. "I know we haven't talked enough over the past few months, and I know how close you and your father were. I haven't had a chance to ask how you're handling all this."

Sean gave him a wry smile. "You know me. I just roll with the punches."

"I've heard that about you," Mason said in a teasing tone, sensing that Sean didn't want to discuss any more. "And I'm looking forward to finding out for myself."

"Yeah?" Sean said, with a return of his impudent smile. "Rain check for tomorrow, then?"

Mason nodded. "And if you need anything..."

"Thanks," Sean said, leaning forward to kiss his cheek. "You're the best. And I'm not just saying that because I want you to get in my pants."

Mason chuckled. "You're incorrigible, brat. How about we meet for breakfast tomorrow – say ten?"

Sean grinned and stood up. "I wouldn't miss it." He sauntered to the door and then paused, blowing Mason a kiss.

Mason couldn't help smiling even as he shook his head. Sean was a brat – and he was looking forward to taking him in hand. He had a feeling that he was in for some interesting times.

Sean frowned, deep in thought as the elevator he was in descended from the penthouse suite of the exclusive hotel where his meeting had taken place. It had been a disturbing meeting, in more ways than one. Uncle Jack – not really his uncle but Sean had always called him that – had been a friend of his father's since boyhood, and he had spent a long time today reminiscing about Sean's father, an exercise that had seriously frayed Sean's own emotional control. And then there had been the business news: two of his father's companies were facing potential hostile takeovers and the stock in a third had plunged dramatically so that it was only worth a quarter of what it had been when George had died. Sean knew that given time the stock price would climb back up again, especially since that company was getting ready to post record first-quarter earnings. The takeover threats were troubling but not unexpected, and Sean already was planning his counter-strike.

What had been the most disturbing, however, was the unexpected threat to the Dionysus Club. Its stock was privately held with the majority of the stock being split between Sean and his father.  Once probate on the estate was settled, Sean would own sixty-percent so he wasn't worried about a takeover there. However, Uncle Jack had told him he'd been approached to sell his stock for an inflated price.

"Not that I'd sell it, boyo," Uncle Jack said. "Best investment Georgie ever talked me into. But I heard others have been approached, and you know Roy Parker hasn't been doing so well lately. I wouldn't be surprised if he sells, and some of the others might, too. And I've heard rumors about pressure. If you know what I mean."

Sean knew exactly what he meant. And why on earth would anyone be trying to blackmail someone for their stock in the company, when there wasn't a hope that they could take over the Club while Sean was alive?  Even if something should happen to him, he had long ago willed his ownership in the Club to the one man he could count on to take care of it for him – Geoffrey Mason.

Sean exited the elevator, determined to take a look at the status of the Club shares when he got home. Why anyone would be that eager to buy into a privately held entertainment club was puzzling and it made him feel uneasy. Could this be linked to that business with Spender or with the infiltration of the local Scene with undesirables?

"Sean! What a surprise!"

Sean looked up, startled, to see Paul Douglas smiling at him in delight and realized that he had been so deep in thought that he had literally walked into the man. "Paul? I didn't expect to see you here."

"I was having an early dinner with a client," Paul said with a smile. "But I'm glad to see you - I've been trying to get hold of you for the past two days. You were going to have a drink with me, remember? A farewell drink?"

Sean forced a smile. "Sorry, Paul. I've been really busy lately. But I'd love to get together next week sometime, okay?"

"How about right now?" Paul said.

"I've got to get back – Mason's expecting me." A lie, but he really needed to find Geoff and talk to him about this situation.

"Come on, Sean! One drink – surely your new 'master' can spare you that long? Or has he got you locked up and chained down?" Paul's voice taunted him and Sean's back stiffened. "Does he own your soul, boy?"

"No one owns me," Sean said, gritting his teeth.

Paul gave him a triumphant smile. "Then prove it and have a drink with me."

Sean gave in, letting Paul lead him into the hotel bar and sat down with him at a table. The waitress took their orders and, as they were left alone, Paul leaned closer to Sean so that he could be heard over the bar crowd.

"So, how are things going with the esteemed Mr. Mason?"

"Fine," Sean said shortly, wishing that Paul wasn’t so close. He lifted his arm so that Paul could see the gold bracelet on his wrist, hoping it would make the other man sit back. "We settled our terms earlier this week and he Claimed me. I'm lucky to get him."

"If you ask me, he's the lucky one," Paul said, and the sincerity in his voice made Sean flush slightly with pleasure. "You're one of the best subs I've ever played with.  I'm just sorry that it's over."

Their drinks arrived and he bent his head over his glass, feeling guilty. Paul had been a good top, fun to play with, but Sean didn't feel the least bit sorry that they wouldn't play again. There had been something about the Dom the last time they played that made Sean feel uneasy.

"Thanks," he murmured. "It was fun." He finished his drink. "Well, thanks for the drink but I have to run..."

"Don't be silly," Paul said, signaling the waitress. "Have one more drink with me."

"No, really – " Sean began, starting to get up as the waitress set another drink on the table along with a glass of water. Somehow though, as he started to get up the water glass got knocked and sloshed over the table, splashing all over his shirt. The waitress quickly grabbed some napkins and tried to blot him dry until he assured her that he was all right.

When he settled back in his seat and looked back around, Paul was watching him in amusement. "Are you always this graceful?"

Sean couldn't help laughing at that. "You're actually seeing me on one of my better nights," he teased.

"To better nights," Paul said, raising his glass in a toast.

Sean picked up the second drink and tossed it off, then stood again. "Well, thanks for the drink, Paul."

"My pleasure," Paul said, standing also. "I'm on my way out – need a lift?" He tossed some bills on the table and walked out alongside Sean.

"Thanks, but I drove – " As they reached the front doors, Sean suddenly felt a little dizzy and Paul caught his arm as he swayed.

"Are you all right?" he asked in concern.

Sean nodded, remembering that he hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. "A little too much drink on an empty stomach. I'll be fine."

"You shouldn't drive like this," Paul said. "Can I call you a taxi? Or – look, here's my car. Why don't I give you a lift back to the Club?"

Sean was reluctant but he was getting dizzier every moment, and the last thing he needed was a DUI. "All right," he said finally and Paul helped him into the limo that had stopped at the curb.

Sitting down seemed to help, and after a few minutes he found that he could focus enough to give his companion a weak smile. "Sorry about that."

"My pleasure," Paul said, giving Sean a smile that suddenly seemed predatory.

Sean turned his head and looked out the car window, recognizing the buildings. "Hey, wait a minute! We're not heading towards Georgetown – we're going the wrong direction."

"Ah, but we're going in the right direction for me," Paul said with a mocking grin. "You never got to see my dungeon, did you? Well, now you're going to get the chance."

Shit, Sean thought even as he felt the swirling blackness descend. Geoff…


Sean was naked and cold. Cold and uncomfortable and his stomach felt funny. And he was restrained.

He forced his eyes open and blinked to try to bring the room into focus. It was an unfamiliar room – what he could see of it – although the accoutrements were enough to tell him where he was. In someone's dungeon.

No, not just someone. Paul Douglas' dungeon.

He groaned and heard a chuckle from nearby. Turning his head with effort, he saw that Paul was standing a short distance away, trailing the tails of a leather cat through his fingers. Feebly, he tried to move, to sit up, but the restraints were too secure to let him move, so he settled for glaring at Paul.

"You drugged me," he snapped. "When that waitress spilled the water."

Paul smiled at him and moved closer. "You shouldn't have turned down my invitations, Sean. It makes me cross when someone turns me down."

"Is that what this is about?" Sean demanded hotly. "You're trying to get even with me because I refused to have sex with you? Because I broke it off with you?"

"Does it matter?" Paul asked, trailing the leather over Sean's body. "You're here. I'm here.  Together."

"Someone will come looking for me."

"And how will they even know where to look? No one will think to connect me to your disappearance."

"Disappear-" Fear choked Sean's throat. That sounded ominous, and he suddenly realized that there was a very good chance that he wasn't going to get out of this alive. "Look," he said persuasively. "We had a lot of fun together.  You were one of the best Doms I ever played with. If you'll release me, I'll stay and play with you. Isn't it better to have a willing partner, one who can make it really good for you." He licked his lips and fluttered his lashes seductively. "I can make it very, very good for you," he purred.

"You have a point," Paul said as he smiled and leaned over to kiss Sean, ravaging his mouth. Then he pulled back and whispered, "Unfortunately for you, I like unwilling partners. I like the way they scream and beg." He bit Sean's lip savagely. "Just like you're going to scream. And beg. And bleed."

And inside Sean's head, he could already hear the screaming begin.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, Spender thought with satisfaction as he stood looking up at a clear blue sky. Behind him, his current driver was knocking on the door to a converted warehouse, cursing impatiently at the delay in getting an answer.

The door swung open and Paul Douglas stood in the opening, looking at him nervously. Good, Spender thought with a smirk as he dropped his cigarette and ground it out. It always gave him satisfaction to see the uncertainty, the fear in his subordinates' eyes. It kept them from getting ideas.

Paul cleared his throat. "He's downstairs, sir."

Paul led the way down to the dungeon, deferentially standing back so that his boss could view Sean's body unimpeded. Spender slowly circled the figure lying unconscious on the table, his eyes dispassionately taking in the injuries that had been inflicted before he lit a cigarette and turned back to Paul

"You were a little too enthusiastic in your work, Paul," he said and the chill in his voice made Paul shiver. "He's no good to us dead – not yet."

Paul shrugged. "I know my work, sir. He'll live. Although I don't see why we don't just kill him now – "

Spender slapped him across the face, hard, silencing him and cutting his lip. "I don't pay you to think, just to follow my orders."

Paul wiped the blood off his mouth with the back of his hand, saying sullenly, "Yes, sir. But I don't understand..."

"Which is why you'll never become more than you are – a bully relying on toys and props to dominate others." He pulled a vial out of his pocket and prepared a syringe with cool efficiency. "The game is control, my young friend, and the more pieces you own, the more control you have."

Paul rolled his eyes. He'd heard this spiel before and it only confirmed his opinion that Spender was more than a little crazy. The only reason he continued to work for the man was because he provided him with opportunities hard to come by otherwise. That, and the files that Spender had concerning a sub who had died on him a few years back. "May I go now, sir?" Paul asked impatiently.

"Sometimes, however," Spender said, continuing as if Paul hadn't spoken. "A piece has to be sacrificed for the sake of the plan. Louis?"

Paul was startled to find himself suddenly grabbed from behind, held so tightly that he couldn't move. "Sir?" Before he could protest or move, Paul felt a needle's sting. "Why?" he gasped, even as he collapsed to his knees.

Spender's cold eyes watched him go down. "You've gotten sloppy, Paul. Too many people can connect you and young Mr. Matthews. They cannot be allowed to connect us." Paul's body crumpled to the floor, the breath rattling in his chest, and Spender bent to place the syringe in his open hand. "Good-bye, Mr. Douglas." He looked over at Louis Cardinale. "Wait in the car. I have some calls to make."

Louis looked distastefully at the Dom's body crumpled at his feet and over at the man's victim. He never had cared for torture himself, preferring a quick, clean kill. And these sick games…he suppressed a shudder. "Yes, sir."

Once Cardinale was gone, Spender got out his cell phone and dialed a number. "Jason? You have the message? Good.  You may have it delivered now. And Jason – it had better be convincing."

Spender disconnected and pocketed his phone, then pulled out another vial and syringe as he moved closer to the still figure on the table. The best part of his revenge was still to come...

Mason was worried. It was 10:30 and Sean had promised to meet him for breakfast. The Dom knew that Sean wouldn't miss it, not without sending him a message, and a check had confirmed that he wasn't on the premises. So what could have taken the young sub out of the building so early this morning? Or had his meeting run so late that he stayed over?

"Mr. Mason?" Mason looked up to see one of the subs hovering nearby. He looked nervous – no, he looked terrified, and the Dom was instantly on alert. He wasn't sure about the young man's name, Tom something, but he was fairly certain that his Dom was Jason Benett, one of the Juniors who had belonged to Spender.

"Tom? Are you all right?"

"Me, sir?" the young man asked. "I'm – I'm fine, sir. It's Sean I'm worried about."

"Why?" Mason asked sharply. "Do you know where he's gone to?"

Tom nodded, looking embarrassed. "He made me swear I wouldn't tell, but he needed a safety backup, in case something happened. You know."

Mason knew. It was a precaution all subs took when playing off-site, having a trusted friend informed of when to expect them back and where they were going, someone who could call on help if they were late returning. Mason hadn't known that Tom and Sean were friends, but then, he didn't know a lot about Sean's relationships with his peers.

"Where'd he go?"

"He had an appointment with one of the Doms he had meet with here. Paul Douglas."

"That's impossible," Mason said sharply. "He accepted my bracelet.  He'd stopped playing with anyone else. And he was going to a business meeting."

Tom wouldn't meet his eyes. "The guy wanted one last session, and Sean said he couldn't turn him down. Didn't want to turn him down. He was supposed to be back at nine…I'm sorry, sir." The last was said in a whisper, and Mason's mouth tightened.

"The address," he said crisply, and Tom set a piece of paper on the table. Mason glanced at it, seeing that it was an address and in Sean's handwriting. "Thank you," he said dully, picking it up.

"Mr. Mason..." Tom began, then flushed and dropped his head. "You're welcome, sir."

Mason headed towards the elevator, his mouth set in a grim line. He should have known better, should never have let Sean get under his skin like he had. The young sub was fickle, flighty – and when he got hold of Sean Matthews, he was going to tear a strip off his hide. Right before he ripped that bracelet off his wrist and threw it in the trash.

The streets were relatively empty at this hour of the morning and within a half hour, he was pulling up in front of the address on the paper. It was one of those trendy renovated warehouses but he didn't spare much attention to it as he stalked up to the front door.

There was no answer to his insistent knocking and he hesitated for a moment before turning the door handle. It was unlocked and he stuck his head in the open doorway. "Mr. Douglas? Sean?" There was no answer. He left the door open and walked into the hallway, looking around for a sign of the couple. A partially open doorway on one side seemed to lead downward and he nudged it open. "Sean?"

A soft groan seemed to come from downstairs and he took a deep breath. It would be mortifying if he walked in on the pair during a session or, worse, having sex, but he did have a legitimate reason to be looking for the young sub. Slowly, he went down the stairs.

At the base of the stairs, he got his first clue that something wasn't right here. A man he assumed must be Paul Douglas was sprawled on the floor, an empty syringe near his out flung hand. It didn't take an expert to see that the man was dead.

But it was the groan from the table in the center of the room that caught his attention and he turned in that direction, then froze in horrified shock. The red hair was vividly familiar, but the rest – dear God! There didn't appear to be much of that slender body that wasn't marred or bloody, from the collared throat to the legs strapped into the stirrups. Thin rivulets of blood and other fluids were dripping off the table to the floor.

His cell phone was in his hand and he was speaking to the 911 operator before he even knew that he had moved. "I need an ambulance immediately," he told the operator, giving the address before turning his attention back to the sub. Sean seemed to be moving in and out of consciousness, moaning in pain.

Mason took the young man's face between his hands – the only part of his body that appeared to be untouched – and said softly, "Hush, baby. It's Geoff. I've got you – you're going to be okay. I promise."

"Geoff?" Sean's voice said weakly, then his head lolled to one side as he passed out again. Mason gently released his head and reached for the nearest restrained wrist.

"Freeze, Mister." The voice from the doorway was like granite and Mason froze obediently. "Keep your hands where we can see them."

Mason closed his eyes and resisted the urge to curse as he obeyed. This day just got worse and worse.

"This one's dead," said another voice. "And that one doesn't look so hot, either."

"Turn around and keep your hands in the air," the first voice instructed, and Mason obeyed. As he'd expected, two uniformed policemen stood at the base of the stairs, and one of them had his gun trained on Mason. "Okay, who are you?"

Mason took a deep breath, willing himself to be calm. "My name is Geoffrey Mason. This man here is Sean Matthews, my employer. I received word this morning that he was overdue from an...appointment with that man." He gestured towards the body of Paul Douglas. "I just got here myself." At the dubious look from the policemen facing him he said, "My car is out front and the engine is still warm." The two men exchanged a look, and Mason heard an approaching siren. "And that'll be the ambulance I just called."

"You called an ambulance but not the police?" the first officer asked, eying him suspiciously.

"My first concern was with my employer's health," Mason said acidly. "Since the man who did this to him isn't going anywhere, I assumed that the police were a secondary consideration."

"Well, you assumed wrong," the officer snapped. "And how do we know that you didn't do this to both of them?"

"Oh for Christ's sake!" Mason exploded. "I was at the club I run all night and left there at 10:30 this morning.  You can check with my staff to verify that. And I assure you, this kind of damage can't be done that quickly."

"Hello?" came a voice from upstairs.

"That'll be the paramedics. I'll go meet them," the second officer said while the first one continued to keep his gun trained on Mason.

Mason reined in his impatience; Sean was moaning again and he wanted to touch him, reassure him. He was relieved to see the paramedics come down the stairs with their kit. One of them paused by the body while the other one continued over towards Mason.

"What've we got here?  Jesus!" the man said, getting his first look at Sean. He called his partner over and they quickly assessed Sean's injuries, packing the torn renal area to stop the bleeding. Mason had to show them how to release the cuffs, a fact which earned him another glare from the police officer, but in short order they had Sean ready for transport. Mason followed them up to the ambulance but the officers stopped him from getting inside.

"I'm afraid we'll need to take you in for questioning, sir," the first officer said.

Mason wanted to scream with frustration. "May I at least call his doctor first?" The man grudgingly agreed and Mason rapidly dialed Kate Malone's number. "Dr. Malone? Sorry to bother you on a Sunday, but I've got an emergency."

"What is it, Mr. Mason?" Kate's worried voice asked.

"It's Sean. He was...he had a session off-site and it went bad. The paramedics have him ready for transport, but the police want me to go with them so I can't go with him to the hospital. You know how most medical personnel look at this kind of thing – and that attitude is the last thing he needs right now. Can you recommend a doctor who knows the lifestyle?"

"One minute." There was a murmured conversation in the background, then Kate said, "Geoff? My partner's a medical doctor, and she can meet the ambulance at the Georgetown University Hospital."

Mason confirmed this with the driver. "Thanks, Kate," he said gratefully. "Tell her that I'll be there as soon as I'm finished with the police."

"I will. Geoff, can you tell me – how bad?"

"Really bad," he said grimly. "The Top appears to have OD'd – I don't know what kind of drugs he was on when he did this to Sean but... God, Kate."

"It'll be all right, Geoff," Kate said soothingly. "Lynn's the best and she's seen it all before, and when she's done we'll help pick up the pieces together, all right?"

He drew in a deep breath. "All right. Thanks."

He closed his cell phone, watching as the paramedics loaded Sean into the ambulance and took off, lights flashing. He felt suddenly bereft, his mind blanking as he couldn't think what to do next.

"Mr. Mason?" He turned his head in the direction of the voice. "You need to come with us, sir. And, until we verify your story, we're going to have to consider you a suspect in this case."

That got his attention, as did the hands that roughly jerked his arms behind him to snap on the handcuffs. "What in hell?"

"You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to be speak to an attorney..."


Chapter Text

Mason sat slumped in his chair, staring at the empty Styrofoam cup in front of him.  The officers interrogating him had finally left, left him sitting there alone, although he had the feeling that he was being watched through the viewing window.   He didn't care.  All he could think of was Sean, his poor, battered body…

His own battered dreams.

Why had Sean done it?  Why had he gone with Paul Douglas?  Why had he lied to Mason about a meeting and then snuck off?  Sean had seemed to look forward to their new relationship, but had he felt trapped or pressured?  Had he wanted something Mason hadn't appeared to provide?  Or had Sean found that once Mason relented, he no longer wanted him?

Depressing thoughts, all of them, but Mason couldn't stop his mind from circling around them.  From dwelling on them.  He was almost relieved when the door opened.  Interrogation would be more welcome than his tortured thoughts.

"Geoffrey Mason?" The man in the doorway was a stranger, not one of the policemen who'd interrogated him earlier.   He was tall and solidly built, with that indefinable air about him that said “law enforcement”; something about him reminded him of Walter Skinner although there was a subtle difference that his tired mind couldn’t figure out at the moment.  There was also a faint but noticeable look of pain in his eyes, something that spoke of a recent and intense loss.

“Yes?” Mason sighed and rubbed his temples where he could feel a headache building.  “Time for round two?”

“No, Mr. Mason.” The man’s voice was respectful without losing one ounce of authority.  “Although I do have a question I’d like cleared up, if you have a moment,” he added, indicating the folder in his hand.

Mason gave him a mirthless smile.  “It appears that I have vast quantities of time at your disposal, unless you are ready to book me into a cell.”

The man looked surprised.  “Didn’t they tell you?  Your alibi has checked out.  You're free to leave."

Mason blinked, staring at him in puzzlement.  "Free?"

"All of the charges have been dropped," the man said. 

Free.  The sudden need to see Sean, to make sure that he was all right, filled him, pushing him to his feet. 

The man held up the folder again.  “If you wouldn’t mind clearing up a question…?”

Mason exhaled and reluctantly sat back down.  “Anything I can do to help, Detective…?”

“Doggett.”  The man held out hand and, surprised, Mason shook it.  “I appreciate you taking the time, sir.  And, as I said, this will only take a moment.  It has to do with the timeline of events.” 

Detective Doggett sat across from him at the table and opened the file, extracting an evidence bag containing a scrap of paper.  Mason recognized it as the note Tom had given him earlier that morning.

“Mr. Mason, you said that one of the members of your club gave you this address this morning?”  Mason nodded.  “And he said that he was given this by Mr. Matthews?”  Mason nodded again.  “Did he say when that was, specifically?”

Mason frowned as he thought back to the brief conversation.  “No, not exactly.  Our conversation was brief; Tom was worried and embarrassed.”

“But it was before Mr. Matthews left the Club on Saturday, correct?”

“That was my impression.”

“And when did Mr. Matthews leave?”

“I can’t be sure,” Mason admitted.  “He came by my office at about one…”  To blow me off for Paul Thomas, he thought bleakly, then firmly banished that thought till later.  “That was the last time I saw him.”

“Did he mention to you where he was going?”

Sudden anger made him grit his teeth and snap, “If he had, I wouldn’t have let him go!”  Doggett said nothing, his eyes coolly assessing, and Mason reigned in his anger.  “He said he had to meet an old friend of his father’s - a business meeting.”

“And did he have a usual place where he conducted business off-site?”

Mason mentioned the name of the exclusive hotel that the Club used for Board meetings and saw Doggett’s eyebrow raise. 

“One final question, Mr. Mason. When Mr. Matthews goes off-site, does he usually drive himself or does he employ a taxi or limo service?”

Mason frowned, a little puzzled by the question.  “He usually drives himself – hates being driven, as a matter of fact.”

Doggett nodded, as if that confirmed something in his mind, but Mason was too tired and heart-sick to try to figure it out.  “Thank you, Mr. Mason.  I won’t keep you any further.”  He slid over an envelope containing the personal items they’d taken from Mason on his arrival at the police station, then stood up and headed for the door.  In the open doorway, he paused and looked back at Mason.  “May I say that it’s been a privilege finally meeting you, sir?” he said and, much to Mason’s surprise, a brief smile lit his serious expression. Then he was gone.

Mason stared at the empty doorway for a moment, shook himself and gathered his personal items, then headed out of the police station.  He half-expected to be stopped on his way out, that it had been a trick, but then he found himself standing on the sidewalk outside.  A limo waited at the curb and as he approached, the driver got out and came around to open the passenger door. 

Mason leaned in and recognized the well-dressed man sitting in the passenger seat.  "Mr. Smythe," he confirmed.  "Forgive my looking a gift horse in the mouth, but why are you here?  And did you have something to do with my release?"

The man raised an eyebrow.  "Mr. Mason.  Do get in – unless, of course, you prefer to try hailing a cab at this busy hour."  Mason hesitated and Smythe sighed.  "Xan said you were a stubborn lad and it seems little has changed."

The mention of his former Master's name startled him – and made his decision for him.  He got in and the driver closed the door behind him.

"Might I ask where we're going?" Mason asked as the driver smoothly pulled out into traffic.

"Georgetown Hospital – unless you'd prefer a different location," Smythe said blandly.  "Your young man came out of surgery a short time ago and is in recovery.  By the time we arrive there, you should be able to see him."

"What is your interest in Sean?" Mason asked sharply. 

Smythe chuckled.  "Relax, Mr. Mason.  My interest is not personal, but rather professional.  Young Matthews provides a desperately needed service to our community.  It is vital that he be allowed to continue.  Without hindrance from certain undesirable parties."

 Understanding dawned on Mason's face.  "You're with the Network.  You're the new Enforcer."

 The man inclined his head once.  "That knowledge is, of course, to be kept confidential."

 "I'll keep it quiet – if you tell me what your instructions are regarding Sean and myself."

 The man regarded his fingernails for a long moment before speaking.  "To ensure that both you and Mr. Matthews continue in your work." A smile touched his lips.  "Although if we go by Xan's unspoken words, my actual instructions are to ensure that not a hair on your head is bent."

 Mason scowled.  "I'm not a child, no matter what Master Xan thinks."

 The man chuckled.  "I doubt you will ever convince him of that."   His face went serious.  "What do you know about this business with Mr. Matthews?"

 Mason sighed and closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the seat.  "Paul Douglas was the other man.  He wasn't a Club member, but somehow Sean met him and they played together a few times at the Club before Sean broke it off with him.  I don't know why Sean met with him again, although he took the precaution of setting up a safety net.

 "As far as what they were doing, Douglas…they were playing rough.  He…" His throat closed around the words 'tortured and raped Sean'.  "He's dead," he said flatly.  "Douglas is dead."

 "I think there's more to this than rough games."

 Mason looked over at the other man to see that he was regarding him with shrewd, sharp eyes.  "A plot of some sort?  You think Douglas is part of what's been going on in the community lately?"

 Smythe nodded.  "Part of it, but not the brains of the operation.  I've seen Douglas play.  He doesn't have the intelligence to do something like this on his own."

 Mason eyed the other man.  "You know who does, though.  Tell me."

 The man eyed him frostily.  "You declined to be part of the Network, Mr. Mason.  Gave up your place in it and ran away.  You have no part in this.  Rest assured, we will take care of it."

 Mason glared at him.  "When it comes to Sean, I will take care of anything that needs doing!"

 Smythe looked at him evenly.  "And if that requires you to kill?"  Mason compressed his lips and looked away.  "I thought as much.  The years haven't changed your thoughts on that subject.  We will handle this matter, although I promise to give you as much information as possible."

 "Thank you," Mason said shortly. 

 Smythe said nothing more as the car pulled into the entrance to the hospital.  It was only as Mason was getting out of the car that he said, "Give my best to Xan when next you see him."

 Since Mason had seen Xan just before returning from Australia and didn’t anticipate seeing him again for many years, he was left staring after the car in consternation and dread.

The reception desk directed him to ICU, and Mason moved quickly through the hospital, fear once again rising.  Kate was waiting in the hallway and she stood as he approached.

"How is he?" Mason asked.

"Lynn's in with him now," Kate said, guiding him to a seat.  "The surgery went well; he came out of the anesthetic just a little bit ago."  She gave him an assessing look and squeezed his hand.  "How are you doing?"

"Me?" Mason asked, giving a sharp laugh.  "I'm good, I'm fine.  The police decided not to charge me.  Sean's going to live.  Why shouldn't I be fine?"


Mason slumped in his seat.  "I – God, Kate, what's wrong with me?  Sean was raped, nearly killed, and all I can think about is how betrayed I feel."

She squeezed his shoulder.  "Perhaps if you tell me what happened…"

"I gave in to him.  I'd promised myself that I wouldn't play with him, wouldn't risk his whims, but I gave in," he said bitterly.  "He promised to give them all up for me, to be exclusive.  And then he went off with Douglas!  He lied to me."

"He broke your heart," Kate said quietly.  "You love him and he broke your heart.  Why shouldn't you feel betrayed?  Geoff, just because Sean's been through a horrific ordeal doesn't mean that your own feelings are wrong.  He's going to need your help, as a friend, during the recovery period ahead, and if you don't allow yourself to feel your own pain, you're going to resent him – and that won't help either of you."

Mason opened his mouth to reply but then the door to the room opened and a woman in hospital scrubs came out.  She looked to be in her early forties, with her blond hair clubbed back into a braid and a somber look on her face.  He stood, his heart in his throat.

"Doctor -- "

"Lynn Myers," she said, holding out her hand for a firm handshake.  "I expect you want to know how your boy is doing, so I'll save the social niceties for later."

Mason nodded, and she gestured him towards the seat he'd been in, pulling forward another one so she could sit and face him.

"Sean Matthews is a lucky young man - lucky that you found him in time.  He's lost a lot of blood and had some internal damage, as well as the external lacerations.  We've removed his appendix, and time will tell if his kidneys will recover or not.  I have him on dialysis at present.  There was some damage to the renal area - I expect object rape was involved.  I've repaired the area and, in time, he should recover although he'll need counseling to deal with the trauma.  You should be prepared for the possibility that anal sex will be uncomfortable and frightening to him for some time to come."

"That's not a problem," Mason said gruffly.  "I'll see that Sean has all the time he needs to recover."

Lynn gave him an odd look but just nodded.  "As for the rest of his injuries, they've been cleaned and dressed.  A few required stitches and he's going to be uncomfortable for a while until they heal."

"How soon can he come home?"

"I'd like to keep him here for a few days, until we know how those kidneys are doing.  If all goes well, we can let him go after that."

Mason nodded.  "Can I see him?"

"Of course.  Don't be surprised if he's not entirely lucid; I have him on some pretty strong pain medication.  Let me know when the police want to take his statement; I'll ease him off so he'll be coherent.  He does intend to press charges?"

"There's no need," Mason said shortly.  "The bastard is dead.  OD'd on something."

"Ah.  Well, I expect that explains Sean's situation, then. Although I would have thought he'd known enough not to play with a Top who does drugs," she added with a frown.

"So did I."

"Go on in," Lynn said kindly.  "He could use a friendly face right about now."

Mason nodded and opened the door, letting it close behind him while he stood and took in the situation.  The room was in semi-darkness, the quiet only disturbed by the sound of the machines monitoring Sean's bodily functions.  His face was pale and still on the pillow, the vibrant color of his hair almost shocking against the white.  Mason couldn't help reaching out to smooth the curls away from his forehead.

Sean's eyes blinked open and he stared at Mason for a moment before a sweet smile curved his lips.  "Hey," he said, his voice sounding harsh, unlike its lilting usual tones. 

"Sean," Mason murmured, leaning down to brush his lips over the pale forehead.  Sean's skin felt cool and clammy.  "How are you feeling?"

"Floaty," Sean said dreamily.  "Like after a really intense session, y'know?"   Mason's face shadowed and Sean said, uncertainly, "Geoff?  Is something wrong?"

Mason stroked the tumbled curls, unable to resist the need to touch Sean.  "Do you remember anything, Sean?  Do you know where you are?"

Sean's forehead scrunched up.  "No."  He glanced down at his body, then up at the monitors.  "I'm in hospital.  Was I in a smash-up?  Am I - am I all right?"

"You'll be fine, Sean," Mason said soothingly.  "Don't worry about trying to remember anything right now.  Just concentrate on getting better."

"You - you won't leave me, will you?" Sean said, his hoarse voice sounding endearingly young and trusting.  Mason's heart broke all over again, but he managed a soothing smile.

"I won't leave you, I promise.  I'm going to sit right here," he said, pulling over a chair and sitting in it, "but I need you to rest and get better.  Will you do that for me, Sean?"

Sean reached out with the hand that wasn't bearing an IV and Mason took his hand.  "I'd do anything for you, Geoff," Sean said, his eyes fluttering closed as he couldn't resist the drugs anymore.  "Love you," he murmured before drifting into sleep.

"Love you, too, brat," Mason murmured, his throat choked with tears.  "More than…more than…"

Words failed him, and he put his head down on their joined hands and cried for all their ruined dreams.

Chapter Text

Walter Skinner woke and stretched, feeling the pleasant stretch of a body that has exerted itself and found pleasurable release.  He rolled onto his side and let his eyes rove over the body of the man slumbering next to him, taking in the marks left by flogger and cane on the pale skin.  Krycek had been just as much a pleasure to work with on their second session as he’d been on the first, although he’d required a bit more Domming before he’d finally submitted.  Remembering the session, Skinner experienced again the rush of bending another person to his will, of pushing a high-spirited sub to his limits before giving them both intense and shared pleasure.  Coming on the heels of Friday night’s session, he was feeling pleasantly exhausted and almost ready to face his most troublesome subordinate the following day.

He sighed as he thought about his most recent orders, to close down the X-Files and reassign the two agents to other duties.  He didn’t anticipate having any trouble with Agent Scully and planned to send her back to Quantico, but Mulder was going to be difficult.  He had already decided to keep Mulder close and under his watchful eye, rather than assign him to a field office, in the hopes of restraining some of the agent’s worst flaws.

The thought of Fox Mulder restrained and submissive rose unbidden in his thoughts, and he forced himself into action to banish the image.  A quick and loud smack to Alex’s buttocks brought the sub into consciousness, although not without complaint, and Skinner sent him to the showers while he tidied up the suite and packed his equipment bag.  He hadn’t acquired many pieces yet, not while he was split between two living spaces (and had an inquisitive nearly-ex-wife poking around one of them) and he contemplated the convenience of having a suite of his own at the Club where he could store his toys. 

Krycek wandered out of the bathroom, gloriously naked and hair still dripping from his shower.  Skinner took a moment to look him over, eyes lingering on the semi-flaccid cock, and was aware of an amused look on the sub’s face.

“Was there anything more you needed from me this afternoon….sir?” Krycek asked, looking at him from beneath those lush eyelashes, his whole body illustrating his willingness to serve.  Skinner took a second, longer, look, then looked at his watch and sighed.

“It will have to wait.  Duty calls, I’m afraid.”

Krycek looked disappointed but nodded.  “Next weekend?”

Skinner shook his head regretfuly.  He’d already made plans with one of Sean’s friends and he didn’t want to get a reputation for breaking scheduled play dates.  “I have other commitments, I’m afraid.  What about the weekend after that?  Are you available?”

Krycek nodded.  “I’ll be in additional training over the next few weeks, but nothing over the weekends.”

“Then it’s a date,” Skinner confirmed.  “I’ll let the front desk know to reserve a room.”

Krycek’s pleased expression and thoughts of what they might do next time helped bring Skinner off as he took his own shower, banishing worries about his most troublesome subordinate.


Hanson looked unusually solemn as Skinner turned in his card key and made reservations for the next two weekends.  Skinner hesitated and then said, “Is something wrong?  With the Club or with Master Mason?”

“It’s Mr. Matthews, sir,” Hanson said reluctantly. “He’s in the hospital, in pretty bad shape.  The police said he’d been…”  He broke off, seemingly unable to finish his sentence.

“The police were here?” Skinner asked sharply, knowing how bad that kind of publicity would be for the Club.

Hanson shook his head.  “Mr. Sean was playing off-site.”

Skinner frowned; that sounded very unlike Sean, who was a flirt and a slut, but insistent on safety.  “Where is he?”

 “Georgetown.  Intensive Care.”

Skinner looked at his watch again, then decided that the paperwork about the closure of the X-Files department could wait till the next morning.  Exiting the parking garage, he turned in the direction of Georgetown Hospital instead.

Skinner entered the intensive care unit, directed to Sean’s room by one of the nurses after he showed his badge.  Quietly he opened the door, not wanting to disturb the young sub if he was sleeping.

Sean was asleep, with Mason sitting beside the bed and staring at the younger man with a devastated look on his face.  He almost jumped in his seat when Skinner put a hand on his shoulder, looking around in surprise.

“Walter.  I didn’t hear you come in.”

That admission almost worried Skinner more than Sean’s pallor.  He drew the other guest chair closer to Mason, sitting down in it and looking over the Master Dom.  “You look like hell, sir."  Then he glanced toward the still figure on the hospital bed.  "Hanson said that Sean had been admitted to the hospital.  How is he?”

“Sleeping.  They have him pretty heavily sedated right now.”  He sighed and rubbed his hand over his face.  "His injuries... He'll recover, but he's been hurt pretty badly."

"How did it happen?  Hanson said he'd been playing off-site?"

Mason frowned at that; he'd have to speak with his assistant when he got back to the Club.  The last thing Sean would need was rumors making their way around the hallways and back rooms of his Club.  "We don't know any details yet; Sean was a bit fuzzy headed the last two times he woke up."

There was a tap on the door and Mason was surprised to see the detective from the police station stick his head into the room.  “Detective Doggett?  I didn’t expect to see you here.”  He glanced back at Sean who was still sleeping.  “I’m afraid that Sean is pretty out of it, if you’re here to get a statement.”

Doggett glanced briefly at the man in the hospital bed, then at Skinner, and finally back at Mason.  "Actually, I was hoping to talk to you, Mr. Mason,” the detective said.  “If you have a few minutes.”

Mason glanced back at Sean, knowing that it would be a while before he surfaced from his drugged sleep but still reluctant to leave the young sub alone. "I'll stay with him, sir," Skinner said quietly. 

“All right," he reluctantly agreed and stood up, following the detective out of the room.

“I won’t keep you long.”  Doggett led the way down the hall to one of the rooms reserved for family consultations, shutting the door behind Mason before taking a seat across from him.

“Mr. Mason, do you happen to know anyone who might want to harm or even kill Mr. Matthews?” Doggett asked bluntly.

Mason smiled faintly.  “Well, he’s irritated a few people over the years, but none that seriously.  I don’t understand why you are asking that, though.  We know who did this to him.  We found Paul Douglas at the scene, dead.”

“Which is my first question,” Doggett said, opening the folder in his hand and extracting one of the pages.  “According to the coroner, the only drugs in Douglas's system were those typically used for lethal injections or assisted suicides.  Given the amount present, it is doubtful that Mr. Douglas was alive for more than a few minutes after injecting himself.  In addition, the initial call to the police station came from the vicinity of the house.”

Mason frowned.  “So he realized what he had done, called the police, and then killed himself?”

“The pattern of abuse the victim suffered doesn’t seem to suggest a person who would have regrets.”  Doggett paused, then looked at Mason squarely.  “To be frank, Mr. Mason, the evidence suggests planned and sustained torture, not a session gone wrong.”

Mason tilted his head, studying Doggett.  “You sound like a man who knows what he is talking about, which is a bit unusual in my experience with law enforcement.”

“I do,” Doggett said, frankly, meeting his eyes.  “Mistress Elaine was very kind in helping me cope with a recent traumatic event in my life and the subsequent collapse of my marriage.”

Mason sat back in his chair, nodding to himself.  “I had wondered where you might have heard of me before this.”  He drew a deep breath.  “So you think that Sean was deliberately hurt.  Tortured.”  He closed his eyes against the memory of his first glimpse of the young sub.  “Sean was too smart to agree to a session with a person who would do that.”

“Unless his participation wasn’t voluntary.” 

Mason opened his eyes in surprise and Doggett pulled another report from the file.  “The lab report on Mr. Matthews showed significant traces of Rohypnol in his system when he arrived at the hospital.”

“Ruffies?  But – why would Douglas drug Sean when he had already agreed to play… Unless he changed his mind after he arrived?”

Doggett met Mason’s eyes squarely.  “I don’t think that Mr. Matthews ever agreed to meet Mr. Douglas for a play date.  Not yesterday, at any rate.”

What?”  Hope flared inside of Mason, painfully searing in its intensity, and he ruthlessly pushed it down.  “You forget – Sean left a backup note with Tom –“

Doggett was shaking his head.  “Someone left that note, but I doubt that it was Mr. Matthews.  I believe that note was forged and delivered to you to ensure that you would be on the scene when the police arrived.  Which means that whoever set this up is your enemy as well.”

Mason’s head was swimming and he rubbed his hand across his face, trying to clear his thoughts.  “I don’t understand.  Why do you think that's what happened?”

Doggett leaned closer, his face intent as he started counting off the facts that he had gathered.  “I checked with Security at your club; video footage of the garage proves that Mr. Matthews left shortly after 1 p.m., alone, and driving his own car.  That car is still in the parking lot of the Adams House hotel, and the valet staff reported that Mr. Matthews arrived shortly afer 1:30 yesterday afternoon but never came back, despite the fact that he is known to adore his car.  The doorman is very familiar with Mr. Matthews and confirmed the time, but he didn't see Mr. Matthews leave as he was apparantly distracted around 5 p.m. by the arrival of a foreign dignitary.  The front desk said that Mr. Matthews made his way up to the Suite booked by a Mr. John Diamond, an elderly Australian businessman who is apparently an old friend of the family.  Mr. Diamond left for London early this morning but we are trying to get in touch with him to confirm Mr. Matthews’s arrival and departure. 

“One of the waitresses at the bar saw Mr. Matthews, however, close to 5 p.m. and in the company of Mr. Douglas.  They sat at one of her tables, and she remembered that Mr. Matthews kept looking at his watch, as if he was late for an appointment.  Also, Mr. Douglas bumped her arm as she was serving a second round of drinks, and she swore that it was deliberate.  Water was spilled, there was general confusion – “

“And Paul Douglas spiked Sean’s drink.” Mason finished.  He felt a bit dizzy, as if he’d been drugged himself. 

Doggett nodded.  “After that, with the doorman conveniently distracted, it would be easy for Mr. Douglas to help Mr. Matthews into a waiting car.”

Reluctantly, Mason said, “This is all conjecture.  It is possible that Sean planned to meet with Douglas at the hotel after his earlier meeting, and that he was looking at his watch because he was impatient to get started.  Although…”  He rubbed his lip with his fingertip as he thought back over the series of events.  “I’ve never known Sean to drink alcohol before a play date, not even at the Club, or to play with a Dom who has been drinking.  It’s one of his strictest rules.”

Doggett added, “I spoke to the young man who delivered the note, Mr. Tom Collins.  He was reluctant to talk, but he admitted that Sean didn’t give him the note or ask him to deliver it to you.  He wouldn’t say who did, though – utterly terrified at that point.”

“Spender,” Mason breathed, his thoughts racing as he began putting together connections.  “Spender must be behind all of it.”  Doggett raised an eyebrow inquiringly and Mason shook his head.  “I don’t know his full name or even if ‘Spender’ is his real last name.  He was a member of the Club until we recently ejected because of questionable practices, like blackmail.  He told me that he would get revenge.”

“Do you have a picture of him?”

Mason nodded.  “In our membership files back at the Club.  I’ll get you a copy but – “  He drew a deep breath.  “He apparently has powerful friends.  There might not be anything that you can do. “ But our Mr. Smythe might be able to do something – if I am willing to bloody my own hands by telling him.

“I might not be able to do much officially,” Doggett admitted.  “I’m not a local; I’m on temporary assignment from New York, until I begin training at the FBI Academy.  And the local precinct seems to consider the case closed."

Mason frowned.  "Then why...?"

"Partly because I think that you and Mr. Matthews should be aware that you are targets," Doggett said, then added quietly.  "And partly because it might ease your mind about Mr. Matthews.  I know how important closure is."

Mason looked at Doggett sharply, noting the shadows in his eyes and under them.  Then he thought about what the man had said about Elaine.   "Thank you, Detective.  I am in your debt.  And should you ever need any service that I can provide, or an introduction, please let me know."

Skinner idly paced the hospital room, his mind distracted by worries about Sean and Mason, and the upcoming unpleasant meeting with Mulder.  He hoped that Mr. Jones wouldn't insist on sitting in on the meeting, and resolved to speak to Mason about the discomfort he felt around the man.  Even if the Master Dom had asked Jones to keep an eye on Skinner while he was away, that attention was no longer needed now that Mason was back, and something about the man made Skinner uneasy.

A soft groan from the bed caught his attention and, relieved to have something else to think about, he hurried to the side of the bed.

"Sean?  Can you hear me?"

Sean drifted up from a mindless grey ocean of nothingness to the steadily growing awareness of pain.  Not the good sort of pain, but the kind he'd felt as a child when he'd fallen and broken his collarbone.  Except this pain seemed to be all over, even in his most private places, without the feel-good anesthesia of endorphins to muffle it.  He groaned again and tried to adjust his position, only to become aware that one arm was strapped down to something cold and metalic.  Sudden sheer panic overwhelmed him and he began fighting to wake up, to move, to get free.  Large warm hands captured him, pressed him back against cold fabric, and he snarled, preparing to fight.

"Sean!  It's Walter!  Calm down - you'll rip out the IV and stitches!"

Walter?  The familiar voice made him go still as he summoned the energy to pry open his eyes to confirm his captor.  "Walter?"  

Skinner's face was close to his, eyes intent on his face.  "You're all right, Sean.  You're safe, now."

"Safe?" Sean wasn't sure if he'd managed to say that out loud; his mouth had the cottony feel of anasthetic and his head ached.  "Hurts."

"I know, kid," Skinner said sympathetically.  "I'll call the nurse."

Sean's eyes flicked around the room, recognizing that he was in hospital, which seemed vaguely familiar.  Hadn't Mason been there the last time he woke?  "Geoff?"

"He'll be back shortly.  The police had a few questions."

"Police?"  Had he been in an accident?  He couldn't remember.  He felt like he'd been run over by a truck, but surely he wouldn't hurt there if he'd been in a crash.  "My car?"

Skinner seemed to hesitate.  "Sean, do you remember what happened?"

Sean frowned.  The last thing he remembered was walking through the Club, anticipating the evening ahead and his first play date with Mason.  He didn't remember leaving the Club, or driving his car, or an accident.  "No. did I get hurt?"

Skinner seemed to hesitate even more.  "Apparently, something went wrong..."

Sean's aches and pains were making themselves more noticeable now, and with a sinking feeling he identified some of them.  As if he'd been used hard, abused, taken against his will.  He felt suddenly sick to his stomach.  "Not Geoff..."  He didn't know if he was begging Walter to tell him that his worst fears hadn't happened, or begging him to believe that Mason would never do something like this to him, but he knew that he was asking for reassurance.

"No," Skinner agreed.  "It wasn't Mason."

Relief washed over Sean, followed by another wave of horror and nausea.  If Mason hadn't done this to him - and he believed Walter - then that meant that Sean had placed himself in the hands of another Dom.  Had betrayed the contract between the two of them before the ink had even dried to go with another Dom.

Sean's eyes immediately went to his wrist, which was completely bare without a hint of the gold bracelet that he had been so delighted to look at.  Mason must have reclaimed it while Sean was unconscious, not that Sean blamed him.  Frankly, he was surprised that Mason was there, apparently waiting for him to wake up - unless he was planning to rip Sean a new one before washing his hands of him completely and forever.  Numbly, Sean decided that he wouldn't do anything to stand in the man's way, although he couldn't help the tear that ran down his cheek and splashed onto the sheets.

Skinner saw the tear and realized that Sean must be in more pain than he was willing to admit, and decided to hunt down the nurse.  He didn't want to leave Sean alone, though, not when he was in such pain.  To his relief, at that moment Mason came back; Skinner caught Mason's arm and tugged him over to the door.

"He just woke up," he told the Master Dom in a hushed tone.  "He doesn't seem to remember anything but he's in a lot of pain.  I'll let the nurses know."

Mason glanced over at the bed and nodded.  "Thanks, and you should go on home after that - you look done in.  I'll stay with Sean."

Skinner nodded, and with one last glance at the bed's occupant, left the room in search of a staff member.

Mason quietly approached the bed, wondering if Sean had managed to fall back asleep despite the pain because he was lying so still.  "Sean?" he said softly.  "Are you awake?"  He saw the fiery head nod a fraction.  "Are you in pain?"

"Not much," Sean lied.  I deserve to be in pain, he thought bitterly.  How can you possibly forgive me? 

"Now is not the time to be the stoic or martyr," Mason said firmly.  He wanted to take Sean's hand, to comfort him and reassure him, especially now that he knew that Sean was a victim of Spender's malevolence, but the young man's face was turned away from him.  He knew how proud the young sub was of his ability to take care of himself, and to have had his control taken away like this, without his consent, must be humiliating to his spirit.  "Do you need anything?"

"Rest.  Quiet."  The nurse entered and injected something into his I.V., and Sean was relieved to feel the lassitude of really good drugs creep over him.  He risked a half glance over his shoulder at Mason.  "You, too.  You look like hell."

Mason smiled faintly.  "I'll get some rest when I know that you're feeling better."  He reached out to brush the curls off Sean's forehead, then kissed his cheek.  "Sleep well, imp.  I'll be here when you wake up."

Part of Sean was drinking up the affection, while the other half of him wept over the fact that Mason now felt only pity for him.  Please God, don't let me wake ever again, he silently begged as he slipped into the dark and uneasy embrace of the drugs.



Chapter Text

Mason sat at his desk, staring down at the paperwork in front of him without seeing a word written there. 

It had been nearly two weeks since Sean was attacked.  Physically, the young sub was recovering well and the doctors planned to release him within the next few days.  Emotionally - well, that was an entirely different matter.  Sean was subdued and withdrawn, spending most of the time sleeping or staring blankly at the ceiling or walls.  He always had a brief, wistful smile for Mason when he visited, but there were shadows in his eyes and he never wanted to talk - not about the Club, or the news, and especially not about what had happened.  The one time that Mason had tried to broach the matter, to share what Detective Doggett had learned, Sean had had a panic attack and Mason had dropped it.  He knew from what little Dr. Kate would tell him that Sean was refusing to talk to her as well. 

And Mason had absolutely no idea what to do to fix this. Or even if he could.  Sean had always been one to take care of the abused subs who came their way, and now that he needed help, Mason felt like they were all failing him.  Sean seemed to be sinking deeper into himself.  Spender might not have killed Sean outright, but the spirit and light that made Sean so special was slowly being smothered.  And there was nothing that Mason could do but wait, be patient and supportive, and hope that Sean emerged on the other side of the dark valley he was walking through.

To add to his worries, the annual Board meeting was in two days.  To the shock of nearly everyone at the Club, Jean Pierre had lost his seat as representative for the Doms to Jason Bennet, although Mason was damned if he could figure out how.  There were a lot of averted eyes when other Doms passed Mason in the common rooms, and he suspected coersion but had nothing solid to back up his thoughts.  The previous Sub representative had held onto his place but there was a hunted look about him these days, and Mason wished he knew someone who could talk to the young man and find out what was going on.  Unfortunately, his only "spy" was in the hospital - and would also be unlikely to attend the Board meeting.  Mason knew that Spender and his co-conspirators must be behind it, but he was damned if he could figure out why.  Even if Sean wasn't in attendance, he held 60% of the stock and Mason held his proxies, plus an additional 10%.  And even if worst came to worst, Sean could always close down the Club; he would take a financial hit, but he could afford it.  Although it would break the young sub's heart, and possibly his spirit, just at the worst possible time.

Mason sighed and turned his attention back to his paperwork.  Without Sean there to dazzle the other Board members, Mason would have to rely on facts and figures to sway whatever votes were coming.


Sean was lying in the hospital bed, staring at the ceiling and trying not to think when he heard the door open.  "Go away.  I'm sleeping."

"Too bad," Dr. Kate said, continuing into the room as she juggled a cardboard carrier with two cups of coffee and a white paper bag.  "I smuggled your favorite muffins past Nurse Ratched.  I guess I could eat them all myself."

Despite himself, Sean reached for the cup she held out and inhaled the delicious scent of fresh coffee.  "Better watch out for her - she scares me to death."

"I doubt that," Kate scoffed.  "You probably have her wrapped around your little finger."

Sean shifted himself into a sitting position and reached for the bag of pastries.  "I don't suppose we can just drink our coffee and not talk."

"We can do just that, if you like," Kate said, settling into the guest chair.  "Depends on how much you like staying here in that bed.  You know that your doctors won't sign your release until you begin counseling."

"I could check-out AMA," Sean said darkly.

"Right," Kate said.  "And how soon before Mason dragged you back here?"

She half expected him to retort that Mason didn't own him, but instead Sean went silent and concentrated on unwrapping a muffin.  "Sean, I know you don't feel like talking about it, and I understand.  You're hardly the first person to just want to play ostrich and wish it would all go away.  But you know better than that.  You can't start healing until you face what happened and consciously move past it.  You've counseled enough subs yourself to know that."

"This is different!" Sean snapped.  "I was held against my will, and raped, and nearly killed!"

"Of course it's different," she said gently.  "This time it happened to you."

Sean was quiet for a long moment.  "I should have known better," he whispered.  "I should have been able to do something."

"It's not your fault," Kate said firmly.  "You are not to blame for what he did to you."

Sean shook his head.  "I agreed to play with him, before, at the Club.  Twice."  He rubbed his forehead fretfully.  "I wish I could remember - I don't think I agreed to play at his dungeon.  Why would I?  I finally had Geoffrey Mason - and Paul scared me the last time we played together."

"Sean."  Kate reached out to lay her hand on Sean's leg, noticing that he flinched slightly at her touch.  "It doesn't matter if you agreed to go to his dungeon or if he snatched you off the street.  What he did to you was without your consent, and it wasn't safe.  And it's Not. Your. Fault."

"It doesn't matter," Sean said miserably.  "It's ruined everything."

"I know it seems like that right now," she said sympathetically, "but things will get better.  One morning you will wake up and you won't hurt as much as you do right now.  And then you'll realize that you haven't thought about it for a day, or a week, or a month.  One day you'll realize that you want someone to touch you again, to make love to you."

"It won't be the same," Sean said bleakly, and the tears that he had been holding back began rolling down his cheeks.

"No, probably not," Kate agreed.  "But then again, it might be better."

 Later, after they had talked a bit, and Sean had cried a bit, and Dr. Kate had gone on her way, Sean lay curled up on his side in his hospital bed, his hand tucked under his cheek.  His eyes were puffy from crying and his throat still felt tight, but his heart felt a little bit lighter than it had over the past few weeks.  He wasn't sure if he believed Kate completely, but he knew that he couldn't lie in bed and feel sorry for himself anymore.  That would be letting Douglas and all the Doms like him win, and Sean wasn't going to go down without a fight.

And the first thing he had to fight for was his Club.

He sat up and reached for the phone, dialing the number for the Club's front desk.  "Hanson?  It's Sean Matthews.  Listen, I need you to do a few things for me...."

Mason exited the private elevators at the Top of the Hay and found that the Abraham Lincoln Room was already full of stockholders and Board Members.  He made his way to the bar, pausing along the way to exchange greetings with a few of them, and contemplated exchanging his usual tonic with a twist for something stronger.  Only the thought that he was going to need to remain clear-headed for what was coming kept him from reaching for the whiskey.

"We appear to be one short, Mr. Mason," said a very unwelcome voice behind him.  Mason swung about abruptly, sloshing his drink, and found himself face to face with Spender.  For a moment, the urge to punch the man in his smug face was overwhelming; he turned back on the pretext of refilling his glass while he pulled himself together.  Violence, no matter how good it would make him feel in the moment, would damage their cause rather than helping.

"Mr. Matthews is otherwise occupied, I'm afraid," he said coolly.

Spender studied the end of his cigarette.  "Really?  I had heard that he was in the hospital - an accident of some sort."

"It was hardly an accident," Mason growled.  He took a swallow from his drink.  "What are you doing here?  This is a closed meeting."

"For stockholders and Board members," Spender said, nodding.  "I happen to have come into a considerable amount of stock over the past few months."

Mason glanced around the room and realized that several familiar faces were missing.  "'Happen to have'?" he said ironically and Spender shrugged.

"It seemed like a good investment."  Spender smirked.  "Let's hope it remains that way."

The urge to punch him rose again, so perhaps it was just as well that one of the other Board Members interrupted.  "Geoffrey, what the hell is going on?  Martin, Bill and Tom sold out, and Jean-Pierre was voted out, and now I hear that Sean won't be here tonight.  Is your Club in trouble?"

"Not in the least," Mason said in as reassuring a manner as he could manage.  "There have been a few changes - "

"Perhaps not enough," Spender said, blowing smoke almost directly into Mason's face.  "I was thinking that the Board might want to consider some personnel changes."

"Club staffing is up to Mr. Matthews," Mason reminded him. 

Spender smirked, God damn him!  and lit another cigarette.  "I have a feeling that Mr. Matthews will have less interest in this particular hobby in future."

"I can't imagine why you would think that, Mr. Spender."

Spender's eyes widened and Mason spun around, staring in surprise at Sean standing in the doorway.  He looked a little pale and he'd lost weight, but there was a determined set to his chin and a bit of a spark in his eyes.  It was the closest to the old Sean that he'd seen in weeks, and he devoured the young sub with his eyes. 

Sean looked around the room, a relaxed-looking smile on his face as he apologized for his tardiness, and only Mason fancied that he could see the effort behind it.  "Shall we make our way to the meeting room?" Sean said, leading the way toward the doorway into the George Washington Room.  "I understand that the chef has prepared a truly amazing dinner for us, and I would hate for it to spoil.  Oh, and Mr. Spender," he said, half turning back to the group.  "I'm afraid that these rooms will need to be smoke free this evening, although the Madison room has been set aside for cigarettes and cigars, if you would like to wait there."

There was a long moment of silence before Spender said, "No need," and put out his cigarette in an ash tray held out for him by one of the staff.  But there was a look in his eyes that made even Mason shiver.

Sean slumped into one of the chairs in the Adams room, leaning his head against the backrest and closing his eyes as he listened to Mason escort the last of the members to the elevators.  It was done, and the Club was safe, but it had been a near thing.  Spender and his puppets had lobbied for changes: in management, in configuration of the Board, in some of the rules regarding visitors to the Club.  Spender had been particularly insistent about changing senior staff appointments to being made by the Board, and allowing Board members and Stockholders unrestricted visitation.  He might have carried the vote if Sean hadn't been there - the sub representative clearly would have caved without Sean there to provide support, and several of the stockholders who were only in it for the profit had been wavering before Sean had reminded them that the Club was doing extremely well financially and that it was foolish to change horses in mid stream. 

Finally, Chuck Wallace - an old friend of Da's - had boomed, "Shut up and sit down, Spender!  Every man jack of us knows you're spoiling for a fight since you got tossed out - and damned if they weren't right to boot you.  Never knew a fellow for yammering on and on about a subject."  The other board members had laughed and the vote had gone decidely against Spender and in favor of everything that Sean had wanted.

A warm hand clasped his shoulder gently, so gently that he didn't even flinch, and he opened his eyes to see Mason looking down at him in concern.  Immediately, he felt his throat close up at the kindness in those eyes and he had to close his eyes before he begged Mason to take him back.

"Hullo, Geoff.  Seen the last of them off, then?"

"They're all gone."  Mason settled into a chair across from him.  "You were amazing tonight.  Simply amazing."

"Ta," Sean said, closing his eyes again and wishing he could take one of his pills.  There was a sensation of movement, and then a cool glass was pressed against his hand.

"Which pocket?" Mason asked.

"Right," Sean said with a sigh, accepting the glass of water.  He felt Mason fish out the bottle and heard a couple pills shaken out, then placed in his hand.  "Thanks."  He took the pills, washing them down and making a face.  "God, I hate taking meds."

"You didn't let me know you were getting out of the hospital today."  Mason's voice was mild, but Sean could sense a little bit of hurt.

"Didn't know myself if I would manage it," Sean said.  "Only just made it."  He sighed and opened his eyes, meeting Mason's.  "That was a near thing.  At least we have a little better idea what they were trying to do."

Mason nodded.  "Spender wants back in, to be able to continue controlling and blackmailing other members."  One side of his mouth quirked up.  "And he wants to fire me."

"More fool him," Sean said.  "Best manager I've ever seen." 

"Thanks," Mason said quietly.  "Are you on permanent release?  May I see you home?"

"Geoff..." Sean said hesitantly.

"No pressure," Mason said quickly.  "You just look done in, and I want to make sure you don't have a relapse."

Sean didn't know whether to be relieved that Mason wasn't going to pursue him, or to weep with the overwhelming sense of loss he was feeling.  "All right."

They were both quiet on the ride home and on the walk down the hallway to Sean's room.  At the door, Sean turned back to Mason and, hesitantly, pulled the gold bracelet out of his pocket and held it out.

"I want to return this," he said quietly.  "I was honored to be asked, and I wish...I wish..."

Words failed him and, after pressing the bracelet into Mason's hand, he fled into room and closed the door behind him, then leaned back against it and wept for what he had lost.


Chapter Text

As June made its inevitable if slow progress into July, the tensions around the Club gradually eased.  Mason noted that the Doms who wouldn't meet his eyes following the Board election stopped avoiding him, and the subs who had seemed tense and worried were now relaxed and unafraid.  Part of that had to be laid at Sean's door.  He had thrown himself into Club business as thoroughly as possible, going so far as to personally review the files on every Dom at the Club.  Two Doms had their memberships revoked and were shown the door, politely but firmly.  The past Board election had been negated, although Bennet managed to retain his membership as he claimed not to have been the one behind the election-tampering and no one could prove otherwise.  All the staff members were ruthlessly scutinized as well, and one of the security team lost his job when Sean learned he'd taken bribes to keep quiet about some of the coercion. 

The subs had come under Sean's review as well, but in a different way.  Impromptu "subs only" parties became a regular Friday night event in the billiard room, with Sean presiding over what Mason jokingly called a combination of slumber party and gossip session.  Doms were strictly forbidden, even Mason and Jean-Pierre, so Mason didn't have "first hand" knowledge of what went on within, but Sean reported - in vague terms - that it had worked to lessen tensions among the subs and make them feel safe once again.

Mason only wished it had worked for Sean as well.  The sub appeared to be recovering well after his ordeal; he seemed to be as cheerful as usual, he attended therapy sessions with Dr. Kate without complaint, and he didn't shirk any of his responsibilities around the Club.  But Mason could see that the cheerfulness was only a mask, that his eyes were shadowed and his "Tiggerish" energy had an edge to it.  He was never alone with a Dom, not even Jean-Pierre, and avoided Mason as much as he could. 

And Mason found that he missed Sean's company in a way that he hadn't expected.  Yes, he mourned that they had never had a chance to play together, but more than that, he missed their casual interactions.  The teasing and flirting, the occasional work-evenings over take-out food, and the rare movie nights - he hadn't realized before now how much they had meant to him.  How much he had enjoyed just being with Sean, as a person, not his employer or his sub.  How much he missed the younger man being in his life.  It was worse than when Sean had ignored him and flirted with all those Doms, because there was no way that he could make this right.

And he desperately wanted to make everything the way it had been before - no, better than before, because this time he wouldn't be fool enough to deny Sean for so long.

Skinner looked up from his desk as Agent Scully entered his office and gestured towards one of the chairs in front of his desk.  “Thank you for coming, Agent Scully.”

She took the indicated chair.  “I’m not sure what this is about, sir.  Your assistant didn’t say anything when she asked me to come here.”

“Yes, I asked her not to.”  Skinner leaned back in his chair, studying the agent.  She looked as composed as usual and certainly not guilty about anything.  “When did you last see Agent Mulder?



Scully raised an eyebrow.  “In the bullpen hallway.”

“Did you speak with him?”

“No.”  Scully paused and looked at him directly.  “Is he in some kind of trouble?”

Skinner leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desk and meeting her look.  “Agent Mulder failed to appear at his assignment this morning. His, uh... his whereabouts are unknown.”

Scully looked alarmed at that and leaned forward in her chair.  “Sir, I’ll volunteer my time to assist in any search.”

Skinner shook his head.  “No, Agent Scully, the bureau can handle this matter.  I just wanted to ascertain that he hadn’t said anything to his friends about going out of town, or family problems, something that would cause him to…disappear unexpectedly.”

“Not that I am aware of,” she said, looking down at her hands.  “Sir, Mulder doesn’t have many friends, and we haven’t exactly been in contact since…”

“Since the X-Files was shut down,” he finished for her when her voice trailed off. 

She nodded.  “And he’s been estranged from his parents for years, so I doubt he would have decided to visit them.  Unless there’s been some sort of emergency.  Or perhaps whatever case he was working on?”

Skinner shook his head.  “It didn’t involve direct contact, so I doubt that’s the case.  More likely than not, there was a sudden emergency and he forgot to call in, or perhaps the message has been lost.”  He stood up and, sensing the dismissal, Scully rose as well.  “Thank you for coming in, Agent Scully.”

“Of course,” she said, then paused in front of the door and turned back.  “Sir? You’ll let me know if anything…”

Faced with the anxiety on her face, Skinner pushed down the sudden flare of jealousy and nodded.  “Of course.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Skinner sat back down, frowning in thought as he wondered what had caused Mulder to hare off without even letting his one friend know.  He didn’t even acknowledge when “Jones” came out of the ante-room and opened the cabinet concealing the tape recorder he’d hidden there. Not until he heard his own recorded voice, and Scully’s, cut off.

“She doesn’t know where he is,” he said into the silence.

Mr. Jones frowned.  “How can you be so sure?”

“Because if she knew, she wouldn’t be so worried about him.” 

Jones opened his cigarette pack and, realizing that they were empty, looked over at him.  Suddenly, Skinner wanted nothing more than to be rid of the man and his machinations.  “I don’t smoke,” he said shortly. 

Jones crushed the pack in his hands as he said, “She’ll find him.”

She probably will, Skinner thought, and wondered if it would be better or worse if she did.

“So how are you doing this week?”

Rather than reply, Sean wandered around the little office, looking out the windows into the gardens rather than back at Dr. Kate.  It was a warm day already, the foliage drooping under the unrelenting July heat.  Sean rather sympathized with them, as he felt that he was drooping as well.

“Not so good, then?”

Sean shrugged a shoulder, continuing to stare out the window.  Two birds were sitting on the edge of a birdbath, looking rather forlornly at its empty interior.  He idly thought about opening the window and tipping his bottle of water into it, although he’d probably just frighten them away.

“We can talk about something else if you’d prefer.  Did you see the fireworks display last week?  I love them but Lynn’s not fond of crowds, so we went out of town for a long weekend, just got back yesterday.”

Sean sighed.  “Fine, fine, I’ll talk.”  He traced the frame of one of the window panes, focusing on his finger and not the psychologist sitting behind him.  “It’s been a bloody bad week, and a bloody bad month.  I can’t be around any of the Doms I know without breaking out in a sweat.  I jump if anyone shuts a door too loud.  I have nightmares about things I can’t even remember when I wake up.  That’s when I can sleep.  Every time I look at Geoff, I feel so damn guilty that my throat closes up and I can’t even talk to him.  And he looks so sad all the time…”

“Sean, I’ve told you – “

“ – that I’m not responsible for how Geoff is feeling, that I have to concentrate on healing myself, blah blah blah.”  He turned away from the window, slumping in his chair.  “I can’t help it.  I miss him.  I miss being able to joke and laugh with him, flirting without it meaning anything.  I miss our late-night work sessions, and Jean-Pierre fussing about us missing meals and bringing special treats for us to nibble.  I miss Jean-Pierre, too.”  He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, ignoring the tears that leaked out of the corners of his eyes and spilled down his temples into his hair. 

Kate pulled some tissues from the box and tucked them into his hand.  “It will get better, but you have to give yourself time.  It’s only been a month.”

“Time for what? I listen to the other subs bragging about their new toys and I feel nothing,” Sean said bleakly.  “Not even a flutter – and how can I possibly operate a bdsm club if it no longer interests me?  How can I help or council other subs if listening to their accounts of their sessions makes my skin crawl?  I haven’t even had a morning stiffie ever since…. What if I never get aroused again?”

“Sean, I promise you that you’ll feel arousal again, but these things do take time,” Kate said gently.  “As for the Club, give that time, too.  You might find your interest again, or you might end up stepping back from the day-to-day management and turn to something else.  It won’t be the end of the world, you’ll see.  In the meantime, you need to continue your efforts to connect with your friends, not to isolate yourself.”

Sean nodded, keeping his eyes closed as he dried them, and tried to feel more optimistic about the future.

Walter Skinner had rarely been more irritated in his life.  Forty-eight hours after Mulder failed to show up for work, he had turned up back at his apartment as if nothing had happened.  That something had happened was apparent – Mulder looked as if he hadn’t slept in the entire time he’d been gone, and for all Skinner knew, he hadn’t.  Skinner had been awoken that morning – not pleasantly by the sub he’d taken to his rack and then his bed the night before – but by a phone call that had necessitated him coming in on a Saturday morning.  Not that working weekends was unusual (although less so since Mason had taken him under his wing), but the smug tone of Mr. Jones’s voice had set up his back to start with, and the man’s current attitude was finishing the job.  For a man who had purported to have Mulder’s best interests at heart, he seemed gleeful that the agent had dug himself into a hole that Mulder didn’t have a hope of climbing out of.

Consequently, Mulder was about to get the full benefit of Skinner’s frustration.  Skinner stood up and walked around his desk to tower over the seated agent.

“Agent Mulder.  You left your offsite set-up. Another brick agent had to cover your ass. The entire surveillance, all the months of work on this case, gone.”  He walked away from Mulder to minimize his urge to cuff the back of the young man’s head, then turned back around. 

“Just like you, gone,” he snapped. “This has four-bagger all over it, Mulder. Censure, transfer, suspension, probation.”

Without looking up, Mulder said quietly, “I understand that leaving my assignment warrants disciplinary action and I’m willing to accept those measures.”

Skinner heard the unvoiced “but” and said it aloud for Mulder. 

Mulder looked up then, meeting Skinner’s eyes.  “But I had enough on that surveillance to arrest those suspects. After three days, I could have nailed them on forty counts of bank fraud but you left me there.” 

There was a world of hurt in that voice, as if he hadn’t expected such treatment at Skinner’s hands, and something twisted in his guts.  Something that wanted to claim Mulder, to protect him from others, but mostly from Mulder’s own worst impulses.  Skinner clenched his hands to keep from reaching out.

Mulder’s head dropped, his voice muffled as he added, “I’m surprised you even noticed I was gone, let alone wiretap my phone... an illegal procedure without a court order.”

Skinner’s head whipped around and he stared at Mr. Jones in shock.  He hadn’t ordered a wiretap, and he would have known if anyone else in the agency had gotten such an order for one of his agents.  Jones was the only other person interested to such a degree in Mulder, other than his “friend” on Capitol Hill.

Jones didn’t appear to notice Skinner’s reaction to Mulder’s words, or he didn’t care, as he stubbed out his cigarette before going over to taunt Mulder about his future.  And that was the last straw, because no one threatened Mulder on his watch, not even friends of Master Mason.  And if that got him into trouble with the Master Dom, then so be it.

“Get out,” Skinner growled at Jones, who was still ignoring him, staring at Mulder.  But Mulder must have heard the change in Skinner’s voice, because he had turned to look at Skinner and there was something like dawning hope in the younger man’s eyes. 

Jones seemed to realize that Mulder was ignoring him and turned to look at Skinner. A look of disbelief crossed his face as he realized that Skinner was talking to him.

“I said get the hell out,” Skinner repeated.

Jones took his hand out of his pocket and pulled out a cigarette, deliberately lighting it before walking out of the office and letting the door slam shut behind him.  Ruefully, Skinner thought that he would hear from Mason about that, but he couldn’t care less at the moment.  In fact, he thought he would have a few words for the man himself, about the kind of mentors he thought were appropriate for Skinner. 

Once the door had closed behind him, Skinner turned back to Mulder.  “Report back to your assignment.”

Mulder blinked.  “A minute ago, I was a four-bagger. Do you want me to make the arrests?”

Don’t push your luck, kid, Skinner wanted to say, but aloud he only said, “I think we need more to go on.  Continue the surveillance.”

Mulder, for once, seemed disinclined to argue as he got up and left.  And as the door closed behind him, Skinner stared at the stubbed-out cigarette still smoldering in the ashtray and wondered what the hell Mulder had gotten himself into.

Outside the building, “Jones” – or rather, Spender – crushed his cigarette beneath his shoe and pulled out his cell phone.  As soon as the phone was picked up on the other end, he said, “It appears that Mr. Skinner and his friends haven’t learned their lesson yet.  I believe it is time to go to phase two.  Notify our man at the lab, and then pull in Mr. Krycek.  It’s time for another little talk.”

Chapter Text

Mason had just finished his usual Saturday check of the security tapes and was thinking about dinner when he caught sight of a familiar figure at the front desk.  For the first time in weeks, his spirits lifted and he called out, “Walter!”

Skinner turned and, seeing him, smiled in turn.  “Hello, Master Geoffrey.”

“It’s been far too long since I saw you last,” Mason said, embracing him and both ignoring that the last time had been at the hospital at Sean’s bedside.  “We’re overdue for a chat.”

To his surprise, Skinner winced and Mason wondered just what he’d been up to.  “I had a feeling you were going to say that,” he sighed.  “But my reasons were quite justified.  And while I appreciate your good intentions, I don’t need a minder.”

Mason frowned.  “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but if you’re apologizing, you’d better come to my suite and tell me what for.  Do you have plans?”

Skinner consulted his watch.  “Alex is meeting me here in a few hours; I thought I’d get settled in a room and have some dinner while waiting.  Is that enough time?”

“Ample.”  He turned to Hanson.  “Would you ask Jean-Pierre to send tonight’s special to my room, for two?  Thanks.”  He led the way to his suite, giving his protégé a quick once-over as Skinner set his bag down inside the living room.

“Have a seat, Walter – you look like you could use one.  Everything going all right with you?  Eating, sleeping, working out?  I’d offer you a drink but since you’re entertaining a sub later…”

Skinner nodded as he took a seat on the couch.  “Yes, sir; I’ve been following your orders and you were right – if I wasn’t in good shape, these past weeks would have been hell.”  He took the top off the bottle of water Mason handed him, then toyed with it, flipping it over in his fingers.

“Spit it out,” Mason advised.  “Whatever it is, it will only get worse if you stew over it.”

“Sir, I am sorry that I threw your friend out of my office, but quite frankly, he was badgering my agent.  And I can’t condone clandestine wiretapping, no matter what the intentions – “

“Whoa,” Mason said, holding up a hand to stop the rush of words.  “Walter, I’m afraid that you’ve lost me.  What friend?”

“Mr. Jones.”  Mason frowned and Skinner added, “I’m aware that isn’t his real name, and that the alias is to protect his position – whatever it is – in the government.”

“Walter, I don’t have any friends in government, just clients here at the Club, and I would never ask them to approach you at work.”

Now it was Skinner’s turn to look puzzled.  “When you went to Australia with Sean, Jones came to my office, introduced himself, and said that he’d been been asked by a mutual friend to mentor me while you were away.  He had a Club ring.”

“It’s possible that my former teacher asked him – no,” Mason said, shaking his head.  “He would have said something to me if he’d asked one of his people to keep an eye on you.  Is he an older man with a British accent?”

“Older but not British.  He smokes, if that helps.”

Mason froze and lowered the bottle he’d been about to drink from.  “Chain smokes?  Morley’s?”  Skinner nodded and Mason swore under his breath.  He set down his bottle and leaned forward in his chair.  “He is not a friend of mine – or yours.  His name, as far as we know, is Spender, and he was banned from this place a few months ago.  He was blackmailing members and mistreating his Juniors and subs.  And I have good reason to believe that he was behind the attack on Sean.”

“Attack?  I thought it was a play-date gone wrong.”

Mason shook his head.  “The police detective on the case found evidence that Sean was drugged at a hotel bar by Paul Douglas and then abducted.”

“And this man, Spender, was behind it?”

“We have no solid proof, but he was trying to take over the Club just last month, while Sean was in the hospital.”  He grasped Skinner’s hand.  “Walter, be very, very careful around him.  He’s a very dangerous man, and I suspect that he has equally dangerous friends.”

“Too late,” Skinner said ruefully.  “I tossed him out of my office earlier today.”

Mason sighed and sat back.  “Well, watch your back, then.”  There was a tap on the door and he went to let in the waiter with their food.

Over dinner, the two men caught up on the events of the last few weeks, although both men steered clear of the topic of Sean Matthews.  Mason was particularly interested in the subs that Skinner had played with, and what he was discovering about himself as a Dom.  He nodded approvingly at some points, but frowned a bit after Skinner’s descriptions of his sessions with Alex Krycek.

“Be careful with that one,” Mason said finally.  “He sounds like he’s what some Doms call a Black Hole and others call a Vampire; they suck more and more out of you, until you’re a husk, and then move on to someone who can give them more physical sensation.”

Skinner frowned at that.  “He’s not that much trouble.  I can handle him.”

Knowing it wouldn’t do to push any more, Mason nodded and said, “I expect that you can – and that you know enough to ask for help if you get in too deep,” he added in warning.

Skinner nodded, then picked at the remaining vegetables on his plate as he tried to figure out the best way to broach the elephant in the room.  Finally he gave up and said, “So – how is Sean coping?  I haven’t seen him around.”

“And you won’t,” Mason said with a sigh.  “He appears to have developed an allergy to Doms – not surprising, under the circumstances.  I’ve barely seen him, except at the bi-weekly staff meetings.  He’s coping, and going to counseling, and I expect that’s all we can expect for now.”

Skinner thought about the cheerful, irrepressible sub he’d known, about what had happened, and not for the first time, he wondered just what Jones/Spender had planned for Fox Mulder.  And he swore, by everything that he believed in, that he would die before he let anything happen to his agent.

Alex Krycek rolled over in bed and propped his head up on his hand, staring down at the man who had spent several satisfactory hours the previous night wringing every ounce of pleasurable pain from his body.  Not for the first time, he wondered just what it would take to get under the man’s skin, to broach the seemingly impenetrable walls that kept him at a distance from everyone around him.  Even from him, and even when he was balls-deep inside of him.  It was fascinating and puzzling, and Alex had always liked puzzles.

“Shouldn’t you still be sleeping the sleep of the sexually sated?” Skinner asked without opening his eyes. 

Krycek grinned and leaned down to kiss him.  “Maybe you didn’t do as good a job at that as you had thought,” he said provocatively.  Instead of the retort he’d expected, Skinner frowned slightly and Krycek winced as he realized he’d probably stung the Dom’s pride.  “Or it could be because I’ve got to leave soon – have a new work assignment tomorrow and I need to prep for it.”

Skinner opened his eyes, giving him a curious look.  “I thought you were settled at Quantico with the HRT for the duration.”

Krycek hesitated, aware that what he was about to say might end whatever this was between them.  “I’ve been transferred to Headquarters, starting tomorrow.  Criminal Investigation Division.”

Skinner drew in a sharp breath and sat up, turning to frown at Krycek.  “When did that happen?”

“My new orders were hand-delivered yesterday afternoon,” he replied.  “Look, I know that you’re worried about this but – you’re not my direct supervisor.  I don’t think it will be a problem - ”

“Alex, of course it’s a problem!” Skinner said sharply.  “We are in the same chain-of command – this could get both of us in trouble if someone were to find out.”

“Frankly, sir, considering where we are,” Krycek said, gesturing around them, “someone finding out that we have a personal relationship of sorts outside of work is the least of our worries.”  He met Skinner’s eyes directly.  “I am willing to risk it, if you are.”

Skinner frowned slightly at that.

“It’s not like I’m wearing your bracelet, sir,” Krycek said pointedly. 

“Right.”  Skinner drew in a deep breath and stood up.  “Well, I suppose we’ll just have to see how it goes.” 

He headed into the bathroom to shower, leaving Krycek to sit and wonder just what that meant – for him, for Skinner, and for this thing between them. 

Sean breezed into his doctor’s office bright and early on Monday morning, making the receptionist blush as he flirted with her before being shown into one of the exam rooms.  He was feeling a bit better this morning and reflected that maybe talking about his problems wasn’t such an utter crock after all.  A good night’s sleep, courtesy of the new meds prescribed to help his insomnia, didn’t hurt either.

“Hello, Sean,” Dr. Lynn said, entering the room with a smile and a lab assistant behind her.  “You’re looking cheerful this morning.”

“It’s a sunny day, the holiday crowds have left, and I had a lovely weekend in bed – sleeping, so don’t give me that look,” he retorted.  “Although I have the feeling that you’re about to change my mood – more testing?” he said, gesturing at the lab tech.

“It’s been almost six weeks and we want to make sure that you’re recovering well and haven’t picked up an infection,” Lynn replied.  “Besides, what’s a pint or two of blood between friends?”

“Vampires, the lot of you,” Sean grumbled but obligingly rolled up his sleeve.


Later that day, at a medical processing lab across town, one of the specimen processors logged the delivery from a certain doctor’s office and extracted the vials labeled S. Matthews, carefully checking the I.D. on the vials.  He took a deep breath, glancing briefly as the pictures of his family taped above his work area, and then put them in the special transport box waiting for them.

“…And over there are the labs – Hello, Pendrell,” said Agent Anderson, the agent giving Krycek a tour of the building as he gestured towards one of the sets of offices.  Krycek dutifully glanced in that direction and surreptitiously glanced at his watch, wondering how much longer he would have to endure this.  He’d already committed the locations of all the pertinent divisions to memory and now just wanted the chance to get his desk sorted.  That, and to find out why he’d been transferred to Headquarters.  His first thought, that it had been at A.D. Skinner’s request had been thoroughly dismissed by the man’s reaction the previous day – not that he’d really expected the man to have taken such a risky action.  However, that left the question unanswered as to who had engineered his transfer, and why. 

Anderson stopped at the elevators, impatiently jabbing the buttons, and Krycek guessed that the agent wasn’t thrilled with being pulled away from his work to escort a new agent around the place.  Good; there was little likelihood that he would invite Krycek to lunch, and Krycek could put that time to productive use by visiting the Bureau's cafeteria and chatting with the admins -they always knew what was going on around the offices, even more than their bosses.  As the elevator doors opened, he started forward but was abruptly pulled back by Anderson to  allow a dark-haired man exiting the elevator to pass by them.  Others waiting also pulled back, as if the other man was contaminated in some way, although he didn’t seem to pay them any attention – no doubt used to this reaction. 

“Who is that?” Krycek asked Anderson, who curled his lip as he glanced back at the man.

“Fox Mulder – better known as ‘Spooky’ around here,” the man said shortly.  “Steer clear of him, Krycek – the man is trouble.”


Anderson looked around and then pulled him away from the others waiting for the elevator.  Once they were alone, he leaned forward and lowered his voice.  

“Haven’t you heard about him?  The guy’s a nut case.  He was one of the top profilers here until he cracked up a couple of years ago, and now he believes in aliens and ghosts and conspiracy theories – obsessed with them.  I’m pretty sure the Bureau only keeps him because they’re afraid of what he might do if they cut him loose.  And he was the kiss-of-death to Chief Blevins.”

Krycek had met Blevins that morning; Chief Blevins had the look of a man who knew he had advanced as far as he could on his own merit, and knew that any more advancement would only come through grabbing onto someone else’s moment of fame.  For a moment, when Blevins had eyed him speculatively, he had thought that the Chief might be behind his transfer but then the man had turned away dismissively to turn him over to Anderson for a tour. 


“Blevins was on his way to the top, then had the bad luck to have Spooky Mulder assigned to him.  He couldn’t control Mulder.  Even A.D. Skinner barely managed to dodge that bullet – and he did that by shutting down Mulder’s little freak show.  Finally.”

Anderson pressed the elevator button again, and as they got on, Krycek glanced down the hallway and caught a glimpse of Mulder moving through the crowds, oblivious to the looks he was getting from those around him.  He couldn’t help admiring the slender man who seemed to exude intensity with every movement.  The mention of Skinner in connection with Mulder intrigued him.  He wondered at the real story behind Mulder’s obsession, and how imprudent it would be to try to manage an accidental meeting with the man.

On Friday afternoon, Krycek unlocked his car and settled in the driver’s seat with a sigh of relief.  It had been a long week, and the initial excitement of being assigned to Headquarters had given way to the tedium of being a very junior agent in the machinery that was FBI  bureaucracy.  And he was no closer to solving the mystery of why he had been transferred, especially since he’d been doing extremely well with the HRT’s training courses.  Equally mysterious was who was behind the transfer, despite all the poking around he’d done and the time he’d spent chatting with the administrative support staff. A bit discouraged, he was relieved to set it all aside for the weekend, and looked forward to being distracted by Skinner’s skillful mastery.

He was about to turn the key in the ignition when the click of a cigarette lighter in the back seat caught his attention.  A second later, he was facing the intruder, his gun level with the cigarette in the man’s mouth.

“What are you doing in my car, and how the hell did you get in?” he demanded.

The smoker didn’t seem to be worried as he lit his cigarette and blew out a stream of smoke.  “I thought it would be better to conduct our business in private.”

Krycek kept his gun leveled at the man.  “I told you last time - whatever you’re selling, I’m not interested, old man.”

The smoker drew in another puff and said, mildly, “You don’t seem very grateful.  I thought you would be more appreciative of your transfer.”

“I didn’t ask for a transfer,” Krycek snapped, disappointed to learn the truth.  “I liked where I was just fine.”

“But there are so many more opportunities for you here,” the smoker said smoothly.  “Especially for a man with your…talents.”

Krycek ground his teeth.  “I don’t like what you’re implying.”

“My dear boy, there is no need to be so sensitive.”  He blew another stream of smoke, courteously away from Krycek.  “I am merely suggesting that your curiosity and ingratiating attitude should enable you to make new friends.  Say, Agent Fox Mulder, for example.”

Krycek lowered his gun and frowned.  “Everyone else is warning my away from Mulder, but you want me to make friends?”

“Agent Mulder has unique abilities, ones that I would prefer to see properly controlled.  Or at least under observation by someone sympathetic to our goals.”

“I don’t even know who you are or what your goals are,” Krycek pointed out.  “Why should I help you?”

The smoker stabbed out his cigarette in one of the rear ash trays.  “Our goals are to protect the United States and the planet Earth from its enemies.  As to who we are – all in good time, Agent Krycek.”

He opened the car door, pausing when Krycek said, “Wait!  That’s all you want?  For me to make friends with Agent Mulder?”

“For now.”  The smoker got out of the car, then leaned down to look back in the car at Krycek.  “It shouldn’t be too difficult as the man has few friends.  It might help that he is also easy on the eyes.  At least, A.D. Skinner thinks so.” 

He shut the car door and walked away, but it was several long minutes before Krycek started his car and pulled out of the parking garage.


Chapter Text

As Skinner unpacked his gear, he glanced over at the bed where Krycek lay sprawled across the bed.  The younger man was naked already, but instead of teasing Skinner by flaunting his body, he was oddly quiet. 

“Something wrong, Alex?”  Krycek looked up, startled, as if he’d forgotten someone else was in the room, and Skinner paused with the cuffs in his hand.  “Are you not feeling up for this?  We can reschedule – “

“No!” Krycek said sharply.  He drew in a deep breath and sat up, visibly shaking off whatever was bothering him.  “It was a long week.”  He smiled wryly.  “And boring.  Who knew there were so many forms to be filed – in triplicate, most of the time.”

“Government runs on paper,” Skinner said dryly.  He sat down on the bed and studied the younger man intently.  “I think it’s more than that, though.”

Krycek shrugged.  “Didn’t realize there was so much politics involved.  You wouldn’t believe all the gossip and back-stabbing.”

“Oh, I believe it.”  Skinner got up and finished setting his equipment on the table beside the rack.

“They don’t seem to like Fox Mulder, in particular,” Krycek said casually, his eyes sharply watching Skinner for a reaction.  He saw Skinner stiffen for a moment, then deliberately relax as he set a riding crop next to the cuffs.

“Yes, Agent Mulder has more than his share of detractors,” Skinner replied.  “Some of it is jealousy, and some – well, Mulder’s methods are…unusual.”

“Does he really believe in aliens?”

Skinner turned sharply and Krycek caught a glimpse of something in the other man’s eyes that revealed his heart and made Krycek feel as if a dagger had been plunged into his.  He grasped Krycek by the wrist, pulling him up into a kneeling position on the bed.  “I don’t want to talk about work or other agents, boy.  I want to hear you begging me to fuck you – after I’ve turned your ass scarlet.”

Krycek clenched his jaw, meeting Skinner’s eyes defiantly.  “Oh yeah?  Gonna make me – old man.”

Skinner growled and dragged him off the bed toward the rack, exerting the dominance that had always attracted Krycek in the past.  But now, Krycek felt something cold and icy form in the pit of his stomach where hope and something close to love had once lived.


Sean perched on the table in the exam room, swinging his legs idly back and forth to distract himself from his surroundings.  He had never been fond of doctors, and the past two months had done little to change his mind, no matter how much he personally liked Dr. Lynn.  All he wanted to do was get back to the Club and bury himself in his work, and to try to ignore the way Mason looked at him with pity in his eyes each time they met.  Perhaps it was time for a quick trip home, to check out his holdings in Australia – a responsible task, and not in the least bit slinking away to lick his wounds.

The door opened and Sean summoned a smile for Dr. Lynn as she entered, chart in hand.  “I was beginning to wonder if you’d stood me up or – “ he began, then stopped abruptly at the stricken look in her eyes and the tight set of her mouth.  “What is it?”

Lynn took a deep breath and reached out to cover his hand with one of hers.  “Sean, your test results have come back, and I’m afraid I have some bad news.  You have tested positive for HIV.”

The world went fuzzy around the edges and there was a strange ringing sound in his ears.  “AIDS,” Sean said, his voice sounding distant to his own ears.  “I have AIDS.”

“Not yet,” Lynn said, a determinedly positive note in her voice.  “And you may not ever develop full-blown AIDS, Sean.  I am going to start you on one of the best of the drug cocktails, get your T-cell count stable.  And there are new drug protocols all the time, Sean.  It’s no longer an automatic death sentence.”

“Okay.” His mind felt oddly blank and, in a way, relieved.  Ever since it had happened, he had been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and now it had.  The worst had happened, and surprisingly enough, he could bear it.  In fact, it simplified so many things in his life.

“Here are the prescriptions for the treatment I want to start you on,” Lynn said, handing him a sheaf of papers.  “I am making an appointment with a specialist so we can get his opinion on your current situation and map out a treatment plan.  And I want you to call Kate and schedule an appointment for today or tomorrow – you may not think it now, but a positive attitude is key to keeping this illness under control.  All right?”

“Yes,” Sean said absently.   He left the clinic, dropping the stack of papers in the trash can outside, already turning other plans over in his head.  He would need to stop by the bank on his way home, get his will and power of attorney out of his safety deposit box.  And his shares in the Club – those would need to be signed over to Mason.  A few other loose ends, not much, nothing that he couldn’t take care of today.

Entering the bank, he decided that how wouldn’t be an issue.  He had nearly a full bottle of the sleeping pills he’d been prescribed to help with insomnia.  He’d resisted taking them, not liking how groggy they made him feel in the morning, and now he was glad.

Notes – he’d want to leave clear instructions for the disposition of his personal things not covered in the will.  And to say good-bye to Jean-Pierre and Geoffrey – his mind shied away from that as he automatically steered around Dupont Circle.  No, he’d stop by Mason’s office and say a proper good-bye; he owed the man that since he was leaving him with a bit of a mess to clean up.  Just a quick one, though, or else he’d start blubbering like a baby and Mason would get suspicious.

He wished that he could say good-bye to Walter as well.  He’d send him a letter, ask him to keep an eye on Mason after he was gone.  He nodded to himself as he parked his car and gave it a last loving caress, then took the elevator to the main floor.  Walter would do a good job of that.

Walter Skinner sat at his desk, turning over his new ring in his hands.  Hanson had beamed at him as he’d handed over the box the previous afternoon, obviously pleased to be the one to tell him that he’d been made a Senior at the Club.  Mason had come out of his office to give him a hug and the three of them had toasted his achievement with Mason’s best whiskey.  It would have been the most perfect weekend of the past year if not for…

Alex Krycek.

The young sub had clearly been distracted and distanced all weekend, not his usual feisty and irreverent self.  There had been an edge to him, an undercurrent of anger, and Skinner was baffled as to the cause.  The weekend had been a disaster, with Alex more difficult and demanding than ever, and possessively jealous the one time they’d ventured out to the Club dining room for lunch. Thinking about their last session, how far Krycek had pushed him, and his own feeling of exhilaration at finally subduing the young sub now left him feeling dirty and tired.  In the cold light of day, the memory of the stripes he’d left on Krycek’s body made him uncomfortable.

Before they had parted, Krycek had brought up the subject of a bracelet, clearly angling to be claimed by him, even though a few weeks earlier he had denied wanting that.  What had changed his mind?  Had he heard a rumor about Skinner’s promotion and wanted to stake a claim before anyone else?  Or did this have to do with work and, more specifically, Fox Mulder?  For once, his most troublesome agent was the least of his worries – or maybe it was more accurate to say that he had more than one problem agent now.

He looked at the ring again, frowning.  Somehow, he had thought that by the time he got to this moment, he’d have a better grasp on himself, and on the subs he played with.  Like Mason.  But now he felt at a loss and he couldn’t see a clear path ahead of him.

There was a knock on his door and Skinner slipped the ring back on his finger.  “Come!” he called out. 

His administrative assistant opened the door and stuck her head in.  “Sir?  Agent Mulder is here to see you about a 302 he’d like approved?”

“Of course he is,” Skinner said, sighing.  “Send him in.”

Krycek glanced at the file folder that the smoking man handed him, frowning slightly as the man stubbed out his cigarette in his ashtray before lighting another with the car’s lighter.  “A fire?  You want me to investigate a fire?”

“It’s more than a simple fire,” the smoker said, blowing out a breath of smoke.  “Agent Mulder is interested in it, therefore we are interested in leaning what he finds so fascinating.”

Krycek flipped through the paperwork, what little there was.  “He filed a 302 but it hasn’t been approved.”

“It will be,” the smoker said confidently.  “I have seen to it that you’ve been added to the case as well.”

Krycek closed the folder and handed it back.  “Why?” he asked flatly.

“Because we want you to work with Agent Mulder.  Become his partner.  His friend.  Steer him away from his former partner, Agent Scully.”  He drew in another breath through his cigarette.  “And there are elements of this case that we would prefer to have under our control.”

“You still haven’t told me who ‘we’ are.”

“Do well on this assignment, Alex, and I promise to change that.  Bring you into the fold, under my protection – and my personal attention.”

Krycek tried not to shiver at the possessive tone to the smoker’s voice.

Sean sealed the last letter in its envelope and addressed it, then carefully set out the papers on his desk.  His will, his power of attorney, the shares of the Club, all were neatly arranged on one side of the desk.  The envelopes were laid out next to them, one for Walter and another for Jean-Pierre, and then his final instructions and wishes, addressed to Mason.  Everything else was tidied away, no files to have to clean up, no unfinished business.

Except for one last task.

He drew in a deep breath and stood.  His legs felt a little shaky and his stomach queasy – were those symptoms?  Not that it mattered; just one more task, and then he could finish this.  Permanently.



Mason looked up from his desk to see Sean standing in the doorway to his office, a sad, wistful look on his face. "Sean - is there something I can do for you?"

"No. I just - I wanted to thank you for everything you did for me. When Da got sick and all. And - and finding me know."

"You don't need to thank me, Sean. It was my pleasure."

Sean nodded. "Yes. Well - I just wanted you to know." He turned and walked down the hallway.

Mason turned back to his paperwork but he was unable to concentrate. Something was wrong, but he just couldn't put his finger on it. His phone rang and he absently answered it.

"Geoffrey, it's Kate Malone. Have you seen Sean?"

"Yes, about fifteen minutes ago. Why?"

"He was supposed to come to my office.  We were going to discuss his test results and what support he'll need now, but he never showed."

"Test results?" Mason asked sharply. "What test results?"

There was a surprised silence on the other end. "He didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

Kate cleared her throat. "I'm afraid you'll have to ask Sean - I can't reveal medical information without his permission except to family - "

"Shit," Mason breathed as comprehension hit him and the world shifted on its access.  Memory of that odd conversation hit him and his heart slammed painfully. "Kate, send an ambulance here immediately. I think he's going to try to kill himself." He slammed down the phone and raced down the hallway, not bothering to knock on Sean’s suite door before using his master key. He raced through the living room - tidy with a collection of envelopes laid out on the desk - and into the bedroom. Sean lay sprawled across the bed, his breathing shallow. On the nightstand sat an empty glass and an empty pill bottle.

"Don't do this to me, Sean!" He pulled the younger man into a sitting position, slapping his face until the younger man blinked his eyes open. "Come on, baby - fight it."

"Geoff?" The voice was slurred and weak.

"Yeah, it's me, baby." He scooped up the younger man and carried him into the bathroom where he ruthlessly forced the younger man to throw up into the toilet.  Then he dragged Sean into the shower, ignoring the fact that they both were fully clothed, and turned on the cold water full blast. Sean swore weakly and struggled but he was too sleepy to fight the older man.

"Don't go back to sleep, Sean!" Mason demanded. "Don’t you dare, or I'll paddle your ass so hard - "

Sean gave a weak chuckle. "Damn it," he murmured. "If I'd have known this was what it took to get you to talk like that to me again…"

"Brat," Mason said, then cuddled the younger man closer to his chest, stroking the soaking wet curls  on his head.  “I’m so sorry, Sean.  I didn’t know what to do,” he admitted.  “It hurt so much to watch you walk around here in such pain, and not be able to do anything to help.”

“Can’t help,” Sean murmured, his eyes closing.  “Geoff…dying…”

“No, you’re not,” Mason said fiercely.  “I won’t let you.  Do you hear me, Sean?  Whatever it is, we’ll fight it together.”

Sean’s eyes fluttered open.  “Together?” he breathed.

Mason nodded and decided to hell with timing or anything else.  “Sean, I l- “

“EMT!” called a voice from the living room, and Mason wanted to curse their timing but he was also relieved.  "In here!"

He cut off the shower water and pulled back the curtain as an EMT stuck his head in the doorway. "He's taken pills,” Mason told him.  “The bottle's on the nightstand. I made him throw up but it's been about thirty minutes since he took them."

The man nodded.  “We’ll take it from here, sir.” 

His partner appeared and the two of them lifted Sean out of Mason’s arms (and he had to fight his instinct to grab Sean back) and laid him on the gurney.  One of them began checking his vital signs while the other started an IV and began administering fluids.  In a short while, Sean was being wheeling out of the Club on a gurney.  Mason followed, wrapped in a blanket hastily pulled off Sean’s bed over his wet clothes, watching as they loaded Sean in the ambulance.  It took off, lights and siren blaring, as he numbly watched, unable to move.

A hand grasping his shoulder brought him back to awareness, and he turned his head to see Walter Skinner looking at him in concern.  “Piglet?  What are you doing here?”

“Hanson called me.”  Skinner frowned.  “You’re soaking wet; we’d better get you out of these clothes and into something dry.”

Mason allowed himself to be herded back to his room, stripped and ruthlessly towel-dried before he finally roused himself enough to take the towel to his own hair.  “You don’t need to do this, Walter.  I cut you lose, remember?”

“I’m family, Geoff – remember?”  Skinner handed him a small glass of whiskey.  “Drink this.  I think you need a shot.”

Mason accepted the glass.  “And you’ve hidden the bottle so that a shot is all I get, right?”  Skinner gave him a tight smile that told him he was right.  “You know me too well.”

“What happened, Geoff?”

Mason stared down at the contents of his glass. "Sean tried to kill himself, Walter." He tossed back the drink and grimaced.

"I know. Hanson couldn't tell me why, though. Was it because of what happened - the assault?"

Mason snorted. "Yeah. I guess you could say that. I’m pretty certain that his last blood tests came back HIV positive."

"God - Geoff, I'm so sorry."

Mason drew in a deep breath.  "He came to my office. He thanked me - he actually thanked me for helping him when his father died, and for finding him. I thought it seemed strange, but I never thought." He looked down at the glass and his hand tightened around it.  “God-dammit.  God-dammit to hell.”

Skinner carefully pried the glass from his hand before he broke it.  “Get dressed, Master Geoff.  I’ll drive you to the hospital – you’ll want to be there when they allow him visitors.”

Mason nodded and went to find something dry to put on, and tried not to think about what he would say to Sean when he woke up.