The Master's Ball

Written for Fara, who wanted a little kink

"Very good," Vin's voice ghosted across his ear.

Ezra shivered, not so much from the cold sweat covering his skin as from his anticipation, and the fear of what was next. Shifting his hand brought the rasp of the sisal rope on his wrist, reminding him not to move. Opening his eyes showed him nothing; the blindfold was opaque and well placed.

"So beautiful." He trembled at Vin's whisper, still waiting for what was to come. So far, he had been brought to the dungeon, permitted to see the apparatus before he had been ordered to strip naked and been blindfolded, then had his hands secured so that his arms were held out straight from his shoulders. It was not uncomfortable physically, but every moment, every bit of control he ceded brought his terrors closer.

"You remember how to make it stop?" Vin asked.

Ezra nodded. That was the one final control he still held.

"Good. Now open your mouth." He did as he was asked, and felt a hard rubber rod touch his lips. Not as large as the bit-gags he'd seen on the wall, this was more the size of a drinking straw, but solid. "Close your mouth and hold this as a reminder to stay silent." He did, realizing he could close his lips around it and avoid the embarrassment of drooling, which the larger gags would have caused.

As Vin let go of the rod, he ran his fingers along Ezra's jaw-line, and Ezra leaned fractionally into the touch, seeking that comfort and connection.

"You know you don't have to do this."

He nodded. That much he was fully aware of, but he also knew that stopping at this point would be a terrible mistake. This was a test with a man he knew he could trust, and if he couldn't do this, the next step would be impossible.

Vin's touch moved from his jaw, calloused fingers trailing down his neck, along his breast bone. He twitched as the touch crossed his belly and slid to his hip and down the outside of his leg to his foot. A soft pat to his ankle and the touch was gone, but there was the sound of Vin moving some apparatus right in front of him. A moment later the touch was back, making him move his feet apart. Leather cuffs were strapped to his ankles, and a small experimental move showed him he was right in his estimation that he was now wearing a spreader bar.

Underneath the blindfold, Ezra pressed his eyes tightly closed. Between the binding on his arms and the bar holding his feet apart, he was effectively trapped. He couldn't move to get away if he wanted to, and he felt the panic rise in his gut. His breathing was short and harsh as he tried to regain control of his emotions and remember that this was someone he trusted.

"Ezra?" The voice was in front of him, but he couldn't focus on it. "Ezra!" Louder now, loud enough to cut through his panic. "Easy now. Breathe. Listen to me." He nodded, deliberately slowing his breathing, focusing on Vin's voice, trying to let go of his panic.

He jerked away from the hands on his shoulders, pulling hard on the ropes, ignoring the burn of the fibers on his skin, his muscles tight and twisting.

"Son of a bitch!" The snarled invective did get his attention, and he stopped still as he was, arms pulled taut in the ropes, lips pulled back as his breath hissed through his teeth, still holding the rubber rod.

"Damn stupid idea." He recoiled from the words, the accusation. "Stand still. Don't move." More harsh words, an order. He stood as he was, as if paralyzed. Firm hands unbuckled the leather cuffs on his ankles and moved his feet together under him. One hand, then the other was freed from the rope, his arms now at his side. Now the hands were gentle as they touched his face, lifting the blindfold. He blinked, even the dim light of the dungeon seemed bright after the blackness of the cloth. Lastly, with great care, Vin took the rubber rod from between his teeth.

"I'm sorry," Ezra whispered.

"Don't," Vin said sharply. "Nothing to be sorry for." He pulled Ezra to him, holding him and turning them, Ezra knew, so that Vin could face Charles and Josiah.

All he wanted was to be out of this place, away from the humiliation of his failure. He knew that was not to be.

Vin was still talking, a soft voice in his ear, but it took him a moment to register the words. "You did great. You were strong and brave. Ain't no shame in not being drawn to this."

"Vin is right." A new voice. Charles. Could he ever face him again? Then there was comfort, a hand to his shoulder, the soft fabric of a robe to cover himself. "We all knew that this is not your life. For you to try was an honor for me to witness." Charles drew him away from Vin, and turned him around, a hand under his chin guiding his gaze to Charles' face. The man's expression was soft and open, helping the knot in his gut to loosen. He held his ground as Charles leaned in and kissed him, gentle and caring.

A few minutes later they were out of Charles' basement dungeon. He and Vin were in the living room, curled up on the couch, and he let himself enjoy the comfort Vin was offering him, leaning into his embrace.

Charles and Josiah were in the kitchen, the rattle of china almost drowning out their conversation, but not quite, and Ezra listened, still unsure of their reaction to what had happened.

"Vin is still willing to go with you," Josiah was saying.

Ezra wished it could be that simple, to have Charles take Vin to the benefit, but he knew it was impossible.

"No, he has to go with you, you know that," Charles answered. "Vin is very talented, have you considered taking him on as an apprentice?"

Josiah's deep rumble was easier to hear. "No. This isn't his true calling."

"That's a shame. He'd be very good."

Ezra looked at Vin. "Do you ever think about that? Of apprenticing with Josiah?"

Vin smiled and shook his head. "Nope. He's asked a couple times, but it's not for me."

"You never told me he asked."

"Because I wasn't going to do it. Didn't make no difference how many times he asked." Vin pulled him closer and put a soft kiss on his cheek. "Didn't want you to worry about it."

Whatever he might have said to that was interrupted by Josiah and Charles coming into the room carrying steaming mugs of coffee. The one they handed to him was pale with cream, and he was about to say something when he caught the scent of whiskey. A small sip confirmed that his coffee was liberally spiked, so he simply smiled and settled back into the couch, taking a larger swallow. The whiskey warmed him and eased the tension in his belly, and he felt better for the first time since they got to Charles' house.

Charles. He glanced across to where Charles and Josiah were sitting in matching leather wing chairs. Their postures and attitudes were so alike they could have been twins. Both of a comparable age, distinguished gray in their hair. Strong, imposing figures. Josiah, his co-worker, if you will. Charles, his client perhaps former client, now.

He took another swallow of his whiskeyed coffee, drew in a breath and met Charles' gaze. "If you give me another chance--"

"Moron," Vin interrupted him, putting a hand over his mouth. "Don't listen to him."

Josiah chuckled and shook his head. "Ezra, it'll be a cold day in Hell before we do that to you again."

But it was the look on Charles' face that held his attention, brought silence to the room and the fear back to his gut. "Ezra," Charles began seriously, "I resisted bringing you to my dungeon, but let myself be swayed by Josiah's arguments in your favor. There will not be another time."

Ezra shrunk back against Vin, convinced that this would be the last time he saw Charles. "So, I assume Saturday is cancelled."

"On the contrary," Charles answered. "We have set the parameters. You will go as my companion, nothing more, nothing less."

"But you said..." Ezra trailed off in confusion.

"I said that Lewis would likely attempt to manipulate the situation." Charles sat back in his chair and sipped his coffee. "Not that he hasn't manipulated it already." And now Charles' smile took on a feral edge. "Lewis may have won the first round, getting Josiah and me to agree to attend the benefit, but he will not be meeting any of my boys." He shook his head. "He will never learn to be a proper Master, and it's time he learned his place in the community." The feral smile was back. "We will out maneuver him on Saturday." He nodded at Josiah. "And with Josiah and Vin there as our allies, it could be a most entertaining evening."

Josiah was grinning, the sort of grin Ezra never wanted to see turned against him. "Vin, take Ezra home. Charles and I have a few things to discuss."

Within a few minutes he was dressed and he and Vin were on their way. The bright midday sunshine belied the bizarre darkness of how they had started their day, and the traffic and pedestrians and bustle of the city seemed so damned normal compared to the surreality of the dungeon. They drove in silence for several miles, until Vin looked over at him while they waited for a traffic light to change.

"You okay?"

Ezra thought for a moment, weighing his options. He could give Vin a glib 'I'm fine', or he could truly answer the question. Today, Vin deserved the truth. "I've been better."

"You know you didn't have to do that."

The one wrong thing for Vin to say. "Yes, I fucking well know that I didn't have to do it." He slammed his fist into the dashboard. "But you do it, Josiah's a fucking expert at it, Charles is another one, and I thought ... I just thought--"

"Hey." Vin reached over and grabbed his arm. "I'm sorry. I know why you tried it." Ezra snorted. "Don't do that. Don't convince yourself that there's something wrong with you for not liking it." The light turned green and Vin took his hand back to drive. "First time Josiah asked me to apprentice with him, I really thought on it. I heard him tell me I was good at it, and I knew I could like it. But the more I thought on it, I knew I couldn't be like he was, living it all the time. So I told him no."

"And you never even told me he asked you."

"No, I didn't. And you know why?"

When Vin didn't go on, Ezra looked at him, caught a glance when he briefly looked away from the road. "Tell me."

"I didn't want you to worry about it. I knew it scared you, and I had to be sure in my own mind before I could talk to you about it."

"You told him no, but he asked you again?"

Vin nodded. "I think he had to be sure I meant it. Second time I didn't have to think on it at all. Just told him no."

It bothered him that Vin had never shared this with him, but part of him understood why. He knew himself well enough to know he'd have tried to talk Vin out of it, no matter what Vin had truly wanted. Even hearing about it now, he felt the fear that Vin might have agreed, followed by the great relief that he hadn't. "No regrets?"

"Not a one."

No, Ezra supposed Vin didn't have regrets. He'd been working that scene with Josiah since he joined the house, and nothing about that had changed.

"Ezra," Vin said quietly, "don't you think on it too much, either. Nothing's going to change. And nothing bad is going to happen on Saturday."

Ezra winced. It worried him when anyone made a fate-tempting comment like that. Still, he had faith in Vin and Josiah and Charles. He was less sure of his own part in the scheme, but with them at his back, he was willing to take a chance.

Vin parked in the barn behind the house, and the one thing Ezra hoped was that by going in the back, they could avoid--

"Ezra. A moment, please." Chris. Of course he was waiting for them.

Ezra stopped in front of Chris, felt the brush of Vin's hand on his as Vin kept moving into the house.

"Let's sit." Chris nodded toward the back porch, and Ezra took that as a sign that this would not be an interrogation or a scolding, but a conversation. Still, he was apprehensive, and once on the porch, he chose a chair facing the house door so he could see before anyone else was close enough to overhear them. Chris sat back, relaxed. "How'd it go?"

Again, he was faced with the option of glibness or truth, and again, opted for truth. "Not well."

A smile tugged at Chris's mouth, and Ezra suspected Chris understood how much of an understatement that was. "And?"

"And Charles and Josiah seem confident that there will be no complications."

Chris held his gaze for a long moment, then nodded. "Good." He stood up. "Coffee or whiskey?"

Ezra considered the choices as he stood up. "Both?"


The combination of bright sunshine on his face and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee drew him from sleep as nothing else could, and he opened his eyes, greeting the not terribly new day and its harbinger with a smile.

Vin handed him the steaming mug of black coffee and sat on the edge of his bed. "Allison kept you late last night."

He took a long swallow of coffee, relishing the warmth and bitterness and the sense of the caffeine jump-starting his body. "She wanted to try a few things she saw in a movie last week."

Vin's throaty chuckle was as warming as the coffee. "Good thing you're the adventurous sort, then."

"As long as the adventures only involve feathers, not the whole chicken."

Vin laughed and patted his knee. "Come on, let's go for a run before breakfast."

Ezra glanced at the clock and nodded. "Good idea." He sat up and swung his legs off the bed and handed his empty mug to Vin. "You get that refilled for me and I'll be down in a few minutes to get it." Watching Vin walk out of the room wearing his jogging shorts was pure poetry and did as much as the coffee did to help him wake up in the morning.

This morning in particular, though, he appreciated Vin's attention and willingness to keep him company and provide the distraction that would keep him from brooding over their upcoming evening. And left to his own devices, he surely would brood. Thank goodness he wasn't being left on his own.

It only took him that promised few minutes to be ready and downstairs to meet Vin for more coffee before their run. He gratefully took his mug, holding it in both hands as he sipped it, looking over the rim at Vin, who was leaning one hip against the kitchen counter, looking comfortable and relaxed. Ezra wondered if simply being around Vin today would bring him that same comfort and relaxation before it was time to meet Charles.

"You ready?"

He put his mug on the counter and nodded. "Did you have any particular route in mind for today?"

Vin shrugged. "Thought a jog around the duck pond in the park, maybe a stop for donuts on the way home."

Yes, Vin's easy attitude was exactly what he needed. "Lead the way."

He followed Vin out and they walked the few blocks to the park, then took a few minutes at a bench to stretch before starting to run. The park wasn't huge, but it had a pond with paved walkways and running paths, and depending on how ambitious they were feeling, they could run any of several routes or just circle the pond. He let Vin choose and lead the way and they ended up dodging the weekend family crowds as they circled the pond twice.

As they finished their second circuit, Vin slowed to a walk, and Ezra slowed to stay with him, following him to a bench in the sun where they sat, legs stretched out as they relaxed, soaking in the warmth.

After a few minutes Ezra turned to look at Vin and smiled at what he saw. Vin was sitting with his eyes closed, his face toward the sun and smiling broadly. Some days he wished that he could be as happy with simple things. It was one of the differences between them that he would think about when he was alone. He was never content with what he had, always looking for the next opportunity, while Vin managed to, as the pundits would say, live in the moment. Of course, right now, the greatest contentment Ezra had was being with Vin.

"You keep staring like that, you'll get a crick in your neck," Vin said quietly, not even opening his eyes.

There were days Ezra was sure the man was psychic, but he smiled and looked away, faced the sun and let his eyes drift closed. "I might," he answered, "but it would be worth it for the view."

A soft snort was the only response he got.

The longer he sat, the more Ezra had to admit how relaxing it was -- the combination of exercise and sunshine had pushed away much of the worry he carried about this evening's event. His thoughts were settled and the churning in his gut was gone. He could do this. He would do this.

"Did you say something about donuts?" he asked Vin.

"Might have," Vin said. "Might have mentioned more coffee and a late breakfast, too." He cracked his eyes open and looked at Ezra. "You ready to head back?"

Ezra sat up, pulled his feet under him and propped his elbows on his knees. "If you are."

Vin nodded and stood up and started down the path. Ezra sat for a moment watching the view, the way Vin's shorts draped over his ass, the knowing grin when Vin stopped and turned back to look at him. Caught looking, Ezra shamelessly grinned back at him then got up and started down the path after Vin.

Their route back to the house was longer, taking them by way of the neighborhood bakery. A dozen fresh donuts in a pink bakery box and two steaming cups of coffee later they were on their way.

The walk back to the house was more like a saunter. Ezra was carrying the donuts and sipping his coffee, considering how to spend the few hours they had before meeting Charles to go to the benefit. Breakfast, certainly. A shower. But between breakfast and the shower, maybe a chance to spend some time alone with Vin, to find out more about what this event really was.

The box of donuts took their place in the middle of the big farm table in the kitchen, and Ezra cut the string holding it shut, reaching in past Vin's hand and taking his favorite -- a Boston cream-filled donut, and took a big bite, leaving the cream all over his face. He turned to Vin with a grin and then almost choked as he laughed aloud at the dark jelly stains all over Vin's face. Grabbing Vin's shirt front, he pulled Vin in and licked at the jelly then took him in a deep, open-mouthed kiss.

For a moment, Ezra thought about skipping breakfast and going straight for the shower, and not alone, but when his stomach growled and spoiled the moment he laughed again and pushed back far enough to look Vin in the face. "For a moment, I was considering skipping breakfast."

"Breakfast? It's two in the afternoon," said a voice from the hallway.

"Ah, Mr. Larabee. Thank you for that clarification, but when it's the first meal of the day, breaking the fast as it were, it matters not the hour." He kissed Vin one more time before letting him go. "Would you care to join us?"

Chris stepped into the kitchen, shaking his head. "Just coffee and one of those donuts for me."

For half a second, Ezra thought about telling Chris to get his own coffee, but he swallowed the impulse and pulled a mug out of the cupboard and filled it, handing it to Chris.

"So, Vin, omelets?" He looked at Vin, waited the minute while Vin thought, carefully didn't smile when Vin agreed, as he always did.

Over omelets and donuts and more coffee, they sat around the table in an uncomfortable silence. Ezra was sure Chris had come in for a reason, and not just to get a donut, but he was taking his time making it apparent.

"You got something on your mind, Chris?" Trust Vin to break the tension. "'Cause if you do, you better spit it out before Ezra explodes from waiting."

"I am not--" Ezra protested.

"You are," Vin interrupted, touching Ezra's thigh under the table, "and it ain't the point. Chris, spill it."

Chris held up a hand, nodding. "Okay, settle down." He crossed his arms on the table and leaned forward. "I wanted to be sure you were comfortable about tonight." He ended the sentence looking straight at Ezra.

"Little late for that, don't you think?" Ezra returned Chris's steady stare. "We're committed at this point. Besides," he glanced over at Vin, reaching out to take his hand, "Vin and Josiah will be there." He met Chris's gaze again. "And I trust Charles to keep things under control."

"If you're sure."

Ezra laughed softly. "Chris, I'll be with three friends, in a large gathering."

"Two friends and a client, in a large gathering of SM practitioners, all of whom would be happy to see you put to the test." Chris arched one eyebrow, but his posture didn't change.

"Thank you for your vote of confidence," he said sharply, pushing away from the table.

"Chris," Vin said sharply, "Josiah and I will be there, and you should know Charles won't allow anything to happen." He squeezed Ezra's hand. "Not to mention that Ezra can take care of himself."

Holding tight to Vin's hand, Ezra tamped down his anger. Chris was doing his job, asking the right questions to keep his people safe. Chris was good at that, and Ezra respected the fact that he was one of them. Respected it enough that he understood Chris' real question.

"If anything goes wrong," Ezra began, voicing what he knew Chris wanted to hear, "I'll walk out."

Chris' gaze was heavy as he asked, "And the client?"

This was easy, easier than Chris would ever accept. "Knows the rules. Knows that even though he's paying, we don't do anything we don't want to."

Chris relaxed back into his chair and nodded. "I just needed to hear it." He took a bite of his donut and finished his coffee, then stood up. "I'll leave you to finish your breakfast. Be careful, both of you." He nodded at Vin who nodded back.

Ezra held his tongue until he was sure Chris was out of earshot. "Had to hear me say it, and he still doesn't believe I'll do it." He pulled his hand free from Vin's hold and stabbed at his omelet. "It would be nice if some day..." He shook his head and pushed away his plate. The conversation had ruined his appetite. He stood up abruptly, nearly overturning his chair and not caring. "I'm going up for a shower." He strode from the kitchen and upstairs, hoping not to be followed, at least not right away.

In his room, he stripped out of his running gear and turned the shower on hot, ducking under the spray. "Damn him!" Ezra slapped the tile wall hard, then just stood, letting the water wash over his head and down his back. Letting the heat relieve some of his tension and the water wash away his anger and frustration.

"Hey." He was not surprised to hear Vin's voice. Nor was he surprised when Vin joined him in the shower. "You," Vin turned him around, arms around his neck, naked groins pressed together, "let him get to you."

Ezra let his head drop forward, pressing his forehead against Vin's. "I know." He drew in a deep breath. "What will it take for him to trust me?" This was not a new conversation for them, and he didn't expect an answer.

"Time." Vin kissed him slowly, familiarly . "Patience." Then Vin leaned back and slapped him lightly on the head.

"What was that for?" Ezra asked. He grabbed the offending hand and pulled Vin close again.

"That," Vin pulled his hand free and caressed the side of Ezra's face, "was to try and knock some sense into that hard head of yours. Someday, you'll understand that a man is more than his bank balance." He smiled, easy, but there was a sort of sadness in it for a second, just barely long enough to see it before Vin went on. "But until you do, Chris ain't gonna trust you, and you ain't gonna be happy."

He tried to squirm away from Vin; this was not the conversation he wanted to have, not again.

"Cut that out." Vin held him tight, close. "There's one thing that would make me really happy." His hand slipped between them and Ezra knew he was done for. Nothing got him going quicker than Vin's touch, skilled and knowing, and truth be told, he needed this today.

"What do you want?" Ezra rasped out. "Here?" Hot, wet, under the spray, he wondered idly if the water heater would hold out long enough for a good fuck.

Vin turning off the shower was his answer, followed by a long stroke to his cock that had him moaning at the pleasure. When Vin's hand left him, he focused, watching as Vin pulled a bath sheet off the rack and stepped close again, wrapping it around both of them. He used the towel to keep them close as he pushed Ezra out of the shower and kept moving, backing him into the bedroom.

Stumbling and laughing, Ezra let Vin push him backwards toward the bed, falling back on the mattress, grunting when Vin landed on top of him, sighing at the warmth and pressure of Vin's body against his. He spread his legs, bringing their groins even closer together, hot, hard. Still shower-damp, Vin wriggled against him, and he grabbed Vin's ass, pulling him even closer, pressure almost to the point of pain. He could have stayed like that, Vin's weight blanketing him, stiff cocks rubbing together, mouths sealed, tongues seeking, but it was not to be. As he lay there, letting his own pleasure rule him, enjoying sex as he was seldom able to with clients, it stopped when Vin pushed off him.

"What the--?"

Vin smiled softly, reached out and touched his face. "Don't move, I'll be right back."

"Back?" His momentary confusion turned to amusement when Vin only went as far as the nightstand, retrieving lube and a condom.

"Back," Vin said, pushing him flat, "as in, you stay on yours." Vin ripped open the condom and slid his hand down Ezra's chest to his belly and lightly over his hard cock, stroking with his fingertips before lifting it and rolling on the condom. When Vin added lube and kept touching, Ezra closed his eyes and moaned. "You know what I want, don't you?" Vin whispered.

Ezra nodded, barely opening his eyes to look at Vin, reaching for him, pulling him down into a deep, searching kiss. "Same thing I do." He followed willingly as Vin rolled them over, putting him on top, between Vin's spread legs. Reaching for the lube, he shifted enough to prepare Vin, working his ass, waiting--

"Now, damn it!" Vin snarled, arching up against Ezra, demanding, close to begging.

And he pressed in, one long, slow thrust, watching as Vin's expression turned to bliss, mirroring how he felt himself, buried in Vin's hot, tight ass. So good, so hot it was hard sometimes to remember how experienced Vin was. Vin's legs wrapped around him, keeping him close as he moved, their skin, slick and warm, pressing against each other, the taste of Vin's mouth, the power, the control, Vin's pleasure --

"Vin?"

"What the fuck did you stop for?" Vin glared up at him, still pushing up, his hands pulling at Ezra, trying to get him to move.

Hell of a question, but he had one of his own to ask, one that wouldn't let go now that he was caught in it, in the feel of Vin around him, holding onto him. "Why do you always want me to fuck you? Is it part of you and the SM and giving up control?"

Vin's expression went from incredulity to disbelief to amusement within a second. "You idiot." Vin grabbed Ezra's ass with one hand and pulled him down into a hard kiss with the other, his back arching so that he was grinding up. "I want you to fuck me," he breathed, his lungs working as he spoke low and hard, "because you have a big dick and I love how it feels. Now will you get back to doing the fucking, please?"

Ezra's momentary bubble of tension burst into a spreading warmth of happiness, and he got back to it, long, slow, rolling thrusts, building their pleasure higher and higher until they finished, laying entwined in a sticky, sated, joyous heap, Vin wrapped warm and tight against him.


A soft knock on the door heralded Josiah's presence. "You two ready to go?"

Ezra looked up. Josiah was wearing a gray tweed jacket with black leather trim, a white cashmere turtleneck and crisply pressed jeans over polished black boots. He'd watched Vin dress, wondering at the caressingly soft black leather jock strap under Vin's jeans, but he hadn't asked. He didn't want to know if there would be one waiting for him. He did, however, appreciate the fit of the black leather vest Vin put on over the white silk tee shirt. Standing there in jeans and an oxford button-down shirt, Ezra felt out of place, as if he was the only one who hadn't gotten the memo about the dress code.

"Reckon we are," Vin answered Josiah's query, then he smiled reassuringly at Ezra. "We'll get the rest of your gear at Charles' place."

"In that case, we must be ready." Ezra went out and down the stairs. He knew that Charles was sending his car and driver for them, and once they had gathered at Charles' house and he had the rest of his outfit, he would be ready to play his part.

For a limousine, the car was not ostentatious, and Ezra recognized the driver. Frank was more than just a chauffeur, he was Charles' personal assistant. Not, as far as Ezra knew, part of the SM life, but an extremely versatile right-hand man.

"Evening, Mr. Standish." Frank opened the car door. "Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Tanner, it's good to see you again." Frank's easy, welcoming smile helped dispel Ezra's nervousness that was starting to ratchet up again, as did Vin making sure he was sitting close. It was going to be an interesting evening.

When they arrived, they found Charles dressed much as Josiah was: black boots, crisp jeans and an impeccably tailored black leather jacket over a silk shirt.

"Welcome, gentlemen." Charles led the way into his den, then, with a hand on his shoulder, guided Ezra to the settee, where he saw what he assumed was the rest of his costume. "Ezra, these are for you."

Ezra nodded, unbuttoning his shirt as he looked over the rest of his ensemble.

"Josiah, I thought these would work well for Vin." Charles held out a pair of leather wrist bands.

Ezra had pulled on a white silk tee that matched Vin's, sleek and tight to his body. Over that, he slipped into a black leather vest with silver chain closures at the front. He felt more appropriately dressed and, at the same time, more nervous.

"And now, the finishing touch." Charles stood close and held up a thick silver chain, which he draped around Ezra's neck. The last thing Charles did was fasten the chain with a small silver padlock. Standing with both hands on Ezra's shoulders, Charles smiled. "Perfect."

Ducking his head, Ezra grimaced. "If you say so."

"I do." Charles gave his shoulders a shake. "Look at Vin. See how proudly he stands."

It was an effort to look up at Vin, standing with Josiah, tall and confident, now wearing buckled leather wrist bands with D-rings built in, and around his neck, a matching black leather collar, also with rings, fastened by a silver lock. How did he do that, Ezra wondered, look simultaneously proud and subservient? He couldn't do it. The fastening of the collar had brought back all his fears and had his gut roiling.

"Josiah?" Charles was speaking again. "May I have a moment with Ezra?"

Josiah nodded, and as he and Vin turned and left the room, it was all Ezra could do not to scream at them to stay.

"Here, drink this."

Ezra looked at the glass in Charles' hand, wondered when Charles had poured it. He reached out and took it, sipped it. Brandy. He downed the whole drink, feeling the warmth spread in his belly, the hint of relaxation.

"Now, sit down."

The settee was just behind him, so Ezra sat on it, and Charles pulled up a chair to sit facing him.

"I'd tell you to treat tonight as if we were going to a costume party, but we both know it's more than that." He nodded and looked Charles in the eyes. "However, as much as this is a leather community event, it is also a benefit and fund raiser, and I think you will find your skills with the cards to be very useful." Ezra smiled at that despite himself. "You know you're going with me in the role of my slave." He nodded again. "And you're prepared to play the respectful and subservient companion?"

"It will be a stretch of my limited thespian skills, but I will try," Ezra answered drily.

Charles smiled, momentarily amused, then he returned to his seriousness. "There are a few things you need to know. Among our community, slaves can be shared." This news brought a chill to Ezra's gut. "There's a chance that Lewis will try to take you from me. He will not succeed. By putting the collar on you with my monogrammed lock, it marks you as exclusively mine, and the mark is respected by proper Masters." Ezra held Charles' gaze, seeing the honesty there, and he relaxed a little. "Unfortunately, it does not mean you can be rude to him, no matter how obnoxious the little prick is. You will still be playing the part of a slave. Do you understand?"

Ezra leaned back on the settee and nodded one more time. "I do indeed. I am your companion, your slave, for the evening. All due deference must be paid to other Masters. This," he reached to his neck and touched the silver lock, feeling the deep engraving on its face, "keeps me safe from the hands of anyone but you."

"And no matter what you see others doing, you must treat it as a normal occurrence." Now Charles sat back himself, with an honest smile. "I appreciate you doing this. And I truly hope this won't affect any of our future arrangements."

He wasn't sure how to answer that, since he wasn't sure that seeing this other side of Charles' life wouldn't change things for them. For almost a year, Charles had called him when he needed a companion for formal events, and he had enjoyed their dates: concerts, theater, fine dining and great vanilla sex. Charles paid well and treated him as a friend. Ezra didn't want that to change.

"I'm sure it won't." He tried to sound more confident than he felt.

Charles chuckled. "I won't call you a liar to your face, but I hope you're right." He stood up and put the chair back where it belonged. "Now, we should rejoin Josiah and Vin and be on our way."

Ezra was determined to make a success of the evening, and he decided it was none too soon to start playing his part, so he respectfully followed Charles from the room, answering Vin's questioning look with a quick nod. Things were fine, and there was nothing for Vin to worry about. And the more he thought it, maybe he really would convince himself.

Frank had the car waiting for them at the curb, and the four of them got in for the drive to the estate where the benefit was being held. The talk was light and easy, the weather, the latest movie they had all seen, the perfect way to cook a London Broil. The turn up the long drive took them through massive iron gates, past manicured grounds and to an entrance that would suit any European stately home. That was where the resemblance ended. The entry was flanked by a pair of large, muscular men clad in gleaming black leather who nodded deferentially and opened the doors as they walked up.

Inside, the ballroom, in contrast to its marble and mahogany construction, was decorated for this event with bondage frames, ropes, leather slings, chains, and a display of a variety of whips, cuffs and bindings. The sound system played background music with a deep, driving beat to it, industrial and rap and a variety of things in between. Incongruously, on the stage generally reserved for musicians, was a bright, sumptuous buffet. Some of the alcoves along the sides of the room had gaming tables, others had heavy curtains for privacy.

"If you're done staring, you best catch up to your Master." Vin gave Ezra a gentle push, nodding toward Charles' retreating back.

Ezra gave himself a quick mental shake; now was not the time for distraction. He had a job to do. As he moved to catch up to Charles, Ezra thought down the checklist Vin had been drilling into him all week. Call him Master or Sir. Do as you are told. Depend on him to protect you. Above all, make him proud of you, and make everyone else in the room envious of him. He glanced back at Vin, saw how he was standing close to Josiah. He would do his best for Charles.

When he caught up to Charles, he stopped, standing close and just behind him, hands clasped at his back, as Vin had shown him. The quick glance, smile, and nod from Charles told him he was doing things right so far. Ezra stood patiently while Charles chatted with other Masters, did not stare at the other slaves, and managed, over time, to relax. He knew not to expect to be introduced to anyone, and at one level, it was a relief; slaves were part of their Masters, not individuals, at least not at this event. Because of that, no one would remember him in this role, at least, no one who mattered.

As person after person came to greet Charles, Ezra began to realize the status Charles held in the community. He also listened as much to Charles' tone in talking to them as to the words he used, and knew that Charles was as unhappy to be at this event as Ezra was himself.

"Sycophants and toadies," Charles said softly after the last person left them alone.

"Sir?" Ezra asked quietly, stepping in closer to hear better.

Charles turned to Ezra with a brilliant smile. "Idiots who think the appearance is what matters, not the truth of what we do."

Ezra had no response to that, since he thought the whole reason he was there with Charles was for appearances sake.

"They do more harm than good with their costumes and play acting." Charles shook his head. "No matter. It's a single evening, and for us, things are going well." He turned toward the bar. "At this point, I deserve a drink, as do you."

"Then let me play my role and fetch them." Ezra waited for Charles to nod, then he made his way to the bar, ordering a double Old Fashioned for Charles and a Tom Collins for himself. While he waited for the bartender, a man who had not come to talk to Charles moved in, standing toe to toe with Ezra.

"You're Charles' boy, aren't you." The man was dressed head to toe in leather, but he was not wearing a collar, so Ezra took him to be another master.

"Yes, sir."

"What are your skills?"

Ezra didn't like this man. His pugnacious attitude, fueled by the alcohol on his breath, and there was something more about him -- a sense that he wasn't safe close to this man. Luckily, in a room like this, he wasn't alone.

"I do what my Master asks." Ezra hoped a conciliatory approach would give him time to get back to Charles. He took the drinks from the bar and turned away.

"Don't turn your back on me, slave!" The man's hand clamped on his shoulder and Ezra stood stock still, the drinks sloshing over his hands as his belly knotted. Drawing a deep breath, he turned slowly back toward the man. Over the man's shoulder, he saw Vin moving toward them, held back only by Josiah's hand. Ezra shook his head and Vin stopped moving, his face drawn tight in a frown. Ignoring it, he kept turning until he was facing the man again, then he stood still, uncomfortable in the face of the man's slightly manic, self-satisfied smile. "Good boy. You wait until your betters give you permission to leave."

"I'm afraid that could be a while," a new, familiar voice called out, amused. Charles. Thank goodness. "I fear my friend hasn't yet met anyone here who could be called his equal, much less his better." Charles reached for his drink, then he moved to stand in front of Ezra, facing the man challenging them. "You touched my property," Charles said evenly.

"I--" The man looked down then back up at Charles. "My mistake, Master Charles. It won't happen again." He nodded deferentially and turned and walked away.

Charles stood still until the man was across the room, then he looked at Ezra. "You okay?"

"Yes, sir." Ezra nodded at the man across the room. "He doesn't like you much."

"That, my friend, is Lewis. The whole reason we're here tonight." Charles put his arm around Ezra's shoulder. "Now I think we really do deserve to have a quiet drink." He led the way to one of the private alcoves and drew the curtain behind them. "Sit down, relax." Charles also sat and took a long drink. "If you're up for it, I think we need to take Lewis down a peg or two."

"Depends on what you have in mind."

Charles sat back and smiled, a feral expression that had Ezra smiling in return as he listened to Charles' plan.

They waited long enough for Lewis to have cooled off and found something else to do, and they took the time to finish their drinks, enjoying the solitude. Making their way around the perimeter of the room, they stopped at each of the alcoves where poker was being played, watching the games for a few minutes before moving on. In the third alcove, they found Lewis, laughing too loudly, drinking and clearly trying to intimidate his fellow card players. Ezra estimated there was ten thousand dollars in chips in the pot. He stood close to Charles as they watched, and while he wasn't sure what Charles was watching, Ezra was studying the players, particularly Lewis, looking for clues and behaviors and, with luck, their tells.

They were playing five card draw, table stakes. Ezra's hands itched to get into the game, but he knew it wasn't up to him at this point. He had to wait for Charles to make his play, and for that to happen, Charles needed Lewis to play his part.

As Charles had predicted, Lewis made his move when the hand was finished, looking up at Charles. "You interested in joining the game?" Lewis challenged. "We have an open seat." He gestured at the chair opposite him, smiling as if he were innocent.

"Yes, of course," Charles said, smiling back as he pulled out the chair. "My proxy will play in my name." He reached out and put his hand on Ezra's shoulder, possessive. "I'll provide the stake, of course."

The other players were silent as Ezra sat down, and the look on Lewis's face, which went from shock to anger to an attempt at neutrality, was priceless. After a long moment, the dealer picked up the cards and started shuffling. The rest of the players relaxed, but from Lewis, he could still sense hostility. No matter, and better, welcome; that was part of what he needed. The more off balance Lewis was, the easier he would be to beat.

Ezra played the first few hands conservatively, learning the other players, watching the dealer, biding his time. Slowly, he put other details in the back of his mind, knowing Charles was hovering nearby and that Josiah and Vin were not too far away. Gradually, as the cards justified it, he increased his bets, forcing the other players to match him to stay in the game. Eventually, they got to the hand he'd been waiting for. His own cards were very strong, and his read of Lewis told him there was a good likelihood he was bluffing the man was subtle, but the tells were there, a hand to his chest, a brush of his hair. It was time to lure Lewis into his final bet, Ezra thought, as he watched the long fingers drag slowly through Lewis' thick hair and over the crown of his head.

Ezra made a show of picking up his cards and staring at them, swallowing nervously, shifting the order he held them in, then stacking them face down in front of him. From the twitch at the corner of Lewis's mouth, he judged that his ploy had worked. Careful not to overplay things, Ezra toyed with his chips, sorting and stacking, and when the bet came to him, he hesitated just that split second longer than normal before seeing and raising. When it came to Lewis, he smiled and looked Ezra in the eyes, and Ezra knew he was hooked.

"All in." It was all Lewis said as he pushed his chips into the pot, and Ezra couldn't wait to wipe the smugness off his face when the cards were shown.

Now they were the only two left in the game, and Lewis sat back, that smug grin still on his face. Ezra looked at his cards one more time, looked at the amount Lewis had bet, and carefully counted out a matching amount.

"Call." Ezra pushed his own chips in. Lewis's quickly hidden moment of panic was more than he could have hoped for, and Ezra waited, his right hand resting on his cards, his index finger tapping slowly. Across the room, he was aware of Vin's eyes on him, of Josiah talking to someone else even as he had one hand on Vin's shoulder.

Lewis swallowed nervously, but he had no options. One by one, he turned his cards face up, showing his hand. In the end, he had a pair of tens.

Now it was Ezra's turn, and he did the same thing, turning the cards up one by one. Two and four of diamonds, five of clubs, and it was looking as if he had nothing at all. But the last two cards, the three and six of spades filled out his small straight, and after the moment it took for the other players to realize what he had, gasps followed by chuckles were heard all around.

"Mine, I believe," Ezra said as he reached out and swept up the pot. A hand rested on his shoulder and he looked up into Charles' smiling face.

"In fact, I believe it's mine," Charles said.

"You--" Lewis bit back what he was going to say, glaring at the two of them before he pushed back his chair, stalking out of the alcove.

"Gentlemen, if I may?" That was the dealer, and Charles nodded. The dealer collected the chips, sorted and counted, and wrote and signed a receipt. "You may cash in at the cage, and according to the rules of the event, ten percent will be kept for the charity."

"Thank you." Charles pocketed the receipt, then, as Ezra rose, he put a possessive arm around his shoulders, leaning close. "You did that magnificently. I imagine Lewis will never forgive either of us."

They made their way out to the main room where they first stopped at the bar then started toward the buffet, only to stop as Vin appeared in front of them.

"Master," Vin addressed Charles, "permission to speak with Ezra?"

"Of course." Charles turned to Ezra. "Rejoin me when you're finished."

Vin waited until Charles was out of earshot, then he grabbed Ezra's arm. "What the hell did you do to Master Lewis? He's damn near incoherent."

Vin's grin was infectious. "Just beat him at his own game. Cleaned him out at poker. Charles had me play as his proxy."

"I was going to ask how things were going for you," Vin laughed, "but it don't look like I have to." He leaned in close, lowering his voice. "But you best watch out for Lewis. He's madder than a hornet and telling anybody who'll listen that he's going to get even with you."

Ezra nodded soberly. "I suspected he was harboring that sort of sentiment. The fortunate thing is, he has no idea who I am, other than being Charles' companion."

"I've got to go. Josiah sent me to the buffet, and I better get back and let him know what's up." He gave Ezra a quick kiss. "And you can tell me all the details tonight."

He watched for a moment as Vin went on to the buffet and picked up two plates, then scanned the room for Charles. Ezra found him at a small table, sitting with a woman. A woman he recognized from one night at the opera. Charles had introduced her to him as a colleague, and he hadn't considered which sort of colleague that meant.

"Ezra," Charles began, "you remember--"

"Ruby, of course." Ezra extended his hand in greeting, then snatched it back as he remembered where they were. "Excuse my liberties, Mistress."

"Relax, Ezra." Ruby's dark contralto was as lovely as ever. "Please, sit." He did. "I was just telling Charles that Lewis is stirring the pot, trying to convince the organizers to ask him to put on a demonstration, with you as the subject."

"A ... demonstration?" Ezra felt his gut turn to ice. He looked around desperately, trying to find Lewis, to see who he was talking to, as if he could change anything about what was to come. He found him, across the room, talking to a man, gesticulating broadly, obviously describing something that included ropes or bindings. Most disturbing was how the second man was nodding in agreement. When the man started across toward them, Ezra started looking for exits.

"Ezra!" Charles spoke sharply. "Sit still."

He did, but he couldn't stop the rising panic, the way his heart was pounding in his chest, or the massive feeling of relief when he heard a deep voice call out over the crowd.

"Vincent!"

The call was loud enough to still everyone in the room, including, thankfully, the official headed toward their table. Ezra's gaze snapped to Vin, who was now standing tall, alert, looking at Josiah. Seconds later, Vin turned and handed the partly-filled plates to a waiter and strode across the room to Josiah. He dropped to his knees and clasped his hands behind him, head tilted down. His actions brought a hushed murmur of approval from the crowd.

For a long moment, Vin and Josiah were still, then Josiah reached out, touched Vin's face and guided him to his feet.

"What are they doing?" Ezra whispered.

Charles reached over and put a hand on his arm. "Just watch. In fact, come with me." He stood up and led the way closer to the front of the ballroom just as Vin and Josiah got to the large X-frame. "Yes, I think we'll have a good view from here."

"View of what?"

"View of Josiah and Vin saving your bacon."

As Ezra watched Josiah bring Vin up to the frame, he realized exactly what was going to happen, and the answer to his questions came crashing in on him. They were going to do the demonstration that Lewis had been lobbying for. That was what they meant about having his back, that Vin was going to do what Lewis would have demanded of him. He berated himself for ignoring the obvious clues all week, the time Vin spent with Josiah, the continuous reassurances that no one would lay a hand on him, not while Vin was there. Of course they wouldn't, the hands would be laid on Vin, and he had no choice but to stand here and watch it.

The hush was still over the crowd as Josiah stood back and Vin walked to the rack of whips, studying them, touching one or another until he stopped, taking down a cat with long suede tails, his fingers stroking over the long strands of it slowly, seductively, before he turned and lowered his head as he held it out with both hands, offering it to Josiah.

"Wonderful choice," Charles whispered approvingly.

Ezra wasn't sure he needed to have narration for this, but it appeared he was going to get it whether he wanted it or not.

Josiah took the cat, examined it and nodded, then carefully set it aside. As if choreographed, Vin quickly slipped out of his clothes, folding them precisely and laying them in an orderly stack on a nearby chair, until he was wearing nothing but the leather jock, his collar and the leather cuffs. Then Vin moved to the X-frame and extended his arms, his back to the whispering crowd, waiting while Josiah selected ropes for the binding. Thick white cotton rope was Josiah's choice, and he started by fastening a length to the frame near Vin's right hand and another by his left. Vin reached out and took hold of each rope, stretching his arms, flexing his hands and again, waiting. Now, when Ezra expected Josiah to tie some sort of knot, all he did was loop the rope around Vin's cuffs and slip the tails into Vin's hands so that Vin was effectively holding himself in bondage.

Next, Josiah nudged Vin's legs apart, slightly further than shoulder width and simply coiled short lengths of rope around Vin's ankles.

"They didn't expect to see this." Charles was standing close behind Ezra, a hand at his waist, as much, Ezra suspected, to keep him from running out as anything else.

The crowd was doing anything but running out, they were moving closer to the display, still keeping their voices lowered, not, Ezra suspected, wanting to break Josiah or Vin's concentration. The only person who didn't appear enthralled was Lewis, far across the room, but watching, a dark, angry expression on his face.

Josiah slid off his jacket, then picked up the cat and moved up close to Vin, speaking to him so softly no one could hear. When he was done, Vin nodded and Josiah stepped back, but no more than an arm's length. He held the cat by the handle and swung it, getting the feel of the weight and action of the tails. When he was satisfied, he swung wider, letting the tails tease over Vin's ass.

He wasn't sure what he expected, but the sound of the cat as it landed was soft, not like the crack of a whip, yet still firm, and he could see the effect it was having on Vin's skin.

From the right and left, Josiah continued, light strokes across Vin's ass, occasionally to his back and the backs of his thighs.

"You see how lightly he starts? Letting Vin learn the feel of the cat?" Charles moved them both closer to the frame. "You need to be watching Vin's face."

Josiah continued, and Ezra could see that the strokes were gradually getting firmer, stronger, and that Vin's skin was reddening under the punishment. But as he looked at Vin's face, he wondered if it could be called punishment.

"See how Josiah moves the strikes? How he paints Vin's skin?"

Ezra nodded, truly not understanding how this could be considered a good thing. Vin was being whipped, his skin was turning red, and yet, he was smiling.

"And do you see how Vin is letting the pain wash through him, the endorphins changing it from pain to pleasure?"

No, Ezra didn't see that. All he could see was Vin, holding his own ropes, letting a man beat him. And worse, as it continued, tears were now streaming down Vin's face. "You call this pleasure?"

"Vin does." Charles held Ezra closer. "He could stop it any time."

"I don't ... I can't ..."

"I know. And you don't have to. Ever." Charles turned to face Ezra, blocking his view of Vin. "Do you love him?"

"Whores don't fall in love," Ezra gave his automatic response, refusing to allow any thought on the question.

"If you say so." Charles smiled fondly. "Whether you can admit it or not, if you care for him, you must give him the freedom to explore this side of his life. And you won't lose him to it; this is not his life calling."

"But..." Ezra didn't know what to say. All he really wanted to do was run to Vin, stop Josiah from hitting him and take him out of this place.

"Keep watching."

Ezra turned back toward Vin and Josiah, seeing the red skin from shoulder to knee, seeing the tears streaking Vin's face, hearing the harder smack of the whip, wondering if it got worse as the leather took up Vin's sweat, and yet, under it all, recognizing an almost transcendent look to Vin.

Something had changed, and Josiah seemed to see it as well, as his strokes with the cat gradually lessened, both in intensity and area, finally ending as they had begun, with a soft caress of the tails down the length of Vin's body.

When Ezra tried to pull away, Charles held him tightly. "No. Let them finish."

So, he stood and watched as Josiah unwound the ropes from Vin's ankles and carefully released each trembling hand, the absolute gentleness as he helped Vin move his limbs, and the compassion as he sank to the floor, Vin in his arms, nestled against his chest.

The demonstration over, the crowd applauded, and the loud noise startled Ezra; he'd almost forgotten there were others in the room. Again, he wanted to go to Vin when he saw him start at the noise, and again he was held back by Charles, but also saw Josiah caring for Vin, a hand over his ear as he spoke quietly, cradling him away from the others.

"Vin will come to you when he's ready, and Josiah will keep him safe until then." Charles steered him toward the bar. "And in the mean time, you need a drink."

A few minutes later they were sitting on the edge of the room, away from the crowd, and he was holding a large bourbon. He felt shaky and unsettled, and didn't think liquor would help, but didn't know what would, either.

"I'm going to cash in our winnings. Will you be alright alone?"

Ezra nodded. "Yes, sir." At least he could still keep the pretense going. He watched Charles walk away, then he leaned forward, elbows on his knees, holding his glass in both hands, staring at the amber-colored liquor. He wasn't sure how long he'd sat when he was aware of Vin and Josiah approaching. Vin was dressed again, moving carefully and Josiah had an arm around him, helping him along. When Ezra would have jumped to his feet, he was stilled by a signal from Josiah, so he waited, letting them come to him, more than pleased when Vin sat down close to him, leaning against him, and he carefully put his arm around Vin.

"Is this permitted?" he asked Josiah.

"It is if I say it is," Josiah answered. He gestured at Ezra's glass. "May I?" Ezra nodded and held out the glass. With both hands free, he held Vin protectively, scowling when Josiah chuckled. "He's not damaged, Ezra. He's coming down from the endorphins." Josiah patted Ezra's shoulder. "I'm going to find Charles so we can take our leave."

Once they were on their own, Ezra looked at Vin. "Are you really okay?"

"More than okay," Vin answered softly, moving Ezra's hand over his crotch and his hard dick.

That was an answer, to be sure, but it left Ezra even more confused. He knew he'd never understand how Vin could like this, yet there it was, absolute evidence that Vin did like it. Fortunately, his mental gymnastics were interrupted by Josiah and Charles returning.

"Frank has the car ready, and I think we've done enough entertaining for tonight." Charles held out his hand to Ezra, and as much as he hated to, Ezra gave over Vin to Josiah's care and went along with Charles.

The deference they were all given by the crowd as they made their way to the door amused Ezra. So, all they had to do was beat one loudmouth at his own game and have his friends put on an exceptional performance, and the crowds would part at their approach. Most of them, anyway. Of course, before they could reach the door, Lewis stood in their path, tense, hands fisted at his side, a banty rooster challenging them.

"Step aside," Charles said firmly.

"Or what?" Lewis snarled.

Charles drew himself up to his full height, and took one step closer to Lewis. "Do you really want to know the answer to that?"

Lewis glanced back and forth between Charles and Josiah, seeing the futility of his position, and stepped back and to the side. "Perhaps not tonight."

Charles strode forward, and Ezra followed, feeling Josiah and Vin alongside him, resisting the urge to look back and make sure there wouldn't be another attack from behind, but there was nothing more, and once they were outside in the evening air, he took a deep breath and concentrated on relaxing.

Rather than return to Charles' house, Frank drove them directly to their own house. Saying their goodnights, Josiah helped Vin from the car and they went in, but Ezra hesitated, needing a moment with Charles, or so he thought, but Charles didn't seem to agree. "Go on. See to Vin. If you have any questions, ask Josiah. And he has the key to your collar. I'll get it back the next time I see you."

He felt he had somehow failed to fulfill his contract for the evening, but he wasn't going to argue. He did, however, stop long enough to give Charles a deep kiss. "Thank you, sir, it has been a most instructive evening."

Ezra stood on the front step long enough to see the car make the first turn to take Charles home then went inside. Josiah was waiting for him, a jar of cream in his hand. "Vin is in his room. He'll need this on his back." He handed Ezra the jar. "And you'll be wanting this." He held out the key to the silver lock.

"But I thought you usually took care of--"

"Yes, usually, I do." Josiah gently steered him toward the stairs. "But this is as much for you as it is for Vin. Now go."

He took the key and went. He found Vin sprawled naked, face down on his bed, the skin of his back red and patterned with stripes.

"Hmmm... you got the cream?" Vin turned his head to look at Ezra, smiling when he saw him. "Good. Just rub it all over, real gentle like."

He'd thought to get out of his costume, but didn't want to take any extra time before helping Vin. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Ezra opened the jar, scooped out some cream and started at Vin's shoulders, carefully rubbing over the reddened skin, which was still over-warm to the touch. As he worked, he heard Vin making small sounds, sounding for all the world as if he were purring. When he touched Vin's ass, the purring turned into moans, and Vin pushed back against his hands.

"Fuck me."

"What?"

"I said, fuck me." Vin shifted enough to look up at him. "Josiah got me all wound up, and I need you to fuck me. So, get out of them clothes and get to it."

Confusion warred with desire, and since it was Vin asking, desire won a decisive victory. He stripped out of his clothes, rummaged in the side table to find a condom and lube, then he had a moment of panic. "But your back..."

Vin grunted as he pushed up from the bed. "Just get over here on yours and I'll be fine and dandy."

He lay down in the spot Vin had vacated, let go when Vin snatched the condom from him, hissed at the rough handling as Vin rolled it onto him, and strangled a shout as Vin impaled himself on Ezra's cock. Vin rode him hard, demanding more and more, harder and deeper, and Ezra was more than happy to comply. They fucked with abandon, noisy and energetic, and more than once, Ezra was sure someone was peeking in the door at them, and he didn't care. This was about Vin coming home to him after a night in that other world, and he wanted everyone to know how it was. He thrust hard as Vin rode him, slamming their bodies together, reveling in the heat inside Vin and the heat of his punished skin, and when Vin sat down hard on him and fisted his dick, the clench of muscle as Vin came, the heat of jizz on his belly, and he was there, too, coming hard, driving up against Vin over and over until there was nothing left. He fell back, Vin collapsed against his chest, and he lay there, happy like he hadn't felt in years. Maybe ever.


What smelled like really good, really strong coffee slowly drew Ezra from sleep, and he opened his eyes to the vision of a large mug mere inches from his face. The question was, who was holding it? He could feel Vin next to him, stretched lazily on his stomach, so that meant...

"Josiah. To what do I owe the honor of this early morning visit? And is that cup of temptation for me?"

"It is." Josiah's deep, rumbling voice was full of warmth and affection. "And you can have it as soon as you sit up."

Never would Ezra be called a fool, so he sat up, took a moment to check that Vin was still asleep, and took the mug from Josiah, holding it in both hands as if it was the most precious thing he'd ever seen, which, on a morning like this, it probably was. After a long moment to savor the aroma, he took a careful sip, and found it tasted as good as he expected it to.

"I came up," Josiah began, "to make sure everything was okay up here, and I see that I needn't have worried. You want me to take care of this for you?" He touched the collar Ezra was still wearing.

"Leave it on him." So, Vin wasn't asleep after all. "It's a good look for him."

Ezra touched the chain, running his fingers along it to the engraved lock. "I think I'd prefer it off." He looked Josiah in the eyes. "Not that I don't appreciate everything it means, but..."

"But you don't think it's you."

"I'm quite sure it's not. But I'm also quite sure that I will remember wearing it with great--"

"Fear?" Vin interjected. "Gut-wrenching terror, maybe?"

"No," Ezra said quietly. "I was thinking more along the lines of an understanding of what it means and what you do and hoping against hope never to find myself in a situation like that again."

Josiah said nothing, simply looked at Ezra, and he felt like his innermost thoughts were being examined. When Josiah eventually nodded, there was a sense of relief. The lock was unlocked, the chain removed from his neck, and once relocked, the collar was placed carefully on the dresser.

After Josiah left them, Ezra sat for a moment, finishing the coffee, then he put the mug on the side table. No, he didn't think he'd ever understand what they did, but the one thing he did truly know now, Vin wanted to do it. No one forced him, no one hurt him, and if Ezra tried to get in the way of that, it could destroy the relationship the two of them had, and that was not an option.

"Stop thinking so much," Vin mumbled from his pillow, "and get the cream."

Smiling, he reached for the jar and pulled the sheet down to expose Vin's skin. Most of the marks had faded, but there were a few across his ass that needed attention. Again, as he applied the cream, Vin sighed softly, then pulled Ezra down next to him. He didn't know if it was his hands or Vin's memories that had Vin hard and humping against Ezra's hip, but he didn't much care as he pulled Vin up so the humping was working for both of them. Vin was right. Sometimes thinking too much got in the way of what was really important.