Couples Night at the Interest Only Club is always a useful hunting ground for me. The left hand end of the floor, furthest from the bar, is turned over to retailers, and I take a stall, and lay out a small selection of garments and a large selection of catalogues. It has to be that way round because I do almost no off-the peg clothes. It does mean that I don’t need to hang around: I come and go pretty much as I please. Kate who does the jewellery has the next stall, and she looks after mine as well, and if people want to talk to me she points me out. It’s a fair exchange: I keep the leather off-cuts for her and she makes things from them, or uses them in a display.
This particular time, Barbara grabbed my arm the minute I stepped through the door. She’s as tall as I am, and she looked pretty fabulous, although it’s a brave man who would tell her so, and I naturally didn’t; I’m hyper-critical.
“Turn round, Barb, and let me see. Something isn’t right here. Yes, look, who laced this up for you? It’s squint. No wonder it doesn’t fit. Who did it?”
She cast a glance at her sub, who was kneeling at her feet, which promised nothing good for him later on. He seemed pleased.
“And I’ve told you before about scarlet lipstick. What else have you got?”
“Robert, I have no pockets. You wouldn’t give me any. I can’t carry lipstick.”
“Liar. Somewhere you have a thing like a cabin trunk. Where is it, in the cloakroom? You always have it. Have you any other lipsticks?”
We ended up in the cloakroom with me going through her make-up bag sorting out lipsticks.
“Never wear slut red; I’ve told you that before. It makes you look like a little girl dressing up. You want orange reds or deep blood red. For that dress, wear this one. Wipe your mouth. Now put this on. These two are absolute non-starters for you, always.”
She obediently repainted her mouth, and picked up all the lipsticks to return them to her bag. I took the right one from her hand, and glared at her, until she sighed and dropped the two bright reds into the bin.
“Robert, if you ever tell anybody that you tell me what to do and I do it. . .”
“I know. You’ll tear my balls off and stuff them down my throat. Now, look, I made a collar purse from the off-cuts, so put your lipstick and your money in that, and it’ll go on what’s-his-name’s chain. Now you look like a million dollars. Well, like six hundred thousand at least. I told you that the green would be good for you: it’s much more unusual than either red or black, and it makes you look unbelievably expensive.”
“Possibly because it was unbelievably expensive?”
“Be fair, Barb. I gave you a good price and I’ve promised not to make this for anyone else for three months. What more do you want? Blood?”
“Well, since you ask. . .”
“Barb darling, should I ever decide that I’m tired of life, be sure that I will come to you.”
“Seriously, Rob, I do want you to do something for me.”
“Surprise! What is it? New outfit for the Tarts’ Ball?”
“I want you to take Angus’s sub away from him.”
“Sorry, Barb, I think we must be too close to the band. For a moment I thought you said that you wanted me to take Angus’s sub.”
“No, I recognise all the words, but the sentence doesn’t convey anything to me. Consider: firstly, you know that I don’t do the scene, so I don’t need a sub. Secondly, anyone whose been subbing for Angus is probably in so far that I wouldn’t even recognise the acts. And thirdly, why would I want any of Angus’s leavings?”
“Have you seen Angus’s latest sub?”
“I have not had that pleasure.”
“He’s awfully young. And he hasn’t been here long. He arrived from the back end of beyond a couple of months ago and Angus got him at once. And I don’t think he’s enjoying himself.”
“Well, if he’s a sub, he isn’t supposed to enjoy himself, is he?”
“You know quite well what I mean. I don’t know what Angus has been doing to him, but he’s unhappy, he’s in too far, and I don’t think he knows how to get out again. Angus was putting him up for auction at the last Members Only night.”
“Was he taken?”
“No. I tried for him myself, but Angus wouldn’t take my bid.”
“You bid for him? Why would you want a gay sub? I presume if he’s with Angus he is gay, not bi?”
“Tart with a heart, that’s me. I bid for him to get him away from Angus for the evening. Angus was threatening him with all sorts; apparently he refused to do something Angus wanted.”
“Barb, you’re losing your touch. Your sub’s always refusing to do something. We all know what he’s after. Presumably this boy was doing the same.”
“He’s not. Robert, I’m ten years older than you at least, although you needn’t repeat it. I’ve been a dom since you were at school, which is neither yesterday nor the day before, and I’ve been coming to this club since you were designing cardigans for chain stores. I know what I’m looking at. This boy was really scared. Not apprehensive, scared. And he wasn’t just pleasantly humiliated either; he was in an absolute agony of mortification. There was nothing keeping him on his feet except pride, and it was Paradise Lost pride, too. I’ve got enough clout round the scene to make things awkward for Angus, but if that sub thinks that somebody pities him, he’ll stay with Angus out of pride, and he’ll come to harm.”
“And this affects me how?”
“Don’t be so bloody precious! How long have I known you? I’m quite well aware that this persona you put on here isn’t you. I don’t like the Club Robert much: he’s a remote pretentious know-all. But I’ve always quite liked the other Robert; I thought he was real. Angus is mistreating his sub. Do something about it.”
“And if I don’t do what you want, presumably you’ll go to another designer?”
For a moment I thought she would hit me; then she hissed at me like an angry kettle, turned and strode away. I gave her five minutes before I followed.
“Barb? I apologise. That was Precious Robert being catty. I didn’t mean it.”
She swung her crop and I was careful not to flinch. Then she smiled and touched me on the arm and we were friends again. “Show me this boy and tell me what you want me to do.”
“I don’t know. I want him taken away from Angus. I can’t stand cruelty.”
“Barb, you’re a dom! You’ve always been a dom! Cruelty is what you do!”
“Not wanton cruelty. This is turning my stomach. This is giving us all a bad name. Look, that’s him.”
I looked. Barbara was right: he was young to be dressed so, and he was scared. I had a sudden and unhelpful thought that if I could dress him for the next season’s catalogue, I would double sales. He was coltishly tall, still all leg but with the promise of width yet to come in the chest and shoulder. He was also wearing, at a conservative estimate, seven hundred pounds worth of metal and leatherwork. He looked ridiculous, but as I said, I don’t do the scene, so I would think so, wouldn’t I?
(You may well ask, if I don’t do the scene, why was I there in the first place? I like the clothes. The clothes are my thing, and once I became a designer I found that the people who do do the scene tend to have disposable income and are prepared to spend it on exotic clothing. I’m making a very comfortable living and reputation, thank you. And I don’t object to the scene. I have played in my time, but only in the shallow water, and really only to accommodate a lover. I can do it, if I want to, but I don’t care to sub, and I’m no fun to anyone who wants a serious dom. I can do the verbal, but I’m not good at the physical. And I tend to be six months out of date with the slang.)
He was trailing along very properly in Angus’s wake, and Angus was clearly furious, and not putting it on. I winked at Barb, and drifted unobtrusively after them. They ended up in a corner near my stall, so I had a perfectly good excuse to arrange myself close enough to eavesdrop.
“I’ve had enough of this. You are going to do as you are told, or you are simply going to go. I’ll put you up to the auction again, and it won’t be just for the evening. It’ll be for good. I made you, and I’ll break you. Are you prepared to obey me?”
The answer was barely more than a whisper. “I can’t.”
“Go and tell Steve – look, that’s him – that I want you entered in the auction.”
He went. I did my unobtrusive drift again, back to Barb and told her what I had heard.
“How are you going to get him?”
“Buggered if I know. Depends on what else is offered. Who else is selling tonight?”
I’m not keen on the auction. Some of the subs are put up for ‘sale’, and doms will bid something that they think the owner will want, basically to allow them to swap subs. It’s too much cattle market and not enough safe sex for my liking, although I admit I’ve never seen an unwilling sub participate. Some of them claim to be unwilling, but you know what I mean. I’ve never really believed that a sub hadn’t consented. This time I honestly wasn’t sure.
“Rob, it won’t come down to that. It’ll come to what you can offer. What can you offer?”
We stared at each other. “Basically you want me to swallow my pride in order to save his.”
“And what am I supposed to tell him afterwards, assuming I get him? How are we going to reconcile what I pay for him with the fact that I don’t want him?”
“Think about that afterwards.”
“Thanks, Barb, big help. You are going to owe me big, big time. If I get him, you are going to have to buy all your clothes from me, scene stuff and ordinary work clothes, until you die. And recommend me to all your friends. And keep me supplied with gin. And visit me in the lunatic asylum to which I fully expect to be committed almost at once.”
“All of the above. Will you do it?”
“I can’t imagine why I’m agreeing to this. I’m going to bid my reputation to buy a young man I don’t know, I don’t want, and who won’t want me. Barb, I’m going to sell some clothes. Come and get me when they’re ready to bid.”
By the time the bidding started, I had at least got an idea of what to offer. Various subs changed hands before Angus was called.
“This is Gavin. He’s inexperienced, and extremely disobedient. He wants a permanent owner: no reserve on this sale.”
He had his eyes shut. He wasn’t there; the body was, but Gavin had gone.
There were three offers in before I stepped forward.
“I bid, Angus. You know who I am. I’ll offer you a complete outfit for either you or your sub, made to your specification.”
It got a big reaction. Frankly, it was a bloody good offer, with a commercial value in big numbers. It was going to cost me in sweat, too, because Angus’s taste runs to buckles and black leather and he has no originality. It would be extremely difficult to make anything for him that he would like without damaging my reputation for producing the unusual. On the other hand, Angus wouldn’t think how unlikely it would be for me to take him on as a client – he would merely assume that I needed the work.
“Give me a timescale. I like the bid.”
“End of next month. In time for the Tarts’ Ball. And exclusive. No repeats for sale.”
That did it. Ten minutes later, Gavin was mine, but Angus had a final humiliation in store for him. He wanted his leatherwork back, and proceeded to strip the boy in my sight of wristbands, collar, belt, harness and so on. Frankly, I thought it improved the view, but he wasn’t gentle. Eventually he held out his hand. “Earring. I gave you that. And the other rings too.”
Gavin opened his shirt. Angus reached forward and recovered the two nipple rings. “There. He’s all yours. Wish you joy of him. When do we start on the clothes?”
“That’s my business card. Call me on Monday and we’ll make an appointment. Come, Gavin. I need to clear my stall and then we can go.”
He stood quietly while I cleared up, said goodnight to Kate, and to Barb, who winked at me but said nothing, and prepared to leave. When I lifted one bag of catalogues, he took the other, and followed me to the door, and down the street to my car.
“Please, sir, I don’t know your name.”
“Robert. And you don’t need to call me sir. Don’t worry; you’ll be able to get back into whatever you want to do. I design clothes for the scene, and I needed a big advertising coup, which Angus will give me. I’m not looking for a sub. I’m afraid you just got caught in the fallout. Where can I drop you?”
I actually had to catch him – his knees buckled. Then I backed him against my car for support (he’s bigger than me) and he screamed. It wasn’t much of a sound, and he swallowed it, but he twisted away from the car and fell to his knees, and when I leaned over him, he was mewing with pain.
“What? What is it? Tell me!”
I put my hand on his shoulder, and he leaped under my touch, struggling back to his feet, and bracing himself on the bonnet of the car.
“Nothing. It’s nothing. Angus punished me. It’s nothing.”
The habit of obedience to any authoritative voice made him remove his coat and roll up his shirt without question. Even in the streetlight I could see the mass of welts across shoulder and back. I swore, softly, but with conviction.
“When did he do this?”
“Tonight, early on.”
“Gavin, is this what you like?”
The shake of the head was so small that another observer might have missed it. I made a snap decision.
“Wait. I’ve got a blanket in the boot. Let me pad the seat for you. Now, get in. I’m taking you to my place. It isn’t far. I won’t do anything. I promise.”
It’s as well that it wasn’t far, because he was shaking uncontrollably by the time we got there, and I had to brace him up the steps with his arm round my neck.
“Get your shirt off and let’s have a look. Fucking hell! What did he do this with?”
“I don’t know. I was blindfolded. Some sort of whip.”
“Is this all, or is there more?”
He stripped dutifully, and turned his back. Angus had worked him over from the nape of his neck to his knees, and he would, if I knew anything about it, carry the marks for a month.
“Wait. Let me pull the sofa bed out. No, don’t try to help. Now, lie down and let me have a proper look. Well, I don’t think the skin’s broken, but it’s more by luck than judgment. At least he’s missed the danger spot: don’t ever let anybody beat you in the area over your kidneys, you can do real harm. Angus knows what he’s doing, physically at least. Ice first, I think. Stay there.”
I found a couple of towels and made ice packs, sacrificing a packet of frozen vegetables to the greater cause. Then I sat beside him, and applied ice and bracing common sense in equal measure.
“How the hell did you get into this? Any fool can see it isn’t what you’re looking for.”
“I answered an ad in a magazine. It was Angus. I’d never done anything like that before. I didn’t know what to expect. I had always wanted to! And then. . .”
“Yes, well, I don’t suppose you’re the first to find that the fantasy is all very well but the reality doesn’t match up. And the Interest Only is a bit intense for a beginner. You might have done better somewhere smaller. What were you thinking of to let him do so much tonight?”
“Once I was in, I kept thinking that next time would be different. And it wasn’t Angus’s fault: he thought he was giving me what I wanted, and I didn’t like to complain.”
“You got into this mess because you were too embarrassed to admit you had made a mistake? And frankly, some of it at least must be Angus’s fault. He’s been a dom for years. He ought to know by now how to judge what a sub really wants. Did you let him know he could use a whip?”
“Well, no, but. . .”
“Why in the name of all that’s wonderful didn’t you use your safe word?”
“Didn’t have one.”
I was actually speechless. We all say that we’ve been rendered speechless occasionally, but I’m not sure that I had ever experienced the literal reality before. I was hyperventilating, and my mind was alternating between ‘you stupid bastard, you deserved everything that happened to you for failing to use the brains with which you were presumably issued’, and ‘you poor puppy, you aren’t fit to go out without a minder’.
“I’m fascinated. You had no safe word, so Angus could do as he liked, and he sold you for disobedience. What on earth did he want that you wouldn’t obey?”
“He wanted to do. . . things. . . and I wouldn’t.”
I cast my mind rapidly over what I know of Angus’s reputation. “Things with soapy water?”
“Um. . . yes. I wouldn’t.”
“Don’t blame you. I won’t either.”
“And he persuaded me to get my ear pierced, and that was great, although what my dad’s going to say I don’t know.”
“Is he likely to object?”
“He’s a Methodist minister.”
“A little place near Cardiff.”
Well, that explained some of the vowels. “You’re a long way from home. Don’t they do this sort of thing in Cardiff?”
“They probably do, but my dad was having so much trouble with me coming out, I thought I should go far enough away not to damage his reputation. He was trying to be sympathetic, but he doesn’t really understand. And my mam did her nut.”
“Well, an earring isn’t too bad, but the nipple rings might turn them up a bit. Were they Angus’s idea?”
“Yes. I liked them too. But then he wanted me to be pierced again, you know, and I didn’t want to.”
He cast a glance downward, and I nodded. “Yes, I think you need to be sure that you’re serious before you do that.”
“Then he wanted me to get a tattoo, and I don’t want one of those either.”
I had to laugh; I really couldn’t help it. “Sweetheart, you don’t want a tattoo, and you don’t want a ring, and you don’t want soapy water, and you don’t want to be beaten, so what the hell are you doing here? What DO you want?”
He turned his head away painfully and wouldn’t answer me; I didn’t press him. I mopped up the by now tepid water, and dried his back gently. “Let me throw out the sweetcorn and find my cricket bag.”
That startled him. “Your what?”
“I’ve got some of that stuff they call Magic Spray. It’s all right, I’m not going to do you over with the bat. I keep the spray for when I get hit on the hands: I can’t afford to damage my hands, with the work I do. I shouldn’t really play at all, but I love it. It’ll make you more comfortable, and then you can go into my bed and I’ll sleep out here, and I’ll take you home in the morning.”
We argued over that for a bit, but I won. I made tea, and persuaded him to drink some, and to eat some biscuits. He was still trembling, and I thought he needed the sugar. Then I tucked him up in bed and went back to the sofa bed and lay on it wondering about the fragile innocence that he still exuded. I worked through the names of all the doms I knew, looking for one who might make him happy; I was quite sure that the word ‘victim’ was stamped right through him like ‘Blackpool’ through a stick of rock. I had just decided that I didn’t have to do all the knight errantry stuff myself, and that it was Barbara’s job to find him a dom, when he called me.
“What is it?”
“I’m shaking. I can’t get warm. I’m sorry.”
I went in to him. He was indeed shaking, so I slid in next to him, and pushed an arm under him. He came to my chest, and I put one hand gently on the back of his neck and the other on the unbruised bit of his back, and held him. “Better?”
“Relax. Go to sleep. It’ll be better in the morning.”
He sighed, and did begin to relax. Ten minutes later, a sleepy voice in my ear said wistfully, “I only wanted to be spanked.” He was asleep before I could turn my head to look at him.
He could hardly move in the morning. He made it unaided into the bathroom, but I had to dose him with painkillers afterwards. “Gavin, where do you live? And where do you work?”
“I live near the station, and I work on the Heathlands Industrial Estate. Why?”
“You aren’t fit to go home. I think we should go and get you some clothes and whatever you need, and you should stay here for a bit. I’ll drive you to work, although it might be a good idea if you were to take a couple of days’ leave. I can’t think of any story you could tell to explain why you can’t move.”
“I can’t stay with you! You said, you don’t want a sub! You’ve been very kind, but I must go.”
“Why? I wouldn’t ask you to stay if I didn’t mean it. You could do with looking after, and I could do with some company.”
That was the basis of the discussion, repeated da capo for half an hour, until I won. Then we went to his flat and packed a bag for him, and came home again. He passed the day on an invalid diet of tea and painkillers, but he was fit to go to work the next day. We invented a ricked back to explain his obvious stiffness, and I looked after him gently for a week. We shared a bed, but although he made it delicately clear that he would be pleased to oblige me in whatever I wanted, it wasn’t my style. I want more in the way of consent than that. Informed consent, if you like. I want affection, not gratitude.
It was surprisingly enjoyable. We behaved almost like a couple of long standing, sharing the cooking and the chores, watching silly programmes on TV and doing the crossword together. He was terribly embarrassed when I heard him sing in the bath: he actually had that clear Welsh tenor which I had always assumed to be a myth. We didn’t talk much about the club, although I made some general comments on the desirability of reading all the menu before placing an order, and on the basic common sense of having a safe word and a definite idea of what you wanted rather than just what you didn’t. In exchange he dropped the occasional remark that convinced me that I really didn’t like Angus.
“No doors? What do you mean, no doors?”
“He’s taken out all the internal doors in his house. Bathroom and all. Wherever you go, whatever you’re doing, he can walk in on you.”
I shuddered. “Feel free to lock the bathroom door. I couldn’t be doing with that at all. Gavin, why did you stay with him? I mean, after you realised that he wasn’t giving you what you wanted?”
“I couldn’t go. I just couldn’t. He knew me; it’s just one of those horrible coincidences. He knows my family, and he said something that implied that if I didn’t do as I was told, he’d tell them what I was doing.”
“Blackmail? Are you sure?”
“No. That’s the trouble. I’m not sure. He said it at a time when I wasn’t quite. . . paying attention. But I couldn’t possibly risk it, could I? I couldn’t do what he wanted, but I couldn’t leave either. It was ghastly.”
I thought about it. That put an entirely new complexion on everything. “Well, not having heard it myself, I couldn’t guess what he meant. But think about it. He couldn’t out you without outing himself too, and surely if he did, your family, however shocked they were, would side with you as injured innocence, over Angus as the great corrupting influence? I mean, he’s twice your age. He wouldn’t gain anything. What’s more, I’ve known him, or rather of him, for years, and I’ve never heard a hint of him being actually abusive that way. The doms tend to police each other quite strictly, because they really don’t want anybody doing anything that might interest the authorities. He’s got a reputation as a very heavy dom, and I don’t deny that he dealt rather badly with you, but he isn’t a monster.”
“So you think I imagined it?”
“N-no. But I wonder if you misunderstood him, and he never expected you to believe it. I wonder if he were just using all the tools to hand to give you a frisson. After all, he never did it, did he? And I should have thought that if he had meant it, you wouldn’t have been in any doubt. No, I think you’re seeing dragons where there aren’t any.”
I did some very productive work that week, rather to my surprise, although when I came to make the sketches I realised that in every case the model was the same.
“Gavin? Would you think of wearing some things for the next catalogue? I’ve got a mate who does the photos for me, a lovely girl with a great eye. I think I could make some classy stuff, and you would look like the bee’s roller skates.”
“Sure, why not? Just don’t send my mam a copy. And Rob, I’ve been thinking. If you don’t want Angus to know that what you actually bid for was him to wear your clothes, do you want me to be here when he comes? I can kneel in the corner and look like the sub you don’t have.”
“Hell and damnation, I never even thought of that. Smart thinking, brat. He’s coming on Tuesday night at eight. Come after work and I’ll feed you, and we can look as if we’re getting it on very successfully.”
He did, and I took one look at the suit he wore to work and had a complete conniption fit. “He will never believe that you’re my sub. Absolutely no way that I would ever let you wear that. It doesn’t even fit! What happened to the one you were wearing last week? No, never mind, don’t tell me. Workroom, now. Let me see what I can find. You can’t wear any of my clothes, you’re too tall. What have I got left over? Not scene stuff, real clothes. Look, these are good. Are they long enough in the legs? Just about. Angus won’t notice. Put on the silk shirt too. Yes, you look good enough to eat.”
He went very still, and I wondered if I had offended him, but then he smiled and made some flip remark, and I thought I had imagined it. I suddenly noticed: “You haven’t replaced your earring.”
“No. I just wasn’t comfortable buying a new one. I don’t know why. I haven’t bought new nipple rings either.”
“Do you want not to wear one? Or will you wear one if I give it to you?”
“If you want me to wear one, I’ll wear one.”
“Look, I just thought: my sister brought me these. She brings me a new earring every time she goes abroad on business; it’s a family joke. When she went to Hong Kong she couldn’t get a single earring, so she bought a pair. They’re just studs, with a tiny gold dragon hanging. If I wear one and you wear the other. . . no, keep it.”
“That’s cute! Won’t your sister mind if you give one away?”
“Why should she? She knew I would only wear one, and she won’t mind if I give the other one to a friend.”
He went still again, and then tried to put the stud into his ear. It wouldn’t go, and I took it from him. “Let me. There. Now, look in the mirror. We’re a handsome couple, aren’t we? Remember it when Angus comes. Listen, I can hear a car. That’s probably him now.”
It was. He ignored Gavin absolutely, rather to my surprise, but to Gavin’s obvious relief. Whatever Angus had said or meant, he plainly no longer had any interest in Gavin. I produced catalogues, and leather samples and fabrics, and Gavin, unprompted, made coffee, and then sat silently beside me. He hadn’t made coffee for himself, and at one point I looked up and caught his eye. He glanced deliberately at my coffee cup and back at me, and I read his mind, and gave him the cup, and let him drink, and took it back. Angus dropped pieces of leather on the floor, and Gavin silently picked them up and sorted them back into order.
It took most of the evening to get anything agreed. Angus wanted to look like a refugee from the Seventies. I wanted him to look as if he had been dressed by me. We did eventually achieve a compromise. Then Angus leaned back on my sofa and asked genially, “How are you getting on with Gavin? Persuaded him to do as he’s told yet?”
“I find him very biddable,” I said primly, and Gavin, who was standing behind Angus, doubled up with silent laughter. “Cheeky, though,” I added, and he bridled expansively and blew me a kiss.
“Ain’t that the truth,” agreed Angus. Gavin snorted.
“I don’t need to give Rob the lip I gave you. He’s listening when someone else speaks!”
Angus’s eyes widened. I thought it best to put a stop to the conversation before worse happened. “Come here, brat. Apologise to Angus. At once.”
I dealt him two noisy spanks. “Corner. Now. When I’ve shown Angus out, you and I will have a little conversation about your manners.”
He went to the corner submissively, but I wasn’t fooled. He was laughing again. I saw Angus to his car, and came back. Gavin was still in the corner. “Come on. Let’s make more coffee. You can have one of your own this time. That was very nicely done. I think we’ve sustained everybody’s reputation, don’t you?”
He came back to the sofa. “I think so. That’s going to be a snappy outfit, isn’t it?”
“Mm. Would have been better in the grey, mind you. Still, the customer is always right. Gavin, if I made you trousers from the grey leather, would you wear them? I’m just thinking, if Angus is going to wear that at the Ball, I wouldn’t mind having some of my ordinary stuff on show too, and you’ve got such good legs.”
“I can’t afford your clothes, Rob. Not on my salary.”
“No, I didn’t mean that. I’ll run some up from the samples, and you can just have them if you’ll wear them around and mention my name to anybody who admires them. And believe me, people will. I’m good. Modesty is all very well, but when it comes to clothes, I am good.”
“You are. I really covet this shirt.”
“Well, I’ll do a couple more in the right colours to go with the trousers and you can have those too. Deal?”
We drank our coffee, and I mused vaguely about work, and life and stuff generally, and I thought suddenly that I really liked this boy, despite usually feeling that subs, although a good source of income, were weird people and not for me.
“Gavin, how old are you?”
“Twenty-three. How old are you?”
“I’ll be thirty next month. I’d have thought you were younger.”
“Because I’m stupid? Because I got myself into a mess?”
“Call it naïve, rather than stupid. Look, I’ve got to tell you something. I’ve been lying, or at least being economical with the truth. It’s not precisely true that I bid for you to get at Angus, although it is going to come out well for me. I bid for you because Barbara said I had to. Do you know Barbara? She bid for you once before.”
He knew her. He listened through the whole tale, with his face growing steadily whiter and whiter. At the end, he rose with huge dignity, and then spoiled the effect by casting half a cup of tepid coffee in my face and bolting for the door. Barb was right: Miltonian pride. Fall of angels pride. I just hoped he hadn’t gone back to Angus. I went into the kitchen and dried my face, and wondered if I would see him again. Just then, the letterbox rattled, and when I went out to the hall, I found, lying on the mat, a single gold earring with a Chinese dragon.
The clothes arrived back in a parcel two days later. I bagged up his suit and took it round to his flat, but he wouldn’t open the door, although I knew he was there. I left the bag on the mat, and went away again, and quarrelled with two of my friends, and played abominably badly in a cricket match, batting like a number ten rather than a number three, running myself out and dropping two catches. Yes, of course it’s obvious what was wrong with me. It was apparently obvious to everybody except me.
Then he came back. He had been gone a week, and he came to the door. I was so surprised that when I opened it, I just gawped at him stupidly.
“I’m sorry. I just came to say that. I shouldn’t have thrown your coffee at you. That’s all.” He was actually turning away again when I recovered my voice. “Will you come in, Gavin?”
“Do you want me to?”
“Yes! Look, we really need to talk about this. Please come in. Please.”
He stepped inside, and we stood in the hall and looked at each other. I was grinning foolishly. “Rob, I’m sorry I flew off the handle. I just. . . It was just. . . I felt. . .”
“I know. I hurt your pride. I’m sorry too. Have you gone back to Angus?”
“No! I may be dim, but I’m not that dim! And it wasn’t your fault. Barbara was right. I was in over my head. I did need to be rescued. You’re not a very likely knight in shining armour, but I’m glad you turned out for me.”
“Knight in surrogate Armani, that’s me. I knew you would be hurt, but I thought I had to tell you and the longer I left it, the worse it would be.”
“But what about Angus? You don’t want to make his damned outfit, and it’ll cost too much to back out.”
“Oh, it’s mostly done. I wouldn’t have chosen to do it, but I won’t lose by it. It’ll be all right, Gavin. We’ve got to the right ending, even if the script didn’t quite convince in the middle. Look, let’s have a drink and stop standing here in the hall.”
He came in, and sat uncomfortably at the edge of the sofa. “Thanks for bringing back my suit.”
“It’s a horrible suit. Wouldn’t you rather have the grey trousers? And the silk shirt?”
“May I? You aren’t. . .”
“I have them ready for you. I just need to fit them for length. And when you were here last, you dropped your earring. I found it later. It’s on the mantelpiece.”
“Thank you. I’ve missed it.”
I had time before the Tarts’ Ball (I do wish they wouldn’t give these things such stupid and vulgar names!) to think about the advice I had given Gavin on the subject of deciding what one wants and then going to get it. I had decided what I wanted, but getting it was going to involve negotiation, and a new line of approach for me. I started with Kate. She’s a good jeweller, and she doesn’t ask questions. Then I went to see Barbara. I told her that I wanted advice, and why, and she laughed, and laughed, and called for her sub and showed me what I wanted to know.
I gave Angus his final fitting, and he looked not too bad, and I gave Gavin his final fitting and he looked like the prize.
“Gav? Will you meet me at the door? There are enough people who saw us at the club, that we might be well advised to look like a couple at least once.”
At the door, I drew him through and into a quiet corner. “Will you come home with me tonight?” He just looked at me, wide eyed. “I warn you that if you do, the first thing I’m going to do is turn you over my knee and spank you. Hard.”
He licked his lips. “What for?”
“For fun. Mine. I just want to. Think about it.”
Somebody spoke to me then, and when I turned back, he was gone. I saw him at intervals through the evening, but he would never catch my eye. Eventually, I went to look for Barbara. “I need to borrow your sub, Barb.”
That surprised both of them. “Oh, just to run an errand. Look, Thingy, what is your name? Right, Nigel. Do you see the man in grey and white over there? Take this box over to him, and tell him that his safe word is ‘dragon’ and that the contents of the box are his to keep no matter what he chooses. O.K.?”
Nigel went, slightly hampered by the fact that his knees were linked together and each wrist was attached to the opposite elbow, so that he had to turn sideways to give Gavin the box, but he delivered the message. Gavin glanced inside the box, and then almost overturned the poor sub in his rush to me.
“Will you put them in for me? Please? Now?”
“Won’t it wait until we go home?”
“Please, Robert, now. Now.”
“Open your shirt, then, brat. There, will that do? All this fuss over a pair of nipple rings. Say good evening to Mistress Barbara.”
“Good evening, madam. Thank you for arranging for Robert to bid for me. I appreciate it.”
“Pretty manners,” approved Barbara, “but you may not appreciate it later.”
“He won’t,” I said, with as much confidence as I could muster. Gavin quivered happily.
He was agitating to leave any time from half eleven onwards. I took pity on him after an hour, and held out my hand. “I’m going home. Are you coming?”
Actually, I did get a buzz from that. . .
In the house, I led him straight through to my bedroom, and without another word, turned him to face me and unfastened his trousers. He wriggled obligingly to work them off his hips, and I whistled.
“The line showed, and I thought you would prefer not.”
“Quite right. Also much easier for this.”
I sat down on the bed and tipped him lightly over my lap. He settled easily and with every appearance of enthusiasm. “What’s your word?”
“Dragon. I remember.”
Now, what had Barb said? Keep it low, don’t exhaust yourself early on, go for sharply rather than hard to begin with, keep clear of the spine. Well, she should know.
Apparently she did know. Two minutes and he was calling out, three and he was swearing. “I don’t approve of your language. Curb it. I can keep this up more or less indefinitely.” He squirmed, particularly when I gave a lot of attention to a single spot, and he vocalised his thoughts freely, announcing an apparent disapproval of my actions, but I noticed that although he called down anathema on me, on Angus and in passing, on Barbara, he never mentioned dragons. I stopped when he was beginning to whimper.
“Had enough, brat?”
“Yes, please, thank you, no more. No more.”
I passed a hand down the heated flesh, and he groaned, and his legs fell open. The skin on the inside of his thigh was delicate, and obviously sensitive, and he wriggled. “Robert. . .”
“Up. Strip. Completely.”
I drew him down beside me, and kissed him deeply. He was unwilling to turn onto his back, so I lay on mine, and pulled him on top of me, cupping my hands gently on the hot skin. “Whose brat are you?”
“Yours. I’m yours. Please, Robert. . .”
“Please what? What do you want to do?”
“Everything. Whatever you say. Whatever you want. May I?”
He started to unbutton my shirt, and to kiss my chest, and I slid a hand down to find one of the new rings. I tugged, infinitely gently, and he made the faintest sound of pleasure. His head went lower, and then suddenly he glanced back up at me with an expression of unease.
“What’s wrong, brat?”
“Um. . . I really don’t like to swallow.”
“Don’t then. I don’t mind.”
“Don’t you? Honestly?”
“Not to the point of holding you down by your ears. There are things I will make you do. That isn’t one of them.”
“What will you make me do?”
“I’ll make you dress so that you don’t damage my reputation, and I’ll make you behave nicely in public, and if you don’t, I’ll make you go over my knee, and I’ll make you yell. How’s that for starters?”
Apparently it was good enough, because he forgot about his unwillingness to swallow, and I had to haul him off by the hair to avoid it being a necessity. Then he had some other ideas, and so did I, and, well, you get the general impression. Afterwards, he lay with his head on my shoulder. My body was purring with pleasure, but I wasn’t sure about his.
“Is that enough for you?”
“For the moment. I’ll be good to go again in an hour. . .”
Oh, to be twenty-three again! “No, stupid! Is a spanking enough for you, or do you need more?”
“I don’t actually need it. I just like it. How far can you go? I know it isn’t your thing.”
“Hairbrush? I could probably manage a cane. I’ve got a cricket bat and I could bend you over the bed and show you the maker’s name like the coach always recommends. . .”
He didn’t recognise that one. “Do what?”
I pointed across the room at the bat, with the manufacturer’s logo down its face. “Oh, I see!”
“Riding crop would probably be my limit. Paddle? I think so. Proper whip with a lash, no. I couldn’t do that.”
“I’ve done it, remember, and I didn’t like it. I don’t want to do it again. Yes, it’s enough. I don’t want to play with the big boys any more, they’re too rough. I like it better with you.”
“That’s a relief. And you will use your word if you need to?”
“I promise. Lots of dragons.”
“Well, there’s a gold one in my ear, and one in yours, and my word, and Barb’s a bit of a dragon, don’t you think? I don’t know what she does to her sub, but she scares me. And Angus was a dragon, but you slew him for me.”
“It’s my job, didn’t you realise? Robert is my middle name. I don’t like my first name.”
“Why, what is it? Oh, Rob, it isn’t, is it?”
“It is. It’s George.”
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© , 2005