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Man Seeking

by shukyou (主教)
illustrated by cloven

“He’s a serial killer, you know,” was what Wyatt heard as he approached his friends at the bar.

“Nah,” said Benny, shaking his head so his disdain came through loud and clear over the thudding strains of Joy Division. “He probably doesn’t kill them. Just chains them to a radiator and maybe licks them twice a day.”

John Robert, who had made the initial assessment, frowned over his beer. “This is classic serial killer behavior. You know, the FBI has a division now that–”

“Stop, Mary.” Craig lifted a hand and put it smack in John Robert’s face, smearing thick, cheap eyeliner with his fingertips. “Unless you’re trying to convince us that you’re the psycho who placed the ad.”

John Robert nipped at Craig’s palm, enough to make him draw his hand away, then turned back to a newspaper on the bar. It was the local gay paper, Wyatt saw, opened to the classifieds section. John Robert pointed to a particularly long column, one that stood out among the twenty-word advertisements for roommates and car parts and furtive hookups. “It can’t be me because I don’t even know what avan… avu….”

“Avuncular,” Wyatt read, following John Robert’s fingertip to the word in question. “Uncle-like. Like ‘maternal’ is for mothers, this is for uncles.”

“Well, listen to Harvard here!” teased Craig as he wrapped an arm around Wyatt’s waist and kissed his side through his shirt. Craig hadn’t meant a thing by it, so Wyatt forced a smile over how much the comment stung. Harvard had been on his list; Yale too, back in the days before the parental discovery of a stash of gay porn magazines between his mattresses. Now he gathered carts at the Albertson’s for $3.35 an hour and crashed on his friend’s couches when he could find them, and storefront doorways when he couldn’t. Harvard might as well have moved from Boston to Mars.

Benny handed his half-finished drink over to Wyatt, who took it and didn’t ask what nightmare galaxy of well liquors it contained. It was foul, but it was free. “Seriously, though, you got to check this guy out,” said Benny, pointing to the page. Wyatt could see now that the piece in question was a full two-column section, taking up what he estimated to be an eighth of the full page. Publishing real estate like that didn’t come cheap. “‘This ad is directed,'” Benny began, affecting a ridiculous Vincent-Price-ish accent as he read from the copy, “‘towards one serious 18-to-20 year old student who, perhaps for financial or familial reasons, finds himself unable to continue the pursuit of his education.” Benny mispronounced both ‘familial’ and ‘pursuit’. “‘Son, if you can prove to be the young man I’m looking for, I would like to help you secure your future through academic excellence. And help you in many other ways.'”

Wyatt bit the inside of his cheek hard.

“Oh, it gets better,” Craig said with a grin, misreading the expression on Wyatt’s face. “Read him about the boy he’s looking for.”

Grinning, Benny cleared his throat. “It says here you must be: eighteen to twenty, yeah, we covered that already; appearing two to three years younger than you actually are–”

Pedophile serial killer,” John Robert chimed in. “I bet that’s a whole ‘nother FBI division–”

“‘Be happy that you are gay’!” Benny continued, talking over John Robert. “‘Appear boyish, not effeminate.’ Sorry, Nancy,” he said to Craig, who flipped Benny off with one sparkly pink-painted middle finger. “‘Possess a strong desire to further your education while at the same time lacking the financial facility to obtain that education,’ and that part goes on for a while about how you really shouldn’t call him if you’re just broke but also ugly. Oh, here’s a good one: ‘Truly enjoy serving and fulfilling the sexual needs of a man more mature than yourself.'”

The inside of Wyatt’s cheek was bleeding now, which became even more apparent to him as he tossed back another drink of Benny’s vile cocktail.

“He also likes it if you either have wavy hair or are willing to get it permed,” Craig told Wyatt. “Seriously, it says that.”

And are under 130 pounds and 5’8″,” John Robert said, “which is just fuel for my pedophile theory.”

“You can come sit on my pedophile theory,” Craig said, who was as usual unbothered by the fact that made no sense.

“So he wants you to be smart, keep up your GPA, clean his house,” Benny said, turning back to the ad. “Oh, he hates the bar scene. No drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes.”

Craig rolled his eyes. “And here I thought he wanted you to be happy that you’re gay!”

“Skip to the part where he’s apparently done this before,” John Robert said.

Benny tracked with his finger nearly to the end of the column. “Okay, here we go. ‘I am pleased to inform you that I have already selected the first of these two young men. I have already begun to subsidize his education to a four-year art school, provide for all his financial needs, and give him the security of a stable home. He has told me that he looks forward to meeting you and letting you see the satisfaction he has received in being selected by me, as well as to serve as one of my references and assure you that this search is bona fide and that I am completely sincere in my desire to care for a second young man while continuing to care for him.’ Shit, that was mostly all one sentence.”

“Where’s, um–” Wyatt chanced speaking, hoping his recent drinking would explain any hoarseness. “Is this local?”

“‘Yonkers’, it says.” Benny frowned. “So is that … what, New Jersey?”

Wyatt shook his head. “Still New York. Just north of the City.” To his mother’s family, there might as well have been no other City. He’d been up to the northeast several times before to visit relatives, see the sights, eat at the upscale restaurants that lined Central Park. His lunch that day had been three-quarters of a sandwich salvaged from the deli counter’s trash after the customer had received unasked-for mayonnaise on it.

That was when Benny, who had known Wyatt the longest, turned and frowned at him. “…Holy shit, you’re not thinking of calling this guy, are you?”

“No!” said Wyatt, looking down at the ice in his otherwise empty glass.

“Girlfriend, no,” said Craig, taking Wyatt’s hand and lacing their fingers together. “You are a beautiful two-bite blondie, and yes, you are a twink among twinks. But this guy … there’s something wrong with him. I mean seriously wrong.”

“He sounds–” Wyatt’s eyes darted over the ad, catching as much of the text as they could in the bar’s low light. There was a paragraph of self-description from the unnamed ad-placer: mid-thirties, youthful-looking, over six feet tall, broad, bearded, disease-free. “I mean, he sounds like he might be okay.”

Craig stood from the barstool and put his hands on either side of Wyatt’s face. “Sweetie, I know exactly two things about him from that ad. Number one: He’s rich. You can lie about your height, you can lie about your house, you can lie about your job, but you can’t lie about how much you had to pony up in advance to get that little piece of sleazeball performance art to run. And if he’s in New York? Then you know he’s running this all over the country. That’s a lot of cities and a lot of space, meaning a lot of dollars you can’t fake.”

“All right,” Wyatt conceded, “what’s number two?”

“He can’t get laid. And if you are rich and can’t get laid, there is by definition something terribly wrong with you.” Craig gave Wyatt’s cheek a gentle pat. “Come on. We’ll make sure you don’t leave alone tonight. It’s like my grandma always said: Think globally, fuck locally.”

Wyatt sighed, knowing that Craig was right — but even as he accepted this wisdom, his gaze fell on the inside of Craig’s bare bicep. There was a purple mark there about the size of a kiss, but dark and ominous against pale skin that sagged like skin did on people who had recently lost a great deal of weight. Wyatt’s eighteenth birthday the previous month had been spent knotted up, holding his breath as a nurse drew blood that would in a week tell him about his fate. This time it had been negative, but that wasn’t a permanent state. The world felt poised on the edge of collapse. And in a time of drowning, who wouldn’t be looking for a way to float?

~*~

The man who opened the door had no beard, nor did he look to be as old or as broad as the ad described, but Wyatt was willing to give it a go. “Mr. Stuart?” he asked, balling his hands into fists in his pockets.

The man smiled. “You must be Wyatt,” he said, and Wyatt could hear a crisp English accent as he spoke. “Please, won’t you come in.”

Clutching his duffel tight in one fist, Wyatt did. It wasn’t heavy, but he clung to it as though it were the only anchor he had in the world — and in a way, it was. He tried not to gawk at the magnificent home as he stepped through its front doors, but it was difficult not to be taken aback by the grandeur displayed there. Wyatt came from a world of money, or so he’d always thought, but to own a house like this? With old stonework and marble floors, this close to New York City? This was money, generations of it.

Remembering his manners, Wyatt stopped staring and cleared his throat. “Mr. Stuart, I’d like to thank–”

“Please, no,” said the man, giving Wyatt a kind smile. “My name is Oliver. I merely manage the household. May I take your coat?”

Wyatt supposed it made sense for a place like this to have a butler, even if that wasn’t the word Oliver used. The butlers Wyatt had met before, though, had all been old men, and Oliver appeared little older than Wyatt himself. He had sharp eyes that tracked through wire-frame glasses as Wyatt set his bag down, then shrugged off his jacket. It was a ratty thing, swiped unwashed from a Salvation Army donation box, but Oliver treated it as though it were finest fur, straightening it before folding it over his forearm. Caught staring again, Wyatt put his hands in his pockets and looked down at his feet. “This is a very nice house,” he said.

“You’ll have the full run of it, I promise,” Oliver said. “Mr. Stuart tells me you are a photographer?”

To his recollection, Wyatt had mentioned that exactly once in the telephone conversation that had led him here; it was a detail he’d barely thought worth remembering, much less mentioning to someone else. “I … sometimes,” he admitted, choosing to leave out the part that his expensive camera had not left his parents’ house with him. He supposed at this point, standing here, his financial state went without saying.

“A hobby of Mr. Stuart’s as well. Perhaps you’ll enjoy documenting the grounds. Or do you prefer more intimate subjects?”

Wyatt had taken and burned entire rolls, unable to figure out a way to get them developed without incriminating himself. “I’m, um, flexible,” he said.

Oliver’s smile remained perfectly pleased. “Then you ought to fit right in. You may leave your bag here; I’ll see it arrives in your room. Mr. Stuart is waiting for you in his private study, if you’d care to follow me.”

His heart thudding in his chest, Wyatt fell in line behind Oliver. As they wound their way down lengthy halls and up a narrow flight of stairs, Wyatt could only hear Craig’s warning ringing in his ears: something seriously wrong.

But whatever that wrongness was, it hadn’t come across over the telephone. Mr. Stuart had seemed kind and pleasant, and not creepy in the slightest. He’d asked for a bit of background on Wyatt’s situation, making noises of understanding as Wyatt told the tale of his estrangement, then reiterated the terms in the ad. It had all seemed so business-like that part of Wyatt had begun to suspect there was nothing sexual about the arrangement at all — that it was perhaps some odd new kind of philanthropy from someone with truly uncle-like interests. At last, Mr. Stuart had had only two questions: Was Wyatt still interested, and would he send a picture?

Wyatt had said yes to both, listing Benny’s apartment as the return address on the envelope. Three days later, a telegram arrived at Benny’s front door with instructions on how to retrieve a plane ticket purchased in Wyatt’s name.

So maybe Mr. Stuart was ugly. That was all right; Wyatt had fucked ugly guys before, and for a lot less reward than he was being promised here. Even if all he got out of it was a free trip to New York, at this point, anything was better than the nothing he’d left behind.

At last, Oliver stopped by a heavy wooden door and looked at Wyatt. “Should you need anything, I am habitually within earshot.”

That was another thing — his youth aside, Oliver seemed perfectly normal, as butlers went. In fact, he seemed downright kind in a way Wyatt didn’t think could be faked. So even if something did go wrong, he’d have someone nearby who was on his side. He was feeling better already.

Oliver gave the knob a turn, and the door swung open to reveal a mahogany-paneled study lined with shelves of books and exquisite objects. The room’s light came from a fireplace that kept away the early winter chill, and in its glow, Wyatt could see all that all the carpets and upholstery were a deep burgundy, the color of spilled wine. And there, in the center of it all, stood George Abernathy Stuart.

He was massive: not fat, but tall and broad in a way that made Wyatt think of workhorses. His hair and beard were both black, as was the suit he wore open at his throat, the fine silk tie pulled loose. Worries of ugliness vanished in an instant; he was so handsome Wyatt’s heart skipped a beat, and he grew only more so as his lips turned up in a smile of honest pleasure. “Wyatt,” he said, the word sounding like an avalanche spilling down the mountain of his body. Wyatt had known before that his voice was deep, but it was one thing to hear it through the tin lines of a telephone connection, and another entirely to be in its presence.

It took a moment for Wyatt to remember he should probably say something there. “Hello, Mr. Stuart,” he began, stepping into the room; he heard a vague creak as the door shut behind him, but there was no locking sound. “I want to thank you so much for the — the ticket and the opportunity, and everything.”

“Nonsense; I should be the one thanking you,” said Mr. Stuart, stepping closer. He was so tall that Wyatt, who barely topped 5’7″ in thick-soled shoes, could not see over his shoulder. “I’ve yearned for this opportunity, and now here you are, ready to make it real. Do you know how long I’ve searched for young men such as yourself?”

Wyatt shook his head.

“Well, suffice it to say, it hasn’t been easy to find someone with your … qualifications.” Mr. Stuart’s eyes raked up and down Wyatt’s body with such hunger that Wyatt knew his idle suspicions of a sexless arrangement were completely unfounded. “God, look at you. You are stunning.”

A blush crept into Wyatt’s cheeks, pinkening everything from his nose to his ears. “I’m not,” he began, then shut his mouth, trying to take the compliment for what it is.

“Oh, but you are.” Mr. Stuart stepped closer again, until he was near enough to reach out and draw a strand of corn-yellow hair from Wyatt’s face. “We love the night, of course — as homophiles, made to hide our natures from the waking world, we can be most free when under cover of the blessed Lady Night. Yet night must also be balanced with glorious day, and seeing you here, I feel the Sun itself has returned.”

This was miles from learning to take ‘jailbait’ as a compliment. Wyatt blushed deeper. “Thank you,” he said, not knowing what else there was to say.

Mr. Stuart’s hand came down to Wyatt’s face, stroking the smooth curve of his cheek. “There’s just one more thing. A formality, really.”

Wyatt felt his stomach begin to knot again. “What is it?”

“A little test,” said Mr. Stuart, and when Wyatt’s eyes widened, Mr. Stuart laughed. “Oh, not like that. More of a … let’s call it a compatibility check, shall we? To determine if everyone is going to be happy in this arrangement. Because happiness is important to me, Wyatt. As such, you’re free to leave at any time. Simply say the word and I will be happy to help you on your way to whatever comes next. Nothing would break my heart more than knowing you felt trapped here.”

“Okay.” Wyatt nodded.

“I want you to be here because you want to be here. Because you feel my love for you and, in time, will come to love me too, I hope. Please, have a seat.” Mr. Stuart gestured to a high-backed armchair near the fire.

Wyatt sat as directed, and as he did, he noticed that there was a video camera pointed at the chair. It was black and small, about the size of a phone book, and it was perched atop a tripod. The red light on its case glowed steadily.

On seeing Wyatt’s attention drawn that way, Mr. Stuart waved a hand dismissively. “You’ll learn to pay that no mind,” he said. “I enjoy keeping records of important events and meetings. No one will ever see these tapes but me. You may ignore the camera, simply forget it’s there. Or you may learn to give it your attention as you would to me, were I in the room.”

“So this … this isn’t porn, right?” asked Wyatt with a nervous grin. Not that he had any grand ambitions left in life, lacking even a high school diploma, but the idea of sex on camera still gave him pause.

“No more than Michaelangelo’s statue of David could be considered ‘porn’, I assure you. Though of course, if you wish to be a performer, please, feel free to put on your best show.” Smiling, Mr. Stuart sat down on a longer couch just in front of the camera, out of its frame. He sat there for a moment, taking in the scene before him. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small silver bell, which he gave a shake.

Seconds later, in the far corner of the room, a door Wyatt hadn’t seen before opened. Into the room walked what could have been none other than the young man mentioned in the ad: as small and slight as Wyatt, but dark everywhere Wyatt was blond, and with dark eyes instead of Wyatt’s bright blue ones. For all the jokes about the gay clone aesthetic, he and Wyatt really did look as though they’d been cut from the same mold, then painted different colors. The other young man was dressed in a crisp white polo shirt and pressed khakis, looking as though he’d just come from the country club. He came and sat right next to Mr. Stuart on the couch, keeping his eyes on Wyatt.

“Well,” said Mr. Stuart after a moment, “what do you think of our Apollo?”

The young man’s smile turned up even wider at the corners. “I think he looks delicious,” he said.

That got a laugh from Mr. Stuart. “I knew you would! Dear Apollo, meet your darker twin, Artemis.” He gestured toward the young man next to him.

Wyatt didn’t believe that was the man’s real name any more than ‘Apollo’ was his own, but he decided that — and the fact that ‘Artemis’ was a woman’s name — could go unremarked-upon for the moment. “Hello,” said Wyatt.

“Do you know what the Ancient Greeks wore at the first Olympic Games?” asked Mr. Stuart.

Memories came back to Wyatt of trips through museums, marble imitating flesh. “Nothing,” he said.

“Very good,” Mr. Stuart said, beaming. He put a hand on Artemis’ knee, and the contrast in size was striking; Wyatt didn’t know if Mr. Stuart’s giantness made Artemis seem smaller, or the other way around. “Do you know why?” Without even waiting for an answer, he continued: “They knew how to appreciate beauty. The most advanced civilization in the pre-modern world, and they understood that beauty was as important an accomplishment as mathematics or literature or sport. They understood their desires and were not ashamed of them, but embraced them.”

While Mr. Stuart talked, Artemis stared right at Wyatt, smiling. Wyatt tried to pay attention, but it was difficult with that dark, sharp gaze right on him. He still caught the occasional glimpse of the steady red light floating above his host’s head; the camera, however, was now far from the most interesting thing in the world.

Mr. Stuart caught the way Wyatt was looking at Artemis, and he smiled with undisguised pleasure. “Why don’t you show him what I mean?” he asked Artemis, pressing a kiss against his cheek.

Artemis stood, still outside the camera’s range, and stripped right there, tossing off his shirt and dropping his pants and underwear in a matter of seconds. And heavens, he was beautiful: slender and perhaps less muscular than Wyatt was, but smooth and perfect in a way that made Wyatt think of statues. Museum statues, though, never had the sharp, pert cock that was now free to stand straight out from his body. Artemis took his seat back on the couch, near but not touching Mr. Stuart. He looked straight at Wyatt and wrapped his hand around his erection, then began stroking it freely, gasping with pleasure every time his hand squeezed its head.

Wyatt felt his mouth go bone-dry. It was one thing to have expected something like this, and another to see it unfold so suddenly. Mr. Stuart’s smile remained steady. “I’ve had to deal before with … imposters,” he said, leaning back against the couch. There was an obvious bulge in his trousers, and he seemed unbothered either by its presence or its visibility. “Young men who think they can get the benefits I promise if they play along for a while, learn not to mind sucking a cock or two. But you read the advertisement. I don’t want someone who would endure our time together. This is about pleasure. So tell me, dear Apollo: Are you a lover of men?”

Barely able to take his cock from the sight of Artemis’ self-pleasuring, Wyatt nodded.

“Do you enjoy giving fellatio? Sucking cock while you’re on your knees? Letting a man come inside your mouth?”

Wyatt nodded again, licking his lips before he realized he was doing.

“Do you go Greek?” asked Mr. Stuart. “That is, do you enjoy being fucked? Do you like to feel a stronger man’s cock inside you? Do you like taking his spunk deep within you?”

Wyatt nodded once more. The temperature of the room had suddenly climbed to ten thousand degrees. He’d dressed for winter, and now found himself suffocating inside his thrift-store knitwear.

“I want you to show me,” Mr. Stuart said. “Right there, in the chair. Show me pleasure.”

In an instant, Wyatt had his cock out and wrapped inside his sweaty fist. He knew he was being watched, and even half-felt as though he should pay attention to his host, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Artemis. His dark-haired counterpart was beautiful and shameless at once, stroking himself with one hand as he flicked at his plum-colored nipples with the other’s fingertips. He made Wyatt think of his first sexual experiences, scandalously young moments of teaching other boys his age to jerk off, asking to put their penises in his mouth, letting them rut at the smooth skin of his joined thighs. Those had been the days, and also, to Wyatt, the undeniable proof of his nature. He thrust his cock into his hand, groaning as he locked his gaze with Artemis’.

“Good, good,” Mr. Stuart said, watching Wyatt. “You’re a fairy, aren’t you, boy? A pretty little faggot made to be used by better men.”

The abusive language was startling, and even more startling for how its sharpness made Wyatt’s cock throb. He’d had those words leveled at him before, of course, but the difference here was that Mr. Stuart clearly thought they were good things. He was a fairy, and for once in his life, that was working to his benefit. He jerked harder, letting his legs fall wider. He bit teethmarks into his lower lip.

On the couch opposite him, Artemis continued his shameless show, bucking his hips into his hand. His erect cock, flushed deep pink, stood out in stark contrast to the rest of his milky skin. He ran the ball of his thumb over the head of his cock, which was leaking precome. “Please, Mr. Stuart,” he gasped in a voice barely louder than a whisper. “Please let me come.”

Mr. Stuart glanced over at him and grinned. “You must really like our new boy, don’t you?”

“Yes!” Artemis nodded, mussing his dark hair. “He’s beautiful.”

“What would you think about letting him join our little family?”

Through heavy-lidded eyes, Artemis stared straight at Wyatt. “I want him.”

“Do you want to see him come?”

Artemis nodded. “More than anything.”

“Then make him come,” said Mr. Stuart. “Show him what you’ve been practicing. Sit right there and make him come, and then you can have your release.”

Artemis groaned and bucked his hips, but he kept right in place. He smiled at Wyatt again. “You’re so beautiful,” he purred in a tone that ran through Wyatt’s body like an electric shock. “I want to suck your cock. I want to taste your come down my throat.”

Wyatt gasped, making more of a sound than he ever did during sex. Years of furtive masturbation and alleyway hookups had taught him that the opposite of sex was noise. That sound, however, just made Artemis writhe harder. “You don’t have to be quiet here,” Artemis promised. “No one’s afraid of pleasure. It’s what we eat and drink. We aren’t ashamed. We want everyone to know.”

“I can’t–” Wyatt stammered, trying to think of some response. “I’m not–”

“You are, though,” Artemis said. “Look at you. You’re so beautiful. I want to swallow you whole. Would you like that?”

Wyatt nodded frantically, feverishly. “Yes.”

“Yes what?”

“Yes, I–” Wyatt swallowed as his hand jerked faster. “Yes, I want you to suck my dick.”

“Do you want to suck mine?”

“Fuck, yes,” Wyatt gasped. He didn’t know how anyone, straight or gay, could answer ‘no’ to that.

Artemis reached up to his throat and touched a little silver pendant there, one Wyatt hadn’t noticed before. “I want to see you come,” he said to Wyatt, fingertips lingering at his throat. “Show me how much you want to come for me. Show me how much you want me.”

Eyes rolling back in his head, Wyatt leaned back in the chair and gave his throbbing cock a few more strokes. Then he was coming, and he didn’t care where: his hand, his clothes, the carpet below. Ropes of come shot out as he opened his throat and let out a deep, aching moan. It was like he hadn’t come in weeks. Tension he hadn’t known he had was flooding out of him in one tidal wave of pleasure.

And then he was finished, and he could barely move. He was used to some exhaustion after a good orgasm, of course, but this was different; he was tired here like he’d just finished a swim meet. He couldn’t even summon the energy to tuck his flagging cock back into his pants.

When he could focus his eyes again, he looked back over at the other couch. Artemis was now tucked up under one of Mr. Stuart’s arms, his thighs and belly splattered with his own come. The smile that graced his mouth was one of perfect smug happiness.

“Well,” said Mr. Stuart, “I’d say he’s passed.”

Artemis chuckled and reached down to stroke Mr. Stuart’s erection lightly through his pants. It was even bigger now than he’d assumed before, Wyatt realized. Despite its flaccid state, he could feel his cock stir again at the thought of taking something that thick.

Mr. Stuart pressed a kiss into Artemis’ dark hair and whispered something Wyatt couldn’t hear, something that made Artemis shiver pleasantly. Then he looked back to Wyatt. “You must be tired from all your travels,” he said at a normal volume. “Perhaps Oliver could show you to your room.”

“Straightaway, sir,” said a familiar voice, and Wyatt turned to see Oliver standing just inside the doorway. How long had he been there? Had he seen what was going on? There was no question of the events that had transpired, given Artemis’ nudity and Wyatt’s state. Yet Oliver seemed completely unfazed by it. “If you’d care to follow me, Master Apollo?”

Through colossal effort, Wyatt managed to get himself to his feet. Before he could take another step, though, Mr. Stuart tutted softly. “You have a new wardrobe waiting for you in your room, something more befitting of your new position as a part of this household. Why bother wearing those rags you have on a moment longer?”

Exhibitionism had never been something on Wyatt’s kink list, and yet he found himself still on camera, stripping to his skin. The clothes fell off him into a heap as he shed them; he couldn’t find the effort to pick them up again. Feeling like a sleepwalker, he crossed the room to Oliver, who led him out of the room.

Their destination was only two doors down the hall, but it felt like miles as Wyatt dragged his leaden feet. He supposed it had been quite a day, after all.

There was all manner of things inside the room, but the only thing Wyatt saw was the bed, with its covers half turned back. He staggered over to it and fell face-first against its soft white sheets, barely managing to get his feet under the blankets. His eyelids felt like weights. “Sleep well, young sir,” Oliver said kindly as Wyatt was tucked into bed, and if a hand caressed his cheek for a moment, that was likely his imagination, nothing more substantial than the dreams awaiting him.

~*~

When Wyatt opened his eyes again, it felt less like waking and more like coming back from the dead. The sun shone through the high windows, its brightness making his eyes water. He considered trying to sleep some more, but his bladder had other ideas.

As he returned from the magnificent ensuite bathroom, he all but had a heart attack to see Oliver there, setting a tray at the foot of the bed. Wyatt suddenly became aware of how naked he still was, and groped around for a robe or towel or something to cover himself.

“There’s no need, Master Apollo,” said Oliver with a smile. “In Mr. Stuart’s household, there is no call for false modesty.”

“Oh,” said Wyatt, who mostly wished he had somewhere to put his hands.

“I’ve brought your breakfast,” Oliver said, gesturing to the tray. “On Wednesdays, the customary morning fare is Eggs Benedict — though of course if you’d prefer something else, you need only ask.”

“Wednesday.” Wyatt ran his hand over his sleep-crusted eyes. “I arrived on Monday.”

“And spent Tuesday in what I hope was a restorative sleep.” Oliver pulled back the covers of the bed as Wyatt climbed in, then resettled them over Wyatt’s lower half before sliding the tray over his lap. “Mr. Stuart is away on business today and will not be back until the evening, but until that time, you are welcome to wander the grounds at your leisure. You’ll find a pool and a tennis court, as well as a weight room, should any of those be to your tastes.”

Though he didn’t want to seem rude, Wyatt hadn’t eaten since before getting on the plane. He dug right in and inhaled the eggs and toast, not caring when he burned his tongue. It was good, but even better than good, it was food.

Oliver smiled as he watched. “It’s always nice to see someone enjoying my cooking.”

Wyatt remembered to swallow before he asked, “You made this?”

“Indeed I did.”

“I thought a place like this would have … cooks, maybe.”

“Oh, we do have a kitchen staff on call for guests and events,” said Oliver. “But until recently, Mr. Stuart and I have been the only ones living here. And I find cooking rather relaxing — and even more rewarding now two young, healthy appetites have joined us.”

Wyatt smiled sheepishly. “So, um, you said Mr. Stuart has business today? What does he do?”

Oliver chuckled. “You know, I confess I don’t wholly understand it myself. He’s a financier and prefers a more active role in managing his investments, which takes a great deal of his time. He has a pied-à-terre in Manhattan proper, ostensibly for evenings at the theatre or the opera, but some nights during the week, he will choose to stay there instead of returning home. He believes in committing himself fully to both work and pleasure.”

Was this how most butlers talked about their employers, walking an odd line between pride and reverence? Wyatt realized he had no idea. “Have you been working for him long?”

“Quite some time, yes.” Oliver nodded to the breakfast tray. “Mr. Stuart believes coffee is harmful to the digestion, and as such permits me to bring you one small cup in the mornings. If you want more, you must come to the kitchen and fetch it yourself.”

“I can do–” Wyatt frowned in thought. “Where’s the kitchen?”

“On the ground floor, near the back entrance. Why don’t you spend today exploring, getting a sense of the place? One more thing: Mr. Stuart has left you a gift.” Oliver plucked a plain black box off the dresser and handed it to Wyatt.

It was heavy, startlingly so, and if Oliver hadn’t kept a hand on its base, Wyatt might have dropped it on his lap. He gasped as he unfolded the lid: Inside was a camera, a beautiful Canon with a short telephoto lens attached to the front. He’d never been too invested in the technical aspects of photography, but he didn’t need to know much to recognize that this was state-of-the-art — and expensive.

“I’m meant to explain that this is a loan,” Oliver said as Wyatt ran careful fingers over the camera’s black case. “Not that Mr. Stuart does not believe you deserve one of your own, but that he wants to take you shopping and choose one with you. Until his schedule permits, he wants you to practice with this one from his collection.”

Wyatt lifted the camera to his face and scanned the room through its viewfinder — then caught Oliver’s handsome face in the frame and, in a moment of spontaneity, took a shot. The shutter clicked, and Oliver’s startled expression made Wyatt laugh. “Sorry, sorry,” he said with a smile, lowering the lens. “I guess my artistic approach needs practice.”

“Oh, I make a poor subject indeed,” said Oliver, whose returned smile let Wyatt know no harm had been done by the candid shot. “But the sky is clear today and the weather uncommonly warm, should you choose to go play paparazzo to the gardens.”

That in fact sounded like a fine idea, and after he was finished eating and taking advantage of the room’s magnificent shower, he opened the walk-in closet to see what he had to wear. There were plenty of suits and other fine pieces, including a full tuxedo in a garment bag near the back, but he chose a pair of dark jeans and a turtleneck, then pulled on a soft grey knit hat over his still-damp hair; Oliver had called the weather ‘warm’, but Wyatt wasn’t taking any chances.

Camera under his arm, Wyatt stepped out into the mid-December morning. As nice as the sun felt on his face, the air still had a bite to it, and he drew his coat around him. The first snow of the year had yet to fall; brown leaves scattered across the ground, while some few gold and red still clung to branches above. Wyatt took a few shots of them, trying to capture how lonely they looked, the last little holdouts of the old season. He wouldn’t know how well he’d done until he developed the film, but he couldn’t blame the equipment.

He turned the corner into a small walled garden and was surprised to see Artemis there, dressed much the same as Wyatt was. He had a sketch pad open across his knees; he drew with a charcoal stick, then blended the lines by hand, blackening his fingers almost to the knuckle. Wyatt cleared his throat. “Hey,” he said.

Artemis looked at him, and his face broke into a genuine smile. “Hi!” He gestured to the stone bench next to him. “Come, sit.”

Wyatt did, feeling a bit awkward. “How’s it going?”

“I’m well; how are you?” Artemis laughed and closed the sketch pad before setting it aside. “I didn’t quite sleep a whole day away when I first got here, but it was something like twenty hours. Kind of takes it out of you, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah,” answered Wyatt with a smile. He tried not to let it show how relieved he was that Artemis appeared to be a normal person — not that the way he’d been acting with Mr. Stuart had been abnormal, necessarily, but there had definitely been a certain intensity Wyatt wasn’t sure he could have dealt with outside of certain circumstances. This, however, was familiar. “I’m, um, Wyatt Aldebrand, by the way.”

Artemis extended his hand to shake Wyatt’s, then stopped and laughed at his soiled fingers, withdrawing the offer. “Pleased to meet you, Wyatt. I’m Blake Young.”

That was much more normal. “Blake,” Wyatt echoed. “So this is … the place.”

“This is it!” Blake’s seductive smile had been amazing, but Wyatt was fast learning that he liked this one too. “I like to come out here when the weather’s nice and sketch. He wants us to keep up our other studies, sure, but as long as we do, he doesn’t care about the schedule. Have you looked around yet?”

“Not really.”

“I’ll show you the library later. It’s a great place to study, but not if you want fresh air.” Blake drew in a deep breath. “You’d never believe you were just miles from New York City, would you?”

Wyatt shook his head. There were distant sounds of traffic and the roar of the occasional plane, but otherwise they might have been out in the country, for all the privacy the wooded lot provided them. “Are you from around here?” he asked.

“Wyoming. You?”

“Texas.”

Blake chuckled. “I bet your story’s pretty much the same as mine.”

“No bets.” Wyatt smiled. “So are you really going to art school?”

“The Pratt Institute,” Blake said proudly. “Starting next fall. He says I could have started this spring, but he thinks I should have extra time to prepare for the academic side of things. Especially since I didn’t, you know, finish high school. What about you?”

“What about me?”

“What do you want to do?” Blake nudged Wyatt’s shoulder lightly with his own. “Photography?”

“No, this–” Wyatt looked down at the camera in his hands. “This is just for fun. I’m not good enough to go to school for it.”

“Maybe you just need the right model,” Blake said with a wink.

Even though he’d seen Blake naked so recently, talking dirty and jerking off, that wink made Wyatt’s heart race faster than anything before had. “What do you–”

“It’s cold out here!” Blake exclaimed, as though he’d just realized it. He grabbed a rag from his pocket and wiped his fingers clean, then stood and reached for Wyatt’s hand. “Come on, let’s start your tour.”

Wyatt let himself be led back through the garden paths, up the stairs and back into the house. They stopped for a moment by the back door to shed coats and boots, but when Wyatt tried to take his hat off, Blake tugged it back down over the tops of his ears. “Keep it. I like it.”

“Okay,” said Wyatt, who gripped the camera in one hand as Blake held the other, walking him through the house’s expansive kitchens and a dining room large enough to fit maybe thirty people in the right configuration. They passed through a parlor and down another hall, then came upon a doorway that opened into a vast library. Books lined the walls two stories high, with sliding ladders that provided access. Wyatt had seen places like this in movies and magazines, but it was another thing entirely to come upon one in real life.

“Pretty neat, isn’t it?” asked Blake.

“Yeah.” Wyatt nodded. The high walls were windowless, but the ceiling was a stained glass dome that bathed the room in a mosaic of color. Of all the magical things he’d seen so far about this house, this neared the top of the list. “It’s okay that we’re in here?”

“We’re supposed to be in here. This is for us.” Blake leaned back against a nearby ladder, smiling at Wyatt. “I’m really glad you’re here. He’s gone a lot of the time, and Oliver … well, he great, but he’s not company.”

“Is that why he wanted two of us?”

“I don’t know.” Blake stretched his arms above his head, until the hem of his shirt rode up and exposed his belly. “But I’m glad he did.”

Wyatt nodded again, unable to keep from looking at the strip of pale skin that peeked out from behind dark fabrics. “Me too.”

Blake tilted his head forward until his soft, wavy hair fell like curtains across his face. “So, are you going to take some pictures?” he asked, and there it was, a hint of that tone he’d used the night in the study. It was still sweet and playful, but there was something underneath, something that felt like a trap.

Reaching for the camera, Wyatt hesitated. “Are you sure … is this okay?”

“What?” Blake traced an invisible line between them. “Us?”

“Without, you know.” Wyatt cleared his throat. “Without him.”

Blake leaned his head back and laughed, though there wasn’t a hint of meanness in the sound. “I’m very sure. We’re not rivals. We’re bookends. Twins, like he said. We’re supposed to work together. And I think he likes how well we work together already.”

Remembering how their first encounter had involved egging one another on to orgasm, Wyatt blushed. “What’s it like being here with him anyway?” asked Wyatt, raising the camera to his face.

Smiling, Blake gripped the highest rung he could reach and posed, staring down the lens. “You mean, what’s the sex like?” asked Blake, and when Wyatt stammered, Blake laughed. “Disciplined. He demands submission and rewards it.”

“Does he ever–” Wyatt cleared his throat as he took another shot, trying to think of how to word the question. “He doesn’t hurt you, does he?”

“No, no.” Blake ran one of his hands down his body, starting at his side and winding up curling around the inside of one of his parted thighs. The shutter clicked. “He can get rough, but he doesn’t cause pain for its own sake. That’s not the point.”

“What is the point?”

“The point is exploring pleasure. LIke we’re doing now.” Blake’s fingertips slipped just inside the waistband of his jeans, teasing at the gap between fabric and skin. “You can’t steal pleasure from someone. You can make a guy get it up, and you can even make him get off, but that’s just reflex. The skill is in making him want it.” Blake leveled a sultry gaze at Wyatt through the lens. “What do you want, Mr. Apollo? You promised him four years of your life to be here; what do you want to be on the other side?”

Wyatt traced the rim of the camera’s shutter button. “I don’t know,” he said after a moment’s consideration. “I had a lot of ideas, and then my parents kicked me out and I had no ideas, and now everything’s changed again, so … I guess I’m kind of Goldilocks here.”

“You sure are!” Blake laughed, gripping the ladder with one hand as he swung forward. “Well, I’m not hairy enough by a long shot, but I can be your Baby Bear.”

Before Wyatt could think of a suitably clever response to that, he heard the sound of footsteps and turned to see Oliver, looking pleased as he ever did. “Gentlemen, Mr. Stuart will be arriving home shortly. He requests you attend him in the small dining room, dressed for dinner.”

“That’s our cue,” Blake said to Wyatt with a wink as he started for the door. “Thanks, Oliver.”

“My pleasure to be of service. A word, Master Wyatt,” Oliver said to Wyatt before he could begin to leave as well.

Wyatt put the camera down on the table and bit his lower lip. “Um, yeah?” He’d only been here and awake for less than a day; had he screwed up something already?

Oliver, however, did not look the least bit displeased. “Another gift for you.”

“Another?” Wyatt understood that the core of this relationship was about receiving financial and material support, but it was becoming ever clearer he had a long way to go before he got used to the arrangement.

“Mr. Stuart requests you wear this at all times.” Oliver pulled from his pocket a silver pendant on a chain, and Wyatt recognized it as just like the one he’d seen Blake wear. He gestured to Wyatt to turn around, which Wyatt did, and when his back was to Oliver, Oliver slipped the chain around his neck and fastened the clasp. The pendant sat just at the base of Wyatt’s throat; the metal was warm, presumably from having been gripped in Oliver’s hand. “You are as free to remove it as you are to do anything else in this household. But he would prefer to see you with it on.”

The necklace felt oddly heavy around Wyatt’s neck; perhaps the metal wasn’t silver after all. “Thanks,” he said, gathering up the camera. “So … what counts as ‘dressed for dinner’?”

“A suit should do nicely,” Oliver said, walking with Wyatt out of the library. “Two- or three-piece, single- or double-breasted, your choice. Your closet should provide multiple options — though Mr. Stuart is nearly home, so I recommend not dithering long in your choosing.”

“Thanks again,” Wyatt said. “I mean it, this would be kind of impossible without you.”

“Oh, you’d manage.” Oliver gave Wyatt a pat on the shoulder, then let his hand linger there, eyeing him with a considering gaze. “The color of the suit is also entirely up to you. However, your counterpart prefers black — and rightly so, as he wears it quite well. May I suggest something in a lighter hue for you: pearl gray, perhaps, or even bone?”

Wyatt faltered for a moment before he remembered that was a color, and not a suggested material. “For the contrast, right?”

Oliver’s smile broadened. “Precisely so.”

As he stood before the options in his closet, trying not to take to long in choosing, Wyatt idly ran his fingertips along the chain around his neck, from the pendant at his throat around to the back. That was funny; he couldn’t feel a clasp.

~*~

Wyatt had been well-dressed before, and he’d also spent time bent over furniture. The combination, however, was new.

The fine suit pants he was wearing cushioned the blow somewhat, but he still gasped as the belt in Mr. Stuart’s hand cracked over the backs of his thighs. He was grateful for the table in front of him, because otherwise he would have fallen straight over. As it was, his knees trembled. It didn’t hurt, not really — Blake had told the truth about that — but it was still sharp and surprising, like a love bite.

The remains of dinner were still on the table; Wyatt supposed the staff that picked such things up knew to wait until they were called for. They had enjoyed a lovely meal, the three of them, and then Mr. Stuart had dismissed Blake while asking Wyatt to stay. Wyatt had suffered a moment of worry about the apparent favoritism, but Blake had seemed perfectly happy as he’d left the room. He must have known he’d get his later.

Mr. Stuart paced behind him, his heavy steps making deep, soft noises against the hardwood floor. “An important lesson to learn — and one most young men today are not taught — is discipline,” he said, his voice as low as his footfalls. The belt cracked against Wyatt’s thighs, making Wyatt gasp. “Were you taught discipline by your father?”

Wyatt had barely seen his father most days, but he knew his father’s lessons, his unquestionable rule. “Yes,” he said.

“No,” said Mr. Stuart, cracking the belt again. “You were taught obedience. It’s hardly the same thing.”

“It’s … it’s not?” asked Wyatt.

“No.” The belt delivered its beautiful stinging kiss a little higher this time, across the underside of Wyatt’s buttocks. “Obedience is blind, thoughtless. Obedience is what you want from a dog. A man who teaches his son obedience wants a dog, not a son.”

Wyatt nodded. He was torn between listening to the lesson and waiting for the next blow; the tension of the latter distracted from the former. He had no doubt, though, that Mr. Stuart would repeat every bit of this as needed.

“Discipline,” Mr. Stuart continued, “is what so many of the youth of today lack. They don’t know the difference between submitting to pleasure and submitting to every pleasure. They are first taught to hate themselves, and in trying to learn to love themselves, they indulge beyond reason. They turn pleasure into a chore, into an obligation. They become obedient, all right, to their own cocks and balls.”

As strange as it sounded to hear it put that way, it all did make sense to Wyatt. After all, as soon as he’d been loosed from his house, he’d gone on months-long sprees of decadence, fucking anything that would put its cock in him — and not always because he’d enjoyed it, but because he’d always been told that this was what being gay was, an endless parade of dicks and mouths, bars and alleys, holes and come. And if it hadn’t felt right, so what? It felt no more false than the lies of heterosexuality that had been forced on him.

As he thought of all those bodies and moments of contact, the belt cracked again, and Wyatt found himself gasping this time. He was hard now, and getting harder with every snapping stroke across his backside. Why hadn’t he known before that he liked this? Had he, before this moment, liked this?

“Do you like getting fucked?” asked Mr. Stuart.

Wyatt blinked for a moment. “Yes,” he said, repeating his answer from the previous night.

“Not just the sensation of it,” Mr. Stuart said. He paced just into the periphery of Wyatt’s vision. “Do you like knowing another man’s cock is inside you? That he has taken your body for his own pleasure, and for the pleasure he brings you in return? That you’re not just having sex, as a sexual being, but that you’re being fucked, penetrated, and by this confirming your status as a homosexual?”

He’d never heard it put quite like that before. “Sure,” he said. “I guess, it’s … yeah.”

“Tell me why.” Again, the lash of the belt. With every hit, the pain was less and the warmth was greater.

Wyatt cleared his throat, trying to think of the reason, like some fucked-up gay version of writing the How I Spent My Summer Vacation essay. “Because it’s–” He stopped, fearing that his answer would sound stupid, then pushed forward, reasoning that even if it was stupid, it was honest. “It’s better than thinking.”

“And why is that?”

“Because…” Wyatt took a deep breath. “Because when I think too much, it’s about bad things.”

“So you don’t like being fucked for the sake of being fucked. You like it as an escape.”

“No,” Wyatt said, though he didn’t know that was entirely wrong.

Mr. Stuart walked up behind him and ran his hands over the belted area, still with the soft fabric of the suit between them, but the touch felt good against tender skin. “Yes, you do,” he said, and Wyatt would have been mad at being contradicted like this, except that he suspected Mr. Stuart was right. “I don’t want you to love it because it lets you forget who you are. I want you to love it because it makes you remember who you are.”

“Remember?” asked Wyatt.

Mr. Stuart pressed his body forward, folding himself over Wyatt. His erection was significant even through their clothing, as he rubbed up against Wyatt’s tender ass. “When someone calls you a faggot to harm you, I want you to think proudly of the pleasure you get being bent beneath another man.” As he spoke, his lips brushed the back of Wyatt’s ear. “When someone calls you a cocksucker, I want you to smile as you remember all the cocks you’ve had in your mouth, and how you took them there because you wanted to — and only because you wanted to. If you wear with pride what they fear from you, it can no longer hurt you; it can only hurt them.”

Sucking only the cocks he wanted to had seemed like a luxury not so long ago — and yes, no matter how much he’d claimed pride in his gay identity to satisfy the requirements of the ad, he did have to admit some residual shame over the idea of taking another man’s cock in his mouth. He couldn’t help it; it had been with him too long that he figured it was easier to dodge than to fight it.

But here was a handsome, strong man, a man who wanted him without reservation or apology. He had asked in the ad for exactly what he’d wanted, and had been more than willing to reach for it once he’d found it. Wyatt had spent so long being a point of shame for people that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been a point of pride.

Mr. Stuart stood back. “Strip. And get on your knees.”

Wyatt took a deep breath and stepped out of his shoes. He took off his jacket and tie and folded them over the back of one of the chairs, looking to Mr. Stuart then to see if he was doing something wrong. But Mr. Stuart only smiled and gave a small, approving nod, so Wyatt let his shirt, pants, underwear, and socks join them, until he was completely bare, except for the new circle of silver around his neck. He stood over a patch of plush carpet and lowered himself to his knees, sitting on the backs of his ankles.

Standing over him, now towering like a colossus, Mr. Stuart undid his pants and let his cock fall out. Even taking the flattering angle into account, it was massive, thick and uncut and jutting out from a thatch of dark hair. It hung there under its own half-hard weight, a drop of precome gathering at the tip. Wyatt found himself licking his lips.

“Do you want to suck me?” asked Mr. Stuart. “I don’t want you to say ‘yes’ because you think it will please me. I want you to say yes only if you want to. If you, absent any presumed obeisance due me, would open your mouth and swallow me down, then tell me now.”

Wyatt cleared his throat. “Yeah,” he said.

“That didn’t sound so enthusiastic.”

“I–” Wyatt pressed his lips together. “I mean yes. I do.”

“Why did you hesitate?”

“I’m…” Wyatt paused, not knowing how to continue.

“Ashamed.” Mr. Stuart took a step closer. “Of what people have said. Of the names they’ve called you.”

Feeling like an utter disappointment, Wyatt nodded and lowered his gaze.

“Tell me what they’ve called you. Specifically, about this.”

“Cocksucker,” said Wyatt, his voice almost a whisper.

“Complete the sentence.”

“They call me a cocksucker.” Wyatt’s cheeks were burning now.

“But you are a cocksucker,” Mr. Stuart said. He reached down to touch Wyatt’s hair, brushing back the golden strands from his face. “You are a man who enjoys pleasuring another man orally. The problem is with them. Not with you.”

That was easy for Mr. Stuart to say, Wyatt thought — and then he wondered why it was so easy for Mr. Stuart to say, and not for Wyatt himself. There was nothing Mr. Stuart had now in terms of protection that wasn’t also being extended to Wyatt. Whatever he’d had to fear outside this house could not get in the front door. So why should he still be embarrassed?

“Tell me, right now, what you want. What you know you want.”

Wyatt took a deep breath. “I want to suck your cock,” he said, and every word of it was true.

Mr. Stuart’s lips curled into a hungry smile. “Now, now. Be a gentleman about it. Ask politely.”

“Please,” Wyatt said. Naked as he was, he could feel his own cock rising from his body. “Please, let me suck your cock.”

“Please sir,” Mr. Stuart corrected him.

“Please, sir,” Wyatt echoed. “Please, sir, I want to suck your cock.”

“Do you just want to taste it? A little lick?”

Wyatt shook his head. “I want to suck it. Sir. Sir, I want to suck your cock and make you come.”

“And what are you going to do when I come?” asked Mr. Stuart.

“I want to swallow your load, sir,” Wyatt said. “I want to taste your come.” Not long ago, he couldn’t have imagined begging for sex. If someone had made him say anything like this, he would have packed up and left, even if it had meant sleeping rough that night. He had wanted to suck cock, but he hadn’t wanted to be a cocksucker, not really. Except that was what he was — so what was the point in hiding?

Mr. Stuart stroked his hair. “And are you saying this because you think it’s what I want to hear?”

Wyatt shook his head again. His mouth was watering and he was having trouble not staring right at the heavy red erection a foot from his face. “Please, sir,” he said. “Let me make you come.”

“Because you’re what?” prompted Mr. Stuart.

“Because I’m a cocksucker,” Wyatt said, then added, “sir.”

“Good boy,” Mr. Stuart said, and he took another step.

Wyatt was on him without hesitation, rising on his knees just enough to put his mouth level with Mr. Stuart’s shaft. He opened his mouth and took a single lick of precome, getting a taste for it all, before swallowing him down. Between his lips it felt even bigger than his eyes had charted, warm and stiff and musky. Breathing through his nose, Wyatt jammed as much as he could into his mouth. It was good, and of course it was; he was a cocksucker, after all, and this was what he was made to do.

Mr. Stuart’s hand came to rest lightly atop Wyatt’s head, then with every bob Wyatt made down the length of Mr. Stuart’s cock, his fist tightened, until he had entire clumps of Wyatt’s hair trapped inside his strong fingers. He did not jerk or pull, but guided, so that Wyatt knew as long as he kept doing exactly what he was doing, there would be no repercussions. He’d never had someone he was blowing want him that much.

His cock began to twitch, aching for touch, but as soon as he moved his hands forward to jerk himself off, Mr. Stuart’s grip tightened to the lightest level of a painful tug. “Hands behind your back,” Mr. Stuart ordered. “Leave your pleasure. Focus on mine.”

So Wyatt complied, clasping his hands behind his back, so that he wouldn’t accidentally disobey orders. Hard as he was, he directed his whole focus to learning about Mr. Stuart’s arousal with his mouth. His shaft was long and veiny, and so thick it was making the corners of Wyatt’s mouth start to ache. He concentrated on keeping his lips wrapped over his teeth, trying not to screw up in any way. He stopped and teased at times, suckling the head or licking at the slit again, but mostly Wyatt’s time was spent moving his lips up and down Mr. Stuart’s cock as deftly as he could, letting pressure and wetness and heat coax out the orgasm he knew was waiting for him.

“What is a cocksucker?” asked Mr. Stuart, and Wyatt hoped like hell the question didn’t expect an answer from him. “A man beyond petty ideals of manhood that see it only defined in terms of its capacity to subjugate the feminine. Fools see it as an insult because they think it is weakness to desire penetration, even as they secretly desire it themselves. But we see no shame in desire. We embrace it on our own terms.”

As Mr. Stuart talked, Wyatt sucked, letting himself go a little deeper each time. He tried so hard to relax, not to choke himself. He didn’t want to make a mess and disappoint Mr. Stuart. That now felt like it would be the biggest shame of all.

Mr. Stuart curled his fingers under Wyatt’s chin and lifted his head just a fraction, until they made eye contact. “You need to know how much power you, right now, have over me.”

That was an utterly ridiculous statement, Wyatt thought — and yet, as he let the sensitive flesh of Mr. Stuart’s shaft rub across his tongue, he realized it was true. He was not only turning Mr. Stuart on, he was going to make him come, and Mr. Stuart’s desires were well-ordered enough that that would not have been possible if he weren’t exactly what Mr. Stuart wanted. He increased the friction, closing his mouth just enough that the force of his teeth behind his lips made itself known. He was going to make Mr. Stuart come. Not just anyone could do it. It was his skill. It was why he was here.

When Mr. Stuart’s hand tightened again in his hair, Wyatt knew that climax was close, so he abandoned sense and sucked with all his might. He felt himself growing short of breath as the massive cock filled his mouth to his throat, but he kept going. Everything else was irrelevant. Succeeding here was his entire world.

At last, Mr. Stuart groaned and Wyatt felt his mouth flooded — a truly impressive load, and he had many points of reference. He swallowed eagerly, loving the taste. He had been powerful, and this was his reward for the taking. His eyes closed blissfully as he lapped away every bit of come, enjoying the way it filled his throat. He’d be tasting it for hours.

Mr. Stuart stepped back when Wyatt was finished, tucking his softening cock back into his trousers as easily as straightening his tie. He looked down at Wyatt’s cock, which had growing quite insistently hard in the interim, and smirked. “Stand,” he said.

Wyatt did, locking his hands behind his back again as soon as he was to his feet.

Mr. Stuart came just close enough to take Wyatt’s balls in his fingertips. He held them gently — too gently, in fact, for how much contact Wyatt was craving. “Tell me that you’re beautiful,” Mr. Stuart said.

Wyatt had no idea how to respond. He could have explained how gorgeous Mr. Stuart was, certainly, or talked about Blake’s photogenic form. But himself? “I’m beautiful?” he said, unable to stop it from sounding like a question.

Smiling, Mr. Stuart let his fingertips trace the underside of Wyatt’s shaft. “No, no,” he chided lovingly. “Tell me.”

“I’m beautiful,” said Wyatt, wondering what saying the words would do.

“Tell me how you’re desirable.”

Wyatt swallowed, feeling even more on the spot than when he’d been called a cocksucker. “I, um.” He was attractive, he knew, but being asked to put a bead on it seemed strange. “I have … a pretty mouth?”

As though rewarding him for truth, Mr. Stuart’s grip on Wyatt’s erection tightened, making Wyatt gasp. “And what do men want to do with that mouth?”

“They–” Wyatt cleared his throat. “They want to fuck my mouth.”

“And when you smile at a man,” Mr. Stuart said, his voice as soft as his hands, “what is he thinking?”

Self-conscious, Wyatt licked his lips. “He’s … he’s thinking he wants to fuck my mouth.”

“More often than not, I’m sure that’s the case.” Mr. Stuart’s fingertips caressed Wyatt’s aching shaft just lightly enough to keep release out of reach. “And who decides if they can fuck your mouth?”

Was this a trick question? “…You do?”

The honest chuckle that won from Mr. Stuart showed it hadn’t been the answer he’d expected. “Well, yes, I’m going to be making some very pointed suggestions in the future,” he said. “But ultimately, the decision is yours. That’s the power you have. You can make him want it. And once he wants it, you can make him give you anything to get it. Not despite the fact you’re a cocksucker. Because of it.”

Wyatt gasped as Mr. Stuart’s grip gave his cock a strong tug, and he would’ve fallen forward if Mr. Stuart hadn’t been there. With one arm, he held Wyatt to his broad chest, while he continued to stroke him faster with his other. “You’re beautiful,” Mr. Stuart said as Wyatt leaned into him. “You’re powerful. No one can push you around anymore, or make you do anything you don’t want to. You choose to take control. You choose to submit.”

Fuck,” moaned Wyatt as he leaned into the embrace. He was crying now — when had that happened? With his hands still clasped behind his back, he had no choice but to let the tears roll openly down his freckled cheeks.

“I love you already. How could I not?” The arm around Wyatt’s waist grew tighter, holding Wyatt close in a warm embrace. “You’re home now. You’re in control. And nothing’s going to hurt you ever again.”

Gasping, Wyatt climaxed right into Mr. Stuart’s hand, shooting ropes of come all over Mr. Stuart’s suit jacket. He wanted to turn away, but he couldn’t; Mr. Stuart held him too tight, and he didn’t even trust his limbs to move right. He was shaking now and crying harder for reasons he couldn’t even understand, except that it felt like he’d had some horrible, festering thing locked inside him for years, and it had just burst. With every tear, with every ejaculation, he spit more of its poison out of his body, cleaning himself of its dirty lies.

He felt himself being swept off his feet, and when he looked, he realized that Mr. Stuart was now cradling him in his arms as though Wyatt weighed nothing. Wyatt threw his arms around Mr. Stuart’s neck, holding on tight as he buried his face against the soft fabric of Mr. Stuart’s suit.

Murmuring comforting nonsense syllables, Mr. Stuart carried Wyatt from the dining room, still naked, and up the great main stairs. Wyatt had some fear that they’d be discovered like this, but they met no one during their walk. Up they went, as Wyatt’s only job was to hold on. He was safe now. He’d spent so much of his life afraid — of discovery, of exile, of harm — and now that was past. How could anything hurt him like this?

As they reached Wyatt’s room, Mr. Stuart placed Wyatt on the bed, then joined him a moment later, stripped down to his undershirt and boxers. Wyatt curled right up into that embrace, letting himself melt into that touch. He was still crying a little, and he wanted to apologize, but he couldn’t even do that. All he could do was hold on.

“I have you,” Mr. Stuart said softly. “I have you and you’re mine.” And Wyatt nodded, letting it all be true.

~*~

After two weeks of being one-quarter of the living things in Mr. Stuart’s enormous house, Wyatt was shocked to find how loud it could get when stuffed with people. They weren’t just people, either; they were people, the upper-est crust, loaded with enough money to be someone several times over. Wyatt had been afraid at first that he might recognize some of the guests, but no, this was wealth far above any tiers his family had ever reached. All they knew about him was what Mr. Stuart said.

To Wyatt’s surprise, Mr. Stuart did not pretend his two young charges were anyone they were not. “Perhaps it happens to us men of a certain age,” Mr. Stuart said, charming a clutch of frocked wives, “that we, too, feel a nurturing instinct. But as you all know, any wife would have to come secondary to my work, and I confess, I’m not much use with young children. Young men, though, I feel could benefit from my guiding influence. And who needs guidance more than those who lack their own?”

The wives all swooned at this declaration of philanthropy. “And you, young man,” one of them asked Blake. “Do you feel Mr. George has helped raised you about your circumstances?”

“Oh, very much so,” answered Blake, sipping at his wine. Mr. Stuart had permitted them each one glass for the evening, which Blake had been nursing since the party’s start. Wyatt had meant to do the same, but had nervously all but poured the glass down his throat, and so had been working his way through several club sodas with lime ever since. “I don’t like to think of where I’d be without him.”

“George says you’re an artist?” asked another, obviously flaunting her apparent permission to use her host’s first name so casually.

Blake smiled. “I am. Or at least, my goal is to become one, with Mr. Stuart’s support.”

The assembled women all made fawning noises over that. “And you,” asked a third, turning to Wyatt, “have you dreams of the artist’s life?”

Wyatt steadied himself and wished he hadn’t finished his wine so long ago. “No, ma’am,” he said, taking Mr. Stuart’s guidance and leaning into his natural accent until it became a more audible drawl. “I’d like to study Classics.”

The truth was, he didn’t know what he wanted to study, but Mr. Stuart had warned him against sounding directionless. So he’d picked a field he thought sounded respectable without being too ambitious, figuring that if anyone tried to press him on unfamiliar points, he could explain that his negligent upbringing meant he hadn’t read that one yet. The answer was indeed a hit, bringing a few impressed oohs.

Mr. Stuart wrapped one beefy arm over Wyatt’s shoulders. “He is an artist, though, even if he doesn’t plan to pursue his talents professionally. Quite handy with the lens.”

“Oh, photography,” sighed one of the women, draping a hand over her heart. “A truly underappreciated art. Why, did you know that in my youth, I met a man who studied under Ansel Adams at the…”

Her story went on, and Wyatt listened just enough to smile and frown and laugh politely at key moments. His attention spread in two other directions, though, one of which was how Mr. Stuart kept that protective, affectionate arm draped so warmly around Wyatt in a way that made Wyatt’s heart flutter. But the other was to keep an eye on the room itself, the pace and murmur of the crowd as they wandered around the first floor.

On paper, the evening was a symphony fundraiser, and different small ensembles were set up in every room, playing lovely works just below the level of conversation. Mr. Stuart had told Blake and Wyatt that was false, though; the evening was in reality their debut, a time learn to smile and charm moneyed company. They were dressed again as contrasts, and Wyatt didn’t know which was the more striking effect: the bone-whiteness of his own suit, down to the tie, or the ink-blackness of Blake’s whole outfit, shirt and all. In fact, though Wyatt had been the one to grow up among events like this, Blake was the one who appeared in his element.

“And then she shot him in the chest three years later, but that’s always the danger with such things, isn’t it?” concluded the woman who’d been telling the story, prompting laughs that made Wyatt hope that punchline had been funnier with context.

The group dissolved organically soon after that, with some finding their husbands for a slow waltz, and others making their return to the bar. Blake himself was tapped by an older woman who wanted a handsome dance partner, but before anyone could engage Wyatt, Mr. Stuart made use of the arm still around his shoulder and steered him into a small servant’s area away from the guests.

At first, Wyatt was frozen with fear, scared that he’d made some miscalculation as he’d zoned out during the story. Before he could fret too far, though, Mr. Stuart tipped up his chin and planted a quick but warm kiss on his lips. “How are you doing?” he asked softly.

Wyatt straightened his spine and exhaled. “Good,” he said, then added, “I think.”

Mr. Stuart chuckled. “Of course you are.” He tugged at a strand of Wyatt’s hair that had escaped all attempts at being gelled into place. “I’ve got something I’d like you to do for me. I think you can handle it. Do you remember Abel Robinson?”

One of the first guests who’d arrived, a state senator, silver-haired but still handsome. Wyatt nodded.

Mr. Stuart stepped closer, keeping his voice low. “I want you to show him the second-floor game room.”

“All right,” said Wyatt, uncertain of his new role as a tour guide.

“And then,” said Mr. Stuart, his smile broadening, “I want you to make him fuck you.”

Wyatt’s eyes went wide. He tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry. “Do you … want me to?” he managed.

“Not if you don’t want to.” Mr. Stuart’s hand stroked down Wyatt’s chest, then reached down to cup his cock through his pants. “But I’d like to see you like that.”

It flew in the face of all the possessiveness Wyatt had associated with Mr. Stuart even from the advertisement — but at the same time, it made its own sort of sense. Nothing showed real ownership like the ability to lend something out.

“You–” Wyatt cleared his throat. “What if I can’t?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t send you on an impossible task,” Mr. Stuart promised with a smile. He leaned closer, pressing his hand tighter against Wyatt and making him gasp. “There’s not a man alive with could resist a chance at you.” He leaned down to kiss Wyatt roughly, then pulled away, leaving Wyatt’s mouth pink and his cock half-hard. After that, there was nothing but to heed.

They returned to the event separately, Mr. Stuart first, then Wyatt a minute later. Senator Robinson was easy enough to find, standing near the string quartet in the conservatory, chatting with a small group around him. “Senator Robinson?” asked Wyatt, approaching at a pause in both the conversation and the music.

The senator’s face brightened to see Wyatt. “Dear boy,” he said, extended his hand for a vigorous handshake greeting, “what a marvelous evening we’re all having here, we were just saying, thanks to your benefactor.”

“In fact, he’s the reason why I’ve come to find you,” Wyatt said.

“Oh no, is he sending his handsome young protégés out to ask us for more money?” chuckled Senator Robinson, making the others laugh. “Go tell him that he’s — charitably — bled us all dry already, and should he want more, he’ll simply have to invite us back!”

Wyatt kept his smile fixed. “I’ll pass on the message. But before that, he asked if I would show you his game room?”

“Ah, yes!” Senator Robinson nodded. “I’ve wanted one for years, and I’ve finally gotten permission from the boss to do it.” As he spoke, he looked at a willowy older woman near him, who smiled with all the training of a politician’s wife. “George said I could take a look at his setup, perhaps get a few ideas. You’ll excuse me for just a moment, dear?”

With permissions secured, Wyatt started off, leading Senator Robinson behind him. The most obvious way to go would have been back to the front hall and up the grand staircase there, but Wyatt still felt that no matter what the cover story was, the best thing here was still not to be seen. Instead, he took the senator up a half-hidden stairway near one of the garden doors, aware that the senator followed him at just the right distance to keep Wyatt’s ass right in his line of sight. Maybe this was going to be easier than Wyatt thought.

The game room itself was cozy, a wood-paneled nook with a pool table, a jukebox, and a small but well-stocked bar in the corner. Wyatt had never even seen Mr. Stuart in here; he only knew it existed because he and Wyatt had found it together, then played two games of pool before giving up on account of being very bad at it. “Oh, this is quite nice,” said Senator Robinson as he walked in. “Perhaps a bit small, but … well, your Mr. Stuart has other hobbies, doesn’t he?”

Wyatt smiled as he closed the door behind them. Oddly, now that they’d made it up here undetected, he was feeling more at ease than he had at the party. This, at least, he knew how to do. “Can I get you something to drink, sir?”

“I’ll take a bourbon, neat,” said Senator Robinson, whose attention was now fixed on the jukebox.

Wyatt’s bartending knowledge was not extensive, but at least he could reliably pour straight liquor into a glass. He uncorked the bottle and poured two fingers into a lowball glass. These bottles, like many others in the house, were left accessible and unsupervised; Wyatt could have gotten himself a drink any time he wanted, not just that evening. He brought the single glass over to Senator Robinson, letting his palm warm the bottom.

The senator took the glass and sipped with a smile, then tipped its rim toward Wyatt. “Am I drinking alone, then?”

“Mr. Stuart likes me to keep a clear head,” Wyatt said.

“And quite right he is, quite right.” Senator Robinson — who had clearly already spent much of the evening at or near the bar — took a deep drink. “Alcohol is the stuff of bad judgments.”

“Bad judgments, sir?” Wyatt leaned against the pool table, looking the senator in the eye.

“Dalliances, you know. Immoral thoughts. Lascivious behavior.” Senator Robinson tutted at Wyatt. “You’ve got to keep that clear head of yours around your Mr. Stuart, or you might find yourself letting him take some unseemly liberties with you.”

“What makes you think I don’t already?” asked Wyatt.

Senator Robinson’s thin grey eyebrows rose; he’d certainly already suspected what was going on with Mr. Stuart and his young wards, but having it confirmed appeared to have taken him by surprise.

Wyatt reached for Senator Robinson’s blue silk tie, rolling its tip between his fingers. “If you’re implying that he fucks me, you should know he does.” Wyatt’s tongue darted out to wet his lips. “And if I had to guess, sir, I’d say you two have similar tastes in bad judgments.”

There was an obvious bulge forming in the front of Senator Robinson’s pants, and Wyatt looked at it with undisguised approval. The truth was that he would have been complimentary of any size equipment found there, given Mr. Stuart’s instructions, but it appeared fortune had given him a reason to smile. He slid down over the edge of the table, letting himself fall to his knees there and press a kiss against the senator’s fly. He heard a grunt of enjoyment, and so Wyatt parted his lips and mouthed at the stiffening flesh there through layers of fabric.

He wondered where the camera was, from which angle Mr. Stuart would watch this later. He had to admit he didn’t fully know what the appeal of this was supposed to be — the senator was attractive enough, but he clearly wasn’t Mr. Stuart’s type, so what was the point of this? Was he a honey trap, setting up a powerful man for blackmail material? It seemed at once the most logical and yet least likely answer. Mr. Stuart didn’t appear to have many scruples, but blackmail seemed … well, crass. And if there was one thing George Stuart was not, it was that.

It was a strange series of thoughts to have while preparing to give head, perhaps, but Wyatt was a competent multitasker. He went for the zipper of the senator’s trousers, but Senator Robinson grabbed Wyatt by the collar and pulled him back to his feet. “Your mouth better not be all you’re offering, boy,” he said.

Wyatt’s pleasant smile remained fixed. “Of course not,” he said, turning around as he unfastened his own belt. He bent over the pool table and knew all he had to do was wait.

It wasn’t a minute before the senator was in him, slicked from a bottle of lube left in plain sight on the bar, and with no condom between them. Wyatt wanted to panic at this — too risky by a mile, especially from someone as obviously unscrupulous about semi-anonymous sex as the senator — but he felt no fear at all. Instead, he pushed his ass back as Senator Robinson pushed into him, groaning as he felt himself filled with cock. There was no other concern now but getting fucked.

“Oh, sir,” moaned Wyatt, knowing that the senator would never know that he was addressing Mr. Stuart. “Oh, sir, this feels so fucking good.”

Senator Robinson slapped Wyatt’s ass hard enough to make Wyatt yelp, but the blow was only warmth, no pain. “God, your ass is amazing,” moaned the senator as he fucked Wyatt with an athletic force Wyatt wouldn’t have expected from a man that age. He gripped at Wyatt’s bare hips with a bruising intensity.

Wyatt groaned as he leaned forward over the table, letting the senator push up his shirt and coat, revealing the smooth expanse of his back. He hoped that wherever it was, the camera was getting a good look. “Fuck me,” he begged, wriggling against the senator’s cock. He was hard too, and with every thrust, his erect cock rubbed up against the underside of the pool table’s edge, as he smeared its cool, varnished surface with his precome.

The senator continued to pound him with such intensity that Wyatt could barely concentrate on anything else, including his breathing. He could hear it come in shallow, ragged gasps, because everything else around him was going quiet. Even his speech, his occasional pleas, seemed muffled. Had the lights in the room dimmed since they entered? It didn’t matter. A fog had settled around them, reducing the world entirely to the strong contact of skin on skin. He could feel the pendant around his neck, snug beneath his shirt, shaking with the pounding he was taking.

When the senator reached his climax, he did so deep inside Wyatt, grunting as he filled Wyatt with his seed — and then kept going, fucking with even wilder speed. Wyatt had a brief moment of clarity to wonder how the hell an older man like this had the strength to fuck with such vigor, much less past orgasm. Then he was lost again in the haze of being fucked, so much so that he barely noticed the senator’s second orgasm. Or his third.

In fact, all Wyatt was noticing was how good he felt. It was like being wrapped in Mr. Stuart’s arms again, warm and safe. There was nothing here to be afraid of. There was only pleasure, and his job was to draw out more of that pleasure. He was here to be fucked, and filled with come, and fucked again. “Yes, fuck me, fuck me,” he moaned, barely aware that he was even speaking. “I need your come, I need you to come inside me!”

He lost track of how many more times the senator came, or maybe there was no difference between one orgasm and the next. Maybe he’d never stopped coming at all, having become instead a machine made for fucking and ejaculating. It didn’t matter to Wyatt. He felt strong, loved, connected. He was at last in his element.

And then Senator Robinson stopped.

Wyatt slumped against the pool table, having lost track of how long they’d been like that. A heavy soreness began to return to him as he realized that his ass was raw and tender. The insides of his thighs were dripping with lube and come, as were his pants, and shoes, and the floor beneath them. This was one hell of a mess they’d made. How was he supposed to deal with it?

He turned to say something, or to hope Senator Robinson had something to say, but the senator wasn’t there anymore. Or he was, but not at the height Wyatt expected him to be. He was on the floor, pants still around his ankles, lying very still and pale. His eyes were open, but he wasn’t moving. He didn’t look pained, or peaceful, or anything like that. He was just … gone.

Wyatt’s stomach turned to ice. His knees gave way, and he gripped the pool table’s edge to keep from falling. “Oh shit, oh shit,” he murmured, starting to hyperventilate. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.” All he could hear now was his pulse, flooding his ears. The warmth from before was fading into cold panic. Was this his fault? Was he going to go to jail? And worst of all: Was Mr. Stuart going to be mad?

The door flew open and in ran Oliver, bypassing the body on the floor and going straight for Wyatt. He drew Wyatt to his chest, holding him there with surprising strength, given his lankiness. “It’s all right,” Oliver whispered into Wyatt’s hair. “It’s all right.”

“I just–” Wyatt sputtered, his face pressed against Oliver’s tie. It was silk and smelled like some spice Wyatt couldn’t identify. “I was just — we were — and then he — and I–”

Oliver shushed him gently, and Wyatt fell silent, shaking. “It’s all right,” he said again, steadily enough that Wyatt could almost believe it was true. “Are you hurt?”

Wyatt shook his head. He was certain of that, at least — aching from being fucked, sure, but that wasn’t the same as hurt.

“Can you make it to your room?”

Wyatt nodded.

“Then go on,” said Oliver, pressing a kiss into Wyatt’s hair before releasing him. “You just let me handle this.”

Shocked and shaken, Wyatt couldn’t argue. He meekly nodded and pulled up his trousers before stealing out of the room, doing everything he could not to look at Senator Robinson’s body. He dashed the distance to his room, throwing himself against the doors to open them and slamming them shut behind him. Instinct told him to lock himself in, but of course there were no locks in a house without secrets. He tore himself out of his suit, leaving it in pieces on the floor before grabbing a fluffy white bathrobe and wrapping himself in it. He felt dirty, but he couldn’t stand the thought of leaving the shower and being cold. Instead, he crawled into his bed and curled into a miserable little ball under the heavy covers. To top it all off, he was still hard, which felt like the ultimate insult to injury here.

Had it been his fault? Would the police come? Would they question him? Would he have to admit that he’d been getting fucked by a married man? Would they take him to jail for that? Would he go on trial? Would he go to jail? Would his family have to find out? Would Mr. Stuart yell at him? Would he take back everything he’d said? Would Mr. Stuart go to jail? Would Blake? Had he just broken everything? How had Oliver known something was wrong? What did he mean when he said he was going to handle things? Why had Oliver hugged him? Why did his tie smell so nice? Had he made a terrible mistake?

He was still knotted in these questions when the door opened and Blake slipped inside. Still wearing his full suit, he crawled into bed with Wyatt and took up a position as the big spoon, kissing the back of Wyatt’s neck. “It’s okay,” Blake said, sounding everything and nothing like Oliver at once.

“It’s not,” Wyatt said, or tried to say. It came out as a whisper.

“Yes, it is,” Blake promised. “I’m here. I’ve got you. Just try to sleep.”

Wyatt closed his eyes and slept, though he could tell when he woke that he hadn’t been out long. Blake was snoring, asleep so deep that he didn’t budge when Wyatt wormed his way out from the embrace and went to pee.

Instead of going back to bed, Wyatt slipped out into the hall. The house was quiet again, the noise from the party long gone. Most lights were out, but there was still a glow from the open door to Mr. Stuart’s study. Maybe he was still up. If he was, maybe Wyatt could apologize, explain, throw himself on Mr. Stuart’s mercy, whatever was needed.

As he approached, though, he heard Mr. Stuart say something he couldn’t understand, and he heard a soft reply in Oliver’s light tenor. Padding soft as he could, Wyatt neared the door and peeked in.

Standing there in front of the fire were the two men, both still dressed to the nines, but much closer than employer and employee should stand. In fact, Mr. Stuart had his hands locked together behind the small of Oliver’s back, and Oliver’s hands rested on Mr. Stuart’s chest. Were they lovers? Had they always been? Was Wyatt not supposed to see this?

“It’s my fault, really,” Mr. Stuart said with a sigh.

“It’s no one’s fault,” Oliver said. “It’s an imperfect system, and enthusiasm often gets the best of us.”

Mr. Stuart chuckled. “At least Karla’s accustomed enough to cleaning up after Abel’s philandering that this is just one more chore. The last one she’ll ever have to undertake on his behalf, at least.”

“She puts on a good bereaved face,” said Oliver.

“Senators’ wives. Years of practice.” Mr. Stuart sighed again as he leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Oliver’s forehead. “I didn’t mean to misjudge so badly.”

“There’s nothing wrong with enthusiasm, provided it’s tempered with self-control.” Oliver patted Mr. Stuart’s chest. “And I can’t dismiss the outcome.”

“The ends justifying the means, you mean?”

“Something like that,” Oliver said. “It’s certainly bought some time. And while I can’t recommend it as a regular strategy…”

Mr. Stuart chuckled. “A man can only have so many aging guests die of ‘heart attacks’ at his parties before someone gets a little suspicious, after all.”

“Quite so.” Oliver slid his hands up the lapels of Mr. Stuart’s jacket, until his arms were draped over Mr. Stuart’s shoulders. “The poor boy, though. He was in quite a state.”

Even in the dim light from the fire, Wyatt could see Mr. Stuart’s face darken. It wasn’t with anger, though — if he had to put a name to the expression, he might have called it shame. “I thought a taste might … well.” Mr. Stuart shook his head. “It’s easier that way, the proof before the concept. I suppose I should have known, though, that a boy that beautiful would be a natural.”

Wyatt couldn’t listen any longer. Whatever comfort sleep had brought him was gone, and his fingers and toes were so cold they could barely bend. He slipped off down the carpeted hall as fast as he could go without making a sound, hurrying for the safety of his room — though really, in the whole house, was anywhere safe at all?

He shed the bathrobe and curled back under the sheets. In his sleep, Blake wrapped himself around Wyatt again, and Wyatt allowed himself to concentrate on the way fine fabric felt against his bare skin. He was probably getting come and lube all over Blake’s suit, just like he’d soaked his own, but that was all right. Mr. Stuart would take care of it. Mr. Stuart, it seemed, could take care of many things.

He lay there in the dark, his eyes staring at the blank wall. So it was his fault. He hadn’t been able to make out much from the conversation, but he’d gotten that for sure. It was his fault, but it wasn’t. He’d been set up. But how? Why had Mr. Stuart sent him after the senator? What had happened in that room?

What had they done to him?

~*~

When he woke again, Blake was gone. Mr. Stuart, however, was sitting by the side of the bed, reading the newspaper, and any concerns Wyatt might have had about his mood were erased by the smile he got. “Good morning,” said Mr. Stuart, folding the paper and moving to sit on the bed itself, right where Blake had been. “How are you feeling?”

Sore, Wyatt was about to say, when he paused and actually took stock of his physical condition. No, he felt … fine. In fact, he felt far better than he’d ever felt after a round of vigorous fucking, even one less traumatic than the night before. “Okay,” he said at last. “I’m okay.”

“I’m glad.” Mr. Stuart reached for Wyatt’s hand and took it in his own. His fingers were so large compared to Wyatt’s, like great bear paws. “I care about you very much. I would never want to do something that put you in harm’s way.”

“I know,” said Wyatt, keeping his face fixed. Did he know? Once upon a time, he’d believed Mr. Stuart when he’d said things like that, but now he was becoming uneasy.

Mr. Stuart squeezed his fingers. “I also would never have sent you up there with him if I’d known how fragile he was. I suppose heart conditions can happen at any age. It’s why we should be grateful for the time and the health we have.”

Wyatt had a thousand questions, especially given the discrepancies between what Mr. Stuart was telling him right now and what he’d overheard last night, and he had to weigh each one against giving away how much he knew. “Did the police come?” he finally asked.

“No, no.” Mr. Stuart shook his head. “Between his medical history and his wife’s desire not to cause a scandal, there was nothing but the call the coroner after the rest of the guests had left. It’ll be a shame but not a surprise to most people who knew him.”

Wyatt tried to run through his memories of the night before, but it was like trying to capture a dream on waking. Little bits made sense here and there, but he was having trouble remembering how one event had turned into the other. “Why did you … why did I need to go upstairs with him?”

Mr. Stuart sighed, and Wyatt saw in his face genuine regret. For a man of so many secrets, he was remarkably open about what he was feeling at any moment — or was he? Wyatt found himself doubting, wondering if he was just watching a performance. He’d taken for granted that whatever Mr. Stuart was hiding, he was privy to them. Now he wasn’t sure.

“As I said, I wanted you to seduce him,” Mr. Stuart said at last. “It’s one of my games. It’s a rush, seeing you boys make rich, powerful men admit to desires they know they shouldn’t have. And it’s a worthwhile skill for you to have. Every human has the ability to be run ragged by desire. The more you can learn how to do it to others, the more you can protect against having your own desires used against you.”

Wyatt stared at their joined hands as Mr. Stuart talked. Mr. Stuart’s fingers were huge and gentle at the same time. He could probably kill a man without a weapon, and yet he handled Wyatt with such tenderness. He was like a lion, whose powerful jaws knew the difference between picking up a cub and crushing prey.

Mr. Stuart smiled. “And I find it very arousing to see you boys with other men. You behave differently. You submit to me, like I ask you to, but with them, you’re the ones in control. You’re so beautiful like that. I wish you could have seen yourself: seductive and confident. You were a hunter, and you were your own weapon.

“You live in a world,” continued Mr. Stuart after a moment, “that tells faggots to be afraid. The world says you shouldn’t see the light of day. You should hide in back alleys and ghettos, making yourself sick on drugs and diseases until you die. You are a curse and should be your own extinction. It calls us monsters and gathers the torches and pitchforks, hoping we retreat from the light. And we cry, oh no, we’re not monsters! We don’t have teeth or fangs! We won’t eat your children! We’re just like you!”

Wyatt frowned. “Aren’t we?”

“No.” Mr. Stuart brought Wyatt’s fingers to his mouth for a kiss. “We are monsters,” he said, the wind of his words warm across Wyatt’s knuckles. “We do not have to be afraid of the dark, because we are the scary things in the dark. We are the shadow in the corner of your eye, the icy feeling of being watched. We are the things that go bump in the night. We are not the princes and princesses, we are the trolls under the bridge and the witches in the forest. We know the price they demand for what they claim are happy endings is too high. And the sooner we stop trying to pretend that we’re the good fairies, the sooner we can be what we really are.”

Wyatt’s whole mouth had gone dry. He cleared his throat. “But, um … not literally eating children.”

That made Mr. Stuart laugh, lighting up his whole face. “No.” He got into bed with Wyatt, sitting up against the headboard and pulling Wyatt toward his chest. Despite his misgivings, Wyatt found himself melting against Mr. Stuart’s strong, warm body. He smelled so good, so male. It made Wyatt’s heart race just to be near him. “Mind you, I have strong feelings about the injustice of current age-of-consent laws, but unrelated to cannibalism.”

Wyatt smiled a little as he nuzzled the soft fabric of Mr. Stuart’s silk shirt. “I’m sorry,” he said at last.

“For what?”

“For…” Now why was he sorry? For having sex with a man who had a heart attack? But if Mr. Stuart didn’t seem too broken up about it, why should Wyatt be? “For kind of ruining the party.”

Mr. Stuart kissed the top of Wyatt’s head. “The benefit was a success. Most people never even noticed. If you’re going to ruin one of my parties — and I can’t recommend you do this, but if — you’re going to have to try a lot harder.”

“I won’t, I promise.” Wyatt found he couldn’t hold on to his worries, not when he felt like this. Mr. Stuart had him, and he was safe. Why was he afraid of what had happened the night before? There was nothing wrong there, just a terrible accident. Whatever he’d heard spoken in the study, he’d obviously taken out of context. There would be no police, no jail, no anger. It was going to be all right.

“I’d like to try that again sometime,” Mr. Stuart said. “Though perhaps a younger, hardier target this time?”

Wyatt chuckled. It had been fun to be like that, to exercise his skills at seduction. It was a good game, and except for where it had gone awry at the end, it had been a very pleasurable one. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, that might be good.”

Mr. Stuart brought those strong fingers of his up to play with the pendant at the base of Wyatt’s throat. “You did very well last night,” he said, “but we need to practice a bit of … shall we say, moderation?”

“Moderation,” Wyatt echoed. Oddly, it made sense in this context to call not fucking a man to death ‘moderation’.

Mr. Stuart went from petting the necklace to petting Wyatt’s throat. “And unless I miss my guess, you didn’t get off last night.”

That was right; he was still somewhat hard. It had been so good, getting fucked like that, and then he hadn’t gone anywhere with it, not even when Blake had crawled into bed with him. Wyatt shook his head.

With a possessive growl, Mr. Stuart brought Wyatt up to his mouth for a deep, strong kiss. The hand around Wyatt’s shoulders slid down his back, toward his ass, and Wyatt obediently crawled into Mr. Stuart’s lap to make access easier.

Not five minutes later, he was straddling Mr. Stuart’s lap, bouncing up and down on his cock while his own jutted through the loose fist Mr. Stuart’s hand was making. Whatever concerns or fears lingered about last night, they were banished by the feeling of his body against Mr. Stuart’s. “You’re beautiful,” Mr. Stuart told him, stroking his chest while Wyatt fucked himself on Mr. Stuart’s sturdy erection. “You’re so beautiful, you’re mine, I won’t let anything hurt you, I love you,” he said, over and over, and as Wyatt finally found his climax in the snug embrace of Mr. Stuart’s fingers, he found again that he believed every word.

~*~

Things at the house returned soon to normal, or at least to the calm that approximated normal inside those walls. It was strange to say that Wyatt forgot about the incident in the game room, but the truth was that he found it simple to put out of his mind. It hadn’t been his fault, after all; why did he need to dwell on it further? He and Blake immersed themselves in their studies, making up for lost time, and Wyatt found there better places to turn his thoughts. His father had always talked of philosophy as though it were a bad joke, but Wyatt found himself taking to it. He picked up a volume of Aristotle and found its arguments so compelling that he declared his intent to start from the Greeks and move his way forward. Mr. Stuart vocally approved of this decision, but Oliver in particular seemed tickled by Wyatt’s choice of study, and offered himself for suggestions for further reading should Wyatt ever want them.

They didn’t attend to Mr. Stuart every night, nor did he even come home every night, busy as he was. As often as not, either Blake or Wyatt would crawl into the other’s bed, kissing and laughing and stroking each other beneath the heavy blankets. When the sun was out and the light was good, he took more pictures of Blake in different parts of the house; with Mr. Stuart’s approval, he turned a small bathroom into a darkroom, where he proceeded to turn his negatives into photographs.

The more he became comfortable with the house and being a part of it, the easier it was to dismiss the niggling little concerns that crept into his brain from time to time. Certainly, there were strange things that happened here, but strange wasn’t the same as inexplicable. Best of all, he felt like he belonged. He knelt for Mr. Stuart eagerly, accepting every lash and compliment knowing they were delivered in the same spirit.

Of course Mr. Stuart had a spectacular party on New Year’s Eve, and the house was again full of bodies and noise, but he did not send Wyatt off with anyone again. In fact, he kept Wyatt close by his side most of the evening, bragging on his artwork and pointing out the few pieces he’d had enlarged and framed. Blake was nowhere to be seen for some time, but Wyatt thought little of it, considering he was back for midnight toasts. Wyatt even stole the traditional kiss from him, daring anyone who noticed to comment; only Mr. Stuart gave any signs of having seen, and he gave an approving wink. And not a single dead body was removed from the house that night, or any other.

January was already well underway when Oliver came to the library with coats folded over his arm. “Mr. Stuart has called and requested your presence this evening,” he said, standing by the table where Blake and Wyatt were doing their reading.

Blake’s face brightened. “All right!” he said, punching the air as he hopped up from his chair and took the dark wool coat.

Wyatt stood too, frowning as he let Oliver hand him the camel-colored one. He’d never seen it before, but by this point, there was no questioning the entrenched color scheme. “Where?” he asked.

“Manhattan!” Blake grinned as he raked his fingers through his hair. “We get to spend the night in the big city.”

“Wow,” said Wyatt, remembering that Oliver had once said something that effect of Mr. Stuart’s having a place there. “Do we need to pack, or…?”

Oliver shook his head. “I assure you, all of your needs have been anticipated. The only thing lacking is your presence.”

A black sedan arrived for them, and they both climbed into the back, smiling back at Oliver as he waved them good-bye from the front door. Wyatt felt a strange nervous excitement, and didn’t at first know why — he’d been to Manhattan before, of course, so that was nothing new. Then he realized something: Since he’d stepped through the door that first time almost six weeks previous, he hadn’t left Mr. Stuart’s house. He’d spent enough time outdoors not to feel cabin-feverish, but this was his first time leaving the grounds since arriving.

Blake reached over and took his hand, twining their gloved fingers together. “Hey,” he said, leaning his head on Wyatt’s shoulder.

“Hi,” said Wyatt, scooting closer. “So what are we doing?”

“Probably some show or something. Maybe a gallery opening.” Blake shrugged. “He says it’s too much of a zoo around the holidays to be worth it, but he took me a couple times before you arrived. You have to understand, before I got here, the biggest city I’d ever seen was Billings, Montana. This is … a thousand times that.”

Wyatt smiled and squeezed Blake’s hand. “Can … can I ask you a weird question?”

“Shoot,” said Blake.

Wyatt chewed his lips for a moment, wondering how to phrase this. “Why do you think we’re here? I mean, really?”

“Mr. Stuart wants to give back,” answered Blake, and anyone else would have heard that as an automatic, casual response. But there had been an instant’s hesitation before he’d spoken, Wyatt was sure of that, and he didn’t know what to make of it. “You know that big house, his busy life. He’s lonely. But he doesn’t want any kind of ‘normal’ family. He’d just make them miserable. I mean, imagine having a dad like him.”

Wyatt didn’t have to imagine too hard, at least so far as work habits went. “Okay,” he said, more to have something to say than because he felt it.

Blake frowned. “You okay, Wy?”

Was he? Sure he was. “Yeah.” What had brought this on? He wasn’t even sure. Maybe it was the strangeness of re-entry to the ‘real’ world, the reminder that the universe did not stop and start on Mr. Stuart’s doorstep. He watched out the windows as the houses turned to buildings, then buildings turned to highway as they prepared to cross the bridge into Manhattan.

“Hey,” said Blake as they merged with the southbound traffic, “you know I love you, right?”

Of course Wyatt knew that, but it still took him a little off-guard to hear it. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I know. I love you too.”

“Good.” Blake nuzzled his cheek against the soft lapels of Wyatt’s coat. “So … you know I wouldn’t let you get hurt. If I thought something were bad, or wrong, or bad for you, I’d tell you. I’d stop it. I know this is kind of weird to say, but … I feel a little bit like your big brother. And Mr. Stuart takes care of both of us, but I want to take care of you too.”

It was weird to say, but at the same time, it felt oddly right. “Thanks,” said Wyatt.

They rode the rest of the way in silence, as Blake fell into a light doze and Wyatt stared out the windows. It was still early in the afternoon, but winter darkness had already crept in, turning the world into a blanket of artificial light. It was strange to think that all those spots were all actually people — office windows, headlights, streetlights, neon signs, they were all signs of life. Wyatt couldn’t decide if that made him feel more or less alone.

The drive took nearly an hour, and the driver let them out at a spot Wyatt didn’t recognize. They were to wait there, he told them before heading off into the night. They were in a nice part of the City, though Wyatt couldn’t tell exactly where. The area was bustling, with people coming and going in bunches.

Blake took Wyatt’s hand, surprising him. What surprised him even more was when Blake pulled him into a deep, passionate kiss — right there on the street! Wyatt sputtered for a moment, but there was no arguing with the way Blake had him, even as he heard gasps from passers-by about such a blatant public display.

What was odder still was how it made Wyatt feel good — not just in a proud, defiant sense, but actually good. He hadn’t eaten since lunch, and the ride had made him a little queasy, to say nothing of the city smells that assaulted his nostrils. Yet as Blake’s lips moved against his, and as the muffled noises of middling outrage continued, Wyatt felt all ill sensations subside. In fact, the more sounds of tutting disapproval he heard, the more emboldened and energetic he felt.

“A little appetizer,” said Blake cryptically as he pulled away, and before Wyatt could ask what he meant by that, he saw the unmistakable figure of Mr. Stuart.

“Boys!” he said, wrapping an arm around each of them. Great plumes of vapor puffed from his lips as he spoke, as though he were a thousand degrees warmer than the outside air. “I’m so glad you could make it. There’s a special exhibit opening at the Frick that I didn’t want you to miss,” he said, hugging Blake a little harder for emphasis, “and of course I wouldn’t miss any opportunity to show off what fine young men you’re both becoming.”

Blake grinned as he took one of Mr. Stuart’s arms; Wyatt followed his lead and took the other. “Can we see the Vermeers?” asked Blake eagerly.

“Anything you want,” Mr. Stuart promised, and together they headed into the gallery.

The trip was obviously for Blake’s benefit most of all, but Wyatt didn’t mind. He was content just to come along, to exist in the world as it bustled around him. It was strange, like this, to be so unprotected and yet feel so free.

Maybe he would study art, when he went back to school — and there was a thought that would have seemed ridiculous a year ago, the idea of going back to school at all, or returning for anything but studying a trade. Despite Mr. Stuart’s enthusiasm over his photography, Wyatt still doubted his chances as a professional, but even just learning about the history and composition of it would be nice. It would be something he could enjoy, and surely something Mr. Stuart would approve of. After all, that approval was a key part of this entire process.

Blake led the pack enthusiastically from painting to painting, sometimes grabbing Wyatt’s hand and guiding him around as he talked about brush strokes and techniques Wyatt had never heard of before. Mr. Stuart followed behind, and every time Wyatt caught his eye, Mr. Stuart gave him a knowing smile, one that made Wyatt’s heart beat faster.

They wandered that way among the opening reception, meandering between tables of food and movable open bars for what seemed like hours, before Mr. Stuart pulled them both aside. “I’m going to send you two back to my place, all right?”

Wyatt frowned. “To the house?”

“No,” said Mr. Stuart, smiling, “my penthouse. I’d like you two to change and get ready.”

Blake’s face brightened. “For what?”

“I wouldn’t ruin the surprise.” Mr. Stuart gave a lock of Blake’s hair an affectionate tug. “Just be ready. Let me call a car for you.”

“Is it close?” asked Wyatt. “Your penthouse.”

“Somewhat, why?” asked Mr. Stuart.

“I’ve been here before,” Wyatt said. “And I’m still a little iffy from the car earlier. Is it somewhere we could walk? Or take the subway?”

As it turned out, the trip was mostly from east to west, and Wyatt had to explain to Blake that taking the mostly north-south subway lines would be more trouble than it was worth, especially for a journey that was mostly about getting to the other side of Central Park. Armed with the address and bundled tight, Wyatt set out into the night with Blake on his arm.

They walked together up Fifth Avenue, and though Wyatt expected Blake to let him go, Blake held on tight the way the women on the street with them clung to their male companions. His nose was red from the cold, and from time to time he nuzzled Wyatt’s coat, as though that would warm him enough. Wyatt was hardly an expert, and darkness obscured a lot of familiar landmarks, but he pointed out a few things as they passed — the pond where the model boats sailed, a gallery he could remember visiting, the iconic architecture of the Metropolitan Museum of Art — and Blake expressed delight at learning about every one. It felt oddly normal, like a date. Wyatt had literally never been on one of those before, but he thought that this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

There was a road to cross just north of the Met, Wyatt remembered, and they turned in there, following the footpath beside it. It was dark and late enough that turning away from the main street was almost like stepping out of Manhattan entirely. The city noises were still there, but distant now, and there were fewer people to be found away from the bright lights. Blake seemed happy enough, but Wyatt began to walk faster. Maybe they should have taken the car. Maybe this was not the place for two young, slender men in expensive coats to be.

A figure stepped out from the bushes ahead of them, making Wyatt jump. He could see the outline of a uniform, but knowing it was a cop didn’t make Wyatt feel any easier. He gave what he hoped was a friendly, unassuming nod and tugged at Blake, all but begging him to walk faster.

The cop stood right in their way. “Where are you two faggots heading?” he asked, his lips curled in an angry grin.

Wyatt began taking an inventory of everything he had on himself that could be used as a weapon — and came up with exactly nothing. Blake, on the other hand, seemed utterly unbothered. What, did Wyoming queers not learn to be afraid of the police?

“We’re heading to a friend’s place,” answered Blake, as though the request had been nothing but polite. “Have a lovely evening, officer.”

“A friend, huh?” The cop stepped closer. He was big, not as big as Mr. Stuart, but big enough to be beyond dangerous. “Is that the kind of ‘friend’ who fucks faggots for money? Who likes two of you at once? No, I think what I see here is cruising. I think I should haul you in for turning tricks in a public park.”

Wyatt’s first instinct was to pull the full do you know who we are?, dropping Mr. Stuart’s name and everything. But why would this random cop care, or even believe them? He’d have better luck saying they were personal acquaintances of President Reagan — the truth might get sorted at the station, but the sorting of it would be a pain, and would likely ruin Mr. Stuart’s plans for the night.

“You should,” purred Blake, letting go of Wyatt’s arm and stepping forward, “but you’re not going to.”

The cop’s eyes widened in surprise a moment before they became defiant, and Wyatt wanted to scream at Blake that they were already in deep, they did not need to get any deeper. Every moment Blake spoke, they were less likely to get arrested and more likely to just get beaten to death.

Blake, however, seemed unconcerned. “You’re not going to because you’re not on duty. You’re out here doing exactly what you’re accusing us of doing. You’re trying to guilt a couple of rentboys into a blowjob, and you think it’s fun to make them cry in fear of being arrested while they’ve got their mouths around your dick.”

The cop’s expression remained fixed, but Wyatt could see a change in his body language. Holy hell, was Blake right?

“Come on,” said Blake, nodding to the break in the trees the cop had just stepped out from. When the cop hesitated, Blake gestured again. “Come on. I’ve got what you want.”

There was uneasiness on the cop’s face, but he stepped forward, apparently letting his desire for head override any misgivings. Blake went first, and the cop followed, and at last Wyatt joined them in a little nook between the trees. It wasn’t much of a clearing, but it was enough to move around, and it would only be visible to someone who’d known before what to find there.

Blake grinned as he leaned closer. “You want this?”

“Just shut up and fucking suck me,” the cop growled.

But Blake only smiled as he petted the cop’s chest. “No,” he said.

The cop sputtered. “No?”

In the blink of an eye, Blake’s hand was on the cop’s crotch. “You’re a pathetic man,” Blake spat in a tone that caused the hairs on Wyatt’s arms to stand on end. “A pathetic, closeted little fuck who can only get it up if he’s hurting someone else, right?” As he spoke, Blake kneaded the cop’s erection through his pants with no gentleness. “You like to scare the queers while secretly dreaming of being one of us. You don’t want to get sucked. You want to bend over and get fucked by every dick in this park.”

Wyatt could hardly move, or even breathe. The cop, however, was gasping, writhing against the tree trunk Blake had pushed him up against. “You want a real man’s cock up your ass,” Blake continued, “because you’re too scared to be one. Suck you? I wouldn’t spit on you. You’ll never be a queer, little boy. You don’t have the balls.”

“Oh Jesus,” moaned the cop, shaking. Blake got his knee between the cop’s thighs and pressed in hard, and the cop came right in his pants, clapping a hand over his own mouth to keep from crying out.

With a last disgusted look, Blake stepped back and straightened his coat. “Who’s the faggot now?” he snapped. Then he took Wyatt’s hand and led him back onto the path that would take them out of Central Park.

Wyatt’s feet moved, but the rest of him had stalled out. “What–” he began, not sure which was worse: not knowing what that was all about, or knowing.

They reached the crosswalk light and waited for it to change. “How do you feel?” asked Blake.

It was a ridiculous question, made even more so by how the answer was … good. Wyatt felt good, like he had after being kissed on the street earlier. As the shock of the encounter wore off, he found it replaced by a steadiness he couldn’t explain. That seemed too weird to say, though, so he settled for the middle distance: “Fine.”

Blake squeezed his hand. “Hey, I recognize this block! We’re almost there.”

Wyatt let himself be led into the building and up the elevator, as dropping Mr. Stuart’s name got them access to both. The penthouse apartment was exactly as fabulous as Mr. Stuart’s tastes would suggest, finely furnished without being ostentatious or gaudy. The art that decorated the walls was so beautiful that Wyatt did a serious double-take as he turned a corner and realized that not only was he looking at an enlarged, framed nude of Blake, but that he himself had taken the picture.

“You make me look good!” chirped Blake. “Maybe you need a self-portrait to go with it.”

“I don’t really do self-portraits,” Wyatt said.

“Why not?”

“Seems–” What did it seem? “Seems vain.”

“You deserve some vanity,” said Blake, kissing the tip of Wyatt’s nose. “Come on, let’s get dressed.”

Wyatt didn’t know where to begin asking about what had happened with the cop in the park, and Blake didn’t seem to be forthcoming, so the subject dropped. Instead of talking, Wyatt opened a guest bedroom closet and began picking out the elements of a full, three-piece white suit. They’d come dressed well enough for the opening, but when Mr. Stuart told them to get ready, he really meant one thing.

As Wyatt finished knotting his tie, he turned to see Blake behind him, his dark counterpart. They looked like chess pieces together, perfect opposites. “You look great,” Blake said.

“Thanks,” said Wyatt, forcing a smile he didn’t entirely feel.

They’d just finished setting out the wine when the elevator doors opened to reveal Mr. Stuart — and two guests, both men who looked to be in their forties. Wyatt breath caught as he realized they were wearing clerical collars. What were priests doing here?

“Boys, come here,” Mr. Stuart said, waving them over. “This is Father Ridderbos and Father Barnet. They’re on the board at the Cloisters, and I’ve called them by to discuss a donation I’ve been wanting to make. Gentlemen, these are Blake and Wyatt, who are currently under my instruction toward becoming fine, cultured young men.”

Handshakes were exchanged and wine glasses filled, and as the conversation turned to art, Blake grew more involved and Wyatt grew silent. Something about this felt wrong, and maybe if they’d just come straight from the museum, he wouldn’t have noticed. But the incident in the park weighed heavily on him — not for how scared he’d felt then, but how quickly that fear had snapped away. In fact, when he thought back on it now, he felt like laughing. He wanted to do it again right then, to wander back into the park and stalk the predators lurking in it. He pictured himself with teeth and claws, growling with pleasure as the paper tigers cowered and hid their faces. He would make them come, and then laugh as their faces turned scarlet.

And then he thought of Senator Robinson, how his reluctance had melted into an enthusiasm that had killed him. It wasn’t Wyatt’s fault, but what if it had been? If he were given the chance to do it over, would he do it again? Would he do it better this time?

“What do you think, Wyatt?” asked Mr. Stuart.

Shaking himself from his reverie, Wyatt found his heart racing and his cock already halfway to hardness. “I, I’m sorry, I–” He ran a hand over his face. “I must have eaten something at the reception that didn’t agree with me, I may turn in, excuse me.”

“Poor thing,” Mr. Stuart said, standing as Wyatt did. “Excuse us, gentlemen, I’ll be right back. Blake, I’m sure you can continue without me.”

“Of course,” Blake said, smiling sweetly as he returned the conversation to the topic of art.

When they were around the corner, Mr. Stuart put his hand against Wyatt’s forehead. “You don’t feel feverish,” he said, “so that’s good. Overwhelmed by the trip?”

That was as good of an excuse as any. “Maybe,” Wyatt said. “I’m sorry, sir, I–”

Mr. Stuart bent down and kissed him gently. “Nothing to apologize for. I’ll be in later to check on you.”

Once the door to his room had shut, Wyatt stripped down and found a silk pajama set to wear, then stretched out on top of the bed, staring at the ceiling. Idly, he played with the pendant at his throat, trying to clear his brain enough to sleep. Too many thoughts invaded his mind, however, keeping sleep away. Mr. Stuart loved him, and so did Blake, or at least they said they did, and he wanted to believe them so badly. Did he want it too much, though? Had his desire for home overridden his good sense? There was nothing wrong he could put his finger on, and yet his inability to articulate what was bothering him made it even worse. It wasn’t just that his whole world had changed, though it clearly had. He had changed — and that was a stupid complaint, considering how much he’d been studying and cultivating manners and actively trying to better himself. But had that been all of it?

As he held it in his fingers, the pendant began to warm — not with the transfer of body heat, but even warmer than that. He tried to play it off at first as his imagination, but there it was, an unmistakable temperature increase, not unpleasant, but present all the same. He got out of bed and went over to the mirror to see if it was glowing, but it was the same as it had always been: plain, shiny silver, engraved with a faint design that looked like a tied bundle of sticks, even if Wyatt was sure that wasn’t what it was meant to be. He’d seen men before from the leather scene, who wore bands or chains or other locks all the time to symbolize their being owned, and Wyatt had always assumed this was a classier version of the same. But he hadn’t asked. So many things, and he’d never asked.

Wyatt held his ear to the door, but the apartment seemed quiet now. It had been a while; the priests had probably already left, their art discussions concluded. Maybe now Wyatt could go and ask exactly what had happened with the cop. He didn’t think Blake was trying to hide it, necessarily, but at the same time, Wyatt felt like it was something Mr. Stuart should know.

As he walked down the hall, he heard the sounds of pleasure, and he smiled. All right, he had questions, but they could wait until after joining Blake in sucking Mr. Stuart off. Kneeling for him always made Wyatt feel better. Maybe they could–

Turning the corner, Wyatt felt his heart stop. Mr. Stuart was there, certainly, but only as a bystander, sitting back regally in an antique chair. Blake was on his hands and knees on the sofa, with a priest on either end; one was fucking his mouth, and the other was fucking his ass. They had him in a perfect spit-roast, moving in and out in tandem as they gasped and groaned with desire.

That would have been shocking enough on its own, but what made Wyatt’s blood run cold was how the men looked. He’d seen plenty of brainless sex faces before, but their expressions were … gone. They looked drugged, almost like sleepwalkers, moving with single-minded determination. Wyatt stumbled, catching himself against the wall with a noise that made both Wyatt and Mr. Stuart turn — but the priests kept fucking. Wyatt suspected a bomb could have gone off outside, and they wouldn’t have noticed.

So that was what had happened with Senator Robinson. It hadn’t been a heart attack. It had been … shit, Wyatt didn’t know what it was, but it was whatever he was seeing in front of him. They were hypnotized, brainwashed, mind-wiped, it didn’t matter what it was called. They were zombies, enchanted only for fucking, and they would fuck themselves to death as Blake feasted on them and Mr. Stuart watched.

And the worst part was, they’d made him do it. Somehow, they’d hijacked his body, making him part of this vampiric plot. Maybe they’d duped Blake too? But no, Wyatt remembered the way he’d approached the cop, aggressive and grinning. Blake was in on this. They were all in on this. And they had him too.

A hand fell on his shoulder, making Wyatt nearly jump out of his skin. “Wyatt,” said a soft voice that was unmistakably Oliver’s.

Wyatt ran. He didn’t know the apartment well at all, but he remembered that the elevator had come up in the middle. That meant the whole floor had to be a ring, or something like it, didn’t it? But the only way he knew for sure to the elevator was back through the main room, where the priests were currently being drained. Part of him knew that he should do the noble thing, run back and rescue them, but the rest was blind panic. He dashed into the dining room, hoping to hide himself behind some tall piece of furniture, like a china cabinet. There were none.

A wild thought popped into his head: When the fuck had Oliver gotten here?

He darted into the nearby kitchen, and then into its closet, an irony he would have appreciated had he not been in such terror for his life. Maybe if he could hide, they’d check the room and move on. Then he could circle back and pass them. What about fire escapes? Didn’t places like this have fire escapes? No, they had stairwells, probably right next to the elevators. That was no help.

When no one entered the room behind him, though, Wyatt felt a further growing sense of unease. Maybe they were waiting him out. They had the upper hand, after all; they were between him and all the exits. They didn’t even need to chase. They could just sit tight.

He groped around the pantry, hoping to find something for protection, but the most weapon-like object he found was a can opener. He took it anyway, thinking that it might do as a bludgeon in very close quarters. But were they even human? Could they be hurt? Did they need some kind of holy object to be stopped? Wyatt was fresh out of those, and he didn’t imagine Mr. Stuart had many on hand anyway. And besides, if that was prevention, wouldn’t the priests have been safe?

What about a phone? He had no idea where the phones were located, but he knew they had to exist. He peeked out through the slats of the closet door, but it was too dark to see anything. Surely in the master bedroom — but he had no idea where it was. He had no idea where anything was here.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. No, there had to be a phone in the kitchen. Normal people had phones in kitchens. He would grab it, and dial 9-1-1, and say … something, anything. What would make them respond fastest? Maybe he should say there was a fire. They’d have to pull the alarm and get everyone out, right? And then go check every floor just to be sure? Would they get to him in time?

It was a slim chance, but it was all he had. Gripping the can opener as tight as he could, he prepared to run out. He took deep breaths, trying to memorize his plan: Look for a phone. Call for help. Hide again. Look for a phone. Call for help. Hide again. Look for a phone–

He burst from the pantry, and he nearly wept to see a white phone hanging from the side of the cabinet. His heart sank, though, when he realized that the only thing between him and it was Oliver.

Oliver raised his hands in front of him, showing that they were empty. “Wyatt,” he said again, “please listen.”

For a fleeting moment, Wyatt wondered if Oliver might be safe, if he’d somehow just let this all happen underneath his nose. Then he remembered seeing the way he’d embraced Mr. Stuart that night, and Wyatt knew Oliver was as much of a threat as the others. He brandished the can opener like a knife, hoping it looked more dangerous in the dim light. “Stay the fuck away from me,” he growled.

“I won’t come any closer.” Oliver took a step back, still between Wyatt and the phone, but giving him some space. “I know you’re upset.”

Upset?” Wyatt was shaking now. “He made me a murderer!”

“And you must believe me, that was not the intent.” Oliver let his hands fall to his sides. “It was an accident.”

“An accident? How does he make someone fuck a man to death on accident?”

Oliver took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, audibly. “I believe you’ve gotten the wrong impression.”

Wyatt shook his head. “Oh, no. I know what’s going on.”

“I don’t think you do–”

“I fucking do!” Wyatt snapped, taking a swipe at the air with the can opener. Oliver didn’t even flinch. “Mr. Stuart is some sort of vampire thing, and he, I don’t know, I don’t know, he murders people, he–”

“Wyatt,” said Oliver again, reaching out his hand.

Crazily, Wyatt found he wanted nothing more than to take it, to be pulled into Oliver’s arms. Oliver was safe. He was strong. He would never let anything bad happen to Wyatt. Of course, that was what they had all said, and look how true that had turned out to be. But Wyatt still wanted it. He wanted so much to be safe, to not be afraid. Why couldn’t he have that? Why didn’t he deserve it?

At last, Oliver stepped aside. “You may use the phone,” he said. “I won’t stop you. I’ll even dial the front desk for you. But before you do, I have one thing I’d like you to see. Will you follow me?”

Against all his better judgment, Wyatt nodded. But he held the can opener, just in case.

Oliver walked out of the kitchen and through the dining room, turning his back fully to Wyatt. He walked slowly enough that Wyatt could have jumped him if he’d wanted to. Instead, he followed back down into the hall, toward the lighted area that Wyatt recognized as the apartment’s central corridor.

He heard voices — laughter, even. There was Mr. Stuart’s, of course, but then there were others Wyatt didn’t know. As they came closer, Oliver motioned for Wyatt to remain out of sight, then stepped into the light. “Will you gentlemen require a car this evening?” Oliver asked.

“Oh, no, that’s quite all right,” answered one of the priests, sounding not only perfectly alive, but quite hale and hardy.

“This is the choicest spot in Manhattan for catching taxis, after all,” chuckled the other.

“No, no, that won’t do,” said Mr. Stuart. “Oliver, call down and make sure there’s one waiting for them, and bill it to me. Consider it another donation to the fine work you gentlemen do.”

As the priests voiced appreciation, Oliver stepped back down the hall where Wyatt was, heading back to the kitchen. Wyatt hesitated before following, and poked his head back out, just to make sure his ears weren’t deceiving him. But there were the two priests, laughing and shaking hands with both Mr. Stuart and Blake, who looked somewhat less debauched than he had earlier, though there was no mistaking the recently fucked pinkness around his mouth or the looseness of his tie. It seemed the kind of sight two men of the cloth should object to, but they appeared to take it all in stride.

Wyatt slipped back into the shadows, arriving in the kitchen just in time to hear Oliver thank the front desk and hang up the phone. “They’re … alive,” Wyatt sputtered.

“Quite so,” Oliver said. “And feeling better than they have in years, I daresay.”

“What do–” With the adrenaline fading, Wyatt was feeling shaky again. He leaned against the doorway. “How…?”

Oliver reached to put hand on Wyatt’s shoulder, and this time, Wyatt let him. “Go and sit with the others. I’ll be back in a moment with something for your nerves. And then we’ll talk. All right?”

Not knowing what else to do, Wyatt nodded.

~*~

Something for the nerves turned out to be a hot toddy, which Wyatt sipped gratefully, his hands wrapped around the mug as the drink warmed his fingers. He was tucked up on a corner of the couch, and the others were his anxious satellites; Blake had curled up at the other end, Mr. Stuart hovered near the windows, and Oliver sat between them, his hands folded on his lap. Perhaps most importantly, none of them were blocking his path to the stairs and elevator, should he choose to take them. “Shall we begin?” Oliver asked, ever the schoolmaster.

Wyatt nodded and looked at Mr. Stuart. “What are you?”

“Oh, me? I’m as human as you,” answered Mr. Stuart with a smirk. “Or perhaps I should say, as human as you can become.”

“And you?” asked Wyatt, turning to Blake.

Blake shrugged. “Gay kid from Wyoming who answered an ad. What you see is pretty much what you get.”

“That means…” Wyatt took a deep breath as he turned back to Oliver.

“Just so,” Oliver said. He seemed every inch an ordinary man, and yet as he looked now, Wyatt wondered why he hadn’t seen it before. No, of course he hadn’t; there was nothing to see. This was something long-practiced at hiding from mortal eyes, and it was looking at him now with an expression so kind it made Wyatt want to scream and sob and swoon all at once.

“So, um.” Wyatt took a steadying gulp of the toddy. “You’re a … a vampire?”

The other three chuckled kindly at this conclusion. “Not an unhelpful comparison,” Oliver admitted. “Yet not accurate. There’s not a word for what I am, or at least not one that you’d know. Better to say that a vampire is an idea about what I am.”

“I’m so confused,” Wyatt admitted to his beverage. Nothing about today had gone the way he’d expected, least of all this.

“We intended a different introduction,” said Mr. Stuart, leaning back against the window. Behind him, the city sparkled in the night. “You must trust me, it’s easier that way — to see the power in action, and then to understand what’s happening. To feel it coursing through you, until it was undeniable. Otherwise, if you’d shown up and we’d told you all of this first, would you have believed us?”

Wyatt had to admit, he’d already been so on edge about the decision to come to New York at all that a declaration like that would have seemed at best a cruel joke, at worst a reason to call the men in the white coats.

“We don’t want to kill anybody,” Blake said. “Not even that guy in the park. I could have. But that’s not it.”

Mr. Stuart nodded. “Temperance is a virtue, as is self-control, while gluttony is a sin — and too many dead bodies attract unwanted attention. We take what we need and grow stronger together through our collective restraint. Not obedience, but discipline.”

“So then why…?” asked Wyatt, trying to indicate as best he could with gestures the concept of what had happened with Senator Robinson. “Was it me?”

“No!” Blake cried.

“Somewhat, yes,” Mr. Stuart chuckled.

Oliver shot them both sharp looks, and they fell silent. “You simply have an aptitude,” Oliver explained, “which … well, simply put, most devotees don’t take to the symbiosis as well as you have, especially unknowing. Combined with his weak heart, the strain was simply too much. A regrettably perfect storm of causal factors, but made without a whit of ill intent, and absolutely no one’s fault.”

Odd as that was, it made Wyatt feel better — after all, he’d assumed that he’d killed the senator out of some deficiency or incompetence, not because he was too good at something. “So you don’t drink blood.”

“I’d really rather not,” Oliver replied, and it was testament to how odd the situation was that this was a halfway comforting answer.

“Then–” Wyatt chewed on his lower lip. “What do you feed on?”

Oliver peered at him over the tops of his wire-rimmed spectacles. “What do you think?”

At first, Wyatt didn’t know, nor did he have any idea where to begin evaluating possibilities. Whatever Oliver was, he fed by proxy, that much was at least clear; he could remember the way he’d felt drained after that first orgasm in Mr. Stuart’s house, then strengthened by every one after. Was it semen? That didn’t seem right either, especially now that he was reconsidering the way Blake had kissed him on the street, to say nothing of the incident with the cop in the park. Something intangible, then — but there was no emotion that seemed consistent across all the encounters Wyatt could remember. Not love. Not obedience. Not power. He had to think! What was there in common between a pair of priests, a closeted politician, a crooked cop, and a pair of gay boys left with nothing to call home?

“Shame,” Wyatt said at last, staring at Oliver as the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. “You eat … you eat shame.”

“I am something that was already old when your world was young,” said Oliver, a casual declaration that froze Wyatt to his very core. “I am patron of the forgettable, first and last lover of the disposable. I eat shit — metaphorically speaking, of course, these days — and excrete light. By this, the world is made clean.”

No matter how proud of being gay he’d claimed to be, Wyatt had still come to Mr. Stuart’s house clothed in shame; he had felt it wrapped around him like a shroud, hobbling him, humbling him, leaving him aware of nothing but his deficiencies. But now it was gone. Somewhere along the way, it too had been consumed, freeing him without his even noticing.

“We’re monsters,” said Mr. Stuart, walking over to hover behind Oliver’s chair with reverential attentiveness. How had Wyatt ever mistaken who was servant and who was master? “So are you, from long before the moment you called my number. Cocksucker, queer, faggot: You’ll always be every awful thing they say you are. But if you stay with us, you can be all that and something more.”

Wyatt looked to Blake, who reached across the couch to take Wyatt’s hand. His fingers were warm and soft. Not a monster’s, Wyatt thought, before realizing that, no, he had simply never known what a monster was before. There was one in his bed; there was one in the mirror; there was one wearing his suit and his shoes and his face.

After a long moment, Wyatt stood and set his now-cold toddy on the endtable. He pulled his pajama top over his head and pushed his pants down from his hips, letting them both fall to the floor. Bare now except for the chain around his throat, the outward symbol of his devotion, Wyatt crossed the room until he stood in front of Oliver. Exhausted and safe, he fell to his knees, pillowing his head on Oliver’s thigh. He was at last with his own kind.

“Welcome home,” said Oliver, lovingly stroking Wyatt’s hair. “Welcome home.”

 

 

Read this piece’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.

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4 thoughts on “Man Seeking

  1. It took me for-blasted-ever to finish this, and I’m so glad I did. What lovely art! What charming characters! And what otherworldly menace, the sort of thing I eat with a spoon. This was a very good time.

    Also I SUSPECTED that this was based on a certain series of personal ads, and while I was fairly certain of the connections the author’s notes neatly verified everything.

    I also tried to think of a clever Deadly Premonition reference to tuck in here at the end, but I’m so tired, so please pretend one is here for you, perhaps being read aloud by a man who may or may not have a television for a head.

  2. Oh my god, when I realized this was based on THAT AD I was so excited to see what you would do with it! This has a wonderful sense of growing dread and I do always love a good monstrous-queers narrative.
    PLUS the illustration is gorgeous!!! sensual and a little sinister too.

  3. I really enjoyed this. It kept me a little on edge, wondering if it was going to go super dark at the end. I wasn’t expecting it to get so profound, and I loved that it did. And the art is wonderful!

  4. This was fascinating!! The unease Wyatt felt throughout, how it came and went and then came back. It was all very subtle and creepy. And the twist at the end! Good stuff! The art is so gorgeous too!

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