Written in Stone, Part 9

Ugh, I’ve battled with this part for months, now.  I’ve been stuck on the final scene, and no matter how many times I rewrote it or how many tweaks I made to it, I just couldn’t get it right.

I’m still not completely happy with it, but it occurred to me that I could fiddle around with it for another six months and not be completely happy with it.  At some point, you’ve just got to let it go.  I still might tweak it a bit, I’m not sure.  But at least it gets the point across.

Charis held Cullen’s hand tightly as she opened her bedroom door and led him inside.  Ilya, who had been sitting on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, jumped to his feet.

“Cullen,” he said, a pained look on his face.

Charis held up a discreet hand, stopping him.  She closed the door and turned to Cullen.

“What do you need?” she asked softly.

He hesitated, keeping his eyes lowered, not looking at either of them.  For a long moment, he was silent, completely still, and Charis began to wonder if he would answer at all.

But then, he blinked hard, his brow furrowed, and parted his lips.  “I need,” he whispered haltingly.  “I… I need… to be… beaten.”

“Cullen,” Charis said.  “My love, you’re already upset.  Beating you could cause a lot of damage.”

She pulled his face down to look at her.  “It could bring up a lot of things that took you a long time to heal from.”

“I need it,” he insisted, meeting her gaze.

“She’s right, Cullen,” Ilya put in.  “You’re not a masochist.  You won’t enjoy it.  It’ll cause more harm than good.”

“I need it,” he repeated.

“Why?” Charis asked.

He took a long, deep breath, then let it out slowly.  “I need to know I can survive it,” he whispered.  “I… I need to know I’m stronger than it.  Stronger than the pain.”

“Cullen,” Ilya murmured.

Finally, Cullen looked up and met his gaze.  “And it has to be you.”

“Cullen, that is a bad idea, for so many reasons,” Charis protested.

Ilya nodded his agreement.  “I’ve never beaten you before.   I’ve never really even done much more than fuck you.  I don’t know you the way Charis does.”

But Cullen shook his head.  “Dominus, it has to be you.  You… you took my peace.  You have to be the one to give it back.”

He hesitated.  “And I know it’ll be just pain.  I know you’ll hurt me, I… I know you’ll hurt me badly.”

“Cullen,” Charis whispered.

“But I know you won’t cause me harm.  You’ll make it real, and I’ll survive it, and I’ll know that it’s not as bad in reality as it is in my head.  I know I’ll be safe.”

Ilya, uncertain, looked to Charis.  She studied Cullen’s face for a long time, biting her lower lip, then sighed, deciding to trust him.  She turned to Ilya.  “How do you want him?” she asked softly.

He looked up to the O-rings that had been drilled into the ceiling in the middle of the room.  “Here,” he said.  “I’ll cuff his hands to these rings.”

Charis went to the chest at the foot of the bed and opened it, pulling out a pair of padded leather cuffs.  “Take your tunic off, love,” she said gently to Cullen.

She didn’t miss the way his hand shook as he unhooked the clasp at his shoulder, and once more, she was consumed with doubt.  As anxious as he was already, beating him could reopen all those old wounds.  It could take him months to heal from it.

Ilya saw her expression as he approached the chest.  A knowing look passed between them, and he looked through the various implements of pain while Charis cuffed Cullen’s wrists and chained him to the O-rings in the ceiling.  Then, she stepped back, sitting at the foot of the bed, watching him.

His face was blank, his eyes glued to the floor, his hands chained above his head, naked and trembling, he looked uncomfortably similar to the way he did the night she’d met him.

Ilya pulled her attention as he grabbed a thick, heavy leather flogger from the chest.  Charis approved of the choice.  It was big, heavy enough to make quite an impact, and would undoubtedly leave bruises and welts, but it wouldn’t break skin and it wouldn’t cause anything more than superficial pain.

He read the concern in her face and matched it with his own.  She leveled her gaze firmly at him.

The thing she loved most about him was his ability to understand her.  They could have entire conversations with nothing but looks and facial expressions.

Her expression showed that she wanted Ilya to put Cullen into subspace as quickly as possible.  Ilya read it easily and showed his agreement, signaling that he would follow her lead, if she could guide him in the best way to get Cullen to subspace.

Her position at the foot of the bed was perfect.  With Cullen facing her, she could see his face, she could use her knowledge and familiarity with him to read his reactions, and she could wordlessly communicate that to Ilya, who stood behind Cullen.

It was a good plan.  The best way to give Cullen what he said he needed.

She took a deep breath, watching as Ilya swung the flogger through the air, getting a feel for it.  That’s one advantage he had.  He was very much a sadist, and Taber was very much a masochist.  Which meant that Ilya had a lot of practice and experience in the field of causing pain.

When he was ready, he looked to Charis.  She nodded, and he squared off behind Cullen, winding up and bringing the flogger down hard across Cullen’s back.

The blank expression disappeared from Cullen’s face as he tensed and grimaced with the pain.

After the second swing, defiant anger flashed across his face, and Charis’ eyes flitted to Ilya.

He stopped midswing, taking a very small step backward.  Once more, he wound up, and started again.  But this time, it was just a little softer.

Slow, Charis thought as she looked to Ilya, knowing that he could read her thoughts on her face.  Start slow.

Ilya adjusted his rhythm and intensity, working to cause just the right amount of pain.  He knew that the right amount of pain would cause Cullen’s brain to release a cocktail of chemicals.  Endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine.

The rush of these chemicals would cause a sort of trance, where Cullen would be hyper aware and hyper focused, the rest of the world melting away.  Sensation would be heightened, pain would become pleasure.

Ilya knew how to bring about that state.  He was very good at it.

When he was playing with a masochist.

Cullen was in no way a masochist.  He hated pain.  He feared it.  It had been used as a weapon against him for so long, there was no way to undo the damage that had been done.

This was playing with fire, no doubt about it.  One wrong move could send Cullen right back to his days at the symposium.

Ilya was good, but was he that good?  Could he pull this off without reopening all the old wounds that Charis had spent years closing?

He paced himself, watching Charis, seeing his doubts mirrored in her eyes.  She wasn’t any more thrilled about this than he was.  She was right in front of Cullen, she was staring at his face.  No doubt she was reliving the night they’d found him.

He remembered what she had looked like that night, the way she’d watched him, her entire body tense, her face like stone.  She’d seen the pain on his face then, just as she was seeing it now.

But he knew that the Spartan in her had already shut all that down.  She didn’t have time to be upset by it now.  She had to make sure that Ilya knew what to do.  She had to guide him.  If she failed, if Ilya failed, Cullen would be the one to suffer for it.

Slowly, gradually, with Charis’ help, Ilya increased the intensity of the beating.  Cullen, who had been mostly silent, began crying out with each hit.

And still, Charis urged him on.  Now she knew what Cullen wanted, why he’d insisted on this.  She could see the release on his face, underneath the pain.  She understood what he had meant when he said he wanted to be beaten.

He cried out with every blow, squirming freely, his eyes closed, his entire world confined to that moment, in that room, with Charis in front of him and Ilya behind him.  They’d done it right, Ilya had executed it perfectly.  Cullen was in subspace, deep and high, the intensity of the beating driving him even deeper.

Despite the pain of the beating, she could see the stress falling from his face.  He started to let go of the damage, let go of the fear, let go of the past.  He wasn’t even capable of holding on to it, anymore.

By the time she finally told Ilya to stop, Cullen was trembling and panting.  She rose to her feet, making a slow circle around him, examining Ilya’s handiwork with silent approval.

Cullen’s back, ass, and the backs of his thighs were red and flaming, with small welts forming.  He would be bruised and sore the next day, and he was deep in subspace.

It was perfect, and Charis smiled up at Ilya, then uncuffed Cullen.  Gently, they led him to the bed, and lied down on either side of him, soothing him and kissing him as he came down from the high.

But they weren’t done with him.  Charis claimed his lips in a passionate kiss while Ilya kissed his way down Cullen’s body.

Cullen was soft and pliant, yielding completely to them as they stroked and kissed him.  Ilya reached his waist, stopping just short of Cullen’s cock, deliberately teasing him.

And sure enough, their teasing soon elicited a soft, frustrated whine from the man between them, his cock growing under their touch.  Ilya responded to the whine by wrapping his hand around Cullen’s cock, stroking slowly.

Cullen gasped, squirming, unconsciously thrusting into Ilya’s hand.  Once he was completely hard, Charis grabbed his shoulders, rolling him on top of her.  He gasped when he felt her guide him inside her.

His eyes shot open and he looked to her.  It wasn’t often that she let him inside her.  She smiled up at him reassuringly, holding him still as Ilya positioned himself behind him.

“Hold still, love,” Charis murmured, looking up at him.  His eyes closed and his lips parted, gasping as Ilya pushed the head of his cock into him.  Slowly, he sunk all the way to the hilt, filling Cullen completely.

Ilya held still, while Charis pulled Cullen toward her, urging him to thrust into her.  As he thrust into her, he fucked himself on Ilya.

Still floating in the subspace, his skin still burning and tingling from the beating, it didn’t take long for Cullen to become overwhelmed by the sensations.

Moaning softly, his arms buckled, no longer able to support his weight.  He collapsed on top of Charis, burying his face in her hair as Ilya took over.

The taller man drove his cock into Cullen harder, pushing Cullen into Charis with each thrust.

Cullen whimpered and trembled, clinging to Charis as Ilya fucked him.  Charis put her arms around him.  “Cum when you’re ready, love,” she murmured, glancing meaningfully to Ilya.

Ilya nodded, understanding her message.  She wanted him to cum either at the same time or right after Cullen did.

Easy enough to do.  He adjusted his position, tilting his hips as he thrust into Cullen.  This position would put more direct pressure on Cullen’s prostate, making him cum more quickly.

It had the effect he was hoping for.  Within a matter of minutes, Cullen’s whimpers began to get louder, his hands balled into fists.

“That’s it,” Charis whispered into his ear.  “Cum for me, pet.”

Cullen cried out, his entire body tense, as the pleasure exploded through him.  Gripping Charis as hard as he could, his body bucked and writhed, completely independent of conscious thought.

And when he was spent, he burrowed his face down even deeper and began to cry.

Ilya pounded madly into him, until a moment later, he moaned with his own orgasm.  He quickly and silently pulled out of Cullen, looking down at the sobbing man.

Without a word, he got off the bed and turned to leave.

“No, wait,” Cullen protested, lifting his head up just enough for his words to be heard.  “Stay, Dominus.  Please.”

“Of course,” Ilya replied softly, lying back down on the bed.  Charis turned, rolling Cullen over with her, until his body was sandwiched between theirs.

None of them spoke.  Ilya and Charis simply held Cullen, comforting him.

Cullen was notorious for keeping his emotions bottled up, or outright denying their existence, preferring to deflect with humor.  It took a lot to finally push him to the point of letting his feelings out.

Now that they had, they didn’t want to interrupt it.

After a few minutes, Cullen’s sobs quieted, and he lied calmly between them.  Ilya stayed there a moment longer, then sat up.

“I’m going to go release the boys from the room,” he said quietly.  Charis nodded, running her fingers through Cullen’s hair.

Once Ilya was gone, she pulled away just enough to be able to see Cullen’s face.  “How do you feel?” she asked.

“I… I don’t know,” he answered softly.  “I think good.”

Charis smiled, kissing his forehead.  “You survived.”

He smiled back at her, reaching up to touch her face.  The look he gave her was one of pure vulnerability, trust, and love.  “I survived,” he agreed.

“You’ll be sore tomorrow.”

He chuckled softly.  “I’m sore now.”

She grinned.  “You’ve got some bruises forming.”

Cullen nodded, moving closer to her.  He could already feel the burn of the beating moving down deep into his muscles.  It would be sore for a few days, but it was a good kind of sore.  It would serve to remind him that the pain of his past couldn’t hurt him.

Charis lied there with him until lunch.  Then, after the meal, when Kieran, Rowyn, and Ilya were lounging in the den, she walked in.

“I’ve got to go to the agora,” she announced.

“For what?” Ilya asked.

“Hyacinthia is next week.  I’ve got to arrange for the deliveries to the symposium.  Rowyn, come on.”

“Yes, Domina,” Rowyn replied, rising to his feet.

Then she met Kieran’s gaze.  “Do you want to come, too?” she asked.

Kieran’s heart leapt in his chest.  Go with her?  To the agora?

“Yes, Domina,” he answered, rising to his feet.

“Hurry, then.  Go put your shoes on.”

“Yes, Domina.”

His heart raced with excitement as he bounded up the stairs to his room.

He was going to accompany his Domina to the agora.

He’d never been to an agora before.  Hell, he’d never even left the house where he lived.  When he was owned by the breeder, he wasn’t allowed to leave the property, and Dryas had never even let him outside.

But now he was actually going to go out?  To the agora?

He quickly pulled his shoes on and met Charis and Rowyn in the garage.  “Get in,” she commanded, gesturing to the passenger side door.

“The front seat?” he asked.

“Of course.”

His hands were shaking as he jumped in and buckled his seatbelt.  He could barely contain his enthusiasm as Charis started the car and pulled out of the garage.

But then, as Charis pulled out of the front gate, the excitement turned to nervousness.

There would be people at the agora.  A lot of people.

What if he got lost?  What if he did something wrong?

It shouldn’t have surprised him when Charis, sensing the change in his energy, put a reassuring hand on his thigh.  “It’s alright,” she told him.  “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Yes, Domina,” he replied.

Still, the farther they got from the house, the more nervous he got.  Maybe he’d made a mistake.

He sighed.  There was no going back now.  He might as well find something to keep his mind off of it.

His thoughts turned to Cullen, who hadn’t come down for lunch, but stayed in Charis’ room.  He hadn’t seen the man since that morning.

“Domina?” he asked timidly.

“Yes?”

“Is Cullen alright?”

She flashed him a warm smile.  “Yes, love,” she answered.  “He’s just fine.”

“May I ask what happened?”

Charis sighed.  “Ilya needed to help undo some of the damage in Cullen’s mind.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s complicated.  I mean, no helot truly has a happy childhood.  They’re given the bare minimum to keep them healthy.  Then, they’re either sold to symposia or to private citizens.”

“Or the State?” Kieran asked.  He remembered vividly Aktaion’s constant threats to sell the young helots to the State if they could not meet his expectations.

“The State?” Charis said, surprised.  “At 16?  No.”

No?

“I’m sorry, Domina.  My breeder, Sir Euphemis, would often threaten to sell us to the State if he wasn’t happy with us.”

“I think every breeder says that,” Rowyn answered.

Charis shook her head.  “Some people,” she grumbled.  Then, she glanced to Kieran.  “No, that was just a scare tactic,” she explained.  “Helots owned by the State are bred very differently, and for very different things, than helots owned by private citizens.  They don’t care about appearance or bloodlines.  Physical size and strength are paramount.  You’re my height, and you’re skinny as hell.  The State wouldn’t pay a tenth of what you’re worth.”

“But they pay for helots when they turn 35.”

“Yes. They pay two hundred drachmae,” she said.

“Two hundred?” Kieran asked, incredulous.

She nodded.  “Two hundred.  I paid forty-five thousand for you.  If I were to sell you to the State when you turn thirty-five, they would pay two hundred drachmae.  That’s it.”

“Why bother at all?” Kieran wondered.  “Why would the State bother buying helots for that little?  What do they use the helots for?”

Charis’ jaw went tense.  “We’ve gotten off topic,” she pointed out.  “We were talking about Cullen.  So helots have rough childhoods, and then are sold.  Some are lucky, and are purchased by kind individuals or by symposia that don’t condone abuse.  Cullen was not that lucky.”

“He was beaten at the symposium, right?” Kieran asked.

Charis nodded.  “All of the helots there were.  And they were kept in absolutely horrid living conditions.  Cages no larger than dog kennels.  Hardly any food.  They would be forced to fight each other for water, and the members of the symposium would place bets on the combatants.”

She sighed.  “It was rough.  I wished I could’ve taken them all out of there.”

“What made you choose Cullen?”

“I didn’t choose him,” she corrected.  “Not really.  I wasn’t intending to buy any of them.  I was planning to have his symposium shut down completely.  But Cullen… I could see that he wasn’t fully broken.”

“He was angry,” Rowyn said softly.

“He was,” she agreed.  “I’d never seen anything like that before.  It was like a terrible car accident.  Morbid, gruesome, and disturbing, but you just can’t look away.”

“Taber told me you stopped them.”

“Yes, I did.  Completely without thinking.  I was just so angry at them.  I couldn’t even see straight.  And when they broke through Cullen’s anger, when they beat the fight out of him, I just saw red.  I could see them destroying him.  Not his body, but his mind.”

She sighed.  “But I was too late.”

Kieran was confused.  “Too late?  But you saved him.”

“He’d already spent almost 20 years there,” she said.  “The kind of damage that does to someone’s mind…  There’s no fixing that.”

“But you did fix it, didn’t you?  I mean, he’s better now.”

“Yes, he’s better now.  But as you’ve seen, it doesn’t take much to open all of that up again.  Usually, when it happens, he’ll shut down for days.  This time, since Ilya was the one to do it, he could help speed up that process.”

She took a deep breath.  “But no one can survive that much pain, for that long, without carrying a piece of it with them for the rest of their life.  It’ll always haunt them, and it always haunts Cullen.”

Kieran thought of the vibrant, cheerful, irreverent man, who always seemed to have a joke to say and a smile on his face.  It was such a stark contrast to the tense, quiet, stiff man who had sat silently on the windowsill, not wanting to be touched.

And then he thought of the day Ilya had pushed Charis, and the darkness he’d seen in Cullen’s eyes.  That darkness had surprised him, then.  Now, he better understood where the darkness came from, and why it was there.

No one can survive that much pain, for that long, without carrying a piece of it with them for the rest of their life.

“We’re here,” Charis declared, pulling into a large parking lot.  “Stay close.  Rowyn and I are well known here, but you’re not, and many of these people are not accustomed to interacting with slaves.”

“Yes, Domina,” he said, getting out of the car and falling into place at her side.

They walked through the parking lot, to a large, open shopping complex.  There seemed to be a main entrance, of sorts, a very wide walkway between two buildings.  The entire complex was more or less rectangular, lined by buildings, with kiosks, vendors, and performers in between.  It opened up in the center, revealing a large grass field, bordered by dozens of food and drink vendors.

Children played in the field, practicing gymnastics or sparring.  People sat in the grass, having a picnic, or simply enjoying the sun.

The place was massive, and intimidating.

It was crowded, loud, and everything seemed to be moving so fast.  Children dashed in front of Kieran, their parents calling after them.  People bumped into him, or stared at him as they walked by.

He realized that he and Rowyn were the only ones he could see that wore slave tunics.  No wonder some of the people stared at him.  But the way they stared made him uncomfortable, and he instinctively moved closer to his owner.

Charis didn’t seem bothered by the crowd at all.  She walked confidently through, smiling at the people who called her name.

She certainly was well known there, by both vendors and the general public.  People moved out of the way for her, vendors greeted her, citizens smiled at her, everyone seemed to know her.

But then again, Kieran supposed he shouldn’t really be surprised by that.  Long before the night she bought him, he knew the name Charis Athanasiadi.  It made sense that others would know her name, as well.

“Rissa!” a voice called loudly.

Kieran was surprised when both Charis and Rowyn stopped immediately, scanning the crowd for the source of the voice.  He realized that Rissa must have been a nickname used by a close friend.  There could be no other reason Charis would’ve stopped for it.  Especially when everyone else who had called out to her received a polite wave and warm smile, but she’d kept walking.

It didn’t take her long to find the source.  And when she did, a bright smile broke out on her face.

“Meta!” she cried, hurrying to the other side of the walkway.

A beautiful woman with long, auburn hair smiled back at her, and hugged her tightly.

Kieran couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief when he noticed the man standing quietly behind Meta, wearing a slave tunic and holding a wine glass.

At least there was another slave there.

The man greeted Rowyn with a hug, then gave a small smile and nodded to Kieran.  Kieran blushed, then nodded back, moving closer to Charis.

“Oh!” Meta exclaimed, pulling away from Charis as she noticed Kieran.  “Is this Kieran?  He’s pretty!”

Charis chuckled, putting a hand on the small of Kieran’s back, gently pushing him forward.  “Yes, this is Kieran,” she said.  “Kieran, this is Lady Meta Tsaldari.  She’s my oldest friend.”

“It’s a pleasure, my Lady,” Kieran murmured, blushing madly.

“Oh, he’s adorable, Charis,” Meta said, grinning.  “Look how cute he is when he blushes!”

Kieran didn’t think it possible, but his face flamed even hotter, and he lowered his gaze, smiling shyly.

“Well, Kieran, this is my slave, Cavan,” Meta said, taking the wine glass from him and sipping from it.

“Hi,” Kieran whispered, his voice barely audible.

Meta laughed.  “Absolutely adorable.  The shy ones always are.  Rowyn, darling, it’s so good to see you.”

“Likewise, my Lady,” he returned easily.  Kieran was stunned by how comfortable and at ease Rowyn was in the presence of Spartan nobility.

“Where are Alessa and Alec?” Charis asked.

“Oh, they’re at home, with Nikolai.  I wanted some time to myself, for a change.”

Charis grinned playfully.  “Trouble in paradise?”

“No, not at all,” Meta answered, taking another sip.  “Motherhood is great fun.  It’s just that I could never do it sober.”

Charis laughed, and Meta glanced around.  “Where’s Ilya?” she asked.

“He’s at home, too.  With the others.”

“Good, come drink with me.  We’ll let the men stay home and babysit.”

“I wish,” Charis replied.  “I’ve got to organize some deliveries for Hyacinthia.”

“Can’t Elan handle that?  Or Corinne?”

“Corinne is still training,” Charis explained.  “And this is only her second festival.  Elan is the only one who knows what we need, and a few of the newer vendors aren’t comfortable dealing with him yet.”

Meta rolled her eyes.  “Seriously?  Again?  I swear, as much as the perioikoi bitch about us owning slaves, they sure as hell never want to interact with them at any level.  Or acknowledge any sort of authority or autonomy in them.”

She turned and looked up to the dark-haired slave behind her.  “How many times have you dealt with that now with the kids?” she asked him.  “Two?  Three?”

“Seems like more than that, Domina,” he answered.

Meta rolled her eyes again.  “Alessa and Alec started preschool last month,” she explained to Charis.  “I have him on the list as an authorized guardian.  I signed for him when I enrolled the kids in the school.  I checked with the office manager, to make sure there would be no issue if he needed to come pick them up.  Nikolai and I work late all the time, so Cavan has the authority to come and pick them up.  Which I explained to them.  I used really small words.  I even brought him with me, so they’d know his face, as well as his name.  But do you think it matters?  Of course not.”

“Wait, they wouldn’t let Cavan take the kids?”

“Three times, now!” Meta exclaimed.  “At least!  He’s had to call me, and I’ve had to call the office and chew every single one of them a new asshole.  And it’s a perioeci run school!  Remember at agoge, when we were kids, and Ilya would come to pick me up for festivals and holidays?  That was never an issue.  Father put him on the list, and they never tried to stop him.  They’d just ask for his ID card, and that was it.  Spartans never have an issue with helots making decisions or having authority.  Only the perioikoi do.  Oh, but we’re the ones mistreating helots.  Because that’s a thing that makes sense.”

Charis shrugged.  “It’s frustrating as hell.  But I’ve only been having trouble with two of the vendors.  And I think, once Hyacinthia is over, it’ll sort of sink in for them that Elan can handle all of that stuff.  I put him in charge for a reason.”

“That’s exactly my point,” Meta said.  “Like, I put Cavan in charge for a reason.  I gave him the authority to pick up the kids for a reason.  Ugh, I just have to make it through another year, and then they’ll go to agoge, and it’ll be run by Spartans, and we won’t have any of these ridiculous problems.  Are any of your vendors run by Spartans?”

“A couple of them are owned by Spartans,” Charis answered.  “But the ones making the deliveries are perioikoi.”

Meta shook her head.  “It’s all just nonsense,” she said, taking another drink of her wine.

“You’ll get no argument from me, there.  Are you going to be here for awhile?”

“I’m not sure.  I think we might go catch a movie.  I’m desperate to see something that doesn’t have dancing penguins in it.”

Charis laughed.  “Take advantage of the opportunity, then.  I’ve got to go.  I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

Meta nodded.  “Tomorrow.”

They hugged once more, then Charis led Kieran and Rowyn away, back through the crowds.

After a moment, she stopped at one of the buildings.  “Here, we are,” she said.

Kieran hurried to open the door for her, and they walked inside.

The first thing Kieran noticed was the smell.  It was amazing!  Sweet and inviting, chocolate and cinnamon.

Then, he noticed the tables and chairs set throughout the front of the store.  Many people were sitting there, drinking out of steaming cups or eating off of delicate black and white plates.  Even more were standing in two lines on either side of the store.  The place was crowded, the lines were long, but it was surprisingly quiet and relaxing.  Nothing like the crowds outside.

The front counter ran the whole length of the store.  On one side, there was a menu with many drinks and food items that could be ordered and eaten there.  On the other side was a large display shelf, with more types of chocolate than Kieran even knew existed.

Charis walked to the front of the store, where an aging perioeci man stood, assisting his employees as needed.  But he stopped when he saw Charis approach.

“Lady Athanasiadi!” he greeted cheerfully.

Charis smiled warmly as she approached.  “Hello, Darren.  How’ve you been?”

“Wonderful!  Just wonderful!  But please, how may I help you?  Are you here about your order?”

Kieran stopped listening, his eyes fixated on the countless varieties of chocolate on display.  All different colors, shapes, textures, it was amazing.  He couldn’t help but wonder if it tasted as good as it looked.  If it tasted as good as the store smelled.

“Kieran?” Charis asked, startling him out of his thoughts.  He looked up, then blushed when he saw both Charis and Darren watching him.  “Have you ever had chocolate before?”

“No, Domina.”

“Never?”

“Lord Roubanis never allowed me to eat anything other than his leftovers.”

She cursed.  “Fucking bastard,” she growled.  “Well, you’re not with him anymore.  Go ahead and pick something.”

“Domina?”

She gestured to the display shelves.  “Pick something.  Anything you want.”

Kieran looked to the shelves, suddenly overwhelmed by how many different kinds there were.  How was he supposed to pick?

“Start simple,” Rowyn suggested quietly.  “Something plain.”

Kieran looked up to the older man and saw the soft, knowing smile, and immediately realized that Rowyn had once been in this exact position.  He knew exactly what Kieran was thinking.

He nodded, grateful to Rowyn for the guidance, and made his choice.

Charis opened her purse to pay, but Darren waved her off.

“No, no charge,” he said.

“Darren, you have to let me pay you.”

“It’s his first,” Darren pointed out.  “His first is special.”

Charis smiled, then closed her purse.  “Thank you.  Should we go to the back?”

“Yes, absolutely.  Come to my office.  We’ll talk business.”

She turned to Rowyn.  “Stay close,” she said.  “You can go outside if you want, but don’t go far.”

“Yes, Domina.”

And with that, she walked behind the counter and followed Darren out of sight.

And Kieran suddenly realized that he and Rowyn, two helots, were left unattended in a public place.

He looked around.  Most of the people in the store seemed to be trying very hard not to stare at them.  None of them seemed to be guarding them or supervising them.

Kieran felt a thick pressure in his chest as he realized that none of them would try to stop them from running away.

But running away, the thing every helot dreams of, suddenly seemed less attractive than it had in the past.

Because now, he was owned by Charis, who was kind to him and treated him like a person.

Like a man.

Of course, it was extremely risky for a helot to make any kind of escape attempt, and basically unheard of for a helot to make it to Epirus from so far south.  Chances are, they wouldn’t make it.  They’d be caught and brutally, publicly slaughtered.

And now that he was with Charis, was it really worth that risk?  Would he be better off staying with her?

And if he was better off staying with her, what are the chances that she would keep him?  What if she sold him right back to someone like Dryas?

What if he never got another opportunity like this?

He glanced over to see that Rowyn was standing very still, watching him with a peculiar look on his face.

Waiting, Kieran realized, to see if he would decide to run.

But why wasn’t Rowyn running?

Ah, but that was obvious, Kieran knew the answer before his mind had even finished formulating the question.

Rowyn had belonged to Charis for ten years.  Any fears or worries about being sold were likely long gone.  It obviously wasn’t worth the risk for him.

“Well?” Rowyn asked expectantly.

The question caught Kieran off-guard.  “Well, what?”

“What have you decided?  Are you going to try to run or not?”

He didn’t bother lowering his voice or trying to hide his words.  He spoke in his regular speaking voice, and a number of patrons and employees within earshot turned to watch them.

Kieran felt the blood rushing in his ears.  “No,” he answered quietly, almost ashamed.

What kind of helot passed up an opportunity like this one?

What was wrong with him?

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Rowyn said suddenly, as if he’d heard Kieran’s thoughts.  “Come on, let’s go outside.”

Dumbly, Kieran followed the older man, his fingers shaking and his heart pounding at the thought of being outside, in a public place, unrestrained and unsupervised.

And yet, even though all reason and common sense screamed at him to run, he stayed by Rowyn’s side.

“Not the tables,” Rowyn said, leading Kieran past a cluster of picnic tables.  “Just opens the door for too much trouble if someone else decides they want to sit there.  We’ll find a spot on the grass.”

Kieran nodded, glancing toward the entrance of the agora as they walked out into the clearing, picking a spot in clear sight of the chocolate shop and far enough out of the way that they wouldn’t be bothered.

“You’re hating yourself for not running,” Rowyn declared as he settled down on the grass.  “Aren’t you?”

“It feels so strange,” Kieran admitted, sitting down and pulling a blade of grass from the ground.  “I feel like I should want to run, but I don’t.”

“Domina has that effect.”

“But there’s no guarantee I’m still going to belong to Domina tomorrow.”

“No, there isn’t.  You already know her well enough, though, to know that even if she sells you, she’s going to make sure you go to someone like her.”

“Right, but how many people are like her?”

“You just met Lady Tsaldari,” Rowyn pointed out.  “Do you think she’s cruel to Cavan?”

“No, but she’s Domina’s best friend.”

All of Domina’s friends are like that.  All of the members of her symposium are like that.”

Kieran looked up to Rowyn.  “They are?”

Rowyn grinned.  “Do you know why her symposium became so exclusive and popular?” he asked.  “The secret to her success?”

“What is it?”

“She only grants membership to people who don’t beat or abuse their slaves,” Rowyn explained.  “People who are kind, and compassionate, and good.  Who, as she says, bring honor to the Spartan race.  And she’s unique among symposiarchs because she was already wealthy when she started.  So she didn’t need members.  She could afford to say no to anyone she wanted.”

Rowyn leaned forward.  “It was the only symposium where money didn’t matter.  A wealthy Spartan who didn’t fit her ideals couldn’t buy their way in.  Money made no difference.  You don’t get much more arrogant than a wealthy Spartan, and arrogant people don’t like being told no.  The first time she told a Spartan nobleman he couldn’t join, she sealed her success.”

Kieran thought of an entire symposium full of people who didn’t beat slaves.  What would it feel like to be in a room of people that he didn’t have to fear?

“Domina is very used to saying no,” Rowyn continued.  “If she sells you, she will say no to anyone that she doesn’t think would be a perfect fit.  She won’t let anyone she doesn’t trust have you.”

“Still,” Kieran said, fiddling nervously with his blade of grass.  “It feels like I should want to run.”

“Well, sure,” Rowyn replied.  “You’ve spent your entire life fantasizing about it.  And this is the first time you’ve ever been left alone like this.  Of course you’ll entertain the idea.  And of course you’ve been conditioned to want to do it.”

“Do you ever feel it?”

Rowyn hesitated suddenly, lowering his gaze.  “Sometimes.”

That hit Kieran like a hammer to his chest.  Even Rowyn, who had been with Charis for ten years, who seemed to have the most unshakeable faith in her, still had his doubts?

“It’s not what you think,” Rowyn said quickly when he noticed Kieran’s expression.  “Of course I trust her.  But I’m not as young as I used to be.”

“You think she’ll sell you to the State?”

Rowyn furrowed his brow.  “Sell me to the…  Why do you think she’d do that?”

“That’s what happens, isn’t it?  When helots turn 35?”

“You think that automatically happens?  That all slaves are just automatically sold when they turn 35?”

“They’re not?”

Rowyn let out a long sigh, and suddenly looked very sad.  “No,” he murmured.  “That’s not what’s supposed to happen.  It’s not what usually happens.”

“Then what happens?”

He gestured to himself.  “You’re looking at it.  Domina still loves me and cares for me, and I still love her and serve her.  I have value to her, both as a helot and as a man.”

“For how long, though?”

“Ten years and counting.”

“But you fear that she’ll eventually get tired of you?”

“Of course not,” he snapped, the hint of an edge to his voice.  It was the same edge Kieran had heard when he’d been angry with Ilya.

Kieran lowered his head in surrender, letting the subject drop.  Obviously, he’d touched on something deep.

But Rowyn took a deep breath, consciously letting go of the tension.  “No, I’m not worried about that,” he said quietly.

“What, then?”

“I’m 46,” Rowyn said.  “I’ve still got time, but eventually I’m going to get older.  My health isn’t always going to be great.  And eventually, my medical bills are going to exceed what her insurance will cover.”

“Then what?”

“Then she’ll pay for it herself.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Eventually it’ll become a bad thing,” he explained.  “She’ll keep paying long after she should let me go.  She’ll bankrupt herself before deciding to put me down.”

“You’re worried that she won’t kill you?”

Rowyn shrugged.  “Everyone dies eventually.  I’m not going to live forever.  I’m going to get old.  My body will start shutting down.  One day, it’ll just be my time to go.  I don’t want her to go broke trying to keep me here.  After everything she’s done for me, I’m not going to be that kind of burden on her.  I’ll try to run before it ever gets to that point.”

“But if you’re old and sick, how far do you think you’ll get?”

“Not far at all.  I know I’ll be caught.  The point is that I’ll be executed immediately, and Domina won’t ever have to make the decision to put me down.”

Kieran didn’t know what to think about that.  Rowyn was going to try to escape to protect his owner?  What did that even look like?

“Stop looking at me like I’m insane,” Rowyn chided, smiling.  “I’m not the only one.  Almost a quarter of all escape attempts are old or sick slaves who would rather be executed than watch their owners lose everything to keep them alive.”

Kieran’s jaw dropped.  “You’re not serious.”

But Rowyn nodded.  “The world you know is not the world that most people live in.  Most people don’t hurt slaves for fun.  Most people don’t kill us or send us off to be tortured when we turn 35. And Domina and her friends are far from the only good people out there.”

“Not everyone is lucky enough to be owned by a good person,” Kieran pointed out.

To his surprise, Rowyn laughed.  “You think I’m not intimately familiar with that concept?”

“You certainly seem pretty lucky.”

“How old am I, Kieran?”

“46.”

“And how long have I been owned by Domina?”

“Ten years.”

“So how old was I when she bought me?”

Kieran didn’t know why that hadn’t occurred to him before.  “You were already 35 when Domina bought you?”

“I was 36.”

“Who owned you before that?”

“Someone unpleasant.  It doesn’t matter.  The point is that you’ve only been exposed to a very narrow way of seeing things.  The reality is much bigger.”

“So you’re okay with being her slave?” Kieran challenged.  “You’re totally happy with it?”

Rowyn shrugged.  “Is anyone ever really happy being a slave?” he asked.  “Then again, is anyone ever really happy?  Your former Dominus isn’t a slave.  Would you say he’s happy?”

Kieran shook his head.

“Exactly,” Rowyn continued.  “Freedom does not guarantee happiness.  No, my current situation isn’t perfect.  But I’m owned by a beautiful, kind, intelligent woman who loves me and respects me.  I’m in a position where I can make a real difference in the lives of other helots.  How many people get to say that, Kieran?  Spartan, helot, perioeci, how many get to actually do something that matters?  That makes me happy.  Domina makes me happy.  Cullen, Taber, Elan, the symposium, everyone who lives and works there, they all make me happy.”

“But,” Kieran whispered.  “But you’re still just her slave, Rowyn.  That’s all you’ll ever be.”

Rowyn nodded.  “You’re right.  That’s all the world will ever see me as.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“I am.  Because she’s my world, and to her, I’ve never been just a slave.”

Written in Stone, Part 8

Business at the symposium pulled Charis away for the entire day, and Kieran didn’t see her until after dinner.

She walked through the garage door and into the den, where Kieran, Cullen, Ilya, and Taber lounged, watching TV.

“Hi boys,” she greeted cheerfully.

“How was it?” Ilya asked.

“It was fine.  Elan could’ve handled it on his own.”

“Why didn’t he?”

“The new vendor didn’t want to talk to him.”

Ilya rolled his eyes.  “Really?”

Charis nodded, setting her purse and keys down.  “We had the same problem with the caterer too, remember?  I just needed to go in and let them know that Elan has the authority to make the necessary decisions.”

“That took all day?”

She chuckled.  “You know how it is.  Once you get there, you see a million things that need to be done.”

Sighing, she sat down beside Kieran on the couch and patted his leg affectionately.  “How was your day?” she asked him.

He blushed, averting his gaze.  “It was good, Domina.”

“Do you still want to service me?”

His eyes shot up to meet hers.  “Yes, Domina,” he answered enthusiastically.

“Good.  You can start by kissing my neck the way you did this morning.”

Kieran didn’t even hesitate, moving closer to her, eager to obey.  He kissed her neck, enjoying the way she reacted to him, enjoying the feel of her hands roaming across his body.

The more he touched her, the more he liked touching her.  He liked the way she moaned, the way she put a firm hand on the back of his neck, urging him to do more.  He loved how expressive she was, how his efforts to please her were immediately rewarded with her gasps and soft appreciative sounds, and the way she pulled him closer.

It made him feel powerful, knowing that he could please her.  For a moment, he started to understand what she meant when she had called him a man.

Was this what that felt like?  He’d felt it with Rowyn, too.  Was this what it meant to be more than someone’s property, more than a pair of holes to fuck?  To be able to please someone, to see them gasp and arch and moan, actually wanting him there, actually enjoying him, enjoying his body?

It was such an amazing feeling.  He loved it.  He wanted more of it.

And it was so odd, actually enjoying the feel of her hands on him.  He didn’t think he’d ever truly enjoyed anyone’s hands on him.  He’d certainly never enjoyed his owner’s hands on him.  But now, he found himself wanting more.

Her hand slid down his back, under his tunic, across his butt, and Kieran found himself arching his back, wanting her finger inside him again.

She chuckled at his reaction, gently pushing him away with a hand around his neck, pinning him against the couch.

He’d seen Ilya do this to Taber, after Taber had helped him learn to read in the library, and his heart had leapt in his chest.  He’d been surprised, then, at the lack of fear in Taber’s eyes.  He hadn’t been able to understand how it was possible not to be afraid.

He understood, now.  Gods, how long ago had that been?  It felt like a lifetime ago.

Had it really only been such a short time?  Less than a week?

How was it possible that his life could change so much in a week?

He looked up at her as she knelt over him, her hand around his throat, the corners of her lips turning up in a mischievous, wolfish grin that sent chills down his spine to settle in his groin.

“You’re such a good boy,” she said quietly.

Once again, his face flamed hot, and he averted his gaze, wanting to be closer to her, to melt into her.

He had stopped trying to understand why her praise had such an effect on him, how those two words could make him glow.

But she held him firm against the couch, capturing his lips with a bold, authoritative kiss.

“Come on,” she said, pulling away and reaching out to help him to his feet.  “Let’s go to my room.”

Excited at the idea of being able to service her again, or having her inside him again, he eagerly took her hand and followed her up the stairs, down the hall, to her room.

But he was surprised when she stopped at Rowyn’s room.  She knocked, waited for him to answer, then opened the door, sticking her head in the room.

“Come with us,” she told him.  “We’re going to play with Kieran.”

Despite the lust that burned and twirled in Kieran’s gut, a stab of fear shot through him.  Rowyn, too?

He tried to remind himself that there was nothing to be afraid of.  By now, he knew that Charis wouldn’t hurt him.  And Rowyn had been nothing but kind and gentle to him.

Rowyn rose to his feet, following Charis out into the hall.  He flashed a charming, warm smile at Kieran, and put a friendly arm around him.

“Sounds like fun,” he commented, as the three of them made their way to Charis’ room.

Kieran’s heart raced as they walked into Charis’ bedroom and Rowyn closed the door.

Just inside the door, Charis stopped and turned, pulling the pin at Kieran’s shoulder.  He gasped as his tunic fell to the floor at his feet.

But she didn’t give him time to really register the fact that he was standing between Rowyn and Charis, naked.  Pulling him close to her, she kissed him again, reaching down and grabbing his butt with both hands.

He gasped as she pulled him up and against her, a thigh between his legs to brace him, keeping him exposed and off-balance.  It was a strange, vulnerable feeling, leaning against her, held up by her, but he decided it felt good.  He liked the feeling of her hands on him, he liked the pressure as she held him against her, as her body, as strong as it was beautiful, held him up.  But then he heard Rowyn move behind him, and his heart raced.

But to his surprise, Rowyn knelt down behind him.  A moment later, he gasped and squirmed as he felt Rowyn’s tongue on his entrance, licking slowly and steadily.  It was such a novel and strange feeling, he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

After a moment, though, he decided he liked that, too.  With Rowyn’s tongue exploring his ass and Charis’ tongue exploring his mouth, all he could do was hold on to Charis, yielding to the both of them.  His head swam as Charis kissed him, his thoughts becoming muddled and fuzzy.

Then, Rowyn pushed a single, wet finger into him, and he moaned softly.  Gods, he had no idea that being penetrated could feel so good without the pain.  He pushed his butt back, wanting Rowyn deeper, bigger.

For a few moments, Rowyn alternated between licking him and fingering him, making sure to keep him wet and well-lubricated.  And the more he touched him, the more Kieran’s head swam.  His legs trembled with the effort of holding up his weight, and he leaned even harder against Charis.

When Rowyn slid a second finger in, Kieran cried out, clinging to Charis and burying his face in her hair as he was filled up.  But Rowyn was slow, and took his time, working to make sure Kieran’s body was able to adjust to him.

It was all Kieran had, just to keep himself upright, as he wrapped his arms around Charis, panting and gasping.  His entire body trembled, and he started to genuinely worry that his legs wouldn’t be able to continue supporting his weight.

Thankfully, just at that moment, Rowyn pulled away.  “I won’t be able to do any more without lube, Domina,” he said.

Nodding, Charis put her hands on Kieran’s shoulders, helping him steady himself as he stood up.  She led him to the bed while Rowyn went to the bedside table and pulled out a small bottle.

“Get on the bed, love,” she commanded softly.  “On your hands and knees.”

His breathing shaky, Kieran obeyed her, crawling onto the bed and waiting for what he knew was coming.

It was time, anyway.  Charis had been more than kind to him in the week he’d been there.  She’d been more than generous.  She’d given him so much time to relax and get comfortable.  It was time for him to start being used in earnest.

His desire fell away, leaving just the fear as he saw Rowyn pull his own tunic off, then get on the bed, kneeling behind him.

Kieran remembered how big Rowyn was.  He knew that this was going to hurt.

You’re a slave, said the bitter voice in his head.  What did you think would happen?  That you’d live here for the rest of your life, not having to service your owners?

But both Rowyn and Charis had been so kind to him.  He was sure they’d do what they could to lessen the pain.  And hopefully Rowyn wouldn’t last long.

He heard the unmistakable click of the lube bottle opening, and lowered his head, waiting to feel Rowyn start fucking him.  But instead, he felt the same two fingers again.

Rowyn fingered him for a moment, then slid a third inside.  Once again, Kieran gasped, his entire body tense, and once again, he was surprised to find that the pain was extremely manageable.  When Rowyn went slow, it hardly hurt at all.

“Kieran,” Rowyn said softly, getting his attention.  “I’m going to enter you now.  I’m going to go very slow.  Take a deep breath, and try to stay relaxed.”

Kieran whimpered, his entire body shaking, fear clutching at his heart.  He wanted, more than anything, to run away, but he stayed rooted to his place.  He cringed as he felt the tip of Rowyn’s cock against him, and the tears began falling when he felt the head ease into him.

He cried out, squirming, his hands balled into fists, panting and gasping, as he felt Rowyn slowly sink all the way into him.

But the pain he was expecting never came.

While the feeling was almost overwhelmingly intense, it wasn’t really all that painful.  He felt exposed, vulnerable, stretched to the limit and completely filled up, but it didn’t hurt.

Rowyn stayed still, giving Kieran time to get used to the size of his cock.  And after a few seconds, what little pain there was disappeared.  After a moment, it even started to feel good, being filled so completely.  Slowly, timidly, Kieran moved back, pushing against Rowyn, encouraging him to begin thrusting.

With slow, careful movements, Rowyn began moving, and Kieran was overwhelmed all over again.  As good as it had felt when Charis had fingered him, this was so much more intense.  He couldn’t control himself, he couldn’t control his body, all he could do was squirm and gasp, his hands balled into fists.  And through it all, he wanted more.

He craved more.

Charis put a gentle hand on the small of his back.  “Kieran, are you alright?” she asked softly.

Words?  She was asking him to say words right now?  Gods, he could barely put a coherent thought together.  How could he possibly manage words?

But his hesitation made Rowyn pause, and for a moment, Kieran was afraid he would pull all the way out.

“Yes,” he breathed hastily, pushing his weight back, wanting Rowyn all the way in him again.

Rowyn chuckled, obliging Kieran’s desire and sinking all the way to the hilt.  “He likes it, Domina,” he murmured.

“It would seem so,” she agreed.  “I don’t want to push it, though.  He’ll likely start getting sore quickly.  Don’t last too long.”

“Yes, Domina,” he replied, immediately speeding up the pace of his thrusting.

Kieran gasped as Rowyn pounded into him, surprised to discover that he actually liked being fucked harder.  It was a more intense feeling, it made him feel fuller, and it put more pressure on his prostate.

Good gods, was this what being fucked was supposed to be?  Was this what it was supposed to feel like?

This was nothing like what Dryas and his friends had done.  This was…  It was…

Gods, it was incredible.

When he felt an unexpected hand on his cock, he cried out in a half moan, half whimper.  On one hand, he wanted Charis’ touch, he wanted her to stroke him like she had when she’d fingered him.  He wanted to cum with Rowyn inside him.

But on the other, it was all just so intense, he didn’t know if he could handle anything else.

Charis was gentle, though, like she always was, and stroked him with long, steady, smooth strokes.

Panting and gasping, Kieran could barely register the fact that she was kneeling there, beside him.  All he was aware of was the hand on him, the cock inside him, and the ball of fire that grew in his belly.

Then, he heard her voice, her lips brushing against his ear.  “You’re going to cum for me, pet,” she whispered.

Unable to speak, all he could do was moan louder.  Gods, he was going to cum.  The pressure inside him mounted, building with each stroke, with each thrust.

“Come on,” Charis urged softly.  “Show me how much you enjoy this.  Show me how much you love being bent over and fucked.”

Her words were enough to send him over the edge, the pressure finally exploding, radiating out through his body, setting every nerve on fire.  He practically screamed, his body spasming as she milked every ounce of pleasure from him, as Rowyn fucked him even harder.

His muscles clenched around Rowyn’s cock, intensifying his orgasm, prolonging it until Kieran, too exhausted and oblivious to move, collapsed on the bed, floating and flying as Rowyn continued pumping into him.

“May I cum, Domina?” he asked breathlessly, his thrusts coming harder and faster.

“Yes, love.”

Mere seconds later, Rowyn sunk all the way into him, as far as he could go, throbbing and trembling as he shot his seed deep into Kieran’s body.

Kieran found himself mildly disappointed when Rowyn pulled out, missing the pressure of his cock in him, but was comforted when the older man collapsed on top of him.  The warmth and weight of him felt amazing, and Kieran never wanted to move again, for the rest of his life.

“Holy fuck,” Rowyn panted, kissing Kieran’s shoulder lightly.

Charis chuckled softly.  “Did it feel good?” she asked.

Rowyn laughed in response, nibbling the back of Kieran’s shoulder, a move that sent chills down Kieran’s spine.

“His ass feels just as amazing as his mouth,” Rowyn said.  He moaned softly as Charis lied down beside them on the bed, moving closer to her and pulling Kieran with him.

Kieran was more than willing to move closer to Charis, wanting to feel the length of her body just as he felt the length of Rowyn’s.  Lying between them, his entire body still throbbing, he felt warm, and safe, and protected.

Cherished.  He felt cherished.

Like he was more than a hole to cum in.  Like…

Like he was a man.

He didn’t even realize he’d fallen asleep until he woke up, confused at the sunlight streaming through the window.  Surprised, he sat up to find himself alone in Charis’ room, in Charis’ bed.  He’d fallen asleep in her bed?

She’d allowed him to sleep in her bed?

“Ah, you’re awake,” she said cheerfully, startling him.  He whirled around to see her walking out of the bathroom, wearing only a robe, pinning her hair up.  “I was just coming in to wake you.  Come here, I want you to bathe me.”

Eagerly, and somewhat stiffly, Kieran rose to his feet.  He was sore, but pleasantly so, and was reminded of the night before.  It was almost as if he could still feel Rowyn inside him and Charis beside him.

He walked into the bathroom to see that the tub had already been drawn.  He took her robe and helped her into the bath, then stepped in, himself.

He liked bathing her.  It was quiet, and peaceful, and comfortable.  Such an intimate act, and it gave him the chance to really study the woman who owned him.

As his hands moved across her body, over her curves and her scars, he couldn’t help but admire her.  So strong, so powerful, so graceful.

And he marveled at how relaxed she was.  Of the many differences between her and Dryas, Kieran noticed that the biggest one was the difference in comfort they felt with themselves.

He’d never really noticed it before, but now that he was with Charis, he realized that Dryas was never particularly comfortable with himself.  Like he always had something to prove, he always had to reassert his manhood, his position as a Spartan nobleman, his position as Kieran’s owner.

There had been no quiet, comfortable moments like this because Dryas could never be comfortable with who he was.

Charis, on the other hand, was self-assured and confident, and completely comfortable with herself.  She never had anything to prove, she knew who she was.  She could sit back and relax and enjoy the presence of her slave without having to remind him that she was his owner.  She could enjoy these quiet, peaceful moments because she was at peace with herself.

It was incredible, the difference it made.  Kieran was convinced that, even though Charis was trophimi, she was ten times the Spartan his former owner would ever be.

Perhaps that’s why Dryas had been so rough with Kieran.  Perhaps it was because Dryas knew that he simply didn’t live up to the Spartan standards.  He was nowhere near as physically fit as Charis was, there wasn’t even a fitness room in his house.  He had always been loud and aggressive, but had backed down when others had been loud and aggressive back to him.

Maybe Dryas hated himself, and knew no other way to cope with that, than to hurt the one beneath him.  Maybe that’s what it took for Dryas to feel strong.

And what a sad, lonely way to live.

Kieran found himself pitying his former owner.  No wonder he needed to be cruel.  He needed to deflect the anger and disappointment in himself by channeling it into his rough treatment of Kieran.

He would buy another slave, Kieran was sure of that.  And he’d be just as cruel to him as he’d been to Kieran.  But no matter how hard he beat a slave, no matter how loudly he made the slave scream, no matter how rough he treated him, it would never be enough to give Dryas peace.  It would never be enough to make Dryas comfortable with himself.

Not the way Charis was comfortable with herself.  And she’d purchased him.  She’d saved him from Dryas.  She’d reached down and rescued him from a small, fearful, angry man.

Overcome with gratitude, he leaned into her, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face against her neck.

“Hmm,” she murmured approvingly, her hand on his thigh, kissing him gently on the forehead.

He closed his eyes, simply enjoying being close to her, feeling her body against his.

Suddenly, a loud crash sounded from somewhere downstairs.  A moment later, Ilya’s booming voice could be heard, shouting angrily.

“What the hell?” Charis demanded, quickly rising to her feet.  “Get my robe.  Now.”

The sharpness of her voice brought back the fear that always lingered in the back of Kieran’s mind, but he reminded himself that she wasn’t angry with him.  Something was very obviously wrong, and she needed to figure out what it was.  He reminded himself that he wasn’t the cause of the sudden edge in her voice.

He helped her into her robe just as Rowyn rushed into the room.

“What?” she demanded.

“The symposiarch called, wanting to talk to you,” Rowyn explained quickly as she walked past him.  “Dominus told him that you weren’t coming to the phone, and that you’re not interested.”

“And?”

“He said something to set Dominus off.  I don’t know what.  He threw the phone through the TV.  Taber and Cullen are trying to calm him down.”

“Fucking hell,” she muttered.  “Take Kieran to your room, and stay there until I come get you.”

“Yes, Domina.”

Charis hurried down the hall, to the staircase.  She could hear Ilya shouting, and now she could make out what he was saying.

Back off!” he shouted.  “I’ll beat you both until you can’t move anymore.”

Her heart leapt, and her blood boiled.  Gods damn it, Ilya, she thought, quickening her pace.  Ilya was known to lose all rational thought when he lost his temper, but to say something like that, to Cullen

She heard a softer voice.  Taber.  But she couldn’t make out what he said.  There was another crash and more shouting.

“Don’t fucking touch me!” Ilya yelled at him.  “Do you want me to beat you bloody?  Both of you, back the fuck off, or I swear on every god there is that I’ll make you fucking regret it.”

She hurried into the living room to see Ilya against the wall.  Taber and Cullen were standing back, but had more or less cornered him, keeping him from destroying the rest of the house until Charis could get there to calm him down.

Her gaze went to Cullen, who stood with his head down, his eyes lowered, and his jaw set.  As she got closer, she saw that he was shaking.

Gods, Cullen, she thought, wanting more than anything to comfort him.  But he would be alright for a few more minutes.  She needed to deal with Ilya first.

Seeing Cullen like that infuriated her even more.  Without a word, she walked between Cullen and Taber, fearlessly approaching Ilya, who was still shouting, and slapped him across the face, hard enough to knock him back, hard enough to leave a handprint on the side of his face, and hard enough to shut him the fuck up.

The slap had the effect she’d been going for.  He held his hand to his face, staring silently at her, completely dumbfounded.

She turned abruptly to the slaves.  “Go upstairs,” she ordered.  “To Rowyn’s room.  Stay there until I come get you.”

“Yes, Domina,” Taber said hastily, casting a concerned look to Ilya before turning to obey her command.

Cullen didn’t answer, but turned to do as she said, shrugging away from Taber as the younger man tried to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

Cullen, she thought, looking after him.  My Cullen.

Gods, how could Ilya have been so careless?

Once they were alone, she turned back to him with fire in her eyes.

“What the hell was that for?” he demanded angrily, still nursing his cheek.

“Do you recall what you were saying?” she returned quietly.

“Seriously, what the hell, Charis?”

“Do you?”

“That fucking hurt.  Yeah, fine, whatever.”

“What was it?”

“I told them I’d beat them.”

“Until…” she supplied, urging him to repeat the threat he’d given.

“Until what?  I don’t know.”

Think.”

He sighed.  “Until they can’t move anymore.  What’s the fucking point, Char?”

“How did we find Cullen?”

Ilya opened his mouth to answer, then suddenly stopped, his brows shooting up, all the anger immediately gone from his face as he finally realized what he had said, and the effect his words had on Cullen.

“Fucking hell,” he muttered, leaning back against the wall.  He sank down to the floor, his head in his hands.  “Gods, I’m such a fucking asshole.”

“Yeah,” she agreed simply.  She knelt down next to him.  “What happened?”

Ilya hesitated, still consumed by guilt for what he’d said to Cullen.  It took a moment to pull his focus enough to answer her question.  “Coras called,” he answered finally.  “I told him we weren’t interested.  He said he’d only talk to you, not some ‘worthless neodamode.’  Then he said he’d buy me back, and proceeded to explain how he would use me for nightly entertainment in his symposium until I learned how to speak to nobility.”

Charis sighed, shaking her head.  She leaned back against the wall, pulling Ilya to her.  “Fuck him,” she murmured.  “You’re three times the man he could ever be.  You know that.”

“All I’ll ever be is a neodamode,” he groaned.  “I’m no better than a slave to them.  They’ll never see me as anything more.”

“That’s their problem.  Not yours.  You’re my husband, Ilya.  There’s no one I’d rather be married to.  There’s no one I’d rather help me run the symposium.  There’s no one else I would trust with my livelihood and my slaves.”

“Gods, the slaves,” Ilya muttered, lowering his head again.  “That’s even worse.  Have I fallen that far, that I didn’t even realize what I was doing to Cullen?  Have I really forgotten that much?”

“Everyone makes mistakes.”

He shook his head.  “I should’ve known better,” he insisted.  “I should’ve seen it.  I… I failed him.  Gods, I failed all of them.”

“It can be fixed,” she assured him.  “But you need to be calm, first.”

Ilya sighed, raking a hand through his hair, then looked up to meet her gaze.  “I’m calm.”

“Are you sure?”

He pulled her close, kissing her once, then hugged her tightly.  “I’m sure.  Let’s go.  I want to apologize to them.  To Cullen.”

“It’s got to be on his time.”

“I know.”

They rose to their feet and made their way back upstairs.  Ilya went to the master bedroom to wait for Charis, and Charis walked into Rowyn’s room.  She opened the door to find the four men sitting around, waiting.  Cullen sat apart from the rest of them, on the windowsill, looking out the window and refusing to talk or acknowledge any of them.

Next, her eyes went to Rowyn.  He held her gaze, then looked pointedly at Cullen.

He didn’t speak any words, but he didn’t need to.  She could see his thoughts on his face.

He’d never seen Cullen like this, not since they first brought him home.  He was worried that all of the work she’d done, all the trust she’d built, would be shattered.

Charis nodded to him and glanced to Taber and Kieran, who sat together on the bed, talking quietly.  They stopped as she crossed the room, watching her.

But her focus was on Cullen.  Every muscle in his body was tense as he looked out the window.  She could see the anger and bitterness in his eyes, and it broke her heart.  It had been years since she’d seen that look on his face.  She’d hoped never to see it again.

She stopped just short of him, putting a tentative hand on his arm.  “Cullen,” she murmured.

It took a long moment, but he finally looked to her, and her heart broke all over again when she saw the tears in his eyes.  She extended her arms to hug him and waited, letting him decide if and when to hug her.

He hesitated, then retreated into her arms, holding her tight against him, resting his head on her shoulder, and taking a deep, trembling breath.

For a moment, they were quiet.  Then, she kissed his cheek.  “Are you ready?” she asked.

In answer to her question, Cullen pulled away and resumed his seat, looking back out the window.  Charis watched him for a moment, then sighed.  She reached out to touch his knee.  “I love you, Cullen.”

He didn’t answer, but Charis didn’t expect him to.  She turned to the others.  “Come on,” she told them.  “Give him some space.  Rowyn, you don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not, Domina,” Rowyn answered quickly.

They started to rise to their feet, but were stilled by the sound of Cullen’s voice.  “Wait,” he said.

Charis turned to him, watching him.  Slowly, he turned to face her.  “I’ll go with you.”

“Cullen, are you sure?” she asked.  “You don’t have to.”

“I’m sure.”

Charis hesitated.  He was still so tense, the anger and bitterness still boiling under the surface.  She walked up to him and reached for him, holding his face with both hands, studying him.  After a moment, and with a lot of effort, he let go of some of the bitterness, and his eyes softened just a little as he looked at her.

“Alright,” she said.  “Come with me.”

She turned to the others.  “You three stay here.”

“Yes, Domina,” they replied, more or less in unison.

They were all silent as they watched Charis and Cullen leave the room.  Once the door was closed, Rowyn let out a deep breath.

“Gods, what happened?” he asked Taber.

“Dominus was angry,” Taber replied.  “He threatened to beat us bloody.  Until we couldn’t move.”

Rowyn shook his head angrily.  “Fucking hell,” he muttered.  “It’s going to take more than one conversation to get over that.”

“What was so bad about it?” Kieran asked.

“You remember when I told you how we found Cullen,” Taber explained.  “How he was being tortured.  That’s something he still struggles with, and if anything brings it back up or puts him back in that headspace, he can shut down for days.”

“Which Dominus should’ve fucking known,” Rowyn growled.  “For someone who likes to talk about how compassionate he is, because he’s a helot, not much fucking occurs to him.”

“He was angry,” Taber repeated.  “You know he’d never act on that.  You know he’d never hurt Cullen.  Or any of us.  Cullen knows it, too.”

Rowyn waved his hand dismissively, pacing the room.  His reaction, his anger at their Dominus, struck Kieran as strange.  He remembered that the two of them had served Domina together before Ilya had been freed.

He couldn’t help but wonder if there was some history there.

“Come on, Rowyn,” Taber pressed.  “Regardless of what he says when he’s angry, do you honestly think he’d actually hurt us?  I mean, truly.”

“It’s not the point,” Rowyn snapped.

“It is the point.  Dominus says things when he’s angry.  We all know that he doesn’t mean them.”

“He shouldn’t have fucking said it.”

“No, he shouldn’t have.  But at the same time, you know, just as I know, just as Cullen knows, that he would never dream of acting on that threat.  He loves us.  He protects us.  You know he does.”

Rowyn sighed, reluctantly accepting the truth in Taber’s words.

Kieran watched them silently, stunned by the interaction.  Taber seemed to have an uncanny ability to calm everyone around him.

He remembered his first day there, when Charis had showed him the training room.  When he had begun to panic, it wasn’t her slave she had called, but Taber.  And Taber had calmed him in the library, too.

But when he saw Rowyn rake his hand through his hair and slump down on the foot of the bed, it pulled his attention from Taber.

The older man was obviously agitated.  And it seemed like there was more to it than just what Ilya had said to Cullen.  There had to be some history there.  Some cause for that agitation.

He wondered what it could be.

Written in Stone, Part 7

“You’re mine,” Dryas growled, grabbing him by his hair and yanking him from the bed.  “Did you honestly think anyone else would want you?”

Kieran gasped, grimacing against the pain as he was thrown violently to the floor.  He looked up at the man, realizing he was back in the basement where he had lived for three years.

“I knew she’d get tired of you,” Dryas continued.  “It was only a matter of time.  She begged me to buy you back.”

Kieran moved as far back against the wall as he could.  He knew the mood his owner was in.  He knew what that meant for him.

Charis didn’t want him.  She’d sold him back to Dryas, to be beaten, starved, left tied up in that basement for the rest of his life.

“You thought your pretty face would make her like you?  You thought that would make you valuable enough for her to want to keep you?  What a fool you are.”

Kieran whimpered as his owner reached for him, roughly positioning him on all fours.

“You’re going to remember who owns you,” Dryas snarled in his ear.  “Whenever you think about that mothax bitch, you’re going to feel me inside you, and you’re going to remember that she didn’t want you.”

Tears pricked his eyes, and he tried to think about the feel of Charis’ fingers inside him, tried to think about the touch of her hand.

“Domina,” he murmured, sobbing.  No, she couldn’t have sold him.  She couldn’t have given him back to the man who had tortured him.  It couldn’t be true.

But the pain of his owner’s cock forcing its way inside him shattered every other thought in his mind.

He screamed, bolting upright, his chest tight and his breath coming in ragged gasps.  It took a long few moments for him to register the fact that he was in his bed, in his room, in Charis’ house.

But Charis wasn’t there.  She’d left after he’d fallen asleep.

He was alone.  Gods, she’d left him alone.

Dryas was right.  Kieran could still feel him.  He could still feel the things Dryas had done inside him.

He cringed and lied back down, curling up, pulling the blanket tight around him.  But no matter what he did, he could still feel Dryas invading him.

“Domina,” he murmured, shutting his eyes tight and crying into the pillow.  But when he closed his eyes, all he could see was Dryas’ face above him, grunting as he fucked him.

He sobbed, trying to push that image out of his mind.  But nothing worked.

“Domina,” he cried, clutching the blankets close, desperate to feel something other than Dryas’ hands on him and his cock inside him.

“Kieran?”

Charis’ voice surprised him, and he looked up to see her walking into his room, her brow furrowed with concern.  She hurried into the room and sat down on the bed beside him, reaching down to cup his face.

“Kieran, what’s the matter, love?”

Oh gods, had he woken her?

“I’m sorry, Domina,” he sobbed, moving closer to her.  She quickly pulled him into her lap, running her fingers through his hair and caressing his face.

“It’s alright, you have nothing to be sorry about.  What’s wrong?”

“I… I had a bad dream.”

“About what?”

Kieran hesitated, moving closer to her, clinging to her waist.

“It’s alright, love.  You’re safe, I’m here.  Tell me.”

He took a deep, shuddering breath.  “You sold me back to Lord Roubanis,” he whispered shakily.  “He threw me back into the basement.  He told me he’s the only one who would ever want me.  He… he…”

“Shh,” Charis murmured, kissing him gently.  “You’re mine.  Dryas will never, ever touch you again.  He’ll never be able to hurt you again.”

Kieran shook his head.  “I can still feel him,” he whispered.

“He’s gone.  He has no power over you anymore.”

He couldn’t stop the sobs.  “He’s still inside me.”

“No, he’s far away.  And you’re forever out of his reach.”

Kieran cringed, sobbing harder.  “He’ll always own me.  He’ll always be inside me.”

“Love, I’m here.  I’m going to protect you.”

He sobbed frantically, cringing as he felt Dryas inside him.  “I… I can’t…”

“You’re mine, Kieran.  I will protect you from him.  I’ll protect you from anyone who wants to hurt you.”

But you weren’t here!” he cried.

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew they were a mistake.  Moaning through his tears, he pulled away from her and knelt at her feet in an attempt to apologize for his rude outburst.

He heard her sigh above him, then felt her hand on his head.  “I’m here now,” she said softly.  “Come back up here.  Lie down with me.”

Sniffling, he did as he was told, eagerly retreating into her arms as she lied down on the bed with him.

“You’re not alone,” she murmured.  “I’m right here.  I’ll stay here all night.  And I’ll be here, holding you, when you wake up.”

“Yes, Domina.”

“Are you alright?”

He nodded.  They were both quiet for a moment, then, his heart pounding, Kieran found the courage to speak.

“Domina?”

“Yes, love?”

“Why haven’t you punished me for misbehaving?”

“Because you haven’t misbehaved.”

“But… But just now… I raised my voice.”

Charis sighed, and kissed the top of his head.  “Sometimes the message is more important than the delivery,” she told him.  “You needed me, you needed to feel like you weren’t abandoned, and that was the only way you knew how to tell me.  I’ll teach you how to tell me what you need, but I’m not going to punish you for not knowing how.”

“But I’m a slave.  Why does it matter what I need?”

“Because you’re not just a slave,” she told him.  “You’re a person, a man.  And you have a beautiful spirit that I want to see come out.  Not all slave owners are cruel, Kieran.  You’re going to meet quite a few people who would never dream of abusing their slaves the way Dryas abused you.  Helots that are happy and fulfilled make better slaves.  Their lives improve because their owners love them.  And because their owners love them, they aren’t euthanized or sold to the State at 35.  That’s what I want for you, Kieran.  That’s the life I want you to have.  I want you to be loved.  Cherished.  Taken care of.”

Kieran sighed, nestling in close to her, savoring the feel of her arms around him.  He closed his eyes and imagined the kind of life she described, and fell asleep to the image of the future she painted for him.

When he woke up, sunlight streamed through the windows, and sure enough, Charis was there, still holding him.  Kieran looked up at her face, studying her the way he didn’t have the courage to when she was awake.

She really was beautiful.

His heart pounding, he moved closer to her and nuzzled her neck, kissing her the way he saw Rowyn kiss her, that she had seemed to enjoy.

She stirred, then became alert, a hand going to his throat, claiming his lips in a deep, passionate kiss.

Kieran gasped, surprised that she would kiss him.  But it wasn’t unpleasant, the way she boldly explored his mouth, gentle but brooking no argument and allowing no hesitation.

Suddenly, her eyes shot open and she pulled away, now fully awake.  For a split second, there was a look of confusion and surprise on her face, then she laughed.

“Kieran,” she said cheerfully.  “Sorry, I thought you were Rowyn.”

Kieran was surprised by her apology.  “I’m yours, Domina,” he told her, confused.  “My body is yours.  My mouth is yours.”

Charis was quiet for a moment, studying his face.  “Do you prefer men or women?” she asked suddenly.

The question took him by surprise, but it didn’t frighten him the way it did last time she’d asked.  “Women don’t scare me as much,” he admitted.  “They usually don’t beat me or hurt me the way men do.”

“That’s understandable, but it’s not the same thing,” Charis said.  “Try to put abusive men out of your mind, and think only of physical attraction.”

Kieran closed his eyes, trying to obey her.  He didn’t think about Dryas, or about anyone who used him before Charis bought him.  Instead, he thought of Charis’ body, her exquisite beauty, and he thought of Taber, and Rowyn.  He thought of how much he had loved watching Taber eagerly take a cock in both holes.  He thought of how Rowyn’s cock had felt and tasted in his mouth.

He imagined Rowyn gently bending him over, holding him down as he slowly but thoroughly claimed every inch of him.  He imagined being in Taber’s place, between Rowyn and Cullen.

Gasping, his eyes shot open, and he looked to Charis, a look of frantic helplessness on his face.

Oh gods, he did have a preference.  And it wasn’t her.

That’s what he’d been afraid of.

“Domina,” he whispered, almost pleading, his heart pounding.

Gods, he’d let that part of himself be acknowledged, and found that he did have a preference.  And his owner wasn’t his preference.

What was he going to do?

“Hey, it’s alright,” she assured him.  “It’s alright to prefer one over the other.  I’m not angry at you for preferring men.  Hell, I’m married to a man who prefers men.  It’s alright.”

“I’m yours, Domina,” he said quickly, reaching for her.  “You’re beautiful, and kind, and I love being yours, and I love you, and I want to serve you.  I want to please you any way I can.  I want to make you happy.  I… I want to kiss you, Domina.  Please, let me service you.  Anything you want.  I’m yours.  You saved me.  I want to be perfect for you.  Everything you want.”

His voice and his begging became more and more desperate, until Charis finally silenced him with another deep kiss.

This time, he didn’t remain still.  He melted into her, yielding completely to her, silently begging her for more.

She laughed, pulling away from him.  “Come on,” she told him.  “You can bathe me, instead.”

Kieran couldn’t keep the disappointment from his face, and Charis laughed again when she saw it.  “Don’t worry, love.  I’ll use you again soon.”

“Yes, Domina,” he said, following her out of the bedroom and into the master bathroom.  Once there, he drew the bath the same way he’d seen her do it for him.  While the tub filled up, he went to the linen closet and pulled out some soft towels, setting them on the edge of the tub.

Next came the bottle of sweet-smelling bath oil.

“You’ve been paying attention,” she said approvingly.

Kieran blushed.  “Yes, Domina,” he answered, reaching to help her out of her nightgown.

Just as he did the first time he saw her undressed, he couldn’t take her eyes off her body.  It wasn’t so much sexual, but he certainly had a healthy appreciation for her beauty.

All Spartans were beautiful when naked, of course.  With physical fitness being such a big part of their culture, most had bodies that inspired awe.  Dryas had been toned and fit, as had all his friends.

His new owner was no different.  She looked incredible, and somehow, the dark scars lacing their way across her pale flesh made her even more beautiful.  Her long, blonde hair tumbled down her back in soft waves, almost reaching her waist.

She was all grace and strength as she stepped into the tub, sighing as she sank down into the water.  Kieran got in after her, sitting down beside her and tentatively pressing the washcloth to her back, letting the warm water trail down her skin.

They were quiet as he bathed her, aside from her gentle guidance and appreciative sighs.

Kieran enjoyed being close to her.  True, he was more sexually attracted to men, but there was no doubt in his mind that he loved her.  She’d saved him, she’d rescued him from Dryas, the man who had beaten him and degraded him.

She was gentle with him, and kind to him, and treated him like a human being.

A man.

Gods, it was still such a foreign idea, to think of himself as a man.  Would he ever get used to that?

Would he ever get used to the way she talked to him?  The way she smiled at him?

As if she cared about him?

She’d given so much to him already.  He would give everything to her.

She gave him dignity, and the ability to take pride in his service.  Everything he was, he would give to her.

He was telling the truth when he said he loved her.  He loved her, with everything he had.  And he always would.

So he would spend the rest of his life showing her how much he loved her.  And how grateful he was that she had saved him.

A sudden knock on the door startled him.

“Yes?” Charis called.

The door opened and Cullen stepped in.

“Good morning, Domina,” he greeted.

“Good morning, love,” Charis said.

“Elan’s on the phone,” he told her.

“Everything okay?”

“He said you’d asked him to call when the caterer got in.”

She raised a brow.  “They’re there already?”

“Yes, Domina.”

Charis rose to her feet and stepped out of the tub, into the soft blue robe that Cullen held out for her.  She looked back to Kieran as she tied the sash around her waist.

“Thank you, pet,” she told him.  “Go ahead and get yourself cleaned up.”

“I could help him, if you want,” Cullen said, a mischievous smile spreading across his face.  He winked at Kieran.

Charis paused, then looked back to Kieran.  She saw the blush in his cheeks, the shy, embarrassed smile, and grinned.  “You’re insatiable,” she muttered.

“That’s not a no, Domina,” Cullen pointed out.

“No, it’s not.”

“So I can play with the toy?”

Kieran’s face flamed even hotter, and he lowered his eyes, unable to meet Cullen’s hungry, lustful, playful gaze.  His heart pounded, waiting to hear Charis’ answer.  The strange thing, though, was that he couldn’t decide whether he hoped she’d say yes, or no.

“Go ahead,” she said after a moment.  “Gently.”

Cullen’s smile widened.  “I’ll be gentle.”

“Only his mouth,” she told him.  “Don’t touch his ass.”

He nodded.  “Yes, Domina.”

Kieran’s heart pounded as she left the room, leaving the two of them alone.  Cullen looked to him and grinned jovially.

“Let’s take a shower,” he said.

Wordlessly, Kieran followed him into the shower, watching as he removed his tunic and turned the water on.  But he hesitated when he looked back and saw the expression on Kieran’s face.

“Are you nervous?” he asked.

Unable to hold his gaze, Kieran’s eyes dropped.  “A little,” he whispered.

“Hey, you don’t have to be nervous,” Cullen assured him.  “It’s alright.  Come on, I’ll suck your dick first, how about that?”

Kieran stayed quiet, unsure of how to react to that.  No one had ever put their mouth on his cock before.  He was nervous and scared, but also curious.  He had given enough blowjobs, he wondered what receiving one would feel like.

“Come on, get in.”

Cullen took his hand and pulled him under the water, claiming his mouth with a deep, authoritative kiss as the water spilled over them.  His hands roamed across Kieran’s body, exploring every inch of him as his tongue explored his mouth.

“Gods, you’re so fucking hot,” Cullen said breathlessly, pulling away.  “I can’t wait to taste your ass, as well as your mouth.”

Kieran blushed, his cock surging at the idea.  “Y-you can,” he whispered.

Cullen kissed him again, then, grabbing a handful of his hair, pulled his head back, exposing his neck.  “No,” he answered.  “Domina said not to touch your ass.  But the rest of your body… That’s all free range.”

Kieran gasped as Cullen lowered his head to kiss his neck, pinning him against the shower wall as his lips and hands roamed across his body.

He whimpered when Cullen’s hand went to his cock.

Cullen smiled.  “What, you like this?” he asked, gently teasing him.

“Yes,” Kieran murmured, moaning as Cullen kept him pinned with one hand around his throat, the other hand slowly stroking him.

“You want more of this?”

“Yes.”

The hand on his cock disappeared, and Kieran couldn’t stop the soft whine from escaping him.  Then, he felt Cullen’s lips at his ear.

“Beg for it,” he whispered.

Kieran gasped as the command sent an unexpected chill down his spine.  “Please,” he begged.  “Please, Cullen.  Please, touch me.”

Cullen chuckled softly, waiting just a moment before gripping Kieran’s cock again.  The moan that escaped the boy fueled his own desire.

“You are not to move,” he ordered, taking his earlobe in his teeth.  “Do you understand me?”

“Yes,” Kieran gasped.

Cullen smiled, then began kissing his way down Kieran’s body.  The moans and adorable little gasps turned him on even more, and he almost laughed at Kieran’s reaction when he took a nipple into his mouth.

This would be too easy.

“Don’t move,” he ordered, reminding Kieran before moving further down the boy’s body.

The poor thing was trembling by the time Cullen got to his hips.  But his cock was rock hard, throbbing, and dripping.

Cullen put his finger against the tip of Kieran’s cock, gathering the bead of precum that hung from it, then reached up, pushing his finger into the wet, eager mouth above him.

Then, after Kieran had obediently sucked his finger clean, Cullen turned his attention to the boy’s cock.

And noticed just how much he was trembling.  He hesitated for a moment.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Y-yes,” Kieran stammered.

“Have you ever had your dick sucked before?”

Kieran’s face flamed hot.  “No.”

Ah, so that would explain the trembling.

Cullen smiled, changing his strategy a bit.  “You’re still not allowed to move,” he said.

He went slow, kissing Kieran’s thighs, his abdomen, his hips.  Then, he turned his attention to the throbbing cock.  But he didn’t go fast, like he’d originally planned.  No, this was Kieran’s first time.  Cullen wanted it to be memorable.

Instead, he licked it slowly, from base to tip, savoring the shuddering moans and soft whimpers that set his own cock on fire.  Then, he licked it again around the head.

“Cullen,” Kieran moaned, worried that his knees were going to buckle.

Suddenly, he felt soft lips, a wet tongue, and a warm mouth around his cock, and he very nearly screamed.  He would’ve collapsed, had Cullen not been holding him up.

Easily, the larger man caught him, lowering him down to the floor of the shower.  Once he was lying on his back, Cullen went back to his cock.

“Cullen!” Kieran exclaimed, crying out as Cullen took his cock back in his mouth.

Cullen took his time, using long, slow movements.  He wanted this to last, and Kieran’s body was easy enough to read to control when he would cum.  He had to be careful, though.  It wasn’t going to take much to bring the boy to that edge.

But no, not yet.  This was his first time, his first blowjob, and he was delightfully expressive, his little gasps and moans so damn hot.  Cullen’s own cock hung heavy between his legs, wet and throbbing, waiting to claim the boy’s mouth, to feel every inch of it.

Kieran’s body writhed and squirmed on its own, completely independent of conscious thought.  He moaned as his pleasure mounted, as Cullen expertly brought him to the edge and held him there.

“Cullen,” he gasped on a ragged sob of need.  “Please.”

Cullen smiled inwardly, keeping Kieran on that razor edge for just a moment longer before letting him fall from it.  The boy arched his back and screamed, every muscle tensed, as he came harder than he ever had before.

His head swam, and he was barely aware of Cullen moving up his body, until he was on all fours above him.  He claimed his mouth again, and Kieran was surprised when Cullen pushed the cum into his mouth.  “Swallow it all,” he commanded softly.  “That’s a good boy.”

Kieran obeyed, seeing double, barely able to comprehend what Cullen was saying.

Cullen rewarded him by kissing him again, hard and deep, then moving to kneel above him.  He put one hand on the back of Kieran’s head, holding him tenderly, and used the other hand to push the tip of his cock against Kieran’s lips.

“Open,” he said softly.  His eyes still glazed, he obeyed, and Cullen pushed his cock deep into the warm, waiting mouth.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he whispered, thrusting smoothly into the boy’s mouth.  “Gods, you feel amazing.  That’s good, suck it deep.  Take all of it.  All the way.”

Kieran moaned, his head still swimming, his tongue sliding across the cock as it moved in and out, fucking his mouth thoroughly and deeply.

“Fuck,” Cullen moaned, grunting as his thrusts became a bit harder, pounding the back of Kieran’s throat.  “You’re going to make me cum.”

Kieran tightened his lips even more around Cullen’s cock, wanting to intensify the orgasm.  His eyes watered from the deepthroating, but he found he actually liked it.  Cullen was authoritative and firm, and didn’t give Kieran room to hesitate, but he wasn’t overly rough.  He wasn’t trying to hurt Kieran.

“Gods,” Cullen murmured.  “I’m going to cum.”

Seconds later, Cullen shoved his cock as far into Kieran’s mouth as it would go, gagging the boy as he pumped him full of cum.  He moaned as he held Kieran in place against his body, the whole of his cock in the boy’s mouth.

When the waves of his orgasm ebbed, he pulled out of Kieran’s mouth and looked down at him.  “How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Good,” Kieran replied, panting, still dazed from his own orgasm.

Cullen grinned.  “Can you stand?”

“I think so.”

“Well come on, get up.  We’ve still got to actually take a shower.”

Written in Stone, Part 6

The next two days were quiet and pleasant, and passed peacefully.

When she wasn’t at her symposium, Charis spent most of her time either in her bedroom or her training room, with Rowyn.  Often, moaning could be heard from the hallway.

“Yeah, they’re like a couple of rabbits whenever they’ve been apart for any length of time,” Cullen said as Kieran paused outside the training room on the way to breakfast.  “They might start getting back to normal today, or it might be tomorrow.”

Kieran nodded, smiling shyly as Cullen put his arm around the boy’s shoulders.

He still wasn’t sure how to take Cullen.  The man was friendly and cheerful, but boisterous and irreverent.  He was always smiling, always joking, always teasing, even to his owners.

But somehow, he always kept a unique sort of balance between the respectful reverence slaves were expected to show, and the good-natured playfulness.

And underneath it all was an intensity that stunned Kieran the few times he’d seen it.  He would not forget the darkness in Cullen’s eyes when Ilya had lost his temper.  When Ilya had pushed Charis, Cullen had been there, all the friendly playfulness gone from his eyes, replaced by a grim determination.

Kieran had no doubt Cullen would’ve stepped between his owners to protect Charis.  When he saw that look in the man’s eyes, he was completely sure that Cullen would’ve even gone as far as physically attacking Ilya.  Such a move would undoubtedly cost a slave his life.

And Kieran was absolutely sure that Cullen would’ve done it.

That determination, that darkness was nowhere in Cullen’s eyes now.  Now, they danced with playful mischief.

“Want to see what they’re doing in there?” he asked quietly, gesturing to the closed door.

“What?”

“You’re not curious?  They’ve been in there for a long time.  Want to see what they’re doing?”

Kieran blushed.  “I don’t think Domina would approve of that,” he said quietly.

“Sure she would,” he replied, his smile widening.  “She’d just expect us to join in.  So it’s a win-win.”

Kieran lowered his eyes, blushing even deeper.

Suddenly, the door opened and Charis stood there, grinning, at the two of them.  “You’re not nearly as quiet as you’d like to think you are,” she said to Cullen.

“You mean you heard my dastardly plan?” Cullen cried, feigning surprise.  “Oh, I’ve been foiled!”

She laughed, pulling him close for a kiss.  “You’re such a horny slut,” she murmured.

“You wouldn’t want me any other way,” he returned, meeting her kiss passionately.

“You’re right,” she conceded.  Then, she pulled away, her hand going between his legs.  “So are you just going to stand there, all hard and dripping?  Or are you going to come in?”

Cullen whined, thrusting into her hand.  “I want to come in,” he murmured.

“I thought so.”

She turned to Kieran, smiling warmly at him.  “What about you, Kieran?” she asked.  “Do you want to come in?”

Kieran’s face flamed red, unsure of how to respond.  The thought of all three of them was intimidating, but he didn’t want to tell his owner no.

Somehow, as she always did, Charis saw his thoughts in his eyes.

“Not yet,” she answered for him, a warm, reassuring smile on her face.  “Soon, though.”

Soon happened later that night, after dinner.  Charis pulled him into her room and closed the door behind them.

“Take your clothes off, love,” she said.

Kieran immediately obeyed, stepping out of his tunic and standing in the center of the room, adopting the appropriate stance.

A moment later, he felt her hand on his waist, moving across his back and up to his shoulder.  As always, her touch sent chills down his spine.

“How are you feeling?” she asked quietly.

“Good, Domina.”

She smiled at him.  “Good.  Now that you’ve had a few days to adjust and get your bearings, I’m going to start training you in earnest.  I want to talk to you a bit, get to know you, so I can decide what I’m going to be training you for.”

Kieran furrowed his brow, confused by that.  “Domina?” he asked.

“I want to know what you like,” she explained.  “Where you’re comfortable.  So I can figure out where you’ll be happiest.”

He was even more confused than he’d been before her explanation.  Why would his happiness matter?  He was a slave.  His life was to serve.  That was his purpose.  Why would his happiness influence anything?

“You’re still confused,” she observed, smiling warmly.

He couldn’t help but smile, himself.  “A little.”

“You’re a slave, but you’re still a man,” she said patiently.  “You still have a personality.  You still have personal strengths and weaknesses.  Those strengths and weaknesses affect what kind of slave you are, and how you serve.”

Kieran’s mind rebelled against that idea.  He was supposed to be whatever kind of slave his owner wanted, and serve in whatever way his owner wanted.  His personality was supposed to be pleasing to his owner.  His strengths and weaknesses were supposed to be what his owner wanted them to be.

“I-I’m yours, Domina,” he stammered, unsure of what she wanted him to say.

“Yes, you are.  Your body is mine, but your mind is yours alone.  Knowing who you are, and embracing who you are, will help you find happiness in your service.”

No.

If he allowed himself to acknowledge happiness, the kind of happiness she was talking about, that means he’d also be allowing himself to acknowledge sadness, too.  Bitterness.  Disappointment.

No, he couldn’t do that.  His life was simple, now.  All he had to do was serve.  It was his entire life, it was what drove him.  He couldn’t let that go.

Obey.  Just obey.

“Hey,” Charis said gently, putting a reassuring hand on his face.  “It’s okay.  You’re alright.  You don’t have to be afraid.  It’s alright, we’ll drop the subject for now.”

Kieran took a deep, steadying breath, not realizing until just then that his heart was racing.  He leaned his head into her hand, wanting the closeness and security she offered.

She hugged him for a moment, then pulled away and walked to her nightstand, pressing a button on her cell phone.  “Well, I’ve seen how well you service women.  Now I want to see how you service a man.”

“Yes, Domina,” he answered, relieved.  Whatever she wanted him to do, with whoever she wanted him to do it with, would be easier than this conversation.

“That’s what most of your experience is with, right?” she asked.  “Servicing men?”

“Yes, Domina.  Lord Roubanis did not have many women friends.”

“Did you often service his friends?”

Kieran nodded, lowering his gaze.  “He was proud of me,” he murmured.  “He liked to show me off.”

“How?”

He took a deep breath.  “They used my body in many ways, Domina,” he said.  “Fucking me, beating me, humiliating me.  Whatever they wanted.”

She held his gaze, her eyes dark and wide with compassion.  “You’re so young,” she whispered.  “And you’ve been through so much.”

Kieran averted his gaze, the color rising in his cheeks.  He didn’t know how to respond to that.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door, and Rowyn walked in.

“You called me, Domina?” he asked.

“Yes, come in,” Charis replied, stepping away from Kieran.  “Take off your clothes.  Kieran is going to suck your cock.”

The suddenness and directness of her comment took Kieran by surprise, but Rowyn only flashed a friendly smile as he pulled his tunic off.

“Go on, pet,” Charis urged.

Kieran dropped to his knees at Rowyn’s feet, taking the older man’s cock in his mouth without hesitation.  This was something familiar to him, something he knew, something he was confident that he could do well.

The familiarity was comforting as he felt Rowyn’s cock filling his mouth.  He slid his tongue across the erect member, easily taking the entire length.

“Oh, gods, Domina,” Rowyn moaned, holding Kieran’s head with both hands.  “His mouth is amazing.”

Kieran closed his eyes, shutting everything out but the feel and taste of Rowyn.

So this was what it felt like to be enjoyed.  Rowyn wasn’t rough with him, he didn’t try to choke or gag him.  He wasn’t necessarily gentle, but his movements were smooth and fluid, as if he wanted to experience every inch of Kieran’s mouth.

It was nice, actually.  His mouth wasn’t being fucked to humiliate or hurt him.  Rowyn wasn’t fucking him just for the sake of fucking him.  He was fucking him for the pleasure of his mouth.  And his smooth movements, along with the quiet moans and grunts, almost seemed appreciative.

And Kieran was surprised to feel somewhat empowered.  It was quite clear that Rowyn was enjoying this, and Kieran was the one who was giving it to him.  Kieran could control Rowyn’s pleasure, he could manipulate what the man felt.

He found himself wanting to experiment with this new idea.  He tightened his lips, pressing the flat of his tongue firmly against the underside of Rowyn’s cock.

Rowyn gasped softly, his grip on Kieran’s hair tightening.  Kieran felt a shudder go through the older man, his cock throbbing and his legs twitching.

And Kieran felt a great surge of pride.

It was oddly exhilarating.

“Stop,” Charis said suddenly, surprising Kieran.  Somehow, he’d forgotten she was even in the room.

Immediately, Rowyn pulled away, his cock throbbing.  Kieran noticed that he was panting just a little.

“Enjoying yourself?” Charis asked Rowyn playfully.

“Yes, Domina,” he answered huskily.

“Good.  Go ahead and fuck him.  I want you to finish in his ass.”

“Yes, Domina.”

And Kieran felt his heart plummet to his toes.  Somewhat robotically, he lowered himself to all fours, his eyes glued to the carpet, obediently pushing his ass out, waiting for Rowyn to kneel down behind him.

But that didn’t happen.

“Kieran.”

Charis’ voice startled him, and he looked up to meet her gaze.

“You’re afraid,” she said softly.  It wasn’t a question, and she didn’t give him a chance to confirm or deny it.  “Why are you afraid?”

Kieran opened his mouth to answer, and faltered, unable to find the words.

“Have you ever enjoyed being fucked?”

Kieran’s heart pounded, and every instinct told him to lie.  But he knew better, he knew she already knew the answer to her question, and he knew that he needed to tell her the truth.

“No, Domina.”

Charis nodded.  “Alright, I won’t have him fuck you yet.  He’ll finish in your mouth, instead.”

Kieran gave a sigh of relief.  “Yes, Domina.”

Rowyn moved closer, putting a gentle hand on the back of Kieran’s neck, and pushed his cock into Kieran’s mouth.

“Be just a little rougher with him,” Charis said.  “Only a little.”

“Yes, Domina,” Rowyn replied, firmly holding Kieran in place and fucking his mouth.

Kieran shut his eyes tight, pushing all thoughts out of his head except for the cock in his mouth, and what he had to do.  Rowyn was big, and hit the back of Kieran’s throat with each thrust, but years of training had taught Kieran to suppress the gag reflex, and he took the cock easily.

And while Rowyn was forceful and firm, he wasn’t cruel, and he didn’t hurt Kieran.  The hand on his neck stayed gentle, even after Kieran expected him to grab a fistful of his hair.  His movements were very deliberate, and it became obvious to Kieran that he was thinking just as much about Kieran’s comfort as he was about his own pleasure.

“May I cum, Domina?” Rowyn asked after a few moments.

“Yes.”

Rowyn’s grip on him hardened just slightly, and his rhythm picked up, pounding hard into Kieran’s mouth.

A few seconds later, Rowyn moaned, pushing his cock as deep into Kieran’s mouth as it would go, his body jerking as he came.

Kieran swallowed, remaining still as the quickly softening cock throbbed in his mouth.  He waited obediently for Rowyn to release him.

Rowyn sighed, then stepped back, pulling out of Kieran’s mouth.  He smiled down at him, caressing his face once, and then affectionately ruffling his hair.

“How was he?” Charis asked.

“Fantastic, Domina.”

Kieran blushed, looking away from those bright blue eyes.  He really did feel powerful, having given Rowyn that pleasure, and it made him feel warm and tingly to know that Rowyn had enjoyed him, and that he’d done well.

Charis approached, wrapped an arm around Rowyn, and planted a quick kiss on his cheek.  “Thank you, pet,” she said.  “Go on, we’ll be out soon.”

“Yes, Domina,” Rowyn answered, reaching down to grab his tunic.  Without another word, he quickly left the room, closing the door behind him.

Once they were alone, Charis sat on the bed and gestured for Kieran to come to her.  He quickly obeyed, kneeling at her feet and resting his chin on her knee.

“You’ve been exceptionally obedient,” she said softly, stroking his hair.  “And you’re very good at hiding your feelings when made to do something you don’t want to do.  But no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to hide the things you’re afraid of.”

“I’m sorry, Domina.”

“No, love, you don’t have to be sorry.  After what you’ve been through, I think you’re completely justified in being afraid to be fucked.  Anyone would fear it.”

“Yes, Domina,” he murmured, relieved.

She lifted his chin to meet his gaze.  “I’m going to teach you not to fear it,” she told him.  “And to take pleasure from it, even if you don’t like the person fucking you.”

Kieran’s heart began to race.  “Yes, Domina.”

“Do you trust that I won’t hurt you?”

“Yes, Domina,” he replied, his voice shaking.  He was pretty sure he trusted her, she’d been gentle with him so far.  But the idea of being penetrated by anyone, even her, was enough to make his muscles lock with fear.

“Come on, then,” she ordered softly.  “Get on the bed.  On all fours.”

Trembling, Kieran stiffly moved to obey her command.  His face flamed and his heart raced as he stared down at the sheets beneath him, feeling her move behind him and wondering what she was doing.

“This is not supposed to hurt,” she told him.  “If it does, I want you to tell me.”

“Yes, Domina,” he replied, unable to stop from cringing as her fingertip pressed against his entrance.

“Good.  Now take a deep breath.”

Somehow, Kieran managed to obey.  How, he had no idea, his chest had seized up with fear and dread.  His arms shook as they supported his weight, and the sharp sting of tears could be felt behind his eyes.

Slowly, gently, she eased a single, slender finger into him.  Kieran whimpered, his vision blurring with tears.

“That’s it,” she said reassuringly, running the fingers of her other hand along his back.  “Good boy.  That’s as deep as it goes.  You’ve taken it all.”

He sighed audibly, though he still trembled.

She was right, it didn’t hurt.  Objectively, it didn’t even feel bad.  But years of associating penetration with pain were not easy to let go.

“Deep breaths, love,” she said.  “You’re doing wonderfully.”

The softness of her voice and the reassuring praise helped.  He took a deep breath, trying to forget what his life was like before her, trying to focus only on now, only on her touch, on her voice.  He tried not to remember what it meant before when someone penetrated him.

“Are you ready for me to start moving it?” she asked gently.  “Or would you rather have another minute or so of it just being still?”

Having her ask that question felt more odd and awkward than the finger inside him.  “I’m ready,” he replied.  He didn’t think he’d ever get used to being given a say in what was done to him.

All thoughts of that flew from his mind, however, when her finger began slowly moving back and forth.

He’d never been fucked without it hurting before, and the pain had masked every other sensation.  Without that pain, the feeling was intense and foreign, and made him feel vulnerable and, surprisingly enough, aroused.

He gasped, his hands balled into fists.  The finger inside him stilled.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Yes,” he managed to croak, wanting the movement again.

When she started fingering him again, he closed his eyes and lowered his face to the bed, moaning softly.

“Well it looks like you can at least tolerate this,” she said.  “Now let’s try something else.”

The movement of her finger changed.  Instead of thrusting smoothly in and out of him, it went deeper, her hand pushing against him, her finger exploring inside him.

Suddenly she touched something…. Something powerful, deep inside him.  It sent bolts of lightning up and down his spine, all the way to his fingers and toes.  He gasped, his body jerking with the intensity of the sensation.

“Ahh, there it is,” she murmured, massaging that spot.

Kieran cried out, pleasure exploding from his belly, shooting up and down his cock, up and down his spine, making his entire body tingle uncontrollably.

“Oh, you’re especially sensitive,” Charis said.  “Do you enjoy this?”

“Yes, Domina,” he gasped, pushing back against her.

Dear gods, he actually enjoyed it.

But then, how could he not?  Whatever she touched inside of him completely took control of him.

“Good.  I’m going to put a second finger in.  It’s still supposed to feel good, so tell me if it doesn’t.”

“Yes, Domina,” he answered, a strange mix of desire and fear building in him at the thought of another finger.  On one hand, he was still afraid of the pain that so often came with any kind of penetration.  But he was surprised to find himself actually wanting something bigger inside him.

She slid the second finger in, stretching him.  Squirming and writhing, he cried out as he was filled up.  The second finger made the sensations even more intense.  There was a slight tinge of pain, but surprisingly enough, he liked it.  It brought the pleasure into sharper focus.

Moaning, he pushed back against her as her fingers sunk all the way inside him, stretching him.

He almost screamed when he felt an unexpected hand on his cock, stroking him.

“That’s a good boy,” she said approvingly, using long, fluid movements on him.

He could feel the tension building in him, hot and sweet, as she massaged him inside and out.  The feel of her hand on him, the feel of her inside him quickly brought him to the threshold.

“Domina,” he gasped.  “Can I cum?”

“Yes, love,” she answered.

Mere seconds later, the tension in his belly exploded, and he cried out, collapsing on the bed, completely spent.

“Very good boy,” she murmured, running her fingertips along his back.

Kieran moaned softly, curling himself around her, wanting to be close to her.  He felt open and vulnerable, but safe and protected.

“So was it as bad as you thought it would be?” she asked playfully.

Kieran closed his eyes.  “I didn’t know it could be like that,” he whispered breathlessly.  Charis laughed.

“And that’s just a finger.  Wait until it’s a cock.”

Shuddering, Kieran buried his face in her lap.  Gods, a cock?  How would he survive something like that?

How would he survive her?

“Come on,” she said, patting him on the leg.  “Get up.  Let’s go to the bathroom.”

“Yes, Domina.”

Somehow, he managed to get his body to move.  His limbs shaking, he staggered to his feet, reaching out to her for support.

She readily helped him, holding him close as she reached down to push another button on her cell phone.  “Come,” she said gently, leading him through the bedroom and into the master bathroom.

Kieran realized he’d never been in the room before.  It looked much like the bathroom down the hall from his room.  The bathtub was in the same place, but larger.  Two vanities sat against opposite walls, the mirrors and counters running the length of the walls.  At the back was a large shower with two showerheads.

Charis led him to the bathtub and turned on the faucet.  He watched, his body still tingling, as she poured a sweet-smelling liquid into the bathtub, just as she’d done his first night there.

But unlike his first night there, she rose and removed her peplos.  And unlike his first night there, the thought of being in the bath with her brought no fear.  The sight of her naked still intimidated him, but by now he knew that she wouldn’t hurt him.

He watched quietly as she stepped into the tub, sitting on the curved seat and leaning back against the porcelain.

“Come,” she said, inviting him to sit with her.

He obeyed, stepping into the warm water.  She opened her arms and he went into them willingly, sitting between her legs and leaning back against her chest.

“Good boy,” she murmured, kissing his ear softly as she took a soft washcloth from the edge of the tub, dipped it in the warm water, and placed it on his chest.

Kieran’s head swam.  The afterglow of his orgasm, the warmth of the water, the feel of her bathing him, and the intimacy of being in her arms made it difficult to focus on anything else.  He was barely even aware of Rowyn entering the room.

“You called, Domina?”

“Yes, love,” she replied.  “The comforter on my bed has been soiled.  Will you please throw it in the wash and put a new one on?”

“Yes, Domina.”

“Thank you, my love.”

He smiled at her, then turned and left to fulfill her command, and she turned her attention back to Kieran.

The young boy lied limp against her as she bathed him, his breathing slow and even, his eyes closed, his expression calm and relaxed.  For the first time since she’d purchased him, fear wasn’t etched into the lines of his face.  The corners of his lips weren’t turned in that worried frown he always wore.  His brow wasn’t furrowed with worry.

As beautiful as he was when he was when she’d bought him, he was even more beautiful once the fear disappeared from his face.

She watched him, taking in his expression as her hand lowered beneath the surface of the water, down his stomach, between his legs.

He gasped softly at the feel of her hands on him, but the fear didn’t return to his face.  His expression was still relaxed, his breathing still even, his body still limp as he lied against her.

Gently, tenderly, she bathed him, every inch of him.  And the more she touched him, the more relaxed he became, until she wondered if he would fall asleep right there, in the bath.

When she was done, she set the washcloth down and kissed his forehead gently.  “Come on, love,” she whispered, rising to her feet.

He took her hand, his eyes opening to look up at her.

She helped him out of the tub and wrapped a towel around herself, then grabbed another and gently toweled him dry.  Once she was done, she led him through the bedroom, down the hall, to his room.

“Go on, pet,” she said, pulling the blankets back.  “Lie down.”

Wordlessly, he obeyed her, climbing into his bed and resting his head on the pillow.  But even as he moved, he reached for her, wanting to be close to her.

Charis was happy to oblige him, lying down beside him.  For the first time, he actually turned to her, moving closer to her and nuzzling into her.  He gave a soft, contented sigh and fell asleep in her arms.

Written in Stone, Part 5

Kieran had no idea how much time had passed, but he found that he remembered more than he thought he had, and that he enjoyed reading.  All it took was some prompting from Taber, and he was reading more or less on his own.

He’d been in the middle of sounding out a particularly troublesome word when Ilya stepped into the doorway.  “Having fun?” he asked.

Out of habit, Kieran’s heart jumped into his throat, and fear gripped his body.  What if Taber had been wrong, and Ilya would be furious with him learning to read?

Taber put a reassuring hand on Kieran’s and smiled at Ilya.  “I’m teaching him to read, Dominus,” he said brightly.

Ilya nodded.  “Good.  If there’s any particular subject you’d like to read about, Kieran, just let us know and we’ll see what we can do.”

“Yes, Dominus,” Kieran said numbly.  Not only was he being encouraged to read, but he was being encouraged to ask for books on a specific subject?

“But take a break, boys,” Ilya continued.  “It’s lunch time.”

“Yes, Dominus,” Taber said, quickly setting the book down and rising to his feet.  He walked past Ilya, but the taller man stopped him, grabbing him and pinning him against the doorframe, holding him there with a hand around his neck.

Kieran’s pulse raced.  So Ilya was angry at Taber for teaching him to read.  He stood still, frozen to that spot, as he watched the two of them.

But there was no fear in Taber’s eyes.  Only pleasant surprise.  And when Ilya bent down to capture the slave’s lips in a passionate kiss, the moan that escaped him was far from fearful.  After a moment, Ilya pulled away, then released his neck, pushing two fingers deep into Taber’s mouth.

“I’ll be using this later,” he said softly, his fingers moving slowly in and out of the slave’s mouth.  “Your other hole, too.”

Taber moaned again, eagerly and enthusiastically sucking his owner’s fingers.

Then, Ilya stepped back, releasing Taber fully and smiling at him.  “But first, lunch,” he declared brightly, turning to Kieran.  “Come on, let’s go.  Abby’s waiting for us.”

“Yes, Dominus,” Kieran said, following them out of the room.  They headed to the dining room, and Kieran stilled, staring.  He was surprised to find an extra chair on the right side of the table.

His chair, he knew.

There was a chair.  At his owner’s table.  For him.

There was a chair, at his owner’s table, that was put there specifically for him.  His owners had gotten him a chair at their table.  It wasn’t a chair that belonged to someone else, that he was just using.  It was a chair that they had gotten and placed at their table.  For him exclusively.

“Kieran?” Ilya asked, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“I have a chair,” he murmured dumbly.  It sounded dumb, he knew, but it was the only thing he could think of to say.

Ilya chuckled, putting his arm around Kieran.  “You have a chair,” he agreed.  “It always messes with you at first.”

That surprised Kieran, breaking through the fog in his mind, and he looked up to meet his owner’s eyes.  “You don’t think it’s dumb?” he asked.

Ilya’s smile widened, and he gave Kieran a reassuring squeeze.  “You mean you didn’t know?” he asked jovially.  “I figured Dryas would’ve taken every opportunity to point it out.  I’m a helot.  Just like you are.”

Kieran didn’t know how to respond.  Of course Dryas had called him a neodamode, and he’d wondered if it was true.  And hadn’t Taber mentioned it, as well?  Still, it was different hearing Ilya confirm it as casually as if he were talking about the drapes.

“He… He did say something, Dominus,” he said haltingly.  He wasn’t sure how his Dominus would react to him acknowledging the fact that his former owner had insulted him.

But it didn’t seem to bother Ilya.  He chuckled again.

“Trust me, everything you’re feeling, I’ve felt it too.  And trust me when I say it’ll get easier.”

“Yes, Dominus.”

“Go ahead, have a seat.  You’re right here, next to Charis.”

Kieran hesitated, realizing that the seat Ilya had gestured to had been Rowyn’s place.  “Dominus?” he asked nervously.  The last thing he wanted was tension with his owner’s primary.

“It’s alright,” Ilya assured him, understanding his concern the way only a helot could.  “Rowyn isn’t the type to get offended by that sort of thing.  Charis calms you, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, Dominus.”

“Then it’s better for you to be close to her.  Rowyn knows that.”

Kieran hesitated again, still unconvinced.  From his place across the table, Taber smiled at him.  “It’s really alright,” he said.  “You’re not the first to sit there.  Rowyn understands.  He’s completely fine with it.  It was his idea to have new slaves sit there in the first place.”

Kieran was still unsure, but he finally sat down, his hands folded in his lap, feeling awkward and uncomfortable.

But Taber and Ilya seemed not to notice.  “Is Domina coming to eat?” Taber asked him.

Ilya laughed.  “Rowyn just got back,” he answered.  “We won’t see him, Charis, or Cullen for a few hours yet.”

But suddenly, as if on cue, they heard Charis’ cheerful laugh from the hallway.  A moment later, all three of them filed into the room.  All three looked flushed and happy, with their hair and clothes disheveled.  Charis, who usually dressed impeccably, had her peplos tied crooked and her hair messy.

“Ah, I stand corrected,” Ilya declared, smiling at Charis as she sat down with a contented sigh.  “I hope you had fun.”

“Absolutely,” she replied, flashing a grin at Kieran and patting his hand affectionately.

Kieran was grateful for her attention, but his focus was on Rowyn, and how he’d react to seeing someone else in his place at Charis’ right hand.

But Rowyn only smiled.  “We even had a head start, since Kieran was kind enough to get her warmed up for us.”

He clapped Kieran on the back playfully as he walked behind him, to take the seat between Kieran and Ilya.  He winked at Kieran as he sat down, and Kieran found himself blushing madly.  The compliment flattered him, especially since he wondered if he’d been pleasing to her.

He loved knowing that he had satisfied her.  He loved knowing that there was at least one thing he could do well, one thing concrete that he could give her.

“Well, I didn’t see you come in,” Ilya said to Rowyn.  “I’m glad you got in alright.  Did you have much trouble?”

“Not really,” Rowyn answered shrugging.  “More strange looks than anything else.  The odd cop asking for my paperwork.”

He laughed, suddenly.  “An elderly perioeci woman offered to ‘adopt’ me,” he said.

Charis laughed.  “Really?  To adopt you?”

Rowyn nodded.  “She assumed I was trying to run away, I think.  To get out of being sold to the State.  She said she didn’t have any children of her own and she’d care for me as her son.  I think she thought I was a child.”

“Everyone is a child to the elderly,” Abby said as she opened the door and entered the room, carrying her tray.  “She probably would’ve insisted on hand-feeding you, too.”

Rowyn laughed.  “You know, I got that impression.”

“It’s good to see you back home,” she said, pausing behind him as she made her way around the table and hugging him with her free arm.

“It’s good to be back,” he replied, returning the hug.

She nodded, patting his shoulder affectionately, then finished passing out the plates and left.

“How was the trip?” Ilya asked once she was gone.  “How was the appraisal?”

Suddenly, Rowyn’s expression fell, and he fiddled with his food.  “It was productive,” he answered, his tone flat and low.  “I learned enough to make an accurate judgement.”

“Rowyn?” Charis asked softly, her voice heavy with concern.

The older man sighed, setting his fork down.  “It was bad, Domina,” he murmured.  “We can never be associated with them.  We could never undo that kind of damage.”

“What happened?” Ilya asked.

Haltingly, hesitantly, his eyes glued to his plate, Rowyn began to speak.

“They were cruel,” he whispered.  “Unimaginably cruel.  I watched them… I watched them tie a man up… tie his wrists to his ankles so he couldn’t stand up.  He had to stay on his knees.  They… they pushed him into the public baths.  It was deep enough that only the top of his head stuck up out of the water.  They kept him down for longer and longer, shoving their cocks in his mouth both when he was under and when they pulled him up.  Finally, he passed out, from… from lack of oxygen.  Once that happened, all the men took turns fucking him.

“They had a couple of females there.  One of them, they tied to a pole in the middle of the main lounge.  All the members were given the opportunity to whip her with a single tail.  Some of them were so brutal.  It cut to the bone.  Finally, when she’d screamed herself out, she was tied down, for them to fuck.  They used her own blood as lubricant.”

There was a movement from the end of the table, from Ilya.  The next actions happened too quickly for Kieran to really register what was happening.

The first thing he was aware of was Charis’ voice, loud and firm.  “Rowyn!” she exclaimed, the word a command that Kieran didn’t understand.

Then he was aware of Taber leaping out of his chair.  Next came Rowyn’s touch.  The hands that had been gentle and friendly moments before were now rough and forceful, grabbing him and pulling him up out of the chair, away from the table and pinning him against the wall.

Then, just as he noticed the weight of Rowyn’s body, keeping him against the wall, he saw Cullen fling himself across the table.

After that, his mind started to catch up.  He saw Ilya standing up.  He’d stood up so quickly, and with such force, that the chair had clattered back against the wall behind him.  He was gripping the table so tight, his knuckles were white.

He’d intended to flip the table, Kieran realized.  Cullen had seen it coming and threw his weight on top of it to give Ilya pause.

Charis’ command to Rowyn had been to protect Kieran.  To move him back and shield him in case Ilya had succeeded in flipping the table.  And still, Rowyn shielded him, using his body to protect him.

And Taber had leapt up, fearlessly wrapping his arms around his owner.  He was easily six inches shorter than his owner, but his touch, while not technically restraining, seemed to be enough to keep Ilya from the violence they were all trying to prevent.

The slave was holding tightly to Ilya, murmuring constantly to him in a voice too low for Kieran to hear.

Charis, who had risen to her feet, smoothly walked to the other end of the table, and stood to Ilya’s other side, putting her hand over his.  Cullen got off the table and stood just behind her, watching Ilya closely, all the playfulness in his gaze replaced by dark determination.

“Let go,” Charis said quietly, looking up at Ilya.

In a move that made Kieran gasp, Ilya violently shoved her away, breaking easily out of Taber’s grip and shouting at her.  The force of his shove knocked her back, but she easily, gracefully regained her balance and held up a restraining hand to Cullen, who had stepped forward to defend her.

Don’t touch me!” Ilya shouted.  “You can’t just tell me to sit down and shut up.  Don’t pretend to know what’s going on in my head.  None of those people will ever be able to get away.  None of them will ever know anything different.  You will never understand what that feels like!  You’ll never understand what it feels like to not have any control over your life.  But you walk around here as if you know everything, like you can just wave your fucking hand and solve everyone’s problems.  How are you going to solve their problems, Charis?  How are you going to make their lives better?  It’s your people who are hurting them!”

Kieran started trembling.  The insults that Ilya was throwing would not be taken lightly.  And the helots were the ones who would suffer for his irrational temper.

But Charis didn’t look angry as she held his gaze.  She stood still, listening to him, watching him as he continued to yell at her and insult her Spartan heritage.

When he paused for a breath, she fearlessly stepped close to him, taking his face in both her hands.  “Do you need to be hurt?” she asked, her voice calm and steady.

The strange question seemed to break through the wall of anger.  He hesitated, then lowered his eyes, shaking his head.  “No,” he said.

“Do you need to hurt?”

Taber stepped forward again, taking Ilya’s hand in his.  “Do you need to hurt me, Dominus?” the slave repeated, looking up at his owner with love in his eyes.

Ilya forced a smile and squeezed Taber’s hand.  “No,” he said again.  “I’m alright.”

“Come here,” Charis said, extending her arms.  Ilya immediately retreated into her embrace, looking much smaller than his six feet, five inches as she held him.  Taber righted Ilya’s chair, and Rowyn stepped away, releasing Kieran from his place against the wall.

“Are you alright?” he asked quietly, turning to Kieran.  “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“No,” Kieran managed to whisper, still shaken.

“Take a breath,” Rowyn urged.  “You’re alright.  No one’s going to hurt you.  Come on, sit.  Domina knows how to calm him down.”

He looked up to Charis just in time to see her pull away from Ilya and lead him back to his chair.  He sat down and she kissed the top of his head gently before returning to her place at the head of the table.

Taber moved to kneel at Ilya’s side, but Ilya stopped him with a hand around his waist, pulling him to sit in his lap, instead.  The blond man’s eyes flitted around the room and settled on Kieran, who was still pale and shaking as Rowyn helped him to his seat.

“Shit, I’m sorry, Kieran,” Ilya said.  “My temper got the best of me.  Are you alright?”

“Yes, Dominus,” Kieran answered, unsure of how to react to the fact that his owner had just apologized to him.

“Come here, love,” Charis said, gesturing for him to sit on her lap.

Eagerly, Kieran obeyed, wanting the comfort of her closeness and the warmth of her body.

Once he was comfortable and had pulled his plate to him, Charis looked to Rowyn.  “You’re right.  We can never be associated with that place.  Even gutting it and banning every member wouldn’t be enough to get the horror and evil out of the walls.”

Rowyn nodded his agreement.

“Did anyone try anything with you?” Ilya asked him.

“No, they all knew who I am,” Rowyn answered.  “The symposiarch made a point of bragging about it every chance he got.  He wanted them all to know that Domina had sent me to survey the place.  That she was considering a professional association.  They knew better than to try.  I think they actually ramped up the usual cruelty of the place, thinking that it would impress me.  I think they were trying to show off.”

“They thought we’d be impressed by cruelty?” Charis asked.

Rowyn shrugged.  “Rumors are everywhere, Domina,” he pointed out.  “Everyone speculates about what makes your symposium so much better.  I think a lot of people think it’s because you’ve been crueler than any other symposiarch.”

“Well, we’ll have to do something about that,” Charis said.  “I don’t want helots suffering needlessly because their symposiarch thinks they’re being more like me.”

Cullen scoffed.  “Yeah, you should start a fanclub, Domina.”

To Kieran’s surprise, Charis laughed at the offhand remark, and even Ilya chuckled softly, the tension in the room lifting.

That seemed strange to him.  The atmosphere had been so tense, Charis and Ilya were so intense, Ilya had just shouted at Charis, had just attempted to flip the very large, very heavy dining table.  It had hardly seemed like the appropriate time to make a joke.

But Cullen had.

Not only had he made a joke, but it had been well received.  Even by Ilya.  Who had, moments ago, been shouting and cursing at Charis, who had been consumed by an irrational, explosive temper.  Even he had actually smiled and laughed at the joke.

Taber smiled and leaned against Ilya, resting his head against the taller man’s shoulder and kissing his neck.

Ilya sighed.  “That’s very distracting, you know.”

“Yes, Dominus,” Taber answered.

“You haven’t finished your food.  Aren’t you hungry?”

Taber’s smile widened.  “No, Dominus.”

“Well, I am, you insatiable slut.  Let me eat.”

Taber chuckled, reaching up to nip at Ilya’s earlobe, and Ilya laughed, shuddering and trying to move away.

“Gods, you’re impossible,” Ilya groaned, laughing as he pushed the eager slave away.  “I swear, you’re not happy unless there’s something in your mouth.”

“Either hole,” Taber corrected.  “I’m not picky.”

“I’m trying to eat.”

“Are you?”

Ilya laughed again, then turned to Cullen.  “Would you keep him occupied so I can finish my lunch?” he asked, exasperated.

Cullen grinned, meeting Taber’s gaze.  “I’d be happy to, Dominus,” he answered, rising to his feet and grabbing a fistful of Taber’s hair, firmly pulling him off Ilya’s lap and onto his knees.  Still holding him by the hair, Cullen pulled up his tunic, pushing his already-hard cock into the slave’s wet, eager mouth.

“Insatiable,” Ilya muttered, shaking his head as Cullen began thrusting smoothly into Taber’s mouth.  He grinned as he turned his attention back to his food.

Kieran toyed with his own food from his place on Charis’ lap, watching the people around him.  Cullen seemed to thoroughly enjoy using Taber’s mouth, and didn’t seem to mind being told to do so.  But more than that, Taber didn’t seem to mind it, either.

The younger slave knelt in front of Cullen, his hands on Cullen’s thighs, seeming to be completely at ease with being told to suck Cullen’s cock.  And by the expression on Cullen’s face, Taber was very eager and enthusiastic in his sucking.

Kieran watched them for a moment, then turned his attention to Rowyn as the older slave and Charis began talking cheerfully.  He’d never really gotten a good look at his owner’s primary.

Rowyn was exceptionally beautiful, there was no doubt about that.  Dark, sandy blond hair framed his face, though it had begun to go gray around his temples.  A well-defined jaw and strong chin were only slightly marred by a thin scar running from the top of his right cheek to just under his chin.  The scar was enough to detract from his monetary value, but not enough to take away from his beauty.

His most striking features were his eyes.  Bright, blue, and piercing, and they always seemed to have a smile in them.  The intelligence and spirit in his eyes were just incredible.  Hypnotic, almost.

Kieran liked looking at him, and didn’t even realize he’d been staring until Rowyn turned those piercing eyes on him, and smiled.

Blushing, Kieran lowered his gaze.

He sighed, setting his fork down and leaning back against Charis, savoring the feel of her fingers running up and down his back.  Ilya was right.  Being close to her was calming.  He could let his mind wander, he could just let himself be with her.  It was relaxing in a way he never thought he’d be able to relax with his owner.

He still was riddled with doubt, he still felt consumed by fear most of the time.  But in these quiet moments, sitting in her lap or kneeling at her feet, he could almost forget how frightened of her he actually was.

“Are you all done fighting?” Abby asked suddenly, opening the door and walking in.  “I don’t want to interrupt any fighting.”

Ilya laughed.  “We’re done fighting, Abby.  The excitement is over.”

“Oh, good heavens!” Abby exclaimed as she turned to see Cullen and Taber in the corner.  “And they barely touched their food.”

Cullen smiled at her, not stopping his rhythm.  “I just thought I’d give him dessert first, Miss Abby.”

“I did not work for two hours, making your lunch, for you to put other things in your mouth,” she scolded.  “Are you saying you don’t like my cooking?”

Cullen, unable to keep from laughing, finally released Taber and stepped back, pulling his cock from the younger slave’s mouth.

Taber wiped his mouth as he smiled sheepishly up at Abby.  “I guess I got a little excited,” he murmured apologetically.

Abby shook her head.  “You know, the more you bat those long eyelashes at me, and flash me those puppy-dog eyes, the less effective it will be.”

“Yes, Miss Abby,” Taber said innocently, his expression guileless as he gazed up at her.

“Well, I suppose you’ll want me to wrap up his lunch for later,” she said, reaching for his plate.

“I have a feeling he’ll be swallowing quite a bit between now and dinnertime,” Charis replied dryly.  “I highly doubt he’ll go hungry.”

“Now see, that is something I did not absolutely need to know,” Abby said.  “Careful, or you’ll offend my delicate sensibilities.”

Charis laughed goodnaturedly, waiting for Abby to finish gathering the plates.  Once she was gone, Cullen reached for Taber once again and, without a word, thrust deep into the slave’s mouth.

“Domina, can I play, too?” Rowyn asked, grinning.

Charis nodded, and Rowyn immediately rose to his feet, moving around the table to kneel behind Taber. Cullen lowered himself to his knees as well, forcing Taber down on all fours, exposing his ass.

Rowyn spit on Taber’s exposed hole, then pushed a single, slender finger inside.

Taber gasped and moaned, squirming just slightly as he was penetrated from both ends.  He arched his back, pushing his butt out more, urging Rowyn to go deeper.

Happy to oblige, Rowyn slid a second finger in alongside the first, swirling them around inside Taber’s body.  Then, after only a moment, Rowyn repositioned himself, the tip of his hard cock pressing against Taber’s tight, warm hole.

Slowly, Rowyn eased the head into Taber, using more spit as necessary to make the younger slave comfortable, until he had sunk all the way into him, his hips pressed firmly against Taber’s butt.

“Gods,” he murmured, finding a slow, steady rhythm.

Rowyn and Cullen took their time, not rushing, almost as if they were savoring every moment, every part of Taber’s body.  They were both firm and unyielding, but gentle.  Their use of him was slow, and fluid, and thorough.

Kieran watched them intently, wondering what it would be like to be used like that.  He’d never experienced anything like that before.  Those who had used him had always been rough, and fast, and painful, pounding into him as hard as they could.

But the way Cullen and Rowyn used Taber was completely different.  There was no spastic thrusting, no animalistic pawing, no slapping or beating.  Just two men enjoying the feeling of being inside him.  Enjoying him.

What would it feel like to be used like that?  What would it feel like to have someone truly enjoy being inside him?  To savor him, the way Rowyn and Cullen savored Taber?

What would it feel like to be completely, fully, wholly filled up?

“Jealous?” Charis asked, loud enough for only Kieran to hear.

He turned to look at her, confused, until her eyes flitted down to his lap.  Following her gaze, he blushed madly to find that his own cock was rock hard, poking up through his tunic.

“I’ve never seen you aroused before,” she whispered, trailing a single fingertip up his shaft, through the thin material of his tunic.  “Tell me, which of them has sparked your imagination?  Which do you wish you could be?”

Her purring voice, the directness of her question, and the feather-light touch of her fingers on his shaft made it very difficult to keep his thoughts straight.  The feel of her hands on him, gentle and soft, was foreign and surprising.  She’d never really touched him there before.

Obediently and instinctually, he spread his legs, exposing himself and giving her more access to him.  His heart fluttered as she fondled him, feeling very vulnerable and open to her.

The first time a new person touched him was always a bit unnerving.  Everyone’s hands felt different, everyone’s touch was different, and he never really knew what to expect.

With Charis, it was no different.  He was relatively sure she wouldn’t cause him intense pain, but he was nervous and curious to see what her touch would be like.  He’d heard of people who could cause mild or moderate pain, at just the right moments, in just the right way, that would actually intensify pleasure.  Being a symposiarch, he had no doubt that Charis knew how to do that.

Would she hurt him?  Would her touch stay light?  Would she take enjoyment in touching and exploring him?

“Well now,” Ilya declared suddenly, startling him.  “This is just wholly unacceptable.”

“What is, dear?” Charis asked, still running her fingers up and down Kieran’s cock.

“I’m the only one with no one to play with.”

Charis laughed.  “Sounds like you should join in the fun.”

“That’s a fantastic idea.”

Ilya rose from his chair and approached Taber, Cullen, and Rowyn.  He stood over Taber, straddling him, facing Cullen.

“I want your mouth,” he said to the brown-eyed slave.

“Yes, Dominus,” Cullen murmured, meeting his owner’s gaze as his mouth was filled up.

Ilya’s rhythm was a bit faster, just a bit rougher, than Cullen and Rowyn’s, but still gentle.  And Cullen easily kept his own rhythm, still holding on to Taber as Ilya held on to him.

“They look like they’re enjoying themselves, don’t they?” Charis whispered, still caressing Kieran through his tunic.

“Yes, Domina,” he murmured, breathless.

She kept touching him, and with her other hand, grabbed him gently by the back of his neck, pulling him close so she could nibble on his ear.

Kieran gasped as chills shot down his spine at the new, novel touch.  No one had ever licked or nibbled his ears before, and the sensation, the continuous jolt it sent down his spine, was almost overwhelming.  Without thinking, he gripped her arm, clinging to her as she continued licking, sucking, and biting his ear, while still maintaining the soft touches on his cock.

Waves of pleasure rippled through him, and he squirmed and writhed in her lap, completely unable to control himself.  And still, the firm hand on his neck held him close, keeping him still.

Every thought that tried to make its way into his mind was immediately shattered by the constant sensations.  The only thing that he could think of was, how?

How did she completely shatter his self control like this?  How could she completely overwhelm him by doing nothing but touch his ear and his cock?  How was it possible?

And gods, if she could overwhelm him this much, by something so simple, what else could she do?

“You look like you’re enjoying yourself,” she murmured, her lips brushing against his ear as she spoke.

“Y-yes, Domina,” he gasped.

“Why don’t you show me how much?”

Before he could ask what she meant, she took his earlobe between her teeth while gripping his cock firmly, stroking it as she played with his ear.

Kieran gasped, his focus completely shattered.  Somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered that he needed to ask permission before he came.

“Domina,” he managed, his throat tight.

“Cum for me,” she told him, understanding the thought he couldn’t put together.

Almost as soon as he had permission, he felt the pleasure build to the breaking point.  Crying out, his entire body tense, he came harder than he ever remembered cumming before.

“There you go,” she murmured approvingly as he relaxed, whimpering, against her.  “That’s a good boy.”

He lied back against her, curling himself up in her lap, burying his face in the crook of her neck.

“Yes, that’s a very good boy.  You made quite a mess, didn’t you?”

He started to sit up, but she held him down.  “No, no, it’s alright.  You can clean it right here.  Go ahead and open your mouth, there’s a good boy.”

Relaxing back against her, he closed his eyes and opened his mouth.  When she pushed her fingers inside, and he tasted his cum on them, he obediently, almost absently, licked them clean.

“Very good boy,” she told him, kissing his forehead as she dipped her fingers back into the pool of semen on his belly, then put them back in his mouth again.

His head swam and his body tingled and pulsed as he lied against her, limp and weak, obediently licking his cum from her fingers every time she put them in his mouth.

Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he was aware of rhythmic grunting and soft moans coming from somewhere in the room.  But for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out where, or who it was coming from.  And he really didn’t care.  All he was truly aware of was the feeling of her gentle hands on him, the warmth and softness of her body, and the taste of himself on her skin.

It felt good, being there, in her lap, held in her arms, sated and satisfied, and safe.

From somewhere in the back of his mind, that bitter voice still screamed.  He didn’t deserve this kindness, he wasn’t good enough to warrant it.  And once his owners realized that, the kindness would stop.

But he decided that he didn’t care.  He’d simply enjoy it while it lasts.

Written in Stone, Part 4

Sunlight streamed through the window, and the warm light, combined with the warmth of the bed, pleasantly woke Kieran.

He was surprised to discover that the warmth he felt came primarily from the body of his owner as she slept beside him, an arm protectively around him even in sleep.

Kieran remained still, studying her face.  He was surprised at how beautiful she really was.  Until now, all he’d had the nerve for were fleeting looks and glances when she’d commanded him to look at her.  He’d been too afraid to really get a good look at the woman who owned him.

Her blonde hair splayed out against the pillow, framing a pleasant face.  The sharp, predatory Spartan features were softened by the perioeci influence.  Her cheekbones were high, as they often were for Spartans, but with a delicate nose.  She had the Spartan jawline, but it wasn’t as pronounced as in a full-blooded Spartan.  Her chin wasn’t as square.  It gave her face a younger, more rounded appearance.

It seemed as if the best traits of Spartans and perioikoi combined within her.

In sleep, she looked so gentle, so young.  If he didn’t know who she was, he would’ve found it impossible to believe that a woman with a face this innocent and guileless could ever run a symposium.  She looked so kind.

He’d always wondered what it would be like to be owned by a kind person.  He’d always wondered what it would feel like to be held in someone’s arms, safe and protected.  He’d wondered what it would feel like to be someone’s pet.

A soft knock on the door startled him out of his thoughts.  A moment later, the door opened and Cullen quietly stepped in.  He grinned when his eyes met Kieran’s, then quickly turned his attention to Charis, approaching the side of the bed where she slept.

“Domina,” he murmured gently, running the tips of his fingers across her cheek affectionately.

“Mmm?” she mumbled sleepily, stirring slightly.

“Domina,” he called again, smiling down at her with an expression of pure, genuine love.  “It’s time to wake up.”

Suddenly, apparently awake and alert, she reached up, cupping her hand on the back of his neck, and pulled him down to meet her lips in a fierce kiss.  Startled by the unexpected action, Cullen stumbled forward, bracing himself on the headboard to keep from falling on top of her.

But she didn’t seem satisfied with that.  Deepening the kiss, she rolled, pulling him off balance and across her body.  It looked as if she would devour him, right then and there.

Until she felt Kieran beside her.  She abruptly broke the kiss and turned to look at him with confusion in her eyes, until, laughing, she realized that they were in his room.

“Well, good morning, Kieran,” she said cheerfully, still holding Cullen against her, seeming to take pleasure in his awkward attempts to support his weight.  A quick jerk of her arm knocked his own arm out from underneath him, and with a surprised gasp, he collapsed on top of her.  He chuckled as he made half-hearted attempts to struggle, but she clasped one of his arms behind his back and raised her knee between his thighs, keeping him still.

“Oh, that’s not fair,” he joked, finally going still on top of her.

“It’s not my fault you’re so cute when you’re all helpless,” she replied easily, reaching for his other arm and pinning it behind his back, as well.

Cullen whimpered playfully, nuzzling her neck as she turned to Kieran.

“How did you sleep?” she asked Kieran.

“Very well, Domina, thank you,” he replied softly, unsure of how to take the situation.  It was so strange, how being in Cullen’s position with Dryas would’ve been terrifying.  Being restrained and made helpless by one’s owner is always terrifying.

But here was Cullen, a man who had been badly abused before, very obviously enjoying being made helpless by his owner.  He continued to nuzzle and kiss her neck while she spoke to Kieran, squirming just a bit as she bent her knee more, rubbing her thigh between his legs.

“Of course he slept well, Domina,” Cullen murmured, smiling over at him.  “He got to sleep with you.”

Charis laughed.  “Are you jealous, my boy?”

Cullen squirmed more, intentionally grinding on her leg.  “It was so very cold, in that dark room, all by my poor, lonesome self,” he said jokingly.

Charis laughed.  “Oh you poor dear.”

She kissed him once more, deeply and passionately, before releasing him.  He quickly rose up off of her and helped her up.  She laughed when she saw his erection poking through his tunic.

“Well someone is awake,” she said, her hand going to his cock.  Cullen moaned softly as she stroked it through the material of his tunic, thrusting his hips slightly forward.

“Yes, Domina,” he murmured, the playfulness gone from his face, replaced, to Kieran’s surprise, with genuine desire.

He liked having her hands on him?

Wide awake,” she continued, still stroking him.

He whined, a soft, lustful, needy, begging sound.  “Please, Domina,” he breathed, stepping closer to her.

“What do you want, boy?” she asked, grinning, her grip on his cock tightening.  He gasped, trying harder now to thrust into her hand.  But she prevented him from doing it, teasing him instead.

“You, Domina,” he whispered, reaching for her and clinging to her.

She laughed, stepping away suddenly.  “Well, you can’t have me.”

His jaw dropped, and he looked at her incredulously as she turned to extend a hand to Kieran.

“Oh, that’s just cruel,” he protested.

“I never claimed to be a nice person,” she answered.  “Come on, let’s get dressed and have some breakfast.”

“Domina,” Cullen whined, his frustration and longing evident in his face.

Charis turned to him and laughed softly when she saw his expression.  “Oh, my poor boy,” she said playfully, reaching for his hand.  “Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long.  Breakfast first.”

Cullen pouted for a moment, until a smile broke out on his face.  He wrapped Charis in a big hug, nuzzling her neck for just a moment before she, laughing, pulled away.

“Breakfast first,” she repeated.  “Come on, let’s go.”

She turned and took Kieran’s hand, and the three of the left the room and made their way downstairs, to the dining room.

“Good morning, boys,” she said cheerfully to Ilya and Taber.

“Good morning, Domina,” Taber answered.

“You look like you had a fun night,” Ilya said.

Cullen scoffed, still pouting playfully.  “I wish.”

“Oh, hush,” Charis scolded, lightly swatting his butt as he made his way to his chair.  “Kieran, come here.  Sit with me.”

She led him to sit on the floor at her feet, and Kieran quickly sat down, resting his head against her thigh.  He was grateful to sit on the floor, instead of at the table.  It was more familiar to him, and he didn’t have to try and pay attention to everyone at the table.

And he didn’t have to deal with the strangeness of sitting at the table with his owners.  He could just relax, and enjoy being close to her.

The more time he spent with her, the more he discovered that he liked being close to her.  She had a very calming effect on him, even as everything she did confused and frightened him.  Being close to her was reassuring, and being close to her without having to try to figure her out was the closest thing to comfort and happiness he had ever known.

From his place beside her, he heard the door open and Abby walk in.

“Good morning, everyone,” she said quickly.  There was a pause, then, “Where’s the little one?”

“Here,” Charis answered gesturing to him sitting beside her.

“And his food?”

“You can set his plate next to mine.  He’ll eat here today.”

She stepped around in Kieran’s view, and smiled gently down at him.  “Good morning, Bambi,” she said.  “Still adjusting?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he whispered shyly, moving closer to Charis.

Charis ran her fingers affectionately through his hair.  “It’ll take time,” she said.  “But he’ll get there.”

“Well if anyone can get him there, you can,” Abby said, setting down her plate and Kieran’s plate before moving to the other side of the table to serve Ilya, then Taber and Cullen.

“Thank you, Miss Abby,” Cullen and Taber said, more or less in unison.

Abby nodded, then turned and left the room.

Kieran didn’t pay attention to the conversation around him, just letting his mind wander as he ate his breakfast from his owner’s fingers.

And he loved every moment of it.  He loved the softness of her thigh, he loved the feeling of her fingertips on his lips as she fed him, he loved the intimacy and security of the moment.  He felt peaceful, and comfortable, and safe.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like that.

Was this what Cullen and Taber felt all the time?  Was this what it felt like to be loved and cherished, instead of just owned and used?  To enjoy being close to the one who owned him?

Was this what Cullen felt when she’d touched him that morning?

Would Kieran enjoy being touched by her, too?

He’d never enjoyed being touched by his owner before.  The thought was a foreign one.  What would it feel like to want her hands on him, the way Cullen did?  Cullen had been abused and beaten so much more, and so much longer than Kieran had ever been.  He had been very familiar with not wanting to be touched.

But he had truly enjoyed Charis’ touch, and had been disappointed when she had stopped.  Would that ever happen to Kieran, too?  Would he crave her hands on him?

He already liked being close to her, and he liked when she caressed him and ran her fingers through his hair.  Would he like her hand between his legs, as well?

He was lost in thought, letting his mind wander, when Charis’ fingertip under his chin, bringing his head up to look at her, pulled his attention.

“Did you get enough to eat?” she asked.

“Yes, Domina,” Kieran replied, surprised at the question.  It seemed so odd, for an owner to ask her slave a question like that.  Dryas had never asked him anything like it.

“Good.  Come upstairs with me.”

He quickly rose to his feet, following her out of the dining room and back up the stairs.  But when she expected her to turn right, down the hall to his room, she turned left, instead taking him to hers.  He followed her obediently into the room and stood in the center as she closed the door behind them.

“Take off your tunic, love,” she said gently.  “I want to take a closer look at you.”

His voice caught in his throat, but somehow he managed a quiet “Yes, Domina,” as his fingers numbly went to the clasp at his shoulder.  His heart pounded as the fabric fell to a pile at his feet, and he stood in front of his owner, naked and exposed.

Just as she did the first night she met him, she made a slow circle around him, examining him, and he felt himself shrink under her scrutinizing gaze.  This time, she touched him a great deal more, her fingers lingering on his stomach, his hips, his back.  And she was much more thorough in her examination of him.

He couldn’t help but whimper under the strength of her gaze.  When she moved back to his front, and he saw her frown and furrowed brow, it took all his willpower to keep from collapsing at her feet.

Gods, she wasn’t disappointed in his body, was she?

“It’s alright, Kieran,” she murmured, seeming to know the worry that ate at him.  “You’re a beautiful boy.”

“Thank you, Domina.”

“A lot of these bruises are still really dark.  Did Dryas enjoy beating you?”

“Yes, Domina.”

“Did you enjoy being beaten?”

Kieran dared a questioning glance to her.  “Domina?”

“Did you enjoy when he beat you?”

He had no idea how to answer that.  “I was happy to serve my former Dominus, however he wanted to use me.”

But she shook her head.  “No, that’s not what I asked you,” she said patiently.  “And I don’t want the ‘correct’ answer.  You’re not being tested here.  I just want the truth.  Did you like when he beat you?”

Kieran shrank, both from his owner having to repeat herself, and for fear of answering.  “No, Domina,” he whispered.

“Good boy,” she said, reaching a hand up to caress his face, reassuring him.  “That’s what I want from you.  I always want the truth, even if you feel like you shouldn’t say it.”

“Yes, Domina,” he said, sighing with relief.  It was so strange, the effect her praise had on him.  How was it that two simple words could have such a strong effect?  Even before he was hers, he loved the sound of those words on her lips.  He wanted to earn more of that praise from her.

“Have you ever served women?” she asked, turning her focus back to his body.

“Yes, Domina,” he answered.  “But not often.  And not recently.”

She heard the hesitation in his voice.  “Do you not like servicing women?”

“I’m afraid I won’t be good at it, Domina,” he corrected quickly.

“Well, there’s only one way to find out.  But you still didn’t answer my question.  Do not like servicing women?  Do you prefer men or women?”

Yet another question he didn’t know how to answer.  “I… I’m a slave, Domina,” he stammered, confused.  “I don’t have a preference.”

“You don’t have a preference?” she asked.  “At all?”

Fear started creeping up in him.  Was he supposed to have a preference?  What if he didn’t?

Oh gods, but what if he did, and she wasn’t it?  What if he opened up that part of himself, and she wasn’t the gender he preferred?

No, his mind said sternly, recoiling from the idea.  You’re a slave.  Be a slave.

“Domina,” he said shakily, his heart pounding.  How could he tell her that he just couldn’t risk that?  Being trained not to have a preference made his life easier.  He couldn’t let that go.

But would she be angry at him for that?  Would she punish him for disobeying her?  Would her kindness and compassion stop?

“Hey, it’s alright,” she said, taking his hands.  “It’s alright, you don’t have to think about it.  I’ll leave it alone for now.  Come here, there’s something else you can do instead.”

Relieved, he followed her to the bed, and stood still, watching her as she pulled her nightgown up over her head.

He was stunned at what he saw underneath it.

The first thing he noticed was her beauty.  Thin and voluptuous, with dizzying curves and impossibly smooth, porcelain skin.  He wanted to touch her, to see if she was as smooth and soft as she looked.

But then he noticed that her skin was marred in a great number of places by scars, some impressively large and dark.  She was certainly no stranger to pain.

She chuckled as she noticed him staring at her.  “Yeah, agoge was fun.  As it turns out, most full-blooded Spartans don’t love it when a mothax outranks them.  The poor dears.  Come here, though.  I want your focus somewhere else.”

“Yes, Domina,” he replied, forcing himself to tear his eyes from her exquisite body.

He watched as she lied down, stretching out on the bed, her body moving hypnotically.  His eyes trailed down from her face, to her breasts, down her stomach, to the part of her that seemed to be simultaneously the most vulnerable and most intimidating part of her body.

It was the part of her body he was expected to service, and the idea made him unbelievably nervous.  She scared him, she terrified him.  But at the same time, he wanted to serve her.  He wanted to please her, to make her happy.  He wanted to bring her pleasure.

So, focusing on his desire to make her happy, he tentatively crawled onto the bed, lying between her legs, and shyly tasted the woman who owned him.

It wasn’t unpleasant, and she was very expressive, giving him enough feedback to learn quickly what she liked, and how best to service her.  He slowly gained confidence as his tongue dove through the folds of her body, licking, kissing, and sucking.

His mouth had always been particularly talented, he knew.  Many men knew just how talented his mouth was.  He was sure he could achieve the same level of skill with a woman, too.  And he would, with Charis.  He would show her how useful his mouth was.

Her soft moans fueled his desire to please her.  He could feel the muscles in her legs tense as the waves of pleasure swept over her.  And, just as when men used his mouth, he found himself swelling with pride as her pleasure mounted.  This was something he was skilled at, something he could do.  And he enjoyed seeing her react to the way his tongue felt on her.

When her fingers dove through his hair, gripping him and holding him against her, he intensified his movements, reading her reactions and her moans to judge how to bring her the most pleasure.

It was a skill he was very good at, and it didn’t take long for her to reach orgasm.

Her entire body tensed and she cried out with the strength of her orgasm.  Kieran slowly, gently licked her clean, swallowing all of her juices as she relaxed on the bed.

After a moment, she sighed contentedly and reached down as he rested his head against her thigh, running her fingers gently through his hair.

He burned to ask her if he’d satisfied her, if he’d lived up to her expectations.  He had almost gathered enough courage to give voice to his question when the door opened suddenly.

Startled, Kieran looked back to see a strange man, wearing a helot’s tunic, walk in as if he owned the place.  The man grinned widely at the two of them before his eyes met Charis’.

“Did I miss all the fun?” he asked

“Rowyn!” Charis exclaimed happily, sliding out from under Kieran and rising to her feet.  She crossed the room in a few steps and threw herself into the man’s arms.

He hugged her tightly, lowering his head and burying her face in her hair.  The embrace was so loving, so affectionate, so intimate, that Kieran averted his gaze, feeling as if he were intruding on them.

Still, he couldn’t bring himself to keep his eyes lowered for long.  There was obvious love between them, something so much purer and deeper than he’d ever seen before.  Dryas had certainly never regarded anyone the way Charis regarded this slave.  Her joy in seeing him had been palpable, and the way she held him made Kieran’s heart ache.

Would anyone ever hold him like that?  Would anyone ever love him the way his new owner loved her pet?

Kieran was surprised, too, to discover how old Rowyn was.  He had to be in his mid-forties, at least.

But just as surprising as his age was the fact that being in his forties didn’t detract from the man’s beauty in any way.  He was tall, fit, and very obviously still in the prime of his life.

Our world doesn’t work that way, Charis had said to him when they brought him home.  Not everyone treats slaves the way you’ve been treated.

All he’d known had been Dryas and his friends.  Were there others who didn’t sell their slaves when they hit 35?  Were there other slaves who still looked this good at 40, 45, or 50?  Or older?

Finally, Charis pulled away and turned to face Kieran, but Rowyn wasn’t satisfied with just standing near her.  He threaded his arms under hers, around her waist and pulled her back against him.  She seemed delighted by the slave’s very bold actions.

“Rowyn, this is Kieran.  He’s the newest addition to the house.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Rowyn said politely, although it was clear his focus was elsewhere.  He lowered his head, kissing and nibbling her bare shoulder.

“Kieran, this is Rowyn,” she explained, leaning back against him.  “He had to go to Mystras to survey a symposium for me.”

“Hello,” Kieran said awkwardly, unsure of how to address his owner’s primary slave.

Rowyn lifted his head to smile warmly at the boy, then pressed his cheek affectionately against Charis’ ear, whispering something to her.

Charis’ lips turned up in a mischievous, wolfish smile at the slave’s words.  “Kieran, darling,” she said, turning to face Rowyn.  “You may get dressed and enjoy some free time.  I’ll be unavailable for a bit.”

“Yes, Domina,” Kieran replied, quickly rising off the bed and grabbing his tunic.

“You have free reign of the house,” she told him as he walked past them, to the door.  “But don’t go outside.”

“Yes, Domina.”

He hurried out of the room, closing the door behind him.  As he did, he heard Charis giggling playfully from the other side.

Once he was dressed again, he thought about going to his room, then decided against it.  It would be comfortable in his room, alone, but curiosity got the best of him.  Given the freedom to explore, he wanted to learn more about the place he was now living in.

His mind wandered as he walked slowly, aimlessly, through the halls.  Rowyn had gone to the next town over, to survey a symposium.  That’s what Charis had said.

What did that mean?

Was Rowyn, a slave, really given the authority to make business decisions on his owner’s behalf?  Had he actually been allowed to travel on his own, to judge a symposium on his own, and then trusted to return?

Most slaves would have jumped at the opportunity to escape.  Granted, trying to flee Laconia from as far south as Sparta or Mystras would be difficult, but it was a well-known fact that Epirus, which bordered Laconia to the northwest, was a country that did not share the Spartan tradition of slavery.

The chances of successfully making the journey were slim, but for many helots, the risk was worth it.

But not, apparently, for Rowyn.  He’d been given the authority to travel and make decisions in the name of his owner, and had come back.  More than that, he’d been genuinely overjoyed to return to his owner’s arms.

It was an odd concept.  But then again, Kieran was quickly learning that his new owner did not conform to what he had expected.  Perhaps he’d be happy to return too, if he had a loving, caring, kind owner to return to.

He absently made his way down the stairs, and walked past the library.  He paused when he saw Taber alone in the room, reclining on a large, overstuffed chair reading.

Taber looked up to him as he stood in the doorway.  “Kieran,” he said cheerfully.  “Come in, you don’t have to be shy.”

Kieran hesitated only a moment before walking into the room.  Ilya’s slave was quiet and reserved, but friendly, with a calming nature.  Kieran liked him.  Liked being around him.

So he awkwardly stepped into the library, gazing at the shelves upon shelves of books.

“How are you adjusting?” Taber asked.

“Very well, thank you.”

The older slave chuckled softly and set his book down.  “You know, the only person I’ve ever met who is better at reading people than I am is Domina.  That lie won’t fool her, either.”

Kieran blushed, turning to face Taber and leaning back against the shelf.  “I’m alright, I really am.”

“I told you before,” Taber said patiently.  “You don’t have to pretend here.  I can tell that you’re uneasy.  You can talk to me.”

Kieran sighed.  There was no hiding from those observant brown eyes.  “I’m not sure what’s expected of me,” he admitted finally.  “I’ve been here for days, and Domina only used me once, just now.  Then, she left me alone.  I don’t even know if I pleased her.  I want to make her happy, and serve her the way she wants, but I don’t know how.  I’m afraid she’ll punish me for misbehaving, but I don’t know how to behave.”

Taber smiled gently.  “Domina is one of the most amazing people you’ll ever meet,” he said.  “But she’s human.  She has faults, just like everyone else.  Sometimes, she forgets to acknowledge other people’s emotions.  She’s not particularly emotional, so she naturally assumes everyone else is the same.  You don’t have to worry, though.  She’s a good woman, and she’s fair and kind.  She won’t punish you for not knowing how to behave.”

“Are you sure?”

“If you make a mistake, it’ll just remind her that she needs to spend more time training you.  And she will.  She doesn’t play games, and she doesn’t ever want you to have to guess at what she wants.  She’ll teach you.  As hard as it may be for you to believe, she actually wants you to be happy.  It’s something that’s very, very important to her.  She wants you to be just as comfortable here as Rowyn, Cullen, and I are.  And she will go out of her way to make sure that happens.  You just have to be a bit patient with her sometimes, if she gets distracted.”

Kieran didn’t know what to think about Taber’s words.  He had just spoken ill of their owner.  What if Ilya had heard that?

“Relax,” Taber said.  “She will admit those faults herself.  Acknowledging the fact that our owner isn’t perfect is an important part of serving her.  We have to accept and acknowledge the fact that she’s not infallible.  She will make mistakes.  Pretending she’s perfect will set us up for failure.  That’s something she’ll teach you, too.”

“I don’t ever want to anger her,” Kieran said quickly.  “I’d never dream of insulting my owner.”

Taber sighed.  “Dominus has blond hair,” he said.  “Is my acknowledgement of that insulting?”

“No,” Kieran replied, confused.

“Why not?”

“Because pointing out his hair color isn’t an insult.”

“Exactly.  Pointing out the truth isn’t an insult.  Dominus has his faults, too.  He’s not perfect, either.  He tries to be, because he was once a slave, and knows firsthand how bad it can be.  But he makes mistakes, too.  It’s not an insult, and it’s not disrespectful.  It’s the truth.  Acknowledging that truth allows me to serve him wholeheartedly, to remain genuinely happy to serve him even when he makes mistakes.  It helps me better serve him.  It makes me a better slave to him.”

“Doesn’t he ever get offended?”

Taber shrugged.  “He has moments where he’ll lose his temper,” the slave admitted.  “But he’s never cruel, and he’s never caused me harm.  If I were to say something that upsets him, he’ll talk to me about it.”

“He won’t punish you?”

“He might, depending on the situation.  But even when he does, he’ll always talk to me first.”

Kieran sighed, raking a hand through his hair.  “This is too much,” he murmured.

Taber nodded in agreement.  “It’s a lot to take in.  But just be patient, both with Domina, and with yourself.  She’ll teach you everything you need to know.  Try to relax.  Pick up a book, if you want.  Domina will call for you when she wants you.”

Kieran turned, looking to the books on the shelf behind him.  There really wasn’t anything better to do, and he liked being in the company of the quiet, gentle slave.  He picked a book at random and opened it, looking at the pages cramped with small letters.

“Can you read?” Taber asked.

“I was taught,” Kieran answered.  “When I was younger.  I’ve forgotten most of it, though.”

“Well, that book probably won’t be a great place to start.  That’s advanced psychology.  It’s pretty boring stuff.  Domina loves it, though.  I can help you learn to read, if you’d like.”

“Would that be alright with Domina?” Kieran asked nervously.

“Of course.  She encourages it.  Come here, we’ll look at this one.  It’s not difficult to understand.”

Taber moved to the side of the large sitting chair, giving Kieran room to sit beside him.  “Alright, what do you remember?”

Written in Stone, Part 3

A knock at the door startled Kieran awake.  He bolted upright, instantly alert and confused by his surroundings.  He found himself in a bed, in a strange room, with sunlight pouring through the window.

The door was already opening by the time he remembered where he was, and that he’d been sold to the kind symposiarch who told him to relax and who let him sleep in a bed.

The woman who was walking into his room now.

Gods, his room.  How would he ever get used to that?

“Good morning,” she said brightly, smiling as she walked into the room.  “Did you sleep well?”

“Yes, Domina,” he replied, still trying to get his bearings.

Charis opened the top drawer of the dresser and pulled out a dark blue tunic.  “Here you go,” she said.  “All of these will fit you.  You’ve got socks and longer tunics for in public here in the middle drawer.  Winter clothes are in the bottom, but we obviously won’t need those for awhile.  Shoes are here below the dresser.”

“Yes, Domina,” he said awkwardly, taking the tunic she held out to him.

“After breakfast, I’ll take you on a tour of the house.  It’s not as big as where you used to live, but it works for us.”

She flashed him a wide grin.  “Besides, I love this house.  I’m always happy to show it off.”

“Yes, Domina,” he said, smiling shyly.

She was actually having a conversation with him.  His owner, a Spartan, a symposiarch, was having a conversation with him.

It felt odd as hell.

He wasn’t sure what to say, so he focused on changing his clothes, removing the tunic he was wearing and replacing it with the one she handed him.

She chuckled, and he looked back up to see her watching him.  “You’ll get used to it soon,” she told him.

“Domina?”

“The small talk.  I can tell you’re not used to it.”

He blushed.  “I’m sorry, Domina.”

“You don’t have to be sorry.  I know it’s different for you.  Come on, let’s go have some breakfast.”

“Yes, Domina.”

He silently followed her through the hall and downstairs, into the dining room.

And he stopped cold when he walked in the room.

In the center of the room was a thick, heavy rectangular table.  Ilya sat at the end of the table, facing them.  He looked up as they walked in and flashed Kieran a warm smile.  To his left sat a dark-haired man who appeared to be in his late twenties.

The chair at the opposite end of the table was empty, presumably Charis’ place.  The chair to her right was empty, as well.  Opposite the empty chair sat another dark-haired man, who seemed to be in his late thirties.  Kieran was surprised at seeing a slave that old.

Why did Charis Athanasiadi, the most popular symposiarch in Laconia, have such an old slave?  She could afford the best, the most beautiful, the youngest out there.  While this man was undeniably attractive, he was definitely over 35.

Was he a pet?

Was that why he was sitting at the table with his owners?

“Come, you can sit in Rowyn’s place for now,” Charis said.  “He won’t be back until tomorrow, and we’ll get you a chair this afternoon.”

She put a hand on the small of his back, gently pushing him forward.  He numbly obeyed, unable to process what was happening.  He didn’t know what to think as he sank down into the chair.  At the same table as his owners.  With two other slaves.

“I’ll do the introductions,” Charis announced as she sat in her own place at the head of the table.  “You know Ilya, obviously.  This is Taber, Ilya’s slave.”

Taber smiled kindly at him.  “Hello,” he said softly.  Kieran could only nod, still too stunned to speak.

“And this is one of my slaves, Cullen,” Charis said, gesturing to the man who sat across from Kieran.

“How’s it going?” Cullen asked casually, grinning.  He had an infectious smile, and Kieran couldn’t help but return it, despite the color rising in his cheeks.

“You’ll meet Rowyn tomorrow.  He had to go to Mystras for a few days.”

Kieran nodded mutely, not bothering to try to figure out why a slave would have to go to the next town over, without his owner.

“Oh, and this is Abby,” Charis declared as the door behind Cullen opened, revealing a plump, stern-faced woman with graying hair carrying a large tray.

“Cullen, don’t you dare,” she snapped, not even bothering to look at the man she was addressing.  Kieran turned to see that Cullen had started to rise to his feet to help the woman.

Her harsh tone and stern expression made Kieran nervous, but Cullen chuckled, lowering himself back to his chair.  He seemed unfazed by her reprimand.  “One day, you’re going to surprise us all and let me help you, Miss Abby.”

“Hmph,” she scoffed as she placed a platter in front of Charis.

“Abby takes great pride in her work,” Charis explained to Kieran.  “Especially her cooking.  She doesn’t want anyone helping her.”

“Exactly, so don’t you go getting any ideas either, little one,” she said, wagging a finger at him as she made her way to the other side of the table, to serve Ilya next.  “And stay out of my kitchen.”

Kieran shrank back.  “Yes, Ma’am.”

“Look at that, Miss Abby,” Cullen said.  “You’re scaring the children again.  You’re too young and too pretty to do the wicked witch of the kitchen bit.”

She glared at him.  “I have three sons quite a bit bigger than you are, and they’re not too big to be bent over my knee and spanked.  The same goes for you.”

Cullen scoffed.  “I’ve been trying to get you to bend me over your knee for years.”

“You’re impossible.  A completely incorrigible man.”

“But I’m not boring.”

Kieran watched the exchange, not sure what to think.  Abby was smaller, and slighter, than a Spartan woman.  Her features were rounder and softer, her lips were smaller, and her shoulders were narrower.  It was obvious that Abby was a perioeci.  A free person.  And Cullen was a slave.  But they talked and joked as if they were equals.

He stole a glance to his owner, and was even more surprised to see her grinning at the exchange.  So she didn’t disapprove of it.  She didn’t disapprove of her slaves talking to a free person as if they were equals.

And this perioeci didn’t mind a slave talking to her like they were equals, either.

Well, he did still call her Miss Abby.  So maybe just the title was enough, and as long as she was shown respect, she was fine with the slaves talking to her so casually.

Abby served Ilya, then went around the table, putting a plate in front of each of the three slaves.  Kieran shifted uncomfortably in his seat as she put his plate down.  It felt so awkward to have someone serve him.  Even more awkward having a free person serve him.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said softly.

Abby paused, standing above him.  “Where did you get this one?” she asked, looking to Charis.

“Dryas Roubanis.”

“I don’t know the name.  How bad is he?”

Charis’ expression hardened for an instant, then became somber.  “I think it’ll take Kieran awhile to adjust,” she answered simply.

It was that Spartan way of speaking, of saying so much more than the few words they spoke.  Abby was perioeci, but had been working for Charis long enough to hear everything Charis didn’t say.

She turned her attention back to Kieran.  “Look at me,” she commanded gently.  Kieran obeyed, looking up at her with wide, frightened eyes.

“Oh, you poor thing.  You look like a baby deer in headlights.  Don’t worry, Bambi.  I’m not going to yell at you.”

“She’s not as mean as she pretends to be,” Ilya put in, grinning in between bites of his food.  “Don’t let her scare you.  She’s just a big old, blubbering teddy bear.  Sweet as honey.”

“You, sir,” she said.  “You don’t sign my paychecks.  And I’m willing to bet the one who does would not be opposed to me beating you with a wooden spoon.”

“You’d win that bet,” Charis said dryly.

“There, see?  She’s on my side.”

“But I can just use Taber as a human shield.  He’s too sweet, you won’t beat him.”

“He likes being beaten.  I’ll make an exception.”

Ilya rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air.  “I can’t win with you, woman.”

“That’s as it should be.  Eat, all of you.  I didn’t spend two hours on this for you to let it go cold.”

She turned on her heel and walked through the door, back to the kitchen.  Charis chuckled, shaking her head as she turned her attention back to the food on her plate.

Kieran looked down at his own plate, surprised by the amount of food he saw there.  Scrambled eggs, a piece of toast, and a slice of cantaloupe.  It was more than he usually got on any given day.

“We’re putting you on a bland diet for a few days, with smaller amounts of food, until your system has time to adjust,” Charis said, reminding him.  “Don’t worry, in a week or so you’ll have just as much food as we do.”

“Thank you, Domina.”

“Have you ever used a fork before?”

Kieran blushed, looking down at the utensils in front of him.  “No, Domina.”

“How did you eat when Dryas owned you?”

“From a dog bowl.  Or off the floor.  Sometimes off the bottom of his shoes.”

“That fucking bastard,” Ilya growled.  Kieran flinched at the force in his voice and instinctively lowered his head, folding his hands in his lap.

Charis reached over and patted his leg, silently reassuring him.

“And he’s just going to buy another one,” Ilya continued.  “And treat that one just as bad.  He’s not going to stop just because we took away his toy.  Gods, and he’s mild compared to others.”

“Ilya,” Charis said quietly, reminding him to get control of his temper.

“I’m calm,” he snapped angrily.  “And I’m happy that we got Kieran out of there.  But that doesn’t solve the problem.  I can name a dozen slave owners ten times worse than Dryas.”

As Ilya spoke, getting angrier and angrier, Taber silently set his fork down and slid out of his chair, his head disappearing under the table.  A moment later, Ilya let out a frustrated groan, obviously finding it hard to stay angry.

“You use that against me far too often, you know that?” he said, looking down to his lap.

“You make it too easy,” Charis told him, not bothering to look up from her plate, or to hide the wry smile on her face.

“Oh give me more credit than that, Char.  You’ve felt his mouth.  Try staying focused on anything else.”

“Well, finish quickly.  If Abby walks in and sees your cock in his mouth, instead of her food, we’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Have you met Taber, Domina?” Cullen asked.  “It’s impossible not to be quick.”

As if on cue, Ilya reached under the table to grab Taber by the back of his head, shoving his cock as deep into Taber’s mouth as it would go.  He moaned softly as he came.

After a moment, he released Taber.  “Alright, get back up here and finish your food before it gets cold.”

Taber reappeared and sat back down in his chair, smiling triumphantly.  Ilya rolled his eyes when he saw the slave’s expression.

“Gods, get that shit-eating grin off your face,” he chided playfully.  “You win, you don’t need to rub it in.”

“I’m sorry, Dominus,” Taber said, in a tone that implied he wasn’t the least bit sorry.

“I think every war in history could’ve been avoided with a well-timed, wholehearted blowjob,” Cullen said.

“Because you can’t be angry while you’re mid-orgasm,” Ilya pointed out.  He looked to his slave and smiled.  “At least when Taber is the one giving you the orgasm.”

Taber gave a shy smile, the hint of a blush rising in his cheeks.  Ilya reached over and ruffled the slave’s hair affectionately.

Kieran ate his food silently, watching the people around him.  They all looked so comfortable with each other.  Cullen and Taber didn’t keep their guard up the way other slaves did around their owners.  They didn’t communicate with each other at all with the hidden slave language.  Even the nonverbal cues.

But then again, if Ilya really was a neodamode, then they wouldn’t be able to hide anything from him, anyway.  Trying would’ve been pointless.

But even with that, it just didn’t seem like they were worried.  They were relaxed, and carefree, and unguarded.  They spoke openly, laughed freely, and met their owners’ eyes without fear.  They seemed to genuinely enjoy being in the company of their owners.

Of course, every slave appeared to enjoy the company of their owners.  It’s something every helot learned from a young age.  They appeared to enjoy their owners’ company, they appeared to enjoy being a slave, they appeared to enjoy all the things that were done to them.  A helot could make a free man believe they loved and adored him.  Even if his very presence repulsed and sickened them.  There were no better actors in the world than helots.

But these two were either much better actors than Kieran had ever seen, or they weren’t acting at all.

Abby returned shortly, just as everyone was finishing up, and gathered the dishes.  Charis turned to Kieran and extended her hand to him.  “Come on,” she said cheerfully.  “I’ll show you the house.”

“Yes, Domina,” he said, taking her outstretched hand and letting her lead him out of the dining room.

“Through that side door is the kitchen,” she said, gesturing to the second door in the dining room.  “You can also get there through the living room, across the hall.  There’s a breakfast nook in there, and that’s where we eat when Abby isn’t here, or if we’re hungry during the day, or whatever.  Down the hall this way is the mud room, utility room, and the door at the end of the hall leads to the garage and the courtyard.”

She led him into the living room, where a large TV dominated one wall and an even larger fireplace dominated another.  “Through there is the kitchen.  I’ll show you that later.  Right after meals is a pretty busy time for Abby, and she likes having her space.  This is the living room.  We have a game room through here and a formal sitting room for entertaining guests.”

She took him through to the foyer, then to the library and her study.  She laughed as she left the room.  “Ilya uses it more than I do, though,” she told him.  “He’s so much better at all of that tedious paperwork than I am.  You’d be surprised how boring running a symposium can be.”

“Yes, Domina.”

“My fitness room is through here,” she said.  “I spend far more time here than in the study.”

Upstairs, she showed him where Cullen’s, Taber’s, and Rowyn’s rooms were.  Kieran was surprised to find that they each got their own room.  And it appeared that there was at least one extra bedroom unused.

“There’s a guest bedroom downstairs, too,” Charis said, guessing what he was thinking.  “That was one of the biggest priorities when I bought this house.  I get my symposium slaves from all kinds of places, and some of them are pretty rough when I first buy them.  It’s easier to keep them here while they adjust, and I didn’t want to be limited by space.”

She showed him the master bedroom, where she slept.  “Ilya usually sleeps in Taber’s room,” she explained.  “He often wakes up in the middle of the night, and they can get noisy.”

“Yes, Domina.”

They left the room, walked a bit farther down the hall, then she stopped at the end, in front of a closed door.  “I wanted to save this one for last,” she said, hesitating at the door.  “It might be a little scary, but remember that you won’t come to any harm here.”

Kieran’s heart raced.  “Yes, Domina.”

She paused just a moment more, then opened the door, stepping aside so he could see in.

Kieran looked in the room, and felt his heart plummet to his feet.

Charis stepped behind him, putting her hands on his shoulders.  “Take a deep breath, love,” she murmured.  “You’re alright.”

Kieran tried to obey, but his body wouldn’t cooperate.  His lungs had seized up, and he felt like he was choking.

It was a large room, with a padded table and sawhorse in the center, a cage and a St. Andrew’s Cross in opposite corners, and a spanking bench beside the door.  Every kind of whip, flogger, paddle, and instrument of pain he could think of hung from hooks on the walls.  Cuffs, collars, chains, and rope hung from other hooks.

It was overwhelming.

But it shouldn’t have been.  She was a symposiarch, after all.

She knows ways of causing pain that Dryas could never even imagine, that voice inside him said.  And now she owns you.

“Come on, Kieran,” Charis urged, pulling him back.  “Come on, you need to get out of this room.”

Numbly, he allowed her to pull him back out into the hallway.  Her eyes narrowed with concern when she saw his face.  “Kieran, you’re as white as a sheet,” she murmured.  “It’s alright, I promise.  You have nothing to be afraid of.”

But he couldn’t hear her over the rushing sound in his ears.  The walls seemed to be closing in on him, and the floor seemed to be spinning beneath him.

“Stay here,” Charis said.  She walked a bit down the hall, to a small dark box on the wall, and pressed a button.  “I need Taber at the training room, alone,” she said hastily into the box.  “Right now.”

She didn’t wait for a response, but hurried back to Kieran.  “It’ll be alright,” she assured him.

He stumbled back against the wall, nauseous and dizzy.  That little voice in his head was screaming now, screaming that what he’d suffer at the hands of this woman he’d thought was kind would be far worse than anything Dryas could’ve done to him.

And he still had 15 years.  Gods, he wouldn’t survive.

He wanted to run, but his training locked his limbs, keeping him rooted in place.  But even being publicly slaughtered by the Crypteia would be better than being tortured and used at the symposium for sick entertainment.

“Kieran.”

The new voice startled him, and he looked up to see Ilya’s slave, Taber, standing in front of him.  Charis was nowhere to be seen.

“Come here,” Taber said gently, holding out a hand to help steady him.

Hesitantly, Kieran took it, and allowed Taber to lead him down the hall, to the older slave’s room.

“Sit down,” Taber said as he closed the door.  “Tell me what’s going through your head right now.”

Kieran wrapped his arms around himself, rocking back and forth on the bed.  “Fifteen years,” he whispered.

“You’re spiraling,” Taber told him.  “You need to slow down, and quiet your mind.  Otherwise you’ll just keep spiraling.  Take a deep breath.  Focus on something small.”

Taber abruptly walked to the nightstand, opened the drawer, and pulled out a short length of rope that had been tangled into an impossible knot.  He tossed it on Kieran’s lap.

“Untie that,” he said.  “Take your time, but untie the whole thing.”

Kieran looked up to meet Taber’s gaze, confused at the order.  But this was very obviously Ilya’s pet, and it would be a good idea to do what he said, regardless of how strange it sounded.

So Kieran turned his attention to the knot, studying the tangled mess to figure out where to start.

Taber sat down at the end of the bed, watching him silently.

It was a really complicated knot, and the longer Kieran worked on it, the more of his focus it required.  Finally, he took a deep breath, sighing deeply as the tension left his body.

“Feel better?” Taber asked.

Kieran sighed again, putting the rope down.  “She probably knows more ways to torture someone than any two other people combined.”

Taber shrugged.  “Probably.”

“And she owns me.”

“Yes.”

“I let my guard down.  She was so nice.  She talked to me.  She, she promised me that everything would be okay.  And I let my guard down.  I believed her.”

“What do you think will happen now?” Taber asked neutrally.

“Gods,” Kieran whimpered.  “I don’t know.  I, I can’t… I can’t even imagine the ways she’ll hurt me.”

“So you think she’ll hurt you.”

Kieran looked up to meet Taber’s gaze.  “She’s a symposiarch.”

“Yes, she is.”

“She has… There’s that room.”

“The training room, yes.”

“The things in that room…”

“Are not for you,” Taber interrupted.

“Who are they for?”

“Most of the time, for Rowyn and me,” Taber explained.  “I’m a masochist.  I like being hit.  And Rowyn likes being tied up, and sometimes being treated pretty brutally when they get deep into their sessions.  Cullen isn’t a masochist, and he had it kind of rough before Domina found him, so she doesn’t hit him, and only rarely restrains him.”

“She doesn’t?”

“No.  And she won’t hit you, either.  That’s not what she does.  That’s not who she is.”

“But the symposium…”

“Have you ever been to her symposium?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know what happens there?”

“My former Dominus…”

Taber shook his head.  “Domina is not Dryas, Kieran.”

Kieran felt a spike of adrenaline shoot down his spine.  Had Taber really called him by his first name?  Out loud?  But he was a helot, and Dryas was Spartan nobility.  Even when alone, no helot felt comfortable enough taking that risk.

But Taber had said it, as casually as if he’d been referring to another helot.

“I’m telling you,” he said, seeing Kieran’s thoughts in his expression.  “She’s not like the owners you’ve been exposed to.  There’s a reason her symposium is so popular.  Because it’s different than the others.  She doesn’t harm people.  She won’t hurt you.”

Kieran took a deep breath.  “I’m scared.”

“I know.  It’s scary at first.  Waking up one day and discovering that you’re owned by a symposiarch is scary.  But you saw the way she is with us.  I’ve been here for five years.  Cullen has been here for three.  Rowyn’s been hers for ten years, before she even graduated from agoge.  She’s never mistreated any of us, in all that time.  Even if you can’t trust her yet, trust us.”

“What if I can’t please her?  What if I can never be as comfortable as you and Cullen?”

“Do you know where Cullen came from?”

“No.”

“It was right when Domina was under a lot of pressure from nobility to expand again.  She got a call from another symposiarch, who ran a popular symposium on the other side of town.  He offered her a deal that seemed too good to be true.  He would give her 60% ownership of his symposium if he could operate under her brand.  She would’ve also gotten 33% of all his profits.”

“Is that a lot?” Kieran asked.

“For just a name?  Yeah, it seemed like a lot.  Dominus thought it was a great idea, but something about him just rubbed Domina the wrong way.  She met him, she toured his symposium early in the day, before it opened, and everything seemed fine, but she just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.  And you could just see it in her face whenever they talked about him.  Something about him just didn’t seem right, and it bothered her, but she couldn’t figure out what.”

“What did she do?” Kieran asked.

“She got guest passes for herself and Dominus under a different name, and we all went to the symposium unannounced.  While her symposium was open.  So he had no idea she was coming, and no reason to think she’d show up when she was expected to be running her own place.”

“She took you, too?”

Taber nodded.  “You know how it is.  Slaves can talk when free people aren’t around.  They’d be more comfortable talking to Rowyn or me about how they were treated than they would to her or Dominus.  That, and slaves can often go unseen.  A lot of the time, people don’t pay attention to us.  We could eavesdrop and observe in a way that she couldn’t.  The free people would recognize her as soon as she walked in.  But no one there would know me or Rowyn.”

“I didn’t know it was permitted to bring personal slaves to a symposium.”

“Different ones have different rules.  And even when it’s allowed, it’s generally not a good idea, unless it’s a symposium like Domina’s.  You can’t ever be sure what to expect.”

“Was she worried that you’d be mistreated?”

“Oh, definitely.  She didn’t even want to bring us, at first.  She really didn’t trust the symposiarch.  Rowyn was the one who convinced her that it made the best business sense.  And really, we both knew that, even if something were to happen, it wouldn’t be anything we couldn’t handle.  Domina and Dominus would have to stay away from us most of the time, so no one would realize we’re theirs, but we knew they’d be watching out for us.”

Kieran wasn’t sure what to think about that.  They still wanted to go, even knowing that something bad happening was a legitimate possibility.  They would take that risk?

“As soon as we walked in, we all knew it was bad,” Taber continued.  “The whole energy of the place felt off, and half of the helots were like zombies.  The other half were crying, or screaming, or struggling, or begging to die.  None of them wanted to be there.  And none of the members cared.  They seemed to like the fact that the helots were suffering.  They got off on it.”

Taber sighed, lowering his eyes.  “They brought Cullen out, naked, and tied him up in the center of the room.  At first, he looked like a zombie.  His face was blank, he didn’t react to anything.  But when the symposiarch started beating him, he started yelling and cursing.  There was so much anger there.  I’d never seen anything like it before.  I don’t think Domina had, either.  I remember standing next to Rowyn, and I looked over to her.  She was so still, unnaturally still, almost.  And she was just staring.  Like nothing else existed in the world, other than what was happening on that stage.

“It became a game for everyone.  They wanted to break him.  They wanted to beat the anger out of him.  It was like he became the focus of the entire symposium.  Everyone wanted to beat him.

“It took a long time, but they won.  He started crying and begging them to stop.  But instead of ending the game, they made it worse on him.  I thought they were going to kill him.  They might have, if Domina hadn’t stopped them.”

“Domina stopped them?” Kieran asked.

Taber nodded.  “She was so angry.  And as soon as everyone realized who she was, they looked like a bunch of scolded children.  She had Dominus untie him, and told Rowyn and me to help get him to the car.  She told the symposiarch she’d write him a check for Cullen, and that she’d be back the next day for his papers.  She was buying him, and she didn’t give the symposiarch a choice in the matter.  Everyone was too stunned to argue, and the symposiarch was too embarrassed to fight it.  She bought Cullen without even knowing his name.”

“The next day, she went back for the papers, and right after, she called a reporter and publicly denounced the symposium.  Of course, no one wanted to belong to a symposium denounced by Domina, so that symposiarch was out of business in a matter of weeks.”

Taber sighed heavily.  “It took much longer for Cullen to heal.  He was angry, he was scared, he wanted to hurt anyone who came close to him.  He was more animal than man, and he tried to run away every chance he got.  Domina had to keep him locked in his room or restrained at all times.  Dominus thought he was beyond saving, that he just couldn’t heal from wounds that deep.  But Domina never gave up on him.  She said that even if she had to restrict his movements forever, she would make sure that he would never know anything but kindness and gentleness.  Even when he turned 35, she refused to euthanize him or sell him.”

“What about freeing him?” Kieran asked.

But Taber shook his head.  “Only the free people and the uneducated think like that.  But it wouldn’t work in reality.  It rarely ever does.  In fact, it’s usually harder on the slaves than remaining under their owners’ power.”

“What do you mean?” Kieran asked.  How could freeing a slave be harder than remaining a slave?

“Well, take Cullen.  He’d been a slave all his life.  He was brutally tortured for seventeen years at that symposium.  What other life does he know?  How would he survive on the streets?  On his own?  That’s the problem with freeing helots, you see.  If you were freed tomorrow, you’d have to hold a job, you’d have to pay taxes, you’d have bills, you’d have to be a functioning member of society.  Do you have any idea how to do any of that?”

Kieran shook his head, lowering his gaze.  He’d never thought about that.

“And you’re still young.  Cullen was almost 35.  Imagine living with Dryas for fifteen years, spending a few months with Domina, and then being turned out on the street.  You’d be completely lost.  Freeing Cullen wouldn’t have helped him.  It probably would’ve made it worse.  Dominus suggested just putting him down.”

“Putting him down?” Kieran asked, incredulous.

“In a way, at the time, it was the kindest thing he could think of to do.  Cullen didn’t seem like he was getting any better.  He was just miserable all the time.  There was no indication that he’d ever get better.  Freeing him wasn’t an option, and selling him to the State would have just been cruel.  There was no other option in Dominus’ mind.  No way to take away his pain other than to just end it all.”

Kieran thought back to breakfast, the way Cullen always had some quip, the way he always had a smile behind his eyes.  It was hard to imagine that man the way Taber described him.

“It took a long time, but eventually Cullen started to trust Domina.  He started to trust that she wouldn’t hurt him.  And he started to get more comfortable here.”

Taber leveled a steady gaze at Kieran.  “The same will happen with you,” he said.  “It will take time, and you’ll probably get more frustrated with yourself than she ever will be with you.  But it’ll happen.  You’ll be able to relax.”

Kieran sighed.  He couldn’t imagine ever being comfortable around the intimidating woman.

That night, he sat in Rowyn’s seat again, and was again taken aback by the amount of food he was given, and the way Cullen and Taber seemed so at ease.  The entire day had been spent trying to figure Charis out, trying to figure out what was expected of him, and growing increasingly frustrated that he couldn’t.

Charis noticed the exhaustion in his eyes.  “Kieran?  Are you alright?”

Kieran blushed, unnerved by the fact that she could see through his neutral façade.  “Yes, Domina,” he replied quietly.

But she didn’t accept his answer.  “What’s wrong?” she pressed.

And again, Kieran’s heart jumped.  He’d lied to her, and she knew about it.  She could punish him severely for such a thing.

“I’m sorry, Domina,” he murmured.  “I think I’m just tired.”

She stared at him for a moment, studying him, then nodded, her expression making it clear that she knew he wasn’t telling the whole truth, but that she would accept his answer.

“Alright, love,” she said gently.  “Why don’t you go ahead and go on to bed.  Get some rest, alright?”

“Yes, Domina,” he replied, rising to his feet to obey her.  He couldn’t help but be relieved.  The idea of being alone, in his room, in a comfortable, warm bed, appealed to him.

He made his way into the hallway, then paused when he heard his name spoken in a tone they apparently didn’t think he could hear.  Without thinking, he pressed against the wall in the hallway, listening to his conversation.

“We’ve got to do something with him, Charis,” Ilya said.  “We can’t keep adopting strays.  We’re going to run out of room.”

Charis scoffed.  “This morning you were about to fly into a rage because of the way he was treated there.  Now you’re implying we shouldn’t have taken him?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” Ilya told her.  “But we also have to acknowledge that we can’t save them all.  We just don’t have the room.”

“I’m happy to hear any alternative you may have.”

“Domina, what if you train him for the symposium?”

Kieran gasped at the voice that was neither Charis’ nor Ilya’s.  It was Cullen’s.  A slave, interjecting in an argument between his owners?  Gods, what was he thinking?

“Or you could sell him to Lord Alexandris,” Cullen continued.  Kieran didn’t miss the distinct lack of fear, or shouted reprimand.  “He’s looking for another pleasure slave, isn’t he?”

“He is,” Ilya answered in a tone that wasn’t the least bit hostile, not even the least bit annoyed that the slave had spoken out of turn.

“He always says how great the slaves at the symposium are.  I bet he’d pay a lot for him.”

“We don’t know how to train abused slaves for resale,” Ilya pointed out.

“You figured it out with me,” Cullen countered.  Kieran felt his heart leap into his throat.  Now he was actually arguing with his Dominus.  “Domina figured it out with Rowyn when she was just a teenager.  She could do it.  And you could sell him to Lord Alexandris.”

There was a brief pause.  “It’s not a hateful idea,” Charis relented.  “Galen’s been looking for awhile, now.  Kieran could be a good match for him.  But before we can even consider that, we need to focus on getting Kieran past the abuse.  No matter what happens, that has to come first.  I’m not going to allow him to be sold, even to someone like Galen, until he’s able to handle it.”

Kieran’s heart plummeted from his throat to his toes, and he felt as if the breath had been knocked out of him.

Sold?  They were talking about selling him?

But he’d only just gotten there!  He still didn’t even have a hope of getting his bearings yet, and they were going to sell him?

Cruelty hurts worse when you’ve known kindness, that bitter voice inside him said.

The room started spinning, and the walls started closing in on him.  He momentarily lost his balance and stumbled against the small end table beside him.

Silence came from the room, and in the hallway, the only sound Kieran could hear was the pounding of his heart.

A moment later, Cullen appeared in the hallway.  “Well, hi,” he said cheerfully.  “Come on in here.”

He didn’t give Kieran the chance to protest, instead taking him firmly by the arm and pulling him back into the room, where he saw Charis, Ilya, and Taber staring at him.

Oh gods, he had not only eavesdropped on a private conversation, but he’d disobeyed a direct order from his owner.  Now their kindness would surely stop, and the only one he could blame for it was himself.

Panic-stricken, he dropped to his knees, pressing his forehead to the floor, trembling and shaking.

An eternity seemed to pass, and then, he felt a hand on him.  Out of habit, he flinched violently, but the touch was gentle.  The voice that called his name was equally gentle, but that did nothing but frighten him more.

“Kieran?” Charis said softly.  “Look at me.”

Whimpering, Kieran forced his reluctant body to obey.  All he wanted to do was stay there, on the floor, in that position, and wait for the beating to start.  He didn’t want to look at her, he didn’t want to move, he didn’t want to see more of the kindness he didn’t deserve.

But his training overrode his reluctance, and he lifted his eyes to hers.  There was no anger in her face as she watched him.

“Why didn’t you do as you were told?” she asked quietly.

Her question, with that soft, gentle tone, with all the confusion of the last two days, finally pushed him to his breaking point.  Unable to keep her gaze, he collapsed again, abandoning the proper apology position and curling up in a fetal position on the floor.  He didn’t even bother trying to keep the sobs in.

But the gentle hand never left him, and never lost its gentleness.

“Come on, love,” she said softly.  “Stand up.  Let’s go to your room.”

So she can punish you, the bitter voice sneered.

But he’d already disobeyed her once.  Disobeying her a second time would make the punishment all the more terrible.  His body acted without conscious thought, fueled by the fear of what was coming and what would make it worse.

Numbly, he allowed her to lead him to his room.  Once inside, she closed the door and sat on the edge of the bed, pulling him to sit at her feet.

His heart was racing.  What was she going to do to him?  How was she going to hurt him?  Gods, what was she going to do?

Desperate to do anything he could to ease the pain he knew was coming, he nuzzled her knee, moving quickly up her thigh, hoping that if he could reach her before she stopped him, he could distract her from the punishment.

“No, Kieran,” she said softly, a firm hand on his head.

And panic seized him.  How was he supposed to enrich her life if she wouldn’t let him service her?  How was he supposed to prove himself to be valuable to her?

She was going to sell him, and he’d have to go through all of this, all over again.  He couldn’t handle it.  He didn’t know what she wanted from him, he didn’t know how to serve her, he didn’t know how to make her happy.

Slaves who failed at making their owners happy were cruelly, brutally, savagely beaten.  Or put down.

“Please, Domina,” he begged, clinging to her leg.  “Please, please.  I… I can’t…  Please, Domina, I need…”

“Shh,” she murmured caressing his face.  “It’s alright.  I’m not going to hurt you.  You’re safe.”

For a long few minutes, he did nothing but cling to her, his head in her lap, crying.  He didn’t bother trying to hide his feelings or regulate his emotions.  He didn’t bother trying to censor himself.  Somehow, he just couldn’t make himself care anymore.

For a long few minutes, she sat there, silently, gently caressing him, running her fingers through his hair.  She didn’t speak, she didn’t try to silence him, she didn’t discourage his sobbing.  She simply waited.  And when he had cried himself out, she pulled him up on the bed beside her.

“You’re scared, Kieran,” she said, taking his hand in hers.  “You’re terrified.”

It wasn’t a question, and he couldn’t deny it.  More than that, he didn’t want to deny it anymore.

“Yes, Domina,” he whispered, unable to meet her gaze.

“Why?”

Despite the fear, he laughed.  Why?

He had a million reasons to be afraid, and not one to calm his heart.

“You’ve gone through a lot of change in the last couple of days,” she said calmly.  “Change is frightening.  You’re not even used to us yet, and already we’re talking about selling you to someone else.  It’s scary, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Come here, lie down with me.”

She leaned back, pulling him to lie down beside her.  Gently, she took him into her arms.

“I can’t imagine what it feels like to live through what you’re living through,” she murmured, kissing his forehead.  “I know it’s got to be hard to trust someone who owns you.  Who has that kind of power over you.  I can’t imagine what that must feel like.”

Sighing, he nuzzled closer to her, wanting to feel the intimacy she offered.  Wanting to feel closeness to someone without being afraid of what they’d do to him.

“You’re going to be alright,” she continued.  “I’m going to keep you safe.  I’m going to teach you how to let go of the fear.  You don’t have to live with it, Kieran.  You just have to be taught how to let it go.”

He closed his eyes, burrowing his face in her neck.  The warmth of her body was so comforting, so reassuring.  That bitter voice inside him was still screaming, shouting about how much more her cruelty would hurt after such gentle kindness, but he was just too tired to care.

Spending every waking moment trying to figure out his new owners was exhausting.

Within minutes, he was asleep.