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.”

Sissy porn stash

It’s been a busy couple of months, but no matter what else is going on, I always make time to enjoy just how sexy and photogenic my sissy is.  And luckily for me, I have my very own personal sissy porn stash.

The last couple of months have been a bit wonky as far as both of our schedules go, but usually, if I’m not there with him on Sissy Sundays, Sounder makes time during the day to take pictures for me.

And they’re beautifully edited, so delightfully slutty, and unbelievably hot.

The pictures I take of him are pretty fun to look at, too.  I’m never ever going to not enjoy seeing him with something inside him.

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Case in point

I mean, just look at that gorgeous, perky ass.  It just begs to be filled.

My favorite, though, is the stuff I can’t share here.  Particularly the videos I’ve taken of him.

Like the first time he came while straddling me, riding my cock.  That’ a fun video to watch.  Or the most recent one, of him on all fours in that sexy lingerie, fucking himself on the dildo, arching his back and pushing against me, wanting it deeper inside him.

The holidays have messed with my ability to fuck that sexy, slutty, eager ass of his.  But it happens, real life tends to get in the way of kinky fun occasionally.

And at least I have some amazing porn to look at until I can throw him down onto the bed, push his legs back, and ram my cock into him over and over again.

I mean, seriously?

I generally think I’m a pretty lucky person.  So often, it seems like the entire goddamned universe comes together to give me exactly what I want, exactly when I want it.

But I’ve had a pretty nasty run of luck the last few years with having shit stolen.  I’ve had my purse stolen, my ukulele and ferrets stolen, and we’ve had the kids living with us at the time go through and steal every dollar bill in the house.

Which sucks, but it happens.

And now there’s something else to add to that list.

I had coffee with a friend Monday night, and as kink is a popular topic, and we often end up comparing toys, I took my toybag with me.  I ended up staying late, and I was still dealing with the tail end of a cold, so when I got home, didn’t feel like bringing the toybag inside.

So I just left it in the car.  No big deal, I’ve done it plenty of times before.

Tuesday, Kazander needed some work done on his car, so he took mine to work.

Wednesday, I was going over to Sounder’s house.  I went out to grab my bag, to check that I had everything I wanted to bring with me.

Except my bag wasn’t in the car.

Well, Kazander must’ve brought it inside before he drove to work.  So I went in to grab it from the bedroom closet.

Except it wasn’t there, either.

Weird.

I texted Kazander, asking if he’d taken it out of the car.  He hadn’t.

So I must have just missed it somehow.  I went back out to the car.

It still wasn’t there.

What the hell?

I looked around.  Then I looked one more time, just for good measure.  When Kazander got home he went out to look himself, just in case I was like, high or blind or had lost my mind or something.

But it stubbornly stayed missing.

At some point between Monday and Wednesday, my bag was stolen out of my car.  I have no idea when.

But dude, I’d give my left tit to see the look on the asshole’s face when they open it up and see what’s inside.

Of course, what’s inside is like a thousand dollars worth of shit.  Sex toys are not cheap, m’kay.  I had a couple of Aneros plugs, some glass dildos and plugs, a Rabbit, a Feeldoe, an E-stim kit, a handmade leather bullwhip, flogger, urethral sound kit…. dude, so much stuff.

This shit is not going to be cheap to replace.  And pretty much every toy I own was in that bag.  I’ve got to start almost from scratch.

So that’s a bummer.  I’m not thrilled about it.

First on my list is a new strapon harness.  I need to be able to fuck my sissy whenever I want.  And interestingly enough, I was just talking to Sounder about how I needed to get a larger dildo to use with him.

So at least there’s that.

But I’m definitely ready for this streak of bad luck to be over.

 

Old Guard

Old Guard came up in a conversation recently, and the young woman I was speaking to asked, “So wait, aren’t you Old Guard?”

I’ve been asked this question a lot, and the answer is no, I am not.

My mentor was Old Guard, and he trained me in the Old Guard ideals and methods, even invited me to join his House when I turned 18, but no, I am not Old Guard.

One of the reasons is that, to be a Dominant in an Old Guard House, you must start as a submissive.

Everyone in Old Guard starts as a submissive.

I never did.  I never wanted to, but even if I had wanted to, I wouldn’t have been able to.

I met my mentor when I was 16 and he was in his 40s.  The legal age of consent was 16, so I mean, it technically could’ve happened, but for one, he was uncomfortable with the morality of being the Dominant of a 16-year-old girl, and for two, I had literally zero interest in being a submissive, and for three, that just wasn’t our relationship.

He and I were never sexual together.  I was physical with his submissive wife and a few of the male submissives of his Old Guard House, but even that was more clinical than anything, with him using them to teach me.  For example, he taught me how to find a man’s prostate, how to do urethral sounds on both male and female genitalia, where on the body it’s safe to hit and where you need to use caution, etc.

But my age was a huge obstacle when it came to joining his House, or joining the kink community in general.  I mean, even without potential legal issues of me being a minor, no one takes a teenage Dominant seriously.

And I can’t blame them.  Even now, it’s not easy for me for take young Dominants seriously.

But the other thing is that Old Guard was dying as I entered the scene.  All of a sudden, Old Guard became the new black, and everyone was popping up saying that they were Old Guard.

This made my mentor incredibly bitter, and understandably so.

To fully understand his bitterness, you have to know the history of Old Guard, and why it was created.  Because there’s an entire culture here in this country that most people know nothing about.

Old Guard began as a community for gay military men and veterans, where they could find acceptance and brotherhood after coming home from war zones and feeling more threatened here than they did there.

 

And honestly, seeing the culture, seeing the bond with the members of his House, hearing the stories of these servicemen and women, and then seeing their culture get stepped on and trampled, I was pretty bitter about all the people jumping out of the woodwork, claiming to be Old Guard, too.

Old Guard was something special that these veterans had, that they created because serving in a war zone was easier than trying to live in their own damn country.

And that’s just one thing I have to say real quick.  Because in this country, the Republican hate group political party loves to talk about veterans, but they never want to help them or try to understand them.

But for all the faults in the military (rapes and sexual assaults have been a problem), they have always been very accepting of those who are different.  Yes, you had Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but I’ve spoken to gay veterans who were in combat situations or very, very tense situations, and being able to just be who they are, with no drama.

Because the other guys in your unit didn’t care.  As long as you could pull your weight and watch their backs, they didn’t care whether you liked pussy or dick.  They had actual problems and real shit to worry about.

When you could legitimately have your car randomly blown up by a 6-year-old with a flame thrower, shit like what consenting adults do in their private time really just doesn’t matter all that much to you.

It’s called perspective, m’kay.

And now, we’re seeing the same thing with trans people.  Trans people in Iraq and Afghanistan and other unpleasant places are actually happier there than they are at home, because there, it’s just no big deal.  People are more worried about being blown up or shot, or what they’re going to do if they see a 6-year-old with a flame thrower walking toward them.

They don’t have time to worry about whether you’ve got a cock or a cunt under your clothes.  They’re busy.

So these servicemen and women can just be who they are.  Trans men can just be men.  Trans women can just be women.  No one fucking cares.

And it’s a major, major failure on the part of our country when a veteran feels more comfortable in a combat zone than their own country, their own home.

But gay and trans servicemen aren’t the only ones we shit on, and this is a big part of what made Old Guard so popular.

We just have so little understanding of the mental and emotional needs of a veteran.  We take these kids, these teenagers, and we put them in some pretty fucked up situations, where they have to make some pretty fucked up decisions, and we have such a limited understanding of what that does to a person’s mind, and we never want to fund the research to figure out how to help them.

For example, we’re only just recently starting to treat a whole new condition, called Trauma-Associated Sleep Disorder (TSD), which was originally thought to be a form of PTSD, but none of the traditional PTSD treatments worked.  It’s only been in the last couple of years that we’re realizing it’s a totally different condition, and that we need to treat it as a totally different condition.

And then you have a rather large number of people who insist that things like PTSD and TSD are not real, and just made up because they don’t like science and facts.

Even now, even today, there are tons and tons of veterans who wish they could go back to the war zones.  Because here, they’re surrounded by very bored people who will never understand them, in a country that ignores and abandons them, and they’re expected to just seamlessly fit back in to civilian life, with literally no mental or emotional support structure at all.

Guys, do you have any idea just how fucked up that is?  Like, could you even imagine what that’s like?

Because I sure as hell can’t.

That’s why Old Guard was created, y’all.  That’s what it was.

These gay men came home from those terrible, gruesome places, and all of a sudden, being gay was a huge deal again.  They missed the closeness and the brotherhood and the acceptance that they felt while they were serving.  Old Guard was their way of coming together and supporting one another.

And after awhile, it got big.  It wasn’t just gay men anymore, or veterans.  But that was always the base of every House.  My mentor allowed anyone to join his House, but to be a leader, you had to be a veteran.  It’s my understanding that pretty much every House had that requirement, or a similar one.  Because veterans are the ones that understand that culture, and they’re the ones that needed it.

So yeah, knowing the history, and seeing it just trampled on by all these idiots jumping up and claiming to be Old Guard, I could definitely understand why my mentor was bitter.

And it infuriated me.  Because I loved my mentor.  He was my first real love.  He taught me how to love myself, and how to accept myself.  He showed me how to be okay with my past.

He saved my life.  I can honestly say, with 100% certainty, that if it hadn’t been for him, I’d be dead or in prison now.  He made me who I am.

I loved him.  I respected and admired him.  Watching stupid, bored, insecure assholes shit on him and his culture, because it “sounded so super cool,” was infuriating.  They had no idea what they were doing, what they were destroying.

 

I mean, we as a country love to shit all over our veterans, and the bastardization and death of Old Guard was just another shining example.

I wasn’t going to be a part of that.  And I won’t be a part of that.

What are we like in real life?

I have a question.  What are Dominatrixes like in real life?  Are they bossy in their everyday life and like to give orders or are they nice people?

Yes.

I mean, I usually try to be a nice person.  I volunteer with veterans, I’m going through the process of getting my rescued, rehabilitated pit bull certified as an AKC therapy dog, I donate to Toys for Tots and send care packages to deployed soldiers every Christmas, basically I try to do what I can to create the kind of world I want my daughter to live in.

I can also work well in groups.  If I’m not the one in charge, I do my part to ensure efficiency.  I can put my ego away and do what I’m told to get the job done.

However, I generally prefer being the one in charge.  When I am, I have a plan and my goal is efficiency.  If I’m your boss, hell-fucking-yes I’m comfortable giving you orders and chewing you out if you don’t follow them.

I also have a bit of a confrontational side.  If you’re a dick, all bets are off.  I can out-asshole the biggest asshole.

That’s me, though.  I’m one Domme.

And I think what you’re forgetting is that Dommes are people.  There are good ones and bad ones, nice ones and mean ones, there are as many variations in personality as there are in literally any group of people.

A good, thorough fucking

It had been awhile since I’d been able to give Sounder a real fucking.  We were both eager for that to change.

And from the very first moment I bent him over the island in his kitchen, and slid a finger in him, he was every bit the eager anal whore you’d expect a sissy to be.  Pushing back against me, humping himself on my hand, wanting to be filled up, it was really hot.

I always love watching him squirm.

It was especially hot once I got him in the bedroom and started putting toys in him.  I will never get tired of watching him fuck himself on whatever’s in him.

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I can’t wait to take a picture like this, but with a real cock inside him, instead of a toy.

At first, he was so tight.  It had been too long since I’ve really had my way with his pussy, so I was gentle.  I started small and gradually worked my way up in size.  Because I’m so totally nice like that.

All I know is that he’s going to make a man very happy when I put a real cock inside him.  And how awesome are backless panties?  The more he wears them, the more I love them.  So sexy, so convenient.

I don’t even have to undress him, all I have to do is bend him over.

When I finally switched to my strap-on, the look on his face as I filled him up was priceless.  It had been awhile since he’d had anything that big in him.

I turned him onto his back, pushed his knees up, exposing that tight, pink ass, and rammed my cock in.

He looks damn good with something in him, by the way.

I don’t think it was a full minute before he came.  And then came again.  And again.

We’ll definitely have to work on his stamina.  He starts getting exhausted and raw after about ten orgasms.  He’ll have way more than that when he’s fucked by half a dozen men.

Eventually, though, I had mercy on him, and decided to play with my clothespins, instead.  You know, because I’m nice like that.

 

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Super nice

He really is so adorable when he’s in pain.  And the best part about clothespins is that they hurt more coming off than they do going on.  Makes it easy to drag out the pain, really savor those reactions.

And he’s got a new hypnosis recording to listen to every day.  I’m going to brainwash him into a mindless sissy fucktoy.  He’s going to dream about being gangbanged, he’s going to crave men’s cocks in him.

Eventually, it will even seep into his everyday life.  He’ll be at work and see a hot guy, and an image of that guy bending him over his desk and fucking him will flash through his mind.  He’ll imagine what that man’s cock will taste like.  What it’ll feel like to have it throb in his mouth as it shoots down his throat.

Just a quick flash.  But they’ll start happening more and more, until that’s the norm, until he doesn’t remember what it feels like not to picture men fucking him.  He’ll forget what it feels like not to crave a man’s dick inside him.

It’s going to be so much fun, it really is.

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.