Twisting steam hooded Benjamin’s vision for split seconds as he walked. Most of the lights this far away from the city had been turned down or off, allowing one or two of the brighter stars to finally shine through. The icy air was crisp and clean-smelling, the irritants in the air washed away by the freezing rain. Benjamin inhaled as deeply as his lungs would allow.
It was past midnight, and he hadn’t been able to drift off to sleep. He had passed on the Scene grounds, opting for a long soak in the bath and some time with his Xbox in an effort to relax, but it hadn’t worked. Exercising one’s thumbs on a controller was a far cry from spending the energy to work a boy over before cuddling him back to reality. Relaxation for the sake of relaxation has never been a successful theory for him. Doing something one enjoyed… hell… took pride in… rests and restores the energy of a worn soul.
But he hadn’t been in the right mental capacity. Work had been, and still is, brutal. Deadlines were fast approaching, and his team had hit a pretty tight snag on the project. One of the distributors for their “green” battery program hadn’t delivered, which meant his team was now forty-five percent behind on the batch that is due in January for the BMW headquarters in Germany.
Trying to get the other distributors to produce more than the promised share meant higher costs, and margins were already tight enough as is. Benjamin itched to take his frustrations out on something, but that was never the right mindset to venture into Scene with.
No. That was too dangerous. His role demands him to be nothing but the absolute best. He’s there to serve two needs, and more importantly, to protect the one who submits. Without his head in the right place meant the possibility of wrong actions and words, and without the right ones, he could cause irreparable damage.
He’ll never live with himself if he was to harm another human being like that.
So he’s been out, punishing his feet with the distance, hands tucked inside warm pockets heated by hand warmers and head wrapped by a black beanie with a fleece lined hood over it. Wool socks were the only things keeping his feet from freezing right off, and Benjamin wasn’t surprised there wasn’t a soul to be found, not even an errant teenager sneaking out to hit some weed up with friends. San Antonio was in the middle of an odd winter, temperatures already surpassing average lows for the season.
He would check his watch to see what time it was, but that particular knowledge would need him to remove his hand and pry his phone out from within the layers.
Right now, he didn’t want to even see his phone.
His feet took him on the deepest set road of the small housing community, the area built in the early 2000s. His parents had moved east, wanting to be a little closer to the family in Florida. They bought a condominium in a senior community, and Benjamin worked on getting their old house sold a few months later. When he landed his current employment, he decided he’ll station out around the “loops” of San Antonio. When he found the gem that makes up his current residence, he negotiated a hard bargain, won it, and threw the money his parents gave him as down payment.
Life and fortunes had been good to him, and Benjamin hoped they will continue to be good to him for years to come.
He wasn’t sure he heard it the first time, but the chattering of teeth and stuttered moaning was unmistakably human. Someone was outside, and by the sounds of it, freezing to death in this forsaken weather.
A quick turn of his head suggested the sound came from his left, and he frowned. He knew that house. Or more correctly, he’s heard of the person who lived in that domain – Eddy. He was another dom in the city, liked to call himself “Master Payne,” and was new to the local Scene from having just moved in from Detroit. They’d never crossed paths, but the reputation through the vine was that Eddy was a harsh dom who thoroughly believed that only by serving his wishes does a Sub truly fulfill one’s purpose. He didn’t believe in safe words or consent.
Subs served Doms – however, wherever, and whenever the Dom wants. Just being in his house was, apparently, consent enough.
While the front yard of the house wasn’t fenced in, the backside of it was hidden from view by relatively tall, solid wood paneling. Standing at nearly six-four, Benjamin wouldn’t even have to get on his tip toes to look over. Problem was, that invaded someone else’s privacy, and Benjamin didn’t have plans on being arrested for trespassing. Or worse, shot for his actions.
Numerous puffs of steam appeared and dissipated as he continued to stand where he was. The sounds of chattering teeth didn’t waver, and the shuddering moans started pairing with whimpers. “Hello?” Benjamin finally called out. “Is someone there?”
For a moment the moans and whimpering stilled, but the chattering of teeth was too much for will alone in freezing air, and soon after the whimpering started again. A human being in potential distress tugged hard at Benjamin’s Dom instincts, and he was at the fence even before he realized his feet had moved at all.
The sight pulled a startled “Oh shit!” out of him.
Hands bound behind his back with handcuffs, forced to kneel with binds at thighs and calves, with a tether barely two feet long between the metal link in a dog collar and the stake in the ground, the Sub hadn’t a shred of clothing on him. The bewildering amount of bruising on pale skin and “is-that-blood?!” had Benjamin searching for a door on his side of the fence and was through it when the metal clicked open.
Trespassing or not, that was simply not acceptable, Scene or no Scene.
Fingers unhooked the tether from the stake before finding the links that bound thigh to calf and then unbuckling the cuffs around the Sub’s wrists. “Hey? Why’re you out here like this? What’s your name?” Ben asked as he yanked off his outer – thankfully well-lined – jacket to toss over the shivering body. “Hey, can you understand me? Can you stand?”
The man on the ground hunched in on himself even more, chattering teeth making all speech from the lips difficult to understand. The Sub kept shaking his head and tried to move away from Benjamin, but it only served to bring Benjamin closer to the Sub. He knelt, hand firmly grasping the line attached to the collar so the Sub couldn’t go any further. “What’s your name? Why are you out here like this, Boy?”
The Sub shook his head again, shaking hard enough Benjamin thought the Sub was going to rattle himself apart right then and there.
“Answer me, Boy.”
Benjamin leaned to the side, free hand digging for his cell phone. If the Sub wouldn’t speak or listen to anything he’s asking, then the only other viable option was to call 9-1-1. He wasn’t about to go banging down the door of the person who was, most likely, inside the house. How this was going to reflect on the BDSM community… he didn’t have time to worry about that now.
“Ke-Ke-eth…” the Sub finally stuttered when he caught Benjamin attempting to dial 9-1-1. “P-p-pl-ea-ss de-de-don’t.”
Seeing that the threat of the emergency room was getting the Sub to respond, Benjamin brought his attention back to Keith. “Can you stand? We need to get you some place warm now or I’ll really have to call 9-1-1.”
Keith stuttered a shake of his head. “Mu-mu-s s-s-st-st-ay.”
Benjamin wasn’t having any of that. “No. I don’t care what it is your master wants. This is abuse. On your feet, Boy. You need to get inside and warm or you’re going to end up in the ER. Or dead.”
Keith shook his head again, limbs falling where they will now that the bounds were no longer holding them in their places. Benjamin slid his phone back inside his pocket before carefully pulling an arm out and around his shoulders. “I’m not telling you again, Boy. When I tell you to get up, I expect you to get to your feet. I don’t like disobedience as much as that person you call master. Get. Up.”
It’s a tone of voice reserved only for a Scene or Role Playing, and one only a Sub would really respond to in the manner befitting a Scene. It’s the first time Benjamin found himself in this unscripted and highly unexpected circumstance, but the trick seemed to have worked. Clutching the jacket as tightly as he could around himself, the slender man stood up with the aid of Benjamin’s arm.
“Can you feel your feet?” Benjamin asked.
Keith shook his head as well as he could.
“Can you walk?”
A jerk of the head down answered Benjamin’s question.
Question was, where to go? He never mixed the Scene with his personal living space, or the Sub’s for that matter. It was for both his and the other party’s protection. While the risk of things going wrong were low, he didn’t want an obsessed Sub to find him at his house, and he didn’t want the connection with the Sub’s personal things. Even if this wasn’t his Scene, it was a Scene – one that he had ventured into without asking for permission. Does he take Keith home and break his boundary or does he call 9-1-1 and break the hard-earned obedience?
Keith’s movement in the cold air caused one of the scabbed-over cuts to open enough for a droplet of blood to ooze and make its slow descent toward the icy ground before it froze in its path on Keith’s skin.
Benjamin shoved his inhibitions aside. “My house isn’t far,” Benjamin said, stooping beneath the arm around his shoulder from their difference in height. Just as he turned them both toward the exit, a door opened, and a dark shadow cut into the block of rectangular yellow light on the ground. “Who the fuck are you?” came a snappy voice, high pitched enough to sound like Mickey Mouse.
“Walk,” Benjamin said when Keith tried to let go and turn around. Benjamin tightened his grip around Keith’s wrist.
“Hey! I asked who the fuck you are!” Eddy demanded.
Benjamin walked, as slowly as Keith needed. Shuffling feet followed profanity, and Benjamin stopped when the owner of the property he was trespassing on shot past and stepped in his way. The Sub in his arms shuddered and tried to backtrack. Benjamin hold steady, and stared Eddy in the eye. “Get out of my way.”
“You’re on my fucking property, asshole,” Eddy sneered. “Leave him and get out or I’ll call the cops.”
“Do it,” Benjamin challenged calmly. “I’m sure they’ll love to know why this man has been abused to the point he needs medical attention for exposure. Sure they’ll love the blood.”
Eddy took a step back, unsure of what to do with himself against Benjamin’s threat and the tall man took that moment of hesitation to move Keith and himself around the big man. “You have no idea what this is about!” Eddy accused. “There’s something going on between that thing and me! Let go!”
Hearing Eddy refer to Keith as “that thing” fueled the already lit coals of anger in his blood, but he didn’t stop and carefully helped Keith through a door span too small for the two of them to cross side-by-side. Some time between the fence and the sidewalk, Eddy apparently found his courage again and had shuffled behind the duo.
Benjamin did stop then. “If you even try to follow me home, I will call the cops,” he said calmly. “Leave. Go back to doing whatever the fuck it was you were. But. You will gather all of this man’s belongings, put them in a bag, and leave it outside your door. I will be back to get them tonight. If you don’t…” Benjamin left the threat hanging. Perhaps whatever Eddy’s own mind could conjure up as a consequence would be as scary as Benjamin threatening to report this to the cops.
The short half mile he’d often walked was taking too long with Keith’s injuries, so Benjamin had fished his phone back out and called for help. The eight minutes it took for Jaime to arrive felt like three forevers had passed. Hair tousled and wearing a heavy coat over pajamas, Jaime hurriedly hopped out and yanked the door behind her seat open. The car was warm, heater cranked to the highest possible setting, and she had even thought to grab blankets. Benjamin thanked his good friend of fourteen years who flashed him a smile, slid hurriedly back into her seat, and then stomped on the gas. They were at Benjamin’s front door in a matter of minutes.
Keith was moved into the house and tenderly lowered into a loveseat Jaime had hurriedly thrown a large towel over. Hoping that Keith wasn’t into the stage of hypothermia yet, Benjamin fetched the space heater from his bathroom and aimed the small thing at the Sub after plugging it into an extension cord and setting the heat on medium. It was imperative, despite Keith still shaking from the cold, to warm him up slowly. Too quick and they will have to go to the ER.
Without even asking, Jaime was examining Keith’s injuries and vitals from the gear in her backpack. Cleaning up whatever blood was covering the man’s side – much to Keith’s hissing protests, she carefully applied butterfly stitches to the broken skin. Benjamin turned on his electric water kettle, grabbed a tea pot, three mugs, and some loose-leaf tea out of his cabinet.
As soon as Jaime’s bag zipped closed, she stood to her feet, turned to Benjamin, and asked the question he knew was coming. “So, what the hell’s going on here? I’ve never known you to bring a Sub home…” Jaime glanced at Keith again. “Especially not injured like this. Thought you held yourself to a higher standard, Ben. I know for a fact Lee taught you better than that. Something go wrong?”
Benjamin glanced at Jamie out of the corner of his eyes. “No. He’s not my Sub,” he answered as he poured the hot water into the teapot, tea leaves steeping in a steel mesh net. Clicking the timer on, he turned to look at Jaime. “Found him on a walk. Bound hands and feet. Collar attached to a stake in the ground. Near naked as the day he was born.”
Jaime gasped and snapped her head around to look at Keith. “What? Why?”
Benjamin made enough tea for three people, added a generous helping of honey into Keith’s tea, and slid the bottle over to Jaime. Adding a little bit of cold water into Keith’s mug so it’ll be cool enough to hold between hands, Benjamin got down on one knee and carefully wrapped Keith’s fingers around the warmth. The man stared wide-eyed at Benjamin when he rose before turning his attention back to the mug and concentrating on not sloshing it with the shaking of his hands.
“From what I can make out, it was punishment for a misdeed. The rest will have to come from him,” Benjamin replied as he disappeared into the bedroom and reappeared with an extra set of what looked like sweats in his hands. He left them on the armrest by Keith before retrieving his own mug of tea and settling down into his lone chair. “Those might be a little loose, but they should fit you.”
Jaime sat down next to Keith on the loveseat and put a hand on the man’s back. “What happened?”
Speaking of what goes on in a Scene between parties involved with outsiders was taboo in the BDSM community, even if the other party was an experienced Dom – not that Keith knew that, and a woman who could have been a nurse or a doctor for all Keith knew. Benjamin watched the Sub wrestle with his inner turmoil and understood all too well what plagued the man. “Let him warm up first, Jaime.”
“Oh! Right…” Jaime agreed before rising the cup to her lips.
Benjamin watched Keith drink from his mug, the shuddering and shaking starting to subside, albeit slowly. At least the teeth had stopped chattering. Leather cuffs still circled the man’s limbs, as did the collar, and Benjamin finally had enough of it. Leather shrinks in the cold. If that thing had been a snug fit when it was put on, it had to be strangling Keith.
He was already on his way to his feet when the bottom of a mug met with the wooden surface of a side table. A quick hand motion relocated Jaime to the chair Benjamin had vacated. Keith’s whole form froze and stiffened when Benjamin sat down and reached for one of the cuffs. “It’s all right. Just wanted to get these off you,” Benjamin explained.
“Don’t rub them, Ben,” Jaime cautioned. “Don’t want that cold blood getting back into his system too fast.”
Benjamin gave a nod that he heard. The left wrist cuff came off first, followed by the one on Keith’s left thigh and calf. Benjamin took his time, but avoided rubbing the blood circulation back into hands, arms, and legs. It was best if Keith’s body was left to warm up on its own. Forcing cold blood back into circulation too quickly would be bad.
The bonds had been too tight. He could barely slide a pinky finger through, much less the thicker fore or middle finger he’d like to use as a personal gauge.
He could hear it, the quickening of Keith’s breath, but Benjamin didn’t stop. What was being done was the world’s saddest excuse of After Care he’d ever given, but it was necessary. It was anybody’s guess how much damage Eddy had done at this point.
Jaime polished off her mug of tea. “Hate to bail on ya, Ben, but I’m pooped. Just came off a thirty-hour shift, two of which were surgical ones. If you’re still around when I drag myself out of bed,” Jaime said to Keith, “I’ll come by and check on those, okay?”
Keith nodded. “Thank you very much, ma’am,” he managed, more successfully now that the weather didn’t have control over his jaw and facial muscles.
Jaime quirked an eyebrow. “Jaime. Doc works too.”
The last cuff was dropped to the floor before Benjamin stood to give Jaime a hug. “Thanks for coming so quickly. You’re the best.”
“Don’t you forget it,” Jaime grinned. “Take care. Thank God it’s the weekend.”
“I wouldn’t have been out walking at this hour if it wasn’t,” Benjamin pointed out.
“Good thing for him that you did. Otherwise…” Jaime muttered as Benjamin walked with her to the door. “What’re you going to do now? Thought what you didn’t get involved like this?”
Benjamin shrugged. “I don’t know. Figure it out as I go. You be safe getting home,” he said as he leaned in for a peck on the cheek. “Give my best to Lee, will ya?”
“ ‘Course,” Jaime nodded and waved. “Oh! Keep him up for a couple more hours. Make sure he’s comfortably warm before he goes to sleep. Warm food helps.”
Benjamin watched until the tail lights rounded a corner before shutting the door and getting back inside where it was warm. Keith’s mug was empty and on the coffee table in front of him, and the Sub was looking at the set of sweats neatly folded next to him. “Those are for you,” he reminded Keith. “Go ahead, but do answer me this: Where is it that you live?”
“U-T campus,” Keith replied.
University of Texas, Benjamin mentally noted. Good, that means he isn’t living with Eddy. “Undergrad?”
Keith shook his head, and Benjamin felt a couple of hundred pounds of weight fall off his shoulders. It was a safe assumption that Keith was at least twenty. Judging by the looks of the man, Benjamin put him no older than twenty-five. “Graduate program. Which one?”
“All right. You sit tight. I’m going to go fetch your belongings and drop those atrocities back off at Eddy’s place. Get in clothes while I’m gone. There’s more tea left over in the teapot if you want some more. I’ll be back in fifteen,” Benjamin nodded his head in the direction of the kitchen before turning to head back into the bedroom for another coat.
“You know… him?” Keith asked when Benjamin reappeared.
“Not personally. Heard of him. Don’t fall asleep if you can. Be back in fifteen. Then we’ll talk if you like,” he said as he gathered up the gear in a plastic bag. With a nod from Keith, Benjamin checked his pockets for keys and wallet before closing the door behind him to lock it.
Keith’s possessions were in a backpack sitting outside Eddy’s door as Benjamin ordered. Checking to make sure there were keys, phones, and wallet inside, Benjamin zipped everything back up and slammed the bag carrying the cuffs against the door before leaving it on the ground. He was yards down the sidewalk before he heard the slamming of a door behind him.
Afraid of me are you, Eddy?
Benjamin allowed himself the smile that appeared.
The only indication that Keith had moved during Benjamin’s excursion was the full mug of tea in his hands and that the man was sitting closer to the armrest than where Jaime and Benjamin had left him. Submerged in his own thoughts, Keith startled when the fabric of his backpack brushed his leg when it was gently set down.
“Hungry?” Benjamin asked.
“A little,” Keith finally admitted.
“C’mon, then. I don’t like cleaning up food in here,” Benjamin said with a jerk of his head towards the kitchen. “Any food allergies?”
“But you’re… a Dom,” Keith’s tone made the statement sound more like a question.
Benjamin debated soup options as he contemplated the conversation that was bound to happen. He was pretty sure he knew where the conversation might end up, which made the worst part of it how he was going to turn Keith down if he asked. “How long have you been in the Scene, Keith?”
“Months,” Keith admitted.
And that explains a whole lot, Benjamin sighed inwardly. It also explained how Keith landed himself in Eddy’s crummy paws. Eddy was known for prowling the local Scenes, preying mostly on inexperienced Subs. The younger they are, the more Eddy liked them, so he heard.
Benjamin pour more water into the electric kettle and set it to boil. “What interested you?”
“Bondage,” Benjamin clarified.
Keith slid slowly onto one of the bar stools at the island, seemingly trying to work up the nerve to answer the question posed.
“No judgement here, Keith. Not from me.”
Keith drew circles on the counter with his finger before replying. “At first it was just curiosity from things I see here and there,” Keith mumbled, neck and face flushing a rosy hue of pink that had Benjamin keeping a close eye on. While the man wasn’t in danger of being hypothermic anymore, a body having been through that kind of stress shouldn’t be put through too many emotional ups and downs, even if it was just memory recollection. “I looked around and found some places to go for these things. For the longest time I just listened to what’s happening around me. Two months ago, Eddy struck up a conversation with me. Told me he was in Detroit’s Scene grounds before moving down here for work, and that he’d been in this lifestyle for more than ten years. He was looking for a relationship with a Sub. He offered to show me the ropes, and I figured why not, right? The guy’s got experience. Experience is good.”
Benjamin’s stomach rolled at the thought as he retrieved a saucepan from his cabinet to dump the can of chunky chicken noodle soup into before placing it on the electric burner. Eddy’s been abusing Subs for ten years. The thought was positively nauseating. “You didn’t have a single anybody you know?”
Keith shook his head.
Benjamin worked that over in his head. As the kettle clicked off, he refilled the teapot with more hot water and dropped the steel net back in it. “Anybody else outside of Eddy?”
“So tell me about the talks and the negotiations,” Benjamin encouraged.
“Negotiations?” Keith asked, confused.
“You two never talked about what it is he offered and you wanted?” Benjamin clarified as he stirred the pot before reaching over and pulling out the steel net.
“That a question or a statement?”
“Did he or did he not asked what it is you would like to try, what it is you wanted to avoid or really didn’t want, establish safe words to help you communicate with him about your readiness while in Scene, and make sure that he kept checking in with you at all?” Benjamin checked off the list with his fingers.
Keith only shook his head, eyes boring holes into the marble counter top of the island, cheeks flushed with what Benjamin thought was probably shame. Shame that he hadn’t known better. Shame from being rescued. The most dangerous thing, Benjamin knew, was to have the Sub feel that they were the reason bad things happened. If they were better, things wouldn’t have ended up this way. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing was ever an excuse for abuse.
“You’re not at fault, Keith. What happened tonight isn’t your fault.”
The quiet sniffle that sounded dropped Benjamin’s heart into the pit of his stomach.
“Keith, look up. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. You didn’t know. You’re not the only one. You won’t be the only one. But. Don’t go back to him. Whatever might’ve been left at his place, considered it lost. There are better people for this. Trust me.”
Keith lifted his head at that. “Like you?” The voice asking the question was so hopeful, Benjamin cringed inside, unsure of how to answer. He would like to believe that he was a good Dom to the men who subbed for him, but he wasn’t about to throw himself into this personally, especially not as Keith’s rescuer marring the potential of a relationship. While Benjamin didn’t know how Keith would ultimately come to process that piece of information, past experiences had shown that it often put the other party in a permanent subservient mindset instead of two equals with complexities coming together to have needs addressed.
Regardless of where anything was headed, it was best to start from square one.
“Like me, sure,” Benjamin replied. “I had a mentor too, and know other Doms who share the same basic values as I do. I can get you some references. Tea’s ready, if you need some more.”
Keith’s shoulders slumped maybe a quarter-inch, but it didn’t go unnoticed by Benjamin. As the little bubbles became bigger ones, a bowl was retrieved and the contents carefully transferred before it was set in front of Keith with a spoon.
“Thank you,” Keith said, softly.
For reasons beyond Benjamin’s comprehension, watching Keith carefully sip at the soup tugged at the strings in his heart. He told himself he was being stupid, that there wasn’t a reason to feel anything about the situation other than neutrality. After all, that’s why he hadn’t volunteered his own time when Keith had been hopeful.
The relationship he had always envisioned himself to have would include bondage play, but he wanted it to be a relationship between two equals, which this wasn’t. Benjamin had overstepped boundaries, even if it was with good intentions – preventing a rather dangerous and potentially deadly outcome.
If only that logic didn’t sound quite so empty.
Benjamin told himself that the next question was because he was just trying to help, and that the concern was only natural. It didn’t have anything to do with his unwarranted curiosity towards the man. “Two months. Why’d you keep going back to Eddy for two months?” Benjamin asked when Keith finished his soup and was attempting to clean the dishes. “Leave them. I’ll take care of them in the morning. So, why?”
Keith kept staring at the dishes in the sink. “I was… scared,” he finally admitted before turning back around.
Benjamin forced himself to pick up the teapot and the honey before dipping his head in the direction of the mugs for Keith to pick up. “Of what?” he asked when knowing full well the more accurate question was of whom?
That Keith stills referred to Eddy as “master” worried him. “You mean Eddy.”
Fetching a blanket from a closet, Benjamin tugged it apart and dropped it next to Keith. “Eddy. Say it.”
“Call him by his name. Not ‘my master.’ ”
“But it was in the terms. I call him ‘master’ at all times,” Keith explained.
“Walk away. Stay away. What happened tonight isn’t right. That shouldn’t have happened. At. All,” Benjamin said as he settled back into his chair.
Fingers fidgeted over the mug. “I… can’t…”
Benjamin didn’t even need an explanation to know that look on Keith’s face. It’s a newbie mistake, for sure, but one that can carry serious consequences. “I…” Keith attempted, but after the third try, he gave up.
“Eddy knows where you live,” Benjamin said flatly.
Keith only nodded.
“Does he have a copy of your key?”
“No. We have key cards to get into the buildings and in our rooms,” Keith replied with a shook of his head. Then as if realizing that particular fact, snatched up his backpack and dug through it like man terrified of losing a family heirloom. A wallet was pulled out and flipped opened to be followed with an immense sigh of relief.
Benjamin didn’t want to ask the next question that popped up in his head. It is for this exact question that he doesn’t bring Subs to his house, nor does he go to a Sub’s house. It had nothing to do with the power play of trust. It is simply good sense, but it happens to get sidelined or ignored completely by Doms with an ugly objective or Subs who got a little too attached to the thoughts in their heads. “Has he ever shown up unannounced?”
Keith nodded. “Once I didn’t go get him, in the beginning when I had a pretty big paper due that week . He waited outside until someone had walked out, I guess. Came up to my room… He didn’t do anything, but the next time I was picked up for a designated night…”
Almost fifteen years in this hobby has brought many stories of horror through the vine. He had been a victim himself once before he met up with Lee. Benjamin could guess all too well what Eddy might have done for such “disobedience” if what happened that night had been any indication of poor Dom conduct.
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. It’s very much your right. You don’t owe me anything. Do you understand?” Benjamin asked.
A dip of the head.
“Do you agree?” Benjamin asked again. Keith looked confused but didn’t ask for an explanation, and that bothered Benjamin all shades of disapproval. Communication is one of the most important part of a relationship, even more so in Scene. That Keith wouldn’t ask for clarification on things he didn’t understand will most certainly land him back in hot water again even after he moves on from Eddy. “Understanding means you get what I’m explaining. Agreeing means being held to the standard. Do you agree?”
“What happened with Eddy?”
Benjamin swore he had just buried his face in his pillow and fell asleep when his iPhone beeped with a text message. Since his Do Not Disturb setting ends at ten on a weekend morning, that meant it was past it. How is it that sleeping six hours felt more like having been awake for twenty-four escapes his logic as fingers crawled reluctantly towards the black gadget. The clock on his phone read 11:14. Apparently he had slept well over seven hours. “I’m not even out of bed yet, and today’s sucking already,” he muttered under his breath.
Awake yet? it read.
I am now, he texted back before shoving his legs out and over the edge of the bed. Dragging fingers roughly through scalp, Benjamin yawned hard enough to pop his jaw. His phone beeped again just as he found the vertical axis.
Did I wake you? I’m sorry! XOXO. Want me to drop by or you gonna come over? Jaime wanted to know.
Are you making lunch? Benjamin replied with a smirk as he made his way into the bathroom. Setting the phone a safe distance from the sink, the man quirked an eyebrow at his reflection. Tousled hair pointed in three main directions wasn’t going to tame with a simple splash of water, and if his olfactory isn’t lying to him, he needed a shower anyway.
I can if you want to, returned the text as the phone lit up.
Let me shower and see how my guest is. Will let you know then, he texted back as quickly as he could as he swished Listerin around.
Will do! XOXO, dinged back.
Benjamin ran fingers through his hair and made sure he looked semi presentable before opening the bedroom door wide enough to slide through. Keith was awake, had already changed into his own clothes, and was working on a laptop with incredibly silent keys. “Morning. Sleep well?”
Keith looked up just as a hand moved to tilt the screen to angle downwards. “Good morning. Yes, I did,” he answered.
Benjamin doubt it, but didn’t hold it against Keith for answering in a standard polite manner. “Jaime’s asking if you’re comfortable with going by her place. If not, she can come over.”
Keith looked down at his laptop. “I don’t think I should be… invading any more of yours or her space. I’m fine. I should be getting back. I got a thing I need to finish for Monday. Thank you, though.”
“Are you parked at Eddy’s?”
“Oh no. Mas… erm… Ed-dy picked me up. I’ll just take the bus back like I usually do,” Keith explained.
It wasn’t lost on Benjamin that it’s taking a lot of effort for Keith to call Eddy by name instead of the designated title. Beating that level of fear into someone typically took a long time. A painfully long time. Unless it involved a person who naturally fell in line faster than most Subs. “And Eddy knows you take the bus home?”
“Then you’re not taking the bus home. Let me take a shower. Then if you want to go back to campus, I’ll drive you.”
Keith made a motion to protest. Benjamin didn’t give him a chance.
“I’m not trying be your savior, but from what you told me last night, Eddy may be on the prowl. There’s a chance someone like him is going to stalk you, and that’s dangerous. If I can get you back to campus without you and Eddy crossing paths, the better it is for you. If you ever find him on campus again, you take a picture of him, as many times as it happens. Go to the cops and tell them he’s harassing you, and you would like a restraining order against him,” Benjamin explained. “If you need references, I’ll be one. So’ll Jaime if you take her up on lunch.”
“Isn’t that a bit excessive?” Keith asked. “Wouldn’t I get you in trouble for this?”
“Not at all.”
“But he’s my Mas…”
“Keith.” Benjamin gently cut the man off. “What does B-D-S-M stand for?”
“What does it stand for?”
“Bondage and discipline. Sadism and masochism. I know what it stands for…” Keith drifted off into a small sigh.
And it shouldn’t have tugged so strongly at Benjamin. Swallowing twice to make sure his voice wouldn’t betray him, he finally continued, “That’s right. Nowhere in there is the word ‘abuse’ which is exactly what Eddy was doing to you for his own fucked up pleasure. He just wants to justify it by saying it’s what we do. It’s not. He is only your master if you want him to be. The power to the whole relationship rests in your hands. You give it up when you want to, not when he demands it. You think about that while I jump through the shower.” Benjamin was back through the bedroom door before he half-leaned out again. “And if you want a shower, help yourself. There’s a bathroom upstairs. On the left. Towels are in the drawers by the sink.”
With every passing minute and conversation, Benjamin knew he was getting himself deeper and deeper into something he – in his right mind and space that didn’t involve his house – would be side stepping as quickly as he could. Lee was a brilliant teacher. Still is. That’s why he’s capable of using his experiences to help bring home money outside of his own, independently owned, handyman services. Benjamin never thought to involve himself in that way, not that he didn’t have a lot to offer – he did – but his own career was too high-stress and demanding to take on the role of a teaching Dom.
And dropping Keith off at Lee’s doorstep didn’t feel right either even if the man would be happy to take on a Pro-Bono Sub to introduce the basics.
The hot water did wonders to calm the tossing thoughts in his head for a precious few minutes as he soaped and scrubbed before pulling out the toothbrush and toothpaste to attack his teeth as the hard stream of water gets aimed down between his shoulder blades. Those chairs at the office weren’t rated for the amount of sitting he had to do this quarter.
Boot-cut denim slid over skin, a dark, pima-cotton long-sleeve t-shirt and wool sweater his sister had gifted him last Christmas made up his simple attire. White socked feet slid into a pair of running shoes and Benjamin went back out to find Keith waiting by the door in the foyer, backpack slung over a shoulder.
“Hey…” Keith began. “I would love to stay, but I really need to get back to my place. Can I take a rain check? Treat you to dinner. Doctor Jaime too. I have a lot to think about…”
That you do, Benjamin agreed silently. He shouldn’t have been disappointed, but he was. Where that feeling came from, he didn’t know, but it certainly seemed like he, too, has some thinking to do.
“Sure. Back this way then. Car’s in the garage,” Benjamin said with a throw of his thumb. With a quick text that lunch plans were off to Jaime, Benjamin grabbed his coat and unlocked the door to his car.
“Nice ride,” Keith praised as he looked appreciatively at the Mini Cooper in front of him. Sleek blue with double white stripes made the car an eye catcher, but not too pretentiously so if Benjamin was to voice his opinion.
“Thanks,” Benjamin said graciously as he slid his frame into the driver’s seat.
The grind that sounded from the garage door made Benjamin wince and mentally adding a stop by a home improvement store on the way back for some oil. Knowing his luck, the moment he has to leave the Mini outside, it’ll be snowing. San Antonio may not usually get snow… doesn’t mean they’ve never seen snow.
The car ride took them a little over a half hour as Benjamin drove on the outer loop instead of the inner one. Keith sat like a silent shadow, eyes permanently turned outwards at the passing landscape. It wasn’t until they had reached the outskirts of the campus did Keith start giving directions on where to go. As the little car came to a stop, Keith gathered his bag and extended a hand. “Thank you.”
Benjamin gave it a firm shook. “My pleasure.”
Keith was halfway up and out of the car before Benjamin called for his attention again. “Hey Keith?”
Keith sat back down, preferring not to be hunching over into the car. “Yes, sir?”
It shouldn’t have sounded as nice as it did coming from those lips and in that voice, but it did, and Benjamin had to yank on his wallet twice to make his fingers successfully retrieve the leather.
He slid out one of the five cards of Lee’s that he carried, turned it around, and wrote in cellphone number and email. “Here. Let me give you my number in case things happen with Eddy and you need someone to reach to help build a case with the police,” he said, and in Benjamin’s opinion, sounded a lot better and more professional than what his head wanted to say instead. He flipped the card over. “This is my friend Lee. He’s a professional. In my opinion, his rates are fair, but he has no problems giving up to two Pro-Bono sessions to introduce new Subs to basics and the medium range stuff. If you’re interested, just let him know I referred you.”
Keith stared at the card for what seemed like far too long before carefully taking it with two fingers and sliding it into a front flap of his backpack. “Thanks,” was all he said before he exited out of the Mini.
Benjamin could tell the man’s retreated inside himself. The last five months had been unkind to him, and once that trust was shattered even before it was built, it just may take more than Lee’s gentle and professional hand to return.
With a huff, Benjamin flexed fingers against the steering wheel. Then throwing the car back into drive, he eased his way carefully back onto the main roads, recalling fondly the years he spent at UCLA. The professors were awesome, and the friends were spectacular. The work, however, was grueling, but it had been worth knowing he could make it. If he was ever asked what his most important lesson was from UCLA, he’ll have answered without hesitation: “Knowing that things could certainly be worse and that conquering it was the best feeling in the world.”
Thinking back to the issue of Keith, Benjamin hoped that wasn’t the last he’d see of the man. If they could both look back at this weekend and see it as nothing more than history and a learning experience, Benjamin certainly would like to get to know Keith more, even if it stayed purely outside of dungeons and cuff links.
Benjamin filed out of the conference room behind fellow project managers. The bi-weekly meeting hadn’t gone well. Typically, bad news never do, and finding the patience for results tend to be more difficult than building a house without the use of power tools. Regardless, a little bit of setback is always expected. He would be stressing a lot more if things weren’t a little rough around the edges.
Just as he sat down at his cubicle, Benjamin’s iPhone silently indicated a text message was received. Curious, he took a closer look, and had to blink a couple of times to make sure he read it right.
SOS, was all it said.
The number wasn’t in his contact list. A quick search told him it wasn’t a telemarketer. Even if it was a wrongfully sent message, it was cause for alarm. Racking his brain and not finding an answer, he finally texted back.
With a smartphone’s capabilities these days, it was difficult for text messages to really get “mis-dialed,” especially since more people were somewhat savvy with the cursed hand-held electronics. Since one couldn’t text an emergency line as far as he knew, that meant whoever sent this text could be in a serious situation. He had heard from Frank that sometimes, this is indicative of a hostage situation and the party on the other side just needed to get the word out. He sincerely hoped not.
Keith, came back the reply.
Are you safe? Benjamin asked.
Sort of. He’s here.
You mean Eddy? he asked.
In your apartment?
No. He’s outside, Keith answered back.
Benjamin’s eyebrows drew together, instantly recognizing another habit that was most likely born of Eddy’s mistreatment – answer only to questions asked and keep it simple, reminiscent of “slaves were seen and not heard” rule that also suggest ownership of one person by another. A soft growl crawled from Benjamin and brought a chuckle from his neighbor.
“Was that a growl?” Stephanie peeked around a wall with a chuckle. “ ‘Sup?”
“A friend,” was all Benjamin offered.
“Ah. Well, good luck!” She bid him before disappearing to continue her work.
Keith sent another text message. I need to get to my office hours. What do I do?
Call the police, Benjamin replied. When a text reply didn’t come back for more than five minutes, the man figured Keith had done just that. Just as the phone was placed back on the desk, another message came through.
No other options? it asked.
Benjamin grabbed his phone and made a beeline for the doors to the West side parking lot. This was never going to get resolved fast enough with text messages, no matter how fast either one of them could type them.
It took a couple of rings before Keith answered. “Hello…. sir?”
“It’s Benjamin. Or Ben. Not ‘sir.’ Have you called the police, Keith?” Benjamin asked as he closed his car door. He had contemplated staying close to the office building, but that notion got tossed aside the moment a gust of freezing wind came howling around the corner and made it impossible to hear Keith over the phone. Not to mention how much his face stung from the cold bite.
“I… would really like not involving the cops.”
Benjamin lowered and raised his phone, brain scrambling to figure out where to go from this point. He understood Keith’s hesitation. Police involvement draws unwanted attention, especially to things easily misunderstood. Then there’s the mockery or people not taking it seriously. If push comes to shove, however… “Have you talked to Eddy?” Benjamin asked.
“Like open the door…”
“No. On the phone. Tell the man that you are no longer the sub, and that he should leave you alone.” There was push in his tone, and Benjamin hadn’t intended on it, but it was what it was. For purposes of keeping Keith autonomous, Benjamin didn’t want to cross paths with Eddy again, especially since they lived in the same neighborhood.
“Then do so.”
“And if that doesn’t work?”
“You may have to call the police.”
Deafening silence resonated in Benjamin’s ears as he waited for Keith to either hang up the phone or say something else. As the cold ambient temperature seeped into his clothes, Benjamin gave himself another ten minutes of relative comfort before he needed to start the engine for some heat. If he had remembered, he would be wearing his warmer coat that went over the entire ensemble he wore.
A little finch landed on the hood of the Mini for a few seconds before taking off again. Finally, the man on the other end of the line responded. “Yes?”
“How’re we doing?”
“I think he’s gone. I don’t see him anymore. I’m going to get to my office hours. Thank you for your help,” Keith replied.
“Sure,” Benjamin replied.
As soon as the line clicked silent from the other side, Benjamin took a few deep breaths before opening his car door. The cold rushed to greet him, and Benjamin huddled in on himself as he made a beeline for the door. The stream of employees exiting the building and shuffling aside to let him in suggested that the five o’clock mark had come and gone.
Even Stephanie was gone from her cubicle – jacket, purse, and all other items missing from their usual spots. With the exception of three or so others, the office had vacated in a hurry, like children reacting to the ringing of a dismissal bell at the end of the school day.
It will be weeks yet before he could leave work quite as on time as the others. For now, he needed to get his team over this hurdle of meeting shipment deadlines. As he switched over to the Outlook window on his computer, the iPhone lit up with another text message.
Are you free Friday night? A drink?
With a resigned sigh that he wasn’t going to make it out of the office until most likely eight or nine at this point with the distraction, Benjamin slid down his chair and put his hands into pockets. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of the whole situation with Keith.
He liked the man, that much was obvious, but he wasn’t sure where he wanted to stand with Keith at the moment – that he was interested or just two guys out for a drink. More importantly, just how would Keith take the notion of going out for a drink?
It had been three weeks since Benjamin had dropped Keith off on campus. The dinner that was rain-checked never happened, although Benjamin didn’t blame the man. The need to hide until the embarrassment had some time to pass and be forgotten is a rather typical reaction. He’s done it himself plenty of times, when he was wading shallow waters and getting his feet wet.
But it would have been nice, really nice, to have had Jaime along for a meal or a drink and the three of them get a chance to talk. If nothing else, Jaime’s always good for giving people like Keith a rub down of her understanding of the basics. Considering she was married to a man who worked a second job as a professional Dominant, she knew what she was talking about.
Which was something Keith desperately needed.
Maybe if he accept the invitation with a counter condition? If Jaime was free, she would join them for a drink as well? Maybe Lee can even come along.
Freeing his right hand first to snag his phone, a thumb swiped across the screen for a reply message box to come up. Sure. On one condition. If Jaime’s free, she joins us. Lee, too, if he’s free.
Benjamin waited for the first message to be delivered before he sent the second. It’ll be good to introduce you two.
Leaving Keith to think about it, Benjamin went back to his work. Keith will most likely think on it for a couple of hours. He may even sleep on it. Regardless, the faster Benjamin could get his work done tonight, the faster he gets to go home and crawl under the covers.
It was only two minutes later when a message returned. Thank you. See you on Friday, then.
Benjamin just checked the pie in the refrigerator when a knock sounded from the backdoor. Jaime stood grinning on the other side, a plastic bag of something-or-other in her hand. “Been a while since I’ve seen you don an apron,” Jaime grinned. “Oh, that smells awesome.”
“Pumpkin spice candle. Lee coming?” Benjamin asked as he poked his head around the door to look for him. “He hauling your triple-layered cheesecake or something?”
“Naw,” Jaime said as she slid her bag onto the island. “He can’t make it tonight. Got a client who called in for an extra session two hours ago. Needed something special by the sounds of it.”
“Ah. Hope he enjoys himself.”
“Mm-hmm. He usually does. She’s one of his regulars.”
Baked salmon and grilled shrimp came out of Jaime’s bag and onto plates to joined the grilled asparagus before they were slid into the oven to keep warm next to the potato wedges. Bowls of caesar salad sat waiting at the table set for four. Handing Jaime a glass of her favorite white, Benjamin nodded towards the living room. “Still got a bit of time before Keith shows up. Let’s catch up. How’re things going at the hospital?”
Jaime swirled her wine around. “Changing. The chief is retiring. A whole lot of hubbub going on about who the possible candidates are. Politics. You know, fun stuff that I positively live for. Why I busted my ass to become a surgeon all those years.”
“You?” Jaime asked as a finger pointed at Ben. “You’re getting pretty involved with this guy. What’s the story?”
“Hell if I know. Throwing me for a loop, this.” Benjamin leaned back into his seat and crossed an ankle over a knee, drink swirling about in his glass the same way Jaime was swirling hers.
“Talk to me. How so?”
“You know me. I don’t get personally involved. I don’t have what it takes to get this involved. Lee’s good with that. Not me. This is terrifying,” Benjamin uncrossed his legs and planted both feet on the floor. Resting both elbows on knees, he clasped his own drink in both hands and looked down at the floor. “But this guy? It’s like I can’t help myself. I just…”
“What do you want me to do?” Jaime asked the single shake of Benjamin’s head.
“Help me talk to him. I don’t want him thinking this is about him and me.”
Jaime’s eyebrows rose. “Is it? About you and him?”
“What? No. No. This is about him. I just want to make sure he knows to play safe.”
Jaime gave Benjamin a look that said not only did she not believe a large part of what Benjamin says about his lack of interest in Keith but also that she’s got his back. “You know, sometimes being terrified is a good thing.”
“In what way?”
The ringing of the door bell cut off Jaime’s answer. Keith stood on the other side with a bottle of champagne when Benjamin opened it. “Hi! I’m not late, am I? Brought some champagne,” Keith said as he entered upon invitation by a hand wave.
“Thank you, and no, you’re not late. Early, actually,” Benjamin noted with a smile as he glanced at the clock.
“Well, not that early. My mother used to always tell me that on time is late.”
“Good for her,” Jaime grinned. “Now, if only my surgical residents had mothers who taught them that… and bring me coffee… all’ll be right with the world,” she sing-songed.
The men chuckled as they settled at the dining table. “I thought there were two people joining us?” Keith asked as he seated himself after pushing Jaime’s chair in for her.
“Lee had something come up, so he won’t be joining us tonight,” Jaime answered.
“Nothing bad, I hope?”
“Oh no. Quite the contrary,” Jaime smiled.
They ate the meal with light conversation, mostly with Jaime sharing stories about her work from college to residency to becoming a full-time surgeon.
“So how did you and Lee meet?” Keith asked.
“Oh. I was on duty when he got wheeled into the ER,” Jaime began.
Keith’s eyes widened.
“It was Fourth of July. He was wheeled into the ER with a huge gash in his head, bleeding everywhere. Apparently, he was helping push-pull one of those swings in a tree with another adult. I don’t remember if it was the rope that broke or the knot that came loose or what, but it did and the child fell off. The plank came loose, and as he was diving to catch the child, the wood plank came back and ran smack into his head. Cut a gash back here,” Jaime said as she pointed to the general area on her own skull. “I was the first one at his gurney, and he wouldn’t stop hollering about the child… Travis,” Jaime recalled. “Came in the ambulance behind Lee. Aside from some bad bruises and a sprained arm, he was okay.”
“Thought doctors didn’t date their patients? Or wasn’t supposed to?” Keith grinned something stupid.
Jaime laughed. “No, we aren’t supposed to. Doesn’t stop our patients from doing what it is they do, though, and he wasn’t a permanent patient. Anyway, long story short, he made enough of an impression as a patient that a couple of weeks after his discharge, when I found him camped out at the hospital waiting for me to ask me out, I agreed to dinner. Been here ever since. Romantic to the bone, that man.”
Benjamin started stacking the empty plates and salad bowls. “Lee’s a good man. Anyone care for dessert?”
“Sure?” Keith answered. “What’s dessert?” he asked cautiously.
Jaime shook a finger at Keith. “We’re going to have to have a talk with you, young man.”
Keith’s eyes widened. “About what?”
Benjamin settled the pie carefully on the kitchen island before pulling out a knife. “Many things. But to answer your question, we’ve got lemon meringue pie and ice cream. What would you like?” he asked the man who left the dining table to come stand by the island.
As each dessert plate is made to specifications of the individual, Keith asked the question Benjamin felt like he had been holding in for a while now. “So, how did you get into kink? I figured it’s kind of odd for a surgeon for stuff like that?”
Jaime calmly swallowed her scoop of ice cream before waving her spoon in the air. “I’m not in kink,” she replied. “I’m just married to a man who is.”
Benjamin laughed at the facial expression from Keith that stated plain and clear the man got thrown for a loop.
Jaime continued, “I’m not an expert. My husband is. So’s Ben. But I’d like to think I know a bit about the kink stuff after all these years of being friends with him and being married to Lee. Which is probably why Ben here invited me along. Aside from knocking out that rain check dinner, it’s as good a time and place to chat about some things.”
Keith grew quiet. His forked stopped making the journey between plate and mouth and started twirling between fingers. Fingers that Benjamin thought were quite beautiful.
“Hey,” Jaime said. She had seen the change as well. “We’re not here to criticize. Not about that night. We want to make sure you know how to be safe from here.”
“It’s… embarrassing,” Keith said.
“Mistakes happen to the best of us. Happened to me too,” Benjamin said. “And it serves as a damn good reminder how not to end up back there all these years.”
Keith looked at Benjamin with surprise. “You abused someone?”
Benjamin placed his fork on his plate. “No. I was abused.”
“But you’re a Dom!”
“Before I actually found connections and had talks with people who knew what they were doing, I tried to read about the whole BDSM where I could and hear all I can about it from wherever I can. One of the things that I heard was to be a good Dom, I had to first be a submissive and understand that role before I could be a capable Dom. So I did. Be a sub,” Benjamin explained. “Like you, I thought experience was a good thing, and I partnered up with another Dom who said he ranged from the soft to the hardcore. Experience and versatile. What could possibly be bad, right?” Benjamin said.
A small huff exited Keith’s lips. Benjamin knew Keith knew where he was going with this.
“Unlike you, I ended up in the hospital,” Benjamin said before eating another mouthful of pie to give the words some time to sink in. “There was a talk for me. But only because I had too many questions not to have one. I thought he listened. In the end, though, it was all about him and not about me. Then one day, things went too far.”
The last few bites of Keith’s pie had gone untouched. The man stared hard enough to either bore a hole through the table or make something on the table implode into tiny particles of concentration. Benjamin cursed in his head. He shouldn’t have said all that to begin with. This is precisely the reason why Jaime had to be there.
“Mm,” Jaime hummed as she finished her bite of pie. “About that? I didn’t know he’d put me down as his emergency contact at that point in time. I think he’d mentioned something about it, and I must’ve been okay with it but there were shots involved so I didn’t remember.”
Benjamin pointed a finger at Jaime. “You were sober when I asked you. You said ‘yes.’ ”
“Yeah, yeah. That phone call from the hospital though? Oh my God!” Jaime’s exaggerated arm movements and widening of eyes gave the seriousness of the atmosphere the needed comical relief. “I was all ‘What the fuck were you thinking? Why didn’t you tell me you were doing kink?’ on his ass when he finally answered my phone call. Then I was like, ‘what the fuck is bdsm? That shit in porn? Oh! It better not be that shit in porn. What the fuck happened?’ I swore a lot back then. Had to stop. Bad bedside manners with patients and all.”
Keith cracked a smile, and Benjamin felt anchors slide off his shoulders.
Thank you, Jaime, he thought to himself. If I was straight, Lee would’ve had more competition.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what did happen?” Keith asked.
Perhaps it was there, or maybe it was his desire for it to be there, but Keith sounded less pinched and more relaxed.
“I was bound, face down, straps across my chest, wrists tied to my ankles. The binds around my chest were too tight, and I was gagged. I couldn’t breathe very well, lost track of time, didn’t have a way to communicate that I was in trouble. He didn’t ask the right questions, so I couldn’t nod or shake my head for the right answers. I just remembered blacking out and waking up in the hospital,” Benjamin explained. “This stuff is supposed to be empowering, but it shouldn’t be this kind of dangerous. Not what I went through. Not what you went through.”
“Why did you keep going back?”
Benjamin watched Jaime polish off the last of the whipped cream on her plate. “You done? Or do you want me to just fetch you the bottle?”
“Fetch!” Jaime ordered with a grin. “Good puppy.” Benjamin stood to do just that before she recanted. “I was kidding. Kidding! I’m done. Here,” she said as she handed the plate over.
Benjamin grinned before turning towards Keith. “Done with that?”
With a nod, Keith picked up his plate and stood to follow Benjamin, finishing off his plate on the way before depositing it in the sink. “Did I ask something I shouldn’t have?” he asked quietly.
“Not at all. I just wanted a chance to think about my answer,” Benjamin admitted. “I’m new to this, be honest with you. Usually Lee’s the one who carries the conversation and explains things without needing to pull out all the personal stuff. Excuse me a moment. You want some tea, Jaime?”
Jaime showed up in the kitchen with a “sure!”
As the kettle was put on the stove with a full pot of water and Jaime fished out tea bags, she shooed the men out of the kitchen. “Go sit. I’ll bring the tea. I solemnly swear I can make that without burning down the kitchen.”
Benjamin chuckled at the Harry Potter reference.
“I thought it was just part of the journey. Because I didn’t really know, I wanted to understand. Thought I got to get through the bad to enjoy the good,” Benjamin began when they’re settled. “Kind of like college. You still have to take those boring ass courses to get to the courses you want later down the road. I was learning to be a Dom. I thought he was just showing me all the ropes. The things I’ll have to contend with if a Sub needed it.”
“But the abuse? Why didn’t you walk away then?”
The kettle howled, was promptly silenced, and as the pouring of the water could be heard, Benjamin answered. “I didn’t understand the difference between hardcore and abuse.”
“Do you know how it is Lee and Benjamin came to know each other?” Jaime asked as she brought in a tray with the steaming tea mugs. “Thank you,” she said as Keith got up to help.
“Through you?” Keith took a guess.
“Very good. How?” Jaime asked as she made her eyebrows dance.
The ringing of the door bell prompted Benjamin out of his seat. “I’m willing to bet I know who that is,” he said as he headed for the front door. “Speak of the devil,” he greeted as he pulled the front door open. “And he shows up a-knockin’.”
“Party still going?” asked a grinning Lee. “If not, my wife seems to have misplaced herself. She’s not home.”
“Hey. Come on in. Jaime’s here. You know how she likes to socialize,” Benjamin answered as he shook Lee’s hand. “Good to see ya, man. We’re just talking about you.”
“Look who I found,” Benjamin said when they both entered the living room. Introductions were made, and as Lee turned down tea for some water, Benjamin headed into the kitchen. “Hey Lee, we’re just getting to the story of how we came to know of each other. Why don’t you share while I get some?”
“Ah,” Lee nodded.
An older gentleman growing into his forties, Lee sported warm lines around his eyes when he smiled. His jaw was lined with neatly trimmed facial hair, and the blond strands on his head were tied back into a pony-tail. Thick, wavy eyebrows sat over a pair of deep green eyes behind black-rim glasses. Lee didn’t have weight that wasn’t supposed to be there judging by the snug long-sleeve t-shirt he wore. While not as tall as Benjamin or Keith, he carried a gentle sense of authority about him even in a relaxed state.
“Honey, I tried calling your phone. It went straight to voicemail,” Lee said.
Jaime rummaged through her pockets and pulled her Blackberry out. “Well, there’s ya problem, Lee. It’s dead,” she huffed.
“As long as it’s fixable and not sitting at the bottom of the lake,” Lee nodded.
“Hey, that only happened once,” Jaime defended herself. Benjamin handed Lee a bottle of Ozarka water with a chuckle. “Enough about me. We were just at the part about how you and Ben met. I’m going to let you tell the story.”
Lee smiled and reached over to give Jaime’s hand a squeeze before turning his focus to Keith. “If I remember correctly, it was just after four in the morning when Jaime called me. I’ve never heard a woman so hysterical. Not even my mother. Something about her best friend being in the ER. I rolled out of bed, threw on my clothes and told her to sit tight. Good thing few people were on the road at that hour. I just about broke the twenty-over the entire way to her place,” Lee began.
“Didn’t stop a cop from pulling him over and issuing a warning,” Benjamin whispered to Jaime, but it was loud enough for everyone else to hear.
Lee cleared his throat at his friend. “So, in the middle of hysterical mumble jumble, I came to piece together that her friend had been unconscious when he showed up at the hospital in an ambulance. She was all packed and ready to drive herself to the airport by the time I showed up. Took a hell of a lot of convincing for her to calm down enough to think.”
Jaime reached over and gently shoved Benjamin in the arm. “I was so scared and pissed off at you.”
Benjamin caught and squeezed her hand. “I know. I’m sorry for all that. Still am.”
“I did construction then. Worked for a small family-owned business that built one-off orders. Could be anything as long as it involved wood. Wasn’t a solid eight to five job all year, but it was full time with overtime pay. Some months it was hell of busy and other months not so much. Well, during this particular time, I’d constantly been working ten to twelve hour days. We hadn’t done much that month, so I took off that Friday that I knew she was off and showed up at her door with roses and all but ready to take her out on a night around town,” Lee stopped to take a sip of water.
“She yanked that door open like she had a grudge with it and had the most agitated facial expression I had ever seen her use. Took some convincing for her to at least come out for a meal. We skipped the town and came back. Then slowly, with a lot of gentle prying, I got her to tell me what had her riled to the bone,” Lee said.
“I didn’t know a thing about kink back then, much less that Lee was involved in it. He never told me. Not sure how’d he planned to breaking it to me or even trying to explain it to me if Ben didn’t land himself in the hospital,” Jaime said, an eyebrow quirked and a sideways glance aimed at her husband. “I thought the idea was positively dumb. Why would someone as smart and remarkable as Ben want to do stuff like that? Look how hurt he got in the process!”
“I would’ve told you in the same manner I tell you everything else, hon. As it is,” Lee said. “I gain nothing by dressing things up or lying. One of those things that hold true in life and BDSM. The respect goes both ways,” he stated matter-of-factly before taking a drink of his water.
Keith wrung his hands in his lap as he absorbed what Lee just said, which he was pretty sure the man had said it for his benefit. Keith liked Lee. The feel of the atmosphere with the man’s arrival had changed. There was a subtle sense of authority that tugs at the submissive strings he knew were at the core of his being, stronger than what he felt from Benjamin but he had theories on that. The differences lie in how overbearing Eddy felt compared to Lee, and even Benjamin. He didn’t have to keep reminding himself to relax in their presence like he did in Eddy’s. Fear versus respect. The difference is enough to make Keith feel a little sick to his stomach.
“Long story short,” Lee said quietly. “I convinced Jaime to let me talk to Ben. It took months for me to even break through that trust barrier with him. Took months more for me to convince Jaime I wasn’t trying to hurt her best friend, although it was mostly Ben doing the convincing there over me.”
“Were you already a pro then?” Keith asked. “He was a pro-bono kinda thing?”
Lee chuckled. “Oh no. That didn’t happen until much later. We met up and tried new things. Some sessions it was about him wanting to push his limits. Other times it’s mine. We swap places as we’re both Doms. It’s easiest to learn with our own bodies.”
Jaime reached over to pat Keith on the knee when the man introspected for a little too long. “It’s not your fault that there wasn’t opportunity, Keith,” she said kindly. “It’s not like they found each other on some mutual respect website and said ‘yeah, I’m up for this. You?’ shoot from the hip, so to speak… that was a horrible analogy. He,” Jaime motioned at Benjamin, “got himself landed in the hospital and had to suffer my apoplectic fits before those two found each other and lived happily ever after.”
“Hey now,” Benjamin protested to Jaime’s tucking of interlaced fingers under her chin and batting her eyelids and Lee’s laughter. Keith chuckled as discreetly as he could.
Jaime let the silliness die down before continuing. “Truth is, opportunity doesn’t present itself as often as needed. Facts are, there’re more Doms out there doing it wrong than doing it right. Whether it’s because they just didn’t know better or don’t give a shit, excuse my language, no one really knows,” Jaime said with a shrug.
“So what were you talking about before I showed up?” Lee asked.
“Um, about how you two met,” Jaime said as she pointed her finger between her husband and her best friend. “Think I was making tea before that. What were you guys talking about?”
“Hardcore versus abuse,” Benjamin answered. “He was wondering why I kept going back to the Dom abusing me.”
“Very nice. So, what’s the difference?” Lee asked.
When the silence extended past Lee finishing his bottle of water, the man crushed it with a sigh before capping it. “All right, here we go. Lesson one. Doms don’t like being kept waiting. Lesson two, mistakes are the best teachers, so if you give me a wrong answer, I will give you a ‘right’ one to learn from.”
“Am I included on this lesson?” Benjamin asked after he raised his hand.
“Consider it a refresher, young ‘un,” Lee drawled.
Keith shook his head and felt like college student sitting in philosophy class being asked what a classical theorist meant with his words. “One is safe and the other one isn’t?” Keith replied.
“Which is which?” Lee asked for clarification.
“Hardcore is safe and abuse isn’t,” Keith tried again. Why is it that these people keep insisting on being specific, he wasn’t sure, but it was starting to get tiring on a couple of different levels. Keith didn’t like being too specific. Some things, he felt, were too embarrassing to be too specific about, so he prefered to just hint at it, or use neutral pronouns in lieu of the specifics.
“Being specific makes you uncomfortable,” Lee observed.
A nod that could barely be seen as a nod jerked Keith’s head just before he buried his face behind the mug of tea Jaime made earlier as he felt his face flame.
“Why is that?” Lee asked.
“Because…” Keith started, but didn’t follow with the rest of his thoughts. It was easier just letting things happen to him than having to face that he needed something embarrassing. He found it easier to just take things than ask for them. It was one of the positives with Eddy. Eddy had ideas of what he wanted to do. Not everything aligned with Keith’s comfort, but Keith figured if just half of them did, then he was going where he needed to go. He was, after all, the slave. Slaves did what their Masters wanted.
“Because?” Lee prompted when Keith didn’t give anything more than the single word reply. Keith shook his head, unable to bring himself to voice his answer. Lee bit back a frustrated sigh. He didn’t like doing all the talking. It’s more important for a Sub to talk than a Dom at this stage, but getting the man to answer even light questions is proving quite the chore.
Then again, it wasn’t any different with Benjamin back when the lad was in the hospital.
“In my experience,” Lee began when Keith did nothing more than continue to stare at his hands in his lap. “People don’t use specifics for many reasons. The most forthcoming one I’ve heard is embarrassment. There is something a Sub needed that he or she felt was so degrading or humiliating or embarrassing that guesses were used more than specifics.”
Keith held his mug with both hands and slid them between two clenched thighs. Lee leaned forward, elbows on knees, and fingers interlaced in front of him. “I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous doing that is.”
“Boundaries,” Benjamin explained. “Can only be established on specifics. As a Dom, I have to know where those are. I’m sure you’ve heard or read the term ‘hard limit,’ yes?”
“Do you know what that is?” Lee asked.
Keith nodded again.
“What is it?” Lee and Benjamin asked in stereo.
“It’s things I don’t want to do that my master can use as a punishment,” Keith said.
“You’ve got to be joking,” Benjamin snarled. “Did Eddy tell you that?”
Lee held up an arm and gave his friend a look that said, What was that?
“That’s,” Lee said as he turned back to Keith to look the man in the eye, “about as far from right as you can get, though, Ben asked a good question. Did your former master tell you that?”
Keith nodded his head. “He said there’s no such thing as a hard limits.” He deliberately didn’t confirm or deny that Eddy was a former master. Fact was he hadn’t crossed that bridge yet.
Benjamin muttered strings of profanity under his breath, followed by words no one else could quite make out but Lee. “You,” the man pointed at Benjamin. “Take a breather,” he ordered, pointing at the front door. When Benjamin didn’t move, Lee gave Jaime a glance and the woman immediately got up to pull Benjamin to his feet.
“C’mon. You know how this goes,” Jaime gently reminded her best friend. “Let’s go take a ten minute walk.”
As the duo disappeared, Lee lop-sided smiled at himself before turning his full attention back to Keith. “You all right?”
“Why’d you kick him out?” Keith asked softly.
“Objectivity,” Lee said. “But back to hard limits. It’s something particular to an individual that must not be done. Never. Once a hard limit has been disrespected, it’s over. Done. The whole relationship. Hopefully. Same thing for disrespecting a safe word. Those two things are rather alike in that regard.”
“Why?” Keith hiccoughed as soon as the word slipped out. He didn’t know it was there at the tip of his tongue to begin with.
“Because the trust’s broken.”
“Can’t you earn it back?” Keith asked.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Lee said carefully. “Is this about Eddy?”
Keith shook his head ever so slightly. “No. It’s just…”
“What if… I get I shouldn’t go back. But say, a while down the road. What if isn’t not possible to find that perfect Dom?”
Lee pursed his lips and unconsciously quirked an eyebrow. “That’s interesting.”
“Your words. ‘That perfect Dom,’ you said. Anybody’ll be hard pressed to find a perfect Dom precisely because there is no such thing. I’m not saying there aren’t compromises. I’m simply sayin’ that some things can’t be repaired. A broken trust shouldn’t be repaired. It doesn’t make a bond stronger like a healed broken bone. This trust is like fine china, strongest when it’s completely undamaged. Once broken, it can’t be repaired without being weak. There’s always the doubt, the fear, that when you’re bound and helpless it might happen again.”
“Isn’t it better to try?”
“Why?” Keith repeated like a five year old with a newfound favorite word.
“Because this isn’t some errant lover who accidentally slept with someone else and is begging for forgiveness. Of all the things that can happen in Scene, there is a very real possibility that ignoring a hard limit would mean life and death,” Lee explained. “It can play on a fear, or an injury, or loss of control, or hell, somebody could be in a bad mood one night and a ‘bad behavior’ is the thing that breaks a person. Never play when frustrated. Never allow a Dom or a Master to play when frustrated.”
Keith pales noticeably at Lee’s words.
“The most dangerous thing for any BDSM relationship is a person who doesn’t listen. Not paying attention. Not giving a shit. That’s why safe words are needed for everyone,” Lee pointed out.
“For everyone?” Keith asked. “Even the Master?”
“I believe so, but I don’t agree with the Master-Slave thing. Personal opinion.”
“Why?” Keith asked again and wondered how many times he could repeat that same word before Lee got tired of hearing it.
Lee rubbed his hands together, fingers twining together before being gently flexed backwards. Balling them into fists, he flexed muscles and joints that were a direct result of weather and the hard session his client needed earlier. The pressure is changing. Rain seems to be on its way. He watched Keith watching his hands and arms.
“Why everyone should have safe words or why I don’t agree with the Master-slave partnership?” Lee asked.
Lee smiled, glad to see the young man in front of him finally opening up the vocal cords and asking questions. It was a step in the right direction. “A safe word does what?” Lee asked.
“Most people are familiar with that one, yes. There are other types of safe words,” Lee said as he held up three fingers. “I typically like to correspond mine with green meaning ‘go,’ yellow meaning ‘stop an action,’ and red being ‘full stop.’ What does those colors make you think of?”
“Very good. Safe words have different meanings and different grades. It gives permission to advance. It can stop an action. It can stop an entire scene in progress and ending it,” Lee said as he snapped his fingers. “Just like that.”
“How come so many?”
“It keeps all the players focused on each other – to ask and to answer. It lets a Dom know if a Sub is too far gone to safely proceed. It lets a Sub know the Dom’s listening which is undoubtedly one of the most important things. So, a Sub can use those safe words just as a Dom can as well,” Lee explained.
“Have you ever used a safe word?” Keith asked.
“Of course. Many times,” Lee said.
“What caused you to use them?”
Lee smiled at the change of word choice away from the whys. “Different reasons. It can range from a Sub wanting to continue with an action that I know for sure is dangerous, or wanting to force a continuation of an act or a series of acts when I know for a fact it is subconsciously dangerous to do so, as if they were trying to prove something to themselves past the point of sanity instead of having a need fulfilled…”
Perhaps it was because Benjamin was gone from the space that had Keith slowly crawling out of his shell, or perhaps the man was finally seeing this as an opportunity he would be stupid to pass on, but Lee was glad to see Keith venturing forth. He was like a new sponge just released from its plastic shell and held under a small stream of clean tap water, soaking up the rawness and ready to serve for purposes needed. It’s being that stream of clean water that makes what Lee does feel incredible. Ever since he heard what had happened with the young man and Benjamin’s involvement, he had been curious to meet Keith.
Judging by the men’s reaction around each other in the few minutes he had been here, Lee suspected there was more to the story going forward. The conclusion, he came to draw, is how much he should teach Keith and what he should leave for Benjamin.
“Sometimes,” Lee continued, “it is forcing me to surpass the limit we’ve agreed upon, and I wasn’t one hundred percent sure it wasn’t going to end up hurting them. Reasons are many. The general is because I wasn’t comfortable with it due to a change of venue.”
“So when you said that safe words and hard limits are similar…” Keith said after a moment’s pause long enough for words to penetrate brain cells. “How do I vocalize the differences between the two? I mean… how do I…?”
Lee noted the frustration on Keith’s face from his inability to find the right words to ask the question he needed the answer to. When Lee first started moonlighting as a professional Dom, he came to learn that he needed to resist the urge to help his clients by forming the question for them. Exercises in finding the right words to ask the right questions is the most important skill in negotiating. By forcing them to learn, even if it was frustrating baby steps, it helps quicken the process. If all there was between Keith and future adventures was this night, then this was going to take as long as it needed.
And as much pain as it required. Question was, how to keep Benjamin outside.
“What do I do going forward?” Keith finally asked as he got the jumbled thoughts in order and put into words, although the end result was still sorrowfully short of where he had been aiming for.
“Communicate. Talk about it. Ask questions. Like a heavier and more detailed version of what we’re doing right now,” Lee answered.
“That’s phase two. Some people use it as phase one, or collapse ‘communication’ and ‘negotiation’ together and call it just ‘negotiation.’ That’s where the problems stem from,” Lee said. “Communication is the process through which the parties share information about themselves to each other. Things like what they enjoy being done to them, what they would like to avoid – in most cases that’s where the hard limits are usually included. Are there things that one isn’t sure about but would like to explore – and Doms look for these things. What are the limits and/or expectations on the relationship? So, for example, a Sub may tell me that he’s into things like rope work. They would like to be flogged, be edged, enjoy things like breath-play, or have a thing about being mummified. Thankfully, I haven’t had one of those yet,” Lee chuckled as Keith’s widening eyes. “Can’t say I find the whole idea of wrapping someone up in shrink wrap an enticing thing. I get nervous when I have to use scissors or a blade next to someone’s bare skin.”
“Unpleasant,” Keith said with a shudder.
“And you just told me you don’t particularly like the idea of that, but understand,” Lee said as he held up a finger, “I drew that conclusion. Since you never actually said it, I don’t know what ‘that’ is. Was it the shrink wrap or the scissors. It can be one or the other, or both. That’s the thing about communication. You have to be clear and precise on things you want, don’t want, and hard limits.”
“But, some things are… too… humiliating.”
“Never. There’re so many people, so many different backgrounds and types. What each person needs is different because we’re all different. The situations are different. A Dom worth his salt in experience and care will never judge. Who am I to say you don’t need something? I can only say I’m not comfortable with something. Even if he’s going to judge, there’s nothing stopping you from walking away then or after. Be precise,” Lee countered. “It’s what keeps my clients returning for my services.”
Keith nodded, although by his slightly glazed eyes and dazed expression, Lee was starting to wonder if perhaps a notebook and a pen might be helpful.
“Negotiation,” Lee stressed the word to draw Keith’s attention back to him. “Is the process where what will be done and won’t be done during a Scene or a scenario is discussed. There is usually give and take – what the Sub is willing to try despite his or her reservations and what the Dom is willing and not willing to do also per his or her reservations. Logically, negotiation comes after the communications portion, but not all Doms do the former. That should send up a red flag and blaring alarms in the back of your head. The best thing you can do at that point is walk away. Run if you have to.”
“So what’s a ‘I don’t want’ instead of a ‘hard limit’?”
Lee moved his head inches side to side in thought before replying. “A hard limit is something you will not have done to you, period. No safe word required to stop it. It is not to be done, and I can’t stress that enough. So, say if you have claustrophobia, masks or anything that restricts your face or head where you start breathing your own air is a hard limit. ‘Please, do not use this on me’ is what you’re saying. What you might not want is a lot of pain, but the Dom would… should… ask if pushing the limit is a-ok. In that sense, it’s not a hard limit, but it can be simply stopped by using safe words. Makes sense?”
“I think so?” Keith said.
“What if there was never a safe word?”
“Run away,” Lee answered so quickly the question and answer sounded almost like one sentence. “As politely as you can without tripping over your own feet in your haste.”
“I mean, what if he didn’t respect or listen? What if he missed it?”
“I think this is where I should cover the safety measure outside of Scene play. Do you have any close friends or family who know about this part of you?” Lee asked.
Keith shook his head.
“Anybody else who you trust with this?”
“I might. I never asked,” Keith replied.
“Always, always, let someone know where you’ll be, for how long, and to check in on you. If he or she hasn’t received something in a set time period, that’s good enough for your friend to look for you,” Lee stated, the stabbing of his finger in the air emphasizing his point on the last three words, trusting that he didn’t have to verbalize Keith’s latest experience to drive the point home. That’s something few forget without a lot of time passing, or ever.
“His rule…” Keith had murmured.
Lee knew where Keith was going with it, but he waited.
“It was a rule,” Keith said helplessly.
“I have a brother in the Army,” Lee said. “You know what he was told?” Keith shook his head, unsure of where Lee was headed with the conversation. “He was told by a friend that if a superior gives him an order he knows to be illegal, he has every right not to obey. There will be consequences, certainly, but that’s up to the judge to disregard or simply give a lighter punishment.”
Understanding dawned on Keith, making the man sit up a little straighter at the common sense that seemed to have been eluding him since he ventured into the world of dominants and submissives.
Lee nodded his head at the man’s reaction. “That’s right. If a commanding officer in the military can’t tell a subordinate to go commit a crime, a Dom or Master or What-have-you cannot sit, stand, or lie there telling you that everything is to be contained within his little bubble and throws all caution and liability to the wind as if he’s god. You have consent. Give it or don’t, but follow it through. Make him own up to it. That’s your power as a Sub, choose to relinquish control when you trust someone and take it back when it was lost. That should only ever be a single offense. If, during a time period you needed to call an end to the session and the Dom didn’t hear you the first time, call it a second time, or a third, as many times as it takes to confirm that he should have heard you and respected it. Scream it if you have to. If he doesn’t stop everything he’s doing and release you, do not go back. The end,” Lee finished and told himself firmly to dial it back some. There’s a fine line between preaching and communicating, and he’s skirting it a little bit too often into the preaching side.
“The gag… can’t speak through a gag,” Keith said.
“Ah, yes, gags. I have another rule on those things. Keep the mouth free or the hands free. Never bind both at the same time,” Lee said.
“What does hands have to do with anything?” Keith ask in confusion.
“Hands allow a Sub to stop a scene as quickly as a safe word,” Lee answered.
“You have sign language too?” Keith gawked.
Lee laughed. “Oh no, no… I don’t know sign language at all,” Lee breathed. “And I think you need more movement than bound wrists allow to perform sign language.”
“Then what could hands possibly do?”
“Rubber balls,” Lee grinned. “I have a selection of them in various colors and sizes. If I ever use a gag, that prevents my Subs from saying an established safe word when they need it. To let me know they’re in trouble, I put a ball in one of their hands. Dropping it stops my action. I can undo the gag and they can clarify what needed to stop or if they needed a breather or if they needed to end it. Depending on the position, I’ll use other body parts.”
“Don’t some people open their hands when they’re losing themselves to pleasure?” Keith asked. “Like involuntarily curling their toes?”
Lee’s grin was feral, and it sent a shiver down Keith’s spine when he saw it. “Why yes, yes they do,” Lee affirmed. “That suits me just fine, too.”
Keith felt warm, flushed from just Lee’s words, starting at his throat and blossoming outwards. The idea was stirring various body parts awake, and that initial shiver that took his spine hasn’t left yet, crawling from his spine out and lining his skin with goosebumps. By dropping the ball, Keith could imagine, because one’s losing one self to the pleasure meant an immediate stop to the stimulation, forcing a reset to the Sub’s frustration as Lee tries to establish enough coherency to make a determination if he should continue to stop.
The imagined battle of the Sub was making it hard to relocate blood back to where it was supposed to be at – in his brain.
“That’s the kind of reaction you should have when talking about this stuff. Not fear. Not thinking about what it is you have to face. If it’s a hard limit, it shouldn’t be faced. If it’s not something you’re comfortable doing and was trying it out the first time, use a safe word,” Lee said. “Feeling hot and bothered. Feeling excitement. Wanting the release and being willing to work for it. All of that should apply. And more. So I don’t believe in the Master-Slave thing. I don’t believe in signing over full consent that includes not consenting. I believe in breaks between this part of you and the other parts. There needs to be a separation to keep the focus,” Lee said, pulling the conversation away from the suggestive.
“But there are people out there wanting to live in it as life, like, twenty-four-seven,” Keith said.
“Sure. I’m not saying people shouldn’t do it. If they can find a balance and be safe, more power to ‘em. I’m just not one of those. More importantly, are you?” Lee asked.
Keith shook his head. He liked what Lee said about separation.
“So that’s something you’re not looking for. Don’t settle for it. It’ll end up misaligning who you are, and the worst thing about that is losing the fundamental part of you needed to give yourself head space. Value yourself. What it is you do, ultimately, is more powerful than the person binding and undoing you. Which is why after care is needed, for both you and the Dom, followed by another lengthy discussion about what worked and what didn’t. This process evolves with the people. It’s not about rules and laws set by one person and obeyed by all. That’s not how this works.”
“You do that for clients too?” Keith asked.
“Of course. Every one. At the end of every session. I make them write down three things they loved, one thing they liked that was new and wanted to try again, three things they hated, and what they may never want to try again if applicable. I do the same, and we trade papers.”
The rough rasping of metal inserting into metal warned the duo of Benjamin and Jaime’s return. As the door pushed open, Jaime came through first, followed by Benjamin before the door slid shut again and locked. “Hiya! We’re back,” Jaime sing-songed.
“Welcome back, honey,” Lee smiled. “Head a bit cooler there, friend?”
Benjamin flashed a thumb-up.
“Was that enough time or do we need to kidnap him?” Jaime asked as she walked into the living room through the kitchen and winked at Keith.
Lee shrugged. “I don’t know. Was that enough time?” he asked Keith. “She wasn’t serious, by the way, about kidnapping you.”
Keith nodded with a small smile. “Oh, I know that, sir. And yes, that was plenty for tonight. My brain’s swimming, be honest with you,” the man admitted. “I have a lot to think about.”
Lee nodded. Two fingers retrieved a card from the inside pocket at the breast and handed to Keith. “This is my card. That’s my number I use for clients and my email. If you have any questions, you know how to find me.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“We’ve advanced to ‘sir’?” Benjamin asked with a smile.
“Seems to come naturally to him,” Lee answered seriously as he climbed to his feet, not answering to the smirk in Benjamin’s voice. Extending a hand, he offered it to Keith. “Which is a good habit. Puts people at ease,” he said as Keith accepted on his own way up.
“It’s actually… you,” Keith said just loud enough for Lee to hear. “You put me at ease.”
Lee grinned broadly at the compliment. “Well, I’m glad to hear so. Thank you,” he said before striding over to Jaime and taking his wife’s hand, interlacing their fingers together and bringing it up for a kiss. “Are you ready to go home or do you want to spend more time with these two?”
“Oh, I’m ready to go home,” Jaime smiled. “Any longer and I’m going to have a third-wheel complex,” she whispered to Lee with a giggle.
Lee’s eyebrows danced twice up his forehead before reaching over and slapping a handshake in Benjamin’s outstretched hand. “Well, then, we bid the two of you adieu and have a wonderful evening,” he said as he mocked pulled a hat that wasn’t there off his head and did an extravagant bow complete with arm arch and bending at the waist.
Jaime gave the proffered buttcheeks a sound smack hard enough to echo a little, and Lee jumped. “Wasn’t expecting that,” he said.
Benjamin cackled. Keith looked stunned but bemused. “Those are always the best. I drove, by the way. Meet you at home?” Jaime smiled. As one exited out the front door and the other out the back with both locks clicking shut simultaneously, Keith and Benjamin found themselves standing alone in the living room and the silence making itself more at home than the two of them.
“So,” Benjamin began. “I’m sorry I blew up at you back there. That was… uncalled for.”
Keith shrugged. “I don’t know. It makes me feel kinda good that you cared,” he admitted. “I’ve been… erm… I should go. It’s late, and I still have some papers I need to finish reading and grading before Monday gets here.”
Benjamin wasn’t ready for the evening to end just yet. He enjoyed Keith’s company, but he couldn’t very well hold the man from his life’s responsibilities. If the time spent with Lee went well, he could dare to hope. “Until next time, then?” Benjamin asked as he extended a hand.
Keith stared hard enough at Benjamin’s hand to make Keith wince, but clasped it just before Benjamin withdrew. “How ‘bout lunch on Sunday if I manage to get the fifteen some odd papers I need to finish reading done by then?” he asked. “There’s a lovely bistro just on the outskirts of campus that I try to splurge at about twice a month. My treat. Thank you properly for doing this for me tonight.”
“How about just make it a lunch?” Benjamin countered as they walked to the backdoor. “Tonight’s for me. Lee’s a good friend. He always pulls through when I ask, and I had asked. Before you go…”
Keith had to force himself not to look away at the piercing look Benjamin gave him.
“You’ve told Eddy it’s over?” the man asked.
Keith couldn’t stop the flinch that shook his entire body. “I haven’t spoken to him. Not texts. No emails. Nothing,” he admitted.
Benjamin’s stomach clenched hard enough for bile to fight gravity. “You need to end that,” he said, keeping the emotions out of his voice as well as he can. “Yesterday.”
“So why haven’t you?”
Keith wrestled his flight response, tucking his hands into the pockets of his khakis before balling them into fists as his chin dipped into his chest. He knew fabric couldn’t hide them, but it was still better than out in the open for Benjamin to analyze. “I…” he said to the floor.
… am scared.
The words refused to exit his mouth.
“Please don’t tell me it’s Stockholm Syndrome,” Benjamin whispered, too fiercely in hindsight.
“No…” Keith shook his head, the force behind it so strong it came across more as a full-body jerk. “It’s… I’m… I’m… scared,” came the whisper so soft Benjamin could barely hear it. Keith counted fifteen breaths before Benjamin broke the silence.
“As is expected,” he said as a hand reached to grasp Keith’s jaw firmly. Benjamin lifted Keith’s face back up so he could look into eyes. Blown pupils looked back at him, and Benjamin wanted to run over to Eddy’s and break the man’s door down. “But it needs to be done. Call a friend. Support always helps,” Benjamin advised. “Close that door, Keith, so you can walk forward without the need to look over your shoulder. Before you risk getting hurt.”
“I… don’t have…” Keith slurred over the firm grip on his jaw.
Don’t do it, a voice warned Benjamin. You’ve done it once, already. “Give me a time,” Benjamin said as he released Keith. “And I’ll be there. With backup if need be.” You fucking idiot, this mind huffed at him. Whatever the hell happened to the No Savior rule? Benjamin firmly told the voice to shove a sock in it. Rules are great and good most times out of ten, but not always. Not this time, and he was willing to trust his gut on it.
Keith gave a single nod, unwilling to trust his voice and reached for the door handle. Benjamin walked the man to the car, closed the door for Keith after the man settled, and waited to see if that was it.
The window lowered as soon as the engine rumbled to life. “Thank you for a great evening. Really wished I’d met all of you before this. Things would’ve been so different. For the better,” Keith smiled. “Good night, Benjamin. Hope to see you Sunday.”
It would have been an easy thing, really, poking his head through the window and kissing the man. The time spent outside with Jaime had knocked startling clarity into his brain, and as Jaime pried and peeled in the way she knew how, it wasn’t difficult for her to learn that Benjamin hadn’t stopped thinking about Keith since the day he dropped Keith back on campus. He hadn’t pried, certainly, and hoped with every agonizing day that Keith would reach out. When Keith had, even if it was over Eddy, Benjamin had to fight off installing himself. When plans got made, he invited his friends for a sanity check.
But what if… What if the sanity check was the insanity? Benjamin was starting to make his own head hurt.
“You’re welcome. Drive safe. See you Sunday if time allows,” Benjamin agreed.
The window rolled back up. With a final wave, the car backed down to the road, turned, and sped off into the night. Benjamin locked up the house and retired, trying to ignore the unpleasant feeling that he may never see Keith again.
He suppose only time will tell.
~ ~ ~
Copyright © 2015 by Lavender Wynter. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not repost or distribute this anywhere.