ELIZABETH MARSHALL STORIES
THE ART COLLECTOR
James was already someone else's paramour when Adam spotted him at the preview of an auction of fine European porcelains. There was never any awkwardness involved; Adam believed in leaving the other party in any transaction happy and satisfied. He built his household the same way he built his art collection, always paying a fair price for his acquisitions. James's patron got a more prestigious academic appointment than he would have without Adam's influence and Adam got James, pretty James, and a Rococo cache pot illustrated with chinoiserie representations of frolicking noblewomen.
Now Louis was going through Christie's latest eighteenth century sale catalog, hoping to find a second cache pot in the same frivolous style.
"Louis?" James dropped onto the couch in Louis's office and when Louis ignored him, propped his bare feet on the marble garden Cupid that Louis had standing alongside it, knowing Louis wouldn't ignore that.
Frivolous figurine, frivolous pot, frivolous James... Adam's tastes were nothing if not consistent.
"Feet!" Rising from his chair, Louis shifted James's offending feet from the turn-of-the-century figurine to the couch.
"Why yes, Louis, of course I'll lie down." James circled his own lips with his middle finger, then sucked it suggestively, holding Louis's eyes with his own. He winked.
Louis's own erotic impulse had deserted him entirely. He had scant sympathy for James's exhibition.
"Try to show a little class, Jimmy. He's not dead yet." Louis regretted his harsh words even as he spoke them. He knew James was only teasing.
"Fuck you too, Louis." There was hurt in James's voice. He stood abruptly and retreated upstairs.
"There you go." Louis blinked back the tears that threatened to overwhelm him and turned back to his Christie's sale catalog, methodically inserting slips of paper where he saw possibilities to call to Adam's attention, resolutely ignoring the fact that Adam might never again be well enough to attend to anything. Adam was still alive; the center of their small world still held.
Things fell apart fast after that. Adam's attorney arrived with a sheaf of papers that documented decisions Louis was grateful Adam had already made. The hospice arrangements were in place, the anarchy of dying choreographed. Adam had intended to die at home and in this, as in most things, Adam had his way.James sat vigil beside his bed to the end, his fingers gently curled over Adam's still hand.
And then there was no more Adam. Adam had discussed his funeral arrangements dispassionately with Louis months ago. Every detail was in place, and none of it meant anything to Louis. Adam was gone.
It was a scant three weeks since Adam's passing. The restaurant was dark and fiercely air conditioned. Lavish flower arrangements screened the tables, offering the illusion of privacy.
"I am so sorry about Adam, Louis." Martin was immaculate as always, in a heavy silk shirt with French cuffs and perfectly fitted gray slacks. His hair was cut very short, with the faintest tracing of silver visible among the sable locks."How are you?"
"Thank you for asking." Louis knew Martin had no interest in his answer. The purpose of this luncheon invitation was something else entirely. Louis waited to see what it was.
"And how is the pretty boy, what's he called? James?"
"As you might expect. His world revolved around Adam. It's a difficult transition."
"Send him to me." Martin ran his hand over his lips.
Louis shook his head. It wasn't even a possibility.
"He was Adam's lover; he inherits the bulk of Adam's estate. He can do better than you, Martin," Louis said cruelly.
"Oh, I don't want him for myself." Martin dismissed Louis's concern with an airy wave. "I'm looking for something for Carlos. He could take the boy in hand like that." He snapped his fingers.
"And he'd want Adam's darling? I hardly think James is his type." Louis knew Carlos was not the romantic Adam had been. Carlos liked to find his boys outside their circle. It made it easier to keep them loyal and it prevented their leaving easily no matter his harshness. Louis had been one of those boys a lifetime ago, before he and Adam had become lovers.
"You know less than you think. James is pretty, blond, young: All things Carlos likes in a playmate. And he inherits Adam's vases; that alone would endear him to Carlos."
"Well." Louis was silent. Everything Martin was saying was true, of course. He just hadn't thought of James in those terms. James was Adam's cherished pet. Adam loved him and indulged him. Louis hadn't thought much of James before Adam's illness, but he acknowledged that James had been a great comfort to Adam until the very end. James had never flinched from the details of Adam's physical care and almost to the last he had remained in Adam's bed, even when Adam was barely capable of movement, much less anything more. Louis could not see James with Carlos, not at all.
"Martin, he would–" Louis tried to think of a tactful phrase; failed. "He would be kind to James?"
"Louis, really." Condescension in Martin's voice. "You forget that I've met James. It isn't kindness he covets, it's cash. He needs a patron and if he tolerated Adam's discipline, he can tolerate a firm hand. Carlos will rein him in and he'll be the better for it. Safer and happier, too, Louis, if that matters at all to you. You do know that I'm right." A skilled private dealer, Martin bargained for James as he might for a piece of family art a client coveted, hoping to make a seamless exchange.
"I suppose," Louis said, ignoring his own doubts. Martin was right; James was spinning out without Adam. Although Louis and Martin had progressed from neophyte curator and established dealer to colleagues, Louis hadn't ever given up the habit of respect their earlier relationship had inculcated. He didn't really think Carlos's chilly severity was what James needed , but surely it wouldn't harm James to be taken in hand and under someone's wing. Louis pushed the memory of James in his bed the night of Adam's funeral from his mind. James had wept against his chest, begging Louis for something Louis didn't think he could give, but to his surprise gave anyway. No, that had been a one-off, sex as an instinctive response to loss and death. He didn't want the responsibility of caring for Adam's James, no matter that James was attractive. He knew James was out of his league and Louis didn't believe in coveting what he couldn't afford.
With Louis's blessing, James returned Adam's old friend Carlos's call. Carlos presented the evening as an obligation that Adam would have wanted James to fulfil, a boon to an old friend of his lover's. Louis wasn't surprised to see James dressed in evening clothes, waiting for Carlos to pick him up. He was surprised at the hug James gave him before departing.
Dinner was pretty much what James had expected, expensive and dull. Carlos eyed him the way Adam's friends often had, as if it were a foregone conclusion that the only reason Adam had kept him was for his body in bed. Carlos's patronizing assumptions made James uneasy. James knew at the deepest level that that was not all Adam had sought from him. Adam had been in charge and James had done as Adam wanted. James had loved Adam with all the intensity he was capable of. James had eased Adam's last days with his presence.
Still, Carlos was wealthy, confident and powerful and James's body responded to his aura. Carlos was a practical man; he made sure that wine flowed liberally throughout dinner and that there was liqueur with dessert. He saw that James's glass was kept full, while nursing his own. It was an old ploy and like many old techniques, effective. Still, only James's increasingly desperate need for someone to take the lead and tell him what to do now made him agree to go home with Carlos.
James knew from the moment they entered Carlos's house that he had made a mistake. Carlos put his hand on the back of James' neck and propelled him toward the stairs.
"My bedroom, James," Carlos said with deceptive gentleness. "It's time to establish a few things."
"I don't want to?" James hazarded.
"I'm sure Adam taught you better manners than this," Carlos said, his soft reproof concealing his ire at James's refusal. He sharpened his tone. "A little refresher is in order. Go upstairs and get undressed. I want to look at you."
"Jesus." James's pout only made him look more attractive.
Carlos patted his ass and nodded toward the stairs. "Come to bed."
After a moment's hesitation, James obeyed. He let Carlos strip him. He let Carlos press him back onto the bed. He let Carlos kiss him; he kissed Carlos back. He let Carlos encourage him lower and he licked and sucked until Carlos was hard, he let Carlos spread his buttocks, he let Carlos lubricate him with impersonal efficiency and he let Carlos fuck him, longer than was comfortable. By the end James was wincing at each thrust and his cock was soft. Still, he neither pulled away nor asked Carlos to stop. Carlos grunted his satisfaction and rolled off him, discarding the condom. James lay motionless until he was sure Carlos was asleep. Moving slowly, James gathered his clothes, dressed, used his cell to call a cab, and went home.
Louis was still awake. He was surprised to see James materialize in his office; he had assumed Carlos would want James to spend the night. Louis's surprise deepened when James clutched frantically at him, his breathing fast and shallow.
"Poor boy." Louis realized what must have happened between the two men. He was less than pleased. It was too soon, too abrupt, and James was too upset for it to have been right. "There, it's all right now. We won't have you do that again. Shh, shh, Jimmy, it's all right, we won't have you go back. Shh..." He tried to ease James onto his couch; James yelped.
"No, lie down," Louis said gently. "You'll be more comfortable, Jimmy." He slipped a decorative pillow under James's head, careful to turn the needlepoint front toward the couch it wouldn't be stained by James's wet cheeks. "Shh..."
"Adam never–" James choked out, "–never hurt me. I was his good boy, I was, Louis!"
"I know." Louis regretted letting Martin talk him into sending James to Carlos. He remembered his own shock when he discovered how different Adam was from Carlos. He remembered Adam's vast kindness. "You are a good boy, James, and you deserve someone who appreciates that. Shh..." He stroked James's fair hair tentatively.
"I want Adam," James whispered.
So do I, Louis thought, so do I. He forced himself to think practically. "Come on, Jimmy, let's get you out of those clothes and into the shower. You'll feel better after you've cleaned up a little."
James let himself be guided upstairs to the room he had shared with Adam. He undressed mechanically. Louis recognized Adam's training in the careful precision with which James hung his clothes and put away his shoes.
"Will you be all right now?" Louis asked, turning to leave. James shook his head dismally. "What's the matter, Jimmy?"
"Stay while I shower?" James asked. "I feel sick, Louis."
"I'll wait. Don't lock the door. Just call if you need me," Louis said, settling himself in one of the room's comfortable chairs. "Take your time." He looked around the bedroom. The detritus of Adam's final illness had been cleared away. The dresser tops and night stands were pristine, the smell of sickness had been aired from the room. What was left was the bedroom as Louis had known it, a warm and comfortable sanctuary that held an eccentric collection of Adam's favorite pictures and pieces. Louis smiled as he remembered Adam's irreverent names for the statues.
"I'm done." A damp and far more cheerful James materialized in a cloud of steam from the bathroom.
"Don't get the rug wet," Louis said reflexively, protective of the antique Persian carpet across which James was walking.
"You can spank me if I do." James had heard the same admonition from Adam many times. "Stay with me tonight, Louis. Please?"
"You need to get some sleep," Louis said. "So do I. Good night, Jimmy, I'm glad you feel better." Louis left the room before James could answer him. He couldn't afford to care too deeply about James. James needed someone who could afford him. Carlos might not be the right man, but there were other men.
"Good night," James said to the empty room. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for anything to happen. Carlos—" His voice trailed off, he felt sickened by the evening. Suddenly he needed, he badly needed, company. Louis didn't want him, that much was clear, but others would. He would go out.
Louis began to worry when he heard James clatter down the stairs, through the hall and out the door, the lock's click loud in the quiet night. He didn't stop worrying until eight the next morning, when he heard the door open again.
James was wasted. His eyes were bloodshot and his movements jerky. Quite clearly he had taken a hit of any and everything he'd been offered in the back of whatever downtown club he'd fled to.
"What? You didn't want me." James looked at Louis and shrugged.
"You little idiot. Upstairs," Louis ordered. James shrugged again and did as he'd been told. Louis followed him to the bedroom. "Get undressed."
"You want me now?" James was momentarily confused. "You didn't want me before–"
"I want you to use a little common sense," Louis said sharply. "Look at you! You had no business going out last night. You have no business coming home in this condition. Adam would hae killed you. I'm going to punish you."
"Punish me?" James said weakly. "Punish me, Louis? What are you going to do?"
"Exactly what Adam would have done. You're going to get a whipping," Louis said calmly. "And it's going to be a whipping you won't forget for a long, long time. Get undressed and go lie on the bed, face down."
"Oh no." James swallowed hard, uncertain whether he liked this idea. Yet the order itself was familiar enough that he had no will to disobey. Silently he took off his snug, black leather pants. Underneath he was bare. His cock rasped against the fine cotton sheet as he sprawled across the bed. He stiffened, suddenly aware of just how naked he was.
"Lift your hips," Louis instructed James, and when he did, Louis carefully slid a pillow under them, pressing James's cock against his belly with an impersonal and uninterested hand and tucking his balls forward. He spread James's thighs slightly, exposing the tender inner flesh of his buttocks. "Stay like that."
"Oh shit." James watched Louis take the leather strap from the top dresser drawer. Louis had never forgotten where Adam kept it. "Oh shit, Louis, that thing hurts so much, please don't–"
"You are not going to fuck up your life like this." Louis knew from James's response that Adam had used the strap on him at least once. The knowledge strengthened his resolve. "You are a very, very lucky young man, with a beautiful house, beautiful pictures, a beautiful life ahead of you, and you are not going to throw any of that away. Adam loved you, Jimmy, doesn't that mean anything to you? Think about how he would feel if he'd lived to see this."
"That's not fair," James cried out. "That's not fair, Louis! I miss Adam, I miss him so much, I don't want to have to do this by myself–"
"You're not by yourself." Louis understood what James meant, though. "Take a few deep breaths and brace yourself. This is going to hurt."
"No–" James began, but before he could finish his protest, Louis brought the strap down, hard.
It was, as Louis had promised, a stunningly painful whipping. The first lash left a momentary white ridge on James's buttocks, which began to pinken even as the second lash left another white stripe. James's buttocks tensed, he kicked his feet against the mattress, clasped and unclasped his fisted hands in the sheets, and moaned his distress. Louis showed no inclination to respond to his misery. He was focused on making the punishment thorough and thoroughly painful, and he was succeeding on both scores. He didn't shout, he didn't pause, he was calm and methodical, and by the time he had counted out two dozen lashes in his head, James's ass was red from crest to thigh.
"Louis, please, no more, please, I promise, I'll never, please–" James's pleas became sobs.
"We're done." Louis put the strap aside. He had no idea if James always cried the way he was crying now, brokenly, as if he'd been flayed. He stroked James's hair, wishing he could ask Adam's blessing, wishing he could be sure he had made the right decision in taking the strap to James. "Come on, that's it, breathe for me. James? Jimmy, come on now, it's all over." Louis ruffled the sweaty hair at the nape of James's neck. "Breathe. I know Adam whipped you, you can't have carried on like this every time–"
"I want Adam! I want him back! Adam! Adam!! Ad–" James was hysterical.
Louis hesitated for a moment, unsure whether he should continue to try to calm James, whether he had the right to. It only seemed fair. Assuming responsibility for disciplining James encompassed both punishment and comfort.
"All right, it's all right." Louis's voice was firm and reassuring, as was his hand rubbing circles on James's back. "That's enough of that." James's screams stopped abruptly. "I'm here, I'm not going to let you make any bad mistakes, it's all right now. Shh, I know Adam would have wanted you to be brave, that's a good boy. Shh–"
"Adam," James whispered. "Louis, do you think he knows what I did? He said he'd know if I disappointed you." James shivered. "I'm afraid of ghosts."
"You'd do better to worry about me than about Adam's ghost. You're very silly," Louis scolded James. He took a handful of tissues and thrust them toward James. "Blow your nose."
"Thank you," James daubed at his wet cheeks and streaming nose and then leaned hopefully into Louis. "Adam always held me afterward. I'm sorry, Louis. I won't do that again, I swear."
"Jimmy." Louis gathered James in his arms. James molded to him in a way that Louis hadn't anticipated. It wasn't the stunned shivering that had followed his evening with Carlos and it wasn't the hysterical sobbing that had followed the funeral. This time James relaxed into Louis's embrace and let himself be comforted.
"I need help. I can't do this myself." James whispered, his eyes closing. "I'm lonely, Louis, I miss Adam so much."
"I know." I do, too, Louis thought.
"I'm not as bad as you think I am. Adam loved me, Louis. I can be good."
"I know you were good for Adam, Jimmy." Louis pressed his lips to James' thick blond hair in a gentle kiss.
"I can be good," James repeated. "Won't you help me? I need you, Louis, please. I'll give you anything you want."
"You don't need to bribe me, Jimmy. I know Adam loved you. I know he wanted to see you taken care of." Louis eased James onto the bed pillows and pulled the covers over him. "You need to rest now. You need to sleep."
Martin invited Louis to dinner. This time the restaurant was all light woods and sparkling metal. Glass and steel interpretations of shoji screens separated the tables.
"You're a fool, Louis," Martin said. "If Carlos wants the boy, let him have him. He's a reasonable man, he doesn't expect something for nothing."
"There is more to James than you appreciate. Adam loved James, Martin."
"Nonsense," Martin said. "Adam loved him for his looks."
"Adam wouldn't have wasted his time on someone who lacked substance." Louis resolved to be certain that Carlos never got his hooks into James. James needed more than Carlos or his money. "I won't suggest he see Carlos again."
"I hope you don't regret this decision, Louis," Martin said, rising from the table. "Good night."
Louis thought to himself that Martin sounded like a bad actor in an overwritten play. He walked home from the restaurant in good spirits, glad he had stood up for James. His good mood evaporated as he entered the townhouse. Louis surveyed the living room with dismay. James was sprawled on the couch, glass in hand, the empty evidence of his earlier indulgence littered about the floor.
"Not drunk," James said, dimly aware of Louis's scowl. "Was bored. Missed you. Have some, Louis."
"No thank you," Louis said softly, shaking his head. "Jimmy, I don't know where Adam found the strength for you, he was older than I am, and I'm tired. Come on, Jimmy, up you go, I'm putting you to bed."
"Yeah," James said woozily. He tried to rise and pitched forward. Louis caught him. "Bed. Fuck me, Louis." He threw his arm over Louis's shoulder.
"Bed. Sleep, and that's all," Louis corrected, steering them toward the stairs, which were a challenge with James in this condition.
"Fuck me," James said again, hopefully, as they reached the bedroom. He flopped onto the bed on his back. "Be good for you."
"I'm sure," Louis said. "But you're drunk and I'm not going to do it." He tugged the covers from under James, who was now giggling foolishly. "I hope you enjoyed tonight, Jimmy, because you won't enjoy tomorrow. As soon as you're sober enough to feel it, I'm going to give you a spanking you won't forget."
"Love you tomorrow, too," James hiccupped. "Come sleep."
"Good night, Jimmy," Louis debated whether or not to sleep beside James and decided that the brat wasn't going to manipulate him into that. He drew sheet and blanket over James and left him alone to sleep it off.
James awoke with a fuzzy tongue and a pounding headache. He was thoroughly miserable. Louis decided it would be cruel to do anything other than give him aspirin and water and black coffee. It wasn't until early afternoon, after a shower and a change of clothes, that James felt anything resembling human again.
"Thanks for putting me to bed last night, Louis," James said tentatively. He had a vague memory of something he hoped Louis hadn't said.
"Nice try, Jimmy," Louis said. "You do remember what I told you last night, now don't you?"
"You said you were going to spank me." James swallowed. "I thought maybe you'd change your mind. I hoped maybe you'd change your mind. I won't do that again, Louis."
"Good, then it's just this one spanking you'll be getting," Louis said. "Come on, Jimmy, no time like the present."
"No." James glared at Louis. "I don't want to do that," he added plaintively. "It's embarrassing. It's going to hurt!"
"I know," Louis agreed. "But you deserve it, Jimmy, and I expect you to take your punishment when you've earned it. Let's go back upstairs. Come on now."
"I'm sorry, Louis." James followed Louis reluctantly.
"I know you are, but that doesn't change the fact that you deserve a spanking for that little stunt," Louis said calmly.
James remembered the last time Louis had punished him. "You're not going to use the strap, are you?" he asked anxiously.
"No, Jimmy, I said a spanking: My hand, your ass." James drinking himself senseless at home worried Louis less than James accepting who knew what drugs at a downtown club. In any case, if James couldn't learn from a spanking, Louis didn't know if he wanted to take their arrangement any further. If his disapproval didn't matter, if only physical pain made an impact, what did that say about their relationship, or rather, about the lack of any?
"I don't think I'm going to like this." James didn't ask any further questions. He pushed down his sweats; Louis wasn't surprised to see he was bare beneath. He didn't protest when Louis drew him over his lap.
Louis rested his hand for a moment on James' white buttocks, and James shifted uncomfortably, his muscles tensing visibly in anticipation of the first swat. Louis didn't make him wait long. He lifted his hand and brought it down hard and fast, repeating the movement without pauses, not letting James catch his breath. James panted, trying not to cry out, and then gave up and gave way to little moans and whimpers, as Louis spanked him quickly and thoroughly. It wasn't a long spanking, but it was a painful one, and by the end James was gasping for breath. Louis stopped abruptly.
"Don't make me do this again," Louis said harshly. He didn't like spanking James. It seemed wrong to let the only point of connection between them be punishment, but he didn't know what else he could do for James.
"I won't! I promise!" James pressed himself into Louis's arms, wanting to be comforted, wanted to be held. Louis obliged.
"You need to make some decisions, Jimmy," Louis said quietly.
"Why?" James had hoped Louis would take him in hand. He had hoped that if Louis felt responsible for spanking him, Louis would also feel responsible for caring for him.
"You have a beautiful house, you have beautiful furniture, beautiful clothes, beautiful art work...how are you going to spend your time?" Louis asked.
"I don't know." James blinked hard, forcing back tears. "I don't know how to live without Adam, Louis! " He began to cry despite himself. "I'm not stupid, Louis, I'm not lazy. I was Adam's, I did what Adam wanted. That's just how I am, Louis! I was good for Adam, I was, but Adam took care of me, I didn't have to decide any of that myself."
"Shh." Louis stroked James's hair back from his face and kissed James, very gently. James's lips parted gracefully, but to his disappointment, Louis didn't deepen the kiss. "Talk to me, Jimmy. Do you have any ideas about a new boyfriend?" It didn't sound to Louis as if James had any intention of learning to live without someone in Adam's role.
"You," James said shyly. "I was thinking you." He held his breath. Maybe Louis would be open to loving him.
"Jimmy, I can't afford a boyfriend like you." James was fully as beautiful as Adam's other possessions, and like Adam's other possessions, far beyond Louis's means. "Adam was able to give you things I can never afford to give you, to take you places I can never afford to take you."
"Don't you understand?" James's question was a cry of pain. "I have money! I don't need someone to pay for me, Louis, I need someone to love me, I need someone to tell me what to do. I can't do this all alone." He was quiet for a moment. "I don't know why Adam left it to me instead of to you. Louis, I'll give it to you, all of it, the house, the pictures, the vases, you can have it. Would that make you want me?"
"Jimmy, that's very–" Louis broke off abruptly. "Generous. Unnecessary."
"I love you," James whispered. "I want to be yours, Louis, I love you. You can have all of it, Louis, if you'll take me, too."
For the first time Louis was worried. James's need for a new lover, a new Top, was more urgent than he had realized. Louis realized he hadn't a clue where to find someone worthy of James's trust.
The aftermath of a death involves business as surely as it does mourning. Adam's attorney had done a professional job tying up Adam's affairs. He kept Louis apprised of the relevant details. Thus Louis opened the attorney's latest letter incuriously. Louis didn't expect any surprises. He should have remembered that Adam had always retained the power to surprise him. He read the attorney's description of Adam's bequest to him:
"...my dear friend Louis, my collection of pictures..."
Louis put the letter aside and sat in stunned amazement. The pictures...the pictures included a small sketch, attributed to Rembrandt, and a half dozen works by minor French academicians. Louis himself had had them appraised; he was well aware of their aggregate worth.
Adam had left Louis his pictures, as well as a stipend to continue as curator of the remainder of his collection for as long as it remained intact and a generous severance benefit in the event he was no longer interested.
Louis had loved Adam, at first passionately, as a lover, and later loyally, as a mentor and a friend. Adam had subsidized his graduate degree in art history, had paid him generously as a curator, had let him have the ground floor of the townhouse for his own, making it improbable that Louis would ever leave the household.
Louis knew Adam had thought James beautiful the way he had thought his porcelains beautiful. He had invested the same care in polishing James to a high sheen that he had invested in keeping his vases shining. Most often Louis had seen Adam spoiling James: Buying him clothes, taking him to openings, taking him abroad on buying trips. Adam had enjoyed displaying James the way he had enjoyed displaying all his treasures.
Yet Louis knew from early on that Adam had kept a firm hand on James. The townhouse was not huge; it would have been impossible for Louis to live in the house and not recognize the signs. He'd seen James defiant and later repentant and red-eyed. More than that, Louis had been Adam's lover once; he knew Adam's expectations and his methods intimately.
James needed someone, Louis thought, someone who would keep him the way Adam had. Adam had made provisions for James, as he had for the rest of his collection. He'd left James the bulk of his estate; he'd made sure James was an attractive package. What James needed, Louis thought ruefully, was what the other valuables in Adam's collection needed: Someone who would recognize his unique value and be able to provide the right setting.
James needed someone sooner rather than later, because without Adam to support him, James was losing his way. This time Louis found James drowning his sorrows in the kitchen.
"You don't drink like this, James, you just don't do it." Louis took the bottle from the table and steeling himself, poured the remainder down the drain. 'You do this again and I swear I'll empty every bottle in the house."
"I'm sorry," James whispered. "I'll stop, Louis, I won't do it anymore. I'll do what you want, anything you want, if you'll just want me." James looked hopefully at Louis. "You can afford me now."
"You're not something for sale to the highest bidder, Jimmy," Louis said as gently as he could. "I'm an excellent judge of quality, and you, Jimmy, are quality. You can't afford to value yourself so cheaply."
"Cheaply?" James looked flabbergasted. "Louis, you're a millionaire now. How the fuck is that cheaply?
"Go upstairs, Jimmy. Sober up and get some rest. We'll talk about this another time." Not trusting himself to speak further, Louis turned and left the room.
Louis didn't want him. Feeling entirely alone, James crept upstairs. He curled around a pillow in Adam's old bed, wishing more than ever that Adam were still there. Adam would have scolded him, but then he would have petted him, would have made him feel beautiful and desired. James missed the certainty he had felt in Adam's arms that he was the most cherished of Adam's possessions.
Louis paced downstairs. Adam had found his heart's desire in James, thought Louis. The warmth of his young lover in his bed in his old age pleased Adam greatly. Louis had to admit, James was good at the sort of use Adam put him to. James was an ornamental addition to Adam's collection of beautiful things.
Louis considered Adam's final message. Did caring for Adam's collection included caring for the lover Adam considered his choicest acquisition?
Upstairs, James's eyes moved around the room, taking in the delicate glazed porcelain figurines that Adam had cherished. He studied the limpid sculpture of a blond youth, his beauty perfect, his youth permanent. James felt a welling fury at the statue's serene certainty. It would outlive him; its beauty would outlive his own.
And then the pretty thing was flying across the room. It hit the wall and cracked into a dozen pieces on the floor. James began to scream. Again and again he screamed and then Louis was there. He grasped James by his arms and shook him, hard.
"Stop that," Louis said sharply. "Right now, James. Tell me what happened."
"I threw it," James spat out the ugly words. "I hate it, I hate them all. They're never going to grow old, they're never going to be ugly, they're never going to feel anything and I hate them!" James shivered. "Adam's gone and you don't want me and I don't care anymore."
"You little idiot," Louis said with less heat than resignation. He loosened his grip on James and stroked one hand gently over James's fair hair. "What, do you not care if the only relationship we have is me turning you face down over my lap? Because Jimmy, of all the ways to get me to like you, I have to tell you this is one of the worst. Although..." His expression softened. "Adam never told you, did he? About that statuette?"
"Told me what?" James said, startled out of his misery.
"It's a fake," Louis said succinctly. "Adam kept it as a reminder that anyone can be fooled, if they want something badly enough. It's a turn of the century pastiche, worthless except as a curiosity. Of all the things in the house, if you had to break one, that was your best choice." He laughed. "Maybe you have more taste than I've given you credit for."
"You're making this up."
"Could I make up a story like this?" Louis shook his head. "That doesn't mean I think you're blameless. I consider willfully destroying part of Adam's collection a very serious matter. I am going to punish you, Jimmy. Come with me."
Louis took James down to his own room. He felt he needed to establish his own authority with James and in his own space, where James had never been punished by Adam, this would be just between them.
Perhaps Adam had provided for James' care. Perhaps he had provided Louis.
James got undressed reluctantly and turned toward the bed. Louis was already seated. In his hands was a formidable looking hairbrush with a solid wooden back.
"Oh no." James looked unhappily at the brush. Though it was an implement Adam had never used, James knew it would hurt. "I'm sorry," James whispered. "Please, Louis, don't–"
"I don't know if I can spank you hard enough to deter you next time you're tempted to do something like that," Louis said grimly. "But this will at least make you think twice."
"Please, Louis, I'm thinking, I swear I'm thinking! Please don't spank me with that." James gave Louis the pleading look that had sometimes worked with Adam, but Louis didn't have the same indulgent feeling for James that Adam had had.
To Adam, James had been a beautiful part of his collection, a beloved part, but still a source of pleased amusement. Louis saw in James a man a scant ten years younger than himself, a work in progress, one that could use some burnishing. And if that final polish was accomplished with a few tears, small price to pay.
"Over my lap," Louis said firmly.
James hesitated a moment and then let out his breath in a resigned sigh and lowered himself carefully across Louis's thighs.
"You don't throw things, Jimmy, it never helps you feel better for long and you can do a lot of damage to a very fine collection. You just got lucky this time."
Louis tucked James's hips closer to his stomach and holding him snugly, brought his palm down sharply. James didn't struggle, he just moaned softly, and Louis spanked him again, lower and harder, leaving another clear hand print and then another and another until they merged into a patterned mosaic of pink and white and finally a smooth field of glowing red. Louis spanked hard and methodically, a series of solid swats with his palm, and then he began with the hairbrush and didn't stop until James's backside was red and shiny and James was crying.
"All right, all done," Louis said. "Jimmy." Louis eased James onto the bed and rubbed his back as James continued to cry into the pillows for a very long time. Finally James's sobs tapered off and the two men were alone in the silent room.
"I'll never do that again. I promise. I'm sorry, Louis, really, and not just because you spanked me harder than Adam ever did." James's voice was shaky.
"I believe you, Jimmy." Louis stroked James's blotchy, tear streaked cheek gently. "I believe you about a lot of things. " Lying back, he drew James into his arms. "Come here, Jimmy. Who's my boy now?"
"Me?" James whispered.
"That's right, Jimmy." Louis kissed James. "Now look, I've had enough of punishing you. That's a dubious way to build a connection. If we're going to have a relationship, we're going to do this the right way. My way. You're going to be a good boy, you're going to show me you're capable of behaving like a reasonable man, and we're going to spend a lot more time talking face to face and a lot less time with you face down over my knees."
"You want me, Louis? " James asked tentatively, wonder in his voice.
"I love you." There was no doubt in Louis's voice. "I want you."