M/M sex, spanking. If the idea of a discipline relationship between consenting adult men offends you, so will this story.



High spring, and the weather was glorious: The sun warm, the air dry and still a breeze at noon. It was late enough in the year that heating season was over, yet still early enough that there was no need for air conditioning. The cafeteria's windows were open and the sounds of students walking by and the scents of blooming trees drifted in.

"What a beautiful day," Donovan said, dropping into the chair across from Maurice.

"If my allergies weren't under control I'd be dying here," Maurice said with a scowl. He glared at the greenery beyond the open windows as if he could see the pollen wafting from it.

"You're in a good mood, Maurice." Donovan shook his head. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing. Everything. It's a complicated story." Maurice frowned at his plate, poking suspiciously at the deep fried fillet of what the menu claimed was cod.

"What's going on, Maurice?" Donovan asked easily, taking a fork full of his own fish. "What's wrong?"

"We got a notice from the lake association that they're amending the bylaws at the next meeting, which is the end of the month, less than two weeks from now." Maurice sighed. "They're not going to allow any new docks or boat slips on the lake without a variance after this, it's going to be an expensive proposition to get one, and you're not guaranteed one even if you apply."

"That's a pain," Donovan said. He'd grown up upstate; he had a native son's suspicion of any regulation of private property. Yet on the other hand, he'd seen firsthand the damage wrought by over-development; he could understand the lake association's concerns. "So if you have a preexisting dock it's grandfathered in, but if not, you're out of luck?"

"Exactly," Maurice said. "Jay's upset because he's always wanted to get a boat one of these days and this will mean that because we don't already have a dock, we may never be able to build a boat slip. Jay's all for keeping the newer homeowners who don't understand the lake from coming in with their toys, but he wants his toy, you know?"

"'Apres moi, le deluge.' How charming of Jay," Donovan said, shaking his head. "He should have been born with a title; he's a prince at heart. Listen, Maurice, I don't think it's a real problem. I can come out Saturday morning with Loren, the four of us can dig a half dozen holes, set some posts in concrete, slap a platform on top and you'll have a dock. It'll be grandfathered in, and you can just pull it out when you're ready to build a real one."

"There's got to be someone we can pay to do this," Maurice said sourly.

"Not if you want it done before the lake association meeting at the end of the month," Donovan said practically. "Look, talk to Jay, all right? We'd come up Friday night, get an early start Saturday and be done by Sunday."

"You'd really do that?" Maurice said. As always, Donovan's innate generosity struck him powerfully.

"No." Donovan's tone implied that Maurice was being ridiculous. "Of course. It's not a big job, Maurice. We'll dig the holes, set the posts and that will be it." Donovan took a final, slow sip of coffee and smiled at Maurice. "It'll be fine."

Donovan's afternoon flew by in a blur of activity. It wasn't until his final class was over that he had time to consider how best to present the plan to Loren in a way that would be palatable. He couldn't think of one. In the end, Donovan decided to just lay it on the table and let Loren decide if he'd help or not.

"I know this isn't your idea of weekend fun, Loren, but this is what friends do for each other. If they don't have a dock of some sort in before the lake association changes the zoning rules, they're never going to be able to build one. Jay's been wanting to buy a boat for years."

While Donovan wasn't going to order Loren to come, he would be disappointed if Loren chose not to go; he let Loren see that honestly.

"Loren, I really would like your help and your being there would make a real difference. You can stay here in town though, if you'd rather." Donovan looked at Loren, waiting for his decision.

"I'll come with you, Donovan," Loren said quickly. He didn't want to disappoint Donovan and he didn't want to be left behind. "But do we have to stay with them, Donovan?"

"I think it's the most practical thing," Donovan said. "We want to get a really early start on Saturday."

"I'm going to hate this," Loren said. "So much." He closed his eyes and sighed. "Fine, Donovan."

"That's my good boy. My brave boy." Donovan knew how uncomfortable Loren felt around Jay and Maurice. "Thank you, Loren, I appreciate this." Donovan smoothed Loren's hair back from his face and kissed Loren gently and thoroughly.

"Okay." Loren opened easily to Donovan's kiss. He let Donovan hold him and pet him, feeling obscurely better because he had so clearly pleased Donovan.

Loren and Donovan drove up Friday night, a two-day suitcase in the trunk and a cooler full of drinks and sandwiches for the road in the car. Despite the heavy traffic, they made decent time. They didn't stop for dinner. Donovan drove and ate one-handed. He wasn't surprised when Loren only picked his sandwich apart and stared silently out the window at the darkening horizon. Loren found Jay and Maurice impossibly intimidating.

"They're running late. I hope they're all right." Maurice said for the third time, looking through the front window at the quiet road.

"They're fine," Jay said. He knew how happy Maurice was that Donovan had agreed to stay with them; no surprise, then, that Maurice was impatient for them to get there. "There's a lot of traffic on Fridays. Donovan's made this trip a million times. Why don't you make us some cookies?"

Maurice took the tub of chocolate chip cookie dough out of the refrigerator and began dropping spoonfuls on a cookie sheet, glad for the distraction. Jay refused to allow junk food in their city loft, but up here reason prevailed and they indulged.

The guest room was leanly beautiful, with its reproduction Stickley bedstead and authentic dhurrie rugs. Donovan admired the carefully balanced choices and Maurice beamed. Their city apartment was all done to Jay's taste, but their country house was Maurice's bailiwick.

Loren kept his head down as much as possible. To Jay it looked like sulking and he really didn't care; Loren was Donovan's problem. Maurice knew it for the fear it was, and it made him uncomfortable and unhappy. Fortunately the need for an early morning was pretext enough that an early bedtime seemed practical rather than rude.

Breakfast was quick and quiet; it was far too early for a weekend for everyone except Donovan, who, like most artists, reveled in the early morning. Coffee was brewed, eggs were scrambled, bread was sliced and orange juice gulped. Then they were down by the lake and hard at work. It was blessedly free of mosquitoes and flies so early in the season.

As far as the work went, jobs like this were fucking easy, Loren thought. You simply did whatever the fuck you were told to do until someone told you you could stop doing it. Except for the fact that his hand hurt. Shit. Loren shifted the shovel in his hand. Shit. Damn. Fucking blisters; almost as painful as making conversation last night and this morning with Jay and Maurice.

Donovan dug steadily. He'd tied his hair back, his tee shirt was sweat soaked, and he was feeling good. Hard physical work was joy to him. He liked being with Jay and Maurice and if the chemistry had been better between them and Loren, he would have been an entirely happy man.

Maurice was very careful around Loren; he made an effort to include him in the general conversation and was clearly trying to be nice. However, Maurice made Loren very, very nervous. Loren flinched every time Maurice came near him.

The constant reminders that Loren was afraid of him hurt Maurice; Donovan saw that clearly. Maurice had never ceased to regret the night he'd examined Loren. He had never had a patient look at him that way before and it sickened him.

Jay made no concessions to Loren's anxiety and no effort to curb his acerbic tongue. That was Jay, Donovan thought. Jay was like that with everyone. Take it or leave it, was Jay's attitude; and you either took it or left it; Jay didn't care.

"Do something about him, would you?" Jay said to Donovan, as Loren paused in his digging yet again. "He's either hurt himself or he's a better faker than I ever was, which is going some."

"What did you fake?" Maurice asked Jay curiously, hungry as always for stories about Jay's childhood.

"What didn't he fake?" Donovan groaned. "Believe me, Maurice, Jay always managed to find something that would get him out of an honest day's labor. He gave his father fits."

"You were always there to take up the slack," Jay said, laughing. "Donovan never once felt sorry for me, Maurice. He was heartless bastard then. He felt sorry for my dad!"

"You didn't need my sympathy, you had everyone else's," Donovan retorted. "Hey, Loren, come here and let me take a look at your hand."

"It's fine," Loren said, gritting his teeth. He had ignored the three men's banter as long as he could, trying ineffectually to find a grip that didn't hurt so that he could continue digging. His hand could fucking fall off for all he cared; he just wanted to finish the job. The faster they were done, the sooner they could go home.

"All right." Donovan didn't want to embarrass Loren. They were almost done digging; if they could finish tonight, they could set the posts in the morning. Undoubtedly Loren had blisters, but if he didn't want to stop working, Donovan wasn't going to make him. Donovan had worked with blisters before himself; it might hurt, but it wouldn't kill Loren.

Loren was grateful that Donovan didn't push further. Loren knew that once Donovan saw how badly blistered his hand was, he would insist on cleaning it. The thought alone made Loren nauseous. Shit.

"I've had it," Jay declared a scant hour later. "We're calling it quits for the day. We'll get the posts in tomorrow. Maurice, would you get dinner started while we clean up down here?"

"Sounds good." Maurice headed up to the house. He started the grill heating and then slipped upstairs for a shower. He had their steaks well underway by the time Jay, Donovan and Loren traipsed up to the house. They kicked off their muddy shoes on the porch. Loren flopped into the farthest wooden chair from where Maurice was grilling outside; Jay and Donovan headed into the kitchen. Jay pulled out beer and salads from the deli and set them on the counter, while Donovan put out plates and silverware.

"Eat," Maurice urged, coming in long enough to set a plate of steaks between Jay and Donovan. "Get started before it gets cold. I just want to throw some chicken on the grill for tomorrow."

"Dinner's ready, Loren," Donovan called.

"Coming." Loren didn't move.

It was an informal meal and they were all tired enough not to stand on ceremony. Donovan and Jay were nearly done before Maurice settled at the table with them. Donovan knew Loren was bone weary and so he waited a little while before summoning him again.

"Loren, I want you to come eat now." This time Donovan went outside to fetch Loren.

"I'm not hungry." Loren stood reluctantly.

"Well, you have to be thirsty at least," Donovan said, guiding Loren inside. "Have a coke."

Loren winced as his fingers curled around the can and quickly set it aside.

"Let me see your hand, Loren," Donovan said quietly, seeing Loren's pained expression.

"It's fine!"

"Let me see your hand," Donovan said again. "Now, Loren." He held out his own hand and reluctantly Loren placed his in it. Donovan gritted his teeth at the sight of Loren's raw palm.

"How bad is it?" Maurice asked, reading Donovan's face.

"It's pretty bad," Donovan said.

"Let me see," Maurice said.

"No–" Loren yelped. He tucked his hand under his arm, backing away.

"For chrissakes, Loren, he's not going to amputate," Jay said sharply.

Loren flushed, humiliated.

"Give me your hand again, Loren," Donovan positioned Loren's hand so that Maurice could see the open blisters.

"You really don't want to clean that up without a local anesthetic," Maurice said, leaning over to examine Loren's hand.

"What's that?" Loren asked, looking between Maurice and Donovan.

"It's just a pin prick. It will numb your hand so that it doesn't hurt when it's cleaned up. Loren," Maurice said.

"I don't want a shot!" Loren protested.

"I won't do anything unless you want me to," Maurice reassured Loren.

"No." Jay said. "This is not your responsibility, Maurice." The last thing any of them needed was for Maurice to inadvertently traumatize Loren a second time, Jay thought. If Loren's hand was that bad, let them take him and Donovan to the urgent care center the next town over. Let someone else deal with the flak.

"Never mind, Maurice, I can handle this by myself," Donovan said. It might hurt, but he could talk Loren through it. Jay was right; it would be better than taking a chance on Loren reacting badly to Maurice's intervention.

"Jay, he needs an anesthetic," Maurice said. "To clean it out if it's not numb would be torture." There was no question in Maurice's mind what was appropriate here. And he was the doctor, not Jay.

"I said no." Jay locked eyes with Maurice. "This doesn't involve you, Maurice."

Maurice might have hesitated long enough for Jay to be able to make his reasons understandable, if Loren hadn't turned to Maurice, his eyes wide and scared, his voice a little shaky. If Loren hadn't, for the first time, seemed willing to trust Maurice to help him.

"Will it hurt?" Loren asked Maurice.

"It will be a little uncomfortable for a second or two; that's all," Maurice said smoothly, his voice and manner gentle. It was easy to see why his patients loved him.

"Okay," Loren said.

Jay and Donovan watched silently as Maurice took out his customized first aid kit.

"Here, give me your hand. Close your eyes, Loren, you don't have to watch." Maurice said, deftly inserting the needle as he spoke. All three men could see Loren's face relax as the medication took hold.

"Get him some water, Donovan, please," Maurice said, feeling Jay's censorious eyes on him and trying not to think about what that meant. "Loren, I'm giving you some Valium, a painkiller and an antibiotic."

Loren took the pills obediently, oblivious to the tension in the room.

"He's a doctor, Jay," Donovan said quietly, trying to advocate for Maurice. He knew Jay wouldn't take Maurice's ignoring his "no" lightly; Donovan understood that. But Donovan also understood how strongly Maurice needed to make reparations for that first night, how strongly Maurice needed to reestablish himself as a healer, not as hurtful, in Loren's eyes. "He's a good doctor. Have a heart."

"When you're quite done then, doctor," Jay said, stressing the title ironically, "I'll see you upstairs." He left the kitchen.

"Do you want me to clean it up, Loren?" Maurice asked tentatively, uncertain whether Loren would trust him enough to let him handle him.

"Could Donovan--" Loren bit his lip. Maurice hadn't lied about the shot, it had barely hurt, and his hand felt much better, but his stomach tightened nervously at the idea of submitting to Maurice for further treatment.

"I'll get it, Maurice," Donovan said, hoping that Jay would make allowances if Maurice came upstairs quickly. "Thank you for everything, Maurice."

"Thank you," Loren echoed. "My hand doesn't hurt at all anymore." Surprise in his voice.

"You're welcome, Loren." Maurice smiled, a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. It had suddenly hit him what the ramifications of his Good Samaritan actions might be. He seldom defied Jay; he was not looking forward to going upstairs.

"Coraggio," Donovan said to Maurice. Donovan really hoped Jay would be merciful. With an effort, Donovan forced himself to concentrate on his own Loren. He washed Loren's palm carefully and bandaged it tenderly.

"Come, Loren, let's get you to bed." He helped Loren into the bathroom. Loren was too woozy to shower. Stripping him, Donovan contented himself with merely wiping him down with dampened washcloth before easing him into bed in the downstairs guest room.

Donovan showered quickly, not wanting to leave Loren alone for long. Toweled off and got into bed alongside Loren. The Valium and painkiller had made Loren drowsy; he snuggled into Donovan and slept. Donovan let Loren's soft breathing ease him to sleep as well.

Jay was standing at the window in the darkened bedroom, looking out at the shadowy trees. His hair was still damp from the shower. He didn't turn as Maurice entered the room.

Maurice closed the door and locked it. Seating himself on the bed, he sighed unhappily.

"He's still afraid of me, Jay. Do you think he still thinks I'm an abusive bastard?" Maurice asked.

"So that's what that was about," Jay said. Drawing the curtains closed, he turned away from the window and sat down on the bed next to Maurice. He had intended to punish Maurice, but hearing the intensity in Maurice's question, he recognized how deep Maurice's need to redeem himself in Loren's eyes was. "You need to let it go, Maurice."

"I can't, Jay," Maurice said. "I can't let it go. I have tried and I have tried and I can't. Please, Jay, I have tried. I can't move past this!" Maurice leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his forehead pressed to his interlaced fingers. "I'm sorry!"

"Come here." Maurice should not be this focused on anything or anyone beside us, Jay thought. "Look at me." Gently turning Maurice's anguished eyes toward his own, Jay stroked Maurice's soft, dark hair back from his elegant face and felt nothing but empathy for his proud, sensitive partner.

"It wasn't your fault, Maurice. I think maybe you need a little reminder of whose opinion is the only opinion you need to worry about." Jay sounded tentative. Since their first days, Jay had mostly eschewed corporal punishment as a method for disciplining Maurice, preferring more subtle demonstrations of his authority. "You need to pay attention when I tell you something, Maurice."

"I'm sorry, Jay."

"You know you don't say no to me. You do know that, Maurice." Jay sank back on the bed and pulled Maurice over into his arms; Maurice surrendered. Jay could feel the effort it took Maurice to control his breathing. Maurice loathed being spanked.

"I'm sorry, Jay." Already a few anxious, unhappy tears streaked Maurice's cheeks.

Jay knew he'd made his point. There was little reason to spank Maurice, save to make Maurice miserable. Circumstances had already punished Maurice sufficiently.

"Shh, we're just going to go to sleep," Jay reassured Maurice. "I'm not going to spank you. You're a good man and a good doctor. I love you. It wasn't your fault, Maurice."

"If I'd been a Top or a switch, maybe I would have recognized just how terrified he was!"

"You feel it's a lack in you?" Jay asked quietly.

"Yes." Maurice sighed deeply.

"Maurice, Donovan's a Top, one of the best Tops I've ever known. He missed it, too," Jay said. "He missed it for the same reason you did, Maurie. You both saw somebody hurt, who needed help." Jay drew Maurice against him. "Hush now. You meant well; it's not your fault that the kid was a basket case. But I am not going to let you put yourself into the same sort of situation again, which is why I said no tonight."

"I'm sorry," Maurice said again. "It was just...Loren said yes, Jay. It's the first time he's ever trusted me to treat him."

"Ah," Jay said. "Still, I said no." He smudged the few tears that had spilled from the corner of Maurice's eyes away with gentle fingers. "I love you, Maurie. It's you I worry about. Come on, let's get some sleep. We have to be up early tomorrow."

"Just let me shower quickly," Maurice said tiredly.

"It's too late. You showered when we got in, Maurie, you're clean enough," Jay said. "Just kick off your jeans."

"All right," Maurice said resignedly, looking longingly towards the bathroom. It was a very minor deprivation, but he hated coming to bed without showering first and Jay knew it. As always, Jay had ways of making himself very clear. Yet this was so much better than he deserved, so much better than the spanking he'd feared. Maurice's eyes filled again, this time with grateful tears.

"Is there a problem?" Jay's voice was steady. "Maurice?"

"No." Maurice squirmed hastily out of his pants and snuggled closer to Jay. "I'm fine. I love you, Jay."

"I love you, Maurice," Jay said. "Go to sleep."

Donovan was awake at dawn. He dressed quickly and quietly.

"Wake up, babe," Donovan shook Loren until Loren roused enough that Donovan was sure he wouldn't fall back asleep. "Come on, babe, we want to get this thing done today."

"I'm awake." Leaving Loren to get up by himself, Donovan padded out to the kitchen. Jay was already making coffee.

"Morning, Jay," Donovan said, stretching. "God, that smells good. Maurice sleeping in?"

"Maurice is taking it easy this morning," Jay said evenly. "Grab that bag of muffins off the top of the fridge, would you?"

"Sure." Donovan put the muffins on the counter, kicked a stool out and sat down. "Maybe you'd rather have taken your chances with the lake association later on. I don't think I did you any favor coming up with Loren."

"No, Donovan, I really do appreciate it." Jay shrugged. "Shit happens. What time do you and Loren have to leave, Donovan? I know you've got an early class on Monday."

"We're okay. We'll finish cementing the posts in before we take off. You and Maurice can slap the top on after they set up some."

A bleary-eyed Loren came tentatively into the kitchen.

"Good morning, Loren. How's your hand?" Jay asked.

"Much better, thanks." Loren moved quickly to Donovan's side, as if Donovan's presence offered some protection.

Shit, Jay thought, a little shocked despite himself. He's afraid of me. Before he could quite process that revelation, Maurice drifted into the kitchen.

"Good morning." Jay poured Maurice's coffee and set the cup on the counter for him.

"How is your hand, Loren?" Maurice asked reflexively. He cut his eyes toward Jay as Jay turned back toward the sink, pretending not to have heard Maurice's question.

"It's much better, doc." Raising his eyes to meet Maurice's, Loren smiled shyly. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Maurice smiled back. "Thank you, Loren."

Donovan watched carefully as Maurice sat down; Maurice, in his turn, saw Donovan watching. Maurice scrubbed his hand down his face, clearly embarrassed, and Donovan looked away, equally embarrassed at having been caught.

Loren looked surreptitiously from one man to the other, confused. He couldn't decipher what was going on. He saw Maurice as powerful; although Donovan had floated the idea that Maurice was not a Top, it was impossible for Loren to imagine Maurice as anything else.

"If you're done eating, Loren, load up the wheelbarrow with the bagged cement and take it down to the shore, " Donovan instructed, wanting a little privacy. "I'll meet you down there in a bit. Be careful of your hand; keep your gloves on and don't overdo it."

"Yes, Donovan." Loren was glad for the escape. He slipped outside, careful not to let the screen door bang behind him.

"I'll see you two down by the lake," Jay said, drying his hands. Donovan had known Maurice first. There was no question at all where any of their loyalties lay, but Jay knew Donovan would need to reassure himself that Maurice was really all right. "Don't take too long."

"Take it easy on Loren," Donovan said. Jay didn't deign to reply. Donovan winced as the screen door slammed shut.

"Do you think he'll ever really forgive me?" Maurice asked plaintively.

"Jay or Loren?" Donovan asked ruefully.

"Oh, *I'm* back in Jay's good graces," Maurice said, laughing. "Seriously, Donovan: Does Loren forgive me?"

"He doesn't think there's anything to forgive, Maurice. He can't forgive you because he doesn't think you did anything wrong. You're the one who has to forgive yourself. Maurice, compared to what Loren knew then, what we did to him was nothing." Pain in Donovan's voice.

"I'm so sorry," Maurice said quietly. He'd never thought about Donovan's pet brat's long tenure as an abused stray. "I was afraid of a worst case scenario: Internal bleeding, drug overdose, something like that. That was the only reason I rushed it so. He looked bad, Donovan."

"I know, Maurice, I was part of it, too. I made him undress, I made him lie down, I made him stay quiet. He wouldn't have listened to you alone, Maurice."

"Donovan? I've never abused another patient's trust. I never meant for Loren to think he had no choice. It happened so fast, Donovan."

"Maurice, it happened; it's over. We didn't know. We would never have coerced him into a scene he was terrified of. We didn't know he thought it was a scene. You have to let it go, Maurice. What's past is past."

"Loren was friendly this morning," Maurice said hopefully.

"He was," Donovan confirmed. "Come on, let's get down to the lake before Jay undoes all your diplomacy."

"I need another bucket of water, Loren," Jay ordered.

Loren headed quickly for the shore. As far as Loren was concerned, Jay had the right to give commands. It was his sarcasm that intimidated Loren.

"About time you got down here," Jay greeted Maurice and Donovan. "We're halfway through."

"No you're not," Donovan said, laughing. He took a shovel and began to turn over the still crumbly mixture of sand and cement. "It needs more water. Pour in about half of that bucket, Loren. Thanks." Donovan scanned Loren's face carefully for signs of distress.

"I was nice," Jay said shortly.

Donovan looked at Jay, surprised at the hurt in his voice.

"Maurice isn't the only one with feelings." Jay shrugged. "Come on, let's get these posts in."

Loren slept the whole way back down to the city, the stress of weekend catching up with him. He was clearly happy to be home. He sprawled on the living room floor in front of the television with his sketch book, his drawing unimpeded by his injured hand.

Donovan smiled. He was glad there had been some progress in healing Maurice and Loren's relationship, and he wasn't sorry that Jay had finally realized just how anxious his abrupt treatment made Loren.

"I'm going out to the studio for a bit," Donovan said.

Loren nodded in acknowledgment.

Donovan inhaled the familiar smell of damp clay and felt himself relax. He puttered for a bit, just glad to be back. Just glad the weekend had not been worse. Deciding that his greenware could use another day to dry before bisque firing, Donovan misted the bin of clay, pulled the plastic tarp back over it, and headed back into the house. Loren hadn't moved.

"Come on, Loren, let's try that new Senegalese place for dinner." Donovan would have been the first to admit that any time at all in white bread upstate made him crave foreign food.

"Senegal is in Africa, right?" Loren would never understand Donovan's love for ethnic restaurants. "Sure, Donovan." Loren tried to remember if Donovan had ever dragged him for African food before, and what he had eaten. He had no idea. Shrugging, Loren gave up trying to recall. He knew he was finicky, but he also knew Donovan would find him something edible no matter how exotic the menu.

"That's my boy," Donovan said approvingly, as Loren tucked in his shirt and pulled on sneakers. "Let's go. I'm starving."

The new owners had repainted the exterior of the small storefront restaurant in bright, hopeful tropical colors. Flowering plants and African statues filled the front window. Inside it was busy and equally cheerful. There was music playing, and the distinctive onion and lemon scent of Chicken Yassa made Donovan salivate. He asked the waiter for two orders of it and carefully extracted the barbecued chicken from the casserole for Loren. Loren tasted it cautiously and then relaxed. Chicken and plain rice he could deal with. Donovan placed a scant tablespoon of sauce on the far edge of Loren's plate before digging into his own portion of the meal.

"How is your hand feeling, Loren?" Donovan asked, seeing Loren rotate his fork cautiously.

"It's all right," Loren said, and then when Donovan just looked silently at him. "Not as bad as it did yesterday, but still really sore."

"No one would have blamed you if you'd stopped digging," Donovan said quietly. "I wish you'd said something to me sooner."

"I didn't want it to seem like I was wimping out, Donovan. Shit, I didn't say a fucking word and still Jay thought I was faking, just to get out of working," Loren said unhappily.

"No, Loren. Jay saw you were hurting and wanted to call my attention to it. The other was meant as a joke," Donovan said.

"I can't ever tell if Jay is serious or not." Loren hunched his shoulders, looking away.

"Trust me, Loren, you're in good company," Donovan said. "An awful lot of people can't. That's Jay, not you."

"I know he thinks I'm not good enough for you," Loren said. "That's not a joke."

"Jay knows I think you're the best thing that ever happened to me." Donovan nudged Loren's foot discreetly under the table. "Come on, let's go home. What I want for dessert's not on the menu."

Donovan's corny jest surprised Loren into laughter. Donovan smiled back, glad to have lightened his mood. He paid the check, exchanged a little friendly banter with the restaurant's manager, and took Loren home.

Loren was glad for the familiar comforts of their own room: Their own bed, their own things about. Lying back on the cool, safe sheets, Loren opened himself to Donovan. Donovan took him slowly and carefully.

"I love you, Loren. I'm so glad you're mine." Donovan knew how enervating Loren had found their stay with Jay and Maurice; he appreciated Loren's sacrifice.

"I love you, Donovan," Loren whispered. "I'm so glad we're home."

It was almost ten before Loren awoke the next morning. Donovan had long since left to teach his Monday classes. Loren shaved and showered, drank his coffee and ate the light breakfast Donovan had trained him to. Checked his email, flipped through the lousy selection of morning talk and game shows on the television. He was a little bored and he ached from two unaccustomed days of outdoor labor. Hoping a walk might loosen his sore muscles a little, Loren headed out and without thinking, turned up the block toward the Center for the Rare and Extraordinary Arts. As usual, its proprietor was surveying the street in front of his gallery.

"Loren Potter!" The pleasure in Sterling Thompson's greeting was genuine.

Shit, Loren thought, oh shit.

"Loren!" Sterling hailed Loren a second time, and reluctantly Loren slowed his steps.

Loren had been avoiding CREA for weeks and weeks, unable even to think of the gallery without flushing red with shame. Sterling for his part had regretted his last words to Loren many times; in retrospect, he wished he had prodded Loren to return to work immediately.

"Come in, Loren, come in. I have some lovely things out that I want you to see," Sterling coaxed, careful not to crowd Loren, recognizing how skittish Loren was, but wanting to repair their relationship.

"Hi, Sterling." Loren looked ready to bolt. Only the memory of Donovan's warning about being polite to the dealer kept Loren from fleeing. Loren knew Donovan and Sterling occasionally talked; Loren did not want it getting back to Donovan that he had been rude.

"Do you know Leo Cantrell, Loren? I have some new work of his in. Just look at these drawings..." Skillfully, Sterling steered the conversation to an easy topic, putting Loren at ease with his practiced patter. Without quite knowing how he'd gotten there, Loren followed Sterling into the empty gallery.

Loren knew Leo only second-hand. He knew Scott, Leo's boyfriend, from the scene. And Leo himself was an acquaintance of Donovan's; a simple drawing of his had once hung in their kitchen. Loren was curious to see what sort of work Leo Cantrell was doing these days.

The new show hadn't been hung yet. Leo's new drawings were still propped against the walls. Loren crouched for a better view and the two men studied the loose graphite sketches silently. Loren smiled at the luxuriant sweep of gray across the heavy paper.

"Beautiful." There was no envy at all in Loren's voice, just outright admiration at the intricate play of shade and light.

Sterling smiled; not every artist was generous with praise for another artist's work. He thought a moment; perhaps Loren could help him out with a question he had.

"Loren, what we're looking at are sketches I know are authentic; I got them directly from Leo. There are a few pieces I borrowed from another gallery that don't feel right to me. Would you look at them?" Sterling was unprepared for Loren's panicked retreat.

"I have to go!" Loren was up and out the door before Sterling could say anything else.

Every instinct told him to run, but Donovan had made it painfully clear that wasn't an option any more. As upset as he was, Loren knew he had better go home. Donovan would want him to go home. Donovan would want him, even if he had made a terrible mistake.

I did so many drawings for Pete, Loren thought numbly. I was so fucking stupid! Pete said it was a neat trick. I thought he liked my drawings. I didn't think about him selling them for money.

Donovan came home from his long Monday teaching day to a house dark except for the blue glow of television. These days Loren flicked the lights on in every room downstairs as he waited for Donovan to return. Steeling himself for trouble, Donovan walked into the living room.

As Donovan feared, Loren was pretty much out of it. He was lying on the floor in front of the TV, on his stomach, an unopened can of coke next to him. He didn't look up at Donovan's approach.

"What happened, Loren? What's the matter?" Donovan asked gently, crouching beside Loren. He stroked Loren's cheek; Loren's skin was cold and clammy. He tilted Loren's face upward, trying to make eye contact. "Look at me, Loren."

Loren looked at him obediently, his eyes dull and hopeless.

"Oh, Loren." Donovan knew something had scared his Loren badly. "Easy does it, I'm here now. It's going to be all right." Donovan picked up the coke and helped Loren up from the floor. Settling back in his favorite chair, he drew Loren into his lap and held him against him while popping open the can of soda. "Sip. That's it, good boy. A little more, please. Tell me what happened, Loren."


"I saw Sterling and he has some forged drawings of Leo's and I think they might be mine." Loren closed his eyes, not wanting to see Donovan's reaction. "I'm so, so sorry, Donovan."

"Thank you for telling me, Loren." Donovan was impressed; there had been a time when getting Loren to answer that frankly would have taken hours, if not days, of reassurance alternating with badgering.

"You're not angry?" Bewilderment in Loren's voice.

"I'm not angry at you, Loren," Donovan said. "Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me what happened; I know that was very hard for you. Loren, if they are your drawings, and we don't know that for a fact, then you did them for Pete. I don't hold you responsible for what you did at that bastard's demand."

Loren was crying silently. Donovan tried to calm himself, knowing his anger was very hard for Loren to interpret correctly.

"Shh, shh, I'm not angry with you at all. It's all right, Loren." Donovan smoothed Loren's hair gently back from his eyes and waited patiently for Loren's tears to stop.

"What happens now, Donovan?" Loren asked, feeling very vulnerable and very small. "You aren't going to spank me, are you?" He really didn't think Donovan would, but he wanted to the reassurance of hearing Donovan's "no."

"Of course not," Donovan scoffed, grateful that Loren didn't really seem to have any worries on that score. "I'm doing what I should have done earlier. I'm making an appointment with David Stern."

"The lawyer?" Loren's voice rose in dismay. "Why, Donovan?"

"I just want to make sure you're protected," Donovan reassured Loren. He was fairly certain that Loren had no legal liability, since Loren had never intended his copies as forgeries, but he wanted David's opinion.

"I did so many drawings for Pete. They're never going away; they're always going to be out there." Loren said soberly. He leaned back against Donovan's chest, his wet face thoroughly soaking Donovan's shirt. "Don't let them put me in jail. I'd rather be dead, Donovan."

"No more of that kind of talk," Donovan scolded gently. "It's going to be all right, Loren. I promise."

Loren knew Donovan kept his promises.


Donovan lost no time making an appointment with David Stern. The atttorney's secretary was at lunch when Donovan and Loren arrived in David's office at noon and so the reception area was empty when they arrived.

"Please, Donovan, I don't think I want to do this!" Loren had been less anxious about seeing David this time; the attorney had been kind to him during the grand jury hearing. Now, faced with the imminent interview, Loren was scared.

Donovan drew Loren close in a firm, reassuring hug. Just at that moment, David stepped out of his office.

"Donovan, Loren, good to see--" David broke off at Loren's look of utter dismay. "Do you need a few minutes?"

"Thank you. If you don't mind, David," Donovan said quietly. "Easy, Loren."

"Of course," David said hastily. "Come in when you're ready." After the trial, David had searched his soul, and the internet, for some clue as to the lifestyle Donovan and Loren seemed to live. His past experiences with Donovan led him to believe that Donovan was a decent, responsible man; surely any relationship he was involved in was consensual and not coercive. Nevertheless this reminder of Loren's instability worried him.

"You'll be fine, Loren." Donovan's voice was soft and reassuring. "Just answer David's questions. It's going to be all right."

"Yes, Donovan," Loren said resignedly. Donovan propelled him gently down the hall to David's open office. Donovan sat down in one of the two chairs before David's desk and nodded toward the other. Loren sat nervously.

"As I told you on the phone, I'm hoping you can clarify a few things regarding some artwork that's recently come to light," Donovan said easily. "I think we need to know if there are any issues that need to be resolved." Donovan sounded comfortable and confident.

"I'm sure we can do that." David tried to match Donovan's tone.

David was not an unkind man; he had no desire to push Loren into the sort of altered state of consciousness he had observed at the trial. Although he wondered if his first question really ought to be whether Loren understood the nature of his relationship with Donovan, he resolutely pushed his doubts aside and focused on the matter at hand.

"Tell me about these drawings you did," David said.

"I made them for Pete Hahn," Loren said softly. "My...boyfriend."

"By made you mean copied?" David asked. "Copied from works by other artists?"

"Yes," Loren said honestly.

"Did you make those drawings intending to sell them?" David asked.

"No," Loren said. "They were just presents for Pete. Because he asked me to draw them. I thought..." I thought Pete might love me if I made them for him. I'm so fucking stupid. Loren lost himself in his own recriminations.

"Did you copy the signatures on these drawings?"

Loren stared into space.

"Did you sign the drawings, Loren?" David asked again. He softened his voice, worried by Loren's blank eyes and increasing pallor. He might not know much about power exchange relationships, but he did know that this sort of overreaction was not a healthy response to distress.

"Loren, I need you to try to focus, please. Did you sign the drawings?"

"No!" Loren said. "Never. I never signed any of them. I thought that Pete liked my drawings. I didn't think about him selling them for money! "


It seemed impossibly naive of Loren to have thought that, yet every instinct told David that Loren was telling him the truth.

"All right. It's not nearly as bad as you seem to think, Loren. If you didn't copy the signatures on the drawings, if you did them as gifts and not in exchange for money and not with the thought of their being resold, they're not illegal. The illegality falls squarely in the dealer's court. Pete Hahn seems to be the conduit through whom these drawings passed," David said. "Donovan, you'd know better than me what the art world would make of Loren's involvement."

"Sometimes a certain sort of notoriety helps rather than hurts an artist's reputation," Donovan said thoughtfully.

"In my opinion, Loren did nothing illegal. However, while we all know that Loren meant no harm, not everyone might be inclined to be charitable. There are considerable sums of money involved. I would suggest you be circumspect about discussing this information with anyone." David spoke to the both men, but his eyes were firmly fixed on Donovan. He had the feeling that Loren would do as Donovan dictated in this matter.

"I understand." Donovan sighed. Leo Cantrell had said much the same thing. Damn Pete to hell. "Thank you, David, I'll be in touch." Donovan and David shook hands. Donovan nudged Loren, who reluctantly extended his hand, keeping his eyes down.

"Goodbye, Loren," David said quietly. "Try not to worry."

"Bye." Loren's farewell was barely audible. He followed Donovan outside.

"Come on, babe," Donovan said. "Let's go home." They took the train downtown and across the bridge. Loren didn't talk at all until they were home.

"I don't feel good, Donovan," Loren said. Shit, he didn't have to ever draw a fucking thing again. Who could prove anything?

"Go on upstairs; I'll bring you some tea." Donovan gave him a gentle push toward the stairs.

"Don't. I won't drink it. I hate tea," Loren said moodily. "My stomach hurts, Donovan."

"Take it easy, Loren. Everything's going to be all right," Donovan said, changing his mind about the tea. "I'll come up with you, babe." Once in their bedroom, Donovan tilted the blinds closed. "Come on, take your jeans off and stretch out with me." He drew Loren down alongside him on the bed, spooning him close, his hand rubbing gentle circles over Loren's belly.

Loren sighed and relaxed into the comforting, familiar sensations. No one but Donovan had ever fussed over Loren, had ever provided this sort of comfort. In this safe space, Loren could speak.

"I was so, so stupid. I loved Pete," Loren said, softly, sadly. "All the things I let him do, all the things I did for him, I loved Pete and he never cared about me at all."

"Pete never cared about anyone but himself in his entire life," Donovan said quietly, willing himself to keep his voice calm and soothing. "You're not the one who did anything wrong, Loren."

"Yeah, right." Loren didn't believe it. "Whatever." He sighed. "I'm just stupid, Donovan, and I'm going to pay for it."

"You're not stupid, Loren," Donovan said, "And you heard what David said. You're not responsible for what Pete did with your drawings. It's all right, Loren. You didn't do anything illegal and you're not going to be punished. Let it go."

"It can't be this simple!" Loren tried to twist free of Donovan's embrace. "How can David know that?"

"He's a lawyer, he's paid to know," Donovan said. Still holding Loren in a loose hug, he attempted to explain again why he trusted David Stern's opinion that Loren was in the clear. "Trust me, then, if you can't trust David."

"Whatever." Loren sighed. He didn't understand Donovan's certainty that the matter was closed. Loren had been tricked so many times, by so many different people, that it was virtually impossible for him to trust that this wasn't yet another trap. How could Donovan be so sure it was okay? It still made no sense to Loren. He pulled away from Donovan's embrace and Donovan sadly let him go.

My Loren. If only I could reach you, Donovan thought. You trusted Pete and he didn't deserve your trust; I deserve your trust, but you still don't trust me. Donovan's mouth soured.

"I'll be in the studio, Loren," Donovan said. He needed some time to regroup and recharge. He would have nothing for Loren otherwise.

As always, the feel of the clay centered and soothed him. Donovan lost himself in the rhythms of his work and by the time the late, slanting light from his high-set windows signaled the end of the day, Donovan was feeling considerably more cheerful.

It's not my fault Loren can't fully trust me; it's not Loren's fault, either. And that Loren dares to let me see that he has reservations is, paradoxically, a sign of trust.

Donovan returned his clay scraps to the work bin, wiped down his worktable, washed up and went into the kitchen to start dinner.

Loren was sitting at the table, working the tab on a can of coke back and forth, back and forth. He practically snarled as Donovan bent to kiss him.

"What's wrong, Loren?" Donovan asked, contenting himself with a perfunctory brush of the lips.

"Nothing. Everything. I don't know. I just had a shitty day, Donovan," Loren said. He sounded antsy and frustrated. "I'm so fucking bored."

"Why don't you do something creative?" Donovan asked. "Draw something."

"My hand hurts." Loren said flatly. "I can't draw anything, Donovan."

"Here, Loren, give me your hand. Let me see."

Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Loren let Donovan cup his hand in his own. Donovan massaged Loren's wrist and hand gently, feeling for tender spots; he didn't find any. The blisters were long healed; the new skin covering them only a little pinker than the surrounding skin. He folded and extended Loren's fingers, getting no reaction from Loren.

"Refusing to draw doesn't hurt anyone but yourself, Loren, and you don't hurt yourself," Donovan said, releasing Loren.

"I'm not refusing!" Loren objected. "My hand hurts. Are you mad at me?"

"No, Loren, I'm not mad," Donovan said, not wanting to push Loren. He wasn't angry at Loren; he was frustrated. He could hear the resignation that was Loren's default emotion creeping back into Loren's tone of voice. Donovan kissed Loren again, this time more insistently, and Loren's mouth softened and he kissed Donovan back. "It's going to be all right, Loren."

But in the succeeding days, Loren continued to resist drawing, despite the fact that Donovan didn't see him favoring his hand in any other context.

"I don't know, Maurice. Do you think it's possible that he's really in pain?" Donovan asked Maurice over lunch.

"It's possible, Donovan, anything's possible," Maurice said doubtfully. He thought a moment; then shook his head negatively. "I'd say it was highly unlikely, though, that there's real nerve damage. Not from a one-time injury like that. It was a bad blister, it went deep, but in the center of his palm, the fingers weren't involved, nor was his wrist."

"I think he doesn't want to draw anymore, and he knows I won't push him if he says it hurts his hand. But I really don't believe him," Donovan said.

"Jamie Gordon could evaluate him for you, Donovan," Maurice suggested. "Or he could refer you to an occupational therapist, if it seems there is a real physical issue."

"I can make an appointment with Dr. Gordon, I suppose," Donovan said. He said as much to Loren himself that evening at dinner.

"I'm not going," Loren said flatly. "It doesn't fucking matter if my hand fucking hurts, because I don't fucking want to draw anyway." He didn't look at Donovan as he pushed away from the table.

"Your hand doesn't hurt," Donovan said, rising and catching hold of Loren before he stormed out of the room. "I wish you'd just admit that, Loren, and then we could talk about why you don't want to draw any more."

"Fuck you, Donovan," Loren spat. "You think I'm lying? Fine, why don't you fucking beat the shit out of me if you don't believe me!"

"I've just about reached my limit with your bad temper," Donovan said to Loren. He took Loren by the forearms and turned Loren gently to face him. "Stop cursing at me and tell me the truth: Does your hand really hurt? Or are you using that as an excuse not to draw?"

"Fuck you!" Loren tried to pull away, and when Donovan wouldn't let him, he kicked Donovan, hard. Donovan wasn't having it.

"You know better, Loren," Donovan said. unsurprised at Loren's outburst. Loren needed to talk.

"Don't spank me!" Loren yelped, as Donovan sat down and without another word, tugged Loren across his lap. "No, Donovan, no, no, no–"

Donovan ignored Loren's protests, merely rolling him sideways enough to undo his fly and unceremoniously strip him of pants and underwear. A spanking was a quick, dirty way of getting Loren to talk. Donovan knew it would work, as certainly as he knew Loren was asking to be pushed.

Holding Loren securely against him, he spanked Loren soundly. Loren quieted as Donovan spanked him, no longer cursing and not resisting. Donovan was relieved when Loren began to cry quietly. He turned Loren carefully and tucked him into his lap.

"Don't let them put me in jail, Donovan." Loren cried harder now, his real fears overflowing. "I can't draw, I don't want anyone to think I can! They can't prove they're my drawings if they don't have any of mine to compare them to, right? "

"It's all right for you to draw. I wouldn't tell you you could if I didn't know it was safe for you to do it." Donovan held Loren tightly, stroking his hair, rubbing his back. "You have to let this go, Loren. You have to stop punishing yourself."

"I don't want to draw any more, Donovan," Loren said. "All the things I did for Pete...I deserve every bad thing that's happened to me, Donovan."

"Listen to me very carefully, Loren. I understand you regret what you did, but you have to let it go. You didn't mean to do anything wrong. You need to let it go, Loren. "

"I don't even know how to draw, not really," Loren said sadly. "The only thing I can do is copy. I drew some little things for Pete, but he said they weren't worth shit."

It took all Donovan's self control not to explode in frustrated vitriol.

"Loren," Donovan said quietly, "Loren, all Pete meant was that he couldn't sell them as forgeries."

"Are you mad at me?" Loren heard the anger under Donovan's forced calm.

"No, babe," Donovan said gently. "I'm not mad at you." But I could kill Pete with my bare hands, Donovan thought to himself.

"Yeah?" Loren sounded skeptical.

"Yes," Donovan said firmly. "Listen to me, Loren. I am telling you to let this go. You're an artist, Loren, you have a gift. You need to use that gift. You have the right to use that gift."

"I don't care." Loren shrugged. "I don't want to draw anymore, Donovan."

Want has nothing to do with it; he's afraid, Donovan thought to himself. He took a deep breath. It wasn't Loren's fault that he could draw like an angel and yet had no sense of himself as an artist. No one had ever given Loren the basic love and empathy he needed to build a sense of himself as worthy and capable.

"Come on, babe. Lie down with me a little while." Donovan smoothed Loren's honey tangles of hair back from his face and kissed Loren carefully, smoothing the tear tracks from his cheeks.

Loren lay quietly against Donovan. To be spanked and then held: Would it forever be something of a novelty? Loren floated a little on the dual sensations of being sore and at the same time, safe.

"Lots of people I stayed with have my drawings. People like shit like that, even if they don't much like you, you know?" Loren was very quiet for a moment. "I used to think that if I made something someone really liked, that they would like me, too. That they would keep me. I'm so fucking stupid, Donovan."

"Loren." My poor Loren. Donovan closed his eyes, not wanting Loren to burden Loren with the pain in them. "Loren, you wanted to give something, you did give something, to a lot of people who didn't give anything back to you. That's generosity, not stupidity."

"I drew something while we were up at Jay and Maurice's," Loren said softly. "I'll show you." Rolling out of bed, he retrieved his sketchbook. Returned to lay it before Donovan.


Donovan studied Loren's sketch carefully: Jay and Maurice's boots, carelessly abandoned on their back porch, leaning on each other like lovers.

"Would Maurice want it, do you think?" Loren asked tentatively. "Maybe?"

"It's beautiful, Loren," Donovan said sincerely. "Come up to the college tomorrow and meet me for lunch. You can give Maurice your drawing in person. See what it's like to give a gift to someone who knows what it means to be given a gift." Donovan closed Loren's sketchbook and set it carefully aside on the night table.

"Come here, we're going to sleep." Donovan spooned around Loren and Loren closed his eyes and pushed back into Donovan's comforting warmth. Safe, loved: A person could almost get used to it.

"Don't forget, the faculty cafeteria at 12:30," Donovan reminded Loren in the morning.

Loren nodded. He had met Donovan on campus enough times that the layout of the buildings was thoroughly familiar. He looked enough like a student that no one ever questioned his presence.

Maurice and Donovan were already seated in their usual spot when Loren arrived. Maurice greeted Loren cordially, quietly glad when Loren met his eyes easily as he responded.

"I got you lunch," Donovan said, passing Loren a plate and a soda.

"Thank you." Loren picked at his burger and fries as Donovan and Maurice talked. Maurice no longer took offense at Loren's silence; Loren really did seem much happier when the conversation flowed around him. Loren waited for his opening, trusting Donovan to cue him properly.

"Maurice, Loren has a gift for you," Donovan said. Loren handed a large, flat package to Maurice.

"For me? Thank you." Maurice opened the folder and studied the drawing inside carefully. Loren had drawn the boots with almost photographic accuracy, yet there was something almost human in the softness of the lines, in the way the inanimate objects curved into each other, that went beyond what a camera could capture. "It's a very fine drawing. I'm really impressed. Would you sign it for me, Loren?"

"Sign it?" Loren asked tentatively. He looked from one man to the other. "Why?"

"Because it's your work," Maurice said. "You ought to put your name on it. Aren't you proud of it?"

"Proud?" Loren sounded totally confused. "No?"

"No?" Maurice was startled; his echoed "no" was sharper than he'd intended. Loren flinched.

"I'm sorry! Don't be mad at me!" Loren hunched his shoulders defensively.

"No one's mad at you, Loren," Donovan said reassuringly, used to countering Loren's reflexive assumption.

"Why would I be angry?" Maurice asked, bewildered. "You just gave me a wonderful gift, Loren, why would I be angry at you?"

"I'm sorry," Loren said softly, his eyes down. "I'm sorry."

Maurice looked to Donovan for guidance. Donovan shook his head slightly; there was nothing Maurice needed to do.

"Loren," Donovan said softly. "Look at me, please. Maurice would like it if you signed your drawing. You can do that for him, can't you?" He handed Loren a pencil, and taking the sketch from Maurice, turned it to face Loren. Loren signed his name.

"Put the date, too," Donovan instructed, and Loren did.

"Thank you," Maurice said. "I'm going to have this framed. Thank you very much, Loren."

"You're welcome?" Loren sounded impossibly young. "I'm going home?" He looked hopefully at Donovan. "See you later?"

Donovan nodded and Loren slipped quickly out of the cafeteria, his small stock of social capital depleted. Maurice looked after him and then back at Donovan.

"How can you stand it?" Maurice asked. "My God, Donovan, he needs so much."

Donovan shook his head, not sure whether to laugh or take umbrage at Maurice's blunt, sincere dismay. Donovan no more resented Loren's neediness than he resented the formlessness of the clay he also loved. Some sculptures needed an armature.

"He can't help it, Maurie. Hey, you put up with Jay," Donovan teased, wanting to lighten the mood.

"Someone has to," Maurice said, good-naturedly accepting Donovan's desire to end the conversation. "And I've got to get going. Ciao."

"Ciao." Donovan stood up along with Maurice. "I've got to get to class, too. Tell Jay I said hi."

By the time Donovan finished his afternoon classes, it was late afternoon. Donovan came home to find Loren at the kitchen table, drawing from a still life of vegetables. He wrapped his arms around Loren and Loren leaned back into him, rubbing his face against Donovan's shoulder.

"I tried, Donovan," Loren said softly. "I did try, Donovan." He lifted his eyes to Donovan's, hoping to find approval there.

"I know, Loren, and I'm very proud of you." Donovan kissed Loren gently. "Thank you for coming."

"Maurice liked my sketch," Loren said. He sounded happy. Laying pad and pencil aside, he licked his lips, clearly wanting more. Donovan kissed him again, deeper and more thoroughly. Loren opened eagerly to Donovan's tongue.

"Please, Donovan..." Loren arched upward. "Please..."

"After dinner," Donovan said, stroking his hand gently over Loren's cheek. Loren's lips parted again and Donovan let his thumb stray into Loren's mouth. Loren tongued its rough surface, his eyes fixed on Donovan's. "Unless you'd rather not wait..." Donovan's hand strayed lower, groping gently. He watched Loren's reaction carefully. Sometimes Loren reacted badly to even gentle sexual teasing.

But today, his confidence bolstered by the memory of his small success at lunch, Loren responded by rising from his chair and pressing into Donovan, letting Donovan feel how hard he was.

"It's not dinner I'm hungry for," Loren whispered, tilting his head back so that Donovan could see the desire deepening his gray eyes. He licked his lips again and smiled.

"Bed," said Donovan.

"I had lunch with Donovan today after my class," Maurice said to Jay that evening. "Loren came up to meet us. He gave me a rather astonishing present." The memory made Maurice smile. He held out the drawing for Jay's scrutiny.

Jay looked at it for a long time.

"Extraordinary. I had no idea Loren could draw like this," Jay said softly.

"I know," Maurice said. "It's really very nice. I'm going to have it framed. So, do you want to eat in or out tonight?" Maurice was in an excellent mood.

"Dinner out sounds good," Jay said. He was glad to see Maurice so happy; that alone predisposed him to think more generously of Loren. "Go shower. I want to call Donovan."

Donovan rolled over to grab the phone quickly before Loren woke up.

"What's up, Jay? Everything all right?" Donovan asked, surprised at the timing of Jay's call.

"I saw the drawing," Jay said without preamble. "Shit, Donovan, Loren can draw."

"I know," Donovan said, grinning into the phone. "I told you that before."

"Yeah? Well, maybe I wasn't listening closely enough," Jay said. "At twenty-one I would have sold my soul to be able to draw the way he can. I never could; that's why I'm an architect and not an artist. For him to have this kind of talent and not own it makes me angry."

"It's not about you, Jay," Donovan said, laughing.

"I get requests from clients all the time for the name of someone who can do a sketch of their pretty new house. Should I give out his name?"

Donovan shook his head. Jay could throw anyone not used to him for a loop, with his arrogant manner and his abruptness. Yet underneath that was a genuine gift for connecting people to their mutual benefit.


"I don't think he's ready for–" Donovan began.

"Listen to me, Donovan," Jay said. "For Loren to draw like this and yet have no sense of himself as an artist is criminal. Make him own his gift. Goddamnit, he doesn't have to be the beggar at the feast. He has a choice. Damn it, Donovan, push him a little!" Jay honestly admired talent. "He's a man. For godssake, Donovan, treat him like a man. Ciao."

"Ciao." Donovan hung up the phone. He thought for a moment about the opportunity Jay was offering. It would be a great chance for Loren to build a client base. Except Donovan knew what was involved in doing those kinds of private commissions. Loren would need a great deal of support to handle the social aspects of an assignment like that. Even CREA's sheltered workspace had been hard for Loren to negotiate successfully, and Sterling was gentle and understanding of Loren's quirks.

And Sterling was an excellent dealer and represented a host of artists, many of them eccentric. Donovan checked his watch; he'd bet money Sterling was still at the gallery. Checking first to be sure that Loren was still sound asleep, Donovan made a quick call.

Sterling willingly agreed to meet for lunch at Café Centro the next day. To be seen lunching with Donovan Moore was a nice perk for a dealer. Sterling knew it, and he knew Donovan was savvy enough to know it, too. The only question was what Donovan was interested in trading his public appearance for.

Donovan laid his cards face up on the table. Sterling knew Loren; he knew what Loren's limitations were. He could undoubtedly imagine what kind of accommodations Loren would need to work successfully at private commissions of the sort Jay Manz was proposing. That said, would Sterling be willing to represent Loren?

"Thank you, Donovan, for trusting me a second time," said Sterling. "I'm sorry I let Loren come to harm before. Peter is an evil man; he has been for a very long time. He has no soul. I should have been more careful." Regret in his voice. Sterling would never forget either the blood pouring from Pete's arm or the look of sheer terror on Loren's face.

"You take too much on yourself, Sterling," Donovan said. "Pete is a bastard, but Loren..." Donovan took a deep breath. "Loren's reactions aren't always easy to predict."

"Loren is an artist," Sterling said, the respect he felt for Loren's gift plain. "I'd be happy to represent him. I like Jay Manz; we've worked together before. I've curated some small shows for the exhibition spaces in some of his clients' buildings."

"Do you have a standard artist's contract that you use, or do you want my atttorney to draw something up?" Donovan asked.

"Have your atttorney give me a call and we'll work something out," Sterling said. He steepled his fingers together; dropped his voice. "Donovan, it might interest you to know that I got enough new work from Leo that the suspect drawings I borrowed were superfluous. I returned them to the gallery that offered me them with my regrets. Their provenance is shaky; I doubt many legitimate dealers will want to handle them. Perhaps you might mention that to Loren."

"Thank you, Sterling," Donovan said sincerely. "You're a very decent man."

"Give my best to Loren, Donovan. I'm delighted to be representing him. Tell him to come see me, Donovan."

"I will, Sterling." Donovan reached for the check. "And thank you again. For everything."

His heart light, Donovan headed home. It might take awhile before anything came of this, but it was a wonderful step forward for Loren. Donovan was eager to share the good news.

"I don't know," Loren said uncertainly, excitement and apprehension mingling in his voice. "I don't know what I would have to do!"

"We'll take it step by step. I'm not going to let anything bad happen to you. You've got the talent, and now you have a dealer and a gallery, too. Sterling will make sure you're all right; he takes good care of his artists. I know the art world, Loren. I know what I'm doing. You have to trust me," Donovan said.

"I trust you, Donovan," Loren said. "You love me, Donovan. I trust you."