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


What's Past

"Cancel the appointment then, because I'm not going! I don't need a lawyer, Donovan, I didn't do anything! I'm not going to talk to your fucking friend, you can't make me talk to him, I don't want to talk to him!"

The living room rang with Loren's shouts. Seeing Donovan wince at the volume, Loren tried to lower his voice.

"Please, Donovan, I don't need to talk to a lawyer!"


"Take it easy, Loren." Donovan's voice was gentle. Loren's protest was too intense to be logical. With skill born of experience, Donovan used Loren's determination not to be touched to back him toward the couch. He waited patiently until Loren, left with no easy escape route, sat reluctantly, and then seated himself alongside Loren. Capturing Loren's hand in his own, he traced the throbbing blue veins on the back with his thumb.

"Easy, Loren," Donovan repeated, feeling Loren flinch. "What have you got against lawyers, babe, can you tell me?"

"Nothing." Loren pretended to interest himself in the pattern of the fabric on the couch. "Are you mad at me, Donovan?"

"I'm not angry at you, Loren," Donovan said. Loren was the one who was irrationally angry and projecting, unable as always to recognize his own emotional state. No one had ever helped Loren understand that his own feelings mattered.

With an effort, Donovan forced his mind from Loren's psychological issues to the immediate problem. There had to be a reason behind Loren's adamant refusal to even meet with David Stern. And Loren had to be in shape to talk to him by four o'clock.

"What have you got against lawyers, Loren?" Donovan asked again.

"Nothing, Donovan," Loren repeated glumly. "It's just...they don't like me."

"I hear that you think they don't like you, but that's not really an explanation I can accept, Loren," Donovan said patiently. "Can you tell me a little more about what you mean?"

"I had a court-appointed lawyer once and all he did was holler at me." Loren picked at a stray thread in the upholstery.

"What was that all about?" Donovan asked curiously. Loren's past was a tangled collection of mostly disturbing anecdotes that Loren dredged up in no particular order.

"This one time me and a bunch of guys, we got picked up for smashing some mailboxes with baseball bats. It was stupid, all right?" Loren said defensively. "Anyway, some of the parents came and got their kids that night, but I got held over the weekend. It was bad, Donovan." Loren winced.

"I imagine." Donovan frowned. So many unhappy memories. "I'm so sorry, Loren."

"It doesn't matter," Loren said softly. The seriousness with which Donovan took his story made him slightly uneasy.

"It matters to me, Loren." Donovan knew it probably hadn't mattered to anyone beside Loren then. The thought saddened him. "It must have been very frightening."

"It doesn't matter," Loren repeated, sorry now that he'd mentioned it. Talking about the past always left him feeling worse. The best thing was not to think about it. Loren closed his eyes, wishing he were somewhere far away.

Donovan cupped Loren's chin in his palm and turned Loren's face to his own. Tapped Loren's cheek with his forefinger until Loren opened his eyes again.

"That's better. Loren, you need to focus on what's happening now," Donovan said firmly, recognizing the signs of Loren shutting down. "This time the law is on your side. You're not who the authorities are looking to put away. But you still ought to have your own lawyer, just to be safe."

"Fine, Donovan." Loren resigned himself to the inevitable. Another opportunity to screw up; how wonderful. "Shit."

"David's a nice man and an excellent attorney. He's just going to talk with you a little about what's going to happen with the grand jury. Follow his instructions and everything will be fine, babe."

"I don't feel good," Loren said plaintively. "I really don't, Donovan."

"Go lie down," Donovan said. "I'll be right there and maybe we can get you a little more comfortable."

"You know I don't need anything, right? Dr. Gordon said every other day." Loren made a face. "We just did it yesterday."

"Shh, Loren, I know that." Donovan heard the anxiety in Loren's voice. "I'll make you some chamomile tea," Donovan offered.

"I hate that stuff. I don't need tea, Donovan."

"We can just cuddle for a little while, then. We've got time before we need to leave."

Loren kicked off his sneakers and took off his jeans before stretching out on the bed. Donovan tilted the blinds so that the afternoon sun made patterned shadows on the ceiling. Slid into bed with Loren.

"Donovan? What if he thinks it's my fault?" Loren asked as he rested his head on Donovan's chest, comforted by the steady beating of his lover's heart.

"David's not going to blame you, Loren, that's not going to happen. I promise. Just tell the truth, Loren." Donovan stroked Loren's hair gently. "He's being paid to be on your side."

"Pete hurt me so bad," Loren said softly. "It isn't fair that I have to help him."

"I know, Loren, it's not fair," Donovan said. "But Pete and you were together all evening and he didn't kill that kid. Someone else did and that person deserves to be punished."

"I think it was Gabriel," Loren said. "He really wanted to play with me, Donovan. Pete said that he needed to teach me a lesson first. I would have gone with Gabriel in a heartbeat, if only Pete had let me. It could have been me, Donovan." Loren shivered.

"You were lucky that time," Donovan said. For a moment both men were quiet, alone, despite their current closeness, with their separate memories of that awful night.

"I don't feel very lucky," Loren said dolefully. "And I hate that I owe Pete," he added bitterly. "He hurt me!"

"I know, baby," Donovan said sympathetically. "But you're alive, Loren, you're a lot luckier than that poor dead bastard."

"Donovan, don't let them put me in jail," Loren whispered.

"It's going to be all right," Donovan said certainly. "Shh." He glanced at the bedside clock. They didn't have to leave right away. Maybe there was a way to unwind Loren? He stroked Loren's hip, testing, but observed no sign of arousal on Loren's part. Proof positive, if he had needed it, that Loren was really, really scared.

If Donovan could have spared Loren this meeting with David Stern, he would have, but his hands were tied. Abandoning any attempt at seduction, Donovan folded his arms around Loren and held him close. The two men dozed lightly.

The light from the windows shifted, alerting Donovan to the time. He jostled Loren gently.

"It's time to get up, Loren. We don't want to be late for our appointment."

You don't; I don't care if we never get there, Loren thought darkly, as he pulled his jeans back on and toed into his sneakers.

They took the train uptown. David Stern's office was tucked away in a nondescript six-story building in the twenties. Donovan had remained loyal to the solo practitioner since his early days in the city. Loren fidgeted as he sat on the caramel leather sofa in the anteroom, restless enough that the attorney's receptionist eyed him curiously. Seeing her censorious glance in his direction, Loren swallowed hard and huddled closer to Donovan.

"I really don't want a lawyer, Donovan! I won't even know what to say to him!" Loren whispered softly, urgently, for what seemed to Donovan the hundredth time.

For what seemed to Loren the hundredth time, Donovan calmly repeated his reply:

"David's a nice man and an excellent attorney. He's just going to talk with you a little about what's going to happen in court. He's on your side, Loren. If you have any questions, he can answer them better than I can. This is his job, Loren; it's what he does."

"Mr. Stern will see you now, Mr. Moore," the receptionist said.

"You're fine here," Donovan said quietly to Loren. "Stay put, I'll come get you in a moment."

"Yes, Donovan," Loren said. The door closed silently behind Donovan, increasing Loren's apprehension.

I don't want to be here. I wish I were dead. Loren's stomach knotted painfully.

"Questions?" David Stern sat back in his chair and looked at Donovan expectantly.

"So there is definitely going to be a grand jury. Is there any chance that Loren won't be served?" Donovan asked.

David wasn't optimistic.

"They want someone for this, Donovan. I imagine they are going to subpoena everyone who they can place at the beach house that night. The initial investigation was botched, which means they are going to bend over backward to do the rest of this by the book." David shook his head. "It's not a slam dunk for them by any means, Donovan."

"All right then," Donovan sighed. "I want you to spend a little time with Loren. Get a feel for what he's like, talk him through the process, and give him whatever advice you think he needs."

"It's your dime, Donovan," David said wryly. "I do need to see him alone or attorney-client privilege doesn't apply."

"Ah." Donovan closed his eyes briefly. "All right. I'll bring him in, we make small talk for a few minutes and then you kick me out. He's a little jumpy," Donovan cautioned David.

"A little" was an understatement. David looked at Donovan's pretty, tense boyfriend and sighed inwardly. How many times had he helped one of Donovan's students or friends out of a jam? How many times had Donovan had footed the bill, without credit and without complaint?

Loren looked like another one of Donovan's rescue projects. David shrugged mentally; Donovan was entitled to his hobby.

"All right, Loren. Donovan's given me a sense of what's been going on. Before we start, do you have any particular questions?"

"Can they send me to jail?" Loren asked, his eyes downcast.

"Is it impossible? No. Is it likely? No."

"Then what good is talking going to do?" Loren's fear was audible. "I'd rather be dead than in jail!" His voice rose before he could help himself.

"Then let's do what we can to make sure that doesn't happen. I'd like to talk about what's going to happen in that courtroom," David said practically, overriding Loren's histrionics. Let Donovan deal with his partner's emotional foibles; David knew he had neither the patience nor the insight for that. His job was to make sure Loren understood what the prosecutor was looking for and how the grand jury would proceed. His job was to make sure his client was protected.

And Loren looks as if he needs protecting, David thought to himself. Donovan was nothing if not consistent in his tastes. Ah well.

"Your appearance is important," David began. "You need to look at the prosecutor when he's talking to you, make eye contact with the jury when you speak. Let's try it: Loren, can you look at me?" David waited to continue until Loren raised his eyes to meet his own.

"That's better. You don't want to look as if you're being evasive. Just answer the questions you're asked. Don't volunteer any additional information. Don't argue. Ask for the question to be repeated if you don't understand it."

David Stern knew his job. Frightened as he was, Loren recognized that he was being offered a lifeline, and he listened as carefully as he could, trying to take in David's advice.

"You'll do fine," David said in closing, with more assurance than he actually felt. Loren's vagueness concerned him; it was apt to draw a prosecutor's ire like blood in the water drew sharks. He walked Loren out.

"How did it go?" Donovan rose as they reentered the outer office.

"It should be all right, Donovan. Make sure he's got business casual clothes. Good pants, a collar shirt and a tie." They shook hands all around. "I'll see you in court."

"How bad was it?" Donovan asked Loren, knowing from experience that Loren's blank expression meant it had been very bad. "You really are going to do fine, Loren."

"Yeah." Loren shrugged, determined not to think about it. Maybe if he were lucky he'd die of a heart attack before he got to court.

Loren tried very hard to think about sex on the train ride home. If he could only get caught up in a good enough fantasy, he could forget everything else. It took an effort, but finally his mind seized on a sufficiently intriguing scenario to distract him.

The two men walked the short distance from the train to Donovan's house without making conversation.

Loren pounced on Donovan as soon as the door to the house shut behind them, rubbing his groin determinedly against Donovan's thigh. Donovan was momentarily taken aback, but Loren's need was obvious and Donovan was quickly caught up in his frenzied excitement.

"Let me. Please." Loren pushed Donovan towards his favorite chair, knelt before him and undid the buttons on his fly.

"Mmm," Donovan sighed, as Loren worked his hot mouth over his hard cock. "So good, Loren. So good." He pushed Loren away, knowing how Loren disliked the sensation of cum in his mouth, and Loren slipped upward into his arms, pressing his lips to Donovan's throat.

"Bedroom." Donovan nudged Loren from his lap. "Come on."

"Make me," Loren whispered into the side of Donovan's neck, his entire body suffused with nervous energy. "Please?"

Donovan studied Loren, pulling him back slightly so that he could see his face. Loren was looking at him with fever bright eyes, begging silently. Donovan knew Loren wanted the endorphin rush, wanted the little edge of fear to get himself off on.

"When I tell you something, you do it." Donovan slung Loren over his shoulder and carried him to the bedroom, depositing him on his back on the bed. He stepped out of his own already open jeans and underwear, took off his shirt. Stripped Loren quickly and efficiently. "Roll over, now."

"Make me." Loren wanted to be forced tonight.

Donovan used his superior weight to flip Loren over. He straddled Loren, his powerfully muscled forearms on either side of Loren's torso. Leaned forward to nuzzle the back of his neck, at the same time tugging the lube from the night table.

"Be a good boy for me." Donovan slicked himself as he spoke. Inserted a well-lubricated finger into Loren, pulled back and positioned his cock at the tight entrance.

"No, no, no," Loren chanted.

Donovan listened carefully, wanting to be very sure Loren was only playing at refusing.

"Oh yes, yes, yes, you're going to take a lot more than that," Donovan promised. "A lot more." He pressed steadily, firmly inward until he was sheathed to his balls. Gave a further forward shove with his hips; was gratified to hear Loren sigh with pleasure.

"Yes..." Loren moaned.

"Is this what you need?" Donovan asked as he continued thrusting, watching Loren's head drop and his back arch to meet him. He took Loren's cock in his hand, worked it hard. "Is it? Come for me, Loren, let me feel you come!" He forced Loren to the brink, watching his body flush, feeling him quiver in anticipation.

"Oh god," Loren felt his balls tighten and he came hard in Donovan's hand. Donovan increased his own thrusts and finished fast amidst Loren's spasming muscles. "Oh god." Loren panted, totally gone. "I'm dead."

"I hope not." Donovan withdrew slowly and flopped on his back, drawing Loren over so that his head was pillowed against his chest. "I won't allow it. I love you too much, Loren."

It might have been minutes, it might have been hours.

"Donovan. It's always good, but that was...wow."

"You're so good." Donovan kissed Loren gently. "Who's my best boy?"

"Not me," Loren said, only half in jest.

"Yes you." Donovan kissed Loren again, opening his lips, carefully insinuating his tongue, until Loren yielded his mouth to Donovan's explorations. "Mine." He stroked Loren's light brown hair gently. "I love you so much, Loren. You're it for me. My best boy."

Loren cried a little then, and Donovan held him close until he slipped into satisfied, exhausted sleep.

Even the most intense sexual pleasure was only a temporary anodyne. Despite his best efforts to push it from his mind, Loren's day in court arrived far too soon for his liking.

"Didn't I just get you up, Loren?" Donovan asked, exasperated. "Loren, come on now, you need some breakfast and you need to get dressed." They were fast running through the generous cushion of time he'd deliberately allowed.

"No." Loren buried determinedly into the pillows. "Go away. I'm not hungry. I don't want to do this, Donovan."

"Come on now, Loren." Donovan peeled back the covers; Loren yanked them back up. Donovan sharpened his voice. "Loren."

"You're mean," Loren said morosely.

"Am I?" Donovan seated himself on the bed, his large hand gentling Loren through the covers."Come on, baby. Up."

"I don't want to do this, Donovan," Loren said.

"I know, Loren. Up." Donovan leaned over and kissed Loren's hair softly. "Loren, David Stern's a good lawyer. If he says it's going to work out all right, it's going to work out all right."

"I don't want to do this!" Loren twisted sharply away.

"I know, babe. Come on, you need your breakfast." Donovan twitched the covers off Loren. Manhandled Loren into a sit and then drew him upright, Loren hanging back all the way. "Stand on your own two feet, Loren. Now shower and..."

"No." Loren collapsed back onto the bed, curling into a tight ball. "I'm not going."

"Loren." Donovan sat down alongside his lover. He hooked the fingers of his left hand under the waistband of Loren's shorts. "Last chance, Loren. Get yourself out of that bed right now."

"Donovan, no, don't spank me! That's not fair!" Loren knew he was on thin ice.

"Get up, get showered, get dressed." Donovan let the elastic snap back and removed his restraining hand.

Shoulders hunched, Loren stood up and made his way to the bathroom.

Donovan pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefingers and hoped that the headache he felt coming on would recede.

The shower's jets hurt Loren's skin this morning. He washed quickly, trying to put himself somewhere else. It wasn't working. Sighing, Loren turned off the water. Toweled off quickly and walked naked back into the bedroom and fumbled in his dresser for clothing.

"Good pants, dress shirt, tie." Donovan repeated the instructions David Stern had issued.

Loren dressed silently, wishing himself somewhere, anywhere, else.

He wasn't the only unhappy man in the city that morning.

"I wish I'd bought the other tie," Maurice griped, scowling at his reflection.

"Maurie, you're fine," Jay said. "I don't think your tie is the make or break item here."

"Yeah," Maurice said. "Do you think Donovan's going to be able to get that basket case into court in one piece? Jesus, I hope he asked Jamie Gordon for something. I think doping Loren to the gills would be the best thing for everyone."

"Donovan's not going to give Loren drugs," Jay said disapprovingly.

"Medication," said Maurice. "And Loren needs something. You're such a Puritan, Jay."


"I'm sorry," Maurice said. "I just hate this, all right? And I don't like Loren and I don't know what Donovan ever saw in him. He's been nothing but trouble since the night Pete dumped him here."

"Enough. What's done's done, Maurice. We need to get through today." Jay gave Maurice a hard kiss. "Come on, let's go watch them feed the lions."

The courthouse's McKim, Meade and White facade had lost none of its luster. The polished stone reflected the sparse early morning sun. Its steps were crowded with lawyers and clients, all scanning the plaza anxiously for the party they had arranged to meet. Loren's tenuous calm evaporated at the sight.

"Please, don't make me go in there." Loren hung back, pleading with Donovan. "I can't go in there."

"I know you're afraid. And I know you can do this," Donovan said quietly. "You're stronger than you think, Loren. You'll get through this. Come on, babe, we do need to go inside."

Loren shook his head. No. Donovan would have to drag him if he wanted him to move.

Donovan recognized an incipient panic attack. Direct confrontation would avail him nothing; Loren needed to be sidetracked before he worked himself further into his fear. Donovan cast about for a distraction.

"Have you ever taken a close look at the courthouse before, Loren?" Donovan asked, his voice easy and low key. "The architecture's interesting. Do you see those friezes?"

"Friezes?" Loren looked bewildered.

"The sculpted panels, over the door. They were considered wickedly extravagant," Donovan said. "Tremendous amount of handwork, and expensive even in the day."

"They're beautiful though," Loren said. Some of the tension eased from his voice. He squinted, assessing them. "Are they all the same? Because the ones over there don't look as good."

"You've got a very good eye." Donovan gracefully bolstered Loren's tentative confidence with his unstinting approval. "Those were restored in the eighties, after the doors were replaced."

Loren began to relax. Caught up in his conversation with Donovan, Loren was no longer a frightened young man who was just a pawn in others's games, but the bright, sensitive man Donovan saw him as. Loren took a deep, grateful breath.

"I'm okay now, Donovan. Come on, let's go in." He leaned into Donovan for the briefest of seconds. "Thank you," Loren said, his voice so soft it was barely audible.

As David Stern had predicted, everyone who had been at the beach house the night of the murder had been summoned to appear before the grand jury. Donovan exchanged greetings with a lot of old acquaintances, while Loren kept his eyes firmly on the ground and did his best to pretend to be invisible.

The prosecutor grimaced as Loren was sworn in. Whether there was enough evidence to charge Pete Hahn with manslaughter was an open question. So far, he had not been able to establish Hahn's whereabouts over the course of the evening. Hopefully this next witness, Loren Potter, described as a "former boyfriend" of Hahn's, would be able to help make his case. Except that looking at Loren's wary gray eyes and tense posture, the prosecutor felt far from optimistic.

"I do." Loren withdrew his fingertips from the bailiff's extended Bible and curled his hands into nervous fists. Oh no oh no oh no.

"Mr. Potter!" The prosecutor didn't bother hiding his irritation.

Loren looked at the prosecutor, dismayed. Had he screwed up already?

"I'm sorry." Loren wanted Donovan so very badly. "I didn't, I mean, could you repeat the question?" He tried to recall what David Stern had told him. Look at the prosecutor. Look at the jury. Smile. The first two were hard; the last one was impossible.

"Was anyone else present in the room along with you and Mr. Hahn?"

"Yes?" Loren said, not wanting to remember any of it. Gabriel hadn't been part of the scene, but he had been in and out of the room. Pete had been nasty about it, telling Gabriel to go play with his own sub. Reminding him he had already had his chance with Loren in the car.

"And who was that, Mr. Potter?" The prosecutor gritted his teeth. This space cadet of a witness was going to be the death of him.

"Gabriel, I mean Mr. Matthiesen, some of the time." Loren's mouth soured. He curled his fingers tighter, until the nails cut his palms inside his fists. The slight pain anchored him.

"Did Mr. Hahn leave the room at any time?" the prosecutor asked.

"I guess." Loren flushed. Pete had gone to fill a bag with water, to clean him out.

"What does that mean?" the prosecutor asked.

"Once. He left once. He went for water." Loren's bowels clenched at the memory. It had been awful. Pete had been rough and it had hurt badly. Loren had almost lost control, and Pete had angrily dragged him into the bathroom down the hall and forced him into the tub. The shower shot nozzle hurt worse...

"Mr. Potter? Do you need me to repeat my question?"

"I, I'm sorry," Loren said wretchedly. Lost in his memories of the miserable enema, he hadn't heard the question at all.

"Mr. Potter!"

 "Sir." Cringing, Loren kept his eyes down as he had been taught, as blatantly submissive as anyone the prosecutor had ever seen. He wouldn't have been surprised to see Loren drop to his knees.

"We're taking a recess. Fifteen minutes." The prosecutor waved the jury out. "Mr. Potter, you may step down. Mr. Stern, conference?"

"Loren, come sit down," David Stern said with a calm he didn't feel. Loren looked at him with confused, far away eyes. "Sit down, Loren, and pull yourself together." He waited until Loren was seated before walking over to the prosecutor's table.

"Does your client even understand what's going on here, Mr. Stern?" The prosecutor glared at David. "He seems to be having trouble understanding that this is a court of law and not a kinky little scene!"

David Stern looked back at Loren, took in the downcast eyes, the stiff shoulders. Shit.

"I don't think he does understand that," David said slowly, his voice troubled. "I apologize. I'm a little out of my depth here."

"I worked in sex crimes for three years. I know a lot about the scene," the prosecutor said. "He's what, a slave?"

"I don't think that's the right word for it," David Stern said, trying to remember what he knew of Donovan's personal arrangements. "He lives in some kind of BDSM-related relationship, but I don't think it's a Master/slave thing."

"Well, it's all semantics as far as I'm concerned. He's a sub, right?"

"I think so?" David Stern swallowed hard. He was as vanilla as they came and the whole thing was making him majorly uncomfortable.

"Is his Dom on my witness list?"

"His Dom? Do you mean his partner? Not that I know of," David said.

"Is he here?"

"I'm not sure I see why that's relevant..."

"Off the record. Mr. Stern, your client is having a major panic attack right now. He needs someone who knows him, who can support him. Get on the phone and get his partner here now. I'm going to take a walk. When the recess is over I expect to find a witness I can question without feeling like I'm a sadistic voyeur at a downtown club."

David led Loren out to the hallway. Donovan was beside him in an instant, Maurice and Jay at his back.

"Come with me," David said, leading the way to an empty conference room.

"Can you help him, Donovan?" David asked. "He's falling apart in there."

"I'm sorry! I'm trying!" Loren yelped. Donovan's heart went out to his lover.

"It's okay, Loren," Donovan said quietly. "I'm right here. You're doing fine."

Jay passed Donovan a bottle of water.

"Thank you." Opening it, Donovan handed it to Loren, who gulped thirstily.

"Shit," Loren cursed, as he sloshed water on himself. His hand was shaking.

"You're okay," Donovan said. "It's not a big deal. Slowly, that's it, that's my boy."

"I want to go home," Loren said miserably.

"I know, babe," Donovan said, wishing that they could. "As soon as this is over."

"Doesn't he have any coping skills?" Maurice asked out loud, exasperated.

"He has to testify," Jay said. "If he doesn't they're going to charge him with contempt. Donovan, you need to pull the kid together!"

"Mince words, why don't you," Donovan said bitterly. He wrapped his arms around Loren protectively. "Easy, Loren, it's all right to be scared."

Jay and Maurice looked at each other, both their concern clear. Maurice was outraged at the empathy in Donovan's voice.

"You're being too soft with him, Donovan," Maurice said. "Jesus Christ, he doesn't even try!"

Donovan's eyebrows rose at Maurice's accusation.

"He's got years of conditioning behind him! He needs you to tell him what to do and give him something manageably frightening to deal with if he doesn't. He needs you to be a Top, Donovan."

Maurice took a deep breath and threw his last card on the table.

"I've played with you. I know you can do it." He turned on his heel and walked out of the room.

Donovan stared straight ahead, unseeing, waiting for the rushing in his ears to die down, aware that he needed to keep his hold on Loren soft and reassuring. Oh, this was hard!

"Donovan?" Jay touched his old friend's arm gently. "Can I do anything?"

"I'm fine, Jay. I'm all right." Donovan forced himself to continue to breathe. Shaking his head, he gave Jay the ghost of a smile. "Go on Jay, take care of Maurice. I'll handle Loren."

Maurice was leaning against the wall outside the conference room, his shoulders hunched, his eyes unreadable.

"Come, Maurice," Jay said quietly. "Let's take a walk." He started down the corridor, not looking back, certain that Maurice would follow.

Jay walked just fast enough that Maurice had to concentrate on keeping up. His pace didn't slacken as they left the building nor as they strode through the park adjacent to the courthouse. Finally finding a discreet wooded copse, Jay came to a halt. He leaned back against a tree and drew Maurice against him.

"Better?" Jay asked quietly, feeling Maurice shudder and then shift closer.

"I can't stand him," Maurice said, relaxing into Jay. Letting Jay hold the emotion for him. "I just can't stand him."

"This isn't about Loren. It's about you. Let Donovan handle Loren. Got it?"

"Yes." Maurice closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Jay."

Jay took Maurice's face in his hands, kissed him deeply, probing with his tongue until Maurice stopped trying to control the kiss and just submitted to Jay's explorations.

"You're mine now, brat." Jay's voice was calm and very certain. "That's the only thing that's ever mattered. Nothing's changed, Maurie. We're all adults and none of this is news. Now let it go."

Without resorting to the threats Maurice had recommended, relying on patient reassurance and warmth alone, Donovan managed to bring Loren out of his panic-stricken state. Though Loren was still shaky, he was calm enough to be able to walk back into the courtroom with David Stern. Donovan regretted that grand jury proceedings were closed; he would have given anything to be able to accompany Loren inside.

The prosecutor had used the recess to resign himself to his weak link of a witness; his follow up questions were brief and perfunctory. This proceeding was a bust; he'd have to look elsewhere for someone to charge with the killing.

"He did much better," David reported, shaking hands with Donovan. "But Donovan? I think he needs..." David flushed, at a loss for the words to express his concerns. "He needs something, anyway. Donovan, I hope to hell you know what you're doing here."

"I do." Donovan understood both David's concern and his discomfort. "It's been a rough day for all of us. Thank you, David, I appreciate everything you did."

"Good luck, Loren," David said, extending his hand.


"Loren," Donovan prompted. Loren shook David's hand mechanically, his eyes on the ground. David nodded to Donovan once again and left the two men alone.

"Come on, Loren, we're going home," Donovan said. "It's over."

"Really over?" Loren asked. "I don't have to come back?"

"That's right," Donovan smiled at Loren. "You did the right thing. You told the truth. You can be very proud of yourself, Loren. I'm very proud of you." He nudged Loren toward the courthouse exit.

"I don't feel proud at all, I just feel sick," Loren said, but he was warmed, just a bit, by Donovan's praise. It was still a surprise to Loren that Donovan complimented him; it hadn't happened often in Loren's life, and he basked a little in the glow Donovan's words produced.

"I feel as if we should have champagne," Donovan said. "Do you want to go out?"

"I want to go home! I don't feel good." Loren tried not to whine.

"We're almost home, babe. Hang in there a few more minutes."

It felt so very good to be home. Donovan puttered around the kitchen, pulling together a light meal, while Loren flopped on the floor and gazed unseeing at the television.

"Come eat something, Loren," Donovan suggested.

"I can't eat, I'll be sick! My stomach hurts so bad, Donovan, it's been hurting all day! I need you to help me now," Loren whined piteously.


Donovan understood Loren's open neediness as the demonstration of trust that it was. He had used the last of his scant inner resources to survive the day. Home was where it was safe to ask for, even demand, help and comfort.

"I'll always help you, Loren," Donovan reassured him. "Go stretch out and I'll be right there."

Donovan retrieved the necessary equipment from the bathroom. He filled the enema bag with body temperature water; added the emollient solution that Dr. Gordon had prescribed. Re-entering the bedroom, he brought the high backed wooden chair closer to the bed. Hung the enema bag on the back.

Loren was burrowed deep in the pillows, covers over his head, shutting out everything. Wordlessly, Donovan stroked the outlines of Loren's body through the blankets. He rubbed his back and hips gently, caressed thighs and calves, massaged his shoulders. Not pushing, not talking, just comforting.

After several long minutes, Loren straightened and emerged from under the covers. He pushed his boxers down and off and rolled onto his left side, right knee to his chest.

"All set?" Donovan asked.

Loren nodded.

Donovan coated his fingers and parting Loren's buttocks, stroked the gel around and into Loren's anus. He inserted his index finger, lubricating Loren thoroughly.

"Breathe, baby, you're okay." Donovan eased the well-slicked enema nozzle carefully into Loren as Loren concentrated on keeping his muscles relaxed. Donovan's hand worked gently up and down over Loren's right hip, from the small of his back to his flat belly, back and forth, soothing, settling.

When Loren was as relaxed as he was going to get, Donovan opened the clamp. He felt Loren tense against the solution and then relax, letting it in. The solution flowed slowly, evenly, and throughout it, Donovan massaged Loren's stomach in gentle circles, never losing the connection. Carefully he withdrew the nozzle, pressing Loren's buttocks together as he did so. Loren shifted uncomfortably, knowing that he longer he could endure, the better the treatment worked. Tensed.

"Now," Loren said.

Donovan helped him up. Loren took the few short steps to the bathroom and closed the door.

Alone, Donovan replaced the chair at the wall. Wrapped the equipment discreetly in a towel for later clean up. Sat at the edge of the bed and waited.

Loren padded silently back to bed. He was naked from the waist down, and his cock hugged his balls, soft and shriveled. He stretched out on his belly next to Donovan.

Donovan stroked his hand reassuringly over Loren's back and parting his buttocks carefully, looked at the small opening. No swelling and no blood. Satisfied, Donovan let Loren's buttocks close and began to rub Loren's lower back.


"Yes, babe?"

"If they'd put me in jail? I would rather have died than let anyone else do this to me." Loren whispered.

"My poor baby. I wish I'd known you were worried about that." Donovan cuddled Loren, petting him. "Even prisoners have the right to refuse medical care. You don't need to deal with these fears alone, Loren, you can tell me these things."

It was a very gentle scold. Loren snuggled into Donovan, relieved and relaxed. Donovan. No one else but Donovan. He let Donovan's warm, strong hand gentle him into sleep.

Across town, Jay nudged Maurice towards the bedroom. Maurice was edgy and unhappy and nothing, not dinner out, not a hot shower, not a back rub while watching the news, had made the slightest bit of difference.

"I shouldn't have said anything," Maurice fretted.

"Enough now." Jay gave Maurice time to settle into bed before continuing the conversation.

"What part of 'let Donovan deal with it' do you not understand? Pay attention when I talk to you, Maurice! Roll over." Jay tugged Maurice's shorts down.

Maurice exhaled sharply as Jay grasped his hips and pulling him back and up, thrust his coated cock into Maurice's ass.

"Oh god, god, Jay. Yes."

"Have I got your attention now?" Jay seated himself even deeper, relishing Maurice's groan.

Maurice stroked his own cock, arousal making his skin flush, his nerves tingle. He spurted suddenly and felt Jay catch his hips, holding him still, not letting him fall, as Jay took his own pleasure.

"I love you, Jay," Maurice said and closed his eyes.

Jay made sure Maurice was in a good position for sleep, no limbs twisted, back properly aligned. Then he pulled the expensive linens they both adored over his partner and lover and smiled at the sight of his sated Maurice, mind quiet for once.

"Was that good, Maurie?" Jay asked silkily.

"You know it," Maurice purred.

"If you want me to get you off again any time in the next month you'll pay attention to me now. Don't interfere again. Loren is Donovan's cross to bear, not yours."

"Loren still won't look at me," Maurice said unhappily. "He still believes that first night was a scene."

"Loren is wrong," Jay said succinctly. "And we're not going over this again." He tucked Maurice against him. "Go to sleep, Maurie."

The next day, Donovan put in a call to Jamie Gordon from the privacy of his studio.

"How's our patient doing?"

"There's not much difference," Donovan said. "He needs a lot of reassurance to get through the enemas, a lot more contact than we talked about out last visit. But we are also having penetrative sex regularly and it's very good. He's just very passive and very subdued. I think he's depressed."

"I don't know that it is actually depression, Donovan," Dr. Gordon said cautiously. "I want to refer him to someone who works with abuse survivors. She's very skilled. I know you take very good care of him, but you're flying blind here."

"Loren's not going to want to work with a woman," Donovan said slowly. "And what about the discipline thing? Is she going to consider corporal punishment abuse?" Donovan tightened his grip on the phone.

"Anyone who spends forty-five minutes with your boyfriend might begin to understand why you spank him occasionally," Dr. Gordon said wryly. "Donovan, no competent therapist is going to make any snap judgments about what it is you two do. But it's your call. More than therapy, Donovan, Loren needs a job, some sort of work, something to give his days some structure."

"You're preaching to the choir, Jamie," Donovan said ruefully.

"Loren needs a job." They were all right: Jay, Maurice, Leo and now Jamie Gordon. The problem was, Loren was entirely lacking in motivation. Left to his own devices, days passed without any evidence of purposeful activity.

Donovan had worked for as long as he could remember. He had helped his father load lumber and deliver firewood. He had dug like a dog in his mother's vegetable garden. Done odd jobs for Jay's father as a teenager, thrown himself headfirst into his college classes. He loved the long hours in his studio, the feel of the clay like a living thing in his hands. No one had ever had to push Donovan to be active, to create a life for himself.

But I was loved from the start, Donovan thought sadly. No one had ever loved Loren. It was all too easy to imagine Loren as a pale and hungry mountain toddler, standing wet and wide-eyed at the door to his mother's slatternly house. And that neglected child had grown into an adult who could not shape his day in any meaningful way, who had no belief in himself or in the future.

But he's going to make it, Donovan reassured himself. He's going to be all right. He's got me now, and I'm not going to let him down.

Loren leaned his cheek against his hand and watched the same commercial for the fourth time that day. Or the possibly the fifth? Loren didn't know. He was bored. It was a studio day, which meant that although Donovan was only across the driveway, he might just as well have been across the world.

Loren opted for a walk around the neighborhood. He was passing the storefront gallery at the corner when to his surprise he heard his name.

"Loren! It is Loren, isn't it?" A slender, good-looking older man squinted hopefully through his glasses at Loren. "You're Donovan's boyfriend, right? Would you help me unload this stuff? My art handler's vanished and I'm desperate."

"Uh, sure," Loren said doubtfully. He couldn't see how this was his problem, but the guy had recognized him as Donovan's boyfriend, he was obviously stuck and it seemed like a small enough favor.

An hour and a half later the last of the one hundred and seventy five individual boxes had been transferred from the waiting truck and were stacked neatly on the gallery floor. Loren shook his head, bemused. Why had he let himself in for this?

"Thank you," Sterling Thompson said appreciatively. "Let me give you something for your trouble." He extended a twenty to Loren, who hesitated.

"That's okay," Loren said uncomfortably. "I mean, I didn't expect you to pay me. You know Donovan..."

"Everyone knows Donovan," Sterling said. He looked at Loren for a moment, curious about this enigmatic young man. "If you won't let me pay you, let me at least buy you lunch."

Loren's stomach lurched. No one had ever invited him for a thank you lunch; he had no idea what accepting such an invitation implied. You didn't get something for nothing, but he had done Sterling a favor, so maybe it would be all right to go to lunch with him? But maybe it would be a mistake, maybe Sterling would expect something more? Shit.

"That's okay." Loren bolted out the door, careful not to brush against Sterling.

Sterling steepled his fingers together. He lliked puzzles, and Donovan's boyfriend was a good one. Skittish as all hell, and on the other hand, both fast and careful. Not a single box had been bruised or dropped. If it turned out he needed a new art handler, perhaps Loren could be induced to consider the job.

"Donovan?" Loren set the table for dinner as Donovan tossed the salad. "Can I ask you something?"

"Always," Donovan said gently.

"Do you know the little gallery down the block? CREA?" Loren asked.

"Center for the Rare and Extraordinary Arts," Donovan laughed. "What a name. Yes, I know it, it's Sterling Thompson's baby. Why?"

"He asked me to help him this morning. He had a truck to unload and his art handler hadn't shown up. He's doing a show, I think," Loren said.

"He curates close to a dozen shows a year," Donovan said. "He's a dynamo. Did you help him?"

"Yes, Donovan."

"That was nice of you."

Loren preened at Donovan's praise.

"I didn't let him pay me--" Loren said.

"That was really nice of you, Loren," Donovan smiled at his brat.

"--So he offered to take me to lunch," Loren continued.

"And that was really nice of him. Where did you go?" Donovan asked idly.

"We didn't." Loren looked away. "Donovan? I wasn't sure if I should? If I could?"

"Loren." Donovan put his hand on Loren's forearm; rubbed lightly until Loren made eye contact again. "Loren, baby, you can go out to lunch if you like. You're entitled to your own friendships."

"I know you think I'm stupid!" Loren flushed. "It's just I don't know these things, Donovan!"

"You're fine, Loren," Donovan said with reassuring certainty. "You'll learn, Loren, and if you need help, I'm here. You did just fine, Loren." He leaned over and kissed Loren gently. "I'm proud of you."

"You are?" Loren loved when something he did made Donovan proud. No one had ever been proud of him before; it was still a novel and treasured feeling.

"Very much so, Loren," Donovan said, kissing Loren. "You're special to me, in so many ways." He stroked the flat of his hand over Loren's neck, teased his fingers under his tee shirt. "Mine."

"Yeah," Loren agreed. "You want to–"

"Oh yeah," Donovan laughed. "But after dinner." Loren groaned. "Wait until we go to bed, Loren, and I'll show you just how special."

Donovan was working toward a show, so despite the romantic excesses of the previous night, dawn found him back in his studio. He let Loren sleep in.

Left to his own devices, Loren ate breakfast, cleaned up the kitchen, watched television and fiddled with the computer. Thoroughly bored, he decided to take a stroll past CREA.. He lingered near the plate glass front window, curious about what it was he had helped unload the previous day.

"Loren, just who I was hoping I might see." Sterling Thompson opened the door with a smile. "And how are you this fine day?"

"Hey," Loren said diffidently.

"Would you be free to help me hang this show?"

"Uh, okay," Loren said. Not admitting, even to himself, that he had hoped Sterling would have something for him to do.

"Would you like to join me for lunch?" Sterling asked as they finished. "Don't run off again! Surely the prospect of lunch with me isn't that daunting?" he teased, as Loren's eyes cut toward the door.

"I didn't mean it like that," Loren said miserably. "I'm sorry, Sterling."

"Loren, may I call Donovan?" Sterling asked. He watched Loren's face, hoping for a clue as to whether his instincts were right.

"Sure." Loren shrugged. "Um, why?"

"Perhaps he might like to join us for lunch?"

"Oh yeah." Loren took a quick, relieved breath.

"Café Centro is fine. Give me half an hour." Donovan hung up the phone. He didn't usually break for lunch on studio days, but Sterling Thompson had been perceptive enough to understand Loren's refusal as the shyness it was. Donovan was inclined to try and ease Loren's budding relationship with the dealer. He showed the sort of small, detailed work that Loren had a natural affinity for; Donovan wanted Loren not to pass up the opportunity to make a good impression.

Sterling and Donovan chatted amiably about CREA's newest show, Donovan's latest commission and the state of the neighborhood, while Loren picked apart his sandwich and reassembled it to his own liking.

Donovan let Loren take his time warming to the conversation. Loren was too easily swayed by how people represented themselves; Donovan felt that it was important for Loren to learn to make his own judgments about the people he encountered. Sterling was tactful enough to take his cue from Donovan.

Loren began to slip into a routine. He'd found himself a comfortable niche at CREA. Sterling was patient with his eccentricities. He was a gentle, quiet man and Loren felt safe around him.

They had spent the morning hanging another of Sterling's lovingly curated conceptual art shows. Loren was tacking up wall labels, neatly and carefully, his back to the gallery door, when Pete Hahn stepped boldly into the exhibition space.

"Why Loren! Don't tell me you've actually managed to find a job?"

Loren started at the sound of Pete's voice.

"Aren't you going to say hello?" Pete was enjoying Loren's flustered reaction.

"Is there something you're looking for here, Pete?" Sterling asked smoothly, emerging from his office. He had heard the gossip regarding Pete and Loren. One look at Loren's frozen face told him it was true.

Loren retreated to the gallery's backroom, panic-stricken, unsure how to escape. Remembering the last time he'd been asked to show work to Pete and shivering at the memory of the nightmare that had followed.

"So Sterling, I see you've got yourself a pretty little helper. Too bad he's a basket case," Pete said snidely. "You must owe Donovan a favor. I'm here for the Marineck study you've got up. I have someone who collects her."

"You talk too much, Pete." Sterling deliberately refrained from asking Loren to get Pete the painting he was interested in. Instead, he himself walked over to far wall to take down the canvas Pete wanted.

Pete took advantage of Sterling's turned back to slip into the backroom.

"Loren, Loren, Loren. Come here, let me take a look at you," Pete said. "I knew you'd come through for me. Come here now." He snapped his fingers authoritatively.

Shit. Loren backed away nervously away and with a wolfish grin Pete herded him toward the shipping desk.

"Now, now, Loren, don't tell me you're still afraid of me? After all, you came down on my side when it counted in court. Come on, Loren, tell me you do miss me, just a little? Maybe Donovan doesn't give you what I did..."

"Leave me alone," Loren stuttered, his eyes frozen to Pete's hands. "I don't–"

"Come to me now." Pete smiled, aware that he was scaring Loren, enjoying the rush of power. "Come on, Loren, don't be shy," Pete said. "You know you still belong to me. You'll always belong to me. I still have some of your pretty drawings, Loren. What do you think Donovan would say about that?" He reached for Loren's arm.

"Don't touch me, Pete, don't fucking touch me!" Loren paled.


"Aw, is the little boy scared?" Pete laughed cruelly, backing Loren against the wall. "Come on, Loren, you–shit! Fucking shit, you cut me, you fucking idiot! I'm going to fucking kill you." He took an unsteady step forward, then slumped to the floor, cradling his injured hand.

Sterling had turned around to find Pete gone. Worried, he now came back to check on his young art handler.

"Loren? Is everything all--"

"I didn't mean to!" Loren turned anguished eyes toward Sterling, his thorough confusion obvious.

"The fucking bastard cut me!" Pete said unsteadily. Blood coated his forearm.

"Easy, Pete, let me see how bad it is." Kneeling alongside Pete, Sterling took a folded wad of tissues from his pocket and refolded it clean side out. He pressed it firmly to the cut, holding it without any sign of squeamishness. With his free hand, he dug out his cell phone.

"Donovan, we've got a problem. No need for panic, just get here as fast as you can."

"He cut me! I'm going to fuck him up, Sterling." Pete's voice rose.

"You're going to be all right, Pete," Sterling said. "It's not deep; it looks worse than it is. Breathe slowly, that's it, keep some pressure on it." Sterling placed Pete's hand on the wadded tissues.

"Loren, are you all right?" Donovan asked, following the raised voices to the backroom and taking in the situation in a glance.

"That fucking nutcase stabbed me," Pete said. Loren cringed back and Donovan interposed his body between them. "I'm going to fucking kill him. I should call the fucking cops."

"You don't want to do that," Sterling said sharply. "It was self-defense, Pete, and you damn well know it. You were tormenting Loren from the minute you walked into my gallery. You threatened him; he reacted. Self-defense."

"He had a fucking knife!"

"He uses it to cut twine for tying packages." Sterling's eyes met Pete's without flinching. "It's a three inch pen knife, Pete. You had him trapped in here, you were screwing with his head and you pushed him a little too far."

"Get the fuck away from me, you bastard." Pete scrambled inelegantly to his feet.

"You're barely bleeding anymore," Sterling said coolly. "It's time to leave, Pete."

"This isn't over, you fucking animal," Pete hissed at Loren.

"Shut up, Pete," Donovan said sharply. Only his deeply ingrained sense of fair play kept him from striking the already wounded man.

Sterling accompanied Pete to the door and waited until he saw him get into a cab.

"What are you going to do to me, Donovan?" Loren's timid question hung in the air.


"I'm going to take you home," Donovan said gently. "It's all over." He guided Loren toward Sterling.

"I'm so sorry, Donovan." Sterling shook his head sadly. "Loren. I'll be in touch the next time I have something I think you'd be right for." It was a firm yet gentle dismissal.

"Thank you for everything, Sterling," Donovan said sincerely. He couldn't fault the dealer for his decision to put a little space between CREA and Loren. "Come with me now, Loren."

Shakily, Loren trailed Donovan the short block to their house. Donovan eased Loren inside and into the kitchen.

"It's all right now, we're home. I've got you, Loren, you're safe." Donovan put up a pot of water to boil.

Loren dropped into one of the generously padded kitchen chairs and sat disconsolately at the table while Donovan made tea. Lacing it generously with sugar, he set a cup before Loren. Loren took a small sip.

"Every fucking bad thing happens to me," Loren said bitterly. "Shit. Are you going to punish me, Donovan?"

"No, babe," Donovan said firmly. "The bastard deserved it. I don't fault you for what you did this afternoon."

"I made a fucking asshole of myself. I'm never going back there again," Loren said flatly. "I'll go around the block the long way from now on and I don't care what you say. I'm never, ever going to walk past there again and I'm never, ever going to speak to Sterling again."

"Stop that, Loren." Donovan shook his head ruefully. "You're going to run into Sterling around, you know. And you need to say hello to him when you do."

"How are you going to make me, Donovan? What are you going to do, spank me?" Loren glared at Donovan. "I fucking dare you!"

"I'd rather not," Donovan said mildly, not responding to Loren's deliberate provocation.

Loren pushed his tea aside, shoved his chair back from the table and stomped out of the room.

Donovan took a deep breath, centering himself. Slowly and deliberately he began preparing dinner. The rhythms of cooking and the kitchen soothed him the same way the rhythms of his studio did.

Donovan was unsurprised to hear his phone ring. As he'd half-expected, it was Jay.

"Maurice patched Pete up. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy," Jay said without preamble. "Jesus, Donovan, you need to chain your brat to your bed before he gets himself arrested."

"So much for 'get a job,' huh? Any other conflicting advice, Jay?" Donovan laughed as Jay sputtered.

"I take it from your lousy attitude that Loren's still sitting comfortably," Jay said wryly. "Donovan, what are you going to do about this mess?"

"Nothing," Donovan said. "Ciao, Jay. Try not to work yourself up; I hear it's bad for your blood pressure." He laughed at Jay's response and clicked off.

"What did he mean, 'nothing'?" Maurice was outraged. "He should take his belt to him! Jay, you have to talk to him!"

"I don't 'have' to do anything, Maurice, but you," Jay said, "You have to calm down. Stop lecturing me."

"Why? Why do I have to do anything while that nut job–"

Jay cut Maurice off mid-sentence.

"Not another word," Jay warned. "Listen to me."

Maurice swallowed hard and dropped his eyes, but not before Jay saw the hurt in them. He took Maurice's jaw in his hand, tipped his head back and kissed him, exploring his mouth with his tongue in an intimate reminder of affection and possession.

"Maurice, I love you," Jay said very seriously. "Donovan loves Loren, more's the pity. That has nothing to do with you and me. How Donovan handles Loren is his call."

"I know, I know, you're right," Maurice sighed, somewhat mollified. "But Jay? You do think Donovan should punish him, don't you?"

"I think Donovan should drown him," Jay said.

Maurice's jaw dropped. He began to laugh and couldn't stop.

Dicing onions and chopping peppers, Donovan felt himself calming. By the time his chili was simmering on the stove, he felt revived and ready to handle Loren.

"Go away." Loren was curled in their bed, back to the door. He sounded miserable.

"Why?" Donovan seated himself alongside Loren and rolled him over so that he could see his face. "No, baby, you're going to talk to me now."

"There's nothing to say! I'm an asshole, all right? Donovan, I don't know what happened after Pete walked into the gallery. I heard his voice and I just froze. I lost the next chunk of time completely, Donovan. Shit! I can't do this! Shit!" Loren was shaking with fury. "Shit! I hate him, I fucking hate him! He hurt me, Donovan, he hurt me so bad!"

Donovan let Loren scream himself out, not trying to silence him, just lending his presence as witness.

"God, Donovan, why do you let me do this?" Loren's throat was sore and he felt very, very embarrassed.

"You needed to get it out of your system," Donovan said. "I know you, Loren. You'll be okay now."

"I don't feel okay," Loren whispered. "I feel sick. Sick of everything. I can't do this, Donovan."


"What does that mean?" Donovan stroked Loren's cheek gently.

"I just can't, Donovan." Loren sounded utterly hopeless. Not sad, just flat.

"What does 'I can't' mean, Loren?" Donovan's voice was sympathetic and ever so calm.

A shrug.

"I need you to talk to me, Loren," Donovan said. He drew Loren into his arms and turned him so that they were face to face. Kissed him firmly and persistently.

Tears welled in Loren's eyes.

"Why are you so fucking nice to me, Donovan?" Loren asked. "Why do you care?"

"I love you, Loren," Donovan said. "Very, very much."

"But why?" Loren asked, frustration in his voice. "I'm nothing, Donovan, nothing."

"You're mine," Donovan said softly. "What would I do without you?"

"I'm not crying!" Loren said fiercely, even as he buried his face in Donovan's chest.

"And if you were?" Donovan asked softly. "There's no shame in crying, Loren, none at all. Shh, that's it, I know, I know." He rubbed Loren's back gently as Loren cried himself out.

"Donovan, I can't talk to Sterling again!" Loren looked unhappy.

"Yes you can," Donovan said. "Let me be the judge of that. He's an important contact; don't let your pride make you count yourself out. It's the right thing, Loren."

"Donovan? I really, really hate it when you spank me."

"I know, Loren. I don't like to spank you anymore than you like to be spanked." Donovan stroked Loren's cheek. "It seems to make an impression, though."

"That's not funny," Loren said sulkily, but he couldn't help smiling a little at the bad pun. "Sterling must think I'm an asshole."

"Sterling loves artists; he's willing to forgive them almost anything," Donovan said. "Take your free pass, Loren. You haven't gotten a lot of them."

Loren tried to digest this information.

"I can draw. Does that make me an artist?" Loren asked Donovan finally.

"What do you think?" Donovan answered. "Precious few people can draw the way you do."

"I don't know," Loren said slowly. "Pete thought it was pretty neat? But that it was just copying stuff, not like real art, you know?"

"What is this hold Pete has over you?" Donovan's voice rose in frustration. "He used you, Loren! Sexually, professionally, criminally. Why does his opinion still matter to you? Why, Loren, why?"

"You're mad at me," Loren said. "I'm sorry!"

"I just hate how Pete screwed with your head!" Donovan said bitterly.


"I'm sorry?" Loren offered wretchedly. "I'm really sorry, Donovan!"

"I know, babe." Donovan sighed; pushing Loren like this was pointless and only distressed him. Jamie Gordon was right, Donovan acknowledged to himself. His Loren needed more help than a lover, no matter how well meaning, could provide.

"I didn't mean to shout. I'm sorry, Loren. I'm not angry at you," Donovan said soothingly. "I'm not angry at you at all."

"Okay," Loren said dubiously. He sighed as Donovan kissed him, gently and thoroughly. "Okay then."

The fine aroma of chili filled the air.

"Come on, Loren, get up." Donovan tousled Loren's hair. "It's time for dinner."

"Yes, Donovan."


Thank you, Rusty and Hedeia, for your cogent comments and for your friendship. EM