sparsenicjade
RSS
[Reviews - 4] Printer
- Text Size +
Warnings: Ryan is sixteen, Jon is seventeen. Discussions of past abuse/violence.

***


Jon was Ryan's sweet sixteen gift. Ryan had known it was coming, no matter how much he had tried to pretend otherwise. His father had been hinting a little too heavily about sixteen being, "...when you become a man, son."

Ryan grew up in Vegas, near to several of the most opulent slave-markets in the Northern Hemisphere. He'd seen body-slaves being sold time and time again while riding to pick up his father, heading to and from the social networking groups his father insisted upon, or even just going in to the city for a day's fun with Spencer. He had some idea--if not a great one--of what "becoming a man" meant. He just wasn't sure he was a man, at least not the kind his dad wanted him to be.

But there really wasn't anything to be done. The last time Ryan had tried arguing abolitionist politics with his father he'd been twelve and totally in love with Spencer--fucking hormones--and it had been the only time Ryan's father had ever hit him. He hadn't gone for the face, instead taking his fist to Ryan's stomach, and when Ryan was on the floor, he'd given him a lecture on hard, cold economics and bleeding-heart liberals and then he'd confined Ryan to the house for a month, watching to make sure Ryan didn't have any communication with the outside world whatsoever.

Ryan could have taken the punch. It had hurt, but Ryan was pretty strong. It was being kept from Spencer for that long that had weakened his defenses. After he was freed, he was certain never to say anything on the topic ever again, and careful, infinitely careful, to make sure that his father never figured out it was Spencer who had planted the idea.

As such, when August 30th rolled around, Ryan did his best to eat the cake his father had ordered and to try and act pleasantly surprised by the gift of a naked man folding himself into a perfect posture of obeisance. It took a while, but after what felt like several hours--Ryan was guessing it was maybe ten minutes--his father clapped him on the shoulder and said, "Well, then. Good evening."

Ryan nodded. "Thank you, again, father."

Ryan felt each of the fourteen strides to the doorway, the opening and closing click of the door in the base of his throat, near to where his pulse beat. He took a breath, "Um. I-- My name is Ryan."

The Slave--not even Jon, then, just The Slave--asked, "How may I please you, master?"

His voice was...not what Ryan would have expected of a pleasure slave. It spread fingers over Ryan's spine, though, just in asking the question. "Could you, uh. Could you maybe tell me your name?"

"I was written in the books as Jon, Master. But that can always be altered." He was still in the position, knees slightly spread, head down, arms behind his back, and it had to hurt, ache, at least, but he showed not a sign of moving.

"D'you...I mean, do you like Jon?"

A small tremor ran through Jon's frame. Ryan frowned. He came closer, stopping when Jon's breath--loud in the relative silence of the room--all but cut out. Ryan looked down and thought, oh. He can see my feet.

"Sorry, Master, I don't--"

Ryan curled to his knees and brought a finger to Jon's chin so that he could look at his face. His own breath caught at what he saw. It wasn't so much in the features or the cut of the face--body slaves were meant to be attractive--but in the eyes. In all his life, Ryan had ever seen one pair of eyes that could make him stop in the middle of a busy street. And Ryan had long come to realize that with Spencer, it was more about loving his friend than any physical attraction.

Jon's eyes, though, were, well, they were sad. Sad and afraid and still kind, and the warmest, deepest brown Ryan had ever witnessed, even in the vids of places far off-world, where forests still thrived. Ryan said, "Let's-- I'm Ryan. And I think Jon is a perfectly serviceable name, but if you want another one, then I shall surely get it for you."

"Oh," Jon said, blinking. And then, belatedly, "Master."

Ryan sighed and glanced back at the table. He asked, "Don't suppose you have any interest in helping me finish some of the birthday cake?"

Ryan knew he'd said something wrong almost the moment he asked if Jon wanted the cake, he just didn't have any clue of what. He bit his lip. "Um. Do you not like vanilla? I know most people like chocolate, but I like the frosting to be chocolate and it's a little too much if you--" Ryan blinked, more at himself than anything. He never talked this much.

"Jon?" he asked. He felt less of a man than he ever had.

"I... I wish to remain pleasing to you, Master. That is, if I am. Pleasing."

Ryan cut another piece of cake and set it on a plate, bringing his unfinished piece to the floor and sitting down in front of Jon, folding his legs in front of him. He said, "I guess. I mean, um, how would you not be pleasing?"

There was a sound Ryan couldn't identify. It sounded like an aborted laugh, but he was pretty sure he was just imagining that. Jon lifted his face again--it had dropped when Ryan had let go his chin--and Ryan smiled. Jon smiled back, not quite as sure, but that didn't change the way Ryan felt it in his stomach. Jon's smile touched his entire face. Softly, Jon said, "A pleasure slave is not to eat sweets, Master. They soften his body."

Ryan took in the way Jon's skin fit tight to his body. It was appealing, Ryan supposed, in its own way. He knew people liked looking at him, the way he was all angles despite never having gone hungry a day in his life. That sort of thing was in vogue, Ryan imagined. He didn't pay much attention. He'd always liked the softness of Spencer's face, the way he curved. Ryan could see the possibility in Jon, could see maybe even that that was how it should have been. Hunger--and that was what it was, not a lack of sweets, but true hunger--was less than appealing to Ryan.

He got the feeling that probably wasn't the best way to phrase it, not when Jon seemed so concerned about pleasing him. Ryan wondered what happened to slaves who displeased their masters. He wondered if maybe he shouldn't have avoided the whole situation once he'd know what his father had in mind, as though if he ignored it, it would go away. Instead he said, "If you're hungry, it'd...please me if you'd share with me. It's my birthday and, well. My best friend Spencer, my father didn't invite him, I think--" because he wanted me to fuck you and thought that might be inappropriate. "Um, well. So I haven't anyone to share it with, is the thing. And I-- It's too much for me. And eating birthday cake alone is lonely."

Slowly, Jon reached for the plate. He took a small bite, dainty, even. It didn't fit with what Ryan had imagined at all. He said, "You had etiquette lessons." Ryan had suffered through years of them, only Spencer at his side making it bearable.

"And dancing, music, literature, proper dress, and languages. I can be a companion to you in any situation, Master."

"Music?" Ryan asked. He knew there was something important about everything Jon had just told him, something he should know, but he was really more interested in talking about music.

"I play the guitar, some piano, and I took it upon myself to learn bass guitar, Master." Jon recited these facts as though they were just simple truths.

"That's fantastic!" Ryan grinned. "I'll have to introduce you to Spencer. He plays drums. We play together. I mean, nothing serious or anything, because, well, there's lessons and just, life, I suppose, but you should play with us. It would be great, having someone else to join."

The fork faltered in Jon's fingers, slipped to the plate with a quiet clang. Jon said, "Sorry, sorry, Master," and ducked his head again.

Ryan frowned. "That's all right. I mean--" Ryan wondered if perhaps Jon was tired or so hungry as to be shaky. He said, "Can I--" and took the plate from Jon. Jon gave it over easily, without even so much as looking in its direction. In fact, he seemed to be looking stridently away. Ryan cut a bite, slightly larger than those Jon had been taking, but not much more so. He didn't want to cause him to choke. He said, softly, "Jon."

"Master?"

Ryan winced. They would have to work on that. One step at a time. "Jon, look at me."

Jon brought his eyes up without hesitation at the order. Ryan said, "Open your mouth."

Again, there was no moment of waiting for Jon to do as told, he simply did. Ryan brought the fork to his mouth and placed it there, waiting for Jon to take the piece. He didn't. Ryan said, "Jon." Then, "Please."

Jon took the piece from the fork and Ryan swallowed, harder than he'd ever been in his life and more ashamed than he'd ever felt by a sexual reaction to anything. He cut another piece, and another, until the section of cake he'd given to Jon was gone, nothing but crumbs.

Jon kept his eyes on Ryan and said, "Thank you, Master."

Ryan said, "Can you-- I know. I know that's what I am, but I don't like it. Don't want it." Didn't want you. It was the truth, although he would never say it to Jon. "Just...just Ryan, please?"

"Of course, Ryan." Jon said "Ryan" like "Master," but he had done as asked and Ryan wouldn't even know how to begin asking for something more.

"Okay. All right," Ryan said, and didn't give into his desire to ask Jon, what now?

***


What happened, as it turned out, was that Jon took pity on Ryan. He ducked his head again and said softly, in a way that made Ryan's toes curl--and Ryan was relatively untutored in the ways of sex, but he knew enough to know it was on purpose--"Perhaps we might retire to your room, Ryan?"

Ryan wasn't sure that was really the best idea, but he also had a feeling that not going might just be delaying the inevitable. "O--okay. Yeah. Room."

He stood and was about to offer Jon a hand, but Jon simply went to his hands and knees, the line of his back coming directly into Ryan's sight, and Ryan's breath caught. It took a few seconds for him to assemble the words, "No, Jon. No, you can walk."

Jon flowed to his feet and said, "Thank you, Ryan."

Ryan thought it might have been a mistake, asking Jon to call him that. He didn't want to hear his name being used like a title after everything Jon said. He wanted...he wanted Jon to say his name, just say it. He bit his lip and said, "Ah. This way," then lead them through the house, to his room.

It was a nice room, Ryan's sanctuary when he wasn't at Spencer's place. His favorite parts were the desk, a great faux-wooden monster that Ryan could all but disappear into when he wanted to write. Wood was horrendously expensive, as it had to be imported from off-world, but the desk was a fairly good likeness of the pictures of what real mahogany had looked like, and Ryan loved the deep, rich tones of it. It wasn't boxy at all, either, rather it curved in interesting, organic ways.

It stood in one corner and in the other was his guitar, surrounded by pillows and floor chairs, a place for him to fold himself up and listen to nothing but the sound of his fingers on the strings. The wall across from both these areas was nothing but a floor-to-ceiling window. It could be blacked out at the press of a button, but Ryan rarely did. He liked being able to see the sky, and the window was one-way, so he didn't worry about people looking in at him.

His bed was in a loft above all of this, the stairs running over his music corner. Or rather, the loft was his bed, the mattress having been made to fit the space. It was huge, meant for sprawling in, for curling up in, for snuggling when the Earth's temperature modulators were on the fritz and the world was simply too cold to face.

Ryan brought Jon into the room and said, "This is, um, you're safe, here. You can touch anything you want, do anything. I mean, not my journaling pads. Just, that's private. But anything else. Oh, and the thermostat--" Ryan showed him where it was, touching it up a couple of degrees because he was uncomfortably aware that Jon was still naked.

He turned to Jon, only to have Jon sink back into his position of obeisance. Ryan said, "You don't have to do that. Really, it's not, I don't--" Ryan gave up, frustrated with himself, and just a little with Jon, if he was honest. He knew it wasn't fair, but Ryan hated feeling unsure and evidently that was all he was ever going to feel with Jon around. He could feel his shoulders notching nigh to his ears, but it was still a surprise when Jon spoke up.

"Maybe if we went to bed, I could give you a massage, Ryan?"

Ryan hesitated. The thought of Jon's hands on him was...enticing. And it was only a massage. Still, "All right, but you have to teach me."

Jon cocked his head ever so slightly to one side. Ryan wouldn't have even noticed, except that he was paying attention. Jon said, "Teach you, Ryan?" and Ryan could hear how he tried--unsuccessfully--too keep the note of curiosity out of the question.

"So that I can do it for you. That's how friends do things. They return the favor."

Jon took a breath, as though he were about to say something. Then he evidently thought better as he expelled it on, "As you wish, Ryan."

Ryan was pretty sure he'd lost that battle without even being aware he'd been fighting it. All the same he said, "Okay," and toed his shoes off, climbing the stairs to his bed. When he looked back, Jon was there, two steps behind, always, always.

***


Ryan was trying to pay attention, he really was, but Jon's hands just seemed to know how to find every spot on Ryan that needed to be pressed and pinched and held until he was crying out in pain, and then released to babbles of relief and amazement. And when he'd managed to untie every knot Ryan's muscles had managed to form in their sixteen years, then he used the heat he'd built in Ryan's skin to his advantage in truly calming Ryan. Between the stress of anticipation that Ryan had carried all day and the difficulty of negotiating anything with Jon, Ryan couldn't help it--he gave into exhaustion and fell into one of the deepest sleeps he had enjoyed in a long while.

***


Ryan awoke to the awareness of two things: the brightness level in the room indicating that it was nearly midday and the fact that Jon was asleep near his head, kneeling in obeisance. Ryan felt a little sick to his stomach at the sight. Quietly, he crawled from where Jon had clearly tucked him in, and made his way to Jon. His plan was simply to guide Jon a little bit away from the wall, to where he could ease him down on the bed and let him sleep. However, the moment Ryan's hands came to Jon's shoulder's Jon was awake. He tensed under Ryan's touch and said, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Master, I didn't mean to fall asleep."

Eloquently, Ryan asked, "What?"

"I was waiting, Master, I was awake, I didn't mean--"

"Jon," Ryan said softly. He squinted, glancing at the alarm clock built into the wall of the loft. He'd slept for nearly ten hours. "Jon, are you saying you stayed up that whole time?"

"A pleasure slave is to be available to his master at all--"

Ryan was honestly going to vomit if Jon kept talking. "Okay. Okay. Um. Let's get something clear. I know you're human. And I know that humans eat, sleep, breathe, piss, shit and have emotions. So from now on, we're both going to assume that you do all those things. And that you won't be...um, punished? For any of them."

Jon took a couple of deep breaths and said, "It is within your right, Master, to return a slave who has not performed his duties or been less than attentive."

"You can forget all about that. Ten hours is the most I've slept in years, so as far as I'm concerned you're perfectly attentive and, uh, performing. Performa-- Whatever. The point is, you're not just some pair of shoes to be returned."

Jon's breathing actually slowed at that, but none of the tension left his body. Ryan wasn't entirely sure Jon believed him, but there was nothing he could do about that just at the moment. Instead he said, "I want to show you what I learned."

"Ma-- Ryan?"

Ryan took it from that that Jon had calmed a little. "C'mere," he said, and pulled Jon further into the center of the bed, laying him down. Jon's gaze was hooded, his lashes all but blending in against the bruises that surrounded his eyes, but Ryan could tell that his movements were being tracked. He asked, "You had oil last night?"

"I was allowed to prepare, Ryan."

Ryan's mind stuttered over the implications of that. Instead he just asked, "Where'd you-- Oh." He spotted the bottle next to the book and journal he kept in the nook right below the built-in clock. He moved enough that he could reach it and then came back. He opened the bottle, poured a little into his hands and warmed it the way Jon had. He'd been paying attention that far. He nudged Jon onto his front and tried not to ogle like some kind of pervert. He pressed his hands into Jon's shoulder blades, muscular and, like the rest of him, just a bit too sharp. He wondered if maybe he should have gotten some breakfast first, but decided that Jon needed the sleep more. Ten hours, fuck. Who knew how many Jon had sat, fighting to keep himself awake.

Jon was warm beneath him, smooth and sturdy, and after a while, even as intensely as Ryan wanted, he also found himself lost in the process of trying to get Jon to loosen. Straightening his legs--Jon had bent them to the side in an effort to avoid the pain of releasing them from the kneel position--was a slow, agonizing process, Jon clearly deepening his breathing so as to bite back whimpers of pain, Ryan apologizing over and over, Jon saying, "Not at all, Ryan," his voice cracking with each half-inch of movement. After that, Ryan paid particular attention to Jon's legs, clear down to the feet, where Ryan found something that made him suck in his breath.

"Ryan?" Jon asked, sounding much more hazy than he had. "Does it displease you? I--I can have them covered."

Ryan noted the hesitation. He could ask about it later. For now, "I--" Hard question. "It displeases me that someone di--hurt you. Hurt you like that."

On the bottom of each of Jon's feet, there were three perfectly spaced scars, the product, Ryan could only imagine, of a knife, or perhaps a cane. In the two framed sections made by these horizontal lines were the four marks of the second largest slave-holding company in the Southwest: the coin, the rose bud, the mustang and the sword. They were all stylized depictions, specific to the enterprise: depictions of power and perfection. They had been branded into his foot, one by one.

"Marking a pleasure slave depletes his value. And the value of a runaway has already been reduced by the runaway's action, so a re-trainer is left with little choice but to mark the slave in the least visible of areas and hope that the damage either goes undiscovered or is not considered to be a detraction. You have my papers, so you are well able to know that your father paid a discounted price both for my record and the portion of damage, but if you feel that it was too much, you are welcome to file a complaint with the accounts department at Vaunt House."

Ryan closed his eyes and tried, tried so hard, just to breathe. It wasn't going to work, though. He scrambled onto his feet and down the stairs, falling down the last few and to his waste basket, where he threw up everything that was left in his system after his night of sleep. When he could, he stood and flushed the waste down the disposal shoot in the hall, on his way to the bathroom. He washed his mouth, brushed his teeth, then continued to the kitchen for some juice and some breakfast for both of them. His father would already be at work, Ryan knew, so there was no risk of running into him, having to explain. Ryan wasn't sure he could have without vomiting again.

He made them some eggs and toast--the one thing he could make--and then returned to his room. He set up the lap tables he had in the music corner and climbed into the bed loft, only to find Jon where he'd left him, but back in his default kneeling position. Ryan said, "Okay, we'll talk about this when we've eaten," and helped Jon out of the bed, down the stairs. He seated Jon in the cushiest floor chair and took an inflatable chair for himself. He went and found a robe for both of them, handing one to Jon. Jon looked at it uncertainly, but then took it, pulling himself into it quicker than Ryan would have credited being possible.

Ryan found himself breathing easier with them both sitting, at least somewhat clothed. He said, "Eat up," which, okay, he kind of knew was a command, and not fair, but Jon was practically waxen, and they both needed something to do.

Like the night before, Jon's eating was refined, too perfect. Ryan took his slowly as well, sipping at the juice more than anything. When the food had begun to settle and he was feeling a bit more himself he said, "There's nowhere for runaways to go."

To Ryan's surprise, Jon smiled. It was bitter, twisted, but it was a smile. He said, "Nobody knows that better than a runaway, Ryan."

Ryan bit his bottom lip. He said, "You don't trust me. There's no reason you should. That's...that's smart. But I'll tell you the truth from my perspective anyway. I don't like the idea of owning people. I never have. My best friend, his family has always kept slaves, but they've always been part of the family, near enough, and made wages under the table and there's other people who do those sorts of things, quiet like. It's not...it doesn't really change anything, I guess, except one kid's mind, maybe. But I don't, I would never have gotten myself a pleasure slave. My father and I, we see things differently."

Jon finished his eggs and set his plate down gently. "Then you would prefer to return me, Ryan?"

"To the people who did that to you?" Ryan looked at Jon's feet. They were facing down, but now that Ryan knew what was there, the knowledge could not be undone. "Like hell."

"I...I don't understand, Ryan."

"I can't return you, and there's nowhere for you to go, not even freed, there's just-- We'll have to figure out a way to make this look good, is all." Ryan tried to sound confident. He was pretty sure it was nowhere near that easy.

"Look good, Ryan?"

"I neither want nor need a pleasure slave. But I could use a friend in this house. Badly. I shall leave it up to you as to whether you are willing to work with me to make that possible. In the meantime, I'm asking you, please, to go get some sleep, as much as you need. I have lessons to finish and I'm pretty good at keeping myself company, so you don't need to worry about me. Just, sleep, please? You look exhausted."

Jon looked at him, silent for some moments. Finally, he said, "I-- All right. Ryan."

Ryan smiled tightly. "Thank you."

Jon blinked multiple times. "Ah, you're welcome."

***


Ryan made himself sit down to his lessons first. It wasn't that he couldn't skip a few, but Ryan wanted out of his father's house, and the most likely way to manage that was through his scholarship. The wealthy had long forsaken schools in a traditional sense, instead picking and choosing from open-source courseware of the finest institutions and hiring academics to model curricula based on their child's strengths. A child who showed particular promise in coursework, however, could still be expected to go to university, to achieve statesmanship or other distinguished careers. Ryan, for the most part, couldn't have cared less about his options, he just wanted to be wrapped up in the arms of the academe, where even his father's reach would be shortened.

He was distracted, though, and unlike normal, when he would lose himself in the thoughts of those before him, nodding in agreement or writing passionately in disagreement, Ryan hurried through his coursework, sending in the minimum of what would get him by. Then he called Spencer.

Brendon picked up. "Hey, Ry."

Brendon had been with Spencer's family as long as Ryan could remember, really. They had bought him as a music tutor to the children: Brendon had shown brilliance in the earliest vetting of the slaves and they had trained him up to have value despite his size. Brendon was only about four months older than Spencer, and if Ryan was remembered correctly, he had been bought at the age of nine, but he had already been able to play entire Concertos on the piano, and Ryan had never heard a piece that Brendon couldn't play on any instrument he chose, so long as he was given a while to figure it out.

Spencer's family had required that Brendon teach the other children, but had been very strict that they were not to give Brendon any trouble and had also encouraged Brendon--financially and emotionally--to continue his own music studies. If Spencer was Ryan's best friend in the entire world, Brendon came in a close second. Ryan thought that a goodly portion of his unease with the practice of sexual slavery came from the fact that he was uncomfortably aware of how beautiful Brendon had grown up to be, how easily that could have been his fate.

"Bren," Ryan said.

There were a couple of beats before Brendon said, "Spencer's in lessons, but I can--"

"No, no, I-- My father got me a boy. Man."

Brendon drew in a breath. "A slave."

Ryan made a noise. "They branded his feet. He ran away--"

"He ran away?"

There was reason for Brendon's surprise. Ryan hadn't been exaggerating when he'd said there was nowhere to go. There wasn't an area of Earth where slavery wasn't practiced in some form anymore, and getting off-planet took papers, documents. Ryan imagined it happened, occasionally, but he couldn't imagine how. Even the rare freed slaves--there were people who actively bucked the culture and manumitted theirs--were seen as no better than slaves. They couldn't be assaulted in the streets openly the way a true slave could, but if they were beaten in an alley and a hundred people saw, they would all look the other way. Ryan said, "I imagine he had reason."

"Christ," Brendon said softly. And yeah, that about summed it up. The desperation a person would have to feel to willingly leave a place knowing that the punishments for being caught were at best enormously painful and degrading was beyond Ryan's ability to envision.

"Brendon. If it--" Ryan couldn't say it, couldn't say "if it were you." "I don't know what to do."

"I--I saw a slave who was in re-training once." Brendon's voice wavered, and Ryan thought about how bad it must have been, how bad if Brendon still had that memory from before the Smith's. Brendon continued, "All slaves are taught that we are subsumed by, submissive to our masters' wills. But runaways, they...they're trained that they don't exist outside of their masters. In cruel and repetitive ways. It's honestly surprising when they don't go insane. A lot do."

"I still don't know what to do," Ryan admitted.

"Ryan, I was trained as a skilled slave. It's different. And even if it hadn't been, the Smiths--"

"I know. I know. But there must have been something, I mean, you were still trained."

"But I was young enough that most of it hadn't taken, yet, and a steady application of kindness and understanding was enough to draw me out. I don't think it's going to be that simple in this case. I'm sorry. I wish...I wish I had something better for you. And for him."

Ryan curled up as tightly as he could. "Yeah. Yeah, me too. Tell Spencer I called?"

"I'll tell Spencer about all of it, if you want."

"Thanks."

"Ryan?"

"Yeah?"

"You're... This is a really good thing you're trying to do. Most people wouldn't bother."

"I'm not sure the comparison makes me good, but all right."

"Just try and fucking trust yourself for once."

Ryan smiled a little. "You sound like Spencer."

"Was that a compliment?"

Ryan actually laughed. "Later, Brendon."

"You know you can call if you need to."

Ryan did.

***


Ryan had dinner with his father that night. When his father asked, "Where's your new toy?" Ryan said, blankly, "I wore him out."

It was the first time he'd seen his father look particularly approving in his remembered history.

***


Jon slept for nearly twenty-four hours. He woke at intervals to use the facilities and to try and determine if Ryan had changed his mind, but Ryan just kept sending him back to bed until the time he looked like he was actually ready to be out of it. Ryan wasn't wholly sure, but the lack of bruising around his eyes and the more relaxed set of his frame were the best hints Ryan was probably going to get, so he took them.

Ryan made more eggs and toast, pilfered a couple of apples and brewed some coffee. Jon looked at the coffee steadily for a few moments, like it might disappear. Ryan said, "I can make more, if you want. Just start with that."

When he took his first sip, Ryan got an idea of what true happiness might have looked like on Jon at one time. It was muted, barely there, really, but Ryan was paying attention, and it was there. When Jon put down the cup and opened his eyes, Ryan said, "Hi."

Cautiously, Jon responded, "Hello."

"I'm Ryan. Ryan Ross. I turned sixteen two days ago. My mother left my father when I was two to...I think to planet hop. I'm not sure. I don't hear from her much. My father has pretty different ideas about who I should be than I do. I like books and music and silly, frivolous things, according to him. I get top marks in everything I do and I want a scholarship. I want to go off-planet, but only if Spencer will go with me. Spencer's my best friend, and he's into music too. We've been friends since I was six. The Smiths bought Brendon when he was nine, and I think if Spence and I go anywhere that Brendon will certainly have to come with, because we'd miss him too much. Maybe we could find a place where he wouldn't have to pretend to be a slave. He's super talented. He can play six instruments, all by ear, and he has a great voice and it's stupid that all he can do is teach the Smith kids and sometimes hold concerts when the Smiths pretend to 'show him off'.

"That's me. I'm not very interesting. I haven't had much of a chance to be, I don't think. But I'm pretty sure I could be." Ryan made himself keep looking at Jon. "You don't have to tell me anything. Maybe you don't have anything to tell except things that hurt. I don't know. Brendon said--" Ryan squared his shoulders. "Brendon said it was a surprise you were still sane, when I told him you'd runaway. And I guess I thought, I mean, I don't know anything about that. My dad hit me once, but not like, not like your feet, but that time, I thought of other things so that I wouldn't cry, you know? And I thought maybe you had other things inside you that kept you away from the worst of it."

Jon was sipping his coffee, watching Ryan like he might pounce as soon as Jon proved unawares. But there was also curiosity in his stance. Ryan would take that. "You don't have to tell me. But I hope...I guess I hope you'll want to, eventually."

Jon was quiet for a long time before he asked, "May I ask a question, Ryan?"

"Anytime. You needn't have permission. If I don't want to answer, I won't, and you have that same right with me."

"Brendon. Is he Spencer's--"

"No," Ryan shook his head. "No, just friends. Brendon was his teacher. Still is. The Smiths don't have pleasure slaves."

"And you would take him with you just...to be a friend?"

"You come up with a better reason for taking someone with you far away, let me know," Ryan said.

Jon set his empty coffee cup on the stand between them and eyed Ryan peripherally. Finally he asked, "What's it like, reading?"

It wasn't against the law for slaves to read, it was just rare that anyone bothered to teach them. Ryan wouldn't have cared if it had been against the law. He asked, "Would you like to find out?"

Jon swallowed and dug neatly manicured nails into the skin of his flesh. After a long, long moment he said, "Yes, please. Yes, Ryan."

And somehow, despite the fact that his name still sounded like a title, Ryan thought it was starting to sound less like "master" and more like something he simply didn't have the context to understand, something...something Jon was thinking about keeping for himself.

***


That night Ryan came back from a nerve-wracking dinner with Jon naked, kneeling under the table, and his father asking questions meant to suggest he didn't know Jon was there. Or, perhaps, that Jon's presence was that of a non-entity. Ryan had worked cautiously to feed Jon the entire time. Not that he wouldn't get him more food later. But he didn't want Jon hungry while he was eating. He really, really didn't want Jon thinking that Ryan didn't know he was down there, didn't know he was listening. At one point, during a particular pointed interrogation of his father's, when Ryan purposely tensed his lower body so that he wouldn't show any signs of his father having reached a nerve where the man could see, Ryan thought he felt the brush of a hand over his ankle, but he couldn't be certain. It was possible he was just starting to feel things where he wanted them.

When Ryan's father finally decided he'd had enough fun for the evening and left the table, Ryan slumped ever so slightly and peered under the table. "Wanna get outta here?"

Jon managed a weak smile for him. Ryan dredged up a full-fledged smile in return. He wasn't taking anything for granted just at the moment. He stood. He'd put Jon on a collar and lead--the only one Jon had come with that would neither choke him nor chafe the skin--so that Jon wouldn't have to crawl through the house. Ryan could simply take the lead and not have it look suspicious at all. The minute, the second they were in Ryan's room the thing was coming off and Jon was going to be in clothes again. For the moment, the only things that fit Jon were Ryan's pajama type clothing, but Ryan had plans to take care of that in the future. His grandmother had left him a not-insubstantial amount of money and while he couldn't get at most of it until he was eighteen, he saw a percentage of the interest every six months. Normally he used it for his instruments, other things he knew he couldn't ask his father to help with, but this time it would be enough to get Jon some of his own clothing, maybe even some frivolities, if Ryan could get Jon to tell him what he'd actually want.

Ryan opened the door to his room and walked in, turning to shut it behind Jon. In that split-second he heard Jon's knees hit the wood of his floors, the crack-thud of the impact. Ryan knew it would have been fluid, Jon had that down, but even so, it had to have hurt. He whirled, "Jon--" then saw what had caused it.

Spencer said, "Shit, sorry, should have thought about that. We never buy pleasure slaves so I didn't think--"

"Hey Spence," Ryan said, and then got between Jon and Spencer, and said, "Hey, sorry, I should have told you that Spence breaks in all the time," acting as much as possible like nothing had happened, definitely like Jon hadn't done anything wrong.

"You made me a key, dickface," Spencer said lightly, but Ryan could hear the concern underneath it.

"Sorry, Ry-- Mas--" Jon was breathing hard and Ryan wanted to put a hand to his chest, but he wasn't sure that would be calming at all.

"We're safe, Jon. We're safe, and you didn't do anything wrong." Ryan took a second and then said it again, again and again until Jon was actually listening, his breath slowing.

He said, "Spence, can you throw my green pajamas down from my bed?"

Spencer didn't even respond, just took the stairs two at a time. Ryan caught the shirt and boxer pants as they floated down and offered them straight away to Jon. "Here, here."

Jon took them, clutching at them with a fierceness that Ryan suspected was unconscious. Ryan said, "I'm gonna-- I'm gonna go chat with Spencer. You come up when you're ready. Or you don't have to, okay? Everything I said is still true, you can do whatever you want in this room." Ryan wished he could promise freedom beyond its walls, but that was what he had for now.

"Ryan?" Jon asked softly and without looking up at all, as though maybe if he didn't move it would mean he hadn't asked.

"Yeah?"

"Brendon's owner, Spencer?"

Ryan hesitated. "I think, honestly, Spencer thinks of Brendon more as an older brother than anything, but yes, the Smiths hold Brendon's papers."

After a moment Jon nodded. "Sorry."

"My fault. Your knees okay?"

That got Jon to look up. His expression was confused. Then he said, "Oh, yes, fine."

"I'll get some ice for them, just in case. Tylenol."

Jon's grip tightened even further. "O-- Thank you."

Ryan's chest ached a bit, but he said, "You're welcome," and went to go get the ice.

***


When he climbed into the loft, Spencer gave him his best, "I'm sorry," face. Ryan shook his head and crawled over to where he could sit next to Spencer, lean into him. Spencer wrapped his arm around Ryan and squeezed. Ryan said, "I suck at this."

"You're fine," Spencer said, calm and steady. It wasn't fair; Spencer was a year younger than Ryan, almost to the day, but he was always so much more adult-like.

"He's scared of me. He looks at me like I used to look at my dad, before I figured out that only made it worse."

"He's not scared of you, Ryan, he's scared of the world. I sure as shit would be. Brendon used to have nightmares about the stuff he saw at the training grounds. I think he still does, sometimes, he just pretends he couldn't sleep instead of running to my parents for hugs and cookies."

"Your parents do give good hugs," Ryan said pensively.

Spencer made a soft noise, and squeezed Ryan just a little bit harder. Ryan asked, "Can you stay?"

"You sure?"

"There's enough room," Ryan said. There was enough room for a pro-football team in Ryan's bed, if he used the space wisely.

"Not what I was asking."

Ryan knew. He fisted Spencer's shirt. "Stay. Please."

"'Kay, Ry."

***


When it became clear that Jon wasn't going to come up into the bed, Ryan went down to go get him. It wasn't that Jon had to come, by any means, but Ryan also didn't want him sleeping on the wood floor, and he wasn't so sure Jon wouldn't, just to give them some privacy, or whatever was going on in his head. Ryan padded down just in time to see Jon snatching his hand back from where it had been resting on one of Ryan's guitars. Ryan walked down the rest of the way, slowly.

Jon said, "Sorry, sorry."

"Don't be. I told you you were free to use things in this room. I meant it." Ryan took the guitar from its stand and offered it to Jon. Jon looked at it for a long time before taking it from Ryan.

Ryan picked a second one up. The one he'd given Jon was the guitar he'd bought most recently, a far more high quality model than the one he was holding, but the one he was holding had been his first, the first thing he had ever bought with his grandmother's money, and despite its relative lack of quality, it was still his favorite. Ryan admitted, "I'm not very good. My father doesn't approve of lessons, so I've mostly taught myself from the open courseware available."

"I usually just play for people. Background noise."

Like a stereo, Ryan thought. Like something you couldn't see, except that Jon had always been sitting right fucking there. Ryan took a breath. "What do you know?"

"I...I can follow. Whatever."

Ryan's eyes widened. "What you're saying is that you're good." He grinned. "All right. Um." Ryan thought about it for a second and started playing one of his favorite songs, something that had been playing on one of the more restricted areas of the 'net lately. Ryan was fairly good at finding things he wasn't supposed to. Jon came in after a bit, adding a harmony of sorts and it wasn't the one Ryan had heard, the "real" one, but it was kind of...better, actually. Ryan heard Spencer come and sit on the stairs, but he didn't stop playing. Jon faltered for a moment, looking out the corner of his eye, but whatever Spencer did must have reassured him, because he picked back up again.

Ryan moved into some other stuff, some fairly traditional, most not, and Jon just followed, easy and interesting in his accompaniment. At one point, Ryan looked over at Jon and noticed, to Ryan's surprise, that Jon was smiling. Ryan was pretty sure Jon didn't even know, not given how unfettered the expression was. Ryan bit his lip hard enough to hurt in punishment for thinking about how much he wanted to taste that smile and made himself pay attention to what he was playing.

***


Teaching Jon to read was an agonizing process, not only because teenagers had a much slower learning curve than children, but also due the fact that Jon was terrified of making a mistake. Ryan had tried time and time again to just gently correct him, to make sure he encouraged Jon when he was doing well, but it simply didn't matter--Jon expected punishment for the tiniest wrongs.

Finally, one day, when Jon cringed from him after stumbling, Ryan got up and walked out of the room. He considered calling Spencer, but he was too pissed to do anything but yell, so instead he walked outside and threw rocks at the cactus garden, screaming obscenities. Most of his neighbors weren't home and the ones that were, well, Ryan was a teenager. It was totally to be expected that he was mildly insane.

When he was ready, he walked back to his room as quietly as he could. He found Jon kneeling. He wasn't naked, which was something, as the first few weeks he'd repeatedly tried stripping--particularly after receiving his own clothes--but Ryan couldn't help the tears of anger and frustration and pure exhaustion that rolled down his face. He asked, "What should I do, Jon?"

Jon twitched ever so slightly, enough that Ryan knew he had heard, was listening. Ryan tried, "What's a fucking appropriate punishment for not remembering that t and h make a 'th' sound?"

Jon's breathing nearly halted and Ryan said, "Or maybe I'm fucking up like this, too. Maybe they did this to you, too, asking you and then actually doing it or making it worse, I don't know, I don't fucking know, I just--" Ryan wiped at his face angrily and made himself breathe. It was wet and loud and not at all subtle, but when he could he said, "You know what? I can't do this anymore today. We'll-- Tomorrow. We can try again tomorrow."

He climbed the stairs two and three at a time and curled up in his bed, intending on a full-on sulk. He would have indulged, too, but as he was working his way up to the level of self-pity needed for just such an event, he felt a soft, tentative touch at the blankets covering his head. Ryan considered hiding, but that was immature even for him, he decided, and he peered out just enough to say, "I'm fine, Jon, it's okay."

Jon used the small opening Ryan had created to sneak himself under the covers, wrapping himself in big spoon position around Ryan. Ryan tensed for the barest of moments, not really used to anyone who wasn't Spencer cuddling him, or even touching him much. Then he melted into it, so so sure that he was wrong to, but Jon was warm and softer than he had been when he first came and Ryan needed a hug. Ryan said, "I'm sorry," feeling more ashamed than he ever had.

"Me too," Jon admitted, and it sounded a little scared, a little confused, but mostly just contrite.

"No. I know you have good reason not to trust. I mean, I don't know know, but I can infer."

Jon was quiet for a long time. Finally he said, "And I know you're trying. I just...can't always understand that in my head."

Ryan nodded. Jon probably couldn't see, but he would feel the movement. Ryan asked, "Is it-- You don't mind this?"

Jon took a quick breath and said, "In the training houses, there are two kinds of slaves. There are the ones who live by themselves and will die by themselves, and there are the ones who want something else. Who try and work out a system to share food and stuff that's discouraged, because friendship between slaves is dangerous. But if you can manage to make those connections, you have someone to snuggle with at night, someone who might be able to help you if you're badly hurt. It's never a guarantee, and there's a lot of risk, but it's...it's human. It's something that can remind you of that. It's why they don't let the ones in re-training near the others. Because they know."

Ryan's stomach hurt at the thought. "You were-- You had friends?"

Jon echoed the word, "Friends," curiously and then, more decisively, "Friends." He held on just the slightest bit harder. "I miss snuggling."

Ryan tried to make himself smaller, make himself fit better. His mind was racing at the thought that Jon was doing something he'd done with people he'd trusted with Ryan. He was giving Ryan that. Ryan would have to use it wisely, but not necessarily scantly. "Then we should do it more often."

Against the shoulder of Ryan's shirt, Jon mumbled, "I'd like that, please."

***


"No," Ryan said, impressed that he sounded calm, because Jon was deathly-still against his knee and Ryan's body temperature had dropped by about fifteen degrees, all in one go.

"Ryan--"

"My name is on his owner papers, and I said no."

"My name is on your birth certificate."

"You're not borrowing him, you're not lending him out, you're not touching him. He's mine. If you wanted your own, you should have given yourself a present on my birthday." Ryan buried his fingers in Jon's hair, probably more roughly than he should have, but it gave him an anchor.

Ryan's father laughed shortly and stood. Ryan stood, too, doing his best to push Jon further under the table at the same time. Ryan's father raised an eyebrow. "You're going to, what, shield your plaything?"

Ryan didn't say anything, just stood his ground. When his father started moving toward him, Ryan moved as far away from Jon as possible while still keeping himself between him and his father. Ryan's father took the last few steps quickly and before Ryan could understand what had happened his face was on the table, his head ringing, arms pressed behind his back. Ryan had learned a few things, though, since that first punch. He made himself focus and kicked backward, catching his father's knee. His father swore and let go, moving back, and Ryan swung up and around as quickly as he could, bringing his fist forward into a punch.

Ryan's father caught Ryan's fist, squeezing it so hard that Ryan couldn't keep back small noises of pain, but he wouldn't scream, he wouldn't. Or, if he did, it would be from fucking rage, because his father would win, he would win and he would take Jon and there was nothing Ryan could do about it, he was a weak, stupid, little--

Ryan's father let go. Ryan tensed up to fight further, but his father just laughed again. "Well, well. Never seen you fight for anything. Maybe that little piece was the best investment I've ever made."

With a last huff, he turned around and left the room. The adrenaline drained from Ryan's system and he all but fell to the floor. He would have, only Jon caught him. Ryan said, "Jon, are you okay, Jon?"

Jon laughed, and it sounded wrong, a little off, but it didn't sound forced. "I think that's my question, Ryan."

Ryan's head really hurt, a lot. His fingers felt huge and all wrong, and his cheek was burning. He said, "You called me Ryan."

Jon frowned. "I always call you Ryan."

"No, you call me 'Ryan'," Ryan said, mimicking the way Jon always used his name.

Jon was quiet for a second and then he said, "C'mon, let's get you to your room, get you cleaned up."

Ryan nodded and concentrated on staying upright. There was something important, though, something he needed Jon to know. Oh, right. "Won't let him, Jon. Won't let him touch you. Nobody."

"Nobody except you," Jon said, nodding.

Ryan shook his head. "No, Jon. No. Nobody."

There was a second when Jon stopped moving and and then he tightened his grip on Ryan and said, "C'mon, before you fall down."

***


Three days later, Ryan said, "I'm gonna go to Spencer's. You wanna come with?"

He'd offered before, but Jon had always looked slightly unsure and his, "Of course," had always been too glib, practiced, like the response he was supposed to give. Ryan had smiled, rolled his eyes and left Jon with a guitar in his lap and his notebook opened to a page of early readers, if Jon wanted to practice.

This time, though, Jon went to the box that he'd come with and took out the collar that Ryan had ordered a week in so that Jon wouldn't have to wear the one he'd come with when Ryan took him to dinner. This one was silk-lined on the inside, slimmer, and had a much better fitting mechanism, also, one that Jon could work himself. Ryan said, "Hey, no."

Jon stopped in the middle of buckling. "You...you know it's illegal for slaves to go out without a marker of their status, right?"

"I know," Ryan said. He'd done a lot of research since getting Jon. "But it doesn't have to be a collar."

Ryan went to the set of drawers that came out of his wall and released the catch on the top one, pulling out a box. "I, uh. I was kind of hoping you'd come with me, sooner or later." He held the box out to Jon. Jon tilted his head and took the box, glancing at Ryan before opening it. Ryan smiled a little.

Jon flipped back the top and said, "Oh."

"We can do the collar," Ryan said. "I mean, if you feel safer, or if you think it's better--"

But Jon was already taking the cuff from the box, wrapping the soft leather over his wrist, tightening the buckle. There was a lead-hold directly above a very plain "RR"; it was clearly a slave cuff, but there was something about the fact that it would be at Jon's side, or even behind his back that made Ryan feel like it put Jon on display less, let him be something other than his social status mandated. Jon looked at the fastened cuff, the honey-tinted leather warm in respect to his skin and said, barely moving his lips, "Thank you."

Ryan said, "Yeah, 'course. You're welcome." He forced himself to stop looking at the slide of Jon's forearm into the cuff. Jon still did push-ups and sit-ups--and all sorts of exercises that had been drilled into him--every night. Ryan still pretended not to watch.

Ryan fitted the lead to the cuff at the very last minute and left it as loose as he possibly could. They took the skyway to the hovertube station and hopped the tube until they were near Spencer's place, where another skyway got them close enough to walk. Jon stayed so close that the lead swung between them. Ryan understood. Even with the protection of Ryan's body, people leered at Jon, at times they tried to touch. Ryan honestly thought he was going to have to learn how to break people's fingers. As it was, he had to sharpen the glare that had always scared other people his own age and slightly older.

Ryan was very, very glad to get to Spencer's. He was pretty sure Jon wasn't any less so. Ryan slipped in the back door with the key he'd had for as long as he could remember and immediately undid the lead. "You all right?"

Jon was taking some deep breaths. Ryan hesitated for a long moment but finally decided to take a risk, take a cue from the way Jon acted when Ryan was afraid or upset. He stepped carefully into Jon's space and put his arms around Jon. "Jon?"

Jon stiffened for a second and Ryan almost pulled back, but then Jon plunged into motion, wrapping himself so tightly around Ryan it was hard to think. He managed though, and said, "Hey, hey. I'm sorry. I didn't-- I've never really paid attention. I'm sorry."

"Thank you," Jon was saying, "thank you thank you," over and over again, so soft Ryan wouldn't have understood, except he'd grown used to Jon's intonations.

"Nobody can touch you," he said. He knew he'd said it before, but he would say it again, he would say it as many times as it took for Jon to understand. "Not unless you want. Only if you want."

"Want," Jon said, like he didn't understand the word. Ryan was worried he might not.

***


Brendon found them in the hall. Ryan didn't hear him, but Jon jerked from Ryan and onto his knees and Ryan turned around. "Oh, Bren." He didn't say anything about Jon's instincts, just got down on his knees like there was a reason to be sitting in the hall and said, "Jon, this is Brendon. Brendon, Jon."

Brendon sat down like it was the most natural thing in the world, tucking his legs into a pretzel and smiling. "Hi. Spencer's told me a lot about you. I've been meaning to come, but the Smiths are holding a recital soon and things have been a little busy."

After a beat, Jon smiled back at Brendon. It was very hard not to smile when Brendon was smiling at you. Jon said, "Ryan says you're really talented."

"Ryan Ross said that about me?" Brendon turned to look at Ryan and then frowned.

"Brendon?"

"What happened?" Brendon asked, his voice low and angry. His hand came out to ghost along the worst of the bruising on Ryan's face.

Ryan pulled away. "It's healing."

"That doesn't answer his question," Spencer said, walking into the hall.

Ryan said, "Just my dad. It's fine."

Spencer narrowed his eyes. Brendon's hands curled into fists. Beside Ryan, Jon went eerily still. Ryan reached out and uncurled Brendon's fists. "Hey, I meant it. I won, okay? It's fine."

Brendon looked over Ryan's shoulder and said, "Sorry, I didn't mean-- Sorry."

Ryan leaned his forehead against Brendon's and smiled. Brendon could be too much energy, too much noise, too much everything, but then there were times when he was just that guy who had always looked at Ryan like he was magic, when Ryan had never really felt that way at all. Ryan said, "Let's just play. Can we do that?"

Brendon perked up at that, all but flinging Ryan onto his feet. "C'mon, I wrote a new song, I'll show you. Spencer gets to bang the ever-loving shit out of the drums on it. I need words, and I know, I know you're all about the fucking process of writing them and then applying the music, but seriously, when you hear this, I think you're going to want to write, you'll be inspired Ryan Ross, just you wait and see."

Ryan laughed a little and when he looked back, Jon was smiling down at his feet. Ryan grabbed Jon's hand with the one Brendon hadn't taken captive and they walked through the house like that, Spencer at their side, rolling his eyes but not saying a word. The Smiths had a recreation room that was mostly taken over by Spencer and Brendon's instruments. The girls were quite happy to colonize the bathroom, pretty much. The four of them spent the afternoon there, Brendon working out the arrangements, Spencer--as predicted--banging the shit out of his drums. Jon blinked every time Brendon threw his hands in the air and was like, "I need help," and then handed Jon a bass or a guitar, or pushed him right down in front of the piano.

Ryan strummed at the guitar he liked best, the one he always stole from Brendon first thing, and considered whether Brendon was right, if it was time to stop writing in a bubble.

***


Jon started turning a little green every time he would look at Ryan a few weeks after that first trip to Spencer's. Brendon had made a point to come over more often than that, and Ryan couldn't have left Jon at the house while visiting Spencer if he tried. Ryan was kind of worried that Jon was sick, so he tried taking his temperature, but Jon said, "I'm fine; I feel fine."

Ryan said, "You look like-- Um."

"Hell?" Jon suggested.

Ryan tucked his arms over his chest and looked at Jon defensively. He hadn't been the one to say it. Jon smiled at Ryan, just a slight crinkling of his eyes, a softness about his mouth. Ryan tried not to smile back, but failed utterly. Real smiles like that were still rare.

Jon said, "I-- I have to ask something."

"You know--" Ryan started, but Jon nodded. "I know. I still--"

Jon put his hands behind his back, forced his shoulders and his head down, a sure sign that he was nervous, if not scared out of his mind. Ryan wasn't sure it was the right thing to do, but he did the only thing he could think of, which was to hug Jon until he couldn't stay in the position, had to respond, really. Jon held on tight until the words, "Um, I'm allowed to...touch and, um, touch. People. People who aren't you. Right?"

Ryan was glad they were hugging, that Jon couldn't see his face. He took a breath, and despite the sharpness of the words as they came over his throat said, "You are allowed anything."

***


The worst part about Brendon and Jon was that they were fucking cute together. Brendon could get Jon to laugh and goof off in a way that nobody else could, and Ryan could see, without even having to try, how good Brendon was for Jon. Brendon knew how to approach Jon, how to kiss him without being proprietary, at least not more so than any normal boyfriend, and Jon knew how to respond to the curiosity that Brendon applied to everything.

Ryan tried not to pay attention, because that was creepy. They were his friends and they were happy and that was enough. Ryan wasn't stupid, it wasn't like there was a whole bunch of happy going around and just anyone could have it. He wrote a lot of utterly ridiculous poetry with bad images that he knew he was going to have to bury somewhere it would never be found, and just played chords when Brendon told him to play.

One day, when Jon and Brendon had gone to "get snacks," Spencer sneaked up from behind and pulled Ryan onto his lap on the couch. He asked, "How you doing?"

Ryan shrugged. "Same old, same old."

"You're a shit liar."

"Not really," Ryan said honestly, "you just know me too well."

Spencer let him have that without arguing, which made Ryan say, "I'm fine."

"Fine like that time a bunch of moms put together that trip to the Disney Complex and you didn't have a mom, so you pretty much just got left?"

"That's seriously what you're going to use? I was nine."

"If you really want me to dig through every time you've told me you were fine and it was complete bullshit, I am more than all right with that, but it might annoy the crap out of you."

"I should have found a new best friend when you became a smart ass," Ryan lamented.

"I was always a smart ass."

"No, there were a couple of years, there. I think seven was the turning point."

Spencer laughed, but then quieted and said, "Ry."

Ryan sighed. "Why...why do I only want the things I can't have? There are all these things that I could have, if I just asked. Why don't I want those?"

Spencer rested his forehead against Ryan's bicep. "You can't help being different. You can't help being something more that this society wants to allow. I don't know how it happened, I don't know if maybe your mom was like that, or...I don't know. I just know that it doesn't make you wrong."

Quietly, secretly, Ryan admitted what he never admitted. "I wish she hadn't gone."

Equally softly, Spencer said, "I know."

Ryan wasn't surprised. Spencer always knew these things. It made it easier to say, "I'm in love with Jon," because he knew Spencer would say, "Yeah," and that would be it. He wouldn't make a big deal, or be shocked, or try and comfort Ryan. He wouldn't pity him or be disgusted by him.

Ryan said, "I wanted it to be you. That would have been better. Easier."

Spencer laughed a little. "Well, thanks."

Ryan just kicked lightly at Spencer's ankle. Spencer said, "Yeah. It would have been."

*


Ryan used studying as a way to distract himself. It was pretty easy, actually. The more he studied, the more likely he was to get off this planet, and he wanted that more than he could say. It was something that was within his power, at least a little, so that was different from everything else, a relief, really. Jon would sit beside him some times, ask, "You okay?" if he was feeling bold, and Ryan would say, "Yeah. Did you need something?"

Occasionally, Jon would say, "I thought maybe we could play?" or, "Could you help me with my reading?" but mostly he left Ryan alone then, smiling and saying, "Just wanted to be sure."

Ryan couldn't say which he preferred. Being with Jon, playing with him, reading with him, just talking or eating with him, was the best part of Ryan's day. Being that near and not being able to touch was driving Ryan out of his mind. At night, Jon would wrap himself around Ryan without fear or care and it was good, such a good thing that he could do that now. Ryan, to his surprise, liked being held. It also kept him in a constant state of arousal, unable to do anything for fear that Jon might wake up and take things the wrong way. Well, not exactly the wrong way, but Ryan would never make Jon service him, never make Jon think that was all he was good for. He didn't want the thought to even occur to Jon. Instead he spent a lot of time in the shower with his hand, pretending not to be thinking of Jon. When he couldn't manage that, he turned the water cold. Ryan wasn't some kind of pervert who took people without them having a say in it, not even in his head.

Granted, that last scruple was pretty new, but Ryan found it reasonable, given how they were sleeping in the same bed and all. Plus the part where Jon was dating one of his best friends in the entire world, and Ryan didn't exactly want to be the jerk who fucked that up for either of them.

As such, it was Brendon who asked, "Hey. What'd Jon do to upset you?"

Ryan frowned. "I-- What are you talking about?"

"He's reading your signs as upset, and honestly, from where I'm standing, I can't say all that differently."

"I'm not up-- I'm not mad," Ryan clarified.

"Maybe you ought to tell him, since the last guy who got mad at him drove tiny needles under his skin right where the nerves are to make a point about what happens to disobedient slaves."

Ryan clutched his stomach and made himself breathe. Brendon's hand closed over his neck, warm and solid. Brendon said, "Sorry. I thought he-- I figured you knew those things."

Ryan shook his head. "He doesn't tell me much. I'm his owner."

Brendon's hand squeezed a little tight. "Ryan."

"It's true," Ryan said, feeling very tired. "You can't argue that one."

"No, but I can tell you that you don't understand a fucking thing about what it means to be a slave. Compared to Jon, I don't really either, but enough."

Ryan looked over at Brendon, who sighed. He took his hand back and found the nearest seat, collapsing into it. "I know you think that it's, like, forward thinking of you to let him do what he wants and make his own decisions and all, and that's awesome, Ry, honestly. Just. He's never been allowed that. So it's also fucking scary for him, and sometimes he needs to know he's doing the right thing, or be able to talk through a decision, even if you feel like you can't influence it."

"What if I accidentally--"

"Because Spencer never gives you advice, right?"

"That's not--" Ryan shook his head in frustration. "I know how to make my own decisions. Just because I need help sometimes--"

"But you didn't just need help after you learned that skill. It's not fair to make him fumble in the dark because you're scared that you might fuck up. That's just mean."

Ryan opened his mouth then shut it. After a minute he said, "I don't know what to do."

"There's not, like, a guide book."

"I know, but, like, he likes you. And you know about this stuff."

Brendon was quiet for a long moment and when Ryan looked up to see why Brendon was looking at him strangely, like he didn't recognize him. Finally Brendon said, "I'm not saying you're alone. But he lives with you, Ryan. You're the first person he trusted. He needs you in this."

"I'm--I'm in it. I wasn't not in it."

"Tell Jon that," Brendon said with a smile and stood, leaning forward to kiss Ryan's forehead.

Ryan waited until he had left the room to say, "Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck."

*


Jon didn't scream, cry or whimper when he had nightmares, but he moved in tiny frantic movements that with them sleeping so close together, often caused Ryan to wake up with bruises and scratches, and, one memorable time, a hand print on his bicep that he'd actually managed to sleep through. Ryan was a ridiculously deep sleeper, but if he was in the right part of his sleep circle, he would wake up to Jon's struggles, and in turn wake Jon up.

The first time he'd done this, early on in Jon's stay, Jon had flinched from him and apologized and it had taken Ryan the better part of two days to gain any ground back. The second time, Jon had actually tried to go and sleep on the floor of Ryan's room below. Since then, though, Jon had relaxed a little, begun to convince his mind--if not his gut--that Ryan was okay with the things Jon couldn't control.

Ryan had never pushed the issue much, had always just tried to get Jon another blanket, or some tea, or something that would help with shaking off the worst of the fear, but two nights after his discussion with Brendon, he thought maybe it was time to say, "You could talk to me, if that was--if it would help. You could."

Jon was still shuddering with the aftereffects of whatever he'd seen, and Ryan was pulling the comforter tighter around him, wondering if maybe he should get Jon some socks, or turn up the heat in the room. Jon said, "I--it's been a long time. Since I thought about this. I...I don't know that I've ever talked about it."

"You don't have to," Ryan told him. "I just thought it might help." Then, even knowing he sounded whiny, "I'm just trying to help."

Jon looked away for a bit. "I'm going to get myself some water. Would you like some?"

Ryan didn't like letting Jon roam in the house without him when his father was home, even if he was sleeping. On the other hand, Ryan could only imagine the fight that would happen if his father found out he was bringing water to his slave. Ryan rubbed at the back of his neck. "Please."

Ryan used the time that Jon was gone to rearrange the pillows so that they could recline against the wall with the nightstand-cubby. Jon brought the water and set one on the shelf, holding his own between his hands. After a long moment he said, "My parents died in The Earthquake." He didn't have to specify which one--the seismic disaster along the New Madrid Fault had very nearly made North America into two continents. "I was eight at the time, my older brothers weren't that much older.

"We tried to stay in our house, but they found us and made us go to the refugee camps. That's how I was stolen, from the camp. It was pretty easy to steal refugee kids, nobody was really looking out for us. Mike and I were both taken. Bill had been trying to find some work, even though he was only fourteen. I...yeah, I think fourteen. He was trying to make sure we had food, and they took us. I don't--I kinda don't remember? There was a truck and we had blindfolds on and it was too loud and there wasn't enough air and Mike and I lost each other and--" Jon curled up tight as his could, holding the water cup with enough tension that Ryan was glad it was a plastic.

Softly, thinking about Brendon's advice, about helping, Ryan said, "You were eight."

"He was my brother. And I just lost him in the dark, just like that. I don't even know--" Jon stopped, then drank at his water frantically. Ryan put it on his list of "shit to do" to see if he could trace down a person lost for easily nine or ten years, someone who most likely didn't still have the same name.

"Okay," Ryan said. "That's what they're about? Your brother? The truck?"

"Sometimes."

"Tonight?"

"Tonight," Jon agreed.

"He would be glad you're safe," Ryan said, after some thought. He didn't have a brother, but he had Spencer, and if he lost Spencer, he'd need to know that he was safe. "You're safe now. He'd like that."

Softly, like he didn't want to, Jon said, "I was safe with my parents, too."

Ryan couldn't argue with that. Still, "They didn't know there was danger. I know."

Jon finished off the last of his water and put his cup up next to Ryan's. He threaded his fingers in Ryan's without squeezing and said, "Safe," thoughtfully, like he might be considering the possibility.

***


"Is it a secret, what you write?" Jon hunched over as he asked the question, digging his fingers into his pants at the knees.

Ryan said, "You're allowed to ask, I should have-- You're allowed to ask." He felt like calling Brendon and yelling that he was going to mess this up, he was just going to keep messing this up, messing Jon up. Brendon would probably just laugh at him, though.

"And you can't anticipate everything."

Ryan's eyes widened. Jon smiled a little. "Brendon said I should maybe go easy on you. That you didn't understand."

"At least he's playing both sides the field," Ryan muttered.

It was Jon's turn to look surprised. "He lectured you?"

"He told me to pull my head out of my ass."

Jon narrowed his eyes. "He shouldn't have--"

"Hell yeah, he should have. It's not like I don't get that I haven't a clue what I'm doing. That just doesn't make me have more of a clue."

Jon ran a hand through his hair, clearly agitated. "You don't have to know. That's what--"

Ryan waited until it obvious Jon wasn't going to talk anymore. "Why? Why don't I have to know?"

For a moment, Ryan thought Jon wasn't going to answer, and that would have been fine, great even, despite Ryan's desire to know. It would have shown some serious defiance, and Ryan was honestly willing to be curious just to see that. Instead, though, Jon bit out, "The first place, my first place, it was a training house. Training houses, they, they teach you all kinds of things. How to take a cock without choking and how to take a hiding and make it seem like you're enjoying it, basics and less basic things, like an encyclopedic knowledge of toys, how to play act, and the niceties, the instruments and conversation, the things that make you the perfect accessory."

Ryan's chest hurt. It wasn't even the things Jon was saying, although that would have been enough, it was the way he said them as though they hardly mattered. Ryan wanted to interrupt, to stop the flow of words, but he wanted Jon to say what he wanted to say even more, so he kept quiet, took what Jon threw at him.

"But mostly they teach you the rules." Jon looked at Ryan hard, daring him and Ryan swallowed, made himself ask, "Rules?"

"There are no rules, really, except that what your master believes is law. There is no 'why', there is no 'fair', there is nothing, there is just the whims of someone with enough credit and the willingness to buy you."

Jon was breathing hard and for a second Ryan thought he was scared, but all the signs Ryan had come to learn were wrong and he realized. Oh. Mad. It heartened Ryan. He was pretty pissed, too. "Maybe that's why I have to."

"You have to because it makes you feel good," Jon said. "You have to because you think it makes you less the master, but that's bullshit, Ryan, because at the end of the day, you can still put your hands around my throat and choke me to death and even if someone's watching, they haven't got a right to interfere. I'm not human according to rights and rules and laws and allowing me to ask questions and play the guitar when I want doesn't fucking change that!"

Ryan clenched his fists and asked, "What do you want me to do? Do you want me to hurt you and keep you naked and starve you and...I don't even know! I don't know what they did to you because you tell Brendon but not me! Do you want me to sell you? The Smiths would probably--"

"Shut up," Jon snarled. "You don't even know, you don't even know that a slave has to undergo a reconditioning session if he's sold within a year." Jon panted. "You don't even know."

"That wouldn't be because you won't fucking tell me, or anything," Ryan spat back, mostly because there was nothing else to do with the horror inside of him, the idea of Jon being given back to those people, of what they might do this time.

"What do you want, Ryan? Ask, you can ask for anything, just like me, evidently." Jon was moving toward Ryan, and Ryan had the oddest urge to run, despite generally wanting Jon to touch him. "Do you want to know how the first thing they do in retraining is remind you of your helplessness, that they keep you on your back, hogtied so that you're entirely at the mercy of people who wish to step on you, pinch you, slap you, kick you, anything so long as it won't leave a mark? It's hard to even flinch, and after a while you forget how, you're too tired, too used to it. Which is when they flip you over, hook you up to a rope and lower you over a pool of water, down into it, over and over and over and over again, until you forget how to fight that too, you almost forget to even hold your breath."

Jon's hand came up over Ryan's mouth, the other over his nose, and Ryan wanted to back up, to flinch from the touch but he made himself not. Jon wouldn't hurt him, not really. Ryan wasn't even sure how he knew, when Jon was so mad. It wasn't even that he thought Jon could think about the consequences at the moment, he just...knew, the same way he knew that if his father ever got angry enough, nothing would stop him from leaving Ryan bleeding and broken.

Jon's hands pressed and Ryan felt his back dig into the wall even as his vision seemed to narrow, become darker. He was glad it was Jon's hands, not water, not the sense of being surrounded that Jon must have had. Ryan could still feel his arms, could struggle if he chose. Jon was looking at him intently, though, and there was something in his expression, something Ryan couldn't understand, that made him not. He couldn't help trying to breathe, bucking against Jon's hand, but he didn't fight, didn't lash out.

Jon let go just as Ryan was on the verge of giving into unconsciousness. He felt himself slide down the wall, and there was noise, but he couldn't really determine what it meant. Ryan was breathing frantically, desperately, and slowly, slowly things were coming back into focus. He felt sick to his stomach in a different way than he had earlier, but he was pretty sure it would pass. He made himself look at Jon who was over him, saying softly, rhythmically, "Breathe, that's right. I'm sorry. I'm-- Breathe, Ryan, breathe, that's good."

Ryan said, "I still don't really know."

Jon was quiet, his hand stroking along Ryan's back. Finally he said, "You should sell me. I'm-- I tried--"

"You're human," Ryan said. "You're fucking human. And nobody is fucking being sold. You'll have to fucking kill me first and then it'll be my dad's decision." Ryan shivered even as he said it.

Jon paled, too. "I didn't want-- I just-- I don't know what I wanted. I never...I think I've forgotten how to know that, too."

Ryan looked Jon straight in the eye and said, "You'll remember."

"You'll help?"

Ryan shrugged. "I'll...do my best. But you'll remember with or without it."

"Setting yourself up to be disappointed."

Ryan didn't think so, but he let Jon believe what he wanted.

***


Ryan woke up the next morning with a pounding headache, hearing the strains of a song he was wholly unfamiliar with. He rubbed at his temples a bit, allowing himself to keep his eyes closed a bit longer. Then he got up and made his way down the stairs. He said, "I'm going to make some coffee, do you want--"

Jon took his hand off the neck of his guitar and held a steaming mug out to Ryan.

"Prescient of you," Ryan said, taking it gratefully.

"You mumble nonsensically when you're close to waking up," Jon said.

"Oh. Well, thanks."

"Yeah, it's my way of saying 'sorry I tried to kill you.'"

Ryan ignored this fit of pique. "What was that song? I've never heard it."

Jon shrugged. "Nothing. I was just fooling around."

It took Ryan a second, but then he said, "Wait. You mean you were writing that?"

"Not formally, or--"

Ryan didn't have time for Jon's self-deprecation this morning. "Will you play it again? Can you? Do you remember?"

"It's not really--"

"I know, I know, I get that, but I'll let you see my writing, like a trade. It's not really, um, anything, either."

Jon thought about the offer. "Will the words be too big for me to read?"

"You can ask, if you need."

Ryan was honestly about thirty seconds from pleading when Jon said, "Okay," and started strumming again.

***


Ryan finished his eleventh year of basic schooling four months early and didn't even pause. He knew Spencer was on track, which meant a year behind him, even if Ryan had been going at a normal pace. Ryan wasn't entirely sure how he was going to handle that situation. He thought he might see if any of the local schools, the ones close enough for spot-to-spot transport, would take him for a year, and then he could transfer somewhere farther, maybe even out of reach.

Colleges had living grounds. Ryan wasn't sure how safe Jon would be anywhere on Earth, but that had to be safer than here, with his dad. The spot-to-spot would make it easy for Ryan to see Spencer, and Jon to see Brendon.

Ryan could have the latter thought without wincing, now. Or, well, he mostly could.

***


It was weird to Ryan that he'd gotten so used to Jon's head on his knee, his shoulder against his thigh, that he could tell something was off when it was. He couldn't tell what was off, but there was definitely something. It was a fairly normal dinner. Ryan's father was telling Ryan about a colleague who might be able to make an in for Ryan with the Finance Exchange, and Ryan really should meet with him and, whatever, Ryan wasn't actually listening. Jon didn't seem stressed out or actively upset, there was just something not quite right about the way he was holding his body against Ryan's.

As such, Ryan demured more than usual to his father's opinions, made sure not to start fights, and excused himself as soon as could be possibly deemed reasonable. He tried to walk normally until he knew his father couldn't see and then he hauled ass back to his room, where he shut the door and said, "What? What is it?"

Jon had crawled, as he generally did when Ryan's father could see. He was still on his hands and his knees, more hunched over than normal and Ryan got down just in time for Jon to start coughing and sneezing almost simultaneously, his body racked with it. Ryan couldn't help it, he sighed with relief. "Oh."

Jon finished up with the worst of the coughing and sniffled pitifully, lying down where he was. Ryan rolled his eyes. "Not hardly," and herded Jon up, up the stairs, wrapping him in blankets. "Stay," he said.

Jon just coughed in response. Ryan said, "Right, okay."

He went to the bathroom and found the cold solvent he kept around in case he started feeling a little ill. He risked a trip to the kitchen for some peppermint tea, and then came back to the room. He made Jon put the solvent under his tongue and said, "It'll get warm, but just keep it down there." The warmth would dissolve the medication, which would coat his throat and his lungs, steaming up through his nasal passages to allow for breathing. Ryan made him drink the entire cup of tea and then said, "Sleep."

Jon fidgeted for a bit and Ryan was about to ask what was wrong when Jon managed to get his hand out from beneath the blankets and clutch it in Ryan's. Ryan said, "Okay. Okay. I'm here. You can sleep."

Jon settled then, and did as told. Ryan pried himself loose, put the cup away, changed into his pajamas and brought a hand towel to wipe some of the worst of the fever from Jon. When that was done, he brought an extra blanket into the bed and curled up near to Jon, where he could be found easily if he was needed.

***


It took about three days for Jon to get fully better. Dinner was hell for two of them--Ryan's father ate out one of the nights, and Ryan had never been so glad in his entire life. Brendon and Spencer came over, mostly just to keep Ryan company, since Jon couldn't stay awake for longer than it took to eat a bowl of soup. Brendon got him in the shower, as Ryan adamantly refused to get Jon naked without Jon's permission or help.

Jon came back from the shower in sweats and looking slightly more human. Brendon came back slightly waterlogged. Spencer laughed at Brendon while Ryan put Jon back to bed.

Ryan kept himself on enough vitamin C to effectively kill his liver and echinacea tea. It seemed to work, since by the time Jon was able to sit up for longer than half an hour, Ryan still wasn't feeling badly, and he hadn't much moved from their room since it had started.

Brendon managed to get sick and the Smiths made him stay home, but by that time Jon was feeling well enough to go visit, so they made orange juice--well, they cut oranges and stuck them in the juicer--and went to go make him feel better.

When Brendon was acting more like himself--it took him longer than Jon, but he'd been less willing to just sleep it off--Ryan asked Jon, "You want me to, y'know, spend the night at Spencer's?"

Jon looked perplexed. "Um. I guess if you want to?"

Ryan really didn't want to have to be the one to say, "So that you and Brendon--" but there was nobody else to say it, so.

"Oh," Jon said, looking like that cleared things up. "We're not, uh. We haven't been for a while."

Ryan wasn't entirely sure how he'd missed that, except that he'd been trying really hard not to pay attention, so there was that. "Sorry?"

"Really?" Jon asked softly.

"I don't want you hurt," Ryan told him honestly. "I don't want Brendon hurt." It wasn't an answer, Ryan knew.

Jon played with the hair over his ear. "Do you really think that love and sex are the same thing?"

"Don't treat me like I'm stupid because I'm sheltered," Ryan said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Jon sighed and touched his fingers to Ryan's arms. "I didn't-- Not like that. I just, Brendon was... I needed to have fun, right? To know that I could. And he would get that, even if he wasn't really like me, not in the end. But it was easy for me to do things with him and know that there wouldn't be consequences. Do you-- Do you understand at all?"

Ryan opened his mouth and finally said, "I'm trying."

Jon smiled. "Okay."

Ryan laughed, but then asked, "And it worked? It helped?"

"Brendon's sweet," Jon said, which wasn't an answer, but Ryan accepted it.

Ryan asked, "Wanna spend the night at Spence's anyway?"

"His mom makes really good cookies," Jon said.

"She does," Ryan agreed gravely. "She does."

***


Jon kissed Ryan for the first time on a day in early spring. It was hot outside--the temperature modulators getting a bit ahead of themselves--but not quite hot enough to discourage them from lounging on the roof, chests bared to the sun. Ryan was supposed to be doing coursework, but it wasn't as though he wasn't ahead, so mostly he was just lazing about, doing his cat impression. He heard Jon's low chuckle just before there were lips on his, and Ryan didn't have a lot of experience, or anything, but he knew what that signified. His eyes flew open and Jon pulled back a little, looking at him. "Okay?"

There had been two things Ryan had ever wanted in his life enough to give up anything for them: 1) Spencer's friendship and 2) to get off this planet, away from his father.

Having Jon lean back in and pick up where he had left off was the third. Ryan swallowed and asked, "Is this just gratitude?"

"I--" Jon faltered. "Hard to say. I'd be lying if I just said no."

Ryan bit the inside of his cheek until he was sure he could say what he needed to say without his voice breaking and said, "Then, no, not okay," and went back to pretending to relax.

***


"Brendon tells me you're cutting off your nose to spite your face."

"Really? Brendon said that?" Ryan asked drily.

"Actually, those were his exact words," Spencer said. "Sometimes he can be as dramatic as you."

"Quick learner."

Spencer's mouth quirked in a reluctant smile. "Ry."

Ryan shook his head. "He's wrong, Spence. He's wrong about this."

"Jon told him he kissed you."

"That part happened," Ryan acknowledged.

"And you turned him down."

"I asked him if it was gratitude, and he said it might be. I don't-- That's almost as bad as him doing it because I told him to. Don't act like you don't understand."

Spencer opened his mouth and just stood there for a while. Ryan was about to tell him he'd catch flies when Spencer said, "No, I get it. It's...yeah, I get it." He pulled Ryan to him, and Ryan didn't resist.

***


"You're not being fair," Jon said, once they got to Ryan's room. He was still naked, having just gotten back from dinner. Ryan desperately wanted him to put on some clothes. Instead he just looked to the side.

"Because I won't let you kiss me?" Ryan hazarded.

"Because you think it's so fucking simple," Jon said. "You think that because I might want you because you're nice to me, because you don't beat me or threaten me or starve me, that that means I can't have any other reason, or that those reasons have to be more important, and that's an asshole assumption to make about me or the situation or whatever."

"And maybe it's kind of assholish of you to think that I should take what you can give because that's what you have," Ryan snarled. "Like I can't find someone who likes me for me."

Jon's fists curled and then, abruptly, fell loose. "Wait. What?"

"I don't want you just because my dad had the money to buy you and I'm not a complete masochist. That's not good enough for me. It's not good enough for you, either, but I'm not in charge of straightening your brain out."

"Ryan, I meant that I couldn't say gratitude wasn't part of it. I didn't mean-- Oh. Huh."

Ryan crossed his arms over his chest and took a step away from Jon, still not looking in his direction.

Jon said, "Ryan, gratitude has to be part of it. It's not fair of you to act like it can't be."

Ryan's gaze flickered to Jon's face. He could hear the, "But?"

"But mostly it's that... I mean, Brendon was fun. Which was new, and I liked that. It was better, way better than before. But I didn't, it wasn't... I think about you. Like that. Like, hot under the skin, heart beating. Like I want to know all the things I know if they make you say my name the way I want to hear it."

Jon's cheeks were red, but his eyes didn't leave Ryan's. Ryan said, "Oh."

"Do you-- If you want that, even just a little, then don't say no, okay? Just give it a chance. We can stop, if it's no good, or if one of us doesn't like it."

"It's not that easy," Ryan said, softly.

"No, but it's not-- You gave me the right to say no. Now we both have it. So it's not impossible."

"Afterward, though," Ryan said.

"We'll figure it out."

"Are you always this blase about consequences?"

Jon shifted on his feet, placing one foot atop the other. "Only when I trust the person likely to dole them out."

Ryan's breath caught. "Okay. We can try."

Jon's smile was shy and sweet and nothing like triumphant, but Ryan was starting to understand the subtext.

***


Jon was a very good kisser. Ryan didn't really have a lot to compare him to--a couple of makeout sessions with different kids that he'd met at one of the socialite networking societies his father had insisted he join--but all the same, he didn't think it was really a relative thing. If a person was good, well, it was pretty obvious. Jon could have him hard within seconds, and okay, admittedly, just thinking about kissing Jon did a lot of the work, but Jon was no slouch about making up the rest.

The first time, after they'd both gotten their hands on each other's cocks, discovered what there was to know--at least so far as that went--Ryan had laid back, feeling replete and unwound and said, "So, that's kind of all I have practice at."

Jon had rolled over onto him, grinning. "Not so much practice at that, either, huh?"

Ryan had smacked him and said, "Mean."

Jon laughed. "Yeah, I kind of am." He paused. "I'd forgotten. Or, hm. Maybe I never knew?"

Ryan cupped a hand behind Jon's neck and whispered, "I like it."

Jon laid down, his head coming to rest on Ryan's chest. "I don't know if I do."

"You'll figure it out," Ryan said, confident, for once, that he was right.

Jon said, "Yeah, well, you'll figure out the sex."

Ryan suspected he was going to need more help with that, than Jon with his inner-explorations. "Gonna teach me?"

Jon brought his head up, his chin digging a little into Ryan's torso. "Would you like that?"

Ryan thought of Jon's voice, how he hadn't recognized it as sexy at first, hadn't known that his body's reaction was more important than his mind's. The thought of Jon telling him what to do, showing him, nearly made Ryan hard again. As it was, Jon laughed and said, "I feel the answer to that one is 'yes'."

Ryan blushed and pretended to have too much dignity to answer. Jon said softly, "I think I like that."

Ryan smiled. "You'll figure it out."

***


Ryan had kind of expected Jon to go slowly, for both their sakes, but the first thing he did was to take Ryan unawares while he was studying the next day, pulling Ryan down in his seat just enough that he could open Ryan's pants and swallow him down. Literally, Jon took all of him in, throat closing tight around the head of Ryan's cock and Ryan screamed and came, just from that.

Jon swallowed and pulled back, looking up at Ryan with the most smug expression Ryan had ever seen on anyone's face, ever. Ryan said, "Glad someone's feeling proud," and pretended like his heart wasn't beating way too hard to go back to studying.

Jon, though, just sat down by him and said, "You make me feel hot."

Ryan blinked at Jon. Jon took the notebook from him and set it aside. "A pleasure slave's job is to be enticing, but he or she is basically a sex toy. Something to make the act better. You can't be embarrassed if you perform badly with a toy, because the toy doesn't know."

"Yeah, well, you're not a fucking toy," Ryan muttered angrily.

"And you'd never had someone so much as kiss your cock, so how the fuck were you supposed to hold out?" Jon grinned. "I wanted that. And I got it. You gave it to me."

Ryan thought about that for a minute and then grinned. Jon turned into him just enough to suck at his lower lip, kiss him a little. When he'd been given his lip back, Ryan said, "I wanna learn."

Jon swallowed. "Right now?"

Ryan leaned back enough to give Jon his most evil look. "Turnabout's fair play."

"Nothing about you is fair, trust me on that, Ryan Ross."

Ryan opened his mouth to answer but Jon just kissed him again. He said, "Here," and pulled Ryan down, gently to the floor. "Grab one of the pillows from--"

Ryan reached out to get a pillow from the music corner and fitted it under his knees. Then he looked at Jon impatiently. Jon laughed and reached down to catch one of Ryan's hands to give it a quick squeeze. "Sometimes," he said, "It's the buildup, that's the real key. Getting someone in the mood."

Ryan felt a little unsure at these words, since just looking at Jon was enough to have him in the mood. But he could work hard, that wasn't a problem. Jon said, "You've kinda got me there just by wanting to do this, but I promised lessons, so."

Ryan grinned up at him, bright and happy, and Jon caressed his thumb over Ryan's cheekbone. "Ryan." He took a deep breath. "So undressing the person can be important, but maybe we'll just, um, get to the exciting stuff?"

Ryan nodded agreeably, and Jon all but tore his pants getting them to a point where his cock was out, clearly ready. Jon said, "Okay, no being overeager. It took me a long time and some, um, well, deep-throating was a later lesson, okay? Let's just start with the head being the most sensitive part. So that's where you want to concentrate a lot of your attention, be it tongue or throat."

Ryan leaned in and touched his tongue to the head, his mind buzzing happily when Jon's breath got just a tiny bit more reedy than it had been. Never one for half measures, Ryan took it all in his mouth and Jon said, "Yeah, yeah, like that," only his voice was much higher than the moment before. Ryan looked up at him, keeping Jon in his mouth, and Jon panted, "Uh, masters don't usually--"

Oh, Ryan thought. Then, their loss. He wanted to take more of Jon in, make him Ryan's, and not in a way dictated by money, but because Ryan had done what was necessary, what Jon wanted. Still, he took to heart Jon's warning and moved slowly, making sure he could still breathe through his nose after each extra swallow.

Jon said, "Oh, fuck, that's-- Yeah, just, breathe, breathe--oh!"

Ryan reached the point where he just couldn't take anymore, the back of his throat already wanting to rebel a little, and held steady at that spot. Jon said, "Ryan, um, can you? Your hand around my--yes, like, yes."

Ryan caught on half-way through the explanation and wrapped his hand over the part of Jon's cock he couldn't swallow, squeezing at least as tightly as he was managing with his mouth, maybe a bit moreso. Jon whimpered. Ryan made a pleased noise and Jon said, "Fuck, Ryan, pull off."

Ryan was so used to paying attention to Jon that he did as told immediately, Jon pushing him back further so that when Jon came, it fell on Ryan's knees, but didn't hit his face. Ryan frowned. "I would have swallowed."

Jon made an incoherent noise and flapped his hand a little. Ryan shoved at his knee. "You got to swallow."

"Later lesson," Jon said, clearly not taking the gravity of Ryan's need to heart. In fact, Jon really seemed quite content to sit there boneless and with his eyes closed, mostly ignoring Ryan. Except for asking, "Wanna cuddle?"

Ryan considered holding onto his righteous indignation, but Jon was really super hot when sexually satisfied and also, cuddling sometimes meant kissing now, and maybe he could make kissing mean something else and Ryan wasn't stupid. Well, not in this instance, anyway. "In bed. My floor is hard."

"Spoiled," Jon said, but it sounded like something that made him happy.

***


Spencer called and said, "Seriously, stop fucking each other long enough to come over and keep Brendon company. He's been trying to teach me to play the kazoo."

"Can kazoos actually be played?" Jon asked, sounding entirely philosophical. "I mean, it's really more of just a--"

"Get. Over. Here. Now."

Ryan said, "Fine, but if your mom discovers something she's not used to seeing in the bathroom and thinks you and Brendon have finally recognized your nigh unbearable lust for each other, you've nobody to blame but yourself."

Spencer said, quite sincerely, "I hate you."

***


Ryan brought his notebook and showed it to Spencer in the greatest of confidence while Brendon and Jon were writing songs to get laid to. Ryan knew because Brendon had greeted them with "Jon! Let's make some musical accompaniment for your epic sexual adventures with Ryan Ross!"

Ryan would have his revenge, but later. Right now, this was more important.

Spencer looked for long moments before saying, "Well. This is different."

"It's possible sex turns me into an idiot," Ryan said. It was a valid fear in his head. Not one that was going to stop him from having sex, mind you, but something to be aware of all the same.

"Well, time will tell, but mostly I just think Jon makes you less whiny."

Ryan held out his hand and Spencer passed the notebook back. Ryan scrolled through his words. "Is that what it is?"

Spencer came to Ryan's side so that they could both look. "It's just," Spencer pointed to a couple of places on the page, "this stuff? It makes you sound ready to deal with the world as it is. Not the way you want it to be."

"So having sex turns me into a liar."

Spencer laughed. "You were always brave. You just never wanted to see that. Because if you did, you'd have to acknowledge that you were waiting for a reason, that there were a lot of things you couldn't control, that...I don't know. Lots of things. But, I mean, none of us really has that sort of control. Not even adults, I don't think. I mean, you'd be pretty different if your dad could have made you what he wanted, right?"

Ryan had never really thought of it in those terms, but, "Guess it's kind of lucky we can't all have what we want, huh?"

Spencer nudged his hip into Ryan's. "I'm glad."

Ryan reached down and tucked his hand in Spencer's. "I'm learning."

Spencer squeezed.

***


"Want you to see something," Jon said, one day when they'd come back from Spencer and Brendon's.

Ryan said, "'Kay."

Jon stripped right there and made his way up to the bed. Ryan figured that he really should have been used to the sight of a naked Jon by now, what with dinners and all the sex, but he really wasn't, and it was automatic pilot to follow him up. Ryan was completely Pavlovian. He would have been ashamed, except that sex felt really good. Really good.

Jon was grabbing the lube they'd been using when jerking each other off. He was on his knees, his legs spread and as soon as Ryan was in the right place to see, Jon poured lube on his fingers and--

"Holy shit," Ryan said, watching Jon fuck himself with his own fingers.

Jon said, "Be good, and maybe I'll let you do this next time."

Ryan made a sound in the back of his throat and came closer. Jon said, "You being naked would be good for this."

Ryan didn't hesitate. He did fall over several times, but they were on the bed, and Jon already knew that coordination wasn't Ryan's strong suit. Jon laughed at him anyway, but it wasn't a mean laugh, and Ryan was enjoying the way his breath caught when he went deep with his fingers. It was pretty much the hottest thing Ryan had ever seen.

Jon said, "Lay down. On your back."

Ryan did as told, practically falling that way in his eagerness. Jon tossed him the lube. "Get some on your cock. A lot."

Ryan fumbled and tried to just pour it straight on, but Jon said, "No, no, hand. I want to watch, Ry. You're getting to watch me."

And okay, that was fair. Excruciating, but fair. Ryan made himself slow down, slick his cock up until he could hardly bear it, when he begged, "Jon, please," and Jon said, "Yeah. Yeah."

Jon straightened and made his way to Ryan, straddling him, hands on his chest. He said, "Breathe."

Ryan took a breath and Jon lowered himself onto Ryan, just his head, that was all. Ryan forgot how to exhale. Jon said, "Ryan," and pressed on his chest a bit more. Ryan breathed out. "Holy--"

"Mm," Jon said, sinking further, further until he was on Ryan wholly, then he rolled his hips and gasped and Ryan said, "Can't see, blind."

Jon laughed, but it was high-pitched, pleasured, and he moved again. "Open your eyes."

"Oh," Ryan said, and did, watching as Jon writhed atop him, stomach undulating, the weight he had finally gained making him solid, but not precisely soft, and Ryan could see everything.

Ryan wrapped the hand that was still wet around Jon's cock and said, "Can I--"

"Yes, yes," Jon said, wrapping his hand around Ryan's so that he had some control over the rhythm, and Ryan let him have as much as he wanted, didn't care so long as Jon didn't stop, so long as this feeling lasted forever.

That said, Ryan was definitely the first to shout, to say, "Oh, I'm--" and tighten and come harder than he had ever imagined possible. Jon, he thought, kept moving their hands, and at some point he must have come too, because eventually Ryan said, "Mmmbrrllgh," and Jon said, "Yes."

Ryan tried again. "Wanted--wanted me to see something?"

Jon rolled off of him, next to him and said, "How good it can be. That I'm going to make it better for you."

"Just want-- I just want to try it with you. It doesn't have to be--"

Jon kissed him, snuggling in closer. They were wet and it was going to get sticky quickly, and Ryan couldn't be fucked to care just yet. Jon said, "I'm starting to get that. Only, I want it to be. Maybe I learned all this shit for a reason."

Ryan growled. "Should've learned with me."

After a long silence, Jon admitted, "That...yeah. But, I just. I want something to tell myself."

Ryan nodded fiercely and kissed Jon. "Okay. Okay. Just...It was bad that they hurt you. Full stop."

"Yeah," Jon agreed.

Ryan wrapped his arms tighter around Jon. "Nap?"

"Nap," Jon agreed.

***


Two days after Jon woke Ryan up by way of rimming him good and proper before holding him tight and fucking him slowly, slowly, until Ryan begged for Jon to touch him, to help him out, Ryan said, "Here. I think-- I think you'll be able to read it. But you can ask, if you can't."

Jon took the notebook from him, their fingers brushing. "Your writing is kinda secret, huh?"

"'Cept for the people I choose," Ryan said.

"Has Brendon ever--"

"Once."

"And Spence?"

"A few times."

"You wanna be here while I read?"

Ryan shook his head. Jon kissed him, long and slow and sweet and said, "See you in a bit."

Ryan said, "I'll, ah, be here. Waiting."

Jon smiled, just a little bit, more in his eyes than his lips. "I'll bring your words right back to you."


Enter the security code shown below:
Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile