“Before I give the floor back to Dane, there’s one last point about the committed BDSM relationship I want to make sure I hammer home, no pun intended.” Master pauses for appreciative laughter. “Every couple is unique. The only ‘right’ arrangement is the one that works for both of you. And by the way, that arrangement is never set in stone. We all need the freedom to change and grow and explore. Maybe that happens over the course of years together, or maybe someone’s having an exceptionally bad day and needs a little leeway . . . or tighter bonds. The best relationships incorporate flexibility. Dane, what would you like to add before we take questions?”
All this talk about collars has driven my fingers to their happy place—the leather rectangles resting on top of my long-sleeved tee. “Shortly after I started working with Master, he told me I trusted too easily. That was probably true, but it wasn’t exactly the problem. I trusted the wrong people—my boss at the strip club, whose only motive was greed, my first boyfriend . . .”
Master tenses. Yeah, we’re probably going to have to talk about Gavin at some point.
“. . . and of course, my abuser, Wayne, or as Master likes to refer to him, Wayne, the wee-willied wannabe.”
This draws guffaws from most of the participants, but my withdrawn doppelganger gives off a shocked gasp. I risk a warm smile in his direction but quickly move my gaze away so as not to make him uncomfortable.
“When you trust the right person, there’s no such thing as too much. For me, the collaring was the most liberating moment of my life. By expressing his commitment to me, Master allowed me the freedom to give my whole heart, body, and soul over to him without hesitation or fear. All those doubts I shared with you earlier just slipped away. I might screw up occasionally, but I understand now that we’ll work through those mistakes together, and our relationship will be stronger for it.”
Master runs his fingertips over the horseshoe clasp of his bracelet. “Beautifully put, Dane, as usual. Might I add that even the most caring masters make mistakes as well? This bracelet reminds me that I’ll have the chance to make it right and be forgiven. Works both ways.”
He turns his misty eyes to me, and I’m wrecked. Master judges himself far more harshly than he’d ever judge me, and for this, I know he suffers deeply at times. Despite his tremendous patience in those early days, he pressed a sensitive button or two—Lord knows, I had enough of those—and I’m not sure he’ll ever fully forgive himself.
There’s so much less of that now that I’m better, now that all the feelings have been aired and shared and reciprocated.
Master reaches his fingers into my hair and tugs my forehead to his lips. He’s either forgotten we have an audience or couldn’t care less. Outside of our bubble, Eleazar asks for the first question, and one of the four dom-types leads off.
“Hi, first of all, I want to thank you both for being so open about everything. I wonder if you could share your views on a 24/7 total power exchange?” The large, bearded man sitting to his left shuffles back in his chair as if he’d love to disappear. I’d be hard pressed to guess what each man is hoping to hear.
Master is eloquent on this topic, but I think there may be some small part of him that still worries I feel deprived, which is why I dive in to answer. “We discussed it at length before the collaring. I thought the full-time arrangement was something I needed in order to feel secure.”
I glance at Master, who is patiently waiting for me to put him out of his misery.
“But I was wrong. I think Master’s closing words about committed relationships bear repeating here. I can only tell you my truth, or more accurately, my half of our truth. I would not deign to judge what works for anyone else. If I were asked to describe our dynamic outside of the dungeon, I’d say we’re still in some freestyle form of dom and sub roles at least three-quarters of the time—right now, for instance. Would you say that’s accurate, Master?”
He grins before answering. “If by ‘freestyle,’ you mean getting away with baiting and torturing me without consequences, then yes, I’d agree. We’re both more relaxed in our natural roles.”
“Exactly. And the rest of the time, we enjoy our freedom to explore as friends and lovers on a more equal footing.”
“And you don’t find that confusing?” the same man asks.
“Not for m—” I start.
“Yes, enormously,” Master responds with a chuckle. “But then, that’s the fun of it. Sometimes our equal footing is on quicksand, but so what? We’re in the soup together.”
“Kale and barley soup is our favorite,” I add.
Master cuts in after the man thanks us for our answers. “Before we move off the topic of TPE, I’d like to add something to Dane’s response, one of the reasons I felt it was so important to maintain the integrity of our separate relationship as Marcus and Dane. You’ve now heard Dane’s story, so you can appreciate how important his independence is to him. I’m not saying I could never see a situation where a Master would take over a sub’s finances or control his career, but it’s not for me . . . and it’s most definitely not what Dane needed.”
“Next question . . . yes, Cal?”
A serious-looking man wearing dark-rimmed glasses lifts one ankle over the opposite knee. His foot flexes up and down at random intervals while he speaks. “Have the two of you ever introduced a third party into your play?”
I’ve heard Master joke about this with our friends, but this time, he responds with a swift but polite, “No, we have not.”
The man follows up immediately. “Would you consider it?”
Eleazar straightens his back and fires a stiff warning. “Cal.”
Master raises his hand to Eleazar as he stares down Cal. I’ve been on the receiving end of that look before, and I wouldn’t call it comfortable. “Are you asking a hypothetical, or are you propositioning us?”
Cal smirks. “Whichever you would be more amenable to.”
“That would be the former,” he says, letting Cal wriggle off the hook.
The man looks disappointed, but he knows he’s just dodged a bullet for his audacity. He does not get my Master if he thinks that kind of attitude will win him over.
“The short answer to your question is I would always consider anything that Dane wants to try.” Master’s bottom line is always about what’s best for me, so I’m not exactly shocked by his answer, but it certainly reflects a much more open position than I would’ve expected.
“Next question,” Eleazar says. A cautious silence follows his implied warning.
A hand slowly rises to my left, and Eleazar smiles encouragingly at the boy. He looks to be in his early twenties, messy dishwater blond hair falling over hungry eyes. There’s a lost look I’ve seen before, as if he hasn’t slept in days, that makes me wonder if this kid is still on the streets and what he’s using. “Yes, Jay?”
He seems startled to have been called upon. “Oh, uh . . . I”—he clears his throat and folds his arms across his chest— “this is hard for me, sorry.”
Master shifts in his seat, opening his shoulders to project an air of receptivity, and I mimic his move. I’ve been on the opposite end of this look, too, and I know firsthand the enormous healing power of experiencing someone capable of listening with his entire being. Master and I wait patiently while Eleazar helps this boy along.
“You’re doing great, Jay.”
His gaze shifts to Eleazar and back to us. “I came here today to say . . . thank you.” A deep breath rushes out of his chest, leaving him looking even more emaciated against the back of his chair. “I was the last . . . of Wayne’s . . .”
My heart feels like a cannonball just tore through it. I want to run across the circle and hug this boy, and I must have made some subconscious move to do just that because Master’s hand closes over my thigh, holding me back. I’m at a complete loss as to how to respond.
“You’re welcome.” Master’s confident, unapologetic voice grounds me once again—until, that is, I make the mistake of glancing at the boy to our right.
Transfixed on Jay, the boy is pumping out tears as if they’ll never stop. I can’t tell if the two young men know each other or if it’s just this strange bond the three of us now share. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Wayne was using them both at once and they knew, but I can’t do the what-ifs anymore; it hurts too much.
Master’s thank-you doesn’t fully speak for the flood of emotions crashing over me. I have to offer something of my own. “If you ever need to talk . . . about anything . . . our emails are in the handout on the table.”
Jay answers with a brief nod. Master picks up where I left off.
“Yes, that goes for anyone here, dom, sub, vanilla, straight, curious, whatever. We’re happy to help if we can.”
While he’s talking, I follow Eleazar’s gaze to the tear-soaked boy, who is now brazenly watching me. I trust Master’s instincts, but that hand on my leg is one of the toughest restraints Master has ever inflicted on me, and that’s saying quite a bit.
Fortunately, Master understands my conflict. He presses his lips to my ear. “Dane.”
“Master?” I whisper back.
“You need to wait for him. Trust me.”
My answer is something I feel in my bones. "Always."
My answer is something I feel in my bones. "Always."
Remember that moment in RM where Eleazar asks Marcus and Dane to run this workshop? Since then, this scene has percolated in my crazy head. How would the workshop look and feel? What might come of it...not just for the other participants, but for Marcus and Dane? And here we are, exploring. Please feel free to share where your visualization of this scene might take you/us. I've written most of this story already, but one never knows where an idea might lead...
Happy New Year to all of you fabulous readers, and thank you for all the love for the story continuation.