Word Count: 6644
Summary: Instructor had approached Jared's order that Jensen accompany him to the party as a test of his ability to train thralls—to, as he said, "Turn a lump of mud into a less lumpy blob of mud."
part 8 of This Small Dark Place at AO3
Sweet Chariot part 1
Instructor had approached Jared's order that Jensen accompany him to the party as a test of his ability to train thralls—to, as he said, "Turn a lump of mud into a less lumpy blob of mud."
Jensen was boiled and scrubbed, massaged in oil, and rubbed with the stones, and plucked until he was biting back waves of rage, out of the sheer frustration of being treated like a doll instead of a living being. Instructor slapped him once or twice to keep him in place. And then told him his cheeks looked lovely with a dash of pink, and copied the look with makeup. He tinted Jen's lips "so it looks like they've been bitten", and penciled in dark lines around his eyes, and arched his brows a bit. He told Jensen it made him look interested and alert. Jensen found that hard to believe—as far as he was concerned, he looked like a startled cartoon character—Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in lipstick—but it was not his place to question. He hoped Jared didn't find it comical, not if this party was as important to him as Jensen guessed.
Now, standing at the side of the drive with Jared, watching Jake drive up in Gerolt's car from under his lashes, he didn't find anything about this comical.
The car rolled to a stop and Jake jumped out, boldly giving Jensen a quick once-over, and why not? Jensen was essentially naked under a satin cape that hung loosely around his body, not doing much to cover the fact that all he wore was a web of straps that left his cock and ass bare. He felt worse than naked to be standing exposed while everyone around him was dressed. Jake winked at him, and chuckled softly when Jensen dropped his eyes to the ground and set his entire concentration on not shivering. His hands and feet were like ice, even though the night was warm enough. Jensen concentrated so hard on not moving that he started violently when Jared looped a finger through a strap and tugged. Luckily, Jared ignored it.
"Hurry and get in, the driver's holding the door for you. Oh, for all god's sake, Jen! Don't look so glum!"
Jared's eyes were wide, shining but weirdly flat, like windows to an empty house. His teeth were bared in a bright, white, smile, his cheeks and the tip of his nose bright red. When he spoke, he was loud, louder than usual, louder than he'd been for a long time. "We're going to have fun," he crowed, slapping Jensen's shoulder. "I've never been to a party before, I mean, not one like this. Supposed to be all the worthwhile people there, tonight. It's a chance for me to mingle, build a name for myself. You'll help me, won't you?" He took Jen's hand and squeezed his fingers. Frowned. "Your hand—it's like ice."
Jensen nodded, not meeting Jared's eyes, because he was afraid he might lose his hard-won blankness if he did. Of course he was freezing. He was in public dressed in a handful of black straps, decorated with noisy and rather tacky silver medallions, and a frightening amount of buckles and rings. There was a strap around his neck that connected to another strap down the center of two straps crossed over his chest, and then attached to the strap around his waist where it diverted into two straps framing his cock and his ass in a most humiliating way—like—like a target. His hands twitched at the thought, instinctively wanting to cover. A pair of ugly sandals completed his ensemble, ungainly things with straps the length of his legs that accented his bowed calves. And then, as if the overabundance of straps were not enough, Instructor had topped the whole ludicrous look with a black, red and purple hideous cape--Padalecki colors, Four gods save him. Like a damn race horse.
He would have died of embarrassment, or laughed himself silly at just how ridiculous he looked, but the way Master had looked at him, as if he was something good to eat; Jensen quelled a shiver. It'd killed the laughter. Made Jen feel slimy, made him just a touch angry with Jared….
He was surprised that Jake didn't drive them to their destination, instead, he drove to a holding not that far from the Padalecki estate. He dropped them off with another silent, lingering appraisal that, thank the Four, Jared didn't catch.
The small estate was one that Mistress had occasionally visited, reluctantly. She'd never seemed over-fond of the holders there, but her duties required it of her. While the estate was a small one, the house itself was large—bigger than the Padalecki—and in a style that combined modern elements along with classical elements in a surprisingly pleasing way. The white columns surrounding the porch were topped with stylized grape vines—the family owned several vineyards, Jensen recalled, and were rather proud of the wine they produced. Jensen stifled a giggle, remembering that Mistress had found their wines mediocre; oh, the subtle twist of her lips as she'd been served it on visits….
He missed Mistress so much.
The grounds of the estate thronged with young people, dashing about, making noise enough to steal the rest of anything for miles around. As they walked along, Jensen saw no adults—not really so unusual since this was the start of The Season, when people went abroad, or to Arcadia, some even traveled to the latest place that had been decided was the place to travel to—New Espania.
Young masters and freemen poured out of the cars parked here and there on the lawn and driveway, and Jensen followed Jared's lead towards a snappy, red-and black sedan. It was long—triple seats—and wide, and already filled: a couple of master's children, and some new-money, upper-class landholder's children—all of them bright, dressed in their best, and vibrating with excitement—too loud, too energetic, bordering on frantic.
There was an empty spot on one of the bench seats--"We saved it for you, Paddy!" shrieked one of the girls, so Jared climbed in over knees and laps, pulling Jensen behind him. Jensen struggled mightily not to touch any of the masters, and ended up sort of angled across Jared's lap after Jared refused to have him sit on the floor with two other bodythralls. Jensen tried as best as he could not to clash elbows with the couple they'd squashed between; an arresting blonde amazon and her friend, an equally beautiful, dark-skinned girl of similar amazonian proportions. They took up a lot of space and air—they made Jensen feel like a squatty, little mushroom.
The blonde amazon kept trying to engage Jared in conversation, leaning over Jensen as if he didn't exist. Her elbow in parts of him that had never been exposed publicly was quite the reminder how much of a person he wasn't in their eyes.
"Paddy! We never expected to see you at one of Clyde's rumbles—though why not, the clubs you've hit up in the city lately, this'll seem like small potatoes, I am so sure—" she laughed loudly, right into Jensen's face, and fanned herself dramatically. "Hells, we wish we were lucky enough to have a dad who let us get away with murder, isn't that so, Evelyn?"
"Emily!" Evelyn scolded, brushing her dark curls back from her face—and into Jensen's. "What have I told you about blurting out every ridiculous thought you have?"
The others in the car laughed as Emily went an annoyed pink—Jared smiled tightly and twisted his hand into the strap behind Jensen's back. At the same moment, Emily reached over Jensen, brushing against his bare skin like it was a part of the seat, but he had no way to avoid her, what with Jared pulling him so tightly against him. She drew a finger up the fly of Jared's trousers in a way that was probably meant to be seductive, but Jared flinched and grimaced, tilting himself—and Jensen—as far away from her as the lack of space allowed. The girl kept on trying to touch him like she hadn't noticed. Jensen was willing to bet that she hadn't, judging by how glazed her eyes were.
"You must promise to show me some of what you're learning. I've heard stories, you know," she giggled, and her friend reached around the boys to smack her hand.
"All Gods, Emily, stop acting like a slut! Let go of the boy's prick, will you?" The entire car erupted into laughter, as the two girls pretending to slap-fight, incidentally catching Jensen once or twice in the cross-fire. Jared just crossed his arms and dropped his head back against the seat-rest, shutting out both the blonde, her girlfriend, and Jensen. Jensen tried to tune out the looks he was getting from the others in the car, ignored the fleeting little touches, pokes and prods hampered by lack of space, for which Jensen was so grateful. He had no idea what to do because Jared hadn't given him instruction yet, so at least the crowding saved him from having to make some sort of decision on his own—and possibly—probably—choosing the wrong thing.
The sun had completely set by the time they arrived in the city. Their car joined a line of cars parked up and down the street. A uniformed thrall came out of the shadows to direct the drivers into parking spots, and the young freemen and masters boiled out of their cars in a frantic wave.
The crowd swarmed to a townhouse blazing with light, part of a row of immaculate houses. The stairs towards the dark double doors where were full of boys and girls in all levels of finery—from opera capes buttoned high around the neck, to flimsy little scraps of material that barely counted as clothing. Most of the boys wore tailcoats, Jared as well, a formal sort of look offset by his multi-colored bow-tie, and the pink shirt and vest he wore instead of the traditional white. Other boys wore multi-colored vests, or had stripes of color down the legs of their pressed, perfectly-cut trousers—a small rebellion that Jensen found laughable.
The double doors flew open, and the light from inside the house bathed the stairs and the manicured bits of lawn and shrubbery, so bright it spilled right out to the street in front of the house. Music burst out into the street as well, so loud it almost had weight, tumbling down the stairs and filling up all the spaces the young freemen didn't.
When they barged into the townhouse, the music punched Jensen right in the chest. He staggered behind Jared, along with the other thralls being dragged along on leashes. He felt some relief that his leash was attached to the d-ring in the middle of his chest, and not to the collar around his neck. A little whip of a girl in front of him stumbled and went down choking when her mistress pulled too hard on the strap around the girl's thin neck, yanking her off her feet. Master Jared pulled him out of the way; he couldn't see what happened next, but the laughter felt like it trailed after him as he hurried after Jared.
The flood of young freemen washed across the foyer, a large, high-ceilinged room with a vast marble-floor similar to the Estate's foyer; overhead a double chandelier dripping with light pears blazed, killing shadows in every possible nook and cranny. Ropes of smaller pears swagged the windows, the banisters; they were looped over portraits and across the walls filling the room with even more light. So much artificial light gave the air an overly bright and acidic look. Jensen squinted a bit against the visual assault. How ugly everything looked under the too-bright light—false and two-dimensional, like a cheap stage play.
As the assault on his eyes and the shock to his ears became bearable, he began to discern an actual rhythm to the music. Blaring noise became horns, drums, voices...the music was something he'd heard some of the household staff gossip about. He'd even heard it playing quietly sometimes, late at night in the kitchen, in the time before Mistress passed. And yes, it was raw, loud, and frantic—and violently alive.
Tucked in here and there around the room Jensen made out the speakers that threw the audiophone's playlist to the crowd, the dancing, laughing, mass of boys and girls, flashing sweat-glazed skin as bottles and bones passed from hand to hand—
Someone shouted out, "Gimme, gimme, gimme!" and yanked Jensen's hair as they flashed by, the herb-drenched smoke trailing after them added to the stinging in Jensen's eyes. Jared didn't seem to notice—busy swaying to the music. It was alive in a way Jensen wasn't sure he liked. It was certainly something he'd never experienced it before, not like this, with saxophones howling, drums and cymbals crashing; his heart speed up as the beat rose and rose and rose, making him want to—to—do something.
"Pads, you're here," shouted one of the red-cheeked boys, his arm looped around a girl whose dress had slid somewhat awkwardly off her shoulder, baring most her chest, and one perky, mahogany nipple. "Rhonda and what's-er-name are around somewhere. Rhonda's been going on and on about 'cha Randy for you, I'll bet, gotcha in her sights for more than just yer play-dates. Between her and Emily, I'd say you were right set." He'd leaned in close on the last bit, whisper-shouting, his smile a lascivious smear across his face.
Jared blushed red and pointedly ignored Jensen, who felt a tiny crack in his heart. So...now he had some idea of what Master was up to when he came late from school, or disappeared on the weekends. Of course, he had no right to feel anything, but still...it hurt. At least a little. The hurt made him forget that he was essentially standing naked in a room full of strangers, so there was that, something to be grateful for.
It was also some very small solace that he wasn't the only one forced into being nude in public—other thralls standing with him against the wall were in a variety of get-ups, some worse than wearing nothing at all. One of the boys wore rabbit ears, and a furry ball of a tail...Jensen shuddered when he realized the tail was a plug. The boy's hands were encased in furry mitts strapped to his knees, between that and a short bar between his ankles, the only way he could walk was a shuffling sort of semi-hop...a girl next to him had a cup full of crayons attached to the strap around her neck. Her body was decorated with names, sayings, drawings...she was a walking autograph book.
There were more than a few thralls who wore nothing but elaborately outfitted plugs. Some were pierced and tattooed in the newest fashion, something the instructor had gone on about at length. Most of the thralls had their fingers dyed that supposedly exotic red. Jen couldn't help staring; he wondered if it was permanent and if it was, what happened to those thralls when the fashion died out?
A very few of them were scarred—branded. Some were obviously drugged. Some could barely conceal their hatred, and Jensen so wanted to warn them no, no, no, do not let is show. Cover, smile, study your toes, but don't look at the masters like that.
A sharp pain between his shoulder blades almost made him gasp out loud. "Hey you! Didn't you hear us? Take these around the room."
He had a platter shoved in his hands, realized the person glaring at him was a master. "What are you, stupid? Padaleck, your bitch damaged or something?"
The thrall standing with the master was also holding a tray full of drinks. She darted her eyes towards the floor where the freemen were dancing, and made a subtle move-along shrug of her shoulders. Jen hurried out to the dance floor, praying none of the frantically gyrating party goers knocked the tray out of his hand.
He was whirled from person to person, desperately balancing himself and the tray as hands groped him, pinched him, snatched tidbits off the tray. Some of them demanded he feed them, or that he take bites off items they discarded. Some of them touched his cock, or slipped fingers between his cheeks, sharp, dry jabs that stung, or pulled at the strap that ran between his legs, rubbing him raw.
Suddenly Jared was in front of him, stopping him in his tracks. He reached out and snatched the tray from Jensen's hand, tossing it to a passing thrall who juggled it frantically, face gone white with fear at the thought of dropping it. He dragged Jensen over to a grouping of settees. On almost everyone, there were freemen and masters writhing with each other, or with each other's thralls...Jensen's stomach clenched, what little he'd eaten threatened to reappear.
Oh, he'd tried to mentally prepare himself for these sort of things— gods knew Instructor was constantly nattering about such things; after all, that's what part of the instructing was about and Instructor claimed it was a basic, non-special part of being an old and not very attractive bodythrall...but to actually have to do anything like it, in public, in the open….
Jared yanked a ring in the straps, bringing Jensen sprawling across his lap. A bottle of champagne magically appeared in the other hand, and Jensen watched the long column of his throat shudder as Jared swallowed deep pulls then dropped the bottle, ignoring the way it bounced and sprayed the floor. He glared at the dance floor and growled, "Mother never let me go to parties like this. Look at what she kept from me." He pressed his face to Jensen's chest, muttered under his breath. "This is what masters do, this is what we live for."
It took all Jensen's self control not to drop to his knees and beg the gods to spare him.
There was a thundering flurry of noise behind them; they turned to see a horde of boys and girls clattering up the stairs, furs and clothing fluttering over the railing, screams of laughter so shrill and high, it made Jensen shudder. Jared watched it all with hot eyes, and turned to Jensen. "Let's go up." Not a request, not at all, but Jensen tried to treat it so, out of desperation. He stuttered, " Oh...Ja--Master, I…I…"
Jared turned to him, his expression gone blank, his ice-cold eyes trying for Master Gerolt's awful, fish-like glare, but Jared would never achieve it. He was too smart, too pretty...no, not Gerolt, never Gerolt.
Jensen shuddered at the twisted, perverted caricature of Mistress Patricia staring at him. "Are you questioning me, Jensen? Are you?"
"No, Master, never," Jensen said, dropping his eyes. He rose as gracefully as possible when Jared snatched his hand and yanked him off the couch, running as Jared followed the other masters up the stairs.
They were in one of the bedrooms. The music was muffled behind the shut doors; it was just a rhythmic thudding, making the floor vibrate. The room they were in was dimly lit by a large electric fireplace. The walls were hand-painted in the old fashioned way, labor intensive and another demonstration that the family was more than well-to-do. The duvet Jared pushed him down on billowed around them like a cloud. In the dim light it was as if the bed filled the whole room. He wondered whose room this was, whose bed Jared pushed him down onto. Jared caged him in with his knees. He hung over Jensen, staring at him, frightening him.
All night, Jared's eyes had been empty pools, all the warmth, the colors of the ocean that Jensen had loved about them vanished under alcohol and more, he suspected. Not only was he trying to act like his father, he was poisoning himself the way his father did.
Without taking his eyes off Jensen, he dropped his jacket to the floor, and now leaned back to push the suspenders off his shoulders. Pulled his shirt open, heedless of the garnet studs falling every which way. Jensen gasped in a shaky breath. The look on Jared's face...it was like facing this with a stranger. Jared's hands ran down his body, tweaking the straps, pulling sharply at Jensen's nipples, pressing down on his belly. Now Jared's cock pushed against the fine wool of his trousers, clearly outline, a growing spot of darkness on the fabric. He growled, and jerked them open, reached down to bare himself. Jensen licked his lips, preparing himself for—what, he wasn't sure, but if his master needed him, he would always be ready....
The bed vibrated, sank a bit, but Jensen didn't really register it—Jared was dropping pants and shirts and underclothing to the floor. He bracketed Jensen's head with his arms—framed between Jared's hands and his knees, Jen truly felt caged in.
Jared stared at him for a long minute, his face softening, in the dim light he looked younger, like the boy who'd first, hesitantly reached out for his companion...Jared groaned, breaking the spell; he dropped his head, his hair drifting to curtain his face, so that all Jen could see were his red cheeks, his wet mouth.
Jared kissed him, stroking tongue to tongue, licking smooth and wet, warm inside his mouth. Gently nibbling at his lips, sucking the tip of his tongue. Jensen shuddered, opened his mouth wider, wanting more. He loved kissing Jared, loved the feel of his mouth over his, lips like silk and his tongue as well. Loved the touch of his hand framing his face, guiding Jensen's mouth where he wanted, how he wanted, licking at him. He grazed Jen's lips with his teeth, nibbling, almost ticklish nips became soft bites along his lips, cheeks, chin, grazed down his neck, before he stopped, took a breath – and sunk his teeth into Jensen's throat. Jensen was shocked speechless at the sharp pain. He arched and groaned as it shot tingling streamers all through him.
A hand traced the arch of his shoulder, then dug in. It wasn't Jared's He was tipped roughly forward as Jared made room, oil slicked fingers probed him, the tips going in and in, jabbing and stretching. Jared watched, and pulled on his cock.
"Are you ready to take us, my little clockwork, take my prick—Jones' too?"
"Master!" A riptide of horror nearly dragged Jensen out of the world. On Instructor's insistence, he'd had some training for it, but...Jared. Jared loved him, why would he do such a thing to him? "Oh, oh no, Master, please—"
This private thing they did, and now Jared wanted to fuck him, with strangers? Where anyone could see, and—and—want to take it too? Like Gerolt, like an animal….
Tears sprang to his eyes, no matter how he tried to hold them back, and for a moment Jared faltered, but his friend was pushing more oil inside him, fingers thick and rough stabbing into Jensen over and over. Jared pulled Jensen upright, his hands locked in the straps that crossed his chest. He was naked, and behind him all Jen could feel was skin, thick thighs supporting Jen's thinner thighs. "Both of us," Jared whispered and it was all Jensen could do not to scream—not to punch Jared in the face.
He closed his eyes as if doing so would shut out how the two masters cursed and fought each other, getting in each other's way. There was more oil, spilled over his thighs, down his back, two sets of fingers trying to push more oil inside him, those fingers pulling and yanking on his hole, forcing reluctant muscle wide. He was crying now, and his lips bled from him biting them closed. This kind of thing could happen, yes, but these boys were young and stupid and noway as experienced as they'd like to think and it hurt.
"Fucking—Pads, you're a fucking horse prick—how do those shebas take this monster?"
"Shut the fuck up, you asshole," Jared yelled, and Jensen's ears rang. Again and again, they pushed, prodded, slipping back and forth until finally, feeling like he was being ripped in two, the other master's cock popped in, sliding against Jared's cock and ripping a yell out of them both—Jared in pleasure and Jensen, stomach-twisting pain. Being speared by both of them was agony, something that never transformed into the pleasure the instructor had assured him he would feel. It hurt, and made him feel like he was being flayed from the inside out. He'd have a flash of something like pleasure, but it was constantly erased by pain
It wasn't long before both masters came inside him, Jared growling like a furious, feral beast—Jones moaning and laughing, then cursing when Jared pushed him back with a punch to his chest. Falling backwards yanked his cock out of Jensen, wringing a shout out of Jen, making him dizzy. His eyelids drooped shut despite trying to stay alert, darkness swept over him even before they dropped him face down on the bed.
It felt like seconds before his eyelids fluttered open again. He closed them quickly, deliberately this time, and kept his breathing steady—faking sleep. He heard the masters talking, low and quick. Fingers wrapped around his wrist, there was a thumb pressed under his chin—taking his pulse, Jensen realized. A bitter wish to laugh left him limp.
The bed shook, fabric rustled, Jones cursed Jared again and yelped—the door slammed to. And then, Master was laying down next to him. Whispering in his ear.
"Mother was wrong, she was always wrong. Look at how perfectly you took this, look at how sweetly you took me. You love this, don't you. You were born for this, training you for masterHouseboy would've been a waste, just like Father said. A waste not to use you the way you should be. I was a fool! You liked that boy in you, didn't you? Didn't you?"
Jared's hands had gone from caressing to twisting his nipples, twisting the straps that framed his cock, pinching and stabbing. Jared was deep in a jealous rage, and Jensen could only ride out the wave of his master's anger. "Slut, fucking—toy, that's what you are, a fucking toy to be used like this!" Jared came with a strangled shout—almost a howl. He dropped down on Jensen, twisting his head at the last instant so that they'd didn't touch, cheek to cheek, the way they usually did.
Jensen swam in the dark behind his eyes, floated on the music, still a steady thump-thump coming from downstairs. People still ran wild through the house, laughing, screaming, but all of it was distant and muffled. Jared was whispering something in his ear, and Jensen threw himself heart-first into the lessons he'd been taught—how to receive pain and breathe through it. Taking hatred, disgust, fear, and turning it to dust, something that couldn't touch him. Making himself a receptacle of stone, but a pliant target as well. Preparing for the worst.
Even though it was just Jared touching his arm, Jared talking to him.
He was grateful for those lessons now, finally realizing Instructor was maybe not the whole ass Jensen thought he was. Jensen bit his lip, savaged the inside of his cheek to keep from crying. He breathed, in out, in out, as he thought about the evening, and how he'd been manipulated, and how Jared had been manipulated as well...this, this wasn't entirely Jared's fault. It was mostly not his fault as all. The blame lay on his father, and the masters around him, and the jealousy. It was this horrible life of theirs, destroying everyone and everything good
They left not long after, Jared closed off and cold, and Jensen filthy and ashamed. He was sent to the baths after they returned and then bedded down in the cubby of Jared's room.
Long after he thought Jared was asleep, he heard him crying, his racking sobs muffled by his pillow. Jensen waited, hoping Jared would call on him, but he never did, and eventually Jensen fell asleep.
Life was like...well, these days it felt like his life was constantly, over and over, exploding and burning down around him.
Jared seemed to withdraw, and no matter what Jensen did, how much he tried to connect with his master, Jensen was avoided, ignored when he couldn't be.
Instructor was besides himself with fear, and tried a number of things that Jensen didn't like and Master Jared seemed not much to like himself. While Master had seemed to enjoy Jensen in the straps, he didn't want Jensen chained to his bed, or tied up with rope into painful and humiliating positions, or presented gagged and hooded and cuffed for which Jensen was endlessly, desperately grateful. Gods, he loved Jared that much more when he dressed instructor down in front of the household staff for presenting Jensen in the rear of the sedan, wearing only a hood with breathing tube attached. When, blessing on Skadi for the mercy, the rubber hood was peeled back from his head, Jensen clearly saw the horror in Jared's eyes, despite the fact his features were stony and blank.
Gerolt laughed and laughed, at both the presentation and Jared's reaction to it, as if it was a great joke, as if Jared had had a prank played on him, and teased his son cruelly all day for not wanting Jensen that way—pushed and pushed until Jared snapped.
"You, assistant Houseboy—take the bodythrall and its Instructor to the posts. Wait there until I arrive." Jared shouted, then jumped up from the table and rushed out of the hall, leaving Gerolt and his hangers-on blessedly silent for a moment—stunned at Jared's show of anger.
"Well," Kurt said, dropping his napkin on his plate. "I guess I'll get my bag and head out there." He turned to a trayboy and said, "Get that nurse out there too. No reason to touch 'em if I don't have to."
Gerolt chuckled, and given permission, so did his retinue. "I guess the little sparrow is growing up. So much for his dam's coddling, eh?"
While Gerolt and the other's finished their dinner, the assistant Houseboy returned, looking pale. He silently took his place by the doors to the dining room, hands crossed behind his back and eyes flicking between the doorway and Gerolt.
Jensen was past tears, past fear, locked deep in a cage made of ice and rage. He knew what was coming. There'd never been a moment that he hadn't forgotten that Mistress had had him flogged. He'd understood then, despite the agony, that it was the law and it was right to do. Now...things had changed,. Mistress herself had changed him. And at this moment, with the oiled, sparkling clean chains biting into his wrists, he wished she never had.
How was he going to be able to look at Jared again. He hung there silently, ignoring the sound of the instructor crying, begging for mercy. Had the man never been whipped before? He found it hard to believe, he was such an unpleasant personality. "Do shut the fuck up," Jensen hissed.
The instructor surprised Jensen by doing just that. He blinked owlishly at Jensen before whimpering, "Aren't you afraid? Gods, gods, they're going to beat us. Whip us!"
"Yes, and with you whining and crying and acting like—that—they won't stop until you fall unconscious—do you know how long that will take? Shut up, and maybe there'll be mercy, you ass."
Instructor gaped at him, and whispered, "—the scars on your back—"
The instructor clamped his mouth shut. Jensen could hear a steady, heavy footfall, and then, a hand gripped his shoulder and pulled him away from the pole. He couldn't help but jerk—he inhaled sharply at what he heard next.
"It's over, Lucky. He's come to his damned senses." The chains fell loose, and Jensen sighed, relieved to the point of not being able to wrestle a word out. He nodded at Jim. Jim took the chains off his ankles and under the sound of iron dropping to the ground said, "He came to his senses—this time. Beware, Jen. It kills me to say this, but...beware of him."
The two thralls were rushed off the square, and Jim ordered them sent to the baths, "a healing bath," he'd instructed, and there the moist, warm air helped to calm them both, and neck deep in hot, scented water, Jensen finally began to breathe again. Jim nodded before leaving them in the hands of the bath girls, who were uncommonly kind. Jensen didn't need words to know what had happened, and who had saved them. Jared had come to his senses—at least a bit of his mother's spirit still dwelt inside him.
That evening, rested, fed, and needing some time to puzzle out his thoughts, and being lucky enough to have time to himself, he walked the kitchen gardens, enjoying the good, healing smells of the herbs. He walked the length of the garden, then taking the two steps up to the cutting gardens and wandering the paths there...it was good to have a little space to breathe. To work on packing fear and pain away and living again. He crossed the gardens, dipping down to avoid branches in the orchard, when he heard a noise he recognized all too well—someone was crying. he came across Instructor, curled over his knees and trying hard to sob quietly. He looked up when he saw Jensen, and tried to look angry, but failed. "I want to hate you so badly, but it's not your fault. It's all mine. Did you know my position has been erased? Jensen, do you think...what will happen to me?"
It was an odd, to feel sorry for the man who'd been a bane in his life, but Jensen sighed. What good was it to dislike the man now when he had nothing? "Instructor…"
"Don't call me that. I'm nobody. I'm a used-up old hole who was sold off to a brothel, had a lucky moment when the master's sire bought me, and now. He's going to beat me to death, or send me to the roads. The knick knack man is coming for me, Jensen. I'm going to die, me, the sum total of twenty-five years worth of nothing." He looked at Jensen. "I'm sorry. I'm really very sorry
Instructor didn't say what he was sorry about—the abuse, the lessons, dragging Jen into a world he didn't want to know, the loss of his position…but Jensen nodded. Instructor had acted exactly as Jensen had anticipated. It was like his mam would say—pain begot pain, ugly returned ugly. He could afford to break the chain. "Listen, he who has no name—"
The instructor surprised Jensen—and himself, it seemed—by laughing. "Alexander. My last master named me Alexander as a joke—you know, the great king—but even so it was a joke, it was my favorite name."
"I'm well aware of who Alexander was," Jensen huffed, but forced himself to calm. How could this man know who he was, what his life had been before Gerolt's return? "Alexander—Lex," he said, "no one is going to kill you. They won't be calling the knick knack on you. I belong to Jared, and by extension, so do you. Doesn't matter if Gerolt hired you, Jared's the one making use of you. And he won't."
"No offense, but what makes you so sure? He's a cold-hearted one, the young Master. Dangerous. Much smarter than his sire, for certain. Masters like that scare me."
"You have no reason to believe me, I know. But he's not like that, not really." Jensen sent a quick prayer to the gods—he hoped this was a fact. It was a fact.
Somehow, Lex the former instructor managed to find a place in the Household that kept him hidden, and eventually he became part of the invisible staff—those that served in parts of the house masters never thought of. Jensen often saw him in the baths, mixing up the salts and oils that were used there, sometimes massaging Gerolt's retinue, servicing them when wanted, which wasn't that often and tended to be female and left Jensen wondering if that was where Lex's leanings were.
On the eve after the beginning of Midsummer celebration, the Household heads and a few favored staff were gathered together on the outermost edges of the orchard, where the coals of the fires still crackled and the tables for the feasts were set up. It was a comfortable night, a warm breeze floating the scent of the gardens through the air. They were sharing left-overs from earlier that day, some beef that Jared had had sent to the quarters, though of course the bulk of the meat was the pork allowed them. They were splitting a few bottles of wine that 'Cook had sent, too—thrall wine she made herself. There were also some tiny cakes to share, and cookies shaped like flower- wreaths.
All in all, everyone agreed that this Midsummer had been much more satisfying than Yule had been. Jensen thought it was because Gerolt had been subtly removed from those duties and Jared had taken the reins. Whatever the case, it was a good day, and Jensen greedily banked up any day that let him be himself.
Trinny topped off everyone's glasses, first forcing each person to sing a snatch of song. They'd been surprised at Jensen's pleasant voice, but as he explained, in Master Patrick's house, it was just one of the many skills he was expected to have. Lex, too, had a pleasant voice—again, a skill he was expected to have. There was a lot of laughter when Mark and Will sang, and everyone begged master Tech to not sing. He took it well, laughing at himself as he always did. Eric took the bottle and re-filled Micheal's glass, smiling at him fondly, the way, Jensen thought, one smiled at a sweet but not very bright pet. He shook his head. Someday he'd find out just what the real story was with those two.
He looked past one of the fading fires and caught sight of Jake, sitting off to himself, staring up at the night sky with a faint frown. Jensen avoided the man when he could—was glad not to draw his notice tonight.
A shout of laughter drew his attention back to Lex, who was in conversation with the bath's headGirl and the nurse. He lifted his glass to them with a little bow of his head, said, "Well now, women, no matter what they look like, don't interest me at all. But my fellows, I have been well-trained and never was a fool. Fucking a hole you care for not at all, or ending up pig's feed—what do you think the choice is?"
Nurse nodded, and took a deep drink, nearly emptying their glass in one go, and the headGirl brayed out laughter like Lex had told an especially good joke. Maybe he had, Jensen sighed. Maybe he had.