by Farad

Warnings: non-con, sort of, some asphyxiation, maybe, lots of questions about trust and balance and - well, angst.

Beta-ed by: Annie, Estee, Dail, Kim, and Charlotte. It was a short piece until I gave it to them.

In response to challenge ideas from Sam and Sprite, and for the WEC July challenge - take a fandom cliché and make it work. This one is a variation on "I love my rapist".

Vin woke, anxious and unsettled. It was still dark, but the sky was lighter, dawn coming. That meant he hadn't been asleep long; he'd gotten in later than usual, accepting his 'date's' offer of several drinks and some talk after he'd gotten her off. She'd been smoking pot and he suspected he'd gotten a pretty good contact high from it, so falling asleep hadn't been any trouble when he'd finally managed to get back to the brownstone.

But he was awake now, too soon, and something was wrong.

The room was still, the curtains stirring slightly in. The windows were cracked, as he preferred, and the traffic noises were faint and distant, this neighborhood actually quiet most nights.

It was that breeze, he thought hazily, forcing his mind to work. The curtains were moving a little, but the breeze wasn't coming from the windows, it was coming from the bedroom door - which should have been closed.

He rolled onto his back, thinking to sit up, but a hand covered his mouth as weight settled on his mattress.

His heart hammered with fear and surprise, but the words were clear, blowing over one ear. "Just me, don't panic." The voice was low, a deep rumble that Vin knew and he did relax.

But the hand over his mouth stayed in place and the bed shifted a little more as the newcomer stretched out beside Vin.

"I don't have a lot of time, but I wanted to see you, needed to see you here," he said against Vin's ear. "I've got to be back at - well, I've got to be back soon."

The hand moved, drifting off Vin's face to pull back the bed covers.

"Where have you been?" Vin asked, but lips covered his, the kiss deep and hard, pushing him back into the pillows as the larger body rolled onto his.

He didn't fight it, his arms wrapping around the other man's back. He shifted, his legs spreading for his lover to settle between them, and he lost himself in the kissing, sucking on the tongue in his mouth.

Josiah moaned, but drew back from the contact. He was breathless as he said, "You're all right?"

Vin laughed, happy to have Josiah in his bed, in his arms. "Better, now," he said, tilting his head to try for more kisses. "Ain't been the same without you here."

Josiah was still, and Vin worried about what he had said. But even as he tried to find words to undo it, Josiah shifted, leaning down more slowly. "I've missed you too," he murmured just before their lips met again.

These kisses were different, slower and deeper, but not about sex, Vin knew. It was good though, better than good, better than sex - and that thought startled him.

His hands were roaming over Josiah's back, appreciating the long planes of muscles and bones hidden beneath the heavy shirt, the wide expanse of the other man's body. Josiah was big, tall and wide, but it was muscle, virtually no fat on his body.

The size of him was intimidating, and under other circumstances, Vin would have been reluctant to take him to bed, even as a client. But his gentleness and care for Vin had been apparent from their first time together, and Vin had come to love the way Josiah's big hands treasured him, the way his big body sheltered Vin's own, the way Josiah possessed him so completely.

The kisses were that way now, deep and possessive, and Vin wondered if his pleasure in them was influenced by the pot smoke from earlier.

He knew better, though, knew himself well enough to know this past week had seemed a lot longer than the ones before it.

"Where have you been?" Vin asked as Josiah held him close. "Thought you didn't have a deadline right now."

"Shhhhh," Josiah murmured, nuzzling against Vin's neck, "let's not talk about it. Want to be with you, but I don't have long."

Vin shifted, pressing his body against Josiah's. It wasn't as much sexual as for comforting, his nose rubbing against Josiah's hair, his arms pulling Josiah against him. They rarely reclined this way, with Vin under Josiah, partly because Josiah was damned heavy and partly because Josiah didn't like that his hands were restricted in what they could touch. Now, they were trapped beneath Vin, kneading the muscles of Vin's back but not able to caress or stroke.

The massage was nice, though, working deep into the tension Vin kept in his lower back, and he arched a little, giving Josiah more room.

Josiah's words filtered through the fog of pleasure, and he murmured, "You can't stay? Why not?"

Josiah mouth was wet against Vin's neck, sucking and biting lightly as he worked his way along. "Just needed to see you," he said softly.

"Yeah," Vin agreed, turning so that his lips were close as Josiah drew up.

They kissed some more, slow and playful, but Vin wanted more, now, the hands working his back stirring urges lower in his body. He arched, brushing his pelvis against Josiah's belly. He wasn't erect yet, but the bulge was growing.

Josiah made a sound low in his throat, and pulled back. "Can't," he said, but it sounded more like a moan, the noise low and deep. "I've got to go," he said, and he pulled his hands away.

Vin held tighter though, not yet ready to let go. "What have you got to do this time of the morning?" he asked. "Stay, 'Siah, I'll get you up in a while, early, if you need to. But stay now."

He heard something in his own voice that he didn't quite know, a sort of neediness that he wasn't sure he liked, wasn't sure where it came from. But he wanted a little more time, wanted to have Josiah close for a while.

"Not a good idea," Josiah said quietly, even as he pressed against Vin, his own cock hard. "Don't want to - no, Vin, not a good idea."

Vin angled his head, seeking out Josiah's mouth. Josiah didn't resist these kisses, and though they started with the ease of earlier, the passion, the lust, came in fast.

It wasn't long before Josiah's hands caught at the waistband of Vin's sweats, pushing them down, and Vin squirmed to help, his arousal winding higher. It'd been almost a week since they'd seen each other, Josiah off working on some project for his university that he hadn't wanted to discuss with Vin or anyone else. His absence had left Vin a little bewildered.

A little desperate.

He had had few people in his life that he'd allowed himself to count on, and it had been a surprise to discover that he'd let himself get that comfortable with the older man.

As they broke for air this time, Josiah nuzzled against his jaw and said, "I can stay, then, but I need for you not to talk. Want to fuck you, Vin, but you can't say anything. Please."

Vin blinked, pulling back a little to catch Josiah's eyes. While Josiah's professional role was as a dominator, it was something that had not come into their personal relationship - Vin was very clear on that.

Had been very clear on that. He thought he had, anyway.

But as he met the blue eyes, cast pale by the dim light of the rising sun, he saw something different, something deep and tired. Whatever was going on, Josiah was struggling with it and he needed something from Vin, something he'd not asked for before.

Josiah kissed him again, this time slower and with less violence. His hands were on Vin's bare ass, kneading it as much as the rigidness of the mattress allowed.

When they broke this time, Josiah said quietly, "Need you to do what I say. I won't hurt you, but I need for you to do exactly what I tell you to. Will you do that for me? It's the only way I can stay, for you to do what I tell you."

Vin started to answer, but caught himself and nodded instead.

Josiah smiled, his teeth flashing in the darkness. "That's my good boy, my very good boy."

The words surprised him, unpleasant and annoying in their way. Vin didn't have time to think on them though, Josiah's groin pressing against his, his erection impossible to miss. "I'm going to get up," Josiah murmured, "and when I do, I want you to take off your clothes and toss them on the floor. Will you do that for me?"

He had asked Josiah to stay, almost begged him. And Josiah had stayed. Vin nodded, heat building between them.

It was almost a relief when Josiah rolled to one side, and Vin took a second to draw a deep breath. He didn't have long though, as Josiah caught one of his wrists, the hold tight enough to hurt.

"Strip, do it quick."

Vin sat up, pulling his t-shirt up with practiced moves. His sweats were already halfway down his thighs, and it didn't take long to get them off either. He shivered a little in the cold, though, and he turned to look at the other man, his hands crossing instinctively over his chest as he rubbed his upper arms.

"Good boy," Josiah murmured. He was stretched out on his side, head propped on one arm, looking up at Vin. The other arm reached out, his fingers curling over one of Vin's wrists and drawing the arm away. "On your belly, want to see that pretty ass."

Vin blinked again, unprepared. They'd never done it that way, Josiah claiming that he wanted to look into Vin's eyes. It made things interesting, as Josiah was well-endowed and the angle was sometimes difficult, but Josiah had been adamant that he preferred face-to-face.

Josiah arched one eyebrow, his only expression, and Vin took a deep breath. Something was wrong.

They stared at each other for several seconds, Vin's mind racing. He wasn't certain where he had lost the grip on this, where his desire for Josiah had turned into this strange game that he didn't like. He had wanted the man he knew and respected, the man he thought respected him.

As if understanding his doubts, Josiah sat up, one arm moving slowly to catch Vin's chin. "Please," he whispered, so soft that Vin almost didn't hear him. "Just this once, trust me. I need you to do what I ask. For me."

That - something was still in his eyes, in his face, and he looked as tired as Vin thought anyone could look.

And it was Josiah, not some nameless client - hell, not even some named client who he'd been servicing for years.

Carefully, Vin twisted so that he was kneeling on the mattress, then he bent to rest on his hands and knees. He kept his eyes on his lover, and the little flutters in his stomach increased as one of Josiah's hands stroking along Vin's back and over his flank, petting him.

Josiah's touch was light, hardly a caress, and Vin shivered again. Josiah hadn't told him what he was doing, just that he was working on a project for the university, but Vin had figured out a while back that a lot of what his lover did wasn't necessarily teaching. Josiah was one of the best profilers in the academic world, and Vin suspected that he consulted outside of the world of education as well.

Something was affecting Josiah, drawing up the dark side that he usually reserved for his professional role. They were in Vin's room, not Josiah's; unless Josiah had brought something with him, there were no paddles or whips or other things that Vin didn't want to think about.

But Josiah didn't need those things to be intimidating, which Vin knew well.

"Just do what you're told," Josiah said, his voice vibrating through Vin's mind, "and everything will be all right." The whisper of earlier was gone, no plea in this, no passivity. It was as if Josiah had become someone else, as if another man were in the room from the one Vin knew.

He got his knees, then, so that he was hovering over Vin. Vin turned to watch him, but one of Josiah's hands came to rest on his head, applying pressure as it forced Vin to look forward. The touch wasn't painful, but it was strong; had Vin resisted, it could have hurt him.

Later, about the fiftieth time his mind wandered through the memory of this night, he would think that it was somewhere here that he started to shut down, started to treat this as a job. It wasn't conscious though, not when it started. But he had been selling himself for so long that he fell into the protective mindset with no awareness, just the instinct for self-preservation that came with living on the streets.

"Be good," Josiah said, "be a very good boy."

The words were hard - Vin hated being treated like a child, certainly like anything other than what he was. He'd been on his own for so long that he didn't even remember being a kid, and he resented the implication that he needed to be controlled.

But worse than the words, which he could probably have ignored, was the tone. Patronizing, commanding. Authoritative.

Reminding him of his times in juvenile detention, in the Army, places where someone always wanted to tell him how to live his life.

He tensed as Josiah's hands stroked down his spine, his head dropping forward in submission. It was Josiah, some part of brain screamed, and Josiah needed this, had asked him for it. He could do it.

But the Vin Tanner who responded to that tone, those commands, was not the man who had come to care for the man he thought of as friend. The Vin Tanner who did as he was told, who submitted with no question and with some small arousal, was the one who had learned to push his own ego down.

Vin knew, rationally, that he was letting this happen, that he was trying to give Josiah what he needed, what he had asked for. He knew he was doing it because he cared enough about Josiah to do it.

But what he didn't know was why he cared this much.

The big hands came back to cup his ass, kneading again. Josiah always said that he loved Vin's ass, loved that he could hold it easily, loved that he could touch it and Vin would respond.

Loved that he could affect Vin so intensely. Even now Vin was surrendering to a thrum of desire, loving the way Josiah's thick fingers pressed into his muscles, Josiah's thumbs slipping over the curve and into the cleft that separated the two halves and led to Vin's more intimate parts.

"Shoulders down," Josiah murmured. "Let me see your pretty ass begging for me."

This was a position Vin knew well; he had a nice ass and good legs, and at least once a week, one of his clients wanted to see him this way, open and waiting and on his knees, as close to begging as one could get from a rear view.

But it made him vulnerable, and while he had learned long ago to ignore the little twirls in his stomach, they had never gone away, not even with people he trusted.

Vin did what he was told, folding his arms down and resting his head on the pillow. The position changed the tilt of his hips, so that his most vulnerable area was visible, and he wasn't surprised when Josiah ran a finger over the small pucker of his anus and then down over the soft seam to his balls.

"Such a sweet boy," Josiah said, his voice cold. "So well-behaved. For that, I'm going to give you a reward."

Vin's cheeks were spread, cool air blowing over his entrance before something wet and warm stroked over it. The sensation was so unexpected that he jerked, and Josiah chuckled. Then it happened again.

Vin's dick rose so quickly that it hurt, and his body shuddered under the intensity of the contact. He'd been rimmed before, even tongue-fucked, but it had never felt like this, never been this close to the line of feeling-so-good-it-hurt. Few clients ever dared this sort of thing, and his mind struggled to make sense of the mixing of friend and client. Of lover and stranger.

The trained part of him won, and he tried not to think, just pushed back up onto his hands, thrusting his ass back for more.

The first slap to one cheek stung and he gasped. The second one was harder, actually painful, and he didn't even think before he dropped back down, pulling his ass forward and away.

The anger came then, and he started to drop his hips as well, ready to roll onto his side.

But the big hands caught his pelvis and held him, lifting him so that his knees actually came off the mattress and he had no leverage, his ass up in the air.

"Shoulders down," Josiah said flatly. "Do as you're told." Then the tongue was back, not just licking this time, but also slipping in, going just far enough to make him squirm with want.

It was impossible to keep the anger with the pleasure washing through him, and he let himself moan into the pillow as Josiah's mouth did things to him that he'd done to others but rarely had done to him. Not this well.

He was on the point of release, so close that he was twisting his hands in the pillow to keep from reaching for himself, when the touching slowed then broke off and he was lowered so that his knees once more took his weight. His legs shook with the effort of holding himself up, and he turned to look over his shoulder, indignant almost.

The demand was on his lips, but it remained unspoken as Josiah's gaze met his, the older man licking his lips.

"I'm going to fuck you," Josiah said, low and flat. "Get me ready."

"What do you want me -" He was cut off as one of Josiah's hands again connected hard with his ass, a reminder of what he was now. A whore in his own bed.

It pissed him off as much as it worried him; this behavior was so at odds with what he and Josiah had discussed that the anger from earlier mixed now with a sort of disbelief. Josiah knew he didn't like this, knew he didn't want this, not between them. But he was pushing it anyway, as if Josiah himself needed it. Did he?

"You know what to do," Josiah said, his voice softer. "Your mouth is for pleasing me, not talking. If you can't keep it quiet, I'll put something in it." The words stung, but the look in the older man's eyes was desperate again, almost begging. Asking Vin to go along with this, to play this game.

As if to counter the harshness of his words, Josiah's hand slipped between Vin's thighs and gently squeezed his erection, a practiced stroke that diminished the pain of his stinging ass nicely. Vin, once more the professional, relaxed into the touch, wanting more, and when Josiah let him go, he sighed with disappointment.

"Get me ready," Josiah commanded again, but his tone was still soft, his hands languidly stroking the back of Vin's thighs.

Vin pulled himself together, shifting to kneel as he plundered the nightstand for the condoms and slick he kept there. As he pulled them out, he looked over to see Josiah on his knees, hands on his hips. He was still completely dressed, his dark clothes indistinguishable in the shadows of the room.

For an instant, he felt dissociated. This was his room, his home. He had never had a client here, never had anyone in his bed who he was working for.

The memory that he was doing this for Josiah, that he wasn't, technically, working, took a while to worm its way into the stands of his thoughts, weaving them back together. Reminding him that he could end this, he could let this go.

"Come here," Josiah ordered, but he held out his hand. "You have work to do."

Usually, their bedplay was full of amusement and humor, both of them finding ways to make the other one laugh. There was nothing funny in this, though, not to him, and he didn't get the sense that Josiah was actually enjoying this either. Something was off, as if this were for some one else.

But he didn't know who. It wasn't a john, though, it was Josiah, someone who he had chosen to let into his bed, someone who he actually wanted to be with. Someone who had asked him to do this.

Another thought came, and he glanced around the room, looking for something that was out of place. Josiah had managed to get in without waking him - maybe he had brought a friend, or someone to watch, maybe there was something else going on here. Maybe Josiah was doing this for work.

Or maybe someone was forcing him, making Josiah do this.

Even as he considered the unlikeliness of such, Josiah moved fast, his body in excellent shape. He caught Vin's upper arms before Vin even felt the bed shift, his hold tight. It took little effort for Josiah to jerk Vin up and onto his knees, pulling him close.

"Don't want to punish you, but if you're a bad boy, I will. I don't want to waste the time of bending you over my knee, but if you don't do as you're told, I'll take this belt off. Do you understand?"

Vin had never been afraid of Josiah, but now, the grip on him was bruising, and his arms were caught between them, held in such a way that he couldn't fight.

He stared into the other man's eyes, and once again, what he saw there was so at odds with what Josiah was saying that Vin wondered at his own stability.

He almost spoke, almost answered Josiah's question, catching himself at the last second so that the noise he made was more of a strangled whimper.

Josiah's mouth found his, the kiss hard and short, sucking his breath away before Josiah pushed him back.

"You know what you're supposed to do," the older man said, the words soft again. "Don't make me tell you again."

He let go of Vin so quickly that Vin had no time to catch his balance. He fell forward, his face brushing down Josiah's body before his hands found the mattress. The skin of his face burned from rubbing against the rough weave of the Josiah's clothes, and he recognized the outfit as one of the linen and twill combinations that Josiah tended to wear to the office.

When he caught himself, his cheek was pressed against Josiah's groin, his nose rubbing against the other man's erection. One of Josiah's hands cupped the back of his head, pushing him to rub against the familiar heft, and he managed to get one hand up to it as well, stroking it the way he knew Josiah liked.

Something clicked off in his head then, the conflict receding. The professional part of him took over, guiding him to do what he knew all men liked. There was little emotion in it now, that part of his mind was shut down as it often was when he had to give his body over to someone else. Instead, he moved on training and instinct, the training to please, the instinct to find his own pleasure, the training and instinct to survive this with little pain.

Above him, Josiah groaned, the sound more a vibration in his body, and his fingers tangled in Vin's hair, pulling him back.

He let go of the condoms and lube, using both hands to open Josiah's pants. He thought to push them down, but Josiah caught one of his wrists, pulling it so that his hand was splayed against the opening of Josiah's boxers. "Pull me out," he ordered, his voice rough with want. "Pull it out and kiss it, you now how I like it."

It was heavy and pulsing, slick already, falling against Vin's palm as soon as he pushed the folds of cloth apart. The hand on his head was pushing again, guiding him down and he didn't fight it. He didn't mind doing this, not for Josiah, not for most men. His mouth was good, better than his ass in many ways, and he'd learned long ago how to make it work to his advantage.

He did know what Josiah liked, knew because he wanted to please the other man. But he also knew what he himself liked to do, things that he wouldn't do for just anyone, not even for the clients he thought of as friends. For a second, his sense of self wavered, until he shut down the memories of times before. He didn't have time to think on all the issues here, why Josiah needed this, why he was letting it happen. It was what it was.

The taste was strong and bitter, a sign that Josiah hadn't had a release recently, and Vin licked along the thick head before sucking it in. Josiah grunted, another rumbling vibration, then both of his hands were cupping Vin's head, controlling him.

Vin's hands clutched at Josiah's hips, but he couldn't stop the thrusts into his mouth, the length of the man's cock driving into the back of his throat. He choked, gasped as Josiah drew back, then gasped again as he was pulled up and away, his lips stinging from the loss.

"Love your mouth," Josiah said, "but want your ass, boy. Now."

Josiah's hands left his head, and Vin took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. Fear knotted in his stomach, thick and cold; his instinct was to bolt from the bed, find the light switch and drive the darkness back and away.

As the thought solidified in his head, the big hands stroked down his arms, soothing, then one caught at Vin's hand. Josiah held it for a few seconds, his fingers twining with Vin's in that silent reassurance that drew back the memories of times before. Josiah's eyes once more caught Vin's, but this time, there was no way to mistake the pleading. It was as if Josiah were trapped in himself, his body controlled by someone else, like in a bad science fiction movie.

That thought was absurd, but the fear notched a little higher.

"Please," Josiah whispered again, the sound so low that Vin thought he might be imagining it. "This one time."

Josiah leaned down just a little, his free hand searching around on the bed, brushing against Vin's knee. When Josiah straightened, he pressed a condom into the hand he was holding. He didn't say anything, but he squeezed Vin's fingers once more before letting them go.

Vin swallowed, the knot still heavy in his stomach. Josiah's hand rose once more, this time coming in to touch Vin's face. Vin flinched, but the fingers were light as they pushed at his hair, drawing it off his face. More reassurance, as if Josiah knew Vin's thoughts. The pleading was still there, the familiar eyes bright in the shadows.

He could still run, Vin thought, still call for help, end this strange game. Mere words alone might do it, if it were just some sort of game.

Josiah leaned in, his lips brushing against Vin's forehead. Another silent request, for patience, for cooperation, for Vin to let it happen.

Once more, he became what he was, pushing his emotions down and away. He sighed, but tore open the condom wrapper. Josiah stroked at his temple as Vin worked the thin material into place with practiced ease, allowing himself to enjoy touching the large cock. The gentle touches, the reminder that the man he cared for was still here, allowed his own arousal to return, drawn as always by the need to please and by the thought of having this cock inside him.

When it was done, Josiah leaned in close, kissing Vin lightly on the cheek this time, his touches teasing. He reached down to the bed once more, this time coming back up with the tube of lubricant.

"Get yourself ready for me," he said, holding the tube up to Vin. "Want to watch you do it, want to see you stretch yourself open for me, fuck yourself while you think of me sliding into you. Want to see how much you want me, boy, how much you need me to fuck you." The look in his eyes was still there, that desperate need that was almost as frightening as the words, but there was desire now too, a slow burn that Vin knew well.

Vin let Josiah press the tube into his hand; with a nod, he sat down on his heels, then eased back toward the pillows.

Josiah caught him with a hand on the knee, shaking his head. "Want to see your ass in the air, boy, your fingers getting you nice and open for me. Roll over and do it right, beg me on your knees. Beg me like you know you should."

It wasn't easy to do, but he'd done it before, some of his clients liking the power, or the idea of the humiliation. He held Josiah's gaze for a few seconds, though, and despite himself, he tried to find the man he knew, the man he trusted.

The hand on his knee rubbed gently, as if in apology, before slowly ghosting up to stroke Vin's inner thigh. His own cock responded, twitching against his belly, knowing the job better than he did.

Vin opened the tube, letting the clear gel spurt onto his fingers, then rolled onto his knees and braced himself on one hand. Dropping his head, he lifted his arm and stretched it back, his fingers finding their target with the unerring aim one had for one's own body.

Two fingers went in with just a little stretching; he was far from a virgin, and even though his client tonight had been a woman, he'd been with a man earlier in the afternoon, one who liked to fuck him thoroughly.

One who was only interested in his own pleasure, not in Vin's. Someone who controlled every move Vin made, everything he felt.

Josiah had always been an equal in Vin's bed, someone Vin wanted to please and someone who pleased Vin. Until now. Now, he was the client, and the shift from one to the other wasn't something Vin welcomed.

Vin let his fingers push deep then pulled them almost all the way out, knowing how to make it a show even though for the purpose of spreading the lube, it didn't need to be. Then he added a third finger, slowing a little to adapt to the stretch. His movements were habit, though, the actions he had perfected over the years of plying his body. He hardly thought of them, hardly registered the sensations he was causing himself, his mind preoccupied with not feeling anything about this other than the physical. Not thinking about why he was letting this happen.

He could stop this, he reminded himself once more. He could speak up, and even if the worst-case happened, even if Josiah attempted to force him physically, he could yell loud enough to get help.

If he wanted to. It was still in his control. Still his ability to refuse.

"Such a good boy," Josiah said, but the words were faint, lost against the mire of Vin's thoughts.

Fingers pushed against his inner thighs, his knees spread further apart and he fell forward, having to rebalance on his arm. The unexpected motion startled him back to himself, to his body, and the body behind him.

One of Josiah's hands wandered up to stroke the underside of Vin's balls, stirring his desire, as he said, "Going to fuck you now, pretty boy, open up for me."

Vin let himself rest on both hands, his fingers unconsciously rubbing on the sheets to wipe off the excess lube. His mind drifted to other things, the chores he needed to do tomorrow, which now included washing his sheets, the money he needed to deposit in his account, the strange hollowness he was feeling as he realized he couldn't think about Josiah right now, couldn't think about how things would be between them tomorrow, how things would be when this was done.

Josiah drew up against him, the fabric of his pants harsh against Vin's bare skin, his erection skidding into the slender crease until it came to rest against Vin's entrance. Vin's body, trained to accept this, edged back against the pending invader, wanting it, wanting the penetration, the possession.

For the first time since they had started this - whatever it was, this thing that had brought them together - Vin tensed. It wasn't a real tension, not a resistance to what was about to happen.

It was more the tension he got when he was in bed with someone he didn't know well, someone he didn't feel completely safe with.

Someone he didn't completely trust.

Josiah's hands were warm against his skin, one stroking along his spine, while the other curved around his hip. Vin took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly and willing himself to relax, waiting for the first thrust forward. His cock pulsed against his belly, the head sticky, and he wondered passingly what sort of slut he really was.

One who was going to let this happen, one who even wanted it, despite the edge of fear and anger, despite his own repulsion at himself for this submission.

When it came, it was slow, slow and easy, Josiah pushing just enough to get in then stopping. The hand at Vin's hip moved around, taking Vin's erection and stroking it slowly to full hardness. It felt good, the hand on his cock and the one just inside him, stretching him almost too much. Got his mind off the questions and doubts.

Josiah pushed a little more, and Vin pressed back, forcing himself to open. It still wasn't as easy as it usually was, Josiah's heft not as welcome as usual, and Vin tensed as the pressure grew too strong.

Josiah eased back, his hand picking up the pace on Vin's erection, so that it wasn't long before Vin was once more breathing deep, his body willing.

Slut, he thought, but the personal condemnation was distant now, his attention on his own pleasure.

Josiah bent forward, his weight pressing into Vin, changing the angle of the penetration. Vin winced as the pain caught him, and he pulled his hips forward - or tried to. But Josiah had caught him around the waist with the hand not on his groin, and he was using his considerable strength to pull Vin not only back, but up. The hand on Vin's erection jerked free and rose to splay across Vin's chest, lifting him, and before Vin could do anything, he was sliding backward to sit in the cusp of Josiah's body.

It hurt, one of the worst pains he had in a damned long time, and he almost cried out. But the hand on his chest rose higher, covering his mouth and pulling his head back against Josiah's shoulder, while the hand at his waist fell to his groin, teasing at his thighs and balls before fondling his failing erection.

"Shhh," Josiah murmured in his ear, "don't fight it, let it happen. Let me in, let me have you, pretty boy, my boy."

He must have said it several times, because Vin took a while to hear it over the beating of his heart. Josiah was right though; as his hand continued to work Vin's pleasure spots, the pain dialed back. Helped that he was fully seated in Josiah's lap, the man's cock as deep inside him as it could go, deeper than even it had ever been.

"That's my boy," Josiah whispered, and his hand moved away from Vin's mouth, down to toy with one of his nipples. "You sit still now, let me do all the work."

Vin swallowed, his hands in restless fists as Josiah continued to touch him, building his arousal. It came slow, but it did come, and as it did, Josiah moved. It was a slow rocking motion, one that didn't, at first, create too much shifting in the position of Josiah's cock inside him.

But the more Vin responded, the stronger Josiah's rocking grew, so that eventually, he was moving deep enough to brush Vin's prostate.

It was then, as the shocks shot up Vin's spine, going off like little firecrackers behind his eyes, that one of Josiah's hands moved to Vin's throat. His hand was big, and strong, and it reached easily from one side of Vin's neck to the other, around the curve where his neck joined to the hard plates of his chest.

Vin didn't think about it at first, his attention split between the various sensations in his body, the orgasm that was just within reach. He was barely aware of his own little sounds, the whimpers and grunts that came with each shift of his body.

"That's it," Josiah whispered, "come for me, pretty boy, come for me."

The words seemed to repeat, merging with other sounds until they weren't there anymore, the silence giving way to a ringing in his ears that he noticed about the same instant the he realized he couldn't breathe.

The same instant that his release exploded from him with a force that made everything go black.

He was out for a while, something he noticed later when he remembered the sun streaming in the windows, bright in his eyes. He was stretched out in his bed, head on his pillow, his body lax but dull with an uncertain ache.

He forced his eyes open, blinked, and tried to move. Someone was with him, holding him close, and he forced himself to focus on the familiar face staring down at him.

It came back to him in a rush, and he jerked, fear instant and strong.

"It's all right," Josiah said, but his voice was different now, not the one he had been using earlier. It was the voice that Vin knew best, the voice of the man who he had missed these past days, the voice of the man he shared his true self with. "I didn't want to use you, but I had to know, had to see if it worked the way I thought it did." He leaned down, not to Vin's face but over his hand, which he kissed softly. "I'll never do that to you again, but I do understand if you can never forgive me. Just . . . just know that what I did to you has . . . been for good reason."

He touched Vin's face, pushing at his hair in a way that Vin had come to think of as Josiah's sign of affection. In the way he had done earlier, the touches that were at odds with the words.

"Why?" Vin asked, or tried to. His throat hurt with the effort, and he tried to swallow, which hurt, too.

"I'll tell you," Josiah said, "but I can't right now. As soon as I can. I am sorry, Vin, I swear, I . . . I needed you."

Vin closed his eyes, more tired than he realized. His head seemed to buzz with thoughts and questions, too many to single out anything other than, "Tell me." But the words were still rough, unclear, and he wasn't too surprised when Josiah came in closer, kissing his forehead, then his lips.

"Soon. Rest now." Another kiss, softer and sweet, and Vin did.

He didn't intend to sleep, but when he got his eyes to open again, the sun was casting shadows, the morning gone. It was an effort to move, and he was still achy but not as much so. He rolled onto his back and caught sight of the clock: 1:07 p.m.

He had an afternoon date, why the hell hadn't someone gotten him up? He struggled to get his arms under him, ignoring the burn from his ass as he put pressure on it, trying to sit up. It was then that the memory returned, as sharp and clear as the pain.

"Hold on there." The words startled him to stillness and he looked toward their sound, surprised to find Nathan moving out of his bathroom and into the bedroom. "You don't need to be moving that fast, not yet. You're pretty bruised up, from what I can tell."

"Gotta date," he said, but his voice sounded all wrong, and he remembered the way it had been earlier, when Josiah had been here - "Where's Josiah?"

Nathan was at his side now, leaning down to touch his shoulder, then his throat. The pressure hurt, and Vin flinched away from it, annoyed, but his attention was more on the man's answers.

"Josiah had to get back to his case. He'll call you as soon as he can, Vin, but he had Chris take you off the schedule today."

Vin's annoyance turned to anger then. "He what? That ain't his call to make, hell not after - " He caught himself, not yet ready to give that part away, not yet sure about it.

Not yet sure what part he had played in it.

"How bad do you hurt?" Nathan asked, his voice cold.

Vin knew that sound, it was the sound Nathan got when he was angry. At first, he thought Nathan's temper was at him, and he answered without thinking. "Ain't none of your damned business," he snarled, trying to move again.

Nathan sighed, then, but his eyes met Vin's. For a few seconds, he looked as if he were thinking, his eyes flashing bright with annoyance before settling into a compassion that Vin knew. "He had no right to do that," he said, "had no right to use you without explaining."

The words were slow to settle in Vin's head, all of the implications of them tangling up. It gave Nathan time to sit on the bed at Vin's hip. "I've known Josiah a long time, I know what he did to you. I suspect I also know why." He shook his head, his hands clenched into fists on his thighs. "He promised he'd never do it again this way - hell, he was tore up after the last time . . . "

"He's done this before?" Vin asked, his throat still dry, too dry.

Nathan shook his head, but it wasn't in answer to Vin's question. "It's not my place to explain it to you, don't know that I could, truth be told. It's part of something else, something he don't quite understand himself, I think. Never thought he'd use you, though - his feelings for you are. . . " He shook his head again.

Vin frowned. "Do you know what he did?" he asked, not certain how much he wanted to give away. "Did he tell you?" He pushed himself to sit now, ignoring the pain and the sudden dizziness.

Nathan caught Vin's upper arm, steadying him and holding him still. "Told me enough. Said he'd been rough, probably hurt you but that he hadn't seen any blood. Said you'd be sore, and that there would be some bruising, said he'd choked you pretty good. From the looks of it, he was right." Temper again, Nathan's lips drawing into a fine line. But his hand on Vin was loose and careful. "Still can't believe he did it, not to you."

Vin's hand rose to his throat, feeling the tenderness in it. He wished he had a mirror, wanted to see how bad it was.

"You look pretty rough," Nathan said, "but it should fade in a day or so."

"Chris is gonna be pissed," Vin muttered, and the thought of having to explain this to the other man gave him pause.

"No, he isn't. He's already been in, worried about you," Nathan said quietly, "and about Josiah. They'll be a paycheck for the time you're out, it'll be here the first day you go back on the schedule."

Vin turned, a little too fast as the dizziness returned, but he willed it away, staring at Nathan. "Josiah's done this before? Y'all know about it?"

Nathan's hand slid down Vin's arm, slow and easy. "I told you, it's not my place to say. I only know a little of it, and that's because I've . . . well, I've been where you are before - kind of. Josiah and I have always been good friends, and we've played around some, and when he's had to, he's used me for his other work." He shrugged, the move casual, but there was something in his eyes that made Vin curious, and a little scared. And even more angry. "He doesn't like to hurt people, not unless they want it. I don't mind it sometimes, but I know, and Josiah knows, that you do. He's pretty tore up about it, but he said that he needed it to be you, not one of the rest of us."

"The rest of you." Vin repeated the words, as much to get his head around them as to accept them. "What the hell kind of work does he do where he has to be that way?"

It was, of course, a stupid question, Josiah was a dom in the BDSM world.

But this work, this work that Nathan and Josiah seemed so reluctant to talk about, was far removed from the world of professional prostitution. If last night had been a show - either filmed or live - Vin would have had some warning, some say in it.

Wouldn't he?

"What happened last night - that wasn't a show, was it? Chris didn't let Josiah do something like that to me without telling me -"

Nathan's eyebrows came together and his voice was tight as he cut in, "You seriously asking me that? You think Chris Larabee would set up any of us like that?"

"Why the hell else would Josiah do something like that - and Chris let him?" Vin countered, pushing back the sheets to get up. Other thoughts came, the ones of what Chris and Buck got up to, the things they did to each other. Things like what Josiah did. Chris had promised him that no one did anything against his will - wasn't that the first rule of the house?

"Vin," Nathan's hand caught his shoulder once more, pressing him to stay still. "It's more complicated than that, but listen to me - no, listen to me."

Vin glared, but he stopped moving, giving Nathan his say.

"Most things here are exactly like you see them - Chris is who he is, one of the best men I've ever met, probably one of the best that you have. He's very serious about this business and about protecting us. Josiah is too, but sometimes, he has to think bigger than just us here, just his friends and family. He and Chris . . . well, they have an understanding. I can't speak for it, but I can tell you that what happened with you last night had nothing to do with Chris' house or what we do here."

"But Chris knows about it." It made him a little queasy to think about, that something like that could happen and Chris would let it. A memory flashed, Chris' back to him, criss-crossed in purple welts. "And you know about it."

"Buck, too. Things aren't always black and white," Nathan said solemnly. "Thought you of all people would know that."

Before Vin could answer, Nathan rose and reached to the bedside table. "Here," he held out a cup of water and some pills, "ibuprofen for the aches and the pain. I can check you for damage," he said, gesturing towards Vin's legs, the suggestion clear, "if you want. Won't be the first time I've done it - and no, not just because of Josiah." His face showed a little frustration - and maybe some embarrassment.

Vin took the pills and the water but his tone was cold. "Reckon I'm all right. I've been hurt before, worse 'n this, and it doesn't feel like that."

"If it's bleeding or anything - "

"I'll let you know," Vin shot back. "I ain't that dumb."

"Nobody said that," Nathan said quietly. "Don't blame yourself, Vin. Josiah shouldn't have done this, not this way."

He left the room, closing the door quietly behind him and leaving Vin to mull his words.

To mull over his own reasons for letting things go as far as they had.

He took a long shower, letting the hot water run as long as he could stand it. The aches were better, as was the stiffness. The mirror was steamed so it wasn't until he was standing in front of his dresser, looking through his t-shirts, that he saw the marks.

Dark purple circles on the sides of his throat, connected by a thick band of purple along the base. Josiah's hand, he knew, and for the first time, actually thought about how big the other man was.

How easily he could have truly hurt Vin.

It wasn't a thought that sat well, for a number of reasons. Vin had spent years walking the streets, selling his body to strangers, stripping down to his most vulnerable in places that offered him no protection. He'd been beaten from time to time, learned the hard way when to walk away before things went too far, when to not leave with someone at all, no matter how good the offer was.

Learned when to say no.

But he hadn't with Josiah, had even played along with the game. He hadn't wanted to play, but he had played, had let Josiah do the things he wanted, needed to do.

He was angry with the other man, the blue bruises stark and brutal and reminding him of all that he thought he had left behind when he had moved in here.

But he was angry with himself as well. It wasn't Josiah's fault, not all of it. Much of it was his own. He'd let his happen, and he wasn't sure why.

There was a knock on his outer door, then Chris' voice calling, "Vin?" He didn't wait for Vin to answer, opening it and coming slowly in. "You all right?"

Vin was still staring at the mirror, his fingers rubbing lightly over the bruising. He didn't turn, but he did meet Chris' eyes in the mirror as the other man came in and stopped.

Chris took a deep breath, and Vin saw his eyes widen. He waited a second, letting Chris look, then asked quietly, "This happen a lot?"

Chris didn't look away, but up to meet Vin's gaze. "You been here a while now - you seen it happen before?"

Vin looked back to his neck, still touching it lightly. "Anybody going to tell me why, or is this just part of the price for staying here?"

Chris straightened at that, his eyes flashing with something, but Vin wasn't sure what. His voice was calm, though, as he answered. "I'd hope you'd think better of me than that. If you don't -"

"I do," Vin sighed, "at least, I think I do." He turned around to face the other man, his hands falling to the top of the dresser as he turned. "Why didn't you warn me?"

Chris took a deep breath, and his voice was tight. "Didn't think I had to. He promised he'd always tell us - and he always has. Damn it."

"Tell you? Tell you - what? That he has a thing for choking?" Vin tried to keep his temper under control, but standing here, his throat lined in purple, it was hard to balance the different emotions. The one thing they all seemed to have in common was anger - anger at Josiah, anger at Chris, anger at himself.

"No," Chris snapped back, "it's not him - not that. He doesn't do it for himself - "

"Was there someone watching?" Vin straightened, crossing his arms over his belly, as much to keep himself from hitting Chris as to protect himself. "Y'all put cameras in here?"

The expression on Chris' face changed so quickly that Vin couldn't doubt its sincerity. "What?" Chris asked, frowning. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Vin frowned himself. "If he doesn't do this sort of thing for himself, then he's doing it for someone else." When Chris didn't seem to catch on, Vin pushed, "Isn't he? Why else would he do it?"

After several seconds, Chris blew out a breath and looked away. "There are no cameras here, and there was no one else in your room." He shook his head but looked back to meet Vin's eyes. "He was wrong in what he did, the way he did it. And he won't do it again, not if he wants to stay in this house."

"That's it then? He gets kicked out if he does it again - but it was all right to do it this time?" He took a step closer, his arms falling away, his hands in fists. "It's all right that not one damned one of you thought to tell me that he did stuff like - like that, that no one thought to say, 'Hey, Vin, by the way, your boyfriend gets kinky every now and then and likes to really hurt people'?"

Several things flashed through Chris' eyes then, and Vin saw them all because he was standing so close he couldn't miss them. A part of him, a distant part, back in the far recesses of his brain, knew that he was being stupid, that he was actually pushing for a fight with Chris. It didn't stop him though, even as he brushed up against the other man, provoking.

Chris held his ground, straightened even, and Vin felt a thrill at the idea of actually throwing a punch. But Chris' tone was even as he spoke, low and smooth, placating, in a way, but not backing down.

"No, it's not all right. I'm not happy about what he did, and had I known he was going to do it, hell, yes, I'd have kept him way from you. I promised you once before, and it still stands: no body gets hurt in my house unless they want it."

Neither of them had moved, but the tension drained away as the truth of the words hit Vin more squarely than any blow.

Chris kept the even tone as he went on, "I'm mad about what he did, but I didn't do it, Vin, and I didn't think that he would. You didn't think he would either, or you would have stopped him, or at least tried. So you figure out who you're more angry with before you make this worse than it already is."

Vin didn't move as Chris stepped back and away, turning toward the door, but as he reached it, Vin called out, "Is he the one paying for my day off?"

Chris looked over his shoulder and arched an eyebrow. "Can't say. The checks normally come from the U.S. Government."

That wasn't completely out of left field, not now, and Vin stood silent, assimilating that information as well.

Chris nodded. "Josiah usually lets me know when he has this . . . need. Usually, it's one of us, me or Buck, or Nathan. To be honest, I can't believe that he used you. You used the word 'boyfriend'. I suspect he thinks the same."

Vin shook his head, not surprised that Chris had caught his slip - but a little surprised that he had made it. Surprised that his mouth had put voice to an idea he hadn't quite accepted.

"He did come to me before he left this morning, woke me up to tell me what he'd done," Chris went on. "You may not care about this right now, and it's probably not my place to say it, but he's scared, Vin. Not just of what he did to you - even though that was the bigger part of it. He cares about you, thinks he may have destroyed that. It's the first time I've seen him so out of balance."

Vin nodded, hearing the words, but not quite ready to accept them. He wondered if he were being unreasonable; if it had been Chris or Buck who had done this to him, would he be any less angry, feel any less betrayed?

If he had said no, had pulled away, would Josiah have forced it?

He didn't know the answer to any of the questions, not clearly. Everything was jumbled up, his anger sparking too quickly for him to keep a handle on its causes.

Chris' voice was softer as he went on. "Get some rest. I suspect Josiah will show up later tonight or early tomorrow. You've got a right to be angry, no denying that, but don't rush into any decisions until you hear the whole story."

Vin nodded, his mind still working on the ideas that were tumbling around, that Josiah did work for the government, work that required his education, that Chris and Buck and Nathan knew, but Josiah had never told Vin. That Josiah hadn't asked him, even though, if Chris were telling the truth, Josiah had asked the others.

That Vin had let it happen without saying the first word.

That somewhere, at some time, he had started thinking of Josiah as more than a friend,

He didn't hear Chris leave, moving instead to stare out the window and think.

It was a while later that he made his way downstairs, hunger finally getting the better of him. Ezra was in the kitchen, sitting at the table drinking coffee, from the smell of it, and reading the paper. He'd been with them long enough to get accustomed to the patterns of the house, long enough to know something was off.

"Are you feeling unwell?" he asked without looking up.

"Something like that," Vin answered, glad he had put on a flannel shirt with a collar. "You had lunch?"

They ended up with sandwiches that Vin threw together, Ezra protesting many of the ingredients but eating nonetheless. If he thought anything of Vin wearing a long-sleeved shirt on a day this warm, and having it buttoned almost to the top, he made nothing of it. He did, however, spend more time than usual discussing the news he was reading.

"I simply cannot believe that the public will allow this Administration to run roughshod over their rights and privileges," Ezra sighed, turning one of the pages of the paper, the New York Times. "Wire-tapping, phone-tapping - next we'll have cameras in every bedroom."

Vin snorted, trying to catch a pepper ring on his finger. "Might already be there," he muttered, more to himself than to the other man.

"And here we have a lovely story about the economy - how delightful, an economy that's still not in a depression, just another slight recession, despite the pending collapse of the credit industry and the housing market." He sighed, flipped that page again. "Makes me almost grateful that I got out of that profession. Luxury commodities will plummet soon, best to hold onto your gold and real estate."

"That mean we're not going get laid anymore? Sex is a luxury, right?" The memory of his first time with Josiah, the fun in it, startled him. It was such a contrast to last night that it made him a little queasy.

He'd treated Josiah as though he were a client, let the man do things to him that he didn't like. Let himself be hurt.

But the thing of it, he realized now, was that it wasn't just the physical pain - in truth, as he had thought at the time, he had been hurt worse, a lot worse.

It was the emotional. The fact that Josiah had knowingly, admittedly, done things that he knew Vin wouldn't like. And that Vin had let him.

Ezra wasn't looking at him, going on with his reading. "I miss New York," he said with a sigh, touching the page before him. "The local news is always so eccentric - like this story, a man and his horse are the main attraction of Central Park, a reverse Lady Godiva. And this one, a street vendor who's suing the city for closing off access to the street where he sets up his lunch wagon. It seems there's construction of a new office complex and it's cut down on his lunch business."

Vin shook his head; people really were crazy, he thought, but that lead him back to thinking about Josiah and about himself. Crazy people, but who was crazier, the one doing the crime or the one letting it happen?

"Of course, I don't miss the crime. Boston certainly has its fair share but it doesn't seem to have quite the extremes - have you been keeping up with the story about the serial rapist-strangler?" He folded the paper so that he was looking at one quarter of a page, his eyes intent. "It's made the national news as the police had to call in the FBI for help - seems this gentleman that they're searching for picks up young males, some hookers, some not, and seduces them, then, when they start to resist, he forces them to completion and kills them in the act - strangles them, with his own hands." His voice drifted away as he read. "My stars, they think that he strangles them with one hand - what sort of behemoth must this man be?"

Unconsciously, Vin touched his throat, making the connections. "How many has he killed?" he asked.

Ezra didn't look up from the paper. "Nine that they know of, but speculation is that he's been doing this for years and is now in the escalation phase, as they refer to it. Shame our resident expert on the vagaries of the human mind isn't here - it'd be interesting to hear his thoughts on it."

Vin rose, restless and ill.

He whiled away the day doing little things he'd put off doing for a while, trying not to think but not quite succeeding. The first time Chris called, he didn't think anything of it. The third time, he knew the man was worried about him, but it didn't soothe his irritation at the interruption, at this situation, at Chris, or Josiah, or at himself.

He wasn't surprised when Buck showed up a little while later in the brownstone's garage, his smile sincere yet not reaching his worried eyes. Vin had been toying with the engine connections of his bike, worried that the gas line was leaking again, and he had almost forgotten about everything else.

"You gonna let me see?" Buck asked, reaching for the top button of Vin's shirt as Vin stood up from his bike.

Vin slapped his hand away, more forcefully than he should have, but the reaction had been without thought.

Buck winced, shaking his fingers, but he backed up a step. "Vin?" he asked, his voice softer and taking on the worry that Vin hated almost worse than he hated the way he was feeling.

"Sorry," he muttered, but he crossed his arms over his belly, defensive. "Ain't in the mood to be handled."

Buck nodded, slipping his hands into the pockets of his jeans, slouching a little. "All right," he said, as if it were the more reasonable thing in the world.

Vin turned away, angry again. "Chris know you're here?"

Buck chuckled a little at that. "I own part of this building, Vin, think I can go where I want." He shifted, leaning back on Ezra's Porsche and crossing his legs at the ankles. "But to answer your real question, I know what's going on, and I know you're angry. You got good reason to be."

"Great," Vin snarled. "I got reason to be angry, but ain't got a right to know why Josiah did what he did."

"You got a right to know that, too," Buck went on easily. "And you will. Even though I reckon you've figured part of it out already."

Vin walked around his bike, then looked over it to catch Buck's eyes. "He's trying to find that serial killer? The one in New York City?"

Buck shrugged. "That'd be my guess. He gets called in when the crimes are more . . . 'sexually deviant', I think he calls it."

"Well, guess that's good to know," Vin said, but the anger was cooling now, replaced with a sort of dread. "He done this to you?"

Buck tilted his head. "Yeah," he said after a few seconds. "Not quite like what he did to you. He's always told us beforehand."

Vin snorted. "Guess I get the special treatment then."

"Yeah, reckon you do," Buck agreed softly. "But did you ask yourself why? Why was it you that Josiah pushed that hard? Why he didn't tell you, why he didn't ask or at least explain up front?"

He hadn't - the answer seemed pretty obvious. "Because he could do it without asking me," Vin shot back. "Because I let him."

Buck pushed himself to stand then, hands still in his pockets but his stance square. "He was coming to me last night, Vin," he said quietly. "He'd called from the airport, said he needed me to help him do a scene - that's what he calls them. Told me it'd be a while, he was just getting on the plane and when he got the house, he wanted to see you first. Make sure you were all right."

'Wanted to see you, needed to see you here.' The words drifted through his head, the soft cadence of Josiah's want in them.

"I didn't think much on it when he didn't show up - it's happened before that he's gotten side-tracked by something else or come in a lot later than he'd planned. Chris and I fell asleep and it wasn't until he came in and woke us that we even knew he was here. After he'd been with you."

Vin shook his head, trying to clear it of the ring of Josiah's words, but it didn't work. The memory grew stronger, of Josiah trying to leave, telling him he had to. Of himself wanting Josiah to stay, asking him to stay. Almost . . . almost begging him.

"You know," Buck's voice was quiet, "when Chris and I got back together, he was so angry, still fighting the loss of Sarah and Adam. From time to time, he'd come in drunk and it'd get rough. Sometimes, he'd get rough when he wasn't drunk."

Vin listened, not wanting to hear this about his friends, not wanting to know this about Chris. Not wanting to know more about the things that Buck and Chris did that he couldn't understand.

"I was real angry about it the first time - hell, the first couple of times. But the thing of it was, I couldn't be mad at him, or just him alone. I let him do it, Vin, even though I had sworn to myself, after watching the shit my ma put up with, that I'd never ever let that happen to me."

He took a few steps closer, easing up to the other side of the bike. One of his hands touched the leather seat, stroking it lightly and distractedly. "Took me a while to figure out why I was letting it happen, and that a lot of my anger was at myself, for going against one of the things I believed." He shifted, his hand still slowly touching the bike. "Made me realize that what I felt for him was more important than what I felt about myself - not in a bad way, Vin, but made me realize that there were some things I was willing to sacrifice because he needed something more from me. And in return, he gave me more, too."

Vin squared his shoulders, catching Buck's gaze. "You don't think that letting him hurt you makes you . . . " What? Weak? Less a man? The ideas didn't seem right, Vin knew himself better than that, knew he didn't think of himself as being less of a man because he was gay or because he was a whore.

"Vulnerable?" Buck suggested, but he smiled. "Yeah, it did. Does. But the thing is, I'm not more vulnerable, not because I let him hurt me. I'm more vulnerable because of how I feel about him. What happens with the sex, with the hurting, well, there are a lot of people who would say - and some do say, already - that it shows a lack of self-respect on my part. But they don't understand the trade-off, they don't understand what I get from Chris. What Chris gives me. It's a hell of a lot more, Vin, and I don't mean that it's because he feels guilty or has to overcompensate. It's because we trust each other more. Because we know each other better." He hesitated, putting his hands back in his pockets but leaning forward on the balls of his feet. "You got a right to be mad at Josiah, hell, you probably got a right to be mad at all of us, for knowing when you didn't. But you need to think about why you're mad at yourself, Vin, why you let it go that far and didn't stop it."

Vin sighed, knowing Buck was right. The anger slipped away, leaving him tired and cold.

"You ever been in love?" Buck asked.

Vin shrugged. "Thought so, but I don't know. Been hurt, but then, that don't mean nothing 'bout loving somebody."

Buck made a little noise, sort of like a laugh but not. "No, reckon it don't. Well, I can't claim to know what you feel for Josiah, but you might need to be thinking on it. I reckon if you didn't think so much about him, you probably wouldn't be as angry at him. Or at yourself."

The words echoed after Buck had left, with a reminder for Vin to hunt him up if he needed to talk.

He went to bed around ten, early by the standards of the house, but he found himself reading one of the books he had borrowed from Josiah, a collection of different essays on the nature of evil and free will. It wasn't something he would normally have picked up, but Josiah had seemed interested in what Vin would think of it and asked him to at least read three of them - any three - for the two of them to discuss.

The news story broke about 4:00 a.m., but Vin missed it, even though he was awake. The nightmares weren't letting him rest well, and he was up, staring out the window into the darkness.

He finally managed to get to sleep around dawn, the light reassuring, and he slept past noon, as he had the day before.

Vin was getting dressed, pulling his wet hair from his collar, when Chris knocked on his door.

"Josiah's back," he said without preamble, his head peering in the door even though he didn't come in. "He'd like to talk to you. And you're still off the schedule today."

"I don't have any say in this?" Vin asked shortly. "What if I want to work?" Even though he wasn't sure he did, wasn't sure it would distract him anymore than anything else was.

Chris shook his head. "Can't have you scaring off my customers, Vin. The bruises are better but another day will have them fashionably dark - strangler-suave. The way the news is carrying the story, everyone will think it's some new style."

"Carrying the story?" Vin asked. He waved a hand for Chris to come in, and the other man did. But he came no farther than the end of the hallway, respecting Vin's space.

"They caught the guy, very early this morning. Seems he had left New York, though, and was in Arlington, Virginia. Caught him after he'd picked up a street-boy there, had him in bed and was ready to kill him."

A shiver snaked up Vin's spine, hoping it wasn't someone he knew. "How do they know it was him and not some copy cat or something?"

Chris met his gaze. "Because he'd been in Arlington for several nights and the FBI had kept that from the press. Killed one there before they figured out how to catch him. Seems he had a certain type, and he always targeted the same sorts of bars in the port areas." He cocked his head to one side, his face expressionless as he said, "You fit his victim profile."

'Needed to see you here,' Josiah had said. Here, in Boston, not any where else. Not Arlington, where Vin had lived until Chris and Buck had moved him here, with them. Where he would have been if they hadn't.

"It could have been you," Chris said quietly.

"Yeah, I got that," Vin said shortly, turning away. "Josiah catch him?"

"He was involved, but he hasn't talked about it. He wants to talk to you, though. You coming down?"

Vin nodded. "Yeah, reckon so."

"Vin," Chris said, his voice soft. He started to say something, stopped, tried again, but the words didn't come.

Vin shook his head. "Reckon I know what's more important," he said. "It's all right, Chris. I ain't mad at you, not really. But I don't like that y'all didn't tell me about this. Wish he'd have told me - "

"He couldn't," Chris said stepping closer. "I asked him. You would have acted differently - you would have acted. He had to have you as unsure as the victims were."

Vin frowned. "Gonna make it hard next time, though, or does he find a new person every time?"

"Depends," Chris shrugged. "He doesn't like to do these jobs, but he's damned good at them - maybe too good. He usually doesn't resort to re-creation unless he feels that it's the only option - and he knows they're working under a deadline. He told all of us beforehand, every time. There haven't been that many, though, he doesn't take the jobs if he can find a reason not to. This one . . . this one was different, Vin, even for him."

Vin nodded, sighing himself.

Josiah sat alone at the kitchen table, one hand wrapped around a coffee mug. He was staring out the window, but even in profile, Vin could tell he was tired, the lines of his face etched deeper than usual, dark circles under his eyes, his face unshaven. His clothes were wrinkled, and Vin wondered if he'd even changed since the early-morning 'consult'. The ones he wore were dark, like the ones he'd been wearing in Vin's room.

Vin wondered if he'd smell himself on Josiah.

He was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, not really aware he had stopped until Chris' hand touched his lower back, encouraging.

Josiah looked up then, his face lighting for an instant in relief, until the worry settled in.

Worry, Vin realized, for what Vin thought of him.

What Vin thought of him. The idea of it was a little boggling. And unsettling; at the moment, Vin wasn't sure what he thought of himself either.

Josiah stood as they came in, his hands fidgeting with the sides of his pants. "Vin," he said softly, and his eyes went to Vin's throat. One hand rose, as if he would touch, but he jerked it back as soon as he realized what he was doing. "I'm sorry."

Vin slowed as he got closer, stopping out of range of Josiah's long arms. He didn't really think about what he was saying, the words coming out of his mouth, "You look like hell."

Josiah's lips quirked but the amusement didn't reach his eyes. "Been a long week or so," he said, his voice quiet. "Are you all right?"

Vin shrugged, the movement pulling at his bruises a little. "Be better if I understood why."

Behind him, he heard Chris draw a breath, and he thought he was going to speak, but Josiah glanced past Vin and shook his head before saying, "Chris, can we have a minute - if Vin doesn't mind being alone with me?"

He didn't, but it wasn't until Josiah offered it that he accepted it. "I'm okay," he nodded at the other man.

"I'll be in the other room," Chris said, but Vin had dismissed him before he was out the kitchen door, his eyes on Josiah.

The big man nodded, his hands again running up and down the seams of his pants. "You want to sit?" he asked, and the nervousness made Vin almost smile.

Vin went first to the refrigerator, drawing out a bottle of water which he opened as he moved to the table. Josiah settled back into his seat, his hands wrapping around his mug. He stared into it as he said quietly, "I assume you've figured out part of it, or been led to it by Chris and Nathan. I don't know why I pledged them to secrecy about any of it." He smiled a little, still focused on his mug. "I guess I should be pleased that I'm so well-respected in my field that the FBI comes calling for me when their own guys need help. I actually worked for them for several years, until the reality of it got too close."

Vin sat back in the chair, interested despite himself. He'd wanted to know more about Josiah, had even asked from time to time, when he thought it wasn't too personal, but Josiah rarely answered in anything other than riddles or vague hints that let Vin know he was as private with his own life as Vin was. This was too good to let go.

"The bad thing about is that it's always the worst cases, the ones where we know the killer's devolving and things are only getting worse. In this last case, we knew he had already left New York, but we weren't sure where he was going, we didn't have the pattern. I had to get inside his head, and the only way I could do that was to figure out what he got out of his ritual."

"So you had to recreate it," Vin said when Josiah had been quiet a little too long.

"Yeah," he sighed, and he finally looked up. "I was going to use Buck. We've done these sorts of things before, usually with success. But I made a mistake in coming to see you first. I had to make sure you were here, that you were all right. Then, when it started. . . " He swallowed, one hand rising to rub at his eyes. "I swore I'd never hurt you, not unless you wanted it. But I couldn't say no to you, I wanted you too badly. I thought I could handle it, skirt the scenario between being in his head and being with you. But . . . I couldn't. You were too close to his type, exactly what we kept finding at the end of the scene."

There was something in his eyes then, something like desperation. Vin swallowed, a little sick again, but he nodded.

Josiah went on, his voice hoarse. "Every time we rolled one of those bodies over, it was always your face I saw at first. Scared me, made me need to see you, here. Then, as you went along with me, it just seemed easier and easier to let it go."

The thought of it, of Josiah's worry for him, softened something in Vin. His fingers twitched for a second before he gave in and reached slowly across the table to rest his hand on one of Josiah's. "Scared me," he admitted. "A lot. I wasn't sure who you were. I mean, I knew it was you, but you weren't acting like yourself."

Josiah carefully let his fingers tighten around Vin's. "I'm sorry. I know that's not good enough, but I . . ."

"You got the guy?" Vin asked. "Because of. . . what you did with me?"

Josiah swallowed. "Yeah, we did. I can tell you how - "

"Don't think I want to know," Vin interrupted. "Not yet, anyway. Maybe later."

Josiah nodded and looked down at where their hands were joined. "I am sorry, Vin. I swore I'd never hurt you - "

"Did you like it?" Vin asked, tightening his grip on the other man's hand.

Josiah frowned. "Like - what?" But Vin felt his hand tremble a little.

"Like being that way with me. Controlling me. Treating me like . . ." Vin looked away then, feeling himself flush a little.

"I didn't enjoy scaring you, and I hated the way you. . . became so guarded. So professional." He sighed. "That was, though, what gave it away, what told me what I needed to know about him."

"Me being scared of you?" Vin asked, and he leaned forward, letting his other hand fall on the table, close.

Josiah nodded. "He didn't want to truly force them, he wanted them to let him, and maybe, in a way, wanted them to care about him, to want him. That was what confused us, that there were so few force-marks on the body, and all of them, the victims, had climaxed either just before or during death. He aroused them, kept them interested, got them off."

Vin shifted, remembering everything they had done. Everything Josiah had done to him. "Everything you did to me - the kissing, the rimming - he did all that to the ones he killed?"

Josiah nodded, his eyes still down. "I wanted to make it as close as possible, to put into it as much of what we knew about each scene as I could."

Vin sighed, wistful. He'd miss that - if they ever ended back up in bed.

Josiah went on. "It was only at the end, when they did what he wanted that he knew it wouldn't last so he killed them as they came - so that they couldn't hurt him."

Josiah was more himself now, as if talking about the work itself was calming. It removed him, Vin knew, from what he had done to Vin, and it also allowed him to justify it, in a way.

And while Vin was still upset, he found he was less angry. "Don't reckon I'm going to let you surprise me like that again," he said.

Josiah didn't quite smile, but his lips twitched, and he touched Vin's hand on the table. "No, I don't suppose you will. Don't suppose I could, either. I don't think I could stand to feel you . . . leave me that way." He shook his head.

Vin nodded. "Wasn't real happy with it myself. Don't like having to change the way I think of you." He hesitated then asked, "You sure that wasn't your way of driving me away? Breaking things off?"

The sudden pressure on his hands drew his eyes back to the other man's face. "That most certainly was not my way of doing anything except trying to figure out the mind of a sociopath. If I'd wanted to put distance between us, I would not have pretended to rape and strangle you, I'd have told you."

It took a second for the absurdity of the words to register, but once they did, Vin couldn't help but smile. "Reckon that's good to know. You're only going to rape and strangle me if you care."

Josiah's eyes widened and he had an almost comical look of horror, until he realized that Vin was teasing him. He sighed. "Sometimes I forget how fucked up this job has made me," he said. Then, catching himself, he said, "Not this job, not here with Chris and you guys - "

"Where we fuck for a living," Vin said wryly.

Josiah snorted, but he lifted the hand he was holding to his lips. "This was what I missed the most, Vin, this was what scared me. When I saw you stop laughing and start hiding." He swallowed, clinging to Vin's hand. "I never want that to happen between us again. I never want to see you look at me as if . . . as if I meant nothing. That was worse than seeing those dead men and fearing one was going to be you."

Vin nodded, using his thumb to brush Josiah's lips. "Don't like being scared of you. Don't like anything about any of this, any of what happened."

Josiah kissed his fingers again. "I know this is out of line, and I won't be angry if you say 'no', but would you come upstairs with me? Not for sex - I'm too tired and you're probably not that forgiving, not yet anyway. But I need to hold you."

It was blunt and Vin respected it. But he was no where close to ready for that level of intimacy yet. "I ain't sure that's a good idea." He tugged at his hands, and Josiah let them go, but it took a second. "I'm . . . I need to get to know you again. Need to get to know myself. I . . . I didn't try to stop you, even though I thought I should."

Josiah sighed and looked down at the table, drawing his own hands off of it and into his lap. "I'm sorry, I really am."

"I know," Vin said, "I don't really doubt that. But I . . . I trusted you. I understand why you did it, hell, I guess I might have done something like it, if I was in your place. But I wasn't. All I can see is how it scared me, and how I don't know quite who you are anymore. I need some time to figure that out again."

The other man nodded. "All right." He lifted one hand rubbing at his eyes. "I need to get some sleep. You be here tonight?"

Vin shrugged. "Reckon so. Chris has me off the schedule until this gets better." He waved toward his neck, reassured more when Josiah grimaced.

Josiah didn't look at Vin as he rose and headed out of the kitchen, his step slow and weary.

Vin sighed, feeling sorry for the other man, and angry at himself. Again.

It took several days, and during that time, Josiah was as attentive as a suitor, but always respectful of Vin's personal space. He never touched Vin, sometimes lifting a hand as though he were going to, but always pulling it back.

It was three nights later, as Vin came back from a date, that he initiated the first contact. Josiah was sitting on the couch, and Vin dropped next to him. Josiah was watching a rerun of some FBI drama about missing persons and Vin sighed, leaning back. He wasn't really paying attention to the show, wasn't really paying attention to much of anything when he felt the eyes on him.

He looked over, surprised for a second to find Josiah staring at his throat. Vin reached up, touching it, then said, "They're almost gone. Took 'em long enough."

Josiah shook his head and turned away, but not before Vin saw the pain in his eyes.

There was no thought in it, his hand catching Josiah's easily. "I'm all right," he said softly. "Better than a lot of other ones."

Josiah turned and stared into his eyes, then looked down to their clasped hands. Slowly, he lifted them up, until his lips were on Vin's knuckles.

"I miss you," Josiah said, but the words were so soft that it took Vin a second to make sense of them. When he did, he tugged his hand, forcing Josiah to look at him.

"Yeah," he agreed.

They sat for several hours, watching bad late-night television, chatting with Buck and Ezra as they came in, then later Chris. The whole time, Vin leaned against Josiah, the man's long arm warm and heavy on his shoulders.

They didn't go to bed together, but Vin kissed him as they reached the top of the stairs to their floor.

Two nights later, they lay in bed, content just to sleep together, both still dressed.

It was another several nights before any attempt was made at sex, and oddly, Vin was the one wanting it. More oddly, Josiah was the one who declined, preferring to sleep instead. Preferring to have Vin in his arms.

Over the days, details came out, both in the press and from Josiah: the forensic teams had confirmed that they saliva they found in the victim's rectums matched the man they had caught, DNA confirming that he had been the last person with most of them, particularly the one they found last in New York City, the one they were just hours too late to save.

Now that they knew his identity, the FBI had back-tracked his life, the places he had lived. It was possible that he might have killed up to thirty more, starting in Maine, where he had been born and lived until his mid-twenties.

"Perfectly normal childhood, loving parents," Josiah said quietly as they sat with Buck and Ezra in the big living room, watching the late news almost two weeks later. "Nothing in his past to give any indication of why he found himself thrilled with the idea of killing young men. His parents weren't homophobic, no more than most, he himself shows no homosexual tendencies or hatred. He just . . . wanted the attention and affection, but only for that space of time." He sighed, taking his reading glasses off and rubbing at his eyes. He still looked tired, even though he claimed he was caught up on his sleep.

But Vin knew better, knew that while his own nightmares were coming less, Josiah's seemed to be coming more.

"A true psychopath," Ezra said softly, his voice unusually devoid of sarcasm. "A rare thing."

"It is," Josiah agreed with a sigh. "One of the reasons why it was so hard to find him. We were looking for someone with a history of some sort, either abuse or violence or any of the indicators of a deranged mind. He had had one traffic ticket, for speeding, ten years ago. Until the last murder in New York City, when he realized we were close, he worked as a project manager for a construction company, was divorced from his starter wife and working a second, had financed an engagement ring and started looking for a condo. We can't even find a catalyst for why he escalated - he's an almost perfect genetic psychopath. The Quantico teams will have publication material for decades."

"You, too," Buck said. "You could give all this up and just write."

Something stirred in Vin's belly and he swallowed.

Josiah smiled, though it was sad, and he looked at Vin as he said, "I could have done that long ago, if that was what I wanted."

"Yeah," Buck laughed, "I know. But it's nice to hear how much you love us."

Josiah laughed as well, glancing to the other man. "That, I do, Buck." He looked back, catching Vin's gaze. "That I do."

Vin nodded, some of the chaos in his own thoughts easing just a little more.

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