+ Chapter 4
spent the day at his desk catching up on paperwork. Normally, he hated
it in all its routine detail. Most of the time, he avoided it as long
as he could, which accounted for the tall stack in his IN box. But today,
he tackled it gratefully. It dulled his mind enough so that occasionally,
whole minutes passed without him thinking about his meeting tonight with
After three hours and as many reports, he became aware of a pair of long
legs in well-tailored slacks standing beside him. He looked up, following
the tall, lean lines of Noin's body until his eyes stopped at her expertly
"Hey." She leaned over, her elbows planted on his desk. "What's up with
"Me?" Zechs glanced sidelong at her from under the cover of his hair.
"Uh huh. You type about three lines, you look at the clock, then you type
another three, and you get coffee. Then you check your watch. And you
start all over again. You've been doing that all morning. Why the sudden
fascination with the time? You have a date or something?"
Not for the first time, Zechs cursed inwardly at his partner's sharp perception.
He mumbled, "Or something."
She grabbed a chair and pulled it up to his desk. "Well, come on. Spill!"
"No." Zechs kept his eyes on the screen, mechanically filling in a report
for a convenience store robbery bust that he barely remembered making.
"You know, if you play this hard to get with men, it's no wonder you're
Zechs huffed in exasperation, pulled his hands off the keyboard. "Noin--"
"Don't groan at me." She looked him from under the slash of her bangs.
Apparently, she didn't like whatever she saw, because her smile dropped.
Lowering her voice, she said, "It's him, isn't it? Maxwell."
Zechs saw no point in denying it, but he skirted the edge of the truth.
"It's about the case."
"Then why wasn't I invited?"
"All right." Zechs ran his hands through his hair, pushed it back behind
his ears. It didn't last; the fine platinum strands feathered back around
his face as though he'd never touched them. "It's not about the case.
Not just about the case." Or he hoped it wasn't.
Her voice sharpened, sounded almost angry. "Where?"
Zechs sighed, giving up. He felt a twinge of sympathy for the suspects
Noin relentlessly interrogated. "Tonight, at the Dirty Dragon."
"Where's that? Doesn't sound like your kind of place."
"It's on Indianola." And there was a time when it would, indeed, have
been his kind of place. He'd done some checking last night after he got
Duo's message and found out it was a low-end club as such clubs went.
The kind of place he and Treize had started in--dark, a little edgy, anonymous.
"How'd all this happen?"
"He left me a message last night." Zechs went back to typing, or to pretending
to. "While you and I were out."
Zechs nodded. She grilled him ruthlessly, but when he glanced up at her
face, he saw worry there. He wished he could reassure her that he hadn't
take leave of his senses.
"How'd he get your number? They aren't supposed to give that info out
"I gave it to him."
Her eyes went wide. "You gave him--?" That shook something in her. No longer
a cop bent on finding answers, she faltered. "Zechs...you're scaring
"You're the one who wanted me to ask him out." He heard defiant guilt
creep into his voice, and it angered him. He'd felt obliged to defend
his preferences ever since he'd begun to understand them, but never with
Noin. But then, she didn't know all of who he was, did she? She didn't
know the darkness in him that ached for a companion, for a mirror, the
need of Master for Slave. She couldn't possibly imagine the hunger that
Duo Maxwell promised to satisfy.
She'd kept her voice low, but passion inched into it, and her eyes fixed
on him, dark and compelling. "That was before I knew he was connected.
Before I knew what kind of stuff he's mixed up in, mobbed up or not. He's
not your kind of guy. He's a looker, yeah, but he's trouble with a capital
T. What do you think you're doing, meeting him just because he called
you? And giving him your number in the first place...Christ, Zechs, this
isn't like you at all."
Zechs thought again about Duo, not as the young executive nor as the belligerent
suspect, but as Marcum's toy. What would it take to get Duo to kneel at
his feet? Whatever else happened, he was determined to find that
out. "You're wrong, Noin. It is like me. It's...completely like me."
Stung, she straightened, drew back. "Then maybe I don't know you as well
as I thought."
"Maybe you don't."
Noin stared at him, opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed
it abruptly. She pushed her chair back and got up. "Well. I've got work
to do." Hurt quivered in the air between them, and Zechs felt like a prick.
Especially when her final words came out sounding like a curse. "See you
Duo had never actually been to the Dragon, only heard about it from some
of Grant's friends. They'd mentioned it with a sneer in their voices,
a place for amateurs, far below them and their private parties and pleasure
houses. He'd picked it as a meeting place for that reason--it seemed unlikely
he'd run into any of them here. Still, he scanned the crowd for any familiar
faces, not daring to sigh with relief even when he saw none.
Sweet ribbons of clove smoke snaked through the overheated air, making
Duo queasy. Is he going to show? What will I do if he doesn't?
He swallowed, his hands suddenly slick, his heart skittering. What
will I do if he does?
He looked down at himself, at his clothes and thought he probably ought
to be embarrassed--fishnet and leather, for god's sake--but he wasn't.
He liked how he felt when he wore this stuff. Duo fingered the collar
around his neck. This says loud and clear who I am...what I am. And
what I want. I just hope I'm right about what he wants.
Grant had taught him that submission fulfilled him in ways he'd never
thought possible. It was a better high than anything he'd ever smoked,
and it addicted him from the very first. Who'd have thought it? The
smart-ass, authority-hating punk gets off on bowing and scraping and saying,
But hot as it had been with Grant, and deep as it touched him in his soul,
he sensed vaguely that something was missing. He looked around the smoky
room, at the slaves fawning on their masters, glorying in being no more
than possessions. You could tell the ones who were in exclusive pairs.
They had a smug, superior air about them as they preened. They wouldn't
be traded or loaned, wouldn't feel anyone's touch but their masters'.
And their masters had eyes for them alone. Duo's throat tightened. Lucky...
Duo checked the time, then automatically glanced toward the door. He caught
a glimpse of a tall blond man talking to the bouncer. Oh, god...oh,
god, he's here. He is. Oh, shit, what have I done? Doubt gripped him.
Maybe they won't let him in. Maybe there's time, maybe I can duck out
the back. Maybe...
His eyes darted from Zechs, to the exit, back to Zechs--and this time,
he didn't look away. He stared, captured. Instead of the plainclothes
suits Zechs had worn when he'd interviewed Duo before, he wore a dark
turtleneck sweater over jeans. Simple, elegant, powerful in its understatement.
His candlelight hair hung to his waist, feathers of it framing an intense
face with clear blue eyes and a mouth that made Duo ache with anticipation.
Oh, but god, he's so beautiful. Even with a hundred other bodies
between them, Duo felt the force of his presence. He's so...perfect.
Who am I kidding? He looked toward the back of the room, to the dark
hallway that led to the rear exit. I'll go. He'll wait for a
while, and then he'll leave, and if I ever see him again, it'll be all
business. I'll just...
But he didn't move. Zechs saw him and started through the crowd toward
him. Duo felt as though he were chained to the table, unable to run even
if he had really wanted to. The force of Zechs' will held him frozen,
and he knew right then that for him, it was all over.
Zechs had a few words with the bouncer, a big guy in leather, built like
a pro wrestler, with thinning hair skinned back into a straggly ponytail.
Whether it was the chat or the $50 bill Zechs slipped him that convinced
him, the bouncer let him in. He stepped through the door into a miasma
of neon light, primitive, throbbing music, and raw displays of power and
possession. His heart picked up the beat of the music, pounding with a
He found Duo in a booth in the far corner of the place, close to the back
exit. Did he think he was going to have to make a quick escape? Maybe--but
he'd definitely dressed as though he intended to stay. He wore a black
fishnet muscle shirt and arm warmers, and a black leather collar circled
his throat. Through the holes of the fishnet, Zechs could see the gold
glint of a nipple ring. Vagrant strands of hair escaped his braid and
clung to his damp skin. He saw Zechs, and his eyes widened. Duo sat unmoving,
like a rabbit in a trap, watching, as Zechs threaded his way through the
crowd to his booth.
Duo's fingers clenched around a drink in which half-melted ice cubes floated,
bumped into each other haphazardly from the tremors in his hand. When
he spoke, his voice sounded lower and more breathy than Zechs remembered.
"You're here. I wondered if you'd show."
"I wondered the same thing about you." Now that he stood over Duo, Zechs
could see that he also wore skin-slick black leather pants and motorcycle
boots. Tough, truculent, but the collar and the eyes sent a different
"Sit down?" Duo looked up at him with a welcoming, if fleeting, smile.
Zechs slid into the booth across from Duo. "What made you change your
mind about talking to me?"
Duo fingered one of the rings on his collar. "Look. I know what you guys
were doing, and it's nothing personal--not with you, anyway. Your partner
really was a bitch, though. Damned if I was going to tell her anything."
"She was doing her job."
"Yeah." Duo looked down at his untouched drink, and the silence between
them lengthened. "I figured this would happen. You're here, and I don't
know where to start."
"You could tell me more about Grant--about you and him," Zechs clarified
as Duo's face registered frustration and denial. "You haven't said much
"Is this a professional interest or a personal one?"
Duo's lip trembled just once, then he stilled it. "...oh. I see."
"Yeah?" Duo's expression turned hopeful. "Well, what do you want to know--personally?"
Zechs watched the young man across from him, all cocky vulnerability,
street-smart but hungry enough to be stupid in spite of it. He wondered
if Romafeller had made him their tool. If they hadn't already, he'd lay
money that they'd tried. Duo was exactly the kind they'd target. "What
kind of a relationship did you have?"
"I saw what your kink is, that's all."
Duo gave him a sidelong look, but he answered. "We had a BDSM thing. Master/Slave.
Obviously. In exchange, he gave me the job. He taught me a lot about business,
about running one. Introduced me to people, helped me make the right connections.
I never would've gotten that kind of chance on my own."
"I think you could have."
"Oh, yeah." Duo snorted softly. "Right. Do you know what kind of people
usually get those breaks? Nobody from my side of town--or with my rap sheet.
Best I was going to do was City College, and that was a reach. If I was
lucky, I could've gotten out of the east side, maybe, but not very far
out. And the rate I was going, I was heading for jail, or for winding
up face down on the sidewalk with a knife in my ribs, not college."
Zechs winced as memory assaulted him. But he went on. "So how'd it happen?
You bumped into him here, and he said let's be an exclusive pair?" Only
not so exclusive, based on that last photo.
Duo laughed, but it sounded bitter. "Not quite. A friend introduced us.
He worked for Grant for a little while, but it wasn't in him to do the
stuff Grant liked, much less what...the others wanted. He thought he could
do anything for the money and the experience. He couldn't." He looked
down at his drink, seemed surprised that his ice had melted and that he
hadn't touched the alcohol. "Guess that makes me more of a whore, doesn't
"It makes you more of a sub. That's not the same thing."
"How come you get all this?"
"Why do you think?"
"I think it's because you're like him. Like Grant. You want control."
"I want submission. That's not the same thing, either."
Duo thought about that. "No...no, I guess it isn't, really..."
"You and Grant," Zechs pressed again. "Were you lovers, too?"
Something flashed across Duo's face and was gone. "Yeah. We were. Not
at the beginning. At first it was just the bondage stuff. But he wanted
it, and I..." Duo went quiet, his eyes distant.
Zechs waited for a minute, but when Duo didn't seem inclined to go on,
he prompted, "Did you want it, too?"
"Yeah..." Duo sighed. "I did. Not for the same reasons as him, I don't
think. But he didn't force me into anything."
"I don't think you could be forced to do many things you don't want to
Duo's mouth twisted into an ugly smile. "You'd be surprised."
"I don't think so." Zechs shrugged. "It's just something I see in your
face. Your eyes. Your body. Anyone who pushes you too hard is in for a
surprise, I'm betting."
Duo's eyes hardened. "Like a bullet through his head?"
Zechs blinked. Without hesitating, he reached across the table for Duo's
hand. It was much smaller than he realized, and he wrapped his fingers
around Duo's, gave them a small squeeze. "I wasn't thinking that at all."
Duo looked down at the table where his hand had disappeared under Zechs'.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm holding your hand."
"Because you need it."
Duo's face crumpled, all the toughness bleeding away, and he covered his
eyes with his free hand. "Oh...fuck..."
Zechs let go of Duo's hand and moved to the other side of the booth. He
put an arm around Duo's shoulders, tightening it as Duo slumped against
him. "You're shaking."
"It's cold in here."
"No, it isn't." Zechs ran a finger down Duo's braid where it draped over
his shoulder. "Tell me."
Duo took a shuddering breath, and something inside of him seemed to let
go. "I'm in over my head. I don't know what to do. I...I..." He stopped
and looked up, and once again, Zechs was reminded of a trapped animal.
"What do they want from you?"
Duo shook his head.
"Duo, you can tell me." He winced as his "good cop" voice came out. "I
know it's Romafeller. You don't--"
"Shut up! Don't...don't talk about them." He looked around wildly, clearly
close to panic. "They'll know. They--"
"Even they can't hear over this music." Zechs stroked Duo's cheek. "Calm
Duo swallowed a gulp of his now-diluted drink. "I'm sorry. I...I've been
jumping at shadows ever since Grant...ever since I found him."
Zechs lifted Duo's chin. "Duo. Did you kill Grant Marcum?"
Duo's eyes filled with tears, but his voice remained surprisingly steady.
"No. No, I didn't."
Zechs bent his head and kissed Duo. It went on a long time, long enough
for Zechs to forget the case and Romafeller and Noin's warnings, forget
everything except Duo's eager mouth. He slid a hand under Duo's shirt,
fingers searching for the gold ring, and tasted his groan when they found
it. He gave it a little twist, and Duo's body arched against him. Need
whipped and cracked between them.
Panting, Duo broke away, pulled back.
"This isn't a good idea..."
Zechs gripped Duo's upper arms where his skin was bare. A part of him
knew he'd leave bruises and meant to, a sign of ownership, of staking
his claim. "I know you can feel what's between us--it's too strong, and
you can't ignore it any more than I can. You asked me to come here. If
it wasn't for this, then why?"
"I don't know. It was stupid. Let me out."
Duo looked up at him, reminding Zechs of a feral cat. "I don't like being
trapped. Let me out."
Zechs let go of him as quickly as if he'd said his safeword, slid off
the seat, stood next to the table. Duo sat with his fists pressed against
the table, biting his lip, staring at nothing. His chest rose and fell
rapidly with his hitching breath.
"Is there something you want to tell me, Duo?"
"I don't...I just..."
"Let's go somewhere else to talk."
"Privately, you mean?" Duo looked up, his eyes too knowing.
"Do you honestly think I'm going to make you do something you don't want?"
Slowly, Duo shook his head. "No. No, I really don't think you will." He
looked almost ashamed. "I don't think you can. I don't think there's anything
you'd do to me that I wouldn't want."
Zechs held out his hand. "Then come with me."
After a moment of hesitation, Duo laid his hand in Zechs'. "Where?"
Zechs recognized the first step toward surrender, and it made his voice
rough with impatience. "Your place, my place. I don't care."
"Neither. Too risky." For who, he didn't say. "A hotel."
"A hotel, then. But a decent one. I don't want to have to worry about
what's crawling out of the corners when the lights are off."
"We're in the wrong part of town for that."
"I know. I drove. Did you?"
Duo looked momentarily shocked. "Bring my baby down here? No way. I took
"Then come on." He reached down and took Duo's other hand. "I'm driving."
Duo stared up into his eyes, and he saw enough yielding there that he
pulled Duo to his feet. When Zechs released Duo's hands, he rubbed his
arms where Zechs had gripped him. "Isn't this breaking some kind of rule?"
"I've never been one for rules, much."
Duo smiled a little, somehow mischievous and sweet at once, and it gave
Zechs an unexpected and unsteady ache. "Yeah. Bet you haven't."
[ch. 5] [back to