Title: A Lost Boy: Turf Battles (1/2)
Pairing: Liam Neeson/Orlando Bloom [Primary], Mark Vincent (Vin Diesel)/Paul Walker/Orlando, implied Liam Neeson/Natasha Richardson, Mark/Paul and Natasha/Chad Michael Murray
Summary: Master Liam gets married. Mistress Natasha isn't bad on her own, but she dotes on her "sweet Chaddie," who's a spoiled, manipulative little prick. Troubles ensue.
Disclaimer: I don't own anyone you recognize. I know nothing about their social lives or sexual activities, more's the pity. This is fiction, period. It is done as a labor of love and I make no money from it.
Notes: 1) This fits between Chapter Eight and Chapter Nine of "A Lost Boy."
2) Set in poisontaster's Kept Boy universe. The first few stories are linked here; the rest (we're hoping) are getting linked in whatwekeep. This is an AU universe where slavery is common and is in fact legally required among the wealthy as a way of doing their part to "support" the poor. See the original story, "A Kept Boy," linked above, and the FAQ.
3) Everyone is American unless specified otherwise.
Orlando straightened his master's bow tie while Johnny ran a brush over the back of his jacket, apparently determined to get every molecule of dust or lint off of it before they sent Master Liam off to his wedding.
After another minute or so of fussing, adjusting his carnation and the crease in his trousers, and the Master finally detached himself from his fussing slaves. He gave both of them a big grin and a jaunty wave, then turned and headed out, leaving Orlando and Johnny alone in the bedroom to clean up.
The room was silent for a few seconds, and the two of them just stared at each other.
"What do you think?" Orlando asked. "I mean, is it going to be weird?"
Johnny shrugged. "I don't know. I've never had an owner get married on me."
Orlando sank onto the bed with his elbows on his knees and looked down at the carpet. "Will it be different? I mean, you've had married owners before, right?"
"Yep, twice. It can be different, but it depends on the people. If they disagree on how you should behave, or on who gets to do what with you, then you're pretty much screwed and not in a good way. I've known a couple of slaves in that position and their lives were even suckier than normal. Mine weren't too bad, though. Lord Ford was sort of, like, whatever, so whenever the mistress wanted something I had to jump. Or whatever. But they didn't argue about it. Mistress Catherine was kind of possessive and didn't want anyone else messing with me, which was fine, and her husband was cool with it too and just stuck to his own boy. He was nice enough looking in his day -- I saw some pics of him when he was younger and he was pretty hot -- but that was, like, a long time ago. I was just as happy not to have to paste on a smile for that, if you know what I mean."
Orlando actually didn't know what he meant, or rather, he could guess but he'd never experienced it and was pretty sure he didn't want to. "I've never been with a woman, though. I don't think I'd know what to do. Do you think she'll be angry? I mean, if she wants me and if the Master is okay with it and I can't... whatever it is you do with a woman to make her happy?"
Johnny frowned and considered. "I don't know. I mean, usually they'd expect any body-slave to've been fully trained for both men and women, but you're home-grown and you got only what training the Master wanted you to have, so it's up to him to let her know what's reasonable to expect."
He crossed the room and sat down next to Orlando, slinging an arm around his hunched shoulders. "I wouldn't sweat that, seriously. If you're determined to worry then worry about 'sweet Chaddie.'"
"You've got to learn to pay attention, kid. Pretty face, hot bod, ego enough for six guys. Mistress Natasha spoils him rotten and then some. He's got that Wounded Angel look he uses to wrap her around his finger, and he has her ready to swear that not a single nasty thought has ever tarnished his perfect golden head."
Orlando frowned and said, "I know she indulges him a lot, but Master Liam kind of indulges me and that's not a bad thing. Is it? I mean--"
Johnny hooted with laughter and tickled Orlando into squealing incoherency. A minute later, when he had him pinned to the mattress and gasping for breath, he said, "There's no 'kind of' about it, monkey. You've got to be the single most indulged slave I've ever met or heard tell of. But you're indulged, not spoiled -- there's a difference."
He rolled off after a last poke in Orlando's belly, then started picking up discarded towels. "Master Liam never let you get away with any shit, except for the shit he specifically decided was okay for you to get away with while he was right there keeping an eye on you. You're sickeningly sweet-natured, despite the Master treating you like a favorite puppy instead of a slave boy all your life. Darling Chaddie, on the other hand, gets away with all kinds of shit because he has his mistress convinced he'd never ever do any such thing, and anyone who says otherwise is a nasty, jealous liar. You should talk to some of her other slaves some time."
Johnny ducked into the dressing room with the soiled towels and raised his voice so Orlando could hear him in the bedroom. "You watch out for that one. I've seen him eyeing you when no one else was looking. He wants to be top dog in the kennel and I'll bet you a batch of your mom's cookies that he'll play as nasty as he has to to get it."
Orlando stripped the bed while thinking about that. He'd never really warmed to Chad in all the months their owners had been spending time together. He and Chad had played together a few times, with the Master and Mistress watching, and he'd never been completely comfortable with it, or been able to really settle down and have fun. Orlando'd just assumed it was him, that there was some gap in his training that left him off-balance with the perfectly trained Chad. Mr. Travers had been a great teacher, and Johnny too, but having to play with Chad with their owners looking on, he'd gotten the feeling a few times that his skills weren't quite up there, that his timing was off or his instinct for what to do next wasn't right, and he'd felt sort of ashamed for not having a regular Commerce-training education.
Maybe it wasn't him, though. Maybe it'd been Chad already, trying to make Orlando look awkward, trying to make him feel awkward. It'd never occurred to him that the problem might be with Chad, much less that he might be doing it deliberately.
He passed Johnny, coming back with a caddy of cleaning supplies while Orlando headed for the dressing room with the bundle of used bedding. "Thanks," he said, leaning over to bump Johnny's shoulder. "I'll watch out for him."
That night, full of wedding food and cake and a single glass of champagne, Orlando bedded down up the hall from the master suite, in one of the guest rooms, which was going to be his from then on. He hadn't had his own room in five years, not since he'd become Master Liam's body-slave officially, but the new mistress moving in had meant some changes.
He was lonely, and still kind of nervous from his earlier talk with Johnny, and was thinking about going to find Johnny and seeing whether he'd mind cuddling for the night. Not that he'd do anything without permission -- Johnny was free to mess around with whoever he wanted, so long as it didn't interfere with his duties, but Orlando played with others only on the Master's order, or at the very least with his permission. Cuddling was all right, though; Master Liam knew neither he nor Johnny would try to sneak anything without asking.
He'd bent over the side of the bed and was feeling around on the floor for his slippers when his door opened and someone stepped inside. "Johnny?" He reached up and fumbled the lamp on and saw it wasn't Johnny.
Chad was standing there at the foot of the bed, a rueful smile on his face, wearing a pair of silk boxers and nothing else. "I was hoping you were still awake," he said. "I thought you might be feeling as weird as I am. I'm not used to being apart from the Mistress much. Sometimes, yeah, but this could be, like, pretty permanent and it feels sort of lonely. You know?"
Orlando nodded, and relaxed enough to sit back against the headboard and tuck the covers around his waist. "I was just thinking that, sort of. I've been with Master Liam all my life, and I've slept with him almost every night for the last five years or so."
"Right, I'd heard about that." Chad sat on the end of Orlando's bed, then leaned over to lie on his side across the foot of the mattress, with his head propped in one hand. "You were really born here?"
"Yeah, I was. Mama was pregnant with me when the Master got her from Commerce, plus she had my sister already."
"That's Samantha, right? She's pretty cute." Chad grinned up at Orlando, who grinned back and shrugged.
"I guess. I mean, she's my big sister, so when I picture her I think 'bossy' not 'cute.'"
Chad laughed. "Yeah, well, take my word for it, she's pretty cute. Not as cute as you, though. You definitely got more than your fair share of the looks in the family."
Orlando felt himself blushing and he looked down at his hands, still clutching the sheet and blanket. "I guess. I mean, just as well; Samantha never wanted to be a body-slave or anything. She likes cooking, like Mama, and she's really good at it, so it's a good thing no one ever decided she had to do something else."
"'Something else.' That's one way to describe it." Chad gave him a sly smile. "There was never any doubt what I was for, from the time my parents sold me rather than lose their house. Good thing I like fucking, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"How about you? Do you like fucking? Or is it just something you do when you're ordered to?" Chad cocked his head and grinned up at Orlando, one hand rubbing up and down Orlando's leg through the covers.
Orlando pulled his leg away and curled up at the head of the bed, as far away from Chad as he could get. He was feeling uncomfortable again and wasn't sure why. "Yeah, I do, I guess. I mean, I love it when the Master fucks me, and I like playing with Johnny, and some of the other boys when we're travelling, or when people visit."
"How about me? We've 'played' together. Did you like that?" Chad crawled farther up the bed until he was hovering over Orlando, smiling down at him. It was a hot, sexy smile, and Chad was a gorgeous guy, but Orlando just wanted to run out of the room and hide.
"I, umm, I don't really know you all that well," he said, then he immediately thought, Stupid! Why didn't you just lie and say it was fine? If he gets offended he could get mean about it....
Chad didn't look offended, though. Instead, he cupped Orlando's cheek with one hand and said, "Hey, that's easy to fix," and leaned down to kiss him.
Orlando ducked away and scooted over to the other side of the bed. "I can't!" he yelped, then he blushed for overreacting. It was only a kiss, after all. "I mean, I'm not allowed. I can't play with anyone else unless the Master says it's all right."
"Aww, come on, they'll never know," Chad coaxed. "Your master and my mistress are down the hall fucking each other's brains out. Everyone else is asleep, and most of 'em are drunk on top of it. We could have a three-ring circus in here and no one would ever know."
"No. I'd never disobey him like that."
"But he trusts you, come on!"
"That's why he trusts me! Duh!"
"Are you really such a daddy's boy? Or are you just making shit excuses? What, you think you're too good to fuck with me? Daddy's little prince, king of the castle and afraid of someone else moving in on you?" Chad yanked Orlando's arm over and tried to pin him down while grabbing his ass hard.
"Quit it! Get out of here!" Orlando tried to pull away but Chad had too good a hold on him. Orlando was naked under the covers and he felt Chad's ungentle hand grabbing for his ass, probing with a finger. "No!" He twisted his whole body to get his hips out of reach, then swung a fist at Chad's face. It connected with his eye and Chad jerked back, swearing.
"You little shit! That's gonna bruise!"
"You deserved it, asshole! I'm not disobeying my master just because you don't know what 'no' means. Get out of here or I'll tell Master Liam you tried to force it!"
"You wouldn't dare," Chad sneered. "You're just a slave, and you can't rape a slave."
"You're crazy! Get out of here!" Orlando shoved hard and Chad fell off the bed with a thud, onto the hardwood floor.
A pained curse followed the thud, and Chad scrambled to his feet, hunched over his stomach, and headed for the door. "Stuck up little shit," he muttered. But he left, and that was all Orlando cared about.
The next afternoon, one of the house slaves came dashing into the kitchen where Orlando was sitting, chatting with his mother and Gloria. "Orlando! The Master wants you in his room!"
Already? It wasn't time to change for dinner, and Orlando had already tidied up and made the bed before lunch. He hadn't expected to be called to his master's room for the more usual reason so soon. Master Liam and the new mistress weren't going on an actual honeymoon -- they both had business to take care of and were planning a trip in the fall -- but Orlando had figured his master would be paying close attention to Mistress Natasha for at least a week or two.
Not that he was going to complain. "Thanks, Amy," he said, giving the girl a grin. He gave his mother a quick kiss on the cheek, waved to Gloria, and jogged for the stairs.
When he opened the door and entered Master Liam's bedroom, though, he lost his smile as soon as he saw that the new mistress was there too, along with Chad, who was kneeling beside her with his hands behind his back and his head bowed toward the floor.
Well, he looked like someone had told him a few things. Maybe he'd complained that Orlando hadn't been willing to fuck him, and had had the rules pounded into his head?
He closed the door behind him, walked a few paces into the room and bowed, first to the Master and then to the Mistress.
"Kneel!" Mistress Natasha snapped.
Orlando was startled enough to stare for a moment, then he sank to his knees and pressed his forehead to the floor, confused and wondering what was going on. Then he remembered his conversation with Johnny the previous day and a cold dread shot up his spine.
"He is way too full of himself," the Mistress said. "You've let him get away with anything and everything and this is the result."
Master Liam just made a "Huh" noise, then asked, "Orlando, did you see Chad last night?"
"Yes, Master," Orlando answered immediately. "He came to my room, and--"
"And he's a liar, too." The Mistress cut him off, her voice angry. He heard four quick steps and then something sort of solid but luckily padded smacked across the back of his head. "He thinks he can put this all on my Chaddie."
"Tasha, please," the Master said. "Go on, Orlando. What happened?"
Orlando wished he could look up, could look at his master and see how angry he was, could look at the Mistress and Chad and try to figure out what Chad had said. He hadn't been given permission, though, and with his owner -- owners -- already angry with him he was afraid to look up without it. "Umm, Chad came into my room. He said he was feeling kind of lonely, and I said I was too. We talked for a little while. Then he wanted to play. I told him I couldn't without permission but he, umm, tried to insist. He wouldn't let go so I hit him and pushed him off the bed. And he left. And that's all."
"Are you going to let him crouch there and accuse my boy of, of what? Rape?!"
The mistress was still standing right in front of him. He heard her shift her weight and braced for a blow or a kick, but there was a light slapping sound, like someone grabbing someone else, skin on skin, and Master Liam said, "If he needs to be punished, then I'll do it."
"How dare you?! In front of the slaves?" Mistress Natasha sounded furious, and Orlando stifled a groan. No matter how this turned out, he couldn't imagine life would be anything like good in the long run. The idea of spending the rest of his life dodging the Mistress and trying not to ever be alone with her -- which would be impossible, he knew, if she was angry enough to decide she hated him -- was enough to make him want to curl up somewhere and hide.
"Orlando, look up." The master still sounded angry, and Orlando snapped up into a perfect kneeling present, his eyes huge and frightened. Master Liam took something from the Mistress and held it out. "What is this?"
Orlando swallowed hard. "It's my slipper, Master. It was missing this morning when I got up."
"Chad says you're the one who came to his room. He said you told him that you were the top slave around here and that he'd better remember it if he wanted to get along. He said that you attacked him, and the two of you struggled, and you punched him in the face. He has a black eye and bruised cheek. You lost your slipper in the struggle, before he was able to fight back and throw you out. He said you told him you'd make sure he was punished."
All Orlando could do was open and close his mouth a few times. He probably looked like a gasping fish, but he couldn't think what to say. It was a lie, his master had to know it was all a lie, but he'd already said what'd really happened and repeating himself would just make it look like... like what? He knew what the Mistress thought, and couldn't think of anything he could possibly say that'd change her mind.
The Master hadn't asked him a question anyway, so he fell back on formality and stayed silent.
"So?" The Mistress again. She sounded mad and impatient both. "You said you'd punish him. If he has nothing to say for himself then it's time."
"I said I'd punish him if he needed it."
"He beat my poor Chaddie! He has a black eye! What more do you want? Chaddie can't defend himself, he has no friends here! Orlando is your pampered darling, everyone knows it. And your cook is his mother -- the rest of the staff will follow her lead! Chaddie's all alone, everyone will turn against him if you don't support him now!"
Master Liam sighed. "Orlando has never lied to me, not ever."
"Not that you've ever known--!" the Mistress started, but the Master held up a hand and she fell silent again, just glaring between him and Orlando.
"I don't know Chad, and you don't know Orlando. I trust my boy implicitly, and you trust yours. We're not going to solve this."
"So, what, you're going to do nothing?"
"Tasha, look, Chad's used to having you all to himself, and being the focus of attention in your household. Orlando's used to the same thing with me. I think, at worst, we have a couple of insecure boys who had a brangle. If we make it very clear that this sort of thing will never be tolerated again--" he paused to give Orlando and then Chad a hard look, "--I think it'll work itself out, if we give it some time."
The Mistress glared at Orlando, then at Master Liam, then back at Orlando again. She spun on one heel and smacked one hand down on her thigh before stalking toward the door. Chad stood up at the signal and hurried after her. He gave Orlando a frightened look as he passed. He did have a heck of a shiner, and Orlando wasn't a bit sorry about that.
Well, maybe a little bit, since it'd caused so much trouble.
When the door closed behind them, Master Liam sighed and crossed his arms, staring down at Orlando.
"Try to keep out of Chad's way. Moving in like this is hard for him and it'll take him some time to get used to it."
"Yes, Master." Orlando bit his lip and looked up at Master Liam through his eyelashes. His master's face was a blank and Orlando had no idea what he was thinking. The Master gestured for him to go, but Orlando stayed kneeling and said, "Master? May I please beg a favor?"
Master Liam just stared down at him, then said, "Ask."
"May I, on nights when you don't call me to sleep with you, may I sleep with Johnny? Just sleep? I...." He trailed off for a moment, unsure. What he'd been about to say was that he wanted a witness, but that could sound defensive, or even belligerent. Instead he whispered, "I don't want to be alone."
His master sighed, then nodded. "You may. And when Johnny's away, you may sleep in your mother's room."
"Thank you, Master." Orlando pressed his forehead to the floor once more, then stood up and left in silence.
"Scheming little shit didn't waste any time." Johnny looked like he'd bitten into something foul and was about to spit it out. They were huddled together in the office before dinner that evening, and Orlando'd told him what'd happened.
"I'll bet he planned it all from the start," Johnny went on. "With that 'You wouldn't dare' bit, he wanted you to go rat on him and try to get him in trouble so he could show his black eye and cry on his mistress's knee and point a trembling finger at you. You didn't cooperate, but he managed it anyway."
"But the Master believed him!" Orlando was still shocked about that. "Or at least didn't believe me. What am I supposed to do if he does it again?"
Johnny squeezed his shoulder and said, "I'll bet he did believe you but he couldn't say so. Hell, he just married her, right? He's not going to start a major fight over their slaves before they've even been married twenty-four hours, especially when it's just a he-said-he-said kind of thing. He can't take your side without offending the new bride, so he went for neutral. I'm kinda surprised he didn't flog you just to make her happy."
Orlando groaned and buried his face in the crook of Johnny's neck.
"Hey, come on, none of that. It's not that bad, not even close." Johnny tipped Orlando's face up and kissed his forehead. "Just stick with me, or with someone whenever you're not with the Master. Sleep with me like you asked -- that was a great idea, by the way, although you'll owe me big-time when this mess is over. Hang out at the stable or in the kitchen, help Samantha with the parsley or whatever, make sure you're never alone. He'll pull his shit on the other slaves soon enough, just like he did back home. At his old home. The Mistress's other place, whatever. But a few more complaints and hassles, all of them involving him, and the Master'll lay down the law."
"I hope so," Orlando murmured. "Should we warn everyone about him?"
Johnny frowned, then shook his head. "No, don't mention this to anyone. It'll make people angry, and if they start hassling him or snubbing him when he hasn't done anything to them and the Master and Mistress -- or at least the Mistress -- don't believe he did anything to you either, it'll just give him more ammunition. He'll go crying to her again about how big, mean Orlando set everyone else against poor little Chaddie."
Orlando rolled his eyes and said, "Poor little Chaddie has two inches and at least thirty pounds on me."
"I'm sure you're a hulking brute of a bully in Mistress Natasha's eyes," Johnny whispered. "So let's just keep this a secret for now and see what happens."
Six days later, Samantha came slamming into the kitchen just after lunch with a bundle of herbs for dinner that night and smacked them down on the counter.
"Samantha! Careful, you'll bruise everything!" Margaret hurried over and picked the bundle apart to inspect the plants.
"It doesn't matter!" snapped Samantha. "That asshole Chad, the Mistress's body-slave? He went stomping through the herb patch! Just for fun! I saw him! He was doing it when I went out there and he just smirked at me and wandered off, trailing broken stems off his shoes. I had to pull up over a dozen plants because the stems were crushed or broken, and most of the others are at least damaged! I'm sure if he'd had a saw he'd have taken down the rosemary bush too! What the hell is his problem?!"
"Chad? That's the blond boy, isn't it? He did this?" Margaret fished through sprigs of basil, then examined the marjoram and thyme. By the time she'd gone through the whole bundle, she was scowling too. "I don't know, but if this is what he does for fun, it's going to stop immediately."
"Can you get along without me in here for the rest of the day?" asked Samantha. "I'll clean up the rest of the mess outside. We have some more basil in the greenhouse I can plant out, and I'll start some more seeds."
"Go ahead and spend the day on the herbs," Margaret agreed. "I'm going to speak with the Mistress."
Less than an hour later, Master Liam came striding into the office, where Johnny and Orlando were working together.
"Yes, Master!" Johnny sprang up out of his chair, bowed quickly and hurried out the door. The Master closed it behind him and stared hard down at Orlando, who'd left his own chair and knelt on the floor with his forehead pressed to the carpet as soon as he heard the angry tone in his master's voice. What now?
"Look at me."
Orlando knelt up and looked at the Master's face. He was definitely angry.
"What did you tell your mother about the incident with Chad? Or your sister?"
"Nothing at all? Why?"
Orlando swallowed and said, "I talked to Johnny about it, and he said we shouldn't tell anyone else. That our people might get mad at Chad and snub him, and that'd just make things worse. So I didn't tell anyone. I haven't even told Mama yet about sleeping with her when Johnny's gone."
The Master sighed and pushed a hand through his hair. He looked frustrated as well as upset. "Are you sure no one could have overheard you and Johnny talking?"
"Yes, Master, I'm sure. We were in here, by the computer, and the door was closed. We were speaking softly. No one could've heard anything."
Master Liam was silent for a few seconds, then went over to the leather couch under the window, sat down and patted his thigh. Orlando crawled over and curled up next to him on the floor, with his arms crossed on his master's lap. The Master ruffled his hair, then sat back and looked down at him. His hand kept petting him as though he just hadn't told it to stop.
"Maggie went to the Mistress a little while ago with a story about Chad. Apparently Samantha told her that he went to the herb garden and stamped all over it, ruining a lot of the plants. For no particular reason, just to do damage. She told Maggie and Maggie complained to the Mistress. Which would have been the right thing to do, if it made any sense."
"The Mistress didn't believe her," Orlando whispered.
"No. She's sure that either Samantha made it up, to get Chad in trouble, or Samantha and Maggie cooked it up between them, to get Chad in trouble. To support you, because your first scheme didn't work."
"Hush, I know." Master Liam pressed down a little harder on Orlando's head for a moment. "This isn't the first complaint about him, either, although it's the first one that went to the Mistress. Raul and Jerry both complained to me about him picking lemons and throwing them at the horses. Johnny said Marcy caught him wrecking a supply closet, and that two other slaves complained to Johnny of him pushing them for sex.
"The sex I can imagine, since Tasha has been with me every night and I don't think she's been with him other times, although I still want to thrash him for it. But the destructive incidents -- they're just ridiculous. They do sound like someone making things up."
The Master sounded more like himself than he had for a few days, and Orlando dared to murmur, "That's why."
"What? What's why, monkey?"
Orlando thought for a moment, trying to figure out how much to say and how to phrase it. "I've heard that he's bullied the Mistress's other slaves before, getting them in trouble because she won't believe anything is ever his fault. I think he's the one who wants to be top slave and he's trying to make you and the Mistress hate me, and make it look like the others are misbehaving to support me. He's doing stupid things no one would ever do, because no one would ever do them. If we complain then we're lying to get him in trouble, and if we don't then he's wrecking things and hurting people and getting away with it. He's the only one who comes out looking good, and he gets what he wants either way."
Master Liam made a "Huh" sound and was silent for a few moments. He finally said, "Well, Jerry Irons isn't just another jealous slave. His word definitely trumps Chad's; that's what got me wondering."
"Don't whine, monkey. None of us has ever been in this situation before, and I couldn't be sure you weren't just insecure and jealous and got into a fight with Chad. I never believed it was all your fault, though; that boy's too slick to be completely innocent."
"He didn't tell me what he's going to do, though," Orlando said, after relating the latest to Johnny.
"He probably doesn't know what he's going to do," Johnny said. "Don't look so shocked -- this isn't just a dispute between slaves. He can't thrash everyone, or even thrash whoever he thinks is making trouble. It's more complicated and I'm glad I'm not the one who has to figure it out."
"What's to figure out? Chad's a scheming prick. Why can't they just thrash him and make him quit?"
Johnny lowered his voice and said, "Because the problem's not really Chad -- it's the Mistress."
Orlando looked around for listeners out of reflex, then stared back at Johnny.
Johnny nodded and whispered, "Right. Chad's like he is because she lets him. She's the one who has to be fixed, and the Master can't just thrash her. It's like a business partnership -- you have to negotiate and come to an agreement. Getting her to agree that the problem is sweet Chaddie is going to be tough."
"So what'll he do?"
"Damn if I know." Johnny just shrugged. "I'm glad I don't have to solve it. And sometimes, like now, I'm glad slaves can't get married."
That weekend, the Master and Mistress had a barbecue and invited everyone they knew within three counties, or so it seemed looking out at the hordes of people and body-slaves cluttering up the back lawn and the deck. It was the first time they'd entertained since the wedding, and one week seemed to've been long enough not to look too strange, for a couple who hadn't had a honeymoon.
Orlando was taking children on horsie rides around the arena on Bramble, the pony Master Liam had gotten for him and Samantha when they were small. Some of the adults were getting ready to go for a ride as well, and the mounted group headed out of the stable yard toward the lake edge, where there was a pretty trail circling the water through the wooded hills.
The Master and Mistress were with the group, and everyone was talking and laughing. Mistress Natasha wasn't much of a rider -- she could stay on fine if the horse was walking, or maybe for a short canter, but Strawberry was just following the Master on Palisade and Orlando doubted the Mistress could guide a horse home by herself, unless she got off and led it.
She was trying, though. She knew the Master loved horses and was trying hard to get better and seemed to have a good time just being with him.
Orlando'd been keeping an eye on her for the last week, mostly so he could stay out of her way. She and the Master talked and smiled at one another and fooled around and got that sappy look people in love got when they looked at each other, and Orlando really wished he could just like her and be happy for Master Liam. She seemed like a really nice person, so long as she wasn't sticking up for Chad or glaring at Orlando.
He'd be willing to bet that getting rid of Chad would make her a nice person all the time, once she got over losing him. It'd be tough, but someone else would be better for her in the long run -- a slave who was nice too, and didn't think he had to stomp on everyone else to get ahead. Then they could all settle back down and everything would be like it was, or as close as it could be with a mistress around, and probably kids soon.
Orlando'd never had all that much to do with kids, having been the youngest on the estate for a while, but he'd probably have to get used to kids before too long. That could be fun -- he remembered some of the things he'd done when he was little, by himself or with the Master or playing with whoever had time for him. Having a kid to play with and teach stuff would give him something else to do whenever the Master and Mistress were alone together.
Just then he had a line-up of kids from around three to ten waiting for their turn on the pony. He finished a round and led Bramble back to the gate, then lifted a little boy off and handed him over to his nurse. She was a slave too, and Orlando wondered whether they'd get a new slave to be nurse when the Mistress started having kids? Probably. She and the Master were both pretty busy, and there wasn't anyone around the estate who had time to look after little kids all day.
A girl around eight or so mounted on her own and had a good seat. Orlando gave her a smile and nod and handed her the reins. He retreated to the middle of the arena to watch, close enough to run up if she had a problem, but far enough away that she could have the fun of riding on her own. It was hard to tell sometimes just how much help a kid needed, or whether what they wanted was actually what they needed. Orlando'd been at it all morning, though, and was starting to get a feel for it.
Late Monday morning, Orlando was in the Master's dressing room, collecting clothes to take to the cleaner's, when he heard footsteps and a slammed door.
"--believe you chastised my Chaddie without saying a word to me!"
"He's been making trouble, Tasha. I know you don't want to hear it, but he's causing chaos and resentment among the staff and I can't tolerate that."
"Then why don't you pull your people in line? Chaddie's all alone, what could he possibly do against your horde? They've closed ranks against him and they're determined to set you against him too. You never said a word against him until we moved in."
"Tasha... I'm sorry, love, but I've gotten eight other complaints about him, and not from Orlando or Maggie or Samantha."
"Slaves get jealous and hateful, you know that! They'll all support your Orlando even if they pretend it's about something else."
"Two of the slaves making complaints hardly know Orlando -- they're new and have had little or nothing to do with him. And Jerry Irons isn't a slave. He's a free employee, my stable manager; he's got nothing to be jealous of when it comes to Chad and no reason to get involved in slave brangles."
"And so you're convinced Chaddie has turned into this evil creature just in the last ten days, then?"
"What I think is that he's capable of behaving perfectly, and does so whenever you or I or another free person -- or at least people he's aware are free -- are around. With the other slaves, though, it's something else entirely. He's an accomplished liar and an expert manipulator."
"Well, of course he is! All slaves are!" There was a silent pause, and then she said, "What, did you think I was stupid? Slaves have no power so they lie and manipulate to get what they want -- they're all like that. Chaddie gives me perfect service, and despite what you think of him, my household ran perfectly with him in it. The house was clean, my wardrobe was taken care of, good meals were served on time and my guests never had any complaints -- including you if you'll recall. So long as it doesn't get out of hand and they keep it out of sight and hearing, I've never had a reason to interfere in the slaves' bickering.
"Your Orlando is the one who's out of hand. Chaddie has never injured anyone! I'd be more than willing to let them settle their little status disputes between them if it were just arguments and insults, but I don't want to have to lose Chaddie to a hospital for who knows how long next time your brat decides to put him in his place."
There was another short silence, then a quiet, "Orlando's not like that."
The Mistress made a frustrated sound, like half a laugh and half a groan. "They're all like that! If you don't think so, then your boy's just very good at hiding it."
"I know I can't convince you, you'll just have to get to know him. The fact remains, though, that I can't allow Chad to disrupt this household. He might well have kept a working equilibrium among your staff by bullying everyone into deferring to him, but that's not going to work here, and I can't let him wreak havok while he figures that out."
"Fine! Whatever!" Orlando heard quick, angry sounding footsteps retreating toward the door. "You just keep your half of the problem away from him!"
Orlando stood frozen, hoping as hard as he could that his master wouldn't come into the dressing room. There was silence from the other room for nearly a minute, then a long sigh and slow steps leaving the bedroom.
Whatever the Master had said to Chad, it lasted for almost three weeks. The household was quiet, everyone going about their business, with a sense of heads kept down and ears pricked for signs of trouble.
Johnny was in Turkey, laying groundwork for a series of meetings Master Liam and Orlando would be flying out for soon. Research Orlando had done had shown that it was one of the easier countries for slave Agents to work in; that part of the world had had a long history of slaves with authority to do business for their masters in an earlier era, and they'd had no problem readjusting to the new era of modern slavery. Orlando'd never been farther east than Germany and was looking forward to going, especially since he'd felt twitchy for the last few days, not having Johnny around.
His mama hadn't reacted well when he'd explained exactly why he needed to sleep on a cot in her room, either. He'd insisted she promise to keep the secret before telling her, though, even from Samantha, and she'd agreed with a minimum of fuss. A minimum before she heard what the situation was, at least; she'd been furious when she heard what Chad had tried to pull the night of the wedding. But Orlando had reinforced the promise she'd made and insisted that telling anyone or treating Chad any different would only cause problems.
And actually, since the incident with the herb garden she'd been cold to Chad anyway, so nothing really changed.
Orlando was in the office talking to Mr. Vincent's Paul on videoconference. It'd been a while since they'd last had a chance to chat, so when they finished their business they stayed online for a few more minutes.
"--still think you're gonna get me up on a horse?" Paul teased.
"Damn right!" Orlando insisted with a grin. "Hey, I tried that disgusting tongue stuff last time I was at your place, so you have to try riding when you're here."
"Hey, tongue is excellent stuff! It makes the best sandwiches!"
Orlando gave an elaborate shudder and made a face for the webcam. "If I'm gonna have something else's tongue in my mouth, it better be attached to my master!"
Paul snickered and said, "How about my tongue? You don't like that anymore?"
"Oh, that'll do in a pinch, I guess," Orlando said with an exaggerated shrug.
"Wow, thanks! Maybe I'll ask Master if we can just go home before you get back. Why bother waiting around to get together if I'll just 'do in a pinch?'"
"Well, fine, maybe more than a pinch." Orlando fluttered his eyelashes in a flirt so over-the-top it needed a parachute.
"How about a hug?"
"Okay, a hug works -- you're good at those."
"Fine, I guess we'll stay after all."
"Yay!" Orlando grinned and waved. "It'll be great to see you, seriously. We'll be in the air for like twenty hours that day, coming home from Turkey, so you can give me a nice back rub or something and then fuck me unconscious."
"We live to serve," Paul said with a jaunty salute. "Hey, it's almost time for dinner here so I have to go. See ya, babe!"
Some e-mail binged in just as Paul vanished, so Orlando went right to that window. It was an update packet from Johnny; Orlando downloaded it to Master Liam's "Attention" folder on the hard drive and flagged it for the Turkey trip.
"Busy little bee, huh?"
Orlando startled up away from the keyboard and swivelled around in the chair to see Chad leaning in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest and a sneering expression on his face. Orlando felt a jolt of panic -- there was no one there, no one to witness if Chad decided he'd been good long enough.
"What do you want, Chad? I have work to do." Orlando swivelled back to face the computer and remembered that he hadn't shut down the webcam. He left it on and set it to record video, then minimized all the folders and turned back to stare at Chad.
"I thought you were supposed to at least try to be nice to me. You're not even going to pretend?"
"We're supposed to get along and not cause any trouble. I'm not required to like you and I doubt you really expect me to."
"I'll bet if your master ordered you to like me, you would. Or at least you'd try as hard as you could. Wouldn't you, Orlando? Perfect Orlando, always obeys to the least detail," Chad snarked.
"Of course I'd try my best. Master Liam would never order that, though. And he's not just 'my' master -- California is a community property state, so they own both of us together."
"Not for much longer if he thinks he can tell my mistress how to treat her slaves. She didn't like that at all."
"What, you think she'd sell you?" That didn't make sense with what he'd said, though. But.... Orlando stared at Chad as though he'd grown a second head. "You think they'd actually get divorced over you? Over us? Even I'm not that delusional!"
Chad gave a casual shrug and strolled over toward Orlando. "Maybe not. But Mistress Natasha was never all that happy about moving here and being a stranger in someone else's house, with someone else's slaves and everyone used to their own way of doing stuff and her the outsider. Everyone else stayed home, and sure, the idea is that we'll be there part of the time where it'll be the other way around, but this place is bigger and nicer so how often are we going to be there?"
"So... what?" Orlando still couldn't figure out what he was getting at.
"So it's pretty clear that the whole staff is with you, and with him, and against me and her. No one likes me, or even respects me. They don't respect her, either. You think she'll stand for that for very long?"
"That's not true! No one's been disrespectful to the new mistress!"
"Snubbing me is disrespecting her."
"Maybe if you weren't such a fuckwad," Orlando said, his voice getting louder and more angry, "maybe if you made some kind of effort to be a worthy representative of your mistress, the staff would warm up to you. No one minds her -- she's a perfectly nice lady when she's not trying to defend you for some shit you've pulled. Getting rid of you would solve all our problems."
"So would getting rid of everyone else," Chad taunted. "Or most of them, at least. You, the spoiled little prince, your mother, who's been stirring everyone up against me--"
"She has not!"
"Oh, you're so full of it! It's obvious she doesn't like me and they all follow her lead. Just because she never told them to, doesn't mean she's not one of the ringleaders."
"If you hadn't stomped up the herb garden she'd have liked you just fine!"
Chad grinned "Maybe I just felt like playing in the mud that day."
Orlando felt like snarling. "You are such a bastard! Why? What can you possibly gain by all this shit that you couldn't have just by being nice?"
"See, that's your problem. You've actually bought into all this good-little-slave crap. You think all you have to do is be 'nice' and your owners will be nice back and everything will be fine forever. It doesn't work that way."
"It doesn't work for assholes like you, maybe, but if you act decent and don't cause trouble it works just fine."
"You're like a teddy bear, you know? Pull your string and you say the same five or six things over and over. Except the teddy bear's smarter 'cause it knows it's gonna be thrown away some day. And maybe sooner than you think."
"What?" Orlando snapped. "Make sense or get out."
"While you and your master and that snot Johnny are all gone, 'our' mistress is going to be in charge, all by herself. You think everyone around here can behave for her for two whole weeks?" Chad asked with a teasing grin. "You think no one'll show what they really think of me, and of her, for all that time? I don't. I think maybe there'll be some staff changes by the time you all get back."
"And maybe you're going to help it along some? You fucker!" Orlando's fists clenched and he tried to get up. He wasn't sure what he was going to do, but he knew he wanted to punch the shit out of Chad and he had a couple of seconds to relish the idea before maybe thinking better of it.
He didn't have the chance, though, because as soon as he shifted his weight, Chad grabbed his shoulder and yanked back hard, sending the chair crashing to the floor with Orlando in it. The fall knocked the wind out of him and smacked the back of his skull into the hardwood floor, but he rolled out of the chair and onto his knees where he could watch Chad, then scrambled to his feet.
"What, are you gonna do something? Starting a fight? Perfect Orlando's going to disobey his master?!" Chad mimed round-eyed shock.
"You already started it, you prick." Orlando swung a punch to re-blacken Chad's eye, but Chad ducked.
"Hint!" Chad taunted. "Next time you want to hit someone, don't leave evidence." He faked a swing at Orlando's mouth, then delivered a hard punch to the stomach.
Orlando collapsed to his knees, then snarled and tackled Chad around the thighs and they both went down in a thrashing heap.
All Orlando was aware of for the next minute or so was panting, grunting, swearing, and pain, either in his knuckles from where he hit Chad, or in his body from where Chad hit him. He was in a rage and wasn't thinking of anything but beating the crap out of this asshole who'd come and ruined everything.
Suddenly a woman's voice was screaming, "Liam! Dammit, come do something!"
Orlando was suddenly aware of the rest of the world, and his master's name distracted him long enough for Chad -- who'd apparently discarded his own advice -- to get in one last punch in the jaw. Then a pair of huge, hard hands had him by the arms and tossed him into a corner where he went thudding to the floor one more time, then another thump came from the opposite corner where Chad hit. Orlando's head spun, and the room was suddenly full of the smell of horses and sweat, and the overwhelming presence of his master.
"Just what the hell are the two of you doing!"
Master Liam hadn't sounded that angry since Orlando'd taken Palisade out bareback. He scrambled to his knees and across the floor to crouch down kneeling with his forehead on his master's boot. His master stepped back, rejecting the gesture, and Orlando wanted to cry.
"I expect orders to be obeyed," the Master said, his voice hard and cold. "And for that matter, I expect orders about not fighting to be completely unnecessary."
"Chad, what happened?" the mistress snapped. Orlando had never heard her sound that angry when addressing her body-slave.
Chad, who was crouching at his mistresses feet in the same position as Orlando, said, "Mistress, I came in to ask Orlando to show me how the e-mail works here. I was trying to learn how to be useful to the new household, as you commanded. He accused me of trying to take over his territory and shoved me. I fell down and, and I got mad and, and then we were fighting. I'm sorry, Mistress!"
"Orlando?" Master Liam still sounded coldly furious, and Orlando had to sniffle back tears and swallow several times before he could respond.
"Master...." But what could he say? Chad was lying but there wasn't... no, wait, there was. "Master, I was talking to Paul about Mr. Vincent's visit next week, and then Chad came in. There was no one here with us, so I started it recording. The webcam is still on."
Orlando saw out of the corner of his eye that Chad's shoulders hunched, then smoothed back to perfect, contrite-slave form. Master Liam didn't say a word, but went over to the computer. Orlando heard the mouse click a few times, then he heard Chad's voice say, "I thought you were supposed to at least try to be nice to me."
They all listened silently as the two slaves snarked back and forth at each other, then argued, then fought.
Orlando didn't dare look up to watch, and didn't think there was much to see anyway; Chad would have been out of the camera's tiny range for most of the argument, and both of them for the fight. But the audio was understandable, and Orlando was pretty sure Chad yanking his chair back would be on the video.
He heard his master's fuzzy voice demand to know what they were doing, then another mouse click and the room was silent.
"I think it's clear who started this," Master Liam said. "Aside from the blatant lie he told you about what happened, he obviously came in here looking to pick a fight. It was pure manipulation from beginning to end."
Orlando huffed out a quiet sigh and was relieved enough to tilt his head just a tiny bit so he could barely see his owners.
"Oh," said the Mistress, "and that wasn't?" She stabbed a finger at the computer. "Your perfect Orlando knew exactly what he was doing when he started the recording. He knew they'd be overheard and Chad didn't. Of course he came off looking better."
"Come on, Tasha, it's not the same thing at all."
Mistress Natasha made an angry little noise, then insisted, "It's the exact same thing! You keep insisting that Orlando is pure as the falling snow and completely the victim here, and that Chad is the only one being sneaky or manipulative. I keep telling you, they're all like that and your blindness and blatant favoritism doesn't change anything. The problem isn't the boys, it's your twisted attitude about your slave!"
"Whatever my 'attitude' is toward my slave, it's obvious to me that he's not the one causing trouble here," the Master said with an impatient wave of one hand.
"And it's obvious to me that it's both of them!" she snapped. Then she waved that away and said, "Fine, I'll agree that you were right before -- we have two boys who are insecure and jealous, and trying to blend Chad into 'Orlando's' household isn't working. So fine. I've had Chad for almost four years now and I've been thinking of looking around for someone new. So we can compromise -- I'll sell Chad and get a new body-slave. You sell Orlando and do the same. You've had him for a completely ridiculous amount of time anyway and a change will do you good, to say nothing of stopping all the gossip about you. We'll bring two new boys into the household at the same time, they'll both be strangers and equals and will have nothing significant to fight about. There, problem solved." She made the last statement a challenge, and stood there glaring at the Master with her arms folded across her chest.
Orlando could hardly breathe. She made it sound so reasonable, like the perfect solution, the perfect compromise, but the very thought made him want to vomit.
"There's no need for that," Master Liam said. "If you've been thinking of selling Chad anyway, then fine. If you get someone new and unspoiled, that'll solve the problem right there. Orlando still pleases me very much and I don't see any reason to get rid of him as well."
Mistress Natasha made a short, angry little noise. "You're missing the whole point!"
The Master started to say something, but the Mistress cut him off. "Oh, don't even bother! I don't want to hear it, it's the same every time." She strode right up in front of him and glared up at him, hands fisted on her hips. "We talked about this, and you promised me it wasn't an unhealthy attachment! You swore to me, and were even angry when I suggested it. And yet here we are.
"You've had that boy for twenty-two years! Do you have any idea how ludicrous that is?"
"He was born here, Tasha. He's only been a body-slave for five years, which is hardly unusual." The Master sounded like he was trying to balance conciliation with impatience. The Mistress didn't seem to be too pleased with the result.
"Don't try to hide behind technicalities. I can listen to gossip too -- the two of you have been inseparable ever since he was old enough to toddle after you, and you encouraged every bit of it."
"For God's sake, he was an adorable little boy!" the Master snapped back. "What exactly are you accusing me of?"
"Oh, come off it! You're being ridiculous now and trying to change the subject." The Mistress threw up her hands and stalked across the room, then turned to glare back at the Master again. "The subject is your unhealthy, undignified attachment to a slave. He's only a slave, Liam, and there are a million others out there exactly like him. He's nothing special, none of them are. He's prettier than most, I'll grant you, but if you'd open your eyes and look around, you could find another one just as pretty and doubtless more skilled and experienced."
"Or I could end up with someone who doesn't suit me at all. There's no reason to sell a slave who pleases me perfectly well."
"If you buy a slave that doesn't suit you, then you sell it and buy another one. You're allowed to go through as many as you want until you find one you'll enjoy for a while. They're just slaves and there aren't any upper quotas or limits."
"I'm not selling Orlando until I'm tired of him."
Orlando recognized that immovable tone in his master's voice. Apparently the Mistress did too.
"So, what? You absolutely refuse to compromise?" she asked, her voice frozen into a perfectly neutral tone. "Are you willing to break our marriage over a slave? You heard your boy on the recording -- even he doesn't expect you to do that."
Master Liam scowled at the floor and pushed a hand through his hair. "Come on, Tasha, there's no reason for it to go that far, or even close to that far. If you've been meaning to sell Chad anyway then why is Orlando even an issue?"
The Mistress made another angry little noise. "Orlando is not the issue. You are the issue! You are the one with a problem and I'm worried about you! I love you and I don't want to see you do this to yourself! You're obsessed with a slave and it's not healthy, not for you and not for him!"
'Tasha...." He trailed off, then shook his head. "No, all right? Just no." And he left the room.
The Mistress buried her face in her hands for a few moments, then muttered something foul and walked out.
Orlando waited a dozen tense heartbeats, but no one came back to give them orders so he finally knelt up and looked around. Chad was already sitting on the floor, looking like someone had whacked him on the back of the head with a board. Orlando murmured, "I'm sorry," then stood up and walked away.