From the moment he came through the door, had his coat removed and was handed the black silk domino mask, Stephen wondered if he was making a colossal mistake. He had never been to this part of London before, let alone this elegantly-furnished assignation house and now the thought of attending a private show here was now terrifying him. However, the thought of being caught - or worse, recognised - was not enough to stop him from walking down the hallway to where the footman was holding open the door to what he assumed was the drawing room named on the invite.
He had dressed for the part. Crane's endless lavish spending on his - and now Stephen's - wardrobes meant that he easily located a suit in a plain yet elegant charcoal grey, which added to his nondescript appearance. This was topped off with a dark bowler hat covering his russet hair, shading his distinctive eyes and the outfit was enveloped in a dark caped greatcoat - another exorbitant gift from Lucien which had seemed ridiculous at the time but now was perfect. The whole effect served to give him the illusion of a little more height and gave him something of a disguise to hide behind. Just as well really, he would hate to have to explain this evening to anyone.
He had picked up the invitation entirely by accident. He had been beginning to feel frustrated by his lack of experience when compared to Lucien and after a few discrete enquiries, had ended up on Holywell Street selecting a few books that were most certainly in the unfit to print category. He had found them most enlightening and returned a second time for a few more only to have an elegant cream envelope slipped into the cover of the topmost book by the proprietor who winked at him cheerfully. Horrified that he may have been propositioned, Stephen had fled from the shop with his books only to find that the envelope contained an embossed cream card with an invitation to ‘An Evening of Titillation and Deviancy’ and enclosed an address and a name of Madam Zoe. Stephen was intrigued and before he could talk himself out of it, he was assembling an outfit and coming up with excuses as to why he wouldn't be calling on Lucien that evening whilst also avoiding having anything to do with his work.
He went through the passageway into the drawing room, which was elegantly lit with gaslight: the warm, subdued yellow lending intimacy to the room. A small range of settees, armchairs and footstools had been arranged in a loose semi-circle, framing a large open space in front of a window covered with heavy drapes. About half of these seats were taken by soberly-dressed, masked men like himself who were all avoiding eye contact. A lady with dark skin, an expansive bosom and a sharp eye stood in the background and Stephen ascertained from a glance that she ran the place. Madam Zoe. Before he went to his seat, Stephen turned to her and dropped a courteous bow and was rewarded with a warm half-smile at his meticulous politeness. It wouldn't anger the proprietor of the establishment after all.
The footman ushered him to one of the smaller settees, taken up at one end by a man with dark-curly hair and dark eyes half hidden behind his own mask. He nodded once to Stephen, who nodded silently back in acknowledgement before sitting down and accepting a glass of wine proffered on a tray by a silent maid who melted into the shadows just as quickly. This evening was to be entirely anonymous and Stephen was forever grateful.
He hadn't even told Lucien where he was going. Actually, he told him that he had some work business to attend to and would be back late. Very late. Lucien had given a token grumble of protest but shrugged it off as he had promised Leonora Hart an evening call at some point to finally be formally introduced to her affianced. Although just to show his hurt at being slighted, he had sought compensation from Stephen in the form of a quick and hard fucking over the arm of the settee, which had left Stephen high as a kite with the power Crane had sparked to life in him. Remnants of power he could still feel now, prickling and tingling against the fine doeskin of his close-fitting gloves even as the magpie tattoo on his back still sporadically fluttered as he recalled the experience.
He shook himself out of reveries as there was a polite cough requesting silence from Madame Zoe who then clapped for attention. Stephen followed the other men's gazes to look to the centre of the semi-circle. He had expected some kind of compere starting this all off but there was simply silence before a masked young man walked a path between the seating areas, took the designated stage area and stood before them.
The man was muscular but in a lean way with almost olive-toned skin and dark hair which fell in waves over his golden volto mask - extremely attractive by all standards. However, his dark looks were all the more enhanced by what he wore. An elaborate web of dark leather straps encircled his hips, belly and chest before snaking up to a collar sat snugly around his throat. He looked out over the crowd and slowly rotated to show the straps criss-crossed across his back and down across his hips and under to cup and lift his firm buttocks. He clinked a little as he moved and it was then Stephen noticed the man was wearing cuffs, thick shiny black leather cuffs that held large silver rings that hung down just below the thumb. Stephen felt the magpie flutter against his shoulder.
Another man then joined him in the semi-circle. A somewhat taller, stocky man with cropped blond hair, broad shoulders, well-muscled and a pelt of darker blond hair on his bare chest. He wore only black breeches, black boots and a black volto mask but carried an air of total authority along with what appeared to be a leather-coated paddle of sorts. He stalked up to the dark-haired man and grasped his chin with one hand and used the other to connect the two cuffed wrists together behind the other man’s back. The darker man gave a gentle moan and Stephen could swear there was a collective intake amongst the masked audience.
Including himself if he was honest.
The blond then turned the bound man sideways to the audience and pulled back on his arms, pushing out the man’s chest and forcing him to arch his back, pressing the leather straps tightly into his skin. The man struggled against the binding but they held firm. There was a faint whimper behind the golden mask which was immediately followed by a gasping groan as the blond bought the black paddle firmly down on his exposed rump with an echoing crack of sound.
Stephen couldn’t help his jump of surprise but was glad to see others had reacted in the same way around him. The blond was laying into the strikes now, painting the other man's arse a glorious red-pink as he squirmed and gasped and moaned. Stephen felt his mouth go dry as he saw the arousal of the dark-haired man bobbing frantically with each strike, pearling at head showing his enjoyment. Finally, the blond grasped the bound wrists and twisted his panting victim's practically-glowing backside to the assembled audience. There was a smattering of applause and the two men left the semi-circle, without further comment.
There was a faint ripple of murmuring around the darkened room, obviously from men in the audience who seemed to know each other. Stephen felt painfully isolated at that point, wishing he had had the courage to bring Lucien with him. But no. He swallowed down that thought. As wonderful as it would be to be sharing this experience with his lover, Stephen was determined to do this alone. He wanted to bring back what he had learned to Lucien’s bed, to show his commanding, worldly-experienced lover that he could bring more to their physical intimacy than ‘champagne hands’. He stared down at his gloved hands before casting a glance around the room.
The dark-haired man sat beside him caught his eye and nodded politely, drawing Stephen’s attention back to the semi-circle. The next pair of men had stepped forward. The first was a brown-haired slender man of about Stephen's age and only slightly taller than he was and the second was a man with deep brown skin and black hair that suggested Indian heritage. He was considerably taller and broader than his companion but there seemed to be a clear sense of equality between them. The smaller man turned to his companion and lifted his head to look at his partner. The darker man grabbed a handful of his hair and buckled a leather collar around his pale throat and there was an audible click as a lead was attached. The smaller man closed his eyes with an intake of breath and allowed himself to be pulled closer to his companion who grasped his chin and tilted his head upwards with a harsh movement. The smaller man smiled at the treatment and bit into his partner’s thumb.
The only way Stephen could describe what he was seeing was a dance. Everytime the larger man attempted to dominate his partner, the smaller man would deny him the chance to go beyond teasing. The smaller man used the lead to pull his partner close and when a hand threaded into his hair to pull and restrained he pushed into it turning the pull into a caress. The taller man attempted to restrain him by grasping his wrists together and holding them up but the smaller man raised a leg and wrapped it around the larger man, reeling him in and sliding his slender body up his partner’s own. Firm hands gripped the smaller man’s arse seemingly hard enough to leave bruises and the smaller man huffed in laughter and delight.
“More.” came the murmur.
Stephen couldn’t help but notice the man who was sharing his seat was looking just as intense as he was. Stephen wondered if the other man was like himself, a man who enjoyed the thrill and pleasure of submission.
Finally, the smaller man was on his knees before his partner, head bobbing lasciviously over the man’s groin whilst his leash and hair were held tightly. However, even with that restraint, every so often the man would simply stop in his ministrations, pulling away to bestow soft kisses teasing his partner into acting rougher and rougher. The noises from the pair were obscene: promises of punishment and rough treatment; pleading for release; moaning and sighing and Stephen could not look away from it. It was such a beautiful combination of the submission he loved and craved but without the humiliation at the loss of power. Stephen could picture himself like this with Lucien; the wonderful back and forth game between them and he hardened painfully in his trousers, thanking God that he was wearing looser trousers. Christ, what wouldn't he do to have Lucien here now. And a private room.
The evening continued much in the same vein. A few pairs of gentlemen of a variety of nationalities, heights and builds demonstrating very different ways of exploring sexual tastes from outright bondage, which had a red-haired gentleman tied so tight that he seemed almost unable to breathe, to sensory deprivation in gags, full face masks and blindfolds. Several also seemed to involve multiple ways of penetration including the use of a consolateur so broad that had Stephen's eyes watering in sympathy but absolutely rapt by the pleasure-filled expression of the recipient. Stephen was utterly fascinated. He had always considered himself to be somewhat worldly in the ways men sought pleasure and Lucien had broadened his horizons even further but this was on another scale entirely. Chains, whips, restraints, blindfolds and gags were all laid out in this display and Stephen was overwhelmed by a world of possibilities which was simultaneously arousing and terrifying.
Madame Zoe then stepped forwards and announced that the evening’s entertainment had ended, however the participants would be in the drawing room for some time if any of the gentlemen had interests to discuss, commissions to enquire about or orders to make. There would also be people to help them. Stephen had to admit it was a flawless operation and rose to his feet with the other men present, finding himself swept off into a whirl of discussion.
And now he was not at all comfortable here. Many of these men were wealthy, society types, able to churn out careless, gossiping small talk with anyone having spent much of their lives going from drawing room to ball room to club. Stephen Day had worked and slogged every day of his adult life for very little financial reward and had never really had a life beyond his work. He lingered on the edge of conversations, never truly joining in beyond a nod or polite laugh to mainly avoid standing out by being isolated. He wished he could simply leave but this social soirée seemed to be also very clearly part of the evening and he would stand out even more if he did something as thoroughly impolite as leaving halfway through. So the only thing for it was to make himself as hardly noticeable as possible. He was good at that.
He managed to edge himself to the corner of the room, finding a convenient shadow-filled part of the room and nearly trod on the neatly booted feet of the dark-haired man he had shared a sofa with.
"Oh I am sorry!" He exclaimed. The dark-haired man shook his head, brushing off his apology.
"Please don't apologize, it's a rather good spot to not be noticed." The man sounded a little sheepish.
"Ah yes." Said Stephen, feeling a little tongue-tied and not knowing what else to say. This was ridiculous. He was usually so calm, collected and in control within the Justiciary but this was beyond him.
"D." Said the man, holding out a hand with - thank Christ - not even the slightest bit of flirtation in his voice.
"S." Stephen responded, taking it and shaking it politely. He had already been informed that all here would be known only by a single initial. No names were to be exchanged here. Safer that way.
"I take it you enjoyed the performances?” the man said, toying with the stem of his glass. Stephen nodded.
“Very… Very much so.” He wondered whether to divulge any information about what he had seen. "The performances are - were - fascinating." He really did not know the procedure here. Did one compliment the performers or the performance? Did one admit to becoming aroused by one scene but needed to critique another? Should he be reviewing the tableaux as some kind of critic?
Thankfully the dark-haired man spoke, cutting cleanly across his discomfort.
"It seems you are just as uncomfortable as I am with this evening." His voice barely contained a laugh. "I must admit that I enjoyed the performances but I could most certainly do without the peacocking afterwards."
Stephen cast an eye at the figures milling about the rooms in their subdued yet superb finery and huffed out a grateful laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
"Yes. Peacocking does seem the right way to describe it. I wasn't aware this was also a society exhibition."
"It usually isn't but the wealthier members of the ton bring a significant amount of business, patronage and protection to Madame Zoe, therefore we must tolerate the peacocks showing off afterwards." Said D. "I take it you preferred the performances."
Stephen was happier now, far more comfortable with D who seemed to be a little more grounded than the powdered society peacocks surrounding them.
"I did. Particularly the restraints. They were … beautiful."
"I take it from your tone you know about restraints." Said D and immediately read Stephen's horrified expression. "Don't be offended, sir. At the very least not by me. It's not terribly difficult to recognise someone with - let's say - similar requirements from a partner." There was a single quirk of a dark eyebrow and it dawned on Stephen.
"Do you let your - yours - bind you, sir?" Stephen asked tentatively in lowered tones. D’s expression was hazy, almost wistful.
"Frequently. There is something intoxicating about being powerless and subject to another." He broke Stephen's gaze to look at the floor. "Especially when you have absolute trust in the other… and they in you."
Stephen wondered then about who D let restrain him. He tried to picture the man that commanded such a well-bred, quietly-powerful character such as D and he couldn’t. Would he be like Lucien, all aristocratic bearing and quiet, arrogant power or the complete opposite?
“He must be … quite something. “ he murmured admiringly.
“... Yes. Yes, I suppose he is.” Answered D, almost flustered, his commanding presence slipping a little and his ears going pink around the black ribbons of his mask. “He knows … he knows what I need.” Wordlessly, he made a motion as if to fold his arms but stopped halfway, just enough for Stephen to see the red, blue and purple bruising that circled each wrist. There was clearly a mixture of fresh and old bruises but the tenderness with which D pulled down his cuffs said that those marks were welcome. Stephen nodded, understanding. He wanted to be shocked. He wanted to feel like his taste for submission was a shameful thing that being deliberately bound would be awful.
Actually, he really wanted to know what made those marks.
"May I ask what kind?"
"Of course, leather mostly, rope sometimes and occasionally iron manacles… For certain days … when we have time."
Stephen shivered at the last item. Lucien would probably like full cuffs. Particularly iron ones. He had mentioned those before. I want you in iron . He loved having Stephen helpless and bound but both of them knew that with Stephen's powers that was impossible. One pull in the right direction on a rope or leather strap and Stephen was free or one stray thought and those bindings would disintegrate around him as they had done the last time Lucien had tied him to the bedposts and he had lost himself in the moment. The only way he could be made truly helpless was with iron. Iron cut off his connection to the ether and made him feel like he could not get enough air. It left him powerless, vulnerable and completely at his captor's mercy.
Oh Christ, the thought made him harden.
Could he actually do it? Could he let Lucien put him in the irons he had teased him about? Give him that level of trust between them?
There was a polite cough and D held out a simple white card. It was embossed with two names in striking black ink: 'Josiah Moss & George Smith', followed by an address in Southwark and the words 'Ironmongery, Leatherwork and Forge' beneath it. Stephen frowned in confusion and looked back at D.
"What is this?"
"Moss and Smith mainly do saddlery, however they also provide further … let us say more - discreet - services and commissions." He gestured to the now empty semi-circle. "You saw some of their work earlier this evening."
"Oh." Realisation dawned on Stephen and he pocketed the card. "Thank you."
"Think nothing of it." Said D airily. "After all, it is rare to find others who share similar tastes and don't see it as abhorrent or something to take advantage of and abuse." His voice seemed to falter on those last parts and Stephen wondered exactly how D had experienced that abhorrence. In his few encounters before Lucien, he had never found it possible to reveal his taste for submission as he could never trust his partners with it. All his previous experience had been furtive, forbidden moments that had been more focused on getting off quickly and quietly rather than exploring his need to be dominated and mastered.
And yet for the few times he had, Stephen knew he had always had the protection of his powers if things went wrong. He could take down men twice his size easily and kill with a thought, defence was not a problem. D was clearly not a practitioner. What had happened to him?
"It's not an abhorrence to want your pleasure a certain way. It's certainly not an abhorrence to not have someone respect that need." He said softly, thinking of Lucien holding his wrists up against the windows of a first class train carriage on their way back from Piper and whispering ‘ You need this, you need it so badly ’.. "I have learned that much."
"Then you are wise." Answered D. "And your … yours … is a lucky gentleman indeed."
Stephen flushed at the unexpected compliment and mumbled some kind of denial. Really, he was the lucky one to have a lover like Lucien. Beautiful, generous, proud and masterful Lucien. He felt his cheeks burn at the thought.
"Yes he is and I am."
What had started out as a highly uncomfortable evening then became downright pleasant. Once they had dispensed with the comments and observations on the topic of the evening - with D recommending a few practices that made Stephen's cheeks turn the same colour as his hair - they had moved onto other topics. Whilst D was not a radical, he had a startling awareness of radical ideas and topics and Stephen, the son of an extremely righteous solicitor had debated with him enthusiastically. They had both discussed the beauty of Blake and the cruelty of Malthus as well as the prospect of universal suffrage. Stephen found himself genuinely enjoying the man's company and wished they could exchange cards. For the first time in his life Stephen felt it would be good to have an acquaintance beyond the Justiciary and Crane's circle.
They had just moved onto crime and corporal punishment - where D proved very outspoken on his detestation of flogging - when there was a faint ringing of a handbell and Madame Zoe clapping her hands for attention.
"Gentlemen, we will be starting our leave-taking. Please leave in groups of no more than two and leave a considerable amount of time between each of you, unless you of course have prearranged a room." She gestured. "There are two doors."
At her words there was a general flurry towards the entrance hall to retrieve coats and hats and for a couple of pairs - and rather interestingly a trio - to depart towards the stairs. Stephen couldn't help but notice D didn't move with the rest.
"Do you need assistance?" He offered, it seemed the polite thing to do.
"No, no, don't worry about me, I haven't seen Madame Zoe for some time and I believe she wishes to take this snub up with me so I feel I may be staying for a nightcap and a round of cards at least." His face split into a laugh that went all the way up into the mask. "So by all means take your leave and don't worry about being rude on my account."
Stephen then reached out his hand and D shook it firmly.
"And if you should ever wish to contact me, simply send a missive here. It will find its way to me and I will respond." His voice was warm, friendly and an invite of friendship.
"I will." Said Stephen - surprised to find that his statement wasn't a lie - and gave a slight bow of respect. "And thank you."
D waved off the praise with a flash of bruised wrist.
Stephen walked past the dwindling clusters of men with every intention of leaving unnoticed, however he then spotted one of the particular items laid out on the display table. He was struck by an impetuous thought. He could buy those and have those now. Lucien had always said that if Stephen needed anything at all then he was to simply buy it and have the bill sent direct to Lord Crane no questions asked. Stephen had spat prideful feathers at the time at the insinuation of being a kept man but at that moment, seeing that particular item laid out for purchase, he forced himself to walk over and ask for a pen.
Then, donning his proffered hat and greatcoat - and with his items now unobtrusively wrapped in black cloth and tucked firmly under his arm - Stephen left the house, hands sparking with excitement and disappeared into the London darkness. He wondered if Lucien would be amenable to him arriving so late in the night.
Crane flopped inelegantly back on his enormous bed, chest heaving and belly spattered with spend. Stephen dismounted his lover, easing his aching and sated body off his lover's cock and collapsed next to him, using his powers to release the thankfully-silver rings and loosen the leather straps holding his arms behind his back.
Crane gathered his breath, leaned over and bestowed a searing kiss on Stephen's mouth.
"Christ Stephen, that was fucking delicious and those things are even more fucking delicious. I don't know what's got into you but fuck, I am going to need more of that."
It had been delicious and intense. Stephen - positively bristling with need - had practically run through the London streets to the Strand and Crane’s flat - clutching his bundle - conscious that it was at least two o’clock in the morning but really past caring. He easily worked the locks of the mansion flat, letting himself in through Crane's door and preparing himself in silence leaving only his shirt on … with the items hidden beneath. He had then slunk into Crane’s bedroom like a prowling cat and climbed over his lover, using his powers to hold Crane still as the fair haired man jolted awake abruptly, years of experience in Shanghai honing his reactions.
“Lucien, I need you.” Stephen had said hoarsely, breathing hard.
"Jesus, what's happened?" Crane's tone had been immediately guarded and worried, sitting bolt upright with Stephen straddling his lap.
"Nothing. I just … I just need you. Right here, right now ... my Lord."
To his credit, Crane hadn’t even batted an eyelid at Stephen's request, simply folded a leg and tossed Stephen back against the mound of pillows.
Stephen had then spent a glorious hour teasing his lover, repeatedly letting Lucien dominate and control him before he pulled away, fought back and dangled his submission like a treat, finally shedding his shirt to reveal the leather strap work around his wrists and forearms with the rings at the base of his thumbs. Crane had been driven wild with desire, his grey eyes shining. He had locked Stephen's arms behind his back, deftly connecting silver rings and plunged him back down onto the bed. Stephen had rolled away, remembering that half of the game was withholding before he ended up astride Crane, arms bound tightly behind him, sinking down onto Crane's slick cock with a moan of pleasure.
"You absolutely glorious little whore." Crane had moaned and Stephen began to ride him like a man possessed. Crane was gripping the clenched muscles of Stephen's arse hard enough to bruise as he rose and fell over his lover's hips and Stephen absolutely fucking loved it. All that teasing, playing, persuading had left him as taut as bowstring and he needed this. Needed Lucien. Needed glorious release. He cried out to the ceiling and clenched his thighs, feeling tears prickle in his eyes as Crane sank his fingers into his hips and lifted him high with a shout of pleasure that almost sounded pained. The deep plunge of Crane’s cock and the warming coil of release inside his body shoved Stephen violently off the precipice of release and cried out his lover's name, shaking, gasping and trembling above him.
And now Crane lay beside him, chest still heaving a little. He was now idly tracing his fingers along Stephen’s sweat slick skin, drawing patterns. They had lain in companionable silence for some time, enjoying the afterglow before Stephen summoned up the courage to speak.
"Lucien … can we discuss iron?"
Fingers stilled and Crane looked very interested, one pale eyebrow arching.
“I thought you weren’t terribly enamoured by that idea.” he said idly, tracing his fingers over Stephen's lips. "It blocks all your power. Leaves you … helpless." His voice was low, carrying the slightest hint of desire.
"I am beginning to think that maybe … every so often … I might need to be helpless."
Crane propped himself up on an elbow and kissed the pulse in Stephen's neck.
"And vulnerable?" He murmured. Stephen shivered and despite their exertions barely less than half an hour ago, his cock stirred again.
"Most definitely vulnerable, my lord."
"Completely under my control?" Crane's body slid against Stephen's and his lips began tracking down Stephen's chest.
"To do whatever I want with you?"
"Oh god yes, at-at your command."
Crane laughed against Stephen's belly, thumb teasing the hollows of his hip.
"I suppose I'd better have these commissioned then. The sooner I get you powerless and begging the better."
"Lucky for you, my lord, I already have the name of a supplier." Stephen grinned. "Now show me just how much you want those details."