Indulgence ©2008

By Jack Llawayllynn


Chapter 28: Opening Doors

Matt called a cab then called Silverman. "Have Debroy cancel all upcoming gigs. My father has had a stroke and is in a coma. I won't be performing any time soon."

"Fuck," Silverman spat into the phone. "Chains is losing momentum faster than a derailed train!"

"Sorry, it can't be helped. Your other choice is to get in touch with Zing Reman and see if he'll cover for me."

"Zing? Lead man from Der Munchies? Matt, have you lost your mind?" Silverman roared.

"No, in fact I think it's an excellent idea, get Zing back under Debroy's thumb. He'll feel he owes the man something after that shit with Hugh trying to kill Debroy."

"Hmmm...well, somehow I doubt that. I guess it is worth a try though. This IS just another temporary setback, right Matt?"

"Yes, definitely. I'm promising you Silverman, I'll have Sin back here for you before the month is out. You just wait and see. First though I have to go to the hospital. I've only just found out myself about Dad and haven't seen him yet. I've already called a cab so I need to go."

"Alright Matt. I hope your father pulls through alright."

"Me too but it's bad, real bad. The doctors aren't holding out much hope for him."

"I'm sorry to hear that Matt. I wish him well. I'll call Debroy now and break the bad news to him."

"Have him tell Chains too...I don't have time to call them all."

"Will do. Go take care of your family."

As soon as Silverman was gone Matt dialed again, Stan this time. Again he explained about his father and asked if Kim could look after the squid again. Stan agreed to it readily and also sent best wishes for Matt's father. Matt thanked him sincerely and started to hang up.

"Matt, wait. I...I wanted to tell you, well, I'm really sorry about the whole collar thing. It went south fast. I just didn't know how to handle it." Stan's voice cracked and he sounded truly distressed.

"I'll think about your apology Stan. I can't just say that I forgive you. I have a lot going on right now, too much to think about."

"I understand," Stan sighed. "Don't hold any of it against Kim though. He really had no say in the matter. He was only trying to help after the fact."

"Okay Stan. Like I said, I'll think about it. I have some more calls to make now."

Stan sighed again. "You do that...think about it I mean. You know where to find us."

"I do. Goodbye Stan."

Matt hung up then dialed the Collar Club. Trev answered. "Trev, it's Matt. Look could you give a message to Gunner for me? Tell him I can't come in again anytime soon, tell him I said thank you and that I look forward to seeing him again when I can. I don't want him to think that I'm avoiding him." Trev sounded puzzled about it but agreed to give Gunner the message the next time he came in. With a sigh Matt once more explained about his family problems. Trev sounded rather relieved, as if he was worried that Matt had another club related problem. He wished Matt well and Matt hung up, turning to wake his mother but he found her awake already, watching him through tear swollen eyes.

"I'm sorry for what your father did to you, Son," she said quietly and Matt felt his stomach drop at the memory her words invoked. "He had no right. I didn't see that at first but later, well, you are an adult now. You have to live your own life, make your own decisions. It seems you are a very busy man, having to make all those calls."

Matt nodded. "I have a full schedule most days. It's clear now though. Ready to go? The cab should be waiting on us downstairs."

"Matt..." she hesitated, looked away then back again. "Please don't hate your father. He was wrong in what he did but he loves you."

Matt sighed and closed his eyes, hurting inside. Finally he opened them and told her truthfully. "Dad is the real reason I think Michael left me Mom. He just left in the night one night, left a note saying that I should patch things up with my family and move on with my life. I'll be going after him as soon as I can. I won't be giving him up. I love him."

Matt's mother sighed but didn't seem shocked or surprised. "But your father..."

"I don't hate him. I haven't fully forgiven him yet but I certainly do not hate him."

"Thank you. Now please, give me a hand up."

Matt and his mother rode to the hospital in silence. Matt was extremely conscious of every lash that Gunner had given him, could feel each one pressed against the cab seat. Instead of hampering him it gave him strength. Somehow each lash was a reminder of Sin, as if Sin's hand had been guiding Gunner's. Matt felt closer to Sin now than he had since Sin had run out on him, giving him hope. He pressed himself hard into the seat, letting the pain fill him, letting his mind think of Sin in all his moods, of Sin's face, each expression Matt had ever seen on it, of Sin's hands, every touch he had ever given Matt. In this Matt found the strength to hope that Sin would indeed be home soon.

Matt traveled up in the elevator with his silent mother, only just now truly starting to dread what he may see in that hospital room where his father lay. His fears were not unfounded. They would only allow one person at a time into the room in ICU and Matt's mother took a seat in the waiting room, motioning for Matt to follow the nurse. Entering the room was a terrible shock. The man in the bed barely resembled his father. He was pallid, his face slack, aged beyond anything Matt could have imagined. Tubes ran everywhere and the breathing machine made a constant hiss. Matt swallowed hard and went to gingerly take his father's hand. It was cold and limp.

"Is he aware at all that I am here?" Matt asked the nurse.

She shook her head. "I don't think so but there is a small chance. Some coma patients wake up and remember an amazing amount of what went on around them while in a coma, others, none at all. Your father is registering brain waves but they are slow and unsteady. His prognosis is not good."

Matt nodded and swallowed again, trying to fathom how a man so mighty was suddenly hardly more than a husk of a human in a hospital bed, kept alive only by uncountable machines.

"I'm here Dad," Matt said quietly. "I...I love you. I'll be back soon. I need to go look after Mom for a bit, make sure she goes home and gets a little rest. I'll be back. Don't worry, we won't leave you alone here."

Matt returned to the waiting room, his face pale and drawn, his movements stiff from more than the lashes that covered his body, but also those that now covered his spirit.

"Go home Mom. Take a shower and go to bed. Come back tomorrow. I'll stay with him tonight."

"I don't want to leave. What if...what if..."

"No arguments Mom. Go. I need to spend this time with Dad alone, okay? And you really need some rest so you'll be alert when he comes out of the coma. Go home." Matt's tone said he would brook no more arguments and his mother was obviously too exhausted to press it further. She gathered her purse, kissed his cheek and left. Matt returned to his father's bedside. He held his hand all through the night, saying the only two things he could manage for now...we love you, we'll be here for you.

Matt was shocked to see his mother enter the room what seemed like only a few hours later.

"I thought I told you to go get some rest," Matt said groggily, leaning back in his chair stiffly, finally letting go of his father's hand. He could see that she did look better, less drawn. She had obviously showered and changed.

"Matt, I've been gone nearly eleven hours. I slept much longer than I thought I possibly could. It's your turn to go home for some rest."

Shocked Matt's eyes rose to the clock. She was right. Matt had been aware of the shift changes of nurses only vaguely, moving out of the way when they asked him to, speaking briefly during the night to one of the doctors but he had no idea so much time had passed. He hadn't even left the room to go to the bathroom or to go get anything to drink or eat. Now he realized he needed to do all three. He rose slowly, painfully, and went to kiss his mother's cheek. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he assured her. She nodded and patted his cheek then went to take the chair he had vacated, returning to her own vigil of watching over the man they both loved.

* * * * *

Five days later Matt and his mother were still taking turns in the hospital room. Matt had become accustomed to it, as if he'd been doing it for months, not days. He wasn't sure when he had actually begun talking to his father, not just murmuring reassurances, but actually telling his father about himself, about his life. Coming clean. It was easy to say it to a man who couldn't respond.

"I love him Dad," Matt was saying quietly, leaning towards his father, clutching that cold hand. "I have for a long time now. He left me. He thought he was protecting me, doing what was right for me, just like you were doing but you were both wrong. I don't need protecting from my own feelings. I need to be allowed to love, to express that love and have it returned. I know he loves me to, but...well Dad, he's scared. Terrified really. He's lost everything in life that he has ever loved so rather than face that with me he ran. Eventually I'll have to go after him and find him. He has to be made to understand that just because he left it doesn't change me, or how I feel. He left me a note, told me to go live a `normal life'." Matt laughed bitterly. "I left normal behind the day I met him. I can never go back to it. Not what he means by normal. For me, being with him is normal, natural. It's what I want, more than that, what I need. I have to find him." Matt trailed off, choking back tears. "I know it isn't what you want for me. I know you disapprove and may never speak to me again, especially after you were sent those terrible photographs. That was done by someone trying to destroy Michael and they nearly succeeded too. I'm so sorry you were exposed to that much detail. Very, very sorry. But Dad, he means so much to me. I don't want to live without him. I know I keep saying it but I love him. I need him."

Suddenly Matt felt a slight tightening in the hand he was holding. Shocked he looked up at his father's face and saw that two tears were trickling down the sides of his face. Suddenly a million alarms seemed to be going off at once and his father's body began to buck on the bed. The breathing machine was hissing erratically. Nurses appeared as if out of thin air. One was screaming at Matt to get out. Finally getting the message through his numbed mind Matt stumbled from the room. God, had his father been listening all that while? Had it been too much for him? Had it KILLED him?? Matt sobbed. How could he possibly explain to his mother what he had done? How he had been running his stupid mouth? Hell, he knew how his father felt about him, about Sin. Why had he said those things? WHY? WHY? WHY?

His mother answered the phone on the first ring. He hadn't even realized he was sobbing until he tried to get the words out. "M...Mom need to come down to the!"

"Please, oh God please, is he dead Matt?"

"I don't know! They haven't talked to me. Please come." Matt hung up and leaned his head against the phone sobbing. He stayed that way a long time before he pulled himself together enough to slink off into a more secluded part of the waiting and sit down into a hard chair. He leaned his head against the wall, his eyes closed, his thoughts tormented. Tears still poured from the corners of his eyes and his chest heaved, he just couldn't stop it. Damn, why wasn't Sin here to comfort him? He needed him dammit! He needed his strength. He needed him badly. With his thought tumbling one after the other he stumbled back to the phone and dialed it automatically, not even realizing what he'd done until he heard a familiar voice on the other end.


"Mi...Miss Sylvia, it''s..."

"Hello Matt. It's alright. He isn't dead. I was just walking out the door. I'll be at the hospital in just a few moments. You hang tight dearie, I'm coming." She hung up before Matt could say another word. All that remained in his mind was her assurance that his father wasn't dead. How had she known where Matt was, what was going on, what had only just happened? He didn't know and he didn't care. All he cared about was that his father was alive and Miss Sylvia was coming to him. She was Sin's great aunt, she carried his blood. She would help him and comfort him in Sin's absence. Matt stumbled back to his chair.

How he could possibly doze off in a time like this Matt didn't know but when he woke he came awake slowly, like trying to swim up out of a tar pit. He could hear the soft murmur of two women speaking softly so as not to wake him and both of his hands seemed to be clutched in soft, comforting female hands. He cracked his eyes open painfully. He blinked once, then again. His mother and Miss Sylvia had both pulled chairs near him, each holding one of his hands as if he belonged as much to one as the other but they were speaking about him softly, kindly, lovingly.

"Dad?" Matt croaked out, his throat as dry as sandpaper. Miss Sylvia reached over onto a table with a free hand and picked up a bottle. She released Matt's hand so that he could take the bottle from her. His mother released the other so he could open it. It was cold, expensive bottled water and Matt killed the entire bottle quickly.

"Matt, your father is going to be alright," it was his mother that answered his question. "He's awake. That's why the machines went crazy and scared you so badly. He didn't need them anymore and the breathing machine was just gagging him. He's awake and asking for you but they won't let anyone back in there yet."

Matt stared at his mother in utter silence. Awake? Not dead? His mind was whirling and Matt closed his eyes, trying to ground himself into this new reality. Awake. So he hadn't killed him. Thank god!

"I'm so glad you finally called me Matt," Miss Sylvia said to him quietly. "I've been waiting for you to, hoping you would. I would have come that first night if you had called but I didn't want to just show up and intrude. I did want to be here for you though. You know you can call me anytime, honey. You are as much a part of my family as Michael is. You should know by now that I love you very much and I'm here for you."

Matt kept his eyes closed but reached for her hand again. "Thank you Miss Sylvia."

"Aunt Sylvia to you, young man," she admonished but gently. "Your mother and I have had a very long talk. She is a wonderful woman."

"And so is your new Aunt Sylvia," Matt's mother said, taking his hand again. "I wish I had had the nerve to approach her before."

Matt's eyes opened and he looked over at his mother blearily. "What do you mean, before? You knew about her?"

Matt's mother blushed scarlet. She was gentle woman, quiet and reserved and was easily embarrassed. Her blushes were legendary with the family and she often fell prey to their teasing just so they could see her blush up. She looked down but then met his eyes again. "I...Sometimes I followed you Matt. After...well after what your father did to you I wanted to see for myself that you were alright, that you were recovering. I didn't know what would happen after that night. I couldn't find it in my heart to agree with him though I was trying very hard to bow to his role as head of household like a good wife. But it ate at me Matt. Your father and I have argued more in the last few months than we have in our entire marriage. I just couldn't make him understand that you are not a child anymore, that your actions are not his responsibility anymore and he didn't need to feel any guilt for what you do now. He raised you in the best way he knew how. His job is finished in that department. Now you don't need his heavy hand to guide you. You need his support, his reasoning, but certainly you are too old for discipline. Sometimes I would just sit in the parking lot near your building, hoping for a glimpse of you. Twice I have followed you and your...friend to Miss Sylvia's but I couldn't bring myself to approach her. I wish now that I had."

"Mom! You've been SPYING on me?" Matt demanded shocked.

She blushed up again. "No! No, I wasn't trying to spy Matt. I just wanted to see that you were okay. I love you but I was afraid you wouldn't speak to me any longer. I knew that your father could not change you now, that his efforts were wasted. I wanted to make sure he hadn't destroyed you utterly."

"He nearly did," Matt mumbled and closed his eyes again.

"I know that now. Miss Sylvia told me about the tea you had been drinking that night. No wonder you seemed so spacey to me. I was wondering that night if you had gotten yourself into taking drugs. I'm so sorry Matt. I wish I had never gone there with Damon. He had no right to be there."

Matt didn't open his eyes. He couldn't possible look at her while he said the words he wanted to say. "Mom, I want to apologize to you too. You should never, NEVER EVER have been exposed to those photos."

The sound of a quiet chuckle from his mother made Matt's eyes spring open so he could look at her in disbelief. She was blushing again but a small smile played around her tired mouth. She looked at him kindly. "Don't worry so much Son, I didn't look at them all like your father did. I only saw the very first one, the kissing picture. It wasn't that lurid Matt. It didn't horrify me like it did your father. I refused to look at the others though he tried to make me. I refused. I said I damn sure didn't want anyone to ever see pictures of me and my husband in the bedroom, especially not my parents for goodness sakes so why would I want to see what my own SON did in the bedroom? It's your private business Matt."

Matt realized he was gaping and snapped his mouth shut. He had never heard his mother use a curse word before and her use of the word "damn" shocked him. She was certainly spreading her own wings in her old age.

"You have a wonderful woman for a mother Matt," Miss Sylvia said to him.

"Yes, yes I do," Matt agreed, still staring at his mother. His mother blushed again, this time with pleasure.

"I love you Matt. I want you to be happy in this life. I know the bible as well as your father does though he doesn't like to admit that. I know that it is up to an individual to interpret and live by its standards in their own way. And I know that religion is not for everyone. I don't judge you Matt. That is the lesson I learned from MY knowledge of the bible. It isn't my place to judge you, just to love you. If you have sins to atone for, well don't we all? Aren't we all sinners in one way or another? Please don't let anything your father said or did reflect directly on me. I've given it a lot of thought, agonized over it at first, then came to peace with it. You are gay. It is the life you have chosen, and even though I have to admit to being heartbroken over the prospect of never having a grandchild, well, I can live with that and I can accept that Michael is your for life. I think you two would have already married if it was legal here, wouldn't you have?"

Matt swallowed hard, deeply moved by his mother's acceptance of who he was now, no longer clinging to the little boy he had been. "I honestly don't know Mom. If he asked me, yes, yes I would marry him. Michael is terrified of commitment though. That is why he ran like he did, why he isn't with me now."

"I know. Your Aunt Sylvia has explained it all to me. I hope you can find him and bring him back, for your sake and his."

"Thank you Mom. You don't know how much that means to me! I thought I had lost you and Dad forever. I still don't know about how Dad will take to it. He probably will never speak to me again and you don't know how much that hurts but knowing that you still love me and accept me, well Mom, I have no words to tell you how much that means, how much more it makes me love and respect you!"

She squeezed his hand tightly. "I'm not sure about your father either Matt, if he'll ever come to face the truth, but as for me, well, when Michael is back and the two of you are settled down again I would like to meet him, to get to know him. I guess he's my son now too even though I am a bit frightened of him. He seems very fierce Matt."

Matt squeezed her hand now. "He is Mom. Very fierce at times but so is Dad. At other times, he's...perfect. I think you'd like him actually despite his fierce side. He is only cruel at times because the world has been so terribly cruel to him. Inside, he's soft as pudding. I love him Mother."

"I know you do. I could see it in the way you looked at him when you didn't know I was nearby watching. I could see it in your body language when the two of you would walk together, talking. Your eyes would never stray from him to others. I guess that is why it was so easy for me to follow you sometimes. Your attention was all for him. I came to respect that Matt. And I understand it. That is the same way I have felt for your father as well. Love is what it is, no matter who it is we love." She smiled gently at Matt and Matt could feel tears welling up in his eyes again.

"Mrs. Darvins, you can come in now," a nurse said quietly interrupting them. She squeezed Matt's hand once more, firmly, before rising to follow the nurse. Matt could see her take a deep breath, straighten her shoulders and gather her strength for what she might face ahead.

"She's a beautiful soul," Miss Sylvia said, also watching Matt's mother walk away.

"Even more so than I ever knew before," Matt agreed, turning to Sylvia. "I never thanked you for coming."

"No need. I already told you I would have come sooner if you had just called. Matt you are very dear to me and I am furious with Michael for not being here to help you through this. I think though that we both understand why he's not here. You said it exactly when you were describing him to your mother. You know him very well indeed."

"Well, at least I think I do. There are always new facets to Sin to be discovered," Matt said, his eyes gazing off into the distance, his mind seeing Sin clearly.

"Yes indeed, Michael is a well cut diamond. He is beautiful like one, but hard and sharp too. He's going to be furious about the other men you've been seeing Matt and he'll probably have one of his major fits but he'll get over it eventually because he'll come to see that it was his own fault. You wouldn't have strayed if he hadn't left you that terrible note. Really, I don't know what in the hell he was thinking when he told you to go and live a normal life. What did he think, that you would go straight again just because he walked away, that your father would forget all about it just because Michael was gone? He wasn't thinking at all Matt. He wasn't using his head, he was just running on fear."

"I know that now too Miss...Aunt Sylvia. So, um..." Matt paused to clear his throat. "Just how much DO you know about the other men?"

"Well, there was that Andy from the band. I saw that in my dreams. Then you told me about one called Razor..."

"That was not my fault! I wouldn't have gone willingly to Razor for a million dollars."

"Then there was another one I dreamed about, shorter, smaller, younger than you, but not by much, with very black hair."

"Gunner," Matt said nodding. "I hope it wasn't an explicit dream," Matt mumbled, blushing up red enough to rival his mother's blushes.

"No, not much of it. I know there was a whip involved. I brought some salve just in case you aren't healing well. I doubt you've been taking very good care of yourself under the circumstances."

"I honestly haven't really noticed it since then, what with either sitting with Dad or sleeping. I mean, I've been showering every day and it is less painful every day but other than that I haven't paid it any mind."

"Then it is probably healing just fine. I won't worry about it. You would know if it was weeping or oozing. Will you be seeing Gunner again?"

Matt shrugged. "I honestly don't know. I needed him at the time. Now though, that sort of thing is the furthest from my mind. I just want Dad to be okay and Sin to come home."

"Your father is going to make it Matt. He has a long road to recovery ahead of him and he'll never be the same physically again but his mind is sound. I think just as soon as you are comfortable with being able to leave your father's side you should set out immediately to find Michael."

Matt nodded. He agreed with her. He wanted Sin home NOW. He needed him and as soon as possible he was going to follow, he corrected himself inwardly AUNT Sylvia's suggestion and go hunt Sin down. She had accepted Matt as family and by god he would respect that honor and remember to call her `aunt', even in his thoughts.

Matt and Sylvia sat in silence a long time, Sylvia still clutching his hand, lending him emotional support. When Matt's mother finally reappeared there was a new light in her eyes, though she still appeared exhausted, emotionally wrung out.

"He's awake and off of all the life support systems." She sat down beside Matt again, taking his other hand in her own. "Son, he can't speak, not yet. Well, not much that you can understand. His words are very slurred and garbled. He can say your name though and mine. He's aware of what is going on around him. He's mostly paralyzed. He has some movement in his right arm and hand but not much more. The doctor said that could improve drastically with time."

"It will," Aunt Sylvia said confidently. Matt's mother gave her a grateful but unconvinced small smile.

"Can I go in now?" Matt asked shakily.

"Not yet, they want to run some tests. If everything checks out they will probably move him out of ICU. We just have to wait and see."

Sylvia released Matt's hand and patted it. "I'll be going now Matt but you keep in touch alright? If you need me again just say the word and you know I'll come."

Matt leaned over and kissed her cheek, thanking her warmly and promising to call soon. Sylvia gathered up her purse and stood. Matt's mother also stood, hugging the other woman with genuine affection. Matt was glad to see that they had hit it off so well. They parted like dear friends, promising to keep in touch, wishing each other well. After she had gone Matt turned back to his mother.

"Is Dad...was he still asking for me?"

His mother nodded. "Yes, but I assured him you were here and would come in to see him as soon as they had him settled. He seemed to calm down a lot."

"Is he aware of...his condition?"

"Oh yes, very aware and very frustrated but it's strange, he seemed almost...hopeful? Resigned? I'm not sure but he didn't seem to be in a panic over it."

Matt sighed in relief and let his head fall against the wall again. Thank god he hadn't killed his father by running his mouth! Matt wondered how much or if any of his words his father would remember. All he could do was wait and see.

By the time Matt was allowed to go in to see his father they had moved him out of the intensive care unit but the nurses still came often enough to irritate Damon, Matt could easily see it in the grimness of his father's eyes each time a nurse approached. The nurse too could see it but always answered with a warm smile and a murmured apology. They now allowed both Matt and his mother to be in the room together but when either of them tried to leave his father would become agitated until Matt at last was able to make him understand that neither would leave him for long, that each of them needed turns to get a shower or some rest. After that Damon seemed content enough with only one of them in the room. He tried so hard, so desperately to speak to Matt when Matt was in the room alone with him but his words were so garbled and mixed up that Matt could not understand him, frustrating both of them nearly beyond tolerance. Damon finally just gave up, gazing up at Matt with sad but loving eyes. Matt no longer knew what to say to him. He feared speaking of his own feelings again. He certainly didn't want to send his father into agitation again. Everything in his life right now seemed to revolve, in one way or another, around Sin, around the life he had built since Sin had come into it. He was not the boy his father had known and now Matt would only sit in silence, sometimes holding his father's hand, sometimes simply sitting nearby, staring out the window at the bleak landscape of a roof top on a neighboring wing of the hospital.

Two days after Damon had come out of his coma a nurse entered while Matt was there, carrying in her hand what looked like a baseball sized soft rubber ball. It was pinkish red and Matt raised questioning eyes to her but she wasn't looking at him. She leaned over the bed, smiling warmly even when Damon glared up at her.

"Hello Mr. Darvins," she said sweetly, "I'm Nurse Gloria. I'm here to help you improve your motor skills and hopefully to help you regain more movement in your body. Since you have some movement in your right arm and hand we'll start there, encourage more movement. I'm going to place this ball in your hand," she held it up so that he could see it and he rolled his eyes. She laughed but with sympathy. "All I want you to do is squeeze it. That's all for now. For as long as you feel that you can. When you tire of it just lay it on the bed beside you. That will help strengthen the muscles both in your hand and your arm. Now see, I'm not asking much, am I? I will warn you though that a physical therapist will be coming tomorrow to exercise your body. He'll pull and push you around and it will probably make you angry but it will help to keep your muscles from atrophying until you regain movement on your own. For now though, just work on squeezing that ball for me."

This time Damon actually managed the slightest nod. The movement in his neck had been sporadic and it was hard enough for him to turn his head one way or the other but he'd been trying since he'd wakened and Matt could see that he was steadily regaining more and more control. She smiled, pleased, and patted his shoulder. "I'll be back later to check on you again. I know having all these nurses constantly coming and going is disturbing you but we are doing our best for you, okay?"

Again a slight nod and a softening of his eyes. She patted his shoulder again and left.

"Well, at least that gives you something to do Dad. Anything that will help your recovery along is good right?" Matt asked and once more his father managed the slightest nod, weaker this time. When Matt's mother returned from a short trip home to shower and grab a nap Matt explained to her all the nurse had said and she smiled, encouraged.

"It's your turn for a break Matt," she said, taking the chair Matt had vacated when she had come into the room. "Go home and get some rest."

Matt went to the bed, leaning over his father so he could easily see Matt's face as he told him he would return in the morning. No nod this time but there was understanding in his father's eyes so Matt squeezed his shoulder and left.

* * * * *

Matt undressed and showered slowly, letting the warm water loosen his tired muscles. He toweled off, replaced his collar and dressed in a pair of loose fitting cut-off jogging pants and went to the kitchen to make a snack. A knock at the door surprised him. It had been a while since he had carried a gun on his person but he and Sin had left them within easy reach in the apartment, one in nearly every room. Matt bent and pulled out pistol from under the sink before going to the door and peeking out the peep hole. Stan and Kim were standing in the hallway. Matt didn't bother to try to hide the gun when he opened the door and let them in.

"What's up?" Matt asked as he laid the gun on a table by the couch as they followed him in. "Forget the fish tank duties or something?"

"We're here for you Matt," Stan said, a small frown creasing his massive brow.

"Whoa, what do you mean here for me?" Matt reached out and snatched the gun back up. No way he'd be taken prisoner at the club or anywhere else again!

"Now look what you've done, Big Daddy," Kim reproached Stan. "You've spooked him. He didn't mean that the way it sounded Matt. What he meant was that we are here for you as friends, not to kidnap you again."

Matt didn't put the gun down. "How nice of you," he sneered. "Want a drink?"

"Please," Kim said, eyeing the gun, his mouth grim. Stan was too busy blushing to answer but Matt brought him a whiskey on the rocks anyway. His cut off jogging pants were too loose to put the gun in his waist band so he continued to hold it.

"Matt, really, you don't need that. Please put it away," Kim begged and moved closer to Stan.

Matt quirked a brow at Stan who was still blushing. "Do I need it Stan?"

"No. I swear."

Matt gave a jerky nod and laid the gun on the table beside his chair in easy reach. "It would be a real shitty thing to do Stan, to kidnap me while my dad is in the hospital and my family needs me."

"We aren't here to kidnap you again, I swear on my sweet slave's life."

Matt grunted. "Well, okay...I'll just go put the gun away then." He got up and took the gun to the kitchen, downed his drink and refilled it while he was there. They were making him nervous as hell but Stan had sworn on Kim's life. He just needed to settle down, to take them at their word and believe they were just visiting as friends. It wasn't easy to do. Not after what Stan had put him through.

When Matt returned to the living room he saw that Kim had stripped out of his clothes and Matt stopped in his tracks so fast that some of the liquid in his glass sloshed out onto the floor. "What's this?" he demanded even as his eyes traveled over Kim's finely trim body. He was smooth and lithe as a wet otter.

"An offer," Stan said, his voice deep, his eyes on Matt's.

"I appreciate that but I'm tired. Very tired."

"And no doubt in need of a release," Kim said quietly as he walked toward Matt. A small smile played across his lips and he reached out to run his fingers down Matt's bare chest. Matt glanced down at Kim then back up at Stan.

"Really, I appreciate the thought..." Matt began.

"I owe it to you," Stan said, cutting Matt off. "I'll even leave if you want me to but I'd like to stay and at least watch, if not participate."

Matt grunted again and took a swig from his glass. Kim was still running his fingers over Matt's chest, his small fingers swirling the hair there. Nothing stirred in him so Matt took a step away. "I'm not in the mood."

"I can get you in the mood," Kim said, nearly purring and stepped forward to place his hands back on Matt's chest. They slid down to the waistline of his cut offs and started to dip inside. Matt stepped away again and went to his chair, putting his glass on the table beside him.

"Like I said, I'm very tired, not in the mood and now I'm also getting rather grumpy."

Kim came up behind the chair and began to massage Matt's shoulders and neck. "Fine then," Kim said a little testily. "How about just a massage?"

Matt had to admit it did feel good. The tension was beginning to seep away from his taut muscles and he reached for his glass. Kim bit him hard on the back of his neck, up high where the muscles met his skull. Whiskey sloshed out of the glass into Matt's lap as he jerked in surprise. Stan's frown melted, replaced by a grin and a chuckle.

"Dammit Kim!" Matt growled but Kim bit him again, this time on his shoulder. Matt yelped and plunked the glass down before reaching back and slapping a hand to his neck. He examined his fingers but there was no blood. It sure as hell had felt like Kim had drawn blood!

"Told you I could get you in the mood," Kim giggled behind him. Matt's cutoffs had started to tent up.

"Yeah, so, you got a little rise out of me," Matt said, his voice rather sulky and miffed. "I really don't have time for this. Now, if you don't mind..."

"Okay Matt," Stan said and stood, surprising Matt. "Let's go Kim."

"But Big Daddy!..." Kim began to argue but at a look from Stan Kim went to gather his clothes so he could put them back on.

Matt stood also. Stan turned and offered him his hand. Matt reached out and shook it, expecting some words of encouragement or the same shit he'd been hearing for days but not expecting Stan to suddenly tighten his grip and pull Matt into a hard embrace. Before Matt knew what was happening Stan had whirled him round and had Matt's arm twisted up behind him. Matt went up on his toes from the pain.

"What the fuck!" Matt growled and tried to struggle but struggling just made the pain worse so he stilled.

"Alright sweetheart, do your thing," Stan said to Kim. Kim smiled and tossed his clothes away.

"Ohhh, Big Daddy's got you now Matt. You can't say `no' when Big Daddy says it's a yes." Kim clapped his hands then rubbed them together in anticipation.

Matt sighed and gave in. There was no way he could break Stan's hold on him and to fight would just bring more pain. Kim had his jogging pants stripped off in a flash and was rolling a condom up Matt's cock so Matt just waited. Kim set to work with his pretty little mouth but Stan never let up on his hold, in fact he seemed to be putting even more pressure on Matt's arm.

"Ow, ow," Matt grumbled but it turned into a low moan as Kim began to hum and work harder over Matt's dick, sucking and licking and nipping. Matt could feel himself near the peak but just couldn't reach it. Stan used his free hand and reached around to tweak one of Matt's nipples. Then he twisted it hard. Matt came, finally. It hadn't been what he would call good but it had gotten the job done. Stan released him finally and Matt stumbled away, pulling up his pants.

"Get out," Matt growled, not wanting to look at either one of them.

"Aren't you going to say `you're forgiven for fucking up Sin's assignment' and `thank you for a good fuck'?" Stan demanded.

"No. Now get the fuck out!"

"But Matt..." Kim whined, his lower lip quivering. Finally Matt relented and turned. He looked down at Kim's pouting face and a laugh burst from him. Matt leaned down and kissed Kim on the mouth. "You are forgiven. Stan can still fuck off. Now get out!" Matt turned and stormed into his bedroom and shut the door and locked it. He waited until he heard Stan and Kim leave before going back into the living room to lock the front door behind them. Then he went and took another shower.

* * * * *

When Matt returned to the hospital he was surprised to see that someone had placed a clipboard with paper under his father's hand, a pen shaking in his fingers. He was trying very hard to make words on the paper. Mostly he made scratches but some letters were legible. His father's eyes were closed in concentration. Matt's mother was smiling happily. She rose to meet Matt at the door.

"He's been working on writing on and off for over an hour. So far he's managed to write `I love you' on it but the rest, well, he's trying. When he taps the pen on the paper tear off that sheet so he has a new one, or if you notice that he has run out of space and doesn't realize he's writing over his previous letters then tear it off for him, alright? Right now he's just trying to write down the alphabet as the nurse instructed him to do."

Matt nodded and they spoke a little longer about his father's progress before his mother went to hug her husband awkwardly and assure him she'd return after she got some rest. Matt took over her watch of the man they both loved dearly. Matt had wondered if he could ever, truly love, in his heart, this man after what he had done but Matt found that he could, that he could harbor no more resentment for a man who thought he was doing the right thing but simply went about it all wrong.

"Dad, you're out of space on the paper, let me tear that one off."

The hand holding the pen went limp and the pen rolled off the page. Matt gently lifted his hand for him and tore off the sheet, looking over the paper carefully. He could tell that his father was pouring extreme effort into his single-handed work and though near the top the letters were mostly just scribbles there were fully formed, though crooked letters nearer the bottom. Matt held the paper up where his father could see it. "You're getting better at it," Matt assured him. "See?"

Damon opened his eyes, scanned the paper and sighed. Matt could tell he was exhausted by his efforts and dispirited that he hadn't done better.

"Don't worry Dad. If you have improved this much on just one page, imagine how much better it will be next time. Give it a rest for now though okay? Why don't you try to get some sleep?" His father's eyes simply drifted shut and soon his breathing was slow and even. He looked peaceful, his color was much better than even the previous day and Matt was beginning to hope that Aunt Sylvia had been telling him the truth, that eventually his father would recover, over time, and not just speaking words to give him hollow hope.

When Damon woke several hours later Matt was dozing lightly. It was the tapping of his father's fingers on the clipboard that woke Matt fully. He leaned forward in his chair. "Hi Dad. Sorry I drifted off. Have you been awake long?"

A slight turning of the head from one side to the other answered `no' but the fingers were tapping more insistently on the paper.

"You want your pen?" Matt asked, plucking it from among the white sheets and placing it in his father's hands. With slow and deliberate care Damon wrote the entire alphabet. Most of the letters were legible though they often ran together and all were crooked, slanting down the page one way or the other. Matt tore the page off and held it up for his father to see. "Told you so," Matt smiled. "Much better."

Damon closed his eyes and seemed to concentrate very hard and began to move the pen again. The words `I luv u son' quite legible. Matt choked on a sob.

"I love you too Dad," Matt said quietly, squeezing his father's shoulder in affection. The pen moved again. `Forgvn?' the letters read.

"Forgiven?" Matt asked. There was a slight nod. "Yes Dad. Of course. How could I hold it against you when you thought you were doing what was right?"

Damon's eyes squeezed shut and tears leaked down his face. Matt too began to cry though he wasn't exactly sure why. He rose and snatched some tissues from a box nearby, nearly empty now from his mother's frequent use of them. He wiped his father's cheeks first then turned away to wipe his own and blow his nose before tossing the handful of tissues into a small garbage can. When Matt turned back the pen was moving again but the letters were running over the last ones written.

"Wait, let me tear that off." Matt tore off the sheet of paper but didn't toss it into the garbage. Instead he folded it and slipped it into his back pocket. The pen was moving again and Matt waited patiently instead of giving in to the temptation to lean over and stare at each word written painfully slow. When the hand stopped Matt finally leaned over to look.

"Wnt u 2 lve"

"You want me to love you? Of course I love you Dad. Very much!" but his father's head was slowly shaking `no' and his hand was moving again.

"leav", the words now said.

"You want me to leave?" Matt asked shocked. "You don't want me here?"

The pen tapped furiously on the paper and Matt tore the sheet off. The hand moved again. `u mst fnd ur fried.'

"My fried?" Matt asked uncomprehending.

Damon was obviously becoming extremely frustrated. His hand slashed back and forth across the page, leaving deep marks and tears. Shakily Matt gently lifted his hand, having to tear off two pages this time because the tears went all the way through to the next sheet.

Eyes now squinted in concentration the hand was moving very slowly, deliberately. Finally he tapped the page. Matt looked. `friend'.

"My friend?" Matt asked still totally baffled. His father actually snorted and sighed, exasperated. His hand was shaking now from his efforts. "mkel" he wrote.

Matt stared at the crooked letters, written down with such careful and deliberate effort.

"Michael?" Matt risked asking. The pen dropped from his father's hand and he sighed deeply in what sounded like relief, his head nodding ever so slightly.

"Okay, I know you don't mean what I think you mean," Matt said, his voice sounding cold in his own ears, cold because it was the one thing he wanted to hear most in the world and he knew that couldn't search for Sin now, not while his father was here in the hospital and cold because he knew he was misreading what his father was trying to say because his father would never say such a thing. Matt had only interpreted that way because it was his deepest desire, harshly suppressed within himself.

Damon though was nodding more vigorously than he had ever done since he had wakened from the coma.

"Dad, it looks like that paper says for me to leave and go find my friend Michael." Still his voice sounded too harsh in Matt's own ears and he was desperately trying to control his rising temper, to stomp the urgency he'd been holding at bay for so many days, feeling Sin slip further and further from him. But even as Matt was trying not to grit his teeth in frustration his father was vigorously nodding again.

"You WANT me to go look for him? How can that be? I know how you feel about him, about me!" Matt was speaking through clenched teeth, he couldn't help it. Damon began groping with his hand then tapped the fingers almost urgently against the pad of paper. With controlled patience Matt found the pen and placed it back in father's hand after tearing off the piece of paper so he was sure to be able to see what his father wrote next. This time he did lean over, watching carefully. The letters came out so slowly, the hand shaking so badly that Matt knew his father was using the last of his energy. "ys, go to Mkl". This time Matt knew he wasn't mistaking his father's message.

"You remember everything I said to you while you were in a coma, don't you?" Matt asked, shaking so hard now that he knew that he himself could not have written a single word on that paper even if he tried. Damon nodded slowly, wearily, totally exhausted. Matt decided that he had to press him once more though.

"Are you SURE you want me to do that?" Matt asked firmly. This time the response was both written and answered with a nod. Both said `yes'. All the air went out of Matt's lungs and he sank back into his chair, drained of everything. He felt utterly numb. After a long while Matt found every sheet of paper that his father had just written his message to him on and carefully placed them in order, flipping through them over and over until he could actually believe that his father was intentionally sending off into the arms of the man that he had tried to pry him from permanently only a couple of months ago. He had no choice but to believe it though, it was clear enough in black and white, even if the letters were shaky, slanted and misspelled.

When Damon awoke and found that Matt had not left yet he became agitated again, demanding with fierce tapping of his fingers for his pen. The only word he wrote was `go' over and over. Matt leaned over and looked his father in the eye.

"I'm not leaving until Mom returns. No way. When she gets here she and I will discuss it."

The pen scrawled angrily but the letters were running together. Matt lifted his father's still moving hand, tore the sheet free, added it to the bottom of the stack in his own hand then replaced his father's hand on the page. "jst go go go go." Matt put his hand over his fathers to stop the flow of trembling letters.

"Dad, I promise you, when Mom gets back she and I will discuss it," Matt assured him again. His father began to shake his head violent and the pen flew. "nt hr dcsion," the letters said. "Mne. Hed of hshld." Matt tore this sheet off as well and added it to the bottom of his stack. "Yes Dad, you are the head of her household and she respects that more than you even realize. She loves you and respects you as deeply as any woman has ever loved and respected her husband but she's frail right now Dad. She needs my support. She's holding up well, trying to put a strong face on for you when you see her but she's an emotional wreck when you can't see her. I love her too you know. I want to make sure she can manage this alright if I leave."

"I can," his mother's voice came from the doorway, quiet but stern. "Tell me what is going on." She proceeded on into the room with her shoulders squared. "Why is your father so upset?"

"Because I won't leave yet."

"He wants you to leave?" she asked, eyes widening. "Is he angry at you?"

In the bed Damon shook his head `no'.

"He's frustrated with me. Here, this is what he's told me to do." Matt handed her the pages. She scanned them quickly, flipping one to the next, careful to hand them back to Matt in the order that he had kept them in.

"He wants you to go look for that man...I mean, oh gee Matt, I'm sorry. It's still very hard for me to come totally to terms with it. I guess I should call him your significant other?"

Matt nodded. "VERY significant."

"I am shocked beyond belief myself by this demand from your father but it is most definitely what he wants you to do Son. It's very clear right there on those pages. He's had a very rough week Matt, don't you think that you could be kind enough to go do the ONE thing he's asked of you?" His mother's eyes flashed with irritation as she spoke, as if Matt were being selfish by STAYING, instead of being selfish by leaving, which is how he saw it. Leaving her to deal with this alone was horribly selfish in his mind.

"Well of course I want to go Mom. I really do, but I want to be here for you and Dad more than that."

"He doesn't want you here when he's told you to be elsewhere. You aren't showing him very much respect Matt. That's not fair. If you have indeed, as you have claimed, forgiven him his past transgression against you then you have no reason to show such blatant disrespect for his wishes, especially when they are exactly in line with your own wishes."

Matt burst out laughing. The whole situation seemed utterly unreal to him and he threw up his hands in defeat. "Fine, fine, I'll GO! I'll stop by immediately and pick up a cell phone. As soon as I get it activated I'll call you with the number. If you need anything at all or if his condition changes you call me immediately and I will head straight here, no matter how far away I might be at the time. I have no idea where Si...Michael is. He could be in California for all I know. It will take some time for me to track him down. Honestly Dad, I just can't understand this change in you!" Matt declared, turning toward the bed with his last statement. "You were SO very opposed and now you are driving me away so I'll go straight back into the situation you tried to pull me out of."

"I don't understand either Damon," Matt's mother said, moving to the bed and looking down into her husband's eyes beseechingly.

Damon's hand moved on the paper, slowly this time, deliberately, trying to make each letter as clear as he possibly could. When his hand stilled Matt's mother tore the page free, staring at it in utter amazement for a long time. So long that Matt had to restrain himself from snatching it away from her so he could see what it said. When she finally handed it over to him Matt was as shocked as she was. This time the letters were much neater though still slanting crazily. The words though were very unmistakable. "God had a long talk with me." Matt and his mother exchanged an alarmed look and both glanced in unison with matching worried frowns at his father, both wondering if maybe his mind was more deeply damaged than they had realized. He rolled his eyes at them and huffed out a breath as if to say, "fine. Don't believe me if you don't want to but he did speak to me." With a shaking hand Matt added this sheet of paper to his stack. If his father truly believed that God had spoken to him then who was Matt to argue? Everyone was entitled to their own beliefs. Perhaps that is the very topic of which God had lectured his father. He would probably never know. Right now though all that mattered was that not only was he free to go look for Sin but that it was his own family's wishes that he do so. He went and hugged his father first, carefully and gently gathering his body up slightly from the bed into his embrace then eased him back and placed a kiss on his forehead. "I love you Dad." Damon answered him back with a gentle look.

"Are you sure you will be okay Mom?" Matt asked turning to her. She nodded without hesitation.

"Actually, I will feel better knowing that you are doing something your father wishes you to do. There isn't much either of us can do for him right now, it's mostly in the hands of the doctors and nurses but whatever small requests we can fulfill, well, at least it's some action we can take ourselves, right?"

"Right," Matt agreed as he hugged her. "You know that Aunt Sylvia is only a phone call away. No matter what time it is she has assured me that you and I are both welcome to call her."

"I know, she told me as well and I have her number right here in my pocket. I keep it handy because I've actually spoken to her several times on the phone from home when I was feeling weak or scared. She's a marvelous lady Matt. A very sweet soul. I think you're father will like her as well."

Damon made a garbled noise from the bed and Matt's mother moved to his side. "She's a very nice lady dear. She is Michael's great aunt and we have become very good friends since we met the other night. She is a good soul, truly giving in spirit and deeds. When you are up to visitors I would like you to meet her." Damon gave a slight nod and Matt smiled. "See," his mother said, turning to Matt once more. "It's all settled. Now go on, get out of here. We'll be fine. Don't worry so much Matt. Your father and I are both strong and we are not alone, not by any means."

Matt wasn't sure if she meant that they had many friends or if they had the company of a higher power and he didn't question it either, not on either count. He simply nodded, gave his mother once last hug, squeezed his father's hand and turned to leave. His mother's voice stopped him before he reached the door.

"Matt, there is...there is something I've really wanted to know about but have been too afraid to ask. I guess my curiosity is greater than my fear right now. Why...Why do you wear that collar? What does it mean, the letters?"

Matt looked away, willing himself not to blush. He swallowed hard then faced her. "The letters are his initials."

"And the collar?"

Matt considered his words carefully and when he spoke they didn't feel the least bit like a lie. "It's like a wedding band Mom, just...different."

A soft smile lit on her face and her eyes softened too. "That' wasn't expecting that. That's kind of sweet."

Matt simply nodded and left the hospital feeling as if a monstrous anvil had been lifted from his shoulders, his feet light enough that he felt he should be floating up like a moon walker with each step.

* * * * *

When Matt exited the elevator on his floor he was brimming with energy, more than ready to return to his computer research on Sin's long lost mother. As he approached his door he could see there was a plastic bag hanging from the knob. Matt unhooked it and peered inside curiously. There were three things inside, a new cell phone still in its store box, a Verizon phone card and a folded sheet of paper. Matt smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand remembering suddenly that he had promised his mother that he would stop immediately and pick up a cell phone. He was glad now that he had forgotten. It seemed that someone had already provided that for him. Curiously Matt unfolded the note and stared down at the unfamiliar harsh scrawl across the page. His gaze skipped down to the bottom, to the signature. Gunner. Matt grunted and folded the note, dropping it back into the bag. He would read it in the privacy of his apartment, not standing out here in the hallway. Matt let himself in and cringed a little as he almost always did now, dreading the emptiness that was there to meet him, the silence that had never bothered him before Sin had entered his life.

Matt glanced over at the tank automatically and stopped in his tracks. Something was wrong with the squid. Not only was it laying perfectly still but it looked huge, bloated maybe. Surely Kim wouldn't have neglected it? No, Matt knew Kim was dependable. The squid had been fine yesterday when Matt had come home for a shower. Matt approached the tank with a sinking feeling in his stomach. His eyes widened in shock as he got a closer look. The squid wasn't bloated. It simply seemed so much larger because it was entwined with ANOTHER squid. Both of them appeared alive. Matt wasn't sure if they were hugging, copulating or maybe trying to squeeze each other to death. There was a small square of paper taped to the lid of the tank. Matt pulled it free and read it by the light from the tank's florescent bulbs. "Matt, I asked at the pet store if it was alright for the squid to have a friend. I drilled him very carefully and then went and got a second, then third opinion to be sure. All were in agreement that he could have a buddy. I couldn't stand him looking so lonely all the time so I bought him a pal." The note was signed not by Kim but by Stan. Matt chuckled. Yes, that was just like a teddy bear, couldn't stand to see anyone lonely. When Matt returned his attention to the tank he saw that the two squid had moved and now both were waving tentacled arms at him. Matt figured they had already been fed but he gave them a little more just to watch what they would do. They didn't squabble or slap out at each other, just fed silently on what was there then resumed their previous huddled position, seeming to hug one another. Matt shook his head and walked away chuckling.

Matt detoured in the hallway to the bathroom, took a piss, washed his hands and continued to the bedroom. This was both the most painful room in the apartment for him and the most comforting. He could still smell a slight lingering of Sin's scent in here, it hung in the air, both tormenting him and giving him at least a small sense of Sin's presence. The ambiguity of his feelings was hard to deal with but he knew deep down that he would rather live with the reminders than to live without them. No, Sin was not here but his memory was more alive in this room than anywhere else, though the living room wall also offered conflicting emotions for Matt when he gazed at it.

Matt plopped down on the side of the bed with a sigh. He was tired physically and needed a shower but mentally he was eager to fire up his computer. He took the time first to reopen the plastic bag and dump the contents onto the bed. He plucked the note up and flipped on the lamp by the bed.

"Matt," it read in Gunner's bold scrawl, "I have already activated the phone but I have added another card because I know you have business other than me to distract you and figured you'd need the extra time soon enough. I know also that you are very anxious to be at your father's bedside but at some point you will need to take a break, perhaps work off some of the tension I know you must be feeling. I'll meet you at the club when you are ready to do just that and Matt, you know that I know exactly what you need. Call me, anytime, day or night." A phone number was listed below these words then the note continued. "I know that you will soon be off searching for Sin. Probably the moment you are able to leave your father's side but I would very much like at least one more session with you. Greedy? Yes indeed I am and don't mind admitting it one bit. Call me. We both know you want to. At least call me before you leave town, even if you decide not to come to me one more time. I just can't get you out of my mind. Sin is a lucky son of bitch and truly, I hate him. Ah well, at least I've had you once. I want it to be twice." Gunner had scrawled his name across the bottom then added a post script. "I hope your father is recovering well. Despite all I have found a belief in God and I will pray for him."

Matt was touched by these last words. He certainly would not have thought Gunner to be a religious man in any sort of way. Matt reached for the box the phone was packaged in and found that it indeed had been opened before it was left on his door knob. He flipped it open, casually playing with the buttons for a few moments, trying to orient himself with its features. He found that not only had Gunner written his phone number on the note but that he had also preprogrammed his phone number into the phone. Matt grinned and snapped it shut. He flipped through the owner's manual for a few minutes, reading enough to gain a true understanding of the phone's features then set it aside and rose to go shower.

Matt took his time, leaning his forehead against the tiles, letting the hot water stream over his taught muscles. When he finally climbed from the shower he felt much better. Dressed only in a pair of cut off jeans, the towel slung carelessly over his shoulders Matt went to fire up his computer.

Several hours later he sighed and shut the computer down, glancing at the small stack of papers he had printed. With dismay and sadness Matt had found the obituary for Sin's mother in a newspaper archive in South Dakota. It stated that she was survived only by a son, Nathaniel, his wife and their daughter Fawn. No other family were mentioned. So, Sin had a brother did he? Matt wondered how Sin had reacted to that. Surely by now he had found this all out for himself. The obituary was only a few months old which saddened Matt even more. Sin had only just missed his chance at meeting his mother. Well, at least there was the brother. Matt had easily found Nathaniel's address and phone number online. He had no intentions of calling the man and forewarning him of his impending visit. If Sin were staying with his brother he might bolt when he realized that Matt was on his way to track him down. No, he'd go straight to the brother's home, unannounced. Matt had already printed out all the maps he needed from MapQuest. Now all he needed to do was get some rest, let Kim know he would continue to be needed to care for the squid, well, squids, for a bit longer and pack what few things he felt he would need for the trip.

Straggling wearily back to the bedroom Matt's eyes fell on the phone. He was tempted, very tempted to take Gunner up on his offer. His shoulders were tense again, he was wound up, a bit overwhelmed with all he had learned online. He could damn sure use a release of that tension. First though, before he decided on any definite course of action he needed to check in with his mother, give her the phone number of the cell phone which Gunner had thoughtfully taped to the back of the box and then get some rest.

Matt made the call to the hospital, found his mother in a very cheerful mood, brimming with the news that his father was showing more and more progress toward recovery by the hour. She promised to call Sylvia for Matt and give her Matt's new cell number. At last Matt tumbled into bed and fell immediately asleep.

* * * * *

When Matt first woke he was confused and hazy. A sickly pale light flowed in from the window but Matt wasn't sure if it was evening or early morning. It took a few moments for him to come fully awake and realize it was evening, that he hadn't slept as long as he had thought, only napped a few hours. As he sat up he was assaulted with flashes of memories from troubled dreams, almost all of them about Sin. His body didn't feel relaxed and refreshed from the nap, he felt instead a lingering sense of loss, anger and frustration over Sin's absence. He thrummed with tension. Without hesitation he reached for the cell phone and called Gunner.

"Hello Matt," Gunner answered, having obviously programmed the number and Matt's name into his own phone and read it off of the caller ID screen before answering. "The Club in an hour?"

Matt chuckled. "I'll meet you there."

Matt snapped the phone shut and went to shower again, realizing that he had sweated through his troubled dreams, leaving him as sticky and clammy as he had felt before his shower of only a few hours ago. Even though he had no real need to hurry, an hour was plenty of time to get there, Matt hurried anyway, still feeling tense and eager to rid himself of that tension. He ate a light sandwich. He didn't want to face Gunner with a full stomach, that would be a mistake. Matt switched off the lights in the apartment except for the one in the tank, it was on a timer and would switch itself on and off at appropriate times. The two squid were no longer entangled, they seemed to both be exploring the tank, rummaging along the bottom, blowing up sand. Matt could tell them apart only by size, the new being only slightly smaller than Sin's original pet. Matt locked the door behind himself and put all thoughts of his troubles out of his mind, looking forward to his session with Gunner.

Even though Matt arrived ten minutes before their agreed time he found that Gunner was already there and waiting for him. Matt had spotted him as soon as he had passed with Trev into the lounge, hardly even hearing the ritual announcement and hail at his arrival. His eyes locked on Gunner's immediately and Gunner's slow, crooked-toothed, evil grin set Matt's heart to racing. Even though he was attired as the Highwayman Matt knew he wouldn't remain that way long. He was not even aware of the eyes in the room following his progress to stand before Gunner, watching him as he knelt for Gunner to snap a leash onto Sin's collar once again. This behavior from a Master was unusual, though certainly not entirely unheard of. For the first time since Matt's introduction to the Club he had not even noticed Razor and Froggie lounging on a couch in the corner, watching them.

Once again Gunner led Matt to the shop. Matt put a hand on Gunner's arm just before they entered. "Master," Matt said quietly. "I have a long trip ahead of me. I'll need you to avoid damaging my back or backside in any way. Or even my face. Can you restrain yourself enough to focus only on my chest and shoulders maybe?"

Gunner chuckled and nodded and when they approached the desk Gunner did not purchase the same materials. Though a blood suit was included Gunner chose only one whip and both to Matt's horror and excitement he also purchased a small electrical device, much like a cattle prod that would deliver an electrical shock that Matt could only speculate on. Gunner gave Matt that evil grin once more as he handed the bag to Matt and led him once more to a 110 room.

Matt followed Gunner's instructions to lay the new supplies out onto the counter and place his own clothing into the bag. With shaking hands Matt did so, very aware of Gunner's hungry eyes on his body as Matt undressed. No gag was included this time. Apparently tonight Gunner was in the mood to hear him scream. A thin film of sweat broke out on Matt's forehead.

Tonight Gunner did not put Matt up on the torture table, tonight he used the wall shackles. Other than short, growled commands Gunner spoke only enough to express his commands. "Feet apart," he growled after backing Matt against the wall and knelt himself to close the shackles on his ankles. "On your knees," and "Hands up!" Matt was on his knees on the floor, his hands stretched high above his head to the manacles that Gunner had adjusted to length, long enough to allow Matt to remain on his knees, short enough to make him feel stretched. Blindfolded, naked except for collar, condom and shackles Matt could only pant behind the darkness of his bound eyes.

Gunner bent to ravish Matt's mouth with his own, a deep, long, wet kiss that left Matt with moistened lips and quickened breath. The first lash fell so quickly following the kiss that Matt had had no time to prepare for it. Though, as before, Gunner began with light, teasing lashes they began low, across Matt's taunt stomach, moving upward, dangerously high to the very base of his throat. Matt's head was thrown back, terror that the lash would catch him across the face keeping him there as it moved down, then back up again, the lash falling harder and harder until Matt was groaning, sweat pouring from him. When the lash stopped falling it took a few moments for Matt to realize it, he could still feel each mark burning under the salt of his own sweat. When Gunner hit him with the electric rod a roar broke from Matt as unexpected as the cessation of the whip had been. Matt convulsed lightly, straining. Gunner zapped him again. Then again, until Matt was literally screaming for pity but no pity came. Instead he once again felt the fall of the whip, moving rhythmically up, moving lower, coming up again. Matt began to struggle. This was too much, far too much! He couldn't take it!

"Please! No more! Master, I beg! Stop!" Matt couldn't control his own pleading, he couldn't force his own mouth closed. In response Gunner showed even less mercy, hitting him three more times with electric shocks, reveling in Matt's now full-throated screams.

Dimly Matt remembered, buried deep in his mind, that a master and slave were supposed to have a special word, a word that meant stop. The word "stop" in itself was no good. Too many masters wanted to hear that word, to hear it poured forth in pleading and agony. It was supposed to be a word rarely used, a word that could not be mistaken for simple pleading, or as fun and games. Something unusual and out of context. Matt knew that though Stan never beat Kim that sometimes they would pretend rough play. Kim's word was "dragonfly". If ever he said that word during sex Stan would stop whatever he was doing, no matter what. But Matt had never had such a word, not with Sin and not with Gunner. Matt didn't think that such a word would ever work with Sin. No matter what Matt said Sin was master in full and would take what he wanted until he was sated and Matt had already come to terms with that but with Gunner...god, why hadn't he insisted on a word with Gunner? How could he possibly make him stop? He couldn't, not unless he broke free and physically stopped him, as he had on the previous session. Matt began to struggle harder, fighting through the agony of whip, electric shock, seemed endless. Matt finally forced his mouth shut, squeezed his eyes tight and concentrated as hard as he could on the memory of Sin's voice... "no man may torture you but man..."

Matt was aware of several things at once. First off was the pain, second was the sudden and totally unprepared for edge of orgasm, third was a faint but definite weakening of the shackle on his right wrist. He knew that part of it had broken but it still held him. He wanted to fight his own body, to hold back, to not cum. Not yet! If he came now it would zap some of his strength. He had, of course, no choice in the matter. Already he could feel the tension in his groin draining out into the condom, feel his cock jumping and throbbing though Gunner had not once touched him there, had not caressed him in any way. Matt could fight against his restraints, straining for release from the shackles but not against his own body, his own inner release. Still feeling sucked down into the bottoms of the well of orgasm Matt gave a final harsh pull, felt the shackle on his wrist finally break free then he was falling. Spiraling down into that deep well of lust released, falling face forward onto the hard tile floor. Distantly he remembered that the chain that suspended the wrist shackles ran through a single ring on the wall. By breaking free from one it had allowed the chain to slither through the ring, sending him sprawling, the chain falling in heavy loops over his back. Matt lay there twitching, gasping, his orgasm passing slowly, his energy totally drained away, unable to even attempt to rise. Gunner's laughter echoed in the tiled room, booming off the walls, the evil pleasure of it unmistakable, harsh.

Matt had absolutely no time to recover. Gunner hit him square in the back with an electrical pulse much higher than any before it. Convulsively his body reared away from the floor. The electric prod clattered to the floor and Gunner had Matt by his hair, using Matt's own upward momentum to pull him up further, forcing him to his hands and knees. Gunner's cock speared his ass, marble hard and ruthless. Matt could only grunt. He had no air to make any other noise, no energy to struggle against Gunner, only enough to struggle not to fall on his face once more. Gunner pounded into him, cursing him, calling him every foul name Matt had ever heard and some he hadn't. A hand came down hard on Matt's ass cheek, then again, making it sting. Matt arched, his body, against his own will, seeking a rhythm. Where the energy came from Matt had no idea but he knew that this full possession of him is what he had desired most and already his body was building tension. When Matt felt himself on the verge of cumming yet again he was beyond shocked. The longer Gunner slammed into him, cussed him, abused him, the higher the tension built until Matt felt his dick spewing again, his body quaking, not enough energy left to hold himself up on his hands. He collapsed under Gunner, his breathing so harsh that his already raw throat felt on fire with each breath. Matt didn't even hear Gunner's final shout of triumph, didn't even feel Gunner's cock twitching within him, though he was aware, only seconds later, that Gunner's full weight was on him, the man collapsed against Matt's back, Gunner's breathing nearly as ragged as Matt's own.

* * * * *

In the basement Trev was cackling with glee, watching his new acquisition sitting chained on the floor near him enjoy the show just as much just as much as Trev himself had. Some might have called the new acquisition a prisoner, an inmate, even a kidnapping case though that would be a stretch, Trev figured, placing the boy at well above eighteen by examination of body build and teeth, much as he would have perused a horse, if he had ever had the inclination to buy such a thing as a horse. There were both a pony and a donkey on the premises, out in the back field, brought in by request only, but neither were often needed. No horses though. No one had ever actually asked for one of those. Trev had not gone out and acquired this boy himself, no that was not in his repertoire. He had, instead, sent the best he had at finding and acquiring long term slaves of a certain disposition: Razor. All fines and dues were to be suspended for a year if only he could find a slave as crazy, but much prettier, than Froggie. Razor had returned a minor two hours later, coming in the back door with the boy in tow. No wonder he had smirked so at the request. Hunting had always been so easy for him.

At first Trev didn't trust such an easy and quick find. He should have placed more faith in Razor. In the days since he had brought the boy in Trev had come to see he was perfect for Gunner. He had let him watch several tapes of Gunner at work, both as a slave and a master. It never failed to get a rise out of the kid. He hardly ever spoke. He could, but his words were choppy, broken, and made little sense. That mattered little. Just so long as he wasn't fully mute he could scream. That was all that mattered. Trev had let Razor have a little go at him, no cutting though, just to test all his theories. The boy seemed to fit his description as perfectly as if Razor had went out and molded him into existence at Trev's request, like a fine sculptor, only one who worked in human flesh, and deep within the human mind. Trev wondered if maybe Razor had been keeping this little treasure hidden away some time for his own pleasures and had in fact been training for him for years but the absolute absence of slash scars on the boys body suggested otherwise, and Razor always resorted to the blade in the end, always.

When the boy was asked his name he always answered differently. Jane, Dick, Jack, Jill, Hansel, Gretel, Harry, Spot...names from children's stories. He had no idea who he really was, that was obvious...and a great boon.

Gunner would name him as he saw fit. Gunner knew nothing of the boy, not yet. Trev had several times invited Gunner to eat with him in the communal dining hall provided by the Club. The food there was excellent. There was a wide range menu and what was served was expensive and cooked to perfection. Any drink could be ordered, and any drug as well, though there was a limit to how many they would sell a patron in a single night. Trev wanted no overdosing in HIS house. He hated it when he had to get rid of a body. Gunner had been nervous those first few nights of dining with Trev until Trev had finally realized that Gunner thought Trev wanted to collar him. Once he made it clear to Gunner he had no personal sexual interest in him then Gunner began to relax more and more in Trev's presence, opening up a layer at a time, revealing a little more with each sitting. Trev was sure now he had chosen his heir perfectly. Now he had only to pair Gunner with a permanent slave so he would feel no need to chase after the clientele when the time came for him to take over the running of the house. First give him his new toy, then start training him how to run such a great house. Trev knew it would take at least two years. That was fine, they both had time to burn.

On the screen Matt had finally thrown Gunner off his back and was trying to snag him, his eyes wild with violence. Matt had somewhere through the torture lost his temper and cumming twice had not cooled him as it had Gunner, it had made him angrier. He crawled after Gunner, reaching clawed hands for him. The shackles at his ankles stopped him as Gunner leapt up to sit on the edge of the counter, watching him and laughing. Matt though had flipped over and was now working furiously at the shackles around his ankles. When he got free he would go after Gunner. Gunner should be leaving the room dammit! Couldn't he see that Matt was in a sufficient rage to tear him to pieces?

Trev wiped his hands hurriedly on a cloth and tugged his pants closed even as he sprinted out of the basement, leaving the odd new black haired kid chained to the floor, clapping as he continued to watch Gunner, his brilliant blue eyes alight and dancing. It was a long way up to the 110 rooms from the basement. The elevator would have been easier on Trev but the stairs quicker. Men gaped at him as he burst out of the first set of stairs, vaulted the counter, raced through the lounge and took the second set of stairs two at a time despite his small stature. Quite a few looked eager to follow to see what the commotion was but Razor ambled to the stairs, sat on the step with Froggie under his feet and began to clean his nails with a razorblade. No one else moved toward the stairs. Razor didn't know what was going on either and he wasn't interested. He just knew that Trev probably would want to handle whatever it was on his own. If he hadn't he would have called out for help on the way up. Trev's business was Trev's business and that was that to Razor, even if, as he suspected, it involved the fact that Matt and Gunner had ascended those very steps only an hour or so ago.

* * * * *

Matt didn't understand the extreme level of his fury, only knew that he was consumed by it. He had finally gotten his ankles free, Gunner's laughter feeding his anger even more. As soon as he was free he lunged for Gunner, intending to jerk him from the counter and beat him senseless. Gunner though had hopped down from the counter and had danced away. Matt pursued him.

"I told you to fucking stop!" Matt roared at him. Gunner continued to laugh and dodge Matt's hands, lithe as a snake.

"Come on now, it wasn't all that bad. You came like a nympho whore," Gunner chuckled, ducking under the table to come up on the other side.

"I told you not to mark me so much I couldn't travel!"

"I haven't."

"You lying bastard!" Matt snarled and lunged again, this time snagging Gunner's arm before he could dodge away. Matt slammed him against the wall and jammed his forearm against Gunner's throat, holding him there, choking him even as he drew back his fist to smash his damn face in. The door burst open but Matt wasn't even aware of it until he felt someone grab his arm and cling like a monkey.

"Stop! Damn it Matt, let him go!"

"Fuck you!" Matt growled, trying to shake Trev off his arm while he kept Gunner pinned to the wall with his other arm hard enough to make Gunner's face turn blue.

"Stop! He's to be my heir! Don't make me shoot you Matt!" Trev was still clinging to him but it was Matt's sudden confusion that actually made him back off. How the hell did Trev know that Gunner was in danger and what the fuck was he talking about? As Matt backed away Trev released his arm. Matt turned to face him.

"I told him not to mark me badly! I told him to stop, begged him! He fucking nearly killed me!"

Trev began shaking his head. "You aren't really marked up that badly Matt. You're hardly even bleeding!"

"What?" Matt muttered, looking down at himself, something he had subconsciously feared doing until that moment, afraid to look down and see shredded flesh. Looking down now though Matt saw that Trev was right, he had very few lash marks that had split his skin. Touching his own flesh though with his hand nearly made Matt scream out again. "What the fuck?" he ground out between clenched teeth.

"It's just chemicals Matt. The whip and prod were both treated to increase pain. It will stop as soon as you wash it off." Gunner was grinning again, very pleased with himself.

"You rotten fucker!" Matt spat out. "I told you to stop!"

"You didn't use the magic word," Gunner chuckled.

"You didn't give me a magic word!"

"You never asked for one. A good slave always remembers to get a magic word. Just consider this a lesson well learned."

Matt started to lunge for Gunner again but Trev stepped between them. "No Matt. Go use the showers. Cool off and calm down. Your session with Gunner is over."

"How the hell did you know about any of it anyway?" Matt demanded.

Trev blushed scarlet but shook his head. "I'm not going to tell you. Not right now anyway. Another day, when you are fully calmed down."

"What was that shit about Gunner being your heir?"

Gunner too now focused all of his attention on Trev. "Yeah, what did you mean?"

"That is not something we will discuss in front of Matt. Go clean yourself up too then meet me down in my office. It was to be a surprise, given at the proper moment but I let it slip. Both of you go shower. Matt, get yourself together and leave. I understand you have a journey ahead of you. Gunner, clean up and report to my office." Trev squared his shoulders and left with as much dignity as he could, considering that he was still blushing like a schoolgirl.