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[personal profile] maculategiraffe
I bet y'all thought I'd forgotten about this story. HAH! I never forget about anything!

...Except that thing I'm forgetting about right now. Remind me about that, will you?

Anyway, I'm sure everyone else has forgotten about it if they even knew about it in the first place (it's still not linked on the index page, because I still haven't figured out if it's fanfiction or what, when you insert somebody else's original character/persona into your original fiction), and I haven't seen cgravenstone around for ages (admittedly, he has the gall to have an actual life) but what the hell. REDHEADS, amirite?

(My husband was a redhead. A redhead like WHOA.)

(Happy Valentine's, all.)












"Darling," said Alix patiently, "I'll only be gone for one night. The Morozovs are perfect for Kit, but I have to take her to them for this visit. You'll be fine."

Greta shuddered. "With all these penises around?"

Alix laughed. "None you need to worry about, sweet. You aren't really afraid to be left alone, are you?"

"No, mistress," said Greta, not entirely truthfully, but it should have been true, especially after the conversation she'd had with Holden on the hilltop only a week ago, where he'd actually apologized for terrorizing her nearly twenty years before. If he really was feeling all that sorry, he probably wouldn't be taking advantage of Alix's two-day absence to renew the reign of terror, even if it hadn't been eighteen years since he'd shown any signs of wanting to hurt Greta at all. Still, the idea of being alone with her master and his four male slaves wasn't the most comforting one she'd ever had put to her.

Alix kissed her softly. "I'll be back before you know it, love."




She wasn't, though, and Greta spent a lot of the first day of her absence hiding in her room. No one came to bother her. She did go down to dinner, where Crimson ate at the table without incident. The last week had been confounding for Greta, as she started to understand Holden's general firm, not to say harsh, hand with the boy; despite all the restraints, and the regular exercise Holden was making sure he got, he still threw temper tantrums at unpredictable intervals, ones that made Greta a bit reluctant to talk to him just in case. He'd used language to Holden that made Greta blush; Holden responded with swift discipline that seemed to temporarily subdue him, and Crimson seemed genuinely to adore Holden in the intervals between tantrums, but the tantrums nevertheless continued. They seemed to be at longer intervals now, though, and he ate his dinner peacefully and without restraints, spoke respectfully to Holden, and generally acted like a model slave.

After dinner, he slipped his hand shyly into Bran's as they all retired to the lounge. The two boys sat together on the couch and talked quietly as Holden worked at the desk and Yves and Jer read. After a while, Bran asked and received permission to go upstairs with Crimson; it wasn't too long before Yves and Jer retired, too. Greta hesitated before asking permission of Holden to do the same thing-- he might still be in a mood to interrogate her about her feelings for him, and she didn't want to deal with it when her mistress was away-- but he granted the permission without comment, and Greta hurried upstairs to the sanctuary of her own room.

She was restless there, though, and bored, and a little lonely, so after an hour of solitary knitting, she ventured out and down the hall, not sure what she was hoping to find. Jer and Yves playing cards, maybe, a game and some banter she could watch without being called upon to participate.

It was at Bran's open door that she halted, though, seeing that Crimson lay on the bed, naked, face down, his head in Bran's lap. Bran, stroking his hair, looked up at Greta and smiled.

"What did he do this time?" Greta asked.

"Nothing," said Bran. "He's being really good. The master's pleased with him."

"That's great," said Greta. "You're being good, huh, Crimson?"

"Yes," said Crimson without lifting his head.

Greta nodded and sat down on the bed. "You like it here, don't you?"

"Yes," said Crimson again.

"You like that you can't wander off even if you try," said Greta, "because everything's all locked up tight. And you like the restraints. And you like getting punished right away when you do something bad, too, don't you."

Crimson turned his head and cocked one russet eye up at her. "Yes."

"So it doesn't matter what you do," said Greta. "You can be as bad as you want, because you can't ever really mess anything up. You just get caught, and punished, and forgiven, and then everything's okay again. Right?"

Crimson didn't answer this time, just looked at her.

"Like how your last master punished you for awhile," said Greta, "and restrained you, and did everything he could with you. And then he gave up on you, and sold you here. Because you were still bad. No matter how much he punished you, you never started behaving better. You might be good for five minutes at a time here, but eventually you're going to need to find a way to disobey, so you can be punished, or restrained again, so you can know it doesn't matter if you're bad."

"Greta," said Bran nervously.

"It's not okay," said Greta to Crimson. "It's not okay to be bad. He's trying to fix you. The restraints and the locks are to keep you from fucking up too badly until he can fix you. The punishments are to make you stop acting up. And every punishment that doesn't work is one less reason for him to think you're fixable. You think you're forgiven, for anything bad you've done, just because you've taken your stripes for it? You're not forgiven until you're good. And you're not getting better. Nothing he's doing is working. You still have to be bad, just to prove it doesn't matter. Well, it does matter."

"Greta," said Bran again, more urgently.

"You know it's true," said Greta, glaring at Bran. "And when he stops trying to fix you, Crimson, you don't get sold to somebody else with a fresh supply of patience. He doesn't sell unfixable slaves. When he's done with you, it's over."

"Greta, stop it," Bran said loudly.

"I'm trying," Crimson mumbled.

"No you're not," said Greta. "Why should you? You like what happens when you misbehave. I'm trying to tell you that it's not what's going to happen forever, Crimson. You're not going to like what happens when he gives up on you."

"Crimson, it's okay," said Bran, his voice gentle. "Even if he does--"

"Hey," said Holden's voice from the doorway, and they all looked up, Greta's heart thudding wildly in her chest. "Crimson, how are you doing?"

"Good, master," said Crimson, sounding a little frightened.

Holden came over to the bed and leaned down to Crimson, laying a caressing hand on the pale back. Crimson shivered slightly.

"You've been very good lately," said Holden. "I've decided you've earned a reward. And so have the rest of us, for putting up with you."

He bent down further and picked Crimson up, slinging him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.

"Come on," he said to Bran, turning towards the door. "You, too, Greta."

Greta and Bran both obeyed, Bran shooting Greta an angry look behind Holden's back. Even with the mostly-unspoken code, among Holden and Alix's slaves, that stated they were to settle their own differences as much as possible without dragging their owners in, she was mildly surprised he hadn't tattled on her for trying to scare Crimson. Bran was not only Holden's little apple-shiner, but also a self-appointed protector of the trainees he deemed in need of protecting. Besides, she wouldn't have cared if he had told Holden what she'd said; she'd only been speaking the truth, after all.

Holden carried Crimson into the bedroom he and Alix usually shared, where Yves and Jer were already in the bed, naked and entwined, Yves' mouth at Jer's neck, Jer's hands in Yves' hair. Holden put Crimson down on the bed, and they both looked up, grinning.

"Hey there," said Jer to Crimson, and reached out to drag him up and lay him down on the bed between himself and Yves, where he lay there looking uncertain but not at all displeased, his eyes darting from Yves to Jer and back again. "I hear you've been a really, really good boy."

Crimson's mouth twitched into an uncertain smile as he looked up at Holden.

"He's all yours," said Holden, and put his arm, unexpectedly, around Greta.

"Bran, we're going to need you too," said Yves, as Holden guided Greta over to Alix's dressing table and sat her down in the chair, with her back to the bed. She had a perfectly unobstructed view of it, however, in the mirror in front of her; even when Holden moved to stand behind her, she could see Crimson's slender young body between Yves' and Jer's, his legs being pulled up and apart firmly by Bran, who crawled up the bed to kneel between them, smiling down at Crimson. Yves whispered something in Crimson's ear, and Crimson squeaked faintly, but he was smiling, too.

She jumped when Holden touched her head; he was taking out the clip that held her hair back from her face, and then he ran his hands through her hair, gently, as if he were Alix. Or she were.

"Since you were feeling I was too harsh with Crimson," he said softly to her, "I thought you might like to see how I rewarded him."

Greta couldn't help shivering as he kept sliding his fingers through her hair, touching her scalp softly, and then letting the hair fall from his fingers. In the mirror, Yves had his mouth on one of Crimson's nipples, one of his hands on the other nipple, and the other hand on Jer's cock; Jer had one hand resting lightly on Yves' head and the other knotted in Crimson's hair. Bran had picked up a jar of lubricating oil and was dipping his fingers into it; he looked up, for a moment, and met Greta's eyes in the mirror, surprising her, before he quickly looked away and reached between Crimson's legs.

"Hand me the brush," said Holden in the same quiet voice as before, and Greta, startled again, obeyed; Holden began brushing her hair, gently, sensually. The bristles of the brush sent a prickling sensation through her scalp and neck as she watched Bran slide a slicked finger inside Crimson, eliciting a muffled sqieal from the other boy-- muffled because Yves was kissing him now on the mouth. Jer reached a hand to Bran without looking, and Bran, one slicked finger still sliding into Crimson, dipped the fingers of the other hand into the jar again and oiled Jer's fingers thoroughly. The brush glided through Greta's hair; Holden's other hand cupped her shoulder, and her eyes met his in the mirror for an instant before she shifted her gaze hastily to her lap.

"You don't want to watch them?" Holden murmured, a smile in her voice, as Crimson cried out softly behind her. She looked up at the mirror again; Bran's hand was around Crimson's penis, milking it tenderly towards full hardness, while Jer had moved down and buried half his hand inside Crimson. Yves had Crimson's shoulders pinned under his knees; Crimson's mouth opened wide, his tongue reaching for Yves' erection. "If it bothers you, we can talk later. I do need to supervise this."

"Talk...?" Greta echoed, her eyes glued to the mirror.

"About Crimson." Both of Holden's hands were in her hair again, the brush having disappeared somewhere while she wasn't looking; he parted her hair and started a close braid on the right side, sending prickles down her spine. "You seemed interested in his welfare. Before. And just now. I don't often find you chatting with my male trainees."

"I--" Greta looked at Holden's face in the mirror again, despite the noises occurring behind her. "Well." Her eyes shifted back to the reflection of the bed, where Crimson seemed to be faring very well, for the moment. "He's-- different. From most of the-- ones. You do."

"You mean," said Holden, clipping off the end of his braid with her hair clip and starting another braid on the other side of her head, "he's sort of betwixt and between the really defiant ones, who sneer at punishment, and the broken ones who are terrified of it. He just kind of enjoys it. And not because he likes pain, or likes thinking that he's pissed me off, but because he likes having firm boundaries he can push against, hard, without worrying that they'll yield. Is that what you mean?"

"Mmmhmm," said Greta, half mesmerized by the current spectacle in the mirror and the soft touches to her scalp, and added when his words had sunk in, "Yes, master-- yes-- that."

"Does it kind of remind you of how I used to be with Alix?"

Greta looked up at his reflection, as he slid his hands into her braided hair and started tugging, loosening and unraveling the braids he'd just created. She didn't say anything.

He met her reflected eyes, softly massaging her scalp, scratching it a little, gently, with his nails. "And how you waited and waited for her to get sick of me and realize I was never going to shape up for good, no matter how much she petted me or punished me, and then she did finally get sick of trying to make me into a good slave, and fucking married me instead. Right? You're still pissed off about that, right?"

"Yes," she said softly.

He nodded, and didn't stop playing with her hair.

"I don't blame you," he said. "Jer's pissed off at me too, you know. That Argounov gave me to Alix, and kept him. But it's not my fault. I did my best to get my sorry ass killed, I really did. But people just kept saving it instead."

"Are you going to save Crimson's ass?" Greta whispered, looking at Crimson in the mirror again-- they had him on his hands and knees now, his mouth and aforementioned ass both thoroughly occupied.

"I'm going to try," said Holden. "He might make a really good match for some young energetic nobleman with a strong right arm-- younger than Fyodor, with more of an enthusiasm for discipline. But nice, you know, affectionate-- the kid needs affection, too. I'd rather not take him to Karl. I'm not sure how well he'd do, without those boundaries, and without a support system he trusted. I mean, I had Alix, and I still fucked it up pretty badly, with you. I'm sorry, Greta. I really am. For a lot of things."

"I know," said Greta, watching the bed in the mirror. "It's okay."

He chuckled, but she didn't look up at him this time when he cupped her shoulders and started massaging them softly.

"Alix always says that, when I apologize," he said. "But she means it-- for ages I couldn't believe she meant it, but she did, she always did, it was always going to be-- okay, with her. You don't even know how much she's-- forgiven me. So many people have forgiven me... Greta, it's okay if you don't. It really is. If you want to hate me forever. I give you full permission."

"I don't hate you," said Greta, closing her eyes; the sounds from the bed behind her went on, cries and gasps and moans and the creaking of springs, and the slap and suckle of flesh on flesh. "I told you. I haven't hated you since-- Valor."

`"I did okay with that," said Holden, his voice suddenly close to pleading, and Greta listened without opening her eyes. "Like you said. Our little girl-- when I saw her, Greta, when I saw you holding our baby-- you were so little, and so tired, and so happy. And I was proud-- of how happy you were. I thought-- I thought-- for once-- I'd done okay."

She opened her eyes and turned around to look at him, and then reached to take both his hands in hers.

"You did," she said quietly. "Then. And since. With me."

He nodded. "Do you think I'm doing okay with Crimson?"

Greta looked past him at what was happening to Crimson on the bed.

"I just--" he said, still holding her hands, as she watched. "I try, with them, you know-- I try to make it okay. Whatever they are. To give them-- what they need. Because that's what I've been given. Not what I deserved-- I never deserved-- any of my stupid luck. Including you. And our baby." He caressed her fingers with his thumbs, as Crimson writhed and moaned in ecstasy. "The least I can do is-- try. To give-- what I've been given. To help. If I can."

She lifted one of his hands to her lips and kissed it gently, still watching Crimson.

"You grew up pretty okay, Holden," she said.

He laughed again, softly, happily. "You think?"

"I think," she said, as the scene on the bed resolved itself into a tangle of sweaty, mostly motionless limbs. "May I tell Crimson something?"

"If you think he's lucid enough to hear it right now," said Holden.

Greta withdrew her hands from his and got up, moving towards the bed. Bran opened his eyes and eyed her suspiciously as she bent down to whisper in Crimson's ear. Yves and Jer stirred, and watched, interested, but said nothing.

Crimson looked up at her, pink and satiated, and now, newly, hopeful. He lifted his head and looked around until he spotted Holden, and then, shyly but trustingly, lifted his arms, as he had in the field where he'd fallen after running himself to exhaustion. Holden went to him and lifted him up again.

"Enjoy yourself, sweetheart?" he asked, smiling.

"Yes, master," said Crimson blissfully, resting his head on Holden's shoulder. "Thank you, master."

"You're welcome," said Holden. "What did Greta tell you?"

Crimson wiggled diffidently in his arms. "That-- she said-- you won't give up. On me."

"She's right," said Holden, hugging Crimson, and looking up gratefully at Greta. "I won't."

Crimson yawned. "But what if I never learn to be good all the time?"

"Nobody's good all the time, kiddo," said Holden. "We just do the best we can. You ready to go to bed?"

"Mmmhmm," said Crimson sleepily. "Carry me."





While Holden carried Crimson to his room, Greta retreated to hers, suddenly exhausted. She wasn't asleep, though, when someone knocked on her door, and she called, "Come in," thinking that if it was Bran, she owed him an apology for what she'd said to Crimson, and if it was Yves or Jer, she wouldn't mind explaining just what had passed between her and Holden as they rewarded Crimson for good behavior.

It wasn't any of them, though; it was Holden, barefoot and sans belt, looking rather shy.

"I'll go away if you want," he said.

Greta held out her arms, and he laughed the soft, happy laugh again as he closed her door behind him.

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