The First Time, Part 3/3

I'm not going to dwell long on the time that came next. I'd been honest when I told Paul that I always expected something like this, and if truth be told, I expected many more. But this was the first time, and I won't pretend it was easy.

Of course Jaffar hated it, hated having me there. He had no interest in sharing a house with me as well as Paul, and strongly resisted the arrangement. If he'd gotten to Paul first, I'm sure I never would have been allowed to stay. How much different would things have been in that case?

For my part, I kept my word to Paul and served them both to the best of my ability. At first, knowing how much Jaffar disliked having me there, I worked unobtrusively and stayed out of the way when he was around; I honestly did my best to let him forget all about me, most of the time. That was partly self-interest – I wasn't at all confident of my position, if Jaffar were to oppose it strenuously enough, or could show that I hadn't kept my end of the bargain in any way.

Out of the same self-interest, I even tried to help him enjoy it. He'd never had a problem with me in the past, had he? Surely a young open-minded man could eventually be made to see the advantages of a willing and obedient live-in sub. In the small moments when we couldn't avoid each other, I treated him with respect and deference, and made it clear I was available for his pleasure.

I admit it was a little strange at first, to treat Jaffar as a superior. When I'd first met him I'd seen him as the new kid, a friend maybe, someone to potentially hang out with. But time had shown me our differences. It wasn't just his education or his background. It was in the way he related to Paul, their connection, what they gave and expected from each other – so completely unlike Paul and me. I could see how Paul valued it, and I was willing to concede defeat, to admit that Jaffar was the better man. But if I could understand what Paul liked about Jaffar – was it not possible that Jaffar might see what Paul liked about me?

From the start, I knew Jaffar wouldn't want to show a taste for power openly. So I went out of my way to give him opportunities to experiment privately – discreetly, without reproach or recrimination. But I couldn't tempt him. Finally, when it became obvious that dominance just didn't interest him, I tried to entice him with more egalitarian pleasures. Even then he never showed anything except distaste for my overtures.

He did, however, show a lot of interest in trying to liberate me. Over time, as he grew more comfortable with my presence at home, Jaffar and I had many conversations in which he earnestly explained to me that I didn't need to submit to Paul. He talked to me about the sanctity of free will, the spiritual value of freedom, the political history of slavery, the disturbing moral implications of voluntary enslavement. He questioned me deeply about my freedom of choice, the potential for coercion, the possibility of abuse.

"I know you did some terrible things once, Tom," he'd say, over a glass of wine after dinner, when Paul had been called off on some urgent Foundation business. "But you were too young to know what you were doing. You were just a kid, forced into it by – by economic forces, cultural factors, socio-economic circumstances beyond your control. You were like a child soldier. You had no choice."

No choice? It always made me anxious, this line of argument – afraid that Paul would walk in to hear Jaffar telling me I wasn't responsible for my own actions. "I knew what I was doing," I'd protest, but he'd wave me away and re-fill his wine glass.

"The thing you do with Paul – that slavery thing. It's actually misplaced guilt, some warped concept of redemption. You'd be much better off working through it with a licensed therapist." Jaffar would lean forward then, earnestly trying to persuade me that freedom was within my grasp. "Paul's a good guy, Tom. He'll understand when you tell him you want to be – independent. You deserve better than this, you know. When you learn to get past it, you'll have a much better chance of developing a real relationship."

I swear I took it all, listening attentively and responding politely, without irony or scepticism. I even tried to grasp what he was saying. When he asked me questions about why I did what I did, I paid him the respect of assuming he was equally sincere, and gave him honest answers. I wish I could say we came out of the whole thing with a better understanding of each other's point of view. But at the end of the day, I don't think either of us ever really got the other.

Did any of that have an impact on his relationship with Paul? I've often wondered about it. With Jaffar, Paul showed none of the dominance I was so used to. They had a balanced, mutually respectful rapport with each other, and I don't think that was ever a facade on either part. Paul also laid off me altogether, even when we were alone, never expecting either sex or submission in all the time they were together. I tried to respect that by not provoking him or asking for any of the discipline I still craved, though I couldn't stop myself from treating Paul like a Dom, and he didn't make any protest.

For a while Paul and Jaffar seemed so well-suited and content that I almost resigned myself to it. I can't say what would have happened if it had really gone on indefinitely. Could I have been content forever with a life of mild servitude, with no reward but the limited pleasure of being in Paul's company? If he had shown no interest in me again, would I have eventually cut my losses, asked for permission to leave, sought comfort elsewhere? Or yielded to frustration and launched a full-scale assault, fought to re-gain Paul's attention, at least part of the time?

As it happened, I didn't need to find out. I might have taken a big gamble on a small impulse – a gut-level instinct so minute I didn't even admit it to myself until I started to see it proved right – but this time at least, I was lucky. As the months went by, they did drift apart. It was nothing major, no grand drama, no accusations or showdowns. I couldn't even have said for sure which of the two grew more bored first. It could have been the age gap, or Paul's workaholic tendencies, or maybe a difference in intellectual beliefs or what they each liked to do for fun. As causes for the rift, any of these would be just as likely as an imbalance in their personal taste for power dynamics.

I know one thing, though. Toward the end, Paul took to kicking me out of the house some evenings, saying he and Jaffar needed their privacy. Naturally, I assumed at first that this was about sex. It was only later that I realized it was so they could argue – about me.

Six months almost to the day from when he moved in, Jaffar moved out again. He left his position with the Foundation and moved back east, and though he and Paul stayed in touch for many years, I didn't see him again. But I didn't forget him. You never forget your first.

I kept a low profile for the first little while after Jaffar left. I'm not going to pretend I was anything other than jubilant. If Paul had been suffering, no doubt that would have tempered my mood, but he didn't seem particularly distressed. Still, I didn't want to do anything that savoured of triumph.

It was actually Jaffar who told me he had decided to leave. Paul didn't say anything to me about it, so I didn't ask. Even after Jaffar had gone, I stayed in the basement until Paul told me to move back up. The first time we had sex again, Paul came into the kitchen where I was working and pushed me up against a wall without speaking. A few days later, when he told me sternly that I seemed to be altogether too unconcerned about my master's devastating personal troubles, and sent me downstairs to prepare for the consequences, I knew everything was going to be okay between us.

One afternoon, a few days later, I went looking for Paul to ask what he wanted for dinner. I knew he couldn't be far, so when I didn't find him in the back yard I followed the little path down to the wooded area and the secluded spot beside the water where he liked to sit sometimes. Sure enough, I found him leaning against a tree with his knees drawn up, looking out over the ocean.

He turned and saw me before I could take the adoring smile off my face, so I didn't try to hide it. After a second he smiled back, and patted the ground beside him languidly. As I went over to join him, I thought I finally knew what people mean when they say their heart sings.

We sat for a while in comfortable silence, and then I thought I owed it to him to broach the subject. "Master … I'm sorry things didn't work out with you and Jaffar."

He half turned to me, faintly amused. "No, you're not."

I could answer that truthfully. "I am for your sake. I would have been perfectly happy if we could have made it work – the three of us."

"Oh," he said, and nodded, and looked back out at the ocean. "Yeah. You knew we never had a snowball's chance of that, didn't you?"

"I … I admit it didn't seem very likely. But sometimes people surprise you … "

"Well, Jaffar doesn't have any dark undersides. What you see is what you get."

"But what you see is plenty. He's a smart, attractive, capable man with a lot of strong principles and ideals. You two had a lot to give each other."

"Yes. What he doesn't have is a dominant or submissive bone in his body. I never knew anyone so totally committed to equality. Maybe it's some kind of cultural thing."

I stirred a little restlessly. "Jaffar grew up in Philadelphia, master. And my brother Phillip is just the same way, actually. I don't think it's cultural. Some people are just … born a certain way."

"I'm not so sure I believe that." Paul stopped and stared at the ocean for a moment or two. "I've always thought I could go either way. I didn't need it while I was with him."

I picked my words carefully. "Maybe you don't need it, master. But don't you … feel more comfortable when you have chance to express the dominant side of your personality in some way?"

"I went years without expressing that, as you put it. I mean, I fooled around with D/s a little when I was younger, but when I started getting seriously involved with men, it wasn't something I looked for in a relationship."

Really? "But it comes so naturally to you."

"I never had this kind of a relationship before you, Tommy. You're my first."

My hand found his, and I drew it up to press against my lips. "If it wasn't me, it would have been someone else. It's different though, isn't it, master? The thing with me, and the other kinds of relationships you have … that you'll always have. It doesn't have to be one or the other. They don't have to be … mutually exclusive."

He seemed to consider that, looking at me. "I'm not going to say I don't enjoy it. And maybe they're not mutually exclusive. But I still don't think I need the D/s part. I could have left it behind for him."

Sometimes it was hard to keep a neutral expression. "Really, master? That wasn't … part of why it ended?"

Paul shrugged. "He didn't like me keeping you around. I told him it had nothing to do with me needing a sub, that it was a promise I'd made to you. But he never really believed that."

Now it was my turn to look away, vaguely troubled, wondering if his words could be true. "But isn't that kind of the same thing? At the end of the day, you're comfortable with something that he's not."

"He's not comfortable with it for political reasons."

"No – with respect, sir, that's not it. You have the same politics as him. You're just as committed to political equality, human equality. The difference is in your personal preferences, what feels like … like home to you."

Paul paused. "Maybe you're right." I couldn't help sighing with relief at the concession. He brooded for another minute, then added, "I think there is some level where Jaffar and I are just fundamentally different."

I nodded. "So it wasn't really about me, was it? I mean, even if I'd left, that difference would still have been there."

"Maybe. Maybe it just would have taken longer to surface."

I didn't tell him I agreed with that. Sooner or later, Paul would have been unable to keep suppressing the dominant part of his nature. That was the gamble I'd taken and, by luck or instinct, it had paid off. "Master," I said, and sat up a little. "I want you to know something. If I really believed that keeping me around was the only thing standing in the way of your happiness, I would have left. I want you to be happy."

He smiled a little, indulgently, as though he didn't believe me but thought the sentiment was rather cute.

"I'm not saying I wouldn't do the same thing again. I would. I will. Master – I know there's going to be other people in your life. It's just like you said … this – thing with me is just one part of who you are. I don't want you to ever have to choose."

He put an arm around my shoulder lightly. "Let's worry about that again when we need to."

I stopped myself from shrugging his arm off, but pulled away a little so I could face him. "I'd rather have a plan ahead of time. Look," I said, gathering strength. "I'm the first to admit it … I'll beg for a chance every time. Just a chance to stay in the picture. And I do believe it can work – with most people – most of the time. But if you let me try and it doesn't work … if you have to choose, and you want the other … then I won't – I won't …" I had to pause to take a breath. I felt Paul's arm on my shoulder again, only this time he was pulling me toward him, against him, tightening his grip until I dropped my head in his chest, and when I went to speak again I found I couldn't.

"It's okay, Tommy. I know. I know what you're saying." He held me for a few minutes, till my breathing slowed and the intense need to finish my thought died away. When his grip loosened and I looked up, I found him smiling at me. "And what about you?" he asked a little playfully, trying to change the mood, I guess. But I heard what was under his words. "You're the one who's more likely to fall for someone else."

I sat up a little. "I can't even imagine that."

"Of course you can't imagine it!" He elbowed me, laughing. "You're twenty. All twenty year olds think their feelings are going to last forever."

"Almost twenty-three," I protested.

"Maybe it's me who's at risk," he went on more quietly. "What happens if I'm attached to you? What are the chances you're going to stay with a thirty year old you fell for when you were seventeen?"

"Thirty-something," I corrected automatically. Paul hadn't been thirty for a long time. Then I smiled back at him a bit. "I'm not asking you to get attached to me. You don't even need to think of me that way. Just think of me as the boy who looks after you. All I'm asking is for you to let me stick around when you want someone else."

Paul rolled his eyes a little, and I saw how easily we'd moved back into our familiar patterns. "We'll see how that goes. But you have an obligation too. You need to tell me when you have feelings for someone else."

"But I won't." I couldn't stop myself, though I knew how childish that sounded.

"You think you're never going to be attracted to anyone else, Tom?"

"It's not a matter of attraction." I stopped, trying to figure out how to express myself, but Paul laughed and responded before I could continue.

"Thanks, Mertz. I know I'm an old man."

"It's not that – " I said, turning toward him again, with confidence this time. At least I knew how to be persuasive in one area.

But he caught my hands in his and brought them down to rest between us. "It's okay," he said, serious now. "You don't need to show me. Look, I'm just saying … " He paused to order his thoughts. "Let's just agree that neither of us knows what can happen in the future. We can't plan for everything. We got through it this time … maybe we will again."

What could I say to that? I lifted his hand and brought it to my mouth again. "Okay," I whispered against his palm. "If it pleases you. Maybe we will."

We walked back inside and had dinner together, catching up on domestic things. Afterwards he took me into his bed and allowed me to get out my more intense feelings the best way I knew how, worshipping him in body and mind. Over the days and weeks that followed, life gradually returned to normal. Maybe even better than normal. Paul lost some of his distance and spoke to me regularly, stayed home more often, sometimes even took me out with him socially. My old confidence returned – or at least, something similar to it, though in some ways it had changed forever.

The truth is: I had lied that day by the ocean, when Paul said we didn't know what could happen in the future and I let him think I agreed. I did know by then; I had learned. I understood what was coming. It wasn't just other people, the ones who might come and go, disrupting his feelings or mine. Those were details, and the details didn't really matter. I knew now that what the future held for me was pain.

I don't mean physical pain, the beatings I found so reassuring. What I'd discovered was a whole new dimension of suffering – the kind that stops you in your tracks, makes you gasp for breath, paralyzes you. I had a new understanding of the range and depth of ways I could suffer, of the actual experience of pain I hadn't known was possible. Now I realized I would hurt in ways I couldn't anticipate or plan for, could hardly even imagine. There was nothing I could do about it; all I could do was wait, and submit.

But the funny thing was that Jaffar taught me something else I couldn't have learned in any other way. He showed me I could take it. This time around I'd been shocked, unprepared, inexperienced – and still I managed to get through it. Next time I wouldn't be caught by surprise. Whatever happened, now or in the future, it would never again be the first time.