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>>the cards — chapter ten: snake eyes — part one::

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>>THE CARDS — CHAPTER TEN: SNAKE EYES — PART ONE::

Ringshadow

Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue. I do not own Star Fox 64, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Author's Note: This is about the kinkiest thing I've ever written. Enjoy.

 

"So, what did you think?"

Panther looked down at Wolf, standing in the cockpit of the plane and leaning one arm on the edge, the other arm lazily up against the cockpit glass. "This thing is beautiful, but I must admit, I'm a bit uneasy that you won't tell me the price."

Wolf shrugged it off. "It's team debt. A cut of our paychecks pays off the planes, the base, and any other random equipment we use. I manage it. Don't worry about it."

The feline lifted an eyebrow. "A responsible commander? Wonders will never cease."

"Be prepared for lots of wonder, he's a surprisingly practical commanding officer." Leon replied, walking over with his hands shoved in his jacket pockets.

"Oh stop." Wolf snorted, putting his hands on his hips before offering an arm up for Panther, who had climbed out of his wolfen to stand on the wing. Panther crouched and accepted the arm, setting a hand on it to steady himself as he climbed down. "You guys just aren't used to the idea of someone being in charge who isn't a douchebag."

"No, you're an asshole, there's a difference." Leon grinned at him in spite of himself.

"Can't argue that." He shrugged, then directed his attention back to the newest group member. "You'll need to specify any custom painting before we take this thing off the lot, so to speak."

"In addition to team colors? Just a personal insignia if you'll allow it." Panther dug into an inner jacket pocket and came out with a business card, passing it over.

Wolf lifted an eyebrow at it. "May I ask why you don't use a black rose? If I have my language of flowers right, a black rose is death. Red is love."

"I have my reasons."

The sound of a quiet chime went off, and Leon blinked, pulling a cell phone out of an inner jacket pocket and flipping it open, looking at the display. "I'm sorry. I should take this." Wolf wove a hand in dismissal, so he saluted and walked away, feeling the phone go to voice mail as he hopped up and sat on a crate in the corner of the station docking bay, looking at the display again.

"I have to say, the biggest surprise of all this is how nice that man is." Panther finally said, leaning on the wing of his plane and looking at Wolf with an eyebrow up. "I mean, yeah, he's got an edge. He's an ass. But… he's genuinely likable. I think we'll get along fine."

He blew out a sigh. "Good, I was a bit worried about that. His reputation precedes him. Hell, you hear about this menacing torturer and you meet this skinny wired-tight guy…" He paused. "There's something up with him. He's off. You get that too, right?"

"Yeah, but I like him anyway. And if you trust him, I will."

Leon sighed and leaned back against the wall, pondering the display and pulling one leg up to his chest. He was well out of his teammates' hearing range and no one else was in the docking bay. Good. He hadn't visited this side of himself in a while…

He let himself quiet, then hit the buttons to return the call, one hand supporting the phone, the other arm resting on his uplifted knee, listening to the phone ring twice before the line picked up with a hurried sounding rattle, the connection tinny from being bounced from ground lines to a satellite to a station a decent distance from Corneria. "This is a surprise, pet."

"I, I know sir." The voice on the other side was nervous, stressed, tense. "I'm sorry."

He sighed and pondered the ceiling, letting his voice get heavy, a confidant purr. "What did I tell you the last time we spoke, before the war?"

"That, that I wouldn't see you again, sir." The voice from Corneria was miserable.

"Mmhm. You're lucky this line still works, pet." He pondered the claws on his free hand. "Why are you calling me?" Silence on the other side of the line. "Answer my question."

"I miss you."

Leon rubbed his eyes. "It's been nearly two years. I left you with a contact for another Master."

"That, that didn't work out."

"I heard. Listen to me, Alec." He heard the intake of breath on the other side of the line. Names meant something different, and Alec knew it. "You're a very, very smart man. I'm certain you know who I am, now."

"Yes, sir."

"Alright, who am I?" Silence. "It should be explicit at this point you have permission to say my name." Leon knew he sounded droll.

"You're Leon Powalski. I, I saw you on the news. They say you're a torturer. A war criminal."

"And they're right, Alec. I'm a professional interrogator, and I worked for Venom during the war. Ergo, I am currently a war criminal and I will be arrested if I set foot on Corneria or any of their affiliates with the appropriate treaties." He blew out another sigh, listening to the tension and misery vibrating silently through the phone line. Alec was so easy to read. He'd loved that about him. "Alec, you're a lawyer. Yes, a tax lawyer, but I'm sure you can figure out what would happen if we met. I'm certain that even talking to me could get you into trouble. So, why did you call me? If nothing else, you deserve a better Master."

"I had to call you, sir. I've, I've wanted to for a long time, I just…" The voice broke down into a low breathless sob.

"Stop." Leon commanded, and was rewarded when the hysteria on the other end of the phone line quieted. "I suppose this makes this the first time you've disobeyed me."

"I'm sorry…!"

"Stop!" Leon didn't bother raising his voice, just let the purr return to it, and Alec fell silent again. "I'll call you."

"Please don't hang up."

"I will call you. Things have to be arranged." Leon hung up and snapped the phone shut, pondering it a minute. He kept two cell phones. One was his business line, and it only rang for work. Wolf had the number, just in case. Usually flight work went through Wolf these days anyways, his cell phone only rang for interrogation work. The other phone was his personal line, and only the few people he qualified as long-time friends had it. And… a few others.

He sighed and pocketed the phone, hopping off the crate and joining his coworkers, hands clasped behind himself loosely. "Sorry about that. Did I miss anything?"

"Nothing worth discussing." Wolf replied, waving at the dock personnel which had showed up to take the bare wolfen to the paint shop. "Everything good on your end?"

The reptilian nodded once. "Indeed. Thinking I may retire to my room here and crash a while. Would it bother you if I took a few personal days in the coming week or two?"

"Not at all. If we don't have a contract, you're free to go as you wish."

"Appreciate it." Saluting lightly, he wandered back off, leaving the station bay in favor of the personnel areas. It was an industrial station, most of which was owned by the company that produced the wolfen fighters, but as they were customers the station had no problem renting them some rooms for the night. Nothing fancy, but the bed was clean and the bathroom reasonably spacious. Once there, he got out of his flight uniform and sprawled on the bed, cell phones on the bed stand, staring at the ceiling as he pondered Alec.

What had it been, four years ago? Closer to five. Gods, he'd been young and stupid, still figuring out what he wanted out of life. Even then he'd been gaining a reputation as a talented interrogator and torturer, he'd still been learning to fly a plane. But, he hadn't been a criminal, not yet. Of course, he'd had another reputation then, among a few circles in Corneria City. It'd started when he'd wandered into a Sexpo. No real reason, he'd been curious so he'd paid the convention fee and spent the weekend observing. He found himself intrigued by some things and pissed by others. Mostly, he couldn't wrap his head around all the straps, whips, spreader bars. Was all this stuff really needed to prove control over someone?

So, during one of the talks a professional dom was giving, he called bullshit on the entire thing and got in front of the crowd, up in the dom's face. His bet? That dressed as he was, jeans and a tank top, he could show better control over someone in the crowd with no assistance than the dom ever could. And if he failed, he'd be the display for the next talk. The dom had scoffed a bit when Leon had said he had no experience other than personal, but agreed to the terms. Leon had looked over the crowd for a moment and chosen a feline on the edge of the crowd. A decently built guy, in slacks and a button down, who looked a bit dismayed to be pushed to the front. This wasn't his kink, he insisted, but Leon still had him on his knees in five minutes, docile, pliant, without touching him. Needless to say, he won the bet and walked away with a quiet thrill. He could make people get off by ordering them around.

In those circles, his reputation — that he was a talented dominant--spread like wildfire. As he kept to himself he found it mostly annoying. He'd give one person his cell phone number, and someone else would call him begging to meet him. Then he'd have to meet them, and the vast majority he sent away after only spending only a few moments with them. He was picky. Very picky.

Then one day he'd been out and about in downtown Corneria City, just doing some clothes shopping. Dressed normally, wearing a messenger bag and carrying a coffee cup, not planning anything of the sort when he'd accidentally run into a man wearing a suit. A stag, the suit expensive, his look manicured. The stag had sputtered and apologized for not watching where he was going, Leon had tilted his head and stared at him for ten seconds or so in silence. Then, before the stranger in the suit had time to ask what his problem was, he'd dug into a pocket and put a business card in his hand.

"Today is Monday. On Wednesday, at two o'clock in the afternoon, you're going to call this number." He knew his voice was coming out differently. "Don't be late." Then he brushed past the stag and continued down the street, ignoring the confused questions behind him, knowing the stag would call.

And sure enough, he did. Leon was in his apartment waiting when the phone rang at 2:01. He let it ring three times before picking it up, relaxing on his black leather sofa, pondering the ceiling. "Good boy. You've passed your first test."

"Who the hell are you?" Demanded the stranger in the suit he'd bumped into. "I really don't have time for this."

"Who am I?" He chuckled softly, picking up a pen and making notes on a notepad about his impressions of the stranger. "If you don't have time, why did you call?"

"I, I… Oh, this is stupid." Click.

"Mmhm." Leon hung up his phone, smiling a bit. Five minutes later, the phone rang again, and he picked up on the third ring as before. "I suppose you do have time, don't you."

"Who ARE you?!" The stag's voice seethed with frustration and confusion.

"Why did you call?" When no one replied, Leon chuckled again, underlining something on his notepad. "Was it because I told you to?"

"I… I thought you may have been a contact for a case for the firm I work for."

"Liar. You did it because I told you to and you don't even know why." He purred that, listening to the stag's unease and discomfort. "Who am I? I'm the one in control of this situation."

"What? I can just hang up you know."

"You aren't going to hang up."

"I have work to do! I'm at the office."

"It can wait for five minutes, if that." He was soothing, and it worked. "Tell me your name."

"A-Alec. Alec Porter."

"And you're a lawyer."

"Yes. Tax law. What do I call you?"

"You can call me 'sir'."

"Yeah, right. What do you want from me? Is this blackmail?"

"No. There is a coffee house near where we ran into each other. Crow's Nest. Meet me there at seven tonight." And with that, he hung up, smiling to himself. This promised to be fun.

And oh, it was. Alec the lawyer showed up at the coffee house at seven, angry and demanding answers. Leon shut his anger down quickly and cleanly, choosing his words carefully, watching as everything he did cut right through the stag's mask and to his core. They spoke over coffee, and Leon kept his voice low-key, his tone a purr. Alec was eventually left quiet and confused, staring across the booth at this reptilian he didn't even know the name of.

"What do you want out of me?" Alec finally demanded, setting his cup down and mustering a glare. "You get me to call you, you convince me to come here, what do you want? This would go faster if you'd just tell me."

"The question here isn't what I want." Leon stood easily, getting ready to leave. "It's what you want."

"I want you to stop talking in riddles!"

He stepped over and leaned over the stag, speaking in his ear. "This game starts now, pet. It goes as far as you want it to. You can stop it if you wish… but I don't think you will." He smiled when Alec froze, ears twitching, breath catching in his chest. "We'll be in touch."

It was three months before he bothered seeing the lawyer face to face again. He'd call Alec's office once, maybe twice a week, and give an order. Innocent enough at first before slowly chipping into Alec's personal space. And whenever he called, he asked if his last order had been performed, and it always had. He'd been right, it seemed: buried deep inside Alec was a classic submissive. Not the leather and cuffs sort, no, just someone who honestly, desperately wanted a keeper and didn't even realize it.

By the time Leon suggested they meet again, Alec was wound like a thirty day clock, so tense Leon could practically hear him grinding his teeth over the phone. Still confused, yes, but intrigued, drawn in, turned on. Still, Leon didn't order they meet, rather gave a choice. Alec immediately agreed, no questions asked, and after a moment of thought Leon suggested that he visit Alec's apartment the approaching Friday.

Leon didn't take much with him, just a change of clothes in his messenger bag. He wasn't surprised by the apartment itself. Alec's living space was neat, organized, compartmentalized. Each space served a purpose, no overlap. The color scheme was just as neat, and hinted at the stag's hidden side: grey carpet, white walls, touches of blue and green here and there. Soft, unassuming, comfortable.

What did surprise him was Alec, who answered the door in jean shorts and a plain t-shirt, holding a kitchen knife. "H-hello, sir."

He quirked an eyebrow. "Hello, pet." Alec ducked his head and stepped aside, hovering as Leon took off his shoes then returning to the kitchenette. The apartment smelled like peppers and seafood, and he was surprised to find he was hungry. "This is a surprise."

"Yeah, I…I wasn't sure what this is. Is this a date?"

"Not exactly." Leon shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned on the doorframe, watching him. A beautiful member of the species, he conceded, velveted antler nubs poking out from frosted shaggy hair. A different haircut, and it was still styled: Alec had gotten his hair done for the evening. How flattering. "This is a test."

Alec paused in his cooking motions, looking at him for a long moment and really seeing him for the first time. "What is this about? These past few months have been strange, I mean really strange. Do you like me? Are you messing with me?" He shoved what he was cooking with a wooden spatula, the motion more forceful than needed. "You, you're younger than I am, aren't you?"

Leon kept staring at him, at his tidy, twitchy moments, tongue flicking out after a moment, making the other male jump. He didn't blame him, he knew his tongue seemed massive when he did that, his blue-blooded reptilian heritage was to blame for it. But his nose was so blunt, to really smell something he used a flick of his tongue. Peppers and fish, trout maybe? Under the smell of the cooking, the scent of his pet, unease and maybe even a touch of fear. "I am, yes. As to what this is about, it's about you. It's about what you want… and what I can do to fill that want."

Alec shook his head. "You don't know me. How could you know what I want?"

Leon pondered how to respond to that loosely before allowing himself to enter the kitchen, moving to stand behind his pet and lifting a hand, just barely touching the fur along the nape of his neck. The response was immediate, the deer freezing up, gasping, fur lifting under his touch when he grabbed Alec's scruff and held tight. "I knew you the minute I bumped into you on the streets." Leon purred, yanking lightly on his scruff, one leg nudging between his, grinning at the whining his motions provoked. "I knew you were restless. Unsatisfied. Unhappy."

"How could have you possibly…" Alec's voice was a faint gasp, one hand still clutching the spatula, not sure how to react.

"It was written all over you. What is this about, pet?" He brought his mouth to the other's ear, smiling a bit, voice dropping to a rocky whisper. "Getting you off in a way you never thought possible." That said, he let go and stepped back, leaning on the counter and folding his arms, the picture of cool composure.

Alec shook and leaned on the stove, turning the burner off, staring at Leon. "You're serious."

"Oh, yes."

There was a long silence, during which Alec got two plates and served them, moving numbly to the dining room. Leon followed and sat down, watching him closely. "I haven't been in a relationship in a long time." His voice was blank, shocked.

"You work too hard."

"Yeah, you're not the first to say that." This was a grumble, Alec picking up a fork once Leon had. "Does this make you my boyfriend?"

"This makes me your Master." Leon smiled when that made his head jerk up. "And you are my pet. What I say, goes. You're free of responsibility in this. You're free to relax. If you want it to stop just say so… but I don't think you will." He savored a bite of his dinner, gods, a pet that was well off financially and could cook; he must have been doing something right… "Any last minute protests?" He lifted his eyebrows. Alec shook his head vigorously, more than a little flushed. "Good."

After that strange dinner, Leon saw Alec on a reasonably regular basis. They were both working of course, so he spoke to him more on the phone than anything else, at least at first. He maintained the pattern, dropping orders, teasing, picking at his pets' mind. Another month and Alec was slowly relaxing, not afraid of him, starting to trust him. Leon liked subtle, quiet submission, a total surrender, complete trust. Two months, and his pet had no problem undressing for him, his motions doing that as neat and twitchy as everything else. Even then, Leon kept himself under tight control, his hands and his voice more than enough to get a rise out of Alec.

What Alec liked was almost a strange clash against everything else. He liked a firm touch, not rough but close, but never pain. He liked being pinned or held, it got to the point that all Leon had to do to make him cry out was quietly hold his wrists behind his back—he did that to Alec in public, on occasion, just to see him tense and shake from holding the reaction back.

In spite of all this, it seemed his lawyer pet was actually doing better at work. Coming home once, maybe twice a week and surrendering all control was having a positive affect. He kept the relationship balanced carefully, walking a fine line of giving his pet enough to stay satisfied and on his toes, and staying out of his life enough that Alec functioned day to day. The story Alec told his coworkers is that he set some time aside each week for meditation to center himself.

Well, Leon had thought when Alec had told him that, looking at the deer in his lap, naked and spent and limp. Everyone meditates in their own way.

Six months in, his pet started quietly begging. He didn't go for Leon's clothes, of course, he knew better. He didn't even plea, exactly, just said "let me submit the rest of the way." Six months, and Leon had never removed anything except his shoes. Hell, Alec wasn't even sure he'd ever felt his master show any arousal. It drove him mad, too. Leon could see that, obvious lines of tension in Alec's body when they were together. Still, Leon ignored the plea, until Alec stopped asking, then he just took it.

Really, Leon considered himself lucky. After all, he was a psychopath. He'd been diagnosed when he was in his mid teens. From it, he got many of his talents, though there were some downsides of his condition. He'd learned to fake normality. Body language had been easy enough to perfect. Emotions gave him problems but he adapted.

So, he was very surprised when Alec, under him and gasping for air as Leon screwed the hell out of him, not only cried out for him, but panted out something the reptilian really hadn't been expecting to hear.

I love you Master.

It actually had taken him a few seconds to understand the words. He'd been too wrapped up in the act, the tickle of fur against his scales, the heat of his sub's body. Being a cold blood, being so close to a source of warmth only sparked him on, wound him up. At some point, he lost the distance he'd been maintaining and became absorbed. And then, this heartfelt cry, almost a prayer. It nearly sent him off the bed when he felt a low spark and roll of warmth in his chest in response. That was strange. That was new. He hadn't liked it, but he'd kept control, focus returning and not stopping until his pet had frozen up under him in the throws of orgasm. Then, another surprise… It touched off his own, a growl escaping his throat as his shoulders shuddered once, head bowing. Damn. He'd gotten too involved to maintain proper distance.

Not that Alec seemed to have noticed. Once Leon let his wrists go, Alec had pulled him in and buried his face in one of Leon's shoulders, whimpering his thanks. Leon allowed it, staying there to calm his heartrate, wondering if this had all been a mistake. He stayed away from Alec a week after that, working his ass off, and ended up deciding to keep the arrangement. He had a perfect submissive. Best to dismiss the oddness of the event and move forward.

They stayed that way for a long time. Work got in the way sometimes, and sometimes those they knew did. Alec's coworkers in particular couldn't understand his reluctance to date. He'd never explained the severely alternate lifestyle he was in, and what the hell, Leon couldn't blame him. Telling your coworkers that you had a lover you obeyed implicitly and didn't even know the name of, even after all this time, did tend to give most people the wrong impression. Not that either of them cared. Leon had eventually tiptoed just slightly into the clichés he hated and introduced blindfolds and ropes to the arrangement, and his pet loved it all the more. Hell, once for shits and grins Leon pulled a catburglar move, came in through a window, ambushed his pet in the hallway and fucked him into the carpet. He'd freaked out at first, but the softest word into his ear had relaxed him, going from fear to mad lust in a split second.

Hell, Leon wouldn't have been happier if not for that phrase Alec gasped out sometimes when he was on the knife edge. I love you Master. Leon wasn't sure he liked the sentimentality, couldn't believe it was true, and hated the flutter of response it always instilled in him. What the fuck did he have, a situational heart murmur? He'd eventually gotten a friend to check his heart, and found nothing was wrong.

Then, war loomed. During all this, he'd become a rather good pilot and started doing that for work as well. He was offered a work contract, long term, good money. Carrier escorts at first, nothing big, but possible combat later. He liked the sound of it, from a business and money point it sounded spectacular. Another job for his questionably legal résumé.

He'd accepted and been halfway packed when the reality of it hit him.

Long term contract. Other side of the star system. Possible war. Alec the lawyer.

It was just as well, he'd thought, slowly sitting down on the floor and setting a hand on his torso. His chest had tightened, stomach had rolled. Why was his body reacting this way? This job made sense, and he'd been with Alec far too long. He was still unquestionably the Master, but it felt… normal. It had for a long time. If he'd been smart, he'd have let it go a year maybe before cutting it off. Three years. Three fucking years, and he had to just walk away. He knew, sitting there, that Alec was going to freak out.

And as usual, he was right. His little pet, his slave, his sub burst into hysterics in front of him. He of course understood the prospect of a good job, he'd long since figured out his Master was basically a contract employee, and knew such work was feast and famine. What he didn't understand was how he wasn't even a factor in Leon's work equation. He'd been a good boy. Why didn't he have more impact on this?

And Leon, sitting there, chest in knots and feeling ill, could only shake his head.

That had been their last real night together. He'd violated Alec's trust, destroying any authority he had to dominate. Still, he did say a heartfelt goodbye before he left, and passed him the name of another dominate he knew that had a good reputation. Just in case, he'd added hastily when he saw his pet's gaze turn glacial. Just in case.

Time passed, a war happened, allegiances changed. And now here he was. Leon Powalski. War criminal, pilot of Star Wolf. Lying on a bed in a factory station, tangled in knots again because he couldn't understand why Alec had even bothered to keep his phone number. Yes, he was bad at emotions, but… he'd come to understand he had really, really hurt Alec. Hell, if he'd been hurt that way, people would have died by the time he was done. So why had Alec even called him?

I missed you. I had to call you.

Gods damn it all.

The few hours of sleep Leon got were uncomfortable and restless. Usually he just relaxed and everything faded out. Maybe it was due to his issue, but he never needed much sleep and very rarely dreamed. He slept hard, and woke up like flipping a light switch. This time, that wasn't the case. He woke up achy and stiff, having finally fallen asleep curled up in a ball on his side.

This couldn't go on. Alec calling had been a disruption, and one he had to smooth out so he could continue to function. He took a hot shower to work the kinks out of his muscles and get his blood moving, then repacked his bag, pondering his two phones.

His first call was to Wolf, activating the walkie feature of the phone and hitting autodial. "Hey, Wolf."

A few moments later, Wolf came on. "Hey. What's up?"

"What's our status?"

"Caroso's plane will be ready in ten minutes. I'm already packed, so we'll be heading to the island shortly. You coming with us?"

He rubbed his chin. "Can I get back to you in a few minutes?"

"Sure."

Leon hung up and pondered the business phone again before shoving it in his jacket pocket, picking up the private phone. It took him a while to actually dial the number, because his chest knotted up again and he refused to do it until he calmed again. He wanted to be clear during this. Alec didn't need to know his distress.

The phone rang four times before it was picked up. "H'lo?" Alec sounded a bit weary, Leon checked his watch and realized he may have woken him up.

"Sorry for the lateness of his call, Alec."

"Oh!" Movement on the other end of the line, cloth shuffling and the phone cord rattling. Leon could see it in his mind, the stag in bed holding the old-style white phone, sitting up with the comforter falling away, turning a lamp on. "No, no, sir. I'm… I'm glad you called me back."

He sighed. "Ok, a few things to start with. You don't have to call me 'sir' or 'Master' anymore. I'm not your Master now. Just use my name, alright?"

There was a silence, long enough he thought he'd gotten disconnected, then Alec said, "Alright. I guess that makes sense. It has been a long time."

"Yes, it has. Do you want to talk?"

"Yes."

"Then I'd rather not do it over the phone. As you may have noticed by how much static and echo is on this line… I'm quite a ways away. I'd rather the call not drop mid-sentence." He paused. "Do you trust me enough to speak to me face to face?"

Again, a long pause. "Yes. I don't think you'd hurt me."

"I can't come to Corneria. Do you have any vacation time available?"

"Yes, quite a lot of it actually. Where could we meet?" It didn't take very long to establish meeting constraints. The fringe station Star Wolf was so often at, two Fridays from that day (he needed time to schedule his vacation with his lawfirm partners). Once he'd written down the station ID code and doublechecked it with Leon, what was going to happen sank in. "Leon? Listen, thank you."

"For what?"

"For calling me back… you really had no reason to."

Leon blinked. "And you had no reason to call me, but you did. I betrayed your trust once, Alec. I wasn't going to do so again. I'll see you in two weeks." That said, he hung up, putting the meeting date in his business phone and shouldering his pack, calling Wolf back. "Hey, you still on the station?"

"Getting ready to leave."

"I'll meet you in the docking bay." Pocketing both phones and glancing around the room once more, Leon sighed and headed out. Two weeks. Hopefully he could pull himself fully together in that time period.

The two weeks actually passed quickly. In addition to the under construction base, Wolf put them through some flight drills, wanting the trio to have coordination down before they started any sort of real work. Panther and Leon didn't disagree, and ended up getting along reasonably well. If nothing else, Leon was quite pleased to find out that Panther was a cook, well more of a chef really. During one of their days on the station, he talked Keely the diner owner into letting him in back and cooking dinner for the three. For Leon, that sealed Caroso as an ally. After all, he was the first to admit he was a miserable cook and he was very often hungry.

He told Wolf ahead of time that he'd need the weekend off, and Wolf was fine with it. So, on that Friday he got a room on the station, and went to the arrivals area, sitting in one of the uncomfortable chairs and waiting. The flight from Corneria was on time, and he watched the people come in through the gate. Mostly businessmen, few came to this station for a vacation. It was easy to spot Alec.

It was startling how much the deer had aged in two years. His rack was in, and had gained a set of points since Leon had last seen him. His build had changed as well, he actually seemed skinnier, sort of a runner's build. His hair had grown out, pulled back into a samurai-style ponytail. He was dressed casual, jeans, athletic shoes, a plain black t-shirt and a brown leather jacket.

Once upon a time, this man had been his pet. Now… Leon wasn't sure what to think.

Leon sighed and stood, unfolding himself from the uncomfortable chair and shoving his hands in the pockets of his cargo pants, waiting as Alec paused outside the gate then looked at him. After a moment of staring at each other, Alec slowly walked over, eyes tight with fear, mouth drawn in a worry line. "H-hello, Leon."

He nodded once. "Alec. I imagine you want to talk in private. I have a good place for that."

"Long as it's not a hotel room."

He put up his hands. "You came here to talk. We are going to talk. I am not going to lay a finger on you."

"Since when have you ever had to?" Alec pointed out, going to the baggage carousel and grabbing his duffel bag, shouldering it.

"Considering I'm out of practice, I'd probably have to if I honestly wanted to get a response out of you. You were the last person I dominated over, so it has been a while for me."

The stag blinked, staring at him. "Why tell me that?"

Leon shrugged. "You trust me enough to follow me to someplace we can talk or what? Me saying 'dominated' has everyone within fifteen feet listening to us."

Alec blinked and looked around, catching a few people ducking their heads away in the process. "Uh. Yes. Lead the way."

Leon led the way through the station, changing levels a few times, well aware that Alec was watching him the whole time. With new eyes, probably, he had no doubt that Alec had done some research on him in the last two weeks. His professional resume wasn't all that hard to find if you knew where to look, same with his criminal record. Before, he'd just been Master, a nameless mystery man, now he was someone else.

He shouldered through a pair of doors onto a large observation deck. One wall was a set of windows, showing the ships coming and going and a view of the stars. Scattered around the deck were tables with comfortable chairs surrounding them, and in the middle there was a bar serving drinks. Leon led the way to a table and gestured for Alec to sit, then headed to the bar, coming back with a glass for Alec, and a mug of tea for himself. "I hope you still drink pineapple juice."

Alec gaped at him. "I'm surprised you remember."

He shrugged and sat down, reaching out to the center of the table and hitting a button there. A hazy field came up like a curtain around their seating area, clear enough to see through, but not enough to identify them, and blocking all sound from getting out. "Private enough?"

"Hush field?" Alec pondered the haze. "That'll work."

Leon sat back in his seat, cradling the mug of green tea with both hands. "You contacted me, and said you wanted to talk. So, I think you should lead this conversation."

There was a silence, during which Alec took a drink of his juice, gnawing his lower lip. "This is hard, you understand. We did speak to each other before, but it wasn't really talking. Does that make sense?"

"Yes, it does."

He exhaled and shook off, then looked at Leon, gaze cool. "What do you do for a living?"

"I'm a mercenary. These days, I'm mostly a combat pilot, but I also do ground work. I'm also quite a talented interrogator and torturer."

Alec managed not to shudder. "I notice you make a differentiation."

"They are different. Interrogation is hands off, subtle, cerebral. I actually enjoy interrogation more than torture. I think interrogation requires more finesse. There's something… artful about finding a way for someone to cheerfully give up information without feeling they have to." He took a drink of his tea, considering his words. "It's a honey more than vinegar approach. I've gotten prisoners to end up telling me everything because I took care of hurts put on them by rough guards, or getting them meals they preferred."

"You said you enjoy interrogation more… so, you enjoy torture?" He kept his voice bland, trying to pretend this was a court session and finding that worked.

"Sure. It's creative, direct, but very much not something I do often. I've tortured a total of eight people in my career, which is enough to have a reputation for it." He laughed bitterly, taking another sip of his tea. "I prefer interrogation."

"Your bounty seems to think you've tortured more than eight people."

"You're in tax law, and you trust your government?" Leon lifted an eyebrow.

That brought Alec up short, staring at him for a long moment. "What's wrong with you?"

That made him laugh again. "Oh dearie me. What isn't?"

"That's fairly classic evasion. Just answer the question."

Leon propped his chin on one of his hands, holding his mug with the other, considering how to answer. "Mm. I guess my psych profile is closed to the public, hm?"

"I requested access and was denied." Alec replied, frustrated.

"I'm a diagnosed psychopath."

The stag gaped at him. "Holy shit."

"Yup, and a fairly textbook one. I like to think I'm fairly under control. I know my… issues, and how to manage them. I think I've adapted well to normal society, or as normal as it gets in my business." He tilted his head, watching Alec get flustered. "Yes, you were being topped by a crazy man who hurts people for pay. You didn't know. It's ok."

Alec shuddered in revulsion, then got a hold of himself. "When you took the job for the war, why did you not think about me at all?"

"I don't know."

He gaped. "You don't know?"

"It didn't even occur to me until I was packing, then it…" He stared off. "It hurt. I don't know why it hurt. It hurt when I told you, too. I guess it was just as well. Our relationship went on too long."

"It did?"

"It got normal."

"No, I mean, it hurt?"

Leon blinked at him, and set a hand on his chest. "Tightness, here. I saw a doctor about it, who said I was fine. It went away, after a while."

There was a silence, then Alec shook his head, taking a long drink. "Why the hell did you even pick me? Especially if you thought it wasn't going to last long, you inconsiderate bastard?"

"I didn't intend for any of this to happen." He replied, voice sharp. "It was a chance bump on the sidewalk, for fuck's sake. But… I could see right through you. I could tell you were a professional, but I saw something softer, pliant inside you. And in those seconds on the sidewalk, I wanted you and you wanted what I could give you. It worked out. It was never supposed to last very long, but I let it happen as easy as I could. I could have had you on your knees in minutes. I didn't want that."

"I'm not sure I give a damn what you wanted. Do you have any idea how badly you messed me up?" He stabbed an ice cube with his straw, staring at the table, not looking at Leon anymore. "I cried for a week straight after you walked away from me. I kept it together enough for work, but they knew something was wrong and I couldn't tell them what. Then I'd come home to an empty apartment and just cry like a damn little girl, and get pissed at myself because it wasn't like you were my, y'know, boyfriend or someone actually important."

Leon sat back and stared at him, listening to his tense angry voice, watching the wire-tense body language.

"Pissed that I let myself get so attached to you while you never gave any indication you gave a damn. Pissed that I let you expose me to that fucking kink, sex was never the same again. Pissed that I let you break my fucking heart." He threw his straw across the table, lip curling in a snarl. "What gave you the right to do that to me?"

"You invited me in, Alec. I told you, you could stop it at any time."

"Doesn't mean I was smart enough to." He sat back and crossed his arms, leaving the half-full glass on the table, staring at the table. "You said you haven't dominated anyone since me."

"That is true. There were a few people while I was seeing you, but you were my last real sub."

He looked up, eyes wide. "Wait. You were with other people while you were with me?"

Leon wove an arm. "Not in any way that mattered. They wanted to be dominated and paid me to dominate them. It was one night per person. I never took my clothes off."

"You never told me."

"They didn't matter."

He stared for a long moment. "You really mean that."

"Well, why else would I say it, Alec?"

"Because you're crazy?"

Leon laughed and leaned on his arms on the table, setting his mug down. "Yes, but in my madness, I find no reason to lie to you."

Alec stopped himself from smiling, looking away, fingers rattling the table. "Why'd you stop being a dom?"

"I was never really a professional dominant, and there was sort of a war on. Doesn't mean I wasn't having sex, of course. I had an agreement of mutual satisfaction with a female medic."

"You're bi?"

"I don't give a shit."

"Figures. An agreement of mutual satisfaction? What, upon meeting we both have an orgasm, no strings attached?"

"Spot on. Neither of us wanted emotion, but I was fighting in a war and there is a known connection between sex and violence. I needed to vent, and so did she."

"Are you capable of any emotion?!"

Leon blinked. "I don't know. I do rage pretty good."

Alec groaned and ground his palms into his eyes, fingers curling. "Wow. Just wow."

"You asked."

"I know, I know." He folded his arms again, looking away. "Actually, I broke up with a girl two days before I called you."

"Really. I was wondering what brought that on."

"I had wanted to anyway, it was just kind of the last straw."

"How long were you together?"

Alec gave him a narrow look. "About eight months. She's a paralegal at the firm I work for."

"Which you're a full partner at now."

"Yeah. I hadn't really done anything since… you. I actually did call that guy you gave me the number for…"

"Luther. Actual professional dom."

"Yeah, him. I knew when I met him it wasn't going to work out. He scared the crap out of me. I mean he was nice, then he'd say something about hearing your reputation and by the way can I measure your wrists for cuffs? And when I told him the only thing you'd ever done is tie my arms, he laughed and said I was in for some surprises then." He shuddered and held himself. "I nearly ran out of there."

"Damn it. I tried to tell him you weren't that sort of submissive. Sorry he didn't listen." He shrugged. "Not your fault. So yeah. Life went on. I got less pissed and more lonely. Eventually this paralegal girl, a really cute sheep, asked me to coffee one day. I said sure, why not, and she told me I always seemed sad. We started going out. It was nice, but… not the same. I could tell she wouldn't react well if I told her to pin me down and ride me. Hell, she complained about being rolled on top as much as I did. I mean, I liked her, but…"

"You were unsatisfied."

"Yeah. I guess so. I think she sensed it too because she kept trying little things, as if trying to catch my interest. Hell, she even brought over fuzzy handcuffs once."

"For herself. Oh dear."

"Yeah. Hot pink, fuzzy handcuffs. She didn't find it funny as I did when I promptly cuffed myself in front and had a good laugh at how it looked. They were utter crap too, horribly made." He shook his head. "We still managed to get along though. Then, a few days before I called you, she was over at my place. I was doing laundry and she decided to help by matching socks and putting them away. I didn't think about it until I hear her yelp in the bedroom and she comes out with a coil of hemp rope and a black silk blindfold."

"You kept that stuff?"

He squirmed. "I didn't know what to do with them and that's where everyone hides stuff, right? Back of the sock drawer?" He glared. "You better not be laughing at me."

Leon kept a straight face and finished his tea. "No, not at all."

"So she asks what the hell is rope and a 'scarf' doing in my drawer, and I tell her that they're from past exploits. She gets all giggly, drops the rope, and ties the blindfold on. I froze up. I…" He ground his palms into his eyes again. "I walked over and took it off her, folding it back up, and told her it was a momento of a past relationship. She gets upset, wanting to know who this mystery girl was and if this past girlfriend was better than her. I told her it has nothing to do with her, she says it's not enough, I get pissed and tell her that it was a guy, thanks. She gets all quiet and asks if that's why I'm restless. I tell her it's because I'm not a top and she's trying to make me be one. She leaves."

"And that was it?"

"She told me the next day we could still be friends…" He scoffed and picked up his drink, slugging back the remainder of the juice. "Few days later, I call you."

"Which surprised the hell out of me." Leon shrugged. "As said, you're lucky that number still worked. It only did because I never really had a reason to change it. It's a personal use number and not many people have it."

There was a long silence, during which Alec rubbed his temples and stared across the table at Leon. He hadn't changed much, but knowing so much more about the man made him seem different. He was as immaculate as ever, hardly a wrinkle of his casual clothing seemed out of place, expression composed, eyes half-open. "What happens now?"

The reptilian shrugged. "That would be your call, wouldn't it? I have no idea what you want out of this."

"What do you want?"

That made him hesitate. "I'm fairly certain what I want doesn't matter in this case. You called me. What do you want?"

"I don't even know."

"You know, on the first call you were a totally different man." Leon pondered the inside of his empty mug sourly. "The first call, you were my pet, and I knew how to deal with it. Now, we're just guys with a twisted past."

"Here I thought that you'd be used to that."

"There's little twisted about my past. It's all fairly straightforward, really. Well, to me at least."

Alec shook his head in wonder. "Did you really see a doctor when it hurt breaking it off with me?"

"Yes. A cardiac specialist. You sent me to him a lot actually. I still don't know what the hell you were doing to me." Leon spread his hands, baffled.

"You know, normal people get a tight chest when they're upset." The stag's voice was sharp.

"I wasn't upset. I felt sick, but it was physical."

He blinked a few times. "Wait, when did I send you to a cardiologist before that?"

"You professing emotion did something weird to me. It scared the shit out of me honestly. I nearly fell off the bed. Like a … jolt, and a twist of warmth. I'm cold blooded, I shouldn't be feeling warmth." He kept his voice bland, thinking back.

Alec held his head in his hands, a low hysterical noise escaping him. "Oh, my god. You feel emotion and you can't interpret it."

"Now wait just a damn minute…!"

"I said I loved you and your body responded to it. You broke it off with me and your body responded. But… the rest of you didn't. What… what the fuck. You loved me. You loved me, you prick, and you didn't even know it."

Leon stared at him for a long moment, even more baffled. "It was years ago. What's it matter now?"

"It fucking matters to me!" He slammed his hands on the table, standing up out of the chair and leaning into his palms, fingernails scratching into the table surface. "You changed me, you hurt me, but I still spent the past two years missing you so you are going to help me understand why you did this to me or so help me gods I will get your commander stuck in a tax limbo so bad you won't get paid in the next fucking century!"

He put his hands up in treaty, watching the rage jitter through the stag's body, tighten his face. "Ok, ok, calm down! I'm not going anywhere for a few days. I can get you a room on the station. When you leave, this will be worked out. Ok?"

Alec stood there a while, staring at Leon, and saw nothing but honesty, but then how could he tell if the reptilian was lying? Not that he ever had, that the stag could remember. Leon did exactly what he said he was going to do. Hell, they'd been out in public once years ago, a mall, and a random woman had made the mistake of asking Leon how she looked in an outfit, only to get a completely honest answer. Could he trust Leon? After what happened, knowing that he was little more than a torturer, a monster wearing a really nice mask? He sighed, letting his hands relax and sitting back down heavily, propping his jaw on one hand. "Ok."

"If we're going to continue right this moment, I need a refill. Do you want more juice?"

"Coffee."

"Still take it the same way?" Leon blinked when he was just wove off, standing away from the table and exiting the hush field to bar, stunned.

Alec slouched at the table and rubbed his eyes, letting out a shuddering breath and trying to calm down the rest of the way. He was still sitting there when the hush field, a hazy white curtain, blinked red a few times and shut down. He sat up and looked around, and gaped.

Leon was standing at the bar, calmly stirring his mug with a spoon and looking at the bartender, who was frozen halfway through making a café au late. Standing a few feet away from him was a muscular zebra, who had a gun leveled at him. The bar was a good twenty feet away, so it was hard for Alec to make accurate height estimations, but the zebra looked to be over six feet of weight lifter. Next to him, Leon looked even smaller, a slim muscular wisp of a reptilian in cargo pants and a tank top. That said, it was almost funny that the zebra looked angry and scared, and that Leon was an oasis of calm in the worried meeting hall. No hush fields were up anymore, and most of the people who had been talking were either craning their necks to watch this confrontation or ducked behind or under their tables.

"You know, if you're trying to rob the place, you need to hold up him, not me." Leon finally said, nodding at the bartender, then glancing at said bartender. "No offense." The bartender silently set the café au late on the counter and backed up a few steps to be out of the line of fire.

"I can't believe I found you, you asshole." The zebra replied, hand tensing on the laser pistol.

"Was I the last item on your scavenger hunt?" Leon pondered the contents of his tea mug, set the mug down, and reached out a hand, picking up a few packets of sugar and shaking them to add to the coffee mug. The zebra's gun jumped when he picked up the sugar, but didn't fire.

"Do you have any idea who I am?!" The zebra lowered the gun just slightly, now somewhere between rage and confusion.

"Not a clue. I've never seen you in my life." Leon mixed the sugar into the coffee, then left both mugs there, turning to face his assailant and clasping his hands behind his back.

"Hands where I can see them! I know you can quick draw. I read your file."

Leon sighed and held his hands in front of his chest. "Look, whoever the hell you are. I'm off duty. I am currently dealing with some private business. Can we reschedule this for later?"

"You have got to be shitting me." The zebra chuckled, sort of a sour laugh.

"Not really. I have more important things to worry about than you, whoever you are."

"I'm not going to walk away from you. You tortured my brother!"

"I did?" Leon's voice was so bland it got a few uneasy laughs around the room.

"What, you don't remember?"

"Even if I did, I don't discuss past work contracts."

The zebra snarled, and Alec barely saw what happened next. The laser pistol discharged three times, then there was a zing of silver through the air. Blood sprayed, and the body of the gun wielder fell, Leon standing over him in a defensive stance, a knife in one hand, splattered with blood.

The next few hours were surreal for Alec. Station police arrived just in time to see the zebra go down with both carotid arteries cut. Leon calmly waited for them and turned over the knife, stepping aside for questioning and ignoring the blood drying on himself. The bartender brought him his tea. The entire room agreed that the zebra had attacked and Leon had defended himself with extremely deadly accuracy. The cops were skeptical about Leon getting both arteries on a defensive strike, but the entire thing had been taped from several angles by security cameras. Eventually Alec was drug into the questioning to confirm that yes, he had been here talking with Leon, and that they were old friends catching up.

Eventually the body was moved, the scene was photographed and cleaned, and Leon was told his knife was kept as evidence and asked not to leave the station for a few days. He got a towel from the bartender and new drinks for them both, as Alec's coffee was long cold; stepping over to the table they'd been at, pouring some of his tea on the towel to wipe away the blood.

"I didn't even see you pull the knife." Alec finally said, staring at him.

He took off his tank top and turned, pointing at the sheaths he was wearing. "What the ass didn't realize is that I'm quick draw for blades, not guns." He sighed, working at the blood on his arm.

"So, did you?"

"Did I what?"

"Torture his brother."

He blinked at Alec. "What, you think you're an exception to the rule of not discussing past contracts?" When the stag just snorted, he turned the hush field back on and sat down. "Yes. His brother made the mistake of raping the niece of a Corneria City crime lord."

"A mafiaso?"

"Yes. Naturally they figured out who did it. I was brought in to send a message. I find rape disgusting. I sent the message with extreme prejudice."

He was silent for a long moment. "I… can't get upset about that, and that disturbs me."

Leon smiled and dropped the towel aside. "That means you're normal. Most people can't help but grin when a bad guy gets his just desserts."

"Are you a bad guy?"

"I let other people draw their own conclusions. I follow the money and I do the work that makes me content. If that makes me a bad guy in the eyes of others, so be it. Fuck'em." He took a drink of his tea.

"Son of a bitch. You broke my heart and hurt people for money. Stop being so gods damn likable."

"No promises."