Chapter One: Playgrounds
Floodlights lit the night sky. Mosquitoes buzzing here and there accompanied the thud...thud...swish! of the basketball game. The two men were playing one on one. Sweat poured down both of their faces, and grunts and curses rattled off the side of the house. The net was torn and hung lopsided from the dark red rim. It blew in the gulf breeze as the two men scrambled for the loose ball.
"Foul!" Aaron Chambers yelled as he crashed into the ground. He was becoming well acquainted with the patio and its attractive but painful cement. He figured a few of its newer cracks had to be credited to him and his ass tonight. Levering himself up on what was now his good elbow, Aaron swore that the next time John invited him over for a beer and steaks, he was ditching the sweats and T-shirt and kitting out in full combat gear. Maybe even bring his gun.
"You getting up?" A sneer from the perpetrator above interrupted his thoughts of sweet revenge.
Clutching his freshly skinned elbow in his hand, Aaron glared accusingly up at the man who was supposed to be his best friend, not to mention his occasional lover. The occasional part was going to become a hell of a lot more pronounced if John didn't stand down from kill-mode.
Aaron had known John Castle for nine years. He'd been fucking him for five. He had been more or less in love with the bastard for three. Guess it was about time for one of them to kill the other.
It was even odds as to who would win.
Usually, it was a fairly even match between the men. Both were in their early thirties, John a year older, and both were tremendously fit. John cycled. Aaron ran. Both swam miles in John's pool every week, but that was where the similarities drifted out of sight and vanished altogether.
Aaron had golden brown hair, chocolate eyes, lightly tanned skin, and while he could most likely kill you with his pinkie, he was much more likely to kill you with his grin.
John was dark-haired, fair-skinned, and had green eyes the color of rain-washed moss. He used his extra inch or so of height to intimidate those he couldn't simply outthink. In the end, few men noticed how tall he was.
Gulping several lungfuls of hot summer air, John looked down at his scowling opponent and the wounded arm held piteously out for inspection. He quickly diagnosed the problem. "Crybaby."
"I'm bleeding here." Aaron pointed to a scratch that was going to get more gruesome when he shoved said elbow through John's smirk any second now.
Scoffing at Aaron's antics, John tossed the hard-won basketball between his hands. "Suck it up. Unless I see bone, I don't want to hear it."
"Fine." Aaron pulled himself painfully up. "The paramedics can fill you in."
"Sure," John shrugged, then with a wink added, "Right after..."
Swoosh! went the ball effortlessly through the hoop.
Aaron could only shake his head. Whatever was going on in his friend's head tonight was damned irritating. "You're a bastard, you know that?"
"Learned from the master." John tossed the retrieved ball back to the losing side with a snide smile.
"Sweet-talking me, Doctor?" Aaron forced a chuckle, as he tucked the basketball up safely under his arm and out of the reach of any roaming big-brained maniacs. "You lose a busload of orphans on the table today?"
"Ass," John muttered as he turned to the patio table and the warm bottle of beer it still held for him.
It was rare for John to drink, rarer still for him to drink beer. He was more a top-shelf kind of a guy these days; his propensity for beer guzzling vanished after a particular memorable weekend many years ago. Putting all the warning signs together, Aaron was getting a sick feeling in his gut. Knowing that things had a habit of getting uglier before they got better, he pasted on a smile and joined the good surgeon at the table for a swig of his own beer. "That's Colonel Ass to you," Aaron impatiently reminded. "Or do I have to get my wings out again?"
Aaron expected as much. John could never quite believe that the Air Force had not only kept Aaron around all these years but kept on promoting him, too. Frankly, Aaron didn't get it either, but it was a fucked-up world. The pilot figured he might as well ride the madness until the end.
"So?" Aaron prompted as he bumped his friend's shoulder. "You going to tell me, or just let it eat at you?" John was a hell of a good orthopedic surgeon; his reputation was golden and well earned. Not much rattled him.
John blew out a shaky breath and reluctantly gave it up. "Cerebral aneurysm ruptured as I was closing up."
It was usually something like that. Something his friend, or any doctor for that matter, would have no control over. John, though, liked to wring all the guilt he could out of this kind of situation. "Sorry," Aaron voiced aloud, all the while letting his insides curse up a hell of a storm at the world and its cackling fates. He'd love to give those three bitches a chuckle or two himself.
John busied himself scraping the label off the beer bottle with his thumbnail. It was a focusing tactic Aaron knew well. Experience had taught him to just stand back and let John's oversized brain turn things over and over, and eventually the inevitable gem of wisdom would tumble out.
This time it was a very tiny rock.
"Life," John lamented with soulless green eyes. With that monologue complete, he swallowed down the last of his beer with a noticeable grimace and disappeared back into silence.
Aaron would have been dumbstruck if he wasn't so freaking aggravated. Deep thoughts were supposed to be falling out of his lover's mouth, not cryptic silence. Hell, if John was going to play the strong and silent type, Aaron might as well dive right in and see what the loud and annoying type could shake loose. "As in...'Life's a bitch?' 'Life's a box of sour cherries?'" he suggested, trying desperately to drag his friend at least out of monosyllables. "Or better yet, how about an oldie but a goodie... 'Life sucks'?"
Green eyes met brown and warned of nothing less than desperation. "Yeah," John agreed in a low, graveled voice. "Life sucks, but you know what? Death sucks more." Like an old, broken man, John turned and slowly headed back to their makeshift playground of ball and cement.
Insight hit Aaron like a ball-peen hammer to the knee.
"It's the wrong playground." Aaron cursed himself. He had been an idiot not to see it before.
Leaning tiredly against the side of his house, John asked with a frown, "What'd you say?"
The idea was a calculated risk, but Aaron loved the fool and trusted him more than he did any other soul on this Earth. John needed reminding of that tonight. This would say it all. With a little twinge of excitement in his gut, Aaron headed straight over to John. Shoving the basketball hard into the man's chest, Aaron demanded, "Put me down, John."
"No." The answer was quick and not unexpected. John was anything but easy.
"Come on! Do it." Aaron wasn't beyond being an ass to get his way. "You need the control. Take it."
"What? Here?" At the nod, John added emphatically, "No fucking way." He started to walk away.
"Chicken! Should I cluck for you?" Aaron shouted at his back.
"Well, you are the one with wings, Colonel," John turned and fired back.
"Shut up!" Aaron seethed, stepping right into the man's sneering face. Shoving his finger hard into John's chest with each word, he dared, "Make. Me. Shut. Up."
John shoved Aaron away, and he hit hard against the side of the house. Forcing himself to take a step back, John shook with a barely contained fury as he warned, "Do you have any idea what I could do to you tonight?"
Slowly, deliberately taunting him, Aaron curled his lips into a cocky smile. "Come on, Doc, you know I'd beat you down."
"Shut up!" John growled and rammed Aaron back into the wall again. His forearm held hard and unmoving across Aaron's chest.
Aaron laughed, knowing it would only take one more push. A cruel one. "All talk, no action. No wonder you couldn't save..."
With a roar of utter ferocity, John grabbed the back of Aaron's neck, stared the laughing boy dead in the eye and said, "Fucking fall for me, pet!"
Subspace. It was a playground they had rarely played in, and never without the supervision of those more experienced. Private dungeons in private clubs in far-off cities had been their only option. With Aaron's career and the small-minded rules that governed it, they could never be too careful. While BDSM had always been a part of their sexual relationship, they had only recently experienced this extreme. It had taken work and absolute trust to be granted entrance into such a precious realm.
They had never explored it alone.
That virginity would end tonight.
Oblivion took Aaron without a whimper.
Propping the suddenly weakened body up against the wall, John drank in the sight of submission swallowing a man whole.
Already, Aaron looked well and truly fucked, and put to bed still hard. Tottering before John like a puppet on a drunken man's string, Aaron was a living, breathing wet dream. His whole body thrummed in sultry, unconscious movement. Deep, shuddering breaths riddled his chest, sending strained aftershocks rocking through his abs. His thighs and calves and ass muscles trembled as they bore the weight of a cock throbbing to fullness as it was stunned awake. His lips hung slightly parted, his face was flushed. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, his head rocked from side to side against the house. What little focus his gaze still had was locked unerringly on John, silently begging the man for more words.
"Dropping feels so good, doesn't it?" John expected and received no answer from the stunned man. With long, soft strokes, he petted back Aaron's hair, adding to the hypnotic rhythm of Aaron's smooth and measured fall.
"Drop all the way down," John cooed, the hint of steel he wielded he kept contained in his eyes for now. The descent needed to be eased into its completion, like soft feathers cushioning a man's fall. "Let it all go and just drift for me. Drift far away and into me."
Aaron's dark brown eyes fought the urge to roll up and disappear into the back of his head.
Adrenaline pounded through John's veins. The rush of power in watching this soldier crumble within the palms of John's hands was an exhilaration nothing short of orgasmic. The empowerment was unspeakable, to know the same hands that had lost a woman in the prime of her life today, the same hands that had failed so miserably just hours ago, now reigned absolutely.
And all John wanted was more.
It was that primal hunger for power that destroyed any doubts John might have harbored, and any inhibitions he might have held.
In that singular moment, John truly became Master.
Cupping the wavering Aaron's face in his hand, John trailed his thumb across his mouth as he commanded, "Your mouth, these gorgeous lips, won't speak again. Not a sound, not a whimper. Total silence, my pet, or you will be hooded. If you understand, nod once for me."
There was one nod.
"Strip." John let go, stepped back, and watched.
Achingly slowly, Aaron rid himself of his clothes. It was uncoordinated, unbalanced, and sexy as fucking hell.
Aaron had a magnificent body. All long, lean lines sculpted in smooth, hard muscle. His cock was textbook beauty nestled in sandy brown curls. Half-risen, it awaited command, the pre-come weeping from its tip the only sign of its impatience.
Finally, with eyes black in dazed lust, Aaron stood naked, swaying gently in the breeze. John could feast himself on this vision for a lifetime, but being the bastard he was, he again wanted more.
A switch was thrown somewhere deep inside Aaron's inner workings. One second he was malleable putty struggling to stand, the next he was a soldier frozen at rigid attention. Legs and ankles were bound together by rote. Naked toes pointed outward at precise forty-five-degree angles. Fingers were curled inward to the body, their tips ghosting bare thighs. Elbows and knees were slightly bent, while eyes blank and unmoving stared straight ahead. His whole body seemed to lean forward. No commander could ask more of any minion.
Pleased, John circled the shell that once was his lover Aaron. Every muscle of the statue was taut; the frozen shell hardly seemed to be breathing. "Just as it should be," John spoke to the night. "Obedient and dumb." For the rest of the charmed, darkened hours, Aaron Chambers would be nothing more than a body--a body John now owned and controlled outright.
John Castle nearly came in his fucking pants.
The body simply stood at attention.
"Arch position!" John suddenly barked, a cruel smile twisting his lips.
The position was a simple one: to literally bend over backwards. Only feet and palms would be holding up the bowed body, leaving the penis as an erect offering on an altar of skin.
The incredible thing about a soldier was his flexibility. It wasn't expected. It awed.
In the middle of their makeshift court, Aaron lay down on his back. With hands beside his head, fingers pointed to shoulders, effortlessly it seemed, he raised himself up and into position.
John nearly drooled as he inspected his good boy.
Long, tanned toes strained as they dug into the cement, buttressing the taut bow of the bare, trembling body. In the light of the fair Florida moon, the tiny beads of sweat bejeweled the long, smooth stretches of skin. The tip of John's forefinger ghosted across the tortuously twisting trails of these gems. The skin shivered in the touch's wake. The subtle dance of muscles as the body breathed, quickened, spasmed, then went out of step. The toes clenched tighter. The bow threatened to break.
"It's not easy, is it, pet?" John bent down and whispered in an ear. "Staying so still, so quiet, while your Master does this." A pert, brown nipple was pinched, twisted, pulled and released.
"Or blows on that." A hot breath blew across balls.
"Or bites this." Teeth clamped down and nibbled greedily on the abused, now fiery red nipple.
The body did not even quiver.
"Good boy." John dropped a chaste kiss on the offered navel.
Again, neither a shiver or a shudder.
"My boy gets a reward," With a punishingly slow deliberation, John drew his tongue down a line from his pet's collarbone to his hipbone. He studied the skin as he journeyed across the body. Every pore, every rib, every muscle John memorized for later engagements in this delicious playground of theirs.
As the cusp of the hip was reached, a long, painfully aroused mewl escaped from the back of the body's throat.
John immediately pulled away. "What was that? Was that a noise?" A devilish smile looked down at the now feverishly trembling body. "Yes, I think it was a noise." With an open-handed uppercut at lightning speed, John hit Aaron's ass.
Ten times, the firm, quivering cheeks were mercilessly punished.
Not a noise was made. Only the strained bobbing of an Adam's apple counted the lashings.
"Better," John growled as a hungry gleam grew in his eyes. He knew neither man would last much longer. In greedy anticipation of the feast about to come, he slowly licked his lips, announcing proudly, "Now, it's time for Master's reward."
Laid out before him on a buffet of gently quivering skin, John's meal awaited him with an anxious twitch. Straining out of its nest of musky brown curls, the cock rose to meet its Master's lips. Ever so gently, John cradled the shaft's head within his warm mouth and against his still tongue. For long seconds of no movement but breath, he held the treasure inside him. The taste, the bitter warm tang of the tender skin on a roughened tongue was reward enough for John's senses, but the Master in his subconscious craved more.
John nipped Aaron's foreskin with his careful but hungry teeth.
The gargle of gentled pain was allowed.
Like a cat with its lips firmly encasing a canary, the Master grinned around the captured cock. It was time for dinner.
Quickly, the rhythm of the encounter intensified.
Master deep-throated the penis, sucking its every exposed pore.
Two fingers jutted upwards into the reddened, punished ass and immediately penetrated its hot, hidden hole.
Aaron's body bucked than buckled.
John tightened his teeth around writhing meat as warning.
The body bolted back up, knees and elbows locked again in position.
John laughed around the throated cock, then went in for the kill.
In an assault both merciless and devastating, pleasure was literally wrung out of the pet's body. The prostate was found. It was hit. It was stroked. It was hit again. Again.
The orgasm was inevitable, and ripped through Aaron's body in catastrophic wave after wave.
The Master milked his pet with wanton abandon. Not a drop of come remained in Aaron's body as he finally crumpled unconscious into his lover's arms.
John came with a scream and cried.
The shudders of the spent orgasm slowly ceased, abating into only a delicious memory that John would gather around his shoulders when the world turned cold.
John Castle was warm most days. The passion he had for his career burned brighter every day, it seemed. He lived for the lives he had a hand in saving, and he saved most. There were those, however, whom he lost, like the poor woman today. It was those lost lives, the ones whisked away without warning, without giving him a fair chance to fight for them, that chilled him to the core.
It was in that cold that he doubted. It was in that cold that he panicked. It was in that cold that John knew he had no control.
Closer, tighter, he held Aaron to his chest. It was this control that Aaron had gifted him tonight--had forced down his throat, literally. How could a soul feel anything but warm holding such a heart in his arms?
John looked down at the sleeping face. Aaron would wake in the morning his usual S.O.B. self, but until then the spent bastard was simply angelic. John softly laughed at the absurdity of their lives and their love. He whispered into the sweat-soaked brown hair, "My angel with fighter pilot wings."
In the bushes that lay hidden in the shadows of their playground, a pair of hateful eyes stared.
Only to him were the two gunshots not a surprise.