Not surprisingly, since I was looking for trouble, I found it quickly. Trouble rested in a small gully that you couldn't see until you came upon it. Trouble was small and dark haired and smiled at me as he sat cross-legged on the ground and stretched his hand in invitation.
His clothes were a dusty brown that blended easily with the landscape. Only his dark eyes and polished boots stood out. If he hadn't chosen to greet me, concealed as he was in the gully's brush, I might have missed him.
"Paz," he said and then, "Coffee?"
I might not be as fast as other men once I was on the ground, but no one should underestimate what I could do if need be. I looked at the man, calculated my chances against him, and swung down from my horse.
"Paz." I looked him over some more once I got close.
I didn't know how old he was. His face looked young except for a few lines around the eyes and a little gray in the hair. He smiled easily, but I couldn't read him.
He handed me a mug. A puckered scar that started on his wrist disappeared into the sleeve of his tightly fitting syntho-sweat. How long or deep it might be was hidden by the clothing, but he'd obviously fought hand to hand himself and survived, despite his size and apparent defenselessness.
I looked at the steaming mug. Maybe it was a gesture of friendliness. Or not. Poison or drugs? I didn't know. It smelled good, felt hot against my cold hands, and would feel even better inside me if it weren't tainted. I gritted my teeth and put it aside. Better not risk it.
"What are you doing here?" I didn't bother to be polite.
"Waiting for you." The man sipped his own drink and didn't hide his amusement. "I figured you'd get here within an hour or so, once I saw the path you decided to take."
"So you were watching?" My gut finally eased. I hadn't been crazy after all.
The man spread his hands out as if the question didn't deserve a spoken answer.
"Why?" I asked.
"Why does anyone?"
"To kill someone. To steal from them. To spy on where they're going." I ticked the reasons off on my fingers. They were all good reasons for me not to smile back at the man whose smile broadened with each finger I held up.
I did anyhow.
"Perhaps the third reason is closest." The man handed his cup to me. "Try this. You look cold."
I hesitated and then sipped it. Warmth spread through my body. I limped a little closer.
"You have no fire. How did you get this?"
"Insulation." The man tapped a small container. "It keeps things hot or cold for a day."
"So you've been following us for a day?" I sipped again. "It's very hot. Less than a day?"
"Good thinking." He stood up.
I blinked. The man came to my shoulder. I could snap him between two hands. This was who I'd been uneasy about? Was this the man I remembered from long ago?
"You were wise to be nervous about drinking anything I gave. Didn't you think I might wish to punish you for your behavior in my compound with my daughter?" There was no smile left in him.
I stared into his eyes and remembered the fear I'd harbored as a young man when he visited. He had always known everything and measured out justice accordingly. The old awe came rushing back when I saw the coldness in his eyes now.
"Once I could think about what I'd done, I thought El Patron Grande would punish me." I held his gaze, even though my hands were sweating. I whispered, "I knew you would. I accepted that."
I put the cup down on the ground and wondered what was inside it. At least my original concern for the others when I saw someone following wasn't necessary. I'd been afraid they'd be hurt because of my actions and our need to run. But no immediate harm would come to Rey or Mosca's daughter. Only me. I was willing to receive whatever I deserved for my stupidity and betrayal of my own people.
Mosca would know exactly what I deserved.
I stood, my hands clasped behind my back, my head down, and waited.
"Idiot." The tone held almost affectionate contempt.
I'd heard people call me that before. Perhaps they were right. I swallowed and said, "Very likely, sir."
"Do you feel anything wrong after the coffee?"
"No." Except for the shaking. "Not from the coffee."
He paced silently.
"I know you, Calle. I knew you as a boy, and I've studied your reports as a man."
I kept my head down. Mosca's boots stopped near my feet.
"You were willing to trade my daughter for Rey. I doubt Rey thanked you for that."
"Yes, I was. And no. No, he didn't." I wanted to explain my jealousy and fear and how the Federistas had played on that, but I knew there was no excuse.
"You want to be punished for that."
"Yes, sir." The misery and shame ate away at me when the old jealousy didn't. But I was where I belonged at last. In front of the right man. Finally I would receive justice without mercy.
I was on my knees before I realized what I meant to do. It felt right--I felt right--after being guilty for too long.
"Calle, you know my reputation."
"When a man is on his knees before me, do you know what happens?"
I looked up at the strange note in his voice. It wasn't that I hadn't heard that tone before. It was only--
"Oh." Yes, I knew his reputation. But I had wanted justice, and Mosca could dispense it. I had forgotten anything else.
His hand reached for his belt.
"Let me, sir." I undid the belt, unhooked it from the pants, and handed it to him.
We waited. I began to breathe heavily. I wasn't sure how the belt would be used, but it wasn't for me to decide what happened next.
He took the leather strip, threaded it against the back of my neck, and with it still half circling my throat, he pulled my head closer to his crotch. "Well, Calle?"
My face flushed. Not with embarrassment. With pure heat.
Very well indeed, sir.
Justice might take a strange turn, but it felt right.
I undid the special fastener on his pants. Lust, not fear--or perhaps both--made me clumsy. When his cock was freed, erect and brushing my lips, I could have cried, for all the good that would have done either of us.
Instead I opened my mouth.
He wasn't gentle. I welcomed the ferocious thrust that half choked me. My own cock was hard, and a few drops of precum were already flowing from just that first swallow. I didn't touch myself. This wasn't for me--or at least sexual relief wasn't what I deserved today. I cupped his balls and thought about how best to service him.
He shuddered when I traced the big vein in his cock with my fingers, where blood pulsed, the cock hard and warm under my hand. Soft. Velvet-soft skin, hard cock, the salt of precum on my tongue. I shut my eyes and let myself sense what he wanted before he wanted it.
I licked the drops of precum first, flicking my tongue against his slit. His cock twitched, and then I began sucking, hard.
He cursed, so softly and in such a jumble of languages that I couldn't understand the words. The buzz in my ears didn't help. I could sense his excitement, though, and I tipped my head a little to fully swallow his length.
It wasn't easy, and it wasn't quick. I didn't expect it to be.
My jaw ached by the time the first jets of liquid hit the back of my throat. I gulped and clutched the backs of his knees to stay upright long enough to take it all.
When he stepped back, his cock drained, I was almost as satisfied as if I had come myself. I'd done penance. It might not be enough to ease the pain in my balls, but what I had done for El Patron brought its own relief. Any pain I received brought even more satisfaction.
Whatever he wanted, however he wanted it, would be my punishment and my reward.
I got to my feet again and looked at Mosca. "Do you need more, sir? Or should I go?"
I rubbed my bad leg, the one shooting twinges of fire through my body. Either staying here on my knees or walking over to the horse was going to hurt. But it still wasn't my decision.
"You're very obedient." Mosca had already redone his pants and was looping his belt back in place. "That's not what I've heard about you."
"Not outside of bed, no." Not doing what was expected had almost destroyed me and everything around me. I should be happy to obey from now on, but some small demon inside made me say, "I only obey there because I like to."
Mosca paused while tightening his belt. He gave one quick half smile and nodded. "Point taken. I'm to watch you outside of bed, then."
I usually never find the words to say anything I'm thinking, good or bad. Whatever had taken hold of me prompted me to say next, "It would be my very great pleasure and honor for you to watch me, sir--inside or outside of bed."
Smile gone, El Patron looked me over but chose not to respond.
I swallowed and wished I'd stayed slow of speech when it would've finally been smart to be quiet.
Mosca reached to pull over his personal hover and activate it. He mounted it, still ignoring me. But as it hummed a few inches from the ground, he finally said, "Tell Traven you can make it by tonight if you hurry. The gates still shut at nightfall, and no one is allowed in or out. Use the north gate when you ask for me."
It wasn't so very different from the compound, then. That was almost comforting.
I nodded my head, although he didn't wait for an answer before making a neat swoop in the air, heading, presumably, for the safety of the city and leaving me to throw my hurting leg over my horse and ride back as best I could.
Even though I watched, he didn't look back.