The Flesh Cartel #11: Permanent Record
Mat and Douglas’s time as Nikolai’s wards is finally drawing to a close. Though torn apart by Nikolai’s machinations, their fates are still inextricably entwined: they’ve been sold to the same cruel master, and are united in their desire to go home. But “home” means two different things to the brothers: for Mat, their little bungalow in Nevada, and for Douglas, a swift return to Nikolai and Roger, the only people he believes still love him.
But first they must survive their new master. Smythe Hall is a twisted island paradise where Americans affect British accents and slaveboys dress up as slave girls, all at the whims of the rich and megalomaniacal Allen Smythe-Kennedy.
Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Nate Johnson can’t let the case of the missing brothers lie. He knows it’s a waste of resources to chase ghosts down a cold trail, but after admiring Mathias “Stonewall” Carmichael ringside and at countless afterparties where he was too shy to say hello, he’s determined to solve the mystery and bring Mat and his little brother home.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Though Douglas’s coming-out party wound down around eleven, Allen stayed well past midnight, mostly toying with Mat while Douglas knelt nearby and drifted, barely conscious of his own body.
When it was all over, when Douglas was alone with Nikolai and Roger again, he began to cry. Weep inconsolably, to be specific. And to vibrate so hard with adrenaline that his teeth chattered.
He knew he should be punished for handling it so badly, but punishment never came. Nikolai murmured to him and shushed him and petted him, and then Roger gathered him up against his hard chest and carried him upstairs.
Again, he drifted, wafting in and out of consciousness, crying all the while. They washed him under the warm, gentle stream of the handheld showerhead. Cleaned him inside, too, until all the filthy cum ran down the drain and he was new again. Drew him a bath. Rubbed his body with soapy, caressing hands. Washed his hair. Kissed him, once or twice, in between his sobs. Toweled him off and carried him to bed.
It felt good to be pressed between them, Roger at his back and Nikolai in front of him, cradling his face in warm, steady hands and kissing at his tears, murmuring “That’s all right,” and “You did so well,” and “Let it out, now.”
When the crying slowed, they fucked him together, two cocks moving in tandem inside him, Roger’s palms tracing tickling patterns over his chest while Nikolai stroked his hair and cupped his neck, and then Douglas turned his face up and the both of them kissed him at once, and kissed each other, too—three sweet, affectionate, lustful tongues tracing each other, and Douglas knew this was where he belonged, and no matter what happened, no matter where he went, he would always have this to keep in his heart and think back on and look forward to, because one day, if he was a Good Boy—maybe not for years, maybe not even for decades—but one day, Nikolai would call him home.
Mat woke to a splitting headache and a whole constellation of soreness and hurts. For one brief, beautiful moment, it was just another post-fight morning, all aches and pains and satisfaction and—if it’d been a particularly good night—a hangover and a temporary bedmate and several thousand extra dollars in his bank account.
But then reality kicked him in the teeth, and the languor vanished in a bright hot burst of pain. Nikolai. Slave. Allen. Dougie. Dougie rap—
He rolled over the side of the bed and retched.
Nothing in his stomach to eject, but that didn’t stop it from trying until he’d managed to wrestle down those nightmare images of him and Dougie—
Wow, Jesus, he really needed to stop thinking.
Tenuous peace with his stomach achieved at last, he rolled onto his back with a groan. Groaned again and curled onto his side when the cane welts Allen had left from calves to shoulders bitched at the pressure. He burrowed under the blankets, shivering as sweat dried on his skin. God, he really was hungover. How was he hungover? He hadn’t had a drop to drink. Yet he couldn’t remember coming back to his room. Couldn’t remember getting clean, though obviously he had; he smelled of soap, not semen. He vaguely recalled Allen forcing half a wine bottle up his ass. Must not’ve been empty. His fists clenched at the sense memory—burning, pain, the vicious sting of alcohol on raw flesh—and his knuckles twinged. Scraped, bruised. Had he hit someone? Something, at least. But he wasn’t tied down now, which meant he probably hadn’t hurt anybody. Or that Nikolai felt they’d deserved it for getting him blind fucking drunk with an alcohol enema.
Or maybe you hurt Dougie and they thought it was funny.
God, he didn’t know how to feel about Dougie anymore. His stomach roiled, but maybe it was just the hangover. Because there was no denying it anymore—part of him was searingly, irrefutably angry with Dougie. Worse than angry. So far beyond merely angry he wasn’t even sure how to process it. Enraged. Disgusted. Shattered.
He tested those feelings for a long moment, let them nestle alongside the throbbing in his head and the ache in his ass and the slicing sting of a hundred cane welts. They felt . . . valid, for starters. Necessary. Important. He wasn’t a bad person for being angry. Wasn’t selfish for not playing the martyr every single fucking second of the day. He wasn’t.
But then, Dougie wasn’t a bad person either. Wasn’t really a person at all anymore, was he? More like a robot, Nikolai’s little programmable fuck toy. He could hardly be faulted for the things he’d done. Mat had seen what happened when Dougie disobeyed—had been forced to watch those horrors for a week straight. He wouldn’t have lasted either if he’d been in Dougie’s shoes.
And he knew that—he knew that. But the anger didn’t fade. The disgust. The betrayal. Feelings weren’t logical. He couldn’t force them to be no matter how hard he tried.
“You love him,” he said to the empty room, the words scraping up and out of his abused throat. He blinked at the wall, shifted his gaze to the family photo on the nightstand, Dougie’s bright smile radiating joy. “You love him.” The words felt more real this time. Stronger. He tried again. “I love him.” He blinked at the photo again, and realized that this time he was blinking back tears. “I love him. No matter what. Always. Forever. He’s my brother and I love him.”
It was true. It was true. Just . . . could he maybe not have to look at him for a while? Not like Dougie wanted to see him anyway. And he needed . . . “Time, that’s all,” he mumbled to the family photo, then put his back to it, curling up on his other side. “I just need some fucking time.”
And like fifty years of therapy. And Nikolai’s head on a fucking pike. Allen’s too, while he was at it.
On impulse he rolled back over and snatched the framed photo off the nightstand. Couldn’t bear to look at it—to look at Dougie, at the happy child he’d once been, at the monster he’d now become, at all the ways Mat had failed him, let him down, let his parents down, let everyone down—so he hugged it to his chest instead, lay there curled around it like somehow protecting it would protect them. It was stupid and sentimental and bullshit and he was furious again, hatred digging claws into his chest and fucking nesting there, right behind his heart, doing its damnedest to squeeze everything else out. His breath hitched, pain and pressure and he was crying again, when had he started crying and why couldn’t he fucking stop? “I’m sorry, Mom,” he choked out, because he was sorry, he was so fucking sorry, but he couldn’t apologize to Dougie, wouldn’t apologize to Dougie, not right now, not with the memory of last night oozing through his brain like some toxic fucking earwig. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for, Mathias.”
Mat was too wrung out and hungover to startle, too sad and shameful to bother trying to hide his tears. He just pressed the photo harder to his chest—as hard as he dared without risking the glass—and said, “Bullshit.”
Nikolai strode across the room, invited himself right onto Mat’s bed. Settled by his hip and placed a hand on one hunched shoulder. Mat let him. He deserved this—this twisted paternal patronizing bullshit, this violation of his space. Deserved this and more for his failure. His anger. His weakness in the face of it.
Nikolai gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. “You’re not to blame for anything that’s happened here, Mathias. Nor for how you feel about it. About him.”
Mat could’ve hugged Nikolai for not speaking Dougie’s name aloud, though how he knew what Mat had been thinking . . . Had Nikolai been eavesdropping via hidden camera? Inferred the truth somehow? Or was Mat simply that fucking transparent to Nikolai now? He could hardly be bothered to care; what did it matter anymore, after all? He was leaving soon. Passing from one monster to the next, a monster himself. With another monster of his own making in tow.
“I hate you,” he meant to say, but the words he tasted on his tongue—the words he somehow spat with such venom—were “I hate him.”
“A not-unreasonable response.” Nikolai said that so matter-of-factly that Mat had to meet his eyes to see if he was mocking him. The man looked dead serious. Downright sympathetic, in fact. The hand on Mat’s shoulder was warm, firm, the thumb stroking a slow, soothing path up and down, up and down.
Mat shrugged out from underneath it, inched back until Nikolai’s hip was no longer touching his thigh. Side-eyed the guy. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
One eyebrow and a corner of Nikolai’s mouth quirked ever so slightly. “Am I?”
“Yes,” Mat huffed, trying not to sound as petulant as he suddenly felt. Whatever—it beat crying like some lost little kid. Or raging at one.
“It’s true we’ve had our differences, but I don’t hate you, you know.”
Differences, huh? Is that what the kids were calling torture these days?
“Have I ever been needlessly cruel to you?” Nikolai tried. “Why would I start now?”
Mat’s fingers tensed around the photograph, half-numb already from how tightly he’d been holding it. “I guess that depends on how you define need.”
Nikolai reached for Mat, and he flinched back, realizing only belatedly that Nikolai was going for the photograph rather than his face. A moment’s halfhearted tug-of-war; Nikolai wasn’t pulling very hard, and Mat, for reasons he’d never be able to explain, just sort of . . . let go.
“What you need now,” Nikolai said, carefully placing the photograph back on the nightstand, turning it to face Mat, “is to accept the fact that your fate, Douglas’s fate, were beyond your control. To accept the fact that you’ve every right to be angry—at the men who procured you, at Madame, at me, and yes, even at Douglas—and that when the burden of your selflessness becomes too heavy to bear, no one will blame you for laying it down for a time. You’ve sacrificed so much here for the one you love above all else. It’s more than anyone could have asked. And now you look at how he’s changed and you think it’s all been for naught, but you’re wrong, Mathias. You saw with your own eyes how happy he is. You gave that to him. You.”
The photograph blurred through a scrim of fresh tears. Mat blinked them away. More replaced them. “I destroyed him,” he whispered.
“And I rebuilt him better than new.” Nikolai’s hand curled around Mat’s shoulder again. Mat half hoped for pain, but the touch was endlessly gentle. “You hate what he’s become because you cannot see what he’s become. The beauty in it. The glory. The purpose. The peace. You cannot have what he has, and though you may not know it, you’re jealous of what he has.”
Bullshit, Mat wanted to say, yet somehow, for some reason, the word got stuck in his throat.
“But you love him for who he was, who he is, no matter what he’s done or what he’ll do. Because he’s your brother. Because he still loves you too—and surely he must, for the fury he feels toward you can come from no other source. All of these things are okay, Mathias. They’re all allowed. None of it makes you a lesser man, or a bad man. You hurt because you care. You hate because you love. You must never forget that.”