7 – Literature, Visual Arts, and Technology

Kate felt Damon move away from her, and grumbled a protest.

He ran a hand over her hair. “Go back to sleep. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Kate sighed, but lay still. At least, she intended to; a message from her bladder sent her to the bathroom, eyes mostly closed against the sunlight that crept around curtains and blinds. Still not awake, she returned to Damon’s bed and curled up drowsily under the blankets, her thoughts wandering happily through memories of sensations.

Motion near her made her open her eyes.

Damon opened a folding wooden table next to the bed, then retrieved two glasses of orange juice from the dresser and set them on it. “Breakfast, sunshine. Sit up? I’ll be right back.”

Kate yawned hugely, and sat up partway, twisting so she could bunch pillows up behind her to lean against.

Damon returned with two plates, handed her one, and settled himself across from her, legs crossed, holding the other. The oversized and rather ragged T-shirt he wore might have protected him while cooking, but didn’t hide anything; she couldn’t help taking a moment to appreciate the view.

Two fried eggs, bacon, breakfast sausages, toast… and it all smelled delicious. Kate picked up a slice of bacon and took a bite.

“You really didn’t have to do this.”

Damon laughed. “I intend to make sure you eat properly.”

“How much blood did I lose, anyway?”

“Mm, a quarter of a cup, maybe? Under normal conditions, it wouldn’t have even been that much. I’m not exactly underfed, which takes basic hunger out of the equation.” He grinned at her. “It’s been a while, and I was a tad worked up, and if you start messing around with a predator by trying to get away, you take your chances.”

“I’m sure I’ll survive somehow. And if not, it’ll be worth it.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. I’ve found a new hobby, and I’m really looking forward to pursuing it, and I can’t do that unless you’re whole and healthy and happy.”

“Am I going to regret asking what this hobby is?”

“Finding out every single real-life trigger and subconscious association and fun naughty fantasy and dark kinky secret that honestly turns you on​—​not the acceptable things, the ones that make you get all wet and make your heart speed up whether you want them to or not. And trying them all out individually and in every combination I can devise with each other and my own, to see how often I can get you to make sounds like you were last night.”

Kate stopped in the middle of her third bite of egg. “Damon!”

“Of course, it would be easier if you’d just tell me the ones that you already know about, so I have a place to start. Well, no, that’s not true, I already have a pretty solid place to start, but it would still be easier. I can wait, though. Some people are fine with sex as a purely physical thing. Personally, I don’t find that particularly interesting. That,” he tapped a fingertip against the centre of her forehead, “is what makes it work, and makes it go beyond a couple of rabbits humping to make baby bunnies. And I know there’s a lot of you hiding under the surface.”

“And you’re an expert?”

He laughed. “Observant. And tenebrans, full or otherwise, tend to have an early and active​—​and frequently unconventional​—​sex life. Tenebrans usually hit puberty a little later than humans or luminals, but that’s just as well, considering what happens when hormones start triggering that whole sex-hunting-dominance braided thing, cranked up to eleven, with no experience in channelling or controlling it. Riverwood is understanding, generally, but you will definitely hear about it if you overstep reasonable limits, so there’s a very urgent and intense motivation to find safe sorts of outlets.”

“Oh, I bet.”

“And since then, well, I’ve made some friends, had some pretty awesome experiences. Not so much luck with finding anyone I’ve connected to on all levels, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a few things. Like how much I enjoy playing with willing prey that’s enjoying it too, and how intense it can be to give up control to someone I trust, and how there are times and circumstances when a bit of pain isn’t exactly pain, and the mind is one of the two most potent aphrodisiacs in either world.”

“So what’s the other one?” She wondered whether he was close enough to smell her body’s reaction to the images he’d just created in her mind; she did her best to keep her voice casual, and took another bite of sausage to cover.

“The heart. Honestly and deeply loving whoever you’re with. And I don’t mean the Brightside idea of romantic love, I mean Ashdryn’s etanis. Ogaris is family love, for parents, children, siblings, whatever. Etanis is love of a mate or a good friend, anyone you have a real emotional bond with.” He smiled, and ran a hand gently down her cheek. “Ema etanta ser, sunshine. Combine body and mind and heart and you get magic.”

Etanis,” Kate echoed, and rolled her eyes. What sounded musical and fluid when Damon said it, came out flat and hard when she tried. “Ashdryn doesn’t seem to be any easier than Tenebran for getting the pronunciation right, you know that, right?”

“There are definitely differences between the two. I can manage passably in Tenebran, mostly due to my mom’s parents, but Ashdryn and English are by far what I’m more used to. Ashdryn is, I’ve been told, easier. Much less tonal nuance. Which makes sense, since that would’ve been a headache for the original hydrans and luminals. At the suggestion of someone who learned it late, we taught Clea and the others by teaching them songs to start with, and went from there. It actually worked quite well. We can work on that, if you want to add it to your language collection.”

“Oh good god, I definitely can’t sing.”

Damon gave her a sceptical look. “You seriously want me to believe that you couldn’t even learn the Ashdryn equivalent of Frère Jacques? Silly girl.” He shook his head in teasing exasperation. “So. Do we have a plan for today?”

“You didn’t get that website done yesterday, so you need to work on that.”

“That’ll only take a couple of hours. It’s Saturday, Magda might want to actually see you, so you can reassure her I haven’t dragged you off and done evil things to you. At least, unwillingly.”

“It’s Saturday? I am so out of sync with everything. That would be awesome. I want to get my stuff together, too.” She scooped a last bite of egg onto her fork with her toast, and snuck a look at him. “At least, if I’m staying here.”

“I thought I made this clear. Maybe not. Let’s try again. I am very much hoping that you are going to be sleeping​—​and other things​—​right here in this bed with me. If you choose otherwise, the guest room is there for you to use. Okay?”

“Just checking. I don’t really have that much. A furnished room came with the job in Tullovar. My parents have the books and such, all I brought was clothes and basics. It won’t take long to pack up. Magda’s probably wondering what’s going on. Work first, though, before anything else. I will not let you use me as an excuse for not getting things done.”

“Anything you command, milady. Hm, and I know a way to keep you from getting bored while I’m doing that.” While Kate finished devouring her breakfast, Damon scanned the contents of the bookcase unit against one wall, choosing books.

In one of Damon’s considerable collection of promotional computer-related T-shirts, Kate chased him off to get started, and left him to it while she cleaned up the kitchen and washed the dishes from breakfast and from the delicious steak dinner he’d made the previous night before they’d gone out. She could see a lot of meat in her future​—​though she was grateful she didn’t have to eat it as rare as Damon preferred​—​and she was going to have to be careful to balance that with enough vegetables and fruits and grains for human biology. For that matter, they were going to have to try to work out a sleep and meal schedule. This had the potential to get complicated, but that seemed a small price to pay. Others had done it, over and over, including Damon’s parents, and it must have been even harder for a human and a full tenebran. As far as she could see, Damon was quite aware of those possible complications, which would help.

Dishes done, she returned to the living room, and found Damon intent on whatever he was doing on his computer. She found the books he’d chosen from the bedroom on the folded-out futon, a clear invitation, and when she discovered that they all had Clea​—​just ‘Clea’, no surname​—​listed as author, she made herself comfortable to investigate. No lights on, of course, but there was ample sunlight falling across the futon from the gap in the curtains covering the patio doors.

Damon’s hand around her wrist made her jump, jolted sharply back to her surroundings. She blushed when she realized that the hand he’d seized had been stroking between her legs.

“Enjoying, I see,” Damon said in amusement. “Don’t wear yourself out all alone, sunshine, I’d be more than happy to help with that once I get this last bit of code sorted out.”

“I, um, I was so into the stories and the photos I didn’t know I was…” Her blush deepened.

“Hm. I believe I know a way to keep that from happening without interfering with appreciating the books.” He released her hand and left in the direction of the bedroom; Kate sat up, legs crossed, wondering what he was doing.

Damon returned with his hands full of chain and sat down beside her. “Bad girl,” he said, tapping her playfully on the tip of her nose. “Too impatient. It’ll be more fun for both of us if you restrain yourself. But I can help with that.” One of the chains was a heavy dog’s choker; he draped it around the back of her neck so the two rings were at the front, then threaded a second chain through the rings. She felt something cold in his hand when he took hers and raised it into reach; he wrapped one end of the second chain around her wrist, and let go of her hand to show a small padlock. He met her eyes with a smile, and said, “Red, yellow, green?”

“Where are the keys?”

“One set in the bedroom on the dresser, one set in my desk drawer in a sealed envelope as a backup, and Clea has one set in case of emergency.”

She wasn’t quite sure why, but she said, “Green.”

Damon slid the lock through two loops of the chain, closing it around her wrist​—​not tightly enough to be uncomfortable, but she wasn’t going to be able to get it over her hand. Carefully, he untwisted the chain and looped it around the other wrist, locking it as well. Taking her hand, he drew it towards him, so the chain rattled through the rings in the choker, then lowered it; even with her other hand pulled up short against the choker, she couldn’t get much past her waist.

Which, she discovered, also meant she couldn’t pull down the T-shirt any more.

Damon used the chains to bring her closer for a gentle kiss. “Clea’s very good, isn’t she? Have fun.” He gave her a teasing wink, and went back to his computer.

Finding a comfortable position for reading with the chains on turned out to be trickier than she’d expected; she finally got herself arranged lying on her stomach with the book she was looking at propped against a pillow in front of her, facing towards the patio doors.

“That,” Damon observed from across the room, “is a gorgeous image.” Kate looked his way, and found him watching her with an appreciative smile.

“Get back to work, you. No getting distracted.” Still, she couldn’t deny feeling rather pleased.

“I know, but man, with a distraction like that…” He sighed dramatically, and spun his chair back around to do whatever he was doing.

The weight and jingle of the chains, even once they warmed to her body temperature, added something odd but hard to define to the stories and photo sessions. Some of the books were nothing but photos, done in series so each set created a dynamic situation; one had Clea in nothing but scanty silver mail, clearly some kind of priestess, with a petite brunette human woman bound on a stone altar, her white clothing cut away with a dagger and used to gag and blindfold her. Most of the series set up scenes and implied a great deal, yet there really wasn’t much in them that was explicitly sexual. Some involved other women with animal traits: a tufted-eared tawny cat she thought might be a caracal, a stripey chipmunk, an otter slipping in and out of water, a skunk with a remarkable plumed tail, one who must be a sugar glider or a colugo or some other glider, one woman with sleek raven-black feathers. Did the heavy slant towards mammals mean those crossings had been more viable? Other guest models were human, luminal, tenebran, hydran, and a couple had shapeshifters in both forms.

In the other books, each story had at least one photo illustrating it, often two or three.

She found herself on what she quickly identified as a vampire story. On the next page was a photo; Kate blinked, took a closer look. The face wasn’t quite visible, hidden by the slanted shadow presumably keeping him out of direct sunlight and by the position, sitting with arms across raised knees and head bowed, but she recognized the red-eyed silver dragon bracelet circling his near wrist, pushed up his arm a bit by the metal cuffs chaining him to the stone wall. The black leather pants and black vest looked largely intact, but the white dress shirt had suffered some serious abuse. Clea appeared to be watching him, at an angle that put her halfway in silhouette but still showed the skin-hugging glossy scarlet ​pants and tank-top that accentuated her shape wonderfully. Kate wondered what it felt like, wearing something that fit like a second skin, all shiny and sleek.

She turned the page, and found a second photo: he was kneeling, now, facing away from the camera, shirt and vest gone altogether along with the dragon bracelet, wrists bound behind with dark leather cuffs that looked designed less for appearance and more to make escape impossible, linked with a metal clasp of some sort. Clea was kneeling in front of him, supporting him so he could reach her throat, and given Clea’s blissful expression, Kate wouldn’t have been willing to bet he wasn’t biting her for real. Two details were both disturbing and weirdly arousing: an obviously heavy metal collar an inch wide ringed his throat, with a chain running from it to a bolt in the stone wall, underlining who was in control of the situation, and thin red stripes crisscrossed his back.

She hadn’t realized he had a tattoo: a dark-red-and-black rose in full bloom, in the centre of his upper back, with two rosebuds, one just beginning to open, below and to either side. The thorny stems were braided together and ran down much of his spine. It covered a fair bit of skin, and must have taken a while to complete. It created an odd effect with the thin web of red.

She went back to the beginning of the story, but this time, she was unable to keep from visualizing the distinctly non-tenebran vampire of the story​ ​as Damon, and more than once she found her hand coming up short against the chain without realizing she’d moved.

When she finished that story, she paused to take a deep breath and let herself cool off a little; she was certain she’d leave a wet spot on the futon if she sat up. She pushed her hair back out of her way, and squeaked in surprise to find Damon sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the futon, watching her with that mischievous grin.

“How long have you been sitting there?”

“Not very long. I didn’t have the heart to interrupt.” He got up and stretched out next to her on the futon. “You were just enjoying that way too much for me to wreck it for you.”

Kate groped around mentally for a response to that. “You didn’t mention that you were in any of these.”

“Occasionally. That one’s from something like two years ago.” He folded one arm to use as a pillow, so he could lie on his side and still see her face. “Clea’s an evil wench, sometimes. She told me, a couple of hours of helping her with shots for a vampire story, then we could have supper and just hang out. She waited until after the chains were on to tell me that a couple of our friends were there and had volunteered to help me get in the right mood. Evaric’s a warg, and Tamsen is his human mate, and bloody hell, those two could make a marble statue beg for mercy.” He laughed. “I suppose I could have safeworded, but where’s the fun in that? No one there would ever have let me get hurt, so…” He shrugged.

“What about your back?”

“I don’t tend to be a big fan of pain, but I had so much adrenaline and endorphins in my system by then, I hardly felt it, and at that point it’s not quite pain. The flogger Tamsen used was extremely light, and by the time I came down enough to be aware of it, it was mostly gone. All three know where my limits are, and they’d never cross that line.” He ran the fingers of his free hand gently down the side of her face, dark eyebrows drawn down in concern she was certain was genuine. “You look scared, angel. What’s wrong? It isn’t the idea of bondage or playing games, as such, I think. If it is, I’m going to feel really terrible about last night. You’ve been enjoying, so I don’t think you’re scandalized I’m in one of Clea’s books​—​are you?” Kate shook her head mutely, wondering how she was ever going to verbalize what was in her mind. “You know they didn’t really do anything wrong or force me into anything or hurt me, right? That I could have walked away any time?” Kate nodded. “Help me out here, before I run out of guesses or make one that makes you angry.”

Kate took a deep breath, wrapping words around the mental chaos to bring it under control and name it. “I’m not scared, exactly, or maybe I am a bit, but it sounds stupid even to me.”

“I promise not to think it’s stupid. I promise, Kate. Tell me.”

If she couldn’t tell Damon the truth, then this was going to be like every other relationship she’d had​—​unsatisfying and ultimately a relief when it ended. “While you were doing this, I was in Tullovar wrestling with the so-called filing system of the early city records and rebinding volumes that were falling apart. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone I trusted that much who wouldn’t be shocked by the idea. I think I’m sort of sad and sort of jealous. And maybe a little a bit worried about how much so.”

Damon moved the arm under his head so he could straighten it, and raised the other. “C’mere.” Kate took him up on the invitation to snuggle close, careful of the chains, and Damon wrapped both arms around her. “Anything you want, you can have. I don’t have many hard limits about what I’ll do for a good reason, most of them are safety issues, and you are a very good reason to be willing to experiment. I’m expecting it to be a lot of fun, actually, that’s why I have my new hobby. Anything I don’t know or can’t do for some reason, Clea or I are almost guaranteed to know someone who can help. No one will think there’s anything wrong with you for anything you have lurking in that wonderful complex mind of yours. There isn’t anything to be scared of, inside or outside. You aren’t sick or crazy, and everyone Clea and I associate with understands fantasy versus reality and respects boundaries and makes sure it stays a fun game for everyone involved. Sunshine, you’ve had no one around you who appreciated or understood you for way too long, and that’s a tragic thing, but it’s over.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Don’t read them as something you can only dream about. Think of it as research material and inspiration.” He chuckled. “Including that one. We did it in Clea’s basement, and I have no doubt all the chains are still around. Either way, chain up and terribly abuse the evil vamp, or get chained up and terribly abused. Or both. I can think of at least three couples, in varying gender combos, who would be perfectly happy to chain us both up, which could be an interesting twist. Tell me what you know and we’ll figure out the rest together. Okay?”

“You’re too amazing to be real,” Kate said, eyes closed, her head against his shoulder.

“You keep that particular delusion, and maybe you’ll stay around the crazy vamp computer geek longer.” He let go enough to tilt her head up with a hand under her chin, so he could kiss her. “A long time, I hope.”

“I don’t think I’m going anywhere.”

“Except to Magda’s to get your stuff, maybe after a shower. Together?”

Kate nodded. “And sometime you can show me the rest of the pictures that go with these ones. No way are there only two, and I bet you have them.”

“I have everything. All the pictures from every shoot she’s done. I’ll find you the rest of this set later.”

They untangled and headed for the bathroom; on the way, Damon ducked into the bedroom to retrieve the small keys and remove the chains.

“Don’t look so disappointed,” he teased, leaving them on the bed. “You can have them back later.”

The hot water felt good. Damon washing her felt better, as did his body under her hands. It also gave her the opportunity to take a closer look at the tattoo down his back; he obligingly turned and held still while she traced it with a fingertip.

“That’s beautiful. But I bet it hurt.”

“Mmm, yes, but pain’s not an absolute. And it’s worth it, even if it took multiple sessions. I got it done years ago, sometimes I forget it’s even there.”

She didn’t have much here by way of clothes, so for the time being, she put the turquoise-and-rose pants and tunic back on that she’d worn yesterday​—​which felt like a century ago. Damon, unsurprisingly, was wearing black: rather faded and well-worn jeans, and a T-shirt with the Moons of Uranus logo and name.

“We should probably stop at the grocery store and the butcher shop on the way back,” Damon said thoughtfully, on the way down to the car. “My usual diet could make you awfully sick after a while, you’re less carnivorous. Losing small amounts of blood won’t do you any harm as long as you’re eating right. Sorry if I sound paranoid, but I really don’t want you having any health problems because of me. Especially since it’s avoidable. My dad’s been living quite safely with my mom for forty-odd years.”

“It’s okay. You know more about it than I do. I suppose I could find the nearest library and do some research on how much blood can be safely lost and how quickly the average body can replace it and what diet is best for that…”

“The average person has give or take five litres of blood, and can lose up to fifteen percent of that with no real harm.” Damon unlocked the car with the remote on his keyring, and circled around to the driver’s side; he paused in speaking until they were both in the car. “That’s about seven hundred fifty milliliters. Normally, it would take eleven or twelve weeks to replace entirely. Tenebran saliva triggers most human bodies to make more, more quickly, so about eight weeks. More typical amount during sex with a well-fed tenebran is maybe about twenty-five, it would take at least thirty times that, all within too short a time for your body to catch up, to get near safe limits. And quite honestly, a litre or so of blood that fast short of actually starving… just no. Even for full tenebrans, it’s only supposed to supplement meat. Or is that way more detail than you actually wanted?”

“Actually, it’s kinda nice to know that you know that much.”

“I’d definitely taste the difference if you were at all anemic. Most humans, their body adjusts eventually and just increases normal production to compensate, but that can take a bit of time. Making sure you’re safe is a very high priority.” He flashed her a grin. “Think of it as safe sex, tenebran version. Just as important to know about as pregnancy and disease. Also not cutting off circulation when tying someone up, and things like that.”

“Useful practical knowledge.”

“As for what to eat​—​healthy balanced diet, with enough iron. Back to what I was originally getting at… groceries on the way back, but there’s also a few things I need to do. Computer store, getting the apartment keys copied, a couple other things. I can take care of that while you’re with Magda, if you don’t mind. A couple of stops for food on the way home, and we won’t have to go out for the rest of the weekend. Or longer. We can turn off the phone ringer and forget the rest of the world exists.”

“Sounds wonderful.” The errands might well be real, but she suspected that it was also just being thoughtful, allowing her time alone with Magda. “Sure, that’s fine. Are you going to just come back after a bit?”

“Magda has my number, if you’re done before I get back, you can call me. I should actually write down the address and phone number for you, in case you need them. And look at setting up a phone for you, if you’re staying Brightside. It might be a second-hand one for the moment, but it’s a start.”

“Six years ago, cellphones were common but not universal,” Kate reflected. “And I think the Internet’s taken over even more. I got left behind by technology at some point.”

“Another way I can be useful so you’ll put up with me,” Damon laughed.

“How do I convince you to put up with me, then?”

“Mm, I’ll think of something, I’m sure.” He glanced sideways at her, grinned, and licked his lips.

“If you weren’t driving…” Kate said, in mock threat.

Not long after, they parked at Magda’s, and Kate unlocked the building door. Three floors up, she knocked on Magda’s apartment door, then unlocked it, opening it slowly. “Magda?”

“Hey, you remembered where I live!” Magda called back. She met them in the living room, and gave Kate a hug while Damon closed the apartment door. “Going out for supper takes three days, huh? If you were with almost anyone else, I would’ve been starting to worry whether you were safe.”

“Thank you for the faith,” Damon said, crossing the room towards the phone and the notebook next to it. He picked up the notebook and started writing on it.

“So why do I think you have something to tell me?” Magda settled herself on the couch, feet tucked up under her.

“I’m going to stay at Damon’s,” Kate said. “You can have your couch back and stop tiptoeing in the morning.”

“You aren’t in the way, it’s nice to actually get a chance to see you before you disappear off to another Darkside job and we’re back to occasional letters.”

“I think I’m going to try to find something here. Even if it isn’t exactly my speciality.” She couldn’t quite keep her gaze from flickering to Damon, and knew Magda would spot it. “I don’t think I’m in any hurry to go back to being alone except for books.”

“Well, hallelujah, finally! So it took Damon three days to make you see what I’ve been trying to get across to you for years, must’ve been one hell of a crash course.”

Damon laid the notepad back by the phone. “I think that’s my cue to disappear. If I’m not back by the time you’re ready to go, just call me.” He gave Kate a gentle kiss on her lips, then a brief and playful one on the side of her throat. “See you two in a bit.”

“Get over here,” Magda commanded Kate, as the door shut. “Talk to me. What happened to, ‘I’m not going to sleep with him, no way, not going to happen, nope no chance’?”

Kate left out a few things​—​she wasn’t sure how Magda would feel about the games with the blood-red scarf and the chains, or whether she knew Clea’s history or occupation. And she was not, ever, going to share that moment down by the water with anyone. She told Magda the rest, though: supper, walk, movie, falling asleep, unappealing job possibilities, the mall, movie, cuddling and playing without sex, the relatively quiet day, Absinthe last night…

“Awesome,” Magda said in satisfaction. “It would be wonderful to see you actually living like a healthy woman, instead of like a cloistered nun. I’m sure something will turn up locally to give you something to do and some money. In and around that and making up for half a lifetime of living like a hermit, try to find a little time eventually that we can hang out, okay?”

“Of course I will!”

“Good. C’mon, I’ll help you get your stuff packed up.”

Together, it didn’t take long, but instead of calling Damon, they spent the time talking until the door intercom buzzed. Magda got up to press the button.


“Milady Kate’s private car is here.” Unmistakably Damon’s teasing voice.

“Then come help her with her luggage.” Magda pressed the button to open the door.

A moment later, Damon tapped on the door and came in. “Everyone decent?”

“More decent than you want, less decent than the rest of the world would approve of,” Magda said.

“Can’t have everything,” Damon said philosophically.

Kate couldn’t help it: when she saw Damon, she felt herself smile, a tangle of pleasant emotions she couldn’t name surging through her.

“See that smile right there?” Magda said. “You keep her smiling like that. Got it?”

Kate blinked, and looked at Magda quizzically; Damon only grinned and swept the half-luminal a bow. “I have every intention of devoting myself entirely to doing so, milady.”

As Kate had said, she really didn’t have much with her, only her larger leather pack and a rectangular leather bag that held some books and papers she wanted to keep handy​—​including the sheet with Damon’s address and phone number on it​—​and her cloak and the shoes not already at Damon’s. She and Damon gathered it all up easily.

Magda gave Kate a final hug, then Damon. “You take good care of my Kate,” she said sternly, “or you’ll be answering to me. Got it?”

“Absolutely,” Damon assured her, and gave her a kiss on her cheek before letting go. “Good god, Magda, we aren’t going to the depths of the Australian Outback or one of the hydran islands or something. It takes all of ten minutes to drive back and forth, and there are wonderful inventions called telephones and email.”

“I’m not sending private messages to Kate through your email, m’boy!”

“You won’t have to, I’ll set up an account for her and show her how to use it.”

“I am right here, people,” Kate said, but with no particular force.

“But we aren’t right here any longer,” Damon said cheerfully. “Later, Magda.”

Much later, Kate and Damon arrived home with a considerable load of groceries and a couple of bags with computer store logos on them. It took a bit of time and creativity to arrange things in the kitchen to allow a much wider range of foods. That done, they collapsed on the folded-out futon, just to cuddle for a few minutes and figure out what to do next.

“You could take over the second bedroom as your own space,” Damon suggested. “Just so you can have a place to go if you want to be by yourself for a bit. You’ve been alone a lot, and a sudden total change could be hard.”

“Not a bad plan,” Kate said slowly. “Although if someone else needs a place to sleep, they can still use it, of course, because I’d rather be sleeping with you.”

“I certainly hope so. There’s room in either for your clothes, it’s your choice.”

“I’ll figure that out later, they’re fine where they are for right now. It’s been a busy day, time for a break. Something to drink and a quick snack.”

“Hm, that sounds good. I’m actually starting to get a bit hungry. Tell you what. You grab that, and I’ll find my laptop for you and dig around on my computer and find the rest of those pictures I promised to show you.”

“Deal, but you’ll have to show me what to do to see them. I warn you, I really truly know nothing and I’m going to drive you crazy.”

“Everyone starts somewhere.”

While mixing a couple of cans of tuna with mayo and spreading the result on bread, Kate heard Damon at the table just outside the kitchen; she glanced back and saw him sit down and flip open a laptop that was much more streamlined than the ones she recalled seeing.

She finished the plateful of sandwiches and set them on the table, returning with two glasses of freshly-mixed grape juice, before she sat down. “So, what do I need to know?”

Damon turned the laptop far enough that she could reach it, and picked up half a sandwich. “Keyboard is pretty obvious. The rectangle below it is called a touchpad, but a mouse is probably going to be easier to get used to.” He moved the mouse over into her reach. “This is a pretty basic one. Two buttons and a wheel. When you move the mouse, the cursor, that’s the arrow on the screen, moves. Click means press the left button once. Double-click means press the left button twice fast. Click and drag means you hold the left button down while you move the mouse. Right-click means you press the right button once.”

“Left unless told otherwise, once unless told otherwise, drag is hold and move. Got it.”

“Files are things like individual images or documents. They’re organized into folders, which can be inside other folders.”

“Like sorting books into the right room, the right bookcase, the right shelf?”

“Exactly, but there are lots of types of files. Programs are sets of instructions on what to do, and different programs allow you to use files of different types. Right now, we’re going to do image files. Digital photographs.”

He walked her through accessing the file manager and navigating through folders. In one that was named ‘Clea’s books’ there were lots of those folder symbols, and under each was a brief description. One said, ‘Op Con​—​vampire’, and since the vampire story had been titled ‘Operant Conditioning’, she moved the arrow to it and clicked twice.

“You’ll have this mastered in no time,” Damon said. “Double-click on the first file.”

That made a larger version of the picture open. Damon showed her how to make it fill the entire screen, and where the arrow keys were so she could go back and forth, and how to make it small again if she chose to. He also showed her how hovering over some things made handy little explanations appear briefly, and how to get back to the folder that had the folders of pictures in it.

“Think you’ve got it?”

“I think so. This bit’s not so complicated.”

“It’s all just learning bits, which mostly aren’t all that hard, and then how to fit them together. I can teach you the basics, I’ve done it lots of times for Darksiders, and anything you might need for a specific job. For right now, have fun looking at pictures, sunshine. When you’re done, you don’t need to worry about turning it off, it’ll shut down by itself if it isn’t used for twenty minutes. Ask if you have any questions, okay? Even if you think they’re silly.”

“All right.”

Damon stood up, moved around the table so he could lean down and steal a kiss, took another half a sandwich and his cup, and left her alone. She heard him sit at his desk, heard the bags of new stuff rattling, and turned her attention to the fascinating photographs.

There were more of Damon chained and sitting half in shadow, with variations in his position and Clea’s and the angles of light and camera. Then two new figures appeared: a curvy fair-skinned woman with long red hair drawn into a sleek tail high on her head, in a midnight-blue and black brocade dress, the corset part laced tightly, the skirt loose but very short and showing off her knee-height high-heeled midnight-blue boots; a fairly muscular deeply-tanned man with short shaggy dirty-blonde hair, in shiny black pants with zippers all the way up both outer legs and black boots and a shiny black tank-top that fit like another layer of skin. Damon was resisting, but clearly not much, and expressions were mischievous on the part of the new pair and a mix of anticipation and protest on Damon’s. Damon had told her their names​—​Tamsen and Evaric. They never let him free for an instant, but within a very few pictures they had his vest off, and his wrists in those dark leather cuffs instead of the metal ones and bound over his head to a pair of chains hanging from the ceiling.

She wasn’t sure what to expect. What did surprise her was that, while they literally tore the already damaged white shirt off, they left his pants and boots alone. Stroking through the leather was apparently fair game, however, as was anything above the waist. They seemed to keep swapping between sensations that were clearly pleasant​—​stroking bare-handed, stroking skin with a glove of leather or fur or some soft-looking fabric or something tight and shiny, kissing, pressing full length against him​—​and sensations that were at least uncomfortable​—​Tamsen’s long black nails, gloves that looked like nobbly rubber or coarse scratchy burlap or one that glinted with metal but she couldn’t puzzle it out.

After a dozen shots, they blindfolded him, and no more than half a dozen after that, from alternating they switched to using one of each, pleasant and uncomfortable, at the same time, with no way for Damon to tell which was where or what each was going to do. Whoever was taking the pictures did a really amazing job of catching Damon’s reactions, the increasing tension from the conflicting sensations, including one that she stayed on for some time​—​he had his hands wrapped around the chains, his back arched and his head back, hair and skin both damp with sweat, while Tamsen was behind him with that glove with the metal glints, Evaric in front of him with one hand cupped around Damon’s cheek and the other in the midst of running down his chest, with no glove.

What she could see, in the few shots that included Tamsen and a short whip with many wide tails, looked less like pain and more like ecstacy. That was going to take a bit of re-evaluation, but with evidence and information available, she thought she could do that.

By the time the pair unlocked Damon’s wrists from the chains, she rather expected what happened in the very next shot: he was kneeling where he’d been standing, head bowed, completely unresisting while Evaric linked the cuffs together. With the blindfold removed, his expression was clearer, a kind of peace and acceptance while Tamsen added the metal collar. After one more picture of Tamsen kissing him with apparent gentleness, there were a number that had Clea on her knees with him, variations in angle and exact position.

There were a couple of final pictures in which Damon was free, and Tamsen was steadying a cup for him to drink from, while Clea’s arm around him gave him something to lean against, and Evaric was behind him with his hands on his shoulders, possibly rubbing​—​having his arms above him and then behind him must be hard on the joints after a bit. It was an unexpectedly intimate image. Some of the earlier images had sent surges of arousal through her, she was absolutely certain she was extremely wet, and triggered that sense of wanting all over again, but the final ones increased that wanting even more without it being exactly sexual. She sat still for a long moment, thinking.

Well, at least Damon would understand the hunger inside that she’d never been able to feed.

Right now, if she’d been in a more convenient position, she’d have had her hand between her legs in response to those pictures.

Continued in Brightside 8, in which we find out just what Damon has been up to while Kate has been exploring digital photography. (Hint: it’s kinky! Are you surprised?)

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