Rough Canvas
Chapter Twenty-Two

 Joey W. Hill

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As Thomas chuckled and rose, offering his mother a hand up, the cell phone Marcus had given him began to buzz in his coat pocket. He withdrew it as they made their way down the stairs. When he glanced at the display, he started. "Mom, I'm sorry, I need to take this one."
"Is it Marcus?"
"No." He flipped it open. "Josh? What is it?"
The minute he'd seen the hotel number on his screen, a cold spear of anxiety had thrust through Thomas' chest, tightened in his stomach. Why would Josh call him at this time of night, unless it was about Marcus?
He listened, his brow drawing down, his mouth settling in a straight line. "How long? Since after lunch? Is she okay? Good. He wouldn't have forgiven himself if he'd really hurt her. Yeah. I'm worried too. I'll call him. Maybe he'll answer for me." He cut the call, responded to his mother's worried look. "It's Marcus. He..." He shook his head, ran a hand over the back of his neck. "I think I stirred stuff up from his past, Mom. Bad stuff. I don't think he really believes I'm coming back to him."
"And you're here, where you can't help him."
"No." On that point, Thomas held firm, despite the fear in his gut. "This is the way to prove to him I'm serious, that he doesn't have to manipulate or use force to keep me.
That I'm choosing to be with him. I think this has more to do with him, with the demons of his past."
His mother digested that, an odd look on her face. "Call him, honey. Right now." Thomas was already dialing. Six rings and he knew it would go to voice mail on seven. Four...five...
C'mon, you stubborn bastard. Pick up.
"Where the hell are you?"
Marcus blinked at the explosive tone. "In New York, last time I checked."
"I know that. Where? Exactly. And if you say it's none of my business, I will point out that the person you ask to marry you does have a right to know where you are.
Basically forever. All the time."
"You haven't agreed, but I can assure you I'm not off somewhere sticking my dick into an inappropriate orifice."
"Marcus, cut it out. Where are you?"
"Where I grew up."
"You're on foot?"
"If I drove the Maserati down here, I'd have to be selling a crate of crack out of the trunk or drive it to a chop shop myself and collect the take for the parts. I took the subway."
"Okay, why are you in the part of New York City most likely to get you killed, at nearly three in the morning?"
Marcus studied the dark alley in front of him. He could hear the subtle sounds of the street people burrowing down, trying to make themselves invisible to the nocturnal predators.
He'd passed a few of those early on, and given them as threatening a look as they could hope to deliver. The streets never left a man, and it showed. They'd been keeping their distance, but he was an oddity and eventually one would be stupid. Some dark part of him had been looking forward to it.
"Josh really should have been a woman. You too, maybe. Even though I wouldn't have paid the slightest attention to either one of you."
"Marcus, I swear to God, you are really pissing me off."
"Why? Because I'm taking a stroll down memory lane?"
"Because - " There was a murmur of conversation, some type of low level argument, then another voice came on the line. One he didn't expect.
"Marcus, this is Elaine. I don't know what you're doing, or why. But I told you something that day, a long time ago. You remember it?"
"I might. You said a lot of things that day I ignored."
"Stop being a wiseass. I told you not to sacrifice my son on the altar of your past demons. He's here tonight, telling me he loves you with all that he is. He's one of the best men I know, so if he tells me that, it must mean there's more to you than the arrogant smartass that has darkened our door before." Marcus stopped in place, his hand clutching the phone. "I doubt that's true," he said, grasping for something to say, his mind scrambling.
"You promised to love him, and be with him forever. Is that true?"
"Then you don't do that by deliberately putting yourself in harm's way for no good reason. That's spitting on the love he's offering, that you offered to him. You have to take care of each other if you're going to spend a lifetime together.
"He's coming back to New York, I hope to bring you down in time for Thanksgiving and start working on this second home of yours. The front porch is going to need work. The baseboards are rotting, which you'd know if you'd had more sense than money and waited for the inspection report. So get your ass out of that slum and home where it bel - "
The line crackled and disconnected, cell service interrupted, leaving Marcus blinking in shock. "Yes, ma'am," he murmured and turned to face two street kids. One of them already had a knife out.
They thought they'd got him cornered. He bared his teeth in a feral grin and pocketed the phone. He'd take that fight now, just because it would feel so damn good.
* * * * *
He knew Thomas was arriving on the seven p.m. flight, so Marcus was surprised when the doorman told him that he'd gotten here a couple hours earlier. He'd hoped to change clothes, do something to prepare himself mentally. Despite the unexpected conversation with Elaine, until he saw Thomas' face, Marcus wouldn't believe it. He was torn between wanting to leave the building, avoid what he was most afraid of facing, and needing to see Thomas, even if it was for the last time.
Jesus, stop being such a pussy and get it over with. Marcus stabbed the entry card into the slot and turned the door handle.
He found Thomas in the living room. He was sitting on a chair, his back to Marcus, studying a painting he'd set up on an easel in the middle of the room.
"I don't want your pity," Marcus said gruffly, first thing. He realized he sounded defensive, just as Thomas had when he first got out of the car in the Berkshires. One week.
Thomas snorted, not turning. "Why would I pity you? I couldn't survive on the streets of New York now. You did it at fourteen. I bet you don't remember this painting."
Marcus' gaze shifted, registered a swirling tapestry of greens, intriguingly formless and yet substantial at once. Another time he would have allowed himself to be immersed in the subject, but he wasn't interested in a painting right now, just the artist.
When he stepped closer, he saw the corner of Thomas' mouth tug up in a wry smile. "Yeah, you didn't pay any attention to it the day I did it, either. You remember that time you came to my place in the summer? No air. All the windows open, and it was still an oven. I'd gotten back from that job stocking for the freight company. I was tired and so hot, but this was in my head, taking over everything. I finished it in three hours. A really intense three hours."
Now Marcus remembered. When he'd let himself in, Thomas had been lying there in nothing but the gold waist chain, Marcus' statement of ownership. His hand had been idly stroking himself into a semi-erect state as he studied his newest painting. Any interest Marcus had had in Thomas' work that day had evaporated before the need to possess that sweat-slick, muscled flesh.
"When you came in that night, I was thinking about you and that picture. My Master and my art, the two things I can't survive without."
Still not looking toward Marcus, Thomas rose and moved to the painting, drawing Marcus' attention back to it.
"It's just shades and shades of green." Thomas' fingers passed over one of the formless places that somehow became a contour, the hint of...something, as if there was something living in that canvas that responded to his touch.
"I never got past your eyes. Couldn't even sketch you. I look at you in my mind, in person, it doesn't matter... Your body's a fucking feast, your's like an angel escaped from heaven and gave you his face. But that day I stretched the canvas, the way I felt about you had gotten so huge inside of me that I knew I was going to do something. Had to do something."
"I started touching the canvas, a lot like this. Just ran my fingers over it. Back and forth...back and forth..." Marcus watched, mesmerized by the motion of those fingers.
"Then something in my mind focused on the way it felt. The canvas. Rough, just waiting.
"That's when I got it. The rough canvas. God paints our bodies over that, over our heart and soul. It's the eyes that tell us what we're really seeing, what's underneath. So all I painted in the picture were greens. Patterns, random slashes, shapes over shapes, shadows, emotions, it's all there." Thomas gave an absent chuckle, slid his other hand into his back jeans' pocket and cocked a hip. He was still caught up in that painting, while Marcus was caught up in him, every motion and word.
"Up until that point, I'd gotten so frustrated, trying to paint something that was everything about what my heart was, what it wanted. I thought if I couldn't paint that...Jesus, it was like being Superman and knowing what the kryptonite was. But it wasn't the rock, it was Lois Lane. The same thing that could bring him to his knees was the thing that made him most want to be Superman. The very thing that made me want to be an artist. You. The beginning and the end, and everything in between." When Thomas turned at last, Marcus couldn't speak. He just couldn't. Thomas looked at Marcus with brown eyes that were serious, more intent than Marcus had ever seen them. He was looking at Thomas the man, certain of who he was and what he wanted. And he wanted Marcus.
It was there, in the quiet peace, the love and acceptance. His. Really his. Promised.
Committed. Forever.
Thomas blanched. "Jesus Christ."
"They look much worse," Marcus assured him, glad Thomas seemed too distracted to notice the break in his voice. Thomas crossed the floor to examine the lacerations on Marcus' face, across the bridge of his nose, his swollen lip and eye. "And hell, I gave them money anyway."
"I'm going to wait until you get better, and then I'm going to smash your face in all over again." Thomas shook his head, then stepped forward one more step and crushed Marcus' mouth with his own, a week's worth of need and worry in it.
Marcus was set back by the ferocity of it, but it didn't take him long to rally. He got his arms over Thomas' so he could grab his head, hold him steady and plunder. Oh God, so good. So sweet, the taste of Thomas' mouth.
Violent, cleansing adrenaline had him tearing at the front of Thomas' shirt. Buttons clattered as he just ripped it open, hooked his foot and took them both tumbling to the floor. Thomas shoved against him, but Marcus wasn't going to be denied this. He tasted Thomas' heated skin, bit the sensitive nipple and Thomas' grip on his neck flexed, back arching.
Yeah, that was it. He got him with the nipples every time. Marcus sucked on the small nub, scoring it with his teeth while his hand went down, squeezed Thomas hard through his jeans. Hard as a rock and enormous. His slave hadn't even jerked himself off, he'd bet.
He wrestled him out of the jeans and Thomas' hands got between them, tore open his slacks just as Marcus caught the glitter of the slim gold and silver chain. Thomas was wearing it. Low on the lean hard waist, riding against the hip bones, the lock securely fastened. The loop adjusted around the cock. Mine.
"Wait, wait." Thomas was gasping. He grasped the edge of Marcus' open shirt. "I want... I know you're supposed to wait. But fuck it. I want to do it now." Marcus' mind, in a whirl from lust and emotion, didn't follow him until Thomas retrieved the pair of rings from his discarded jeans. He sat back on his heels, suddenly speechless as Thomas reached out.
"Please, Master," he murmured. "Your hand."
Marcus put it out there and watched a million expressions cross Thomas' face as he fitted the silver ring on Marcus' finger and slid it home.
Reaching for the other ring, Marcus took Thomas' hand to do the same with the gold. He gave a half chuckle at everything welling in him. So ridiculous, so perfect. "I'm fucking nervous, can you believe that?"
Thomas' eyes were suspiciously bright. Just the two of them in the dim living room, their clothes half on, half off.
"Thank you, Thomas," Marcus said at last. "For saying yes."
"It was the easiest and the hardest thing I've ever done." Thomas' gaze fastened on Marcus' hand, the silver ring, the way it shone. What it said.
"Can I get back to fucking your brains out now?" Thomas grinned. "You forget how to be a Master? Why are you asking?" He dodged the tackle, but Marcus caught him. As his Master took him to his knees, pushed him to an elbow, he brought Thomas' left arm back, holding it against the small of his back. It was a restraint that made Thomas even harder, particularly when Marcus linked hands with him and Thomas felt the metal of the two bands brush each other, clink.
Marcus' free hand cupped his ass, took a firm hold of Thomas' right buttock. Bent and teased him with his tongue, licking up his rim in the way that drove Thomas insane. The chain loop dug into his cock as he thickened and grew. He writhed, struggled, cursed and then groaned when Marcus drove in deep, still holding him fast with that arm pulled behind his back.
"You wait until I give you the command, pet. You can't let go until I say you can." I'm never going to, Master," Thomas managed. "Never again."