Valran ducked. The hose swung over his head and back again, dousing him with warm water. He could barely remember the last time he’d had a true warm shower… not that this exactly counted. This was more like a grooming station, but he’d take it.
It was Bicla wielding the hose. Valran wasn’t entirely sure what he felt about that. He wasn’t required to feel anything; Bicla had bent her knee in service and thus was, technically, the same status as Valran. That didn’t, however, keep her from giving him orders.
“Don’t give me that shit, Servus.” The water over him was a bit colder this time.
“I don’t see why not, ma’am.” He smiled, although he couldn’t see her. “It’s the nicest flavor of shit I have to give.”
“Because I can make your life miserable while you are here.”
“Yes.” He nodded, guessing at her position. “But I’m not trying to pick a fight with you, ma’am. I’m trying to do as you tell me to, to get out of here as smoothly as possible.”
“Then why do you keep calling me ma’am?”
“Is ‘ix’ or ‘sir’ appropriate?” Her named ended in a feminine la. That was usually a safe bet…
“No!” The water stopped. He could hear her moving around behind him. “Shampooing, don’t open your eyes. “No. I’m female, bodied and chosen.”
The bodied was fairly obvious; she was as naked as he was.
“Then am I missing some inner-circle nuance again?” Valran peeled open one eye to peer at the other Servus. She was stalking towards him with a jar of liquid soap, her feet slapping on the tile as if she wished she were wearing boots.
“Missing some… you’re not jerking my chain?”
“I assure you, ma… Bicla, I really don’t want to cause trouble.” He opened both eyes, despite her orders to the contrary. “I’ve heard stories, know.”
At that, she stopped. “Stories.” It wasn’t, quite, a question. But it could be read that way, if he wanted it to be.
He did. “You have to get through a year on the Outer Circle. Unless you’re already there, of course.”
“And then you have to be accepted into service.”
“Yes.” She gestured with one hand, get on with it.
“And then you’re bid on. But the head of the program has the final say on who sees you to bid, who’s allowed to bid, whose bid is taken, and how long the term of service is.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Bicla’s hand went to her collar. “I know this.”
“Yes.” Although, from the stories he’d heard, many of those who bent knee didn’t know any of it. “But there’s a lot of control in the hands of the head of the program – and their staff.”
“Ah.” Her hand dropped. “Oh. So why are you giving me shit, then?”
“I’m not, not on purpose. I swear that to you. I’m not trying to give you any trouble at all; I’m trying to be respectful.”
“No-one calls the servus ma’am.“
“Perhaps most people don’t. But you are in a position of power over me; you’re on a higher rung.”
“The servus aren’t on rungs. What are you, stupid?”
He placed his hands very carefully on the edge of the tub, to keep from doing something unwise with them. “Bicla Servus, I am trying to show respect, because you could ruin me.”
“You’re not making a joke out of it?”
“No! No, I’m not doing that, I promise you, this is not me making fun of you.”
“Close your eyes.”
Valran couldn’t tell if that was disagreement or agreement. He closed his eyes anyway.
“You’re not outer circle, not born.” He could feel the soap trickle onto his wet hair.
“No.” He held as still as he could. “But not all that far in or anything. Not far enough.”
“The last two we had come through, they were real inner circle sorts. Second and Third circle, talked fancy, polished nails.”
“How did…” Valran shut his mouth. You were supposed to have to go through the same qualifications whether you were Tenth Circle or First.
“Pencil-pushers. And they were full of themselves.”
“Did you get them placed with bad owners?”
“Never occurred to me. And, I mean, I don’t know how much the Deputy would listen to me. I’m ris driver and maid, not like ris confidante. Ri doesn’t have to do any listening; that’s my job.”
“It’s surprising how much people listen to their servants.”
“And how would you know?” Her hands began massaging his scalp, strong fingers working the soap through his hair and into a lather.
“I listen. And I’ve worked for inner circle people from time to time. Before I went out to the Outer Circle.”
“Why’d you do it?”
“It won’t make any sense.”
“You saying I’m stupid?”
“No, not at all.” He leaned back into her touch. “That feels really nice.”
“Thanks. Took classes. What’re you saying, then?”
“That’s it’s weird, and I don’t entirely understand it myself. But I tell you what. If you ask me when my service is over, I’ll tell you everything I can.”
“My service’ll probably be over by then, too.”
“I’m not one of you crazies who did this on purpose.” Her fingers paused in his hair, as if daring him.
“Aaah.” He let the silence drag on, one heartbeat, another, another. When he said nothing else, she went back to massaging and shampooing.
“Anyway, the food is good and the hours aren’t horrible and I’m cleaner than I ever was before.”
“That’s two of us.” He ran his hand through the water while she worked. “This is pretty posh, even if it is a vet station.”
“Gotta have the merch nice and pretty and packaged up before you sell ‘em. Otherwise you don’t bring in much money, the program doesn’t bring in as much money, and the whole system falls down.”
“Sounds like you’ve heard that line before.”
“Nothing I’m gonna talk about. I don’t talk about my work or my boss, and neither should you.”
“When I have work and a boss, I won’t. But make it a date? Ten years’ time, I’ll buy you a drink and we can swap war stories?”
“Sure. But you’re still getting shaved.”
“Shaved… oh. Oh, well, fine.” He was glad his eyes were already closed. “If you hand me a razor, I can do those parts myself, you know.”
“Fat chance, pretty boy. Just try to relax and enjoy this part while it’s fun, okay? I don’t do this for everyone.”
Pretty boy. “Nobody’s every called me that before.”
“What, pretty? Nobody calls me that, either, but you’re pretty good when the grime is all washed off.”
“I’ve been clean before.” Possibly not this clean, but clean.
“If you were working for inner circle sorts, you’d have to be. They don’t like dirt.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Or hair?”
“Or hair. They like things tidy. I mean, not all of them, but the sort that would buy a boy like you.” Her hands were on his neck now, working on knots he hadn’t known existed.
Massage or not, he wasn’t sure boy like you was any better than pretty boy. “You really do know a lot about the business, don’t you?”
“I listen. I’m really good at listening.” He could feel the way the shrug shifted her shoulders. “And I drive the boss around and everything, so I get a lot of chances to listen. Dunk.”
“Dun… oh.” He slipped under the water. Her hands were still in his hair and, for a minute, he panicked. She could hold him under here. She could drown him. She could…
…but then she’d be in a lot of trouble, and if she hadn’t volunteered for the collar…. Valran forced himself to relax. Bicla wasn’t going to drown him. She couldn’t afford it.
A tug on the back of his collar told him it was time to come back out of the water. “You didn’t freak.”
“I thought about it.”
“But you didn’t. Hunh.” She rubbed something else through his hair. “All right, up on the edge and spread ‘em.”
“Do you have to…?” He found his feet in the slick tub and worked on standing.
“Don’t even ask questions like that. It’s ridiculous.”
“I can complain, can’t I? It itches.”
“Oh, when I’m done, it won’t itch at all.”
Valran froze, one leg on the edge of the tub. “Bicla…”
“Relax, pretty boy. No use arguing, you don’t have any choice on the matter and neither do it.”
“Bicla,” he tried again anyway, “that’s awfully close to things that are very near and dear to my heart.”
“I don’t think we’re talking about your heart, are we? And besides, relax. It’s practically a warding.”
“I didn’t sign up for this.”
“Ah, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? What did you actually sign up for? Did you read the fine print?”
One of them hadn’t, that was for sure. “Of course.” And he had. That was one of the nightmare scenarios he’d heard the most about – those forced into dangerous and compromising positions for so long that at the end of their chosen-service, they were useless to anyone, including themselves. “But…”
“I know what I’m doing, Valran Servus. I’ve done it to myself. Now sit down.”
He sat, slowly, spreading his legs. It probably shouldn’t have surprised him to find that the tub was designed for this, with an almost-comfortable seat and two footrests.
“Do I have to strap you down?”
“Uh. No. No, as long as the only thing you’re cutting is hair.”
“Nothing but hair, I can promise that much. Al right, do your best to hold still, will ya?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He braced himself in the surprisingly comfortable position and closed his eyes. There were some things you just didn’t want to watch.
She started with scissors trimming down the hair between his legs and around his cock and balls. The scissors made quiet shick, shick noises and, while he felt the cold metal a time or two, she cut very carefully and never cut him.
“All right, that was the fuzzy part. Now onto the fun part.” Bicla’s hands worked over and under Valran’s balls, lathering him up. He opened his eyes, wondering what she was thinking.
She was smiling, although the expression looked more meditative and less aroused. She caught him looking, however, and picked up the razor “And not the really fun part. “
Valran closed his eyes again, but that didn’t stop the sensations. The razor followed in the path the scissors had taken, cutting off the remaining hair.
Behind the razor, Bicla’s fingers followed. Valran tried very hard not to shiver. It had been months… And the last thing he wanted was her fingers to slip or her attention to be divided.
“There. There…” She ran her palms down his legs. “And now you’re nice and smooth and it won’t itch.”
“I don’t think I’ll thank you for that.” He ran his fingers over her work, though. “You’re sure?”
“Relax. It’s the smallest draw of power possible, it was very focused, and I didn’t go under the skin enough to hurt anything. You’d think you were a Purist, the way you’re talking.”
“I’m only a Purist when it comes to my nuts.”
“Only your nuts? Not…” She wrapped her hand around the other part of that equation and tugged.
“Uunf, Bicla, that’s not very nice.”
“No, but it’s fun. There, Purist-Pretty, you’re almost all set. Now all you need is for someone to buff your fingernails and pierce those pretty ears… they barely have a point at all.” Her hand stilled. “You’re not actually a Purist, are you?”
“No.” He stole a kiss – just her cheek – and settled back into the uncomfortable tub seat. “That, at least, I am not.”