The Strongest Bond

Disclaimer: The characters are mine! They may share a passing resemblance with other people but I just blame their stylists. Sequel to 'The Binding Tie' you really need to read that first in order to understand what is going on here.

Violence/Sex: Slavery exists in this fic as does extreme violence. Sexual violence of a m/f variety in here. Also a loving consensual f/f relationship. If you're too young to vote, you should probably go elsewhere.

Feedback: Much appreciated mjb1_1@hotmail.com

Chapter 7

Light flickered from the television screen, sending patterns of shadow throughout the dark room. Lying with her head propped up, the pale haired woman was able to watch the screen without disturbing her bed mate. The taller woman lay, curled on her side, with her head resting on the muscular woman's chest, dark hair fanning over tanned skin. Soft puffs of air blew over a bare chest reassuring her that her lover was sleeping even as she ran one hand lightly over the silky tresses.

Subtitles scrolled across the bottom of the screen, telling her what she could not hear with the sound off. If this was to be the new pattern of their nights, with her awake but in the bed for most of it, she knew that her mind would have to be kept busy. The only thing that Francesca had asked was that she stay with her for as much of the night as she could. Fortunately, the TV in the bedroom received cable and she was fascinated by the documentary based stations. Learning more and more each night would be a real treat and if she was honest, it was helping her to feel like more of an intellectual equal to her lover. She could read books, but that would mean turning on a much brighter light which might disturb her partner.

On the nightstand the digital display of the alarm showed 5am, only half an hour before the pair would have to be up for the video shoot. Seeing that the programme on Julius Caesar was drawing to an end, she began to flick through the channels with the remote held in her free hand. Finally landing on a news broadcast, she took in the details of what the day might hold.

Francesca could feel herself swimming up from the depths of slumber. As she gradually became more aware of her surroundings she could feel the strong beat of her partner's heart beneath her ear and let it pull her closer and closer to wakefulness. Through eyelids that remained closed she cloud make out the flickering light in the room. Suddenly her human pillow shot into a sitting position on the bed, causing blue eyes to snap open and blink with confusion.

"What's going on?" Slurred by sleep the words were indistinct but her companion understood.

"I know that woman." The hand holding the remote gestured towards the screen while turning the volume up.

A press conference was playing out in front of them. A large, handsome man was taking a podium for a press conference. To his right stood a much shorter man and to his left was a slender blond in a dark suit. The woman was unmistakably a bodyguard and a slave if the collar around her neck was any indication.

"The blonde?" The brunette now sounded much more alert as she narrowed her eyes at the moving images.

"Yes, she was in our stable, we fought together a lot. If you'd ever watched the gladiatorial bouts you would recognise her. She's called Thorn, I don't know her real name. She was my nemesis in the ring but we got along great outside it." Blue eyes looked doubtful.

"People honestly believed that that skinny little thing could kick your ass?"

"Actually, she could. She really could; she may look fragile but that girl is insane. She fights like a thing possessed. She was for sale at the same time as the rest of us, I heard your father and brothers debate about whether to get her or not. It was her fragile grasp on reality that stopped them. Imagine you could have been saddled with her and not me."

"Well then, I'm glad she's a loon." Cuddling together both women continued to watch the broadcast. "So that's Bradley Dettore; I've heard he's trouble."

"In what way?"

As if to answer her question a journalist asked the man on the podium about his stance on slavery. Coming alive before his audience, both inside the room and in television land, he began to talk on his favourite subject.

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"I'm very glad you asked me about that. As you know I am a firm supporter of 644. I feel very strongly that slaves are property and should be treated as such. If you owned a zoo, would you decide to release a wolf or bear into the city, just because you like the way it behaves? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. Releasing slaves into the general population is the same thing.

I've said it before and I will say it again, ladies and gentlemen, slaves are unstable and not subject to the same thought processes as the rest of us. Recent events here and in other cities are showing that to us on a weekly basis. We have them terrorising neighbourhoods, killing the free and their supporters blowing things up. To me this is not an indication that these creatures should walk among us, rather it is proof positive that they need to be kept in servitude.

I would like to say that I do believe in the buying and selling of slaves. They provide several vital functions which would not be filled by normal employment. They also help to reduce violent crime by allowing people to vent their frustrations at the arenas. As you can see," here he held his arm out to indicate Thorn, "I myself own a bodyguard and have done for over a year. We need to use these resources."

"Mr Dettore, how would you tackle the problem of those slaves that have already been emancipated by their owners?" The question came from a man in the second row.

"I am glad you asked. That would be remedied by simply initiating a nation wide crack down. Police would have the authority to enter homes and recapture the slaves. This would be perfectly legal if the emancipation rights were to be repealed. Naturally some people will baulk at these measures but I feel it is the only way to keep our streets safe for our families."

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The questions moved to another topic as the pair sitting on the bed sat in shocked silence. That anyone could believe so vehemently in the subjugation of others amazed hem both. What shocked, and scared, them both was the idea that if this man or any other zealot got into the senate they would once again be torn apart. Francesca couldn't allow herself to think about the implications and instead chose to focus on her day's itinerary.

"Where are you going?" The voice followed her as she got up from the bed.

"I'm going to go and take a shower and throw on some sweats for the shoot, they can make me beautiful when I get there."

"You're always beautiful." The words from the bed were so heartfelt that she found herself moving back to the bed and pressing a gentle kiss to the top of the smaller woman's head.

"You little charmer, you can go and get some breakfast and do your morning routine. We need to be gone by 7. Now scoot!" She ruffled the blonde hair before turning back to the bathroom.

Turning on the faucet she held her hand under the water to test the temperature. Satisfied, she moved into the spray. One of the many perks of sleeping naked after a night of passion was not having to undress. Under the warm caress of the water Francesca allowed her mind to fall into a meditative state, not thinking about anything in particular, especially not what she had seen on the news.

*******

Hunter sat in the kitchen, chatting animatedly with the families cook. The middle aged Frenchman was new to the house, having only arrived a few months ago, and had settled in quickly. Hunter really liked Marcel; he was friendly and fun to talk to. At times his accent was a little too thick to understand but she was hoping to convince him to teach her the language of love. She really wanted to surprise the heiress with that in the bedroom.

"So, little warrior, what do you think the young lady of the house would like for breakfast?" White hat bobbing on his head the older man looked comical as he bustled around the kitchen preparing for the day.

"I hope you don't refer to Mrs Prince as the old lady of the house." They both laughed, Marcel poking his tongue out at the seated woman. "I think that she should have something light today, she didn't say anything but I'm sure she is a little nervous."

"How about a bagel, cream cheese and a little fruit?"

"Add a cup of coffee to that and you'll be onto a winner." As she spoke she was running a finger around the collar of her shirt, never entirely comfortable in this sort of attire.

"You look like a child forced into a school uniform, stop fidgeting! What do you want to eat?" He was already preparing the heiresses meal.

"I have to look the part, like it or not. I wouldn't min a bagel."

"You, girl, need more than just a bagel to keep that body going. I will make you a sack of pancakes; you have plenty of time yet." The set of his face said that he would not be taking no for an answer.

By the time the pancakes were ready, Francesca was making her way into the kitchen. She greeted the chef with a smile and sat down to her breakfast. The couple smiled at each other as they tucked into their very different repasts.

Marcel watched them eat and bask in each others company. He had not been surprised when the family had revealed the nature of their relationship to him, it was as clear as day to anybody who looked that these two were in love. He would never reveal their secret, he liked h family too much, and he had signed a gag order when he took the job. He couldn't afford to loose his employment under those of circumstances, he would never work again. Deciding to make himself scarce, he moved to the pantry and started to prepare for the day in earnest.

"Are you looking forward to today, Chess?" It was said around a mouthful of food.

"That's disgusting, Rhani!" In response a tongue, liberally coated in partially masticated food was thrust out at her. "Oh, that's really mature! To answer your question; yes I am looking forward to the shoot. It's been a long time since I made a video and I've never done one without Doug breathing down my neck before."

"I'll look forward to watching you, the videos I've seen on cable all look really exciting."

"You'll be bored out of your mind, my darling." Reaching out a long fingered arm she gave the other woman's forearm a squeeze.

"I'll just have to watch you dancing around and think about how sexy you are. Is your publicist going to be there?" It wasn't really a question. The older woman had been referring to the young man like that since she heard about his reaction.

"Yes he will. You just need to ignore him, he's a professional and so am I. Things will be fine." Buzzing filled the air as she finished.

"The car's waiting." Hunter as looking down at the pager clipped to her waist.

Arm in arm they made their way to the car.

*********

Rashid met the pair outside the studio. He approached them tentatively as they exited the car, not sure what to say but knowing that he had to say something. He kept his distance, watching as first the burly warrior emerged, followed closely by the casually dressed starlet. Suddenly rooted to the spot he could do nothing but watch as they got closer and closer, he knew that he was acting irrationally but he just couldn't seem to shake himself out of it.

"Hello Rashid," loath to make eye contact she looked somewhere beyond his shoulder.

"Francesca; Tomasz will be directing you today. He looked at your ideas and has designed some strong visuals. He wants to go through the blocking with you before you go into hair and make-up. I envision the shoot taking a few days, it's quite complex." Staying professional if not friendly, he led the two women into the building.

As the trio walked onto the lot and towards the soundstage, Francesca was safely ensconced between the two. Tension flowed between them, coming off of both her lover and her publicist in equal measure. She knew that hunter was simply worried that the young man would further upset her; reading him was more difficult. It was hard to understand such a visceral reaction to slaves. Then again, was I much better when Hunter came into my life?

"Darling, so good to see you again! You look fabulous!" Walking through the heavy doors of the studio they were immediately intercepted by a flamboyantly dressed man with a strong Eastern European accent.

"Tomasz!" They shared an air-kiss as they briefly embraced, he turned Rashid and repeated the process. Beside them Hunter was not sure what to make of the colourful man.

"Who is your friend? She looks most familiar." Grey eyes narrowed as he studied her face.

"This is my bodyguard, Hunter."

"Ah, you are the Hunter, yes?" There was clear recognition and respect in his voice.

"You read about the kidnapping in the papers?" The foursome were now walking towards the main part of the studio, Hunter had fallen behind, allowing the business trio to precede her.

"Of course I read the news, Darling, but I know her from her sport." Seeing the clearly puzzled look that the young woman cast his way, he flicked his own gaze to the warrior who looked quite sheepish. "This, my dear, is the most famous Gladiator of the last eight years! My son has all of her bouts and TV spots on disc!"

"Really?"

"Tomasz is right. She looked really familiar when I was at your home the other day but I couldn't really place it. Then I went to visit my brother; he's got pictures of her everywhere, she's almost as famous as you in some circles." Keeping his tone light, he couldn't help but be a little pleased that the brunette appeared perturbed.

"Well, children, as interesting as this is we have work to do," clapping his hands he alerted his staff to his presence. "Let's get to it, Francesca if you'll come with me I will show you what we have planned before you go to hair and makeup." Taking the outstretched hand she allowed herself to be towed away, leaving her two companions in an uneasy silence.

Watching her lover in her element, moving around the director with a self assured grace, the blonde felt immeasurably proud of her. It was good to see her come alive. Naturally she was always full of energy and vitality at home yet in public she always seemed reserved as though she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Here it was different, it wasn't the same energy that she had at home, it was more raw and dangerous. Hearing the man beside her shift his feet, she turned her eyes towards him, satisfied that her charge was safe.

"Mr Dariwal, you shouldn't feel threatened by me or our relationship."

"I am not intimidated!" Growling he defiantly held her eye, pleased that they were far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the studio not to be heard.

"Sure you are. I saw you looking at her at the restaurant and the house. I may only be a lowly animal in your eyes, sir, but for my sport I had to learn how to read people. You had a crush on her, it was as clear as the nose on your face, and who can blame you?"

"Fine, so you understand a tiny part of my psyche." Crossing his arms over his chest he had the uncomfortable feeling that he was under a microscope.

"I'm not the reason that you can't have her. She is. Maybe if things had been different, if you had met her before Mr Rose… I don't know. All I do know is that right here, right now; even if I never existed she wouldn't be yours." Her voice was s sure.

"You honestly believe that?"

"Yes." It was that simple.

"Then I suppose I'm going to have to get used to you being around.

"That you are, sir. Fran…" Seeing a crew member getting awfully close she stopped mid word. "Miss Prince said that you also had moral considerations. We're not going to flaunt this in your face; wouldn't it be a shame to loose a fried over this?" Holding his eyes for a moment she left him with those words, making her way over to the taller woman who sat having her make-up applied.

Standing beside the counter which hosted a huge variety of pots, tubs and sticks of every colour she was able to stay out of the way while still looking at her partner. It was fascinating to watch the attractive young make-up artist apply the theatrical and exaggerated coating onto her face. Having seen the younger woman make herself up countless times, this was quite a novelty.

"I saw you talking to Rashid." The words were forced out through barely moving lip.

"Mr Dariwal and I were discussing recent developments. I feel that he may be considering a new perspective."

"Thank you Hunter, I'm glad you took the time to make my position clear." Finally finished being painted like a doll it was time to be dressed like a mannequin. Hunter followed her to the enclosed area of the set like a well mannered dog, carefully maintaining their façade.

********

Cliff sat sprawled on his couch, arms spread across the back, legs akimbo, clothed only in a towel. The white terry cloth was cinched at his waist and left more of his legs exposed than it covered. He could hear the shower running in the other room as he flicked through channels on the television. Usually his conquests wouldn't be allowed to use his things but today was different.

Hearing the water stop he waited patiently for the young woman to emerge. It had been a good night, better than most, perhaps because she was not his usual flavour? He couldn't be sure but he knew that he would do it again. Breaking him from his thoughts, the door of the bathroom was tentatively pushed open and a auburn haired woman came out. Clearly embarrassed she hurried to the door, never looking up.

"Good night Daphne." She mumbled something so low that he couldn't make it out. "Don't forget to say hello to Lawrence for me." Startled eyes snapped up to meet his. "Oh, I won't tell your husband… yet. I'll see you tomorrow at the office. Off you go." Without a second glance she was dismissed. He heard her rush from the room, barely taking the time to close the door.

Relaxing further into the comfort of the leather sofa he contemplated his evening. He didn't usually partake in the pleasures of married women, preferring to take his pleasure from more reliable sources, but when opportunity knocks, only a foolish man ignores it. The red head was gorgeous and she had left herself open to his advances. The silly girl should really not try to steal his company's money if she didn't want to suffer the consequences. When faced with jail or a night with him, she had made the wisest choice.

Lighting a cigarette from the packet on the end table he took a drag just as the phone began to ring. Reaching over he put the phone on speaker before turning the TV to mute.

"This is Cliff Walsh."

"Cliff!" The voice on eh end of the line was unmistakable and the slender man's face light up with a sinister grin.

"Hello Bradley, what do you need at…" glancing at his watch, "one in the morning?"

"I was running over tomorrow's speech and needed your opinion on how I should field questions on 644? I don't want to sound like some sort of zealot or fanatic and I'm afraid it might come across that way. "

"You don't like the speech?" Shit, this wasn't how it worked!

"No Cliff, not at all. It's the panel section. Somebody is bound to ask why I feel so strongly about the proposition." The towel clad man was now leaning forward, cigarette hanging between his legs as he tried to think of a new angle. Then it hit him …and the truth shall set us free.

"Bradley, why not just tell them the truth? Sooner or later some journalist is going to look into your past and it'll be out anyway. Why not beat them to the punch?"

"You don't think that'll damage my stance? "

"It could backfire, certainly, however I think it is more likely to give a real face to your concern."

"I'll think about it, thanks Cliff. "

"No problem, you need to get some sleep!"

"And you, good night. "

Hearing the phone hang up he stubbed out his little smoked cigarette he pushed the off button on the phone and put the television on stand-by. Following his own advice he moved towards his own bedroom, dropping his towel as he went. Thinking about his conversation a smile came to his face. He laid on the bed and ran through his plans, even as sleep tried to claim him.

Cliff was not a popular or charismatic man and never had been, but he was smart and cunning. He had political aspirations and knew exactly how to reach them. He was fortunate that when he was just a boy, twelve years old, Bradley Dettore had come into his family and into his life. The other boy was handsome, vivacious and almost as smart as he was, yet he lacked the other boys cunning. Together they were formidable. Although it would seem that they were equal partners to an outsider and even to Bradley, Cliff knew better. He was pulling the strings while his friend remained totally unaware. He had a destiny and he was hell bent on fulfilling it.

********

Fists rained down on the prone body, turning flesh and bone into nothing but bloody pulp. Simply walking down the alleyway, a shortcut to his motel, he had been completely unprepared for what was to follow. No amount of strength or training could save you from ten men or more, hell bent on your destruction. The mob had descended on him so fast that he had barely got a lick in.

When it was over he lay within a pool of his own blood, eyes swollen shut and skull little more than a swollen mass. As the men walked away he could hear heir laughing from what seemed like very far away. They taunted him; called him a slave, a runaway and he didn't have the strength to refute their accusations. Then they were gone… or was he just unable to hear now?

I didn't even win the jackpot!

It was his last thought.

To Be Continued...

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