LIGHT AND SHADE
This piece is set one year after the epilogue of 'Fifty Shades Freed' and relies on knowledge of the entire trilogy. It's followed by 'Scarlet and Grey,' 'Walking Away,' and 'The Devil's Kitchen' which I hope you'll go on to read.
I hope you enjoy it. I always love to know what people think of my stories, so please, if you can, leave a comment.
"Thank you for this, Christian." Kate, my sister-in-law, kisses my cheek.
"I didn't do anything," I smile. "I just lent you our apartment." Elliot's company Grey Construction is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a party and a showcase of their work. "Glad it comes in handy sometimes," I continue.
"As an exhibition space it's unparalleled and Gail's excelled herself once again. Why does anybody put up with sub-standard catering when they can hire Gail Taylor?"
"She's not for hire," I assure Kate.
"Absolutely not," mutters her husband, Jason, standing a short distance away from us and keeping an ever-watchful eye on the arriving guests. Gail herself is on the far side of the room making sure that the staff hired to distribute the canapés are doing so to her exacting standards. I am not the only person in my life who can display amazing amounts of control-freakery.
Kate takes a sip of champagne. "I'd better do my job and mingle, or else Elliot will find his friends and talk shop all night." A sudden worry creases her brow. "I should call Grace."
"Ava will be fine." I reassure her. You know how much they love having the grandkids over, and all three at once is Grandparent Heaven. They won't want us pestering them every five minutes."
"It's good of them to have them all together."
"Yeah," I pull a face. "And deprive me of all my family in one fell swoop."
"Ana's home on Friday, you only have two more days to get through." She pats my hand.
"Tell me about it. But any excuse to go to London and she's there."
Kate snorts in amusement. "You only have yourself to blame for that, Christian. You were the one who introduced her to the place."
I roll my eyes. "I know. What a monster I've created."
"You love her really."
"Oh, completely. Whenever she's away I feel bereft, vulnerable even."
"Woah." Kate's eyes bug. "Christian Grey feels vulnerable? I wouldn't say that out loud if I were you. Whatever happened to the Master of the Universe?"
I sigh. "He fell in love, got married and had kids. I'm going soft in my old age."
"Yes, how old are you next month, thirty two or fifty two?"
"Fifty two. You can get me a rocker."
Elliot makes his way over and claps me on the back. "I can't thank you enough for this, bro."
"Anytime, Lelliot." I say, using the name I used to call him when I couldn't say his name properly as a kid. "Congratulations on your first ten years." I raise my champagne glass to him.
"Thank you. Say, who are all these people in your apartment, tonight?"
"Well if you don't know then I certainly don't. I thought they were your employees, clients and friends?"
Elliot pointed at them. "Kate, do we know all these people?" He furrows his brow.
"Well apparently you do." She rolls her eyes.
Elliot shakes his head as if something's perturbing him. "We have to go talk to them, don't we?" He sounds scared.
"I need a beer for that." He says.
"In the fridge. Help yourself." I say.
"Cheers." And armed with a beer instead of champagne, Elliot and Kate make their way through the group receiving congratulations as they go.
All through the downstairs of our apartment are displays and models of some of the projects that Grey Construction has done over the last ten years. I took a tour earlier, noticing that our own family home is showcased. The shots were taken just as they finished the work and we've done a little tinkering since then, but only as a result of living in it and seeing things we wanted to add. The basics that Gia designed and Grey Construction built are still in place.
Considering I used to do no end of these events as a single guy, it's taken only four short years to render me all at sea in social situations without Ana. I don't know what to do with myself and wish fervently that I could call her up right now. Just hearing her voice would give me some confidence to get through this. But it's only three in the morning in London and there are four hours to go before our agreed calling time of 7.00am. Gail comes back into the kitchen area and her familiar presence makes me feel more reassured. But she's not dumb and she notices I'm not OK.
"You're struggling aren't you, Mr Grey?" She smiles.
I put my back to the rest of the room and face her. "Is it that obvious?" I ask.
"A little, yes." She refills my glass with champagne. "Take a tip from me, go and stand with Kate. I've never seen anybody work a room like she can. She even puts your sister in the shade."
"I don't think that's possible."
"It is now. She'll protect you." Gail says with a smile. "You…" She tails off and I notice the look of consternation on her face. I follow the line of her gaze and find that she's looking at her husband. He in turn is glowering at the door. I follow the line of his gaze and all at once my blood runs cold.
"Oh fuck." I mutter under my breath. "This can't be happening." Taylor comes over.
"Would you like me to ask her to leave?" He says quietly.
I glance at her again and notice that she's with someone who I can't ask to leave. Mark Grainger, the CEO of Eventis and a person who takes great delight in regularly whooping my ass on the golf course. I have a sinking feeling that this is going to turn into one very awkward evening. "No. She's with Grainger." I think quickly, wondering how I'm going to play this one? I glance over to where Kate is chatting with her guests and know instantly what I need to do. Protect myself. I focus again on the interloper, straighten up and locate a part of myself that I haven't been for a very long time. Out from the kitchen area strides a man coated in invisible armour, a more confident and detached version of Christian Grey and the Master of the Universe is back once more.
Without my usual rock of Ana I head for Kate, seeking the solidarity of my tenacious sister-in-law. Even though the Master of the Universe can take care of himself, there is no harm in aligning yourself with one of the most feared investigative journalists in the Pacific Northwest. But there is a price to be paid for such protection and never one to miss a beat she clocks the change in me instantly. At a suitable break in her conversation, she turns to me.
"I haven't seen that look on you for a very long time." She muses.
I smile enigmatically, say nothing and sip my champagne. Over the heads of the guests I can see Elliot talking to Mark Grainger. He's looking around, possibly searching for Kate. Grainger clocks me and it's clear that it's me they're looking for, not Kate. Showtime Grey.
Mark Grainger is large, bombastic and insufferable. He even makes Elliot look reserved which is a feat in itself. Elliot introduces Kate and I cast a quick glance at the small, brunette-haired woman standing between Elliot and Grainger. A woman who has her eyes averted from me not out of modesty, but out of habit.
"Grey, let me introduce you to my beautiful girlfriend." Grainger booms and I wonder if he's introducing her to the whole of the Olympic Peninsula as well. "I finally have someone to give Anastasia a run for her money. This is Susannah Moss. Susannah, this is Christian Grey the CEO of GEH."
I shake hands with my former sub. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss Moss." I reply coolly.
"Likewise, Mr Grey." She too is cool and makes brief eye contact before returning to focus her attention on Grainger, who is now trying and failing to impress Kate. I don't know whether Elliot is aware, but when his wife is irritated by someone she doesn't stand still and shifts from foot to foot constantly.
Grainger turns his attention back to me. "It's a shame that Anastasia isn't here this evening. I was hoping that she and Susannah could get to know one another. It must be a very lonely life being a golf widow, don't you think Grey?" He drops his voice. "I do hope that things are OK between you two?" Beside me I hear Kate's indignant huff.
"My wife is in London this week." I snap. "As for being a golf widow, I don't believe I play enough for her to qualify. We're somewhat busy with our children." I say acidly. Across from me Elliot is fighting back a grin. He can hear the menace in my voice even if Grainger is deaf to it.
"I can't wait for the little guy's party next weekend. Three already, where does the time go?" Elliot does his best to get me onto a subject he knows I excel at, talking about my children. But this version of me is in no mood to share my precious family with this asshole. What on earth is Susannah doing with him? I glance at her and I sense that she's asking herself the same question.
In the absence of Ana, Kate takes up the baton to rescue the conversation from the pit of awkwardness. "Well, time certainly flies when you have children." She smiles at Elliot. "Look at us, Ava's fourteen months old already. Do you want to see a picture?" She says to Susannah and to my former subs' credit she says yes, deflecting the tension that I have created. How dare Grainger come into my home and assume, based on Ana not being here for one event that our marriage is in trouble. If he was standing closer to it, I'd drop-kick the fucker out the window.
"Hey, you OK?" Asks Elliot quietly. "What a crass thing to say."
"It's typical of him."
"Walk with me." My brother asks and I do, leaving Kate boring the pants off Grainger. There's one thing you don't do it's get a Grey talking about their kids, because we don't shut up about them. Mia's the same. Elliot and I can't hold a candle to her and she hasn't even given birth yet.
Elliot steers me through the crowd until we come up against a display of one of the many eco-friendly developments he's worked on. It's impressive and dovetails nicely with the sustainable agriculture projects that I fund through GEH.
"Apart from Kate and Ava, this is my pride and joy." He says. "I want to do more of these. This is making a difference. No offence Christian, renovating rich people's homes may pay the bills, but it doesn't float my boat." He grins at me.
"No offence taken. And my boat floats just fine." I smile and Elliot claps a hand on my shoulder.
"You looked really tense when I pitched up with Grainger. Are you OK? I guess you're missing Ana?"
I exhale, letting some of the tension out. "Yeah, it's turning into a very long week."
"Well, shall we ditch, grab some beers and go shoot some pool in the balls room?"
I grin. "Very tempting, but it's your party. You need to be out here schmoozing the next ten years' worth of business out of your clients."
"I could get you to buy the whole thing and just retire."
"I will if you want me to, but you'd be bored inside a month."
Elliot huffed. "You're right. I best get me some business." He wanders away and I turn to find Taylor standing expectantly beside me.
"Mr Grey, Dr Trevelyan called and reports that Blip Two has been diagnosed as sound asleep, but she's dealing with an outbreak of nonsense from Blip One."
"Oh?" I smile wryly, loving my Mom's assessment of these things. "And does Dr Trevelyan have a course of treatment to recommend?"
"Yes, ignoring it. She predicts it will clear up of its own accord within the hour and that no further parental intervention is required at this time. She will keep you informed should the condition deteriorate."
"That's good to know." I smile.
"Dr Trevelyan also asks that you pass on her love to Mrs Grey when you speak to her later and hopes that you're all up to lunch on Sunday."
"Sunday? OK. I'll check with Ana later. Thanks Taylor."
"Sir, do you need me to intervene at all with…"
"No. I'll cope."
Taylor drops his voice. "She's behind you, sir and she's on her own."
"Ah." I look at him and run my fingers through my hair. How to instantly sour my mood, have a piece of my past turn up in our fucking apartment… again. All the lovely family stuff evaporates and I dig in and pull out my alter ego. "It's OK, I have this," I tell Taylor and he nods and walks away.
I turn around and Susannah looks up on cue.
"Mr Grey," She smiles. "I was just admiring this amazing development. Elliot's wife told me that I should come over and see it."
"Did she now?" I say coolly and glance around for Kate. I spot her and she raises her glass in salute. The look on her face is one of triumph and amusement. She's worked out that Susannah Moss is a piece of my past. And with what Kate knows, she'll know exactly what kind of piece.
"I'm sorry that your wife isn't here tonight. I apologise for what Mark said. That was uncalled for."
"Damn right it was." I snap.
"It's strange to be here again. I very nearly didn't come."
"I wish you hadn't." I'm stunned by my honesty. It must be Ana, her openness is rubbing off on me.
"I'm sorry if this causes you embarrassment."
"I'm not embarrassed, but this is ancient history."
"That part of my life is over, too. I hope."
"I'm really not interested."
"Mr Grey, please." Susannah implores. "I'm only trying to be civil. Please could we speak, privately? I would like your advice on a matter."
"About normal relationships. You have one, I want one. I'm struggling and I think there's a problem with me."
"You're with Grainger, that's the problem. Failing that, make an appointment to see John Flynn."
Susannah drops her voice. "I want to know how you did it? Please? I just want to talk to you."
"No!" I say through clenched teeth. I see Taylor approaching.
"Why not?" Susannah persists.
I glower at her for even daring to question me. "Firstly, I would be going behind my wife's back and secondly, this is not something I talk about."
"Mr Grey, your office is free."
"I won't be needing it. Taylor, give Miss Moss John Flynn's number."
I turn on my heel, walk out of the room and go upstairs to the empty second floor of our apartment. Before I know it I'm outside the playroom and knowing that there's a couch in there where I can sit in peace, I fish the keys from my pocket and unlock the door.
In my attempt to be the man I used to be I should walk in here and be the Dominant that I was. But I'm him no longer. I'm Ana's husband and we make love in here. This is our private place where we're not Mommy and Daddy, or Mr and Mrs CEO; we're just Ana and Christian, a married couple who love each other very much and this is just one of the places where we express that love. This room has ceased to be what it was for me and now it's oddly relaxing, as if Ana's very essence has seeped into the walls. It's very calming. I take off my jacket and sit down on the couch, draping it over the back. I cup my head in my hands and try to work out where I am with this. Yes, I'm angry with Susannah for even being here, but on the other hand she wants out of the lifestyle we used to share. I've managed it and she's struggling. Part of me, the Christian that I am now, wants to help. But I know that Susannah's going to need her own version of Anastasia. I couldn't have done it without Ana's love, Ana's patience and Ana's unwillingness to take any of my crap. Flynn can definitely help, but therapy can only get you so far. Most of it has been practical day-to-day working it out, learning to trust Ana and not going insanely overboard about every decision she makes that I don't agree with. I'm still not great at it and I'm a classic over-protective parent. I go nuts whenever Ted hurts himself, but I'm learning to appreciate the difference between the cry of 'I'm a little bit hurt' and 'I'm really hurt.' Phoebe comes with her own bundle of problems; she worries me because she's so unflappable compared to Ted. I know it's because Ted takes after me and Phoebe's definitely rocking her Mom, but I'm desperate for Phoebe to need me and scared that, because she's already so self-contained, that there's not going to be that connection between us that I have with Ted. Ana keeps reminding me that she's only eight months old and there's plenty of time for her to turn into the world's clingiest kid, to which I say bring it on! I just pity the poor guy who gets me as a father-in-law. If he even thinks about doing to my little girl what I did to countless women, he'll find himself in trouble so deep that it'll make the Mariana Trench look like a wading pool.
"So this is it?" A voice startles me and I look up. It's Kate and as I've left the door ajar I can hardly tell her not to come in. She looks around and gives an incredulous laugh. "Wow. Some place you have here, Christian." She wanders straight over to the bed and picks up the leather cuff and chain on the right hand bed post. "This isn't for sleeping on is it?"
"We do, occasionally."
Kate turns to me. "So, judging by your interesting reaction to Miss Moss, I take it that she's a previous sub?"
"Does Ana know?"
"Yes, she's met her."
"What?" Kate scoffs. I get up and walk to the door, close and lock it. I don't fancy Elliot searching for Kate and accidentally sticking his head around the door. "I knew she'd met the one that got into our apartment with a gun, but I didn't know she'd met others."
"She's met Leila and Susannah."
"So what's this one here for?"
"She's with her boyfriend, he's one of Elliot's clients. But she wants to talk to me."
"To talk? About what?"
"About leaving this lifestyle behind."
"But you haven't left it. You still use this place, yes?"
"Ana and I use it frequently."
I sit on the arm of the couch and Kate walks over to the wooden cross on the wall, running her hand over the polished wood. She looks at the grid overhead with various shackles hanging from it. She takes hold of a one of the cuffs and she rubs the leather between her thumb and forefinger. "It's so soft." This clearly confuses her.
"It isn't about inflicting pain, Kate." It used to be, but that side of what this room was for isn't a subject I want to discuss with my sister-in-law.
"So why do you need to tie Ana up?"
"I don't need to tie her up, but we use it to experience a greater sense of pleasure together." I see an involuntary response in her body that she probably doesn't know I can spot. She's turned on. I sense her body language change. She's radiating an intense curiosity and I think it's only fair to assuage it. "Would you like me to put them on you?" I ask and Kate looks over at me, shocked and a little confused, but I can't fail to see the spark of excitement in her eyes. I get up off the couch and walk towards her, seeing the fear that she's crossed a line and this could potentially go anywhere. I need to reassure her. "You're my brother's wife and all I'm going to do is offer to take your wrists and put them in the cuffs so you can experience it. I promise I won't do anything else. Now, do you want to?"
She nods a yes and I take her right arm and clip it into the leather cuff above her head. I do the same with her left. I can hear the change in her breathing and see the flush in her face. I step back to give her space and she turns crimson.
"Oh my god, I'm so embarrassed to be like this, but it's so hot!"
"Exactly. After a while the embarrassment fades and you start to enjoy it." Kate bends her knees and dangles slightly, giving an impromptu giggle.
"This is crazy. Can Elliot and I come and use this place?"
"Absolutely not!" I say sternly. "Kate, you know that Ana and I want to keep this to ourselves. But why don't you and Elliot think about creating a room of your own?"
"Where would we put it?"
"In the basement, in the attic, wherever you want. Obviously it needs a lock on the door. You don't want Ava thinking that it's her playroom, too."
"Where do you get all this stuff from?"
"There are certain suppliers that I can give you the details of. But you don't need anything elaborate to start out with. A lot of the time Ana and I just improvise."
"Anything. Ties, bathrobe belts, food, whatever comes to hand."
"Really? Well, we've done that occasionally." She shrugs.
I shake my head and smile. My brother doing the same things to his wife that I do to mine is not a mental image I want in my head. "Well, well Elliot Grey, you naughty boy." I chuckle.
"I think you eclipse him by some margin, Christian. Can you unclip me?"
"No." I grin, walk over to the couch and sit down, leaving my sister-in-law dangling from the grid of the playroom.
"Christian! I have a party to be at."
"Well you shouldn't have come up here sticky-beaking Mrs Grey. Actually, I should do this to all journalists who ask me too many questions."
She sticks her tongue out at me.
"Very mature, Mrs Grey."
"Oh fuck off Christian." She grins.
I laugh. "Right, I will." I walk to the door, unlock it and leave the room, closing the door behind me which almost, but not quite muffles the shrieks from Kate. I laugh and a movement to the right catches my eye. It's Susannah. I instantly assume my alter ego.
I glare at her. "What the fuck are you doing up here?"
"I was looking for you. I really do want to talk."
"I have nothing to say to you."
Susannah drags in a deep, ragged breath and fights back tears. "Why are you nice to other women and a complete bastard to those of us who've subbed for you? Why can't you treat us with courtesy? I know you're married now, although what the hell you're doing with another woman in your playroom while your wife is in London is something you'll have to square with yourself, but why can't you be civil to me? I am no less a woman than your wife, Mr Grey. Why do you worship the ground she walks on and wipe your feet on me? What does she have that I don't?"
To the side of me Kate's increasingly angry yells are starting to bleed through the door. I hold my finger up. "Will you excuse me please, I need to go and release my sister-in-law from some shackles." I can't fail to look embarrassed. Susannah laughs and the stupid, insane situation breaks something in me. "Long story." I add, roll my eyes and dart back into the room.
"This is not funny, Christian!" yells Kate. "I could have been here for hours!"
"I was just outside. I wasn't going anywhere."
As I'm unclipping her, a movement at the door catches Kate's attention. "Oh fuck, no. Christian! Ana's only been away three days."
I stare at my sister-in-law. "Kate, think for a minute. What were we talking about before I gave you the option of trying out the apparatus?"
"Yes. Just. Talk."
"That's all I want to do," says Susannah.
"But you shouldn't be doing it behind Ana's back," hisses Kate.
"No, and I won't." I turn to Susannah. "We'll speak, but only if my wife says yes. OK?"
"I can agree to that." I see her eyes flick to the place by the bench where the canes used to be and the raise of her brow as she registers their absence. "I'll wait to hear from you. Goodbye Mr Grey, Mrs…Grey." Susannah vacates the room leaving me to face my slightly pissed-off sister-in-law. She's rubbing her wrists, but the venom has gone. In its place is amusement.
"So, exactly how are you going to explain to Ana that you had me chained up in your sex dungeon?"
"Well, I shall appeal to your sense of honesty to corroborate the fact that this is not a dungeon. You wandered in here after me, I gave you the option of trying the restraints and you said yes. I also want you to add that you were fully clothed, I touched nothing other than your wrists and obeyed you completely when you told me to fuck off." I smirk at her.
Kate wagged her finger at me. "Yeah, this is what I don't get about you. I get your not-so-ex Dom persona, but this jokey, flirty you? That freaks me out."
"I'm Ice Man and I get hauled over the coals. I'm Mr Nice Guy and it freaks people out. I can't win."
"Stick to Ana."
"I intend to."
"Kate!?" Comes the distant shout of Elliot trying to find his wife.
"Shit!" Kate says and darts out of the room. I grab my jacket and follow, turning off the light and locking the door behind me.
"Not a word, please?" I ask of her.
"Of course. But if you could let me have a list of… suppliers?"
"Sure. I'll email it over tomorrow."
Kate is suddenly pink again. "How do you…" She gestures with her hands, searching for the right way to phrase something. "How do you learn how to do this stuff?"
"There are places you can go." I say.
Her mouth drops open. "Really?" And then I see the danger in her eyes, that tenacity that I only see at its max when she has the bit between her teeth in an investigation.
"Kate." I warn. "No. These are people's private lives."
"There you are!" Says Elliot wandering down the corridor. "Oh yeah?" he drawls. "Why are you so pink?"
"Your brother has been giving me really hot sex tips."
Elliot guffawed. "Yeah right, pull the other one. What Christian knows about sex could be written on a postage stamp. You're married to the one with all the moves, baby. Come on, there are some terminally boring people downstairs that I need you to save me from. Laters Christian."
"Laters." I reply. As long as my brother continues to believe the image I had worked very hard to cultivate before Ana arrived in my life, my secret will stay secret. Elliot pulls Kate away but as they reach the top of the stairs she runs back to me.
"Will you teach me?" She asks in earnest.
Now I'm the one who's crimson. "Um…"
"Ask Ana!" She whispers frantically. "If you won't, perhaps she will?"
I'm shocked, in a good way. "Oh, now, there's a thing."
"Do you think she would?"
What are you whispering about?" Grumbles Elliot.
"Sex tips darling!" Calls Kate and she winks at me. "Do you think she would?" She asks again.
"I don't know. I'll ask her when she gets back from London."
"OK!" Kate plants a quick kiss on my cheek and scampers back down the hall to Elliot.
"Oh, Kate?" I call, feeling suddenly reckless.
"Lift your legs a little higher and get Elliot to use a little more lube. That seems to do the trick for us." I see her face pink up once again and Elliot's jaw hit the floor. I laugh loudly. "But then again, what do I know about sex?"
Kate pulls Elliot quickly away.
I look at my watch. Nine thirty. An hour and a half before I can call Ana. I guess I could show my face again at the party downstairs. Or I could call my Mom and make sure that Ted's asleep. The party doesn't appeal, but talking about my children does. So I pull out my phone and call my Mom.