Austin Fisher was on his knees.
The carpet beneath him was thin and rough--probably easy to clean, though, which might be why it had been chosen. Another thirty minutes and he'd have rug burn, because no matter how hard he tried to stay absolutely still, it was impossible. He could feel colder air seeping through the wall behind him; it made the sheen of sweat on his bare, aching ass more noticeable, even with the majority of his attention focused on his boyfriend, Jay, and on the third man in the room.
Jay knelt too, but in an awkward position over a padded chair that Austin thought was probably meant for something other than what it was now being used for. Like sitting on. Jay's naked ass was red, and his hands gripped the wooden frame of the chair tightly as the tall man standing over him repeatedly struck him with a slapper, the looped leather belt landing with a solid snap that made Austin tense as if it was his ass on the receiving end.
Jay wasn't happy, Austin could tell. The sounds Jay made after he'd called out the number of each stroke were frustrated--even desperate--as if something was wrong, but Austin couldn't figure out the cause. It didn't matter. The night had been a disappointment, and it wasn't likely either of them would be back for more. Jay had just four strokes to go of his fifty and then they could get dressed, go home, and try to salvage something from the evening. Austin wanted their bed, Jay curled up against him, his long hair getting in the way when Austin kissed him. He wanted to take the sting out of Jay's ass with a cool, wet cloth and tell him just how hot he'd looked bent over, and he wanted to see Jay smile.
Three to go.
"Sauron!" Jay said, using his safe word for the first time in months. "Sauron!"
Austin broke position without thinking. He scrambled to his feet and felt his cramped leg muscles protest the sudden change.
"Stay where you are," Niall said sharply. Austin assumed the command was directed at him, and he hesitated, willing to let Niall handle Jay and bring him down slowly, but wanting to be there for Jay too.
"Just three more to go," Niall said and planted his hand firmly in the small of Jay's back, holding him down. "You can take it, boy."
Niall raised the belt, and Austin's uncertainty fled. He jumped forward and grabbed Niall's wrist hard enough that he could feel tendon grinding against bone. "No."
"I'm the one in charge here." Niall didn't sound convinced of that anymore, though, and Austin knew that was all it took in a situation like this.
Playtime was over.
"No," he said again. "He safe worded. You can't be stupid enough not to know what that means."
Austin was excruciatingly aware of Jay's breathing, harsh and uneven, but he also knew that until Niall relented, there was no option but to restrain the other man's hand. Jay was in a vulnerable position, and protection was more important than reassurance at that moment.
He tightened his grip on Niall's wrist. Niall winced, then nodded, and Austin felt the man's arm muscles relax. "Right," Niall said. "I was caught up. Yeah, we're done. Jay, are you--"
"Don't touch him," Austin snapped, and Niall stepped back, his eyes wary. "Give us a minute. Alone."
He didn't wait longer than it took Niall to move away before dropping back to his knees, this time so he could gather Jay into his arms.
"Easy," he said gently as he helped Jay to get off the chair. "Take it slow. Deep breaths. Are you dizzy?"
"I'm okay." Jay didn't sound it. His brown eyes looked unfocused, hazy. Jay didn't always go deeply into a scene. He had a tendency to get distracted, something he could hide successfully enough that whoever was his dom didn't notice, but tonight he'd let himself fall without hesitation.
For once that'd been a mistake.
"You don't look it."
Jay shook his head, more to clear it than in denial, Austin guessed. "It wasn't working for me. I told him to stop. I did, didn't I? I said it?"
"Yeah," Austin said, anger burning through him. Jay's safe word had made him roll his eyes and grin when Jay had chosen it, but hearing it used, it hadn't seemed weird at all. Just very Jay. "You did."
Jay was taller than Austin by a few inches, but hunched over and pressing close, he felt smaller. He rubbed his forehead against Austin's shoulder, his exhaled breath warm against Austin's bare skin. "Thought so. Niall's an asshole."
"I'm not," Niall said, and Austin, who'd assumed he'd left the room, turned his head to look at him. "It was an honest mistake."
"There wasn't anything honest about it." Austin wanted to stand up and shout at Niall, intimidate him, make him feel something of what it was like to be on the other side of the equation. He felt like it was more important to stay with Jay, though, so he kept his voice low.
"There was." Niall came closer, holding out his hands--look, not a threat--and then sat down cross-legged on the floor. "I was caught up in the scene, and it didn't register. Jay, I'm sorry. It wasn't deliberate."
"Okay." Jay didn't look at Niall.
"No, really. I'm sorry." Niall sounded genuinely upset.
"We know," Austin said. "Just give us a minute here, will you?" He slid a hand under Jay's hair to the back of his neck and rubbed it. "It's okay. Everything's good. Take all the time you need. No hurry." He'd sit here all night holding Jay if that was what it took.
"You were so close to the end," Niall said, like that mattered. "Three more. I wanted you to feel like you'd accomplished something, I guess. Crossed the finish line."
"It's not a race," Jay said. The trace of irritation in his deep, slow voice was heartening. He straightened, and Austin let his hand slide down Jay's back, unwilling to break contact with him. "The numbers don't matter, just how I'm feeling, and it wasn't working for me at all. Couldn't you tell?"
"How am I supposed to--" Niall broke off. "Jesus, it's not like I'm a mind reader. You could've said something, maybe given me a hint, not just ended it like that. When we started the scene, you two said you were up for a good, hard paddling, and that's what I gave you." There was a hint of sulkiness in his expression now, his remorse fading visibly as he worked himself up, justifying his actions. "Two of you...it's a lot of work, you know? My shoulder's going to be killing me tomorrow, and I'm supposed to be going indoor rock climbing with my boss. I hate those team-building exercises."
"You're unbelievable," Austin said flatly. "You were drooling at the thought of playing with us when I called you."
"Yeah, well, I thought I'd be getting something good out of it," Niall said. "I've never had a threesome before, and it sounded hot. Like a porn movie or something." He cleared his throat and scratched at his jaw, sheepish but hopeful. "How about I get us a drink and we can just, you know, move on?"
"To the bedroom?" Jay said. "Is that what you mean?"
"Well, yes." Niall shrugged, more relaxed now, as if he thought the awkwardness was behind them. "I get off on the spanking and the games as much as you two. You know I do, or you wouldn't have asked me to set this up for you. Doesn't mean that's all I'm interested in. What do you two do? I'm up for pretty much anything."
"Then I hope you're up for an evening alone, because we're going home." Austin uncurled himself from around Jay, stood, and held out a hand to pull Jay to his feet. "Get your clothes."
"You aren't in charge either, you know," Jay complained but went to do as he'd been told.
"What do you mean, going home? Don't you think you're overreacting?" Niall stood too, hands on his hips.
There was something intimidating about being naked next to a man who was fully dressed, but Austin was stubborn and used to getting his way.
Austin ran a hand through his hair. "Nope. And you're not going to change our minds, so you might as well give up now."
"Fine. Whatever. But you should know if this is the kind of thing you do, you're going to have a hard time finding partners. People don't like to be used." Niall sounded like a sulky teenager, and Austin knew from experience that the way to handle them was to ignore their attitude.
"Are you good?" he asked Jay, pretending Niall wasn't even there.
Jay could take his sweet time dressing in the morning, ignoring the clock and Austin's verbal prodding, drifting around their small apartment absently chewing on a piece of toast, crumbs floating down, but Austin was glad to see that tonight Jay was in no mood to linger. Their shoes were by the front door, and Jay's shirt hung unbuttoned over a faded T-shirt declaring I'M NOT MOVING UNTIL I'VE HAD MY SECOND BREAKFAST, but other than that, he was ready to leave.
Jay moved, shielding Austin from Niall's view. His shoulders were still rounded, his head ducked, but that was normal for Jay. In the two years they'd been together, Austin had never figured out if Jay's posture was due to his hobby, his job, or a desire to take up as little space as possible in the world. Maybe a little from every column. "Yeah. Let's go."
He sounded bored, but Austin didn't fool himself that Jay was ready to put what had just happened behind him. Jay would most likely refuse to talk about it in detail, but eventually he'd finish mulling it over and vent. Austin just hoped it was sooner rather than later. The longer Jay waited, the worse the meltdown would be.
Austin dressed quickly, his skin crawling because he knew without looking that Niall, who'd gone over to fiddle with the strap he'd been using, was watching him. He was too raw from hearing Jay's voice crack as he'd yelled out his safe word to feel any sympathy for Niall's blue balls. Even if the scene had played out better, there was no way they would've ended up in bed with Niall. He'd made that clear when he'd called to arrange the evening, but Niall had only heard what he'd wanted to by the sound of it. With Patrick, they'd been happy to blow him if he wanted that when the session was over, the two of them on their knees, their mouths saying thank you without words, as he stroked their hair or gripped their shoulders, his body taut with need.
Patrick had understood that Austin and Jay didn't want anyone else in their bed or their relationship--just someone who could give them what they needed as subs. Niall would never have gotten that, and maybe it was unrealistic to expect him to. Unlike Patrick, he wasn't still emotionally committed to someone else.
Austin wanted to go back to the time when Patrick was living just a few miles away, not on the other side of the country. He couldn't grudge Patrick the new start the man had made, though he still missed him. Maybe they could call him over the weekend. Their good-bye gift to him had been a webcam, and Austin had installed it and run through the basics of setting up Skype, with Patrick dubious but indulgent.
"It's better than just talking," Jay had said, pushing his hair back behind his ears so he could give Patrick an earnest look. "You can see us."
"I've grasped that much," Patrick had said drily.
"And it's free. No long-distance charges."
"I'm convinced. And grateful. You're both very sweet, and I wish..."
"You don't," Austin had said quickly. "It's going to be great, Patrick. The job sounds perfect, your apartment's right by the beach and--"
"And I won't miss Dan as much out there?"
Jay had put his arms around Patrick then, a comforting, clumsy hug. "Yeah, you will. You don't want to stop. Not yet. It's too soon. But it'll be easier someplace different. We get that."
Austin and Jay both missed Patrick for himself, as well as what he'd been able to give them, but it had been more than two months before they'd talked about what they were going to do without him. They both craved the emotional release being with an experienced dom brought. That they were a couple and determined to remain that way meant not just any dom would do. Meeting Patrick had been little more than luck, and recasting the role he'd filled was going to be difficult--if not downright impossible.
In desperation one night, they'd attempted a scene on their own, with Austin playing the dom role. It had been a complete disaster. He hadn't been able to get into the right head space, which left Jay understandably frustrated and Austin alternating between apologies and near hysterical giggling.
Niall had been recommended by a friend, and though Austin believed he hadn't had high hopes for the encounter, his sense of disappointment as they got into the car told him he'd been fooling himself. "Well," he said, putting the key into the ignition but not starting the car. "That sucked."
"Beyond words," Jay agreed and put a hand on Austin's thigh. "You okay?"
"I'm not the one who safe worded and then was ignored," Austin pointed out. "Jesus." It was still sinking in.
Jay patted his thigh, comforting him as if Austin had been the one pinned down. "Yeah, but you didn't enjoy it much, either. I could tell."
True enough. The paddling Austin had gotten had felt good to start with, the familiarity of the act soothing. He loved getting his ass spanked red, the sizzle sinking in deep until it spread through him, leaving him wrung out and satisfied. He could climax from it if it was done right, needing nothing but a word of permission followed by one more perfect, painful slap. Niall hadn't brought him even close to that delicious euphoria. Austin had soon realized Niall's ideas of what constituted a paddling were basic to say the least. Placement, rhythm, force, the sweet cruelty of a pause with a few well-chosen words spoken in a clear voice cutting through the roar in his ears...none of that had been present. Niall had bent him over, groped his ass in a way Austin had resented, then walloped him with a brisk enthusiasm that had petered off quickly.
Niall had been right about one thing: His shoulder was going to ache tomorrow. The man was out of shape.
Jay sighed and picked at a frayed spot on his jeans, just above his knee. "Like I said. He's an asshole. We really blew it tonight. Patrick's going to freak when we tell him."
"We don't have to tell him."
Jay turned his head, the long, straight fall of his hair swaying forward. "He'll know something's wrong."
That was too much a given for Austin to even bother arguing. "Well, it's not like he can do anything to us when he's thousands of miles away."
Even he could hear the longing in his voice. He wanted Patrick to tell them they'd been reckless and come up with some inventive way to punish them that would leave all three of them smiling when it was over. Knowing it wasn't going to happen and they were on their own was more painful than anything Niall had done.
Jay shifted in his seat. "My ass hurts. I want to go home. I feel"--he gestured impatiently with his hands, his long fingers graceful, expressive--"like a firework that didn't get to go bang. Fuck. I really, really wanted this to work out for us."
"I know. Me too." Austin sighed and started the car. "Well, let's get you home, at least."
They didn't talk much on the way back, which was usual for them following a scene, but for entirely different reasons. Usually they were happily post-orgasm and exhausted, looking forward to a long shower and a deep, peaceful sleep. Tonight their silence was about the frustration they shared and the reality that they were once again out of options.
"We'll be okay," Jay said as they thumped their way up the long, narrow staircase that led to their apartment on the second floor of the old Victorian they called home. "Hey, come on. You're supposed to agree with me."
"Yeah. We'll be okay." It didn't sound particularly convincing. "Ow! Shit, Jay, when are you going to do something about these books?" Austin had tripped yet again over a stack of books, this one piled near the door.
"Sorry." Jay knelt to pick them up, then slid the stack closer to the wall.
Austin shut the door and banged his head against it, despising himself just a little bit. "No, don't be sorry. I'm an asshole. Come here." They were barely in the door, and here he was snapping at his boyfriend.
"I don't mean to bring home so many," Jay murmured against Austin's neck, hugging him tightly. "And you're not an asshole."
"Sometimes I am."
"Sometimes everyone is, I guess, but you, no. You're perfect."
Austin couldn't help laughing. "You work at a library, and you think I'm perfect? Doesn't it have a dictionary? Because I'm pretty sure my picture isn't next to that word."
"You take care of me," Jay said with a simple trust that made Austin feel like driving back to Niall's and punching him, hard. Jay wasn't naive exactly, but he tended to believe the best about people. That a dom wouldn't listen to a safe word would never have occurred to him before tonight, and Austin wasn't sure how Jay would process Niall's inability to follow such a basic, necessary rule. "You take care of your family too. Assholes don't care about anyone but themselves."
Jay's voice was muffled, but Austin heard every word.
"I love you." He didn't say that often enough. Jay shivered with pleasure and pressed a kiss against Austin's neck, unerringly finding the precise spot to make Austin's eyes squeeze tightly closed as his body responded.
Jay kissed him again, this time adding a nip from his teeth. "Want to salvage something from tonight?"
"Yes." There were a lot of other things Austin wanted to say, but he rarely shared more than a fraction of the thoughts that flitted through his head. He was the kind of guy who did what was needed and didn't talk about it. "Shower okay?"
That was the kind of thing he wouldn't put into words--the need to make Jay's skin his again, to erase any lingering memory of Niall's touch and put his on Jay instead. Austin wanted to touch every inch of Jay. He wanted to wash him clean and then take him to bed and fuck him, long and slow and careful.
The bathtub was an old claw-foot with a shower curtain that didn't really do the job. Long before Austin had moved in, Jay had bought a collection of bath mats and spread them on the floor all around the tub to soak up the inevitable flood. The mats didn't always dry out between showers, so Austin had insisted on a strict schedule of trips through the washer and dryer that was tiresome but necessary, like so many other things in life.
Austin was grateful every day that his relationship with Jay was the complete opposite of tiresome. He was still in awe of Jay's skin, of the light freckles that decorated Jay's shoulders and the smooth silkiness of Jay's lower back. Every smile Jay directed toward him was like an amazing gift. Sure, the piles of books and the clutter got on his nerves, but none of that was important when compared to Jay's loving, generous spirit.
Aware he was getting lost in thought, Austin forced himself to focus on the moment. He reached for the soap and a washcloth. "Turn around," he said softly.
Jay obeyed at once. Austin supposed both of them were inclined to do that in certain circumstances--and naked, wet, and horny definitely qualified--but now that they were floating, no hand on the rudder since Patrick had left, it always seemed to be him giving the orders. He didn't want to, though. It didn't feel right. God, this was so messed up.
He glanced down at Jay's ass, mottled faintly with rising bruises, the pale skin splotched with scarlet. If Patrick had made it look like that, Jay would've been twisting around to stare at it in the mirror every chance he got until the marks faded, touching the tender skin and loving every twinge. Austin got a kick out of Jay's wholehearted enjoyment of the aftermath of a scene. It was so rare to see him exuberant. Jay's happiness ran more to a steady glow than a blaze.
With his finger, he traced around a particularly dark patch of skin. Niall must've struck it repeatedly. That could feel intense in the moment, as Austin knew from experience, but it hurt like hell too. Jay hadn't been anything like ready for that level of pain so early in the session. No wonder he'd safe worded. Austin had been there, lost in the pain, unable to use it to guide him to any kind of emotional resolution. Patrick had picked up his confusion and eased back at once, so by the time the spanking was over, Austin had been sobbing with relief, not panic.
"Throbs," Jay said, a plaintive note in his voice.
"Yeah, it's pretty raw there," Austin said, not sugarcoating it. Jay would see it for himself, if not tonight, tomorrow. "The skin's not broken, though."
"Scrub it," Jay said. His hands were flat against the tiled wall, but as he spoke, they tightened into fists. "Scrub it clean, Austin."
It was his thoughts given words, but Austin hesitated.
"Hurt me," Jay begged, his voice breaking. "Not much, but I need--I need to feel it from you. From someone I trust. I can remember him behind me, and God, I can still smell him on me. He reeked."
Austin wrinkled his nose sympathetically. Niall had been wearing cologne, the scent musky and thick enough to make his throat close up at first, though he'd gotten used to it after a while and tuned it out. Jay tended to react badly to certain odors, and strong perfumes were high on the list.
"I want to forget him," Jay said. "Make me. Please, Austin?"
Austin went to his knees. There was no way he could ignore the appeal in Jay's voice, not tonight. Not ever.
The slippery surface, hard, unyielding, hurt his knees, but he'd learned how to push discomfort aside when it wasn't important. Nothing mattered but giving Jay the reassurance he needed.
He worked up a thick lather on the washcloth and then applied it to Jay's skin, too gently at first. It made him angry if he thought about it too much, knowing Jay needed things he wasn't capable of giving. He wanted to give Jay everything, and he couldn't. It sucked. Austin tried to channel that anger into his hands, turning them rough and scrubbing the area that was already the sorest if Jay's breathing had anything to say about it.
"Yeah." Jay's voice broke again. It was almost a sob. "Like that. Little harder."
Austin did as he'd been told, feeling emotion choking him, his eyes stinging and the back of his throat tight and thick with it. "There," he said, scrubbing harder. "You're clean. Feel it? Nothing but soap and skin."