Actions

Work Header

BDSM 201: Practical Applications

Work Text:

It takes Brendon several long minutes to turn away after his parents drive off campus. He’s still warm from their hugs, his dad’s over-hot from the sweatshirt he’d bought at the school’s bookstore. Brendon still can’t really believe that his parents are letting him go to a secular school this far from Vegas, but seeing that sweatshirt on his dad had made it real, somehow. He’s glad they stayed to have lunch after carrying everything up to Brendon’s room; he’s still getting used to the idea that they won’t be around all the time now that he’s at college.

There are people carrying heavy boxes towards him, so Brendon takes one last look at where they’d driven out and gets out of the way. He can be homesick in his awesome new dorm room, instead.

He wanders back towards his dorm room, finds a tall guy putting stuff away in one of the dressers. “Hey,” the guy says. “Brendon, right?”

“Yeah. Dallon?” Brendon sits on his bed, careful of the stuff he still has to unpack. He’s glad the guy’s name was on the door. Dallon nods, and Brendon smiles at him. He seems pretty okay, and there’s a bass guitar sitting on his desk. “Are you from around here?”

“Utah,” Dallon says. “But the trip wasn’t that bad. Good weather.”

“Hot,” Brendon agrees. “My dad was sweating like a—well, like a member of my family.” Brendon glances down at his own t-shirt. “I should probably change this.”

Dallon shrugs agreement. “For the hall meeting, maybe.” He keeps folding, unconcerned, while Brendon pulls out a Dave Matthews t-shirt and switches it for the old gym-uniform shirt he’s been rocking.

Brendon guesses this is pretty much their bonding time, and he might as well keep it going. “Are you a freshman, too?” The guy doesn’t look it, but Brendon’s pretty sure this is a freshman-only dorm.

“Yeah. But I took a couple of years for this—other thing, after high school.” Dallon looks away, down at the slacks he’s refolding.

“Mission,” Brendon says, and Dallon turns to blink at him. Brendon points at the CTR embroidered patch on Dallon’s backpack. It’s actually pretty subtle, but Brendon would know a Choose the Right reference anywhere. “My family’s LDS, too.”

“Oh,” Dallon says. “But you didn’t—”

Brendon shrugs. “Being the baby of the family helped,” he says. “They—honestly, they almost kicked me out when I said I wasn’t going, but I, you know. We worked it out eventually.”

Dallon nods. “So—you play?” He tips his chin at the guitar case next to Brendon’s leg, and Brendon grins, always happy to talk about music.

“Yeah,” Brendon says. “I’m gonna major in performance. They wouldn’t let me declare before classes start, but that’s—that’s all I want.”

“It’s a good program,” Dallon says. “I’m signed up for a bunch of music shit.” He grins at Brendon’s look of surprise. “Yeah, I swear sometimes,” he says. “I don’t really think He cares about that.”

Brendon rubs the back of his neck. Maybe it’s better to just—now, while they can transfer before anyone gets too settled.

“I’m gay,” he says, the words smushed together. “And—an atheist. And stuff.” His heart’s beating fast, and he can’t remember—he thinks Dallon might be the first person he’s ever said that out loud to. Jamie, the one guy he’d sort of dated, had just sort of assumed it from the way Brendon had been staring at his ass at the skate park.

Dallon just looks at him. “Dude, I don’t give a fuck if you’re a Satanist as long as you don’t let my shit get stolen or, like, host parties in here while I’m studying for finals.”

“Oh,” Brendon says. “Um. Awesome.” His heart rate isn’t really coming down, though, and he feels shaky, even with the relief flooding through him.

Dallon snorts. “You kind of have a low bar for awesome, dude.” He turns back to his unpacking, fills one drawer and opens the next.

“Do you want to go over now? Scope out the common room, get good seats?” Brendon’s still hyped up from coming out, and antsy from his usual brand of can’t-sit-still. He’s itching to find out who else he’ll be living with for the next year, and just to get started on the, whatever, the college experience.

Maybe there’ll even be another gay dude on the hall. Someone Brendon could talk to. After Jamie flaked out, Brendon had been kind of short on gay guys in his social circle, and it’s not like he can talk to his parents about stuff. The scholarship may be covering his tuition and housing, but Brendon still needs to be able to buy new shoes when his wear out, and strings for his guitar, and all that kind of shit is still the Bank of Dad. Brendon’s pretty sure there’d be a permanent bank strike if he told them he’s gay.

But he’s told his roommate, and nothing bad happened. So—at least that’s a start.

“Okay,” Dallon says, tossing the last pair of socks in and closing the drawer. “Yeah, let’s go over.”

There’s already a few guys in the common room by the time they find it. A couple of tall guys are flipping through a Sports Illustrated and making fun of it, and there’s a dude in one of the chairs, flipping between a clipboard and some multi-colored folders. He looks up when they come in, smiles at them, and suddenly Brendon can’t quite breathe.

“Hey! I’m Spencer, I’m your RA,” the guy says, and Brendon almost doesn’t hear him, too focused on the way Spencer’s lips are moving, on the way his shirt makes his eyes look even bluer.

“Dallon,” Dallon says, and shakes Spencer’s hand. Brendon manages to keep hold of himself long enough to give his own name, and Spencer’s hand is warm and strong when he shakes it.

There’s a bunch of bulletin boards in here covered with hall rules and store-bought cartoons of musical instruments. Dallon gestures at one of the paper guitars, tips his chin at Spencer. “So are you in the music program or—?”

“Yeah,” Spencer grins. “Drums, percussion in general. You?”

“Bass and guitar,” Dallon says.

“Dude, I—drums, too!” Brendon manages, almost cutting Dallon off. “And guitar and piano. And—stuff. I mean.” He bounces on his toes for a second. “Sorry, you were—I should—I’m gonna sit down.”

Spencer looks a little confused, and Brendon would face-palm except that no way is he going to let Spencer see that. Better to, like. Feign confidence.

Fuck, he’d been doing so well with this whole college thing so far.

***

Orientation is four long days of tours and lectures. Brendon has collected a ridiculous number of pamphlets, stickers, and folders, along with about sixteen pens printed with the school’s name. He’s pretty sure he can hit twenty by the time classes start, if he tries.

The last event this evening is an ice-cream social for his whole dorm. Pretty much everyone shows up, clumping into roommate-based cliques and scooping up nuts and sprinkles while they try to make conversation.

“You think they’ll let us go for seconds?” Dallon’s down to hot fudge and a couple of almond bits, and he’s looking at his empty spoon forlornly. “Or is it like a strict one-per-person?”

“If they didn’t say, I think you’re golden.” Brendon shrugs. “This is, like, the week of free stuff. Probably they’ll give you two and, like, a travel mug if you ask.”

“Right? I wish there were a resale value on some of this shit. Did you get a canvas bag at the safety lecture?”

Brendon had skipped that one, actually, gone back to their room and luxuriated in the privacy. The luxury had mostly taken the form of jerking off to some seriously dirty porn. It had been way better than any lecture about not waving his wallet around at night or whatever.

“Hey, there’s Spencer,” Dallon says, and before Brendon can stop him, he’s waving Spencer over. “Dude!”

“Hey,” Spencer says, smiling at both of them. “How’s orientation treating you guys?”

“Oh, um,” Brendon says. Maybe this time he won’t embarrass himself in front of the hot RA. “It’s great. Lots of, you know. Free pens.”

Spencer snorts. “You should see how many I end up with,” he says. “And still, somehow, by the time exams roll around I’m scrambling to find one.”

“I think it’s an alien plot,” Brendon says. “Like, they’re trying to drive us mad. Or they’re going to return all the lost pens all at once, and we’ll be crushed to death by the sheer volume.”

“You’d think they’d just shoot us with lasers or whatever,” Dallon muses. “Like, if they have the technology to abduct pens.”

“Nah,” Spencer says. “Species extinction by pen-crushing is probably, like, their version of people getting hit in the balls on YouTube. They probably show a holograph of it to all their alien buddies.”

“Yeah!” Brendon says. “Yeah, they, like, smoke up and watch all the pens falling out of the sky and, like, taking out old ladies walking their dogs. Maybe they’d drop them on individual people at a time, right? And then build up to, like. Complete pen coverage of the entire world.”

“Oh, man,” Spencer says. “And then it could be, like, a tourist site. All the aliens from wherever coming to walk around on the new pen surface of the Earth, all ‘ha ha puny humans.’”

“We are puny,” Brendon agrees. “We were crushed to death by pens. We deserve to be laughed at.”

Dallon’s just kind of watching them now, and Brendon turns to say something else about pens and aliens, try to draw him into the conversation, when his foot catches on a patch of spilled hot fudge.

He goes down hard, which would be okay, except that his foot skids right into Spencer’s ankle and Spencer goes down with him, his brand-new ice-cream sundae flying up into the air and coming down right onto Spencer’s t-shirt. The vanilla ice cream drips down into Spencer’s collarbone as Spencer tries to catch his breath, wind knocked out of him.

Brendon closes his eyes, and tries to pretend he isn’t here. It doesn’t really work.

***

Thanks in part to successful post-trauma avoidance of Spencer, the first week of classes is maybe the best week of Brendon’s life. All of his classes are amazing—well, the music ones are, anyway. His music-theory professor is the best so far, a young guy trying to hide some thinning hair under a cap like Brendon’s granddad wears. The professor demonstrated the initial concepts on half a dozen instruments, and Brendon ached to try some of them out.

He’s tried out for two a capella groups and a jazz band, and he’s thinking about maybe going for the musical the drama club is casting, too. Dallon thinks he’s gonna burn out, but Brendon’s better off when he’s busy.

Today, though—today’s not about classes, or even about music. Today’s about sex.

Brendon’s had this Saturday marked in his calendar for three months. It’s one of a dozen days with little red-pen scribbles across the bottom, his own shorthand. The one for today just says “Qu Ss&Ds 2pm OGdn on 2nd. St clths.”

Brendon’s been sneaking S&M porn and jerking off thinking about it for as long as he’s known about the internet, practically. But in Vegas, in Summerlin, where his parents knew everybody and his bishop had eyes in the back of his head, it couldn’t be something Brendon did in reality.

It’s not like Brendon’s never had sex. He sort of knows what he’s doing. He’d had a—not a boyfriend exactly, but a guy he went home with sometimes, an older guy with an apartment and three roommates who didn’t seem to think it was weird for Brendon to be there. The first time Jamie had held Brendon down while he blew him, Brendon had yelled so loud that one of the roommates had pounded on the wall. Jamie just pulled off and grinned at him. “Tony’s just jealous.”

Brendon had panted, unable to answer, too caught up in confusion and desire. Jamie was still holding Brendon’s hips, fingertips digging in, and Brendon wanted him to squeeze harder, dig his nails in, do all the things Brendon’s seen in the porn he watches. He wanted Jamie to refuse to let Brendon up.

When he’d been accepted here, gotten the scholarship letter, Brendon had gone straight to the computer and started googling, because—because he’s in a city now, or on the fringes of one, and cities have get-togethers for people like Brendon. Cities have groups, and people who know what they’re doing. This city has a bunch, and Brendon’s going to try all of them.

This one—queer subs and doms welcome, at the Olive Garden on Second Ave, street clothes mandatory—this one’s just lunch and chatting. But lunch and chatting are cool, Brendon can totally get on board with lunch and chatting.

He’s not, like. He’s not not nervous. He’s never been to one of these things—munches—before, and sometimes people don’t seem to really like him when they first meet him. But he’ll just try to be, like. Calm and polite. He’s read a couple of etiquette guides, mostly by accident when he was trying to figure out the meeting locations, and they all pretty much said the same thing: be nice, don’t hit on people, don’t talk about kinky shit at the top of your lungs where people who aren’t in the group can hear. Brendon’s good at all of those things, he’s pretty sure. Well, sometimes he has problems with volume control, but that’s for, like. Stuff that isn’t embarrassing as all hell.

Brendon has lots of time to plan his strategy on the long shuttlebus into the city. The meeting location is pretty central, at least, so he can walk instead of having to figure out the transit system just yet. He ends up walking around the block a few times once he gets there, just to try to cool his nerves. This is—whatever, this is his potential community, for like the next four years. He kind of wants them to think he’s cool.

“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen,” he finally mutters, and then just pushes in through the door.

“One for lunch?” The hostess is perky, and Brendon doesn’t know what to say—that he’s here for the sex meeting?

“Uh, I’m meeting—like, a group?”

“Of course!” she says, and leads him to a whole roped-off little section, with a couple of long tables and a dozen people already sitting around them. Half of them turn and look at Brendon, and, Jesus, Brendon loves attention but it’s totally fucking different to feel like an insect on a pin like this.

A guy at one end of the far table gets up and walks over to him, smiling. “Hey! I’m Todd, I’m the host.”

“Brendon.” The guy shakes his hand, and leads him to the near table.

“Hey, guys, this is Brendon. He’s—you’re new, right, Brendon?” Brendon nods, and Todd introduces the rest of the table. Brendon only catches a few of the names—Shane, Zack, Sarah—and the rest are a blur. They’re all smiling at him, though, and Brendon manages to get into a chair without falling over or injuring anyone, so he’s calling it a win.

“So, Brendon, are you new to the city? Or just to the lifestyle?” Sarah’s the closest to him, a cute brunette with bangs like Katy Perry.

“Uh,” Brendon says. “Both, I guess.” The rest of the table is dropping back into whatever conversation Todd had interrupted, something about a new Indian restaurant on the west side. It’s not exactly what Brendon thought they’d be talking about.

“Ah,” Sarah says. “Fresh meat.” She winks, and Brendon feels himself shrinking back, because—what? “Oh, hey.” Sarah puts a hand up. “Dude, I’m joking, I promise. You’re cute and all but I don’t really swing that way. Well, not much.”

Brendon’s still feeling kind of nervous, but, okay, she’s kind of funny. “Do—I mean, do new people not come much?”

She tips her head to the side. “I’d say—this one gets a few most months. But I go to some that aren’t publicized much, you know? Sort of invite-only. Those are the same group of people pretty much always.”

“And, um,” Brendon says. “Like—not like this, but like actual, uh—”

“Play parties,” Sarah says. Brendon’s not sure how she knew what he was getting at.

“Yeah. Are—do new people ever, um. At those?”

“Those are mostly invite-only,” Sarah says. “Or the good ones are, anyway. You get some publicized stuff, but it tends to be more—you know, you get people coming in ‘cause they watched Eyes Wide Shut and they think it’ll be an orgy? And it’s kind of a mood-killer to have that kind of guy staring at your ass while you’re trying to hit subspace, you know what I mean?”

“Not really?” Brendon says, and Sarah smiles at him, reassuring. “So, um. Is it, like—is it hard to get invited to the good ones, then?”

Sarah looks him up and down, grinning. “Oh, I don’t think you’re gonna be short of invites.”

“Uh. Thanks,” Brendon says, and opens his menu just to have something else to look at.

“So you’re really new, then,” Sarah says. “Wait, you’re over 18, right?”

“Yeah,” Brendon says. “You want to see my ID?”

She taps his open menu. “No, but other people will. Better safe than sorry.” She lets it drop, though, and Brendon starts listening in on the conversation going on across from him. It’s not about restaurants anymore; now it’s about safewords, safe gestures, and safe touches.

“Safe touches is the stupidest fucking phrase I’ve ever heard,” Zack says, and Brendon can’t really disagree.

“But there’s nothing wrong with the concept—” A woman whose name Brendon doesn’t know starts, and Zack waves his hand, cutting her off.

“Obviously. But Jesus, ‘safe touches’? Like we don’t have enough bad press. It sounds like some kind of molestation thing. ‘Show me on the doll where he safe-touched you!’ Fuck that shit.”

“If you don’t have a better phrase, then it’s not really worth getting all upset over,” Shane says. “I mean, whatever, all our lingo is kind of stupid. Don’t even get me started about titles.”

“Oh, please, get him started about titles.” A woman on Shane’s other side grins at him, catches Brendon’s eye and winks at him. “I never get tired of the title rants.”

“No fair doing it when there’s no one into High Protocol at the table,” another guy says. “Unless our newcomer—?” Brendon shakes his head. Whatever the fuck they’re all talking about, it wasn’t really covered in the porn he watched. “Right, so. Preaching to the choir takes a backseat to an actual debate.”

“Safe touches,” Sarah says. “What’s wrong with ‘tapping out’? It’s close enough.”

“Do you use taps? I’ve never used taps. Taps are stupid,” Zack says. “And ‘squeeze out’ sounds like some kind of—”

“Please don’t finish that sentence,” Shane says. “Some of us are planning to order food and, like, eat it.” Brendon grins into his menu. He doesn’t think, probably, that Shane’s a—whatever, a dom, like Brendon’s pretty sure he’s looking for, but he’s definitely cute.

“You have no idea what I was going to say,” Zack says, but he doesn’t finish the sentence, anyway.

Brendon turns back to Sarah. “I feel like I should have a kink-to-English dictionary, or something.”

Sarah laughs. “You’ll pick it up fast,” she says. “But I can recommend some books and, like, blogs.”

“Thanks,” Brendon says, and Sarah taps his menu again.

“You ready to order?” Brendon nods, folds the menu away, and the waiter appears almost immediately. Brendon hopes he hadn’t been holding them up.

The conversation lulls while they’re eating, and Brendon picks up a few new names: Greta, Danny, Haley. They’re all pretty young, and Brendon glances over at the other table, finds it’s an older crowd. He wonders if Todd steered him over here for that reason.

By the time Brendon’s heading out, the tables are mostly empty and his head is swimming with all the names and terms. He’s pretty sure almost everything they were talking about went over his head, but Sarah gave him some book titles and stuff, and he’s definitely going to read up instead of just watching the porn.

A guy from the other table is heading out at the same time Brendon is, catches up to him as he’s walking back to the shuttle stop. He’s wearing a leather jacket covered with buckles, which only sort of comes under the heading of “street clothes” in Brendon’s view, but he has to admit it’s hot.

“Hey,” the guy says. “Nick.”

Brendon introduces himself, and Nick shakes his hand, doesn’t let go right away. “You’re new, huh?”

“Yeah,” Brendon says. Nick’s kind of old—well, like 30 or something—but he’s square-jawed and built, and the way he’s looking at Brendon makes Brendon feel fluttery.

“You need a good mentor,” Nick says. “Someone to show you the ropes.”

Brendon bites his lip. That does sound pretty good. “Yeah,” he says. “I mean, that would be, you know. Awesome.”

“I’m going to this play party tomorrow night,” Nick says. “You should come, check out the real scene.”

Brendon grins. “Yeah, that sounds—yeah. That would be awesome, thank you.”

“Hey,” Nick says. “We gotta help out the new guys.” He gives Brendon the address and the time, and Brendon dutifully types it into his phone. “No street clothes,” Nick adds, and Brendon looks up, confused. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re a tourist, you know? It’s not polite. Dress the part.”

“I don’t really have anything,” Brendon says. He definitely doesn’t have anything that’ll look as good as Nick’s black t-shirt looks right now. Not unless he can fit three months of working out into the next twelve hours, anyway.

“Black jeans and a tight black t-shirt’ll work in a pinch,” Nick says, and then he leans in close, strokes the air next to Brendon’s neck. “Maybe you can pick up a cheap dog collar.” Brendon almost shivers, suddenly desperate for Nick to go ahead and touch him. “See you there.”

“Y-yeah,” Brendon agrees, and watches Nick walk away.

***

Brendon stops by a pet store on the way to the shuttle stop. He ends up staring at the row of collars for so long that he almost misses his shuttle and has to wait an hour, but the one he picked—smooth, rolled black leather—seems like the right kind of thing. The kind of thing Nick would approve of.

He’s got the other stuff, too, black jeans and a tight black t-shirt, and he figures maybe black socks and work boots would be better than flip-flops, maybe. Somehow, having all of that worked out doesn’t make it any easier to actually get ready on Sunday.

“Dude,” Dallon says. “Are you okay? Do you want the fan on or something?” Dallon’s lying in bed with a textbook propped on his chest, and he’s being pretty great about how much Brendon’s anxiety is probably screwing with his focus.

“Sorry,” Brendon says. “I’m going to this, like, party, and I don’t know—I don’t want to be that guy, you know?” He’s probably gonna be that guy no matter what, the guy in the corner who’s too annoying and too new and too Brendon.

“Uh, sure.” Dallon squints at him. “Is it a school thing? I could come with you if you want the—”

“No!” Brendon says, a little too loud, and then, “Sorry, not—um. Not a school thing. More of a, like. Sort of a gay thing.” Not exactly true, but close enough.

“Ahhh,” Dallon says, and now he’s grinning. “I get it. You’re trying to dress to impress.” He waggles his eyebrows, and Brendon laughs, relieved.

“Yeah,” Brendon agrees. “Yeah, pretty much.”

Dallon tents his textbook on the bed, laces his fingers over his belly. “That seems like a good outfit. I mean, it’s not really my area, but I think you look good.”

Brendon half turns, striking a pose, and grins at him. “Of course I do,” he says, and suddenly he can already feel the adrenaline, the performance high. That’s what this party is—he’s putting on a costume, putting on a show. He can do this. “I can do this,” he mutters, and Dallon snorts.

“Maybe save the Stuart Smiley routine for when I’m out of the room, dude.”

Brendon flips him off, laughing, and then he gets out the door before he can overthink this any longer.

***

Brendon doesn’t put the collar on until he’s practically inside the building. He’s thinking that’s not the sort of thing he really wants to wear on the shuttle, with all his fellow students looking on, but it’s also something that felt weird to pull out on the sidewalk of this unassuming neighborhood, with its tiny manicured lawns and semi-detached houses.

It’s cool against his neck, and Brendon wishes he had a mirror, because he bets it looks really fucking sexy, with the buckle sitting in the hollow of his throat. There’d been goth kids in his high school who wore collars, sometimes, and Brendon had never thought much of it. Now, though—now he feels hot, feels like strutting into the house with his chin raised.

He doesn’t quite strut, in the end; he has to find the right house, and then the right door, and pay the guy sitting in the hallway, and then he’s in this strange house and it’s all very sudden. Very awkward.

“Hi there!” A man comes up and stops well outside of Brendon’s personal space. “I’m Mark, your host for the evening.” He’s a tall guy, skinny and kind of nerdy, nothing like the kind of guy Brendon might have pictured hosting a kinky sex party. Brendon likes him instantly.

“Oh,” Brendon says. “I’m—Brendon. Uh, Nick invited me? Is that—okay?”

Mark frowns for a second, but then his face smooths out. “Of course,” he says. “Did he give you the house rules?”

“Uh, no street clothes?” Brendon says. “But this was kind of as good as I could do.”

Mark’s smiling now, sort of the way Brendon’s grandmother smiles at him. It’s a little annoying, actually, because Brendon’s here to get laid, not to be the kid everyone talks down to. “Okay! That’s good, but I mean more the party rules. House safeword is ‘safeword.’ No touching without permission. DMs are wearing red armbands—” He taps his own “—and you can go to them with any problems. Don’t interrupt a scene unless you think there’s a very serious safety risk, no bodily fluids on the furniture, and don’t touch without permission.”

“You said that one twice,” Brendon points out.

“It bears repeating,” Mark says. “So you think you’ve got the gist? There’s a written list in the kitchen if you need to refresh your memory.”

“Safeword is ‘safeword,’ no touching, red armbands on—uh—” Brendon bites his lip. “Dungeon masters?”

“Monitors,” Mark corrects, and squints at Brendon. “Have you not—uh, okay, I’m gonna need to see some ID. Just in case, you understand.”

Brendon flips out his wallet, cognizant of the people watching him and Mark. “Nevada, huh? Okay,” Mark says. “Why don’t I introduce you to some people?”

The room is kind of over-full, a small living room packed with people. And everyone’s dressed up enough that Brendon’s really glad he opted for the work boots over the flip-flops. There are only a few women, but they’re all wearing fancy stuff, and the guys are wearing way more leather than Brendon’s ever seen in one place before. Some of them aren’t wearing much else—just some straps and leather shorts, or even less than that.

Mostly everyone’s standing around talking, but there’s a guy in the corner kneeling with his head bowed and his wrists tied behind him. Another guy is sitting in an armchair next to him, petting his head. Brendon kind of wants to just watch them for a while, but Mark is gesturing, and Brendon should probably listen.

“—New to the city,” Mark’s saying. “I think. Brendon?”

“Uh, yeah,” Brendon says, and the man he’s being introduced to smiles at him. “Brand new.”

“Steve’s an old hand around here,” Mark says. “He hosts a lot of the time, but I pulled the short straw tonight.”

Steve snorts. “Short straw my ass. You get to fall right into bed and the rest of us have to get all the way home while we’re still spacey.”

“Hey,” Mark says, and he’s smirking. “You’re welcome to fall into my bed anytime.”

“Uh-huh,” Steve starts, and Mark waves him off.

“Yeah, yeah, break my heart later. I’m gonna go introduce Brendon around some more. Nick invited him, so.”

“Guess Nick’s found another spring chicken,” Steve says, and it’s low enough that Brendon almost doesn’t catch it.

“It’s like he’s got a proximity alarm,” Mark says back, and before Brendon can think of a way to reply to that, they’re on to the next guy.

“Hans,” Mark says, and Brendon waves hello. “Hans is giving a demonstration later.”

“Yeah?” Brendon didn’t know there’d be, like, demos. That’s cool. “What on?”

Hans grins. “Rope play. Suspensions.”

“Hans is one of our dedicated rope obsessives,” Mark says.

“What can I say?” Hans shrugs. “You’re just sad that your thing doesn’t come in pretty colors.”

“It does if you buy colored latex gloves,” Mark says. Brendon just blinks. He’s starting to give up on understanding any of this stuff.

“Blue rope is gorgeous,” Hans says. “Blue gloves look like your top is the villain from Firefly.”

“Maybe I’m into villainy.” Mark grins. “Anyway. Brendon here is new, I’m introducing him around.”

Hans smiles at Brendon. “You should—”

A hand drops onto Brendon’s shoulder. “Hey,” Nick says, and Brendon smiles back at him.

“Hey,” Brendon says. Nick’s wearing his jacket again, but this time the shirt underneath is white and worn thin enough to show the shape of all his muscles, the shaved-smooth lines of his chest. Brendon’s stomach is fluttering again.

“Nick,” Hans says, and Nick tips his chin at them.

“You guys don’t mind if I steal Brendon away, do you?” Nick steers Brendon towards the table with the bowl of M&Ms, and Brendon snags a few just to give him something to do with his hands. “Good job on the outfit,” Nick says.

“Oh, um.” Brendon looks down at himself. He’s not wearing anything like what Nick is, with the—are those leather pants? And something hanging off the back of them, on the left, some kind of, uh. Brendon’s pretty sure that’s a flogger, actually. Some of his favorite porn has flogging in it. “Thanks?”

Nick grins at him. “Did Mark show you the back-room setup?”

“Uh, no,” Brendon says. “Is that, um. Is that where—” No one’s exactly doing anything much kinky in this room; even the guys who were in the corner are gone. So that must all be somewhere else.

“Yeah,” Nick says. “You wanna see some stuff?”

“That’s—okay? Watching?”

Nick nods, serious now. “No touching, no interrupting. Try not to be too loud or distracting. But yeah, you can watch.” He smiles again. “If they didn’t want to be seen, at least a little bit, they’d do it in private.”

“Yeah,” Brendon says, and his mouth is dry, thinking about it, about being watched by these people, while he’s—while Nick is—

“Through here,” Nick says, and steers him downstairs. The basement is a little dimmer, and Brendon picks his way down the last few stairs slowly, making sure of his footing. It’s quieter, too—not so much of the buzz of conversation, but there are other sounds. Brendon’s head swings around at the first loud smacking sound, and Nick laughs quietly behind him.

“You like impact play?” he asks, and nudges Brendon in that direction. There’s a familiar-looking guy leaning against the wall, bracing himself. He’s shirtless, pants around his spread knees, and the guy behind him is rubbing his ass, fingermarks showing up white against the reddened skin there every time he lets go.

“Shit,” Brendon says, and then the one guy—the dom—steps back and hits the front guy again, one vicious strike with a little wooden paddle. The guy getting hit whimpers and rests his cheek against the wall, and now that Brendon can see him clearly, he can tell it’s Shane, from the munch. Shane looks even cuter like this, but he also looks a lot less like Brendon’s type. Maybe the guy behind him is a better bet; the way he’s slapping the paddle on his own palm just to watch Shane jump at the sound is making Brendon’s mouth dry.

“Hot, right?” Nick steps a little closer, sets his hand on Brendon’s shoulder, and Brendon nods and leans back into him, because, well—he kind of really, really wants to be where Shane is, and he’s pretty sure that’s what Nick’s offering. “Yeah,” Nick says, and moves his hand up into Brendon’s hair, tugs Brendon back firmly against his broad chest. “You’d look good like that,” Nick murmurs. “All spread out and desperate.”

Brendon’s been hard almost since he took the first step down towards the basement, but now he’s aching, wishing he’d worn different pants. He nods, and Nick’s hand tightens in his hair. Brendon’s eyes start to slip shut, and then there’s another smacking sound and he opens them in time to see Shane shivering and shaking, and the guy behind him moving in close, paddle forgotten at his feet.

“Jesus,” Nick whispers. “I think he just came. You think you could come just from that? I bet you could learn to.”

Brendon’s not sure he isn’t going to come just from this, much less anything more than just talking. “Yeah,” he manages, and Nick presses a little closer, hard-on against Brendon’s back.

“Is that, ‘yeah, take me over in another corner and hit me, sir’? You gotta ask for it if you want it.”

Brendon can’t take his eyes off the way Shane’s gone boneless in the other guy’s arms, looking blissed-out and kind of high. “Yeah—you can—I mean. I’d like that. Sir?”

“Ask me again,” Nick says, and pulls Brendon’s head back until Brendon’s mouth opens.

“Can you—” Brendon licks his lips. “Can you hit me? Sir.” Brendon’s throat is dry, and he swallows, feeling the way having his head pulled back stretches his throat against the collar.

Nick lets go of his hair abruptly and Brendon almost stumbles, but Nick’s slipped an arm around his waist to catch him. “Over here,” he says—orders, really, voice low and commanding, and Brendon scrambles to fulfill the demand. It’s not just bare wall over here; there’s padding, like the stuff around the gym in Brendon’s high school. Brendon doesn’t have the best associations with this kind of wall padding, but he’s willing to change his feelings.

“Suppose I told you to strip?” Nick murmurs. He hasn’t let go of Brendon, and Brendon isn’t exactly desperate to get loose, not with the way Nick’s stroking his t-shirt, fingertips edging down toward his zipper. “Would you?”

“Yes,” Brendon says. Every time Nick says something to him, it feels like Brendon’s brain empties out, and as soon as he stops talking, all the thoughts crowd back in, but quieter.

“Of course you would,” Nick says. “Such a good little sub.”

No one’s ever called Brendon that before. He leans back a little more, lets Nick hold him up.

“I’m not going to ask you to do that—yet.” Nick’s thumb comes up under Brendon’s t-shirt. “But you’re going to take your shirt off for me.” He pushes Brendon back onto his feet, and Brendon takes a moment to catch his balance—when did it get so hard to just stand up?—before he grasps the hem of his shirt and pulls it off.

“Kneel in front of the wall,” Nick says, and Brendon goes over to the padded section, finds that the floor is padded as well. He kneels close enough that he can easily rest his folded forearms on the wall, and his cheek, looking back at Nick to see if he’s done it right.

“Good,” Nick says. He unhooks the flogger from his belt, and Brendon watches him. The rest of the room has disappeared; there’s only Nick, and the flogger, and Brendon’s bare back. “Ask me again.”

Brendon can’t think what he means, and he’s frantic, for a second, trying to remember. “I—will you hit me?” Once he’s asked, he can’t stop, needs Nick to know how much he wants this. “Can you hit me, will you—I want you to.” He swallows again, tries to wet his mouth. “Please.”

“The magic word,” Nick says, and then, “Don’t move.” He walks in close, takes a moment to find the right footing, and then the flogger comes down on Brendon’s back. It’s not that hard, and Brendon instantly wants more, wants it to hurt the way that didn’t. “Gonna warm you up,” Nick says, and then he’s hitting Brendon again and he isn’t stopping. None of them are hard the way Brendon wants, but they add up fast, leave him stinging in a way that almost makes him want to stop, except—except that he wants to know what’s on the other side of the stinging. What happens when Nick starts hitting harder.

He gets his wish before the stinging makes him change his mind. The harder strikes actually hurt, and they’re—they feel—Brendon’s hard, but it isn’t about that, not the way he’d thought it would be. It’s about the way the blows make his whole body move, and the pride that suffuses him when Nick mutters, “God, you look good.”

It’s something else, too, some sensation Brendon doesn’t even have a word for. None of the things he’s done on his own have felt like this. He can’t push himself, but Nick can push him. This is way more than Brendon’s ever felt, and instead of being too much, it’s better, way better. It feels better in his muscles, and it feels better in his head.

Brendon has no idea how long it’s been, or how many times Nick has hit him. A minute, or an hour, when Nick finally kneels next to him and carefully pushes him away from the wall. “Hey,” he says. “Lie on your front.”

Brendon can’t do anything but obey, brain too—something, muted—to question the instruction. Nick leans over him once he’s down, runs his cool fingers over Brendon’s back. “Didn’t break the skin,” he says. “You look—fuck, Brendon. You’re gonna be bruised up. Hope you don’t have a swim meet or something this week.”

The phrase doesn’t make much sense to Brendon. A swim meet? But it doesn’t seem important, either, so he just lets it float back out of his mind, goes back to focusing on nothing more important than the way Nick’s still stroking his skin. It hurts, just those little touches, and Brendon likes it. He can’t capture the feeling more than that: it hurts, and he likes it. He’s had years of playing with those two concepts by himself and he’s never been able to define it any other way.

It’s never, ever been like this by himself, though. It’s never come anywhere close. “Good,” Brendon manages, more a grunt than a word, and Nick’s hand comes up to stroke the back of his neck.

“You don’t even know how easy you are.” Nick pets his hair. “You’re so gorgeous, the way you went under practically as soon as I touched you. None of those stupid walls people put up when they’ve been around the scene too long. I knew you’d be so—responsive. I knew you wanted to be good for me.”

Brendon can’t quite find the energy to smile, but he wants to, at the way Nick’s praising him. It’s not penetrating much, but he thinks he’s getting the gist—gorgeous, good, responsive. “So fucking under,” Nick says, and strokes his fingers over Brendon’s cheek. “Nobody goes under like a new kid. No walls at all.”

Nick starts rubbing Brendon’s shoulders, massaging the tightness out of them where Brendon had been bracing himself. He does Brendon’s lower back after that, and it’s got to be the best massage Brendon’s ever had; he feels completely loose, boneless and relaxed. Gravity has never felt this strong, pulling him down into the padded mats, and Brendon doesn’t think he ever wants to get up.

“You didn’t even see the people watching, did you? You were too blissed out to care about all those guys standing around watching you whimper and arch up into it. But I bet you like hearing about it, don’t you? Everyone—” Nick grunts, and Brendon realizes that he’s jerking off. He kind of wants to watch, but that would require moving his eyelids, and there’s no way he can manage that. “Everyone watching you getting desperate for it. Watching you—fuck—watching you take it. You would—you’d have done anything I—anything—”

Nick’s groan is long and low, and Brendon realizes after a moment that he’s surprised not to feel the come on his skin. “God,” Nick says, and then there’s rustling, and Nick’s dry hands back on Brendon’s skin. “Okay. Let’s get you back to the land of the living. I don’t want to be here all night.”

Brendon feels suddenly and sharply guilty. “Yeah,” he manages, and pushes shakily onto his forearms. It’s not quite so hard once he starts, anyway. “Sorry.”

“Oh, hey,” Nick says. “I didn’t mean it like that. Just, you know. You can be in a chair, upstairs. And so can I. I’ll get you some water and some M&Ms, okay?”

That sounds nice, actually. Brendon’s mouth is like a desert or something. He hadn’t noticed before, but now he’s feeling a little more himself, eyes blinking open in the dim light.

The first thing he sees are shoes, several feet away. Well—feet, in shoes. A bunch of them, and Brendon realizes the people Nick was telling him about are still there, or at least some of them are. He glances up, and—holy Jesus fuck.

Brendon’s hot RA just watched him get flogged at a fucking BDSM party.

***

Brendon manages to make it out of the party without actually talking to Spencer. Nick didn’t seem to get why Brendon was rushing out of there, but he didn’t seem particularly put out, either. He got Brendon’s cell number before he let him go, though, so that’s something.

Dallon’s out when Brendon gets back to the dorm, and Brendon collapses on his bed, face-down. He’s still humming from the flogging, but his brain is weirder than his back right now, fuzzy and slow. He remembers, vividly, the way it had felt to lie on the mats and have Nick pet him, and this is like the tail end of that. Everything's still slow and quiet, but now he's more aware, thoughts starting to buzz the way they usually do, one on top of the next.

If Spencer had just not been there, Brendon could have stayed quiet longer, he's pretty sure. Even upstairs in the living room, eating M&Ms, Brendon's pretty sure he could have kept that feeling going for a while. But not after seeing Spencer watching him, not after knowing that Spencer could have been watching from the beginning, seen the way Brendon responded to Nick. Seen how much he wanted it.

Of course—Spencer was at that party, too. Spencer had been at an invite-only BDSM party; he'd been down in the basement, watching someone get flogged, watching someone jerk off. That's not something Brendon would have guessed, from the admittedly short time Brendon's spent in Spencer's presence. Then again, if people could guess that stuff about Brendon, he wouldn't have managed to stay in his parents' good graces, or get through a day of high school, probably.

Brendon wishes Nick could just be here, rubbing his muscles again. All of this weirdness, not to mention the bumping shuttle ride, has him tense, and the rub of his sore back against his shirt isn't helping much. He sighs and kneels up enough that he can pull his shirt over his head and toss it on the floor. The collar's rolled up in his pants pocket, and he digs it out and throws it in the general direction of his dresser. He'll get it later, and if Dallon comes in and sees it, Brendon can just say it's a memento of a family pet or something.

Brendon's about to lie back down when he decides that a shower would be better, to warm and loosen his muscles before he goes to bed. If he still wakes up stiff and sore—and thinking about all the weird ways he's injured himself over the years, he's thinking that's pretty likely—at least he won't have to shower before class.

The bathroom's empty, and Brendon lets himself luxuriate in the warm water. The spray is harsh on his back, but he likes it, sort of like the way Nick's fingers had felt digging in. He'd lost his erection pretty fast on the walk away from the party, but now he's got time to remember the way Nick had talked to him, the way he'd jerked off next to him. The parts he can remember are dirty-hot, just right, and Brendon turns his back to the spray and lets it pound onto his sore skin while he wraps a hand around his cock.

It doesn't take long, not the way he's primed, and he's gasping as much from the pain in his back as the pleasure in his dick when he comes, all of it adding up to one gorgeous feeling. Brendon wonders how long his back will feel like this, and how often he can jerk off before it stops being this good. Maybe he can rub one out in bed, if Dallon's still gone, and rub his back against the mattress.

He lingers in the shower, and it's hard to make himself finally turn the spray off. The towel feels good on his skin, though, and he wraps it around his waist to trek back down the hallway to his room.

Spencer's standing just outside the door, hand raised as though he's been knocking.

"Uh," Brendon says. "Hey." He's vividly aware that he's only wearing a towel, that he's dripping all over the carpet. That if he turned around, the marks on his back would be impossible to miss.

Spencer's eyes are wide. "Uh," he says. "I'll just—I'll come back. When you're. Wearing clothes."

Brendon stops himself from asking if Spencer really needs to come back at all. "Just—wait here a second," he says, and lets himself into the room. One more scrub-over with the towel and he's dry enough to throw on pajama pants and a t-shirt, which don't feel like quite enough clothing for dealing with this, but they're at least easy. "Okay," he says, opening the door. "You can come in, I guess."

Spencer looks as awkward as Brendon feels, which is at least some consolation. "So—I just thought that I should, uh. Apologize. For—I didn't realize it was you, at the party."

"Right," Brendon says. Right. Of course. Spencer wasn't watching Brendon, he was just watching some guy. "I understand."

"I don't want you to feel uncomfortable with me as your RA, now that—uh. After this." Brendon's mostly not looking at Spencer, but he glances up long enough to see that Spencer's literally wringing his hands. It's almost endearing.

"It's fine," Brendon says, because there's nothing to be done about it, anyway. Spencer's his RA, and Spencer's seen—what Spencer's seen. End of story.

"Also—" Spencer hesitates. "I thought maybe—okay, look, I'm an RA. It's sort of my job to counsel and, uh, educate new students. And this is, uh, this isn't usually the area that I counsel and educate in, but it's an area that I do, you know, know stuff about. And if—if you had any questions, I could, um. Help."

Brendon has never had quite so strong an urge to cover his eyes with his hands. "That's—okay," he says. "I've got, uh, resources. Thank you."

"Right," Spencer says. "Yeah. Of course. Sorry, I—right." He turns and grasps the door handle, starts to turn it, and then he stops and turns back around. "Okay, here's the thing. That's not exactly what I wanted to—" He stops, runs a hand through his hair. "Look, Nick is kind of a—not an ideal top."

Brendon's paying attention now. "Hey, look, I think I can handle my own—"

"It's not—look, just, I've been where you are, okay? New to the scene, new to the city. And Nick—there are a lot of Nicks, and they’re hot and they give good headspace, but they don't have your best interests at heart." He pauses for a second, and Brendon starts to respond, but Spencer isn't quite done. "God, I sound like my dad."

That gets a laugh out of Brendon, at least. "You sound like mine, too," he says. He doesn't like what Spencer's saying, but he can’t quite bring himself to be angry about it. "I—he seems like a pretty great guy," Brendon points out. "What are you saying he does?"

Spencer bites his lip. "I don't mean he's like a predator or anything. I mean, he's okay, I see him at parties a lot. People like him. Just, he's—new guys don't know their limits. You don't know if—have you ever practiced using your safeword?"

Brendon doesn't even have a safeword. He shakes his head.

"And did you guys talk about what your limits are?" Brendon shakes his head again, and Spencer winces. "It's not, like. You don't have to do a full checklist with every guy at a party or anything—" Brendon's confusion must show on his face, because Spencer stops, tries the sentence again. "You don't have to negotiate for an hour with every guy at a party, but you're—new, and that means maybe you don't know where your lines are, or how it feels when someone gets too close to them. And Nick doesn't, um. He's sort of not interested in the details." Spencer tips his head back and forth, like he's trying to find the right words. "Okay, basically, he's in the scene to get laid. I mean, kinky laid, headspace laid, but—laid. And you're, um."

"I got it," Brendon says. His head is swimming. He doesn't know Spencer, but Spencer's got no reason to lie, as far as Brendon knows. "Did you and Nick—?"

"Oh," Spencer says. "Uh, once. Nothing bad happened."

"Okay, well," Brendon says. "Thanks for letting me know. I'll, you know, keep my wits about me."

"Uh—right," Spencer says. "Okay. Yeah." He doesn't move toward the door. "Listen, you—you know the basics, right? SSC and, like, no suspension from the wrists? No hitting over the kidneys? Safe sex?"

Brendon leans back far enough to fish his brand-new copy of How to Be Kinky out of the drawer and waves it at Spencer. Admittedly he hasn’t actually read much of it since he picked it off Sarah’s list at the big bookstore on Main, but Spencer doesn’t need to know that. Brendon totally plans to, sometime when he isn’t, like, studying or practicing or watching porn. "Okay," Spencer says. "Right. Well. I'm—down the hall, if, you know. Yeah."

"Okay," Brendon agrees, and then he's finally alone again.

***

It’s strange, going to class on Monday morning. This is Brendon’s regular life, his real life, but it feels like a black-and-white movie, while all his memories of the party are in stark color.

Spencer would probably have a lecture about that, too, but Brendon isn’t going to tell him.

His music classes are still great, at least. Brendon’s been working on his middling clarinet skills, because the jazz band he’s joined already has its fair share of pianists and drummers. The bandleader, Vicky, had said he might be able to sub in on songs once in a while, at least, and anyway the clarinet parts on the songs she gave him to practice are pretty awesome.

He's a little late for the first practice, scurrying out of his awful Bio class with his map in hand, looking for the right building. They practice in the basement of one of the classroom buildings, where they can lock the bigger instruments in between sessions, and Brendon hasn't been out to it yet. When he reaches the building he can already hear the sounds of tune-ups and warm-ups, the cacophony that makes him think about going to the Philharmonic with his mom, and he wants to stop and listen for a moment. He doesn't, because he's late, but he wants to.

When he walks in, clarinet case in hand, a dozen faces look up at him. "Hey," Vicky says. "Guys, this is Brendon. Clarinet. He's great."

Everyone waves and smiles, and behind the drum kit, a brunet head comes up, eyes wide. Spencer. Motherfuck. Brendon nods at him, shrugs a "what can you do?" and starts putting his clarinet together.

Practice goes okay. Brendon's glad he put in the extra hours on these songs, because a couple of the new guys haven't, and Vicky is pretty peeved about it. While she's working with them, Brendon watches everyone else. There's a kid on double bass who's almost too short to maintain the fingerings, but he's good, seriously excellent, kind of wasted on the bass lines they're using. Brendon wonders if he plays anything else. And the trombone guy is killer, even if his jock humor reminds Brendon unpleasantly of the guys who beat him up in high school.

Spencer, naturally, is fantastic. Brendon wishes he were surprised. It's possible that this is some kind of cosmic punishment for disobeying his parents and not going on mission: everywhere he goes, he has to deal with this gorgeous drummer who just thinks Brendon's a kid in need of protection.

Spencer's not being weird, at least. When Brendon gets bored of watching everyone wait for Vicky to finish up with the two unpracticed trumpeters, he gives up and wanders over to Spencer's kit, waves his clarinet at him. "Didn't know you were in this group," Brendon says.

"Good drum parts," Spencer says. "Most of the bands, you barely need two brain cells to play what they want. You know, one kick-drum beat every four measures, that kind of thing."

Brendon nods. "Been there, dude. I played cello in high school. Not as bad as bass, but a lot of, like 'duhhhhhh, daaaaa, duhhhhh, daaaaa.'" Spencer laughs, nodding.

"Totally," Spencer says. "But this stuff is pretty good, and sometimes they let me freestyle. Get my Carter Beauford on, you know?"

"Dude, I love him. My parents never let me get a kit but there was a crappy one at school I used to play with all the time. I wanted to drum for this but Vicky said they already had someone, which I guess means you."

"Sorry," Spencer says, grinning. "Well, I graduate in a couple of years, maybe you can take over after I'm out."

Vicky's voice interrupts them. "Okay, guys, let's just break for today. Next practice is Thursday, and seriously, learn your parts. End lecture, go home."

Spencer leans over his kit. "I’ll lock up, Vicky. I'm gonna mess around for a little while longer." Vicky nods absentmindedly. She's already focusing on making sure everything's put away properly.

"Can I stay, too?" Brendon directs his question to Spencer. "Would that be okay? I don't want to bug my roommate, and the practice rooms are on the other side of—well, you know."

"Sure," Spencer says. "We can run some stuff if you want. Duet for clarinet and drums, that could be funny."

"Or piano," Brendon says. "If you want. I don't mind doing that part."

Spencer blinks at him. "You play piano, too?" He looks, Brendon thinks, like he might actually be impressed.

"Sure," Brendon says. "And guitar, some bass. Flute if I had a gun to my head. Pretty much most things, with a little bit of time to get used to them."

"Huh," Spencer says. "Okay, piano, then." The room's pretty empty by now, and Brendon rolls the baby grand closer, glad of the school's obsession with piano portability. "You want to run the songs and then just mess around for a while?"

Brendon swallows. Obviously Spencer means messing around with music. "Yeah," he says, after a beat too long. "Yeah, that sounds great."

The piano parts are new to Brendon, and he's embarrassed by every fumble, every missed note. Spencer doesn't comment, though, and Brendon pushes through, the way he would if he fucked up at a recital. Better to pretend you meant it—it had taken his piano teacher ages to convince him of that, because Brendon's instinct was always to do something big and showy and self-deprecating instead, to make sure the audience knew he was better than the mistake.

They don't talk about it when the last song comes to its final bars; they just keep playing, Spencer changing up the beat a little, adding some flourishes, and Brendon playing something fun and vaguely melodic to match it. He hasn't had much experience with jazz improvisation, but Spencer's taking it easy on him, nothing too rushed or experimental. By the time they stop, it's almost eleven, and Brendon's fingers are aching.

"That was great," Spencer says, quiet in the comparative hush of the room. "You're really—uh, you're really good at that. Piano."

"Lessons," Brendon mumbles, glancing down at his fingers on the keys. "You too."

"So—I should get back," Spencer says, and Brendon nods agreement, rolls the piano back into its usual spot. "I guess we're going the same way?"

"Oh," Brendon says. "Uh, yeah." He waits for Spencer to tidy up his kit, pack up his sticks. Spencer's bag looks heavy, textbook-laden. "You taking a lot of Monday stuff?"

Spencer glances down at the bag. "Nah," he says. "Junior thesis. I did a library run after dinner." He locks the door behind them with one of the keys on his overcrowded keyring, and leads them out into the crisp night air.

"What're you—it's not a performance thesis?" Brendon's nervous, now. He'd been sure that performance could fill the requirement.

"That too," Spencer says. "But I'm double-majored with music theory, so I have to do a research paper, too. It's kind of interesting, actually. I'm still tying down the exact topic—" He pauses, and Brendon sees that he's blushing, just a little. "Um, so to speak."

Brendon snorts. "It's okay," he says. "It's not—you know, whatever. We're both—yeah." It’s kind of stupid to be embarrassed when they’re both into the same stuff.

"Yeah," Spencer says. "Um, so I'm still picking my exact topic. Hence, like, the thirty pounds of books."

"Cool," Brendon says. The campus is quiet, this late on a Monday; Brendon can only see a few people, and no one nearby. Even though they were alone in the practice room, he feels much more isolated now, just him and Spencer and the dim evening light, the glow of the almost-full moon.

They walk in silence the rest of the way, and it's weirdly comfortable. Brendon's clarinet case bounces against his leg, and Spencer readjusts his bag every once in a while, and Brendon watches a raccoon wandering away from them, the glow of the streetlamps giving it a terrifying shadow. "Well," Spencer says, when they're back in the dorm. "See you Thursday, I guess."

"Yeah," Brendon agrees. "Um, thanks. I had fun."

"Me too," Spencer says, and he's a hair's breadth too close. Brendon realizes he's staring at Spencer's mouth, and then Spencer's stepping back, and Brendon's blinking, scrubbing at his face. "Um, later."

"Yeah," Brendon manages, and then he escapes to his room.

***

Nick calls on Tuesday.

“Hey,” Brendon says, as nonchalantly as he can manage. It probably isn’t very nonchalant, because he started sweating as soon as he saw the unfamiliar number come up on the screen. Whatever Spencer says, Nick is a hot dom who wants Brendon, and that’s not something he’s planning to walk away from.

“Brendon,” Nick says. “How’s your back?”

Brendon twists in his chair, testing. It’s healed enough that he has to really try to get any extra feeling out of it, and he misses just being able to lean back against something and gasp from the pain. “Almost fully recovered,” he says. Maybe Nick wants to lay into it again. Brendon’s hand slips down to his lap, and he’s newly glad that Dallon never seems to be around anymore. He likes his roommate fine, but he likes the privacy more.

“Good,” Nick says. “Listen, there’s a party coming up. Similar group of people, new location. I want you to come.”

Fuck, yeah, Brendon’s definitely gonna come. He rubs a little harder through his jeans, glances at the door and thinks about unzipping them. He’d probably have a few seconds’ notice if Dallon started to come in. “Okay,” Brendon agrees. “That sounds cool.”

Nick’s quiet for a second, and then he laughs, low and dirty. “You’re jacking off,” he says. “Fuck, you really are eighteen.”

“Uh,” Brendon says, and Nick doesn’t give him time to apologize or explain.

“Stop,” he says. “Hand on your thigh.”

It’s easy, somehow, to let go of his dick when Nick’s telling him to. "Okay," he says, and waits. He's so hard now, just from the order, from obeying it, that it's hurting him to still be in his jeans. But the discomfort is a physical reminder that he's following Nick's instructions, that he's being good.

"You're alone," Nick says, and it's not a question. "Are you fully dressed?"

"Yeah," Brendon says. "My roommate could come back any minute."

"Then he'll have a show, won't he?" Nick gives Brendon a second to process that, maybe giving him a chance to object, but Brendon's not going to. "Take your shirt off."

Brendon tosses his shirt on the bed, sits back in the chair with his hand back on his thigh. "Now you're going to tell me how you get off," Nick says. "When you're really alone, when no one's going to burst in on you."

Brendon swallows. "I don't know what you—"

"Yes, you do," Nick interrupts. "You didn't just spontaneously decide you wanted to join the scene. You've been doing this for a while, on your own. Getting off on it. And you can't top yourself, but you can hurt yourself. Tell me how you do it."

"I—" Brendon can't contradict him, but it's embarrassing, it's strange. "You'll think—"

"I'll think it's fucking hot," Nick says, and it's almost a growl. "I'll think you're a good little masochist. And I think that if you don't tell me, I'm going to start thinking you're disobedient."

Brendon sucks in a breath. "Okay," he says. "Okay." It's still hard to get the words out, despite how much he wants Nick to think he's behaving. "I—I have some hair clips I stole from my sisters," he says. "And a hairbrush I bought, and—and those heavy rubber bands from the morning paper, you know?"

"Get them," Nick says.

Brendon scrambles up and digs everything out of the drawer he's hidden them in. He doesn't throw them on the bed, because Dallon really could come back; he drops them on top of some t-shirts in a higher drawer, ready to be slammed shut if he hears a key in the lock. "Okay," he says.

"Where do you put the hair clips?" Nick asks. "How many are there?"

"My—nipples," Brendon manages. "Sometimes other places. I only have four, but one of them is, uh. Stronger."

"That one," Nick says. "Put that one on your left nipple. No easing into it."

The tiny claw shape of the hair clip digs into Brendon's skin, punishingly tight, and Brendon's breathing faster now, pressing the phone into his ear. "Okay," he says, and puts his hand back on his thigh.

"Good." Nick's quiet for a moment, and Brendon hears rustling in the background. "I'm jerking off," he says. "Just thinking about that one little thing you're doing for me, the way you just obeyed me. It feels good, doesn't it? Just doing what you're told?"

"Feels—amazing," Brendon gasps. He's so fucking close, just from this.

"Sir," Nick says.

"Sir," Brendon manages. "Feels amazing, sir."

"Twist it," Nick says. "As far as you can, once in each direction and then stop."

The pull of the clip when Brendon twists it between his fingers makes him choke out a strangled noise. "Fuck," he manages, and then goes back the other way. "Okay."

"Good." Nick's voice is lower, breathing a little harsher, and Brendon wishes he could see him, see his cock in his hand. "Flick it with your finger."

Brendon knows before he does it that this won't feel like much, and he isn't surprised. "Okay," he says, hoping the next instruction will be better.

"Tell me what you do with the hairbrush," Nick says.

Brendon glances at it, swallows. "I—I've hit myself with it," he says. "But mostly it's, uh. For—scratching. Um. Sir."

"Abrasion," Nick fills in. "Where?"

"Every—everywhere," Brendon says, and oh fuck, he wants Nick to tell him to scratch the rough bristles over his skin. "Anywhere, sir."

"No," Nick says, and Brendon blinks, not getting it.

"What?"

"No," Nick repeats. "You don't get to goad me."

"I wasn't—"

"You were," Nick says, and Brendon groans, because there’s something so fucking hot about Nick knowing that, shutting Brendon down. It’s like the mental equivalent of Nick fighting Brendon down to the ground. "Twist the clip again. Harder."

Brendon does, and this time he doesn't try to stifle the moan. "Again," Nick says, and Brendon obeys. "Are you going to come from this?" Nick asks. "Have you ever done that?"

"Not—yet," Brendon gasps.

"Then not today, either. Not while I can't see you." Nick's breathing is heavy and harsh. "Pull your cock out and stroke it—one stroke for every twist, when I tell you. One. Two." He keeps counting, slow and steady, and Brendon wishes he were in bed, able to writhe around without fear he'll overturn the chair, because this is exquisite. "Keep going," Nick says. "You're close, aren't you?"

"Yessir," Brendon gasps.

"Go on, then," Nick says. "Come."

Brendon strokes tighter, twists harder, and his hips buck out of the chair with the force of his orgasm, ringing in his ears and shaking all his muscles. Through the phone he hears a grunt and a long sigh, and he thinks maybe Nick has just come, too.

"Can—can I take the clip off?"

"Wait," Nick says, and Brendon's hand hovers in place, waiting. "I want you to focus on it. You know how much it's going to hurt, don't you?"

"Yes," Brendon says. "I can take it." The pain from this clip is strong, but it isn't that bad.

"You can," Nick agrees. "You can take way more than that, can't you?"

Brendon's nodding, even though Nick can't see him. "Yeah. Yes, I can—way more."

"Eager," Nick says. "You’re such a good sub. Do it now."

Brendon almost fumbles the clip, the wash of pain is so sudden and sharp. It's always a surprise; he can never quite hold the memory of the feeling in his head. It's gone in an instant, and Brendon sighs and drops the clip into the drawer, tucks himself back into his pants.

"Um. Thanks," he says, and Nick hums an acceptance.

Nick gives him the address and the date of the party, and Brendon manages to scribble them out on his music theory notes. “And Brendon,” Nick says, and Brendon swallows.

“Yeah?”

“There’s something I need you to do before the party.” Brendon licks his lips. Jesus, he could almost get it up again, just from that.

“Okay,” he says, because “anything” seems a little desperate.

“I need you to shave yourself, very carefully. Not a hair left.”

Shave … himself. “You, uh. You don’t mean my face, right?”

Nick makes a sound, one that’s hardly anything at all but still makes Brendon want to—something, drop to his knees and show Nick how willing he is to follow instructions. Brendon shivers. “No,” Nick says. “I mean your cock and your balls. Your inner thighs, too. And do your belly, so I have a warm-up area.”

“Uh,” Brendon says, and licks his lips. “Warm-up for what?”

“You’ll see,” Nick laughs, and hangs up.

***

Wednesday’s classes go by in a haze of distraction. Brendon doesn’t mean to daydream in class, but he just has so much to think about—Nick’s shaving instructions, Spencer’s warnings about Nick, the way it felt to obey Nick’s orders. Brendon has been getting off thinking about this stuff for so long, and he’s realizing now he hadn’t had come close to what it really feels like. Like Nick had said, he can do the pain on his own, but not the submission, and the combination is like nothing he could have imagined.

His music theory teacher isn’t pleased with Brendon’s level of distraction, and Brendon ends up slinking out of the class with his eyes on his shoes, just to avoid Professor Stumph’s disapproval.

When he gets to the dining hall, a couple of the guys he met at a capella tryouts are ahead of him, and they wave him over to their table. One of them is the short double-bass player from jazz band, who turns out to be named Ian. The other is the guy who was running the tryouts, Ryan. He’s a little standoffish, but Brendon’s pretty sure it’s just because he’s trying to seem cool.

“So you’re a frosh, right?” Ian asks, stuffing a couple of fries into his mouth.

“Yeah,” Brendon says. “You, too?” Ian nods and gestures to Ryan.

“He’s a junior,” he says, and Ryan lifts his eyebrows in acknowledgment.

“So you must know everything around here,” Brendon says, smiling, and Ryan shrugs.

“Mostly only the music department, and English lit. Well, and my best friend’s in student government, so a bit about that.”

“Oh, yeah,” Ian says. “He’s the favorite to be class president, I hear.”

“Sorry,” Brendon says. “Who are we talking about?”

“Spencer Smith,” Ian says. “He’s gonna be class president next year.”

“You can’t even vote for our class president,” Ryan points out.

Brendon pokes his fork into a lima bean. “He’s my RA,” he says, because saying “he saw me getting flogged this one time” seems like a bad idea.

“Oh, yeah,” Ian says. “You’re upstairs, right? Third floor?”

“Jesus,” Ryan says. “Did you memorize the directory or something?”

Ian shrugs. “People tell me stuff. I’ve got a good memory.”

“That’s true,” Brendon says, snapping his fingers. “I remember, you were doing that guitar party trick at the orientation picnic. The jukebox thing.”

“Yeah,” Ian agrees. “Killer way to get girls, man.”

Ryan snorts. “I don’t think Brendon’s in that market.” Brendon looks up, startled. No way has he told Ryan that, so—? “Spencer said something about the queer music kid on his hall,” Ryan says. “I put two and two together. Also, you’re wearing girl jeans.”

“Everyone wears girl jeans,” Brendon says. “And isn’t Spencer supposed to have, like, confidentiality?”

Ryan shrugs. “Is it really a secret?”

Ian’s glancing back and forth between them, and Brendon watches him for a second. He doesn’t seem freaked out or anything, and Dallon was so— “No,” he says. “No, I guess it isn’t.”

Ryan nods. “Okay. So, you picked up the sheet music, right?”

“Right,” Brendon agrees, and he can’t quite stop smiling.

***

By the time Brendon’s done talking to Ryan and Ian, he’s late for his hall meeting. He slides in the door while Spencer’s starting, finds a spot on the floor next to Dallon.

“Hey,” Brendon says, nudging Dallon. “Where’ve you been hiding?”

Dallon blushes, actually blushes. “Oh, um. Studying a lot.”

Brendon’s not the best at telling when people are lying, but wow, that was blatant. But fine, Dallon doesn’t have to tell Brendon about whatever awesome shenanigans he’s getting up to.

Spencer’s still talking, anyway, and Brendon should probably pay attention. “—not supposed to tell you this, but there’s always a fire alarm in the first month, usually in the evening. Don’t think you can just stay in your room, because I will have to come around and I will catch you and you will get in trouble. And it’s a lot of annoying work for me, so. Just go out front and find me and we’ll roll call and it’ll be over.”

Brendon zones back out; Dallon will make sure he doesn’t miss anything important. He’d rather think about how two more people know he’s gay, and they don’t seem to care. More than just them, too, because the whole munch had been a queer event, and he’s pretty sure the play party had been, too. So—lots of people know about Brendon, now. He feels like maybe that should be scary, but it feels good, instead. His parents are nowhere near here; they aren’t going to just show up uninvited. Brendon could start wearing a rainbow-flag cape every day, if he wanted to, and they probably wouldn’t find out.

He’s pretty sure he’d look stupid in a cape, though.

“—heard that the University of Michigan banned jerking off in the showers, so, you know, be glad you go here, I guess.” Spencer’s grinning around at everyone, and Brendon grins back at him despite himself, watches the way Spencer’s eyes catch on him. Spencer’s okay, really, for—whatever, for the guy who thinks Brendon can’t handle himself. The really hot guy who thinks Brendon can’t handle himself.

“Okay,” Spencer says. “Any questions?” He doesn’t get any, and people start picking themselves up off the couches and the floor, disappearing in twos and threes. “Brendon.” Spencer catches his elbow as he’s about to follow Dallon out. “Can I talk to you? In my room?”

“Uh,” Brendon says, and tries not to think about that as a come-on. Spencer probably isn’t even a top, if he messed around with Nick once upon a time. “Sure.”

Spencer’s room is unexpectedly awesome. He gets a single because he’s an RA, and he’s practically plastered it with band posters, really cool ones, some of them for bands Brendon’s never heard of. “You must go to a lot of shows,” Brendon says, and Spencer lights up.

“Shit, yeah. Me and Ryan—he’s a friend of mine from, like, kindergarten—we came here partly ‘cause the music scene is so vibrant, you know? We wanted to be able to see everybody.” Spencer’s different, talking about this; it’s like he’s younger, more irresponsible. Brendon wonders when he started going to shows, if he’s letting himself regress back into those early memories.

“I haven’t even thought about getting out to see shows yet,” Brendon says. “It’s all—there’s so much to do, you know? With jazz band and my a capella group and—uh.” He stutters to a stop.

Spencer bites his lip, sits down on the bed and gestures toward his desk chair until Brendon pulls it out and sits down. “So, hey, um. I think I might have come on a little strong with the safety lecture last time, and I wanted to apologize.”

Brendon shrugs. He’s cool with them just never talking about it. “‘S’okay.”

“Just—you know, you’re sort of out on the scene all alone, it seems like. And I know what that’s like, and it’s not that easy. I feel like you could maybe use some guidance.”

Spencer’s nice and all, but Brendon likes him a lot better when they’re talking about music instead of kink. “I’m fine,” he says. “Thanks.”

“Just, I feel like you could use a mentor. Someone you could talk to about stuff. You can learn a lot like that, and also, honestly, it’ll get you into better parties.”

“Fine,” Brendon says, and he’s a little pissed now. “Whatever, you can mentor me, okay? It’s fine. You practically already are.”

“Uh,” Spencer says. “No, it shouldn’t be me.”

Brendon frowns. Spencer’s already right here and he won’t stop talking to Brendon about this stuff, so— “Why not?”

Spencer looks down at his hands, over at the wall, up at the ceiling. “Because—because your mentor should be someone with your orientation,” he says, and then nods. “Yeah. That’s—it’s better that way.”

“You’re gay,” Brendon points out. “I don’t—”

“Kink orientation,” Spencer corrects. “And—I’m bi. But you, you’re, um. A masochist?” Brendon tries not to blush, nods. “And a sub? So—I have a friend who’s, who’d be good. I think. He’s—Shane, his name is Shane, he’s great.”

“I met him,” Brendon says. “At this, um, munch, the other week. And he was at the party.”

“Oh,” Spencer says. “Right. Well—good.”

Brendon shouldn’t ask this, should just let the implication be enough, but he wants to hear Spencer say it. “So then you’re—what, then? If you can’t mentor me because of—orientation.”

Spencer scrubs a hand through his hair. “Uh. Sadist, switch. I lean top, mostly.”

Maybe Brendon shouldn’t have asked. It’s bad enough that Spencer’s perfect in every other damned way. “Oh,” he manages. “That’s. So Nick was, like. An exception?”

Spencer shrugs. “He’s pretty convincing. And, uh, we didn’t do any painplay.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Brendon smirks, and thank fuck, Spencer laughs with him.

“Yeah, man,” Spencer agrees. “Well, like I said, it was only the once.”

Brendon’s cheeks are burning. “Right, so. Practice tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Spencer agrees. “Hope the trumpets will be up to speed this time and we can get some real run-throughs in.”

Brendon nods, standing up. “Uh, thanks.”

“I’ll—I can give Shane your number? Or your campus email, if you’d rather.”

“Phone is fine,” Brendon says, and pulls a Post-It off Spencer’s stack. Spencer’s desk is weirdly neat and tidy. “Here.”

Spencer takes it from him, stares at it for a second. “Right,” he says. “Okay. I’ll—pass that on to Shane, then.”

“Okay,” Brendon says, and leaves before Spencer can get any weirder.

***

Shane, it turns out, is a recent graduate living just off-campus. He's thrilled to come back to "the old alma mater" for lunch, and Brendon finds himself making fun of Shane right off the bat. "You sound like you're a thousand years old and graduated in, like, 1874."

To Shane's credit, he doesn't seem to think it's weird that Brendon is messing with him even though they don't know each other. He just says, "Dude, the class of 1874 could kick your year's ass."

"Them's fighting words," Brendon replies, and manages to lose several minutes in back-and-forth ridiculousness before Shane finally says, "Okay, then. Meet you at one."

Brendon makes sure to stake out a table with some privacy, but Shane, when he arrives, shakes his head. "Can we take our trays up to your room? Trust me, I get—" He flings his arms out "—very Italian, when I talk about what it is that we do."

Brendon shrugs, leads Shane up the stairs. "My roommate's never around anymore, but in theory he could come back anytime," he warns.

"No worries," Shane says. "I figure we'll wait another session or two before getting you naked." He waits a beat, then adds, "Kidding."

"I—yeah, I probably would have just gone with it," Brendon admits.

"That's kind of why you should have someone to talk to," Shane says. "Someone who doesn't want into your pants. I mean, don't get me wrong, you really rock those jeans, but I don't think we're compatible."

Brendon shrugs. "Not unless that thing you were doing at the party was an aberration."

"Saw that, did you?" Shane grins. "Really, in a lot of ways I'm more into voyeurism and exhibitionism than BDSM per se. But there's something much more exposed about combining the two, you know? It's not the same as someone just watching you get a blowjob."

"I guess," Brendon says.

"Anyway," Shane says. "Vibe I get from Spencer is you know the basics, and you know what you're into, mostly, but not so much the culture, the vocabulary, the—the ways we talk about consent and limits and negotiation."

Brendon swirls his fork through his pasta. "The vocabulary's a problem," he admits. "It's all so much jargon, you know? You guys were all talking at the munch and it was like the adults in Charlie Brown to me."

"Sorry," Shane says, grinning. "We were getting a little too into it, I guess."

"Safe touches?" Brendon sort of remembers now. "And—titles? And a bunch of stuff I don't remember at all because I didn't understand any of it."

Shane's lighting up, dropping his spoon into his mashed potatoes. "Oh, man, yeah," he says. "You know safewords?" He waits for Brendon's nod. "So if you can't talk—if you're gagged, or mashed face-first into the bed, or sucking cock, or even if you're doing really deep roleplay, you gotta have another way to communicate, right?"

Brendon tries to convince his dick that this conversation is clinical and unsexy. It doesn't really work. "Sure."

"So you gotta have something else, you gotta think outside the box. You can hold something in your hand that will make a lot of noise when you drop it, like keys. Or throw a ball against the wall—I don't like that one so much, it's sort of, I don't know. Too fun? Like, if I'm safewording out, I'm not thinking play-catch thoughts, you know? Anyway, you can also do gestures, like peace signs or whatever, or you can do touches, usually like squeezing a couple of times. Or once I had a guy say that if I wanted him to stop I should punch him really hard in the face. I think he was joking, though."

Brendon swallows the broccoli he's been chewing. "It's all kind of obvious when you explain it."

"Well, that's why it's easier to talk to me than to try to figure it all out yourself," Shane says. "Even with books and stuff."

"And titles?" Brendon prompts.

"Oh, don't get me started," Shane says. "Nah, it's—I take a hard line, but whatever. Basically, if some guy at a party tells you that because you sub you have to call him the Grand High Poobah of Cabbagetown—you don't. Tell him to fuck off. He may be the Grand King whatever to somebody, but not to you, right? Unless or until you guys agree to that between yourselves."

"But if he's, you know, a dom—"

"Nuh-uh," Shane says. "Fuck that shit. I mean, okay, I'm kind of a hard-liner on this issue, so make up your own mind, yada yada, but nobody's really a dom like that. You're only a dom in relation to other people, you know what I mean? Like, out on the street I'm not a sub, I'm a guy. And you're a guy, and the Grand whatever is a guy. Unless you're playing with him—on whatever level, even if it's just bringing him drinks because you both want for you to bring him drinks—he's just a guy to you. And you're just a guy to him, and you're fucking equals."

Shane's hands are waving so much in the air that it's making Brendon a little dizzy. "Okay," he says. Shane does seem to kind of have a point. "Oh, hey—Nick asked me to this party on Saturday. Are you going to that one?"

"Think so," Shane says, and pulls out his phone. "Yeah, at Steve's."

"Oh, I met Steve," Brendon says. "I think. If it's the same Steve."

"It's the same Steve. There's just Steve. He's great, and his play space is kind of epic. He's some kind of investment banker or something, so he's loaded, and it's really tricked out."

"But does it have spinning rims?" Brendon grins. "It's not a really good dungeon if it doesn't have chrome-plated spinning rims."

"Hey dawg," Shane mimics, "I put a spanking bench in your spanking bench so you can spank while you spank."

"Loser," Brendon laughs. "Oh my god, Spencer totally signed me up to be mentored by a loser."

Shane laughs, kicks his foot out in Brendon's general direction and doesn't reach him. "You can't hold my old fogey ways against me, newbie. I hold all the knowledge and power you seek."

"Help me, Obi-Shane," Brendon says, voice as Leia-like as he can muster. "You're my only hope!"

By the time they finally stop joking long enough to take the trays back down, Brendon is pretty sure he wants Shane to be his best friend and possibly his semi-platonic life partner. "I'll see you at the party," Shane says, and puts his arms out.

"Uh," Brendon says, and steps into them, lets Shane hug him. "That was weird, dude."

Shane shrugs. "No touching without consent," he says. "Good habit to get into."

"Oh," Brendon suddenly remembers the other thing he'd wanted to ask, and he looks around to make sure no one's in hearing distance. "Um. Nick asked me to shave, like. Down there, for the party. Do you know what that's about?"

"Could be a lot of things," Shane says. "Could just be he likes it. I don't know him that well, sorry. Maybe CBT?"

Brendon shakes his head, not getting it. "Cock and ball torture," Shane says. "Way awesomer than it sounds."

"Uh, okay," Brendon says, and Shane steps in closer.

"Dude," he says. "If you don't want to do whatever it is, tell him, okay? And if you're having trouble with that, I'll be there, and so will Spencer."

"He will?" Brendon asks before he thinks better of it.

"Sure," Shane says. "He goes to all the parties. Popular guy, our Spencer."

"Yeah," Brendon says, weakly. The idea of Spencer seeing Nick—whatever, torture Brendon's balls—makes heat rise in his belly, and on his face. "See you there, then."

"Later, man." Shane grins and waves, and then Brendon's alone, and late for Bio.

***

Brendon’s glad when it’s time for jazz band practice again. He’d had so much fun at the last one, and even though he likes his classes, it’s nice to turn off all the theory and just play. Theory and composition and his individual lessons are hard work, but Brendon’s never had any problem just playing, and it’s refreshing to be good at something after a long day of wrapping his head around the whys of it all.

Spencer grins at him from behind the kit when Brendon comes in and starts unpacking his clarinet. “Hey,” Brendon mouths, not wanting to shout over the tune-up cacophony, and Spencer waves a stick at him in answer, twirls it showily. It’s funny, and Brendon wonders if Spencer would show him how to do that. Brendon’s pretty good with stuff like that, though he’s always stuck more to full-body tricks like skateboarding and backflips. It’d be cool to have some smaller-scale ones. Maybe he could learn to flip a poker chip over his knuckles like in Ocean’s Eleven or whatever.

Vicky taps her music stand to get everyone’s attention. “All right,” she says. “We’re gonna run parts quickly to prevent a repeat of last time. Horns, you’re up.”

Brendon sneaks back to Spencer’s kit, leans against the wall with his clarinet dangling from his fingers. “They practiced,” he whispers.

“Not enough,” Spencer whispers back. On the other side of the room, Vicky’s got her hands on her hips, glaring at the trumpeters.

“Was it like this last year? I mean. Does my class just suck?”

Spencer shakes his head. “It’s always like this. I think my year it was worse—they’d lost a ton of seniors, and all the frosh were useless, me included. They didn’t even have me on a kit, I was fill-in with a tom on some songs.”

Brendon can’t imagine someone other than Spencer being the drummer. “Really?”

“Yeah, but she went abroad second semester and I got the gig. It was—”

“Ahem,” Vicky says, much too close. Brendon’s head swings up, guilty, and he realizes he’s crouching close to Spencer’s drum throne, practically hidden behind the kit. Not quite hidden enough to escape Vicky’s wrath, though. “Gentlemen, if you’d like to focus?”

“Sorry, Vicky,” they chorus, and Brendon grins up at Spencer. For once, at least, they’re both the dumb kid who needs a lecture.

***

Brendon holds the razor up to the light and stares at it. Right. He can totally do this. Maybe.

He's glad that he discovered this bathroom during his first-week excursions; it's kind of grody, but it's single capacity and has a lock on the door, and no one ever comes up to the third floor of this library anyway. He can take his time in here. The light's good, too; it's mid-afternoon and the sun is streaming in through the big blurred-glass window.

He bought a cheap beard trimmer to start, because the internet had suggested it would speed everything up. Get it down to stubble first, and then shave—that's the plan.

Maybe he can practice on his thighs and his belly before he gets to the tricky stuff.

It's weird, getting naked in what's technically a public bathroom. Of course, every bathroom on this campus is a public bathroom, so Brendon's just going to have to hope that no one suddenly decides they're desperate for a piss while perusing the Engineering History stacks.

The trimming is okay; it's not exactly a good trimmer, but it mostly does the job after a few passes. Brendon's inner thighs look weird like this, and he does his belly next. He's getting hard, which probably won't interfere, but is definitely making him feel funny about this whole process.

"Okay," Brendon mutters, and draws the trimmer across the hair at the base of his cock, lets the curls fall to the floor. He tries to run it over his balls, but the shape and the loose skin are a seriously bad combination, and he abandons that as a bad plan. Still, step one is a check. Just step two to go.

He takes his time warming everything up, hot washcloth on his skin. It's kind of nice, especially when he presses the hot towel to the base of his cock, lets it drape over him. If it weren't rough terrycloth, Brendon would seriously consider jerking off like this sometime. Now, though, he has a job to do.

Applying the shaving cream to one inner thigh, foot carefully propped on the lid of the toilet, is easy. Setting the razor against it takes a little more strength of will. "Right," he says, and carefully draws the razor up towards his hip.

It works beautifully. Brendon shouldn't be surprised—he's been using this brand of razors on his face for a while now—but he is. Maybe this won't be so scary after all.

Both inner thighs go well, and Brendon moves up to his belly, starts at his bellybutton and drags the razor down. The hair here is a little harsher, or bigger, or something, and Brendon has to do another stripe to get the stubble to disappear entirely.

He warms the washcloth again, wraps it around his junk. Better safe than sorry, and anyway it does feel pretty great. He wonders if Nick will want Brendon to tell him how it went, how he did it. If Nick is thinking about Brendon's skin right now.

Wielding the razor closer to the base of his cock is nerve-wracking. Brendon works as slowly as he can, humming to himself, trying to stay angled into the light. He has to hold his dick out of the way, and he's still pretty tempted to just jerk off, but the party's in a few hours and he'd rather wait. He wants to know what Nick's planning. Although maybe if he jerks off now, he'll last longer for that. He doesn't really want to embarrass himself in front of Nick, or in front of Spencer.

Probably Spencer won't watch, of course. Probably he won't want to.

It takes a series of tiny strokes before Brendon's sure he's cleared the stubble from around his dick, and then he's left only with his balls. He's been putting this part off for a reason. "Try not to bleed out," he tells them, and then he pulls the skin taut and sets the razor to it.

It takes a ridiculous amount of time to carefully pull the skin, carefully drag the razor, carefully clean off and reapply the shaving cream, but at the end of it, Brendon's pretty sure he hasn't missed so much as a hair, and he hasn't nicked himself. He whistles Hail to the Chief as he cleans up and gets dressed, sweeping the hair off the floor with his hands and dumping it in the trashcan. He's pretty sure Nick's going to be impressed with his efforts. Hopefully he's in for something awesome.

***

It's easier, this time, to buckle the collar around his neck on the sidewalk, take the steps up to the house. Steve's house is way bigger than Mark's, and Brendon checks the number against his phone twice just to be sure he isn't about to disturb some random rich guy. The doorknob turns under his hand, though, and right behind it is a dude with a cash box, so yeah. Right house.

"Do you know Nick?" Brendon asks the guy, as he's handing his $20 over. "Or Shane or—" He stops himself. Finding Spencer is probably not a good idea. That would be—awkward. "Um, either of them."

"Shane came through already," the guy says. "Haven't seen Nick."

"Thanks," Brendon says, and introduces himself before he moves on into the house.

It's even bigger on the inside, or seems that way. Where Mark's living room was stuffed with people, Steve's barely looks like there's anyone here, especially with the way the ceiling is practically taller than Brendon's whole family home.

Shane's standing by a table with a bowl of M&Ms, chatting with some people, and when he sees Brendon he waves him over. "Hey," Brendon says, and tries to memorize the names as Shane introduces him around.

They're all talking about people they know, the kind of fun gossip shit Brendon would totally dig if he actually knew anyone they were talking about. He tunes out, instead, keeping an eye on the door for Nick.

All the way from his dorm, he's been able to feel how he's shaved down there. It's weird, and not all good—he's pretty sure he's discovered that the hair on his balls is there not just for warmth but to reduce friction—but it's also left him half-hard, because all he can think about is how Nick told him to shave, and he did. Nick's going to see, and know that Brendon did what he was told.

It makes him swallow just thinking about how Nick might—tell him he did a good job, maybe. Reward him. Brendon likes the idea of that, of getting whatever the BDSM equivalent of a gold star is.

He tunes back in just in time to hear Shane mention the dungeon here. Shane says "dungeon" with such a straight face, like it's just totally reasonable for Steve to have a dungeon in his house. "You want to see it?" Shane says, nodding at Brendon. "He's gonna dim the lights in twenty, so if you want to actually see stuff, now's the time."

Brendon casts one more glance at the front hallway and then nods. "Sure."

They cut through the kitchen, a big gleaming room full of chrome and marble and all kinds of stuff that would make Brendon's sister, who never stops talking about Anthony Bourdain, salivate. The back room—Brendon can't quite call it the dungeon, even in his head, especially when it isn't even underground—is windowless and big, like it might have been an indoor pool if someone else had bought this house.

It's got dark wood walls and a painted concrete floor, and it's the first place Brendon's seen that actually sort of looks like the porn he watches. It has all the equipment—the big cross thing, and the X thing, and the benches and pillars and hooks all over the walls seven or eight feet up, so you could hang someone's arms above their head. Even like this—lit up and almost clinical, instead of dim and sexy—it makes Brendon suck in a deep breath. This room makes him want.

"Uh," Brendon says, and swallows. "Steve hosts a lot of these things?"

Shane laughs, goes and straddles one of the padded leather-covered benches. "It's something else, right? Like someone's fucking fantasy."

Like Steve's fantasies, Brendon supposes. "Makes me kind of want to become an investment banker," he says. "Well. Not really."

"Yeah," Shane says. "I know what you mean. And I've seen his toy closet, too—it's something else. He's got paddles in woods I don't think you're even allowed to bring into the US anymore, like crazy exotic stuff."

It makes Brendon feel a little disloyal, but suddenly he's sort of wishing Steve wanted to play with him. "So you saw his toy closet, huh?" Brendon waggles his eyebrows until Shane laughs.

"Not like—well, sort of like that. More a voyeurism thing. I was photographing Steve with—anyway. I couldn't stop taking photos of the toy closet. It's gorgeous. They practically had to drag me away to do the actual action shots."

Brendon leans against a pillar. "You do that a lot? Photograph people doing, uh. Stuff?"

"Sure," Shane says. "It's how I fund my kink, basically. Some months it pays my rent, even. I don't do a lot of standard fetish-model photography stuff, but I'll record scenes for people. Still or video."

Brendon wants to ask what "standard fetish-model photography stuff" is, but suddenly the lights go down and the thought disappears from his brain.

If the room had been sexy before, it's devastating now. There are red-tinged spotlights over every bench and piece of equipment, and at intervals along each wall. Things Brendon hadn't noticed before are suddenly picked out by the lights, and some of them are—"Is that—?" Brendon points, and Shane turns to look. Brendon's pretty sure he's seen one of those in porn, but—

"Fucking machine," Shane says. "Seriously nice one, too. You watch, there'll be someone in front of it pretty much all night. I think Steve sometimes thinks it gets more attention than he does."

Brendon attempts, valiantly, not to whimper. Just. He kind of didn't think people really owned those, outside of porn, or that he was ever going to be in a room with one, at a party where people actually wanted to use them. At a party where someone might want to use one on Brendon.

Well—probably not tonight. Brendon can't think of a reason Nick would want him to shave just for that. But fuck, just getting to see it in action, in person, is gonna be amazing. "Ever film that?" Brendon asks, and his voice is raspy, giving him away.

Shane snorts. "You're one of the groupies, huh? Yeah, a couple of times."

A couple of guys come in behind Brendon, and Brendon turns just in time to see one hook his finger into the collar of the other's shirt, drag him down onto his knees between two of the wall spotlights. It's not padded, and Brendon can see the way the kneeling guy is wincing. Brendon wants someone to make him wince like that. Nick—he wants Nick to make him wince like that. Obviously, Nick.

"You want to watch?" Shane's come closer so he can whisper, not disturb them.

"Maybe," Brendon says. "Do you know what they're gonna do?"

Shane shrugs, leans his shoulder into the side of the pillar. "Nah."

They aren't doing much right now, and it feels—intimate, the way it's just the four of them in this big room. Brendon shakes his head, tilts his chin at the door, and Shane follows him out.

He spots Nick almost before they get through the kitchen. He's lounging on one of the sofas, legs spread, looking—Brendon doesn't even know. Like it's his fucking house. Like it might be his planet, even, the way he's all calm and in charge.

"Careful you don't start drooling," Shane says lightly, and Brendon blinks out of his stare.

"Right," Brendon says. "Um."

Shane laughs. "Very convincing, Urie. Well—I'll be around, if, you know. You need anything."

"Yeah," Brendon says vaguely, and then he's moving into the room and Nick's looking up at him and fuck, Brendon hasn't been this hard in a room full of people since middle school, he's pretty sure.

Nick gets up off the couch and walks over, which is good because Brendon's not exactly moving very fast. "Hey," he says. "How's it going?"

"Good." Brendon's voice cracks, and yeah, definitely middle school. Those really weren't Brendon's best years. "So, um—sir—"

Nick laughs. "Eager," he says, and Brendon can't really deny it. "The party's barely started."

"Means there's room in the back?" Brendon tries to smile convincingly, but Nick shakes his head.

"I'll tell you when I'm ready. You go—mingle or whatever."

Brendon feels more teenage-pathetic by the second, but he doesn't want to go hang out with random people when he could at least be talking to Nick. "I could mingle with you?"

Nick’s brows draw together, like he’s not understanding Brendon. "Fine." He looks away, and then back at Brendon, lips curving into a smile. "Actually—you can go get me a drink,” he says. “Coke, tall glass, just a couple big pieces of ice.”

“Uh—sure,” Brendon says. Is this supposed to be hot? Maybe it’s supposed to be hot. Maybe if he’d told Brendon to crawl or something. Though how he’d carry a glass in his teeth, Brendon’s not exactly sure.

The kitchen’s easy to navigate, and there’s a fleet of soda cans on one sideboard. Steve’s fridge has an ice dispenser on the door, so Brendon doesn’t even have to get invasive and poke around in the freezer. He gets himself a Coke, too, since he’s there anyway.

Nick’s talking to some guys when Brendon comes back out into the living room, and he recognizes Steve in the group, looking comfortable in tight dark jeans and a leather vest.

Nick nods at Brendon, plucks the Coke out of his hand and turns back to the conversation. "So what did you do?" Nick asks, and Steve huffs a laugh.

"What could I do? I ended the scene, got him a blanket, you know. But damn, as soon as I got him settled I went and jerked off in the bathroom. Fucking gorgeous. Too bad he wasn't up for it."

"That's why I like my type," Nick says, grinning. He reaches back to Brendon, hauls him a little closer to the group with a finger through Brendon's belt loop. "You're easy for anything I've got in mind, aren't you, Brendon?"

Brendon blinks at him, hyper-aware of the way Steve and his friends are watching for Brendon's response. "Uh—I—sure," Brendon says.

One of the other guys snorts. "Sure," he says, raising an eyebrow at Nick. "I don't know, give me an experienced sub any day. A guy who knows that he wants hard stuff, instead of just not knowing that he doesn't."

"Hey," Nick says, and he drops Brendon's beltloop, turning towards the argument. "That's not how I play."

"No," the guy agrees. "Okay, fine. But I want a sub who begs for the extremes, specifically. You know?"

"Nick doesn't play as hard as you do," Steve points out. "It's not the same."

Brendon pushes his free hand in his pocket, sips his Coke and pretends he's effectively hiding himself behind it. He didn't think—he didn't expect to be talked about like this, right in front of him. It's making his stomach churn.

"The subs I play with maybe don't know exactly what they want," Nick says, and tips his head back towards Brendon. "But they sure as fuck know they want it."

The guy shrugs, and Nick turns towards Brendon again, gets an arm around Brendon's bicep. "Hey, you don't believe me? Come and watch."

Brendon bites his lip. There's no obvious way to pull Nick aside and tell him that maybe he doesn't want these guys watching, after all that talk about how Brendon doesn't know what he wants. Or at least, he doesn't want to know they're watching, like last time.

Steve's watching Brendon, though, and he shakes his head at Nick. "You have fun," he says. "Maybe we'll swing by later."

"Suit yourself," Nick shrugs, and strides off through the living room. Brendon has to double-step to catch up with him.

"So, uh," Brendon sets his empty glass next to Nick's when they pause in the kitchen. "They'll, um. They'll learn to like me, right?"

Nick waves the question off, and Brendon bites back a frown. "Who cares what they think," he says. "If you're not playing with them, it doesn't matter. Although you might like Rob, actually. He's got a great style. He's big into Florentine flogging, you'd like it."

Brendon's already off-kilter, here, but he's pretty sure something's wrong with that sentence. "You—would let me do that?" He swallows. Maybe Nick wants to, like. Pass Brendon around to his friends. That's hot in porn, but it feels weird to contemplate for real.

Nick looks as confused as Brendon is. "Let you?"

Brendon shoves his hands back in his pockets, tight denim digging into the skin. "I mean, um. You would—that wouldn't be like, um. Like cheating?"

Nick winces, and Brendon suddenly knows what’s coming, takes his own step backwards.

"Look, Brendon," Nick says, and Brendon already kind of wants to throw up, just from those two words. "You know we're just playing, right? Like, this isn't a relationship or whatever. You can do whatever you want. And—so can I."

Brendon swallows again. His throat feels like there's something caught in it. It's not like he thought they were engaged or something, just that—that they were starting something, from the way Nick kept seeking Brendon out and inviting him to stuff. "Right," Brendon says, and he's proud of how steady his voice is. "No, sure, of course."

"Brendon," Nick says, and steps back toward him. His expression is pitying, and Brendon steps away from him, back and back until he's turning at the kitchen threshold and walking through the living room, not looking back. He doesn't see Shane, and he just keeps walking, past the surprised guy with the cash box, down to the sidewalk and towards the bus stop.

He's pretty sure Nick didn't follow him through any of it, but he still keeps his strides long until he's halfway to the bus stop, pulling the forgotten collar off his neck and shoving it into his pocket.

"Hey," a voice says behind him, and Brendon swings around to see Spencer, half-jogging behind him. "Brendon. You okay?"

Brendon forces his feet to slow down, lets Spencer catch up to him. "Sure," he says, but it doesn't come out believable. "I mean—you know. Not my favorite party."

Spencer opens his mouth and then closes it. "You heading back?" Spencer asks, and Brendon's sure that isn't the question he wanted to ask.

"Yeah," Brendon says. "I have a bunch of work for Composition, anyway."

"You're in Comp?" Spencer falls into step beside him. "Who've you got teaching?"

"Uh, Wentz," Brendon says.

"He's cool. There's a rumor he's got it bad for Professor Stumph, you know. They're, like, attached at the hip."

"I've got Stumph for Music Theory," Brendon says. "He doesn't really—I don't really get gay vibes from him."

Spencer shrugs. "You never know, though."

They're almost to the bus stop, the line that will take Brendon back to the campus shuttle, and Brendon rubs the back of his neck, doesn't look at Spencer. "So, uh. You don't have to walk me the whole way, or anything."

"Oh," Spencer says. "Nah, I'm gonna go back, too."

"Okay," Brendon says. "Did—were you not having a good time?"

"Not really," Spencer says. "No one, um. No one I was interested in."

"Sure," Brendon says, and lets the conversation lapse.

They ride the bus mostly in silence, Brendon looking out the window and trying to remember not to hum. People hate it when he hums, and the bus is full of people in their Sunday best, and people with shopping bags and strollers.

The shuttle, by comparison, is empty. It's so empty that Brendon feels awkward about where he's supposed to sit, when Spencer slides into one of the back booths. He settles for picking the seat across from Spencer; close enough to talk, but not so close that it's weird.

They’re silent for the first few blocks, and then Brendon breaks.

"Um," he says. "Can I—can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Spencer says.

Brendon looks down at his hands. “Just, uh. Nick—” Spencer makes a pity face, and Brendon winces. Whatever Spencer’s figured out about Brendon leaving the party early, Brendon doesn’t want to know about it. “He wanted me to, um. Shave. Like—”

“Yeah,” Spencer says.

“Do you know what that was—for? Just, um. It’s stupid, I don’t know. Like, I want to know what I missed out on.”

“Hey,” Spencer says. “You didn’t—whatever happened between you guys, you made the right call to leave if you were uncomfortable or unhappy. That was really brave, Brendon.”

Brendon would like to accept the compliment, but he’s a little too busy still being totally fucking embarrassed. “So, um—”

“Right,” Spencer says. “I mean, I don’t know what he was planning. Like, we didn’t talk about it or anything.”

“But if you’d—if you asked someone to do that, what would it be for?” Brendon’s pretty sure that if Spencer doesn’t answer this time, he’s just going to die in a humiliation-related implosion.

Spencer bites his lip, and Brendon carefully looks away. “I guess I’d—for rope play, maybe, lower-body harness stuff where you might catch hairs in the knots. But Nick doesn’t do much rope stuff. There’s—” Spencer’s eyes look unfocused, and he’s breathing a little heavier. Brendon wonders what he’s picturing, if he’s running through a bunch of scenarios in his mind’s eye. “Play piercing, maybe, that could—but I don’t think he does that, either.”

There’s a long pause, and Brendon’s about to tell Spencer it’s okay when Spencer suddenly says, “Wax. I bet—if it was for a reason, and not just for looks, I bet he was gonna play with wax. He’d want—and he could rub you with baby oil, so it would hurt more. It makes the heat spread, that way, and you’d go all still and tense, trying not to move, but I’d—”

Spencer’s teeth clack closed, suddenly, and he sits up straight, crosses his legs away from Brendon. “I, um. Probably wax play, that’s my—if I had to guess.”

Brendon manages a strangled “thanks.” He’s pretty sure that the way he’s draping his forearm over his crotch is neither casual nor an effective boner disguise. He’s grateful for the screech of the shuttle’s brakes—they should probably get those looked at—that signals they’re back on campus.

“I’ll, um. I’ll see you later,” Brendon says, and gets off the bus as fast as he can.

***

Brendon skips his Monday classes. He doesn’t want to be that student, but he doesn’t think he can focus enough. He managed to get some work done, and some practice in, on Sunday, but mostly all he’s thinking about is how embarrassed he still is. The idea that Nick had to tell him that they weren’t dating—and that he had to do it in front of people, because Brendon had, like, basically badgered him in the living room of the play party—ugh. It just keeps running through Brendon’s brain again and again, like instant replay he can’t shut off.

He’s thinking about more than that—about talking to Spencer afterward, about his classes, about the jazz-band performance that’s creeping closer in his calendar—but mostly it’s just that.

Well, Brendon knows how to deal with that kind of vicious-thought cycle. He’s alone, and Dallon has his long individual session on Mondays, so Brendon checks the lock on the door, strips, and lies back with his laptop propped on his chest.

“Yeah,” he murmurs, already anticipating. Brendon’s got kind of a lot of porn—he hopes his mom never wonders why Brendon insisted on getting the bigger laptop when he’s usually pretty good about not asking for expensive stuff. He’s got to have something that can make him forget about Nick, or at least distract him for a while.

He skips the humiliation folder entirely, because he’s pretty sure sexy humiliation is not the right cure for the completely unsexy version. He taps his finger over the watersports file, but no, he’s looking for something more—yeah. Yeah, okay. Fisting.

There are only a couple of movies in this folder, and a few short scenes, but it doesn’t matter, because Brendon only ever watches one of them. It gets him a little squirmy just thinking about it, and he runs his fingernails across his chest as the video starts, the age certification and the production company’s logo flashing across the screen. He’s already half-hard, and he’s not thinking about Nick at all, really. Mostly.

Onscreen, a guy in like twenty pounds of leather is scowling at a skinny kid—well, 18 at least, Brendon’s just seen the age certification, but he’s twink-youthful, pale and wide-eyed. Trent—his name’s in the title of the video, “Cal fists Trent.” Brendon can dig a straightforward title like that.

“You ready, boy?” Cal’s voice is a deep growl, and it always brings up goosebumps on Brendon’s thighs, the way really good harmonies do. Nick’s voice wasn’t like that, but they both have that, like, sexy arrogance thing going. But Brendon’s not thinking about Nick. He’s thinking about Cal and Trent. Just them.

Cal and Trent probably have, like, employment contracts. They know exactly what they’re here for. They don’t have to talk about it. Cal probably never had to tell Trent that there’s been a misunderstanding about the nature of their relationship.

Brendon shakes his head, tries to get back into the video. He’s usually halfway to coming just from this part, the way Cal shoves Trent down on the bed and strips him, but instead Brendon’s barely half-hard. “C’mon,” he mutters, and gives up on teasing himself, goes ahead and wraps a hand around his cock.

That helps, and so does the way the camera focuses on Trent’s face, twisting up every time Cal smacks him for moving too much. He looks like he likes the spanking more than the fingering, even, and fuck, Brendon can always put himself in Trent’s place during this part. The way Cal’s all gruff and commanding, telling Trent what he’s going to do, like—like Spencer, his voice cracking as he tells Brendon about hot wax and baby oil.

Spencer’s nothing like Cal, but he’d—Trent would still want him, anyone would. Spencer would push Trent down onto the bed, but he’d lean in closer than Cal does, stroke Trent’s sides and whisper dirty things into his skin. Spencer would kiss and bite and suck, and his eyelashes would flutter down to his cheek as he pushed his fingers into Brendon’s ass, and—and he’d—Spencer would—

Brendon doesn’t drop the laptop when he comes, but it’s only because he’s had years of practice. Jesus fuck, it feels like he practically knocked himself out, coming that hard. Thinking about Spencer.

At least he isn’t thinking about Nick anymore.

***

Ian’s the only person in the room when Brendon arrives for a capella practice, and Brendon drops into the chair next to him. “Hey.”

“Hey, man!” Ian’s as cheery as ever, and Brendon tries to muster up a convincing smile. “Dude, what’s up with you? Fail a test or something?”

Brendon shrugs. “Weird weekend.”

“That must be going around,” Ian says. “Ryan fell asleep in our Ren Lit class this morning, said he was up half of Saturday night talking about—what did he say, he has the weirdest phrasing—I don’t remember, but about his buddy’s ridiculous crush on a freshman or something. He’s napping now, I’m supposed to pretend he’s super sick if anyone asks. Well, not you, obviously.”

Brendon’s used to being bowled over by Ian’s monologues, but this one— “Uh, so who was he talking about that with?”

“Spencer Smith,” Ian says, “you know, the guy everyone thinks is gonna be—oh, hey, he’s your RA, right?”

“Right.” Brendon’s heart is beating so hard, he’s not sure how Ian doesn’t hear it. “He has a crush on a freshman, huh? That’s, uh. That’s funny.”

“Ryan says he’s pretty messed up about it. Like, abuse of authority or some shit. I think maybe he TAs for something, and the kid’s a student? Something like that, I dunno.” Ian taps out a rhythm with his toes, hums one of the songs they’re working on. “So you gonna go for that solo?”

“Oh, um. Maybe,” Brendon says. Shit, solo tryouts are after rehearsal today. There’s no way Brendon can manage that if he doesn’t get his brain slowed down to something approaching normal. “Maybe I’ll wait and go for one later in the semester. You know, I don’t want to be that frosh gunning for everything, right?”

Ian shrugs. “Dunno, man. I’m going for it. Can’t hurt, right?”

Brendon’s glad when a few more guys filter in, exchanging greetings and a couple of high-fives. Travie’s high-fives always leave Brendon’s palm stinging, here and when they meet up on the hall, but Brendon’s glad when Travie settles on Brendon’s other side. “Hey, man. Hall thing tonight, yeah? You going?”

“Oh, right,” Brendon says. “It’s—what, it’s that food thing?”

“Hall-kitchen survival skills,” Travie agrees. “Could be fun. Anyway, I hear Spencer’s a kickin’ chef or whatever. If he’s making us food, I’m in.”

“You’re always in for food,” Gabe says from across the room, and Travie grins and flips him off.

“I guess,” Brendon says. “Yeah, I’ll—that sounds good.”

“Awesome.” Travie high-fives him again, and then the seniors come in and everybody shuts up and gets down to business.

***

Brendon’s walk back to the dorms is uncomfortably itchy. It’s not like he doesn’t know what it feels like to grow out hair, but stubble on his face is nothing like stubble on his junk. Everything’s rubbing and itching, and Brendon’s trying to focus on Travie’s chit-chat but he’s mostly wondering how many times he can scratch his balls before Travie starts thinking he’s weird.

Probably he’s already passed that number.

“Hey, man, I’m gonna drop my clarinet and stuff in my room. I’ll catch up with you in the kitchen?”

“Sure,” Travie says, and gives him one more stinging high-five before he strides off in the direction of his own room.

Dallon’s out, again, and Brendon drops everything on his bed and pushes his pants down far enough that he can scratch everywhere. “Jesus,” he mutters, and wonders if there’s an anti-itch cream that would work for this. Maybe he could just shave again, but he’s pretty sure spending twenty minutes a day in that one bathroom would get suspicious eventually.

He gives up on scratching after a long, blissful minute and gets back into his pants, just as Dallon’s key turns in the lock. “Hey,” Brendon says, turning to meet him. “You coming to the thing?”

“Thing?” Dallon asks. His shirt is wrinkled, and his hair is a mess, but he’s clean-shaven, and the combination makes Brendon blink.

“You okay, man?”

“Oh—yeah, totally,” Dallon says, changing into a clean shirt. “I’m awesome.”

Brendon decides to let that one go. Dallon’s hygiene or whatever is none of his business. “Spencer’s running a session on cooking in the hall kitchenette. Travie thinks he’s gonna feed us, maybe.”

“Sounds good,” Dallon nods. “I’m always up for food.”

“Aren’t we all,” Brendon agrees, and grabs his key before they shuffle out the door.

Spencer’s already in the kitchen, with a couple of guys Brendon only sort of knows from the hall. He’s got them washing dishes, and Brendon can’t pretend he isn’t glad there’s not more room at the sink. “Hey,” Brendon says, and his heartbeat is speeding up again. There’s still—there’s still the chance Spencer wasn’t talking about him, or that Ian misunderstood something, but. Brendon thinks maybe he gets it, now, a lot of the weird stuff Spencer’s said.

“Hey,” Spencer says, and Brendon doesn’t miss the way his gaze drops to Brendon’s mouth for a second before he looks up at Dallon. Brendon bites the insides of his cheeks to keep from grinning too much, leans back against the wall. He feels like—sort of like he felt when Nick called, the moment after Brendon realized who was on the line. Nervous about why he was calling, but happy.

This time, Brendon’s not going to let things stay unclear.

Spencer’s little class is kind of fun—Brendon beats eggs in a soup bowl from the cafeteria, Dallon grates lemon peels, and somehow everyone’s ingredients turn into one very large lemon square done in the banged-up cookie sheet that lives over the fridge. “Don’t do this in a cookie sheet that doesn’t have sides,” Spencer warns, and pours the lemon stuff in very carefully over the crust, watching to make sure it doesn’t rise over the low sides.

Spencer doesn’t cook them anything else, to the group’s disappointment, but he gives them a bunch of tips on getting the most out of the kitchenette and its meagre collection of pots and pans. “Oh, and if you steel-wool any of them, I’ll steel-wool you. Just a heads-up.” Brendon leans back harder into the wall and thinks about whether Spencer would follow through on that, if he’d scrape the steel wool over Brendon’s skin. Probably that’s dangerous or something, but all Brendon can think about is the way Spencer would look, doing it—intent and focused, watching Brendon’s every reaction.

The lemon squares, when they’re ready and cut, are warm and sticky and delicious, and Brendon grins around his at Spencer, watches Spencer grin back. “Okay,” Spencer says. “Last pieces go to whoever scrubs the cookie sheet.” A couple of guys shrug and pick up sponges, and Brendon watches Spencer wrapping a couple of other pieces up in a napkin. He hangs back, nudges Spencer’s arm as he’s coming out of the kitchen.

“You get special privileges, huh?” Brendon asks, tipping his chin at the napkin-wrapped squares.

“Hell, yes, I do,” Spencer agrees. He’s glancing at Brendon’s face as they walk, and when they reach the door to Spencer’s room Brendon stops with him.

“Thanks,” Brendon says, and stays close, stays—in range. “That was great.”

“Uh, here,” Spencer says, and fishes a square out of the napkins. “You looked like you enjoyed it.”

Brendon plucks it from Spencer’s fingers, switches hands and licks the sticky sweetness off his thumb. Spencer’s eyes track the movement. “I really did,” Brendon says, and he feels invincible.

***

Brendon likes the way Shane answers his phone. “B-dog! I missed you after we split at the party. How’s it hanging?”

“Great,” Brendon says. “Hey, you want to come eat some caf food with me?”

“Always,” Shane says. “Give me an hour?”

“Meet you at my room,” Brendon agrees, and hangs up.

Shane’s faster than promised, and they swing down to the dining hall before the lunch rush really starts, get their pick of seats. “So I gather the big scene didn’t go down,” Shane says, gently.

Brendon’s almost—not forgotten, definitely, but Nick feels so last week. “Nah,” he says. “We, you know. Different wavelengths.”

“That happens.” Shane bites into his burger, makes a happy noise. “God, there’s nothing like these.”

Brendon’s got egg salad with awesome dark-green lettuce on soft brown bread; Shane can keep the dead cow. “So, you’ve known Spencer a while, right?”

Shane’s eyes come up to meet Brendon’s. “Yeah?”

“He’s—did you guys get into it together, or did you meet after?” Brendon suspects Shane’s not going to answer any really personal questions about Spencer, but maybe he can skirt around the outside. “I’m curious about how, like, guys like me get started. You know.”

“Oh,” Shane says, looking relieved. “Yeah, we met at school, but we were just acquaintances, you know? I don’t think he knew my name for sure. But then we were both at this munch and it was kind of embarrassing but it was cool, too. So we did, like, the requisite hook-up and the chemistry wasn’t there, but we kept hanging out. It’s good to have a buddy.”

Brendon tries to look more interested in the sandwich than the conversation. “You guys hooked up?”

“Well, like, we scened or whatever. But it was pretty—it was mostly just funny. Spencer wasn’t that confident back then, and I was—I dunno, I still thought anyone who wasn’t growling and throwing you across the room wasn’t a real dom. Bad combination.” Shane smiles at the memory. “And then this pushy guy started trying to tell Spencer what he was doing wrong, and oh man—Spencer just laid into him. It was hotter than anything he’d been doing to me. That was pretty much when I figured we’d be better off as friends.”

Brendon can picture it, Spencer in lecture mode, standing up to some dickbag interrupting them. “So he’s more confident now?”

Shane narrows his eyes at Brendon. “You’re asking a lot of questions about Spencer,” he points out. “Something you want to tell me?”

“Nah,” Brendon says, and bites into his sandwich to buy himself some time.

“Uh-huh,” Shane says, but the corner of his mouth is twitching. “You’ve got a little crush, don’t you?”

“I’m not twelve,” Brendon says, through his mouthful of egg salad. Shane makes a disgusted face.

“Gross. And whatever, everyone’s twelve when they have a crush. Or—a slightly less icky age. Sixteen, maybe.”

“Shit, I was a mess at sixteen,” Brendon says.

Shane shrugs. “Everyone was.”

“Did you know?” As much as Brendon wants to talk about Spencer for, like, a week, there’s still so much other stuff he can learn from Shane. “In high school, did you already—did you know?”

“Yeah,” Shane says. “Some of it, anyway. I mean, anyone our age who’s in it, we knew, right? Nobody just shows up at a munch on a whim, I don’t think.”

“So you’d, like. Watched porn?”

“Some. I mean, okay, yeah, lots. But mostly I was on message boards and stuff, trying to, like—connect. You know? I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone.”

Brendon flushes. He’d planned out his munch-attending schedule, and stuff, but he was definitely thinking more about getting laid than anything else. Shane was just kind of an unexpected bonus.

“Oh, hey,” Shane says. “I’m not saying it was noble or anything. And anyway, you’re making friends. Sarah asked about you the other day. You hang out in the scene a while, you’ll know everybody, whether you want to or not.”

Brendon smiles. “That sounds good. I liked—everyone at the munch, they were all cool.”

“It’s a good group,” Shane says. “They’ll like you, too.”

Brendon looks down at his plate. That’s probably enough emotions and shit for now. “So,” he says instead. “What kind of porn did teenage Shane watch, exactly?”

Shane laughs and throws part of his hamburger bun at Brendon, and they don’t stop talking until Brendon has to run to his next class.

***

This time, Brendon's the first person in the jazz band room.

He leaves his clarinet case by his usual spot, dumps his backpack in the corner, and settles himself behind Spencer's kit. When Spencer comes in, early as always so he can warm up his muscles, Brendon's well into it, sweating and enjoying himself.

"Hey," Spencer calls, and his eyebrow is raised. Brendon misses a couple of beats grinning back at him. He's not quite as good at playing without looking as Spencer is.

"Hey," Brendon says. "Maybe you should play clarinet today."

"Maybe you should get off my throne," Spencer says, and Brendon just smirks back at him.

"I'm just warming it up for you," he says. "Anyway, your drums like me. They think I'm totally cute."

"They have good taste," Spencer says, and then he bites his lip. "Um."

Brendon gets up, walks into Spencer's personal space and hands him the sticks back. "Yeah, they totally do," he says. "They like it when you hit them, after all."

It's hardly subtle or witty—it's nothing Brendon would ever want anyone to score him on—but it does the trick, anyway. "Brendon," Spencer says, and he's leaning in, close enough for Brendon to count his freckles. "You know I—"

The door opens, and Spencer jumps back, dropping the sticks and crouching to pick them up.

"Hey," Vicky says. "Good, you guys are early. I like that kind of initiative. You've been doing good work, Brendon—I hope you'll keep that up."

Brendon's glad to have an excuse to blush. "Thanks," he says, and busies himself with his clarinet case. He waits until Vicky's on the other side of the room, flipping through her music folder, before he glances back at Spencer.

Spencer's watching him, sticks forgotten in one hand. "Later?" Brendon mouths, and Spencer shakes his head. Brendon takes another look over at where Vicky's absorbed in the music, walks the few steps to Spencer's kit and leans over it.

"I've got a safety meeting," Spencer says. "And I'm slammed tomorrow. But we should—talk."

"Saturday," Brendon says. "There's—Shane says there's a party at Steve's, are you—?"

"Yeah," Spencer says. "His—no one misses his parties. But that's not really the best place for a, um. For a conversation."

"Shuttle, then," Brendon presses. He wants something concrete to hold onto, because he's so sure they're on the same page, and he wants them to stay there. "On the way over."

Spencer bites his lip, glances over at Vicky. "Okay," he says. "Yeah. We'll meet at three?"

Brendon nods, and swipes his tongue over his dry lips. "Three," he says, and gets back to his spot as horn players start to crowd into the room.

***

Spencer, naturally, is right on time. Brendon wonders if Spencer’s ever late for anything. He was probably born on the exact day the doctor predicted, or whatever.

Brendon’s stomach is fluttering. He’s been going over and over their—whatever, their almost-kiss—since Thursday night’s jazz-band practice, and it’s all muddled in his head now. It had seemed so clear at the time, that Spencer was into him, that they’d tacitly agreed to something, but now he’s not so sure. Tacit doesn’t really work; Brendon learned that with Nick. So he’s gonna have to suck it up and go for explicit.

They’re mostly alone on the shuttle, and there’s no one around them at the back of it, so Brendon slides in next to Spencer. “So,” he says.

“So,” Spencer agrees.

“You know, RA really isn’t a very authoritative position.” Brendon hadn’t planned to start with that, but somehow it popped out. He’s gonna go with it. “You don’t grade me or anything. You can’t get me expelled.”

“I probably could get you expelled if I really—”

Brendon waves him off. “You wouldn’t do that. And it’s not against the rules, I checked.”

“Still. It’s not—it’s not very fair to you.” Spencer’s looking away, down to the front of the bus. “No matter what I might—want.”

Brendon reaches over and picks up Spencer’s hand, rubs his thumb against the back of it. “It is if it’s what I want, too,” he murmurs, and Spencer’s head swings around to look at him.

“Then—you have to tell me,” Spencer says. “I can’t—you’re the freshman, and I’m the RA. You have to tell me.”

Brendon wonders if that’s all Spencer’s been waiting for. “I want.” Spencer shakes his head, like that isn’t right. “Do you need specifics? I want—” Brendon licks his lips. “I want to date you. And maybe, if it goes well, to be your boyfriend. And I want to kiss you, and have kinky sex with you, and hold hands with you.”

“Right,” Spencer breathes, and then he’s leaning in, grasping Brendon’s face in his hands and kissing him. Spencer’s mouth is warm and forceful and Brendon almost moans into it, forgetting they’re in public. “Right, so—we should skip the party.”

“What?” Brendon blinks back to—whatever, the state of not being kissed into blissful incoherence by Spencer Smith. “Why would we skip the party?”

Spencer looks as confused as Brendon. “Oh, um. Did you not want to go, uh—follow up?”

Brendon swallows. “I want to follow up at the party,” he says. “Don’t you?”

“That’s a little, ah, high-pressure,” Spencer says. His gaze keeps dropping down to Brendon’s mouth. “For our first—anything. Even if we just play, no—sex, that’s still. That’s a lot of pressure.”

“I do my best work under pressure,” Brendon grins. He gets it, but—but he wants to go back into Steve’s playroom, to have Spencer take him in there and show him what he can do.

“Then—” Spencer checks his watch. “Okay. Short-form negotiation. What are you into? What do you want me to do to you?”

Brendon tilts their still-joined hands enough that he can trace his pinky finger over Spencer’s thigh. “Anything,” he says, and it comes out low and gritty.

“Anything?” Spencer asks. “So if I wanted to carve my name in your forehead with a penknife—”

“Whoa,” Brendon interrupts, and he can’t help but recoil back a little. “You want to—”

“No. But it’s covered under ‘anything,’ isn’t it?”

Brendon makes a face. “You know what I mean.”

“I don’t,” Spencer says. “Or, okay, yeah, I know you probably don’t mean I can carve things in your forehead, but there’s a lot of stuff between ‘touch my cock’ and that, and I don’t know how you feel about all of it.”

“Well, whatever, then don’t do weird shit.” Brendon doesn’t really see why this is that hard. He likes regular stuff. Or—well—kinky regular stuff. Anything is regular compared to forehead-carving, he’s pretty sure.

Spencer sighs, leans back against the seat. “What exactly do you and Shane talk about?”

“Not forehead-carving,” Brendon says.

“Okay,” Spencer says. “We’re gonna do this the other way around, then. I’m into impact play, scratching—fingernails, sandpaper, the ends of clicky pens when the pen part is retracted, whatever—" He’s starting to check things off on his fingers. “Wax, rope, bondage in general, sensory deprivation, some exhibitionism, some voyeurism, giving orders and having them be followed, discipline scenes for not following orders, um—”

“I think that guy over there can hear you,” Brendon says. He wants to hear the rest, but he’s pretty sure Spencer didn’t mean to attract an audience.

“Uh,” Spencer says, lowering his voice. “Look, is any of that stuff you aren’t into? Is any of it stuff you are into?”

Brendon thinks through the list in his head. “Maybe not the sandpaper,” he says. “But, um. The rest sounds—yeah.”

“Okay,” Spencer says.

“See?” Brendon grins. “I’m easy.”

“Yeah. You are easy,” Spencer murmurs, and then he clears his throat, adopts a less sexual tone. “But I want you to be easy for me because you can trust me, not because you don’t know the kinds of things that can go wrong.”

Brendon knocks his shoulder into Spencer’s. “Okay,” he says. “So what are you gonna do, then?”

“I’m going to give you orders,” Spencer says, and his voice is lower, his body turned towards Brendon’s on the seat. “And you’re going to obey them.”

Brendon’s mouth is suddenly very dry. “Okay,” he says, and licks his lips. “Yes.”

“Good,” Spencer says, and the shuttle pulls up to the stop. Spencer grabs Brendon’s shoulder, holds him from standing up. “Shake it off,” he says. “Before we catch the bus.”

Brendon knows what Spencer means, he’s pretty sure, and he takes a deep breath and tries to stop feeling like everything other than Spencer has ceased to matter. “Yeah?” Spencer says, and Brendon nods.

The bus ride to Steve’s neighborhood is shorter than the shuttle, and crowded. They chit-chat about jazz band, nothing sexy or kinky, and Brendon feels like himself again, antsy and hyperactive. He wants the other thing back, the quiet focused thing.

Brendon pulls the collar out as soon as the bus leaves them behind, buckles it around his neck. He’s gotten fast with it, but it still takes a moment’s concentration, and when he lets go and looks up, Spencer’s in front of him, staring at him. Brendon swallows, feeling the way the buckle presses on his throat.

“Now,” Spencer says. “That’s—I know that’s not for me—” He gestures to the collar “—but I’m saying now. You ready?”

“Yeah,” Brendon says, and Spencer nods, once.

“Stay close,” Spencer says, and Brendon tucks up into him, just far enough so he won’t trip over Spencer’s heel on the walk down to Steve’s house. There’s no one else on the sidewalk, not in a residential neighborhood like this with garages and backyards, but Brendon feels like maybe he wouldn’t notice even if there was a crowd. He’s too glued to Spencer, to every little move Spencer makes.

“In the house,” Spencer says, half a block later, “You’re going to stay close. No talking unless I tell you to speak, or if I ask you a question. If I sit in a chair you kneel next to me, facing out. Okay?”

“Okay,” Brendon says, and his voice comes out breathy and turned-on.

Brendon wants more than that—he wants Spencer to take him right into the back and hit him with stuff and fuck him. He’d wanted Nick to do stuff right away, too, hadn’t wanted to waste time mingling. But Spencer—he knows Spencer wants him there. He knows Spencer wants to date him. So maybe he can wait.

He’s not sure it’s allowed, but he reaches up and squeezes Spencer’s hand for a moment, and Spencer glances back at him and smiles.

“Yeah,” Spencer says, and then they’re on the threshold.

Spencer hands his own twenty over and then runs his hand down Brendon’s back to his ass, slides Brendon’s wallet out. Brendon’s pretty sure the slow stroke and the careful way he’s opening the wallet are meant to give Brendon time to object, and he smiles at Spencer and keeps his hands out of the way so Spencer can put his wallet back.

The living room’s full of people again, and Spencer walks them right over to Shane. Brendon’s not sure if it’s more or less—strange, to be doing this in front of a friend instead of a stranger, but it’s not like he didn’t see Shane up against a wall that one time. Fair’s fair.

“Hey,” Shane says, and he puts up his hand to punch Brendon in the arm the way he always does. Spencer catches Shane’s fist in his hand before it touches Brendon, moves until he’s between them.

“Not right now,” Spencer says, low, and Shane looks between them. Brendon stays put, close behind Spencer, and Shane takes another look at them and drops his arm, grinning.

“Nice,” Shane says. “I was wondering if you were gonna get it together.”

Spencer shrugs, moving back until he can get his hand on Brendon’s lower back. His palm is warm, and Brendon feels heavier just from the feel of it, like he could sink into the floor. “Apparently I wasn’t hiding my interest as well as I thought I was.”

Shane’s smirking, leaning back against the arm of an overstuffed couch. “And to think Brendon didn’t call me and tell me. Me, his beloved mentor and friend.”

“Well,” Spencer says. “Um, it actually only—we only decided on the way here. Actually.”

Shane laughs, a little too loud for the room. “Oh man,” he says. “So this is your first date, basically.”

“Hey,” Spencer says. “It was Brendon’s idea. I just wanted to go back to the dorms.”

It should be weird, the way they’re talking about him instead of to him. But Spencer’s thumb is petting him, gentle back-and-forth strokes, and Brendon’s having a lot of trouble caring about anything beyond that, anything that isn’t Spencer touching him. It’s—relaxing, sort of, not to have to be funny and interesting and the life of the party.

“I bet you did,” Shane says. “So? What’s the plan?”

“Mm,” Spencer says, and turns to look at Brendon for a long moment. “Nothing too exciting. Straight D/s.”

“You know he’s good with—”

“Yeah,” Spencer interrupts, and he turns toward Brendon a little more, smooths his hand around from Brendon’s back until he’s holding Brendon’s shoulder, thumb tucked into the hollow of Brendon’s throat. “You’re very good with pain, aren’t you, Brendon?”

Questions—Brendon has to answer questions. “Yes.” The movement of his throat shifts the skin under Spencer’s thumb, and Brendon’s eyelids try to slide shut without his conscious approval.

“You want it, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Brendon says, and gives up on keeping his eyes open while Spencer’s touching him like this.

“You’d let me spank you?” Spencer’s voice is quieter now, but Brendon can’t hear anything else, the noise of the room fading away.

“Yes.”

“You’d let me cane you?”

Yes.” Brendon lets his head fall forward a little, chin sinking down over Spencer’s hand. He feels heavy all over, like Spencer’s thumb is the only thing keeping him upright.

“We’re gonna go in the other room now,” Spencer says, and Brendon doesn’t answer, because it isn’t a question. Dimly, he hears Shane telling Spencer he’ll see him later, and then Spencer’s got his hand over Brendon’s eyes. “You can keep them closed,” Spencer says. “I’ve got you.” He wraps his other arm around Brendon’s waist, pulls Brendon tight into his side. “Walk with me.”

Brendon thinks of movies he’s seen, where the kidnapping victim tries to count the steps or keep track of the turns. This doesn’t feel anything like that. Brendon knows where they’re going, and he knows what they’re doing, and he wants—he’d let Spencer take him into an abandoned warehouse. Spencer’s trustworthy.

“What are you smiling at,” Spencer murmurs, but Brendon’s pretty sure he doesn’t have to answer that one. “I’m going to sit down now,” Spencer says instead. “Do you remember what to do?”

“Yeah,” Brendon says, and when Spencer sinks down away from Brendon, Brendon lets himself tip forward onto his knees, presses himself against the warmth of Spencer’s thigh. The floor is soft under his shins, and he wonders if Spencer found a place with mats for him.

“Hands behind your back,” Spencer says, and Brendon pulls one back and then the other, clasps them in place. “Good,” Spencer says. “You look so good like this, Brendon. You look obedient. I’m the envy of the room, you know that? Everyone wishes they had you kneeling next to them.”

Brendon leans in closer, sighing out a long breath, and the corners of his mouth twitch when Spencer’s hand comes up into his hair. He can’t quite manage a smile, but inside he feels—contented, like he could just do this all weekend, just sit here and be petted and have Spencer tell him he’s obedient.

There’s nothing like this in the porn he watches. Brendon’s glad Spencer knows stuff that isn’t from porn. Maybe he’ll tell him that later; it doesn’t seem that important now, and anyway Brendon’s not supposed to talk. He’s allowed to just—be.

“We’re gonna sit here a while,” Spencer says, voice gentle. “And then I’m gonna help you up and we’re gonna go back out to the living room so I can talk to some of my friends. But you can stay—feeling like this, if you want to. If you can sustain it. I’ll keep you safe, if you want to stay like this.”

Brendon doesn’t nod, because it’s too much movement to bother with, but he leans his head back into Spencer’s palm, lets Spencer cup his skull and hold him up.

“You’re so out of it,” Spencer murmurs. “We’re gonna have to learn all the best ways to get you back up to reality.” He rubs the tips of his fingers into Brendon’s scalp, a gentle massage, and Brendon lets out a quiet sound, not much more than a breath. “I wish I could get you all the way back to the dorms like this. I’m gonna feel kind of mean bringing you back to earth so we can leave.”

Brendon doesn’t want that, either, to have to stop feeling like this, and he turns his head enough to press his face into Spencer’s thigh. “We’ve got time,” Spencer says, tickling his scalp. “And I can put you under again later, if that’s what we decide. You’re so responsive.”

They’re quiet for a stretch of time. Brendon doesn’t open his eyes, and he isn’t sure how long it actually lasts; it feels like ages, but not long enough, when Spencer slides his hand down to Brendon’s shoulder and says, “Okay. I’m gonna get up, and then you’re going to. If you need help, you can hold onto me.”

Brendon doesn’t know why Spencer thinks he can’t stand up on his own, but when he tries, he almost tumbles over, legs weak. His whole body feels like concrete jointed with jelly, and he wobbles against Spencer’s side until Spencer gets an arm firmly around him. “You’re okay,” Spencer says, and Brendon manages a half-nod. He’s okay. He’s way better than okay.

“Eyes open,” Spencer says, and Brendon blinks against the low lights of the back room. There are a handful of people playing, and Spencer walks them over to watch a scene, stopping well away from the people in it. One of the guys is Hans, and he’s got a guy Brendon sort of remembers from the munch, Danny, tied up with dark green rope, head to toe with knots and wraps Brendon can’t begin to puzzle out.

“It’s gorgeous,” Spencer whispers. “You’d look amazing like that.”

Brendon can’t take his eyes off the way Hans is checking the ropes, testing how tight they are, running his fingers under them. Danny’s head is thrown back, and his cock in his briefs is hard.

“I’m not as good as Hans,” Spencer says. “But he’s taught me some tricks. I could make it so you can’t move an inch, if you wanted. Or I could make it so you could walk around, but you’d feel the ropes on every deep breath.”

Hans is still tugging at ropes, adjusting, and Spencer turns them away, past a couple of guys gently flogging a third, and out into the kitchen.

“You can come up, if you want,” Spencer says. “Or not. But you have to keep following the rules until I say it’s time to go. Okay?”

“Okay,” Brendon agrees. The kitchen looks blurry, and so does Spencer, like a Star Trek alien princess under the soft-focus lens.

“Okay,” Spencer repeats, and leads them out into the living room.

***

Brendon’s not sure, when they get back to Spencer’s room, whether this is “up,” really. He’s aware and awake and he isn’t having trouble keeping his eyes open, but he still doesn’t feel like himself, not really. Everything’s still kind of muffled, like he’s forgotten to take out his earplugs after a concert.

“God,” Spencer says, as soon as the door closes. “I want—I want to kiss you, can we—”

“Fuck yeah,” Brendon grins, and Spencer pushes him back against the door, licking and biting at his mouth. It’s more excitement than skill, but Brendon’s on the same page. Following Spencer around the party and zoning out of his conversations hadn’t felt long at the time—it had been nothing Brendon ever wanted to stop doing—but it’s been hours since Brendon last kissed Spencer, and right now he can’t believe they went that long. “You can always be kissing me.”

“Good,” Spencer mutters, and then his hands are under the hem of Brendon’s shirt. “I want more, if that’s—”

“Yeah,” Brendon says, although he has to stop himself from saying “anything.” “Yeah, yes, sex, we should do that. Yes.”

Spencer sucks in a harsh breath, pushes Brendon’s shirt up over his head. “Want to see you,” he says, and Brendon’s head falls back against the door, baring a little more of his skin to Spencer’s gaze.

“Yeah,” Spencer says, and leans down to kiss Brendon’s throat, scraping his teeth against the skin. “Fuck, you looked so good in that collar.” The words make Brendon newly aware that the coiled collar is digging into his hip, but he’s pretty sure his pants are coming off soon, so he doesn’t bother to readjust it. “You taste—”

Spencer’s voice cuts off and Brendon feels more than he sees Spencer dropping to his knees, fingers on the fly of Brendon’s jeans.

"Been wanting to do this," Spencer says, half into Brendon's hip. He pops the button, and Brendon tilts his head down to watch. Spencer's got a gorgeous mouth, and maybe Brendon had thought about this mostly the other way around, but he's sure as hell not going to turn it down.

Anyway, he's pretty sure that Spencer could still tell him to do something and he'd do it, even if Spencer's mouth was on his dick. Well, except Spencer wouldn't be able to say anything with his mouth on Brendon's dick. But if he, like, signalled something. Brendon doesn't think Spencer knows any sign languages, though. Maybe they could learn. Or they could have, like, a system of signals for different things, like—

"Pay attention," Spencer says, and then he pulls Brendon's cock out of his jeans and sucks the head into his mouth, wet and hot.

Yeah. Brendon's definitely still following Spencer's orders, even with Spencer on his knees. He can't take his eyes off Spencer, the way Spencer's glancing up at Brendon between strokes. Spencer keeps catching Brendon's eye just long enough to make Brendon blush at how dirty-hot it is for Spencer to be watching him watching Spencer suck him off. It's like some kind of exhibitionist loop, and Brendon wants to get trapped in it.

"You're—good at that," Brendon says, and Spencer's lips tighten around Brendon's dick like maybe he's trying to smile. "I want to go next."

Spencer pulls his hand off Brendon's hip long enough to flash a thumbs-up, and then he's diving back into it, twice as fast, spit dripping down from the messy redness of Spencer's mouth. Brendon wants to see this all the fucking time, suddenly. To slide onto Spencer's drum throne after jazz band and beg Spencer to suck him, please, please. Or to have Spencer tie him up, like he'd said at the party, head-to-toe and unable to move, unable to buck his hips up into Spencer's mouth.

He doesn't last long, can't. Spencer pulls off at Brendon's gasped, "Coming," and strokes him through it. Brendon leans heavily into the door, trying not to let his knees fail him, and then Spencer's slithering back up Brendon's body, pressing into him. His cock is a hard line against Brendon's belly, and Brendon reaches down to Spencer's fly, skipping right over the issue of his shirt.

"Bed," Spencer says, and Brendon's next to it almost before the syllable's faded from the air. He'd blush, maybe, at how easy he is for Spencer's instruction, except that—well. They both like him that way, Brendon's pretty sure.

"Lie down," Spencer says. "Yeah?"

"Yeah?” Lying down to blow Spencer means— ”Oh. Yes. Yeah!" That was maybe slightly too enthusiastic, but Spencer’s grinning at him, anyway. Brendon drops his pants first, settles himself on the bed with his feet dangling, so there's plenty of room for Spencer's knees when Spencer climbs up over his face.

"You like it like this," Spencer says, and Brendon nods.

"I've never—like this," Brendon admits. "But yeah."

"God." Spencer pulls his dick out and squeezes the base of it, hard. "God, you're so fucking hot, Brendon."

Brendon arches under him, desperate for Spencer to—do this, to fuck his mouth like this. “Please,” he says, and Spencer groans, leaning forward to brace himself on the wall.

The first push of Spencer’s big cock between Brendon’s lips makes him moan around it, eyes slipping shut. He’s given blowjobs—some, anyway—but not like this, not lying back and having the blowjob sort of done to him instead of the other way around.

It’s hot, ridiculously hot, but it’s also making Brendon’s neck absolutely ache, and he reaches up to drag the pillow down from the head of the bed. “Sorry,” Spencer says, and Brendon just sucks harder.

“Fuck, that’s good,” Spencer says, and Brendon moans around him. “You like—the talking?”

Brendon can’t nod his head, exactly, but Spencer seems to get the point. “It’s—if I’d known how good this would feel, I’d have ordered you to suck me at the party. You would have—you’d get on your knees and let me, let me fuck your mouth in Steve’s back room.”

Fuck. Brendon’s not sure anything’s ever sounded quite as good as that, and the way Spencer’s voice is washing over him is—is like—

“Yeah,” Spencer says. “Fuck, yeah, you can—go under for me again, yeah. You’re so good like this, B. You’re so fucking hot, giving it up for me.”

Brendon’s thoughts are slowing down, but this time he’s kind of aware of it, not just going with the flow. It’s weird, but he has the feeling like maybe he could stop, if he wanted to, and just go back to normal. He just really, really doesn’t want to, so instead he lets himself drift, focusing on the weight of Spencer’s cock in his mouth.

“So—fuck, so good, so—” Spencer’s hips jerk forward, and then he pulls out, jerking himself off. Brendon slits his eyes back open to watch, just in time to see Spencer cupping his hand over the head of his dick as he comes. Spencer sinks back onto Brendon’s chest, wipes his hand on the lower leg of the jeans he’s still wearing.

Brendon’s eyes drift shut again, and he feels Spencer climbing down next to him, squeezing between Brendon and the wall. “Quiet time,” Spencer murmurs, and Brendon takes a deep breath and lets it out. Hopefully that’s enough of an answer.

Brendon doesn’t sleep, but he isn’t exactly awake, either. When Spencer finally stirs, squeezing an arm around Brendon’s waist and kissing his jaw, Brendon lets his head turn toward Spencer. It feels like a lot of effort.

“How you feeling?” Spencer asks, and Brendon summons up enough energy to make some kind of sound. He’s pretty sure it’s a reasonably good “fine, thanks” sound. “You thirsty?”

Brendon supposes he's pretty dry-mouthed. "Yeah," he manages, and Spencer huffs a laugh, tucks his face into Brendon's shoulder.

"You sound so out of it," he says. "It's nice."

"'s nice on this end." Brendon's pretty sure he's only sort of intelligible right now, but Spencer bites his shoulder, anyway, and Brendon tilts into him a little more.

"So, uh," Spencer says. "That was a good party, huh?"

Brendon laughs, and finds he's got his regular gravity back. He pushes himself over enough to roll onto Spencer. "Yeah. Good party. Great after-party."

***

Ian throws a party on a Tuesday night, because Ian is a free spirit or something.

"I think it just means he doesn't have morning classes on Wednesday," Spencer points out, and Ryan snorts behind them. Brendon's started seeing a lot of Ryan, outside of their a capella practices. Luckily, Ryan's way more easygoing when Spencer's around.

"Freshmen," Ryan mutters, and Brendon turns around to mock-glare at him.

"Hey now," Brendon says. "Ian is a class unto himself."

"Accurate," Ian says, swinging out of his doorway and waving them in. "Heyyy, what's that now?"

He's pointing at Spencer's arm, sneaking around Brendon's waist. "Uh—surprise," Spencer says, and Brendon leans back a little and kisses the corner of his mouth. Ryan groans and walks past them into the party.

“So this means you’re the freshman Spencer had the crush on,” Ian says, waggling his eyebrows.

“Guilty," Brendon agrees.

Ian starts to retort, but his head suddenly snaps up. "Dallon, my man! I thought you were swamped with that take-home thing.”

Dallon’s coming up behind Brendon, wearing a skinny tie and a pretty sweet suit to go with it. He shrugs at Ian. “It wasn’t as bad as Way made it sound. Did you do the first question or—”

Brendon has no patience for schoolwork discussions at a party. "Dude! Long time no see!"

"Oh, yeah?" Ian says. "You've been sleeping elsewhere, huh? Are you in the CIA, Dallon? You can tell us. It's cool."

"Probably a secret girlfriend," Spencer says. "You been sneaking off to get jiggy wit—you know what, let's pretend I didn't say that."

Dallon, inexplicably, is blushing.

"Ha, yeah, secret girlfriend," Brendon agrees, smirking at Dallon. "That's gotta be it, right? You totally met some nice girl in orientation and you're like engaged or some shit. It's that or heroin."

"He'll never tell," Ian says. "It's totally the CIA thing."

"You've been holding out on me, bro." Brendon grins. "Have you totally saved us from, like, terrorist attacks and shit? Or do you secretly speak Korean? Because that would be awesome.”

Dallon’s still kind of standing there, blushing, when a girl comes around the corner and trots toward them. “I’m so sorry I’m late, babe!” She grabs Dallon’s hand and leans up—and up and up—to kiss him on the cheek.

“Oh my god,” Ian says. “Is this your CIA partner?” Spencer laughs and flicks Ian in the arm.

“I may possibly have a secret girlfriend,” Dallon says, finally. “Breezy, this is Ian, Spencer, and Brendon. Guys, this is Breezy.”

“Sounds like a codename to me,” Ian says.

“Oh, it totally is,” Breezy agrees. “Wait, shit, now I have to kill you. I’ll come in the night when you’re least expecting it.”

“I like this girl,” Brendon says, and Dallon smiles at him, and down at Breezy.

“Yeah,” Dallon agrees. “She’s all right.” Breezy knocks her hips into him, and he kisses the part of her hair.

Brendon leans into Spencer’s side. Ian's still making CIA jokes, ribbing Dallon the same way he made fun of Brendon and Spencer, and Ryan's poking his head out to see why everyone's still in the hall. They aren't even in the party yet, and this is already the best one Brendon's ever been to.

***

The party was awesome, but the way Spencer's fingers keep stroking over little bits of Brendon's skin makes it easy to decide to duck out early. Brendon feels like his pulse has been racing for an hour, and they're pretty much running back to their dorm, Spencer running ahead and tugging Brendon with him, laughing. Brendon's pretty sure they're putting on an embarrassing show for everyone walking around the campus, but he really couldn't care less.

They barely manage to get into Spencer’s room before they’re kissing, teeth biting into each other’s lips. Spencer’s pushing Brendon’s shirt up and scraping his nails over Brendon’s skin, digging burning lines across Brendon’s chest and back.

“Fuck,” Brendon groans, and Spencer pushes him back against the door, throws the lock.

“Arms,” Spencer says, and Brendon gets them up over his head, tries to grip the top of the doorframe for support. It’s impossible to concentrate on anything except the way that Spencer’s mouth feels on his nipple, the way Spencer’s rocking against Brendon’s thigh.

“Want to—” Spencer doesn’t finish his sentence, but his hand comes up under Brendon’s shirt, nails scratching at his sides.

“Yeah,” Brendon groans. Spencer hasn’t done much of this yet, like he’s been easing towards the painplay, and Brendon can’t stop thinking about how good it’s going to be. “Yeah, please.”

Spencer shudders against him. "Fuck, we're—this was so fucking worth staying sober for. Gonna tear you the fuck up."

That sounds—yeah. "Yeah," Brendon says. His arms are getting tired, and he digs his nails farther into the wood.

"Gonna fucking—" Spencer pulls Brendon off the door, steers them towards the bed. "Clothes, get—"

Brendon's kind of amused at the way Spencer's lost the power of speech, but it's not going to stop him from getting the fuck out of his clothes so they can do—whatever it is they're about to do. His skin is humming with the anticipation of it. He doesn't even know what Spencer owns, what might be hidden in his drawers and under his bed.

Spencer's stripping, too, shirt over his head, undoing his belt. Brendon sits back on the bed to watch, and Spencer ... doesn't put the belt down. Oh, fuck. "Yeah?" Brendon says, staring at it. His mouth is watering, which is just a ridiculous reaction to this, but he wants it.

"Yeah," Spencer says. "My hand first."

Brendon's breathing heavy now, like he's been running instead of sitting here watching his boyfriend fold a belt in half. Spencer's hands are big and broad and calloused and they feel amazing stroking Brendon's skin and fisting his cock, but Brendon's really fucking sure they're going to be even better spanking his ass.

"Should I—" Brendon gestures at the bed, half-turns himself.

"Flat on your belly," Spencer says, which is definitely not how it works in porn. Brendon seriously needs to find better porn, apparently, or else maybe give up on thinking he'll be able to predict Spencer's actions from it. "Arms over your head."

Brendon settles himself, keeping his thighs mostly together, because he's pretty sure that getting belted on the balls would be a little more than he's necessarily up for tonight. Sometime, maybe, but not right now. Actually, that sounds kind of—but, okay. Not right now.

"God, you're all smooth," Spencer says, stroking his hand from Brendon's scalp down to the curve of his ass. He rubs Brendon's thighs a little. "You're gonna look so red when I'm done with you."

Brendon whimpers, and he can't even pretend to be embarrassed about it instead of really, really turned on. "Yeah," he says, and Spencer leans over and kisses Brendon's ear.

"Don't move," Spencer says, and drops the belt next to Brendon.

The first couple of spanks don't feel like much of anything. They don't even startle Brendon, because they come so fast, and they don't hurt at all. After a few more, Brendon's wondering if maybe this whole thing isn't as great as he thought it was going to be, because it's sort of fun to feel his whole body reverberate from the strike, but his ass doesn't hurt at all. He doesn't even feel warm.

Several strikes later, and Brendon's starting to get back into the appeal of it. Spencer’s hand stings, now, a sharp pinching kind of pain that makes Brendon want to arch back into it. He settles for moaning, instead, urging Spencer on. Spencer’s hitting him with both hands, Brendon’s pretty sure, and there’s no real pause, smack-smack-smack-smack, until Brendon can’t keep track of how many or how long it’s been, just of how he’s starting to feel sore instead of stingy.

His dick is grinding into the bed, and Spencer’s muttering something about how well he’s taking it, and Brendon’s definitely, definitely back on the spanking train. He is buying his fanclub membership and getting his “I ♥ spanking” t-shirt. Which—that’s kind of a weird thought. Brendon laughs, more of a giggle than not, and Spencer pauses, rubs one hand into the sore skin of Brendon’s ass.

“Shit, listen to you,” Spencer says, and Brendon laughs harder, because Spencer’s voice is low and growly and hot. “Fucking running over with endorphins, huh?”

“Dunno,” Brendon giggles, and he feels Spencer pulling the belt out from where it’s gotten half-trapped under Brendon’s side.

“Just a few,” Spencer says, and Brendon has to hold back a complaining whine. “I don’t want you to be too sore to fuck me.”

“Oh fuck.” Brendon lifts his hips off the bed for a moment, just to give his dick some breathing room, because yes, yes, yes, he really wants to fuck Spencer.

“Down,” Spencer says, and Brendon drops back onto the bed. Spencer snaps the belt, and Brendon almost jumps at the loud crack. “Antsy, are we?” Spencer’s grinning; Brendon can hear it.

“You would be, too,” Brendon says, muffled into the pillow. “C’mon, please.”

“Well, since you ask so nicely,” Spencer says, and then the belt cracks across Brendon’s ass.

It burns, sharp and searing, but it fades fast into a duller ache. Brendon can handle that, except then there’s another strike and it’s even more, burning across the bottom curve of Brendon’s ass. “Jesus fuck,” Brendon grits out, and Spencer hits him again, and once more, and Brendon’s pretty sure he’s actually never going to speak again, is just going to tense all his muscles against this pain forever and ever.

Spencer’s fingers trace over his ass, and they feel cold and soothing. “So fucking gorgeous,” Spencer murmurs. “Take a deep breath.”

Brendon sucks air into his lungs, lets it out again. The pain is receding, and in its place is—heat, and the way Spencer's fingers are dragging trails of sensation across it. "Oh shit," he groans, and Spencer climbs onto the bed next to him, turns Brendon onto his side.

"Too sore? It's okay if you are," Spencer says. "We can do something else. Trust me, there's—there's no end of stuff I want to do with you."

Brendon leans up and kisses him, pushes Spencer over and wraps one hand around the back of Spencer's head. Spencer's moaning into his mouth, biting and sucking and holy fuck, Brendon's never wanted anything as much as he wants to fuck Spencer right now. "Not too sore," he says. "I—definitely not too sore."

"Get me ready, then," Spencer says, and pulls lube out from under his pillow. "Want your fingers in me."

"Yeah?" Brendon slicks them up, gets out of the way enough for Spencer to pull his knees up. Getting to his clean hand and his knees is enough to make Brendon groan and drop his face onto Spencer’s belly for a second, breathing hard, but after that it’s good, the pulled-tight feeling. Brendon wonders if he’ll be bruised, tomorrow. He hopes so.

Spencer’s tight around his fingers, and Brendon likes the way he’s watching Brendon’s face. It’s like Brendon’s putting on a show for Spencer, and he grins and flexes his bicep more, tilts his whole body instead of just his arm.

“Fuck, okay, just—now,” Spencer says. “Fuck me.”

“Condom,” Brendon says, and Spencer swears, points at the desk. Brendon’s knees wobble when he stands up, and Spencer swings off the bed to help him, an arm under Brendon’s shoulders. “Whoops.”

“My fault,” Spencer says. “Sit down, I’ll get one.”

Brendon goes ahead and sits down, lets Spencer crawl around him back onto the bed. “You don’t want me to—um. Be on the bottom?” Brendon asks, rolling the condom on.

Spencer shakes his head. “Want you to really fuck me,” he says. “Hard and fast.”

“Right,” Brendon chokes out, and then he’s pushing Spencer’s legs back, and Spencer’s watching him, blue eyes tracking Brendon’s movements. “Right,” he says again, and lines himself up. He’s only done this, like, once, but he’s pretty sure it comes back fast.

“Oh, yeah,” Spencer groans when Brendon pushes in. “Jesus, I love getting fucked. Want you to fucking—give it to me.”

“Yeah,” Brendon agrees. He can totally do that. His first few thrusts have Spencer tilting his hips up into Brendon’s, arms coming up around Brendon’s back. Brendon’s ass is aching, and it’s so fucking good, in a way he doesn’t have any words for, lighting up his whole body. He wants to do this every day for—whatever, a seriously long time.

“Motherfucking—fuck,” Spencer says, and then he’s just making sounds, loud and low. His hands are scrabbling all over Brendon’s back, legs folding farther up to his chest, and Brendon’s just trying to keep pounding him and not come right fucking now.

Spencer’s head comes up and he keens, hands dropping to Brendon’s ass and nails digging in so hard that Brendon almost shouts from the sharp pain. He’s really fucking glad Spencer just came, because Spencer’s fingernails and his ass and his—everything are too much for Brendon’s dick right now, way too much, and Brendon’s making his own embarrassing noises and bucking up into Spencer once and twice. He doesn’t mean to collapse onto Spencer, but he can’t quite manage anything else, especially given that Spencer hasn’t let go of his ass yet.

“Holy shit,” Spencer gasps, loosening his grip and shaking out each hand. He slides up on the bed enough to free Brendon’s dick from his ass, carefully lets his legs down. “That was—that was really fucking excellent.”

“Seconded.” Brendon’s reply is muffled by Spencer’s chest.

“You can—stay here,” Spencer says. “If you want. So we don’t have to move.”

“You have the best ideas,” Brendon agrees. “Mad props, Spencer Smith.”

Spencer’s hand strokes gently over Brendon’s ass. His palm still feels tinglingly cool. “Yeah, I do have some good ones.”

***

The first jazz-band concert is on a Thursday night, in the dance studio. The acoustics aren’t perfect—the good auditorium was booked solid, and Vicky couldn’t get them a spot—but it’s a beautiful building, and Brendon wants to hear it fill up with their music.

Vicky’s already frazzled and snapping when Brendon shows up, and he doesn’t blame her. The freshmen in the horn section still aren’t up to par, and their great baritone-sax guy had dropped out of school to join a touring band, so they’re left with a merely competent replacement. Still, Brendon’s pretty sure they’re gonna be great. And if not at this show, then at the holiday show, and the one for family visiting day in the spring, and the finals-week concert. It’s kind of nice, having all of that laid out in front of him, and then three more years of it.

He’s pretty sure saying that stuff to Vicky wouldn’t help, though, so instead he gets out of her way and helps move chairs into place for the audience. “Here—” Gabe, setting his trombone down in the corner, crooks a finger at him. “We’ll do an assembly line.” The brown folding chairs are kept in huge closets hidden in one studio wall, and Gabe organizes a line of people to pass as many as they can carry out to the middle of the studio floor. Brendon’s near the end of the line, unfolding chairs as they reach him and passing them to the baritone-sax guy to arrange, when Spencer comes in, spinning a drumstick in one hand.

Brendon almost gets hit with the next stack of chairs, distracted by watching Spencer’s fingers twirling the stick. “Sorry,” he says, and the pianist, Nicole, just grins at him.

“I heard about you guys,” she says. “Didn’t know if it was true, though. Ian’s a gossip.”

“Ian’s always right,” Brendon says. He’s not surprised that she knows Ian. Everyone seems to.

They run out of chairs fast, thanks to the assembly line, and Gabe shuts the big closet doors, everyone scattering to get their instruments ready.

“Later,” Nicole says, and pops a salute. Brendon laughs, and supposes it’s okay that he can’t take over the piano parts until she graduates.

Brendon’s just gotten his stand in place when he hears someone tapping a live mic. “People,” Vicky says. “Doors open in twenty, and if your asses aren’t off the stage by then I will pick you up and possibly throw you out a window. You have been warned.”

“Brilliant and inspirational as always!” Gabe shouts, and Vicky turns a finger on him.

“That’s the end of your commentary,” she says, and he holds up his hands in acquiescence.

Someone leans in behind Brendon, and he turns to see Spencer smirking in Gabe’s general direction. “Last year he ended most of his heckling with ‘show us your tits,’ but Vicky broke him of that. Possibly by actually breaking him,” Spencer says.

“He doesn’t look that broken,” Brendon points out. Also, Brendon totally saw Gabe and Vicky making out in the student union once.

Spencer shrugs. “Maybe she put him back together.”

***

The concert is amazing. It’s been too long since the last time Brendon was on a stage—at his high-school graduation, a chorus performance in the sticky June heat. This is way better; none of them are phoning it in, even the freshmen trumpeters.

Brendon’s heart is still pounding even after all the come-down of putting chairs and instruments away. The way the audience had bounced in their seats, the applause. Brendon thinks he could learn to live on just that performance high. Who needs food or sleep or—

Sex, though. Brendon definitely needs sex. Like right now. “Hey,” he says, and swings his non-clarinet-carrying arm around Spencer’s waist. “Dallon’s gonna be out all night with his secret girlfriend, you know.”

“Is he, now?” Spencer puts an eyebrow up. “Are you suggesting some kind of inappropriate assignation to your Resident Assistant?”

“Definitely,” Brendon confirms. “How’s he feel about it, do you think?”

Spencer doesn’t answer, but he’s walking a lot faster, now. “Anything you want to do in particular?” he asks, getting out his keycard to unlock the dorm’s main doors.

Everything, Brendon wants everything. “We could, um. I was thinking maybe we could, like. Watch some porn?”

Spencer’s hustling them up the stairs, and he pauses to glance back at Brendon. “Okay,” he says. “Your collection or mine?”

“Um.” Brendon kind of wants to know what Spencer’s collection consists of, but he’s been thinking about one particular video. “Mine, I guess. This time?”

“Get it,” Spencer says, and lets himself into his room. “Meet me back here.”

Fuck, Brendon loves it when Spencer gets bossy. He almost trips over himself rounding the corner towards his room to grab his laptop. He’s slightly more careful coming back, because he’s definitely not risking the laptop, but he’s still pretty much jogging back around to Spencer’s room. “Hey,” he says, breathless, when Spencer opens the door, and Spencer kisses him, one hand on the back of his neck.

“Hey,” Spencer rumbles back, letting him into the room. “Let me guess—forehead carving, right? I know that’s what you’re into.”

“Oh, yeah,” Brendon grins. “God, I can’t get enough of it. It’s my desperate, secret desire, Spencer. I’m so glad you’re on board.”

“Anything for you, baby.” Spencer waggles his eyebrows, and then he’s laughing, tipping himself back onto his elbows on the bed. “So what is it really?”

“Uh,” Brendon says. “So you know Steve’s, like, playroom setup?” Spencer just looks at him. Right, yeah, obviously Spencer knows it. “He has that, um. Fucking machine.”

Spencer smirks. “Groupie.”

“That’s what Shane called me!” Brendon drops the laptop on Spencer’s pillow and sits next to him, curling into Spencer’s side. “What’s up with that?”

“Just, you know,” Spencer says, unhelpfully. “It’s kind of a—like, there are all these guys who are at Steve’s parties practically just for that, you know? You’d think they’d pool their cash and buy one. Maybe they like the audience, though.”

“Oh.” Brendon bites his lip. “Well, I have lots of other stuff, or—we don’t have to, like. It was just an idea.”

Spencer’s hand on his arm stops Brendon’s movement toward the laptop. “Hey,” he says, and presses a kiss to Brendon’s jaw. “It’s not like that.”

“It’s fine,” Brendon says, not looking at Spencer. “You don’t have to be into everything—”

“Hey, no. Fucking machines are hot.” Spencer pulls Brendon in even closer, whispers in his ear. “I’d love to tie you up in front of Steve’s and watch you just take it.”

Brendon sucks in a shaky breath. “Yeah?”

“Oh, yeah,” Spencer murmurs. “There’s always a big crowd of people watching. Would you want—”

Yes.” The word slips out of Brendon’s mouth before he even finishes thinking it.

“Right, well.” Spencer smiles, sitting up a bit. “Turn it on, then.”

Brendon’s too bound up in thoughts of the fucking machine, of its on switch, to parse Spencer’s words correctly the first time. “Oh, the—laptop. Yeah.” Brendon grabs it off the pillow, opens it up from sleep. He’s already got a window open to his porn files, and Spencer leans in before Brendon thinks better of it, skimming the filenames.

“Dude,” Spencer says. “That’s—that’s a lot of porn.”

“Uh.” Brendon clicks through to the fucking-machines file. “I guess?”

“No, like, objectively, that is a shit-ton of porn.” Spencer leans back enough to look Brendon in the face. “You’ve really been, like. Waiting a long time, huh?”

Brendon thinks about high school, about how carefully he had to hide being gay, let alone being into this stuff. “It’s—kind of part of why I went to school outside Vegas,” Brendon says. “Like, it’s a good school and all, and the music department is awesome, but I really wanted to, like. To—” Brendon can’t quite find the words.

“Yeah,” Spencer says, like maybe he gets it anyway. “To experience all the stuff you’ve been thinking about.”

“All at once,” Brendon agrees. “I had this schedule of munches, and I just wanted to go to every single one until I had, like. What the videos have, you know? The big leather top with the dungeon full of crazy toys and shit.”

Spencer makes a face, and Brendon rushes to clarify. “But I don’t—that wasn’t—you’re so much better than that,” Brendon reassures him. Brendon’s face feels hot, admitting it like this. “You’re perfect. I don’t really want that. I thought that was just, you know. That’s what the option was, you know? And I—Nick was—I thought I’d found it, or really close, and so I guess I didn’t stop to, um, to ask whether that’s what he was looking for, too, the full-time porn thing.”

“Different kind of porn,” Spencer says, and the corners of his lips are twitching. “His kind has new guys every month.”

“Yeah,” Brendon says. “I should have asked, I guess.” He makes himself look Spencer in the eye. “But you want—not new guys every month.”

“No,” Spencer says. “Just you. And not porn stuff, except the stuff we like in porn. You know?”

Brendon nods, and he can’t keep the grin off his face. “Does this mean there won’t be some kind of ceremony where like forty guys jerk off on me and then I have to promise to be your full-time slave?”

Spencer laughs into Brendon’s shoulder. “I think I have that video, too. And—yeah, I wasn’t planning anything like that.”

“Okay,” Brendon says. He looks down at the laptop and then shuts it. “Actually, instead of porn, do you think maybe we could do those checklist things? I’ve been thinking about them, and this book I picked up has a really long one. It’s kind of cool.” He’s glad he finally cracked one of his books open. There’s some pretty cool stuff in there.

“Yeah,” Spencer says, and Brendon can see all of his teeth, he’s smiling so wide. “Yeah, that sounds great.”

***

Brendon’s surprised when Shane calls, but he doesn’t hesitate to shut his textbook and answer the phone. “Hey.”

“Lunch?” Shane sounds like he’s walking, maybe, just a touch short of breath.

Brendon checks his watch. By the time Shane can get on campus, they won’t have much time to talk. “Maybe tomorrow would be—”

There’s a knock at the door, and Brendon hears it through the phone, too. “You’re here already,” he says, and Shane laughs, the sound doubling. Brendon shuts the phone and opens the door instead, grinning back at him.

“I could totally have been doing important shit,” Brendon points out. “I could have been writing a symphony.”

“Then I would have sat in the corner and not disturbed you, obviously,” Shane says. “Now c’mon, I’ve been craving those burgers all week.”

They chitchat about the fall weather and the way all the cute guys on campus are starting to cover up while they’re getting their food, innocuous stuff. Brendon supposes he wouldn’t have thought, a few months ago, that was the kind of stuff he wouldn’t care about people overhearing, but now it’s barely even on his radar.

“There’s a munch this weekend,” Shane says. “You guys should come.”

“Um. Just a munch?” Brendon had liked that first one okay, but—those munch dates in his calendar had been just the planned avenue for awesome, kinky sex. Brendon didn’t really plan on coming back after somehow landing a gorgeous toppy boyfriend.

“Yeah,” Shane says. “Spencer doesn’t usually go to many, but that’s because he does his socializing at parties. And if you guys are gonna be—I mean. Spencer talked to some people at the last party, but he wasn’t really paying attention to anyone but you.”

Brendon takes a bite out of his veggie burger. He hadn’t really thought about how he was—curtailing Spencer’s usual party activity.

“Oh, hey, not like that,” Shane says, like he’s reading Brendon’s mind. “I don’t mean you kept him from it. Trust me, he’d way rather have you on your knees at a party than have more attention to spare for Mark and Steve’s endless flirting.”

Brendon’s pretty sure that kind of sentence should be embarrassing. It is, a little, but Shane’s so—matter-of-fact. “I guess. So the munch is for Spencer?”

“For both of you,” Shane says. “Also for me, in case nobody else cool shows.” He reaches over and prods Brendon with the tines of his fork. “It’s good to have, you know, a support network and shit. Right? People who know. We can’t tell everybody, so we tell each other.”

Brendon pokes at his fries. “I mean. I’m pretty good at keeping stuff to myself, when I have to.” He has weekly calls with his family, after all.

“I know,” Shane says. “But you don’t have to be. Anyway, you’re fun, you should come. Think about it?”

“Sure,” Brendon says. “So what’s up with you?”

“Oh no no no.” Shane laughs. “Don’t think we’re not going to switch right over to talking about you and Spencer and the joys of in-hall kink, because we totally are.”

“A lady doesn’t kiss and tell,” Brendon sniffs, and then he loses it in giggles. “Man, I would be a terrible lady.”

“Well, there’s totally parties for that, if you change your mind,” Shane says. He winks, adds, “And I bet Spencer would totally get off on you in lingerie.”

“Spencer gets off on a lot of stuff,” Brendon says. “It’s, uh. It’s kind of awesome.”

Shane sits back in his chair, arm over the empty one next to him. “Yeah?”

“He’s just—it’s like.” Brendon bites his lip, tries to figure out how to explain it. “It’s like, okay. I watched all this porn, growing up, right? And it was so hot and so exactly what I wanted. Like, I had a lot of reasons for moving way out of Vegas and going to a secular school, but this—I’ve been wanting this for my whole life, it feels like. You know?”

“Oh, yeah,” Shane says, serious for once. “I definitely know.”

“And Spencer is nothing like that porn. Like, he and that porn are like, matter and antimatter or some shit. But it’s still exactly what I want. I can’t even—there’s nothing else that’s as good as even the stupidest little thing he does to me.”

Shane turns his head as a group of students pass close by their table, waits until they’ve gotten out of range. “See, that’s—like, that’s not how it was for me and him, right? That’s not just normal, for, like, any two guys who are into the same stuff.”

Brendon manages to contain his “really?” He could listen to Shane telling him that his relationship with Spencer is awesome and spectacular for pretty much unlimited amounts of time. “Cool.”

“Yeah, smug it up, you lucky asshole.” Shane swipes a few of Brendon’s fries. “Someday my prince will come, or whatever.”

“You’re looking for a prince who wants to take you down to the dungeons,” Brendon points out. “I don’t think Disney really covered that.”

“Whatever,” Shane says. “Someday my toppy exhibitionist voyeur will come.”

“And come, and come, and—” Shane’s laughter drowns out the rest of Brendon’s repeats, and a couple of girls at a table nearby turn to see what’s so funny. Brendon decides to switch topics. “So, hey, I was reading this thing and I thought you’d explain it better than the book did.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” Shane says, arms out. “Let me drench you with my awe-inspiring wisdom.”

“Ew,” Brendon says, and throws a fry at him.

***

Brendon pretty much has to drag himself out of Spencer's bed on the day of the munch. "We could just stay here," he mumbles into Spencer's chest. Brendon likes that the single beds kind of necessitate cuddling. Jamie definitely wasn't into that, but Spencer seems like he likes it, or at least like he's tolerant of the way Brendon curls around him.

"We promised Shane," Spencer says, but he sets the snooze. "Five minutes."

"Shane can suck it," Brendon yawns, and Spencer snorts, hand trailing down Brendon's side to his hip.

"Shane's not getting near 'it.'" Spencer wraps his hand around Brendon's cock, morning-hard. "But I will."

"Sold," Brendon agrees. "Best wake-up call."

By the time Brendon's coming, arching out of the warm sheets underneath his back, he's pretty much awake without the possibility of getting back to sleep. "All right," he says. "Munch it is."

"Shower time." Spencer swings out of bed, wraps a towel around his hips and picks up his shower kit. "If there's no one around, we can throw back the curtain between the showers."

"You're a terrible influence," Brendon says, and pulls his pajama pants off Spencer's floor. He's not sure when these even ended up in here. "My mother warned me about boys like you."

"No, she didn't."

"Well, she would have." Brendon wraps his arms around Spencer's waist and kisses his shoulder blade. "You're definitely one of those dangerous seductive types."

"Shower," Spencer says again, and Brendon lets himself be led.

***

The munch is at a Friendly's this time, and Brendon blinks against the too-bright interior. The group's got a room to themselves, and Shane's with the usual suspects, Sarah and Danny and that big guy whose name Brendon can't quite remember, and that other girl and ... people. He remembers Sarah and Danny, anyway.

"Be right back," Spencer says, and goes to say hi to the other table.

"Hey," Sarah says, raising an eyebrow at Brendon. "I see you landed a live one."

Brendon grins down at his menu. "Guess he liked my bait."

"I bet he did." She tilts her head. "Wait, didn't I hear you were hanging with Nick? Are my gossip streams crossing?"

"We hung out a little," Brendon says, and the memory doesn't bother him, even the embarrassment of the last party just a dull twinge. "But, you know. I was looking for more of a boyfriend thing."

"He's quite a boyfriend thing," the big guy says, smirking. "Nice work."

"I know, right?" Brendon doesn't bother hiding his smile. "I totally aced this one. If there's a trophy, you guys can go ahead and have it delivered to my dorm room."

"A trophy for what?" Spencer asks, dropping into the chair next to Brendon.

"Awesomeness," Brendon answers.

Spencer introduces himself around. Zack and Haley and Greta—Brendon remembers them now.

"Oh man, you guys," Greta says. "I read this book—well, this dirty novel—the other day that had all this extended wrist suspension with manacles. Like, the bottom was totally off his feet, for a good while, and the top was kind of hanging off him, too. And the author’s all acknowledging that there’s bad bruising and shit, but zip about breaking his wrists. It was the weirdest thing.”

“I hate that,” Haley agrees. “Like, write your fantasy or whatever, but if you’re gonna make it all real-world with the bruising, make it real-world with the massive danger.”

“Oh, whatever,” Zack says. “It’s fiction. As long as the guy who wrote it—”

“Girl,” Greta interrupts.

“—As long as the chick who wrote it isn’t going around suspending people by their wrists in reality, who the fuck cares.”

“Well, hang on,” Spencer says. “I don’t know. If the audience for the book is, like—there’s a ton of people who mess around with kink who we never see at parties, right? And they don’t hear the safety lectures and they don’t talk about it. So maybe they read this book and they’re all ‘well, bruising, I can deal with bruising,’ and then they end up with broken wrists and nerve damage.”

“If they’re too stupid to buy suspension cuffs and read, like, one article, they’re too stupid to live,” Zack says.

Brendon taps his thumb on the table. “I don’t know,” he says. “There’s a lot of—like. People who only watch the porn, you know?”

Shane grins at him from down the table. "The porn's pretty unrealistic, too," he points out.

"Well—yeah, okay," Brendon says. "Maybe there should be disclaimers or something."

Zack snorts, and Brendon shrugs, because okay, yeah, maybe not.

Spencer leans into Brendon's ear, whispers, "Doesn't mean we can't watch the porn as—inspiration." Brendon drops a hand onto his thigh and strokes a thumb over his inseam.

"It's nice to be able to understand what they're talking about," Brendon whispers back.

"Anyway," Zack says. "Forget wrist suspensions. Alcohol enemas are, like, apparently the big thing the kids are doing these days. Dangerous as fuck. You might as well be doing firecupping in a polyester bodysuit."

Well. Brendon understands some of what they're talking about, anyway.

Sarah has some anecdote about enemas that Brendon's pretty willing to zone out of, leaning back into Spencer's arm across the back of his chair. "Shane's kind of right," Brendon murmurs. "It's good to have—people." Ian and Dallon and Ryan, who don't care that Brendon's gay, who mostly only care that he's good at music. Shane and Sarah and the rest of these guys, who don't think it's weird that Brendon likes to be tied up and spanked and fucked into, like, alternative brain spaces. Brendon's never had any of this before; he didn't even know he wanted it.

"Yeah," Spencer says, softly. "I'm glad you found people, Brendon."

"Glad you're one of them," Brendon says, and tunes back in just in time for a punchline about cock rings. He's pretty sure the joke would have gone right over his head, but that's all right. Brendon came to this city to learn.