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Take me down where I wanna be

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Frank fucking hates Craigslist. And he hates job searching. Combined, there are not enough cups of coffee or cigarettes in the world to deal with it all. After the third scam job listing in a row, he has to go out on his balcony and smoke his fourth cigarette in the last hour.

When he goes back inside, Hambone has a bowl of cereal in his hands and is precariously balancing Frank's laptop on his knees.

"The fuck, man?" Frank asks, sitting on the other end of the couch. Sometimes it's fucking annoying when your best friend crashes at your place.

"I'm doing you a service because I'm pretty sure you were about to throw your computer across the room and you can't fuckin' afford a new computer right now, what with being unemployed," Hambone explains, slurping milk off his spoon. He makes a few clicks and then pushes the laptop over the cushions toward Frank.

Frank grabs it and sees several tabs open, presumably with promising job listings in them. And then Frank reads the first few sentences of the first listing and raises his hand to flip him off.

Hambone cackles. "Sorry, man. Couldn't resist. The rest are legit, I promise."

He wasn't lying. They're all jobs Frank's qualified for and probably wouldn't hate doing. He sends his resume and a cover letter to all of them and then plays Super Mario on the Wii until Hambone has to leave. He picks his laptop back up after a while and realizes he didn't close the tab to the joke listing. It actually intrigues him when he reads through the entire listing, despite his initial reaction. Before he can think too hard, he sends his resume. He's not certain he's... qualified for such a position, but what the hell. He's got nothing to lose. He misses Jersey, but he'd rather keep his apartment and have a weird job than have to move back in with his mom.

If nothing else, working for a sex shop would be interesting.

*

“Scene gear and fetish fashion,” says Zoe, the impossibly beautiful blue-haired woman who’d greeted Frank when he walked in the door, and then waited while he stammered out why he is qualified to work in a sex shop. When Frank just blinks back at her, unsure of what kind of a response she’s searching for, the corner of her mouth quirks and she says,

“Fine,” she says. “Sex shop. But as you can see, there are no purple leopard faux fur cuffs, no made-in-China polyester French maid outfits. And mostly we just call it Strange Artefacts.”

“The real deal, huh?” Frank asks.

“The realest,” Zoe answers. “Grant - Mr. Morrison - he started this place for people in the scene, and he’s serious about only stocking the best. This is SoHo, so we get walk-ins and bridal parties and all that, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not really why we’re here. Do you -” She hesitates, and Frank jumps in.

“No! I’ve never - that is, I don’t have any experience, no, but I’m a fast learner. I want to learn,” he says in a rush, biting at his bottom lip. He wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone that before this exact moment, but he’s actually serious about that.

The corner of her mouth lifts again. “That’s a plus,” she says smoothly. “And if you’re hired, we can help you do that. But mostly what we need is just a reliable sales clerk. I manage the shop for Mr. Morrison - he’s got an office upstairs but he works from home a lot. The other two employees are only part-time. It’s a lot of stock logging and sorting and cleaning and helping customers and register work. We do a lot of online sales, too, so I spend most of my time several days a week packing and shipping orders. Do you think this sounds like something that would work for you?”

“Absolutely,” Frank declares. They talk a bit more, Zoe asking questions about his responsibilities at previous jobs, how he deals with people. As they’re wrapping things up and he’s shaking her hand before walking out the door, he gestures broadly at the ceiling and asks, “Is the music from a radio station of some sort, or do you pick it?”

“We rotate who gets control of the iPod,” she says. “Why?”

“I saw these guys play at a bar - actually, it was just a few blocks away from here - a couple of weeks ago. They were really great,” Frank tells her.

She smiles, full and genuine. “This is Tyler’s band. He’s one of our part-time people. We were all there.”

“Huh. Small world,” Frank says.

“I’m going to give your name to Grant for a second interview. I’ll be in touch with more details as soon as he gets in later this afternoon,” Zoe says, gathering her papers up.

“Thank you so much,” Frank says and reaches out to shake her hand. “I’ll look forward to hearing from you.”

Frank takes the train back uptown and tries not to pace up and down his apartment waiting for the call. None of the other places he’d applied have even called for a first interview.

When the call comes, they set up the interview with Mr. Morrison for the next day at three pm. Frank is nervous. Somewhere between sending in his resume as sort of a joke and the end of the interview with Zoe, Frank started actually really wanting this job.

*

He’s never considered himself particularly fashionable, but the next day he puts time into picking out his outfit for the interview. He doesn’t have much he can add to his usual interview fare of a shirt, tie, and slacks, but he goes for the bold, red tie this time and throws on his leather jacket instead of a blazer.

It helps. He feels slightly less out of place when he walks in the shop this time. Zoe greets him with a smile and shows him to Morrison’s office. Frank has about two seconds to take in the photography and paintings and the very functional-looking hardware on the wall when Morrison turns to greet him.

He looks fucking intimidating in his three-piece suit with his head shaved clean. Like a villain in a movie or comic book. But then he smiles warmly and invites Frank to sit down in a friendly tone and Frank doesn’t know up from down anymore.

“Zoe gave me the details of your interview with her, but why don’t you just tell me a little bit about yourself,” Morrison says. He’s got an accent. Irish or Scottish. Frank kind of wishes he could ask the questions, just to hear Morrison talk more.

“And then the company outsourced my whole department to India and I got laid off,” Frank says with a shrug, summing up his most recent job. His eyes stray to a photograph hanging over the lamp. There are buckles everywhere. He holds in a shiver.

“What made you decide to apply here, of all places?” Morrison asks. “You qualify for any number of office jobs, I”m sure.”

“Turns out, there aren’t very many of those available at the moment,” Frank says. “To be honest, this started out as a friend playing a joke on me. I mean, no offense, but companies who advertise on Craigslist.... It’s hard to imagine any of the listings are legit. But then I read your listing again and poked around your website - which is really nice, by the way - a little bit and I got genuinely interested.”

“We advertise on Craigslist because I like characters, and I can afford to be choosy,” Grant tells him smoothly. “And I’m glad you like the site. You have no experience with the scene?” The question could be read as incredulous, but Frank’s getting a genuinely curious vibe from it.

“No.” Frank’s suddenly absurdly nervous. Way more nervous than yesterday when Zoe asked basically the same question, with this man’s eyes on him, the art featuring people in bondage gear interspersed with shiny metal fittings. “I never really... had the opportunity, I guess? Knew the right people? I don’t know, it just never happened. I’ve always, ah, been kind of interested. And like I told Zoe, I’d like to learn.”

“I can guarantee that you will learn everything you could hope to within short order,” Morrison says, with a slight smile.

“Is that a job offer?” Frank asks.

Morrison smiles fully. “I do believe that it is, actually.”

Frank’s shoulders nearly slump with relief and he can’t help but beam across the desk at Morrison and reach out to shake his hand. “Thank you so much.”

“You’re very welcome.” Morrison’s hand closes around Frank’s and he shakes it firmly. They share smiles and Frank gets this flash of really, desperately not wanting to let go. As it is, he holds Morrison’s hand for just a beat too long before dropping his hand to his lap and trying to keep it still.

“I’ll call Zoe in and we can start the paperwork, yes?”

Frank nods and tries to smile. He’s not sure what just happened or what it means, but he supposes he’s going to find out.

*

Frank’s first couple of days of work are actually pretty great. He recognizes Tyler from seeing him perform. Tyler is charming and hilarious and Frank can’t decide if his fauxhawk is ridiculous or awesome.

The next day he meets Alicia. Alicia towers over him. She’s all cat-eyes and fucking amazing ink and cut up Pantera t-shirt. When Frank tells her he fronted a few bands and cut a couple of records, he finds out she toured as a tech and filled in on bass for a band for a few shows. Frank likes her instantly.

It doesn’t take long for every single person who works there to make it abundantly clear that they’re all Frank’s kind of nerd. There are Star Wars jokes and comic references and he ends up discussing horror movies with Zoe for an hour while they tape up boxes of dildos.

He’s surprised at how quickly he gets used to being surrounded by sex toys, bondage gear, rubber and latex, and enough leather that he feels vaguely guilty about it. But nobody else even blinks, and Frank’s pretty sure that once something becomes your job, it automatically takes on a mundane quality, no matter how crazy or glamorous or whatever.

It takes longer to get used to some of the customers. Everyone who works at Strange Artefacts generally dresses however they want, but most of the time, their clothing could at most be called “bordering on edgy.” Some of the people who come in, though. They’re something else. He’s seen a few people in full-on stereotypical dominatrix gear, seen dudes covered head to foot in leather, seen someone led in by his - master? partner? boyfriend? - on a leash and collar.

(Frank has to work not to stare at the collar.)

Zoe’s the only one besides him who works full time hours, but she’s often doing office work - “the stuff Grant is fucking terrible at,” she laughs - so most of the time it’s Tyler or Alicia on the sales floor with him. Morrison - Grant - helps out sometimes, but he’s usually up in his office. Apparently after the shop really took off he started writing for scene blogs and magazines. Frank wonders if he’s ever read any of Grant’s stuff without knowing. But Grant’s on the sales floor often enough that Frank has to bite his lip and remind himself not to call him sir after a few mishaps, because it feels right but apparently in the scene it means - something different.

So yeah, the stuff Frank doesn’t know? Still fucking vast.

Tyler works afternoons and early evenings, since his band plays at least a few nights a week. Alicia works random hours between her college classes and modeling gigs.

(“Yeah, it’s fetish modeling,” she tells Frank before he can even ask. “Mostly for some of the designers we sell. Pays better than the shop work, to be honest, but it’s not as steady.”

“Student loans suck,” Frank agrees, thinking back to how he’d worked the crappiest shifts at Pathmark while he was at Rutgers, and Alicia nods.)

There are different perks to working with each of them. Tyler is hot, and flirts outrageously with everyone who walks in the door, and his clothes often cross the line from flashy to performance art. Alicia always shares her thermos of coffee and has the best taste in music. Zoe’s the best at answering his questions without making him turn three different shades of red, and she hands him new books every week or so - the first one was called SM 101, which made him laugh and ask if he was on a scholarship, but it was actually interesting and he appreciates her approach just as much as the others’.

Grant is - okay, yeah, he's immediately attracted to Grant, but attraction is usually pretty easy to ignore. He's attracted to a lot of people, but this is different. It's like a magnetic pull. Frank loves talking to Grant, and listening to Grant. Every time they're in the same room, Frank has a hard time not watching him. At first he doesn't think much of it, because everyone seems to feel Grant's general charisma. But he can't get Grant out of his head at other times - times when he’s not even around. The hell of it is, on top of being charismatic and incredibly hot, Grant is kind and interesting and he's been all over the world, and he's got this smile that Frank pretty much wants to see at all times.

It sort of sucks, having a crush on your boss, but it sucks even more when he’s a bona fide BDSM expert and you’re... not.

It’s Alicia who he finally gets the courage to ask, after a few weeks. “How do you know if this is something you want?"

Alicia doesn’t ask him to elaborate, just shrugs a little bit. "It kind of depends. Sometimes just the way seeing or thinking about something makes you feel is enough to know. Other times, it's a little harder to know."

"Sometimes you gotta give it a try," Tyler teases, when Frank asks him the same question the next day.

Zoe nods from where she’s up on a stepladder handing boxes down to them. "That's why safe rules exist, why people who are doing it right communicate a lot. So if something doesn't work for either partner, things can stop." Frank just nods. It makes sense to him, on some level where nothing's ever felt quite so right before, but he still feels lost. As much as he really likes everyone, he wishes he knew them a little better and he could tell someone how he's feeling.

Frank knows who he really wants to talk to.

He goes upstairs at the end of a shift and pokes his head in the office. "Do you have a minute to talk?"

Grant smiles and waves him in.. "What's up, Frank? Something I can help you with?"

"I, ah. That is, I have some questions, I guess. I sort of feel like a fish out of water sometimes with all this. Like, I want to learn and to know, but it's. I don't know." He smiles ruefully and meets Grant's eye.

"Zoe says you've learned the stock well and you've been making good sales. So... Are these personal questions or academic ones?" Grant looks unsurprised that Frank’s here. All three of his coworkers had dropped hints or references to talking to Grant about things, and it’s sort of embarrassing but he feels like he could tell Grant anything.

"A little of both, I guess. I've mostly just spent my time in the music scene in Jersey. All through college, and even now, most of the people I meet are through friends I made back then. And finding guys to date was complicated enough without adding anything else into it. And I just... I don't know how all this works."

Grant steeples his hands in front of his face and just looks at Frank for a minute. “I know you haven’t had much experience, Frank, but I don’t want you to expect - that is, clubs and play parties can be fun with a partner, but often they’re just - well, for play. Not dating, at least not necessarily, or right away.”

"Oh! Huh."

"I'm not saying you can't have a boyfriend, Frank. But if you are looking for someone who shares your interests, you'll have to.... Well. Put yourself out there."

"So it's not that different from the bar scene after all," Frank says wryly.

Grant chuckles. "In some ways, they are very similar. But, say, a paddling being just as likely as people sharing a drink together."

"I've never been very good at the bar scene," Frank admits, fiddling with the cuffs of his hoodie.

"Well, there are ways to explore what you enjoy without sex being involved." Frank can't bring himself to look at Grant. He knows his face is flushed. "I know I'm just your boss, Frank,” Grant continues, “but this is a sex shop. This isn't the first time I've had this conversation."

Frank snorts. "I guess not, huh? But like... without sex?"

"You and your partner can make any agreement you like. Different people want different things. The scene's all about negotiation, Frank. It's what makes it possible."

"The thing is, however much I might want some of this, I can't really imagine actually doing it with someone I don't already know and trust."

"We can introduce you to good people. Perhaps you'll hit it off with someone." Grant picks up a flier out of a stack of paper and hands it over. “An old friend of mine, Mistress Kristan, hosts events at her home every couple weeks. There’s one this week, actually. Go visit, find her if you need anything.”

*

A few nights later, Frank is sitting in his apartment completely restless. He stares at the flier on his coffee table displaying today’s date in bold type, then squares his shoulders and makes himself get up and go to his room..

Then he stares in his closet for a minute. What the fuck should he wear?

Finally he finds a pair of jeans that haven't sprouted holes yet and a snug black polo. That and his favorite black leather jacket ought to be enough. Maybe. If not, he supposes he can leave if he feels too awkward. At the very least, he'll know for the next time.

The train ride downtown feels like it takes longer than usual and he jitters in place the whole way, much to the annoyance of his seat mate. He can't help it, though, and he's glad of the several blocks he has to walk to get to the address on the flier. They give him somewhere to direct his nervous energy. He smokes his cigarette down to the filter and knocks on the door.

The man who answers the door to the brownstone is a total bouncer type, and clearly not Mistress Kristan. "You're new," he says.

"Yes. Frank Iero. Um, Grant Morrison sent me? Do I need to speak to Mistress Kristan?" Frank says, trying to maintain eye contact.

The guy nods. "I'll make sure Mistress Kristan is informed you’re here. Go on in."

Frank hands over the cover and goes through the foyer, then through an arch with thick, heavy drapes tied open over it and into the main room. A wet bar is set up in the corner, and Frank goes straight for it and orders a soda. He turns and leans against the wall nearby, taking everything in. It’s just groups of people - lots of people - talking, mostly, but it’s sort of like their most flamboyant customers all descended on the shop at once and it’s kind of overwhelming.

He jumps a bit when someone on his right says “Hello.” He turns and sees a very beautiful blond dominatrix. She’s dressed head to toe in metallic leather - he’s pretty sure he sold someone that skirt the other day, but he’s sure it wasn’t her. He’d remember.

“I’m Mistress Kristan,” she introduces herself with a smile. “Welcome.”

“Thank you.” Frank smiles back. She has a Scottish accent. Frank wants to ask her about it, ask her if she knows Grant from there or how they met. He’s pretty sure that wouldn’t be appropriate.

“You're Grant's new boy, then," she says.

Frank feels his face flush immediately. “Um.”

She laughs and pats his shoulder. "I meant his new employee, lovey. Though if he’s not at least trying, his taste in companions has changed for the worse."

“I... um,” Frank stammers.

She laughs again and waves her hand, pointing out the door to the basement - “I’ve heard all the dungeon jokes already,” she says pre-emptively - and recommends a few rooms to him, telling him a little about what’s going on in each one. They all sound like things he could potentially be interested in, but he’s not sure he’s ready for that. Apparently he looks a little nervous because she pats his shoulder again. "Or you can stay here and get more familiar with everything. I and several friends will be walking around monitoring the proceedings," she says, tapping the armband he’s just now noticed.

He thanks her and she moves toward one of the side rooms.

Eventually he feels comfortable enough to walk downstairs. The music is loud, but not loud enough to drown out all the moaning and general - noises. Frank feels a shiver run up and down his spine, and it's only partly from nervousness. He can see several play setups in a large room, all in use. Several smaller rooms also seem to be occupied, but he feels strange hovering in doorways. He finds an empty corner. Several people hesitate near him, but no one says anything so he doesn’t greet them either.

Frank looks at each station, studies everything going on, paying close attention to each person, all their reactions. He finds himself fixating on a guy tied up, face to the wall, arms out and a spreader between his ankles.

Frank knows to stay out of the way, but he doesn't know how long he stands there and watches. There's another man standing a few feet away, having a quiet conversation and tapping a riding crop against his leg. After a while he steps close to the tied man, whispers something in his ear, and draws the tip of the crop down his bare spine. Frank can see the man shiver and bites his lip. The dom lifts his the crop and brings it down on the other man's shoulder, and he doesn't even twitch. Frank swallows hard.

"Not hard enough?" the dom asks lazily, landing a few more blows across the back of the sub’s shoulders. "Do you want me to hit you harder?" The sub nods, and the dom pauses his blows, pulls the crop back. "That's not how you ask. You know what to say."

"Please," the sub whispers.

"Just please?"

"Harder, please, sir."

Frank bites his lip so hard, he's afraid he might have drawn blood. Oh, he thinks, oh. The dom moves again, flicks his wrist in a way that makes Frank flash to Grant flipping through the pages of their latest catalogue. He clenches his fists against his sides.

"Better?" the dom is purring.

"Yes, sir!" the sub answers, his cry punctuated by the sharp smack of the crop against his butt cheek. Frank gasps quietly. He can't look away now.

He doesn't want to look away. He watches as the dom brings the crop down again and again. He feels his breathing breathing speed up. The dom stops suddenly. He stands close to the sub and this time draws a hand down his back. Frank takes a few steps closer and he can hardly hear when the dom asks, "Do you want more?"

"Yes, yes, yes. Please, sir. Sir, please," the sub begs.

Frank shudders, and half turns away to try to get himself back under control. Behind him, he can hear the man's pleading turn to moans. He swallows and makes his way slowly toward the door. He needs to go home now. The cool air on his face when he gets out the door onto the street feels good on his face. When he gets to the subway platform, he leans against a pillar and just breathes.

He's still shivering from how badly he wanted to be the one cuffed to the wall when he gets on the train, but more from who he'd want to be holding the crop. Eventually, this will stop being a problem, he tells himself. Overactive imagination, that's all. He's so busy imagining that he misses his stop. He sighs and gets off at the next stop and gets on the train going back the other direction. Maybe Grant won't be in tomorrow. He can take a day to get his head sorted and work won't be awkward. Or something. Jesus fucking Christ.

Grant is in the next day. It's not awkward, because contrary to Frank's belief, he does not have "spent the evening fantasizing about my employer" written on his forehead. Also, they're really busy. He goes back to another party a few weeks later, and spends a couple hours in Mistress Kristan’s basement playroom watching a demonstration of shibari and not thinking about anything but knots. It looks pretty cool. When the ropes are released, Frank watches as the top gently runs her fingers over the marks from the ropes. Frank goes upstairs to get a glass of water.

"Hey, I've never seen you here before. Enjoying yourself?" a woman standing next to him by at wet bar asks with a smile.

Frank takes a sip of his drink and says, "Yes."

"You sound surprised. Here with a partner?" she asks.

"No. No, I'm here alone, actually. Um, I started working at a, well, a sex shop. And I'd never really. This is my second time here. Or anyplace like this. Ever," Frank admits with a laugh, running a hand through his hair.

The woman chuckles. "Well, you've come back for a second time, so I'm sure there will be a third. I hope you enjoy it." She smiles, scanning the room and then saying, "Excuse me."

Frank hopes he enjoys it too and next time, he decides, he'll start a conversation with someone himself.

*

Going out by himself gets old after a while. Alicia would probably go with him, Frank knows, but she has this new boyfriend she’s “training” - she’d said it with a laugh and a smirky face, but Frank has met her boyfriend once or twice; he’s gangly and geeky and really cool to hang out with and Frank doesn’t want to think too hard about what she actually means. Zoe spends most of her free time with her own freelance-writer husband doing art projects and other things that sound cozily domestic. Schedules finally work out with Tyler on a Thursday night after work.

Of course, a giant online order shipment has to be rushed to the post office before it closes, so they’re both tired at the end of the day. They hit a bar near the shop and just stake out a booth to unwind and chat before heading to the party.

Tyler’s in the middle of a story about something that had happened at a play party he’d gone to the other night when he throws in a super casual, “Grant would never have handled it that way.”

Frank had been zoning, but he’s right back in the conversation now, staring. “He... goes out?” What a dumb fucking question.

“No, he took holy orders,” Tyler sasses back. Frank flips him off, and Tyler continues, “Actually, now that I think about it, it’s been a while since I’ve even seen him out and about.”

"Did you and he ever..." Frank bites his tongue before the rest of the sentence gets out, but Tyler laughs.

"Nah. He's... intense in ways that wouldn't work for me."

Frank says, "Explain 'intense'."

Tyler laughs again. He’s always up for a gossip session, but this is something Frank needs to know, all of a sudden. "He's... seriously into pushing people to the edge of control. Usually with the help of restraints. I like that sort of thing, but he takes it to a whole new level." Frank licks his lips unconsciously, until he realizes Tyler is waiting for an answer and blushes. "Oh, I see," Tyler says.

"Nothing to see," Frank insists.

"Sure." Tyler smirks. Frank ignores him and takes a sip of his drink. "You're totally his type, you know," Tyler drops casually after a minute of silence.

"I - don't even know what type I am." Frank runs both hands back through his hair.

"I think you know more than you maybe want to admit," Tyler says with a raised eyebrow.

"I've been going out," Frank defends himself.

"To Mistress Kristan's, sure. I’m sure there’s a top there you could play with, if only you weren't so -"

"Not interested," Frank finishes.

Tyler grins at him. "This party'll be fun, I know it will. You'll see more of what the scene has to offer."

"More likely, you'll hook up with this dude you’ve been talking in circles around for weeks, and I'll be left to find a cab by myself."

"Who's to say you won't?" Tyler grins, patting Frank's cheek.

Frank laughs and swats at Tyler's hand. "I suppose stranger things have happened. Fuck... when was the last time I got laid?"

"If you have to ask, it's been too long," Tyler teases, eyes bright. To tell the truth, he's exactly the sort of boy Frank used to go home with - used to. Frank's not blind, and Tyler is gorgeous. But Tyler's face isn't what he sees when he closes his eyes. And at this point, he's pretty sure they could have fun for a night or two but he and Tyler wouldn't actually be very compatible at the end of the day.

They keep chatting, finish their drinks and make their way up to Midtown. Tyler's excited, and clingy, and Frank's not made of stone; it's getting to him too.

"Tyler, what -" He says. He sounds nervous, even to himself.

"They won't be able to resist you,” Tyler grins. “Especially not if you play. Isn't that what you want? What happened to meeting someone, maybe getting laid one of these years?"

Frank laughs, tries to banish the sheer nervousness from his voice. "I'm not sure I'm ready for that, man."

"Well, at least a scene, then. I’ll stay with you, I promise, and you'll be fine, dude," Tyler says, pinching Frank's cheek.

They get to the address Tyler’s got in his phone, and it's just someone's apartment, but it's a fucking huge apartment, and Tyler whispers in his ear, "Lifestyles of the rich and kinky." Frank laughs, and Tyler grabs him and leads him around for a while, introduces him to a few people and whispers about a few others in Frank's ear. Frank sips his wine and looks out the windows at the fucking New York skyline, and doesn't even want to think about how much this apartment goes for.

"Well, hello," Frank hears from behind him. He turns to see a dominatrix standing there, riding crop in hand, tapping against her calf. She steps up beside Frank at the window - she's inches taller than him, especially in the fucking wicked heels all the women in the scene seem to favor - and looks out with him. "You doing all right, sugar?"

"Um. Yes.” He notices the armband right away this time and realizes she’s not hitting on him, but Tyler’s coming back with fresh drinks and saying hello and she seems to know him already. Tyler grins and tells her, “I think Frank wants to play, but he’s shy.”

Frank snorts. It’s not a word he often hears applied to himself. But the domme is nodding, so he tells her, “I’d prefer a man." It feels weird to have to specify, and he’s pretty sure any place Tyler or anyone else from work would take him is going to be cool about these things, but he’s heard stories so he assumes it’s best to just spell it out.

She laughs. "I think I can help you out, you adorable thing. Stay right here." She's smiling, but it's got an edge of command in it all the same. He thinks he'd probably listen even if he hadn't already decided to - well, to fucking go through with this already. Frank shrugs his shoulders and clasps his hands behind his back and waits with Tyler, and when the domme returns, it's with a handsome man, exquisitely dressed in a sweater and slacks, muscular but prematurely gray. "This is our host, sugar. Jason. I'm taking over his duties for a while, so you be a good boy and keep him company."

Frank tries not to be visibly nervous, just says hello and stands still for a quite blatant inspection. Then Jason offers to give Frank a tour, and he quickly nods and says yes. Moving around would be good.

Jason takes them into a more secluded area of the apartment and into a den where there are just a few people playing. A shelf of toys catches Frank's eye, and Jason clearly sees him pause because he steps close and whispers, "See something that interests you?"

"I… yes. Please," Frank says maintaining eye contact. He licks his lips. He can't help it. Jason reaches out and runs a hand down Frank's arm, gripping his elbow.

"First time?" he asks.

"How did you know?" Frank asks, and Jason circles his fingers around Frank's wrist, lifting his hand so Frank can see it's trembling.

"So nervous. You have no idea what you look like right now."

Frank shakes his head. He doesn't. "How do I look?"

"You look delicious. Completely," Jason whispers in Frank's ear, "fucking delicious. Like you're already inches from begging."

"I -" The room is suddenly very small and very quiet.

"Pick your poison," Jason tells him, laying his fingers on the edge of the shelf holding various shapes and sizes of floggers and implements.

Frank looks at the shelf and almost laughs as his brain instantly catalogues the toys that could have come from his shop. His eyes land on a line of paddles. He points at an unadorned wooden one. "That," he says.

Jason keeps his hand on Frank’s wrist while they talk through the scene, and once they’ve established the safeword, he asks if Frank has any other questions.

"I don't think… I just want the paddle. Nothing else."

Jason runs a soothing hand up and down his back. "That’s allowed. That's just fine. On your knees on the settee," he says.

It’s a sturdy little high-backed sofa with a coil of nice rope already draped over the frame. Frank unbuckles his belt and shoves his pants and underwear down his legs, kneeling gingerly on the seat. Jason comes up behind him and folds his wrists over one another, tugging them up to Frank’s eye level so he can tie them simply but securely to the sofa frame.

Then he asks, "Are you ready?" Frank nods. "Answer with words," Jason demands.

"Yes, I'm ready." A long moment passes where nothing happens. It’s completely quiet. The other group of partygoers must have left the room. Or maybe they’re watching; but maybe not. Frank licks his lips, taking a breath and battering down any more thoughts about how he looks. He knows Tyler is somewhere watching, after all. Maybe that should be weird too, but it’s not, somehow. It’s just - Tyler, his hot, funny musician friend who isn’t going to judge him for this because he likes it too.

Jason hasn’t blindfolded him or anything, and Frank knows he could just turn his head and look, but he keeps his head down, stares at his own hands and just breathes in and out and waits. He moves his wrists just the tiniest bit, to feel the pull of the rope. It's a heady feeling and he can't really imagine what it will be like in a few moments. The paddle connects with his ass while he’s still distracted and it doesn’t hurt yet, but within a few smacks he’s having to pull in a ragged breath or two. Yeah, this… this is really, really going to work for him.

He was wrong, he realizes, to think that this had to be about sex, because after a few more blows all Frank can think of is the smack of wood against flesh and the void of empty air before the next blow. He knows on one level that he's being talked to, that he's answering Jason's questions, that he must be answering satisfactorily because the blows keep coming. He keeps breathing.

Frank feels amazing all over. And yeah, he's getting turned on, but it's secondary at the moment. He doesn't know how long it continues. Just focuses on breathing, on the rope around his wrists, the paddle hitting his ass. Then the blows stop as suddenly as they’d begun and Frank realizes he’s been begging, asking to be touched.

Jason steps close and lays a warm hand on the small of Frank’s back, rubbing small circles into the skin. “You said no sex."

Frank pauses, and after what feels like forever the words actually sink in, and he bites his lip.

“See?” Jason says gently. “This is why we have prior agreements." Frank frowns, feeling stupid, but Jason keeps touching him, untying him and gently running his hands over Frank's ass and back and shoulders long enough for Frank to get it back together.

“Thanks,” Frank says after a moment. “Maybe... I'm going to go now."

Jason helps him stand and steps back while Frank refastens his pants, but keeps looking him over. "You are welcome back here any time,” he says. “Same rules or different ones."

Frank’s stomach flutters, but all he can get out is, "I'll, uh, keep that in mind. Thank you," he says, and after a beat, he adds, "Sir."

Jason smiles, clearly pleased at the title, and pats his cheek, but it doesn't feel like Frank expected it would. Saying it to Grant even in a totally innocent context feels like it's exactly what he's supposed to be doing. Saying it to this man feels appropriate, but it doesn't give him that same feeling of rightness that saying it to Grant does.

Tyler goes with him, a hand tucked in Frank’s elbow. “That was fucking great, Frankie,” he whispers, squeezing Frank’s arm. “You doing okay?” Frank’s... fine. Better than fine. But before he can really get comfortable, Tyler's face breaks out in a shit-eating grin as a very hot, very cut dude appears suddenly and puts a hand on the back of Tyler’s neck. Frank makes a little "Ngk" noise without meaning to, and rubs at the back of his own neck. He guesses this means he’s about to be on his own.

Tyler gives him a questioning look, and Frank nods. He doesn't mind - Tyler’s been with him all night and Frank's still floating on adrenaline and on the obvious approval on Jason's face despite Frank not knowing what the hell he wants, so he says goodnight and heads back uptown. He's hard again before he even gets home.

He goes straight to his room. Doesn't even bother turning on any lights in the living areas, just pulls his clothes off, gets the dildo he bought a week ago out of his bedside table along with his lube, and gets on his knees on the bed. He gives his cock a few good strokes, but then reaches around and starts fingering himself. The skin of his ass is warm and tender and it makes his cock jump just to brush it.

Frank spreads his thighs wide for balance, groaning at the pull of his tender skin as he fucks into himself with his fingers. He's alone now, and he can be as impatient as he wants. He doesn't bother with his fingers for long - he needs more than that. He slicks up the dildo and slowly pushes it inside. It’s a little bigger than he's used to and fuck, the stretch is so fucking good. He moans and starts working his wrist, thrusting the toy in and out.

He collapses forward onto an elbow when he can't hold himself up anymore, bracing his forehead against his forearm and panting against the sheets, imagining the thrust of the toy as more - hands biting into his hips, thighs rocking into his welted skin. He keeps thrusting until he can't stand it anymore, until he has to touch his cock. Frank brings his hand up and wraps it around himself, spreading the precome a little with his thumb before jerking himself off hard and quick, focusing on the feel of the toy still in his ass, the phantom feel of the paddle hitting him, on the imagined thighs and hands.

When he finally comes, he comes hard, curling into himself and moaning into the mattress, and it's several minutes before he trusts himself to move, much less clean himself up and crawl under the covers. They're cool against his overheated skin, and he writhes against them for a moment and shudders before curling up and passing out facedown.

Frank had forgotten that Tyler was scheduled for the next afternoon. When Tyler swings in around noon, sunglasses pushed up into his ‘hawk and a loose, fucked-out swing to his step, almost the first thing out of his mouth is teasing Frank for leaving alone.

“I got exactly what I wanted last night,” Frank mutters, even though he knows Tyler’s just yanking his chain. So to speak. And he did - he feels great today. He’s pretty sure he’s never come that hard from plain old jerking off. Frank feels weird talking about it, though, because Grant is standing nearby fiddling with a broken shelf in a display cabinet, and he’s been watching Frank out of the corner of his eye all morning and not saying anything, which is just...weird. He’s not sure yet if it’s weird-bad or weird-good.

Frank supposes he gets his answer when Grant scolds Tyler for teasing. "Everyone has a different way of doing things. Let him be." Frank is at once pleased and a little embarrassed. He doesn’t need Grant standing up for him, after all.

“Yeah,” Frank repeats. “Let me be, and go in the back and pull these orders for me.” He hands a stack of invoices to Tyler and grins at the horrified look on his face. “That’s what you get for being late, rock star,” he says, stealing Tyler’s shades and putting them on himself. Grant’s still watching; Frank lifts an eyebrow at him and sees Grant’s mouth twitch as he goes back to his shelf.