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Richard wasn’t sure whether it was him or Jared that was feeling more self-conscious, but both of them were. For the most part, they continued to act normal around each other, but Richard noticed that, not only were the two of them not having sex, but Jared had stopped even suggesting it.

He tried to make sense of it. Jared had seemed so self-assured and in control that night on the couch, the way he grabbed at Richard and licked and sucked. Most importantly, he seemed to like it. Richard had been so happy to see Jared that way. He loved seeing Jared confident and turned on and (okay, maybe he loved this more than he wanted to admit) kind of cocky and dominant. Richard had never even imagined that Jared could be like that.

He wanted to tell himself that he’d never imagined being on the receiving end of that kind of behavior, but that would be a lie. He had definitely never thought of Jared that way – he hadn’t even dared to imagine it – but there was a part of him that craved that loss of control. It would be a fucking miracle not to have to think or choose, at least for a little while.

This wasn’t anything new. When he was young, one of his action figures always played and almost pathologically subservient role for the others (even, Richard remembered with shame, going so far as licking the other heroes’ boots clean a few times). In high school, he bought his first hentai manga at a convention as a joke, thinking it would be funny to read the terrible dialogue and mock the absurd yaoi tropes with his friends, but the plentiful scenes of pretty men tied up urged him to instead keep the book in his bedside table for what he thought of as “occasional perusal.” In college, Bighead had bought a book on shibari and BDSM and insisted on Richard helping him learn how to tie some of the knots. More of those nights had ended with awkward erections and confused feelings about Bighead than he cared to remember. The idea of someone being in total control of someone else – of him – was Richard’s idea of heaven.

And the idea of being able to please Jared, worship him, and make him come was almost too much for Richard to handle.

Too bad that wanting any of that made him feel like a complete asshole.

He didn’t really understand, but he definitely didn’t want to ask. Jared had already opened up and shared so much with him. What kind of dick would he be if he tried to dig deeper? If there was anything else that he should know, Jared would have told him.

But Richard couldn’t understand the connection. Jared seemed willing to be at Richard’s beck and call, always at his service. He was letting Richard use him the same way he’d been used his entire life. Why? Why would he do that to himself? He could do anything that he wanted, and it broke Richard’s heart that he kept doing what had hurt him. Did he not trust Richard? Did he see Richard as just another asshole to placate and bow down to?

And the moment Richard had tried to give Jared that power, he had shied from it.

While he wanted to believe that all of his worries were about Jared, Richard knew how selfish it really was. Jared being in control had been amazing. It had been the first time that Richard had felt safe enough to try the things he’d always wanted to do, and it felt so fucking right, especially with Jared. IT was the first time he could remember feeling at peace.

And now what was he supposed to do? Ask Jared to do it again? He couldn’t. Not with the way it had ended and the way Jared had stayed curled away from him that night (an impressive feat in a twin bed, to be sure).

Richard knew he needed to say something. Jared seemed completely intent on apologizing for something that Richard didn’t want him to apologize for. His already selfless nature had kicked into overdrive, and he had practically turned himself in Richard’s servant. He had taken to making every single one of Richard’s meals for him (which Richard hesitated to put a stop to, because Jared was a fantastic cook) and buying him gifts almost every day. The sweet, Jared-esque tokens of affection that Richard had become accustomed to were suddenly dialed up so high that it was a little overstimulating. A few times, Richard had hidden in the shower for a few extra minutes to avoid being smothered with love.

One night, as Jared gave Richard a shoulder rub (which, for a guy with such slender, bony fingers, he was actually pretty good at), Richard decided to speak up. “You know, you don’t have to do this for me.”

“It’s no problem,” Jared said, voice crisp and chipper as always. “I enjoy doing things for you.”

“I know. And it’s great, seriously. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever gone this long without eating ramen noodles. But I don’t know, I guess I’m just kinda worried about you.”

Jared frowned. “Why would you need to be worried about me?”

“Because. You’re doing all of your regular work and spending a bunch of time doing stuff for me on top of it. I feel like you’re going to wear yourself out.”

Jared’s hands stilled. “Do you… not enjoy it?”

“No. I mean, I do. You’re great, Jared. You’re really, really great.” Richard craned his head back to look at Jared’s confused, anxious face. “But you know, I don’t just want you to take care of me. I like you doing it and everything, but… I wanna take care of you too.”

Jared stroked Richard’s hair. “You don’t have to take care of me.”

“I know I don’t have to.” Richard sighed. “Fuck, I don’t even know if I would be good at it. But I like the idea, you know? I want to be able to be there for you and do the stuff that you need me to do. I… I want to be your partner. I don’t want to be a burden or a passion project or some kind of weird master. I just want to be your partner.”

Jared sat down across from Richard, taking his hands in his. His anxiety was clearly starting to shift into fear. “Richard, you are my partner. You always have been, and you always will be. You’re not a burden or anything else. I just love you and want to show you that.”

“I know. But I love you too. And I want to show you that too, but I kinda feel like I can’t.”

Jared nodded. “I suppose I understand that. I want to give you the kind of relationship you want.”

“Okay, good. Thanks.” Richard gave Jared a small, shy smile.

Jared cleared his throat. “Could we maybe start that tomorrow, though?” he asked awkwardly. “I’d really like to finish your massage.”

Richard laughed. “Uh, sure. Okay.” Richard couldn’t resist giving Jared something that made him smile so broadly. Plus, Jared was surprisingly good with his hands.