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**|**|** Prologue **|**|**

 

”Dear God. You really are a magnificent creature…”

The guttural words of Black Jack Randall slowly drag him back to consciousness.

The ropes that’d held him down over a coffee table have been undone, signaling an end to the brutal scene. It hurts so much to move that Jamie doesn’t even try. He blinks open one wary eye, spies a clock by the bedside. O-four hundred hours.

Randall rasps into Jamie’s ear, a grimly satisfied smirk curling his lips. “Thank you, for tonight. Hope it was good for you too.”

Jamie doesn’t know where to begin processing a response. He watches silently as Randall – Menzies – ambles away and into the bathroom. He hears water gushing from the rainfall shower-head after about a minute.

His gaze drops to the carpet underneath. Toys from Menzies’ collection still lie where they were left after use. The bloodied flogger, the wretched cane, metal clamps, a vial of oil they pretended was jasmine but barely used. Drops of blood, still fresh, form a grotesque splatter print right between his twisted and spread legs. Worst of all, he’s too stone cold bloody sober to ignore it.

What the fuck did he just do?

He doesn’t know how he manages to raise himself from the table, or where he finds the implausible sense to locate his clothes and cell phone. Naked, bleeding, hyperventilating, Bradley escapes the suite and takes the fire exit stairs back to his room. Once inside, he whispers one word, just one, under his breath like a prayer. Only then does the world mercifully fade into darkness.

 

 


 

 

**|**|** Colin **|**|**

 

Colin is in the middle of a table read when his phone buzzes in the pocket of his jeans. At first he ignores it, like he usually does when he’s working. But the buzzing abruptly cuts out by itself. Colin frowns, an unexplainable sense of something-is-wrong creeping up the back of his neck. He pulls his phone out to check.

Bradley J.

The world falls silent as a funeral. Bradley called, hung up after two rings. Bradley isn’t the kind to butt-dial people. After nine months, two weeks and three days of radio silence, Bradley called.

Colin looks at his watch – it’s eight in the morning here in London – so it’d be midnight in LA.

Table reading will have to wait.

He steps out onto the pavement and dials back. Bradley doesn’t pick up the first time. So he tries again. And one more time after that.

“Co-Colin?”

“What’s wrong?”

“I… sorry I… didn’t know who else to…”

“What’s wrong?” he asks again.

As response Colin hears shuffling and mumbling that makes no sense.

Jamie, talk to me.”

That nickname, the one only Colin is allowed to use, tugs the other man back into the conversation.

“I-I am in Prague.”

Colin didn’t know that, but that’s good. Prague’s only two hours away. “Are you alone?”

A long, shaking breath escapes Bradley as he tries to talk. “Yes, Colin, I-I messed up.”

Colin swallows around the prickly thorn lodged in his throat. “Alright. Here are your instructions until I get there. You ready?”

“…”

“Use words. Yes or no.”

“Y-yes, sir.”

“Stay in your hotel room. Stay warm. Stay hydrated. Do not open the door for anyone but me. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Bradley responds, his voice already shaking a little less than it did three seconds ago.

Colin hangs up without saying goodbye, then raises an arm to hail a black cab down.

“City airport, please.”

**

It’s well past noon when Colin enters the luxurious lobby of the King’s Court hotel in Old Town Prague. Another six minutes before he’s knocking at the door.

“It’s me, Colin. Open up.”

Another three minutes crawl by like centuries before Bradley answers. Colin stands frozen in his spot, taking in the man he hasn’t laid eyes on in months (outside the online stalking on Twitter and Instagram, of course).

Parts of Bradley look as expected, exactly as he remembers him. Like the color of his hair – still an alluringly dark shade of gold, lips as red as rosebuds, skin as smooth as polished alabaster. Perfect for his role in the new Underworld movie, probably.

The important parts look nothing like the Bradley he knows.

The eyes are a dull gray… tired, cagey… unwilling to meet Colin’s like they once did with such proud exuberance. The drooping shoulders, the shifting from one foot to the next, so not like the Bradley he knows.

He stands wrapped up in a white bedsheet from his neck all the way down to his toes, trembling from the cold, or maybe something else. His hair is a greasy, overgrown mess, and there’s a purpling bruise at the corner of his mouth.

“Oh, love.”

Colin steps in without waiting for an invitation and opens his arms. That’s all he does, stands in wait, and lets Bradley decide if he’s ready for the physical contact.

Bradley wobbles forward and throws his entire weight against Colin’s chest, burying his face in Colin’s neck. But when Colin tries to close his arms around him, he whimpers, unmistakably in pain.

The sound makes the blood in Colin’s veins boil. He clamps down on his rage for the moment though, knowing if Bradley saw it, he might assume it’s directed at him.

“It’s all right, love. You did well to call me. You did so well, I’m so proud of you.”

The praise does nothing to ease Bradley’s trembling, in fact it only gets worse. Colin pulls Bradley away just enough to turn him and lead him back to the bed, after closing the door behind them.

He takes a seat at the foot of the bed and continues to hold Bradley in front of him.

“Let me see,” he orders.

Bradley stutters. “I-I was so s-stupid…”

“You know you’re not allowed to call yourself names like that. Not with me.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“We'll let it slide this time. Come on then, love.”

The blond grimaces but lets the bedsheet be slowly peeled away from his body. The fabric drops around his ankles until he’s standing naked before the Irishman.

Colin takes in a sharp breath.

There are angry rope burns on his wrists, forearms, ankles, around the knees, and some around his throat. The nipples look sore, like in the aftermath of clamps left on longer than they should have been. Lash marks creep like vines over the top of his shoulders and around the contours of his waist, as if originating from the center of his back. Like the tails of a cat o’ nine.

Signs of clear and uncontrolled abuse stand out on the slender, hairless body – crimsons and scarlets and purples in glaring contrast to pale skin that’s not seen the sun in weeks.

“Turn around.”

Bradley hesitates.

“Do not make me repeat myself again, Jamie.”

Bradley shivers again but complies, slowly swiveling to face away from Colin. The dark-haired man bites his lip to once again suppress his torrid outburst.

Every inch of Bradley’s back seems to have been brutalized in varying degrees, from his neck to the top of his thighs.

Long, thin, bloody stripes of raised skin overlap each other, some broken and still oozing blood in places. The crisscross patterns are most prominent on the small of his back and the buttocks – like that’s where the bastard concentrated most of his time and perversion on.

“We should report this.”

“You know we can’t.”

Bloody hell.

“Why, Bradley? How did it come to this?” he eventually asks, not really expecting an answer and of course getting none. There is more here than Bradley is letting on.

“Let me guess. No safe word?”

Once again the lack of response is response enough. Bradley continues to shake himself apart, out of shame, or guilt perhaps. A cardinal rule has been broken… the first rule Colin ever taught him.

Colin chooses not to add salt to his wounds with more admonition. It is bad enough how Bradley flinches every time Colin’s fingers graze over said wounds and the more tender spots.

He’s used to being naked before Colin, for Colin, or at least he used to be. Heck he’d always been happiest that way. But right now, nothing Colin can say or do will wipe that look of abject humiliation from Bradley’s drawn face. Like Colin just walked in on a deep, dark, depraved secret, leaving no place for Bradley to run to or hide himself in.

“Why didn’t you tell him you don’t like the cane?”

“I… tried.”

Colin’s hands traverse down to Bradley’s arse, hesitate before they part the cheeks as gently as possible to assess the damage. Streaks of blood run down between his legs, dried and caked for the most part. Colin can tell the last time Bradley was taken (fucked raw is more like it) couldn’t have been more than six to eight hours ago.

He’d sounded so out of it on the phone. Colin wonders how long Bradley had been in this state – alone, catatonic, spiraling into a sub drop from hell – before he gathered enough of his senses to find his phone and make the call.

Colin stands up suddenly, head swimming with so… much… red. He runs a hand through his long Nathan Appleby hair and resists the incredible urge to pace. Wouldn’t do Bradley’s nerves any good to watch his ex- (but also on-and-off-) Dom fidget, would it.

“Who?” Colin demands, his voice barely louder than a serpent’s hiss.

“…”

He sighs, the rules of the community really did suck some days. He decides to come at it another way. “Is he still here?”

“I-I don’t know. Principal shooting is over, maybe he left…”

Colin can’t decide if he’s happy or gutted. He wants nothing more than to find the sick bastard and punch a hole through his face and his balls, make sure he can never so much as look at anyone else ever again. At least he knows it’s someone from the cast or crew. Someone he can track down later.

“Please, sir, I’m so sorry…”

Colin walks up until he is back in Bradley’s line of sight. For the first time that night, he looks straight into Bradley’s eyes.

“We’ll discuss how you could’ve handled things better later, Jamie. Right now… come here.”

And he opens his arms again. Bradley doesn’t think twice and practically falls into the Dom’s embrace. His breaths are short and shallow, and the tears are fast and hot as they stream down his face, drenching Colin’s shirt in their wake. But through them all, the blond remains utterly, eerily, silent.

Colin strokes the back of his head repeatedly, mainly because that’s the only part of Bradley’s body he’s not afraid to touch.

“My sweet boy. You’re safe now, I promise.”

At least he’s alive, and not bleeding profusely to death from wounds, self-inflicted or otherwise.

“On the bed, come on…” Colin leads his charge to the king-sized monstrosity in the room, hoping desperately that this isn’t where the ‘scene’ happened. Bradley doesn’t hesitate and quietly goes where he’s led. So the bastard’s room then, or somewhere outside.

Small mercies.

Soon as Bradley lets go of his shirt, Colin turns up the thermostat to a toasty twenty-seven degrees. He removes his own jacket and rolls up his sleeves. Then he instructs Bradley to lie down on the bed on his stomach, continuing to stroke his head tenderly.

“Sleep, while I go grab us a few supplies.”

“No! I’ll come with…” Bradley blurts in panic, lifting himself back up from the bed. Colin gives him a few seconds until he realizes his mistake. Reluctantly, the sub pushes himself back down till his face touches the pillow once more. But it doesn’t stop him from trying again.

“Please… take me with you, sir.”

Don’t leave me alone, he means and Colin understands.

“I’m just running down to the pharmacy, love. Back before you know it, I promise.”

“B-But…”

“Would it help if I locked the door and took the key with me?”

Bradley calms down, just a shade, but doesn’t respond. Colin sighs, takes a seat by his boy, thinking. A minute later, he tugs the silk burgundy tie from around his neck.

“Give me your hands.”

Bradley quickly shoves his palms together, holding them up over his head as if in offering to a deity. Colin gently wraps the tie around one bruised wrist, not too tight, loops the other end through the golden honeycomb pattern of the headboard, before wrapping the rest of it around the second wrist. It is snug, enough for Bradley to feel reassuringly restrained, but not enough to cut through his battered skin.

“Better?”

“Better.”

“Good boy. Now get some sleep, please try, all right?”

Bradley nods, his breathing evened out, trusting.

“That’s my boy. Do you want the covers? No? Okay then, I’ll be right back.”

Colin picks up his jacket and the Do Not Disturb sign before dashing out, leaving the blond alone with his thoughts.

 

 


 

 

**|**|** Bradley **|**|**

 

How in the name of hell did he get here?

Bradley blinks repeatedly, trying to ascertain what’s real, and what’s just an alcohol and substance-induced nightmare. God knows he’d be in big (bigger) trouble if Colin finds out exactly which substances.

He tugs at the tie holding his wrists and winces in renewed pain. That was a bad idea. Nothing compared to the whole string of phenomenally, god-awfully, titanically bad decisions he’s made in the last twenty-four hours, but still.

He crosses his ankles and pretends they’re tied up too. It makes him feel safe, something no one who isn’t a submissive could understand. There is safety in knowing he can’t screw up any more than he already has, in letting someone else make all decisions for him, seeing how he simply cannot be trusted to do so himself. A safety that comes with a deep, unwavering trust in one’s dominant partner.

Too bad he’s never been a very good judge of character.

Eoin still teases him about how bloody gullible he is. Bradley never took him too seriously, until last night.

The memories return with a vengeance, an unbroken sequence of fast-cutting shots he’ll never be able to erase from his mind. He whimpers, throws his head this way and that. It doesn’t help. He wonders if a lobotomy could wipe his memory clean of last night, like in Paycheck. Hell all of the last three months, in fact, starting with the very first moment he met one Tobias Menzies.

But more than anything, God, how he wishes he could take back that one thing… that singular, impulsive, split-second decision that…

“I’m back!”

Bradley starts. He welcomes the wave of relief that washes over him as he turns to look at his raven-haired friend.

Colin looks… different. He’s been growing his hair out, for his new role on that BBC mini-series no doubt. Bradley’s a bit ambivalent about the beard. Though he will admit it does make his young ex-Dom look more statuesque and dignified than ever before. His first Dom, his first love… so beautiful, so sensitive, so pure… Bradley bites his quivering lip. All good reminders of why things didn’t work out between them in the first place.

“We’re all set. Give me just one moment,” Colin says, then strides into the bathroom.

He hears the water running in the sink, Colin rigorously washing his hands. When Colin returns, he heads straight for the minibar to the left of the bed. Not for the alcohol, of course. Colin hardly ever drinks. Ironic really, how he likes to call Bradley his ‘good boy’…

He watches from the corner of his eye as Colin puts the kettle on. The Dom pulls out two ceramic cups from the bar cabinet, places tea bags he purchased at the pharmacy in them. Smells like Twining’s Irish Breakfast, Bradley’s favorite. Of course Colin would remember that.

Once the tea is ready, Colin brings the tray over and places it on the bedside table, before sitting down beside the blond he left tied up on the bed. “I’m going to undo these, all right?”

“Yes, sir.”

Bradley doesn’t move his freed limbs on his own volition. So Colin moves them down for him, pressing them gently to his sides. He doesn’t turn him over, thank God. Bradley doesn’t think he could hold his screams in if he had to put any weight on his back right now.

Meanwhile, Colin pulls some stuff out of the plastic bag he brought from the store.

“All right, we’re going to clean you up a bit. You’d probably want to distract yourself, love. So I want you to sip your tea slowly, just a little at a time. Can you reach it?”

Bradley reaches for the nearest mug and is able to pull it closer to himself, though he’s not too keen to drink from it.

“Concentrate, do not drop the cup. Remember – tiny sips, all right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good boy. Now, you’re allowed to make noises. Just don’t move, all right?”

“Yes, sir.”

Bradley holds himself really, really still as his benefactor douses a ball of cotton with antiseptic, and cleans his open wounds with care and tenderness. He could hiss, he could groan, he could cry his heart out if he wanted to, really. But having been on his own for the past couple of years, it’s helped dull his once-natural instincts to complain, somewhat. Reminded him why he doesn’t deserve to be treated with such care and tenderness in the first –

“Stop that, right now, Jamie.”

Bradley cringes near violently.

“I want you to tell me if it hurts, if it stings, even if it tickles. You’re not going to bottle any of this up, you hear me?”

How does Colin do that? Even after so much time apart, how can he read Bradley’s mind like Sunday’s bloody newspaper?

“Words, please.”

“Y-Yes, sir. It… hurts, sir.”

“Where?”

“Everywhere.”

“What hurts the most?”

“Nothing physical,” he whispers after thinking about it for a while.

He hears Colin sighing and worries he’s disappointing his Dom. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Colin continues to dab the antiseptic across his back and his cheeks. He hisses and jumps at a particularly painful spot.

“Shh…”

He tries to stay still but it’s getting harder as a whole array of nerve endings on his back are revived to fresh agony, including those that had gone numb sometime during the torturous night.

And when Colin parts his cheeks again, he whimpers pitifully, the sounds embarrassing and disgraceful to his own ears.

“Easy there, Bradley, I’m sorry this must be done. Shh…”

He finds himself rolling his hips left and right despite the pain. Maybe in an attempt to get away from Colin’s fingers, maybe to get closer, who knows? He bites his lip and squeezes his eyes shut as Colin pushes his legs apart and runs a wet wipe up and down his crack a few times. The Irishman then proceeds to clean the dried blood trailing down the insides of his thighs, from behind his ball sac all the way down to his knees.

“Please, I can’t…” Bradley pleads, hands dangerously tight around the cup full of now lukewarm tea. He isn’t quite sure what he’s pleading for. All he knows is that he feels exposed like never before, in a manner that’s grotesque and demeaning and should (must) make Colin want to look away in disgust.

Like… like a dead body on an autopsy table in that TV show he did for a while up in Vancouver. That’s what Tobias did to him – stripped him of all his dignity, his sense of self-worth, peeled him open from skin to the bone, his innards laid bare for all to see.

Worse, he doesn’t know if he’ll ever stop feeling this way.

“Hush, sweetheart. Trust me, you’ll be alright, shh…”

He gives up on the tea, and lets his head fall forward to his pillow tiredly. From the corner of his eye, he watches Colin open a jar of an aloe-based soothing gel. He tries not to flinch too hard when one of Colin’s fingers picks up a generous dollop, and inserts itself into his dilated opening.

He lets himself whimper ever so quietly, and Colin doesn’t shush him this time.

“I know, I know, sweetheart. But you’re teared up inside. I need to check how badly,” Colin prods deeper inside before gently twisting his finger around.

He wants to cry. He wants to die. He wants to not be reminded of how he got here, but it’s like he’s trapped inside the events of last night and cannot escape. Why couldn’t Colin just let him sleep, let him forget how incredibly foolish he’s been?

“Almost done. We got lucky, you’ll be all right.”

Bradley scoffs, but keeps his face turned away. The gel starts to feel nice, and after a while, he doesn’t mind Colin’s skillful fingers massaging his channel. But he’s still too sore to feel stimulated in any way, Colin knows that. So after a few more minutes of rubbing the gel into Bradley, he pulls out. Then he spreads more gel outside from his tailbone to the top of his thighs, spreading the coolness generously across the severely flogged surface.

Bradley sighs, and attempts to express his gratitude. “That… feels good, sir.”

“I was born to serve you, remember?” the retort is soft and teasing, alluding to their time together on the sets of Merlin. It makes Bradley smile.

He tries not to think of how Tobias had laser-focused all his sadistic desires on his backside, instead concentrates on how good the gel feels on his scorched skin.

“All done. Now, I believe you deserve an award for how brave you’ve been.”

He wants to roll his eyes, but finds himself waiting eagerly, hoping the reward is more of Colin’s gentle ministrations that make him feel… not so disgusting anymore.

“Here,” instead, the man shoves a piece of dark chocolate in his face. “Eat.”

His mouth extends into a pout. The taste of his own vomit is still rank on his tongue. He couldn’t possibly keep anything down.

“Come on, sweetheart, open up,” Colin whispers, once again cajoling him into submission ever so kindly.

The urge to cry morphs into a need to wail like a banshee. Instead he parts his lips, and lets Colin slip the chocolate past them. He closes his eyes, tasting nothing but the warm thumb that caresses his lower lip even as he makes a herculean effort to chew.

“That’s it, one more bite. Just one more…”

And that’s followed by another bite and another and one more after that. The soft caresses stretch from Bradley’s lips up to the bridge of his nose and his brows. Down to his chin and the long column of his throat, coaxing him to obey, until Colin is satisfied with the amount of sugar in his system. Frowning at the abandoned tea, he pulls out a bottle of Evian and some painkillers from the drugstore bag beside him.

“Here you go, take two of these. Easy, wash it down slowly.”

Bradley obeys without a sound. He vaguely recalls reading about this somewhere, his – current condition – how he’s supposed to be feeling lethargic and confused, not thinking clearly. Surely that last part doesn’t apply to him. He’s pretty clear about what a completely worthless piece of scum he is, and how Colin’s ten times more gullible than Bradley’s ever been for falling for his bullshit and flying all the way to…

“Stop it, Bradley James. If I must repeat myself again, there will be consequences.”

Bradley jumps at the sternness in Colin’s voice. Not anger though, never anger. That’s the thing about Morgan. He never yells, never raises his voice at Bradley, or anyone really. It’s when his naturally soft voice drops to sub-decibel levels that lets people know he’s not happy. Like it has right now.

And once again begin the waterworks.

“I’m… I’m sorry, sir. I d-didn’t mean to…”

Good Lord, he is practically bawling. And just like that, Colin switches back to gentle words and assurances that Bradley doesn’t quite deserve but needs to hear desperately.

“Move over,” Colin whispers, turning Bradley to his side and making room for himself to slide into bed beside him, facing him. He pulls the covers up around both of them, careful not to put any weight on Bradley’s back. Instead he holds him by the nape, gently massaging the tenseness away.

He waits patiently for the deluge of emotion to pass, then once again brings the mineral water to Bradley’s lips, tilting it little by little to let tiny, manageable amounts of liquid into his mouth at a time.

Bradley sips tentatively at first, realizes how parched he is, and switches to bigger gulps. Only Colin could force-feed him and make him feel such immense gratitude for it.

“Thank you, sir,” he sighs and cranes upward demanding more water.

Colin obliges, but in exchange asks him a question he doesn’t want to answer. “Bradley, what did you call him?”

“W-What?”

“How did you address him?”

“Just… M-Master.”

Colin huffs. “Well, he did an absolutely shitty job of being a master, and none of it is your fault, you hear me? None of it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“All right. Until further notice, you will call me by my given name. Colin.”

Bradley’s eyes water again. “I know you haven’t been my… Dom in years, but you’re still a Dom and I’m still… y-you can’t just reset us, we have an agreement.”

“It’s only temporary. I’m not going anywhere. This is just until you feel better again. Tell me you understand.”

Bradley burrows deeper into Colin’s chest, as if attempting to hide himself under Colin’s skin. Somewhere he’s not asked to make such difficult and mindboggling decisions. Somewhere he can feel unconditionally safe and cherished – not pitied and tolerated for the pathetic, broken piece of furniture Tobias turned him into.

“Jamie?”

“If our agreement is suspended then, y-you can’t call me J-Jamie either.”

“As you wish.”

“…”

It’s obvious what the Dom is doing. He’s trying to take Bradley back to a simpler time, a time when they were just friends and equals. A time when he acted like a spoilt, bratty prince and was happily indulged by one and all (except Colin). A time when his sense of self-worth wasn’t held hostage by the cruel whims of men who courted him.

If Colin meant for him to feel somehow empowered, Bradley doesn’t feel it. Or maybe he just doesn’t have the energy to care. All he wants is to sink into a deep, never-ending sleep, surrounded by the strong, comforting presence of his friend, lover, Dom, Colin – whatever. He doesn’t care what name he uses, so long as he stays by Bradley’s side, like in France.

 

 


 

 

**|**|** Colin **|**|**

 

Colin lies stretched out on his left side and watches his friend sleep.

It’s the day after he arrived in Prague, and Bradley has been drifting in and out for nearly twenty-four hours now. Colin’s been there through every minute – feeding him chocolate (since that’s the only thing Bradley seems to have any appetite for), keeping him hydrated, and replenishing his pain meds every six hours or so.

The hours after dark were the hardest. That’s when the nightmare behind Bradley’s fluttering eyelids refused to let him rest. As though somehow it knew that it was night and therefore time to make its play. Every time Bradley trembled or jerked his limbs or attempted to turn away from the horrors, the pain resurfaced with a vengeance.

The sound of his whimpers would wake Colin, who’d first curse himself for having nodded off again. Then he’d hold his friend in his arms as tightly as he dared to, soothing him with hushed words and feathery kisses and a Celtic lullaby his mum sang to him when he was little. He’s grateful for a couple of stretches during which they both manage to catch some unbroken sleep. Sleep that Bradley needs to let his battered body recuperate.

Often he’d slide the covers back and examine or tend to Bradley’s back again. The sheer callous negligence, the sadistic disregard with which he had been whipped… this was either the work of someone who had no idea what they were doing, or someone who knew exactly what they were doing. Colin can’t decide which is worse.

Recent events notwithstanding, the English boy really is sharp as a tack. Colin can’t imagine his friend ever willingly submitting to such horrible atrocities. So either he was forced (raped), or he got trapped in a scene that got out of hand. This drop he’s experiencing is the most extreme Colin has seen in anyone ever. And he’s seen his fair share, taken care of a good number of subs in the nine years he’s been a Dom.

It’s what he enjoys most about the life – being wholly and solely responsible for someone’s pleasure and well-being. Praising them, nurturing them… making them feel safe and loved even when, or especially when, they’re at their most vulnerable.

The thing about Bradley James though – he’s never been quite as completely and consummately vulnerable, as he is right now. Sure he’s played the role for Colin, pretended to be ‘helpless’ because he thought that’s how Colin ‘wanted’ him. But helplessness and vulnerability are not the same – and somehow Colin never could explain the difference to Bradley. Someone so proud, independent, and brimming with confidence, who knows exactly what he wants and goes after it. Or at least, he once did.

Colin tries but fails to find the smarmy little git he befriended in France, in this broken man lying unconscious before him now. For Bradley to suffer such an acute loss of self-esteem… he wonders if Bradley somehow feels responsible for putting himself in a position to be exploited in the first place.

A meek little moan breaks Colin out of his thoughts and he turns to find Bradley slowly stirring back to consciousness.

“Welcome back, sleepyhead.”

He plants a couple of soft kisses on Bradley’s temple as the blond sighs deeply and opens his crystal blue eyes. A hint of a smile appears at the corner of his naturally impish mouth.

“Mmh, Colin?” He mumbles, confused, almost as if he doesn’t remember what the Irishman is doing here. Before Colin can stop him, he starts to stretch his spine as he wakes up. And suddenly he gasps.

“Shh, easy there, love, shh…” Colin restrains him with an arm around his waist, trying to keep him from moving and causing himself any more discomfort.

Bradley’s eyes are now wide open and brimming with recollections of all his pain and torment. The tiny spark of life that’d lit up his face a second ago fades by the second. Colin sighs. He needs to find something to distract him with, and fast.

“I think a bath is in order, don’t you?”

Not that he gives Bradley a choice.

It takes a few minutes for the spacious tub to fill, but Colin is nothing if not patient. Once he’s happy with the water temperature, he returns to the bedroom. He finds Bradley actually sitting up in bed, his arms wrapped around his knees pulled up into his chest. His mouth is twisted into a little pout slanting sideways.

“You’re up! Brilliant. And you’re sitting on your arse,” he teases.

Bradley grimaces and shifts in his spot. “It still smarts. But the Ibuprofen is doing its job, I suppose.”

“And the sleep too, you kipped off at about three PM. Yesterday.”

“Good Lord,” Bradley rubs at his eyes, still groggy.

“Come on, before the water gets cold. And after your bath we’ll go grab some dinner.”

Bradley looks at him strangely. His eyes scream a thousand words a second, but the rest of his face is utterly blank.

“What is it, Bradley?”

The blond pulls the covers up around him protectively. “You… I don’t know what this is. You… you reset us…”

Colin crosses his arms and shrugs, “So what?”

“So, that means…” Bradley pulls at the loose threads in the sheet covering him. “I don’t have to listen to you. I-I could say… no.”

Colin smirks. “And exactly what are you saying no to, sweetheart?”

Bradley blushes. “It’s a hypothetical, really. Like… maybe I-I don’t want a bath… maybe?”

So he’s starting to get some of his insolence back. That’s progress. Colin wants to high-five someone. Instead he walks over to Bradley’s side and gently peels the covers away.

“Hypothetically speaking, yes, you could. And I will respect your wishes. But you see, I don’t really need a contract to take care of my best friend now, do I?”

“Yes, but… whoa – hey!” Bradley yelps when Colin leans down and in one swift move, swoops the blond up into his arms like a bride. He lets out a short laugh full of surprise.

“Someone’s been working out?!”

“Yes, finally! Thank you for noticing.”

Colin carries Bradley into the bathroom like he weighs nothing. He has one arm under Bradley’s knees and the other around his waist, away from the worst of his injuries. But still he worries he might be hurting the sub, and watches Bradley’s face for signs of discomfort.

Bradley, for his part, clings to Colin’s shoulders and buries his face in Colin’s neck. To hide his pain maybe, or his blushing face, maybe both.

Once inside the bathroom, Colin lowers the blond into the water, still monitoring his reactions carefully. Earlier, he’d lined the base of the tub and the back wall with a set of thick towels. Bradley leans back so just his shoulder blades rest against the tub wall.

“How does that feel?”

“Good,” Bradley whispers, closing his eyes and sighing gratefully for the soft cushioning under him. “I don’t suppose you’ll let me be, just for a little while?”

“Anything you want, love,” Colin leans forward and kisses him on the forehead. “Just don’t fall asleep, all right?”

Colin settles down on the floor besides the tub, putting an arm on the rim and resting his chin against it. Several moments pass in silence, Bradley soaking in the warm water, Colin keeping watch by his side.

The blond smirks. “You’re not going to just sit there staring at me.”

“You could tell me to get lost. And I will.”

Bradley sighs. “I know what you’re doing.”

“What am I doing?”

Bradley looks away. His Adam’s apple undulates but he doesn’t speak again.

Colin licks his lips as he watches the other’s mouth with a longing that aches through his entire being. He remembers the touch of those lips against his, the softness, the eagerness. He remembers stolen kisses in the smoke-filled darkness of night clubs in Paris, in the bright morning sun on top of the rollercoaster in Parc Astérix. He remembers how Bradley liked to curl up in his arms as they kissed, almost trying to melt into Colin. His sweet boy, his beautiful, golden prince…

“Do you remember, we shot a scene like this for season two, didn’t we? You were in that wooden bath tub, naked, and they had me standing right behind you.”

Bradley looks up at him and snorts. “Oh yeah, it didn’t make the cut, did it?”

“Not even in the deleted scenes.”

“Pity, the fans would’ve loved it.”

They chuckle together, softly, and the tension dissipates, just a bit.

“What were you supposed to be doing, exactly?”

“Probably up to my usual, magically nefarious tricks, who knows?”

“Or maybe,” Bradley squints and there’s a hint of mirth in his eyes. “You were supposed to be washing my hair.”

“Hmm,” Colin smiles knowingly, “I think you may be spot on about that. Would you like me to do it now?”

“Yes please…”

Colin does as he’s asked. He pours a generous amount of shampoo into one hand, while Bradley leans forward and hangs his head over his knees, closer to where Colin sits. Colin takes a little water in his other hand and wets his greasy hair, before massaging the shampoo into his scalp. He takes his time with it, in no rush to go anywhere.

Bradley closes his eyes and sighs, his entire body heaving with the effort.

“Alright there, love?”

The blond head bobs up and down once, and that’s response enough. Bradley is completely relaxed and like putty in Colin’s hands. He rinses his hair, applies a little conditioner before washing that out as well, leaving it clean and silken, just like Bradley likes it. Then he takes the wash cloth and wets it, before soaping it up.

“Do you mind?”

Bradley huffs, mildly exasperated. “This is so weird, you asking me for my permission.”

“That’s because…”

“I know, I know. I just… could you please just… decide for me, please, Colin? Like in France?”

Colin bites his lip. “We were in a relationship, in France.”

The light in his eyes dims a little. “Can’t we pretend? Just for a little while?”

It’s tempting, but it will defeat the purpose. “Bradley, you need a break. Last night, you were dragged too far deep into a dangerous place, and it nearly killed you. I need you to pull yourself back into the real world. Can you do that for me, please?”

The blue eyes brim over. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I can function in the real world anymore, Colin. God, I feel so worthless…”

“No… no love, come here, shh,” Colin leans in and hugs his boy ever so gently, holds him while Bradley shakes himself apart.

“You’re so precious to me, Bradley. You’re so loved… by your friends and your family, and you know it. I just need you to remember it. And you will, you will, sweetheart, shh… come here, let me bathe you properly.”

This time he doesn’t wait for permission. One step at a time.

Colin spends the next few minutes running the washcloth all over Bradley’s limbs and torso, soaping him up then rinsing him down. Bradley just sits there, numb, obediently lifting his arms and leaning back or forward as he’s asked to do. He doesn’t speak a word throughout, doesn’t make eye contact.

It’s only his slight squirming that lets Colin know he’s in pain again.

“Get on your hands and knees. Please.”

He can see Bradley is relieved for the instruction (despite the ‘please’ at the end), one because it is an instruction and two, because the strain on his arse is getting to be too much despite the fluffy towels. Once in position, his back juts out of the water, allowing Colin access to run the washcloth all over his frame. Bradley sighs, but keeps his eyes lowered.

“Tomorrow morning, we may have to give you an antiseptic enema.”

Bradley tries to laugh. “You promise?"

Colin strokes his flanks lovingly, admiring his boy’s courage. Normally he’d consider an enema a pleasurable experience, but not when he’s still so torn up inside. Colin sighs, presses a string of kisses starting from Bradley’s bony shoulder all the way down to his pelvic hip bones. He hopes it’d be distracting enough as he quickly cleans the boy’s nethers.

“Don’t worry,” the blond whispers, “he didn’t touch me there at all. It’s like he… he pretended I didn’t have a penis.”

It’s as he’d feared all along. That sadistic maggot only took from Bradley, abused his privilege but paid no heed to the sub’s needs or preferences. Colin runs a finger down the deepest of lashes on the crest of Bradley’s arse. Many Doms would see a certain exquisiteness in these marks against the smooth, unblemished canvas of Bradley’s skin. But Colin has never shared that proclivity to see his subs in pain. Besides, no self-respecting Dom of integrity would derive any pleasure from these marks, not once they learn that Bradley got nothing out of the experience. Nothing at all.

“Will the scars last?” Bradley asks, probably just to make conversation.

“No, they won’t. I’ll make sure.”

“Thank you for keeping my dreams for a career in the porn industry alive.”

Colin lightly pats one arse cheek and laughs. “Prat.”

Bradley has always had a wonderful sense of humor. To see even a fraction of it back is music to Colin’s ears.

“Come on,” he says, after a little while. “Enough pruning for today.”

 

 


 

 

**|**|** Bradley **|**|**

 

After the bath, and a quick and efficient shave, Bradley is ready to fall back into bed and sleep the month away. Of course Colin would have none of it.

He wraps Bradley up in another giant fluffy towel – God knows where he kept finding so many of them – and once again carries him back to the bedroom.

“I really can walk, you know?” he grumbles halfheartedly.

“I know, sweetheart,” Colin chuckles. “Let’s just say I’m not doing this for you.”

This is new, being… manhandled so. Colin’s never done this before, not in their two years together in France, or during that weekend in Lake District nine months ago. And despite his protests, Bradley can’t bring himself to let go when Colin places him back on the bed. He huddles in Colin’s arms, surrounding himself in the furnace-like heat of his ex-Dom’s body.

“Let’s stay here, please…” he implores. “I’m really not that hungry.”

Colin kisses his forehead again and cuddles him, indulging his need to be held and protected from the demons outside their door. If only for a little while.

“You’re being so brave, Bradley, but you haven’t eaten anything substantial in two days. We’ve got to get you some proper food before I give you any more painkillers.”

“Fine, order room service then.”

“Fresh air would do us both good, love. Come on,” Colin dries his hair with a smaller, hand towel, before prying himself away from the clinging boy.

Bradley can’t help but hum in blessed relief as once again he lies face down on the bed, while Colin sits beside him, applying a fresh coat of aloe to his wounds. He spreads his legs and even purposely clenches around Colin’s fingers buried deep inside his body. Anything to distract the man from his dogged dinner plans and get them to stay indoors.

He isn’t ready to face the world, he doesn’t think he would ever be.

But nothing Bradley says or does can change his caretaker’s mind. Colin chooses his clothes (cream cashmere sweater with trousers made of softened gray wool), his socks (soft with blue and white stripes), and dresses him with his own hands. Bradley stands quietly and lets him do as he pleases, all the while dreading what might happen if they step out of the safety of this room, who they might run into…

“You know, while you were sleeping, I went down to the concierge to extend your booking till Sunday. He told me you’re the only one, of your party, who hasn’t checked out yet.”

A calm settles over Bradley, enough that he even volunteers to look up restaurants on TripAdvisor while Colin gets changed. He ends up selecting a quaint little café in the Old Town, high up the hill right next to the castle, far away from downtown Prague (where he knows Tobias likes to hang out.) Just in case. Colin loves little hole-in-the-wall type of places, he doesn’t suspect a thing.

“So, when do you have to go back?” Bradley finds the courage to ask, halfway through dinner.

Colin looks up from across their tiny table. “I told you, I’m not going anywhere, love.”

Bradley wants to believe him, wants to give in to the warmth enveloping his senses and prompting him to smile. But he knows it’s not realistic. Colin has a life to get back to, a good one, and no reason to give it all up for a lost cause like Bradley James.

His eyes flutter around, he feels hyper-aware and exposed though there’s no real reason to. Amidst the gigantic crowd of weekender tourists on a Friday evening, no one bothers to glance at them twice.

“So what are your plans after this?”

Bradley licks his lips but schools his face, careful not to give away too much of the anxiousness trapped inside. “Well, D-Damien didn’t renew so…”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“No, it’s… it’s perfectly fine.” He shakes his head absently, not ready to open that can of worms this week.

“There’s this new pilot in Atlanta that Ruth keeps pushing at me. It’s not terribly exciting but, it’s… something. Before that I… I was planning to go home for a bit. See Mum and my sisters. The nieces are growing up so fast and I’m missing so much…”

He spaces out until Colin taps the back of his hand. Bradley looks up into his friend’s kind, smiling face. And he can’t help but smile back.

“That’s a good idea. How about we spend the weekend here, and go home together, hmm?”

“Actually…”

“What?”

Bradley exhales heavily and shakes his head. “After what’s happened, I don’t know if I can face them right now…”

What if they saw in his face how far he’s fallen, how much he’s let himself be degraded at the hands of strange men?

“Hey,” Colin taps his chin this time, startling him with the forcefulness in his voice. “They love you, Bradley. They will always love you.”

He lowers his eyes. “How can they? I’m not the same person I was two days ago. Whatever this… whatever I am…”

“You’re hurt. That’s all. Your trust was betrayed in the worst way possible, and yes that… that does tend to change a man, but you can shape the change for yourself, my friend. You can learn from your mistakes and grow stronger for them. What you cannot, must not do is blame yourself for any of it. Bradley, it was not your fault.”

Colin’s words are like balm soothing the wounds on his soul. Bradley leans back in his chair, greedily accepting the respite they offer from his guilt, if only for a little bit. It’s not going to last, might as well enjoy it while he can.

“Look at me,” Colin commands suddenly. Bradley winces, but does not hesitate to obey.

“Have you ever known me to lie to you?”

“No, si- I mean, Colin.”

“Have you ever heard me be diplomatic or proper, or mince my words just to spare someone’s feelings?”

Bradley smirks. “Absolutely never.”

Colin leans forward and squeezes his hand tightly. “Then you have no reason to not believe me, do you?”

“How do you do it, Colin?”

“Do what?”

“Read my mind, know exactly what I’m thinking?”

The Irishman smiles sadly. “I don’t. I wish I could. Like right now, in this moment, I know there’s something you’re still not telling me, something big. Even back when we were together, I always knew you were holding something back and I had no idea what or why.”

Bradley looks down into his lap. He still regrets the way they’d parted after Merlin ended. The absolute commitment a Dom expects from their submissive, the abject surrender of all their thoughts and emotions… he could never manage that. Colin never forced him, of course. But the things Bradley held back erected a wall of silence between the two that eventually drove them apart.

Like the silence right now. Colin sighs and looks away, surely holding back things of his own – his disappointment, his heartbreak, surely the suspicion that Bradley’s once again just using him…

“I’m so, so sorry, Colin…”

When Colin looks back at him, his eyes are suspiciously shinier than usual, but the smile is back.

“Finish your dessert.”

Bradley sighs and grimaces pitifully at the piece of marlenka before him. He’d been looking forward to it so eagerly. But that was before he lost his appetite.

Colin chortles softly, then grabs the tiny dessert fork himself. He scoops up a little bit of the honey cake and brings it to Bradley’s lips. “Here, come on.”

Bradley blushes and looks around. Nobody is looking at them, no one has any cameras, nobody cares that his ex-boyfriend (that nobody technically knows was ever his boyfriend) is attempting to spoon-feed him in public. He can’t help but glare at Colin with half-lidded eyes, before he opens his mouth.

“Good boy.”

The sweetness on his tongue (and in his ears) manages to temporarily overcome the bitterness of their shared past.

“This has got to be like a thousand calories,” he drawls, but accepts another spoonful of the cake pointed his way.

Colin cups Bradley’s face with his other hand, his thumb catching on Bradley’s lower lip, delicately brushing tiny grains of caramelized sugar away. His other four digits, long and elegant as they are, scratch behind Bradley’s ear lovingly. Bradley closes his eyes and leans into the warm palm, like he’s been starved for touch for an eternity. For the first time in what feels like centuries, he believes things just might turn out all right, after all.

“Time for your pills!”

“Ugh, way to ruin the moment, Morgan.”

“Just do as you’re told, James.”

Bradley pouts but doesn’t resist. The drugs kick in a half hour later and Bradley feels well enough to forego the taxi, so they walk hand-in-hand back to the hotel. Bradley feels his heart lighten with every step they take together towards a new day.

Should've known it couldn’t possibly last very long. Let alone forever.

 

 


 

 

**|**|** Colin **|**|**

 

Inside the hotel lift, it’s just the two of them, yet they stand next to one another like packed sardines. Their fingers stay entwined, their sides comfortably sealed together from shoulder to flank.

Bradley turns his neck to the right and looks up at Colin. With him leaning back against the wall and Colin standing tall, the height difference is a bit more pronounced. Bradley bows his head to rest his forehead atop Colin’s shoulder, leaving it there for the duration of the ride.

Colin has a good idea what’s going through his companion’s mind. And he’d be lying to himself if he said he isn’t tempted.

God, how he’s tempted.

“Sweetheart,” he whispers, lips pressed to the top of Bradley’s golden head, inhaling the fresh flowery scent of the hotel shampoo. If he’s trying to deter Bradley’s advances, he’s doing a spectacularly poor job.

“Please, Colin,” Bradley whispers back. “Make this right, help me expel him from my head, please…”

“You’re not healed yet.”

“There are things I can still do,” says Bradley and licks his lips for emphasis. “Please, Sir…”

Colin breathes heavily. They really should talk about what happened first before trying anything. What if he ends up triggering the poor boy, making it worse somehow?

Bradley looks up at him with so much longing in his eyes. Ultimately, it’s the purple bruise by the corner of his lips that helps Colin make up his mind.

Bradley has always viewed sex as a source of comfort, and of distraction when he needs to escape the voices in his head. So Colin decides to give him what he wants – but not go all the way – while using it to get Bradley to talk in exchange. Once his mind is made up, he kisses the blond softly on his lips to express his consent, and Bradley smiles. The lift arrives at their floor and they walk out, arms entangled together like a newlywed couple.

Ten steps away from their door, Bradley suddenly comes to a halt. Colin frowns at the way his friend’s hand trembles in his own.

“Bradley, what’s the matter?”

Even if he’s having second thoughts about getting intimate, surely this reaction is more visceral than necessary? Colin follows his gaze to the other end of the corridor.

A man rises from the lounge chair he was seated in. He looks familiar. Colin takes a step forward to get a better look, just as the man starts to walk towards them.

He’s dressed sharply in a black suit, clean-shaven with a closely cropped mop of jet black hair. He’s as tall as Colin, but older by a decade, at the very least. The face is chiseled and tanned and lined with deep ridges that only add to his rugged handsomeness and take nothing away.

A second later, Colin’s eyes go wide with recognition, and a big smile starts to spread across his lips.

“Goodness, that’s Tobias Menzies! Bradley, that’s…”

He turns back to his friend to share in his little fanboy moment. He’s admired the incredibly talented Menzies ever since he saw a theatrical production of the History Boys back when Colin was in school himself. But his excitement is stopped cold when he catches sight of the expression on Bradley’s face.

The blond is completely frozen in his spot. His blue eyes are dilated to pitch black with a kind of gut-wrenching fear Colin’s only ever imagined possible in supernatural horror fiction. All the color has drained from Bradley’s face. His mouth’s fallen open in a silent expression of dismay, and he looks to be struggling to draw breath.

Suddenly it clicks into place. Time comes to a standstill as Colin blinks and turns back towards Menzies. The older man has taken another few steps closer to the couple, his eyes fixed on Bradley while the younger man moves to hide himself behind Colin.

“Bradley, hey, I thought you’d be on your way to LA by…”

Nobody sees it coming. Menzies is so focused on reaching Bradley he doesn’t notice the punch flying towards his nose until it’s too late. Nor does Bradley expect the pacifist he knows Colin to be, to resort to physical violence. Hell, Colin is surprised himself. It’s the first time he’s ever actually punched anyone in real life.

Three voices rise in stunned exclamation simultaneously.

“You bastard!”

“Colin!”

“Oww!”

There is blood leaking from one of Menzies’ nostrils and his nasal bone looks crooked.

Colin pushes Menzies up against the wall, strangling his throat with one hand, the other pulled back into a fist poised to deliver another blow.

“Stop! Stop! What the hell?” The man screams, reaching out with a flailing arm to grab hold of Colin’s wrist before it descends onto his bloodied face again.

“You have some nerve to come back around here, you sick maggot!”

“Colin, please, let him go,” Bradley pleads desperately behind him. But the Irishman is too consumed by rage to pay him heed.

“I came back to check on Bradley when I found out he missed his flight.”

“You came to check…? Oh, this is just brilliant! You should be in jail for what you did, you nasty sonofabitch!”

“What are you talking about?” Menzies struggles against Colin until he’s able to push the younger man off him. “Who the bloody hell are you anyway?”

“I’m the one who’s going to kill you, you fucking-!”

“Colin, stop it! Stop it for God’s sake! It’s not his fault!!”

Colin freezes at that. He’s frowning so hard he can feel his brows ache, when he turns to look at Bradley.

“What did you say?!?”

The blond is crouched down against the opposite wall of the corridor. His fists are clenched tight and held to his ears like he’s been trying to block it all out. His face is a heartbreaking mix of terror and misery and… guilt, guilt like Colin’s never seen on anyone’s face before.

“I asked him for it, okay? I-I… asked him to play out this… rape fantasy with me! We didn’t discuss safe words to make it feel more real. It’s my fault, alright!! Let him go, please!”

Colin feels his head start to spin. Surely he didn’t hear what he thinks he heard…

“That’s ridiculous, Bradley, why are you defending him?!? You don’t… you don’t have rape fantasies?”

Bradley lowers his fists and clenches his jaw, tight.

“Y-Yes, I do.” His turbulent wheezing makes it hard for him to speak. “I’ve had them for years, and a-a higher threshold for pain than you were ever comfortable with. Colin I… I couldn’t tell you… because you weren’t like that. You were better and I couldn’t… I just couldn’t drag you down into it. It wouldn’t have been right. I-I’m so sorry…”

Colin is numb for a few seconds, not sure how to react, how to process this at all. For a second he forgets all about Menzies as he turns to glower at the blond man. But he springs back into action when Menzies tries to approach Bradley, who in turn recoils in barefaced terror.

“Don’t touch him,” Colin hisses, moving to stand between Menzies and Bradley.

“Look, take it easy, mate. Like he said, it was all above board…”

“Look, mate. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re new to this. Because if you weren’t, you’d know that that is not the aftermath of a consensual scene!”

Colin points at Bradley cowering behind him to make his point.

Menzies blinks, like he’s about to capitulate. But abruptly he shakes himself out of it. “No, you weren’t there. He… he asked for it, okay? He asked me to not hold back, to be Randall and treat him like he was Jamie!”

Colin goes still. “What did you say?”

“On my show, Outlander… he wanted to enact that-that scene, man. That bloody rape scene in the prison with Black Jack Randall and Jamie Fraser. You know the one, right?”

No. He doesn’t.

There’s a ringing in his ears that’s overwhelming all his senses. He doesn’t watch the show, he never cared enough for chick-lit to read the books. But he’s heard about the particularly graphic nature of that show, so he understands enough.

Bradley asked this man, this stranger, to call him Jamie.

Jamie – Colin’s nickname for the sub he groomed, loved and took care of for three years in France. His Jamie. And Bradley asked this man, this stranger, to treat his Jamie like fucking dirt.

The complete lack of protest from behind him confirms it. The older thespian glances back and forth between Colin and Bradley, looking confused as hell. And now that he’s taking the time to really look at Bradley, a little guilty as well.

“Okay, look, you’re right. It might have gotten a little out of hand but…”

“You let it get out of hand. You were selfish and reckless and you took advantage of his youth and vulnerability. You are lucky we’re not pressing charges.”

Menzies’ face hardens. He tries to sidestep Colin but the Irishman doesn’t let him.

“Bradley,” he calls out to the blond still crouching on the floor hugging his knees, face turned away and pressed into the gaudily papered wall.

“Don’t,” Colin growls at Menzies. “Just go. Get your nose fixed, if you want to stay on your bloody show.”

Whatever Menzies sees in Colin’s face, makes him turn around and stride away as fast as he can. He gazes one last time at Bradley, but the boy refuses to meet his eyes, or listen to anything he might have to say.

Once he’s gone, Colin lets go of the breath he’s been holding and turns around. At least there’s no one around to witness or photograph their little celebrity domestic. Small mercies. Again.

Meanwhile, Bradley is busy trying to disappear into the wall as best as he can. His wheezing has receded, and save for the occasional hiccup, he’s fallen completely silent.

Colin pushes his hair back out of his eyes, scratches at his beard that still feels a little strange on his face. His hand shakes as he pulls out a key card and unlocks the door to Bradley’s room.

“Get up.”

Bradley doesn’t move from his spot, doesn’t look up from the wall.

Colin stands there for a few seconds, gathering his thoughts. Numb. He feels numb. Actually, he doesn’t really know what he’s feeling, or what he ought to be feeling. And that lack of feeling is making him feel sort of restless. The only other thing that makes sense to him in that moment is the urgency to get out of the very public corridor, back into the privacy of their fully paid room.

He walks over to Bradley. “Stand up now. That’s an order.”

This time Bradley does as he’s told. Colin opens their door and, always the gentleman, waits for the other man to walk in first.

“Colin,” Bradley whispers, once inside, “I-I’m so sorry…”

Colin tries to cover up his restlessness with a flurry of activity. He goes around cleaning up the room, trashing used teabags, all the while hoping Bradley would just shut the hell up.

“You know I've seen other professional Doms. But they were all so transactional, there was no... I-I was looking for some sort of an emotional connection and Tobias… he seemed to genuinely... b-but I was mistaken, obviously...”

Tobias. The name rankles in Colin’s ears and makes him want to punch something, again. Instead he focuses all his energies on towels strewn all over the place. He picks them up one by one and carries them into the bathroom. Bradley follows him to the door.

“Colin, please… at least let me ex-explain.”

“No need. You’re your own man, Bradley. You don’t belong to me anymore, not since France. You owe me no explanations.”

He stalks back out of the bathroom looking for something else to do. He is struggling to regain his composure, and it is obvious Bradley can see it too. It’s the worst thing a Dom could do in front of a sub. Colin chances a quick, surreptitious look towards Bradley. The boy stands upright and tense, his hands hanging listlessly by his sides.

“Get undressed,” he barks in a rush. “Get on the bed, on your stomach. I-I…”

I can’t do this right now…

“I’ll be back.”

And then he rushes towards the door, jacket in hand.

“Will you? Will you be back?”

Colin starts but doesn’t look at Bradley, doesn’t know how to respond. Quietly he pulls his jacket on, keeping his back turned towards the blond.

“You don’t have to, you know. Just said it yourself. I’m not yours to deal with anymore. You don’t owe me anything either.”

“…”

“Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, Colin. But I think it’s time for you to go home now.”

There is coldness in his voice for the first time since Colin called Bradley on the phone. “Save yourself the trouble. Well, any more of it.”

With that, Bradley is the one to turn away and stalk into the bathroom. Colin turns around just in time to catch one last glimpse of the blond man’s back, his head bowed deep into his chest, exposing a pale stretch at the base of his slender neck.

The bathroom door closes with a firm finality, leaving Colin free to walk away which, he thinks, is just as well.

 

 


 

 

**|**|** Bradley **|**|**

 

Two nights ago…

“Are you sure? Is this what you really want?”

Bradley smirks even as he sways dangerously on the stool he’s perched on. He looks around the hotel bar, now empty, save for himself and his fellow actor, Tobias Menzies.

It is well after midnight on the last night of their schedule in Prague. Everyone’s been drinking since five PM soon after they wrapped up. Everyone’s bloody knackered. And so is Bradley, but he’s also restless, and wired, and drunk, and horny, and feeling that indescribable sting of anxiousness that refuses to let him sleep.

“You’ve been flirting with me non-stop, trying to get into my pants since the day we met. So what’s the matter, Tobias? Not getting cold feet, are we?”

Tobias narrows his eyes at the blond, sneering like the villainous characters he’s been playing a lot recently. “Bradley James, I have longed to bend you over every single horizontal surface I’ve encountered for three months, that much is true. I just didn’t ever take you for the extreme roleplay type.”

Bradley swirls his scotch around, gazes goofily into the man’s brandy-brown eyes. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Tobias.”

“Hmm, so it would seem. So what exactly is this albatross around your neck?”

“Excuse me?”

“You know, the one you require my services to… exorcise?”

Bradley blinks but tries to maintain the flirty expression on his face. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Come now, lad,” Tobias leans forward in his chair, closer to Bradley. “What you’re asking for is… let’s just say a little outside the box. I’m happy to oblige, of course, but you can’t blame me for being curious.”

Bradley takes a second to down his drink, then wipes his lips and leans forward until his enticingly red mouth is mere centimeters away from the other man.

“Don’t over-think it, Menzies. Fact is, that sequence in Wentworth prison with you and Heughan… it’s the hottest thing I’ve seen on screen and I- oh for fuck’s sake, I just want to be Jamie. And I want you to be my… be… Black Jack Randall. Nothing more, nothing less. So, are we doing this or not?”

Tobias licks his lips and exhales heavily. “All right then. Let’s talk terms. What are your dos and don’ts?”

“Everything. And nothing.”

“What are the deal-breakers?”

“Just don’t drive nails through my hand, or you know, kill me.”

“Do you have a safe word?”

Bradley snorts, “It’s a rape fantasy, Tobias.”

Tobias suddenly grabs his nearest wrist and pulls him nearly off his stool. “Lad, I am this close to slamming you face down on this bar and fucking you dry until you scream. And your cavalier attitude isn’t exactly helping.”

Bradley responds by placing his free hand on the rapidly filling bulge in the older man’s pants.

“Again, I ask, what are you waiting for?”

 

**

 

Bradley stands with his forehead planted against the bathroom door, one hand on the knob. Part of him hopes Colin would try to barge in, demand an explanation because surely he deserves one. Part of him longs for Colin to once again haul him up and bear him away, from all his guilt and consequences, blatantly deserved as those too may be.

None of that happens. Instead, he hears the main door of his hotel room open and, after a couple seconds, slam shut again.

His face crumples, but he refuses to give in to the tears again. Quickly he stalks to the sink and splashes ice-cold water into his face, hoping that would somehow magically freeze his emotions away. When that doesn’t work, he splashes water at his wretched reflection instead, then starts to sink into a crouch on the floor. But the ache in his backside is blooming again, so standing remains the only option.

Or maybe lying down, never to have to rise up again.

He looks back up into the mirror, and barely recognizes his own face. The sickly pallor except for the purpling bruises thanks to Tobias’ bulky rings, the sunken eye sockets and lifeless irises… only thing that still looks like him is… well, the hair maybe. Hair that Colin spent so long shampooing, and styling, running his fingers gently down Bradley’s scalp, massaging his worries away…

Bradley shudders and turns away from the mirror. His own reflection has turned into a heartless reminder of the men he’s been trying so hard to forget. Both of them.

He combs his hair back with his fingers, and tries to get his breathing back under control. Mistakes, gut-churningly bad choices, devastatingly rubbish decisions, all just piling up one on top of another, and he’s burying himself underneath them all. God, he’s so… so… incompetent! Whose brilliant idea was it to put him in charge of his life in the first place?

Bradley sighs and figures there’s really no good reason to be upright anymore. Roughly he pulls open the bathroom door, intending to stride straight out to the bed, fall into it and never get up again. But the sight that greets him petrifies him in his spot.

Colin is sitting on the said bed, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, fingers intertwined and resting against each other calmly. But Bradley could’ve sworn he’d heard the door open and… close.

“Took you long enough,” Colin says. Unlike a few minutes ago, he isn’t shying away from making eye contact anymore.

“C-Colin?”

The Irishman is smiling, which only makes Bradley frown harder. “Didn’t I ask you to get undressed and get in bed? You’re in pain again, aren’t you?”

When Bradley still doesn’t move, still cannot think of anything clever or useful to retort with, Colin stands up. He does take a reflexive step back as Colin starts to close the gap between them.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, I’ve gone about this all wrong.”

“You? You’re sorry?” Bradley can’t help but laugh, a little insanely he’s sure. He takes another step back and finds himself in the bathroom once again. It’d be so easy to slam the door and lock himself in here. Stay inside till Colin left, as he was clearly about to do – as he should have done, two days ago.

His hand subconsciously reaches for the door.

“Stop right there. That’s an order, Jamie.”

Bradley freezes, his eyes watering with a sudden rush of relief his warped mind couldn’t even begin to explain.

Colin takes another step forward, hands clasped behind his back. “Yes, I am sorry, Bradley. I reset us back to the time we were friends because I assumed that is what would make you feel the safest, after what you’d just been through. But I realize now, that what I should have done is take us back to when we were together. Back to when I wasn’t just a Dom, but your Dom. When you belonged to me, utterly and completely.”

“…”

“I reckon that’s what you’ve been craving for all this time, haven’t you? That is what you were trying to recapture with Menzies. That, plus something else. Something you never got from me?”

Colin takes another step closer. Bradley couldn’t possibly move or run or do anything, even if he wanted to.

The Dom tilts his head and softly smirks, “You always were an unconventional sub, pet. Insolent, prideful, always pushing me, testing your boundaries…”

Bradley starts to heave a little.

“I just assumed you were testing me, trying to find the limits of my love for you. How awfully vain I’ve been. I realize now, all that was never really about me. You were asking for something more. Something to make you feel better about yourself. But I couldn't sort my head out of my arse long enough to give it to you.”

“You didn’t know, and you didn’t have to, Colin. Discipline for you had its limits and was used only for correction. Seeing me in pain never brought you any pleasure. I-I couldn’t ask you to go change your entire personality for me. It’s not your fault I’m so fucked up in my head that…”

“Stop!”

Bradley shuts up immediately. There is a once-familiar sternness in Colin’s tone that wasn’t there yesterday, even though his eyes still convey nothing but unconditional kindness.

“I will not tolerate anyone speaking ill of my partner again. Not even you. Is that understood?”

“Colin, does… does this mean you-you’re… are you…?”

“Claiming you, again. Yes, Bradley James Gregory. From this moment and for every moment of our lives until the day you use your exit word, again, you are mine to keep.”

Colin is at this point barely two feet away. “Mine to protect, mine to punish, mine to pamper, and love.”

Bradley’s hyperventilation gets worse. “Col-… are you sure?”

Colin smiles and shakes his head. He holds Bradley’s face in both his hands and draws him close. “Questioning your master already, pet? I suppose we had to start your list of infractions sooner or later.”

Bradley swallows hard. He still doesn’t know what to make of this… this unexpected situation. “Why aren’t you mad?” he whispers ever so quietly, as if afraid someone might hear, including Colin.

Colin brushes the slightly damp locks of hair away from Bradley’s face, before leaning down to gently peck on his quivering lips.

“I am mad, love,” he whispers back before pulling Bradley into his arms, tucking the blond head under his chin and holding it there. “I am mad I didn’t see your need before, how you’ve been struggling. I am mad I couldn’t get you to trust me enough, trust in us enough to tell me what you truly wanted.”

Bradley looks up, his eyes widening in mild horror. “No, it’s not your fault…”

“Shh, it doesn’t matter,” Colin puts a finger on his lips, hushing him gently like he was a spooked, skittish horse. He entangles a hand in Bradley’s hair and guides his face down to rest against his sternum.

“I am mad we wasted all this time being apart when we could’ve been together…”

The prickle behind his eyes can’t be rubbed away anymore. His breath hitches in his throat and the first sobs breaks through, despite his attempts to muffle them in Colin’s shirt.

“I know, Bradley, shh, it’s all right now, it’s going to be all right.”

Bradley doesn’t remember much of what happens after that. He vaguely recalls Colin tightening his arms around him, rocking from side to side. He remembers watching the damp spot on Colin’s shirt grow bigger and bigger where his face rested against it. Things get sort of hazy after that. And yet, when he wakes up the next morning, things feel somewhat different.

Clearer, more… tranquil.

The next time he opens his eyes, the sun has found its way into the bedroom. Every inch of space is washed in warm, golden glitter that makes Bradley smile. There’s a long, lanky presence wrapped around him, practically pinning him to the bed. His myriad aches and pains are duller, his heart lighter, and there’s a promise of a tomorrow that he could barely imagine yesterday.

And there is Colin.

“Why’re you up, pet?” Colin mumbles behind him. “It’s only…” he opens an eye to look at the digital clock nearby, “ugh, six AM.”

Bradley gasps, and not just because Colin’s lazily hummed words tickle the back of his neck. “You’re still here…”

“Yes it does seem so, doesn’t it?”

That’s when Bradley notices one of Colin’s legs thrown across his own. “I can’t believe after all these years you’re still hell-bent on climbing me in your sleep.”

“Hmm, and I can’t believe you went and got your adorable crooked teeth fixed. But we just have to live with it now, don’t we?”

He snorts, “Well, good to see you’re still your usual grumpy self in the mornings.”

“Would you rather I be Dopey or Sneezy instead?”

“Still not funny though.”

“Still not funny though, sir. Now go back to sleep.”

Bradley chuckles again, then closes his eyes and finally lets himself believe this isn’t a dream after all. He leans back into his Dom’s arms and smiles.

“Yes, sir.”

 

 


 

 

**|**|** Epilogue **|**|**

 

Three months later…

Bradley likes to ponder the symmetry of isosceles triangles juxtaposed with circles. It is, after all, a view he’s quickly becoming intimately familiar with. The geometric pattern of a gorgeous contemporary shag rug. And his face is six inches away from it. Again.

He’s draped face down over Colin’s lap, while Colin himself sits back in their big armless sofa chair in a corner of their living room. Right next to the French doors that open to the balcony of their spacious two-bedroom flat in Primrose Hill.

It is Colin’s flat actually – he insisted Bradley move in soon after they got back together in Prague. Bradley had pouted dramatically, affronted at being asked (ordered) to uproot his life in LA, and having no choice about it. It was a pretense of course; that much was clear to both men. But it led to the first time Bradley found himself up, close and personal with the geometric print of the shag rug in their living room.

Today is different though. That day was playful, this is serious. That day was Colin refreshing his hand at something he’d rarely done before, and Bradley teasing him incessantly through it all, egging him on rather than trying to escape it. That was about pleasure and mischief and reconnecting as a couple that had drifted apart. But this… this time it’s very evidently about punishment, and reconnecting as a couple that’s drifted apart, again.

It’s what Bradley’s been asking for all week. And what Colin hasn’t been willing to give, until his hand was forced (literally) last night. So here Bradley lies, naked save for the white t-shirt he sleeps in that’s two sizes too small for his six-foot long frame.

He squirms mightily in Colin’s lap to distract himself from the uncomfortable prickling in his backside. Instantly, another smack lands on his left buttock, putting an end to his fidgeting. He grunts but tries to hold it back against the back of his right hand.

“Pace yourself, sweetheart. We’re only just getting started.”

“Just getting started? Bollocks, we’ve been here all bloody morning!”

“I’m sorry, got someplace else to be, do you?” Colin spanks him again, the right buttock this time. Bradley jerks and wriggles quite dramatically, knowing precisely how he’ll be rewarded for his efforts.

“All right, you asked for it.”

So Colin kicks off a second round of spanking in earnest. He’d already spent about an hour warming him up, nothing too hard, just enough to turn the heat up and get Bradley’s attention. After all, if a punishment is what the brat’s been hankering for, wouldn’t be much of a lesson if Colin just gives it to him now, would it?

This time though, he’s using brute force. The smacks are getting louder, the message hopefully clearer – insolence, rule-breaking, disrespecting his master – will not be tolerated. At least that’s what Bradley thinks the message is.

 

**

 

“Why are we here, again, Jamie?” Colin asks, in between a series of smacks hard enough to take Bradley’s take breath away.

“Ah! Because I, uh, because I forgot about our dinner date last night?”

“Try again, sweetheart,” Colin shakes his head and emphasizes with a couple more swats. Bradley writhes forward, trying for the first time today to get away from Colin’s punishing hands. Not that it works.

“Ah! Because… I got home late? Ow, Colin!!”

“That was quite vexing, actually, because you didn’t respond to any of my texts, or returned any of my calls. You’ve no idea how worried I was, do you?”

Bradley swallows around the lump of guilt lodged in his throat. “Sorry about that.”

“Mm, no you’re not,” Colin smirks. “But you’ll have a chance to apologize a bit more sincerely later. First, answer the question.”

Bradley sighs and jerks forward when another resounding slap reverberates against his left cheek. The pain building up just on the left side of his bottom is quite annoying, he wishes Colin would spread it out more evenly.

“I-I came home drunk? Ow!! No okay, I, uh… I went on a pub crawl with Macken and didn’t ask you? OWW!!”

“Wrong again!” Colin declares cheerfully, and follows up with another rapid volley that brings tears to Bradley’s eyes.

He lowers his head further towards the floor, which unfortunately pushes his arse up further into Colin’s hands. He tries to twist away from Colin’s spanking hand that surely must be smarting by now, but it doesn’t help. So he tries another tact.

“Colin… sir, please? It hurts,” he pleads using his twelve-year old voice. Yep he has one, and it works pretty damn well on most people, that is, except Colin.

“Aww, you want me to stop?”

“Yes, please…”

“Then answer the question, Jamie. Why are we here today?”

Bradley rolls his eyes, unable to keep up the pretense of demureness any longer. “I don’t know, obviously! I thought it was because either I came home late, or I forgot our date, or I went out drinking without you and came home drunk! What the bloody hell else is there?!?”

“How about you doing all these things on purpose to manipulate me? Bait me into giving you this punishment?”

Bradley gulps, hard. “I-I didn’t…”

“Or how about you lying to me repeatedly about what’s really been bothering you all week, hmm?”

There is a stoic affection in Colin’s voice that Bradley is unable to respond to.

“Jamie? Answer me…”

“…”

Colin sighs and resumes the spanking. At first the blond tries to stay sullen, clamping down on his grunts and whimpers, refusing to give in. But how long could that possibly last anyway? For someone who hasn't spanked in years, Colin sure has gotten bloody proficient at it.

He props his right knee up to elevate Bradley’s bottom while lowering the rest of his torso towards the floor. That allows him greater access to the tender sit-spots at the beginning of his thighs. Bradley can’t help but yelp out loud after a couple of highly insistent swats.

“All right! Stop it, please!! What do you want me to say? I’m sorry, all right, I’m sorry…”

Bradley lets loose an embarrassingly loud hiccup, followed by another, gasping for breath and words and a smidgeon of dignity all at the same time.

“Shh, easy there, love, easy,” Colin puts an end to the punishment. His giant, bony palm switches to caressing his blazing arse, trying to knead the sting away.

Bradley slumps further into Colin’s lap, happy to stay there forever. But Colin lifts him by his armpits and turns him around. So Bradley furrows into Colin’s neck and chest and arms, finding an odd comfort in grinding his bum against the roughness of Colin’s jeans.

“Why didn’t you just tell me? Did you not think I’d understand?”

Bradley tries his best to respond despite his throat threatening to close up. “Ho-how did you find out?”

Colin thinks back to the night before. He doesn’t want to make Bradley feel any guiltier than he does. The anxiety he felt last night pales in comparison to the stress he knows his boy is going through, yet doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with his Dom. Secrets are what led to their breakup three years ago. So as far as Colin is concerned, they really can’t afford any this time around.

 

**

 

It is a quarter past eight on a Friday night. Colin has looked at his watch for the fifth time in the last three minutes. Bradley should’ve been home by now. He hasn’t replied to any of Colin’s calls or texts so far. He doesn’t even know if they’re still on for dinner tonight.

He sighs and glances over their dining table, laden with a spread of food he’d toiled over for two hours. It’s all gone cold now. The candles have burned all the way down to their dull brass holders.

On a hunch, he picks his cellphone and dials their agent’s number. Ruth has been with them since the beginning. They’d signed up with her together. And even after they went their separate ways, she continued to be their source of information about how the other was doing, which part of the world they were in, who they were seeing, and so on.

“Hey Ruth, it’s Colin- yeah, hi! … Is this a bad time? … Good, I wanted to ask you about the last screen test you booked for Bradley. I think it was for the new Coen brothers’ project? … Yeah that’s the one. Do you know how it went? … Well, he was super excited about it until last week. And this week when I asked again he said they’re still deciding… He made it to the final two? … No he didn’t tell me… Shite… sure, I understand… you know he’s more sensitive than he lets on… I’ll talk to him… all right, thanks for letting me know, Ruth… good night.”

 

**

 

Bradley hears the story and tries hard not to tear up.

“Rejection is hard enough. I didn’t think this would be the best way to deal with it. Especially when it’s not even your fault…”

“I know, the rational ‘left brain’ part of me knows that, and yet…” Bradley sighs miserably. “This other part of me can’t help but wonder what I could have – should have – done differently you know, what I did wrong, what I always do wrong…”

Colin pushes his lips into the top of Bradley’s head, ruffles his hair tenderly. “I’ve been there too, love, many, many times. I know it’s hard not to take it personally, but we can’t let…”

“Colin,” Bradley interrupts, not in the mood for platitudes he’s heard a million times before. “I can’t help it, all right? No more than I can help being a stupid masochistic freak so please…”

Bradley stops when he sees the look descend on his Dom’s face. He blinks, realizing his mistake a second too late. He stiffens in Colin’s arms and tries to sit up straight. “I’m… I only meant…”

“Stop.”

Bradley looks down into his lap and bites his lip. He folds his legs up by the knees, and starts to pull the end of his t-shirt down having just realized how naked he is. Colin doesn’t stop him, just lets Bradley fidget in his lap for a long, silent, while.

“You know I can’t bear it when you use such horrible names for yourself, Jamie.”

“I-I know, I’m sorry.”

Colin narrows his eyes. “No, you’re not. I think you said it on purpose, because you’re still baiting me. You’re still…”

Bradley doesn’t try to deny it, because honestly he doesn’t know. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. How does it matter? What’s said is said and cannot be taken back.

“Stand up.”

Bradley suppresses his panic and does as instructed. He gets up and faces his Dom, still unable to look up from his toes.

“Look at me, pet,” Colin orders, his voice still soft and really more resigned than anything. “I can see you’re still yearning for something… more. The kind of ‘more’ that you know I’m not very comfortable giving.”

“You don’t have to, sir, this is just… it’s a phase and it’ll pass, I-I’ll be fine…”

“You don’t have to lie to me, Jamie. You know I accept you for exactly the man you are, quirks and all. So even though, it hurts me to do this more than you will ever know…”

Colin sighs and stands up as well. He carefully takes hold of his sub and pulls him closer, tugs his t-shirt off then throws it to the side.

“In the study. On the table. Get in position and wait for me.”

Bradley’s eyes go wide as he looks up into his Dom’s face. Part of him wants to comply immediately, another part dawdles because it knows it’s going to hurt like the dickens. And yet another, more somber part of him doesn’t want to force his beautiful Colin into doing this for him. Colin who’s still so pure, so sensitive, so unblemished despite having to deal with all of Bradley’s perverted inadequacies…

“S-Sir…”

“Shh, I know, pet, I know. But I vowed to take care of you in every way you need, and I will. Go on now, don’t make me repeat myself.”

Bradley doesn’t resist after that. Quietly he turns and walks to the closest door that leads into a warm, sun-lit study. He looks back at the Irishman one last time, before resuming his walk (of shame) to a giant mahogany desk at the other end of the den.

 

**

 

Colin stays frozen in his spot, running his hands through his long, wavy hair, scratching the beard he’s maintaining for second season of Living and the Dead. He must pull himself together for what he must do to help his sub find a semblance of peace. By the time he’s made up his mind, it’s been over twelve minutes.

He takes a deep breath and goes to the master bedroom. There stands a dresser with eight drawers – the top two of which have special designated purposes. The one on the right is for play. It contains various toys and paraphernalia of Colin’s choosing, meant to bring nothing but hours of endless pleasure to the man he loves so much. The drawer on the left is for what Colin likes to call ‘special needs’ – not the most creative but it’s the best he could come up with. This one contains instruments of… pain, of correction… and catharsis. Instruments Bradley has chosen for himself.

Colin opens the left drawer today, and from it he takes the horse whip. It is eighteen inches long, soft black leather, with a three-inch wide tongue that’s flexible and packs an awful sting. He also selects a pair of cuffs, stainless steel rings with red velvet lining inside. Then taking a deep breath, he walks out to the study where his charge waits eagerly for all this to be done and over with. He’s not the only one.

Bradley is exactly where he’s supposed to be – bent over the study table, arse up and facing the door through which Colin enters. His chin rests on the smooth, mahogany surface, his hands gripping the edge of the table on either side of his chest. Colin walks up to him and places the items he carries on the desk in clear view of his sub to see. He puts a hand on Bradley’s nape and squeezes it reassuringly, strokes down the length of his protruding spine until he reaches the tailbone.

“Hush now, sweetheart,” Colin whispers, hoping to calm the shudders that he knows will only get worse.

Bradley feels his breaths start to catch in his throat at the sight of the whip. God help him, that’s what he would’ve picked too. He wonders for the millionth time, how Colin always seems to know exactly what Bradley needs. The cuffs are a surprise though, and he quivers anew when Colin tugs Bradley’s wrists together. The locks softly click into place, folding his arms behind him in the small of his back.

“S-Sir?” he dares to ask.

Colin pulls Bradley’s bound wrists upwards and away from his beautifully rotund bottom. “This is to remind you who’s in charge here, pet. I will not tolerate your manipulations anymore, you hear me?”

Bradley nods feverishly, “Y-yes… yes, sir!”

Colin grips his sub underneath his armpits again, lifts him up and moves him further up the desk until his toes barely graze the carpet, robbing him of any leverage Bradley might have had in his impending correction. He mewls as Colin’s hands stroke up and down the length of his back – from the top of his golden head to the under-curves of his arse.

“Thirty licks. That’s how many you shall receive, pet. And after that, we are done. I want you to put this bloody audition behind us and move on. There’s to be no more sulking, no moping about in your pyjamas and flip-flops, and certainly no breaking of rules just to get me to whip you again. Is that clear?”

“Crystal, sir,” Bradley wheezes.

“Good, then we begin.” Colin picks up the whip, places the leather tongue on the upturned crest of Bradley’s right cheek. And even though he knows it’s coming, the sub is shocked when the whip lifts, flies through the air, and lands on his right cheek with a ‘swoosh’ and a ‘whack’ that reverberates around the den.

“Ahh!!” He lets out a second later.

Before he can brace himself, the whip rises and falls again, this time on the left cheek. Bradley yelps again, embarrassed by the sounds he’s unable to bite back, though he knows his Dom doesn’t mind. Colin, in fact, welcomes any and all sounds Bradley makes, not because they give him pleasure, but because he likes to know exactly what Bradley is feeling at all times.

So Bradley doesn’t censure himself and gives into his need to vent his pain, his frustration, all his insecurities and anxieties, under the guise of reacting to the whipping. He arches up when Colin moves the whip down to the lower curves of his arse, thumps his forehead into the table when Colin puts his free hand in the center of his back to hold him in place. His buttocks are burning, turning an angry shade of red on every encounter with the leather crop. His grunts are getting louder, turning into actual groans and whimpers of pain.

“Fifteen,” Colin hisses after bringing the whip down diagonally across both mounds, making Bradley jump practically four inches off the table.

“Halfway through, love,” Colin counts, gently thumbing the long welts that have cropped up all over his boy’s plump derriere.

He leans in to examine the welts carefully. This whip is not likely to break skin but he wants to make sure. Even his gentlest caresses draw a couple of sharp whimpers from his charge, or maybe Bradley whimpers because Colin’s being so gentle. He also notices Bradley’s shaft starting to stiffen up. Even though that’s not his intent, Colin is perfectly okay with Bradley deriving at least a little pleasure from this painful exercise.

“Ah!! Bloody motherfu-uhhh!!” Bradley practically screams when Colin suddenly brings the whip down once again.

“If you’re feeling the need to curse your Dom out do try to remember you asked for this.”

“I just didn’t expect you to – ahh!!! – to be so bloody enthusiastic about it!”

Colin snorts and presses Bradley down into the desk because he’s starting to squirm and writhe quite ferociously. If it weren’t for the very thorough hand spanking earlier, the blond may have been able to hold out longer, but as it stands, he’s coming to the limits of his tolerance pretty quickly.

“We said thirty. And thirty is what you’ll get, pet. Settle down now. Here comes twenty-one…”

Bradley yelps again and again, breaths huffing through his mouth heavily, steaming up against the glossy surface of the table. The next few whacks land in rapid succession across both cheeks, causing the heat to blossom with such intensity it brings forth the first real tears of the day to his eyes. He tries to hold them back but the sting is simply too relentless. Particularly so because it comes at the hands of his life partner, his best friend, the first and only true Dom… the man who happens to be hell-bent on killing him at the moment.

“Ahh!! Col- Sir… please, that’s… that’s enough please…”

“Shh, I know, just three more to go. And I know you need to remember this so, let’s make these count, all right?”

He pushes Bradley back down to the table and pulls his legs apart enough so Colin can stand between them. Then takes the horse whip and brings it down resolutely on the left cheek first. Bradley screams, even as his member gets harder against the edge of the table. Colin brings the whip down on the right cheek next. Bradley screams louder.

“Shit! Colin… please, shit!”

“Last one, and then we close this chapter for good. Do I have your word?”

“Yes! You have my word, ooh, please!”

Colin bites his lip and steels his heart. With his free hand he peels the two globes apart to expose the orifice between. Before Bradley can register what his Dom is planning to do, Colin brings the whip down right into the crack, landing squarely against the anus. Bradley finally lets go of the tears he’s been holding back all morning.

Colin drops the whip to the table, and slowly undoes the handcuffs. He turns Bradley over and makes him stand, looking him up and down before gently gathering him into his warm embrace. Bradley buries his face in Colin’s blue shirt and sobs his heart out. He needs this, they need this.

 

**

 

He remembers it as clear as it was yesterday – the moment he found Jamie in a hotel room in Prague, violated and on the brink of a breakdown. He remembers the days that followed after they got back to London, the sudden flinches, the empty stares, the excruciatingly slow pace at which the scars faded from Jamie’s body. The memories still haven’t. Three months have passed and they still linger, surface in the occasional nightmare, glint morbidly in the corner of Bradley’s eyes if anyone mentions Prague or Underworld or Outlander in his proximity.

Never will Colin allow Bradley to feel so desperate, so alone and unwanted ever again. Never will he let anything drive Bradley to seek out another Tobias Menzies, Black Jack Randall, whoever the fuck he was supposed to be. Not when he has Colin, perfectly capable of fulfilling his every physical and psychological need, even when Colin may not understand it himself. Especially when.

Colin tightens his arms around Bradley, letting him find the emotional release he’s been yearning for all week. If this is what it takes to ensure Bradley’s wellness then by Jove, Colin is going to do this as often as needed and he’ll bloody well learn to enjoy it.

“To bed?”

“To bed,” Bradley nods, wiping his tears and snot into Colin’s shirt and feeling not one ounce of regret doing it.

“Come on then, sweetheart,” he says before swiftly hauling his sub up onto one shoulder.

“Is Nathan Appleby supposed to be this fit? You really ought to cut back on the protein now, my love…”

The Irishman chuckles, patting his boy’s upturned arse affectionately. “Do not remind me of the braised lamb shank that went to waste last night!”

Bradley giggles and hides his blushing face in the back of Colin’s shirt, as his Dom carries him out of the den and into the bedroom.

They lie facing each other, pull the covers over themselves. Bradley presses his lips into his master’s jugular, suckling there as if for comfort and sustenance. If Colin thought he’d be spending the rest of the afternoon soothing and cuddling his fragile love, he’s quickly divested of the thought by Bradley’s hands roving everywhere.

“Jamie, are you sure–”

“Yes, God yes, no more words, Colin…”

Colin laughs as he’s pushed to lie on his back, while Bradley sits up and straddles his thighs. He watches, eyes twinkling with amusement, as the blond takes control. He unzips Colin slowly, baring his impressive length, then leaning down and closing his plump red lips around the blooming head. Colin sighs and tries not to thrust up too hard, letting Bradley set his own pace as he works him up into a heightened state of arousal.

Colin groans out loud when Bradley pulls away, only to groan even louder when Bradley lifts up then slowly sinks down on his Dom’s rock-hard cock. He’s not dry but he’s tight, and surely it must have hurt. The thought gives Colin pause and he looks up into Bradley’s face for signs of distress.

“Don’t fret, love,” Bradley whispers, bottoming out at last and undulating around Colin’s member languorously. “This feels right. Just the way it ought to be. God, I need this, I need you so much…”

And those right there, those are the magic words. Colin closes his eyes, lets his head fall back against the pillow, and surrenders. “Of course, anything you need, Jamie, anything at all…”

Bradley squints down at Colin and smirks, “Really? Anything?”

“Of course, oh… yeah…” Colin moans as Bradley glides hotly up and down his cock.

“So, suppose I wanted to roleplay next time we, um, you know, played… would you be open to being something like… perhaps Lucifer to my Sam Winchester?”

“Sweet Lord Jesus, Jamie!”

“Too soon?”

Colin gasps in both ecstasy and exasperation. “We’ll talk about it. Just don’t stop moving, pet, all right?”

Bradley chuckles and throws his head back, and for the next several minutes he vigorously rides Colin to mutually mind-blowing pleasure. Colin is grinning too, though his expression is one of relief more than pleasure. Prague is behind them. And so is France. They’re on their way to a new chapter now, and it doesn’t matter where it takes them, so long as they’re together.

 

 

*** THE END ***