Sometimes, Ashley gets asked the question - "Dom or sub?" It's never an easy question for her to answer.
She’s been asked it a lot over the years - usually either by partners, potential or current, who wanted her to pick a side, or by salespeople, like this one in front of her now, who is looking to take her ticket and mark it with a cross or a circle to send her in one door or the other according to her answer.
But what happens when you’re a circle and a cross?
She likes orders. Following them and giving them feels good - so does having someone kneel at your feet or kneeling at someone else's. She walks the line between, but not really - in Ashley’s mind, it’s more like wallowing in a lake of sex and authority, and choosing to either swim or to let the currents take you.
Trying to explain that in a world that sees things in a very two dimensional way.... it's not much fun.
She likes the collar on her neck, and she likes the leash in her hand - authority and relinquishment of it go hand in hand in her books, but most of her previous partners wanted her to be one or the other. They tried to put her in a box, in a position that they could understand, and sometimes, she likes change.
Changing bands, changing instruments, changing her hair but changing her role is the best thing ever.
And she sort of...drifted along in that world - chose to be a dom or a sub with each partner, whether it was for the night, for six weeks, a casual whenever you need it, or even those two years when she Dommed a man who wanted only to call her Mistress and refused to even learn how to spell her last name.
She learned a lot from that guy. Not all of it good, either.
She didn’t think that was all it was supposed to be, but she didn’t know how to change it. Didn’t know how to carve out that niche of herself without seriously alienating everybody else because the term switch didn’t seem to be right for her.
Until she met Adam.
Fate, chance, luck, whatever you want to call it - she answered the call for a professional bassist, slightly apprehensive after trawling YouTube for what Adam did to his last one. She could handle being kissed all the time, but having her face ground into her boss’ crotch on a regular basis could be dicey.
And then... a whole new world opened up.
She knew who Adam was - who didn't? She got the gay, the flamboyant, the whole... "I'm gonna be who I am and fuck you, world, if you don't like it." And she loved it.
But actually travelling with the band? Actually ... you know, having rehearsals, and going out to dinner, sharing hotel suites and rooms - because there was no such thing as being alone in Adam’s band, something started to become obvious.
It started with a feeling and progressed through that into a tentative theory, and then evidence started appearing all over the place. But it wasn’t until the fourth week in on tour that it really came to a head in her mind.
It clicked overnight, really.
On Monday, Ashley watched Adam haul Tommy around by his hair, push him against the wall, whisper something filthy in his ear and just push every boundary of being a Dom possible. He was demanding, he was in charge, people jumped when he said to and Tommy went to his knees just with a look.
But that evening after band practise, she watched Adam slide to his knees beside Sauli, next to Brian on the old yoga mat from the bus, and just... sit. Sauli carded his fingers through the white blonde locks and didn't say a word but his eyes knew.
And when she looks now, pays real attention all the time, really fucking observing, not just kind of... drifting along in Adam's wake - it happens a lot.
Tommy does it too, sometimes. He'll push into her space, kiss her - and the man knows how to fucking kiss - and just take what he wants (even though she freely gives it) and he will absolutely make her beg, and plead, and cry because sometimes she wants to fall apart in his hands. He’ll hold her against the wall, against the mattress, against the edge of the stage and just give her nothing to hold onto but the right to let him take it all.
But other times, he'll just... look at her, his face blank but his eyes saying far more than she could ever put into words. Asking for something and she'll give it - pushing into his space, standing taller than he does, get him kneeling on the floor beside her chair in her crappy apartment or in the hotel room, not saying anything but just... just being. Breathing. His fingers pressing into the hollow of her ankle, feeling her pulse as she touches each of the rings in surprisingly delicate ears.
Every so often, Brian does it too, that strange switch up between the roles that he possesses - and it's easy to tell when he's like that.
Either he's all Dom - and Ashley's seen a few in her time, and he's pretty standard - all high expectations and demanding perfection, and that's okay. That keeps them on track and moving forward as a band, because you know, sometimes, Adam gets stuck in the details and he needs someone to pull his head out of his ass.
But sometimes, just every so often, Brian is... not less - and Ashley knows a sub is not less of a person when they're submissive - but he's not.. not as big. His personality is different; he doesn't have confidence in his step and his words are tired and hesitant, and that's when they all step in.
Ashley feeds him by hand - maybe it's to do with growing up in the South, but food is always a good way to make someone right again - and Tommy plays sweet blues on his guitar, coaxing out the stories of America when the Dream was still being formed, and Adam puts himself in charge, pushing them only as far as he thinks they need it, and no more, and being firm with that no more as well.
Rick is their ... well. He's something.
He doesn't participate in their strange, tangled web of relationships that somehow is clearer to Ashley than most of the others she's ever been in - but that doesn’t mean he’s any less a part of it.
He's got a wife, and children - loves his family to pieces, and he's not interested in subs and Doms and changing things around because that's just not what he needs.
But he is their grounding tool, their way into the real world again.
Sometimes, you get caught up touring, and rehearsing and spending so much time around people who love to love that you can forget what the outside world feels like against your skin, inside your mind again. Going back into that world to do more than play a show where lights and music form a barrier between you and that rawness is like jumping into ice cold water.
Every so often, they need ... not a reality check, because everything is a kind of reality, but someone to bring them all back up to the same level, someone who counterbalances things - even if it's just for a while - the push and pull between Adam, Tommy, Sauli, Brian, and she.
He doesn't stop them - he's not that stupid because Adam would bounce him without a moment’s thought and so would the rest of them - but Ashley sees him looking at them when Adam is on his knees at her feet, and it's not... not envy, and not curiosity.
It's more like... affectionate understanding.
Sometimes, she thinks the guy is as vanilla as they come, because she’s seen inside his suitcase and in his house, and there are no sex toys everywhere like Adam’s play or Brian’s equipment or Tommy’s messed up psychedelic little strange hole in the wall, but every so often, Rick gets that look on his face and... and maybe he isn't.
He's all there though - all level without needing to go to his knees or have someone go to theirs at his request - and maybe he's just satisfied with that. Ashley likes the dip and imbalance most of the time - it feels so good to be the one making the world change for someone else, or having it changed for you - but sometimes, she can understand Rick's desire to have life as plain sailing, so to speak, without the hurricanes and tidal waves of sexual interchange that she and her fellow musicians enjoy.
Rick is more steady than that - just... giving and taking in equal measure.
No more, no less.
There's times when it's hard - when they're back in LA, and they have different pressures from each other that divides them up into their own individual lives again - other bands to play for, studio work, and personal stuff too - Adam has TV spots, Sauli has Adam and his blog, Ashley has her family, Brian has other people to make music with, Tommy has his world of back alley bars to dive into, Rick has his girls....
They split off - make the circuits around and around each of the members - sometimes, it's Ashley going to Tommy, and he takes her down, all the way, right to the space between this world and the next, where it's just ... like peeling open your mind and letting the universe into you.
The man doesn't believe, but he can really make her question her half in half out faith in God in those moments.
Sometimes, Adam goes to Brian, needing the reassurance of someone who's strong enough to lift him out of the daily grind; someone who Sauli can trust and Adam knows won't want more than he can give.
Sauli only ever comes to her when it's dark - never in the daylight, and it's so strange for someone who is normally so open that he radiates light. But on those nights, when he just kneels beside her bed, rests two fingers in the hollow of her wrist and doesn't want anything else but to watch her sleep and know that she would keep him if he asked... that's what she does for him.
Maybe it's just touch he longs for - Adam and he are the touchiest people she has ever met, always hugging her , kissing her cheek, holding her hand, wrapping a hand around her neck, pushing two fingers between her legs just to see what reaction she won't give to them - but when she hand feeds him, sliding strawberries and ripe black cherries between soft lips, she feels him leaning closer to her.
Going to Adam is not something she does very often. It's not because he's her boss - fuck, if that were the case, she'd never go, but because ... Adam is .... he's... trying to describe the man with the best voice in a generation is not something she takes lightly, but there aren't words to explain it.
A devil in disguise, Sauli calls him, and Ashley could call it a joke except she's seen Adam when he's in that place, and ... and it's not a joke. It's the truth.
Sex is strictly off the table - that's something that's off limits to her in a way that it isn't to Tommy or Sauli or Brian - Adam is truly not interested in that, and sometimes, when she watches Tommy go down on him, or sees Sauli wrap a hand around Adam’s dick, she kind of wonders what it would be like, because she knows that Adam is not at all a failure between the sheets. On the contrary, Adam can even pull the Son of God’s name from between diehard atheist Tommy’s lips, and that’s no mean feat.
But he is interested in her..
He’s despite the sexuality divide between them, being with Adam is like rediscovering herself all over again - not just as a person, but as a woman.
He's willing to push her, pull her, fold her onto all fours and keep her as a footstool for the evening, and he’s willing to lay her out on silk and feather down, just because he can.
Ashley's not learning, but remembering what it's like to just feel feminine again - not only in her clothes because a lot of the time, with Adam, she's not wearing very much, and even when she’s clothed, he doesn’t care if she wears a miniskirt and stilettos or dungarees with only a bra to keep her all together inside. Adam’s made a living out of pushing boundaries, male and female, and Ashley takes her cue from that. No, it’s not about clothes and make-up, and jewellery - it's all about how she stands, how she sits, how she responds, what she gives to Adam when he asks for it.
Her body remembers - and even afterwards, she finds herself thinking about it as she lays between Adam and Sauli in their mile wide bed, held in a tangle of freckled arms and tattoos.
Adam never makes her feel weak though - and he's shown her the difference between feminine and weak - because even when she's on all fours as his footstool as the TV plays on in the background, even as she kneels in the shower chained to the wall as Adam tells her to breathe between the strokes of the cane because he loves the sound echoing in the tiled space, she feels stronger than ever. She can revel in being wet the way a man never can, in feeling his hands on her breasts, between her legs, the rush of orgasm again and again and again, pushing her closer and closer and closer to that edge so she can look down and see the white subspace and want it.
Woman, Adam whispers in her ear as she holds onto him through the final tremors.
Going to Brian's - that's her bolthole from the world.
Because his speciality is sensory deprivation and sometimes, you need it. You need to get out of the world, out of the rush and never ending demand, away from cell phones, and internet, and twitter, and people and just everything.
Brian isn't a big guy, but he gives the impression of strength. there's something that seems rock-hard about him
It's not about running away, that's what Brian taught her the first time she knocked on his door.
It's about rising above and sinking below at the same time.
Losing yourself into the white space between here and there, and just trusting him to bring you back, bring you home, bring you around again to where you need to be.
Time doesn't not exist in that time, but it bends, fractures, splits open into fissures of hours and minutes until you're ready to find that inner balance again.
For a long time, she thought that someone who did that was weak, was running away from their problems, but when Brian lifts the lid on the tank for the first time, and the only point of contact between her and the rest of the world is his hands on her chest, right over her heart after five hours of just... going beyond what she thought was the edge of consciousness... she knew it wasn't weakness. It was... honest bravery.
When she watched him take Adam and Tommy at the same time, in the two tanks in his basement, naked and so trusting, she understood that he was strong. Rock solid.
Around the periphery there are more people, more lines in the web: Sutan, the Cherrys, Isaac and his wife Sophie, and more.People who know and understand the semi-world that Adam had introduced her to, even if they don’t participate in it with her, or used to and don’t anymoreand it's just another aspect to Adam.
He’s a people person but some of those - a few, precious, chosen few out of all of them - get taken further in.
They're the core - and it's taken a long time for her to know that.
Sometimes, she's a Dom, and sometimes, she's a sub, and sometimes, she's a woman, and sometimes, she moves outside that gender role just to experiment, because it's okay to be who she needs to be, but these people - they are her core too.
You can have family by name or by blood, you can have friends from high school and college, and from old bands, but these people... they're more than that. Different from. Set apart form.
When Ashley looks back now, she knows she was... almost lost. Wandering, looking for something and maybe she would have given up on that needy feeling inside of her because back where she used to be it was a man and a woman or a woman and a woman or a man and a man and she didn't fit in there. Trying to lever herself into those roles brought happiness, but only temporarily as she grew too big, too much for the label that was constraining her.
Right here, in LA, she's found the place she needs to be, the role she wants - the one she dreams of and it's like finally getting her head above water.
This is where she belongs. And there's no limit, either - she can be whatever she needs to be, and when the salesman asks her, "Dom or sub?"
"I'm good with either."