Grant has his hands full of a cardboard drink carrier bearing three soy lattes when he comes in the door to Strange Artefacts. Frank is up on a stepladder switching out photographs on the wall over the cash register, and he starts wobbling just as Grant sets the carrier down.
Grant grabs Frank, steadying him. “Easy, Frank. We need you in one piece.”
Frank grins at him sheepishly over his shoulder. “I am best that way, yeah.”
Grant smiles back, hands still on Frank’s hips when he hears Zoe clear her throat behind him. Grant lets go and turns, Frank's murmured “thank you” following him. Zoe has her eyebrow raised. Grant raises one back.
“I have a stack of things for you to sign in your office,” she says, beckoning him to follow.
“One of those lattes is yours, Frank,” Grant calls over his shoulder as he walks.
“Thank you, sir,” Frank calls out. A frisson of warmth passes through Grant. Zoe smirks at him.
“A comment, Miss Z?” he asks Zoe quietly when they’re when they’re safely out of earshot.
“Not one,” she answers.
“Liar. You always have a comment.” Grant opens the door to his office and gestures for her to enter.
“Didn’t need to. I’m pretty sure you provided your own commentary and didn’t need my help there at all,” she says, picking up the stack of papers she needs him to see to. “There are post-its at each place you need to sign.” Grant flips through the pile, scanning the pages and scrawling a signature wherever she’s marked them. Zoe’s foot taps on the floor in his peripheral vision, and she makes it about sixty seconds before she says, “Don’t tell me you don’t want to hit that.”
“I’m not telling you anything of the sort,” Grant says, not looking up from the papers. “He was in preschool when I started in the scene, Zoe,” he adds.
“He’s all grown up now,” Zoe points out, and Grant finally looks up. She scowls when she sees the little smirk on his face. “I’ve never known you to care about age before, Grant. You’re just being difficult.”
Maybe he is.
Zoe takes her papers and Grant sits down to finish proofing an article. He doesn’t come up for air for several hours, when he finally realizes he’s hungry. If he was really in a groove, he’d call for delivery and have whoever’s working the register run it upstairs for him when it arrived, but proofreading makes him itchy and he decides to go raid their little kitchen instead.
He finds Frank, sitting on a filing cabinet and eating a sandwich. He's staring intently at their tiny, cluttered bulletin board, while he eats and he jumps when Grant walks in, his sneaker squeaking against the side of the cabinet. “I wouldn’t have recognized you with hair,” he says, and Grant realizes he caught Frank staring at the old snapshots Zoe’d found in a drawer and pinned up on the board.
“Those were my band days, back in Glasgow,” Grant says, rubbing at his scalp. “I couldn’t have been any more than twenty-five. Maybe less.”
Frank’s face lights up. “A band? What kind? Did you ever record?”
Grant answers Frank’s questions as fast as he can, but he’s apparently hit on something Frank has a lot of questions about. Before he knows it, Frank’s drumming his heels against the filing cabinet, gesturing happily with his non-sandwich hand and telling Grant about the bands he used to play in in high school and college. It’s a long list.
Zoe walks in for a cup of coffee and listens for a moment, then says, “Told you those pictures were conversation pieces. I still like the other one best, where you look like an extra from the Matrix.”
“Don’t you have a register to watch?” Grant asks, groaning.
“Nope,” she says. “Alicia got here early.” She sips her coffee and adds, “I should get that one framed for the sales floor.”
Frank laughs, and Grant says, “Fired, both of you. Insubordination.”
“This isn’t the army,” Frank says, hopping down from the filing cabinet with a grin and bumping his shoulder gently against Grant’s arm as he slips by. “I’ll bring you some CDs tomorrow.”
Grant can always tell when Frank takes control of the shop’s sound system. The iPod takes a turn toward the punk end of the rock spectrum, but he's very good about choosing songs that work well in the store environment. Grant usually appreciates Frank's taste without comment, but when a track by The Raincoats comes on, he has to go downstairs.
Frank is perched on the stool at the counter, a book open in front of him, bobbing his head.
“Not a lot of people know The Raincoats these days,” Grant says.
Frank lifts his head and smiles. “Not a lot of people read the liner notes to Incesticide at fourteen and went trawling all the record shops in the area for their album, either.”
“I’m sure you weren’t the only one,” Grant can’t help but point out.
Frank laughs. “Oh, probably not. But if Kurt Cobain said it was good, there was no way I wasn’t listening. And he was right. And that lead me to all sorts of other British punk bands I’d have otherwise missed.”
“Well my ears thank your teenage self. And Mr. Cobain, I suppose. It’s been a while since I dug out that record and played it.” Grant leans against the counter.
“Mine broke in my last move and I haven’t had the chance to replace it yet. I bet I’d like to see your vinyl collection,” Frank says.
“I’m certain you would. You’ve played many artists that I have in my collection and I’ve been meaning to ask you about some of the ones I don’t recognize.”
Frank beams at him. “Just let me know and I’ll write artist names down for you.”
“I would appreciate that,” Grant says. “You’re very skilled at putting playlists together. I wouldn’t object if you wanted to make some mix CDs we could have around.”
“Thanks,” Frank says. “One of my old bandmates always said making a mixtape is just as artistic as making an album.”
“Why didn’t you stay in music?” Grant asks.
“Because none of my bands took off and college sucked sometimes, but I thought it’d be good to get my degree anyway. And I could maybe come back to music or keep doing it at the same time. I’ve never really given it up, but eventually having a full time job cut into how much I could actually do, you know?”
“Your degree was in psychology, yes? Why not music?” Grant says.
“Because I wouldn’t have learned anything about the kind of music I actually wanted to create,” Frank says. “And psych was interesting. Except then I didn’t want to go to grad school and I couldn’t really afford it anyway, so my options were limited.”
Grant nods. “I tried to get into art school and when several of those rejected me, I turned my focus to other things. Formal education and I were not precisely friends.”
“I’ve actually been thinking about going back,” Frank tugs at his sleeves, going a little pink. Grant’s not sure why such a goal would embarrass him. “Maybe get a master’s in social work or something. But my savings got dented by unemployment, so I’m gonna have to build that up again first. And for now,” he smiles wryly at Grant, “I’ll play DJ and beg invitations to play with other people’s record collections.”
It’s the perfect opportunity to make an invitation, but Grant only trusts himself to smile, and stays silent.
One of the many perks of coming to work every day instead of just writing at home is the vast array of human beauty at the shop. Grant didn’t hire any of them for their looks; he hired them for their personalities. But they wear their personalities on the outside too, most of them.
They’re all special: luscious Zoe, flamboyant Tyler. Alicia, regal and dirty. And Frank. Grant still hasn’t really found words for Frank.
Grant's eavesdropping one morning while Alicia and Frank are cleaning. Alicia likes to test Frank’s boundaries, and Grant really can’t blame her. Frank always makes faces at her until he finally gives in. Frank has a ridiculous range of facial expressions. Today, she’s lovingly describing play piercing - which Grant knows she’s not really that into - but Frank shows little interest. Finally Alicia gives up, throwing her hands in the air and admitting, “Should have known you aren't afraid of needles.”
Frank grins. “Nope.”
They start comparing tats, Frank uncovering bits of skin that Grant has never seen, because Frank tends to cover himself completely from the neck down. Alicia pokes his belly.
"C'mon, I've seen something here when you stretch to get the coffee in back," she says.
Frank rolls his eyes and lifts his shirt up to expose his stomach which features birds and scrolling text that Grant would love to get a better look at, but Frank keeps his cardigan on.
It isn’t until later, after Alicia leaves for the day, that Frank shoves up his sleeves. Grant only sees him because he’s looking for something in the stock room and it’s apparent now that Frank was hiding something; angry-looking red abrasions mark both his wrists.
Grant lets it go for as long as he can, tamping down an initial surge of rage, but finally he pokes his head onto the sales floor. "Frank, come here." Frank hesitates, probably because of Grant’s tone, and Grant adds gently but firmly, “Now.”
Frank obeys. Grant gestures, "Let me see your wrists." Frank holds them up and Grant reaches out and touches one lightly, with just two fingers, then turns his hand over to inspect the other side. He repeats the motion with the other one, slowly and silently. "Frank," he says quietly. "How did this happen?"
Frank won't look him in the eye. "I went out last night. And I got tied up."
"And… was this something you wanted?" Grant asks evenly.
"I wanted to be tied up," Frank repeats sharply.
"Did you want to be tied up so tightly that you got rope burns?" Grant presses.
Frank pauses for a long moment, then bites out, "No."
Grant takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He keeps his fingers gentle on Frank's wrists. "There's a first aid kit under the counter. I'm going to bandage these."
Frank fetches the first aid kit and Grant tugs him by the elbow into the bathroom. Grant spreads the contents of the kit out on the sink and sits himself down on the radiator cover. He tugs Frank between his knees and starts cleaning the abrasions with alcohol wipes. Frank hisses at the sting; Grant looks up at him and says, "It hurts?"
"Yes," Frank admits quietly.
Grant rubs a q-tip dipped in antibiotic ointment over the places where the skin is broken. "Did you ask him to stop?" Grant asks after a few moments.
Frank's lip curls a bit. "I used my fucking safeword, okay, boss? It's fine, I'm fine."
"I am allowed to be concerned for your well-being," Grant says firmly. "And this shouldn't have happened." He's watching Frank's face and he can tell that Frank is embarrassed by the situation, maybe by having had to use his safeword. He wants to reassure him as much as he wants to demand the name of the top and tear him limb from limb. But instead he just winds a length of gauze around Frank's wrists and gets back on his feet.
He's overcome with a desire to embrace Frank. Instead, he gestures for Frank to precede him out of the bathroom and back into the main room. When Grant gets out there after repacking the first aid kit, Zoe's arrived for the evening shift and is waiting by the counter, eyebrow raised.
Meanwhile Frank is settled back onto the stool by the register, looking ruffled and frowning at his bandaged wrists. "These are going to look great to customers," he grumbles.
Grant ignores Zoe and crosses the floor to a display case. He walks back to the counter and hands Frank two wrist cuffs - their finest quality pair. "So cover them up," he says mildly. "And use those instead of rope next time, maybe."
Frank looks up at him, expression suddenly naked and vulnerable. Grant almost has to look away, but Frank drops his eyes and sets about unbuckling the cuffs and wrapping them around his wrists. When he fumbles and grimaces at the angle he’s bent his wrist in, Grant can't help but reach out to help. It takes a large measure of Grant's control not to shudder when his fingers touch the buckle. Grant can feel Zoe's gaze boring holes in the side of his head.
"There," Grant says when he's done. He steps back, forcing his hands to stay relaxed and loose at his sides. "No one will look twice. At least no one who comes in here." He’s anything but calm, though. He wants to escape, to go up to his office and steal a swig of scotch from the bottle he has stashed in his desk for special occasions.
Frank smiles, something tremulous that makes Grant's chest feel tight, and then Grant feels a small, cool hand slip into the crook of his elbow. "I need you in the office," Zoe says sweetly and leads him to the stairs.
Grant knows he's in for an inquisition, but he can't bring himself to regret what he just did. Someone had to care for Frank, since clearly the person who should have didn't. They go upstairs arm-in-arm and Zoe lets him sit down while she closes the door behind her.
Because his Zoe is a blue-haired angel in disguise, she doesn't start talking right away, just crosses to the drawer where the bottle lives and splashes a bit of scotch in two glasses from his bookshelf. "Grant," she starts.
"I know," he says after he swallows back the scotch. "I know."
"Grant, he'd say yes, you know. If you wanted him," she tells him, taking a sip from her own glass.
"Miss Z," Grant says. "This is just more proof that he's still learning his boundaries. And you want to set me loose on him?"
"You'd never, ever hurt him like that," Zoe says loyally.
"Doesn't mean I wouldn't hurt him," Grant says morosely, tipping the empty glass in his hand and pondering how inappropriate it would be to pour another.
She sighs. "Just don't - he hasn't gone back to the same person twice when he goes out. He seems...content, but he’s clearly looking for something, and none of the other doms on the scene seem to be able to give it to him. Don't tease him."
Grant wants nothing more than to tease Frank, tease him to the limits of his abilities. But she's right - Frank deserves his care in every way, not just binding his hurts. "I won't. I just. I couldn't leave him like that today, Zoe." He rubs a hand over his head.
She smiles at him. "I know. And I bet you want to find whoever it was and tear them a new one. Or worse."
"So much," Grant admits quietly.
"I had insomnia last night." Frank's words are somewhat muffled since he's got his hands wrapped around a Starbucks cup and his mouth is hovering over the lid, about to take a sip. Zoe makes a sympathetic noise and drinks out of her own cup. She rifles through one of the drawers and pulls out some papers.
"Okay, I'm gonna go upstairs to make the schedule and then go home," Zoe says, patting Frank on the back. "I'm sure you two will be fine without me." She throws a glance back at Grant who is hovering at the door from the back room.
"I'm sure we will be," Grant says, stepping fully into the room.
"Frank, if you want any specific time off in the next couple of weeks, speak now or forever hold your peace," Zoe says.
"I'm good." He waves a hand at Zoe in a shooing motion. "I'm gonna clean." Frank hops down from the stool. "Maybe that will keep me awake."
"I wouldn't think of stopping you," Grant says, standing back as Frank grabs a bottle of cleaning spray and a rag from under the counter and heads out onto the floor. Grant is relatively certain that with the amount of scrubbing Frank is doing, and the vigor with which he is doing it, that the store is going to sparkle by the time he's done.
When customers come in, Frank plasters on a smile and helps them. Each time they leave him to wander or come to the counter to buy something, Frank's spine is stiffer. Grant knows those days, how it feels when every single interaction feels like it takes something out of you, no matter how pleasant.
After an hour, Zoe drops the schedule on the counter and goes home. Grant goes into the back to make a pot of coffee and when he comes back with a cup for himself and Frank, he hears a customer clear their throat.
"Uh, excuse me," a snotty voice says.
Frank sits back on his knees, running his forearm over his forehead and looking up at the woman in front of him. "Sorry, I was so focused, I didn't hear you come in. How can I help you?"
She makes a huffy noise and Frank's fingers clench around the rag in his hand. It degenerates from there. Grant is actually impressed by how well Frank keeps his cool and points her to what she's looking for.
"Frank," he calls when she leaves, holding up the mug for Frank to see. "Why don't you take a break?"
Frank grimaces and nods. "Thanks," he murmurs, taking the mug from Grant and going into the back room.
When he comes back out twenty minutes later, he looks a little bit more relaxed and offers Grant a smile, but as soon as the next customer comes in his easy posture is gone. And then a pair of frat boys, university hoodies and all, come in pointing and laughing. Usually this sort takes a look at the price tags and turns right back around, but Grant has a sinking feeling things won't end so well this time.
These are the sort who don't just point and giggle over the products. He catches them shooting looks his way, whispering and pointing, looking at Frank. Frank, who is small with long hair and a pretty face. Grant feels his entire body go on alert. Frank is standing totally still where he’s arranging a shelf near the counter.
The students mutter to each other as they walk around and before long, there's a "faggots" said deliberately loud enough to get their attention. Grant’s ready at this point to show them the door, and he’s actually moving in their direction when he sees the look on Frank's face. It actually scares Grant a bit. Frank may be small but Grant knows his type, knows he’d fight like a wolverine if provoked. Especially today.
"Sit down and do not speak to them," he snaps quietly.
Frank hisses back, "You're my boss, not my fucking master."
Grant feels like the wind just got knocked out of him, but he re-centers himself and says, "So go deal with it like a professional and not a brawler."
Frank takes several deep breaths and his face stretches into a dangerous smile. He slowly turns and makes his way toward them. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. That sort of language is not welcome in this establishment, so I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
One of the guys is looking shifty, clearly already considering making a move for the door, but the other mouths back, "You gonna cry, queermo? Is this your daddy?" His eyes flick to Grant, and Grant deliberately stands up straight and reaches for the phone.
Frank takes one more step and rests a hand on a shelf of floggers. "Do you wish he was yours?" he sneers through the same smile. "Don't make us call the cops, ‘cause this is private property and you are disturbing the fucking peace."
So. Not the most professional, but effective. The guy gives Frank one last nasty look, then turns his head and meets Grant's eye. Grant glares and they leave. Grant carefully puts the phone back down in its cradle and watches Frank as he makes his way back toward the counter. When he gets closer, Grant notices his hands are shaking.
"You did well, Frank. I'm sorry this happened. It is a thankfully infrequent consequence of the business we do." He sighs, rubbing a hand over his head.
"Yeah, well. Try being 5'4" with lip and nose rings and eyeliner at a Jersey punk show. I'm fucking used to it," Frank spits out, fists clenching, glancing toward the door. "Can I go have a smoke?"
Grant grimaces. "I'd rather you waited. That sort likes to lurk." He reaches out and puts a hand on Frank's shoulder, but that means fingertips slipping under the collar of his shirt, thumb pressing against the side of his neck, and Grant knows instantly it's a very, very bad idea. Frank goes completely still.
Grant squeezes his shoulder once and pulls his hand away carefully. "Go in the back and have another cup of coffee. Wait a while, and then you can go smoke."
This time, Frank doesn't say a word about the order, even though it's no less of one than the first. He licks his lips, nods, and says, "Okay."
After Frank disappears through the door to the back room, Grant lifts himself up onto the stool behind the counter and just sits for a few moments. He's not certain how he could have handled that differently. Frank needed an order like that or he wouldn't have responded at all. Perhaps the second time, after the boys had left, he could have used a different tone, but doing so hadn't even crossed his mind. He's usually better at separating his tendency toward domination from business or casual interaction.
He's beginning to upgrade this situation from "tread carefully" to "approaching the point of no return.” It's not that he doesn't want Frank, but he can't shake the feeling that Frank's not ready. Maybe Grant's not even ready himself. Things ended spectacularly badly with his last relationship. He's not sure he could handle one again. Not yet.
The one thing Grant doesn't doubt is that this would be more than playing around. He's played with friends before. He plays with acquaintances all the time. The chemistry with Frank has been clear to Grant from the start.
Frank hasn't asked for anything, though. He just keeps going out, circling through play parties and kink clubs like he's searching for something...that's not there.
Grant's not there, but could it possibly be that simple?
He doesn't know. At this moment, he's fairly certain that the only thing he really knows is that as soon as Frank is back, he's going to get his own cup of coffee. He could use some.
Grant lets everyone at the shop leave early the night of Zoe’s anniversary party. He stays by himself to close and clean up, ending up making a thousand-dollar sale on some leatherwear twenty minutes before closing. He pockets a copy of the register tape to show Alicia - she’d given him crap for not simply closing the shop early - and catches an uptown-bound cab.
Zoe and Ales have a flat in a converted warehouse, and it’s crowded when he gets there but he finds them right away and greets them with hugs and kisses. They throw an anniversary party for themselves every year - to celebrate their relationships with all their family and friends, Zoe always says. It's sweet, but it's always a lot of couples. He thinks he hides his discomfort fairly well, but as soon as he’s cleared the crowd gathered around the dining room, he’s being waved over to a group of chairs by an arm in a familiar bright yellow jacket.
Tyler’s reclining up against the arm of a loveseat, with Frank curled up against him. “This is the single dude corner,” Tyler tells Grant. “Hang out with us.” Grant sits down in the armchair catty-corner to them, crossing his legs carefully to avoid knocking into the table holding Frank’s empties. He’s already got a head start on another bottle, but he’s holding it loosely in his fingers and leaning his head against Tyler’s shoulder, looking content.
“I thought we were each other’s dates,” Frank says, mock-offended.
Grant raises his eyebrows, but Tyler just smirks. "Aw, baby, you know this is just for one night."
Frank snorts and smiles lazily. “You'll be back, they always are.”
"You know I'd be yours completely, were it not for the, ah, complicated nature of my previously formed attachments," Tyler declares and nuzzles Frank's cheek.
Frank giggles, scratchy and happy. "You're so full of shit, Tyler." Tyler might be full of shit, but he’s also watching Grant thoughtfully.
"I am,” Tyler says, unconcerned. “You're supposed to be too blinded by my charms to notice."
Frank laughs again and reaches up to pat Tyler on the cheek. "Yes, of course I am."
Grant laughs himself and lets himself relax back into his chair. He can't deny that he's relieved to hear Frank is single, that Tyler is just teasing. Tyler, he's sure, could read it all over his face.
"Previously formed attachments?" Grant asks, curious. Apparently he's been out of the loop.
Tyler sighs dramatically. "So, there's this guy I've been playing with and sort of dating and he's, well, he's an incredible top and holy fuck, he's hot."
"But he's kind of a douche," Frank chimes in.
Tyler grimaces and nods. "He's kind of a douche. And there's this other guy who's just.... He's a singer/songwriter who opened for us at a gig and I keep seeing him around, and he's funny and awesome and I have the biggest, stupidest crush on him."
"I take it he's not in the scene," Grant says.
Tyler shakes his head. "I really, really don't think so."
"Do you think he'd be receptive to learning?" They all know from experience that dating non-scene people when you need something more can be fraught.
"Damn, I hope so. That’s the most irresistible thing in the world, isn’t it?" Tyler says with a smirk and leans down to whisper something in Frank's ear. Frank’s mouth twists in a smile and he leans up to kiss Tyler’s cheek.
Alicia appears then, crouching with her chin propped on the back of the couch by Frank and Tyler's heads. "What are we whispering about, boys?"
"Plotting ways to steal your boyfriend, of course," Tyler answers.
Alicia smiles smugly. "Good luck with that." She comes around to squeeze into the end of the loveseat not occupied by Frank and Tyler.
Zoe comes over too and perches on the arm of Grant’s chair. She leans over and kisses the top of his head and hands him a drink. "I'm glad you made it."
"I wouldn't miss your party for the world, Miss Z. And it was good to get out," Grant says, patting her hand.
"Good. We've missed you, you know?" she murmurs, kissing him again.
"You see me every day," he points out, partly to cover up how touched he is.
"That's not the same at all," Tyler pipes up from the couch. Grant doesn't know what to say, so he keeps quiet. He'll be the first to admit that he let his breakup with Mark affect him longer than he should have.
"Hey, I have a show coming up next weekend. You all have to come. Especially you," Tyler says to Grant.
"Of course I'll be there. Just name the time and place," Grant replies. The rest all echo him.
"It's gonna be at this shitty club in Brooklyn. I'll get you the address tomorrow."
Frank snorts. "You haven't played a shitty place until you've played a bowling alley in Newark, dude. That is shitty. We felt like we'd fucking made it when we graduated to VFW halls."
"Oh my god, bowling alleys. Okay, we have played bowling alleys. Those dues are paid, asshole." Tyler pinches Frank's shoulder. Frank just laughs.
"But not in Jersey. We did always get a few free games for our trouble. I'm a pretty good bowler now." Frank giggles adorably.
"Oh god, us too. Elaine totally kicked our asses every time," Tyler pouts.
"Dude, I hate to break it to you, but Elaine could kick your ass at pretty much everything," Frank informs him seriously, looking up into Tyler's face. And then he bursts into giggles again.
Grant smiles and looks at Alicia and Tyler, squeezing Zoe's hand where it's resting on his shoulder. He looks next at Frank's happy face and realizes quite suddenly that he's feeling content. Truly content, probably for the first time since before his breakup with Mark.
"Oh look. Here you are, twenty minutes before Frank's shift, just like clockwork," Alicia says from where she's standing behind the counter. Grant makes a face at her. "But since you're here, I'm clocking out early. Mikey will be here in a minute."
"Do I finally get to meet your mysterious boyfriend?" Grant calls as Alicia disappears through he door to the backroom.
"Yes," she says as she comes back out onto the floor, bag slung over her shoulder. "And here he is now."
Grant looks over toward the door and sees a young man come in the door. He's thin, with dark hair, sunglasses, and giant boots on that make him look taller than he actually is.
Alicia walks over to him, wraps her arm around him, and pulls him toward Grant, a bright smile on her face. "Mikey, this is Grant. Grant, this is Mikey Way."
Mikey looks at Alicia and waits for her to give him a little smile before he reaches out to shake Grant's hand.
"Pleased to finally make your acquaintance, Mr. Way," Grant says. "I've heard much about you. It's nice to finally have a face to go with the knowledge."
"It's nice to meet you too. I've been a fan for years, actually. My brother does photography for a lot of the same magazines you write for," Mikey says with a crooked smile.
"Way... Gerard Way?" Grant asks.
"Yes!" Mikey's smile widens.
"I love his work. In fact, I have a print in my office. I've often wished to meet him," Grant tells him.
"Well, you'll probably get the opportunity. He's moving back here from LA soon," Mikey says happily.
"That is excellent news," Grant says.
"He was here last month looking at apartments," Alicia says. "You'll like him. He's got your whole artistic vision thing going. Hey Frankie."
Grant looks over at Frank, who’s just coming through the front door. Frank lifts a hand and waves, "Hey, Alicia, Mikey. Hi, Grant."
He disappears behind the non-leather restraints display. He’s out of sight for a few moments, then he comes back out with a coil of high-quality rope, brings it up to the counter, and pulls out his wallet.
"Got somebody you plan to use that with, Frankie?" Alicia asks. She's got a wicked little smirk on her face.
"It's... an anticipatory purchase. I went to a shibari workshop last night and got inspired," Frank says, smirking right back.
Grant rings up the rope and swallows hard, trying not to think about the fact that it will be sitting in Frank's bag the entire shift, will go home with Frank and sit unused until he meets someone who will use it on him.
He glances up, notices the look Alicia is giving him behind Frank's head, and only barely manages to refrain from flipping her off.
Frank waves as Alicia and Mikey say goodbye and head out the door, then disappears into the back to clock in. When he comes back out he hops up on the stool behind the counter and shoves his sleeves up, snagging the scheduling notebook. Grant stares at the cuffs circling Frank’s wrists until he forces himself walk away. He turns around when Frank makes a pleased noise. “Zoe scheduled you off on Online Shipment Day again?” Grant asks mildly.
“Better,” Frank grins. “I’m off tomorrow.” When Grant just looks at him with a slight furrow to his brow, he adds, “Because tonight’s a Mistress Kristan’s... Oh, never mind, makes no difference,” he finishes, closing the book and rifling through the drawer under the cash register. “We’re out of tape for the credit card machine,” Frank says. “I’m gonna go get some. Want a cup of coffee?”
Grant just nods mutely. He’s still stuck on the fact that Frank’s going out to play tonight, that he’s excited about it, that there’s a coil of beautiful black rope sitting in his bag.
As natural as spending his evenings alone at home has become, after venturing out two weekends in a row Grant starts to get an itch under his skin again. He’s tried a few clubs, a party or two just for socializing, but he knows what it means, ultimately. It means he needs to either make a few phone calls or convince himself to just go to Kristan's, even though he knows he’s got ulterior motives there.
It's been a while since he last went, but the psuedo-bouncer just waves him inside. Everyone knows him, especially all Kristan's people.
He gets a bottle of water from the wet bar and looks around. Most of the faces are familiar and a few people come up to talk to him, say they're glad to see him, that sort of thing. It’s been several months since anyone’s seen him anywhere except at the shop. Zoe had said the same thing at her party, but it’s different coming from his shop family. He’s gotten used to it, but he prepares himself for the inevitability of hearing it over and over from other people.
Grant’s glad when he catches sight of Tyler, even though he’s sure it means more teasing. Probably about how Grant’s clearly looking for Frank, since this is the place he frequents most often, or perhaps about the mere fact that Grant's getting out of the house. That’s another thing he hears over and over, and, well, they’re lucky they are family. But Tyler surprises him with a very subdued greeting, his eyes fixed on a point across the room. Grant follows his gaze to a fit guy in a white tee.
“That’s your guy?” he asks. Certainly fits the picture Tyler and Frank had painted the other weekend. Young, good-looking, flashy in a way Grant’s sure would appeal to Tyler. And, if Tyler’s lurking over here by himself, surely a bit of an ass.
Tyler frowns and turns back to Grant. “Yeah. He’s been acting weird, I just... don’t want to deal tonight, you know?”
Grant makes a noncommittal noise, and is about to redirect the subject to something a little more pleasant when Tyler surprises him by taking a sharp turn himself. “What happened with Mark?”
That’s not a pleasant redirect, but Grant takes a deep breath and asks, “Why?”
Tyler turns a bit red. “I just...admire you and you always seem to be so confident about what you want, and I thought -”
Grant laughs, only a little bitterly. “That was the problem with Mark, in the end. We weren’t compatible. Maybe he pretended in the beginning or maybe he just changed, but he wanted things from me that I wasn’t willing or able to give, and instead of being adults about it, well - we both behaved rather badly.”
Tyler nods. “I - can see how that would be a problem. I just - you care about lots of people, Grant.” His eyes stray to the guy across the room again. “That weighs more than one episode of bad behavior.”
“You should go home, Tyler,” Grant tells him gently. “Whatever the problem is with Mr. Undershirt over there, just let it ride for tonight. You’re not ready to deal with it. And I say that because I do care about you.”
Tyler nods and excuses himself with a squeeze to Grant’s forearm. Grant’s not standing alone for more than a few minutes before Kristan comes up from her rounds of the dungeon and spots him. She pulls him into her office and pauses with her hand on the scotch decanter. “Is this a social visit or are you here to play?”
She can tell by the face Grant makes what the answer is, and goes to sit down at her desk instead.
“People keep telling me they've seen you out here and there, these past few weeks. I thought the day would never come."
"Your spies are ever vigilant," Grant says with a smile. "I'm sorry I haven't been 'round at least for tea.”
Kristan purses her lips and says, "May I ask what finally lured you from seclusion?"
"A need to channel my energies in certain, specific ways. And seeing you is never a bad time," Grant says with a smile.
"Such a charmer," she chuckles. "You're always a welcome addition to my parties, lovey, but I had begun to think your energies had turned elsewhere. Or... perhaps they just needed a focus?" Grant knows she's fishing. Kristan's the one person who knows every sordid detail of his breakup with Mark, and he knows she understands what it took out of him, even though she's teasing on the surface.
“I need distracting, if I'm being very honest," Grant admits with a wry smile.
"Distracting? It's entirely possible that there is a lovely specimen downstairs as we speak, who could very well be what you need distracting from." She raises an eyebrow at him.
"He's here? Doing what?" Grant's entire body feels amped up, just knowing it.
"Just chatting, when I came upstairs," Kristan tells him. "Should he be doing something else?"
Grant breathes out. "He should be doing as he pleases."
"I am assuming, of course, that we're speaking about Frank," Kristan says. "I like to think I know you well enough to suss that out, but perhaps there's some other beautiful boy who is perfectly your type lurking elsewhere."
"My ego would appreciate it if I were less of a foregone conclusion," Grant hedges with what is dangerously close to a pout.
Kristan laughs at him, but he doesn't care, because if there's one thing he's retained from their ancient, failed relationship, it's the knowledge that she always has his best interests at heart. "I'm sure your ego will survive," she says. "So why, pray tell, have you not done anything about this beautiful boy? I can't imagine that he would not be receptive to you."
Grant opens his mouth, then closes it again. Of all the excuses he's made over the past few months, it's not really Frank's age. Or his inexperience. Or the fact that he's Grant's employee. It's always been Grant himself. "Mark was a snivelling little punk," Kristan tells him with a frown, "who thought he was hot stuff, and wanted to use you as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. I hope you're not comparing them."
"Of course not," Grant scoffs. And he's not. Frank is nothing like Mark. "I am… being cautious," Grant finally says. "Any relationship I form with Frank would be a serious one, given Frank's nature and some of the things he's told me. I have to be sure."
"I understand," she says. "And in the meantime?"
"I channel my energies," he says.
She nods. "If you wish to avoid him, that could be very easy. He’s very... focused," she says.
Grant holds in a moan. Kristan looks at him with the mix of fondness and sadism only found in long friendship - with a dominatrix, anyway. "You've made your point," Grant grits, and stands up.
"If you find him quickly, I'm sure he'd let you top him," Kristan purrs. "If not...well, I do know how much you like to watch."
"He would," Grant says confidently. "But whether it would be a good thing or not is the question. I'm sure I'll see you later." He smiles at her and goes out the door, making his way to the basement, thankful for the low light. Kristan's right - about a lot of things, as is her annoying habit, but mostly about Grant's intentions. Not to find Frank and proposition him. No, he's still got sufficient self-control to deny that impulse. But if Frank's here, if he's planning on playing...Grant is going to watch.
He sticks to the shadows by the wall, taking in the scenes playing out. He sees Frank across the room almost immediately, kneeling with his back to the room and his wrists restrained behind his back. With the cuffs Grant gave him. Grant hates it, almost as much as he thinks it's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.
The top is walking circles around Frank, murmuring quietly enough that Grant can't hear what's being said. Frank is still fully clothed, and Grant wonders what he's asked for, knows there aren't many things that could be coming except for - oh. He almost wants to leave, but he can't bring himself to actually move, so he watches. Watches as the top stops, stands very close, and gets his cock out.
"Suck," the order rings through the room. Frank leans forward and takes the man's cock in his mouth. Grant notices his fingers flexing, pulling just the slightest bit at the cuffs - clearly not out of discomfort, but because he likes how they feel. He looks back up and the top has his fingers buried in Frank's hair, holding his head steady, already fucking into his mouth. Grant can feel a sneer spreading across his face that the top doesn't have the self-control to draw it out, that he's already to this point. If he had Frank in front of him, he'd fucking savor it. Every time.
Frank behaves perfectly, though. Responds to any command the top gives him immediately, takes his length like he was born to suck cock. Grant moves around to the side, staying in the shadows, so he can see Frank's profile. Frank looks completely blissed out. Grant's torn between satisfaction at Frank's obvious pleasure and a bitter resentment that it could be more. It could be -
He watches, still fascinated, as the top comes and then releases Frank, pets and soothes him back up to awareness... and lets him go. He'd heard Tyler and the others teasing and hadn’t really believed a word, but is it possible Frank still hasn't let anyone touch him?
Frank gives the top a smile and a few quiet words and slowly makes his way back through the room. Grant moves to stay out of his line of sight and watches him talk to a couple of people, thank Kristan where she stands near the door, and disappear up the stairs. Grant takes a few deep breaths and steps out of the shadows.
He needs to do something. Anything. Kristan spots him and nods once in acknowledgment. He's still in control. It would take more than this to shake that. A murmur goes around the room when he steps up to the central cross and sheds his jacket. Waits.
A young woman steps forward after a few moments, looking eager. "What can I do for you tonight?" he purrs.
"Whatever you'd like to, sir," she answers, head bowed. The title doesn't feel nearly as sweet as when Frank says it even accidentally.
Grant puts a hand under her chin and talks through the scene, and by the time he's taken a flogger in hand he's calm. Focused. Intent. She deserves it, after all. Or she will, if she's good. Then he loses himself in the swing and flex of his arm, the rasp of her breathing.
She does well. He enjoys watching red spread over her back and shoulders where the flogger is hitting her. He tells her so, tells her that she's being so good, how lovely her skin is showing off the marks he's putting there. The focus of the flogger in his hand, controlling the arc and the strength of the blows, feels good in the way that a much-laundered cotton shirt feels. Worn in to a whispered reminder, clinging like a dream. Always miraculously strange, that he can make a stranger shudder in ecstasy and just feel...comfortable.
He was wrong, it appears. The itch is gone, but the thoughts crowd right back into his brain as soon as the scene is over. Grant heads for the stairs and Kristan’s waiting for him. “I think it would be a good thing,” she tells him, like they’d never paused their conversation. “But I can tell you don’t agree.”
“Not yet,” Grant tells her.
He walks home. It’s not far, and he needs the air. When he gets home he changes into his workout clothes and gets on his treadmill and runs. For a long time. In some ways, it helps, but in others it most decidedly does not and when he's in the shower, he finally gives up on any sort of control he was trying to maintain.
Grant leans against the shower wall, closes his eyes and wraps a hand around his cock. He thinks of Frank. Frank on his knees, tied up, just like he was tonight. Grant wouldn't even want him naked. Not yet, anyway. He'd want to savor the process of releasing Frank, of taking off his clothes slowly.
He imagines watching Frank's mouth, his eyes. Frank would be the sort who would look at him, he's sure. From the way he behaved for the man at the club, he's sure Frank would do exactly as Grant asked, though Grant can't imagine him not pushing just a bit in little ways, hidden ways. Doing clever things with his tongue when Grant told him to suck, maybe. He'd still suck, but it would be enough that Grant would have to punish him. Maybe put his fingers in Frank's hair and tug. He can practically feel the silky wrap and tangle of strands.
He flicks his thumb under the head of his cock, imagines savoring Frank's mouth and tongue for a long time until he absolutely can't stand it anymore and then burying both hands in Frank's hair and holding on, fucking his mouth until he comes down Frank's throat. The water pounds unheeded at his shoulders, and Grant speeds up his strokes on his cock. He’s imagining Frank's face earlier, his face right at the end, and braces a hand on the shower wall as he comes with a shout.
Grant gives himself a moment to breathe and pushes off the wall to finish his shower. Later, clean and dry and wrapped in his dressing robe, muscles feeling pleasantly sore, he makes himself a cup of tea, drinks it, and goes straight to bed. Everything will still be waiting for him in the morning, and it will probably haunt his dreams as well.