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A Head Full of Dreams

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Confessing his undying love for Zack had seemed like a great idea right up until he did it.

Part of him knew there was a chance Zack wouldn’t return his feelings. More than a chance. It had been highly unlikely, the more he thought about it. In fact, it was so unlikely that he would’ve just kept the thought to himself had it been anyone else.

But it was Zack. There were no secrets or lies between them, nor was there a need for any. Their friendship was so strong, he hadn’t doubted that even if he did blurt out something stupid, Zack would at least give him a smile before letting him down gently.

Apparently he didn’t know Zack as well as he thought.

“I’m such an idiot,” Cloud whispered, wide eyes falling to the floor.

What was he supposed to do now? It was already out there. Zack was already staring at him with an impossibly blank expression, like he hadn’t even heard Cloud’s declaration. If only he hadn’t.

“Whoa, hold on,” Zack finally spoke, placing a firm hand on each of Cloud’s shoulders before he could find a way to disappear. The touch jolted him, amplifying the panic in his veins. He’d really fucked everything up. Years of friendship, ruined. “Look at me.”

Cloud’s eyes snapped up immediately, meeting Zack’s. A kind smile appeared on Zack’s face then, and…oh. Maybe everything wasn’t ruined. This was it.This was the part where Zack let him down easy. It wasn’t what he wanted most, but it was so much better than the expressionless look from a moment ago.

“It’s just me,” Zack reminded him, that tiny smile turning into a smirk. “You don’t hafta be nervous.”

“I know.”

“So why are you? Did you think I’d throw you out or something?”

“Uh, no,” Cloud said, laughing softly despite the fact Zack hadn’t been joking. “I thought you’d pat me on the back and tell me thanks but no thanks.”

Zack raised both brows. “Why tell me at all if that’s what you thought?”

“It was bothering me, not telling you. I always tell you when something’s bothering me.“

His friend eyed him for a long minute before nodding. “That’s a good reason,” he decided. “I’m glad you told me.”

“Okay?”

“The thing is, I don’t do relationships. Haven’t for as long as I’ve known you,” Zack told him, which, yeah. He knew that already. At most, Zack had short lived flings or recurring hook ups, but that wasn’t what Cloud was looking for here. “I mean, if I was gonna seriously be with anyone, it’d be someone like you. You’re great, Spike.”

“I get it,” Cloud said as his heart sank. Knowing this would happen only helped so much. “It’s not a big deal.”

“It is a big deal. If I thought for a second it’d work out with us, I’d be telling you something completely different.”

“Zack, you really don’t have to-”

“I’m not just saying things. It’s true,” Zack insisted, holding his gaze evenly. “I just don’t think we’d be compatible like that.”

“Like what?”

“A relationship’s more than just having fun and hanging out. We’re great together for all that.”

“So, you mean we wouldn’t be compatible romantically?” Cloud asked, arching a brow.

“Nah, I’m sure we’d be fine with that too,” Zack said, hand on the back of his neck. “I was thinking more sexually.”

Cloud blinked a few times. So that was it. Zack liked Cloud well enough—they got along just fine, and could spend countless hours together without getting bored. All that would translate into dating pretty easily.

He just wasn’t sexually attracted to Cloud.

It stung more than he was willing to admit, but he could live with that. Zack had a definite type. Pale brunettes with dark eyes, usually a couple inches taller than Cloud. Of course he wasn’t interested.

“I get it,” Cloud said after a minute, realizing Zack was waiting for some kind of response.

Zack didn’t look so sure. “You do?”

“I’m not what you usually go for.”

“Yeah,” Zack muttered, almost apologetically. “I know there’s other important parts of relationships, I just-”

“I get it,” he cut in again, firmly this time. He could see his friend was beating himself up a little now, and that wasn’t fair. It wasn’t like it was Zack’s fault he didn’t want Cloud, and frankly, there was nothing wrong with that even if the lack of attraction was the only reason. “It’s okay.”

“So, you’re okay with things staying the same?”

“As long as we can forget this conversation ever happened,” Cloud joked.

For once, Zack wasn’t amused. “You’re crazy if you think I’m gonna forget about it.”

“Zack-”

“C’mere,” he said, not really giving Cloud a choice. Long, strong arms pulled him in for a hug, and he found himself melting into it instinctively. There was no place he felt more secure. “Things’ll always be good with us. Don’t worry about it.”

Somehow he wasn’t worried. Not anymore.

–----

Everything was unexpectedly normal after that.

They still hung out whenever they could—movie nights, late lunches, drinks at the bar. They still got dinner and relaxed back at Zack’s place on a regular basis. Zack still made vague mentions of his hookups, and Cloud still joked like it wasn’t painful to think about. Cloud even talked about his own dates still, because he really wasn’t going to let some unreciprocated feelings hold him back.

It was just the occasional occurrence that reminded Cloud of his silly love confession. Like when he showed at Zack’s with breakfast burritos, only to catch one of Zack’s conquests on his way out the door looking thoroughly fucked.

“Sorry,” Zack said, a sheepish smile on his face when he realized Cloud had arrived. Cloud just furrowed his brows in confusion. “Y’know. That you had to see that.”

“Oh.” He shrugged after a moment. “It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve seen one of your hookups.”

“Yeah, but that was before…”

Cloud kept his face neutral as he grabbed two plates. “Never happened.”

You said it never happened. I told you I wasn’t forgetting. It’s not everyday someone as awesome as you tells me he loves me.”

“It’s really not a big deal,” Cloud insisted, refusing to get flustered over the reminder of his own words. He helped himself to some juice before sitting down at the table, ready to go about this morning like it was any other.

“If you’re sure,” Zack muttered, not sounding so sure himself. Cloud chose to start eating instead of responding. “So, fun night?”

“It was okay,” he responded, nothing noteworthy coming to mind. “I had the late patrol.”

“Right, I forgot.”

“Yeah. How about you?”

“Uh, well. It was okay,” Zack replied, sounding oddly bothered. “Nothing special.”

“He looked like he had fun.”

“He definitely had fun.”

“What was wrong then?” Cloud asked, because he was an adult dammit. He could handle this conversation.

“I dunno. I guess I’ve been distracted lately,” Zack said slowly. “Ever since you told me…I dunno what it is, I can’t get the idea of a relationship outta my head now.”

Cloud tried not to react much. “Why? I thought you weren’t interested in that.”

“I’m not. Or, I wasn’t at least,” he tried to explain, uncharacteristically frustrated. “I dunno. I’m a laid back guy, I guess. I just wanna have fun in my free time. I’ve got enough going on with work and all that.”

“So…you think relationships are stressful?”

“Nah, but they require work. It’s hard to find someone like you, you know?”

He fixed his friend with a skeptical look. “Me?”

“Someone I click with like this,” Zack explained, gesturing between them. “Things’ve always been easy with us. If I could find someone like you who was into the same things as me, it’d be perfect.”

“What do you mean same things?” Cloud wondered curiously.

“Uh, well. It’s not like some of the guys I get with wouldn’t wanna try more, you know? But they think just ‘cause we’re one way in bed means I want that all the time, and I don’t.”

He could only pretend to understand, nodding along sympathetically as Zack continued, “It’s hard enough finding someone for just sex. Like that guy who just left, he was great, don’t get me wrong. But he didn’t tell me he wanted to call me daddy, and that’s not my thing.”

Cloud sputtered a little, not sure what to make of that. As far as he was concerned, people could have whatever kinks they wanted—he was just surprised Zack was being so specific. Normally when they discussed his hookups, it was more yeah someone was over last night, than yeah someone was over and he called me daddy.

“You okay?” Zack asked, patting his back lightly.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You look kinda pale. Do you wanna talk about something else?”

“No, it’s fine. I just didn’t realize how…particular you were,” Cloud said, unsure of his own words.

“Particular?” Zack repeated, bemused.

“You make it sound like a chore, finding someone for the night,” Cloud replied slowly. “I figured it’d be pretty easy for you. I mean, you’re…”

Zack eyed him with interest. “I’m what?”

“You’re you. People throw themselves at you all the time. Attractive people who’d love to sleep with you.”

“It’s not about finding someone attractive, it’s about finding someone who…What’d you think I meant that day, when I said we weren’t compatible?”

The sudden change in question had Cloud’s stomach turning uneasily. “That I’m not your type.”

“How so?” Zack pressed, watching him intently.

The look was enough to make him unnecessarily nervous until his friend put a soothing hand over his own. “You’re into tall brunettes. Dark eyes and-”

“No,” Zack interjected, shaking his head gently. “No, that’s not what I meant. Fuck, Cloud. You can’t seriously think you’re not physically my type. You’re everyone’s type.”

“Um.” What was he supposed to say to that? His face was blazing red, but something about the earnest look on Zack’s face kept him from looking away. “What’d you mean then?”

“I mean, you’re a bit innocent when it comes to these things. You’ve only had sex, what? With three people?”

“So?”

“So, you probably don’t even really know what you like yet, and that’s okay. It’s just, I do know what I like. I know exactly what I like, and if I’m gonna be with someone regularly, I’d only wanna compromise so much.”

“That makes sense,” Cloud said eventually. And it did, mostly. Even if sex was only one part of what made a relationship, it was still important to both of them. “You realize I was with two of those guys for a long time, right? It’s not like I only had sex with them once each.”

Zack remained impassive. “I figured.”

“Maybe we didn’t try everything, but I’ve got some idea what I like. It’s kinda bullshit for you to assume I don’t.”

“I didn’t mean to assume,” his friend backtracked, shaking his head apologetically. “I just figured the things you know you like still aren’t the same as the things I like.”

“Like what?”

“Are you sure you wanna go there?” Zack asked, a warning in his tone. “’Cause I’ve got no problem talkin’ about any of this. I’m just not sure you wanna get into it.”

He couldn’t hide the offense on his face. “I’m not the blushing virgin I was when we met. I can handle talking about sex.”

“I don’t like being called daddy; I like being called sir,” Zack began, completely straight faced. The words had Cloud’s eyes going wide, but that didn’t stop Zack. “The guys I hook up with? I don’t pick them up at a bar, and they’re not one night stands. I meet them at a BDSM club. Usually I do trial runs after talking things out with them. If it goes well, we’ll stick with each other for a while. Sometimes a couple weeks, sometimes a couple months.”

“Oh.” The most articulate response he could manage.

This was not where he was expecting this conversation to go. He knew a bit about what BDSM was, but Zack being in that scene? He never would’ve expected to hear that about his laid back friend. Especially as a dominant. The man was a complete goofball most days.

Then again, Zack commanded men on a regular basis. He always knew when to be serious, and he had a way of reading people. Not to mention the composed air about him, even when he was being a dork. The more Cloud thought about it, the more he could imagine it.

Once it looked like Cloud had gotten past the initial shock, Zack continued, “I like bondage. A lot. Sometimes rope, sometimes cuffs—sometimes improvising with whatever’s in the room. Blindfolds, too. I’m not so big on gags, but I’ll use ‘em sometimes if my partner’s really into it and we’ve talked about it enough.”

Cloud nodded in understanding, playing it cool like Zack’s words didn’t have his heart racing or cock twitching with an unexpected interest. “Okay.”

“I don’t really mess with pain play. Maybe a light spanking, but nothing more. Orgasm denial’s more my style, especially if we’re talkin’ about some kinda punishment. I like toys, too. Whatever I can use to push my sub to their limit. What really gets me off is when they trust me to give them what they need.” He paused there, raking over Cloud’s flustered features. “What do you like, Spike?”

“Uh…” He shook his head slowly before outright laughing. To say he was slightly overwhelmed would’ve been an understatement. “Maybe I am a blushing virgin.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Zack told him, a small smile on his face. “I don’t expect everyone to like the same stuff as me.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” Cloud responded, suddenly very interested in his cold burrito. “I’ve just never tried it, so I don’t know.”

“Makes sense.”

“Yeah. I do like…”

“What?” Zack prodded, giving him a gentle nudge with his elbow.

“I like being manhandled a bit. Eric was into that,” Cloud revealed, scrunching his nose at the mention of his last boyfriend. That relationship hadn’t ended well, even if the sex had been fun while it lasted. “He never tied me up or anything, but he liked to pin me down.”

Zack eyed him appraisingly. “You liked that?”

“Yeah,” he admitted quietly. A little too much. He finally chanced a glance up from his burrito, relieved to see the lack of judgment on Zack’s face. “You remember Eric, right?”

“Yeah. Major creep.”

“Yeah,” Cloud agreed, not even laughing. It really wasn’t funny. “That was kinda where things went wrong with us.”

“What do you mean?”

He shifted where he sat. “Remember how I told you I ended it because he was kind of-”

“A jerk.”

“Yeah,” Cloud nodded in agreement. “Well, that was true, but it was more than that. It was almost like, the better the sex got, the worse our relationship became.”

“What do you mean?”

“There were things he’d say that I didn’t mind when we were, uh. Intimate? But then he’d throw them in my face after, like it was okay to say since I didn’t mind it before. It was confusing for a while.”

“What things?”

“Names,” he responded vaguely. “Like, in the moment, I don’t really mind some dirty talk, but when he tells me I’m being a slut for going to hang out with someone other than him, that’s something different. I guess he didn’t like how much time I was spending with you, or my other friends.”

“What an asshole,” Zack grumbled, eyes narrow. “He’s lucky you kicked him to the curb ages ago, otherwise I’d go teach him a thing or two about respect.”

“It doesn’t matter now.”

“Yeah, it does.”

Cloud looked at his friend, a bit shocked to see how angry he was. “It was a long time ago.”

“You coulda told me. I would’ve done something.”

“I didn’t really tell anyone. It was embarrassing.”

“It’s not-”

“At the time, it was,” Cloud insisted, unapologetic. “Things are different now. I'm different. I don’t put up with that shit.”

Zack’s hard features softened in an instant. “No, you don’t. That’s one of the things I love about you.”

“And one of the things you don’t,” he joked, smiling a little.

“Nah. I told you, just ‘cause I like things one way in bed doesn’t mean I want control all the time. It’s cool that some people are into the 24/7 thing, but I’m not. That’s why I don’t do relationships. The guys I get with, it’s just a mutually beneficial arrangement. Anyone I’ve tried more with either wants a different kinda relationship than me, or we just don’t have much else in common.”

“What’re you looking for in an actual relationship then?”

Zack hummed thoughtfully. “This, but more. Someone I can bullshit with, and have a good time around. Maybe do the occasional romantic bit, but mostly just have fun together. Then have that same person be willing to let go in the bedroom. Not because I want them to, but because they want that too—they trust me to take care of them. I need that connection.”

“I don’t know if I could be that person,” Cloud admitted, already thinking it over.

No doubt the idea of it was appealing—even more so paired with the thought of Zack taking on that roll. In fact, there was no one else he could imagine trusting enough to tie him up. No one he’d trust more with anything, really.

“Hey,” Zack said softly, drawing his attention back. “I’m not asking you to be.”

“Oh.” He could feel his face dropping as his heart sank. Someone like you, Zack had said. That didn’t mean he wanted Cloud specifically. “I know. You already said.”

“Cloud,” he said, almost exasperated. “I don’t mean I wouldn’t want you to be, just that I’m not asking. If it happened to be something you wanted, hell yeah I’d want that with you. But I’d never ask that of you. It has to be something you decide on your own, otherwise it’d never work. You’d never let go the way I’d need you to.”

“Are you already…with someone?”

“Not really. Last night was a trial run, and I don’t see it working.”

“The daddy thing’s a deal breaker for you?” Cloud asked curiously.

“Nah, I mean. I don’t like it, but it’s something we coulda talked about. It’s more the fact we did talk about everything. I don’t go into this with anyone without going over everything we both want ahead of time, and he didn’t bring it up once.”

“So if he’d just told you, it would've been fine?”

“We woulda come up with a compromise. Daddy really doesn’t do it for me,” Zack said, shaking his head with distaste. “That wasn’t the only thing he sprung on me, and that’s the real problem.”

Cloud nodded, mostly understanding. “Was he new?”

“No,” Zack answered with a frown. “Why?”

“No reason,” he shrugged.

“If you’re wondering if I woulda cut him some slack if he was new, the answer’s yes. We woulda talked more, and done something a little lighter to start.”

“Have you ever?” Cloud asked, sighing when Zack just eyed him expectantly. Maybe he should’ve known this about his friend—Zack always insisted on making Cloud use his words, even when he knew damn well what Cloud was trying to say. “Have you ever been with someone new to that scene?”

“Yeah. A lot, actually. Down at the club—they have some private rooms,” he explained carefully. “There’s usually no sex involved. Sometimes they just want a little taste, see if they like it. Most end up coming back for more.”

“With you?”

“Sometimes, yeah. It’s kind of a fluke if our kinks line up, to be honest. It normally takes me a while to find a good match ‘cause I’m not into pain play.”

“Really?” he asked, surprised. The idea of pain play kind of freaked him out, so the thought that anyone wouldn’t want Zack over something like that? That seemed crazy to Cloud.

“It’s no big deal,” Zack replied easily. “Everyone’s entitled to their own kinks. I’d rather them find someone else than wait a week to tell me they wanna try caning.”

Cloud grimaced at the word. He wasn’t even totally sure he knew what it meant, but he was picturing a cane and pain, and it wasn’t pretty. “I don’t think that one’s for me.”

“You wouldn’t really know, would you?” Zack mused, a grin pulling at one side of his mouth. “I think by definition, pain play sounds a lot scarier than it really is.”

“Then why-”

“It’s just not my thing,” Zack said simply.

That was as good an explanation as any, Cloud figured. “Okay.”

“You should do some research, if you’re curious. If you’re into being manhandled, there might be a couple things you’d like,” Zack told him slowly. “Just don’t just dive right in or ask me to give you a test run, okay? This isn’t something you should do on some impulse, and I’m not gonna fuck our friendship up over it.”

“I wasn’t planning to do that.” A boldfaced lie, and they both knew it. Thankfully Zack didn’t call him out on it, instead just eyeing Cloud knowingly. “I’ll look into some things.”

“You can ask me if you have questions. Just remember, there’s really no pressure here. I love being friends with you, and I’d rather keep it that way than do something that makes you uncomfortable.”

Cloud held his gaze, seeing nothing but sincerity in it. Hearing the conviction in Zack’s words. No doubt he meant every word. “I know there’s no pressure,” Cloud promised.

A part of him really wanted to dive right in anyway.

Chapter Text

When Zack said there was no pressure, he meant it.

They carried with their friendship like nothing had happened, and it struck Cloud at some point. Nothing had happened. So what if they’d talked a bit more specifically about sex? So what if he found out Zack was into some stuff he hadn’t originally imagined? It wasn’t like Zack had taken the conversation as a yes, or a no, or even a maybe—there had been no proposition there to begin with. Just a discussion.

They were still Zack and Cloud, best friends. Nothing was different about the way they spent time together, and nothing was awkward. If anything, all they’d done was knock down another boundary between them, bringing them closer together than ever before.

“Do you ever have normal sex?” Cloud wondered, way past the point where he felt bashful about his many questions.

Zack had told him he was welcome to ask, and he’d really held his friend to that. They’d be hanging out, doing their usual thing one minute—Cloud would be blurting out an inquiry about something he’d stumbled upon in his research the next. Then they’d carry on with whatever they were doing, no big deal.

“Normal?” Zack repeated, raising both brows.

Cloud very nearly facepalmed. “Not that the sex you have isn’t normal, I meant—”

“Vanilla,” his friend finished, chuckling softly. “You know, I meant it when I said I wanted you to form your own opinion about all this, but I’m not gonna sit here and let you think it’s not normal.”

“I know,” he insisted apologetically. “It was the wrong word. I’m sorry.”

Zack’s hand fell to his thigh, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You don’t hafta apologize. I get that you’re prob’ly seeing a lotta stuff you’re not used to if you’re still researching all this.” He paused there, cueing Cloud to nod in confirmation. They hadn’t explicitly discussed his ‘research’, just the random questions that sometimes came along with it. “Not everyone does every single thing you’re seeing. It’s all mixing and matching what works for you. Or, what works for who’s involved at least.”

“I know that.”

“Then you also know plenty of this stuff’s pretty common. Lots of people throw in a blindfold or a tie their partner’s wrists or whatever,” Zack told him, proving his point pretty easily. “There’s nothing abnormal about any of it, or about wanting it—no matter which role you wanna take, or if you like mixing it up. As long as everything’s safe and consensual, that’s the important thing.”

Cloud didn’t bother blurting out that he understood right away. Instead he really let it sink in, nodding slowly. That was what Zack was waiting for—real understanding rather than the automatic, ‘correct’ response to the situation. It was okay. It was normal that he was so curious about all this, and it was normal that the idea of it had really started doing things to him.

No matter how many times he tried to tell himself that, it was still a bit difficult to accept.

“Slow and sweet stopped doing it for me a long time ago,” Zack admitted, answering the intended question. “That doesn’t mean I always wanna do something elaborate. Sometimes I just wanna mandhandle my partner a bit—no restraints, just hands.”

If that wasn’t a deliberate statement, Cloud didn’t know what was. There was no stopping the thoughts that swirled through his head, or the heat that flooded his cheeks as he realized just how closely his friend was watching him. Zack knew, no doubt. He knew exactly what Cloud was imagining.

Was he imagining it too? Pinning Cloud down right there on the couch and just taking him? Fuck. Cloud swallowed hard, ready to consent here and now to at least that much. They could talk about the rest later.

“Sometimes not even that,” Zack continued after a minute, eyes dark as they raked over Cloud’s features. “Sometimes just hard and fast, nothing to it. Do you like it like that?”

“Yeah,” his voice was low, barely recognizable. “I like that.”

“Thought you would,” he said, looking him over one last time. Then he turned back to the TV much the same way he always did once Cloud’s questions were answered. As if he wasn’t well aware of what his words had done to Cloud, and it was no big deal to sit there half erect and wanting for more. “So, pizza tonight?

Cloud stifled a laugh, slowly regaining what was left of his composure. “Yeah. Sounds good.”

-----

A few weeks had gone by, and Zack still frequented the club.

Apparently he went relatively often when he wasn’t in any kind of arrangement with anyone, since that was where he went to meet potential partners. It was also a fun place to relax and unwind a bit, or so he was told. Part of Cloud was jealous even though he knew he had no right to be—it wasn’t like they were together, nor had he really indicated that they would be.

In a weird sense, the fact that Zack was still doing his own thing kept the pressure off as Cloud grew more and more curious. He should’ve been grateful, if anything.

The sexual tension between them had only grown by the day, but the knowledge that Zack hadn’t stopped his whole world just to wait and see if Cloud would be into it really helped ensure he wouldn’t do anything rash. There were times when he felt a bit guilty, like maybe he was stringing Zack along before ultimately deciding against all this—or deciding that, sure, he’d like to do a few kinky things on occasion, just not regularly.

But that really wasn’t the case.

Zack wasn’t waiting around hoping Cloud would suddenly be on board, so there was no need to feel guilty or jump on him just to ease the tension. They were just friends who had no problem talking these things out with one another. Every day he had a new question since he didn’t really have time to sit there and research for hours on end. Just a bit here and there, delving further and further into the internet to learn more when he could.

Sometimes the questions were broad, other times they were personal.

How big was a St. Andrew’s Cross? Why a flogger versus a riding crop or whip? Was Zack into suspension? Did people really enjoy knife play? Were medical kinks common, and were there really enemas involved? What types of knots did Zack prefer for his rope? How did people get undone in time if there was an emergency? What the hell was a subdrop?

Even the things Zack wasn’t personally into, he knew about. The man was apparently very tame in the scene, all things considered—but he still possessed a wealth of information. Not once did he make Cloud feel silly for asking even the most obvious things. In fact, sometimes he explained something so well that Cloud found himself eager to try even after originally turning his nose up at the thought.

It all seemed to be building up to what was starting to feel like an inevitable question. “Can I go with you sometime? Just to see?”

“Yeah,” Zack agreed easily, like he’d been expecting it. “How’s Friday?”

“Uh, good,” he responded after thinking it over. “I’m off around three.”

“Perfect. Gives us time to hang out before we head down.”

Or, time for Cloud to ask the flood of last minute questions that would undoubtedly come to mind. There was nothing he could think of presently, other than the obvious. “What do I wear?”

Zack laughed softly for the first time in all the questions Cloud had asked over the weeks. “Why’s that your first concern?”

“They call some of those clubs dungeons! I think it’s a fair question.”

“What do you think I wear? Strappy leather?”

“Straight from Sephiroth’s wardrobe,” Cloud joked, his smile only fading when Zack didn’t laugh. No way. “Are you serious? Sephiroth’s into this scene?”

“It’s not really my place to say, but…yeah, you’ll prob’ly see him when we go. The one I go to is kinda exclusive. They have a few SOLDIER regulars,” Zack told him, causing his eyes to go wide. “Don’t worry, no one’s gonna say anything weird to you or think anything.”

“They’ll think I’m…”

“Think you’re what?” his friend prompted, eyeing him carefully.

“With you,” he finished, not quite his original thought.

Zack knew him too well. “They’ll think you’re my submissive. That’s what you’re worried about.”

“Not that being with you is a bad thing—”

“But being seen as submissive is?” Zack guessed, raising both brows. “’Cause if that’s what you think, maybe you’re not ready to go yet. We can talk more, or I can get you some better resources than whatever you’ve been reading.”

It was a gentle statement, more concerned than anything. But it had Cloud on the defensive for some reason, unable to stop himself. “I am ready. I’ll just be watching anyway.”

“Do you even realize how strong a person has to be to hand themselves over to someone else? To let someone tie them up or take a knife to them? To let someone else manage their pain or their pleasure?” Zack asked, shaking his head like the thought was hard for him to grasp. “It takes a special person to be able to trust someone else like that. I couldn’t do it.”

“You wouldn’t want to.”

“I thought I did when I first got into this,” he admitted, smiling fondly at some memory. “It’s not easy. I thought maybe the whole scene wasn’t for me before I figured out what I preferred.”

Cloud could barely imagine it—Zack Fair trying to submit to someone. A few weeks ago it might’ve been easier to picture, but now? He’d really started to see just how in control his silly friend was on a regular basis.

Maybe he wasn’t 24/7 into the whole dom thing, but it was still a part of who he was. Zack had a way of calming Cloud down with a single look or touch. He had a way of getting Cloud to open up with the most basic commands—things like look at me, or talk to me. Things that Cloud was so accustomed to because that was just how Zack was. He’d always been like that, too. So attentive and in tune with Cloud’s moods.

Yeah, Cloud was there for Zack too, but it wasn’t the same. Zack handled things so differently—even when they were being dorks, Zack was just so…

“No one’s gonna think that, by the way,” Zack added, shaking his head slowly. “That you’re my sub. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if they did, but being there with me doesn’t automatically mean anyone’s assuming anything. It’s not like you’ll be wearing a collar. Plenty of people bring their friends along—it’s a social place.”

“Don’t they know you there?”

“Yeah, and they also know I don’t have a sub right now. It won’t be a big deal.”

“Okay,” he said, seeing no reason to doubt Zack’s word. He’d yet to lead Cloud astray after all these years.

“Is there anything special you wanna see? I dunno what kinda public scenes are slated, but I can call in some favors.”

“Um.” He paused, thinking it over. There was really only one thing that came to mind. “Can I see you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You. In a scene with someone.”

Zack’s stare grew immediately skeptical. “You wanna watch me with someone else?”

“Maybe nothing sexual,” he added quickly, scrunching his nose at the thought. “But you said you work with beginners sometimes, right? And you said I wasn’t allowed to ask you for a test run, so maybe…”

“So maybe you can watch me tie someone else up? Get them worked up a bit?”

“Yeah,” Cloud said, glad he didn’t have to explain.

“I don’t do public scenes unless I’ve been with a sub for a while, but…” Zack paused a moment before nodding at his own thought. “If I can find a friend who’s cool with you being there in a private room, yeah. I can show you a few things I think you’d like.”

“Like what?”

“You’re just gonna have to trust me on this,” Zack responded with a wink.

-----

By the time Friday rolled around, Cloud was ready for it.

He’d figured out what to wear (not as big of a deal as he thought), he’d thought about all the things he was hoping to see, and really, he was excited. This was it. The research and the pictures could only help him so much. Now he’d finally be able to see firsthand what BDSM was all about, even if one night would just barely scratch the surface.

There were only a couple lingering concerns on his mind as he and Zack approached the club door.

“Are there any, um. Rules or anything?”

Zack glanced down at him with a reassuring smile. “You’re here as my friend, not my sub. I don’t get to set rules for you. Just the club rules I told you about.”

Cloud nodded in acknowledgment. Right. He remembered those. No drinking, no interrupting any scenes, no touching without permission, and absolutely no photography (they took privacy very seriously, from what Zack had told him). All things that he found perfectly reasonable. There were also monitors in the club with the sole purpose of making sure the rules were followed, scenes were safe, and safewords respected.

“I’d like it if you stuck with me all night,” his friend added, “but you’re free to do whatever. We can always split up at some point if you feel comfortable, then meet back up later.”

“No, thanks,” he decided on the spot, eliciting a light laugh from Zack.

“No problem. I’ll stick with you unless you tell me not to,” Zack promised, patting him on the back. “Ready?”

“I’ve been ready,” he responded coolly, smiling a little when Zack laughed again.

“Just remember, we can leave anytime you want.”

Cloud nodded, the nerves finally settling in as they walked inside. It was actually a bit brighter than he expected, though they were barely in the entryway.

He shuffled along behind Zack, tuning out most of what was happening in favor of looking around—it seemed Zack was just checking in anyway. Apparently he hadn’t been exaggerating about this club being exclusive, their names already on the entry list. The club itself had basically been a hole in the wall, likely only to be found by those who already knew where it was.

Who’d have thought such a place would have a nice entryway and reception area?

It wasn’t until they got past door number two that Cloud could say it fit the bill of what he’d read about online a bit better. Dim lighting, sensual music—the whole place felt kind of intimate, really. There weren’t that many people, but it felt like there were. The couches and chairs scattered around the room were full, plenty of people standing around and just talking. Socializing, like Zack said.

There was small stage area that was vacant for the time being, a St. Andrews Cross in its center. His mouth went dry at the sight of it, oh so curious to see what would be happening with that later—unless he’d already missed it? He hoped not.

Before he could ask Zack, his attention was drawn elsewhere. Flogging benches. They had spanking and flogging benches, and one was in use. A submissive was bent over it, his fully dressed dominant bringing the instrument down on his bare ass for anyone to see. The dom had a calm, collected look to him, like he knew damn well what he was doing, and the sub…

Well, he was making a lot of noise after each blow. A dull pain, from what Cloud had read.

“It doesn’t bother you?” Cloud asked, glancing up at his friend.

Zack shook his head. “Nah. Just ‘cause it doesn’t do anything for me doesn’t mean it bothers me. They like it, and they’re the ones doing it,” he explained, gesturing toward the pair Cloud had eyed. “Look at him. He’s crying out, but he’s—”

“Embracing it,” Cloud realized, a bit awed by the submissive’s face. He almost looked relieved, like each blow was a gift despite whatever pain came with it. “He looks…really into it.”

“Yeah. He’s submitting.”

Cloud continued to watch, fascinated and unaware that Zack was watching him. For a few minutes at least. His face was blazing red when he snapped out of it and saw his friend, suddenly grateful for the dim lighting.

“What about the, uh. Main stage?”

“They’ll have something up there soon. Looks like they’re still setting up,” he explained, nodding toward it. Sure enough, it wasn’t vacant anymore. A few more instruments were being laid out, including what looked like a very elegant whip.

Shit. Someone was going to be bound to that cross, and whipped. Presumably at least. “Are they gonna…?” he asked, just to clarify.

“I dunno for sure,” Zack responded with a shrug. “Looks like it.”

“Wow.”

Zack smiled indulgently. “Yeah. So, the private rooms are down that way,” he said, gesturing toward a hall Cloud hadn’t noticed before. “Some are themed, some aren’t. We’ll be going down there later, if you’re still up for it.”

“Can we watch whatever’s here first?” Cloud asked, biting his lower lip.

“Yeah. This night’s about you—we’ll check out whatever you want. If you want a drink or anything, they have some stuff at the bar,” Zack told him, gesturing toward the far side of the social area. Sure enough, there was a bar, with stools and the works. As if he could read Cloud’s mind, Zack continued, “Nonalcoholic. Some clubs sell alcohol, but not this one.”

“Okay.”

“They’ll let you check out toys and stuff there too. Floggers, paddles, whips—pretty much anything you can think of. We can do that, if you wanna get a feel for anything. Doesn’t mean we hafta use them.”

“Uh. Maybe later?”

“Yeah, if you want. It’s up to you,” Zack reiterated with a gentle smile. “Let me know if you decide there’s something you wanna see, too. I know a lotta the people here, so I can work it out.”

The best Cloud could do was nod, distracted again when a female couple took the stage. His heart rate couldn’t get any faster as he watched the dominant secure the submissive to the device, back to the audience. No one in the room batted an eye when the dominant reached for her whip.

Chapter Text

To be honest, Cloud hadn’t been sure what would happen when he first walked through the club doors. He’d gone over a few scenarios in his head, things to maybe prepare himself to see. None of it compared to the reality.

To find a flogging so fascinating, to become mesmerized by a whip…to see a dom leading his submissive around by a leash, like it was the most natural thing in the world. He saw a public spanking, the dominant using a paddle—the submissive counting and thanking his dominant. Sincerely.

If he’d been asked a week ago if he really believed it was possible, he wouldn’t have been sure. Not after just reading about it all. But after seeing it firsthand, it made a lot more sense. There was nothing odd or twisted about any of it. These people were genuinely having a nice time.

It was like Zack had told him before. This was normal. Not everyone in the room was a dominant or submissive, and not everyone in the room was participating, but that somehow only made Cloud respect everything he saw even more. To see people embracing themselves like that…

It was a beautiful thing. Safe and consensual. There wasn’t one set way for anyone to act, regardless of anyone's preferences. Everyone was just so open and respectful about everything, complimenting the scenes, admiring the skill of those involved—discussing it with taste before moving on to other topics entirely. Zack had joined in on a number of those conversations, knowing quite a few people as he’d already told Cloud. Once in a while someone would ask him how he felt about something as well, and to his own surprise, he had no trouble answering honestly.

Probably because nothing about any of what he’d seen seemed perverse or made him uncomfortable in any way.

The biggest surprise of the night was actually something he didn’t see; sex. There was no rule against it, to his knowledge, but not a single public scene had included any type of penetration. Most the involved parties hadn’t even been naked—just stripped to their underwear, depending on what they were doing.

“You’re more likely to find that in the private rooms,” Zack explained at one point, like he could sense Cloud’s surprise after each scene wrapped up.

The private rooms which had become a growing curiosity for Cloud as the night progressed.

By the time Zack had lead him down the hall, pointing out various themed rooms on the way, he was beyond eager to see what his friend had in store for him. Or rather, in store for the submissive who would be joining them.

The St. Andrew’s Cross that had caught his eye when he walked into the club? There was one set up in the room Zack had brought them to. He could barely take his eyes off it, his mind racing through the possibilities. It wasn’t like Zack would be whipping anyone—that wasn’t his thing.

“Remember the rules?” Zack asked, gaining his full attention with ease.

“Yeah.”

“They apply here too. No interrupting, and no touching without permission,” he was reminded, a smile on his friend’s face. “Dan’ll be in here in a minute, and our scene starts when he walks in. You can watch from wherever you’re comfortable—just remember, my focus is gonna be on him. Okay?”

“I understand,” he promised, glancing at the door anxiously.

Never in his wildest dreams did he think he’d be looking forward to seeing Zack play with anyone like this. He didn’t even totally know what to expect, other than the fact that Dan would probably be bound to the cross at some point. Honestly, he’d been expecting to just see Zack work some magic with a rope after learning more about his friend’s preferences these last few weeks.

“Last chance. You really wanna see this?”

The question real sunk in. Did he really want to see this? Zack, the man he undoubtedly loved, doing who knows what with another man right in front of him? It was one thing to know Zack had been playing all these weeks while Cloud did his research, another thing entirely to be in the room as it happened.

“I’m sure,” Cloud decided, confident in his decision.

Maybe because he knew it wouldn’t be sexual—that Zack was doing this for him just as much as he was doing it because he enjoyed it. That even as an outsider in this scene, he was still a part of it in his own way. He wasn’t quite sure. All Cloud knew was that he definitely wanted this.

The only thing better would be if Zack would tie him up instead, but Zack had been pretty clear about that. It wouldn’t be happening until Cloud had really taken the time to look into the scene and really figure out what he was into. Their friendship was too important to risk over a rash decision.

Seeing Zack do this…getting just a little insight into what it might be like between them? They both needed this, he realized. He wasn’t just another potential submissive to Zack, that much was obvious. This was all a necessary precaution—the groundwork for Cloud to make an informed decision.

His heart jumped as the door opened, a man he didn’t recognize stepping inside. Dan, he assumed. He was basically what Cloud would’ve expected—a pale brunette with dark eyes, a little taller than Cloud. Zack’s usual type. A flash of irrational jealousy coursed through him at the thought, though it was short lived when he chanced a glance over at Zack.

Maybe he was imagining it, but he swore Zack’s posture had changed. He was standing taller, arms folded across his chest and eyes slightly narrowed. All traces of his normal, friendly demeanor were lost, replaced by an air of intensity that had Cloud’s heart pounding in his chest.

Holy shit.

Nothing had even happened yet, and he was already completely enticed. Dan was still near the doorway, stripping down slowly. Once he was down to his black briefs and his clothes were neatly folded, he dropped to his knees without command—hands on his thighs, head bowed down, facing the wall.

Zack had told him about this part. Apparently under normal circumstances, he would’ve preferred Dan to be in the room first, waiting just like this. Then Zack would’ve come in after a few minutes, letting some anticipation build—letting them both get in the right headspace before beginning.

This was only different because Zack had wanted Cloud to see the room first. Unfortunately that had been kind of pointless, since Cloud hadn’t even really looked around after spotting the cross. He would’ve now, except he was having a very hard time taking his eyes off Zack.

If he thought Zack Fair looked good with a goofy grin on his face, he really didn’t know how to describe what he was seeing now. All he knew was that he was ready to bow his own head in submission should that intense gaze fall on him.

It didn’t.

A few minutes passed, and nothing happened at all. Dan remained in position, Zack watching him silently and without movement. The only thing that really changed was the charge in the room, unless Cloud was losing his mind. Was this what Zack had been talking about? Anticipation?

By the time Zack stepped forward, Cloud was sure he couldn’t have been any more excited about what was to come—that is, until Zack stopped at a table he hadn’t noticed, lifting up what Cloud could only assume was a blindfold.

-----

The ride back to Zack’s place was silent, a strange calm settling between them. That didn’t mean Cloud’s mind wasn’t racing though. All night he’d seen so many different things…so many different doms treating their subs in various ways. None of it compared to what he had seen Zack do in that private room.

Dan had been blindfolded, collared, and leashed—lead to the cross where he was tied up, facing forward. Then Zack had left him like that, admiring the view and taking his time sorting through the instruments on the table. The image of him lifting a flogger was one Cloud couldn’t get out of his head.

It had been so unexpected after what Zack had told him—that he wasn’t into inflicting pain. Cloud had quickly realized that the same instruments that could cause pain could also cause a variety of other sensations. Zack had trailed the leather ends all over Dan’s exposed skin, the only safe spot being what was covered by the submissive’s briefs. All the while he was offering light, teasing words—sometimes praise, sometimes questions. Yeah, you like that, don’t you? Such a good pet.

Fuck, if that tone hadn’t made Cloud’s cock stir with interest.

Zack had Dan begging within minutes. Begging for what, Cloud didn’t even know. It was just a mantra of please, please, Sir. Zack seemed to know what he meant each time, sometimes speeding up or applying more pressure, other times trailing the flogger slowly. He even brought it down once or twice, much harder than expected for someone who’d told Cloud he wasn’t into causing pain.

Not that it looked like it caused any actual pain. Far from it.

At some point Zack had tossed the flogger aside entirely, swapping out different instruments or using his hands even. Everything he did had been so damn sexy, and it wasn’t even sexual. It was a little difficult for Cloud to wrap his head around that part.

“You haven’t said a word since we left,” Zack said, sounding a bit concerned. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” Cloud responded quickly, unable to meet his friend’s eyes. They’d long since returned to normal, and the light, friendly expression was back on Zack’s face…It was just hard for Cloud to shake what he’d seen—hard to shake the desires that it had sparked inside him. “I just have a lot on my mind.”

Like the fact he was still embarrassingly aroused by the whole thing. He wasn’t oblivious to the fact Zack was turned on too—or at least he had been during his scene with Dan. How did Zack even deal with that? Playing without crossing that line?

Would there have been sex if Cloud hadn’t been there?

“Dan’s asexual,” Zack said, always able to see right through Cloud’s unspoken thoughts.

Cloud blinked in surprise. “Really?”

“Yeah. A lotta the people who get into this stuff are.”

“But…how?”

“It’s different for everyone. Some crave touch, others like the different sensations. Others just like letting go, or taking control. Doesn’t mean they wanna fuck or go anywhere near anyone’s genitals. That’s one of Dan’s rules—no touching certain areas.”

“Isn’t that hard for you though?” Cloud wondered.

“Nah. All this stuff, it is sexual for me, but that doesn’t mean I hafta go there to enjoy it. I still have fun. I kinda get this high from it—like I can do anything. I dunno how to describe it.”

“I could tell,” Cloud said, smiling a little. “You looked…”

“It didn’t freak you out? Seeing that side of me?”

“No,” he answered honestly. He left off the part about how he was already dying to see it again. Surely that was implied at this point, unless he was imagining the growing tension in the car as Zack’s eyes raked over him. “Um. Are you into collars and leashes, or was that just for Dan?”

“I like collars, but only in scene or at the club—I don’t want my subs wearing one constantly,” Zack told him, shaking his head slowly. “Leashes are fun, but not all the time. If you’re just gonna be tied up anyway, I can tug the binds depending on how it’s done up.”

Cloud swallowed hard at that. Why did everything Zack said always sound so damn appealing?

“You wanna crash at my place still?” Zack asked tentatively.

“Yeah,” he replied.

They’d planned it out ahead of time. Normally Cloud ended up staying over when they hung out at night, and this really wasn’t so different if he didn’t think about it too much. Just another fun evening together.

It wasn’t long until they were headed into Zack’s apartment, both in their own little worlds again as they stepped inside. The whole night had really been an eye opening experience, and not just watching Zack.

For the first time since looking into all this, Cloud really felt at ease about it. With the fact that he was into it, and it wasn’t a big deal—that he undoubtedly wanted to cave in to his submissive side, and that it wasn’t a bad thing.

“That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” he realized, finally meeting Zack’s eyes.

Zack chuckled softly. “What, you don’t have fun with me normally?”

“I didn’t say that, I just…I don’t know. I feel so…” He was gesturing with one of his hands, but he didn’t really know what he was saying or trying to convey. “Relieved, I guess.”

“I get it,” Zack told him with a kind smile. “You had a lotta preconceived notions.”

“I tried not to.”

“I know. It’s okay that you did anyway. The internet only gets you so far, and there’s as much bad information as good information out there,” his friend said with a shrug. “There’re more clubs in the city. Similar concept, slightly different vibes. I can show you around if you wanna see more.”

“But you prefer the one we went to?”

“Yeah. It’s a bit more private, and it’s always really clean.”

“It was clean,” Cloud agreed, not that he expected it to be dirty or anything, but still. He’d been pleasantly surprised, particularly when he finally got a good look around the private room after Zack’s scene was done. “Are the other clubs not?”

“Most are, but I’ve seen some bad ones. I wouldn’t bring you there even just to watch.”

Cloud laughed quietly, appreciating that.

“Do you wanna watch a movie or something, or are you ready for bed?” Zack asked after a minute.

“Bed,” he decided, sure the excitement of the evening would be wearing off soon enough. No doubt he’d be ready to crash after that. “Can I borrow some pajamas?”

“Always,” Zack winked, guiding them into his bedroom.

He fished through his drawers, tossing Cloud a t-shirt and some pajama pants before stripping down right there and getting into his own. Normally Cloud wouldn’t bat an eye, but this time his face was bright red, and he found himself turning away before quickly changing as well.

Gaia, it was like he was a teenager all over again. They hadn’t even gotten naked—there was literally nothing embarrassing about it, even after the events of the evening. Thankfully Zack didn’t call him out on his sudden bout of bashfulness, opting to just head into the attached bathroom without a word. Cloud went in after, washing up and brushing his teeth like any other night. They did this often enough that he had his own toothbrush waiting for him.

Zack was already sprawled out under the covers when Cloud emerged from the bathroom, watching his every step as he circled the bed before climbing in as well. “So,” his friend began, rolling onto his side to face Cloud. “You really had fun?”

“Yeah,” Cloud responded with a tiny smile. “It was better than I thought.”

“You’ll hafta come again sometime, see some suspension demonstrations.”

His eyes went wide. “Yeah, I…I think I’d like that.”

“Cool. Maybe next week?” Zack suggested, no expectation in his words. Cloud just nodded. “You know…you don’t hafta lay so far away. I’m not gonna jump on you or anything.”

Cloud laughed a little, realizing he was basically on the very edge of the bed rather than near the middle where he’d lay most nights they crashed together. He slid in closer without hesitation, his smile involuntary as Zack’s grew.

“How do you do what you did and not…?”

“Not what?” Zack prompted, obviously already knowing where Cloud was going with this.

“You didn’t even get yourself off after.”

“Neither did you. I could tell you were into it.”

He had no retort to that, too flustered to think. Zack had been so focused—so into the scene. How had he even noticed the extent of Cloud’s interest in what was happening?

“I go there a lot,” Zack reminded him gently. “I don’t usually get laid unless I’m with someone, so I’m kinda used to it. I still got what I wanted outta the night. Did you?”

“Um. Yeah, I did.”

“Good. It’s not all about having an orgasm. Patience pays off in this scene.”

Patience. He’d definitely been patient. So had Zack. All this uncertainty, and all this ‘research’—did that mean it’d all pay off as well? Cloud stared into Zack’s eyes, not at all surprised to see the answer in them. It definitely would.

“I still want this,” Cloud admitted quietly. “Tonight didn’t change that.” It made the desire stronger, if anything.

Zack watched him for a long minute before nodding. “We’ll talk about it more tomorrow.”

“What about tonight?”

“What about it?”

“Can’t we…I don’t know. Do something?”

“We’re not having sex tonight,” Zack told him flatly.

“That’s fine,” he agreed, scooting in closer when there were no further comments.

He stopped when he could feel Zack’s warm breath on his face, holding his gaze as he leaned in. Their lips were pressed together a moment later, gently and without objection. His eyes fluttered closed when Zack’s mouth moved against his, soft and sweet and everything he’d come to not expect from this man.

A large hand fell to his hip as Zack eased his mouth open, the ironclad grip a reminder of what it could really be like between them. Cloud moaned softly at the thought, pressing his body closer to Zack’s and spurring his friend on—soft and sweet quickly turning into something more raw and needy.

Fuck, this man knew how to kiss. Cloud just gave into it, letting Zack’s tongue work friggin’ magic in his mouth. Letting Zack maneuver him onto his back, their mouths never parting as his friend hovered over him.

It really didn’t take long for his erection to make a valiant comeback, and this time he couldn’t come up with a single good reason to ignore it. He arched up, rolling his hips against Zack’s with purpose. The strong grip on his hips returned after that, keeping him from trying again, but he knew it’d been worth it when he heard the groan Zack had responded with.

There was no doubt Zack’s erection was aching for some attention too.

“We’re not having sex,” Zack repeated, right against his lips.

Cloud let out an incoherent whimper in response, hands trailing down Zack’s chest—savoring the feel of this moment. For the first time in maybe ever, he really appreciated being so much smaller than his friend. This was all everything he’d imagined, and so much more. Yet not nearly enough. The thoughts were a mess in his head, leaving him incredibly frustrated.

Why wasn’t Zack doing anything? They didn’t have to have sex to enjoy this more.

“We need to stop,” Zack breathed, pulling back and catching Cloud’s hands before they could continue exploring Zack’s body. “This is enough for tonight.”

Cloud pouted a little, not even embarrassed by it. “We can do more without having sex.”

“We can, but we’re not gonna.”

“What’s a blow job between friends?” Cloud asked, not really seeing the harm.

“A mistake,” Zack answered, plain and simple.

He deflated right away. “But—”

“But nothing,” his friend said, his voice gentle.You just went somewhere new and exciting, and now you’re feeling brave and horny, and that’s great. I’m really glad you had fun tonight, but it doesn’t mean we hafta do anything about it right now. So let’s sleep, yeah? We can talk about all this in the morning.”

His bubble was effectively burst, eyes falling to Zack’s chest. “Yeah, okay.”

“Hey,” Zack said, a soft demand. “Look at me.” His eyes snapped back up, heart rate rising. “I want it, too. All night, all I could think about was playing with you. Showing you all the things that made your eyes light up firsthand.”

“Really?”

“Really. And I’d really like to fuck you right now, or even exchange a quick blow job between friends,” Zack told him, smirking a little when Cloud conceded a light laugh. “It’s just not happening. Not tonight. You’re feeling too bold right now, and I don’t want you regretting this in the morning.”

“I wouldn’t regret anything with you. I couldn’t.”

“Humor me then. We’ve got a lot left to talk about, so I’d rather wait.”

“Okay,” he agreed, nodding for good measure.

“Wanna crash here still?” Zack asked, like he was double checking.

“Yeah. If that’s okay?”

“Course it is. Just, no more kissing. It’s hard enough keeping my hands off you already.”

He rolled off Cloud after that, the blond missing the weight of his friend’s body immediately. That didn’t mean he didn’t understand though. If nothing else was happening, it was definitely better for him if Zack wasn’t hovering over him like that.

Cloud shifted onto his side, facing away from Zack much the same way he did most nights that he slept over. It only took a moment for Zack to spoon up behind him like nothing had even happened. The whole thing basically would’ve been as platonic as it always was if he could just ignore the massive boner pressing into his ass.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Things were normal when they woke up.

They were normal when Cloud hopped into Zack’s shower, and they were normal when he borrowed a t-shirt and some sweats to wear until he got back to his place. They were even normal while they were eating breakfast, talking about the most basic things.

Their schedules for the following week, what days they’d be able to hang out—if Cloud wanted to maybe catch a movie Thursday night. He did, of course. He wanted to catch a movie and a lot more.

“So,” Cloud began, braving to poke the elephant in the room. “I’m sorry I…you know.”

“You don’t hafta apologize. I liked kissing you.”

He smiled a little at how earnest his friend’s words were—how casual, like it was something they did often. “I liked it too.”

“I noticed,” Zack responded with a wink.

“Can we maybe talk more…about that?”

“About kissing?”

“About what it means. Where this is going,” he clarified, knowing damn well Zack already knew. The bastard just wanted him to say it. Or maybe he needed Cloud to say it. Maybe that was part of the no pressure deal they had. “Do you remember that time I told you I kinda loved you?”

Zack hummed thoughtfully. “I seem to remember you saying you were madly in love with me. That you couldn’t live another day without telling me.”

“That’s not what I—”

“Hey, if you get to remember it the wrong way, so do I,” he teased, a big smirk on his face.

“Fine,” he ground out, shaking his head and taking a deep breath. “Do you remember the time I told you somewhere along the line I…”

“Fell in love with me,” Zack finished, soft and accurate this time.

“Yeah.”

“I remember.”

“Well, I was thinking about it,” he admitted slowly. “And you never said how you felt. I thought you were maybe letting me down easy, but—”

“That wasn't it. I just wasn’t sure it was a good idea—if we could make a real relationship work between us,” Zack told him. “I still don’t really know.”

“Are you only worried about the sex stuff?”

“Uh. Well, yeah. I kinda thought you’d run out the door when I told you what I was into—not ask to tag along to see what it was all about.”

Cloud didn’t even blush at that. “I’ve always been curious, I think. I just thought it was…”

“Taboo?”

“No, just weird. I never really understood why I liked to be tossed around a bit, or why I let Eric…” He shook his head at the memories. The more he thought about it, the more the ‘good sex’ he remembered really wasn’t so good. There were so many things that happened that they just never discussed. “I guess I thought it made me weak, so I just didn’t talk about it or think about it really.”

“It’s a valid concern. But, you know, it’s also not true. I meant what I said before. It takes a strong person to be submissive. And you can’t forget, you’re never really helpless,” Zack reminded him pointedly. “One word’s all it takes if you don’t like how something’s going.”

“I thought going last night would be it for me. Like, I’d see everything, and I’d just know this was what I wanted,” Cloud admitted, smiling a little bit. “I mean, I guess it was, kinda. I definitely want this. But…”

“You wanna explore,” Zack finished, not surprised at all when Cloud nodded. “I could tell. You looked into it when you were watching the flogging.”

“I don’t even think I’ll like it,” he said, frowning at his own confused thoughts. “I just want to see what it feels like.”

“You know…that’s not something I can do for you,” Zack told him slowly. “I can tie you up, blindfold you, run it all over your body—maybe even give you a few light taps. I won’t hit you with one though. If you wanna see what it’s like, we’ll hafta find someone else who’s willing to show you.”

“It can be nonsexual, right?”

“Yeah. You saw last night—there was no sex goin’ on there.”

Cloud already felt torn. The thing was, while he felt much more comfortable with all this now, he could barely imagine discussing it with anyone other than Zack—let alone allowing anyone else to flog him. If he was sure of anything, it was that he still wanted to be with Zack. As boyfriends, and as more. The way Zack had looked last night…

Gaia, he wanted to be the one bound to that cross.

“It’s fine, you know. Wanting to dabble into things, see how they feel. See which you like, which you could do without. I’ve been there.”

“But I want you.”

“I can’t give you what you need right now. Not all of it. Call me selfish, but when I’m really with someone, I don’t want them playing with anyone else. If we’re ever together, you’re gonna be mine,” Zack told him, holding his gaze. “Not my possession either—my boyfriend. My partner. My submissive. Just like I’ll be yours.”

“I want that.”

“You should do some exploring down at the club,” his friend suggested, hand on his chin. “They have all kinds of workshops to teach about this stuff. Floggers, whips—basically anything you can think of. You could sign up for a few maybe.”

“Maybe…” He frowned, not really sure. “What happens during those?”

“They just go over the basics. Like, say you go to learn about whips—you’ll learn about the different types, different uses. How to swing one,” Zack explained carefully. “It’s all nonsexual, and other people will be around so you’re not one on one with someone you don’t know. Or, if you want, I could find someone I trust to show you some things instead. Depends what you had in mind.”

“Um. Watching someone get whipped is one thing, but I don’t know. And the canes kind of freak me out,” he admitted, cringing at the thought. That had definitely been too much for him.

“But the floggers looked okay?”

“Yeah.”

“What about paddles? Clamps?”

He shook his head decisively. “Definitely not.”

“So…no knives or any of that either?” Zack assumed.

“Not if they’re breaking the skin,” he replied easily. Once Zack had told him something about using a knife to create another sensation—tickling, basically. That hadn’t sounded quite so bad.

“What kinda bondage do you wanna try?”

“Can’t you show me that part?” he asked hopefully.

“Uh. I want to, believe me,” Zack said, eyes dark as they looked Cloud over. “I’ve wanted to tie you up for a long time now. But there’s no coming back from that line, and you could end up hating it for all we know.”

“I won’t,” Cloud said, sure of it.

“It’s easy to say that before you’re the one who can’t move.”

“I don’t think I can…” He took a long breath, sorting out his thoughts—how to say this properly without Zack thinking he wasn’t really into it. “I don’t see myself enjoying it with anyone other than you.”

He knew he’d failed to say it right when Zack eyed him with concern. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I can just get up and walk out of a flogger workshop. I can’t just walk away if I’m tied up a certain way, and you’re the only one I’d trust not to leave me like that or do anything I don’t want.”

“What do you actually wanna try?” Zack asked, expression softening.

“Um. Lots of things.”

“Spreader bars?”

“Yeah. Suspension in general, I think.”

“Do you wanna mess around with rope? Make it so you can’t move your arms or legs—both, maybe?”

“Yeah,” he said, barely a whisper.

“I saw you eyeing the cross. You want that, too?” All he could do was nod. “What about something more basic? Cuffs? Maybe behind your back?”

“Please.”

Zack blinked a few times at that, like he was snapping out of his own thoughts. “I’ll show you a few things, but only if you promise to be honest about whether or not you like it.”

“I will,” he promised.

“I’m serious. You trust me to do this, I trust you to tell me. That’s how this has to work.”

“I understand.”

“It won’t be a scene or anything like what you saw me do at the club. I’ll just walk you through some stuff so you can get a feel for it. No asking for more, ‘cause I’m not going there yet. You say stop, we stop. You look uncomfortable, we stop. And we don’t start till after you explore some of that other stuff. Deal?”

“Why after?” he wondered. Zack just eyed him uneasily until it sank in on its own. They had to wait because Cloud might like some of it too much, and it could be something Zack wouldn’t be willing to do in any potential relationship. “I doubt it’ll be anything I can’t live without.”

“I don’t want you givin’ up anything you really want or need. It’s just like how there’s some things I won’t compromise about—I’ll understand.”

“I know that. No pressure, right?”

“Right,” Zack agreed, sincere as always. “Do you wanna see what workshops they have, or do you wanna do something private? I know a few people who’d help. You made a good impression last night.”

“I think I’d rather try a workshop first.”

Something about dabbling around with someone specific felt too intimate, and that wasn’t what he was looking for. He just wanted to see what it was like, almost from an educational standpoint.

“You know that’s a group thing, right?”

“Yeah. That’s why I’d rather do it that way,” Cloud responded easily.

“So you’re more comfortable with all this then? Being into this?”

“Yeah. I think…last night wasn’t what I expected, you know?” he tried to explain, not even sure how to say it himself. “It was a lot more laid back than I thought. I didn’t feel weird being there, or like anyone was judging me for it.”

“Because everyone there gets it. It’s a social place as much as it is a place to play,” Zack said, nodding in understanding. There was as much regular talk as there was discussion of what was going on around them. “I told you it’s no big deal.”

“I believed you. Now I just…know.

Zack smiled at that. “Good.”

“I’ve gotta get going,” Cloud realized, frowning when he saw the time. Just because it was the weekend didn’t mean he was off duty. He still had to get back to his place to change. “Can you maybe…”

“I’ll get the info and email it to you,” Zack responded, hopping to his feet as Cloud did the same. He pulled the blond in for a friendly hug, patting him on the back a bit. “Text me when you’re off?”

Cloud nodded. “Are you going back tonight?”

“Nah. I prob’ly won’t go again till next week. I’ve gotta catch up on some training today.”

“Okay. I’ll text you later.”

-----

Maybe he’d gotten a bit overzealous.

It was just, the flogger workshop had been a lot more fun than he’d expected. The class had been an interesting mix of people, mostly like him—curious to learn more. They went over the different types of floggers, the different ways to swing them, the different sensations that could be created by them. Not all pain related, but he knew that much already.

And then they’d gotten to try it out. Cloud had swung one himself, amused by the entire process. No way could he imagine taking one to someone, but it was cool to learn anyway. The instructor ended up offering to use one on anyone interested as well (because honestly, a bunch of newbies whacking each other was probably a bad idea), and he’d been the first volunteer. He’d kept his clothes on, the blows coming down on the safe area of his back.

By the time he left, he really understood what dull pain meant. It didn’t hurt at all, but it ached in the strangest way. Honestly, he’d asked the instructor to go a bit harder at one point, just to see. It really wasn’t bad, though he found it did little to nothing for him.

Well, aside from embolden him to sign up for the whip workshop.

That was a real learning experience. Who’d have thought there were so many different types of whips? They were made from various materials, and had different ends. There were sensual uses rather than strictly pain related ones, which had definitely surprised Cloud. When he’d asked to be whipped though, he didn’t want anything sensual. He quickly found the pain was much sharper than the flogger had been, uncomfortable from the get-go despite his high pain tolerance. It was interesting, but it also didn’t do much for him.

The next thing he knew, he found himself signing up for all sorts of lessons just to see what everything was all about. There were a few put on each week, always during the day so as not to interfere with regular club hours—it was all very laid back, and not nearly as exclusive as the nightlife aspect. Apparently that was how people got in with this particular club. They either knew someone like Cloud did, or made the right impression at one of the workshops.

He learned more about caning (confirming without a doubt he was not interested), he’d been spanked with a paddle (not terrible, but a hand seemed a lot more his style), he’d tried out some nipple clamps and an assortment of devices he’d never even heard of. Some of it hadn’t officially been a part of the workshops so much as the instructor indulging Cloud’s curiosity after wrapping up whatever they were going over—always with a couple other curious beginners since he still wasn’t sure about doing any of this one on one with anyone he didn’t really know.

He’d even signed up for a rope workshop, learning the ins and outs of certain knots and methods. Not once did he allow a single person to tie him up, but it definitely stirred his interest more than anything else he’d done. By the time he was done with that one, he was more than eager to tell Zack he was ready to try some things out first hand.

But not before going to a suspension demonstration. From everything he’d read, there were several different types—some utilizing suspension cuffs, others utilizing rope. There were varying heights and positions as well. The one he’d gone to was a horizontal rope suspension, and it had definitely sparked something inside Cloud.

Much like the workshops, the demonstration was put on in an informational way—the participating Dominant walked the small group of people through what he was doing, offering several pointers and safety tips along the way. There were a lot of potential dangers that could be avoided with the right amount of care and attention to detail.

The end result was beautiful, really.

“Hey, cutie,” a man called out, catching his attention before he could head out for the day.

The submissive from the demonstration, Cloud realized. He looked a bit different fully clothed and without all the binds. “Um. Hi?”

“I saw you in the audience today,” the man said, like that was some kind of explanation. “You’ve been here a lot the last few weeks, huh?”

“I guess,” Cloud responded with a shrug. It was the first time anyone had really noticed or asked him about it. Usually there was a slightly different crowd at the various workshops, since different people took interest in different things. “Sorry, were you in one of the other workshops or something?”

“No, I don’t need those,” the man told him, and not unkindly. “I’m just around most days, so I tend to notice. My Dom and I do these demonstrations a lot.”

“Oh,” Cloud muttered. “Well, it was really great. I learned a lot.”

“Something you’d like to try sometime?”

“Uh. With the right person, maybe,” he said, vaguely confused about where this was going.

Wasn’t this man a submissive who’d just told him he had a Dom? Surely he wasn’t about to ask Cloud to play. He’d received a handful of invitations since he started showing up so often, Doms who were willing to work with a beginner a bit more extensively than what went on during the workshops. They’d all been strangers who didn’t know his name—easy to turn down.

This felt different somehow, though he couldn’t place why.

“The right person,” the man repeated with a smile. “SOLDIER boy?”

“Um. What?”

“SOLDIER boy. I saw you with him once,” the man explained, which had Cloud raising a brow. He’d definitely only come with Zack a whopping two times now. “He’s really great. Actually, if you’re into what you just saw, he’d be the perfect person to help you out.”

“Yeah, he’s…he’s really great,” Cloud agreed, lightening up a bit. “He seems to know what he’s doing.”

“He does,” the man confirmed confidently. “I want to say he has some kind of agreement right now, but he’s usually not in them for too long. You should ask him sometime. I know he has a soft spot for beginners.”

Cloud blinked in confusion. “He doesn’t have an agreement with anyone right now.”

“Really? My mistake then. He’s one of those guys who has a really great reputation around here,” the man explained. “He tends to get approached a lot, but he’s been turning everyone down lately. I just assumed that meant he had someone.”

“I’m pretty sure he doesn’t,” Cloud responded, hoping it was true. Hoping that fact had something to do with him.

All this time he knew Zack had still been coming down most weeks. He’d assumed that meant Zack was playing quite a bit still, and had purposefully not inquired too much about it. Whether it was sexual or not, he really didn’t want to hear about Zack being with anyone else. The time with Dan had been different since he was there too.

Anything else, he didn’t want to think about. Technically he wasn’t with Zack, so he had no right to care either way, but still. The less details, the better.

“The regulars here are all really great. Personally, I’d say just ask him if you’re interested,” the man suggested conversationally. “If it doesn’t work out, or he has an agreement, I can definitely help point you in the right direction. Like I said, I’m here a lot, so you can come to me anytime.”

“Okay,” Cloud agreed with a tiny smile. “Thanks.”

“No problem, cutie,” the man replied with a wink.

Huh. Cloud walked away feeling much better than he had when the conversation started, taken aback again by how nice some of the people were down at the club. Obviously that man hadn’t known Cloud was good friends with Zack, or that his suggestions weren’t totally necessary, but that didn’t make it any less appreciated.

It did have him pulling out his phone though, shooting Zack a quick message.

Do you have an arrangement with anyone right now?

He felt bad even asking, but the seed had been planted in his head already. It would bug him all day if he didn’t get a definitive yes or no at this point. Thankfully, Zack was quick to respond.

Not a serious one. Why, what’s up?

Not a serious one? He eyed his phone with furrowed brows. That was code for yes…wasn’t it?

Just curious, was all he sent back, knowing his friend would be calling if he didn’t answer in a timely manner. Normally Zack wouldn’t engage in any of these conversations via text, so he figured it was better not to push his luck.

Then it sank in, his stomach turning at the reality of it. Zack was with someone. It didn’t matter how serious the arrangement was, it was still more defined than just going down to the club to play a bit. Arrangements were an exclusive thing for Zack, with rules and structure. There was a lot more Zack was willing to do with a submissive he had a deal with—a greater need for compatibility.

Fuck.

Of course Zack had found someone compatible. Someone who probably knew exactly what they were doing and what they wanted. How long had all this taken? Cloud had pestered Zack with questions for weeks before spending several more weeks attending workshops—learning about things he didn’t even end up caring for in some cases. All with no guarantee or promise that they’d end up together when it was all said and done.

What did he expect Zack to do in the mean time?

Every fiber of his being knew he was being irrational—that nothing was defined between them, so it wasn’t fair to feel so jealous or torn up about it. But he really couldn’t help it. What if this person was a better fit for Zack?

His phone began to vibrate in his hand, and he knew without looking it was Zack calling. Probably hoping to meet up to talk more, or see what had really prompted the sudden question. He couldn’t bring himself to answer.

Chapter Text

No matter how many times Zack tried to reach out, Cloud couldn’t work up the nerve to face his friend.

It wasn’t right, and he knew it. Everything about the situation made him feel childish and bratty, but he just couldn’t help it. Zack was with someone else. How long had he spent pining after that man? How long had he spent doing all this research and exploration in the hopes of being with him someday soon?

What was it all even for?

The self-realization and acceptance were so important, but they meant very little when the only person he could see himself with in that way was now with someone else. What was he supposed to do—go find some other Dom down at the club? The thought alone was unsettling. He didn’t want or need some mutually beneficial arrangement. It was great that some people preferred it that way, but what he wanted was an all-around relationship. One with someone he cared about and trusted already.

One with Zack.

And, fuck. He didn’t really care how petty or dramatic it was. He didn’t care how serious or not serious Zack’s new arrangement was. He just wanted to go to work, go back to his quarters, and forget it all for the time being. No visiting Zack Fair, or even any of his other friends. Not until he got himself sorted.

Unfortunately, things never went the way he planned.

A loud knock on his room door had him rolling out of bed, wondering what the hell could be so important in the middle of the afternoon. The only people who came to see him were superior officers, usually to do a room inspection. No way was he due for another one of those already.

He should’ve known Zack would be the one standing on the other side of the door.

“Hey,” Zack started, smiling a little. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Uh, ‘cause you haven’t texted me in a week?”

“Someone’s on leave, so my shifts got moved around. It messed with my sleep schedule,” he explained, and that part was actually true.

“You couldn’t shoot me a quick message to tell me that?”

“Must’ve slipped my mind,” Cloud said apologetically. Man, those puppy eyes were really hammering in the guilt. “I’m sorry.”

“Can I come in?” Zack asked, hopeful as ever.

Cloud nodded, letting his friend into the small space. It wasn’t often Zack showed up—they always went back to the SOLDIER’s apartment instead because his quarters were really unimpressive. He’d been in the Army long enough to have his own room instead of crashing in the barracks, but that was all it was—a room. There was a standard issue bed, desk, and dresser. The bathroom was a shared one down the hall a ways.

“Were you sleeping just now?” his friend asked, plopping down on his unmade bed.

“I was trying.” He looked down at himself, realizing with a frown he was in some pretty familiar pajamas. One of Zack’s t-shirts that he’d accidentally stolen, and some sweats he’d never returned. “Do you need something, or were you just stopping by?”

“Since when do I hafta need something to wanna see you?”

“You don’t, I just…I figured you were busy, too.”

“Right,” Zack muttered, letting out a ragged sigh. “And all this has nothing to do with the last text you sent me?”

“Which one was that?” Cloud asked, feigning as much indifference as he could.

Zack saw right through him, like always. “The one about me being in an arrangement with someone.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“I want you to ask me about it if it’s on your mind—not hide in your room between shifts and ignore all my messages.”

“I don’t really want to hear about it,” Cloud admitted with a shrug.

“Why ask at all then?”

“I was down at the club to watch a demonstration—it was really awesome,” he explained quietly. “And then after, one of the guys who was in it came up and talked to me. Guess he noticed me around a lot lately.”

“…Okay?”

“And he was just being nice, asking if it was something I’d be interested in doing—he said you’d be a great person to try with, except he thought you might be with someone,” Cloud finished, eyes falling to the carpet. “I didn’t think you were, but then I realized I didn’t know, so I asked you.”

“It’s not like it’s a secret. I’ve been open with you since the day you found out about all this,” Zack reminded him pointedly. “You knew I was still going down there to play, and you said you were fine with that.”

“I am!”

“Are you?” Zack asked gently, raising both brows. “Because it’s okay if you’re not. I just want you to be honest with me.”

“I just…I get it, okay? I know I’m being a brat right now, and that’s half the reason I didn’t want to see you yet,” Cloud told him, openly embarrassed by his own behavior. “I thought if I took a few days and cleared my head, it wouldn’t bug me so much.”

“It’s not like I’m in a proper agreement or anything. The guy I’m with, he’s an old sub of mine. It didn’t work out because he’s into some heavier shit than me, but he’s in between Doms right now,” Zack said shortly. “It’s just temporary.”

Somehow that didn’t help. “Okay.”

“You’ve got no idea what you do to me,” Zack continued, running a hand through his hair. “What it’s been like having you coming to me with all your questions and thoughts about all this—how hard it is to keep my answers neutral instead of trying to sway you one way or the other.”

Cloud bit his lip, not sure what to say at that point. Thankfully Zack wasn’t done yet, “Seeing you there at the club? I just…Fuck, Cloud. I’ve never wanted anyone so badly.”

“Then why get involved with someone else now?”

“I was losing my mind. I’d go down there just to stop thinking about you—play with a friend, or an old sub who was up for a scene. Just like you saw that first day. Nonsexual, light scenes. But after we kissed that night…It wasn’t cutting it for me anymore. Everything’s been so up in the air between us, I guess I just needed something I could define.”

He could tell Zack wasn’t trying to make him feel bad, but there was no stopping the flood of guilt he felt at his friend’s confession. “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want you to feel sorry about taking your time and exploring. I told you, there’s no pressure here. There never has been. Yeah, I want you, but there’re more important things.”

“I know, but I—”

“But nothing. You should keep doin’ what you’re doin’—go to however many workshops you want. Whatever you need to do,” Zack insisted, gesturing for Cloud to take a seat by his side. He did, of course. “I wouldn’t seriously get involved with anyone else right now. I know you’ve never been in this kinda relationship before, so maybe it’s hard to get it, but it really is just sex. He doesn’t want more, and I sure as hell don’t either. Not with him.”

“I believe you.”

“Good,” Zack said with a smile. “You’ll come talk to me next time something’s bothering you?”

“I will,” he promised, wishing he’d done that in the first place. He already felt so much better about the whole thing. “You know the guy I told you about? He said you get approached a lot down at the club.”

“I dunno if I’d call it a lot, but I guess.”

“He called you SOLDIER boy,” Cloud added, smirking when Zack rolled his eyes. “You’ve heard that before?”

“Too many times to count. People don’t always know each other’s real names down there, you know? So there’s a lot of nicknames,” Zack explained with a chuckle. “I think yours has something to do with a chocobo.”

Cloud’s jaw hung open slightly. “What?”

Zack took no pity, ruffling his hair with a grin. “Yep. You’ll get used to it now that you’re practically a regular.”

A regular. It felt strange to think of himself as such, especially since he’d really only gone at night a couple times. Mostly he just frequented the workshops, and even that he was basically done with for now. The only ones on the schedule were repeats of what he’d taken, and there wasn’t much left he was curious about aside from trying out some bondage.

He really wouldn’t mind, though—becoming an actual regular.

“Being approached is no big deal,” Zack added, like an afterthought. “If you tell someone no, they don’t ask questions—they’ll just move on with their night. Everyone’s pretty respectful down there.”

“Everyone I met’s been really great,” he agreed with a smile.

“So things are going good then? Feels like we haven’t talked about this stuff in ages.”

Not since after Cloud’s first workshop. They still hung out, of course, but it wasn’t like he had more questions for Zack when everything was explained so thoroughly during the workshops. “Yeah, they’re good. I think I took all the workshops I wanted—I ended up trying a bunch of things.”

“I heard,” Zack said, almost too conversationally. “You said you weren’t into whips and all that, but one of my friends taught the class you were in.”

“You were checking up on me?”

“I wouldn’t call it checking up—I just got a little curious. I knew you were still going down a lot, but stopped telling me about it.”

“Yeah, because you said you weren’t into a lot of that stuff. I didn’t think you’d want to hear about it.”

“I wanna hear about everything with you, even if I don’t wanna do it myself.”

“You could’ve just asked then,” Cloud told him with amusement.

“I’m asking now.”

He eyed his friend a moment before nodding, thinking a bit about what to say—where to begin. “I liked going even when it wasn’t my thing. Everyone was so…I don’t know.” He frowned a little, not sure how to describe it. “They were just open, I guess. It was nice not being the only one who didn’t know everything. I made some friends, actually.”

“Did you?” Zack asked, his smile growing.

“Yeah. It’s nice having other people to talk to about some of this. People like me,” he explained lightly, Zack already nodding in understanding. Not necessarily other potential submissives, just other people who were relatively new to the scene still.

“Did you play with anyone?”

“Uh, no,” Cloud said, laughing softly. “I only tried what we were doing in class. I got approached a few times, but…no.”

“You know you could’ve, right? I don’t wanna hold you back if—”

“They wanted to do things I didn’t,” Cloud interjected firmly. “I didn’t end up liking most of it—the whips and the canes. The Doms that approached me were offering to show me more of that kind of stuff.”

Zack stared at him for a long minute. “You didn’t like it?”

“No,” he answered, honest and concise.

“Any of it?” Zack asked, quirking a brow.

“Uh. I really didn’t like the whips or the canes. The flogging was kind of fun, but it didn’t really do anything for me either. Maybe in a different setting.”

“But…”

It was Cloud’s turn to quirk a brow. “But what?”

“You were askin’ them to go harder in class. When you were trying out—”

“Were you watching me?” Cloud cut in, eyes wide.

“No. I told you, I had a friend there. You’re kinda recognizable, so when I asked, they knew who I meant.”

“I thought people in this scene were more respectful of each other’s privacy,” he griped, more than a little annoyed.

Zack cringed at that. “We are. It’s my fault for being nosy, not theirs. I’m sorry.”

“I have a high pain tolerance,” Cloud said after silently accepting the apology. “You’ve known that for years.”

“So…you were asking them to go harder because…?”

“I wanted to see if it’d make a difference if I really felt it. If it actually hurt. All that got me was a few bruises and some welts. I’m glad I went for it, but…” He shook his head, not having much else to say about it. “Not my thing.”

“You’re not just saying what you think I wanna hear, are you?”

He fixed Zack with an unimpressed look. “No. Is it really so hard to believe?”

“Uh, kinda,” Zack admitted, hand on the back of his neck.

Why?”

“Sometimes I think about you, and it’s like you’re too good to be true,” he explained slowly. “I wasn’t expecting you to be into any of this stuff, let alone the same parts as me. It woulda been more believable if you told me you were a masochist at this point.”

“Well, I’m not. Not really, at least. I didn’t mind it, but it wasn’t as…um. Appealing, I guess.”

“So you’re done then? Done researching and all that?”

“Yeah. I’ll probably still go to some of the demonstrations, but that’s just because they’re really awesome to watch. I’d really like to start…you know.” Zack just stared at him, wordlessly compelling him to continue. “Playing. With you.”

“You wanna play with me, like have me show you the stuff we talked about? Or you wanna work something out between us?”

“Both. I don’t know if we’re a perfect match, but I’ve looked into all this enough. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work, if you’re ever not with someone…”

“Fuck,” Zack muttered, eyes blown wide. “I really wanna kiss you right now.”

Cloud smiled a bit, taken aback. “I wouldn’t stop you.”

“I know, but I can’t yet,” he replied with a sigh. “I have to talk to my Steve first—end things. That’s part of the deal.”

“You’d end things just like that?”

“Yeah, it’s no big deal. He knows about you already—or that you exist at least,” Zack explained sheepishly. “Man. I really thought for sure you were gonna be telling me you were into impact play.”

He couldn’t help smirking at Zack’s relieved tone. “Um. Sorry?”

“Funny,” Zack grumbled, though there was a slight grin pulling at his lips. “You know, half the reason I even agreed to a temporary deal was ‘cause I thought you were gonna be into that stuff and I didn’t want you feeling bad about it.”

“Seriously?”

Zack frowned apologetically. “Most people don’t beg to be whipped harder if they’re not into it.”

“I didn’t beg, I just asked nicely,” he clarified, rolling his eyes at the assumption. “So…Steve really won’t care if you end things out of the blue?”

“Nah. He said he’d be cool with it if I ended it whenever. Like I said, he knew I had someone like you in the picture. Someone I really wanted.”

“Oh,” Cloud muttered, mildly overwhelmed. No questions asked—Zack would end a perfectly good arrangement with someone experienced just because Cloud was ready to give it a real try.

“What, did you think I’d make you wait now that you’re ready?” Zack asked, his tone teasing until he realized it wasn’t so funny to Cloud. “C’mon, really? I’ve wanted this for a long time now—you and me. I just wanted you to be sure you were into it.”

“I’m sure…” He looked over at Zack tentatively. “Are you? Because I get that I’m still new, and—”

“This is about so much more than that,” Zack told him, nothing but a smile on his face. “You’ve put a lotta time into this now. If you’re telling me you’re sure we’re even remotely compatible, I believe you. I don’t care if you’re still new to the scene—we’ll take it slow. Work out the specifics.”

“What if Steve’s a better fit for you?”

“He won’t be. I’m looking for more now, remember? You’re the whole package, Spike,” Zack said, giving him a gentle nudge. “You know what Steve does in his free time?”

“What?”

“He’s a suit and tie kinda guy. Likes to hit up fancy restaurants and parties. When he’s not doing that kinda thing, he’s into crafts and sewing. That’s his idea of a relaxing night in.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“There’s not,” Zack agreed easily. “The point I’m getting at is, he’s not someone I’d just hang out with. He’s not gonna game with me, or be into the same movies, or laugh at any of my awesome jokes.”

“You’re awful jokes you mean.”

Zack laughed loudly. “Exactly. He wouldn’t call me out on them being bad either. He’s a great guy for sure, but I doubt we’d even be friends outside of the bedroom, let alone more. Especially not when I want you.”

“But he might be a better fit still. Sexually.”

“I mean…I seriously doubt it. There’s a reason it didn’t work out with him before,” Zack told him slowly. “Even if you tell me you don’t like a few things we try, it’s not gonna change anything. We’ll just do the things we both like. I’ve never wanted anyone the way I want you, Cloud.”

“But what if—”

“Don’t overthink this because of him,” he cut in, reaching for Cloud’s hand. “Sex isn’t gonna be our whole relationship. I know it’s on your mind, and it’s my fault for putting it there, but it’s really not a big deal. As long as we’re on the same page, we’re good there. There’s a lotta options if one thing doesn’t work out.”

“Okay,” Cloud whispered, nodding in understanding. He was sure he and Zack were sexually compatible, at least on some level. If Zack was telling him that was enough, who was he to doubt it? “So…I wasn’t lying about needing to sleep now. I’m doing overnight patrols to cover someone’s leave.”

Zack pouted a bit. “Guess we won’t be goin’ out till the weekend then, huh?”

“Out?”

“On a date,” Zack said, grinning when Cloud blinked in surprise. “Did you think I’d take you right to bed or something?”

“Uh—”

“I mean, I could, if you wanted,” he clarified quickly, “but I was really hoping to take you out. It’s been a long time since I had an actual boyfriend.”

“A date sounds nice,” Cloud admitted—it’d definitely take some of the edge off. Sex had been on his mind more than usual lately, and there was no doubt he wanted more from Zack as well. “My schedule’s kind of messed up though. I won’t be back on my normal rotation for a couple weeks.”

“How’s Saturday? I’ll be outta the city for a few days anyway.”

“Um. It’s fine if it’s kinda late. I’m out all Friday night on patrol,” he explained, pretty sure he’d be in bed till late afternoon at least.

“Why don’t you just text me when you’re up, and we’ll figure out a time then,” Zack suggested easily. Cloud was quick to agree. “Perfect. I’ll talk to Steve before my mission, so we’ll be good to go.”

Cloud smiled at that, thinking how easy it all sounded. After waiting so long, the idea of being with Zack had started to feel out of reach—like an impossible goal. It wasn’t though. It really just had been a matter of waiting for the timing to be right. Pressure free waiting while he explored and they both did their own thing. Even the whole Steve thing wasn’t the big deal he’d made it out to be in his head.

“For real though,” he said, eyeing his clock with disdain. “I’m not a SOLDIER. I actually need sleep to function.”

“Shit, yeah. Go to bed,” Zack told him, lying right down on Cloud’s bed.

“Um. What’re you doing?”

“Napping. Unless you’re throwing me out?”

Cloud curled up against him, settling his head comfortably on Zack’s chest. No way was he seriously napping, but Cloud wasn’t about to object to his presence. “I’ll kick your ass if you wake me up on your way out,” he warned, smirking as Zack laughed off his threat.

Chapter Text

The odd patrol schedule was both a blessing and a curse.

It didn’t exactly stop Cloud from seeing Zack pretty regularly, but it did limit what they were able to do because it was usually at some weird time. Most often, Cloud showed up right after his patrol, hanging out with Zack for a bit before his new boyfriend took off for some morning training. He’d crash out in Zack’s bed, only to be up and out the door basically right after Zack’s return.

And even that only worked out on days when Zack didn’t have an actual mission to go on.

They’d only managed one real date as a result, and hadn’t gone further than some light kissing otherwise. He was undeniably eager for more, but there was something relaxing about knowing it wouldn’t be happening just yet. It gave Cloud time to enjoy the simplicity of it—of being together with Zack. Enjoying the lighter additions to what had always been an incredibly touchy friendship.

Cuddling had always been a thing between them, as had Zack’s tendency to throw an arm around his shoulder or put a hand on his thigh. The way Zack liked to pull Cloud into his lap now, maybe hold his hand or steal a quick kiss? That was all new.

“So when does that guy get back from leave?” Zack asked curiously.

“Tuesday,” Cloud responded with a yawn. It was already Friday morning, thankfully. He’d be patrolling again overnight, and then he’d be off the rest of Saturday and Sunday.

“Thank Gaia. Your schedule sucks right now.”

“It’s not that great normally.”

“Yeah, but we sleep during the same hours at least.”

He shrugged, unable to argue that point. Then he collapsed in Zack’s bed, ready to call it a night—or morning, in this case. “I won’t offer to cover it next time.”

“You volunteered for this?”

“Uh. Yeah, sorry,” he admitted, nuzzling into the pillow.

Zack openly pouted, getting back in bed and curling up behind him despite being in his uniform and ready to go already. “Why? I figured they made you.”

“They were gonna have a couple of us split it up—like a week each, then back to our normal schedules,” Cloud explained slowly. “But when it came up, I was kinda looking for an excuse to avoid you anyway, so…”

“I really wish you’d just talked to me first.”

“Me too,” he laughed softly. He could’ve saved himself a lot of headaches. The whole thing felt so silly now. “I just thought…I don’t know.”

“Thought what?” Zack pressed, warm breath tickling the back of his neck. “I know it’s more than you told me.”

“I thought maybe I waited too long. I mean, I kinda dragged it out, so I didn’t really blame you for finding someone else.”

“I didn’t,” Zack reiterated plainly. “I dunno how many ways to say it. That wasn’t the same kinda relationship we have. And you didn’t drag anything out—I wanted you to take your time, remember?”

“I kinda figured that out already when you dropped everything to make this happen,” Cloud told him, smiling when Zack muttered a quick good before laying a kiss on the back of his neck. “When do you think you’ll be back from your mission?”

“Hopefully tomorrow night,” Zack responded shortly. “Sunday morning otherwise.”

“Oh.” He frowned into the pillow before turning around in Zack’s arms, facing his boyfriend curiously. “Some of the friends I told you about from the workshops I took? They’re going down to the club tomorrow.”

Zack raised a brow. “Are they?”

“Yeah,” he muttered, the unspoken question lingering in the air. Of course, Zack eyed him expectantly, waiting for him to spit it out. “Am I allowed to go without you now that we’re together?”

And, wow. It was a pretty harmless question, but Zack’s entire demeanor changed as he considered it, causing Cloud’s heart rate to spike exponentially. He was very nearly ready to take it back with promises not to go, but Zack spoke before he got that far.

“I’d rather go with you so we can talk about what you’re seeing—what you wanna try, or what you’re not sure about. But since we’re not there yet, it’s fine for now,” Zack decided carefully. “I don’t want you playing with anyone else though—not even your friends, and not even platonically.”

Cloud’s eyes went wide. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“I know, but we haven’t laid out the rules here, so I just wanna be clear. As far as our relationship goes, I’m not interested in telling you where you can go or what you can do—that’s not what this is about. It’s just when it comes to the club and our kinks. Our sex lives. As far as all that goes, you’re mine now. Just like I'm yours.”

The way he said it was so simple, but it sent a jolt right through Cloud. “I knew that when I agreed to all this,” he said, like the words hadn’t affected him quite so deeply. “I want that.”

“Good. We’ll go over everything more specifically soon, but for now, just remember that I won’t be playing with anyone else, and neither will you,” Zack told him firmly. “I wanna hear about it anytime you go to the club without me—what you saw, and how you felt about it. I wanna know beforehand if you’re planning to sign up for any more workshops or anything, too.”

“I’m not planning to.”

“If you change your mind,” Zack clarified, like it was no big deal even if that happened. “Usually they rotate through the same few, but sometimes something different pops up. I’d rather teach you myself depending on what it is, otherwise I’ll go with you. I don't want you to miss out on anything you wanna learn more about.”

“Okay.”

“When we’re into all this more, it’ll be our thing. We’ll only go together.”

Cloud nodded in understanding, liking the sound of that more than he cared to admit. “Are we going to play there?”

“Yeah. They have different equipment—things I can’t have here,” Zack explained, which actually made a lot of sense. SOLDIER apartments were in ShinRa’s main tower, and subject to all sorts of regulations. Not to mention the limited space. It wasn’t like Zack had a spare room for this kind of thing. “Unless you don’t wanna, that is. We haven’t really talked about it, so I don’t wanna assume.”

“I want to,” Cloud said quickly, surprising even himself. “Maybe nothing public, at least for a while. But I like it there. I like some of the, uh. Equipment.”

And the atmosphere—the people. He’d really had nothing but good experiences so far, even if he hadn’t done anything. The idea of really going there with Zack, as his submissive? It was more than a little appealing.

“Definitely nothing public yet,” Zack agreed with an indulgent smile. “I wasn’t planning to scene with you down there until we try a few things here, but we’ll see how it goes.”

“Okay.”

“So you’re going with your friends tomorrow?”

“I don’t know. I wanted to, but that was when I thought you’d be around.”

“I don’t mind if you go, I just need to know in case I get back early enough to meet you there.”

He took a moment to think it over before shaking his head. “I’d rather go next weekend, when my schedule’s back to normal.”

“Let me know beforehand if you change your mind,” Zack said, a slight warning in his tone.

“I will,” he promised, smiling as Zack finally leaned in for a kiss. It was far too short. “You’re leaving?”

“Yeah. I’ll message you when I can."

“Kick some ass,” Cloud told him, because good luck was never what Zack wanted to hear before a mission.

Zack kissed him again before rolling out of bed, leaving him there with a smile on his face.

-----

He changed his mind.

By the time Saturday evening rolled around, Cloud was wide awake and bored. A side effect of adjusting to the overnight patrol schedule. A few messages from his friends seemed to be the solution, so after sending a quick message to Zack, he headed out to meet them down at the club.

An hour later, he was excusing himself from his small group of new friends and walking right back out.

He really should’ve just waited to go with Zack. It wasn’t the people he was with—they were great. Curious as they’d been during the workshops, admiring the public scenes that had taken place and discussing similar things they’d maybe like to try. Cloud had no problem joining them, used to those types of hypothetical conversations after having so many.

It just wasn’t as fun without Zack around. At some point it had hit Cloud, he was really into this stuff now. There were so many things he wanted to do—so many things he wanted to try. And the one person he wanted to talk to about that most wasn’t even around.

So, he left.

Maybe it didn't make sense, but he couldn't help feeling overwhelmed by everything he saw now. So many things were being dangled right in front of him, and he had no real outlet without Zack around. Now that they were officially together, it was like he had this itch under his skin—one he couldn’t reach on his own. The more he thought about it, the harder it became to ignore. Being there in that club, Gaia. Waiting was hard enough without being there and seeing so many of the things he wanted to experience firsthand with Zack.

It wasn’t like Zack had responded to his message anyway, so he figured it was no big deal to just go home. Presumably the mission was taking longer than planned, which meant Cloud shouldn’t pester him with trivial things.

What he hadn’t expected was the confused message he got an hour later, wondering where he was.

Shit.

I left already, he replied, heart racing anxiously.

Did that mean he was in some kind of trouble now? They hadn’t really discussed anything like that, so he really had no clue. Technically he’d done what Zack asked—he’d let Zack know that he’d gone even if he hadn't mentioned leaving. Something told him technicalities weren’t valid arguments when it came to things like this though.

There was no response, which he took as a hint that Zack was either concerned or annoyed—maybe a bit of both. Not to mention on his way, if Cloud knew him as well as he liked to think. That meant he had twenty minutes or so, he figured. Twenty minutes to work out an apology before Zack knocked on his door, tired after a long mission and wondering what the hell happened.

“It’s open,” Cloud said after the first knock, sure that Zack would be able to pick up on it. Fancy SOLDIER hearing and all that. The door opened a moment later, Zack stepping inside and eyeing him with an unexpected amount of patience. “I’m sorry. When you didn’t reply, I figured you were busy, and I didn’t want to bug you if you were fighting.”

“I wanted to surprise you,” Zack admitted with a small smile. “You can always message me, you know. I might not read it right away if I’m in the middle of something, but I’ll check after.”

“I’m sorry,” he repeated sadly.

“It’s no big deal. Did you get bored, or what? It’s still kinda early.”

“No, it wasn’t that,” he replied, taking a long breath. Zack frowned, approaching the bed almost hesitantly. “It’s nothing bad.”

“Okay,” his boyfriend said, somewhat skeptical. “Why do you look like you’re about to tell me some bad news then?”

“It’s not bad news. It’s not even news,” Cloud reassured him, shaking his head.

“So you didn’t see something that made you wanna leave and never go back?”

“No,” he laughed softly. “It was more…the opposite of that.”

Now Zack looked intrigued, raising both brows. “You saw something you liked?”

“Except you weren’t there,” Cloud explained dismally. “It was nice hanging out with other people who’re into this stuff, but…I don’t know. It was too much right now.”

“What do you mean too much?”

“I mean, I felt like I was going to go crazy. I’ve been looking into all this so long, and we’re finally together, and I just…I want it so bad.” He slumped a bit, hiding his face in his hands until he felt Zack rubbing his back gently. Then he peeked out, meeting his boyfriend’s eyes. “How was your mission?”

Zack chuckled softly, bemused. “Kinda boring. I’d rather talk more about what you saw tonight, if that’s okay.”

“Are you super tired or anything?”

“Nah. Why, do you wanna go out? We don’t hafta go to the club—we can grab a late dinner or something,” he offered.

“I’m not hungry, I’m just wide awake still,” Cloud replied. “I slept half the day.”

“What did you see tonight?” Zack asked directly, his tone far more serious.

“Nothing really different. Well, there was this cool suspension—it was, I guess a teardrop position? With suspension cuffs,” he explained, Zack nodding along in understanding. “Mostly it was like last time. The whip lady was there, and the dude with the gold paddle. I was only there for maybe an hour.”

“So, was it the suspension, or just a combination of everything?”

“Everything,” Cloud answered without hesitation. “I don’t think you realize how long it’s been since I got laid. And then all this stuff now, I just…I’m ready. I want to talk about whatever we need to talk about for you to play with me.”

Zack had the nerve to smirk. “So you’re just a little sexually frustrated?”

“I’m not above begging,” he warned.

“You’ll definitely be begging before you even get close to what you want,” Zack promised, lurching forward before Cloud could get a single retort in. His words became muffled complaints against Zack’s lips, losing their purpose as Zack took the opening as permission to deepen the kiss.

Before he knew it, he’d been eased onto his back, returning the kiss fervently as it struck him how familiar all this was. How raw and needy they’d both become so quickly. The last time they’d kissed like this, Zack had insisted nothing else would be happening that evening.

If he thought that was going to happen again, he had another thing coming. It didn’t matter who was in charge anymore—it was Cloud’s personal mission to make it known he was on board with something happening now. To chip away at whatever resistance Zack had to offer, since he so clearly wanted this too.

“Zack,” he murmured, fingers curled in his boyfriend’s hair.

“Hmm?” He pulled black slightly, nipping at Cloud’s lower lip. “Don’t tell me you’re gonna beg already. We haven’t even started yet.”

He scowled. Leave it to Zack to crack a joke in the middle of a kiss. “Do lines like that normally work for you?”

“Do you normally just say a dude’s name and get what you want?”

“Um. You’d be surprised how far that’s gotten me in the past.”

“Not really. Been dreaming about you moaning my name for months now,” Zack informed him, trailing hot kisses down to his neck. Then he lingered there, deft hands trailing down Cloud’s sides.

“I didn’t moan it,” Cloud grumbled, arching under the touch.

“Not yet. I’d be willing to do a lot more to make you,” Zack said, his lips barely straying from where they’d latched onto Cloud’s neck. “Am I allowed to mark you?”

“Little lower,” he answered, baring his neck more. “Uniform inspections are without scarves.”

“Shit,” Zack cursed, though it looked an awful lot like he was admiring the hickey he’d undoubtedly left on Cloud’s neck. “This is why we’re s’posed to talk before fooling around.”

“It’s fine. They never inspect the overnight crew.”

“That’s not the point,” Zack said insistently. “Just means we got lucky this time.”

“Don’t stop now,” he whispered, eyes pleading with Zack’s when his boyfriend chanced a glance at him. “We haven’t even started yet, remember?”

“Maybe that’s a good thing. We can cool down and talk some of this out. I’ll make it worth the wait.”

“What if I call you sir?”

“I wouldn’t if I were you. Not with the way you’re goofin’ around right now.”

He feigned as much innocence as he could, which wasn’t much, really. “What do you mean, sir?”

“I mean, you’re being a brat,” Zack told him, a slight smirk on his face. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to. You wanna tease me so I’ll fuck you right now. I was only playing along ‘cause we haven’t talked yet, but that’s not how this is gonna work, pet.”

Cloud’s eyes went wide at the new endearment, if it could even be considered that.

“Not so much to say now, huh?” Zack asked, looming over Cloud again without actually touching him anywhere.

All he could feel was Zack’s warm breath on his face, and it was enough to have him shifting anxiously under his boyfriend’s larger form. The man had his undivided attention to say the least, which was good because apparently he wasn’t done yet.

“If you wanna call me sir, I’m gonna be the one teasing you. You’ll be begging because I’m touching you everywhere but where you want it most, except it won't do you any good. You're trying to push me, and I don't reward that kinda behavior,” Zack said, shaking his head slowly. “And if you think for a second you’ll get away with rolling your hips like last time, or touching yourself in any way, I’ll find something in this damn room to make sure you can’t.”

If Cloud hadn’t already been feeling a bit sexually frustrated and easily aroused before, he was definitely aching for it by the end of Zack’s warning, letting out the most embarrassing, needy whimper he’d ever made. Zack didn’t so much as blink at it—he just kept staring down intently, like he was waiting for any kind of protest or sign that his words had taken things too far.

Cloud sure as hell didn’t have any objections. They’d talked about this a lot, so even if they hadn’t had 'the talk' about their relationship specifically, he was so good with all of it.

“Let’s try this again,” Zack suggested lightly, and only after what felt like several minutes had passed. “Do you want me to make you moan my name, or do you wanna call me sir one more time?”

“Please,” he answered—or didn’t answer, really. His boyfriend eyed him with amusement, still not touching him anywhere. It was infuriating and stupidly arousing all at once.

“Just Zack for tonight,” Zack decided for him, leaning down to kiss his lips. “We’ll talk about the rest tomorrow.”

“But—”

“Don’t test me,” he warned, winking when Cloud’s jaw hung open slightly. “You should just be glad you’re prob’ly still getting off tonight.”

“Probably?”

“Pouting won't get you anywhere either." Zack rolled his hips down before Cloud could dig himself a deeper hole, effectively causing the blond to lose his train of thought for at least a moment. “Just let me take care of you now, yeah?”

Cloud wanted to narrow his eyes after the jolt of pleasure tore through him—wanted to remind Zack that he was the one who said the sir stuff could wait until tomorrow. Somewhere in that moment though, his desire to sass back was replaced by something else.

His desire to relax and let Zack do that again.

“Yeah,” he agreed, almost breathless.

Zack didn’t joke or tease after that—he didn’t even comment. He just smiled into their next kiss, no longer holding back the way he apparently had been the first time around.

Chapter Text

“The talk” was a lot more extensive than Cloud had anticipated, though it helped significantly that it took place the morning after they’d exchanged their first orgasms. The whole thing had felt so juvenile, from the fact that they’d actually come in their pants, to the way they had to sneak down the hall to the communal bathroom just to clean up after.

Zack had offered to bring something back so Cloud wouldn’t have to deal with any potentially awkward run ins, but he’d had to use the bathroom anyway. It ended up with the two of them being the only ones there, laughing at each other because it was either that funny or because they were just silly in their post-orgasmic glows.

With them, who really knew? The absurdity of the whole thing had him in good spirits the next morning, and that was what counted. Especially when everything they had to discuss was far more serious.

They’d covered a few important basics first, starting with the whole sir thing. Apparently it wasn’t a constant thing Zack wanted—in scenes, yeah, but the rest of the time he had no preference between that or his name. Calling him sir might change the mood, but if that was what Cloud wanted, so be it.

From there, they transitioned into safewords. A basic color system—red to stop, yellow to slow down, green to go ahead.

“I want you to use them,” Zack had told him rather bluntly. “Seriously, any time. I’ll be askin’ you what your color is a couple times a scene too, especially while we’re still getting a feel for each other.”

Then he’d added that stop and wait would also be respected, at least for the time being. Apparently that was something they’d discuss and re-evaluate when they were more comfortable playing together.

It was a load off Cloud’s mind, for sure. He wasn’t expecting to need safewords with Zack, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen. What if he forgot in the moment? Just because he was excited about all this didn’t mean it wasn’t a little overwhelming at the same time, so it meant a lot that Zack was being so considerate.

After that, they’d gone through an elaborate list of toys and tools—some common, others not so much. From vibrators and cock rings right on up to butt plugs and anal beads. Some of the items Cloud had never even heard of, which lead to a blush inducing explanation before Zack waited patiently for some kind of yes, no, or maybe.

They talked about whips, and canes, and floggers. Paddles, and knives, and clamps. Some made Zack’s not happening list, while others he was cool with for certain uses. Mostly he just wanted to know what Cloud thought, regardless of his own comfort level or their previous conversations.

“How’re you even going to remember all this?” Cloud asked at one point.

It wasn’t like they were writing it down. Some partners documented these types of negotiations for reference, or even treated it like a “contract”, but Zack seemed content just moving from subject to subject right there in bed—cuddled up like it wasn’t the big conversation they’d been building up to for so long.

“Not everything we do is gonna be some hardcore scene where we use half the stuff we’re talking about,” Zack reminded him. “And if it is, we’re gonna talk about it beforehand anyway. This isn’t the last conversation, it’s just gonna give us an idea where to start.”

Then they’d gotten into the good stuff. Or, the stuff Cloud was looking forward to most at least—it was all good stuff, really. They both already knew Cloud wanted to be tied up, but never as much as when Zack was asking him about specific positions and degrees of restraint. How far did Cloud want to take it?

As far as Zack was willing to push him, was basically the answer. He wanted it all.

“We’ll build up to it,” Zack said, like he’d long since decided that already. “Something simple to start, then we’ll add more next time.”

“And the other stuff?”

“What other stuff?”

“The, um. Toys and blindfolds and all that.”

“We’ll work up to that too,” his boyfriend responded easily. “I want you comfortable with being tied up first—then we can add in the extras. The blindfolds especially, it’s a lot at once when you can’t move or see. We’ll do them separately before I use them on you at the same time.”

He pouted a little, but couldn’t help thinking maybe that was a good idea. “You’re not going to like…put me in a corner and leave me there, are you?”

“No,” Zack answered without hesitation. “I’ll make you wait, yeah. I’ll draw it out as long as I think you can handle it sometimes. But I’ll never do that by leaving you alone. If you’re tied up or blindfolded, I’ll be in the room the whole time.”

Cloud blinked, really processing that. “So you might then. Minus the leaving part.”

“Uh. I might have you blindfolded, ready, and waiting, yeah,” Zack confirmed. “You might even think I’m gone ‘cause I won’t say a word.”

“But you’ll be there?”

“Yeah. Does that sound like something you’d be okay with?”

“Yeah,” he agreed, heart racing at the thought. What would that feel like? He couldn’t even quite imagine. Would he really think Zack had left? It seemed doubtful, but…

“So. Pain,” Zack began, running a gentle hand up and down Cloud’s arm.

He was prepared for a reminder. Words about how Zack wasn’t going to be whipping or flogging him in a non-sensual manner. What he got instead was significantly less expected.

They discussed the potential side-effects of bondage amongst other things. Rope burns, chafing, sore muscles. They discussed how Zack would be more likely to prep him till he was a begging, crying mess than to go in dry or after just a finger or two. They discussed the barehanded spankings Zack had mentioned all those weeks ago—quick and corrective rather than an over the knees punishment style.

Then they’d gotten into aftercare, which was something Cloud knew very little about aside from his internet research. It sounded…nice, really. Zack would push him to his limits, and then make sure he was okay after. If they were in any kind of time crunch, they wouldn’t be playing. Period. That wasn’t to say they wouldn’t have sex, but that was a whole separate conversation.

The difference between a scene and just sex. ‘Just sex’ sounded like it’d still include Zack thoroughly fucking him, but in a more familiar way. Things Cloud had done before that required little to no discussion. What he might’ve called normal sex a couple months back. Maybe they’d throw in some cuffs or something light, but nothing that would send him into a different headspace.

“Do you always get this specific when you have these talks?” he asked, studying Zack’s face carefully.

“No,” Zack admitted. “A lotta this goes without saying for the people I’ve played with before. We just see what kinks line up, and go from there.”

“Oh,” Cloud muttered. Something about Zack’s calm demeanor kept him from feeling bad about that, or apologizing unnecessarily. “We do, right? Have things that line up?”

Because Gaia forbid he’d just been assuming, picking and choosing to hear the things he wanted from everything Zack had said all this time. Most of this ‘talk’ had been about his preferences—how he felt about certain things, and what he wanted to try.

“Uh, yeah. A lot,” Zack told him with a growing smile. “I’m kinda thinking some of your maybes might become no’s once we’ve tried ‘em, but that’s cool. There’s a lot we can do still.”

“I think I’d be willing to try basically anything.”

Zack, of course, made him regret that statement a moment later when they discussed other types of kinks. He suspected Zack did it on purpose, just to show Cloud he should be more careful about saying things like that. They talked about scat and watersports, and basically an entire series or things Cloud said no to without a second thought. Things Zack clearly wasn’t into either, but had brought up ‘just in case’.

“What about role play?” Zack asked curiously.

Cloud considered it before giving the quick yes that he wanted. “Depends what you had in mind.”

“Good answer.”

“You’re not about to tell me you’re into the medical kink, are you? Because some of that’s way too much for me.”

“Nah, that’s not my thing either. I was thinking something closer to home.”

“Like what?” Cloud asked slowly.

“Like, SOLDIER and trooper.”

Cloud eyed him with amusement. “You realize you’re not actually my superior officer in any way, right? I’ve got my own chain of command.”

“Duh. It wouldn’t be fun for me if I was actually in charge of you. This whole relationship wouldn’t be happening if that was the case,” Zack told him bluntly. “But, I dunno. It’d be fun to play, if you were up for it.”

“You’re thinking about the day we met, aren’t you?” Cloud guessed, his smile growing when Zack didn’t respond. It wasn’t often, but sometimes SOLDIER requisitioned Army assistance on their missions. They were still separate entities though, even in those instances. “I knew you were checking me out.”

“Hey! It’s not every day I meet someone who looks like you,” Zack insisted, almost defensively. “Don’t act like you didn’t check me out too, by the way. My ass looks great in my uniform.”

“It’s true.” Because there was no point in denying it now, right? “That was back when I thought you were a badass still.”

“I am a badass!”

“You’re the biggest dork I’ve ever met,” Cloud corrected, laughing right in his pouty face. “Your ass still looks nice in your uniform though.”

“Damn right it does,” he huffed.

“Aw, did I upset the big, bad SOLDIER?”

“When I asked about role play, this wasn’t what I had in mind,” Zack joked, which sounded like a challenge if Cloud had ever heard one. He met Zack’s gaze head on, and that was enough.

“You know, I always wanted to be a SOLDIER,” Cloud murmured, as soft and innocent as he could. “To be strong, like you.” He held back a grin as he watched Zack realize what he was doing—what he was saying. “Do you think…Do you think I could be someday?”

“You…Have you done this before?” Zack asked, not taking what seemed like a well-placed opportunity for him to offer to help Cloud—to teach him all sorts of things.

“Definitely not,” Cloud answered with a snort. “But, I mean. It’s easy to imagine because that was me a few years back.”

“Really?”

“You knew that I used to want to be a SOLDIER.”

“Yeah, but lotsa people say that. I didn’t know you were serious, or I woulda helped you out for real.”

“I’m happy with how things turned out,” Cloud replied, shrugging. “I’ve got plenty going for me right now—I’m going to be an officer soon.”

“Hell yeah you are.”

“Yeah, but don’t worry. I’ll always be a little trooper for you.”

Zack smiled indulgently. “It’s cool if you’re not into it.”

“I am,” he admitted.

It was a fantasy that had played through his head a lot back then, actually. Back when he’d harbored a harmless crush on Zack, and their friendship was still fresh. Just less kinky, apparently.

“You know, you never asked about me being a SOLDIER,” Zack pointed out, looking almost expectant. “How that affects all this.”

“You’ve been a SOLDIER for as long as I’ve known you,” Cloud reminded him, confused.

“Yeah, but we weren’t involved. You’re not worried about it?”

“About what?”

“The fact I could do some serious damage to you without even trying?”

Cloud laughed the question off before he realized Zack wasn’t so amused. “Are you…you’re seriously asking me that?”

“Uh, yeah,” Zack said, looking at him in disbelief. “Just ‘cause I’m not into canes and all that doesn’t mean I won’t do things that hurt. Sometimes I might be a bit rough.”

“I trust you.”

“You’re really not even a little concerned?”

“Um, no, not really. I’ve seen you in action. Yeah, I know what you’re capable of, but I also know you’ve got it under control. It’s not like you just got your first dose of mako.”

“My idea of a light spank might be different than yours,” he warned, which only made Cloud smile.

“High pain tolerance, remember? I can take it.” Cloud paused there, a nagging question burning in his head. “Do your subs normally care about you being a SOLDIER?”

“Most SOLDIERs who get into this scene only mix with each other. Some of them get heavy into impact play, and they can handle a lot more than a normal person,” Zack explained carefully. “They keep it under wraps during public scenes, but once in a while…”

“They go overboard?”

“Yeah. It’s still safe and consensual, but it kinda freaks some people out which is hard to do in this scene,” he admitted, shaking his head at the thought. “I’ve got a pretty good reputation, so I still get approached, but it always comes up in these talks.”

Huh. It was understandable, but Cloud still didn’t find himself concerned with that at all. “Is that why you don’t like pain play?”

“Nah. I just don’t get anything from it—I do enough damage on a daily basis.”

“I like when things get a little rough,” Cloud told him slowly. “I know you won’t actually hurt me.”

“I won’t,” Zack promised.

If Zack Fair was anything, he was a man of his word. Cloud smiled at him before giving him a quick kiss just because he could. “Are we done talking then?”

“Unless you can think of anything else.”

“When can we start?”

“I’ve gotta think about all this before I decide what to do with you first,” Zack told him thoughtfully. “I’ve already got something in mind, but I’m gonna give it a few days in case I come up with something better.”

Cloud frowned. “So…we’re not playing today?”

“Nope.”

“How can you talk about all this and not want to do anything?”

“Who says we’re not doing anything?” Zack countered, raising a challenging brow.

“Are we?” he responded, a bit too eager.

“Maybe we shouldn’t till you learn some patience.”

“But—” Cloud cut himself off, realizing with a start that he wasn’t helping himself any. “I’m sorry.”

Zack eyed him for a long minute before nodding. “It’s okay. You’re gonna have to start trusting me though—trust that I know what talking about all this does to you, and that I’ll take care of you if you really need it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are you calling me that on purpose?” Zack asked, watching him closely. “Because I told you last night, trying to tease me isn’t gonna get you anywhere.”

“I’m not trying to tease,” he said quietly. “Not this time. Sir.”

“But you are trying to tell me something,” he concluded, a tiny smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth. “Your room’s really not the best place for any of this. Thin walls, room inspections—do you even have lube here?”

“Um, no,” he realized with a frown.

It wasn’t against policy or anything, but he’d stopped keeping that kind of thing on hand a while back because they always found it and commented during room inspections. Not that he was embarrassed to have it, but he wasn’t getting laid anyway, so it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

“When was the last time you had sex?” Zack asked casually.

“Uh,” Cloud arched a brow, not even sure. It was back when he found out one night stands weren’t really his thing, shortly after his last breakup. “I don’t know. Eight months ago?”

“Do you finger yourself?”

“Sometimes,” he shrugged, usually in the shower when jerking off just wasn’t cutting it anymore. “Are you about to tell me I’m not allowed to touch myself?”

“I’d rather you just come to me when you need something, but I’m not gonna tell you it’s not allowed,” Zack said lightly. “You might not like what happens if you ever try fingering yourself before you come see me.”

His eyes went wide. “What happens if I do that?”

Zack took his time to answer, something else clearly on his mind now. “Are there any words you don’t like? Terms that trigger you, or things you don’t want me to call you?”

“Uh. Like what?”

“Like how you told me Eric used to call you a slut. You said you didn’t mind it in the moment?”

Cloud frowned a little. “I…I mean, I like it, but only sometimes. Not normally.”

“I’m more of a praise kinda guy,” Zack reassured him with a smile. “I was just thinking, if you’re into it, I could take it as a hint—if you show up prepped and ready to go, you want things to go differently that day. It’d still be more praise than anything, just in different words.”

“You’re into that?”

“Not often,” he responded with a shrug. “Sometimes though, yeah.”

“Okay,” Cloud agreed slowly. It sounded fair enough, and he’d be the one making the decision. No doubt he liked being called a variety of names when the mood suited him, and it seemed like Zack didn’t think it was as strange as he did, so that was a good sign. “What are you going to call me normally?”

“A few things. Why? Is there something you don’t like?”

“Princess,” he responded, narrowing his eyes at the thought. “That’s what one of my old boyfriends used to call me. It was so annoying.”

“Duly noted. Anything else?”

“I liked when you called me pet,” he admitted, though he shook his head, “but I don’t want you to treat me like an actual pet.”

“You don’t hafta worry about that. That’s definitely not what it’s about for me,” Zack told him. “I’m not into petplay.”

“What is it about then?”

“Uh. Ownership, I guess? Not like owning you as a pet or property—more like, you’re letting me be the one to take care of you this way,” he tried to explain. “It’s not a big thing for me, so I don’t mind calling you something else.”

“No, it’s fine. I like it,” Cloud repeated, not even feeling strange about it after everything else they’d talked about. He didn’t quite understand why he liked it though.

“Do you wanna grab some breakfast and then head back to my place?” Zack offered tentatively.

“I kind of want to shower before doing anything.”

“I was kinda hoping we’d shower at my place, but it’s up to you.”

He raised a brow, noting the change in Zack’s tone immediately. There was an unspoken invitation hanging in the air, sparking his interest. “Can we go straight there?”

“Nope. I’m dying for some pancakes.”

Pancakes. Cloud very nearly scoffed.

This wasn’t about food, it was about patience. Once he realized that much, he bit back any protests or attempts to change Zack’s mind. Clearly he was aware Cloud was still a bit worked up from all this—it wasn’t like he had these conversations somewhat regularly the way Zack did.

But it wouldn’t kill him to wait a little longer. He was hungry anyway, and if it meant what he thought it did, it’d be worth the wait. Even if they weren’t really playing for a few more days.