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The club was loud and dark and the main room hummed with a mixture of awkwardness and excitement while the back rooms occasionally opened to spill out their aroused or satisfied occupants. Adam wasn’t much for exhibitionism so some might think that a play party wasn’t really the right place for him. But it was a private party and you only got in if you were invited so Adam hadn’t wanted to pass it up. Besides he wasn’t really looking for anything in particular, he would enjoy himself even if he just mingled and watched.

Blue had got him the invitation through one of her friends even though she was fairly vanilla herself. Still, ever since that drunken night in his last year at Columbia when he’d confessed to her that “I just really like tying people up sometimes, and other stuff, lots of other stuff” she’d been plenty supportive. And had even come with him a few times for some of the parties that required you to register with a buddy.

Some people might find it weird to bring your ex-girlfriend to a sex club, but his and Blue’s relationship had been weird since the beginning. They’d met in Adam’s first year at law school because Blue worked as a barista at not one but three coffee shops scattered across the city, one of which was near Columbia and another was near his apartment in Upper Manhattan. Considering the amount of coffee Adam consumed during that first year it was honestly impossible for him not to become friends with Blue.

They dated for two years and he thought a dozen times about them getting married. But Blue was about as poly as you could get, being tied to one and only one person made her feel trapped. Besides which, Adam had plans: he was going to graduate top of his class and then work at one of the best law firms in the country and eventually he would stop feeling like he was living a lie. Meanwhile Blue hated all that pretentious crap and preferred her strange odd jobs and stranger clothes and her plans to travel the world on a shoestring budget.

Adam loved her and probably always would. But they were headed in different directions and eventually their paths diverged enough that they couldn’t see themselves staying together.

The weird thing is they were much better friends after the breakup. Blue was hands down his best friend even though they had almost nothing in common these days: Adam worked at Seondeok, Gansey and Greenmantle LLP and lived in a brand new high rise in Murray Hill, while Blue continued to work multiple jobs and do a scarily accurate impression of one of the characters from Rent.

But they understood each other. Probably better now than they had while they were dating. Adam and Blue both went after what they wanted and refused to take no for an answer. Blue cared about Adam not because of what he could buy her or do for her, but because he was there and he listened and he didn’t judge her for what she wanted out of life. And in return Blue made his life something more than just a work-sleep-work-sleep routine. She reminded him he was human and Adam felt ridiculously grateful for their friendship.

Since he and Blue had broken up he’d mostly done the casual hookup thing. Hence his presence in a club in Brooklyn that was somehow overfull and strangely empty at the same time. The tables around the edge were all full but the center of the room was largely bare except for a few groups of people grinding and making out to the beat of the DJ’s music.

Adam recognized a few people but there were more strangers than he expected. That was the thing about living in NYC: you could try to find your queer kinky niche but there would still be more people constantly rotating in and out than you could ever meet. Adam was here for the sex more than the friendships so the revolving door model didn’t bother him.

Still it meant there was always a layer of awkwardness. Cruising for a pickup, Adam was pretty sure, was awkward for everyone but somehow it was even harder to start a conversation when your first thought upon seeing someone under the dark red lights was: ‘You’d look good covered in bruises.’ Followed logically by: ‘Especially if I put them there.’

Adam hadn’t seen anyone who caught his eye in any case so he figured he’d check the back rooms to see if there were any interesting scenes getting played out and if not he’d just join the mass of people on what could only loosely be called a dance floor.

The first door he came across was closed, a fairly straightforward signal that the participants inside were not welcoming onlookers. The next room had a woman face down on a table with a second fat woman carefully inserting temporary piercings in a curved shape down her back. He chatted for a minute with the piercer before crouching down at the head of the table.

“How long have you been at this?” he asked the woman on the table.

Her eyes were blown wide but they focused on him just fine.

“Mmm, Michelle?” she asked the piercer, but she was busy with one of the needles and just hummed instead of answering. “I think about an hour so far.”

“How long do you usually go for?”

“I’ve never done a full back design before,” she said, smiling a little dopily, “but right now it feels like I could go on forever.”

“Well so far it looks great.” Adam said encouragingly and it was true, the needles in her skin made a fan shape over her shoulder blades and then were slowly coming together as Michelle went, giving the impression of foliage narrowing into a tree trunk.

Another guy had entered the room while Adam had been talking. As he made to exit however the guy followed him. Not right behind him, not close enough to be creepy, but definitely enough to be intentional. He found a single stool along the crowded but currently unattended bar and turned around to take a look at the guy.

His first thought was: this guy is dangerous. There was a lazily calculating look in his bright blue eyes. His face was all sharp angles and his body was all tightly cut lines. His expression said ‘I might bite, but you might like it.’ Thing was, Adam wasn’t really into getting bitten.

“Can I help you?” Adam said walking the line between ‘I don’t take shit’ and ‘I’m not a total douchebag’ because the thing was, even in the queer scene there were plenty of predatory cis guys. There was a reason some parties were women and trans people only. In a lot of ways Adam would have preferred those parties, except for the little detail that he himself didn’t qualify. Still letting in cis guys meant dealing with some overly pushy assholes sometimes and this guy had the look.

“I don’t know, can you?” He smirked like he knew something that Adam didn’t, which was one of the easiest ways to piss Adam off.

Adam gritted his teeth. He could see the rest of this conversation playing out. Adam saying he wasn't looking for a dom, the guy saying something about how he just hadn't met the right dom yet, Adam trying to extricate himself from the exchange. Someone ending up getting punched. At this point it was basically a done deal. But Adam sighed and gave it one more shot.

“Let’s try this again. I’m Adam.”

“Ronan.” he said, and as the shook hands Adam saw the orange cruising bracelet on his right wrist, above a gathered collection of leather bracelets. That wasn’t surprising, this club was known for its cruising system which let people easily advertise what they were looking for. The surprising thing was that it was on his right wrist, which usually signaled a sub looking for a dom, and the orange color meant, more or less, ‘anything goes’. Before Adam could really get over his shock Ronan was already speaking. “Do you want to get out of here?”


 

Ronan had started the night sitting with Noah at a table against the wall. It had been a year and a half since he was last in a club like this and Ronan could feel the time like a weight, heavy in every bone of his body. Three years ago he would have known every face in this room. But now there were people he didn’t recognize and even the people who did look familiar didn't seem to recognize him. Noah said it was just the hair: everyone was used to the curls. Ronan thought it was the hair and the now-scarred eyebrow and the unconsciously sneering lip and the defensive posture, daring anyone to come too close. He knew what he must look like. He couldn't help it. There was a certain safety in isolation.

But, he reminded himself, he couldn’t stay safe forever. He’d been gone long enough, he wanted to be here, needed to be here desperately. He had gone to a couple regular clubs in the last few months but this was the first play party he’d gone to, and he’d come with intent.

He was leaving this shindig bloody, bruised, well-fucked or otherwise out of his goddamn head. But so far no one had caught his eye. Too femme, too tall, too imposing, not imposing enough. He knew he was being impossibly picky, Noah had already scoped out a good three people they were interested in talking to. But they were sitting here like a good friend, because they didn’t want to leave Ronan to sulk alone.

“Noah,” he said, trying to make it a sigh but having it coming out more of a growl, “just go. I’m a big boy I don’t need you to hold my hand. And that chick by the floggers has been eyeing you for like ten minutes.”

Noah didn’t ask if he was sure. Which Ronan deeply, deeply appreciated. Instead they just patted Ronan’s head comfortingly, the “I’m right here if you need me” implied, and headed off.

Ronan just sat for a minute, watching Noah and the woman hit it off. The problem with sitting alone at a place like this was that it was just asking for someone to come up and try to chat. Which was the last thing Ronan wanted. If something was going to happen tonight it would be on his terms. So he drew his easy “fuck you and everything you stand for, you loathsome dickstick” face over his already imposing physical presence and sat comfortably undisturbed for a while.

Then Ronan’s eye caught on someone who’d just walked in. He was dressed in black slacks and a mesh long sleeved shirt that showed off a slim physique. But mostly Ronan was distracted by his face.

He had to be one of the most beautiful people Ronan had ever seen. Usually when you surpassed a certain bar in terms of attractiveness, it began to work against you. Ronan couldn’t count the number of model types who were practically repulsive in their attractiveness. Because, and this may have been his own strange mental hang-up, but usually hot people just looked like total assholes. Something about a given level of hotness just screamed ‘I’m a huge dick’.

That was typical for Ronan. Hot guy? Probably a dick.

This one was different. He looked like an art nouveau interpretation of a classical statue, like any second flowers would spring from beneath his feet and vines would curl themselves protectively around his long slim fingers. He wasn’t just beautiful, he was a touch strange too. Just a hint otherworldly and almost, yes, Ronan realized, most definitely, this man looked dangerous.

And that more than anything was what pushed Ronan out of his seat and had him following the man into one of the back rooms. Well, the danger combined with a not-insignificant self-destructive streak.

By the time he’d made it across the room, Ronan was dry mouthed and sweating. He reminded himself that he came here with a purpose. This was what he wanted.

The man was talking softly to… was that Tonya? He couldn’t be sure from this angle but that did look like Michelle in the latex gloves and they usually played together so it was possible.

Ronan almost chickened out right then. Or perhaps ‘chickened out’ was the wrong word, perhaps the correct phrase would’ve been ‘came to his senses.’ Either way, it almost happened right then. And then he registered the careful smile on the guy’s face as he talked to Tonya, registered how he was crouched down so she didn’t have to move or strain herself to talk to him. And that silenced whatever logical voice was clamoring in his mind.

Ronan followed the guy out, back into the main room and over to the unstaffed bar. He took a seat and turned to face Ronan.

Ronan saw the look that passed over the guy's face: condescending, skeptical, maybe a little unnerved. Sometimes Ronan hated being a guy, hated exuding menace and danger even when he wasn't trying. This wasn't gonna work. He almost turned away.

“Can I help you?” the guy asked and it was to the point, edging into belligerent and promised that regardless of first impressions he was not going to back down. Ronan could appreciate all of that, even the belligerence.

“I don't know, can you?” Ronan smirked, going for flirtatious but ending up just sounding like an idiot.

The guy looked annoyed for a minute and Ronan could already see the rest of the night unfolding: hot guy walking away, Ronan sitting watching Noah get flogged to within an inch of his life and wishing he'd brought beer or wishing even more for one of K’s pills.

But then the other man sighed, and held out his hand.

“Let's try this again. I'm Adam.”

Ronan gulped back a stupid rush of gratitude.

“Ronan,” he said, taking Adam’s hand, suddenly sharply aware of how sweaty his own palm was. “Do you want to get out of here?”

And shit, shit that was definitely not what he meant to say. Because he didn’t know this guy, Adam, from… well, from Adam. And he certainly didn’t trust him enough to take him home, to show him The Brownstone, or honestly to even be alone with the guy. He knew by far the safest way to do a scene would be to stay here, where Noah or one of the volunteers could intervene.

“You’re looking for a dom? For a scene?” He sounded very surprised and two things hit Ronan at once.

One: he’d never seen this guy before, from the way Michelle looked at him she didn’t know him either. Someone this hot would have been immediately snapped up by a dozen waiting play partners if he had been in the scene for longer than a second. So, by all reckonings, he was probably a brand spanking new dom, too green to tie his own shoelaces much less a square knot.

And two, Ronan didn’t give a shit if it was dangerous. He’d played it safe for a year and a half. This guy was new, which presented its challenges, but it also meant he didn’t know Ronan’s reputation or hang-ups, didn’t have any expectations, and probably didn’t know enough to properly fuck him over. If Ronan was the more experienced one here, he had the power, at least to a point. He could deal with that.


 

 “You’re looking for a dom? For a scene?” Adam asked, still catching up on the swift change in expectations.

“Yup, you up for it?” It was cocky but not unbearably so. Adam found it confusing: this guy following him around, acting like kind of an asshole, and yet asking to go home with him, for Adam to dom him.

Then something occurred to. Maybe Ronan was one of those ‘act out so he can be punished’ types. The ones who purposely tried to rile up their doms. Adam had witnessed shit like that a few times, it didn’t really do it for him.

Still, he found himself asking: “Did you have something in mind?”

“Something you haven’t done before,” he said, smiling.

“How do you know what I’ve done before?” Adam asked warily.

“I don’t,” Ronan said, as if that was the point.

So he wasn’t angling for something in particular. Adam could appreciate spontaneity but honestly half the fun for him was the negotiation, making sure they were both on the same page.

“If we do this, we do it my way,” he said, still not quite sure why he wasn’t sending Ronan on his merry way alone. But something about the dangerous eyes and the lazy smirk was enticing. If Adam was honest with himself, he kind of wanted to dom this guy, just to see if he could.

So, he made a choice.


 

 “If we do this, we do it my way.” Adam said, and yes exactly.

“That’s kind of the point, yeah.” Adam gave him a weird look at that. But Ronan felt the adrenaline come easy now, fizzing like champagne in his gut, the prospect of pain, of pleasure, of riding the high of subspace into next fucking week if he could manage it. “Is that a yes?”

There was a pause and Ronan’s gut clenched; it was too early for Adam to be playing mind games. But perhaps he was just thinking because after a moment he nodded and stood up.

Ronan hadn’t realized how close he had been leaning until Adam stood up. It impressed him that Adam hadn’t been intimidated by the unintentional looming. For a rookie he certainly had balls.

Adam picked up his jacket from the coat room on his way out, a sleek black pea coat. Ronan himself just took his beanie out of his inside jacket pocket and pulled it on as they exited the club.

This venue, like most of the clubs chosen for these kind of get-togethers, was a little off the beaten path so there were no cabs in sight when they got out onto the curb.

It was close enough that they could probably walk to The Brownstone. But yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. So he fell into step beside Adam as they walked toward a busier street.

“Yours or mine?” Adam asked after half a block in silence.

“Yours,” Ronan replied emphatically.

They grabbed a cab and Adam gave an address in Midtown. Ronan filed that away. In New York where you lived said a lot about you.

The apartment, when they got there, was on the 7th floor of an absolute eyesore of a new high rise. Ronan tried to reserve full judgment until he saw the inside of the place but it was hard.

The inside, as it turned out, was just as bad: sleek minimalist couches and hard backed dining chairs. It was the kind of place that was meant to be seen, not lived in. Ronan was doubly, triply glad he hadn’t brought Adam back to The Brownstone.

He refused to be cowed by the soullessness of the place. He took off his beanie and shoved it in his pocket and shrugged off his jacket, threw it on the couch before dropping his boots on the floor by the door and tossing himself onto the other – yup, could have guessed that – very uncomfortable couch.

Then he turned and watched Adam, who had just finished putting his shoes and jacket away in the closet by the door. Adam paused only for the briefest seconds before holding up a hand.

“Wait here,” he said before disappearing down the hall. Ronan texted Noah to let him know where he was. Just in case. It was stupid, if this guy tried to fight him Ronan could probably kick his ass. But still. Just in case.  Adam returned quickly with, of all things, paperwork.

“If you’ve got business shit to do, I can leave.” Ronan said, gesturing to the door.

“They’re for us, dumbass.”

And then he handed over three sheets of paper, keeping the rest for himself. Ronan glanced at them, long enough to see “Yes” “Maybe” “No” and “Additional Comments” along the top and a grid underneath. Along the left side of the paper was an alphabetized list of kinks starting with “Anal Sex” and ending with “Exhibitionism”. Quickly he looked over the other two pages, which seemed to cover the rest of the alphabet.

“Are you serious?” he asked, caught between laughter and annoyance. God, how green was this kid?

“It’s not as bad as it looks. Three pages go by quick. And if you don’t want to do all of them you can just fill in the answers for the definite ‘yes’s and ‘no’s.”

“I’m not gonna do that.”

Adam raised an eyebrow and there was some steel in his tone when he replied.


 

“We agreed we’d do it my way. My way requires you to fill this out,” Adam said, in his best ‘as your lawyer I know what’s best for you’ voice and then he bent over the checklist and started writing.

He got as far as Barebacking (“Yes” then, “if we’ve both been tested”) before he realized Ronan wasn’t moving. He set the papers back down on his knees.

“Yes?” Adam asked.

“This is stupid.”

“Making sure we’re both on the same page is stupid?“

Ronan sighed and rolled his eyes; it made him look like a sulky teenager.

"You should just do what you like.”

“Kind of the whole point is to do things we both like."

From the bulge of his jaw Adam could guess that Ronan was gritting his teeth.

"I like pain, and I like being told what to do. If what you want includes that, I’ll be fine.”

“So you’re trying to tell me you don’t have any hard limits? Nothing I should know about before we start?”

“I’ve got limits but that’s what a fucking safeword is for.” There was something shadowed and stubborn on Ronan’s face and Adam wasn’t really sure how far to push this. “It just seems stupid that I have to fill out a fucking form when I don’t even know if I like your… you know, style. You can negotiate all you want, but it won’t change anything if you’re a shitty fucking dom.”

Adam took a deep breath against the swell of anger. The very last thing you wanted to be when you were domming was angry. “Okay,” he said, “say we have one scene, just to test each other out. If we click, you go home, fill out the form, and we go from there. If we don’t click, you never have to see me again. Either way I’ve got a non-disclosure agreement in my desk which you can sign before or after the scene. Does that sound acceptable?"

Some people balked at the NDA but Adam was pretty set on it with most hookups. Blue kept him with one foot firmly in the quirky, queer, ‘anything goes’ community but he was aware that he could get fired if it got out what he did in his free time. (It wouldn’t be legal, of course, the firing, but if Adam knew anything he knew all the ways the law fell short.) So yeah, the NDA was pretty much non-negotiable.

But Ronan didn’t seem bothered by that, just narrowed his eyes a little.

“Okay. I’ll sign it now.”

“Great.” Adam said, and got up to grab it from his desk. When he got back Ronan was standing up, halfway between the couch and the TV, fiddling with his phone, seeing Adam he quickly sat back down, and then tried his best to look nonchalant about the whole thing. Adam suspected from the jumpiness that it’d been too long since Ronan had last done this.

Adam set the papers on the coffee table, and he and Ronan both signed them.

“Do you want your copy?” Adam asked.

Ronan looked at him warily for a moment.

“Yeah, I do.” He took the copy Adam handed him and carefully tucked it away in the pocket of his jacket lying beside him on the couch.

“Cool. So what’s your safeword?”

“Glendower,” Ronan said, smirking a little to himself. It was a nice expression on his otherwise closed off face.

“Okay, if you say ‘Glendower’ we stop. And you wanted to do something I’d never done before. Anything I’m forgetting?”

Ronan looked surprised that Adam had remembered what he had said back at the club. Then his expression went blank.

“We keep pants on.” It wasn’t a question, except for the hands balled into fists at his knees and the challenging slant of his chin.

It wasn’t what Adam was expecting. But he could work with it.

“Sure, that’s fine.” He waited a second in case Ronan had anything else he wanted to say. Instead he just crossed his arms over his chest. And that was enough of that. “Take off your shirt.”


 

“Take off your shirt.” The command was gentle, as far as they go. This guy had some natural talent but probably wasn’t used to telling people what to do.

It only took a moment for Ronan to process the order and begin to move. He took off his shirt and left it on top of his jacket on the couch.

“Kneel over here behind the couch,” Adam said, indicating a spot of hardwood floor between the living room and the kitchen that had been left artfully empty. Ronan couldn’t trust someone who didn’t have at least some clutter. But then, he reminded himself, that was exactly what he was doing. He was trusting this guy he’d just met even though he knew exactly how badly it could go wrong. Because he was a stupid son of a bitch.

Still, he was a stupid son of a bitch with some goddamn follow-through, so he knelt where he’d been told. And then he didn’t move, didn’t look around, tried to fit himself back into a mindset that had once been as familiar as The Brownstone. Obey.

He couldn’t help but pay attention to the sound of Adam crossing the room, opening the closet. And suddenly he knew. Adam was going to get his coat and leave. And Ronan didn’t know why. Maybe he’d done something wrong. Maybe Adam was going to get his friends so they could have some fun together. Maybe… no.

No.

He didn’t need to stay here. There was nothing keeping him here. He could get up and leave as soon as Adam walked out. He was already preparing himself, ready to stand up (against permission, he hadn’t said Ronan could go) when the closet door shut and Adam’s footsteps came back toward him.

And then, before Ronan could catch up there was soft fabric covering his eyes and he snorted because this guy was using a fucking scarf as a blindfold. God, he couldn’t decide which of them was more of a clusterfuck in this situation.

“Can you hold your hands behind your back for me?” Adam asked. And Ronan did it without thinking, but wanted to laugh.

“Let me guess. Now you’re gonna go for the fuzzy pink handcuffs,” he said, and most doms would have smacked him for speaking out of turn, especially to make fun of them. But apparently this guy hadn’t got the memo.

“Close. I do need to go get some things. Stay where you are.” But then, before he walked away, he paused. “Oh, and one other thing.”

And shit, shit apparently Adam was just the type to wait a second for punishment.

He put a hand on Ronan’s shoulder and Ronan was ready to get pushed to the floor, tried not to brace, tried not to follow the instinct to pull his hands out to soften his fall because that would only make it worse. But instead of a shove, Adam’s hand steadied him and then with his foot gently kicked Ronan’s feet out from under him while pushing down, again gently, on his shoulder. It was a tiny shift, from kneeling up to sitting on his feet. And Ronan couldn’t help but make a little noise of relief that he wasn’t face down against the hardwood right now.

“Oh,” he said snottily, trying not to feel thankful for this small kindness, and maybe pushing now just to see how far Adam would let him go, “so you’re gonna micromanage too. That’s just great.”

Adam didn’t do anything. Just said, “Stay,” and walked down the hall further into the apartment.

Now Ronan had nothing to focus on but his current position. In the dark, on his knees, hands behind his back. Vulnerable. But in an odd twist of events: completely in his right mind. It was strange to feel floor under his knees and one wrist grasped tightly in the other hand without also being drunk enough to sway or high enough to forget why he couldn’t see and suddenly worry that maybe he’d gone blind. It was surprisingly pleasant this way.

Still, this position was not the most comfortable and his ankles hurt from being pressed into the hardwood. Not enough to get endorphins rushing, just enough to be annoying. Eventually Adam walked back into the room.

“Took you long enough.” Ronan said, even though it could only have been a few minutes.

Adam knelt behind him by the sound of it and Ronan heard the familiar whisper of rope before feeling it against his skin. He’d always liked rope, liked being bound, but still the visceral reaction to not being able to move hit him more strongly that he would have expected. “What’s the problem, don’t trust me?” Ronan said, just for something to do with his mouth other than bite his lip until it bled. When there was no response it stung. Because of course Adam didn’t trust him, he didn’t even know him, and if he did know him he probably still wouldn’t trust him. Ronan hadn’t earned that. He forced out a snort. “That’s what I thought.”

But then Adam tucked his fingers between Ronan’s now bound hands. And Ronan felt cold suddenly, couldn’t stop the shiver, because clearly this guy was some kind of psycho murderer. Who else went and picked up guys, tied them up, and then tried to hold hands? Ronan was so dead.

He heard the clack of a keyboard which was an out of place sound. Before he could come up with what to say to that (maybe: ‘am I boring you?’) large headphones slipped over his ears and suddenly he couldn’t hear anything.

No, that wasn’t true.

Wow,” sarcasm covering the way his heart was pounding, “white noise. Exciting.” Because the thing was now he couldn’t see or hear, couldn’t move, couldn’t follow instructions, couldn’t tell when Adam was going to hurt him. Maybe now Adam would leave, would just leave him in the noisy silence, in the dark.

He started to rock, partially because his feet had gone beyond burning and into numbness, and partially because he was trying not to panic.

But he was rewarded with Adam’s hands on his biceps, stilling him, and that calmed him down, just knowing Adam was still there.

“My feet are falling asleep, asshole,” he said, and then kept talking because the act of speaking, even speaking out of turn, was soothing, “I get it. You’re trying to bore me into subspace.” God, he wished his brain would calm the fuck down enough to let him either a) get bored or even better b) get into subspace. “That’s great, working real well. Glad we had boring paperwork as boredom foreplay.”

Adam had clearly been pretty serious about that fucking paperwork so mocking it was probably going too far, but since when had Ronan ever stayed within the limits.

But no punishment was forthcoming. Adam just slowly traced his hands across Ronan’s shoulders and chest. It was strange and Ronan didn’t like it. Especially when Adam touched one of the oldest scars, just beneath his peck and Ronan shied away. Shit, he knew. Adam knew and Ronan hadn’t told him and he would be angry, shit shit shit.

But Adam just brushed his hands over Ronan’s shoulders before taking up residence behind him. Still touching him, still with that strange gentleness, Adam traced the lines of his tattoo. Ronan forced himself to sit still but he didn’t know what to do with this. It felt dangerous in a way Ronan hadn’t experienced in a long time. In his experience gentleness was almost always part of a cycle that ended with him tearing himself apart trying to get back to the good times.

How dare Adam treat him like he was special, like this whole experience was pure or meaningful? It wasn’t. It wasn’t anything. And pretending otherwise was just some kind of fucked up way to get into his head.

“Look,” Ronan said, and he hated, hated how his voice sounded. “Just do something already.” He sounded weak, like he was begging. And he knew how that story ended.

But Adam didn’t seem to get it. Didn’t seem to know that if he just kept doing what he was doing, kept pushing, it wouldn’t take long for Ronan to fucking break. Adam was blessedly inexperienced so he didn’t hear how close Ronan was to the raggedy fucking edge. And so, in his ignorance, he gave him exactly what he wanted.

Lines of fire burned down his back and the pain felt like redemption, like there was a chance he’d make it out of here in one piece, still cracked in all the same places he’d been when he walked in, but not totally split apart.

He didn’t even realize he was talking until he said, “-that’s what I want.” And it was so true. He’d forgotten how clear, how cleansing the pain could be.

But it wasn’t enough. He needed more.

The next time he registered something Adam must have moved in front of him because there were hands under his armpits and strong arms pulling him to his feet and then yes, there was more.

“Oww, shit,” he gasped as his legs protested the change in position. His feet exploded from precarious numbness into tingling, cramping, aching life. Adam kept his hands on Ronan, steadying him. Without thinking it through he started moving his feet, trying to work feeling into them even as it made him feel clumsy and fragile.

Then he stopped, when he realized he hadn’t been told to do that and wouldn’t be able to hear if Adam told him to stop. But with a hand on the back of his neck and Adam’s nails digging in soothingly he shuddered back into careful movement.

It still hurt, as Adam pressed Ronan’s head into his shoulder. But it wasn’t sharp, sudden pain, not like a whip or a paddle even. It was a dozen tiny pinpricks of feeling that were almost too soft to be pain, but just painful enough to be set his head buzzing pleasantly. He couldn’t help the little noises he made between clenched teeth as the pain slowly subsided.

“I’ve never liked pins and needles before,” Ronan said into the darkness. It bothered him less that he didn’t get an answer than it had a few minutes ago. Everything felt a little less terrible now that he’d got a taste of the thing that made it all worth it.

Adam shifted his hands back to Ronan’s biceps and guided him back to the floor, leaning forward this time to keep the weight off of his feet and mostly on Adam’s shoulder. Then there was a pause and Ronan came back to himself enough to worry that he was doing something wrong. Was he too heavy? Was Adam telling him to do something that he couldn’t hear? Adam shifted oddly and Ronan scrambled to try and interpret the movement. But before he could figure it out Adam was lowering him the rest of the way to the floor with a soft fabric between his face and the cold hardwood. By the smell it was Ronan’s own jacket and he felt stupidly comforted. His father had given him that jacket and despite all the shitty things it had seen him through, it still smelled like The Brownstone, like home.

“What now?” he asked, mostly because he liked the way his voice rebounded in his head even though he couldn’t hear the words out loud. He hummed just to hear the buzz between his ears, how it mixed pleasantly with the white noise. He knew he was being stupid. He shouldn’t be this far down already, barely anything had happened yet. But it had been so long and there was something so soothing about giving up control, about letting his mind drift while someone else controlled what happened to him.

After a few moments resting in the darkness, occasionally wiggling his gently tingling toes, Ronan felt a weight settle in the center of his back. It was cool but not cold, substantial but not heavy. He felt Adam’s thigh brush against his side and he relaxed into whatever was coming next.

So the heat hit him just as he had taken a deep breath in. It punched the air out of him and he quickly sucked in more. It was real heat this time, not just his body turning blood rushing to the surface into warmth in his nerve endings. Ronan knew what wax felt like as it spilled and pooled around the candle.

Time slid sideways a little. The wax moved very slowly and yet he wasn’t really keeping track of anything until the fresh waves of pain stopped coming and instead there were gentle pressure and the slight scratch of Adam’s nails peeling the wax back off his skin. And as it pulled the fine hairs from his skin, it also felt as though it was taking a layer of dirt and debris with it; it was cleansing.

The candle was set back down on Ronan’s left shoulder blade and then his right and the pain bloomed like a flower opening across his back. Ronan wished he could see it, could see his body so beautifully marked. But Adam was apparently fastidious because he peeled all the wax off and left Ronan feeling hot, smooth and new.

By now he was floating pleasantly within his own skin. It was like lying at the bottom of a swimming pool, heavy pressure keeping him grounded and yet an internal lightness, a buoyancy.

“Phew,” Ronan said, imagining the bubbles rising from his exhalation. “’S that all you’ve got?”

It was quiet at the bottom of the pool. In his ears he could hear the pound of his own steady heartbeat and the gentle rush of the water filter. No one was there. And yet, Adam was there. Adam was the water, all around him, holding him, keeping him safe.

And then there was a shock, a bright sharp, aching pain that brought him crashing back into his own body. It burned as it hit the overheated skin of his back and he moaned because it was ice and it was Adam touching him and he was in Adam’s apartment and everything felt fuzzy except for the ice slowly melting off his back and shoulder blades and slipping down his sides to pool beneath him on the floor.

He was so fucking turned on. He couldn’t help but move his hips, looking for friction, for pressure.

His breaths were coming in huge gulps and as the chill set in he began to shiver. But the ice, as it melted, was not replaced, so eventually he was just lying in darkness on a wet floor listening to the white noise playing though the headphones.

And then Adam pulled the headphones off and Ronan fit himself neatly back into his body.

“How are you feeling?” Adam asked, voice light and fingers delicate at the knot of the makeshift blindfold.

 Ronan hummed, pleased somehow that Adam thought to ask.

“I’ve been worse,” he said, and then wondered about Adam. If this was his first or nearly first scene, he did remarkably well. “And yourself?” he asked, turning to look at Adam once the blindfold was gone.

He swam into focus and looked calm, held Ronan’s gaze as he spoke.

“I’m doing pretty good.”

Ronan bit back a smile as Adam moved around to start untying the rope around his wrists. He suspected calling Adam out on his inexperience now, even if it was in the form of a compliment, would just make him defensive so Ronan said nothing.

As the ropes fell away Ronan wiggled his fingers against the light brush of Adam’s hands. Then, before Adam took that as an invitation to try that whole ‘hand holding’ thing again, Ronan tucked his arms under his jacket and rested his head on them.

“I’m going to go grab some things. I’ll only be a sec.”

It didn’t sound like a dismissal and Ronan really didn’t feel like moving yet, so he just remained on the floor and listened to the gentle sound of Adam’s footsteps retreating.

That had been, quite frankly, incredible. And it felt so perfect and freeing and exciting it was almost like discovering kink all over again, but also like finding his way back to an old friend. Just, now with some baggage, Ronan thought.

He didn’t hear Adam come back in, but he was brought back to the present moment by a soft towel dabbing at the water pooled on his back. God, who was this guy?

“Damn,” he said, voice strangled around a suppressed laugh, “getting the five-star treatment here.”

Adam didn’t have anything to say to that. Maybe embarrassed at going so overboard? But he continued to dry Ronan off and Ronan let him, feeling bubbling amusement combining with the already fizzy feeling in his chest.

“Can you stand?” Adam asked.

“You sure think a lot of yourself, champ.” He tried to use the same tone of voice his father used to use on Declan: fond but ever so slightly condescending, just to put him in his place.

But then, embarrassingly, he did sway slightly as he stood and had to grab the back of the couch for support. He kept a steadying hand on the couch as he walked around the side and sat to put on his shirt. Then he remembered his jacket was still on the floor.

Before he could get up, Adam spoke, “I’ll get it. Drink this,” and handed a glass of water to him over the back of the couch. Ronan drank gladly; he’d forgotten how much a scene could take out of you.

Adam came around with his jacket and sat on the opposing couch, handing it over easily when Ronan reached for it. Everything was so easy. It almost made Ronan wary with its simplicity. He wanted the jacket back on, the familiar tough, dark second skin. But before he could pull it on, Adam interrupted him.

“Wait.” Ronan paused. “Could you- it’s cold out and I’m sure normally you care more about your aesthetic than actually being warm, but just humor me and- put this on?” And with that Adam held out what was obviously a homemade sweater in forest green.

If this was some territorial bullshit like Adam wanting to ‘mark what was his’ Ronan was going to come out of this exchange swinging. But there was no shadow in Adam’s expression, no heat in his face, if anything he looked… concerned. Honest. Trustworthy. Who the fuck was this guy?

So, on a whim, Ronan took the sweater and pulled it on.

“Any last requests?” Ronan asked, trying to make it clear that this surrender was purely an example of Ronan humoring him.

“Want a Fig Newton?” Adam asked in return, holding out a handful of the healthy snacks that Ronan hadn’t eaten since he was a child.

“Sure, I’ll take a couple for the road.” Ronan took some and, upon smelling them and realizing how hungry he was, started eating one as he stood.

“Wait,” Adam said, “let me give you my email, in case you want to do this again.”

And there were those beginner nerves again. Any seasoned dom would have known that scene had blown Ronan’s mind and he’d definitely be back for more. But Adam didn’t seem to notice. It was almost cute.

Ronan shrugged and sat as Adam wrote something on his contract before tearing off the corner and handing it over. But before Ronan could leave, Adam said something else.

“I get it,” ‘oh, do you?’ Ronan wanted to ask, “you don’t want to talk now. You probably just want to be alone, but if you decide you want to try this again we should meet to debrief beforehand.”

And maybe the whole coy routine was an act. Because that sure as hell sounded like a demand. Ronan wasn’t a fan of that, even if it was, maybe, a reasonable thing to ask for.

He just turned and went to put on his boots. But rather than putting distance between them, Adam followed. And Ronan was abruptly aware and deeply unamused by the role reversal from earlier in the night, when it had been Ronan following Adam around the club.

“What are you doing?” Ronan asked, when Adam put on his own shoes and shadowed Ronan all the way to the door.

“Just making sure you get in a cab safe.” Adam said, and if that wasn’t the most obvious cover for trying to find out where he lived, Ronan didn’t know what it was.

“I got it,” he said coolly, before slipping out the door and heading for the elevator, listening carefully for Adam’s footsteps following him. But he heard nothing and when he turned around in the elevator Adam’s door was still closed. He let his shoulders relax and he noticed for the first time how comfortable the sweater was on his bare arms.

He didn’t let himself think beyond that until he was safely in a cab headed toward The Brownstone. But as his mind began to run over the scene, and especially the conversation afterward, he begrudgingly admitted to himself that he might not have been giving Adam the benefit of the doubt the way he should. It was, he supposed, possible that Adam had just wanted to be a – ugh – gentleman, and walk Ronan out to a cab.

He refused to feel guilty about that. It wasn’t good for a dom to have their every whim catered to outside a scene, Ronan reasoned. And it wasn’t Ronan’s fault that he was going home to a place that actually felt like a home, whereas Adam was stuck in that bleak, minimalist, coffin of an apartment.

Still, he pulled out the scrap of paper and looked at the cramped, careful writing in the light of the passing streetlights all the way home.