Daniel woke up alone.
His eyes were gummy, his head throbbed. The room was dark. He glanced one way and then the other, admitting that Ian wasn't just sitting somewhere behind him. With a shallow exhale, Daniel pushed himself up, each fiber of his body and his soul protesting against this single movement when really what he should be doing is sinking deep into the bed—so deep that he'd never have to get up again.
The carpet felt thin and alien beneath his feet. Now that he was less disoriented, he could hear voices coming from down the hall, joking. Laughing. He stared at the strip of light shining underneath the door.
Come get me, a tiny voice in his chest begged.
He could hear utensils scraping on dishes. He smelled bacon.
Waiting would be pathetic. And it would be even worse if Ian never came. So Daniel got up and found his clothes piece by piece. He moved slowly though, sitting back down again to pull each sock on, his ears permanently tuned towards the voices in the kitchen. He could discern Ian's charming voice, the cocky, warm timbre making Daniel feel so...abandoned. He could admit that. He could admit that he wanted Ian to know—and to care—that Daniel was sitting alone in the dark here in this room that belonged to strangers.
But Daniel was an adult, and he knew that kind of thing was the stuff of fantasies.
He pulled the sheets off the bed, rolled them up, and put them on the chair in the corner. Then he spread the comforter over the mattress so it wouldn't look so bare. At this point, he knew that he was stalling not because he still hoped Ian would come find him but because he didn't have the guts to walk out there.
Not when he knew that all three of those men had listened to the sounds he made last night and not a single one of them understood how miserable he was. Or maybe he was giving them too much credit. Maybe they did know, and they didn't care. Or they liked it.
Daniel knew what Richard would say about this: You trusted the wrong guy. He'd say it with open arms and a wry, affectionate smile. He'd also probably throw in a little joke about Daniel knowing better than to rob the cradle.
So that's how it was. Daniel gave the room one last once-over and then firmly grasped the door knob on his way out.
The kitchen was bright with the morning sun streaming through multiple skylights. At the counter, Ian, Mason, and Craig were sitting on stools. They were all wearing casual button-ups and slacks, and their hair was all perfectly gelled into place. Not a single one of them had bags under their eyes. They looked like a mid-season Banana Republic catalog ad.
In the split second before they noticed Daniel came in, he reminded himself that all of these men worked for the company, and they were all higher up than him, so he should at least act professional. He hoped he didn't look like shit.
Ian noticed him first, looking at Daniel from over the brim of his coffee cup. He took his time sipping, and then he set down the cup as he said, "Morning." The other two men looked over.
"Morning," Daniel replied. His voice was raspy.
"Daniel!" Craig came around the counter and linked his arm with Daniel's pulling him forward. "I've got a full lumberjack's breakfast here. Whole wheat toast, and coffee cake if you're feeling naughty."
Daniel couldn't help but latch onto Craig's guileless, friendly tone like it was the only drop of water in a desert. He was pushed onto a stool next to Ian, and then a plate piled high with eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast was slid in front of him. "Salt and pepper is up to you. I never dare to presume."
Daniel rubbed at his throat. "Tabasco?"
Craig smiled warmly and flounced around to go find the hot sauce. Daniel watched him, in fact he kept his eyes locked on Craig so he wouldn't have to look at Ian, who was most definitely staring at him. And then Daniel felt a hand gently pet down the back of his head and rest at the cusp of his neck and shoulder.
"You guys have a lot of plans for the weekend?" Ian said, speaking to Mason and Craig.
Mason chuckled. "I'm always a promised a lazy day, and then somehow we end up spending three hours at the farmer's market."
"You don't complain when you taste what I make from the farmer's market," Craig cut in, mimicking Mason's mocking tone.
"Well, that's true."
Craig set the tabasco down in front of him, so Daniel tuned out the rest of their flirting as he shook a couple of drops over his eggs. He was really hoping Ian hadn't asked about their plans because he wanted to spend more time with them.
"What about you two?" he heard Mason ask.
There was a beat of awkward silence where Daniel knew that they were all looking at him. And then Ian cleared his throat with a small laugh. "Ah no, just gonna send my boy home for some rest."
Daniel was so relieved at the idea of finally going back to his apartment that he didn't even care that Ian had called him his "boy". He hid this by stuffing his face with eggs.
The rest of the morning petered out in a similar fashion, with light small talk and short silences. Daniel felt like a teenager by not participating or even trying to, but he was just so bone tired. Besides, wasn't he supposed to be the brat in this equation? So why not sulk?
Mason called them a cab. The goodbyes at the curb felt weird and stilted. Daniel was practically holding his breath until the door shut and the car pulled away. Of course, he should have been more aware of the fact that he was still stuck alone with Ian.
They were about halfway to the train station before Ian said, "Listen, I want at least three nights a week. I'll pay for the hotel." Nothing in his voice told Daniel where his mind was at. It was almost like he was discussing their work schedule. "Did you hear me?"
"I want an actual answer."
"Three nights, you mean…"
Daniel automatically glanced at the cabbie, frustrated that they were having yet another private conversation with someone sitting right there. He heard Ian sigh. "Nevermind, we'll discuss it later."
Never had Daniel been so thrilled to see the train station. He wasn't proud of how he practically leapt out of the car, but thankfully he had the presence of mind to turn around and offer to pay half the fare.
Ian just smiled at him wearily before telling the driver to go.
So Daniel didn't know where that left things. He almost missed his train because he was so dazed.
What was supposed to happen next? They meet up at the next appointed night and just... fuck? Who would that be fun for?
On the train, he quietly watched the city drop away into rural land, and thought about Ian and the night they had. He tried to remember what Ian's expressions were. But really, Daniel had spent most of it on his belly, so there hadn't been a whole lot of seeing Ian anyway.
Wishful fantasizing had Ian's handsome face marred with trouble over making Daniel feel so small. And now: Ian would be sitting in his apartment right now analyzing each and every moment just like Daniel was, and regretting every single thing he did. He'd be wracking his brain for some way to get Daniel to forgive him. He'd be calling himself an idiot.
Daniel snorted at himself.
Don't be so stupid.
The first check after his pay increase showed up that next monday. Well, it was automatically deposited into his checking account, but Daniel was fine not parsing semantics.
He was a lonely gay schlub pushing forty, and somehow the most successful moment in his career had been achieved by signing a sex contract.
"What should I buy you?" he asked Muggs, tugging his dog's ear as he scrolled down Amazon looking at different dog toys. He was sitting at his computer in the dark wearing nothing but a pair of ratty boxershorts, and honestly hadn't felt so good all week. He'd called in sick to work, canceled the dog walker, and vowed to finish the show he was binge-watching, or he'd just might have to call in sick the next day too.
A sharp ping made him jump. He'd left his chat status as online. And there was a message from Ian: You there?
He could just close his laptop and walk away. He could stream the tv show to his actual tv.
Instead he typed, yes.
You feeling okay?
Just a little sick.
He watched the "typing" message blink at him for thirty seconds before Ian replied. I'd like to come over tonight and take care of you.
Ian, here? Daniel glanced around at the general shabbiness of his apartment. But he knew that wasn't the issue. He didn't want Ian here. Not where he lived, not where he felt safe.
That's ok, I'm just going to sleep it off. Don't want to pass on the germs anyway.
This time, the response was prompt: Let me know if you change your mind.
And the problem then, was that Daniel had to spend the rest of the day suffering from the dissatisfying, restless thought of what if? and there's still time and maybe he asks one more time. But instead he just let the clock go through its paces, watching from the corner of his eye as the day dwindled into evening, and he lost his chance to have Ian come over and shower him with the kind of affection Daniel knew he would give.
There was a poster for Richard's mayoral campaign above the urinal at work. It was taped to the tile wall.
Daniel ripped it off and brought it close to his face, trying to see wrinkles and stained teeth but of course there was nothing like that. Just Richard smiling amiably. One time, when he was feeling good about a game (this was in high school), he had sucked Daniel off. That was supposed to be true love because Richard would never have put his lips around a cock otherwise.
Of course he would, obviously. But Daniel had felt so irresistible then, that he'd made the football player want to suck dick.
There was no indication why a poster of Richard was on the wall. Daniel was about to chalk it up to the ghost of boyfriends passed when the bathroom door opened, and Ian peeked around like he was interrupting someone's meeting. "There you are," he said.
And then he was standing next to Daniel, one hand on his shoulder, and looking down at the poster. "Do you like it? Head office just sent a whole box over. Seems we'll be sponsoring him after all."
And then, before Daniel could answer, Ian clapped him stiffly on the shoulder and then swung around so that they were eye to eye with Daniel very close to shying away.
Ian grabbed Daniel's chin. "I'm not paying for you to lie to me."
You're not paying at all, Daniel said back smoothly, in his thoughts—but that was hours later. What actually happened was he stood there anxiously trying to think of what lie Ian was talking about. His gut clenched as he gripped the poster. Did he figure it out? That this whole thing was a stupid attempt at running away from Richard?
"You weren't sick."
Everything eased. In fact, Daniel probably visibly relaxed, which was dumb. "No, I wasn't."
Ian studied him. So of course Daniel started fidgeting. Finally Ian said, "So are you just getting spoiled—figured you didn't need to show up to work at all?" He sounded like he wanted that to be the answer.
Well, Daniel couldn't say no I just wanted to avoid you. So he nodded.
He was released, and he rubbed his tender jaw. It didn't hurt that much, but it gave Daniel a good excuse not to look at Ian. "It's not a problem," he said. "I was ahead with work, and I can make up anything that fell behind easily."
"It's not your decision whether it's a problem or not," Ian replied. "I didn't give you permission to fake sick." He exhaled a gusty breath, dropping his head back as he pushed his hands through his blonde hair. "This is really going off the rails…"
He then checked his watch. "Listen. I have meetings until eight, but I want you to stick around the office, don't go home. Or—actually, go out and buy whatever you need to get ready for being fucked. Be prepared for when I'm done, got it?"
"Uhh…" Daniel usually bought all that stuff on the internet.
He nodded. At least there were self-checkout lines. "So which hotel—"
He was brought up short by the easy grin spreading across Ian's face. Then other man reached into his breast pocket and pulled something out. It was a membership card. "No hotel tonight. Just stop by my gym for a shower, I'll let them know you're a guest." And then Daniel felt two strong hands clamp down on his shoulders, felt a soft kiss pressed against his forehead. "And now you have permission to skip work."
Seeing Ian's gym was something. There were a whole lot of hard bodies, ones that probably also made well into the six figures. Daniel kept his head down and felt immensely relieved that the showers each had their own changing stall.
He still hated Ian for sending him there. But knowing the other man, he probably hadn't even considered it so humiliating. Or maybe he did? Either way, Daniel was angry.
After cleaning up, suit clinging to his damp skin, he was so close to getting out of there when he heard a chirpy voice call "Daniel!"
For a moment, he couldn't discern which attractive mid-thirties man had said his name, and wondered if he had imagined it, when one of the shorter ones dislodged from the rest and approached him. It was Craig. He was wearing clothes, which explained why Daniel hadn't seen him. He was wiping a white towel across his forehead, smiling and showing his pearly white teeth, and almost laughing as he came up to Daniel. "I didn't know you came here! Ian should have said something."
His bright eyes seemed to take quick stock of the situation, roving up and down Daniel once. He dropped the towel around his neck and sighed. "Have time for a little sub dinner?"
"I don't think there's a sandwich shop around here…"
Daniel realized his mistake just around the time Craig's mouth opened in a delighted O, his eyes shining. He seemed to gather himself before saying, "Ok. I totally get why Ian is so caught up on you." He took Daniel by the arm and started leading him towards what was apparently a complementary juice bar.
"Dumb?" Daniel supplied.
Craig shot him an amused you know that's not it look and efficiently pushed Daniel down onto one of the bright green plastic chairs situated around the juice bar. Sitting across the pink table, Craig crossed one toned leg over the other and knitted his fingers together. "Actually, I was suspicious that he'd snatched up some vanilla boy and Mason would have to put his foot down."
He said this like he knew it was exactly what was going on.
Daniel was tired. Too tired to argue with a man he'd only met once before, and at that time the man had been completely nude. "As you can tell, I'm not a boy. I know what I signed up for, and I can certainly back out if I need to."
"You make it sound like a chore," Craig replied, his lip quirking. But then his entire humorous demeanor faded. "Wait…"
Standing up, Daniel made sure to push the chair in with a steady hand.
Craig didn't jump up to stop him like he thought might happened. Instead he just sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. "Well you're right, you're not a boy. But Ian is young and—"
"Ian is twenty-nine," Daniel replied flatly. The last thing he needed was to be lectured about his responsibilities towards the other man. Also, he wasn't quite sure what relationship Ian had with these two that warranted so much interference, but Daniel didn't owe them anything.
"Don't get angry," Craig said. "Please. Sit down."
Daniel was afraid that if he got sucked in by Craig's niceness, the way he inspired trust, than something regretful would be admitted. Daniel would mention the deal between he and Ian, or he'd blurt out that he never wanted all this dom/sub stuff anyway. He couldn't let that happen, definitely not when he had to go back to the office and survive whatever Ian had planned for him.
So he left Craig there without saying anything, which in retrospect probably said a lot more than anything Daniel would have confessed anyway.
Around 7:45, he promised the janitor that he'd shut the lights off before he left. He watched the man roll a trashcan around the corner, and then Daniel was alone.
He did consider catching up on the work he'd missed, but his skin felt too buzzy for that. He sat in his cubicle and checked the time every two minutes until he heard the elevator ding and looked across the rows to see Ian step out.
Ian never stopped moving. He just jerked his head towards his office, and continued on with the apparent confidence that Daniel would follow. Of course, he had to quibble for a moment, anxious that he'd misread a simple direction, but finally he jumped up.
"Lock it," Ian said to him when Daniel came through the door.
He was sitting back at his desk, collar undone and tie loosened. When Daniel stepped forward a little, he nodded expectantly at the chair across from his desk.
"How was your day?" he asked when Daniel sat down.
Does he know about Craig? That happened only about an hour ago, and Ian was supposed to be in meetings all day. Still, better to play it safe. "I ran into your friend at the gym."
Ian raised his eyebrows.
Nodding, Ian smiled approvingly. Of course he'd known.
"Yes, I got a text." He left that hanging, and pulled one of his desk drawers open. From it, he lifted out two glasses and a bottle of wine.
He stood to pour, offering on glass over to Daniel. When he appeared satisfied that Daniel was drinking, he took a sip of his own, and then leaned down again to pull another drawer open. But just before he did, he looked at Daniel. "I don't want you to freak out."
Uh. Daniel watched, much like how one would watch a horror film, as Ian lifted a metal bar out of the drawer. It was about a yard long and had manacles at each end.
The thing was set on the desk between them like some sort of line in the sand.
"After you've relaxed a little, I want you to put this on. Well, first I want you to take your clothes off, and then put it on."
Daniel was stuck gaping at the bar. He'd never seen something like that in real life before.
Ian leaned back against his desk. "Kind of like ripping the band-aid off, huh?" His tone was a little hard to read.
"What—um, what. What is it for?"
Ian didn't laugh. He just turned a little to look at the bar. "Well, it goes behind your neck and your wrists go through those loops. You'll be kneeling on the desk…" Daniel noticed Ian adjusting himself with a little cough at that. "And then, we'll wait."
"Wait for what?"
First Ian took a long sip of his wine. He slid his palm down his thigh. And then he stared at Daniel. "For you to get worn out, close to falling asleep."
Oh. It was about that. "You want to try the, uh, again."
Daniel didn't say anything else as he finished his wine, so maybe Ian felt compelled to fill in the silence. "I won't really touch you that much while you're in it, so don't worry about that. We'll just talk, I promise I won't spank you. If it's painful, or you feel unsafe, say something—we'll get you out immediately."
By the time Ian started to sound like a worried mother sending her kid off to his first sleepover, Daniel had slurped down the last dregs of wine. It definitely helped. He was feeling a little warm, a little less anxious. The metal bar was just a metal bar. He set his glass down with determination and stood up.
"I'm fine," Daniel replied. He got his tie loose, and gracelessly dragged it over his head.
"Remember, it's not really about the bar."
"You'll be very tired…"
Daniel shucked his jacket off, letting it fall to the ground. "I'm already tired."
He hadn't meant to sound so mopey, but when the other man suddenly hugged him, he ducked his face against Ian's neck anyway.
"You're the most adorable thing I've ever been allowed to touch," Ian whispered into his ear. "And I just want to have… more. It's not about hurting you."
Nodding along, Daniel allowed himself to relax into Ian's gentle hold.
"Can I undress you?"
He nodded again, mute.
Ian pulled away from him, and deftly began to undo his belt buckle. Every move was slow and careful, his palm resting against Daniel's waist as he pulled the belt out with the other. He leaned forward to kiss Daniel; first on the lips and then along the jaw. The kissing helped distract from his hands working at each of Daniel's buttons, from him sliding Daniel's shirt off around his shoulders. "Sweet boy," he murmured.
While passively allowing himself to be undressed, Daniel thought about the look Craig had given him at the gym.
Craig was plain wrong about Ian.
Only a man who knew completely what he was doing would look at Daniel the way Ian was, would touch Daniel the way Ian was.
Daniel was not in charge here. He didn't have anything to do with this.