by Etienne Telling
illustrated by The Winter Cynic
“It feels like another world up here,” Geoff says as he looks out the window and the trees blurring past as they drive: twisted spindly pines, old oaks, and white flashes of birch. Even the soil changes; the grass on the side of the road gives way to something sandier.
“It’s my favorite thing about coming up I-75. It’s kind of like magic.” Brannon looks out of the corner of his eye with a smile. “Even the sky changes the closer you get to the lake.”
Geoff smiles at the riot of red oranges in the sky behind them that give truth to Brannon’s words. “Did you appreciate growing up here?”
Brannon snorts. “No. It— wasn’t a good place to grow up queer, you know? It’s better now, but then...”
“Yeah,” Geoff says with a faint nod. He doesn’t get it, but he gets it. He wasn’t young by the time he realized he was queer, but he knows what it’s like to grow up weird.
“I appreciate it now. You should have seen me cry when Grandpa got my name on the deed. It didn’t feel like magic growing up, but—” he sighs. “When I drive up here from Detroit, it feels like all my stress falls away as the landscape shifts.”
Geoff reaches across the console to lay his hand on Brannon’s thigh, squeezing. “I’m so glad it’s not a place that hurts you anymore.”
“There are still going to be places I wouldn’t want to hold your hand—”
“That’s just the same as back home,” Geoff says with a sigh and shakes his head. “I’m thankful you’re willing to share this with me, this weekend, this place.”
He smiles over at his… boyfriend? Partner? Certainly not lover, which implies a level of sexual intimacy Geoff isn’t sure he’s comfortable letting people assume. Boyfriend feels childish, but significant other feels clinical.
They settle into a comfortable silence as Brannon deftly navigates the unfamiliar backroads. Geoff keeps a hand on his thigh and eyes on the shifting landscape.
Maybe he’s just not comfortable with labels, and maybe he doesn’t have to be, but Geoff is still jealous of Brannon’s ability to define himself with such unwavering certainty: gay, kinky, submissive.
His own attraction and sexuality aren’t something he can quantify. Geoff loves taxonomies—he literally has an advanced degree related to them—but nothing works personally. His home library is arranged by the Library of Congress classification system, but his sexuality? He can’t neatly slot himself onto the shelf somewhere, a tidy leather-bound book labeled Geoffrey Schaal. People don’t work like that.
Still, it would be nice to have more clarity after this weekend. Brannon navigates the car off the freeway and onto the empty backroads, and Geoff tries to pull his head from the clouds. “How much further?”
“About fifty minutes to the house in Tawas. We should stop and pick up groceries tonight, though. There’s a Walmart—don’t wrinkle your nose, city boy. We get what we get, but if we get into town in time, we can stop at one of the small family stores, okay?”
Geoff laughs. “Alright. I’m glad we’re getting up ahead of everyone else to give me time to settle.”
“My grandfather would rise from his grave and take the house away from me if he knew I was having people out without making sure there was food in the house for them.”
“Would—” Geoff cuts himself off, not sure that’s what he wants to ask—if he wants to potentially open that can of worms.
Brannon knows what he’s about to ask, though. His eyes crinkle up as he smiles. He covers Geoff’s hand with his own and squeezes. “He knew. He was the first person I came out to—he took it easier than my mom did.”
“The kink, though,” Geoff teases as he laces his fingers with Brannon’s.
“Honestly, I think he would have thought it was funny.”
Geoff spends thirty seconds imagining what anyone in his very strait-laced cerebral academic family would think about kink before he shoves it firmly out of his mind with a little shudder of horror. He breathes out and tugs his hand out of Brannon’s. “Both hands on the wheel.”
“Yes, sir!” Brannon says, and Geoff thinks he winks before obeying.
“I don’t think you have permission to address me like that,” Geoff says with hm of false displeasure. “We didn’t negotiate.” He winks back at Brannon, who flushes across the bridge of his nose and cheeks.
It occurs to Geoff, quite suddenly, that they will have to negotiate. And soon. Not that they haven’t been in a constant on-and-off negotiation since Brannon took Geoff to his first munch and introduced him to kink.
This is what I do, what I need, Brannon said. It is so far outside the realm of what Geoff knows.
This long weekend—leading into a week of vacation for Geoff and Brannon—is an extended lesson in BDSM led by two couples who are also Brannon’s best friends. Geoff thinks he wants it, but without trying, without learning first, who knows? It’s difficult when his interest exists only in theory.
“No one will mind if I walk out of the middle of things?” Geoff asks, even though they’ve covered this before.
“No, of course not. Hell, Rafael and Simon do things together I’d never want to watch, so do Harper and Loren, for that matter. I’m not nearly as masochistic enough to take some of what the four of them play with— Look, we’re driving along the lake right up here,” Brannon points out.
The sky is an inky sort of twilight blue now, blending into the dark waters of Lake Huron. Between the houses and the trees, fireflies drift lazily flashing.
Magic. It certainly looks like magic. Maybe some of that magic will be for him.
“I want to be able to give you what you need—I don’t mind if you need to see other people to get it, but if I can give something to you—kink, as opposed to just sex…” Geoff trails off. Brannon has already been so patient with him as they figured out Geoff’s attraction to Brannon and the limits to what intimacy he could and couldn’t give to Brannon.
“We’ll figure it out,” Brannon says, with an almost appalling amount of certainty to his tone.
Logically, Geoff knows it’s not a tit-for-tat situation. He trusts Brannon when he says he doesn’t need fucking to make a relationship work. It’s just so new and so complicated. That Brannon’s into BDSM should be a complicating factor. Instead, it feels like raw and terrifying potential—a fascinating puzzle to put together with pieces of Geoff’s own self.
“Look, we’re in time to catch my favorite mom-and-pop place,” Brannon says as he points out a small grocery store up ahead. “I know how sexy you find supporting local businesses. Consider it foreplay.”
“Brannon McKenzie!” Geoff huffs and smacks him lightly on the arm.
“What, I’m right! Why are you hitting me while I’m driving? It’s sexier when I can actually enjoy it.”
Geoff’s huff turns into laughter as they pull into the parking lot. “What am I going to do with you, Brannon?”
“Hit me some more, I hope, at the cottage under careful supervision.” He grins, and Geoff wants to kiss the crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes.
“Later,” he says, leaning forward and doing just that, pressing a soft kiss right below Brannon’s temple before kissing him on the lips once they’re parked.
The house—cottage, as Brannon calls it—is lakefront on Lake Huron. A huge deck overlooks the lake and leads down to a rocky little beach.
“Never saw the point in paying to bring in sand,” Brannon says as he wades into the water while Geoff drinks his morning coffee in a hammock hung between two birch trees.
“Brannon,” Geoff says, not intentionally ignoring what he’s talking about but— “Brannon, is that a bondage point in the tree?” Geoff points up to a large steel ring hanging from another tree beside the birches. It looks like it could hold a swing, but… there is no swing. Ah, and there’s the pulley system to raise and lower the ring.
Brannon grins over his shoulder at Geoff. “Why would I have a bondage point in my trees, Geoff?”
“I would think it’s because Rafael installed them for you,” he says. Brannon isn’t particularly handy, but neither is Geoff, so who is he to judge.
“Got it in one. He did it when he redid the deck for me a few years ago. Mostly for himself and Simon, but it’s been fun when I host parties up here, like this weekend. By the way, he texted me while you were getting coffee. He and Simon will be here before lunch.”
Rafael is one of the other members of their munch group and an established builder and contractor. On the other hand, Simon looks like he’s about sixteen—he’s twenty-five—and is a Catholic choir director, of all things. Geoff likes them both. Rafael is quiet and kind, and Simon is a human personification of a ray of sunshine.
They don’t make sense at first glance, but Geoff’s been going to munches with Brannon for a couple months now, and it’s not difficult to see that they’re besotted with one another. Besotted with each other while being in a type of D/s relationship Geoff hadn’t even realized was a possibility before meeting them.
“They’re intense.” Geoff shifts over in the hammock as Brannon wades back to shore and joins him. Brannon’s skin is cool from the morning breeze over the water, and Geoff passes him his still warm coffee mug so he can warm his fingers.
“Yeah, but it makes them ideal to learn from because I don’t think there isn’t anything Rafael hasn’t tried at least once. And when it comes to the D/s side of things, there isn’t anyone else I would trust more for you to learn from.”
They’ve talked about this, but revisiting the plans is always soothing when Geoff’s nervous, so Brannon lets him talk back over it until the coffee is gone and the sun is high enough that the morning chill is out of the air
“We’ll both burn if we don’t head back up and reapply sunscreen,” Brannon says after a long cozy moment of silence. “And we can start making the coleslaw for lunch.”
Rafael and Simon arrive while Brannon is grilling hotdogs on the deck, so Geoff greets them at the door, feeling silly because both men have been here more than he has.
Simon makes to hug him, stops. “Can I?” he asks.
“Good boy,” Rafael murmurs, almost under his breath, and Geoff can’t help but laugh.
“Sure, this time.” Geoff’s not much of a casual touch person, but this isn’t going to be a casual weekend. Simon wraps him up in a tight but quick hug. “Do you need me to show you… anything? Because I can’t,” Geoff adds with a sheepish smile. “I got the tour, but I don’t remember where you two stay.”
The house is three stories: the main bedroom in the basement, another queen-sized room on the second floor, and the third floor is an open loft with two singles and two queen beds.
“We take the main floor room,” Rafael says as he tucks a hard-sided black suitcase alongside the sofa and Simon disappears down the hall with a second suitcase. “You look nervous.”
Rafael’s bluntness startles a laugh from Geoff. “A little.” He doesn’t dwell on it. “Brannon’s at the grill. I was just finishing lunch details—”
“I’ll set the table and bother Brannon on the deck. Don’t worry, I’m old hat at this, Geoff.”
Old hat at what Geoff isn’t sure. Being in Brannon’s cottage? Potential nervous new doms? Both, most likely. He doesn’t ask as he lets Rafael and Simon settle into the house and goes back into the kitchen.
He’s carrying the potato salad and watermelon out to the deck when Simon all but skids outside, now dressed in nothing but relatively small swim trunks.
“Brannon!” Simon doesn’t ask before slinging himself into a hug, and Brannon laughs as he hugs him back.
“Hey, kid.” Brannon ruffles his hair and pushes him away from the grill to the table.
“Is this weekend a clothing-optional weekend?” Simon asks Geoff, who blinks slowly at the question. It makes sense that he’s the one to answer this—this weekend is largely about him after all, and he’s the new one to this group.
“Is the cottage usually clothing-optional?” It’s certainly isolated enough that the woods surrounding the place would keep prying eyes away.
“Oh, yeah, pretty much,” Simon says. “But I don’t have to, just asking. Comfort levels.”
Brannon is pale enough that he wears a rash guard into the water lest he burns to a crisp. Geoff hasn’t been on a beach in so long that he had to buy a swimsuit for the trip up and had settled for board shorts and a rash guard himself for modesty’s sake.
“Maybe not at the table?” Geoff finally settles on a comfortable answer.
“Or not at all,” Rafael says as he grabs Simon around the waist and pulls him down into his lap. “Simon doesn’t need to be a nudist this weekend when he can do so in our own home.”
Simon gives an almost guilty-seeming wiggle on Rafael’s lap. “Yes, sir,” he murmurs, head tipped down. The sun catches on the heavy silver chain around his throat. “Sorry, Geoff,” he adds.
“It was a reasonable question to ask. I’m not offended. I’ll attempt not to act like a blushing virgin this week.” Geoff is, in fact, nearly a blushing virgin, but he can try.
He’s a nosy blushing virgin because his eyes keep drifting over to Rafael feeding Simon as they eat lunch. They’re not quite this overt at the public munches, but here—the easy command Rafael exerts without any seeming effort. The even easier-looking submission from Simon as he’s handfed.
“You could do it to me,” Brannon teases when he notices what Geoff is looking at so intently. “I wouldn’t complain.”
Geoff’s cheeks heat, but he swats at Brannon’s thigh. “I’m sure you would like being spoiled like that.”
“It is nice,” Simon agrees. “And I like feeling helpless.”
“Mhm,” Brannon agrees with a hum, and now he’s the one blushing. “Maybe not quite the same way as Simon.”
“No, not in the same way as Simon,” Rafael agrees. “You like being spoiled; Simon likes being used.”
“Which is spoiling me,” Simon says when he finishes taking and chewing a bite of hotdog from Rafael’s fingers. He’s eaten his entire meal from Rafael like that, and Geoff glances sidelong over at Brannon.
“I could get used to spoiling you like that, provided you did less nibbling on my fingers than Simon did to Rafael.”
“What, and get your fingers wet? I would never,” Brannon says as he lifts his hand to his chest in mock horror. “Although maybe if it brought about a play punishment scene…” he says, trailing off in hopeful playfulness.
“We have to teach me how to hurt you first.” Geoff sighs, but he picks up a grape from his plate and offers it to Brannon, who carefully takes it from his fingers without licking.
“Between myself, Loren, and Harper, I’m sure we’ll manage to teach you something this weekend, Geoff,” Rafael says with a half-smile on his lips. “We know a few things about sadism.”
“And I am happy to be practiced upon,” Simon chimes in, grinning across the table at Geoff.
Geoff blushes and tries to pretend like he’s not blushing. “You and Brannon both.”
It’s nerve-wracking, and perhaps more so because it’s also exciting. Geoff wants to hurt Brannon. He’s known this for a while, and it’s finally sinking in now that he’s here, about to be surrounded by men who have been doing this kind of play for years. He’s going to hurt Brannon—leave his marks on his skin—and he wants it maybe as much as Brannon does. He presses his lips together as he looks down at his plate and then back to Brannon.
“It’s going to be fun,” Brannon grins.
“Yeah. Yes,” Geoff smiles back at him. “It will be.”
They’re making supper when Geoff brings it up again. It’s certainly not the first time, or the last, but they’re words Geoff needs to hear.
“Tell me about it, the pain, what you like about it?”
Outside, Rafael is dozing in the hammock while Simon is in the water. Harper and Loren are on their way. Geoff hasn’t been able to stop thinking about what Brannon might look like when he’s in pain, the sounds he’d make.
Now, Brannon makes a soft, surprised sound but recovers quickly enough. He doesn’t say we’ve talked about this before; he doesn’t make Geoff’s anxiety spike higher. He just answers him: “It overloads my senses,” he says after a thoughtful pause. “It turns off my brain. There is only sensation, and I can’t think. I don’t have to think.”
“So, you’re outsourcing your thought process to me?” Geoff teases, bumping hips with Brannon as they pass between the fridge and the stove.
“No. More like I’m asking you to keep me safe while I’m not thinking. It’s not that I want you to think for me, as much as you’re doing things that keep me from thinking.” Brannon taps the spoon on the edge of the pan he’s got the homemade sloppy joe mix cooking in. “It’s grounding too, the pain. Makes me feel like I’m fully inhabiting my body.”
Geoff nods, realizes Brannon can’t see him, and then speaks. “I can see that. It’s… it must be a heady feeling?” He doesn’t understand that, but it really doesn’t matter if he does or not. He has a different relationship to his body than Brannon does his own. It doesn’t have to be the same, he reminds himself, to make this work.
“It’s extremely erotic,” Brannon says with a grin. At the same time, a car door slams outside.
Within a few minutes, the house is full of a flurry of noise and greetings as Harper and Loren all but burst into the cottage. They’re the founders of the munch Brannon goes to, but more than that, they both frequently play—and have sex—with Brannon, together and separately. To Geoff, they’re a bit of an odd couple, the drag queen and the Ph.D. student, but they’ve been so warm in their welcome of Geoff to the munches.
“Darling!” Harper swans into the kitchen and kisses Brannon on each cheek, leaning down because he towers over him. “My friend!” He holds out his hands to Geoff, who takes them and squeezes, smiling up at Harper. “We made it to the wilds! Sorry, I had a show last night, and you know how late I get home after a performance.”
“Harper, we’re hardly the wilds,” Brannon says in a tone Geoff realizes means this is an old joke.
“Yes, and I increased the non-white population of this county by at least twenty-five percent the second I crossed the county line.” Harper winks at Geoff as he releases his hands.
“If you’re wrong about that, it’s only because Rafael and Simon got here before you two,” Geoff agrees with a wry smile.
“I knew I could count on my fellow city dweller,” Harper says with a smile toward Geoff. “We have to plan a munch outing to your hometown.”
“I assure you, Harper, no one wants to visit Rego Park for a munch.”
Harper sighs dramatically. “A girl from Detroit can dream of NYC, Geoff.”
“Well, I’ll be sure to introduce you to my bubbe when we go, so you can have an authentic Rego Park experience.”
Harper laughs. “Grandmas love me. I’m in.”
“It’s true. I can confirm that bubbes love Harper,” Loren says as he joins them in the kitchen. Instead of a hug, he pinches Brannon’s ass in greeting and blessedly settles for a wave to greet Geoff. “I see we have perfect timing for supper. Come on, Harper, let’s get out of their hair and put our shit away.”
“Leave the toy bags out! I want to go through them with Geoff after supper.” Brannon says. His cheeks are flushed from the pinch, but he otherwise seems unbothered.
“Ohhh, diving right in? Wonderful. I can’t fucking wait.” Harper gives Brannon another round of kisses before leaving the kitchen.
“Are they…” Geoff trails off, unsure of what he’s asking. Harper and Loren run the munch together and aren’t a couple, but they are… something to each other. They’ve not used any words for what they are in Geoff’s hearing.
“Friends? Sexual but platonic life partners?” Brannon shrugs. “Your guess is as good as mine. They have a good time, whatever it is they’re doing. Sadistic fucks,” he mumbles that last bit under his breath, but he’s grinning.
For a moment, Geoff wants to ask but you fuck them? How do you not know? However, if they aren’t putting a word on it, why would Brannon be more able to define their relationship? It is, at least, satisfying to encounter someone else without neat labels.
“You like sadistic fucks.” Geoff is about to ask what else Brannon needs him to do in the kitchen when Simon ducks his head in.
“It’s true, we do,” Simon grins. “Rafael sent me up to help. He says Geoff should be relaxing instead of playing kitchen duty.”
“Oh, great,” Brannon says as he gently shoos Geoff out of the kitchen. “Go. Relax. Read a book or something for fifteen minutes.”
“I can’t read a book for only—”
“Doze in the sun then!” Brannon kisses him on the cheek and shoves him out of the kitchen, so Geoff goes with a smile.
After supper, Simon ends up in the kitchen doing dishes. Geoff can hear him humming to himself as the rest of them pile into the living room. Four bags of various sizes get drawn into the middle of the room. Harper and Loren drop down on the floor beside their own—Harper’s is a neon green monstrosity, Loren’s a hard-sided black case covered in stickers—while Rafael sits in front of his custom-built portable chest. Geoff is already familiar with Brannon’s simple black suitcase with a rainbow luggage strap.
“What?” Geoff blinks as Loren produces a mailing tube, and Harper takes out a long plastic art tube.
“Cane and crop transportation. Or anything too long to fit in the suitcase.” Harper pops the lid to his and shows Geoff the collection of canes and crops.
“Harper, is that PVC plumbing pipe?” Geoff asks as he leans forward to get a better look.
“Indeed, it is.” Harper is all but beaming as he plucks it from the case and passes it to Geoff. “It thuds nicely for people who would rather avoid the sting—at that size anyway.”
Geoff blinks down at the piece of pipe in his hand, rolling it back and forth across his palm. “I, ah, see.”
“They don’t call it Dom Depot for nothing,” Loren says as he shows Geoff his own collection of pipes. “Perfect for the ever-broke Ph.D. student such as myself,” Loren adds with a sigh. “You have to get creative with my budget.”
Most of the other toys on display are things Geoff knows about in theory. Harper and Loren sort through their bags, picking out Brannon’s favorites, arguing about classics and traditional toys. Simon joins them once dishes are done and opens the frankly stunning case that he and Rafael have. It’s designed so that the floggers hang down from clips, so the falls don’t tangle and knot with one another. Canes, crops, and paddles are all carefully sorted into their own places. Geoff stares.
“It’s always the same when Master Rafael’s Toybox comes out,” Loren says with a sigh that sounds half-jealous.
“Oh that’s the name of my new band, Master Rafael’s Toybox,” Simon giggles.
“Play as long as I have, and you’ll get there,” Rafael says with a knowing nod and a tug to Simon’s hair. Geoff smiles as Simon shudders.
“Hm, thirty-odd years of experience will build any kind of collection,” Geoff agrees. “Are some of the toys that old? How do you preserve—” Geoff cuts himself off as the archivist in him pops out.
“Carefully. Not everything will last that long, but we’ll get you lessons on leather care if you end up needing it,” Rafael promises. “And how to pick out toys that will last instead of cheap novelty shit.”
“Ah,” Geoff says, still blinking at the collection of toys in front of him.
Brannon lays a hand on his thigh. “I have a good collection of things I like used on me already, and I know how to take care of everything, so that will help.”
That helps to ease the flutter of nerves in Geoff’s stomach, and before long, Geoff finds himself on the floor, going through the suitcases with everyone, comparing things with what Brannon already has, and picking out things they’re both interested to try.
Geoff keeps reaching for toys with long handles: canes and crops hold particular interest, and Brannon just licks his lips in anticipation with almost every toy Geoff picks up—
“Not that one,” Brannon says as Geoff picks up a thin plastic rod that’s not long enough to be a cane and tipped with red beads at the top where Geoff would expect a handle.
“What is it?”
“Simon, attend,” Rafael’s voice is soft, but Simon snaps to attention so quickly that it almost makes Geoff dizzy. Simon kneels at Rafael’s feet, facing Geoff and Brannon. “We generally call it an evil stick,” Rafael explains as he lays the thin rod over Simon’s upper shoulder. He uses one finger to draw the thin carbon fiber up and then releases it.
It doesn’t look like much, but Simon’s eyes scrunch closed, his entire body flinches, and his breath comes out in a slow hiss. Beside Geoff on the floor, Brannon shudders in his own sympathetic reaction.
“Oh…” Geoff looks at the livid red welt left on Simon’s arm and almost reaches out to touch before he catches himself.
“Show him, boy,” Rafael orders Simon, who obediently turns so that Geoff can look at the welt on his arm. “You may touch him, Geoff.”
It’s the command, as much as the welt, that makes Geoff’s mouth go dry. The easy way that Simon obeys Rafael without hesitation, the pain, they’re puzzle pieces clicking together in Geoff’s mind. He skims his fingertips over the welt, and more pieces start to slot in place as Simon shudders at the light touch. It’s not Simon that he’s thinking of, though, but Brannon and the sounds Geoff knows he’d make. He’d be, Geoff thinks, louder than Simon.
Geoff pulls his hand back into his lap. “I don’t always feel comfortable with touch, but I think…” he trails off, trying to figure out just what he needs to say right now.
“Me neither,” Rafael says, and Geoff has to check himself not to act surprised at the easy sharing. But Rafael just nods, like he already knows this. “It’s not the same between us, I think. Toys make it easier; the control makes it easier. You might find comfort in dominance because you’re the one setting the tone. You get to say when and how Brannon touches you—or doesn’t.”
“I’ll add that it’s useful with dysphoria touch problems. Not quite the same, I know,” Loren adds with a faint smile as he looks at Geoff. “When you control the… narrative, so to speak, of a scene.”
“Would you like to try?” Rafael asks, holding the evil stick out to Geoff.
He finds himself gingerly taking it and inching closer to Simon. Rafael narrates the directions, which are as simple as it looked, watching him use the stick on Simon. Like before, Simon hisses, his whole body shuddering in reaction.
“Oh shit.” Geoff’s voice sounds faint to his own ears.
“Another, if you’d like,” Rafael says. It’s not a command, but it’s spoken with such easy authority that Geoff quickly lays third stripe across Simon’s arm.
The pleasure that rushes through Geoff is undeniable. More pieces click rapidly into place in the puzzle Geoff’s constructing of his desires. He turns to Brannon, who is already smiling.
“I can’t take that without being warmed up,” he answers the question Geoff doesn’t even know how to ask.
“Right,” Geoff laughs. “Of course. Of course, I’m getting carried away.”
“Not at all,” Brannon shakes his head, grinning like an enthusiastic puppy. “Let’s keep going through toys.”
“We can get a couple of things together to run through a trial scene with you and Brannon tomorrow if you’d like?” Loren offers. “Shape a scene tonight.”
Pieces keep clicking together for Geoff as they sort through the four toy collections. He picks up a leather flogger that looks like a mop, digging his fingers into the soft leather of the falls.
“That, amazingly enough, is a mop flogger,” Harper says before he launches into an explanation of various types of floggers and materials they’re made out of. Geoff almost feels like he should be taking notes.
“So, the softer the leather, the thuddier it will feel? And harder means there will be more sting to the strike—but it depends on how many falls are in the flogger?”
“Right,” Loren says, grinning at him.
“And I like a full range of sensation,” Brannon says as he nods toward the flogger Geoff’s holding. “That thuds really deep, and I love it. It will work great with the sharper toys you’re drawn toward to balance the sensations.”
“Yeah, a perfect contrast to the crops and canes you keep eyeing.” Loren nods his approval in the selection. “Soft, sting, thud—it’s all really well rounded. Brannon likes that in a scene.”
Geoff keeps threading his fingers through the leather falls on the mop flogger, luxuriating in the buttery soft leather over his fingertips. He thought this would be overwhelming—this has been overwhelming—but it’s been such a delight: Simon as an eager demo sub, Harper and Loren bantering back and forth, Rafael’s thoughtful interjections—but more importantly, the light in Brannon’s eyes as he watches. There is an almost palpable excitement growing between them over the scene that’s taking shape.
“Would you like to watch a scene tonight, Geoff?” Rafael asks once the toys are being put back away in their respective cases. “We’ve gotten Simon worked right up to the edge of subspace without putting him under, and he deserves a reward for his assistance. Up to you if you’d like to watch it.”
Geoff glances at Brannon. He’s not sure if it’s an interest check or reassurance; maybe it’s both. Brannon nods, and Geoff finds himself mimicking the motion. “Yes. Simon deserves it for all the help he’s been tonight, and I’d like to watch.”
They all pile down to the beach. Brannon starts a fire while Loren starts to light the mosquito repellent torches. Rafael pulls Simon aside; Geoff gives them the privacy to do… whatever it is they’re doing before the scene starts. He settles into a padded lounge chair and beckons Brannon toward him when the fire’s built.
Like the night before, the fireflies float lazily in the sky, blinking on their way to do unknowable firefly tasks. It’s not quite dark enough for inky blue of twilight, the last haze of the sunset rests on the horizon against the water.
“Sit with me?” Geoff’s slighter and shorter than Brannon, and they settle down with Geoff leaning back against Brannon.
It’s quiet, save for the gentle sound of water lapping against the shore, the crackle from the firepit. It’s as far away from the idea of a sex dungeon as a person can get. Magic, Brannon said. Comfort, Geoff thinks, instead. Peace. Brannon would find that combination magic, the definitions overlap, blend together—
Rafael brings Simon to where the bondage point is set in the tree, reaching up to the large steel ring hanging down to grab hold of it. Geoff pulls himself from his thoughts to watch as Rafeal lets it take his weight, tugs at it a few times to test its stability before he motions Simon to stand before him.
Rafael has Simon in ropes so quickly that Geoff almost can’t process how it happens. Simon’s hands are bound together, rope looped through the large steel O hanging from the tree, and then Simon’s on his tiptoes.
“Oof,” Geoff whispers, taking in the unsteady position Simon’s in, realizing that if Simon loses his footing, his weight will be on his wrists.
“Yeah, I’m not really fond of anything close to predicament bondage or punishing bondage. But I’m also not a tiny little twink,” Brannon says back, keeping his voice just as hushed. “It’s very pretty to watch.”
Simon’s thighs already have one welt from demoing toys in the living room. Rafael slaps his hand down against it. The sound of hand meeting skin makes Geoff wrap his fingers around Brannon’s thighs, squeezing.
Rafael brings out a wide leather strap, sets the handle of it in his palm, and then smacks it across Simon’s ass. The leather cracks and Simon goes limp in his bondage before he catches himself and gets back on his toes.
Fascination and desire lodge in Geoff’s throat. Rafael brings the strap down again and again, and Geoff can hardly breathe. He’s not horrified—aroused isn’t the right word either, but it’s close. His skin prickles where it touches Brannon, and Geoff’s heart feels like it’s a firework ready to explode.
The shapes of Geoff’s desire start to make more and more sense with each smack of the leather across Simon’s ass and thighs. Even in the shadows cast by the fire, Simon’s beaten skin is burned red. Geoff’s hands twitch as he curls his fingers against his palms, imagining the feel of the wooden handle in his hand, the reverberation up his arm from the strikes.
Brannon’s hard. Geoff can feel his erection pressing against his back. In a past relationship, it might have made Geoff panic, but panic doesn’t come. The pounding of his heart in his throat has everything to do with the excitement of watching Simon take the leather strap and nothing to do with anxiety.
Then Rafael does something to Simon that Geoff doesn’t catch, as focused as he is on Brannon’s arousal. Simon screams, and all the breath goes out of Geoff’s lungs.
It is, quite suddenly, too much.
“I need—inside,” he says to Brannon, quietly extracting himself from the chair. “I’m fine. I’m not upset, just overwhelmed.” It’s a wonder he can make his words not blur together into one.
“I’ll be right up with you?”
Geoff nods and makes his way up to the deck and into the cottage. All the tranquility of the beach, the magic of the twilight sky, doesn’t diminish the raucous drumming of his heart or the buzzing along his skin. He’s still shaking when Brannon joins him down in the main suite, sitting on the edge of the bed and staring at a quilt hung on the wall.
“I want that,” he whispers as Brannon kneels down between his legs. “Brannon—”
Brannon catches Geoff’s wrists in his hands, squeezes. “Me too,” he promises. He waits for a beat, and when Geoff doesn’t say anything else, he quietly fills the empty space. “It’s okay… if you’re worried about hurting me?”
Geoff snorts and then flushes at his body’s instinctive reaction. “I’m not worried about hurting you. It’s just—it’s a lot. That’s the closest thing to arousal that I’ve felt. And with you hard—”
“I’m so sorry—”
“Don’t be,” Geoff says firmly. “I liked it.”
Brannon takes Geoff’s hand and cups it against his cheek so he can nuzzle into it. “You’re amazing.”
“I have no idea what I’m doing. I just know I want to do it with you.”
“I think you’re amazing anyway.” Brannon turns his head to kiss the center of Geoff’s palm. “Shower with me? I want to do something for you.”
“Hm?” Geoff raises an eyebrow at that.
“Wash you, I mean,” Brannon says with lowered eyes.
The submissive gesture gives more definition to what Geoff wants. Geoff cups Brannon’s cheek in his hand, tilting his head back slightly and savoring as Brannon’s breath hitches. “You may.”
Brannon’s whole countenance shifts with Geoff’s assent. He’s almost shy. It fills Geoff with an unbearable tenderness, and he cradles Brannon’s head against his stomach, combing his fingers through his messy red curls.
“Pain, dominance, those are things you can give me. This is what I can give you in return,” Brannon whispers into Geoff’s torso.
There’s more that Geoff will get. He rapidly realizes that he’ll enjoy inflicting pain, but this service makes his stomach twist with need. “I’ll love it,” he promises Brannon.
Brannon holds still until Geoff breaks contact with him. He rises to his feet and steps into the ensuite, where he strips and starts fussing with the shower, the towels, making sure everything is perfect. Geoff undresses, and then when he thinks Brannon’s just acting out of nerves, he takes a deep breath and stops him. Geoff pulls his hands away from the shower and tugs him into his arms.
“Nervous?” Geoff asks like he isn’t nervous himself.
“A little,” Brannon laughs through his nose. “A lot.”
“We’ll figure it out together,” Geoff says, anxious but sure of their relationship. He leans up on his toes, presses an easy kiss to Brannon’s mouth, and then tugs them both into the shower.
Flushed, Brannon reaches for the bottle of overly expensive olive oil and orange soap Geoff won’t travel without, lathers it in his hands, and silently sets himself to work. His normal smile shifts to a serious look of quiet concentration. He starts at Geoff’s shoulders, working downward, slippery hands guiding over Geoff’s skin. Shoulders, collarbones, over Geoff’s chest, down his stomach, and side with reverent fingers.
This is not a prelude, Geoff realizes with startling clarity. This is not foreplay. This is worship. Geoff has never felt so wanted. Brannon’s hands are steady and sure on his skin as he turns him to wash his back, careful fingers kneading as they work down Geoff’s spine.
There’s more soap, Geoff is turned around again, and Brannon kneels down on the tiled floor, taking Geoff’s breath away. This feels right, but even so… “You don’t—”
“I do,” Brannon says, interrupting. “I want to. Please.”
Brannon looks so peaceful, the nerves of earlier washed away with the soap suds down the drain. More, but not all of Geoff’s plentiful nerves, settle too. Brannon spills more soap into his hands before he caresses Geoff’s thighs, massages his calves, even washes his feet. He tips his head back when Geoff’s feet are settled back on the tile, his hands on Geoff’s thighs, very close to his cock.
“May I?” Brannon whispers.
Geoff gives a jerky nod. He knows Brannon better, but he cannot help how his anxiety flares back to life as he waits for the mood to shift from quiet devotion to demanding expectation, anticipation for arousal that isn’t going to come. His entire body is tingling, bright, and wanting, but not like that.
The mood doesn’t shift, even as Brannon cups his soft cock, leaving soap swirls against skin. There isn’t an inch of him that Brannon leaves unwashed.
If Geoff is a book—or a puzzle—his pieces are still building together toward a whole as Brannon rinses him. They build upon the memory of the thin stick slapping against Simon’s arm, the echo of someone else’s scream in his ears. Pieces, lines in an index, it doesn’t matter what they are. It matters that Geoff is starting to understand what he wants from Brannon—with Brannon. Dominance, submission, masochism, sadism, it doesn’t matter how you label it. He wants it with Brannon. That’s magic to Geoff.
Brannon rises, reaches for the shampoo. Geoff doesn’t stop him. In fact, he moans at the pleasure of Brannon’s fingers through his hair, reveling in the warming, in the simple contact and connection.
When the last of the soap is washed away, Geoff pulls Brannon back into his arms and down into a hard, fierce kiss that leaves them breathless, both half-hard as they press together.
Still, expectation from Brannon never comes, and Geoff reaches up to cup his cheek, stroking damp fingers across his jaw. “Thank you.” He closes his eyes and has to remind himself to breathe. He loves this man, yet the only words that come to his lips are: “Thank you.”
Brannon turns his head, presses a kiss to Geoff’s fingertips. “You’re welcome.”
Geoff wakes before Brannon the next morning. He lets him sleep and slips quietly out of the bedroom and upstairs into the kitchen. Coffee is already sitting fresh in the carafe—strong as hell coffee, Geoff finds out when he almost chokes on it. He adds a generous dollop of cream and then helps himself to one of the cinnamon buns sitting out on the counter.
Once he’s out on the deck, he realizes that Loren and Rafael are sitting at the beach around a fire and slips down the stairs to join them. There’s a sharp chill in the air, and the lake is covered in a blanket of fog as far as Geoff can see, but it’s warm by the fire.
“I see we have another early bird to join us,” Loren says as he nods at Geoff. “Finally.”
Geoff means to make small talk, but what comes out of his mouth is: “I’m sorry I left in the middle of things last night.” He hadn’t thought he was still anxious about it.
Rafael waves a hand. “No offense taken.”
“It doesn’t change anything about today,” Geoff’s mouth continues without his permission. “I liked what I was seeing.”
“Sometimes we like something too much to keep watching.” Loren’s lips twist in a crooked smile.
“Yes, just that.” Geoff settles down near the fire, picking at his cinnamon bun but mostly staring out over the water, drinking in the foggy view and Loren’s words. “I might need you all to leave after getting me settled with Brannon.” This realization sparks across his thoughts, cutting through anxiety like the sun through the fog. “I’m surprised I’m not more nervous,” he admits. The nerves now are excited ones, the kind of nerves that happen right before a drop on a roller coaster.
Neither Loren nor Rafael makes a big deal at the sudden shift to planning a scene around an early morning campfire. Maybe Brannon is right; perhaps it is magic up here. Or, maybe he finally has enough context to engage with discussions, and isn’t that magic of its own?
“Is it fine that Harper’s sleeping through the planning?” Geoff asks, pausing in the middle of the discussion.
“The four of us cannot all dom Brannon simultaneously. Imagine.” Loren shakes his head.
“Poor boy,” Rafael laughs. “Loren or Harper should help you get him warmed up; they play with him more and know his body better.”
Geoff flushes, clears his throat, and nods. Loren winks at him, which makes Geoff blush even harder. “Well, I imagine too many doms in the scene spoils it, just like too many cooks in the kitchen?”
“Well, unless you’re planning a gangbang…” Loren trails off when Geoff’s eyes go wide. “I’ll help warm him up with you. Early bird gets to be the one to welt Brannon’s ass.” He grins wolfishly at Geoff.
“Brannon’s on his way down,” Rafael says, pointing with his chin toward the deck.
“Hey Brannon, we’re talking about you!” Loren calls out.
Geoff isn’t the kind of person to playfully smack a friend, but he very much wants to at that moment.
“About my stunning good looks or my inhuman intelligence?”
“Your magnificently fat ass, actually,” Loren says, and Geoff chokes on his coffee. “And how good it takes a welt.”
“Excellent talking point,” Brannon agrees as he leans down to kiss Geoff on the head before dropping down beside him in a camp chair. “Oh, babe, you’re eating your bun cold? Rafael, do you have the iron?”
“I hadn’t even thought to warm it up. No point going…” Before Geoff knows what’s happening, Brannon picks up his cinnamon bun, stuffs it into a cast-iron contraption, and sticks it over the fire.
“No point going up to the kitchen when we can do it here. Now, are you guys going to tell me what you’re planning, or is the scene going to be a secret?”
“Logistics, mostly. I would never keep something like this a secret from you.” Geoff shakes his head, frowning some.
“I wouldn’t,” Geoff repeats, and Brannon doesn’t push further.
“You wouldn’t,” Brannon agrees.
Within a few minutes a hot, very smushed, and lightly crispy cinnamon roll is deposited back onto Geoff’s plate, and a half-naked and very sleepy Simon joins them on the beach with a fresh carafe of coffee, a bowl of watermelon slices, and freshly cooked sausage.
Simon hands a plate to Geoff with a neatly bisected large faux sausage, with a perfectly brown crisp to each side. “I cooked these separate from the others, different tongs, too.”
“Oh, I could have—”
“Breakfast is always my job here, and I’m happy to serve,” he grins. “Unless you don’t want me to, we can work it out.”
Geoff blinks at him. “I… no, you can,” he stumbles. “Thank you.” Even though Simon isn’t Brannon, Geoff is curiously, shyly, pleased with the gesture. Simon flashes another megawatt smile and goes to sit on Rafael’s lap, and Geoff can’t help but notice he looks quite pleased with himself.
Scene planning pauses: the conversation turns to cooking, then a lively debate on the merits of rope restraints vs. leather. Geoff drinks it all in until Brannon announces it’s time to get into the water.
“Wait,” Geoff says with more confidence than he feels. Gratifyingly, Brannon pauses instantly. “Sunscreen. I can’t flog someone burnt to a crisp.” Geoff meets Brannon’s eyes. “Hold still,” he says, keeping that same confidence in his voice.
The way Brannon shivers makes Geoff go hot all over like he’s sunburnt, but he focuses on briskly rubbing the sunscreen on every inch of exposed skin. They trade places, Brannon taking his sweet time with gentle passes of his hands, but Geoff can’t complain as he leans into the touch.
When they’re finished, Geoff joins everyone but Rafael in the water. Eventually, though, he avoids Brannon, Loren, and Simon roughhousing like eager puppies by joining Rafael back on the beach, sitting in companionable silence with him.
True to Loren’s word, Harper rises near lunch, unapologetic and beaming as he joins them on the beachfront. Late morning fades into early afternoon, they have lunch on the beach, and they all tromp back inside the cottage in the day’s heat. They take turns rinsing the sand and lake water off their skin so they can bask in the AC. Rafael and Harper get into a deeply involved game of dominos—Geoff knows just enough Spanish to think they’re shit-talking each other—Loren gets sucked into his laptop and grading, and Simon cleans up from lunch and starts prepping for supper.
Geoff drops down onto the sofa, stretching his legs out and resting his feet in Brannon’s lap.
“Is this interlude for me?” Geoff asks after a while, unsure if it’s up to him to decide when they start the scene.
“Mhm, not intentionally.” Brannon drops his hands to Geoff’s ankles and squeezes.
Geoff weighs the pros and cons of before- and after-supper scenes as Brannon starts to knead at his calves. In the pleasure of that touch, it takes him longer to come to a conclusion. “Let’s do it after the domino game is done, if Loren can be pried away from his grading.”
“Please pry me away from my grading,” Loren interjects. “Sorry. Not to creepily eavesdrop, I just tuned in for my name.” He doesn’t even look away from his laptop screen. “If you two want to go get sorted alone, I’ll drag everyone else up when Rafael inevitably beats Harper at dominos.”
“Your call.” Brannon glances sidelong at Geoff but keeps up the gentle massage of his legs.
“I want to lay everything out, have some time with things before everyone joins us. It’s a good idea.” With some reluctance, he shifts his legs off Brannon’s lap—the massage felt great—and holds out his hand to help Brannon off the sofa.
Upstairs in the loft, the toys Geoff picked out the night before are resting on the queen-sized bed that Harper and Loren didn’t sleep in. The X-shaped Saint Andrew’s Cross is already set up. There’s another bondage point set in the cross beam of the ceiling,and Geoff is sure that if he looked at the beds, there would be bondage points on them, too.
Brannon pulls out a portable table and places it near the cross, and Geoff lays out a neat line of toys: the floggers, a crop, and a cane.
“Cuffs,” Geoff says as a vision of Brannon tied up arrives at the very center of his thoughts. “I don’t want you in suspension, but I want to tie you to that,” he motions to the cross.
“Oh, yes, sir,” Brannon all but purrs, turning to his bag to dig out a set.
Sir. Geoff rolls the word around in his head. “No, not sir.” Geoff shakes his head; it’s not a piece in this puzzle—at least not yet. “Just Geoff. Come here.” Leaving off the please feels hilariously scandalous, and Geoff almost laughs at himself, even as he takes Brannon’s hands and pulls him down to kiss him.
“Hm?” Brannon smiles when the kiss breaks, handing a set of padded leather cuffs over to Geoff. “Just Geoff,” he echoes back without demanding a reason.
Brannon draws them over to the bed and kneels in front of Geoff. Geoff’s heart stops, but he manages to take the cuffs from Brannon’s hands without dropping them.
“You’re being a tease,” he murmurs as he takes a cuff and one of Brannon’s hands, wrapping it securely around his wrist. Then, lest Brannon take that the wrong way: “I like it.”
The second cuff goes on. Geoff tangles his fingers in Brannon’s curls, not quite tugging, but neither is he petting. Brannon’s eyes close, head tipped back in pleasure at the pressure. Geoff could pull harder; he could make Brannon moan, work him up without needing any help from anyone else.
It isn’t hard to tease back. It should be. Yet the longer he’s with Brannon and Brannon never pushes for more, the easier it becomes to kiss him. To touch him, to do this with him. Geoff pulls at Brannon’s hair, coaxing out a moan from his lips.
With his heart thrumming in his chest, navigating upward to try and lodge into his throat, Geoff keeps going. “Will you be good for me?” The question feels good to pose, even if Geoff knows the answer.
“Very,” Brannon promises. “No matter what, even if we stop.” He opens his eyes at that, staring directly at Geoff.
Geoff’s heart finishes its migration to his throat, catching any words he could say behind it as it beats in place. Instead of speaking, he kisses Brannon’s forehead. There are things they could say. Part of Geoff wants to go over limits again or plan things out step by step, but the rest of him is screaming to just let things happen this time.
“I’m glad I’m here with you, doing this,” Geoff’s voice comes out like it’s muffled by the beating of his heart.
“Are we good to come up?” Loren’s voice at the bottom of the stairs. Geoff takes a centering breath and nods, looking at Brannon expectantly.
“Yeah, come on,” Brannon calls back. He doesn’t move from his place at Geoff’s feet. Not until everyone’s come up and settled around. Simon drops into a beanbag at Rafael’s feet, and Harper settles by the toys. Loren stands by the cross, waiting. They agreed the night before that Loren would be the most hands-on with Geoff.
Geoff is struck by the understanding that these men are his friends. They’re here for Brannon, yes, but they’re also here for him, too.
“Thank you all,” Geoff says as he strokes his hand through Brannon’s hair. “Takes a village to raise a sadist, apparently?”
“Well, what are friends for?” Harper asks as he rolls a cane meaningfully in his fingertips.
“Clearly, to help you tie up and beat your boyfriend,” Loren answers.
“A new class of friendship for me, that’s for sure.” Geoff tugs Brannon’s hair again, upward this time, coaxing him to his feet—marveling at how easy the movement feels and how quickly Brannon rises.
Geoff hovers awkwardly as Loren reaches out and draws Brannon close. They agreed that Loren would start the scene and show Geoff how to get Brannon in the right headspace before handing the reins over to Geoff.
Loren is unassuming, just a bit shorter than Geoff, but when he stands in front of Brannon, squares his shoulders, and cocks his head consideringly to the side, he seems to take up twice as much space. Geoff watches him as much as he watches Brannon—the easy way Loren commands Brannon to strip down and how he reaches up and grabs his hair once he’s naked. Loren pulls Brannon’s head down and whispers something into his ear that makes Brannon shudder.
“One of the best things about playing with Brannon is how responsive he is.” In illustration, Loren jerks at Brannon’s hair, making Brannon shudder and sway on his feet. “You’ll be a good boy for us, won’t you, Bran?” Brannon licks his lips, nods, and then Loren’s hand is out of his hair and locked around one of his nipples. Brannon shouts in surprise, Geoff jumps, and Loren just smiles. “You know I like you to use your words, Brannon.” Loren twists Brannon’s nipples between his fingers until Brannon’s whining.
“Yes, sir.” Brannon licks his lips and holds still under the touch, though he hisses as Loren doesn’t stop pinching.
“See, Geoff, it doesn’t matter if Brannon’s taller and bigger than you,” Loren says as he uses the unrelenting pinch of his fingers to pull Brannon in shaky steps forward to close the distance between the two of them. “Not when Brannon’s so good at following cues.”
Loren’s lips curve into a brilliant smile as he finally releases Brannon’s nipples—Brannon whines again—and drags his nails down the soft curve of Brannon’s belly.
Geoff’s breath comes short as he watches, fascinated at how little touch sets Brannon on edge. His mouth goes slack, eyes half-lidded, as he sinks into the simple feeling of nails over his skin.
“That looks easy enough,” he manages to murmur.
“Brannon is easy, my friend,” Harper laughs from the side.
Geoff’s eyes are still locked on Brannon as Harper speaks, and he can’t miss the shudder—because of how Harper is talking about him? He glances over at Harper, who winks at him.
“Even I know that,” Simon chimes in from this place at Rafael’s feet—and there’s another shudder from Brannon.
“Do you—” Geoff stops, closes his mouth, and carefully rephrases the question he’s about to ask to be for Loren, not Brannon. “Does he like it when you talk about him like he’s not… here?” Geoff’s stomach feels like it will join his heart in his throat, but the queasy twist isn’t unpleasant. His world is spinning, but he sets his feet and watches Loren.
“As long as you don’t ignore him for too long,” Loren confirms as he rakes his nails back up the generous roll of Brannon’s stomach. Brannon jerks, his mouth open, but no sound comes out.
Geoff makes one for him, breath hissing between his teeth when he sees the trail of red welts left behind by Loren’s nails. His feet carry him forward without his permission. He doesn’t even notice Loren stepping quietly aside as he reaches out to touch the red lines.
“Do you think you’re easy?” he asks, tipping his head to look up at Brannon. He isn’t trying to be a tease, but the whine that comes from Brannon sets another puzzle piece into place.
“For the right person,” Brannon answers in a voice that makes Geoff wonder if Brannon’s heart is just as lodged in his throat as his own. “For you.” Brannon’s voice might be unsteady, but the smile he gives Geoff isn’t.
“Go ahead and try.” Loren’s voice makes Geoff jump. In the last few seconds, he had almost forgotten that other people were with them.
Without looking away from Brannon, Geoff takes a breath, sets his nails along the slope of his shoulders, and draws them downward. It’s not hard enough. He knows that right away, by the way that Brannon trembles but doesn’t make a sound. It’s fine, though—he likes that reaction. Geoff keeps up the gentle drag of his nails over Brannon’s arms and shoulders until Brannon looks like he’s about to melt into the floor. Only when he’s relaxed does Geoff mimic Loren and rake his nails down Brannon’s upper arms.
Sadism wasn’t anything that crossed Geoff’s mind before Brannon came into his life. Sure, it existed as a part of someone else’s story, not Geoff’s own. But it’s been writing itself into Geoff’s narrative since the moment Brannon told him how good it felt, and now it’s written in pale, flushed lines on Brannon’s skin.
“Oh,” Geoff whispers, eyes locked on the marks, wanting more.
“See?” Loren asks, keeping his voice low. “Easy.”
“Easy,” Geoff echoes, smiling up at Brannon. They had planned for Loren to do more warm-up, but Geoff doesn’t want to take his hands off Brannon. “How did you—show me how else to hurt him?”
Brannon’s whimper is everything, and Geoff turns to Loren, who grins back at him. It is surprisingly easy. Loren shows him how to take Brannon apart with just his hands. A little pain seems enough to get Brannon into a hazy place Geoff realizes is subspace. For him. Brannon is spaced out for him, from just his nails and the pinch of his fingertips on tender skin.
“I don’t think we even need to be here; he’s a natural,” Harper says in the background while Rafael shushes him, and Geoff laughs. He’s not used to being a natural in much of anything, but this does feel so correct.
Geoff gets Brannon up on the cross, and Loren helps him get the cuffs attached so that Brannon’s arms are bound over his head. This isn’t what they planned, and Geoff should be uncomfortable at the change, but he only wants to keep his hands on Brannon and make him whimper and shiver.
Geoff remembers Simon’s scream from the night before, and his hands curl into fists as he shudders.
“You okay?” Loren asks, just for Geoff to hear.
“I want to keep going. Show me how to flog him, please.”
Loren grins and reaches for the soft rope flogger Brannon laid out earlier. “It would be my pleasure, Geoff.”
The rope flogger whispers against Brannon’s back: fanning, teasing sensations that don’t hint at pain but grow in intensity. Brannon is loud, gasping, groaning, with almost every brush of the flogger on his skin. The repeated contact leaves Brannon’s skin flushed pink, and when Loren motions for Geoff to feel, warm to the touch. Hypersensitive, too, judging from how Brannon squirms in his bondage as Geoff lightly trails his nails over his reddened shoulders.
“Bran goes pink so fast, and he’s easy to bruise if you end up liking that,” Loren tells Geoff as he passes the rope flogger to him. “He certainly does.”
Geoff does like it very much, but it’s too much to say aloud. Instead, he takes the flogger, gives a couple of practice swings the way Loren had, takes correction from Rafael, and then steps back to Brannon. It feels good to let the unwoven rope fall across Brannon’s ass and shoulders.
It can’t be landing too hard, but Brannon jumps when it hits particularly red spots, which leads Geoff to start focusing on one place until Brannon is squirming.
“Be still,” Loren snaps, and Brannon goes flat on his feet, pressed flush against the cross. “Don’t make this hard for Geoff.”
Geoff isn’t sure if the sound that follows Loren’s words is from Brannon or himself, only that it’s pure need. It will take time for Geoff to learn to speak like that to Brannon; he knows that, but the flogger is easy.
Loren hands him the next one, the mop flogger. “Not the softer one?” Geoff asks as he looks at the smaller buckskin flogger still on the table.
“You could, if you want to keep being gentle, but look at him; he’s deep and can take more.”
Geoff does look at Brannon, the way he’s panting, the tension in his arms and thighs—the faint tremor there. He wants to see Brannon’s face, and nothing is stopping him. Geoff steps up to the cross, steps up on the platform Brannon’s standing upon, and reaches for his face, turning his head to the side.
“Oh, look at you,” he breathes as Brannon opens his eyes. Geoff looks at him in awe, drinking in the unfocused euphoria in Brannon’s expression and the soft lines of his face. “Do you feel good?” he asks, entirely unnecessarily, he knows, but he needs to hear it.
You know I like you to use your words, Loren had told Brannon, and Geoff finds that’s true of himself, too.
“Yes. Very. Geoff, please,” Brannon’s voice cracks.
Geoff smiles and leans up on his toes to kiss Brannon gently on the lips. “Okay,” he says with a nod. “Alright.”
The fall of the leather flogger reverberates through Geoff’s arm. He takes a few more corrections, but he quickly picks up the motion. It’s difficult not to get distracted by how Brannon starts to whimper and hiss—such constant beautiful sounds. Then, as the flogging continues, those sounds turn to choked grunts and deep gasps for breath. Then quieter, the tension leaking from his body, the tremor in his limbs replaced by heaviness. Brannon doesn’t fight to get away from the floggers but sways toward them.
Even when Geoff misaims and the flogger wraps around Brannon’s side—against unwarmed skin—Brannon doesn’t protest beyond a soft murmur of unwanted pain.
To the side, Geoff is vaguely aware of Rafael and Simon shifting, then the sound of feet on the stairs, the distant sound of their bedroom door closing.
“You’re an inspiration,” Loren laughs when Geoff stops flogging Brannon and comes out of his own vaguely hazy place.
“What?” Geoff blinks at him.
“Nothing, look at how pretty you’ve made Brannon’s back,” Loren motions.
Brannon’s back is now a vivid red, not just the flushed pink from the rope flogger. There are faint raised patches of skin from repeated contact with the falls, and Geoff steps forward to rub his fingers over the mottled welts. Brannon sighs, and Geoff starts to place soft kisses along the marks.
Geoff understands the drive to worship Brannon felt in the shower the night before.
Brannon sways in his bondage, the soft moans turning to needier sounds as Geoff keeps kissing him. “Are you—are you hard?” Geoff asks even as he reaches around and boldly feels for himself. It’s not the first time he’s touched Brannon, but Brannon jolts, the clips holding him bound to the cross rattling. “Oh,” Geoff says as his hand strokes along the length of Brannon’s extremely hard cock.
“You know, I’m not sure we’re needed anymore,” Harper says with a laugh.
“No—I want… can you show me how to use the cane?” Brannon’s cock jumps in his hand, and Geoff laughs. “I think Brannon agrees.” Geoff steps back from the cross and turns to Loren. “And you two are sleeping up here. The least we can do is go back downstairs if I’m going to get him off.”
“Eh, it’s nothing we haven’t done or seen before,” Loren laughs. “But I do appreciate the thought, even if I’m not sure Brannon could manage two narrow flights of stairs. There’s more than one bed up here for a reason. Don’t worry if that’s where things go in the end.”
Geoff’s face heats, but he accepts Loren’s words at face value. “Alright—the cane?”
“It’s not that complicated,” Loren promises as he picks it up.
Brannon’s shaking again, more overtly now, as Loren stands behind him and shows Geoff how to land a cane stroke over the backs of Brannon’s thighs. Brannon’s voice shudders out of him when the first heavy stroke lands, the inhale just as loud as the exhale.
“He can take a lot of light taps from this, but no more than ten that would leave welts,” Loren explains as he passes the cane over.
The queasy nerves are back, making it hard for Geoff to talk as he looks at the welt rising on Brannon’s ass. There’s nothing he needs to say, so Geoff keeps quiet as he starts with light stinging taps of the cane over Brannon’s ass and thighs. He likes the way Brannon’s body jiggles under the cane, the way the soft skin of his ass pushes in before bouncing back in a welt. He’s beautiful, even as Geoff feels like he’s going to scream from the everything of it. Everything is so beautiful.
Geoff allows Brannon’s reactions to coax him through. It’s not perfect. Geoff hits a little harder than he meant, and Brannon almost screams. Geoff grimances and steps forward to rub soothingly across the welt.
“Shh, shh, I’m sorry.”
“Is okay,” Brannon whispers. “Sharp, really sharp. Not bad.”
It’s still enough that Geoff is done. Desire is still there, but the nerves rise to push it back down. It’s a good place to stop, anyway. He kisses Brannon’s shoulder and reaches up to undo the clasps of his bondage. Harper helps as they get Brannon down and to the spare queen bed, laid out on his stomach.
“You hardly even needed us,” Harper says as he steps away from the bed. “We’ll leave you to it,” he winks, and Geoff blushes.
As Harper and Loren leave the room, Geoff sits down on the edge of the bed where Brannon’s stretched out. He lays his hand just above Brannon’s knee, not quite touching the lowest patch of flushed skin.
“Hey,” he whispers, his heart back up in his throat again.
“Mhm,” Brannon hums in response, but he turns his head to smile at Geoff, and Geoff can swallow his heart back down into his chest where it belongs.
“How do you feel?” Geoff asks, even though it doesn’t look like Brannon’s going to be able to give him complete sentences.
“Hmm,” Brannon purrs again and stretches. There’s a wince in the stretch that does things to Geoff’s insides, especially the smile that’s still on Brannon’s lips.
“I see,” Geoff says with a snort of laughter. He trails his hand up over the blotchy skin of Brannon’s thighs and ass. A part of him wants to tease, but the more sensible part of Geoff realizes that it’s time to stop. If he pushes, it will be too much for himself, if not for Brannon. So, he stops and lays down alongside Brannon.
It doesn’t seem to take long before Brannon comes back to himself and blinks the haze out of his eyes. “I feel really good,” he answers Geoff’s earlier question. “You did great, that was—amazing, babe.”
Geoff can’t stop, nor does he want to stop, the grin that pulls at the corners of his lips. “Yes,” he agrees. “That was amazing.”
There is more to say, but Geoff isn’t quite ready to say it, so they lay together, curling around one another. They doze until Rafael calls up the stairs that supper’s ready if they’re hungry.
The rest of the night passes in a quiet haze. Geoff stays close to Brannon, peaceful, just drinking in the laughter and playful teasing around him without adding to the conversation.
When talk around the fire turns to tying Loren up, Geoff curls up with Brannon in the hammock to watch. This time, he doesn’t leave, but drinks it all in as an unintentional lesson.
“I want to do this again,” he says as he makes Brannon be the big spoon and snuggles back against him. “Maybe even with the whole crew up here.”
“Everyone?” Brannon laughs. “If you’re ready for that chaos, I’ll be happy to host.”
“We’ll host together,” Geoff says as Brannon kisses his shoulder.
It’s less overwhelming to watch a scene than it was the night before, and it’s not because Harper and Loren are any less intense than Simon—they aren’t remotely. Loren’s nipples are pulled down by vicious-looking clamps, tugged taut by weights and gravity, as Harper takes a crop to every inch of Loren’s skin he can reach.
Brannon is half-hard against Geoff’s thigh, and when the scene in front of them turns to sex, Geoff rolls over to face Brannon. “Like watching them?”
“Ah—I do,” Brannon fumbles with his words.
Geoff kisses the flush on the apple of Brannon’s cheek and slides his hand down his stomach to the waistband of his swim trunks. Brannon gasps as Geoff’s fingers slide under the elastic. “You don’t—”
“I want to, shh.” Geoff wraps his fingers around the base of Brannon’s cock and strokes from base to tip a few times. “Easy,” he makes himself say as Brannon’s cock goes fully hard in his hand. He hopes he’s not blushing too much.
“For the right person,” Brannon laughs, squirming under the touch. “Geoff—I, oh that’s—” He stops talking as Geoff focuses on the head of his cock.
This isn’t the first time they’ve done this, but it feels like the first time. Geoff is giddy at how quickly Brannon starts leaking pre-come, how his breath hitches as Geoff keeps teasing.
“Close, I think—”
“Don’t come,” Geoff says, surprising himself. “I don’t… Later. If you’re good.”
Brannon’s hand curls tight into the hammock, and Geoff realizes he’s got another kink to add to the pile of them he’s discovered this weekend—it feels so perfect to deny Brannon.
Geoff only stops stroking him when Brannon starts to shake his head, whimpering and trying to pull away from the touch. “Mean,” he whispers, eyes in that unfocused haze again.
“You like it,” Geoff says, feeling dazed himself.
“You like it,” Brannon laughs.
“We both like it,” Geoff agrees with a laugh of his own. A lot of it doesn’t make sense yet, but it’s enough that Geoff wants it, that they both want it. They have plenty of time to define the meaning of what’s between them.
Brannon wakes up first. Geoff is dimly aware of him getting out of the bed, but before he can bring himself to get up and follow, Brannon comes back and burrows into bed beside him.
“G’morning,” Brannon says, nuzzling against Geoff’s throat. He’s naked and warm, and Geoff isn’t sure what to do with his desire to touch; it’s such a new feeling.
“Morning.” Geoff gives into the craving and runs his hands over Brannon’s back. The welts and heat are mostly faded, and from the view of Geoff’s fingertips, only a few faint welts remain from the cane, printed on the curve of Brannon’s ass.
Brannon mimics the touches, soothing hands over Geoff’s shoulders, kneading gently at knots until Geoff’s sprawled onto his stomach, boneless against the bed. The soft touches turn into a kneading massage. Brannon finds tension points and carefully works them out until Geoff’s moaning.
“You’re good at this,” Geoff mumbles into the pillow, too comfortable to shift his head.
“I’ll learn even more if it’s something you want me to do.”
Brannon’s words make Geoff’s thought skitter out of his grasp for a moment. The service, in combination with everything else he’s learned this weekend. Service, pain, pleasure, all tied up in rope and delivered as a gift of understanding.
“I’d like that.” He’d like that very much. Geoff turns back on his side and reaches for Brannon, pulling him down to kiss him, hands tugging at his hair to guide the kiss how he wants it. They kiss until they’re both breathless from it before they finally break apart and curl back into one another. Geoff’s fingers find one of the lingering welts, just resting over it, admiring.
“I love you.” Brannon’s words sound so natural, so right, that it takes Geoff a few moments for the meaning to fully click into place—for the last puzzle piece to click into place.
Geoff presses his fingers into the welt until Brannon gasps. Geoff tilts his head on the pillow to meet Brannon’s eyes, smiling. Up north might not hold an inherent magic to Geoff, but it’s become magic over the course of the weekend. Or, at least, the place where some kind of magic happened. Context, understanding, love. Geoff leans forward and kisses Brannon’s temple, and then his lips.
“I love you, too.”