Nathan opened the blinds, letting the midmorning sun brighten the bedroom where his lover was still cocooned deep within the covers. Mack came awake quickly.

"–time is it?"

"Nearly eleven, Mackie," Nathan said. "I just got back from teaching my eight o'clock class. Come on, get up and get dressed, it's lunchtime and I want to talk to you."

"Would you come back to bed instead?" Mack asked hopefully, kicking the covers off. He sprawled on his back, caressing himself. "Please?"

Nathan undid his tidy chinos and folding them, placed them on the seat of the bedroom chair. Unbuttoning his dress shirt, he hung it over the chair's back. He sat down alongside Mack and brushing Mack's hand aside, grasped Mack's cock at the base and leaning forward, took Mack in his mouth without preliminaries.

"Oh! Yes, oh yeah," Mack panted, his head snapping back, hips arching upward. "Oh yeah."

Nathan worked his way up and down the swelling shaft, watching out of the corner of his eye as Mack grabbed fistfuls of sheet and strained against his constraining hand, wanting him to take him deeper and faster. When Mack was close to the edge, Nathan stopped and rolled on top of him, shifted his weight so that Mack was pinned beneath him, and kissed Mack thoroughly. Mack squirmed and arched under him, horny and eager.

"Please." Mack reached for Nathan's waistband and lifted it down below Nathan's hard cock. He drew his own knees up, opening himself to Nathan. Reached for the lube and handed it off to Nathan, who squeezed a generous slick of it onto his cock and distributed with a swift up and down stroke of his hand before positioning the head of his cock against Mack.

Mack groaned as Nathan entered him and Nathan kissed him, sucking on his tongue as he pressed his cock deeper. Mack tightened at the penetration and Nathan sucked harder, until Mack stopped gripping quite so hard and reached for his own flagging cock.

A few strokes and Mack was fully hard again. Nathan moved inside him, deep, solid thrusts that opened Mack entirely and brought Nathan's balls against Mack's perineum with each stroke. Nathan took it slowly, coming only after Mack did, when Mack was moaning incoherently at the continued stimulation.

"I'm dead," Mack announced.

"I'm glad," Nathan said. "Clean up and come on in the kitchen, you should be hungry for food after that, if I did it right." He gave a smug smile. It was pretty clear he'd done a fine job. Mack was still breathing hard.

Nathan headed to the kitchen and Mack rolled himself upright and made the bed neatly before ducking into the shower.

Nathan pulled the remains of the previous night's dinner out of the refrigerator and began to slice roast beef for sandwiches. He slathered slabs of bakery rye with mayonnaise and horseradish and piled them with roast beef and lettuce.

"Those are huge, Nathan." Mack said, stunned as always at the heft of Nathan's sandwiches.

"You know I hate skimpy sandwiches," Nathan said with a grin.

"Oh." Mack couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Soda? Beer?" Nathan asked. "Milk?"

"Whatever you're having," Mack said, and Nathan handed him a coke. "Thank you." He bit into the sandwich. "Wow, that's good. There was never any food like this in my house, Nathan."

"I've never heard you say a positive word about that house? Why do you keep it? You hate it."

"It's paid for," Mack said with a shrug. "It doesn't cost me anything to keep it."

"You're still paying for it," Nathan said. "Believe me, Mack, it costs you."

Mack was silent and Nathan didn't say anything more about it. He ground fresh beans and boiled water before filtering two cups of coffee. He set one in front of Mack.

"Thanks," Mack said. "Nathan? You want a lot from me."

"I want a lot for you. Mack, you need to think about what you want to do. Playing in the bars, breaking your back doing road work? Where's the future in either of those?"

"I don't know," Mack said uncomfortably, looking down. He yawned. "I'm tired, Nathan, let me alone."

"I don't think so, Mackie. You're not alone anymore." Nathan's tone shifted. "You're smart–"

"Smart?" Mack made a face, and accepting that Mack wasn't ready to hear him, Nathan moved on. "You need to make some plans."

"What for? What good does it do to talk about this shit when nothing ever works out anyway," Mack muttered, not liking the tenor of the talk.

"Mackie, we are going to talk about this, it isn't negotiable." Nathan didn't want to upset Mack further, but he was unhappy at Mack's fatalism, yet another destructive legacy from his father.

"And what will you do if I won't have this conversation with you?" Mack asked, hoping the answer was "nothing."

"Maybe I'll spank you," Nathan said mildly.

"Oh fuck, oh shit, Nathan, you can't do that!" Flushing red, Mack sprang up and began to pace, agitated and unhappy.

"Whoa." Nathan took Mack's hands in his, tugging him to a stop. "Sit down, Mack, what's going on?"


"What good does it do to talk about shit, Nathan?" Mack was breathing hard, each exhalation a visible effort.

"Mackie." Nathan tried to understand precisely why talking seemed both so useless and so threatening to Mack. It had to be the vulnerability it implied. "We are going to talk, because I love you and I want to see you moving along in your life. I know you don't believe there's any point in trying to change things, but you're wrong."

"Fuck you, Nathan," Mack said sourly. "I told you, Nathan, I don't want to talk--" Mack reared back indignantly at Nathan's quick, stingy slap. "OW!"

"You don't curse at me." Nathan eyes met Mack's. "I won't put up with that, not now, not ever."

"I'm sorry!" Mack dropped his eyes and sighed; clearly he accepted the slap as deserved. "Sorry, Nathan. Shit."

"Come here."

Mack froze as Nathan patted his ass, but as Nathan wrapped his arms around him, reassuring Mack that the only thing on the agenda was comfort, Mack let out his breath and snuggled closer. Nathan stroked the red mark his fingers had left, suppressing a shiver.

 "I don't know what to say to you, Nathan." Mack rubbed his cheek against Nathan's hand apologetically. "I kick in as much as I can for groceries and shit like that, you know? I buy my own gas, I–"

"The money's not the point, Mack. You're not happy and who would be in your situation, drifting this way. You look for excitement because you're bored with your life–"

"How the *fuck* could you know any of that?" Mack demanded, then tensed as Nathan's hand moved from his cheek. "I'm sorry! Nathan, come on, don't be like this." Mack hunched his shoulders defensively.

"You're a good boy," Nathan said softly, and at Mack's look of utter disbelief, "I mean it, Mackie. You're allowed to be upset, Mackie. You just don't curse at me."

"I didn't mean..."

"I know," Nathan reassured him. "I know you're upset. We are going to have this conversation at some point, though."

"I'll think about the stuff you said, okay?" Mack leaned into Nathan, pressing his face into Nathan's chest. "Really I will."

"That'd be good, Mack." Nathan cupped his fingers around the nape of Mack's neck, ruffling his hair. " You don't have to do this all alone, Mackie, you're not all alone anymore. We can talk about this together."

Mack sighed unhappily and Nathan leaned in and kissed him, persisting until Mack's lips opened to his tongue and Mack kissed him back.

"I know this is a lot for you to take in all at once," Nathan said softly. "But about the spanking I mentioned, Mack, I really think it's an important element of our kind of relationship. I think it's a way for us to get closer, and Mackie, that's what I want."

"Noah and Jim do it, you know."

"I know," Nathan said.

"Noah always thought it would be good for me." Mack's voice trailed off. He rubbed his hand over his mouth. "Nathan, please, don't make me do this."

Nathan smoothed Mack's hair back from his eyes and Mack tried to pull away.

"Stay with me, Mackie." Nathan shook Mack gently. "Calm down, Mackie, breathe. It's not going to be as difficult as you're making it."

"I'm going to fuck this up, you know. I fuck everything up."

"I'm not going to let that happen," Nathan said certainly.

"Just wait," Mack said dismally.

"Come on, Mackie, ease up on yourself." Nathan wrapped his arms around Mack. When Mack didn't respond, Nathan jostled him again, gently, suddenly afraid he'd pushed too hard. He knew Mack's impulse toward panicked flight.

"Promise me you'll stay here tonight," Nathan said.

"Yes. No. I don't know." Mack swallowed hard. "All right."

"Good boy." Nathan's compliment was less trite than it sounded. It combined a reassurance Mack had never received with a reminder of his role in their relationship. Nathan eased Mack into the bedroom and coaxed him onto the bed. "Come on, let's spend a little good time together, okay?"

"Sure, why not. Fucking I can do." Mack saw Nathan wince. "Well, it beats fucking up."

"Don't be hateful, Mackie."

"It was a joke, Nathan," Mack said miserably.

"Calling yourself hateful names isn't any better than ripping into me," Nathan said mildly. "I don't want you hurt, Mackie. I don't want you to get hurt and I don't want you to hurt yourself."

"All right." Mack shivered, trying to shake off the sense of foreboding he felt. "I do stupid things sometimes." Mack sighed. "I don't want to screw this up."

"We'll be fine," Nathan said, hoping his certainty would reassure Mack.

He'd revealed too much. Mack could feel it crawling under his skin, anxiety familiar as old pain. Nathan was looking at him; Nathan was seeing him. The approval Mack saw in Nathan's gaze prompted only panic. He would never, never, never be able to live up to the hope he saw in Nathan's eyes.

Mack leaned in and Nathan kissed him. Mack's terror grew even as he went through the mechanics of making love, a fierce, destructive energy that only fueled his performance further.

"Mack, you're flying," Nathan said, taking in Mack's hot, flushed skin. "Come on, lie down with me, let's cuddle a little."

"No! I don't want to stay home, I want to go out...please?"

"Come on, Mackie," Nathan coaxed. "Lie down."

"No." Mack turned away, Nathan's gentleness more than he could bear.

Nathan watched as Mack walked off and when Mack didn't return, he went out to the living room to find him.

"Come back to bed now, Mack," Nathan said.

"Are you going to beat me?"

"What do you think?" Nathan reached toward Mack toward Mack and Mack flinched. "Mackie."

Mack hunched his shoulders at the reproachful look Nathan gave him.

"I wouldn't blame you if you beat the shit out of me. I probably deserve it."

"I'm not going to do that, Mackie," Nathan said. "I'm not your father, I'm not going to beat the shit out of you, ever. Mackie, hitting you because I'm pissed at you is not what this is supposed to be about."

"What is it about, then?" Mack demanded. "You do hit me when you're pissed at me, Nathan. I take it because I know you've got good reason, but you do hit me."

"There is no way in hell I'm living with a boyfriend who curses at me. If I have to slap you every time that happens to break you of that habit, so be it."

"Yeah," Mack said. "I think I should go, Nathan. I can't do this. I can't do anything right. I'm screwed, Nathan." He bolted out the door.

"Jesus!" Nathan followed Mack outside. "I want you to listen to me," Nathan said firmly. "Come inside, sit down, and let's talk. Don't run this time, Mack, I'm getting tired of it. You're an adult, not a child, and whatever happened to you in the past, you can do this much for me." He gestured for Mack to come closer and when Mack obeyed, hugged him hard. He could feel Mack was braced for a blow and he held him, rubbing his back wordlessly, until Mack let out his breath with a sigh. "Inside."

"Yes, Nathan," Mack said meekly, comforted by Nathan's composure. He let Nathan usher him back inside.

"I guess you could spank me," Mack offered hesitantly. He truly had no idea what it was Nathan expected of him now. "I can't come home if you're going to beat me for it, but for anything else, you can do what you want."

"No, Mackie, that's not how this works," Nathan said gently. "You need to take a few deep breaths now, calm down, and listen to me." He waited while Mack tried to follow his instructions. "Good boy. Now talk to me, Mackie. Tell me what you want."

"I want to not fuck this up," Mack said. "I don't want to fuck up here the way I always have before. I just don't know how people get this right."

"Get what right, Mack?"

"Living together. Love. All that shit." Mack shrugged his shoulders.

"They take it day by day," Nathan said. "If they're lucky they learn the basics growing up. If they're not as lucky, they have to find themselves someone to trust when they're older. You can trust me, Mackie, I'll take good care of you."

"Noah tried to take care of me," Mack said softly. He looked sad. "He said I needed to learn to listen to him, and I tried, but the whole discipline thing...I couldn't say yes to that, Nathan, I just couldn't. You never asked if you could punish me, you just did what you wanted. And I can deal with that, Nathan, you know?"

Nathan inhaled sharply and then forced himself to relax. There was a certain truth to Mack's statement. Noah had been more careful about the niceties of consent, and Nathan knew that with Mack that was a mistake. Mack would respect a firmly drawn line; too much negotiation only unnerved him.


"What are you going to do to me now?" Mack asked.

"You tell me what you think I should do, Mackie."

"Fuck me?" Mack suggested. "That's really all we have, isn't it?"

"Goddamn it, Mack, you must really like to make me angry," Nathan said.

"Fuck you too," Mack said.

"Don't push me," Nathan said.

"Fuck you, you bastard."

Nathan cupped his hand around Mack's jaw. Mack closed his eyes. "No, Mackie, look at me," Nathan said quietly. "I'm not going to slap you." He touched Mack's cheek gently and removed his hand.

"You fucking asshole! Fuck you, Nathan, you bastard, you sonofabitch, you motherfucking bastard–" Mack hurled every invective he could think of at Nathan and Nathan stood quietly and listened. "It's over, then?"

"You tell me. I'm not going to make you do this if you really don't want to. I love you, Mack, but I can't make you follow rules you don't want to respect. You're just scared, Mack. No one ever died from being scared."

"Don't look at me." Mack's face was suddenly wet. "Let me alone. Please."

Nathan wrapped his arms around Mack and held him until the slow, silent tears stopped falling.

"Who taught you to cry like that?" Nathan asked softly, knowing the answer. He stroked Mack's hair back from his face. "Is this what you're afraid I'll see? There's no shame in crying, Mackie. You're a good boy."

It was a loaded phrase and Nathan had chosen it deliberately. Its effect was electric.

"Shut up!" Mack said. "Fuck you, Nathan, what the fuck do you know about me? I'm not your boy, I never will be, I fucking hate you. You don't give a fuck what I do, you don't help me, you don't–"

"I don't what?" Nathan demanded. "I don't force you? I don't hurt you? Mack, do you know what you really want from me? I'd really like you to try and answer my question."

Mack was silent.

"It's all right to ask for help," Nathan said gently.

"I want you to help me," Mack whispered. "I need you to help me. If I could do it myself, I would, but I can't, Nathan. I've tried, I'm trying, I just can't."

"All right," Nathan said. "I'm going to help you, Mackie. Trust me. I know how to make things better." He leaned in and kissed Mack and Mack opened his mouth, letting Nathan lead.

"Come on, Mackie. I think a spanking would clear the slate nicely," Nathan said. If Mack wanted direction, he'd offer it. "Now works for me." He took Mack's hand.

Mack was silent as Nathan seated himself on the couch. He stood quietly as Nathan undid his jeans and pushed them down. He let Nathan draw him over his lap.

"What's this spanking for, Mackie?" Nathan asked.

"I don't know," Mack muttered.

"You know very well. You don't curse at me. You accept that I'm in charge in this relationship and you don't fight me at every single turn."

Nathan spanked Mack slowly and thoroughly. The individual smacks were not especially hard, but their aggregate effect left Mack's ass red and stinging, his breathing rough and his eyes wet. Nathan let Mack slide from his lap and then gathered Mack in his arms and lay back with Mack draped over him.

"Ow," Mack said mournfully. "That *hurt,* Nathan." His eyes were wide and he looked at Nathan reproachfully.

"You had that coming," Nathan said firmly. "And yes, I know it hurt." He kissed Mack gently. "My poor boy."

"Ow." Mack made a face. "You don't feel at all sorry for me." He snuggled into Nathan.

"But I do love you, Mackie," Nathan said.

"Lucky me," said Mack, but he looked pleased.