M/m sex, spanking. If the idea of a discipline relationship between adult men offends you, so will this story.


ELIZABETH MARSHALL STORIES


Equilibrium


Rory was glad to hear Danny's car pull in. Setting his statistics textbook aside, Rory clattered downstairs. He was bored with studying and he was looking forward to hanging out with Danny as they pulled together dinner.


"Ow! Shit!" Danny tripped over the threshold, bruised his elbow on the kitchen door as it slammed behind him and almost took the coat rack down as he slung his jacket over it. "What am I going to do now, Rory?"


"Whoa, Danny, what's the matter?" Rory asked, alarmed at how frantic Danny sounded. "What happened?"


"I got laid off." Danny kicked a chair out from the table and slumped disconsolately. "Shit, I can't believe it. I worked so hard. I didn't expect it!" Danny said, swiping angrily at his reddened eyes. Obviously he'd lost the struggle not to cry on the way home.


"You're a wreck, Danny, calm down," Rory pushed the tissue box across to him. "You've got to calm down."


"I'm not fucking crying!" Danny said.


"I know," Rory lied. He wished he was better at scenes like this. He had no idea how to be helpful to Danny and it made him angry. He cast about for something, anything.


"Drink this," Rory said, pouring a glass of coke and putting it in front of Danny. Danny drank obediently, as if Rory knew what he were doing. Danny's small gesture of deference strengthened Rory's confidence.


"It's going to be okay, Danny. Go change your clothes, shower and put on something comfortable," Rory said with greater assurance than he felt. "Theo will be home in a little while. It's going to be okay, Danny."


"Yeah. You're right, I know," Danny said. "I'll do that then. Shit. I don't feel good, Rory."


Rory watched Danny clump upstairs. It shook him up, seeing Danny so beaten down and distressed; it was proof that even when you thought you were safe, you weren't. Rory felt his own shaky confidence erode further; how would Danny's losing his job affect him? What was Theo going to say when he heard the news? A threesome with one working partner didn't sound tenable.


The shower felt good, but it only tired Danny further. He crawled into bed, snugged the covers in a tight cocoon around him and cried softly to himself, breath hitching miserably. He appreciated that Rory had tried to be nice, but he really, really wanted Theo.


Half an hour later, he got his wish.


"Hey, Danny." Theo entered the bedroom, his greeting calm and warm as always. He sat down on the bed alongside Danny, tousled Danny's damp hair gently. "I hear you had a bad day, kiddo."


"Yeah." Danny rolled over onto his back. His face was flushed and his eyes were bloodshot. "The worst ever, Theo. They fired me."


"Rory told me. I'm so sorry, Danny," Theo said sincerely. Leaning over, he kissed Danny gently. "You put your all into that job; I know that."


"They said it wasn't personal," Danny said doubtfully. "Just cutting back and I was the new guy. But I don't know, Theo, they hired someone after me who didn't get fired, a married guy. I don't know."


"And you're wondering... Ah, who knows? They never seemed to have a problem with your being out before. And it does sometimes go by department, not by the company overall," Theo said sympathetically. "Were they decent about it at least?"


"Decent enough, I guess. They told me about unemployment; I can apply." Danny yawned, worn out by the events of the day. "You do think I can find something else, Theo?"


"You''ll find something even better," Theo said firmly. "I'm sure of it."


"Yeah?" Danny shifted so that he could rub his cheek against Theo's thigh. "You've probably got stuff to do..."


"I've probably got time to lie down with you for a little while," Theo said, hearing Danny's unspoken wish. "Let me get out of my work clothes." He hung his pants in his closet, dropped his turtleneck and tee shirt in the hamper and stretched out alongside Danny. Danny tilted his head back, seeking a kiss, and Theo obliged and enfolded Danny in his arms. For a time Danny let himself drift without thinking, drawing strength and comfort from the reassuring, familiar feel of Theo's body against his own.


"It'll be okay?" Danny asked, needing to hear Theo say it.


"It will be okay. It's a job, it's not the end of the world. It'll be okay. I promise," Theo answered, and Danny let himself be comforted. They lay quietly as the dark room filled with good smells from below.


"Come on, Danny, I want you to get up now," Theo coaxed. "Otherwise you won't be able to sleep tonight. Rory's got dinner cooking; let's go give him a hand with it." Theo and Danny pulled on clothes and headed downstairs to the kitchen.


"It smells delicious in here. Thanks for making dinner, Rory. Want another beer?" Theo asked, fishing in the refrigerator.


"Another?" Rory squeaked nervously. Was Theo setting him up? "I didn't have one, Theo!"


"Easy," Theo said, patient as always with Rory's reflexive mistrust. "It's not a trick question, Rory. You know that Danny and I usually snag our first one while we're cooking. " He took out three beers and opened them under the counter top. Handed one to Danny and one to Rory. "Here you go. Cheers. To a new and better job."


"Cheers." Rory half-laughed, embarrassed. "Thanks, Theo." Once again he'd forgotten just how easygoing Theo was about alcohol with meals.


"You were really great when I first came in, Rory. Thanks," Danny said. He slid his arm around Rory and kissed him, full and open, on his mouth.


"No problem." Rory returned the kiss awkwardly.


I'm really not so nice, Danny, Rory thought, wondering at how easily Danny assumed the best of him, well aware how lacking in compassion he'd truly felt and how quickly his concerns had shifted to his own situation.


Danny was thrown by the offhand coolness of Rory's response. He dropped into his favorite chair at the table, carelessly pushing his ever-present trail of books and papers aside, suddenly seeing them through Rory's critical eyes and remembering his reproaches.


"I'm no good at anything," Danny said morosely, his tenuous good mood evaporating. "I can't hold a job and I sure as hell can't keep this place picked up."


"Stop that right now," Theo chided Danny. "Be kind to yourself tonight, Danny. Use that good mind of yours for a minute and think before you work yourself up."


"'Good mind?'" Danny smiled lopsidedly; it was such a typically Theo phrase, and so unlike the criticism he'd grown up with.


"A very good mind," Theo said, giving Danny a firm hug. "Try not let this get you too down, Danny, it's not the most important thing." Theo shoved a stack of books aside and sitting down, dragged Danny into his lap and wrapped his arms around him. "We are the most important thing. Kiss me."


Danny obeyed. Rory watched uncomfortably, wishing he had Theo's and Danny's knack for the easy exchange of physical affection. He turned away from them; turned off the burners on the stove. Their dinner was ready.


"I heard back from my editor at the journal," Theo announced as they settled down to their meal. He wanted to give them all something to talk about besides Danny's firing. "I think he's going to be at the conference next month. We'll try and get lunch at some point. I'm optimistic."


"You like writing, don't you?" Rory asked. "And research? And teaching?"


"I do, Rory," Theo answered. "What makes you ask?"


"No reason." Rory shrugged. "I just wondered, I guess."


"Are you thinking about graduate school, Rory?" Danny asked, making a conscious effort to think about Rory's feelings rather than his own troubles. Two years of Theo's coaching had sharpened Danny's emotional support skills; he'd heard the wistful note in Rory's voice.

 

"Right. I'm sure Theo would love that, two of us without jobs." Rory dismissed the thought. "Jesus, Danny, sometimes you're just too stupid."


"Fuck you too," Danny responded, his own temper rising as quickly as the red that colored his face. He had had Rory's best interests in mind; he didn't appreciate the reminder that he'd just been fired. Danny leaned forward, about to rise from his chair.


"That wasn't very nice, Rory," Theo said reproachfully, at the same time as he placed his hand over Danny's fist on the table, cautioning him to calm.


Rory looked between Danny and Theo for a second and then shoved his chair back from the table. Turning quickly on his heel, he left the kitchen.


"Why did he say that?" Danny asked Theo plaintively. "What did I do?"


"I don't think you did anything," Theo said gently, interlacing his fingers between Danny's tense ones. "Come here, kiddo." He drew Danny into a much-appreciated hug.


"We were just talking, I thought. Theo, I don't know what I said wrong." Danny looked unhappy. "I didn't mean to tease him or anything." He sounded despondent. Danny genuinely loved Rory, he had tried to rise above his own sorrows and pay attention to Rory's desires and he didn't understand how he'd fucked up.


"Rory's very sensitive about being dependent, I suppose," Theo mused. "It was obviously an issue with Glen. And Rory goes for the jugular every time when he's anxious, you know that. Don't fret, Danny, it wasn't your fault." Theo hooked his arm around Danny's waist and tugged him closer. "I'll go talk to him in a bit, after he cools down. You tried, I saw that, it's all right."


Danny dropped his head to Theo's chest and let Theo's steady heartbeat comfort him. After a few minutes, the two men broke apart. They finished their meal quietly and companionably. Two years together had made them very good at cleaning up quickly and efficiently. Danny stretched out on the couch, book in hand, and Theo went upstairs to seek out Rory.


Rory was hunched over his desk in the front bedroom, his text book open, his back to the door. He looked over his shoulder as Theo came in. Theo closed the gap between them in two strides. Rory cringed back as Theo's hand came up.


"Take it easy," Theo said very quietly, not lowering his hand. "I'm not going to slap you, Rory. I don't do that." He moved his hand slowly forward so that his palm cupped Rory's jaw. Leaning forward, he kissed him gently. He wasn't surprised to taste salt as the tears Rory had been holding back spilled over.


"Stop being so fucking nice!" Rory said in a strangled voice.


"Shh, shh, shh." Theo eased Rory's pen from his hand, laid it in his book to hold his place, and drew Rory out of his chair. "Shh, it's okay, Rory. Come with me, babe." Theo propelled Rory down the hall to their bedroom with a gentle hand at the small of his back. "Come on now, lie down with me for a bit."


"You think a quick fuck fixes everything!" Rory spat hatefully as Theo nudged him towards the bed.


"Hush, Rory," Theo said softly. "I don't blame you for being a little jumpy, but that's not called for."


"I'm sorry! I'm a fucking asshole." Pulling away, Rory flopped down on the bed. He hid his face in the pillow and cried, miserably humiliated at his own perceived weakness. It took a few minutes for Theo's reassurances to penetrate his self-loathing thoughts.


"Let it out, that's a good boy. You're safe here, it's all right, I've got you now. Let it out, Rory, it's all right." Theo's voice was as sure and gentle as the small circles his hand rubbed on Rory's shoulders. Rory let himself sink into the luxury of comfort Theo offered.


"Now what was all this really about, Rory?" Theo asked after a bit. "Danny wasn't baiting you; there was no reason to lose it like that. Talk to me, Rory."


"I don't know," Rory said.


"If there's something going on that we can do something practical about, maybe we should talk about it. Graduate school might be good goal for you," Theo said.


"Look how long it's taking me just to finish my undergraduate work!" Rory protested.


"There were extenuating circumstances, Rory."


"And I don't know how well I even did last semester, Theo. I didn't get my grades yet."


"Rory, you worked hard; I'm sure you did just fine,"


"And I can't afford it," Rory continued. "And who knows if I'd ever get a job?"


"If you want it, Rory, go for it. You'll get at least some funding; we could make it work out.


"I don't know if I could do it even if I had the money, Theo. What if I tried and screwed up?" Rory said very softly, voicing his deepest fear.


"If it happens, it happens. I don't think it will," Theo said. "You've got the brains, you've got us behind you, why not go for it if that's what you want? I want you to be happy, Rory, and so does Danny."


"I don't know, Theo." Rory felt as if there was precious little he did know these days.


Theo seemed to understand his confusion. He continued to rub Rory's back and shoulders until the tight knots of tension loosened and Rory sighed deeply.


"I'm going to grab a shower," Theo said, running a gentle hand over Rory's dark hair. "You might want to see if you can patch things up with Danny. He had a hard enough day without this."


Rory nodded, acknowledging the truth of Theo's words and rolled himself upright. Feeling like a very poor excuse for a partner, Rory made his way downstairs. Danny was lying on the couch, his book on his chest, gazing into space. He looked curiously at Rory.


"Hey, Danny? I'm really sorry." Rory swallowed hard. He hadn't meant to jump down Danny's throat. "I overreacted, and I didn't think about you or that you'd had a shitty day. I'm sorry, Danny."


"It doesn't matter," Danny said, more than ready to forgive. He hated being at odds with Rory. "I'm not mad."


"You're too easy," Rory groused, leaning into Rory and kissing him lightly on the lips. "Danny, you're nicer than me."


"I love you anyway," Danny said, not arguing. "Rory, it's okay. I'm okay with all of it."


"Theo didn't..." Rory's voice trailed off. He wanted Danny to know that his apology had been given freely, but he didn't know how to say it without giving away what he'd been afraid would happen. "Theo didn't..."


"Theo didn't spank you." Danny made a confident guess. "Theo didn't do anything but hold you and talk to you a little, right?"


"Yeah," Rory said. He marveled at Danny's level of trust. How had he known that was all that Theo would do? "Danny? I know this isn't maybe any of my business, but...do you get...spanked...a lot?" Rory still winced at the word, but it was easier to say now that Danny had used it first.


"Jesus." Danny flushed. "Jesus. I don't know, Rory, what's a lot?"


"A few times a month?" Rory hazarded.


"Um. Not now. Maybe when we were first together, yeah. But not anymore." Danny dropped his eyes.


"Danny, did you always know? Even when you and Theo first started? When it would just be talking, not...spanking?"


"Theo always liked talking things through. He never spanked me without a pretty good reason." Danny shrugged. "I was used to a lot of physical stuff from home, so I watched Theo pretty carefully at first. Theo was never quick with his hands. Not like my father."


"But weren't you scared, the first time you realized that Theo really could spank you, that you'd agreed to it?"


"I wasn't scared of him spanking me, but I was scared that I'd cry when he did. That I'd cry and that he'd hate me for it." Danny looked down. "I was afraid of what he'd think of me, of what he'd call me. My father used to say such evil things."


"So what happened with Theo?" Rory was fascinated.


"I cried before he ever spanked me. And Theo held me, just held me, until I stopped crying. And we talked for a long, long time, and it was okay, you know? And then a few days later he spanked me for the first time."


"Did you cry?"


"I guess." Danny look uncomfortable. He wasn't really a talker; only Theo's coaching over the course of the last two years made this kind of self-disclosure possible.


"I'm worried about it, Danny. About being spanked," Rory admitted. "I'm a little bit, well, scared, actually."


"Oh!" Danny hadn't thought, until the moment Rory said it, that this was what the discussion was about. At all. He had been too focused on the memories Rory's questions evoked, to consider what had motivated Rory's curiosity. "Theo's very fair, Rory. You don't have to be scared."


"I'm shit scared," Rory said miserably.


"I think you should tell Theo," Danny said without hesitating. "Theo's not going to spank you if you're shit scared."


"Well, that's no good! That's not how this works, you fucking know that," Rory said morosely. "*Discipline* relationship? Ring any bells?"


"You're wrong, Rory," Danny said gently, recognizing Rory's sarcasm for the bravado it was. "Discipline isn't...I mean, it's not *just* about spanking. Shit, I'm no good at explaining stuff. You've got to talk to Theo." Surely Theo would know how to handle this; Danny thought it was something Theo would want, and needed, to know.


"I can't! I wouldn't know what to say. Oh shit, I don't know what to do." Rory wrapped his arms around himself. "I don't know, Danny, I don't know anything anymore."


"Hey, it's going to be okay, Rory." Danny was alarmed at how unhappy Rory looked and sounded. He wrapped his arms over Rory's, not wanting to leave him to only his own embrace, and felt Rory shiver at his affectionate gesture. "Tell Theo."


"I can't, Danny!" More than anything, Rory did not want to feel this vulnerable.


"You want me to tell Theo?" Danny offered tentatively. "You don't have to do this alone, Rory, Theo will help you. I'm going to get him."


"Shit." Rory dropped his head, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes until he saw flashes of white light. The thought of Theo knowing how scared he was terrified Rory. Theo could use that knowledge as an excuse to reject him; Theo could use that knowledge as a means to hurt him. Rory regretted he'd started this conversation.


Theo was drying off in the bedroom. He listened to Danny's summary of his conversation with Rory soberly.


"You're really very good to Rory, Danny. I don't think he quite appreciates how good to him you really are, but I do." Theo hugged Danny tightly. "I do love you, Danny."


"I know," Danny said softly. "You always made me feel safe, Theo, from the very beginning you made me feel safe. I want Rory to feel safe, too."


"I blame Glen for this," Theo said bitterly. He pulled on a clean tee shirt and a pair of loose, light sweatpants. "I'll see what I can do, Danny. Why don't you get ready for bed meanwhile?"


"I love you, Theo," Danny said. "Bed sounds like a really, really good idea."


"Go on, then, wash up," Theo said, turning Danny toward the bathroom and patting his butt gently. "I'll be back up with Rory in a little while." He headed downstairs.


Rory looked up at Theo's entrance, feeling a sudden surge of panic. Trapped, he was trapped!


"Shit!" Rory dashed angrily at the tears suddenly spilling down his cheeks. "I don't want to do this! Shit!"


"Now what's the matter, Rory?" Theo asked gently, seeing Rory's struggle for control. "Tell me what's wrong."


"I don't know! I don't know!" Rory repeated. "I'm a fucking asshole, okay? I don't *know* what's wrong!"


"You don't have to know," Theo said soothingly, drawing Rory into a hug. "We'll figure it out together. We'll get through it together. Shh, shh, I've got you now, it's going to be okay. Shh..."


Rory gave a half-hearted twist and then realized that for all his gentle words, Theo had no intention of letting him go. With a deep sigh, he let himself droop back against Theo's chest.


"Good boy," Theo said, acknowledging Rory's surrender. He rubbed Rory's back gently, easing him incrementally closer. "That's it, let me do this for you, that's what I'm here for."


"Don't," Rory moaned.


"Don't what?" Theo asked gently. "Don't hug you? Don't tell you what to do? Don't spank you?"


"Don't spank me," Rory said.


"Ah." Theo rubbed Rory's back gently. "All right."


"No, I mean, don't spank me *ever*!" Rory's voice rose, but he didn't pull away. At some level his body trusted Theo, welcomed Theo's hold on him.


"Are you planning on doing anything spank-worthy in the near future, or do we have time to talk about this?" Theo hazarded a gentle tease, hoping he was gauging Rory's mood right. He was relieved when Rory laughed half-heartedly.


"Spank-worthy?" Distressed as he was, it still struck Rory funny, that Theo could joke about this. "Shit, Theo, I hope not."


"It's going to be all right," Theo reassured Rory, not surprised by his volatile emotions. "You're going to be all right. Rory, you just came out of two years in hell; you need to cut yourself a little slack. It's all right to be afraid, Rory."


"I'm not afraid," Rory protested immediately. "I want you to tell me what to do! I need you to tell me what to do! I don't know what to do, Theo, I don't know!"


"I understand that, Rory," Theo said. "It takes time to find your balance again after a relationship like that."


"I don't know what to do!" Rory was bitterly ashamed, ashamed of his ambivalence, ashamed of the tears coursing over his cheeks. "I don't know what to do, Theo!"


"It's all right, Rory," Theo said calmly. "I do. You don't have to do anything but trust me."


"That's a big 'but,'" Rory objected.


"I know it is," Theo said. "Try anyway, Rory."


"I fucking hate this!" Rory cried harder as he tried to clamp down on his emotions, disgusted at his own weakness. "Shit, Theo, oh shit, what the fuck is the matter with me?"


"It's all right, Rory," Theo's voice was gentle.


Rory shook his head quickly, trying very, very hard to stop crying. It was too much for him. He gagged, and Theo, who until then had been willing to let Rory's meltdown run its course, shook him just hard enough to break through his hysteria.


"You're not going to be sick," Theo said firmly. "Take a deep breath, that's it, you're all right." Theo waited for a moment, then wrapped his arms tightly around Rory and drew him closer.


"That's enough now," Theo said calmly. "No more, Rory, that's enough. That's it, just breathe, I've got you now. You're safe, Rory, you're mine and you're safe. Breathe."


"Okay," Rory whispered, and there was more trust and more genuine giving over of himself, in those two small syllables, than he had given Glen in two painful years. "Okay."


"Come on, Rory, let's go upstairs." Gently, Theo guided Rory toward their bedroom.


Danny was sprawled across the bed, reading. He looked up when they came in, searching their faces for clues. Rory sighed deeply. Theo smiled reassuringly at Danny and flipped the covers back.


"Put your book away and let's sleep," Theo said gently. He took up his usual position in the center of the bed. Rory shucked his clothes and lay down at the edge of the bed, curled into himself, his back to Theo. Gently, but firmly, Theo shifted Rory toward him so that their bodies touched.


"Come on, Danny, you aren't going to finish that book tonight," Theo said as Danny turned yet another page. "It will keep till the morning. And Danny? I do mean the morning. Can I trust you on that or should I hold onto it for you?"


"I'll be good," Danny said softly, folding down the corner of his page and closing his book. He put it on his night table. "I won't get back up to read." He crossed his heart ostentatiously.


"You need to get some sleep," Theo said. "You had a tough day."


"I'm not tired?" Danny's voice rose hopefully. A good day or a bad day made little difference in Danny's emotional economy. He still craved the sexual connection with Theo. He licked his lips, waiting for Theo's invitation.


"Come here," Theo said, as Danny trusted he would. Theo knew how much Danny needed both the reassurance and the release intimate contact offered. Danny melted into him and Theo kissed him, thoroughly and deeply. By the time they broke apart Danny was fully hard. He reached into the night table drawer for lube and handed it to Theo. Sliding down the bed, Danny took Theo in his mouth.


Rory rolled towards Theo at Theo's moan. Theo's head was back and his mouth open; impulsively, Rory kissed him. Theo returned the kiss, relishing the dual sensations. He cupped the back of Rory's head in his hand, widening his mouth, exploring Rory's mouth with his tongue.


Rory sighed with pleasure at the distraction from his uneasy thoughts. He sighed again, with even more pleasure, as Danny's attention shifted from Theo's cock to Rory's own.


As Theo stroked himself lightly, keeping himself hard, Danny licked and sucked at Rory. Rory shoved Danny gently, signaling how close he was and trying to shift him aside, but Danny wouldn't budge. Instead, he took Rory even deeper and Rory came in his mouth, gasping at the sensation. Danny looked up, cum spilling over his lips, and grinned.


"My god you're hot," Theo murmured, marveling as always at the wanton pleasure Danny took in the act. Danny's unselfconscious enjoyment freed something in Theo. "Come on, brat, turn over." He rolled Danny onto his stomach, widening Danny's thighs so that he could kneel between them. Danny tucked his legs under himself, his hand on his own cock, as Theo positioned his slick, hardened cock at Danny's entrance and slid into him.


"Oh Theo Theo Theo that's good," Danny moaned, as Theo's cock stroked every perfect place within him. Rory licked his palm and reaching under Danny's belly, nudged Danny's hand from his cock, substituting his own. Matching his rhythm to Theo's, he expertly brought Danny off.


"Oh Rory that's so good!" Danny cried out, his cum coating Rory's hand, his contractions prompting Theo to thrust harder until he too came.


"I love you," Danny mumbled. "Theo. Rory. I love you." He sighed blissfully, happily, thoroughly tired, and falling forward on his stomach, was asleep even before Rory and Theo could respond.


Rory and Theo embraced, giggling. Danny was shameless in both his need and his satisfaction. No longer tense and standoffish, Rory cuddled with Theo, resting his head on Theo's shoulder, letting his legs splay easily over Theo's. Theo stroked Rory's back, enjoying the solid feel of his muscled body against his own rangier form. Rory seldom snuggled.


"I love you so much," Rory whispered, and Theo knew the words were meant equally for Danny and him. "You didn't have to let me in. Thank you, Theo." Rory closed his eyes; sometimes it still seemed impossible that it could be anything but a dream.


"I love you," Theo said, kissing Rory's soft, dark hair, his voice warm and real. "We love you. Good night, Rory."


Danny slept deeply and was awake at dawn the next day. He slipped cautiously out of bed, not wanting to wake Theo and Rory, and pulled on shorts, tee and sneakers, allaying his anxiety about the formless day ahead with the thought of the route he meant to run. He was already back in the kitchen, dripping sweat, when Theo and Rory came down for breakfast.


"You got an early start," Theo observed, kissing him lightly. "Go shower and change before you catch cold."


"Yes, Theo. Feeling better, Rory?" Danny clattered upstairs without waiting for an answer.


Rory silently started coffee, thinking morosely about the fool he'd made of himself the night before. Theo pulled milk and eggs from the refrigerator.


"Do you want your eggs scrambled or fried, Rory?" The warmth in Theo's voice helped ease Rory's morning after nerves.


"Scrambled, please." Rory knew that Theo liked cooking for him and Danny. That in itself was a revelation; Glen had expected Rory to cook, and viewed it as a menial chore. "I'll clear the table."

  

Rory no longer winced at the piles of papers that seemed to endlessly regenerate on the kitchen table; if Theo didn't mind, Rory didn't see why he should, either. He stacked them on the vacant chair just the way Theo and Danny had always done. By the time Danny came downstairs, the table was set and breakfast was ready.


"Our lawn looks like shit," Danny said, gulping the last of his coffee and shoving his dishes into the dishwasher. "I don't know why we're paying for garden service. Get rid of them, Theo, okay? I can do a much better job."


"We can get a different garden service," Theo said. "There are dozens of them around."


"No, I can take care of the lawn, now that I've got the time." Danny shrugged. "We don't need to waste money hiring someone else, especially if I'm not working." He leaned over Theo, resting his chin on Theo's shoulder, rubbing his freshly shaved cheek against Theo's morning stubble.


"It's not that expensive to get someone in," Theo replied, ruffling Danny's hair. "It's hardly a make or break item. I don't want you to do it alone when you don't enjoy it, and I'm certainly not going to do it. I've got an article to finish over the next few weeks."


"I don't mind it if I have the time," Danny repeated, straightening up. "I'd like to start this morning. Please? Theo, I need a project."


"That's fine, Danny." Theo nodded his agreement, understanding Danny's wanting a distraction that would physically tire him. He knew Danny well enough not to expect him to talk about his feelings about being let go when they were still this fresh. Denial was a coping mechanism Danny had learned early and all too well.


"Do you want me to help?" Rory offered reluctantly. His allergies flared at this time of year, making garden work unpleasant, but he was sensitive about his limitations after having endured two years of Glen's accusations of "slacking."


"Nah, you've got to study," Danny said. He knew Rory was finding his new courses tough. "I'm better off by myself this morning anyhow. Besides, summer makes you sneeze."


"Schoolwork first," Theo said. The last thing Rory needed was to lose a Saturday to yard work. Save for Danny's desire for productive activity, Theo would have hired another gardener, no question. "Danny'd probably like a little time to himself anyhow."


"What did you do, rehearse that?" Rory looked from one to the other, marveling at the similarity in their responses.


"Yep," Danny laughed, as he bounded outside.


"Dannyboy's wired this morning," Rory said snidely as the door slammed behind Danny.


"Isn't he," Theo agreed. "Well, with good reason."


Rory flinched; was that a reprimand? Theo saw the small gesture and reached across the table to stroke Rory's hand.


"Relax, Rory," Theo said, and after a moment Rory did. Theo smiled at him. "Good boy. Now what's this about you sneezing? Do you have prescriptions you need to fill?"


"It's nothing," Rory said, looking away, uncomfortable at exposing what he felt was a weakness. "I don't need anything."


"Have you seen a doctor recently?" Theo asked. He saw it again, the reflexive cringe that had become Rory's default response. Damn Glen.


"It's all right," Rory said. "I'm not bad unless I'm outside too long when the pollen count's high."


"Make a doctor's appointment anyway, Rory," Theo said firmly. "Do you have a doctor you like? No? Call the guy Danny and I use; his number's by the phone. There's no point in your being uncomfortable all season. Don't put it off, please. We like eating outside and I want you to be able to enjoy it, too."


"Yes, Theo." It was entirely different to be ordered to do something you knew was for your own good. Rory took a deep breath and shrugging ruefully, smiled at Theo.


"Good boy," Theo said, rising from the table. He leaned over and kissed Rory thoroughly. "I'll be in the study. You try and get some work in, too. After you finish your coffee, that is," Theo added, seeing Rory start to rise. "Relax. It's Saturday."


"Yes, Theo." Rory settled back in his chair. Taking another sip of his coffee, he nabbed a section of yesterday's newspaper from the pile on the chair and began to read idly.


Jesus, it felt good to be outside, to be moving! Danny was a fast and efficient worker. By the time the day's mail was deposited in their box, he had the front lawn mowed and edged and needed only to sprinkle lime and fertilizer. He scooped up the small collection of envelopes and circulars and brought them inside, thumbing through them as he walked back into the kitchen.


"Your grades came, I think," Danny said to Rory, as he dropped the mail to the table in front of him. "How did you do?"


Rory ripped the envelope open. He read the paper inside, his jaw tightening, then without a word, turned his back on Danny and walked out of the kitchen.


Danny followed him into the livingroom. Rory stood at by the window, his forehead pressed to the cool glass. Trying, Danny immediately knew, not to cry.


"Rory?"


"Go away!"


Danny hesitated a moment and then went to fill Theo in. Theo put his work aside and went to see what he could do to help.


"What's the matter, Rory?" Theo asked quietly. Danny hung back, not wanting to bear the brunt of Rory's emotions.


"I'm a goddamn motherfucking asshole," Rory swore, turning on Theo. His voice rose. "I don't know why you waste your fucking money keeping me in school! I'm a fucking idiot!"


"Rory, let me see that transcript," Theo said. "Please."


"No?" But Rory's voice rose at the end of the syllable, more questioning than defiant.


"Rory."


Rory handed the sheet of paper over. Theo skimmed it and then, with a smile, handed it back.


"It's fine, Rory. You've got a solid B plus average last semester, that's not bad at all. You did just fine."


"I got a fucking 3.3 grade point average! If you loved me, if you really cared about me, you'd expect me to do better. You'd make me do better," Rory said, crumpling his transcript angrily. "If you gave a shit, you'd punish me."


Danny's heart was pounding; he didn't want to hear any more. Turning away, he slipped quietly back out the door. There was plenty to do outside, and he wanted no part in this discussion.


Theo beckoned Rory to him. Rory came tentatively closer, not sure what to expect. To Rory's shock, Theo folded him into a hug; he could feel how fast Rory's heart was racing.


"Rory, you completed those classes under the worst possible circumstances," Theo said softly. "You're registered for a full course load this term, when you've been finishing twelve credits a year. I think you're making great progress. I think you should be proud of yourself."


"I am not! I am not! You don't know anything, not a fucking thing!" Rory was shaking with rage. Theo held him, silently rubbing his back, until Rory gradually got himself under control.

 

"Oh shit, Theo, I'm sorry. I don't know what just happened to me," Rory said finally, his voice hoarse. "Theo, I just lost it. I'm sorry."


"Rory, it's all right." Theo said, relaxing his hold on Rory, but not releasing him. He cupped Rory's face in his hand, tipping it so that their eyes met. "I'm sure it brings up all sorts of feelings, Rory, how could it not? Be gentle with yourself."


"I don't need gentle." Rory prickled at what he perceived as Theo patronizing him.


"Everyone needs gentle," Theo said mildly.


"Well I don't!" Rory was sick of feeling like a charity case. Shit, at least there was one thing he could still offer. "I need hard. I need this." Rory slid his hand down to Theo's crotch, rubbing seductively.

.

"So, a quick fuck fixes everything?" Theo's voice was flat.

  

Rory flinched, remembering his jibe of the previous evening, uncertain of Theo's meaning and suddenly nervous.


Theo let him think for a moment before reassuring him.


"Everyone needs gentle," Theo repeated, extending his hand. "Everyone."


Rory let Theo draw him closer.


Theo kissed Rory; felt himself harden as Rory's mouth opened to him. He stretched full length on the couch and drew Rory down alongside him. Rory lay quietly, passively. Theo felt Rory's cock gently; it was barely swelling.


"I'm sorry," Rory apologized, regretting his challenge. "I'm sorry! You can still--" It would serve him right if Theo were to call his bluff and use him despite his utter lack of arousal. Glen had done it; Rory knew what that was like. Rory shivered.


"There's no reason to be frightened," Theo said. "I am never, ever going to hurt you sexually. Lovers don't do that, Rory, and I do love you." He ran his hands over Rory's body, building desire with a skilled, sure touch. Pressing Rory onto his back, he stripped him below the waist and took him in his mouth.


Fury and fear dissolved in the wake of sensation. Rory responded swiftly to the warm tongue lapping at him. His breathing quickened, his buttocks tensed and he arched into Theo, eager and no longer afraid.


Theo released Rory's cock from his lips. Kneeling alongside Rory, he fished in the end table drawer where he and Danny stashed supplies. Undid his fly, slicked himself thoroughly and then inserted a slippery finger into Rory, lubricating and loosening him in one efficient maneuver.


"Oh God," Rory moaned, as Theo pressed his thighs back, exposing him completely. Positioning his cock carefully, Theo pressed inward. Rory's head snapped back; he hissed involuntarily.


"You're so tight." Theo held very still. He licked his palm, then folded his hand around Rory's faltering cock and began to coax him harder again. "So tight. So hot. I can feel you gripping my cock, babe, you feel so good. That's it, babe, that's it, relax for me, this is going to be so good--"


"Ahhh..." Rory exhaled as Theo continued to stroke him, increasing arousal overcoming the last remnants of discomfort.


Theo thrust carefully, experimentally, and Rory groaned in wholehearted need and arching his back, widened himself and took Theo all the way inside.


"Good?" Theo asked softly, and Rory, eyes closed, nodded even as he sighed a breathy yes. Theo handled Rory firmly, not letting his excitement flag, as at the same time he pumped his hips rhythmically, feeling Rory contract around him.


"Good?" Theo felt his own balls tightening and increased the speed at which he stroked Rory's cock. He grinned as Rory's eyes flew open at the combination of sensations; taking Rory beyond words this way was fun. He felt the first hot spurts of fluid over his fist and continued to milk Rory despite Rory's increasingly desperate writhing. Only when Rory's orgasm was fully spent did Theo release his now shriveling cock. Taking Rory's hips, he pressed his balls flat to Rory's widened buttocks and shot his own load deep into his lover.


"I'm dead," Rory managed to gasp, as Theo withdrew and crowded beside him on the couch. "I love you, Theo, but if that was gentle..."


"You don't need rough," Theo said.


"Yeah." Rory closed his eyes. "I trust you, Theo."


You don't, not really, Theo thought. Who could blame you, after what you've been though?


"I've got you now. Shh, Rory, just sleep."


A soft snore was Rory's only reply.


"What did you do, fuck his brains out so he'd chill?" Danny stage-whispered from the entrance to the livingroom. "You're wearing him out inside while I'm wearing myself out outside, how is that fair?" Danny toed off his grass-stained sneakers and grinned unrepentantly at Theo. "Is he really asleep?

 

"Danny! Jesus, neither of you knows the first thing about romance, it's all four letter words, all the way." Theo slid free and kissed Danny, taking any sting out of his comment. He mostly liked it when Danny talked dirty.


"Are you implying you're being neglected?" Theo stroked his hand down the center of Danny's torso, hooking a finger under his waistband. "I can still do something for you, you know, if you like."


"No, it's okay, I just want to read my book now." Danny smirked. "But I hope you can get it up again later, old man."


"You'll pay for that crack tonight," Theo said complacently.


"I hope so," Danny said fervently, giggling as Theo caught his jaw in his hand and kissed him.


"I promise." Theo patted Danny's chest gently. "You don't have to keep it all in here, Danny. When you're ready to talk, I'm ready to listen, kiddo."


"Oh Theo." That Theo saw past his cravings for sex, for movement, for distraction, meant everything to Danny. "Just not yet, okay?" Danny's tone matched his words; he really didn't want to be pushed. Not yet.


"I'm here when you're ready," Theo reiterated, watching Danny's face carefully. He wanted to be very sure that Danny felt adequately supported. A healthy threesome needed ensemble players; Rory's dramatic acting out shouldn't mean his needs inevitably took center stage.


"I know you are, Theo. I trust you," Danny said, and there was no question whatsoever that he did.


Theo dropped a gentle, appreciative kiss on his forehead before returning to his study and his article.


What Danny missed most about his job was the camaraderie in the office, not the work itself. As Rory and Theo's academic schedules meant that they were around much of the day, Danny was not dragged down by being alone. He made phone calls, he emailed contacts, and he ran, further and faster each day, movement as always his anodyne of choice.


Even as Danny settled into a routine of sorts, Rory floundered ever more unhappily. He and Theo had agreed on scheduled study periods, but Rory's initial enthusiasm for the new structure had worn thin, and he resisted all Danny's attempts to prompt him toward any sort of productive effort.


Theo had taught his morning classes and was now cloistered in his study for the afternoon, Danny was sprawled on the couch with the laptop, and Rory was pacing restlessly from floor to floor.


"Rory? You want to go over to the park and play tennis?" Danny asked hopefully.


"I can't," Rory said savagely. "I'm supposed to be reading."


"You're not," Danny pointed out unhelpfully. "You're in and out of the refrigerator every five minutes. Why don't you bring your stuff down to the kitchen and work in there?"


"I can't work down here!" Rory glared at Danny.


"Hey, I was just saying!" Danny protested. "Fine, work upstairs, then." It didn't seem all that complicated to Danny.


"I can't," Rory moaned. "I can't concentrate, I can't sit still, I can't do this. And Theo can't fucking make me."


Rory's defiance made no sense to Danny.


"Do you *want* Theo to spank you? Because he will, Rory," Danny warned him. "Trust me, I know."

 

"Theo? Theo will spank me for not studying? Please." Rory rolled his eyes disbelievingly. "Danny, you're not serious?"

 

"I'm serious, Rory. He got me through my degree, remember? Believe me, he'll spank you."

 

"But I don't want to be spanked!" Rory suddenly realized that it was a very real possibility.

 

"Shit, Rory, well why do you think he does it?" Danny rolled his eyes. "Sit and study and you won't be."

 

"I can't. I can't!" Rory was panicking now, and Danny couldn't quite understand why.

 

"Rory, listen to me, you can," Danny said soberly. "Believe me, if I could, you can. And if you don't, you're going to be spanked and then you're still going to have to sit down and do the work, just with a sore butt. It's not worth it."

 

"I can't do it!" If anything could have saved Rory from himself, Danny's warning would have. But Rory was past reason. "Shit! Shit, Danny, I really, really don't want him to spank me." Rory was scared.

 

"Then study," Danny said softly. The solution to Rory's dilemma seemed clear to him. "You have to sit down and study, Rory. Theo *will* spank you if you don't."

 

"I can't sit still! I can't fucking do it! How the fuck would you do it if you were me?"

 

"I'd run." Danny answered Rory's question honestly. He wanted to be helpful. "Or I'd jerk off. Or both."

 

"You're serious?" Rory gaped at Danny.

 

"You know I am! You lived with me!" Danny took a deep breath, trying to calm himself; Rory's anxiety was catching. "Or you could work out for half an hour, or you could let me do something for you? Just take to take the edge off?"

 

"Leave me the fuck alone," Rory said nastily. "I can't fucking do it and none of your fucking suggestions are going to make a fucking bit of difference."

 

"Theo will–" Danny began.

 

"The fuck he will. Leave me alone, Danny!"

 

"Fine!" Danny had had it. "Do it your own fucking way then." If Rory didn't want his help, well then Rory would have to deal with Theo's. Danny was angry enough to hope that Theo would give Rory one hell of a spanking.

 

In a totally uncharacteristic gesture, Rory dashed the books and papers covering the coffee table to the floor. The resulting thud, combined with their raised voices, was enough. Theo emerged, glowering, from his study.

 

"And just what is going on here?" Theo asked, stepping into the living room.

 

"Nothing. I can't concentrate and he's not helping me," Rory spat.

 

"What did I do?" Danny sounded stressed and bewildered.

 

Theo took a deep breath.

 

"No one else can concentrate either if you're going to yell and throw things, Rory. Danny, I need you to go upstairs, please."

 

Theo's rare orders were not something Danny disobeyed. He quietly mounted the stairs. Theo waited until he was gone before continuing; he knew that this was not going to be an easy passage for him and Rory. Best to navigate it without witnesses.

 

"I thought we had an agreement?" Theo raised his eyebrows quizzically. "Rory, this is your last chance. You need to settle down and work, right now, or else I'm going to spank you."

 

"Spank me then," Rory said. "Go ahead. I don't care."

 

"Oh, you'll care," Theo said certainly. "I'll see to that." Before Rory could respond, Theo stepped in closer, taking him by the arm. "Come along now, Rory."

 

Rory felt a pleasurable thrill of anticipation. This was what he had always imagined being taken in hand would be like.

 

"What are you going to do to me?"

 

"I think you know," Theo said quietly. "You're getting a spanking." He led Rory into his study.

 

The initial stages of the punishment lived up to Rory's fantasy. Theo was calm and gentle as he undid Rory's pants, eased his underwear down and helped Rory out of both.

 

"Rory, you deserve a spanking, you know that, don't you?

 

Rory nodded, his mouth suddenly gone dry.

 

"Rory? Rory, look at me, that's right. I need to hear you say something," Theo pressed gently. He knew Rory was both afraid and at the same time, aroused. Being spanked was a potent fantasy; Theo was determined to take Rory through this in a way that would leave Rory feeling better about himself, not worse.

 

"What are we discussing, Rory, tell me?" Theo patted Rory's bare butt gently, deliberately centering his attention.

 

"You. Spanking. Me." Rory choked out the words.

 

"That's right. And why are you getting a spanking, Rory?"

 

"I don't know!" Rory yelped.

 

"Rory," Theo said reproachfully.

 

"Because I can't study!" Rory wailed. "But I can't! It's not fair, Theo, I can't!"

 

"We both know you can if you choose to," Theo said calmly, taking Rory's protest with a large grain of salt. "Don't give me that, Rory, I know you can. Which is why we made an agreement about it. And what did we agree?"

 

"I would study!"

 

"Or?"

 

"Or you'd spank me. Oh shit, Theo, I don't think that I can do this," Rory said wretchedly, now truly and sincerely afraid.

 

"You don't have to do anything, Rory." Theo tipped Rory forward over his lap. He felt Rory brace himself against his thighs. "I've got you." We need to get past this, Theo told himself firmly. Rory needs to get through this, he needs to learn what it feels like to be punished with love, and to come out the other side.

 

Theo rubbed Rory's back for a moment, but rather than relaxing, Rory stiffened further. He did not, however, attempt to get back up.

 

"I'm going to spank you now, Rory."

 

Theo spanked rapidly, determined to do the deed as expeditiously as possible, not reacting to Rory's small twitches and little exhalations of breath. He covered both buttocks, from crest to thigh, with swift, sharp swats.

 

It wasn't a hard spanking: Rory didn't cry and Theo stopped far short of real pain.

 

"We're done." Theo eased Rory into a careful, calm embrace. Rory closed his eyes and leaned into Theo.

 

"That really didn't hurt," Rory said critically.

 

"Lucky you," Theo said mildly. "I'll try and do better next time."

 

"No, no, it's fine," Rory amended his statement quickly. "You sure I learned something from this?" Rory sounded doubtful. "I'm not just playing around."

 

"Neither am I," Theo said softly. "Listen to me very carefully, Rory, because you have a choice here. You can live here rent free, I'll pay your next semester's tuition and I'll even throw in free groceries, whether you choose to be in this relationship or not."

 

"There's a 'but,'" Rory said. He sighed.

 

"There is," Theo agreed. He rubbed Rory's back gently, encouraging him to relax. "If you do want to be in this relationship, then you need to accept that I'm in charge. That means it's my call what sort of punishment is appropriate."

 

"I do want to be in this relationship, Theo," Rory said soberly. He hoped Theo didn't feel he was too much of a wimp to be a good partner. "But Theo? I think you should be tougher on me. I can take it." And he could, Rory reassured himself, ignoring the little voice inside him that told him he was lying.

 

"I hear you, Rory, but that isn't your choice, it's mine," Theo replied calmly. Rory needed to relearn what it felt like to be safe, and that was going to take time. "I'm very happy that you want to be with us. I think the three of us are very good for each other."

 

"The three of us are very good for each other," Rory echoed. Theo's phrase made Rory an equal partner. Rory smiled and allowed himself to believe it might be true.

 

Rory spent the rest of the afternoon upstairs studying. It was easier than he'd anticipated. Hearing Theo puttering around in the kitchen, pulling together dinner, Rory came downstairs.

 

"Where's Danny?" Rory asked.

 

"He went out for a run. How's the work going, Rory?"

 

"Lousy," Rory said sullenly. All the good feelings he'd felt in Theo's arms earlier seemed nebulous and untrue. "It's boring as fuck, Theo."

 

"I hear you," Theo said sympathetically, not reacting to Rory's low mood and deliberately provocative language.

 

"Theo? You know, I could probably concentrate better if you were willing to do this whole discipline thing the right way," Rory said, frustration in his voice.

 

"You're quite the critic, Rory," Theo said placidly, not rising to the bait. He turned back to the refrigerator to look for the half empty container of tomato sauce he knew had to be in there.

 

Rory glared at Theo's back.

 

Finally finding the jar, which had migrated to the back of the shelf, Theo placed it on the counter and began to chop onions.

 

"I don't think you know what you're doing," Rory muttered under his breath, knowing he was pushing, but unable to let up.

 

"Rory," Theo said firmly, turning to look directly at Rory. "That's enough now." He held his gaze steady, recognizing the conflicting emotions playing over Rory's features. He wanted Rory to make the easy choice. "Could you pull a couple heads of garlic off that braid, please, and mince them for me?"

 

"Um. Yeah. Sure, I can do that." Rory found himself peeling and slivering garlic, not knowing quite what had happened to defuse the situation, but realizing in some recess of his mind that Theo had turned him deftly from disaster.

 

"So how is your Chaucer class going?" Theo asked, distracting Rory further.

 

"You know that's what I'm taking?" Rory was surprised.

 

"Chaucer, statistics, a sociology course and some music class," Theo said with a smile. "Do you have a favorite?"

 

"You remembered," Rory said wonderingly. That Theo knew what he was studying, and that he was curious about his new classes, filled Rory with rare happiness. Glen had only cared about his final grades, using them to decide if he would pay the next semester's tuition.

 

"Of course I know what you're taking; you told me when you registered," Theo said, a little saddened by what Rory's surprise at his interest implied. Clearly Glen had not cared at all. "Rory, your school work is important to you and you're important to me. Now tell me, what do you think of Chaucer?"

 

Theo and Rory were working companionably side by side, Rory animatedly analyzing Chaucer, when Danny came back from his run. Danny was running twice a day now, physical activity as always his way of calming himself. Theo had long accepted that Danny needed the outlet.

 

"What are you making?" Danny asked, leaning over to take a quick look at what Theo was stirring.

 

"Don't drip in my sauce." Theo stepped back from the stove, drew Danny into his arms, and kissed him thoroughly. He smiled at Danny and Danny grinned back, all anxiety about his jobless status momentarily dissipated.

 

"Hey, Rory." Danny bumped against Rory in friendly greeting, knowing that any more obvious physical affection would make Rory pull away. "You doing okay?" He tilted his head to the side, decided he wouldn't be getting an answer, and headed up to the shower.

 

"How can he do that?" Rory asked plaintively. "How can he act as if everything's so fucking easy?" To Rory's horror, his eyes were filling with tears as he spoke. Shit.

 

"He deals with his feelings in a way that he knows works for him. Running makes him feel calm and centered; it always has," Theo said. "What's wrong, Rory?"

 

"I hate running," Rory said morosely. "Do you mind?"

 

"Why would I mind? I don't like running either," Theo said. There was something else at issue here. "Talk to me, Rory. I don't think you're just upset because Danny enjoys running and you don't."

 

"Glen thought runners looked hot," Rory said softly. "And that I'd look a hell of a lot better if I ran."

 

"You're a very good looking man, Rory," Theo said quietly. "Glen had no right to ask you to do something you disliked because he wanted you to look a certain way. That's just wrong."

 

"You don't think that a top should have control over his partner's body?" Rory asked, keeping his eyes down.

 

"Bullshit," Theo said. "Danny likes running and I encourage it because it makes him happy, not because I want a partner with a runner's body." He pulled Rory into a tight hug. "You're plenty hot, Rory. Glen was just being a bastard."

 

Danny back came into the kitchen. He ignored Theo and Rory's embrace in favor of stealing handful of cut vegetables from the salad bowl. Rory yelped indignantly and Theo freed him, laughing as Rory whisked his salad out of Danny's reach.

 

Danny grabbed the orange juice from the refrigerator and took a deep swig from the container.

 

"Anyone else want some?" Danny asked placidly, ignoring Rory's scowl.

 

"Use a glass, Danny," Theo said automatically. "And set the table, please, we're just about ready to eat. Should we have wine or beer?"

 

"What's that, spaghetti and meatballs?" Danny asked. "Italian food needs wine."

 

"Wineglasses please, Rory," Theo prompted. "And open a bottle for us while you're at it.

 

Rory took three wineglasses from the china closet and put them on the table. Took a bottle of red wine from the rack on the sideboard and carefully removed the cork; placed the open bottle in the center of the table. Settled into his usual seat and let Danny and Theo's easy conversation wash over him. It had been a very long day.

 

Dinner complete, Theo returned to his study for one last work session, leaving Rory and Danny to clean up alone. They loaded the dishwasher and wiped down the table, not meeting each other's eyes.

 

"You okay, Rory?" Danny broke the awkward silence.

 

"Yeah," Rory said. "Danny? You don't think I'm an asshole for doing this?"

 

"For doing what?" Danny looked genuinely puzzled.

 

"For letting Theo spank me, for Christ's sake!" Rory said, exasperation making him blunt.

 

"Do you think I am?" Danny countered. "It works for us, Rory. That's all that matters. It would probably be a lot worse if we didn't do this, you know?"

 

Danny's easy acceptance of the bedrock understanding of their relationship reassured Rory.

 

"Thank you," Rory said, very softly. "You didn't have to–" He hesitated, at a loss for the right words to express his gratitude. "You didn't have to let me in."

 

"I love you," Danny said, ignoring the heat that flamed in his face. It was hard to say it straight out like that, but he needed Rory to know it. "Come on, Rory, we're almost done. Let's finish up here and go up to bed. I could do with a bit of it tonight if you're up for it. I bet you are, too."

 

"You could do with a bit of it every night," Rory grumbled, but Danny's matter of fact assumption that there would be sex, that there would be loving, that the spanking Theo had given him changed nothing, was infinitely reassuring.

 

Another week went by and Rory was still struggling. He hated working upstairs in isolation, but two years in which the sight of his books was often enough to set Glen off had taken their toll. Despite Theo and Danny's encouragement to make himself comfortable in the kitchen or the living room, Rory remained unconvinced that it was safe to let his studies intrude on the household.

 

"You're going to be late!" Danny whispered urgently. Leaning over their bed, he shook Rory's shoulder, looking over his own as he did so. "Theo's called you three times! Wake up, Rory! Get up!"

 

"Shit!" Rory sat up, eyes wide. "Shit! Shit! What time is it? Oh shit!"

 

"7:45," Theo said disapprovingly from the bedroom's doorway. "And I believe you have an eight o'clock class."

 

"I'm sorry," Rory said wretchedly. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to oversleep, I'm sorry!"

 

Danny patted Rory's shoulder ineffectually, his eyes darting between Rory and Theo.

 

"Theo?" Danny looked meaningfully toward the doorway, wanting a moment alone. Theo nodded and stepped back, and Danny followed him into the hallway.

 

"Theo, he's shaking, he's so scared." Danny sounded horrified. "Please, Theo, please don't punish him!"

 

"He must have stayed up working all night," Theo said. "I just wish he'd said something yesterday; we could easily have barbecued another time. He could have had the entire evening to work."

 

"He could have said." Danny looked thoughtful. "But Theo? What do you think Glen would have done to him, if he'd ever used school as an excuse?"

 

"I know," Theo said. "All right, let him sleep; he's obviously not going to be good for anything this morning. I'll talk to him later."

 

"Please don't spank him?" Danny asked.

 

"Danny," Theo said, quietly, but firmly enough that Danny blushed at the implied reproof. "It's not your call. You need to let me handle this."

 

It was a nervous, shamefaced Rory who stood before Theo in his study that afternoon, his eyes on the ground, his shoulders hunched.

 

"Rory? Rory, look at me," Theo pressed gently. "What are we discussing, Rory, tell me?"

 

"I got up in the middle of the night and logged a few hours working on my paper." Rory choked out the words. "And I barely made it out of bed in time to turn it in."

 

"What I don't understand, Rory, is why you didn't tell me you had a paper due when I suggested we barbecue last night. Did you think Danny and I would really have minded putting it off for another day, if you needed the time?"

 

"I knew about the fucking paper for two weeks." Rory was clearly miserable. "If I'd planned right I'd have already have had it done! You shouldn't have to change your plans because I didn't think ahead."

 

"Rory, you don't need to hide that you've got a deadline. You're not the only one in this household who's ever shaved things a little too close," Theo said gently. "I've done it, Danny's done it. I'd have let you stay up and finish, if I had known you had your back to the wall."

 

"I'm sorry." How Rory wished now that he'd trusted Theo enough to ask him for the time he needed.

 

"Rory, you need to talk to me about the choices you're making," Theo said. "Even when it's hard for you. Communication is important in any relationship, but in a threesome it's even more essential. You need to trust me, Rory, that's the only way this relationship can work."

 

"I'm sorry," Rory repeated. "Please, Theo, don't spank me."

 

"Try to trust me, Rory. This is part of it." Theo held out his hand to Rory. "You are getting a spanking."

 

"Oh." A subdued Rory let Theo draw him to the couch. Seating himself, Theo undid Rory's pants and pushed them down, along with his underwear. Rory tensed as Theo gave him a gentle push forward.

 

"Over my knees, that's a good boy," Theo said gently. "Try to trust me." He guided Rory into the correct position.

 

Theo spanked Rory with a quick, light hand, leaving his buttocks a mottled rose. Rory's breathing was only slightly roughened when Theo righted him.

 

"All done now. It's all right, I've got you. it's all right."

 

Rory clung to Theo and began to cry, his upset clearly disproportionate to any physical pain.

 

"Shh, it's all right now. I've got you, you're safe." Theo held Rory tenderly, rubbing his back, smoothing his hair.

 

"I'm sorry!" Rory was miserably embarrassed at his own reaction to what he knew was a light punishment. "I'm sorry, Theo, I'm sorry!"

 

"If you mean that you're sorry for not talking to me, I know you are," Theo said. "And I hope you won't do that again. But if you're sorry for crying, don't be. You were just spanked; you're allowed to cry. You don't ever have to apologize for crying in this house." That Glen had shamed Rory for crying was not the least of his crimes, in Theo's opinion.

 

"You didn't spank me hard enough for me to cry," Rory objected. "I see what you're doing, Theo, I'm not stupid! Babying me, trying to get me past what happened with Glen, trying to make me comfortable with the whole discipline thing again...I get it, Theo, I'm not stupid!"

 

"You're not stupid," Theo agreed. "Far from it. You're a very smart man, Rory. But discipline is less about how hard I spank you and more about how much you trust me."

 

Theo knew he'd touched a nerve; Rory was crying harder than before.

 

"Enough now, you'll make yourself sick. Shh, that's enough now. Shh, Rory, shh." Theo's voice was both firm and reassuring. He readjusted Rory's position so that Rory was slightly more upright. Reaching for the handy tissue box, he extracted a wad of tissues and extended them to Rory. "Come now, blow your nose."

 

Rory made a face, but complied. Theo patted Rory's cheeks with a second handful of tissues.

 

"Come on now, let's get you washed up," Theo said. "Don't worry about your things, you're going straight up to bed anyway." He ushered Rory out of the room, leaving his abandoned pants and shorts in a crumpled pile on the carpet.

 

"Make yourself comfortable and then wash your face," Theo said, giving Rory a gentle push into the upstairs bathroom. He gave Rory a few private moments and then drew him into the bedroom.

 

Theo eased Rory into bed and lay down alongside him, spooning him tight, wanting Rory to feel held, to feel loved. Once Rory subsided into sleep, Theo tucked sheet and blanket securely around him and rolled free. He made his way downstairs and picked up Rory's discarded clothes; took them down to the basement laundry room and started a load of wash.

 

Danny found Theo downstairs. He silently began to sort laundry, wanting to be helpful, wanting to show his support in some small, concrete way.

 

"Shit, what a mess," Danny said, and it was clear he was referring to far more than the tangle of clothes. "Are you okay, Theo?"

 

"I'm all right, Danny, thank you." Theo sighed. "Our Rory's a tough customer sometimes."

 

"Rory's a good guy, he really is," Danny said softly, almost apologetically. He wanted things to be good between Theo and Rory. "He was my best friend. He wasn't like this before Glen!"

 

"I know you love him, Danny," Theo said gently. "You don't need to justify your feelings to me. We're all in this together, Danny; Rory and I just had one bad afternoon. It's not the end of the world. Come on, kiddo, don't look so sad." Theo wrapped his arms around Danny and drew him down onto the old couch opposite the washer and dryer. He lay back against the cushions, drawing Danny with him.

 

Danny waited a few minutes to see what Theo would do, before beginning to tease Theo with small movements of his pelvis. It took only a little while before Danny felt Theo swelling against him. He groaned with satisfaction when he felt Theo slip his fingers under his waistband.

 

"I knew you weren't old," Danny breathed in Theo's ear.

 

"Bad boy." Theo rolled so that Danny was pinned beneath him. He had already popped the buttons on Danny's fly; now he eased Danny's cock free and began to caress him slowly.

 

"I'll be good!" Danny begged as Theo drew the moment out. "Oh god Theo please stop don't stop I'll be good–" He arched upward, spasming against Theo's hand, and Theo teased him by not stopping for another few seconds.

 

"So good," Danny sighed, and Theo shifted them carefully so that Danny was once again on top of him. "Can I..." Danny licked his lips and patted Theo's bulging crotch.

 

"I'm good," Theo said gently. "Tonight, Danny; right now I'm fine like this." Danny nodded his understanding and lay, boneless and happy, in Theo's arms. That Theo sometimes found his own pleasure in satisfying Danny's appetite was something both men took as as much a given as Theo's approval of Danny's solitary runs.

 

And Danny ran often these days, his anxiety over his jobless state transforming itself into physical activity. He was at his most efficient and productive after his runs and he ran morning and evening. Taking his cue from Theo, Rory had ceased to see Danny's exercise routine as any kind of reproach to his own sloth; he simply shook his head and stuck with his books.

 

Theo, Danny and Rory were all sitting at the kitchen table, each absorbed in his own paperwork. Theo was grading, Rory was trying to puzzle out a fuzzy passage in his text book, and Danny was combing through his lists of contacts on his laptop when they heard the mail truck slow and then accelerate again.

 

"Mail!" Danny was eager for any excuse for a break. He bounded out the door, retrieved the mail and returned swiftly, dumping it on the table between Theo and Rory. Among the bills and junk solicitations was one distinctive envelope that Rory quickly slipped into his book, praying Theo wouldn't notice.

 

"Did I see something from the DMV with my name on it?" Theo held his hand out. "That was a rhetorical question, Rory. Give it to me, please."

 

Keeping his eyes down, Rory relinquished the letter in question. Theo said nothing about Rory's obvious intention to conceal it.

 

Theo opened the envelope from the Department of Motor Vehicles. It contained a second notice of parking fines, with penalties attached.

 

"Rory? What happened to my first notice?" Theo asked quietly. "What happened to the ticket?"

 

Sensing trouble ahead, Danny slunk from the room.

 

"I don't know, why do you think I would know–" Rory started to say. He broke off mid-sentence. "I threw them away, I guess. I'll pay for it somehow. And for the penalties. I'm sorry, Theo!"

 

"You don't hide things from me, Rory," Theo said. "If there were a good reason for the fines, I'd have paid them without making an issue of it. If it were just carelessness or that you parked on the building's street side because you were running late for class and thought you could get away with it, I'd have had something to say about it, but I wouldn't have been this disappointed. I thought you trusted me a little bit more than that."

 

"I do trust you," Rory said softly.

 

"Do you? That you hid the ticket and the first notice, and that you tried to hide the second, says that you don't." Theo shook his head. "I'm very unhappy, Rory."

 

"I'm sorry?" Rory swallowed hard. "I do trust you, it's just..."

 

"Just what, Rory?"

 

"I didn't want you to punish me! I didn't want you to hurt me!"

 

"Have my punishments been unfair?" Theo asked quietly. "Have I hurt you?"

 

"No," Rory admitted. "But Theo, this is a big deal. You're really going to spank me this time."

 

"What makes a parking ticket such a big deal, Rory?" Theo asked. "It costs money and a little embarrassment, that's all. How is that something worth lying over?"

 

"But I'm not working! It's not my money!" Rory was miserable.

 

"Rory, I don't care about the damn money," Theo said. "I'm not happy to see it go to waste, but it's only money; we have enough. I know you're uncomfortable not being self-supporting, I know that was a big issue with Glen, but it's not with me. You should know better than that by now, Rory."

 

Theo placed the bill on the table and taking Rory's hand in his, led him to the couch.

 

"You don't lie to me, Rory. You talk to me. You trust me to decide what sort of punishment is appropriate. That's what being in a discipline relationship means, Rory, and that's why you're getting this spanking, Rory."

 

Not releasing his grip on Rory, Theo undid Rory's pants and pushed them, along with his underwear, to the floor. Theo helped Rory over his lap, taking a moment to be certain that Rory was securely positioned across his knees.

 

Rory's stomach tightened against Theo's thighs, but Rory didn't struggle to get free, nor did he protest his punishment. Steeling himself, Theo brought his palm down hard.

 

Rory grew increasingly more tense as the spanking continued beyond the point of mere discomfort, edging into painful territory. He had this coming, he knew he damn well deserved every swat he was getting, but it hurt!

 

"Stop, Theo! No more! I'll be good, Theo, please!" Rory whimpered.

 

Theo hesitated, rubbing Rory's back gently.

 

"We've got a way to go, Rory," Theo said. "You're all right; I've got you now. Breathe, Rory, you can so do this."

 

Rory nodded his head quickly, trying to breathe, trying very, very hard to obey. It was simply too much for him and Theo saw it. He rolled Rory sideways and tucked him into his lap.

 

"All right, take it easy now, you're all right, shh..." Theo's voice was very gentle. He knew Rory would see this as a defeat, as yet another failure, and he didn't want Rory to feel that way at all. He cuddled him close, easing Rory's head onto his shoulder.

 

"Shit, Theo, oh shit, what the fuck is the matter with me?" Rory sobbed out the angry words, bitterly disgusted at his own weakness.

 

"Shh, shh, you're all right," Theo said calmly. "Shh, let me hold you, that's it, I've got you. You're safe, Rory, you're mine and you're very, very safe."

 

"I'm sorry," Rory said soberly. "I didn't mean to lose it. I didn't mean to make you stop."

 

"It's not your fault, you don't need to apologize. These things happen, Rory. I decide when it's enough, Rory, not you."

 

"I need you to be harder on me, Theo," Rory objected. "I deserved a real spanking for a change! I need this."

 

"Rory, I don't think you're right about that," Theo said. "You like the idea of discipline, but it's a fantasy for you."

 

"What does that mean?" Rory demanded. "That I'm a liar? That I'm faking?"

 

"Neither of those," Theo said easily. "It means that a little bit of what you're dreaming of is more than enough for you. A little spanking, a few rules, a few toys maybe, not a heavy scene. Not a bit in your mouth and a plug up your ass."

 

"Did I forget to wipe the history from the computer?" Rory made a face.

 

"I think we all look at that same shit," Theo laughed. "But hot fantasy porn and living in a discipline relationship, especially a threesome, are two different things."

 

"I wanted this all my life, Theo, I fantasized about it as long as I can remember. Being spanked, whipped even. I thought it would be different." Rory sounded sad. "It made me hot, thinking about it. And what Glen promised sounded so fucking good. I think I'm a wimp, Theo."

 

"You're no wimp, Rory, you just don't need near the intensity you think you do." Theo rubbed Rory's back gently. He felt Rory shiver. "You're sensitive, you've got a low threshold for pain, you didn't ever need anything more than a hand spanking. Shh, Rory."

 

"It was a great fantasy..." Rory sniffled. "It was a big thing, admitting it to anyone...Glen got me to tell him so much and then he hurt me so bad."

 

"Not all fantasies are better lived out," Theo said quietly. "Some things should stay fantasies, Rory."

 

"I feel like an asshole. Glen said I was an asshole."

 

"Glen is an abusive prick who I hope is living the miserable life a shit like him deserves," Theo said coldly. "Whatever he said is bullshit."

 

Rory was oddly comforted by Theo's uncharacteristic outburst. He squirmed restlessly, finally letting his head droop against Theo's shoulder. Now that he was no longer afraid, he wished Theo had pushed through his panic, had made him take the spanking he deserved. And yet paradoxically, Theo's very refusal to do just that was precisely why Rory would have trusted him to do it.

 

And Theo knew all of that.

 

Rory let himself relax into Theo's embrace. He suddenly felt very loved and very safe.

 

"Glen never stopped hitting me until I was crying, but he hated it when I cried too easily," Rory confided. "He'd use his belt. Slap my face, call me stuff. And I let him."

 

"Sonofabitch," Theo swore softly. "Shit. Rory, I'm so, so sorry that I didn't step in a year ago. Shit." He sounded thoroughly disgusted with himself.

 

"I didn't exactly make it easy for you to help me," Rory sighed.

 

"Most victims of domestic abuse don't," Theo said. "Abusers count on that." Theo felt he had made a major error in judgment and he bitterly regretted it. He swallowed his guilt, not wanting to burden Rory with it, and resolved to do everything in his power to compensate for his earlier failure to act.

 

Dinner that night was a subdued affair. Rory huddled over his plate. His mood had shifted again; he felt very much as if he had been tested and found wanting. Danny's eyes cut unhappily between Rory and Theo, wishing they would share what had happened between them with him. He felt more that a little left out. He didn't want to know the gory details, but he was at a loss to understand the tension he sensed. The air should be clear after a spanking!

 

Danny was enormously comforted by Theo taking him thoroughly, deeply at bedtime. Rory was not interested; he hurt inside and out from the uncompleted spanking and he wanted only to sleep. Theo lay back on the pillows and Danny curled on top of him, his head on Theo's shoulder, his bright hair tickling Theo's nose, his hand over Theo's heart.

"Love," Danny whispered, and was out cold.

 

That about sums it up, Theo thought as he stroked Danny's cheek. You love me; you trust I love you. And you include Rory in all of it. Theo could feel the tension radiating from Rory's side of the bed.

 

"It will get better," Theo said to the back on Rory's head; Rory shook it in weary disagreement. "Come here, Rory." Rory let himself relax just enough that his spine and buttocks grazed Theo's flanks, but closer than that he would not come, and mindful of his other sleeping partner, Theo stayed still.

 

Morning came quickly. Danny and Theo were both up and showered, while Rory still lingered in bed.

 

"Aren't you getting up, Rory?" Danny asked.

 

"I don't feel well." Rory burrowed back into the pillows. "I'm sick!"

 

"How not well do you feel?" Theo asked. "Are you going to class?"

 

"I don't know!" Rory stirred restlessly. "I feel sick! I don't know!" He turned toward Theo, clearly wanting him to decide.

 

"I can make you some toast?" Danny offered, not sure what to make of Rory's mood.

 

"No," Rory snarled. "I don't want toast. I hate toast! I'm sick! I don't feel good. I feel hot!"

 

"Jeez, you're not the only person who's ever been sick!" Danny said, exasperated.

 

"Do you feel feverish?" Theo asked Rory gently

 

"I don't know? I don't know, I don't know," Rory whined. "I don't know, I don't know! I'm hot, Theo, I feel hot, help me! You have to help me..."

 

Something in Rory's extravagant pleading stirred Theo. He wondered just what Rory was really asking for. He thought he knew.

 

"Should I take your temperature, Rory?" Theo watched Rory carefully and saw him startle at the words, then go still.

 

An electric hush. Rory held his breath, barely hoping.

 

"Let me get the thermometer," Theo said quietly. "Roll over onto your stomach and slip your shorts down, please, I'm going to take your temperature."

 

Oh, yes! Theo had said the magic words. Rory's breathing quickened.

 

"Oh jeez, you aren't–" Danny looked from one to the other, comprehension dawning. "Jesus. Jesus." Danny flushed red. He couldn't decide whether to stay or to flee.

 

"Danny, if you don't want to play, go make coffee. I'll be down in a bit. Go on now, Danny," Theo said firmly. He wrapped his arms around Danny and kissing him full on the lips, patted his ass gently, his touches a reassuring possession, his orders a reassuring release.

 

Rory buried his face in his pillow as Theo returned from the bathroom with a classic glass thermometer. Theo seated himself alongside Rory. He fished lubricant from the night table. Shook down the mercury column over the bed and lubricated the thermometer tip generously.

 

"Open your legs for me, please." Theo patted Rory's thighs gently.

 

"Do I have to?" Rory asked.

 

"Yes, you have to," Theo said, and Rory happily obeyed. "That's a good boy." Parting Rory's buttocks, Theo massaged a small daub of lube into his tightly clenched opening.

 

"Take a deep breath for me, Rory, and relax. Let me take care of you." Holding Rory spread open, he carefully inserted the narrow glass rod into the small crinkled ring.

 

Rory exhaled sharply, feeling his cock growing under him, as much from the situation as from the stimulation. This was hot, this was so fucking unbelievably hot...

 

"That's it, just hold it for few minutes, you're doing so good." Theo rested his palm on Rory's buttocks, feeling Rory twitch and well aware that he was swelling beneath him. Theo smiled; it was a hot fantasy and really, a nice indulgence to share.

 

"All right now, we're all done." Theo withdrew the thermometer carefully, wiped it with a tissue and read it with easy proficiency. He set tissue and thermometer aside for the moment. Pulled up Rory's shorts, gently easing the waistband back in place. "Let me wash up; I'll be right back." Theo smoothed the covers carefully over Rory and kissed him lightly. Taking the thermometer with him, Theo vanished into the bathroom.

 

Rory closed his eyes and caressed his cock very gently, less eager to come than wanting to preserve as long as possible the frisson of memory, to treasure the small moments of the fantasy: When Theo had bid him turn over, when Theo had parted his buttocks, when Theo had slid the thermometer inside him.

 

"How do you feel, Rory?" Reentering the bedroom, Theo pressed his lips to Rory's forehead. One hundred degrees rectally was equivalent to 99 degrees orally, a slight elevation, true, but not really a fever. Nevertheless Theo shook two Tylenol tablets into his palm and handed them to Rory, along with a small cup of water; Rory took them obediently.

 

"Do you want to come downstairs for some coffee and toast?" Theo suggested.

 

"Do I have to?" Even as he asked, Rory rolled over and curled contentedly under the covers. He sounded relaxed and floaty and barely hoarse at all.

 

So it's like that, Theo thought to himself. Somebody wants to be babied for a bit. Well, why not?

 

"Stay in bed, Rory, and rest." Theo leaned in for a kiss. "You were very, very good. I wish I didn't have to go; I wouldn't if I didn't have to teach." Giving Rory's butt a final, gentle pat through the blankets, Theo headed downstairs.

 

"Yuck," Danny said succinctly as Theo entered the kitchen. "Jesus, I didn't know you were both into that. Ick! Gross! Why?"

 

"Why not?" Theo shrugged. "It's a thing; you either get it or you don't. Don't sweat it, Danny, it's harmless, even if it's not for you." He reached for Danny and Danny ducked.

 

"Did you wash your hands?" Danny demanded.

 

"Danny!" Theo dissolved in helpless laughter. "Yes, Danny, I did, honest," Theo reassured him. Danny relented and Theo kissed him gently, smoothing his ruffled hair and ruffled feelings.

 

"Don't get any ideas the next time I'm sick," Danny huffed. "You're not sticking anything–"

 

"I promise, Danny, when you're sick we'll stick to digital ear thermometers."

 

"Stick!" Danny echoed indignantly, but he melted into Theo's arms, giggling. The two men clung to each other, their laughter echoing off the kitchen's hard surfaces, for several long minutes.

 

"All right, let's get some toast and coffee together for Rory," Theo said at last. "I think he's probably going to want to go back to sleep for a few hours. See if you can pry him out of bed at noon, though; I don't think he's really that sick."

 

"I'll bring breakfast up to him," Danny said. "Maybe we'll get something out for lunch?"

 

"Good idea." Theo approved the plan. "It'll give you something to look forward to, too. What are you doing this morning?"

 

"I've got some names of people to call," Danny said. "People who know other people, you know the deal. A few more resumes to fax and email. The whole thing sucks."

 

"Yeah," Theo said. "It does, Danny. You're doing great keeping your chin up. Something will break your way sooner or later."

 

"I hope," Danny said. His natural optimism kept him from being too discouraged. "And I'm training for the half marathon, Theo, now that I've got the time to run in the mornings, too."

 

"That's great," Theo said enthusiastically. "I thought you looked particularly good, Danny." He ran his hand appreciatively over Danny's taut butt and toned thighs.

 

"Don't you have to get started?" Danny grinned at him. "Some of us have to toil in the salt mines so that the rest of us can eat. I promise you'll get yours tonight."

 

"I'm going to hold you to that," Theo said, releasing Danny reluctantly. "Take care of Rory. Have a good one."

 

A final kiss and Theo was out the door. Danny made toast and buttered it generously, the way Rory liked it. Poured coffee, leaving it black the way Rory drank it. Added a napkin and a glass of orange juice and carried the tray up to their bedroom. Rory was lying quietly on the bed.

 

"Hey, Rory," Danny said gently. "Brought you food. Can you sit up?"

 

"Yeah." Rory squirmed upright, resting against the headboard. "Theo left?"

 

"Yeah. He's got a class or he would have stayed," Danny said. He sat down at the edge of the mattress, nudging the tray toward Rory.

 

"Yeah, I know." Rory took a sip of coffee. "Thanks, Danny, that's good. Listen, about this morning–" Rory began.

 

"I don't want to know," Danny said hastily, flushing from collar bone to hairline. "Whatever! It's fine! I don't need to hear about it, Rory!"

 

"It doesn't turn you on, even a little?" Rory asked quizzically.

 

"No!" Danny said.

 

Danny watched Rory working his way through his toast, juice and coffee and tried not to think about what might have happened right there, in this very bed. Tried not to think about Rory lying on his stomach, legs splayed wide for Theo's hand. Danny felt himself come to life at the thoughts he was trying manfully not to think. He gave up.

 

"I mean, I didn't think it did," Danny said ruefully. Moving the breakfast tray to the night table, Danny lay down on their bed and rolled toward Rory, his erection obvious. Their hands sought each other. "Rory, tell me? What was it like?"

 

"Oh god, Danny, it was so hot," Rory said dreamily, reliving the moment. "When Theo said he was going to take my temperature and told me to roll over on my stomach and slip my shorts down, oh god, just the *way* he said it! And then lying here, waiting for him, for it, oh god, it was just–"

 

"How did he do it? Tell me everything," Danny groaned, his hand grasping Rory, his head thrown back as Rory's hand worked him.

 

"First he told me to spread my legs for him. He held my ass open and I could feel him smoothing lube onto me with his finger," Rory panted, "And then I felt him press the thermometer into my–"

 

"Jesus!" Danny came, hard, and Rory joined him seconds later. For a few minutes they lay in sticky exhaustion.

 

"Not kinky at all, huh?" Rory teased Danny.

 

"Well, I didn't think I was," Danny smiled blissfully. "It's your fault, Rory, for corrupting me." He cuddled into Rory. It was only after sex that Rory snuggled easily; Danny loved the closeness.

 

"So does this mean that next time you're sick–" Rory asked.

 

"NO!" Danny shook his head. "No. Hearing about it is one thing, Rory. It *is* a hot fantasy, I've got to admit that. But not even Theo is sticking a thermometer up me." He sounded very certain and after a moment, Rory nodded.

 

"Some things are better as fantasies, I guess," Rory said softly. "Maybe." He sighed and Danny kissed him gently.

 

"Rory? What happened yesterday?"

 

"I freaked out," Rory said bitterly. "The first time he spanks me for real, hard enough that I felt it, and I flipped out."

 

"Oh." Danny was quiet. "Theo wasn't mad." It was a statement, not a question.

 

"No. He was...damn it, Danny, he was nice, he was patient. He's always nice; he's always patient. I just feel like such an asshole."

 

"Don't, Rory," Danny said softly. "It took awhile before I understood that being spanked by Theo was a lot different than being beaten by my father. It'll probably take awhile before you, you know, see that it's different than with Glen."

 

"Danny? Is Theo still glad, do you think, that I'm part of this?" Rory drew a circle in the air. "Us?"

 

"Theo wouldn't have agreed if he was going to be sorry," Danny said. "Theo's smart like that."

 

"I totally freaked out on him, you know?"

 

"Theo can handle it," Danny reassured Rory. "Rory, I was no bargain, you know? A lot of baggage and Theo just dealt with it. You don't have to worry, Theo will know what you need."

 

"It would be easier if he were just harder on me, you know?"

 

"Maybe, maybe not." Danny sounded skeptical. He knew that wasn't true for him; he was very glad that Theo was gentle. He suspected it wasn't really true for Rory either. "It's not your decision, though. Whether he punishes you, how severely he punishes you: Those are his call, not yours. He's not going to punish you if you're too scared to learn from it."

 

"I'm not scared, Danny!"

 

"I think I was scared my whole life before Theo," Danny said softly and without shame.

 

"Well, I don't like being scared," Rory admitted reluctantly, Danny's openness prompting him to acknowledge his true feelings.

 

"It gets better," Danny said. "Trust me. Trust both of us."

 

"I do, Danny," Rory said. It wasn't yet entirely true, but it was truer than it had been. "Pass me the rest of my coffee?"

 

"Don't bother with that cup, it's half empty and it's ice cold anyway," Danny said, hugging Rory. "Come downstairs with me and I'll start a fresh pot."

 

It was fun just hanging out together in the kitchen.

 

"Danny? I didn't ever imagine this exactly." Rory took a sip of steaming black coffee from the mug Danny set in front of him.

 

"Me neither," Danny said. "But Rory, it's good. I like that we're all together, you know?" He inched his hand forward until his fingers touched Rory's, just barely. "I like that you're part of us."

 

Rory looked at their hands, side by side on the table. It wasn't only Theo whose support he counted on, it was Danny. Danny, who from the first had extended his hand in friendship, without hesitation, with love.

 

"I do too, Danny." Swallowing hard, Rory took Danny's hand in his. "Would you think it was weird if I said it felt right?"

 

"It's not weird at all," Danny smiled at Rory. "It's true."

 

***FIN***