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

ELIZABETH MARSHALL STORIES

Shades of Gray Fantasy

"I want to go home," Declan said miserably, his face in his pillow, his back to Stephen.

Stephen eyed his unhappy partner with concern, noting the tense shoulders, the pale butt still splotched with pink after the reprimand he'd administered in the wee hours of the morning.

"Don't sulk, Dec," Stephen said gently, rubbing Declan's shoulders with a warm, comforting hand.

"Oh no," Declan moaned, rolling onto his back, forearm shielding his eyes from the bright light of high noon. "Don't Stephen, please, you make me feel so bad and I don't want to feel this way."

Stephen frowned.

"Get up and have some breakfast, Declan. Lunch, I should say. You'll feel better once you eat."

"All right, Stephen," Declan said, his voice small and subdued.

"Declan, kitchen," Stephen said, having decided that Declan's malaise must be due to late hours and hunger. "Eat now, talk later. Scoot." He swatted Declan in semi-playful encouragement, was surprised to see real tears well in Declan's eyes.

"I want to go home," Declan whispered. "I hate being in New York with you. I want to go home." He closed the bathroom door; Stephen heard the small lock button click.

"Dec? Dec, are you okay?" Stephen asked. Cursed himself for the uncertainty in his voice. Declan needed firmness and support, not wavering, he reminded himself. Taking a deep breath, he assumed his Toppiest tone. "Three minutes, Declan. I want to see you at the kitchen table in three minutes. And Declan? You don't lock doors. Do it again, and I change the doorknob to one that Doesn't lock. Got it?"

"Shit, let me finish peeing, okay?" Declan muttered, giving himself a hard shake. Reached for the doorknob and turned it, popping the lock but not opening the door. Regarded himself in the bathroom mirror. His eyes had dark rings under them, his skin was still peeling from the ill-advised tanning session, and his hair was flat on one side and stood straight up on the other.

I look like shit, Declan thought. Reached for his toothbrush, then shrugged. Why even bother? I don't want Stephen to kiss me anyway.

It hurt not to care. Declan's shoulders slumped a little lower. He yanked on underwear and pants and headed for the kitchen.

Stephen turned the omelet he had just finished neatly onto Declan's plate. He was going to have to think of some way to drive home to Declan that curfew was non-negotiable. If Declan, the original early riser, had slept until noon, Declan was obviously keeping far too late hours. Stephen thought that their workaday bedtime had better move up a bit as well.

He said as much.

"Ten thirty? Ten thirty! Steve, I can't go to sleep at ten thirty," Declan protested. "You know that!" His voice rose in an agitated wail.

"Enough," Stephen said calmly. He could tell from Declan's strident protest that his brat was unbalanced, doubtless from lack of sleep. "Declan, stop that. This doesn't call for a tantrum. Eat your eggs before they get cold."

"Yes, Steve," Declan said, quieting. He was still a moment, sulking, then his natural ebullience resurfaced. "You should have seen the club last night, after you left? It was wild! Guys were practically doing it on the dance floor, not just a few of them, a lot of them? And they had this great guy at the bar, he was pouring double shots, if you leaned back on the bar and let someone pour one into your mouth, and--"

"What?" Stephen cut off Declan's story in mid-sentence. "Let me understand this, Dec. You laid your head on the bar, face up, and let some stranger pour liquor into your mouth? Are you nuts?" Stephen shook his head.

"It was a party game?" Declan said hopefully, recognizing the expression in Stephen's eyes and already regretting his confession. He had meant to tell a good story, not make Stephen go cold and angry.

"Please don't be mad at me, Steve," Declan said. "I knew the guys I was fooling around with, I met them at lunch with Llewellyn the other day. It wasn't like they were total strangers. I'm sorry, Steve."

"I am not angry, Declan," Stephen said evenly. He clenched his jaw very, very tightly, not wanting to add fuel to the fire. Declan needed to be brought up short, reminded clearly and sharply that this was exactly why Stephen did not want him out late at the clubs, alone.

Declan watched Stephen warily. He knew that tone well. It usually presaged a rather unpleasant discussion about why Stephen was not angry, but rather Disappointed. A lecture that would result in a disappointingly angry-red bottom.

"We are going to discuss this, Declan," Stephen said, keeping his voice quiet and reasonable, for all that he wanted to shout at Declan that he had damn well better not do that again. He had only just started the difficult process of bringing Declan back into line. He didn't want to lose momentum. "Living room, please."

"Come on, Steve," Declan appealed. "Let me have a little more coffee, let's talk about this, it's a great day, how about we walk over to the park, I'll treat you to dinner--"

"Declan."

Stephen's voice was sharp, not loud, but Declan felt as if a glass of ice water had been dashed across his face.

"No, Steve," Declan said, standing up. "You spanked me last night. You can't spank me again, it isn't fair, Stephen. No!"

Stephen took Declan's arm, intending to guide him into the living room.

"Stephen, I mean it, get off of me!" Declan pulled free. He backed toward the door, his face white under its boyish sprinkle of freckles. Balancing awkwardly against the door, Declan pulled his sneakers on, not taking his eyes off Stephen.

"Declan, don't." Stephen said. "Do not open that door. Declan!"

Declan was out the door, down the hall and into the stairwell by the time Stephen reopened the slammed door to their apartment.

Sonofabitch, Declan thought, sprinting away from the building. He ran loosely and easily, his grace belying his upset, nimbly avoiding Saturday amblers, getting further and further from their apartment. The crowds thinned and the sky opened out as houses gave way to more industrial buildings. It was not until the far reaches of the West Side that Declan's breathing harshened, and he slowed.

"Fuck, I don't have my phone!" Declan slapped his pockets agitatedly. Shit. That was a firm rule between them. No going out without a way to make contact.

No change, either. Declan sighed, shivering as his slower pace allowed his body to cool, aware now of the sweat turning cold against his skin. Thoroughly miserable, despite the brilliant autumn day, Declan turned and headed for home.

The Village's busy streets and shops and general chaos cheered Declan. He loved the energy of the city, alive at all hours. The variety of people and dogs and noises and sights, the hustle and bustle of the place, so different than their ponderous hometown.

Stephen had used every ounce of will he had to clean up the kitchen rather than retreat to the quiet comfort of his books and laptop. Declan would be back as soon as his temper cooled; Stephen knew that as surely as he knew his own name. Sill, this upward spike in defiance was worrisome.

For the briefest of moments Stephen wondered if he had somehow contributed to Declan's outburst. He shook the thought off. This was no time to waffle. Declan needed to be taken in hand. Declan needed to be reined back in and then everything in this crazy city would fall into its proper place.

Reaching the building, Declan took a shaky breath. He was in deep shit now. And he didn't have his key, which meant Stephen would have to come down and let him in. One of Stephen's pet peeves. Sighing, Declan squared his shoulders and rang the bell.

Stephen started at the cranky crackle of the doorbell. Like so many other things in New York, it was old and raucous and grated on his nerves. As did walking down three flights to open the door.

"Drop the keys, Steve," Declan had cried gleefully, the first time he had left his keys at home. It had been high summer; the windows were open and the sound of his exuberant voice carried easily.

Stephen had walked down the stairs and explained to Declan, quietly and calmly, why dropping the keys three stories was Not an acceptable solution.

Declan had accepted his ruling. The day an absent-minded colleague of Stephen's had locked Stephen out of his own office, closing the door behind both of them, Stephen had come home keyless. Declan had raced, happy and clattering, headlong down the stairs, overjoyed to catch Stephen out.

Stephen laughed at the memory of Declan's smirk, which had melted to an adoring smile under his kiss. They had come upstairs and Declan had shoved him towards the couch and pretended to search his pants pockets for the missing keys...

It seemed a long, long time ago. Stephen sighed. Declan still grew hard at his touch, but the playful enthusiasm he had so enjoyed was gone.

Declan is a hell of a lot of work, Stephen thought, trudging downstairs.

Declan bit the inside of his lip. Tilted his head to the side, rubbed his nose hard against the back of his hand. He was not going to sniffle. He was not going to beg Stephen not to...

"Stephen, no! Please don't!" Declan managed to hold back his plea until Stephen had them inside. "Steve, I need to talk to you!"

"Face the wall, Declan," Stephen said, not unkindly. Poor Declan. He was unhappy and unsettled and acting out. First the near tantrum over the green shirt, then the inauspicious session in the tanning beds, and now this.

Declan had insisted in staying at the club, despite Stephen's stern warning that he would regret that choice. And then Declan's outright refusal to be punished for that decision. And the final straw, Declan simply taking off, in clear defiance of his request not to.

Stephen sighed. They had been over this territory before. Declan knew the basic rule that underlay their relationship: Declan knew he did not say "No."

Theirs was no casual, spur of the moment decision to organize their lives this way. They had discussed the ground rules, they had agreed that this was what they both wanted. Stephen wanted to lead; Declan wanted to follow.

The spanking itself was not a turn on for either of them, but the power exchange it implied most definitely was. Declan got off on trusting, Stephen on being trusted. Declan trusted; Stephen was trustworthy.

But there was so much more to it than that. How Stephen loved his quicksilver lover, the light and the heat of him, the sweet, salt taste of him. The soft sounds Declan made in the dark.

Declan toed out of his sneakers, putting off the inevitable as long as he could.

"Declan. I told you, face the wall." Stephen's voice was warm and sure. "Now. It's going to be all right, Dec. We're going to be all right."

Sometimes Declan thought he had fallen in love with Stephen just because of his voice. It draped him like a blanket, buffering the cold of the outside world. He felt wrapped in its warmth, safe and contained.

Declan turned to the wall and waited for Stephen to tell him what came next. He regretted his impetuous flight. He regretted the excesses of the previous night.

Declan sighed. His ass was still tender from his last spanking. He was sure he was going to feel every smack of this one.

Regretfully, Stephen unthreaded his belt. He much preferred limiting Declan's punishments to hand spankings. The intimacy of flesh to flesh was hard to match with an implement. But he had spanked Declan less than twelve hours ago, and obviously the lessons he had hoped to impart had not gotten through.

It's not about what you prefer, it's about what Declan needs, Stephen reminded himself. He gritted his teeth and doubled the belt in his hand. Better to be firm now, than to allow the situation to deteriorate further.

"All right, Declan, I think you've had enough time to think." Stephen took Declan's arm and turned him around. Urged him towards the couch.

Declan's face was flushed and his eyes watering. He was sorry, so sorry. He would try harder. He would!

Declan looked at Stephen, wanting to be brave, wanting to say something that would show Stephen how much he loved him. He really would try harder! He really would be good!

"I am going to strap you, Declan," Stephen said, his voice calm and sure.

NO! Declan jerked back, away from Stephen, repentance replaced by indignation.

"No, Steve, no," Declan protested. "That's not fair, Steve, I screwed up, okay, but we don't do that. You spank me, you don't lick me, not for stuff like this. Come on, Steve, that's not fair."

"Declan, who decides what we do?" Stephen asked quietly.

"You do, Steve, but--" Declan protested, sounding less sure of himself. "It's just...I don't want you to lick me, Steve." Declan sighed. Even to his own ears, his objection sounded ludicrous.

"Come on, Declan, let's get this over with. Get your things off," Stephen said, reassured by the familiar whine in Declan's voice. What Declan wanted and what Declan needed were two different things. Declan wanted to be indulged, but he needed a firm hand.

Stephen seated himself on the couch and patted his lap.

Naked from the waist down, Declan draped himself over Stephen in all his splendor. His skin was still mottled orange from the tanning bed; the sight of the ugly, peeling pieces strengthened Stephen's resolve. Declan was spinning out. It was his responsibility to reel him back in.

Laying his belt aside, Stephen cupped his hand slightly and began to spank Declan.

Declan bit his lip. Stephen's smacks stung, but his hand was warm and it felt fair. Declan sank into the sensation, trust reasserting itself.

"Shit!" The first slap of the belt caught Declan unaware. He twisted, needing to see Stephen's face, needing to talk to him. "NO!"

Stephen aborted the downward stroke of the belt just in time to avoid striking Declan's hipbone. Shit, that was close.

"Goddamnit, Declan, stay still! I don't want to hurt you," Stephen said, anchoring Declan more firmly. He brought the belt down hard, wanting to be done. There was nothing pleasant about hearing Declan yelp and whimper. Let it out, Declan, Stephen thought to himself. Cry and then we'll be done.

"No more, Stephen, shit, let me go," Declan gasped, hurting, angry, less repentant than desperate.

Give it up, Declan, Stephen thought. He brought the belt down again and yet again, lashing the tender junction of buttock and thigh.

Declan began to cry.

"There, all done," Stephen said, dropping the belt. His heart was racing. He tried to steady his voice. "Come on, Dec, we're all done. We're okay."

Declan turned awkwardly, scrambled into Stephen's arms and clung to him.

"I want to go home!" Declan pleaded. "I hate you here. I want to go home. Please, Stephen, let's go home."

Stephen rubbed Declan's back gently, trying to make sense of Declan's plea. No apology, just begging, the same words repeated over and over.

"I hate you here. I want to go home." Declan tried again, but his head hurt and his ass hurt and his heart hurt. He let Stephen shepherd him into the bedroom, ease him face down on the bed.

Stephen covered Declan lightly. Stroked his sweaty hair back from his forehead, massaged the back of his neck. Kissed him.

Exhausted, Declan slept.

What does Declan mean, "I hate you here," Stephen wondered. Declan was oddly precise about language. He loved crossword puzzles, cryptoquotes, Scrabble. He adored modern poetry. There was no doubt in Stephen's mind that the awkward phrase signified something very particular to Declan.

Stephen shivered suddenly. The late afternoon light was too bright. Declan asleep before nightfall was a rare phenomenon. Even afternoon sex was not a soporific for Declan. The last time Stephen had seen Declan asleep in the daytime was when Declan had had the flu. Then, too, Declan had had the same flushed and fevered look, the same air of misery and unease.

Stephen squared his shoulders. I've let Declan down. This city is hard on me; I find it draining. It takes all my strength to stand firm against its seductions and distractions, to hew to my usual routines.

How much harder must it be on Declan. I've neglected him. I've let him have too much slack. I've let him chart his own course, and he is drowning.

Declan made a little sound, a sweet small contented sound, and arched his back.

Declan was back in their garden in Columbus. The earth was warm under his back. Stephen lay on top of him. Their jeans were unzipped; their cocks flaccid between them.

"Brat," Stephen said, kissing him. "I should spank you for that."

Declan grinned lazily.

"Just as much your fault," he countered.

"Seductive brat," Stephen laughed.

"You're easy," Declan replied, sticking out his tongue.

Stephen watched Declan's face soften as he dreamed deeper. Smiled to see Declan's cock stiffening against his belly; felt his own cock swelling in answering need.

"Dreaming of me, Dec?" Stephen whispered in Declan's ear. Declan turned into Stephen, kissing him, eyes naked with desire.

"Fuck me, Steve," Declan begged. "Be nice again. Be my Steve again. Fuck me."

Flesh speaks to flesh in a language all its own. The body doesn't lie. Stephen knew Declan; Declan knew Stephen.

Declan groaned and stretched, supremely satisfied. Winced at the pressure of the rumpled sheets against his sore ass; he had been too aroused to notice the burn before.

Stephen was splayed on his back, sated and sound asleep. Declan rearranged Stephen's softened cock with a proprietary hand. Backed off the bed, tucked the cover around his sleeping lover.

Stephen has a good face, Declan thought. He's a good man. I love him so much.

Why am I so unhappy?

Shit, this was no good. Declan scowled. The flash of neon from the darkening street caught his eye.

Saturday night in New York; yes! Declan's spirit rebounded at the thought. Life at the center of the universe! New places to play, new foods to try, new people to meet! Yes!

Grinning loopily, Declan turned on the shower. Despite its woefully low pressure, the water was hot and felt good against his peeling, itchy skin. Declan felt loose, relaxed, ready to roll.

"Up, up, up," Declan chanted, prodding Stephen with his foot. He rustled through his clothing, pulling on underwear, jeans and tee shirt. "Let's go, Steve, I'm starving. Come on, I'm rich this week, I'll feed you."

Stephen came slowly awake, a smile creasing his face. Now this was his Declan. His incipient doubts fading, Stephen rolled himself to a seated position.

"And just where do you think we're going, young man?" Stephen asked.

Declan froze.

"It's Saturday night, Steve." Declan swallowed hard. "Steve? When it's over, it's over, right? So let's go out. Llewellyn and the guys were talking about Vong's, midtown? I did really well this week, I'm rich! Come on, Steve, it's my treat..."

Declan's limpid eyes and feathery lashes were well nigh irresistible. Stephen wavered, but only for a moment. Declan was far too skilled at manipulation for his own good.

"No, Declan. We are going to eat in tonight," Stephen said firmly, thinking wistfully of the easy, open kitchen of their Columbus house. Declan had never liked to cook, but he had been a good sport about slicing and dicing at Stephen's command.

"Eat here? But Steve, it's Saturday? We're in the fucking middle of Greenwich Village! I want to go OUT!" Declan's voice rose from reasonable to impassioned in the space of four sentences.

"Declan," Stephen began to explain patiently. "We need to get back on track. We need to concentrate on us. We need to stay in and--"

"No, Steve, listen to me. We're not in Columbus, we're in New York!" Declan spoke rapidly and persuasively. "In New York, you go out to spend time together. We'll concentrate on us, I promise."

"No, Declan," Stephen said patiently.

"Yes!"

"Declan, we just did this this afternoon," Stephen said calmly. "What does No mean, Dec?"

"It means you don't know fuck all about New York," Declan snapped.

His brat was way over the line. Stephen sighed.

"Living room, Declan," he said wearily.

Declan gaped at him.

"You are going to relearn the meaning of the word 'No' if it takes the rest of the weekend with you face down over my lap, Declan," Stephen said calmly.

"Steve? Steve, no, this isn't fair. I lost my temper, I'm sorry, but you can't spank me again, you can't! It isn't fair! No, I mean please? Please?"

Declan at his most heartbreaking. Stephen sighed again. My poor brat. He is not going to make this easy for himself.

"Come on, Declan. Let's get this over with."

Declan stared at him, his face whitening as the rush of adrenaline faded.

"Are you sure we have to do this, Steve?" Declan asked softly. "Stephen, are you sure?"

"Trust me, Declan," Stephen said gently. He seated himself on the couch. Patted his lap.

Tentatively, without his usual sureness, Declan stepped out of his jeans and underwear. Positioned himself over Stephen's lap.

"Not hard," Declan said. "Please, Steve, I'm really sore."

Stephen grimaced. Declan's ass was mottled red. Even a light spanking would hurt plenty. For a moment, Stephen considered commuting Declan's sentence.

No. He had to hold firm; Declan had to learn.

"Trust me, Declan," Stephen said.

Declan tensed.

"No means no," Stephen lectured. He spanked Declan hard and thoroughly.

Eventually, Declan cried.

Rubbing his stinging palm surreptitiously, Stephen drew Declan into his lap, considerately turning him sideways.

Soggy and subdued, Declan accepted Stephen's caresses without enthusiasm.

Declan helped with dinner in automaton fashion, doing as Stephen asked without protest, answering direct questions, but volunteering nothing, neither help nor conversation.

Declan, you earned this, fair and square, Stephen thought to himself. He tried to contain his hurt at Declan's unusual coldness. It wouldn't do to let Declan manipulate him.

"Bedtime, Declan," Stephen said as the news finished. Braced himself for Declan's usual pro forma protest.

"Good night, Stephen," Declan said. He slumped into the bedroom, undressed quickly, shoved his clothes in the hamper and pulled the covers tight to him.

"Come on, Dec," Stephen said. "It's all right. It's over now; you're forgiven."

"I want to go home, Stephen. I hate you here. I want to go home."

"Declan, I don't understand!" Stephen's bewilderment hung between the two men like a curtain.

Clarity, Stephen told himself. Clarity is what Declan needs, not for you to join him in the confused place he's in.

"Sleep, Declan. You're overtired." Stephen rubbed Declan's back gently.

"No! I am NOT!" Declan reared back, rejecting Stephen's lulling hand. Swung himself upright.

"Lie down, Declan." There was no warmth in Stephen's voice, just determination. "You really don't want to me to spank you again."

"NO! I hate you here, Stephen. I want to go home!" Declan glared at Stephen.

Out of control. Stephen sighed. His hand was sore. He'd already taken off his belt to Declan, and it hadn't helped. Wearily Stephen reached under the bed and extracted a long box.

"Oh, no," Declan said, scrambling out of bed. "You're not going to cane me, you're not, Stephen!"

"Goddamnit Declan, what do you want from me? I'm only human, Dec! You push and you push and you push and you push... What more do you want from me? I'm only human, Declan!" Stephen's voice echoed in the small bedroom. He took a deep breath; forced himself to calm down.

"I'm sorry, Declan," Stephen said heavily. "I know I've failed you. I've been too lax; I've let us get out of sync. Believe me, Declan, I regret it. And it stops, now." Stephen opened the box.

"No, Stephen, I mean it. Don't take that thing out of the box." Declan backed away, keeping a wary eye on Stephen.

"You don't dictate to me, Declan." Stephen took the slender instrument in his hand.

"I'm not going to let you cane me, Stephen."

"Don't make me come and get you, Declan."

"Stephen, for the love of God, listen to me! I don't want to hit you, but I swear I will if you touch me. I am not going to let you cane me!"

"Declan." Steven's voice was gentle and reasonable. "It isn't your decision, is it now?" He stepped towards Declan.

"You're not listening to me, Stephen! I am not going to let you cane me! I'm as strong as you are, Stephen; I'll hurt you if you try."

"Do not speak to me in that tone of voice, Declan!" Stephen took another step forward. "This is NOT how we do things."

"Back off, Stephen. I don't want to hurt you." The warning in Declan's voice was unmistakable.

As was the look of utter desolation in Declan's eyes.

"All right, Declan. All right." Taking a deep breath, Stephen tossed the cane onto the bed behind him.

"Please let me pass, Declan," Stephen said quietly.

Declan backed up warily.

Stephen walked through the bedroom door.

The cane lay like a living thing across the bed. Declan began to shiver. He pulled on sweats and a tee shirt, but he was still cold.

Declan listened to the homely sounds from the kitchen. The water running, the click-click-click of the stove's electronic ignition, the rattle of plates and teacups.

"Declan, come watch TV," Stephen called, his voice off-hand and friendly.

"Stephen?" Declan sounded impossibly young. "Steve?"

"Come on, Dec, there's some junk on that you'll like." Stephen's voice softened further.

Declan came quietly into the living room, his eyes downcast. Seated himself on the couch, as far as possible from Stephen.

Without making eye contact, Stephen slid a mug of tea and a slice of pound cake along the coffee table to within Declan's reach.

"I want to go home, Steve." Declan's voice was tight.

"Seven months, Dec. The academic year ends in June. Can you hang on for seven months?"

"NO! I hate you here. I want to go home." Tears started in Declan's eyes. He dashed them away angrily.

"Declan, I'm sorry. I knew you were having a rough time, but I didn't understand how much you hated New York--" Stephen began.

"NO! I love New York. I hate YOU here," Declan said thickly.

"You hate me, Declan?" Stephen asked very quietly, his face pale.

"NO! I hate you HERE! You are not my Steve here!" Declan's frustration was clear.

Stephen puzzled over Declan's statement for a moment.

"You feel I'm different, somehow, here in New York," Stephen said. "Is that what you're saying, Declan?"

"You are different! You're not nice!" Declan insisted. "I hate how you are here. I want to go home!"

The high-low wail of a police siren shrieked from the street below. Loud voices, flashing lights. The sound of breaking glass.

Distracted from his misery, Declan was at the window in a flash, fascinated as always with the life of their street. Stephen sighed. That was New York; one interruption after another.

"Steve, you have got to see this," Declan crowed exultantly. "It's some kind of crazy kid in a chicken suit. Come on, Steve, look!"

"Declan," Stephen said, torn between amusement and frustration. "We were talking. We were having a serious conversation. Come away from the window, now."

"That's just it," Declan said unhappily. "You don't get New York, Steve. We can talk anytime. There's stuff happening, now, and you're making me miss it. You're just not nice anymore." Tears sprang unbidden to Declan's eyes.

"Declan, you're tired," Stephen said wearily. "You're overreacting. Come away from the window and--"

"No! Steve, you're not listening to me! You never listen to me anymore. You're tired, Steve. You want to stay in. You want us to be like we were at home, but we're not there anymore!" Declan swiped angrily at the tears streaking his cheeks.

Stephen took a deep breath and looked, really looked, at his miserable partner.

"All right, Dec," Stephen said slowly. "I get it. You've got a good point. It isn't just you, it's me too. Shh, Declan, don't cry--" Stephen reeled backwards as Declan flew headlong into his arms, kissing and crying and talking.

"Be my Steve again, please! I want you to be nice again! I won't say no and I will be good, but Steve, you have to listen to me!" Declan was crying hard, all dignity gone.

Stephen wrapped his arms around his sobbing lover and eased them onto the couch. Declan kissed him, hard. Pressed the hard, hot length of his body against Stephen.

"Fuck me, Steve. Please. Fuck me. I love you, Stephen, I love you so much. Fuck me."

"Shh, shh, you forget I'm an old man," Stephen said, returning the kiss with interest. "I can't keep up with you, Dec."

"I know, Steve," Declan said softly. "I know. I still love you." He stilled, resting his head against Stephen's chest. "See, I can be quiet. You don't need to spank me."

Stephen's head hurt.

"We need to talk, Dec, but I can't talk tonight. I'm too tired. Will you come to bed with me? We'll talk in the morning, I promise. It's going to be all right."

Declan let Stephen roll them both to their feet. Stephen slipped his arm around Declan's waist, urging him to the bedroom. Declan hesitated at the sight of the cane on the bed.

Moving matter-of-factly ahead, Stephen replaced the cane in its box, replaced the cover on the box, and shoved the box under the bed. Stripped off his clothes and lay down, extending his arms to Declan.

"Come here, baby," Stephen coaxed, his voice warm, his eyes clear.

Without further hesitation, Declan launched himself onto the bed. Stephen winced at the creaking springs, then sighed ruefully. Declan was a wild ride. But his exuberance was part and parcel of his charm.

"Sleep, Dec?" Stephen asked.

"Play with me?" Declan ran his hand experimentally over Stephen's groin.

"I love you, Declan." Stephen insinuated his hand under Declan's waistband; rubbed his palm over Declan's cock. Gripped the hard length lightly, stroked his thumb over the head. Sliding down the bed, Stephen pushed Declan's sweats to his thighs and took Declan in his mouth, finding the easy rhythm that he knew would get Declan off.

Declan's head dropped back, his hand straying to his own nipples as he lost himself in the familiar, glorious sensations and came with a groan of pleasure.

"Oh, yeah," Declan breathed, sated. "Oh yeah."

Stephen wiped his face against the sheets and returning his pillow, drew Declan to him.

"Sleepy now, Dec?"

"Oh, yeah, Steve," Declan yawned. He kissed Stephen's chest, rubbing his cheek against the smattering of hair. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Dec. I hope you know that," Stephen said, a hint of sadness in his voice. He traced a gentle finger along Declan's cheekbone, smoothed his fine, pale eyebrows.

Declan woke first. He sidled out from Stephen's arm and into the bathroom.

I look like shit, Declan thought, catching sight of himself in the mirror. He stuck his tongue out at his reflection, winced at the childishness of his own gesture.

Declan shifted indecisively from foot to foot. He needed to run; his body craved freedom and movement. He needed to be near Stephen; his heart craved closeness and connection.

Returning to the bedroom, Declan shook Stephen gently.

"Steve? Steve, wake up! Steve..."

"Time is it?" Stephen mumbled tiredly.

"Eight, almost."

Stephen's arm snaked out from the covers, snagged the alarm clock.

"Um, after seven?" Declan swallowed hard.

"Seven ten, Declan," Stephen said, shaking his head. "How long have you been up?"

"Five minutes? Not more than that," Declan said nervously.

"It's all right, Dec," Stephen sighed. "Go on. Take a walk, get us some muffins and wake me if I'm not up when you get back. I'm going to get a little more sleep."

"I can? Really?" Declan gaped at Stephen. "Um, thanks!" Declan bounced into the living room, tugged on his sneakers, headed for the door. Caught himself; paused to grab his phone, wallet and keys. Let himself out, careful not to slam the door.

The fall morning was fine and bright. Declan gloried in being one of the first people up and about in their eclectic neighborhood. He strode happily, carelessly cross-town, seeking a new bakery, one he hadn't tried before. Relishing the choices the city provided.

It was eight o'clock when Declan returned home, paper sack of muffins in hand, papers under his arm. He sniffed appreciatively; Stephen had started coffee. Oh, it was going to be a good day!

Stephen sat at the tiny kitchen counter, nursing his first cup of coffee.

Shit, Stephen looks sad, Declan thought, depositing the bag of muffins on the counter. Declan washed his hands ostentatiously, knowing that city dirt was one of Stephen's pet peeves. Took down plates, took out cutlery and jam. Poured himself coffee and pulled a stool up to the counter.

"Steve?" Declan said softly. "I'm sorry, okay? About last night, just...I really don't think you were right. "

"Declan, I'm not angry at you. I am just concerned about how stressful being in New York is for us. The truth is, Declan, I haven't been myself. You may be cut out for city life, but I'm not," Stephen said.

"Can we go home, Steve?" Declan asked.

"I need to finish out this year, Declan."

"You want to go to Chinatown for lunch?" Declan said hopefully. "Maybe dim sum will make you feel better."

Stephen laughed; he couldn't help it. Declan thought novelty cured anything.

"Do you want to go out for dim sum, Dec?" Steve asked gently.

"Yeah! It'd be fun. I like trying new stuff." Declan grinned.

"You like anything new. I'm not like that, Declan. I like the tried and true."

"The tried and true is boring, Steve. I mean...." Declan's voice trailed off. "I like you, you're tried and true. But I like new stuff. Is that bad?"

"You're just different from me, Dec," Stephen said reassuringly, hearing the worry in Declan's voice. "Different isn't bad."

"You say that, but you don't believe it!" Declan said with unusual bitterness. "You do want me to be like you. You spank me when I'm not."

Stephen was silent.

"Steve? Steve, I'm sorry, please don't be mad? Please, Stephen..." Declan looked ready to cry.

"Easy, Dec, I'm not angry. I just need some time to think this through." He placed his hand over Declan's.

"You want to go out now and think about it later?" Declan suggested helpfully.

Stephen started to laugh.

"What?" Declan looked hurt.

"Sorry. I love you," Stephen said. "All right, Dec, we'll try it your way. Get your jacket."

"It's not cold, Steve."

"Declan."

"I'm not cold," Declan said.

"I'm taking my jacket," Stephen said. "You do what you want."

Declan tried to walk sedately. Stephen smiled at his attempt, appreciating the obvious effort Declan was making. Took Declan's hand.

Declan started, then smiled. Stephen was shy about holding hands in public, even in the Village. Declan loved holding hands.

"You want brunch, Steve?" Declan asked, eyeing the inviting cafes eagerly.

"I'd rather sit in the park a bit, Dec," Stephen said.

"Sure, Steve, it's your call," Declan said quickly. "Whatever you say." They continued walking, hands still linked.

"Take it easy, Dec," Stephen said softly, feeling the tension in Declan. "It's going to be all right. We're going to be all right."

Declan dashed the back of his hand across his cheek, hard.

"Declan, are you crying?" Stephen asked, astonished.

"No. Yes. I don't know." Declan sniffled.

"Shh. Here. Let me." Stephen stopped in a sheltered doorway, tugged Declan closer. Taking tissues from his pocket, he wiped Declan's face. "Blow."

"I'm scared," Declan said. "You're going to leave me."

"Declan, what prompts this? You wanted to go out!"

"We're supposed to do what you want! That's how we do things, Steve!"

"Declan, you are going to drive me crazy," Stephen said. He laid his palm gently on Declan's unshaven cheek. "Come on now, no more crying. Let's go home."

Recapturing Declan's hand, Stephen steered them towards their building. There was no bounce in Declan's step; he moved as if in a fog. Stephen gave Declan a gentle shove up the stairs.

For once, Declan took the stairs one at a time. He seemed increasingly reluctant the closer they got to their apartment. He looked anxiously at Stephen.

"Inside, Declan. We are not going to talk out here in the hallway," Stephen said firmly. He propelled them inside; locked the door behind them.

"Are you going to spank me?" Declan asked.

"Am I going to spank you?" Stephen echoed. Spanking Declan had been the furthest thing from his mind. Stephen looked at Declan. "No."

Declan reached for the closest object, which happened to be his cell phone, and lobbed it viciously at Stephen.

Stephen drew back sharply. The cell phone clattered to the floor, batteries spilling onto the hardwood.

"Now I am going to spank you," Stephen said grimly. "Take off your sneakers and come in the living room. Right now, Declan."

Declan obeyed with alacrity.

Shedding his jacket, Stephen seated himself on the couch.

Declan moved before him. Head down, eyes on the floor, every inch the penitent.

Stephen tried not to smile. His rueful appreciation of Declan's performance was not what Declan needed. Knowing he was being manipulated, knowing he was playing into Declan's fantasy, Stephen patted his lap.

"Pants and boxers off. Over my knee now, Declan. What is this spanking for?"

"For being difficult. For pushing you. For not listening to what you tell me," Declan said.

Stephen spanked Declan thoroughly, layering smack upon stinging smack until Declan's rump was hot and red and Declan was crying brokenly. Then he gathered Declan in his arms. Hugging his sobbing lover, Stephen rubbed comforting circles over Declan's back as Declan cried himself out.

They had been together a long time, Stephen thought to himself; they had chosen to organize their lives this way. Stephen led; Declan followed. The spanking itself was not a turn on for either of them, but the trust it implied most definitely was. And Declan got off on trusting.

Stephen smoothed Declan's hair gently back from his sodden face.

"It's going to be all right, Declan. You can trust me again. We're going to be all right."

 

***FIN***

Thank you, Hedeia, for sharing your characters with me, for reading my story and for encouraging me. I appreciate your generosity and your friendship.EM