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



The snow was piled high on the branches. Stephen tried to figure how many minutes per pound to allow for the roast.


The pleasant dream faded as an ice-cold bundle of Declan fell on Stephen, pinning him to the mattress.

"Stephen, Stephen, get up! I got bagels, I got lox, I got cream cheese, I got those little oranges in a crate that come all the way from Spain, I got--"

Stephen did the only possible thing he could to slow the deluge of words. He kissed Declan long and deep, ran his tongue over Declan's teeth.

"You taste sweet, Dec," Stephen sighed.

"I'm naturally sweet? Don't start," Declan begged. "Come on, Steve, I only bought them because the girl at the cart looked cold."

"Yesterday the boy looked cold to you. And the day before, who was it, Dec? The grandmother? Sugar roasted peanuts are not a breakfast food, Declan," Stephen scolded.

Declan's face fell into the unhappy, mutinous lines Stephen dreaded.

Stephen took a deep breath. Pick your battles, he reminded himself. You can't fight the entire city. Pick your battles.

"Did you start coffee? No? I'll do that now," Stephen said evenly. "Wash your hands thoroughly and let's sit down and eat."

Declan sighed with relief. It was going to be a Good day.

"Declan," Stephen asked pleasantly enough, as Declan polished off his second bagel and considered wistfully whether he could manage a third, "Declan, why are sugar roasted peanuts not a breakfast food?"

"Um..." Declan hesitated. "Because you said they weren't?" He grinned unrepentantly at Stephen.

"It's not funny, Dec," Stephen said quietly.

"It's not fair, Steve," Declan said, annoyance creeping into his voice. "You're going to spoil the whole day over peanuts?"

"The whole day is not spoiled, Declan, don't be melodramatic," Stephen said. "Dec, I am not making a big deal of this, because I understand it is a small thing in the scheme of things. But I do not want to hear that tone from you."

"I--" Declan caught himself. Swallowed hard. "I'm sorry, Steve. Don't be mad. I'll be nice." He flashed a smile.

Stephen took a deep breath. Declan, playing at charming, was hard to resist. But letting Declan have too much rope was a recipe for disaster.

"You can just stand over there, facing the wall, and think about your attitude, young man," Stephen said matter-of-factly.

"Yes, Stephen," Declan said quietly, his relief obvious. A few minutes corner time was fair. It was a hell of a lot better than a spanking and it was also a lot better than being allowed to play up without consequences. Declan knew he could be a handful; he welcomed Stephen's reminder of his place in their relationship.

Safe, Declan thought to himself, the boring wall soothing his faint uneasiness. Being Stephen's was safe. Save for that one nightmare moment when Stephen had been determined to cane him, Stephen had never scared Declan. His strictures were usually understandable. His punishments were usually fair.

But what difference does it make if I eat peanuts before breakfast? Declan shook himself, trying to make the stray thought vanish.

Stephen recognized the gesture, a typically Declan debate with himself. Walking behind Declan, Stephen wrapped his arms around him and hugged him tightly.

"I love you." Declan turned within the embrace and buried his head in Stephen's shoulder, inhaling his lover's scent.

"Declan, if you must buy peanuts, bring them home and have them as a snack. Not as breakfast," Stephen lectured. "They're not good for you."

"But why?" Declan asked plaintively. "They don't have more sugar than breakfast cereal, nuts are fiber and protein. Sheesh, Stephen, I was just asking!" He pouted reproachfully, rubbing the spot on his butt where Stephen had swatted him.

"I said no," Stephen said. "Declan, you listen to me."

"It's always 'no,'" Declan grumbled, but it was a pro forma protest, accompanied by a sheepish smile, and Stephen forgave it easily.

"Lunch in, dinner out, or dinner in, lunch out?" Stephen asked Declan.

"'In' means cooking or takeout?" Declan asked, considering the decision seriously.

"Cooking." Stephen waited.

"Um, let me think...lunch can be late, right? Because we just ate breakfast and I'm not going to be hungry until two-three." Declan looked at Stephen, the faint edge of anxiety these discussions always provoked shadowing his eyes.

"Two is fine for lunch, Dec," Stephen said, making sure to keep his voice warm, his expression patient. He knew it was hard for Declan to make choices; he knew Declan resented having his choices made for him. It was a fine line he was walking, trying to help Declan reason, not react, while still supporting him. He was modestly proud of having had some success.

Declan was far more centered than the changeling he had become his first few months in New York. Stephen's reestablishment of his rightful place in their private little hierarchy had been a rough passage, but they were all right now, swimming with the city's tides rather than against them.

"Lunch out, dinner in," Declan decided. "Okay, Steve?"

"Is that your final answer?" Stephen teased gently.

"Lunch out, dinner in. Final answer," Declan said. "Do I win?"

"Usually, Dec," Stephen said with a wry laugh. "Now, what do you want to do this morning?"

"Fuck?" Declan held his breath. Nothing like the direct approach.

"Declan!" Stephen scowled at his irrepressible lover, who grinned widely. "Declan..." Stephen felt himself responding as Declan stepped forward and ground his pelvis against him, his erection obvious. "Declan..."

Snuggled in Stephen's arms afterwards, Declan sighed happily. He loved Stephen so much! He needed this tangible proof of Stephen's love, needed this contact, this connection.

Stephen stroked Declan's hair, feeling ridiculously happy. To be desired as Declan obviously desired him was very nice indeed.

"Steve? We're going home in June, right?" Declan asked softly.

"That's the plan, man," Stephen rhymed.

"Don't!" Declan winced.

"Sorry, Dec," Stephen said unrepentantly. "Why do you ask?"

"I had a bad dream last night," Declan said softly. "That I was alone and you were gone and I tried to call you and you didn't answer and I missed you so much…"

"It was only a dream," Stephen said. "Listen, I dreamed I was cooking an eight pound standing rib roast and trying to figure out how many minutes I needed a pound to make it come out medium rare. That's a stressful dream." He tickled Declan, distracting him.

"Not too rare, okay?" Declan said. "I like it cooked, not raw."

"Since when do I feed you raw meat?" Stephen pretended to be indignant.

Declan laughed, cuddled closer.

"It was just a dream, right?" Declan said.

Stephen listened to the anxiety in Declan's voice, more than a little concerned. Declan was usually easy to distract. For him to persist this way was worrisome.

"Is there a reason you're worried about this, Dec?" Stephen probed. "Did I say something? Did someone at work say something? Talk to me, Dec."

"Llewellyn said…" Declan's voice trailed off.

Stephen ground his teeth. Llewellyn. Of all the friends in all the world, you had to make this one…

"What did I say about Llewellyn?" Stephen asked sternly.

"Um, that I shouldn't let him play me like this?" Declan said miserably.

"Well, I don't think I put it exactly that way. But damn it, Declan, that is what he does. He knows you just well enough to zero in on your weak spots." Stephen forbore to mention that Llewellyn seemed to care precious little about hurting Declan. Any suggestion that Llewellyn was less than a true friend wounded Declan, who admired his new colleague enormously.

"I don't think he does it on purpose," Declan said tentatively. "You say I'm oversensitive sometimes, Steve."

Stephen sighed.

"Yes, Dec, sometimes I do think you overreact. But in this case, I think Llewellyn is setting you up."

Tears welled in Declan's eyes. He scrubbed at them, his hand fisted.

"Come on, Dec, it's nothing to cry about," Stephen said reprovingly.

"I'm not crying. Leave me alone, Steve!"

"Never, " Stephen said, hugging Declan firmly. "I'm never going to leave you alone, not when you're crying, not when my year here is over. I want you to stop listening to Llewellyn when he talks nonsense. He doesn't have a clue about us, Dec."

"I think he does," Declan said unhappily.

"Does what, Dec?" Stephen asked.

"Have a clue." Declan blushed. "He's always making spanking jokes around me, Steve. It's like he knows something."

"You're imagining things, Dec. Lots of people make spanky references. Spanking's titillating, like oral sex used to be before Bill and Monica." Stephen shook his head.

"I know what you mean, Steve, but Llewellyn…it's not just that, I don't think. He hints about us." Declan chewed his lip. "That I have to listen to you 'or else.' I'm afraid he knows something, Stephen."

"Declan, he doesn't know anything, he's just picking up on how uneasy his comments make you. He's playing a hunch. Trust me on this one." Stephen shook his head. None of this made him like Llewellyn any better. "Come on, get showered and I'll take you somewhere nice for lunch."

"You're my Steve again," Declan said, hugging Steve and kissing him, hard. "I love you."

"I always loved you, Dec," Stephen replied, returning the kiss with interest.

Declan showered quickly, grimacing at the uncertain water pressure. That was one thing he truly missed about their real home, the luxury of new plumbing and an endless supply of hot water. He liked everything about their downtown home except this.

Stephen shaved carefully, thinking about Llewellyn and about Declan's concerns. Stephen scowled at the mirror, disliking the choice before him.

Declan was far too trusting. When he liked someone, there were few limits to how far he would go for that person. Stephen was inclined to put a swift end to Declan's friendship with Llewellyn.

On the other hand, Declan was lonely in New York. His office lent itself to false bonhomie, not to the deeper connections Stephen made with his colleagues at the university. Depriving Declan of even a poor friendship would sadden Declan.

Knowing how little Stephen liked public displays, Declan didn't take his hand en route to the restaurant.

Knowing how much Declan liked walking linked together, Stephen let Declan lean into him as they strode along.

"Declan! Stephen, good to see you again," Llewellyn said, his teeth flashing white against his carefully maintained tan, his hair styled just so, his meticulous casual attire putting both Stephen and Declan to shame.

"Hey, Llewellyn," Declan said happily. "I didn't know you liked this place too!"

"Well, you raved about it, so I thought I would see what it was like." Llewellyn looked around critically. "Unpretentious place. And not crowded either." He smiled at Stephen, something challenging in his gaze.

"We like it," Stephen said evenly, holding Llewellyn's eyes.

Llewellyn blinked first.

"Well, that's good. I'll let you eat."

Declan looked at Stephen, holding his breath hopefully.

"Would you like to join us, Llewellyn?" Reluctantly Stephen extended the invitation.

"Thank you anyway." Llewellyn shook his head negatively.

"Aw." Declan said.

"See you Monday, Declan. Ciao."

Declan was far too invested in Llewellyn's responses, Stephen thought, seeing the genuine disappointment in Declan's face. He was going to have to nip this in the bud.

"...if you want?" Declan asked.

"What? I'm sorry, Dec, I was distracted," Stephen said apologetically. "Ask me again, please."

"Just I wondered if you wanted to order different stuff that we both like and we could trade, it you want?" Declan asked. "Or should I just get what I like myself? Steve?"

"You're too fast for me, Dec," Stephen grumbled. "I thought you were upset about Llewellyn leaving?"

"No, why?" Declan asked. "I'll see him Monday, it's okay. I wonder how many shrimp are in the scampi. Let me ask." He waved over the waiter.

Stephen smiled as Declan grilled the waiter on the number and freshness of shrimp. Declan was fun.

Stephen was happy! Declan grinned back at his lover, basking in Stephen's happiness like a cat in sunshine.

The scampi was everything the waiter had promised. Declan offered Stephen a shrimp from his fork.

"Put it on my plate, Dec," Stephen directed softly.

Declan sighed, but complied.

"Can I taste your fish?" Declan asked Stephen.

"Help yourself." Steve pushed his plate closer to Declan.

"Yum. Steve, didn't you like it? You hardly ate anything," Declan observed, frowning.

"I'm just not hungry." Stephen forced a smile. Declan looked unhappy; it was obvious to Stephen that he needed some quiet time to regroup. "Let's get the check and get started home, Dec."

"Oh. All right." Declan watched Stephen anxiously, trying to contain his disappointment. Stephen hadn't suggested they have coffee or dessert. Declan chewed his lip nervously, unsure what he had done to annoy Stephen.

Stephen noted Declan's nervous gesture with an inward sigh. What could be making Declan so stressed? Stephen reviewed the afternoon's events.

"What did I do?" Declan asked Stephen as they left the restaurant.

"What makes you ask that?" Stephen asked Declan, surprised at the defensiveness in Declan's voice. Declan sounded anxious. Anxious or guilty.

"Is there something you want to tell me, Declan?" Stephen asked, sharpening his tone.

"No! Yes! I don't know!" Declan was flustered. "I don't know what you're getting at, Steve!" Declan's voice rose in frustration.

"Lower your voice, Declan," Stephen said warningly. "You don't shout at me, Dec. We'll discuss this at home."

Declan nodded, thoroughly miserable, his lunch sitting heavily in his stomach.

"I think I'm going to be sick," Declan said.

Stephen sighed. Declan's moodiness was worse. He had tried easing Declan into the bridle, he had tried tightening up on the reins, he had tried giving Declan his head. None of his strategies were working.

For the first time Stephen was seriously worried about both his and Declan's capacity to cope. But for the time being, Stephen knew he had to focus on Declan's mouthiness and overdramatizing.

Declan glared at the wall, unshed tears blurring his vision. Not that there was anything to see, except the grainy texture of old plaster below layered paint.

"Steve--" Declan said hesitantly.

"Shh," Stephen said quietly. "Don't talk, Declan, just think." He checked his watch. Five minutes. He had told Declan fifteen.

Steve's not fair, Declan thought mutinously, he's not. He's not he's not he's not...

Only his firm belief that Declan needed the time to cool down sustained Stephen through the last ten minutes.

"Okay, Declan, time's up." Stephen took Declan's arm, turned him around. Was astonished at the sheer misery he saw in Declan's eyes. "Declan! " Without thinking, Stephen hugged Declan to him.

Declan resisted the embrace for the barest moment, then began to cry in earnest.

"You're mean, Stephen, you're just mean..."

"Damn it, Dec," Stephen said hopelessly. "Why didn't you say something?"

"I did! You said 'shh...'" Declan said hoarsely.

"Declan, you never listen to me when I hush you, why the hell--" Stephen was frustrated. They were missing each other, he could feel it, and yet he had no sense of how to correct the problem.

"I'm just trying to do what you want me to!" Declan snapped, Stephen's response making him equally defensive. "I'm trying, Steve, shit, I'm trying!"

The two men glared at each other. Stephen swallowed hard and deliberately softened his expression.

"All right, Declan." Stephen spoke quietly. "I'm going to make tea. Will you have some?"

"Yes," Declan said, very softly. "Thank you, Steve." He settled disconsolately on the couch, looking small and sad.

"I'm trying too, Dec." Stephen placed Declan's mug of tea on the coffee table and seated himself on the couch. "Come here." Declan shifted closer. Stephen laced his fingers through his partner's. "I know New York is a challenge for you. For both of us," he corrected, feeling Declan bristle.

"I can't be happy here if you're not happy with me," Declan said plaintively. "If you're not happy with me here."

"Declan, I can't be happy for you." Stephen shook his head. "You have to be happy yourself."

"I'm happier than you are," Declan said vehemently. "At least I like it here!" His words hung in the air.

"It's not a competition, Dec. And you don't take that tone with me," Stephen said, more sharply than he meant to.

Declan reared back.

"Sometimes I almost hate you, Steve," Declan said. "It isn't always about me! You're not fair."

"Watch yourself," Stephen said warningly. "I mean it, Dec, I won't tolerate being shouted at."

"I'm mad at you, Stephen!" Declan said, loudly. "You're not being fair!"

Stephen took Declan's arm and pulled him in, turning him over his lap. He swatted Declan smartly.

"Don't start with me, Declan," Stephen said. "I'm serious."

"So am I!" Declan tried to squirm away, but Stephen held tight.

"I'm going to spank you."

Declan slumped resignedly. He didn't think he deserved to be spanked, but if Stephen thought he did...

It wasn't a hard spanking nor a very long one, just a series of sharp, reproving swats, enough to bring tears of regret to Declan's eyes.

"I'm sorry, Steve, I'm sorry," Declan sniffled.

"I don't want to have to do this again," Stephen said warningly. "You keep a civil tongue in your head, do you understand?"

"I'm sorry," Declan repeated. "Don't scold, Stephen. You already spanked me."

"All right," Stephen said, knowing how much Declan needed comfort and closeness after being disciplined. He helped Declan upright; led his red-eyed lover into the bedroom and eased him into bed.

"Stay with me, Steve."

Stretching out alongside Declan, Stephen snuggled Declan against him.

"I'm afraid," Declan said. "I need you here, Stephen."

"I'm here," Stephen said. "Hold on, Declan. It's just for a few more months."

Stephen woke to an empty bed and the sound of the shower running. Something was missing from the usual cacophony that was Declan's morning routine. There was no warm tenor singing emanating from the small tiled room.

"Morning, Dec." Stephen greeted his towel-clad lover.


Stephen looked at the quiet, subdued man who had replaced his usual ebullient lover and worried.

"Steve? What shirt? Should I wear?" Declan asked tentatively. Then, wistfully, "I guess we can't just cut?"

Stephen shook his head regretfully.

"It's not like home, Dec, I don't have anyone I can ask to take my class."

"And I can't call in sick here either," Declan said, knotting his tie. "Big boys don't." He shrugged, managed a facsimile of a smile. "I'm going to get started, okay? I'm running late."

"Breakfast first," Stephen said automatically.

"Steve!" Declan's protest was his first show of his usual animation.

"Declan. Eggs or cereal?"

"I could buy us breakfast, Steve," Declan offered diffidently. "Out."

"We eat breakfast here on weekdays," Stephen responded. "In."

"Just toast." Declan dropped two slices in the toaster.

"Eggs it is." Stephen cracked three eggs. Whisked them smooth, scrambled them swiftly.

Declan wasn't hungry for eggs, but he was hungry to make Stephen happy. He ate dutifully.

Declan was a full time job, but he was worth it. Stephen smiled, enjoying Declan enjoying his eggs.

"Six thirty," Stephen reminded Declan, as Declan stood to place his empty plate in the sink. "No later."

Declan shrugged.

"Problem, Dec?" Stephen asked.

"I want to stay home. Please, Steve?"

"I'll see you tonight, Dec," Stephen said regretfully, moved by the longing in Declan's voice. "You have a good day."

"Yeah. Ciao." Declan shook his hair back from his face and was gone. For once he closed the door quietly.

Once Stephen would have been proud of Declan's quiet departure; now it just added to the veil of anxiety he labored under. This year in New York was a once-in-a-career chance. Stephen had negotiated the shoals of an academic career successfully, but at this depth it was rough.

He had to teach, he had to produce, he knew he could make this work. Stephen took a deep, calming breath. If only Declan were not so sensitive, so unsettled by the choices and challenges of the city.

Declan and Llewellyn settled companionably at the bar of the darkened dive their office favored and ordered burgers, Declan with a coke, Llewellyn with something considerably stronger.

"So you and Stephen moved east together, is that right?" Llewellyn said around a mouthful of medium-rare meat.

Declan nodded, not speaking until he had swallowed.

"Yeah, Steve got a special one year appointment at the university." Declan smiled proudly. "I came along for the ride. That's one advantage of working for a faceless, multinational corporation, it's easy to pull up stakes," Declan added with a shrug.

"You guys keep a pretty low profile, huh?" Llewellyn said.

"Are you getting at something, Llewellyn?" Declan asked.

"You tell me."

Declan tried not to let the hurt he felt at the smirk in Llewellyn's tone show.

"I've got to get back." Declan gulped the last of his burger, downed his coke in one swallow.

"Hey, relax, no one cares if you take an extra half hour," Llewellyn said, settling back. "Wait for me."

Declan hesitated, then, midwestern politeness overtaking the instinct for flight, he too settled back. Ordered another coke and grinned at Llewellyn.

"That's better," Llewellyn said. "God, you're so jumpy, Declan."

"Sorry," Declan apologized. "Stephen's always on me about being late. I'm picking up his good habits."

With a born salesman's instincts, Llewellyn honed in on Declan's weakest point.

"Steve runs a pretty tight ship, I take it," Llewellyn said.

"We like it that way." Declan shifted nervously.

"I'll bet you do." Llewellyn smirked.

"Jesus! You're sick!" Declan flared.

"You'd know," Llewellyn jibed. "Come on, let's get back to work. I'll get the check."

Cursing the high coloring that made his feelings as visible as the blush that stained his fair cheeks, Declan trailed Llewellyn out of the restaurant.

Closing time. Llewellyn braced Declan as Declan stood at his desk, gathering his things.

"Drink, Declan? If you don't have a curfew..." Llewellyn said challengingly.

Jesus, I can't get a break, Declan thought miserably. Stephen said six thirty, I don't want to push him, he's pissed at me anyway. Llewellyn doesn't know, he can't, Steve said he didn't, I know Steve's right.

"Sorry, Llewellyn, wish I could, I've got plans. See you tomorrow." Declan brushed by Llewellyn, not seeing Llewellyn's face fall.

Proud and happy at his handling of the situation, Declan emerged from the subway, whistling into the damp and frigid air, ignoring the slush sloshing over his dress shoes. Passing the peanut vendor, he hesitated, then with a grin, took two bags of peanuts. Handed the small, quiet man a five, left him the extra buck's change. Stuffed the bags into his coat pocket and continued homeward.

Stephen heard the clatter that was Declan barge through the door.

"Stephen, Stephen, I'm home, I'm here, where are you?" Declan shouted cheerily. Stephen out of sight was Stephen far away; the apartment's small size had never quite registered.

Stephen had been laboring over his new article since his return home. He was tired, his eyes hurt, and Declan's noisy cheer set his teeth on edge. He took a deep breath.

"In the office, Declan. Please don't shout…"

"Brought you a present!" Full of good intentions, eager to reconnect, Declan took the two bags of peanuts from his pocket and sent them skittering across the desktop. Their tops untwisted. Oily, sugar-sticky roasted peanuts covered Stephen's papers.

"Shit!" Declan's voice rose higher, his agitation plain. "Stephen, I'm sorry!"

"Easy, Dec," Stephen said automatically. "Accidents happen." He reached under the desk for the wastebasket; brushed the peanuts and wrappers into it. Shook his head at the grease stains that now marred his notes.

"I'll be with you in a bit, Declan."

"Sure, Steve, I'm fine. I'm sorry. I'll just change, okay?" Declan's good mood was gone. Subdued, cold and hungry, Declan slouched towards the bedroom.

Faded jeans, his favorite shirt, the comforting hum of the television and a diet coke revived Declan. He looked at the cold stove and scowled.

"Stephen? Stephen!" Declan shouted, walking the few steps to the office. "Steve!"

Stephen saved his work; looked up.

"You want to go out?" Declan asked hopefully. "My treat. You're busy and I don't want to cook..." Declan's voice trailed off. "Steve? Please?"

"Declan, it's Monday," Stephen said. "We'll nuke something from the freezer; it's no big deal."

"It's boring," Declan protested. "I want to go out."

"We eat in Mondays, Declan."

"It's not fair!"

"You're not fair." Stephen's reproach stung Declan with the force of a slap.

"I hate this place!" Declan said vehemently. "I want to go out. I hate this, Stephen."

"Stop it now, Declan." Stephen rose from behind the desk, reached Declan in two easy strides and reeled his lover in.

"Get the chili out of the freezer please. I'll make a salad," Stephen said, turning Declan towards the kitchen."

"Fine," Declan muttered under his breath.

Declan settled into Stephen's rhythm. Relaxed into the warmth of Stephen's presence, the familiar dance of dinner preparations. He began to chatter, filling Stephen in on the details of his day.

"And so I said I had plans, and I came home!" Declan finished his recitation with a triumphant flourish and paused, awaiting Stephen's praise.

"I don't want you having lunch with Llewellyn anymore," Stephen said.

"What?" Declan froze. "No, Stephen, you can't mean..."

"I do mean. I don't like the direction this 'friendship' is taking. No more lunches, Declan."

"No!" Declan glared at Stephen. "You can't do this to me. It's not fair."

"Do you want to hear my reasons, Dec?" Stephen asked, deliberately keeping his voice low.

"No! Yes. I don't care! He's my friend, Steve, it's not fair!" Declan's voice echoed in the small room.

"Lower your voice, Declan. Now."

"It's not fair," Declan said more quietly, but just as obstinately.

"This is a destructive relationship, Declan. Llewellyn is not your friend." Stephen sounded equally decided.

"He is TOO my friend." Declan sounded impossibly young.

"Llewellyn is hurting you. The stress that causes is hurting us. I expect you to end this relationship now."

"He's my friend," Declan said miserably. "Please Steve, don't ask me to do this."

Stephen looked steadily at Declan.

"Yes, Stephen," Declan said, dropping his eyes. He slopped chili into a bowl, grabbed a wad of napkins and a fork and vanished into the living room.

Stephen stared after him in disbelief.

"Declan, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Stephen asked incredulously, following Declan into the living room.

"Eating dinner." Declan put his bowl on the coffee table and ignoring Stephen's presence, clicked the remote at the television.

"No." Stephen reached over to the television and turned it off firmly.

Declan shrugged and dropped the remote off the edge of the couch.

"Do you want me to spank you?" Stephen asked, still not sure just how the evening had taken this turn.

"Do whatever you want, you always do anyway." Declan shrugged again.

Stephen hesitated. Declan deserved to be spanked, but Declan was clearly upset over Llewellyn. Stephen took a deep breath.

"I'll give you one chance, Declan. Stand up, face the wall and be quiet. Now."

Silently Declan rose to his feet. Moved to their agreed-upon wall and leaned into it. Rested his forehead against the cool masonry, tears pricking the back of his eyes.

"Stand up, Declan," Stephen said quietly.

Declan tried. He stared at the wall, his throat tight, his mouth dry.

I hate it here. I want to go home. Steve's not fair.

"All right, Declan," Stephen said finally. "Bring your plate back into the kitchen, sit down and let's eat."

Silently, Declan obeyed.

Stephen watched Declan go through the motions of eating. Declan looked gray; Stephen had seldom seen his lover so pale and quiet. Obviously he had let this situation with Llewellyn continue too long. He said as much.

"Whatever." Declan kept his eyes down, his fork moving mechanically.

"You need an early bedtime," Stephen said kindly, writing off Declan's attitude as exhaustion. "Put your plate in the sink and go wash up."

"You'll come, too?" Declan's eyes met Stephen's pleadingly.

"Declan, I have to work on my article. Just go to bed." Stephen ruffled Declan's hair gently.

"Please, Stephen!" Declan caught Stephen's hand.

"Go on now, Declan." Stephen disengaged his hand.

"No." Declan sat back, folded his arms across his chest.

Checkmate. Classic Declan.

"Now you're going to get what you wanted!" You usually do, Stephen thought ruefully.

Stephen yanked Declan summarily to his feet and propelled him into the living room. He seated himself on the couch, watched as Declan undid his jeans and stepped out of them. Long practice had made drawing Declan across his lap as easy and natural as sex. Stephen eased Declan's underwear down. Felt Declan's breathing quicken.

Declan's stomach molded to Stephen's thighs. Declan buried his face in the crook of his arm and awaited the familiar sting of Stephen's palm.

It hurt, it always did.

It had hurt more before.

It felt good to cry afterwards. Ensconced in their bed, Declan burrowed into his pillow as Stephen spooned around him.

"It will be all right, " Stephen said. "You'll see. Trust me, Declan."

"I love you, Steve. I do love you," Declan whispered.

"I know that, Dec. But you have to trust me, too."

"It's going to hurt. He was my first friend here. I want to go home."

"It hurts now, doesn't it?" Stephen massaged his lover's flaming rump gently.

"Stephen." Declan closed his eyes.

"Six more months, Declan. Six more months and we'll be home." Stephen buried his nose in Declan's hair, inhaling his lover's sweetness.

Outside, the downtown traffic rattled and splattered through the melting cold.



THANK you, Hedeia, for letting me borrow your fine men. EM