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



"My house is still for sale, Barry," Ted said from his comfortable perch on the russet couch. He was thumbing through the real estate section of the little weekly newspaper from the southern Vermont town he loved. It had been Barry's idea to have a subscription sent to their city apartment; he'd thought it would make Ted happy to be able to keep up on the doings of his favorite small town. All it seemed to do, however, was to fuel Ted's frustration.

"Don't start, Ted. Please." Any pleasure Barry had taken in the memory of their last cozy bed and breakfast weekend in the village was long gone. Barry was very, very tired of hearing about that house.


"It's a great buy, Barry, and it's the life I've always wanted. We could have a yarn shop on the first floor. I could spin and dye my own wool for my weaving, like that guy we met at the craft fair last fall! There's enough property; I could even raise my own sheep! It's an extremely liberal county; we wouldn't have any social problems. Just think about it, Barry!" Ted's impassioned plea made Barry grit his teeth.

"Please, Ted, enough already. Why are you so fixated on that house? We can go up for the weekend if you like; go ahead and make us reservations. But that's the best I can do. No more about 'your' house, Ted, please, it's really getting on my nerves. It's not going to happen."

"But why not?" Ted persisted. "I don't have a job here anymore and I'm not going to find one, either. You can work from anywhere there's a phone, a fax and a fast internet connection!"

"You know my reasons." Barry's daughter and ex-wife lived only a few blocks from their apartment; Barry was not leaving New York before Lydia was in college. "We've been over this too many times; it's not doable. Maybe in a couple of years, Ted, but not now."

"I never get anything I want," Ted said truculently. He stood up, tossing the paper on the coffee table, and began to pace. "Never! You love Lydia more than me, that's what it comes down to."

"Is that really true? Ted, you're way over the line," Barry said. "Just stop."

"You do! You don't care what I want, all you care is what you want. Your career. Your family–"

"I said, stop." Barry stood up, caught Ted's elbow and turned Ted to face him. "Stop it right now. We don't talk to each other like that, Ted, we just don't do it." The look of hurt in Barry's warm brown eyes broke the evil spell Ted's tongue was under.

"I didn't mean it?" Ted had known since the moment he started hurling abuse at Barry that he was wrong. "I didn't mean to be hateful, Barry, I'm sorry."


"I know." Barry softened his hold and embraced Ted, resting his cheek for a moment against Ted's soft, fair hair.

"I should be handling this better by now." Ted sounded thoroughly disgusted with himself. "I've had eighteen fucking months to get used to it."

"Ted, you know, you really don't have to handle this alone. I'm here," Barry said softly. "I know you're feeling very vulnerable right now–"

"I'm fine!" Ted sniffed hard. He'd never be able to talk about this without crying. Shit. "I'm stupid! I'm sorry!"

"I'm not judging you, Ted." Barry drew Ted toward the couch; eased them both down. "It's all right to feel what you feel. It's all right to cry." Barry knew how humiliating Ted found tears.

"I never fucking wanted to do systems work in the first place, I wanted to do something in the fiber arts, I wanted to weave, that's all I ever wanted, but no, that wasn't practical, they said! And now I'm thirty fucking six years old, I've got their fucking money, for all the fucking good it does me, and I don't have a fucking job anymore anyway and you won't let me do what I want to do either..."

Barry knew this was far from finished business for Ted. If his parents had been either crueler or kinder, it might have been simpler for Ted to put it behind him.

"Ted, I know this is hard for you..."

"You don't know, you can't know! You have a job, you have a fucking job! And I've figured this out, Barry, I've done a business plan, everything. I've got the start up capital, I can afford the house, I could make this thing work, but you won't even let me have a chance..."

Barry sighed. They'd been over this territory before. He couldn't, he wouldn't leave the city, not until Lydia was in college. Probably not until he'd finished paying for her tuition.

"Ted, there will be other opportunities, other chances. Meanwhile you can set up whatever looms you need here in the loft, you can buy whatever you want in terms of supplies, you can even look into a small business here, but we are not moving to Vermont. I can't do it, Ted, not for another few years. This isn't negotiable, babe."

"I know, I know, you're a good father," Ted said hoarsely. "If my parents had cared about me the way you care about Lydia, I wouldn't be in this position now. I'm sorry, Barry, I know I'm not being fair, it's just...it's a perfect house, a perfect location, I could make it work. I know I could!"

"Ted." Barry stroked his lover's sandy hair gently back from his forehead. "Enough. There's a limit to how many times we're going to do this. It doesn't make you any happier and it doesn't change anything. I know being downsized sucks. I know you're bitter about a lot of things your parents did, but there's nothing you can do about it now. I can't walk away from my responsibilities to Lydia."

"Yeah." Ted sighed. He scrubbed his hand over his face. "I know, Barry, I understand what you're saying, you have responsibilities, I knew that from the start, it's just...I'm going to be thirty seven in less than a month. And this is not what I planned on, at all."

"Is this really so bad?" Barry asked gently. He gestured with his arm: This apartment, this city, this life?

"Yes." Ted shrugged free. Turned so that his face was pressed against the back of the couch and resolutely closed his eyes, pretending sleep until sleep actually came. He dozed, restlessly, until the low afternoon sunlight warm on his face woke him from his uneasy nap. He felt like shit.

Ted padded into the kitchen. Barry was at the sink, making dinner. He handed Ted a glass of water.

"Ugh." Ted took a few thirsty swallows. "Thanks, Barry. Why do you let me do that?"

"Why do I let you do what, nap on the couch?" Barry shook his head. "Ted, you were in a foul mood, you did what you wanted to do. What was I supposed to do, send you to bed?"

"Yes," said Ted sulkily. "You're mean, Barry. You don't care."

Barry ignored Ted's accusation. Responding to Ted in this mood was foolhardy. He concentrated on stirring his risotto. If the creamy rice didn't improve Ted's frame of mind, it would certainly improve his.

Ted wandered between kitchen and living room, edgy and unable to shake his bad mood. He could hear Barry humming to himself as he alternated adding hot liquid with stirring his rice. It was supremely irritating.

"Make us a salad, please," Barry said from his post by the stove. "And pick out a nice bottle. I've got chicken cutlets keeping warm in the oven." To his relief, Ted smiled.

Ted liked Barry's cutlets and he liked being in charge of the wine. He liked the way Barry parceled out assignments. Even tossing the salad was a welcome relief from their earlier quarrel. Even Barry's annoying humming was welcome proof that Barry, at least, wasn't holding a grudge.

"That was delicious," Ted said. He smiled, his earlier morose mood vanquished by the combination of good food and good wine. "You could open a restaurant, Barry."

"Flatterer." Barry shook his head. "I think you just want to get out of washing up. Tell you what, for a decent tip I'll do the dishes, too, today." Standing up, he leaned over Ted. "Kiss."

Ted obliged with a playful smooch.

"A real kiss." Barry cupped Ted's jaw in his hand and running his thumb gently over Ted's lips, dipped his head again. Ted opened his mouth as Barry kissed him strongly, his tongue probing deep into its recesses.

"Will that hold you for now?" Ted asked, tilting his head sideways. "You seem awfully...hungry...for a man who just had a rather full meal."

"Brat," Barry said fondly. "Go on, get the pieces out."

Barry cleaned up the kitchen while Ted set up the chessboard. They were both good players, equally matched, and their evening game was a well-established ritual.

They made love, long and slow and deep, that night in bed.

"Oh god, good," Barry sighed, as Ted pressed into him. "Oh yeah. All right." Barry dropped his shoulders so that his forehead was pressed to the mattress Enjoyed the sensation of being filled, of being loved. He reached for his own cock and stroked himself until he was fully erect again, then worked himself hard until he came.

Ted's grip on his hips tightened at his lover's spasms and he thrust two, three more times, then came with gusto.

"God, Barry, god, I love you," Ted gasped out. He rolled onto his back. Barry sprawled alongside him, panting. They turned towards each other and brushed lips, before clasping hands and flopping back side by side, one's legs splayed over the other's.

"God." Barry sighed in utter contentment.

The two men drifted pleasantly for a few minutes,

"I called White Coach House while you were asleep. I got us a room for the weekend of your fair," Barry said. "I'll take that Friday off."

"That was nice of you." Ted burrowed into Barry's arms, wanting to be held. "I'm sorry. It just gets to me sometimes, you know?"

"I know. You'll find something soon, Ted," Barry said softly. "It's a tough market. You're hardly the only IT guy looking for work. Almost forty percent of those jobs were outsourced over the last five years."

"Yeah," Ted said unhappily. "Barry? I really think I'd like selling my own wool in Vermont."

"You don't ever give up, you really don't." Barry ran his hand down Ted's back, shoulder to hip, torn between exasperation and resignation. "Let it go, Teddy. Go to sleep."

The weekend of the regional crafts and fiber arts fair was bright and chill. The leaves were turning, the air was crisp. It was a perfect New England fall weekend, and Ted was sullen and edgy from the moment they arose. Barry sighed; Ted was moody, that was nothing new. Quite naturally, eighteen months' unemployment had only made him even moodier. Barry had wondered on occasion if he ought to press Ted to talk with someone, a doctor, a psychologist, someone professional who might have some suggestions about ameliorating Ted's mood swings. But he hesitated to impose his own desires; if Ted was not distressed, were his own reactions merely his own issue? Barry sighed again; he sincerely loved Ted, but there were times when Ted tried his patience.

Ted got more and more unhappy as they strolled the fairground. Barry had hoped that the displays would lighten his partner's mood, but they seemed to be having the opposite effect. Every booth, every exhibit, served only to remind Ted of what other people were doing that he wasn't, of what other people had that he didn't.

"What about something to drink, Teddy?" Barry asked, trying to cheer his partner up. "Cocoa, hot cider–"

"Don't they have anything hard?" Ted scowled at Barry. "Nothing short of industrial strength alcohol is going to do a fucking thing for me, Barry. I hate this! I hate this so much! I could do so much better work than half the fucking stuff I'm looking at that's for sale, I could fucking clean up–"

"People are looking at us," Barry said softly. "Ted, for godssake, cut it out. It isn't my fault that you're having a lousy time. So sue me, I thought you'd enjoy being up here! Honest to God, Ted, you could try to appreciate what you have instead of–"

"I hate you, Barry, sometimes I swear I fucking hate you," Ted hissed, his blue eyes icy and disdainful. "You look at this shit then, if you like it so much. I'm out of here!" Ted strode purposefully away, toward the edge of the field.

Barry took a deep breath. Better, perhaps, to let Ted have his tantrum, finish his sulk and wait until he returned to try and discuss any of the underlying feelings rationally. Accordingly, Barry bought himself a glass of hot cider. Sat quietly, sipping the sweet liquid, thinking of how he might be able to help Ted understand that it had gone on too long, that Ted's misery was disproportionate. Other men were unemployed and it didn't seem to faze them completely. Ted needed something he wasn't getting. Whether it was therapy, a new wardrobe, to take a few classes or to buy himself some really nice gadget, Barry didn't know, but he was willing to spring for any or all of them, if Ted didn't feel he could splurge himself.

"I'm sorry, Barry, I was a real asshole," were the first words out of Ted's mouth when Barry returned to their room. Ted was sprawled on his back on the bed, looking up at the ceiling. He sounded tense and defensive.

"You're entitled once in awhile," Barry said, willing to make allowances for Ted's bad temper. It wasn't as if Ted blew up often, and Barry knew Ted beat himself up afterward; really, what could Barry say? "Did you eat? I didn't think so. Come on, let's get something nice. What do you want?"

"I'm not hungry," Ted said. "Come with me to see my house."

"Ted." Barry shook his head. "Ted, you're only torturing yourself."

"Fuck you, Barry! I'm asking you for one fucking thing, to take a fucking look at a fucking house, and you won't even do that. Fuck you. If you won't even look at the fucking place, then fine, I'll fucking buy it by myself. I have the fucking money, for all the fucking good it does me."

"Lower your voice and stop cursing," Barry said. "Pull yourself together, Ted, and we'll sit down and discuss this like reasonable men. I hear you're unhappy, Ted, but you are not going to make this decision, alone, tonight. This is not how we work things through," Barry said quietly.

"How do you want to do this, Barry? I will walk away from this relationship before I'll let you make this decision for me. I hate the city, Barry, you don't know how much I hate it! I hated it when I was working, but I accepted that I couldn't pull down the money I did any place else but working downtown. But it's been eighteen months, no one is going to hire me, I've done all the networking shit, I've done every goddamn thing a man could do and it's just not happening. I can write a business plan; I can get a loan. I want to do this."

"I didn't say never, Ted. All I'm asking you for is two years. Two years, Ted, can't you give me that?" Barry asked.

"No! I'll be thirty seven this week," Ted said. "In two years I'll be almost forty. No. I can't live without meaningful work, Barry. I'm not going to be some sort of house husband for two years while you pay off your debt to your daughter. A man needs a life for himself, Barry."

"Ted, I hear you're upset. And I understand that you can't wait two years."

"We can afford this house, Barry! If you won't do it with me, then I can afford this house. I'm sorry, Barry, I'm not going to let this pass me by."

"All right, Ted, I hear you. But you are not giving me an ultimatum like this. I just won't accept it, Ted. I'm your partner, I'm your lover, you do not threaten to walk out on me and expect that that's going to make me negotiate with you. Ted, do you really think I don't care how you feel at all? Think, Ted."

"No, but..." Ted did not know how to back down.

Barry made it easy for him by stepping aside.

"Go on now. Take your shower and change and we'll go get some dinner. We're not going to solve this tonight, Ted, but we are going to work this out, I promise."

The phone rang while Ted was showering.

"Is there a message?" Barry asked.

"Yes, thank you. Would you please tell him that his offer's been accepted and the house is his. We'll have the contract drawn up in the morning and since his application for financing has been preapproved, there's no reason we can't close by the end of the month."

"Thank you," Barry said numbly. "I'll let him know."

Ted emerged from the bathroom, towel clad, his hair wet. He hesitated at the sight of Barry, seated on the bed with his head in his hands. Barry looked up.

"Ted, I got a call from the real estate agency. You got the house." Barry laughed, a short, ugly sound. "Congratulations."

"I was going to tell you, Barry," Ted whispered. Ted felt utterly alone and he knew it was entirely his own fault.

Everything Barry thought he knew about his partner was shaken to the core, and it was so far and away beyond anything they had ever dealt with as a couple, that he didn't even know if they could deal with it as a couple. Eventually he stretched out on the bed and went to sleep. And Ted, who had forgotten what it felt like not to share dinner, not to be wished good night, not to be called to come to bed, sat watching him sleep for a very long time. Finally he curled up at the far edge of the much too large mattress and lay tearless and hopeless, until sleep finally came.

Ted awoke to the sound of running water. He waited to hear it cut off, and then pretended to still be asleep as Barry opened the dresser drawers in search of fresh clothes and got dressed, with seemingly no interest in talking to Ted at all.

"I've screwed everything up," Ted said soberly. "I'm sorry, Barry, I'm sorry! I was an asshole, I know it was wrong, I just wanted it–"

"I know you did," Barry said, not trying to keep the hurt from his voice. "But Ted? Bidding on a house, without my knowledge, much less my agreement? Partners don't make decisions like this unilaterally. You have to realize that, Ted."

"I know! I'm sorry!" Ted lowered his head to the pillow and began to cry. "I don't want us to be over, Barry! I love you. I don't know what to do!"

"Do you want to go through with this purchase?" Barry asked softly. "You could rescind your offer, Ted. There's still time to turn back."

"Would you let me come home if I did?" Ted asked softly.

"Ted, it's *our* home," Barry said. "There's no 'letting' involved. I don't want you to leave. I love you. But if you go ahead and buy this house on your own, it's over."

"Over?" Ted felt his stomach clench. "All of it? All of...us?"

Barry looked at Ted, a long, level look.

"Actions have consequences, Ted," Barry said. "Some are bigger than others. I'm going down to breakfast. You let me know what you decide."

It was late afternoon when Ted found Barry, seated at the little ice cream store near the center of town.

"Hey," Ted said diffidently.

"Hey." Barry looked at Ted.

"It was a very good price," Ted said softly. "Barry, please, try to understand."

"I understand," Barry said quietly. "I hope you're happy, Teddy."

They drove back to the city in utter silence. The next few weeks were brutal; they lived in the same apartment like strangers. Barry left early for work, stayed late and went in on weekends. As soon as the paperwork on the house was complete, Ted took his things and left.

The leaves were gone from the trees and the small Vermont town was quiet. It was too late for fall visitors and too early for winter skiers. Ted settled into the old house, encountering the normal number of minor issues. Basically, though, the place was in good repair.

The gaps in cell phone coverage that had made visiting a pleasant break from real life were less charming now that Ted was a resident. And it was one thing to do without the convenience of modern communications for a weekend, and another thing to try and jumpstart a business without adequate internet access.

Ted cursed his non-working cell phone, went for the landline and called the local cable company. They were damn well going to get a guy out here to get him hooked up to civilization so that he could work.

"And he said, 'What do you mean, it can't be done before the weekend?'" Danny rolled his eyes and his lunch companion laughed.

"What does the guy need it for, anyway?" Nathan asked curiously.

"Who knows? Work? He's one of your kind, you ask him," Danny said. He flapped his wrist limply at Nathan, who glared at him.

"If you weren't too stupid to understand why, I'd deck you," Nathan said to his cousin.

"You're fucking sensitive today." Danny was already regretting his choice of people to piss off, when Nathan cuffed his shoulder and forgave him.

"Can you get the guy's line in for him this week?" Nathan asked. "Or should I go by and offer to run the wire for him?" The truth was he'd run seen Ted several times during the course of the last month and liked the way he looked. He wouldn't mind a chance to get to know Ted better.

"If you'd do the installation, I could bring the line in from the road tomorrow, no problem," Danny said. He licked his lips, unsure whether Nathan had forgiven him enough for him to dare a tease. "You looking for a new friend?"

"Aren't we all?" Nathan asked easily. He had years of practice deflecting his idiot cousin's idea of joking; it wasn't worth getting upset over. Humming to himself, he got into his truck and headed over to Ted's place.

Nathan was a compact, slender man with a runner's lean good looks and Ted found him attractive.

"You're all set," Nathan told him once he'd run the cable wire through the house. "By noon tomorrow they'll have you hooked up and then you won't even miss civilization."

Ted laughed and offered Nathan a cup of coffee; Nathan accepted.

Nathan was smart and Ted liked him. He was a native, he'd grown up on the town's outskirts, gone away to school, and come back to make a living out of a series of small businesses and little ventures, all the while teaching part time at the local junior college. They visited amiably for nearly an hour; Ted was sorry to see him go.

Nathan thought he'd keep an eye on this newcomer. Ted seemed like an interesting man.

When winter came, it arrived with a vengeance. It was far more isolating and all encompassing than Ted had expected. He tried to keep himself busy, there were preparations to be made for the spring and his first retail season, but he wasn't used to living alone and he was lonely.

Nathan's knock on the door came as a welcome interruption. He'd gotten into the habit of checking on Ted occasionally; Ted looked forward to his visits.

"How's it going?" Nathan asked.


"It's too fucking cold up here," Ted said peevishly.

"It's winter and this is Vermont," Nathan said reasonably. "Stop cussing, Ted. Come on back to my house with me, I've got the wood stove on and soup on the stove. I'll warm you up."

Nathan's house was warm and the glow of the wood stove was bright and inviting. It wasn't long before the two of them were sprawled on the deep rug before the fire, fooling around. Kisses led to more and Ted found himself stripped and pinned beneath Nathan. He wasn't cold anymore.

Nathan ran his hand over Ted's body. He wasn't young, but he was in beautiful shape, just the right amount of flesh over ribs and hips, and a nice, rounded ass that quivered at his caresses. Nathan stroked Ted's penis and then strayed lower, cupping his balls gently, teasing his finger over the soft skin behind, ghosting over the small opening between his buttocks.

"I don't really like bottoming very much," Ted said uncertainly.

Nathan took Ted in his mouth, at the same time tracing his tight sphincter with a spit moistened finger.

Ted moaned, his cock hardening at the dual sensations.

"Turn around, Teddy," Nathan said. "I promise I'll make it good for you."

For just a second, Ted thrilled at the hoarse note of command in Nathan's voice. He positioned himself on his hands and knees, even though this act with a stranger scared the shit out of him. He heard the sound of a package tearing and the snap of the cap being flipped off a tube of lube.

Ted tightened reflexively as Nathan pressed into him. Nathan paused, and Ted braced his lowered head against his hands, panting though the initial stretch, willing his body to cooperate.

It was just sex, anyway, Ted thought dismally, remembering how little he liked the sensation of being invaded. What did it matter? He deserved to be fucked. Hell, he'd fucked up everything anyway. He deserved whatever happened.

"God, Ted, god, you're so good," Nathan gasped as he came. He withdrew carefully, tied off the condom and pushed it aside. Rolling onto his back, he cradled Ted's head against his chest. Ted was so quiet that Nathan was concerned.

"Chilly?" Nathan asked.

Ted shivered; Nathan snagged a blanket from the couch and drew it over them.

"Are you all right?"

Ted swallowed hard, afraid he wouldn't be able to talk without crying and determined not to cry.

"Nathan? Let go? Please?"

"Sure." Nathan was bewildered by Ted's reaction. It had just been sex. "Are you all right, Teddy?"

"Don't call me Teddy!" Ted stiffened as Nathan eased him into a hug. "Don't! I..." Ted felt tired, nauseous and shaken.

"All right," Nathan said, his disappointment clear. "You do what you want." He got up and pulled his jeans back on, leaning against the wall and looking at Ted.

Silently, Ted sat himself up. Using the last dregs of self-possession, he got dressed and let himself out the door. He drove carefully, nervous on the unlit, icy roads.

His house was cold. He was grateful the electronic ignition of the propane heater caught on the first try. Without thinking, he picked up the phone and dialed the one person he thought might understand.


"Ted?" Late as it was, tired as he was, Barry felt his pulse quicken at the sound of the familiar voice. "Ted, is that you?" Barry thought Ted sounded awful. "Teddy, what's the matter?" Why should he care? But oh, Barry did.

"I'm sorry, Barry, I'm so sorry. And I shouldn't have called you." Ted said, trying to hold his voice steady. He hung up.

Barry hit redial.

"Teddy, talk to me now," Barry said firmly. "I want to know what's wrong."

"It's so cold. I'm so cold, Barry," Ted said. "I'm cold all the time now, Barry."

"Ted." Barry heard something in Ted's voice that made him worry for his former lover.

"Ted, go to bed. Set the alarm for seven, get dressed, get in the car and come home. You'll be here by lunchtime. Hang on, Ted, it's going to be all right."

"I'm sorry, Barry," Ted said hoarsely. At that moment he wanted Barry more than he'd maybe imagined possible. All those months of nursing his grievances, of reminding himself of all Barry's small faults, his fussing, his refusal to leave the city, and all of a sudden, at the sound of the familiar, reassuring kindness and calm Ted had loved from the beginning, all Ted could feel was regret, at having thrown it all away.

"Come home, Ted." Barry knew Ted was crying. What Ted had done was wrong, and how he had done it had hurt Barry badly. And for all the nights Barry had mourned their relationship, for all the nights he'd waited for his heart to heal, for all his practical determination to move on, Barry didn't hesitate. "I still love you, Ted. Come home."

"I'm so tired," Ted said, too caught up in his misery for Barry's words to mean anything at all. "I'm so cold."

"Teddy, go to sleep now," Barry said firmly. "I'll see you tomorrow. It's going to be all right, babe."

Not knowing what else to do, Ted did as Barry ordered. Exhausted, he slept despite himself. Rose pre-dawn, got in the car, and drove on autopilot, not thinking, not hoping. Clinging to Barry's words, still playing like a mantra in his head: "Come home."

By some miracle, Ted found a parking space on the same block as the apartment. Wearily, he rang the bell and made his way upstairs.

Ted still looked good to Barry, despite the shadows under his eyes and the nervous way he moved about the apartment they'd shared for six years. Barry brought Ted coffee and a plate of biscotti, placing them by habit on the coffee table beside the couch, next to the seat Ted had always favored. Ted perched gingerly on the russet leather, uncomfortable and ill at ease.

"How's Lydia? And Liliane?" Ted asked, struggling to sound normal.

"They're well, thank you," Barry said. "Have you had much snow so far this year?"

"Stop," Ted said. "Please, Barry, don't. I can't do this, Barry, I can't act like I'm all right." He slid from the couch to the floor and drew his legs up; dropped his head in his hands. "I'm not all right, Barry. I'm not all right. I went home with a guy I barely know and he fucked me and I'm not all right at all, Barry."

"Teddy." Knowing how badly Ted did casual sex, knowing Ted's shyness and how particular he was about being touched, Barry knew that this had not been about pleasure for Ted. Barry seated himself on the couch and drew Ted's head into his lap. He stroked Ted's honey hair gently and felt very, very sad. It was impossible to comfort this man who had once been his lover without feeling something for him, without feeling a sick sense of lost possibilities.

"Come on, let's get you into bed," Barry said. "You should sleep."

"I should shower," Ted said tiredly. Nothing sounded less appealing.

"You should sleep." Barry wasn't fussy. "Come on, Ted." With easy, unthinking familiarity, he drew Ted to his feet. Taking his elbow, he led him to bed.

Ted stretched out obediently. He closed his eyes and slept the sleep of the dead. By the time he awoke, late in the evening, he was sniffling and hacking with a raging cold. He huddled under the covers, too sick to protest Barry's inevitable cups of tea and exhortations to drink.

Ted couldn't remember the last time he had been so sick. Barry called in to work and then hovered over him for the next two days, coaxing him to eat, bringing him Tylenol and decongestant and boiled chicken soup. Ted swallowed everything obediently, overwhelmed by the sensation of once again being cared about. Being cared for. Being Barry's.

By the third day the worst of Ted's cold had passed, but he was still sick enough to be happy to linger in bed. Barry brought over the chessboard and sprawling next to Ted, set it up. They had often played like this, lying on their stomachs side by side.

Ted's mind was clearly not on the game; he conceded early, tipping his king over.

"Would you take me back?" Ted asked softly. "Never mind, Barry, don't answer. I fucked up. I know it. I'm sorry. Forget I asked." He rolled away. Shit.

"Teddy." Barry took a moment to set board and pieces on the floor before rolling toward Ted. He ran his hand gently over Ted's back, shoulder to buttocks. He tried to turn Ted to face him but Ted wouldn't budge. Undeterred, Barry spooned around Ted, only to feel Ted shiver.

"I'll do it if you want," Ted offered miserably. "Shit, I did it for a stranger."

"Jesus, I only wanted to cuddle." Barry flopped onto his back. His feelings were hurt. "I know you don't like bottoming; you never have."

"I'm sorry," Ted said. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" He rolled over onto Barry, burying his face in Barry's chest.

"It's all right," Barry said. He rubbed Ted's heaving shoulders. "It's going to be all right. I'm going to make it all right, Teddy. I promise." He had missed Ted badly, missed his quick wit and his body in the night, missed every large and every small pleasure his former lover's presence had brought him.

"I wish I hadn't done it," Ted said numbly. "I thought we were over. We were over, Barry, we were. I don't know why I called you."

"Shh, Ted. I know why you called me." Barry smoothed Ted's hair back from his wet face. "I love you, too, you know."

"Still?" Ted held his breath.

"Still. Ted, I love you. I want you. We were together six years, and they were good years, for the most part. The last year and a half was tough for you, I understand that, but even then, we've had some good times, haven't we?"

"Yeah." Ted sounded calmer and less frantic. He'd never trusted anyone the way he did Barry; only with Barry had he ever felt safe enough to let himself cry and be comforted.

"I do think if we're going to give it another shot, that we need to do some fine tuning," Barry said. "I need to have more control in this relationship than you've given me in the past."

"What do you mean?" Ted swallowed hard; he wasn't sure he was going to like the answer to his question.

"What you did, buying a house, without giving me any notice, without any regard to what I'd told you time and again was my situation, hoping to force me into doing what you wanted?" Barry shook his head. "It's not going to happen again. I am not going to have you making precipitous decisions and handing out ultimatums like that. Ted, I need to know that you understand that, in the final analysis, I'm in charge of this relationship. And that means I make the final decisions and you respect them."

That wasn't a big deal, Ted thought, relieved. Barry had always taken charge of their relationship; that was just the way they were together.

"We already do that," Ted said.

"Ted? You bought a house in Vermont without so much as telling me you were bidding on it. I don't really think that counts as respecting my decisions."

Ted winced; Barry shook his head ruefully.

"Ted, what did you expect me to do, change my mind and move up there with you? I told you from the beginning, I am not leaving the city before Lydia's in college. I won't do that to her. I've worked too hard to maintain a relationship with her over all these years to throw it away because you're impatient."

"That's not fair," Ted said, tears springing to his eyes. "I'm patient, Barry, just I need to know that I matter the most to you. Not your daughter, not your ex wife."

"Ted," Barry said, tipping Ted's head down on his shoulder. "Ted, I love you, this isn't about who's loved and who's not. This is about fair. This is about the fact that I'm a parent, you knew that long before we moved in together, and you had some idea what that meant to me. Ted, you are more important than anyone else to me. But I don't really think you care very much about my feelings."

"I do too!" Ted protested. "That's not why I did this. I just wanted...I just wanted what I wanted, you know?"

"And was that good for us?" Barry probed gently.

"No! And it was fucking awful for me," Ted said glumly. "Barry, I've never been so fucking miserable in my fucking life."

"Which is why I don't want to put us through this again. From now on, if you agree, I'm in charge of us, Ted. Major decisions are mine. You don't flout them, you live with them."

"How is that different than what we did before?" Ted asked.

"If we're going to do this again, we're going to go into it with a mutual understanding about who is in charge. I make the final decisions, Ted. I call the shots. I'll do my best to consider your opinions and feelings; you know me well enough to know this isn't a power trip. But if you challenge me, there are going to be consequences."

"What sort of...consequences?" Ted asked slowly.

"I'll punish you. Corporal punishment, Ted."

"Corporal punishment? You mean spanking?" Ted flushed, even as his body thrilled to the sound of the word. "Barry, you wouldn't spank me?"

"Ted, I most certainly would. You're not thriving, we're not thriving. I've read up on this online, on this whole domestic discipline lifestyle thing and I think it might work for us."

"I knew you were into that stuff," Ted said. "I knew I wasn't the only person downloading kinky porn from online."

"That's not what this is about," Barry said. "Looking at kinky pictures and agreeing that I'm in charge and can spank you when you disobey me are two different things."

"Yeah," Ted said soberly. It suddenly hit him, just how different the fantasy stories might be from the actual experience. "Barry, I just don't know."


Barry knew it was too important a question to push for a quick and easy reply. The two men lay quietly, each thinking his own thoughts, until sleep took both of them.

"So about this discipline thing, I've been thinking," Ted said over breakfast the next morning.

"That's good, Ted." Barry didn't look up from his newspaper. Some conversations were easier if you didn't stare them in the face.

"You wouldn't really hurt me?" Ted asked.

"It would hurt. Spankings hurt, Ted." Barry was matter of fact.

"Well..." Ted shrugged. "I know that. I mean, that's the point of this exercise, right? A little negative reinforcement and bingo, a new, improved me?"

"No, Ted. I didn't explain it very well, if that's what you think." Barry put his paper aside.

"I don't know what to think," Ted said. "I want you to do it, Barry. I think."

"You're not ready," Barry said quietly.

"I hate this," Ted said miserably. "I hate you."

Barry heard the distress in Ted's voice and was silent.

"I didn't mean that," Ted said, even more miserably. "I hate this idea; I don't hate you."

"If it's not for you, Ted, it's not for you," Barry said gently. "That's okay, Teddy. It's fine."

"But we're not going to live together unless I do this?" Ted asked.

"I'm not giving you an ultimatum," Barry said softly. "I just want, I need, more control in this relationship than you're willing to give me."

"I'm not saying no, I just need time to think about this. What if I say yes, and then I change my mind?" Ted asked warily.

"Ted, that's not a question I can answer." Barry took Ted's hand in his, toying gently with his fingers. "I would hope we could work it through, work it out, so that we could both get what we needed out of our relationship. There are risks in any relationship. All I can promise is that if you say yes, I will do my best to be sure that you don't regret it."

"I want to try it," Ted said. He swallowed hard; laced his fingers through Barry's. "I trust you, Barry. Yes." He took a deep breath, surprised at his own sense of relief. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had.

They fell easily into their old patterns. Ted had spent his months in Vermont developing contacts with a number of small farmers and craftsmen who were willing to supply his shop with handmade wool and wool products. Now he sat for hours over his computer, crunching numbers, trying to work out whether or not he could make a go of his enterprise. Barry had agreed that they could try an experiment: Ted could spend the summer in Vermont, running his new shop, and Barry would commute up on weekends. There had always been more flexibility, more possibilities, than Ted in his desperation had been able to see.

However, today's session brought only frustration. Feeling stymied at every turn, Ted slammed around the apartment, annoyed at the world. Barry bore the brunt of his temper.

"Take a break, Ted," Barry suggested mildly. "You don't have to nail down every detail today."

"I do! I'm not there, I can't deal with all these maybe's and possibly's I'm hearing! Why the fuck can't you see how much easier it would be for me to do this if I wasn't doing it long distance!"

"Hush, Teddy. You're not the only person around here who works with frustrating people. I don't take it out on you when I've had a rough day; don't you take it out on me when you do, either."

"Fine, Barry, fine. You're fucking perfect, okay?" Ted glared at Barry. "Don't you fucking lecture me!"

Barry flinched at Ted's hateful words, then set his jaw firmly. This was as good a time to end this as any.

"Ted, you're way over the line. I'm going to punish you."

Shocked into silence, Ted walked out of the living room into the bedroom, slamming and locking the door.

That had been half an hour ago. Ted sighed. He had known since he calmed down enough to stop hurling abuse at Barry that corporal punishment was the inevitable consequence for what had happened. Still, knowing that and actually accepting a spanking for the first time, were two different things.

With the same firm resolve he'd always brought to bear on difficult tasks, Ted undressed. Unlocked the door and opened it. Sat down on the edge of the bed and waited, trusting Barry to know what to do.

"Good boy," Barry said gently. He seated himself alongside Ted. "Come on now, over here."

Ted tensed as Barry turned him over his knees. He felt his genitals brush Barry's soft, thin jeans. Felt Barry take his hip in his hand, steadying him.

"This is for the hateful things you said. We don't talk to each other like that, Teddy, we just don't do it." Barry paused a moment to center himself, then cracked his palm sharply across Ted's tense white flesh.

Ted felt a moment's disbelief, before the rain of spanks removed all thoughts and questions and all he felt was the sting of Barry's hand and the rush of blood to his head and the tightness of his own throat and the amazing, unexpected stinging of tears in his eyes. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt to be this open, to be here and to be spanked.

Ted breathed harder and faster, but he didn't cry out. Barry could feel Ted cringing reflexively at each spank, but Ted didn't attempt to pull away. He simply endured.

Ted was so quiet that Barry was concerned. He had expected something else from his usually voluble lover. Barry finished Ted's punishment sooner than he had intended to, uneasy with Ted's silence.

Wordlessly, Ted slid to his knees. Rested his cheek for a moment or two against Barry's thigh before letting Barry ease him to his feet. Ted looked longingly toward their bed.

"Please," Ted whispered.

"You can lie down if you'd like," Barry offered gently. He turned the bed down. "I think you'll be more comfortable under the covers."

"I'm all right," Ted said tightly. He lay on his stomach, hugging his pillow to his face. "I'm all right. You don't have to stay here."

"Talk to me, Teddy?" Barry sat alongside Ted, rubbing his back. Ted's muscles were rigid. "Are you really all right with this?" Ted's stoicism felt off to Barry.

"I'm all--" Ted started to repeat, but his voice broke. "Oh Barry, you didn't warn me how blown away I'd feel!"

"It's okay to feel that way, Ted," Barry said gently. "You feel what you feel, Teddy."

"I'm so tired," Ted said plaintively. "I don't want to talk."

"Just rest then, Teddy," Barry said comfortably. "We'll talk when you feel ready."

"I won't ever feel ready." Ted knew he'd never be able to talk about this spanking without crying and he was determined not to cry. He stiffened as Barry eased himself down alongside him on the bed.

"Do you have time for this?" Ted asked self-consciously. "Barry, I can handle this."

"Teddy, you don't have to handle this alone. I'm here to help," Barry said softly. "I do know you're feeling very vulnerable right now–"

"I am not! I'm fine! It's fine, okay, we did it, it's over, it's–" Ted began to cry.

Barry drew him into a tight hug and held him, rubbing his back, not trying to quiet him, but wanting Ted to know that he was held and that he was loved.

"I..." Ted sniffed hard, not wanting Barry to see his tears. His butt was sore, he felt confused and he couldn't bear it if Barry were to look down on him for crying. "Barry, I..."

"I'm not judging you," Barry said gently, sensing something of the conflict Ted was feeling. "That's not how this works." He rolled Ted into his arms. "It's all right to feel what you feel. I've got you now." Barry sounded very calm and very sure.

Ted felt odd: Light headed, tired and curiously calm. For the first time in his life, Ted felt himself open, really open, to the possibility that Barry might just know, better than he did, what to do. It was both a scary and a wonderful feeling to trust so completely. He sniffled ostentatiously; Barry tucked him closer and kissed him gently and thoroughly.

"Could you drink something?" Barry asked gently. "Maybe eat something light, with a little sugar?"

"Should I?" Ted asked.

"I think so," Barry said. "I'll make us a pot of tea. And I picked up a chocolate babka at the bakery this morning. You like that."

"Yeah," Ted said. "Barry? You're not angry?"

"I'm not angry," Barry agreed. "I'm proud of you. I know that wasn't very easy and you handled it well. We're going to be fine, Teddy, I can feel it. This is a good step forward for us." He ruffled Ted's hair, then smoothed it back again, waiting until Ted nodded his acceptance before getting up to wander over to the stove to put up tea and retrieve the bakery box from below the counter.

Ted trailed Barry to the kitchen, seeming to need the physical closeness.

"Sit down," Barry said kindly. "I'll bring you your tea."

Ted sat gingerly on the couch, not sure whether or not to complain about the new sensation.

"Does your hand hurt?" Ted asked curiously.

"Not really," Barry said, half-laughing. "Not as much as your butt, I'm sure."

"I just wondered," Ted said. He giggled. "I've always wondered about that actually. When I've looked at pictures." His mood shifted abruptly. "Barry, you wouldn't ever use stuff on me, your belt, a paddle? I don't want you to do that ever!"

"Shh..." Barry settled himself alongside Ted. "Shh..." He knew Ted, knew how Ted's imagination tended to run ahead of his reason. They were too new to this for him to offer any guarantees. "Teddy, I love you. I'm never going to do anything that's not right for you, not right for us. Come on now, have your tea while it's hot. That's my boy."

"I guess I just have to trust you," Ted said, so softly it was almost inaudible. All of a sudden his cheeks were wet.

"Teddy." Barry set the mug of tea aside, wrapped his arms around Ted and held him close. "It's all right. I've got you, it's all right."

The moment passed quickly.

"Did you say there was babka, too?" Ted asked, squirming free and claiming his mug.

Unfazed by Ted's volatile emotions, Barry handed Ted a plate of cake. Ted nibbled at the crumbs that had fallen from the pastry, his appetite growing with the eating.

"Do you think I'm an idiot?" Ted asked.

"Hush. I think you're far too harsh with your name calling, whether it's me or yourself. Ted, why would you think I'd think you were an idiot?"

"I let you spank me," Ted said grouchily.

"I spanked you. Wouldn't that make me an even bigger idiot?" Barry shook his head at Ted's indignant snort and cuddled him closer. "We're not idiots, Ted. Finish your cake."

"It just seems weird," Ted said softly. "Like I'm being, I don't know, punished? For what I did. For buying the house. For leaving you, even though I didn't mean it to be like that. It seems like from now on, forever, I've got to listen to you, I've got to bend over and take it, you can spank me whenever you think it's warranted...it's just a lot, Barry."

"Shh." Barry kissed Ted gently. "Teddy, give it a chance. It's not really all that different than the way we've always done things."

"If I hadn't fucked up with the house, you wouldn't be making me do this," Ted said truculently.

"Shh." Barry knew Ted was spoiling for a fight; Barry was determined not to give him one. He knew Ted. It was very hard for Ted to accept that their relationship had shifted. That Ted had accepted the spanking, that Ted had let himself be vulnerable that way, had let himself cry in Barry's arms, was unnerving Ted entirely. If he could get Barry angry, if he could provoke a reaction, then he would feel as if he had some control back. They weren't going there, Barry thought.

"I don't want to 'shh,'" Ted said.

"I know," Barry said. He stroked Ted's hair gently back from his scowling face. "I know, Ted. Shh anyway. For me." He coaxed Ted's head down to his own chest and felt Ted sigh and sag against him. "This isn't about payback, Teddy. You know that."

"I don't want this," Ted said softly, even as he relaxed into Barry's embrace.

"Shh." Barry rubbed Ted's back, not reacting to Ted's reflexive verbal opposition. He focused instead on Ted's physical reactions, which told a different story. "Shh."

"I don't." Even as he groused his refusal, Ted closed his eyes and slid down so that his head was in Barry's lap, his legs thrown over the arm of the couch.

"I don't want you." Ted snuggled deeper into Barry; Barry shook his head and continued to pet him gently.

"Shh, Teddy." Barry was pretty sure he understood Ted's "don't" correctly, as the plea it was: I don't want to listen to you, but I need you to turn to. Don't let go; don't let me go.

"I've got you this time, Teddy," Barry promised, and Ted slipped into a soft and easy sleep.

Ted wasn't sure how he had gotten to bed. He had a vague memory of Barry coaxing him to stand, stripping him and easing him down on the soft sheets, drawing him into his arms, covering him. Now it was morning and he was sprawled comfortably across Barry, his head pillowed on Barry's dark furred chest, Barry's arms wrapping him snugly.

"Barry? Barry, you love me?" Sleepily Ted cuddled closer.

"I love you, Teddy," Barry confirmed.

"You don't think I'm an asshole?"

"No, Teddy, I think you're perfect." Barry kissed the top of Ted's head gently. "Teddy, it's not as hard as you're making it."

"Oh, it's hard all right," Ted said, drawing Barry's hand down to his cock.

"We can do something about that," Barry said, stroking Ted appreciatively.

"You want to–" Ted swallowed hard. "You want me to?" He started to turn over. Barry stopped him.

"Teddy, you don't like bottoming, you never have," Barry said softly. "We're fine the way we've always been." He opened his legs, raising them slightly, encouraging Ted between them.

Ted took Barry's legs on his shoulders, leaned into Barry and kissed him hard and thoroughly. Slicked himself and leaning into Barry, let his weight take him inside. Barry sighed, the deep, satisfied sound he always gave at the filling pressure and warmth.

"So good, so so so good," Barry moaned, and Ted took him carefully and deeply, their bodies moving together with easy familiarity.

"I thought that would be different," Ted said softly as they cuddled afterward. "That you would expect, that you would want–" He broke off, flushing.

"That I would expect to top you sexually, that I'd expect you to bottom for me in bed?" Barry asked. "Teddy, the sexual arena has never been where we've had any problems. We've always been good together that way. I say, why tamper with success?"

"Barry, I love you," Ted said sincerely. He began to laugh and once started, he couldn't stop. Tears were running down his cheeks and still he continued to laugh.

"Enough now," Barry said eventually. "Shh, Teddy, shh. You're all right, shh, I've got you." He was a little concerned about Ted's emotional free fall; while he didn't want Ted to suppress his feelings, he didn't think hysterics were going to help Ted understand his own confusion any better. "Breathe, Ted."

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Ted gasped out.

"Shh," Barry said, rubbing Ted's back in quieting circles. "Shh, I know. Shh..."

Ted subsided under the comfortingly familiar massage. The addition of corporal punishment was new, but Barry's low key kindness and calm in the face of Ted's moodiness was as old as their relationship. Ted had always relied on Barry's steadying him, on Barry's easing them both over the bumps.

"I love you," Ted said softly. "I think we're going to be all right, Barry, I really do."

"I think so too," Barry said. "I've got you."