Anchors Aweigh

The necklace shimmered in the window display, the afternoon sun playing along the length of its gold chain. That wasn’t why it caught Bradley’s eye, though. It was the shape of the opal pendant. An anchor. He stopped on the sidewalk.

Justine liked anchors. She had a small tattoo of one low on her right abdomen, just above the crease of her thigh meeting her hip. He’d only seen it once, in a Snapchat video she’d sent. It started on her smiling face, before she panned the camera slowly down over miles and miles of bare skin, all the way to her glittery blue toenails. It didn’t matter that the app deleted the video after one view. He had it burned into his brain.

“Bradley?”

He tore his gaze from the pendant—and, with lesser success, his mind from the video—as Brian looked a question at him from a few feet away.

“Do you think she’d like that necklace?” Bradley asked.

Brian stepped closer to see it. Neither of them needed to clarify who ‘she’ was. The missing third of their triad was never far from their minds.

As he waited for Brian’s answer, Bradley’s focus shifted from what was inside the window to the reflection on it. The way Brian towered over him by several inches while standing so close made his heart beat faster.

It also helped that, like Bradley, Brian was wearing his uniform. Firsties were allowed to wear civilian clothing on liberty even if they stayed on the Yard, but he always wore the same as Bradley. When Bradley had asked why, the first time they went out together on a Saturday afternoon, he’d said, “There’s already enough distance between us without me making more.”

The reflection of Brian shook its head. “I’m not sure,” he said. “She’s picky.”

“She likes anchors, though, right?”

Brian looked sharply down at him.

“Because she’s in the Navy,” Bradley said, fast. He had no idea if Justine had sent that video to Brian, too, or what he would think of Bradley knowing about the tattoo otherwise. Justine only ever sexted him alone, not the two of them together.

“She does,” Brian allowed, his frown smoothing out a little. “We could bring her here when she visits next weekend and see if she likes it before you buy it.”

Bradley had hoped to surprise her with it. But he didn’t want to give her something she’d need to return, either. He nodded.

The two of them continued on to the cafe where they liked to stop for a coffee before going to sit at the city dock and watch the harbor as they talked for a few hours. Often, Justine would FaceTime one or the other of them, and they’d hold the phone out so she could see them both. They’d talk about nothing in particular: movies and tv shows, classwork, small details of their lives over the previous week that somehow missed the daily flurry of group texts. As Bradley took his coffee from the barista, he wondered if today would finally be the day when one of them brought up the other subject. The one that always seemed to lurk, half-hidden, under their words and actions and the way they looked at him.

Later, though, when Brian dropped him off at his room in Bancroft Hall, it remained unspoken. Bradley watched him go, the impression of their twenty-ninth kiss still lingering on his lips, and berated himself for not being able to figure out what he was doing wrong.

There was no helping it. Nearly four weeks had gone by since he told them he wanted to be with them forever. He’d have to swallow his embarrassment and ask.

*

The next day, after chapel service and Justine’s usual phone call to discuss the sermon, while Brian was busy with company obligations, Bradley met Mohyeldin in Lejeune Hall.

The other mid was already changing into his swim trunks in the locker room. He grinned as Bradley entered. “Ready to get your ass whipped, Platypus?”

Bradley’s feet faltered. “How–?” He stopped himself quickly, though he was powerless to stop the blush he felt flooding his cheeks. “How do you think you’re going to beat me?” he asked, to cover the stumble. That wording wasn’t much better.

Mohyeldin’s eyes narrowed, and his grin turned into a smirk. But he let it pass. “I’m the greatest,” he said. “Now change and meet me out there.” He left Bradley to hunt for an empty locker.

Emerging a few minutes later onto the pool deck, Bradley found him shadowboxing well back from the water where there was less chance of slipping on a wet tile. “Isn’t this supposed to be a recovery day for you?” Bradley asked. “Taking it easy?”

“You should know me better by now,” Mohyeldin said, throwing a left hook at the air.

“Seb asked me to do PT with you so I could make sure you didn’t overtrain.”

Mohyeldin laughed and dropped his arms. “Seb definitely should know me better by now. Anyway, that’s why I suggested swimming. Zero impact. Tell him that qualifies as taking it easy.” He bent and grabbed his goggles off the bench nearby. “C’mon,” he said, putting them on. “Let’s race.”

Racing probably wasn’t what Seb had had in mind either. A challenge was a challenge, though. Bradley put on his own goggles and dived into the lane next to Mohyeldin.

Fifty laps later, he hung on the edge of the pool, trying to regain his breath. Mohyeldin was panting just as hard, but a triumphant gleam filled his eyes. Between puffs of air, he said, “Admit… that I… whipped… your ass.”

“Screw you,” Bradley said, without much heat in his voice. It was all rushing to his face again. He turned his head away.

Mohyeldin pulled himself out of the water and sat on the grating at the edge of the pool with his legs dangling down. “You alright, kid?”

“Of course,” said Bradley.

“Wanna try that again while looking at me?”

Bradley’s blush deepened. They weren’t alone, but the nearest mid was two lanes away and swimming so hard she probably couldn’t hear anything over the water. You were planning to ask, he reminded himself. Suck it up. Be a man. It’s only Mohyeldin, anyway.

He glanced up. Mohyeldin had removed his goggles and was watching him in curiosity. Taking a deep breath, Bradley whispered, “It’s just…. Brian and Justine, they– Everything’s great, except they don’t…. They haven’t, um…. With each other, yeah, but….” He bit his lower lip and stared at the locker room door.

“You’re gonna have to finish a sentence here, Platypus,” said Mohyeldin, amused. “Despite what Seb might’ve told you, I can’t actually read minds.”

Bradley groaned. He let go of the edge and allowed himself to sink under the water for long seconds, allowed the weightless feeling to relax his tense muscles as he listened to the muffled sound of his own pounding heart filling his ears. He came up when his lungs demanded air.

He’d drifted over a few feet. Mohyeldin was in the exact same place, watching him with the exact same expression, but now Bradley was right in front of him. Fixing his gaze on Mohyeldin’s knees, he treaded water while he caught his breath.

“Well?” Mohyeldin asked. “I’ve told you I’m not patient, right?”

Finally, Bradley forced the words out. “They haven’t brought up any sort of D/s stuff with me,” he half-mumbled. “I know they’re into it. She does stuff sometimes, and then he…” He flushed yet again, remembering Brian talking like that. “But with me, they don’t.” He made himself look up as he asked the question. “Do you think they’re just not interested because I haven’t done much? Maybe if I went to another party–”

“No,” Mohyeldin said. He looked exasperated. “Do not go to any parties until you’ve talked about this with them. I’m assuming you haven’t brought it up either?”

Bradley shook his head.

“Of course not.” He rolled his eyes, and then stood. “C’mon, kid.” He went into the locker room without waiting to see if Bradley was following.

Bradley thought he was about to be marched across the Yard, while still in his swimsuit, to find Brian. But inside the locker room, Mohyeldin poked his head out of the showers and jerked his chin at him. When Bradley joined him, he moved to one of the showerheads and turned it on, tipping his head back to let the water rinse the chlorine out of his hair and trunks. At the same time, he twisted the knob of the next showerhead over. Bradley moved under it, as he was obviously expected to do. The water was cold at first, but heated fast.

Under the cover of the droplets noisily bouncing off the tiles, Mohyeldin asked, “So why haven’t you told them you want to start subbing?”

Bradley glanced over his shoulder at the entrance to the main locker room. No one else had come in. “It’s embarrassing,” he said, just above a whisper. “And what if…” He swallowed and stopped.

Mohyeldin cracked his eyes open for the first time since stepping into the stream of water. Bradley saw his pupils slide sideways to observe him better. Then he sighed and shook his head. “Sometimes I really want to swat you, kid.”

Bradley gaped at him. All his insides seemed to rearrange themselves, perhaps to make room for the flock of butterflies in his stomach. In a blink, the fact that he was less than an arm’s-length from Mohyeldin—within swatting range—took up an infinitely greater amount of his attention.

“As a Top, not a dom,” Mohyeldin added.

He didn’t need to qualify the statement. Bradley knew what he meant. He’d seen him swat Seb—and more—and they’d both done a lot of explaining what it was about, in person and emails. If Mohyeldin swatted him, there’d be nothing sexual about it.

“I’m not going to,” said Mohyeldin, with a friendly smile. “Stop looking so nervous. Just thought it might encourage you to talk faster if you’re aware my palm’s itchy.”

It did, though not out of concern for his rear end. The simple shame of knowing that Mohyeldin was tempted to do it made him force out what he’d been about to say.

“What if I’m not good at s–submitting?”

Mohyeldin laughed. Shaking his head again, he said, “You will be, trust me. You have all the instincts.”

Instincts? What good were those without training? He frowned. “Maybe I should practice more, though–”

“No. Myrick almost had kittens when he found out I know your safeword, until I explained why. He did not like the idea of you playing with other people. I’m positive Cameron will feel the same.”

Bradley remembered something Brian had said when they first got together. Fidelity among the three of us is important to me. They’d all agreed.

The things Bradley had done before to explore his submission didn’t involve sex, overtly. But fidelity was about more than sex. To practice submitting to other people would be to break that promise. It’d be no better than cheating, he was suddenly sure. He nodded fast as the realization came.

“Good,” said Mohyeldin. “Now, are you going to see them today?”

Hesitant, he said, “I’m playing pool with Brian as soon as we’re done here. I can’t talk about it in the company wardroom, though.”

“No, of course not, but you can ask him to talk privately then, right? And what about Cameron? Would she be free?”

“She’s usually studying.” Bradley bit his lip. “She’d probably make time to talk if I asked.”

Mohyeldin smiled. “I’m sure she would. So that’s the plan. Take some time while you play pool to think about what you want to say, but don’t put it off until tomorrow. It’ll only get harder the longer you wait.” He turned off his shower, signalling the end to their conversation before Bradley could come up with another excuse. “I’ll walk you to the wardroom.”

“I don’t need an escort,” Bradley said, scowling as he twisted his own shower’s control to off.

“Just want to make sure you don’t get lost on the way,” Mohyeldin said, in a voice full of virtue.

*

True to his word as always, he stuck to Bradley’s side like a burr as they both dried off, changed, and crossed the Yard to wind their way through the halls of Bancroft toward the company wardroom.

It belonged to their company, not Brian’s. He was allowed in, as a firstie, but not without a member of the company present. It must’ve been empty at the moment, because he stood outside in the passageway, waiting. Bradley hurried his steps even as he felt a new onrush of nerves.

The movement caught the corner of Brian’s eye. He looked over, already starting to smile. It faded a little when he saw Mohyeldin next to Bradley, some of the warmth replaced with simple friendliness. “Hello,” he said, nodding to the other mid. “Are you joining us?”

Clearly, he didn’t want that. Mohyeldin was never one to waste an opportunity, though. He grinned. “Yeah, Platypus asked for my support. I thought I’d watch a game or two, cheer him on.”

Bradley cursed him silently. Asking for advice and asking for support were not the same thing. He knew Mohyeldin would make sure he had no way to chicken out at the last minute.

He also knew that he couldn’t object to him staying without raising Brian’s suspicions. Brian was frowning already, looking at them each in turn from beneath his prominent brow line. Bradley said nothing and let him come to his own conclusion. After a moment, Brian gave the barest hint of a shrug before going into the wardroom. Behind his back, Bradley shot Mohyeldin a glare—which only amused him—and followed to watch Brian rack the balls.

Since the first lesson Brian ever gave him in pool, Bradley had always enjoyed their games. His heart stuttered whenever Brian touched him to correct some aspect of his stance, and as he improved over the weeks, he glowed with pride whenever Brian complimented a shot. He even won sometimes now.

Not that afternoon. He couldn’t focus on anything Brian had taught him. He was dimly aware of Mohyeldin leaning against the back of the wardroom couch several feet away, but he didn’t look over. In his mind, he discarded plan after plan for what he should say to convince Brian and Justine both that he was worthy of being their submissive. His guts coiled tighter and tighter.

All three men were silent for half the game. Finally, when Bradley scratched the cue ball on two turns in a row, Brian stared him down.

“What’s going on?” he asked. “You’re better than this. Is something wrong?”

Bradley pulled the ball out of the pocket and offered it to him. He didn’t take it.

Shrugging, Bradley made himself say, “Must be having an off day.” His gaze went around Brian as he spoke, avoiding eye contact, but Mohyeldin was right there. As Bradley watched, he raised both hands in front of him and scratched his right palm, turning it towards Bradley so there could be no mistaking the gesture. He flushed.

Brian glanced over his shoulder to Mohyeldin, who immediately dropped his hands and looked innocent.

“One of you,” Brian said, “tell me what is going on, now. That’s an order.”

Bradley’s reaction to the growl did not help his flush to fade. He wondered how Mohyeldin could seem so unaffected as he stepped forward to stand next to Brian, facing Bradley, and said, “I’m giving you five seconds to follow that order before I do, kid.”

Both of them waited, looking at him. Days passed. It couldn’t have been more than a few moments in reality, though, because Mohyeldin still hadn’t said anything else when the combined pressure of their gazes made the words spill out of his mouth. “I need to talk to you, Brian. Alone.”

“Good start,” Mohyeldin said, smiling. “Tell him what it’s about now, though, so I know you won’t change the subject after you leave. No one else is here. You can say it.”

Bradley’s fingers squeezed around the cue ball in his hand. Brian took a breath like he was going to speak. He didn’t give him a chance. “BDSM,” he said, so fast the letters slurred together and he wasn’t sure Brian could even understand.

But Brian’s frown turned on Mohyeldin in an instant. “You put him up to this?” he demanded. “Did it occur to you he might not be ready?”

“No,” Mohyeldin said, with very obvious patience, “that didn’t occur to me, and actually, he came to me wanting to know why you hadn’t brought it up yet, so did it occur to you that you’re being a butthead?”

Brian’s mouth dropped open. All his usual stoic dignity turned into an expression of astonished offense. If he’d been an elderly southern lady in a movie, he would’ve clutched his pearls. A snort escaped Bradley before he could stop it. They both looked at him, Mohyeldin’s eyes twinkling, Brian’s narrowed.

“Sorry,” he said, and then stopped because he was choking on more laughter. Half of it was born of nerves, yet it still felt like a release.

“See?” said Mohyeldin, sweeping an arm at him as if he was presenting the grand prize in a game show. “Does it look like he’s being forced into this?”

Brian closed his mouth and frowned thoughtfully. “You really want to talk about this?” he asked Bradley. “Now?”

Bradley nodded.

“With Justine too, or only me?”

“Her, too,” Bradley breathed, even as his heart thudded harder.

Brian still didn’t look happy about it, but he put his cue stick on the rack. “We’ll have to use your room,” he said. “My roommate is taking a nap.”

*

Nak stopped the movie playing on his computer as Bradley opened their door. He glanced over, saw the pair of them, and pushed his chair back from his desk. “Hey!” he said.

Bradley paused in the doorway, trying to think of a convincing excuse to get rid of him.

He needn’t have bothered. Nak was already standing. “You guys want the room?” he asked, and without waiting for an answer, added, “I’ll just go, uh, study in the library.”

Despite saying that, he took no books or papers with him as he scooted between Bradley and Brian, winking at them both before he made tracks down the passageway.

They looked at each other. “I still haven’t told him anything, I swear,” Bradley said.

“I know,” said Brian. “Shh.” He pushed Bradley firmly into the room and shut the door behind them. Once they were truly alone, with no chance of being overheard, he said, “As long as he hasn’t figured out about Justine, I don’t care. He’s kept his mouth closed thus far.”

Bradley nodded. No one else ever hinted they knew. At this point, Nak’s intimations embarrassed him far more than they made him fear being outed. But he had to admit it came in handy, not having to be so cautious in his own room. And occasionally, like now, it got him privacy when he needed it. “I’ll call Justine,” he said, turning to his desk.

They waited the few minutes it took for Skype to connect with her in silence. Bradley knew why he wasn’t talking. He could hardly breathe through his nerves about this conversation, let alone speak. But he had no idea why Brian stayed quiet as well, and what was more, sat on the edge of the windowsill pinning him with one of his dark, intense gazes.

It was a relief when Justine finally answered and he broke the stare.

“Both my men!” she said. She was sitting on the couch in her apartment with her laptop on the coffee table, from the angle. “This is a nice surprise! What are you up to?”

Bradley looked at his lap and waited for Brian to answer her. Several seconds passed. “Bradley,” Brian finally said, “wanted to talk to us both. About BDSM.”

“Oh,” Justine said. Bradley couldn’t tell what she thought by her tone, so he glanced up. She was looking at Brian, not him, and her expression was careful. “Just BDSM?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Brian, a hair too quickly.

What did that mean?

“Okay, what about it, Bradley?”

He took a deep breath. “Mainly… I wondered why you two never brought it up when I know… I mean, I can see…”

“You know we’re into it,” she said, smiling a little.

He nodded.

Justine shifted and pulled up her legs to lounge on her side, revealing that she was wearing denim shorts with her loose tank top. Very short shorts. “Well, to be honest, I kinda thought maybe we should be having vanilla sex first.” She quirked an amused eyebrow. “Learning to walk before you run?”

Bradley tore his gaze off her smooth, tanned thighs and nodded again, several times, though he wasn’t even sure what she’d said. It was hard to think clearly all of a sudden.

“We had another concern as well,” Brian said. “We didn’t know if you were ready to do something so potentially traumatizing.”

The word broke through Bradley’s daze. He frowned over at him. “Traumatizing?”

Brian’s jaw tightened. “Justine read Belcher’s statement about what he did to you during your Plebe Summer, remember?”

That name hadn’t crossed Bradley’s mind in ages. He felt a jolt at hearing it. But it was confusion, not bad memories, that made him frown harder. “What Belcher did has nothing to do with this.”

Brian looked at the computer screen. Justine leaned forward, nodding seriously. “You’re right, it had nothing to do with real BDSM, and it’s not like he was even trying to give it that appearance. It was abuse. But… exploring submission with us could bring up feelings of what it was like with him.”

Bradley’s stomach clenched. “It’s not going to be like that with you,” he said. It had to be true. Seb and Mohyeldin had both told him how it was different with someone who cared about their submissive. He’d experienced a small taste of it himself at the party they went to with him. He refused to believe all that was wrong. “I’m over what happened, anyway,” he added. “I went to therapy and I broke his arm.”

It seemed like a lifetime ago. He’d never forget, but he’d been a different person then. So full of fear and anger and ignorant beliefs.

“And we’re very proud of you, for both those things,” Justine said, smiling gently before she sobered again. “It’s just… what he did to me? I went to therapy too, and yet to this day, I think about those nasty photoshops whenever I send nude pictures to either of you guys. Even though I want to share myself with you, it’s completely my choice, and I trust you beyond a shadow of a doubt, it still brings up those memories. What he did to you was a lot worse.”

“Not so bad I can’t handle it,” Bradley argued. His chin jutted out. “I’m not weak.”

“We know,” Brian said, a sharp edge to his voice. “Listen to what she’s saying.”

“I am!” said Bradley. He turned sideways in his chair to scowl at him. “She said she still does it because she wants to share herself with us. I want that, too!”

So, so much. He’d spent countless nights lying in his rack thinking what it would be like to finally feel what Seb described when he talked about his submission to Mohyeldin. What he’d said last year when he gave Bradley the lion drawing that now was pinned to the bulletin board behind his computer: It takes courage to master all the fearful parts of yourself and trust completely in another person.

He wanted to show them that courage and trust. To know that safety. They had to let him.

Justine blinked rapidly before she spoke. “Brian, he’s right. It’s time to give him the choice.”

Brian looked at her and back to him. Bradley tried to bury his apprehension and show only confidence.

After a moment, Brian nodded. “Alright.”

Relief flooded through Bradley. He waited to see what their first command would be.

“First, we need to know exactly how much experience you have with real BDSM,” said Brian.

Bradley hesitated. He supposed it was reasonable for them to ask, but he wasn’t proud of his answer. “There was… the thing in January when you had to take me to the hospital to get my kidneys checked out,” he said, glancing at Justine through his eyelashes.

She didn’t look surprised. “Mohyeldin basically told me it was a scene gone wrong. What happened?”

“I met up with someone off craigslist and got my back hit with a bunch of different things,” he said, flushing. “I’m not sure it qualifies as ‘real,’ though, considering I didn’t have a safeword. Mohyeldin made me read articles about safe scenes and report to him for come-arounds on what I’d learned after that.”

“Good,” said Brian. The word sounded oddly choked. His jaw was clenched harder than ever when Bradley looked at him. He seemed to make an effort to relax it before he spoke again. “Is that how he knew your safeword?”

“No,” Bradley said. “I told him it when we went to a party over spring break. A p-play party, but I didn’t do much there.”

“Much?” Brian asked, tensing once more. “What did you do? Was it with Mohyeldin?”

“Brian,” Justine warned.

“It’s fine,” said Bradley. Shivers shot through him under Brian’s dark stare, even as his face heated to boiling. “Uh, this girl tied me up for a few minutes. Mohyeldin didn’t do anything with me. Unless you count letting the girl tie him up first.”

“Mohyeldin got tied up?” asked Justine, tilting her head to the side. “I didn’t think he switched.”

“He doesn’t,” Bradley said. “He wanted to check that she knew what she was doing.”

She smiled. “Aww, that’s sweet. I do. Switch, I mean, although I know what I’m doing with ropes, too. That’s something I’m hoping you and I can explore. Brian never wants to let me be in charge.” Her full lower lip protruded in an exaggerated pout.

Bradley couldn’t do more than goggle at her.

“When you’re ready,” Brian said. “We’re not going to rush into anything.”

“No, I… um, I’d like that,” said Bradley. His voice was soft, but neither of them asked him to repeat himself, thank the Lord.

“So, bondage and impact play. We can work with those. What else?” Justine asked.

Bradley squirmed in his chair as his mind filled with fantasies, none of them anything he could say aloud. He’d thought after he convinced them to start, they’d just take over and do stuff. They were supposed to be the dominant ones, right? He would follow any orders they gave. Why did they need to keep talking about it?

When it became clear he wasn’t going to speak, Brian said, “There are online lists people put together of kinks and fetishes. The idea is to check off those you have experience with and rate your willingness to explore each on a scale from one to five. What if we all took some time alone to fill one out and share them with each other in a couple of days? We can resume this discussion then.”

“Sure!” said Justine. “I already have one, but I should probably update it. Bradley, do you think that would be easier for you?”

“You don’t need to make it easier for me,” he said, crossing his arms. “I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll be fine. Can’t we just–?”

“No,” Brian cut in, his voice steely. “That’s not how this works, and you ought to know better if Mohyeldin made you do your research. Neither of us is going to touch you until we’ve read your list and talked about it. You want to submit and follow orders, start by following this one.”

Within a millisecond of him talking, Bradley had snapped as close to attention as he could get in a chair. His heart was pounding, his dick hard, and his brain a whirlwind of embarrassment, lust, and a strong desire not to tick Brian off any further. He swallowed. “Yes, sir.”

“We want you to enjoy it, too,” Brian said, a trace softer. “That means you have to communicate with us and tell us what you like, okay?”

“Yes, sir,” Bradley said again. He hadn’t called Brian that since they started dating, and yet it slipped out naturally. “I’m sorry, sir.”

“Thank you,” Brian said, and then it seemed to be done. He went back to normal and glanced at his watch. “I have that company meeting to prepare for. I’ll send you both links to the list we’ll use tonight.” Sliding off the windowsill, he bent over Bradley and pressed their lips together, brief and hard, as if he was stamping his mark on him, and then he left.

On the screen, Justine’s expression was unreadable. “I suppose I’ll get used to it,” she said, like she was talking to herself more than Bradley.

“Get used to what?” he asked.

She gave him a smile that looked forced. “Nothing, honey. Want to help me study?”

Honey. He loved it when she used endearments. The warmth of it chased away the last of the tremors Brian had given him. He nodded, and she picked up a stack of index cards.

*

The next day, he was walking to his PoliSci class when Mohyeldin popped up beside him in the hallway.

“Heya, Platypus! So, how’d it go yesterday? When I didn’t hear from you, I thought you might be, uh, preoccupied.” He waggled his eyebrows and smirked. “Tell me I was right.”

Being reminded of his own dashed hopes made Bradley scowl. “No. Not unless you count the homework they gave me.” He’d spent half the evening on that, trying to be subtle so Nak wouldn’t notice. He’d barely completed a third of the list.

Mohyeldin frowned in confusion. “Who gave you?”

“Who do you think?” Bradley glanced around and lowered his voice. “They’re making me fill out a list of… interests. Before they’ll do anything.”

“Ohhhhh,” said Mohyeldin.

“Did you make Seb do that first?” Bradley asked.

He smiled. “No, we kinda just stumbled on a mutual ‘interest’ and ran with it. But I don’t recommend that approach, especially with three people.”

Bradley had been hoping he’d take his side and maybe tell Brian he was being a butthead again. Huffing, he turned into the classroom. Mohyeldin laughed quietly and said, “Man, I’ve got an itch in my palm,” as he followed.

Bradley ignored him.

*

When Seb emailed that night, he took another shot at getting someone to commiserate. Seb gave him the perfect opening. He’d written, I hope you don’t mind, but Zain told me about your conversation with Myrick and Cameron. How are you feeling?

-Seb

Okay, he wrote back. I mean, I’m glad it’s out in the open now, I guess. Did he tell you about the stupid list thing? And even after I’m done, we have to ‘discuss’ it together. I don’t see the point of all this talking.

Bradley

Seb’s answer, though, wasn’t what he expected.

I know, it’d be so much easier if you didn’t have to express anything about what you want. If they just took over, you wouldn’t really have to think what you’re asking, or the fact that it’s your choice to do it. I know because I feel the same way. The thing is, that doesn’t work. They can’t read your mind. You have to be brave and lay yourself bare. It sucks, but it’s worth it in the end, I promise.

-Seb

Bradley thought about the document he’d had pulled up on his phone all day. A neat table with spaces to fill in his experience and interest level next to each item. Some of them, he had to look up, and what he found horrified him. He broke the one-to-five rating scale and put a zero next to ‘Fisting.’ Never ever.

Others, though… images played in his head of Brian or Justine doing these things to him, or to each other while he watched, and he wanted to put down a five, but what if that wasn’t what they were into? What if they thought he was sick? How could that be worth it? And how would Seb know, anyway?

He hit reply.

Mohyeldin said he’s never made you fill out a checklist like this.

Bradley

It took much longer for Seb to write back that time. Bradley was about to send him another email, apologizing for being curt, when his response came.

I wish he did. He makes me talk, face to face. I think the closest to a list was once when he asked me to draw out a fantasy, but that was more of a scene in itself, not preparation for one. After intense ones, or if we’re doing something new, he has me tell him what I liked and didn’t like, too.

That sounded awful. Worse, he suspected his partners would do the same, if the checklist was any indication. He kept reading.

It gets easier. Sometimes talking about it turns us both on again so much that we start another scene. And Zain always makes me laugh at least once while we’re talking.

Anyway, it’s important. You want to learn what they like, right? The talk goes both ways. Or all three ways, in your case.

-Seb

Bradley read the last paragraph twice. He hadn’t even considered how he’d know what Brian and Justine wanted from him. He’d figured they’d just tell him what to do when they wanted it done. But what if they wanted him to do things without being told, so they didn’t have to give orders all the time? If he was going to be a good submissive, the kind of submissive they could be proud of, shouldn’t he be interested in learning their desires?

And Brian had said filling out this list was more than a desire. It was an order. The first order they gave him, he was complaining about to anyone he could. Some submissive.

You’re right, he wrote back. I’ll stop whining about it and go finish filling it out. Thanks.

And that was just what he did, not letting himself stop until the completed list was emailed to Brian and Justine over an hour later. Getting up the courage to hit send took forever.

Then he pulled out his textbooks to study. PoliSci was at the top of the stack. That reminded him…

He opened a new email to Seb.

I forgot to ask you about something else. Yesterday, Mohyeldin said sometimes he wants to swat me, and since then he’s been talking about his palm itching. I thought he’d only do that to you. Or do Tops just get the urge with everyone they meet, not exclusively their own Brat?

Bradley

He began quizzing himself on systems of government while he waited for Seb’s answer. It came long after he’d moved on to calculus.

No, not everyone. Only special kinds of people that he really cares about. He’s done it with Theo once or twice. You can tell him to stop if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

-Seb

Theo was also a Brat, though. Seb had never come right out and said that, but Bradley was certain of it. He frowned, then shrugged and shook his head.

I don’t know how it made me feel. I wasn’t turned on or anything, don’t worry. Surprised, I guess? Guilty? It got me to tell him what was up, so that was good, I suppose. The other times, it seemed like he was just messing with me, so it’s fine.

Bradley

Again, a very long time passed before Seb’s answer. Bradley was climbing into his rack as Nak turned their light out when his phone buzzed. He looked at the notification. It just said, Okay. -Seb.

*

If Bradley pushed his hands any farther into his pockets, his pants would fall down. The nylon belt holding them up would give out and he’d be standing next to Brian in an elevator of a Hyatt in just his undershorts and working blues uniform shirt. The security footage alone–

The doors dinged and opened. Brian stepped off the elevator. Adjusting his cap under his arm so he didn’t drop it, Bradley followed. His gut was churning. All the days of discussing their three lists—by text, mostly, since Brian and Justine hardly had a spare moment on weekdays—had been preparation for the next couple of hours.

Possibly longer. He knew the broad outline of what was going to happen and how long it would take, but yesterday, on her last Skype call before she left for the airport, Justine had winked at him and said, “We also have a couple small surprises we think you’ll like. Don’t worry if you don’t, though. We’ll ask you for your color after we introduce them.”

They’d agreed to let him keep ‘exodus’ as his emergency brake safeword. If they asked for a color, though, they’d expect ‘green,’ ‘yellow,’ or ‘red’ as the answer.

It’s good to have that midway-point if you’re not sure and need to slow down, Justine had texted. When you’re a newbie, especially.

Brian led the way through the hotel with confident strides, barely glancing at the placards that showed where to turn to find the correct room number. He was in working blues, too. Bradley had wondered the whole drive over if he’d also left off the required undershirt, as he’d told Bradley to do that morning. No explanation, just a terse order to take it off when he came to pick Bradley up from his room. And then stood there watching as Bradley stripped to the waist and put his button-down back on. He’d been half-hard since.

For all his desire to have them simply tell him what to do, now that he was faced with this hint of uncertainty, he wished he’d asked for more details.

They stood outside Justine’s room in seconds. Brian lifted his hand and rapped twice.

From the other side, the lock clicked, and then Justine opened the door. She was barefoot. Bradley saw that first because he was looking at the floor. Her toenails were painted rose gold. Her feet stepped back, sinking a little into the plush carpet, as she said, “About time! Come in.”

Brian touched Bradley’s shoulder, and he realized he was supposed to enter first. He did, still not looking up, as if he could hide that way.

“We’re exactly the time we said we’d be,” Brian said as he followed and Justine shut the door.

“I know that,” she said, a bit exasperated. “I meant how it’s been a month since I’ve seen you.” Her heels lifted off the carpet, and Bradley heard the soft sound of their kiss. He busied himself with hanging his cap next to the door.

“Take your shoes off,” Brian said.

Bradley did, and his socks for good measure, tucking each one into its matching shoe and arranging them neatly against the wall. Then he had nothing to do except straighten and turn toward them. Brian still had his shoes on. He hadn’t hung up his cap, either. Bradley’s eyes fixed on it in his hand.

“Well, Bradley, are you going to say hi to your girlfriend?” Justine asked, with that teasing tone.

He made himself raise his gaze. “Hello,” he said, before he could take in her full appearance and get more tongue-tied.

She was wearing a pale pink silk robe that ended at mid-thigh and cinched tightly at her waist. Her hair, which she usually kept pulled back even when out of uniform, fell in platinum waves around her heart-shaped face. Most surprisingly, though, her blue eyes were level with his.

She noticed that, too. “I think you’ve grown again!” Putting her hands on his shoulders, she spun him around and then stood back-to-back with him and asked, “Brian, are we the same height now? Bradley, fall in so Brian can measure us.”

He snapped to attention automatically. Brian stepped up beside them and put his hand flat on the crown of Bradley’s head. He did the same to Justine with his other hand, tilted his head, and said, “Nope. He’s taller.”

“What?!” Justine asked. “How much?”

“Half an inch, approximately,” Brian said. “Does it matter?”

“Not really,” said Justine, turning to squint at Bradley. “I just remember when you first came to Annapolis. Did they put Miracle Gro in your food?”

“I–I guess I’m a late bloomer,” Bradley said.

“Hmm,” she said, and then shrugged. “Well, I’ll still be taller than you in heels. It’s nice to have that option.”

Brian spoke again before Bradley could come up with anything to say. “Did you bring it all?” he asked.

Nodding, Justine pointed to a small suitcase at the end of the bed. “In that bag. Can we start?”

She didn’t wait for a response. While Brian went to the bag and checked the contents, she untied her robe. A moment later, Bradley’s half-thought question as to whether it was the only thing she had on was answered. No.

The dress was shorter even than the robe, and held up by two skinny shoulder straps. Between them and the hem, the only solid piece of fabric was a swatch of pale pink silk wrapped around her middle, from just under her breasts to just over her hips. Above and below, it gave way to frothy lace that left very little to the imagination.

Still dangling the robe from one hand, she spun slowly in front of him. The back of the dress was just as revealing. “Do you like my slip, Bradley?”

“…Yeah,” he croaked.

Her chin came up as she faced him. “You will call me ‘my lady’ or ‘Mistress.’ Is that clear?”

He tucked his hands back into his pockets. Hopefully they hid his erection. “Yes, Mistress.”

“Good. Now try that again. What do you think of my slip?”

Swallowing, he said, “It’s pretty, my lady, but not as beautiful as you.”

Her lips curved. “Excellent answer.”

“The titles are only when she’s dominant over you,” Brian put in. He was watching them both like he wanted to cross the yard of carpet in a single bound and devour them. “There will be times when the two of you are equally subservient to me.”

Bradley nodded. Suddenly, he realized he’d never asked them what they’d want to be called. He hurried to correct his mistake. “What about a title for you?”

“‘Sir’ is fine,” Brian said.

“Yes, Sir,” said Bradley. That was easy to remember, at least.

Leaving the bag closed on the bed with everything still inside, Brian stalked closer. Bradley’s heart felt as if it was going to burst out of his chest as his boyfriend came to a stop behind him and took a grip on his upper arms. Unable to turn properly to face him, Bradley looked back over his shoulder instead.

Brian bent down and whispered in Bradley’s ear, “Pay attention to your mistress, not me.”

He did. She was close, leaning in to kiss him and make him tense with anticipation. Strange as it was, he had far more experience now in kissing another man than a woman. After the kiss in the garage when they got together and the one just before she left to go back to medical school, this was the only time their mouths had met. Was he supposed to take the lead somehow?

But she kept it light, and with Brian holding his arms, he couldn’t reach out to pull her closer. Their body heat surrounded him in an envelope, yet their hands and lips were the only points of contact. He had no idea if his desire to lean backward or lean forward was stronger.

“Let’s get you more comfortable,” Justine said. Her fingers went to his uniform collar and began to delicately undo the buttons running down his shirt. His chest brushed the backs of her nails with his every inhale. They came far too often. He was breathing rapidly through his nose.

As she moved down, she also pulled the two halves of the shirt apart, so the V widened and more and more of his bare skin was exposed. He hoped she liked what she saw. This must be why Brian told him to leave the undershirt off?

Then he felt lips on the back of his neck, pressed to the warm band his collar had covered. He started.

“Shhh,” said Brian. His breath ignited the spot he’d just kissed. “I’m going to stay above your collarbone for now. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten what we agreed.”

It took Bradley a moment to remember what he meant. In their discussions, he’d admitted to not being sure if he could touch below Brian’s waist right away. They both assured him that was fine and they’d just take it slow and see what he was comfortable with as it unfolded.

He wasn’t worried now, not precisely, but he couldn’t think of the words to explain that while he was watching Justine untuck his shirt so she could get to the last buttons. When she was finished with them, she put her finger under his chin and made him lift his head to accept her fourth kiss.

This one deepened and spun him right off a cliff, falling into her.

An eternity later, she broke it, and he came back to himself to notice that at some point she’d pushed the shirt over his shoulders and down his arms. But she’d never undone the cuffs. Fabric bunched around his wrists. And then Brian took hold of it where it stretched from one of Bradley’s arms to the other. He must’ve started twisting it around his hand, because Bradley felt his wrists being pulled behind his back as it got shorter. He was being bound with his own shirt.

Nothing could disguise the hard line under his waistband now. He flushed.

“Color?” Brian asked, tilting his head to get a look at Bradley’s face.

He tugged a little and felt Brian’s strength hold him tight. “Green, Sir.”

“Good,” said Brian. He nodded to Justine. “Continue.”

They both seemed to know what she was supposed to do next. He watched, fascinated, as she lowered herself to her knees. From above, he could see her breasts push against the lace as though they’d spill out any moment. Brian continued kissing and nibbling at his neck and upper back. She smiled up. “Can you guess what’s going to happen now?”

“N–no, Mistress,” he said.

She unbuckled his belt and undid his fly all the way to the bottom, then hooked her fingers into his waistband. The waistband of his underwear, too. “How about now?”

He shook his head, his mouth too dry to speak. He didn’t dare give voice to what he thought might happen, anyway. What if he was wrong and they took it as impertinence?

She giggled. “Your nostrils quiver when you breath that way. It’s cute. Like a bunny.”

“Stop teasing him, little girl,” Brian growled, stepping closer to Bradley’s back so he could look at her. Bradley’s bound hands brushed the fabric covering his groin. He felt hardness there.

Widening her eyes, Justine said, “I’m only giving him a chance to color if he wants.”

“Green,” Bradley blurted.

Brian chuckled and nodded at her. “You heard him.”

Finally, she pulled down, and his pants and shorts both slid to his knees. His dick sprang free, already glistening with moisture at the tip. Justine left his clothes where they were, hobbling his legs, and wrapped her warm, soft hand right around the base of him. His eyes fell closed and his mouth dropped open at the same time.

“Nice,” she said.

Then he felt a hot little tongue lap up the pre-cum from his slit.

“Ohhhh!”

A fire lit inside him. He would’ve melted if Brian hadn’t been holding him up, one arm still tangled in Bradley’s shirt and the other supporting him in a hug around his ribcage that tightened as Bradley’s knees threatened to buckle.

Justine licked again, from the base of his cock all the way to the tip, and wrapped her lips around him. His head fell back against Brian’s shoulder as she started to swirl her tongue over his skin.

“She’s talented, isn’t she?” Brian asked, between sharp nips to his jaw.

Bradley nodded. “Sir, I–” He gasped, his hips jerking. “I don’t think I’m gonna last,” he said, desperation making his voice strangled and louder than he’d wanted.

“That’s alright,” Brian said, right into his ear. “Your mistress wants you to cum. Give it to her. Look.” He let go of Bradley’s shirt, leaving his hands pinned between their bodies, and pushed on the back of his head until Bradley looked down.

His mistress locked eyes with him. That was all it took. The fire turned into an explosion.

He blinked a few seconds later when she finally pulled her mouth off his cock. The cold air hitting it brought him back to his senses, somewhat. Enough to be mortified. “Sssorry.”

“Oh, no, don’t be sorry, honey,” she said, getting to her feet and rubbing his upper arms. “You did just what we asked. Exactly as we wanted. You were so, so good.”

Brian’s hands were at his wrists, working on unbuttoning the cuffs. Bradley tried to support more of his own weight as he shook his head. “I came too soon.”

“No, you were good,” Brian said, brusquely. “Don’t argue. That one was just to take the edge off. We planned it. Now you’ll be able to go longer once you’re hard again.”

Bradley tried to think clearly. He felt his shirt being pulled all the way off, only to be quickly replaced by Brian’s fingers testing the tender skin it had dug into. He was good? They’d wanted that to happen, so he was good. Okay.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be ready for more soon,” Justine said, smiling. She looked towards the bag on the bed. “And in the meantime, we’ve got plenty of stuff to occupy ourselves.”

“First, though,” Brian said, coming around to face Bradley, “are you alright?”

Bradley nodded, and then remembered himself and said, “Yes, Sir.”

“You can take your pants the rest of the way off,” Brian said.

They had fallen with his underwear around his ankles sometime during the past minute. He untangled his feet and stepped out of them, completely naked before his two clothed partners.

One of Brian’s surveying looks swept over him from head to toe. It was even more powerful against Bradley’s bare skin. Possession, that was what it was. He looked at Bradley like he owned him. Bradley made himself hold still and accept it, however much he wanted to cover up his softening cock.

“Good,” said Brian. Whether it was a praise for Bradley’s obedience or his body, it made his heart flutter. Then Brian turned to Justine. “Second,” he said, “you and I are going to deal with your behavior just now, little girl.”

Justine pressed a hand to the lace that barely camouflaged her cleavage. “My behavior?” she asked, as if she couldn’t conceive of such a thing. “What about my behavior?”

Very intentionally, Brian stepped forward into her space, so she had to tip her head back, and said, “You were being a tease. That’s naughty. You know what happens when you’re naughty.”

The same swarm of butterflies that had taken up residence in Bradley’s stomach when Mohyeldin confessed his desire to swat came back. He froze in place.

Justine crossed her arm. “I was being his mistress!”

“You were being a tease,” Brian repeated. He gripped her just above her elbow and began to tug her toward the bed.

“I– I didn’t mind!” Bradley said, before they got two steps. “Really, it was fine.”

Brian stopped without letting go of her arm. Justine looked over her shoulder. She was… smiling.

“You’re so sweet, coming to my defense,” she said. “Such a gentleman.” Then she leaned as close as she could get in Brian’s grip and lowered her voice. “But I don’t mind either, remember?”

Oh. Right.

It had been written plain as day on her kink list. Spanking (receiving) – Yes – 5. And if he hadn’t recalled that on his own, he would’ve when Brian gently explained, “She was asking for it, earlier.”

Bradley nodded, feeling a bit foolish.

“You aren’t bothered by watching, are you?” Justine asked. “It’d be more fun for me if you did.”

He hesitated. The only other spanking he’d ever witnessed in his life was those few seconds of Mohyeldin and Seb. It hadn’t looked “fun” for either of them. But Seb wasn’t a masochist, either, so it had to be different. Finally, he said, “Okay. I mean. Um. I’ll watch, my lady.”

Brian renewed his grip on her arm, and renewed the deep, threatening tone in his voice along with it. “She’s not a lady right now,” he said, pulling her with him the rest of the way to the bed, where he sat down. “She’s a naughty little girl about to get a spanking.”

Justine put her nose in the air, shaking her hair back over her shoulders. “Hmph!”

Reaching around her, Brian cracked his palm on the lace covering her bottom. It was loud. Her only reaction, though, was to say, “Be careful! This nightie was very expensive.”

Brian raised an eyebrow. “Take it off, then.”

She did.

Bradley swallowed as inch after inch of her came into view. Even the SnapChat videos couldn’t compare to all those perfect curves in the flesh, right there, two feet away. It took him several seconds and a gentle throat-clearing from her for him to realize she’d turned around to give him her slip. He hurried to step forward, and she draped it around his neck. The silk was warm from her body. It smelled faintly of apples.

Brian spun her back towards him, and she folded gracefully over his lap, flipping her hair across her shoulders so Bradley could still see her face in profile. He looked down further, though, at her ass perched high over Brian’s knee. She wiggled and stuck it up more, begging for a touch.

Bradley felt suddenly awkward. It wasn’t right for him to be gazing down at her from above like this, when she was clearly offering herself to Brian. He averted his eyes and started to step back.

“Kneel,” said Brian. “Right where you are.”

Bradley froze, then slowly obeyed. He was much more clumsy at getting to his knees than Justine had been, but when he succeeded, he put his hands behind his back, interlocking his fingers.

Brian nodded his approval. “Stay just like that and watch,” he said.

“Yes, Sir.”

There wasn’t much else Bradley could do. His face was level with Justine’s bottom now. It being a command, though, allowed him to stare without guilt.

Using just his fingertips, Brian stroked all over her round cheeks and down her thighs. For what felt like ages. Bradley could hear her breathing grow louder and louder the longer it went on, until she said, “Are you going to spank me or pet me? Come on!”

Brian took his hand off her entirely. She groaned while he chuckled. “Not nice to be teased, is it, little girl?”

“Well, sometimes it is,” she said, her tone full of mischief.

Brian shook his head at Bradley, bringing him into the joke, and he bit his lip to keep it from curving up. Then Brian tangled his hand into Justine’s hair and drew her head up so they could both see her face as he asked, “Do you want a spanking?”

“Duh!” she said.

Brian tugged harder, making her arch her back and stick her bottom up more. His voice deepened. “Do you deserve it for being a naughty tease?”

She didn’t answer. Bradley held his breath.

Leaning down across her torso, Brian almost whispered into her ear. “Do you?”

“Yes, Sir,” she breathed.

“Say it nice and loud so Bradley and I can both hear you clearly.”

Justine gave a small, choked moan, and finally gave in. “I’m a naughty tease and I deserve a spanking, Sir.”

With a wicked smile, Brian began.

It was nothing like seeing Seb get spanked. Brian went slow, squeezing and massaging her flesh between light swats, and Justine whimpered in pleasure and arched her back to welcome the next one when he took his hand off her. The sensuous movements of her hips made Bradley’s mouth go dry and his fingers clench together behind him.

In less than a minute, his dick was making a valiant effort to harden again. Brian noticed. His eyes went down to Bradley’s lap every few swats. The expression on his face was different. Not the heat and possession of earlier. Bradley couldn’t make anything of it.

Justine’s skin was just barely pink enough to match her slip when Brian stopped. “Are you going to behave now, little girl?”

“Oh, yes, Sir!” she said. She was grinning upside-down at Bradley.

Brian patted her back, and she slid off him, tossing her hair so it fell into place over her shoulders. Then she bent and took her slip from around Bradley’s neck. “Thank you,” she said, pecking his cheek. “Did you enjoy the show?”

“Yes, my lady,” he said. Not much point in denying it.

Straightening, she smirked at Brian—almost an I-told-you-so look, which made Bradley frown.

Brian ignored her. He was frowning too, staring at Bradley as if he were a puzzle to put together. Bradley wondered if he should stand, now that the ‘show’ was over, or stay kneeling until given another command. Before he could decide, Brian asked, “Do you want to try it?”

He blinked. “You mean…?”

“Getting spanked,” Brian finished. Very matter-of-fact. “There’s a high correlation between enjoyment of watching an activity and enjoyment experiencing it.”

Bradley licked his lips. “Um. By you?”

“Or her, if you prefer,” Brian answered, offhand, as if it didn’t really matter. But he watched Bradley carefully as he considered.

In the past, Brian’s hands had strayed down his torso when they kissed; and of course during judo practice, they touched in other places too. Never his ass, though. Bradley hadn’t imagined the first time that happened to be anything like this. But Justine had had fun, and Brian must want to do it, or he wouldn’t have asked. He wouldn’t be waiting for his answer so intently, his very large hands resting casually on his thighs. Bradley gulped. Justine had taken it. He could, too. He wouldn’t let them down. Shifting, he said, “You, Sir.”

“Stand up,” said Brian, still sounding like he didn’t care much if he was obeyed.

Bradley scrambled to his feet anyway, and went to Brian’s right side like Justine had. Then he froze, looking down at his boyfriend’s lap. How did you get over it without falling?

While he stood there, Justine sat on the floor a few feet to Brian’s left, drawing her knees up and resting her chin on them. She looked like she was planning to relish every second of this. That only made Bradley more self-conscious.

Brian came to his rescue, taking Bradley’s arm in one hand and guiding him forward, his other palm pushing gently between Bradley’s shoulder blades to encourage him to bend; and just like that, he was in the classic spanking position, feeling Brian’s strong, muscular thighs press into his chest and pelvis, his dick momentarily caught beneath him until Brian shifted and it fell between his knees; his uniform pants slightly scratchy against Bradley’s bare skin.

Vulnerability was the overarching feeling. He tried to relax, to remind himself that wasn’t necessarily bad. Brian seemed to be waiting for him to settle, too. He didn’t put his fingers on Bradley’s ass the way he had with Justine. Instead, they circled over his spine and up into his hair at the nape of his neck, so he shivered from the lines they traced. Only when Bradley let his head hang down did he start.

It wasn’t a swat at all. Barely a pat. A warm-up wasn’t this light, was it? He’d certainly started harder with Justine. He patted again, on the other side, just enough to leave a ghostly memory of his hand behind when he lifted it.

He was going easy on him. Like he didn’t think Bradley could take it.

Irritation made all the big, overwhelming sensations fade a little, and that was when Bradley had room to realize the one small sensation that was missing. He’d expected to feel Brian’s erection against his side or stomach. But there was nothing. He wasn’t aroused. Why was he doing it, then?

From the floor near his head, Justine teased, “Has someone been a naughty boy, getting a spanking?”

Bradley went taut. No.

In the same instant, Brian stopped. “Color?”

He could barely breathe, let alone answer.

“Bradley, color?” Brian asked again.

Bradley shook his head, trying to get his thoughts in order. “I’m fine.”

“I asked you for a color,” Brian said, and it wasn’t the deep, sexy voice; it was the quiet, measured one he used to give a true order.

“G-green,” Bradley said. It didn’t even hurt! He wasn’t going to chicken out!

“That sounds more like a yellow to me,” said Justine, and she was so much closer than she had been that he jerked away from her.

“No, I can take it!”

“It’s not about what you can take,” Brian said. Bradley suddenly found himself sitting up. In Brian’s lap. He flushed. Brian folded both his arms around Bradley’s abdomen before he could even think of moving, and asked, “Were you enjoying it?”

Justine unfolded herself from the floor and sat on the bed next to them, watching him with concern all over her pretty face.

Honesty. He had to be honest, or he didn’t deserve their worry. Was he enjoying it? He shook his head, admitting it to himself as much as to them. Some submissive masochist he was. No wonder Brian-

“Do you know why?” Brian asked, still quiet. The words reverberated through his chest, behind Bradley’s back.

Bradley shook his head again.

“Take some time to think it over,” said Brian. “It’s important that we understand.”

Justine put one slim hand on his leg. “Did it… remind you of someone?” she asked.

Bradley frowned at her, and then blinked. “Oh. No, it wasn’t like that,” he said, quickly. He didn’t want them to think they’d done something horrible, stirring up memories of Belcher.

She seemed to let go of a breath she’d been holding. “That’s good, at least. Was it just what I said? I saw it made you tense.”

He chewed on his lower lip, forcing himself to consider it. “No… not just that.”

“Partly?” she asked.

Bradley nodded. Brian’s hands stroked over his sides, petting him without a hint of sexual motivation. It felt nice. He relaxed into him a little.

“Some people, certain words have negative connotations,” Justine said. “I’m really fond of ‘naughty’, but maybe for you it wasn’t good?”

“No, it wasn’t that, it was….” He swallowed and twisted to see Brian, although he could only hold his gaze for a second before Bradley’s eyes fell and his throat closed up. “It f–felt like I let you down and you didn’t want to be doing it,” he whispered.

“What made you think I didn’t want to be doing it?” Brian asked, his tone surprised.

Bradley seriously tried to get off his lap then. Brian held him tight, though, no matter how much he struggled, and every movement only offered more proof. Finally, Bradley snapped. “You’re not hard!” Then he crossed his arms and glared at the floor, hating his cheeks for blushing.

Brian spoke slowly, as if he were choosing every word. “So, when you noticed that, you felt…?”

“Like.” Bradley swallowed again. “Like I was really being punished.”

“And you don’t enjoy feeling punished?” Justine asked, sounding as though this were a new concept she didn’t quite get.

He stared at her. “If you enjoy it, it’s not a punishment.”

She laughed. “Exactly.”

Did she mean it was his fault, somehow, for not enjoying it? Could you force yourself to like something? He looked to Brian. “Did I do it wrong?”

“Oh, no!” Justine exclaimed, losing all trace of humor in her rush to reassure.

Brian, by contrast, smiled. Barely more than a twitch of his lips, but it happened. He held Bradley tighter and rubbed his sides. “No, pet, you did good. It was my mistake. I shouldn’t have jumped into spanking you before we’d talked about some things.”

“What things?” Bradley asked, frowning.

Almost at the same time, Justine asked, “Do we have to talk about it now?”

Brian shook his head. “Later. Now, we’ll return to what we had planned. Today is supposed to be about all of us, not that.”

Not what? Bradley thought.

But Justine smiled and moved back farther on the bed, lying down and letting her legs fall open, and the rest of his questions vanished.

“Are you ready for your first lesson?” Brian asked.

“Uh,” said Bradley. “Uh-huh.”

Moving Bradley off his lap, Brian stood and stripped to his undershorts with remarkable efficiency. Bradley hardly had time to stare at his chest, though, before he was crawling up the mattress to Justine and lowering his head between her thighs.

She moaned, then gestured to Bradley. “Come up here where you can see, honey. There’s going to be a test at the end of the lesson, remember?”

He obeyed, watching with rapt attention. Both of them were so breathtaking. He soaked up the sight of them, hardly believing he was allowed to be present, to witness as Brian pushed her into orgasm with his fingers and mouth like she was an instrument he’d taken years to master.

Between her panting breaths as she came down, she said, “I think Bradley’s ready for his second surprise.”

Brian lifted his head and swept his eyes down Bradley’s body, right to his dick. The hardness it had lost during his spanking was back. Getting up, Brian went to the suitcase he’d looked in earlier at the foot of the bed. He returned with a tiny strip of leather, half an inch wide and perhaps six inches long. “Do you know what this is?” he asked, holding it out to Bradley.

Bradley studied it, puzzled. It almost looked like a miniature collar. There was even a tiny D-ring halfway along the length. But instead of a buckle, it had four snap closures, as if it could be adjusted to an even smaller circumference.

“We’ll give you a hint,” Justine said, smiling. “It’ll help you please your mistress for as long as possible.”

He flushed as he realized. “Um. A cock ring?”

“Correct,” said Brian. “We know this wasn’t on the list. It’s up to you if you want to use it.”

“What’s that for?” Bradley asked, pointing at the D-ring.

“A leash,” said Justine. “There’s one of those in the case, too. I thought Sir would like the idea of leading you around by it. Within the room, of course.”

Bradley swallowed.

Quickly, Brian said, “I do, but that’s up to you, as well. If you choose to wear this, it doesn’t mean–”

“I want to,” said Bradley. One simple little strap would allow him to show his submission to them both. To show he was owned by them. He had no idea he could want something that badly when he’d never even considered it before. “Please, will you put it on me?”

“ …You want me to?” Brian asked.

It was a cold little splash of water on the heat Bradley was feeling. Of course. Brian would have to touch his cock to do that. Really touch it, with his hands. A flicker of fear tingled in his gut.

He could just put it on himself.

No. How would that show he owns you? Don’t be a wimp.

Taking a deep breath, he said, “Yes, Sir.”

Brian smiled, and all of Bradley’s nerve endings lit up with pleasure. He held absolutely still, on his knees next to Justine, as Brian reached over and snapped the leather around the very base of his cock, behind his testicles. His fingertips brushed Bradley’s skin, but he didn’t go out of his way to touch him until it was secure. Then he slipped his pinky between the strap and Bradley. “How does that feel? Too tight?”

Bradley shook his head, not trusting his voice.

“It’ll get a little more snug as you get harder,” Brian said. “But if it becomes painful, or you start to feel cold or numb down here, let us know and take it off right away. Understand?”

He nodded. He could already feel himself thickening, the restriction around him at the forefront of his brain, impossible to ignore. He closed his eyes to revel in it better, and a moment later, he heard a metallic click.

“Fuck, that’s hot,” said Justine.

Bradley opened his eyes and looked down. A small chain was attached to the D-ring. At the other end of it, a leather handle looped around Brian’s wrist. He held it with a casual confidence. Bradley could see a pronounced ridge growing in his undershorts.

“Color?” Brian asked.

“Green. Extremely green, Sir.”

Justine giggled. “Good. Now I think we were in the middle of a lesson?”

Nodding, Brian said, “Time for your oral exam. Get between her legs.” He backed up the words with a gentle tug of the leash. Bradley swallowed a noise that threatened to be a whimper as he obeyed.

Then he was confronted with what he had to do, and his nerves returned, worse than ever. He didn’t know where to start. How did Brian make this look easy? Clumsily, he bent down, but before he could decide his first move, Brian was right there next to him. “Just do what I tell you,” he said. “You’ll be great.”

Bradley relaxed. “Yes, Sir.”

Keeping hold of the leash, Brian guided his every touch, telling him all the things she liked best. Then Justine joined in, encouraging him along with words and gasps and moans, and when she came again, he could feel her ecstasy and hear Brian’s raspy breaths, and he knew he’d done exactly what they wanted.

Brian confirmed it when he lifted his head, leaning in and kissing Bradley, biting his lower lip until it ached when he let go to whisper, “Good job,” into his ear.

Bradley smiled.

But then Brian said, “I think she’s wet enough now. Jus, are you ready to take him?”

Justine nodded, with a sultry look aimed right at Bradley that he couldn’t appreciate at all. Brian’s words had shoved him off course. They were skipping ahead. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen next. They’d talked about it. It had been the hardest part for him to discuss. All that was for nothing?

“Hon, what is it?” Justine asked, propping herself up on her elbows. “If you changed your mind about going all the way tonight, it’s okay.”

“No!” he said. If they took that from him, too, he must’ve really messed up. He knelt between her legs, trying to think where he’d gone wrong. When Brian’s hand touched the nape of his neck, he jumped.

“Shhh,” said Brian. “Don’t worry. I’m not going through with the plan to flog you.”

“Why not?” he demanded. Much too aggressively. He dropped his gaze right away and added a timid, “Sir?” As if that would fix it.

Brian didn’t answer for a moment. He put his fingers under Bradley’s chin and made him look up. His expression was baffled. “You still want to do that, after what happened when I spanked you?”

Bradley’s heart sank. Of course. Why would he want to give Bradley another chance, when he screwed up the first one so badly? Swallowing, he said, “I–I could try to act more like she does, Sir, so you’d enjoy it, like you did with her–”

“That’s not what I meant, pet,” Brian cut in. His fingers brushed over Bradley’s temple. “I don’t expect you to behave the same way she does. If this is truly something you want, I would have no issues enjoying it and your authentic reaction.”

Justine sat up more so she could touch his shoulder. She gave it a squeeze. “But not if it’s going to freak you out again. You don’t have anything to prove to us.”

“It won’t freak me out,” Bradley said, shaking his head several times. “I’ve been looking forward to it.”

Justine smiled and said, “So have we. Brian, especially.”

Bradley glanced at his dom from the corner of his eye, not daring to believe that was true. But Brian’s look had changed from confusion to appraisal. “You really want to do this?” he asked.

Bradley nodded. “Yes, Sir.”

That seemed to be all he needed to hear. Handing Justine the leash attached to Bradley’s cock ring, he got up and strode across the room with all the grace and danger of a panther. Bradley and Justine both panted a little as they watched him open the small suitcase and reach inside once more. This time, he pulled out two floggers, swinging them almost idly as he walked back to the bed.

“I’m going to give you some test strokes to start,” he said, while Bradley tried to focus on his words and not the overwhelming desire to crawl to him on his knees. He didn’t even know what he would do when he got there, except wait to take whatever Brian wanted to give. The depth of his want would give him vertigo if he looked down. Brian was saying, “You should be in the same position you’ll be in for the real thing. Justine, lay back.”

She did, stretching her arms out to the side. Because she still held Bradley’s leash, it tugged him off-balance. He caught himself with one hand on the mattress rather than fall on top of her. “No,” she said. “All the way. Like you’re about to make love to me, but don’t yet. There you go.”

She was so soft beneath him. Her breasts pressed into his chest with every inhale she took, and her skin was silky-smooth on his cock, sandwiched between their stomachs next to the cool metal of the leash. He shuddered against her. “There you go,” she said again, gently hugging him. “Relax a little.”

He wanted to tell her there was no way he could, but then she brought their lips together and stole his power of speech.

Part of him, though, never wavered its attention from Brian, standing beside the bed. When the kiss ended, he saw him holding one of the floggers so the tails hung down next to their faces. The two implements weren’t a matched set. The one he held out was made of many strips of black suede. In his other hand, the second one was much thinner. Bradley was close enough to see now that it had braided tails. He swallowed.

“Don’t worry,” Justine whispered. “He can make them both feel good.”

“We’ll start with this one,” Brian said, dropping the thinner flogger on the mattress and keeping the suede. “I’ll be aiming for your upper back, on either side of your spine. That means I need to straddle your thighs on my knees. Color?”

Bradley already knew that, from their discussions. He moved his legs closer together to give him room. “Green, Sir.”

No amount of planning could’ve prepared him, though, for the feeling of Brian’s weight settling over him. The intimacy of it, even through the thin cotton barrier of Brian’s shorts, made his head spin. He could feel his dom’s arousal as Brian leaned forward and Justine moved her hands out of the way, threading her fingers through Bradley’s hair while Brian trailed the flogger lightly up his spine. Without the cock ring, he would’ve orgasmed just from that, staring into his mistress’s hungry eyes.

Again, Brian started the strokes with barely any force. But they built up too quickly for Bradley to suspect him of holding back out of pity. The soft suede landed on his shoulder blades in a figure-eight, each tiny strap prickling his skin without real pain. His eyelids fell closed to better process the sensation.

Then Brian did something different, and the tails felt more like someone giving him the most intense massage of his life. It reached deep into his muscles and wrung pleasure from his every fiber. He breathed heavily in time with the stokes for the few seconds they lasted.

Almost as soon as it started, though, Brian went back to simply caressing him with the tails. “How was that?” he asked.

“S’good, Sir,” said Bradley, his voice coming out slurred.

“He’s much better relaxed now,” said Justine. She was having to support the full weight of his head in her hands.

Brian chuckled. “I see that.”

“And he’s harder than ever.” She writhed beneath him, making him moan. “I want to watch him take the cat.”

“I’m still at the top of this pecking order, not you,” Brian growled. But Bradley felt him shift and pull the flogger away. He opened his eyes to see him holding up the second one. “This is a cat-o-nine-tails. It’s heavier, with more of a sting. Ready?”

“Yes, Sir,” he said.

Some part of his brain was aware that it hurt. It had definitely hurt the last time he was flogged. But that was with a stranger, a man who didn’t even care to give him his name, and he’d been hugging a hard wooden pole in a barn, not the supple figure of his mistress, feeling her tenderness cushioning each blow, pinned down by the weight of his dom, and knowing beyond any doubt that he was safe here. The pain was blissful.

Too blissful, perhaps. Every time the cat’s stinging tails landed, his dick glided against Justine, growing more and more slick with a mixture of his pre-cum and their sweat, and he was suddenly aware that even with the cock ring, his orgasm was dangerously close. He froze, trying to stave it off.

Brian stopped. “Something wrong, pet?”

With a giggle, Justine said, “He was getting excited.”

Bradley pushed his face into her neck to hide his blush.

She ruffled his hair. “I think you’re ready to finally make love to me, hmm, honey?”

“Yes, my lady,” he mumbled.

“You still want Sir to flog you during it?”

Bradley nodded, growing hotter all over. Behind him, Brian lifted his weight off his thighs, giving Bradley space to move, and then delivered a light smack to his right buttock with his palm as he said, “Go on, then.”

Bradley pushed himself up on his elbows and wiggled down the bed until he felt her softest spot envelope the head of his cock. He gasped.

“That’s right,” she said, holding his chin, refusing to let him look anywhere but right into her blue, blue eyes. “Make your mistress proud.”

Sinking into her was the closest he’d ever felt to paradise. And then Brian started the figure-eights with the cat, measuring it so he hit each time Bradley was as deep as he could be, and Justine rocked her hips up to meet his, the three of them moving in the same rhythm, like a single entity, and Bradley saw stars as he came.

He collapsed in a boneless puddle on top of her, but just seconds later, an animalistic noise penetrated the fog of his melted brain enough to make him blearily blink his eyes open.

Brian was no longer straddling him. He was on his knees right next to their heads, and he’d taken his underwear off at last. Bradley gaped at his cock, inches from his nose.

It was fully visible for only a moment, though, because Brian had his hand wrapped up in Justine’s hair, pulling her to him, and she twisted her upper body, parted her lips, and swallowed it down like she was starving.

Bradley’s own mouth watered. Somehow, seeing his mistress so clearly dominated did nothing to lessen his desire to worship her like a goddess. It simply elevated Brian’s power beyond what he could’ve conceived before. The undisputed master of them both.

And this awe-inspiring man, who could’ve had anyone he chose exactly the way he wanted them, had picked Bradley. He’d delayed his own pleasure—pleasure that was even now making his gorgeous muscles tighten and his jaw clench as Justine bobbed over his cock—to help Bradley’s first time be better than he’d ever imagined.

Bradley’s chest ached. He pushed himself onto his knees, his legs shaking with the effort of supporting his weight, and crushed his mouth to Brian’s neck, and then down his collarbone and over his pecs. He whimpered as he lapped up the salty taste of his nipples, trying to convey his gratitude without words. Thank you, thank you, Sir.

Huffing, Brian pulled him up by the back of his head to give him a deep kiss. Bradley had no idea what number it was. He’d lost count. Seconds later, Brian groaned into his mouth as he found his release.

When at last he gentled his hold, Justine sat up, and the three of them tangled together until Bradley couldn’t really tell whose lips and limbs belonged to who anymore.

*

Justine excused herself a few minutes later, saying she was going to go freshen up. Bradley watched the hollow of her back and roundness of her bottom as she sauntered across the carpet, collected her robe from the armchair, and went into the bathroom. He couldn’t quite believe he’d been allowed near something so stunning.

The shower came on, proving she hadn’t simply vanished into his imagination. Then, without warning, Brian moved away too. Bradley almost caught his wrist to keep him from going. He only went as far as the small suitcase before he stopped, though.

Opening it, he put the leash and the cock ring inside. Bradley blinked down at his own body. He hadn’t noticed them being removed. It was amazing how much more naked he looked, and how adrift he felt without them.

“Turn around.”

He glanced up. Brian was coming back with a small tube of some kind of lotion in his hand.

“Moisturizer with vitamin E,” he said, stopping by the side of the bed. “It’ll help accelerate the healing process for your skin. Turn around so I can apply it.”

Bradley frowned. He didn’t want to accelerate the healing process.

“If you’d rather have Justine do it so I’m not touching you–”

“No, I just don’t need it,” Bradley said.

Brian’s eyes sharpened. “That’s not up for debate.”

It was clear he meant it. Bradley heard an echo of Mohyeldin’s words under the tone. Sometimes I really want to swat you. Brian would never say that, though. Would he?

Reluctantly, he turned around and sat cross-legged at the edge of the mattress. He heard the click of the moisturizer cap being flipped open. Leaning away from it slightly, he asked, in his most respectful voice, “Permission to take a photo of my back first, sir?”

There was a pause.

“You want to see the marks,” Brian said.

Bradley ducked his head. “Yes, sir.” He could feel them as a heat pooling on his skin, but he wanted to look at the evidence of Brian’s dominance and ownership, to preserve it so it would never go away.

“They’ll still be there after I apply this,” said Brian, sounding just amused enough that Bradley relaxed. “It doesn’t work that quickly. But if you want, I’ll take a photo first. Where’s your phone?”

“My left pocket,” Bradley said, and then turned to watch him retrieve it from his pants, which were still in the middle of the floor where he’d stepped out of them earlier. Brian scooped them up and fished through them as casually as if they were his own. Pulling the phone out, he walked over to the window and adjusted the blinds to let in more sunlight.

“Here,” he said, pointing to carpet in front of him.

Bradley slid off the bed and padded over. He gave barely a thought to being by the window while nude. Facing away from Brian, he stood at attention and waited.

“Done,” Brian said, a few seconds later. He stepped up right behind Bradley, brushing their bodies together, and reached around him to show him the phone.

Bradley’s breath caught. His back looked like a pair of wings had been painted onto it with red dye. To either side of his spine, a crisscross of lines spread out and up, starting just below his shoulder blades. The skin between the marks was pink. Bars of shade from the windowblinds fell over all of it, adding even more complexity to the design. He felt as though he could stare at it forever.

“Do you like them?” Brian asked softly. His chin was next to Bradley’s ear.

Bradley nodded and swallowed on a swell of emotion. “I love them.”

“Good,” said Brian. Even then, though, he didn’t move. He kept holding the phone where they could both see the photo, his free hand resting on Bradley’s shoulder, until Justine came out of the bathroom wrapped in her robe and squeezing her hair dry with a towel.

“Aww,” she said when she caught sight of them. “The two of you are so pretty standing in the sunlight together. What’re you looking at?”

“My marks,” Bradley said, feeling shy and proud at the same time.

“Oh, let me see!” She dropped the towel and hurried over, but rather than looking at the phone, she took Bradley’s hand and pulled him around so she could examine his back directly. “They’re beautiful! I kept wondering how well you’d color up. My skin hardly turns pink anymore. I bet you’ll develop some nice light bruises, too.”

“You think so?” Bradley asked, looking over his shoulder. The idea pleased him. “Even if he puts that on them?” He nodded to the tube of cream Brian held.

“It’s not a question of ‘if,’” Brian said, raising one thick eyebrow. “I’m going to apply it.”

“The bruises will probably come anyway,” said Justine. “They’ll just fade a little quicker, which means you’ll be able to withstand flogging there again sooner.”

“Or I can find another way to mark you,” added Brian. The way he said it was almost a threat. When he followed it up by issuing the order, “Sit on the bed,” Bradley obeyed fast.

They sat on either side of him. The silk of Justine’s robe slid against his ribcage as she leaned around him and, apparently, got a dollop of moisturizer from Brian. A moment later, both of them were spreading it over his back. The cool cream warmed quickly beneath their palms as they worked in tandem. Bradley almost groaned with pleasure. His skin was so sensitive.

“See, there’s other benefits to it besides healing,” Justine said.

Bradley nodded. They continued in silence for about a minute, long after he thought he’d absorbed it all, but he wasn’t complaining.

Then she got on all fours with her back half behind him, flipped her robe up around her waist, and said, “My turn!”

Brian narrowed his eyes. “You aren’t even discolored.”

Justine’s lower lip stuck out. “So? I got a spanking.”

“Spoiled,” he said, but he did squirt more lotion into his hand and reach behind Bradley, who didn’t turn to watch. The sound of a light slap rang out, and Brian said, “Done. Go get him some water.”

Justine went to the mini fridge under the TV and came back with a bottle of water. “Here, honey. You’d be surprised how dehydrated you can get from a scene.”

Bradley didn’t feel particularly thirsty, but he took it from her anyway.

She climbed back onto the bed next to him and settled onto her knees. “Now. Tell us what you liked most about it.”

Now? Bradley thought. “Um.” He unscrewed the cap of the bottle and took a large swig. “Uh…”

“Or maybe we should start,” she said, smiling.

He nodded gratefully.

She tilted her head at a coquettish angle and trailed her fingertips up his leg. “I really loved feeling you react to the flogging. Even before you were inside me, I could tell how turned on it got you. I also loved seeing Brian wield the floggers. I’d like to do that again.”

Bradley swallowed more water as the thought made his mouth dry. He couldn’t help a sliver of insecurity, though. “Did– did you like when we made love?” he asked, his face burning. “You didn’t… um…”

Justine realized what he meant before he found the words to stumble through it. “I told you before that most girls can’t have an orgasm that way, remember?” she asked. “Not without clitoral stimulation. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t enjoying it.” A wicked glint came into her eye. “I’ve never taken a guy’s virginity before. It made me feel powerful. And you are a natural.”

Blinking, Bradley glanced from her to Brian. “I am?”

“You were phenomenal,” said Brian. “The way you channeled everything I gave you into pleasure was just… amazing.”

“You liked it even though the two of us didn’t have sex?” Bradley asked.

Brian chuckled. “Pet, I was riding you while you thrust into her. I almost came from that. And at the end, when you started to kiss me, it drove me over the edge. I may not have penetrated you yet, but it was sex in my book.”

So many parts of that short speech made Bradley flush more that by the time Brian stopped talking, he felt warm all through with embarrassment…and pleasure and pride, too.

“Your turn,” Justine said, bumping her shoulder against him. “What bit was your favorite?”

Favoring any one aspect over another seemed blasphemous. It had been a gift. He whispered, “All of it.”

Brian frowned. “All except the spanking,” he said.

The reminder of his failure made Bradley’s head hang. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” Brian said, voice sharp and fingers catching Bradley’s chin. “Don’t ever apologize for not liking an element of a scene. This is not a judgement.” His dark eyes sparked with the intensity of his conviction. Slow and distinct, he said, “We want you to be happy. Understand?”

Bradley thought he did, finally. If his happiness was what his dom and mistress wanted, it was his duty to do everything he could to give them that. He nodded. Then, as Brian let go of his face, he remembered. “You said you shouldn’t have spanked me until we talked about something. What did you mean?”

Justine shifted and pulled away from his side.

“Not now,” said Brian, his gaze flicking to her. “Later.”

He kept saying that. Even with all the progress they’d made, there was still something they wanted to avoid discussing. Bradley bit his lip. “I should take a shower,” he said, going to stand.

Justine put her hand on his shoulder to hold him still. “Your back will hurt more under hot water.”

“And we’re still in the aftercare period,” Brian said. “Stay here.”

He got up, and when he came back with a wet washcloth and began wiping the dried sweat off Bradley from his face down, Bradley made himself relax. Perhaps they wanted him to be more comfortable with the touch of a man before they’d talk about whatever it was.

As Brian reached his waist, he stopped and offered the cloth to him.

“You can, sir,” Bradley said. His voice held steady.

Brian looked him in the eye a moment, then nodded. The cloth wrapped around Bradley’s soft cock, hardly making a barrier between him and Brian’s grip. It lingered no longer there than it had anywhere else, though. After briefly cupping of Bradley’s testicles, Brian pulled away and disappeared into the bathroom again, then returned to collect both pairs of their undershorts from the floor.

“Here,” he said, holding Bradley’s out. “Put them on and drink the rest of that water.”

Bradley obeyed on both counts. Meanwhile, Brian pulled his own shorts on and took the remote off the TV stand. He climbed onto the bed once more, this time laying on his side with his head at the foot of the mattress, then pressed the power button. He patted the covers next to him. “Come here, pet.”

Bradley was growing to love that endearment. As he crawled over and settled beside his dom, Justine said, “I’m not watching anything stupid.” She grabbed one of the pillows to use before she laid down on Bradley’s other side.

Brian rolled his eyes. “You can pick the first show, princess.” He gave her the remote and draped his arm over Bradley’s waist. Bradley couldn’t resist his desire to snuggle closer, but neither of them commented.

Justine scrolled through the channel guide for a couple of minutes until she found a rerun of Cheers that was just starting. She put that on and began to hum along with the theme song. Cuddled between them, Bradley soon fell asleep.

*

Justine spoke. “You really want to do this? Even though he liked watching you spank me?” She was laying face-down over Brian’s lap, looking back at him skeptically. “I still don’t see how it’ll work.”

“That’s because you don’t crave discipline that way. For you, it’s all a game.” Brian spanked her, but there was no noise of skin hitting skin, and no reaction on her face. His hand continued to rise and fall like a metronome as he talked. “I see it in Bradley, the way we saw submission in him last year. I feel it in myself.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” she said, and she was standing beside Brian now, looking down at the person being spanked. Bradley suddenly realized it was him. One moment he was simply observing, the next he was inhabiting that body with a snap like a rubber band that stung on his rear end, and then Brian raised his arm and another came, and another.

He jerked awake.

“What is it?” Brian asked. “Bad dream?”

Bradley pushed himself off Brian’s chest and sat up, shaking his head violently.

Justine reached for him.

“N–need to take a piss,” Bradley said. He scrambled to the floor. Second later, he was shut away from them both.

Twisting the cold tap on the sink, he splashed water over his face and then stared at himself in the mirror as it dripped off. His head was reeling. Discipline. He knew he hadn’t dreamed their words; he’d overheard them. Brian saw a craving for discipline in him.

Mohyeldin must, too. That was why he’d threatened to swat Bradley. That was what Seb was trying to tell him. Mohyeldin only got the urge to swat “special kinds of people.” Like Theo. Like Bradley. Both Brats in his eyes.

And it had worked. It made Bradley start the conversation he’d been avoiding. When he thought Brian wanted to swat too, it got him to agree to the aftercare. All without feeling the slightest bit angry or resentful towards either of them. It worked.

Last month, listening to Mohyeldin and Seb explain it, it had seemed so natural. He’d understood immediately why Seb would allow himself to be spanked even though it didn’t turn him on. And since then, the more information he got from them, the more sense it made. Why was that? It should seem insane, shouldn’t it?

Unless they were right about him.

He had to know. After the long journey of self-discovery he’d taken over the last two years, he couldn’t stop now. It was like a door inside him shaking on its hinges with the force of the answer behind it.

Then a knock sounded on the real door separating him from his partners. “Bradley?” Brian called. “Are you alright?”

Bradley opened the door.

Brian’s eyes raced over his face and down his body, as if he expected to see some injury. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

Standing at attention, staring straight ahead so his eyes were focused on Brian’s chest, he asked, “What did you want to talk about before spanking me?”

“Now isn’t the time–” Brian started.

“Discipline relationships,” snapped Bradley. “Was that it?”

Complete silence fell, like a huge, heavy blanket muffling all sound in the room. Bradley could only hear his own heartbeat in his ears.

Slowly, Brian turned to look at Justine, who was sitting at the foot of the bed with both her knees pulled up to her chin. “Do you want to be here for this?” he asked.

She shrugged one pink-silk-covered shoulder. “Not really, but I think I have to be.”

Brian nodded and stepped back, gesturing Bradley to the armchair. He looked resigned yet determined. Bradley sat down.

For several seconds, Brian only paced the length of the room between the chair and door. He rubbed his hand over his short buzzcut. Finally, he asked, “What do you know about discipline relationships?”

Bradley hesitated. He couldn’t out Seb. Mohyeldin probably wouldn’t care, but Seb would. “I’ve read some things,” he said finally. It was true, if by ‘things,’ you meant ‘emails.’

“What did they say?”

“It’s a kind of power exchange where….” He trailed off, not sure how to put it into words. After a few moments, he said, “It reminded me of the relationship between a good CO and his subordinate, only a lot more personal and loving.”

Brian stopped pacing. “That’s a great analogy.” Cautiously, he asked, “Did you ever picture yourself in that sort of relationship?”

Bradley shook his head, and Brian closed his eyes and turned away. Bradley swallowed. “Not until now.”

Brian looked back.

“You’ve been picturing it, haven’t you, sir?” Bradley asked.

Brian frowned. In the next instant, he was directly in front of Bradley, crouched on the floor so their eyes met on the same level, holding the arms of the chair to steady himself. Bradley felt pinned in place.

“Listen to me,” Brian said. “I don’t want you to agree to this unless it’s something you need. It isn’t a kink or a game or a way to please your Sir. You won’t enjoy it when I discipline you. I won’t enjoy doing it. It’ll feel the way the spanking I gave you earlier did, like you’re being punished, because you will be. And you won’t have a ‘slow down’ safeword. ‘Exodus,’ yes, you’ll still have that, but I won’t be asking you for a color. It doesn’t work that way.”

“Hence why you would not convince me to be part of this kind of thing if you paid me a million dollars,” Justine said, in a tone that was trying, and failing, to lighten the mood. “Way too real.”

It was real. Enormously real and frightening. Bradley could hardly breathe. If he said yes, how would his life change? How would this relationship, so new and yet already the most precious thing he had, change?

He made himself take a deep breath. “Can I think about it?”

“Of course,” said Brian, straightening up. “If we’re going to implement this, we must both be fully committed to its success. Take the time you need to review your course of action.”

Formal phrasing meant he wasn’t wholly comfortable. Justine had let Bradley in on that secret weeks ago. Brian must be just as nervous as he felt.

Bradley wished he could give him an immediate answer, one that would set his mind at ease, but how could he when his own thoughts were racing in circles? No hope of organizing them.

At least, not on his own.

He stood. “Mohyeldin’s fiancé, Seb? He’s visiting Annapolis this weekend, too. He said we could meet up with them if we wanted.”

When he’d gotten the email, Bradley had assumed the three of them would be too preoccupied to make it, but he knew the invitation was still open. And suddenly, Seb was the one person in the world he most wanted to talk to.

Brian looked almost flummoxed by the suggestion. Justine, though, slid smoothly off the bed and went to her suitcase. “I think that’s an excellent idea. You call them while I change, honey.”

*

They met at the park where Bradley had first seen Brian and Justine together, just before the barbeque Nak’s sponsor parents threw the year before. He could still remember the longing that had ripped through him as he watched them kiss against Brian’s car. Now, a year later, he was getting out of that same car and crossing the parking lot with them falling into step beside him. I don’t want to lose this, he thought.

Seb and Mohyeldin were waiting for them at a picnic table near a grove of trees. They were slotted together, Mohyeldin sitting atop the table, his feet resting on the bench, and Seb between his legs. A small plant in a yellow pot was balanced on Mohyeldin’s knee. He waved to the triad when they were still a few dozen yards away.

“What’s with the plant?” Justine asked as she approached, slightly ahead of Brian and Bradley.

Mohyeldin grinned. “Seb gave him to me this morning. I didn’t want to leave the little guy all alone in my room while we were out gallivanting.”

“‘Little guy’?” Brian echoed.

“Yeah, his name’s Fred.”

Rolling his eyes, Seb said, “It’s actual name is Sansevieria trifasciata. People call me a hippie, but you don’t see me going around giving plants human names.”

“Please. I bet you were talking to Fred the whole drive down,” said Mohyeldin.

Seb didn’t say anything, but he looked a bit sheepish.

“Sooooo,” his fiancé said, smirking at the three of them, “how has your day been? Anything interesting happen? Or do I need to call someone a butthead again?”

“Mohyeldin?” Brian said. “Shut up.”

Mohyeldin laughed. Instead of shutting up, he looked Bradley over, his eyes serious in his amused face. “You okay, kid?”

“Yeah,” Bradley said, tucking his hands into his pockets. Now that they were here, he had no idea how he could get Seb alone to talk. He and Mohyeldin hardly ever strayed far from each other’s sight when they were together. Bradley glanced at Justine. He had a whole new appreciation of how hard the distance must feel for them.

Mohyeldin was still studying him when he looked back. Abruptly, he put the plant on the table and tapped Seb’s shoulder so he cleared the way for him to get up. “Come with me a sec,” he said, jerking his head at Bradley and walking away.

Bradley blinked, but followed him without hesitation. Justine and Brian stayed behind with Seb.

Once they were out of earshot, Mohyeldin turned around. “You sure you’re alright?” he asked. “You’re looking a little squirrelly.”

Do you think I’m a Brat?

No. Mohyeldin would answer, whether he thought Bradley would like the answer or not. He wasn’t ready for that. “I–I need to talk to Seb,” he said. “Not about anything bad.”

Mohyeldin’s eyes narrowed consideringly. “Submissive to submissive?” he asked.

Bradley nodded. Close enough.

“Okay.” He stepped away a little and waved at the table, calling, “Babe!”

Seb started to walk over. So did Brian and Justine, until Mohyeldin held up his hand to stop them. They were too far away for Bradley to read their expressions. Seb’s, as he approached, was worried. “Quelle?” he asked.

“Why don’t you and Platt take a walk?” Mohyeldin said. “I’ll stay and talk to these guys for awhile.”

D’accord,” Seb said. Mohyeldin kissed his cheek and headed off to rejoin the other two. Seb looked at Bradley a moment, then pointed to the grove of trees. “Let’s go this way.”

Bradley nodded.

He didn’t ask what was wrong. Neither of them spoke until the branches partly obscured their view of the picnic table. Then Seb bent and picked a golden leaf off the ground.

“We came to this park the day after I first met you,” he said, rolling the leaf’s stem between his finger and thumb and watching it twirl. “Zain and I laid on a blanket right on this spot for hours, while I drew him and the trees. It was peaceful. Almost made me forget I had to say goodbye to him later. I like this place.” Falling silent, he continued to walk.

That was the ‘goodbye’ that had made Bradley accuse Mohyeldin of abuse, he realized. Based only on overhearing a few words between them. Thank God he’d gotten to know them both better before he saw a spanking, or he might’ve jumped to the wrong conclusion again and lost his two greatest friends.

And most of that was down to Seb being willing to share his feelings and experiences, to help Bradley understand. He knew it wasn’t easy for someone as shy as Seb. If he could do it, Bradley could, too.

He took a deep breath. “Brian, Justine, and I had our first scene today. You were right about it being different when the dominant person cares. It was wonderful.”

Seb looked over, a smile starting on his lips.

“Then after,” Bradley made himself go on, “I was dozing, but I was just awake enough to hear them talking about… about how he wanted to have the same kind of arrangement with me that you have with Mohyeldin. You know,” —his voice lowered so much, it was barely audible over the swish of leaves beneath their feet— “discipline.”

Seb didn’t seem surprised. “How did you feel?”

Bradley shrugged, because any word that came to mind was inadequate. “Scared. Mad that they hadn’t talked to me about it sooner.”

Frowning, Seb asked, “Scared like, scared of them abusing you?”

“No,” said Bradley. “Scared because…it was like…this one piece fit in place and suddenly the whole picture made sense.”

“But it wasn’t what you wanted to see,” Seb said. “Or it was, so much that you wanted to hide from it?”

“Both,” he breathed. The confession made him lightheaded. “I shut myself in the bathroom. When I came out, Brian and I talked a little. He explained some of how it would be.”

They’d reached the edge of the grove. Seb turned along the curve of the trees so they weren’t walking into the exposed soccer field beyond. “What about Cameron?”

“She was there, but she’s not going to… participate in this, from what she said. Just me and him. I asked if I could think about it, and then we came here because I had to talk to you.” He paused to blow out his lungs. “How did you decide you were a Brat?”

Seb opened and shut his mouth, flushed, and looked down. “It wasn’t a decision,” he said, staring at the ground a few feet in front of them. “It was a realization.”

“Then how did you come to the realization?”

His blush deepened. “I threw a can of paint at Zain, and he spanked me. After that, I couldn’t deny it anymore.”

It was Bradley’s turn to open and shut his mouth like a fish. A few seconds later, he managed, “I can’t even imagine you throwing something in anger.”

“Scared more than angry,” Seb said. “I think I was… giving him a reason to do it. He’d been talking about discipline, and I wasn’t good at, um, I mean I was worse than I am now at discussing my feelings. Plus I just wanted to finish painting the damn wall.”

The grumble in his voice on the last sentence made Bradley’s lips twitch. Then he bit them. “So, after he spanked you the first time, you knew?”

Seb’s steps quickened. “More like, as soon as I was over his lap, but yeah.”

If that was going to be true for Bradley, he should’ve known already. He frowned.

“Listen, finding this out about yourself doesn’t mean you don’t have a choice,” Seb said, stopping without warning and turning to meet his eyes. “It’s up to you what you do, if anything, and who you do it with. And you can withdraw your consent later, if you think your Top isn’t acting in your best interest, but keep in mind if you do that, it’s a bigger deal than safewording in a scene.”

“I know,” Bradley said. That was what made it so frightening. What if he agreed to it, then changed his mind, and Brian decided he didn’t want to be in a relationship at all? He couldn’t lose him. “Have you ever done that with Mohyeldin?” he asked.

Seb’s gaze wavered. “No. With Quint.”

“But… you get spanked by him now,” Bradley said, confused. Seb had called Quint his ‘foster Top’ and mentioned one of the spankings.

“Yeah,” Seb said. “We worked it out.”

“What if you hadn’t?”

He made a face as if he didn’t like thinking about it. “Then we’d just be friends.”

They’d started out as friends, though. Was it different with a romantic relationship? It had to be. If he could only find some certainty…

“Brian already spanked me,” he blurted. “In the scene.”

Seb blinked. “Oh. Did you, um, enjoy it?”

Shaking his head, Bradley said, “We thought I might, but he had to stop because I didn’t like it. Does that make me a Brat?”

Seb gave a little huff of laughter. “If it did, most of the world would be Brats,” he pointed out. “It’s not about whether you don’t like being spanked, it’s whether discipline makes you feel safe and fulfilled, whatever form it takes.”

Bradley swallowed. His voice shook as he said, “I didn’t feel very safe. I felt like I was being punished for no reason.”

“Then that wasn’t discipline,” Seb said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You always know the reason for a punishment, and if you don’t, you can ask, and your Top will explain. And he’s never, ever allowed to punish for no reason, or when he’s angry. If Myrick does that, you have to tell me or Zain. Promise.”

“He wouldn’t,” Bradley said, stiffening. “Brian is honorable. What happened in the scene was just a mistake.”

“I know, but promise anyway,” Seb insisted.

Really, he reminded Bradley of Mohyeldin sometimes. “I promise,” he said.

Seb squeezed his shoulder. “Merci.”

The promise wouldn’t even matter if he decided against having a discipline relationship. His eyebrows came together. “You’re acting like I’m going to agree to have a Top.”

“It’s your decision,” Seb said.

Bradley’s gut twisted. “Do you think I’m a Brat?”

Hesitantly, Seb nodded.

“Does Mohyeldin?”

Another tiny nod.

They could be wrong. They might have misjudged him. But Mohyeldin had thought he was a good person back when he’d been awful at every turn, and Seb had been the first to see his submission, and both of them knew Justine and Brian would make him happy. The odds of them being wrong about this were slim.

Rather than the caged feeling he’d expected, Bradley could’ve sworn a weight was lifted off his chest. He breathed deeper. Slowly, he said, “And you knew Brian’s a Top, too, didn’t you?”

Oui,” said Seb. “We weren’t going on instinct there, though. He told Zain before you three got together, when he heard Zain call me ‘brat’ on the phone.”

Bradley blinked. “He knows about you two?”

Seb nodded.

Peering over his shoulder in the direction of the picnic table, which he couldn’t see at all, Bradley asked, “Are they talking about discipline relationships right now?”

“Maybe?” said Seb, in a tone that sounded more like ‘probably.’

Bradley looked back at him, horrified. Seb just seemed confused, so Bradley said, “I don’t want him plotting with Mohyeldin.”

“Oh,” Seb said. “Good point.”

Together, they hurried towards the table.

Mohyeldin was facing away from them as they approached. Brian and Justine sat on the opposite side. As Bradley broke through the trees, he caught their gazes.

Before he’d started dating them, he’d thought they viewed him with nothing except professional detachment more often than not. He could recall only a handful of times when they wore expressions like what he saw now. One—the meeting in Justine’s office when they told him about the graphic photo Belcher’s friend Gould had left for him to find—stood out most vividly in his memory. He slowed his steps. The concern and apprehension in Brian’s eyes only grew.

Then Mohyeldin asked, “Have a nice stroll?” and Bradley realized he’d also twisted to look at him, and despite the casualness of his tone, he was just as intense in his scrutiny.

Seb answered the question by nodding. Mohyeldin held out a hand, commanding him closer, and Seb moved passed Bradley to take it and drop onto the bench. He leaned against Mohyeldin as though he was exhausted.

Bradley moved to stand at the short end of the table. Looking at the plant set dead-center on it, he softly admitted, “We were talking about how to know if you’re a Brat.”

“What a coincidence!” Mohyeldin said. “We were talking about how to know if you’re a Top. And what that means, exactly.”

Bradley blinked, shaken out of his nervousness a little. He met Brian’s eyes again. “You weren’t sure either?”

“The theory, I’ve known for years, but my practical skillset is nil,” he said. “It wasn’t until meeting you that I seriously considered living the lifestyle.”

“Which I find amazing, because he’s a proper, by-the-book, Top’s Top,” said Mohyeldin, grinning. “Unlike me.”

Realizing Brian was brand new to this as well gave Bradley an odd sense of comfort. He couldn’t be compared to some previous Brat and found wanting. Brian wasn’t trying to fit him into a box simply because he desired this type of relationship for himself. It was genuinely based on what he saw in Bradley.

“Listening to them discuss it made me feel more comfortable with the idea,” Justine said. “I understand better how it could benefit you.”

That helped, too. He’d gotten a definite sense before that she didn’t approve or thought it was weird.

“What conclusions did you come to, Bradley?” Brian asked. “Or do you need more time to consider?”

Silence opened out, inviting him to speak. All eyes were on him. Still, he couldn’t answer. Even if he was likely a Brat, did that mean he would really want this? For as long as they were together—a lifetime, God willing? He tried to peer into himself, behind the closed door, but what if it was closed for a good reason? The thing it contained could break something irreplaceable if it got loose.

“Um, I have an idea.”

Seb was barely audible, yet everyone’s attention snapped to him in an instant. He flushed and hunched his bony shoulders up.

“What is it, habibi?” Mohyeldin asked.

Fidgeting and picking at the hemp bracelet he always wore, Seb explained, to Mohyeldin more than to anyone else, “I think it’d be helpful for Bradley to have a… a trial period. So he can see what it’s truly like without committing. At the end of it, they can make the final decision. Or maybe say they need to extend the trial.”

Mohyeldin gave a slow smile. “Babe, you’re ruining my reputation here. I’m supposed to have all the brilliant ideas.”

Bradley looked from him to Brian. “Can we really do that?” he asked. It did seem brilliant, but too good to be true. For him, there was never an easier road.

Brian frowned uncertainly. He looked to Mohyeldin as well. “It would work?”

“I don’t see why not,” said Mohyeldin. “You both keep your word. If you say you’re going to fully commit to it for a trial, I can’t imagine either one of you cheating by holding back your true responses and waiting for the clock to run out.”

No, they wouldn’t. That meant Bradley would still have to open that door. Wide. But he’d have the option to close it again. And then… “If we decide we don’t want to continue, what happens?” he asked Brian.

“We go back to the way we are now,” Brian said. “It won’t change how I feel about you, I promise.”

He let out a breath of pure relief. Mohyeldin was right. When Brian made a promise, he kept it. He’d proved that from the very first time they met.

“How long?” Justine asked. “A month?”

Mohyeldin shook his head. “Too short. There’s a sort of settling-in period, and a learning curve you have to go through. I’d say two months, minimum.”

“Might as well make it until the end of the semester, then,” she said, almost to herself. She turned to Brian and shrugged one shoulder. “I’m alright with it.”

“Does it sound acceptable to you, Bradley?” he asked. “A trial through the end of this semester?”

Swallowing on his dry throat, he nodded.

“No, say it aloud,” said Brian.

“Yes, it’s acceptable, sir,” he said, and then flushed. He hadn’t meant to add the ‘sir.’

Brian’s smile made him forget his embarrassment, though.

“Good,” Brian said, before he held out his hand the way Mohyeldin had done to Seb. Bradley took it and let himself get pulled around the table to sit at his new Top’s right.

“Congratulations,” Seb said quietly. His whole face was glowing.

Mohyeldin grinned. “Yeah, congrats to you both.”

“Thank you,” said Brian. He squeezed Bradley’s hand under the table and let it go.

Raising an eyebrow at Brian, Mohyeldin said, “So, now that you have a Brat–”

“Well, I already had her,” Brian interrupted, indicating Justine on his other side with his thumb. His lips twitched. “She’s the spoiled variety.”

Justine huffed indignantly.

“Right, but now that you all have each other,” Mohyeldin said, with obvious patience, “the hard part starts.”

Bradley’s growing good mood drained out of him as if someone had pulled a cork. Beginning wasn’t the hard part? he thought in dismay.

“You have to define what this relationship is going to look like for you,” Mohyeldin went on. He was being almost as serious as Bradley had ever seen him. “Some of that just evolves as you experience it, but you should decide on any essential rules as soon as possible.”

Brian nodded and sobered as well. “We’ll do it right away.” From his pocket, he produced a pen, together with a small reporter’s notebook. He opened it, flipped through a few pages covered in shorthand to find a blank sheet, and scrawled across the top, Rules for Bradley. Turning the page again, he wrote on the next one, Rules for Brian.

“The Top gets rules, too?” Bradley asked, mostly to cover up his nerves. They were going to make the rules now?!

“Of course!” said Mohyeldin. “There are tons of rules for Tops. Seb lectures me all the time about breaking them.” He grinned and winked. “I keep the important one. ‘Health first.’ Everything else is negotiable.” Grabbing the plant off the table, he started to stand. “We’ll just leave you three alone to discuss–”

“Wait,” Brian said.

Mohyeldin stopped, frowning at him. He wasn’t the only one. They’d all heard the faint note of panic.

“I… would appreciate your advice and guidance,” said Brian, stiffly. “I’m not sure how to proceed.”

Mohyeldin cleared his throat like he was trying not to laugh and sat down again. “Okay. It might help to think about what your overall goals are first. Then you can find the rules that support those goals.”

“Right,” Brian said. He flipped to the next blank sheet and wrote Objectives.

Mohyeldin shook his head. “Goals,” he corrected. “It’s not a military operation, remember.”

“It means the same thing,” Brian said, almost in a grumble, but he crossed out the word and wrote Goals instead. Then he frowned. “How should I word it? All I want is for Bradley to be safe and happy.”

“Word it just like that. It’s perfect. And good to hear, by the way. You’d have no business doing this if that wasn’t your ultimate goal,” Mohyeldin said. “Kid, what about you?”

Bradley rubbed his sweaty palms on his elbows as he crossed his arms. His heart was racing like a gun had gone off. He wanted to shake his head and deny he had any goals for this. Shouldn’t it be up to Brian? Yet somehow, he heard himself speaking without his will. “I… I want to like myself.”

Seb gave him a look of pure empathy. Bradley couldn’t meet his eyes, or anyone else’s.

“That goes back to being happy,” Mohyeldin said, his voice soft, “but it’s worth listing separately.”

Nodding, Brian wrote for a few seconds. Bradley didn’t read it. He heard a rustle of paper, and when he glanced over, Brian was back on the first page for rules, writing again. 1. Keep yourself as safe as possible.

He stopped with the pen pressed into the period. “Agreed?”

“Yes, sir,” Bradley said. He knew how to do that. He’d proved he could defend himself last year.

Brian wrote a 2 on the next line, but he didn’t continue. His brow furrowed. Bradley felt as perplexed as he looked. Safety was easy. How did you create a rule to make someone happier?

Across the table, Seb shifted. “Can I make a suggestion?”

Brian looked up at him, still frowning. Seb shrunk into himself under the intensity of it, until Mohyeldin put his arm around his shoulders. Then Brian seemed to notice and consciously relax his face. “Go ahead,” he said.

Seb swallowed. “Um, I think Bradley’s biggest obstacle is withholding.” He shot Bradley a guilty glance, as if he thought he was betraying him. “I’m sorry.”

Bradley was just more confused. “Withholding?”

“Not telling the people who care about you when something is bothering you,” said Mohyeldin. “And yeah, I’d have to agree.”

Of course you would. Scowling, Bradley said, “That’s called not spreading my shit around to other people who can’t do a fucking thing to help.”

Seb recoiled. He probably would’ve gotten off the bench and run away if Mohyeldin wasn’t hanging onto him. Bradley felt his hurt expression like a punch to the gut. Before he could start an apology, though, Justine spoke for the first time since the conversation had turned to rules.

“Hon?” she asked, leaning on the table to look at him around Brian. “I think you got used to thinking that way when you were a kid, because you were scared if you told anyone what was going on at home, they’d take you away from your mom. You don’t have to be scared of that anymore. We can help, even if it’s only to listen. Everything that happened earlier today was because you told us something that had been bothering you, remember?”

Bradley’s cheeks heated up. She was undeniably right about the last part. He still hated the idea of having to tell them every little problem he had, but Brian was already adding No withholding to the list, and for some reason, he didn’t argue.

It’s only through the end of the semester, he thought. I can do it that long.

Brian kept writing. 3. Complete honesty is expected with your partners.

“That’s the same thing!” Bradley protested.

“Not necessarily,” Brian said. “It’s a broader concept. This one applies to me as well.” He flipped the page to the Rules for Brian and wrote it again as number one. On the line below, he wrote, 2. Control your temper.

“You put that on the wrong list,” Bradley muttered. Brian was always in control. He didn’t go around making his friends look the way Seb did even now.

Mohyeldin shook his head. “If temper is the only way you can communicate when something’s wrong, kid, it’s better if Myrick doesn’t take away the option.”

“I agree,” Brian said. “It’s on my list because I like to remind myself that I am in control of it.”

Bradley wished he could say the same. He glanced at Seb, then dug his fingernail into one of the cracks where two boards met each other on the tabletop, staring at his knuckle as it turned white from the pressure. “I don’t like it when I’m mean and use curse words,” he whispered. “I want to stop doing that.”

He could feel them all looking at him. Brian, especially. His gaze always seemed heavy on Bradley’s skin.

Eventually, Brian said, “Those are other issues.” The pen scratched on paper.

Bradley peeked over. He’d flipped back to Bradley’s list and written, 4. No meanness towards anyone, including yourself. 5. No swearing.

“Or you could just learn to swear in Arabic,” Mohyeldin suggested cheerfully. “Fewer people around here understand, and it’s useful to your military career.”

Brian ignored him to ask, “Do you want to apologize for your remarks earlier?”

Flushing, Bradley nodded and made himself lift his chin to meet Seb’s eyes. “I’m sorry I reacted so negatively to your idea when you were only trying to help.”

“It’s o–” Seb started, then caught Mohyeldin’s expression and went on, “I mean, I forgive you.”

Bradley exhaled. After a moment’s thought, though, all his nerves came back. “Am, um, am I in trouble?” he asked Brian.

“Why would you be?” Brian replied, surprised. “We just added those rules.”

“And rules have to be communicated before they can be broken,” said Justine. She poked Brian’s bicep. “Write that down on your list.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “I thought you didn’t want to be involved in this part.”

“Only with rules for him,” she said. “I can boss you around all day, Midshipman.”

Brian gave her a Look, but he wrote it down as number three on his list.

As he did, Seb leaned closer to Mohyeldin and cupped a hand around his ear to whisper something. Mohyeldin listened, then smiled and nodded at him, encouraging. Bradley saw Seb’s gaze flick to Brian. He shook his head and hid half his face behind Mohyeldin’s shoulder.

Mohyeldin rolled his eyes good-naturedly. Turning back to the triad, he said, “Seb would like to suggest another rule for Myrick could be, ‘Offer praise whenever possible.’”

“Oh, yes,” Justine said. “That’s a great one.”

Bradley opened his mouth to snap that he didn’t need to be told he was a ‘good boy’ as if he were a dog. At the last moment, he managed to bite his tongue. Breaking two different rules within ten minutes of their creation seemed like a bad way to start the trial period.

Brian was dutifully writing the rule out. When he finished, he capped the pen and looked up. Right into Mohyeldin’s expectant expression. He frowned. “What?”

Mohyeldin tipped his head back and gazed toward the heavens. “Say, for example,” he said, addressing the sky, “if a Brat does something like recognize behavior he wants to change and offers a sincere apology for it, that might be something you could praise.”

“I don’t expect–”

“No, he’s right,” Brian interrupted Bradley. He sounded a little pained. “You performed admirably, and that should be acknowledged. I commend you.”

Justine sighed. “We’ll work on the phrasing,” she promised Mohyeldin, who was staring at Brian as if he’d just beamed down from another planet.

But contentment unfurled through Bradley. He’d pleased Brian. He couldn’t care less what words were used to show that. His head ducked to hide the curve of his lips.

“I’m adding another rule for all three of you,” Mohyeldin announced. “Be physically affectionate whenever possible.’ Cuz if you two don’t hug him right now, I’m gonna.”

They did. It didn’t stop Mohyeldin and Seb coming around the table and joining in seconds later.

After they’d all retook their seats and Bradley’s flush had faded a few degrees, Brian said, “We also need to talk about consequences for breaking each of these rules.”

That brought the heat roaring back to his face. He was not going to talk about getting spanked in front of all of them. Anyway, why did they have to? Quickly, he said, “I won’t break any of the rules.”

Mohyeldin laughed. “Never, huh? Great idea. Don’t know why every Brat doesn’t do that.” Bradley glared at him, and Seb hit his shoulder, but he just grinned and went on, “As it happens, I also think you shouldn’t get into the nitty-gritty right now, though not for the same reason.” He turned to Brian. “You don’t really know yet how he’s going to react to different forms of discipline. You have to be adaptable in the early stages. I think writing down specifics will be bad for you both. It’d encourage rigidity. Maybe just some possible consequences you each agree to try.”

Brian frowned as he considered it. Bradley did the same. The idea of even a list of what might be coming up made his stomach tie in knots. But then, would not knowing feel any better?

Leaning forward, Justine raised her hand and said, “Question. Bradley can’t leave the Yard most days. Where are you going to find the privacy to deliver these ‘consequences?’” She put air-quotes around the last word.

Bradley felt a fresh wave of horror. He hadn’t considered how loud this could be. If someone overheard–

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Mohyeldin said, waving it away. “I’ve scoped out plenty of spots. I’ll give you a list.”

Seb stared at him, clearly as alarmed as Bradley had been a moment before.

Mohyeldin caught the look. He smirked. “You’re moving down here soon. You didn’t think I’d be prepared?”

Seb slanted closer to him and muttered something about on the Yard.

With no concern for anyone overhearing, Mohyeldin replied, “Oh, c’mon, babe. You know I’m impatient. If something comes up, I’m not going to wait around until I have liberty. Would you really want that anyway?”

Seb’s nose and mouth twisted in opposite directions. He stuck his tongue out at Mohyeldin and hissed a remark that didn’t even sound English. Turning back to the other three on the opposite side of the table, he rolled his eyes at Bradley. It was a gesture that invited him to commiserate. Not see what I have to deal with, but see what we have to deal with. Both of them, as fellow Brats. It felt… nice.

*

A group of families from the soccer field moved into the picnic tables surrounding them as the game ended. There was only enough time for Mohyeldin to point out a number of discipline options that could be done silently, and then they had to abandon the conversation. Bradley was fine with that. From the look on Justine’s face, she felt the same.

“I’ll email you,” Mohyeldin said to Brian and Bradley. “Along with the list of places.”

“Thank you. We appreciate it,” Brian said. “We should be going, anyway. We had planned to have lunch at the city dock.”

“Would you like to join us?” Justine asked, throwing Brian a pointed look.

Mohyeldin shook his head, though. “We’ve got plans of our own.” He patted the side of the potted plant on the table in front of him. “Fred here is probably too young to see them. Do you think it’s considered cruel and unusual treatment of a plant to shut him in a hotel bathroom for a few hours?”

“Oh, mes dieux, I’m going to kill you,” Seb said, tugging on his arm as he got up. “Come on.”

His obvious desire to escape before his fiancé said anything even more incriminating was thwarted, though, since they’d parked in the same lot as Brian. The five of them walked to it together, but Mohyeldin kept his inappropriate comments to himself now. Instead, he whistled Heigh-Ho the whole way, pausing only to interject into the mostly-one-sided conversation Justine struck up with Seb about San Francisco.

Bradley and Brian kept quiet until they reached the parking lot. Then Brian nodded to the couple. “Thank you,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here without your friendship and guidance. We appreciate it.”

“Yeah,” Bradley said, pushing his hands into his pockets. “We do.”

Mohyeldin smiled and said, “If you have any questions, we’re always here.” He and Seb gave Bradley another hug, and Mohyeldin shook Brian’s hand and clapped him on the back, and then they swerved to find their own vehicle while Brian led the way to his car.

*

They drove to the Academy, left the car there, and started off on the ten-minute walk Bradley had taken every week with Brian. Soon, they were about to pass the boutique with the anchor necklace in its window. Maybe if he could think of an excuse to stop, he’d be able to figure out if Justine liked it without her knowing?

Just as they were in front of it and he was opening his mouth to make up a story about shopping for a birthday present for his mother, Brian said, “Hang on, I think I have a pebble in my shoe.” He crouched to untie his laces with the same kind of slow, methodical attention as someone disarming a bomb.

After several seconds, Justine said, “Would you get a move on? I’m hungry.”

Brian shot a glance upward, but his eyes landed on Bradley, not her. He raised both eyebrows and jerked his chin at the shop window.

Yeah, but what do I say? Bradley thought. Justine was watching Brian extract an imaginary rock from his shoe, not looking anywhere near the necklace. He cleared his throat and turned to it himself, hoping that would draw her attention.

No luck. He coughed again, scanning over the window. Pointing out the necklace itself was too obvious. It wasn’t the only thing in there, though. He seized on the first likely option. “‘I refuse to sink.’”

The non-sequitur attracted Justine’s focus at last. She looked around and saw the t-shirt he was reading off, with its design of an anchor painted among swirls of blue.

“They’re always putting that on stuff with anchors,” she said. “My tattoo artist wanted to know if I’d like it written below the tattoo. Do they not know anchors are made to sink and hold the boat in place?”

“I guess not,” Bradley said. He waved vaguely at the rest of the window. “Looks like they have an anchor theme going.”

Rather than offer an opinion on the necklace, she frowned at him a moment, and then down at Brian, who was still moving with glacial speed, checking every nook and cranny of his shoe before shaking it out. She smiled. “Yeah,” she said, with sudden fondness in her voice. “I see that. The wrap bracelet there is pretty.”

Bradley blinked and readjusted. She was pointing to a bracelet made of several coils of braided leather, held together with an opal, anchor-shaped fastener similar to the charm on the necklace.

He was also pretty sure she knew exactly what they were doing. On the off-chance she didn’t, though, he simply nodded in agreement. It was just as pretty as the necklace. And the leather made him think of his cock ring, with a flash of heat that went from his face to the marks of the flogger on his back.

Brian finished putting on his shoe a lot quicker than he’d taken it off, and they continued on their way to the café. Justine didn’t mention the bracelet again. After they ordered, they carried their cups of coffee and sandwiches to one of the benches where Bradley and Brian usually called her on Saturdays.

But he didn’t relax into eating as he sat between them. What if someone bought the bracelet before he could? Now she was expecting to get it. He couldn’t disappoint her.

“You’re being quiet, Bradley,” Brian said. “Anything bothering you?”

He shook his head, then reconsidered and said, “Um, actually, I think I want a danish. I’ll be right back.”

Neither of them argued. Leaving his cup on the bench with his half-eaten sandwich, he hurried to the boutique.

The woman behind the counter looked startled as he came through the door. Bradley realized he’d opened it a bit too forcefully, but he didn’t waste time on explanations. “Excuse me, ma’am. There’s a bracelet in the window I’d like to buy.”

Five minutes later, he was walking back to the dock with a small, brown paper bag.

Justine and Brian both smiled as he approached and moved his food out of the way so he could sit. Bradley did, then dipped his hand into the bag and pulled out a white box.

That’s not a danish,” Justine said, with over-exaggerated surprise.

“Just open it, little girl,” growled Brian.

She put her coffee down and took it from Bradley. As she removed the lid, he chewed on his lower lip, worried that he’d somehow gotten the wrong one. But she gave a little sigh of delight and brushed her fingertips on the anchor. “It’s even more beautiful up close. You are such a sweetheart, Bradley. Thank you.”

That now-familiar warm glow filled him at the praise, along with the squirmy feeling. To distract himself from both, he reached into the bag again. “Um. This one is for you, Sir. I mean, they’re both the same, but one is for you and one’s for me, so you can open yours first.”

Brian’s reaction was a lot more genuine than Justine’s had been. He blinked down at the box—much smaller than the one that held the bracelet—and said, “That was unnecessary.”

“Brian,” Justine said, exasperated.

He ignored her to gently lift the box from Bradley’s palm and open it. Inside, on white cotton padding, was one of the keychains Bradley had spotted on his way to the counter. The anchor pendant attached to it was made of gray metal, not opal, but the braided leather was the same shade as Justine’s bracelet.

“Oh!” she said.

Brian swallowed. “You got one for yourself as well?” he asked, his voice rough.

Nodding, Bradley took out the third box and opened it for them to see. “I thought… you know.”

“It’d be something to tie us all together,” Justine said, putting the perfect words to what he couldn’t say. He nodded again. In so many ways, today had been the true beginning of their relationship. He wanted all of them, himself included, to remember the new depths they’d reached even when they weren’t near.

She put her hand on his knee and squeezed it, as close as any of them dared get to a physical display of affection with so many people nearby. On his other side, Brian patted Bradley’s shoulder. He felt a current travel from one touch to the other, straight through his heart.

10 thoughts on “Anchors Aweigh”

  1. Amazing. This was such a great story. I love your writing and definitely worth the wait:). I’ve been missing your regular weekly posts.

    1. Thank you, Rogueindy! I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to doing weekly posts, but I am trying to have shorter stories I can post more frequently in between the longer ones. 🙂

  2. Really good, I really liked how we also got to see some more of Justine. She’s quite the character. 😉

    And finally Platypus got a top! Maybe Zain’s palm won’t be itching as much anymore.

    Can’t wait to see how the trial run goes. 🙂

    P.s loved Fred! :’D

    1. Thanks, SF! I love Justine. I’m glad you like her too. 😀

      I think Zain’s palm will continue to itch regardless, lol. But now he can scratch the itch vicariously through Myrick. xD

      Fred was fun to put in. I think I have plans for him, too!

  3. Great story! I love reading everything you write. It was great getting to know the trio better! Loved the hot scenes too ❤

  4. Oh, awesome! An update with Bradley, this made my week! And I am so glad Bradley’s got a top lol. This was amazing! So looking forward to more.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing another wonderful story. I have really enjoyed reading it. I’m excited to see how the trial goes and love Seb’s insightful support of Bradley.

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