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Getting Sacked

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Business man adjusting shirt sleeve

Well, that was it, then. They were going to fire him.

Crowley was sure of it.

He’d pushed the envelope one too many times, questioned one too many assistant managers a bit too often, and now it was finally happening. The pink slip. The long elevator ride to the lobby. The lonely little cardboard box containing no more than a potted plant and some post-it notes to show for years of service. The averted glances and feigned ignorance of the entire office as he’d be made to slink toward the exit, security trailing just in case he decided to make a scene. The entire affair was going to be so embarrassing. He cringed at the thought.

The frosted glass doors leading into the C-suite stood before him, the absurdity of their monolithic size emblematic of the pretentious twats who sat in their glossy little offices just on the other side.

Save one, he thought.

He’s about to fire you, you dunce. Don’t defend him, he countered himself.

Still. He’d seemed all right. Crowley really thought they’d hit it off.

Maybe you did come on a bit strong with the whole oyster thing… he thought, reaching for the shiny chrome handle to pull one of the doors open. He stepped through with a steadying sigh. No use putting off the inevitable. Might as well get this over with.

His eyes darted from side to side, taking in the mostly closed doors to individual offices on either side of the suite. A few stood ajar, and as he passed by the corner suite marked “Gabriel Arcnangle, Lead Program Manager,” he could hear the guy laying into some poor bastard on the other end of his phone.

Crowley skirted past the open door quickly. It was bad enough he was about to be fired. If he could manage to get through it sans any further interaction with that executive asshole, that would be great.

As he approached the door at the opposite end of the room, his already rapidly beating heart picked up the pace an additional notch. He thought back to what the email had actually said. Maybe it wasn’t so bad as all that, after all. It hadn’t actually said that he was fired.

Well, of course it didn’t. They never say that straight out in the email, you idiot. They do it face to face, so they can watch you squirm.

What it had actually said, now he thought about it, hadn’t been much.

***

Mr. Crowley,

Please stop by my office this afternoon at your earliest convenience. We need to discuss a matter of some import.

Regards,

A.Z. Fell
Manager, Global Security and Protection Unit
Afterlife Ideation and Consulting

***

In fact, now he thought about it, it had said almost nothing. As little as possible, even. That could just as easily mean a promotion! He sighed inwardly. He had always been a bit too much of an optimist. It made for rather disappointing results when his overly positive outlook turned out to be misplaced. Still, he’d had a good run. Come up all the way from the mailroom; right from the very bottom. You don’t go from Basement Level 5 to the 99th story by being completely incompetent.

Sure, he’d slept his way to a few of those promotions along the line, but he’d genuinely earned just as many of them. He was good at his job. He had good ideas. He couldn’t help it if he was just a bit too honest at heart. He wasn’t afraid to tell execs when their ideas were shit. And that was probably why he was standing here right now. As he reached for the door handle, his mind wandered back to... oysters…

“These are an aphrodisiac, you know,” Crowley had said, grinning over his little disposable plastic cup of Scotch. He’d popped another oyster into his mouth, as if to punctuate his point.

Mr. Fell blinked in response, but seemed unfazed. “Oh, really?”

Crowley shrugged, taking another swig of his drink. “That’s what they say. Couldn’t testify to the effectiveness, myself.”

The afternoon sun was glinting off the pond, and even through Crowley’s sunglasses, it was more than a little blinding. Maybe it was the alcohol going to his head; he was feeling a bit reckless. He’d dreaded this “employee engagement” party initially, but as soon as he’d seen the new manager here at the buffet table, his mood had brightened. Mr. Fell had just transferred in from head office the week before, and while Crowley had been in a few boardroom meetings with him so far, he’d yet to score any “one on one’s” as it were. Now was his chance.

So, he’d sauntered over, said hello, and begun tossing back oysters and Scotch with the new boss.

Everything was going great right up until about Crowley’s third drink.

“Top up?” Fell asked, helpfully refilling the cup. In retrospect, the bastard had probably done it on purpose. Gotten him good and drunk and ready to talk trash.

“So, tell me,” Fell had said, casually. “How is it working under Gabriel? You agree with his methods?”

And he’d told him. Oh boy, had Crowley told him.

That had been Friday afternoon. And now here he was, the following Monday, standing outside Fell’s office. Naturally, once he’d sobered up, he realized he’d been perhaps a bit too forthcoming; a bit too honest. But over the course of the weekend, he had convinced himself that nothing would come of it. After all, Fell was new here. He had no particular loyalty to Arcnangle… that Crowley knew of. But then, he’d called him Gabriel--first name basis. They could be old fraternity buddies, for all Crowley knew. Maybe they’d gotten together over the weekend just to laugh about how stupid and transparent and easy he’d been--finally giving the Lead Twat in Charge the excuse he needed to show Crowley the door after all these years.

Someone cleared their throat. Crowley started, turning to see Sandalphon grimacing at him from across the way. Crowley waved, putting on a smile--acting like he hadn’t just been frozen in place, hand halfway to the door for the last thirty seconds or so. He turned and rapped definitively on the door three times--best get this over with before he made a complete fool of himself.

“Come in,” came the mild, cheerful voice from inside. Deceptively cheerful, Crowley thought now, seeing everything about the man with a fresh perspective.

He spared one last glance for Sandalphon, but the little man had already turned his attention to the photocopier, where he was punching the same button over and over, apparently to ill effect. Crowley opened the door.

Chapter Text

Business man adjusting shirt sleeve

Fell looked up from his desk with what appeared to be a genuine smile. “Ah, Mr. Crowley, please do come in.”

Crowley didn’t see any reason to be aggressively rude, but he wasn’t going to play this ‘nice guy’ game, either.

“You wanted to see me?” he said simply. “You said it was important.”

“Well, yes,” said Fell, setting some papers aside.

Crowley took the opportunity to glance around the room. It was the first time he’d been in Fell’s office, and it would probably be the last. He couldn’t help but notice how different it was from all the other C-level offices he’d been in.

It wasn’t as large as Arcnangle’s. Naturally, Gabriel had reserved the huge corner office for himself. But, it was plenty big, and Fell had decorated it with walls covered in leather bound books, several side tables, a globe, and most notably -- a bar cart featuring several decanters of liquor, wine, and a prep station for hot drinks.

Fell caught him looking at the bar cart. “Ah, can I offer you something?”

“No, thank you,” Crowley stepped more fully into the room. “Think you’ve seen enough of me drunk, already.”

He shoved his hands into his pants pockets, and sidled closer to Fell’s desk, eyeing the two plush office chairs poised there for guests. He wondered which one he was meant to sit in. No, he decided. He’d stand. No good getting sacked sitting down. He probably wasn’t going to be here long, anyway.

When he looked up, Fell was frowning at him. “Oh, well that’s perfectly all right then, dear boy. Hope you don’t mind if I do?”

“No,” Crowley responded instinctively.

Dear boy? Well, that was certainly interesting. Fell was acting downright friendly.

Crowley watched as Fell stood up from his chair, rounded the desk, and went to the bar cart. He produced a large mug and began to prepare himself some sort of dessert beverage, tapping an automatic milk frother to life and moving on to the tin of cocoa and sugar as the machine started making little hissing sounds.

“So, Crowley. Tell me about yourself.”

Fell quickly deposited equal parts cocoa and sugar into the mug, then took up a large glass bottle full of a thick, sweet looking liqueur. He poured it on top of the already saccharine witches brew forming in the cup.

“Sorry, what?” Crowley said, less than eloquently.

“You, dear boy,” There was that phrase again. “Tell me about you.”

The machine finished making gurgling sounds, and Fell reached for it, pouring the now hot, frothy cream into his mug. He looked up expectantly at Crowley, who was standing in place, dumbstruck.

“Friday, in the park,” Fell said, “We talked mostly about work. I want to know more about you. Do you have any hobbies? Anything you do in your free time?”

Well, of all the things Crowley had expected to happen in this meeting, this certainly wasn’t it.

“Ah,” he began. “Well, I…”

“Please, sit down,” Fell indicated the chairs with a spoon before dipping it into his mug where he slowly began to stir the pungent concoction. He was approaching the desk again as Crowley dumbly sat down.

He immediately realized his mistake.

Fell didn’t sit down. Instead, he came to rest in front of the desk and leaned on it, sipping his drink.

Shit, thought Crowley. I can’t stand back up, now. I’ll look stupid.

Fell smiled down at him over the rim of his mug, his expression positively beatific. The bastard clearly knew exactly what he was doing. But what was he playing at? What was the point of posturing and putting Crowley in his place if he was about to fire the man anyway?

Unless.

Unless, maybe…

Crowley allowed himself another moment of hope -- perhaps the entire thing had been a misunderstanding, after all. Fell had already mentioned the garden party directly, and breezed right past it with no further comment.

Maybe he was so drunk himself, he forgot about it?

Unlikely.

Fell pursed his lips suddenly, lowering his cup.

“Oh dear, what’s going on in that brain?” he asked in a softer voice than before.

“W-what?” Crowley stammered; again, less than eloquently.

“You look as if you’re trying to puzzle out a particularly troubling Sunday crossword. Don’t you have any hobbies? Special interests?”

“Oh,” said Crowley. “Well, sure. I guess.”

“Well,” said Fell. “Tell me.” He took another sip of his drink.

“Oh,” Crowley tried not to fidget under his gaze. It wasn’t easy. The man was practically looming over him, like some kind of scientist inspecting an insect under the microscope. Or a bird watching a worm it was about to eat.

He said the first thing that came to mind.

“I’ve got houseplants.”

“Ah,” Fell said approvingly. “Very good. What kind of houseplants?”

Crowley tugged absentmindedly at a thread on his pants. “Calatheas. Pothos. Caladiums. All kinds. Got a few snake plants.”

Fell perked up at that. “And what does a snake plant look like? That name gives quite an image.”

Crowley chuckled despite himself. “Oh, it’s just this green plant. It’s got these kind of variegated stripes along its trunk, so people think it looks like a snake. Looks more like a slightly perkier aloe vera, in my opinion.”

“I see.” Fell shifted his weight where he was perched on the desk, inching imperceptibly closer to center so he was now directly in front of Crowley. Their knees were practically knocking together.

Shit, he is really trying to unnerve me. Make me move away first. What is his game?

“And what made you decide to begin cultivating houseplants?” Fell asked. “Any special reason?”

If Crowley were an idiot, he’d say the man was genuinely interested in his answer. But Crowley wasn’t an idiot.

“You don’t care,” he said.

Fell blinked in the same unaffected but calmly surprised manner he had at the garden party when Crowley had casually mentioned oysters as aphrodisiacs.

“My dear, whatever do you mean?”

Crowley leaned in, planting his elbows on his knees. He locked eyes with Fell; defiant even if he was a full head shorter from this vantage point.

“I mean, you don’t care about my blessed houseplants,” said Crowley.

Fell continued to smile pleasantly back at him, unperturbed.

“What the hell are you playing at?” Crowley hissed. “You call me up here for something ‘very important’, and proceed to drink boozy hot cocoa and ask me about my hobbies?”

“Yes, all right then,” Fell said briskly. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

He stood abruptly to his full height, forcing Crowley to sit back to avoid brushing against him. He circled round the opposite side of his desk and set the mug aside, pausing to tug at his waistcoat before settling back into his chair.

“I understand you’ve been with the company five years?” Fell said, seamlessly changing the subject, as if without a care in the world.

“Ah,” Crowley sat back in his chair, trying and failing to guess where the conversation might go next. “Yes. More or less.”

“Not a short time to stick with one company, these days.”

“No, I guess not.”

“And you started all the way from the bottom, I understand. Sorting mail.” Fell shrugged his shoulders with a grimace, as if he couldn’t quite imagine it.

“Eh, yes,” Crowley sighed. All right, here it was. Finally Fell was going to cut the small talk and get to the point of sending him packing. Who do you think you are, anyway, mail boy? Thought you could run with the big dogs? Talk shit about the big boss and get away with it? Well, no more.

“Quite an achievement, when put in that context,” Fell went on. “All the way up from the mailroom to the top floor? In only five years? More or less?” He was looking at Crowley expectantly, as if waiting for an explanation.

He couldn’t take this anymore.

“All right,” Crowley exclaimed, throwing up his hands. “I get it. Can you just get on with it, already?”

When he looked up, Fell was gazing at him with a wide-eyed expression of surprise and amusement.

“Get on with what, my dear boy?” Fell positively cooed. He was clearly enjoying this, and Crowley hated him for it. Fucking asshole.

“I was drunk! Drunker than I had any business being, ”Crowley shouted at his knees, hands gesticulating wildly. “And I said things. Stupid things! Things I should have known better than to go mouthing off to you about, of all people. New boss. Talking shit about your boss. I was mad. I was pissed. I was…”

Crowley stopped, sparing a glance for Fell. He was sitting calmly across the desk, hands clasped, rapt in attention.

“Oh please,” he said. “Do go on.”

“Look, I’m... sorry, all right,” he said, trying with everything in him not to whine. “I just... if you’re going to fire me, I just wish you’d do it already and have done with it!”

Good god, don’t cry, you idiot. What is wrong with you?

Crowley could feel the pinpricks of tears welling up in the corners of his eyes, and he swallowed hard to keep them at bay. He was not going to lose his cool and turn into a sobbing mess in front of Fell. Absolutely out of the question. He had to wrap this up fast and get the fuck out of here. Now.

He took a deep, steadying breath. When he had himself somewhat under control again, he dared look across the desk to meet Fell’s gaze. To his credit, the man looked completely at a loss for words.

He now wore a frown, his eyebrows knitted together in what appeared to be a mixture of utter grief and confusion.

“My dear boy,” he began. “I’m not going to fire you.”

Now it was Crowley’s turn to look dumbfounded. “You’re... you’re not?”

“No,” Fell said, a twinge of utter disbelief in his voice. He paused, reflected, and let out a good-natured laugh. “Is that what you thought all this was about?”

Fell indicated ‘this’ with the wave of one finger, taking in the desk and chairs where they’d been playing the age old dance of two businessmen asserting dominance through physical posturing and one-upman-ship in the form of height variation for the last several minutes.

“Well,” Crowley said, feeling a bit stupid now. “Yes?”

Now Fell really did laugh, glistening peels of bright laughter from deep in his chest.

He stood up again, coming out from behind the desk. “No, no, my dear,” he said. “I’m terribly sorry if I frightened you.”

“Uh,” was all Crowley could think to say.

“How about that drink now, eh?” Fell called, already moving towards the bar cart. “I have been told I possess a quite singular sweet tooth, but do take a sip of that and see if you don’t like it.”

Crowley eyed the still steaming cup on Fell’s desk.

“You want me to--” he began; uncertain.

“Yes, please. Help yourself,” Fell replied, already working on a second cup of whatever it was he'd made for himself.

Crowley leaned forward, gingerly picking up the mug, and brought it to his lips. He was careful not to touch the place where he could still clearly see the mark left by Fell’s lips -- a perfect kiss of moisture clinging to the rim.

He sipped the hot liquid, and it burned slightly going down his throat. Unmistakable taste of amaretto. Almonds and butter and cream and sugar. It was indeed very sweet, but... it wasn’t bad.

“What do we think?” Fell’s soft voice, very near, made him jump. He nearly spilled the drink, but recovered quickly, setting it down on the edge of the desk.

“Oh,” Fell chuckled. “I’m terribly sorry. I keep putting you off your guard, don’t I?”

When Crowley turned to face him, he didn’t think Fell looked particularly sorry at all. In fact, he looked quite more than pleased with himself.

“S’all right,” Crowley muttered.

“So,” said Fell, rubbing his hands together. "What do we think? Yes?”

Crowley looked back at the mug, nodding. “Yeah, sorry. It’s... it's not bad. I’ll have one, thanks.”

“Very good.”

A minute later, Crowley’s heart rate had more or less returned to normal, and Fell was offering him a mug with a smile.

He took a first tentative sip, noting that this time, Fell went back to the other side of his desk and sat in his chair, forgoing the whole hovering-on-the-edge-of-the-desk affair.

“Right then,” said Fell, reaching for a stack of papers. “Where were we? Ah, yes. Your meteoric rise from obscurity to mid-level design and marketing agent.”

“Oh.”

"I understand you've worked quite closely with Michael's team in the past." Fell said, and Crowley felt his stomach drop.

"Uh, yes," he said, "But not so much anymore. Don't think they were uh… all that impressed with my… work."

“Now, there was a specific…” Fell rummaged through papers, obviously looking for something. He didn't appear to have heard Crowley's last remark. “Ah, here it is.” He settled a pair of round reading glasses on his nose, and began to read from a printed page.

"Project Proposal to Maximize Efforts in New Business Acquisition--Department of Defense and Aerospace Division."

Crowley squirmed in his seat. He thought it had been some of his best work, but Michael… Michael had shut it down in a fury. Said the whole concept went directly against company message. He looked up to find Fell watching him.

Fell waved the stack of papers idly. "This proposal went nowhere, I understand."

"No," said Crowley. "Well, not nowhere," he winced. "Went right into Michael's recycling bin, as I recall."

"And why do you think that was?" Fell asked, flipping casually through the pages.

Crowley huffed, not quite a laugh. "No mystery, there. Said it was a wasted effort, trying to score peacekeeping business in a department dedicated to war. Who wants to invest in clearing off land mines in Yugoslavia when they could be spending twice as much to lay down new ones in Yemen?"

Fell smiled, but it didn't quite make it to his eyes. "I see."

He removed his glasses and laid the packet down on top of a stack of papers.

"So then, if Michael was so displeased with your efforts, why do you imagine they chose to promote you not long after you proposed this particular project?"

Crowley shrugged. He had to be careful. "Eh, dunno, really. More of a lateral move, anyway…"

Fell hummed, sounding unconvinced.

“I see. Well, no matter. Tell me, Mr. Crowley, if I were to ask you to… say, rework this proposal a bit… give it a…” he paused, seeming to search the ceiling for just the right words. “Give it a fresh coat of paint, if you will. Redo some of these graphics, new title, freshen it up a bit. Could you do that?”

Crowley frowned. “Of course. But… why?”

Fell was smiling at him, already setting the packet of papers aside. “The fact is, Mr. Crowley, if this proposal had come across my desk rather than Michael’s, it would not have wound up in the recycling bin.”

Crowley’s eyebrows shot up. “Really?”

“Really. It’s quite good. And I think with a few minor changes, and the right budget, and of course the proper management… it could do quite well. Be both profitable and beneficial to the company, and… well, to the world. And that’s not to mention being a public relations win. Military supplier invests in efforts for peace? Makes for rather a nice press release, don’t you think?”

Crowley let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “Well, yes, I do think. That’s why I--”

“--Wrote the bloody thing in the first damned place, yes?” Fell grinned.

Crowley laughed. “Sorry. But, yes.”

Fell chuckled good-naturedly. “See, the thing is, I have a feeling that if I take this to Gabriel in a bit of new wrapping, as it were, looking fresh and new, and pitch the whole thing over again, with perhaps a bit more focus on the financial end…” he gave Crowley a knowing look, “He might be rather more keen on it.”

“What about Michael?” Crowley asked.

Fell paused, considering. “Fuck Michael.”

Oh. He doesn’t know. Good.

Fell reached for his drink, cradled it in both hands over his desk, and took a big sip.

“Well, Crowley. If you can do that for me, it would be most helpful. By the end of the week; would that be possible?”

Crowley nodded, sipping at his own mug. “Mmm, oh definitely. I still have all the files. I keep everything.”

“Oh, very good, then,” Fell looked pleased.

Crowley, feeling a bit more confident, shifted in his seat and said, “So, can I ask you something?”

Fell leaned forward ever so slightly. “Oh, please do.”

“Well, you and Arcnangel. You knew him before you took this job, yeah?”

“Ah,” Fell remarked, setting his cup down again.

“I -- I’m sorry,” Crowley began. “It’s not my business--”

“You do that a lot; do you know?” Fell cut in.

Crowley looked up, startled. “Do what?”

“Apologize unnecessarily.”

Crowley didn’t know what to say to that, so he just let his mouth fall open; dumb.

Fell smiled warmly. “What makes you think I knew him before?”

“Well, you… you call him by his first name. He doesn’t… no one does that.”

Fell looked up darkly through blonde lashes.

“I see. You strike me as a very perceptive man, Mr. Crowley.”

He didn’t know quite what to say to that, either.

Fell sat back in his chair, crossing one knee over the other.

“Yes, Gabriel and I go… way back, you might say. We went to university together; same Master’s program and all. Naturally, our paths crossed. Mine, his; Sandalphon’s.”

Crowley repressed the urge to smirk. It must not have been entirely successful, because Fell was chuckling at him.

“Sorry,” said Crowley. “That guy is just weird.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why should you be sorry that Sandalphon is weird? And a right pompous ass, to boot?”

Now it was Crowley’s turn to laugh. “Oh.”

“Let me be clear, Mr. Crowley. Gabriel, Michael, Uriel, Sandalphon, all of them. I know them. We have history. We’ve all worked together quite a bit in the past.”

He leaned forward on his elbows.

“We are not friends. I did not accept this position because I enjoy working with them, or because we have similar working styles. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

Crowley sat frozen in his plush office chair, unsure of what to say.

“I am here because if there is one thing I have learned over many years in this business, it is that if positive change is to be made, it is often best made from within. I am hoping, perhaps wrongly, that my influence here might be able to… right the ship, as it were. Home office is far too detached from the everyday goings on here, and Gabriel has been kept on a very loose leash for far too long, in my opinion.”

He sat back, standing up from his chair and leaving it rocking back and forth from the swift movement. He came around from behind the desk to stand near Crowley again.

“I do hope you are a man I can trust to take all of this in discretion… and… perhaps help me in this effort? Beginning with the rewriting of this proposal?” he tapped the packet of papers on his desk with a closed fist, punctuating his point.

Crowley looked up at him, somewhat stunned by all he’d revealed. He certainly hadn’t expected that.

“I -- yes, of course.”

Fell smiled. “Very good. Now then, Mr. Crowley, I’m very sorry indeed to say that our time is quite up.”

“Oh!” Crowley looked at his watch. Jesus, it was nearly 4:30. Had he really been here that long?

He got up, realized he was still holding the mug, and cast about for somewhere to put it.

“Oh please, let me,” Fell reached for the cup. As Crowley handed it over, their fingers brushed. He felt a chill run down his spine in response to the physical contact.

Their eyes met, and Crowley could swear the man’s smile had just redoubled its efforts. He could feel his cheeks turning pink, and he gratefully let go of the mug and turned away, feeling like a perfect idiot. What the hell?

He heard the tap of the mug being set down on the desk, and wiped his hands on his pants, smoothing them down straight.

“Well, then,” Fell was saying, “Let me walk you out.”

He stood next to Crowley, one arm outstretched. He never so much as touched him, aside from the bit with the mug, and yet Crowley couldn't help but feel as if he were being shepherded, propelled towards the door by some invisible force.

Fell reached for the door knob, resting his hand on it.

"You were wrong, by the way," he said.

"About what?" Crowley managed to ask without his voice cracking. Why did this outwardly unassuming, cheerful, and friendly man make him so damned nervous?

"I don't make idle small talk, Mr. Crowley. If I ask you a question, it is because I expect an answer."

Crowley was stunned for a second before finally taking his meaning.

"Oh. Are you-- you're talking about… houseplants?"

Fell smiled warmly. "Yes. Houseplants. Perhaps you can tell me more about that another time."

Before Crowley could even think of an acceptable answer to that statement, Fell had ushered him through the door and closed it firmly behind him.

Chapter Text

man in a suit using laptop computer

Crowley made the walk back to his cubicle as quickly and calmly as possible. He flexed his hand, the one Fell had grazed with his own, making a fist and then splaying his fingers out wide, trying to shake off the unsettling tingle still lingering there.

The chill in his spine was still there, too, and Crowley picked up the pace, all but jogging back to the relative safety of his desk in an attempt to put the entire conversation behind him.

Not that most of it had been unpleasant, but it had definitely been unsettling in some indefinable way. Aside from the obvious posturing and what Crowley could only identify as playful… teasing? Fell had been more than polite, even friendly. He had revealed a great deal of confidential information to Crowley; information Crowley could only assume he hadn't shared with many, if any, other employees. He had specifically asked for Crowley's discretion.

Maybe it's a test, he thought. Maybe it was all bullshit and he's just waiting for me to run and repeat it to the first person who will listen. Then he'll know if I'm to be trusted or not.

Could be. But somehow, he didn't think so. In any case, it wouldn't matter. Crowley knew how to keep his mouth shut. So that was what he'd do.

He ducked into his cube, slumped into his desk chair, and sighed. He glanced back toward the open doorway of the little lidless box that served as his home away from home at the office. Maybe someday he would impress someone far enough up the chain to earn a door, or at the very least a bloody privacy curtain.

At his height, he could just see over the walls when standing. But at least when sitting in his chair, no one could see him unless they walked right by the doorway. It was the closest thing to a sanctuary he got in this building.

He had missed several emails while he was out, and he set to work checking them. One was from human resources, alerting the graphic design listserv of an upcoming Photoshop training (bit of a waste of Crowley's time at this point in his career; he deleted it), one from an automated system that sent newsletter updates ("Afterlife Takes Home 3 Awards in Global Communications!" Delete…), and one from Arcnangle. Crowley opened that one.

 

from: Arcnangle, Gabriel | garcnangle@afterlifeconsulting.com
to: Crowley, Anthony | acrowley@afterlifeconsulting.com
date: Nov 4, 2019, 3:17 PM
subject: [blank]


hey send me that report again, i need it for my afternoon meeting--

 

That was it. That was the email.

Good grief, Crowley scoffed inwardly.

With this man's seven figure salary, it was truly incredible the things he couldn't be bothered to do; namely constructing coherent emails -- or keeping up with one PowerPoint document for more than a day.

"And it's a presentation, you twat. Not a 'report.'"

He checked the clock. Arcnangle's afternoon briefing started in about twenty minutes. Lucky that Crowley had even seen the email in time. What an ass.

He replied to the email with the PowerPoint file attached. Feeling a bit cheeky, Crowley didn't actually bother with any message reply. Let him figure it out. Surely he could manage to download one email attachment without further explanation or assistance. Probably.

All right, what now? He navigated through his file directory, going back a couple of months to a folder named "Peacekeeping Proposal for Michael" and opened it.

Some indeterminate amount of time later, when his eyes began to cross, he stood up and realized it was getting dark outside.

"Fuck," he cursed under his breath, looking at his watch. Seven o'clock. He packed his things quickly and headed for the door. The floor of cubicles was a ghost town, but as he made his way past the C-suites, a flicker of light caught his eye. Someone was still in there. Who in their right mind would still be at the office this late?

Well, you for one, idiot.

The glass walls leading to the C-suite made it easy enough to make out where the light was coming from. Fell's office door was ajar; just open enough to allow the warm yellow light of a table lamp to cast a beam onto the floor outside. Every other office in the suite was dark.

 

***

 

from: Crowley, Anthony | acrowley@afterlifeconsulting.com 
to: Fell, A.Z. | azfell@afterlifeconsulting.com
date: Nov 5, 2019, 9:32 AM
subject: Updated Project Proposal Document

 

Good morning,

Attached you will find the updated pitch document you requested. Please let me know if you have any changes or concerns.

Regards,
Anthony Crowley

 

A two sentence email really should not have taken that long to write. Crowley glanced at the clock in the corner of his computer screen. He’d been sitting here, staring at the blinking cursor in Outlook for fifteen minutes. For some reason, it had seemed very important to get this email just right. He shook his head, feeling more than a bit neurotic. And decaffeinated. He needed coffee.

 

*

 

At noon, his email pinged for approximately the forty-seventh time that day. He was in the middle of adding textures to a poster design and barely glanced at the notification -- he got all sorts of spam and other bullshit emails that didn’t warrant his full attention. He did a double-take when he saw the name.

 

from: Fell, A.Z. | azfell@afterlifeconsulting.com
to: Crowley, Anthony | acrowley@afterlifeconsulting.com
date: Nov 5, 2019, 12:03 PM
subject: RE: Updated Project Proposal Document

 

Mr. Crowley,

I did say by the end of the week, did I not? Are you trying to impress me? If so, it is working.

Please stop by this afternoon at the same time as yesterday, if you are free.

PS: Please come prepared to discuss houseplants. :)

Regards,

A.Z. Fell

Manager, Global Security and Protection Unit
Afterlife Ideation and Consulting

 

Crowley stared at the email for a few seconds. He read it again. The big stupid grin on his face was entirely inappropriate, but he couldn’t help himself. He’d gone so long at this godforsaken company with exactly no one praising his work that having any kind of positive response to it was enough to make him smile.

He looked at the clock. 12:05. Two hours until he would be expected in Fell’s office. He tried to ignore that slightly disappointed feeling that left him impatient; wishing that two hours would pass by in an instant so he could go right now.

Time for more coffee. If he moved quickly, he’d have just enough time to finish up this poster before the meeting.

 

*

 

At 2pm on the dot, he knocked on Fell’s door.

“Do come in,” came Fell’s voice from inside.

Crowley opened the door, and was met with the sight of A.Z. Fell, a bottle in hand, wearing quite possibly the sharpest cut suit Crowley had ever seen in the offices of Afterlife Consulting yet.

“Good afternoon, dear boy,” said Fell. “Are we drinking?” he asked, holding the bottle aloft.

Crowley closed the door. “I won’t say no. Is that…” he tried to get a better look at the bottle, but Fell was already cracking it open. “Is that Scotch?”

“Keen eye, you have. It is.” Fell was already pouring two glasses. “I understand you like it?”

Crowley frowned, approaching Fell to accept one of the glasses that was being offered. His mind flashed back to the day before, and that awkward moment with the mug. This time, Fell grasped the glass by the rim so their hands didn’t touch. Crowley wondered if it was on purpose, then immediately had the realization that… he was pretty sure… Everything Fell ever did was entirely on purpose. Calculating.

He remembered what he'd said yesterday. I don't make idle small talk, Mr. Crowley. If I ask you a question, it is because I expect an answer. 

Crowley was beginning to realize how true that was. Even when the man appeared laid back, just chatting, Crowley could see the gears turning in his brain. It seemed he was always twelve steps ahead, playing some kind of chess game, making conversation to put you at ease when really, somewhere in there, he was planning his next move.

“How did you know I like Scotch?” Crowley asked, following Fell to his desk, taking a seat in the same plush chair he had occupied yesterday.

Fell turned to sit at the desk, giving Crowley the chance to get a better look at him. That suit... he thought. It was impeccable, very light grey, almost the same color as the man’s curling platinum white hair. He had a little blue pocket square and matching tie. He’d looked nice enough yesterday, in a perfectly acceptable business suit, like most of the C-level execs wore on the daily, but today he looked like he must have plans at some very fancy locale after work. By comparison, Crowley felt a bit like a scrub in his black jeans and v-neck t-shirt. The age-old uniform of a visual creative, maybe, but he suddenly felt distinctly underdressed for this meeting.

Fell let out a little laugh as he sat down. “My dear boy, you were nearly swimming in it at that garden party. It was clearly your beverage of choice.”

Crowley felt his cheeks turn warm again at the reminder of just how drunk he’d gotten that afternoon. He’d made a complete fool of himself, and he couldn’t shake the feeling he was going to be playing catch up on that bad first impression for a while. Although, Fell didn’t seem to have thought any worse of him…

Fell must have sensed Crowley’s internal monologue somehow. He took a sip of his drink, then set it aside.

“That is to say, I noticed you’d had several, and so I brought you several more… My dear boy, I was rather hell-bent on getting you hammered that day. You hardly stood a chance. No need to fret over it.”

“Oh,” Crowley fidgeted, finding himself under that intense gaze again. “Right.”

Something about sitting in this chair made him feel like he was on display. He wondered if that was by Fell’s design.

Crowley shrugged, trying at casual. “I did wonder.”

“Well, wonder no more,” said Fell, leaning back in his chair. “You seemed to be having a pleasant enough time, and it certainly loosened your tongue a bit, didn't it?” He grinned at Crowley.

Sitting like that, leaned back in his chair, he reminded Crowley of a very relaxed cat enjoying a sun beam.

“Ah,” said Crowley.

“I suppose it was a bit manipulative on my part.”

“A bit?” Crowley choked.

“All right, more than a bit,” Fell conceded. “I needed to know where you stood with the… old guard, as it were. Had a feeling about you, but couldn’t be sure.”

“Right.”

Fell smiled, interlaced his fingers over his stomach, and rocked the chair. “I do hope you’ll forgive me.”

His tone indicated that he really had no doubt. And damn him, he was right. Crowley was already past any irritation he’d been harboring over the idea. After all, he’d certainly done his share of manipulation around the office over the years, and he understood the need to be sure about someone before you confided in them. The man was just being smart; protecting himself. It didn’t seem to Crowley, at least so far as he’d seen, that Fell was really capable of any true malice.

Crowley shrugged. “No, I... I get it.”

“Good then.” Fell continued to rock back and forth, perfectly content. “To the matter at hand.”

Crowley sat up straighter. Right, the proposal. Crowley expected Fell to reach for one of the many stacks of papers on his desk or turn to his computer to bring up the file. Instead, he didn’t move, aside from the casual rocking of his desk chair.

“I wonder what inspires a man to bring the outdoors into his home and begin nurturing it?”

Crowley’s eyebrows went up. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Houseplants, my dear boy. We're discussing you and your houseplants.”

“Oh. Right.”

“So tell me. What do you get out of it?”

Crowley considered before answering. He’d never really given it a lot of thought. Didn’t seem like something one really needed a reason for, but something told him ‘Dunno, just seemed like a good idea at the time’ wouldn’t be an acceptable answer.

“They need someone," said Crowley. "If I… didn’t come back one day… they’d die.”

Fell’s chair stopped moving. Crowley looked up to find the other man leaning forward to rest his elbows on the desk. “Go on.”

“I guess,” Crowley shrugged. “That’s enough. I don’t really… have anything else that needs me. I take care of them because… someone's got to.”

Crowley hadn't realized how true that was until he'd actually said it. But yes, that was the fundamental reason. Bit pathetic when you put it that way. He hated to think that, some days, the responsibility of tending those plants was the only thing worth staying alive for. But then... 

Fell hummed, considering Crowley's explanation. “Hmm, so you have a desire to be needed?”

Crowley sputtered, the deeper implications of the statement hitting him full force. “What? No!” He took a gulp of his drink, glancing away. “Wow, you really don’t mince words, do you?”

Fell smiled, swiping one hand across his desk as if dispersing an invisible speck of dust. “I did warn you.”

Crowley scowled. “Warn me about what?”

“That I don’t make idle chatter.”

“Well, I didn’t expect a psychoanalysis, either.” Crowley’s voice was rising in his throat. “They’re just houseplants. Doesn’t have to mean anything deep or sinister.”

Fell looked stricken. “My dear boy, what could be sinister about wanting to be needed?”

“N-- Nothing! I don’t-- I don’t know, just--” Crowley just knew he was turning beat red now. He needed to change the subject.

Fell took in an audible breath, pressed both hands into the edge of the desk, and rose from his chair. He opened a drawer and took out two immaculate white cotton gloves. His eyes met Crowley’s briefly.

“All right, then,” he said, drawing on one of the gloves. His fingers flexed, stretching into the tiny recesses of the thin fabric. “If you prefer, we can discuss one of my hobbies instead.”

“Uh,” Crowley said. The image of Fell tugging on gloves should not have been so alarming. And yet.

Fell paused, giving Crowley the tiniest smirk. “Ah, now that’s interesting.”

Crowley came to his senses with a start. “Gh-- What is?”

“Nothing,” Fell used that same soft voice he had the day before, when he’d startled Crowley from behind, asking about hot drinks.

Fell went to one of the walls lined with books, drawing one hand lightly across the surface of what looked like ancient bindings. A lot of the books looked very old. Fell took his time selecting one. When he did, he drew it away from the rest with the most delicate of handling; one finger of one hand on the top, and one from the other on the bottom of the binding. He slowly pulled the leather bound volume towards him until it was free of its companions on the shelf.

He brought it to the desk, elbowed a stack of papers out of the way, and laid it down gingerly on the mahogany surface.

He looked up from where he was now leaning over the book.

“Come here, Crowley. I think you’ll enjoy seeing this.”

Crowley got up, set his drink on the far edge of the desk, and came to stand next to Fell as the other man tenderly stroked the front cover of the thick book. It was at least a thousand pages, looked heavy, and was wrought in intricate leather tooling all along the edges of the cover -- all scrolls and… some kind of figures hovering around the frame.

“Are those angels?” said Crowley, pointing out one of the figures.

“Yes,” said Fell, pointing to another figure along the bottom edge. “And demons.”

“It’s a Bible?” Crowley asked. The cover had no title text, but as Fell gingerly opened it, the first page elicited an audible gasp from Crowley.

It was a song of color -- a cacophony of intricate line work, scroll work, and more figures dancing across the page, all rendered in the finest inks. Red, blue, yellow, green, purple -- every color imaginable leapt from the paper, and there in the center, were the words:

 

THE

HOLY

BIBLE

Conteyning the Old Teftament,

and the New:

Newly Tranflated out of the Originall

tonguef: & with the former Tranflationf

diligently compared and reuifed, by hif

Maieftief fpeciall Comandement.

 

“My god,” said Crowley. “That’s incredible.”

Fell carefully turned a few pages, and Crowley’s mouth fell open. The depiction on the first page of Genesis showed the scene in the Garden of Eden -- the serpent offering Eve a bright red apple, Eve’s hand outstretched to receive it. It was almost beyond words, the beauty rendered here. The bright colors were vivid on the page, even after all these years.

“How old is this?” Crowley whispered, reverent.

"It claims 1611," said Fell. "Though it's difficult to be sure. It is most definitely seventeenth century, or somewhere thereabouts. However, there's little documentation available on this particular volume, and as you may have noted -- no publisher's mark.”

Crowley turned to look at him, shock written on his face. “How? How do you have this in your office? Don’t books like this usually live in museums?”

Fell chuckled. “Yes, they do; typically.”

He turned a few more pages, carefully placing them as he went.

“How did you… Where do you even buy something like this?”

“Acquiring this book was something of a bucket list item for me, my dear boy. It was… Well, let us call it a very expensive investment.”

“Right,” Crowley smiled. “I think my hobby’s a bit cheaper.”

Fell let out a good-natured laugh. “Oh, I don’t know. I’ve seen a few of those listings for, what are they called? Monstera… something?”

Crowley leaned on the desk, giving Fell an appreciative look. Clearly the man wasn’t entirely ignorant on the topic of plants. “Monstera deliciosa?”

“Yes,” Fell exclaimed, eyes wide. “That’s the one. What a lovely name, too.”

“Swiss cheese plant just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it,” Crowley said. “Yeah, I don’t… have any of those. The full grown ones can run in the hundreds.” He shook his head, rolling his eyes. “It wasn’t always that way; they’re just… trendy right now.”

“I see,” said Fell, turning deeper into the book.

He stopped somewhere midway through Genesis, turning one final page to a section in chapter thirty-two.

There, rendered intricately in black and white line work, was a full page illumination of Jacob wrestling the angel.

Crowley swallowed, hard. “My god.”

“You are familiar with this story?” asked Fell.

"Ah, yes,” he said. “The scene, anyway. Gustave Doré. I did go to art school, after all.”

Fell sighed, gazing at the page almost lovingly. “This artist went in rather a different direction, didn’t they?”

“Ah, yes,” said Crowley uncertainly. “Seems that way.”

Crowley thought back to the Garden of Eden scene. It had certainly had something… more than a bit subversive about it. Different from any other rendering of that scene he could remember. It seemed to paint the interaction between the serpent and Eve as almost… almost like a love story rather than a tragedy. Her mouth open, waiting for the fruit, her hand reaching for it eagerly.

This image went far beyond the subtlety of Eve's open mouth. It was blatantly erotic.

The angel had Jacob by the throat with both hands, from behind, and appeared to be choking him. Jacob was on his knees, struggling, arms thrown overhead and trying to get at the angel’s face any way he could. It was in vain. The angel’s robes were tight around his body, displaying every muscle and sinew. Their bodies were flush and Jacob was naked. That wasn’t uncommon in artwork of this scene. What was uncommon was that Jacob had a visible erection, and his face was contorted in what might be interpreted as either extreme pain or pleasure. The presence of the erection, however, made the artist’s intentions somewhat… difficult to mistake.

“My god,” said Crowley again. What else could you say, really?

“Indeed,” said Fell, trailing one glove-clad finger over the erotic image, like he was stroking a lover. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

And really, it was.

The flowing robes were etched so perfectly, the texture of the fabric coming through almost as if it had been pasted onto the page. Everything about the image was dynamic, like the two figures might leap out toward the viewer at any moment, caught in an eternal struggle for dominance. The image was positively filthy, and holy. It was gorgeous.

Fell turned to look at him. When he spoke, there was a new passion in his voice. “Someone drew this at least three hundred years ago, for another someone who commissioned them to draw it, at what was quite likely a very high price -- some Renaissance noble who decided what they most wanted to possess was a version of the Bible in which everything holy is rendered in as human, as sinful, and as sexual a context as was artistically possible." He paused, taking a breath. "I find that knowledge incredibly satisfying. What do you think of it?”

“Ah,” said Crowley. “It’s…” And now he must have been beat red, because his face was burning. He really was at a loss for words. 

“Oh," Fell said, his eyes downcast. "I see that it makes you uncomfortable.” He was already closing the book, carefully resettling the cover in place.

“N-no,” said Crowley, against his better instinct. “I mean,” he scoffed, displacing a bit of nervous energy through laughter. “I did say I went to art school. I’ve, uh... seen some things.”

Fell chuckled. “Yes, I imagine so. You did not expect to see this in your boss’ office today, though, did you?”

“Ah,” Crowley hedged. “Well…”

“You don’t recall part of our conversation from that night, do you?”

“What?” Crowley was thrown by the apparent shift in topic. “What conversation?”

“The garden party. I’m beginning to realize you may have been a bit more intoxicated than even I realized at the time.”

Crowley’s mouth fell open for the second time in two minutes.

“What?” he said quietly, racking his brain to try and think what Fell might be referring to. His memory of that afternoon was a bit hazy. He remembered ranting about Arcnangle, eating a lot of oysters, and not much else.

“I’m sorry, I--”

“No no, my dear boy,” said Fell. “I am the one who should apologize. All this time, I’ve had you at a disadvantage and did not realize it. No wonder you’ve been so shaken.”

Fell turned away from the book, leaving it to lie untouched on the desk.

“You don’t remember saying to me how much you looked forward to working together?”

Crowley stared, now face-to-face with Fell, feeling lost. “I… I’m sorry, I really--”

“My dear boy," Fell became stern, though his voice didn’t rise even above a whisper. "We are going to break you of that habit, if it is the only thing I accomplish here.”

Crowley blinked, dropping his gaze to stare at the floor. “Right. Uh, I don’t remember.”

“I seem to recall a comment about aphrodisiacs.”

Crowley’s eyes went wide. “Oh, that was a joke!”

“It really wasn’t," Fell said, flatly.

“No, it was! I was only--”

“My dear, that was how you opened the conversation. And in my experience, such jokes are rarely made completely in jest.”

“Ah,” Crowley put his hands in his pockets, unsure of what to say.

“But if that had been all you said,” Fell went on, “We wouldn't be having this conversation right now.”

Fell pressed his still gloved hands together in front of him. He almost looked like he was about to pray. Crowley dismissed the image, already feeling blasphemous as all hell after what he'd seen in that Bible.

“What… what else did I say?” asked Crowley, almost fearful to know.

“You… implied… that if you did a,” Fell rubbed his hands together, clasped them, looking ever more like a man about to give confession.

“What?” Crowley squirmed. “For god’s sake, just tell me.”

“You implied that if you did a... very good job for me, I might expect to rise in the ranks quickly here.”

“Uh,” Crowley racked his brain. Now he was thinking about it, this was sounding familiar. He had been… extremely drunk. He'd been sick the next day, which usually took quite a lot of alcohol to accomplish.

“You indicated that you had done... similar work... for others in the past.” Fell was giving him a knowing look. He did not appear to be talking about graphic design. Or project proposals. Fell closed his eyes, sighing. “For others in the C-suite?”

Oh, fuck. He did remember saying… some very stupid things. In fact, now he was remembering… “I said that?”

Fell nodded. “You don’t remember?”

“I… shit.” Crowley took a step back, running a hand over his face. “Yes. I mean, I… I remember… something like that.”

Fell calmly began removing the gloves from his hands, tugging at each of the fingertips until they loosened enough to slip from his hands with the pinch and pull of one middle finger, then the other.

“I sincerely apologize, Mr. Crowley.”

And just like that, Fell’s voice had changed. Gone was the teasing cadence, the little playful smirk. He was genuine.

Crowley shook his head. “I… it’s fine.”

Fell opened the drawer of his desk, and replaced the gloves, slamming the drawer closed with a harsh grating sound.

“I did receive your updated proposal this morning, of course,” he said, shifting the tone of the conversation immediately. He turned back to his desk chair and sat down. “Very good work. I’m quite sure it will be sufficient for my purposes. Thank you.”

Crowley was still standing next to the desk, hands at his sides, feeling dumbstruck.

Fell looked up, as if suddenly realizing Crowley was still there. “You may leave now, Mr. Crowley.”

“Wh--” Crowley breathed. “Leave?”

“Yes. You’re dismissed,” said Fell, already reaching for his mouse, waking up the computer, and navigating to open his email.

“But…” Crowley struggled to think of anything else to say.

Fell sighed. “I assure you, this has all been a rather unfortunate misunderstanding. I do hope we can move past it, as professionals?”

Crowley mouthed a few words, but nothing came out.

Fell frowned, let go of the mouse, and sat back. “Unless…”

“Unless what?” Crowley breathed. He realized quite suddenly that he was trembling.

“Do you understand?” asked Fell.

“Understand what?”

“I thought you were coming onto me that day. Flirting.”

Crowley swallowed; glanced away. “Yes, I see that now,” he managed to say.

Fell stood, sending the chair spinning behind him with one firm push. He approached Crowley again, coming to a stop at just the edge of what might be considered personal space. He was staring at Crowley’s face more intently than he’d ever done, and that feeling of being under a microscope was back, making Crowley tremble even more.

“You did not intend it that way?” Fell said quietly.

“N--” Crowley started, then shook his head. “I don’t know. I was drunk.”

“Very,” said Fell, eyes widening. “I’m certainly to blame for much of that.”

“Well, you weren’t exactly pouring it down my throat,” said Crowley. “I was being… stupid.”

“No,” said Fell, stepping incrementally closer. “You were being human, as are we all.”

He came to a stop right in front of Crowley, close enough he could feel the warmth radiating off his body.

“Do you know why I collect old, erotic books, Mr. Crowley?”

“Ah,” Crowley tried for a disarming smile, and got no reaction. “Why would anyone? Just good fun, I guess?”

Fell smiled, only somewhat guardedly. “Humans have always been humans, regardless of the era. We all possess the same human needs, human foibles. Urges. Through all of time, we’re not so different from the ones who came before. We’ve all wanted the same things; suffered the same longings. I find that consistency incredibly fascinating. Over and over, throughout history, there is not one human being who hasn’t harbored the same secret desires to be loved, cared for...” he paused, lifted his gaze to lock eyes pointedly with Crowley, “Needed?”

Crowley realized he was holding his breath and turned his head away, sighing it out in a ragged gasp.

“Am I to understand, Mr. Crowley...” and it really wasn’t possible for Fell to get any closer, but he managed it, leaning in toward Crowley, “...that like so many people, what you said when you were drunk may well have been the truest thing you could have said?”

Crowley’s mouth had gone dry. He was only not touching Fell by some microscopic margin, frozen in place and terrified to move even an inch, for fear of brushing their bodies together. He sucked in a breath, reaching out a hand for purchase on the edge of the desk.

“Ah,” he sighed. “I… I’m sor--”

“No,” said Fell, rather forcefully.

“Right,” Crowley corrected himself. “I, uh… the thing is…”

“Yes?”

“I... I don’t date men,” he said, gripping the desk just for anything to hold onto.

“Who said anything about dating?” said Fell.

How was it that a man who was at least an inch shorter than Crowley could appear to tower over him?

“Oh,” said Crowley. “Well, I...”

“If you were to prove interested in continuing this conversation, we would have a very specific arrangement, Mr. Crowley.”

“Oh,” said Crowley, slightly more capable of breathing. Only just.

Fell retreated slightly, giving Crowley just a touch more space. “We can… discuss it further tomorrow, I believe.” He took a step back, opening even more distance, and checked his watch. “I’m afraid it has grown quite late. I have another meeting. And it is time for you to go home.”

“What?” Crowley checked his own watch. “Jesus.”

Fell smirked, “Time flies when having fun, yes?”

Crowley stared at him, shocked by the time. “I guess so.”

Turning, Fell retrieved his chair and pushed it into place against the desk. “Are we?” he asked.

“Are we what?” said Crowley.

Fell turned to look at him. “Having fun?”

“Oh,” said Crowley. “Uh…”

“We can discuss it further tomorrow,” said Fell. “If you wish?”

“Yes,” Crowley found himself saying without hesitation. “I think that… yes, all right.”

Fell smiled, genuine and warm. “Very good. Let me walk you out, then.”

***

Chapter Text

 

Man in black jacket adjusts his sleeves

Crowley took two trains and a bus into work each morning, and the same two trains and a bus to get home. By the time he entered his flat that evening, his nerves were all but shot.

He went immediately to the kitchen, grabbed the bottle of Scotch from the counter, and took a big gulp straight from the bottle.

How the fuck was he supposed to go back to work tomorrow and deal with this?

He racked his brain, trying to remember all the things he'd said that afternoon when he was drunk at the party. It was all so fuzzy in his memory; he couldn't piece any more of it together. They'd started on Arcnangle: his lack of empathy and penchant for repeatedly asking for the same materials he'd already been given (twenty minutes before he needed them), and his habit of taking credit for every good idea in board meetings, (even when everyone knew he wasn't the source of them).

Then they'd moved on to some of Crowley's ideas for supporting their most crucial accounts. That part was really hazy, but Crowley thought that was where they'd gotten sidetracked by all the helpful services Crowley could offer… and… um… yeah. It got very innuendo-y from there.

The fresher, much clearer memory in his mind at the moment was of Fell pulling on white cotton gloves, tugging hard on the wrist so his fingers stretched the impossibly thin fabric at his fingertips until it appeared close to bursting the seams. Crowley wondered what it would be like to have Fell touch him through those gloves, the way he'd stroked the pages of that book so lovingly, tenderly, as if it were truly a holy relic.

Crowley's breath caught in his throat, and he could feel his heart already pounding in his chest at the thought.

He took another gulp of scotch.

"I don't date men."

It hadn't been a complete and utter lie, only… a bit of misdirection with a side of untold truth.

The reality was he had dated men in the past. Certainly, he'd had crushes when he was very young and still figuring things out, and Crowley doubted there was a boy in art school alive who hadn't at least… wondered. In general, they tended to be very queer and questioning spaces, and even the straightest and most boring of students (whatever their gender, sex, or orientation) had taken ample opportunity to ask questions, reconfirm, and 'find themselves’, as it were.

If he were truly honest with himself, he'd never felt particularly strongly about his own gender, either. He was fairly tall, blessed with an angular face, and looked good in a suit jacket, so he'd always erred on the masculine side of clothing and presentation. But really, he could just as easily pull off a pair of killer red heels, and he had, more than once, in college.

For at least the last decade, Crowley had landed on the "not gay, but vaguely queer" side of things. He'd dated a few women, had a few flings, and then there was of course the… extracurricular work he'd done around the office, all with female or non-binary presenting people, more or less by chance.

But that didn't really even count, did it? All that was just an opportunity to ingratiate himself; work his hooks into superiors, put himself in the right place at the right time to get that promotion and work his way up. None of it was based on genuine attraction.

And speaking of attraction, had he just been deluding himself; not seeing it before? The first time he'd even seen Fell, at the Monday all-hands meeting where Arcnangle had introduced him to the office on his first day, Crowley had been struck by his looks. Certainly the platinum white hair was unique, and a bit counter-culture, which prompted curiosity. The man just had a presence about him that Crowley had immediately found, well, attractive.

Not necessarily sexually attractive, mind you, just… interesting. He was the sort of person you just wanted to know better. He had this bubbly, friendly attitude that belied a commanding confidence underneath. He smiled and laughed a lot, was kind and welcoming, but Crowley had gotten the immediate impression that Fell was not someone to be messed with. That impression had only solidified during their one-on-one meetings, obviously.

His mind flitted back to their conversation earlier in the afternoon.

”I… I’m sor--”

“No.”

The forcefulness with which Fell had corrected Crowley for his unnecessary apology was unmistakable. It went straight to his dick.

He had to admit, that was new.

Sure, he wasn't ignorant about the existence of dominant and submissive relationships; he knew they were a thing, but he'd certainly never been a part of one. Having dated almost exclusively women in the last decade, it tended to be (not always, but tended to be) a reality that those women he'd been with preferred him to take the lead, rather than the other way around.

It was fairly obvious who Fell intended to take the lead if they were going to be involved.

And fuck, there was that image again, unbidden in his mind, of Fell doing things to him while wearing those perfectly spotless white gloves.

He leaned on the kitchen counter. He could feel himself getting hard, his breath catching in his throat.

He thought back to what it had felt like sitting in that plush chair, under Fell's watchful gaze; the soft whisper in his ear catching him off guard from behind. He wondered what his reaction would have been right then if instead of offering a hot beverage -- Fell had simply grabbed him firmly by the shoulders, hoisted him up, leaned him over the desk, and fucked him.

"Shit," he cursed, feeling the pre-come already making the inside of his pants wet.

He pushed the bottle of scotch aside and clawed at his belt, opened the fastening of his jeans, and shoved them down.

***

The next morning, Crowley was in the building and at his desk by 8am, a bit early by his standards. He set to work updating a proposal he had worked on well over a year ago; an idea he'd had for advertising their brand of VPN services in local tube stations.

Arcnangle had shot it down and Crowley had suspicions at the time that the rejection had more to do with the source of the idea (Crowley) than the material itself. He didn't have much else on his plate at the moment, so he figured why not update it and bring it to Fell this afternoon? At least that way if their other topic of conversation went awry, he would have something work-related to fill the time.

Crowley ignored the quivering, anxious feeling in his belly that came with the thought of what that other conversation might entail. He was perfectly willing to let Fell take the lead there, but the idea of what might come up, or happen, was undeniably more than a little terrifying.

But also more than a bit thrilling, he noted. Exciting. He checked the time. 8:27am.

What the fuck, he thought. Was time moving in slow motion?

*

He received no new emails from Fell that day, but he noted that Fell’s calendar had a block of three hours greyed out starting at 2pm that afternoon, indicating that he was not available during that time. Fell had implied that Crowley should report to his office at what was quickly becoming the usual hour, so at 1:55pm, Crowley put his computer on away status and headed for the C-suite. If his pace was a bit quickened, no one around him seemed to notice.

He took a steadying breath and knocked on the door.

After a beat, the usual invitation came. “Do come in!”

Crowley opened the door to step inside. Fell was at his desk, still typing. His gaze rose from his computer screen to Crowley without moving his head. “Good afternoon,” he said cheerfully.

Crowley leaned against the door, clicking it shut. “Hi,” he said, already breathless.

Fell rolled his chair to the center of the desk, settling elbows on the slightly shorter than usual stack of papers sitting there. “And how are we today?” He asked in the same calm and collected tone.

Crowley eased slightly further into the room, hands going instinctively into his pockets. “Fine, thanks.”

“Very good,” said Fell. “Won’t you sit down?” He gestured toward the plush chairs, inviting Crowley to take one.

Crowley could feel his heart already hammering against his sternum. Fuck, he had to hold it together, but just the sight of that desk (not to mention the sight of Fell on the other side of it, entreating him to come closer) was taking him back to every filthy thing he’d thought about last night in his kitchen.

“Right,” he said, feigning a casual attitude, and sauntered into the room. He sat, crossing one leg over the other at the knee.

When he looked up, Fell was gazing at him thoughtfully.

“You’ve dressed differently today,” Fell said. “Do you have an important meeting?”

“Oh.” Crowley looked down at his own black suit jacket, as if noticing it for the first time. He looked back up and -- feeling a bit daring -- said, “Uh... Yes. This one.”

Fell's eyes went wide and he huffed a not-quite-laugh in response. Clearly he had not expected Crowley to meet sarcasm with sass, and he appeared pleased. He recovered quickly, checking his watch. "You're a few minutes early, Mr. Crowley. Eager to get to work?"

“Ah,” said Crowley, immediately losing any sense of daring he’d had. “Watch must be fast.”

Fell shot him a look, but made no further comment on the matter. He shifted some papers, a motion Crowley was beginning to suspect was just a very subtle nervous tick. All right, so the man was human, after all; he wasn’t always as cool and collected as he might seem. He was anxious, too. This was dangerous ground, and they needed to tread carefully.

“You realize, of course,” Fell said, “that most people would consider what we’re doing here to be completely unethical.”

Crowley sat up straighter in his chair. “Depends on your ethics, I guess. And…” he paused, considering, “what exactly it is we’re doing.”

“Yes,” Fell agreed. “That’s just the point, isn’t it?” He leaned back in his chair, arms crossed, and watched, gauging Crowley's reaction.

Crowley frowned. “I’m not sure what you mean?”

“What would you say, Mr. Crowley, that we are doing here?”

Crowley froze. “Uh,” he smoothed his hands down his pant legs, looking anywhere to avoid meeting Fell’s gaze. Surely he wasn’t expecting Crowley to lead this conversation?

“I don’t… Well,” he laughed nervously, “I guess I was hoping you might tell me.”

“Well, that’s just the thing, my dear boy… From my perspective, you rather…” He paused, rubbing his hands together. “I didn’t start this, Crowley. You propositioned me.”

“I don’t remember that!” Crowley protested.

Fell leaned back, rolling his eyes. “Yes, I realize that, now. After I’ve gone and made a proper ass of myself.”

“Oh,” Crowley shook his head dismissively. “You’ve not.”

“I have been throwing my weight around, playing this domineering game with you ever since you walked into my office. I thought that’s what you wanted, and I’m only just realizing now I must have terrified you -- not to mention crossed more professional boundaries than I can even count. I fear I have grossly overstepped. It’s not like me, but… there it is.”

Crowley fidgeted, tugging at his jacket.

“Well,” he shrugged. “S’all right. No harm done.”

Fell frowned, looking stricken. “No harm done? My dear boy! What sort of arrangements have you been part of in the past, if you think any of this is acceptable? Honestly, I wouldn’t blame you if you never spoke to me again!”

Crowley took a breath, holding it for a moment. “Oh. Well, that wouldn’t make for a very productive working relationship, would it?”

Fell didn’t miss a beat. “But you’re suddenly very cheeky today, aren’t you? So I suppose that means you must be more or less all right?”

Crowley couldn’t help it, he laughed at that. “S’how I deal with stressful situations,” he sniffed. “Bit of cheek.”

Fell leaned forward, elbows on the desk again. “You’re stressed?”

“What?” said Crowley. “Oh, uh no. I mean… No.”

“I distress you?”

“No, I didn’t say -- that’s not what I meant.”

“But I do? Or I have been. Putting you off your guard, making you quite uncomfortable--”

“No--”

“--in a place I had hoped to produce quite the opposite effect.”

Crowley gripped the arms of his chair, pausing just to breathe for a moment. He locked eyes with Fell, and found the man looking as sincere and thoughtful as ever.

“What do you mean,” Crowley whispered, barely daring to speak, “opposite effect?”

Fell leaned back, re-buttoning his jacket as he stood. “Crowley, if we are indeed going to…” he rounded the edge of the desk, but stopped there, leaning on it with one hand. “If we pursue anything beyond the strictly professional... You must feel safe here. Secure. I cannot have you in a fear response every time you enter this room -- associating it with anything negative or frightening. Do you understand that?”

Crowley looked up at Fell and noted his heart rate increasing slightly. Fell was closer, but clearly making an effort not to cross the physical boundary of the desk. It was absolutely intentional. He was keeping his distance.

All Crowley could manage was a nod. He found his voice had quite left him.

Fell was standing there, one hand on the desk, looking for all the world like a hungry animal sizing up his prey. But no, thought Crowley, that was the wrong metaphor. He looked more like a fervent teacher about to dispense knowledge. And the way he was dressed today, all tweed and elbow patches and even a little waistcoat fob -- he looked very much the part of a university professor.

Crowley knew Fell was frustrated only in his own failed ability to handle this situation in the manner he’d planned, but Crowley couldn’t help feeling a bit like he was in trouble, and about to be punished. Rather than frightening him, it rather excited him.

Seeing Fell’s hand pressed firmly into the surface of the desk, Crowley’s cheeks burned red. It reminded him too much of his own hands pressed into his kitchen counter the night before.

“All right,” said Fell, in a soothing voice. “What’s happening here?”

“What?” Crowley looked up.

“You’re responding to something,” Fell said quietly. “Is everything all right?”

“Oh,” said Crowley. “Uh, yes. Fine.”

Fell shifted a bit closer, but still remained near the desk. “You are blushing, Crowley. Your face is red.”

“Oh, is it?”

“Yes. Can you tell me why?”

Crowley’s breath caught in his throat, and he stretched, making himself breathe normally again before speaking. “Uh, hard to say.”

Fell was patient. “I need you to say. I need you to think. I need you to understand the reactions you are having and why -- unless you would prefer to drop the subject and leave the room now, which is always an option.”

Crowley’s hands were starting to tremble again, damn them. His gaze was firmly planted on the floor.

“No,” he said in a small voice. “I-- I don’t think I want that.”

“Don’t want what?” Fell said, not moving a muscle from the spot where he was still leaning on the desk.

“Don’t want to leave,” Crowley barely whispered.

“Good,” said Fell. “Then am I to understand you would like to stay and discuss this topic further?”

Crowley had really worked up a good tremor now, and he gripped the arms of the chair even harder.

“Crowley,” Fell said, taking a step back, closer to his own side of the desk. “You are shaking.”

“I know,” Crowley shook his head. “I’m sorry -- I can’t--”

“Do not apologize.” The reprimand came in a kind, soft tone this time, but it was there. “Just take a breath and calm down.”

Crowley did, and in just a few seconds, his breathing had returned somewhat to normal. Although he was fairly certain his cheeks were still bright red, because they actually now felt like they might very well be on fire.

When he opened his eyes again, Fell had returned to the opposite side of the desk, and was leaning toward him on it, his weight braced on both hands.

Fuck, that’s worse, thought Crowley. He knows it, he has to know it.

“Talk to me, Crowley. What is happening, right now?”

“Nothing,” Crowley shook his head. “I’m just...”

“Considering possibilities?” said Fell. “Contemplating ramifications?”

Crowley’s head bobbed in a furious nod. Fell let it go, nodding with understanding. “There are many contingencies and boundaries we will need to discuss when you are more able. For the moment, you should know three very simple things. One: I am not going to touch you today.”

Crowley’s ears perked up at that, but he didn’t say anything.

“Two: Nothing physical that we ever do will come as a surprise, or without being previously agreed upon. And three: Perhaps most importantly… You are ultimately the person in control here, Crowley. You decide what does and does not happen. And if you say stop, we stop -- period.”

The tremble in Crowley’s fingertips eased slightly, and his breath came a bit easier.

Fell’s eyebrows went up, clearly looking for some kind of response. “Does all of that make sense?”

“Y-yes,” Crowley finally managed to say.

“Good,” said Fell. He sat down in his chair again, but continued to lean forward on his elbows. “Now tell me, what was it I did just now that rattled you?”

Crowley closed his eyes. “I don’t know...”

“I think you do know. Tell me.”

Crowley sighed. “Ah, I just…” His eyes stayed closed, and he hung his head, leaning on the armrests for support. “The desk.”

“What about the desk?”

“You were… leaning on it. ...Over it.”

“I see. Very good, Crowley. And that image had some effect on you?”

Crowley didn’t think his cheeks could burn any harder. “Y-yes.”

“Did it remind you of something specific?”

Crowley hummed in response, nodding. “Mhmm…”

“What did it remind you of, Crowley?”

“If you were…” Crowley shuddered. “If you leaned over me… if… I was on the desk.”

When Fell’s voice came again, it was dripping with praise. “That's very good, Crowley.”

Just the sound of that praise made Crowley gasp. He felt his cock twitch in his pants -- he was so hot, he thought he could come just like that; from Fell’s voice alone.

“Crowley, look here. Can you look at me?”

Crowley still had his eyes clenched, head down. He took a breath, and let his gaze rise to meet Fell’s where he sat across the desk.

“Do you need to stop?” Fell asked.

Crowley thrashed his head, shaking furiously. “No, don’t stop-- please.”

Fell smiled warmly, his eyes kind. “Good. You’re doing exceptionally well, dear boy.”

Every utterance of praise brought Crowley to the edge. It was maddening. And Fell had already said he had no intention of even touching him today. What the fuck?

“Crowley? May I ask you a question?”

He gripped the armrest and cleared his throat, trying to put together a coherent response. “Y-yes?”

“When was the last time you pleasured yourself?”

Oh, fuck.

He couldn’t take this -- couldn’t do this -- it was too much. Fell was still completely calm, composed, and one hundred percent outwardly unbothered by this entire conversation. Crowley, on the other hand, was actively going to pieces right in front of him. He knew his pulsing erection had to be blatantly obvious by now -- what with the way it was actively working to escape his pants.

“Ah,” Crowley gasped, dropping his gaze to the floor again. “Please…”

“Please, what, my dear?”

“I don’t… I don’t know, only just…”

“Can you answer the question?”

Crowley finally broke, letting out a sob of desperation, frustration, and pure lust. He was so close now, he couldn’t bear it much longer. “Last night.”

“I see," said Fell. "And your experience last night, was it fully satisfying for you?"

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck-!

Crowley didn't so much emit words, as a string of consonants through gritted teeth. He squirmed involuntarily in the chair, desperate for any kind of friction.

"Clearly not," said Fell, raising his eyebrows appreciatively.

"Please," Crowley whined, beyond caring how desperate he must sound. "You're killing me…"

"My dear boy, I have not touched you. You're getting yourself quite worked up over nothing."

Crowley made another rather embarrassing noise in response to that, and brought his knees up to meet his face. This was miserable, and he was going to come right there in his pants, if he didn't get control soon.

Before he knew it, Fell was up and moving across the room. There were sounds coming from the bar cart -- water being poured into a glass, a clink of ice -- and Fell was next to him, pressing a cool glass to the edge of his hand were it still clung to the armrest.

"Take a few deep breaths and drink this."

Without a word, Crowley did.

When he finally felt somewhat in control again, he looked up to find Fell back across the desk, hands clasped loosely under his chin, watching him.

"Better?" Fell asked.

Crowley focused on breathing in and out as calmly as possible. "I think so."

"Very good. You've managed to control yourself. That is--"

"I won't for long," Crowley cut in, "if you keep talking like that."

Fell blinked. "It is rude to interrupt someone mid-sentence, my boy."

Crowley took another gulp of cold water. "Right, sorry."

"You possess little to no self-discipline, do you realize that?" Fell asked, shaking his head, almost in disbelief.

"Uh…"

"Or perhaps you are simply over-keen, having been unclaimed for some time, is that it?"

Crowley's hands were starting to shake again. Unclaimed? Fuck.

"Crowley," said Fell, taking note of it this time. "Drink."

He gulped down more of the ice cold water, steeling his nerves. When he came up for air, he scoffed, "Maybe I need something stronger."

"I think that would be a very bad idea, dear boy. No alcohol. Not today." He waited a moment for Crowley's hands to stop shaking before he spoke again. "Crowley, forgive me for saying so, but you seem a bit out of your depth."

Crowley choked on a laugh; a harsh, ugly sound. "You think?"

Fell ignored the attitude, recognizing it for the defense mechanism it was. "Have you been in a similar arrangement before? One based on dominance and submission?"

Crowley gulped. He was getting hard again and his erection had never fully gone away in the first place.

"No," he said.

"And you said before you had not been involved with men in the past?"

"Uh," Crowley didn't meet Fell's eyes. He clutched his glass of water, watching the drops of condensation run down the side.

"Was that a lie?"

Crowley's face blazed red again, confronted with the implied question -- why would he lie about such a thing? He didn't even really have a decent answer.

"Yes," he said.

"Is your prior experience with men limited?"

Crowley nodded furiously, finding himself quite unable to speak again.

"But you are attracted to men?"

More nodding.

"You are attracted to me?"

"Yes, obviously!" Crowley croaked.

"Time for more water, dear. Drink."

He did.

Crowley was trembling uncontrollably again, and he nearly dropped his now empty glass of water before Fell rose quickly to take it silently from his hand.

"There," Fell soothed, "You're quite all right. I'll fetch you some more."

He placed the lightest touch on Crowley's shoulder, completely chaste, before going back to the bar cart to pour more water and ice.

Crowley folded in on himself, pulling his knees to his chest again, in some hopeless attempt to disappear. When he unfolded himself and looked up again, Fell was standing quietly next to him with water in hand. He offered it silently.

"Thanks," said Crowley, taking the glass.

"Most welcome." Fell went back to his seat, rocking the desk chair leisurely for a few seconds before finally settling again.

"Crowley," he said. "I hope this has been as illuminating for you as it has for me. Did you learn anything?"

Crowley gulped some water. "I... I think so."

"Well, I thank you for your patience, and for your openness. These things… they take time, Crowley. So I'm afraid if all you were looking for was a quick shag, you may find yourself quite disappointed."

Crowley stared across the desk, not sure what to say. "Ah, that's…"

Fell met his glance with raised eyebrows.

"No," Crowley finished. "That's not all I'm looking for. I don't think."

"Good. In that case, I think we can safely plan to continue this conversation. There are some basic rules, naturally. I've already shared the most important ones, I believe.

But Crowley, as this would be your first time participating in something like this, I believe it will be crucial to put very strict rules in place. This is for your safety, and for mutual comfort and clarity. Understand?"

Crowley nodded, clutching his water.

"Good. We can discuss specifics tomorrow. I think you've already had quite a taxing afternoon."

Crowley let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"Now," said Fell, rising to stand. "Here is what I would like you to do, if you can." He came to stand next to the desk, still keeping his distance. "I want you to go home and pleasure yourself in whatever is your preferred method."

Crowley broke his gaze and stared at the floor, cheeks burning.

"I want you to continue pleasuring yourself, over and over, until you are quite tired and cannot engage anymore. And then I want you to go to sleep early and get at least eight hours of uninterrupted rest, something I suspect you do not often do."

Fell dipped his head, craning his neck in an attempt to catch Crowley's eye. "Crowley, can you do those things for me?"

Crowley shuddered, "I... I can try," he said.

"Good." Fell checked his watch. "Then I believe that will be all for today. Will you be all right to go home now?"

Crowley took another deep breath, looking up to meet Fell's gaze at last. "All right?" he said.

Fell offered a warm smile. "You've had a difficult afternoon. Can you remain calm enough now to get home unscathed? And unnoticed?"

He was asking if Crowley could keep it together long enough to get home before he lost his goddamn, sex-starved mind.

"Oh," said Crowley, getting it. "Ah, yes. I'll… I'll be okay."

"Good," said Fell. "You did very well."

Crowley huffed a frustrated sigh under the warm praise. "Right. Think I need to go."

Fell grinned. "I'll walk you out."

And he did, in the same hands-off fashion he had before-- opening the door and letting Crowley pass through with an appreciative nod of Fell's head, and a quiet, "See you tomorrow, then, dear boy."

***

Crowley barely made it through the door of his flat before he was tearing his pants off, kicking shoes across the living room, and flinging his most expensive work blazer into a thoughtless heap on the couch. Fuck it, he didn't care. He was already fit to explode, and keeping himself under tight control long enough to make the ride home had been beyond maddening.

But he'd managed it. "Little to no self-discipline, my ass," he grunted; finally losing his shorts in a wet heap on the floor before falling into bed.

He rolled over onto his back and began stroking himself furiously. He was already slick with pre-come, and before he'd even counted to four, he was losing it.

"Ahh, fuck!" His head fell back against the pillows, and he was astounded to find he was already coming, the pace of his tightly wrapped fist quickening involuntarily around his cock until he was falling, falling, unbelievably hard, completely insensible with pleasure.

After, he lay on the bed, limbs heavy, and breathed in and out until his feverish heart beat returned to something like normal. His stomach was wet with come, and already growing cold.

He thought he should probably get up and clean himself off, but he couldn't bear to move. He glanced at his watch, still attached to his left wrist, noting the time. 5:17pm. Far too early to be feeling this tired, but suddenly he was exhausted. He wanted nothing more than to lie here and fall asleep.

But he'd promised Fell he would do this more than once -- until he couldn't do it any more, to be specific. Something told him he could expect to be questioned about this tomorrow. That thought alone made his heart flutter and his cheeks burn. But further, he had a feeling if he reported back to Fell that he'd only managed one go-round, his boss would not be happy.

As his eyelids fluttered closed, he had just enough presence of mind to be mildly concerned about the potential consequences of making Fell unhappy.

***

Chapter Text

Fountain pen lying on desk with one white feather

Crowley looked up from his computer screen, surprised to hear distant voices coming from the direction of the main elevators. It was 7:15am, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in the building this early. No one came in this early.

He rose from his chair just enough to peak over the edge of his cubicle wall.

Gabriel Arcnangle swaggered through the entrance to the main floor, hands outstretched to punctuate whatever point he was making.

“Well, I think it’s definitely worth looking at, and I appreciate your bringing it to my attention. I’ll put Sandalphon on the budgetary and we could have a rough estimate by next week.”

“I think that would be most prudent, Gabriel.”

Now, that voice Crowley had already cemented in his brain -- he’d know it anywhere. He felt his cheeks color at the knowledge of just how quickly Fell had worked his hooks into him. Just the sound of that voice had an embarrassing effect on Crowley.

"Oh, and by the bye, I have Crowley working on a bit of a long term project; semi-related. Putting together a few other ideas. Hope it won't be a bother, having him tied up most afternoons?”

Crowley could just make out the distantly intrigued expression on Arcnangel’s face as he turned into the room. "No, no; he’s at your disposal, of course.” Arcnangel pulled a face, indicating surprise. “You like that guy?”

Fell came through the entryway, clutching a small briefcase. He was wearing a luxurious looking overcoat, light cream, and had his free hand leisurely tucked into one pocket.

“I have thus far found his work to be more than sufficient. And the boy works at a rapid pace I’ve rarely seen,” said Fell.

“Boy?” Scoffed Arcnangle. “He's not much younger than us, Azri.”

“Azri?” Crowley murmured under his breath.

Arcnangel was already making his way up the periphery of the room, heading toward the C-suite, Fell following dutifully behind him. “It's just an expression, Gabriel.”

Arcnangel dug in his pocket, producing a set of keys. “Oh right, you always did like your little Britishisms.”

Fell smirked, “Well, we are British, Gabriel. Or at least, I am. When in Rome, and all that?”

Arcnangel laughed, opening the door into the next suite. “Never been to Rome, actually.”

“Oh, you should,” said Fell. “The wine is simply to die for.”

With the soft swish of the door closing behind them, they were gone; like they’d never even been there.

Azri…” Crowley mused. The floor was silent again.

*

Weekly team meetings were surely the bane of corporate offices the world over, but Crowley couldn’t help thinking theirs had to top the list of some of the most pointless, biggest waste of time meetings at least within the London metropolitan area.

Each week, every member of the executive team would show up long enough to list off the handful of items they were working on (or rather that they had delegated to their inferiors), then pretend to take a Very Important Phone Call, disappearing into the hallway for the remainder of the meeting. Some would return, dramatically apologize while explaining that this project is just so reliant on my availability; you know how it is, got to keep the fires of industry piping hot, you know! I am truly irreplaceable in this process -- got to keep on that hustle! It was all one big theater production for the benefit of the board members, and Crowley found himself wanting to nod off halfway through it, each week, like a particularly predictable stage play.

Then there was the part (usually toward the wrap up) where Arcnangle would get up and share all the most important (debatable) achievements from the previous week, and all the grand ideas he had for the next one. (Note: Most of these ideas were not actually Arcnangle’s, but rather accumulated and acquired and offered eagerly from lower level creatives and marketing minds around the office -- Crowley himself being one of these unfortunates).

This week, Arcnangel’s bit was all about the potential for new business in the defense sector -- cleaning up old land mines in Yugoslavia.

Hmm, sounds familiar, thought Crowley.

Nevertheless, he was glad to see Arcnangel at least paying lip service to the benefits of the idea. If it got done, great. Crowley wasn’t attention hungry enough to need credit for the idea -- he’d just like to see something he really thought could be beneficial actually go through for once. He glanced across the boardroom table to where Fell was sitting quietly, hands clasped in polite attention.

Crowley wondered where he and Arcnangel had been coming from that morning, together. Early breakfast before work? Had they just happened to bump into each other in the elevator? Unlikely. It had seemed like they were arriving together, coming from some other location.

The thought gave Crowley a vaguely sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Fell and Arcnangle, socializing outside the office, like old friends? Azri. It was obviously short for something else -- a nickname. Arcnangle calling Fell by a nickname. There was something so gross about it. It left a bad taste in Crowley’s mouth. Not least of all because it meant Arcnangel was on more than a first name basis with Fell, when Crowley was not.

They’ve known each other for years, you idiot. What right do you have to feel so put out?

But he did. Simple as that.

*

At 2pm, Crowley was relieved to have the rest of the day behind him and be back in Fell’s office.

“Good afternoon, dear boy. What can I get you to drink?”

“Ah, well, what have we got, besides Scotch and cocoa?”

Fell shot him a look that said ‘prepare to be impressed.’ “Better to ask what we haven’t got, my dear. This floor has a variety of tastes, and one low-level executive has got to be prepared to satisfy all of them at a moment’s notice, hasn’t he?”

Crowley blushed at the double entendre implied in Fell’s ability to satisfy tastes, and shrugged. “Eh, got any wine?”

Fell crouched next to the bar cart, opening the cabinet underneath. “Have I got wine… what do you take me for? Do we prefer red or white?”

“Bit partial to a good red,” said Crowley.

“Well, then. I think you’ll enjoy this Taurasi from Campania. It really should be given time to breathe, but… what the hell? Let’s give it a go, shall we?”

He opened the bottle, filled two glasses, and brought everything over to the desk. The wine was sparkling but dark, and looked very purple and opaque in the glass. Crowley could tell it would taste divine before he even took the glass from Fell’s outstretched hand.

“Do enjoy,” Fell said.

They sat in companionable silence for a minute or so, sipping at their respective glasses.

Finally, Crowley nodded, smacking his lips. “That’s really good.”

“Excellent,” said Fell, setting down his glass. “Crowley, forgive me for noticing, but you were here rather early this morning, weren’t you?”

“Oh,” Crowley said. “Yeah, I… just wanted to get some things done…”

“No no, that’s very good -- it’s only that I noticed your online status quite early this morning. And that being the case, I wondered if you might have overheard…”

“--That Italian wine is to die for?” Crowley said, raising his glass.

Fell paused, smiled a conspiratorial smile in Crowley’s direction, and reached for a packet of paper on his desk. “Yes. So you did hear that little conversation.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to--”

“Not to worry, dear boy. I rather assumed you would. In any case, judging from what Gabriel said in the morning meeting, he is eager to move forward with the plan. I’m only sorry we couldn’t tie your name to it… You know how he can be--”

“No, no--” Crowley waved a hand dismissively. "I’m just glad it’s getting looked at.”

“Very good,” said Fell. “So, I’m quite sure we will have a further update soon. Until then…” He looked down at the packet he’d been holding, and said, “To other matters. I wonder if you might take a look at this.”

“What is it?” asked Crowley.

“Well,” said Fell, “More importantly, I wish for you to understand what it is not. It is not a contract. It is not a list of demands or even necessarily suggestions. It is simply… a starting point. As I may have mentioned yesterday, I think it is very important to be clear and open regarding what this thing we are doing is, and what it is not. Does that make sense?”

Oh, so they were talking about… other work… now.

“Uh, sure. I think so,” said Crowley.

“Very good.” Fell leaned forward, passing the packet to Crowley. It was held together with a staple at one corner and looked to be about fifteen pages long. “Now, I hope you won’t mind. I have rather a number of phone calls I need to return, and in a timely manner. Would it be all right if I leave you with this while I make them?”

Crowley started to get up. “Oh. Sure, I--”

“No no, you stay there. Enjoy your wine, read through the document, and…” Fell plucked a very nice looking pen from a cup on his desk. “You’ll need this, dear.”

He handed Crowley the pen and, with a smile, reached for his desk phone. He punched a few buttons on the console and it beeped rapidly with the tell-tale sound of speed dial.

Crowley looked down at the document in his hand. The title page simply read:

A Description of an Arrangement: Including a List of Possibilities to Be Considered, or Not

He turned to the first page:

It should be understood that this is in no way a binding agreement, or a contract, or anything of the sort. You may notice no names appear in this document, and there are to be no signatures. It is simply a list of recommended rules and possibilities, to be either dismissed out of hand, agreed to, or revisited for consideration in the future -- please note the check boxes -- YES, NO, UNSURE, and mark accordingly.

Fell leaned back in his chair. “Gabriella! Good afternoon. A.Z. Fell -- wondered if you might have a moment to discuss the Waterford account?” A pause. “Now is a good time?” Another pause. “Marvelous. I wanted you to know, I spoke with Edgarton just this morning--”

Crowley read on, letting the sound of Fell’s voice fade into the background.

Firstly, we have already discussed the risk and potential pitfalls of entering into such an Arrangement. Before going any further, I would like you to seriously consider this. I understand you have participated in certain activities while in the workplace in the past, however I must warn you that this situation would be altogether quite different from what you have told me. For my part, there is a level of risk involved in even considering such a potentiality with you. However, from what we have discussed thus far, and my general assessment of you, I am willing to take said risk in the hope and belief that you can be trusted.

If you would like to amend this document in any way, or provide me with a document stating your thoughts in a similar fashion, you are certainly welcome to do that. If you choose to do this, I highly recommend typing said document at home, not on any work computer, and to print it elsewhere, from a source in no way tied to this building. There are certain aspects of risk we cannot avoid, but I see no reason to invite problems by being needlessly messy or careless. Again, tie no names to either of these documents, so that even in the possibility that they are discovered, nothing in them links to any individual persons.

Now, to specifics:

This is not a romantic overture. We are not dating. I am not your boyfriend. Our interactions as part of this Arrangement will only ever take place inside this office. We are both very busy, hard working people, and this thing we are doing is merely an extension of that, with a side of stress relief and self-improvement through discipline. We will not meet (outside of occasional work obligations, assuming such need ever arises) during evenings, weekends, or at any other time or place outside of this building. This is not negotiable, and if you foresee any of this becoming an issue, I advise you to let me know immediately.

If at any time during a session, you do not wish to continue, you are to state your chosen safeword immediately. (You may choose any word you like, but it should be something simple, easy to say, easy to remember, and unlikely to be uttered by accident in any other context).

I will serve as your dominant partner. This means simply that, during sessions, I am here to guide and assist you through difficult situations and provide support as well as direction. It also means that if I tell you to do something, you do it. You obey commands and follow instructions from me to the letter. Naturally, all of this is dependent on the previous rules -- if something is too uncomfortable and you need to opt out via safeword, that is always acceptable. You are the submissive party in this Arrangement. As stated above, this simply means that you do as you are told and submit to the direction I give you.

Crowley flinched at the sound of the phone clicking in its cradle.

Fell looked up, meeting his eyes. “Everything all right, dear boy?”

“Oh,” said Crowley, a bit dazed. “Ah, yes. I just…”

“Is anything unclear?” asked Fell, already typing another phone number.

“N-no,” said Crowley. “It’s… explicitly clear, actually.”

“Good. I often find that is the best way to approach most things, particularly of this nature. Don’t you agree?”

Crowley sighed. “Uh, well… I guess I wouldn’t really know.”

Fell smiled. “Indeed. All the more reason, then?” He started, holding up one finger towards Crowley. “Mr. Hendriksen. A.Z. Fell. I do hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time?”

Fell rose from his chair, taking the phone with him and wandering toward the bookshelves. He offered Crowley a wink as he went.

Crowley turned his attention back to the document.

What follows is only a partial list of specific acts and situations that might be considered. Please feel free to include your own, if you wish. Also remember that nothing here is binding. You may check YES to some, and not expect to be held to that in the future. The same goes for any NO answers. This is all very much just to gauge what expectations should be and to help me better understand your needs and wants.

Crowley turned the page and was met with a laundry list, check boxes included, that took up the entire page. He flipped through, quickly. The next page looked much the same. And the next, and the next. This list was the bulk of the document.

Well, all right then, he thought, reaching for the ink pen.

Physical restraint -- Crowley hesitated a beat before checking, YES.
Specific materials: Rope, handcuffs, silk, steel, leather, rubber, latex -- the list went on. Each option had a box for YES, NO, UNSURE. Crowley scanned down to the next option--
Specific parts of body: Wrists, ankles, neck/head, genitals--

Holy fucking shit, he thought, pausing to let his pen hover over that last one. What would that even mean? Some kind of enclosure? A cock ring? Clamps? All of the above? He had no idea.

He didn’t realize how long he’d been sitting there, pen in mid-air, until he felt a soft touch on his shoulder. He looked up, startled, to find Fell standing there with the phone to his ear.

Fell lowered the phone to his shoulder, blocking the mouthpiece. “Just leave it blank for now, dear.”

“R-right,” Crowley whispered, moving on to the next line.

There was a section specifically about types of play, several of which Crowley had never even heard of. Suspension, shibari, (which Crowley thought vaguely had something to do with ropes and was possibly Japanese?) gagging, flogging, spanking, (weren’t those last two relatively the same thing? He guessed not, if they warranted their own lines…)

Spreader bar -- Crowley stopped short again. He had no idea what that was, but his best guess was that it was exactly what it sounded like. He left it blank.

The next page was labeled “Penetrative / Anal Sex” right across the top, and the entire page was a list of possible activities…

Fell was at the back of the room, rattling on cheerfully to a client about god-knew-what project update. Crowley heard the clink of glass against glass as he topped off his wine, which he had taken to carrying around the room with him as he talked.

Crowley looked back at the document in his lap. What the fuck, he thought. How was he supposed to even begin answering any of these? He didn’t know.

It was perfectly well and good to hypothesize about getting fucked over a desk as a vehicle for his own masturbatory fantasies, but the actual reality of it? That was a different thing. He'd done it exactly once, over a decade ago, and it had been such a horrible experience he had avoided dating men more or less ever since.

Because that's what they all wanted in the end, right? So, why be a tease? Why set them up for disappointment? It had seemed easier just to avoid the possibility altogether. Most women weren't interested in going there, and it was easy enough to avoid the few who were.

His hand was shaking, and suddenly he lost his grip on the pen, sending it flying.

“Shi--” he started to say, setting the papers on Fell’s desk and getting up to retrieve the pen.

Fell was leaning against a side table in the back of the room, wine glass in hand, listening appreciatively to whatever was being said on the other end of the phone. He looked up at Crowley, eyebrows raised in question.

Crowley shook his head, waved a hand dismissively, and bent down to pick up the pen.

“Very good, Mr. Banks. I really do appreciate your insight on this. I’m terribly sorry -- I’m getting another call here that I really must take. Perhaps I could phone you back?” He paused, listening. “Perfect; thank you.”

He hung up, setting the phone down on the table. “Crowley?”

Crowley realized his breath was catching in his throat, and he gulped, trying to calm down.

Fell set his wine down next to the phone, and approached Crowley in three quick strides. “My dear boy, are you quite all right?”

His hands went to Crowley’s biceps, steadying him. It was the closest physical contact Fell had initiated yet, Crowley reflected faintly.

“Crowley, take a breath, please.”

He gasped, leaning in to Fell’s firm grasp. “I--”

“I didn’t say talk. I said breathe,” Fell said.

Crowley closed his eyes, breathing in and out of his nose a few times.

“That’s better,” said Fell, catching Crowley’s gaze when he opened his eyes again. “Now, whatever is the matter?”

“I just… I don’t know… This is all very… It’s… a lot.” Crowley managed to get all the words out, even if they were a bit stilted.

Fell looked sympathetic. “Yes, it is. And quite understandably a bit overwhelming. But, my dear, I was quite clear -- or rather I intended to be -- you are more than free to leave sections incomplete. Anything that you are uncertain about or would rather--”

Crowley pulled away from Fell’s grasp, going to the desk and picking up the packet. He brought it to Fell, thrusting it at him accusingly. “This section? The section about the whole point of it? I’m just to leave it blank?”

Fell blinked, raising his eyebrows slowly, and took the pages from Crowley’s outstretched hand. He looked down to see the page Crowley had stopped on. “Ah, the section on penetrative acts.”

“Exactly! How am I supposed to just leave that blank?” Spat Crowley.

Fell looked up. “What did you say? ‘The whole point of it,’ you said?”

Crowley furrowed his brow, looking away. “Well, isn’t it? How am I supposed to just opt out of that? It’s ridiculous.”

Fell regarded him for a moment with a pitying look, just holding the paper.

Crowley shook his head, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m sorry. Look, I’m really sorry.”

“Crowley--”

“No, I am sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. This whole thing… it’s a mistake. I can’t do it… just... forget it.”

Fell folded the packet of paper, tucking it under one arm.

Crowley still wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I’m just going to… go.” He turned, heading for the door.

“All right, Crowley,” Fell called after him.

Crowley stopped, standing in front of the doors leading back towards his cubicle. If he could just get through them… put all this behind him.

“You are of course free to leave whenever you wish,” said Fell. “I will only say… I find it very… incredibly sad, that you think the whole point of this, as you put it... is for me to fuck you. That is hardly, in absolutely no way, the point."

Crowley turned, finally meeting Fell’s eyes. He saw only concern, and a deep sadness there.

“What is the point, then?”

Fell pulled a face, shrugging. “Rather like everything in life, in my opinion. Foster a mutually enjoyable experience and have a good time -- whatever that means for all parties involved.” He opened the document again, turning to the page on penetration. He ripped it out and let it drop to the floor.

He approached Crowley, slowly offering the packet. “If nothing on that page interests you, then we throw it out. That is… rather the point of this exercise. There is just a bit more here -- would you be willing to at least read it before you leave?”

Crowley took the papers, hands only slightly trembling.

He sat in the chair again and quietly read what was there.

Fully informed consent goes both ways, naturally, and so I would be remiss if I did not include my own list of activities that I am not comfortable engaging in.

Under no circumstances will I initiate or consider the following activities:

- Blood play or any kind of lasting physical injury (knife play is acceptable, but I absolutely will not agree to following through on any kind of cutting)
- Play involving bodily waste -- including urine or excrement

Crowley cringed at the thought. That sort of thing wouldn't have even occurred to him…

- Feeding of potentially harmful substances (forcing you to eat anything that may make you ill, etc.)
In general, anything that could be detrimental to your (or my) overall health.

I'm quite sure there are other items that should appear on this list, and if they arise through the course of events this list can be amended. For now those are the major non-starters that come to mind.

As I believe I mentioned before, the most crucial piece of information to keep in your mind at all times is that you are in control. I will never force you into anything, never rush you into anything. Anything we do here during these sessions is entirely on your terms.

With that in mind, I hope you can open yourself to the potential for some new experiences, and trust me to lead the way. I encourage open dialogue and communication at all times, on all topics, no matter how potentially awkward or uncomfortable. I, in fact, welcome it.

PS: Please also note, the surrounding walls of this particular office are quite soundproof. We should not worry about being disturbed here. The reasons why are somewhat clouded in the history of the building itself -- but suffice to say it is an old building with many secrets, and this is but one of them. :)

With utmost sincerity.

 

It was a valediction with no name.

He looked up to find Fell watching him patiently from across the desk, hands clasped under his chin. He looked resigned -- like he fully expected Crowley to get up and walk out at any moment, and was already coming to terms with the idea.

Crowley thought back to what Fell had written on the very first page:

For my part, there is a level of risk involved in even considering such a potentiality with you. However, from what we have discussed thus far, and my general assessment of you, I am willing to take said risk in the hope and belief that you can be trusted.

Risk and reward. Fell was willing to lean in and hope that Crowley was trustworthy.

Now he was asking Crowley to do the same. He thought about the page that had been ripped out, discarded without a second thought. Fell had insisted that nothing on that page was 'the point.'

Furthermore, thus far, Fell had met any expression of discomfort or uncertainty from Crowley with reassurance and a step backward. He had not pushed him; had not pressured him. That certainly tracked with what he was promising here, on paper.

Crowley realized suddenly that he did not want to walk away from this. He wanted this. He needed this.

“All right,” he said. “I’m in.”

***

Chapter Text

a hand gripping another body

“Good afternoon,” Fell said as Crowley closed the door behind him.

The greeting had the same polite and professional air that it had every day thus far, but Crowley couldn't shake the presence of some new subtlety in the tone. Things were different now. They were officially on the same page, and Fell had made it clear that Crowley could expect more than talking and reviewing of documents to happen between them today.

Finally, he thought scathingly, but even as he had the thought, he knew it could not have gone otherwise. The only way to prevent Crowley from fleeing the room in terror was to treat him with kid gloves, slow and thoughtful. That was exactly what Fell had done, and Crowley could only imagine, and pray, that it was exactly what he would continue to do -- within reason. Because holy fuck was he tired of being this unsatisfyingly horny for days at a time.

They had left things fairly open the night before, not planning specifics, but one thing Fell had insisted upon was that Crowley determine a safeword before he left for the evening.

"That word is your lifeline, Crowley," Fell had said. "From the time you step through those doors again tomorrow, you will be reliant on it to release you from a scene if ever you need it."

That done, Fell had politely walked him out like usual.

*

Now, roughly twenty-four hours later, he was back in the office and things felt… different. It was an energy in the air. Like electricity.

“Come sit down, dear.”

He did.

“I apologize,” said Fell. “We had much to discuss yesterday, I was plagued with phone calls, and unfortunately I think we missed some follow-ups that were quite necessary.”

Crowley gaped at him, unsure what he was talking about.

“The instructions I gave you Wednesday evening,” Fell said, reclining in his chair. “How did that go?”

“Instructions?” Crowley waded through the fog of his memory, not immediately recalling what Fell was referring to.

“Yes. You were meant to do some things for me?”

Crowley thought back. “Oh!” he exclaimed. “You mean…” He smirked, feeling a bit silly. “...having a wank?”

Fell frowned disapprovingly. “My dear, there's no need to be crass. Yes, that. Tell me about it.”

Crowley made a skeptical face. "What's there to tell?"

Fell rolled his eyes. "Well, I certainly don't know, as I wasn't there. That is why you are meant to tell me."

Crowley sighed. “What is the point of all this… talking?"

“Frank discussion is the first step to anything else, dear. Walk me through it. You arrived home. Then what?”

Crowley resettled in his chair, letting out another sigh. “Fine. I got home. I went to bed. Had a…” He shrugged. “I… jerked off?”

Fell put his hands up, shaking his head vigorously. “No, no, no, Crowley. I’ve seen your writing -- I know you can carry a narrative. You arrived home. You stepped into your living room, presumably? Foyer?”

“Living room, yeah…” confirmed Crowley.

“Right, and then, you -- teleported to your bed, having not removed any clothing yet, and immediately took hold of your cock? I’m to believe that is how things proceeded?”

Crowley doubled over, narrowly holding back a fit of the giggles.

“Crowley!”

Crowley sat up. “What?” he not-quite-whined.

“This is serious. You entered your living room. What then?”

Crowley closed his eyes, shook his head and sighed. “All right, fine. I… ripped my jacket and shoes off rather… quickly… as I recall.”

“Good. Then?”

“Went to the bedroom. Pants and… everything else came off there.”

“Mmhmm,” Fell nodded. “What was the state of your underwear at that point?”

“Good lord, really?” Crowley recoiled.

“Don’t argue -- answer me,” Fell’s voice rose firmly.

“They were pretty well… wet all the way through, I think.”

“Good. Was that so hard?”

“Well, the train and bus ride home certainly were, if that’s what you mean," Crowley all but spat.

Fell grinned. “Yes, I imagine so. But you did very well, didn’t you? You waited patiently until you were safely home.”

Crowley rolled his eyes. “What bloody choice did I have?”

Fell refocused the direction of the story. “All right, so you’re in bed now, naked. Go from there.”

“Well, I jerked it and…” began Crowley.

“You mean to say,” Fell cut in, “that you manually stimulated yourself with your hand?”

“All right. Yes, that," Crowley said, looking at the ceiling.

“And?”

“Well, it didn’t take very long, as I remember,” said Crowley through gritted teeth.

“I can’t imagine so,” said Fell.

Silence fell over the room. Crowley shrugged. “So, yeah,” he finished lamely.

“You had an orgasm?”

“Obviously,” said Crowley, turning red.

“Right.” Fell leaned forward, resting elbows on his desk. “What happened next?”

“Next?” said Crowley uncertainly. “Uh, nothing. That was… That’s it. Story time over.”

"I'm sorry?" Fell cocked his head, perplexed.

"Uh, I don't know what else you want me to say. I fell asleep after that."

Fell blinked, staring at him. "So, I am to understand that after you left here… fully excited and forced into delayed gratification… you had exactly one orgasm and then immediately fell asleep?

"Uh…" Crowley glanced around, alarm bells going off in his mind. He had the sense that he'd forgotten something very important. "Yeah. Pretty much?" he shrugged.

Fell dropped his head into his hands, leaning on the desk, and sighed. "Unbelievable," he muttered.

"What? What'd I do?"

Fell sat up and breathed another heavy sigh. He locked eyes with Crowley, an unreadable expression on his face, and raised his left hand, undoing the cufflink at his wrist. He set it aside, unbuttoned the sleeve, and started rolling it up to his elbow. It was something Crowley had not seen him do before. He always wore long sleeves, buttoned up at the wrists. The action, combined with the intensity of that gaze was more than a little worrying.

"Crowley," Fell said, removing the matching cufflink at his right wrist. "Think back to our conversation on Wednesday. What, specifically, did I tell you to do?"

"Oh," said Crowley. It was coming back to him now. "You said…"

Fell continued rolling his sleeves, all the while keeping direct eye contact with Crowley.

"Yes," he mused, watching Crowley's expression shift from confusion to something rather closer to fear. "What did I say?"

"Uh, you said… to go home and…" Crowley cleared his throat, watching Fell's right forearm as it became gradually more visible. "...touch myself? However I liked?"

"My exact words were to use your preferred method, yes."

"Right."

"I also told you to get at least eight hours of sleep. I assume you at least managed that?"

"Uh, mhmm" Crowley nodded. Fell had thick, powerful looking arms to match his strong hands. That was certainly… interesting information, Crowley thought, already getting a bit hot about the collar.

"Right," said Fell, folding the rest of his sleeve up to his right elbow. He interlaced his fingers, setting his hands back on the desk, and observed Crowley's reaction. "But you had additional instructions, Crowley. Or did you forget the rest?"

"Oh," said Crowley. He had forgotten. Or rather, when no mention was made of it yesterday, he had foolishly hoped that perhaps Fell had forgotten. "Uh. I guess so."

Fell stood, pressing his hands into the desktop as he rose out of his chair. "What were your other instructions, Crowley?"

Crowley felt a tremor starting in his hands, and grasped the chair for support. Shit. He'd fucked up already.

"Uh… Look, I'm sorry; all right?"

Fell's eyebrows shot up, his tone cool and deadly. "And for once, my dear, you are right to apologize. But that is not what I asked. What did I tell you to do?"

Ah fuck. He could feel himself getting hard at the prospect of whatever punishment Fell might have in mind for him.

"You said… you told me to do it as many times as I could."

"And am I to believe that all you could manage," Fell's voice rose, "after hours of waiting, was one... pathetic orgasm?"

Crowley looked away, shaking his head. "I was tired!"

"Oh," Fell scoffed. "You were tired," he spoke in a mocking, pouting tone. "Well, I suppose that's all right then. After all, I don't suppose you have to obey a direct command when you're tired."

He circled the desk, letting his hand run across the surface as he approached.

"Is that how this works, Crowley? Is that your understanding of it?"

Crowley squirmed, shaking his head furiously. "No," he said.

"No... what?" demanded Fell.

"Uh... No, s-sir?"

"That's right." Fell stopped at the edge of the desk, leaning on it just as he had that very first day. He crossed his arms, making the muscles in his naked forearms stand out even more prominently. "Now, what am I supposed to do in this situation?"

Crowley gripped the armrests of his chair and stared at the floor, trying not to squirm.

"I don't know," he said.

"You do know," corrected Fell. "Or you should. I told you to do something, and you didn't do it. What happens now?"

"That's not fair," whined Crowley. "I only agreed to all that yesterday. "

Fell stood, coming close enough to almost brush their knees together. He kept just enough distance not to touch.

"Oh, it's not fair, is it?" he said in an approximation of Crowley's whining, mocking him. "You knew that much was at least implied. You chose to disobey. In fact, I'd be willing to bet you did it on purpose."

"No!" Crowley cried. "I didn't!"

"I don't believe you. I think you knew exactly what you were doing -- testing the waters to see if you'd get away with it."

"No…" Crowley felt tears pricking at the corners of his eyes.

Fell crouched next to him, placing one hand softly on his shaking knee. "Remember Crowley, you can say it at any time."

Crowley nodded furiously, letting his head drop in a protective slouch. He understood. He wasn't going to tap out on the first go; he refused to be that weak. Anyway, he was hard pressed to remember a time when he'd been this turned on.

Fell transitioned seamlessly back into the scene. "What did you think was going to happen? I would forget?"

Crowley gasped, mustering the breath to speak. "I hoped you would."

"Mhmm, and how did that work out for you?"

Against better sense, Crowley huffed a laugh. "I think I'm in trouble now."

Fell's reaction was immediate. He stood, towering over Crowley. "You think this is a joke?!"

"No, no--" Crowley looked up, eyes pleading.

"I'll show you just how funny this is, boy.”

Fell turned on a dime, crossing the room quickly and opening a cabinet on the far wall. “Stand up."

"Oh, no-- please."

Fell turned to look at him, eyes blazing. "I said stand. Up."

Crowley shot out of his chair, scrambling for purchase on the edge of the desk.

"Yes, that's the idea." Fell was already returning from across the room. He had a riding crop in his hand.

Fucking Christ, Crowley thought; his mind spinning at the speed with which this was escalating.

"Bend over," Fell said matter of factly.

"No, please-- I'm sor--"

He was on Crowley before he could react. He reached across the desk, gripping him by the back of the neck.

"Gah!" Crowley protested.

Fell ignored him, firmly urging him forward and down until his cheek was lowered to the desktop. "Put your hands on the desk. Flat."

Crowley complied immediately, and Fell reached out quickly to adjust his hands, placing them towards the far end of the desk so Crowley's arms were stretched all the way across.

"Keep your head down," said Fell, "and do not move."

Crowley could already feel tears falling on his cheeks, and found he was shaking uncontrollably. He was also incredibly hard and wet, pre-come slicking the inside of his pants. He couldn't resist squirming against the edge of the desk, and he let out a little moan of pleasure at the contact.

"Oh," said Fell, coming around the other side of the desk. "So now you want to rub one out? Filthy boy!"

He raised the riding crop and brought it down on Crowley's ass with a loud crack.

"Ah, fuck!" Crowley cried out.

"Quiet," Fell said. "Do you know why you're being punished?" He raised the crop again, this time bringing it hard across the back of Crowley's thighs. Even through his jeans, it stung enough to make Crowley bend involuntarily at the knees.

"Ah," he gasped. "Y-yes!"

"Why?" Fell demanded.

"Because… I didn't--"

Fell raised the crop a third time, hitting harder than before straight across Crowley's buttocks. Crowley gritted his teeth, and pressed hard against the desk, his erection only intensifying under the punishment.

"Why?!" Fell shouted.

"I didn't do what I was told! I didn't take you seriously!"

Fell paused, and Crowley heard him take in a deep, shuddering breath. "And will you disobey me again?"

"N-no…" Crowley said.

Fell came closer. Just out of the corner of his eye, Crowley could see him raise one leg, press it against the chair, and shove it aside with a powerful kick. It made a grating sound as it scraped across the carpet.

Fell reached forward, laying his free hand across the small of Crowley's back. Crowley shivered at the contact, humping the desk again. He let out a pathetic little moan.

"Stop that," Fell said in a much quieter, calmer voice. “You’re being punished right now, not rewarded."

"S-sorry."

"Raise your hands. Put them behind your back."

Crowley shivered, gasping for breath, but did as he was told. Fell raised his own hand long enough to make room, then wrapped it around Crowley's crossed wrists, pinning them there.

"Still all right?" Fell said in a soft voice, checking in despite Crowley's having not uttered the safeword yet. This was a first, and he clearly wanted to be sure.

Crowley was facing away from Fell, but shivered at the gentle shift in tone. "Yes," he whispered. "I'm okay."

"Good," said Fell. "You’re going to get twenty swats, very quickly. Hold still.”

Twenty? Crowley thought, in a mild panic.

The blows came in a practiced rhythm, evenly timed, and by the tenth one Crowley was squirming under the sting of them and crying out in pain.

When it was done, Fell silently reached over top of Crowley’s head and laid the riding crop on his desk. He still had Crowley by the wrists, holding him in place. Crowley was a sobbing mess, tears streaming down his face, little uncontrollable hiccups coming out of his mouth.

Fell shushed him, using his free hand to smooth Crowley’s hair.

“There, there,” he soothed. “You took that well. I’m going to let you go now, Crowley. All right?”

He nodded, mussing the tear-strewn papers under his cheek into a rumpled wad.

Fell slowly and carefully raised his left hand from Crowley’s wrists. They felt sore in the absence of the grip that had previously been pushing him down into the desk.

“Place your hands back in front of you,” said Fell, his voice calm and soothing.

Crowley did.

“Now then,” said Fell. “I’m going to remove your pants, Crowley. Would that be all right?”

Oh fuck fuck fuck, he’d thought they were done. Crowley’s hands began to tremble and he felt his breath catch in the back of his throat.

Fell paused. “Crowley?” He was standing directly behind Crowley, so he couldn’t see him. Neither could read the other’s expression. Fell moved to the side, leaning on the desk and dipping his head to find Crowley’s gaze. “All right?”

Crowley nodded furiously again.

“I need you to say it, dear boy.”

“Ah, what are you going to--?” Crowley looked up at him, anxious to find some comforting expression there. Fell offered him a gentle smile.

“You’ve just been whipped, dear. I should see to your wounds.”

Crowley’s face turned beet red. “Oh. Right. Okay.”

Fell disappeared again, and a second later Crowley felt strong hands slowly curling around his waist.

Fuck, everything he does is in slow motion…

Fell’s hands met on the opposite side of Crowley’s hips, and carefully began unbuckling his belt, unbuttoning his pants, and achingly slowly sliding the zipper down. Thumbs hooked inside the waistband of Crowley’s jeans, and the sensation of the pants slowly sliding down his hips and thighs elicited a pitiful noise from the back of his throat.

“Shhh” Fell soothed, leaning in to plant one chaste kiss on the nape of Crowley’s bare neck. Crowley couldn’t help it, he bucked up at the sudden contact. Fell huffed, amused, and gently repositioned him against the desk.

“Hush, now,” Fell said. “You’ve been a good boy. I’m not angry with you anymore.”

Crowley sighed, and almost felt he might cry again at the sheer relief of knowing he’d been forgiven.

“Now, let’s make sure I’ve not hurt you.”

Crowley had never experienced being whipped with a riding crop before, (though it was one of the laundry list items he had eagerly replied YES to in the document yesterday) but he didn’t think it likely that Fell could have done any lasting damage at the level of force he’d applied, especially through a pair of thick denim pants. It had hurt, but he knew instinctively it might have been much worse.

But, this was all just part of the process, he assumed -- part of coming down from the intensity of the scene. After care, he thought he remembered having heard it called before. Of course, in this case, it meant Fell was about to be examining his ass quite thoroughly, and that made his cheeks burn again, and his cock twitch a bit. He was still rock hard inside of his underwear.

“Wait here,” said Fell, placing one hand tenderly on Crowley’s back before moving away toward the cabinet where he’d plucked the riding crop from. This time he produced something much friendlier looking -- a stack of soft blankets.

When he returned, he had Crowley shift slightly to one side, laying down a blanket over the front of the desk and floor where Crowley was standing. The other he tossed into the chair, leaving it for later. Once Crowley was back in position, Fell returned to his side of the desk. From this vantage point, Crowley could look up at him if he craned his neck a bit.

Fell offered another warm smile. “How are we doing?”

“All right, I think?” said Crowley. He was much calmer now, though still incredibly aroused.

“Good,” said Fell. He opened the drawer. The drawer that held the gloves.

Crowely froze. Oh shit, he thought. What now?

If anyone had told Crowley it were possible for Fell to slide those gloves onto his hands any slower and more seductively than he had on Wednesday, he wouldn’t have believed them. But here they were.

Fell folded the fingers of his left hand together, sliding them into the white cotton glove. One by one, he tugged on the fabric of each finger, pressing his fingertips fully into place before moving to the wrist, and pulling hard on the edge of the glove to make sure it was secure. He fastened the little silver snap at the wrist, and smirked at Crowley, noting his reaction.

The other glove went on more quickly, but in a similar fashion.

Fell smiled again, cracking his knuckles so Crowley could see.

“Let’s inspect the merchandise, shall we?” he said with a smirk, returning to the opposite side of the desk.

Crowley’s breath was coming more rapidly, and he felt his dick twitch again.

“Oh, god,” he sighed. “How did you--?”

“How did I know the effect these would have on you?” Fell finished for him. “I do have eyes, my dear.”

His hands were on Crowley’s hips again, warm and sure through the soft cotton. Crowley flinched, gasping.

“I’m going to remove your underwear now,” said Fell.

Crowley let out something like a sob. “Please,” he whined.

Fell began at the back, index fingers sliding just inside the elastic waistband of the black briefs Crowley was wearing. The fingers circled Crowley’s hips, stopping at the sharp points of his hip bones. Then Fell gently took hold of the waistband and pulled the underwear down.

As Crowley’s fully erect and leaking cock became exposed, he whimpered at the sensation of cool air on his damp skin.

Fell pulled the briefs down to just below Crowley’s knees, leaving them to hang there.

“All right, lean into the desk, dear,” said Fell, going down on one knee.

Crowley’s face was on fire, imagining what Fell must be looking at back there.

A soft, cotton-clad hand ghosted over one ass cheek, and Fell made a tutting noise. “You mean to tell me you made all that fuss over this? It’s barely pink.”

He stood again, brushing a hand absent-mindedly over Crowley’s hips, loosely gripping the soft t-shirt he was wearing so it rose over the small of his back, pooling just below the shoulders.

By this point, Crowley was gasping soft little pants into the surface of the desk, his poor cock jumping at every soft stroke from Fell’s gloved hands.

And speaking of those hands, they were now slowly ranging across the landscape of Crowley’s back, slipping easily underneath the shirt and pinching the skin on Crowley’s shoulders between thumb and forefinger. Crowley moaned for a completely different reason than before. That felt good -- it’d been ages since he’d had a massage, and hunching over a computer day after day tended to do a number on his back and shoulders.

Fell tugged on the fabric of Crowley’s shirt again, and asked, “May I remove this?”

“Yes. Yes, please,” Crowley said.

The edge of the shirt folded over Crowley’s head, and Fell pulled it away, easily freeing Crowley’s arms and tossing the shirt to the side.

His gloved hands returned to Crowley’s now naked arms, sliding back up to his shoulders and digging thumbs into his neck. Crowley let out a ragged moan, flexing his shoulder blades into the touch.

“Perhaps you’d like to have that other orgasm now, dear?”

Crowley hissed through gritted teeth. “Oh, god yes; please!”

Fell chuckled at the eager response, and stood directly behind him again. He leaned forward so their bodies were flush. Crowley flinched, but found only a reassuring warmth in Fell’s presence, pressed against his back. Fell’s hands appeared in front of Crowley’s eyes, and he watched in awe as Fell unsnapped the glove, pinched the tip of the middle right finger, and removed it from his hand in one smooth motion.

“This is the hand I’m going to bring you to climax with, dear boy,” Fell whispered in his ear. “Are you ready?”

Crowley whimpered, involuntarily pressing his ass up towards Fell’s body behind him. “Yes; fuck yes.”

Fell placed the still gloved left hand gently on Crowley’s ribcage and wrapped the other around his leaking cock. A few quick strokes was all it took to send Crowley hurtling toward oblivion.

“Ah,” he cried out, fresh tears pricking the corners of his eyes. “Fuck!”

He came in waves of pleasure that ricocheted through his entire lower body. His hands grasped involuntarily at whatever was on the desk, crunching fistfuls of paper at a time. He gasped as the orgasm sent spurts of come shooting against the soft blanket he was laid across, and he couldn’t hold back an embarrassing keening noise that came unbidden from the back of his throat.

"Shhh, there you are, my dear," Fell cooed in his ear. "All better."

Crowley writhed under the pressing weight of Fell's body, turning his head just enough that he could look up to catch his eye. The overhead lamp in the ceiling shone down from above, wreathing Fell's gently smiling face in a warm wash of yellow light.

*

Crowley spent the rest of the afternoon curled up on the chaise lounge in the back of Fell's office while he made more phone calls.

"Yes, that will be fine, Marie, thank you. Ah, yes, and happy Friday to you as well."

The click of the phone being placed carefully in its cradle indicated that Fell had finished his call. Crowley raised his head from where he'd been snoozing, and checked his watch. Almost six o'clock.

"Are you well, dear?" Fell asked, already pulling up another number in his phone. My god, how long is he going to be at this? Crowley wondered.

"Mmfine," he mumbled, shrugging off sleep.

"I have a meeting shortly. I'm not sure how my colleague would take to finding you here," Fell turned in his chair, shooting Crowley a look, "especially in that state."

Crowley sat up, letting one naked leg slide out from under the heap of blankets. "What? Not a good look?"

"It is an excellent look, dear -- but one I prefer not to share. Best get dressed, and be on your way, now. I've been rather indulgent with you already for one day, I think. You're likely to go setting unreasonable expectations for the future."

Crowley huffed, shoving the blankets off and digging underneath the chaise for his rumpled shirt and pants.

"You have a meeting?" he asked. "At six? On a Friday?"

"No rest for those looking to overhaul companies, dear," Fell answered.

Crowley pulled the shirt over his head and scrambled into his pants, noting absent-mindedly that his belt had gone. He looked around on the floor, but didn’t see it anywhere. He yawned, suddenly feeling very tired. Oh well, he’d find it later.

"Crowley," Fell said, reaching for a mobile phone where it lay on the desk. "I want you to give me a way to contact you outside of work. A phone number will suffice."

"Oh?' Crowley said. "I thought this was… I mean, you said…"

Fell looked up, brows rising up his forehead. "I know what I said. This is a precaution." He glanced up at the ceiling. "In case of emergencies."

Crowley frowned, tugging the elastic tie free of his hair and smoothing down the mess of curls on his head. "What sort of emergencies are you expecting?"

Fell sighed, smiling. "One does not expect emergencies, dear. You plan for them, regardless of what they might entail. In any case, you may find weekends to be difficult, at least in the beginning. Everything we agreed upon regarding extra-professional meetings still stands, but I don't want to leave you with absolutely no way of contacting me should you need to."

He caught Crowley's eye, regarding him thoughtfully. "And you may find that you need to."

Crowley gave him his mobile number, and Fell shot him a text.

"Save that, so you have it," Fell said.

Without further comment, Crowley did.

"Now then." Fell put the office phone to his ear again, punching the "call" button. He raised a finger to indicate Crowley should be quiet. “Mr. Banks -- A.Z. Fell, just returning your call. Hope to see you tomorrow, but do feel free to connect with me on Monday, otherwise. There are a few minor updates on the Watson account I hoped we might discuss. Thanking you; and happy weekend.”

He hung up, turning his attention back to Crowley.

Happy weekend. It hit Crowley suddenly that he wasn’t going to see Fell again until Monday. After everything that had transpired this afternoon, that reality struck him as very unfair. Especially knowing this Mr. Banks, whoever he was, was likely to see him tomorrow. Work over golf, or something… Crowley could only assume.

Fell must have noticed his expression, because he said, “Is anything wrong, dear?”

“Oh, no,” said Crowley. “It’s just… Well, I guess I’d better be off, like you said.”

“Yes,” said Fell, simply. He stood from his chair, and extended one arm toward the door in his usual indication that it was time to walk Crowley out.

Crowley headed for the door, a sinking feeling starting in the pit of his stomach. Get over it, he chided himself. You knew what you were getting into. He was very clear.

He stopped just short of the door and turned. Fell looked up at him, surprised.

“It’s just…” Crowley said. “That was…” he glanced away, embarrassed. “You didn’t even…”

Fell cocked his head to one side. “I didn’t even what?”

“I mean, that was…” Crowley cast his hand toward the desk, indicating… that. What they’d done there, “It was…” Crowley looked at his shoes. “...really good. But, I don’t…”

“My dear, I don’t mean to rush you," Fell said. "However, I expect my very conservative lawyer to walk through those doors momentarily, and I’m not quite sure it would be a good idea for you to still be here when he does.”

He gave Crowley a once-over. “Even to an unsuspecting eye, you do appear quite… freshly ravished. And this particular lawyer is indeed rather... suspecting.”

Crowley looked up, startled. “I’m sorry! But I didn’t do anything for you. I mean, surely this goes both ways? What exactly did you get out of… all that?”

Fell’s eyes crinkled at the corners, his brow furrowed, and he let out a little huff of surprise as he smiled. “Oh, my dear boy,” he chuckled. “I assure you, I got plenty out of it.”

Crowley frowned. “But,” he said. “When you were…” He felt a blush spreading over his cheeks, but soldiered on for the sake of time, “You were behind me, and… you were never even…”

“It is important not to get carried away when taking on a leadership role, dear. Your needs took precedent today. Listen,” Fell said, placing his hands on Crowley’s biceps as he had before, “I apologize. We can discuss this... at length. But I’m afraid we cannot do it now. For the moment, let me assure you this afternoon’s activities were extremely gratifying for me. I am pleased if you enjoyed it half as much as I did."

He paused, catching Crowley's eye. "Am I to assume... you did enjoy it?"

"Oh," Crowley said. "Yes, absolutely."

Fell positively beamed. "Very good, then. We can discuss this when I call tomorrow, if you wish. I will call you tomorrow, just to check in, if that's all right?" He looked Crowley up and down, briefly. "It is perhaps less than ideal timing for this first session to occur at the end of the week. I will want to enquire after your well-being."

Crowley felt something warm bloom in his chest. "All right," he said. "I think I'll be fine, but… Thank you."

"Likely you will. You will forgive me if I insist on an overabundance of caution. If you need to reach me before tomorrow, you may call. No hour is too late. Otherwise, I will speak to you then. And with that, my dear," He checked his watch. "I'm afraid we have to say goodbye for now."

“Right. Okay." Crowley sighed, offering Fell a perhaps less than convincing smile. "Good night."

Fell opened the door, ushering Crowley through it with a light touch on one shoulder.

“Good night, dear boy," He said, and the door was closed.

*

Crowley commuted home in a bit of a daze. He didn’t really know how to feel or what to think. He thought back to everything that had happened in Fell’s office. It had certainly been everything he’d anticipated and more -- he had not expected things to get that… kinky… that fast, but he had no complaints. And Fell must have tested and trusted the soundproofing in those walls, because it had hardly been a quiet interaction. His cock twitched in his pants remembering the way Fell had shouted at him, commanding Crowley to act immediately when given direction.

It was insanely hot, and Crowley shook his head, reflecting on how he’d made it this far in life completely ignorant of how much he might enjoy a dynamic like this. He wondered what other interests Fell was planning to awaken in him, and how many surprises might lie in store. He had thought he had himself quite figured out by now, but suddenly he found he was somewhat at a loss -- wondering what other debauched entertainments he might have been missing out on all his life.

It was true enough that he’d rather ignored romantic or sexual relationships for the past few years. He’d been so focused on his career, he hadn’t much bothered. If someone approached him, fine, and he’d had a few casual entanglements, but he’d not actively pursued anything or anyone in so long… it felt quite strange to suddenly find himself so involved with a person. Naturally, it only complicated things further that this person was his boss, that the situation they found themselves in was so… unusual... a bit strange… and more than a bit risky.

It didn’t help matters that Crowley already found himself feeling some type of way about the rules he’d agreed to. No meetings outside of the office. Nothing beyond the sexual. He supposed he could handle that. Still, sitting quietly now, quite alone, leaned against the dirty window of the tube train, Crowley did find himself wondering what it would feel like to have Fell kiss him, passionately and tenderly on the mouth. He wondered if that were something Fell would allow, if he asked. His instinct said it probably wasn't.

Fuck, he thought. He had thought he'd be all right... but now he found himself suddenly grateful for Fell's insistence on a phone call tomorrow. Even so, he’d better find something to distract himself over the weekend. Otherwise, he was going to wind up sitting in his flat for two days, looking forward to Monday.

That was certainly a novel concept, at least.

***

Chapter Text

a hand gripping another body

Crowley was folding laundry, season two of The Good Place streaming in the background for at least his fourth rewatch, when his phone chimed. He put down the stack of towels on the couch and crossed the room to grab it from the coffee table.

It was a text message from Fell.

"Good afternoon, Crowley. I hope you are well. Is now a good time for me to call you?"

Fell had told him he planned to call today, but nevertheless, Crowley felt his heart beat a little faster. He typed quickly into the text box -- "Yes, now is fine."

A few seconds later, the phone was ringing. Crowley took a deep breath and answered.

"Hello?" He said, his questioning tone belying the fact that he knew exactly who was going to be on the other end of the line.

"Hello, Crowley. How are we today?"

Crowley sighed, taking in the sound of Fell's voice and feeling instantly more at ease. "I'm okay," he said.

"Okay?" Fell mused. "I'm afraid I'm going to need a bit more information than that, dear. I thought you might call last night. Seeing as you did not, should I assume you had a pleasant enough evening?"

Crowley thought back to the night before. He'd spent most of it curled up on the couch, watching some nature documentary about bonobos and reflecting that really, what he and Fell had gotten up to that afternoon wasn't all that weird, in the grand scheme of things.

"Uh," he said. "Yeah, it was fine. Just... went to bed early. Nothing unusual."

"Very good," said Fell. "And are you in any pain today?"

"Hmm, nope."

"Anxiety?" Fell continued, apparently checking off a mental list of possible negative responses. "Any... emotional distress?"

"Well," Crowley huffed a laugh, thinking about the nearly constant state of being he inhabited on a daily basis that most people might consider excessively anxious. He sat back down on the couch, tucking the mobile into his shoulder. "Not really. I'm just at home, doing laundry and watching telly."

Fell sighed into the phone, and Crowley could hear the tolerant smile there even if he couldn't see Fell's face.

"That sounds like a reasonably relaxing Saturday," he said. "But I mean to say, Crowley, you are not experiencing any regret or... possibly confusion in regard to our activity yesterday?"

"Oh," Crowley said, folding another towel. "No. I don't think so."

"Very good," said Fell, and Crowley thought he could hear something in the background -- people talking off in the distance, perhaps. "We can address those questions you had now, if you like."

"Oh, um…" Crowley reached for the remote, pausing the show. "Well, I guess…" he struggled with where to begin. "I suppose I ought to ask… if you're all right?"

A soft, good-natured chuckle met his ear.

"That's very kind, dear. I'm quite well, I assure you."

"Oh," said Crowley, feeling a bit silly for asking. Of course Fell was fine. Why wouldn't he be?

"And you're quite sure you're not in any pain today?" Fell asked again.

"No," Crowley said. "You-- you didn't hit me that hard," he scoffed, blushing at the memory. He was glad Fell couldn't see his face.

But when Fell answered, Crowley had to retract that thought, as it rather seemed it made no difference.

"There's no need to be embarrassed, dear," he said. "These calls are intended to put you at ease, not contribute to further stress."

"Right," Crowley said. "Uh, well… I don't really know what to say… I'm fine."

"Very good," said Fell. There was a rustling of wind against the microphone. He must be outside. "Well, then. If you're quite all right and have no questions, I suppose I should let you go. If you find there is something you need to discuss that cannot wait until Monday, you may phone me here. All right?"

Crowley nodded, then realized of course that Fell couldn't see him. "Right," he said hurriedly. "Okay."

"Very good, then. Do have a pleasant afternoon, dear boy."

"Uh, yeah," Crowley said. "You too."

"Goodbye."

The line went dead.

*

Monday morning eventually rolled back around, as it is wont to do, and Crowley found himself walking out of the elevator and into the all-too-familiar room full of cubicles, wishing he’d had more coffee. He stifled a yawn behind one hand, and checked his watch. 7:20am. Earlier than usual mornings were quickly becoming a habit with him, and he knew better than to fool himself with the idea that it had anything to do with getting ahead on work.

He dropped his bag at his desk and headed for the break room, hoping to score some coffee before he got into anything so mundane as the Monday morning email pileup that was sure to be waiting in his inbox.

By 9am, he had more or less cleared his ‘unread’ list and was just about to set to work cleaning up a Powerpoint presentation for Arcnangle, when his email pinged with a new message. When he saw the sender, he clicked on it immediately.

 

from: Fell, A.Z. <afell@afterlifeconsulting.com>
to: Crowley, Anthony <acrowley@afterlifeconsulting.com>
date: Nov 11, 2019, 9:05 AM
subject: Updated Project Plan for Demining Initiative 

Good news! Your plan has been presented to local partners at UNICEF, and it appears there may be interest in mounting a renewed campaign to encourage Slavic leadership to sign the Mine Ban Treaty -- which you may know has been thus far unsuccessful since its introduction and signing by twenty-five other world nations in 1997. This would of course be the first legal step toward cleanup and large-scale demining in the nation.

Crowley, I cannot overstate the impact this might have, if successful. You should be proud.

I have amended our standing afternoon meeting to begin at 1pm today instead of 2 -- to allow for extra time to go over the details of this updated plan. Please come with any questions or concerns ready to discuss.

Regards,

A.Z. Fell
Manager, Global Security and Protection Unit
Afterlife Ideation and Consulting

 

Crowley read the email over again, beaming. He knew, of course, that it was still a long shot. It wasn’t as if other international companies, advocacy groups, and the UN themselves hadn’t tried to do the same thing in the past, but government leadership changed all the time -- who was to say it wouldn’t work this time?

He clicked the attachment and settled in to read through the changes, taking notes as he went.

*

At one o’clock, he reported to Fell’s office as instructed.

Fell was on the phone, and waved Crowley in without a word.

“Yes, Mr. Hoskins, I do understand the potential ramifications; I should ask whether or not you do?” Fell was saying into his phone, looking a bit frazzled. “If this campaign were to be successful--”

He went silent, frowning at his desk. Crowley paused just inside the door, sensing the obvious tension in Fell’s furrowed brow. He didn’t look happy. Crowley knew that name -- though he’d never met the man. Charles Hoskins was a big wig at head office. Crowley thought he directed Michael’s department -- Defense. That would explain Fell’s mood. Defense built munitions… including land mines, for at least ten of the world’s most powerful nations… naturally they might take issue with a project dedicated to removing them.

“Hoskins, with respect,” Fell was saying, and though Crowley couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation, he thought it sounded like Fell had cut the man off, mid-tirade. “I don’t think you fully understand the overall net positive a project like this could have. If--”

Fell pulled the phone away from his ear, staring at it. “I do believe that bastard just hung up on me,” he said.

He finally turned to look at Crowley, shock written on his face.

Crowley came into the room, approaching the desk and sitting in the chair.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I hope I haven’t caused any trouble for you.”

Fell was already redialing a phone number. “No more than my usual share, dear.”

He raised a finger, and turned his attention to the phone.

“Mr. Hoskins,” he said in a much calmer, more appeasing tone than before. “I do apologize -- it seems our call was dropped.” Before the man could argue, Fell went on, standing from his chair to pace the room.

Crowley smirked, turning his attention to the laptop he had carried along with him.

“I assure you,” Fell was saying, “Nothing in this campaign has been made public, and will not until such time that you deem appropriate. In the, what we must all acknowledge would be the unlikely event of this effort’s success, we could develop, with your approval of course, an appropriately worded press release -- something that would not alarm our valued clients to whom you must of course be considerate.

“Naturally, we understand the potential risk involved, but… if I may, let me remind you… Exxon-Mobil just completed a quite successful green energy initiative… and I imagine you can appreciate the… delicate nature of an oil company leading such a campaign. Our hope -- our belief -- is that this may be an opportunity for something similar.”

After a fashion, Fell become quiet. Crowley turned in his chair to see him standing at the back of the room, leaning heavily on a side table. He appeared to be listening intently to whatever Hoskins was saying. He turned, finally, half-sitting on the table and putting his free hand to his brow.

“Yes, I understand,” he said finally. “Of course.”

Oh no, thought Crowley. That didn’t sound good.

Fell looked up, offering Crowley a tired looking smile, and a thumbs up.

"Oh?" Crowley mouthed.

“Naturally, sir,” Fell said, rolling his eyes even as the fawning superlative exited his lips. “You can rest assured, all correspondence will be shared with you directly.” A pause. “Yes. Thank you. Goodbye.”

The phone offered a cheerful beep as Fell pounded the off button angrily with his thumb. Slamming the receiver down on the table next to him. He sighed, letting his head drop to his chest.

Crowley closed his laptop. “So, that sounded… not great?”

Fell began to chuckle, and the sound sent chills down Crowley’s spine. His head still hung low, so Crowley couldn’t see his face. When he looked up, his eyes met Crowley’s, and there was something like triumph there.

“That cock wallop wouldn’t know an opportunity if it rose out of the ground and bit him on the ass,” said Fell, picking up the phone and walking back toward his desk.

“Cock… wallop?” echoed Crowley, stunned.

“Sorry,” Fell sighed. “I… it’s been quite a long day already, dear boy.”

Crowley shook his head, sputtering in surprise. Exhausted, extremely annoyed Fell was a Fell he had not seen before. He felt awful for the man, especially considering he himself must be at least partly to blame for his state, but it was a bit refreshing to see him less than fully put together.

“Can I… do anything to help?” Crowley asked.

“Yes,” said Fell, settling back into his chair. “You can walk me through whatever notes you have on this plan. Let us focus on any opportunity for painting the defense department in a positive light, and hopefully we can sugar coat this thing enough to satisfy our small-minded leadership council.”

He turned to Crowley with a sardonic smile.

“Right,” said Crowley, opening his laptop with a grin.

They spent the next hour going over the plan, marking sections to revisit, and in some cases, going into the text in depth, applying edits and recommendations for Arcnangle and Michael’s consideration before the document would be routed up to head office for their clearance.

Finally, as they reached the end of the document, Fell checked his watch.

“Right on time,” he said. “I do believe we’ve both earned a drink, dear.”

He went to the bar cart, and began pouring wine.

“Bit of Merlot all right by you?” he asked.

“Fine,” said Crowley, setting his closed laptop to the side.

Fell handed him a glass, half-sitting on the edge of the desk and twisting his neck to one side, cracking it.

Crowley raised his glass. “Cheers,” he said.

“Ah yes,” agreed Fell. “To a portion of an afternoon devoted to good, honest work -- and the remainder…” his lips twisted into a bemused grin, “...to something else entirely.”

Crowley laughed. “I’ll drink to that.”

They sipped their wine, enjoying a moment of quiet.

Crowley shifted in his chair, unsure if his question would be crossing a line. “So, I hope you didn’t… work… all weekend?”

“Sorry?” asked Fell.

“Well, I remember… Friday. You mentioned that to Mr. Banks on the phone... that you might see him Saturday?”

“Ah,” said Fell. “And as it turned out, I did. That's where I was when I phoned you -- waiting for him to arrive."

Crowley tried to contain his reaction of surprise at the idea of Fell standing in the parking lot of some high end cafe or country club, or who knew where, on the other end of the conversation they'd had. The thought made his cheeks flush pink.

"Actually," Fell went on, "That was part of what got this whole thing…” he waved a hand, indicating the demining project as the ‘thing,’ “...rolling so quickly. Banks is on the board of directors for UNICEF -- I hoped, and quite rightly, as it turned out, that a conversation over a few rounds of racketball might be just the thing to put a bug in his ear regarding the project, if you will.”

“Racketball?” Crowley’s eyebrows went up. “You?”

Fell feigned looking offended. “And why not?” he said.

Crowley shrugged, sipping his wine. “Doesn’t strike me as… your scene.”

“No,” said Fell, getting up and setting his wine glass on the desk. “But it is his. I always do my best negotiations on the other man’s home turf, after all. Let them be comfortable; assume they’re in charge.”

“Oh, I see,” said Crowley appreciatively. It wasn’t the worst strategy, and obviously it had worked.

“Now, then,” Fell said from across the room. “If you’re quite ready, dear.”

Crowley looked up. Fell was returning from the cabinet where he kept his… accessories. In his hand was an innocuous looking little bundle of silken rope. Crowley stared. He remembered enough from the laundry list of items in the document to imagine what that might be for.

“Oh,” he said.

Fell sat down, laying the neatly wound and knotted length of rope on his desk.

“Have you ever visited Japan, Crowley?”

“No,” Crowley said, still looking at the rope. “Seems nice.”

“Oh, it is a wonderful, beautiful country. Lovely people, incredible food, and a truly unique and altogether different culture from our own, in so many ways.”

He picked up the bundle of rope again and began deftly untying it from itself, taking a length of it in one hand and looping it around his other hand.

“I spent several years there, in my youth. After I returned home, there were two things I had discovered there that I happily brought back with me. One was a perhaps unhealthy obsession with the perfect sushi assortment. The other... is this. It is called shibari.”

He came around the desk, stopping in front of Crowley, and promptly shocked Crowley by settling himself on the floor. He leaned forward, sitting on his knees.

“Give me your arm, Crowley.”

“W-what?”

“Just the one. Either is fine. Just hold it out, here.”

“Oh,” said Crowley, uncertain. “All right.”

Crowley raised his right arm from where it had been resting on the chair, and watched as Fell carefully laid the thin rope across his wrist. He began quickly wrapping the cord back and forth over and around his wrist and forearm, weaving an elaborate criss-cross of rope over Crowley’s bare skin.

“This is an ancient art, with many different styles and applications. The obvious one for our purposes is, of course, as a form of restraint.”

Crowley could feel his respiration increasing, but said nothing, just watching Fell make quick work of encasing his arm in ropework all the way to his elbow. As he worked, Fell tightened the rope as one would a pair of laces on a boot. It was really fascinating to watch, and the sensation of being constricted by the rope was… not unpleasant.

Fell tied the rope off, finishing the sequence in a knot. Crowley knew absolutely nothing about knots, but it looked like something that was tight, secure, and would come apart in one motion if you tugged at just the right place.

“Thoughts?” asked Fell matter-of-factly.

“Uh,” said Crowley. “Well, you did that very… well.”

“Hmm,” Fell smiled. “Yes. This activity is a bit more... my scene, than say, racketball.”

Crowley laughed, holding his arm up to admire Fell’s handiwork. “It’s beautiful.”

“Ah, you think so?” asked Fell.

“Yes,” Crowley said. “It’s gorgeous, really.”

“Perhaps you would allow me a bit of time to create something… more elaborate?” Fell looked at him appreciatively.

“Uh, sure,” said Crowley. He could already feel his heart rate increasing. “Okay.”

Fell quickly pulled the finishing knot undone, and tugged the delicate pattern criss-crossing Crowley’s arm into a simple pool of discarded rope again, gathering it back into a bundle.

“You’ll need to undress,” he said, getting to his feet.

Crowley thought he must have heard that wrong. “Sorry, what?”

Fell turned to look at him, a slightly hungrier expression in his eyes now. “I said, take off your clothes.”

Oh.

Crowley did, setting his shirt and pants in the other chair. He stashed his shoes underneath.

Behind him, he heard Fell going to the door, locking it. He also walked over to the set of bay windows on the far side of the room, slanting the blinds so the afternoon sun cast low on the floor, sending deep, long shadows shooting across the carpet.

Crowley paused and looked across to where Fell was taking a larger length of rope, this one dyed a deep shade of red, out of the little storage closet. He also reached for one of those soft blankets Crowley had grown quite fond of during his last visit.

“Uh,” Crowley said, “should I...?” He cleared his throat. “What about these?”

Fell had crossed the room quickly and was standing next to him again. He opened the blanket, tossing it over top of the chair so it hung down on all sides.

“Yes, dear. Those go as well.”

“Right.”

So Crowley peeled unceremoniously out of his underwear and added them to the pile of clothing already in the extra chair. He turned back to Fell, feeling suddenly very exposed -- which he was, standing in the middle of the office, completely naked.

“Please,” said Fell. “You may sit back down.”

Crowley settled into the chair, and tried to control his breathing. He really had no idea what to expect from this, or if he would even like it.

Fell must have seen the trepidation in his eyes. “What are you thinking, Crowley?”

“Uh, I’m thinking…” Crowley began, watching Fell uncoil a length of the dark red rope. “I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into.”

Fell chuckled. “Not to worry. Like anything, you know this can stop if you need it to.”

“Right,” Crowley sighed easily.

“You are a naturally anxious person, aren’t you Crowley?” Fell asked, as he placed Crowley’s hand on the armrest.

“You could say that,” Crowley agreed.

“I think you may find this… surprisingly relaxing, then. In fact, people have been known to fall asleep.”

“Really?”

“Yes. It does take some time, after all, during which you are simply sitting, being slowly wrapped up bit by bit. Have you ever been buried in sand... at a beach?”

Crowley closed his eyes, thinking about the many times he’d done that exact activity with his cousins during summers on the Mediterranean.

“Sure,” he said, huffing a laugh.

“It’s not unlike that, really,” said Fell.

Crowley opened his eyes to find his right forearm was already wrapped in the same intricate pattern Fell had begun before. This time, instead of tying off with a knot, Fell created a variation on the cross-hatching pattern at Crowley’s elbow, leaving the joint free to move.

“Now,” Fell said, “If you will, cross your right arm over your chest, like so.”

He took Crowley’s wrist in his free hand, leading him to move his arm at a diagonal across his ribcage. He rested Crowley’s hand on his left shoulder, pressing his fingers flat into place.

“Oh,” said Crowley, entranced.

Fell looked up, meeting Crowley’s eyes.

“All right?” he asked.

“Yes,” Crowley breathed.

He didn’t know what he’d expected, but somehow the realization that he was about to be gently man-handled and tied up like a human pretzel had not occurred to him. It was obvious now that he thought about it -- of course there would be a lot of touching involved. Fell had a vision in mind, and he was going to have to place Crowley’s limbs wherever he needed them to be to create the proper shapes.

Somehow, these light gentle touches on his hands, arms, and shoulders were more intimate than some of the more overtly sexual things they’d done last time.

Crowley gulped, swallowing down a fit of anxiety.

“Would you like some wine, dear?” Fell asked, watching him.

“Oh, uh. Yes,” Crowley said.

Fell sat up, reaching for Crowley’s glass where it sat on the desk. He brought it toward Crowley’s lips, letting him drink right from his own hand.

Oh, yes. Crowley thought. I do think I like this. He’s got to do everything for me.

When he was done drinking, Fell set the glass back on the desk, close enough so he could reach it again.

“Right,” he said. “Time for a new pattern.”

The crossing ropes continued from Crowley’s wrist, looping around it and back across his chest to the right side of his torso, dipping under his arm. Fell got to his feet, following the rope where it came out the other side, and carried it tightly across the back of the chair.

Fuck, thought Crowley. He’s tying me to the chair.

Somehow that had not occurred to him either. It really should have, he thought now.

Fell appeared on his other side, touching his left elbow lightly so he could tuck the rope under that arm the same as the right.

“Now then,” Fell said. “We begin the same process over here, in reverse.”

He raised Crowley’s left arm up, pressing it against his chest, and began lacing the cord around it, this time starting at the shoulder instead.

Crowley relaxed, closing his eyes and letting his mind wander as Fell criss-crossed the soft cord down his left arm until he reached the elbow. He could feel the shift in sensation when Fell changed patterns, leaving his left elbow free just as he had the right, and working his way back into the tighter, more closely knit pattern down the forearm to the wrist.

Something new was happening at his wrist, Crowley noted vaguely. He didn’t open his eyes, and Fell said nothing, choosing to let Crowley drift away in the sensation rather than explaining the next step.

Crowley felt the cord tighten, and then Fell was behind him again, wrapping across the back of the chair for a second time. Crowley’s eyes fluttered open, and he found his breath was coming more quickly.

“Shit,” he said. “That’s tight.”

Fell stopped moving. “Too tight?” he asked.

“No,” said Crowley, gasping. “It’s just…” he swallowed. “No,” he said more confidently. “It’s just tight enough.”

His eyes fluttered back closed, so he missed the appreciative grin on Fell’s face.

Fell settled into some more intricate work around Crowley’s shoulders, working pieces of the rope up and over itself into what felt like very complicated patterns. Of course, considering the location it was in, Crowley couldn’t have seen it even if he were to open his eyes, so instead he just sat quietly, breathing deeply and feeling, as Fell had predicted, quite relaxed.

“How are we doing?” Fell asked, continuing to work.

“Fantastic,” Crowley sighed.

This elicited something like a giggle from Fell.

“Oh, really?” he said, sounding more than pleased. “I thought you might like this.”

Crowley opened his eyes, finding his eyelids had become quite heavy.

“I’m beginning to wonder if you’re going to leave any inch of me uncovered, but yes.”

“Oh,” said Fell. “This is nothing. If we really had some time on our hands, I could leave no space at all between the ropes, and you would be well and truly encased in it. This technique is faster and more efficient, however.”

“Hmm,” Crowley hummed in reply, his eyes already falling closed again.

He must have drifted off at some point. He woke with a bit of a start to the sensation of a knot being pulled tight behind him, and ropes constricting slightly over his throat.

Fell’s face appeared, peeking around from behind the chair.

“Sorry, dear. Was that too much?”

“No,” he said. “I think I… fell asleep.”

Fell chuckled again, clearly amused by Crowley’s ease and comfort in the situation. He placed one hand on Crowley’s throat, where the ropes were looped loosely around his neck, securing his head to the back of the chair.

“That isn’t too tight?”

“No,” sighed Crowley, settling back into the chair. He flexed his muscles a bit, and found that he could not move, even an inch, from the waist up, save to let his head fall backwards. There was something strangely soothing, intoxicating about it.

“Right then,” said Fell. Crowley heard him move away, the slight scrape of glass against wood, then felt a light touch on his cheek. He opened his eyes again to find Fell standing in front of him, offering the glass of wine to Crowley’s lips.

Even more so than before, he had to rely on Fell to give him a drink. Now he couldn’t even lean forward, with his neck secured as it was. Fell moved slowly, taking care not to spill, and Crowley drank down a long gulp of the oaky wine. Somehow, it seemed to even taste better, like this.

Crowley sighed, watching as Fell set the glass back on the desk. He moved away, going to the storage closet and producing a new bundle of rope in the same dark red color.

Fell sat back down on the floor, unwinding the new length of rope.

“May I?” he asked, softly stroking Crowley’s ankle where his legs hung loose, the only part of him still untethered.

Crowley’s eyes widened, and he suddenly didn’t feel so sleepy anymore.

Fell scoffed, obviously noting the change.

“My my,” he said, “What widening pupils you have, my dear.”

Crowley gasped, belatedly remembering to breathe.

“Uh, yes. All right,” he said, almost without thinking.

“Very good,” said Fell, grasping Crowley’s ankle in a firmer grip.

It triggered something in Crowley. He felt he should pull away on instinct. He fought the impulse, and let Fell handle him without argument.

Fell took the length of rope, folding it in half all the way down, so each end was doubled in thickness. He began at Crowley’s feet, looping the rope all the way around both of them and creating a sort of basket, securely attaching the feet to each other, and knotting the whole thing together at the ankles.

He looked up at Crowley, who was watching him intently.

“All right, dear?” he said tenderly.

“Uh, yes.”

Fell moved quickly up one leg, and then the other -- using lengths of rope to create a sort of ladder configuration -- each segment working its way up opposite sides of the leg, then connecting them in separate lengths of rope circling around at the ankle, lower calf, mid-calf, and just below the knee.

He moved back and forth from one leg, then the other, keeping the process at the same step on each as he went along. When he got to the knees, he used the same technique he had at Crowley’s elbows, skipping a bit to leave the joint unconstrained.

Crowley’s breath was coming quicker now, seeing where this was going.

“All right, Crowley,” said Fell. “Now, just relax for this part.” Crowley tried at nodding, forgetting his restrained neck.

“Oh,” he gasped. “Right. Um, okay.”

Fell smiled up at him. “Shhh… You’re quite all right.”

Then he gently took hold of Crowley’s ankles, guiding them upwards. He bent Crowley’s legs at the knees, until his bound feet came up to rest on the edge of the chair. The knees rose to settle in front of him, pressing against the armrests, and his heels dug into the cushion, grounding him there.

Crowley’s cock, which has been resting sedately against his thigh for the duration of this activity thus far, suddenly woke up, twitching against his leg. He let out a little involuntarily moan, pressing his eyes closed.

“Shhh,” Fell soothed again. “Are we still okay?”

“Y-yes.”

“Good. Just here.”

Fell took the length of rope at Crowley’s knee, looping it into a tight knot there, and crossing it back over itself to his lower thigh where it was now firmly pressed against the calf. It was a matching shape to what he’d done before, connecting the two so that the top half of Crowley’s leg was strapped to the bottom half, firmly secured so that he could not unbend it.

Turning his attention to the other leg, Fell duplicated the process, tying the end of rope neatly off at the top of Crowley’s thigh, just at the point where leg met pelvis. At some point, Crowley’s cock had progressed from freshly interested to fully erect. Eventually, it began leaking fluid while he sat there, completely unable to move, breathing harder and harder and letting out soft little moans every few seconds.

For his part, Fell ignored this. Even working as closely to Crowley’s genitals as he was, he never so much as brushed against it, moving carefully around the eagerly twitching cock without so much as a comment.

Once the legs were both tied up, all Fell had left to do was secure them to the rest. Which he did, quickly, with one more short length of rope lashing the knees to the elbows, which were already attached to the chair. He tugged hard on the final knot, securing everything together as one.

At last, Fell went to the desk and leaned back against it, admiring his handiwork.

“Ah,” he sighed appreciatively. “All done.”

Crowley gasped, pressing against his restraints hopelessly. He was quite securely fixed, and found he couldn’t move at all.

His knees were pressed up quite uncomfortably (though not painfully), his arms strapped against his chest, and nearly the only part of him not wrapped in silken rope was his now eagerly weeping cock, which Fell had left quite naked and vulnerable.

Crowley’s face was practically on fire, watching Fell watch him.

“Well,” he said thickly, “I hope you like what you see. It certainly took long enough to get here.”

Fell chuckled, reaching for his wine.

“Oh yes, my dear,” he said. “Quite worth it though, I think. How do you feel?”

Crowley let out a ragged sigh, squirming against his restraints and finding it quite as useless as before.

“How do I look?” he said through gritted teeth.

“My dear,” said Fell, his eyes flashing hungrily. "You look positively filthy. You look like a delicious plate of some sinful little dessert I can't wait to devour.”

He paused, taking a deep breath to center himself. “You look terrified, and incredibly aroused, as well you should be.”

Crowley whimpered, pressing against the ropes again. Each time he did, he could swear they only got tighter. It felt incredible.

“Would you say,” Fell continued, leaning forward and pushing off the desk, “that is an accurate description of how you feel, in this moment?”

“Y-yes,” Crowley said.

“Wonderful,” Fell said, taking a leisurely sip of wine. He tipped his head back, turning the sip into a gulp, and sucked his teeth appreciatively when the cup came away from his lips.

He came close, leaning against the chair, pressing his knee into the edge of the seat next to Crowley’s pinioned leg.

“Are you thirsty, dear?” he asked in the huskiest voice Crowley had heard come out of him yet.

“Yes,” said Crowley.

Fell leaned in, tipping the wine glass to Crowley’s lips ever so carefully, feeding him a healthy dose of the sweet liquid.

“Better?” Fell asked, pulling the glass away.

Crowley looked up at him, gasping.

“No,” he said. “But I’m no longer thirsty."

The hell you're not, he thought, noting another involuntary twitch from between his legs. Have you ever been thirstier?

“Hmm,” Fell frowned, teasing. “What else seems to be troubling you?”

“Oh,” Crowley gasped. “I don’t know. Just feeling a bit antsy I guess. Couldn’t say why.”

Fell licked his lips, absorbing the last hint of wine lingering there.

“That’s odd,” he said. “I wonder what the problem might be.”

Fell leaned forward, pressing a kiss to Crowley’s neck, just below the ropes there. Crowley flinched at the touch, and let out a gasp.

“Ah,” said Fell, hot breath tickling Crowley’s skin, “I see what you mean. You are rather jumpy. Especially for someone who is completely unable to move.”

Crowley let out a whine that started in the back of his throat.

“Ah, please…” he groaned. “Haven’t you teased me enough already?”

Fell leaned back, locking eyes with him.

“Darling,” he huffed. “I have not yet begun.”

Crowley’s eyes went wide.

Fell shook his head, chuckling. “I went easy on you the first time. This is all new territory for you, after all, so I did you a kindness. I did warn you not to set unreasonable expectations based on that singular experience.”

“Oh. Shit.”

Fell laughed, shifting away. He set his wine back on the desk and tugged at his waistcoat, smoothing it down. He walked back over to the cabinet.

“Is it just me, or is it getting a bit warm in here?” he asked.

He stood there for a moment, undoing his tie and unbuttoning the first few rows of buttons on his shirt. He sighed contentedly, grasping the doors to the cabinet with both hands.

“I wouldn’t know,” said Crowley, sounding slightly more relaxed. “I’m naked.”

Fell leaned against the doors, sighing again.

“You all right over there?” asked Crowley, a twinge of mockery in his voice now. Fell was obviously getting a bit worked up, trying to compose himself.

Well it’s about fucking time, Crowley thought. He’d been beginning to wonder if he really excited the man all that much, with the way he’d handled him so cooly and unaffected-like, so far.

Fell laughed, reaching into the cabinet.

“Oh, you’ve found your sense of humor now?” He said. “That’s good. I do hope you’ll keep that as we carry on.”

He turned, revealing the thing in his hand. It was the riding crop -- the same one Fell had used on him before.

Crowley froze. How does he intend to spank me, if I’m tied to the chair like this?

Fell crossed the room leisurely, taking his time. He raised the crop in one hand, bringing it down hard in his other hand. It made an audible smack. He didn’t so much as flinch.

Crowley frowned, not understanding. “W-what the hell do you think you’re going to do with that? With me tied down like this?”

Fell smiled, rounding the desk. “Whatever I like, I suppose.”

“I mean,” Crowley protested. “You can’t… I’m naked.”

“Yes,” said Fell, eyes flashing eagerly. “I can see that.”

“I’m on my ass. You can’t possibly--”

“Oh,” said Fell, feigning disappointment, “Lost our sense of humor already, I see.”

“I just don’t--”

“Quiet,” Fell commanded. “So talkative, all of a sudden. Keep it up, and I’ll have to gag you, as well.”

Crowley gulped, going silent.

“Very good,” said Fell, coming closer. He raised the riding crop, bringing the soft loop of leather on the end slowly across Crowley’s cheek. Crowley gasped at the light contact, turning his eyes to look at it.

“See?” said Fell. “It’s good for more than beatings, dear. A very multi-faceted implement, really.”

“Oh,” said Crowley. “Yes, okay.”

“I said, hush.” Fell’s voice was soft, but firm.

“Hmm,” Crowley hummed in agreement.

He traced the line of Crowley’s jaw, tucking the end of the riding crop beneath his chin, pressing it imperceptibly upwards. He all but crawled into Crowley’s lap next, pressing his knee into the chair like before, and clasping at Crowley’s shoulder with his free hand.

“Now then,” Fell said, dragging the end of the riding crop down Crowley’s chin, throat, and past the first line of ropes across his chest. “Let’s see. There are lots of options here. Not sure quite what I’m in the mood for, yet.”

He tapped Crowley’s exposed nipple with the end of the riding crop, lightly slapping it.

“Ah,” Crowley let out a little surprised cry.

“Quiet, I said,” chided Fell. “I don’t like my dinner to talk back.”

“D-dinner?”

Fell glared, furious. “Crowley, this is your final warning. If you don’t shut up--”

“S-sorry!” Crowley clenched his eyes, going quiet.

“Yes,” Fell continued in a soft, sultry tone. “You are my delicious...” he leaned in, replacing the end of the riding crop with his outstretched tongue, laving hungrily at Crowley’s now pert nipple.

“A-ah!” Crowley cried out again.

Fell ignored it.

“..trussed up…” he took the nipple between his teeth, lightly grazing it.

Crowley flinched, but didn’t cry out this time.

“..tasty…” Fell moved to the other nipple, giving it the same nibbling treatment.

“...appetizer…”

He licked along the divot between the tendons in Crowley’s neck.

“...main course…” he whispered across Crowley's throat, his breath warming the skin there.

He kept moving upwards, taking the lobe of Crowley’s ear into his mouth, sucking on it.

The soft breath now tickling into Crowley's ear made him shiver. “...and dessert, all rolled up into one.”

He sat up, looking down at Crowley, who was staring at him silently, wide-eyed. “And I intend to savor you, one bite at a time.”

Crowley took in a shuddering breath.

“We have all afternoon, Crowley. And I have no more appointments today. I have nowhere else to be.” He leaned in. “So, there’s no need to be in any hurry.”

Fell let his leg slide down from where it had been resting on the chair, dropping to his knees in front of Crowley. He leaned in, nuzzling the exposed skin on the inside of Crowley’s knee, planting little kisses there. Then he pulled away, got to his feet, and unceremoniously raised the riding crop, delivering a hard slap to the spot instead.

Crowley flinched, biting his lip to keep from crying out.

“Very good!” cried Fell, triumphant. “That’s what I want to hear. Silence!”

Crowley just looked up at him, biting down on his lower lip and breathing hard through his nose.

He circled Crowley, going to stand behind him and leaning in to plant more little kisses on his throat. Crowley panted, fighting every urge to moan with pleasure as the kisses grew more forceful.

Fell pulled away suddenly. “Crowley,” he said, “I’m going to leave a mark on your neck. Yes?”

Crowley hummed in response.

Fell chuckled. “You may answer -- yes or no.”

“Oh, um…” said Crowley. “Yes. All right.”

“Good boy.”

Fuck, thought Crowley, mildly aware of his poor neglected cock twitching optimistically, again. He’s clearly figured out exactly what that phrase does to me.

Fell kissed his neck again, this time sucking hard on the tender flesh, pulling it between his teeth. He bit down.

Crowley sighed, trying to remain quiet, but fuck, it was not easy.

“Engh,” he let out some inarticulate noise of protest, and Fell promptly let go. There was an audible wet noise as his skin was released from Fell’s mouth. He leaned back in and immediately followed up with an open-mouth lick over the now red flesh.

“Did that hurt?” Fell asked.

Crowley took a breath before answering. “Yes.”

“Is it all right, that it hurt?”

Crowley took another deep breath, steadying himself.

“Yes.”

“You liked it?”

“Mhmm.”

“Good. See? We’re learning all sorts.”

Fell stood upright again, and trailed the riding crop, all but forgotten, along the curve of Crowley’s shoulders. He traced around to the other side, delivering occasional little slaps to Crowley’s arms and chest.

He came back around to the front again.

“Crowley,” he said, holding up the riding crop between them. “You enjoyed being spanked with this before, didn’t you?”

Crowley went white. “Uh...”

“Oh, and you may speak again, dear. I rather think this question may require more than a yes or no answer,” Fell grinned.

“Y-yes,” Crowley said, looking away.

“In fact, I insist upon it,” Fell chuckled, leaning against the desk. He stroked the instrument in his hands, turning it about lazily as he watched Crowley.

“What did you like about it?”

“Um,” said Crowley. “Well, I dunno. It was…”

There was obviously no getting around it; he had to give an honest answer. Crowley closed his eyes, thinking back to how it had felt in that moment. “I mean the actual physical sensation was… it just sort of stung.”

“Mhmm,” Fell said encouragingly.

“And I mean, it sort of focused my… attention? On that part of my body? I dunno. It was intense, and then afterwards…”

He opened his eyes, looking at Fell. “It just felt sort of warm. Like… something about increased blood flow, I guess?”

Fell looked like a hungry animal, his eyes widening. “Yes, very good, dear. That was quite descriptive. And what about before?”

“Before?” Crowley looked confused.

“The anticipation.” Fell pushed off the desk, coming closer again. “How did I do?”

“I… what do you mean, exactly? I’m sorry--” Crowley’s breath increased, worrying he’d anger Fell again if he didn’t have the correct answer.

Fell closed his eyes, putting out his free hand in a reassuring gesture.

“Not to worry, dear boy.” He stepped even closer, laying his hand delicately across Crowley’s knee. “What I meant was, once you realized what was about to happen. When you saw this,” he held the riding crop up for Crowley to see. “How did that make you feel?”

“Oh,” Crowley said, blushing. His cock jumped, remembering. Fell glanced pointedly at it, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Crowley sighed. “It was… exciting, I guess.”

“You guess?” Fell said, sounding unconvinced.

“Okay, it was definitely exciting,” Crowley admitted. “You… frightened me, honestly.” He looked at the floor, feeling the heat spreading across his face.

“Well, my dear,” Fell chuckled, “that was the idea.”

“Yeah, I get that.”

“And it worked for you?”

“Obviously,” Crowley huffed, growing breathless. How much longer was Fell going to keep him sitting here, dick hard, conducting polite conversation?

“Shall we try it again?” asked Fell, shifting his weight to one leg and admiring Crowley speculatively.

“Wh-- Now?” asked Crowley. “How? I’m--”

“Oh, my dear. This is an easily workable situation. Don’t you know me well enough by now to think I would have planned for this? It’s quite simple. All I need from you is a straightforward yes, or no?”

“W-what am I saying yes or no to, exactly?” Crowley could hear the nervous whine rising in his own voice, and cleared his throat in an effort to calm down.

“All right,” Fell said, rolling his eyes. “If you need every step spelled out for you--” he teased, brushing Crowley’s knee with the riding crop.

“Fine,” said Crowley. “All right; surprise me.”

“You do like a bit of the unexpected, don’t you, dear?”

“Yes, yes,” Crowley huffed. “All right.”

“Good.”

His demeanor shifted so quickly, he caught Crowley completely off guard.

Fell slapped the riding crop hard against his own leg, lunging forward.

“Back for more punishment, I see?” he said, grasping Crowley’s knee hard in his free hand. “Did you not get enough before?”

Oh fuck, thought Crowley. He looks absolutely feral. I love it.

Fell pressed hard on Crowley’s leg, pushing it into the unyielding arm of the chair and stretching the already taut muscles and tendons in his inner thighs even further apart.

“Answer me!” Fell shouted. “You like being disciplined when you misbehave, is that right?”

Crowley gasped. “Ah, yes!”

“That’s what I thought. Well, it can certainly be arranged.”

Fell raised the riding crop, and, keeping eye contact with Crowley, gripped it between his own teeth. He reached for Crowley’s elbows, undoing something there with one hard yank of rope. He moved down, doing the same to a loop near Crowley’s feet that he hadn’t noticed before. Now Crowley could see it had been placed strategically to untie the section at a moment’s notice. His feet separated from each other, but the legs remained bound.

Now Fell took the lengths of rope that had come free at Crowley’s knees, and, pulling hard, raised one leg up high towards Crowley’s shoulder.

“Ah, hey!” Crowley shouted in surprise. “What the-- Are you going to tie me in knots, next?”

Fell laughed, bared teeth still clenched around the riding crop in his mouth. He reached for it with his free hand.

“I should have warned you, my boy -- taking up a yoga practice might not be the worst idea… is this too far?”

“Wh- what?” Crowley stammered, still in shock.

“The leg; am I hurting you, or can we tie you off here?” Fell said, already re-working the knot that had previously held Crowley’s knee to his elbow, moving it up to the shoulder instead.

“Ah,” Crowley said. “Well, I’m not in pain, necessarily… no.”

“Perfect, then.”

He secured the knot, and returned to the other side of the chair, pulling the other leg high and back, lashing that cord to the other shoulder in a mirror of the first.

The result was that Crowley's legs were spread wider than before, and the backs of his thighs and ass were prominently displayed -- perfectly positioned to receive blows. He gasped for breath, and felt that he might have heart palpitations.

Fell huffed a sigh as he came back around the chair. He stretched his arms overhead, the riding crop gripped firmly between his hands, and rolled his shoulders back like he was preparing to run a race.

He stopped right in front of Crowley, turning to look at him. His face was pure adoration. Crowley thought he had never looked better -- his tie had disappeared completely at some point, and his collar stood open, the first two buttons undone. He still managed to look put together somehow; the waistcoat perfectly hugging his body certainly helped.

Apparently Fell had been admiring him too, because he sighed, giving Crowley a once over.

“Oh, my dear,” he said. “If you could only see yourself.”

Crowley was doing his utmost just trying not to hyperventilate, and he gulped, feeling the little tremors of fear rising in his throat.

“Are we all right, Crowley?” said Fell, setting the crop aside on the desk again for a moment.

Crowley looked at it, distracted. He remembered how it had smarted through his pants last time, and how it had burned just now… nothing more than a light tap on his nipple and the flank of his leg. He quivered at the thought of what it might feel like striking the sensitive skin of his bare ass and thighs, over and over like before. He imagined Fell's practiced hand delivering blow after blow, instructing him to hold still (not that he had much choice this time) while he pummeled him with lashings, rapid fire.

Fell started to roll up his sleeves, just watching Crowley -- gauging his reactions, no doubt.

"Crowley," he repeated. "Are we all right?"

Crowley closed his eyes, fighting down fear. “Y-- yes. I’m fine.”

Then he thought better of it, remembering just how insistent Fell had been about knowing when to pause.
“No, actually,” Crowley whimpered. “Wait.”

Fell stopped, his expression going very serious. He left his sleeve half rolled and took one step back, leaning on the desk and clasping his hands in front of him.

“Very good, Crowley,” Fell said, his voice full of praise. “That’s all right, then. We’re stopping.”

Crowley let out the sob he’d been holding in, and tried to catch his breath.

“Shhh,” said Fell, staying exactly where he was, not moving a muscle. “Talk to me, Crowley. What happened? You seemed all right. That was quite a sudden shift.”

“I know. I’m sorry--”

Fell winced. “No, that is not what I meant, dear. You are a good boy, and everything is all right.”

That was all it took for Crowley to let out another sob, this time in sheer relief. He was trembling, tears streaming down his face.

Fell pressed his lips together, resigned. “Right. I’m going to untie you.”

“No!” Crowley cried. Then, slightly calmer, “Please, no. I’ll be all right. I just… need a minute.”

“Crowley,” said Fell gently, “I’m not sure--”

“I am,” Crowley insisted, words spilling out of him desperately. “You’re right. I do like this. It’s just… I just need a minute. I need to calm down. Please; I'm not saying the word, I don't want to stop. I just need a second.”

Fell frowned at him speculatively, saw the determination in his eyes, and responded with an expression that held something rather like pride.

“All right, dear,” he said. “Let’s take some deep breaths.”

He did.

“What led you to panic?” Fell asked. “Can you tell me?”

“It’s…” he took another breath, closing his eyes. “That thing hurt last time. Only a bit, but…”

“But now you are naked and bound. And that’s quite a different situation to be in?” Fell guessed.

Crowley sighed, grateful he didn’t have to explain further. Fell seemed to understand him on some basic level, and continued to do so better and better, the more time he spent in observation of Crowley. He just, got it… in a way no one else really ever had. He pushed Crowley to his limit, but he was just as quick to step away from it when needed.

“I see,” Fell continued, still not moving from where he leaned on the desk, hands hanging motionless at his waist.

Crowley was on the verge of open sobbing. With relief, or shame, he wasn’t sure which. Maybe both. He hated the thought of disappointing Fell by not going through with this now. They’d come so far, and he’d clearly planned this entire scenario quite carefully.

“I-I’m sorr--”

Fell shook his head vehemently, but his voice was gentle.

“No, Crowley. You are not to apologize. This is good. I would much rather know where you stand now, instead of halfway into a beating.”

He took one cautious step forward. Reaching for his sleeve, he finished carefully rolling it up to his elbow.

“Shhh,” he soothed Crowley, coming closer. “Deep breaths, dear.”

Crowley breathed, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back against the chair.

“You understand,” Fell said, “the point of this is to give you pleasure -- not to frighten or hurt you?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

When he opened his eyes again, Fell was right in front of him.

“So,” said Fell, raising one hand to brush fingers through Crowley’s hair, “What do we do now?”

Crowley sighed, straining to lean into the touch. It wasn’t much, tied down as he was, but Fell didn’t move away. Instead, he inched closer, drawing his hand down to Crowley’s cheek, cupping it there.

“I don’t know,” Crowley said softly, feeling like a failure.

Fell ran his thumb over Crowley’s lower lip, stroking his chin.

“You’d like the riding crop to go away?” he suggested.

Crowley shook his head as best he could with his neck restrained as it was.

“No,” he said. “I…”

“Well,” Fell nodded, understanding. “You know, dear… I am capable of using a lighter hand when necessary. There’s no reason to beat you senseless, unless you’d like to be.”

Crowley turned pink.

“Right then. So, we’ll start very light, and see how you do.”

“Okay,” Crowley breathed a bit easier.

“Any questions?” Fell asked gently.

“Um,” Crowley blushed brighter, feeling stupid.

“Yes, dear?” asked Fell, ever patient.

“Y-- it’s just -- Can you... you’re only going to hit me… Can you say... where, exactly?"

"Ah," Fell said, "a bit of specificity does help, then?"

He lifted his hand from where it had been cupping Crowley’s chin and softly placed it, palm flat, on the back of Crowley’s exposed thigh.

“Here,” he said, sliding his hand down to Crowley’s ass cheek. “And here.”

“Oh,” Crowley breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay, then.”

“Unless you’d like me to strike you somewhere else?” said Fell, looking doubtful.

“N-no!” sputtered Crowley. “No, please.”

“Very good, then. Are we ready?”

Crowley could see from the expression on Fell’s face that he was quite serious, all hints of the sarcastic teasing from before utterly gone. He welcomed feedback and verbal assent at every step. Crowley breathed a deep sigh, feeling reassured.

“Oh. Oh yes, please...” he said, feeling less anxious at last. His eyes rose, looking up through dark, wet lashes. “Please punish me… sir.”

Fell let out a breath, taking a step back. His hands went to his hips and he glanced at the floor, breathing heavily.

“My boy…” he said, sounding slightly amazed. “I’m not quite sure you know the effect you have on me.”

“I’m starting to see it,” Crowley whispered, a little pleased with himself. It felt a bit like evening the odds, finally getting some sort of reaction from Fell.

Fell looked at him for a moment, eyes wide. "My dear, the rate you're going, you'll be fully trained in no time."

"HR will be impressed," Crowley said, twisting his mouth into a wry smile.

Fell frowned. "All right -- that's quite enough of that. You're a brat, I rather think. Now, what exactly am I going to do with you, Crowley? To you? A fair question. I shall endeavor to be as specific as possible, from now on."

He rubbed his hands together.

Crowley swallowed loudly. 

“I’m going to throttle you," Fell said, an eager look in his eyes. "I’m going to turn the flesh on your skinny little ass and thighs a delightful shade of pink, and you’re going to enjoy it -- very much, I think.”

Crowley was breathing heavily now, and he bit his lip, holding onto what nerve he’d summoned for himself.

“T-that’s all?” he said, trying at nonchalance.

“You think you fool me, boy?” said Fell, stepping closer. “Acting cool will get you nowhere.”

And with that, any nerve Crowley had mustered was gone.

“S-sorry, sir,” he said, licking his lips, not bothering to hide the tremors that were already quivering through every inch of his body.

“And after I’ve tenderized your flesh,” Fell said, carefully reaching out to place his free hand on Crowley’s shin where it hung, hiked up in the ropes, “I might just see what I think of your taste.”

Crowley’s breath caught in the back of his throat. Could he really mean what he thought he meant?

“I’ve sampled your sweet, tender skin already, after all,” Fell went on. “I’m a bit curious to know what your other flavors taste like, as well.”

His eyes dropped to Crowley’s cock, still erect, twitching, and completely exposed.

Oh, yes. He did mean that. Fuck.

Fell paused, watching Crowley’s reaction.

“Would you like that?” he asked, gentler than before.

And Crowley barely needed to answer, did he? The way his cock was pulsing in response was surely answer enough. Nonetheless, he managed to squeak out, “Y-yes, please.”

“Good,” said Fell, leaning back… deflating the soft, gentle moment. He stepped back, reaching for the riding crop where it lay on the desk. His voice was firm but calm as he reiterated his intentions, never breaking eye contact with Crowley.

"I'll beat you,” he held up the riding crop for Crowley to see, “and then I'll suck that delicious looking cock. Are we ready, then?"

“Yes,” said Crowley, eagerly.

Fell stood to one side, placed his hand on the underside of Crowley’s calf muscle, pressing upwards. Then he raised the riding crop, paused to lock eyes with Crowley, and brought it down, fairly light but sure, on Crowley’s exposed upper thigh.

“Ah,” he cried out in surprise. It stung, but only slightly.

Fell looked at him appreciatively.

“More?” he asked.

Crowley sighed, “Yes, please.”

Fell struck him again, slightly harder this time. Crowley gasped, closing his eyes.

The third time, Fell curved the arc of the leather instrument upwards, delivering a hard smack to Crowley’s ass cheek.

“Oh, fuck!” Crowley exclaimed, feeling his muscles tighten in reaction to the blow.

Fell looked down at him, eyebrows raised in question. “Too much?”

“No,” Crowley breathed. “S’good.”

“Perfect.”

Fell continued up and down Crowley’s legs and ass cheeks, slapping him hard enough to sting the skin. It wasn’t nearly as painful as it might have been -- he could definitely tell Fell was holding back, not using half the force he might have -- but it was enough to make Crowley’s breath hitch, and he could feel the bloom of stinging discomfort already spreading over his assaulted flesh.

The next blow came hard across Crowley’s left thigh, and then Fell shifted to stand directly in front of him.

“What a good boy you are,” he said, dipping to sit on his knees. He laid the crop down on the floor, pressed his hands hard against the inside of Crowley’s thighs, and pushed them impossibly further apart. “You deserve a reward for taking that so well.”

And then, almost before Crowley could register what was happening, Fell leaned forward and took the whole of his dripping cock into his mouth.

“Oh fuck!” Crowley screamed, and if he could have moved, he might have leapt away in surprise. As it was, all he could do was clench every muscle in his body at once. Fell took all of it into his mouth, once, then pulled away, letting it pop free of his lips with an audible sound.

“Mmm,” he hummed, pressing one finger to the corner of his mouth. “Scrumptious.”

“Holy fucking shit,” said Crowley, feeling his cock twitch at the sudden and brief contact. “Please, please do that again.”

“Oh, I fully intend to,” Fell said. "Momentarily."

He picked up the riding crop, delivering a hard slap to the back of Crowley's thigh, making him cry out again. Now that he'd had the brief, teasing contact of Fell's lips around his cock, he ached to feel it again. That made the stinging blow hurt even more. Every muscle in his body was tight, and ready.

"Please!" Crowley begged.

"Please what, dear?" Fell said, smacking his ass again, harder than before.

"Please, please, let me come! I can't stand it!"

Fell scoffed. "You've waited all this time. What's…" he checked his watch, "ten more minutes?"

"Ten minutes?!" Crowley whined. Ten minutes sounded like an eternity right now.

Fell grinned. “How about a slight change of pace then, hmm?” He took the riding crop between his teeth again, and slapped Crowley’s ass cheek hard with his bare hand.

“Ah!” Crowley cried out at the shift in sensation. “Fuck!”

Fell slapped hard over a place already peppered with red streaks from the crop. Crowley’s skin burned, warm and sensitive. Fell slapped hard again, making the other ass cheek turn a matching shade of pink. Then, casually and without warning, his hand moved between Crowley's legs, pumping his cock in a slow, loose fist.

"Ahh!" Crowley cried. "Oh God, please!"

Fell turned, opening his mouth, and spit out the riding crop, dropping it to the floor.

"That's right," he said, continuing to pump his hand far too lazily and without enough friction to finish Crowley off. "In this chair, in this room, I am your God."

Crowley was watching him, eyes wide in horrified fascination.

"You do what I say, and you finish when I say. Not before."

His hand pulled away abruptly, leaving Crowley fighting against the restraints, desperately trying to buck his hips. He couldn't.

Tears were streaming down his face now, and he felt completely helpless.

"Crowley?" Fell put a hand on his knee, gentle, and infuriatingly chaste. "Breathe. You're almost there, dear. A bit of patience."

"Agh," Crowley choked out. "I can't! I don't think I can wait. Please!"

He could already feel the orgasm threatening to take over. He was sore, overstimulated, and aroused beyond belief. He couldn't hold it back.

"You can," said Fell, certain.

"No, really," Crowley gasped. "It's coming!"

Fell pressed his lips into a thin line, and reached for Crowley's cock.

Crowley sighed, thinking, This is it, finally. He's finally seen sense and will let it happen.

Fell pinched the end of Crowley's cock, hard, between his fingers.

Crowley yelped like a kicked dog.

"Ahh!! What the fuck!?"

"What did I say?" asked Fell, serene. "Ten minutes."

He let go of Crowley, and walked away, scooping his glass of wine from the desk as he disappeared from view in the back of the room.

Crowley was sobbing openly now, no comfort to be had. When a minute passed, and Fell still hadn't returned, he calmed himself down enough to listen intently for any sound of him. Had he left the room?

He grew silent, tears plastered to his cheeks, quiet panic filling his chest. He couldn't hear anything. Surely Fell wouldn't leave him here like this, alone?

A momentary flash of what might happen if he were trapped here, helpless, until someone found him, made Crowley's blood turn cold. The housekeeping service would come around at midnight. What if Fell just left? How would he explain any of this to some stranger? The notion was madness, of course; Fell's briefcase and coat still hung on the coat rack behind his desk, in Crowley's view. Still, the thought brought home to him just how vulnerable he really was.

"Are you quite done, then?" Fell's calm voice cut through the silence.

Crowley didn't make a sound, but a sharp intake of breath filled his lungs, in sheer relief.

The sound of footsteps approaching from the back of the room told him Fell had never left. He'd just gone to stand silently there, listening to Crowley cry it out, like a child having a tantrum.

He came around the chair, took a sip of wine, and looked down at Crowley.

"Will you do as I say?"

"Yes."

"And not argue?"

"Yes."

"And not talk back when I tell you you've got to wait?"

"Yes, yes, yes!"

Fell put the wine down and checked his watch. "Five more minutes. Just enough time to taste something new."

“Something… new?” Crowley said, feeling that now familiar flutter of fear and excitement in his chest.

“Yes,” said Fell, walking calmly over to the storage closet and reaching inside. “You left this behind, last time you were here.”

He turned, a black leather belt gripped firmly between his hands.

“Ah,” Crowley said, reacting involuntarily. “Shit.”

“That’s right,” said Fell, looking very pleased with himself. “You must be more careful with your things, my boy. Very careless of you.”

He approached, snapping the folded leather between his hands with a loud crack.

Crowley’s heart rate increased impossibly faster, and he felt the breath catch in his throat at the sight of his own leather belt in Fell’s hands. He was going to spank him with his own belt, the smug bastard.

“This is new for you, isn’t it?” Fell asked in a calm, gentle tone, stopping right in front of Crowley.

“Y-yes,” he managed to say.

“All right,” Fell opened the belt up, pulling it taught between outstretched hands. “Not to worry -- it won’t be any more painful than the riding crop was. Possibly less so -- the surface area is certainly a bit more spread out, less concentrated. You may like it better.”

He brought the straps back together, grasping the leather just inside the buckle and clasp of the closure.

“Ready?” he asked, sliding his free hand back to Crowley’s pink and slightly bruised ass cheek.

Crowley trembled, eagerly panting. “Yes, please.”

The first slap of the belt was light, and garnered a minor reaction from Crowley. When Fell caught his eye and raised an eyebrow, he met his gaze confidently.

“Go on, then,” he said.

Fell chuckled, raised his arm, and went in, putting his back into it. The slapping assault from the belt had a sting to it, but not the same driving force that came with the riding crop. Fell delivered blow after blow, watching Crowley’s reaction for any change.

The blows only increased in power as Fell continued wailing on Crowley’s ass and legs. He felt his muscles tightening in reaction, and his cock growing hard again. It wasn’t long before the stinging of his pelted skin grew to a point where Crowley was gasping, squirming under the abuse, and fighting against the restraints to move away. This was of course utterly impossible. He noted dimly that he was also rock hard again, his fully erect cock pressing against his belly.

Fell let out something like a ragged groan, and tossed the belt unceremoniously to the floor. He reached forward, taking Crowley in hand.

“Time’s nearly up. You’ve been very good and patient, Crowley.”

Crowley made a little abortive noise in response.

"Shhh," Fell warned. "Don't get too excited, now. Control yourself."

"When you're touching me like that?" He whimpered.

"Yes," Fell said, earnestly. "Especially when I'm touching you like this. Control."

He stroked Crowley a few more times, then let go.

Crowley whimpered, but got some measure of control, breathing hard.

"Good," said Fell, settling onto his knees in front of Crowley again. “Did you like that? The belt? You certainly seemed to.”

“Yes,” Crowley gasped, watching Fell dip his head to take Crowley into his mouth again. He moved slowly, not offering much suction -- just warmth and wet. He pulled away for a moment, looking up at Crowley, who was doing all he could not to cry again.

"Good,” said Fell. “Now, this is the part where I would put a finger inside of you, if you liked that sort of thing."

Crowley’s eyes went wide.

“But you don’t want that, do you?”

“Uh…” Crowley didn’t know what to say. He felt a rush of fear flutter through his chest, but before he could even respond, Fell was shaking his head.

“Perhaps another time, dear. Only if you wish.”

And with that simple declaration, he lowered his open mouth back onto Crowley’s dick, sucking hard and urging him slowly back toward the edge.

Quicker than he would have guessed, Crowley's cock was throbbing again, hotter and more insistent than it had been before.

Fell wrapped one hand around the base, squeezing it gently, and bobbing his head up and down in a rhythmic pattern. He leaned into Crowley, his chest pressed hard against the chair, and sucked even harder, hollowing his cheeks.

“Oh, fuck!” Crowley cried, unable even to move against the friction.

He had to rely entirely on Fell’s movements to get the stimulation he was now practically weeping for -- all sorts of little moans and whimpers escaping his mouth, completely beyond his control.

Thankfully, Fell was providing all the friction he might ever have needed.

His free hand came up to press on the underside of Crowley’s thigh, smoothing it softly and rubbing tenderly against the punished skin.

"P-please," he dared ask.

Fell's head pulled away, and Crowley's heart sank.

"Yes, dear. This time, you may come."

And then Fell's lips were wrapped firmly around his cock again, one hand pumping him while the other gently massaged his balls, and Crowley fell into some kind of dissolution he'd not previously experienced, lost to pleasure.

Fell drank it all down without comment, sucking hard and providing every possible soothing touch until Crowley was quite finished, slumping bonelessly against the ropes.

***

Chapter Text

a cozy looking sofa with a blanket and side table displaying books

He lay there for what seemed like a long time, but couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, letting his head fall backwards over the edge of the chair. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, just letting his heart rate return to normal.

The quiet little sounds of Fell moving around the office were soothing. He rearranged some things on the desk, shuffling paper, typed something at the computer with a few soft clacks of the keyboard, and put some things away in the storage closet.

Then, the room grew quiet for a few moments. Crowley felt a soft touch on his shoulder. He opened his eyes, feeling a bit sluggish.

Fell was leaning over him, the dim light from the ceiling above haloed around his head again. Like last time.

“You look like an angel,” Crowley said, dreamily.

Fell’s eyebrows shot up, “Excuse me?”

“The light -- you look…” Crowley’s eyes fell closed again.

“Oh dear,” said Fell, smiling down at him, “I’m afraid there’s been some mistake. I’m no angel.”

“Clearly,” sighed Crowley. “Dunno any angel who sucks dick like that.”

Fell choked on a laugh.

“Indeed,” he said, reaching for the ropes at Crowley’s throat. “Let’s get you out of these, shall we?”

“Hmmm,” Crowley agreed, eyes still closed in pleasant grogginess.

He moved slowly, circling Crowley to run his hands softly over the backs of his legs.

Crowley groaned at the contact on his warm, still tender skin.

“Shhh,” Fell soothed, kneading the flesh with his fingers.

He took his time unraveling the intricate ropework binding Crowley to the chair. First, he gently untied the bindings holding Crowley’s knees to his body, tenderly taking each ankle in hand, slowly guiding the legs back down to the edge of the chair. Then he quickly unlaced the ropes on the legs themselves.

Crowley opened his eyes, a bit more awake now, and eager to watch this process. Fell looked at him, gauging his reaction, and slowly extended one leg, pulling the foot away from the body.

“Ahh,” Crowley sighed, feeling a bit sore.

“Carefully,” said Fell. “Your muscles will be a bit tight.”

“Y-yeah,” said Crowley, letting his head fall back again.

Fell undid the other leg, giving it the same slow treatment, and let them both hang loose to the floor again.

He moved back to Crowley’s neck, undoing the lacing there, then the next length of cord leading to his left arm where it was attached to his shoulder and torso. He gently tugged on the ropes criss-crossing Crowley’s arms, loosening and pulling them away into a soft bundle as he went.

His left arm free, Fell followed the bindings around the back of the chair, wrapping the rope into a big loop onto his other arm as he went. Then Crowley’s right side was liberated as well, and Fell dropped the bundle of rope to the floor.

“Can you stand?” he asked, gently taking hold of Crowley’s hand.

“Mmm, yeah,” Crowley said, getting to his feet with no small effort.

“Come over here and lie down for a moment,” Fell said, leading him to the chaise lounge.

Crowley went without argument, letting Fell guide him down onto his belly, hugging the soft blanket that was waiting for him there. Another was laid over him, and he sighed, snuggling into the soothing warmth.

He heard Fell walk over to the desk, opening a drawer. He returned momentarily, and it sounded like he was opening a bottle, squeezing some liquid out. Crowley stirred, turning to see what it was.

“What are you--?”

It was indeed a little bottle of some kind of oil. It smelled nice, Crowley dimly noted. Like some kind of seed, or fresh herbs.

“I’m going to massage your muscles, Crowley, if that’s all right?” Fell was already pulling the blanket away just enough to reveal Crowley’s shoulders.

“Oh,” he said, flopping back onto the pillow. “Yes, thank you.”

“After pushing them rather to their limit,” Fell said, placing sure, gentle hands on Crowley’s shoulder blades, “I think it’s only fair, don’t you?”

Crowley let out a soft breath into the blanket.

“Ah, yeah. I guess so.”

Fell chuckled under his breath, smoothing the good smelling oil over Crowley’s shoulders and neck.

“You seemed to like it before, and that was quite brief,” Fell said.

He meant when he’d massaged Crowley over the desk, right before he’d gotten him off the first time. Crowley blushed at the memory.

“Y-yeah. That was nice,” he said into the pillow.

“I can be nice, yes?” Fell said, sounding amused.

Crowley stirred, turning his head to the side so he could see Fell.

“Well, yeah,” he said. “You are nice.”

Fell chuckled again, shaking his head.

“Even when I push you beyond your limit; ask far too much of you? As I managed to do at least once today?”

Crowley frowned. “You didn’t know. Anyway, you stopped. We… figured it out. You didn’t make me do anything.”

“Well of course not, dear. That would be truly unforgivable.”

Crowley sighed, turning his head back into the pillow.

“You did very well today, if I didn’t already say so.” Fell’s hands moved lower, pushing the blanket aside to press firm strokes down Crowley’s back, driving hard knuckles into the dimples just above his buttocks.

“Engh,” Crowley moaned, burying his face in the pillow.

“Good?” Fell asked.

“God, yes.”

Fell laughed, replacing the knuckles with thumbs, pressing along the edge of Crowley’s spine.

“Mmmm, fuck, that feels good…” Crowley’s voice was muffled by the fabric, but he knew Fell had heard him when he chuckled again.

“And how are your legs?” He asked, pulling the blanket away, revealing Crowley’s ass and thighs. They were still warmly glowing pink, and there were a few bruises blooming beneath the skin, but nothing too serious.

“Oh,” Crowley said, raising his face just enough to speak, “They’re terrible. Very… very bad. You’re definitely going to have to… do the same thing there. Absolutely must do.”

Fell laughed, running a hand speculatively over one ass cheek.

“Right, then,” he said.

He cupped both cheeks in his hands, thumbs working away at the tender flesh, massaging deep into the muscle.

Crowley was murmuring all kinds of obscenities into the pillow, hugging it to his face with his hands.

Fell pulled back, stroking the skin in a lighter touch, finally pulling his hands away entirely.

“You keep on like that, dear boy, you’ll need another go.”

“Mmm fuuuuck…” Crowley was openly humping the chaise now, gathering the blanket between his legs in a bunched up heap of softness to rut against.

“Shhh,” said Fell. “Stop that.” He gave Crowley’s ass cheek the lightest possible tap.

“Ow!” Crowley protested, rolling over to glare at him. “What was that for?”

“For being impertinent,” said Fell. “Anyway, you’re not supposed to please yourself, here.”

“Wha-- why not?” Crowley pouted. “The way you’re going on back there; and I’m not supposed to react?”

“Reaction is fine, dear. But you tell me what you need. You can touch yourself all you like at home.”

Crowley turned pink. “Oh,” he said.

“Let’s see about these legs, first.”

Fell ran his hands down the backs of Crowley’s thighs, just smoothing them softly with oil. Then he brought them back up, placing both hands on one leg at a time, and pressing down with force, squeezing each thigh from top to bottom between strong fingers.

Crowley made an inarticulate noise of pleasure into the pillow, and humped the blanket again.

“Stop it,” Fell chided, pressing him down again. He slid his hands past Crowley’s knees, and pinched the small but firm calf muscles between his fingers and thumbs, eliciting another groan from Crowley.

“Hng, please! I can’t help it…” Crowley knew he sounded truly pathetic. He didn’t care.

“All right,” Fell sighed. “Let’s turn you over, then.”

Fell took hold of Crowley’s bicep, urging him to roll over. Then he stood, and, straddling the chaise lounge, sat in front of Crowley. He slipped his hands under Crowley’s legs, tugging his entire body closer. Then he settled Crowley’s legs on either side of his own body and took him in hand.

“Ah, fuck!” Crowley cried out, letting his head fall backwards into the pillow.

Fell squeezed his cock gently, giving just enough friction to escalate the mild arousal Crowley had already been experiencing to something much more urgent. The smooth oil on his hands gave just the right amount of extra slickness and before he knew it, Crowley was thrusting into the hand eagerly approaching climax.

“Holy shit, I’m nearly…” he said, thrashing his head back and forth on the pillow.

“Yes, dear. You go ahead when you’re ready. You have permission.”

“Agh,” Crowley felt a flush run through his entire body at that soft gentle voice telling him it was all right to let go. He braced himself, feet on the surface of the chaise just behind Fell’s body, and pressed up with his hips.

He was already there, and he could feel the first waves of pleasure washing over him.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he cried, amazed at how quickly he was getting off again. It hadn’t been very long since the first one, and that orgasm had been mind-blowing; among the -- if not the best he’d ever had. He certainly couldn’t remember a better one in his past, he thought, a bit embarrassed to admit it -- even to himself.

“Quite a mouth you have on you, dear boy,” said Fell, and Crowley couldn’t decide if he sounded impressed or accusatory. It didn’t make much difference. Either way, that voice had the same effect on him. He was coming already.

His hips bucked up again, almost of their own volition, and he cried out with some embarrassing kind of squeaking noise from his throat. If he’d had a choice, he would have hid his face, but the way Fell had him, hemmed in and pinned between his legs, all he could do was turn his head while thrusting his hips into the air, into Fell’s perfectly stroking hand. He finished, tears pricking the corners of his eyes, and slumped, limbs heavy and exhausted.

“Shhh...”

Fell leaned over, planting a kiss on Crowley’s belly where his come had splattered all over himself. He watched Fell lick a bit of it onto his tongue and look up at him serenely, taking it back into his mouth and licking his lips with relish.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck,” Crowley said, amazed.

"All better?" Fell asked, looking up at him from between his legs.

Crowley nodded furiously. "Yes," he said, gasping.

"Wait here."

Fell got up, walking over to the desk and opening a drawer. He returned shortly, carrying a wet napkin in one hand. He leaned over Crowley, gently wiping the cool damp cloth over his stomach, cleaning up the mess.

Crowley watched him in awe. It continued to fascinate him, how gentle and considerate he was at all times, even when he was fiercely dominating Crowley. Even when he was physically beating him, he never wavered from that quiet observation -- watching Crowley for the first sign of discomfort. And then afterwards, Crowley was beginning to realize he could count on this, the tenderness bringing him back down from that escalated plane, swathing him in softness and care.

It was utterly and completely different from anything he'd ever have expected from this kind of situation, relationship… whatever it was. Doms controlled their submissives; ruled over them -- set limitations on every aspect of their life. Made them go about wearing leather collars with cock rings on them to show ownership. That's what he'd always thought. He’d never understood how that could be appealing for anyone in the submissive role. Who would willingly be bossed around like that? It had never occurred to Crowley that it might be like this. Maybe if it had, he might have tried it sooner.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Fell said, watching Crowley's face.

"Oh," said Crowley. "I was just thinking… this… it's not quite what I expected."

Fell smiled, reaching for his desk chair and pulling it over to sit by Crowley.

"What did you expect?" He asked.

Crowley sat up, pulling the blanket up around him and leaning against the wall.

"I dunno. I suppose… I just didn't think… you're so…"

He paused, unsure how much of this he should really be saying out loud. It felt like crossing a line. Could this really still be so impersonal? If they talked about it afterwards? It felt far too intimate.

Fell was gazing at him intently, leaned over in his chair, elbows resting on his knees and fingers steepled in front of him.

"Yes," he said encouragingly. "How am I?"

Crowley sighed, feeling his heart still thumping in his chest.

“I dunno. You’re nice. Thoughtful.”

Fell looked down, huffing a restrained laugh.

“No, you are,” Crowley said. “You’re considerate. It’s like… you’re always watching me. Watching for any sign of… That I might not like something.”

“And that isn’t what you expected?” Fell asked, rubbing his hands together. “You expected instead that I would beat you senseless with no fear of recourse? Do whatever I wanted with no thought for your wishes, or comfort? Is that it?”

Crowley glanced away, suddenly feeling embarrassed that, yes, part of him had feared that. Even after the document… part of him had still been thinking all of Fell’s promises might go out the window as soon as he got Crowley naked.

“I dunno,” he said. “We don’t exactly know each other all that well. I guess I just…”

Fell smiled softly.

“Trust is earned, Crowley. I recognize that I am still in the process of earning yours. I don’t expect you to submit to me without question. Not right away.”

He sat back, rubbing his hands over his pants legs, and met Crowley’s eyes.

“I frightened you today. And I don’t mean that enjoyable sort of fear that comes from playing out a scenario.”

Crowley frowned, not sure what he was talking about.

“You asked for specifics, and I dismissed that need. I misjudged the situation, assuming you would prefer to be surprised in the moment.”

Oh, right, Crowley thought. When he’d brought out the riding crop. Crowley had been terrified. But he shook his head, dismissing Fell’s concern.

“No, it’s all right. I mean, you realized. You changed tack pretty quickly.”

“Yes, but Crowley. That should never have happened. I am sorry.”

He reached out, placing a hand on Crowley’s leg where it was tucked up under him, sitting cross-legged on the chaise.

“And, please understand. That was in absolutely no way your fault -- I don’t mean to imply that it was. But,” he paused, looking hard into Crowley’s eyes. “You should have insisted. Instead, you went along with it. And what happened? Very shortly after?”

Crowley felt hot, remembering.

“I… had to stop. It was too much.”

“Exactly,” Fell spoke softly, soothing. “And again, to be clear, that is always… a good and acceptable option, Crowley. But, if I had realized my mistake sooner, we would not have gotten to that point. It might have been seamless, and I might have spared you that moment of fear.”

The whole time he spoke, he was rubbing little circles with his thumb where he was touching Crowley’s leg.

“Does that make sense?” he asked, looking to Crowley for an answer.

Crowley sighed. “Yeah. Sorry.”

Fell shook his head. “No. No apologies. Only… next time… consider this. You are never going to anger me, or invoke any kind of negative result simply by asking for clarification, or for things to slow down, or anything of that sort. Understand?”

Crowley nodded, hugging the blanket closer to his body.

“Yeah,” he said, “Thanks.”

“Of course,” said Fell, getting to his feet. “You should drink some water, dear. I’ll get it.”

Crowley watched him go to the cart across the room and reach for an empty glass.

It felt like as good a time as any to risk asking, so Crowley took a deep breath.

“Are you ever going to ask me to touch you?” he said.

The clink of ice hitting the bottom of the glass punctuated the otherwise silent office. Crowley stared hard at the back of Fell’s unmoving head, hugging his blanket-wrapped knees to his chest.

After a moment, he reached for a pitcher, and Crowley heard the sound of ice crackling in the glass as water came into contact with it.

Fell crossed the room, coming back to his desk chair, and offered the water to Crowley. He took it without looking up, knowing his face had gone red again.

He tried not to let his hand shake as he took it, but he knew by now Fell would hardly be convinced. He saw straight through all of Crowley’s defenses and attempts at subterfuge. It was hardly worth the effort of trying to hide it, honestly.

“Why did you ask me that?” Fell said quietly.

Crowley took a gulp of water. It felt icy going down his now very tight throat.

“I dunno,” he said, feeling stupid. “Just seems... a bit one-sided, I guess.”

“You asked me that yesterday, or something similar,” Fell said. “What I ‘get out’ of this?”

Crowley finally looked up. Fell was regarding him with some interest.

“Yeah,” he said. “I just… I guess I just can’t see how this is any fun for you.”

Fell sighed. “That saddens me, Crowley.”

Of all the things he might have said, Crowley hadn’t expected that. His expression must have said as much, because Fell sighed again, shaking his head.

“You make me wonder what sort of relationships you’ve had in the past, based on your expectations of me. Sex only matters if there is penetration involved… an interaction can’t be mutually enjoyable unless both partners experience orgasm… These assumptions are very…” he paused, catching Crowley’s eye again. “To be frank with you, Crowley, they’re quite archaic. You don’t seem the sort.”

Crowley’s eyebrows shot up. “I… I’m sorry. I don’t mean...” He frowned. “Am I being offensive?”

“A bit, if I’m honest,” Fell chuckled. “Though I’m sure you don’t mean to be.”

Crowley sputtered, setting his water on the side table.

“I’m sorry, I--”

“It’s perfectly all right, dear. I don’t expect you to be a mind reader. Anyway, I did agree we could discuss this yesterday, and so it’s perfectly reasonable for you broach the topic again.”

Crowley reached for his water glass, not sure what else to do under Fell’s scrutiny.

“Have you enjoyed everything we’ve done so far?” Fell asked.

“Yes!” Crowley nearly choked. “Obviously! I mean… I hope it’s been obvious.”

Fell shook his head. “I would never make such an assumption, no matter how seemingly obvious it might be.”

Crowley dipped his head again, feeling a bit like an idiot. He’d never been very good at talking about sex, and Fell’s frank and open ability to clearly communicate on the topic was only highlighting Crowley’s apparent ignorance.

“Sorry…” he muttered.

Fell laughed, clearing the awkwardness that had fallen over the conversation.

“It’s all right, dear boy. I’m sorry to say, in my experience, unfounded assumptions and often harmful societal expectations tend to be the norm in this area. Unfortunately, I don’t think your attitude is all that unusual.”

He stood, going to the desk to retrieve his wine, which had been forgotten there. He grabbed Crowley’s glass as well, which had been sitting on the desk, still mostly full.

“Something to go with your water, dear?” He handed the glass off to Crowley with a smile.

“Thanks.”

They sat in silence for a moment. Crowley didn’t really know what to say -- fearing he might say something ignorant again if he tried.

Fell took a sip of his wine and gripped the glass loosely between his hands, leaning forward in his chair again.

“I don’t have sex often, generally,” he said, looking Crowley in the eye. “But more specifically, I never have sex in situations like this one.”

Crowley’s eyes went wide.

Fell dropped his gaze to his wine glass.

“Perhaps that’s part of what drew me to this sort of thing in the first place. There is always a level of control involved, and from the perspective of a dominant partner, the focus is on providing pleasure and security for the submissive.”

He looked up, meeting Crowley’s eyes again. Crowley did his best to look curious rather than shocked. He was both, but he was pretty sure his face was reading more dumbfounded than anything else.

“I found it quite early in life -- kink, BDSM -- all that,” Fell went on, apparently satisfied with whatever he was reading in Crowley’s eyes, “for which I’ve always been quite grateful. Otherwise,” he looked askance, smiling ruefully, “I might simply have married a nice girl and had very unsatisfying missionary sex once a week for the rest of my days. It was, after all, what was expected of me.”

He locked eyes with Crowley, looking for a reaction.

“You?” Crowley said, “with a nice... girl?”

Fell raised his eyebrows, pursing his lips.

“I should think that more likely than the missionary, if I’m honest,” he said, laughing good-naturedly. Crowley laughed too, rubbing a hand over his face.

“In any case,” Fell said. “No, I will never ask you to touch me in any sexual manner, Crowley. I assure you, I am perfectly satisfied with your being the one who is touched, and my being the one to do the touching. In fact, I much prefer it that way.”

He looked across at Crowley, offering him a sardonically raised eyebrow.

“Perhaps you have a better understanding now… of why nothing on that page we removed from the document would ever be of my concern? It was only ever included with your benefit in mind, anyway.”

Crowley was silent for a moment, taking this all in.

“So,” he said, “You don’t… actually want to…” He leaned back against the wall, breathing out a sigh. “I’m sorry -- I’m not sure I understand.”

Fell sighed, “That’s hardly unusual, dear. I’m quite used to it at this point in my life.”

Crowley sat up straight.

“No, I’m sorry. I’m hearing you. I hear you. I just… I want to make sure I understand. You say you enjoy…”

He sighed, trying to wrap his head around this.

“You really get enough enjoyment out of just… making someone else feel good that you…” He spread his hands wide. “This is all worth it? To you?”

Fell looked at him, holding his gaze for a long moment.

“Yes.”

“You don’t need to… want to… You don’t want me to suck your cock, or anything?”

Fell smiled, apparently bemused.

“No.”

Crowley slumped against the wall.

Fell frowned at him. “You appear… disappointed?”

Crowley looked up, feeling a bit at a loss for words.

“Well, I mean. I dunno. I just sort of…”

“Assumed?” Fell asked, cocking his head to one side.

“Right,” said Crowley. “I keep doing that, don’t I?”

Fell chuckled into his wine glass.

“Quite all right, dear. You’re learning.”

The phone rang.

“Ah,” said Fell. “I had better take that. Excuse me.”

He walked over to the desk, picked up the phone, and put it to his ear. “This is A.Z. Fell. Hello?”

In an instant, his face shifted from polite openness to something dark and disturbed.

“You what?”

***

Chapter Text

man's hands using an iPhone, with a dark background

It was unusual, Crowley noted, for Fell to get a work call on his mobile, but that was the phone that had rung. And that was the one he was now speaking into with a low, dark tone.

“Are you sure?” Fell asked, leaning heavily on the desk while the person on the other end of the phone murmured something in reply.

Crowley struggled to make out anything the person on the phone was saying, but it was just an excited sounding mumble to his ears, far too low to distinguish any actual words.

“All right, listen--” Fell cut in. “You need to pull everything; do you understand? If he’s gone there, personally, it means he knows someone is onto him and you cannot let him find out who. It is too early in this--” he paused, turning to glance at Crowley. “I’m sorry, can you hold for one moment -- stay on this line.”

He lowered the phone from his ear, punching the mute button with one thumb.

“Crowley,” he said, turning, “I’m sorry. You need to go.”

Crowley got up, fumbling for his clothes on the table next to him. “Uh, that sounded pretty serious. Is everything--”

“Now,” Fell said, closing his eyes, as if bracing himself. “You need to go, now. Please.”

He held the phone in one hand, waiting.

“Uh, right.” Crowley pulled on his pants, scrabbled into his button up and looked around for his jacket. It was there, hanging on the coat rack by Fell’s desk. He dove for it and shrugged it over his shoulders, quickly.

Fell raised the phone back to his ear. “You’re there? Right. Start moving the files now, leave nothing connected to any company network. Matter of fact, nothing in my name, either, just to be safe. This has to be clean.”

Crowley was reaching for his laptop where it had been set aside on Fell’s desk, moving in slow motion, rapt to this one side of a very strange conversation. Fell noticed him, and snapped his fingers, pointing emphatically toward the door.

“R-right, sorry,” Crowley said. “Bye.”

Fell was still speaking rapidly in hushed tones into the phone as Crowley slipped through the door, closing it silently behind him.

He stood there for a moment, stunned by the sudden shift in temperament he’d just observed. What in the world could that have all been about? Fell had appeared shaken, possibly even afraid. He wondered if this had anything to do with his plans for Arcnangle and the rest. That would explain the use of the cell phone… not tying anything to company phone lines. And he’d mentioned moving files off a company network.

If he’d been gathering information from within company archives, it may have initially seemed safer not to try removing anything as a mass download would have been noticed -- but if someone within the company had found them out already, now would be the time to do so. That seemed the most likely interpretation of what he’d just overheard.

Crowley went back to his desk. He clicked around, checking emails for a few minutes. Nothing crucial had come in. He checked the time -- 5:25. It was earlier than he would typically go home, but it was about the time most everyone else did, so he went ahead and stuck his phone in a pocket, re-shouldered his messenger bag, and headed for the elevators. He spared a glance toward the glass walls of the C-suite on his way. Fell’s door remained closed, so he had to assume he was still in there, dealing with who knew what.

Something in Crowley hated to leave, knowing there was some kind of emergency on that he was completely ignorant of, but Fell had made it quite clear that he didn’t want him privy to it, so there wasn’t much else he could do. He tried to shake off that nagging sense of exclusion that came with knowing there was something very important happening that Fell did not want him to know about or be a part of, and headed for the door.

He had just come out the front of the building when his phone rang. He scrambled to answer it, noting the name on the caller ID.

“Ana?” he said, shouting over the London street traffic to be heard. “Is everything all right?”

“Tony!” came the cheerful female voice on the other end. “Where are you?”

“What do you mean, where am I? It’s 5:30. I’m downtown. Leaving work. You know, jobs? Those things most people have, where they go all day, and then every two weeks or so they get paid for it?”

“Hm," she hummed, sounding amused. "I'm not familiar.”

They had a long-standing, somewhat rude joke about Anathema being the rich kid to Anthony's working class background. In uni, they'd been known as the princess and the pauper, for a while. They had both found it deliciously hilarious.

“Right,” he scoffed. “Well, I was just about to hop on the tube and go home. Why’re you calling me? It is the 21st century, you know.”

“Well,” she sighed, “I texted you about nineteen times this week, and you didn't answer, so I decided it was time to get serious.”

“Oh,” he said, wiping a hand over his face. “Right. Sorry. It's been… bit busy. What’s up?”

“Well, if you’re leaving the financial district, you’re not far from me. Let’s do dinner! You know any good places around here?

“Uh,” he thought about the multitude of options, landing on a nice but relaxed sort of restaurant that would suit Anathema’s tastes. “Yeah, I know a place. Spanish place. S’not far from you. I can meet you there.”

“Hmm… What’s the energy like? Good?”

“Eh," he shrugged. "They have live music most days. Good drinks.”

“I didn’t ask about music, Tony," she sighed. "How’s the energy?”

“Well, how should I know?" He waved a hand, waiting for a break in traffic to cross the street. "You’ll just have to… get a read on its... aura… yourself, won’t you?”

She sighed. “People have auras, Anthony. Places have energy.”

“Oh, right,” he said, sounding overdramatically apologetic. “My mistake. Look, it’s good; all right? I’ll send you the address.”

She laughed. “Fine, fine. I’m just wrapping up here, so… maybe fifteen minutes?”

“Sounds good.”

*

She was already waiting in the restaurant when he walked in.

“Hey!” she said, jumping down from the high top table she’d chosen for them near the bar. She ran over to wrap him in a big hug, rocking back and forth on her toes and squeezing his chest like a tiny vice grip.

“Agh, it’s so good to see you!” she said, looking up at him with a big toothy grin. Her long dark hair and signature red lipstick gave her the impression of a woman who was always effortlessly put together.

“Hi, Ana. How’s it going?”

She climbed back up into her chair, and he took the opposite one, hanging his bag on the spare.

“Good, I think,” she said guiding the straw in her fruity cocktail to her lips, sipping it. “Mmm… Let’s get you a drink.”

She waved to the bartender, making a “two” sign with her hand and pointing to her own glass.

“How’d you beat me here?” Crowley asked.

“Oh, I was right around the corner.” She paused, biting her bottom lip to indicate she was about to say something monumentally important and that Crowley had better pay close attention. “I was working on a gallery installation actually, just down the street.”

Crowley’s eyebrows went up. “What? Where?”

She smiled, looking like she was barely containing the excitement and the urge to gush.

“Castle Galleries. Ten of my most recent pieces. It opens Friday!" She pulled in her shoulders, squeaking a little. “That’s why I wanted to see you! I didn’t wanna tell you over the phone.”

His mouth fell open. “Anathema, that’s incredible.”

A server arrived with Crowley’s drink, setting it on the table.

“Oh, thanks,” he said, noting the hazy pink color and little umbrella. He turned to Ana. “Um, what am I drinking?” he asked, raising it in a toast.

“Something something tequila,” she said. “Cheers!”

He scoffed, clinking their glasses with the distinct impression he would eventually come to regret it. “Great.”

They took a drink, and she laughed. “They’re saying some of the royal family might turn up.”

“Hngg,” Crowley grimaced.

“Oh, they’re hardly my favorite people, either, but, Tony.” She put her hands on the table. “The Queen… could see my paintings. I mean… what the fuck?”

He shook his head. “That’s amazing.”

“It is," she sighed. "I’m… a nervous wreck, honestly.”

He shrugged. “You’ll do great.”

She sat up, straightening her shoulders. “Of course I will. But I’ll be a hot mess right up until the moment I step out onto that floor.”

He laughed, shaking his head. She was right of course. As long as he'd known her, Ana would be a furiously vibrating ball of anxiety leading up to a big showcase, but the day of -- she was the picture of poise and professionalism. She deserved this spotlight. She'd more than earned it.

“Oh my god,” she said, spreading her hands wide. “You won’t believe this. This afternoon… They were hanging one of the double-sided pieces in this sort of, foyer area… and they realized the beam they were trying to put it on wasn’t load bearing. Had to redo the whole layout. Otherwise it might have come crashing down during the opening. Can you imagine?”

Anathema talked with her hands, big and expansive, and you always got the distinct sense that whatever she had to tell you was very important and very juicy and you needed to pay as close attention to her as possible. She was just the sort of person who demanded your attention. It was what had drawn Crowley to her initially, and it had never failed to keep his attention since.

“News from London today,” he said in a faux tv reporter voice, “Her Majesty the Queen met an untimely end due to a falling painting. Artist denies the whole thing was part of a cleverly planned postmodern theatrical piece, but this newscaster remains unconvinced.”

Ana threw her head back, laughing. “Well, I dunno. Can any end really be untimely, at this point? What is she now, ninety-seven or something?”

Crowley chuckled into his drink.

“No, but seriously,” she said. “I hope one of them does show up. It’ll mean extra media coverage, press…”

“Right,” he shook his head, “Right. No, it’s great, Ana. Seriously. I'm happy for you. Hey, maybe it’ll be Harry and what’s-her-face with the baby. That’d make the Times.”

Several drinks and a few platters of tapas later, Crowley was fairly buzzed and had settled into a decent Cabernet. He didn’t have the tolerance for tequila that Ana had -- a fact that had left him suffering through hungover Sunday mornings after too wild Saturday nights in uni more times than he could remember.

They’d met on the first day of art school in a sketch class when Ana had stolen the pear from Crowley’s still life model. She’d argued that he already had the apple, and she was missing any fruit, so it was only fair.

She’d offered to do a tarot reading for him after class as repayment, and he’d pointed out that tarot was rubbish. In response, she offered to not only do the reading, but fill out his entire star chart as well -- which, after he saw that, he would have no choice but to accept the validity of it based on how accurate it was sure to be. He’d agreed, amused by her enthusiasm. It hadn’t convinced him, but they’d become friends.

“So, hey… enough about me,” Ana said, finishing off her third drink. “What's new with you?”

“Ah,” Crowley shrugged, fiddling with the stem of his wine glass. “Not much.”

“You still working at that place you hate?” She said in a casual, practiced tone; like she’d said it a million times before, because she had.

“Ugh, Ana… don’t start.”

“What,” she rolled her eyes. “I’m just saying. You do. Hate it.”

“Look, it’s a job -- all right?"

“There’s lots of jobs out there, Tony. A whole city full of them. There’s no law says you have to stay there, when you so obviously despise it.”

"Look, some of us have to come up with rent once a month, Ana," he shrugged. “Anyway; I dunno. It’s… actually not so bad, lately.”

“Oh?” she cocked her head to one side, sensing a story.

“Yeah…” he hedged. “Got this new boss. He’s… all right.”

She dug in the bottom of her drink with the end of her straw, looking bored. “Oh, that’s good.”

He sighed, dropping his arm to the table. “Why are we talking about my work? S’not interesting.”

“Well,” she shrugged. “What else is going on with you? Love life? You meet anyone recently?”

He cringed. “Egh…”

“Come on, Tony. Look, I keep telling you -- you just gotta put yourself out there and meet someone. There’s a million ways to meet people nowadays -- you don’t even have to leave your house. Tinder, Match.com… Grindr…”

He choked. “I’m not… I don’t think I’m bound to find what I’m looking for on Grindr, Ana.”

“Hey,” she chuckled. “You never know.”

He laughed, taking a sip of his wine.

“Actually…” he muttered. “I did sort of... I dunno.”

She sat up, ears perking. “Sort of what?”

“Eh…” he wiped a hand across the table, looking at the floor. “Meet… someone? I guess? Sort of?” He looked at her skeptically, brows furrowed.

She lit up. “Oh my god. Tell me.”

He put his hands up, attempting to walk back the statement. “Well, now, don’t get too excited. It’s nothing serious. It’s not even…”

She was now gripping her drink with both hands. “Uh huh, sure. Whatever. Tell me.”

“Ana… seriously.”

She leaned even further across the table, fidgeting with her straw. “Chick or dude?”

He sighed. “Eh… it’s a… he’s a guy.”

She gasped, covering her mouth.

“Stop it.”

She bounced up and down in her seat. “Oh my god. Okay. What’s he like? Where did you meet him? What’s he do?”

“All right, all right -- calm down, will you? I told you -- it’s not. It’s nothing.”

“What does he look like?” she grinned. “Do you have a picture?”

“No…" He rolled his eyes, regretting his entire life up until this moment. She wasn't going to let it go until she got something out of him, now. "Blond… very blond, actually. Like… white hair.”

“Older?” she frowned, interested.

“No, no -- like… colored that way.”

“Oh, right," she nodded. "That’s trendy.”

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “I guess. I mean, he is a little older than us. Maybe fifty?”

“Okay," she shrugged. "What else?”

“Uh, blue eyes.”

“Ooh," her interest appeared to redouble as she crossed her arms over the tabletop. "He sounds pretty.”

Crowley laughed. “No. He’s not… pretty.”

She pulled a face.

“I mean," Crowley hedged, "I wouldn't say pretty." He shrugged, taking a sip of his drink. "I dunno. I guess maybe he’s pretty. He’s very attractive, obviously.”

She put her chin on one hand, leaning on the table. “Mmhmm, obviously.”

He deflated, exhaling harshly. “He’s good looking, all right?”

“Tall, short? Big guy, twinky guy?”

“No," Crowley scoffed. "Definitely not… twinky. Strong. Kinda stocky, I guess?”

“Right,” she urged.

“Eh, little shorter than me, but not… short.”

She shrugged. “Well, you’re a giant, so.”

“Says you, Tinkerbell.”

“Hey!” she raised a finger. “I know how tall I am. We’re talking about this dreamboat mystery man. Let's focus.”

Crowly ran a hand through his hair, fully regretting this entire conversation.

Anathema looked like the cat who'd just caught a big juicy mouse, and couldn't wait to tear into it.

“So, how did you meet this big, strong… not at all pretty man who is absolutely not a thing?”

He sipped his wine, setting down the glass with a clink.

“Eh… he’s… um…”

You cannot tell her, you idiot. She may be your best friend, but she will not understand. This is different from those other times, but she won’t see that.

“We met at a party.”

She squared her shoulders, looking satisfied. “Oh! Okay. That’s cool.”

He put on a fake, showy smile in reply. “Yeah, it’s cool?”

“Oh, Tony--” she slapped his arm. “It’s great! Why do you always have to be so sardonic about everything? You like this guy? That’s good! So what? You’ve been out? You got his number? What?”

“Uh,” he shrugged. “It’s not really… like that.”

“Well,” she said. “What is it like?”

“I dunno,” he grimaced. “It’s… bit weird. Hard to explain.”

She put her elbows on the table, staring him down. “Try.”

“Look, he’s not really into… dating, per se.”

She shrugged. “Brave new world -- who is? Text, send a nude, meet up to fuck. That’s pretty par for the course, these days.”

He choked. “No, I don’t mean like that.”

“Well, what then?”

“It’s just… We only… meet… in a certain... context?”

She was squinting at him.

“Look, I told you it was weird. It’s… really weird. We meet in one specific place, and… do stuff… and…”

“You fucked him?” her eyebrows went up.

He waved a hand dismissively. “No, no, no. I mean...”

He sighed, putting his head on the table.

“Anathema, I do not know how to explain this to you.”

“Hmm…” she considered. “I think we need more drinks, and somewhere more quiet. I’ll get the tab.”

*

They took a cab back to Anathema’s apartment, where Crowley promptly slumped on her sumptuous designer couch. She brought him a scotch and he reflected dimly that it would be his third type of alcohol in one night. Never a good idea. He tossed it back, gulping half of it down in one go.

“Right,” she said, tucking her legs beneath her and settling down on the couch next to him. “So you haven’t fucked this guy.”

“Hhh, no,” he grunted.

“But you’ve done…" she held out her free hand, as if taking in a scene before her, "...stuff.”

He shrugged his shoulders, taking another drink. “Y-yeah… ya know… stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“Ana… come on, I’m not giving you the gruesome details.”

She shuffled closer. “So there are gruesome details.”

“No, now I didn’t say that--”

“Did he kiss you?” she asked, beaming.

“Uh…” he hesitated, thinking. “Well, no.”

She frowned. “Oh.”

“I don’t think…" he said. "That might not happen.”

“Wait a minute,” she held up a hand, as if to pause the conversation.

“I know, I know, I know…” he stood up, pacing with his drink in hand. “For the last time, Ana. It is weird. It’s fucking… bizarre. I’ve never in my life--” he sighed.

He turned around, facing her. She was sitting on the couch looking up at him, waiting for some kind of answer.

Fuck it.

“Look, how much do you know about BDSM?”

Her eyes went wider than he’d ever seen them, she blinked, licked her lips, and resettled her glasses on her nose before taking a big sip of her drink.

“I’m sorry,” she said, freshly calm. “What?”

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “I know.”

“No, no, good sir.” She raised one index finger, closing her eyes to address him in an admonishing tone. “I am going to need you to elaborate on that point.”

He sighed, looking at the ceiling.

“He’s… into that stuff. I guess. Anyway, I don’t think you could technically say we’re… fucking. But…”

He dropped his gaze, catching her eye again. “Well, let’s just say whatever it is, it’s been pretty damn satisfying, so far. All right?”

She blinked. “Wow.”

He groaned, slumping on the couch again and setting his drink on the table. “I know. It’s insane.”

“Well,” she began. “It’s not insane. Tony -- I mean. Are you... into that kind of thing?"

He sighed, flinging a hand in a flippant shrug. "Apparently?"

She frowned at him.

He shrugged. "Yes."

He sat forward, putting his head in his hands. "Very very extremely, dear god jesus, yes."

She laughed, sat back on her heels, and sipped her drink. "Oh. Okay, then."

"I know," he said, mostly to fill the awkward silence. "I know, it's…"

"No, Tony, that's great if you're on the same page about it. But, I mean... I think that stuff can get pretty intense."

He looked at her, trying to gauge her reaction. He was relieved to see that while she looked concerned, her expression wasn't horrified, which was sort of what he'd expected.

"Yeah," he said. "I, uh… I'm aware."

"My point is," she said, sitting up. "I don't know much about it, but I know it takes a lot of super open communication and like… mutual understanding. You just met this guy?"

He shrugged. "Couple weeks ago."

"Okay. So, how well do you know him?"

He shrugged.

“I dunno, Tony. I've known people who were into that stuff. And, obviously, there's nothing wrong with it on principle… but…"

"But what?" he asked, looking at the floor.

"Well, sometimes I think it can attract a certain personality. Like, controlling, manipulative assholes who just want someone to boss around."

She paused, cutting her eyes at him. "He's… uh… the one in charge?"

Crowley's face turned scarlet, and he reached for his drink.

"Yeah," he said, mumbling into his glass.

"Right," she said. "Just, be careful. You think you can trust this guy?"

He leaned back into the couch with a sigh. "Yeah."

She rolled her eyes. "Are you sure? How well do you really know him?"

"Well enough!" He exclaimed. "I mean, no, he's not like that. He's not… controlling."

She raised an eyebrow. "No?"

"No. He's… really nice, actually."

She turned toward him. "Nice, how?"

He shrugged. "I dunno. He… we talk? Not just during the… sex, or whatever. He asks about me, cares about my work--"

"You talk about work?" She chuckled.

Shit, he thought.

"Uh, yeah. Sometimes. I mean, he works in a similar field. He's a consultant. Or… account manager sort of… thing."

"Oh, okay," she nodded. "Not sleeping with the competition, are you, Tony?" She pokes him in the arm, laughing.

"Ah ha ha," he fake laughed along. "No… nothing like that."

"Just picking on you, silly," she sighed. "Okay, well… that's good. I mean, as long as you feel safe," she shrugged, looking at him speculatively.

"Yeah. I mean," he said, setting his drink on the table. "Anathema, I've never done anything like this."

"Mmhm…" she nodded.

"But, yeah. It's… good." He stared hard at the floor, eyes wide.

"Yeah?" She grinned.

"Like, really good."

She laughed. "Well, good! Great!" She punched him in the arm. "So what makes you think it's not 'a thing?' It sure sounds like a thing to me."

He ran a hand through his mussed hair. "He doesn't want it to be. We had a… fairly extensive conversation about what we're doing. And he made it pretty clear he's not looking for a… relationship, or anything like that. In fact," he hesitated. "He doesn't even want to have sex with me."

She frowned. "How do you mean?"

"I don't know. He said he doesn't really have sex -- just likes the whole… kink thing, I guess. I don't really understand it -- but he insists he's having a good time."

"Oh," she said, matter-of-factly. "He's asexual."

Crowley looked at her blankly. "Sorry?"

"An asexual fifty-year old, though? That is unusual. Must be a pretty progressive, self-aware kind of guy."

"What are you talking about, asexual? He's not an amoeba, Ana."

She rolled her eyes. "Good grief, Tony. Get with the times. Some people just don't want sex; it's a thing. We knew a girl like that at uni. You remember Matilda Wade?"

"Uhhhh… Wasn't she one of the figure models?"

"Yeah. She was like that. Remember when Ronald McCallen tried to set her up with that cute girl in physics class? Said she wasn't interested in dating or sex; just opted out of the whole thing."

"Hnn," he mused. "Yeah. Think I remember that. I just can't understand why anyone would--"

"Well, why not?” She shrugged, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Everyone’s different, Tony. That is interesting, though, that he wants this… whatever this is with you. He must just really like pleasing people."

He raised an eyebrow at her.

She laughed. "Human beings are complicated. If he says he's happy, I'd take his word for it. A man at that point in his life; he probably knows what he likes and doesn't by now."

She frowned, watching Crowley closely. "I guess you just have to ask yourself if that's a deal breaker for you or not."

"Yeah. I dunno, honestly."

She raised her hands. "Well, there you go! I wouldn't overthink it, Tony. Just have fun and be safe, and… see what happens. And, look -- as far as the whole 'not dating' thing goes... This guy might think he's better off keeping you at arm's length for now, but I've got a feeling the more he gets to know you; he's gonna want more from you, if he has any sense at all."

Crowley smiled. "Ana…"

"I'm serious! Tony, you have no idea what a catch you are. Anyway, this guy -- it sounds like he's looking for a very specific type of person to have in his life. And he just hit the jackpot with you; he just doesn't know it yet."

He ran a hand over his face, suddenly feeling exhausted. "Thanks."

She got up, taking her empty glass to the kitchen. "Shit. It's midnight."

He nearly choked on the last of his drink. "Are you serious? Fuck, I gotta go."

She swept back into the living room, her long skirts trailing behind her.

"Just crash here. I think you still have clothes from last time. Should be in the guest room. I washed them."

He sighed, getting up to put his glass in the sink.

"Ana, you're the best."

"I know." She met him in the kitchen, arms outstretched, offering a hug.

She squeezed him hard again, and sighed in his ear. "Tony, I'm happy for you. I think this could be a really good thing."

He sighed, shrugging a shoulder as the hug broke. "I dunno; I guess we'll see."

"That's all I'm saying. Give it a chance. Even if it's just a bit of fun; where's the harm?"

"Yeah," he sighed, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"Hey, at least it's not your boss this time, right?" She smiled, turning toward her bedroom.

It was a good thing she turned when she did, because Crowley went white.

"Uh," he said, "right."

"Goodnight!"

*

6am had rarely felt so brutal in the last decade.

"Ugggh…" Crowley flailed for his phone, tapping the screen, desperately trying to shut up the alarm.

He rolled over, fighting every urge to go back to sleep. Anathema's guest bed was more comfortable than his own at home, and he'd like nothing better than to slip right back into an all-day coma.

She'd offered to let him move in here, more than once. In fact, he suspected he was the main reason she kept a two bedroom apartment, anyway. It wasn't like she needed it. On the rare occasion her mother came to visit, her supposed reason for keeping a spare room, she usually got a hotel.

Anathema had been worrying about and looking after Crowley since university, and that didn't look to be changing anytime soon. She was a good friend, and really one of the few Crowley had left, these days. He was grateful. But he was also fiercely independent, and liked having his own space -- a point he chanted in his mind, now, reminding himself why he absolutely had to get out of bed and go to work, instead of going back to sleep.

"Uuughhhhhh…."

*

He fell into his desk chair, limbs still heavy with a mixture of simple exhaustion and hangover. Good thing he didn’t have a lot on his plate today, but he was eager to see Fell. Even if he wouldn’t tell him anything about whatever had happened yesterday, he just wanted to gauge the man’s mood -- find out if whatever had been happening was still ongoing or handled. He pulled up some slides in the portfolio of work dedicated to the demining project and sent them to the printer.

The colorful pages inched their way out of the printer far too slowly, and Crowley tapped one foot, impatiently waiting for the final page to fall into his hand. Finally, he swept up the small stack of papers, straightening them between his hands, and slid a paper clip over the whole thing.

He walked toward the C-suite a bit quicker than usual, while still trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. He checked his watch. It was just past 8am, but if he knew Fell, he would already be in his office. Only a handful of the other executive offices had lights on. They all typically came in well after nine.

Crowley was surprised to find Fell's office door fully closed, rather than ajar. He stood there, unsure whether he should knock or not. The room was soundproof; would Fell even be able to hear it, assuming he was inside? The suite was quiet, save for the sound of a radio playing softly somewhere across the hall. He wrapped his knuckles against the solid mahogany door, just in case, but was met only with silence.

He frowned, looking around. There was no one about, so he tucked the papers under one arm and headed back towards his desk. He’d just have to check back again later.

At half past ten, Crowley closed the proposal he’d been working on and picked up his printed slides again. This time, he found a bit more activity in the C-suite. Sandalphon’s door was open, and he could be heard chatting quietly with someone on the phone. Arcnangle’s door was closed, but that was hardly unusual. He might have some off-site meeting or simply have chosen to sleep in this morning.

When he came to Fell’s door, he noticed the office directly to his right had its door slightly open. Uriel was inside, typing away at their desk -- a serious, focused expression on their face. Crowley knocked on the door, waiting.

Uriel turned from their computer, spotting Crowley.

“He’s not here,” they said matter-of-factly.

Crowley turned. “Oh?” he said. “Do you know… do you know when he’s coming back?”

They frowned at him. “Do I look like his secretary?”

“Oh,” said Crowley. “No; course not. It’s just…”

“If you need something, email him. His absence is no excuse for your slacking off.”

Now it was Crowley’s turn to frown. “Well, actually -- I have a project update for him,” he waved the printouts as proof. “That’s why I’m here.” And it’s rather the opposite of slacking off, he thought.

Uriel offered a fake smile. “Great. Email.”

Crowley started to reply, but Uriel had already turned back to their computer, nudging their door closed with one hand. He spared one last glance at Fell’s office door, and turned to leave.

Could something have happened? Or could he be ill? The man had seemed a bit exhausted yesterday, when Crowley had first arrived. He might just be out sick. Crowley had no way of knowing. He would just have to do as Uriel had said. Email him something innocuous about the project update and hope for an answer. He supposed he could try to reach Fell on his mobile, but this hardly seemed like something he would consider an emergency.

When he got back to his desk, he noticed a new text message on his phone.

"Is this Anthony Crowley?"

That was all it said. The all capital letters announcing the message had come from an UNKNOWN number seemed unnecessarily ominous.

He picked up the mobile, feeling something like panic growing in his stomach. Who in the world… He typed back quickly, his thumb pausing over the send button. He pressed it.

"Yes. Who’s asking?"

The little three dots at the bottom of the screen indicated the other person was typing.

"Your only friend in the office."

Crowley felt his breath catch in the back of his throat. The other person was typing again.

"I need you to do something for me."

Crowley looked at the mobile in his hand, unsure how to respond. Was this Fell? It seemed that was what he was trying to communicate without actually saying his own name. But it could just as easily be someone else. After everything he’d overheard yesterday, he felt he had some cause to be suspicious.

"If you’re in the office, you could just come by. I’m at my computer right now."

The answer came quickly.

"I’m not there today; a fact I’m sure you’ve already noticed, my dear boy. What can I tell you that only I would know?"

Crowley smiled, waiting eagerly for the next message to come through. Well, I can’t think of anyone else who would use a semicolon in a text message, for one… he thought.

Those three dots were blinking again.

"If I were there, I would be very much looking forward to our usual afternoon meeting. Unfortunately, I think we may need to reschedule."

Crowley’s cheeks flared pink. Okay, yes. Definitely him, then.

"All right," Crowley typed back. He pushed all the other urgent questions to the back of his mind, trying to focus on what was most important. "What do you need me to do?"

Fell was typing again.

"There's a book in my office that I need you to get for me."

Uh… Crowley thought. That might be easier said than done. Fell’s office was sure to be locked, by the cleaning staff last night, if not by Fell himself. Before he could type as much, another message appeared.

"The key is in the bottom desk drawer to your right."

Crowley put the mobile down on his desk and leaned over, opening the drawer. Sure enough, in the last hanging file folder, there was an innocuous looking little white envelope. He could feel the unmistakable metal shape of a key through the paper even before he ripped it open.

"Right. Got it," he typed quickly back to Fell, getting up and looking around to make sure no one was paying any attention. They weren’t. He took his mobile and headed toward the doors to the C-suite.

As he walked, he felt the mobile buzzing in his pocket with more incoming messages. He gripped the loose key in his palm, looking around and hoping no one would notice him. He silently thanked whatever deity must be watching from above, because he remembered that Uriel had slammed their door closed at the end of his last visit. With any luck, it would still be closed, and he could enter Fell’s office without notice.

Uriel’s door was shut. Crowley said a silent prayer of thanks, and slotted the key into Fell’s door. He turned it, quickly and quietly, and slipped through the door, eyes darting again to make sure he was still unobserved. No one was in sight, and he closed the door silently behind him.

He pulled the mobile from his pocket, and saw three new messages there.

"Once you’re there, tell me if you see anything out of place."

Crowley glanced around. Everything looked normal. There was the bar cart, all the usual bottles of liquor, wine, and the various appliances and accessories that came with it. All the furniture appeared where it should. The desk was strewn with papers, but that was hardly unusual. Computer. Two chairs. Crowley blushed at the thought of what they’d just been doing in one of those chairs, less than twenty four hours ago.

He glanced down at his mobile again, reading the other two messages.

"If you’re standing in front of the side table next to the chaise lounge, there should be a copy of Paradise Lost just up and to your right. Open the book to page 287. Midway down the page, there is a very long serial number hidden in the text. I need that number."

Crowley looked up, noting the wall-length bookshelf behind the chaise lounge and the aforementioned side table. He walked over to it.

There was the book, just where Fell had said it would be. Crowley pulled it down, taking care with it. It looked very old, and he didn’t want Fell coming back to a damaged, priceless collectible.

He laid the book on the desk, turning to the correct page. There was an illustration on the opposite page of Satan and his demons being cast into the pit. Crowley thought he recognized it as one of William Blake’s drawings from his edition of the book. He gasped, setting that information aside and looking for the serial number he was meant to be finding for Fell. If this book was genuine, it was truly priceless. He tried not to think about just how priceless, carefully touching the pages with soft fingertips just enough to hold the book open.

The text was almost complete gibberish to Crowley’s eyes -- all swirling calligraphal manuscript. He couldn’t make heads or tails of the scrawling cursive. But there, almost direct center on the page, was something that seemed out of place. The ink was different. Newer, darker -- and the text was made up of random numbers, letters, and a few special characters. He picked up his mobile and began typing what he saw, squinting to be sure of each one. Fell hadn’t been kidding. The number was incredibly long and contained no discernable patterns.

A few seconds passed after he hit send. Fell wasn’t typing. Crowley felt his heart beating in his chest, wondering if something had happened.

"Are you still there?" he typed furiously.

Finally, the three dots blinked again. "Well done, dear. I have to go now. Delete these messages from your phone."

Crowley stared at the screen for a moment, heart racing.

He typed out, "Are you alright?"

He waited as long seconds passed by. There was no reply. No three dots blinking. Nothing.

“Oh, come on…” He muttered under his breath, typing again. "Please let me know you're okay?"

His own message sat on the screen, and was met with more silence.

"Oh, come on! ARE YOU OK???"

Nothing. Minutes passed with no response.

“Fuck you, you sodding--” His thumbs punched the touch screen with unnecessary forcefulness, pounding out another message. "You fucking bastard! Tell me you're alright!!!!"

Finally, the three little dots appeared, blinking placidly. Crowley sighed with relief.

"Are you still in my office?"

Crowley huffed again, typing.

"Yes"

A new message came through, momentarily.

"Good. Stay there. I'll be along shortly. Now delete these messages and DO NOT text this number again."

Crowley contemplated a reply, but figured he had better do what he was told, this time. At least he had finally gotten a reply. And if he was going to be here soon, Fell must not be very far away, which couldn’t mean he was in all that much danger, could it? Visions of him locked away in some Russian spy warehouse faded from Crowley’s mind. He was on his way here now. He was all right.

And whatever it might cost him later, Crowley was going to get some goddamn answers out of him once he arrived.

Chapter Text

Fell finished typing the long string of numbers into the computer and hit enter.

Nothing happened.

Well, not nothing. A little dialog box popped up on the screen. It read simply, “Error — three attempts remaining.”

“Shit,” he muttered.

He hovered over the keyboard, contemplating what might have gone wrong. He was quite sure this would have been it — the passcode had been buried deep in Gabriel’s briefcase, hidden inside a booklet inside a pocket, clearly something he did not want found. But, Fell reflected now, it could just as easily be for something else, something he didn’t even yet know about. The more he uncovered on this case, the more he realized how little he actually knew about Gabriel, and just how much he might actually be capable of.

It wasn’t a new concept for Fell. You never really knew anyone. Everyone had secrets — it was just that some were more vile, more dangerous than others, and sometimes more shocking. The man who wore his heart on his sleeve was a fool.

All right, he thought. What else could it be?

He had managed to uncover several potential passwords to Gabriel’s various machines and hideaways over the past few weeks. Perhaps this wasn’t a complete bust. He dug in his pocket for the little notebook containing a list of possible codes, flipping it open to scan through them. Each had notes listed beside it — the context in which he’d found it, likelihood it had to be connected to different resources…

There was another auto-generated code he’d pulled from a database on Gabriel’s work machine… he supposed it could just as easily be that one. Quickly, he turned back to the keyboard and typed it in.

Error — two attempts remaining.”

“Fuck!”

Would Gabriel be stupid enough to set the same password for both his work and home computers?

…maybe.

He only had a short window here — he didn’t have time to think.

He typed in the passcode to the machine in Gabriel’s office — one of the few he’d dedicated to memory.

Error — one attempt remaining.

He breathed out hard through his nose, clenching his hands into fists and stepping away from the desk to put his face in his hands.

“Hnnn, dammit,” he huffed under his breath.

What else could it be? Were there other codes he hadn’t tracked down? Had Gabriel somehow remotely changed it last night when he’d realized they were on to him? Surely not, he hadn’t had time. If he had, the machine would likely not even be here — he would have offloaded his files and trashed it, or taken it with him. And judging from the clumsy manner in which he’d handled his security up til now, it seemed unlikely that he would have had the forethought to set a password randomizer in advance, or anything like that. It’s not as if he would have confided in anyone to do it for him.

Unless.

Fell pulled a throwaway mobile phone from his other coat pocket. This was a longshot, but it was worth trying. If it failed, he’d just leave, cover all traces that he’d ever been here, and he’d not have lost anything. He’d not have gained anything either, but… so it goes.

He typed furiously into the phone, bringing up the only mobile number he’d saved in it. As was his habit, he’d planned for every possibility — including the one where he might need insider help from the only person in that godforsaken office that he really trusted as far as he could throw him.

Is this Anthony Crowley?” he typed, as if he hadn’t pulled the number from Crowley’s own phone. But it seemed as good an opener as any.

It was a few minutes before he got any reply. He must have wandered away from his desk momentarily. Fell checked his watch. It was all right. He still had time.

"Yes. Who’s asking?"

Fell chuckled despite himself. Snarky bastard.

"Your only friend in the office,” he typed back.

Fell knew implicitly that it was true.

He didn’t wait for an additional reply, instead tapping out, "I need you to do something for me."

They exchanged several more messages, and then Crowley went silent. Fell assumed he must be making his way to the C-suite, and tapped out additional instructions in the interim.

Presently, a long, randomized series of characters appeared in the text box.

“Bless you,” Fell said, turning to the computer.

This would either do it, or it wouldn’t. If it didn’t, he’d need to be ready to run. He shoved the notebook back into his pocket, held the phone in one hand, and typed.

The dialog box faded away, revealing a black screen with the Windows logo. The computer was coming to life.

“Yes,” Fell exclaimed in reserved triumph. Well, that certainly answered a question he’d been somewhat fearful to contemplate.

This number, it wasn’t associated with Gabriel. It was an account number connected to Michael. He’d only jotted it down because it had seemed odd that they would have bothered to memorize it — but then, Michael was known for having an almost photographic memory. Still, Fell had suspected it held some importance for them, so he’d made a note of it. He’d never expected it to turn up as the password for Gabriel’s home computer. It could only mean that Michael was involved. Michael had been here. He filed that information away for later analysis, and waited.

It took just a moment for the machine to boot up, but he had no way of knowing where to start looking for the files he needed. Best to just copy over everything and go through them elsewhere. He clicked quickly into the file directory, instructing the machine to duplicate the entire hard drive onto the portable drive he'd brought along with him.

As he watched the data pouring over into his possession, he was dimly aware of the burner phone now laying on the desk next to him, buzzing incessantly. He ignored it, checking his watch. 

This had been far from ideal, and he wasn't safe yet, but he would be soon. Just a few more minutes…

He looked around the room, really noticing the details of it for the first time. It was almost surgically modern, not unlike the rest of the house. White walls, steel grey bookshelves containing no books; sparse furnishings. It didn't look like the sort of home anyone actually lived in — more like something out of a designer magazine, intended only to look good on glossy pages.

It was essentially the antithesis of Fell's own spaces. It felt sanitized, scrubbed down, impersonal — more status symbol than dwelling. It fit the owner. 

The phone buzzed again. He picked it up, finally glancing at the screen.

”You fucking bastard! Tell me you're alright!!!!”

Fell smiled, bemused.

"Oh, Crowley," he said to the empty room. "You do care. Perhaps a bit too much, my dear boy."

The computer chimed, letting him know the download was complete. He disconnected the external drive, quickly coiling the cord up into a bundle, shoved everything into the little black bag he'd brought with him, and shouldered it. He grabbed the phone, already heading for the door. 

He turned to glance around the room, confirming he'd not left anything behind. Thinking better, he went back to the desk chair, righted it against the desk, and walked out.

Spotting himself in a mirror as he came down the stairs, he noted his ridiculous attire. He looked rather like a foolish old man who fancied himself a jewel thief — black knit cap covering his white hair, black jacket, gloves. It certainly wasn't his usual getup, but when one played at spies, one must look the part, he supposed. The last thing he needed was Gabriel coming home to find a white hair on his desk — he’d figure out who had stopped by quickly enough.

He spared a glance for the street through a window, saw no one, and went to the back door through the garden, the same way he'd entered. No one there either, that he could see. He exited quickly and quietly, taking a conveniently obscured route along the back of the house and out into the road, skirting along a privacy fence that prevented his being seen from the street. 

He should have hired someone to do this, gotten a private investigator, or something. But there simply hadn't been time. Time to vet someone, find a trustworthy party, bring them in, explain the situation fully. In the end, he'd decided he was better off going himself. After all, he already knew the space, the layout of the house (though he'd never been upstairs until today), and the best points of entry. He knew Gabriel, knew his neuroses. The best person he could trust to get this done had ultimately been himself, and no one else. Plus, he hadn't gotten any use out of his lock-picking skills in decades, and it was always good to keep in practice.

He typed into the phone as he walked.

“Are you still in my office?”

He stifled a yawn. He'd left the office well after midnight, rushed home to gather the things he'd needed, and come here to wait for the last of Gabriel's neighbors to disappear, each getting into their overpriced luxury cars and driving out of the neighborhood, leaving it unguarded and unwatched for the day. Or, at least until the housekeeper arrived at quarter to noon. Now, as the adrenaline faded from his system, giving way to an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, he felt the energy that had been propelling him so far begin to wane.

His man in New York had said Gabriel would be back on the first flight to London this morning. He'd had limited time. 

He reflected now, chuckling to himself, that it was occasionally helpful to be overly paranoid. He'd hidden a copy of his own office key in Crowley's filing cabinet the same night they'd come to their agreement. He'd not realized how soon he might need it.

He glanced at the phone again to see Crowley’s reply had come through.

“Yes”

He breathed a sigh of relief, already a block away from the house. It was done, and the housekeeper was still fifteen minutes out, at least. He would be long gone before she arrived. Now all that was left to do was get rid of this phone. 

He typed one last reply into it, almost feverishly.

”Good. Stay there. I’ll be along shortly. DO NOT text this phone again.”

He held down the power button, turning off the device. He would destroy and dispose of it elsewhere; not here. He was still too close to the scene of the crime even to risk that. 

The crime, he scoffed inwardly. The idea that what he'd just done would be considered criminal in the face of everything Gabriel had done was truly laughable. Selling state secrets for his own personal profit — it was nothing short of treason. If even half the stories were true, Gabriel deserved to go away for a very long time. 

The fact was, this really should have been quite simple. In a post-WikiLeaks world, everyone knew it was nothing to access digital information, if you had the right credentials. All anyone should have had to do was tip off the authorities, and Gabriel should have been toast. But Gabriel had friends in high places, and apparently the NSA was one of those places. There was another thing. After perusing through the recent hirings and firings around the company, Fell was beginning to see a pattern. Those who became suspicious of Gabriel either went away, or got promoted. He was being protected.

So, it had come to this. Irrefutable evidence was needed. And it needed to get to the right people — directly.

Well, Fell thought, with any luck, everything you need is contained right here, on this little hard drive. You’ll know soon enough.

At the next corner, he sat at the empty bus stop and put on his most bored expression, huddling on the park bench against the cold. If he hurried, he could be back at the office within the hour, and no one would have noticed his presence here.

Now, he thought. What to do about Crowley?

He'd hoped not to involve him, but now it came to it, Fell was glad he'd planned for the possibility. Leaving that key in his filing cabinet had turned out to be crucial.

But, after the series of text messages that had just ensued, not to mention the phone call he'd overheard last night, Crowley was bound to have questions. And while previously Fell would have had little to no problem withholding information from him, or even outright lying to him regarding the situation, it seemed wrong now, somehow.

Crowley was involved now. He had actively participated in breaking into Gabriel's personal information. If what Fell had just done could be considered a crime (it very much could), that made Crowley an accessory to it. He at least owed him the good manners of letting him know why.

***

The office was strangely quiet for a Tuesday afternoon. He met no one on his way out of the elevator, through the little cubicle floor, and straight to the glass walls that led into the C-suite. A few office doors stood ajar, but Gabriel’s was notably shut. Well, perhaps no one else in the office knew why, but he did. Fell knew no one would question it. He was the boss, after all.

He pulled the key to his own office from the pocket of the jacket he’d changed into on his way here. His hair might be a bit mussed, but the skullcap and gloves had disappeared into his bag, leaving him looking very much his usual self. He certainly didn’t have the appearance of a man who’d just done a B & E, but… Well, appearances were deceiving every day, weren’t they?

He closed the door quietly behind him, and turned to find Crowley sitting in his chair, elbows propped on the desk.

Cheeky bastard. You’re getting a bit brave, aren’t you?

“Crowley,” he said pleasantly.

“Hi,” the other man replied, tipping his head to one side. He looked a mixture of perplexed, annoyed, and rather pissed off.

It had an effect on Fell that he acknowledged, then politely set aside in his mind, for the moment.

“That isn’t where you sit, dear boy.”

“Well,” Crowley shrugged. “Had the whole place to myself for over an hour. You’ll forgive me if I took a few liberties.”

Fell crossed the room, setting his bag down on the floor next to the desk. He looked at Crowley pointedly. “Oh, will I?”

Crowley spun the chair around to face him, crossing his arms over his chest. “I think so, yeah.”

Fell shrugged out of his jacket, going to the coat rack to hang it up. “I do hope my request didn’t cause you too much trouble.”

The sarcastic tone was apparent in Crowley’s voice even with Fell’s back to him. “Oh no; no trouble at all,” he said. “Anytime you need someone skulking around work, breaking in where he’s not meant to be — call me up; I’m your man! Quite the skulker, I am. Maybe I'll put that on my next resume -- professional skulker. Years experience."

Fell turned to face him, offering an unimpressed smirk. “I do apologize for the cryptic nature of the request. I’m afraid it was quite necessary, and time sensitive.”

Crowley grew a bit more serious. “Has this all got anything to do with your… side project?”

“It does,” Fell said, placing a hand abruptly on the back of the desk chair, pushing it backwards. Crowley flailed, caught off guard. “Now, get out of my chair, and perhaps I’ll tell you about it.”

Crowley was smart enough to look chagrined, and got up, going around the desk to sit in one of the plush chairs on the other side.

“Firstly,” Fell said, sighing, “I should tell you I’ve just made you an accessory to breaking and entering.”

“What?” Crowley looked stricken.

“Oh, and some flavor of theft also, I believe. Not sure what the specific term for that would be — unauthorized access to personal information? Or… documentation? Something or other.”

Crowley leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “What the hell did you do?”

“The important thing is that I covered my tracks very carefully. There’s nothing linking you to this, Crowley. You’ll be all right.”

Crowley shook his head as if dismissing a fly. “Forget that — what were you doing? Where did you go? What was that bizarre phone call about last night? Look,” he stood up abruptly, leaning over the desk in some sort of failed attempt to intimidate Fell. It was rather endearing, really.

“I’m not leaving here until you give me some answers. Whatever the hell it is you’re doing, I’m part of it now. I have a right to know.”

Fell interlaced his fingers, resting them on his stomach, and gazed placidly up at Crowley. “Yes, you do.”

“I mean it. I— eh?”

“Please,” Fell said, sighing, “sit down, Mr. Crowley, and I will be happy to explain everything.”

It clearly wasn’t the response Crowley had expected. He gaped silently, and then resettled in his chair without a word.

“Right,” Fell said, sitting up. “Roughly three months ago I began receiving anonymous whistleblower emails from someone in the financial department at this location. You’ll remember that I was working over at head office at the time. I still have no idea who these emails were coming from — they clearly did not want to be identified, and kept their anonymity quite well.

Nevertheless, they told a clear enough story. Bits of cryptic messages between Gabriel and his private accountant, his secretary, and others.”

Fell paused, catching Crowley’s eye. “People like Gabriel always underestimate their subordinates, don’t they? They’ll go out of their way setting up elaborate security systems, twenty digit long passcodes, but then hand all their secrets over to fallible humans — the person who has to put up with their nonsense all day. The person who probably can’t wait to have a reason to rat them out, and they go and trust them implicitly? It’s pure, overconfident narcissism.”

Crowley nodded, agreeing. “So, these emails. I’m guessing there wasn’t anything incriminating enough in them to… actually charge him with anything?”

Fell raised his eyebrows, rolling his eyes in irritation. “Naturally. He was a bit careless, but not quite careless enough, it seems. I’ve spent the last several weeks looking to dig up more. But that’s not the worst of it — the fact is, this should have been dealt with, already. When it comes to this sort of thing, suspicion of a crime is typically enough to get an investigation underway. Someone — Fell pointed skywards — higher up, has been covering for Gabriel.”

Crowley frowned. “So, what exactly are we talking about, here? Embezzling, just plain old rerouting of funds, tax evasion, what?”

“Sales,” said Fell matter-of-factly.

“What,” Crowley sat up. “Sales of what?”

“State secrets,” said Fell. “Classified information. Advance warning in relation to political aspirations… strategy. Do you remember that big contract we got last year with Lockheed Martin?”

Crowley nodded. “I did some of the marketing for that…”

“Well, I’m sorry to say, dear boy, skillful though your marketing may be, I doubt it had very much of anything to do with that acquisition. He was bribing the American ambassador with a personal pay-off if the deal went through. They both profited handsomely.”

Crowley shook his head, running a hand over his mouth.

“Wha— You got all that from a few cryptic emails?”

“No, some of it was uncovered later. I’ve got a small team of people working on it — but,” Fell sighed. “We’ve been missing key documents. I had hoped to get something from his phone, but… I didn’t find much there. It seems he wipes that device quite regularly. He’s not an idiot.”

Crowley stared, taking this all in.

“What I’ve really been wanting to get into was his personal computer.”

Realization dawned in Crowley’s face. “That’s — shit. That’s where you were? In his house?”

Fell sighed. “When that call came in last night, it became obvious that he’d realized someone’s been watching him. It was my man in New York calling to tell me he’d seen Gabriel at the British Consulate General on 2nd Avenue, that very moment.”

“So,” mused Crowley. “You had to act fast. Get into his computer before he had a chance to delete whatever you might find there?”

“You are a quick study, my boy,” Fell said, impressed. “Precisely.”

He slumped in his desk chair, feeling utterly exhausted.

“Excuse my saying so, sir—” Crowley began.

Fell looked up at him, resting his chin on his hands.

“—you look tired,” Crowley finished.

“My dear,” Fell said. “I looked tired yesterday. Today, I rather think I resemble some kind of zombie, from the American films.”

Crowley quirked a smile, taking in Fell’s features. He appeared to pause on the dark circles Fell knew were blooming purple just below his eyes, the forward slump of his shoulders, the weight of his elbows pressed into the desk. He must look half-dead, haggard.

“Well,” said Crowley. “You look all right to me, if a bit…”

“Desiccated?” said Fell. “Dilapidated, like an old house? A mite bit… caved in? Freshly dehydrated like so much vacuum-packed beef?”

Crowley laughed despite himself. “Well, that’s quite some imagery.”

“Indeed,” said Fell. “It’s quite a way to feel. Suppose I could sleep for a week, if only I had the time.”

Crowley frowned. “But you don’t?”

“Course not. Who does?” Fell sighed, reaching for his mobile phone — not the burner one that he’d quickly disposed of before returning here, but his own personal mobile.

“Ah,” he said, scrolling through some cryptic messages coming in from his contact.

He’d dropped the hard drive off in the usual location, (after making a copy for himself, because after all he was no fool), and it seemed they were uncovering evidence already.

“Very good,” he mused.

“What is it?” asked Crowley, leaning forward.

“Oh, well it seems — if I’m reading this right…” He squinted at a series of emojis — airplane + tickets + envelope = praise hands.

“It seems they’ve uncovered some of Gabriel’s travel records.” He glanced up, offering Crowley a tired smile. “That’s good. One of the things I’ve been looking for. It will confirm all the times he traveled to the States for illicit meetings.”

Crowley sat back in his chair, nodding sedately.

Fell frowned. “Everything all right, dear?”

Crowley appeared to shake himself off, sitting up straighter. “Oh, yeah — sorry. S’just… Well.” He sighed.

“Go on, then,” said Fell, sensing some new tension in the man on the other side of his desk. “What is it?”

Crowley pressed his palms together before him, looking at the floor. “When did you put that key in my file cabinet?”

Fell took in a deep breath. Ah.

“The same day you…” he looked at the ceiling. “The day you agreed.”

Crowley huffed, nodding his head. “Right.”

Fell sat up, trying to shake off the pure exhaustion that threatened to overtake him. He had vaguely expected this — Crowley was a person who had clearly been mistreated in his life; taken for granted by employers and lovers alike, perhaps even abused. Fell couldn’t be sure on that note — but what was clear, had been clear to him from their first meeting, was that Crowley possessed his own manipulative skill; a skill he had likely learned from those who had manipulated him in the past. And he wasn’t the type to overlook or fail to notice it.

Crowley had more or less trusted Fell’s motives up until now. He sincerely hoped that wasn’t about to change.

“Thing is…” Crowley began.

“I know,” Fell said, jumping ahead. “I know how it looks. And you’re right, of course.” He clasped his hands together, looking across the desk and willing Crowley to meet his eyes.

Silently, with a little uncertain frown, he did.

“Yes,” said Fell, flat, not looking to sugarcoat the facts. “I took advantage. I needed someone here I could trust, in the event I ever required help from the inside.” He glanced away, slightly ashamed of himself. “I realize I had no right. And to implicate you in something of this magnitude without so much as consulting you on the matter—”

He paused, sighing out all his fatigue in one breath.

When he looked at Crowley again, the other man’s jaw was set in a way that said it was taking all his self-control to remain calm. His hands were clasped, palms together, and he met Fell’s gaze, eyes harder than he’d ever seen them.

Oh, dear. What have I done?

He rallied, trying to make him understand.

“Tell me, Crowley — who, of the people you know who work in this building, do you trust to guard your most treasured secrets?”

Crowley stared back at him, eyes wide. He blinked. “No one.”

“Right,” Fell nodded.

“But that isn’t what you did.”

Fell squinted. “Sorry?”

“You didn’t trust me,” Crowley said through gritted teeth. “You didn’t even… tell me. You just—” He broke off, looking askance.

“What?” Fell asked.

“You used me!” Crowley shouted. He sat back and closed his eyes, one hand sliding down his face. “You didn’t ask my opinion… or let me know anything that was going on. You just… had me do your dirty work when it needed doing. First I heard of it.”

Fell considered this. He was right, of course. But Fell had rationalized that if he never needed to call on Crowley for help, then… well, no harm done. He wouldn’t even know about it. At the time, it had seemed like nothing more than a bit of extra insurance. Fell hadn’t counted on ever actually needing Crowley to be involved.

But you did. And it’s out now.

He’d made a choice, knowing this might be the outcome, and he hadn’t offered Crowley any agency in that choice. It had been a protective act, naturally — the less Crowley knew, the better. But it didn't matter. All Crowley could see in it was deception. And he wasn't wrong. Fell had also been protecting himself.

“I’m sorry, Crowley. You’re quite right.” He sighed, running hands through his hair. “I had hoped not to need—”

“But you did.”

“Yes.”

“And now here we are.”

“Yes,” Fell shrugged, too exhausted to say more. "I'm sorry." Anyway, what else could he say?

“S'fine," Crowley shrugged. "But, going forward, I want a new agreement,” Crowley said.

“What?” Fell frowned.

“Not that… one.” Crowley shook his head, waving a hand dismissively. “A different sort of agreement. Just, more of an understanding, really.”

“All right,” said Fell, relieved that at least Crowley wasn’t fleeing the room. He couldn’t have blamed him, really. “What sort of agreement?”

“You’re not going to keep me in the dark about this anymore. Like you said, I’m part of it now — whether you like it or not. I want to help, and I want the same updates you get from your… team, whoever they are… so we both know what’s going on and what comes next. If I’m going to help you — I won’t be some mindless tool. I’m…”

He paused, smiling a bit mischievously. “I’m your inside man. Professional skulker.”

Fell leaned on his elbows, pressing into the desk. He sighed, deflating a bit.

“All right,” he said. “Fine. I suppose it’s only fair. But look,” he pointed a finger in Crowley’s direction. "The same goes for you, then. I’m sure you know things, and I’m sure you have ideas. You’ve been here much longer than I have, but you’re not to go off investigating on your own. We share information, and we work together. No secrets.”

“Got it,” Crowley smiled.

“And another thing,” Fell said. “Now is not the time to start making friends here. Trust no one. Not a word of this to anyone — inside or outside these walls.”

Crowley shrugged, looking worlds better already. “Understood.”

“Right,” Fell said, putting the conversation to bed for now. He checked his watch. Just past 2pm. Fortuitous, he thought, smiling to himself.

“Well then,” he said, offering his own mischievous smile. “It seems we have a meeting just now. Didn’t have to reschedule it, after all.”

Crowley looked down to glance at his own watch.

He chuckled. “So we do.”

Fell got up, with some effort, and walked over to the bar cart.

“So, what are we drinking, dear boy?”

***

Chapter Text

Naked man on his knees with prayer hands

They sipped on wine for an appropriate number of minutes, and then Fell looked pointedly down at Crowley’s shoes.

“Better take those off. You’ll be out of your pants soon, and I wouldn’t want them getting in the way.”

Crowley blushed pink, set his wine glass aside, and began unlacing his boots.

“Now,” Fell said, getting up from the desk and shoving his hands in his pockets. “What was it you called me earlier?”

Crowley frowned. “When?”

“I believe you said I was a — and I quote — ‘fucking bastard’. Is that correct?”

“Oh, come on…” Crowley sighed. “You weren’t answering my messages. I was—”

Fell rounded the desk, coming to stand near the edge of it. “Was that what you said, Crowley?”

Crowley shrugged, helpless to argue. “Yes…”

“Right, then.” Fell turned, walking over to the chaise lounge.

He promptly sat down on it, leaned back, and leisurely examined his fingernails. He slid a ring from his finger, placing it on the side table.

“You did me a great service today, Crowley, but you also exhibited more than a touch of disrespect. You know I can’t allow that to pass unnoticed, now can I?”

“I suppose not,” Crowley answered, his voice uncertain.

He might think I’m overreacting, but surely he knows by now that it’s all just part of the game we’re playing. He’s liked my punishments so far, why should this one be any different?

“Come over here, Crowley,” he said, patting the cushion next to him. “Sit with me.”

Crowley crossed the room, looking a bit apprehensive. He sat down next to Fell with a sigh, and looked up at him.

“You sure you wouldn’t rather have a kip?” he said.

Fell glowered at him.

“…sir?”

“Is it your understanding that you can say whatever you like to me so long as you tack the word ‘sir’ onto the end of it?”

“Uhhh… no,” Crowley smirked, apparently unable to resist the joke… “sir?”

“Crowley!”

“Sorry,” Crowley muttered, trying to banish the cheeky grin from his face.

“Honestly,” Fell sighed. “One could almost think you were being intentionally disrespectful because you want me to punish you.”

“Perish the thought,” Crowley said, worrying at his bottom lip between his teeth.

“Crowley, I swear to—”

Fell rose to his feet, coming to stand in front of the other man. He shoved one knee between Crowley’s legs, placed both hands on his shoulders, and moved in close enough that Crowley had to lean back, tipping his chin upwards to look at Fell, his body flush and pressed hard against him.

“You will take this seriously. Now listen,” Fell said. “I tolerate a lot from you — more than I would from most.”

“Y-you do,” Crowley said shakily, his hardening cock already pressing against Fell’s leg through his pants. “I’m not very good at doing what I’m told.”

Fell huffed a laugh. “I’ve noticed.”

Crowley licked his lips, looking straight up at Fell. He gave him a once over, golden brown eyes roving from the top of his white capped head all the way back down to the waistband of his trousers.

Fell laughed.

“Oh,” he said, “What’s this, now? Do you think if you manage to seduce me, you can avoid a beating?”

“S’worth a shot, I guess?” Crowley cooed in a soft, warm voice.

Fell raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. “A wasted effort, I assure you.”

Crowley sighed. “S’not fair…”

“Right then,” Fell said, cutting off this line of conversation. “Shut your sassy little mouth and listen.”

His hands rose from Crowley’s shoulders to cup his face.

“Your complaint about my actions today was a fair one. I didn’t give you any agency in what was happening. It was wrong of me, and I do sincerely apologize.”

Crowley’s cheeks turned a lovely shade of pink under the direct scrutiny, and perhaps the frank honesty that Fell was offering. He meant it. He should have trusted Crowley with more — he’d earned it.

Well, things would be different on that front, in the future.

“Now, Crowley. I want to make it up to you. Tip the scales a bit more into your control.”

Crowley furrowed his brow, not understanding.

“What’s going to happen is I’m going to spank you, Crowley.”

Crowley’s face blushed even harder, and Fell held him firmly in place so he couldn’t look away, thumbs digging into reddening cheeks.

“You are going to be disciplined and you are not going to enjoy it.”

He went on, locking eyes with Crowley, taking in every minute reaction.

“But,” he went on, “You will get to choose the implement of your own punishment.”

Crowley bit his lip even harder, blinking to glance away. His breathing had already grown quite ragged.

“Does that seem fair to you, my dear?”

When Crowley spoke, Fell could hear the little whimper barely contained beneath the words.

“Ahh,” he said. “Y-yes.”

Fell smiled down at him, indulgent. “Very good.”

Fell released one cheek, then the other, stepping away so Crowley was left leaning on the edge of the lounge with no support. He tipped forward, digging his fingers into the padding for purchase.

“Get up,” Fell said.

Crowley did, looking up at him for reassurance as he rose to his feet. Fell offered only silent observation. He turned away, breaking the eye contact.

“Go to the cabinet,” he instructed flatly. “Open it.”

Crowley appeared to gather himself, walking over to the cabinet where Fell kept all of his tools. The doors swung open easily, and Crowley stood there for a moment. Fell watched as his eyes traveled over the shelves inside, taking in all the options. He appeared somewhat overwhelmed.

“All right, dear?” Fell asked, crossing his arms to watch this play out.

What a delight Crowley was proving to be. Quivering with fear half the time, yet never turning away from any challenge Fell could think to present him with. It was hard to believe that a mere week ago, all of this kinky business had been quite foreign to him. He really had risen to the occasion, embracing the concept with enthusiasm. Fell couldn’t remember a time he’d had more fun with a new partner. It almost made him wish he could—

He aborted the thought, putting it out of his mind immediately. There was no use dwelling on things he couldn’t have. Better to focus on what was right in front of him.

Crowley turned to look at Fell, one hand resting on the edge of the cabinet door.

“Something wrong?” he asked, taking in Crowley’s hesitation.

“Any— Any of these?” Crowley asked.

“Well, yes,” Fell raised one finger, giving Crowley pause. “However — be honest with yourself, Crowley. Best to choose an implement that matches your infraction. Go too easy on yourself, and I may have to make an alternative selection.”

Crowley blushed, turning back to the laden shelves before him. “Pick a switch too small, and you’ll beat me with the whole tree?”

Fell scoffed. “Something like that.”

Crowley reached out to touch one of the objects on the shelf in front of him. From where he was standing, Fell couldn’t see which one it was. He clasped his hands behind his back, stepping around the open cabinet door to get a better look.

“Ah,” he said, his heart nearly skipping a beat. “The tawse.”

Fell picked up the leather strap split into three separate tails. It was flat, like a belt, with a wrapped handle at one end.

“Works roughly as one might expect,” he said, testing the weight of the tool in his hand. He slapped it lightly against his own forearm.

“Believe it or not, it was still used as corporal punishment in Scottish schools until very recently. It is extremely painful, particularly against bare skin. Perhaps the worst choice you could possibly make from what I have here,” he chuckled, amazed by Crowley’s bad luck.

The other man went a bit pale. “Guhhh…”

“Kindly for you, there are plenty of other options,” Fell gave him a conspiratorial look, setting the tawse aside.

“Oh,” said Crowley. “Good. I mean… uh… thank you.”

“Anything else you see that might seem more appropriate?” Fell looked into the cabinet, curious to see what Crowley might gravitate towards next.

Crowley’s eyes fell on something on a lower shelf. He leaned down to reach for it.

“Is this a… paddle?” he asked, apparently taken aback.

“It is,” said Fell.

“Like the… those things the fraternity brothers beat each other with during rush week? When they’re hazing the new ones and running around being drunk and absolutely one hundred percent not gay?”

Now Fell really did laugh, tossing his head back in amusement. “Yes. That. Is this your choice, Crowley?”

“I uh… Well,” he said, shrugging. “I guess if some dumb college kids can handle it, then so can I.”

“Right,” Fell said, taking the wooden paddle from Crowley’s hands.

He neglected to point out that drunk college boys rarely had any idea how to handle one of these effectively, and also that the holes drilled through this particular model were designed with bare flesh in mind. Most frat boys chickened out when it came down to it — choosing to keep their pants on instead. Vanilla children, most of them.

Fell walked back over to the chaise, settling himself comfortably onto it. He set the paddle aside for the time being.

“Come here, Crowley.”

Crowley obediently strode forward, stopping right in front of Fell.

Fell looked up at him, offering a warm and gentle smile.

“My dear,” he said, raising one hand to touch Crowley’s cheek, tenderly stroking it. “We’ve both had quite a stressful day, haven’t we?”

Crowley nodded, letting out a breath he’d apparently been holding. “Yeah,” he sighed.

“Could I perhaps offer you something a bit more… intense… this time?”

“Intense?” said Crowley, raising an eyebrow. “How so?”

“Well,” Fell glanced aside, trying to decide how much to give away. “Correct me if I’m mistaken, but in the past you seem to have enjoyed a bit of… forcefulness? I mean not only the physical, of course, but rather—”

“You can do whatever you want,” Crowley said abruptly. Fell looked up, surprised to find Crowley gazing down at him intently.

“Oh,” he chuckled. “My dear boy… I very much doubt that.”

“No, I mean it,” Crowley said. “That’s what the safe word is for, isn’t it? All I have to do is say it, and everything stops; I haven’t forgotten that.”

Fell looked up at him in awe. How far he’d come in so short a time. It was truly incredible.

Crowley stepped closer, tentatively reaching out, touching Fell’s cheek with one hand.

“You’re tired, aren’t you?” He said. “You ought to be able to relax.”

Fell continued to gaze up at him, simply amazed.

“And,” Crowley shrugged. “I think… this is how you relax, isn’t it?”

Fell sighed, smiling up at Crowley. “Most people would indulge in a hot bath, or a bit of herb, I’m told.”

Crowley smiled, brushing his fingers down the side of Fell’s cheek. “You’re not most people.”

Fell blinked, long and slow.

Astonishing, he thought. He is simply astonishing. I’ve given him so little to work with, yet it’s as if he knows me.

“Right,” he said, softly reaching up to take Crowley’s hand. “A bit of harshness, then. I won’t hurt you, not without warning, anyway. And if ever you’re in doubt—”

“I’ll know what to do.” The expression on Crowley’s face was one of determination. There wasn’t a trace of fear.

Fell took both of Crowley’s hands in his own. “All right, then. We start now.”

“Okay,” Crowley nodded, waiting.

Fell let go of his hands, letting them fall at Crowley’s sides.

“What have I told you?” he asked, shifting into a commanding tone of voice. “I do not tolerate disrespect.”

He reached up to take hold of Crowley’s belt buckle. “Do you understand?”

Crowley gasped, nodding his head. “Y-yes, sir.”

“In the future, I hope you will consider that before you speak, rather than after.”

Crowley nodded again. “Mmm,” he hummed. “Yes.”

Fell wrenched the buckle open, quite violently, causing Crowley’s hips to pitch forward before he pivoted back onto his heels. He quickly unbuttoned the pants with deft fingers, tugging the opening apart enough to send the zipper gliding down of its own accord. All the while, his eyes stayed on Crowley’s. He appeared mildly shaken, but not afraid. Perfect.

“Right,” Fell said.

He slipped his fingers over the edge of the soft dress pants, guiding them down.

“Come closer to me,” Fell whispered.

Crowley did, without question — the only sound coming from him was the soft breath hitching in his throat. The black fabric did little to hide the obvious erection pressing insistently against the front of his briefs.

“Hmm,” Fell said, teasingly. “Having a pleasant time already, I see?”

Crowley looked askance, embarrassed. “Always.”

“Let’s get this done, then, shall we? I would much rather be rewarding you than dispensing punishment.”

Crowley cocked an eyebrow. “You sure about that?” he said, doubtful.

Fell met his eye, quietly taking in the little smirk threatening to spread across his face.

“Oh,” Fell said blithely. “You still think this is a joke? After I was so kind?”

Crowley’s eyes darted to one side. “Uhhh…”

“All right, then. We’ll see if you find this so amusing. Go back to the cabinet and bring me the tawse.”

Crowley blinked. “What?”

Fell sighed. “I think you heard what I said.” He pointed in the direction of the storage cabinet. “Go get it. Now.”

“Ah,” Crowley protested. “I’m sorry — I just—”

“My dear boy," Fell looked up at him with a burning fury, speaking in a low, measured tone. “I swear to fuck, if you make me get up and get it myself…”

Crowley tripped on the pants hanging around his knees in his urgency to get to the cabinet, kicked them off, and flung the doors open. He scrambled on the other side of the door, knocking things about, and quickly returned with the leather strap. He offered it too Fell with trembling hands.

He took it. “All right, Crowley?”

Crowley nodded a quick affirmation.

“Good. Now,” Fell said, voice even and calm. “Go and clean up the mess you made.”

With a tip of his head, he indicated a ball gag and silk scarf that had fallen onto the floor, and the cabinet doors swinging open.

“O-oh,” Crowley stammered. “S-sorry. Yes, sir.” He picked up the scattered items, placed them back on a shelf, and closed the doors carefully.

Fell sat quietly, lazily running the tails of the leather implement through his fingers.

“Now, come here,” he said, without looking up.

Presently, Crowley’s sock-clad feet appeared before him.

“Take those off,” Fell said. “And everything else.”

A desperate little gasp escaped Crowley’s lips, and when Fell looked up, there were tears pooling in the corners of his eyes.

“Puh—please,” he whimpered. “You said that was the worst thing in there.”

Fell nodded. “Arguably, yes. Though the cane is rather high on the list as well — depending on how it’s wielded.”

“Please.” Crowley slumped to the floor, bending over on hands and knees. “Please, don’t use that.”

“And why shouldn’t I?” Fell asked in a ruthlessly flat, disinterested tone. “You’ve been nothing but a mouthy, snarky little brat since I got here. It would serve you right. Sitting in my fucking desk chair — like you own the place.”

Crowley crawled forward, reaching up to place a hand on Fell’s knee. “Please,” he whined. “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean…”

“Don’t lie to me,” Fell scoffed. “You meant every word you said.”

“Yes, okay — but I was only…” He gasped for breath, tears running down his face. “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. I’ll do whatever you say. I won’t talk back.”

He was tugging on the fabric of Fell’s pants, inching closer. When Fell didn’t respond, he rested his face on Fell’s knee, rubbing his cheek against it. “Please… anything you want…”

Good God almighty, Fell thought. Where has this delightful little morsel of a man been all my life? He’s just as remorseful as he is petulant. And not a bad dramatist, either.

Fell let the tawse fall from his grip, watching it hit the floor.

Crowley looked up, meeting his eyes. His face was red and blotchy; wet with tears.

“Here is what you will do,” Fell said. “Listen carefully, because I will not repeat myself.”

There were little breathy sounds coming out of Crowley’s mouth, but he nodded eagerly.

“You will take off the remainder of your clothing, as you were already instructed to do. Do that now.”

Crowley clamored to his feet. He shrugged out of his shirt and tugged the socks off quickly, tossing them aside. He then slid free of his underwear, letting them fall to the floor. Finally, he stood up straight, looking to Fell for more instructions. His cock was rock hard in front of him, and dripping pre-come.

Perfect.

“Now,” Fell said, “You will come here, next to me.”

Again, Crowley complied without argument.

“Down. On your knees.” He took Crowley by the wrist, guiding him down with a firm grip.

“Bend over,” Fell said, pulling Crowley down and across his own lap.

“Oh,” Crowley cried, “Oh, fuck!”

“Bend over, and shut up,” Fell said, more forcefully.

“On your fucking lap?” Crowley hissed, unable to keep quiet. He was squirming, trembling under Fell’s strong grasp.

Fell reached down with his left hand, cording thick fingers through Crowley’s hair. He gave it an experimental tug, noting the sharp intake of breath he got in response. Oh yes. He pushed him back down again, pressing Crowley’s face into his own leg.

“There goes that filthy mouth again,” he said, “After all those promises you just made.”

Fell brought his right hand up to squeeze Crowley’s ass cheek. He gave it a quick slap with an open palm.

“Ahh!” Crowley cried out in surprise.

“Weren’t you ever spanked as a child, Crowley?”

“N-no…” he said, mumbling into the outside of Fell’s thigh.

“Oh, I see,” Fell said. “So, you were the spoiled brat who never suffered any real consequences for bad behavior? No wonder you can’t follow basic instructions.”

A soft, warm breath tickled against his leg, and Crowley squirmed again, his cock pressing eagerly against Fell’s right knee.

“No answer,” Fell said. “The one time I expect you to speak, and you’ve got nothing to say? How typical.”

He reached for the paddle, bringing it up to touch Crowley’s naked backside, a threat.

“Oh, fuck fuck fuck!” Crowley hissed against Fell’s leg. “Please, no please.”

The hand gripping Crowley’s hair loosened its grip slightly. Through the course of his twisting and flinching away from Fell’s grasp, Crowley’s head had dipped down past Fell’s knee to almost mid-calf — his hips rising to rest on top of his lap. His hair hung down across his face, so even glancing from the side, Fell could no longer read his reaction.

“All right?” Fell whispered, leaning down to make sure Crowley heard him. He nodded emphatically, pressing his cheek into Fell’s leg even harder. Crowley’s long, elegant fingers were pressing hard into the floor, Fell noted, holding himself up from tumbling right off in a slow somersault over his thighs.

Fell grinned. He let the soft, polished wood graze softly over Crowley’s thighs, then pulled it away, raising it overhead.

“Please, no!” Crowley wailed.

“What’s wrong, dear?” Fell purred. “Regretting your actions, now?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” He cried, his lips pressing against Fell’s left calf in his urgency to apologize. “I didn’t mean…”

“Quiet!” Fell barked, pulling hard on Crowley’s hair again. “Your intentions were quite obvious. Don’t insult my intelligence by thinking you can talk your way out of this now.” He let out a long, shuddering sigh. “Oh, but you’re right. I am getting a bit ahead of myself, aren’t I?”

He laid the paddle back down on the chaise, as he had always intended to do. One couldn’t start with the main attraction. You needed an opening act to lead the way. An appetizer before the meal.

Fell placed his hand on Crowley’s naked thigh.

“Ahh! Please!”

He made his palm flat, and slapped it hard against Crowley’s ass cheek.

“Ah!” Crowley cried.

He did it again. And again. Fell’s left hand slipped free of Crowley’s hair, going to grasp his shoulder and holding him in place, while the other blanketed his naked ass in blows just hard enough to leave his entire backside a soft blushing pink. It went on until Crowley’s cock was dripping messily, sliding up and down between Fell’s cotton twill dress pants. They would be ruined, he thought, and he could not have cared any less.

Fell squeezed his knees together, applying too much pressure to Crowley’s urgently thrusting cock.

“Oh, fuck!”

“Stop that,” Fell said.

“R-right,” Crowley shivered, his shoulder blades quivering under Fell’s solid grip. “Sorry, sir.”

Fell reached for the paddle again, testing its weight in his hand.

“Now, then,” he said, letting go of Crowley’s shoulder and reaching up to tug on his bicep. “Up, a bit.”

He repositioned Crowley, carefully guiding him backward until his chest rested on Fell’s lap again — his knees lightly grazing the floor. “You’ll lie still.”

Crowley shifted under his grasp, trembling slightly.

“I don’t suppose you have any prior experience with one of these, do you?”

Crowley turned, straining to look at the object in Fell’s hand. “N-no… Why?”

“Because dear, if you had, I don’t imagine you would have selected it.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Do you know what the holes are for?” Fell asked, holding the paddle up to admire it.

“Uhhh…” Crowley clearly didn’t.

It really was a beautiful object — coated in a slick sheen of dark varnish, staining it a deep cherry color. It was carved from hardwood — solid and brutal. Fell had commissioned it custom from a woodworking friend, years ago.

“They leave little marks all over.”

“What?!” Crowley tried to sit up, probably on instinct, Fell thought. He pressed a hand firmly between Crowley’s shoulder blades, holding him down.

“Oh, it’s quite simple physics, dear. A flat plank of wood propelled at high speed creates air displacement — slowing down the movement and reducing the force on impact. Drilling holes in the same implement prevents that problem. Faster impact — and more pain.”

Crowley made a noise that said he wasn’t much interested in the physics lesson.

“In any case,” Fell said. “When applied to bare skin, the result is rather… ehm…”

How to put this delicately?

“Well, you may be a bit polka-dotted afterwards.”

“Polka-dotted?” Crowley protested, squirming under Fell’s hand.

“Now, hush. It could be far worse, you know?”

Fell looked pointedly at the tawse where it lay on the floor, directly in Crowley’s line of sight. How could he forget when it was right there, staring him quite literally in the face?

“Mmm…” Crowley moaned. “I know.”

Fell soothed Crowley’s back, making little circles with his thumb. “Unless you need out?”

He meant, of course, unless Crowley wanted to use the safe word and end this interaction. So far, Fell had been continually stunned to find that Crowley had not uttered it even once. There had been one time, during the shibari session, when Crowley had become momentarily frightened and asked Fell to change tactics — but even then, he had insisted on continuing forward — and he had not said it.

Fell wondered now if Crowley’s reluctance to take them out of a scene, even in moments of great distress, might be related to his obvious fear of failure. He’d seen it before. There were submissives who simply refused to tap out, more averse to the idea of doing anything that might disappoint their dominant than they were to following through with an action that terrified them.

It was for this reason — and simply because Crowley was a new partner, and new to the entire concept, of course — that Fell had been quite eager to check in, so far. Even with every assurance Crowley had made, Fell made a mental note to continue this, perhaps even increasing the frequency. He didn’t want to be annoying, but he’d much prefer that over making the same mistake twice — assuming something was all right simply because Crowley hadn’t said otherwise.

“Crowley?” Fell said, when he didn’t respond. “Are we all right to continue?”

“Are you going to hurt me, now?” Crowley said in a voice so soft, Fell strained to hear.

He blinked. “Yes,” he said, remembering the promise he had made before the scene began.

I won’t hurt you, not without warning, anyway.

“Yes, this is going to hurt, dear boy — a great deal, I imagine.”

“You imagine?” Crowley said with slightly more volume, but there — the little tremble in his voice was barely noticeable. “You don’t know? You’ve never had this done to you?”

Fell breathed out a sigh, letting the tension of the scene fall away. Perhaps it would be good to pause here for a moment. Things had gotten rather intense rather quickly — and Fell found that already that tight spot between his shoulders was relaxing. He didn’t feel nearly so tired or drained, anymore.

“Yes,” he said. “I have. Quite some time since, but yes.”

Fell would never subject a partner to something he’d not been on the receiving end of himself. It was more than a bit rude, in his opinion.

He smoothed his free hand over Crowley’s back and shoulders again, petting him.

“When?” Crowley asked, and when Fell looked down, he could see his hands flexing, working out some of the tension in his body. He seemed more relaxed now, trusting that Fell wouldn’t move forward until he was ready.

“Oh,” he chuckled. “Years since. I was a young man.”

“Don’t tell me you were in a goddamn frat house?” Crowley huffed, rubbing his cheek against Fell’s leg.

“Ha, heavens no!” he laughed, bringing the paddle down and resting it on the cushion next to him. “It was a situation not unlike this one.”

“Bet he wasn’t your boss, though?” Crowley said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice now.

Fell tilted his head to one side, remembering. “Actually, she was, at the time.”

“Oh?” Crowley’s voice shot up in surprise.

“Well,” Fell chuckled. “It was a… very different line of work — somewhat to be expected.”

Crowley appeared to consider this. “Where were you working that this was expected?”

“Well, wouldn’t you like to know?” Fell replied, a bit snottily. “What’s gotten into you? Twenty questions all of a sudden.”

“S-sorry. I just…” Crowley said, breathing out a sigh. “Right. Go on, then.”

Fell rolled his eyes, curled his left hand under Crowley’s bicep, and guided him upwards into a sitting position, settling him on the lounge. Crowley looked up, his eyes wide.

“I said...”

“I heard what you said, dear,” said Fell. “We’re taking a moment.”

He sighed, bringing his hands together and cracking his knuckles.

“To tell you the truth, Crowley, any implement is only as painful as the person wielding it intends it to be — assuming they know what they’re doing.”

He leaned down, picking up the tawse in his left hand. He handed it to Crowley.

“Here,” he said. “Get a feel for it. Just a bit of animal hide — it’s not going to bite you.”

Crowley took the object in his outstretched hands, letting the leather tails slide across his skin.

“It can just as easily offer a caress as a blow,” said Fell. “No different from the riding crop; remember that?”

Crowley nodded, looking somewhat awed.

“The paddle is the same. It’s smooth, cool to the touch. Slick, a bit like..." he shrugged, "Like a nice piece of antique furniture.”

“Well, fuck,” said Crowley. “Don’t think I’ll ever look at an end table quite the same way again…”

Fell laughed softly. “They’re all just objects,” he said. “Tell me, how did you really feel when I threatened you with this?”

He took the tawse from Crowley’s hands, holding it up.

“Terrified,” Crowley said.

“Truly?” Fell asked. “You weren’t putting all that on?” Fell raised his eyebrows expectantly.

Crowley blushed, looking away. “Only a little.”

“Well. As long as the excitement is genuine, too.”

Crowley rolled his eyes. “Have you seen my cock? Last ten minutes, or so?”

Fell shook his head, chuckling to himself.

“Pretty sure there’s more than a little excitement mixed in there, too, yeah,” Crowley scoffed.

“All right,” said Fell. “Anyway, all of this is nothing more than theater, my dear. Anticipation, fear, and arousal are all related — your mind is hurtling ten steps ahead of your body, thinking — oh, god, what’s he going to do to me, next?”

Fell leaned in, taking Crowley’s chin in one hand. “If you trust that I’m not truly going to hurt you, not beyond your threshold anyway… we can have a lot of fun, here. But of course, first, we’ve got to figure where that threshold is. Everyone is different.”

“Right,” Crowley said, letting out a little sigh.

“And,” said Fell, catching his eye and offering a pointed gaze. “You are always encouraged to use that safe word if you need to. You’re not to soldier on if you really need out. Understand?”

Crowley shook his head free of Fell’s grasp, annoyed. “Do you think I’m so weak—”

“No, Crowley,” said Fell, sighing. “That is precisely the point. It isn’t weakness to know your own boundaries—”

“All right,” Crowley snapped. “Then trust that I know them, and get on with it!”

A charged silence fell over the room, the only sound that of Crowley’s ragged breathing.

“Right,” said Fell, his own voice a bit breathy. “Come here.”

Crowley moved on his own, this time. Sliding off the edge of the chaise, he reached for the paddle and offered it to Fell, holding it out in both hands. Then he went down on his knees, arranged himself over Fell’s lap, and didn’t so much as flinch when Fell placed his free hand flat on his back, pinning him down once more.

Fell took a deep breath, sighing heavily. And there it was, the unmistakable energy coursing through him — that rare sensation that only accompanied a partner who submitted fully, freely, with no fear.

Crowley trusted him. Crowley was trusting him. Fell held that trust in one hand, and to stray too far from the outlined path would mean shattering that trust, fledgling, fragile thing that it was.

He would not.

“All right, Crowley,” he said, voice soft. “Let’s begin.”

He started light, not wanting to push too hard, too fast. Relatively soft, gentle taps of the paddle led to harder blows, little whomping sounds coming with each strike.

“How are we doing?” Asked Fell.

Crowley, who had remained nearly silent until now, gritted his teeth. “Harder, please.”

Fell raised an eyebrow, somewhat taken aback. “You’re sure?”

“Yes! I can take it,” Crowley squirmed, clearly eager for more contact.

Fell shifted his weight, placing his free hand at the base of Crowley’s spine. As he did, Crowley’s throbbing cock rubbed against his leg, causing the other man to let out a little whimper.

“All right, dear,” Fell said. “Here it comes.”

The paddle hit the thickest part of Crowley’s ass cheeks harder than it had yet done — causing his hips to press forward into Fell’s leg. He let out a noise that started as a cry of pain and finished in a broken moan, his rigid cock sliding against Fell’s leg again.

“Good?” Fell checked.

“Yes!” Crowley all but screamed.

He drew the paddle back, delivering another, even more powerful stroke.

Crowley buried his face in the underside of Fell’s thigh, curling his body around the curve of his legs. His right arm had worked its way around Fell’s calf, and he clutched a fistful of pant leg with white knuckled fingers. The other hand had gone to Fell’s side, slipped underneath his waistcoat, and was now gripping the fabric of his shirt. Already, he had nearly dislodged it from where it was tucked smartly into Fell’s pants.

Another blow of the paddle left Crowley gasping, little moans coming from the back of his throat.

“Please, please, oh fuck!” He cried, his hips rocking into Fell’s leg even more insistently than before.

“More?” Fell asked. “Have you had enough yet, dear boy?”

“No!” Crowley shouted, bucking his hips again and scrubbing his cheek against the soft fabric of Fell’s pant leg. “Please, punish me, Mister Fell!”

Dear God.

“I deserve it!” Crowley wailed. “Please! More!”

Fell continued, delivering blow after blow against Crowley’s backside until it was flushed a dark pink color, little round marks popping out on the skin.

“Honestly,” he said in a cruel, disgusted tone. “How much of this is it going to take to satisfy you? Greedy little monster!”

Crowley let out some new kind of strangled noise, and came against Fell’s leg.

“Fu—” he cried out, biting off the end of the curse with a gasp that truncated in a whimper, his face pressed hard into Fell’s side. “Fuck, fuck! I’m s-sorry!”

Fell landed one last blow on Crowley’s ass, and hurled the paddle to the floor with some force.

He scooted back to sit against the wall, pulling Crowley up into his arms. He turned him so that he was cradled between Fell’s legs, laid on his side against his body. Crowley was quaking under his touch, letting out soft little sobs, trembling.

“Shhhh,” he cupped Crowley’s face in one hand, turning it to look up at him. “There, now.”

His other hand went to Crowley’s cock, stroking it gently with one finger where it lay, now placidly quiet against his thigh. It was slick with come, the rest of which was spread all over Crowley’s belly and the inside of his thighs. No small amount of it was also stuck to Fell’s pant leg, but he paid no mind to that.

He held Crowley’s chin in place, not allowing him to look away. “I suppose we’re quite done then?” he asked softly.

Crowley’s face was radiant and warm to the touch.

“Hnggg…” Crowley groaned, closing his eyes.

Good God, he looks so beautiful. Ruined and complacent. How could I ever say no to this face? Is there anything I would deny him, here? Like this?

He was treading on dangerous ground already, and he well knew it. The way Crowley responded so perfectly — running headlong into whatever Fell offered with such open enthusiasm — it was so goddamn compelling. Enough to tempt even the strongest resolve.

“You’re quite finished, dear?” He asked, brushing his thumb over Crowley’s bottom lip. “Or so it appears?”

Crowley huffed a ragged sigh, pulling away from Fell’s grip. He let him go, and watched as Crowley buried his face in the soft fabric of his shirt.

“Sorry,” he whimpered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

“Wha—” Fell said, startled. “Now, whatever is the matter?”

Crowley let out something that sounded like choked laughter.

“You were right about me,” he said, sounding miserable. “I don’t have any self-control.”

And oh, there it was. That soft flutter in his chest that said, ‘Hold him. Protect him. Tell him it’s all right.’

“Ah,” Fell said. “That’s quite all right, dear. You did very well.”

He lay a hand over the back of Crowley’s head, stroking his soft red hair. The little curls that fell at just the nape of his neck, soft natural waves — so lovely. It really was quite beautiful — he thought — not for the first time.

In fact, it was one of the first things he had noticed. Red hair swishing across the other end of the boardroom, a stack of portfolios with legs. Black, too tight pants. But that hair. He liked how Crowley pulled half of it back in little ties, sometimes, letting the rest fall loose to frame his face. He was objectively an attractive man, Fell thought. It was truly incredible how little self-awareness he seemed to possess on that fact.

And then quite all at once, he felt the full weight of his eyelids beginning to press down.

“Crowley…” he murmured, leaning heavily against the wall and glad for its support.

Crowley raised his head enough to look up at him. He looked rather sleepy too, the typical post-coital exhaustion settling into the lines of his face. “Yeah?”

“Oh dear, it seems… I…” He shook his head, fighting sleep. “Terribly sorry. I fear I’m quite…”

He blinked, and found that when he opened his eyes again, Crowley was looking at him with understanding.

“My dear boy, I’m afraid I’m quite knackered,” he said.

Crowley smiled. He shifted backward, untangling himself from Fell’s limbs, and stood.

“You’ve had a busy day,” he said, cradling Fell’s legs and turning him to lay longwise on the chaise lounge. “You ought to have that kip, now, I think.”

“N-no—” Fell protested. “Crowley, you’re hurt. I’ve got to—”

“Oh, I’m fine,” Crowley said, reaching for one of the throw pillows and tucking it under Fell’s head. “You just sleep.”

“No, but,” Fell tried to argue, but already his eyes had once more fallen closed, and this time all the willpower inside him was not enough to open them again. “I can’t just leave you without… care… Crowley.”

“Shhhh,” Crowley said, his voice coming from across the room now. “I’ll live. Sleep.”

“But, Crowley…” he said, sounding half-drunk even to his own ears. “You’re not… you’re really not a…” he murmured, quickly losing his grasp on the room around him.

He could hear the rustling of fabric as Crowley pulled a blanket over him, leaning close to his face. “I’m not a what?”

“You’re not really a… greedy little... monster.”

As sleep took him, he thought he heard Crowley say, “Wanna bet?”

***