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As the bright lights of Hollywood dim, futures, relationships, and identities are thrown into question. The once successful television show, Ben's Life, is in big trouble. For Steve Michaels, the director, in a long-term Dom/sub relationship with Zack Greene, the lead actor, this means impending unemployment.
Through training Josh as their domestic slave, coupled with the care he received during recovery from a debilitating car accident, Steve opens himself up to role reversal in his relationship with Zack. The occasional release of control on Steve's part, and Zack's adeptness at taking it, grants them freedom and stability to meet challenges as a unit.
But when the life they had planned is put in jeopardy by one phone call, Steve and Zack will need to expand the safe haven they've created together to include one more. Priorities shift and a different light shines the way to new beginnings.
Zack ran his fingers through his sweat-laden hair the next morning after his run. As he was about to open the fridge for his bottle of water, Josh appeared from around the corner and handed it to him. “Um� thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Good morning. I hope you slept well. Did you have a nice run? I made coffee.” Josh bounced from one foot to the other.
“Yes, I see that. How much did you drink?” Zack asked, finishing the cold water and throwing the bottle away.
“Oh, I made another pot. And don’t worry, I washed the mug I drank out of, twice. Would you like to check?”
“I’m good.”� Zack shook his head and rubbed his eyes. When he opened them, Josh’s hungry stare darted between Zack’s naked torso and the counter. Great. This going to work out so well. “Is Steve up?”
“Not yet. Should I wake him?” Josh asked.
“No, I’ll get him. Thanks, though.” Zack poured coffee into the waiting mugs. Josh hadn’t taken his eyes off of Zack. It started to creep him out. He grabbed the two mugs off the counter and turned to go upstairs, but Josh touched his arm.
“What about breakfast?”
“It depends on when we’re ready to go. Sometimes we eat there.” Zack ascended the steps, trying to forget that Josh watched every step he took. “Hey,� are you still sleeping?”
“I was,” Steve grunted from under the covers.
“Do you know how late it is?” Zack sat on the bed, pulled the covers down and held them at Steve’s waist, accepting the look of death he was shot. With a smile, he handed his boyfriend one of the mugs of coffee.
“No, but I bet you’re going to tell me.” Steve sat and let the blankets collect on his lap. He sipped the coffee, tilted his head to the side and drank it again. “Coffee’s different today.”
“Better?” Zack asked.
Steve shook his head. “Just different.”
“Josh made it, after he drank a full pot himself.” Zack stood after sniffing his underarms. The shower had been elevated to emergency level. Steve, however, was no closer to getting out of bed. “It’s six forty-five. If you’re not there on time, you can’t yell at actors for being late. Why don’t you shower with me?” Pushing the covers the rest of the way off, Steve followed Zack to the bathroom and leaned against the doorframe, barely opening his eyes, while Zack turned on the water. “Are you okay?” Zack asked as he dropped his clothes on the floor.
“I didn’t sleep well. But, yes, I’m fine.” Steve propelled himself away from the door to use the bathroom.
Zack furrowed his brow with concern. The only time Steve had struggled to sleep was the week after his accident. He got in the shower when the toilet flushed.
“Why couldn’t you sleep?”
Steve stepped in and kissed Zack’s lips lightly. “Just over thinking.”
“Me, too. Let’s not for a while.” Zack kissed back, and they took a quiet shower, which unfortunately did nothing to assuage the stress because it took longer than it should have and they had to skip breakfast.
Steve ended rehearsal a few minutes early so Zack might come talk to him before he and Amy had to go to their press conference. So far, though, nothing. He got up from his chair, about to talk to Zack, and swung the door open only to find his boss, standing on the other side. “Hey, Tyler.”
“Hey, got a minute, Steve?” Tyler smiled as Steve stepped aside.
“Always,” Steve replied. He’d have to catch up with Zack later.
“I didn’t know if you were going to the press conference. You seemed to be in a rush.”
“Uh, no, unless I was supposed to?”
Tyler walked in and shut the door behind him. “I’m pretty sure they have this one taken care of. Sit. Sit. Let’s talk.”
Steve sat across from him. “This is about the ratings, isn’t it?”
“Guess you’ve been watching them, too.”
“I bet we’re not the only two watching, either.” The scabbing under Steve’s makeup started to itch. Because he couldn’t scratch, Steve dug his fingernails into his palm, which sometimes distracted him enough to lessen the sensation.
Tyler swept the hair out of his face and gave a laugh. “If only we were. According to the studio, we need to see a fifty percent in ratings increase for the one hundredth episode and one hundred percent increase by the season finale, or else� it’ll be the series finale.”
“You’re using a lot of numbers to tell me we’re screwed, Ty.”
Though the itching hadn’t decreased, Steve held his hands out in the begging position, but Tyler didn’t explain, so Steve asked, “The one hundredth episode is airing in two weeks. Where are we going to pick up a few million extra viewers in that time frame?”
“Well, you know winter hiatus starts next week for a month. If you, Zack, Amy, and Carlos are willing to give up your vacation time to do a publicity tour, the studio thinks it’ll help.”
“I’m in, and I can say the same for Zack, but I can’t speak for Carlos and Amy. With Carlos’s kids it might be harder for him to up and leave.” Steve sent a silent prayer to anyone who wanted to listen that Zack would agree.
Tyler leaned forward and said, “This is really important. We need all three of them. It’s a Hail Mary pass, anyway.”
“It’s not that I don’t get the urgency, but I can’t force them to give up vacation time.”
“Force? No. You do, however, have fantastic powers of persuasion with these actors. Please, Steve, you’re our only�”
“Hope? Were you about to quote Star Wars?” Steve and Tyler laughed together. “Number one, they listen to you just fine. Number two, all either of us needs to do is tell them how dire the situation is and I’m sure they’ll make it happen, or try.”
“Do or do not, there is no try,” Tyler said, still smiling. “They listen to me because they have to, with you it’s different. The whole cast and crew respect you implicitly. I mean, look what you’ve done with Zack in the past five years. At the beginning of the show, there was no way he would have been talking to the media live. He isn’t the same person as he was back then.”
No, he isn’t. “Could have come with age,” Steve said, though he knew that wasn’t it.
“Not under anyone else’s direction. But, to address your second point, the studio would prefer we not tell the actors how bad the ratings are.”
Steve lost his smile. “Why?”
“They feel it will hurt morale. If the cast and crew know the danger the show is in, they may not work as hard,” Tyler answered.
“I disagree. If people knew how close they were to being out of a job, they’d pick up the slack.”
Tyler shook his head. “It’s nothing anyone on set has any control over. The acting, directing, costuming, are all fine. The problems seem to lie in trends, competing slots, and the writing.”
Steve sighed. “Anything we can do about the writing?”
“That’s why we’re trying the pregnancy storyline with Amy.”
“Sorry, but after five years, there’s no way fans will believe Emilio slept with her, even if he did have the collar on,” Steve referenced the end of the 100th episode, right before Ben, Zack’s character, gets the collar back from his best friend, Emilio, Carlos’s character, Emilio sleeps with Melody, Ben’s girlfriend.
“People do crazy things when given power.” Tyler shrugged. “So, can you convince them?”
“I think so� I don’t feel good about not giving the full story, though. If for no other reason than the media has the numbers and can easily share during interviews. Then they’ll know we lied.”
“Not a lie if they never ask.”
Wringing his hands and wishing for this conversation to be over so he could go home and wash his face, Steve said, “They aren’t just going to jump in a bus to do a publicity tour without a reason.”
“Plane, it’s in New York.”
“Still. I need a reason beyond ‘it would make me really happy if you’ll do this.’” Steve laughed again. “I’m not even sure that’ll work on Zack.”
“Tell them the numbers are lower than we’d like, no need to go into specifics.” Tyler checked his watch and stood. “I need to get home. Email me tomorrow with their answer, please. We’ll get the hotels and TV spots set up.”
Steve agreed, and headed for home.
Zack cringed as he rolled his knotted shoulders back when he entered the house a little after seven. He and Steve needed to discuss work and specifics with Josh. The tension in his shoulders extended to his neck and back as he passed the kitchen. “Hi, Josh.”
“Zack! Why would you do that?” Josh threw his hands up, dropping the mushrooms for the pizza.
“Huh?” Zack scratched his head in confusion.
“At the press conference� you� with the girl! How could you?”
“No! Melody. She’s pregnant and you said ‘oops.’ Who’s Amy?” Josh mixed red sauce together with violent movements.
Waving his hand, Zack said, “My character is involved with hers. Her character, Melody, is pregnant, the ‘oops’ was a joke. Is Steve home?”
“He’s waiting for you upstairs. I hope you take whatever punishment he gives you and be grateful Steve is even willing to talk to you.”
“What are you talking about, Josh? What do you know about my punishment?” Zack’s voice rose along with his anger. If Steve was discussing their relationship that intimately, they’d really have problems.
“I know you deserve it for cheating on him! I thought you were better than that, Zack.”
“Josh! Enough,” Steve called from upstairs. “Please come upstairs, love.”
Zack’s body felt heavy as he ascended the steps.
As soon as he made it to their bedroom, Steve shut the door, enveloped him in a hug and pressed their lips together. “My god, you’re tense,” he whispered.
“It’s been a long day,” Zack responded, almost wanting to cry from the relief of the embrace.
“Yes, it has. Would you let me help?” Steve tugged up Zack’s shirt.
Looking him in the eye, Zack said, “I’m not in the mood for sex. I’ll deal with a spanking, but�”
Steve cut his words with a finger to Zack’s lips. “Please, allow me to make it better. No spanking, just love.”
Zack took his shirt off and stepped away to sit on the bed and remove his boots and socks. Another glance up found Steve watching him. Worry painted over his features. “What?”
“We have a few things to talk about.” Steve motioned Zack over, unbuttoned and unzipped Zack’s fly, and pushed his jeans to the floor.
“You, too, then?” Zack added the inflection to make it a request. He answered the confusion expressed by the dark, cocked eyebrow by pulling Steve’s shirt over his head. “If we’re going to talk about the important stuff, I’d like to do it on as equal of a level as we can. One of us naked while the other is completely clothed won’t accomplish that.”
After a moment of consideration, Steve undressed himself and said, “Lay face down.”
Zack kissed him again, running his fingers through Steve’s dark hair, which framed his face and covered his torso. He smiled softly when he noticed the makeup gone from Steve’s scar. He liked that his love was comfortable enough to not hide from him. Turning away, Zack lay on the bed, the silk comforter stimulating his naked body. The resulting arousal showed his fatigue by leaving as soon as it appeared.
Steve fished cooling massage gel out of the bedside table. Instead of opening it, however, he set it on the bed and knelt next to Zack. His fingers kneaded the back of Zack’s head. “This is kind of hard for me to say, so please just listen, okay?” Zack nodded as Steve moved to his neck, interestingly, going around and under his collar, barely touching it.
Zack exhaled as Steve broke through the wall of tension with the heel of his hands and spread the soothing menthol over Zack’s shoulders and the top of his back. If they had all their ‘important discussions’ this way, Zack would be far more eager to have them.
“I missed you today, love. I know you were with me all day, but you weren’t, not really.” Taking Zack’s bicep, Steve freed his right arm from the tightness, and repeated the process on the left.
“I tried to do my scenes well.”
“Your work was fine. I just missed you, we normally hang out at lunch and during breaks.”
“I didn’t know what to say. My mind’s been on Josh all day, and between that and work, my brain was fried.” Zack trailed off as Steve continued the massage to the middle of his back.
Zack’s muscles contracted when Steve grazed the top of his butt. “Hey, stop, babe, I’m not trying to arouse you. You’re tired and stressed. I get it. Spread your legs for me.”
Zack’s compliance was rewarded with his partner kneading over his lower cheeks. “Steve, do you want this thing with Josh? Forget for a second what he needs. It’s a lot to take on if we don’t want to.”
“Do you?” Steve countered, advancing down Zack’s body as they spoke. A pause as Steve varied movements over Zack’s calves.
�Zack flipped around. Steve’s eyes bore into his own. His nude, kneeling form gave the impression of vulnerability, almost� submission. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that,” Zack said.
Steve took Zack’s feet, massaging until his body held no more of the day’s stress. He then lay on his side next his partner, and said, “If you’re willing to, there’s no reason you can’t be trained to take on more of a leadership role with him. You’ve grown a lot in the last few years, Zack.”
Hugging Steve, Zack asked, “What about us? Would we change?”
“Would you be opposed to that?”
“I don’t know� I like our relationship. Everything about it.” Zack started squirming.
Steve stilled him with another hug and kiss. “My love, please calm down. We won’t do anything you don’t want or enjoy, you know that. I’m not talking about giving up our structure. Actually, we’d be going a little deeper into it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Why would you? I’m figuring it out as I explain it.” Steve chuckled and thumbed Zack’s face. “If you’re going to take on a dominate role with Josh, there are some things I’m going to have to show you. Now, we can call it strictly training, but doing so would serve nothing, except my ego.” A spark of excitement flared in Zack’s heart at Steve’s suggestion, which he sealed in with a kiss. “I trust you, to the same degree I ask you to trust me. So, if you want, we can try switching roles, sometimes.”
The spark grew to a flame that warmed Zack’s body. Anymore talk would mar the words already said.� He instead responded by holding Steve close.