I wake up in the dark, a few hours after I've fallen asleep. Outside the sky is still black, but it feels closer to dawn than midnight. When I turn my head to the left I find Bella still soundly asleep, wrapped in almost every scrap of duvet available, but the far side of the bed is empty. For a moment I wonder if Jazz simply got cold feet and ran, but then I remember that most times during the last few weeks when I got home at crazy hours in the night I've found him awake, insomnia keeping him bound to zapping through late night tv shows.
When trying to go back to sleep fails I get up instead, moving slowly and as silently as possible as I dress, trying not to wake Bella. My assumption about Jasper's whereabouts are verified when I step into the short hallway at the top of the stairs, finding the room below illumined by the flickering lights from the tv.
On my way down I pick up several pieces of clothing that none of us has cared to carry into the hamper yet – I have to retrieve Bella's tank top from one of the overhead lights by jumping up and down two times – and of course my entry doesn't go unnoticed. Jazz looks up from where he has been frowning at a re-run of some 70s cop show, the bad lighting making it impossible for me to read the look on his face.
"Can't sleep?" I prompt unnecessarily, getting a shrug in return.
"Not really. Figured I'd better go before I wake either of you up with my tossing and turning. Seems to have been only moderately successful.
"Don't worry, I rarely sleep for more than five consecutive hours. Working at the hospital has seriously screwed up my circadian rhythm."
He nods, then turns back to the tv, but after a few seconds grabs the remote and shuts it off. Standing there in silence in the dark feels a little awkward so I turn on the reading lamp at the end of the couch, the low, gentle light casting more shadows than lighting the room properly.
When Jazz makes no move to get up I sit down on the other side of the couch from him, still feeling a tad awkward for a moment, but that passes quickly. He snorts softly and shakes his head as if to rid himself of a similar feeling, and I relax a little more. We share a grin and the residual tension is gone, leaving us both feeling more comfortable around each other than we've been in a long, long time.
"There's no easy way to ask this, so in the spirit of being blunt, just how pissed at me are you still?" he breaks the silence eventually. Looking at me with a guilty smile that's part real regret and part his usual charming self, he goes on when I just quirk one eyebrow. "I'm not beyond groveling, you know, but I'd really like to know where we stand. I don't want to come off as a jerk by seeming like I don't give a shit, nor do I want to drag everything into forced niceties territory. Just give me a hint about where in that spectrum I should be right now."
I give that some thought, mostly to humor him, before I can't hold a chuckle back in. He looks irritated at first but then joins in, shaking his head.
"Man, I know just how soap opera that sounds! But seriously, what shall I do?"
"Just be yourself," I reply sagely, then snort and go back on that. "Just your non-deceiving, not too much of an asshole kind of self. And no grand gestures, those really never work out."
He nods, agreeing with me, before he turns the motion into a shrug.
"Well, you asking Bella if she'd marry you kind of did work out for you."
I chuckle, shaking my head.
"Last time I checked we're not engaged anymore, whatever the fuck that even means, so I'm sure there are a lot of women between ages five to a hundred who would disagree with you."
"You're still together, madly in love, apparently both secure enough in your relationship to fuck the same guy, and in Bella's case, abuse me as a bed warmer, to me that sounds a long way towards 'working out', if you ask me."
"True," I admit, then snicker at his way of summing things up. "It's just words anyway. For us. But I really mean it when I say, just be yourself.
We've seen you at your best and worst plenty of times and still find it in ourselves to like you, so just don't deliberately fuck up and we'll be good."
"That easy, huh?"
"Or that hard. Depends on how you see it."
Jazz looks down at his hands then as if to avoid my gaze for a while.
"I know I've said it before, but I'm really sorry for what I did. And I'm insanely grateful that you're both willing to give me that chance to make it up to you and earn your trust back."
"That's what friends are for."
My answer is a deliberate choice of words, and I gauge his reaction carefully, but he doesn't even bat an eyelash. I'm glad that so far what he's said all seems to have been the truth, although my ego may not agree with that a hundred percent. Moving on before I can feel stupid I steer the topic to safer waters.
"Anyway, so I take it you have no regrets about what we did?"
"Not really, no," he admits, then chuckles as if he is laughing at himself.
"Except for me feeling as if I've stumbled from one thing to the next. Guess that showed?"
"Kinda," I scoff good naturedly, but try to take the sting out of it with a grin.
"But that's part of the fun, at least for me. I don't think Bella has any protests, either. She obviously felt a lot more at ease with you not treating her with kid gloves that much."
He sends me a quizzical looks, then laughs again.
"It's kind of creepy how much you notice during sex, you know that?"
I take that as a compliment.
"Practice. Couldn't do what I like to do if I can't keep enough brain power to catch on to something as obvious as you trying not to appear like it still bothers you a little when you grab her hair and shove your cock down her throat, while she's moaning like she's inwardly high-fiving herself."
He nods at that, but a hint of doubt is plain on his face.
"Makes sense. Although it's kind of intimidating. Having to be that in control of myself and everything, really, as a dominant. I mean, you've told me that a hundred times but it's never really gotten through to me before."
"It makes a difference to just know on the one hand, and picture yourself in the situation," I retort, then can't keep from laughing with a hint of derision.
"Sorry, but it's kind of funny for me to see you squirm about something you looked down at me for just a short while ago."
Jazz has the grace to look a little appalled, but he doesn't protest. Instead he inclines his head, then scratches his chin.
"Speaking of that, my previous thick-headedness aside, would you be willing to show me a few things?"
"As Bella so correctly said, I'd love to. In the end it will be easier this way anyway."
"What do you mean?"
I take a deep breath, trying to find the right words to explain.
"Things have become more fluent between us of late. It would be hard for her and me both to go back to keeping sex and play separate again now.
I'm not sure we could even do it, and I don't think either of us would even want to try. Including you as a more active part into that balance will be easier than having to always keep track of your reactions."
He nods, not quite able to hide his excitement, but then his enthusiasm falters a little.
"Being a little rough with her is one thing, but I don't know just how far I feel comfortable going with her. I know that I can't really hurt her without freaking out, and I'm not sure I can even watch you making her cry or something like that."
At least he's honest, although his words still make him seem like a hypocrite to me.
"You know I would never do anything to her that she doesn't want?"
"That's not the point," he hurries to explain. "It's not about her, it's about me. In my mind the need to protect her is too ingrained for that. And I'm not saying I'm going to get between you two if you decide to do something like that, just that I don't want to be a part of it. What Bella said last night really made me think. About me just walking out, you know?"
"Okay. I'm sure we'll find a way to make that work."
I have to admit, part of me is glad about his admission, and my selfish side definitely approves of not even having to voice my need to sometimes be alone with her. I don't know if it will still be the case, but in the past Bella has always behaved differently when he has been around, and in the playroom I can't have her second-guessing her own reactions. It's my job to make sure she doesn't have to, after all.
For once an amicable kind of silence settled between us, and it takes a little while for Jazz to pick up the thread again.
"You know, if neither of us had ever left home to go to college, I think chances would have been good that Bella and I would have ended up together. I still don't think I could ever be 'in love' with her, but we've been close for so long, there are worse matches made that hold for a lifetime."His words grate a little, but I know how he means them. It's an explanation, one he'd probably never voice anywhere she could hear, but it makes sense. The way he's looking at me shows that he knows how I must feel about that and he's clearly waiting for a reaction, but I hesitate until the primal caveman in me has managed to go back to where he belongs – my subconscious – before I answer."But you did go to college, and things changed.""For the better, if you ask me. The thought of having Charlie for a father-in-law is scary." Then he stops, grimacing. "Which reminds me that eventually he'll find out that I'm screwing his little Bella girl, and I'm so not looking forward to that day.""I don't think any of us is," I snort. "Then again just letting Bella blurt that out, then get in his face for even attempting to tell her how to live her life could be worth the years of glares we'll both get.""Dude, you've never really been on the receiving end of her self-righteous rage! You have no idea how scary she can get!" he grunts, then shakes his head, laughing. "Okay, now I feel like a real moron. She really doesn't need me to take care of herself. Probably never did. Maybe I've always been the one to need it?" he ends up musing. I hold my tongue although I silently agree.When he remains lost in thought I get up to grab a glass of water, smiling when I catch him hiding a yawn on my return."You know, we can always go back to bed," I offer jokingly, but he just scoffs."Yeah, right. But I'm not tired.""That yawn just said something entirely different. As do the dark circles under your eyes.""Still doesn't mean that I could actually fall asleep. Although coming twice after weeks of not even being able to get myself off kind of helped." Jazz grins sheepishly at me, but before I can make a cheesy and probably stupid comment, he goes on. "So, how are we going to do this, you teaching me stuff? I still don't think I can really submit to you. Without faking I mean, and you're too observant for me to pull that off anyway. And before you scoff at me again, I still remember you telling me once that a good Dom spends his time on the receiving end of things before he ever picks up the whip."The way he squirms is almost adorable, and for a moment I'm tempted to see if I could actually push him into giving that a try, but I'm not that ready to set myself up for failure."Being on the receiving end doesn't mean you have to submit to me."The way his brows rise is nearly comical, but I do my best not to grin at him too brightly."And just how should that work then?""Well, for starters we don't have to play or act in role for you to try things.We can keep chatting about the latest xbox games while I tie you up and suspend you head down, feet up from the ceiling of the playroom so you see for yourself just how much that position messes with your ability to think straight because of the blood rushing to your head, or just how much your own body weight can hurt you if you don't get the ties right. But submitting is a psychological thing, a mind game two people play; I only need you to bottom for me."I let that sink in for a moment before I launch into my explanation."I know some people think it's only semantics, that whole spiel with submitting versus bottoming, dominating versus topping, and it's beyond me to draw clear lines, but there's a huge difference in the end for the people involved. It's basically what Bella meant when she said she could never see you as her Dom, but she's happy to act in a submissive manner towards you. And that's the most I would ever ask of you in that matter, to let me take control of you – physically only – for a limited amount of time.How much you enjoy it, and how much your mind will let you slip into that role and add an additional psychological layer for you, I can't say."He still looks less than convinced, so I decide to just show him."How about a more hands-on example?""Sure."Trying hard not to grin I catch his gaze, then force myself to lose all the friendly playfulness that has been in the foreground of our conversation the whole time."Get up and strip."Jazz looks a little perplexed but after a moment's hesitation he obeys, shedding his clothes without a word of protest. I'm amused to see that he's getting hard already, although the cool temperature of the room is obviously taking its toll, too. I remain seated, even lean back in a relaxed manner as I look up at him where he's standing naked before me, physically imposing but not in the least bit towering over me.Tuning my voice to a more conversational timbre, I ask him the quintessential question."Why did you just do that?"He blinks, then even looks a little pissed, but his uncertainty about my motives is so obvious."Uh, because you asked me to?""Sure, but was that your only driving force? I mean, what made you get up and strip?""I guess I wanted to fulfill your expectation? You get kind of compelling when you switch over into Dom mode like that."I snort, but don't comment on that."But no other reason? Not to please me or some crap like that?"I chose my words carefully to make it easier for him to catch on, and of course he does then."Nope. I mean, how should seeing me naked please you? I'm not that much of a narcissist to believe that the sight of my Greek God physique has that effect on anybody."This time it's hard not to grin, but I somehow manage."Are you sure about that? Not about the effect part, I mean, about your action not pleasing me?""Call me daft, but I just don't see it."Extending my arms onto the backrest of the couch, I shrug."Maybe. But you keep telling me that you don't want to submit to me, and still you jump and do exactly what I say. You obey, you willingly take a first step to give me control over you and your actions, whether you do that actively knowing or not."Again he's confused, but now in a different way."It can't be that easy."Now I can't hold back that laugh anymore, but before he can get in my face for that, I make my tone turn stern again."Go over to the window, lean against it with your palms flat against the glass, legs spread. Then hold still."It's funny to watch him snap to following my order, then shake his head just before he turns his back on me to look out into the night between where his hands rest. I get up slowly then and walk up to his back, in passing shutting the light off. Stopping behind him so that I'm close but not touching him I remain standing in silence, letting my eyes get accustomed to the darkness. A light shiver runs through him but he keeps still otherwise, not a muscle in his broad back twitching.It takes surprising restraint from me not to let my hands run over the expanse of naked flesh and muscle. Not in a loving gesture, but simply to physically admire and explore, a testament of the fact that he's wrong if he really thinks that seeing him naked doesn't have an effect on me.When I finally do touch him it is a very deliberate gesture, and one without gentleness. I manage not to accidentally stroke his abdomen as I reach around him and wrap my left hand around his cock, immediately squeezing a little to make the gesture appear even more deliberate. He's completely hard now, and I feel his hips buck forward instinctively before he stops himself, remembering my command.I pump his cock once, the fact that my palm is as dry as his cock making the action not entirely comfortable for him, before I stop and squeeze again, a little harder this time."Any doubts now that I'm in control of you?"He shakes his head without hesitating, and over the reflection I see him open his mouth in an automatic impulse to respond verbally. But there he stops, a hint of a lopsided grin coming to his face as he utters a simple,"No."I'm tempted to swat his ass for the deliberate insult, but if I can only establish my dominance with force and threats I'm not worthy of it in the first case. Instead of reprimanding him, I continue with my explanation."Both the top and bottom have expectations. The top's are easy to grasp –all he's asking for is to be obeyed. The bottom, on the other hand, comes with a whole slew. He expects that his needs are met, the obvious as the hidden ones alike; he expects that the top knows just what to ask of him, how far he's willing to go, he wants to be entertained, challenged, rewarded, and all of that without feeling like he was actually demanding anything in the first place. A true prissy princess, if you ask me."I stress my words with another squeeze of my hand, only letting up when I hear him utter a soft grunt of discomfort. He's still just as hard as before, so I don't change my tactic."In turn, things are reversed when it comes to responsibility. The bottom only has one responsibility, and that is to communicate, both verbally and using more primitive means to convey how he's feeling and reacting to something. The top has to ensure the mental and physical safety of them both, has to gauge the bottom's reaction right so he only demands something that is within the limits of the bottom; he has to put the bottom's needs above his own, even if that means not getting any real physical satisfaction out of the situation, although that very rarely happens. He's expected to be in control, and also seem in control the whole time, and he should be able to pull all that off without appearing like he's indulging the bottom. He can't fail and he can't make mistakes because they affect them both and inadvertently damage and abuse the bottom's trust. He has to know what can go wrong to avoid it, and he has to be flexible enough not to let the bottom feel like he has failed when accidents happen or the bottom needs to use the safeword. You see, it only takes a little willingness to be a bottom, but a lot of work to be a top."I let go of his cock then, but before he can get the wrong idea I hold my hand up to his chin.