Negotiate

Christian stared at Anastasia, paralyzed. She was hardly the first Submissive to know that he'd once subbed for Elena - almost all of them had met Elena - but none of them knew the circumstances around his submission. None of them knew what his age had been, because it was impossible to understand, without knowing his childhood, why Elena had been exactly what he'd needed then.

And nobody knew about his childhood.

He didn't want anybody to.

Least of all the woman that he wanted to dominate.

But Anastasia's question hung in the air between them, her words quiet but direct and unavoidable… "If you've been a Dominant for all of your adult life, when were you a Submissive?"

She would leave if he couldn't answer this very simple question.

"When I was fifteen."

"Fifteen." Anastasia's eyes were blazing. "How old was she?"

"Anastasia, it was not what you are thinking. You're drawing conclusions about things you know nothing about."

"An adult, wasn't she?"

"Yes, she was an adult," Christian sighed. "She was - she is - one of the most supportive adults in my life."

Anastasia rose to her feet and glared at Christian. "She's why you're like this." It was an accusation, not a question, and fury burned in her voice.

"Anastasia." Christian stood as well and planted himself firmly in front of Ana. "Look at me."

"It's because of her, and you won't even acknowledge it."

"Be silent and look at me." Christian took a step closer, near but very carefully not touching her, his chin coming up, his feet set wider apart than was usual, his hands loose and ready at his sides. The stance was like reminding himself who he was.

Ana glowered up at him, words of protest clearly ready on her lips, but they died silently when she saw the expression on his face.

"Are you listening to me now?"

She nodded.

"The reasons I am like this have nothing to do with Elena."

Anastasia's eyes snapped at the sound of the name, and she crossed her arms, looking so small, but so very resolute as she stood before Christian.

"I may have shown you my playroom, and I may have given you the opportunity to ask me any question you like, but that is not for you to think that you know everything, nor is it for you to act like you have a right to make assumptions about my life. It is for you to feel comfortable and informed with what I am asking you to do. Do you understand?"

"She beat you."

"You obviously do not. I am going to make this very clear for you. We are entitled to our privacy. If you choose to do this with me, you are not to make remarks about Elena. You can ask anything you want, but if you have an opinion about her, please keep it to yourself."

"She's a pedophile."

"The next time you make a remark like that, you will either be on your way home on Charlie Tango, or you will be across my knee." A very small but outspoken part of Christian's mind warned him that he could be losing her, with every word he spoke, but she had wanted to know, and this was what dominance was.

Anastasia was already on the verge of blurting out something else, but Christian's words brought her up short and she froze.

Christian sighed at the fear in her face, and backed away, giving her space that he could see she needed. "Anastasia, you can relax. I'm not going to surprise you with some ridiculous punishment."

"But you just said-"

"I said that I would spank you the next time you express a judgment about my past. If you decide you want to do this, that is."

Ana bit her lip, looking anything but relieved, and Christian smiled softly and reached tentatively for her hand. When she didn't flinch, even after he'd made his intent clear, he took it and raised it gently to his lips, brushing them lightly over the smooth curves of her knuckles. "This is what a Dom/Sub relationship is, Anastasia. I'm setting an expectation. And, right now, that's all I'm doing. That's how this works."

"But you were angry."

"Yes. You have a penchant for saying the most inappropriate things. But that doesn't mean I'm going to punish you for something I hadn't asked you not to do. I told you that you could ask me anything, and you can. And now I'm also telling you something you can't do. There's nothing else to it."

"Okay."

Christian looked at her quizzically. "Is it okay? You don't seem okay."

"It's a lot to get used to, that's all."

"Does that mean you're still considering?"

Anastasia looked down, flushing, before she said, very quickly, "It means I think I'd like to try."

"Really?" Christian couldn't hide his nearly incredulous surprise that now, in this moment, of all times, was when she'd decided to capitulate.

She met his eyes earnestly and answered, "I want to consider it. I mean, you didn't break out the belt for my infraction, so everything seems like it's in order so far. It doesn't seem too bad, if that's really how it works."

"I told you we don't jump to the worst option right away."

"That you did." Anastasia offered him a tentative smile before taking a deep breath and asking, "So can I see the contract?"

"Are you going to sign it without reading it, like you did the NDA?"

"I think I've learned my lesson. Wouldn't want any other medieval torture rooms creeping up on me unexpectedly."

"Good girl. You learn fast."

"I have to. I've got a big learning curve ahead of me."

"We'll go slow. You're a smart, beautiful girl," Christian beamed at her. "You'll do fine."

Ana flushed at that, and Christian took the opportunity to learn in and kiss her under her ear, nibbling gently at her earlobe before pulling away and giving her a wickedly enthusiastic grin. "When I come back with the contract, you better have gotten started on that cheese platter."

"Yes, Mr. Grey."

"See?" Christian tossed her a wink. "You're a quick study."


An hour later, the cheese platter was empty and Anastasia was still flipping through the contract and shaking her head. "You can't expect me to exercise four times a week."

"Exercise is good for you, and once we begin, you're going to want to be limber. This isn't an unreasonable demand."

"Oh, so it's a demand now?"

"It's a term of our agreement," Christian rolled his eyes.

"I'll do three times per week."

"No."

"Kate's been trying to get me to join her gym for years. I think you should take three and consider yourself lucky."

"I am quite the fortunate man to have you here, Miss Steele," Christian acknowledged, giving her a charming smile and being pleased when her pupils dilated and her breathing quickened in response. "However, you're a very stubborn woman. Suppose you do half time on the fourth day?"

"Since when do you get to tell me what to do with my body, anyway?"

"I believe the whole idea of this is that I do get to tell you what to do with your body." Christian smiled apologetically at Anastasia across the papers spread between them.

"You're telling me that you're going to derive pleasure from the thought of me suffering through exercise four days per week?"

Christian pushed aside a very distracting mental image of Anastasia in tight exercise clothes and covered with a light sheen of sweat, and he tried to focus on the matter at hand. "As tempting as that could be, I suppose it's not a necessity. I'll settle for three."

"Deal." Ana grinned, and Christian found himself finding that, for the first time, he was enjoying this process. It seemed more like foreplay and less like a tiresome formality with her there on the couch, bickering good-naturedly with him over details.

"You know," Ana remarked, flipping over a page of the contract and reading the next section, "I wouldn't mind getting seven hours of sleep every night. This thing has its perks, I guess."

"Oh yeah?" Christian challenged, his eyes twinkling playfully. "Is that the only perk?"

"It's the only one I can think of." Anastasia's blue eyes were glowing and eager, speaking to the contrary.

"Really," Christian whispered, his voice dropping an octave. "Let me see if I can remedy that." He leaned across the sheets of legal documentation between them on the couch, cupping the side of Ana's head gently in his palm and tilting her face toward his.

He crushed his mouth against hers, savoring the feel of her lips yielding to his, and pushed aside the papers with his free hand so that he could dip her back until she was lying against the couch. He moved with Anastasia, until he was stretched over her, supporting the weight of his body on one elbow while trailing his other hand down the length of her body, into the soft curve of her side, over the jutting crest of her hip, onto the firmness of her thigh. She returned his kiss hungrily, breathlessly, and Christian tipped his head forward, deepening the kiss - until he felt Anastasia's hands running eagerly over his back, skimming his shoulder blades, and he drew away sharply from her touch.

"Christ, Ana," he growled under his breath, voice hoarse as he fought back swelling memories of the pimp pinning him down easily with one hand and the hiss of a glowing cigarette butt pushed into his bare back. "You're so eager."

"I'm sorry." Her eyes were wide and nervous, and an embarrassed flush stained her cheeks. "I didn't know I was doing something wrong."

"You weren't," Christian panted, hoping Ana would interpret it as arousal, rather than fear. "You were fine. You were better than fine. You're amazing."

"Then why'd you stop?" Ana seemed to regret the words as soon as she said them, and her teeth moved down to worry her lower lip.

"Don't do that," Christian murmured, running his thumb over her lip, carefully not answering her question and knowing that she'd be too shy to ask it again. He shivered, the pimp's voice still echoing in his ears.

"Are you okay?" Ana seemed unsure of the question, even as she said it, but her face was nothing but sincere.

"Of course I am." He sounded it, too, and Christian felt vague relief that he'd so long ago become well versed in the art of sounding fine when he wasn't.

"Okay." Her voice was tentative, but convinced.

Christian closed his eyes briefly, hardly hearing her over the flashback that was engulfing him, the memory of a cold concrete floor beneath him and the sickening stench of his own burning flesh above him. "Worthless little bastard. Feel that? Do you fucking feel that, you little son of a bitch? That's a cigarette, and from now on you're going to remember it."

Christian surfaced from the recollection, and tried to regain his self-possession. "There's a lot left in the contract," he said to Anastasia, nearly tripping over his words in his hurry to get them out, "and I don't want you making decisions that you don't fully understand. Why don't you take it home and look over it?" She was too close, too innocent, too overwhelmed to respect or understand his inabilities, and he needed her to distance herself. He couldn't discuss business any further that night. He couldn't remember a time in his adult life when he'd been so appallingly out of control.

"Take your time with it and tell me what you think - what you're comfortable with, what you're not," Christian urged, pressing the contract into her hands, knowing that he was being too pushy but unable to stop himself.

"You want me to go?" Ana's voice was full of insecurity, and Christian hated that he'd given her reason to think that it should be.

"No," he tried to backtrack, running his finger down the first page of the contract, the words, in their tight, crowded print, seeming to blur together. "No, I want you to stay, I just don't want you to make a choice right now. This is a lot to take in."

It's too much for me.

"You've just found out a lot about me, and you need to process it."

I can't handle you while I'm remembering him.

"I want you to think about it yourself, without my influence. So you can be sure of what you want, when you do decide."

I can't remember how to think.

Christian took a deep breath and held his hand out to Anastasia. "We've handled enough legal stuff for the night. Come on, I'll give you a proper tour of the whole apartment."

Anastasia's hand slipped into his, and Christian led her from the great room, heading back upstairs. "Can I spend the night?" she looked up at him shyly from under dark lashes.

"Of course, I said you could." Christian hesitated for a moment before speaking again, remembering his blissfully dreamless sleep with her the night before. Taking a leap of faith, he added, "You can stay in my bed again, if you like."

"You enjoyed it, too?" Anastasia's quick glance up to Christian's face was hopeful this time.

"Yes," Christian smiled. "I did." And, as they walked, he leaned down to lightly kiss the top of her head and wondered if, possibly, the rules in the contract - like so many other rules he thought he'd known until he met Anastasia - didn't all apply to her.


A/N: I finally got to show a little bit more of Christian's dominant side! What did you think of the chapter?

The rest of this author's note is responses to a couple anonymous reviews that I wanted to address, so go ahead and skip it if you want. Sorry it's super long.

To the anonymous reviewer who threatened to stop reading if Ana becomes Christian's sub... I make it very explicit in the summary of this story that Ana will not end up as a submissive, so I'm not really sure why you decided I need an ultimatum. Also, you very emphatically declared that the only reason Christian loves Ana is precisely because she is not a submissive. I completely agree. I believe that I have already expressed the same sentiment in my summary, many of my author's notes, and (I had hoped) in my story. It's unfortunate that you are, in your own words, disgusted by my story.

To Zoe, the anonymous reviewer who said that she didn't want to just read "Fifty Shades of Grey rephrased," and that it was unoriginal, it's too bad that you were disappointed by the type of story this is. My purpose isn't to create a new conflict for Christian and Ana. My purpose is to show the same conflict, but have the characters be focused on different things. I think Ana's priorities were often misplaced (e.g. she's more concerned with having good sex than with both her and Christian's emotional well being), and I'd like to change that, because I don't think it's representative of true love. Yes, that means this is going to be very similar to Fifty Shades of Grey. If I haven't already made that clear, here's another warning for everybody else who isn't interested in reading that type of story.

To everybody, thanks so much, as always, for reading.