THE LINES OF DESCENT, continued - part 2

 

 

The London flat was empty. Patrick had been instructed via a phone call to make himself scarce for the next few days. The weather forecast was for drastically dropping temperatures. A frost would be overlaying the countryside and the chance of rain was ninety-percent.

 

“That should keep the brats indoors and out of trouble,” Vincent said as he turned the remote off. He and Jim had casually eaten lunch in font of the television, making themselves at home again in the flat.

 

“Yeah, Blair hates the cold. Day will be hard pressed to get him scavenging the countryside if the temperature drops below fifty. He didn’t really bring anything heavier than a cable knit sweater. I think we’ve got the weather babysitting for us.” He lay his head back on the winged back chair and closed his eyes. No doubt to Vincent the soul searching was coming to the forefront.

 

Getting up, he collected the plates and glasses. When he returned he sat on the sofa.

 

Sighing heavily, he looked at Jim Ellison, tired, eyes closed, head back, a man lost to some painful fears he could not shake.

 

“Go get it, James.”

 

Jim’s eyes shot open. He stared at Vin as though he didn’t quite hear right.

 

“You heard me. Go get it.”

 

Rising wearily, Jim did as he was told. Up the stairs to his room, he opened the suitcase and took out the wooden object Vin had instructed him to pack, him to bring, and him to be responsible for…the old paddle.

 

Returning to the living room, he handed the instrument to Vin. The older man shook his head and pointed to the coffee table in front of him. The detective put it down within easy reach of the ex-Lt. Colonel.

 

“Take ‘em down, Jim, and assume the position.” Vin spoke in short commands, easily catching Ellison in the voice of authority and the obedience military men just fall into out of habit.

 

Slowly unbuckling his belt, he unzipped his pants and pulled them off.  Taking several deep breaths, he knelt down next to Vin’s knees, and carefully laid himself across the strong, muscled thighs.

 

“We’re here to talk. To find out what’s got you all tied up and upset, we are going to get it out in the open, deal with it and start you back on track,” Vin said gently as he rubbed Jim’s back.  “You talk, I listen,” he continued, his voice now taking on a sterner edge. “You don’t talk or insist on BS’ing me, then I paddle, spank, then stop. You get a chance to talk again. If you don’t talk or aren't honest, we start the procedure again, round and round, until you catch on.  Got it?”

 

“I’m just tired, Vin, that’s all. The case. It was hard,” Jim said softly, resting his head on his folded arms resting on the couch.  He knew, even as he spoke, that Vincent Cade could not be fooled and would not allow him the easy route.

 

“You’re a cop, Jim, you’ve been a cop for over eight years now. Don’t tell me you’ve not built up some protection against seeing some of the cruelty you’ve seen this past month.”

 

“No, you never get used to some things,” Jim said, buying time.

 

“No, not used to it, but why did you let it absorb you like you did?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Not a good enough answer. Not good answers by a long shot, my friend.” Vin shifted Jim into a better position for his attentions. Pulling the boxers down, he picked up the paddle.

 

“I think you have better insight into the problem than you are letting on. You’ve ignored Blair’s entreaties to eat, his general concerns for your health and well-being. Do you think that’s right? He’s your lover. He cares about you as you care about him.”

 

There was only silence. The stubborn pride of a man brought to this point. A man who could understand loving someone, but could not acknowledge the same needs for caring and nurturing that he could so easily give himself.

 

Vincent Cade raised the paddle high. Bringing it down without warning, he imprinted a red region to the right check.

 

“This isn’t fair, Vin!” Jim cried out.

 

In answer to the fairness of it all, an equally severe swat landed on the left check. Jim groaned, biting down on the pain, refusing to cry out.

 

The paddle intoned itself with a steady rhythm, sound and fury, anger over careless regard for self and Blair, the equalizer demanded justice. Vincent paddled hard, reddening the surface in an equally fine measure, toning the skin to rosy hues.

 

By the twenty-fifth stroke, Ellison was crying softly.

 

Cade laid the paddle on the table and softly stroked the red globes. “Why? Answer me, little boy. Why did this one bother you so much?”

 

Jim wiggled seeking some relief to the region. Vin delivered a sharp spank to settle him down. “Talk to me or do I continue paddling you?”

 

 “I saw him there,” he broke down. “I saw him there every time we found another one. I realized how easy it could have been him. How these boys, these young men..” Jim stopped to catch his breath. Vin pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and handed it to Jim. Blowing his nose, he paused to regain some composure. Then he continued, “They were a Blair to someone. There was someone out there who loved them the way I love him. So, in truth, I failed him. And it hurts.”

 

“Shhh, little boy, shhhh,” Vin continued the soft strokes reaching higher now to rise above Jim’s waist. Comforting, offering solace and understanding, he still held him firmly down, but he was pinning him with safety as well as the threat of punishment.

 

“But you still didn’t answer me. Why did you ignore Blair? Were you taking it out on him? Making him pay for being a victim, because you couldn’t make those other young men pay anymore?” Vin went for the throat, toppling the man across his lap into a realm he was not ready to go.

 

“NO!” Jim shouted out. “Damn you, Vin! NO!”

 

Cade took a deep breath. This time using his large hand, he started smacking the reddened bottom, covering the distance with a vengeance, eager to force the issues at hand. Jim wiggled in a vane attempt to escape the pain. Vincent pressed down firmly on the small of his back refreshing his memory to the feelings of helplessness, comeuppance, time to pay the piper. Jim sobbed, gulping large masses of air, choking off cries of pain and frustration and guilt.

 

“I hated him!” Jim let it out, hating himself as he said the words. “I hated him, Vin, hated him as I hated them for getting themselves killed. I hated him for making me love him the way I do, for putting me in the position of caring so much that if he was one of them I would not be able to live.”

 

Vin stopped his hand in mid-flight. It was said. The truth was clearing the air and now they could search deeper. The doors were wide open now and Jim Ellison was a man again, not a silent super hero bent on quiet suffering and self-recrimination.

 

Lifting the figure, he helped the detective rise up, turning him quickly to fall back upon his lap. Ellison winced as his hot flesh made contact with the rough cords Cade wore. “It’s okay, now, Jimmy, it’s okay.  We can deal with it. We’ve got a few days and we can find out how to make it right,” he said as Jim cried on his shoulder, releasing the pain and guilt that had festered inside.

 

The late afternoon sun filtered through the shades, igniting the room with a tribute to the day, bright shards of light seeking every corner, finding entrance through the smallest crack---just as a soul will seek the most unobtrusive entrance and move towards a friend to find some light.

 

 

 

 

British Gas pulled out of the driveway by six o’clock that evening. The gas line was severally damaged and the best that could be done was a shut off of service until the lines could be repaired on Sunday.  The old house would get pretty damn cold this evening, but Day wasn’t worried about the chill in the air. His concerns were for the rising temperatures upon Vincent Cade’s return.

 

Now as both brats reflected over their quiet meal, heads bowed into their soup bowls, imagining the worst possible scenarios upon their lover’s return in a few days, all enthusiasm was long gone.

 

 

The scream pierced the night, echoing off the walls. Vincent Cade was down the hall in a matter of seconds, heading directly for the cause of the disturbance. Throwing the light switch he was on the bed in no time grabbing the flailing arms, calling out assurances, “Jim, it’s all right, Jim. Wake up.”

 

Blue eyes focused, turned outward until they met the rock solid, earth tone eyes of Cade.  One could ground yourself in those eyes, for they were firm and solid, hard and unyielding, yet deep when they wanted to be. Now they looked into the ocean depths with the quiet calm of logic and compassion.

 

Pulling away from the hands, Ellison wiped a weary hand over his face, drawing downward the pain and confusion until it fell away.  “I’m sorry. I must have been dreaming.”

 

“No?” Cade asked, surprise evident in his eyes, humor softening the expression.

 

A smile flashed the somber face, “Didn’t have nightmares about the case before.”

 

“Could be you weren’t sleeping very much, enough to have any dreams or nightmares,” Cade argued.

 

“So it’s a good thing now?” Jim queried, looking for a fight.

 

“Yes, it’s a good thing you’re acknowledging how hard the past few weeks have been on you. No, it’s not a good thing you’re having nightmares, but that only means you need more time, more discussion. No, it’s not a good thing to show me attitude at two o’clock in the morning. And yes, it’s a good thing you’re going to spend the rest of the night with me.” With that he drew back the covers and waited patiently for the detective to get up.

 

Jim opened his mouth to protest, then a quick hand raised and he doubted a whole platoon would have been willing to take on Vincent Cade, hair disheveled, look of mild annoyance and much taller in the shadows of the lamp. He looked powerfully built with the white T-shirt straining against his muscles. The lightly graying temples only highlighted his features in the soft lighting.

 

Besides, Ellison thought as he stood up, can’t think of a better place to be when I need to feel safe, than next to Vincent Cade.

 

 

 

 

“Damn it, Blair,” Damien said for what seemed to him the hundredth time that night, as he pulled the blankets up around him, turning on his side on the couch to face the fire. The house was cold. The gas heating was useless with no fuel and most of the rooms had fireplaces fueled with gas as well. The large living room was the only natural log fireplace.  “It wasn’t my fault. You were there. Why didn’t you think of power and gas lines? You were just as eager as I was to unearth that thing. Huh!” He harrumphed as though adding more credence to his statement.

 

Blair slept on the floor closer to the glowing fire. Cold was not a favored state to him. The brats had collected just about every available blanket from the house and brought them into this room. The coffee table was moved away from the hearth, the couch pushed closer in towards the warmth, and all the blankets piled around looked as though some giant animal had begun nesting in the great room.

 

Letting go a long shiver, Blair, wrapped his feet closer in. “This is so not my idea of a vacation. Why don’t you just call Vincent and tell him. Maybe we can all go back down to the flat in London until the heat is fixed.”

 

“NO!” Day yelled, getting tired of Blair’s logic. “Not until I find the ring. I just know it’s out there. I just know it! And this is going to be one of my only chances to find it!” He would not be swayed.

 

Blair watched the fire leap and lick upward, wishing he could sit himself on those logs and be consumed in the blaze, as cold and dejected as he felt. He was beginning to really care for Damien St. Claire. He was so like the brother he never had or childhood friend who never stayed too long in Blair’s peripatetic life. But, and it was a big but to Blair right now, he could do without the stubborn, pigheaded, one-track mind that was pulling both young men fast into more trouble than either one could handle.

 

“Blair?” the quite voice lacked the cocky-sureness that had plagued him all evening.

 

“What?” the anthropologist asked not turning around.

 

“I’m sorry. Don’t be angry with me. Vin always lectures me about responsibility and the right thing to do and all that crap that puts people in boxes and ruts. I just don’t want that with you. You know, man, I just want it to be different with you.” There was so much longing in the small speech that Blair rolled over and faced the young man lying on the couch a few feet above him.

 

“Day, we’re in for a penny, we might as well be in for the pound.” Seeing the grin that spread across the blonde’s face, he added, smiling himself, “Where do we start tomorrow?”

 

That was enough to set the dreamers off on plots and plans and locality…enough to wile away a good chunk of the cold, bitter night.

 

 

 

 

“Oh, man, why didn’t I see it before?”  Day said, his voice filled with happiness.  He was laying on his stomach, looking down through the floor of the gazebo, the fading sunlight just revealing the glint of gold half buried in the dirt. “You’re amazing Blair, fucking amazing.”

 

“Just saw the glint as I was tying my shoe.  Must have been the right angle of the sun or something,” Blair said happily. At least they had accomplished their goal.  They would have that to think about right before their lover’s killed them.

 

All morning the two young men had dug small holes in the newly sodded lawn sloping down from the terraced gardens towards the river. The lawn looked like it had been attacked by a legion of ground hogs and moles, but neither Damien nor Blair seemed too concerned about the state of the lawns.

 

“Now, how do we get it out?”  Blair asked, walking around the structure.  After retrieving a hammer from the garage, they carefully pried several boards up, allowing Day to jump down to the ground. 

 

"NO!" he yelled a second later.

 

"What's wrong?" Blair asked, concerned.

 

"It's an earring, some old gold earring," Day said, the disappointment clearly evident in his voice. 

 

Several minutes later, the two friends were sitting on the edge of the gazebo, both too tired and too depressed to move.

 

"I'm never going to find it," Day said, softly.

 

Blair looked at him and decided that the truth was probably the best, "I know Day," he said nudging him, "I think we've looked everywhere.  Judging by the state of the lawn, I think we've dug up everything that beeped."

 

Day surveyed his once pristine lawn.  "Vin is going to have my head."

 

"Yeah, well, mine's going to be right next to it," Blair said with a laugh, knowing that when their lover's saw the destruction, laughing would be the furthest thing from their minds.

 

Day flopped backwards, lying on his back staring at the ceiling.  Neither man said anything until Day broke the silence,  “Hey, Blair, look here,” he called to his friend.

 

"What?"

 

"Come here, what's this? He said, lying on his stomach, looking through the hole they had made.  He pointed to a semi-visible outline of a square in the dirt.

 

"I don't know, let's see." 

 

After both lowering themselves to the ground, they began to clear off the dirt around the area.  Half of it went under the edge of the gazebo and was covered by the grass.

 

"What do you think it is?"  Day asked.

 

"I have no idea," Blair said, "maybe a bomb shelter from World War II?"

 

Day smiled, "Want to try to open it?" he asked with a laugh, mischief gleaming in his eye.

 

Blair laughed, "I don't know if we can.  Plus, that wall," he said, pointing to the north side of the gazebo, “is on top of it."

 

"Oh, come on, a little adventure, a little excitement.  I bet we can take a couple of the lower boards off and that'll give us enough room to at least open it up and see what's inside."

 

Blair nodded, curious and not seeing that it could be that big of a deal.

 

 Another half hour wasted collecting tools and equipment and it wasn’t until around three in the afternoon that the assault on the Gazebo actually began. Walking down the slight hill from the house carrying a crowbar, Day was stopped short.

 

There on the edge of the lawns stood Mark Coletrane, hands on his hips, eyeing the lawns with a puzzled look on his face.

 

“Day veered off track, dropping the item. “Oh, Mark, hi, how’s it going?” Day started casually as though torn up sod and mud piles were a common occurrence at Halcyon Heights.

 

“My God, Day, what the hell happened here?” Coletrane looked like he could cry.

 

God, get a grip here, man, it’s lawn just fucking lawn, Day thought. Never one to understand the thrill of gardening, a pleasure that Vincent was always trying to teach him, Damien liked his earth natural and on the other side of the window.

 

“Just a little accident, that’s all, Mark. Don't go all postal on me. Vin’s aware of it. We’re looking for a gas leak,” partial truth is always good, Day reminded himself.

 

“I got sidetracked this week with the rain we had at the beginning. Vin said it would be fine to do the lawn on Saturday.”

 

“Yes, yes that’s fine, but just the front lawns, okay? Wouldn’t want the mower to hit that bad line now would you. Puff!” Day accentuated the situation with a hand gesture throwing the earth up in an explosion.

 

“Are you sure?” Mark still didn’t quite buy the explanation, watching Blair move around the gazebo with more tools.

 

“Did you call the gas company?” the gardener asked.

 

“Of course we called British Gas,” Day said exasperatedly.  “Look, do you want me to call Vin out, he’s painting, but if you insist?”  Day bluffed, laying his cards face down on the table, praying to whatever gods looked out for brats.

 

Mark looked at him strangely. He could have sworn that his lover, Peter Bailey, had mentioned Vin was planning on a trip into London this week with his American friend. Vincent had wanted to make sure Doc Bailey was in London, too, in case his friend needed medical attention.

 

“Fine, Damien. I’ll do the front and I’ll come back mid-week to finish up the back. How does that sound?”

 

“Great, that’s super, Coletrane, just super.”

 

Mark turned and shaking his head at one last look at the ruined lawns, he went around to the front of the house.

 

Running to pick up his tool, Day hurried towards the gazebo, eager for his and Blair's adventure to begin.

 

 

 

 

Jim sat on the small garden swing. Lunch was over and Vin was demanding more introspection. A mutinous look had shadowed his eyes momentarily, but rather than the command to assume the position, he was sent outside to reflect in the garden.

 

Vincent had gone off to make a phone call. He said he needed to check on the brats.

 

When Vincent entered the garden, he didn’t seem too happy. “No answer. That’s odd. I told Day I wouldn’t call until this evening, but he usually takes the phone with him when he’s out sunning on the terrace.”

 

“It’s probably too cold. Blair hates the cold and he won’t be too keen on sitting out if the temperatures are as low as they said on the news this morning.” Then thinking about it, he added, “Maybe they went off to do some shopping. I know Blair likes trinkets, souvenirs of places he’s been.”

 

“Possibly,” Vin sat looking at the flowers reflectively, but not really seeming assured by the suggestion.

 

“I just know my brat and I think you were right about them being up to something. I’ll just try again later.”  Coming over to Jim, Vin motioned for him to rise. Vin seated himself on the swing and reaching up pulled Ellison down on his lap. Jim twisted, still uncomfortable with the gesture, fearing Patrick might show up.

 

“Sit!” Vin said sternly. “I want to talk to you, Jim, before we go back inside and give you more opportunity to express yourself.”

 

He could feel Ellison relax, knowing that he was not one to pour out his soul, and Vincent almost smiled at the simple shift in weight.  So alike all men in facing their demons, so eager to run away rather than voice their fears and concerns, Vincent knew they sometimes needed a push---a strong man to back them into a corner.

 

“I’m just concerned that you’re not handling your brat right.”

 

Jim tried to pull away, but Vincent held him firmly in place, raising a suggested hand near his bottom in case he didn’t see the reason for sitting still.

 

“I can’t handle him the way you do Damien. He wouldn’t respond well to that type of relationship and I know he’d just up and leave if it came to an iron hand.”

 

“That might be true, but I’ve seen him show a lot more attitude than I think is good in the beginnings of even a mildly disciplinarian relationship. You’re only setting him up for more hurt down the road. Are you afraid he won’t agree to continue the relationship?” Vincent forced the issue, making Jim realize his own fears in the commitment.

 

“No, if he says he doesn’t want to continue, that’s fine, it’s his choice. I’ve always told him that. I love him. I don’t care if he has a few faults, I love him for the faults, too, but he admits he needs the guidance right now. We’ve had some close calls these last few months and they could have been avoided if he didn’t feel so unraveled.” Jim paused as though weighing his next words carefully. “He wants me to discipline him, take him in hand, but he’s still afraid.”

 

Looking up at Vin’s brown eyes, he continued cautiously, “He’s been expressing concerns about how you handle Damien.”

 

Instead of the anger Ellison was sure to see in the muddy eyes, Vincent looked down at him and burst out laughing. It was a gut wrenching, belly laugh that had Ellison sitting up thinking Vincent had lost his mind.

 

Tears were pooling in the dark orbs and Vincent swiped at them with a huge hand. Coughing, trying to regain some composure he looked at his friend, “I’m sorry, Jim, it’s just funny from where I’m sitting, I guess. Day can appear to be the sweetest, gentlest soul on the face of this earth. It’s so apropos he uses the Saint portion of his last name in his e-mail name and all, and he’s that, I admit, but he’s a lot more as well. Blair doesn’t know the brat that I know.  Most times after he’s punished or awaiting punishment, Day will accuse me of being too easy on him. I think he actually wants the firm hand and if I ease up too much on him, he just keeps pushing until I have to take him in hand again.”

 

Looking at Ellison, he creased his brow in a query-like look of a teacher to a student, finally asking the one question that’s really going to require some thinking. “Do you think maybe even by his concerns for Day, that maybe Blair is asking you if it’s the same kind of firm hand that he needs?”

 

“No,” Jim said a little too quickly. Then seeing the look Vin gave him, he thought better of such affirmation, “well, possibly, but I really don’t believe so, not yet anyway.”

 

“Well, we’ll see. I just think that if Blair truly felt Day was in an abusive relationship, he would do everything in his power to get him away from me.”  Vincent stood up, stretching the kinks from his back. “Well, let’s concentrate on you again, Jimbo. Come on,” he called as Ellison still sat there thinking through their conversation, “let’s get back to you.”

 

 

 

­­­

The old gazebo was barely recognizable. Damien, figuring the crawl space too tight for serious digging, decided to upend some of the floorboards above. Structurally, it was a bad idea. Several of the floorboards, which were initially removed with all intentions of repositioning them when through, were rotted and held in place with rusty nails. One more floorboard along the outer rim and half the railing toppled as well.

 

Blair looked at his friend growing concerned with the demonic possession that seemed to have consumed Damien St. Claire. “Day, my God, the whole thing could topple down on us if we remove any more boards.”

 

Day stopped prying at one of the boards and seemed to only then realize how much had been destroyed.  "Oh, wow," he muttered, "Guess I was sort of taking my frustrations about my ring out on the building here."

 

Blair gave a small laugh, "Well, I guess it's cheaper than therapy."

 

As they finally eased their bodies down into the space under the Gazebo, they realized they would have had to bend from the waist to stand.  It was only a four-foot clearance above the soft earth. Day jumped through the floorboards first, pulling the pick and shovel with him. Blair came next with two flashlights.  The earth was much softer here in this corner.  Blair’s feet sunk into the thick mud. The earth didn’t get any sunlight under this portion of the gazebo and no doubt the rainwater flowed freely here coming down from the house and moving towards the river at the end of the slope.

 

Damien started with the shovel, but soon he hit something solid and hard. Picking up the pick he stood up over the broken floorboards and angled back. Losing his balance he tumbled backwards hooking the end of the pick onto some more boards, loosening more of the flooring of the gazebo. “Ooops,” was his only comment on the accident.

 

However, once striking something hard, he could not be swayed. He leveled his pick again, this time however he struck home. The pick was solidly imbedded in a large object, no doubt made of wood. “Are you sure it’s not another gas line?” Blair asked, looking very worried.

 

“No…you heard me ask the British Gas worker if there were any other lines on the grass, he said no…only around the house, through the garden and again out front. So, we’re clear, man, home free here.”

 

“Now, are you going to help me get this pick out or not?”

 

Blair laid his hands on the pick and both young men pulled with all their might. So concentrated on their efforts, they hardly felt the earth shift, the mud move beneath their feet as a huge maw opened into the earth. Their last recollection was sliding downward, Day sitting in Blair’s lap like two little kids on a bobsled ride, gliding down a hill. Mark Coletrane who was riding the mower off towards the long driveway could not hear the scream they both emitted in unison.

 

The time was six o’clock, Saturday night, and the phone was ringing persistently inside the huge Tudor home. A hundred miles away, two ex-military men were growing mildly concerned.

 

 

 

 

Blair fought the rising panic during the long slide downward. It wasn’t so much that they traveled far, but that the angle was directly down. Injured bones would have been unavoidable, except for the surrounding earth being mostly soft mud. It did not keep them from landing on their bottoms with a heavy jarring. Day’s head hit Blair’s chin, causing him to bite his lip. Day tumbled forward and hit the side of the shaft that was shored up with boards. There was still enough twilight filtering through the remaining floorboards of the gazebo above to show both brats that they had fallen into a small, underground room.

 

Blair eased himself up into a sitting position. “Are you all right?” he asked his friend.

 

Day rubbed his head frantically. Touching a warm, sticky matting of hair, his voice quivered slightly, “I think so, I’m bleeding though.”

 

Blair felt along the pile of earth and planks that had accompanied them down into the shaft.  When his hand hit the cold metal he eagerly grabbed the cylinder.  Lighting it quickly, he aimed the beam at Day. Scooting over on his hands and knees, he checked Day’s pupils. They were fine, but Day was not encouraged.

 

“I could have a concussion,” he pouted, obviously feeling more vulnerable than Blair. He should be partnered with a cop, he’d get used to the small hassles of life, liking getting shot at, roughed up by rednecks, and jumping into waterfalls, Blair thought. This is kid’s stuff. However, when Blair aimed the flashlight overhead, the child’s play was shelved in his mind. This was indeed serious business. The gazebo had fallen in as well, a muddy mess rimmed the edges of the hole, boards and earth teetered above. It was too high to climb out of; yet, the simplest disturbance might bring the whole gazebo and all the surrounding mud on top of them.

 

 

 

 

Once again, James Ellison, detective in Major Crimes at Cascade Police Department was lying over Vincent Cade’s knees.  His butt bared and vulnerable, red and warm he felt like a little kid in the hands of a loving and devoted father. Embarrassed by the scenario, yet feeling relieved and open, he still fought to hold back the one piece of information that weighed heavily upon his soul.

 

“What else is bothering you, Jim? You know what it is. You woke up last night because of it.”  Vincent waited patiently, the paddle lying on the sofa next to him, ready to be picked up and used again. For a quick moment his mind’s eye brought another figure over his knee, the one he was growing more and more concerned with as time progressed. Realizing his responsibilities to the man now positioned for his attentions, he pushed that thought back for later analysis. He needed to give his friend his full attention right now, but in a short bit, he would be more than willing to give his full ministrations to Damien St. Claire.

 

“Vin, I’ve told you everything I’ve felt or thought since this crime started. I can’t tell you anything else. Let’s just let it go. Let’s forget it.” Ellison didn’t sound very convincing. There was an underlying desperation in the speech, not for an end to the paddling, but for the fear of discovery.

 

“Still not cooperating, Jimbo. Still not aware of how this particular game is played.” Vincent reached for the paddle. “Your problem is you’re still too much in control.”

 

Vin took a heavy and deep inhalation of breath, steeling himself for the performance. He changed, as though cloaking himself in another persona. “ENOUGH!” he yelled.

 

Ellison jerked in surprise.

 

“I’VE HAD ENOUGH. YOU’RE NOT IN CONTROL ANYMORE, MISTER. YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER ANYTHING.” With that final, loud appraisal of the situation, Vin began a hard and rhythmic assault on the uplifted globes. They were still red and stinging from ministrations a few minutes before.

 

Jim began to cry again at the fist stroke.  “Vin, please. It hurts.” Jim stated the obvious.

 

“I certainly hope so, little boy,” Vin taunted. “I hope it stings. You want it to hurt, though, don’t you?” Vincent asked, gauging the situation by far more than the reddened flesh.

 

“Don’t you?” he yelled, delivering several extremely harsh blows.

 

“Yeessss,” the sob escaped.

 

“Why, Jim. Just tell me why?”

 

“Because I was happy they were dead. When it was all over, I was happy it was them and not Blair. I can’t forgive myself that selfish thought.” Ellison crumbled like a leaf, brittle to the winds, dried up and lifeless, no more resiliencies in his spirit to ward off the truth.

 

Vin pulled him up quickly, turning him in his lap. Ellison began to cry like a man who had lost his soul. He mourned his own humanity.

 

“Talk to me, Jimmy. Talk to me.” Vincent spoke gently now. A man of many fragments to his whole, he pieced them into place as the situation called for.

 

Jim buried his face deep against the sturdy shoulder, grabbing pieces of the cable-knit Vincent wore, he wanted to get inside this man, hide beneath him as though he could find peace there.

 

“It wasn’t enough being aware of how easy each and every one of them could have been Blair; it wasn’t enough hating Blair for making me love him as I did; no, I had to actually find happiness when it was all over that it was them and not Sandburg.”  He paused, taking the handkerchief Vincent once again offered him.  Blowing his nose, wiping his eyes, he seemed to gain some composure.

 

“I remember looking at their photos when Brickstone confessed. One final look to acknowledge who and what they were. I’ve always done that after a case is closed. It’s like I have to give them that one final audience, promising to remember them. But this time,” the tears started fresh, he choked up, “this time, I remember looking at them and smiling, thinking I’m glad it wasn’t Blair. Thanking them for being the victims and sparing someone I loved.”

 

“Maybe it’s just time I quit being a cop. I just know that’s not how a cop is supposed to feel.”

 

“Jim, you can’t control thoughts like that. None of us can. When I was a Major, I took a platoon into Viet Nam. We lost one man on that mission. I didn’t like him. He was brash, and he had a chip on his shoulder. I felt terrible that I had lost a man, he was my first casualty. And when it was over, I remembered sitting in a bar and drinking myself into a stupor, because I was glad if I had to lose a man, that it was him.” Vincent ran a tired hand across his face.  Then seeing the blue eyes boring into him he smiled.

 

“Yeah, Jimmy, we’re human. We think things after a stressful situation that we can’t help. It just comes to the forefront and we have no control over it. It doesn’t mean we are bad. We don’t even mean it, I don’t think. I think it’s just our mind’s way of dealing with situations we have no control over. Putting them into some kind of sense, some semblance of order in the universe. If you couldn’t stop these men from dying, you had to justify it with some counter balance in the light of day. So the one good thing to you was it wasn’t Blair…you hung on to that thought like a drowning man to a rope. Just as I did that day in Nam.”

 

Ellison slowly eased himself from Vin’s lap. Sitting next to the solidly built ex-Lt. Colonel, he felt small and helpless. Vin reached his arm around him and pulled him close, resting his chin on the other’s head. “We’re not bad men, Jimmy. We’re just survivors, hoping to rise up and fight again.”

 

The phone rang loudly, shattering the silence of their reflection. Ellison straightened, Vincent stood up, “It’d better be Day,” he ground out.

 

“Vin, how are you?” Dr. Peter Bailey asked.

 

“Fine, Pete. I’m sorry I didn’t call, but I won’t be needing your help this weekend. So if you wanted to head back to Salisbury tonight, that’s fine.” He looked over at Ellison assuring himself that his friend was fine and handling the revelations well.

 

“Actually, that’s why I was calling. Just to make sure you meant this weekend. Mark called me and said he went over to Halcyon to cut your lawn. Day met him and said you were home painting. I thought that was strange considering the state of the lawn and the gazebo.”

 

Vincent Cade straightened to his full six foot four inch frame. His eyes slit into fine lines of burning fire. Ellison caught the look, wiped his eyes with the handkerchief and rose as well. Something was wrong.

 

“What state?” Vincent ground the words out like a wood chipper each syllable edged with concern, harsh and demanding.

 

 

 

 

Damien was cold, wet, and sore all over. The slide into the twenty-five foot pit had brought enough debris down on their heads, to cause minor cuts and abrasions, but not enough to climb out. There was still a deep side to the enclosure. Blair had deducted that it must have been an old icehouse, used during the early twenties.

 

“I’m cold,” Damien muttered for the umpteenth time, petulantly jutting his lower lip out.

 

“Well join the club. You think you’re the only one uncomfortable,” Blair said, as he tried to stand. A steady rain had started overhead. It was the icy chill of a frosty night, picking up the cold winds from the river, it angled down between the broken boards overhead and fell relentlessly.

 

Blair eyed the area, the soft mud dripping along the side walls, the puddles that were starting to fill the small area. His concerns right now were directed towards drowning.

“Day, we’re going to have to start thinking of a way to get out of here. It rains a lot in England, doesn’t it?”

 

“Yeah, especially this time of year. Hey, let’s yell. Coletrane might still be here.”

 

At that, both men started yelling in turns, “HELP!”  “HELP!”

 

They kept it up until their throats were raw. They kept it up while hope still shined brightly in the corners of their soul. They kept it up until the rains started pounding down. Then in desperation they sank slowly into the mud, each lost in the misery of his own self-realization.

 

 

 

 

“I’m sure you can handle this car better than this,” Ellison grumbled hanging on for dear life as it was. “Maybe I should drive,” he suggested, catching the harsh glare Cade threw his way.

 

Cade was making the drive in record time as it was, but he was well aware of Ellison’s penchant for reckless endangerment when he was mad, upset or worried and behind the wheel.

 

“It’s ten, we should be there in another twenty minutes. Here,” he took his cell phone out of his breast pocket and handed it to Jim, “try Coletrane again. Then the house.”

 

Ellison repeated the dialing procedure they had memorized since leaving the flat. Coletrane must have gone to a pub after his week’s work was done and since his lover was out of town.  As concern grew, Ellison had to restrain himself as well as Cade from calling in the police. It would have been highly embarrassing for both young men, but he was just as concerned as Vin.

 

“I swear, Jim, if he’s hurt or…” he slammed his palm against the steering wheel.

 

“You’ll take care of him and forgive him,” Jim said logically, used to hearing the wild threats.

 

“Oh, I’ll take care of him all right, but someplace where he’ll remember for quite some time the fright he gave me.”

 

As they pulled in front of the house, the only lights visible were from the living room.  Both men rushed into the hallway and headed directly for the large room. A fire glowed, barely alive now, illuminating a pile of pillows and blankets so deep and so widespread, Cade froze on the step into the room.

 

Then casting concerned glances at each other, both men raced forward thinking that whatever they were looking for must surely be trapped beneath the landslide of wool, polyester, and down.  The realization of the icy coldness in the house finally struck them.

 

“It’s freezing in here,” Cade noted, rubbing his hands together.

 

“DAMIEN!” he yelled.

 

“BLAIR!” Ellison added.

 

Silence echoed the hollow halls. The rain pelted against the windows increasing its fury.

 

“Jim, can you hear them? Are they in the house?” Cade asked.

 

Jim’s face was drawn from the self-introspection forced upon him these last two days. He stopped to stair off into the distance, and then turned to Vin.  “No, there’s no one in the house but us.”

 

“Can you try outside?  Do we need to go out there to help you hear?” Vin asked, a little confused on exactly how his friend’s hearing worked.

 

“Okay, but you need to know something. I have periods when I zone out. When I focus so intensely on one sense that I lose all others. You have to watch me and if it happens, you have to call to me and bring me back. Can you do that?”

 

“Jim, right now I can do anything I need to do to find Day and Blair.”

 

Walking to the window overlooking the back gardens, Jim concentrated. He heard the rain loud and persistent, then he heard the mewing of a cat. He turned to Cade.

 

“I can’t make out much other than the rain, but I hear your cat.”

 

“Where is that stupid animal?  Maybe she is with them.”

 

“Outside, come on,” Jim took off at a run and Vincent Cade was right behind him.

 

 

 

 

 

The mud was in his hair, his mouth, every orifice seemed to ooze with the thick, black goo. Even the heavy rain that was un-relentless had little effect on cleansing. Blair cupped his hands together for the third time, leaning his sturdy frame up against the shored off walls of the pit.

 

Twice before they had tried this routine and twice before, like a circus act gone bad, they had tumbled down into the water now at least three feet deep. The soft earth beneath Blair’s feet only softened the more with the added weight of the blond man. There was no way Blair could gain purchase on the soft earth to boost Damien up to the edge of the hole.

 

“It’s no use,” Day said, as he wearily placed his foot in Blair’s joined hands, “we won’t make it. I’m cold and I want Vincent,” he moaned like a child demanding his mother.

 

“I’m cold, too, Day, but giving up is not an option. The guys might not return until tomorrow. We could drown down here before then, or be buried in a landslide of mud,” Blair began teetering almost immediately as he tried to help Day up along the wall.

 

“Hold me, Blair, hold me. I can’t take another dunking,” Damien whined.

 

“Then grab onto something. You have to try harder. You’re not even trying, St. Claire,” Blair was getting totally disgusted with Damien’s lack of resolve. For someone who could not be swayed from his objective, for someone who wanted to win so badly at everything he did, Blair could not believe how childishly reticent he could be when placed in a dangerous situation.

 

Where Blair was used to finding a steel-like shaft within his backbone when necessary, Day seemed inclined only to complain and bitch. Sandburg’s quick thinking had saved him just as often as Jim’s intervention.

 

Day tried to position his shoe on Blair’s shoulder, but he was so intent on watching his feet, making sure they were securely positioned, he made no attempt to grab high onto some anchor.  Teetering again, Blair tried to remain steady, but the added weight with little or no assistance from Day made it impossible to stay upright.  Falling back again, a loud splash echoed the enclosure as both young men were submerged below the fast-filling pool.

 

They sputtered up together. “God, I’m not doing anything, nothing else,” Damien whined, spitting water from his mouth, mud plastered to his hair. He looked like a refuge from the Titanic.  “Vincent will come. I’ll just wait for Vincent.” This was said firmly as he walked the short distance to the corner and leaned back into it. The water was now up to both men’s waist.

 

Sandburg rose out of the water, not like a bedraggled survivor, but with a rage at the circumstances, the weather, and one very uncooperative friend.

 

He grabbed Day’s shirtfront and pulled him forward, pushing him back against the corner of the pit. “You listen to me, Damien St. Claire, you are not going to sit here on your laurels and wait for anybody. We don’t have that option. I’m sure Vin and Jim will come. I’m also sure we’re going to regret our actions today, but I am not going to let you sit here feeling sorry for yourself.”  The hazel eyes rebelled. First slitting into small windows of contempt. The blue eyes narrowed as well, each fighting the silent battle for power.

 

It was Day who finally broke eye contact first. Looking at the rising water around them, the quivering blue lips of his friend who was trying to help them, he felt a moment of shame. Biting his lower lip, he nodded in acquiescence.

 

“Good. Now take a few minutes to think. Help me find a way out of here,” Blair said, releasing his shirt.

 

 

 

The soft mewling was the only sound Jim could discern with the harsh pounding rain. Rushing out into the night, Vin on his heels, he tripped as soon as he hit the lawns.

 

Vin helped him up and looked angrily around, the lights from the large window in the living room highlighting the lumps and clumps of sod and dirt piled everywhere. It looked like small land mines had been set off sporadically around the grounds.

 

“Damn it,” Vin growled, “what the hell happened here? Mark wasn’t exaggerating.”

 

“Come on,” Jim said, testing his leg. “This way.”

 

Desi was walking back and forth in the rain along the side of what used to be a gazebo. Now, though still standing, it was lopsided and structurally skeletal. Large portions of the side railings and trelliswork along the bottom, and floorboards, were pulled up and angled off.  Jim’s first impulse was to run up into the Gazebo, but his foot landed on the step and Sentinel hearing took over. The whole structure trembled, the frame squeaking in protest against the added weight.

 

Extending a hand to stop Cade who was just as determined to find his brat, Jim pushed him back. “It’s weak. Wait a minute.” Now he could hear it. It was the one sound that centered him in the entire world. This was the one sound that assured him of his own place in things. Sandburg’s heartbeat, steady and strong, called out to him. The other one was picked up as well, but this one was accompanied by a soft hitching sound, someone very much upset.

 

“BLAIR!” Jim called out.

 

“JIM!” the answer came back to him. “JIM, WE’RE UNDER THE GAZEBO.”

 

“I’M COMING.” Jim called back.

 

“Vin, go get a sturdy rope, maybe some planking if you have it.”

 

Before Vin followed instructions, he stooped low looking under the gazebo, past the broken trellis to the large patch of mud under the broken floorboards, “DAY! Is Damien all right?”

 

“VIIIINNNNNNN!” a loud wail pierced the night. It was so shrill that Ellison cringed at the assault to his senses.

 

“ARE YOU ALL RIGHT, DAY?” Vin still was not assured.

 

“I’m COLD, I’m WET, I’m MISERABLE…”

 

“ENOUGH! I’m COMING!” and Vincent Cade took off to collect the necessary objects.

 

 

 

The brats were both dressed in flannel pajamas. The brand new clothes were still in their plastic wrappers, gifts Cade had received through the years, not recognizing his need to sleep in boxers and a T-shirt only. Blair wore a blue plaid pair. Freshly showered in the remaining hot water left in the gas hot water tank, he was now wrapped in a blanket seated on one end of the couch drinking a hot cup of cocoa.

 

Damien, similarly dressed and ministered to, wore red pj’s with bright yellow flags on them. He sat on the other end of the couch holding his mug to his lips like a petulant child none-to-thrilled with his treat.

 

Seated in the armchair next to Blair, Jim leaned forward his hands on his thighs trying to watch both boy’s faces as Vincent Cade marched up and down in front of the raging fire. He had banked it and fed it nicely as no doubt his own temper was fuming as well, while the brats were securely wrapped for an audience.

 

“I cannot believe you,” Vin shouted, catching both young men in his glare, “either one of you.”

 

Blair had the good instincts to look down into his mug, brushing his still damp locks behind his ears. Day, never one to sit patiently through one of Cade’s scoldings, daringly stared back at the man, his mouth forming a tight line of anger.

 

“Do you have something to say, little boy,” however Vin raised his hand before the blond could answer, “well, of course you do. You always have some kind of explanation. You are the database of explanations for the whole brat population of the world, aren’t you?” Vincent ranted.

 

"Shut the fuck up, Vin!" Day yelled, "I'm cold, I'm tired, and I sure as hell am NOT in the mood to be lectured!"  He stood up, knocking the blanket that was around him from his shoulders, slamming his drink down on the table.  Standing there he glared at his lover.

 

Vincent looked right back, then taking a deep breath to calm himself, he replied, "And I, little boy, am not in the mood to be fishing you out from an abandoned ice house in the freezing rain, worried sick about you.  Not to mention dragging someone out with you and putting them in danger."

 

At that comment, Blair who was sitting there in awe of his friend standing up to his lover, jumped into the conversation, "Hey, wait a minute.  I didn't get dragged anywhere…"

 

"Blair, stay out of it," Jim ordered.

 

"No way, man.  This is important.  I went willingly with Day. I am as much of a participant as he was."

 

Day flashed Blair a grateful smile for his loyalty before returning to look at his lover, a sarcastic smirk on his face.

 

Vin took another deep breath and briefly closed his eyes, then walking purposely toward Day, he said, "Come on, little boy.  I am in no mood to deal with your attitude, your language or this whole situation."  Gripping his arm firmly, he frog-marched a protesting Damien toward one of the far corners of the room.  "Plant yourself there until you can find a more civil attitude.  You are already in enough trouble, Demon, I know you don't want to get in any more."

 

Day opened his mouth as if to say something but a hard swat to his bottom and a simple 'don't' from Vin seemed to change his mind.  He turned and faced the corner, arms crossed, an air of anger rippling off of him.

 

From his chair, Blair also seethed.  "Vin," he said angrily, upset by the treatment of his friend and the unfairness, as he perceived it.  "Don't you dare punish Day for getting me involved, I went willingly, I helped, I encouraged, I am to blame as much as he is.  You…" 

 

"Blair!" Jim barked, standing up and towering over his lover.  "This is not your business."

 

"Shut up, Jim!  I can say what I want and I can stand up for what I believe.  You can’t control that and he" Blair said jerking his head in contempt toward Vin, "can't lord over me like he does you and Day.  I DO NOT see him as the end all of how I should behave."  His rant finished, and now facing his angry lover and an annoyingly amused host, Blair seemed to sink back into his chair. 

 

"Little boy," Vin said calmly, "Damien is being punished for how he spoke to me.  He is not being punished for getting you involved.  I allow disagreement, but I do not allow cursing or being disrespectful to your partner.  Damien knows that and he knows that he can face the corner until he gets his attitude in check and is willing to discuss what happened calmly.  Now," he said pausing, "what your lover allows is different matter entirely."

 

Holding out his hand to Blair, Jim said, "Come on, I want to talk to you."

 

"What if I don't want to talk to you?" Blair said sullenly, burrowing slightly more into his blankets.

 

"Well, you have a choice; you can either come with me so we can talk or I can haul you out of that chair, put you over my knee and spank you and then we can talk."  Looking at his partner, he added, "I would think the first option is the best."

 

"Those choices suck, Jim."

 

"So does your attitude right now and if you keep it up, option number one is going to be gone."

 

"Fine, fine, fine." Blair said, throwing off the blankets and stomping down the hall where Jim had indicated.

 

Jim sighed and shook his head at his lover's back.

 

As he passed Vin, the older man gently grabbed his arm, "Jim, he is working things out, trying to deal with the conflicting sides of what he sees, what he thinks he should feel and what he actually does.  He needs a firm hand and he may not like it, but he knows he needs it.  You just have to let him figure that out for himself.  Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re---gentle in manner, firm in deed."

 

"Thanks, I'll try." He gestured toward Day who was cautiously turning around, "looks like you have your own brat to deal with."

 

Vin nodded, "Give me about 15 minutes before coming back in here, if you would."

 

"Sure, no problem.  I think it will take that long with Blair, too.  He may be contemplating his actions in a corner as well."

 

"It works well.  Bring him back in here though - don't want a Blair-icle in the dining room." Vin added just as Jim was turning to follow his lover, "Jim, I do want to talk to you about the punishment for these two.  I want to make sure we're on the same page.  Maybe when they've gone to bed."

 

Jim nodded, "OK."

 

As Vin watched his friend walk down the hall heading toward the dining room, he mentally steeled himself for dealing with his own lover.  Turning back toward the corner, he said, "Are you ready to talk?"

 

Day nodded, "I'm sorry I cursed at you earlier and that I yelled at you."

 

Sitting down on the loveseat, Vin held open his arms, “Come here, Demon."

 

Day hurried over and almost threw himself into the waiting arms, gripping the front of Vin's shirt as he curled up.

 

Bringing the blanket over from the back of the couch, Vin draped it over both of them, tucking it in snuggly around his lover.  "You are still cold,” he muttered, pulling Day in closer.

 

"What do you expect, you made me stand in the corner," Day said, exhaustion creeping into his voice.

 

"Little boy, you are lucky that you were not standing there with a soapy mouth and a red bottom after the way you talked to me."

 

"I know, I'm sorry.  I just got all mad.  You were mad, Jim probably will never let me near Blair again, not that Blair would want to come near me after I got him in so much trouble.  I didn’t want to tell you I lost your ring and I’m so sorry for that.  It means more than anything that you wanted to give it to me.  I couldn’t help myself; I had to wear it.”

 

“Well my little demon, we are in this relationship to maybe get you to start trying to help yourself when something tempts you.  Right?”

 

Day nodded, knowing where this conversation was going and not liking it.

 

“And you’ve been doing good about thinking before you do something.  Haven’t you?”

 

Day nodded again, “I’m trying, I swear I am.  I just forget sometimes.”

 

“I know and I know that we are going to be spending this week making sure that you don’t forget anytime soon.  I think spending tomorrow on punishment detention will help.  The last month or so, you seem to be forgetting more and more---the painting, your tantrum over not winning, the argument you got into with Mark, just to name a few.”

 

“I know and I’m sorry,” he burrowed his head in deeper and gripped Vin’s shirt tightly.  “Don’t be mad at me.”

 

Vin hugged him close and kissed his head, “Little boy, I love you more than anything in the world.  I may be frustrated with you, I may look forward to turning you over my knee and impressing upon you just how displeased I am with you, but I am not mad at you.”

 

“Are you going to spank me tonight?”  Day asked a few minutes later.

 

“No, not tonight.  Tonight, I am going to get you tucked into that nest of blankets by the fire with the rest of us.  I’ll paddle you tomorrow morning after breakfast.  Sometime this week, I think we are going to be going down to Bath to see Levi, you need a new paddle and I think after this stunt, Jim is going to want to go shopping with Blair.”

 

Day nodded, not saying anything, simply enjoying being held, being close to his lover.

 

 

 

 

In the dining room, Blair was pacing around, hands waving in angry gestures in a futile attempt to get Jim to agree with him.  “But, Jim, it’s not fair.  I was as much as a willing participant in this as Day, Vin shouldn’t punish him for getting me involved.”

 

Jim leaned casually back on the table, arms crossed, “Blair, stop for a minute and listen to me.”  When the younger man barely paused, Jim uncrossed his arms, reached out and snagged his partner.  Pulling him down across his body, Jim delivered two hard swats to his partner’s bottom.  “I said to stop.”

 

Blair glared at him when he was allowed up, “Fine, I’ve stopped, stopped trying to defend a friend’s actions, stopped speaking my mind and voicing my opinion even though you swore to me that you would never use our relationship or our agreement to do that to me!” Blair’s voice rose until he was almost screaming, “You swore to me and you did it anyway!  I knew this wasn’t going to work!  I knew you were trying to change who I am!”

 

Jim looked at his partner in almost shock.  He had no idea where this was coming from and didn’t know how to handle it.  He reached out, “Blair…”

 

“Don’t touch me!  You swore to me that you wouldn’t change who I am but you have and you are going to keep doing it!”

 

“Blair, I have no idea what you are talking about,” Jim said, trying to keep his emotions under control, figuring that at least one of them should.  “Explain to me what you mean.”

 

“No” Blair spat out, “I don’t have to explain anything to you, you’ve changed me and you swore you wouldn’t.  I don’t even want to talk to you right now.  Get away from me!”

 

“Fine, you don’t want to talk.  Great, we aren’t going to talk, but I am not going to let you go stomping off by yourself.  We have an agreement and this tantrum of yours is out of hand.”  With that, he grabbed Blair’s arms and moved toward the door back to the living room.

 

“Let go of me!  You are not going to spank me!  You…”

 

“Be quiet, Blair.  No, I’m not going to spank you,” Jim said, still pulling the other man back toward the living room, “but you are going to stand in the corner until you calm down enough to speak to me like a rational person.  I am not going to listen to you ranting without an explanation.”

 

“Jim…” Blair began, indignantly.

 

“Don’t speak to me in that tone of voice, Sandburg,” was all Jim said.

 

"I hate you!  Get off me!  You promised and you lied to me!"  Blair continued to yell as he was walked into the living room, still pulling and struggling to get out of Jim's grasp.  "You lied to me and I thought I could trust you and I can't!"  That final revelation seemed to break the younger man, tears sprang up.

 

Jim stopped for a moment, and looked at his partner in amazement, "Blair," he said gently, reaching out to comfort him, "Talk to me, I don't know what you mean, I don't know what I did to get you so upset, I swear to you, I haven't tried to change you.  I love you." 

 

"Don't say that!" he yelled again, twisting to break free.

 

"Fine," Jim said, his patience gone. "When you decide to talk to me, I will be willing to listen,  But, until then, you can stand in the corner and get yourself back under control.  I refuse to deal with you when you are acting this way."

 

Pulling the still struggling Blair into the living room, past a startled Vin and Damien, Jim pushed him into the far corner that Day had recently vacated.

 

"I hate you," Blair spat out, "you lied to me."

 

"Well, you know what, Chief, you are not my favorite person right now either.  Now, I seriously suggest you shut your mouth and let us both calm down."

 

The two men locked eyes until Blair broke first and turned and faced the wall.

 

Vin and Day sat on the loveseat, stunned.

 

Vin spoke first, "Jim, come with me please."  Leaning down as he stood up, he whispered to Damien, "Speak with Blair little boy and find out what's going on."

 

Damien nodded, still shocked by the amount of anger and raw emotions that had been displayed just moments ago.

 

Jim followed Vin up the step and down the hall into the kitchen.  Once there, Vin leaned against the counter and simply said, "Explain to me what just happened."

 

Jim sighed, and rubbed his hands over his face, "Honestly, I don't know Vin.  We were in the dinning room and Blair was going on and on about how he was a willing participant in the little stunt this weekend and how it wasn't fair that Damien was going to be punished for his actions.  I was trying to tell him that he was in deep trouble too and I didn't think that Day was in much, if any trouble, for bringing him into it but he wouldn't stop.  I told him to stop a couple of times but he wouldn't so, as he passed me, I reached over, grabbed him, bent him across my lap and gave him a couple swats.  They weren't that hard, more just to get his attention than anything else."

 

Vin nodded, "Yeah, I do that with Day sometimes when he isn't listen"

 

Jim barely acknowledged what Vin had said, lost in replaying the scene in the dinning room, "He seemed to lose it.  He went off on how I was changing him even though I promised I wouldn't and he said that I was and I was going to keep doing it.  And.." he took a deep breath, his voice shaking slightly with the hurt, "he said he hated me.  He's never said that before to me."  He fell silent for a minute then added in a quiet voice, "what if he really means it."

 

Vin pulled him into a quick hug, "He doesn't mean it, little boy, he is upset and hurt about something and wants you to be the same.  Don't worry, we'll figure it out and get through it."

 

In the living room, Day got up from the loveseat and approached his friend, "Blair?" he asked cautiously.

 

"Go away, Day, I don't want to talk to you."

 

"I think you might feel better.  Just tell me what's going on?  What happened?"

 

Blair turned from the corner, "Jim tried to change who I am and he's done it and I'm not going to let him do it anymore.  Being in a discipline relationship might work for you and I'm glad but it's not who I am.  I don't want to be changed, I'm happy with who I am." With that, he turned and faced the corner again.

 

"Ummm…. Okay." Day said.  He stayed there a few more minutes and then walked into the center part of the house to wait for Vin.  Peaking down the hall into the kitchen, he caught Vin's eye. 

 

Vin motioned for him to come in.  "What did he say, Damien?"

 

"Ummm" Day said, looking between Jim and Vince, "He says he doesn't want to be in a discipline relationship and that Jim is trying to change who he is and he's happy with who he is."  Then looking between them again, he added, "But, he's still standing in the corner.  Which would seem to me to indicate that he still wants to be in your relationship, but is scared.  That's how he seemed to me, scared about something."

 

"Day, do you think he's scared that he is really going to be punished for your actions this weekend?" Jim asked.

 

Day blushed, "We both knew we were in trouble yesterday and he didn't seem overly concerned.  I mean," he said glancing at Vin, "neither one of us is looking forward to being paddled but he didn't seem to say anything that seemed weird."

 

Vin nodded, "Okay, I'm going to go talk to him and get what's bothering him out."  As he pushed off from the counter, he said to Jim, "And, Jim, if I even get the hint that you are listening in, I swear, I have a strap upstairs and I will use it on you so hard and so long that you will be feeling it next week when you leave.  Understand me?"

 

Jim nodded, "Yeah, I got it."

 

Damien jumped in, "Come on, Jim, we'll go back into Vin's studio and I'll show you some of his new stuff.  This way you won't even be tempted to try to listen.  Okay?"  Slightly tugging the other man's arm, Day led him through the swing door that separated the kitchen from the breakfast room and Vin's studio.

 

Vin watched as they went through the door and then walked upstairs to the tower room.  Opening a drawer in a low cabinet, he studied the instruments inside.  Deciding finally on a small paddle with more sting and noise then actual pain, he carried it back down to the kitchen.  Pouring a glass of water and adding ice, he carried both into the living room.  Setting the paddle down on the couch, he carried the glass over to Blair who was still standing nose to the corner.  He was hunched over slightly as if in pain, his arms wrapped around offering himself comfort.

 

"Blair," Vin said softly, turning him around but the shoulder, "here, drink this.  You need to calm down."

 

From the look of Blair's face, he has been crying since the argument.  He tried to turn away, embarrassed to be seen, but Vin wouldn't let him.  Taking the glass, he sipped a little before handing it back to the older man.

 

"Come on, son, let's sit down and talk and figure out what's going on."

 

"I don’t want to talk.  Jim lied…."

 

Vin held up a hand, "No.  Stop.  First rule, we are going to talk, but first we are going to sit down on the couch.  Second rule is that you have to explain yourself, not just make general comments like 'Jim lied' or 'Jim's trying to change me.’  Now, come on, let's sit down and we will talk."

 

Blair allowed himself to be lead over to the couch, his eyes widened when he saw the paddle sitting there, pulling away, he said, "You are not going to paddle me."

 

Grabbing the other man again, Vin’s voice grew hard and no-nonsense.  "Not if you talk to me.  If you don't talk to me, then I will take whatever action I feel is appropriate to get you to talk."  With that said, he placed the glass on the table within easy reach and sat on the couch.  Pulling the unresisting man down with him and settling him on his lap, he wrapped his arms around him and held him tightly. 

 

Blair sat stiffly, not wanting to relax into the comfort that seemed so natural to accept.

 

"Now, little boy, tell me what's going on in that head of yours."

 

"Jim is trying to change me.  He's done it already and I don't want to be changed."

 

"How, little boy?" Vin asked softly, one hand rubbing Blair's back in an effort to get him to relax some.

 

Blair bit his lip as his eyes filled with tears again and simply shook his head.

 

"Blair," Vin said, his voice growing sterner, "I asked you a question and I expect an answer:  how did Jim change you?"

 

Blair shook his head again, slightly this time, but still not answering.

 

"Okay, little boy, I guess we are going to do this the hard way."  Quickly, with the ease of someone long accustomed to the action, he stood Blair up and then resettled him face down across his knees.

 

Feeling himself in a position he knew too well, Blair screamed and began to struggle, "NO!!  STOP!!  You can't do this!  Jim won't let you!  Jim is the only one who can spank me!!"

 

"No, little boy, you told him that you didn't want that sort of relationship with him, so I am treating you like a houseguest, a friend of mine, who is being rude, and acting like a brat when we are trying to help him.  Jim has nothing to do with this."

 

In the studio, Jim shuddered and gripped the edge of the table he was standing next to at the sound of his lover's scream.

 

"It's okay, Jimbo," Day said quietly, "You know how it is.  You know he has to fight some and let whatever is bothering him boil out of him before you two can fix it.  You know Vin won't hurt him."

 

Jim nodded, not saying anything, willing himself to dial down his hearing as low as possible and concentrate on the scenes of beauty around him and not focus on the other room.

 

Back in the living room, Vin had wrapped one of his legs around Blair's to hold him down, a strong arm was around his waist to keep him close, "Now little boy, are you going to talk to me or not."

 

Blair did not answer, only struggled as little as he could against the strong arms holding him down.

 

"Your choice."  With that, Vin tugged down Blair's pajama bottoms and underwear until both were well below his now bare butt.  Leaning over slightly, he grabbed the paddle from the cushion next to him and raising his hand high, brought is down sharply on Blair's exposed bottom.

 

Blair screamed long and hard, much longer than the simple swat deserved.  Vin knew he was screaming and struggling against something much greater but until he told him what it was, he would be unable to help him.  Delivering three more stinging swats, all to the center of the exposed bottom, he laid the paddle down again and began to rub the red spots.  "Tell me how Jim changed you, little boy," he said gently.

 

Blair was sobbing as if his heart was breaking, "I need him," he said through the thick sobs.

 

"What do you mean, 'you need him'?"

 

"I need him to be there for me," Blair said, still crying.  "Please let me up, I don't want to talk anymore."

 

"I'm sorry, Blair, but we are going to talk.  Does that scare you that you need him to be there?"

 

Blair did not answer, only laid there and cried.

 

Sighing, Vin picked up the paddle again and gave the bare bottom a half dozen stinging swats scattered across the surface before Blair finally yelled out "YES!"

 

"Why?" Vin said, not putting down the paddle, "You love him.  He loves you, you need each other."

 

"I don't know."

 

Vin raised the paddle and brought it down hard several times, saying, "Don't give me that, little boy. You know why.  So tell me." 

 

Blair was sobbing hard.

 

Vin put down the paddle, and lifted the younger man up and situated him on his lap.  Blair hugged him tightly and cried.  Vin stroked his back and said quietly, "Tell me, little one, tell me what's got you so upset."

 

In a quiet voice filled with tears, he said, "I need him to be more than just my lover.  I need him to keep me in line and I hate that."  That admission seemed almost too much for him and he cried harder, struggling to get away, "Please let me up, please let me go and handle this by myself."

 

Vin hugged him closely, "No, you are right where you need to be.  You don't need to go and handle this by yourself."

 

"But before Jim, I could have handled it by myself.  I was strong and self-reliant and I didn't need anyone telling me what to do.  I was independent and my own person.  But now…." His voice trailed off, the tears still going, the self-hatred so evident to Vin.

"Blair, you are still strong and self-reliant and your own person.  Did Jim change you in that way."

 

Blair nodded but didn't say anything.

 

"How?" Vin asked gently.

 

Not answering, Blair shook his head.

 

Vin sighed and after pulling Blair's hands free from his shirt, he quickly flipped the younger man over again.  This time delivering two hard swats with his hand, he said, "Blair, talk to me.  Do I need to use the paddle again?"

 

Still face down, Blair talked. "During this case, when Jim was so tied up, and upset and I couldn't reach him, he was so distant and I couldn't reach him."

 

"Yes," Vin said encouragingly, rubbing his back with a large hand.

 

Blair continued, "I could feel myself after a couple of weeks almost testing him, doing stuff that I knew I shouldn't just to see what he would do!  I was causing stress for him just to get a reaction out of him!  Have you ever heard of anything so selfish, my lover is hurting and instead of helping him, I am causing him more grief.  What sort of horrible person would do that!  I would never have done that before we got into this relationship and I hate it."

 

"Okay," Vin said.

 

"Jim changed me, he turned me into this horrible person who needs him, who is dependent on him, who wants him to have some control over his life!  He swore to me that he wouldn't change me but he did!"  Blair broke down again, the anguish and self-loathing that he felt toward himself coming to the forefront.  "I don't want to have the same relationship that you and Day have, I want to be my own person and I want to be independent.  I'm sorry, I know it's right for you and him, but I'm scared of it.  I'm scared of giving Jim too much control because what if he leaves me or dies or something and then I'll be left alone and I can't need him that much or be too dependent on him because even now, I don't think I could stand it if something happened and he wasn't there any more."  The last of his fears spilling forth in one long cleansing breath shook his body with tremors.

 

Scooping up Blair again and holding him close, Vin slowly rocked him, rubbing his back, allowing him to cry out his fears.  "Shhhhhh, it's okay, little one.  Let it out.  That's an awful big fear to have kept to yourself, no wonder you are all upset.  Shhhhhh, we can deal with it." Slowly rocking the younger man clinging to him, Vin thought about his next step.

 

Vincent sat with Blair for some time. Gently stroking the distraught young man’s back he held him as any man would hold a confused and frightened child. Slowly rocking back and forth, interjecting a “shhhing” sound when he knew nothing else could console his guest.

 

When Blair had settled down enough, Vincent pulled him up, “Come on. You need to get to bed.”

 

Helping the anthropologist up, he walked him over to the cocoon of blankets and comforters and pillows.  Leaving him standing on his own long enough to make two separate beds in front of the hearth, he positioned one of the numerous pillows down in the middle and helped the pajama-clad younger man down.

 

Pulling the covers up and over him, he brushed the hair away from his eyes.

 

“Where’s Jim?” Blair said, still needing the man he loved more than life itself.

 

“He’ll be along, shortly. He’ll be right next to you, here. Just rest. Let it go and give yourself up to sleep. Lord knows you’ve had a trying day. The Demon can try the best of men.”

 

He saw a small smile twist itself into view, despite the red eyes and tear-stained cheeks. “He does have a way about him,” Blair said, though there was a fondness in the accusation.

 

“He has a way all right, but his way usually heads him towards hell.”

 

Blair yawned and nodded his head as he turned towards the fire, hugging the pillow. Before Vincent could even say “good night,” he was fast asleep.

 

 

 

 

Vincent found Jim and his brat having a half-hearted discussion about heating problems in old homes, nothing as obvious as over-zealous gardeners digging up gas lines, but Damien seemed to like to bitch and moan about things he knew little about.

 

“Jim, he’s sound asleep, but I wouldn’t push him for any answers just yet. He’s dealing with a lot of fears and self-recriminations right now.  I don’t think he can even pinpoint exactly what’s gotten him so upset.  I think I need to sleep on it.”  Then looking at his own brat, eager-eyed and no doubt glad that all attention was taken off him for a short while, he narrowed his gaze.

 

“I need to think on Damien’s punishment, too. Both our boys have been through a great deal today. I think all of us could use a good night’s rest.”  Damien smiled, glad for the reprieve. However, when Vin jerked his thumb towards the door, Day ran like the fires of hell were lapping at his heels.

 

Shaking his head at the antics of his beloved, he smiled at Jim. “Don’t worry, I think I have a good grasp on Blair’s problem and I think I know just the way to make him see it more clearly.”

 

Extending an arm out he put it around Jim’s shoulder and both men followed after Damien.  The fair-haired young man was already crawling beneath the blankets next to Blair.  Jim took his place on the outer side near Blair and Vincent eased his tired frame down next to Damien, sandwiching the two younger men in for the night.

 

It wasn’t long before Vincent Cade could discern the even, restful sounds of three exhausted men at peace. Only then, with a firm plan set in his mind, did he join his comrades in the distant land of dreams.

 

 

 

The next morning, Blair awoke to the tempting smells of coffee, sausages, scrambled eggs and English Muffins.  The cold house was quite the deterrent for rising, but someone had rebuilt the fire in the hearth and there were extra blankets wrapped around him.  He also noted that a chair had been placed near the large hearth and on it his jeans and a cable knit sweater were toasting just for him. Jim, he thought, you know how I hate the cold. Thanks, man.

 

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Jim said from behind him.

 

Rolling completely over, not yet willing to abandon the nest, he saw Jim sitting on the sofa hugging a hot mug of coffee, still steaming. He was dressed in jeans and a thick, Irish-cable-knit sweater, the chilly English morning obviously even piercing Ellison’s thick skin.

 

“Good morning,” he yawned and stretched beneath the covers like a cat preparing himself for the tortures of dressing in a cold room.

 

“Come on, Chief, it’s not as bad as it looks. Once you have your clothes on, it’s actually quite warm in here.”

 

“Morning, Blair!” Day’s voice reached him from far behind Jim.

 

“Good morning, Blair,” Vin’s deeply resonant voice followed.

 

Blair winced at Vin’s voice, no doubt recalling the appropriately childish measures he needed to employ last night to bring him under control.

 

Jim noted the embarrassment. “Come on, Sandburg. It’s a new day.”

 

Vin took the cue. Rising, he headed towards the hallway. “I think I’ll get a plate ready for Blair. Make sure he has a nice hot cup of coffee ready for him, Day,” he called over his shoulder as he left the room.

 

Damien immediately took the pot from the electric coffee maker that they had set up in the living room and eagerly took a cup over to his friend. Blair was sitting up, still wrapped in the blankets.

 

“Here ya go, Blair,” Day said cheerfully, obviously not the least bit perturbed over the threatened punishment due him this morning.

 

“Thanks,” Blair said.

 

Instead of leaving, Day sat down on the couch next to Jim.

 

He watched Blair sip the hot liquid. “You know, Blair, it’s really okay.”

 

Blair put his cup down on the quilts, holding it between both hands. He looked up questioningly at his friend, then at Jim. Jim nodded his head in concurrence.

 

“I’m going to get it, but I’m okay with it and you should be, too. I just want it to be over with. I want to know I’ve been punished and I’m forgiven.”

 

Blair didn’t answer for the longest time; instead he looked at Jim as though he held the answers.

 

Turning to Day, Jim offered him the support he wanted from Blair. “You’ll be fine,” and he patted his knee as he rose, deciding maybe Blair felt awkward in front of him, he added, “I think I’ll help Vin in the kitchen, Chief. He might not be aware of your terror of cholesterol.”

 

“Very funny, very funny,” Blair said.

 

When they were alone, Blair pushed the hair behind his ear, and decided to say what was on his mind. “I guess I kind of made a fool of myself last night.  I never realized how eagerly you can search your soul when you’re over someone’s knee.”

 

“Vin really cares, Blair, that’s why he pushes and forces the issues. He’s only trying to help you and me and Jim. You have to learn not to fight it so much.  Just be happy in your relationship with Jim and you should even be happy that Vin cares enough to back you into a corner. I’ve seen him just write people off he doesn’t feel are worth his efforts.”

 

“I know. I guess I haven’t been the best houseguest in the world.”

 

“I’m having a great time,” Damien said happily, apparently not upset in the least about what the day held for him.

 

After breakfast, Jim volunteered them for KP Duty. Collecting the trays and dishes, he and Blair headed for the kitchen. Damien and Vincent remained in the living room, to conduct the promised business of the day.

 

 

 

 

Once privacy was insured, Vincent said in a matter of fact voice, “Go get it.”

 

Damien hesitated for a brief moment, but a hard look from Vin sent him hurrying out of the living room and up the stairs.  Moments later he returned with the paddle.

 

“Okay, little boy, you know the why’s and the wherefores and the how comes. Do you have any questions or anything you want to say on your behalf.”  Vincent sat on the sofa, as he took the paddle from Damien.

 

“I just loved it, Vin. It was so beautiful and sentimental and I don’t even care if you paddle me. I feel miserable over having lost it.”

 

“Well, little boy, all you had to do was come to me and tell me. A simple little, ‘Vin, I’m sorry, I snooped like I shouldn’t have and then I took a ring that I really had no idea was going to be mine, I wore it and I lost it.’ Vincent looked at his very miserable lover.

 

“You still would have spanked me,” he mumbled.

 

“Oh, yes, indeed, but not as severely as you are going to get it now.”

 

“I don’t care. I want another one, Vin.”

 

“Whoa, hold on, you do not dictate to me, little boy. I’ve told you that there are two things you really have to break yourself of. One is the need to win all the time, the other is your insatiable curiosity into things that do not concern you.”

 

“But this was my ring, Vin. You were going to give it to me. I just wanted to wear it for a little while. Show Mark that I wasn’t just a boy toy.”

 

“What?” Vincent asked, unsure he heard his significant other correctly.

 

Day had the good grace to look down at his shoes as he scuffed the threads on the large area rug in front of the hearth. “A boy toy. That’s what he thinks I am. Just a brainless boy toy. He’s always thought that. Just because his mom and I were close.”

 

“I can’t deal with that right now, Damien. I’m not even sure this is a legitimate complaint. Knowing you, you are simply trying to confuse the issues and get leniency and it is NOT going to work.”

 

Damien’s face dropped in a short veil of anger and disappointment, confirming Vincent’s suspicions that his little imp was once again trying to run rings around him.

 

“Drop them and over my knee. NOW!” Vincent took on the voice of authority. It was the angry, no-nonsense voice that Day knew better than to question or rebuke.

 

The blond hair fell forward over his forehead as he unbuckled his belt, dropped his pants and two stepped nearer to Vincent. The large man, losing patience, reached forward and pulled the penitent across his lap.

 

Damien stiffened, knowing the routine, but unable to relax. Fully aware of what he was in store for he clenched his cheeks tightly and stiffened his spine.

 

The large man raised the sweater above the slender waist.  Pulling the boxers down he saw the white globes tensing and dimpling as the younger man prepared himself for the expected pain.

 

For a brief moment, Vincent’s heart tightened. A deep and abiding love for this troublesome brat overrode any and all frustrations at behavior that oftentimes had him clenching his jaw in determined anger.  Whatever hollows echoed off this young man’s heart, whatever occupied the barren halls of his past and made him chase after the prize of winning, the need for some show of affection to wear like a badge of honor, were imbedded deeply into his psyche. Time alone could not heal them, but Vincent was damn determined that he be patient and never give up the effort to win that trust.

 

Raising his hand, he delivered several sharp, stinging slaps to the soft, white flesh. Damien jerked more in surprise at the hand spanking his bottom than the pain. Vincent always started long, hard spankings with his hand. Warming up the flesh with his own personal touch kept Damien constantly aware that Vin was there, not some executioner who cared not a whit for the boy.

 

Groaning at the promise of the severity this punishment would take, Damien tried to throw some stones of reason into the pond, perhaps to veer the tide of anger in another direction.  “Mark saw me digging. You know, Mark could have helped me look. He could have helped and put the grass back.”

 

“I’m well aware of the stories you told Mark Coletrane, little boy. You wasted the man’s time, sent him off with lies about me being here.  Well, you are going to apologize to Mark. You are going to pay for lawn care for the rest of the month so Mark won’t lose his income; but Mark is not going to be doing our lawn work, Damien, you are.

“NO!” Day had the audacity to yell.

 

The spanking intensified, the flesh bounced and reddened as an angry Vincent reminded his young partner of who was in charge. “Ugh, No, Please, Vin. Please. It hurts.”

 

“Hurts? I’m just getting started, Day. Surely even you know that.”

 

Damien pressed his face into the cushions, praying that Jim and Blair could not hear him.  When Vincent gauged the flesh hot and stinging, he rested his hand on the small of Day’s back, allowing him to compose himself before the final chapter of his spanking began.

 

“Any thoughts you’d like to share at this moment, Mr. St. Claire?” Vincent wanted to pull the brat back out. Concern for the crying figure over his lap compelled him not only to rub small circles in the back, but to bring out the feisty youth who challenged and amused him most times.

 

“Only that life sucks big time,” Day mumbled as though he were the philosopher for all ages.

 

Letting out a signature Vincent Cade laugh, he recognized the returning truculence and spirit. Picking up the paddle he turned his attentions on the final lessons to be learned.

 

Blair and Jim were trying to keep their conversation light. Still not willing to voice any concerns to Jim, Blair talked about England, the Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge as he grabbed a plate Jim handed to him. Wiping the dish, he winced every time a cry or sounds of the paddle reached them from across the huge house.

 

Jim’s own hearing was turned down, blocking out the painful sounds that often accompanied the resounding smacks. His concerns for the victim were long shelved after hearing the soft comforting sounds Vincent made every so often or the warm advice tendered to the young man receiving all of Vin’s attention.

 

Even in anger, Vincent Cade demonstrated a warm caring for Damien St. Claire.

 

“Gentlemen,” the voice broke through their strained conversation, the intercom connecting them to the two men across the house. “Would you please join us in the living room.”

 

Blair looked questioningly at Jim. Grabbing the towel from Sandburg, Jim wiped his hands and put a guiding hand on Blair’s shoulder. “Let’s go, Chief.”

 

Upon entering the huge room, Blair eagerly sought out his friend. Damien was crying miserably, face pressed into a corner, his pants were pulled up, but askew, his sweater still high above his waist.  His hands clenched at his side, frantically wanting to rub at his bottom.

 

“Damien has something to say to you, and especially to you, Blair,” Vincent announced, though it was said more as a command than a documentary comment.

 

The figure turned from the corner half ways. Lifting his tear-stained face, he looked at Jim and then at Blair. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Jim for ruining your vacation and for causing you concern about Blair’s safety. Thank you for saving me.” Then casting a quick glance at Vincent, who stood with one hand supporting his frame against the hearth, he continued, “Blair, I’m sorry for ruining your vacation, for getting you into trouble and almost killing you. I’m not a very good friend.”

 

Damien then started to unleash fresh tears that coursed down his cheeks in a strong and steady flow.  Blair rushed forward and put a hand on Day’s back as he turned back into the corner.

 

“Is this necessary?” Blair asked harshly. “I mean, he’s sorry and he’s been punished, what more do you want from him?”

 

“Blair!” Jim intervened, but Vincent raised a hand.

 

“Blair, Day is well aware of the routine when he steps out of line. He’s due a day of punishment. He stands in the corner for one hour. Then he will go outdoors and try to make amends to the natural world for his harsh treatment of her. After lunch, he will be in the corner again for some quiet moments of reflection. Back outdoors and then corner time again before dinner. He will eat by himself as children are often made to do and while we dine he shall stand in the corner, quietly repentant. Afterwards he will receive a bedtime spanking and be tucked away by eight thirty.”

 

Blair paled, “You can’t be serious.”

 

“Day, am I serious?” Vin asked, quite pleasantly.

 

“Yeah, he’s serious.”

 

Blair’s jaw tightened at the perceived mistreatment of his friend. Noting the slight shake of Jim’s head, he raged out of the room, not sure how long he could contain a sharp and bitter tongue.

 

“Damien, do I abuse you?” Vincent called out, making direct eye contact with Ellison, noting the blue eyes hardening into him, demanding an explanation.

“No. You just put me back on track. Take the steam out of my engines,” Day let out a little laugh.  Then rubbing his butt, he lost some of his humor, “but you paddled awfully hard today.”

 

“You almost got yourself killed and you almost took your friend with you. I think it was deserved attention.”

 

“I know,” Day sounded genuinely sorry. “I really am sorry, Vin, Jim.”

 

“No more talking. Quiet reflection is what you need now, little boy.” Vincent put his arm around Jim and walked him over to the small tables by the window.  Looking out onto the driveway, they could see Blair walking towards the trees, no sense of direction, lost in thought.

 

“I think I might lose him over this,” Ellison said, sadly. “He needs the discipline, but seeing this,” he waved a hand that was meant to pull in the quiet blond in the corner, “he’s scared and confused.”

 

“Tomorrow I think he’ll see things a little more clearly. Why don’t you take him into town today. Lunch at the tavern, some gift shopping for friends. Day won’t feel like civilized company anyway. He tends to get pouty and sometimes quite petulant on a punishment day and I’ll need to tend to him immediately. Dinner will be around seven. I’ll send out for pizza. It’s Day’s favorite. The least I can do for him.”

 

Jim Ellison smiled. There was no doubt in his mind that Vincent Cade, hard ass ex-Lt. Colonel loved the golden-haired youth. For all of Day’s wild ways, his irritatingly childish attitude towards life, there was one man who loved him with all his heart and soul. Why  was it so simple for him to see, yet so difficult for Blair to piece together the puzzle that relationships often were.

 

“I guess you’re right. He’ll only get upset seeing Day punished when he feels just as responsible.”

 

Vincent placed a hand on Jim’s arm. “He’ll come around. He’s afraid he’s changed. We need to show him, if he’s changed at all, it’s only for the better and it’s not diminished him in any way. I know just how to do it.  Plus, he has no closure. He feels just as responsible as Day and he won't be happy until he’s paid his dues.”

 

“I can’t really punish him when he’s so put off by it. I know we have the agreement for six months and we have another month, but he was only helping Day.”  Ellison sighed, then

the blue eyes returned to the window watching with loving concern the troubled young man with the gentle heart.

 

 

 

 

 

Jim and Blair spent a pleasant day in town. The shops were busy, but they took their time studying small items, judging the value of certain purchases, filling spaces in the loft with treasured memories of this trip and their time in England.  A pleasant lunch in a more tourist-catered restaurant and more shopping for Simon and Darryl filled their afternoon. Blair insisted on buying a wind chime that danced with different colored cats each in a different position of springing or running. Jim cautioned him that Vin might find the noise of chimes irritating, but that sealed Blair’s determination all the more and he decided to drop it.  In turn, Jim picked up a black onyx paperweight for Vincent’s office. It was a natural stone, roughly cut, jagged in parts, but smooth and shiny in others.

 

The Demon’s day was not so enjoyable. Close contact with the earth was not something Damien St. Claire enjoyed at any time. He felt death alone should deliver him into a close enough relationship with the earth and until that time, he liked to view it’s wonders from afar. This thought often sent Vincent into long periods of reflection on a man who was introduced to him while fighting for environmental protection. There was no accounting for the colors that painted St. Claire’s world, but colorful as it was, it was shadowed and tinted in areas that sometimes made the colors run and fade. In the eight years he knew the young man, he was still seeing patterns in his prism.

 

A slight altercation at lunchtime when the truculent prisoner decided corner time was not for reflection, but better suited to bitching and griping. A quick turn over and a well-placed hand soon had him eagerly seeking the solitude and relative safety of the quiet corner.  Damien knew the day would continue as Vin had decreed no matter how much he complained, but the persistent little demon in his head popped its ugly head up enough to bring added discomfort to the sorrowful young man.

 

When Jim and Blair returned to the house it was five o’clock. Both men were exhausted from the pleasant but tiring day of gift purchasing for friends. From the huge foyer, they could see out in back upon the lawns.  They spotted Vincent Cade, hands clasped behind his back chuckling, standing under the staircase watching the toiler in the fields.

 

Blair could see Damien St. Claire, dressed in jeans and ripped sweatshirt, golden hair blowing in the wind pounding a shovel flat against the grass. The furious expression on his face, the vindictive exuberance of every blow, did indeed look comical. Jim pulled Blair close as they walked up to Cade.

 

“He’s taking that well, I can see,” Jim said in a mildly conversational tone.

 

Vincent let out a loud laugh that was trademark Cade. “Day takes everything with charm and good grace….” Casting his hand toward the window for effect, “as you can see.”

 

All three men laughed. Even Blair shook his head at the determined petulance of his friend.

 

“Did you gentlemen have a good day?” Vin asked smiling at the way Jim and Blair leaned into each other.

 

Jim winked, “Great, we have some gifts for you and Day, but I think they’ll be well-received on another day.  Right now, I think we’re due a nap. When is dinner?”

 

“Seven thirty,” Vin said, then looking at Blair he added, “Day has corner time and a bedtime spanking due him, then an early night.  He’ll be a free agent after that so I imagine, Blair, he’ll be in need of a fun day tomorrow.”

 

“I imagine he will,” Blair said, with just a note of sarcasm in his voice.

 

“See, Blair, Day will feel fine tomorrow. He’s vindicated himself and he knows I love him enough to call him on his conduct. He pays the dues, then he’s allowed the joy of a clear conscience.”

 

Blair looked nervously at Jim. Pulling his lover by the arm, he commented from a distance, “We’re actually quite tired. I think that nap sounds good.”

 

Vin merely smiled recalling how Blair could manipulate situations to his advantage.

 

“I’ll see you at seven-thirty,” he added, totally fine with the escape.

 

 

 

 

The pizza was delicious. England didn’t separate itself from this American pleasure by much.  Day was positioned in the corner near the blazing hearth, nose pressed firmly into the narrow area. He had showered and now dressed in his pajamas, he was ready for bed, like any brat after a spanking.

 

Vin had stood by as he showered and dressed for bed. Exiting the shower stall, he threw his towel down in a pique, tired of being denied the pleasant company of his houseguests.

 

“Pick it up and hang it to dry,” Vincent said as he sat on the closed toilet seat.

 

Day stood there naked, arms folded across his chest, taking his stand.

 

“One, two, three,” Vin said quickly, never allowing Day warnings on Punishment days, he pushed the brat over the sink, grabbed the large wooden bath brush and applied a series of hard swats to the now pink and rosy globes. Day kicked and tried to push up, but Vincent held him firmly by his neck.

 

When released, he angrily picked the soppy towel up and threw it over the shower door. Vincent relented and allowed the temper tantrum as he neatly straightened it and followed his brat into the cold bedroom.

 

Vincent had laid out the Dr. Denton pajamas that he had bought for Day last Christmas. Day loved the cozy and warm pj’s, but embarrassed with Jim and Blair sleeping next to them, he froze in his tracks.

 

Anger still visible in his demeanor, he picked up the pajamas and threw them into Vin’s face. Needless-to-say, his bottom was once again attended to, his outcries only exacerbated his kicking and screaming. Vincent sat the brat on his lap. A moment of staring each other down, and Day dropped his hazel orbs. Vin picked up the Dentons and dressed his brat. Putting his feet into them, he pushed him off his lap and raised the bottoms up over the reddened flesh. Day winced, but didn’t struggle, didn’t cooperate either as he stood stock still, but he knew better than to put up a fight.

 

Now standing in the corner, remembering his own lonely meal in silence. The tasty pizza, reminding him of days of camaraderie with his earth buddies over a beer, only boiled the resentment all the more.

 

His eyes remained tightly closed as he listened to the pleasant chatter going on in back of him. Vincent was eagerly questioning Jim and Blair about their day in Salisbury.  A small shop noted here, and Day wanted to jump in and add his comments about his experience there. A pleasant memory chalked by Jim’s remembrances, and Day had to bite his tongue to keep from adding more substance to the experience. Finally kicking his feet angrily into the wall, he brought attention upon himself, unfortunately, not the kind he wanted.

 

“Do you want some attention over there, little boy? I can assure you, it won’t be the kind you are thinking of.” Vincent quickly brought a finger up to his lips, to keep Jim and Blair from objecting on the penitent’s behalf.

 

No answer, a low groan and some mumbled words of expression. Jim’s hearing allowed him to catch “controlling bastard,” but he hid the smile that threatened to break across his features. Vincent caught the save and merely shook his head, knowing full well the image Damien had of him right about now.

 

“Do you?” he repeated the question.

 

“No, Vin, I don’t want your da…your attention.”

 

“Good, because I can assure you, Demon, you will regret it long into tomorrow.”

 

“I regret it already,” Day persisted, having to have the final say.

 

“ENOUGH!” Vincent took back control.

 

“Not by a long shot,” Day had enough himself. He turned from the corner, stomping his encased feet like a brat beyond control. “It’s not fair, Vin. It’s fucking not fair. Fuck you!”

 

Vincent rose swiftly. Placing a large hand on the back of Day’s neck he guided him forcefully out into the hallway towards the bathroom, placing sharp smacks to his bottom as he urged him along. “NO!” Day wailed, well aware of this procedure, “please, Vin, I just had pizza, don’t ruin it.”

 

“You ruined it yourself, little boy.”

 

Vin sat the disgruntled captive on the toilet seat and closed the bathroom door. Opening the small cupboard under the sink he took out a paper-wrapped object. It looked like a Popsicle or sucker, but Day starting whining immediately; still hoping against all hope that Vin had only taken him into the small room for a spanking.

 

“Vin, please. I won’t say another word, I promise.”

 

“I know you won’t, little boy,” Vin ran water on the object which was approximately three inches long and one and half thick inches thick. “Open,” Vin directed as he glared down at the petulant mouth.

 

“FU!!!”

 

Vin shoved the foul-tasting Backtalker into the smart mouth.

 

Day’s face twisted into a contortionist expression of anger, resentment, distaste and acquiescence in a matter of seconds. The hard look on Cade’s face promised a really bad evening if any more antics were displayed. St. Claire of the quick mind chose surrender.

 

 

 

 

 

When Damien was ushered back into the living room, a sucker protruded from his closed mouth. However, upon closer inspection the foaming soap that bubbled at the edges of his mouth and the sour expression on his face were evidence enough that it was soap in his mouth, no child’s sweet treat.

 

One final hard smack to his bottom, a groan from Damien, and the blond was once again cornered for reflection and some savoring of the moment.

 

Vince joined Jim and Blair at the table again. “Backtalkers,” he said, by way of explanation.

 

“Excuse me,” Blair asked, bristling.

 

“Backtalkers---it’s soap. Actually made in Phoenix. Soap on a stick with a particularly foul taste for brats who can’t control their tongues. I’m afraid we buy them by the case lately.”

 

Jim and Vin resumed their conversation while Blair’s mind went off down avenues that crossed at every juncture.

 

 

 

 

 

After the meal was over, Vincent excused himself from the table in the living room and grabbed Damien’s shoulders.  Damien rushed past him and water could be heard running in the bathroom as he rinsed and spit and coughed up the foul-tasting soap. Vincent met him at the entrance to the living room and marched the dejected figure over into his office and closed the door.

 

The loud cries coming from Vin’s office were punctuated by a wince on Blair’s face. Each harsh stroke against the bare flesh, resounding in sharp slapping rhythms, followed by an equally forceful wail, left the young anthropologist wringing his hands.

 

“Sit down, Blair,” Jim finally said, as he pulled his passing lover from the path he had worn on the large area rug. “He’s fine. It’s almost over with, the whole day. Damien knows what he can expect when he misbehaves. It’s all part of the routine. He finds safety and assurance in that fact.”

 

“Meaning I don’t,” Blair answered sharply, trying to pull off of Ellison’s lap. A large hand landed a reminder to his own rump. Blair groaned, but settled in easily and looked up with a pout at his own lover’s angry face.

 

“It means, Chief, that we can work on our problems, but it doesn’t mean you can work on Day’s and Vin’s. Do I make myself clear?” Gone was the Ellison who was trying to cut him some slack, give him that inch or two of leeway to concede his own needs and desires for the relationship. Now James Ellison was in fact stating where the line ended. Blair bit his lip unconsciously and nodded his understanding.

 

 

 

 

Vincent’s hand relentlessly met the target area with a force that hopefully instilled a long remembrance into the brat he loved.  Feeling a sense of relief himself that the long-tortuous day was almost over, he allowed his only feelings of irritability to make their statement. The brat deserved this treatment and he would see he collected all his points. A final hard swat on each reddened cushion sent a long howl into the air. The figure deflated and lay motionless across his knee.

 

Pulling the warm pajama flaps up and over the hot flesh, he started making small circles on his back, soft reassurances to the distraught young man.  When Day quieted enough, Vin pulled him up and onto his lap as the leather sofa in his office cracked and snapped with the movement.

 

“I’m sorry, Vin. I’m so sorry. Do you love me? Do you still love me?” Damien was a little boy again, a lost soul unsure of his place in the scheme of things.

 

“Oh, little boy, I will always love you. I don’t like your actions, there are times I don’t like you, but I always---always Demon---love you.”

 

Day broke down even more; as though once the damn was broken the major flood now pushed down all defenses and was determined now to drown out all false pretenses. The tired, bedraggled figure clung to Cade with a childlike intensity, the fingers grasping his shirt in large clumps, the legs pulled up tightly, knees into his chest, curling himself into a ball hoping to fit into this man’s pocket.

 

Cade rapidly rained kisses on the top of his head; brushing the wild locks away from his forehead he marked every area with the reassurances of love.

 

“I love you. I love you so much, Vin. Don’t ever stop loving me. Pleeeeaaase!” he wailed out the last.

 

“I should spank you again for that, little boy,” Vin said harshly as he pushed the sniffling brat from his chest. But the hazel eyes looked so sincere so disbelieving that Vin merely grabbed the face with both hands and planted a hot, possessive kiss on the quivering lips.

 

The young man, in total denial, found faith and assurance in that one hard kiss. As he pushed the face back the hazel eyes looked droopily up into his own brown ones.

 

Laughing, Vincent lifted the small figure to his chest and raised himself from the sofa. “It’s bed time for you, brat. You’re not of sound mind right now. No court could convict you of any transgressions the state you’re in.”

 

Day’s head fell onto his chest and he cuddled into the warm hammock the arms made.

 

Vincent carried the semi-sleeping form to the fireplace and laid him gently into the nest of blankets.  Kneeling down he smiled benevolently as he tucked the feet and hands beneath the blanket and captured his prize with one final good night kiss. The day was over and the healing would begin.

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to join Blair and Jim at the table, Vincent sighed heavily. “I think he sometimes enjoys punishment day, because he knows I suffer right along with him.”

 

Jim gave a quick glance at Blair. Smiling he noted the confused look on his young friend’s face. “He’s right, Chief, in these relationships there’s a great deal of sharing...some I don’t think you’ve even begun to imagine.”

 

Blair nodded, trying desperately to deal with his confused emotions. The trouble with enlightenment is that it comes from out of the blue and it’s never what you expect it to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lying down in the nest of blankets, Vin tugged the sleeping form of his partner closer to him.  Day opened his eyes at the movement, “Shhh,  go back to sleep little boy.  It’s late,” Vin said in a whisper, not wanting to wake up Jim and Blair.

 

“Are Jim and Blair asleep?”  Day whispered back.

 

Raising his head a little to look over Day, he saw the two other figures.  Blair was asleep on his stomach facing Jim---his hand inches away from grabbing hold of the other man’s T-shirt but still not able to cross that line.  Jim was on his side, facing Blair fast asleep.  “Yes, as you should be.”

 

“I can’t.”

 

Vin sighed, he was tired and as much as he loved his partner, he really didn’t feel like talking tonight.  It had been a long day and he was physically and emotionally spent.  “Why not little boy?”  Vin asked, his voice carrying the edge of impatience.

 

“My butt is too sore.”

 

Vin shook his head, “Damien, I did not spank you that hard.  Roll over on your stomach and you’ll be fine.”

 

“It hurts,” Day said pitifully.

 

“It’s going to hurt a lot worse if you don’t roll over and go to sleep.  I mean it, young man.”

 

Day sniffled spicing the show with self-pity.

 

“One more sound out of you and you can spend another day on punishment duty.”

 

“Okay,” came a small voice.

 

Just about to drift off to sleep, the figure next to him squirmed out of his grasp and sat up.

 

 “What the hell are you doing now?” he whispered, completely annoyed now.

 

“I have to go to the bathroom,” the indignant voice answered, “it’s either that or I can pee right here.”

 

Vin sighed wearily; it was going to be a long night.  “Come right back, I do not want you up roaming around in the cold.”

 

Vin reached out a hand to help steady his partner, easing him up among the blankets and pillows scattered about. He watched as Day made his way to the bathroom, fully aware of the reason for the small act of defiance under the pretense of nature’s call. After spending all day by himself, his brat was in need of attention and reassurance that all was forgiven and he was as loved and cherished as ever.  Getting up quietly, Vin stole into his office just off the living room, returning a minute later with a small tube and a towel.  Getting back between the blankets, he waited for Day’s return.  A few minutes later, the bathroom light shut off and he could hear the soft sounds of his lover returning to the nest.

 

Day quietly slipped back in front of his lover, once again sandwiching himself between Vin and Blair. However the extra cushions positioned between the two younger men kept them from touching. This precaution had been necessary when both brats had started fighting on the first night.

 

“Are you all settled for the night?”  Vin asked in his ear.

 

Day nodded.

 

“Good,” Vin said, as he began to tug down Day’s pajama flaps.

 

Day wiggled away, “No, Vin, I’m sorry.  I’ll be quiet.  I promise.”

 

“Damien, hush, relax.”

 

Day’s squirming had helped the movement and he was now bare in the back.

 

Pulling Day close so that he was lying almost spooned directly in front of him, Vin gently stroked the now bare butt.

 

The younger man groaned softly, arching his back, opening himself up to the exploring fingers.

 

“Demon, be quiet,” Vin ordered softly, stopping his fingers just before they dipped into the opening clef.

 

Day nodded and bit down on his lip as the fingers began to move again.  Reaching down and unbutton some of his front buttons, he started stroking his own cock in rhythm with the other fingers in back.

 

Vin smiled at the soft sounds his lover was making and the slight movements under the covers.  Removing his hand, he quickly opened the lube and spread it on his own hard cock.

 

A soft whimper escaped Day’s lips at the absence of his lover’s touch.

 

Not saying a word, Vin positioned himself behind the younger man, the tip of his penis barely touching his lover’s opening.

 

Wiggling back slightly, Day was halted by Vin’s hand on his waist.  “Noooooo,” he said, frustrated by the lack of movement afforded him, his hand stilling in order to prolong his excitement.

 

“Little boy, hush.  Don’t make another noise or I’ll put a ring on you, shove a plug up your ass and let you stay hard all night.”

 

Day could not control the small laugh, “Oooohhh,’ he said, “I like it when you get all rough and kinky with me.”

 

Vin leaned in to whisper in his love’s ear, “You are just going to have to be patient, little boy, this is going to be quiet.  We are not putting on a show for everyone.  Think you can do that?”

 

Day nodded his head, “What do I get as my reward for staying quiet?”  He whispered innocently.

 

“This,” Vin said, shoving himself deep into his lover. 

 

Already relaxed, Day’s body allowed the large, hard member to slide home with little resistance.  His breath caught for a minute, no matter how many times they did this, it still took several moments for the feeling of tight pressure and fullness to be replaced by the glorious feelings of being entered and made a part of his lover.  He tightened his muscles to indicate to Vin that he was okay.

 

Vin slowly began to rock ever so slightly inside of him, moving his hips just inches but enough to send waves of pleasure coursing through both of their bodies.

 

Day reached back with one hand and gripped Vin’s hip as if to help with the movement, his other hand rapidly bringing about his own climax.  His internal muscles tightened and his hand turned talon as it hooked into Vin’s hip as he came hard.

 

Vin could feel the slight tremors course through the younger man’s body.  With three harder thrusts---each one impaling him on his lover---he came hard.  Letting out a quiet moan, he felt himself pumping into Day and the returning acceptance and reward of their union.

 

The sensation of drifting held both men for several moments, complimenting their lovemaking with a sense of peace.

 

Day could feel Vin starting to get soft and pull out of him,  "No," he said, "stay with me."

 

"Sorry, little boy, not in this position, I can't.  My arm is asleep already." Vin said, regretfully.

 

Day rolled over so that he was now facing Vin and forcing his legs in-between the larger man’s, he curled up close. Sighing contentedly as Vin’s warm breath brushed the top of his head, strong arms securing him in place, he came home.

 

"I'm sorry I was such a brat today," Day whispered.

 

"I know.  It's over." 

 

"I love you," Day said, "Those words don't even begin to express how I feel about you.  They're inadequate to tell you just how much."

 

"I know. Now, go to sleep, little boy, you've had a rough day.  I love you, too."

 

Within moments the contented drifter settled into sleep and his older lover joined him in tandem, closely entwined in the afterglow.

 

 

 

 

 

Blair Sandburg eased his breath out in careful silence. Confusion heightened his already distraught state. His friend, lorded over and strictly held in line, was complacently accepting in his chains. So much so, that he seemed genuinely contented with the way things were. Tonight, for all the punishment endured by his blond friend, Blair Sandburg was the one most upset. The young anthropologist snuggled beneath his blankets, guilty and upset, wishing for all the world that it was he who had been punished and forgiven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday came into their world with a golden halo, warm and promising. Damien dressed quickly and with very little cajoling convinced Blair to join him for services at the Cathedral. Amazed at the good cheer and enthusiasm with which his friend met the day---following the emotional storm he weathered just the previous day---Blair wanted to please Damien---be there for him.

 

The Gas Company workers were arriving just as they were getting ready to go so Vin and Jim stayed behind in case there was trouble. Day glanced guilty at the arriving truck as they left the house.  Shaking his head, he muttered to himself, "No, don’t go there, it's over."

 

"What did you say?" Blair asked, not having caught the softly mumbled words.

 

"Oh, I was just telling myself not to get all guilty about the pipe.  It's over, it's being fix and Vin has forgiven me.  When I get caught up in my guilt about something, I get really bratty until Vin catches me and sets me back upright."  He glanced at Blair, "so, what's going on with you and Jimbo?  You off the hook for the gardens?"

 

"I don't know.  I need to think about what I want and make some choices I guess, tell him what I want," Blair replied quietly.

 

The other man made a face and said, "Glad I don't have to do that.  It's hard to ask to be punished.  I've only gotten my nerve up a couple of times." 

 

They pulled in the already crowded parking area for the Cathedral and got out and began to walk in.  Suddenly Day stopped and laid a hand on Blair's arm, "Just remember my friend, what you want and what you need is not always the same thing."  With that, he started off quickly into the church.

 

 

 

 

 

They emerged an hour later, neither one really talking.  Day reflecting on the sermon and still struggling with his feelings about organized religion.  Blair struggling with his own feelings about Jim and their relationship and how to get out of the mess he seemed to have created.

 

 

 

 

Day seem to shake his contemplative mood by the time they reached the house fifteen minutes later, bursting into the kitchen with a loud "We're home!”

 

Vin looked up from the frying pan full of bacon and glared at him briefly, then turning to Jim he said in a mock upset voice, “I thought I told you to change the locks while they were gone!"

 

Jim laughed.  Day stuck out his tongue and crossed his eyes at his lover, who unfortunately for him turned around in time to catch him.

 

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to do that or your face could freeze that way, little boy?" Vin asked, waggling a finger in the classic no-no gesture.

 

Day broke into a huge grin and fell into his lover, burrowing his face deep into his chest, "But you would still love me, right?" he asked, completely sure of the answer.

 

He was rewarded with a kiss on his hair and a gentle, loving, "Of course, little boy, always."

 

"Where is your partner in crime, Day?" Jim asked, encompassing the grounds with his hearing trying to locate his guide.

 

"I don't know, he said he would be in shortly,” Day said, snuggling up to Vin and totally unconcerned with the outside world.

 

"I'll go see if I can't find him before breakfast gets too cold." Jim slipped quietly out of the kitchen, giving his hosts a few minutes of privacy.

 

 

 

 

 

After breakfast, since gas and heat would be returning to the house before the morning was out, it was decided to clean the living room up and return it to its normal neatness.  Throughout the cleaning, Damien practically hung on Vin.  Several times Jim caught Blair’s attention with a wink and the young man would turn to see Day, arms wrapped around Vin’s waist from behind, head resting on his back practically being pulled along as Vincent tucked cushions back on chairs and folded blankets.

 

Then a resounding swat to the brat’s backside and Day would---with grudgingly good cheer---resume his own ministrations on the labor force. It was as if the young man could not get enough of his hard, unyielding lover.

 

When they were finished, they walked out onto the terrace for a bit of fresh air.  “What are we doing today?” Blair said as he looked out at the beautiful grounds, the green lawns crisp in the September sun as it burnt off the last layers of English mist.

 

“You guys are on your own until Noon,” Vin said.

 

“Oh..I know just the thing,” Day said, excitement coloring his eyes a light green.  “There’s this rocky crag off about two miles along the river, the view is spectacular.  Remember that painting in The Art Critic, the one with the mist blanketing the river, this is the landscape Vin painted. It’s quite breathtaking and there should be just enough mist left when we get there to duplicate the painting.”

 

“Great,” Blair said, “I’ll get my camera. Jim, you up for a hike?”

 

Jim looked to Vin for an indication of any planned discussions between them, but Vin merely shrugged his shoulders.

 

“No, Chief, count me out on this one. I think I need a quiet Sunday morning with a cup of coffee, the newspaper, and I might give Simon a call and find out how things are going back in Cascade. You go ahead and have some fun. Besides, I’ve seen the place before.”

 

With that and little else by way of encouragement, both young men headed out into the slowly warming countryside.

 

Jim hugged his cup and waited for Vin to put his paper down. The older man tried to read, but several times he scrunched his face in irritation, aware that his friend across the small breakfast table was anxious to talk.

 

Finally, sighing heavily, he folded the paper and laid in dramatically down on the table, “Okay, Jimmy, what is it?”

 

Laughing at the obviousness of his concerns, he shook his head, “I guess fooling you is just about impossible.”

 

“I’ve dealt with more than my share of brats and I’ve come to know the looks of guilt and uncertainty. I’d say yours is more uncertainty now…the need for reassurance. Spit it out.”

 

“I’m just not sure where to go with Blair right now? I’m about ready to call the whole discipline relationship off. It’s just too hard on him and me, emotionally.”  Ellison took a long swig of his coffee and put the cup down. Rising slowly he walked to the window that overlooked the driveway, and watched the Gas Company's truck slowly pull away from the house and back onto the main road, their work finished.

 

“Jim, the relationship would be working just fine if you had stuck to the promise you made the young man. You’ve been vacillating this whole time, so much so that Blair is confused; he’s not sure any more where he stands. You should have paddled him Saturday morning when Day got his punishment. You screw up, you get punished…right away, no time to think about it, no room for discussion, simple cause and effect. Now he’s pulled away and you need the whole courtship dance again, like a trial lawyer presenting your case and convincing your jury. Well, the way I see it, when Blair agreed to six months, he was sentenced and he should have served his time. The only negotiations allowed will be in one month’s time when the contract gets renewed or not.”

 

“Well, it’s not going to be easy convincing him of anything after he witnessed Day’s punishment. I’ll never get him to recommit now and I just can’t bring myself to spank him when he’s so torn by the whole relationship.”  Ellison came back to the table and sat down.

 

"Jim, he wants to be in this relationship with you.  He's hurting right now, he is confused and unsure of himself and what's going on.  You need to take him in hand, make him live with the relationship like you agreed.  You have one month left to show him the joys and peace of being in a relationship like this, be strict, be demanding and he will respond.  Have you done that or have you been fooling around the whole five months?"

 

"No, this summer, I really had him on a short leash.  He has a tendency to run himself ragged so I made him keep a time sheet.  He was not allowed to work more then 45 hours a week.  If he was putting in long hours at school, that meant he spent less time with me at the station and vice versa.  When his 45 hours were reached, unless it was a special situation, the books got closed and the computer was shut off."

 

"And how did he respond to that?"

 

"It was hard the first week but he settled down and things went smoothly.  He got everything done on time, he was able to work with me, but it was at a normal pace.  There was very little stress and he seemed happy…”  Jim's voice trailed off.

 

"What?"

 

"He told me he was happy because he knew where the stop sign was and didn’t have to look for it and he knew he was going to find it and there was nothing he could do about it."

 

Vin smiled, "Exactly.  That is what he needs; you know and he knows it.  He needs someone to put boundaries on his behavior, on his actions, so he can enjoy all that he has accomplished instead of focusing on what hasn't been accomplished."

 

They sat in silence for several minutes, Jim, thinking about the summer and his actions now, Vin, simply watching and waiting.

 

“You said something Friday night about knowing how to fix this problem, what did you mean?  I think I need some help with him,” Jim said softly.

 

“So, James Ellison is not afraid to ask for help when he needs it,” Vin laughed, his voice kind and nonjudgmental, “seems the sessions over my knee worked just fine.”

 

The detective shook his head, laughing, remembering all the times that Vincent Cade had made him see himself, understand himself, and pour out his deepest thoughts most times looking at the floor or carpeting with his butt blazing sore and hot.

 

“No, I’m not afraid to come to you and ask your help. You’ve always been there and you always make it right.”

 

It was the larger man’s turn to laugh and Ellison smiled at the wonderful sound. The strong, deep resonations of his good cheer when something struck him funny was an indication of the man’s love for life and friends and family.  Cade never did anything insincerely or halfway.

 

“You’ve met Peter Bailey before, your last trip here four years ago.”

 

Ellison nodded his head remembering the quiet, unassuming young doctor.

 

“Well, you might not know it, but Mark Coletrane, our gardener, is Peter’s partner.”

 

“Coletrane? When you mentioned him before I’d wondered where I’d heard that name before,” Jim said, rubbing his jaw trying to piece together the puzzle.

 

“The inimitable Mrs. Coletrane, no doubt comes to mind.” Cade let out another belly laugh as he watched his friend’s face open in amazement.

 

“NO?” Jim said shocked, “not his mother?”

 

“Yes, indeed,” Cade laughed harder. “Damien’s own fairy godmother, the one and only Mrs. Agnes Coletrane, storm trooper, nursemaid and disciplinarian in her own right. That woman was an angel. There were times when I first brought Damien here that I swear, Jim, I would have killed the brat if it weren’t for that woman’s intercession.” Vincent paused and frowned at some sad memory, “I think there were times when she came pert near to killing him herself, but he ate out of her hand like the wild birds and squirrels I saw her tame.”

 

“I’m sorry, Vin,” Jim said, realizing how much his friend missed the strong, forceful woman in his life.

 

“I think Day started thinking of her as a mother and he took her death pretty hard. Hell, I took it hard.”

 

Then as though realizing how far off track the train of thought had gone, Vincent cleared his throat, pushing back his emotions, “Peter and Mark are coming here for a barbecue this afternoon. I called Peter and he was kind enough to pick up some great steaks before he left London from this shop where I have an account. I think your brat is about to be in for a little self-realization.”

 

<end of part 2>

 

 

1