THE LINES OF DESCENT continued - part 3

 

 

The self-realization began at first meeting, although Blair Sandburg had no idea. Peter Bailey caught his attention immediately when the pair arrived at Noon. They were a marvelous contrast in personalities and physique. Although both men were well built and proportioned nicely, Peter was slightly taller, but slimmer in frame and, although six-years-older than Mark, at thirty-six he took the back seat initially, quietly sitting back and watching. It was obvious the two men were deeply in love. Mark continuously pulled the quiet man to him, hugging him over the smallest pretense.

 

Peter Bailey had long brown hair that covered his ears. The brown eyes that looked out from behind the round, wire-framed glasses were always alert and questioning as though he were afraid he might miss something if he rested them for a while. His mouth most times set in a small smile, as though not quite sure to be in awe or simply laughing at the idiosyncrasies of the world around him.

 

The striking contrast of his partner made Peter seem at times frail, although there was nothing fragile in his nature or his demeanor. It was all illusion when foiled by Coletrane’s bronzed skin, sun-tinged brown hair and hazel eyes. This man literally glowed with good health and stamina and Bailey looked washed out at times and mousy.

 

 

To the casual observer, these differences made Peter seem at times meek and compliant, although in reality, there was nothing weak in his nature or his demeanor. It was all illusion he seemed to have no problem with. 

 

The lesson began immediately.

 

As Bailey and Coletrane entered the living room, Blair and Jim both rose to greet the new guests. Vincent walked them in, an arm on each shoulder, one on each side of him. Damien had run the steaks into the kitchen and was getting beers for the guests.

 

“Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg, I would like you to meet two very good friends of ours, Mark Coletrane and Peter Bailey.”

 

Both Jim and Blair shook hands with the two men.

 

“Blair,” Peter said, the first conversation he jumped into since their arrival fifteen minutes earlier, “I hear you’re an anthropologist. I can’t tell you how much I’ve heard about you from Vincent and Day. As a matter of fact, I’ve already read a few of your journal publications. Quite the presenter of facts and theories, you changed my views almost completely about the physiological adaptability of nomadic peoples. Although some of your theories on the lack of social classes in these people seem to differ greatly from your peer's opinions.” The man smiled making it quite clear that different was not always frowned upon by him. 

 

Blair shifted weight, relaxed and seemed to come out of his little shell.

 

Mark laughed at Vin as Peter and Blair immediately began a serious discussion on tribal warriors and their abilities to adapt physically to protect their tribes.

 

“He has found a soul mate. I’ll never get him away from here, today, Vin, “ Mark laughed again, shaking his head. “He’s a man starving for intellectual conversation. The very fact that Mr. Sandburg didn’t take umbrage tells me those two are ready for a good debate.”

 

The afternoon went like a charm. Even Damien, who often bristled around Mark, was relaxed and friendly. Although he stuck to Vin most times, always eager to help in the kitchen or light the grill or watch the steaks as they grilled, anything to work next to Vin, touch him occasionally and be hugged back, he was still showing courteous interest in his guests and even joined Peter and Blair in a heated debate about art and it’s moral obligation.

 

The only crimp in the day came when Mark and Day got into a slight altercation over the heated grill. Vin had returned to the kitchen to get some sauce for Mark. Damien was left to turn the steaks and Mark offered assistance.

 

“Hey, go easy with those steaks. You keep slamming them over like that you break the searing and the juices seep out. I hate dry steak.”

 

Damien, although not the domestic sort, considered himself a master of the grill. It was the one outside activity, besides lovemaking under the stars, which the indoor athlete liked.  “Coletrane, you grow grass, it doesn’t make you an expert on outdoor cooking,” Day said sarcastically.

 

“Brat, it was just some friendly advice, you’d do better if you would just listen to other people once in a while,” Mark shot back.

 

“Deeeemmoooon,” the slow threat came from behind him, just as the blond head snapped back ready to deliver a retort that no doubt would have had Coletrane ready to take the younger man in tow.

 

Day quickly lowered his head and concentrated on turning the steaks. Mark glanced away, staring off to the gardens, embarrassed by his own tone.

 

“Do I need to tell you to apologize?” Vincent whispered quietly into Day’s ear.

 

“You don’t even know what it was about,” Day hissed back. “You just assume I’m wrong.”

 

“I know you and Mark and I know it’s your back he bristles.”

 

Vin waited, keeping a warning arm around Day’s shoulders as he turned the steaks, slamming them down now on the grill with a vengeance.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said, somewhat harshly.

 

Gently lifting his partner's face, he leaned down and kissed the pouting lips long and hard, ending the bad mood as quickly at it started.  Mark laughed and walked away to join Jim, Blair, and Peter as they conversed at the patio table, drinking beers and discussing a thousand and one things.

 

 

 

 

 

Blair Sandburg was in heaven…or surely he had entered some time warp, some academic black hole that allowed ideas and concepts and philosophy to fill it with good grace. The afternoon was fantastic. Peter had the young anthropologist in deep admiration. Peter had ideas about health care that were eons beyond his contemporaries and he was not adverse to studying ancient cultures and garnering ideas about lifestyles and herbal remedies in the treatment of illnesses.

 

Yet, for all the hard work he turned towards the healing arts, he still had time and interest in art, literature, music, and philosophy. There was not a subject he did not seem comfortable conversing on and he was always eager to hear Jim or Blair or Day or Vin’s opinions on things. Mark, joined in occasionally, but it was obvious that the younger man loved his partner and was just as eager as the others to listen to him expound on his ideas.

 

As the sun was setting, dinner was coming to an end. Vincent suggested everyone adjourn to the living room. The house well heated now that the gas lines were fixed.

 

A quick clean up with all men pitching in and coffee and cheesecake were awaiting them in the fire lit room.

 

“How is Mrs. Dunn coming along?” Vincent asked Peter.

 

“Not too well, I’m afraid,” Peter said as he forked a large piece of cheesecake into his mouth.

 

“I might send her to a hospice soon, but I’m not really ready to give up yet," Bailey said as he gave a surreptitious look at Mark who was conversing with Jim about a landscaping job he had done a year ago and found a corpse.

 

Blair caught the look, but didn’t give it a second thought.

 

“She just needs me there a bit more. I can gauge her pain levels better and adjust the treatment,” Bailey pursued in a softer voice.

 

“You will get someone else to do it or you’ll be standing in the corner with a sore bottom while I get someone else to do it.”

 

Blair’s eyes widened, he jerked his plate and almost spilt his coffee. For a small moment in time, the day was shattered, crimped in that one spot as though a fine ribbon now bore the markings of a knot.

 

Instead of being embarrassed, instead of shrinking off under the guise of humor, Peter looked lovingly over at Mark’s stern face.

 

“I know, I was just thinking.”

 

"Don't.  That sort of thinking lead to the trouble you got into a few days ago," Mark said, quietly, but sternly.

 

Peter smiled at him, nodded once and then leaning against him, said softly, "I love you."

 

"I love you," Mark whispered back, squeezing his shoulders.

 

Peter laughed as he saw the shocked look on Blair’s face.

 

“I’m afraid I don’t act responsibly most times in my profession," he began casually, standing and refilling his coffee cup.  "Oh, I don’t mean as a doctor but about my own stamina and health care when dealing with other’s who are sick. Mark has paddled me raw on more than one occasion when I’ve run myself into the ground trying to keep someone else from sinking.”

 

Vin watched Blair’s face. Jim stopped, and seeing the epiphany dawning on his young lover’s face, he caught Vin’s eye and was answered with a wink.

 

“You mean…you and him…I mean it just doesn’t fit,” Blair said, hoping that this one man could explain the incongruity of these relationships to him.

 

Peter Bailey laughed.  "What doesn't fit Blair?  The fact that he is younger than me?  The fact that I am a doctor?  What?"  There was no anger or censure in his voice, just calling attention and forcing the other man to discard his previous assumptions.  Both he and Mark had been briefed at what was going on and knew their parts well.  He walked back and casually sat on the arm of the sofa, placing his cup on the small table beside Mark.

 

Mark reached muscular arms up and over and grasping the upper forearms of the older man, he pulled him forward in a roll, easing him gently onto his lap. Day walked over to Vincent, who occupied the other winged back chair and was quite glad the group had moved into a more intimate stage. He was hungry for some attentions of his own.

 

Blair still sat shocked on the loveseat. Jim, noting his reaction, sat down next to him and placing an arm around his shoulders brought him near. Stiffening at first, Blair seemed to fight the evidence before his own eyes. Here was a man who kept his identity, his individuality, his own remarkable oneness and, yet, gave himself up into a disciplinary relationship with a younger man who could not hold a candle to him in either experience or education. Yet, there was love and it was deep and abiding and accepted.

 

“It’s easy, Chief,” Jim whispered into Blair’s ear as he felt him relax against him, “all you have to do is accept it and accept who you are.”

 

Burying his face into Jim’s shirt, Blair hung on for dear life as though he had been drowning for days or weeks and just now realized it. Now he held onto the one thing that could pull him up and out and he just didn’t know how to ask.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The winds whipped up and the occupants of Halcyon were glad they had heat. Ellison rubbed a weary hand across his face, resting his lower arm on his forehead, frustrated with the uneasy night and his even more restless partner.

 

Blair had tossed and turned, fluffed and puffed the pillow, moaned and groaned along with the howling night until Jim was ready to tie him down. Instead he hooked out a steel band, trapped the other’s waist and pulled the younger man to him, anchoring him firmly to his side.

 

“That’s it, Sandburg, you’re wearing yourself out with all the floundering, just lie still and relax.”

 

“I can’t, Jim, I just can’t seem to find a comfortable position.”

 

“Why can’t you sleep?” Jim asked, trying to find out the cause of his discontent. “I thought you had a nice day. You and Peter sure seemed to hit it off.”

 

“Actually, I did. It’ll be quite memorable in more ways than you think,” Blair mumbled cryptically against Jim’s neck, the warm breath tickling the hairs in that region.  He yawned and took a deep breath, his mind exhausting him with unwanted thoughts.

 

“Care to share the mystery behind that remark, Chief?” Ellison asked, having a pretty good idea he already knew.

 

“I guess self-realization only goes so far. I think epiphanies are great and all, Jim, but if you analyze your insights into things they lose their moment of glory.”

 

“Sandburg, you’re talking in riddles. Make sense or go to sleep,” the detective growled, “as a matter of fact, I’d rather you go to sleep.”

 

The smaller man pushed off with one hard shove and rolled out of bed. Wearing the warm flannel pajamas Vin had bestowed on him the night the Gazebo fell, he looked lost in the long limbed garment. Not even bothering to roll up the fallen cuffs and sleeves, he moved away from the bed.

 

Jim sat up, confused.

 

“I mean, man, we had an agreement, a commitment. I thought it was binding for six months.”

 

With that said, he opened the door and swiftly left the room, barefoot and confused.

 

Ellison sighed wearily, and clad in his usual sleepwear of boxers and t-shirt, he followed after his upset lover.

 

 

 

 

The embers still glowed in the dying fire. The soft wall sconces lit the way into the huge room.  Blair threw himself face down on the large sofa and kicked his legs violently up like a child in the early stages of a tantrum. It’s so unfair, he thought, Vin and Mark make it so easy for Day and Peter. They don’t give them choices all the time, vacillate between being in and out of the relationship. This whole thing is Jim’s fault, and he wasn’t even aware he had spoken this thought out loud.

 

 

 

As Ellison came down the hallway, he passed the library. The light glowed inside, the door cracked open enough to show the large man sitting at a desk, a glass of brandy in one hand, the other stroking Desi who sat like an Egyptian icon on his desk. Handing the cat small treats from an open desk drawer, he pulled his head back indicating entrance to Jim.

 

“He just flew past into the living room,” was the only commentary made.

 

Then putting down his snifter, he opened the second drawer of the desk and took out a wooden paddle laying it on the desk.  “How long are you going to make him suffer when this should have been over with by now?”

 

Jim picked up the paddle and looking one more time at Vin, he nodded his head, “I think he just asked me for it in his round about Sandburg way.”

 

Vin picked up the snifter and offered a small salute to Jim with his glass. Then as though some guru having given all the advice he could on a subject, he swept the cat into his lap and turned the large leather chair to face out onto the front lawns. The trees bent and danced in the winds and Cade lost himself in his own memories of the night.

 

Jim left him to his musings and decided to set his brat back on track.

 

 

 

 

Jim never said a word, as a matter of fact, Blair was so busy muttering comforting accusations against his sentinel, not caring whether or not he heard him, he never realized the man was standing over him. When Jim heard the final aspersion against his character, “It’s all Jim’s fault,” he grabbed the younger man by his arm and hauled him upright.

 

Sandburg gasped in surprise, but all thought processes were halted as Jim quickly took his place on the sofa and pulled the anthropologist face down over his knees.

 

“Damn it, Jim, don’t,” Blair once again tried to intercede, “it’s not really what I want.”

 

“Sandburg, be quiet. It’s not what you want, but it’s what you need and it’s not your decision. You’re right, it is my fault; but I won’t fail you again. You have nothing to give up to me anymore, because you already have and I’m in control. We’re not negotiating every turn in the road. You have a month to go and you don’t have a say in the matter.”

 

With that, Jim raised the oversized pajama tops and hooked his hand in the waistband of the bottoms, pulling down the pj’s with the boxers in one fluid movement.

 

Sandburg yelped as the paddle christened his tender flesh, first one white globe, and then the other. Jim focused in on the heat emitting orbs as he paddled feverishly each cheek getting its due.

 

“Owe! No! Stop! Please stop!”

 

The loud smacks filled the large room and Blair bit his lip, not wanting to wake his hosts, fearful lest he call an audience.  The paddle was small and round and it left no doubt that it stung like the Dickens. Jim was past caring about the minor concerns, putting his full trust in Vincent Cade and any implement he would use on his own beloved brat, he paddled with the surety of a determined man.

 

As the cheeks heated and glowed, Blair wilted with acquiescence. The stiff figure that had been pulled across Jim’s lap, the buttocks clenching in anticipation and hopes of avoidance, now limply lay in surrender.

 

Gauging the spirit of the penitent as well as the condition of the target area, Jim saw the wall crumbling before his very eyes. Sandburg let out heavy cries as the paddle made its final round, harsher, more intense, he recognized the farewell voyage of the wood. Jim always spanked hardest the final round, bringing the lesson home with a force that belied a regret for the need.

 

Pulling the bottoms and boxers up over the raging mounds, Jim carefully raised the sobbing young man across his lap.

 

Wincing with pain on contact with the hard thighs, Blair grabbed Jim’s t-shirt, hitching up a sob, he gasped for breath, needing to express some thought.

 

Ellison pulled him close, steadying the trembling figure, giving him a home base to return to, reassuring him that nothing had changed.

 

“I’m sorry,” Blair mumbled the words into Jim’s shirt, “I’m sorry. Thank you.”

 

A smile broke across Ellison’s face, he had guessed right.  Placing a soft kiss on the curly head he simply made his own admissions and promises, “Next time, Chief, you won’t have to ask.”

 

 

 

 

 

Vincent Cade watched the tall man carry the compliant figure down the hallway towards the stairs.  Turning off the light in his office, he looked back in to see Desi curled tightly on the sofa, warmly snuggled in the afghan Vincent had pulled from the closet shelf and placed there for her benefit.

 

“Good night, kitty cat, and thanks for the company.”  The tall man walked slowly towards the staircase, lord of the manor. Smiling to himself, he shook his head and said to the empty hallway, “Mrs. Coletrane, you are absolutely right, houseguests can be trying at times.”

 

 

 

 

 

Monday wiled away in languorous bliss. Both brats seemed to want nothing more than to keep their lovers snuggly with them in bed.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner were “everyman for himself,” and the day was used to replenish the soul and tighten bonds.

 

Jim held off telling Blair about his request to go paddle shopping with Vin and Day until just before bedtime.  It did not ease the argument in the slightest, but it did give him less exposure to the complaining and uncooperative attitude.

 

 

 

 

Blair sat on the bed in their room watching Jim change clothes, trying not to pout but not doing a good job of it.  "I don't want to go, Jim."

 

When that pronouncement failed to draw a response from his lover, he said louder, "I do not want to go.  You can if you want, but not me."

 

Scooping his wallet from the dresser and slipping it into his back pocket, Jim turned to face his lover.  "This is not open for discussion, Blair," he stated matter-of-factly.  "I would have thought that after spending an hour in the corner last night for this very argument you would have gotten that fact across to you."

 

Blair opened his mouth to object again, but Jim cut him off.

 

"One more word about it and I will go and borrow one of Vin's paddles again and use it on you."

 

As his lover's face twisted into a pout, Jim reached for the door and began to open it.

 

"Okay, Okay, I won't say another word.  You don't have to go bother Vin.  I'll go."

 

"Good."

 

Blair bounded over to the door, a huge fake smile on his face, "See, here's me happy as a clam about to go paddle shopping with my partner.  What could be more fun?"   He glanced back at Jim to see what sort of reaction he was getting.  "Oh, let's see… maybe shopping for a new car, maybe having your wisdom teeth removed, maybe having major surgery without anesthesia, maybe…"

 

His next comment was cut off by a quick, sharp swat to his bottom.  "One more word, Sandburg," Jim said, having lost his patience, but determined not to let it show, "and you will find yourself over my knee for a long period of time."  The older man glared down at his sullen companion.  "I don't care if you are happy about this shopping trip or not, we are going.  I don't want to hear it.  Is that understood?"

 

The other man did not answer, instead finding great interest in his shoes.

 

Jim grabbed him by the arm and turned him slightly, delivering two hard swats to his butt.  "I asked if you understood."

 

"Yes," Blair said grudgingly

 

"Ummm… am I interrupting something?"  a quiet voice asked from the hall.  "Vin sent me up here to see if you guys were ready."  Day looked back and forth, watching the war of wills being played out.  "I can tell him you guys will be down in a few minutes…"  his voice trailed off.

 

Jim looked at Blair, "Are we finished here and ready to go?  Or do we need to discuss it further?"  he asked.

 

Jerking his arm away from Jim's hold, Blair said, "No, we’re fine.  I'm ready.  Let's just go and get it over with."

 

The three men walked down the stairs and out the front door to the waiting car.  Vin drove with Jim riding in the front.  Day and Blair climbed in the back and quickly were in an animated conversation.  Jim was lost in thought, staring out the window until a quiet yet understanding voice brought him out. 

 

"I take it your brat is not too trilled with the shopping trip."

 

Jim looked over at the older man and smiled.  "No, he's not.  I think he's embarrassed about it.   Not to mention a little apprehensive about what we are going to buy."

 

"Well, there's really nothing to be embarrassed about.  But I can understand.  Levi knows what he's doing, understands the relationships and is a complete professional.  He makes first rate implements."

 

"I know," Jim laughed, "but I remember going with you that time.  I tried to play it so cool, but I was terrified and embarrassed and couldn't wait to get out of there."

 

Vin laughed with him at the shared memory.  "If I remember, young man, you put up a fuss going, too.  I believe you were sporting a red behind when we got to the store."

 

Jim blushed, still embarrassed by the memory. "God, that was so long ago, so many things have changed…"

 

Vin reached over and gave Jim's neck a slight squeeze in a comforting gesture, "But, son, so many things are still the same."

 

Looking over at his mentor, his constant source of support and guidance, Jim smiled.

 

 

 

 

Forty minutes later, Vin pulled the car into a long drive that led to a modest, two-story, red-brick house.  Ivy covered one corner with rose bushes decorating the opposite side.  A second building, also brick, was half-visible in the back.   After he parked the car in the driveway, Vin and Jim opened their doors and got out.  Day quickly followed; his attitude a little more cautious and subdued than what it had been earlier.  Blair remained in the back seat of the car, his arms folded across his chest, face set in a determined look.

 

Jim sighed and opened the back door.  Holding out his hand to his partner he said softly, "Come on, love, it's not that bad. I promise."

 

Taking a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves and loosen the knot that had settled in his stomach, Blair took Jim’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled out of the car. Still gripping the offered hand tightly, he walked with Jim up the sidewalk and to the front door where Day and Vin were already waiting.

 

Day turned as they approached and gave Blair a warm and comforting smile. 

 

The door opened to reveal a smallish man, slightly shorter than Blair, but outweighing him by a good fifty pounds.  The balding head and glasses added a roundness to his face, and the added genuine smile made him look like a kindly shop owner from a children’s movie.

 

"Vin, Damien," he said, shaking their hands, "perfect timing.  I'm so glad to see you both again.  And this time you brought friends from the States." 

 

“Is it that obvious?” Jim asked, wondering how he knew they were American. Surely he could not remember Jim’s one visit almost eight years ago.

 

“Americans have a way about them. For all the years Vin has been here, he still looks like a tourist.”

 

“Levi, for a man who shortened his name from Leviatus, just so he could sound like a pair of American blue jeans, I wouldn’t be pointing fingers at what’s obvious and what isn’t.  Actually, I should start demanding a commission for all the sales I’ve brought you in the past few years,” Vin responded.

 

The other man laughed, good-naturedly, “Well, like Mr. Strauss, I like to think I get to the seat of most problems.”

 

“That you do,” Vin said, ushering Damien ahead of him.

 

Levi winked at the younger man, offering a slight pat on the shoulder for support.

 

Day blushed and said, “They are very well made, I just wish I didn’t see them as much as I do.”

 

A hearty laugh escaped the smaller man.

 

Vin motioned for Jim and Blair to step up, saying, “I would like to introduce two good friends of mine.  You might remember James Ellison, he and I had a relationship several years ago.  This is his life partner, Blair Sandburg."

 

"Ah, yes, I knew you looked familiar, James.  You were in the army, or had just gotten out of the army the last time you were here, right?"

 

Jim nodded. "Yes, that was about eight years ago.  I'm now a police detective in Washington State."  Pointing to Blair, he said, "Blair and I have been together over a year now, but this type of relationship is new, only since April."

 

Levi smiled at Blair and shook his hand, patting it with his other.  "Don't be afraid young man, I won't bite. Are you a police officer, too?"

 

As much as he wished to dislike this man, not be friendly in any way, he couldn't help himself.  He smiled back, "No, I teach anthropology at Rainier University in Cascade; I assist Jim on some of his cases as a police consultant.”

 

"Ah, a full plate I see.  Well, come, come, let's go to the workshop and decide what you all want,” Levi said. 

 

Linking arms with Blair, he pulled the younger man along as though they were involved in some conspiracy all their own.

 

“Now, little boy, I have dealt with many people new to a discipline relationship, so I know what you are going through. I want to tell you what I’m going to do once we get inside so you can prepare yourself.  Your partner doesn’t look like he is putting up with any attitude today. Am I right? I know Vin wouldn’t hesitate for a moment putting Damien over his knee if he threw any attitude around here.”

 

Blair nodded, remembering the conversation before they left the house.

 

"Okay, when we get there, I am going to deal with Day and Vin first since they won't take much time.  Then, " he paused, "it's your turn."

 

"I'll take you and Jim into the back room and let him put you in the position he wants a paddle for; over his knee, over an object, however.  Then we take some measurements, and talk about style.  It's quick, I promise you.  Maybe about ten minutes of you being in position and the rest is discussion."

 

Blair nodded, not really trusting his voice. 

 

"Just relax," the other man continued, his voice low and easy, sort of soothing, "don't be embarrassed at some of the questions I ask you and your partner.  Just think as me as your doctor in a way."  He gave Blair's shoulder a quick squeeze as they reached the door to the second building.

 

"Come, come,” he urged. “Would any of you like tea or coffee?" unlocking the door and ushering the men inside.

 

Blair stepped in and was startled by the interior.  It looked like a living room of anyone's house.  There was a couch and several chairs positioned around a low coffee table with end tables and lamps.  On the other side, there was a long dining room table with eight chairs around it.  A silk floral arrangement sat in the center.  This was not what Blair was expecting.

 

Levi noticed Blair's expression and laughed, "Not what you were expecting?  No chains and spikes all over the place.  No sounds of screams and whips coming from behind closed doors."

 

Blair laughed and seemed to relax some.

 

Walking over to him, Day said in a loud stage whisper, "They have all that stuff down in the basement…. Whatever you do, don't go behind that door." Shuddering, he pointed to a closed door behind the couch.

 

"Damien!" Vin barked, "Stop."

 

Then turning to Blair, “Ignore him.  That's the bathroom."

 

Damien caught Blair’s threatening look and shrugged in a typical ‘what do you expect from me’ kind of way.

 

Vin and Damien were then ushered into the back room.

 

Blair nervously walked around the room pretending interest in various objets d'art. Various twisted shapes made of wood and leather accented the room, presents no doubt with some meaning to the craftsman of discipline. Passing the sofa he realized Jim was thumbing through a photo album. Stopping long enough to view the photos of paddles, switches, and various other objects, he noted the yellow stickers Jim eagerly marked the pages with.

 

Vin, Damien and Levi came out of the back room and each took a seat at the large table. They, too, had picked up a photo album and were browsing through the many pictures. Levi had brought a small card file out and was thumbing though it.

 

“The small oval paddle that we bought several years ago has gotten a small crack in it and we need to get a new one,” Vin was explaining.

 

Levi located the correct file. “Ah, yes, the seven inch oval.”

 

“It got a little too much of a work out, I’m afraid,” Vin laughed.

 

Damien shifted his weight and grimaced.

 

“Well, that’s what they are made for. Do you want the exact same paddle? Same wood and everything?”

 

“Yes, please. It’s perfect.”

 

“Fine. Should take about a week or so to make it and send it up to you.”

 

Several other selections were discussed and business was concluded.

 

Levi glanced at Blair, “Jim, Blair, I’m ready if you are.”

 

Blair shifted from foot to foot looking to all the world like he would bolt at any moment. Vin moved slowly nearer the door as a precaution and Damien looked nervously around, no doubt wondering whose side to take if all hell broke lose.

 

There was a loneliness about the curly-headed young man at that moment that set him off alone in time. The blue eyes brightened in dismay as his mouth parted in a soft pout, awed by the suggestion that the reality was upon him.

 

Standing up, Jim carried the album towards the back room. Realizing he was the only one moving in that direction, he turned staunchly, ready to assert control.

 

Levi, of the experienced heart, quickly moved in like a wind churning the leaves towards the compost pile. Hooking his arm through Blair’s, he turned towards Vin.

 

“Vincent, I think you and Damien should check out those new climbing ivy I’ve decorated the arbor with. You would do well to plant those as covering near your portico. I think it would take care of that draft problem near the entrance hall.”

 

Vin, waking from his own ignorant stance, reddened slightly from his lack of insight. Pulling Damien by the arm, he headed for the door, “Day and I will check it out.”

 

Jim softened, too, realizing his own insensitivity in matters. Coming forward he put his arm around Blair’s shoulder taking him from Levi, “Come on, Chief, it’ll be over soon. It’s okay.”

 

The back room was more along the lines of what Blair was expecting.  Along one wall were various paddles of almost every different size, shape and thickness imaginable. 

 

"Jim, how do you usually discipline Blair?"  Levi asked, all business now. No doubt realizing that it would be in the young man’s best interest to be professional and efficient.

 

"We have a small room in the house, I sit in a straight back chair usually with him over my knee.  Occasionally, I will be on the couch, but he is always over my knees. I never discipline him in our bedroom; that room is reserved for the finer aspects of our relationship."

 

“Good idea. Good rule to follow. There is indeed a time and place for everything,” Levi expounded. His career had placed many doms and subs in his realm. He studied discipline relationships from every aspect, angle and foil. A man who believed in discipline, he abhorred cruelty and never stooped to the clientele who would cheapen his trade.

 

"Okay, why don't you have a seat here," he said, pulling out a chair from the wall, "and put Blair over like you would have at home.  Go ahead and remove his jeans and boxers if you do so normally."

 

Jim pulled Blair quickly along. The next few minutes, though strained, were nothing more than a blur to the anthropologist. Jim quickly pulled his jeans and boxers off and positioned him over his knee. Rubbing his back reassuringly, he never let his hand leave Blair for even a second.

 

The young anthropologist didn’t say anything, but Jim tried to make casual conversation trying to refocus Blair’s own thoughts up and away from the routine. “How many years have you been doing this?”

 

"Going on fifteen, but my father had the business before me.  Now, Jim, when you are paddling Blair, what do you consider your strike zone?"

 

"Umm, usually from about here," Jim said, gently touching a spot on Blair's bottom just below the clef separating his two checks, "to about here," pointing to a spot just below the crease under the checks.

 

"Okay, you know you can actually go about another inch down without worrying about any damage," the shopkeeper said, still taking a few measurements.  "All right, Blair, you can get up.  We are through with that part."

 

Blair scrambled up and quickly pulled his jeans back on.  Brushing his hair behind his ear, he continued to fidget with his clothing, a button here, a belt loop there, constantly allowing himself the pleasure of the mundane tasks.

 

"Why don't we go sit at the table and discuss exactly what you are looking for," Levi said, smiling at Blair, "See, little one, that wasn't so bad, was it?"

 

Blair shook his head and mumbled, "I guess not," though his reddening cheeks foretold the emotional toll.

 

Jim saw Vin standing outside the window talking to his brat. Calling out to the man through the open, screened window, he watched as Vincent sent Day on another mission and entered the house.

 

Levi motioned for everyone to take a seat at the table. The craftsman sat at one end and the other two men sat on either side. Vincent pulled up a chair next to Jim.

 

“All right then, gentlemen, let’s talk about what you want,” Levi began. “Jim, what exactly are you looking for? What results do you want? Sting or thud; just an attention getter or something for some serious, hard discipline sessions?”

 

“Most of Blair’s paddlings are short, quick, and not too harsh.”

 

Blair raised an eyebrow at this and could not retain a snort.

 

The paddlemaker glanced at him and smiled. “Blair, I’m sure that it doesn’t seem like it, but it’s all relative.”

 

“I think we want something that can be used for regular punishments, and maybe something bigger or heavier for serious offenses. Is that okay, Chief?” Jim asked Blair.

 

Blair grimaced, “I don’t think we will use the bigger one at all. This relationship will be over in one month’s time.”

 

Ellison looked quickly at Vin. Vincent just stared at the curly head, watching the nervous hands shift the hair constantly behind his ear. “Blair’s in the trial stages,” Vincent clued Levi in.

 

Ellison smiled in agreement, “No, I’m sure we won’t. But if you change your mind, Chief, we want to be prepared.”

 

Levi waited for the sharp glances that passed between the three men to find their home base back on him. He leveled his own clear, blue eyes on Blair. “Advise to you, young man, don’t be so quick to call off a relationship you have merely tasted.  Go the whole nine courses, then give the critics the reviews.”

 

Then as though his sales pitch were never interrupted, he continued his queries, “All right, now, are you looking for something with more sting than thud or more thud than sting?”

 

“Sting, definitely. I don’t want to risk bruising or marking at all.”

 

“Okay, so no holes then, either. Give me a moment and I’ll see what we have.”  He got up from the table and disappeared in the back room, returning quickly carrying about a dozen paddles. Spreading them out on the table in front of the men, he explained their different uses and feels.

 

“Here, James, try this one. It’s one of my more popular ones for a standard paddle. It’s light with good rebound for plenty of sting. The shape makes it easy to concentrate on one spot or encompass both cheeks if you want.” He handed Jim a rounded paddle about eight inches long.

 

“This looks like the one we just ordered, Levi,” Vin said.

 

“Yes, it’s similar. Yours has a little more weight behind it for a greater sting, but with this little one,” he said, smiling at Blair while shaking his head, “I don’t think he can handle as much as your demon can, at least not right now.”

 

Vin nodded in understanding and turned to Jim.  “It’s a good paddle and makes quite an impression on Day.”

 

Jim ran his sensitive fingers over the smooth wood, noting the lack of imperfections and the careful care taken to smooth the edges. “It’s beautiful. It handles well, very balanced,” he said, giving it two practice swings as if paddling someone.

 

“Now, this one,” Levi said, handing over a slightly larger paddle, “I think you would use for more intense discipline sessions or more serious offenses. It’s too large to concentrate on one spot easily and will strike both cheeks all the time.”

 

Jim took the offered paddle. The blade was over nine inches. Shaking his head, he handed it back, “No, I think that’s too much.” Looking up at Blair, he couldn’t help but notice a small hint of shock on the younger man’s face. Meeting eyes, blue contacting blue, a secret passed between them, an acknowledgment of need and control, but also of love and patience and kindness with a firm hand.

 

“All right, let’s go for more sting than just bigger.” Selecting another paddle, he handed it to Jim. It was about the same size as the round one, slightly curved, but longer and narrow. “This is really several thin pieces of wood glued together. It has excellent rebound and sting. It’s long enough to strike both cheeks at the same time, it is great to concentrate on the sit spot and the upper thighs.”

 

Jim nodded as he took this, “I like this one better.” Slapping it against his hand, he winced slightly. “Boy, this one does sting.”

 

“Yes, it’s good for those who want sting but do not want to go the leather straps or tawses.”

 

“No, I don’t’ want to do that.”

 

Handing the paddle to Blair, he waited for the other man’s opinion, choosing to make his lover feel a part of the proceedings, not just an object of them. Blair swallowed hard and handed it back. “It’s good.  I don’t think we will be using it though,” he said, as the litany of denial continued.

 

“I’m sure we won’t, Chief, but better safe than sorry.”

 

Levi continued to discuss blade length, hardness of woods, instruments that delivered more sting than thud, and generally enlightened Jim on the various instruments at his disposal. Blair listened, only slightly embarrassed now. Levi spoke like a man who researched his craft and he was very eager to instruct Jim on instruments of persuasion not cruelty.

 

As they concluded the transaction, Levi reached over and grabbed Blair’s arms as he nervously toyed with one of the paddles. “I’ve handled many transactions, young man. Many younger men less lucky than you. James, here, loves you and every question asked, every choice made, was with your best interests in mind. I’ve a sharp mind and and a keen insight into these relationships. You’ve chosen well. Rest assured.”

 

Blair mumbled a confused, “Thanks, I guess I have,” as he caught Jim looking at him. Still not thrilled with the proceedings, not convinced of any necessities for the purchases, he would not acquiesce too easily, but Jim noted the straightening of his back and a grin passed between him and Vin as they rose. The kid was secretly proud and pleased at Levi’s observations.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t until the ride back to Salisbury that Blair gained a certain insight into the whole proceedings, his anthropological, scientific nature getting the better of him.

 

Damien had eagerly pleaded with Vin to ride in the front with him and Blair seemed just as eager to ride with Jim in the back.  As they each circled the car arranging the seating positions to everyone’s liking, Vin passed Jim and whispered in his ear, “Day, and no doubt Blair is too, always feels the need to cuddle on the drive home. Don’t ask me why?”

 

Halfway towards the estate, Blair raised his head from Jim’s lap where he had tried to nap while the large detective stroked his hair. Quickly glancing in the front he saw the blond head resting against Vin’s shoulder, a soft snoring sound accompanying the classical music Vin had the radio tuned to.

 

“I hated it, Jim,” he admitted, once again resting his head in his lover’s lap. Jim resumed the stroking motion and looked down into the blue eyes as they stared at the back of the leather seat. “But I feel more connected somehow, more assured for some reason. It’s like a right of passage, a realization that you’re serious about me and about our relationship.”

 

“Was there ever any doubt about it, Chief?”

 

“No, I mean, man, I know you, you’re pretty stubborn, Jim.”

 

A slight swat to his behind, brought a smile to his face, “I guess there’s just more commitment in it, now. I know we won’t need those paddles, Jim, I know it was more a token gesture, but I realize these relationships are very real and very necessary. No doubt Levi sells more than he needs to live in comfort.”

 

“No doubt, Chief, and I’m sure we’ll have very little use for all three paddles, but we’ll be ready in case we do.”  Glancing up, he caught the brown, somber eyes reflecting back from the driver’s seat. The conversation was acknowledged in a quick wink and a smile. The simple attempt for understanding showed the young man was turning over leaves within his own mind and marking pages for his life.

 

 

 

 

The remaining time at Halcyon Heights was idyllic simplicity. Marked with hours on the terrace, long walks by the river, picnics on the lawns, the friends cherished each moment and willed the time to slow.

 

On the day of departure, Blair gave Day the cat wind chimes. The young blond head nodded several times as he opened the small gift bag and pulled away the paper. The tinkling sound seemed to delight him and he hugged Blair with a force that belied need and misery. “I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you so much.”

 

“Hey, we got e-mail and there’s always the chat rooms,” Blair piped in overly-cheerful, hiding his own misery at the goodbyes.

 

Vincent graciously accepted the onyx paperweight and he pulled his old friend into a forceful bear hug. “You call, Jimmy, you let me know you’ve arrived safely. You also keep me posted on your eating habits and your state of mind. I’d best get reports every twenty-four hours or Simon Banks gets a call from me. Got it?”

 

“Got it, Vin, and I’ll be expecting you in the States within the year.” Jim turned to Damien, “Day, I’ll expect you bring him like we discussed.”

 

“No problem, Jimbo, the Art Critic is anxious to carry a new painter and I think Vincent Cade, American landscape artist, will be a big hit back here as well as the States. You’ll see us real soon.”

 

Even Desi came into the large living room and stood anxiously by mewling softly in agitation at the distressed emotions of the departure. Day swooped her up into his arms and dangled the chimes for her as she swiped the dancing cats with her paw.

 

Patrick had driven up to drive them back to London and the airport and he discreetly stood by to lend assistance.

 

The final farewells were manly gestures of swatting arms, backsides and heads. Much good cheer echoed the landscape and the sleek car pulled away and headed the American men one step closer to the States.

 

 

 

 

Blair’s head rested on Jim’s shoulder throughout the long transatlantic flight. The lights in the cabin were dimmed and most of the passengers, easing the boredom of the long flight, had decided to watch one of the offered movies or sleep. One or two sporadically placed individuals read or pecked away at keyboards.

 

Jim, unable to find rest and uninterested in the movie, his head filled with memories and concerns, was somewhat startled to realize his sleeping partner was staring up at him with wilted blue eyes.

 

“What’s the matter, Chief,” he asked quietly, consideration for the passengers.

 

“I’m not sure I want to continue after the six months, Jim,” Blair said.

 

Jim’s jaw clenched, his own musings similarly drifted that way as he ruminated over the past three weeks.

 

“But I don’t think Vin and Day have such a bad relationship, at all.” Blair paused, as though still arranging some thoughts within his own mind. “But I can assure you, if we do continue, you’ve wasted your money in Bath.”

 

Ellison raised his eyes to heaven, not so much in exasperation or thanksgiving, but in total amusement and befuddlement. Just when he thought it was over, it was only the beginning. He pulled the head down again onto his shoulder, patted the cheek gingerly, and glancing out into the clouds he mouthed into the glass, “Thank you, Cade, thank you.”

 

 

 

Vincent Cade stood looking out upon the lawns, his arms folded across his chest, looking like lord of the manor in every sense of the word.  The soft slant of his mouth hinted at anger from anyone not knowing the older man. Upon closer inspection, upon viewing the golden haired young man who walked out to pick up the late summer blooms for the breakfast table, one would realize it was a loving humor that marked his smile now.

 

The orders were given with a sharp smack to the grouchy young man’s bottom. “Breakfast on a day like this requires fresh cut blossoms, don’t you think, brat?”  Cade set the plates on the breakfast nook table and looked out at the green lawns, dew crested and sparkling as the sun claimed the misty countryside.

 

“Off with you now. Remember, it’s Goldenrods and Purple Pansies that’ll brighten our table this fine morning.” With that he smacked the defiant bottom a few times, sending the younger man off in a stomping fit to collect the treasured blooms.

 

Vincent set down the breakfast preparations as he saw his lover move sulkily towards the flowerbed. It was one of the few spared lots from the day of destruction.

 

The older man moved quickly towards the huge window in the grand entrance hall. Folding his arms across his chest in typical Vincent Cade style he watched as his petulant brat bent down and tugged hostilely on the tender blooms. Shaking his head, muttering to himself, Cade shifted from foot to foot. “Get down and pull them gently, young man,” he directed from the sidelines, fully aware that no one heard him, let alone the young man on the other side of the glass who was yards away.

 

He watched as the golden head bobbed up and down as Damien collected a fine bouquet. “Look, Demon, look for once instead of sulking with your eyes half closed to the possibilities of the day.”

 

Then, as though he could indeed instruct from behind the thick glass, the young head turned slightly and then quickly returned to stare at a spot in the garden bed.

 

“By George, I think he’s got it,” Cade mimicked in a sophisticated Rex Harrison imitation.

 

The sunlight caught the golden locks, but the smile that broke across the young features melted any and all attempts at golden glory. Damien St. Claire bent low to retrieve his treasure. His joy evident as he turned his face heavenward and whooped.

 

Vincent Cade merely smiled. Finding the ring on Sunday under the barbecue grill as he prepared it for their guests, he had planted the find near the goldenrods. “Let the Demon think he’s won this time, Mrs. Coletrane,” he offered up his benediction to the heavens, “Lord knows, it’s me who gets to keep the prize. “

 

The End

 

We thank you for reading and hope that you have been entertained.

 

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