Marcus and Ben strolled down the main street of the town, oblivious to the stares they were attracting. Quite a few of those stares were from the ladies (young and old alike) in the shops they were passing. Both young men were dressed casually - jeans and jumper, with a thick jacket as the day was certainly chilly – together they presented a handsome picture.
Besides Ashley Downs was a small place and it was easy for the locals to spot an out-of-towner.
Ben kept his voice low as he regaled Marcus with his latest sentence from his Top – daily spankings for a whole week.
“A whole week!” Ben grumbled.
Marcus turned to Ben and his eyes swept over his friend furtively, as if he expected to find him limping or in pain. “And this started on Christmas day – so you’ve got it three days in a row now? Can you even sit?”
“Oh yeah,” Ben shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s not that kind of spanking.”
“Oh really?” Marcus raised his brows in exaggerated surprise. “How many kinds are there?”
He sounded mocking but he was also curious. Still relatively new to the Fraternity and this lifestyle he had chosen, he usually found Ben a good source of information. Still, it wasn’t always easy to ask such questions and it was sometimes easier to mask his embarrassment behind a joke or sarcasm.
“As many as your Top decides, I guess,” Ben replied after a slight pause. He was never condescending and had genuinely considered the question. He had been with the Fraternity for many years and understood their code and rules much better than Marcus. He also knew that there were some things only a Brat could share with another Brat.
And Tops thought they knew all the answers!
Marcus kept silent, obviously struggling with Ben’s response. He couldn’t decide if Ben was serious or flippant.
Ben saw a bench on the opposite side of the road and gestured with his head. “Let’s sit there,” he suggested.
It was Monday morning just after Christmas weekend and not many people were about. Those who had come back to be with their families for the holidays would have left or were preparing to leave. The festive season was winding down and the town folks were starting to get back into their routine.
Ben led the way and they sat for a while, watching the slow activity as cars and people passed.
“It really depends on your Top,” Ben picked up the topic of conversation again. “You’ve been spanked a number of times now, haven’t you?”
Marcus felt the knot in his stomach and tried not to squirm. Having this question flung at him while sitting on a bench in the middle of town seemed extremely ludicrous. But Ben was obviously expecting an answer so he bent his head closer and whispered, “yeah?”
“OK. So are they all the same? In intensity, length of time, level of pain?”
“No, of course they are not.” Marcus blushed as he looked around them. No one was near enough to hear, thank God for that.
“You are right! It all depends on our Tops – what kind of spanking he wants to give us or what they think we deserve.” Ben looked at Marcus with frank open eyes, which kind of made it easier for Marcus to sit still and listen. “We don’t get to decide.”
“That’s definitely true! Like Stewart has ever heard me when I said I’d had enough!”
Ben nodded his head readily. “Yeah, tell me about it. Punishment spankings hurt like hell, don’t they?”
“No kidding!” Marcus said feelingly.
Ben chuckled. “We’ve all been there. But as I said, not all spankings are the same. The Tops make up all kinds of things which suit them. For example, there’s a warning spanking. That happens before you’ve even done anything! It’s a warning because they think you are about to do something they won’t like. Totally cruel and unfair, I know but they make the rules.”
Ben held up both palms in resignation and Marcus gave a sympathetic nod.
Ben continued. “And there’s the obligatory spanking.”
“What on earth is that?”
“Well, sometimes our Tops don’t really mind what we’ve done, or they secretly find it funny. Ever seen that look? Where they try to look serious but you just know they are not really mad at you?”
Marcus nodded cautiously. “Uh-huh.”
“Yeah, well … because it is frowned upon by other Tops or is generally considered not right – they have no choice but to give us a spanking, thus it’s obligatory. You can tell they don’t really want to spank you but they can’t say it out loud of course. Got it?”
Marcus nodded again. “Totally … is there more?”
“Ah, yes. But before I forget, an obligatory spanking can sometimes lead to some interesting fun and games, if you know what I mean.” Ben gave a conspiratorial wink. “So it’s not necessarily always bad. For some reason, this puts the Tops in a playful mood.”
Marcus grinned. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“And there’s the one which I’m at. Different Tops would call it different names. Philip calls it a refresher spanking.” Ben rolled his eyes. “Some may refer to it as maintenance spanking, or structured spanking, or whatever. It is usually administered over a period of time to reinforce something important, usually to remind you of your Top’s rules. And they have so many, don’t they?”
“Maintenance spanking - I’ve heard that one before,” Marcus jumped in eagerly. “This is usually for new Brats?”
“Not just for new Brats,” Ben corrected.
“So how come you got it? What did you do?”
Ben sighed heavily. “Philip says I need a refresher course. I worry too much and don’t let go of stuff.” He grimaced. “Um … I kinda agree with him. It’s like teaching a new Brat the rules and he keeps forgetting. So a repetitive spanking is sometimes effective in getting the message across, you know? You don’t get a chance to forget if it’s done every day! And hopefully it will stick with you. It’s not meant to hurt so much as to reinforce, although it can sting like hell.”
Marcus took a deep breath. He couldn’t imagine being in so much trouble that he needed spanking every day and yet Ben seemed ok with it.
Noticing the silence, Ben hurried to reassure his friend. “It’s not so bad. If the spanking is light enough, the butt is not even sore when its time for the next one! Philip uses only his hand for this, no paddle thank heavens! Although some maintenance spankings can involve the paddle. But that would be a whole different story!”
“I can imagine,” Marcus said, turning a little pale. “Getting paddled every day as a lesson? What Top would decide to do that?”
“Well, some Brats may need that from time to time?” Ben said, suddenly shy. Hell, apparently he needed it to keep him straight. He had known for months that he was going off tangent, worrying and complaining at everything and to everyone. This weekly spanking could very well be the answer.
Having himself been around the Fraternity members for a while now, Marcus could more readily accept what Ben was saying. His mind went straight away to Dayton. He remembered Stewart saying something similar, that Dayton needed a lot more attention than most other Brats. At least now Marcus knew to equate attention as the need for someone to be in control. The Tops always used ‘attention’ as a euphemism – why didn’t they just call it discipline? To get your Top’s attention more often than not meant you were about to get disciplined!
How many times had he felt such a need himself, though he had never known how to identify the emotion before he met Stewart? Discovering discipline relationships had been like a re-birth; being able to finally put not just a name but an identity to it. He was not alone; others shared the same need only perhaps at different levels and frequencies.
But how a Top was supposed to know what his Brat needed all the time, and how much he needed was beyond him.
“Don’t worry; Stewart is a very good Top.” Ben said as if reading his thoughts.
“But how can they always know what we want? Or need?”
“I’ve wondered about that too myself,” Ben conceded with a shrug. “They just know.” He got up and blew into his cupped hands to get his circulation going. “I guess that’s what makes some such great Tops and some not. Not all are the same. I’ve seen Philip working with some of them; they go into the study and spend hours there. A few are natural, Philip says. Whatever that means. This is even before we lived together.”
“I am beginning to think it’s a hell of a job,” Marcus said with a forced laugh.
“I don’t think I ever want to be a Top. Not that I can …” Ben giggled.
Marcus rolled his eyes. “Ass. Well, me neither.”
They began to walk, with Marcus deep in thought. He had never thought about it before but he suddenly realized how contented he was being a Brat in a Top-Brat relationship. He figured he had the easy end of the deal. Your Top is supposed to know when to stop you and how to stop you and deal with you accordingly. His stomach flipped at the thought.
“We better hurry,” Ben said glancing at his watch. “We are late!”
Marcus hurried along beside Ben. There was one more question he had to ask. “So basically you are saying you are absolutely all right to be spanked every day for a whole week?”
Ben took a deep breath, leaned in close and whispered with perfect sincerity. “Between us - absolutely!”
Stewart and Philip were waiting at the foyer of the Apple Hill Inn at the east side of town when Marcus and Ben arrived.
“Hey guys, had a good walk around?” Stewart asked as he snaked an arm around Marcus’ waist and gave him a quick squeeze before dropping his hand. It didn’t do to make too public a display of affection in town, even though it was a friendly place and a lot of their friends knew of their sexual inclination.
“Delightful walk,” Ben said enthusiastically.
“I think I am in love with this place,” Marcus added, wanting suddenly to wrap his arms around Stewart. He moved closer so that their shoulders touched. He felt a surge of warmth at the sight of Stewart; he was unexpectedly energized and could hardly stop fidgeting.
Stewart ran a practiced eye over him. “You look like you need something warm inside you.”
Marcus rolled his eyes and began to stamp his feet to get the cold out of his limbs. “Duh! I’m cold AND hungry – can we eat yet?”
Stewart eyebrows rose slightly and he tapped Marcus’ thigh. “Stop that stomping,” he said under his breath. His Brat was giving out subtle signals; the obvious whine in his voice, the impatient roll of the eyes, and the uncontrolled fidgeting. What exactly those signals meant Stewart wasn’t sure yet but he would find out eventually.
“Me too!” Ben chimed in. “We walked all the way to the post office and through the park. I am so ready for my tea!”
“Abby and Robert are already inside, holding a table for us,” Philip said, steering the group forward. “Come on, we need to hurry as Abby’s leaving this evening.”
“Whatever took you so long?” Stewart asked Marcus softly, bringing up the rear. Perhaps he could pry some information and get a clue of what had occurred.
“We stopped for a while,” Marcus replied shortly.
“On a park bench,” Ben added. “We lost track of the time. Sorry.”
“In this weather?” Philip turned his head back to look at his partner in disbelief.
The two young shared a look and shrugged, neither willing to divulge too much. Luckily they were spared answering as Abby saw them as they entered the restaurant and waved them over.
“About time too!” she said cheerfully. “I’ve ordered for everyone to save time. Can’t wait, I need to rush off. Come on, do sit and I’ll get the waiter to serve us!”
“But what if I don’t like what you ordered?” Marcus asked candidly. He had long since lost his shyness of Abby.
Ben stared; he was in awe of Abby and couldn’t imagine how Marcus could be so brazen to her.
“Oh shush, I’m sure you will!” She flashed a wide smile at Marcus and pointed to the seats around the table. “Sit down everyone. Lovely! Now pour the tea please, Robert!”
Robert said a quick hello to the newcomers and made room for Marcus and Stewart next to him. Obeying Abby, he reached for the teapot and began to fill the cups, his eyes dancing with mirth at Marcus’ face. He had known Abby for years and was totally at ease with her but he knew her bluntness could be hard to take at first.
Not ready to concede defeat, Marcus countered. “You could have waited, why didn’t you before ordering?”
“Because you are late!” Abby tapped Marcus’ hand smartly, very much how a teacher might tap a first-grader’s hand.
“But I wanted to see what’s in the menu,” Marcus grumbled.
“And I need to get us all organized or I will miss my flight, and that will be a disaster! I’ve already over-stayed by a day! But you can still see the menu if you want. Nothing to stop you doing that.”
“What for?” Marcus demanded crossly. He caught Stewart’s eye and his tone dropped to a milder one. “I mean no need to since you’ve already ordered for all of us! But I am just wondering how you would know what Ben likes?”
Ben looked up, wide-eyed. “Oh, I’m fine with whatever,” he said quickly, not wanting to create a scene. He looked pleadingly at Marcus.
Marcus scowled. “Whatever then!”
Abby reached over and patted Marcus’ arm. “Don’t be cross honey! Besides they don’t have that many choices – I know their menu well and stuck with their specials, and they’re good, believe me. You can switch with me or Stewart if you really don’t like what you’ve got. Approach it as an adventure!”
You couldn’t really get mad at Abby even when she was all bossy and domineering. Her directness came straight from the heart, without a trace of malice or meanness. And she always sounded so forceful and yet reasonable and sensible that most arguments died on your lips.
Ben leaned over and whispered in Marcus’ ear. “Time to shut up.”
Philip calmly pulled Ben back into his seat and proceeded to ask Robert how his business was going. Robert filled the gap smoothly. He was a free-lance building contractor and he began to describe his latest project. He also knew quite a bit about the history of the town and he kept everyone entertained with bits of frivolous information and harmless juicy gossip.
Marcus glared for a bit but it was difficult to keep it up with all the lively conversation going on, and especially when Stewart put a hand on his thigh with a warning squeeze. Marcus leaned into him and Stewart immediately wrapped an arm tightly around Marcus’ waist, which helped get some of the edginess out of him. Edginess Marcus didn’t quite understand. He had been fine all morning and he had no idea why he was feeling suddenly so crotchety.
Ben was looking at him across the table, obviously trying to send him some hidden signal. Marcus avoided Ben’s eyes, all the while aware that he was striding towards thin ice but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He kept remembering bits of the conversation they’d had at the park bench.
When their meals arrived, everyone was pleased with Abby’s selections, and even Marcus conceded she had made an excellent choice for him. They talked as they ate, with a fair bit of reminiscing of old friends; memories were shared and little stories exchanged. They especially liked it when Robert or Abby spoke of their partners’ escapades and mischief as teenagers and begged for more details.
Abby assured them she had loads of tales to tell - and she was obviously the kind who would hold little back - but glancing at her watch she announced that they were out of time.
“I think you’ve heard quite enough!” Stewart said, laughing. His eyes met Marcus’ and he smiled. He was relieved Marcus had lost the stormy look and seemed to have calmed down.
“I agree!” Philip agreed with a snort. “Don’t forget Abby, we have as many about you as you do about us! You, if I remember correctly, were a veritable horror the minute you started dating!”
“No Philip,” Stewart corrected. “She was a horror from the time she could walk and talk!”
Abby laughed loudly, not in the least abashed. “True! All true! No sense in dragging out the sordid details then boys.”
“Of course not,” Stewart snorted. “We’ve got more dirt on you than you have on us.”
She laughed again, and then signaled the waiter for the check. She did her eagle sweep around the table and ordered everyone to sit still as they reached for their wallets. “Tea is on me today. I am so happy to meet Marcus and Ben and this is my treat. You can make it up to me next time.”
They were happy to leave it at that. Abby did very well for herself and her career was flourishing, which was another reason for her not to want to complicate her life with a relationship.
“May I suggest a toast then? We’ll just pretend this is wine!” Robert said as he raised his glass of water, his eyes resting on Marcus and Ben with a smile. “To Marcus and Ben, the two new additions to the circle.”
Marcus immediately held his glass up high and said clearly and loudly. “And to Abby and Robert!”
Ben, who was in the middle of sipping his water, spluttered and choked. Philip thumped his back, trying to disguise his laughter behind Ben. Stewart turned and glared at his partner, his eyes giving out a very clear message.
Do not move or say another word! Or else …
Marcus shrugged and opened his eyes wide, looking incredibly innocent.
It took Robert a couple of seconds only to recoup. “Good one, Marcus. To Abby, my oldest and dearest of friends,” he said, then leaned over and gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek.
Abby’s laugh was just as loud and clear as Marcus’s toast. Totally unruffled, she returned Robert’s kiss. “Dear Robert! Thank you everyone. To be surrounded with close family and dear friends. What more can a woman ask for indeed?”
The moment passed.
Stewart sent another warning look at Marcus, who was fast coming down from his adrenalin high.
“Did anything happen this morning?” Philip asked Ben once they were back home and alone.
“No,” Ben replied honestly.
“Are you sure?”
Ben nodded his head firmly. “Yes! We just took a walk around town like we said. We didn’t meet anyone. Nothing happened. Wasn’t Marcus acting a bit weird during tea?”
Ignoring the question, Philip probed further. “What else did you do apart from walking around town?”
“We talked.” Ben began to look uncomfortable.
“About what?” Philip quirked an eyebrow, waiting.
Ben cast his mind back and thought about their conversation and quickly decided he hadn’t done anything that Philip could censure. “Nothing much. We were discussing the various types of spankings and he wanted to know about my … um, getting spanked every day for a week.”
“I see. And what was his reaction?”
“He was curious and wanted to know if I was ok with it.”
“And are you?” Philip’s eyes crinkled at the corners.
Ben narrowed his eyes and laughed. “That is a loaded question. Can I not answer?”
Philip laughed too and pulled Ben down to his lap. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. And the reason you don’t have to answer is simply because you are getting spanked whether or not you are ok with it. Speaking of which, let’s get it done now since we have the house to ourselves.”
Ben felt the usual flutter in his stomach whenever it was time. He knew it wouldn’t be anything he couldn’t handle, no way near the kind of spanking Philip had delivered in the past when he had stepped out of their agreed boundaries, but it was no less intimidating. With his throat suddenly dry, Ben found himself being flipped and positioned over Philip’s knees. It was familiar and yet scary. He felt Philip reach under him to loosen his jeans and he shifted to cooperate, even as his heart started to pound faster. And then the cold rush of air was over his bared cheeks as his jeans and underwear were pulled down to his knees. Philip’s hand was warm and comforting where it rested on his buttocks for a moment, and only a moment before he started to spank.
Philip kept a slow steady pace, steadily warming Ben’s butt to the point where Ben wanted to shout at him to stop, and that was when he stopped and made Ben repeat the reason for them doing this. After Ben had repeated the same phrases he had done the past few days, Philip praised him and proceeded to finish the spanking. The second half was considerably longer than the first and it was heat on heat, but it was not altogether unbearable. Still Ben was gasping and squirming by the time Philip was done and he lay limp over his Top’s lap with mixed feelings of relief and fulfillment.
Philip pulled Ben close and held him quietly, till he struggled to sit up and turned with a frown on his face. “Philip, about Marcus - do you think it’s because of something I said?”
“Why would you think that?”
Ben leaned his head heavily on Philip’s shoulder, thinking this was the best moment of all. A moment of total union and completeness. There was nothing they could not discuss after a spanking. “I don’t know but we talked about Tops and spankings and … maybe …”
“Maybe … I don’t know. But I think he wanted to test Stewart.”
Stewart realized Marcus was missing about five minutes after Abby left. He had been there as she was kissing everyone goodbye. They had helped her put her numerous bags into the cab and sometime between then and now, he was nowhere to be found.
“Have you seen Marcus, Mom?”
“No dear,” Angela looked up from the pantry shelf where she was re-arranging stuff. “Isn’t he upstairs?”
“Never mind, maybe he went out for a walk. I’ll go see if I can find him.”
“Make sure you take a jacket dear.”
Angela was already buried in her shelves, voice muffled, and instruction predictable. She could never let any of her children leave the house in winter without that piece of motherly advice. It came with the territory of being mom.
Stewart smiled as he shrugged into a heavy winter coat and stepped out of the kitchen door. The wind had built up and whipped at his eyes as he scanned the distance, hoping to catch a glimpse of Marcus. He walked slowly along the cobbled pathway towards the coppice where he had taken Marcus previously, his mind busily computing probabilities. It was too far for Marcus to walk into town in this weather, and it didn’t seem likely he would walk aimlessly along the streets. Stewart also didn’t think Marcus could have gone over to Philip’s house or he would have heard from Philip by now. So that left the most probable alternative – the woods behind the house.
It had been years since Stewart ventured into the woods although as a boy he had loved to explore and play there when his parents weren’t looking and he could slip away by himself. There wasn’t much danger but someone could get lost especially if he were unfamiliar with the terrain. He stopped when he arrived at the bench and looked around. The ground was hard which meant Marcus wouldn’t have left any footsteps if he had come this way. So it would have to be a guess.
Just as Stewart made up his mind which path to take into the coppice, he heard the rustle of leaves. He turned sharply towards the sound.
A second later, Marcus appeared, eyes wild, skipping on his feet a little and slightly blue around the mouth. “H-hi Ssss..er’werd.”
Stewart went forward at once, running his eye over his young partner. “What on earth … good Lord Marcus! You are shaking!”
Quickly peeling his own jacket off, Stewart flung it around Marcus’ shoulders. “Is this all you’ve got on? Why the hell didn’t you put on something warmer before coming out?” His voice was gruff and curt, and his expletive was uncharacteristic as he pulled the heavy jacket close and zipped it up. “Why are you even out here at all? How far did you go into the woods? How long have you been out here?”
Even as he barked out all the questions, he knew he was being ridiculous and Marcus wouldn’t be able to answer him. But he was fighting against several conflicting emotions all at once and sounding rational was his least priority. There was the urge to grab Marcus close and forcibly rub the cold and the blue out of him, while at the same time he wanted to shake him for being so careless and irresponsible. Instead, he just gritted his teeth against the biting wind and with an arm as much around Marcus as he could manage, firmly marched him back towards the house.
“Were y-you l-looking for me?” Marcus stammered as much from the cold as from the rigid look in Stewart’s face.
“Yes, I was!” Stewart said grimly, with a look sharp enough to turn Marcus’s blood even colder.
Marcus dropped his eyes to the ground and kept pace with Stewart as best he could. Slipping away like this was a stupid and childish move, a decision he’d made with complete awareness if not logic. Why he would do something that would surely land him in trouble was what he didn’t get. And he didn’t even try to understand it at that point in time. All he cared about was that Stewart had come to look for him, had found him, and was now taking control of the situation.
Stewart led Marcus briskly into the house through the kitchen because that was the nearest entrance. He would have preferred to have avoided his mom but it couldn’t be helped.
“Oh, so you found him … goodness, are you all right Marcus?” Angela dropped the packet of biscuits she was holding and hurried towards them.
“It’s all right mom, he forgot his jacket and he obviously does not realize how cold it gets around here. I’m taking him upstairs. Can you put some water on please? I’ll come down and get him a hot drink in a minute.”
“Of course …” Angela’s voice trailed off, as she stared at the backs of his stormy-faced son and shivering boyfriend.
Stewart took Marcus straight to their room, and immediately turned the electric heater in their room to the maximum. He yanked open a drawer and pulled out flannel pajamas, thick socks and a pullover.
“Get out of those clothes and get ready for bed!’ he snapped.
Marcus’s fingers were so frozen and numbed they hardly worked. Without a word, Stewart began undressing him and then helping him step into the pajamas and socks and finally pulled the sweater over Marcus’ head. Marcus’ body was cold to the touch and he was still shaking by the time Stewart was done.
“Get into bed now! Quick!” Stewart ordered, holding the quilt up.
Marcus stiffly and silently crept into the cold bed and tried not to let his teeth chatter. He dropped heavily back against the fluffy pillows and looked up at Stewart with a puppy look which said plainly I’m sorry, and please don’t be mad?
Stewart swiftly tucked the quilt tightly around Marcus and relented enough to stoop and plant a soft kiss on his head. “Stay put and do not move,” he said in a warning tone which held a real threat. “I will be back with some tea for you. And then we are going to have a little chat.”
“Thanks,” Marcus whispered, the words barely audible because his throat had constricted and he felt suddenly too tired and teary to talk.
Stewart paused for a moment, his palm warm against Marcus’ cheek. “It’ll be ok babe, close your eyes and rest for a while. Hm?”
Marcus nodded his head and obediently closed his eyes. He heard the door click and he sighed deeply, almost like a moan, while his hands clutched the sheets tightly under the quilt.
“Is he all right?” Angela asked with concern when Stewart appeared in the kitchen. “Was he lost? He looked quite frozen. The poor boy!”
“He’s fine. Is that water hot?”
“Yes, I was about to make some tea for you,” Angela said.
“Thanks mom, here, let me do it.” Stewart deftly poured the hot water into a mug, adding a heaped teaspoon of sugar. “Are you and dad still going out?”
“Yes, it’s the Turner’s dinner tonight. We should be leaving soon. Are you sure you don’t want to change your mind and come with us? They specifically included you and Marcus in their invitation.”
Stewart shook his head. “Thanks but I’d rather not. I don’t really know them well and Marcus would be bored out of his mind. We’ll stay in and watch TV and spend a quiet evening at home instead.”
“Well, all right then. There’s plenty of leftovers in the fridge if you don’t want to cook.”
“Stop worrying about us, mom. We’ll manage. Have a fun time you two, and call me if dad drinks and you need a ride home.”
Stewart took the mug and made his way upstairs. He put the tea down on the side table and sat on the edge of the bed, his eyes resting on Marcus’ face for a moment. Marcus’ eyes were still closed but Stewart knew he wasn’t asleep.
“I’ve got some tea for you,” Stewart said softly.
Marcus opened his eyes and sat up. He accepted the hot tea eagerly and peered at Stewart over the rim as he cautiously took a sip. It was strong and sweet and hot enough to fill him with a feeling of euphoria. He had never felt so cold in his life.
What the fuck was I thinking?
Alone in the woods and chilled to the bone, he had thought for a moment that he was lost. More than a little frightened, he had almost shouted with joy when he heard Stewart calling his name. And he thought about how good life was when you had warmth and shelter and someone to come find you, and he had pitied the poor souls who had neither a home to go to nor someone to save them.
“Feeling better?” Stewart asked and his tone was tender, strangely at odds with the expression on his face. He slipped a hand inside the quilt and unhesitatingly pushed the clothes aside to touch Marcus’ bare skin. “Finish the tea while it’s still hot.”
Marcus nodded and took his time to sip while Stewart remained sitting on the side of the bed, patient and waiting. When the last drop was gone, he removed the mug from Marcus’ hands and placed it on the table.
“All right young man,” Stewart began and Marcus winced. Stewart hardly ever called him young man and it instantly made him feel small. Like a naughty child caught in an act of disobedience. “Time for a chat.”
Marcus’ heart thumped in a ridiculous panic. What could he say? Somehow he knew he wasn’t going to get away with some glib excuse that he had been out taking a walk. He owed Stewart the decency not to lie or to demean their relationship with some shallow pretext. Not for something like this.
“What is so hard for you to tell me?” Stewart asked mildly.
The directness of the question threw Marcus off. “What?”
“If you weren’t trying to freeze yourself half to death, what exactly was that all about?”
“It wasn’t like that!” Marcus protested. “I wasn’t throwing a tantrum or trying to get your attention and I didn’t mean to get myself frozen; I honestly just didn’t think it would get that cold. I wanted to be alone for a while …”
Under Stewart’s gaze, Marcus faltered. It wasn’t exactly a lie but it wasn’t the whole truth either. He had wanted to be alone. He had felt at odds with himself and he was hoping the cold air would clear his mind. Damn! but he had also counted on Stewart to come look for him, secretly hopeful that Stewart would be a little panicky when he found him gone.
Far from panicky, those eyes were boring right into his soul.
“Did you and Ben have a fight this morning?”
Marcus’ brow creased. “No.”
“OK. Did he tell you he’s in some trouble with Philip?”
“Um, yeah. He mentioned that.”
“Does this have anything to do with what’s happening with them?”
Marcus’s eyes flitted up. “What? No!”
“Not at all?”
“No!” Marcus said again. “Why should it?”
“OK, then tell me why you’ve been uptight since you came back from your walk this morning.”
All right, so he noticed!
“What are you talking about? I don’t know what you mean.”
An eyebrow went up. “Would it help you think better if I put you over my knee?” Stewart asked serenely.
Marcus gasped. “Your parents are in the house. They will HEAR!” he hissed.
“Don’t you worry about them, sweetheart. They’re downstairs and preparing to go out. They won’t hear a thing.”
“So,” Stewart continued, “I’m waiting.”
“Aren’t you supposed to know these things?” Marcus muttered.
“I know it sounds ridiculous and I don’t even know why I am saying this, but you’re supposed to know how I feel, what I need! Don’t you?”
Stewart frowned, silently digesting Marcus’ words.
“What I mean is,” Marcus rushed on, “how do Tops know what their Brats need? How do you … they … read the signs?”
Stewart blinked. “The easiest way would be for the Brats to tell their Tops what they feel or what they are thinking. Wouldn’t you say so?” He watched Marcus expression turn to frustration and knew this was not the right answer. At least not the one he wanted.
“But what if they can’t? Or don’t know how?”
“Why can’t they?” Stewart asked gently.
“Well … m-maybe because it’s not easy to say some things …” Marcus’ eyelashes fluttered and fell, hiding the expression in his eyes. His voice was very soft. “I mean … it’s even harder to talk about than sex. It just is … much harder to talk about this kind of …”
Stewart nodded his head encouragingly. He was beginning to see where this was going. “No, you are right. Sex is a universally accepted need. This isn’t quite so universal. Or at least not so openly acknowledged.”
“Do you know what I am saying?”
“I - think I do.” Stewart said slowly, lips slightly pursed. “It’s against human nature to give up your freedom. It is scary isn’t it? - to put your fate into someone’s hands and actually ASK someone to take over, to decide, to master. That is what you meant?”
Marcus looked hopeful. “Yeah, kind of. Its one thing when the Top makes the decision and you have no say, quite another when the Brat decides its time to be … mastered.”
“Hmm. A Brat may feel that making known this need is a show of weakness?” Stewart paused. “Is that how you feel?”
Marcus shrugged. “Yeah … I guess. I mean, how needy can a guy be to … to …?” His cheeks turned pink.
Stewart reached out and held Marcus’s hand in his. “Baby, there’s nothing weak or needy in being a Brat. Personally I think it takes a lot of courage to come to terms with it. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a Brat telling his Top if and when he needs tighter boundaries or stricter controls. Or if he needs to be spanked. Do you understand?”
Marcus recoiled, drawing his hand away. “I’m not saying …”
Stewart moved closer and took Marcus hand again, holding it more firmly this time. “Marcus, look at me. Despite what you think, Tops are not super beings. We don’t have special powers and we don’t know what our Brats think all the time. We depend on signs and body language and behavioral patterns to tell us what is going on with them, and hopefully we know our Brats well enough to know when something is bothering them. But we don’t always get it right, and we don’t always have all the answers. Which is why it is so important to talk and be open about your feelings.”
“But you knew I was disturbed about something today?”
Stewart’s eyes smiled. “Let’s just say you were sending out some pretty strong signals.”
“Oh God!” Marcus groaned. He threw himself back and covered his eyes with his arm. “Christ! How embarrassing!”
Stewart laughed. “No, no. It was obvious only to me because you are my Brat. And it was my business to notice.”
Those words gave Marcus a real buzz. How incredibly safe that felt.
After a while Marcus peeked out from under his arm, his face determined. “So do you know what I need? Because honestly, I don’t really know myself?” He laughed shakily and then with an effort continued. “When Ben told me Philip was punishing him every day, I just felt like I needed you to take charge of me too, like when I’m in trouble. I suddenly missed it. Only thing is I was not in any kind of trouble, so how could you take charge?”
Stewart smoothed back hair from Marcus’ forehead. “Even if you are not in any kind of trouble, it doesn’t mean I can’t ‘take charge’ – to use your term.”
“Isn’t it crazy? How can I even wish to be in trouble?” Marcus shook his head in disgust.
“You don’t really wish to be in trouble. You just wanted someone to be in control. It’s a kind of submission, and it’s perfectly normal for us. Don’t sweat over it.”
Stewart didn’t add that this was also one of the most common reasons why Brats continuously found themselves in trouble. They either consciously or sub-consciously manipulated their Tops to give them what they secretly wanted.
“So – I am not in trouble?” Marcus asked hesitantly. After all this conversation, he still felt confused. Where exactly was he?
Stewart held Marcus’ chin and established direct eye contact. “You are going to find out exactly how much trouble you are in shortly. But right now, I want you to take a nap. You will stay in bed; do not get out unless you need to use the bathroom. I am going to fix us some dinner and I will come get you when it’s ready. We will discuss this further then. Understand?”
That immediately sent chills down Marcus’ spine. It was not harsh but it was the tone. He nodded his head and allowed Stewart to push him further down the bed, snuggling into the now warm sheets and feeling surprisingly calmed.
By the time Stewart had fixed a simple dinner and went back upstairs, Marcus was fast asleep. Stewart observed him for a few minutes, loving the way Marcus curled into himself. He took a moment to admire the long eyelashes that rested on the white cheeks and the sensual curve of his lips. He could still remember the first few times he had noticed Marcus in his class. Stewart had been attracted to those lips straight away, and when Marcus had turned those huge intent eyes on him he was lost.
Hard to believe he was here now, in his bed asleep, fully trusting him.
Stewart went to the dresser and selected a broad wooden hairbrush.
He ran his palm over the smooth base and was satisfied. That would do nicely in the absence of a paddle. Settling on the side of the bed, he gently shook Marcus awake. As his eyes fluttered open, Stewart bent and kissed him on the lips.
“Hey,” Stewart murmured against his hair.
Marcus stirred and stretched under the covers. “Hey,” he said, his voice drowsy, and was swallowed as Stewart kissed him again. Their tongues touched, breaths sharpening as they enjoyed the contact.
Finally Marcus pulled away, slightly breathless. “What time is it?”
“Just past seven. Mom and dad have gone out for dinner. We have the house to ourselves.” Stewart threw off the quilt and nudged Marcus up. “I fixed dinner and made up a nice fire in the living room. How about we curl up on the sofa and watch TV after we eat?”
“Hmm … if you are trying to seduce me … well, it sounds pretty good.” Marcus leaned up for another kiss and began to swing his legs off the bed when Stewart stopped him.
“Wait. We have something to take care of first.”
Marcus felt a ton of bricks drop on his stomach and he froze. Thankfully he wasn’t given much time to ponder or think. Stewart’s hands were already drawing him closer, and Marcus felt the air rush out of him as he found himself pulled over Stewart’s lap. He lay there, tongue-tied and awkward and expectant.
Stewart patted his backside. “Get comfortable because you are going to be in this position for a while.”
Marcus’s breath hitched. He realized his voice had gone.
“To be clear,” Stewart said calmly as he firmly pushed the elastic of the pajama pants down, “this is simply to remind you that I am your Top. I have a responsibility to you. And in order for me to do the job right, you need to tell me when you are troubled.”
Stewart’s palm connected with the firm white cheeks and Marcus jumped.
“You have been going round in circles the whole day, fretting and burning a lot of energy instead of coming straight to me. Wouldn’t that have been so much simpler, Marcus?”
Stewart swatted him again and Marcus felt his butterflies finally settle. Stewart’s thighs were solid and his stomach hard and warm and Marcus leaned gratefully into him, feeling himself anchor. The hand behind him was undeniably sturdy but as Ben had said, some spankings were not so bad. Marcus closed his eyes, feeling the heat build slowly.
I can take this. This is not so bad. I can do it, for once I don’t need to cry.
From a long way off, he heard Stewart’s voice, a scramble of disjointed sentences and random words.
“… do it the hard way, … talk to me … know better next time …. remember?”
A rather sharp swat landed and Marcus realized he was required to respond. “Yes!”
OK, so his butt was starting to burn. Especially when Stewart concentrated on the same spot a couple of times. Marcus squirmed and panted a silent protest. He was still dry-eyed and he let go a little sigh when Stewart finally stopped. Thank God! Any more and he would have started to plead.
He felt a movement above him and a sixth sense jerked him fully conscious. He whipped his head back and stared in horror at the hairbrush in Stewart’s hand.
“Oh no!” Marcus gasped. He could have sworn he saw Stewart smile but his mind was too preoccupied to pursue that thread. “Stewart, please …” there, he was already pleading and Stewart hadn’t even started yet. How pathetic!
“Settle down! I’m improvising as you can see. Since there’s no paddle in this house, this hairbrush is going to do the job. It may be a little short, but it’ll work.”
Marcus shook his head. “You don’t need it!”
“Oh, but I do. This is for your disappearance act, darling. You know how I feel about you going off without a word to me or anyone! You know very well how it would worry me. You know very well this is not allowed. We’ve covered this ground; you do not disappear and let people worry about you. And yet you did it!”
Every word was an emphasis of what he had done wrong, and Marcus cringed and frowned.
All it took was one swat of the hairbrush on an already tender backside for Marcus to lose all coherent thought. It was solid wood and stung like a bitch and Marcus scrambled to get out of position. Unfortunately the hand holding him was like steel and Marcus yelled as the brush landed a second time.
Despite himself, the tears were flowing freely down Marcus’ face by the time Stewart completed the sixth swat. There was no question about how sorry he was as he lay sobbing on Stewart’s lap. Stewart had not paused in between strokes because he did not want to prolong the agony but it was more than enough to make Marcus bitterly regret his rashness.
Stewart laid the brush down on the bed and gently massaged the extremely red cheeks as his Brat continued to kick and sob. As if that could make the sting go away faster.
“Shhh…” Stewart crooned. “Come on, we’re done.”
“Fuck!” Marcus gasped. “That hurt!”
“Marcus.” There was no mistaking the warning.
“But that hurt! I’m sorry.” He added as an afterthought.
“I know,” Stewart said, “it’ll go away. I didn’t spank all that hard and it was only six with the hairbrush.”
Marcus stopped himself from issuing another curse. With a sudden fierce urge to get closer, he pulled himself up and wound his arms around Stewart’s neck. He felt Stewart’s arms wrap around his back and hold him close. Immediately Marcus relaxed, completely at ease with his world again.
His face buried in Stewart’s neck, Marcus mumbled. “That … thing … is not touching my hair again!”
“And I was thinking perhaps we should bring it back with us,” Stewart said with a laugh.
Marcus reached out and shoved the offensive brush off the bed.
Marcus watched as Philip and Ben pulled into their driveway. They had decided they would extend their holiday – or rather Ben had decided he could take a couple of extra days off from work – and the four of them were going to drive back together.
“Hi!” Marcus called out excitedly as he held the front door open. “Are you guys coming in?” Their bags stood ready at the foot of the stairs, waiting to be loaded into Stewart’s car.
Philip came up and kissed Marcus on the cheek. “Of course we’re coming in, we want to say goodbye to the folks. And Josie promised me a basket of goodies!”
“I sure did!” Josie’s voice boomed. She had come specially to bid ‘her boys’ farewell, armed with freshly baked pies, cakes and biscuits.
John and Angela greeted Philip and Ben warmly. Marcus and Ben watched as Philip and Stewart went through the routine – hugs, kisses, promises to call, claps on the backs. And then they found themselves pulled into the foray as well.
“Oh before I forget,” Angela said to Marcus when he was released from a bear hug from Josie, “Abby asked to pass you this.”
Stewart raised his eyebrows. It was a long-standing joke between him and Abby. Whenever one of them was about to go off somewhere - summer camps, school trips, college – one would slip the other a secret message. Usually it contained secret information about where they had hidden something or what one had done to infuriate the other. It was calculated to instigate the maximum amount of frustration from the other party and ensure revenge at the next possible opportunity.
Marcus held out his hand and took the slip of paper cautiously. “What is it?”
Angela was smiling and shaking her head. “I have no idea; one of Abby’s and Stewart’s many weird notions of fun I suppose. She and Stewart are always trying to outdo and undo one another.”
“Read it,” Stewart said, his lips already twitching.
Marcus unfolded the paper and scanned it quickly, then gasped with widened eyes. “Oh.”
“What?” Philip and Ben asked simultaneously while John, Angela and Josie looked on expectantly.
Stewart peered at the scrap of paper over Marcus’ shoulder and grabbed it with haste from Marcus’ stupefied fingers, then folded it and stuffed it into his pocket. He touched Marcus’ hand, squeezing it meaningfully and answered before Marcus could respond.
“It’s just one of Abby’s little jokes which unfortunately we can’t share with you.” Stewart was trying to keep a straight face.
“Aw, come on!” Philip complained loudly.
“You’re not telling us?” Ben cried out indignantly. “Marcus!”
Slightly bewildered, Marcus shook his head and shrugged. Stewart picked up their bags and announced firmly, “Let’s get going guys! We’ve a long drive ahead and if we are going to stop somewhere for the night, we should be looking out for a decent inn in the daylight rather than at night.”
“Drive safely boys,” John said. “No fooling around on the road, you hear!”
“Of course not.”
“Marcus, Ben, we expect you back soon!”
Once they were at the end of the driveway and out of hearing of the older folks, Philip turned to Stewart and demanded. “Now what was that all about?”
Stewart threw their bags into his car, which was parked right in front of Philip’s. He laughed and looked back at the house, making sure the front door was closed and they weren’t still being watched. He pulled the note out from his pocket. “Here, I just didn’t want to do this in front of the folks.”
Their curiosity fully aroused, Philip and Ben grabbed the note and read it together. After a stunned moment, Philip looked up with round eyes. “What? Robert’s gay?”
Stewart grinned. “And all this time, she knew. The little witch! She could have told me.”
“And we all thought they had a chance together.” Philip scoffed. “Robert’s a sly one, he really threw everyone off.”
“And I toasted them,” Marcus said hollowly. “God! How humiliating!”
“Its actually quite funny,” Ben said with a gurgle of laughter. “To think they had you all fooled for so long!”
“Wait till I get my hands on Abby!” Stewart growled. “I swear she is having a good laugh right about now.”
“Oh well, at least that explains why it never worked out between them.” Philip opened his passenger door and motioned for Ben to get in.
“You know, thinking it over, its really not so much Abby’s secret as Robert’s,” Stewart said. “She was just being his friend.”
Philip nodded. “I guess you are right. I wonder if he knows we now know.”
Stewart snorted. “I’m pretty sure he does. Abby wouldn’t tell us if she didn’t already have his green light, not after all this while. She can be fiercely loyal.”
“But why did she pass me the note?” Marcus asked, wrinkling his nose. “Why me?”
Stewart swatted Marcus lightly on the seat of his jeans. “Because you toasted them, remember? And because it’s funnier and more twisted than if the note had been for me. That’s Abby for you. Welcome to the family.”
Philip laughed. “Well, at least it’s now out in the open. To us at least. We’ve got a whole year to get used to it!” He grinned at the other three men. “So – are we ready to roll?”
“Yes,” Ben and Marcus chorused.
“Let’s get going then,” Stewart said, walking Marcus to the front of the car and putting him into the passenger seat. He waited till Marcus had buckled up and then leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “You ok, honey?”
“Yeah,” Marcus said brightly. “Why do you ask?”
“Because you were worried about this holiday in the beginning?”
“Um … well, it turned out better than I expected. Much better actually.” He lowered his voice. “I love your family,” he said simply.
“Our family.” Stewart corrected him. He reached out and touched Marcus’ head.
Marcus swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. “Our family,” he repeated, savoring the word.
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