Chapter Thirty-five



Galen was still lying on the ground watching the flickering flames of the campfire dance before his eyes. He was happily recalling how he and Thomas had danced in the rain just that morning. It was hard to believe it was still the same day as so much had happened. He was pulled from his reverie when Troy squatted down in front of him. Though he was feeling better about things after his talk with Thomas, Galen still felt his stomach tightened from being this close to the dark-eyed school teacher.

“Galen, may I talk with you please?” Troy softly requested

“O-kay,” was all that the young man could bring himself to say, staring into the older man’s face and seeing only kindness mixed with a slight manifestation of beseeching.

“Galen, it has been brought to my attention that I was too hasty in judging you this afternoon. I realize now that you were not at fault for disrupting the class and I offer you my most sincere apologies for not taking the time to sort out the matter more thoroughly. You were unjustly punished and I beg your forgiveness for my actions.”

Galen was taken aback by the teacher’s words, most especially since they were spoken in front of all the other men at the campfire. He briefly glanced beyond Troy’s shoulder and saw Thomas standing there, nodding his approval. Despite the sting it brought to his backside, he pulled himself to a sitting position in order to respond properly. “T-thank you, Troy,” he softly acknowledged. “Of course I accept your ap-pology. I guess I shouldn’t b-be hunting for any m-more frogs, huh?”

The teacher laughed. “I hope you will be back in class tomorrow, Galen. I would like a chance to start over again with you.”

“I’ll b-be there,” Galen answered enthusiastically.

Levi had been listening carefully to the exchange between his husband and Galen as had all the others present around the campfire. He was happy to see that his beloved had once again earned the respect he so greatly deserved amongst these men. He stood and took Troy’s hand, pulling the older man up with him. “Let’s go take a walk to that place on the beach,” he whispered. “I need to be with you.”

The two lovers walked happily towards the shore while the others watched them go.

Thomas slipped his hands under Galen’s arms and lifted the younger man to his feet. “Let’s go and retrieve your boots before it gets much darker, alright?”

Galen’s response was to grab Thomas’ hand and start towing him toward the forest path leading to the dropped footwear. They were momentarily waylaid by Quentin who was looking for Kelby.

As partners eagerly sought one another to discuss the outcome of the meeting, Hendrik got up and ambled into the forest. It was times like these when he missed Eric the most. It wasn’t that he resented the rest their happiness; he just felt lonely and unfulfilled. Just because he was not yet ready for a new relationship didn’t mean he had to torture himself by staying. 

Hearing soft footsteps behind him, Hendrik turned around to discover Mitchell had been trailing him.

“Oh hi,” Hendrik said softly. “Going up to the river?”

“Good evening, Hendrik. Yes, I thought it would be a nice night to sit by the water. Do you mind if I walk with you?” Mitchell’s deep voice rumbled across the few feet separating them.

“Not at all,” Hendrik shrugged. “Guess it beats being alone.” Then feeling a little ashamed of his churlishness, he said in a friendlier tone. “Actually, I don’t mind the company at all.”

The two men walked in companionable silence for several minutes before Hendrik inquired as to the results of the voting that had taken place in the mess tent.

“There will be no further use of corporal punishment by the school’s tutor,” Mitchell replied.

“Hmmm, I see,” Hendrik murmured, not really concerned one way or another. It had been mere curiosity that had prompted him to ask in the first place. “It was common practice when I went to school; but then again I was a kid, not a grown man.”

“I would be surprised to learn it was not the same for most if not all of us,” Mitchell commented.

“Mind me asking how you voted, Mitchell?” Hendrik looked quizzically at the other man, suddenly surprised at his own inquisitiveness.

In the moonlight, Mitchell looked imposing. ‘God, he’s a good looking son-of-a-gun,’ Hendrik thought as he took a moment or two to closely study the powerfully built black man beside him. ‘He’s big and strong, yet mild-mannered and easy going. He doesn’t say much either, which makes him all the more mysterious and enigmatic.’ Suddenly, Hendrik realized that he wanted to keep the conversation going in order to spend more time with the man as he felt the first stirrings of physical attraction.

“I was not against Troy’s method of maintaining order in his classroom,” Mitchell softly answered as they neared the river where both sat down on its’ grassy bank. “Of course, I don’t have a partner to consider,” he honestly acknowledged.

“Would it have made a difference?”

“Possibly, depending on my partner’s inclinations; however, at the time it was a moot point, wasn’t it?” Mitchell fell silent and allowed his mind to drift back in time as he contemplated what Byron’s reactions would have been.

“I’d be absolutely stunned if Eric had voted against it,” Hendrik muttered. “He took a switch to my backside on more than one occasion for being strong-minded and insisting on having my own way. Hurt like a son-of-a-bitch!”

“Eric?”

Hendrik was surprised he had mentioned Eric’s name. He had not spoken the name for so long it now felt strange to hear it again. He hesitated before continuing. “My lover; my deceased lover,” he answered, his pain evident in his lowered voice.

“I’m sorry.” Mitchell’s voice was sincere. He knew all about such pain. “Are you able to talk about him? Care to share what happened?” Mitchell was offering a listening ear but could Hendrik accept it?

Hendrik started to pull back but stopped abruptly. Something about Mitchell’s voice and look made him reconsider. He had suppressed it for so long because he hadn’t known what else to do with it, but it was just eating him away. He had watched the other men move on, form relationships and find happiness, while he continued to carry his pain like a shield. Wasn’t it time he let go and started healing too?

With a little difficulty, Hendrik started to speak haltingly. “Several times on the ship, a couple of the guards took Eric on deck supposedly for fresh air. Eric would not allow me to accompany him.” Moments of silence passed as he got his emotions under control. “He never told me what happened but I suspected them of beating him up just for the hell of it. When I questioned him about some of the bruising I saw, he said he had slipped and hit his side on the railing. Then one day he didn’t return. They covered up by telling me he had fallen overboard, but that was a load of crap. The bastards had killed him, whether by accident or by design made no difference. He was still gone from me.” Hendrik’s eyes filled with tears and he laid his head down on his folded knees.

Mitchell stared out over the slowly churning water, waiting for the searing pain in his heart to become manageable. He knew exactly what the younger man was going through. “They murdered my Byron too,” he quietly stated.

“Who? Your partner?” Hendrik wiped his eyes and glanced up. “H-how did it happen?”

“Yes, he was my life-partner. A week before we were to leave on the ship, for some unknown reason they started separating Byron and myself at night. We didn’t understand why as there was supposed to be a shortage of cells. My poor beautiful Byron; he was so frightened and there was nothing I could do to lessen his fears which always multiplied in the dead of night. That last night I heard him call my name, but I got no response when I called back to him. The next morning the guards told me he had hung himself. It was a lie! Earlier that day, we had been talking about the future and Byron was so looking forward to the voyage that would bring us here. He dreamed of us living in peace; free to love whom we chose. He would never have taken his own life.”

Both men felt the other’s anguish and heartache. For a long while, neither said anything, knowing their pasts could not be changed and that dwelling on them brought nothing but more misery. In that shared moment, more healing was done than in the last few weeks, because there was someone else who had gone through the same hurt and there was someone else who understood.
   
Tossing a stone into the water, Hendrik calmly mused. “Eric would have hated it here.”

“Why is that?”

“He preferred wide-open plains. He loved the freedom of saddling up and riding for days without meeting anyone.” Hendrik looked over his shoulder at the tall trees surrounding them. “He didn’t like trees much either; complained they obstructed his view.” He chuckled softly at some of his happier memories. “Said water was only good for drinking and for his habitual Saturday night bath.” Then sighing despondently, he muttered. “Maybe he’s better off where he is.”

“My Byron would have flourished here. He had the sensitive nature of an artist. His medium was wood. We complimented each other. While I did the rough carpentry, my partner did the finishing touches to turn it into a work of art every single time.” Mitchell bowed his head and poignantly whispered, “God, I miss him.”

“May both their souls rest in peace,” Henrik reverently responded. Sliding nearer his fellow sufferer, the ex-wrangler wrapped an arm around Mitchell’s back and leaned his head on the muscular shoulder. It was an act of pure physical need to be close to another man, to be held, to give and receive comfort.

Mitchell reacted by turning slightly and drawing Hendrik into a warm embrace. Their gender preferences had brought them to the island but empathy was responsible for the closeness developing between them. Both had a deeper emotional void needing to be filled but neither was prepared to do so just yet. However, their physical hunger was anxious to be appeased.

“Please!” Hendrik beseeched as his lips sought Mitchell’s.

Mitchell licked his lips and then tenderly ran his tongue over the sensitive surface of Hendrik’s mouth. He felt his body coming to life as the kiss deepened.

The men continued to suck, lick, nibble at and taste each other as they all but tore their clothes off. Using his own pre-cum, Mitchell hastily prepared Hendrik and finding him more than ready, drove into the younger man with one smooth motion. The sex was hard, fast and hot. There was anger and sadness, some guilt and a slight sense of betrayal along with a large portion of excitement all rolled together as they clung to one another at their moment of release, before finally pulling apart. 

It left them well-sated, sweaty, panting for breath, and unexpectedly, a little hollow. It also left them powerless to speak until the adrenalin slowed and heart rates returned to normal as they lay side by side, flat on their backs with a cooling breeze blowing over their damp bodies.

The stars twinkled high above them and Hendrik smiled.

Turning his head, Mitchell asked softly, “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Hendrik contentedly replied as he suddenly realized he actually was.
 
“Me too,” the other man sighed as their shoulders touched briefly and both of them smiled in the darkness.

“God, that was good!” Hendrik murmured breathlessly. “And, man, did I need it!”

“Happy to be of service,” Mitchell lightly returned, causing Hendrik to chuckle. “Give me a few minutes and I’ll be just as happy to serve you again.”

“Just take your time, I’m not going anywhere.”

Kelby had a lot on his mind so he wandered down to the outcropping of rocks on the beach that he liked to frequent. As he sat down to think things over, Copper who had followed him struggled to get up the rocks to join his master. The young man reached down, grabbed his pet and hauled the squirming animal onto his lap. He gazed out at the ocean as he lovingly stroked the soft fur.

Quentin went in search of him when the young man was not at the fire pit with the others. He had asked Galen if he had seen Kelby and was pointed in the direction of the beach.

“Well, there you are.” Quentin called out when he finally spotted his friend. As he got closer, he noticed the way Kelby was just staring into space while absentmindedly stroking the puppy.

“Kelby?” Quentin placed his hand on the younger man’s shoulder to attract his attention.

The feel of someone touching him rapidly snapped Kelby out of his thoughts. “Oh hi, Quentin,” he quietly greeted. “Did you need something?”

“I was wondering why you disappeared like you did. Now I’m rather curious about what’s on your mind. Galen said you seemed distracted earlier. Any reason why?” Quentin asked as he sat down next to Kelby on the rocks. He wasn’t too pleased when the other man looked down and concentrated hard on the little dog in his arms. “Alright, what is it?” Quentin inquired when no answer was forthcoming.

“It’s nothing really,” Kelby responded in a way that convinced Quentin it was really something.

“But,” Quentin prompted, knowing by Kelby’s behavior that the young man had a serious topic on his mind.

“Alright, there is something. But I just don’t know if I’m ready to talk about it yet as it may be an idea you’ve never even given any thought to,” Kelby softly confessed, glancing up at the other man.

Kelby’s vague answer only piqued Quentin’s curiosity more. “Well why don’t you just tell me what it is and we can talk about it,” he kindly suggested, hoping to get some answers.

A soft sigh emitted from the younger man as he gathered his courage to speak. “Well I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what happened on our field trip earlier today. I’ve been listening to the conversations between some of the guys in camp and I’ve also noticed other things recently that I guess I missed in the past. In fact, I began to realize that I’d already seen evidence of….well, I mean like a while back when Wayne came to apologize for taking Copper. He and Samuel went off into the woods afterwards.” Kelby finished speaking, thinking he had just explained everything.

Quentin nodded and then gave a frustrated growl as Kelby continued to avoid directly answering the question. “Okay, so they went into the woods. What’s wrong with that?” he asked, still not understanding the problem.

“Don’t you see?” Kelby cried out. “When Wayne came back, he looked like he’d been crying and he had that certain way of walking. I’ve seen some of the others walk like that” Kelby was getting frustrated with Quentin not grasping what he was trying to say.

“I’m afraid you have to speak a little plainer, because all I see at the moment is you working yourself up.” Quentin gently put his hand on Kelby’s shoulder in an attempt to calm him down.

“They’ve been getting physically punished, Quentin, and I want you to know that I don’t plan on ever letting anyone beat me again!” Kelby declared vehemently.

“Hold on now. There is a big difference between being beaten and getting spanked, Kelby; a very big difference.” Quentin calmly but adamantly informed the other man.

“Yeah? Well I don’t see it!” Kelby shouted as he jerked away from Quentin’s hand on his shoulder. With the exception of the beating his father had administered just before shipping him off, Kelby had never in his whole life been physically disciplined and therefore had no idea there was a difference.

“You don’t?” Quentin asked, becoming generally concerned at this point.

“No, I don’t! Both have someone hitting someone else, don’t they?” Kelby’s petting of Copper became a bit rougher than his pup was used to; causing the little animal to wiggle free and scamper away.

Quentin looked at Kelby and nodded. “Yes, but…” he started before being cut off by Kelby’s next question.

“And don’t both have the person being punished getting hit with something?” Kelby asked sharply.

“Not always, but..” Quentin was once again interrupted before he could finish.

“Not always just means that at some point they do; so see, it is the same,” Kelby insisted as his eyes filled with anger, hurt and tears.

“No, Kelby, it is not the same.” Quentin tried to pull Kelby into his arms to comfort him.

Kelby pulled away and got down to stand on the beach with his arms wrapped protectively around himself.

Quentin took a deep breath, got down and stood next to his young friend. “Kelby, they really aren’t the same thing. One is done out of maliciousness or hate or even sometimes fear, while the other is done strictly out of love and with compassion. You’re thinking about what happened with your father again, aren’t you?” Quentin had a feeling where all this was coming from and a slight nod of Kelby’s head confirmed his suspicions.

“He loved me. Father always made sure we knew that. He told my sisters and I all the time that he loved us. If he loved me, then w-why…why did…” Kelby stopped as tears began to flow down his face and he once again turned away from Quentin.

“Why did he do what he did?” Quentin finished, knowing that was what Kelby was trying to ask. He walked up behind the younger man and wrapped his arms around him in the hope of soothing badly ruffles feathers. “I honestly don’t know. I have no idea concerning the thoughts going through your father’s head at the time, Kelby, but what I do know is that between the partners here on the island it would be out of love.”

Kelby jerked away and stared at Quentin. “W-would you do that to me?” He stepped back and regarded the man before him.

“What your father did?” Quentin questioned and seeing another nod, he continued. “Never! I would never beat anyone, Kelby. If I was in a discipline relationship, I would never spank my partner in anger either. It would only be with love and understanding,” Quentin answered honestly.

A shuddering breath was taken before Kelby spoke. “Would you use anything, and if so, what would give you reason to?”

“Let’s sit while we talk.” Quentin walked over to sit on the rocks and motioned Kelby to follow.

Once Kelby was next to him, Quentin put his arm around the younger man’s shoulders. “Now as for your first question, I don’t think I would use anything but my hand. However, if I felt what my partner did was serious enough to merit something other than my hand, we would talk it over first. I would expect any partner you found to do the same.” The relieved look and nod from Kelby told the older man he was making headway in easing his friend’s anxiety.

“As for the second question; well I would hope that like you, my future partner and trouble wouldn’t make a habit of meeting up with each other. I would think there are only a few things that would have anyone resort to spanking you. Putting yourself into a dangerous situation is one of them. Also going along with something you know isn’t right. Those are the two that stand out the most with me at the moment. Partners usually set up their basic rules and then discuss it if something else needs to be addressed. Now, I have a question for you. Do you think this is a lifestyle you’d be able to deal with, should the occasion arise?”

As Kelby listened, he moved closer to Quentin and laid his head on the man’s shoulder. “You mean can I handle someone spanking me if necessary?” Kelby obviously needed clarification. Feeling Quentin’s nod, Kelby answered hesitantly. “I-I think so. I’m still a little bit unsure of things, but talking with you has helped. ” He was quiet for several long minutes as he gathered his nerve to ask something that had been on his mind for a few weeks now. “Quentin, when are we going to become partners?” 

Quentin shifted positions, completely taken off guard by the totally unexpected question. He took a deep breath as he thought over a way to answer and decided maybe another question was in order.

“What makes you think we were intended to be partners, Kelby? And why would you want to when we’ve only know each other a short period of time?”

“We’ve known each other long enough to fall in love, Quentin. Even though we’ve yet to verbalize our true feelings, I’ve felt us growing closer with every day that passes. We have so much in common and to me it just seemed natural to take the next step.” Kelby turned in Quentin’s arms to face the man. He gently rubbed his fingertips along Quentin’s unshaven cheek. “I find you to be a kind, patient man. Someone I can look up to. Someone I enjoy spending time with. I thought you felt the same about me.”

Quentin suddenly realized the false hope the younger man had been harboring and took full responsibility for having allowed it to develop. He rolled over in his mind the words that had to be spoken. He knew what he had to say wasn’t going to be easy but he also knew putting it off would only makes matters worse.

Carefully pushing Kelby away but keeping his hand on his shoulders to make sure he was still in close contact with the young man, Quentin began to speak. “Kelby, I think we have a little communication problem here. I wasn’t aware that you read more into my acts of friendship than I meant it to be.”

Kelby shoved away from the older man but kept facing him, a look of confusion and embarrassment was evident in his face. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“Kelby, while I am touched by your feelings; hell, I am even flattered by them, I don’t see you in that way. What I mean is; I am very fond of you and I care about you but I don’t love you, at least not in the way that life-partners and lovers do.”

“What? I don’t understand. I thought, well… I just assumed,” Kelby’s voice began to choke with emotion as he tried desperately to assimilate what Quentin was telling him.

“Oh Kelby, I am so deeply sorry that you appear to have taken our friendship to be more than what it is and I humbly apologize for unintentionally misleading you. I guess I should have read the signals you were sending out more clearly but I didn’t. I never meant to hurt you.”

“You were being so nice to me and all; listening to me, talking things over with me and all that other stuff. Just like I see Aiden do with Larry and Spyke or Walker with his partners. How could I have been so stupid and blind as to think you loved me?” Kelby was now crying in earnest.

“Damn it!” Quentin exclaimed under his breath. ‘This is not going well.’ He inhaled a deep breath and took another stab at explaining himself. “Look, Kelby, you’re a sweet, sensitive, brilliant young man and I do love you, but just as a friend. I’m not ready for a partner yet. It’s not you; honest, it’s me. Back in the world we left behind, I had to play at being straight and slink around in the dark shadows to fulfill my sexual needs. I have never had a long-term relationship with anyone and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I’m not even sure I have the ability to settle down with just one person. Right now, I’m enjoying the fact that I don’t have to hide my sexuality and that I can choose to openly and freely make love to a man without fear of persecution or death. You are a sweet young man, but you need more that I am prepared to give you. I can promise you this however, I will always be your friend and will be willing to help you out when you ask and be there for you whenever needed. But as far as becoming partners, I am truly sorry but that is one commitment I cannot make for you.”

Kelby stood up and turned his back on the older man. Quentin stood as well but did not make a move to touch him. “I understand if you are angry, Kelby and I don’t blame you for feeling that way. It may take a while, but I hope in time you’ll come to realize I do care for you and value your friendship.”

“This is so embarrassing,” Kelby murmured brokenheartedly. “I should never have said anything.”

“You have nothing to feel embarrasses about.”

“Easy for you to say; you’re not the one who just made a fool of himself.”

“Oh Kelby,” Quentin sadly entreated. “You are not a fool. It takes courage to share our true feelings with one another.”

Kelby turned and glared at Quentin, tears streaming down his face. “I’m not sure how I feel about all this. I need time to absorb all you’ve said. Please leave me alone; I want to be by myself and think things through.”

Knowing retreat was the best solution at this point in time; Quentin turned on his heels and without another word, went to find solace and possibly a friendly ear to discuss the unpleasant situation he’d unexpectedly found himself in. He felt bad for what just happened and a little guilty as well but at least it hadn’t gone any further than it did. He had also learned a valuable lesson from this horrendous misunderstanding. He realized he would have to be more succinct where his intentions were concerned with anyone else from now on. Quentin’s past relationships had been for pure sex. He never let anyone close, he never dared to. But here on the island it was different, so very different, and he knew he would eventually have to learn to let his guard down and let someone into his life, but he didn’t at the moment feel Kelby was the one for him. He closed his eyes and made a small wish that Kelby would learn to forgive him in time and that the young man would find what he needed to make his life complete.

Kelby heard Quentin move away and after waiting a few minutes to insure he was alone; he went back to the rocks and sat down. His heart felt completely shattered by the knowledge that Quentin only thought of him as a friend. He snorted softly in self-recrimination. He had fallen in love with Quentin and now he wasn’t sure what to do as his mind began to pose various questions.

Could he still work next to the man as he helped him with the inventory? Could he still share the same tent without wanting to break down and cry every time he saw him? Kelby sighed and shook his head. He just didn’t know. He wished there was someone to talk it over with, but Quentin had been the one he had come to depend on for guidance and support. Quentin had been the only one with whom he was comfortable enough to discuss his fears and concerns. Kelby stared out across the ocean once more as his mind drifted back and forth in time with the incoming waves.

“I’d like to go for a walk so we can talk,” Wes invited. He was curious to hear the results of the older men’s discussion and particularly Nathan’s views on the subject.

“Of course, Minx; I’m more than happy for any opportunity we have to be alone.”

The two men walked down to the creek as they often did in the evening and sat down. They removed their shoes and socks, and put their feet in the water to enjoy this private time of relaxing together after a hard day’s work and cooling off from the heat of earlier.

“Nathan? Can you tell me how you voted at the meeting?” Wes asked after a brief moment of hesitation.

“I voted against it,” was Nathan’s soft reply.

“Really?” Wes’ eyes opened in delight. “You are against switching? That’s good to know!” The irrepressible grin peeped out. 

Nathan eyed his young companion severely but his lips held a smile which emboldened Wes to venture further. “I’d kinda like to know why.”

Nathan ruffled Wes’ hair. “Knowing you, I would not have been at all surprised at you being involved in the shenanigans had you been there, but no matter how much you may deserve it, I would not want anyone switching you, including myself.”

Wes turned over on his stomach and gazed up adoringly at the older man. “Huh, would you ever get as pissed off as Brock did?” Wes smirked at the memory of the mountain man’s reaction to his partner being physically disciplined by another. “Man, I thought he was gonna kill someone.”

Nathan took a long time to consider the question before he replied.  “While I would have felt the same way as Brock, I doubt I would ever react the same way.”

Wes felt a stab of disappointment. Wes thought the older man would at least express a stronger opinion. Wouldn’t Nathan fight for him like Brock was ready to for Raythe?  He put his head down on his folded arms and mumbled, “Why not?” 

“Come here, my little minx.” With some difficulty, Nathan managed to draw his disgruntled partner into his arms. He lightly kissed Wes’ forehead and ran a caressing hand down Wes’ slender back. He hoped his explanation would be enough to appease the younger man. “My fighting with another would be a poor example to set for you, especially after having to repeatedly remind you that public brawling is unacceptable and never solves anything.”

Wes deflated into Nathan’s arms. That was not the answer he was looking for. It wasn’t the physical act itself that was important to Wes but the symbolism behind the act. He sulked silently. 

Fully aware of his young partner’s disappointment, Nathan just held him tightly, refusing to be drawn into an argument for which there could be no happy ending. He had other memories resurfacing and he was not yet ready to divulge the part of his past where an uncontrolled bout of temper on his part had led to the death of another.

TBC…. 


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