Chapter Thirty-two



Larry was waiting for Aiden by their tent when he saw Spyke coming down the path. By his partner’s slow gait, it was obvious to the ex-marine that Spyke’s discussion with Aiden had ended painfully.

“Hi, kid, how’s it going?”

“Oh fuck, Larry, I didn’t know a butt could hurt so much; mine is on fire.”

“He sure can get the message across, can’t he?”

“I’ll say, just look at my butt!” Spyke pulled his pants down and turned his rear end in Larry’s direction.

“Oh shit, Spyke, looks like you have hand-prints tattooed all over your backside.”

“It sure feels like it, and he only spanked a dozen times!” Spyke exclaimed, buttoning his trousers.

“Well he sure left a nice rosy color behind,” Larry muttered. “No pun intended, pal.”

“Yeah, I bet! Mind you, he sure made up for it afterwards.”

“What do you mean?”

“He cuddles real good, like a big bear.” Spyke smirked at the grimace on the other man’s face.

“Guess that would be the best part for me too.”

“By the way, how’s your nose? I’m really sorry about that, Larry.”

“It’s okay. Forget about it, I know it wasn’t your fault.”

“Still best friends?”

“Yeah, best friends!” The two young men laughed and shook hands.

At that moment, Aiden appeared around the corner. “Spyke, dinna I send ye to wash up for our noon meal?”

“Yes, sir, you did. I was about to do that when I met up with Larry here.”

“Well, Larry and I have a wee bit of unfinished business, so go do as ye were told.”

Larry looked up at Aiden as Spyke ran off. He took a deep breath and remained seated when the older man indicated for him to do so.

Aiden smiled at the look of apprehension on his partner’s handsome face, sat down next to him and placed a beefy arm around Larry’s shoulders. “Och, ‘tis no so bad, laddie; really. I only want ye to ken ye are to tell me when ye have been injured, just like I expect ye to tell me when ye are ill.”

“I understand, Aiden, and I’m sorry for trying to keep it hidden from you. I didn’t want to get Spyke into any more trouble than he was already in. It really was an accident, Aiden.” He glanced tentatively at the gentle giant sitting next to him and offered one last excuse, for what good it would do. “I’m not accustomed to having someone watch out for me, but I’ll try harder to remember from now on. I promise.”

“Aye, and to help ye do just that, ye’ll be writing lines after we’ve eaten and ye should be considering yerself lucky not to be sitting on a sore bottom to do it.” Aiden inwardly smiled in loving exasperation at Larry’s exaggerated sigh of resignation.

With the noon meal over, Galen now stood facing the council. On his left, were Seth, Wes and Spyke who all appeared as nervous as he was; each of them was accompanied by a partner. Preston and Nathan were present to support Seth and Wes respectively, while Larry had opted to stay with Spyke as opposed to sitting with the council. Three of the younger men were fidgeting due to having rather sore bottoms.

Thad unwillingly gave his eye-witness account of what had happened. Periodically he’d glance over at Walker who would nod reassuringly. Walker smiled at Thad’s very obvious sigh of relief when the young man was thanked and excused. Thad couldn’t get out of the mess hall fast enough to join Jordan and some of the others. Walker, on the other hand and for reasons known only to him, remained in his seat to watch the rest of the proceedings.

Galen tried not to show the panic he was feeling. Thomas had offered to stand with him, but he had honestly hoped he could do it unassisted. Now, having second thoughts, he stubbornly refused to ask for help, thinking it was too late to change his mind. Besides, Thomas had a responsibility to the rest of the council which was already short-handed with Larry temporarily stepping down.

Galen was reminded of another day in court. At that time, his parents were present to offer silent support and his best friend was not sitting in judgment. This time, he was on his own; his trepidation and confusion increasing when he failed to hear a lot of what was being said. He heard most of Thad’s testimony and shamefully acknowledged to himself he’d done wrong. Larry’s telling of what he’d seen, hadn’t eased Galen’s feelings of shame. He listened to Spyke’s version of events and felt embarrassed by his friend thinking he needed someone to fight his battles. He missed the majority of Wes’ quietly spoken confession as well as Seth’s mumbled excuses and adamant claims of being the victim as he had been attacked first.

Unable to maintain eye contact with his mentor, Galen hung his head to hide the moisture forming in his eyes. He let his mind wander in an effort to escape and missed hearing Thomas softly calling his name.

“Galen!” Thomas called again, raising his voice in order to attract the young man’s attention.

Thinking the time had come to offer the apology Thomas had mentioned earlier and not wanting the council to know he hadn’t been concentrating, Galen tentatively turned to Seth and prematurely offered his hand only to have it rejected as Seth sneered down at him.

“Get away from me!” Seth hissed under his breath, causing Galen to immediately back away and return to the spot he had been standing on.

Walker got to his feet and approached the council. “Thomas, may I please speak with you for a moment?” With his agreement, Walker took Thomas aside and in a low voice kindly proposed, “I’d like to offer my services to briefly stand in your position, either as head of the council or as Galen’s mentor and support provider.” He nodded his head in Galen’s direction. “The boy is standing alone, Thomas. He’s frightened and unsure of what is taking place here.”

Thomas shook his head slightly, realizing that Walker had seen what he should have. He had foolishly thought Galen didn’t want or need him, when in fact the lad was only trying to appear strong and independent while actually feeling afraid. “Thank you, Walker. I’ll stand with Galen.”

Sensing Thomas behind him, Galen turned and threw his arms around the older man. Galen’s fear was almost tangible as the shudders running through his body were felt by the other man

Thomas gave the younger man a reassuring hug and whispered into his good ear. “I’m here for you, Galen, everything will be fine.”

Walker sat down in Thomas’ seat and quietly explained the change to the council. “In view of the circumstances, Thomas and I have decided to make a slight adjustment in the arrangements. If no one here has any objections, I will preside over the meeting so that Thomas can support Galen.”

While the council spent several minutes deliberating, Thomas and Galen reconnected as the older man calmed and reassured the younger one.

“When we are finished here, Galen, I’d like you and I to have a talk about what happened and how you might have dealt with the situation better and about sharing what you are feeling with me. I cannot help you if you’re not fully honest with me.”

Galen looked up in surprise. “But I didn’t lie to you, Thomas.”

“When you keep how you’re feeling from me as you did here by saying you were fine and declining my offer to stand with you; that is the same as lying, isn’t it?”

Although only vaguely recognizing the truth in Thomas’ words, Galen still responded in the affirmative with a slightly uncertain nod of his head.

Thomas noticed the council deliberations had ended. “We’ll talk more when this is done, okay?”

“Okay,” Galen whispered his compliance, took a deep breath and stepped back from the security of the older man’s embrace.

Getting approval from the other members of the council, Walker turned to face the offenders. “Galen, you can step closer if you like.” With a gentle nudge from Thomas, Galen shyly stepped forward. “Can you hear me well enough now, son?”

“Yes, Sir,” Galen quietly responded and nodded his head.

“Good. Now, Galen, I want you to tell the council here what exactly happened on the path from the beach today. Remember, tell the truth and you can take as much time as you want.”

“It all happened just like Thad said.” Galen didn’t see the need to repeat everything.

“Alright, Galen, we understand you did not originally accost Seth or pick the fight, but it’s important for us to know whether at some time you did or did not take a punch at him.”

“Although I didn’t p-punch Seth first, later I did jump on him and then tried to hit him," Galen woefully admitted in a small voice.

Walker looked down quickly and managed to hide his smile. Clearing his throat, he looked at the council members. “Gentlemen, are there any questions from you?”

There were no further queries as the council had all the information they needed.

“Galen, this council has taken great pains to make it clear where it stands on physical violence. Being stranded here as we are, we cannot allow any one of us to raise a hand against another. Is that clear to you, young man?” Walker delivered an admonishment similar to the ones Thomas had to the other three scoundrels.

“Y-yes, Sir. I’m sorry; it w-will n-not happen again.” Galen uttered his promise and hung his head. He drew in a deep breath and straightened a little when he felt Thomas gently squeeze his shoulder.

Pleased, Walker nodded at the repentant young man before him. Turning to the other wrongdoers he continued, “Having said that, I would also like to add this. In the absence of years and experience, provocations and threats are great instigators. We have several youths here who have been mostly protected and coddled at home and being here may be a difficult trial for some to overcome. I am not defending anyone, but I am saying due consideration must be given to the circumstances leading up to the raising of the first fist.”

A few more minutes were spent quietly comparing opinions before Walker stood to indicate the committee was ready to reconvene. Once he had everyone’s undivided attention, he informed them of the council’s decision.

“Seth, Wesley, Spyke and Galen; as you are all well aware, fighting is strictly prohibited in our community. Regardless of your reasons for doing so, your actions can not go unpunished. Therefore, all four of you will spend the rest of the day confined to your tents. Seth, Spyke and Galen will not be allowed to attend the next three firesides but Wesley, being as this is your second fighting offense, you’ll be excused for an entire week.  There is to be one week’s laundry duty for each of you. It is to be done each morning, so as not to interfere with the survival classes. Seth and Wesley are assigned the first week, Galen and Spyke the second. Again Wesley’s punishment is increased and he has a second week of laundry duty when he will be expected to assist Galen and Spyke.”

Walker paused to allow his words to register. “Do any of you have questions?” Receiving muted shakes of the head from four young miscreants, he continued. “Finally, you are all expected to tender apologies to each other.”

Preston leaned forward and whispered in Seth’s ear. “If you do not accept Galen’s second attempt to apologize, we will be taking a return trip to the log I sat on to administer that spanking you had so justly earned and we will be repeating the exercise.” He placed a warning hand firmly against Seth’s backside which reignited the burn left from earlier. No further words were needed; the message was clearly understood, acknowledged, and obeyed.

Apologies were given and accepted, although begrudgingly by some. Then all involved were excused from the proceedings and each of the sentenced men was escorted to their respective quarters.

Thomas entered their tent with Galen walking slowly by his side. He could sense the younger man was still a little nervous even though the proceedings with the council were finished. This would be the perfect time for them to talk and he hoped Galen would be comforted by their conversation.

“As I said earlier, I think we should have a talk but I don’t want you to be worrying about it. I’m not angry with you, you know.”

“I know you’re n-not angry, Thomas, and I w-want to thank you for coming and helping me,” Galen murmured as he shyly smiled up at his mentor.

“You are welcome, but how are you feeling now, Galen?” he asked as he guided them to sit on their sleeping pallets.

“Hmm, b-better, I think; I don’t know what m-made it all seem so frightening. I m-mean, they weren’t really mean or anything.”

“I think I can take a guess at what seemed so frightening to you. My guess is it reminded you of the last time you were made to stand up in front of people judging you; at the trial that led to your exile here. Am I right?” Thomas inquired kindly.

“Yes, b-but this time I knew everyone and shouldn’t have b-been scared of any of them, especially you.”

“It’s okay to be scared, but I do want you to know that you can count on me to be there for you, to be your friend and help you when you’re feeling afraid.” Thomas wanted nothing more than to provide comfort and security to this remarkable young man. “I hope I never do anything to scare you but if I do, I want you to promise to tell me when you’re feeling frightened and not keep it all inside. I cannot help you if you don’t let me know what’s going on inside that head of yours.”

“I have to learn to do that, Thomas. It m-might take some time.” Galen hoped his friend would be patient with him as he tried to do what Thomas wished.

Thomas was a little apprehensive about what he was about to say and prayed the man before him would accept it. “I know that a lot of the men here have formed partnerships or relationships which include sexual activities. To be honest, I don’t think either you or I are ready to take that step yet. However, I do think the relationship we have is more than simple friendship. I care a great deal about you and I think you feel the same for me.” He paused, looking for agreement in the young face and when he saw the shy, hopeful smile he continued. “You have given me the authority to discipline you under certain circumstances and I believed that has helped you.”

“It has helped me, Thomas,” Galen assured him.

“I’m glad to hear that as I would like to talk now about furthering that part of our relationship. How would you feel about that?”

Galen just stared at the other man. Did he want to give Thomas more power over him? Did he want Thomas to have more reasons to punish him? “I w-would like to hear you out, Thomas.”

“I know you are now an adult, Galen, but you must agree that you are still a very young one and living as we are in this place, I feel you would benefit from the guidance of someone a little more experienced than you are. I’d like to be that someone for you and for more than just the few things we agreed upon before. I’d like you to feel you can count on me in all things and that you can trust me to provide you with the guidance and discipline you need.”

“I do trust you, Thomas, m-more than I have ever trusted anyone.” Galen was startled at his own words as he had not realized until this moment just how much he wanted to rely on this wonderful man who had come into his life. He also realized he had to give this man the tools with which to keep him safe. And while spankings hurt, they didn’t hurt as much as carrying around the burden of a guilty conscience. He’d learned that when keeping the puppy situation a secret from Thomas.

“Thank you. I am very proud and honored by that trust.” Reassured by Galen's response, he continued. “I think you and I can have something very special together and that over time our relationship will deepen. However, I hope you can understand that I will not permit this to move too quickly. We both need time to get to know each other better; time to heal from the circumstances that brought us here.”

“That’s just about what we have m-most of, Thomas; time.”

Thomas laughed softly. “For such a young man, you can at times be very astute. Galen, I don’t think we need to sit down and write out a whole list of rules for our relationship. I think it is more important that we have a general rule of being honest and thoughtful; that we share our feelings so that we don’t damage our relationship by a lack of communication. Also it is very important to me that you keep me apprised at all times of anything that might affect your health or safety and this includes my knowing your whereabouts. And in return, I will promise to provide you with firm but kind discipline if at any time you do not follow through with those things. Does that sound fair to you?”

“The same as it has b-been all along? You still p-promise to use only your hand?” Galen had heard rumors and was concerned about Thomas resorting to other methods of discipline. He needed reassurance as to what the other man had in mind.

“Only my hand will be used to discipline you, Galen. I will warn you that my hand can be very hard on your backside if I feel it is warranted, but I will never do you harm or use any kind of implement while punishing you.” He gave the younger man a smile to set his mind at rest.

“I know you w-will uphold your side of our agreement, Thomas, and so I p-promise to do the b-best I can with my side,” Galen solemnly vowed.

“Your best is all I can ask, my little one. I don’t want you to ever feel that you’re anything less than the wonderful young man you are; especially when you’re being disciplined. It is to guide you and help you learn, never to belittle you.”

“I understand. Ah, Thomas, does b-being confined to quarters m-mean I have to stay by m-myself for the rest of the day?” Galen felt the time had come to confess what he saw as a weakness, but he wanted to pave the way in order to do so.

“No, this is hardly solitary confinement. It is just time to be separated from the general activities of the community so that you might learn to think twice before involving yourself in such brawls again in the future,” Thomas patiently explained. “Why do you ask?”

“It will be dark by the time the fireside is over, won’t it?” Galen answered with another question of his own.

“Yes, it will be dark by then. Is that a problem for you, honey?”

“I’m afraid of the dark,” Galen quietly admitted, hoping Thomas would not think less of him. He had often been teased in the past and made to feel he was somehow failing to be all he should.

Thomas gave Galen a reassuring smile. “I’ll let you in on something, Galen. Though I generally am not afraid of the dark, since coming here I am never so glad to see the sunrise as the night-time here seems so much darker than it was back home. I’ll tell you what; let’s help each other, okay? I’ll spend the evenings here in the tent with you. I saw a copy of Robinson Crusoe amongst the books Troy was unpacking. How about we read that together?”

Galen flashed Thomas a beaming smile to show his appreciation. “Thank you, I’ll be right here w-waiting for you.”

“I’ll bring our evening meal here to the tent. Then we can read once we’ve eaten, okay?” Thomas suggested.

“It sure is,” Galen responded enthusiastically. Things weren’t looking so glum after all.

“You’ve had a very stressful day,” Thomas commented when he saw Galen yawn. “How about you lie down and have a nap? I’ll be back with supper before you know it,” he promised.

Galen went along with his mentor’s suggestion and curled up on his pallet. It did not take long for Thomas’ rhythmic back rub to lull the emotionally exhausted young man to sleep. When Thomas was quite sure Galen had drifted off, he bent over the sleeping figure and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. 

Galen’s dreams were interrupted an hour later by the non-too-quiet shuffling around by Kelby and Raythe.

“Whatcha guys up to?” Galen asked, sitting up and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Raythe and Brock are trading tent spaces with Troy and Levi,” Kelby informed him as he placed a carton next to one of the recently moved and as yet unmade pallets. “Sorry though, we didn’t mean to wake you.”

“How come you’re moving in here, Raythe?” Galen rather liked the idea and his cheery smile indicated as much.

“I’ve been bothering Brock for almost a month now to ask Troy about making the exchange and he finally got around to it this morning.” Although his response was informative, it didn’t quite answer Galen’s question.

“Raythe figured since the three of us do the same chores and spend so much time together, he may as well share our tent.” Kelby’s explanation finally satisfied Galen’s curiosity.

“Didn’t you have to attend the first survival class this afternoon?”

“Nope!” Raythe cheerfully chirped.

“It was postponed,” Kelby expounded. “Larry was supposed to teach about compass reading but thought everyone should be present. Besides it was getting kinda late by the time the council meeting ended.”

“One more trip, Kelby, and we’ll have everyone’s belongings where they should be,” Raythe commented as he grabbed up a bundle of bedding to take back to his old tent.

“I’ll make up your beds while you’re gone,” Galen called after them, getting to his feet.

“Hmm, do you think it’s alright for you guys to stay in here with me?” Galen asked apprehensively some thirty minutes later.

“I don’t see why not,” Raythe scathingly snorted. “After all, Larry and Aiden have been taking turns spending time with Spyke rather than leaving him on his own.”

“Yeah, and Wayne joined Wes and Seth in their tent for a game of cards,” Kelby pleasantly added.

“Wouldn’t be fair for you to be the only one by himself, now would it?” Raythe inquired with a broad grin.

“Well, Thomas will be bringing our supper and he promised to spend the next three evenings reading to me. We’re gonna start Robinson Crusoe tonight while the fireside is going on.”

“Do you think Thomas would mind if we came back to listen?” Kelby would rather hear a good story than attend the bonfire.

“I hope not because I’m coming too,” Raythe insisted.

That evening found Thomas reading to a captive audience consisting of Galen, Kelby, Raythe, and Jordan. Unknown to them at the time, their numbers would increase the following night to include Spyke, Gille and the twins. Spyke and Wes would be especially happy to participate as they, like Galen, were not allowed to attend the next two firesides.

Dallas looked around as he neared Seth’s tent. He had heard some of the guys were confined to quarters for the rest of the day and now that supper was over, he thought he’d pay Seth a visit.

“Hey, Seth,” Dallas called out as he stuck his head through the opening in the tent. “Are you allowed visitors?”

“I think so; at least no one said we couldn’t entertain.” Seth looked at each of the twins in turn and from their shrugs, gathered they didn’t know any more than he did. He reached out to gather up the cards strewn across his bed. “We’re just have a game of poker. Care to join us?”

“Sure,” Dallas smiled shyly. He hadn’t spent much time with the twins but he was comfortable in Seth’s presence. They’d played cards together several times and found things they shared an interest in. It would not have been surprising had Dallas and Raythe become close friends; the two men having a bit more in common where their backgrounds were concerned. However, for some inexplicable reason it had been dislike at first glance, at least on Dallas’ part.

“Dallas and me have played cards a few times,” Seth explained to his other companions as the newcomer took a seat next to him.

Dallas picked up the cards Seth had left on the pallet and began to shuffle them. Dallas wasn’t really a gambler like Seth; he just knew how to manipulate cards. He thought gambling was way too chancy. He did know a few card tricks though.

“Do ya know any good sleight of hand illusions or just this run-of-the-mill stuff?” Wes was curious to see just what the other man could do.

Dallas began to demonstrate some of the easier tricks like making a card disappear then reappear and guessing the cards he had each of the twins select at random from the deck. “I prefer using objects rather than cards,” he informed the other three men and retrieved three walnut shells and a small pebble from his pocket.

Seth easily picked up on the hand movements but stayed quiet and let Dallas have his fun as the twins had a harder time guessing where the pebble was.

Sometime later, Wayne had curled up on his pallet and watched out of the corner of his eye as Nathan fussed quietly over Wes. It was obvious what had happened after the fight. Wes must have got it good from Nathan from the way he had been walking; that and the slightly red eyes. And yet Nathan had seemed especially sweet and attentive to his young partner by bringing him his evening meal, tucking him into bed and rubbing his back until he was softly snoring before settling down for the night himself. 

He surreptitiously glanced across the tent to see Preston with Seth nestled comfortably against his chest. The lumberjack has also been overly devoted to his partner since the council dealings and their recently murmured conversation had gradually faded to silence as they both fell asleep.

That should have felt strange, but it did not. Oddly enough, a warm glow had spread throughout Wayne’s stomach as he digested the information. It was a delicious comforting sensation to be so cared for. It was a different kind of loving, where your partner constantly looked out for you, gave you firm boundaries, never failed to take you to task when you overstepped them, and you loved him all the more. It was multiple roles of friend, guardian and lover all rolled into one. It had been as confusing as hell in the beginning but once you got the hang of it, once you allowed it to happen and accepted it, it sort of fell into place and made perfect sense.

He felt Samuel’s hand on his back. He turned and smiled.

“Why such a serious face, my pet?” Samuel asked with a lift of an eyebrow.

Wayne leaned into the older man. “I was just thinking of how good it is to be here and to be with you.”

Samuel grunted and Wayne snuggled into him, sighing contentedly. What more could he ask for? This was as close to heaven as he knew it. This was one place where old memories did not matter because there was no going back. They could only go forward.

There was no longer any need for Samuel to know, Wayne decided firmly. It had been a moment of weakness that had made him tell Wes about having been raped in the past. Perhaps that had been a mistake but as long as Wes kept his mouth shut, things could stay as they were and no harm was done. It didn’t really matter. Samuel had vowed he could wait for anal sex until Wayne was ready and if that never happened he would be content with what the younger man could give him. 

Wayne’s heart squeezed; he wasn’t quite sure if it was in gratitude or sadness. His innate common sense re-asserted itself. True, he still got depressed every now and then, maybe he even pushed the boundaries during those times, but the occasions were becoming less frequent and in time, he knew he would be able to put it totally behind him.

‘Yes,’ Wayne succeeded in convincing himself, ‘as long as Wes kept his word, everything would be all right’ were his last thoughts as he contentedly drifted off to sleep in his lover’s strong arms.

TBC…. 

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