Chapter Nine

Walker passed Aiden another cup of coffee and sat down at the makeshift table across from the big man. “So you have the honour of being the first on the list to have a medical?” he mentioned in a teasing fashion.

“Aye. But ’tis in excellent health I am, so I no mind just getting it over with,” Aiden responded as he savoured the hot beverage.

“It was damn good of you to donate the small stove that was packed in one of your crates. It will provide some warmth when we have to undress for our physicals.”

“Och, now where else ’twould I be using it, mon? ’Tis grand my friends thought to send it along.” Aiden smiled as a picture appeared in his head. “It sure kept that wee scamp Thomas has taken under his wing a bit more agreeable during his examination.”

“But not by much,” Walker laughed.

“I best be off to the infirmary,” Aiden said and drained his cup. “Thank ye for me breakfast. ’Tis later I’ll be seeing ye.”

Gille waited until the other men had left the tent he was sharing with them before he rose to dress. He untied the twine around his satchel and surveyed the meagre selection before him. It had been two years since his last pair of skivvies had fallen apart and he hadn’t wanted the other men to see how poor he really was. Nothing he owned was without tears and patches. He’d learned to mend as best he could and kept his one precious sewing needle and spool of coarse black thread tucked safely in the case.

He knew that he smelled badly and was in serious need of a bath. He unwrapped the remaining sliver of what had once been a bar of lye soap from his tattered wash rag, knowing it would last him at least four more baths. Now if he could get a bucket of water, he might at least smell better.

Nothing could be done about the condition of his clothes or shoes. That tailor, Nathan, had claimed to be willing to make clothes for them, but Gille wondered what he’d be expected to do to earn the clothes. It would most likely be more than he was willing to do for them. Never again would Gille Wheaton offer his body for survival. 

He had to admit he hadn’t eaten so well in a long time as he had since arriving here. And even though everyone had been friendly, he was wary. Where Gille came from, when someone did something for you, a price was always attached. He wanted to work hard and be a part of things. Of course he would contribute, but could he trust? Only time would tell.

Having ascertained that his partner was hale and whole, Troy turned his attention to what had initially brought them away from the camp. “Do you know why I brought you here, Levi?”

Green eyes look into his with trepidation. “Ummm, well not exactly.” Troy gave him one of those looks that warned him just how unacceptable such an answer was. “To have a private discussion,” Levi corrected himself quickly.

“Do you have any idea what it could possibly be about?” Troy asked.

Levi’s eyes fell to the ground and he grumbled an improper reply. A strong hand gripped his arm to hold him in place as the other firmly connected with his backside. “Owww!”

“Care to repeat that, Levi?”

“Sorry, I meant that I have no idea.”

“Do you think it could be about your behaviour of late?”

Only a shrug answered him which earned Levi another swat. “Your manner and tone of speech have been getting surlier by the day. In all likelihood it is partially my fault as I failed to provide an adequate punishment for your disobedience the day we arrived here. You had been told to stay in camp, but you chose to go in search of firewood. I thought you’d appreciate my leniency, but apparently such was not the case. Recognise one thing, Levi. I will never stand by and watch you revert back into that obnoxious, overindulged youth you were when we first met. We worked too hard to let things slide. I expect you to act like the polite, caring individual that we both know you are. Understand?”

“Yes, Troy, and I’m so sorry for embarrassing both of us. I promise to try and give everyone a much better opinion of me.” Levi threw his arms around the older man and clung to him

“I’m glad you understand, Levi,” Troy murmured into his lover’s hair. Reluctantly he pushed Levi away before resolutely handing him a pocket-knife. “You know the drill.”

Levi accepted the knife with no more than a resigned sigh. Troy was right in that this was something he had done before. He could count on one hand the times his lover had decided something was serious enough to switch him. The very fact that he was going to do it told Levi just how great a value Troy put on being a proper gentleman and in treating others respectfully. However, that knowledge still didn’t make him any happier about the fact that he was now going to have to start counting on his other hand.

It took a depressingly short time to find an adequate branch, though he tried to take as long about it as possible. He might be resigned to the punishment, but that didn’t mean he was eager to receive it. A throat being impatiently cleared had him hurrying to strip the chosen branch of leaves and sharp edges before trudging back to where his husband waited.

Troy accepted the switch and Levi winced as it was swished experimentally through the air. In far too few moments, Levi found himself bare, with his trousers puddled around his legs. Troy tucked the switch through his belt, then lifted one foot and set it on a convenient log before pulling his partner across his thigh.

Hazel eyes were filled with determination but there was no lack of concern. Troy hated punishing his lover, especially given the stress their current situation had brought on him, but at the same time he knew that the younger man was pushing to make sure the boundaries he craved so badly were still in place. Not punishing him would do more damage than the switch ever could and would only lead to more outrageous, and possibly dangerous, behaviour.

With these thoughts drifting in the back of his mind, Troy lifted a large right hand and brought it down firmly across the bare posterior presented. Levi let out a startled yelp at the force of the blow as a second landed on the other cheek. His own hands wrapped around his partner’s solid calf as the swats continued to rain down.

It didn’t take very long for Levi to remember just how much he hated being in this position. He tried to hold back tears of pain as well as emotional hurt, but the first swats to his sit spot and upper thighs ended what was left of his resolve. By the time his bottom had reached the shade of red Troy seemed to be looking for, tears rolled freely down his face as he sobbed out his contrition. The blows finally came to a stop and for a moment, Levi thought it was over. Then he felt Troy shift and realised what it was he was reaching for.

Levi finally began to struggle; resignation flying away in favour of escaping the pain he knew was about to come. The warm arm across his back only tightened to hold him in place before the all too familiar swish sounded, and a stripe of sheer fire lit across the top portion of his already red backside. Levi let out a true wail then, and a distant part of his mind observed that maybe it was a good thing they had walked so far away from the camp. He had barely gathered another breath before a second stripe was added, a few inches below the first. Two more followed it, with one landing directly in the crease where butt met thighs. These last two seemed to hurt the worse and it took the sobbing man a few moments to realise that no new marks were being added.

Levi heard the crack of the switch being broken before Troy cast it aside, a physical representation of the past being cast away and transgressions forgotten. He was thankful to be pulled into loving arms and cried his pain out on the strong shoulder of his lover. It only took about ten minutes for him to get himself back under control.

 All in all, this really hadn’t been that bad as punishments went. Usually if he had earned a thrashing, he could count on receiving at least six stripes, and as bright as he was sure his back end was, Levi knew it had been far redder in times past. As usual, the older man new exactly how much he could handle as well as what was required to bring him back in line.

Irritably pushing his long hair away from his face, Levi also wiped away the signs of his tears. There wasn’t much that could be done about the red eyes, but he had seen tears on the faces of some others too, so it probably wouldn’t be remarked on. Picking up his trousers from where they had been kicked, he hurriedly put them back on, and then slowed with a hiss as the material met his still burning bottom

When all was set to rights, he leaned once more against his quiet lover. “Thank you,” he said. He didn’t say for what, but Troy knew how much security these sessions gave to the young man and no more words were needed.

However, there were a few more things Troy needed to say. “I’m not quite done with you yet, my boy.” A tear-streaked face jerked up to apprehensively meet his eyes. “Since you seem to have decided that you are well enough to go hunting for wood when told not to, you will continue to gather one load, every day for the next seven with a better attitude than this past week. And to prove to you that it can be done, you will never range any further away from the camp than easy shouting distance. Understand?”

Levi wanted to argue the extra time being added to the job, but he also knew just how lightly he had gotten off this time. “Yes, Sir,” was all he said.

“Good, and you can start with taking back a load now.”

Levi groaned as he obediently bent down to pick it up a few scattered branches and was reminded of the stripes he wore. It caused him to drop the wood and straighten up as the material of his pants seemed to light up each stripe. A grimace crossed Levi’s face as he again bent to pick up the wood.

Knowing they would need more, Troy also collected an armload before they both headed back to the camp.

Back at the campsite, Wayne neared the mess hall clutching at his hand and grimacing as beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. He ran towards a pail of cold water and plunged his hand in, finding temporary relief in the coolness it provided. Fearfully, he lifted his hand and peered at it.  His face paled as he saw the patches of red, scalded skin.

He slowly stumbled to the tent where he slept. It was mid-morning and almost everyone was busy with all kinds of chores and tasks. He reached his pallet and flopped down on it. He thought perhaps he should go to the infirmary to get his hand attended to, but he could not find the strength to make it over there on his own. Besides, the medical staff was busy with Aiden’s examination.

Wayne tossed and turned on his pallet. As the throbbing in his hand intensified, he slowly slipped into a restless slumber.

Larry was watching for Aiden by the trees. He had patiently waited until the big man shook the doctor’s hand in a goodbye gesture before making his way down the path. He yelled to the Scotsman to wait as he ran to catch up.

By the way Larry was making small talk about the weather and the work to be done that day, Aiden could tell there was really another matter weighing on the young man’s mind. “’Tis something worrying ye, Larry?” he asked.

“Well as a matter of fact, now that you mentioned it, I’d like to inquire about the medical exam.”

“Ye would, would ye,” Aiden commented with amusement in his voice. “And just what would ye be wanting to know?”

“Can we sit for a minute? I’m finding it hard to talk and keep up with you at the same time.”

Aiden laughed aloud at that statement and pointed to a clearing. “Let’s sit here and have ourselves a wee chat then.”

When the two men were comfortable, Aiden waited for Larry to begin the conversation. After all it was Larry who’d asked to talk, and Aiden was never a man to push himself upon anyone. He let the young man take his time, as there was no rush.

Finally, Larry cleared his throat and looked up at the big man. “Uh, I was wondering if Lakota asked you to strip for the examination.”

“Well, no strip exactly, Larry. He had me remove me shirt to listen to me heart and I was required to lift me kilt for other parts of the exam. Why do ye ask? Yer nae the bashful type, are ye, laddie?”

Larry made the decision to confide in this man, something he had only done one other time in his life. “I’m not exactly bashful, but I am uneasy when a doctor examines me. You see, Aiden, I left home when I was fifteen because my father beat me so often. The last straw was three nights before I ran away when he ripped my clothes off me and laid into me with the belt so bad, I couldn’t walk for two days. He beat me so hard, it made bleeding wounds that left lasting scars on my back, butt and upper thighs. When I was finally able to walk, I left for good. I was tall for my age, so I lied and joined the cavalry until I was old enough to enlist in the Marines. Now every time I get examined by a doctor and have to explain about those scars, I’m so ashamed about my upbringing that I make up stories.”

As it was his nature to do with someone in distress, Aiden reached out and pulled the young man to him. He reassured him he wouldn’t have that problem with their present doctor. “Lakota strikes me as a verra understanding and caring individual, Larry. ’Tis sure I am he’ll not subject ye to anything ’twill make ye uncomfortable and his nurse, Yancey, ’twill be a model of discretion.”

Trusting Aiden’s judgement about Lakota made Larry feel better and even though his dread had diminished, he didn’t pull away quite yet. The feel of that strong arm around him gave Larry a sense of well-being and comfort he hadn’t felt in a very long time. However, knowing he couldn’t stay like that forever, he finally pulled away and stood up.

“Alright, Aiden, if you say so. If it’s okay with you, can we discuss how things went after my examination is over?”

“Aye, Larry, I would be hoping ye’d ken ye can talk with me any time”

“I know, Sir, but I just wanted to ask.”

Aiden sighed when Larry called him ‘Sir’. It wasn’t the first time that title was used and he hoped Larry would soon stop using it. As he watched the young ex-marine walk away, he decided it would have to be a topic to discuss at a later date.

For the second day in a row, Samuel found himself checking around the campsite in hopes of locating Wayne and asking the young man to join him for lunch. Not finding Wayne anywhere around, Samuel went over to the tent where they slept and walked in.

He heard a soft snoring from the curled-up figure on the pallet next to Wes’ and walked over to crouch down and gently shake the sleeping man’s shoulder. “Hey, Wayne, wake up!” he softly insisted.

The younger man stirred and looked blankly through dark brown eyes at the person squatting next to him. He had been dozing on and off and was a little disoriented. A wave of self-pity suddenly washed over him as he realised it was Samuel who had materialised in front of him. Later, Wayne would play this scene over and over in his mind, remembering the concern in the older man’s eyes as he bent over him, and how he had reached out instinctively and clutched at the hope that all would be well now that Samuel was there.

“My hand, it hurts really bad!” Wayne groaned.

Samuel’s brow furrowed in alarm. “Will you let me have a look at it,” he requested as he put his out for Wayne’s. He frowned as he saw the condition of the hand. “Wayne, we need to go see Lakota about this,” he adamantly declared as he began to help the injured man to stand.

 “I don’t wanna see a doctor! Just let me sleep.”

“Well then you’ll see Yancey, because this burn needs medical attention whether you like it or not.” Samuel stood firmly by his decision.

Wayne grudgingly went along, protesting all the way. Due to Samuel having a strong arm that supported him, he soon found himself facing the infirmary sign.

“Come along, you need that injury attended to,” Samuel encouraged as he pulled the flap aside.
They entered the small clinic to discover the nurse on duty while the doctor partook of his noon meal. “Yancey, Wayne has burnt his hand rather badly,” Samuel announced as the nurse looked up at their entrance.

“Take a seat, please, and let me see what we have here.” Yancey indicated the tree-stump filling in for a chair and took the young man’s hand in his own. “How did this happen, Wayne?”

Wayne gulped as Yancey began his inspection. “I was helping to wash the clothes. There was a pot of hot water and I overturned it … Ow! That hurts! What are you doing?”

“I am checking to see if there are any blisters and if they’ve opened,” Yancey explained as he gently examined the reddened flesh. Seeing the skin still intact, he placed a basin of cold water in front of Wayne. “I am going to have you soak your hand to reduce the heat it’s retained since you scalded it. You’d be feeling a lot more comfortable by now had you come to the infirmary earlier,” he somewhat sternly admonished.

Yancey got up, stirred a small amount of powder into a cup of hot water from a kettle he had been keeping warm on the small pot-bellied stove and handed it to his patient. “I want you to drink this. It’s a tea made from ground willow bark and should help lessen the pain.”

“Oh damn! This stuff is awful!” Wayne grimaced at the first taste and then quickly downed the entire mixture. “Ugh!” he exclaimed, trying not to let the vile liquid come back up.

“Thank you,” Yancey smiled and accepted the empty mug. Setting out sterile gauze, he sat down in front of Wayne, removed the injured hand from the basin and tenderly dried it, taking care not to break the painful welts. “I’m going to bandage your hand, Wayne, to keep it clean and to prevent infection should the blisters break.”

“Okay,”’ Wayne said faintly, critically eyeing Yancey’s handiwork. He was ready to pull his hand back if necessary.

“Try to relax, Wayne. This won’t take long, and you’ll be out of here in no time.” The nurse’s calm approach offered encouragement.

Wayne found his eyes turning to Samuel for reassurance.

“I’m right here, Wayne. Let Yancey do what is necessary to care for you. After all, you do want it to stop hurting, don’t you?” Samuel patiently asked, as he moved closer to place a comforting arm around the young man’s shoulders.  He was surprised at the strength of his unexpected desire to protect and care for another human being like this as he’d never had the urge to do so before. He also wanted to be able to help out should the young man give Yancey a hard time.

Wayne instinctively reached out for Samuel as Yancey began to dress the hand.

“It’ll be alright, Wayne,” Samuel whispered gently. He was behaving almost proprietorially towards Wayne even though they hadn’t known each other long. He shifted, uncomfortable at first with his reaction towards this young man. But he was able to relax when he remembered there was no need to hide his attraction any longer as they were safe here. Wayne pressed closer against his side and Samuel felt it was the most natural thing in the world. He felt a sense of calm he had never experienced before settling over him.

Yancey was quick and efficient. “There you go, all done! Try not to use the hand and don’t remove the dressing, Wayne. I am afraid this is going to be sore for several more days. But come in again just before bedtime for another cup of willow bark tea. I’d like you to drop by daily so we can see how our hand is healing, okay?”

Wayne muttered under his breath. “Like hell I am coming back for more of that horrid drink!”

Samuel quirked an eyebrow at the young man’s muttered response but didn’t say anything.

“The tea is to provide pain relief, Wayne, and will help you sleep more comfortably. The bitter taste only lasts a few moments which are outweighed by the length of time the benefit from it is felt.” Yancey smiled at the grimace on the young man’s face. “So, I’ll see you later, right?”

Wayne started to say ‘I don’t think so!’, but catching sight of Samuel’s expression, he answered instead with, “yeah, sure. See you later. And um, thanks.”

“Think you’ll be able to keep down a bit of food, Wayne?” Samuel inquired. “Just something light.”

Wayne stopped walking and pressed on his stomach with his uninjured hand. “Now that you’ve brought it up, I am feeling kind of empty.” The tea was having an effect and his mood was lightening as a result.

Wrapping a large hand around Wayne’s neck, Samuel began steering him towards the mess hall. They met up with Troy and Levi who were returning from their walk with armloads of firewood. Although both of them noticed the discomfort Levi seemed to be experiencing, neither was tactless enough mentioned it.

“Hey, guys,” Brodie greeted Wayne and Levi when they lined up to fill their plates. “A bunch of us are going for a dip in the ocean after lunch. We want to wash some of this stink off ourselves. Care to join us?”

Wayne held up his bandaged hand. “No thanks. I bet the saltwater will really sting.”

Levi also politely declined. There was no way he was getting naked in front of a group of guys and giving them cause to speculate. No sir, not with a striped backside. “Talk about stinging,” Levi grumbled under his breath.

Both young men were somewhat disappointed at not being able to take part in what was sure to be a fun activity.

Late afternoon was when the next day’s chore assignments were handed out. Presently the duties mostly consisted of the on-going daily jobs necessary to keep everything going smoothly, but soon major projects would have to be included.

Short and long-term goals were being made and steps taken to put them in practice. Over the next several days, time would be set aside for Thomas, Larry and Troy to interview each member of their budding community to ascertain individual needs and preferences. Things were slowly but steadily falling into place.

Dallas looked at the slips of paper in his hand and groaned. His task was to help prepare the evening meal. Seth’s was to assist with the laundry. The gambler was good, really good in his area of expertise. Dallas now owed the gamester three days’ worth of chores.

“Cheer up, man.” Seth patted Dallas on the back and smirked. “You’ll learn. In the meantime, I’ve got to find another sucker who’d like to win a chance at doing my work.”

Dallas sneered at the departing man’s back and wondered how long he could keep this workload up. His supply of morphine had dwindled faster than he’d have hoped, and he wasn’t looking forward to the effects of its loss. That, plus the fact he hated laundry chores even though it wasn’t a one man task; the heating and toting of endless buckets of water and gathering copious amounts of wood to keep the fire going. Maybe he should go into hiding for a couple of days but decided against such a plan because of his uncertainty of the repercussions. In his past life, he wouldn’t have given a damn. This new life made him feel vulnerable and he sure as hell didn’t like it.   

Tonight’s dinner of leftover roast boar had been delicious, and the doctor had eaten his fill. As he partook, he’d surreptitiously watched each of the men as they ate; noting those who had healthy appetites, those who picked at what little they had placed on their plates and even the couple who had over indulged. He smiled as he remembered the way Thomas had sat with Galen, encouraging him until the young man had cleaned his plate.

Earlier that afternoon, Thomas had surprisingly turned out to be a very obstinate patient. Though he co-operated fully with the physical part of the examination, there was an underlying sadness about the man that he at first refused to talk about. Lakota was very skilled at making his patients relax and in drawing them out. Yancey, professional that he was, excused himself when Lakota had begun to talk with Thomas.

Throughout the exam, Lakota extracted more and more information so by the end, he had learned of Thomas’ pain and misplaced guilt over the death of his lover. The man was suffering from depression, but Lakota felt that he’d been successful in encouraging Thomas to talk with himself, Aiden or Walker when he was feeling low.

Over the next few weeks he would help Thomas to move past his grief and begin to look at developing a new relationship. For as much as Thomas was not yet ready for it, it was obvious to anyone with eyes that he and Galen had formed a bond that Lakota thought might have a good chance to grow into a strong relationship. Heaven knew Galen needed a strong man like Thomas in his life as the lad was definitely in need of a firm, guiding hand.

The morning examination had also gone well. There had been no surprises as Aiden was perhaps one of the healthiest specimens the doctor had ever examined. He was built like a bull, without an ounce of fat on him. Lakota had noticed some interesting developments between the big Scotsman and the ex-marine. He looked forward to seeing where it would lead.

“And just where’s your other half?” Seth asked Wes as they got ready for bed.

“Wayne? He’s cleaning up out back. We had to take turns with the hot water. He’ll be in after he’s been to see Yancey and gets more pain medicine for having burned his hand this morning. Hey, didn’t notice you doing much today. Where were you helping out anyway?”

“I wasn’t. Told you before, I don’t do slave labour.” Seth sat down on his pallet, picked up his cards and shuffled them. “Care for a game of poker?”