Chapter Twenty-two

Larry awoke to find the tent almost empty and looked around to see if he was alone. He wasn’t! Spyke was sitting on his pallet and looking over a piece of paper.

When he noticed his partner was awake, Spyke pounced on him with his usual abundance of enthusiasm.

“Hey, Larry, I’ve just been looking over the list you made for yourself last night. Are you sure you aren’t going to be overdoing it today?”

“It just seems like a lot, Spyke, but I’m sure it’s doable.”

“Yeah, right! By you and a legion of others. For shit’s sake, Larry, you don’t have to take on all this by yourself!” the younger man admonished as he waved the sheet of paper in the air.

Feeling his stomach lurch but blaming it on being hungry, Larry grabbed the list from the other man’s hand. Although he didn’t mean to, he snapped, “what do you know about it? I’m just trying to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible, so mind your own business and leave me to this.”

“Fine! But you know what will happen when you get in over your head,” Spyke warned him, crawling off the bigger man.

“I know, but this is just to remind me of all that has to be done,” Larry answered in a friendlier manner. He felt contrite for how he had spoken moments earlier. “Now if you don’t mind, hand me my clothes so I can get dressed and then we can get ourselves something to eat.”

“Yes, Sir!” Spyke teased him with a mock salute.

Larry jumped off his pallet, grabbed the younger man and began to tickle him until Spyke was doubled over with laughter. Larry stopped his torture and once again looked around the tent. “By the way, where is Aiden?”

“Oh, he left a few minutes ago. He said to meet him in the mess hall.”

“Well let’s not keep him waiting any longer,” Larry commented as he finished dressing and slipped the list into his shirt pocket.

Larry tried to ignore the burning pain in his stomach as he followed Spyke across the compound and into the large communal tent. They both filled plates and made their way over to sit next to Aiden.

The ex-marine’s stomach made another lurch as he forced himself to swallow the last of his food, while trying to carry on a conversation with Aiden as if nothing was bothering him. However, he knew he was fighting a losing battle. Using the excuse of needing to check on the various crews; Larry bid his partners adieu and made a quick retreat.

Larry took a few deep breaths and soon found himself feeling a little better. That feeling only lasted until he pulled out the paper and began going over the list. Spyke was right! How could he even begin to accomplish all he had written down? But with organizational skills in demand, he felt compelled to do so in order not to disappoint anyone. He no sooner put the list back than his breakfast began to make its way up his throat.

“Damn!” Larry cursed as he quickly ran for cover so no one, especially his older partner, would notice him losing his meal. When he was done being sick, Larry pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his face free of sweat.

A little voice began to carry on a two-way conversation in his head: ‘You better tell Aiden you were sick’ ‘No, he has enough to worry about and besides you handled it and you’re better now so what he doesn’t know won’t hurt anyone.’ ‘But it’s one of the rules Aiden laid down and if you don’t tell there will be consequences.’ ‘I’m twenty-seven years old and an ex-military man so surely Aiden would never really physically discipline me.’

Having convinced himself he was in the right; Larry took another few deep breaths before heading toward the tree-cutting site. If he didn’t feel any better by noon, he’d ask Lakota for some more of the herbal medicine the doctor had given him some time ago. He knew he was safe going to Lakota because after all, there was such a thing as doctor-patient confidentiality.

Shortly after seeing Spyke off for the morning, Aiden caught up with Larry halfway to the work site. He quickly picked-up on Larry’s lack of participation in the conversation he tried to initiate and noticed how pale the younger man was. As they made their way down the path the Scotsman pulled his partner aside and asked him if he was alright.

Larry looked up at the big man and gave him one of his most convincing smiles as he tried to assure him he was fine.

Aiden didn’t believe it for a second. “Ye best not be lying, lad!”

“Lying? Ah no, Aiden, I …er….I…um…I….” Larry was unable to meet his partner’s eyes.

“Dinnae be digging yerself in any deeper than ye already have. Now I’m going to ask ye one last time. Are ye feeling okay?” Aiden demanded, his eyes turning cold.

Knowing the ruse was up, Larry gazed down at the ground and shook his head. “No, Sir!” he reluctantly murmured. “I guess I’m a little shaky.”

“Aye, and why would that be?” Aiden asked, fairly certain he knew the answer.

“I….well….I….sorta was sick this morning”

“Ye were sorta sick?”  Aiden’s voice became edged with firmness

“Okay, okay! I threw up this morning because my stomach was unsettled.”

“And just when were ye planning on telling me about this?”

“Never,” Larry shamefully mumbled. “I didn’t think it was important.”

“Och, so ye didn’t think ’twas a need to tell me. Do ye also believe there’s no need to tell me what brought about yer stomach ailment?”

“I’m not sure,” Larry muttered unconvincingly.

“And ’twould have nothing to do with ye over-burdening yerself, now would it?”

Larry put his hand into his pocket and withdrew the list he had written out. “Just look at all that has to be done, Aiden. We don’t have time to be standing around talking!” he said a little belligerently.

Aiden raised one eyebrow at the younger man’s tone. Reaching for the sheet of paper, he quickly scanned the two dozen or more items on the agenda and sadly shook his head. He tore the page into several pieces and stuffed them back into Larry’s pocket. “Ye’ll be throwing that in the stove when we return for our noon meal. Ye should have talked it o’er with me long afore getting yerself so worked up. ’Tis no need for all to be accomplished in so short a time. Ye not only made yerself needlessly ill, but ye fully intended to keep it from me, thereby breaking one of the rules I laid out for ye.”

“Come on, Aiden. We both know the talk of consequences was for our younger partner’s benefit,” Larry replied with just a touch of doubt in his voice as he dared a furtive glance at the other man’s face.
“Oh, ye think ’tis so, do ye?” Aiden calmly questioned. He stood there, feet apart, hand on hips, and contemplated how this man in front of him could have possibly misunderstood anything that had been spoken about such a short time ago. He nodded his head slowly as he wrapped a big paw around Larry’s arm, marched him over to a fallen log, took a seat and determinedly pulled the younger man face down over his well-muscled thighs.

“I believe ’tis time to make things crystal clear in order to avoid future misinterpretation.” Aiden punctuated every other word with a hard swat to his partner’s backside.

Just as suddenly as Larry had found himself over the big man’s lap, he found himself back on his feet and folded in a comforting embrace. “You…you..” he sputtered, unable to formulate a coherent thought so surprised was he by the unexpected spanking.

“Mean what I say?” Aiden completed the unfinished sentence.

“Yes,” Larry whispered, leaning against the strong broad chest and rubbing at the burning sensation on his rear end. “I know I want boundaries and that you promised to provide them, but I-I never fully believed you’d actually wallop me.”

“Och, but I’m a mon of my word, lad,” Aiden assured him. “But ’twas only a final caution I was giving ye. If the infraction is repeated, the consequence ’twill involve skin-to-skin reparation. And, Larry, I will always treat both my partners equally. Let this be a warning to ye!”

Larry gave Aiden an ardent hug before pushing himself out of the big man’s encircling arms. A new feeling began to creep into Larry’s subconscious as he smiled at Aiden. A feeling he’d never had before.

All his life, Larry had carried an almost crushing weight on his shoulders, a self-prescribed encumbrance to prove himself. One, which at first drove him to excel in the hopes of winning his father’s approval. But no matter what he did, he was never able to please his abusive parent. Later it was to win his commanding officer’s validation, which he did. Most recently, he had felt the need to drive himself in order to be worthy of Aiden’s admiration.

In the past, everything was piled on him and Larry was expected to do it no matter what the cost to his body, either mentally or physically. But this man before him was giving him a new direction in life. One, which involved teamwork and the acknowledgement that he didn’t have to carry the load alone. He didn’t know if Aiden was aware of it or not but along with the lesson he had just taught him, the older man had also begun to chip away the life-long, self-imposed burden from his shoulders.

Larry fell into step beside Aiden as they continued on their way to the work-site and although his butt still felt the result of its encounter with the big Scot’s right hand, he felt better than he had in years.

‘God, how I love this man!’ he thought as his grin widened and his footsteps lightened.

Galen, Raythe and Kelby leaned against the fence, excitedly watching the activity being carried out by Thomas and Henrik. One by one, a ram or ewe was lassoed by Hendrik and carried over to Thomas who would carefully shear each animal of its wool. Each time a freshly sheared animal was let loose, the three young men would let out a rousing cheer.

The weather had been steadily warming over the last week or so and Thomas had decided that he and Hendrik would have to take a few days from their regular assignments to get this job done in order to maintain the health and well-being of their flock. It had been a new experience for at least two of their audience.

But for Galen, it was another opportunity to watch his mentor at work. Their plan to spend more time together by working side by side had not met with a great deal of success.

Lakota entered the ward of the infirmary to find his patient sitting impatiently on the edge of his cot.

Due to having been held over an extra couple of days, Dallas was far from happy about it. “When do I get out of here?” the young man demanded

“You seem anxious to depart, Dallas. Are you tired of being at our tender mercies?” the doctor asked with a smile.

“I feel fine now,” Dallas stated. “I just want out.”

“Well from all reports, you had a good night. No more pain or nausea?”

“Nope! Even if I had pain, you wouldn’t give me anything for it. Besides it’s not as though my caregiver,” Dallas glanced at Kevin from under his fringe, “would let me get away with anything anyway.”

“You got that right!” Kevin said with an easy grin.

“You’re correct, Dallas. However, I also would want you to remain in our care a little longer if you were still in pain, especially after your slight decline. Despite your dislike of them, you know the herbal teas have helped you rest more comfortably,” Lakota replied.

“They taste horrible!” Dallas shuddered. “Honestly, I feel fine. I just want to get out,” he pleaded.

“I’ll make sure he’s looked after,” Kevin promised. He was also keen to see Dallas released. “Any sign of another relapse and I’ll bring him straight back.”

Dallas opened his mouth to say something and shut it again when he saw a determined glint in Kevin’s eyes.

The doctor laughed at the sour face on the young man. “I’ve actually grown very fond of the some of the herbs as the taste does grow on you with time. Now I know you’re anxious to leave, so let me have one final look at you and give you the list of instructions which I expect you to carry out.”

Dallas looked sideways at Lakota. “What instructions?”

“In a minute,” the doctor replied and proceeded with a cursory exam, listening to his patient’s heart and breathing, carefully checking his pulse and looking into his eyes. “Okay, I will agree to your discharge, but I do expect you to take care. I want you to eat three full meals each day so you can build up your strength, and drink plenty of water. You need to get at least eight to ten hours of sleep every night and I want to approve whatever duties you take on. Keep to something light at first with plenty of rest periods. Also, if you’re feeling any pain or nausea, I want to know about it immediately. Am I clear on this?”

“Yeah,” Dallas muttered.

“One last serious issue I want you to be aware of. Just because you are through with this last unpleasant reaction to the cessation of an addictive substance does not mean that you will not have cravings for it. It will be hard, Dallas. You must fight those feelings and ask someone to help you through them, so you don’t end up doing something foolish which will only set you back again.” The doctor admonished this to both his patient and the man who had taken such an interest in him.

Kevin nodded. “Don’t worry. I’m sure between us we can arrange to help him deal with those cravings.” Kevin’s eyes darkened as he remembered a past team-mate he hadn’t been able to help. “What about work?” Kevin asked. “I think we’ve been assigned to the fields; getting them freed of rocks and ploughed.”

 Lakota shook his head. “No, that will not do for him right away. He needs to do something a little less strenuous at first until his strength has returned. Maybe in a week or two he’ll be able to handle such work. I’ll talk to Thomas and see about getting Dallas a different assignment for the next little while. I know that Thomas and Hendrik recently finished shearing the sheep and will in all likelihood be needing help in cleaning the wool for spinning.”

Dallas was quiet. He wasn’t sure he liked being talked about as if he wasn’t here.

“Sure,” Kevin agreed and then suggested, “I’d like whatever assignment he’s given to be somewhere near me but still outside. I think we can both benefit from a little sunshine.”

The doctor smiled at that. “I’m sure something can be arranged.”

“I don’t need a bloody care-giver,” Dallas angrily interjected.

“No, not exactly a care-giver,” Kevin assured him, smiling to Lakota. “You just need someone to keep an eye on you once you’re released from here. Then you and I need to have a talk.” Kevin’s blue eyes met Dallas’ equally blue ones and sparks flew.

Dallas was the first to break eye contact. Confused, he wondered when he had fallen so hard for this man.

“I’ll leave the two of you to work this out. In the meantime, Dallas, please remember what I said.” Lakota stood and left the two men to discuss their differences and the future he was sure he could see them building together.

Dallas had been out of the infirmary for only a couple of hours. He’d eaten his first meal in the presence of the others since he’d been hospitalised and had not found it as awkward as he had feared it would be. Although he had received a few speculative glances from some of the younger men, he’d not heard a derisive word uttered about him or his predicament.

He was still shaky on his feet and Kevin was keeping a close eye on him; too close in Dallas’ opinion. He was unsure what Kevin’s agenda was. After all, didn’t everyone have a hidden agenda? After three months of enforced celibacy, Dallas wouldn’t mind if the agenda proved to be sexual.

Sex wasn’t the furthest thing from Kevin’s mind, but at the moment it was secondary to other issues. There was a need to enforce structure and boundaries on the young man he was steadily falling in love with. There were times he thought Dallas reciprocated his feelings and other times he despaired of any response from him. The younger man had a bad habit of mentally escaping a situation when he didn’t want to deal with it.

“We need to talk!” Kevin’s blue eyes were as hard as ice.

“What for?” Dallas felt uneasy. “I’m all better now. You don’t need to nursemaid me anymore.”

“Rubbish! You’ve just gone through a debilitating illness and that was the easy part. Now you need to face life without using opiates.” Dallas just shrugged and Kevin resisted the impulse to smack his backside. That wouldn’t help things. “We need to talk somewhere privately.”

“Down at the beach?” Dallas suggested, keen to put enough distance between them and the rest of the guys, guessing it was not going to be a very enjoyable experience. He might as well get this conversation out of the way. He was feeling very unsettled and uncomfortable.

The two of them settled under a large tree. “You need boundaries,” Kevin decided to be blunt and to the point. “And someone to help you deal with life without the morphine or other drugs. I want to be that person!”

“Why?” Dallas was puzzled and slightly bitter. No one had ever cared before. “Why now? Why you?”

“Because I care for you, and I think I’m in love with you.”

Dallas was stunned by the thought of this handsome man being in love with a skinny street lout like him. He silently admitted to himself that he wanted someone to care for him, someone to look out for him and yes, even someone to love him.

“You’re out of control, mate.” Kevin had been reading Dallas’ expressions. “So let’s start with what you need; mainly boundaries, rules and consequences.

The two of them spent the next two hours talking themselves hoarse. A good deal of the time was spent arguing the finer points of the rules. Dallas pointed out that when it came to consequences, he couldn’t write very well and so lines wouldn’t work. Kevin countered that by pointing out Dallas would be attending classes at least part-time once Troy had a school program set up, so his writing would improve. Dallas said he’d been sick so he couldn’t do extra chores. Kevin pointed out he was recovering, so collecting firewood or picking up rocks would not be overly fatiguing once the doctor had given his okay. Dallas said he was too old to be spanked. Kevin just looked at him. Dallas blushed uncomfortably, but resignedly.

Dallas thought over all he and Kevin had just talked about and felt a bit uneasy.

“Are you alright with all this, Dallas?” Kevin was keeping a close eye on him and sensed the other man’s uncertainty.

“No, still a little confused,” Dallas shyly admitted. “Kevin, this rules and consequence thing doesn’t make you my master or something, does it?”

Kevin choked “Good grief, no!” he exclaimed. “You are not my servant or subordinate or whatever it’s called. You need some help in certain areas so we’ve agreed I can help you with those. I want you as a full partner, not as an underling.”

“Guess I’m tired. It’s all been a bit much,” Dallas murmured. “But I’m okay with it, I think.”

“We’ll take our time, Dallas. Heaven knows we have plenty of that.”

Lakota looked at his pocket watch; Gille would still be working in the fields and it was nearly forty minutes before supper would be served. He had just enough time to write up his patient notes for the day. Pulling out his notebook, he began with his recently discharged patient.

Dallas Carter, eighteen years old, height five feet and ten inches. This young man has shown more strength these last few days than I would have given him credit for. With the help of Kevin McCaw, he has moved through the pains associated with his morphine addition and has come out the other side stronger and with good hope for the future. I have ordered light duties until he builds up his strength again, but with good nutrition and healthy exercise I believe he will be fine.

Kevin McCaw, twenty-five years of age, six feet tall. This muscular young man is in excellent health.  His genuine esteem and care for Dallas have proven him a most decent person. I believe that if anyone can keep Dallas Carter from further troubles, it will be this man. 


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