Chapter Forty-one

As the storm finally began to dissipate, Mitchell and Hendrik pulled on oilskins and made their way to the infirmary. Upon entering the large tent, they could see Lakota at the small stove, pouring boiling water over a cup containing one of his herbal mixtures. Looking up at the two men, the doctor felt a sudden tightening in his stomach.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, Lakota, but we’re concerned about Gille. He went running from the tent during the storm. Did he arrive here?” Mitchell asked.

“No! How long ago did he run out?” Lakota asked, his voice rising.

“Near on to half an hour ago. We were sure he’d have come to you,” Hendrik replied.

At the sound of raised voices Troy put his head out from behind the curtain. “Is there a problem?” he inquired.

“Gille ran out of our tent during the storm and we don’t know where he is,” Lakota responded. His voice was a little on edge.

“He and that dog both,” the teacher commented, shaking his head. 

“He’s likely gone to one of the other tents,” Mitchell optimistically suggested.

“I can only hope,” the doctor replied. “Troy, please get Levi to drink some of this tea, at least half of it.” He handed the mug to the other man. “I’ll be back after I look for my partner.”

“We’ll go with you,” Mitchell offered.

Lakota grabbed his raincoat from the nail on the tent pole and followed the other two men out. “I’ll check in Thomas and Aiden’s tents; you two check in Yancey and Preston’s tents, please.”

The doctor made his way to the first tent and knocked softly on the pole before sticking his head through the entry flap. Thomas was reading by lamp light with Galen sleeping soundly beside him. Quentin’s pallet was empty, but Kelby, Raythe and Brock appeared to be asleep on theirs. 

Thomas looked up. “Doctor, can I help you?” he asked quietly.

“I’m looking for Gille. He ran from our tent into the storm. Have you seen him?”

“No, he has not been here. I’ll come and help you look,” the handsome farmer proposed.

Lakota shook his head. “No, stay in bed; I’ll let you know if we don’t find him in the camp.”

Leaving for the next tent, he again knocked and made the same inquiry of Aiden and Walker who were having a quiet discussion while their younger partners slept. 

“We’ve no seen the lad,” the large Scotsman replied. “We’ll come help ye look though.”

“Mitchell and Hendrik are helping me search the encampment. If we don’t find him, I’ll let you know.”

“Verra well, doctor.”

Lakota met his tent mates by the fire pit. “No luck?” he asked, knowing the answer by the look on the men’s faces. “Let’s check the mess tent.”

They found Quentin sitting alone there, sipping some cold coffee and writing in his ledgers. The shop keeper joined in the search as they carefully checked the supply tent and latrines. By this time Lakota was beginning to feel an edge of panic. He had to stop and centre himself to avoid a loss of control.

Quentin noticed the doctor’s stress and laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I know it’s pointless to tell you not to worry, but we will find him. Just try and keep your mind on that.”

Lakota gave a slight smile. “Thank you.”

“That said, I feel we may need to get some help and form a search party,” Quentin pointed out. 

Within a few moments Lakota found himself surrounded by a number of the island’s inhabitants. They had all donned slickers and were carrying lanterns.

Aiden immediately took charge of organising the men, assigning each team of two a section to comb either along the beach or in the surrounding woods. He cautioned that none should proceed further than one hundred yards into the woods. “If ye no hear or see anything by that distance, return to the encampment. We’ll no do young Gille any good by getting lost ourselves as ‘tis dark and treacherous out there with the ground as sodden as it is. Return here within the hour if ye’ve no found any sign. Let out a yell to the party closest if ye find him, then pass the word along.”

Thomas had insisted on accompanying Lakota in his assigned search area into the woods, feeling the anxious medico needed a friend. He stopped for a moment to imagine it was Galen lost in the night during weather such as they were having, and his heart clenched with fear. Despite his original intentions to keep his feelings for Galen at the friendship level, he found himself growing ever more attached to the young man.

Seven teams consisting of Aiden and Larry, Quentin and Mitchell, Samuel and Nathan, Walker and Hendrik, Brock and Preston, and Thomas and Lakota all headed out to their designated areas. Troy and Yancey remained in the infirmary with Levi. The other younger men had been severely cautioned against leaving their tents while the others were out searching, and Kevin was staying behind to see to it that this order was carried out.

Voices calling out Gille’s name could be heard over the next hour as the men carefully searched. Sixty minutes later, tired and discouraged, each team made its way back to the mess hall. The smell of fresh coffee and tea along with warmed bread assailed them as they entered the tent.

Walker was greeted by the sight of his two partners along with Spyke standing at the large stove, serving the first of the arrivals. For a moment he was prepared to chastise them for defying the edict to remain in their tent, but he was overcome with the thoughtful nature of these young men to prepare hot beverages and food for weary, chilled searchers. He was pleased to see Aiden giving Spyke a hug in greeting and had to laugh when he saw a large hand reach back and land a gentle swat to the younger man’s backside, accompanied by a thorough kiss on the lips.   

Thomas had to almost drag the distraught doctor back with him, calling on the man’s intelligence to make him see further search was futile in current conditions. The rain was once again falling heavily, though thankfully nature’s electrical light show seemed to have passed.

Walker had taken Lakota and firmly pushed him into a seat and pressed a cup of hot tea into his hands. “Drink this up now as you need to warm yourself,” he gently admonished.

The doctor sat staring into the cup. ‘Gille, my Tehila, whatever possessed you to run out in this storm?’ he thought.  After searching so long for someone with whom he could share his life, how could he bear to live without him?  He prayed to the God of his Christian father and the Great Spirit and ancestors of his Sioux mother that his beloved would be returned to him safely.

Thomas pulled out his pocket watch. It was early summer and the days at their longest, the sun would begin to rise by five A.M. That was less than four hours away; at which point they could begin a much more thorough search. He only hoped and prayed Gille was safe, wherever he’d gone. Thomas’ worst fear and that of all the searchers was that Gille may have headed to the beach or in the woods towards the river. With the high winds and the amount of rainfall they’d had, the ocean was throwing tremendous breakers at the shore and the river was running fast and strong. If a man were to fall into it, well…it didn’t bear thinking about the outcome. 

The men each took their fill of beverages and bread with jam. There was also cheese and cold meat set out. No one was saying much but the uneasiness in the air was thick enough to slice.

Aiden broke the strained silence. “Gentlemen, I suggest we all try and get a few hours o’ sleep afore the sun rises. We can no search further in the dark.”

Each of the searchers slowly stood, most stopping to give Lakota a word or two of reassurance before making their way back to their tents. They noted that the rain had finally stopped and the winds were dying down. 

Walker gathered up his partners before they could start the washing up, telling them it could wait for morning as he hustled them off to bed. Aiden whispered something quietly to Spyke and Larry. The two younger men gave him a quick kiss and departed. 

Thomas was seated to one side of Lakota so Aiden sat himself on the other. “You need to have faith, Lakota. We will find him,” Thomas quietly promised.

“Aye, doctor, once the first light breaks we’ll go out and find that wee lad o’ yers,” Aiden added. “Why don’t ye have a lay down? I know ye won’t sleep but the rest might do ye good.”

The doctor shook his head. “No, I’m going to go back to the infirmary. I have a patient who needs checking and notes to write. It will help me get through the next hours until we can go and search again.”

Thomas noted the untouched refreshments Lakota was still holding. “How about you try and get some of that tea and bread into you? You know as well as I do that you need something in your stomach to keep up your strength.”

Lakota sighed and brought the mug to his mouth and sipped the now cool liquid. The two men sat with him making small talk while he ate. Then they accompanied him to the infirmary and left him to Yancey’s care, taking themselves off to bed for a few brief hours of rest.

Yancey filled the doctor in on Levi’s condition, noting that the young man had consumed the herbal tea as prescribed and had finally succumbed to sleep and that Troy had followed suit by dozing off on the cot next to his husband. 

Yancey attempted to get Lakota to lay down on one of the remaining cots, but after his third attempt was met with yet another refusal, the nurse gave up and simply sat keeping a silent vigil with the man.

Gille sat huddled against a tree trunk, shivering. At least it had stopped raining, but the trees overhead were still dripping on him. His head ached from where he’d knocked it and his injured arm was throbbing. The only source of comfort he had was from the dog held tightly in his arms. Their shared body warmth was helping both to manage through the dark night. Between the cloud cover and trees, it was pitch black and Gille was terrified to move an inch. It had been at least two hours since he’d heard the voices calling his name. He had recognised the deep tenor of his lover’s voice and the warm tones of Thomas’. Part of him had wanted to jump up and shout out to the searchers but his pride stood in his way, bidding him to keep silent. When he thought about it, he realised another part of him wanted Lakota to worry and perhaps to suffer some anxiety. Though would a man who didn’t really care much about him agonise, over his absence.

He prayed very hard for the morning light to appear, but then what would he do? He knew he had to return to the settlement as it was the only means of survival, but he didn’t know how he could face Lakota. How could he manage now he knew the truth of how his lover felt about him? Then he thought, ‘What were you expecting? That an intelligent, educated man such as Lakota Evans would really fall in love with you? You’re a street rat; not worthy of any of the men here. You’re lucky the doctor took you in, got you clothing and took care of you.  You should be happy to serve as his bed warmer and leave it at that.’ With those thoughts, the young man began to silently cry; hardly feeling the tears as they fell against the wet fur in his arms.

After what seemed like a thousand eternities, Gille noticed the first filtering rays of light through the trees. Morning was finally dawning. He knew he should feel elated to see faint daylight, but his heart was so heavy he could not bring himself to feel anything good.

For the past forty-five minutes, Lakota had stood by the entry of the infirmary, intently watching the eastern sky. Finally the first pale light began to appear and less than thirty minutes later, the sky was awash with the dawn. Most days he found it a joy to greet the morning, however today his heart was filled with longing and fear for the one he had come to love so very much.

With this first light, the campsite became alive with activity. Men were quickly getting dressed and congregating in the mess tent. Lakota hadn’t even noticed Walker and his lads’ pre-dawn arrival in the kitchen to prepare a quick but satisfying meal for those who would head out on the search. 

The sound of Troy and Levi’s voices tore him from his reverie.

“Please, Troy, it is light now and the storm has stopped. You promised you’d search for her. I swear I’ll stay here. I won’t move a single foot from this bed if you go and look for Cherry,” Levi pleaded.

“I will, my love, but Cherry isn’t the only one who went missing in that storm. Gille also is unaccounted for. I plan to go join the search party and I will ask all who are searching for Gille, to keep a watch out for your dog as well,” Troy promised.

Yancey reappeared carrying a mug of steaming tea and plate of biscuits spread with preserves. “Doctor, before you push these away, I want you to think of Gille. He needs you strong and able to help him. Now nearly every man in this camp is prepared to go searching until they find that lad of yours. Aiden has them well organised and they will head out as soon as they’ve finished eating. I’m going to stay here with Levi and man the infirmary if it’s needed. Thomas is going to accompany you as he did last night, and Thad and Jordan will remain to prepare hot food for all. Brodie has said he’ll assume the responsibility of keeping the wood-boxes filled and our water supply topped up.” 

The doctor was warmed by the caring nature of his friend and nurse. In the over three months they’d known each other, Lakota had grown to immensely respect this powerful quiet man. His dedication and professionalism were above reproach, his intelligence and skill remarkable. Lakota knew that were he ever in need, he would have complete faith in Yancey Hayes to provide top notch medical care. “Thank you, my friend. You are right as always and I promise to eat this before heading out.”

In short order the men set out in pairs to their assigned search-areas. Each had been cautioned about how far to go and how long to be out before returning for refreshments and updates. They took to heart Troy’s request to watch out for Levi’s dog, all of them knowing just how important the small animal was to the young man. With any luck they would locate both the missing man and dog in short order, though all held a silent fear in their hearts that disaster could have befallen either since last night’s storm.

With the dawn, Gille was able to discern his location. He almost laughed when he saw the well-worn path only a few yards to his left. This was the trail the men took each day to the construction site and fields of their new home. He’d spent the night shivering and wet only a few minutes’ walk from the camp. Exhausted and cold he knew he would have to return. For the first time since her arrival, he let go of the dog in his arms and shakily got to his feet. He could finally see his injured arm and was glad to note that the wound was small and had stopped bleeding. Obviously a small branch had punctured the arm but it was not serious, only sore. Worst of what he was feeling at this point was a pounding headache. Despite his depression over Lakota’s revelations, all he could think about was the warmth and comfort of his pallet in their tent, where he could sleep and recover from his ordeal.

He made his way carefully along the well-worn path with Cherry following closely on his heels and left the woods only to hear the sounds of the others gathered in the mess hall. The outer walls of the tent were still rolled down after yesterday’s storm so he couldn’t see who was in there but he could see that no one else was wandering about the compound. The smell of baking wafted from the tent and he was momentarily tempted to seek out some food, but the pain in his head and the sorrow in his heart carried him on to his own tent and bed. 

Cherry followed the young man who had comforted her through the storm. She sensed the pain he was in and instinctively wanted to protect him. If any other creature, human or not, bothered him, they’d feel the nip of her teeth.

Gille stripped off his wet soiled clothes and put on one of the oversized shirts he usually slept in.  Then the two runaways curled up together on Gille’s warm pallet to sleep off the effects of a night spent in the cold and wet woods.
It was nearing noon hour and a number of the discouraged searchers returned to the campsite for a hot meal and short respite before returning to expand the search. Thomas had encouraged Lakota to take a short break prior to heading towards the next area. They were approaching the mess tent as Mitchell and Hendrik passed by them. Hendrik was covered almost head to foot in mud.

“Good lord, Hendrik, what did you do to yourself?” Thomas asked.

Mitchell answered for the embarrassed, young man who just continued to head towards his tent. “He spotted movement ahead of us near the spring and took off at a run only to trip over a root and land right in a large mud puddle. Sadly the movement he saw was just a deer taking advantage of the fresh water.”

“He wasn’t injured, I hope?” Lakota asked with concern.

“I don’t…” Mitchell’s reply was cut off as Hendrik came tearing back towards the men at breakneck speed.

“He’s in the damn tent!” the younger man shouted. 

“Calm down, Hendrik!” Mitchell ordered. “Who is in the tent?”

“Gille! He’s asleep on his pallet with that dog of Levi’s curled up next to him!”

The four men ran towards the tent with Lakota in the lead. He stopped the others just short of the entrance with a wave of his hand. Quietly the doctor pulled back the tent flap and peered inside. Sure enough, there lay his young lover sound asleep like an innocent lamb with the little dachshund beside him. He closed the flap and turned back to the others. 

“I’d like to do this alone if you gentlemen don’t mind. Could I prevail upon you to notify the others to call off the search and get word to those still out looking.”

“Of course, Lakota, we’ll take care of it.” Thomas replied and then added quietly, “I’ll make sure no one comes near the tent for the next while.”

Lakota acknowledged Thomas’ promise with a nod of his head before quietly slipping into the tent.

Hendrik began to follow the doctor when Mitchell’s large hand landed on his shoulder. “Lakota requested we leave them alone,” he reminded the younger man.

“But I’ve gotta get some clean clothes,” Henrik pointed out, indicating his mud-soaked apparel. 

“You’ll be fine for a while. You can wash up some and we’ll get lunch. You’ll find warmth by the fire in the mess hall.” Mitchell guided a grumbling Hendrik towards the large canvas structure.

For a long moment Lakota just stood there drinking in the living, breathing, safe form of his lover. His prayers had been answered and his beautiful Gille returned to him. Now he needed to find out how all this had come to pass. He lowered himself down to sit on the edge of the pallet and placed a gentle hand on the younger man’s arm.  “Gille, it is time to wake up,” he whispered.

At this, the small guardian of his lover rose up and gave a warning growl. Had anyone asked him, Lakota would have confessed to being pleased that the little dog was such a fierce protector. Gille had lived too much of his life alone with no one to watch out over him. However, now was not the moment to be getting into a territorial debate with a dachshund. 

Gille’s voice stopped him just as he was preparing to remove the canine from the tent. “Let her alone!” he said sharply.

Lakota was somewhat taken back by the scowl on his lover’s face and the anger in the young man’s voice.  “It’s alright, Gille. I just wanted to talk to you, and she seemed to object,” he soothed.

Gille’s arm snaked around the little dog and pulled her onto his lap as he sat up. “I want her here with me,” he said as he gently stroked the silky fur. “She’s my friend.”

“That’s fine,” the doctor gently agreed. “But, Gille, we need to talk about last night and this morning. Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick about you. The entire community has been out searching for you.” 

Hugging the dog closer to his chest, Gille fought for the words to answer Lakota. His emotions were all over the place. He was angry at the betrayal he felt, and he was hurting from the belief that Lakota had never loved him. Yet he still felt love and gratitude towards this man. This confusion, accompanied by his state of exhaustion was causing his head to pound, which in turn was making it more difficult to form a coherent answer. He finally managed to reply. “I’m sorry other people were worried.”

Lakota reached out to put a comforting hand on his beloved’s arm and was shocked by the way in which Gille stiffened and pulled away. “What’s wrong, Tehila?”

“Don’t call me that!” the other man snapped.

Lakota was growing more confused by the second. His normally demonstrative lover had gone missing for hours in a storm, returned unannounced to sleep in his own bed and now seemed to be inexplicably angry with him. Well it was time he took control of the situation and found out just what had happened.

He spoke gently but firmly. “Alright, Gille, I don’t know what is bothering you, but I love you and I want to understand what happened between the time you ran into the storm last night until now.”

Gille’s stomach tightened. The words ‘I love you’ coming from Lakota had meant the world to him yesterday, now they sounded hollow and cheap. If only his own heart could let go of love it harboured for the man, this would be so much easier. “Don’t say that, please! I know the truth! Was it pity or was it just for the sex?” he asked bitterly.

“Gille, what in the name of the Great Spirit are you talking about? What is this ‘truth’ you say you know?”

Infuriated and hurting, the young man jumped from the pallet and made to run from the tent. Before he could move near the entrance, Lakota was on him. He spun the young man around and forced him to make eye contact.

“Let me go! I promised myself I’d never whore myself again and I won’t, not even for you! The great fucking doctor! You made it perfectly clear last night that you don’t give a damn about me, so just let me go!” With that Gille hauled back and kicked Lakota on the shin as hard as he could.

The doctor yelped and released his hold on the younger man’s arms for a moment. Damn it hurt and Gille was barefoot. He could only imagine how painful it would have been had the lad been wearing his boots.

Gille took advantage of the momentary release and bounded out of the tent, running as fast as he could towards the beach, dressed in nothing but an oversized shirt. However, within seconds the doctor had recovered and being able to move much faster than his barefooted lover, he caught up with him quickly and fell into pace beside him. He decided to give the younger man the space to walk off his anger, but just not alone.

“Go! Just go and leave me, please!” Gille begged as he continued his journey.

“No, I cannot do that. Not until I understand what happened to make you feel this way.”

“I heard you! That’s what fucking happened! I heard you so calmly saying how foolish I was to run off in the storm and how I could just make it back on my own when I was ready! You didn’t give a damn about how I was feeling or whether I was cold or wet or scared. You’ve just been using me all along!” Gille screamed at his pursuer.

It took about half a second for Lakota to recognise what Gille had overheard. “Oh, so you heard me say those words and just assumed I was talking about you?” he calmly questioned.

“Well who the hell else could you have been talking about?” Gille demanded.

Lakota stopped walking and pulled Gille around to look at him. “Cherry, that’s who. Jordan had come into the infirmary and told Levi his dog had run off and I was attempting to calm my agitated patient and assure him that his dog would be fine.” He drew a deep breath to calm himself. “Had I thought for just one second that you were out in that storm I’d have gone after you immediately. As a matter of fact, that’s what I and all the others had been doing from the moment we knew you were missing; searching everywhere for you. I love you, Tehila. How could you imagine otherwise?”

Gille felt his legs weaken as the truth of Lakota’s words sunk into him. He’d jumped to a horrible conclusion and because of that he had hurt the man he loved and caused the entire community to worry for him. “Oh my God, you didn’t…I mean, it wasn’t me?” Words seemed to fail the younger man as realisation hit him.

“No, my love, not you; just the dog,” Lakota whispered as he pulled the trebling figure into his arms. Once Gille seemed to have collected himself a bit, Lakota lead him along the beach to a place where several trees had grown around some large sea worn boulders that formed a smooth, sheltered place to sit.

When they were comfortable, Lakota opened the conversation. “Tehila, I’d like you to tell me exactly what happened last evening.”

“I hate storms; I always have. That one was so loud and fierce and I…I wanted to be with you. But it was raining so hard when I ran from our tent that I didn’t find the infirmary right away. I…I ended up in the privy while the storm was at its worst. As soon as it let up a bit, I went in search of you but that’s when I heard what you were saying, you know, about Cherry. Except I didn’t know that; I mean, I really thought it was about me. I felt so bad and angry; I just ran into the woods.” Gille hesitated, looking to Lakota for some acknowledgement.

The doctor gave an encouraging smile. “You’re doing fine. Go on.”

“It was so dark; I didn’t know where I was, and I hit my head and fell and…”

Lakota’s hands immediately reached for Gille’s head. “Are you hurt?” he asked, pushing curly blond hair back from his lover’s forehead. 

“Just a bump and a cut on my arm,” the younger man said without concern.

Lakota felt the knot of swollen flesh on Gille’s forehead. “Which arm?” he asked. Peeling back sleeves, he found the puncture before the young man could answer him. The wound was small though red and a bit irritated but neither injury merited any great alarm. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”

“No, no I’m fine,” Gille assured the older man as he continued his story. “After I fell, I was scared to move any further in the dark. I just stayed under a tree praying for the storm to stop. I’d only been there a little while when Cherry found me. I think she was scared of the storm too. We stayed together. She never left me. Even when you were calling, she…uh…” Gille hesitated. He hadn’t meant for Lakota to know he’d heard the search party out looking for them.

The doctor’s dark eyes suddenly bore into his lover’s clear blue ones. “You heard us calling you?” he asked incredulously. “You heard and ignored us?”

“Well…I was…I was angry with you. I thought you didn’t care anyway…so I…” he tried hard to make what was suddenly such a foolish sounding thing seem somehow the decision of a rational person.

“So, you just sat there and ignored the voices of how many men calling your name?”  Lakota was furious. Up until this point, he had understood his partner’s confusion and distress, but for him to ignore those frantic calls in the dark was not acceptable.

“I’m sorry…” Gille whispered. “I know I should have answered.”

“Yes, you should have, Tehila. That was a terribly thoughtless thing to do. Even if you were angry with me, you knew we were searching for you and you had no right to just ignore us.”

Gille felt miserable. Lakota was right. What he’d done was unforgivable and a cowardly thing to do. “I’m sorry I was so horrible. I don’t blame you if you hate me.”

Lakota pulled him into a tight embrace. “Hate you? No! Oh, my beloved, I could never hate you. I am very upset with your behaviour, but nothing could ever make me hate you.”

After taking some time to reassure and calm his lover, Lakota knew it was time for them to deal with the appropriate consequences to this situation. “Gille, we have talked on a few occasions now about the expectations we both have in our relationship. About what is and is not acceptable in the way we treat each other.”

Gille swallowed hard. “You’re going to punish me, aren’t you?”

Knowing that his young lover needed a straightforward approach, Lakota answered truthfully. “Yes, my love, I am. Do you understand why you’re going to be punished?”

“Because I ignored you and the others when you were looking for me?”

“Yes, that’s the main reason. Also, you can add to it, kicking me. No matter how angry or upset we are, Gille, you should know by now that physical attacks are not acceptable. You also need to learn that despite what you heard me say in that tent, whether it was directed at you or not, running away is not the answer to a problem. People in a relationship need to learn to talk to one another. It’s okay to be angry but it’s how we handle that anger that is important. Do you understand all that?”

Gille nodded sadly. “What… what are you going to do?”

“We’ve talked about spanking and you agreed it would be a part of the discipline I would offer you. So, I am going to spank you now. When we’re through, we’ll go back to the camp where you’ll get dressed and then you are going to apologise to the rest of the community for having gone through all those hours of unneeded worrying and searching. At which point I would like you to offer to do something for the community to make amends to all.”

Gille wanted to be brave but just thinking about what Lakota was saying brought tears to his eyes. “They’ll all hate me,” he cried.

“No, they will not hate you. They will think you a very human man who made a mistake and a very brave one who is offering to atone for his mistake.” The doctor pulled his love to his feet in front of him. “It’s going to be alright, Tehila; I promise you.” With that he guided Gille over his lap and flipped up the tail of the nightshirt, exposing the vulnerable white bottom. He could feel the slight trembling in the body he held and knew this was no time to delay. This was the first time he would be physically disciplining his lover and though he did not want to be too harsh neither did he want to go so easy the young man would not learn the lesson needed here. He wrapped his left arm firmly around Gille’s waist and brought his right hand down smartly against the waiting flesh. 

Gille drew in a sharp breath at the first stinging blow and had little time to draw another when the next one landed. Lakota was as thorough a spanker as he was a lover and Gille soon found himself the owner of a fiery burning backside. He’d had no idea a simple spanking could be so painful physically and even more so emotionally. By the time it was finished, he was sobbing freely and swearing he’d never do anything that would put him in this position again.

After Gille had cried out his sorrows, Lakota and he made their way back to the camp with Gille praying fervently that they would not run into anyone along the way. He didn’t want to be seen in his nightshirt with his face reddened and tear-stained. No one was in the tent as they entered, for which Gille was eternally grateful.

Lakota checked his pocket watch, noting the time as being two-thirty in the afternoon. “Why don’t you lie down and have a rest, my love? I’m going to go and check on things in the infirmary. I want you to stay here in the tent until I come back. Later we’ll go for dinner after which you can make your apologies to the rest of the men and offer to make your amends, alright?”

“Okay,” Gille agreed. “Lakota, you will come back soon, won’t you?”

“Of course, beloved; I won’t be long at all. You just lie down and rest.”

The afternoon passed quickly. Lakota discharged Levi from the infirmary with instructions to take things easy for a few days. The men had been hard at work clearing up the mess left by the storm and returning things to normal around the encampment. Gille had had a much-needed nap and was feeling a lot better physically, though he was still feeling anxious about making a public apology. He clung close to his lover’s side as they entered the mess tent, fearing disdain and censure from the other men. So, he was most pleasantly surprised when he was greeted with smiles and welcomes.

Thomas and Galen approached them as they joined the line for food. “Gille, it’s good to see you. We were worried about you. Thank God you’re back with us,” Thomas said with a smile

“W-welcome b-back, Gille,” Galen added.

By the time they’d finished eating nearly every man had offered their welcome and words of relief at his safe return. Gille was feeling much more confident in what he had to do now. He and Lakota stood and walked to the front of the noisy tent.

Drawing a deep cleansing breath, Gille raised his voice against the din. “Excuse me, gentlemen. Could I request your attention for a moment, please?” Most of the men stopped talking but a few of the younger ones were too caught up in their conversations to take note. As he was about to try again, Aiden’s voice called out, “Ye’ve been asked to listen up; now hush yerselves!” Silence immediately followed.

Gille sent a grateful smile to the large Scot. Then looking to his lover for support, he began. “Gentlemen, I’m sorry to disturb you but I’ll only take a few minutes of your time. I am here to say sorry to all of you. Last night I ran off from the camp during the storm. I didn’t understand something I’d overheard and I over-reacted. When I heard voices calling for me, in my anger I didn’t answer. I am so sorry to have made you all worry and even worse, waste your time and energy searching for me. I know that nothing can give you back the time, but I would like to offer to do the camp laundry for the next week. Also, Lakota has been teaching me the art of massage and he says that I’m pretty good at it; so, I’d like to offer each and every man who would like one, a massage at the end of a workday. I figure I can do three a day. I can have the exam table in the infirmary and will put up a schedule after dinner tonight for those who want it. Again, I’m really sorry for what I did and I hope somehow you’ll forgive me.”

A quiet murmuring went around the tent as many of the men talked about what they’d just been told. Thomas, Aiden, and Larry had been sitting at a table with their partners and after conferring for a moment, Thomas stood up. “Gille, thank you for your apology; I know it took a lot of courage for you to stand up and say this to everyone here. I think we all can agree though that what you have offered is not appropriate to the circumstances. We think that your offer of doing the laundry for a week is way too much. That’s a huge job and we’ll accept no more than three days’ worth; along with those massages you’re offering. I for one am looking forward to one of those.” 

A round of applause went through the tent, leaving a very contented amateur-masseur smiling at his friends.


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