1 Marcus

Stewart ... I had practised the name on my lips so many times it no longer felt strange. I liked saying it.


I repeated the name quite happily to myself, as the bus swayed and jolted its way up north.

The journey, which was supposed to take only about three hours by car, took me almost five hours by bus. There was a world of difference between driving straight through, and stopping at every town in between and waiting for passengers to board and alight. By the time I got down from the bus, it was close to 5pm. I was cramped, aching and starving.

Shouldering my rucksack securely to my back, I looked around the bus stop – you couldn’t call it a bus station by any stretch of the imagination. There was a bench and a trashcan beside it, and a faded sign that said ‘Bus’. And that was it. Brilliant!

No one seemed to be there for me, so I sat down at the bench and waited. The town was not very big, at least not from what I could see of it at the moment. There was a post office nearby, and a decent-sized grocery store next to it. Not many people were about – I guess it was near dinner time for country folks and most would have made their way home by now.

I wondered if I could go grab something to eat myself but decided to give it another few minutes. Stewart had said Aimes was very reliable and I didn’t want to have him hunt for me. No point in setting a bad first impression. After all, the man was supposed to be my ‘boss’ during my time there and I better start off on the right footing.

I didn’t know it then, but I found out later – much later - that Aimes was already at the grocery store, watching me. He had seen me get off the bus and look around, and he let me wait, wanting to observe me for a while. Hrmph!! The best study of a man’s character, he told me one day when he was in a particularly benign mood, was to observe him without his being aware. Yeah, right! He also said I looked decent enough, which was rare praise from Aimes as far as I was concerned. I never knew someone more cautious and suspicious, and even though I was there under Stewart’s sponsorship, Aimes trusted his own judgement more and he wouldn’t just take anyone’s word, not even Stewart’s.

Well, that was Aimes for you.

I was beginning to get restless when I saw someone walk out of the grocery store and stroll over to me. He was tall and broad-chested, hair greying at the sides and his dark skin made him look like a wizened cowboy.

“Marcus Fischer?” The voice was deep, cool and very impersonal; the eyes that bore into mine were hooded and piercing.

“Aimes?” I said, rather relieved that I was finally found. “Hello.”

We shook hands, his firm grip in line with his overall demeanour. He gave me the immediate impression of a man who didn’t waste words, knew precisely what he wanted and would not stand for nonsense of any kind. I managed to swallow my anxiety.

Aimes had come into town to stock up, which he said he would do weekly during the summer months. To cater to the groups coming up I suppose. He made no mention of who was coming, or how many, or when they were expected and I didn’t think he would appreciate my asking. In fact, he really didn’t say much during our first meeting – no small talk, no inquiry about the trip, nothing. I would later learn that Aimes never gave away information unless he had to.

He led the way back to the grocery store and had me help him load up the truck. Then he made me wait by the truck while he went into the post office to run another errand. That took another twenty minutes and by the time we started our journey back, it was past six o’clock and I was truly famished by then. If Aimes heard my stomach growling, he didn’t say anything. Just drove in silence.

I looked around with interest as we bumped our way down country lanes, leading out of the small town called Willcott. The land between houses and fences lengthened and the trees seemed taller as we headed further north. We passed mostly farms, with small tractors and horses in the paddocks. It was a forty-minute ride to Willcott Place and I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew was the truck coming to a stop and we were in front of a large, rather rambling farmhouse.

Stewart was absolutely right – the place was beautiful and I fell in love with it the moment I set eyes upon it. It wasn’t just the house, it was the whole place. The way the dark wood beams ran around the white structure interspersed with creepers, the shadows cast from the setting sun, the woods and the trees that surrounded us , everything. I didn’t really see it properly till the following morning actually, but as I sat there, I felt a sense of strange longing.


I looked back at Aimes but he had already slid out of the driver’s seat and was throwing off the tarp that covered the back of the truck. A blast of clean fresh air cooled my cheeks as I joined him and together we brought all the packages and bundles into the kitchen pantry.

Aimes was very fast and efficient in all he did; he moved like an animal, silent and sure-footed. Once we had emptied the truck, he told me to bring my backpack with me and he took me upstairs.

“You can sleep here,” he said, showing me into a simply furnished room. There was a double bed all made up, a chest of drawers made from rich oak, and a built-in closet. There was also a straight-backed chair under a huge window, which was open and a very pleasant breeze flitted into the room, making it airy and cool.

“Unpack, and come downstairs in fifteen minutes. We’ll eat.”

I almost saluted him. He didn’t wait for me to respond, just turned and left. It wasn’t that he was rude or anything, but he sure wasn’t warm or friendly either. I felt slightly ill-used, unwelcomed even. Crossly, I began to toss my clothes into the drawer and I presented myself in much less than fifteen minutes in the kitchen. I was after all hungry and couldn’t wait to get some food into my stomach.

He looked up at me when I entered, a question in his eyes but he said nothing. He just motioned to the kitchen table where two places had been set, with plates and glasses. “Get the juice from the fridge,” he said as he continued to slice bread.

I looked around, taking in my bearings. It was a big kitchen, with all the kitchen appliances that had become essential to modern day living. I was rather surprised; from the outside the place didn’t look modern in the least, and Aimes did not look like someone who understood modern appliances. I smirked as I opened the huge triple-door fridge, found a carton of orange juice and brought that to the table. I couldn’t be bothered to ask him if that was what he wanted - I was in no mood to make small talk either.

I looked over at the stove, wondering what was in the pot. Spirals of steam rose from it, together with a strong rich aroma. My stomach growled so loudly I was sure Aimes could hear, but he paid no heed to it, just brought the bread over and turned back to the stove. He started to scoop what looked like a thick broth into a deep serving dish. It smelled good and I licked my lips, ready to sit down.

“Have you washed your hands?”

I looked down at my hands, which were perfectly clean, and without thinking answered ‘yes’.

“Are you sure?”

I hesitated, and before I could dig myself in further, he said curtly, “Wash at the sink.”

I slouched over to the sink, slathered my hands with soap and quickly rinsed them clean. Aimes was already seated by the time I turned back. If I was waiting to be invited, I would have been disappointed. Luckily I had no such expectation. I sat down, resisting the urge to show Aimes my hands in a fit of cheek, and instead began to spoon the stew into my bowl. We ate in silence, which suited me fine as my mouth was stuffed too full to talk. The heavy bread soaked in the thick gravy tasted like heaven. But after the first pangs of hunger had been assuaged, I felt a little guilty of my ill temper. I was raised to be polite and to make dinner conversation and interact with the other people at the table. It felt strange and rude to eat and not say a word throughout the entire meal, especially when the meal had been prepared by the other person.

I decided to make a push to be polite. “This is very good – thanks.”

Aimes gave a curt nod.

“Have you been here long?” I tried again, rather timidly.

“Yep.” His eyes flickered and dropped, making it impossible to read his expression. He just went on chewing.

“Stewart says I am to help you with chores ... um, so what do you want me to do around here?”

“I’ll show you in the morning.”

And that was the end of our dinner conversation. I finished the rest of the meal in indignant silence, ignoring Aimes till he told me to wash up the dishes and get the kitchen cleaned up. It wasn’t difficult since he was neat and didn’t leave much of a mess, and I was just hanging up the tea towel to dry when he called to me.

I followed him up stairs, curious why he would be leading me into my room. He went over to the drawers and pulled one open, revealing my jumble of clothes. I felt my cheeks redden, and stood there like a guilty four-year old.

He looked at me. “That is no way to store your things.”

I hesitated, then at a motion from him, I went and took everything out and laid them on the bed. With Aimes standing there, arms folded across his massive chest watching me, I quickly re-folded my stuff and then arranged them back neatly in the drawers. Thank God there wasn’t much. I was blushing with acute embarrassment by the time I finished.

“Get ready for bed.”

I stared at Aimes’ back. What did he think this was? An army camp? Did I look like a school kid or an army recruit to him? I was of half a mind to tell him no but he had gone by then and it would have been so childish to run after him to tell him something like that.

Fuming to myself, I went in search of the bathroom, and grudgingly took a shower. I felt much better by the time I stepped out of the bathroom and changed into my shorts and an old t-shirt. I even whistled a little. My hair was still wet and I didn’t see a hair dryer around. I certainly wasn’t going to find old Grumps to ask for one, so I sat on my bed to wait for my hair to dry, and that’s when, without warning of any kind, I felt the world come crashing down on me.

There I was, stuck in the middle of nowhere with a complete stranger who obviously did not welcome my presence. I had no idea what lay ahead or what would happen at the end of summer when I would have to go back to college. I wasn’t going to graduate like I had planned. My dad was pissed off with me though he tried not to say too much when I had called him. I was on the run and I still had nightmares when I thought about my life during the past few months; the hollow glitter and glamour combined with the anxieties and fears. My life was a mess and I had no one to blame but myself.

The one good thing that had come out of all that was Dr Spencer – that would be Stewart actually. I felt deeply grateful for his help. In a way, I felt I had made a friend and I suddenly didn’t feel quite so forlorn. I smiled to myself as I brushed at the moisture in my eyes. In fact, I felt rather good as I thought of him. He made me feel safe and looked after.

Suddenly drained, I lay down and looked out the window, at the clear night sky and twinkling stars – my mind slowly fading into tiredness. Stewart would be here in about a week or so.

I couldn’t wait to see him again.


The cold woke me up.

I had apparently fallen asleep on top of the covers. My gaze slowly swept round the room and I saw the open window. I didn’t feel like moving but the outside air was actually quite chilly and with a groan I got up to shut it. As I staggered sleepily over to the window, I was caught by the sheer beauty of the silvery scene laid out in front of me. The house was built on an incline and I had a grand view of hills and trees and the glint of water somewhere not too far away.

All sleep gone by now, I folded my arms on the window sill and feasted my eyes on the glorious scenery. It was totally quiet up there, eerily so for someone who lived mostly in a noisy city. My mind wandered lazily, picking up random thoughts. I wondered what Stewart was doing, if he was awake too.

Thinking of Stewart made me impatient and restless. Turning to look at the clock on the bedside table, I was surprised to see that it was almost five am. Much later than I had supposed. I must have been asleep for eight straight hours, much longer than what I was used to at home. Well, I felt much too awake and refreshed to go back to bed.

I changed into my jeans and pulled a t-shirt over my head, and slipped my feet into my sneakers. Grabbing my jacket, I crept down the stairs, listening for sounds of Aimes. I had no idea what room he was in and I didn’t want to risk running into him. I didn’t think seeing his surly face this early in the morning was going to do anything to improve my mood.

I let myself out the front door, closing it softly behind me. The moon was bright enough to light my way and I walked quickly down the gravelled drive, stepped over the low hedge and headed towards the woods. I was following my instincts and found myself upon the water’s edge in a few minutes. The pond was larger than I had expected and it was amazing to see how still and mysterious it looked in the pre-dawn mist. I flung myself down on the soft grass and looked up at the sky, waiting for sunrise.

I dozed a little, enjoying the feeling of openness and freedom. I didn’t bring a watch with me, so I had no idea of the time but soon my stomach decided I should head back. Being out in the invigorating air had built up my appetite and I hoped Aimes was a hearty breakfast kind of person. I opened the door quietly, and knew I was in trouble the minute I saw Aimes standing there. If I thought he looked stern earlier, he almost made me turn and run when I saw his face. His mouth was set in a straight line and his brows were drawn together.

He beckoned to me. “Where have you been?” he asked coldly.

I shrugged. “O-out ... outside?” I was trying hard not to shiver.

He glared at me for a moment, and then nodded his head towards the kitchen. Mutely, I followed him, suddenly feeling incredibly small. Why was I even in trouble? I had just gone for a walk!

He pointed at a chair. “Sit!” he commanded and I obeyed instantly.

He remained standing and stared down at me, arms again folded across his chest - it would appear to be a favourite pose of his whenever he was displeased about something. I squirmed in my seat and didn’t really know why; I had done nothing wrong!

“You were tired last night, and it was too late to tell you, so I am giving you the benefit of the doubt. But I think its time for me to lay down the house rules.”

House Rules? My eyes bulged.

“Rule number one – you do not disappear without telling me, especially in the middle of the night. You do not disappear – period. Before you go off somewhere, ask for permission first.”

My mouth hung open.

He continued. “Rule number two – you will keep yourself, your room and your belongings neat and tidy at all times. You will sit down to all meals washed and clean.”

He paused to make sure I was listening. “Rule number three – lying is not permitted, and let me clarify now that not telling or avoiding the whole truth is considered the same as lying in this house, and that carries with it the heaviest consequences.”

I was stunned into silence. Stewart had warned me about rules in this place but I had not been prepared for this. Apparently I had managed to break all three rules within hours of my arrival.

“From time to time, other rules may be added. For now, these three shall suffice. Any questions?”

In my stunned state, I managed to stammer out a question. “W-what happens if I – break a rule?”

Aimes’ brows knit together, rather alarmingly. “Didn’t Stewart explain the Code to you?”

“N-no ...?” I said, and was immediately seized with uncertainty. Was that another lie? How was I ever going to survive this place? Stewart had explained about consequences – somewhat - but I wasn’t sure if I understood them completely or if that applied to Aimes as well. Suddenly, there were so many questions swirling in my head.

I thought I heard Aimes curse but I couldn’t be sure. He said, “Punishments will vary, depending on the situation. I normally do not like to discipline Brats who belong to other Tops but since you are in my charge till Stewart comes, you will be accountable to me.”

They always use that word – ACCOUNTABLE – what the heck did that mean? And I didn’t belong to anyone. Technically, I wasn’t really Stewart’s Brat; he had made that clear right from the beginning. He was merely standing in as my sponsor; that didn’t make him my Top, not really.

I stared at Aimes, not quite sure what to say. Didn’t Stewart tell Aimes our arrangement? With a start, I realized I had no wish to clarify that Stewart and I did not have that kind of relationship. For some strange reason, I felt all tingly just imagining Stewart as my Top. I kept my eyes lowered and remained silent.

“Any more questions?” he snapped. I could tell Aimes was getting impatient.

“No.” I said quietly.

“Good! Get a bucket and mop and clean up that mess!”

I followed his finger and saw to my horror that I had left a trail of dirt and sand on the rich dark wood floor. I spent the next fifteen minutes carefully wiping and cleaning (and softly grumbling). I had done plenty of scrubbing back home for Mom when I was living with my parents, so it wasn’t a terrible hardship nor was it too bad.

After I had put the pail and mop away, I got my reward - a hot breakfast of sausages and eggs, hash browns and baked beans was waiting on the kitchen table. I wolfed the food down, followed by strong black coffee. A real man’s breakfast.

It was hard to stay mad with that kind of food in your belly.

2 Stewart

I wondered how Marcus fared at Willcott. My hand itched to call Aimes and the only thing which prevented me from doing so was the knowledge that Aimes wouldn’t appreciate my calling - interference, he’d call it. I knew him only too well. I hoped he didn’t frighten the poor kid too much. Aimes could be rather daunting and unapproachable around strangers. That was his way. But in all the years I had known Aimes, I had never seen him intentionally hurt anyone.

I considered calling Marcus instead, but changed my mind in the end. If anything had gone wrong, I would have heard. And tracking him was no way for him to learn independence. I hoped at the end of summer, Marcus would have found enough strength and resolve to stand firm against the Christian Lowens of the world.

The week passed agonisingly slowly, even though I had plenty to do to keep me busy. I had papers to grade, besides making arrangements to close up the house for two months; a final meeting with Philip mid-week to go through the summer schedule for the Fraternity. When the flock started to descend on Willcott, we needed to have some kind of agenda in place or there would be havoc.

And there was Andrew, who was still with me. Poor kid - Ryan had been delayed again and I could tell Andrew was near breaking point. With all my preparations, I really didn’t need a hyper Brat on my hands. Trouble started as I was rushing to go out right after breakfast on Wednesday and Andrew’s snail’s pace of spooning cereal into his mouth was driving me up the wall.

“Andrew honey,” I said as patiently as I could. “You will need to eat faster than that. I have to leave in ten minutes.”

“Okay,” he replied, still keeping to the same steady rhythm of chewing.

“Andrew ...” I said after a few minutes watching him.

“What?” He looked at me with a blank expression on his face.

I tapped my watch. “Hurry please.”

He dropped his spoon in his bowl and said in a complaining voice. “You are always telling me to chew my food slowly. Now you are telling me to just swallow down everything fast. I wish you Tops would make up your minds what you really want.”

“It does not take twenty minutes to eat a bowl of cereal,” I stated, deciding to ignore his tone.

“It hasn’t been twenty minutes,” he corrected me in a chillingly civilized manner.

I looked at him pointedly.

His eyes were innocent as he raised them to mine. “Did you time me?”

“No, I did not,” I snapped. “And if I get any more cheek, you are going to be finishing that bowl of cereal on your feet.”

Andrew could look extremely sweet when he wished to. Which he did, turning up innocent eyes at me. “I wouldn’t dream of giving you cheek, Stewart. In fact I wouldn’t dream of giving you anything at all this early in the morning.”

That did it for me. I walked purposefully over to Andrew and I saw his eyes widen as I took his arm. I easily pulled him to his feet. Andrew was going to push till he got what he wanted and I had no wish to play the extended version of the game. Might as well dish it out and get it out of the way.

I quickly sat down. With one swift jerk, I had Andrew over my lap. I pulled his shorts down, the elastic band following my hand easily. Without a word, I landed one firm swat on his bared white bottom, followed by another, and then another. The white cheeks quickly turned pink.

Andrew gave one kick of protest, and then settled down as I spanked in earnest. After about twenty or so swats, I stopped, resting my stinging hand on his pink bottom. “Do I need to continue or have you had enough?”

“I’ve had enough Stewart,” he said in a small voice.

“Good.” I yanked him to his feet. “If I hear any more smart remarks from you, it will be the paddle. Is that clear?”

“Y-yes!” He gulped and brushed at his eyes. Well, that ought to keep him out of trouble for a while.

I finished my errands and returned in good time to wait for Philip. He was scheduled to come over that evening for dinner so I ordered some Chinese takeaway. Philip gave Andrew an affectionate hug when he arrived and asked when Ryan would be back. I glared at his lack of tact and he laughed unrepentantly.

After dinner, I had Andrew clean up the kitchen and took Philip into the study.

“So what are you going to do with the Brat?” Philip inquired as he settled onto the sofa with a mug of coffee.

“I’ll be seeing him in a few days, and will know how he’s doing by then.” I replied and realized too late my slip.

I felt myself flush as Philip gently said, “I meant Andrew.”

“Of course. Well, I am hoping Ryan comes back before I leave, if not I will have to take him up to Willcott with me.”

Philip graciously allowed the slip to pass but I thought I detected a twitch on his lips. “Let me know if you want me to bring Andrew up with me instead. I will only be a week behind you and it will be no trouble for me to take him along if you need some private time with Marcus.”

I hesitated. There was no saying when Ryan would be back at this point of time and I really wanted some time alone with Marcus. But I didn’t think it would be right to leave Andrew behind. It was unfortunate Andrew and Marcus didn’t get on too well together.

I let out a sigh. “Thanks for the offer but if Ryan is not back by the time I leave I better bring Andrew with me. Making him move again is only going to unsettle him further.”

“Okay.” Philip shrugged. “But if you change your mind, just let me know. Have you heard from Aimes?”

“Not since my call to him to tell him about Marcus. I am assuming everything is fine.” I looked at Philip questioningly. “Why – has he called you?”

“You know Aimes won’t call unless it’s something really important. I am sure Marcus is fine.”

“Yeah,” I agreed readily, suddenly reluctant to talk about Marcus. I pulled a sheet of paper off my desk and passed it to Philip. “So - here’s list of people who have confirmed their times. I am just hoping we can cope with so many this year.”

We went over the names, working out the time-table. It looked like we might end up with a bit of a squeeze but if we could reschedule some of the members I felt confident we would be able to house everyone relatively comfortably. As usual, we’ve had requests to slot in some group activities as well. We would need to find facilitators too; Philip and I could not do everything. Finally, at the end of an hour, we were both satisfied with what we had planned.

“Well, I think this is the best we can do,” Philip said, as he rose to his feet and stretched. “Everyone will have to compromise and be flexible with the arrangements. It’s not as if we were running a 5-star hotel!”

I agreed but I didn’t really anticipate any trouble – so far our members had shown a marked degree of cooperation and support. We had had people bunking in four to a room and even sleeping on futons in the living room at some point. It had been rather fun actually.

“Don’t forget – we have the new games room now as well,” I reminded Philip. Everyone had pitched in the previous year when we decided to convert the old barn into an activities room, which could now be used to house a few couples I was sure.

“Yep – that was a great idea and should come in handy. Well, I better make a move on then.”

Andrew was in the living room watching TV as we headed to the front door. Philip went and said goodbye. “Andrew, have you made arrangements at work for some vacation time? Ryan did tell you I expect you both at Willcott for at least a couple of weeks?

Andrew drew his feet up and curled up into a ball. “Yes, he mentioned it. I am all set to leave but now I don’t know if he is even coming back.” He sounded tragic.

“Of course he is.” Philip said firmly. “And he has told me that he will be taking two weeks off from work once he is back from London. You will be able to have some quality time with him up at Willcott.”

“But he doesn’t know when he will be back!” Andrew’s voice rose a pitch. “Everyone will be gone to Willcott by then, except me! I will get left behind, like always!”

“No you won’t!” I said, tapping his head comfortingly. “If Ryan is not back by the time I leave, you are coming with me. And Ryan will definitely join us there.”“Really?” Andrew’s eyes lit up. “I get to ride in with you?”

“Yes. Promise!” I replied.

“Yay!” Andrew pumped his arm in a gesture of victory and Philip and I both laughed.

3 Marcus

I was heartily sick of making beds and doing laundry by the end of the week. I had decided that Aimes was a slave driver and he had somehow taken it into his head that I was the slave. There were at least twenty beds in the house that needed to be prepared, and that alone kept me busy. Aimes insisted on washing and airing the sheets and covers so that everything would be in readiness. In fact, he kept me so busy throughout the week that I was usually exhausted by the end of each day and that was about the only positive thing I could find about the situation - it didn’t leave me too much time to think and brood.

Aimes still was as communicative as ever (yeah) and I had given up trying to be nice to him. I did what I was told to do and tried not to grumble too much because I had found out, with a rude shock, that Aimes was altogether too free with his hand. He had given me a firm swat when I complained about the beds. I had not only been shocked, I had been a little angry even. What the fuck, I thought. But he paid no heed whatsoever and in the end, it was much easier to just obey. Being stubborn didn’t work with Aimes – he just stood there like a solid block and looked at you until you did what he wanted. And to some extent, I did deserve what I got. Talking back and bitching was a big no-no in my family as well, and both my parents would not have hesitated to put me in my place if I had tried that with them. Still Aimes could be so infuriating!

Oh well, I had to admit he wasn’t unreasonable, since I was kind of a hired help. I was supposed to help him get the place ready for the summer guests and that was what we did, together. At the end of the week he did give me my week’s earnings though. Stewart had mentioned some kind of allowance or wage but I wasn’t really expecting it so it came as a pleasant surprise. It was nothing fantastic, but it was a fair amount and I could not complain about that. And I certainly could not complain about the meals he served up – they were mostly plain but hearty no-frills fare which filled the stomach comfortably.

I was set the absolutely uninteresting task of polishing the huge dining table on Saturday morning when I heard a car drive up and I immediately left my chore to see who had come. We had had no visitors or any kind of external interaction during the entire week and I was SO BORED! I peeped through the window and then rushed to the front door, my heart in my throat. I had recognized the car at once. It was Stewart!

I ran down the front steps and went forward eagerly to meet the car. I realized I was grinning like an idiot but I couldn’t help it. I had seriously missed Stewart; I had not realized how much until then. I put up a hand to wave a welcome and stopped short when I caught sight of a figure in the front passenger seat. Stewart was not alone! I deflated like a balloon. Damn!

“Marcus!” Stewart greeted me as soon as he stepped out of the car.

My heart pounded as I tore my eyes away from the passenger seat and walked towards Stewart. “Hi,” I said, all of a sudden feeling a little shy and rather stupid. I would have hugged him but I felt slightly crushed, my enthusiasm dampened. I held out my hand instead.

Stewart ignored my outstretched hand and pulled me to him. “How have you been? You are looking well!”

“I am fine, thanks,” I squeaked. His hug was firm and extremely welcomed.

“I wasn’t expecting you till tomorrow!” I lingered within his arms for a bit longer, and then reluctantly stepped back.

“I managed to get everything settled and decided to surprise you guys,” he said with a look that set my heart thumping again. “Has Aimes worked you to death?” He asked with a laugh. It was so good to hear that.

“Yes, he has!” I said with a scowl, unable to prevent the whine from creeping into my voice.

Stewart laughed again and I found myself smiling with him. He was dressed very casually in a loose t-shirt, tucked into a pair of tight jeans. His dark hair was ruffled, probably from the wind as he had let the car window down. Definitely not like the sober professor I had known. I thought he looked totally HOT!

Aimes had by now come out as well and I watched with deep interest as he and Stewart gave one another a bear hug. There didn’t seem to be anything between them, certainly no undercurrent of sexual tension or anything. They looked like old friends, I thought with satisfaction. I had wondered during the week if there was something going on between Aimes and Stewart, or had gone on. The only time Aimes had seemed human was when Stewart’s name came up. Obviously he held Stewart in great regard. Well, who wouldn’t? They exchanged a few words and then Stewart turned to his passenger and called out, “Andrew, come on honey. Wake up!”

I felt an unreasonable heat rise up in me and gritted my teeth as Andrew slid out of the car, yawning broadly. He walked round the car to where we were assembled and smiled – oh so sweetly – at Aimes.

“Hello cub!” Aimes said with the ghost of a smile and I stared as he gave Andrew a quick hug. Well! That was a very different reception to what I got. And then my blood boiled further as I watched Andrew slink over to Stewart and leaned against him.

“I’ve got a headache!” he complained.

Stewart flung an arm around Andrew’s shoulders and held him - much too closely. I had seen them like this before of course, but this time it nettled me no end to see how close they were. Didn’t that Brat have a Top of his own?

“Why is he here with you?” I blurted out, indicating Andrew and quickly corrected myself. “I mean, isn’t Ryan coming as well?” Is there even a Ryan, I bit back savagely.

“Ryan will be here in a few days. Or he might drive up with Philip.” Stewart answered easily. “Come on, let’s get our things into the house. I brought the stuff you asked for, Aimes. I hope they are what you wanted! And then you can go lie down properly, okay?” That last part was addressed to Andrew.

“I don’t do car rides well!” Andrew whined.

“I know babe. A nap will clear your head – see how fresh the air is up here?” Stewart said cajoling.

I fumed as I helped with the bags. He spoke to Andrew as if he were a moron! I felt all the pleasure of seeing Stewart dissipate; in fact I was feeling exceptionally irritable as I lugged a heavy bag up the front steps.

“Where to?” I asked in a gruff voice.

Stewart looked at me, his brows drawn together, but it was Aimes who answered. “Andrew can have the room next to yours.”

“And Stewart?” I asked, even more irritated. Why can’t Stewart have the room next to mine? Why did I have to put up with that Brat so close to me?

Aimes’ eyes widened and he looked curiously at Stewart, who gave a slight shake of the head. I had no idea what that was about. Stewart suddenly grinned as if he found something funny. He said, “Yes, please help Andrew with his bags, Marcus. I’ll handle mine – thanks. I cannot imagine how I allowed you to pack so much stuff Andrew!”

“But I need all these things!” Andrew said, clutching a wooden stand under one arm and carrying a box filled with ridiculous stuff in the other hand. “I intend to paint this time.”

I wanted to puke! Paint indeed!

I would have thumped the bags all the way up the stairs if I hadn’t felt Aimes’ eyes on me. Andrew followed from behind and I eyed him with disfavour as he dropped the box on the floor, allowing some of the items to spill out. I couldn’t wait for Aimes to get a look at that!

“Thanks, Marcus,” he said as he flung himself down on the bed. “Geez, I am so glad to be out of the car.”

“Car sickness?” I asked with zero sympathy.

“Yes, I hate long car rides. I had to ask Stewart to stop a couple of times. Almost threw up.”

You should have, I thought with a snigger. What a baby!

“Well, I need to get back to work,” I said, in a rather superior manner, but his eyes were already closed and I doubted if he even heard me.

I was hovering at the top of the stairs when the door on the opposite side of the landing opened and Stewart came out. He immediately smiled at me. So that was where he was sleeping. Hmm ...

“Hey there again.” His quick stride took him to my side and I felt myself stiffen.


“Let’s go get a cup of tea,” he suggested, leading the way downstairs. “I’ll bet Aimes has got something else waiting for us.”

“Yeah, I think its chocolate cheesecake,” I said, remembering the gorgeous aroma that had filled the house earlier. “He baked it fresh this morning.”

“You don’t say! I love Aimes’ cheesecakes!”

My knees almost buckled as Stewart tousled my hair. I was lucky I didn’t roll down the stairs.

“Is everything going well with you?” Stewart asked softly, in a tone that I felt was meant for only me. All thoughts of, and resentment for, Andrew miraculously disappeared. Before I could think of a suitable response, he continued. “We’ll take a walk afterwards and catch up, ok?”

I nodded happily, suddenly feeling as if my feet were floating on air.

4 Stewart

I let Andrew sleep off the grogginess while Marcus and I enjoyed the fabulous cheesecake over a strong cup of tea. After a week’s absence, I was looking at him with fresh eyes. He looked even better than I remembered. The country-side must be agreeing with him. His hair had lightened ever so slightly and he even seemed to have filled out some. He had been tottering on the verge of jutting bones and angular hips, probably due to the worry and unhappiness of his situation, but now the extra weight gave him a certain roundness which made him very attractive.

I was aware of Aimes as he potted around the kitchen, busy with whatever he was doing but missing nothing. Marcus ignored him completely; there was something going on between the two of them and I intended to find out what. I wouldn’t exactly call it a healthy buzz.

I had already had my private little tête-à-tête with Aimes. I had anticipated Aimes’ interrogation and it came the minute Marcus and Andrew had disappeared upstairs.

“He is not my Brat, Aimes,” I explained patiently, making sure Marcus and Andrew were out of earshot. “He is in some kind of trouble and I am helping him out. He needed a place to stay for the summer – like I told you over the phone.”

He pursed his lips. “What kind of trouble and why didn’t you tell me before?”

I tried to glare at Aimes but did not really succeed. “Well, he got involved with a bad crowd and now wants to keep his distance. I figured a couple of months away would be good. I didn’t think you needed to know all the details over the phone.”

“It would be nice for me to know who I am housing, and if there was anything in particular I should be looking out for!” He replied scathingly. “And by bad crowd, what exactly do you mean by that? Should I be on the look out for some cult figure or members of the mafia?”

I gave a sigh of exasperation. “Nothing of the sort! I wouldn’t saddle you with something like that and not tell you! “I felt reluctant to share Marcus’ folly and said instead, “You know these young kids – rushing headlong in without realising they were way over their heads!”

“Young indeed for you, that was what I thought when I first saw him.”

“What?” I chuckled. “Young? For me?”

Aimes’ eyebrows rose and he continued looking at me, questioning.

“Whatever made you think ... there is nothing going on between the two of us! Look, would I send him to you without telling you about it? Like you would ever forgive me!”

Aimes looked slightly appeased. “I thought sending him here was your way of telling me!” he countered.

I picked up my bags and said resignedly. “If you must know, he is one of my students. He was failing my class – in fact he did not take the final exams – and I felt in some way responsible for him. He needed a break. Isn’t that what we try to do, Aimes? Give people a second chance?”

Aimes’ face was inscrutable but I knew I had touched a nerve. He nodded at me and his voice softened. “Yeah, that is what we do. Go on, take your bags up. You can have the big room in the front, and Philip can bunk with you when he comes. Notice that I am putting you as far from your protégé as possible. Removing temptation ...”

I made a face. “You’re all heart, Aimes!”

He turned to head into the kitchen, saying curtly. “Tea will be ready in ten minutes. Don’t be late!”

“Yes sir!” I replied crisply.

And we had left it at that. How much Aimes believed me I had no idea, but I had told him the truth. There were no lies between Aimes and me; there was absolutely no need. And right up to that point, I had not felt any need either to evade his razor-sharp eye. I couldn’t deny I was beginning to feel more than platonic interest in Marcus, and I could swear he felt the same too. But the truth of the matter was I was not sure what was between Marcus and me. I had had a whole week to think about it and frankly I had formed no firm conclusion.

Marcus had seemed pleased to see me, but he also seemed to be holding back. He was running from a bad situation; he didn’t need another relationship to complicate his life and I had no intention throw that in his way. But damned if he didn’t make my heart skip a beat each time he looked at me with those dark eyes of his.

Leaving Aimes to clear up tea, I took a walk with Marcus, out towards the pond.

“Have you been here much?” I asked. This place had always been special to me, despite the wildness of the surroundings and the deep untamed woods. I took care to stay within the path and not go beyond what we had marked as our safe limit.

“No,” he said sullenly. “Been too busy, and Aimes doesn’t like me to wander off by myself. He thinks I am three.”

“There could be hidden dangers in a place like this to a city kid like yourself.” I said as I looked around, breathing deeply. “Its pretty ok up to here, but beyond that line of trees over there would be considered unsafe territory. I believe there are wild animals in the woods; you need to know how to take care of yourself. Aimes would take the necessary precautions to keep you safe.”

“I came out here the morning after I arrived and he almost went ballistic. That was when he laid down all those house rules!” He pulled a face.

“What happened?”

“I just couldn’t sleep and decided to find the pond. It looked awesome in the pre-dawn.”

I drew in a breath and let it out slowly. “You came out here alone, in the middle of the night?”

“Yeah, and he got mad! And I am not even his Brat!” Marcus rolled his eyes and snorted softly.

“No, but you were accountable to him. If anything had happened to you, he would have been responsible.”

Marcus looked indifferent; he was certainly much more rebellious than I remembered and that was only a week ago. I wondered what had changed.

“Nothing happened anyway,” he said crossly.

“That’s not the point,” I said with a sharpness borne out of fear for what could have happened. I quickly reminded myself that he was new to this place, new to our rules and lifestyle. “You probably were not briefed and therefore may not have known the rules so I guess he didn’t do more than lay down the rules when he found you gone. Am I right?”

He nodded, a little sulkily.

“Well, now you know, so you have no excuse. It really isn’t all that safe to wander off into the woods, Marcus.”

“So what? Like I am not allowed to take a walk? I can’t go off by myself if I need to be alone?” His tone was petulant. Gone was the slightly nervous, shy and sweet-tempered college student. I had on my hands a tense and highly-wired Brat. Probably struggling and fighting to break from his safe and conventional shell.

I turned to him and said quietly, “You will have to abide by the rules of the Fraternity, just like all the other Brats who will be joining us very soon. House rules are that you do not wander off to the pond alone, and that is that! Do you understand?”

“Yes ...” He looked slightly apprehensive at my tone.

“The rules are not meant to restrict your movements. However, if a Top so desires to restrict his Brat’s movements for whatever reasons, his Brat still has to obey. You may not have a Top, but you are nevertheless accountable to me. We spoke about this, Marcus. Do you remember?”

He nodded his head and his eyes dropped.

I decided it was time to rein the young man in. “Aimes had every right to reprimand you and decide what was acceptable and what was not because I put you in his charge. In fact, it would have been well within his right to have disciplined you as well if he had thought it necessary. Tell me, have you given him any other reason to be displeased with you?”

He flushed guiltily and I waited.

“Well?” My tone was quite stern and he jumped.

“I, er, “he trailed off, voice shaking slightly.

I raised my eyebrows at him. “Aimes disciplined you?”

He shrugged. “Well, he – he swatted me once.” His face flamed.


“Oh, when I ... when he made me do up all those beds ...” The indignation crept into his voice. “There were like twenty of them!”

“So you complained.” I stated, keeping my face straight.

“Well, I wasn’t really complaining you know.”

“Weren’t you? Then what was the swat for?”

He shifted one foot uneasily. “I don’t know – maybe I did grumble a little ...?”

“Maybe,” I concurred. “You know Marcus, you need to obey Aimes even when I am around. He runs this place and you are here to help him.”

“But he has so many rules ...”

“And there will be more.” I cautioned him. “That’s the way of the Fraternity.”

“I don’t mind that!” he said fervently. “In fact, now that I’ve had time to think it over, I like the idea of having set rules, and ... and the idea of having a Top even. It gives me a feeling of security, of belonging to someone so exclusively.” He glanced at me a little shyly.

I kept my face impassive although I found his words extremely encouraging.

“But I don’t like it when he treats me like a kid.” Marcus’ voice slipped into a plaintive tone.

“I see,” I said, looking straight at him. He squirmed under my gaze. “Well, it’s a pretty standard rule here for all Brats that they obey rules. A Top would have no hesitation to punish his Brat if a rule had been broken. That does not mean they are treated like kids.”

Marcus swallowed.

Time to draw the line.

“If I find you disobeying my rules, I too would have no hesitation to punish you. Even though you are not my Brat, you are here under my sponsorship.” I dropped my voice but knew he heard me clearly enough.

“I know that!” He replied immediately, his lashes fluttering. He didn’t sound distressed at all, in fact he sounded rather eager. I found myself watching him closely.

After a pause, Marcus asked. “H-how do Tops punish their Brats? Will the other people get to see?”

“It could be done in private; it could also be conducted in public. The decision lies entirely with the Top.”

“And Aimes can ... punish me too if he wants to?”

“Not if he wants to, Marcus,” I clarified, “only when he needs to.”

Marcus was clearly frustrated with my answer. “I can understand and accept you having to do it, but ... but why Aimes too?” He must have seen me frown for he hurried to explain. “I didn’t mean ... Aimes has been fair to me so far ...”

My shoulders relaxed, and I explained. “Aimes tend to be gruff with people when he first meets them. He doesn’t do strangers well. It takes him much longer to warm up to people but once he approves of you, you’ll find he is a good friend.”

“I’m sure,” he replied blandly, and I wondered how the two of them had got on if that was the kind of humour Marcus was in. He wasn’t exactly rude but he showed very clearly his irritation and shortness of temper. Aimes, I was sure, would not put up with such attitude. I was beginning to forsee a rather turbulent few weeks ahead of us.

“So,” I asked casually, steering the conversation to safer channels. I thought it would be good for Marcus to have some time to mull over what we had discussed. “What else have you been doing since you arrived?”

He looked thoughtful, as if carefully deciding what to disclose. “Well, mostly cleaning, some laundry, polishing. Aimes said we might do some yard work next week.”

“Oh really?” I exclaimed with a grin. “I’m sure Aimes planned that well. There’ll be more of us around by then to help out, so hopefully it won’t take too much time. Philip should be here by Tuesday, and I am hoping Ryan gets some time next week.”

“Ha!” He scoffed. “About time too!”

I was surprised into a bark of laughter. “And what’s it to you?”

He looked at once astonished and distinctly disgusted. “Andrew monopolizes you.”

I stopped myself for a moment, pondering his reaction. “Is that what you think?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Marcus shot back.

I laughed. “To be frank, I haven’t really noticed.” I started to turn back towards the house, and Marcus fell into step beside me. “But I certainly shall keep a look out and see if there’s any truth in what you say.” I paused and then decided to push forward. “Does it upset you that he does?”

Marcus kept his head bowed, his eyes on the rocky path. “Yes,” he finally replied, softly.

I put out a hand and stopped him so that I could turn him around and face me. “Why?” I asked gently.

He flushed and chewed on his lip. I restrained a desire to reach out and make him stop. Or simply to touch his cheek.

“I don’t know,” he said, shrugging. “I guess because I think he takes you for granted? And I would hate for anyone to take you for granted.”

I felt my heart melt at those words. Treading carefully, I tried to make light of the moment. I patted his arm, and continued up the path once more. “That is very considerate of you, Marcus. I appreciate that. “

5 Marcus

I had tried so hard to give him hints. And not just one. What was the matter with the man? Was he dense?

I spent a thoroughly frustrating weekend, watching Andrew make up to Stewart every chance he got. Stewart was way too patient with the Brat; I couldn’t understand why he put up with it. I was in the kitchen on Sunday evening, when I caught sight of them. My eyes followed Stewart as he carried a hammer and a toolbox out to the yard to fix something and Andrew trotted behind him, like a faithful little puppy.

“Pay attention, stop that grumbling and get on with your work!” barked Aimes and I jumped. I was peeling potatoes for dinner at the kitchen sink and hadn’t heard him come up behind me.

“Shit, you startled me!” I was surprised into uttering. The smack landed on my bum, quick and sharp. “Ow!”

“Look at what you are doing when you are holding a knife or any sharp object,” Aimes ordered.

“I was looking!” I retorted.

“At them, yes,” Aimes said maddeningly. “I meant at your hands!”

I pulled a face but kept quiet. Aimes was still within arms length and I had no wish to feel his steel palm on my butt again.

“Stewart is fixing the wooden gate like I asked him to, and Andrew is picking beans in the vegetable garden. There is nothing going on outside, so there is absolutely no reason for you to be so preoccupied there. Focus on those potatoes instead!”

I scowled and returned to the potatoes.

I huffed to myself and carried my ill-humour into dinner, as Andrew once again took centre stage. Half way through the meal, his cell phone buzzed and he yelped with glee. It was his precious Ryan of course, and he immediately ran out of the kitchen. We could hear him whispering in the hallway. Stewart and Aimes exchanged amused looks although personally, I thought there was nothing amusing about it.

“Ryan’s arriving on tomorrow!” Andrew announced happily when he rejoined us. “I can’t wait.”

“Neither can I!” I looked around the table and realized that had been me speaking. “I mean, I will finally get to meet him, after hearing so much ... “

Stewart ducked his head, Aimes frowned and I avoided both their eyes.

I announced that I would go to bed early, preferring that to listening to Andrew’s idle chatter. They were mostly about his plans with Ryan and how he had missed him ... blah, blah, blah. How entirely boring. I yawned loudly a few times; no one noticed.

I was hoping Stewart would ask me to stay up longer, or come upstairs with me, or do SOMETHING! Instead, he just nodded at me and said good night, which left me with no other choice than to head up to bed. Actually, I would have loved to have gone out for a walk instead. Fat chance I would get! There was no way Aimes would have let me and I didn’t want to ask Stewart in case he thought that was a ruse to get him alone.

Well ... I did want him alone! I wouldn’t have minded another walk with him at all, but I didn’t want to look too needy. Huh - or did I really care? I lingered at the bottom of the stairs. Should I just ask him? Would I be making a fool of myself? What if he thought I was a nuisance?

“Marcus?” Aimes’ voice reached me, breaking my thoughts. “Aren’t you going up?”

“Yeah,” I said unhappily, glowering. Interfering busy-body!

I took my time getting ready for bed, listening for sounds of footsteps, secretly hoping. I finally climbed into bed, disappointed. For a long while, I just lay there, tossing and cursing to myself. I tried counting sheep, like that ever worked. I squeezed my eyes shut and concentrated on listening to the sounds from outside my window. I sat up and plumped my pillows.

I guess sleep did overtake me for when I next opened my eyes, the house was very still and the clock on my side table showed 2.00am. The knowledge of Stewart sleeping a few doors away was suddenly extremely disturbing. I had had no trouble previously when I had put up in his house, but somehow things had changed. The puzzle had been re-arranged and our relationship was no longer the same. Indeed, our respective places – be it teacher and student, or mentor and friend - had been altered quite beyond recognition and I had trouble recognizing it, much less coming to terms with it. Frankly, I could hardly grasp it; I didn’t quite know where my place was. Since I was there at Willcott, it meant I was a part of the Fraternity and yet I was not even a member. I was treated like I belonged - and yet I am no one’s Brat and I have no Top. So what the hell was I?

The air in my room was suddenly warm and stifling; even though a light breeze was filtering into my room. I sat up in bed and looked longingly out the window; perhaps it might be cooler downstairs. And a glass of cold water might help too.

I emerged from my bedroom, tip-toeing, careful not to make any noise. I looked at Stewart’s closed door for a moment, a little wistfully. I supposed he must be sleeping. No reason to think he would be awake like me. I crept closer to the stairs and instead found myself in front of Stewart’s room.

I put out a hand to touch the door, just to feel closer to him. Then I leaned my head against it. I stayed there a while, breathing deeply, imagining Stewart asleep in bed. And then I almost had a heart attack as the door was pulled back and Stewart whispered, “Marcus?”

Holding a hand to my pounding heart, I stumbled as I lost my balance. “Shit!”

“Shh...!” he hissed. “What on earth ...”

“I ... ah ...”

I felt his hand grab my arm and pull me inside his room, and then the door closed behind me. I blinked at the suddenness of my situation. My mouth had gone dry and I was sure I had sweaty and clammy hands by then.

“Not so loud,” Stewart was saying. “We don’t want to wake the others.” He looked at me, one eyebrow up. “What are you doing, Marcus?”

I looked at him and lost my voice. I had a thing for tousled hair and his was definitely tousled, in a very nice sort of way. Plus his eyes were kinda dreamy, with that look with the sleep lurking in them, making him look so incredibly sexy and sensual. I swallowed hard, felt an immediate reaction between my legs, and before I knew what I was doing, I had stepped forward and was kissing him.

His hands clutched me for a moment, holding me steady but he didn’t push me away. I didn’t think I would have let him – ha! I probably would have wrestled with him if he had tried to. But no, after the first initial shock, his arms went quickly went around me and held me tighter, and he began to return my kiss.

I felt myself drowning in his embrace; it was the most incredible feeling in the world. I pressed into him and closed my eyes as Stewart’s tongue darted into my mouth, kissing me deeply. And then he trailed his tongue down my throat, nipping behind my ears, before finally returning to my lips.

I ground my pelvis into him, desperate to feel his hands on my already hard cock. I heard him groan and his hands slid down to my buttocks and held them, pulling me hard against him. Oh yes, he wanted this as much as I did. I could tell all right. We stood that way for a while as we continued rubbing against one another and kissing. I had been celibate for weeks, and I was more than ready. I was afraid I would explode right there and then if we continued what we were doing.

I reached into his t-shirt, slipping my hands inside to feel his nipples, which hardened immediately under my touch. I ran my fingers over the hairs on his chest; his body was hard and unrelenting and I shivered with anticipation. I wanted him naked; I wanted to run my hands all over his body. I wanted him to fuck me. Panting hard, I began to lift his t-shirt, trying to take it off. With a frustrated growl, I felt him pull away.

“Marcus!” he muttered, his voice hoarse and low. “Wait!”

“No!” I didn’t want to wait, why should we? “I know what I want,” I said.

“This is going to complicate matters.”

I shook my head impatiently. “They are already complicated. Maybe this will make it easier.”

“Marcus,” Stewart started to protest, holding my wrists firmly in his hands.

“Shut up, Stewart!” I said, moving forward so that we were chest to chest. “The only way I will stop is if you tell me you don’t want me. If you tell me you don’t want to make love to me.”

I saw the flash of emotion cross his face and had my answer. Our eyes met and then he slowly lowered his head and his lips touched mine again. This time, he raised no protest as I drew his t-shirt off. We began to move towards his bed, as each article of clothing was removed and flung away. We collapsed naked on the bed, arms and legs intertwined.

6 Stewart

Making love to Marcus was amazing. It was the most wonderful experience I had ever encountered. I had never felt this way about any of my previous partners, so there could only be one reason to account for me feeling this way. Oh bloody hell! Was I blind or had I been kidding myself?

I wish I could say I could identify the exact moment things had changed between us. I wish I could say I knew precisely when it was that Marcus had stopped being just my student, or what he had done to make me feel this way. But I could not. It had been a gradual process, and I had no idea how I had arrived there. All I knew was that he meant a hell of a lot to me. It could be love, or it could not. I was unsure. And that was all I had for the moment.

I held Marcus in my arms as he slept. A fierce surge of protectiveness and possessiveness filled my heart as I studied him. His head was leaning against my shoulder, his hair tickling my chin. He looked young and vulnerable, in odd variance with what I had seen a few hours earlier. He had responded to my every touch, encouraging me, urging me on, and pleading with me to take him. I had refused to let him rush us; steadfastly setting a much slower pace that had had him growling with impatience and frustration. The entire experience had left me totally exhausted and at the same time exuberant. Marcus was no submissive lover and our sexual pleasure had been heightened by his demands and insistence.

I had not been surprised at how experienced he was, but I had been unprepared for his level of assertiveness and confidence. He knew exactly what he wanted and he had no hesitation in letting me know. His mouth and his hands had been sure and masterful, teasing and stroking till I was in a frenzy of passion.

I felt a stirring in my crotch, against where his leg carelessly lay. I touched his warm skin, stroking the inside of his thigh slowly. I suddenly couldn’t wait to take him again.

He opened his eyes, sleepily at first. Then his lips curled and he turned into my chest with a soft moan that set my pulse racing. He lay for a moment as I fondled his firm buttocks, and then I moved my hand lightly over his back. I felt him quiver at the slow sensual touch as I let my fingers do the work; I had learnt what he liked. My hand travelled down again, this time reaching under his ass where his balls nestled. I played with them for a while as I leaned over to claim his mouth.

His lips parted, and I kissed him hard. My tongue slipped in. Slowly, I pushed him back so that I was half-lying on top of him, pressing his body into the soft mattress. My knees pushed his legs apart and I reached down to his cock. It was already hard and waiting.

He arched his back as I stroked him and at the same time nibbled at his nipples. His hands clutched at my head as he moaned and called out my name softly. “Stewart! Oh Stewart!”

I slid down his body and took his erection into my mouth and he cried out sharply. I brought him to the verge of cumming and then pulled away.

“Jesus! Why did you stop?”

“You will come together with me,” I said, beginning to prepare him. “No touching yourself. This time, I am in charge!”

I grabbed a condom from the bedside table, and slipped it on. I lubed him well, and then myself. Marcus lay beneath me, wriggling and moaning and surreptitiously trying to touch his cock, which was still glistening with my saliva.

I slapped at his hand. “I said no!” I admonished, and he groaned. “I will tie your hands up if you don’t obey me, Marcus!”

He immediately gasped and I thought I saw a frantic light in his eyes. Slowly I entered him, feeling him suck me in. He raised his legs so that I could have fuller access, and I felt my penis expand as I was fully seated, my balls coming to rest against Marcus’ butt.

I reached down and touched his cock. It was already leaking pre-cum and I leisurely spread the moisture over his sensitive cock head. He stifled a scream. Ignoring his cries, I began to move my hips, making sure my cock brushed against his sweet spot. Once. Twice. And again.

“Oh God! Yes!” Marcus cried out, meeting my thrusts. “Faster Stewart!”

I moved my hand lazily up and down Marcus’ cock. My pace was determined but measured, sure but unhurried. I watched Marcus thrash about, his eyes spitting fire, pleading desperately.

“Oh God! You are driving me crazy! Go faster!”

“You will learn to accept my pace, Marcus,” I panted. In truth, I was dying to do exactly what he wanted, but somehow I managed to hold back.


I pulled out completely. “What did you say?”

His breath was suspended; he looked up at me in wide-eyed anticipation.

I leaned down and kissed him, full on the lips. It was a bruising kiss and I suspected his lips would be swollen for a while. “Say please,” I whispered in his ear.

“Please ...” he arched his back. “Please ....”

With a grunt, I once again entered him, and he moaned. Oh God, he was so hot and his ass felt so tight. I closed my eyes and began to pick up speed, for I was finding it increasingly difficult to hold back. My hand once again circled around Marcus’ cock as I slammed into him, as hard and fast as he had wanted.

I could feel Marcus bucking desperately below me, straining to shoot his load.

“All right darling, come!” I gasped as I drove my cock all the way in. I felt him jerk, and then he erupted into my hand and all over his stomach. I stilled as I too came, ejaculating into the condom deep inside Marcus.

“Are you all right, darling?” I asked, as I slowly slid out. His eyes were closed but there was a ghost of a smile on his lips.

“I don’t think so,” he replied. “I think I might have died and gone to heaven.”

I disposed of the condom and lay down beside him. “We can’t have that! Was it that good?”

“Oh yeah!” he breathed against my chest. “Better than anything I had ever ...” his eyes flew open and stared at me.

“Its ok,” I said soothingly, understanding the look.

He bit his lip and buried his head into my shoulder.

“What’s that, Marcus?” He had mumbled something into the covers and I didn’t catch it. I turned his face so that I could look at him. “Tell me.”

“I said,” he paused, looking troubled. “I said Christian was the only man ... there was no one else.”

I folded my arms around Marcus and pulled him closer. I had heard enough of Christian’s particular crowd. I knew about their excesses, their orgies and sex games, and I had wondered. I didn’t know if it would have mattered to me if it had been otherwise, but I was glad it wasn’t. I was glad of what Marcus had told me.

“Thank you for telling me.” I planted a kiss on Marcus’ head.

“I wanted you to know.”

“I’m glad you did.”

He looked up shyly. “I guess I should be getting back to my own bed ...?”

I glanced at the clock. “Yes, I guess so. Aimes will be up soon and ...”

Marcus was watching me and when I paused, he looked away. “Okay, that was ... pretty fantastic. Thanks!” His voice had suddenly turned cool.

“Hey!” I grabbed his hand as he sat up and started to get out of bed.

“What?” he avoided my eyes.

I didn’t think ‘thanks’ was what I wanted from Marcus, but the damnable thing about the whole situation was I didn’t really know what I wanted. I struggled for the right words. “It was pretty fantastic for me too.” I said softly but he seemed to brush my words aside.

Marcus’ shoulders were slumped and he bowed his head. That wasn’t how this was supposed to end. We had just made glorious love; we should be pumping adrenalin, overjoyed and happy.

I got out of bed and stood with Marcus, our torsos touching. His eyes were downcast so I tipped his chin up and kissed him. A sweet and gentle kiss. I hoped the kiss would tell him that he was special, that what we just had was not only about sex but something more. Unfortunately, I couldn’t articulate what that something was at that moment. A few hours ago, he had barged into my life without warning, and there had been no time to think or consider how we were to go forward. I had to work out where we stood, and until I did that I could not really commit to anything.

Did I regret what had happened?

I honestly did not. It had been incredible, and it had been hot. But above all, it had touched a part of me which I had not known existed. I wanted to keep on holding him and keep him by my side. I didn’t want him to go back to his own room. But until I could figure out what was between us, we needed to keep up the pretence.

So - definitely no regrets on my part. And all I could do was hope there were none on Marcus’ side either!

7 Marcus

Aimes was alone in the kitchen when I went down. I immediately reached for the kitchen door, meaning to escape. I planned to go out to sweep the back porch and then collect the eggs, as I did every morning, and hopefully avoid all human contact till my nerves were more settled. For once, I was glad Aimes insisted the chores got done before we sat down for breakfast.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Aimes asked.

I stopped. “Huh?”

Aimes pointed at the mug on the counter and I shuffled over. He made me drink a cup of hot cocoa every morning before I began my chores; he said I needed to put on weight and gain some muscles, or I would be of no use to him. So I humoured him.

I drained the cup and left it in the sink where it would get washed later, together with the dishes from breakfast. I took my time outside; being extra meticulous in tidying up the deck and making sure every hen and cockerel had been fed. I actually counted. By the time I went back in, breakfast was already on the table. Stewart was pouring out a mug of coffee and he looked up at my entrance and smiled across at me.

I quickly looked away, feeling a flush creep into my cheeks. I moved towards my chair.

Aimes’ sharp eyes were boring into me. “What’s wrong?”

I looked up in alarm. “What? Nothing’s wrong!”

“Then why are you holding those eggs in your hands? Unless you plan to have raw eggs for breakfast, put them into the basket!” Aimes snapped.

I flushed even more.

“Here, pass them to me.” Stewart came forward, hands outstretched.

I froze. Staring at the eggs in my hands, I held them out as Stewart gently collected them. I sat down in my chair, aware of Stewart’s eyes on me, a questioning look in them. Thankfully, Andrew bounced into the room, all bright and cheery.

“What’s for breakfast? Ooh ... my favourite pancakes! Oh, Ryan loves pancakes too. Maybe we should keep some for him.”

“He won’t get here before lunch, Andrew,” Stewart told him.

“Well, can we go into town to wait for him then? He will have to pass through, won’t he? I can get him to stop to pick me up, and we can ride in together. Can I?” Andrew asked eagerly.

“Well, I was planning to go into town to pick up something as well.” Stewart turned to me. “Marcus, would you like to ride in with us? That is if Aimes can spare you.”

I felt an unreasonable rage consume me. Ride in with them? What was I? A tag-along? They were riding in together and I was invited to follow them? Did I look like I needed a prize for being good? Folding my lips together, I kept silent and tried to ignore the question.

Aimes grunted and shrugged. “I’ll give you a shopping list and I’ll call Matt to put up the order in advance. You just have to pick up the stuff from the grocery store when you are ready to return.”

“Ok, sure,” Stewart said, his eyes still on me. “Well, Marcus?”

Darn it! There was no way out. I would have to acknowledge the question after all, which I did by saying extremely politely, “Um, no thanks. I’ll pass.”

Stewart looked surprised. “Don’t you want to come?”

“No. You two have a great time in town!” I hoped my voice came across as casual and cheerful, instead of sarcastic and sour.

Stewart was beginning to look grim and it made my stomach clench. But before he could say anything, Aimes chimed in. “Since you don’t want to go, you can help me clean out the games room instead. We need to get the place habitable by next week when every bed in this place will be needed. The place hadn’t been vacuumed in a while.”

“Sure,” I said loudly, getting to my feet. “I’ll finish clipping the hedges this morning, and then I’ll get to the vacuuming.”

Aimes nodded his head solemnly, while I hurriedly placed my dishes into the sink and quietly left through the kitchen door, pointedly ignoring Stewart even though I knew he was trying to catch my eye. Once I was out in the back yard alone, I heaved a great sigh and thought I might burst into tears.

Fuck! I thought to myself. Great way to spoil a perfect friendship. And all for what? A one-night stand? A casual fuck? No doubt it had been a pretty good fuck, but still ... all it had gotten me was a chaste little goodbye kiss before I was sent back to my room. As if I had to be tucked away before the sun came out.

Gloomily, I collected the gardening tools and started to trim the hedges. My mind was miles away and I jumped when I heard someone behind me. I glanced back and snapped, “What do you want?”

Andrew jammed his hands in his pockets and struck a pose. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he asked.

“Get lost. I’m working.” I went on clipping, ignoring him totally.

“We had a perfect morning planned and you had to go and spoil it!”

God, that whine grated on my nerves. I considered hurling the clippers at him. “I don’t know what you are talking about. Go away and stop bothering me!”

He didn’t budge an inch. Instead he took a step closer. I dropped the clippers, straightened up and turned to face him.

“I am not the one stopping you from going into town with Stewart,” I said frostily.

“Well, for your information, Stewart has decided to call it off!”

“He has? Well, then good!” I said, feeling sadistic pleasure.

“You are so selfish!”

“Go to hell. How in the world did you work that out?”

“You knew why I wanted to go into town. To meet Ryan. But you had to spoil it for me. You had to throw a tantrum!”

“What?” I exclaimed. “I did not!”

“Oh yes, you did. You were so transparent; everyone could see that.”

I was mortified. Did Stewart think that as well? Was that why he cancelled the trip to town? I felt my face burn with embarrassment. Not quite knowing how to deal with it, I turned it into fury and directed it at Andrew. “Fuck you, moron!” I retorted.

“I am not a moron!” Andrew’s face darkened. “You don’t have to be so rude!”

“I will be anything I want to be. Moron!” I deliberately threw that jab at him.

“Stop calling me that!”

“Make me!”

And that was how we both ended up on the ground. I felt a fist connect with my jaw and my head was thrown back. Grabbing blindly, I touched soft hair and I yanked hard. I heard Andrew scream out loud and I took the opportunity to swing my fist into his mouth.

I managed to scramble out from under Andrew and was about to land another punch at him when I felt my arms pinned and I was dragged to my feet.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” I was given such a hard shake, I would have fallen if not for the hands holding me. I spun around and encountered the furious eyes of Aimes.


My head shot up and I saw Stewart running towards us. I wanted to rush into his arms but Aimes was still holding on to me and by then I had seen the look in Stewart’s eyes and I changed my mind. Andrew was sobbing quietly on the ground, and Stewart bent over him immediately.

“Andrew!” His voice was infinitely gentler than the way he had called out my name. “Honey, can you sit up? Let me see where you are hurt.”

I winced as I watched Andrew struggle to a sitting position, the blood trickling freely down his chin. It looked pretty bad. Stewart gently wiped the blood off with a handkerchief and examined Andrew’s face carefully. He looked up at Aimes and said he didn’t think there was anything broken. I wasn’t sure if I was glad to hear that.

I felt Aimes’ glare and I muttered. “I didn’t hit him all that hard!”

Aimes swung me around and swatted me swiftly on my bum. “You are in serious trouble, my boy, and it would be wise for you to watch your mouth!”

My eyes burned at the reprimand. “He hit me too!” I cried out, stung by the injustice. “He came out here and he hit me too!”

Stewart had helped Andrew to his feet and he now turned to me, his face seriously grim. “That’s enough! I don’t want to hear another word from you, Marcus! Go inside the house and get yourself cleaned up right now. I’ll be with you shortly.”

I could not decide if I was more angry or hurt at his tone. Words failed me – but since Stewart had banned me from speaking, it was just as well! My eyes filled with tears and I quickly turned around, not wanting anyone to see them.

I felt extremely sorry for myself as I headed back. I had been punched too, and my jaw was hurting like hell. But no one paid any attention to me! They were all only concerned about Andrew. Sniffling quietly, I trudged into the house and went into the bathroom as instructed. I turned the tap on and began to wash my hands and bathe my face. I then leaned against the sink and had a good cry.

8 Stewart

I didn’t allow Andrew to make too much of a fuss. His lip was rather badly cut but apart from that, he was not hurt anywhere else. “It’s just a cut, Andrew,” I said calmly.

“He almost knocked out my teeth.”

“Stop exaggerating!” I said. “Put some pressure on the cut, like this.” I moved his fingers to press the handkerchief against the cut. “You’ll be fine once the bleeding stops. There, better?”

“Yeah ...” Andrew said reluctantly, a few tears still leaking from his eyes. He had the most remarkable talent for looking pathetic. “Ryan’s going to be really upset about this!”

“I can assure you he certainly will be. So what were you doing out here, Andrew?”

“I just came out to talk to him,” Andrew replied innocently.

“Oh really? Why? What did you say to Marcus?”

“I ... asked him why he didn’t want to go into town with us. That’s all! Then he got mad, and started to call me names. I didn’t start the fight ...” Andrew was extremely convincing and I just didn’t have time to deal with him. I needed to go to Marcus.

I directed a look at Aimes, and he gently pushed Andrew towards the house, saying “You can tell Ryan all about it since he will be here shortly. We will leave him to decide how he wants to handle this.”

“What?” Andrew exclaimed, pulling away from Aimes. “I shouldn’t be in trouble.”

“You think not, Andrew?” I asked, a little severely.

He had the grace to blush. “But I don’t want Ryan to be mad at me,” he wailed.

“A bit late,” I said heartlessly.

“I haven’t seen him in weeks! I don’t want to start off with him being mad at me! Pleeeease ...”

I sent another look of appeal at Aimes. He responded at once by tugging on Andrew’s arm. “Come along, you best get yourself cleaned up before Ryan arrives.”

I watched them disappear into the house and then took a deep breath before I went in search of Marcus. Too many things were happening between us in this short period of time; before we had a chance to stabilize our feelings, we found ourselves thrown into yet another set of dynamics. I had to remind myself Marcus was so new at this. I was sure it was confusing hjim and that would have accounted for his ill-temper and bad behaviour, but it in no way excused the fighting. Any sort of physical violence was severely frowned upon by the Fraternity, and Marcus was about to find out exactly what that meant.

I found him in the bathroom behind the kitchen, examining his jaw. I went in without knocking and our eyes met in the mirror; his half defiant and mine completely sombre. We had a serious issue to discuss and I had a responsibility as his sponsor to get a message across.

Despite myself, I felt my heart soften when I saw his woebegone face. “Here, let me take a look.” I reached for him.

Marcus twisted out of my hands and turned his face away. “I’m fine!”

“Let me be the judge of that,” I insisted and he stayed still as I ran my fingers over his face. He kept his eyes shut but I heard a little hiss escape from his lips when I touched his jaw. I longed to fold him to my chest and hold him tight – it was a purely physical urge. He had that kind of effect on me. But I managed to say instead, in a business-like tone. “It’s going to bruise but you’ll live. Are you hurt any where else?”

He gave a tiny shake of the head.

Still holding his chin, I asked softly. “Whatever possessed you, Marcus?”

His eyes flashed. “He started it. He came out looking for me. Why is everyone only mad at me?”

“Oh Andrew is in as much trouble as you are, believe me.” I told Marcus calmly. “But right now I am only interested to talk about you. What happened?”

“He ... he ...”

“Go on.”

“I can’t remember exactly,” Marcus’ eyes dropped.

“I see. Well, it really does not matter that much – Fraternity rules are non negotiable and fighting amongst Fraternity members is, and always will be, forbidden. Regardless of reasons or provocation.” I put emphasis on the last part.

Marcus pounced on my words. “Well, I am not a Fraternity member, am I?” He sounded bitter.

“Is that of any consequence, Marcus? You may not be a member officially, but you are nonetheless here with us, so you are subject to the same rules. Have you forgotten you are here under my charge? You are MY responsibility and therefore accountable to me, as I have explained countless times!”

There was a glint of tears in Marcus’ eyes. I didn’t think the rebuke had been that severe so why was he so distraught?

He drew in a shaking breath and his next words cut me to the core. “Is that why you let me sleep with you last night? Is that part of being YOUR responsibility?”

“What?” I was thunderstruck. “What are you ...?”

A sob rose to his throat and his voice broke as he pushed past me. “Let me go!”

I caught his wrist before he could run away, and with a powerful yank, pulled him back. I slammed the door shut.

“Come back here!” I ordered. I couldn’t believe Marcus had said that. For a moment, I was so angry that I didn’t trust myself to speak. He had done nothing but try my patience the entire morning. He had pointedly avoided and ignored me, and every gesture of mine had been rejected. If he was trying to make me lose my temper, he was getting damn close to his goal.

“Is that what you think?” I could not disguise the hurt in my voice, nor did I want to. “That last night was just a casual fun fuck? My God, Marcus, part of my responsibility?” I almost spat the words out.

He was trembling too but he remained stubbornly tight-lipped. I was about to blast him some more when I saw the look on his face as he turned to me and my anger sharply subsided, replaced instead by frustration and to a certain extent, remorse. How the hell did I let it get this far off the track?

“Well you’re WRONG!” I looked straight at Marcus. “Last night was very special to me.”

Marcus wiped the back of his hand across his nose, in a boyish and annoying manner, sniffling noisily, obviously pretending he hadn’t heard what I said.

I stepped closer and turned his face up with a firm hand so that I could look at him. “Look at me Marcus. Did you hear what I just said? Last night was very special to me.”

There was a long pause, and then Marcus stammered. “It w-was?”

“Yes, it was!” I said, my voice still shaking with emotion. Marcus shrank from me and I made an effort to control my tone, saying much more quietly, “You are very special to me, Marcus.”

Marcus sucked in his breath and his eyes fluttered. I thought I saw disbelief flare in them, followed a moment later by something gentler, maybe relief or maybe hope.

I leaned down and let our foreheads touch, my hands going around his waist. He let me hold him close and I felt him shiver. I whispered close to his ear. “Actually, I have a confession to make. Last night ... well, I have ... never ... felt that way about anyone before.”

His knees bent and he crumbled against me, with an undignified sob. He clung to me as I rocked him, shedding a few more tears on my shoulder. “I thought –“

“You made it quite obvious. Your behaviour this morning was appalling.” I said without much heat.

He replied in a small voice. “I’m sorry for being so stupid.”

“You weren’t stupid, but you were a total Brat.”

Marcus flushed and hung his head. “A Brat?”

“Yes, most definitely a Brat. Complete with temper fits and tantrums. Well, let me make it clear now that such tactics, no matter how subtly done, are not permissible. No self-respecting Top would accept it and I for sure would not. I don’t expect to see that again, is that clear?”

“Yes sir.” The voice was softer still.

“Remember, it would be much better for you to tell me than to sulk. That hardly ever prospers. We talk things over when something is not right. We don’t brood about stuff. Keeping silent and feeling sorry for yourself will only lead to an unhappy ending.”

Marcus listened, his face earnest. He was full of attention, listening to every word I was saying, so I took the opportunity to continue. “This is one of the hardest lessons for our Brats. They learn this easily enough but then they forget. And we have to reinforce this lesson over and over again.”

“I didn’t mean to behave so badly this morning,” he apologized. “I am really sorry.”

“Apology accepted. You will know better next time.”


Marcus shuffled his feet awkwardly. “I guess I should go back and finish the hedge?”

I shook my head. “No Marcus. That can wait and we are not done yet! I am taking you upstairs where we are going to finish this discussion.”

I saw his eyes open with alarm. “D-discussion?”

“Come!” I reached for his hand firmly, giving him no room to protest. I felt a moment of hesitation before his hand clasped tightly around mine, and together we left the bathroom.

9 Marcus

To be honest, I knew where this was headed. Stewart was a Top and there was no question about how he would react over a senseless fight, which was exactly what it was. It was as much in his nature to take charge and deal with it as it was in mine to fly off the handle without thinking things through.

I followed him timidly up the stairs. I had no idea where Aimes or Andrew were but I was glad we did not run into either of them; I would have died of embarrassment if they had seen me being marched up to my room like a naughty kid. I went obediently – after all, I had been at fault and had behaved badly; I would accept whatever Stewart decided I deserved (gulp). I did baulk a bit when he stopped at the closet on the upstairs landing. He pulled it open and I tried not to look inside. Stewart paused for a moment, and then he selected a small paddle from the collection in there. I heaved a small sigh. I had peeped into that closet days ago when I was supposed to be dusting the furniture, and my eyes had nearly popped out. I guess this was where all the Tops kept their ... um implements? Was that what they call such things?

Stewart once again took my hand and walked me to my room. When he closed the door, I felt the hairs on my arms and neck stand. How do I explain it ... it felt as if the door of doom had closed in on me. Was I being over dramatic? I didn’t think so at all!! There I was with a very stern and determined Top, and a paddle. What the fuck else should I feel? I had learned enough about The Code and The Fraternity, and all those rules that I had to obey, to know I was IN TROUBLE and I was about to get a taste of the famous discipline sessions I had heard so much about because I had broken a major rule. I wouldn’t be human if I weren’t freaked!

My palms got clammy.

But besides the panic, there was another weird sensation that settled over me when Stewart led me in. I mean, here was the guy I thought the world of, taking my hand in such a possessive and masterly fashion. I reacted to that; honest to God I felt as if I BELONGED to him. Never mind what was about to happen, it just felt terribly nice to be held so firmly.

The fact that we were standing in my bedroom also made me feel kinda tingly. Possibly that wasn’t the best way to describe it, but being in my private domain with Stewart made me slightly giddy. I really did take a moment to enjoy our close proximity again, being so close to him in my space.

Alas, that moment did not last very long.

Stewart looked stern as he delivered a short but extremely effective lecture on fighting, which unfortunately I totally agreed. It was a stupid fight. He left me speechless and squirming. Now that I had no anger to hang on to, I felt horrible and my eyes smarted with unshed tears. I didn’t want Stewart mad at me.

Stewart didn’t waste too much time talking. As soon as he saw that he had got his message across, he sat down on my bed and pointed to the spot on his right.

I had known what Stewart was going to do and yet I was totally unprepared and it still shocked the hell out of me. I didn’t think too much though, I was too scared. I just followed orders and did what I was told in a haze, eager not to draw further displeasure on my head. My mind remained frozen as he positioned me. Thank God this was not the first time he had seen me naked. Still I felt the blood rush up my face as he reached for my jeans. I had undressed in front of him the night before without the least embarrassment, and now I almost died as his fingers unbuttoned me and drew my fly down.

I held my breath but he left my underwear on as he pulled me over his lap. Thank God he left me that sliver of dignity. I closed my eyes, waiting for the first smack, which came pretty quickly and knocked the breath right out of me. It wasn’t so much the pain – not at first anyway – but the shock of being spanked over the knee by Stewart. He punctuated his smacks with a few cryptic remarks, to which I responded with a series of ‘yes sirs’ and ‘no sirs’. My backside warmed quickly, and then to my utter discomfort, he hooked my underwear in his fingers and drew them down to my thighs. Which left me utterly bare and exposed.

He shifted his legs; I felt myself being tipped further forward even while he gripped me tighter to his stomach, steadying me. I remembered thinking how ridiculous it felt actually, to be held like this, and I felt a sudden and bizarre urge to giggle. I stopped myself, and just in time too as I felt him pick up the paddle and then there was no question of giggling whatsoever. All I could do was yell desperately out loud, and focus on trying to draw enough breath to yell again. I learned how deceptive looking that paddle was as it burned a trail on my bottom. If I thought Stewart would go easy on me for my first spanking at his hands, then I was mistaken. He laid each swat down firmly and swiftly and there was a hell of a difference between his hand on my cotton-covered bottom versus wood on my bare bottom. Who would have thought that tiny little paddle could deliver such evil and powerful results?

I had of course been spanked before but never like that. When Christian had done it, I had been filled with rage and rebellion. I hated the fact that Christian punished me without my consent even though Christian’s spankings had been far less severe. But it had not felt right. It had never been about me, it had been about what satisfied Christian. This was so different. Stewart didn’t ask for my permission either but I didn’t feel as if I had been treated unfairly, it didn’t feel wrong. Heck, it burned a whole lot more but I didn’t feel as if I had been abused.

Thank God the paddling was over quickly. It had been horrible but I felt only relief when it was over. I was crying bitterly by the time Stewart finished, but without any trace of disgust or rage. There was no resentment, only the fervent hope that Stewart would hold me. Which he did, after he helped pull my underwear back up. We didn’t bother with my jeans.

Nestled in Stewart’s arms, that was when it all started to make sense to me. I had run from Christian and his unreal world of excessive money and complicated sex, straight into the arms of Stewart and the Fraternity, with their structure and strict rules on conformance. My backside was still blazing with pain, but there was no panic and I felt incredibly cared for in Stewart’s arms. The chastisement was over and I felt I had been forgiven. It had been about discipline and structure, not power and abuse. It was about improving and moving on, not subjugation of will.

I sighed with regret as I felt Stewart disengage my hands from around his body. I was beginning to enjoy touching him and was contemplating rubbing myself up against him. He tipped my face up and leaned down and kissed me gently.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

I nodded, hoping I was looking pitiful enough to elicit a few more moments of sympathy.

“Have I made it clear enough about fighting, Marcus?”

Had he ever? Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I nodded again.

“Good!” Stewart dropped a kiss on my head and stood up, transferring me onto my bed. “Why don’t you take a nap? You look beat.”

I wanted to reach out to him but suddenly felt bashful. He had said I was special and that last night had been special too. I wished he would stay and we could talk some more about that but it felt too pushy - much like fishing for compliments. Well! Some private time alone may not be so bad after all; I needed to think.

Stewart threw me a very nice smile as he picked up the horrid little paddle and left the room. I lay down and quickly turned onto my stomach, snuggling into my pillows. I reached back to rub at my backside and found it rather comforting. Mostly because the sting was no longer unbearable and also because it felt as if some part of Stewart still clung to me.

Closing my eyes, I even managed a smile as I pictured myself draped over Stewart’s lap.

10 Stewart

Aimes was just pouring hot coffee into two mugs as I entered the kitchen. He looked up and nodded towards the kitchen table, and then he brought the coffee over.

“First time?”

I sipped the scalding liquid. “Yes. I think he was a bit shocked. Totally unprepared of course.”

Aimes’ brows drew down and he looked curiously at me but did not say anything. I didn’t really expect him to. I knew he couldn’t quite place my relationship with Marcus but he wouldn’t pry and would wait for me to tell him when I was ready.

“What have you done with Andrew?” I asked.

“I cleaned him up and left him in his room.”

We sat together for a while, just sipping coffee. There were a few people with whom I could sit around without saying anything much and Aimes was definitely one of them. We were totally comfortable with one another’s silences and often all that was needed was a look for us to understand what the other was thinking. We hadn’t known one another all that long – not as long as I had known Philip, but what was between us transcended time.

Aimes was about to refill our mugs when we heard the screech of tyres. I got up as Aimes turned to fill the kettle. I knew Aimes wouldn’t come out to greet Ryan. In fact, as more and more members arrived, Aimes would get more withdrawn and quiet. It was not because he didn’t welcome them or like their company but more because he was a naturally reserved person. When the house was full, he would usually hang in the background and be a silent participant till he couldn’t stomach any more and then he would slip away softly. I had come to respect and accept Aimes as a fiercely private and reticent man, and I knew exactly why he had learned not to trust too easily.

I left him in the kitchen and went to the front door. Ryan waved as he came to a stop and I saw his eyes dart around.

“Hey Ryan!” I called out as I went forward. “Been a while – how are you keeping?”

We exchanged pleasantries for a while but I finally took pity on him and said, “Andrew’s in his room.”

He raised his eyebrows, almost fearfully. “Ah. Is he ... in trouble?”

I grinned at him. Ryan was a good and kind Top but he had too healthy a dread of trouble, especially those of his Brat’s makings. “Aimes and I found him struggling on the ground out back, with Marcus, another Brat we have here.”

“Fighting?” Ryan’s voice held a note of chagrin. “Is he hurt?”

“Just a cut or two, nothing major,” I reassured him.

He looked concerned. “I better go to him – I suppose he’s confined to his room?”

“Yes. We thought it would be best to let him calm down a bit. We left him for you to deal with.” I laughed at his expression.

“Thank you!” He grimaced and shook his head ruefully. “I didn’t think the first thing I would do after being away for a month was to discipline him.”

“I am sure he didn’t want that either! But it’s not anything major and he is already very sorry.”

Ryan sighed. “I am sure he is.”

“Have you eaten?” I asked as Ryan grabbed a bag from his back seat.

“I was hoping to catch a bite with Andrew.”

I nodded. “Go and deal with your Brat and I’ll alert Aimes; both of you can come down for a late lunch.”

Together we walked into the house. I did feel a little sorry for Andrew; he had been rather patient and had behaved relatively well, considering all points. I thought a good word from me was not out of place. “Well, in his defence, he had missed you very much and that could have been one of the reasons which prompted the fight. He had wanted to ride in to town to meet you but Marcus had other ideas.”

“Who is Marcus?” Ryan asked. “I don’t recall any announcement of a new member.”

I could see that question popping up quite a lot in the next few days. “He is here under my sponsorship,” I said as casually as I could. “He is not a member at the moment. I know it’s a departure from our rules but both Philip and I have the power to waive that irregularity.”

Ryan shrugged off my explanation. “I don’t question what you and Philip decide; it’s perfectly fine with me. I am sure you have good reasons. Where can I find Andrew?”

I pointed him to the right door and he gave me a mock salute before proceeding slowly up the stairs. There was a loud screech as the door opened, and then it was hastily shut and silence prevailed. I imagined there would be some catching up to do before Ryan got down to business.

I helped Aimes put together a quick lunch of cold meats and bread, and we refreshed the pot of coffee. We were just about done when the muffled cries came from above stairs. Aimes went on with the washing up impassively, but we stopped talking for a while. No matter how often we heard it, or how prepared we were, it still was never easy when we had to witness or hear one of our Brats get punished. Their anguish was all too real, and though we believed strongly that it was the best way of handling disobedience or misbehaviour, it did not mean we were totally immune to their distress.

A shadow passed by the kitchen door and I looked up quickly. “Marcus?” I called out.

“Yes?” came a small voice, while the owner was hidden from sight.

“Come here, Marcus.” I said, voice low. Another yelp wafted down from upstairs, barely audible but there was no mistaking what it was.

After a second, Marcus appeared in the doorway, looking pale and a little panicked. His hair was dishevelled; obviously he had just woken up. “I ... um ... I am going out to finish the hedge. Is that ok?”

“That’s fine.” Aimes replied coolly.

Marcus’ eyes flitted to mine and I began to reach out to him. “Marcus ...”

He looked past me at Aimes’ back and blushed. He stepped back, and winced as another yelp was heard. “I’ll be outside,” he murmured, and then quickly disappeared.

I hesitated; anxious to go after him yet strangely hesitant. I could imagine how spooked he would be, hearing Andrew’s cries right after his own spanking. Shit! I thought to myself. If it had been any other Brat, I would not have hesitated. I would have simply taken him and given him a hug or ... something .

“They’re done,” Aimes said as he wiped his hands. It took me a moment to realize he meant Ryan and Andrew, and not the dishes. He hung up the kitchen towel and looked at me. “I’ll go help Marcus.”

“Yeah, okay.” I had never felt so self-conscious before. I chided myself sternly, gave myself a hard mental shake and my voice stopped Aimes before he went out the kitchen door.

“Wait! I’ll go help Marcus instead, Aimes. He looked shaken. I’ll ... ah ... I want to see if he’s ok.”

Aimes shrugged. “Sure.”

I quickly slipped out of the kitchen and headed to the back. Marcus was working mechanically with a pair of shears, face wooden, when I approached him. He stopped and looked at me, as a sudden shy smile began to spread on his face. “Hi,” he said.

I saw a spare pair of shears and picked it up. “Need any help?”

He looked down the length of hedge. “Well, you can start from that end if you want. Then we can meet in the middle?”

I smiled at him. “Sounds good. Meeting in the middle.”

He flushed. “Just make sure you don’t cut too low – we need to get the same height as my part here,” he instructed.

“I’ll try!”

He heard the teasing note in my voice, and he grinned. He resumed the snipping and I walked slowly over to the other end of the hedge and started to snip as well. I looked over at him a few times but he kept his eyes averted and seemed totally absorbed in his task.

After a few minutes, I stepped back to look at my handiwork.

“Keep going!” he said, solemnly. He cast me a look, a pretty good imitation of Aimes’ glare.

I grunted.

We worked silently, and I picked up speed. Soon we were almost back to back.

“We should be done in a bit,” I said.

He didn’t reply.

“How about we pack up some sandwiches and head out to the pond?” I suggested softly.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his head jerk and the slight stiffening of shoulders. I stopped and waited for his response. He turned his head to look at me, a warm glow in his eyes.

“I would like that very much!”

11 Marcus

I think that was one of my best days – ever! Yeah, I got spanked; that was a bit of a sucker. But when I recalled how Stewart had held me after the spanking, I didn’t care. Plus the picnic with him afterwards more than made up for everything.

The day was exceptionally fine, not too hot with a nice breeze cooling our skins. We laid out a blanket at a spot quite close to the pond so that we could hear the occasional lapping of the water and the shrill cries of birds as they flew low.

Stewart had gone into the kitchen while I cleaned the gardening tools and put everything away. By the time I was done, Stewart had a small basket in his hand and was heading towards me. His smile made me weak-kneed; he had the sexiest smiles ever!

We walked down the path to the opening which led to the pond. Once we were out of sight from the house, Stewart reached for me and we walked hand in hand till we reached our spot. I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Besides the sandwiches, Stewart had also put in a flask of coffee and a couple of apples, so that we had a very nice meal indeed. In truth, it wouldn’t have mattered to me what we ate. All I cared about was having Stewart with me, being close to him, spending time with him.

He pulled me down on the blanket after we’d eaten, and I laid my head on his lap while he leaned against a fallen tree trunk. His fingers played with my hair and I closed my eyes. It felt like we were a ‘couple’ but I wasn’t really sure. We had not really spoken much. But there had been a lot of touching as our bodies brushed against each other and our fingers frequently found their way together.

After a while, he leaned down and kissed me. I responded eagerly. He was such a great kisser and he always left me breathless and light-headed. I was disappointed when he stopped but the day was too perfect to complain. I didn’t want to spoil a single moment of it.

“Can I ask you something?” I said as I snuggled closer.

“Of course!”

“What does a Brat have to do to get a Top?”

I couldn’t have been more direct, in a subtle way. What the heck, I thought. Sometimes one had to take the bull by the horns and just charge ahead.

“The Fraternity is not a matching agency, Marcus,” Stewart said with a laugh in his deep voice.

I blushed. “I know! But shouldn’t all Brats have a Top of their own, eventually?”

“Well, generally Brats would function better if they have their own Tops. However, not all Brats want that.”

Not me! Not me! I yelled silently. I want a Top, and not just any Top. What does a Brat have to do to get through to a stubborn, thick-headed man? I clenched my teeth as Stewart continued.

“Some may prefer to be un-partnered; they may need guidance and correction every now and then – and the Fraternity provides that - but they are perfectly happy and able to function on their own without a permanent or fixed partner.”

“Oh.” I couldn’t keep the disappointment out of my voice.

“It takes time - and if you believe in such things - fate as well, to find a good partner who can understand and fulfil your needs. Not everyone has that luxury. Many Brats go through life without ever finding a Top, and vice versa. Sometimes, they may not even know what they are looking for.”

“That’s very sad.”

“It is,” Stewart agreed. He paused and began to play with my hair again, as if deep in thought.

“Do you think I am one of those who need a Top? A permanent one, I mean. I – I don’t think I function well on my own!”

Stewart regarded me thoughtfully for a moment, a lurking smile in his eyes. “Hmm ... I’m not really sure ...”

“Well, let me tell you – I do!” I sat up and faced Stewart. Time to stop beating around the bush, I told myself. I took a deep breath and decided I needed Stewart to know how I felt. “I know I do, and I know what kind of Top I want.”

He didn’t reply and I found myself blabbering on, unable to stop once I got started. “I need to feel as if someone is looking out for me. I need to belong to someone. I don’t mean someone like Christian – you know I can’t live with him. But this is different. I feel so safe here, especially w-with you.” I felt my face get hot. I couldn’t imagine what he must be thinking, but I had to get it out.

“Marcus.” My name was a whisper on Stewart’s lips.

I quickly added. “Now that I have seen how it works, I think I want to belong to the Fraternity.” I waited with bated breath.

He had such lovely eyes. And they were looking at me so penetratingly, with a mixture of amusement and warmth. I slipped my hand into his and beamed when he tightened his grip.

“I hear you, Marcus, but listen to me for a bit. My plan when I sent you here for the summer was to give you time to think about what you want. I know you were thinking only of running from Christian’s reach when I offered you this job, but I was pretty sure that by the end of summer you would have worked out that you didn’t need to run from the likes of Christian.”

I felt a slight shiver at the mention of Christian and all the memories it invoked. “I know Stewart. I am very grateful for your help.”

“I am glad that I was able to help, but I wasn’t doing it for your gratitude.” He smiled at me.

“Oh? W-what then?”

Stewart let go a long breath before he answered. “Well, you were kinda cute!” Then he got serious. “I wanted to help you because you were a good student with a lot of potential, and it would have been a waste if you dropped out of college. Plus you are a decent person and I hated the thought of you being caught up in something sordid and ugly.”

“Any more?” I prompted hopefully.

He snorted. He didn’t immediately answer and instead pulled me into his arms. I snuggled contentedly against him.

“Do you know,” he asked as he rocked me a little, “how I had to bend the rules to get you here?

“You did?” That sounded promising.

“Oh yes. I had to convince Philip it was the right thing to do. And there was Aimes. And now I’m very glad I did.”

“B-but where does that leave us?”

“Hmm ...”

Oh, he was so maddening.

I heard Stewart sigh and my heart sank.

“Marcus, I think you need to wait a while, at least till end of summer. Give yourself some time to adjust.” Stewart pushed me off his chest and turned me round. “Are you pouting?”

“No!” I said, letting my gaze drop, and I pulled my lower lip in. “So what you are telling me is that I c-can’t join ... or be a member ... “I struggled with the words, feeling rejected and disappointed.

He shook his head. “You’ve only been here a week and you’ve just started to see how we live. I want you to give yourself a chance to fully understand what The Fraternity is about before you talk about jumping in with both feet.”

“How long do I have to wait?”

“I think that by the time you went back to college, you would be in a better frame of mind to know what you really want.”

“What? A whole two months?” I almost screeched.

Stewart smiled. “Marcus, believe me some of our members waited much longer! We are very careful about who we admit – we have to be because we want to make sure their ideals are aligned with ours. We can’t afford to make a mistake. You need to be very sure as well. This is no frivolous act.”

“This is not a frivolous thing for me!” I could hear my voice raise a pitch higher. I didn’t want to get excited but I couldn’t help it. Why couldn’t he see? “I am serious about this and I know what I want.”

Stewart sighed and I felt my eyes start to burn. I had promised myself that I would behave and be good and I didn’t want to upset Stewart or let him see how immature I was. Taking a deep breath, I made myself smile and put on a brave front.

“I’m sorry if I am bugging you! It’s okay, Stewart, I understand what you are saying.”

“Come here!” Stewart ordered, in that voice that made my stomach churn. I couldn’t obey fast enough. I crawled into his arms again and I lay back against him, leaning on his chest. I could have stayed there forever.

“Don’t worry too much about anything right now. Just enjoy our time together, okay? We have the whole summer ahead of us. You’ll get a chance to settle in with the rest of the group. They’ll be arriving in hoards in the next week or so.”

“So we pretend that we ... are ...”

“I think it will be easier – less pressure for you – if you continue with what we agreed upon. You are here under my sponsorship, to help out Aimes for the summer. We will still spend a lot of time together. I don’t intend to let you out of my sight for too long, so be forewarned!”

I felt his arms tighten around me and in spite of what he had said, in spite of the fact that I did not get what I wanted, I was contented. It was enough that Stewart wanted me. I didn’t need him to make me any promises until he was ready. I would be waiting.

“Who’s arriving next?” I asked.

“Philip for sure. Ryan’s already here. Then this weekend probably another few couples and we will be full by next week. Some will leave and others will arrive to take their place. I’ve a schedule in my laptop. You’ll get to meet everyone.”

“What will they all be doing?”

“It’s summer vacation, so most will be here to relax and enjoy. It’s up to everyone to help organize some group activities though Philip and I try to plan ahead. Usually we have picnics, barbeques, and a campfire even. Those are the ‘fun’ stuff. There are a couple who like to hike and camp out.”

“Are there any non-fun stuff then?” I was curious.

“Well, we do try to organize some chats and group discussions on various topics when most of the gang gets here – and I think it will be a great opportunity for you to listen and to ask questions. You won’t be the only one who will be new to all this; there are bound to be members who have come across new situations where they need help with.”

It sounded rather complex and I was suddenly relieved I would have time to learn and absorb it all. I guess Stewart had a point after all about waiting a bit. Just to be sure of my place, I asked again. “I am allowed to join in?”

“Of course!” Stewart said at once and I was reassured. “That’s the whole point of having you here.”

“I see.”

And I did.

12 Stewart

Philip brought with him a mountain of stuff, honking loudly long before he pulled to a stop under the porch. I was helping Marcus separate the colours from the whites in the back room which served as a laundry room when we heard his noisy arrival.

“I think I know who that is.” I smiled over at Marcus. ‘Philip always makes a ruckus when he arrives. Its like he’s finally letting loose, able to break free from whatever shackles he’s been wearing for the past few months.”

Marcus just shrugged and went on folding clothes.

“Come on, let’s go help. I’m sure he’s brought loads of stuff. I heard Aimes give him the shopping list.”

Marcus followed me out, slipping his hand into mine for a moment. I loved the way he did that; my fingers immediately caught his in a firm grasp until he pulled them away as we came out to the hall. We still had not advertised our relationship, preferring to keep it between ourselves for now. This made all the secret hand holdings and stolen kisses all that much more thrilling and exciting.

Aimes appeared from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel. His face was impassive but there was a glint in his eyes which told me he was eager for Philip’s arrival. There were few men Aimes was comfortable with and I was glad Philip was one of them.

“Hey!” Philip called out a greeting.

Marcus hung back as Aimes and I stepped forward. I peeked into his SUV and shook my head.

“I swear one more item and I wouldn’t be able to close the door!” Philip flung his arms around Aimes and hugged him tight. “So how are you doing, Aimes?”

Aimes allowed himself to be hugged, but grimaced when Philip insisted on giving him a kiss on the cheek as well.

“You’re looking well,” Aimes said as he gently pushed Philip away. I had seen Aimes embrace or comfort a Brat when the occasion had called for it, but he was seldom as relaxed with other Tops.

“I am burnt out, Aimes!” Philip complained with a cheeky laugh. “See these black shadows under my eyes? I need sleep!”

“We’ll see about that!” Aimes sounded sceptical. We both knew Philip; his head would be full of ideas and plans and he would execute them with a vigour that would wear out a bunny. He also brought with him an air of excitement and anticipation, as if with his arrival the summer holidays became official. Philip was a different person when he came to Willcott. He shed his work clothes and an invisible skin; he laughed a lot more. His mood was infectious.

Ryan and Andrew emerged from their room, where they had been taking a nap. They were both looking a bit dishevelled and flushed but greeted Philip warmly. I caught Marcus’ eye and we exchanged a knowing smile.

Aimes took one look at the pile of boxes, bags and gear, and took charge. In a very short amount of time, he had the cartons of food despatched to the kitchen, with orders to Marcus to stow the food away. Ryan and Andrew took the additional sleeping bags and stored them in the Games Room, while the files and manuals were placed in the study. There remained only Philip’s own personal stuff.

“Where are you putting me this time?” Philip asked Aimes, picking up his bag.

With Ryan and Andrew in the Games Room and Marcus straightening out the large pantry, there were only the three of us. Since Philip had been assigned to bunk with me, I started to answer when Aimes cut in. “You can take the single room at the end of the left wing.”

I stared at Aimes; that was Marcus’ room. He caught my surprise and returned my look squarely.

“A single room? What luxury!” Philip said cheerfully. “I’ll go freshen up. See you in a bit.”

As Philip ran softly up the stairs, I lifted my brows questioningly at Aimes.

“I moved his stuff into your room this morning,” he said shortly. “Saves all this creeping around after lights out.”

I felt myself flush. “Excuse me?”

“You can stop pretending. Did you think I wouldn’t know what’s happening under this roof?”

“W-what - how long have you known?” I asked.

“Long enough!” Aimes snapped. “How long were you planning on keeping me in the dark?”

He was bristling and I could see he clearly needed appeasing. I tried very hard not to laugh at his severity; it wouldn’t do to rile him up further. More importantly I wouldn’t dream of hurting his feelings. I meekly followed him into the kitchen, half-laughing, half-penitent. I saw Marcus there, engrossed in stacking the pantry.

“Leave those and come here,” Aimes ordered, and Marcus’ eyes widened as he obeyed. Despite my assurances, Marcus still regarded Aimes in the light of an ogre and he tottered between dread of the ogre’s sharp tongue and quiet rebellion against his strict rule. He stopped by the kitchen table, rubbing his palm on his shorts as his eyes jumped from me to Aimes.

Aimes turned to face us as if he was a drill sergeant inspecting his troops, saying in his usual abrupt fashion. “I moved your things into Stewart’s room this morning. Philip’s taking yours.”

I could see Marcus’ shocked expression, as he turned pale and then pink. “What?” he asked faintly.

I went over to him and circled his waist with my arm, holding him firmly and possessively against my side. Marcus flinched self-consciously but didn’t pull away. We were all inclined to be a bit more uninhibited than normal when we met up at Willcott but I had not done more than giving Marcus a quick hug every now and then. That was socially acceptable, given our sponsor-charge relationship. This however was a direct display of intimacy and the first time I had openly held him this way. I was definitely sending a message to Aimes.

“You heard me.” Aimes nodded at Marcus. Then he turned to face me squarely. “I will leave you to explain the arrangements to Philip.”

“I will,” I promised solemnly, giving Marcus a quick squeeze before letting him go.

Aimes narrowed his eyes at my tone, unsure if I was teasing him. I went over to Aimes and gave him a quick hug as well. “Oh come on, Aimes,” I coaxed. “I’m sorry if you thought we were hiding this from you, but honest to God how would you have had me say it?” I was openly laughing by now.

He snorted and rolled his eyes, but his arms returned the pressure of my hug and I knew I was forgiven. There was never any question of that with Aimes; I always expected him to understand, and so far he had never disappointed me.

“Finish up with the pantry, “he barked at us. “We’ll be barbequing tonight and I would appreciate it if you can get the stove ready.”

The BBQ stove was an antiquated chunk of metal which we used only when we were there for the summer, and then extensively. Otherwise, it sat quietly and neglected in a corner of the back porch for nine to ten months, before it was taken out and given a thorough cleaning in preparation for some heavy duty usage. I made a face; it would be a nasty task to scrub the grill clean and make sure it was fit for use. A fitting punishment for our deception I suppose.

“Did you tell him?” Marcus hissed when we went out to retrieve the heavy stove from storage. He gave an eloquent shake of his head towards the general direction of where Aimes was.

“No,” I replied with a laugh. “He figured it out. Don’t ask me how. I have no idea.”

“Is – is he mad?”

“No, of course he is not mad. It’s just a front Marcus.”

“Jeez... could have fooled me!” he shook his head, as he pulled the BBQ stove away from the wall. “Shit!” He shook his head again.

“What?” I asked.

“He scares the shit out of me sometimes.”

“Does he really?” I looked with sympathy at Marcus. I knew how intimidating Aimes could be when he wanted to keep his distance and what effect he had on people, although I had always believed that he had the kindest heart if one only knew how to look. I had thought two weeks would have given Aimes enough time to warm up to Marcus, but those two seemed to rub each other up the wrong way all the time.

“Why is he always so sullen?” Marcus asked as he began to brush dust and leaves from the grill.

“That’s just his way. He’s had a tough life and some things have turned him rather bitter.” I pulled the hose loose. “Stand back Marcus. Let me hose it down first.”

Marcus backed away and looked at me. “What happened? Did he come from a broken home? Was he abused or mistreated by someone? He’s such a grouch!” Marcus rubbed the back of his hand across his face, leaving a black mark on his nose.

I frowned but didn’t answer.

“No wonder he does not have a partner! Who would want him?”

“That is hardly kind, Marcus. You have no clue about his past and you should not be jumping to conclusions and saying unkind things about someone you know nothing about!”

Marcus shrugged, not particularly contrite. “I may not have the facts but I can surmise certain things through the powers of deduction. First of all, he is hardly young, so why does he not have a partner? He is obviously a Top, so why is there no Brat for him?”

I was beginning to be annoyed but I chose to ignore him, in the hope of discouraging him from continuing.

“Probably because no one could put up with his sour looks and sharp tongue.” Marcus was obviously enjoying himself, almost in a world of his own as he answered his own question. “Don’t you think?”

“Stop that,” I said, with an obvious warning tone in my voice. I hoped that would have been enough for a check, but Marcus – despite what he said or thought – was still relatively new at all this and was not adept at picking up Top signals. At least not as adept as I would have wished.

Marcus continued, heedless. “Next, he lives here all year round, all by himself like a hermit, or a fugitive. Why - is he hiding from something, or someone? ”

“I think that is quite enough.”

“No Stewart. There’s more, listen.” Marcus was warming to the theme. “He has no friends. No one ever calls here, he gets no phone calls. I’ve been here a couple of weeks and so far I don’t see him interacting with anyone apart from us. He hardly even speaks with Ryan since he arrived. There must something wrong with him.”

“I said that’s enough.”

This time I got his attention all right, and his eyes snapped up and stared at me. My tone had definitely changed and he heard the message clearly this time. Only he looked as if he didn’t quite know what he was supposed to do to stay out of trouble. I decided to help him out.

“I do not want to hear any more conjectures about Aimes’ life or of his past or why he is what he is. Let him be! It is neither your right nor your place to be constructing his background or his character.”
His eyes dropped. “I was only thinking out loud.”

“In an extremely inappropriate way!” I said sternly.

“I just wanted to share my thoughts with you. I was just curious!”

“Curiosity is no excuse to be making up stories? How would you feel if you knew someone was talking about your personal life, gossiping about you?”

Marcus grimaced. “I wasn’t exactly making up stories ... I was just ...”

“That was precisely what you were doing with Aimes. Gossiping!”

That seemed to hit some nerve and Marcus scowled. “Jeez, I was just chatting ...!” he said, unable to keep the annoyance out of his voice.

I was about to retort when Philip strolled out to the back porch and leaned on the rail, watching us. I wasn’t sure how much he heard but he didn’t say anything.

“You can help, you know.” I invited.

“No thanks. It looks too grimy for my taste. But make sure you scrub it down well before we use it tonight!” Philip chuckled.

I held the hose and swung it at Philip. He jumped nimbly away and laughed. He retired to a safe distance and watched us for a while as we started scrubbing at the metal grille and eventually he got a brush and joined us.

“So Marcus, how are you enjoying your time here?” Philip asked.

“Its ok,” Marcus responded cautiously.

“Just ok?” Philip raised an eyebrow. “Most of us love it up here. I look forward to this get-away every year. Don’t you like the countryside?”

“There’s not much to do except clean and rake and wash and make beds,” Marcus muttered, still out of temper.

“He’ll get a better sense of the place when the others get in. So far, it’s been mostly work for him.” I smiled at Marcus. “It’ll get better, Marcus. We don’t expect to turn you into a drudge. You’ll have some fun soon.”

Marcus flushed and his eyes were warm as they met mine for a brief moment before quickly darting away. My tone was personal and I knew Marcus would react to it, just as he would react to my interest in his welfare.

“The work’s not too bad actually,: Marcus said, looking at Philip and making an effort to be friendly. “Besies, I am paid for it, so it’s a fair deal. I wasn’t bitching about that. I do like it here. This is beautiful country.”

Philip looked pleased. “There’s a calm about this place, isn’t there? It mends your soul. I always feel at peace when I am here.”

“It sure does,” I added. All of us were protective about Willcott and we always felt proud when we heard praises for the place.

Philip and I chatted a bit more about some of the improvements we wanted to put in for the place. With three of us, the job was much easier and went faster. I noticed the sun beginning to set and I said to Marcus. “You’re done here, Marcus. Go clean up inside and see if Aimes needs help with dinner? I’ll finish up here with Philip.”

I wanted to bring Philip up to speed on our situation and needed some time alone with him. It would be hard enough to find private time once the house was full and I thought I might as well get the conversation over with. It had to be done.

Marcus flushed, probably guessing my intention. I could sense his sudden anxiety; he hardly knew Philip and I suppose he had no idea how Philip would react, or if he would get Philip’s stamp of approval.

“Its okay,” I said softly and he nodded his head, looking slightly reassured. He rinsed off his hands and quickly disappeared into the house.

“So – what else is happening here?” Philip asked with a definite twinkle in his eye.

“Well,” I paused, “that room you are in now – well, that used to belong to Marcus.”

Philip looked startled. “What? Aimes threw him out for me? Whatever for?”

I looked Philip squarely in the eye. “You were supposed to bunk with me, but this morning Aimes moved Marcus’ stuff into my room instead.”

It took a moment for Philip to grasp it; and then light dawned and his mouth twisted. “I see – when did this happen? Surely not before you came up here?”

“Of course not!” I said. “There was nothing going on between us before we got here. If you think I got him here for personal reasons ...”

“I don’t think that,” Philip said calmly. “But what of it? You are single, he is unattached. The attraction between you two was obvious right from the start.” He pursed his lips. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”

I snorted. “Well, it didn’t happen that way. Anyway, Aimes worked it out God knows how and I suspect this dirty job is his payback. I should also tell you that Marcus has asked to join the Fraternity, and I have already told him no. At least not now.”

“I would have said the same. He’s not ready!” There was a pause. ‘How serious are you with him?”

It was not a frivolous question, not coming from Philip and not about something like this. Our years together as friends meant we had seen one another through most of our adolescence and suffered through the pangs of our youthful follies. You couldn’t grow up together like that without forming a deep bond. I thought of Philip as an attractive man but our relationship had never been like that. I had a great respect for him and I cared for him but there was nothing amorous in my feelings for him or vice versa.

And so when he asked that question, I took time to reflect before answering.

“I am very fond of him,” I finally said. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”

Philip nodded, and in the falling light, I couldn’t be sure if I saw sadness in his eyes.

“That’s saying something! Take your time and take it easy, Stewart,” he advised. “I don’t want to pick up the pieces if things don’t work out.”

And only Philip would have been able to say that, making me aware of his affection, and grateful for his concern.

13 Marcus

By the weekend, the house was almost full. New people had arrived and I had been busy putting up all the beds. Luckily that was all I was required to do for the new arrivals. It wasn’t that we had to wait on them hand and foot. We (meaning Aimes and I) just had to make sure they had a decent bed to sleep in; the rest was up to them.

The fact that I was bunking with Stewart had become a non-issue by then, although it had been a bit awkward that first night after the BBQ. Andrew had hooted when Stewart took my hand and led me to our room, and he made some sly comments at our expense but he was stopped by Ryan before he became intolerable. I wanted to sock him but smirked at him instead when he got admonished. We hadn’t started off on the right footing, and it was hard to simply switch from one side to the other. I didn’t get to gloat too much though, as Stewart yanked me into the room and then firmly closed the door.

It really was nice not to have to wait till everyone was asleep before one of us snuck out of our rooms, or to have to listen to sounds and sneak around. And it was even nicer when I could have Stewart wrap his long arms and legs around me every night when we went to bed. We made love a lot, every opportunity we had. Morning sex was starting to become a most welcome norm too, but that unfortunately was proving to be rather challenging. I had chores, which started much earlier in the morning than when most of the others got up. Poor Stewart would make the effort to get up with me too, but I thought that was hardly fair on him. It was his vacation – I didn’t see why he had to sacrifice it for me.

Secretly though, I was pleased ....

To the members who arrived, I was simply introduced as ‘Marcus, Stewart’s charge’. No one referred to me as Stewart’s Brat, I thought sorrowfully. Still, I was Stewart’s something; I decided I should be thankful for that.

Sadly though, being Stewart’s something did not save me from Aimes’ tyranny. He still worked me like a mule, insisting I got up the same time as before, and got my chores done like always. You would think he might give me a little slack, now that I had Stewart in the mornings, but of course he was totally heartless and unfeeling. I was convinced if I were late enough, he would likely march upstairs, knock on our door and wake the entire household up.

I felt ill-used, just like a bloody servant, even though I had felt no such thing previously. I didn’t stop to consider what caused the change. But I sure grumbled and complained a lot (albeit quietly) to myself. I made the mistake of raising the volume of my unhappiness one morning, after a particularly spectacular night and while the sleep was still in my eyes.

Aimes promptly swung me around and swatted me. I was wearing shorts and t-shirt and they offered little protection against Aimes’ extremely heavy hand.

“What are you grumbling about, young man?” he demanded. Luckily he didn’t wait for my reply for I had no intention to repeat myself. “You are here to do a job. The fact that you are sleeping with Stewart has nothing to do with the way you carry out your duties.”

I was suitably chastened and immediately felt ashamed. I might have Brat tendencies but I played fair and I would be appalled if anyone thought I made use of my relationship with Stewart to gain favours. Not that I was getting any from Aimes.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered.

“What are you sorry for, honey?” Stewart was standing in the doorway, rubbing at his eyes. He padded into the kitchen, still half asleep. He looked from Aimes to me.

I looked back at him, stricken. I didn’t want Stewart to know I was in trouble with Aimes again – he gets irked enough about our relationship. And it would be even worse if Stewart thought I was complaining about my work or that I had forgotten my place. What kind of a person would I be if I took advantage of him to get out of my rightful duties?

Aimes directed a stern look at me and gestured to Stewart as if inviting him to question me further, and then he let himself out from the kitchen door to the back yard.

I waited till Aimes had gone before I asked, “Why are you up? I told you to sleep in; you don’t need to be up so early.”

“Come here!” His voice was gruff and sexily husky and I almost leaped at him. I went straight into Stewart’s open arms and snuggled for a bit. I laid my head on his broad chest and clung on tightly.

“Why did Aimes smack you?” Stewart breathed into my hair.

Umph ... so he did hear the swat. Damn!

“I was ... just ... I was complaining about having to get up so early.” I finally blurted it out. “Felt like a bloody servant.”

I felt Stewart lean down and kiss my head. I sighed with satisfaction. I loved all his affectionate gestures. I continued haltingly. “It was a stupid thing to say. I was just sleepy, and wanted to snuggle with you in bed instead of coming down here.”

I did sound a bit whiny, but I was hopeful my reluctance to leave him would win me some brownie points.

Stewart sighed and buried his face in my neck. “I’m sorry; I know it’s hard on you. It’s vacation for the members. They come here to unwind and relax and they don’t have to keep to any kind of a schedule, unless we have planned activities. None of them will stay through the summer you know, so they try to get as much out of this as possible.”

I felt even worse. Was I the most ungrateful brat in the world? “No Stewart. I really didn’t mean to complain, or anything!” I protested.

“I know babe. And you are not a servant, nor are you expected to serve anyone! Good Lord, it’s not your job to serve the members. I am very sure Aimes does not consider himself the hired help either. He knows very well he is in charge of this place and of us too! He looks forward to our annual get-together even though it’s so much extra work. Believe me - he will be assigning chores to of us soon. No one is expected to serve anyone; we all take equal share in this place and do our part. You should just consider yourself Aimes’ assistant.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say.

“So - are you all straightened out now?” Stewart tapped my bum lightly and I squirmed against him. The gesture excited me. In a few short weeks, I had found myself responding to different stimulus, and this was one of them. I had often enough imagined myself enjoying the thrill of belonging to someone, but not being under someone’s authority and living under someone’s decree. I had never thought I would like to be ruled, but I did. That felt strange at times. Other times it felt great.

I had hated it when Christian restricted my movements, or controlled me, or when he made me do things against my will. I didn’t like it all that much either when Aimes ordered me around. But I didn’t feel that way with Stewart – quite the opposite in fact. There was still a lot of new ground for us, and I sometimes tested him, curious how he would react. Hell, sometimes I even tested myself, not entirely sure how I would react. So far he had been understanding and patient although there was never any doubt that beneath his gentleness was an underlying firmness, the thought of which occasionally sent a thrill of excitement through me, going straight to my groin though I was not quite sure why.

I lifted my head and Stewart obliged with one of his firm kisses. I could communicate to him my acceptance and obeisance in that way, without having to speak a word, which would have been too hard.

Stewart started the coffee going while I went outside to start my chores. I stood still for a moment, staying on the back porch which had a fine view of the rolling hills behind the house. Some mornings, when the dew was heavy and the air smelled of pine cones, I could almost imagine myself lost in time and space. The picture spread out in front of me was incredibly beautiful; I would carry the memory of the serenity of such mornings with me for the rest of my life. No wonder all of them loved it here so much.

I swept the porch and the yard, fed the chickens and collected the eggs. By the time I came back into the kitchen, it was full. I blinked at the number of people already gathered there, and the noise level filling the room. Besides Ryan and Andrew, three other couples had arrived over the last few days. I didn’t know them that well to join in unreservedly although everyone had been friendly and accepted me easily into their midst.

Scott and Eugene (or Gene, as he was called) were huge men. Scott stood six foot four in his stockinged feet and towered over everyone. He had a deep barrel of a chest and a deep growl for a voice and more than slightly frightened the hell out of me. I stayed clear of him as much as I could. His partner, Gene, was no small man at six feet, but even he was dwarfed by Scott’s massive frame. It had been a joke on where and how to house them. Aimes had said dryly –the first hint of humour from him as far as I could remember since coming to Willcott - that no bed could hold the two of them together. I firmly pushed the images that remark conjured up out of my mind.

Then there was Joshua and Jim, who apparently were the newest members of the group, not counting myself. But then again, I was not a member so I didn’t really need to be counted, did I? It piqued me for a bit. It was an old sore point, I knew that but still it didn’t stop me bitching. I didn’t openly do it though, just thought about it rebelliously and hoped Stewart felt my disappointment through my vibes. No such luck. He went on as normal but he did hold me close when he introduced me to the new arrivals (for which I was grateful) and he was more demonstrative in the last few days than ever before.

It was the first time for Joshua and Jim at Willcott and I enjoyed myself a little showing them round. It gave me such a sense of belonging! I must have sounded too lofty for Stewart’s taste at some point because he caught hold of me and swatted me, rather playfully. It didn’t really hurt but he did warn me not to put on airs. As if I would. Well ... what can I say, it occurred to me I had grown as fond of the place as Stewart and Philip and Aimes, and I wanted to show it off. I was damned proud of Willcott and that I had a place in its story. What was wrong with that?

And the last couple was Curtis and George. They were definitely my favourite! Curtis must be at least fifty years old and George not that far behind. I learned that they were the oldest in age amongst the members, and that they had been together as partners more than twenty years! That was a landmark to me. I felt an immediate liking for this smiling, friendly pair. They were relaxed and amiable and you got the impression when you were with them that nothing was so bad it couldn’t be fixed and nothing could shake them up. I couldn’t really tell which one was the Top and which the Brat even though I observed them closely. Stewart refused to enlighten me, telling me to figure it out myself, and I was too shy to ask anyone else.

George was presiding over the stove when I went back to the kitchen, moving efficiently and looking extremely comfortable in that position. Curtis handed out plates around the table. Just as everyone was getting ready to sit down, Philip strolled into the kitchen, whistling cheerfully and apologising for being late.

Aimes was conspicuously absent.

I had quietly placed my collection of eggs in the basket by the sink and stood awkwardly apart for a moment. And then Stewart came over and handed me a cup of coffee, then pulled out a chair and indicated for me to sit. Soon I had a plate of bacon and eggs in front of me. Someone was pouring juice and toast appeared on the table. Everyone dug in, all eleven of us crammed around the kitchen table.

It was one of the most enjoyable meals I had since arriving. The conversation was easy and interesting as everyone got caught up with one another. News were updated, stories exchanged and sitting there listening to them was terribly satisfying for me. I felt so much a part of the group. I felt as if I belonged.

14 Stewart

I left them to clear up the breakfast things as I headed out. I had not gone ten steps down the path when I heard Marcus’ voice.

“Marcus,” I said, turning around to look at him. “What is it?”

“Can’t I come with you?”

I looked at him. “I told you no, Marcus. Now please go back to the house. I don’t want you wandering around out here alone.”

“But why? What is so secretive about this walk?”

I felt a frown forming on my forehead. “Marcus, I am not about to argue with you. Please do as I say.”

He had that mutinous look on his face, the one I was beginning to become quite familiar with. “Aimes was not at breakfast. Where is he?”

“He’s probably gone for a walk, or he had something to do. Now go on back inside. Please.”

“You are going to him, aren’t you?”

I didn’t want to lie to Marcus, but neither was I prepared to let him drag this out. I chose my words carefully. “Yes, I am. I told you before how reserved he is. When the brood descends, he sometimes needs his space. So he goes off by himself and he will return when he is ready.”

“So why are you going to him then?”

“Marcus, I am not going to debate this with you. Do as I say.” I repeated firmly.

“But I want to come with you.” He insisted, clearly enunciating each of his words as if that would make me better understand him.

I walked back towards him till we were almost touching and said, with one finger lifted and pointing. “One of the things you are going to have to learn about this type of relationship is obedience. And when I say obedience I mean it without the whining and the protests and delaying tactics.”

He still looked unhappy but he kept his tongue still.

I nodded towards the house. “You’ve just earned yourself a two-hour grounding. Go to our room, get undressed and get in bed, and stay there till I come. We will finish this talk when I am back.”

His face fell but after a moment of hesitation, he turned back towards the house. I watched Marcus’ back for a while and when I was assured he would not disobey, I continued on my way. My mind was focussed on Aimes and that was my priority that morning.

One of the things we tell our Tops – especially Philip when he has his sessions with them – was that we must not make the mistake of allowing our Brats to think that the whole world resolved only around them and their needs. We ought to show love and understanding, give them our support in all things, but at no time would we tell them they were our one and only priority. It would be utterly untrue. The world did not behave that way; no one was above the laws of the universe where other people had rights too, and sometimes those people had demands on our time and our attention.

My feet went on auto pilot as I made my way down the slope into a narrow track that took me closer to the woods. Soon the house was lost from sight and an eerie stillness engulfed me. The trees were taller and thicker around this part, seemingly cutting the rest of the world out.

I smelled the woodfire before I reached the cabin. It was more of a shack actually – four sides of timber and a piece of plank which fitted to one panel roughly resembling a door. We called it a cabin nevertheless; at least Philip did. Aimes didn’t call it anything at all. He just came here when he needed to be alone.

He looked up from beneath his frowning brows as I made it into the clearing in front of the cabin. He was crouched on the ground, grilling sausages on the open stove. He always cooked out in the open when he had to cook anything there. It was impossible to cook inside the cabin - there was no ventilation and he would choke to death within minutes.

Aimes’ brow cleared when he saw me.

“Join me?” he invited.

I looked around and picked a tree stump nearby. Lowering myself gingerly onto it, I groaned first before replying. “No thanks. We ate up at the house already. George cooked breakfast.”

“Hmm.” Aimes speared the sausages onto a plate and sat down next to me, on a fallen tree trunk which we had pulled into the clearing two summers ago. “The kitchen better be clean by the time I get back.”

“You don’t need to worry when Curtis and George are in charge of the kitchen,” I said as I looked around. Only Aimes, Philip and I ever came here. I think a lot of the others didn’t know this place existed, or didn’t care once they had taken a look at it. There was really nothing much at all; a rickety shelter in a small clearing in the woods, with a low open stove and a couple of tree stumps and fallen logs for chairs. No running water or electricity. I believe there might be an oil lamp or two inside the shack, but I wouldn’t want to even think about spending a night there. Hardly conducive for anything, except for when one had a desperate need to find solitude.

This place seemed to suit Aimes fine though. I suspected he came even when he was alone up at the house. I peered into the dim shack and thought I saw a couple of bottles of water and a blanket on the single pallet.

“Do you actually stay here sometimes, Aimes?” I couldn’t stop myself from asking, quite horrified at the thought that Aimes would actually sleep here when he had a perfectly good house not far away.

He shrugged and went on chewing, choosing not to answer me.

“The rest will be arriving soon.” I remarked casually. Not that Aimes didn’t already know that. But it was one of our yearly rituals, this conversation we were about to have.

“I am aware of that.”

“It’s a lot more work. I want you to know we all appreciate that. Every one of us!”


“You know, Philip and I worry about you sometimes. Being alone here all year round. You need to get away for a bit.”

“You say that every year. No harm’s come to me yet!” Aimes stated testily.

“I know. But still, its not healthy being here alone for such a long period of time.” I paused. “In the beginning I can understand, but it’s been so long Aimes ...” I let the sentence hang, unfinished. “Isn’t it time to give it another go?”

“I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

Somehow I didn’t put much faith in what Aimes said. I suspected he was humouring me. Still I had to say it. “The invitation is always open. Come to me or Philip if you wish, any time of the year.”

Aimes grunted and I took that as thanks and acknowledgment. End of that conversation. I decided to change tack. “Benjamin will be here on Saturday. You remember Benjamin don’t you?”

Aimes finished his sausages and put the plate down on the ground next to him. “I sure do. Saturday you say?”

“Yep. Saturday. He’s looking forward to it. He’s planning to stay a whole two weeks this time.” I glanced at Aimes from the corner of my eye.

Aimes seemed to ponder on my words for a while before he replied. “Won’t he be bored? Young kid like him, used to city life, fast track and all.”

“He likes the country-side well enough,” I hastened to reassure Aimes. “And he’s not that young. Ben’s almost thirty, he just looks young. He’s a very sensible young man but extremely shy! It’s a good opportunity for him to get to mix and mingle amongst us, socialize a bit. I understand he does not get around much, and is not really out of the closet yet.”

There was no response from Aimes.

“Starchy accountants – what do you expect?” I murmured. “He probably has to be careful or he might lose his clientele.”

“Hardly seems the type who wants to run his own business. Too well-mannered and polite.”

I laughed. “Since when has that been a problem with you?”

“Not me. The world out there.”

“He may be shy but he’s quite tough when it comes to running a business actually. He knows what he is doing. You have no idea what Benjamin’s like away from here!” I could not resist throwing out a lure. “You could visit and find out.”

“I might,” Aimes said crisply, and I looked sideways at him.

“All right,” I conceded with a sigh. “I won’t bug you any more. You’ll let me know when you are ready.”

“I will.”

And I had to be content with that. At least, he did remember Benjamin, and quite accurately too. I had hoped last year the two of them would hit it off. Benjamin was single, shy, quiet, generally a well-behaved Brat. All the right qualities for Aimes. The gap in their ages was admittedly a bit big but not insurmountable. Nothing had developed unfortunately, but I was determined to try my hand at cupid again this year.

We sat together in silence, just listening to the chirping of birds and enjoying the stillness.

15 Marcus

I ran right smack into Philip when I entered the house.

“Whoa! Hold on there, Marcus. Why the rush?”

He held my arms to steady me and I could feel the strength in his fingers. His eyes were warm and smiling, much nicer than I remembered when I had met him at Stewart’s place. Over the weeks, I had grown much more comfortable with Philip. I think he was wary of me when I first crashed at Stewart’s – who wouldn’t be? He didn’t know me, and he already disliked Christian and all that he stood for and I had come straight from there. I must have smelt of all those unsavoury traits that Christian represented.

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

Philip peered into my face. “Now what’s wrong?”

How the hell did they do that – these Tops? They always seemed to know when something was troubling us. I had seen it with the other couples as well. Some were better at it, but generally all the Tops could tell when their Brats were not happy. In fact, when any Brat was not happy, case in point my current situation. I hadn’t even said a word and Philip already was onto me.

“Nothing.” Safe answer.

“Aha.” He didn’t believe me. “Where’s Stewart?”

I shrugged. “Somewhere.”

“Aha.” His eyes narrowed and I felt a tingling in my spine. Philip could be a very formidable Top to some unfortunate Brat, I thought.

“He- he’s out for a walk. Gone to find Aimes.” I found myself blurting out. And then, before I knew what I was doing, I asked. “Can you tell me something, Philip? What is it between them? Stewart won’t say a thing when I ask. He’s so protective. What’s the big secret?”

Philip’s eyes softened. “Why do you think there is a secret?”

“Well,” I paused. “Aimes is so strange. Why is he so unfriendly and cold?” I was going to say mean, but I guess he wasn’t really mean. Just terribly stuffy. To me at least. “He’s so stuffy,” I added.

“He can be sometimes, I know. But you seem to rub him all the wrong way, Marcus. What’s going on between the two of you?”

“What?” I was flabbergasted. Was it now my fault?

“I noticed you don’t always like it when Aimes gives you a task to perform. We agreed to have you here for a summer job, didn’t we? And your job is to help Aimes. So why the bother and resistance?”

I flushed. “I ...”

“You think about it, okay?” Philip said, with a slight twinkle in his eye which kinda comforted me. I didn’t want him to think I was shirking my duties or taking advantage of Stewart. After Stewart, I cared the most for Philip’s opinion.

I nodded my head.

Philips patted my arm and said, “And you might want to ask Stewart to tell you about Aimes. Ask him nicely. Might make you understand better. Hmm?”

Philip left and I headed to the kitchen. It seemed much less lonely than our room. Scott and Eugene were there, busily poring over something at the kitchen table. Ryan and Andrew were looking over their shoulders, while Curtis, George, Joshua and Jim were on the back porch, chatting. It was rather cosy, seeing the place filled up like that.

I walked to the coffee machine and poured myself a cup, then sidled over to the kitchen table. Eugene looked up at me and smiled. We hadn’t spoken much, but I smiled back. I did not want to interrupt the group, so I quietly sipped the hot black liquid as I watched Scott making up a list. I gathered soon enough that he and Eugene were planning to go camping and they were preparing what to bring. There was already an assortment of gear on the floor near the back door, neatly stacked. A couple of heavy-duty backpacks stood ready. All very professional looking.

“You ever been camping before?” Eugene asked and suddenly all eyes were on me.

I blushed, then stammered, “N-no.”

“Ask Stewart if you can join us some time then,” Scott said with a friendly nod.

I stood quite still, not sure how to answer. It was nice to be asked, to be included, but it also seemed strange that I would need to ask for permission just to go camping. And stranger still that someone I hardly knew would tell me to do that.

“He wouldn’t be able to take this trek,” Eugene said thoughtfully, looking me over.

Scott laughed and the deep rumble seemed to fill the entire kitchen. “We would plan an easier route than this. We anticipate some tough hiking this time though, so we won’t ask you to join us, Marcus. Not many would enjoy this trek, except maybe Ryan. But if you are interested, we can do it another time. We want to make it to Glory Peak and back within two days to be in time for the weekend gathering.”

I remembered from previous conversations that they were planning to hold some sort of club meeting that weekend, after a few more people were expected to arrive. I couldn’t imagine how everyone would fit in. Already the kitchen table was overflowing when we all sat down to eat. We would have to split into groups and make use of the more formal dining room outside.

“I am pretty sure we would be able to do it,” Eugene said, his voice eager and excited. “We’re almost ready to go, aren’t we?”

“Yes Gene,” Scott said softly, his hand reaching out to touch his partner on the hip. “Go grab an extra blanket, in case the weather turns.”

Gene disappeared and Scott began rolling up his map and his checklist. He glanced over at me. “In case we leave before they get back, will you tell Aimes and Stewart where we’re headed? We’ll be back by Friday, Saturday morning latest. We should be back in good time for the weekend gathering.”

“Okay, sure.” I backed away as Scott walked past to the supplies. He began to put the rest of the stuff into the backpacks, tying those which wouldn’t fit to the handle-straps.

“Last chance, Ryan,” Scott looked up at Ryan and winked.

Ryan laughed and pulled Andrew in for a quick hug. “Andrew will never forgive me.”

Andrew held on tight to his Top. “No chance of that happening. I am hanging on to you so you’re not disappearing from me again.”

I thought I would puke. Since the fight, Andrew and I had not really spoken. He had been so wrapped up in his precious Ryan it was sickening. Well, he had sickened me all along, whining and moping over his missing Ryan. I had thought he would be less clingy and irritating once Ryan arrived but he was even worse. How Ryan could put up with him was beyond me. How Stewart could put up with him was REALLY beyond me.

It didn’t take Scott and Gene long to get ready and soon they were gone. The house seemed a lot less crowded suddenly. Ryan and Andrew disappeared into their room, and finding myself alone, I slowly went up the stairs to the bedroom Stewart and I shared, deep in thought. I felt for no reason out of place. Everyone else had something to do. Or someone to be with. Except me.

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew I was waking up with a warm body next to mine.

“Hello sleepy-head.” Stewart leaned down and kissed my cheek.

I stretched languorously – there was something about a mid-morning or mid-afternoon nap which gave you the feeling of absolute luxury. As if you had stolen time off clandestinely. I turned and buried my face in Stewart’s chest, still half-asleep, inhaling and enjoying the smell of him. I sighed with pleasure when I felt his hand rub my back. I wished the moment would go on forever. It was almost perfect those few minutes where time seemed to stand still and all that mattered was my awareness of the heavy hand gently moving. It made up the sum existence of me for a few precious minutes.

“I met Aimes a few years ago.”

I stopped breathing.

“He was running from the law when he first came to me. The police were searching for him and he had nowhere to go. He was desperate, alone, hunted.”

I didn’t move, just pricked up my ears and listened to Stewart’s mesmerizing voice. That was how he captured his students’ attention in class; it was in the timbre of his voice, the way his tongue rolled out the sounds, the way he chose his words.

“Aimes had a partner. They had been together for a couple of years, but those were bad years for them, particularly for Aimes. Their relationship was often tumultous; they fought often from what I was told. I never met Clay but I didn’t think he was a very nice man. Still, Aimes loved him.”

I moved my head so I could look up at Stewart. I wanted to see his face. There was a sadness in his voice which tore at me, and I wanted to see his face to identify with it.

Stewart’s hand moved to my hair.

“Then one day they found Clay dead, cruelly murdered in their home. His throat had been slit. After the initial investigations, the police decided there was enough evidence pointed at Aimes. He didn’t have an alibi at the time of the murder, and many witnesses testified that they had been fighting a lot.”

There was a long pause where neither of us said anything or moved. Stewart was apparently digging up some deep-buried memories, and I didn’t want to interrupt him or do anything that might disrupt the story. Eventually Stewart continued. “Even more damaging was the discovery that Clay had been seeing another man. That offered the police the necessary motive. And so they came to arrest Aimes. He ran.”

I found my mouth going dry.

Stewart sighed and his hand stopped moving. I sat up and leaned gingerly against the bed rest, so that we were sitting side by side. I had no idea what prompted this sudden outpouring but all the pieces of the mystery surrounding Aimes was finally falling into place. All of a sudden, Aimes became a human being, a real person, instead of merely an unfeeling stone figure.

I held Stewart’s hand and had enough sense to keep quiet.

“He knew the chances of the police believing his innocence was slim. They had an open and shut case and they wanted to wrap it up fast. Plus the fact that it involved a set of gays didn’t help matters at all. That was many years ago – hopefully things have changed and people are more open these days. At least I’d like to think so.”

“What happened next?” I managed to ask.

“He managed to hide for a while but the net was closing in on him. He had very little money left, practically no friends or anyone he could trust, and nowhere to go. He was on the edge of despair. But sometime ago he had heard of the Fraternity and clutching at straws, he thought we could help. He began to search us out and somehow, by some miracle, he found me.”

“I can’t imagine what it must have felt like,” I whispered. “being so alone ...”

“I don’t know what affected him the most at the time. The horrible death of his partner, whom I suspected he still loved. Or his betrayal. Or the shock in realizing that he was suddenly the prime suspect for his lover’s murder. Probably a combination of all three – it made him ... bitter for a long while.”

I felt so sorry at that point. All I could do was squeeze Stewart’s hand tight.

“No one wanted to get involved. It was too risky; helping Aimes was abetting and aiding a fugitive. But once I’d met him, I couldn’t turn him away. When he spoke to me, I felt that he was telling the truth. I believed he was innocent and that a gross injustice had been done to him. All he wanted ... all Aimes wanted then was to have someone believe him. He never blamed anyone for turning him away, he knew how bad it looked, but he needed to have someone tell him they believed him. I think that cut him up the most. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I agreed to help him. I managed to convince Philip and we hid him.”

A sudden thought struck me. “He’s not still hiding...?” I was quite horrified at the thought, thinking for a moment that was why Aimes hid out at Willcott all year round.

“Of course not!” Stewart scoffed at me. “Once we bought ourselves some time, I contacted a good friend in a law firm and we initiated our own investigations. We got lucky, and soon it became clear that there was reasonable doubt Aimes might not have been the only one who had motive or access to the murder. Clay was playing the field – dangerously so - and eventually they found the murder weapon and it had finger prints belonging to Clay’s secret lover. That pretty much bought Aimes his freedom.”

I released my breath in a soft whistle. “He must have been so relieved.”

Stewart’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Yes, relieved I am sure. But I think he was mostly numbed by then. I think Aimes didn’t really care what happened to him once his innocence was proclaimed.”

I tried to picture a broken-hearted Aimes, distraught and unkempt. Looking lost and beaten. I couldn’t. The images wouldn’t jive.

“It took him a long time to come back to us. He was embittered and mentally exhausted. He had been holding up right up to the point the police dropped all charges. Then he kinda lost it. Hardly talked; didn’t want to meet anyone. Just wanted to be left alone. But he never let me forget his gratitude.”

I wanted to weep when I heard that.

“He hung around for a while, finding some odd jobs, and then one day he went off by himself, just disappeared. Didn’t hear from him for months, until one day he appeared, as abruptly as he had disappeared, and he’s been with us ever since. We never asked him where he went, but he seemed more at peace. Perhaps he needed the time alone to come to terms with all that had happened.”

“Who else knows this story?” I asked.

“The older members like George and Curtis. A few others, not many. We don’t talk of it much, naturally. In fact, we don’t talk about it all these days. It may have been a long time ago, but I think the scars are still there.”

“W..why then ...?” I stammered.

Stewart glanced at me, brows raised. “Why am I telling you?”

“Y-eah ...”

“Because you wanted to know.”

I hung my head, feeling ashamed. I had bugged Stewart about Aimes. And then I had complained to Philip. I shouldn’t have. This was such a private story. Filled with so much pain.

“I’m sorry.” I forced it out. “I didn’t realize ... I shouldn’t have made such a fuss ...”

Stewart’s eyes were kind, and understanding. And his next words made my heart overflow with love for him. “I didn’t tell you earlier because Aimes’ past does not concern you. Not because I was hiding secrets from you. But I do want you to understand what is between Aimes and me. I don’t want you to be unhappy, Marcus.”

I nodded, a lump in my throat. “I didn’t think that, honestly. Not hiding secrets, but there were so many questions ... I j-just wondered, that’s all. I was being an ass and I wish ...” I had reached a point where I was totally incapable of stringing a coherent sentence together and I felt my face go hot.

“I know,” Stewart said, his voice calm and comforting. “So, are you okay now?”

I couldn’t love Stewart more than at that moment.

“Yes. I am very okay now.”

16 Stewart

“Hey Ben!” I greeted as the fair-haired young man came up to me. He had arrived a few minutes ago and had just deposited his bags in the room allotted to him – a small single room on the first floor right next to Philip’s. That was promising; Aimes was keeping him in the house instead of sending him to the Games Room.

“Hi Stewart.” Ben seemed glad to see me; his shy smile flashed across his face, making him look incredibly shy and endearing. How could Aimes not react to that, I found myself asking.

“How are you doing?” I pulled him in for a hug. I had recruited him myself and I had felt a special fondness for him right from the start. He was a good kid who needed looking after.

“Fine, and you? How’s business?”

We talked shop for a while. Ben was an astute accountant with his own accounting firm which he started a few years ago, and his business was actually thriving amidst the economical turmoil. Maybe his face instilled confidence and trust in people. Whatever formula he used, it worked. That part of his life he managed well.

On the personal front however, he was floundering. He desperately needed to find a firm Top to take him in hand and that was proving a problem. First of all, he kept incredibly long hours and sometimes hardly had time to eat much less look for a partner. More to the point, he shied away from most social events. He hardly went out at all and I didn’t believe he’d been on a date in the past few months. All his time was spent either in offices or at home, tapping away at his notebook. It was work and work and work with Ben.

He was also our treasurer (well ... I did feel a pang of guilt at heaping more work on him though). But he was too darn good! We appointed him to that position soon after he joined the Fraternity and he had since then done a stellar job in managing our funds and guiding us into some sound investments. We would need to spend some time going over the books that weekend, so that we could make certain financial decisions. We liked doing it at Willcott, which was our first, and so far only, ‘big’ investment.

Marcus was in the vegetable patch harvesting beans, carrots and potatoes for our dinner and I took Ben out to meet him. I introduced them.

“Hey,” Marcus said, and looked at his hands. “Um, unless you want dirt on your hands ...” He grinned.

Ben grinned back. “I used to grow up on a farm; we had a home garden as well and I was mostly in charge of it. I am used to dirt. Here, hand me that pail and I will help you harvest. Reminds me of home. How much do we want for dinner?”

I left them to it. Digging for vegetables wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I joined Philip instead who was preparing the grill. With so many of us, we invariably preferred to cook out in the open and eat under the stars. We could spread out and at the same time enjoy the refreshing night air after the heat of the day.

“Need a hand?” I asked.

“Sure, more logs if you don’t mind. We’ll be using a wood-fire tonight. Scott and Gene got us some game I think. They just got back – I think they are behind the barn giving a crash course to Joshua and Jim on how to skin a rabbit.”

I made a face. “Sounds like so much fun!”

Philip laughed; he knew well my dislike of that particular job. I would prefer to do almost anything else than gut and skin an animal. I built up the pile of wood next to the grill and watched Philip spread out the embers.

“We need to sit down with Ben first thing tomorrow and get the books straightened out.” I told Philip firmly. “Before we start any of the activities. No distractions this time - I’ve already alerted Curtis.”

“I know, that’s in the plan. I think we’re going to have another very full, and very exhausting summer, Stewart.” Philip groaned, but in a happy way.

“Seems to be that way,” I said. “Which is a good sign, don’t you think?”

“A very good sign!” Philip replied. “It’s a pity we can’t get all the members together at one go, but this works too. ”

“This works better actually.” I countered. “You know Willcott will not hold everyone at the same time. And there’s no point making provisions for such a crowd when this place is used only in the summer. I’ve been thinking we could maybe do something here in winter as well.”

“A bit depressing to be here during winter, I’d say. Unless you want a secret hide-away?” Philip wagged a finger in my face.

“Now that’s a thought! Why haven’t I thought of it before?”

“Probably because there wasn’t anyone special you wanted to hide-away with before?” Philip said pointedly.

I grunted but my thoughts turned immediately to Marcus. Hiding away in winter-time, here alone with Marcus, made my skin tingle. He was so often in my thoughts lately. I found myself planning my day around him. I found myself planning things for him.

“Who else is arriving this weekend?” Philip asked, breaking into my reverie.

I pulled my mind back and did a quick mental check on my list. “Paul and Dayton – they are scheduled to arrive today actually. I wonder what’s keeping them. They are usually quite punctual.”

“Paul is, Dayton is NOT!” Philip said dryly. “It’s a wonder Paul has not managed to correct that deplorable habit by now.”

“Dayton is an extremely challenging Brat,” I said.

“You would know,” Philip shook his head.

“Oh yeah.”

Dayton was one of the Brats I worked with previously. I had him for weekends for several weeks running and at the end of our time together I was not sure what impression, if any, I had made on him. The thing about Dayton was that he tried; I could see he really wanted to be a good Brat but somehow his temper always got in the way. He was also hyper-active and had to be doing something all the time. It was like trying to reel in a bouncing ball which defied the laws of gravity and refuses to stay still.

Fortunately for both of us, Paul had come into the picture by then and I gladly passed that responsibility to him. Poor Paul. He didn’t stand a chance – he was smitten by Dayton the minute he laid eyes on him and didn’t know what hit him. By the time he realized how much work Dayton was, it was already too late. I grinned as I recalled their early days together.

“What’s so funny?” Philip asked.

“I was just recalling their early days together.”

Philip outright chuckled. “You know Stewart, I never thought they would make it work. I mean, look at Paul! He’s the strictest Top I know. And Dayton breaks about every rule ever put in place. Talk about opposites attract!”

I mulled over it for a while. “I guess Dayton provides Paul the adrenalin rush, and I suspect Paul loves it, whether he admits it or not. He wouldn’t know what to do if he had a docile and obedient Brat. Dayton keeps him on his toes.”

“As he does all of us. I shudder to think what kind of influence he has on the other Brats, especially in this confined environment. Is it safe for us to let him roam free amongst our flock?” Philip teased.

I laughed. “We ought to issue an advisory to the other Tops, at the very least! The Brats tend to be a bit more restive when Dayton is around. Dammit, even I am edgy when Dayton is around.”

“Let me see ... Jim and Joshua have never met them? And Marcus probably not as well?”

“That’s right. Actually, I am hoping to get the Brats interested enough to hold another of those Brat group sessions. It would be good for them to make friends and to share their experiences in a DP. I have always liked the idea of separate Brats and Tops sessions.”

“Absolutely!” Philip was quick to agree. In fact Philip had been one of the first to advocate for these group discussions. He had personally coordinated the first meet and helped George, who had been put in charge, draw up the agenda.

“Remember the first time we had it?” I asked. “George was sure they would have nothing to talk about. He thought everyone would be too shy or self-conscious!”

Philip snorted. “Never heard so much commotion in my life! Sure brought out a lot from the Brats once they started to talk amongst themselves without their Tops around. We had to break it up eventually, didn’t we? “

“Yeah, we did. Who should we put in charge this time?”

Philip pursed his lips thoughtfully. “We could get George to do it again; he’s pretty good at that. But I would like someone else to get a chance to lead.”

“Me too! Gene perhaps? Some are just plain not ready for this.”

“Of course. For instance Jim –first time here - and he’s keeping too much to Joshua.”

“Yes, and Joshua should make the push. Talk to him, Philip.”

“I will.”

“I intend to ask Marcus to join in too. He will be pleased to be invited. He actually asked before if he could participate in our activities, even though he is not a member.”

“He’s a bit reserved around the others. He doesn’t talk much, I think he purposely holds back ...” Philip remarked, with his usual sharp perception.

“Oh, he can get pretty chatty and animated when he feels safe. He’s still new to all this.”

“You spoken to him yet?” Philip murmured.

“Yes,” I shot Philip a look. “We had a good chat this afternoon. I ought to thank you.”

“He’s clearly very much ... devoted to you.”

I raised my brows. “Devoted?” I thought that an odd word to use to describe Marcus.

“Yes. In much the same way Aimes is. Haven’t you noticed? Maybe that’s why they clash all the time. Too much alike for comfort. Marcus feels threatened.”

Devoted? I knew that Aimes felt he owed much to me; he had tried to say it without so many words for years despite my telling him over and over again it was not necessary. But I wouldn’t go so far as to describe him as devoted. Still, I knew in my heart that all I had to do was ask and Aimes would do what I wanted if he could. That, I thought, stemmed more from gratitude and loyalty. Not devotion.

“Aimes is a good friend, as much to me as to you. Not that he would ever let on how he feels!”

“Not quite as much, but that’s understandable.” Philip said without any rancour. “Stewart, what you did for him was –.”

“Marcus knows that.” I said quietly. “I didn’t think he had any reason to be jealous or threatened.”

“And Marcus is a Brat. An inexperienced one at that, though I suspect he thinks otherwise. He will believe what he wants to believe. You need to set him straight.”

I sighed. “That’s true. Despite what he believes, he has very little clue what a discipline partnership really entails. He’s finding it hard to give up control.”

“The high spirited ones always do. And yet they are the ones who need to learn that the most.”

I paused, searching my conscience. “I hadn’t realized how much my past with Aimes was bothering him. Was I being insensitive to Marcus, Philip?”

Philip’s forehead creased. “I don’t think you were – not intentionally for sure. Perhaps you don’t see it from the inside, but this – bond you have with Aimes can be pretty daunting to a third party. Its can be rather all-encompassing. One can feel particularly ... um, distanced by Aimes, if you know what I mean. Especially if one had a vested interest in you.”

I fell silent for a while. “Thanks,” I finally said.

“That’s quite a sight for sore eyes.”

I followed Philip’s gaze and saw Marcus and Ben, carrying a pail and basket between them and heading towards us. They were both about the same height, with the same good-looks and fair colouring. Side by side, they were striking.

“What have you got there?” I asked, as they came up and I peered into Marcus’ pail.

“Vegetables for the grill. All washed and scrubbed.” He looked at me, and I caught a glint in his eye.

“What?” I asked, softly.

“Nothing,” Marcus said, blushing. He glanced over at Philip who was helping Ben unload the stuff from the basket, and quickly leaned towards me. It was an instinctive action, as if his body reacted by itself. I reached out and caught hold of him, and heard him whisper against me “I love you”.

That jolted me right out of my socks. There was certainly attraction between us – strong attraction I would say. And our appetite for one another was a testament to that. But neither of us had actually said those words out loud. Not in the way Marcus had. It had come involuntarily, straight from his gut and I saw his face flush pink and he withdrew, breaking eye contact even as my throat constricted. My hand lingered on his arm but the moment was gone and I couldn’t respond in kind. Philip and Ben were talking to us, bidding us to help load the BBQ with the vegetables and Marcus moved away.

17 Marcus

To be honest, I was a bit piqued with Stewart. When I had spotted him earlier, the sun had been low on the horizon and the evening air had started to overpower the heat of the day. Well, werewolves reacted to a full moon, so I was probably one of those who reacted to a setting sun. I had felt a rush. I wanted to run up to him and throw my arms around him. Maybe the glow left by our little talk in the afternoon had not quite died away. Whatever. But I was feeling all tingly. The kind that made you want to do mad, and stupid, stuff?

Before I even knew what I was about, I had blurted out those words that made my ears burn as I thought about it afterwards. What an idiot he must think of me. I could see he was SHOCKED. I had made an absolute ass of myself – because he didn’t react or reply.

What did I expect – that he would fling his arms around me, and tell me he loved me too?

Why the fuck was I forever rushing into things? I asked myself that.

As I sat in the semi-darkness, I peered at the faces lounging around the BBQ pit. Most of them were trading stories and reminiscing about previous summers they had spent at Willcott and since I was not a part of that past, I remained silent.

Oh well, thank God it was shadowy out there and I didn’t need to participate much. I melted into the dusky night. No one expected me to contribute, so I just sat quietly and listened. I thought I might have felt excluded but strangely enough I did not. Sitting next to me, Stewart cast me a glance every now and then, but he didn’t say anything either, just looked rather piercingly at me. And then his hand was on my back, making small circles. It was just very pleasant then, and despite my determination to stay piqued with him, I relaxed and eventually leaned against him.

It was rather enjoyable being a spectator, and listening to the talk and it gave me a wonderful opportunity to observe each one of them in turn, picking up all kinds of juicy tid-bits from the chatter.

I did a mental review of all the other Brats, or at least those I knew were Brats. I still couldn’t decide between George and Curtis though if I had to bet I would say it was George. There was a look I had caught, when he looked at Curtis, which seemed to say something to me. It might well have been how I felt sometimes when I was with Stewart – waiting for his reaction, hoping for his approval, wanting him to have the final word. It was quite unexplainable. But I recognized the expression in his eyes and I related to it.

I had never really got on with Andrew and I didn’t think I ever would. He was too whiny and clingy. I was just glad he wasn’t that way with Stewart any more but it still made me want to scratch his eyes out whenever I thought of it.

Gene had turned out to be a surprise – a nice one. I had thought him intimidating at first; tough like the mountains, large like Scott his Top, but he was actually surprisingly gentle and even-tempered. And he had a ready smile for me whenever we met. I got the feeling he was real easy-going. Size could be so misleading!

I hadn’t had much chance to talk to Joshua and Jim, apart from showing them around when they first arrived, but if I had to take a guess I would say Jim was on the shy side. I decided he was harmless enough. They were only staying a week; not enough time to get to really know them. I didn’t think we had that much in common anyway.

And finally there was Paul and Dayton – who had arrived just as we were about to eat. There had been a lot of noise to announce their arrival, mostly Dayton’s to be precise, and we could hear his voice all the way back from the yard. Everyone greeted them warmly which proved they were very much a part of the group, and Dayton would have sat down to eat immediately if Paul had not stopped him.

“Go wash up first!” Paul ordered.

“But I am starving!” Dayton protested. “I haven’t eaten the whole day!”

“And who’s fault is that?” Paul asked.

I observed them with interest.

Dayton sulked but he put down his plate again and went into the house, Paul hard on his heels. After a moment’s silence, we heard more altercation from inside the kitchen and I peeked in to see what was happening. Dayton was holding the fridge door open and arguing about something (I think he wanted a beer and Paul didn’t think that was a good idea) and obviously digging his heels in, until Paul opened a kitchen drawer, brought out a long wooden spoon as if he knew exactly where to get it, turned him sideways and promptly swatted him. Hard.

Dayton opened his mouth to yell and suddenly his eye met mine. I was totally embarrassed. I quickly moved away, appalled that I had been caught spying on a private moment. Well, being swatted was a pretty private moment to me. I would have died if it had been me being chastised and swatted in front of an audience. Both Aimes and Stewart had scolded and swatted me in front of the other, but that was different.... it was! They were not strangers who had just met.

I came back to Stewart and sat down beside him. I had a sudden urge to snuggle against him, but since I was still a trifle cross, I held myself rigid. Sometimes, I swear I don’t know how he feels. He doesn’t talk much, when it came to feelings. I wasn’t one of those who was overly demonstrative in public either, but in the privacy between two people, I believed we should be more open. I wasn’t expecting Stewart to declare his undying love or anything like that but he was way too careful. That’s the conclusion I had come to.

I stole a glance at him; he looked so damned hot in those tight jeans, with his long legs stretched out on the grass. That was what had got me earlier. I had simply reacted without thinking, especially when he had bent his head to me in just that way which made my heart pound faster.

Thinking about my faux pas again, I wanted to crawl under a rock or something.

I felt a nudge on my arm.

“Why the long face?”

I glared at Stewart. “What?”

“You. And that loooong face.” Stewart smiled, pulling the word out. “Aren’t you having a good time?”

I shrugged.

“Are we not talking?” Stewart inquired in a teasing tone.

I looked around but no one was paying us any attention. Everyone had been well fed and were just lazing around, catching up. I was relieved. I didn’t want anyone to think we were having a lovers’ quarrel. I opened my eyes wider at that. Lovers’ quarrel sounded nice actually. It made us so legitimate.

“Now what?” Stewart said, his eyes brimming with laughter. “What are you not telling me?”

I looked away because he could read me like an open book. He put a hand up and flicked the hair out of my eyes.

“Never mind, Marcus. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. Brats are entitled to some privacy every now and then.”

I felt my face go red and hot. How dared he laugh at me? I knew he was teasing me but this was too important to laugh about. I had let my guard down and said ‘it’. And he hadn’t reciprocated. I gritted my teeth in indignation and resisted an impulse to punch him.

“Had enough to eat?” Stewart asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Come on then!” Stewart got up and pulled at me. I found myself on my feet, my hand held firmly in his.

“What are you doing?” I tried to pull my hand away but he wouldn’t let me. His grip was incredibly strong. “Where are we going?” I asked as he began to lead me towards the house.

Curtis was sitting near Philip and George was hanging out with Aimes. They all looked up as we passed them.

“We’re calling it a night,” Stewart announced.

George clucked his tongue mischievously. “My, my, isn’t it a bit early to be retiring?”

I flushed and didn’t quite catch something Aimes was saying about my getting up much earlier than the rest.

Stewart chuckled and waved a hand at them, and continued to lead me into the house. It was a fine summer night, clear enough for us to see one another’s face without having to switch on the lights in our room. It was much too nice a night in fact to sulk. To find myself all alone with Stewart while the rest of the gang was downstairs, their voices softly audible, felt electrifying. It was way up on my list of special feelings.

Without saying a word, Stewart closed the distance between us and took me into his arms. He held me tight and I leaned heavily against him, the heat building up between us within seconds. We kissed and I felt Stewart’s mouth claim mine possessively, savouring the completeness of the moment.

Perhaps I didn’t need any other affirmation than this. Words were just words. Deeds and sensations could more than make up the moments that made life whole and worthwhile. With a sigh, I lay my head against Stewart’s shoulder and told myself I was grateful for what I already had.

Stewart’s voice was a tingle against my ear. “I’ve only ever said I love you to one other person, and that was a long time ago.”

I kept very still.

“No one since that time has meant so much to me as you,” Stewart continued.

I could feel his heart beating strongly against mine. We stood together, with the moonlight casting deep shadows against us.

“I would like to be able to – “He broke off.

“What?” I demanded, breathless.

Stewart leaned away and brought both hands up to hold my face in between them. His eyes were dark and mysterious and sombre. Slowly, he kissed me again.

“I would like to be able to say those words to you ...”

“But not now?” I finished for him.

He paused, and then he said very gently. “Not yet.”

I looked into Stewart’s eyes and knew it didn’t matter. Whether he said it now, or later, or never at all, it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t change how I felt about him. It didn’t make me love him less.

I closed my eyes and felt the burn at the back of them. Fiercely I held back the tears so that I wouldn’t look so needy, or so weak.

“Make love to me, Stewart,” I whispered. “Please.”

18 Stewart

Dayton’s shout jolted us awake. Marcus sat up in a hurry, looking around wildly. “What was that?” He asked in a hushed voice. Dayton and Paul were in the room next to ours.

I pulled Marcus down, capturing him in my arms. “Relax. It’s just Dayton. Probably protesting against one of Paul’s edicts. That happens a lot in their household.”

Marcus settled down into my arms, snuggling against me in the way that without fail turned me on. “Is Dayton always so noisy and ... rebellious?” Marcus murmured. “He protests about everything.”

“He is what we call a high maintenance Brat,” I explained. “They tend to be more rebellious, argumentative. Always on about something. Ben, on the other hand, is a low maintenance Brat. They can survive pretty much on their own if they have to, although they would not be terribly happy about it.”

I could tell Marcus had pricked up his ears. He loved it when I shared information about DP with him; he soaked it up like a sponge.

“And – what am I then?” Marcus asked, stiffening slightly.

“You?” I paused and smiled at Marcus’ back. “You are somewhere in between. You are the perfect Brat.”


“Why?” I asked. “You don’t believe me?”

“You are only saying that because I asked!” He sounded indignant, but I knew he was pleased. I wanted to please him.

“It’s true. Go ask Philip if you don’t believe me.”

“I will!” He promised.

“You do that!”

I enjoyed that – exchanging banter with Marcus.

Next door, the volume of voices rose and then the unmistakable sound of someone being spanked came to our ears. We lay motionless together; I was sure Marcus was listening and picturing in his mind what was taking place. I didn’t speak or move but I kept my hand on Marcus’ back, willing him to stay still and not react. I wanted him to get comfortable with that happening around us, in our midst. It was part and parcel of our lives and situations and I didn’t want him jumping out of his skin every time someone got disciplined.

The first time he heard Andrew getting spanked he had been pretty spooked. This time he breathed a little faster and held his body rigid, but he didn’t particularly display any other unease. Dayton was yelling unrestrainedly and the sound seeped between the thick beams and came over muffled.

I began to stroke Marcus’ hair. “It’s ok.”

“It sounds bad.”

“Believe me, its not,” I said soothingly. “Paul is a very experienced Top and he would never harm Dayton. He knows what he is doing.”

“He is so fucking strict!” Marcus’ voice came out very much like a whine.

“Marcus!” I said warningly.

“Sorry,” Marcus mumbled. “But he is! He swatted Dayton in front of all of us yesterday!”

“Dayton deserved that, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Marcus conceded. “He was rather rude. He seems to be in trouble a lot though. All the time in fact.”

“He is hyper-active. He likes to bait. High maintenance, remember? Some Brats needs that, they almost need to be spanked at frequent intervals. No - I am not joking, I am being perfectly serious. Dayton is a bit like that. I believe he gets himself into trouble at least once a week and Paul has to dole it out. Paul has learnt that it calms him. They are great together.”

“He gets spanked every week?” Marcus was horrified.

I chuckled. “Only because he needs it.”

“Well ... he sure didn’t admit it during our session!”

I was glad Marcus brought it up. It gave me an opening. “So tell me, how was your group session? It went well?”


“Did you find it helpful?”

“Yes, I did. I’m glad we did it. Gene was great.”

“Was he? I’m glad to hear that.”

“Oh yes,” Marcus nodded his head. “He laid the ground rules clearly, made sure everyone had a chance to speak, and that no one monopolized the meeting. He – also shared some personal stuff about his early days with Scott. I didn’t expect that?”

“Why not?”

“Well, it was ... personal.” Marcus’ voice had a mix of surprise and shyness.

“These sessions are supposed to be honest and open, in the hope that the participants may benefit from the experiences shared. It’s pretty decent of Gene to share something personal, but it’s not unexpected. It should encourage the rest of you to be open and honest as well. Did it?”

Marcus nodded slowly. “Yeah – I think in a way it did.” He thought for a while, and then added. “That kinda broke the ice, you know?”

“Good! I am happy it went well.”

Actually I was very pleased with the result of that session. With the lot of them really; they had all behaved beautifully. Even Dayton. We Tops didn’t attend of course, and we weren’t supposed to pry, but I heard from some quarters (discretely) that Marcus had participated by asking a few questions. And Gene, Ben and Jim all had good things to say about him.

“Did you learn anything useful from the others?”

“Umm ...” he hummed. “Perhaps.”

“You’re not telling, are you?”

Marcus giggled. “Nope. This is our session, it does not concern you and you shouldn’t even be asking! Shame on you Stewart! That much I learned.”

I laughed – he got me there.

“Didn’t they tell you that you must listen to your Top and be obedient and respectful at all times?” I nudged him in the back.

“You’re digging, Stewart! Now stop it!” He said with a laugh.

I dug my fingers into his side and he gave a little scream and quickly turned around, his face inches from mine. His eyes were beautiful, open and trusting, and they looked straight into mine. We smiled at one another, enjoying the closeness.

Aimes had given Marcus the day off and we were making the most of the extra time in bed. It was a luxury.


“Yes sweetheart?”

Marcus drew in a long breath and slowly let it out. “They all said it was hard to let their Tops make all the decisions. Especially at first. Well, not all the decisions, but those which counted. And not all the time, but when it was something pretty major. That is ... it sounds scary.”

“Is that what they said?” I asked carefully. “Did they say their Tops made all the decisions, and were the Brats not allowed any inputs, especially around the major ones?” I hoped that would trigger his thought in the right forward direction.

“Well,” Marcus paused and frowned. “No one said they could not voice their opinions. I mean, I didn’t get the impression they were not allowed to do that. But the ultimate decision, if they disagreed, seemed to belong to the Tops. They were overruled! What if the Brat didn’t agree with the Top’s decision? What then?”

“Did you ask them this?”

“No, I didn’t. It sounds so silly. Everyone seemed ok with the way it was. I didn’t want them to think I was stupid.”

“Hey,” I chided gently. “You’re not stupid, okay? And these sessions are for you to ask, and share. Next time you are unsure about anything, you should bring it up and see what the others say.”

“Can’t I ask you instead?”

“Of course you can.” I kissed the back of Marcus’ head. “A good Top will always make sure his Brat gets a say and he will take that into consideration. Its like any other relationship, both parties’ opinions are important. But the basis of a DP is the Top is the ultimate decision-maker. I am not saying he is always right, but I would like to believe that he will always put is Brat’s welfare first when deciding. And listen babe,” I paused to make sure I got his full attention. “His Brat has to have enough trust, faith and confidence in his Top to let him do that.”

Marcus stared into my eyes. “That’s the difficult part, isn’t it?”

“Trusting his Top to make the right decision?”

“No.” Marcus’ breath was a soft sigh floating in the space between us. “Giving up that right willingly.”

Marcus was absolutely right. That was the very essence of our lifestyle. Wanting it and being able to give yourself up to it were two totally different things. I knew how difficult it was and how so many Brats resisted that at one point or another. My heart squeezed and I said softly, “Of course it is.”

Marcus lifted a finger and ran it down my nose, making it twitch. His finger then traced my lips, lightly, sensually. My nerves were tingling, with a mixture of pleasure and warmth and of anticipation. Marcus leaned in closer and his lips sought mine. The kiss was gentle, a slow meeting of lips and of little nibbles. He tasted so sweet that morning.

“Ummm...” Marcus moaned and I rolled him onto his back, pressing him down. I kissed him again, but this time it was insistent and demanding. The need to consume him was overpowering.

I groaned in turn as his hands roamed over my body, touching me in places he had learnt would get an instant reaction. All bashfulness and any awkwardness that might have hindered our intimacy had long since left us. We’ve had enough practice that we made love with easy familiarity by now. But somehow that morning Marcus seemed more acquiescent, more yielding. He arched his back as I took him, his eyes slightly glazed and his body cleaved to mine as if we were one. His movements flowed within my rhythm, always following, always in time, and we reached our climaxes almost simultaneously, his one heartbeat behind mine.

19 Marcus

I stood in the corner of the bedroom and hated myself. All my good intentions had flown out the window the first time it had been put to the test. I had broken every vow I had made to myself. I felt disappointed and defeated. I was such a lousy Brat!

I sighed with relief when I heard Stewart come into the room. At least I hoped that was Stewart. I didn’t relish the thought of anyone seeing me being stood in the corner like a naughty six-year old. That was such a horrible punishment - I was so sick of staring at the wall with absolutely nothing to do.

“Are you in a better mood now, or do you need more time in the corner?” Stewart asked.

He gotta be kidding!

“I don’t want to stand here any longer,” I said, hoping that was an acceptable response. It wasn’t.

“Hm.” That was all Stewart said, or didn’t say.

Well, I wasn’t really in a better mood (which was what got me there in the first place) and I didn’t want to lie on top of everything else! I didn’t think admitting the truth would get me out of the corner – and I REALLY wanted to be out of the corner. That was my best compromise. What did he want from me?

“I think you can stay right there a while longer then!” Stewart continued when I didn’t make any response.


I heard Stewart move towards the door and panic sharpened my wits. “Wait Stewart! I - I am sorry for snapping at you, I can behave better now.” I said as civilly as I could.

Stewart stopped and I waited with baited breath.

“All right,” Stewart finally spoke. “Come here then.”

Pulling myself together I went to him, eyes lowered. I was angry I had been left behind when the rest of the gang went into town to spend the day and I had taken my resentment out on Stewart. The fact that he stayed back with me didn’t placate me much - though it should have. Stewart didn’t need to stay back on my account.

When I first learnt of the trip into town, I had been excited. I hadn’t left Willcott since arriving and the thought of getting out and doing something different for a change was so pleasing. But Aimes needed me to complete some chores, and though I tried hard to forget it, I could not escape the fact that I was the hired help for the summer. Sometimes life sucked!

I had promised myself I would not get angry and I reminded myself that I had had a lot of time off already (spent wandering about in the woods or swimming in the pond with Stewart) so in reality I had nothing to complain about. Aimes was fair, as always. Firm, implacable, but fair.

So who knew I would react that way when Stewart looked at me with sympathy in his eyes? I felt out of reason flustered and promptly flew into a rage. It was like watching myself lose control, be a total bastard and being unable to do anything about it. I couldn’t tell Stewart how I felt. It would have sounded so childish, and so churlish. The hard knot in my stomach ballooned up and I totally lost it when Stewart put his arm around my shoulders and told me he would take me to town himself on my next day off.

I flushed when I remembered how I had reacted. I cringed at the memory, at how I had lashed out at his kindness. How I resented the fact that he had tried to make me feel better, which only made me angrier instead. It was pure madness on my part, without any sense or rationale. I had rebelled in spite of myself, despite my good intentions, all for feeling irked that I had been handed a treat like a child. I did it with one purpose in mind and that was to hurt Stewart.

Stewart tilted my head up with a finger, his hand horribly firm under my chin. There was nowhere to hide my emotions.

“I know what got you into that mood earlier.”

I wondered how on earth he could sound so loving after what I had done.

“But I will not allow you to take it out on me or anyone else for that matter.” Okay - he didn’t sound quite so loving then!

“I know you wanted to go with them and you are allowed to be disappointed or even angry but not to fly into a tantrum or to curse and act up just because you don’t get what you want. You need to behave better than that. Am I being clear, Marcus?”

He was coming through loud and clear. I nodded, feeling miserable. That scolding was entirely justified.

“There is no indignity in being left behind; it does not make you less important than the others. And if you felt unhappy about that, then I expect you to talk to me about it. Keeping it to yourself, letting it eat at you, is precisely what we do not want. It is not permitted Marcus. We’ve been through that before, haven’t we?”


Stewart moved closer so that his face was inches from mine. “Plus I cannot imagine why you should feel anything but pleased that I offered to make it up to you. Unless you don’t think it was my place to do so?”

I flushed even more, my throat constricting. “I d-didn’t mean ... that! I didn’t!” I said through gritted teeth.

“I know,” Stewart said, in a much more gentle tone. He pulled me towards him and gave me a quick hard hug. “Just as you have to learn to give up control to your Top, you have to learn how to accept kindness from him as well. He will always be there for you. His job is to take care of you. Do not expect less from him; never take anything less than that from him.”

And so I learnt another new lesson.

“I am sorry, Stewart. I was totally out of line.” My voice sounded so small, exactly how I felt.

“Apology accepted. Bear in mind though that next time you will not get off with just corner time and a warning.”

I blushed and stared at the floor. He had only spanked me just that one time when I fought with Andrew, but I knew exactly what he meant. I didn’t think I wanted to be put across his knees a second time!

Stewart hugged me again and then we walked downstairs together.

“Go and see what Aimes needs doing. I will be in the study. I have some emails to catch up with. Come get me when you are done and we’ll take a walk to the pond.” Stewart patted me on my bum, brisk enough to remind me to be good. I watched him disappear into the study and I went into the kitchen.

I was surprised to see Ben there, stringing beans.

“Hi!” Ben said brightly when he saw me.

“Hey.” I nodded at him and tried to return his smile. “Aren’t you ... um ... I mean how come ...”

Ben grinned. “Oh, I had an urgent call to make – a client ran into some tax problems and I needed to refer to my files in my notebook. It’s my own business, you know, it’s my work, so there are no real vacations?”

I felt so ashamed when he said that. He was a much better Brat than me. Not knowing how to answer, I looked around for Aimes.

“Are you looking for Aimes? He said to wait for him here. You can help me with these if you like. Don’t tell Aimes but I hate stringing beans.” He made a face.

I grinned and sat down at the kitchen table and grabbed some beans.

I liked Ben. I hadn’t felt so comfortable with anyone in a long while. Except for Stewart, but that didn’t count. That was a different feeling totally. Being with Tops was different from being with Brats. There were some things you could only say to another Brat, and yet there were times when only a Top would do, but I found myself responding to Ben right from the start.

“So –“Ben glanced over at me, one eyebrow raised questioningly. “You ok now?”

I felt my face go hot. Whatever did he mean? Did Stewart tell him I was in trouble? Did Ben think I had been spanked? Oh God! I couldn’t be more embarrassed. My hands stopped working and my tongue twisted itself into a knot.

Ben looked at me with a shy smile. “It’s ok you know? We’ve all been there. Even me, though I don’t really have a Top per se. I get into trouble too sometimes.” He laughed a bit self-consciously. “And then Stewart or Philip has to sort me out.”

“Really?” That got me interested enough to forget my own embarrassment.

“Oh yeah,” Ben chuckled.

We worked in silence for a while. I was burning with curiosity and asked, “Have you never had a Top of your own?”

“Well, I don’t have many friends at home. I mean, men friends? In fact, I don’t go about advertising the fact that I am gay? That makes it pretty difficult to find a Top, know what I mean?”

“Yep.” I nodded. “And Stewart and Philip ...?”

Ben laughed softly. “They ... um, stand in sometimes.”

“Have you been ...?” I hoped I wasn’t being too prying but how the hell how do you ask someone if they had been disciplined or spanked by someone else? There was simply no delicate way of doing it.

Ben looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. “Stewart lectures a lot, and he can make you feel really bad even before he spanks. Don’t you think so? Probably on account of him being a professor and all.”

We grinned at one another. I felt so much better already.

Ben continued. “Philip can be pretty strict too. I hear there is no negotiation with him, and that he spanks with hardly a word in between. That’s what I have been told. I’ve never – um, been spanked by him, thank God! although he made me write out lines once. He doesn’t care to listen to too many excuses either – and you better be ready to convince him how well you’ve learnt the lesson once it’s over.”

I was in awe. I also couldn’t imagine Ben ever getting into trouble. He was always perfectly behaved, unlike Andrew. He never yelled or pouted like Dayton. And I was sure he never threw a tantrum, like I did. He looked so level-headed and sounded so sensible.

I remembered what Stewart had said. “Yes, you are a low maintenance Brat,” I said without thinking.


“Oh,” I gasped. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean ... I mean ... well, it’s a compliment!” I ended lamely.

Ben grinned. “Gee, thanks! Is that what Stewart thinks of me?”

I bit my lip and felt horribly guilty. Had I somehow violated some sacred tenet, had I screwed up again by repeating something my boyfriend had told me in confidence?

“Yes, but please don’t tell him I told you!” I pleaded. “He’s mad enough with me.”

“I won’t. I am guessing Stewart wasn’t too happy about this morning?”

“No he wasn’t.” I kept my eyes on the beans. Ben was obviously expecting something more, so I blurted out. “He made me stand in the corner. On top of the lecture of course!”

Ben grinned. “For ...?”
“Losing my temper. Getting mad at him for nothing. In fact, he was very kind to me and that made me even madder. I can’t figure it out. I must be stupid or something.”

“No, you’re not. This is a difficult period, you’re adjusting. Well, not that I know much, so again this is what I have been told.” Ben explained with his open laugh. “I am pathetic, aren’t I?”

“I think we both are!”

“You ever been in trouble with Philip?” He asked.

“No,” I said quickly. “God no! But Aimes ... “I broke off, unable to finish the sentence.

“What? He spanked you?” Ben’s eyes widened.

“No! He ... um, swatted me a couple of times. That’s all.”

“Wow! Aimes did? I have never seen him discipline anyone. He hardly even talks.”

“Well, I was here all by myself at first. He had no choice but to talk to me.”

“What’s he like?” Ben asked.

I was surprised at the question. I thought Ben would know him better than me. He must have read my thoughts because he continued. “He doesn’t say much to anyone, except Stewart, Philip and sometimes when Curtis and George are here. And I can’t think of a thing to say to him when I am around him. I just wondered.”

I wasn’t sure how much of Aimes’ history was known to Ben and with my earlier slip still fresh in my mind, I was very cautious. I didn’t feel it was my right to share that knowledge. “He’s a very private man,” I said carefully. “I – don’t really know him that well. He just barks orders at me and I jump to obey.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “I know what you mean. He can be so scary.”

“I’ll say!” I said feelingly. “He’s my boss too, you know, for the summer. It’s kinda my summer job?”

“Yeah – I got that in our books; I pay your wages.” He gave me a disarming smile. “I know it gets pretty hectic around here during summer and Aimes probably could use the help now that we’ve got so many people coming, but how the hell did you end up here? You’re not even a member yet!”

I didn’t mind telling Ben. He didn’t make me feel like he was snooping, or making any judgement on me. He already knew half the story, since he knew every expense the Fraternity spent. I figured I might as well tell him the whole thing.

It was nice having a friend to chat with. I had missed that. Leaving out the part about Christian and my follies, I told Ben how Stewart arranged for me to work here to get away from the city and also to earn some extra money to pay for college next semester. All things true, just without the sordid details.

20 Stewart

That year summer passed more quickly than I remembered from previous summers. Each day was as pleasurable and uneventful as the previous. We did the same things over and over again, just with a different set of people. Some might have been bored with the set routine and the lack of excitement, but I had Marcus and we appreciated having the time to learn about one another.

Sometimes I didn’t remember what day it was and didn’t care.

There was a steady stream of people coming and going and plans kept getting changed until we no longer had any clue who was staying on and who was moving out. Everyone just made do, grabbing beds or couches as the summer wore on. I was glad we at least had our room to ourselves; Aimes made sure no one came to crash in and Marcus and I managed to retain some privacy.

We all put in time and effort to do general repairs and improvements around the place and by the end of summer, Willcott was spruced up and glowing. It would withstand the rigors of another year, and be ready for us when we came back next summer.

Aimes was kept busy throughout and I could tell he was glad he had Marcus that year. Marcus had turned out to be a real gem, managing the larder and making sure it was well-stocked to cater to a household of hungry men. He organised the string of never-ending BBQs, plus took care of the yard work and chores outside. That left Aimes free to oversee the rest of the gang to make sure everyone was decently comfortable.

Aimes told me one night he would miss Marcus when we left and that promptly triggered me that Marcus and I still needed to have a conversation to settle things between us. I had sent him here to Willcott to learn to be independent and to put his episode with Christian behind him. I had yet to find out if he had done that. And then we had to decide how much further we wanted to take our relationship. It was one thing to be ‘in love’ over a summer vacation. The lustre had a way of fading when people got back to their real lives and real work. I didn’t want Marcus to feel trapped in any way, which was one of the reasons I had been so very careful and non-committal. I didn’t think my feelings for him would change no matter where I went, but I would need to see how Marcus felt when he started school again. Actually when we started school again. I had signed up for another year but luckily this time I wouldn’t be teaching Marcus. That was a relief.

I mulled over it for a few days, waiting till the last week of our vacation before I broached the subject. All the members had left by then, except for Philip and Ben, who had decided to return and help us close up the house. Aimes kept most of the house under covers when it was just him left and made use of only a few rooms when we were gone. I still hated the idea of him being alone all those months. But then, he was a stubborn man and there was no way to move him unless he wanted to be moved.

I was glad Philip had decided to come back; I suddenly felt a need to talk to someone and Aimes was hardly the ideal person to discuss relationships with. And although I was surprised that Philip had brought Ben along, I was also pleased. Ben and Marcus seemed to have struck up a friendship though Ben was a good eight years older. But they had similar tastes and interests and the gap in their ages didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I could see Ben’s presence having a positive impact on Marcus straight away. Marcus had been getting cranky the last few days but he perked up when he saw Ben.

“They seem to be getting on well,” Philip remarked as he observed the two of them walking to the games room after breakfast the next day.

“Yep. I’m actually quite happy to see Ben.”

Philip arched an eyebrow. “Tired so soon?”

I gave Philip a good glare. I knew he was baiting me but perhaps I was getting cranky too, just like Marcus. “Don’t be absurd!” I snapped. “That’s not what I meant. Marcus ... means a lot to me.”

“So what are you waiting for?” Philip asked bluntly.

I frowned. Philip had given me the perfect opening but somehow I found myself floundering, suddenly reluctant to open up. “Well ... perhaps I should wait till he goes back to school ...”


“You know Philip, I just thought of how young he is! I mean, he’s my student for God’s sake.”

“He was. He no longer is. But so what if he is? I mean I am sure there are all kinds of rules of why a professor cannot be involved with his students, but you weren’t together last year. And you won’t be his professor anymore this coming year. So what’s the problem?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know ... I don’t know if he will still feel the same when we get back to town.”

Philip looked at me with surprise. “Stewart, that boy is head over heels in love with you. Don’t you know that? As far as I can see, he’s a good kid; I doubt he is going to change or suddenly stop feeling this way overnight. He’s rather mature for his age.”

“Hmm.” I felt slightly comforted at Philip’s reassurance.

“What’s wrong?” Philip asked. “I’ve never seen you this nervous before.”

I sighed. I wondered myself where my self-confidence had gone to. All if a sudden I had all kinds of fears and insecurity and as the end of summer got closer, those feelings grew more intense.

Philip reached out and patted my arm, a warm and comforting touch. “Hey, old buddy. It’s going to be ok this time. Give it a shot.”

I looked at Philip and smiled. “Yeah,” I said with a decisive nod. “I intend to.”

“Good.” Philip withdrew his hand, stood up and stretched. “Can’t live life looking back all the time, you know? God, this air is so invigorating!”

“I agree.” I looked out the window, towards the direction Marcus and Ben had taken. “I wonder what the two are up to. Whatever made you bring Ben along?”

“Um, he wanted to come?” Philip quirked an eyebrow.

“So you two are staying the week?”

“Yeah, that’s the plan. We’re here to help you close up the house.”

I looked around for Aimes but he was nowhere in sight. “You think it has anything to do with Aimes?” I asked hopefully.

Philip laughed. “No,” he said shortly but quite firmly.

I grunted. “I didn’t think so either.”

I had to admit I had not seen any sparks or marked preferences between the two of them, much to my disappointment. The few times I had thrown the two of them together, Aimes had been polite and stiff while Ben had seemed almost tongue-tied. I was beginning to believe they were a lost cause.

Philip flung an arm across my shoulder and we walked out to the back porch. “I’m gonna miss this place,” he said quietly.

“Me too. This summer’s been great, for obvious reasons.” I grinned at my friend.

“I thought about what you said the other day – we might want to be brave and try a weekend here in winter.”

That didn’t sound like a bad idea. It wasn’t that far a drive. “We could do that.”

“Roasted chestnuts and hot cocoa. A good chess game perhaps, in front of a crackling log fire. I don’t think there’s central heating, is there?”

“Nope! Might be a tad cold in bed, unless you have someone to snuggle up with?” I nudged Philip in the ribs.

Philip pursed his lips and stared into the distance. “Exactly what I was thinking.”

I glanced over at Philip; he seemed preoccupied. I had a niggling feeling he had something on his mind which he wasn’t telling me. When you had been friends for such a long time, you knew these things without having to be told. You felt them without the need for words.

A movement caught my eye as Marcus and Ben appeared from the games room. They spotted us and waved.

I waved back.

Philip had not spoken, and I turned to see if he had seen them as well. His lips were curled in a slight smile and I think it hit me then. There was something in his eyes as he watched the two young men walk up the path towards us. A certain warmth. Or perhaps it was eagerness.

The shack

21 Marcus

I had been jittery lately. It was nearing the end of summer and I was due back to college in another week. I wish I didn’t have to go back, that I could stay here forever with Stewart. I didn’t even mind Aimes any more. He still didn’t say a lot but I could tell he was starting to thaw towards me, which might not be much but still a whole heck of a lot better than when I first arrived. His bark was that less sharp, and he hadn’t swatted me again. He even growled thanks a few times when I had pre-empted his thoughts and completed all his chores.

I wondered what Stewart was thinking. A few times I caught him looking at me. Sometimes he smiled and pulled me into his arms. Sometimes he didn’t say or do anything, but just looked away. That kinda scared me a bit. But I had learned to trust Stewart in a way I had not thought it was possible to trust anyone. So I didn’t freak out too much; I just told myself firmly that Stewart wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me.

I was so happy when Ben turned up. I hadn’t expected that and he hadn’t said anything about it at all when we emailed or IMed one another. We had exchanged emails and were already regularly corresponding so I couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t mentioned anything. That was so unlike Ben, but I was too glad to have his company to complain.

“Where are we going?” Ben asked as we hurried down the stony path towards the woods. “What’s the hurry?”

The three Tops had disappeared into the study and I was bored. All the furniture had been covered and all the sheets and blankets we had used had been washed, cleaned and stored. There wasn’t much left to do and I wanted to be doing something to keep my mind occupied.

“I wanna show you something,” I replied. “Did you know there’s a shack right at the edge of the property? I am taking you there.”

“What kind of shack?” Ben obviously knew nothing of it.

“It’s just a shack – Stewart showed me one day. He says no one ever goes there except Aimes. He hides out there when he wants to be alone sometimes. There’s a pit of some sort where we can BBQ some sausages.” I held out a packet of franks for Ben to see.

He laughed. “Haven’t you got enough of BBQs yet?”

I grinned. “It’ll be fun.”

Ben’s face dropped comically when he saw the shack. “This is it?”

I laughed. “I told you – it’s just a shack.”

“You drag me all this way just to look at ... this?”

“Oh come on!” I scolded him. “Use your imagination!”

“I’m an accountant! We are not supposed to have one!”

That was funny. Ben had a wicked sense of humour under his sober exterior. He could say the wittiest things with the straightest of faces. I put the sausages down next to the stove and we looked around, explored a bit. Ben was right, there was absolutely nothing exciting about this place. Oh well, at least we had sausages.

It was a rather windy day so I was extra careful when I lit the fire. There was a neat little pile of twigs and wood next to the stove so it was easy work. I soon had the sausages spread out on top of the grill, which I had rinsed with the water that was kept inside the shack.

“Are we supposed to be here, Marcus?” Ben asked genially as we both watched the fire crackle.

“Um ...”

“This isn’t along one of the approved tracks, is it?” Ben looked around.

“Not exactly ...”

I heard Ben sigh. “Oh well ...” that was all he said.

I speared a sausage for Ben and then took one myself. It tasted rather good actually. No wonder Aimes liked coming here.

Ben and I were munching happily when we heard a noise that sounded like footsteps, and then a rustle of leaves. We had been warned enough times about wandering around because of wild animals so I guess we were immediately spooked. We looked around in alarm, and then Ben jumped up as the noise was heard again, closer this time. I too got to my feet in a hurry and in our haste, I think one of us accidentally kicked the make-shift stove over. The charred wood spilled onto the ground and over the pile of firewood and twigs. Everything was dry and brittle enough to form an ideal element for a fire. We both stood stock still, aghast as the flames flared. I had never seen fire spread so fast and we had nothing with us to put it out.

And then there was a hiss, and a new line of fire appeared, and before we even knew what was happening it was heading straight towards the shack. One side of the shack caught fire and Ben clutched my arm. “Move back!” He cried.

I heard Ben’s voice but I didn’t move as I watched in horror at the scene before me. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I was thinking it was my entire fault and that I had to do something about it. It was then I remembered the few bottles of water in the shed still.

Ben was pulling my arm urgently, and yelling at me to move away. I shook his hand free and started forward. “There’s water in the shack!” I cried out.

“What are you doing?” Ben screamed as I disappeared into the shack. “Marcus! Get out of there!”

I could hear Ben’s shouts as if in a distance. The heat hit me the minute I entered the shack, and my eyes were smarting as soon as the smoke engulfed me. I looked around for the water, already gasping and choking, and ran to retrieve one. It was a huge mistake. The plastic bottle was hot and melting and I yelled as my fingers got burned. At the same time, I heard Ben scream as the door to the shack was whipped close by the wind. The sudden movement garnered enough oxygen and the plank burst into flames. I was trapped inside.

I had no clear recollection of what happened next, except standing still for a moment in the middle of the room, wondering how the hell I was supposed to get out of there. The flames were all around me and rising higher by the second and I was feeling dreadfully sick and dizzy. My ears had started to pound, or was that my heart?

From a distance, I thought I heard Stewart’s voice. “Marcus!” It was a deep roar that cut through to my brain.

“Stewart?” I called out weakly.

“Stand back. Stand away from the door!” Stewart’s voice ordered. There was enough authority and urgency to make me instantly obey.

I covered my face with my scorched hands as thousands of thunderous sparks flew – the door crashed inwards into the cabin and I was convinced I would choke to death. Then I felt someone at my side, but my eyes wouldn’t open. As I gasped desperately for air, powerful hands caught hold of me and I felt some heavy material cover my head, immediately shutting out the heat and the noise and the smoke.


I found myself being dragged forward and I blindly obeyed the pressure of those arms, having no idea where I was being led. The heat was now at my feet, my legs, creeping up my thighs but I had no time to do anything except move as directed.

And then I was out in the open, the heavy jacket was lifted from over my head and I felt blessed cool breeze across my face. I opened my mouth to inhale deeply, followed immediately with a bout of coughing and dry retching.

“Marcus! Marcus!”

I thought that was Ben but I wasn’t sure. I was bent double, almost crouching on the hard ground, as voices boomed over me.

“Get him further away from the fire.”

Those hands grabbed hold of me again and half lifted me off the ground. We moved again, and then I was allowed to sink to the soft grass. I fell to my knees and would have crumpled forward if not for those hands holding me up.

“Marcus?” This time it was Stewart. I heard his voice clearly and his face came into focus as I blinked away the smoke and grime. How the hell did he get here so fast?

“Marcus!” Stewart’s voice was suddenly much sharper and I cringed. I looked towards the shack and felt the tears at the back of my eyes.

“I’m s-sorry about the s-shack ...” I croaked.

Stewart was holding my hands, and he paid no attention to the flames. “Oh baby, let me see your hands.”

I looked down and saw that my right palm and most of my fingers were red and raw and bleeding. I stared at it numbly. “The water bottle had melted,” I explained. “I-I didn’t know ...”

Stewart cursed but before he could say anything else, Aimes was next to us. “Are you both all right? Come on, let’s get you guys back to the house. That hand needs to be tended to.”

I leant against Stewart as we began to make our way up the path that led back to the house. “Where’s Ben?” I turned around to see. “Is he okay?”

“He’s fine, just shaken.” Stewart’s arms were like steel around me. “Keep walking Marcus.”

As the house came into view, my knees started to buckle and the throbbing in my right hand had reached unbearable levels. I felt Stewart turn towards me and before I knew what he was about, he had scooped me off my feet. I clung on, initially afraid he would drop me. But his hold was tight, his arms steady.

I flung one hand around his neck and clung on, resting my face against his solid chest. The other hand I nursed in front of me, afraid of knocking against it. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to block out all thoughts. It was beginning to dawn upon me how horribly wrong the whole thing could have turned out. Instead there I was being held like a baby, in Stewart’s arms.

As we entered the house, I started to shake.

22 Stewart

I stayed in the room while Marcus slept.

I thanked God that we had gone looking for the two boys instead of waiting for them to come back. I thanked God we went in the right direction. I thanked God Ben had screamed and we had heard him. Whatever Gods had looked down at us I thanked them.

Marcus had given me a real scare, one that had bolted me into action. Not just at the shack when I kicked the door down. That was plain impulse and pure adrenalin. I didn’t even have to think. The scare did something else - it made me reach a decision which I had been procrastinating for a while. Sometimes I guess I needed a kick in the butt too.

I grew cold every time I played that scene through my mind. Marcus inside the burning shack. Ben screaming. Aimes, Philip and I watching in horror as the door burst into flames.

We dressed his hand and attended to some other minor burns and cuts on his arms and body. He was lucky no serious injury had been sustained. His hand would need to be looked at by a proper doctor just to be on the safe side but both Aimes and I didn’t think there was any permanent damage. We were due to leave in a few days and it could wait till we got back to town. Aimes insisted he checked me over as well. Apart from a bunch of singed hair and a couple of broken nails, I had escaped unscathed.

I gave Marcus some pain killers, which effectively knocked him out. The earlier shock and panic very likely contributed to his exhaustion as well and he slept soundly for several hours.


I looked up as Marcus stirred. He was regarding me from under heavy eyelids, head on one side, his injured hand bandaged and lying against a pillow.

I went and sat down beside him, on the edge of the bed. “Feeling better?” I asked as I stroked one exposed cheek with a gentle finger. He had suddenly taken on the qualities of a porcelain bowl; I was afraid he would break.

I pushed his hair back from his face and then leaned down to kiss him. He nodded slowly and smiled when I kissed him.

“You gave me quite a scare.” I looked him over as if trying to find new bruises or scars.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

“If you ever scare me like that again ...” I said and my voice was husky despite how hard I tried to make it light.

He waited for me to finish, quirking an eyebrow. “Yes?”

I had no idea what I would do. So I just said, “well, don’t!”

“I’m sorry ...” he said again. “The shack ...”

“Forget the shack; it’s not important.”

“But Aimes?”

“He’ll get over it.”

“Is Ben ok?”

“Ben is fine.”

“Stewart, are you sure you are not mad at me?” Marcus looked searchingly into my eyes. “You seem ... mad ...”

Maybe I was frowning, but it was because I was deep in thought, not because I was mad or anything. “No honey, I promise you I am not mad at you.”

“You’re not?” Marcus sounded unconvinced.

“I’m not,” I reassured him, and then paused. “But I’ve been meaning to discuss something with you. Something important. About when we go back to town, and when we start going back to college. You to school and me to teach?” I sounded like an idiot, quite incoherent.


“Have you thought about that at all? About our arrangements?”

“Arrangements?” Marcus echoed, his voice slightly nervous.

“Yes, about us? I don’t know about you, but I would very much like for us to continue seeing one another.”

A slight pink touched Marcus’ cheeks and his eyelashes fluttered. “I was kinda hoping that would continue ... “

“Okay, that’s good. There is one slight complication though,” I said and a cloud immediately settled on Marcus’ face.

“What complication?”

“Luckily next year you will not be in my class but nevertheless I am still a staff member and there is a clause in my contract about ethical behaviour involving a student.”


“Now what exactly that means remains to be argued, but I don’t want to take any chances. I don’t want to put you through any unpleasantness. So this is what I am thinking ...” I took his good hand and held it firmly in mine. “We’ll have to be a little discrete for one year, until you complete your degree and finish uni. We can go on seeing one another, and you can stay over at my place on weekends, and all that. I can’t see that being a problem as long as we don’t openly advertise that to the world. But I can’t ask you to move in with me until you finish school. Unless I quit my position.”

Marcus looked startled. “I don’t expect you to quit, Stewart.”

“I know, honey. I am just saying that is an option.”

“Well, it’s not to me. You shouldn’t have to give up your career just for me.” Marcus scrambled up to a sitting position, eyes blazing.

I looked at Marcus’ indignant face and realized it was really no hardship for me if it came to that. Between Marcus and my teaching job, it wasn’t much of a choice. I knew which would win hands down. I didn’t depend on the university for my livelihood since I had an alternative source of income. I would miss it but I wouldn’t be devastated. Not having Marcus was.... well honestly quite unthinkable.

“We’re not at that stage, Marcus, I’m just saying it’s something we have as an alternative.” I didn’t want to sound too desperate or to pressure him on this.

“D-did you say move in with you?” Marcus demanded suddenly, as if he had only just digested the information.

“Yes,” I replied. “Unless you think that is a bad idea?” I was watching him closely and was pleased to see a small smile escape his lips. “Do you?”

“Nooo ...” he grinned.

23 Marcus

We began to pack up our stuff and close the house as the weekend approached. I would miss this place. I had grown to love it so much in the last three months. Now that things were more or less settled with Stewart, I could breathe a little easier, and even dared to entertain myself with the idea of coming back here next summer.

My hand was still bandaged and pretty useless, but I tried to pitch in and helped as much as I could. The only time I enjoyed my incapability was when I had to undress at night. Stewart did that for me, and we made it into a thoroughly enjoyable routine. I had thought I was in love with him before but this time was different. Better. We had definite plans to look forward to.

I was a little sad when I thought of Aimes here all by himself, after the stream of people and numerous activities we had got used to. It seemed so forlorn. I didn’t know how it happened but I had actually grown quite fond of Aimes. Like him, I would never dream of letting him know how I felt. We still moved around each other cautiously, not many words exchanged. But I would quietly relief him of some chore if I could, and he would silently leave out some special treat for me, especially those oatmeal cookies he baked.

Ben did most of my morning chores while I ‘supervised’ him. In reality, I just hung around him while he worked. That gave us a lot of time together, and we became the best of friends. He was such a sweet-tempered person and he never blamed or reproached me for the incident at the shack. Not once, even though he had caught more bother than I had. Philip had hauled him into the study while I was sleeping peacefully, knocked out by the pills Stewart gave me. Apparently Philip had given him hell for letting me lead him so far astray and Ben had been properly swatted (not amounting to a full blown spanking), with the promise of a real over-the-knee spanking if he ever used such bad judgement again.

“I should have known better,” Ben had said when I apologized for the umpteenth time. And that was all he said.

Aimes had looked at me and threatened to properly tan my backside if I ever did something so stupid again. I couldn’t meet Aime’s eyes and felt total shame for a few horrible seconds, till Stewart came and put his arms around me.

“We’ll build a new shack next year, Aimes,” Stewart promised.

Aimes grunted.

All in all, I think I got off lightly.

We were all packed and ready to go by Sunday morning after breakfast. I had gone round earlier and said good-bye to the place. Much to my surprise, I was overtaken by sentimentality and I didn’t want anyone to see me so emotional. I was definitely in a sombre mood throughout breakfast.

Since I had taken the bus up, I would ride back with Stewart. Philip and Ben would follow behind in Philip’s car. Aimes stood at the driveway, looking like a rock. He had made a lot of soothing noises when Stewart and Philip had badgered him about visiting. No one was fooled though. Aimes gave everyone a hug, including me, when we said good bye. In fact, his arms had tightened around me and I returned the gesture a little clumsily.

“Bye Aimes,” I whispered. “And thanks for everything.” I really meant it.

“Go on with you. Be good. I will see you next summer.”

I swallowed as I made my way over to Stewart’s car where he was already waiting. Stewart made sure I was strapped in securely and looked into his rear mirror. I wondered why he didn’t go, and then I saw Philip come over to our car, and he held a white envelope in his hand. He looked serious. He came over to my side and bent so that his face was at the open window.

“Here Marcus, this is for you.” Philip handed the envelope to me.

“What is it?” I asked. They paid my wages directly into my bank account, or at least Ben did, and I thought for a moment that perhaps they had decided to give me a bonus or something. “A bonus?” I joked with a nervous laugh. I really hoped they hadn’t done that, not after the damage I had done with the shack.

“Open it,” Philip said, beginning to walk away.

I glanced at Stewart but he didn’t say anything, just nodded at me to open the envelope. He put the car into gear, honked once loudly at Aimes, and waved. We slowly rolled down the drive, away from Willcott, the crunch of tires on sand and gravel loud in our ears. With slightly shaking hands, I tore the envelope open and took out a piece of paper.

It was an application form for membership to The Fraternity.

“Better than a bonus?” Stewart asked softly, his eyes meeting mine for a moment.

I couldn’t stop grinning. “Oh yeah!” I sighed deeply. “Much, much better!”

The End

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