Rolf and Ranger
"I know! One of the hottest days so far, and no swimming allowed," Matthew replied, pulling up the grass blade by blade.
"What are we going to do?"
"I don't know," Matthew replied, sitting up on his elbow. "I can't think of anything fun to do."
Todd sat up as well. "We could watch a movie."
"You don't have anything new that we haven't seen a hundred times."
"Walk down to the park?"
"Well that's easy enough." Todd said, grinning. "Want to try it?"
Matthew looked over at him. Todd sat up, already stripping off his shirt. "Come on. I don't think Steve'll mind us watering the garden this afternoon, it'll save us a job this evening."
Matthew got up and followed Todd towards the shed, somewhere between amused and doubtful.
Todd pulled out the hose and drug it to the house, hooking it up in between the flowers. He jumped back away from the garden when he got too close to a bee that was buzzing around the flowers in bloom.
"What're you doing?" Todd asked when he got back to the shed to find the better of the two sprinkler heads they owned.
"Just looking at all this stuff. Hose ready?" Matthew said, putting a can of bug spray back down in amongst the other garden chemicals.
"Yeah. Sprinkler is here," Todd said, pulling it off the wall. He went back to the hose and screwed it on, setting it just out of reach of the house. He then removed his shoes, leaving them on the porch. Matthew had his shirt and shoes off, stacked next to Todd's shirt.
"Ready?" Todd asked at the faucet.
"Ready," Matthew replied, stepping out into the sun. "YEOW!" he yelled as the cool water hit his hot flesh. It took only a moment for him to get used to it, as Todd walked down and grimaced as it hit him for the first time as well.
"Yeah, I think so," Matthew said, sitting down on the ground, unmindful that his shorts were going to be soaked in no time. He laid face down on the grass, Todd stretching out beside him.
THAT was fine for approximately five minutes. It was Matthew who first spotted the frog, abandoning the blank heat of the pond for the refreshing splash of fresh water and making a beeline for them. He watched for a moment, enjoying the slow, undramatic hops and strolls of long green legs as the frog reached the water and settled under the steady rain. When the third frog joined it, and one got perilously close to Todd's stomach, Todd got hurriedly to his feet and retreated. And laughed, levelling a finger at Matthew who'd turned to look at him.
Matthew twisted, peered, and errupted to his feet, brushing the worm off with a yell of disgust. Several more, long and writhing, had appeared in the wet grass and were making the most of the sprinkler shower.
"NOT fair." Matthew said when he calmed down slightly. "Who wants to fight the wildlife for water?"
"I don't mind the wildlife, just from a distance." Todd brushed water drops from his face and pushed his damp hair back. "It's cooler though. Want to try moving the sprinkler?"
"And be chased by more frogs? I don't think so." Matthew gave the wildlife a baleful look. "What's wrong with the pond anyway?"
"Want to go inside?" Todd suggested. "Whack the AC on high and find a puzzle or something?"
"I'm TIRED of doing the same thing over and over. I'm on my third puzzle at home," Matthew complained.
"We can try going to the mall?"
Matthew rolled his eyes then looked at his clothes. "That would require a shower and clean clothes, which means going home, and THAT is too much trouble."
"Well then I don't know what the fuck you want to do," Todd said, heading up to turn the sprinkler off.
Matthew waited a moment, then went back towards the shed when Todd carried the sprinkler head in. He again picked up the bug spray, then spotted the long-handled lighter used for lighting the grill. He thought he'd give Todd a scare. Stepping out of the shed, he flicked the lighter on until he had a steady flame, then pressed the button down on the bug spray. Bringing the bug spray over the flame, it erupted into a mini flame thrower.
"What the fuck - MATTHEW!" Todd screamed.
Matthew laughed and let go of the button, the flame instantly disappating.
"Have you any idea what Steve would say if he saw you?"
Matthew looked at him and laughed. After a few seconds, Todd started to laugh too.
"Blow it out your-" Matthew lit the cannister again, grinning as Todd jumped back from the tongue of flame. The can quickly exhausted it's contents and Matthew tossed it into a box of rubbish on the shed floor, reaching to flick through the other cans. Todd followed him, peering as he tried another with the lighter.
"The weed killer would probably be good."
"The gasoline would be better."
Matthew glanced back at him and grinned. "I tried it on a barbecue last year when it wouldn't light."
"What did Rolf say?" Todd demanded. Matthew snorted.
"He didn't SAY anything!"
"I wouldn't doubt it, dumbass," Todd returned, laughing. "I've never lit gas by itself. Doesn't it explode?"
"Yes, it does. The hair on the back of my hand got shortened by half as I was too close. But I bet if we put a little gas down, then lit one of the cans to light the gas we'd be far enough away."
"Oh, I don't -"
"Come on chicken. Steve's not going to be back for a while, is he?"
"No," Todd conceded as Matthew looked around for something to help with his experiment. His eyes settled on the recycling bin where he found an empty can, which he tossed to Todd. "Pour some gas in there while I figure out which can we need to light it with."
Todd grabbed the gas can and headed to the side of the shed with it. He poured just a tiny amount of gas into the can, then decided that it wasn't enough. On the second pour more gas came out than he meant. He ended up with a half can full.
Matthew came out a moment later with a can of weed killer.
"This ought to do it."
"I'm not that sure-" Todd began. Matthew shook his head.
"Do you WANT to see this or not? You were the one that asked. Nothing
happened the last time I did this, I was just too close and the can'll fix
that. Put the gas down somewhere safe."
Todd looked around, then put it down on a stone slab, a good couple of yards from the shed. Matthew shook the can, took the lighter out of his pocket and lit the jet. The flare was better than on the bug spray, and Todd grinned in spite of himself.
"Go on then mastro, pretend it's July 4th."
Matthew crouched, holding the bug spray at arms length, lit the lighter- and the tongue of flame shot straight into the can's contents. The reaction was a second or two delayed. Initially there was a swell of blue fire and the heavy breath sound of fire raising, then came the bang and Matthew leapt back out of the way. The can detonated and flew backwards in a jet propelled arc, straight into the open doorway of the shed, and the rush of flame this time was feet rather than inches high.
Matthew hurled himself instinctively backwards and heard a second shriek from Todd as he hit the ground. A second later Todd's hand closed on his collar and hauled and Matthew scrambled to help him as Todd dragged him backwards out of reach.
Both boys stared aghast at the flames which were roaring up inside the shed, showing no signs of stopping. Then Todd sprinted for the hose and Matthew leapt up, grabbing the first thing that came to hand- a garden sack near the shed door- with the idea of getting the can out QUICK before anything else caught alight.
He ducked into the shed and flung the sack onto the can, pulling it back out of the door. He belatedly realized that the can was no longer on fire; instead, the wooden workbench had flames running along the bottom of it, licking up the side of the shed. He spotted the lawnmower next to the workbench and worked on pulling that out, coughing on the thick black smoke that was now starting to fill up the tiny building.
Todd nearly ran over him as he fumbled with the hose, his fingers clumsy in his panic. He finally got the sprinkler off the end of the hose and realized he still needed to turn it on.
"Here! Spray!" Todd yelled, flinging the hose at Matthew.
Matthew shrieked again as the fire had reached another can of something, sending it out the door past Matthew in a loud pop.
Todd was scrambling up the lawn and fell when the can connected with his calf, leaving a angry red mark from the burn, and the beginnings of a purple bruise. He picked himself up and scrambled to the house, turning the hose on as fast as he could, wincing on the pain in his leg.
Matthew felt the hose jump in his hands and took a step nearer, raising a hand to shield his face even as he aimed the water. The shed was blazing now, he could dimly see through the smoke the flames turning a darker orange and starting to melt the plastic casings around the window. Something else exploded inside and the shed window shattered. Todd stood where he was for a moment, watching in horror, his eyes starting to stream from smoke and shock, coughing like Matthew as the smoke rolled out in thickening waves. The water was making no difference whatsoever. Matthew was playing it everywhere he could see flames but it wasn't reducing the fire in any way, shape or form.
As the third can blew up Todd found a shred of common sense left and grabbed Matthew's arm, pulling.
"Leave it, we'll have to call the fire brigade- Matthew
"It'll burn down if we leave it!" Matthew snapped back. They both jumped as another loud crack signalled something else inside giving way. Todd hauled at his arm, coughing.
"Move BACK, the hose won't do it!"
Todd tried to pull Matthew back again, but gave up knowing he had to get the brigade started. He dashed into the house and ripped the phone off the hook, having then to chase it across the kitchen floor. "Damnit!" he yelled, finally grabbing it and punching in 911. His breathless request for help was met with a calmness that did nothing to help Todd. He sprinted back over to the window to make sure Matthew wasn't on fire yet himself. Todd tossed the phone down on the table and ran back out to try to get Matthew back before something else exploded.
"Get BACK!" Todd screamed uselessly at Matthew, who was again approaching the door, trying to douse the fire edging out.
The flames were now coming through the roof in several places. Matthew felt blasted by the heat but doggedly tried to put out what fire he could with the hose, desparate to save anything that he could from the building. He backed up a step or two as he was racked with coughs from the heat and smoke. Todd's yank on his pants caught him completely by surprise and he found himself face down in the grass, several feet away. His coughing continued, so all he could do was try to scramble to keep up with Todd who was pulling him by the arms and the waistband of his pants. Todd finally let him collapse on the lawn, his coughing subsiding somewhat. From there, there was very little else they could do except sit and watch. And both jumped, ducking instinctively as the shed roof collapsed inward. From the direction of the street, Todd heard a hammering at the front door and a woman's voice, raised and urgent.
"Stephen! Stephen it's Mrs Walker- Todd? Stephen!"
Matthew looked at Todd, who bit his lip. Mrs Walker was nothing if not eager to help anyone in the street who might be doing anything gossip worthy. Right now the last thing he wanted to do was deal with her. Matthew shook his head hard, still coughing.
"Don't answer. She can't get through the gate unless you go unlock it."
"Are you okay?" Todd said a little shakily. Matthew nodded, still coughing. He was asthmatic: Todd knew that vaguely without really knowing what it meant, he'd never seen any evidence of it, just knew Rolf worried about it and tended to keep Matthew away from any situation likely to trigger it. He'd probably go loopy if he could see him now.
As a matter of fact-
Todd surveyed the collapsing shed, heart thudding. Stephen was going to go pretty loopy himself when he found out about this.
Thoughts of Stephen and Rolf were forgotten about as the siren's approaching wail reached them. Todd jumped up, nearly falling over again in his haste to open the side gate. Mrs. Walker was the first one through.
"Todd? Are you alright? What happened?" she asked, brushing some dirt from Todd's shoulder. He stood, dumbfounded, thankfully spared an answer as the first fireman came jogging through the gate. "Everyone alright?" the fireman asked, taking a moment to eye Todd critically.
"Yes, fine," Todd said, turning and following the fireman into the backyard, trailed by Mrs. Walker.
Matthew was sitting up, his legs pulled up and his head buried in his arms. He couldn't bear to look at the fire anymore.
Todd stood helplessly, watching hoses being uncurled, several more firemen appearing in their yard, and felt helplessly responsible, even if to do no more than stand and look as though he was the home owner, the one who had called them. Mrs Walker looked critically at the blaze the firemen were starting to expertly put out, and commented with ghoulish satisfaction
"Well THAT's not going to be good for much now."
"No." Todd agreed tonelessly.
"And a right mess it'll make of the grass too I shouldn't wonder. Where's Stephen?"
"At work." Todd said stiffly. Mrs Walker sniffed.
"Well if my home was burning down I'd want to be told."
"His home isn't burning down." Matthew said grimly, lifting his head. Todd winced, recognising the tone, and shook his head hard at him, more with pleading than anything else.
The fireman made short work of the blaze, putting it out quickly. They went ahead and tore down the walls to prevent any injuries, as the building and contents were a total loss, except the lawnmower that sat alone a few feet away. A couple of guys that were on a hose came over to check out Matthew and Todd, saving Todd having to referree an argument.
"What happened here?" The first one asked, putting down his medical box and looking over Todd, as the second knelt down to check out Matthew.
Todd swallowed hard, not wanting to answer the officer's question. Knowing they'd have to put it in the report, he spoke. "We tried to light a can, outside," Todd said quickly. "Something happened and it flew into the building and there was just nothing we could do," Todd finished, wanting to knock Mrs. Walker into next week for all the tutting she was doing.
Matthew was asked to take a few deep breaths, which caused another coughing fit.
"Inhale some smoke, did you?" the fireman asked when Matthew settled a moment later.
Matthew nodded miserably, wishing he was anywhere but here.
"You probably should get over to the hospital -"
"No!" Matthew said quickly. "I'm fine. I'll BE fine, it was just a little smoke," he said, holding out his arm so the fireman could take his blood pressure. "Alright, but at least come out to the truck and let me give you some oxygen to help clear out what we can of your lungs," he said, snapping off the blood pressure cuff.
"He's got asthma," Todd said, trying to help. The look he got from Matthew could have set his hair on fire.
"You're not having any trouble breathing, are you?" the fireman asked, pulling out his stethoscope again. "Have your meds with you?"
Matthew shook his head, still coughing. "I'm ok, I don't need them. This isn't bad at all, I'll be fine."
Todd swallowed, not liking the fireman's expression or the look on Matthew's face, but compelled nevertheless.
"We ought to call Rolf-"
"NO." Matthew moved away from the fireman politely but with enough decision that the man backed off. "Really, I'm fine. There's no harm done."
The fireman hesitated, but Matthew walked away, towards the house. Todd folded his arms more tightly and gave the fireman a wry smile. "I don't think his asthma's ever BAD-"
"Just keep an eye on him then." The fireman put away his kit and straightened up. The shed was out- no longer blazing, just smoking sadly, a blackened and misshapen ruin. Another fireman joined them, giving Todd a brief nod.
"Are you the houseowner sir?"
"Yes." Todd said as firmly as he could. "Thank you."
"It's out. It'll probably smoke for a few hours more but it won't reignite. You should probably leave it at least 24 hours before you touch anything, just to be safe. How did it start?"
"It's only a shed-" Todd said anxiously, "You won't need to investigate-"
"Little bit of arson was it?" the fireman said lightly. Todd flushed.
"A little bit of us being stupid. It was my fault entirely, I'm just glad it was only the shed."
"Fire isn't something to play with, ever. You're lucky that you've both escaped serious injury, and that the shed was the only building involved. Keep an eye on your friend, and if either of you have any problems whatsoever, get yourself over to the emergency room to get checked out. And stay away from fire in the future."
Todd flushed darker, hearing the authority in the fireman's voice, and seeing the sterness upon his face. "Yes, sir," Todd managed, as the fireman turned to leave. He heard Mrs. Walker thanking the fireman and rolled his eyes. He just hoped she'd follow them out.
Mrs. Walker turned and walked back to Todd and Matthew, tutting. "You really should -"
Todd tensed as Matthew turned towards her, and immediately grabbed his hand and pulled him forcefully towards the back door, talking over his shoulder as he went. "Thank you Mrs. Walker. We're going in to clean up and rest, and I'll make sure Stephen's aware, thank you."
To his relief, she didn't try to follow them inside. Todd shut the door after Matthew and leaned against it, hearing the side gate shut firmly as the last fireman left. A minute later the truck started in the street and the engine moved slowly out of hearing. Todd met Matthew's eyes and for a moment they looked at each other.
"I don't know," Todd said miserably, knowing this was one of those big deal situations that wasn't going to go away quickly or easily. "I guess just call."
"Call? You CAN'T just call! You can't!" Matthew said quickly, panic evident in his voice.
"What the hell else do we do? It's not like we can bury the shed and Steve will forget it ever existed!" Todd spat back.
"You don't have to feed us RIGHT to the lions!" Matthew said just as hotly. There was another, nasty silence while they considered the facts. Matthew hadn't considered his first impulse, which was simply to get as far away from this mess as was possible and hope it just somehow never got noticed.
Todd was right- this WAS going to come to light and fairly soon, and Matthew wasn't about to leave him to deal with that alone. On the other hand- there was no need to hurry fate along. Rolf, Matthew knew very well with a sinking feeling that was rapidly equating drowning, was going to be very, VERY unhappy when he heard about this. Unhappy was going to be an understatement. Right now anything that delayed the moment when he actually had to see Rolf and the expression on his face when he heard, was to Matthew a GOOD idea.
Matthew looked down at himself, water having made rivulets of soot down his legs. His shirt was still outside somewhere, but he knew he couldn't just sit here. "Come on, we just need to think through this and I can't do it here."
Todd stood still, knowing deep down that running wasn't going to help. But the look of sheer panic in Matthew's eyes made him grab his keys and follow Matthew out to his own car, sliding into the frontseat without regard to wetness or dirtyness. He pulled out of the driveway and headed down the street.
"Where are we going?"
"I don't know. Maybe the park. I don't think we'd get into the mall looking like this. God, Todd, I didn't mean for that to happen. Who'd have thought the can would shoot off like that?"
Todd stifled a retort that it was a risk they'd BOTH been taking and that Matthew had been the one stupid enough to play with cans anyway- but in all fairness he'd done nothing to stop him, nothing to say he dissented in any way. He drove somewhat blindly, trying to stop his immediate urge which was to go straight to Steve- for comfort as much as for anything else. He wouldn't be happy but at least he would KNOW, and from there on things at least would move to a resolution quickly, Stephen, even Stephen cross, was still the most reassuring and competent person Todd knew in a crisis.
Matthew clearly didn't feel the same way about Rolf right now. He tuned back in to Matthew's muttering, which was as much to himself as to Todd, and born of growing anxiety.
"It WASN'T my fault, I didn't mean for anything to burn, it was well away from the shed- we weren't in any danger, it was just an accident. A freak accident. Accidents happen."
"Look, what's done is done. We NEED to talk to -"
"NO! Rolf will KILL me, and I am in no way, shape or form, interested in that solution right now. Just go to the damned park and let me think. Maybe we can buy a replacement building," Matthew said, reaching for anything that sounded like a fix to the situation.
Todd snorted. "Yeah, get us a pink and white playhouse to store the mower in, yeah, Stephen will think everythings
"What the hell would YOU do?" Matthew shot back, temper running high because of stress.
"I SAID, I'd go talk to Stephen! And I think I will!" Todd said, taking a right onto a street that would lead him directly to Steve's bar.
"Don't!" Matthew said, panicked.
Todd slowed the car but didn't stop. Matthew was louder, bigger, with more personality than Todd knew he could muster on his best day, it was never easy to stand up against him or Mike or even Chris when they had their minds fixed on something- and none of those three would appreciate or approve of what he wanted right now, but Todd was past being interested. There was a smouldering ruin in their yard, the fire brigade had had to visit their home, and Stephen had a right and a need to know about it- apart from which Todd knew very well, not he or Matthew either was going to feel at all better about this until Stephen and Rolf were told. And Todd for one had no intention of delaying this any further- nor letting Matthew's panic wind him up any higher.
"Matt this is SILLY. What are we going to do? Run around town all afternoon getting more and more upset? Hope no one sees? Going to make Rolf come look for you?
"I don't KNOW!" Matthew spat. He saw the restaurant come into view and his stomach was trying to find a way out of his body. "Come on, let's just go back to the house. Drop me off at my house, it's not that far."
"No! You can walk home if you want, but I'm going in to talk to Stephen," Todd said, pulling into the back of the parking lot and pulling into a parking space. "He needs to know," Todd said, looking at Matthew.
"Give me your keys?" Matthew pleaded.
"Forget it. Coming in?" Todd asked, getting out.
"NO!" Matthew spat, flopping into the corner of the front seat. He went to say something else but the door was slammed shut and he saw Todd walking into the bar.
"Son of a bitch!" Matthew said, slamming his hands down on the dashboard. He was stuck in the parking lot with no where to go. Panic overcoming all else, he grabbed out his cell phone from his pocket and quickly dialed Mike's number to see if he could get a ride.
Todd looked back at the car, then steeled himself and opened the door to bar.
He didn't actually intend on getting Matthew into any more trouble than he could help, it wasn't nice to be doing this without Matthew wanting to- but the sight of Stephen at the end of the bar overwhelmed all other thought as soon as Todd saw him. Thankfully he headed across, threading his way through customers to Stephen's part of the bar. Stephen didn't look up for a moment and when he did his initial blink of recognition rapidly became alarm as he saw the soot and water stains. He came around the edge of the bar, took Todd's arm and steered him through into the back corridor, shutting the door behind them before he grabbed Todd's arms.
"WHAT happened? Are you okay? What's going on?"
Todd took a deep breath, trying to keep eye contact and keep his stomach down, although the words came flooding out with relief as much as anything else now Stephen was here and it was inevitable this WOULD come out.
"I'm fine, there was an accident at home and the shed burned down, the fire brigade had to come put it out. It's out now, there was no damage to anything but the shed, everything's fine-"
"WHAT?" Stephen asked, shocked. "The shed has burned down? How?"
Todd swallowed hard. This was the part that was going to be ugly, but he was too upset to think through the best way to say it. "Matthew and I tried to light a can of gas, and it exploded. We didn't mean -"
"You did WHAT?" Stephen asked in alarm. "YOU burned the shed down?"
Todd's eyes overflowed, this wasn't going as he had expected it to. His sobbing increased as he felt Stephen's arms wrap around him and pull him close.
"Shhhh, shhh. It's okay," Stephen said, trying to calm Todd down now that the initial shock had warn off. "Todd, where's Matthew?" Steve asked, pushing Todd away from him where he could see his face. He'd not heard anything about him and now worried that Matthew was injured.
"Outside," Todd sobbed, trying to quiet down.
"Are you both alright? Not burned, anything?"
Todd nodded. "The fireman was worried about Matthew's asthma, he inhaled smoke, but Matthew wouldn't go get checked out. He's okay though," Todd added hurriedly, seeing the concern in Stephen's face.
"Come here," Stephen said, taking Todd's hand. He directed him to stack of boxes and let Todd sit down. "I'm going to get Matthew, wait for me here."
Todd subsided on the boxes, relieved now it was out but still in tears. Stephen put a hand on his head but moved swiftly past him, heading for the carpark at a near jog. His junior manager glanced up, surprised and Stephen turned to hold her gaze.
"Claire, I'm going to have to go home, family emergency. Can you organise cover for me?"
"Sure-" Claire said at once, "Are you okay? Can I help?"
"Just find someone to help with the bar, I'm sorry." Stephen let the doors swing shut behind him and headed across the carpark towards Todd's car. Matthew was still on the phone inside, hunched in the corner of the passenger seat and clearly in mid argument. It was equally clearly from his tone, not with Rolf. Stephen opened the door and took the phone out of his hand, holding it to his own ear.
"I'm sorry, Matthew'll call you back later."
He clicked off and pocketed it, looking down at Matthew who looked somewhere between defiant and terrified. And pale. Stephen put a hand on his arm and pulled him up and out of the car.
"Are you allright? Breathing ok?"
"FINE." Matthew tore his arm out of Stephen's grasp, tone anything but conciliatory. After the shock to his nerves and the knowledge of Todd inside and very far from okay, Stephen's patience slipped abruptly. He grabbed Matthew's arm again without thinking, swung him around and swatted him, several times and extremely soundly.
"Don't you DARE disrespect me in that manner again," Stephen said in a tone of voice Matthew hadn't heard before. Stephen turned Matthew to face him. "Is that clear?"
Matthew was a shade paler, but managed a sincere "Yes, sir," Stephen's handprints stinging, but the shame stinging more.
"Are you breathing alright? You look a little pale to me," Stephen said a little more gentler.
"I'm FINE," Matthew said, recovering a bit of his earlier arrogance, then coughing, which made him even madder.
"We're going to the ER, and -"
"No! I SAID -"
Stephen turned Matthew to face the car again, swatting hard. "You'll do as you're told without another word, or find yourself with your pants around your ankles WHEREVER we are."
Matthew flinched, lowering his eyes and managing a second "yes, sir," before he was escorted to the back door of the bar.
Not letting go of Matthew, Steve unlocked the door and opened it. "Todd, come here, please. Go get in the truck, back seat please."
Todd went immediately, not meeting Matthew's eyes. Stephen waited for him, steered Matthew ahead of him across the carpark and took Matthew's cellphone from his pocket, handing it over.
"Call Rolf for me please, I want to talk to him."
Matthew swallowed, not taking the cellphone and not quite daring to answer back as he usually would. Stephen looked in no mood whatever for negotiation, Matthew had never seen him look like this and did not like the change at all.
"Please- I can tell him when I get home -"
"There is absolutely no way I'm taking someone else's brat to hospital without letting his partner know." Stephen said curtly. "Call, right now."
"I'm fiiiiiiiiiine....." Matthew pleaded, approaching tears. Stephen let him go long enough to land another sharp swat.
That was the end of it. Matthew leaned against the truck, hands shaking, tears overflowing, and found speed dial for Rolf's number. He handed it over as soon as it started to ring and Stephen took it, resting a hand on the back of Matthew's neck. It was answered promptly and somewhat curtly.
"Matthew I'm about to go into a meeting, I'll call you back in an -"
"Rolf it's Stephen, I'm sorry to call you at work."
"What's wrong?" Rolf said sharply. "How are you on Matthew's phone?"
"There's been a problem here, I'm taking Matthew over to the emergency room to get him checked over, I'm worried about some smoke inhalation. He's not in any trouble or danger but considering the asthma and the shock I think he ought to be checked over."
"Smoke inhalation?" Rolf asked worriedly.
"It's a long story, which I've yet to hear, though I know it involved my shed, the fire brigade, and Matthew and Todd. He was checked briefly over by a fireman, but I'd like to confirm his condition by a trip to the ER. When I'm finished there, we're going back to my house to get to the bottom of this story. If you'd like to come over after your meeting -"
"I'll make it as quick as I can. Thank you. May I speak to Matthew a moment?
"No problem," Steve said, before handing the phone over to Matt.
Matthew almost dropped the phone, but got it up to his ear. "H..hello?"
"Are you alright?" Rolf asked immediately.
"Y..yes," Matthew said, fighting back to urge to cry.
"You go with Steve and get checked out, and so help me if you're not a perfect angel for him. I'll be by to pick you up later."
"Yes, sir," Matthew said miserably, hitting the disconnect button. He was helped unceremoniously into the front seat of the truck.
"Buckle up," Steve said, closing the door and sliding into the driver's seat a moment later.
Matthew did as he was told, curling up against the door. Stephen started the engine, glancing back to Todd in the rearview mirror. "Are YOU okay? Did either of you get any burns at all? What did the fire crew say?"
"They tried to talk us into going to the ER." Todd said when Matthew showed no sign of answering. "And to get Matthew on oxygen for a few minutes-"
"Which you turned down?" Stephen interrupted. "Matthew?"
Matthew gave him an increasingly unhappy nod. Stephen sighed but turned out onto the main road. "Go on Todd."
"Other than that they just said to stay away from the shed for 24 hours, it's still smouldering but it won't re ignite."
"HOW did this fire start anyway?" Stephen said shortly. "Who did what and WITH what?"
There was an awkward silence. Then Matthew spoke, wearily. "I did. I was messing around with cans, if you light the jet it shoots out like a flame thrower- we had them well away from the shed."
"But one caught it?" Stephen demanded. Matthew shook his head.
"One kind of exploded, it flew backwards into the shed."
Todd looked at him for a moment. Then down at his hands.
"We filled it with gas, I filled it too full- and we lit it by lighting the spray from a weedkiller can. That's why it exploded."
There was a long silence for a moment. Then Stephen said quietly and grimly, "Of all the stupid, infantile, dangerous, THOUGHTLESS things to be doing."
Neither of the boys answered him. Stephen said nothing else for the rest of the trip into town, found a parking space outside the ER and sent Todd to sort out parking fees, taking Matthew with him to the front desk. A few words had a triage nurse come straight to them and Stephen answered what questions he could regarding what he knew of Matthew's asthma as Matthew seemed increasingly un talkative. Whether from shock, misery or smoke inhalation Stephen didn't know. By the time Todd arrived Matthew had been taken, silent and apprehensive, through to an exam room and there was nothing else Stephen could do except take a seat with Todd and wait.
It was nearly fifteen minutes before the main doors opened and the height of the man who entered caught Stephen's attention. He let go of Todd's hand and got up, moving quickly across the waiting area.
Rolf's look of relief rapidly changed as he saw no Matthew with Stephen or Todd.
"I'm sorry it took so long, I had to hand the meeting over to a colleague- is he allright? He sounded husky."
"He was pretty upset apart from anything else. He was pale but I really don't think he was in any danger. The fire crew said he should be checked out as a precaution."
"Did he have his inhaler on him?" Rolf demanded. Stephen looked at Todd who looked as blank as he could manage.
"I didn't see, he saw the first aid guy with the fire truck, I was talking to the guy dealing with the fire."
"They're doing some blood gas tests and a basic exam, they said they'd get back to us soon." Stephen said gently. "They didn't seem worried."
"Thanks." Rolf headed to the desk, spoke briefly to the receptionist and a minute later a nurse came over and led him into the maze of rooms and cubicles beyond the waiting area.
Rolf spotted Matthew first, lying on his back in a bed, an oxygen mask hooked up to his face, and several bandaids across his arm where they'd evidently drawn blood. He saw Matthew turn towards him, worried he was a doctor. The mask came off and Rolf barely got to the side of the bed to prevent Matthew leaving it, his arms winding tightly around his waist.
Rolf hugged him hard, then pulled away to get a good look at Matthew's face. "Are you alright sweetheart?"
Matthew nodded, diving again for Rolf's side. No matter how much he thought he wanted to run, the first, and only person he wanted to see now was Rolf.
Rolf hugged him a moment longer, then pushed him back down. "They've got you on oxygen for a reason, let's get it back on you. No, lie down," Rolf said, getting the mask back in place.
Matthew subsided, unpleasantly aware that between the stress and emotion he was shaking slightly. Rolf kept firm hold of his hand, pushing his hair back out of his eyes.
"Stephen and Todd are outside. I'll talk to the doctor in a minute, if we're going to be here long I'll send them home."
"I'm sorry." Matthew said through the mask. Rolf shook his head.
"Shh, just breathe for a while."
That was a good option. Matthew lay where he was, keeping hold of Rolf's hand, more than slightly tempted to play for all the sympathy he could get here. Right now it wasn't difficult to feel at all pathetic.
It was a good twenty minutes before the doctor came back, talked Matthew through a peak flow test, then checked through the paperwork.
"I think your blood gases are good enough to release you, and your peak flow isn't bad. You're sure you have your inhalers at home?"
Matthew nodded, trying to avoid Rolf's dagger glare. The doctor nodded.
"In future carry them with you, they're exactly for emergencies like this. I don't think you'll have any more problems but take
"Is there anything I should look out for?" Rolf asked grimly. The doctor glanced at him, signing off the paperwork.
"Standard precautions as you would for an attack, he'll be a little more prone for a few hours. Avoid temperature extremes, steam, exertion, no jogging or hot baths tonight, have a quiet evening and take the meds if you feel wheezy. Any problems come straight back, but the peak flow is good."
"Thankyou." Rolf picked up his own jacket, holding it for Matthew to shoulder into to cover what was left of smoke and scorch marks across his chest. The doctor nodded and led the way out into the corridor. Stephen and Todd both got up in the waiting area, looking openly relieved at the sight of Matthew on his feet and unharmed.
"Everything okay?" Stephen asked Rolf as they got close enough. Matthew was trying to melt into Rolf's side, and keeping his eyes well short of either Todd or Stephen.
"Yes, thank you. Glad SOMEONE had the foresight to get him checked out," Rolf replied, squeezing Matthew's side. "Shall we go see what the damage is?"
Matthew shook his head no, not expecting it to help. Todd looked at his shoes, his hand tightening relexively in Stephens.
"I think that sounds like a good idea. I, for one, would like to know the entire story," Stephen said, steering Todd out of the hospital. "I'll see you in five minutes."
Rolf helped Matthew over to his own truck, getting him settled in the front seat. Matthew again curled up against the passenger side door, in no hurry to get back to the scene of the crime. When they pulled into the driveway, the strong smell of smoke could still be detected. He only got out of the truck at Rolf's urging, still not wanting to meet anyone's eyes.
Rolf took firm hold of his hand, following Stephen to the side gate and into the back garden. Both he and Stephen stood still for a moment, shaken by the sight of the pile of smoking, blackened timber still smouldering in the garden. The lawn around it was wet and blackened, and several of the flowerbeds were damaged from the strength behind the firehose jets. It looked even worse in the cold light of day than Matthew remembered. Todd was staring at it with clear distress.
"HOW did this happen?" Rolf demanded.
Stephen answered, sounding grim although he didn't look around.
"Lighting the gas jets from cans apparently. Then someone had the bright idea of filling a can with gas and lighting it with a lit gas jet from a weed killer can. Not surprisingly the gas can exploded, flew back into the shed and set fire to it."
"Only a little- we were playing with some bug spray- I don't remember."
"YOU lit a can of gas?"
Matthew shrugged, looking despairingly at Todd. "We had it outside, well away from the shed-"
"Thank God it didn't explode into you! DO you think lighting ANYTHING, especially volatile fuel in pressurised cans ANYTHING LIKE A GOOD IDEA?"
Since Rolf's voice had risen steadily throughout the question Matthew shook his head fast, ducking his head, tears stinging.
"WHAT ON EARTH POSSESSED YOU TO THINK THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA? WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!?" Rolf thundered.
Matthew was wishing that he was still in hospital, his face couldn't flush any darker scarlet. Getting yelled at at home was one thing, but to have Rolf berate him in front of others stung a lot worse.
"I'm waiting for an answer, young man," Rolf said, dropping his voice back down, realizing that he'd made everyone jump with his last comment.
"I don't knoooooooooooowwww!" Matthew said, beyond caring what anyone else thought. He tried to bury himself in Rolf's side, the sobs overtaking him. Rolf held him away, one arm on each shoulder. "Look at me."
Matthew fought him for a minute, then finally looked up when he realized nothing was going to happen until he did.
"I warned you last year when you lit that can of gas and scorched your hand of exactly what I'd do if you ever did it again. And now you not only do the exact same thing again, you add a
Rolf stepped behind Matthew, hands on either shoulder. Matthew was working hard to control his sobbing, hating that he looked as he did in front of anyone, even if both parties understood completely.
"I'm s.s.s.sorry," Matthew sobbed to Todd, who was trying hard to appear as if nothing was wrong and not looking at Matthew.
"It's ok," Todd replied.
"It's very NOT okay," Stephen said sternly to Todd. That was VERY dangerous and very childish."
"Yes, sir," Todd said quietly.
Matthew turned to Steven, trying hard but unable to meet his eyes. "I'm sorry I burned down your shed."
Stephen stood watching Matthew for a long, uncomfortable amount of time. Matthew finally looked up.
"I am ashamed of you. Really ashamed. I'd expect this type of behavior from young boys, but not from you. EITHER of you," Stephen admitted, taking in his own young lover. You could have been injured far worse. What if that can had flown towards you? Would you be happy in the hospital, burned to a crisp? Would you be happy knowing you could have damaged not just my shed, but my home, a neighbor's home?"
Todd's colour was darkening to match Matthew's, well aware of Rolf's grim disapproval beside Stephen's. Stephen looked from one to the other of them.
"HOW ridiculous is it that Rolf and I now have to wonder if you two are
Rolf saw the impact that had on Matthew: it looked to him right now as if the sight of the shed was making more impact on Todd than anything else.
He tapped Matthew's shoulders under his hands. "I think I'm going to take Matthew home, we need to be careful for this evening. I WILL bring him back in the morning to help clear up this mess and to repair the damage in any way you'd like Stephen. If you're happy to have him on the premises, I will come with him and supervise."
Stephen nodded quiet thanks. Rolf looked pointedly at Matthew who cleared his throat, trying to find a voice. "I'm so sorry Stephen. Todd."
"Goodnight." Rolf added quietly. "Thank you Steve."
Matthew went where he was taken, through the side gate and back to the car. Rolf waited for him to buckle up, sitting with his hands on the steering wheel. Once Matthew had the belt in place he said quietly and sternly, "I agree with every word Stephen said. I'm ashamed of you too, how DARE you play such stupid games on someone else's property? HAVE I had to speak to you before about messing around with fire? HAVE I had to spank you before for setting light to gasoline?"
"I didn't meeeeeeaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnn tooooooooooo!" Matthew sobbed, stung and feeling it.
"So the cans just lit themselves?" Rolf asked sternly.
Matthew dissolved into tears, curling up as tightly as he could get. Rolf realized nothing more could be said that Matthew would hear, and pulled out of the driveway.
Rolf was very glad the ride home wasn't long, as listening to Matthew cry hurt him greatly. He parked and helped his partner from the car, walking him into the kitchen, past the cats that were clamoring for attention, and straight upstairs to their room. He quickly drew a lukewarm bath while Matthew quietly sobbed on the toilet seat lid, not fighting anything that Rolf did.
Matthew's tears finally ran out while he was being bathed by Rolf. What was usually a soft and sensual experience for him was barely felt, his mind on how badly he felt that Rolf was disappointed in him. Rolf wasn't being mean, nor stern in any way, and that only made it seem worse. After the final rinse, he found himself sitting on the side of the bed, trying to stop sniffling long enough to take the inhaler that Rolf was trying to hand him.
"Lie down and rest. I'll bring dinner up to you later," Rolf said holding the covers up. Matthew slid in, not even caring that it was still light outside. Hiding under the covers sounded like a great idea right now.
Stephen stood for several minutes surveying the damage after Rolf and Matthew left. Then turned and gave Todd a look of grim disappointment.
"I'm horrified you'd LET Matthew do anything so dangerous, you do realise you and he might have been badly hurt- even killed?"
Todd didn't answer, feeling so guilty and so miserable he didn't know where to look. Stephen gave him a nod.
"Upstairs, get under the shower, you're filthy."
Todd fled. Upstairs he caught sight of himself in the mirror and realised his face was blackened with smoke, his clothes were filthy. He peeled them off and pushed them into the laundry basket, struggling with tears now of pure apprehension and distress. Rolf had been clearly furious. STEPHEN was clearly furious. Todd was by nature a fairly law abiding soul, this was easily the worst thing he'd ever done.
Somehow he managed to get cleaned off, though he spent half his time picking things up off the bottom of the shower where he kept dropping them. Turning off the water he carefully pulled back the curtain, not sure whether he was happy or not that Stephen wasn't waiting right there for him. He pulled the towel off the rack and dried himself quickly, doing what he could to stop the tears that kept threatening to overwhelm him. Images of Stephen's face, and Rolf's yells kept flying around his head, his thoughts in total turmoil. He slowly hung his towel on the rack, and opened the door to their bedroom. He started to breathe easier, until his eyes took in the full room. Stephen was propped up against the dresser, looking very forbidding.
"Get into your pajamas, and have a seat on the bed, please."
Todd swallowed on a dry throat, tears pricking again, and found his shorts, quickly pulling them up before sliding his t-shirt over his head. He collapsed onto the bed, heart beating double-time.
Stephen looked very unusually grim and he hadn't moved. Todd met his eyes for a moment, then stared hard at the floor, tears overflowing again. Stephen stood for a second or two, torn between a decision that he HAD to make absolutely sure he made a strong impression and awareness of Todd's total panic and misery at this moment. Then he went quietly to sit beside Todd and Todd buried his head in Stephen's lap. Stephen stroked his hair, holding him closely. Todd knew perfectly well what he'd done wrong, he was more shaken and self blaming now than was at all good for him. And Stephen knew perfectly well at this moment this punishment was more about setting limits on Todd's guilt as instilling a clear reminder about the consequences of playing with fire. He thought it very likely that for the rest of his life Todd was going to see that blackened heap of timber every time he saw a naked flame.
Putting his hand firmly on Todd's head he made his voice calm and quiet enough that Todd would have to quieten to hear it.
"Sit up please."
He didn't repeat himself, just waited. Slowly, Todd peeled himself upright, still shaking with sobs. Stephen put a hand on his face and smoothed his hair back, talking softly and firmly.
"Stop it and listen to me."
Todd took a few deep breaths, trying hard to comply. Stephen waited, still stroking his hair back until the shaking subsided a little.
"You do NOT, ever, do anything so stupid again. I know Matthew's propensities for playing with fire, I know too that you have a lot more sense- what I DO expect is that you STOP him when he begins that kind of messing around, you don't stand as an audience and join in. Is that clear?"
Todd nodded miserably, then voice cracking, said "Yes, sir", meaning it more than anything. Feeling as though Stephen hated him, he looked away quickly.
"Look at me," Steve said gently. Seeing the distress in his partner's face was hard. "I know you didn't intend for any of this to happen. It wasn't premeditated, it wasn't even thought through. It IS, however, a very dangerous mistake you made. It's a mistake, and there are consequences for this mistake. Once that's over with, the slate is wiped clean."
Todd managed to keep eye contact. He didn't see anger in his partner's face. It was straightforward and simple fact. He'd made a mistake and he'd be punished for it, but there wouldn't be any lingering feelings of anger or sadness or regret for having him as a partner. "I'm sorry," Todd said simply.
"I know. It was a very dumb, and dangerous game you were playing. As I said outside, until I can trust you alone, you'll have no one in this house unless I'm here. You're grounded for two weeks. You'll go nowhere without my permission, period. Tomorrow, you and Matthew will work on putting up our next shed, and then you'll spend the next two weeks tending to the plants and grass that have been destroyed by today's events."
That wasn't good news, but it was pretty much what Todd had expected and the blunt fairness of it was in an odd way comforting. There were limits placed on what had happened, a language they both understood and were familiar with, and there was nothing worse in Stephen's voice than just firmness. Todd nodded.
Stephen gave him a careful look, seeing the look of fragmentation starting to dissipate. What came next was harder. It was very rare for Todd to merit more than an occasional spanking: mostly lines and brief grounding was more than enough. Stephen got up and started to unbuckle his belt, well aware of Todd's eyes filling immediately in response. He didn't say anything. Stephen doubled the belt over in his hand, once more took a seat on the side of the bed and took Todd's hand. Todd got up slowly and went where Stephen led him, tears starting to fall.
"I'm sorry. I really am sorry, I didn't mean it to happen-"
"I know you didn't." Stephen said quietly. "But that was a very dangerous act, and I want to be sure that you remember well that it's not going to be repeated. Not if. Not maybe. I mean, not EVER."
Todd pulled against Stephen's hand, fear making it hard for him to breathe. He kept shaking his head no, as if that would make it not happen.
Stephen kept firm hold of Todd's hand, but didn't pull any harder. "Don't make this any harder than it has to be. Todd?"
Todd quit pulling, and allowed himself to be guided down across his partner's thighs. He knew that Stephen would never injure him, but he DID know that the belt was going to seriously hurt. As soon as he tipped forward enough to lose his footing, he grabbed the bed and tried to turn around to change Stephen's mind.
Stephen wrapped an arm around his waist and held him where he was, taking hold of the shorts Todd wore and pulling them down to mid thigh.
"I do not EVER expect you to play with fire in any way shape or form, nor to allow anyone else to do anything you know is foolish and dangerous while on our property, is that clear?"
"YES." Todd said heartfeltedly, "Stephen PLEASE, I swear I won't EVER do anything like that again, it was stupid-"
"It was dangerous." Stephen raised the folded belt, holding Todd tightly where he was over his lap and brought it down hard across his upraised bottom. Todd jumped hard, screeching.
"It was irresponsible, it was TOTALLY unacceptable." Stephen punctuated himself with hard and well placed swipes of the belt, bringing it down with all too much accuracy. Todd sobbed, clutching at the bed covers.
The sound of the belt hitting his flesh was almost worse than the pain. He couldn't remember the last time he was belted, though he remembered hearing Matthew get it once. The next stripe of the belt caused Todd to yell, bucking hard. He ran out of breath to talk, out of space to think, as his brain was trying to deal with ever increasingly painful stripes across his backside. Just as Todd was certain the next stripe would lay him open to the bone, the belt stopped falling.
Relief mingled with topmost levels of pain and caused Todd several minutes of strangled breathing mixed with half cries of pain. Just as he was starting to get on top of the pain, he felt himself pulled up. Instead of standing, he let his knees buckle and he fell to the floor, hanging onto Stephen's legs as if his life depended on it. Ignoring the pain in his legs, he lay there for what seemed like an hour before Stephen helped him up, pulling his pants back into the normal position. He collapsed face down on the bed when Stephen pulled back the covers, and curled up tightly to Steve when he sat down on the opposite side. The sun had long since set before Steve untangled himself from his partner and headed downstairs to make something light for dinner.
Half asleep, tears still stiff on his face, Todd lay for a moment, listening to the familiar sounds of Stephen moving around downstairs. Being alone up here was almost more than he could stand at the moment, despite being sore it was definitely better to be downstairs with Steve than up here alone. Todd staggered to his feet, rubbed his eyes as he made himself wake up fully and with extreme caution moved the edge of his shorts aside enough to see his throbbing backside.
The flesh beneath was scarlet and very sore, but was hardly the ravaged landscape Todd had been expecting. Tentatively he rubbed what he could reach and padded slowly downstairs, still sniffling. Stephen was making sandwiches at the kitchen counter, glanced up as he came in and straightened up.
"No." Todd said frankly. Stephen held out an arm to him, drew him close and gave him a hug.
"Why don't you lie down, I'll bring this up to you."
Todd shrugged, not keen to admit he didn't want to be alone. The sight of the shed beyond the window, still smouldering slightly in the greyness outside, did nothing to lift his spirits. Stephen caught his expression, tipped his head up and kissed him firmly. "Draw the curtains and get the milk out then."
"I'm so sorry." Todd said unsteadily. Stephen gave him another hug and a gentle push towards the fridge.
"I know and we've dealt with that, it's over. You and Matthew get to clear that mess up and put the new one up, we'll live with the mower in the garage in the meantime, it's not the end of the world."
Todd drew the curtains across the smoldering heap and went to get the milk. He took a long look at the kitchen chair, but was spared thinking about sitting when Stephen passed him up with a tray.
"We're going back upstairs, come on."
Following his partner up the stairs, grimacing as his shorts rubbed his backside, Todd thought back through what had happened. He wasn't looking forward to working tomorrow on the shed. He hated the idea of being grounded. And he REALLY hated that he couldn't have anyone over if Stephen wasn't there. That lack of trust hurt, even if it was warranted. And he'd received one hell of a spanking -but Stephen wasn't mad at him. As he said, any recriminations, whatever, it was all behind him now. He just had to work on the trust issue, and time, and maybe this would all be forgotten.
It looked like a mild case of sunburn.
Matthew prodded experimentally at the slight redness of the scorchmarks on his face. They weren't sore, just tender, but it was clear he'd stood a little too close to the fire yesterday. He finished washing his hands, gave himself one last look in the mirror at the marks, and headed very quietly back to bed. Rolf was up: Matthew had no idea when he'd left.
It was approaching eight am and there were no sounds downstairs, nothing to indicate where he was. And this morning wasn't a good time to be up and awake anyway
Matthew curled back under the covers, more than willing to 'sleep' as long as he possibly could. He still didn't really believe how out of hand yesterday had gone. Part of him was bitterly ashamed- and the rest was just shocked. He had- admittedly- something of a fascination for fire, he'd fiddled around with candles and their hearth a little more than Rolf really cared for if Matthew was honest- but nothing ever this bad.
He'd been left in bed all evening. Rolf was there with inhalers and plenty of water. He was never mean, or angry, in fact he was a lot more calm and settled than Matthew wanted him to be. He knew he was going to be punished, and he knew it was going to be ugly. It wouldn't have been pretty if he'd burned down their own shed, but to do it to a friend? Matthew could feel his face burning now more from shame than the scorchmarks. To think he'd have to face them again at some point, he couldn't fathom. He stretched out, trying to make his stomach feel better as it was suddenly tied up in knots. Rolling over again, he curled up, crying softly to himself. He swallowed hard and tried to stop when he heard the back door shut firmly. He wasn't sure whether he wanted to see Rolf or not, and the quieter he was, the better he thought it'd be.
A door opened and shut downstairs, he heard Rolf talking to one of the cats, then footfall coming upstairs and the curtains pulled open, letting enough sunlight into the room to make it hard to pretend sleep. And Rolf didn't sound at all convinced anyway.
"Up please. Breakfast's nearly ready, I want you downstairs and showered. Ten minutes."
There was no point in arguing. Matthew lay and looked at him, clearly tearstained. Rolf paused on his way out, stooped to kiss his forehead and pulled the covers beyond reach.
He didn't wait to see if he was obeyed, just went back downstairs. Matthew sat for a minute, trying to get his stomach under control, then decided there was no point at all in making things worse. He showered, headed back into their room and grabbed the first clothes that came to hand.
Walking down the steps slowly, he pulled his shirt over his head. He didn't know how he was going to eat, he was certain he'd throw back up anything that made it past his mouth. He rounded the corner into the kitchen to find Rolf at the stove, pouring out the last of the scrambled eggs onto two plates.
"Pour us a couple glasses of milk, please," Rolf said without turning around.
Matthew padded over to the fridge, gently kicking aside cats that demanded their own share of the milk. He was trying hard, but couldn't control a few sniffles here and there. Rolf paid no attention.
Rolf set the plates down on the table, grabbing a couple of forks to eat with and settled down at the same time as Matthew.
Matthew picked up a fork and stirred the eggs with very very little enthusiasm. One of the cats leaned hard against his leg, purring and mewing hopefully. Rolf clicked his fingers at her.
"Stop begging. Matthew eat that, you'll be hungry later."
And I'll throw up. Matthew kept quiet and tried a tiny bit of the egg, avoiding the concept of swallowing.
He was still avoiding it when Rolf finished his own breakfast and gave him a look that held absolutely no sympathy.
"Last warning. Eat please, you've got until I've finished clearing up."
"Do you REALLY want to finish that sentence?" Rolf cut across quickly, wanting to avoid anything further.
Matthew shut his mouth quickly. Rolf in this mood meant only bad news. Figuring he'd HAVE to get more sympathy than this if he ate and threw up, he took a bite of the sausage and chewed slowly.
"Thank you," Rolf said, starting the clean up. He wasn't surprised to see Matthew shoving the last bite into his mouth as he turned to collect the last of the dishes. "Inhalers, please," Rolf said, pointing to where they stood on the counter.
Matthew swallowed the last of the tasteless eggs, trying to figure out how they had all stayed down. He'd have argued at any other time about needing the medication, but not now, not today. He dutifully inhaled twice, waited the required minute in between applications, and took his preventer. He didn't even get a moment to agonize about where to go, when Rolf said,
Matthew gave him a look of flat out appeal. Rolf didn't move, just waited. Matthew took a deep breath, tried to keep the eggs from making a precipitate re emergence, and headed for the corner.
The rest of the clear up job appeared to take several years.
Intent on virtually every move Rolf was making, Matthew stood and fidgeted and heard each individual dish and counter wiped and put away, the kitchen chair pulled away from the table and the back door shut before Rolf's voice reached him.
"Sit down please."
Matthew turned slowly, head down, not sure whether he was relieved to actually start getting this over with or whether this was worse. He sat down in the chair Rolf was indicating and looked hard at the floor, well aware of Rolf standing with his hips propped against the table, arms folded across his chest, a very clear look of determination on his face. Matthew didn't want to think what he was that determined about.
"Look at me, please," Rolf said, waiting silently until Matthew did as he asked. "Where did you get the idea that setting a flame to a discharge from a pressurized can was a good idea?"
Matthew's face burned and his eyes dropped quickly. He didn't have an answer for that.
"Matthew?" Rolf prodded firmly.
Shrugging, Matthew's hands worried at the hem on his shirt.
"I'm waiting for an answer," Rolf said, his voice sharpening.
"I don't knooowwww!" Matthew finally burst out, the silence almost as upsetting as the speaking. "I've seen people do it, it wasn't SUPPOSED to explode and burn the shed down!"
"WHERE have you seen people do it? Who?" Rolf said just as sharply. Matthew twisted the shirt still harder.
"I don't know?"
"WHERE Matthew?" Rolf said again, louder. Matthew flushed, admitting what he knew he'd have to eventually.
"Kids I suppose-"
"EXACTLY kids!" Rolf's voice rose and deepened. "It's an act fully worthy of a ten year old with NO sense beyond pure curiosity! It is NOT something I'd expect of you or any other man with SOME adult awareness of basic safety and physics! What on earth possessed you?"
"I didn't MEAN it to cause any damage!" Matthew said hotly, mostly to stop himself disolving inwards. Rolf shook his head, totally unimpressed.
"You filled a can with gas in ORDER to set light to it! It was a risk you took the moment you decided to light it, WASN'T IT? You knew VERY well the contents were combustible!"
"But it wasn't supposed to happen that way!" Matthew said even more hotly. The voice that cut across his silenced him immediately.
"*I* did that when I was a child, and my father beat me to within an inch of my life! All it takes is for that can to hiccup in the air or liquids coming out, and that flame will enter the can for a full blown explosion! Not only could the shed have still burned down, but you could be without five fingers on that hand, or the entire hand for that matter! It was one of the STUPIDEST things I've known you to do."
That hurt. Matthew dissolved fully into tears, shrinking down in the chair.
Rolf leaned on the table, not reducing volume or tone in the slightest.
"DO you remember me talking to you when you tried this last year? DO YOU?"
"Yes!" Matthew said pitifully. Rolf shook his head.
"I clearly then didn't make anything LIKE sufficient an impression you then, did I?"
Matthew shook his head, crying. Rolf's bark jerked his head up fast.
"You did!" Matthew pleaded. Rolf shook his head.
"Again and again and again. WHAT do I keep telling you?"
"It's dangerous." Matthew choked out. Rolf's thump on the table emphasised the point loud and clear.
"It's EXTREMELY dangerous, and it's TOTALLY unncessary! Do you think I have ANY intention of seeing you in a burns unit, or see you put anyone else there?"
Matthew shook his head no, hard.
"Burns are serious things, Matthew. They can be far worse than a broken bone or a cut. They require weeks of painful care, a person is subject to all sorts of infections and secondary problems, and you'll more than likely end up disfigured for life. Do you have ANY idea how badly Todd would have felt, or me for that matter, having to watch you go through painful surgery after painful surgery to fix something like that on you?"
"I'm sorrrrryyyyy," Matthew said, really never having thought about any of the consequences if something worse had happened. "I didn't mean -"
"Of COURSE you didn't mean for it to happen! You're not a mean spirited person at all. But that does NOT mean you don't need to think through all the options before you do something! You're thinking for the moment, not beyond it."
"I'm SORRY." Matthew said again, "It was an accident, we did everything we could to put it out when it started, we got the hose on it for ages-"
"Is that how your face got burnt?" Rolf demanded.
Matthew winced and nodded. "The shed caught so quickly-"
"You had no business getting anything like that close to it once it started.
"I felt fine." Matthew said very quietly. "I was-"
"You WERE on oxygen for half an hour and the hospital had to supply you with inhalers because YOURS WEREN'T EVEN ON YOU, were they?"
If Matthew could have hidden under the chair, he would have done it then. He took his condition seriously, but Rolf beat that by ten. And being without his inhalers was a HUGE no, even though he'd never really suffered a bad attack, ever. He'd left them at home because he was only going over to Todd's for a short time, and the shorts he had on didn't have pockets.
"Matthew!" Rolf roared, bringing his brat back from wonderland.
"I was only -"
"YES OR NO!" Rolf demanded, hand slamming down on the table for emphasis.
Matthew jumped, eyes flooding again. "No, but -"
"We've had THAT discussion many times, have we not?" Rolf asked sternly.
Matthew couldn't have felt any more miserable if he tried. How could a couple of hours at a friend's house on a hot day turn into such a mess so quickly? Matthew nodded, unable to speak.
"IS your asthma going to understand if you forget your inhalers? Is that going to be an effective excuse against an attack?"
Matthew shook his head miserably. Rolf leaned on the table over him, speaking quietly but very intently. "I do not EVER expect to have to tell you this again Matthew, those inhalers stay ON you, where ever you go. You might VERY well have had a serious attack as a result of that smoke."
Another fervent nod. Rolf looked down at him for a minute, grim faced and disliking this quite as much as Matthew did, but with an absolute determination to impress this on his brat for once and for all.
"You are going to fix that shed for Stephen. And you are going to apologise to him, extremely sincerely. Not just for that act of childish stupidity which caused a LOT of serious damage on his property and MIGHT have cost him and Todd their home, but also for seriously endangering Todd. You might EASILY have seriously hurt him and yourself yesterday."
Yet another fervent nod. Rolf didn't move, voice still stern. "
Matthew jerked his head up once more, struggling to meet Rolf's eyes.
"You are grounded," Rolf went on, "Indefinitely, until I am sure that you can be on other people's property without causing damage, and you're going to be SERIOUSLY limited as to what you can do while you're here alone."
Matthew was expecting something like that, but the word indefinitely really hurt. He knew Rolf, knew that he'd be told when it was okay to go somewhere, and not a minute before he was ready. And any attempts to ask about the end would be met with stern words, if not swats. The ballgame he was planning on attending this next weekend was gone. The movie he was planning on tomorrow with Chris, gone.
"Rolf," he said, pleading, his eyes wide.
"Indefinitely, Matthew. That was seriously stupid, and if by keeping you home I can keep you safe, then that's what I'll do. We'll do some work on thinking before acting, as well. And I WILL ask about those inhalers, and no matter how many times I ask, you do NOT want to tell me they are anywhere else but on you. IS that clear?"
Matthew couldn't do anything else but nod, bringing his hands up to cover his face. He was sobbing hard.
As hard as that was, this was the hardest on Rolf.
"Upstairs to our room then. I'll be up in a minute."
Rolf didn't miss the look of near panic as understanding dawned across Matthew's face. He had to look away, and point towards the stairs.
The chair moved as Matthew vacated it quickly, the sobs increasing in volume even as the steps on the stairs retreated. He could hear the bed creak as Matthew tossed himself across it. Rubbing his temples, Rolf waited a moment to let the adrenline rush pass through him, then went to get a glass of water to soothe his throat. Knowing the wait was hard for both of them, Rolf swallowed quickly and made his way slowly upstairs, unbuckling his belt as he went.
"End of the bed, please," Rolf said, far more firmly than he felt.
Matthew was a basketcase, begging, pleading and apologizing in equal amounts, though not much of it intelligble. Rolf's next command broke through that and he hastened to obey, hugging the bedpost as if it were his best friend.
Rolf pulled him away and faced him towards the bed, hands put firmly on the footboard. He made quick work of Matthew's shorts, dragging them down his thighs. "Let's get this over with, and not make things worse," Rolf said firmly as Matthew tried to turn around again.
Matthew bent over, eyes screwed tightly shut and even through his own tears and sobs, the sound of Rolf's belt being pulled through the loops was sharp and loud, as if it were the only sound in the room. The buckle gently tinkling sent goosebumps over Matthew's body, and the hand that Rolf laid across his back to hold him steady burned like a flame.
The first lick of the belt nearly lifted Matthew off his feet, landing squarely across the lower part of both cheeks. The sound of it seemed to reverberate across the room, Matthew's cries instantly shushed as he worked hard on gulping air in against the line of fire that had just exploded across his backside. Rolf pulled back and expertly laid the second stripe an inch up from the first, connecting just as solidly, even with Matthew tried to melt against the footboard. He continued swinging the belt, landing with deadly accuracy, covering Matthew from hip to thigh in angry red lines.
Matthew tried several times to stand up, but was either back into position by the force of Rolf's hands across his back, or the tone of voice Rolf used, anxious to get this finished for both of them. He was reduced to long wails, interspersed by the slap of leather on skin. It seemed to go on forever, and it took Matthew a few moments to realize that there weren't any new blossoms of pain when Rolf finally set the belt upon the bed.
It took Matthew a minute to straighten up and when he did he was crying too hard to do anything else than grab for Rolf and comfort. Rolf gave him a long, tight hug then put him gently back.
Matthew clung on to him, wanting nothing more at the moment than to be held but Rolf held him off.
It took a moment before Matthew moved, simply stepping out of his fallen shorts. Putting anything on at the moment was too painful to consider.
He stood against the wall for what felt like hours, sobbing, then gradually calming down as the fire in his backside gradually cooled to more or less tolerable. It seemed like hours before the room was quiet except for the occasional sniffle. Eventually Rolf's voice, quiet and still stern, said from the bed, "Matthew."
Matthew turned slowly. Now he was a little calmer, part of him was aware he hurt like hell and it was largely Rolf's fault. And another part of him was still more unhappy that Rolf was clearly VERY upset with him.
Rolf was sitting on the edge of the bed, simply waiting. Without any remnants of dignity other than to keep his eyes on the floor, Matthew moved to stand in front of him. Rolf took his hand and drew him a step closer.
"Look at me please."
Matthew forced his eyes up with an effort.
"I don't EVER expect to have to speak to you about fires and messing around with them EVER again, is that clear?" Rolf said quietly. Matthew nodded, dropping his eyes.
Matthew forced his eyes up once more, trying to keep back the tears threatening once more.
"You have exactly 14000 lines to write for me over the next two weeks," Rolf went on quietly, "1000 per night, I will NOT play with fire. They get done before ANYTHING else gets done, whether it's a weekend or a work night. You
Matthew could only make a mute plea with his eyes. He'd done that many lines only once before, for driving after having alcohol. It had been miserable, and he'd earned a spanking at least once during those two weeks for arguing against it. The look that Rolf returned him offered no sympathy.
"I want you, and in one piece, even if that means you're unhappy with me," Rolf said firmly. "I don't intend to grow old alone."
Matthew couldn't even offer up a smile for that. He fell against Rolf when Rolf delivered one of his bone crunching hugs, and scrambled to his feet when Rolf let go.
"Get yourself dressed." Rolf said firmly, "We're going over to clear that mess up in Stephen's yard."
Matthew gave him a look that would have been outrage if he had the energy. Rolf shook his head.
"I don't want to hear it. I don't care how you're feeling. There is absolutely no reason why Stephen should have to clear up that mess nor put up with it. Get dressed please."
He stood and waited while Matthew very unwillingly got into sweats and a fresh t shirt, looking pointed enough that Matthew did it with some semblance of speed, then followed him downstairs, picking up the car keys and waiting while Matthew collected his inhalers. He didn't think he'd ever leave them anywhere again.
It seemed like an incredibly long and uncomfortable journey to Stephen and Todd's house, and Matthew spent all of it struggling to find ANY way it was possible to sit.
Rolf finally pulled up into the driveway, putting the truck in park. "No messing about today," Rolf said firmly as they exited the vehicle.
Matthew, while happy to be off his backside, was NOT happy about going up to their friend's front door. Freshly spanked, eyes still red, and just as embarrassed and ashamed as he had been yesterday, Matthew trailed Rolf like a lost little puppy up to the door.
Stephen opened the door. "Hi Rolf, Matthew," he said, standing back to let them in. Matthew kept his eyes down as he walked in, trying hard to keep his hand in Rolf's.
"Todd? Come here, please," Stephen said as everyone worked their way back to the kitchen. Todd also came sliding in, not anxious for this scene either.
Rolf drew Matthew in front of him and Matthew took a deep breath, struggling to get his eyes up. "I'm so so sorry about the fire, it was my fault and it was stupid. I'll do whatever I can to fix it. And I'm sorry too it was dangerous for Todd."
"Thank you." Stephen said simply. Todd glanced at Rolf, flushing still redder.
"I'm sorry too, I should have made Matthew stop."
"I don't think you'd have found that easy." Rolf said wryly. "We're here to do what we can to fix the shed Stephen."
"There's spades out there, Todd's already made a start." Stephen indicated the garden and Rolf followed him, taking Matthew with him.
What remained of the morning passed quickly, Todd and Matthew sorting through what remained of the shed silently. After numerous trips to the front, they'd hauled out all of the garbage and the site was mostly ready for a new building. Stephen took a quick look around and then dug in his pockets for his car keys.
"Rolf, if you'll take lunch patrol, I'll take Todd with me to pick up a replacement shed. I've gotten a truck rental waiting at the bar."
"I can handle that," Rolf said amicably, getting up from the table where he'd been sitting in the garden.
"Give us about thirty minutes or so. Come on Todd," Stephen said, heading inside the house. Todd gave Matthew a half smile and turned to follow, glad for the repreive. Matthew started to settle down in the grass.
"No, not yet," Rolf said. "Get the shovel and flatten out that area so that the shed will settle flat."
Matthew turned and cursed under his breath, picking up the shovel and going back out into the sun that was getting hotter by the minute.
Rolf made sufficient sandwiches for the four of them, filled a jug of water and found a bag of chips, and put the sandwiches in the fridge. In the garden he could see Matthew visibly wilting under the heat and doing a very creditable job of shovelling. Going back out into the garden Rolf picked up the other shovel and went to help him, taking the other side of the plot until five minutes later it was flattened and tidy, with only the grass scorches and water damage in the flowerbeds left as evidence of the fire. Matthew dropped the shovel and Rolf reached to take his hand, taking him back to the shade of the porch.
It would have been nice to drop full length and stretch out. Matthew considered if for a few seconds, then more carefully went down to his knees instead, glad at least of the cool.
Rolf took a seat on the porch beside him and put an arm around his shoulders, pulling until Matthew moved over and leaned against him, using him as a backrest to stretch out.
After a lunch that was quiet save for Rolf and Stephen, the four of them maneuvered the truck into the back yard and lifted the shed off the trailer, settling it down and straighening it in the plot. Matthew and Todd were left to stake it down and finish up the setup on the inside with the shelving units. Todd had tossed Matthew the hammer to do some work, and caught sight of him wincing.
"Are you alright?" he ventured softly.
Matthew looked up quickly, embarrassed for a moment. Instead of trying to hide it, he admitted to his backside stinging pretty good thanks to the sweat pouring off of him.
"Ow," Todd agreed, concerned. "I'm not feeling any stinging though. I....I got the belt," he ventured, trying to figure out why he wasn't as sore as Matthew seemed to be.
Matthew blushed, but answered. "Me too." He was flustered, and set to hammering to cover it up.
"Did...did you sleep alright? Rolf no longer upset?" Todd queried further.
Matthew continued to hammer. "No. We didn't talk until this morning."
"Oh," Todd said, light dawning. "You ok?"
"Yeah, you?" Matthew paused briefly. It was very rare for Todd to be in this much trouble, still rarer for him to do anything serious enough to be belted, he was aware for Todd this was probably a far bigger deal. And Matthew and Mike and Chris found it a big enough deal as it was.
"Did you and Stephen get things straight? Was he ok?"
"He was really nice about it." Todd said simply. "I think I felt worse about it than he did."
Matthew gave him a brief grin that was half a grimace and went back to hammering.
"Rolf was livid. My ears are still ringing."
"Less chat more action." Stephen said firmly, leaning in through the open door. "Matthew, let Todd finish that and you can start clipping back these flowerbeds, Rolf'll tell you what to do with them."
Matthew met Todd's eyes, looked skywards and went outside to do battle with
Cutting that back took most of the rest of the afternoon, and it was hot enough that Matthew's temper was as sore as the rest of him by four o clock. Stephen brought a bottle of water over to him and gave a critical look to the bed Matthew was clipping, removing to be honest as many live heads now as scorched ones.
"You need to be a little more select in what you're cutting, there," Stephen said as he handed the water over.
"If you can do a better job, YOU DO IT," Matthew spat without thinking. The next thing he knew was he was on his feet and his very sore backside had a new, smarting handprint on it. He gulped hard and covered the sting, too sore to rub.
Stephen let his arm go. "Would you like a whole lot more of those?" he asked sternly.
Matthew answered quickly and sincerely, "No, sir."
"I told you before, and this is the last time. I do not expect to be spoken to in such a disrepectful manner. I WILL remove your pants next time and make sure you remember that in the future, if you make it necessary. Am I clear?"
Matthew gulped again, seeing an entirely new side to Steve as he'd seen previously. "Yes, sir, I'm sorry. I'll get back to work now," Matthew said sincerely, waiting for Steve's nod before he knealt back down to resume trimming, a lot more carefully.
Stephen stood over him for a moment, arms folded, showing no signs whatever of moving away. Matthew avoided looking at him, concentrating on the work and feeling his face flush hotter and hotter under the scrutiny. Whether it was that right now he was extremely ashamed of having caused Stephen this damage, or whether he expected Stephen to be angry to the point where he didn't dare push any further, he wasn't sure. Which ever it was there was something to Stephen's presence, Matthew was absolutely convinced he didn't want to give Stephen any reason at all to find fault with him righ tnow. It was some time before Stephen moved away and longer still before Matthew relaxed.
At just past five the shed was completed, Stephen sent Todd in for a shower and then crossed the garden to the flower bed, taking the clippers out of Matthew's hands.
"Allright, that'll do for today. It's looking a lot better, you did a good job there."
Matthew gave the flowerbed a slightly uncertain look. The evidence of the fire was minimalised now but it was still there, and so long as he saw it he didn't think he was ever going to feel any better about it.
Stephen put an arm around his shoulder, turned him around and kissed his forehead. "You've worked hard to try and fix this, as far as I'm concerned it's finished with. You don't need to worry any more about it."
"I'm REALLY sorry." Matthew said from the heart. "I really AM sorry Steve, I so didn't mean to do any damage-"
"I know, and we've fixed it." Stephen interrupted firmly. "It's fine Matthew, don't worry any more. Go and wash your hands, Rolf's planning for you two to head home. You must be more than ready for a shower and a rest."
And the first of a LONG set of lines. Matthew knew it well, and yet at this moment he did feel better for the first time in two days. He twisted around, keeping his definitely muddy hands off Stephen's shirt and gave him a quick, somewhat shy hug, then jogged up the lawn towards the house.
Rolf met him in the doorway, looked past him at the flower bed and moved to let Matthew past him, accepting a rougher and far more confident hug as he passed.
"Good job. Go and wash, you're not coming in the car like that."
Matthew went past him into the kitchen. Rolf walked slowly down the garden to the new shed and the severely clipped grass and flowerbed surrounding it, where Stephen was standing.
"If you need some more bedding plants there-"
"I don't care at all about the garden, I'm just seriously glad neither of them were hurt." Stephen said dryly. Rolf smiled faintly.
"We'll leave you in peace. If there's any further work you want Matthew to do here then let me know."
"I think he's done all he can, I don't think I've ever seen Matthew look this subdued." Stephen raised his eyebrows as Rolf turned, and put out a hand to stop him. "Although I think it's wearing off. You might want to change that shirt before you drive anywhere."
Rolf frowned, confused, then twisted around to see what Stephen was indicating. Two perfect muddy handprints stood clearly out on the back of his shirt.
"That brat," Rolf said, laughing, as he placed his hands on his collar and pulled, removing the shirt. "We'll see you around," Rolf said, heading into the house, leaving Stephen to put away the last of the tools into the new shed.
Rolf didn't see Matthew in the kitchen, but heard subdued voices from the front room. He walked around the corner to find Matthew at the bottom of the stairs talking to Todd, who was leaning over the top bannister.
"Let's go, Matthew."
Matthew said goodbye to Todd and headed for the front door. "Why do you have your shirt off?" he questioned as they went down the front steps. His only answer was a lightly stinging mark halfway down his thigh. He yelped and screamed, running for the cover of the car with Rolf continuing to flick the shirt, catching Matthew's legs a couple more times, careful not to get any higher. Matthew plastered himself against the car, holding his hands down over his legs.
"Stop! What are you doing??!"
Rolf walked up and pinned Matthew firmly against the car, one hand on each side of him. He leaned down and kissed his mouth firmly.
"Some brat put handprints on my shirt. Any idea who that might have been?"
"No," Matthew said with his most innocent look. He managed to pull his hands up to show Rolf. "See? It wasn't me."
"Oh, okay. Well, in case you see a dirty, tired, dishevelled little boy, make sure tell him that I'm very proud of the job he has done. Can you remember that?"
Matthew grinned in spite of himself and ducked out from beneath Rolf. "I need a shower, let's go."