Saturday, February 6, 2010

Photoshoot Part 2

Title: Photoshoot Part 2
Authors: Rolf and Ranger

Val remained snuggled up to Luke for about thirty minutes. He wasn't really tired, just wanted the closeness of Luke. He raised himself up on his elbows and gazed into the face of his sleeping bodyguard. Luke still had a strong face, even when sleeping, but at least now it was unlined and unworried. Val gently nibbled on Luke's lower lip, but his bodyguard remained firmly in dreamland. Val slowly crawled out of bed, making certain he didn't disturb Luke at all. He grabbed his robe and wandered into the sitting room, then into Luke's bedroom. He was wondering if Luke had taken any notes on his phone calls giving Val any idea of what was upcoming. The first thing he spotted on the desk was Luke's resignation.

The first line jumped out and hit Val between the eyes. He dropped into the chair and read it through at maniac speed, then again more slowly, aware of his hands beginning to tremble.

Luke was awakened by a hurricane hitting him, nearly knocking him off the bed.

"Luke you can't!"

There was no need to see the piece of paper to understand what Val Quentin's problem was. Luke cursed himself for having left the letter in sight and rolled over, capturing Val's hands.

"Kitten listen to me."

"You can't, I won't let you!"

"Val. I've got no choice, you've got to understand-"

"I don't understand anything!" Val wrenched free and hit the floor, voice spiraling up in a way Luke knew well and felt in no fit state to deal with. He leaned over and turned the light on, trying to find the words to avert the storm approaching.

"Sit down, calm down and listen."

"Listen to what! You're going to leave! You think I'm going to sit down and listen to that?" Val was trembling, somewhere between tears and rage. Luke started to get out of bed, fixing Val with a look he knew.

"There's no good working yourself up into a fit, kiddo, I can't talk to you while you're screaming."

Val held the look, his chin lifted in outright defiance and he leaned over and swept everything he could reach off the dressing table and onto the floor. Knowing that was Val's equivalent of the yellow card and a clear indication that he'd better come up with something better than that fast, Luke pulled himself to his feet and stopped trying to be reasonable.

"Val SIT. NOW. Break one more thing and you'll be sorry."

"What do you care, you're going anyway!" Val spat back. He looked around, snatched up the first thing that came to hand- a water jug- raised it high in the air and let it go, looking Luke right in the eyes.

There was no point in trying to sweet talk Val in this sort of mood: it just wound him up to more and more dramatic gestures. Luke grabbed his wrist and cut straight to the chase. Val kicked out at him, struggled, sank his teeth deep into Luke's hand like a terrier and hung on as Luke manhandled him across to the bed. Luke stood still, kept his hand still, refusing to yank away, and was well aware that the sharp teeth were making no real attempt to hurt or to tighten. After ten seconds of waiting, Val slowly released his hand. Luke pulled the boy down across his knees, jerked the robe out of his way and swatted the small, tight behind sharply, eight or ten times. Val burst into tears way out of proportion to the spanking, but that was not the issue and they were both well aware of it. Luke let him go and Val hit him in the chest like an express train, arms strangling around his neck.

"You can't go!"

"Val it doesn't mean I could stop caring about you or wanting to be with you." Luke said quietly, trying to hold his voice together. "You have to understand, kitten. I had a professional responsibility towards you today. I failed and I failed badly. Inexcusably."

"It wasn't that bad!" Val pleaded. Luke shook his head.

"It was something no one should ever have to go through- if you hadn't had the courage to scream and fight, it could have been FAR worse. And I wasn't there, I didn't protect you from that, not because I made a mistake but because I let my personal feelings get in the way of my job. I was in the bar and I was sulking, Val. And you could have been raped. Your father's ready to go for my throat, and I'd stand there and let him bite right now. Orion have already notified me they want an investigation. I'd rather jump than be pushed, kitten- and I have a responsibility to do the honourable thing here and show I'm aware of my own culpability. I know this is hard for you to understand but there's so much more to this than just you and me."

"I'M the one who was attacked!" Val said furiously. "I'M the one who needs a damn bodyguard and I'LL say who it damn well is!"

"Not everyone is quite as forgiving as you, kitten." Luke said gently. "And you don't see the bigger picture here."

"The big picture? The fucking big picture is you're leaving!! You can't leave!" Val tried to get up having worked himself back into a rage, wanting to tear the room apart. He flailed in vain as Luke held him tight against him. Val's voice started to break. "You can't can't. It wasn't your fault. Price is winning, you're letting Price win. You can't...." Val buried his head into the strong neck and hugged with every bit of strength he had. "You can't leave me...."

"Kitten, I must. You deserve a better bodyguard, one who can protect you from the lunatics. I didn't and I can't in good conscience continue to hold a job that I can't perform. You've got to understand, it's something that I must do." Luke held Val, stroking his head and neck, holding him tight.

Val continued to pitifully talk into Luke's neck. "No, you simply can't go. It's not your fault. You weren't there, I didn't tell you I was there, but you came, you came to me when it counted. When I yelled, you were right there."

"It was my fault, kitten, for letting you go alone. My fault."

"Nooooooooooo, you don't understand. It's not your fault. What will change your mind? What?"

"Nothing, kitten. It IS my fault. I should not have left you unattended."

Val started to cry. "Nooooooo Luke. Nooooooo it's not your fault. You don't understand. It's Price's fault. Not you, him. He tried to get the story. The story of us from me. He was going to tell the whole world, Luke. I had to shut him up. I had to do it. He couldn't tell them about us, I can't lose you. So I shut him up, he's in jail now, he's not a problem. He's gone Luke, now you have to stay. You HAVE to stay. I shut Price up so you'd stay."

"What are you saying?" Luke tried gently to pull Val off him. "Val? Did he threaten you? What do you mean you shut him up?"

"He was going to sell the story! I had to get rid of him, it was the only way-"

"Get rid of him?" Luke's hands gathered strength and peeled Val away from him, his eyes suddenly frowning. "Val what do you mean? What happened in that room? Did you provoke him into attacking you?"

"He told me he was after the story." Val was still sobbing, barely able to talk between breaths, "He was following us, he saw us in the garden- you said you'd leave if anyone made it known to Orion about us!"

Light started to dawn. Luke took a deep, slow breath, a horrible suspicion starting to form in his mind.

"What did you do?"

"I sent him a message- I said to meet me in the conference room-"

"You set that meeting up? To do what?" Luke said sharply.

"To get rid of him!" Val ran hand over his eyes, sweeping tears and hair out of them. "Who's going to take his word over mine! Orion's got more lawyers than any half bit freelance!"

"Who attacked who?" Luke demanded. "Val answer me! What did you do?"

"I screamed blue murder what do you think I did! How else was I going to get rid of him!" Val snapped back.

"But the bruises on your arms, kitten. Answer carefully, did Price attack you?"

"No! I started screaming just to get the police to take him away. He grabbed me then, I tried to back up and he wouldn't let go! He wouldn't let go." Val ended that sentence with a little uncertainty, slowly realizing that Luke's demeanor was changing.

Luke set Val down in front of him before slowly getting up off the bed. He took Val's face in his hands and brought the tear stained face up to meet his very stern one. "Quentin, I want ONE clear and concise answer. Yes or No. Did Price do ANYTHING to you downstairs in that conference room that he could be arrested for." Luke said that slowly and clearly.

Val tried to lower his head, he couldn't stand the stern look he was getting, but Luke's hands made that impossible.

"Quentin, YES OR NO."

There were so many things that Val wanted to say. Yes, so that Price would be locked away and not bother them. No, because that would mean Luke would leave. Yes, because that would mean Luke would go back to holding him. No, because...because that was the truth. "No."

Luke was speechless for a moment. Anger fought with love to be the first emotion to display itself. He was thoroughly angry at the mess that they were in due to a lie from Val. His heart swelled with love for the kid as he now knew how very much he meant to Val, even if Val went about showing that love in a totally upsetting way. "So you made this entire story up? Have you any idea of what is happening about now? Do you realise just how many wheels you have set in motion?"

"But you can stop them can't you?" Val said in a small voice. "I didn't mean-"

Luke cut him off, in no mood to deal any further with the perpetrator until he had time to prevent the situation rolling completely out of control.

"I don't want to hear another word from you except that I'll ask you one more time, just to be sure. You tricked Price into meeting with you, and then staged that entire scene to get Price arrested- without Price committing any crime towards you whatsoever?"

He didn't need an answer. Val's face said it all. Luke pointed at the sitting room.

"In there. Sit down. Don't you dare to move."

"Luuuuke-" Val wailed. Luke cut him off with sharply clicked fingers and another point.


Val was intimidated enough to move on the word. Luke sat down and dialed for the police, trying to think of a way to phrase this that wouldn't get Val into still more trouble. He had a long list of people to call.

Just as he finished dialing, he hung up the phone. He couldn't just call the police and tell them that Val made the story up. That would damage Val's reputation and their chance at any sort of relationship. He had to talk to Price himself. He picked the phone back up, dialing hotel security.  "Yes, McNeil here. I need two of your personnel to sit with Quentin while I take care of some of this business. Right away, thank you." He hung up the phone, put his shirt and shoes on and went to confront Val.

Val was curled up looking completely miserable. He saw that Luke looked ready to leave. "Wher-"

"There are two security guards heading up here right now. They will baby-sit you while I'm gone. Give them even one SECOND of trouble, and you won't sit for a year."

Val blanched at that remark. "Luke, I'm sorry. I -"

"Young man, you don't have any IDEA how sorry you're going to be when I finish with you. In the few short months we've known each other, this is the STUPIDEST stunt you've ever pulled." Just then a knock sounded at the door. "BEHAVE." Luke grumbled, before turning on his heel to open the door. Luke left the guards with instructions that Val was to receive no phone calls or visits, and he was not to leave the room for any reason whatsoever. He jumped into his truck and headed to the police station to cut a deal with Price.

The next few hours were very long and very tedious to Val. The two security guards had no conversation or humour between them and the TV showed nothing but garbled rubbish to Val in his current state of stress. He had no idea where Luke had gone or why, if he was coming back, or what was going to happen. He was actively relieved when the door was opened, but it was not Luke. The two security guards tried to intervene but Storm Quentin was not easily intimidated and rid the room of all observers in seconds. He shut the door on the two protesting guards and Val hurled himself into his father's arms, scared and distraught and glad to see anyone willing to talk to him. Quentin senior held him tight for a moment, then gently pulled his head up, his face white with anxiety.

"How are you? Where's Luke?"

Val shook his head. "I don't know. I'm all right."

"Are you sure? Have you seen a doctor? Have the police been here yet?" Quentin senior pulled Val with him to the sofa and made him sit down. His son looked white and strained enough to alarm him; Luke appeared to have understated this emergency if anything.

Val bent his head, struggling not to burst into tears once more. Quentin senior put an arm around his shoulders.

"Val? Get your things together and come home with me."

"I can't," Val said, nearly sobbing, "I'm under contract."

"Between Luke and Max, they've just about breached that contract past holding you. Come on, get your things together and let’s get you out of here-"

Val pulled out of his father's reach. Quentin senior watched him pace in open anxiety.

"Val talk to me. Have the police been here yet?"

"If anyone else asks me about the police I'm going to scream!" Val said hysterically in the tone that meant he was about to lose his head completely. Quentin senior recognised the threat and winced but another voice cut straight across the screech.

"Quentin STOP that, NOW."

Val jumped and stood still. Luke McNeil shut the door, eyes still on Val. Quentin senior gave him a grim look.

"And where do you think you were McNeil? Your primary duty was to be here protecting my son."

"That's exactly what I've been trying to do, sir." Luke gave Val a grim glance. "Val sit down and settle down. If I were you, I'd concentrate on keeping very quiet."

His tone and Val's prompt and subdued obedience made Quentin senior frown, looking from one to the other of them.

"All right, someone break it to me. What's going on here?"

Luke gave Val another steady look, and then glanced at his watch. "Val. It is now four pm. At four thirty pm. I am going to take your father downstairs and talk to him privately. That gives you thirty minutes to say anything to him yourself that you feel he needs to know. I will be next door."

He didn't miss Val's look of open appeal, but walked past it, shutting the bedroom door quietly behind him.

"Well son, what was that all about?"

Val curled up in the corner of the couch, feeling like he'd been there all day long. He didn't quite know what to say to his father.

"Val? What is McNeil going to be telling me?"

"I don't know."

"Then what is it that you want to tell me?"

Val looked back at the closed door, hoping against hope that Luke would come rescue him again. The door didn't open. Val looked miserably at his father who had taken a seat on the couch next to him.

"Son, what is it? What's wrong? Did Price hurt you? Has McNeil hurt you?"

That broke through Val's silence. "No dad. No one hurt me." Val proceeded to tell his father the entire two day's of events, not leaving anything out, including how he felt about Luke. He wanted to make sure his father knew how much Luke meant to him, because if his dad could help him make Luke stay, then it would all be worth it.

Quentin senior listened in silence. When Val finished, he got up and went to the bar to pour himself a drink and tapped on the door to the bedroom as he passed it.

"Okay Luke, I think I have the full picture here."

Luke slowly emerged from the bedroom. Quentin surveyed his son, drink in hand.

"I've wondered for the last year just how far you would be prepared to take things in order to get your own way and now I know. I am disgusted with you. I'm ashamed to think a decently raised boy could even consider doing something like this."


"I am not remotely interested, Daniel."

Val flinched, hating his legal, childhood name. Quentin sank himself into a chair and waved the glass.

"Well young man. You dug yourself into this, I suggest you go and dig yourself out. Now. Luke sit down."

"I'll-" Luke started. Quentin's voice took on a rap to it that Luke hadn't heard since he left the army.

"McNeil sit down. Believe me, nothing is going to get done here, that Daniel does not do for himself. This time he is going to deal with his own problems without anyone rushing to his rescue. If there had been a bit less of that to begin with he might understand now why decent people think it dishonourable, not to mention illegal, to accuse innocent men of rape. Luke!"

Luke obeyed that bark automatically. Val paled as the realities set in on him.

"But the police-"

"I saw to the police," Luke interrupted, "Price has-"

"Been bought off." Quentin senior said grimly. "No doubt. That still leaves Orion, Max and Price himself, Val, I suggest you find a telephone. And it’s no good standing there making eyes at Luke. This is your problem. Mishandle it and I shall not be at all sorry to watch you deal with the public humiliation you have asked for. Luke sit down!"

Luke sat. Val looked at him in desperation. His face was still angry, still hard and there was little sign of mercy there. Apparently Luke as well as the rest of the world, was against him. Val resisted the urge to burst into yet more tears or to throw up and tried to think what to do.

"Who do I call?" he appealed to his father. Who shrugged.

"That's entirely your problem."

Two flinty faces, one body at rest in an armchair, the other seated like a coiled spring. Val tried to catch Luke's eye and caught the split second mouthing of one word.


Val slipped next door, picked up the phone and within seconds was pouring his heart out to his personal assistant.

Diane took the call with all the aplomb of a personal assistant used to dealing with these problems everyday. She calmed Val down, got her facts straight and told him she would be by in a couple of hours with the plan of attack for ending this mess with the least possible fuss, at least as far as the business side was concerned. She did however, tell Val he had his father and Luke to deal with personally. Val hung up the phone slightly more reassured, but when he looked into the sitting room and saw Luke and his father sitting there, his stomach tumbled into his toes and he lost his nerve. He quietly walked over to the bed and sat down, his head in his hands.

He was only given a couple minutes reprieve before Storm hollered "Daniel, come here!"

Not a tempting offer. It took all the courage Val had to make it to the doorway of the sitting room. Quentin senior looked at him for some time. Not a look that Val found easy to stand under. Even knowing how angry Luke was he couldn't keep his own eyes from straying to him in hope, in desperate hope, and he caught the grey under the dark and now heavy brows. There was anger in that look all right, but there was also anxiety. Communication. That spoke to him more than anything else. Luke had things to say to him that he had no wish to hear, but it was clear that Luke intended to say them and to keep talking. He wasn't writing himself out of this scene and however uncomfortable an ally he might make, he was still an ally. Quentin senior rose to his feet and collected his coat.

"McNeil informs me he intends to stay in your employ. I personally doubt his sanity. I have pointed out to him that I would not in his situation ever leave myself alone with you without witnesses for fear of what allegations you might level as and when convenient."

There was a depth of disgust in those words that made Val's eyes sting all over again. Quentin senior shrugged his jacket on.

"However, that is his decision. I personally look forward to reading the resolution of this fiasco in the press, however you have managed to juggle it. For the moment, I have no wish to remain in this hotel, or for anyone to suspect we are related. I'm ashamed of you. Luke, you're a fool but I wish you the best of British luck."

"Sir." Luke rose to his feet. The bang of the door was very loud.

The silence left in the room was even louder. Luke broke it, finally, folding his arms and looking to Val.

"What did Diane have to say?"

"She's on her way over." Val said unsteadily. Luke's grim stare didn't waver. Then he moved across and his arms closed around Val, rough and hard and deeply comforting.

Val melted into those arms, tears stinging his eyes at his father's harsh words. More tears because he felt safe where he was. More tears still at the thought of how close he had come to losing the man he was coming to love so strongly.

Luke picked up Val in his arms, and headed towards the couch. He fell down into the soft cushions, holding Val tightly, rocking him back and forth, while Val quieted down. When Val was calm and had no more tears, Luke lifted his chin up and looked deep into Val's eyes. "You and I have a lot to discuss young man."

The words were said with love. Val blinked slowly and replied, "Yes, I know. I owe you a huge apology. And a huge thank you. Luke, I'm sooooo sorry for this mess. I did it because I...I love you, and I was afraid of losing you. I couldn't handle that Luke. I can't imagine a day without you anymore. I guess I went about showing you that the wrong way, huh?"

"An understatement, but true." Luke said, the corners of his mouth twitching, trying to hold back a smile.

"What did you say to Price? How is that going to be fixed?"

"Kitten, I'm not telling you that. You don't need to know. He isn't going to reveal anything about us, nor is he going to press charges against you. He is simply going to melt back into his underworld."

Val gave a Luke a slightly sick looking smile. "I guess we'll have to wait to see what Diane comes up with, huh?"

"Yes, she'll do us proud, I'm sure."

"Then...then you and I will discuss this again, won't we?" Val looked up from underneath his lashes, looking for all the world like a lost little boy.

"That again is an understatement, but also true."

"I'm sorry Luke."

"I know you are, kitten."

Sorry about what exactly, Luke didn't intend to argue with yet. Val was more shaken with the realisation of the enormity of what he'd done and with the risks he had taken by manipulating people he loved; Luke doubted very much Val had any compassion whatsoever for Price's hours in police custody, or for that he really regretted setting up Price in the first place. If they were going to embark upon any sort of relationship, there were going to have to be ground rules laid down that made sure Mr. Quentin understood these matters a little better, but now was not the time to be worrying about that.

When Diane appeared a few hours later, suited and prepared with a phone connected to the Orion business offices in Birmingham, she found two men, calm and collected and well able to discuss with her matter of factly what needed to be done. It took less than half an hour and very little effort on anyone's part. Diane rose to her feet with her plan already in action.

"This is what your contract covers, Val, don't worry. No one's going to go up against the Orion legal machine. They've got the press cornered with the privacy act regulations and with their financial strength; no editor is going to risk being taken to court by them. Give me two hours and I'll have this pinned down, no one's going to know anything about it."

"I can't thank you enough." Val got up to take her outstretched hand and abruptly pulled her down enough to kiss her cheek. Diane looked at him in outright surprise. In the eighteen months she'd been working for this young man that was the first sign of appreciation or even of basic communication he'd ever shown. The bodyguard, ever set faced and silent, merely nodded to her as she left.

"I spoke to Max." Luke said as soon as the door shut. "The ad company want you for an eight hour shoot tomorrow, to make up for losing today. And there's the interview we stalled from this morning. After that you've got four days peace and quiet before Wembley."

"I could really use the rest. Are we just hanging at the hotel?"

"Speaking of rest, I think it's time for you to go to bed."

Val, even in his exhausted state, wasn't yet ready to accede defeat and head to bed. "Luke, it's only 7:30, I think that is just a little TOO early. And what are we doing after tomorrow?"

"Bed, now." Luke said, pointing in the direction of Val's room.

Val looked up into the ever stern face of Luke and decided not to fight anymore. He trudged off into his room, grumbling to himself.

Luke went into his bedroom and made a few phone calls. He and Val were going to be taking a four day vacation, alone. Val wasn't going to enjoy it, but a few things needed to be straightened out between them, and it would be much easier and quicker if there were no interruptions from the company. They were owed that at least, before the long road trip began.

Val was subdued throughout the following day, which made the shoot long and tedious but relatively painless. None of the crew nor the Orion staff present appeared to find anything abnormal in yesterday's drama: in fact Max treated the whole thing with an offhand amusement that made Luke's hackles rise. In Max's experience, this was how young prodigies behaved. It was all very well for him to encourage Val to forget it, to think nothing of it. In ten years time when the Val Quentin sensation was long gone and forgotten, it was not Max who would be trying to live a life around distorted morals and perceptions he no longer had the fame or the back up team to support. Val was barely twenty. Luke watched him closely, ready and prepared to jump on any hint of Val starting to regard his actions lightly or as a joke, but Val seemed keen to talk to as few a people as possible and to get on with the business at hand.

The interview was brief, and as the questions had all been submitted to Orion before hand, Val had no need for original thought. He went through the half hour on autopilot and was more than relieved to stand on the hotel patio afterwards, watching the film crew pack their equipment away in the two trucks parked outside. Usually watching the stage being packed away left him with an emptiness. This time Val watched the departure of the crew with active relief. Within a few hours he would be out of this horrible place, it would be gone and forgotten. Max came out to say goodbye: Val heard little of what he said. Something about Wembley and about staying in London. Diane and Luke would know anything important, Val smiled faintly, listened not at all and was glad to see Max's car follow the trucks away down the hill.

A glass touched his hand. Val glanced down and took the drink offered to him. Alcoholic. Although thankfully not the muck he had just been advertising. A heavy arm over his shoulders followed the glass and Val leaned thankfully back against Luke.

"You have no idea how glad I am that's over."

"Don't start celebrating yet Kitten." Luke said warningly. Val buried himself in his drink.

"I know."

Two hours later they were on a plane for home. Luke had made arrangements with an ex military buddy who had a house in the hills, far away from the hustle and bustle of downtown London. They were staying there, alone, for four days. No phone, no television, no radio, no distractions, period. Scheduled to depart and arrive at Wembley the morning of the first concert. Luke had already made all arrangements; food, clothes and supplies were ready and waiting at the house for them. There was also one wrapped package that Val would hate to see, but something that was going to be part of his packing from now on. A nice, sturdy wooden paddle.

Val was tired and worried about the upcoming four days, so he put up no arguments with Luke on the plane, simply laid back and fell asleep.

Luke was relieved as they had a lot to discuss and he didn't want to add anything more to the already long list of things to cover. Tomorrow was going to be the toughest day as he intended to make quite an impression upon young Quentin, giving him the rest of the time to recover somewhat. The plane landed and Luke guided Val into the terminal and out the first exit, thankfully no press having been alerted to their arrival. He ushered Val into a waiting car and drove the two hours into the hills, finding the house with no trouble. He ended up having to carry Val in and put him to bed, the boy was utterly exhausted and spent. He kissed him gently on the forehead before pulling the covers up and turning off the light.

Luke himself drifted into the garden that sloped away from the old farm house. The Chiltern hills rolled gently away in three different directions, even in the darkness holding their shape under the slow moving clouds. There was no other settlement in sight, just lands now worked by a farm two miles to the west. This house had once been the site for wild weekends where a group of active young soldiers gathered together as friends and to relax. In the more recent past it had been a place Luke had come to, wanting the solitude and friendship he had always found in it's isolation. The friend was currently abroad, but he didn't have to be within the walls for his presence to be strong here. His good sense and warmth, and many solid memories based here, were already draining the stress out of Luke's body, leaving him calm and centred, ready to think and to find what words were needed. A magnolia was starting to bud at the end of the garden; it's waxy shapes pale in the sporadic moonlight. Luke leaned on the fence and ran a finger gently over one of the blooms. Delicate and soft to the touch, and yet more full of promise than any of the rugged grass or crops that surrounded the house.

Val was still asleep when Luke slipped in shortly after one am. He didn't wake in response to Luke settling beside him, just turned over instinctively to press closer, the deceptively little boy face peaceful in sleep and the lithe body tangling itself around Luke's.

Val woke in the morning to the smell of bacon and coffee and to the raucous screech of birds under the eaves. Luke was nowhere to be seen, but from the state of the far side of the bed, he hadn't slept alone last night. Val shook hair out of his eyes, stifling a small smile. He had a fair idea this was going to be a day he wouldn't enjoy, and for a minute he considered slipping back under the covers again, clinging to the protection of sleep for as long as he could. Then he found the call of coffee- and of Luke- was too strong. He pulled on a t-shirt and jeans and worked out his way downstairs. The kitchen was wide and square, cool from the open back door into the garden, and Luke was standing at an ancient stove, frying bacon. The smile he flashed at Val over his shoulder was reassuring. Val hung both arms around his neck and Luke turned his head to kiss him. It was an absent gesture, the hallmark of long term lovers and Val delighted in it.

"Good morning. I thought I'd better let you sleep."

"I didn't know you could cook."

"There's a lot of things you don't know about me." Luke nodded at the kettle. "Make yourself useful, finish that coffee and take it outside."

"It's freezing out there."

"This is spring, don't be a wimp."

"Just because gorillas are covered in hair, doesn't mean their partners are." Val grumbled cheerfully as he worked with the coffee.

"Do get something on those feet though."

"Yes, dear." Val said sweetly, luxuriating in the simple pleasures he had long forgotten. He wandered back upstairs, finding socks and shoes easily. He stopped by the window, looking out into the distance, watching the sunrise over the fields. Normally he would hate the isolation, but at this particular moment, it felt as if it were the only thing he wanted. The smell of bacon drew him back downstairs in a hurry, he found himself starved.

Val went to grab a piece of bacon off the plate on the counter, and received a sharp swat to his bottom. "Ow!"

"You can wait just a minute. Grab the plates, I'll get the rest."

"Yes, sir!" Val said sharply, grabbing the plates and heading out to the patio.

Luke followed a moment later, and they sat down to a wonderful spread of more food than the two of them could eat. They both thoroughly enjoyed the quiet solitude, the company of each other. When they were both stuffed, they sat back and slowly sipped the coffee, drinking in the warm sunshine as it slowly crept across the flagstones of the patio.

As soon as Val's cup was empty however, Luke leaned across and took it out of his hand.

"Okay. I'm going to put the dishes inside, we've got a job to do here."

Val's eyes snapped up to his, but Luke didn't look at them, just took the plates inside, shut the door on the mess in the kitchen and returned to the patio bench. Val was sitting on his hands, scuffing at the patio slabs and looking about ten years old. It was an image he reinforced as soon as Luke reached him by lifting a face plaintive with appeal.

"Luke I am so, so sorry- you know I am-"

All right, we start there. Luke sat down beside him and leaned his elbows on his knees, watching the ants scurry about on the stones below.

"All right Kitten. Tell me why."

Silence. Val knew he was onto a losing wicket but there were things that still needed to be said.

"I'm sorry I made you so mad," he said eventually. "I know that isn't what you mean, but I am. And I don't just mean mad at me because of the Price business, I'm sorry about - about winding you up about Price. I can't explain why, it felt good that you were so angry at Price. It felt good you cared enough about me to be that angry."

"Okay." Luke said, still watching the ants. "I can understand why you got carried away in manipulating me. That doesn't mean I condone it. If we're going to manage any sort of a relationship here, kiddo, rule one is I have got to be able to trust you to be honest with me. But you and I are a pretty minor issue to this. Have you any idea just what you did?"

"I got Price arrested." Val said in a small voice.

"Wrongful arrest." Luke agreed. "A criminal offense, Val. As are false allegations and wasting police time. There's just one or two you missed in addition. You didn't just make the allegations, you actively set Price up. You ditched me to do it, and you kept from me information I needed to have- that Price was threatening you. If you'd told me that, I'd have had Price cautioned by the police and removed and you would have been left innocent and uninvolved. And you lied. Repeatedly and with intent. To me. To the police. To Orion. To Max."

Val paled as the truth was starting to hit him, how VERY much in trouble he was. He was simply intent on getting rid of Price, and the incredible lengths this had gotten to were beyond his imagination when he started the whole mess. "Luke...I'm sorry. I..." Val had nothing left to say. No way to talk himself out of this mess. He hung his head.

Luke continued. "You have got to learn to think before you act. Think, Val, it's simple. And trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong?" He got a head shake in the negative. "We can rely on each other to work through any problems. ANY problems. We're a team now, and we've got to start working together as a team. Val?"

Val looked up into Luke's eyes, tears threatening to fall from his own. He said simply, "A team."

"Your actions were illegal, dangerous, stupid, immoral, and thoughtless. I was never more ashamed of you than when you admitted you had made the entire story up."

Val's face fell and tears began slowly coursing down his cheeks at those words.

"Orion has made this too easy for you. Them AND Price. Had Price not already been a swine, you would be in legal trouble up to your armpits, and probably more than even Orion could handle. EVERYTHING has been hidden under the rug. You are going to learn there are severe consequences to actions such as those you took three days ago. You have me to answer to, now and always. And I promise you, I am not nearly as nice as they could be. Do you understand me?"

Val nodded his acceptance.

"I'd like to hear that Val. I'd like to know that you realise I'll be here, always, to help you in anything you choose to do, but also to punish you when you falter."

Val swallowed audibly. He locked onto the one word. Always. Luke would always be there. Through everything that had already happened, Luke said he'd always be there. He looked up, catching Luke's eyes. "I wouldn't have it any other way."

Luke's heart melted at those words. But he was careful to not allow that to show in his face. He wanted to make sure Val realised how serious he was, how serious his actions were, and the trouble that he could have been in if things were only a little different. It was going to hurt Luke a lot to cause Val such pain, but in the overall picture of things, it was what was needed.

"Kitten, there is a package on the kitchen table. Bring it out here please."

He expected some of the usual Quentin bratiness. Val was never one to go tamely to his fate, but this time he only got up, pale and still tearful, and went slowly into the kitchen. Luke once more surveyed the magnolia at the end of the garden. The temptation was there: not overwhelmingly strong but there- to make this quick. Simple. Within an hour it could be past, forgotten, with some hope of them salvaging these few days together as something pleasant before the concert tour began. Except that was no foundation for the relationship Luke wanted to date from here. No basis for trust, no true clearing of the dead wood left from that disastrous photoshoot.

This was going to be a hell of a couple of days for them both, and Luke was well aware that Val was hardly likely to understand that.

He glanced up at Val's shadow from the kitchen doorway with some dread. Any anger that was left from the hotel was faded: he no longer had the exasperation to fuel this. Whatever happened now, happened in cold blood. And yet it was important to Val now that he was calm. Confident. That he had some surety about where this was going to end and that they would emerge from it whole.

The wrapped box Val was holding had been in the safe keeping of another friend for a long time- and Luke had absolutely no intention of Val finding out where or why. A letter a few days ago had sent it express through the mail with a covering note Luke had read once, grinned at and disposed of. Now he held out a hand until Val surrendered the box and watched with his lips trembling as Luke pulled off the paper wrapping, flipped the lid and withdrew the rounded, polished paddle inside.

"Come here kiddo."

Val's eyes had gone wide with shock and he retreated a step, petrified. "Luke no! Please- you can't!"

"I can." Luke said mildly, "And I'm going to. What did you think this was worth, Kitten? Same price as a few brat attacks with a bunch of bananas and a toy monkey? Did you hear any of what we were talking about?"

"Luke pleeeease-"

"Here, now." Luke interrupted. "And it doesn't stop with a paddling,  kiddo. You're in for a tough couple of days to clear this slate. I told you. If you want to stick with me, that's your choice, but I'm not going to be half as nice to you as Orion is."

Silence. Val looked at him, eyes already full of tears. This had gone far enough. Luke pointed at the stone flags in front of him.

"Val. Now."

The tone moved Val before he was aware of it. He found himself in Luke's reach, grasped and turned firmly over Luke's lap.

"Luuukkeee!" Val screeched, now totally beyond all conscious thought of the future, only the paddle and his now vulnerable bottom in perfect position for it in his mind. He kicked and squirmed for a few minutes, getting nowhere fast.

Luke just held onto him, knowing exactly how frightened Val was. He didn't say anything, just kept his vise like grip around him until he had settled down, mostly from exhaustion. When Val was mostly still, he yanked down the sweatpants and hung on again as Val renewed his struggle.

"Luuuukkeeee! Nooooooo! Please, no!” Val twisted, trying to see Luke's face, trying to put his hand back to cover his bottom and not succeeding at either task.

Luke took Val's arm and settled it into the small of his back and steeled his nerves. He lifted the paddle up and brought it down smartly across the tightly clenched bottom of his new young lover. The sound was almost deafening in the early morning stillness. It was followed almost instantly by a seriously shocked wail of pain from Val. The paddle fell again, instantly colouring the milky white skin a bright pink on the untouched parts, and darkening the pink where the first swat of the paddle had landed.

Val could only jerk forward on the second hit; he was still trying to gather breath in his lungs from the first swat. He had thought Luke's hand was torture, but this was excruciating! The third swat of the paddle brought another wail of pain from Val.

Luke took his time, moving firmly and with mathematical precision down swat by swat until every inch of skin was one uniform colour and Val was twisting frantically, voice rising in pitch. Luke paused briefly at the end of his circuit, settled Val more securely in his lap and began again, moving steadily inch by inch on the second round. Each swat fell hard and accurately, snapping on bare skin with a retort echoed in Val's cries and wails. He was long past sobbing now, and beyond seriously struggling: between shock and pain he was doing no more than the reflex kicking and wriggling he couldn't help, none of the movement bringing him any relief from that horrible, biting paddle. The third round was the worst. Val's usually milky skin was scarlet by the time Luke rested his aching wrist, laid the paddle down beside him on the bench and gently pulled Val up to his feet.

The boy was crying hard, gingerly putting his hands behind him to try to assuage the blaze. His eyes were still stunned: this was an entirely new experience to Val and it was making a serious impression. Luke pointed him at the kitchen.

"Inside. Find a corner, I'll talk to you in a minute."

Val hadn't the breath to talk but his look was nothing short of imploring. Luke didn't soften.

"I told you, Quentin. We're only just getting started here. Kitchen."

Val gathered up his sweatpants from around his ankles and gingerly walked into the kitchen. He could barely see through the tears in his eyes, searching for an empty corner. He found one and settled uncomfortably into in. He rested his head against the cool wood of the wall, and cried hard for about 10 minutes, feeling absolute sorrow for himself and the predicament he was in. His backside was blazing, more so than he ever thought possible. He again tried to rub it, but found it still too sore to touch.

Luke got up from the bench and walked again to the magnolia. He imagined Val as that magnolia. A budding youngster, full of promise and hope. Needing nurturing as the flower needed sun and rain. Needing discipline as the flower needed stakes to guide it upwards. Needing love, to open the petals wide, and allow the bloom to prosper. He stood there enjoying the flower until he heard Val settle down into hiccups of breath, the crying for now over. He headed into the kitchen.

"I rang your father last night." Luke stepped over Val's prone body and took the deep armchair beside the open fireplace. The cottage had no central heating at night: besides which Val liked the smell and sound of real logs burning in the hearth. He had been lying on his stomach, full length on the hearthrug, not at all inclined to try sitting. It was their second night at the farmhouse and while he was calmer than on the previous night, he was not much more physically comfortable. Val glanced up with apprehension; stretching to take the mug Luke passed him.


"You and he need to talk."

"I think he said everything he wanted to say." Val said into his coffee. Luke shook his head.

"Let me rephrase that. You owe him an explanation and an apology. And then we both owe it to him to tell him about our relationship."

That part went over Val's head. Nerves already strung taut as piano wires, the word 'apology' already had him on his feet, eyes blazing. "I am NOT going to apologise to him for anything!"

Luke leaned over and put his mug down out of harm's way with a decisive click. Val was too wound up to catch the implications.

"If you seriously think after what he said, I'm going to stand there and tell him-"

"Val, he dropped everything and flew four hours out to that resort for you, thinking you'd been raped."

"SO?" Val shoved dark hair out of his face. "You heard what he said to me!"

Luke stood up quickly taking Val by surprise. He glared hard at Val. "You WILL sit down NOW." He said firmly, pointing at the couch.


"One." Luke said, crossing his arms.

"Luuukkkeee, it-"


Val grumbled mightily under his breath, but went over to the couch. Instead of sitting down, he flopped face first onto the cushions.

Luke promptly took a vise like grip on Val's arm bringing him to his feet and setting him back down on the couch.

"OW!" Val said, rubbing his arm, while wincing with pain as his still sore bottom made contact with the seat cushion.

"I am sick and tired of you fighting me every time I tell you to do something you don't want to do. It's going to stop, and right now. By my count you've had three of your five spankings. I won't hesitate to add any more if you keep up with this attitude. Is that clear young man?"

Val looked miserably at the floor, knowing he was beat yet again. "Yes, sir." He managed to say, without sounding too bratty.

"This weekend we are putting our relationship on the right track. And that INCLUDES your father. QUIET!" Luke saw that Val was about to speak again. "Tomorrow after we take care of the morning business, we are driving into London to meet with your father. You WILL offer a proper and heartfelt apology for your behavior. You will then make it clear to him that you are taking responsibility for your actions. Then we shall tell him of us. YES, kitten, I'll not have our relationship hidden from your father. And when we are finished, we'll be driving directly back here."

"Aw Luuuuuuuuke, can't we see a movie or something while in London? Shop? Please?"

"No, you're being punished. And if you put one foot wrong, give me or anyone else one moment of trouble, I'll take those pants down and wear you out no matter who is present, IS THAT CLEAR?"

Val folded his arms up in defiance, feeling like that was the only thing he could do without getting punished. "Yeah-" Val heard rather than saw Luke moving towards him and changed his answer. "Yes, sir."

"I think you have some lines to write before bed."

"It's still early!" Val said, his voice rising.

Luke grabbed Val's arm, jerked him upright and landed two quick swats across Val's tender bottom.

"OW! Okay, okay, I'm going! I'm going." Val rubbed his bruised backside and walked over to the desk where his paper and pen were laying from the evening before. He pulled out the desk chair and very gingerly sat down on the pillow he had left there. He picked up the pen and thought very seriously of writing, "fuck you Luke," on the paper, but decided he'd better just go ahead with the task at hand. He had a list of rules that were covered yesterday, and Luke was making him rewrite the list 100 times each night before bed.

Luke shook his head at Quentin's back, wondering how in the world he was going to rein in and tame the unbelievable amount of spunk from that boy without killing him in the process. He returned to his chair, lost in thought as his eyes were staring, unseeing at the dancing flames of the fireplace.

The rules created on the sheet Val was transcribing were the result of hours of talking, negotiating, Val arguing, Luke insisting. A few of them had caused outright battles and coming yesterday on top of an already emotional and tense day, it had not been easy. But Luke had stuck to his guns and seen it through to the end, insisting they talked it through until they reached clear agreement on each rule. Val was not exactly thrilled with several of them, but they were not easy ideas for him to accept- besides which, Luke had the distinct feeling that while his immediate response was indignation and defiance, on a deeper level there was active relief. There were areas of Val's life out of his control and he knew it, other areas where the security was far from unwanted.

Luke risked a glance at his young lover. Val was writing with his brows drawn together and his lower lip stuck out, looking like a kid doing hated homework. Luke doubted Val had done so much written work since he left school, he certainly met it with no enthusiasm.

After the negotiating, they both knew the list by heart. And rule one and two, the most resented and hated, were the ones Luke intended to enforce rigidly for the next few months. No going out of sight without permission. No going anywhere alone without permission. And Luke had no intention of giving permission until Mr. Quentin was convinced that there were certain ways he could NOT behave in public.

Val slammed the pen down with a bang that made the desk rock. Luke looked up sharply, prepared to get up and intervene if necessary. Val was tired, Luke was tired, but he was determined his job was to see this through if it meant they battled non-stop for the full four days and nights. Val had begun to realise that yesterday afternoon when his immediate penitence began to wear off and he realised Luke had no intention of letting this matter go with a single paddling.

This time however Val caught his eye, stretching cramped fingers. Luke waited. Eventually Val swore aloud, but picked up the pen and went on writing, digging the nib deep into the paper. Luke got up and went to stand behind him. Val's startlingly pretty handwriting covered maybe half the paper; he was making heavy weather of this. Luke dropped his hands gently on Val's neck, rubbing at the tension there. Val arched against his touch but didn't look up.

"It would go easier Kitten, if you didn't write so hard."

"It would go easier if I didn't have to write it at all." Val grumbled, still arching against the soft pressure of Luke's hands.

"Sorry love." Was all Luke had to say. He stood and rubbed for a few minutes, then left Val alone to his writing.

Val finished up two hours later. The time stood at 9:00 pm. He got up slowly, stretching his legs and his back, sinewy as a cat. "Finished kitten?"


"Up to bed then."

Val shot a look at Luke that could have dropped most men dead, but Luke just stared back silently until Val spun on his heels and headed upstairs grumbling. Day 2 of the 4 days of hell was near to completion. Val slid under the sheets and curled into a ball, his back to Luke should he come to bed anytime soon. The first day WAS pure hell for Val. He had two thorough paddlings with the rules being fought over in between. Then he was forced to write the rules down 100 times before an early bed. Today he ate breakfast, endured another paddling, then had odds and ends around the house and property to do, followed by the lines and another early bedtime. The pain wasn't as intense, but as the reason for his punishment went further and further into the past, he was having a harder time dealing with it. Tomorrow was going to be another hard day. He didn't think Luke would back out of the paddling after breakfast again, and then to follow that up with a two hour car ride for apologies to his father seemed to be more than he thought he could handle. As much as he didn't want to, he couldn't help but cry himself to sleep.

Luke heard the sobs from downstairs. He closed up his book, stocked the fireplace and closed the doors on it, and headed upstairs to settle his young lover into peaceful dreams.

It was long past light when Luke pulled himself out of Val's arms and shook him gently. It was bright beyond the drawn curtains, promising another beautiful spring day. Ideal for walking in this area, but they had other and less pleasant plans for the day. Val stirred and reached after him, objecting to the loss of warmth. Luke pulled the covers back.

"Get dressed. We want to be off the motorways before the rush hour starts."

Val's eyes opened, wincing on the bright sunlight.

"What time is it?"

"Breakfast time." Luke pushed the curtains back and headed for the ancient shower. He had to call Val down for breakfast half an hour later, and although Val came down shaved and dressed, he was anything but enthusiastic. Luke was half braced for another tantrum this morning, locked doors and flat refusal, but Val seemed to be taking refuge in silent misery which, had he realised, was a far more effective weapon. Luke watched him pick at a piece of toast, not without sympathy.

"Stop rearranging it and eat," he said firmly, pushing marmalade towards Val. Val glanced automatically at the labels.

"Do you know how many calories is in that stuff?"

"You could do with putting some weight on. Eat."

"I can't." Val said subduedly. Luke pushed the marmalade back to the same place.

"You're going to have to. We're going to be in that car and on the motorway on time, with you having eaten a decent breakfast, you might as well understand that now."

There was enough authority in his voice. Val gave way and began to spread the toast, although he sounded pitiful.

"I CAN'T talk to him, Luke. I can't."

"Yes you can, he's your father." Luke said gently. Val finished the toast in silence, aware that Luke would not let him skip any of it. He was beginning to long for these four days to be over, more passionately than he'd ever wished for anything in his life. He got slowly up to put the plate in the sink, rinsed it and turned to face Luke, expecting it but still dreading it. Luke sounded as matter of fact as if he was asking for another mug of tea.

"Go and get it."

Val's stomach collapsed inside him. He moved, slowly, already near tears to the drawer of the kitchen dresser, retrieved the paddle he already loathed heart and soul, and took it back to Luke. Luke put his own plates in the sink and got up, holding out a hand to Val. Val trailed him into the sitting room. Tears had no effect on Luke. Val wondered if throwing up or dropping dead would make any difference. Luke sat on the edge of the battered sofa and pointed at the floor in front of him.

"Remember where we're up to?"

There was no point in arguing it: they'd gone over and over this ground. Val swallowed.

"Lying to the police. And to you."

"And to the hotel staff. And to Max. And to Orion. And to your father."  Luke completed grimly. "Not just an attempt to confuse or mislead either. Outright lies."

Val had nothing left to say, no legs to stand on. "I'm sorry. I just thought...." He trailed off miserably.

"No, kitten, that's the problem. You didn't think. Had you done that, you would have realised how wrong any of that would have been. I am so disappointed that you thought you couldn't rely on me. That you had to lie to me. Purposely and with intent. Not a small white lie, not a half truth, but a bold, outright lie."

Val stared holes into the floor, wanting the lecture over, but not wanting the paddling to begin. He twisted his hands in his shirttail.

"I don't want you to EVER lie to me, or to anyone else for that matter, ever again, do you understand me?"

"Yes...sir." Val said, with a large intake of breath at the end, trying desperately to hold back the tears.

Luke realised how much of an incredibly hard time Val was having just standing there. He was proud that there wasn't a tantrum going on. He decided to just get it over with. "Pants down, now."

Val's stomach twisted in fear. The point of no return, reached much quicker than he would have liked. He couldn't help it, and burst into tears and fell to his knees, his head on Luke's lap. Sobbing the entire time, he barely got the words out. "Luke... please... no... I've learned... my lesson... really... it hurts too much... please... noooooo..."

Luke was having such a hard time of this as well. Without his anger present, it was so much harder to feel good about punishing Val. He knew Val was sorry. But he still felt the strong need to make sure Val learned once and for all that this behaviour was completely unacceptable. He ruffled the hair on his lover's head, before bringing the stern voice back. "Get up, and get the pants down, now."

Val continued crying into Luke's lap, not able to bring himself to move.

Luke put the paddle down for a moment and bodily pulled Val over his knees. He unbuttoned and then pushed the jeans and underwear down, and tightly gripped Val's side before grabbing the paddle and delivering spanking number four of five.

Val howled immediately as the first swat landed, kicking in vain. Each day the sting was gone from the last one, but the aching muscle pain was still present, and completely reawakened with the first swat.

Luke expertly worked the paddle around his moving target, trying to ignore the cries that he was causing Val to unleash.

The offense was one of the most serious- as serious as the three previously dealt with- and he couldn't in all conscience soften as the days went on. Val wasn't just sobbing when Luke laid the paddle down: he was crying so hard he was in serious danger of making himself sick. Luke picked him up and held him, rocking, arms tight enough to control the shuddering sobs until Val started to calm a little. Val struggled for breath against him in turmoil, desperately wanting the comfort, desperately wanting it from Luke more than anyone else, yet feeling seriously hurt. And the underlying knowledge that it was no more than he deserved, didn't help too much. Unsure of whether he wanted to cling to Luke or bite him, he concentrated on stopping crying, wondering just how many hours he'd spent of the seventy-two so far in tears.

"That's it." Luke said against his ear. "That's finished, that's over. We forget about it."

Val shook his head, not ready to talk to him yet. Luke let him slide from his lap and smoothed his hair out of his face.

"It's all right Kitten. That's the end of that one. This time tomorrow morning it will be over. Now wash your face, we've got to make a move or we'll be sitting on the M25 for hours."

The man was unbelievable. Did he seriously think it was possible just to walk away from a spanking like that? Luke read Val's outrage and shook his head.

"Turn the Disney eyes off and move, come on. You'll live, I promise you."

Val stared into the bathroom mirror upstairs at his own red eyes and white face. By now he knew there was little point in looking at his backside. It was the same every morning. Brick red. Hot. Very sore to the touch.

"Two minutes!" Luke shouted downstairs. "Come on Quentin, move it!"

"Gorilla." Val pulled his best face into the mirror and grabbed his jacket off the banisters. The atmosphere in the car resembled the Arctic Circle. Luke ignored it, pushed a cassette into the player and turned the music up, filling the icy space Val created between them. At this hour in the morning the traffic moved smoothly. On the outskirts of London, Luke glanced at his watch, glanced at Val and pulled into a service station. Val gave him a flat glance over folded arms.

"Why are we stopping?"

"Because I want a coffee and a word with you." Luke locked his own door, came around and held Val's open. "Come on."

"I'm not thirsty and I don't want to go in."

"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. Get out."

Val stamped his foot in frustration. "Wh-"

"Stop it right now, unless you want to stand the rest of the day. Out."

Val gingerly turned in the seat and slowly stood up. His backside was so incredibly sore, and this gorilla was going to make him sit inside? With his still red eyes? Unbelievable!

Luke took Val's hand and walked inside, looking for a quiet booth.

Val wasn't making things easy for Luke, dragging his feet and slowing them down as much as he could.

Luke found a table. "What would you like to drink?"

"Bloody Mary?"

"Tomato juice it is. Sit, I'll go get it."

Before Val could tell Luke he didn't really want the juice, he was gone. "Shit." He ever so gingerly tried to sit down on the hard plastic of the booth seat. He couldn't do it. He got back up and took his jacket off, folding it and placing that down, then carefully putting weight on his backside until he was finally sitting. He looked up to find two teenage girls and their mother staring hard at him, and giggling behind their hands. He silently cursed his bodyguard, saying things he could never openly voice. Val looked quickly away, averting his face.

Luke returned a moment later with the drinks and sat down. "Looks like you have some adoring fans over there." He whispered conspiratorially.

The first words to Val's lips were quickly made silent "Fuck you Luke" before he allowed his voice to be heard. "So what?"

Luke was taken aback. Val always thrived when adoring fans were present. "Val, are you feeling alright?"

Before Val could make his smartass reply, both of the girls were standing at his elbow.

"Val? Valentine Quentin? We are like your biggest fans!" The girls were all wide-eyed and giggling. "Can we have your autograph? Please?" One girl held out a napkin and a pen, her eyes silently pleading.

Val turned towards them, intent on telling them to take a hike when he was kicked under the table. He plastered on his smile and took the napkin and pen. He started to sign his name when the one girl spoke again. "We saw you had trouble sitting. You're not, you're not hurt are you?"

Val wanted to melt under the table.

Luke was about to bust his gut in silent laughter. He was careful not to show Val that, but he was laughing so hard inside he could barely control himself. How was Val going to work himself out of that one?

With aplomb of course. "Ah, so you saw that." Val batted his eyelashes and put on a slightly embarrassed look with a crooked smile. "No, I'm not hurt, but thank you so kindly for asking. I have been on a short vacation to the coast and I got a little more sun, in places that usually don't see it. than I needed to." He then finished his autograph and returned the napkin and the pen to the girls, complete with his million dollar smile.

The girls ran back to their table, giggling and out of breath.

When Val's gaze returned to Luke, the smile was gone, replaced with another patented look to kill.

"Shut up, you're a bastard, and I hate you."

"I didn't say a word." Luke signed a cross over his chest and watched his lover try valiantly to look as though his interest was captivated by a tomato juice. The effect was heartrending. Luke leaned forward and grabbed his hand, holding it when Val tried to pull away.

"Are you going to spit at me all day?"

"Probably." Val twisted, trying to get his fingers away. "And probably tomorrow too. Being made thoroughly miserable for three days has that effect on me, I'm funny that way."

"Don't even try getting my sympathy on that." Luke warned. Val grimaced.

"All right, I understand why, you don't have to start on the speeches again- but I'm not going to go skipping through the day, I can't do it."

"I'm only-" Luke sat back and grimaced as yet another gaggle of teenagers surrounded the table, looking nervous. Most held autograph books. Val took his time, aware now that he was in a position to irritate Luke without any of it being his fault. Luke had his lines to say. Val had his hands full with his adoring public. By the time Val had drawn the third flushing adolescent out of her shell, Luke was starting to fidget. It wasn't long before Val felt, rather than saw him rise to his feet and make his six foot six height apparent to the others in the room. Luke could emanate a very sinister presence when he wanted to and the area around the table visibly chilled. The girls were backing away even before Luke pointed out quietly and politely that Mr. Quentin was resting, he was entitled to some privacy and needed to be left alone. The rest of the room visibly withdrew. Luke sat down again, pushing his coffee aside with exasperation. Val gave him a disdainful look.

"Privacy my foot. Mr. Quentin's bodyguard wants peace and quiet in order to continue lecturing Mr. Quentin. Something he expends a good deal of time and energy on."

"Brat." Luke said with exasperation.

"Gorilla." Val retorted.

"Now that we've gotten that straight." Luke again grabbed for and captured Val's hands. "Kitten, love, we've only a short way to go to get to your father's house. I think it's important that we show him a united front."

"What, for your benefit?"

"No, love, because it's the truth. We ARE on the same side. Your father is not a monster. He is, however, a hard man, and one whose mind cannot be swayed easily. If he even thinks for a minute that we're not right together, we'll have one heck of a time convincing him otherwise. Now I realise how difficult the apology will be for you. And I realise that you're in a lot of pain and unhappy with me because of that. But you need to know that I'm behind you 100%. You may think I'm being completely unreasonable, and a total ass, but I'm doing it because I love you. You got that brat?"

Val still wanted to clobber Luke for the pain he was in, but that lecture was full of love. Just like the grinch, his heart melted a little and he looked up into Luke's probing eyes. "I got it, gorilla." And smiled.

Luke looked at him searchingly for a minute, then his own smile flashed out, the real and rare Luke smile, and he sat back.

"Good. So can we stop pretending you like tomato juice?"

"I do like tomato juice. It's just better with alcohol in it." Val drained the glass and put it down, catching his bodyguard's eyes once more.

"I don't know if I can do this Luke."

"You can."

"You heard what he said."

"Kitten you made him pretty angry. What you did was wrong and stupid and immoral. No one's going to congratulate you for that- it's something you're going to have to live down with a lot of people. But they're not important. You just need to set this straight with the important people."

"He's only going to yell some more." Val muttered. Luke once more held out a hand.

"Maybe. It’s called consequences. They happen when you do bloody stupid things."


"I told you not to look for sympathy from me." Luke said gently. "You made me furious this time- angry and ashamed-" he grabbed Val before he could flinch away, "But we've straightened that out between us. We're okay, it's in the past and I'm still here. This isn't going to be easy with your father, don't think it will be- but he loves you. If you can go to him and be up front about what happened, and show him you're really trying to face up to it, he'll respect that."

"You sound like you know." Val said slowly, still with his eyes on the table. Luke shrugged.

"I've done some pretty stupid things in my time. Your father's been a good friend to me. I've had him yell at me plenty of times and I'll tell you- he makes a lot of noise when he's angry and he doesn't pull any punches. But he doesn't mess around either. If he thinks you're worth salvaging, he's still on your side when he's finished shouting."

"You served in Ireland with him, didn't you?" Val said softly. Luke nodded.

"And Bosnia."

"What...what was it like?"

"It wasn't fun."

"I could figure that one out Sherlock. I mean -"

"Kitten, now is not the time nor the place to talk about that. Let's save that for a time when it's just the two of us, somewhere more private. And not used as an excuse to delay seeing your father. Come on, let's get back on the road." Luke stood up and held his hand out to Val.

Val let loose with a huge pained sigh before slowly and gingerly making his way to his feet. Luke picked the jacket up and helped Val into it before putting his arm around the smaller man and walking back out to the car. Thirty minutes later they pulled into the driveway of Quentin's boyhood home.

Val's mother had seen the car arrive and was standing on the porch when the two men approached. "Daniel, how are you?" She beamed as she gave her son a huge hug.

"Fine mom, fine. Missed your cooking, that's for sure."

"Well we can certainly fix that. I've got a full spread of freshly baked cookies and breads ready to eat. And Luke!" She enclosed him in a huge hug as well. "How is the world's greatest bodyguard doing?"

"Mrs. Quentin, you're such a charmer. I'm fine, thanks." Luke hugged her back, feeling as if he had arrived home as well.

"Come in, come in. Daniel, your brothers and sisters are eager to see you."

Val went in the door in search of the rest of his family, anyone but his father. He went upstairs to the playroom, instantly being mobbed by the three youngsters. "Daniel!!" The three screeched as they all went for a hug at the same time. Kyle, the youngest at 7, popped Val across his butt. "Ouch, you little bugger, you!" Val said, trying not to let anyone touch him that way again. It took him fifteen minutes to prise himself out of their grasp, in search of his 14 year old brother Peter.

He went to his brother's room and knocked on the closed door. "Anyone home?"

"Dan, is that really you?"

"No, it's Robin Hood."

"Well then go away Robin, I'm waiting on my brother to take me away from here."

Val frowned at hearing that, and opened the door. "Hey, what's up?" He saw his brother stretched out on the bed, hands crossed behind his head.

"Uh-oh, better watch out. You shouldn't be here, I'm under lock and key today by the jailer."

"You in trouble?"

"Yeah, sort of stayed out a little late last night, so I'm stuck in here all day."

"Bummer. I'm sure he won't mind me saying hi, since I don't get around here much."

"Yeah, and Satan's making snow cones in hell. Need a stagehand? Come on, I'm sure you've got at least one opening for your brother, don't you?"

"You don't want that sort of opening." Val said, laughing. Peter shook his head.

"Come on Val. I can't sing, I'd be no competition- you get all the luck. Swanning around the country, no one to tell you what to do, no one to stop you doing anything you want-"

"In my dreams!" Val pulled Peter up off the bed. "Come on. Come downstairs. There's a gorilla I want you to meet. Don't worry, I'll handle Dad- believe me, once he's seen me, he'll forget all about what ever you did."

Luke was flat on his stomach on the living room floor, building with Kyle's lego under Kyle's strict instructions. He gave Val a look of open appeal when he saw his lover. Val stepped over his legs, gave him a sweet smile and ignored it.

"Peter, this is Luke."

"Hey Luke." Peter said easily. Luke sat up, brushing lego off his jacket, a little surprised. Val had given no title, no job direction to the introduction- he'd been introduced as a friend. He offered his hand to the teenager but his eyes stayed on Val. Val accepted the mug his mother handed him, drank scalding tea fast enough to burn his tongue and looked apprehensively into the hall.

"Where is he then?"

"In his study." Mrs. Quentin followed her son's gaze, looking equally apprehensive. "Leave him for a while, it'll be dinner soon-"

"It's all right." Val put the mug down and shrugged at Peter. "Better get this over with."

"Want me to come?" Luke said softly. Val shook his head.

"Its my problem."

Val straightened up and walked towards the office looking a lot more confident than he felt. He slowed as he approached the door. He looked over his shoulder at Luke, then slowly walked in, stopping just out of Luke's sight.

Storm looked like he was engrossed in his paperwork, though he knew who was standing there.

Val cleared his throat, not sure he could yet trust his voice.

Storm stopped the shuffling of papers and put his pen down. He looked up at his oldest son and simply said, "Yes?"

"I...Sir, I have something I...uh...want to say to you." Val stumbled over his words, unsure of himself.

"Go on." Storm wasn't making this easy for Val.

"I'm...beyond sorry for what I did."

Storm's voice rose quickly to the bark he had refined during his stint with the military. "Do you think that is going to solve anything? Do you think that's all it takes to fix the multitude of problems that you caused? DO YOU?"

Val was expecting the yelling, but it still shocked him. "No, no sir."

"Shut the door and sit down."

Val was pricked into action, shutting the door quickly and moving into one of the chairs in front of the desk. The chair was a solid wooden one, no cushion, and Val, quite against his will, grimaced in pain, barely able to stand to stay seated but too afraid to move.

Mrs. Quentin knew it would be a long and loud discussion, so she ushered everyone into the kitchen, away from the commotion.

Peter was intrigued with discussion. "Mum, what is that all about?"

"None of your business, young man. Don't you have somewhere you should be?"

"Yes, ma'am." Peter said, his face falling.

"Well, sit down and finish that cake, your father will be a little while. Just a few minutes."

"Thanks." Peter sat down next to Luke and dug into a large piece of chocolate cake.

"Here Luke, one for you as well."

"Thanks, that looks delicious."

Mrs. Quentin got the three youngsters situated with their own cake and drinks and sat down to join Luke and Peter.

"Does Daniel have a lot of people trying to get autographs?" Peter asked with a mouthful of cake.

"Yes, almost everywhere we go. Why just this morning we stopped at a rest area and within minutes there were several girls at the table asking for autographs."

"Must be nice."

"Not always. It's hard sometimes Peter. Val can't just go into the mall to pick up a pair of shoes. He can't just go to any movie theatre to see a movie. Things have to be planned in advance, or he needs to be disguised a little in order to get around without mobs of people following him."

"I never thought of it like that. Guess that could get a little hard to deal with, though everything else sounds wonderful. All the sights, the places, the people, access...."

"Peter," Mrs. Quentin interrupted, "why don't you head back upstairs, it won't do to upset your father anymore. I'm sure once he's finished his discussion with Daniel he'll allow you out to visit. Now scoot."

"Yes, ma'am." Peter pushed back his chair and headed back upstairs to his room.

"Good boy you have there ma'am." Luke said.

"They all are." Mrs. Quentin said, as she cleaned up from the mid morning snack. She then herded the youngsters back upstairs to the playroom and then joined Luke in the living room. Things had quieted in the study, and about 40 minutes later the door opened.

Val looked pale but he was calm and he and his father were both relaxed as they entered. Luke got up and was relieved when Quentin senior immediately offered his hand.



"Sit down McNeil, stop making the place look untidy." Mr. Quentin dropped down into the sofa beside his wife and surveyed the two younger men. Val perched on the arm of Luke's chair, resisting the urge to grab Luke as much as Luke was resisting the urge to get hold of him and make sure he was unbroken.

"Well." Quentin senior said eventually. "I can't say I approve of your taste McNeil, but it's your funeral. I suppose I wished him onto you in the first place."

"It’s something I'm very grateful for." Luke said bluntly. Quentin raised an eyebrow.

"Ah. You never did have any sense of self preservation. Well I employed you to straighten him out and you're about the one person who shows any sign of succeeding. You may kill him in the process, but that seems to me a reasonable risk."

Val flushed. Luke, unable to hold back any more, hooked an arm around Val's waist.

"He's doing okay."



Mr. and Mrs. Quentin traded amused looks with each other at the obvious closeness of the pair.

Peter was allowed out of his room and the entire family enjoyed a relaxed lunch, Val relishing everything about being home. He managed to forget about his sore backside and last spanking for an hour or two. After lunch it was suggested that the family head downtown to the local theatre for an afternoon movie. Val jumped on that immediately. "Yes, that would be GREAT! Hey guys, what do you want to see?" He asked his brothers and sisters, before reality crept back in.

"Sir, ma'am, it's been a pleasure this afternoon, but we need to head back to the house. Val has some things to take care of." Luke said, hoping that Val would take the hint and leave without a scene.

Val looked up at Luke, certain he wouldn't make a scene in front of his family. "I don't get home much, I don't think a movie is out of the question. I can disguise myself a bit, security won't be an issue."

"No, security is not the issue, you are. We're going back to the cabin Quentin." Luke said in a firm tone.

Val smirked at him. "You go back to the cabin if you want to, McNeil. I'll be staying at the farmhouse if you want me."

Luke gave him a Look.

"What's a cabin?" Peter demanded. "I thought you were up towards-"

"Quentin." Luke said softly.

"He's American." Val said as if this explained everything. "Don't be such a stick, Luke- you like films too, we can find something with enough gore in to keep you happy-"

Luke's fingers closed on his shoulder and he was yanked back against Luke's chest. Luke spoke in his ear, softly enough for only him to hear.

"Quentin, if you want to go public with ALL the aspects of this relationship, you go right ahead. Either way, we're going. Now. Whether we leave discreetly, or whether we treat your family to a floorshow is entirely up to you. Do you understand me?"

"You are SUCH-"

Luke swatted him, discreetly and hard. Val yelped and flushed as several of the family looked round.

"We really need to go." Luke said smoothly. "Say goodnight, Quentin."

"Goodnight Quentin." Val said through his teeth, feeling the grip Luke had acquired on his hand.

"Daniel, when will you return dear?" Mrs. Quentin asked as she got up to hug her son.

"I don't know mum. Not tomorrow, that's for sure." He hugged his mom, Luke letting go of his hand.

Luke got the same big hug. "You continue to take good care of my boy."

"Yes ma'am, I will. Thanks for everything. Nice to meet you guys, Peter." Luke said as he looked at everyone.

Val got mugged by his brothers and sisters as he tried to leave the kitchen.

"McNeil, a word?" Storm asked as the mob walked out towards the porch.

Val had a few minutes to say goodbye to his family before Luke and his father made their appearance on the porch.

"Daniel? You've got a good man here, don't go messing with it, understood?" Storm said sternly.

"Understood, sir." Val went to hold his hand out to his father, but instead was pulled into a bear crushing hug.

"Behave yourself." Storm said in his ear. "Brat."

"What did my father say to you?" Val demanded as Luke drove out of sight of the house. Luke grinned.

"That secrets drove you mad."

Val pulled a face at him and slumped back into his seat. "Do we HAVE to go back to the house?"

"We do. Cheer up Kitten. The day after tomorrow we're staying in London for three weeks and you can see as many films as you like."

"It's not the films I *want* to see, it's the farmhouse I *don't* want to see."

"No sympathy here love, but it is almost over."



A week later Val finished his fourth concert in five days. After meeting with the backstage fans and wrapping up with the media, Val was ready to head back to the room. He spied Luke, arms crossed and holding up the wall and gave him a tired smile.

"Ready to go kitten?" Luke said as he peeled himself away from the wall.

"Not been more ready to head back to the room in a long while." Val said as Luke wrapped an easy arm around his shoulder.

"That was a wonderful evening, love. You really connected with the crowd tonight, and I could literally see you glowing."

"It was wonderful, wasn't it?"

Both men enjoyed the easy silence on the short drive back to the hotel.

Luke unlocked the door and Val entered first, immediately seeing the bright green box on the table. He went directly to it, seeing no card on the outside. He untied the bow, sensing Luke's strong presence behind him. He removed the top of the box and opened the green tissue paper, revealing a perfect red rose nestled inside. He saw a card under the flower. It read,

"It's been six months to the day that you and I were thrust together. Just 
wanted you to know...I love you. Gorilla."

Val turned quickly around and hugged Luke tightly, having dropped the flower and card back on the table. "Oh Luke, thank you!"

"You're welcome love. Happy anniversary."

Val stood back, and his face fell for a moment. "But I don't have anything to give you." Just then an impish grin crossed his face, and his eyes lit up. "But I could show you how I feel." He said in a sweet, sexy voice.

"That's what I was hoping for." Luke said gruffly, picking Val up and carrying him into the bedroom.

~The End~

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010

1 comment:

Sierra said...

i'm a straight girl and I love m/m stories and I particularly adore the Rolf and Ranger stories. Up to this point my favorite Top had been Rolf but he has now been displaced by Luke!

The Luke and Val stories are exceptional in every single way. They are romantic and have character and are well written. They have every single delicious trigger for this thing we do.

They are my favorite stories ever. Thanks so much for sharing your talent.

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

Rolf and Ranger’s Next Book will be called The Mary Ellen Carter. The Mary Ellen Carter and other works in progress can be read at either the Falls Chance Ranch Discussion Group or the Falls Chance Forum before they are posted here at the blog. So come and talk to the authors and be a part of a work in progress.

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