"Why don't we play a game or something?" Eric asked, ever the optimist that everyone could play without killing each other. "The weather isn't going to improve before morning, we might as well find something useful to do."
In confirmation of that, the wind thudded again against the windows, making the lights flicker. Rolf stood the torches on the mantel over the fireplace and took a seat on the sofa, pulling Matthew down beside him. It was nearly nine PM and already dark outside: if the power did go they were about to find themselves in a blackout with four tired, fractious brats who had already withstood a long drive down to the cabin that afternoon, and weather when they got there that meant being stuck inside. It was not a good start to the weekend. Tempers were already fraying on the part of four of their numbers and increasingly firm action was being taken by the other four in an effort to evade outright trouble. They definitely needed a strong distraction to fill the time before bed.
"I'm NOT playing Trivial Pursuit with Chris again!" Matthew said, crossing his arms and slouching against the couch.
"Well I wouldn't play with you if they paid me," Chris retorted, glaring back.
"Better idea." Joe fielded Chris out of Matthew's way as Rolf automatically looped a hand through Matthew's belt. Chris subsided against him, scowling at Matthew.
At that moment the lights fizzed for the last time- and went out.
"That's it," Eric said in the darkness, "They won't come back on anytime soon."
"So much for the game," Chris said sourly.
"I have a better idea," Rolf said, giving a final tug to Matthew to keep him from rushing to the windows. "We can play a type of truth or dare game."
"That sounds intriguing," Joseph said, wanting, like Rolf, to keep everyone entertained enough to keep from killing each other. "How would that work?"
"That sounds boring," Michael said, before being hushed by Eric.
"We can but try," Rolf said, unfazed. "Everyone gets three questions. And I'll start here- okay................. Matthew, how did that patch of grass by the garage get burned last summer?"
Matthew thought for a moment, then realized that most everyone here already knew the story. Happy that it was dark enough no one could see his flushed face, he said, "Well....it was just a couple of books from school. You know, how they ALWAYS rape you there, making you buy new ones about every year. They weren't going to pay me for the books, and then said I could just leave them there..... I said I'd rather burn them....so I did."
"With WHAT?" Joe demanded, staggered.
Matthew flushed still darker, trying not to glance at Rolf. "...... the mower fuel?"
"Gasoline," Rolf said calmly. "He used gasoline."
"Nothing happened!" Matthew protested. Rolf shook him gently by the nape of the neck.
"See me afterwards."
"You've got two more questions to go." Matthew leaned back against his knees until the hand on his neck began to rub instead of shake. "And they can't be ME! Shut up," he added towards Chris, who was giggling under his breath. The giggling broke out louder still when Matthew spoke.
Rolf broke in before Matthew could speak again, "All right Chris, I've got one for you."
That sobered Chris quickly. "What?" he asked suspiciously.
"Ask him about -" Matthew started.
"My question," Rolf said quickly. "Chris. What exactly were you doing two summers ago when I found you halfway around the lake?"
Joe's eyebrows raised. Chris grinned, relaxing.
"I plead the fifth."
"Can't do that, sunshine. Need a truth or a lie, but remember, if it's a lie and we guess, you're out."
"So I'm out!" Chris said cheerfully.
"Want to be OUT out?" Joe invited. "You can go up to bed if you like, we won't mind."
Chris scowled, but glanced back at Rolf.
"I was trying to get to the cliff on the far side to see if it was climbable."
"So you went the long way to throw me off your trail?" Rolf asked, laughing.
"Of course!" Chris said indignantly. "No fun if you're watching."
Joe shook his head in the dark, smiling.
"I suppose that's the truth," Rolf said.
"It IS!" Chris said quickly, not wanting to be considered out.
"Hmmmmmmmmmm," Joe said dryly.
Rolf laughed again. "So I've got one more question here.......I COULD ask Joseph a question...."
"I might even answer," Joe said, grinning.
"But I think I'll have more fun with...Eric."
"Oh no," Eric said involuntarily.
"Oh yes. You've shared many a story about the pranks you used to pull when you were in the academy. The one thing I don't remember hearing about....was the first prank that was pulled on you. So dish," Rolf said.
Eric sat back, shaking his head, "I always knew you were a sadist, I've said for years......"
Everyone in the room laughed appreciatively, and there were several yells for Eric to go on.
Eric sighed. "Okay. It was about halfway through the first term and we were supposed to be studying for this test- Rolf Monet, you're going to wreck my street cred here."
"I think the seven of us could keep a secret, don't you guys?" Rolf asked the room. Everyone immediately agreed.
Eric sat back, looking at the ceiling. "It was about the laws on twocking- taking without consent, mostly vehicle laws. And the procedures are complicated. I was studying for this test and getting in a real twist about it, so some of my mates suggested it might help me if we went out and tried 'easy' twocking and chase procedures at night when the roads were quiet. So I said, like a fool, okay, went down with them to the academy car park, we picked one of our cars and I 'broke' into it. And took off in the car since the others were supposed to follow me and practice chase, pull over and arrest procedures. We were in plainclothes, and the whole thing was seen on the security cameras and I was about a mile from the gates when I was stopped by three panda cars, lights flashing, and arrested for car theft. Took me some time to convince them we were students nicking our OWN cars and practising for a test, and I got about the most effective chewing out of my life from the officer in charge of my term."
"How was that a prank?" Michael demanded.
Eric snorted. "The guys in the following car didn't follow and they knew damn well the security cameras were there. I, like the fool I was, didn't even
"And how is it that *I* got paddled for taking YOUR car?" Michael demanded of his partner.
"Because it was the squad car!" Eric retorted. "You thoroughly deserved that paddling!"
"Too bad they don't believe in THAT at the academy," Michael responded.
"It was my friend's car." Eric pointed out. "Which I stole with his full permission. Not exactly the same thing. And it's my turn anyway. Sooooooo................ Matthew, what's the worst thing you've ever done and did it get found out?"
"What??!" Matthew barked. "Why ME?"
"Because Rolf just picked on ME," Eric said serenely
"Come on, Matthew, tell us," Todd said happily.
"I just don't see as how that's fair," Matthew pouted.
"You can go upstairs to bed if you'd like," Chris said snidely.
"Want to go get your PJs on?" Joe inquired mildly
"No," Chris and Matthew said in unison, which caused the rest of the group to laugh.
"Last chance," Joe commented. "Go on, Matthew; we're listening."
Matthew's head spun, trying to figure out which of his escapades had been the worst, and if he'd rather lie than tell the truth. "I'm thinking, give me a moment," he finally said. "I- was at home alone. This was on the farm, mind you. Mom and Dad were at some function, and I got bored. I was out in the barn, upstairs in the hay loft when I found a small stash of fireworks I kept from July 4th."
"Oh God," Rolf said. "You and fireworks and hay. PLEASE tell me you didn't burn down the barn!"
"Of course he burned down the barn," Michael said cheerfully. "Just like that patch of grass outside our place last year, it's fatal attraction."
"I did NOT burn down the barn!" Matthew said heatedly. "I KNOW how fast hay can burn, and I wasn't about to be THAT stupid. I took the fireworks outside and lit them there, AWAY from the barn. I just didn't see the horse in the paddock. When the fireworks went off, it was a loud boom. The horse got spooked and broke through the fence. I hid the fireworks and ran for the house. And no, for those of you wondering, I was NOT caught."
"You thoroughly deserved to be," Rolf said darkly. "You could have blown your hand off, never mind been trampled."
"I'm better with matches and fireworks than anyone gives me credit for," Matthew pouted, though silently agreed he should have been caught. He'd never told anyone before because of how bad he HAD felt. Eric leaned over to pat his knee, shaking it with good-natured affection.
"Thank you, Matthew. I don't think one could make that up. Now....next question....." Eric turned his head towards Stephen. "I called you a week ago Friday. It was late, you should have been closing up. I asked if you could check in on Michael, who wasn't feeling well and you said sorry, you were busy. It's no big deal that you couldn't do it, but your voice had a particular sound to it. WHAT were you doing when I called?"
Todd promptly spat up half his drink.
Stephen caught Todd's eye and grinned at him but merely shrugged his shoulders.
"Just some accounts."
"Oh, you don't get off THAT easy," Joe said, ever the prosecutor. "You need to further explain what you mean by accounts."
"Summing up. Totals." Stephen put a hand on Todd's head as he buried his face in Stephen's lap, scarlet to the tips of his ears. "I think we'll let it go RIGHT there, thank you."
"Skinning some fish it sounds like," Chris said, laughing.
"Waxing the tables," Matthew said, rolling.
"Enough," Stephen said firmly. "Eric you've got one more question. And I've got a few when you're done."
"That sounds rather......worrisome," Eric said, finally getting control of himself. "Okay, this one is for my partner. What, exactly, did you send my parents for Valentine’s day?"
"A card," Michael said, giving him an angelic smile from the floor. "Your mother loved it."
"She never stopped laughing long enough to tell me what it was. I want details, my boy."
"I swore never to tell." Michael licked his finger and crossed his heart. "And it was in return for seeing some photos which involved death threats if I told you, so no, not a chance."
Eric reached down and started to tickle Michael. "I have my ways.....just you wait," he said.
"You can try." Michael squirmed away from him. "Go on, Steve,"
"No, my turn," Matthew interrupted. "WAY too much top time going on here."
"I've got a couple of questions!" Chris said quickly.
"I said first," Matthew retorted
"Go on, Matthew," Joe said, a hand on Chris's shoulder.
"BIG mouth," Chris said under his breath.
"I say we let Todd ask, he's been too quiet," Rolf said, pulling Matthew back against him when he started to argue.
"I said first!" Matthew insisted, glaring at Chris who glared right back.
"One each," Joe said firmly. "And that's my last offer before it turns into bedtime and no more arguments."
Chris gave Matthew a Look, more acid than lemon juice. "What's the worst spanking you ever got and did you deserve it?"
"When was the last time you had a cigarette?" Matthew shot back without a breath.
"I'm not answering that!" Chris retorted quickly.
"You think I'd answer yours?" Matthew snapped back.
Joe shook his head, putting his drink down. "Okay. Both answer, you take your chances and WITHOUT any more sniping, or up you go. Choose."
"I asked first," Chris said innocently.
Rolf's arm folded more firmly around Matthew's shoulders, keeping him back against his knee. "Go on Matthew, fair play."
"For skipping meds," Matthew said shortly, not looking at Chris. "And yeah, I probably did."
"And if you're still saying ‘probably’, then I obviously didn't get the full message across," Rolf said sternly from the dark.
"Okay I did," Matthew snapped. "Satisfied?"
"I'm not!" Chris said. "Was it a paddle? The belt?"
"Want the home movie?" Matthew demanded. "When did you last have a cigarette? You got an honest answer from me, -"
The epithet was swallowed but virtually everyone in the room filled in their own version.
Chris steamed, but the hand on his shoulder reminded him that he'd pushed as far as he could. He swallowed hard on what he wanted to say. "Two months ago," he said firmly. "Now whose turn is it?
"CRAP," Matthew said sharply.
"Since there is no way for me to PROVE it, someone else can ask the next question," Chris ground out.
"I can prove you're lying since you were with me
"You don't know what you're talking about, Mocoso," Chris said hotly.
"I know a damn cigarette when I see one and SMELL one," Matthew retorted. "And just in case I don't, Mike you were there, what WAS it he had in his mouth while we were drinking coke?"
"All right, Matthew, I've heard enough," Rolf said firmly, standing up. He pulled Matthew up by the arm. Matthew started to complain until a very firm swat caught him on the seat of his pants.
Rolf escorted Matthew over to the kitchen table, quickly lighting a candle and putting it on the opposite end of the table. "You will sit, quietly, because if I have to speak to you again you're going to be spanked and sent to bed. Clear?"
"HE started it and I had to answer!" Matthew said bitterly
"That's no excuse for your language, now is it?"
"Would you LIKE a spanking?"
Matthew resisted the urge to reply, "DUH."
"Not another word from you," Rolf said, turning to go back into the living room.
"F***." Matthew said savagely and very, very quietly.
"You don't have to answer that!" Chris said to Michael.
"No, he doesn't," Joe said, pulling him to his feet. "Upstairs, get yourself ready for bed. If you draw the curtains you've got enough light to see by."
"I didn't do anything!" Chris said quickly, trying to pull back down into a sitting position.
"And I warned you twice. Go."
Chris was too embarrassed already to argue more, and didn't want to chance getting spanked in front of anyone. He stomped away from the group.
Joe got up, went to the foot of the stairs and leaned on the banister, LOOKING upstairs. The footfall quietened and faded into the distance.
"Your turn, I believe," Eric said mildly as Joe came back. Joe picked up his drink and took his seat again.
"Okay. To anyone. Who'll give me odds on Matthew and Chris surviving to morning without bloodshed?"
"NOT FUNNY!" Matthew fumed from the kitchen.
"Who said I was kidding?" Joe inquired.
There was a soft thunk, followed by a muffled curse from the kitchen before several of the guys started laughing.
Rolf got up and headed for the door. Joe shook his head and refilled his drink.
"Okay. Uh.......... Todd. What's the worst journey you've ever taken?"
"Oh, that's an easy one. Two summers ago when we went to visit Steve's parents in
"What was so bad about it?" Michael asked from the floor. "Just the heat?"
"Yes, the heat," Stephen said, laughing.
Todd blushed furiously, though no one could actually see it. "Yeah, it WAS the heat. The drive that never ended. The tarantula that was on my foot. And every time we needed to go out, it was 900 degrees in the car and three days to get there!"
"It wasn't THAT bad," Stephen comforted him. "At least there was air conditioning in the house."
"That your parents kept at eighty five because they were USED to the heat! And I don't care WHAT you tell me about that spider, it WAS that big," Todd finished, slumping back against the couch.
"I know it was big. You told me a lot that it was big." Stephen said, smiling. "I think you told most of
"SOMEONE had to warn them!"
"Rolf," Joe said cheerfully as he re-emerged from the kitchen, bratless, leaving a deathly silence behind him. "I know you're not bothered by spiders of any shape and size: what DOES scare you most?"
"Being in a cabin in the woods, without electricity, in the middle of a storm, with you guys.....answering questions," Rolf said calmly, taking a seat on the couch.
"Lie," Joe said, levelling his glass at him.
Rolf laughed heartily. "You don't trust me?" Rolf asked as soon as he found his voice again.
"Not an inch." Joe looked at him over the edge of his glass. "So cough up. YOU'RE not escaping with early bed, you needn't look so hopeful."
Rolf gave a dramatic sigh before answering, "If I don't get to go to bed, then I guess I'll 'fess up......." He let a hush fall over the room, taking time to seek out each face, one by one. When he had everyone's attention, he said, simply, "bats."
"Definitely a lie," Joe said, shaking his head.
"And little mice with hairless wings don't scare you?" Rolf asked innocently.
"You learned that trick from Matthew, and NO. Truth or dare, Monet, take your pick." Joe grinned in the dark, catching the glint of Rolf's grin back.
"Dare," Rolf said evenly, to which everyone else sucked in their breath.
Joe shook his head. "Okay, if you insist..... I dare you to walk around the room on your hands. Without falling. OR smashing the window."
"Now THAT is asking a lot, especially in the dark," Rolf said, standing up and flexing his arms.
"I'm getting OFF the floor!" Michael said, standing quickly to his feet. Todd jumped up and plopped onto his partner's knees, eliciting a yelp.
Matthew, in the kitchen, quietly slid out of his chair and came to the door.
"I've seen you do it in the dark before," Joe said calmly. "As a matter of fact, it was in the college bar, about ten years ago, after that ballgame."
"Keep in mind the ten years," Rolf said, stretching down to touch his feet. “And that YOU will be responsible for the windows,” Rolf said, kicking himself up on his hands. He made it halfway around without a sound, then started grunting with the effort to finish the last half-lap, to the cheers of the rest of the group.
Matthew moved swiftly out of the way as Rolf righted himself in the kitchen doorway, narrowly missing the doorframe. And bowed in response to the applause.
"Not QUITE the same without the beer, but close," Joe said cheerfully.
Rolf was glad for the darkness as he could feel his face was thoroughly flushed from the effort. "I think it’s TIME for a beer," he commented, heading into the kitchen to grab one from the fridge. "Anyone else?"
"Me," Matthew said quietly from the table.
Rolf got out a bottle of water and put that on the table in front of Matthew. "Quiet, brat," he said, not unkindly, before heading back out into the living room.
Matthew put his head down on his arms. Rolf took his seat across from Joe and raised an eyebrow at him. "So. Next question?"
Joe laughed, but let it slide.
"All right then. To my partner. Who's sitting at the top of the stairs," Joe added without looking around. "Can you manage another hour without sniping at Matthew, or in any other way being unpleasant?"
"Yes?" Chris said softly. Joe held out a hand, leaning back to see him. "Come on, then."
Chris slid down the stairs and into Joe's lap, relying on the darkness for discretion.
The chair moving in the kitchen told Rolf that Matthew didn't think it was fair to be left alone. "Can I have the same promise from you?" he asked towards the kitchen.
"Yes," came the quiet reply.
"Come on," Rolf said.
Matthew walked softly over to Rolf and snuggled up against his legs, chastened.
"Todd, you go on. Rolf's had his three and you were the last question before that," Joe said.
Todd, who was starting to close his eyes from time to time, jerked awake and lifted his head from Stephen's knee.
"Um. I don't know."
"I'll go then," Michael piped up.
Thankfully, Todd leaned back against Stephen and once more let his eyes closed, happy to listen in the dark.
When no one objected, Michael continued, if a bit unsure. "Joe, I have a question for you. Have you ever been dressed down by a judge, and why did it happen?"
"Not a lllaaawwww question," Chris groused softly against Joe's chest.
"The case to which I THINK you're referring was about a small town socialite who was being prosecuted for drunk driving. I didn't know the town very well, and I'd never prosecuted in front of this judge. What I ALSO didn't know was that this socialite was a -" Joe coughed discreetly, "friend of the judge's.”
"I left early to get to the court on time, but didn't leave time in my schedule for not being able to find a parking place. Considering this was a small town, I figured it would be no problem. The problem was I didn't realize exactly how popular this case was going to be, and everyone that was anyone showed up at the courthouse that day.
I was ten minutes late, and the judge had already decided that he didn't like me. I got thoroughly chewed out by His Honor in front of the entire town on the first day of trial."
"Did it affect your case?" Michael said curiously. "That must have been embarrassing as hell."
"I don't remember ever having been chewed out as effectively as he did. And being a prosecutor, and he a judge, you could only say ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ at the appropriate times, no matter what else you wanted to say. I had a long, uphill battle, but thankfully, my case was bulletproof and she lost, though thanks to all the help she had she didn't spend even a night in jail."
"Did she lose her licence?"
"Yes, but she really didn't need it at the time," Joe answered.
"And that was
"Yes. That's all."
"Your questions, Mike," Rolf reminded in the quiet following. Michael cleared his throat, casting a somewhat hesitant look at his partner.
"Have you ever pulled your gun on someone and why- and did you ever have to shoot?"
"Why do you want to know that?" Eric asked gently.
Michael shrugged, awkward but persistent. "I always wanted to know and you always change the subject when I ask."
"I want to know too," Matthew said, raising his head from Rolf's leg.
Eric shook his head slowly. "I've had to draw my gun on a number of occasions, but thankfully, I have never shot my weapon outside of the range."
There was a quick and very discreet glance cast among the other tops, but no one commented. Rolf, catching Eric's warning eye gave him a very slight nod in return.
"Last one," Eric said, tousling Michael's hair and lowering his voice, since Todd was now clearly asleep. Michael thought for a moment, chin on his knees. Then glanced up at Matthew.
"Matthew- have you ever realised at work that one of your clients is committing fraud?"
"Yeah, what do you want to know?"
"What was the fraud and what did you do about it?"
"There was this one company I did books for. The guy was nice, but really, REALLY dumb. I was trying to get his financial statements in order, and the information that his secretary was sending me just didn't...add up. There were checks written that cleared for different amounts. Bills that seemed to be paid twice. And some credit card debt that seemed outrageous. When I finally got him to let me call the bank, I found out that his secretary was writing the checks to herself, as well as paying her own personal bills with his checks. She was even signing the checks FOR him. And he never knew."
"What did you do about it?" Chris asked softly.
"I had to consult with my boss, and he called the client in for a meeting. They decided to fire her, and gathered up evidence in order to take her to court. Except the guy didn't care enough to pursue it, so she basically got away scot-free."
There was several minutes’ silence. Chris shifted against Joe's knee, eyes starting to close in spite of himself.
"I think it's bedtime," Joe said quietly above him. "Go on, upstairs."
"Matthew and I have got two questions left," Chris protested.
"Yeah, we do," Matthew concurred. "Considering it was just me that had to answer, I get to ask again."
"One question each," Rolf said. "And quickly."
Matthew knew he had to make this one count. He searched for faces in the dark, barely able to make any of them out.
"Okay, Mike. Tell me again how you earned your very first spanking. It WAS Eric, wasn't it?"
Mike lifted his head up in surprise. "WHAT?
"You heard me. Tell me....US....how you earned your very first spanking," Matthew said innocently.
Mike swallowed, wondering whether to risk Matthew's inventive mind on a dare- then shook his head.
"Okay, okay, it wasn't Eric. It was the coach of my football team, okay?"
"The coach? Whatever did you do?" Matthew inquired.
Michael flushed still darker, picking at the carpet. "I had a major- MAJOR - crush on him - this was in high school, I was sixteen- and I hung around him doing every damn thing I could think of to get him to notice me. He was blinder than a bat about it."
"And you're not easy to ignore when you put your mind to it," Eric said, grinning. Michael dug him in the ribs.
"Go on, I can't wait to hear this."
"You KNOW this!"
"Not in vicarious detail I don't," Eric fended him off. "Come on, details."
"There aren't any! Hardly," Michael added reluctantly. "I made a nuisance of myself, hung around late trying to get him to talk to me, stood a lot too close to him, got a few knocks on the football field and he actually had to carry me off the field once-
"So what did you end up DOING?" Matthew asked in exasperation.
"One of my friends caught on to what I was doing, teased me about it," Michael went still redder. "We got into a fight in the changing room- not exactly a fistfight, more screaming threats and I sort of seriously outscreamed him."
Eric started to laugh. Michael dug him again, trying not to smile.
"I can just imagine it."
"ANYway. The coach separated us, told me to stop making noises like a stood-on cat and told me to wait while everyone else cleaned up and left. I thought great, finally he's taking some notice!"
"Just not the kind you wanted," Joe said wryly. Michael snorted.
"No kidding. He came back to me, asked me if I was okay- we hadn't done anything more than pushing and shoving- and said he was tired of me acting like a brat around the place all the time and he wasn't putting up with any more of it."
"And you turned on the large eyes and kissed him, he embraced you and you made wild, passionate love on the bench," Matthew interrupted.
"Yeah, in your dreams," Michael said, smiling in spite of himself. "He did the standard top-type thing. Use your imaginations."
"Did that cool your jets for him? Because I KNOW it doesn't affect you with Eric," Matthew said snidely.
"How does it chill you out?" Michael inquired, looking straight back.
Rolf's tight squeeze on his shoulder reminded Matthew not to overstep his bounds. He chose to stick out his tongue, even if no one could see.
"Yes it did," Michael said after a moment. "There wasn't anything erotic about it, he treated me exactly like a bratty kid and it shut me right up. Then I was halfway through college and met this cop who did more or less the same thing and started to wonder if I had some kind of sign pinned on me!"
"Yeah, it said ‘sucker’," Chris interjected, laughing. Matthew laughed as well, glad it wasn't him that said it.
"If it had only been THAT. I wouldn't have minded!" Mike retorted
Matthew lay down on the floor in near hysterics. Chris couldn't figure out what was so funny. "OKAY, it’s MY turn to ask MY question!"
Rolf poked Matthew, trying to avert total asphyxiation. "Stop it. Go on, Chris."
"Stephen, this is for you. Awhile back there were...rumors...that you almost got in trouble with the law for fighting. What happened?"
"I don't think we need to make Steve answer that," Joe said firmly.
"We do!" Michael said just as firmly. "If we only get to ask questions we could ask anyway then what's the point in playing?"
"Thanks, Joe, but I think I can handle this one," Stephen said, as he knew it was something that all of them could face at any time. He sat back, deliberately keeping his voice casual.
"We were at the bar, which unfortunately overlooks the street and it was early Sunday evening so there were people about. Todd and I went over to pick up some paperwork and a discussion we'd been having on and off that afternoon came up again. Todd got a little heated and it was something we needed to deal with, so as there was no one else at the club at the time, we did. About fifteen minutes later there was a knock at the door downstairs, two policemen demanding to come in; there'd been a report of a fight in the club. I told them the club was closed, but they wanted to know who else was around, since they were very clear that sounds of assault had been heard. So they insisted on seeing Todd."
Chris sat back quietly, the fun of the question forgotten. Matthew curled up a little tighter against Rolf's leg, wondering what in the hell Todd had done, and what he'd have done in Todd's place.
Stephen shifted position in the chair carefully, not disturbing Todd who was peacefully asleep against his legs.
"I took them upstairs. Todd was in tears and clearly very upset, so along with the neighbour's report on what they'd heard, the police weren't at all impressed. Todd told them everything was all right but naturally they thought he wouldn't talk in front of me, so they politely 'requested' that I stayed in the office with one and the other took Todd downstairs and outside to talk to him."
"What happened?" Matthew asked, upset to think someone wouldn't understand their relationships.
Stephen sighed. "It wasn't something we had any time to discuss how to handle. Since they were anxious to protect Todd they separated us as quickly as possible. I just kept repeating that we were partners and things were all right, and Todd did the same downstairs, since he really didn't want to go in to details. He was very upset though, naturally, which made the police still more suspicious. I suspect they thought they'd happened on a nasty case of domestic abuse. Finally, when Todd wouldn't press charges or discuss being taken anywhere, they asked him if they could call someone and he thought of Eric, who came right over. That calmed the police down since he confirmed that we were partners and he knew us. The police weren't happy but they did then leave."
"Thank God Eric's an officer," Matthew said heatedly. "I wish sometimes, that people would keep their noses out of OTHER people's business."
Stephen gave him a gentle look. "If you want to know, it's okay Matthew, just ask. It wasn't good but we handled it and it's a risk we all take."
"But it's STUPID that people don't understand us!" Matthew replied at once. "Why do we have to live in fear that that will happen? It's not fair!"
"On the other hand if Todd HAD been in trouble or danger with someone he didn't trust and was being abused by, then I'd want the police and anyone else to interfere as fast as possible," Stephen said mildly. "It works both ways."
"That still doesn't make it right that we're -that they can call it- or say you're horrible to us," Matthew said somewhat incoherently.
"Sweetheart," Rolf began. "People don't like differences. It's something they don't understand, and they tend to hate it for just that reason. We're always going to have to be aware of what goes on around us, but it's not going to slow any of us down."
"So, it's bedtime," Joe said mildly in the silence that followed. Several faces looked around to his in immediate protest.
"Stephen hasn't had a go!"
"Todd didn't, so Stephen
"Stephen doesn't have to do anything," Rolf pointed out, getting up. Matthew grabbed his ankle, effectively incapacitating him.
"He does, it's only fair. Steve, you DO want your turn, don't you? Come on, who wants to go to bed? It's dark anyway, we've been resting in the dark for hours-"
"I DO have a question or two that I'd like to ask," Stephen interrupted Matthew.
Rolf shook his head at him but sat down. "All right all right, you don't have to break my ankle."
Matthew settled back against him, letting go. "Who and what?" he asked eagerly. Stephen gave him a thoughtful look.
"All right Matthew, if you're so ready to hear a question, I have one for you. Did you REALLY think repatriating the tuna fish at the cabin was a good idea?"
"Yes?" Matthew said with wide eyes.
Everyone had a good laugh at that, at Stephen's expense. Finally, he got out over the laughter, "Why didn't you just tell me you didn't like tuna?"
"Because you were already fed up, and I didn't want the plate chucked at me!" Matthew said frankly. "The sink was the only place to put it!"
"I obviously didn't make the correct impression," Rolf said grimly from the couch.
"Tuna LIKES water," Matthew said innocently, leaning back to see his face.
"Only that which is fit to breathe," Rolf said, grabbing Matthew's neck in a gentle choke-hold.
"There was a good chance of resuscitation," Matthew pointed out, grinning at him.
"You'd better hope for the same!" Chris said, barely able to make out Rolf's hands around Matthew's neck.
Matthew ducked out of Rolf's hands, settling back against him. "I think I answered that one perfectly adequately- go on, Steve?"
"Hmmmmm," Steve said while thinking. "Not to quote an old song exactly, but why is everyone always picking on me?" he sang.
The brats promptly collapsed in hysterics.
"We don't!" Chris said eventually, "We love you, really."
"Can a question be a plea for mercy?" Eric inquired to no one in particular.
"Oh, that sounds EXACTLY like a plea for mercy," Rolf said, laughing. "Are you giving in, Stevie?"
Steve coughed and with a very deepened voice said, "Uh, HECK no."
After the laughter died down, Steve turned to Matthew, who in the past had caused him the most trouble. "I have one more question for you, Matthew."
Matthew fixed him with a look of wide-eyed innocence.
In the dark, Stephen wasn't able to see it, but he knew from the angle of Matthew's head he was getting the full angel face flashed in his direction.
"I'd simply like to know
There was a muted round of applause from the other three tops as Matthew's mouth fell open.
"Go on, we're waiting," Stephen needled.
"Are we talking in terms of number of times spanked, or cornered, or the relative severity and duration of trouble?" Rolf asked helpfully.
"I vote we see tables," Eric added. "Graphs and statistical analysis."
"While that would be appropriate and helpful, considering we have no electricity I'll go with the simple question. How many times spanked and how many times cornered in one day," Stephen said graciously, over the laughter of everyone but Matthew.
Rolf looked down at his partner, rubbing the shoulders he was still grasping. "Well?"
"Why am *I* being picked on?" Matthew said ungraciously.
"We love you, really," Stephen told him.
"But answer the question, right?" Matthew shot back.
"Or I can," Rolf offered.
"NO!" Matthew spluttered, causing Todd to stir. "You'll make it sound worse than it was."
"So get a move on," Rolf said sweetly.
Matthew, again thankful for the darkness, started to talk about a day about two years ago. "It was the middle of summer, and it was
"What did you throw?" Michael asked cheerfully. "I know you threw SOMETHING."
"A fit," Matthew said calmly. "Oh, and I chopped down a couple of plants with the weed eater...accidentally," he finished.
"I call that one," Rolf said dryly, "I was watching at the time."
"It was, and that's my story," Matthew said, sticking out his tongue, just as the lights flickered back to life.
"Nope, I still call that. The plants were murdered."
"At least I committed rosicide, you committed flat murder," Matthew said, hands over his face.
Rolf smiled, keeping him sat down despite the lights. "So you admit it was murder, not accident?"
"It was an accidental murder!" Matthew quickly corrected. "Stop it, you're confusing me."
"It was not accidental, I saw your face. Those roses were doomed before I was halfway to the switch."
Matthew ducked his head into his knees. "I answered the question, now leave me alone!"
Rolf tousled his hair. "I think if the lights are on we WILL lock up and head upstairs. Come on."
"Good," Matthew said, standing up and heading directly upstairs, thoroughly upset and tired.
Rolf got up, voice gentle but firm, "Manners, brat."
Matthew stopped on the top step, but couldn't turn around. "Goodnight," he said, before heading into his room.
"Goodnight, all," Rolf said calmly, following. He shut the door of their room behind him and took a seat on the bed beside his prone partner.
"What?" came the muffled reply.
Matthew slowly pushed himself up and sat down beside his partner.
"What was all that about?" Rolf asked gently.
"Everybody thinks I'm the biggest brat of all," Matthew sulked quietly.
Rolf smothered the urge to laugh, put an arm around his boyfriend's shoulder and pulled him close, kissing the top of his head. "What does THAT mean?"
"They're probably all laughing at me."
"Two minutes ago you were laughing at Stephen and Michael."
Matthew looked up at Rolf. "Do YOU like me just the way I am?"
"That's a ridiculous question and it says you should have been in bed an hour ago. Of course I do. And you're definitely worth chewed-up roses; I can live with that."
Matthew smiled and let Rolf help him get undressed, his eyes slamming shut the instant his head hit the pillow.
Downstairs, Eric raked out the fire and straightened up, going to join Michael at the window. Stephen, having tried for several minutes to rouse Todd without any noticeable success had eventually given up, gathered him up and carried him upstairs, still without disturbing him. Chris, sprawled full length on the floor with his chin on his arms, was watching Joe wash up the few glasses.
Outside, the wind had dropped and a few flakes of snow were fluttering, promising a cold night.
Joe snapped off the kitchen light and glanced at the window before holding a hand out to Chris.
"Come on, up from there before I end up having to carry you upstairs too."
Chris just mutely held out his arms. Joe smiled but shook his head, waiting.
"Come on, keep my discs whole for another night."
"We could sleep by the fire; that would be nice. We've been playing sleepover all evening-" Chris grunted as Joe caught his hands and pulled him to his feet. "You are NOT a romantic."
"No, I just want you upstairs." Joe pushed him towards the stairs with a gentle swat.
"Watch it," Chris warned, rubbing the spot, "Or I'll be forced to call the police."
"I didn't see anything," Eric said without turning. "But I'll listen to any charges you want to press, Joe?"
"Thanks, but there's nothing here I can't handle, is there Christopher?" Joe took a few slow steps towards the stairs, fixing his partner with a meaningful look that made him retreat a few steps, hands raised.
"Joseph, stay THERE. Joe, NO-"
Chris's voice raised to a shriek of laughter as Joe lunged for him and he fled upstairs with Joe in pursuit.
Eric leaned against the window frame and let an arm snake around Michael's waist, looking with him out at the shine of the lake.
"Feel like a walk?"
Eric glanced upstairs. The doors had shut, the upper storey was quiet again.
"Ten minutes? Down to the lake and back?"
"Or we could just try out Chris's fire idea?" Michael suggested. Eric smiled, drew the curtains tightly and let Michael lead him across to the last of the glow from the hearth.
Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010