Seb had his nose buried in a book all afternoon, from the time I came home from work until he staggered, zombie-like and still reading, to brush his teeth before bed. Its cover proclaimed it the winner of the 2016 Hugo Award, so I didn’t blame him. I did ask that he put it down during dinner. He complied, though he was in a book-trance for the entire meal. I doubt that he processed much of the conversation between Theo and I.
While he and Theo went to bed, I took Jagger out for his last walk of the night. It was perhaps fifteen minutes later that I returned to find Seb’s light shining from beneath his door.
I knocked gently and called his name. When there was no answer, I turned the knob and pushed it open.
He was in bed. However, he held the book open on the sheets and did not glance away from it as I stepped into the room to stand over him.
“Mon chaton, you should be sleeping,” I said, fighting a smile. “Mark your place and close that, please.”
He turned a page and mumbled, “‘Mm’almost done.”
Contrary to his words, I could see he was approximately halfway through the massive volume. I injected more sternness into my voice. “Seb, you have an early class tomorrow.”
There was no response to that at all.
I sighed and covered the words with my hand. Rude, yes, but also effective. He blinked and finally tore his eyes from the book to look up at me pleadingly. “Just let me finish the chapter? It’s only a few pages.”
His beseeching expression is far too adorable. I moved my palm to his hair, ruffling the dark locks as I shook my head. “I sympathize with how difficult it is to put down a good book. However, it’s already past your bedtime. I’ll keep it for the night and you can have it back it in the morning.”
“But I can read it in a few minutes!”
My hand stilled and my eyebrows went up. “Sébastien, I’ve stated my answer. It is no longer open for debate. Are you going to give me the book, or am I going to take it from you and give you a spanking?”
He pouted a moment more, then huffed, marked his place with a strip of scrap paper from his nightstand, and slammed the book closed on it. Glaring at the wall over his desk, he said, “Here,” and thrust it spine-first towards my nose.
Pleased as I was at him being comfortable enough to show such an attitude, there are limits to my tolerance, and nearly being hit in the face with a hardback is one of them. I accepted the book with my free hand and said, “Perhaps a sore bottom will help you fall asleep, young man?”
“Non, monsieur!” He scooted further under the covers, as if for protection, or to hide his blush. “Désolé.”
“Thank you.” Leaning down, I kissed the top of his head where my palm had rested. “Bonne nuit.”
He made no answer, and I didn’t press for one. After flicking his lamp off, I carried the book to the master bedroom and set it on my nightstand.
Theo rolled against my side when I slid under the covers. I moved my arm to accommodate him.
“”S’not like you’ve never stayed up late reading,” he muttered into my shoulder, snuggling close.
“Not when I have early obligations the next morning,” I whispered back. “Hush and go to sleep.”
Quint was in the kitchen buttering toast when I came out. He smiled at me as though nothing had happened. “Good morning, mon chaton.”
I swallowed. I couldn’t quite meet his gaze. My gut was churning like a choppy sea. Then I saw the book on the other counter, behind him. “M–may I have it back now, please?”
“Did you complete your yoga and meditation?”
I nodded. I had hoped it would settle me more. It didn’t.
“Go on,” Quint said, inclining his head towards the book. “I don’t want to get butter on it.”
I darted into the kitchen and picked it up before taking a cup of yogurt from the fridge and a spoon from the drawer. Then I carried them all to the table, because it would look odd for me to go hide in my room.
He came over with his plate and sat down as well. I opened the book to where I’d left off, mostly to avoid conversation.
That tactic failed miserably.
“Seb?” From the corner of my eye, I saw him lower the piece of toast he’d been about to take a bite of. “Weren’t you in the middle of a chapter last night?”
The sea iced over.
Without thinking, I’d gone slightly past the scrap of paper sticking out from the leaves. The words that started the next chapter were clearly visible to us both. I stared at them.
Quint’s silence was unending. He sat and waited for an answer, letting me stew in it, until the pressure grew too great and I cracked. But only my mouth moved, in a hush.
“I downloaded the ebook on my phone so I could finish it.”
He took a very audible breath and said, “I see.”
At that, the wave of irritation I’d felt last night rolled over me again. I scowled at him as I let go of the book to cross my arms. “Zain wouldn’t have minded me staying up a few more minutes.”
Quint seemed at a loss for words. Incredulity mixed with the sternness in his expression. After a moment, he shook his head and spoke calmly, though. “Regardless of what Zain would have done last night, I believe he would mind very much that you disobeyed me in such a fashion, young man.”
I couldn’t stop myself from arguing. It was like being possessed. “But I wouldn’t have done it if you’d been reasonable,” I said. “So I don’t deserve a punishment. And… and Zain would agree with that, too!”
Interlocking his fingers, Quint rested his chin on them and regarded me. “You think so?”
I swallowed and nodded. Chills went up and down my spine, even though it wasn’t his Ice Bucket Voice.
“Well.” He was quiet a moment. “Alright. I don’t wish to give you a spanking which Zain would not approve, so if you truly believe he would allow such behavior, I’ll postpone any action until we’ve discussed this with him.”
I watched him take his phone from his pocket and tried to work out why I felt shaky as a tree in an autumn wind. I knew my blood sugar was on target. I’d tested it a few minutes ago in my room after meditating, and given myself the insulin to cover breakfast. This unsteadiness was broader than that, anyway. “He’s in morning formation,” I said. “He won’t be able to answer it for over an hour.”
“I know,” Quint said, texting at the same time. The message didn’t look long enough to be a full explanation. He sent it and put the phone down. “I can arrange to go into the hospital a bit later today, so I’ll stay home until you return from your class. You should start eating, or you’ll be tardy.”
Without a doubt, it was the most uncomfortable breakfast I have ever had. I was in such a hurry to escape the atmosphere, I forgot to rinse the yogurt cup before dropping it into the recycling bin on my way to the door. Quint said my name when my hand was on the knob. Reluctantly, I looked back at him carrying his plate to the sink.
He smiled like nothing was wrong. “I love you, mon chaton. Have a good class.”
My throat closed up. The mass of feelings inside my stomach refused to order itself enough for me to answer. I just nodded unsteadily and went out.
He left the book behind. I let it lay on the table and attempted to distract myself with cleaning as I waited for Zain’s response to my request for a consult. I wasn’t so sure I had done the right thing by allowing this delay. Seb himself sounded as if he didn’t believe his own words when he claimed Zain would be lenient. No, there must be something deeper going on here, causing him to challenge me. I wanted to talk with the other Top about what it might be. It could change how I handled this.
The timing was unfortunate, though.
About twenty minutes after Seb left, Theo padded into the kitchen, yawning in his boxers and t-shirt. When he saw me scrubbing down the top of the stove, he stopped on his usual path to the coffee and narrowed his eyes. “What happened?”
“You cleaned that last night after dinner. Something’s bothering you.” He glanced at the time on the microwave. “Also, you should be on the train to work by now.”
Replacing the burner covers, I said, “Seb and I are having a minor disagreement. It’ll be resolved soon. There’s nothing to worry about, angel.”
The questions came fast and accompanied by a frown: “Disagreement over what? That book again? Why isn’t it resolved already?”
I dried my hands with a paper towel and went to catch him around the waist. With my palms resting on his hips, I kissed him and said, “It’s only superficially about the book, and it isn’t resolved because we need to discuss it with Zain, so Seb went to class while we wait for him to be available.”
Theo crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. “If there’s nothing to worry about, why do you look worried?”
One corner of my lips turned up at his attempt to Top. “I’m concerned because I had to send Seb to class without clearing the air. We will both be alright once we’re able to talk with Zain.”
He remained doubtful, but he said, “Ohhh-kaaay. Should I take Jagger and vamoose, then?”
“Actually, I was about to leave myself,” I said. “I want to meet Seb and ensure he doesn’t take a detour to a tree on the way back.”
“We’ll go with you. Give me five minutes to get caffeinated and put on pants.” He slipped out of my hold and made a beeline to the coffee pot.
I didn’t object. It would help him to see Seb and I were going to be fine.
I decided the main emotion was still anger. Through my whole class, I clung to it and pushed all the others down. My concentration suffered, but it was better than crying. Instead of taking notes, I imagined going back to the apartment and telling Quint off again. More eloquently.
The professor finally dismissed us. Almost in the same second, my phone started to play Zain’s ringtone. Like he’d been waiting until he knew I was done. Stomach full of butterflies, I answered it as my classmates emptied out of their seats around me. “Hello?”
“Hi, brat,” he said. “Who put the bug up your butt? You should tell them that’s my territory.”
I rolled my eyes. “Quint did. Has he told you what happened last night?”
“Yeah, I just got off a call with him.”
I waited, standing and slinging my bag over my shoulder to give him time, but he didn’t go on. “Well?” I demanded. “What did you say to him about how unreasonable he was being?”
Zain snorted. “Same thing I’m gonna say to you: It doesn’t matter, because this obviously isn’t about a book.”
“Wh– Yes, it is!” I shoved through the swinging door to the hallway and strode down the center of it. People got out of my path. “I wanted to finish one little chapter, and he–”
“If it’s about the book, why didn’t you bring it with you so you could keep reading?” Zain asked, in a tone like he knew he had me. He didn’t.
“I was so mad, I forgot it. It’s on my phone now, anyway.” I hadn’t read it there, either.
“Right. Or it’s not about the book.” The background noise on his end changed, like he’d walked into a more crowded area. “I have to go. You and Quint can work this out alone. He’s waiting for you on the sidewalk. You are in your class building, right?”
“Oui,” I said. I’d nearly reached the front door, but hearing Quint was there made my feet slow.
“Good. Go meet him. And Seb?” His voice wrapped around my name, deliberately casual, followed by a pause to let it sink in. As though I needed that when it yanked all my attention to him the instant he said it. “Don’t use me to try to get out of a well-earned punishment. C’mon. You know better.”
My face still felt warm when I walked up to Quint.
Worse, Theo and Jagger were next to him. I hadn’t factored that into all my imagined conversations.
“Um, hi,” I muttered, and it came out covered in insolence.
“Hello,” Quint said, calmly. “I see talking to Zain hasn’t curbed that attitude at all.”
There was nothing I could say to that. After a moment of awkward silence, Theo leaned in and whispered, “This isn’t going to end well. Start apologizing now. Trust me.”
I glanced sideways at Quint and shook my head.
Theo stared at me a minute, and then shrugged. “Fine, go for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Raising his voice, he added, “I’m taking Jagger to Zeg’s.”
“Have a good day, angel,” said Quint. “I’ll call you after I leave for work.”
Theo kissed his cheek, gathered up Jagger’s leash, and walked off.
Quint watched me fiddling with my medical alert bracelet. Then he said, “Let’s go home and discuss this, mon chaton.”
I wished he’d stop calling me that. It was making me madder.
Neither of us spoke again until we were in the living room. Quint took the middle couch cushion, and I stood by the TV with my arms crossed over my belly.
“Are you going to be able to tell me what this is really about?” he asked, unbearably kind blue eyes taking me in. “Or should we start with a spanking?”
I made a face that was close to a sneer. “Didn’t Zain tell you what it’s ‘really’ about? He seemed to know.”
“He suggested perhaps you are attempting to detach from me,” Quint said, matter-of-fact, “to ease the transition when you move out.”
Pain stabbed my heart. It yanked away the anger and left the feelings beneath exposed like a raw nerve. “Oui,” I said bitterly, blinking hard. “The transition.”
He sighed. “It isn’t going to work, I’m afraid. However disobedient you are, you will not make me miss you any less. It will be just as hard to say goodbye, for both of us. All this is doing is adding unpleasantness to your last days here.”
What did he mean? The anticipation of missing him was a whole separate wound. I swallowed and said, “I know. I don’t want unpleasantness, either, so… why don’t we start the… the transition early and forget this”—I gestured from me to him, taking in my book on the dining table, too—“ever happened?”
Mes dieux, it hurt.
Quint frowned and sat back. “Are you suggesting moving out even sooner?”
“Then what tran–” Breaking off, he inhaled sharply, as if hit by something. “Seb. Do you think our relationship as foster-Top and foster-Brat is going to end after you leave?”
A seed of hope sprouted. “…Isn’t it?”
“No!” he said, sounding almost like he wanted to laugh with relief. “I’m sure things will change in the method and frequency, but I’m not going to stop being someone you can turn to for support just because you no longer live under my roof. I’m not going to stop giving you discipline when you need it from me. Including spankings. Have Zain or I said or done anything to indicate it would be ending?”
I opened my mouth and shut it a few times. “I just. I thought you might not want to deal with me once you don’t have to anymore, and w–we set it up because I couldn’t handle not having a Top nearby, so once I’m in Maryland…”
His eyebrows rose as he shook his head. “I ought to spank you for at least three different parts of that sentence. Can you tell me what they are, please?”
My stomach turned over. Carefully, I replayed my words in my head. Then I winced. “Um. I said ‘deal with me’, like I’m a, um, burden?”
The last word was a whisper, yet Quint nodded. “Yes, that’s one. What else?”
“Well… that I couldn’t handle not having a Top nearby, but that’s true.”
“No, it is not,” he said. “If I hadn’t been here, I am positive you and Zain would have managed just fine. All I did was make it easier.”
Tears rushed into my eyes. “You made it wonderful,” I said.
Quint looked like he was going to cry, too. “Thank you, mon chaton.” He stood up, reached across the coffee table to take my hand, and drew me closer. When I was in front of him, he held my shoulders and said, “As it happens, I’m very glad I was here, because this is one of the most fulfilling and important relationships of my life. Now, what was the third wrong implication in your statement?”
I shrugged under his palms. “Je ne sais pas.”
“Alright. You said ‘once you don’t have to anymore’, but this is not something I was forced to do. I chose it. Understand?”
He chose it. He wanted to keep doing it. I could’ve jumped for joy. “Oui, monsieur.”
“Good.” He squeezed softly. “How long have you been thinking it would end when you moved?”
“I didn’t consider what might happen until maybe a week ago?” I said, trying to remember. The possibility had popped into my head from nowhere, like a monster jumping out of a dark closet.
“Meaning you had a week to ask us?” he inquired, with gentle pointedness.
My eyes dropped guiltily to his chest. “…I was afraid.”
“That is precisely why you should have brought it up,” he said. “Instead, you thought you would begin treating me like a lame duck politician, as though my authority no longer mattered?”
The last bit of gratitude and happiness stepped aside to make room for more contrition. I wanted to deny I’d consciously thought any such thing, but my voice was lost.
“Look at me, young man.”
When I did, my feet shifted as I bit my lip.
Quint asked, “Why did you download that book last night?”
“I wanted to read the rest of the chapter,” I whispered, truthfully.
“What about the fact that I told you no?”
My chin dipped, but I kept looking at him through my eyelashes. “I was mad at you, and I thought you didn’t have the right to tell me that. I don’t know why, because you do. I wasn’t thinking of you as a lame duck, I swear.”
“Perhaps you wanted me to prove to you that I am not one?” he suggested.
That seemed likely. It didn’t make me feel any better as I nodded.
“Alright. You know where the paddle is kept.” He released my shoulders. “Go get it, please.”
Eyes widening, I said, “I believe you, monsieur! You don’t have to prove it! I’m not worried anymore!”
“Good,” he said, no less firm. “However, you aren’t escaping the consequence for disobedience. This kind of categorical defiance merits a paddling. I know Zain doesn’t use implements for punishing, but I do, and I have in the past, on you, with his blessing. Would you like to check that I have it this time?”
I shook my head. Partly because I knew I deserved it and I didn’t want to have to wait any longer. Mostly, though, because he wasn’t just a substitute for when my own Top wasn’t around. There was no reason for him to be a carbon-copy of Zain.
I took a deep breath, walked to the sideboard, and slid open the left drawer. The paddle was inside, on some cloth napkins. I’d never held it in my hands before. In fact, I suddenly realized I’d never held anything that was specifically made for spanking. Unless you counted a switch? But Zain usually stripped the bark off those himself, transforming them from branches into instruments of discipline after he took them from me.
The paddle was different. Someone had fashioned it to last for years, probably imagining all the punishments it would met out as they sanded it and applied varnish. I wondered if that person had been Quint or Theo, or a stranger. Whoever it was, something about it being made just for that, and now having to fetch it so it could fulfill its one and only function on my rear end, inspired me to even greater shame in my behavior. I truly acted up this time.
“Sébastien, we’ve had enough stalling.”
“Désolé,” I said, snatching it out of the drawer and turning back. He’d sat down on the middle couch cushion again, but he was looking over his shoulder at me. My mouth went dry as I carried the paddle across the room to stand between his knees and the coffee table. I couldn’t meet his eyes. My free hand fumbled at the button of my jeans.
Quint leaned forward and swatted me. “That is my job, young man.”
Wincing, I let go.
He took over where I’d left off, lowering my zipper and pulling my pants and underwear down to my knees together. Then he took the paddle in his right hand and my elbow in his left and guided me across his thigh.
This is probably the last time I’ll be staring at this part of the couch for awhile, I thought as he hooked his other leg over mine. It wasn’t a happy thought. I put both my arms behind my back, and my cheek rubbed the familiar patch of burgundy fabric.
“Thank you,” Quint said. His fingers wrapped around my wrists. The cool, smooth surface of the paddle rested on my bottom, making me clench. He didn’t begin, though. “Now. You have agreed to follow my rules about bedtimes while you live here, haven’t you? A nod will do.”
I flushed and nodded.
His voice continued above me, quiet, but perfectly distinct. “One of those rules is regarding the use of electronics. I haven’t asked that you keep your phone out here on the charging station with Theo’s and mine overnight only because I know it is an important lifeline for you to talk with Zain, if needed. That is not a privilege to be abused. Am I making myself clear?”
Merde, I didn’t even consider how the method of my disobedience broke a rule, too. Sniffling, I nodded again.
The paddle lifted away and, a millisecond later, landed right where he’d swatted, stinging a thousand times worse. I gasped. My hips wiggled from side to side, as if movement would cool the fire. It didn’t feel like he was holding back at all. The next crack of the paddle confirmed that. It lit up my other sit-spot and made me muffle my yelp in the couch cushion.
Quint paused with the wood resting on my butt again. “Beyond specific rules,” he said, as though there had been no interruption in his scalding lecture, “you’ve agreed to obey my directions. However many pages were left in that chapter, it makes no difference. I told you to stop reading, and you willfully ignored me. If you think you no longer have to heed my words, young man, you have another thought coming.”
I don’t think that anymore, I swear!
He didn’t hear me, of course. The paddle revisited the same two sites again, with just enough time between the swats for me to burst into tears. I cried out of remorse and relief in equal measure, twin waterfalls originating from the same pool, while Quint loosened his hold on my wrists and stroked the skin there comfortingly.
After several seconds, he asked, “I believe I have proved my point?”
I jerked my head in another nod, still crying. He was no fluffy little duck, lame or not.
Then, assuming it was over, I tried to pull my hands free and sit up.
He easily pinned me again. “No, we aren’t finished.”
“We’ve dealt with the disobedience,” he said. “We also need to deal with the larger issue of you not bringing your worries to my or Zain’s attention. This entire situation would have been avoided if you’d spoken up a week ago.”
Yes, that was easy to see now. A whole week of cutting the fear down to the soil and letting it grow again, when I could’ve uprooted it completely.
“I do not. Tolerate. Withholding.” Quint punctuated the last two words with cracks of the paddle on my thighs. “Is that understood, Sébastien?”
I nodded again, fast and earnest, while I sobbed.
Releasing my wrists, he finally pulled me up. My hands flew to my butt as he gathered me into his arms. Only six swats, yet it was by far the hardest punishment spanking he’d ever given me.
“J–je comprends, monsieur, vrai–vraiment,” I babbled into his shoulder.
His palm made circles on my back. “I know. I know. Shhh, it’s alright, it’s done now.”
He kept murmuring things along those lines until I was just gulping. Then he helped me to my feet, slid my underwear and jeans up my legs again, and brought me with him to the bathroom, where he wiped the snot and tears away with a washcloth.
Dropping it into the under-sink hamper when he was finished, he asked, “Are you feeling more secure about the continued existence of our discipline agreement, mon chaton?”
His lips twitched at my vehemence. “Bien.” He glanced at his watch. “I’m going to stay here until you leave for your next class in thirty minutes. I want you to do a blood sugar test before you go, and after the class lets out, at minimum. That was more intense than usual.”
“I will,” I promised.
“Thank you. Would you like to read while–”
In my pocket, my phone buzzed in Zain’s vibration pattern. Quint took out his at the same time as me. The text had been sent to both of us.
So, have we knocked down that flimsy little attempt at a wall? (Really, babe, I can’t believe you thought a tantrum would get Dr. Calm, Cool, and Collected annoyed enough not to care about you moving. You’re adorable.)
While I rolled my eyes, Quint started to respond. “Wait!” I put my hand on the back of his. “Can I be the one to tell him he was wrong? Please?”
He looked at me a moment, then chuckled. “Alright, if you’d like.”
I wrote out, Guess again, and sent it with him watching. We both waited in silence until Zain’s reply popped up.
Hanniford, if he’s still insisting this is about the book, spank him with it.
Quint’s mouth fell open. “Tell him I would never do that to a book, and neither should he.” He frowned. “Has he ever spanked you with one?”
“He wanted to test out one of my sketchbooks on himself once,” I said. “But I took it away and gave him my hairbrush instead, so he never actually used it.” I didn’t see his reaction to that. I was too preoccupied typing, No, I was scared he was going to stop foster-Topping me after the move. So there, Mr. Know-It-All.
While I waited for his reply, I looked up at Quint with a frown of my own. Something still bothered me. “I understand that I should’ve asked you both about it, but if you were planning for things to keep going as they are, why didn’t either one of you say?”
Quint leaned back against the edge of the sink and sighed. “Because the possibility it wouldn’t truly never crossed my mind,” he said. “Nor Zain’s, I’m fairly certain. He’s made so many comments to me over the past few months about the future of our arrangement, it was a given. I’m sorry, mon chaton, that we didn’t think to articulate that to you.”
“It’s okay,” I said. I actually liked knowing the idea was so natural, neither of them thought twice about it.
The phone buzzed again, and I looked down to read.
Are you kidding? Why the hell would I give up this sweet deal? In fact, I might outsource ALL your spankings to Quint from now on. I’d get the benefits of a well-disciplined Brat without having to lift a finger. 😎
I huffed and wrote, You’re an awful Top and I hate you.
Quint, meanwhile, was shaking his head as he wrote something as well. Do I seem like the type to encourage dodging your responsibilities? Speaking of which, shouldn’t you be in class right now?
Yeah, go to class, you lazy salaud, I added, grinning.
“Seb,” Quint said reproachfully, but he looked very amused.
I put my phone away. “We have to ignore him, or he’ll never go.”
“I’ll defer to your expertise on that,” he said, and gestured me ahead of him out of the bathroom. “Let’s read until it’s time to leave.”
So I got my book from the dining table and laid down on the couch, sore bottom upward. Quint ruffled my hair like he had the previous night and then went to the armchair with a magazine.
I heard him stifle laughter when Zain’s next text came in, though. It said, Ugh I just realized I’m gonna have TWO people lecturing me about following the rules for the rest of my life.