“Honolulu Endocrinology, Sam speaking. How may I help you?”
“Hi. Um, I have an appointment later today, but I need to cancel it.”
“Seb McKenna Crews.”
“Okay.” The voice paused, then continued with more caution, as if expecting an argument. “We do charge a thirty-dollar cancellation fee when there’s less than 24 hours’ notice.”
Seb winced. “That’s fine.”
“Alright. Would you like to reschedule for a later date?”
“Um. Not at this time.”
“Okay, I’ve marked it as canceled. We hope to see you soon, Mr. McKenna Crews.”
Seb hung up, but he felt no better than he had before the call. Any relief was overshadowed by guilt. They couldn’t afford a thirty-dollar fee right now! Not to mention, what was he going to tell Zain? He would return from the base in a few hours, expecting Seb to know his A1C.
A hard lump rose in his throat. It was too late to think about that. Leaving his phone on the kitchen counter, he went to find a book and a tree.
Zain didn’t pause to shed his uniform when he got home. Talking to Seb was more important. Making sure he was okay. Finding out why the hell he hadn’t responded to any of Zain’s texts since his appointment.
The answer to the last question became clear as he completed a search of the house in record time and found Seb’s phone with its owner nowhere in sight. Zain bit back an Arabic curse. The A1C must’ve been even higher than he’d suspected it would be. Try convincing Seb that anyone would have trouble managing their blood sugar while simultaneously dealing with their boyfriend being deployed, buying a house, and moving out on their own for the first time.
He’s going to believe me now, Zain thought, his shoulders set as he marched through the great room to the sliding glass doors. The tree by the seawall was obviously empty, but it wasn’t the only one on their property that Seb could climb.
Leaves grew thick between Seb and the ground, far below. They prevented him from seeing more than glimpses of Zain pushing his way into the tree grove. Hopefully, they also blocked Zain’s view of him. But he could only stay as still as possible—his fingers wrapped tight around a nearby branch—and listen as Zain tramped through the undergrowth.
Not here, not here, not here…
He stopped right under Seb’s tree. Seb held his breath.
“If you really don’t want to be found, try borrowing some of my camo, babe,” Zain said. “I have a whole wardrobe full of it in there.”
Seb made a face and said nothing. A moment later, he felt the tree shake when Zain jumped and grabbed the lowest branch in one hand. Peering through the foliage, he watched him swing his leg up and over the limb just as Seb had done four hours earlier. He’d even taken off his shoes like Seb had.
Oh. Of course Zain knew what tree to look in. He only had to find Seb’s discarded sandals at its roots. Idiot. Next time, he was carrying them up the tree with him.
“Whatever the doctor said, it’s no big deal, habibi,” Zain called as he continued to climb. “It’s just one test result. You’re more than the numbers.”
He thought Seb kept the appointment? Why hadn’t he guessed by now? He always guessed the important stuff! If he didn’t know, there’d be even more questions. Questions Seb had no answers for. He felt the panic rising again. The only way to escape it was to rise faster, quick like a bird. He tucked his book into his waistband and reached for the branch above him.
“Wait, don’t go any higher,” Zain said, above the rustling he was making with every move. “You’re already pretty far up there.”
Not far enough. He pulled himself onto the branch. Below him, Zain stopped climbing. He’d already made good progress. His face was clearly visible now. The worry making his brown eyes widen and fix on Seb was palpable. Seb had to get away from it. He stretched his hand up farther, to a thinner branch.
“Seb. You’re safe. C’mon, habibi, we can deal with this. I just don’t want you falling.”
His voice sounded muffled through the blood roaring in Seb’s ears. Yet still, a tickle of warning hit his stomach. The kind that had only become familiar since the night not too long ago when Zain and he both got covered in yellow paint. Ignoring it, he wedged his bare foot into a knot hole on the trunk and pushed himself upward.
“‘Kay,” said Zain, suddenly—suspiciously—cheerful. “Good thing I have my knife in my pocket here. While you climb, I’ll cut a switch.”
Seb froze with his other foot hanging free. He wasn’t sure he’d heard it right. “What?”
“A switch. Short stick without any bark, used to deliver a switching? I read up on them. Seems like a good option, since I didn’t think to grab anything from the house and we’re basically surrounded by them. Might take me a few tries to figure out the size, but I have time.”
“You are not cutting shoots off this tree for no reason!”
“It’s not for no reason. It’s so I can switch you,” Zain explained, as if that were any sort of a good reason. Then he tilted his head to one side. “Unless you want to come down now and go in the house where we have lots of nice, already-dead wood for me to spank you with?”
Scowling, Seb said, “This is coercion, you bastard.”
Zain’s smile shone bright through the leaves. “Whatever works for ya.”
He wouldn’t, really. Would he?
A snick sounded as Zain flicked his knife open. The blade glinted among the dappled shadows falling over him. He reached for a thin branch.
“Don’t! I’m coming!”
He stopped, but he didn’t put the knife away until Seb was nearly level with him. Then he began to climb down. Seb didn’t dare not follow.
When Zain reached the lowest branch, he jumped to the ground, then turned and held his arms up to Seb so he had no choice but to drop neatly into them. Zain carried him the couple of feet to where Seb had left his sandals and set him down on top of them. Before he let go, he looked Seb straight in the eye at point-blank range.
“Next time I find you over thirty feet up a tree, you’ll be the one cutting the switch. Got it?”
Seb’s stomach swooped. “I won’t ever climb that high again,” he said. If only to protect the trees.
“Good. Then the threat is doing its job.” Zain smacked a kiss onto his lips. “Put your shoes on so we can go inside.”
Seb’s brow was furrowed in annoyance as he slid on the sandals. Better than panicked, Zain thought. The moment his Brat’s feet were protected from the stick-strewn ground, Zain grabbed his hand and towed him through the trees towards the house. He wanted to get to the cause of that panic. Which meant getting Seb bottoms-up over his knee, ASAP.
The utensil crock in the kitchen offered the closest implements. He snatched a wooden spoon he’d used before, to save time on testing, and brought it to the dining table. Seb came too, reluctance in his every step. Zain paid no attention to that. Spinning one of the chairs around, he sat and tugged Seb to his right side. With a heavy sigh, Seb began to undo the drawstring of his pants.
“Nuh-uh, that’s my job,” Zain said. He stuck the bowl of the spoon in his mouth, giving himself a free hand to collect Seb’s wrists behind his back and hold them there while he untied the drawstring and pushed the fabric down. The spoon’s handle waggled as he worked.
There was a book tucked into Seb’s pants. Zain raised an eyebrow and put it on the table without comment. Then he pulled Seb across his lap, released his wrists, lifted his t-shirt out of the way, and took the spoon from his own mouth. He rested it against Seb’s lower cheeks for a moment and felt the tension that was vibrating through Seb’s thin frame ratchet up a notch.
Time to get rid of that, he thought, raising the spoon.
It never really got easier. More familiar, yes, but not easier. He went fast and hard in hopes of getting it over sooner, for his own benefit as much as Seb’s. The spoon was a blur. Scarlet patches bloomed over both of Seb’s sit-spots like flowers.
At first, Seb went completely taut from head to foot, but in less than a minute, Zain saw the walls start to crumble. The tiny kicks, squirms, and gasps he couldn’t hold back. How his head hung lower. When he began to whimper in the choked, tight way that was the closest he usually got to true tears during a spanking, Zain stopped.
He still kept his arm wrapped tight around Seb’s side to hold him in place, though. He wanted to discuss this, not to race Seb to the bathroom before he could bolt inside. Keeping him over his knee seemed the easiest solution.
“Okay, babe. Lay it on me. What was your A1C?”
In an instant, Seb’s muscles went rigid again, as if all of Zain’s effort had evaporated.
“It’s just a number,” Zain said, making his voice soothing and rubbing his palm over Seb’s ribcage. “There’s no judgement attached to it. No matter how high, it doesn’t mean you failed.”
Silence hung heavy in the air. Seb’s hips wiggled. His toes flexed against the floor. He made no sound apart from thin, ragged, barely-audible breathing.
Maybe he needed more? Zain’s heart grew heavy with the thought. In a last-ditch attempt, he tapped the spoon lightly on Seb’s upper thigh and said, “I have plenty of space left to spank, brat.”
Seb gave a noise that sounded more frustrated than anything, yet still didn’t talk. That settled it in Zain’s mind. He renewed the rapid-fire swats, determined not to stop this time until he heard words. The kicking and squirming came back right away, with enough force that Zain was worried about missing his target. He paused a moment, wrapped his right leg around both of Seb’s, and continued.
Something changed then. He didn’t know exactly what. It felt like Seb almost broke, yet the noises he was making were more stifled than ever. “C’mon, habibi, just give me the number,” he murmured, moving an inch further down, to unmarked flesh.
Seb’s right hand flew back. He spread his fingers as wide as he could over his bottom in a desperate attempt to protect it. Zain was surprised. In the months they’d been practicing discipline, Seb had never really tried to stop a spanking. They must be reaching a new level. He gripped Seb’s wrist to pull it firmly away, but he never got that far. The skin near the base of Seb’s thumb felt… wet?
He looked closer and saw blood.
“What– what did you do?” he asked, twisting his Brat’s arm an inch to get a better view. There were tooth marks beneath the smear of red. Zain went slack from shock.
The hold on Seb weakened, and in an instant, he was yanking himself loose with no thought other than he had to get up or his voice would be gone forever and Zain would hate him for being so difficult and useless, and he had to get away until he could stop crying because it hurt Zain to see him cry, it made him sad and there was no place or time in the universe when that was acceptable, so he had to hide, quick, until he could–
He crashed into the couch with Zain falling on top of him. Rough fabric scraped his bare bottom—his pants and underwear were kicked off at some point during the spanking—and he squeaked in pain. It took him a few seconds to work out that he’d been tackled.
A few seconds in which Zain had him restrained again, but on his back this time, and with Zain’s eyes inches from his. They were staring at Seb’s arm, pinioned to the cushion above his head.
“I’m alright,” Seb said, trembling all over.
“You’re bleeding,” said Zain.
Seb knew that. He’d felt his skin break, and he could still taste the coppery flavor. “Not much,” he said, with no idea if it was true. His wrist was out of his sight.
Zain shook his head fiercely. “You’re mine, and you shouldn’t be bleeding at all. Why were you biting yourself so hard?” he demanded.
More tears ran down from Seb’s eyes every time he blinked, making a cold trail to his earlobes. “I kn-knew you weren’t going to s-sss-stop,” he said. “Didn’t want you to hear me b-b-bawl.” So much for that plan.
“Wasn’t going to stop?” Zain asked, his beautiful brows drawing together. “All you had to do to get me to stop was talk. I thought I made that clear?”
“Couldn’t. Was– was trying, but….”
Zain went very still. “You couldn’t talk? What do you mean?”
“My brain didn’t connect to my mouth,” Seb tried to explain. “The words were there, in my thoughts, but they wouldn’t come out as long as I was….”
For a long moment, Zain’s face was blank. Then he looked at Seb’s wrist again, and his eyes glistened. “Come with me,” he said, getting up and pulling Seb with him. “You need a bandaid for that.”
“I’m fine,” Seb said, yet Zain did not seem inclined to let him go, so he was dragged, in just his t-shirt, to the kitchen, where Zain took out their first aid kit and unscrewed the cap of a tube of antibiotic ointment with his teeth.
Seb sniffled as he cooperated with having the small wound rinsed, dried, and bandaged. Neither of them spoke until it was done. Then Zain swallowed. He turned away from Seb and pressed his fists into the counter. “Habibi, I’m so, so sorry,” he said, in a voice like he was chewing on broken glass. “I thought that discipline helped you talk. I never would’ve done it otherwise. We can stop. You don’t have to be my Brat.”
He jerked his head up and looked over his shoulder.
Seb rushed closer. “That’s not– I didn’t mean it like that!” he said. He felt sick. “It does help! Après. It’s always easier after, just not when I’m… I’m over your knee. But I want to be your Brat, please!” Reaching out, he clung to Zain’s arm with his injured hand. “S’il te plaît!”
Now that Seb was touching him, he could feel Zain shaking. He saw his gaze dropped to the bandage.
“I would’ve kept going for a lot longer if I hadn’t seen blood,” said Zain, softly.
“It doesn’t matter,” Seb said, making himself slow down so it was clear he meant it. “You stopped. Neither of us knew. We do now. It won’t happen again.”
A deep breath moved Zain’s shoulders. Then another, and a third. Finally, he said, “Yeah.” His lips quirked faintly at one corner. “No more interrogations during spankings. Got it.” He swallowed and looked Seb in the eye. “Can you forgive me?”
“Of course,” Seb said, as his vision went blurry. “Je t’aime.”
“I love you, too,” said Zain, opening his arms.
Seb stepped into him. They held onto each other for a long time.
When Zain first moved in with Seb’s family, he’d started helping Seb complete his daily chore of gathering the eggs. He’d been surprised at how tough they actually were. The hens sometimes laid them in the oddest places, and yet it was rare for them to find one broken.
Seb was like that, he thought. Everyone assumed he was so fragile, and then this strength came out of nowhere. Strength to shake off what must’ve been a traumatic experience like it was nothing, and to forgive the one who inflicted it.
Eggs could break, though. Zain kept that in mind as he drew away from Seb enough to get a cotton pad out of the first aid kit and wet it under the faucet. He used the cotton to wipe the dried tears from Seb’s face with a gentle touch. Seb closed his eyes and leaned closer, inviting Zain to kiss. He obliged.
A minute later, Zain said, “I do still want your A1C.”
Seb shifted. “Um. I don’t know it.”
“You went to an endocrinologist without finding out your A1C?” Zain asked, tilting his head skeptically. Then he caught the way Seb’s gaze slid over his head, and realization dawned. “You didn’t go.”
“…I cancelled the appointment,” Seb confessed in a whisper. “I kept thinking about what my results could be, and how the endo might want me to use a pump, and how I couldn’t really say, ‘no, I’m good at managing with injections’ if the evidence didn’t support that.”
“So you panicked,” Zain said, mentally smacking his own forehead. Of course he did. Meeting a new doctor all alone and knowing his numbers haven’t been great. I should’ve seen this coming.
Seb confirmed it by blushing and nodding, not that any confirmation was necessary.
“Okay. Here’s what,” said Zain, all confidence again as the picture slotted into place and he felt like he knew what he was doing for the first time since seeing Seb’s blood. “You’re going to contact them and get another appointment scheduled, and this time, I’m tagging along. If they say anything about insulin pumps, leave it to me.”
Mouth dropping open, Seb said, “I don’t need you going with me like a babysitter!”
“Think of it as moral support,” Zain suggested.
“Or having a wingman.”
Seb’s eyes narrowed. “You’re in the Air Force now?”
That went too far. Zain swatted him, and then laughed when he made a face. The argument was won.
Now he just needed to hatch a plan to make sure that nothing like this could happen in the future, and that Seb would feel safe going over his knee the next time. He needed to see if it was truly impossible for Seb to talk in that position. Without creating more negative associations.
Seb came out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth for bed and stopped dead in his tracks, his cock springing to attention. Zain was sitting against their headboard, completely naked. Next to him, nestled on the pillow, was a bottle of lube and Seb’s favorite prostate massager.
Smiling wickedly, Zain crooked a finger at him. “Come here, my boy. We’re going to test just how strong this verbal block is.”
It was so far from what Seb expected to hear, he shook his head like he was trying to clear water from his ears. “We’re… what?”
“You’re going to lay across my lap and let me play with you,” Zain explained, slow and deliberate, “and you’re not going to get to come until you beg me. In words.”
Seb thought about pointing out that there wasn’t much stronger motivation to talk than stopping your rear end getting lit on fire. He thought about mentioning that it was probably the activity more than the position that had affected him before. He thought about saying they didn’t really need to test this if they just assumed it was true.
But that would be ruining Zain’s fun. And after the day he’d had, Zain deserved some enjoyment.