lanai: veranda (Hawaiian)
habibi: my beloved (Arabic)
désolé: sorry (French)
Zain whistled “The Bare Necessities” as he took the final curve before their driveway. If he timed it perfectly, the song would end just as the break in the trees cleared the view to the ocean, stretching out from the low cement wall and strip of rocky beach at the edge of their backyard. He smiled when he saw it. Couldn’t beat that view in Hawaii, especially at the price Seb’s parents charged them for rent. He turned into the driveway and parked his Jeep behind Seb’s Fiat, getting out almost before the engine died and heading directly for the side door, to the small “ohana unit” they’d converted into a studio. Knowing his fiancé, that was where he’d be.
“Hey, babe,” he said, pushing the door open.
But Seb wasn’t standing in front of his easel, brush held like a saber while he battled with the canvas, and he wasn’t daydreaming, draped over the life-size, bubblegum-pink statue of a baby elephant, either. Zain made a face at it, and then closed the door. Damn thing never failed to give him the creeps.
The second most likely option for Seb’s whereabouts grew from underneath the cement wall behind the house: A tree, its twin trunks twisting out over the rocks and water. As he rounded the lanai, he spotted Seb’s thin body ten feet up it right away, but it took two more steps before his posture set off alarms. His lover was leaning precariously, not braced against the branches like he should’ve been.
On pure instinct, Zain sprinted across the yard. When he got close enough to see Seb’s face, his heart skipped. It was pale beneath the freckles and shiny with sweat. He leaped on top of the wall and held up his arms. “It’s okay, babe. Just jump down and I’ll catch you.” Seb looked down at him with wide green eyes for a long moment while Zain hoped he wasn’t too confused to understand. “It’s okay, habibi,” he repeated, making his voice steady and soothing. “I’m right here. I promise I won’t let you fall.”
Slowly, shaking with every movement, Seb shifted his weight until he was over Zain’s up-stretched hands, and then abruptly pitched himself forward so he was hanging from the branch by one crooked elbow. Zain caught his hips and dug his fingers in until he was sure he had a good grip. He was probably pressing on the bruises at Seb’s injection sites, but at the moment he couldn’t care less. “I’ve got you. Just let go now, okay?”
Seb did, and Zain staggered back a step as he took his full weight, but stayed upright and lowered Seb to a seat on the wall. “Where’re your tablets?” he asked as he jumped down onto the grass, not really expecting an answer.
Seb closed his eyes and shook his head almost imperceptibly.
Ignoring the tightening in his stomach, Zain said, “Okay, let’s get you inside.” He scooped Seb up and carried him across the yard, up the few steps to the lanai, and into the house, where he set him down on the sofa.
“One second, babe,” he said, moving quickly to the cupboard where the juice boxes were kept. Seb was slumping sideways into the cushions by the time he returned with a couple. Zain knelt on the rug beside him, tore the wrapper off one of the straws with his teeth, and stabbed it into the top of the box. “Here, drink.” He held it while Seb sucked on the straw greedily. It was empty in seconds, and Seb reached for the other one with a trembling hand. “No, you need to wait the fifteen minutes and test first,” Zain said.
Seb gave a wordless moan of protest.
“I know, habibi, but going high on your blood sugar will just make it worse.” He put the juice box out of reach and gently moved Seb so he could sit down on the sofa and wrap an arm around him. “Want the TV on?” he asked, and took the jerk of Seb’s bony shoulders against his side as a yes.
A few minutes into the episode of Rugrats, Seb said, “Désolé,” so quietly and slurred that Zain almost didn’t catch it.
“Don’t worry about that right now,” he replied, rubbing his hand over Seb’s hip, and he was silent again.
When the fifteen minutes were almost up, Zain asked, “Is your meter still in the studio?” He felt Seb nod. “Okay, I’ll go get it.”
“An’ on the rocks, dropped my… ” He trailed off and huffed in frustration at not being able to find the word.
“I’ll get that, too.”
Zain collected it after getting the meter, which he found in the elephant’s open mouth. The sketchbook had landed with Seb’s unfinished drawing facedown on the rocks. Salt water had soaked into the middle of it and blurred the lines, but he was fairly sure it was a centaur — and not at all in Seb’s current preferred style. He put it down on the kitchen counter when he went back into the house, before taking Seb his kit and sitting next to him to watch him test. His hands were steady enough now to work the lancet, but the meter showed a reading of 61 mg/dl. Still too low.
Zain passed him the other juice box and they waited, pretending to watch Rugrats for another fifteen minutes. On the second test, it was up to 73 mg/dl, and the tightness that had been in Zain’s chest since seeing Seb’s face through the leaves finally loosened.
“Linguine Alfredo for dinner?” he asked, standing up to go to the kitchen.
Seb didn’t follow, and when he spoke, his voice was muted. “Can’t we just get it over with?”
“And risk you dropping again?” Zain smiled. “Uh, no. We’re eating first. C’mon, up and at ’em.” He grabbed Seb’s hand and hauled him to his feet.
Seb got a tube of glucose tablets from the cupboard and put them in his pocket before he started to help prepare dinner. He felt Zain watch him do it, but he didn’t comment. His job was to end the rebuking Seb was already putting himself through, not to join in.
They moved around each other easily as they took out ingredients and spread them across the countertop, Zain’s hand touching lightly on Seb’s arm or back every so often. He was taking reassurance as much as giving it, Seb knew. Still feeling dizzy, he sat down on one of the barstools to make the salad.
Zain looked over from filling a pot with water and said, “By the way, do you have to leave your meter in that damn thing’s mouth?”
Playing along as best as he could, Seb rolled his eyes and said, “I really don’t get you. What would the other Marines say if they knew you’re afraid of a statue?”
“‘I can stand the sight of worms and look at microscopic germs, but a Technicolor pachyderm is really too much for me,'” Zain sing-songed.
That got a genuine, though weak, laugh. “You seriously watched too much Disney when you were a child.”
“Excuse you. There is no such thing as too much Disney.”
The meal came together quickly, and Seb helped Zain transfer the dishes to their dining room table before he fetched his kit and did another test while Zain got their drinks. His glucose was holding steady at just below normal. He glanced over the food, mentally added up the carbs, and dialed in the units he needed on his insulin pen.
Zain looked over his shoulder at the dose as he put down two glasses of iced tea. “Don’t forget to factor in your spanking.”
Turning to glare up at him, Seb asked, “Do you have to say it like that?!”
“Like you’re reminding me to pick up milk on the way home or something!” Seb huffed.
“What, you want me to be more threatening?” Zain pulled out his chair and scrunched his eyebrows together and his nose up as he sat. “I could try, but I’m not sure I’d be good at it.”
Seb sighed. “Not threatening, just… show you take it more seriously.”
At that, Zain’s face smoothed out and he leaned forward over the table, braced on his elbows. “Babe, if I hadn’t come home when I did, there’s an excellent chance you’d have fallen out of that tree and cracked your head open on the rocks. Trust me, I’m taking it very seriously, okay?”
Seb’s stomach did an unpleasant little flip. He dropped his gaze to his plate and said, “Okay.”
Zain sat back in his chair and picked up his fork. “Now shoot up and eat.”
Rolling his eyes once more, Seb dialed down the insulin pen a few units before he injected it.
Zain provided most of the conversation while they ate, chattering about his day on the base as Seb slowly chewed his pasta and salad. When they were done, Zain collected their plates, putting them in the sink, and then went into their bedroom and returned with the hairbrush. He picked Seb’s sketchbook up from the counter on his way back and held it so Seb could see the ruined drawing as he walked to the table. “This is a commission, right?”
Seb nodded. “Which I’m going to have to start over now,” he said, looking at the water damage.
“How much time did you give yourself for it?” Zain sat down and dropped the sketchbook on the table, but kept the hairbrush in his hand.
“Two days,” Seb admitted.
“Maybe tell the client it’ll be three or four this time?” Zain suggested. So you’re not so rushed that you’re forgetting your tablets and ignoring a low until it’s almost too late didn’t need to be said.
Biting his lower lip, Seb nodded again.
Wordlessly, Zain gestured him over with his free hand. Seb didn’t move. For all that he had wanted to get this over with earlier, now that the time had come, he was reluctant to get anywhere near the hairbrush.
After a moment, Zain gently said, “Babe, you know what happens if I have to make you.”
Seb wasn’t sure this could get much worse, but he got up and walked over to stand between Zain’s knees just the same.
“Hold this a sec?” Zain asked, handing him the hairbrush.
Grimacing, Seb said, “I can take my own pants down, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” Zain replied. He undid Seb’s jeans, pushed them and his briefs down to his ankles, and guided him over his left knee. His right leg hooked around Seb’s, locking him in place. “Brush?”
Seb twisted his right arm back to give it to him, and he wasn’t surprised when Zain interweaved their fingers after taking it and held Seb’s hand against his lower back. It was just another sign this was going to be very unpleasant.
Zain wasted no time once he had his Brat properly secured. The brush cracked down on the undercurve of Seb’s buttocks, twice on each side, before moving to his upper thighs. Seb’s mouth fell open on the first gasped inhale of pain, and then he pressed his lips together, trying to hold in his yelps as Zain applied the brush while expertly avoiding the bruises at Seb’s injection sites.
After a dozen or so swats, Seb bit down on the bicep of his free arm to muffle himself. Zain instantly stopped. “Don’t bite yourself, babe. Need a pillow?”
Letting go, Seb shook his head. He didn’t want to draw this out any more than it had to be.
“Just cry if you need to. I’m the only one who can hear, okay?”
Seb hated crying, but he nodded, knowing Zain wouldn’t proceed without acknowledgement. A moment later, Zain tightened his hold and started spanking again. It felt like he kept hitting the same spots over and over, and Seb was soon squirming involuntarily. Zain’s leg and arm pinned him in place, making it clear which of them was in charge of when this ended, as the hairbrush went on igniting a stinging fire in his flesh. Finally, with nowhere else for the emotions to go, he began to sob.
Zain paused momentarily, leaning over to put the brush on the table and then continuing with his hand. Seb cried harder. The level of pain was the same, but really, it was the intimacy of it that undid him.
Several long minutes later, when Zain let him up, he took a stumbling step towards the bathroom.
“No, c’mere,” Zain said, catching Seb’s elbow and pulling him back into a tight hug. He spoke directly into his lover’s ear while Seb stood like a drawn bowstring. “Cut it out, babe. You’re fine. Let it go,” he urged.
Seb jerked his head side to side, not trusting himself to speak, and Zain immediately swatted him. Jolting, Seb found himself clinging to his fiancé as all the tension went out of his body and he started weeping freely at last.
Zain held Seb and waited patiently for him to cry himself out. It took more time than he expected, which he could only think was a good sign.
When the tears dried, Zain let him go only long enough to crouch down and help him back into the jeans and underwear that had come off his ankles somewhere during the kicking. Seb steadied himself on Zain’s shoulders and stepped into them, saying, “I can also pull my own pants up, in case you were wondering.”
Zain smiled at him. “But it makes me feel useful.”
“You’re useful enough already,” Seb grumbled.
He finished buttoning up the fly and asked, “What d’you wanna do before bed?”
Seb shrugged. “I need to restart that commission,” he said halfheartedly.
“Orrrrr… we could watch White Collar,” Zain suggested, and was rewarded with another eyeroll.
“You do realize you’re encouraging me to shirk my responsibilities and watch television instead?”
Shaking his head, Seb said, “You’re such an awful Top.”
“Yeah, I know,” Zain agreed. He stood up and pulled Seb with him to the sofa.